My 5: Bratislava.

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1. Schöner Náci, September 2002. I’ll never forget the magical year I spent in Slovakia’s gritty capital. Although a relatively small city, upon arrival it felt like I’d been dropped into some gargantuan Soviet bloc jungle where a dense concoction of dark, grey and unsmiling was the order of the day. Thankfully, the city’s tight compact old town saved the day with its historical buildings, artsy cafes and grungy bar scene. A collection of cutesy historic statues added much to the district’s enchantment too. This one stands in honour of Ignac Lamar, a renowned Bratislava vagrant whom the locals supported with free food and occasional cleaning work. Famously friendly and charming, if not a little mad, he was a regular city sight. Strolling around in his tails and top hat, he would greet everyone he passed and never gave up an opportunity to kiss a lady’s hand.

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End of series update, The Slovak Files.

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Dear readers,

It’s four months to the day that I launched Leighton Literature and a timely moment indeed to celebrate the end of my second short story series, The Slovak Files. Putting together its twelve instalments was a real challenge, but also one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever undertaken.

Along the way I got back in touch with a host of old friends, people who played a hugely important role in my life that year, unwittingly helping to shape me into the person I am today. In addition to catching up and getting all nostalgic, they also provided invaluable memories, priceless insight and old photographs that I gleefully incorporated into my tales. So I really can’t say enough of a thank you to Jon Crisp, Bill Phillips, Myles DolphinJordan Stein and Martina Stolarikova, your support has made a massive difference.

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The Slovak Files – a short story from Slovakia.

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In September 2002 I rocked up in Bratislava with a couple of bags and just enough cash to last until my first paycheck. And so unfolded one of the great years of my life…

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“All packed up?’’ asked Goldblum from the hallway as I dropped the last few items into my rucksack. As exciting as it was to be off on another adventure, I knew this one was gonna be a slog lugging all my stuff around, an unavoidable downside of life as a professional transient.

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Minx Manor – a short story from Slovakia.

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In September 2002 I rocked up in Bratislava with a couple of bags and just enough cash to last until my first paycheck. And so unfolded one of the great years of my life…

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‘‘Minx alert!” announced Goldblum one morning, arriving at our table with a coffee and a sorry looking McMuffin. “Where?’’ asked Ben, craning his neck to see. ‘‘Not here’’ chuckled Goldblum, ‘‘Little Katka told me three new gals have arrived. And guess where they’ve shacked up?’’ ‘‘On the hill?’’ I asked with a sleepy smile. ‘‘Yah’’ he confirmed, taking a chunk out of his eggy monstrosity. ‘‘Looks like we’ve got three new neighbours’’. ‘‘No guarantees they’re minxes” pointed out Ben, nursing his coffee. ‘‘Irish Mike has already gotten a glimpse’’ explained Goldblum, ‘‘and he’s forecasted a general outbreak of Minxomatosis”.

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The Last King of Štúrovo – a short story from Slovakia.

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In September 2002 I rocked up in Bratislava with a couple of bags and just enough cash to last until my first paycheck. And so unfolded one of the great years of my life…

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Ah Leighton! Do you have a moment?’’ I’d just finished an Obchodna morning class and was dashing through the lobby, keen to get my daily fix of McMinx-served coffee and fried apple pie.

Little Katka? Her shrill voice stopped me in my tracks. Oh shit, what have I done? ‘‘Sure’’ I said, trying to look relaxed as she led me into her office. Although pleasant enough in her own clipped way, the school’s assistant director was someone you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of. Little in name, but gargantuan in reputation, it was a widely held belief among the teachers that if you could avoid being called into Little kaka’s office, then all was well with your Bratislava teaching career.

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Road Trip Part II – a short story from Slovakia.

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In September 2002 I rocked up in Bratislava with a couple of bags and just enough cash to last until my first paycheck. And so unfolded one of the great years of my life…

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It was still dark when I awoke. With a thumping headache and sandpaper throat, I forced myself out of bed and shuffled over to the bathroom sink. Greedily gulping down mouthfuls of lukewarm water, it took me a beat to realise where I was. Then it all came flashing back, a whirlwind of images from our road trip across the country, followed by the more twisted snapshots of the previous night’s festivities in Košice. ‘‘Young girl, they call them the Diamond dogs!’’ 

Having put away just three to four hours’ sleep, my body was screaming for a return to bed and the blissful coma I’d been enjoying. And yet, peering out the window at the breaking yellow-grey of dawn, I found my myself wide-awake. Out into the Košice morning, the first blast of chilly air washed over me in a refreshing wave, going some way to hush the complaints of my aching joints. The streets were empty and silent save for the terse movements of the sparrows as they whistled and fluttered among the trees.

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Road Trip Part I – a short story from Slovakia.

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In September 2002 I rocked up in Bratislava with a couple of bags and just enough cash to last until my first paycheck. And so unfolded one of the great years of my life…

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‘Road trip!!!’’ cried Myles, slapping both hands down on my shoulders. ‘‘Next Saturday, there’s like fifty places on the bus, so sign your ass up!’’ ‘‘Sounds cool, who’s organizing it?’’ We were at The Slovak Pub and I was working my way through a hearty bowl of goulash, Ben smoking to my left, Sladjana fiddling with her phone on my right.

‘‘Eric!’’ replied Myles, his eyes dancing as he flagged down a passing waitress, ‘‘he’s got a whole route mapped out. Gonna SEE this mother ******* country!’’

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