Monday evening in Prague

HH in the form of Martin treats me to Mexican dinner at Red Hot & Blues, which has live jazz and an open-air courtyard.

A bunch of people from the office come along, including Ivo, Michaela (or Míša, pron. "Misha") and the American proofreader, Adrianne (who went to Grinnell College in Iowa – that’s “university” to anyone British – in Iowa, as did one of the partners here, and is here for a year following graduation).

Good food, great company, nice music. We talk about, among other things, Ikea, hotdogs, washing machines, politics, TV and your so-called “right to bear arms” (ie right to shoot yourself, more often than not, with your own weapon) in the US.

Then I walk Adrianne towards her flat so I can see the main square. It is stunningly beautiful, especially at night. The church with the astrological clock is intriguing as half of it burnt down, I think, so it is half ancient and half not so ancient, giving it a rakish charm.

There is a building just off the square the entire wall of which is painted to look like relief – but when you get up close to it you realise it is in fact only 2D. Many of the buildings are painted in lovely clear pastel colours. A guy on a bike with multiple seats offering brochures to tourists and little carts are selling gelati and a traditional Czech pastry which I think is called a trdelnik. I resist these as I am very full of chicken burrito and nachos and, of course, pivo (beer) brewed in Prague.

Home to bed whereupon I am instantly asleep (particularly as one of my favourite shows, The Closer, is on TV when I get in… but dubbed into Czech!).

On exchange at Havel & Holásek in Prague – Monday

Breakfast is stunning: cereal, yoghurt, juices, tea and coffee, hard boiled eggs, six kinds of bread, four kinds of cheese, honey, jam, butter… the list goes on and on.

Martin Fučík comes to collect me and my hotel, it transpires, is literally on the doorstep of Havel & Holásek.

The firm resides in a beautiful 15th century former customs house, over three floors. It is very light and full of plants, and has a balcony with bay trees and tables and chairs which smells delicious. The building has many amazing original features, including massive wooden stairs and parquet floors. It is something of a maze, though compared to Adelaide House it’s fairly easy to master.

I am to share an office with Katka (short for Katerina) in HR, with a window that opens over the square smelling of spices from the Dr Stuart’s emporium below. A pack of office supplies – biros, highlighters, pink and yellow Post-Its – has kindly been put together for me.

Luckily for me “hello” in Czech is “dobry dyin”, which is near enough to the little Russian I remember that I can say it reasonably confidently. I am taken round to be introduced to everyone in the office (except for a few of the partners, who not unlike English partners appear to spend large chunks of time out of the office). My Czech doesn’t quite stretch to, “Lovely to meet you!” but I shake lots of hands and do much nodding and smiling. Everyone welcomes me enthusiastically.

The HH office feels friendly and casual, with some people even wearing jeans (though Katka who introduces round both me and the work experience student who is starting today says they didn’t oughtta) and hardly anyone in suits except for partners. (There are three people on the office management side called Katerina, all of whom as an aide memoire are called Katka for short, about four called Jan, two Barboras, a handful of Josefs – it's a bit like the Monty Python sketch about the philosophy professors who want to call the new guy “Bruce” to avoid confusion.)

The big differences are that largely people sit together by position – partners seem mostly to sit alone, associates (“advocáti”) mainly share with other associates and trainees (“koncipienti”) share with trainees, or occasionally with an associate – and that doors are closed more often here. The doors are wooden with no windows, and the glass walls have silver venetian blinds behind them, so you see fewer faces when you wander down the hall. But the atmosphere is similarly casual and friendly to that at BLP so I feel right at home.

Petr Skalský (who shares an office with my "buddy", Martin) asks me to review an Agreement for Cooperation between an SPV and the Czech equivalent of a local authority (in English, needless to say), just for sense and English usage, which I do.

Czech legal documents, it seems, are divided into two types: named, largely standardised forms called nominate contracts (leases, or sale and purchase contracts, for instance) and contracts which do not fall under any of these named categories, called “unnamed” or innominate contracts. This is the latter.

Section 269(2) Act No. 513/1991 Sb, the Commercial Code, permits parties to conclude a contract that is an innominate commercial contract and section 50(a) (I think) of the civil code is the basis for innominate civil law contracts.

Apparently in Prague one eats lunch at 11.30. This afternoon I am going to help out with finance templates, which should be fun.


Back in the office around 13.00. Partner Josef Hlavička and koncipientka (trainee) Michaela Riedlová, who both coincidentally come from Moravia, take me to lunch at a place with high ceilings and a largely Italian menu. I share an enormous green salad with Michaela, who worked as an au pair in London, and then I have an even more ginormous black risotto (with squid in its own ink) all to myself. Mmmm. We are all too stuffed to eat dessert.

I hear more about the differences between the Czech and English legal systems. In order to transact any sort of business in the Czech Republic you have to be registered, usually as an entrepreneur. Business agreements are regulated in some cases by the civil and in others by the commercial code here, and sometimes by both, and it seems to depend on a) the type of document (lease, SPA, etc) and also b) the nature of the parties to the document as to which.

This can lead to difficulties because, for example, a document that is regulated by the civil code such as a lease or other property transactional document may be part of a larger transaction where other documents are regulated by the commercial code. The two codes have different limitation periods, among other things.

Czech legal training is longer and tougher than ours, perhaps not so surprising when you realise that a Czech lawyer is an “advocate”, both solicitor and barrister. They have five years of study, three years of work experience and then five written and five oral exams at the end of their training after which they are admitted to the bar. The oral exams sound particularly gruelling as koncipienti are examined by a panel made up of lawyers, academics and judges and are marked not only on their level of accuracy but also on their persuasiveness.

Even later:

Another person I have chatted to today is Gabriela Doudová, who is the Provozní Manažer at Havel & Holásek. This sounds very exciting and elegant but I am not certain exactly what she does. Will investigate further. Ah, yes, Google translates this as “Operating Manager”. “Provozní Manažer” sounds SOOO much better, doesn’t it? More enigmatic and intriguing. Like something you need a neoprene balaclava and some carabiners to do, rather than a phone and a PC.

Still later:

Have a meeting with Jan Topinka (advocát) and Ivo Průša (koncipient) on developing some standard forms with them, including loan and priority documents and checklists to use with these. Will be interesting to look at documents from a borrower’s, rather than a lender’s, perspective.

Pootling to Prague

My flight goes from Terminal 5. Getting there via the Heathrow Express is wonderfully quick but the terminal itself is a bit disappointing – it looks… like an airport. Or more accurately, like a B&Q. The shopping, too, is disappointing: almost too upmarket. There’s a Harrods, there’s a make-up place that’s too rarified to have a Clinique counter, some random bookstore I’ve never heard of (H&H?), a Gordon Ramsey place called “Plane Food”, and the usual suspects (Dior, Gucci, etc).

The flight is delayed by 50 minutes, then brief and unedifying – I am sat next to a British man and his unremittingly thick yet relentlessly perky North American wife/girlfriend/life partner – the classic Ugly American – who talks incessantly for the entire flight in the sort of tones I so despise… a squeaky little girlie voice you can't sleep through.

She can’t understand why the US doesn’t just go into “Eye-Rack” and get rid of all the problem locals. And when the flight attendant asks her if she would like lemon juice and Tabasco sauce in her tomato juice, she says brightly, “Just like a bloody Mary without the vodka!” to which the flight attendant gamely replies, “That’s the idea.”

My hotel has arranged for a car to collect me from the airport. Driving through the dark, quiet suburbs you can see well-lit, half-empty trams rolling through the streets and lots of peaceful looking low-rise blocks of flats.

The city itself is beautiful, as are most cities at night, but this one in particular has ancient and unusual buildings. You can see why it is used as a location for so many films. Dimly lit cobbled streets, bright restaurants with waiters in white shirts and bow ties, stone buildings with many archways and overhanging trees. I feel right at home as we drive past two Hugo Boss stores, Dunhill and Burberry.

By the time I reach my hotel, the Černý Slon, it is after 23.00. It has no lift so I am gratified to discover that when a Czech says “second floor” they mean what we Yanks mean by “second floor”, or what the British puzzlingly call… the “first floor”, so I have only to lug my suitcase up one flight of steps.

The hotel building is on the Unesco heritage list (as is much of Prague) and my room has a gorgeous ceiling of elaborately painted beams.

On my TV, amazingly, is one of my favourite films ever, John Sayles’ The Return of the Secaucus Seven, with subtitles so I am able to watch it. Then I put the timer on the TV and fall asleep to the sound of Dave Brubeck live.

East meets West; virtual bimbos

BBC News Online's Magazine has a nice little feature on the cultures of East and West during the Cold War. It quotes Jane Pavitt, curator of the Cold War Modern exhibition opening next month at the Victoria and Albert Museum, as saying, "Consumer society was used as a bulwark against communism in Europe in the 1950s. That's why fashion and kitchen goods can be seen as part of this." Lovely.

Meanwhile... read this absolute horror on ABC News about a site that let kids as young as 8 give their virtual dolls breast implants and diet pills. Grody to the max!

Lions and tigers and housecats, oh my!

Love the photos from this story in the Daily Mail about an abandoned lion cub and a ginger housecat who have become the best of friends (hilarious Daily Mail headline: The Purrfect Couple).

These vie for unbearable cuteness with the Mail on Sunday's photos of these equally abandoned white tiger cubs at a German zoo (equally hilarious Mail on Sunday headline: All white now). Listen to those squeals (Reuters video)! Most un-tigerish.

Of course none of them are as cute as our new adoptee, Isaac Hayes, who is now about 7 months old and already as big as Lucifer. He has "kitty crazy hour" pretty much all the time when he is not eating, sleeping or having a giant poo. Lucifer is not terrifically happy about all of this; at 13 years old and weighing a stone he has always ruled the roost. Never mind, having someone around to attack has made him behave like a kitten again. Jemimah just growls at him and glares.

Democrats' next campaign slogan?

"Racial superiority is a mere pigment of the imagination" – author unknown.

Also applaud Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who argued thus in favour of 42-day detention: "We are not legislating now on the basis that we are bringing it in now for something that might happen in the future. We are putting in a provision for it if it becomes unhypothetical" – as The Sunday Times so nicely put it, thus proving herself the true heir to John Prescott.

Bons mots

In an article in yesterday's Times on the proposed "presumed consent" for organ donation, a spokesman from the British Heart Foundation said, " 'The recommendations must be adopted in full. Half-hearted solutions won't do'."

Er, quite.

Also my brother, Doug, noticed a headline in yesterday's paper in Boston which read, "Firefighter's allegations spark heated debate".

And there's still nothing to top this gut-wrenching story (ha very ha) of a deceased baby whose organs were removed without his mother's consent. As Doug put it, "The baby boy's mother had my full sympathy right up to the point where she said 'gutted'. Possibly not the best word choice, there. Ahhhgahhd."