|Eva Kordova explains why there are no rabbits on Portland Bill|
The Bridgwater Czech Slovak Friendship Society was formed in 1991 and in June 1992 the formal twinning with Uherske Hradiste took place. 1992 also saw the foundation of Antonin Machala's 'Altech' company which has been the backbone of our links with UH now for 20 years. However, it was a close run thing that we didn't twin with the South Bohemian town of Ceske Budejovice-home of Budweiser beer and (slightly) nearer to Prague. On the occasion of the annual visit by Eva Kordova and her 'Buddies' we recall those early days.
Brian Smedley takes up the story . "We started the link with UH basically because that's where Antonin Machala came from and it was Antonin who first invited us to get together. That was Summer 1991. We spent the Autumn founding our 2 friendship groups -but twinning wasn't neccesarily our aim. We mainly wanted to find ways to bring people together in whatever way possible. So we set up a pen pals network, home hosting, and planned exchange visits. As soon as word of this pioneering work got out other Czech towns started to get in touch with us. One of the first was Ceske Budejovice. The method for the rapid spreading of the good news was Antonin's network of Social Democrat contacts -and one lifelong Czech Labourist was the elderly but spritely Alena Tragrova from Ceske Budejovice who had been imprisomed by Fascists and Communists throughout her long and active life, and who wanted us in her town to help build international links in the immediate years after the collapse of communism"..
|Eva trying to spot Chesil Beach...|
" I first visited there on April 17 1992. One idea Alena spoke of was 'twinning'-but by now we'd pretty much agreed to twin with Uherske Hradiste-which happened on June 18th that year. Undeterred by this Alena then introduced us to her contacts in the town hall - notably the ODS personality Jan Zahradnik who had just started up the first Private school in the town the Cesko Anglicky Gymnasium (CAG) and who would later go on to become Regional Governor of South Bohemia, and his left hand man (sic) Eva Kordova . In 1993 the CAGGER'S visited Bridgwater and thereafter every year since and Eva and Jan have co-operated with us in projects innumerable in what Eva refers to , cold war style, as 'the conspiracy'."
So this year's conspiracy saw a group of 14 (13 Czechs plus a German ski instructor) join us for a tour of the west country in a circumnavigational mode from Bridgwater (an ideal touring base for such operations by the way).
Arriving as late as Easyjet could possibly manage to Bristol ('Bridgwater International') Airport , their first night was essentially straight to sleep at Cheddar YHA. however, this left them fresh and bright the next day when we took them up the Gorge and then (a long way) on to Oxford. And after that Blenheim Palace.
|The Taylors garden in Lechlade|
Eva has a thing about the British aristocracy and so the Churchill ancestral estates are always on her list of places to impress her group with. This time we had an extra treat when, with her own 20th Anniversary in mind, she directed us to Letchlade where we were invited in for afternoon tea and cake with the Rotarians Ian and Jan Taylor-who had been early contacts for their school and who, although in the middle of preparing for a choral evening, nevertheless took time off for us. Jan was a bit of a Royalist, so Eva thought it would be good to get a discussion going. "So Jan, you are a Royalist and you love everything about the Queen. Brian, what must you think when we talk about the 'bloody royal family' all the time?" Explaining tactfully that he didn't actually want to shoot all of them, the tolerant chauffeur extricated the group gently whilst agreeing 'they did a good job concerning tourism..' Just up the road was Burford where the Stalinist Cromwell had crushed the Trotskyist Levellers...but we didn't want to discuss that lest we be strung up by the bunting.
Of which there was LOTS.
Staying overnight at the Ridgeway hostel the group had a traditional English evening meal. Mexican tortillas, jalapenos and three kinds of chilli. Caramba.
One of the pleasantest drives through David Camerons Oxfordshire constituency takes you along the old Saxon ridgeway where everyone lives in a thatched cottage, village greens and duckponds abound and large shiny vehicles narrowly force you into them. Taking in the White Horse of Uffington and all points west to the stone circles of Avebury you could be mistaken for thinking that all of England is like this. Luckily at Avebury there were blackfaced Morris dancers doing something ridiculously inappropriate but making people think that everyone English probably did this in their spare times. At least it rained.
|people who should be shot on sight|
Bath is a wonderful place to spend a few hours and Glastonbury a good way to finish up an afternoon in Somerset. So that worked out.
That evening we had some traditional entertainment. From Poland. the talented accordionist and singer Darianna turned up with her band Megarat (a bloke called Jack who did most of the singing due to Darianna's ashthma attacks) and a rainy clammy night outside turned into a welcoming Monsoon style cabaret session where Czechs and other users of the Street youth Hostel relaxed, joined in, or in Evas case, fell asleep.
|Darianna and MegaJack|
Sunday saw a visit to Wells, where the Vicars close cat welcomed them, or possibly cursed them to eternity, who can tell. Then a drive down to the Cerne Abbas giant. That's a chalk drawing of a man with a big cock.
A couple of other Dorset towns played host for the afternoon - Sherborne, public schools, a monks open air washing room and an abbey then onto Dorchester-Thomas Hardy's Casterbridge and where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced . The day ended up at Lulworth cove - another unfeasibly thatched village- but an ideal place to watch England go out of the Euros on penalties to the outstandingly better Italy. Extra hilarity was provided by the driver smashing his head on a radiator whilst trying to emulate Wayne Rooney's failed overhead kick.
|The vicars close cat causes great excitement as an ear twitches|
The Jurassic coast drive is also one of the countries most spectacular. From Lulworth, through Weymouth and along Chesil Beach, up the heights past Abborsbury and along to Lyme Regis. A final stop at Sidmouth and then a 2 hour drive directly north and following the river Exe till we reached Minehead YHA, where we had a delightful spagetti bolognese....maintaining the Cuisine Inglesi theme.
The next day was a treat for all. Thick fog-broken only by downpours of rain along the Atlantic Highway- and a manic drive through Exmoor country lanes to Barnstaple and then to Tintagel.
A break in the clouds at Plymouth meant a few hours of glorious sunshine before Eva pointed us in the direction of Dartmoor...and even thicker fog. Hardly seeing 2 sheep and a pony in front of us we made it across the wasteland. Although actually Tavistock isn't that bad really....and finally as moorland became sheerdropland the sun again decided to come out.
|Dartmoor (or less)|
So we did actually manage to get back to Bridgwater for the evening where a meal of traditional English Turkish meze was laid on at the Green Olive restaurant on west quay.
Finally the group had a day trip to Bristol before heading home.
20 years of links with Ceske Budejovice and still going strong.