Wednesday, 6 June 2012


You may have noticed that I haven't updated my blog over the past few months, several reasons for this; of course the dreaded 4 letter word beginning with W, ending in K and having an 'or' in the middle is the main reason that I class the time between breaths as relaxation, but more interesting (or not) is the fact that I have taken up a new hobby - pencil drawing.

Yes I know it doesn't sound very interesting, and of course its not much of a spectator sport, but it keeps me out of trouble, doesn't cost a great deal and helps me explore the creative side of my brain.  It does however take up all of the precious time i have between flying, work and flying, leaving me very little time for writing.

I used to draw cartoons as a teenager, 2000AD, Slaine, Judge Dredd etc. This type of drawing is now called fantasy art, back in my day they were called schoolboy sketches or - cartoons.  This is why my first attempts at drawing all turned out to look like something on the back page of the Beano, rather than something you may wish to hang on your living room wall. 
I haven't drawn since before I hit 20, seeing as it isnt something 'real' men do - whatever that means.  As I care less now about what 'real' men should do, i am free to tell you about how I enjoy selecting the right composition, and worrying about shading, texture and realism.

On entering this new hobby I did find it interesting that there was that there is a whole world out there of likeminded people, to be honest most of them are 6 years old, but still - there are millions of 'artists' and hobbyists drawing, painting, sculpting, photographing and publishing it all on the internet for everyone to enjoy - or ridicule! One such place where we frequent is a on a web site called DeviantArt - not sure what the title is supposed to refer to, but its basically a social network site for those of us who want to show how good/bad our etchings are.  Interestingly there are worlds within this world, with the site being divided into methods of art - pencil drawing, watercolour painting, and so on.  In fact there is an enormous number of genres - most I have never heard of, and many that seem a little perverse (what exactly is 'cosplay'?).

I stick to Traditional art; Pencil art; portraits.  Portraits of famous people to be exact - why? Well I dont have the brain capacity to draw from memory or use my imagination.  I am more of an architectural artist (used with a very small 'a'), by this I mean that I enjoy the process of creation from a technical point of view rather than from an ethereal or symbolic view.  Where to put a line on a piece of paper for me is a measured process rather than a flowing process, symmetry and accuracy are more important than putting 'my personality' into a picture.  

Still it provides me with an interest other than staring at air-plane / train timetables and wondering where I will wake up tomorrow, and I think I am improving?  I dont expect to update my blog very often, but for the time being will update my drawings web site regularly - so if you get a chance I would appreciate all sane, constructive and clean comments :)

Thursday, 22 December 2011


I was going to start by saying "I hate Christmas", but of course I don't hate Christmas, well at least not all of Christmas. There is enough to love about Christmas to still make it a special time of the year, even if those things don't have much to do with religion,  decorations, santa claus or the baby jesus!  Its probably easier to start with the things I love about Christmas, those are (In no particular order), time off from work, time with my family, James Bond reruns, reminiscing old times with loved ones, and the opportunity to eat and drink far too much to completely digest in a 3 month period.

The thing I hate about Christmas is or are - presents.  Not just the giving, but the receiving also.  I simply do not understand why we put us through the absolute nightmare that is buying presents for family and foe. Don't get me wrong, buying presents for young children and grandparents, or tipping the waitresses at your regular restaurant, even slipping the office cleaner a few extra bucks can feel very rewarding, watching their eyes light up, and the genuine thanks on their faces when they have tore open the carefully wrapped fluffy effigy of a kamikaze bird or their weeks salary in a small red envelope are moments that cant be brought - er well obviously they can, but you know what I mean.

What I hate Is the completely ludicrous tradition of buying aunt Mildred a fruit bowl, or Brian from next door a pair of ear muffs.   Why? if they had wanted those things why didn't they buy them themselves? If I want something I save, compare prices, make a decision and, well go and buy it - it is that simple.  Of course If I cant afford something I either don't have it, buy it on credit or heaven forbid save until I do have enough money - besides these aren't the things that your going to get as presents, and if you do, you will be expected to have given a similar value present back, which defeats the object! Yes I know the object of giving is not the receiving, and yes I know that all of the joy is in the giving and not in the receiving.  Tell that to the bank manager!

This whole issue of giving not to receive is a con, made up by mind bending commercial PR types, using a simple method to break the stalemate that is - you buy me something , and i will buy you something.  No one wants to spend money without the prospect of getting something in return, so to break the deadlock some clever sole decided that they would play the religious and sanctimonious card by suggesting that 'it was better to give than receive" poppycock.  The only people who don't care about not receiving anything are either priests,  billionaires, Jehovah witnesses or liars.  Try it, one year don't buy anyone (except for your children) a present and then watch how many you get the following year - you will be as popular as the Euro.  The idea that presents are supposed to have a emotional, pure or spiritual meaning behind them, that we should give something from the heart is also bullshit - people want DVD's, CD's, Aftershave/Perfume, Store Vouchers, even a bottle of the hard stuff will suffice.  Again try it this year - make everyone a present from things you find around the house, tell them that you put a lot of thought into their gift, that you contemplated how much they meant to you and decided to give them your most valuable possession, your love and your time - see how many toilet roll holders you get the following year!

The whole exercise has deteriorated into almost an exchange of £$20 notes,

 "Here I brought you this, I hope you like it?"
"Oh thank-you, you shouldn't have"
" We got you this, its just a little something"
"Oh thank-you, I wasn't expecting anything in return" 

The first thought both people have is - "Thank god we brought them something", closely followed by "did their gift cost more than ours?" , and when you open it you think, "Oh just what I always wanted, a Avocado peeler", "I wish I had kept the present that I gave them, at least I could have found a use for the Rubber Tree de-fluffier".

Rather than carrying on with the physical activity, I think we should come up with a way of just exchanging the thought, something like this;

"Hi great to see you, Happy Christmas",
"Hi, Happy Christmas, its been ages",
"We decided not to buy you any crap that you didnt really want this year, but we did think about it, and we are giving you the gift to spend the £$20 you would have spent on buying us a cocktail stick holder, on something for your self"
"Thats great, and we would like to give you the gift of keeping your own £$20, to buy something for yourself"

Both parties go away without having spend any money, without having brought something destined for the Church's next tombola, and without wondering who spent the most money - perfect!  Of course the shops needn't worry as all of that money we had been told to keep or 'give to ourselves' could be used to buy stuff we really want or need, and to ensure that we did in fact buy something and didn't just fritter the money pledge to ourselves on something frivolous like a utility bill, food or petrol, we would have to send a letter (or email - lets save those trees, so we can cut them down and put electric lights on them next year) thanking the pledger explaining what we purchased with their pledge and vice versa.  Of course you will always have some dopey uncle who would make you pledge to give yourself a couple of grand because he wanted a new Plasma TV for his dog kennel, but you can always get your own back next year when the bank loan for your 2nd floor patio come in.

Of course the other aspect of present buying this eradicates is the list writing the thought preparation, and of course the requirement to traipse around the shops with a billion other idiots.  Think of the fuel saved, the time, the pressure and the relationships. No more worrying if the Arron jumper will fit Cousin Velma, or the fluffy pink slippers will match your brothers furniture, and best of all no more sycophantic gift giving to those people you cant stand.

I am not proposing you don't give gifts to those who cant give you presents back, the young, the old and the infirm - you should spend your time, energy and money on making sure these few that cant buy themselves anything, and thus don't have to, or don't even think about the consequences of not reciprocating.

I almost forgot - Merry Christmas....

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


What is it with airline food? Or more to the point why do people eat it?  I know I'm probably in a minority again, but I would rather eat someone else's ear wax than chomp down on the slop that is served up by most airlines. I guess my distaste for airline food started whilst I worked at a catering company during the summer break from college.

Apart from chopping wood (Work) and various other minor Saturday jobs, my time at 'Trust House Forte in-flight catering services ltd' was my first real job, based at Birmingham International Airport (Then called Elmdon Airport), we would prepare more than 5000 meals per day for the airlines departing from the airport.  Now when I say meals, perhaps I am exaggerating things a little. We would follow instructions laid down in a book full of pictures to show exactly which direction and how many peas/beans/carrots or whatever was required to fit into it's little plastic home, a sort of food preparation by numbers.  We would be chastised for having too many slices of cucumber, 4 segments of orange rather than the prescribed 3 or having confused the 300 meals for a Thomson Holidays with those for a Thomson Travel Holidays flight which only took two olives and not 3!!

Don't get me wrong the conditions were good as was the pay, and even some of the food (albeit the 1st class menus) were pretty nice, in-fact when no one was looking we would hide in the enormous walk-in freezers and gobble down a sirloin steak or a juicy piece of gammon before the supervisors noticed, and before we caught frost bite! Oh how we laughed when someone would lock you in a room chilled to minus 20degrees and then go on a break for 30 minutes - such fun was had whilst trying to defrost your hands in a pot of boiling vegetables.  However the one lasting memory from my time there was having to make 60kgs of Tuna Mayonnaise, chop 4 million tomatoes and butter 40,000 loafs of bread .  All of this put me off airline food forever. 

I was doing it as a summer job, but many of the people who worked there were full time, and many of them from my old secondary school - people you wouldn't want to share a lift with, let alone ask them to prepare you a meal.  They may of well have been organising delivery's for DHL, assembling jigsaws or preparing walls for painting.  Their culinary skills were non existent and their care for the consumers of the food they were cooking wasn't ever considered.  So I guess all of this formed a fairly distinct impression on me and one that has meant that i would rather feast on my toe nails than devour a meal prepared with the same thought and passion as a car park ticket is issued.

The reason for blogging about this is due to an occurrence on a recent flight where the 'flight attendant' became very insistent that I feed on her plastic tray of delights.  My refusal (politely) to accept the meal being forced into my face turned the whole world order into disarray for her, she could not and refused to understand that someone would not want to eat the delicacies she was offering. After several members of staff calmed her down, and explained that not everyone may want to chew on her delights, I was allowed to continue my self imposed fasting.  I cant imagine that these people get some kind of bonus for force feeding passengers, but then i cant understand why i am always the only person not to eat on a flight?  It cant be hunger? I am sure most people can survive the majority of short haul flights they travel on without food? Is it just a standard reaction or response when someone tries to throw a plastic tray at you, and you accept it regardless of being hungry or not? or is it a case of believing that 'you paid for it, and therefore you will eat it?' maybe you expect there to be a surprise, and the airline has listened to its customers and kept is simple, rather than thinking exotic must mean it will be good!

I have never held to the fact that just because something is 'free', you should take it.  I love good food, and insist on eating food that i enjoy, tastes good and provides an experience rather than just 'fuel'.  Airline food doesn't meet with any of these criteria, and therefore in most cases I choose not to eat it.  The only exception is when I am very hungry or in any normal circumstances - its the normal time to eat (eating breakfast, lunch or dinner at the appropriate times rather than at convenient times for the airline staff), and each time I do it is unsatisfying and results in being fuel rather than food.  The other exception is of course when I am lucky enough to be travelling on a long haul flight in Business Class, real crockery, real food and plenty of alcohol all help to ensure you can at least make out what passes for food, which isn't bad considering it was made several days ago by people who gained a certificate in catering from the local McDonalds!

Whilst I'm here, and just to show my ranting isn't just about airline food.  Why should I close the window blind on a day flight? Don't get me wrong flying during the evening I also like a snooze, and the distraction of laser piercing light via the crack in the thin shield of plastic covering our only connection with the outside world can interrupt this.  However when I board a plane at 10.00am and fly 10 hours arriving in my destination in the afternoon(local) time, I want to feel like I haven't slept for 10 hours - so I can go to bed at a normal local time and wake up at a normal local time!

The conversation goes something like;

"Can I shut the blind for you sir?",
"Why do I look like I don't understand how it works?"
"But we would like to prepare the cabin for everyone to have a rest"
"I'm actually enjoying watching the fantastic scenery from up so high"
"But Sir many of the other passengers would like to get some sleep"
"But it's 1.30pm in the afternoon! What's wrong with them? Are they from Mexico or Greece?"
"Sir your open window blind is stopping people from sleeping"
"Why don't they use the eye patches you provide in the lovely little amenity packs then?"
"Can I shut the blind for you sir?"

And so the conversation goes on in circles until one of us gives in.

The insistence by cabin crew to force everyone to sleep during a flight regardless of the time really infuriates me, of course if everyone is asleep they can stick their own feet up, and don't have to pander to those on flights who feel they own a piece of flight attendants ass, but please stop treating us all as ignorant first time flyers.  On a day flight I want to stay up as long as possible, do some work, watch a movie, write a blog, but most of all catch some jet lag busting UV rays from the window I'm sitting next to. Just as if I was at home on a Sunday afternoon watching a movie after a good lunch and a glass of Pinot, I may doze and nod off for a hour - I wouldn't expect anyone to rush around and pull the lounge curtains and put a blanket over me.

Advice to the un-iniciated, if your long haul flight means that you land in the evening at your place of destination - try and stay awake, so that when you arrive you can fall asleep as if you had lived there all your life, if of course you flight will land in your destination during the morning, try and get some sleep during the flight - feeling bright and breezy for when you land will mean that you get to enjoy a full extra days sightseeing/business before  when arriving.

Rant over time to catch some zzzzzzzzzs

Thursday, 24 November 2011


Its winter in Shanghai, how do I know? an obvious statement you may think since its mid November?  Well not if the weather is anything to go by, with temperatures still in the 20's and upwards, the majority of the leafs still on the trees, and with the birds that haven't been eaten still chirping away, you could be fooled into thinking we were still in Autumn (Or Fall).  If the unseasonably warm and pleasant weather doesn't give it away - what does? Well as with the arrival of Summer, the tell tale signs are there for those initiated into the workings of this country.

Firstly, you start to see people wearing their coats backwards? by that I mean the zip/buttons are on the back - arms through the arm holes and the unzipped 'joint' section flapping at the back.  Why? Christ knows, I would have thought you would have got more benefit from wearing it the normal way, zipped up to your chin to prevent drafts.  But oh no, us idiots in the West have been wearing coats incorrectly for years, the Chinese show us how its done, especially when riding bikes or scooters.  I guess you could argue that the wind penetrates the gaps between the zip links? However most coats I have, seem to have corrected this with a nice little flap of material inside and out.  Still I am sure it will catch on, and soon everyone in europe and the US will be wearing coats back to front!

Secondly, the dogs start to get worried.  In fact anything with 4 legs should find a hole to hibernate in.  I was at a suppliers factory two weeks ago, just a couple of hours drive from Shanghai and the 2 factory dogs were curled up looking extremely sheepish, enjoying the mid day sun, unusually they didn't lift an eye lid when I approached them.  My companion for the day mentioned that they were probably trying to 'lay low'.  At first I didn't understand and then 2 seconds later it clicked - he went onto explain that it was normal for the factory dogs to be replaced every year, normally just before Chinese New Year (CNY), and after the previous 'employees' had provided a hearty warm meal for the factories bosses!  The look on their faces said it all, almost as if they knew of their impending journey to the hot pot!   A traditional winter dish justified by the colder weather, it remains a favourite by many in Shanghai and the local 'wet' markets are full of hanging carcases. Something I have wrote about before, and something I still cant get used to, yes I know is hypocritical to distinguish between Dog, Chickens, Pigs and Cow's - but as I have said before i have never named a pig, took a duck for a walk or thrown a lamb a stick.

Thirdly, and as with all seasons - women's fashions change.  Men it seems have one outfit, and just add more of the same or take more of the same off when the weather gets colder or warmer.  We are not burdened by such delicate issues as what shoes to wear with which bag, flat, heeled, ankle or knee length, matching colours, seasonal style and 'accessorising' isn't something most hetrosexual male gets concerned about.  The change from summer to winter fashion trend, starts slowly. You may remember I reported the shortening length of the 'hot pants' of the young Chinese girls as an announcement of summer arriving, well they will try and keep these on for as long as possible, but not being stupid, a pair of thermal stockings underneath help ensure they keep warm and er fashionable.  The girls wearing 'daisy jukes' over knitted thermals is one sign its got cold, but sooner than later, you can also see the tell tale signs of the thermals poking from behind shirts, trousers and blouses, along with the 20 layers of Michelin man clothing. 

In Shanghai the first sign of winter means time to dust off the long johns and thermal knickers - for everyone.  I had never known the joy wearing a warm pair of thermals until I came to China, my first winter I refused to conform, citing fashion, age and the fact that the make me look even fatter than I am.  Seven years later I have several pairs in various colours and almost (but not quite) regret the warmer spring weather and the need to hang up my oh so sexy long johns!

Insulation, or at least the lack of it, no central heating, single glazed windows and high humidity all add together to make 20 degrees feel like minus 10!  Despite of all of this, it seems impossible to get warm on those cold days, unless you have a couple of spare kidneys left to pay for your underfloor heating, you resort to living in your car with the heater on full blast, whilst grasping the steaming hot mug of grass in hot water through a thin plastic cup.

Finally, although I am sure there are hundreds more. The one thing that tells me Winter has arrived is of course the dark nights.   Not the dark mornings mind, no the mornings are still blindingly light at 5.30am, only now the night is dark by 4.30pm, add to this miserably cold weather, extortionate fuel bills, having to dress like a blimp and the acidic puddles on the ground eating away at your leather shoes, its a wonder the dogs looked glum - sounds like they get off lightly.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


My travels around the world are always full of incidence, i'm not sure if its me, the law of averages or just the fact that i turn every minor issue into a minor crisis?  Either way this last journey to Europe was a good example of my own disastrous attempt to live a normal life.

It all started as normal with a flight out of Shanghai, I'm not sure how long it will be before the ground staff actually think I work at the airport? But the fact that I'm known by my first name to the check-in girls, the security and immigration staff, as well as the car park attendants - sort of gives you an idea of how often I use the bloody place? This journey in fact started before arriving at the airport, because i had to visit the office on my way (on a Sunday) to pick up my driving license, that for some reason I had left there, and knew I would need to hire a car when in the UK. 

Like some drug crazed, addictive spell, Virgin Atlantic was my weapon of choice, to show just how much I have become obsessed with this airline, I have my own seat - yes thats right, seat 16A is mine, no debate, no alternative is acceptable, seat 16A has been my home for longer than I can remember, and longer than most mortgages I have had.  I even wrote to Virgin to ask if they would gift me the seat due to the fact that I have spent so much time trying to get comfortable in it, whilst finding it funny they refused even to sell me the seat, which is a shame as I would have put it into the spare room at home and insist visitors slept in it - at least this way they wouldn't stay long and definitely wouldn't return :)

The flight itself was fine, well as fine as sitting in a elongated tube of poisonous air at 40,000 feet for 13 hours can be. Even the extraction at Heathrow went without a hitch, I should have know it was all too good to be true as I entered the Avis car rental office.  You see, as an habitual traveller and renter of cars, I am considered a 'privileged' or 'preferred' customer, which gives me special discounts and 'offers' as well as a fast track service designed to reduce the waiting time and paperwork synomninous with hiring a car.  However this time would be different, having to drive an uninspiring black box at an average of 20 kph in Shanghai, means that when I am in other countries I like to hire something a bit more interesting, sporty or luxurious.  My car of choice this time was an Audi A5 Convertible that I had got at the same price as a Ford Mondeo.  I had paid in advance, and even knew the registration of the car that would be me chariot for the next 5 days in Europe.  That was before I met Nick, Nick was the pimple faced Asda shirt and tie wearing dip shit, who would decide to piss off a loyal Avis customer of 18 years, following a 20+ hour journey to his small desk of responsibility.

I had spent more hours in this particular rental office, than Nick had been in long trousers, I knew the pattern of the wallpaper, the loose pavement stone near to bay B6 and that the drinks dispenser only worked on a Thursday of months with an 'R' in them.  Still he had decided that the recent training course he had been on meant that he was up to dealing with me on the same level.  Of course to my detriment he had me over a barrel,  you see what I didn't know was that the little plastic identification card issued by the UK driver license department expired at a more regular rate than the standard paper copy  which lasts up until your 70th birthday. My argument that I had my paper license, had hired vehicles 4 times from the very same office since my license had expired, all fell on deaf ears.  A 'jobs-worth' of immense proportions, there was no way I would be traveling in anything other than my size 11 shoes from the office in Heathrow. Appealing to a better judgement or looking for a decision of someone more senior got me nowhere, well in fact it got me to the hotel across the street, once I had decided that pulverising his brain would only serve to rid the world of one more dick head, but still not result in me being able to hire a car.

This small issue led to a week of reliance on public transport, I had 6 cities to visit in as many days, 3 airports, 4 train stations and 5 different hotels.  Of course I could have tried to blag a car from another rental agency, but the prospect of someone else telling me I wasn't good enough to hire a Fiat 127 for a few days got the better of me, and I thought my public transport project would be, er fun - how wrong can a person be?

You see in China, you can sit on a train which is less guaranteed  to be less than 3 years old, travels at 350 kph for 4-5 hours and will cost you as little as £10, pay a couple of RMB more and you get a foot massage, free wifi and a pet kitten to take home.  You get used to trains arriving not only being on time, but in exactly the same spot as marked on the platform floor, being clean, serviced by delightful, bi-lingual, Chinese versions of 1970's Pan Am air hostesses.  The story in the UK is not quite the same. 

Let me give you this scenario, your a visitor to London, a self professed international capital city in the same league as New York, Paris, Singapore or god forbid Shanghai.  You have heard the Taxi's are horrendously expensive, so you decide to catch the train to the 2nd largest city in the country - Birmingham, some 100 miles away.  First of all you can't get a direct train, you first need to travel  and transfer in central London, which is where a service calling itself the 'London Express' comes into play, banners across Heathrow exclaim 15 miles in 15 minutes as if its some kind of flux capacitor speed of light time machine. 15 miles in 15 minutes is 60 miles per hour - Bamboo grows faster than that! The cost works out at about £1 per mile, which would have been acceptable if it took you anywhere you needed to be, before getting excited that you are finally on your way, you then need to transfer across to Euston Station which means traversing the vampire and werewolf infested underground system with your 50kgs of luggage or obtaining a 2nd mortgage on your house to pay for a Taxi. Which will save you humping your luggage up and down vertical stairways, but will leave you with no money to pay for the final train to your destination.  A ticket in standard class to a city just 90 minutes away was £145, 1st class where they had seats designed for more than just one buttock was £250+.  The whole journey would have taken 2 to 2.5 hours in a car, got you to the door of where you wanted to go, and provided luxury comfort for 4-5 people plus luggage.

The British government suggests it wants to get people off the roads and onto public transport - at  those prices a journey for a family of 4 people would have cost the best part of £1000, or the same price as a soggy cheese sandwich on one of the trains.  I am all for getting people off the roads - it will leave more room for me, but given the inconvenience and costs, I think its a long time from becoming reality, i hope that anyone visiting for the Olympics next year realises to bring an up to date driving license or several bars of gold bullion.


Around this time of the year Shanghai is full of three types of people; Tourists enjoying the milder weather, newbie expatriates nievly full of the joys of a city that hasn't slapped them around the face yet, and family visitors joining their expatriate relatives.  I have been 'enjoying' the later of these three during the past month, the weather in Shanghai is only bearable during the very short spring and fall and its the only really sensible time to visit for  business or tourism.

Being a miserable sod, who is only truly happy in his own company, or complaining about other people,  having strangers in my house doesn't fill me with enthusiasm or delight, even when those strangers are family.  You see I left home when I was 21, and spent the next 20 years travelling around the world just to get away from living with family,  don't get me wrong I love my family and would do anything for them, anything except have them live under my roof.  So when my better half announced that her parents would be staying for the entire month of September I lurched for my address book to see what suppliers I hadn't visited for a few months.

Its hard enough for two people who love each other deeply, to live together at times, especially at the start when every snore, belch, noisy chew and ball shuffling habit grinds on the other like bleach on a paper cut.  Over time you learn to accept and ignore the curious (to you) eating habits, the 3 hour long baths and the strange obsession with matching underwear.  If your lucky you get to enjoy these 'cultural' differences before you take the plunge and get married, either way love overcomes and you learn to live with most, and ignore the rest.  Of course when you marry you inherit a whole army of people you didn't choose to live with, and who's habits you didn't sign up for!

My parent-in-laws are good, kind and generous people, a tad racist, a smidgeon bigoted and a dash homophobic but that seems almost acceptable in people of their age.  Their not bad people, but grew up in a different generation, with different beliefs and standards.  They have watched a country change beyond their recognition and they have grown elderly, infirm and feeling unsupported by a state they helped design and contributed towards, for moments exactly like this. I am not condoning their views, just trying to understand the reasons why they are like the way they are. Most of the time of course I don't have to put up with their views for longer than a few hours each year, family visits back to the UK are rare, and even when we do visit our time together is short, but not this time, a month living under the same roof tugs at your patience strings like a blue marlin tugs at a deep sea fishing line.

I am fairly liberal minded, accepting many different beliefs, religions and views on a myriad of subjects,  however i love to play devils advocate, its my favourite hobby and pushes my intellectual boundaries - especially when I'm trying to defend or offer an opinion on a subject not versed or prepared for. So when you have a couple who blame the worlds problems on immigrants, corrupt politicians, gay people and  Lady Gaga I am armed with more than enough material to provide a counter view (apart from defending Lady Gaga of course!).  If every conversation you enter into ends in a view that you should deport everyone who isn't related to the Queen (despite her actually being of German lineage), that  HIV/AID's is gods way of ridding the world of drug taking, homosexual commodity traders and politicians, and that  popular music culture is the reason girls get pregnant at 12, and why men no longer lay down their coats over puddles in the street - you can imagine that I spent 29 days of the 30 they spent with us arguing the virtues of a multi cultural, multi sexual, multi musical (I made the last one up!) society.

All of these arguments led to some interesting outcomes, not least the fact that you find out pretty quickly that you are incompatible to the extend that every little nuance grinds on you like broken glass into an eyeball.  You find yourself feeling hatred for the way someone breaths; too noisy, too often, too shallow, too deep - at all!  We would go to a restaurant for lunch or dinner, and even before they ordered I would know that they didn't like the food.  No chips, wrong shape chips, chips too thin, chips too fat, too spicy, not spicy enough, reaching for the salt before tasting, eating every last morsel on the plate and then complaining it wasn't very nice, having the same bloody club sandwich in every establishment you venture into, drinking too much alcohol on top of a cocktail of medication designed to sedate a Sperm Whale, and getting louder and louder with each sip before finally professing that 'we don't really like this foreign muck!' "WHY THE FU&K DID YOU COME TO SHANGHAI THEN!!!"

The list of irritations is endless, actual conversation 1:
"we didn't sleep because the room was too warm",
'thats what the air conditioning is for',
"yes but its too noisy",
"but if your awake anyway what is the difference, if your going to be awake at least do it in comfort',
"no its ok we will just struggle with the heat."
'put the air conditioning on before going to bed, and turn it off when you actually go'
"No its ok, we will be fine"

Conversation 2
"We need a new padlock for our suitcases"
"Well customs must have broke the one we had on our case, because it wasn't with our suitcase when we arrived"
'That's because you shouldn't really put a padlock on your suitcase, it raises suspicion and customs have to break it to check whats in your bag'
"Yes but our belongings aren't safe without a lock on the suitcase"
'Well I have flown over 100 flights in the last 3 years, and have never had anything stolen from a suitcase - all without locks on'
"Yes but we want a lock"
'Who is going to steal your underwear, knitting and copies of readers digest?'
"But we don't want anyone to open our cases"
'Yes but customs will be suspicious and definitely open your case because you have a lock on it'
"We need a new padlock for our suitcase"

I know its me and not them, I should learn to be more tolerant, more supportive and more understanding.   I have lived a very different life, enjoying different cultures, locations, foods and experiences, making me more adventurous and open minded I guess, it has also made me freer with my money, less protective with my belongings and having little regard for preserving what I have earned. But none of this is personal, it could be anyone  staying with us and I would have found some small niggle to upset me, I am sure the Pope is noisy when he eats, the Queen picks her teeth after a meal and the Dali Lama's beads rattle too loudly when he shuffles. The point is that my tolerance levels are very, very low, and its just best to leave me alone, after all the only people who actually come to visit us, come to see my wife or the kids, so perhaps I should just leave home at this point and wallow in my own perfection?  If I was more tolerant, more accepting, and less wound up like a swiss timepiece, maybe I could accept the fact that people insist on 'remembering' the war, or see mayonnaise as a strange delicacy, but until that that point please accept my offer to book a hotel for you as the most appropriate solution to ensure you enjoy the short stay you have in Shanghai. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Drink! Drink! Drink! a phrase said in a broad Irish accent made famous by Father Jack  of 'Father Ted' fame, and one for a lot of us rings loudly in our heads following a stressful day, a celebration moment or just wishing to relax and unwind during dead time. Before I get started, of course I am referring to the dreaded alcohol. My desire for a cup of English Rosie Lee, Yi Bei Kafe, or freshly squeezed orange blood can be immense, but cannot compete with the compulsion for a G&T, glass of Pinot, pint of the Black Stuff or a wee dram.

Don't get me wrong, I am not an alcoholic - quite the opposite, I will go out of my way to avoid alcohol from Monday to Thursday, and only get 'forced' into downing a bottle or two of Bei Ju when suppliers or customers demand it.  However by the time Friday comes around, a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio signals a weekend of rest and diet free debauchery.  The need to kick off the weekend with a legal high/low is universal (I think), it certainly is in the UK, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and the parts of America and Canada I have visited. Places that may have been influenced by their colonial past and the British infiltration, but others without this infection I am sure copy suit - Belgium, Germany, Italy, and France must follow the pattern, I just cant speak from personal experience and confirm, after all, despite the intense British culture for getting 'plastered' at the weekend, we aren't the biggest drinkers in the world, well OK if I take the Scottish out of the equation we aren't the biggest alcoholics in the world. 

So what is it about the only legalised drug that kills millions every year, and continues to make us drown our stomachs with literally gallons of poisonous liquids each day/week/month? Is it because it acts as a relaxant, a hallucinogenic, and a pain suppressant? All of the above I guess?  I have never liked the taste of alcohol, well at least the first bottle! It will never taste as good or as sweet as a mango juice, or as refreshing as a cold coke, a freshly squeezed lemon juice, or a good cup of English tea, and a McDonalds’ strawberry milkshake can make your eyes roll into the back of your head, but none of these can give you the highs and lows of C2H5OH.  Alcohol has the ability to turn the mildest person into a psychopathic thug, the meekest person into a streaker, and the ugliest person into a Brazilian supermodel; it’s relatively cheap, legal, easily available and socially accepted.

I was introduced to alcohol at a fairly early age, you see I was brought up during the 80's where christenings, birthdays, weddings, and funerals were all marked with partys - either in the back of a pub, or in a house, the common factor was alcohol, be it lager, cheap wine (usually German), scotch whisky or Sherry! These events were alcoholic dreams, an opportunity to drink whatever you liked, whenever you liked in whatever quantities you could get away with before driving home in your Austin Princess.  As a child you were left to entertain yourself during these events, which meant pinching the trifle, wagon wheels and Smiths crisps from the buffet, whilst washing them down with whatever alcoholic drink your could find left in Aunty Morag's glass whilst she was dancing to Kajagoogoo on the dance floor. My younger brother took this one step further, once at a celebration I can’t remember (wedding/funeral/christening) he, like me spotted the enormous trays of sherry at the entrance to the dance hall.  He must have been 10 or 11 at the time, the difference was he decided that drinking 2 bottles of Harvey’s Bristol Cream would be a good idea - er no! The following stomach pumps and 2 days in intensive care at the local hospital didn't deter him from a life of pushing the alcoholic barriers, he still remains the only person I know who see's 20 pints of Guinness as an aperitif!

I drink chilled white wine in the summer and a full bodied red in the winter, I enjoy a JD & Coke along with a G&T, single malt with a single cube of ice, twice filtered frozen vodka, a salted margarita on holiday or a glass of warmed mulled wine at Christmas all mixed with the odd crate of arctic lager and a chilled pint of pure black nectar (Guinness) all these make for a varied menu of alcoholic drugs that mean whatever country, season or circumstance I am easily pleased. Of course I am an alcoholic snob, and anything but French or Italian Wine won’t do, its single Malt or nothing, and why would anyone drink anything other than Russian Vodka or British Gin? Of course the ultimate is Champagne, becoming a seasoned expat it’s as frequent a drink as Pepsi or water.  I have got a taste for the stuff and hope to drown in a vat of Moet one day.

All this alcohol is of course killing me from within; my binging is causing my liver to corrode and my brain to shrink small enough to be sneezed through my left nostril. So why would I keep drinking?  Well I guess all of the damage is done over a long period, a timescale that you don't instantly notice.  A good tailor doesn't comment on the fact that he keeps adding several inches to your waist line each fitting, and friends ensure the blimp that expands before them is only mentioned out of ear shot.  You think you have it under control, a luxury you can manage, a harmless escapism and a social requirement.  However all of this doesn't deter us, I am a firm believer in fate and being buried a very poor man, life has few luxuries at least let me allow alcohol to fuel my ignorance that I am attractive, I am confident and indestructible!