This is a rather sad Letter from Prague for me to write - it's my last. After five years I'm quitting as a full-time member of staff, to pursue a career with another radio station. It's a period of great change and no small amount of stress as I try to manage the transition from one job to the other. But it's also given me the opportunity to reflect on the times I've had and the changes I've seen since I first walked through the doors of Czech Radio on a warm, spring day in 1999.
I remember my first day like it was yesterday. Never was the phrase "thrown in at the deep end" more accurate. I was given something to write about church-state relations - a subject about which I was totally ignorant. I cobbled together something so inane and naïve that I deleted it from my computer the following day. I remember printing it out on an ancient printer - so ancient the letters were barely legible. And then I was told I would have to read it.
"What?" I stammered to my then-boss. Foolishly I had anticipated some sort of training before I went into the studio. But it wasn't to be. Rivers of sweat ran down my palms as I made my way into the tiny, overheated room. My heart went into palpitations as I waited for the red light to go on. Then I began reading.
Somehow I got through it, after much stopping and starting and exhortations to "slow down!" from my boss. I was so convinced the result was awful that I resolved not to listen later that evening when the programme went on air. But in the end I relented, more out of curiosity than anything else, and listened with a feeling of horror and shame tinged with a slight sense of relief that, well, it wasn't that bad.
I remember also the great technical leaps and bounds since I started five years ago. I was lucky enough to arrive just as reel-to-reel tape was leaving - I can still see our much-missed colleague Olga struggling in vain with what looked like a mass of writhing snakes as she tried to edit out a pause in someone's sentence. I remember that joyful day when the awkward and extremely time-consuming minidisk machine was replaced by computer editing - a system that has revolutionised our work.
I remember the many assignments I've been sent out to cover - from striding through cornfields in the Sazava valley with President Vaclav Havel, as he examined plans for some grotesque new motorway. Or walking round a freezing shipyard in the Swedish port of Gothenburg with Prime Minister Milos Zeman, and waiting for him to make some characteristically ill-advised remark. Or chatting on the plane to his successor Vladimir Spidla, on the way back from an EU summit in Greece. But most of all I remember the scores of fascinating and inspirational people I've had the pleasure to interview - too many to name here.
It's with many happy memories that I write this last Letter from Prague. I'll still be doing the odd thing for Radio Prague, so I'm afraid you haven't heard the last of me yet. But I would like to use this last Letter to say a big thank you to all my colleagues - past and present - for an enriching, rewarding and, above all, extremely fun five years.
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