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!

Thursday, 8 September 2011


Politeness, a word that describes all manner of actions undertaken by one individual to another, a series of gestures, words or actions that establish respect and mutual recognition or appreciation. It’s a strange concept, one that divides us from animals and ensures our position as a higher intelligence, borne from decades of cultural development and a view that we are all equal. It was something that as a child I would have drilled into me by parents and grandparents; 'only speak when your spoken to', 'always say please and thank you', 'mind your manners', 'don't speak with your mouth full' and so on. They did this to me, as their parents had done to them, and so the journey goes. My children tire of me reminding them to say thank you to restaurant waiters or hotel porters, but still they do it, and even for my heavy metal loving, anarchist supporting, long haired teenage son, he understands the reasons behind being polite and rarely forgets.

 So given all of this and believing I had a very 'normal' upbringing - Why does it seem to have gone the way of the Dodo? As someone who travels the world and interacts with literally thousands of people from all walks of life, colour, creed, intellect and 'social standing', I would like to think that I am a good gauge of society and I have come to the conclusion that politeness it dying quicker than the Nokia mobile phone. I can’t put it down to anyone country, type of person, or even situation, it just seems that generally people have forgotten that we all need to get along and being polite to one another makes the whole world better for all.

Of course some people stand out more than others, the Chinese for instance don't have a word for 'please' (Yes I know they do - but they don't, trust me), and the word for 'sorry' was made up to appease foreigners who couldn't manage a whole day without apologising for something - you will rarely hear either of these words used in general conversation, unless of course its a Laowei talking to someone Chinese. I have worked in Chinese offices varying between 10 and 200 people, and I have never, heard people who have worked together for up to 10 years say good morning or good bye - trust me, people come in, sit down and get on with their work, communicate all day, and then at the end of the shift they pack up, turn the commuter off and walk out. I force everyone in my office to come and say 'good morning' and 'good evening' to me everyday, petty? maybe - but I thought it may rub off and install some 'politeness' into the office, however they do it to me as I am the Loa Ban and I told them to - to each other? You must be joking.

The Chinese are not alone of course, the times I have stood at a building entrance recognising that there is someone either wanting to come in, or follow me out, I will open the door and keep it open for the other person to pass through first - do I get a 'thank you'?, do I fu*k. I normally stand there and shout something like "Do I look like the fu*king doorman?", or the killer one (outside of China) is the slowing down of your car and flashing your headlights to allow someone to turn right into a junction, and despite going out of your way to erode your perfectly good brake pads, and waste a minute of your valuable time, the driver of the turning vehicle looks at you as if your an idiot and fails to acknowledge your kind gesture. Words cannot express how much these simple ignorant acts (please excuse my French) piss me off, I become enraged and want to beat the living daylights out of the offender, I scream at myself that this would be the last time I offer any kind of gesture. But of course the next time an opportunity to 'do a good dead' or be 'polite' there I am holding a door open or allowing a car to turn, always with a voice in my head saying 'one good turn deserves another' or 'do onto others as you would want done to yourself'.

Sometimes I put this down to language barriers, and its obvious in some situations this may be true, but if I accidentally bumped into a visitor from the planet Zarg, or got served by a orang-utan in MacDonald’s, I am sure we would all know that I had apologised or said thank you, 90% of language is unspoken, and the body language you use to apologise or say thank you is probably the strongest and easiest to read. People do not acknowledge your deed, words or actions because they didn't understand - it simply that they can’t be bothered or simply don't care. I guess its fairly self perpetuating, when we first arrived in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province we would go weeks without seeing another western face, so as soon as you did, you would dive on them by saying 'Hi" or 'Hello", after about the 30th rejection and blank expression delivered by the foreigner abroad, you fall into the trap of simply 'not bothering' the next time you encounter a westerner, at this point it is almost always the time that you bump into someone almost normal and they quickly acknowledge your existence, just as you decide to look the other way and pretend you only understand Swahili, and so the pattern continues. Exprats are the worlds worse, the competition to have lived in the country the longest, to have endured to harshest winter/summer and been through more maids than Berlusconi at a bunga bunga party, leads them to deny all other westerners as mere tourists and also runs.

So why don't I just stop being polite? If the fact that other people not reciprocating my politeness makes me so angry, then surely if I just stop making kind gestures, offering words of gratitude or simply acknowledging another human beings exist, it would mean that I wouldn't have to get angry anymore? Well the problem here is twofold, firstly I wouldn't be able to sleep at night knowing that I treated an individual badly by not acknowledging them and secondly, the delight you do get when another human being acknowledges you, lets you take a parking space, says please/thank you, or simply gives you a big smile in recognition, way far and above the opposite discomfort it causes when they don’t. Try it, give a complete stranger passing you on the street a big smile, wave a person into the space you had designated yours or hold a door open for someone you don't know - if they acknowledge your kind gesture you will feel great. Of course if they ignore it, you will feel like shit, but at least bask in the fact that you’re better than them!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 13 August 2011


It seems somehow wrong of me to comment on the recent riots in England, I am no longer a UK tax payer and therefore what right do I have to condone the mindless thuggery that has spilled across the daily newspapers for the last week or so. I guess however, as I am still a British passport holder and claim a British identity I am probably more entitled than many of those deciding to bring the worlds view on my home country into embarrassment and disbelief.  When your as old as me, you can remember previous 'disturbances' caused by groups of mindless bafoons - Handsworth, Moss Side, Toxteth, Chapeltown in the 80's,Salford and Briston in the 90's and even Lozells and Oldham in the 00's, . So the sight of shops and cars burning, whilst Kevin and Tracy (more like Tyrone and Chantel these days) kit themselves out in the latest tracksuit for free, isn't as surprising to me as it may be to those seeing it for the first time.

Riots in the past seemed to have had meaning, a cause or at least an excuse. Wholesale closure of an industry, communities ripped apart, segragation, discrimination, religion and separatism. Communities were forced to take sides, and arguments for and against had at least some vaugeness of credibility. Of course violense has no place in a moralistic and modern society, but passion and blind anger drove people to do crazy things compeately out of character. Whilst I am not defending any of the people involved in previous riots, for most they could have at least eloquently explained why they were there and what they were fighting for. This weeks rioting seems to be different.

Firstly, lets clear out all of the hype around the shooting of an unarmed family man in a Taxi. This guy was pond scum, a gangster, a drug dealing low life who would have spoon fed your children crack if he thought it would have made a few bob. Of course the police should never take away the right to trial, and I hope the officers in question are investigated and severly punished if they have without justification acted as vigilantes. But for this act to have caused hundreds of people to rise up and 'fight against the machine' is pure BS. This guy wasn't loved, he wasn't even known by 99% of those rioting. He was an excuse, an excuse for lazy, illiterate, work shy degenerates of a society obsessed by celebrities, easy money, and a belief that they have a right to earn there 15 minutes of fame, whilst taking from honest hard working people who hold their head in shame when seeing what has happened to their country.

I could have understood if they had attacked the financial district of London, the idiots who run the banking, insurance and foreign exchange companies deserve a wake up call. After bringing the world to its financial knees, and then continuing to pay each other grotesque bonus's that are simply not acceptable. We would have all raised a small smile if the Range Rovers, Porsche's and Bentleys had been torched, the wine bars forced to close early and these people were named and shamed in public. But this riot wasn't about that. It wasn't in reaction to the enormous efforts the government has had to put in place to keep the UK's head above water and avoid a financial meltdown. Government buildings, the police and the homes of politicians were not the focus of the rioters attacks. In fact the focus seems to have been their own community? The shops they shop in, the pubs they drink in, the public transport they use, the streets their children play on, all became targets of people reminiscent of those from films as 'Shawn of the Dead', or 'Zombieworld', but with probably a little less intelligence.

I do not see any other reason for these yobs engaging in self destruction apart from a belief that they are 'owed a living'. The desire to work hard at school, spend years in a low paid job, supporting a family whilst saving for the odd luxury (by this I mean a 'take-away', a bottle of wine and maybe even night out occasionally), educating yourself, being respectful to your elders and maybe, just maybe getting a lucky break and moving up through the ranks due to dedication and perseverance, then earning a little bit more and finally being rewarded for all of those years of hard work and honesty and being able to take your family on holiday or save for a car, a house or a TV. There is no shortcut, no quick route or magic door that can be opened for you. Gang membership, Facebook, and the state wont get you there. Neither will breaking into Lidl, Poundstrecher or Greggs the Bakers. I hope those identified are caught and severly punished, however somehow I reckon they will be slapped on the wrist, patted on the head and sent back with and ASBO medal pinned to their forehead.

For me this is the first time of observing such scenes from a distance, watching the rest of the world - watching and reading about the disturbances. In the UK, people are understandably more concerned about how the people, the businesses and the communities have been affected by a few idiots. From the other side of the world the effect is on a much wider scale. Read a number of small disturbances in Tottenham in the UK - the rest of the world reads 'London on Fire'. Read isolated incidences across small pockets of the inner city's in the UK - read "full scale anarchy" in the minds of those outside of Britain. Read Clapham, Birmingham or London in the UK- the rest of the world reads 'Civil War in England' . The UK attracts over 30 million tourist each year, bringing in 115 billion pounds and supporting 3 million jobs. In this time of insecurity around the world, would you invest in travelling to a country you had been told was experiancing serious civil unrest? Can the UK's economy really do without this money? As for the Olympics we will have to wait and see what affect this will have, but I am sure anyone who had doubts over Londons ageing infrastructure, extorionate hotel, taxi and public transport costs didn't bank on having to dodge flying wine bottles and burning police cars as well.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, 24 July 2011


Just returned from a couple of weeks in Thailand with the family, two weeks of excellent weather, food and drink, so much so that I didnt find too much time to write - but plenty of time to partake in my 2nd favorite hobby - Photography. 
So I thought I would share a few of my favorite photos with you - hope you enjoy.
The Beach
The Bar   

The View

The Boat

The House
The Game
The Sea 
The Rest
The Night
Hope you enjoy.