On Bohemia

If ever you find yourself in Bohemia, there is every likelihood that you will be enmired in a scandal or swept away by a rhapsody. It is even possible that both may occur. Fortunately, there are historical precedents to guide your conduct. For a rhapsodic episode, one can study the case of Farrokh Bulsara and his chums, one of whom, I think not incidentally, was later to become an accredited expert on the starry cosmos, and a friend to badgers. Should, on the other hands, scandal erupt, there is an account of how to deal with it by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, no friend of badgers then or later, but a man who did much research into what we might call the psychic and supernatural cosmos.

It is well worth your time to study the relevant texts, by Bulsara and Conan Doyle, before you set out on your journey to Bohemia. By the time you arrive at the border, and present your credentials to the border guard in his Bohemian border hut, you should be ready for absolutely anything the Bohemians can throw at you, be it a rhapsody or a scandal, or – which I have not yet mentioned but is equally likely – a doomed love affair with a consumptive seamstress.

You will be asked to state the purpose of your visit, and to empty out your suitcase upon a rickety wooden table inside the hut. On no account should you take the Bohemian border guard’s grim demeanour as a personal affront. He will have been trained in physiognomic grimness from his very first day at the Bohemian Border Guards’ Academy, an institution which has known its own share of rhapsodies and scandals, both possibly involving consumptive seamstresses. You should remain polite and compliant, and pay no attention to the rifles, revolvers, submachine guns, truncheons, and lead-weighted saps much in evidence inside the hut. Bear in mind that Bohemian border guards have an almost pathological mania for tidiness, so when you empty out your suitcase you should align the contents very very neatly upon the rickety table. Alignment in alphabetical order is recommended, if you can manage it. Do not even think about offering a bribe. Bohemian border guards are absolutely incorruptible, and have been to known to take umbrage at backhanders, umbrage they give vent to by thwacking their potential corrupter on the back of the neck with a sap.

Once you have emptied your suitcase you may be taken into a small connecting room within the border hut. This is where you will be questioned about the purpose of your visit. At this stage, of course, before actually making the physical crossing into Bohemia, you will not have been swept away by a rhapsody, nor enmired in a scandal, and you can therefore deflect any pertinent rhapsody/scandal questions by adopting a gormless facial expression. Most Bohemian border guards consider foreigners stupid, so you will only be reinforcing their existing prejudices. This will put them at their ease. The wilier border guards might slip in a trick question about, say, Irene Adler or Scaramouche, or even frozen tiny hands. Do not take the bait. Have recourse to a tactic such as biting your tongue so forcefully you draw blood, or carrying in your pocket a small device which can deliver an electric shock when squeezed in the palm of your hand. Such distraction should rescue you from the risk of blurting out more than it is advisable for the border guards to know.

At the end of the interrogation, if all has gone well, your papers will be stamped and you will be led back into the main room of the hut. You will find that your suitcase has been repacked with all your belongings, and much more neatly than when you originally packed it earlier that morning at the hotel on Lüneberg Heath. Perhaps if you remain in Bohemia long enough, and can avoid becoming embroiled in rhapsodies and scandals and doomed love affairs with consumptive seamstresses, you will learn to pack your suitcase with fanatical tidiness. This is the kind of thing that can keep you occupied once you have shaken hands with the border guard and trudged across the border proper into Bohemia and found a cheap hotel at which to rest your weary head.

At the hotel, the first thing you should do is to unpack your suitcase and rummage in the lining for the listening device planted therein by the border guard. It is best disabled by being submerged in water. You might want to hurl it into the Vlatava, or another major river or watercourse. Be careful not to do this in the evening, however, for standing on a bridge over a Bohemian river in the twinkling lights of evening has been to known to provoke rhapsodic feelings. It is also a time when scandal might be brewing. After chucking the listening device into water, go straight back to your hotel to do some practice suitcase packing and unpacking, and resist the temptation to visit any garrets where consumptive seamstresses may be languishing. Between the hotel lobby and the safety of your room you might of course scent a whiff of scandal among the potted plants and in the corridors. Wrap your scarf tighter about your neck and pull the brim of your Homburg down to shade your eyes.

As an extra precaution, find, in an insalubrious Bohemian alleyway, a rascal skilled in counterfeiting. Pay this person to provide you with forged papers purporting to show that you are a trusted and long-serving employee of an important asbestos works. Armed with this documentation, you can then guard against any eruption of rhapsody or scandal or doomed love by taking out a policy with the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia. Make an appointment with Herr Kafka. Be sure to catch him in the office at a time when he is not out on the river indulging his love of rowing boats. There is a chance he might scoop up, with one of his oars, the listening device you chucked into the river earlier, and you will not want him asking you any hard questions about it. He can be tenacious. And whatever you do, do not accept an invitation to lunch with him. He is a Fletcherist, who chews each mouthful of food one hundred times per minute, and his table manners are disgusting.

Otherwise, enjoy your stay in Bohemia.

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