On September 7 1991 I left my grandmother's apartment in Hannover with several cases and set off by train for Prague, in what was then still Czechoslovakia. It was less than two years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in Central Europe, and my diary records the train passing "crumbling tenements" and "slag heaps" in the former GDR. I complain about the lack of luggage trolleys at Leipzig Hauptbahnhof, where I had to change, but I'm amused by the appearance of a mobile Burgerking van in the Stalinist street outside Dresden station. At the German-Czech border my battered UK passport gets just a cursory glance and a little black stamp, and a few hours later I'm being greeted by the kindly, bearded Aleš Vondráček at Praha-Holešovice station. He whisks me off in his chugging Trabant to the small town of Dobríš, where I'll be spending the next year teaching English at his school.
I settle in quickly, living with the Svobodova family in their idyllic house on the edge of town, overlooking open fields. At night there's just the sound of dogs barking and the smell of wood fires being lit. Mrs S and I quickly form a rapport through our mutual interest in politics. She rages at the communists while preparing knedliky in the kitchen. Her daughter Eva becomes an endlessly patient older sister to me, amused by my strange ways and eager to learn as much English as possible from me. If ever I don't know the answer to one of her incisive grammatical queries, I tell her it doesn't matter and there's actually no rule. "English is a very flexible language," I say - which nicely covers up my lack of knowledge.
The Czechs are just getting used to their new freedoms in 1991, and economically they're still on the bottom rung of the European ladder. There are 56 crowns to the pound, and my monthly salary converts to the less than princely sum of £60. But a half-litre of beer is the equivalent of 10p, and the basics of everyday life are incredibly cheap from my perspective. There are no McDonald's in Prague yet, the first English stag parties are still years away, and to me everything seems a couple of decades behind the times.
In those days before social media I'm an avid diary keeper and sit down most evenings to write up the day's doings by hand, in fountain pen. An entry follows from September 13 1991, when I'd been in my new home for less than a week and was still faintly perplexed by it all, but loving it.
A quarter of a century later, all the EU member states minus Britain are preparing to meet in Bratislava to discuss the bloc's future after Brexit. The Czechs and Slovaks have both been EU members for over a decade now, and are prosperous and vibrant democracies. The UK, meanwhile, has turned its back on Europe. It is absolutely heartbreaking.