The Czech Airlines Boeing 737 banked slightly to starboard and all the passengers on the right of the plane were afforded a panoramic view of central Prague, bathed in patchy September sun where it broke through the clouds.
Jack Conrad gazed at the clusters of red roofs, interspersed with gothic spires and bisected by a very full-flowing river which, his guidebook informed him, was the Vltava. A map in the same book showed that the central part of Prague was defined by an L-shaped segment of the river. As had been reported extensively around the world, a month earlier Prague and other parts of the Czech Republic had suffered catastrophic floods. He scanned the landscape below for evidence of the damage caused, but the 737’s descent was too quick for him to be able to pick out any detail. Doubtless he would see the impact of the disaster once on the ground, and the journalist in him could not help but want to compare the ravaged images currently being beamed around the world with the reality passing beneath him. He stifled a sigh at the thought that he was never likely to cover a story of such international interest.
Conrad hadn’t visited Prague before and he intended to make the most of this unexpected opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing, absorb some culture and down a few Czech beers. He had been commissioned to write an article about a contemporary Czech rock band, enigmatically called J.A.R., who were creating a bit of a stir outside their home country. He was due to see them perform that night, and then interview them the next day. He had started researching the band during the flight, but found it hard to concentrate. Travel always affected him like that, especially air travel. Twenty years working as a music journalist should have tempered any sense of wonder and excitement. At just the wrong side of forty, he was surely supposed to be well on the way to achieving terminal cynic status, like many of his contemporaries. Yet, somehow, he could not shake off the child within. After his boyhood dreams had been cruelly interrupted by tragedy some twenty-one years earlier, it was little wonder he tried to stay in touch with his inner child; it was all he trusted.
This trip would certainly be a welcome relief from his normal routine of scratching around for ever-diminishing freelance assignments, followed by a visit to the gym rounded off with a couple of beers in his local pub. He’d always been reasonably athletic and, while his team sports days were in the past, he felt it was important to keep in shape. His waist was a little thicker than in his twenties, but his six-foot two-inch frame absorbed it well. Otherwise, he carried his forty-one years reasonably well. The hair was still where it should be, with just a few hints of grey at the temples and cut into a fashionably short, spiky style. Although never very facially expressive, he possessed haggard good looks, occasionally lit up by a lop-sided smile that he used to great effect when attempting to charm a new female acquaintance.
As the aircraft continued its final descent, Conrad wondered how many British journalists were in Prague covering the floods. He did occasionally regret he hadn’t progressed to more serious areas of journalism, occasionally wondering how appropriate it was for someone over forty to be writing about rock ‘n’ roll. He had been working as a freelance for a few years now completely dependent on others for his work and each year he could see his commissions dwindling. He still had some marketability, possessing an encyclopaedic knowledge of American and British rock, alternative and underground music of the sixties and seventies but, with the passage of time, his sell-by date was approaching. To counter this, he had begun developing a broader knowledge of music from around the world and his current assignment suggested this strategy was beginning to pay off.
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