Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ho Ho Bloody Ho

Hopefully early in the New Year I will be able to relate a good news story related to something that happened yesterday. At the moment though I am not going to mention the truly shit thing that happened yesterday because I am a) trying not to think about it, and b) am convinced that come the New Year the whole nasty story will have gone away - along, I sincerely hope, with the low life that have created this current shit. Enough to say that bad things happen to good people but I am sure it is just a temporary setback and I'll be damned if I let it ruin Christmas for my family.

So just to wish anyone who has been crazy enough to continue to visit your frequently neglectful hostess here a Very Happy Christmas and New Year.

And by the way - Will the New Year be Two thousand and ten or will it be Twenty ten? I need to know!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas reading

At one time I updated my reading list on this blog with regularity, but these days as I seem to have more of a life that has fallen by the wayside. There have been a few books I have read recently that I have really enjoyed. One was 'American Wife' by Curtis Sittenfeld which is about the life of a woman, politically a liberal, who somehow ends up as the First Lady married to a deeply unpopular right wing American president who takes the country into an illegal war. Now who could that be based upon I wonder? The book was full of surprises, it made me literally laugh out loud on a crowded train, and it made me cry as well, as cringe at the thought of George W having sex. Confessing that she voted for his Democratic opponent in the presidential election our heroine comments: 'During the periods when I've been the most frustrated by our lives, or by what is happening in this country, I've looked outside at the cars and pedestrians our motorcades pass and I've thought, All I did is marry him. You are the ones who gave him power.' Anyway - loved that.

Also loved, loved, loved both 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' and 'The Girl who Played with Fire' by Stieg Larsson. Clever stuff indeed and I cannot wait for the third and sadly final book in the series ( seeing as how Larsson only went and died before he could write more - some people are so inconsiderate!) to arrive via Amazon in the next day or two.

And that brings me to my problem. Last year at Christmas found me wading my way through 'War and Peace'. The previous Christmas I landed myself with 'Schindler's Ark'. Both of those are obviously great books - but a barrel of laughs they generally ain't, give or take one or two lines in Tolstoy. This year - why oh why oh why - I find myself stuck with 'The Name of the Rose' by Umberto Eco. Yeah gods it is such hard going! It makes me feel like I am really intellectually challenged/ aka thick. I'm celebrating a small triumph this morning though.

At the heading of each chapter Eco gives a short breakdown of what to expect in the coming pages along the lines of 'In which Adso looks at a church door (and describes it for five and a half interminable pages) and William has an intellectual conversation about whether men of God should laugh (which continues, mainly in Latin, for ever as far as I can see).' (Comments in brackets are mine.) Anyway - my small triumph is that I have just read Chapter 11 'In which Jane practically understood what went on for the first time since she picked the book up'. It's a nightmare.

BUT - Reidski has a hard and fast rule that when one starts to read a book one has to finish it - no matter how shite it is (unless it is something by Dan Brown of course), and no matter how difficult. If I finish this blasted book I will feel a sense of achievement; never mind that I have no expectations whatsoever of understanding it. A quick straw poll of some of my clever friends has yet to yield anyone who managed to stick with this book to the end. And in the post - any day now - will arrive a book I am desperate to read. So dear readers - what will I do? Abandon 'The Name of the Rose' for something readable, knowing full well I will never return to find out who is behind the mass murders that took place in an Italian monastery in the early thirteenth century, or do I plough on with the promise of 'The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest' as a reward for doing Eco? Is my will power strong enough to resist one and stick with the other? I very much doubt it. Christmas Day really should surely be about easy reading, but it does look as though for the third year in a row my reading may be just about turning pages as quickly as possible for all the wrong reasons.

Have made note to self not to start any difficult or depressing book next Decemeber time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Health & Safety and Equality Considerations for Christmas Songs

Not my own work I am afraid - but I enjoyed these:

The Rocking Song

Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir;
We will lend a coat of fur,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you

Fur is no longer appropriate wear for small infants, both due to risk of allergy to animal fur, and for ethical reasons. Therefore faux fur, a nice cellular blanket or perhaps micro-fleece material should be considered a suitable alternative.

Please note, only persons who have been subject to a Criminal Records Bureau check and have enhanced clearance will be permitted to rock baby Jesus. Persons must carry their CRB disclosure with them at all times and be prepared to provide three forms of identification before rocking commences.

Jingle Bells
Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way

A risk assessment must be submitted before an open sleigh is considered safe for members of the public to travel on. The risk assessment must also consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly if passengers are of larger proportions. Please note, permission must be gained from landowners before entering their fields. To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, we would request that laughter is moderate only and not loud enough to be considered a noise nuisance.

While Shepherds Watched

While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around

The union of Shepherd's has complained that it breaches health and safety regulations to insist that shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided, therefore benches, stools and orthopaedic chairs are now available. Shepherds have also requested that due to the inclement weather conditions at this time of year that they should watch their flocks via cctv cameras from centrally heated shepherd observation huts.
Please note, the angel of the lord is reminded that before shining his / her glory all around she / he must ascertain that all shepherds have been issued with glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and Glory.

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw him,
you would even say it glows.

You are advised that under the Equal Opportunities for All policy, it is inappropriate for persons to make comment with regard to the ruddiness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer. Further to this, exclusion of Mr R Reindeer from the Reindeer Games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence. A full investigation will be implemented and sanctions - including suspension on full pay - will be considered whilst this investigation takes place.

Little Donkey

Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road
Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load

The RSPCA have issued strict guidelines with regard to how heavy a load that a donkey of small stature is permitted to carry, also included in the guidelines is guidance regarding how often to feed the donkey and how many rest breaks are required over a four hour plodding period. Please note that due to the increased risk of pollution from the dusty road, Mary and Joseph are required to wear face masks to prevent inhalation of any airborne particles. The donkey has expressed his discomfort at being labelled 'little' and would prefer just to be simply referred to as Mr. Donkey. To comment upon his height or lack thereof may be considered an infringement of his equine rights.

We Three Kings

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

Whilst the gift of gold is still considered acceptable - as it may be redeemed at a later date through such organisations as 'cash for gold' etc, gifts of frankincense and myrrh are not appropriate due to the potential risk of oils and fragrances causing allergic reactions. A suggested gift alternative would be to make a donation to a worthy cause in the recipients name or perhaps give a gift voucher. We would not advise that the traversing kings rely on navigation by stars in order to reach their destinations and suggest the use of RAC routefinder or satellite navigation, which will provide the quickest route and advice regarding fuel consumption. Please note as per the guidelines from the RSPCA for Mr Donkey, the camels carrying the three kings of Orient will require regular food and rest breaks.
Facemasks for the three kings are also advisable due to the likelihood of dust from the camels hooves.

Away in a Manger No Crib for a bed - Contact Social services???????

Friday, December 11, 2009

More local news

This time from Ayrshire.

Reidski assures me this is actually the lead headline in this week's paper. What I especially like about this story is not only its content which is clearly local news at its best - 'Man grows record breaking moustache' - but more than that - the moustache was shaved off on 1st December and the paper doesn't actually have a photograph of it. Therefore we all have to imagine what Mikey Hughes record breaking moustache looked like. In fact they don't even have a photo of what he looks like without the record breaking moustache so we will have to imagine that too.

Of course it could be I suppose that everyone in Ayrshire knows what Mikey Hughes looks like and not expecting a wider readership for this story thought a photo was surplus to requirements?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Times are hard

But even so, Northampton's Christmas lights leave a bit to be desired....

To be precise if the photo isn't very clear it leaves 'HRISTMAS and MPTON' to be desired.

Sums the place up quite well really.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Something to make us all feel better

One of the latest pictures of the previously cojoined twins Trishna and Krishna. They are reported to be sitting up, sleeping in separate beds, and seeing each other for the first time as they continue their recovery from a massive separation surgery.

Those smiles have reduced me to an emotional wreck.

Monday, November 23, 2009

If you thought

that calling Newcastle United's ground The James' Park Stadium was silly (which it goes without saying it is) how about this?

At the football on Saturday we were informed at the end of the first half that: "The fourth official has indicated that there will be a minimum of two minutes injury time. This message was brought to you in association with Jackson Grundy (local estate agents), sponsors of the Cobblers."

Oh, for goodness sake.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Spoiler alert with a difference

If you don't want to know what is about to happen in Coronation Street beware the Daily Mail, who manage to spoil the plot with their spoiler alert.

That takes a certain kind of genius.

In for him, in for him, we've all got it in for him

'I will be honest, the ball hit my hand,' admitted Henry later.

Monday, November 16, 2009

My cats

I have two cats. The oldest one George is evil. I think this photo captures him quite well.

His not so endearing way of asking for food is to take a chunk out of my ankles in order to get my attention. I have to admit that does tend to get him noticed. All my visitors are terrified of him - and even my family treat him with a great deal of circumspection.

Sophie on the other hand is universally adored. She is a very appealing little cat - who aged 6 is still the size of a kitten (George is the size of the back end of a bus) and she is very affectionate to one and all.

George hates her guts, obviously seeing her as a total creep.

It is however Sophie who is this week in disgrace. First of all she walked over the home baked apple and blackcurrant pie made for yesterday's Sunday dinner, leaving two paw sized holes in it....then she bloody well sat on it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Local news headline

"Three pizzas stolen by armed gang."

I probably shouldn't find this funny as after all some poor guy was robbed at knife point, but that would seem to be less news worthy to the writer of this piece than the fact that three pizzas were nicked.

Friday, November 06, 2009

So annoying

It has been 'one of those days' for me. It began with me up and planning a bath before work only to find that - inexplicably - the bath plug was missing. I searched high and low for the plug, but without success. I can think of no reason why such an item should take its self off of its own accord. How annoying. Anyway, I had therefore to have a shower which of itself is annoying as the shower head at its highest is only shoulder height to me and I have to stoop under it. Further annoyance was caused when I went to Homebase to buy a replacement bath plug and it took fifteen minutes of fruitless searching, which was made up from minutes spent looking for a plug on own without success and minutes spent looking for a member of staff who could help me find a plug - also without success. Where have all the Homebase staff gone? Long time passing....

When eventually a bath plug was located I was further annoyed by how much money they wanted for such a basic item. Who knew one could pay as much as £9.58 for a bath plug?

Next I went to Tesco wanting a piece of salmon weighing about 600 grams to be cooked 'en croute', but the fishmonger only had ready cut pieces weighing at most 125 grams,and was unable (or unwilling) to cut into a whole salmon so that I could have what I wanted. Very annoying and meant an immediate 'think on feet and change of plan' on the culinary side, which also meant I no longer wanted half of the items I had in my trolley and had to put them back. Tonight though I am cooking something else down at Reidski's which requires a particular quite unusual spice which I already possess. How annoying then that I have just realised I have left the damn stuff at home and won't have time to go back and collect it.

But now I have read this and instead of feeling rather annoyed, I am instead rather amused.

Have a good - and completely unannoying - weekend everyone.

P.S What was REALLY annoying was when I got home with my new bath plug to see the old one sitting on the edge of the bath right next to the taps. GRRRRRR!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Outfits and red flowers

My few days away on the Gower peninsular were spent with my sister, her 12 year old daughter and my daughter who is now 16. What they have in common, which I do not share, is a love of the X Factor. (Strictly Come Dancing every time for me - though I have hardly managed to see any of the current series due mainly to the fact that it clashes with Simon Cowell and co.)

The weekend was dominated by concern over the tele in the cabin we were staying at - it was a little temperamental and what WOULD we do if it went wrong during their programme?, and whether whatever we did would leave us enough time to get back in good time for the show - which is on both Saturday and Sunday (not to mention numerous repeats and a gossipy type programme about it too). Anyway - upshot of all this is that I have gained a certain amount of knowledge about this year's X Factor, especially that weekend as it was unavoidable, but also over the other weeks it has been on.

First things first - have to say John and Edward MUST win. Obviously they are totally without talent, but the reason they must win - apart from Simon Cowell promising to leave the country if they do - is that my eldest put 20 quid on them to win when the odds were 66-1 against that eventuality. Think of what a great Christmas present I could be in for if they do in fact win and vote for them on that basis people (Never let it be said I am too proud to beg).

Naturally I thoroughly enjoyed the dress Cheryl Cole was wearing at the weekend.

What's not to love when a celebrity looks so daft? But what really made it for me was that as if the dress itself wasn't enough - she had to stick a poppy on it. Indeed there was clearly a three line whip on wearing a poppy even though it is not Remembrance Sunday till next week, and even Bon Jovi had to wear one. I thought it was silly - but now I have read that viewers of MY programme (ie the one I never get to watch but wish I could - SCD) are ringing up the BBC complaining that the dancers are not (shock horror) wearing poppies. When exactly did it happen that not wearing a poppy - whilst taking part in a dancing competition for goodness sake - became beyond the pale?

For the record, as a young leftie I had a problem with wearing a poppy, having been sold the line about it glorifying war blah blah, but when I had sons of my own and got to thinking about how so many families lost their own sons during the World Wars my attitude changed and I did start to buy one. I am rarely to be seen wearing one mind you, but that is solely due to the fact that I have never mastered the pinning them on securely part and I lose them over and again. It is probably a deliberate ploy on behalf of the poppy appeal organisers which ensures they makes a fortune out of people like me.

It seems that the wearing of a poppy competition is getting out of hand. I spotted my first one in September, but how long will it be before the politicians and broadcasters wear them all year round? (I have heard Nick Griffin does just that, but to me that is just another indication of what a twat he is.)

So let's be sensible about this. Cheryl Cole's 'interesting' creation did not need a poppy - nor does that fact that she wore one prove to me how deeply that particular young lady thinks about war and the pity of war. Nor should we have reached the stage where a celebrity whose ballroom dancing costume scarcely covers her bits anyway, needs to wear a poppy with the outfit as an illustration of her respect for our war dead. Before someone hideous like that awful David Duff (is he still around? One hopes not) turns up here to accuse me of not caring, I can't make it through a two minute silence without dissolving into tears, but I don't feel the need to wear a poppy every time I venture out the house to indicate the depth of my own feeling. And I would not actually have been offended if our so called nation's sweetheart, Mrs Cole had thought a poppy an ornamentation too far with that very entertaining dress.

Monday, November 02, 2009

What is the name for a collection of paedophiles?

I know I have been somewhat remiss with this blog recently. Entirely unoriginal reasons for that so I will move swiftly on.

In the last two months I have been to China, New York and most recently, South Wales. I worked out that in the past twelve months I had actually been on four continents (Europe included which I only add because when I mentioned the four continents thing to my daughter she was at a total loss to think what the fourth one could be. I worry about her sometimes...) as it was just a year ago I was in Egypt. Totally amazing - and something I would never have imagined being able to say in my entire lifetime, let alone in the space of one year. I will return with highlights of those trips but for now something that has been playing on my mind this weekend.

Something else I could never imagine being able to say (or even wishing to be able to say) is that I have seen a certain musical* 9 times and counting. I don't even particularly like musicals as a general rule, but this has become a mother and daughter 'thing' for us, as my daughter is somewhat obsessed with the show. If I tell you that in the past few weeks her bedroom has been redecorated solely because she obtained two framed posters of the show, and her previous decor did not show them off to best effect, that may give some indication of the degree of her devotion to this show. She spends hours on the on line fans forum, and is pretty much a font of knowledge of All Things Billy.

Now I do realise 9 times to the same show must sound insane but this pales into insignificance against some of the other people on the fans forum, some of whom regularly see two performances on one day and have seen the show literally hundreds of times.

So who are these truly devoted fans of what they always refer to as BETM?

Well there are of course some young girls like my daughter who are captivated by the storyline, the music and the dancing, and of course by some of the young lads who play the title role. So far, so normal. BUT, and if I knew how to enlarge the font that BUT would have been a much larger BUT, then there is another category of fans and I experienced this group last Saturday night.

It so happened that last Saturday was the last performance of one of the Billy's. A very pretty 14 year old boy he is too. I reluctantly agreed that we could stay behind for a while after the show so that H could try and get a photo and/or an autograph. The signs for success looked good as there were not too many young girls waiting as well, but in the event we were thwarted in our mission . Whilst the young star did indeed come to the door prepared for photographs with fans and to write autographs the instant he appeared there was a stampede and we were just shoved unceremoniously out of the way. Not by other young girls I hasten to add, but by very dodgy looking single men who when I thought about it, had been lurking around in the shadows. These, as I soon learned, were the fanatical fans that see practically every show. Now maybe it is because I am a social worker that I am unable to think of any innocent reason why these particular individuals are so keen on this of all shows?

Not surprisingly the lad's chaperon got him back inside the theatre pretty damn quick.

That aside, if anyone has not seen this show and has the chance to go, it is simply breath taking, and I would recommend it to anyone. Thankfully it is possible to go and avoid the dirty mac brigade.

* The reasons for my reticence to actually name the show here is that on the previous occasions I have written about BE I have been swamped by visitors who search the net for all things Billy, and frankly I don't want perverts here.

This comes

via Gill and is scarier than anything you may have spotted on Halloween.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Was I wrong

to be embarrassed when whilst over in a pub in deepest rural Wales my sister asked for her chicken to be well done?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Giving a whole new meaning

to the word 'Welcome'.

Much as I would hate to see their membership increase, I do actually quite like the idea of them facing a mountain of applications from black and ethnic minorities. The whites might end up being forced out :-)

Friday, October 09, 2009


this article really is a load of cobblers.

It seems that menstrual activism (otherwise known as radical menstruation, menstrual anarchy, or menarchy) is having a moment. We learn that recent activists are likely to dress up as a bloody tampon and perform a cheer: "Smear it on your face and rub it on your body, it's time to start a menstrual party!"

No one I know I hope.

Friday, October 02, 2009

It's been a big day in my life

But a bigger day in the life J, my 18 year old son. He has started life as a student in Nottingham.

I have been pre-occupied since I returned from New York on Tuesday with his impending departure. On Wednesday lunchtime I went to get him some bits and pieces from Tescos and found myself choking back tears as I bought him tins of soup.

The whole house had been piled high with stuff to go and stuff to throw for the past week or so. I couldn't get along the upstairs corridor without scaling over some of his stuff. I've been back home now for nearly three hours and I can't yet face going upstairs as I am not ready for the clear corridor which means he doesn't live here anymore.

When we (me and his girlfriend) arrived at his place it was a flat for five residents but he was the first one there. Some four hours of queuing for various essential cards and passes later, his girlfriend and I had to leave but at that point he was still the only one there. I don't have the words to explain how terrible I felt as we drove away, me seeing him in my car mirror, thinking he was going to possibly be alone all night.

Thanks to the wonders that are mobile phones, texts arrived on our way home to say two lads had turned up and he was liking them both. I felt slightly better.

But now I am sitting here alone - both the other two are out working (another first this week in the case of my daughter)- and I keep picturing the chubby faced, blonde curly haired little cherub who old ladies used to coo over - and I can't understand where those years have gone.

Better stop now before my tears damage my key board.

Well as some of you will already know

that photo was taken in Central Park, New York. Amazing to come across such a wildlife oasis in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world.

This photo was taken of a construction worker who is currently employed at Ground Zero.

More on that some other time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Where was I?

I have had a few days away from the UK. Guaranteed everyone will have heard of where I am but it wasn't quite what I expected to find in this particular city.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Very quick passing reference to football

This is word for word of the local paper's verdict on our captain's performance on Saturday:

Ten times better than any other game for the club. 5/10.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Funny Jimmy Bullard

VERY funny Jimmy Bullard.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Silk and stuff

We visited a silk factory whilst we were in Shanghai. Silk has been produced in China since around 2700 BC and played a major part in the economic and social development of the country as traders took the Silk Road all the way back and forth between China and Europe. We saw evidence of European traders as they were depicted in frescoes from around 600 AD which we saw whilst we were in Xian.

That was a bizarre episode as we were at the Shaanxi History Museum but instead of going round it as we had kind of supposed was what we were there to do, we were taken through it, out a back entrance, down some steps, past the service areas underneath the museum, and finally into a basement that only permits visitors by appointment to see this very rare and delicate collection. The frescoes from the tomb of Prince Zhang Huai were fascinating depicting for example the Chinese playing polo,

and also hunting with their tamed pet leopards sitting in baskets behind them as they rode their horses. Photography strictly forbidden but well worth checking out on the net.

Back to silk. Our guide showed us the whole process of making silk from the silk worm cocoons* onward to the finished products and in particular to the rugs. The woman we saw at her loom had been making silk rugs for the past 22 years. The detail in these rugs was extraordinary and although I have seen it with my own eyes it is still impossible to believe that these beautiful carpets are made entirely by hand. A 6 foot by 4 foot rug would cost (with discount at factory prices) from around £450 for a fairly basic pattern, which was about £150 more than the weaver we saw earns in a year. Not good.

The scale of the construction going on in Shanghai is impossible to describe, but when the Chinese decide something is going to get done within a particular time scale it gets done within that particular time scale (see the preparations for the Beijing Olympics as one example). Next year Shanghai hosts the World Expo Exhibition** and is busy transforming the city ahead of that. Just one example: The Bund is down by the river and is a very popular destination for tourists. The local government has decided that given the massive influx of visitors expected for next year (70 million of them) The Bund will not be wide enough to accommodate all the tourists who will wish to stroll down it. Solution – widen the pavement all the way across the road, and build a new road underneath where the current one is. And that is exactly what they are doing right now. There is not a shadow of a doubt that it will be ready on time.

Most of the workers in the construction industry, like the weaver mentioned too, are migrant workers. In the Chinese context migrant means they come from further west in China and they are paid a pittance in what ever work they do. Exploitation of the workforce isn’t confined to capitalist countries.

* Countless silkworm cocoons in China but none go to waste. Any that aren't used in the silk industry get eaten. I still haven't got on to the subject of food have I? Some interesting little delicacies we came across, that I must remember to mention soon.

** Worth checking out if only for the fascinating 'Announcement on the Solicitation of the Third Round of Catering Service Providers for the Public Areas of the Site of Expo 2010'. Those Chinese love their short snappy titles.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Martin mentioned the lack of reports about NTFC. mother always told me that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. So with apologies to my mum, here goes.

As some of you will know we were relegated last season. We would not have been relegated if the players had collectively given a toss, but they did not and last May I was feeling like this about the team.

I fully expected if I am honest that anger and depression would have worn off by the time the new season started as with each new season usually comes new hope, but at the start of this season all I had seen was 3 out of our 4 decent players leaving - and no one inspiring coming in. Specifically no new goal keeper came in and we kicked off this season as we had played most of last season with a young and obviously* not yet ready for league football keeper, and a 16 year old reserve.

I missed the first few matches anyway as I was away. I missed our next one at home as I chose to go and see Reidski instead. I decided I had better things to do of a Saturday afternoon to go to the following match which was away at the mighty Burton Albion, but I have to say I did confidently expect that we would win that one by a margin of at least 5 goals. My son went. At quarter past three when we had been playing for all of 15 minutes I checked my phone to see as I did actually say to Reidski at the time, if we were five nil up yet. There were three texts from my son waiting to be read. The first one said 'Oh god - now it's 3.' It was only when I saw the other two texts that I could fully grasp the fact that it was 3 - 0 to Burton. I texted him back and said 'Please tell me you are joking.' He wasn't. He doesn't joke about anything that serious. We had conceded 3 goals in the space of the first ten minutes.

That obviously had to be an aberration. I went to the next game and I took Reidski with me. We both wished I hadn't. We were played off the park at home by Barnet whose wage bill is £500,000 less than ours is. There was not one single positive to take away from that performance except that it brought to a close Stuart Gray's time as our manager.

Saturday saw us under a caretaker manager taking on Notts County who have come into loads of money this season. A lively start saw us go 1-0 up. Hooray! although that elation was subsequently somewhat dampened by us then conceding 5 goals.

Suffice to say that the football team previously referred to as MY team still have quite a long way to go to reclaim their hold on my heart. Last season I won money on our relegation, and I am seriously considering placing a bet right now on us going down to the Conference at the end of this season because we are seriously poor right now.

* Obvious to everyone that is but our then manager.

It will be a relief to get back to talking about China after that little lot.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On anything but China.

Sorry but there is still loads I want to write about China, but I realise I have scared most of my visitors off by going on and on about it so I will try and come up with a post that doesn’t descend into ‘And whilst I was in China....’

There’s been lots going on since I got back. On the bank holiday Monday a group of us sprung a surprise on our wonderful friend Anne (the one who paid for us to go to China. So far not a great start to the Not Mentioning China resolve but I think it did need to get mentioned there). Anne was 50 the other weekend and had organised a party, but we wanted to do something for her so we got a private room in a restaurant down in London to which she was lured under false pretences. There followed much piss taking on issues as important as hair styles Anne has worn, and outfits she has been seen alive in (some rather serious crimes against fashion were recalled), but mainly it was a very emotional day. I’ve known Anne for over thirty years, and all of us have been through so many ups and downs, but above all that we have had so many laughs. Lots more laughs were added that day.

As for her party itself: Well in many ways it was simply wonderful. More champagne than I have ever seen in my life and a chance to catch up with people I don’t see so much anymore. Rather unfortunately for me though I must have been exuding my ‘I am a social worker’ radar as when ever I asked anyone how they were I didn’t get the much desired ‘I’m absolutely fine thank you’ response. Instead I got the full uncensored version of everyone’s own version of a Mid Life Crisis. It was all rather depressing !

The day we came back from holiday (where was it you went again Jane?) was the day my son’s A Level results were out. As we arrived back late in the afternoon he had no way of getting them that day, but he went on the internet on his phone after we landed and was able to see that he had got his place at the university he wanted to go to. He was so overjoyed that he cried. Seeing him cry, plus the realisation that he really will be leaving home in October, made me cry. Seeing me cry made me daughter cry. My eldest son who is not leaving home managed not to cry but instead started planning how he was going to re-arrange his bedroom now he will finally have a room of his own.

Reidski and I have had some lovely times together as usual. I still can’t believe how lucky I was to meet him through blogging of all things. We get on so incredibly well. Anyway, on Saturday we went to see Richmond Fontaine in Bedford and I loved them. I hadn’t seem them before and didn’t really know what to expect whilst Reidski spent much of the concert chatting away to them so intimate is he with them and their sounds. This most have been rather irritating for anyone there to listen to their music as opposed to their chit chat with some Scottish geezer but no one complained (not audibly at least).

We spent the night in a hotel where there was a wedding party in full swing. I sort of wish I had the descriptive powers to pass on to you the sheer horror of the frocks on display but I don’t really want to illustrate the full dimensions of my snobbery. Let’s just say tight fitting, revealing, day-glo colours and tattoos and draw a veil over what the women were wearing 

Bedford has a very significant Italian community and we had the most fabulous meal before we went to see R.F here which if we had eaten it in Italy would have provoked months of ‘You could never get that standard of food outside of Italy’ talk. The following day there was an Italian Festival going on, complete with naff singers in white suits, waltzing grandmothers, lots of Italian motors and a splattering of Juventus football shirts. It was fun.

Much to the envy of my kids Reidski has done the almost impossible and got us a couple of tickets to see Jay Z at this one off gig in Camden. My kids pointed out that I will most probably be the oldest person there. I will try not to mind too much.

Work has been tough recently. Far too many intensely complicated scenarios that I am trying to juggle. Though nothing was as bad as Saturday afternoon when I found myself scouring woodland to locate two kids aged 5 and 6 who had done a runner from our annual Family Day. I really wasn’t too sure how exactly I was going to explain to their parents how I had succeeded in mislaying their children –although thinking about it, as the children in question were so particularly badly behaved, their parents may have considered I had done them a favour. But talking of work my lunch time is up so back to the coal face of human misery I go. It’s just like Anne’s party all over again, but without the champagne.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Keeping the Red Flag Flying There

Shanghai girls – high achieving, hard working, high earning, high maintenance and high spending. Our (female) guide in Shanghai described how they always eat out and spend loads on fashion, make up, and personal grooming.

Shanghai boys – the opposite to the above.

Shanghai boys are said to make the best husbands in China.

Shanghai girls are said to make the worst wives.

In spite of living in a very 21st Century city some old habits die hard in Shanghai – not least the one that means men have to provide totally for the woman upon marriage. And pity the totally laid back Shanghai boys who finds himself landed with one of the driven Shanghai girls. The boys are considered to be the best husbands in China because they never argue with their wives – in fact they tend to be afraid of them. One of our guide’s married female acquaintances was displeased with her husband for some misdemeanour and made him spend an afternoon kneeling on an old fashioned wash board. We found it bizarre to say the least that he accepted this punishment, but China truly is another country.

Something else we found odd about Shanghai was that feng shui is still taken very seriously indeed by the inhabitants. There was a long article in the Shanghai Daily News when we were there, talking to young women who swore that the good fortune they had recently achieved had been done to consultation with feng shui masters. On the other hand there stands behind a temple which we visited, a testament to what happens when the feng shui exerts a negative vibe. We visited the Jade Temple and behind it is a tall and very modern apartment block of flats – all of them unoccupied and likely to remain so. Apparently one of the worst things one can do to disturb the feng shui positivity is to look down upon a Buddha. When people first moved into this apartment block there were numerous reports of ill fortune befalling the residents, and the net result of them all was that everyone in there moved out, and no one else is prepared to risk the wrath of Buddha by moving in. Mind you – looking at this photo of one of the Buddha’s there, one might understand a certain reluctance to annoy him further!

Shanghai is an incredible city. It contains areas known as ‘concessions’ that were once enclaves for foreign nationals which were so apart from the rest of the city that they would even have their own electricity supplies. There is a French concession which is street after street that looks just like Parisian boulevards, and The Bund by the river which was the British concession area. It was a strange experience to walk along it next to buildings that would not be out of place in the City of London. One especially amazing building there was the former HSBC building – now the Shanghai Pedong Development Bank building. One is not allowed to take photos inside of this building, and this picture I found does not do the ceiling justice but will give a good idea of how elaborate it was.

During the Cultural Revolution when such a ceiling would have been under threat from the Red Guards the bank employees covered up the ceiling so that it would hopefully escape being vandalised and it remained covered up and forgotten about until fairly recently.

The only things that suggested that these various buildings along The Bund were not British were the flags flying above them all. Or at least those flags suggested something to most of us.

By the time we visited The Bund we had been in China for 9 days. It was therefore slightly embarrassing for us all when one of our party turned to our guide and asked her what exactly all those red flags signified?

Obviously there are limits to how educational travel can be!

Isn't my 18 year old son gorgeous, and how lucky was he to celebrate his birthday in such a fabulous and exciting city?

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Three Gorges

We had a leisurely journey on a cruise through the Three Gorges on the Yangzi river. These are – as it says on the tin – three gorges through which the river passes in fairly rapid succession, but the scenery is simply breathtaking as the river is cut through mountains that instantly rise to 1,000 metres and more.

So leisurely was our boat trip that it is hard to imagine how come the Tang poet Li Bai (AD c.712-770) wrote of the waters through which we passed that they were as ‘A thousand seas poured into a single cup.’

Before the 20th Century rugged mountains would have virtually isolated Sichuan province from eastern China if it hadn’t been for the 400 mile stretch of water down which we travelled from Chongqing to Yichang, but it was a very perilous journey. As the river narrowed to pass through the gorges, so the water turned to vicious torrents.

The water levels were far lower before any dams were built, but it was also extremely rocky, and in fact to navigate the Three Gorges needed the assistance of men known as the river trackers whose job was to help haul the boats through the gorges with the aid of ropes. For some of the biggest ships up to 400 men would be involved in trying to get the ship safely through the gorges. The dangers presented by the waters gushing through the gorges defeated the attempts of the Japanese to pass through them during the Second World War and attack Chongqing.

After the war work was done to smash the hazardous rocks and as water levels have risen the raging waters of the river have been calmed. Trackers are no longer needed on the main stretches of the river, but do continue to work in the tributaries. Inevitably this is now mainly to satisfy the tourists.

The trackers used to work in the nude because for one thing if they wore clothes they would get wet, and probably didn’t possess a change of attire anyway. The other thing was though that the ropes would rub the fabric of their clothing and cause terrible sores, so they always stripped off for work. So as not to offend the sensibilities of we precious tourists they now wear shorts but continue to be bare chested. We did travel down one of the tributaries called the Shennong Xi, on first a smaller boat, and then on one rowed and later, as the water got shallower, pulled by the boat men. There are many such trips available but although the boats are all the same size the number of people taken by the trackers in each one depends upon nationality. Chinese people travel 15 to a boat, as opposed to 9 Americans. And yes – that is down to the ‘small’ matter of size. (13 of us on ours).

The youngest tracker currently working on this stretch of river was 17 and the oldest was 84. One of the men rowing our boat was 68. He had the most incredibly muscular frame I have ever seen. All the trackers come from farms up in the mountains. As if it is not enough to spend your working day rowing and pulling along boatloads of tourists, we were told that to get to these boats they hike between 2 and 3 hours, and then after they finish they hike back to their homes again. They are renowned for their longevity, and I can’t say I am surprised. Though not exactly a relaxing life that they lead!

Along the Shennong Xi there are caves in which are visible from the river three hanging coffins. These were left by the Bai people who were the earliest Sichuan people, some 2,000 years ago. They are high up the cliff face because they believed that the closer a deceased person was to heaven the better their chances of getting a place up there. I did see these coffins but capturing camera on a moving boat proved well beyond my ken.

But as for the scenery?

Words fail me, but thankfully my little digital camera where that was concerned certainly did not.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Relocation, relocation, relocation

Our river cruise down the Yangtze took three days. On our first day we were taken to a Chinese village to meet some of the residents there. The first family we met had a house with a basement, a general store at the bottom and three bedrooms, a lounge, bathroom and kitchen on the top floor. They had lived there about two years. Previously they had lived in another village but that village no longer exists due to the Three Gorges Dam Project. This project which was completed at the end of last year resulted in the water level through the Three Gorges rising an incredible 140 metres. The family we met were not the only people who had to be relocated – not by a long way. Some 1.4 million people have had to leave their homes, often where their families have lived for generations, and move to new locations. Entire cities were rebuilt higher up the river banks.

This family had the choice of a number of possible locations and had a fixed sum of money as compensation and towards building costs. They chose their preferred spot and constructed their present home. She described a great deal of grief when she and the residents of her previous village were called to a general meeting and told by a government official that their entire village would be destroyed. It was 7 years after they first heard about these plans that they actually moved which is a long time to have something so major hanging over you. She said however that having moved, and being able to open their shop, they were happy with how things had turned out for them.

We then walked through the village (If you find this tourist please take care of her. She is from deepest Northamptonshire) to see how the original villagers lived. Slight difference. I did take some photos of the inside of this home but as there were no windows they came out too dark to illustrate their living conditions, but let’s just say they were basic. Some of us thought we were in a shed, but it was the bedroom.

The stuff on the ground in front of me is the corn drying.

The closest sweet building is the communal ‘washroom’. Very picturesque but you might not necessarily chose to live there yourself. We asked the old guy who was the senior member of the household if he felt any resentment towards the ‘in-comers’ who had all mod cons and resettlement compensation. He said not at all as he remembers the days under Chiang Kai-Shek when he was forced to flee his home over and again. Now he is happy to have a place he calls home.

I could go on at great length about the potential advantages and disadvantages of this massive Dam Project but one thing will for ever stay in my mind.

The weight of millions of tons of water behind a dam can increase the chances of an earthquake. Critics of the project raised this many years before the project actually got underway but the authorities were convinced that this was not a threat.

On May 12th 2008 there was a massive earthquake. You will recall the images from newspapers and television at the time. The earthquake was in a province the Yangtze river passes through.

Official figures (as of July 21, 2008) ) state that 69,227 are confirmed dead, including 68,636 in Sichuan province, and 374,176 injured, with 18,222 listed as missing. The earthquake left about 4.8 million people homeless, though the number could be as high as 11 million. Whether or not the Dam had anything to do with this horrific disaster the fact remains that as we looked out of our boat and down at the waters we would see, floating along, shoes. Lots and lots of shoes. Shoes that belonged to victims of the earthquake.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Chinese family life.

As a change from 'What I did on my holidays' here follows some more of what we picked up about the Chinese way of life.

It was very noticeable in Beijing that family groups often comprised more than one child who looked so alike that they had to be siblings. This we were told was because wealthy families do not have to adhere to the one child policy at it means they pay more in taxation, but that they can afford to do so. However, in central China it was a different story and the one child policy has been stuck to very strictly. With an aging population though inevitably there will be problems with the policy because the younger generations are expected to support their parents who can retire from the age of 50, and increasingly their grandparents as well.

In rural areas the government has allowed some flexibility in that if a farmer’s family has a daughter first they can have one more child in the hope that it will be a boy who can in due course take over the farming of the family’s land. Even in Shanghai – no ones idea of a rural area – the district government is saying that if a couple are both single children themselves, they can if they wish have a second child.

We met a woman on our boat who had triplets – two boys and a girl Result!

But what are the impacts of the one child policy on Chinese families? One of our guides had previously been a teacher of teenage kids. He quit because the behaviour of the children was so appalling – he said they were all so exceedingly spoilt. He went on to say that he himself had been totally spoilt when he was a child. He told us about a trip he made with his parents to Beijing when he was about 8 and he saw his first McDonalds. He could see all these children inside playing and he desperately wanted to go in and eat there. His mother pointed out that he couldn’t possibly be hungry because they had only just had dinner. He then proceeded to make the fuss to end all fusses and his indulgent parents caved in and he got his first ever Happy Meal. He didn’t touch the food as he was indeed not the slightest bit hungry, but he treasured the free toy for many months after the visit.

Our guide in Shanghai described the single children as generations of Little Emperors and Little Empresses. All completely and utterly indulged by their parents. BUT these children are also put under intense pressure to succeed because they will be expected to take care of their parents as they go out to work.

The pressure begins at kindergarten age where there are actually examinations for entrance to the best ones. Children of 3 years old are expected to know a minimum of 500 Chinese characters and to have some English.

In Shanghai the district authority recently put out a survey to see what it was that teenagers in the city felt would most improve their quality of life. 87% said ‘More sleep’, and they weren’t asking to be allowed to stay in bed till mid-afternoon. They spend all day at school and are given masses of homework on a daily basis. When they leave school they often get sent to Children’s Palaces – places offering extra curricular activities like music lessons, dance, art etc – and these places also give the kids homework. Our guide said that it is generally accepted that school students in the city will be doing homework till 2 in the morning, and will be up for school again five hours later. They also have activities at the weekends. She said the local authority recognises there is a problem with the physical condition of especially the young men – they are so busy with academic studies they do not get out to play sport or exercise and are a weedy bunch. What our guide said was that they were faced with increasing numbers of young people with very high I.Q’s but very low emotional intelligence at socialising just doesn’t happen. They start work and have no idea how to relate to colleagues.

Whilst all this pressure seems very unfair on the young people there are reasons behind it . As I already mentioned, the expectation on young adults is that they will support the older generations in their families (two families assuming a couple get married). The parents of people like our guide, Mira, have suffered extreme hardship during their lives. Mira was a child in the 1980’s and has always lived in Shanghai. Her family lived in one room three floors up in an apartment block. They had no kitchen and no bathroom. Chamber pots would be taken each morning to the nearest public toilet and sluiced out there. When they had a bath, heated water would be fetched from the ground floor of the block and carried up the stairs where it would be emptied into a tin bath. Afterwards the water would have to be carried back down again. This though was no hardship compared to what her father went through.

Her father was a student during the Cultural Revolution and was thus ‘encouraged’ to volunteer to go and do labouring work so he could appreciate the life of the Chinese peasants. He and his friends went to the province of Xinjiang which basically is as far away from Shanghai as they could have got without leaving China. It was a three day and night train journey to get there on a train with no seating, let alone toilet facilities. Upon arrival they were allocated space in what she described as barns for their living quarters and they were set to work on the land. There was a basic problem with the land in that it was on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert. Nothing could be cultivated there by experienced farmers so a bunch of students from a huge city were always going to struggle. He worked on the fruitlessly on the land for some 7 years before getting a job collecting firewood for the horrendously bitter cold winters (averaging -11 to -22 centigrade) ,from out in the Takalmakan Desert. This must have been fun.

Taklamakan translates as "The Desert of Death", "The Desert Into which He who Enters Will Not Return", "The Abandoned Place".
One of the largest 'shifting' deserts in the world, it once formed the greatest obstacle to be found along the Silk Road and fearful Caravaneers of old would skirt its edges, to the north or to the south, as they transported their wares from oasis to oasis and on to Khotan, Kashgar or Chang-an.

He went in a horse and cart – six hours into the desert and six hours back – every day for three years – on his own. Mira has asked him before how come he didn’t go stark staring mad doing that and his answer is that he knew he was so much better off doing that than he had been in the fields so he counted his blessings.

So anyway – no wonder he wants a bit of comfort in his old age.

Mira also told us displays of affection between parents and their child are very rare. She said she loved the way we kissed or hugged our children. This may also be a throw back to those raised during the Cultural Revolution as loyalty to the Party had to be placed above loyalty to the family and in fact for most of the week even senior Party officials lived apart from their families. Individuals feared being denounced if they were seen to be too affectionate to family members - even to their children. Saturdays were the day when a married couple could be together and the euphemism for making love in China is still 'Spending a Saturday'. I really don't know how though anyone could 'grow out of' being affectionate to ones kids.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

And so to Chongqing.

A small municipality with a population of a mere 33 million people.

It sounds beautiful. A city in a sub-tropical temperature zone on the river Yangtze and so mountainous that no one in Chongqing rides a bike. In fact when students from Chongqing go to university outside of their home city the other students laugh at them as they have to learn to ride a bike for the first time in their lives. Public transport in this city includes monorails, funicular railways and chairlifts.

Well it might very well be very beautiful but one will never know on account of this.....

It is so foggy (not to mention the pollution) that the residents of the city hardly ever see the sun, and visitors do not get to see the mountainsides at all.

Chongqing was the capital of China during the Second World War. This was an act of tactical genius. The city was the western side of the Three Gorges on the Yangtze which at that time was an extremely hazardous river and was very difficult for the Japanese to penetrate through. There were no roads over the mountains so the only other possible way to attack the city was by air but it is so bloody foggy the Japanese fighter pilots couldn’t find the place, let alone successfully bomb it.

Much as I would love to sing the praises of this place our few hours in the city before boarding our boat to take us down the river do not count as the highlight of the trip, but I am nevertheless not likely to forget that day in a hurry. In each place we visited we had a different guide. Our guide in Chongqing was called Jackie (English version of his name). Anyway, my middle son was getting on really well with him and the two of them were chatting away nineteen to the dozen. We were in what had been the headquarters of the joint American and Chinese war effort. I was looking at some photos from that time and asked Jackie a question about one of them. He answered the question and then had one of his own for me: “Do you remember the war?”

It was one of those moments when your brain can’t quite process what someone has just said to you as it is simply too dreadful to comprehend. Apparently I stood there with a stunned and horrified expression on my face as I tried to manufacture a reply that was politer than “Fuck right off” when I realised my son was bent double with laughter. Jackie’s question had been instigated by him, and carried out with panache by his accomplice. Revenge will be mine when he least expects it.

So here is downtown Chongqing – yet another place with massive investment pouring in.

But I have to be honest - the best part of our day in Chongqing was the moment our boat set sail and we left the place!

Friday, August 28, 2009


as asked by not one but two of my offspring.: ...”What are the Terracotta Warriors made of?” Answers please on the back of a postcard.

Xian is a city with a population of about 8 million people. It is also undergoing massive reconstruction, and much of this is due to it being the location of the Terracotta Army. What I had not known previously was that Xian – historically known as Cháng'ān was the capital of China for over a thousand years including the duration of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618 – 907). (I can’t help myself with the historical details – I blame my education.) Because of this it is an archeologist’s paradise. As you drive from the airport to the city there are burial mounds in every direction – emperors, empresses, princes, princesses, concubines, rich courtiers....

A word now in praise of A&K. When one sees the word ‘Museum’ crop up on ones itinerary it isn’t guaranteed to gladden the heart, even with an old foggie like me – but we visited four museums in the 48 hours we spent in Xian and every visit was superb. Basically our guide in the city made sure we saw the highlights including this lady – one of 13 ‘Fat ladies’.

The porcelain we saw was simply astonishing in that it looked exactly like the kind of things up market stores like Heals and Harrods would sell today – simple, classic designs – yet they were 1500 years old.

It would be an unusual visitor to Xian however who did not come away saying that the visit to the Terracotta Warriors was not the highlight of their stay there. Reidski and I did go to the exhibition in the British Museum last year, but nothing could ever prepare you for the first site of 1200 of these unearthed warriors in row after row, there to defend the Emperor Qin Shi (BC 221-210) throughout his afterlife. I deliberately avoided looking until such time as I was stood right at the front and would have a clear view of them. I nearly collapsed when I did focus upon them.

Qin must have been truly remarkable. He was the first Emperor to unify China- and lets not forget just how fucking big China is. How would one even start to unify an area that huge even with the communications and transport systems we have today? He standardized money, as well as weights and measures, and he began the construction of the Great Wall...not personally like – he had many thousands of minions to do that – even after he had set many other thousands of minions to work on his tomb.

For those who don’t know the story of the discovery of the warriors in 1974 9 farmers were digging a well when about 12 feet down they discovered a sizable chunk of one. They took it along to the museum and – not unusually Xian being the aforementioned archeologist’s paradise, there was a visiting archeologist there who was intrigued enough by this particular find to go back to the area and start digging. Thus began the unearthing of what they believe will total an army of 8,000 warriors by the time they have finished. I should say – by the time they have finished digging that particular section. Qin’s tomb is over a kilometer away. He was preparing everything he would need in his afterlife and so far they haven’t found a single woman. Even in the event that Qin was a confirmed bachelor he would need them for the cleaning – there is so much more to be found – let alone what will be in his tomb itself. Scripts that have been unearthed talk of rivers made of mercury and stars made of diamonds and pearls. I really hope I live long enough to hear what is actually in there.

Incidentally, if the farmers had dug one metre to the east they would not have found anything. They just happened to come across a warrior in the very front row, and in the left hand corner.

The museum, very sensibly, is built on the site of the discoveries. The Chinese seem to do this quite a lot – another museum we visited in Xian (The Hanyangling Museum) is actually underground so you walk alongside the treasures from an emperor’s tomb at the level they were discovered...over 3,000 of those thus far!

Millions of people have visited Xian since the Warriors were discovered, and so it was interesting to learn that the 9 farmers received $400 in recognition of their find – between them. This was after all Communist China and everyone had the same income. However, as they saw the area transformed financially because of their find they went back to the authorities and argued they should be entitled to more. That argument ran and ran. Following the death of Mao though a deal was reached whereby the farmers take turns in the museum gift shop (home of the £12 fridge magnet) and sign the guide book. For doing this they get a percentage of each book sold. There are only four of them left alive now.

The museum gift shop also sells, in addition to signed guide books and vastly overpriced fridge magnets, life size terracotta warriors. Some of these (my children please take note) are made from terracotta. Some are made in solid jade. “Who in their right mind? “we wondered, “would buy one of them?” This question was partially answered on our return to England. My car was at the home of or friend who funded this trip. She lives in Loughton, Essex. As we drove in our mini bus down her road I saw a terracotta warrior in her neighbour’s driveway. No one believed me so we had to reverse and have a proper look, but sure enough, just round the bend from where Anne lives someone who may or may not be in their right mind, has a life sized terracotta warrior in their front garden. There truly is ‘Nowt so queer as folk.'

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


If one stays in the Peninsular Suite at the Peninsular Hotel Beijing one gets the free* use of a brand new Rolls Royce during ones stay. In fact the hotel has two such vehicles, as well as 6 7 series BMW's - all in the company colours of a very dark and sophisticated green. These cars are parked in a perfectly synchronised formation in front of the hotel foyer.

Spare a thought then for the poor taxi driver who on the morning of our departure from Beijing had the misfortune to bump into the front of one of these extremely expensive vehicles provoking consternation amongst the hotel staff, and hilarity amongst every passer by.

*Although if you are tempted I should point out that the suite in question costs five grand a night.

This is not a complaint but

Because we were travelling with Abercrombie and Kent hereafter to be known as A & K, who provide very luxurious tours indeed, there was an assumption made that we were all 13 of us extremely wealthy. Our retail ‘opportunities’ offered as part of the trip included visits to pearl markets and silk factories where it would have been nice if there was a single item for sale that we could actually afford. My guide book warned to be alert for trips to the Great Wall that could include unwanted diversions to cloisonné workshops and jade factories. Ours managed to include both of these, the first of them cunningly disguised as a toilet stop.

As I mentioned before we left, the thought of the toilets in China filled me with horror, but in fact all facilities that the clients of A & K were confronted with were better than anything we encounter in England. On this particular morning though our guide said we would stop for the toilet break at this spot because they were much cleaner than those by the Wall itself. They just happened to be at a cloisonné workshop.
This is a multi-step enamel process used to produce jewellery, vases etc. Hummm- all very nice stuff, but rather on the pricey side. I was just about to buy a Christmas decoration for the tree when my son pointed out to me it actually cost £12.00 rather than the £1.20 I had calculated. If only he had been there to save me from buying the fridge magnet which cost me a bloody fiver. A rather expensive toilet stop – it cost one of our party over 200 quid!

Small diversion here on the subject of fridge magnets. As Reidski well knows (he has a fridge covered with magnets from my various trips) I do like to get fridge magnets when I am away. The one in this story cost me a fiver. They wanted £12 for one at the Terracotta Warriors museum (they didn’t get it though as thankfully I had sussed the exchange rate by then). £1.50 for the exact same magnet in Xian itself – and £1.00 in a village outside Shanghai. So shop around for your fridge magnets in China people!

So onwards to see The Great Wall. We went to Mutianyu (90 kilometers northeast of Beijing) which opened in 1986, which was designated by the Beijing Government in 1987 as one of the 16 most scenic spots in China. This section of the Wall was begun in A.D. 600 and reconstructed 1,000 years later. The main section stretches for 2.5 kilometers, and is punctuated by 22 watchtowers, including three connected bastions to the lowest part of the pass. We were very lucky to be there on a beautiful clear day and we could literally see mile after mile of the Wall wending its way over the mountain tops.

Now I appreciate that 2.5 kilometers doesn’t sound like far, and that the following risks making me sound like a right out of condition slob, but I did get to the end of the section that is open to visitors, along with three others from our group of 13, and if I have done anything more strenuous in my entire life, then the pain of that particular exercise what ever it may have been must have been so dreadful I have managed to get rid of that memory completely. I wish these photos could show exactly how steep it was – especially in the last part which is the last bit of Wall you can see in the middle picture – because I can’t describe how tough the going was. It was also extremely hot and humid. It also took simply ages. In fact we were supposed to have been back at our coach when we still weren’t quite at the end. Being a law abiding sort of person myself I was worried that we should turn back but as one of the other four said we weren’t ever going to get the chance to make this walk again, and anyway – “The coach won’t leave without us.” So we did make it....a triumphant moment, only slightly marred by the realisation that we now had to get all the way back.

The coach did not in point of fact wait for us. (Although our guide did, and we caught up with the others eventually via a taxi ride.) Our guide told us that it is very rare for his clients to walk the entire stretch of Wall - especially rare for clients of A & K who generally just take the chair lift up, take a few photos, and go back down again. I am so very glad I did it. My h ours spent at the gym have not been in vain.

After a wonderful lunch in which I must have consumed about a million calories at least, we went on to visit the Ming Tombs, which comprise the burial chambers of 13 Ming Emperors plus countless wives, concubines and assorted high ranking eunuchs (complete with their precious parts we hope).
The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs , which is stunningly beautiful, was carefully chosen according to Feng Shui principles, which are still taken very seriously in China today (more on that when I get to our trip to Shanghai).

A seven kilometer road named the "Spirit Way" (Shen dao) leads into the complex, lined with statues of guardian animals and officials.

This is me with My Little Pony. Thankfully we did not have to walk all the 7 kilometers – some of us still hadn’t dried out from our earlier walk.

The day was rounded off with the aforementioned visit to the jade factory. “Oh lovely – the finest quality apple green jade used for this necklace. A mere £90,000 too. Moving swiftly on....” As I say, the expectation was that we could afford this stuff. I don’t even think I like jade very much myself.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Random bits from Beijing.

First impressions were amazement at the beautiful Terminal 3 at Beijing airport (designed partly by Norman Foster, and larger than all five Heathrow terminals combined), and astonishment at the sheer number of ultra modern skyscrapers in the city. Everywhere we visited we heard the same story of massive investment in building work over the past 10 to 15 years transforming the appearance of the cities. Most of the investment though is centred on the Eastern side of China whilst the middle lags behind considerably and the West is still virtually untouched by modernisation.

So dramatic is the redevelopment in Beijing that it took one individual to draw attention to the fact that if some of the old buildings were not preserved no one would know what the original Beijing looked like. Because of his foresight an area has now been protected called the Hutong and we visited a family living there. Madam was none too impressed with the changes that had taken place around her – least of all the now thriving night life that has sprung up in this quaint and previously quiet, part of town. She did however take our visit as an opportunity to try and flog us some of her husband’s paintings which she displayed on her wooden clothes horse. They were very good.

It is now 30 years since China was once again opened up to the outside world, yet throughout our trip, and most noticeably in Beijing, we were the object of curiosity and interest. We kept being asked to pose for photographs with the Chinese, and others would none too subtly video our group, although my blond haired, blue eyed daughter was in particular demand – we should have charged for each photo taken of her! Whilst initially this seemed unexpected in Beijing it was explained that the vast majority of tourists to Beijing, not surprisingly really, are Chinese. Many of these tourists are from areas that scarcely ever see a Westerner and it was these people who were so fascinated by us.

The changes Chinese people of my age have seen during their lifetime are quite staggering – let alone what their parents’ generation have experienced. Our guide in Beijing was born in 1964. When he was growing up if he didn’t want to eat up all his dinner his mother would say “But you must eat all your food. Don’t you know that in America and Britain the poor children are starving?” The first wave of American tourists soon put paid to that illusion!

Less than a hundred years ago there were still eunuchs at the Imperial Court. Some actually volunteered for ‘the cut’ as it could be a lucrative career. The actual operation was performed by a ‘knifer’. The patient would be given a herbal infusion meant to anaesthetize (let’s hope it was effective), and was then held down and sliced with a specially designed knife. A metal plug was then inserted in the urethra and he was made to walk immediately. No food or urination was allowed for three days. The plug was then taken out and if he could urinate at that point it meant he would probably live. The severed penis and testicles, known as the ‘Precious’ were carefully kept by each eunuch as they needed to be shown when ever they were on the brink of progressing to a higher level of service. Sometimes they got nicked so they would have to borrow a colleagues ‘Precious’. They also needed them when they died in order to gain entry to heaven as men – though some may feel it would all be a bit too late by then. The reason the eunuchs were required within the Imperial Household was to ensure that only the Emperor and his male heirs got to shag the concubines and that their offspring were guaranteed to be the Sons or Daughters of Heaven.

Chairman Mao must be spinning in his grave. Designer goods were on sale all over the city – as well as some very convincing fakes. Attitudes towards Mao seem to verge from veneration, through acceptance that he did some good things as well as having made some horrendous errors, to those of the teenagers “Yeah. I’ve heard of him – but he’s ancient history man!” If you can see some writing high up on the hillside on the photo of the Great Wall ,that says something like ‘Worship Mao,’ and only appeared a few years ago. Tiananmen Square is the largest square in the world – it is said to be able to hold a million people, and the queue of people waiting to see Mao in his mausoleum wound round the square at least twice. The people we saw waiting must be there still – although we were reliably informed that his body was badly embalmed and decomposed so was replaced by a wax work copy.

Our guide told us that when the massacre occurred he had a group of Australian tourists who cut their trip short because of it. He thus had some free time and the brother of one of his friends was missing so he went round the hospitals to see if they could find him. This man was a medical student who had just qualified. He had not been one of the protestors but had gone to the Square to assist with some of the students who had been on hunger strike. They eventually found him in a mortuary with four bullet holes across his chest. The Chinese government says 27 people died in the square that day. Following the massacre the paving in the square was all replaced with marble. Locals say this is because blood doesn’t stain marble.

Some of our family and friends were worried we may have been caught up in the typhoon that hit Eastern China whilst we were there. I guess the rain that fell in bucket loads on the first Sunday afternoon must have been connected to what was going on elsewhere, but it was the only time we got rained upon – as the photo hopefully shows there was rather a lot of it that day.

Coming next – how I sprinted up the Great Wall of China. Or should that read how I staggered up the Great Wall of China????

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I just don't know where to begin

So how about with Beijing, which was where our holiday did in fact begin....albeit not without an anxious 'We are going to get sent back' moment.

The Chinese are taking no risks with swine flu. Upon our arrival at the airport all staff were wearing face masks. We had to walk through sensors which took our temperatures automatically. Imagine our alarm when my daughter and another girl travelling with us were then immediately hauled into a medical check area for further investigations. Thankfully both of them passed the subsequent checks and we were allowed to enter The People's Republic of China. And thus began a truly sensational twelve days.

Whilst in Beijing itself (or Peking if you are from Southern China)we visited the Summer Palace; a family living in the Hutong which are some of the typical housing areas of which the majority have been demolished to make way for the skyscrapers that now constitute most of Beijing; The Forbidden Palace,The Temple of Heaven and various restaurants and markets.

The most surreal moments occurred in a park adjacent to the Forbidden City. We saw a middle aged Chinese woman dancing to music by a traditional Chinese band. We stopped and applauded her. This prompted three other women to join her and commence dancing to some Chinese tune, whilst urging us to join them. I threw dignity to the wind and joined in, as did my eldest, and after a while the remaining teenagers in our party. We made it through the dance and thought that was enough - a large crowd having already gathered to laugh at the Westerners attempts at Chinese dance styles. But no - the band then broke into (and this was somewhat incongruous) 'Jingle Bells', and followed this up very swiftly, and before we had time to make our escape,with ' I Come from Alabama with a Banjo on my Knee.' We were finally allowed to leave after participating in a Chinese folk song in which we got the hang of the chorus which consisted of shouting the word 'Hoy!' very loudly. Apparently the song translated to say that if you smile every day you will look ten years younger. We certainly made lots of Chinese people smile that day.

Have so much to say about this incredibly wonderful country that I have no doubt I will bore the arse of anyone who still pops by this place - but please stick with me over the next few weeks - I really do have a wealth of wonderful stories to share.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Vacation, vacation

Well unbelievably I am off to China tomorrow. I won’t actually arrive there until Saturday morning – complete with my first proper experience of jet lag no doubt. My trip will include Beijing, Xian (this will be so helpful if my A-Z travels ever get as far as ‘X’!) , a three day cruise down the Yangzi River, and will end in Shanghai* where my son will get to celebrate his 18th birthday. (When I was his age I had never even been on an aeroplane.)

We are so incredibly lucky to have a friend as wonderful and generous as the lady who is paying for a total of 13 of us to have this amazing trip.

I know it is going to be a series of extraordinary experiences although I am hoping to avoid the experience of the public toilets there if remotely possible (described in my guide book with words like ‘squalid’ and filthy’).

I have never been anywhere humid before and so the fact that the humidity is currently up to 92 in some of the places we are going to doesn’t mean an awful lot to me right now – maybe just as well huh?

Don’t know if I will get on- line whilst I am there but I will try really hard not to alienate visitors to this place by droning on infinitum about the wonders of the Orient for too long after my return.

Back on the 20th. Till then I love you (in different degrees depending upon whether or not I sleep with you), and leave you (but I will be back soon).

*Note for Yorkshire Pudding – I had thought we were going to Hong Kong but arrangements were altered. I think I have more than enough to look forward to regardless.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Don't miss

Manuel on Paris.

"I was determine not to let any small incidents of fisting get in the way of enjoying my trip."

Monday, August 03, 2009

Has my absence made your hearts grow fonder?

Never mind – I’m thick skinned and I plough on regardless ;-)

Reidski and I have had a few days away and we stayed in Lancaster.

We got up early the first morning there determined to make the most of our time in the city. Our first trip was to the Tourist Information Office – which was shut. So we walked up to the (very impressive) castle – which was shut. Undeterred we walked down to the Maritime Museum (strange but true fact – Lancaster used to have a thriving port) and you will already have guessed that that was also shut. So having got up and about early we found ourselves killing time in Reidski’s idea of hell – the local shopping centre. I can tell you that Lancaster shopping centre looks remarkably like every other shopping centre in the UK.

We did eventually visit both the Maritime Museum and the Museum of Lancaster. Returning briefly to a previous topic regarding how when one lives in a place one never does what is on ones doorstep, Reidski had been in Lancaster for less than 18 hours and went to its Maritime Museum. He has lived near Greenwich for more than 18 years and only went to the Maritime Museum there last April.

Picked up one or two little snippets of information in the museums as one does. I learnt that John of Gaunt (Father of the Lancastrian king Henry IV, and known in Shakespeare as 'Time- Honoured Lancaster") spent precisely 9 days of his life in Lancaster. I also learnt that before the railways travellers went to the Lake District on horse drawn coaches across Morecombe Bay when the tide was out. We went to Morecombe Bay and very attractive it is too but what with all the quick sand around I wouldn’t want to cross it by any means other than boat. It was very easy to understand how this disaster happened there.

Should you ever find yourself in Lancaster this pub was superb.

We came back via the Peak District, stopping off for a walk round Buxton which I have just learnt is the self styled Cultural Capital of the Peak District, and continuing on for a bite to eat here. The Good Pub Guide describes this place as an’ Unpretentious local with very tasty home-cooking’, and very accurate that description is too. I had what the menu listed as ‘Chicken fillet’. The sauce it came in had no fancy title but was described as being ‘delightful’ – which was true. Reidski had a steak sandwich which came in a ‘cob’ the size of a dinner plate and the ‘few chips’ that according to the menu were served on the side was actually a chip mountain. We both agreed the place had obviously not been altered one iota in the past forty years and it was a surprise for me just now when I found the place has a website . It was an even greater surprise to find in this ancient village pub, the trendiest toilets that I have ever encountered.

We finished our break with a walk in beautiful Dove Dale.

No pictures yet as Blogger doesn't seem to want to co-operate with them just now.

And now back to work – groan – for all of four days before I jet off to the Far East – hooray.

More on that to follow.

Much more I suspect.