Beer and me.

I like beer. In fact I like it so much I am a member of CAMRA.This does,however,lead to some problems.The first and possibly most troublesome is that since I have declined to work for a living anymore I find that I have more time for the occasional pint. This has led to trousers and shirts shrinking. While I was striving for a living I was always a little active. On the occasions when the boss showed up I would become a lot active, but once his shadow had passed I would become less active once more. Even this low-level activity was enough to help ward off tight-trouser syndrome. Now as I gaze out over the South China Sea I realise that I now have an inbuilt shelf to put my beer on if I cannot find a table.
The other problem is that I like real ale and kegged fizzy lager does not satisfy this Englishman’s thirst like a well-kept pint of cask ale.Fortunately in Hong Kong I have discovered a saviour. His name is Pierre, he is an airline pilot and he brews real ale for a select number of establishments.He is also now my best friend, even though I think he recognises me only once out of every three times that we meet. I had been here for three long and dry months following up fruitless links on the interweb thing that normally led me to bars selling bottled english beer,which is satisfying when you are at home watching the television on a Sunday night, but not so good for propping up the bar and chatting to anybody who can understand you. It is all too cold and bland for my palate. Then I walked into the Globe to see something I had not seen for twelve weeks….a beer engine! No electrically operated pump with a logo and a light bulb, a real genuine muscle-powered mechanical device to serve beer. I asked, with a great deal of trepidation, if this,was,in fact real ale. On tap. Honest? The first pint was placed in front of me. I stared at it. It had a creamy head. I touched the glass. Cool, but not cold.I sampled it. I sampled it more until it was gone. It was real, it was good,I felt a tear slide down my cheek as the good landlord patted me on the shoulder…”Been a while I take it?”. I nodded silently as I suddenly found that I now had a reason to live and breathe.
On my infrequent returns to England I enjoy my visits to the surviving pubs and their wonderful selections of good english beers. It may take a long time before the residents of Hong Kong are faced with such a choice but I suspect that what the Typhoon brewery has started might just be the beginnings of a tidal wave of good beer.I certainly hope so even though it is costing me a fortune in new clothes to replace the ones that have shrunk.

comedy..it`s a funny old game.

There is a fair bit of criticism of Ricky Gervais on the news and internet at the moment. It all seems to involve the use of a word that used to be associated with disability but has fallen out of common usage. Comedy is a very difficult thing to define. “Edgy” comedians have pushed the envelope for many years, even in the 50`s and 60`s there was a push to shock or do something so unusual that would cause a ripple. I suppose that ripple was turned into a tidal wave by the likes of “Monty Python`s Flying circus” and a tsunami was set off by “Not The Nine`O` Clock news.”

I always liked the new breed of stand-up, Ben Elton was gobby enough to entertain and his “right-on” approach of Thatcher-bashing endeared him to thousands of students over the 80`s. Soon, however, it became more of an arms race about who could offend more. The swearing become more frequent and failed in that it no longer got a shocked laugh. Chubby Brown had a fairly old-fashioned comedy routine. He told fairly plain jokes but swore every other word. The humour was based on how many swear words could be fitted into a “knock-knock” joke. I lost interest.

I started enjoying sit-coms much more. I found that some were actually well written and actually funny! “Yes Minister” and ” Yes Prime Minister” featured such high quality writing that they stand the test of time. I still enjoy watching “Dad`s Army” re-runs, although I never cared much for Corporal Jones. I found his character just a shade over the top,spoiling slightly the wonderful belief that these people could have actually existed. I always liked the pompous ass of a bank manager who would bluster and brag his way through life but when the chips were down would actually display a stunning bravery and self-sacrifice that seemed so much out of character yet so expected.

American sit-coms seemed to suffer with an overload of saccharine. The formulaic family seemed to always come up trumps in the end with a nice moral message for the viewer just after the final advert break.The American`s biggest strength was always it `s biggest weakness. somebody would come up with an idea for a comedy and then would take a gang of writers to carry it on. To death and beyond in too many cases. “Roseanne” was a case in point to me. It followed the lives of an American working class family. The trials and tribulations of day-to-day life were documented with plenty of jokes and one-liners thrown in. I could believe that this family existed. The characters were exaggerated versions of people I knew so I could laugh throughout out. unfortunately the whole thing ran out of steam and instead of being taken out and shot, it`s lifeless corpse was filled with a lottery win to transform the family from working class to the idle rich in one advert break. Suddenly the empathy with the family went. The sarcastic daughter became a yummy mummy and the appeal of the series evaporated like the atmosphere  at a night club when the lights are turned back on.

My favourite comedy is a close run thing. I liked ” Yes, Minister” because I could appreciate the superb acting and could also believe in the characters. The hapless Hacker harried by Sir Humphry and the wonderful Bernard pedantically correcting every mixed metaphor, what was not to enjoy by this tale of political skulldugery?

The favourite has to be “Two and A Half Men”. The jokes that push the boundaries, the superb characterisation of the main players, the believability of the whole situation and the lack of a nice character makes it so funny. Nobody could admire any of the characters, yet the interplay makes the whole thing work. The character of Jake never gets to invoke the dreadful mawkishness of many American sit-coms  although it comes perilously close on or two occasions! The jokes that make me laugh are the double-entendres that mean that my nephews look a bit blank and all the adults laugh.

I watched “The Office”. I had no sympathy with the characters and found the whole thing too overblown.I failed to see the humour in a grotesque character who had no redeeming features. Mainwaring was a character who surreptitiously  ensured would be at the head of a dangerous mission, David Brent would be the character that would weasel his way out of it. I could laugh at Captain mainwaring, I merely cringe at David Brent.

The housing ladder.

I have just read an article in the Independent regarding house prices and rental prices. Apparently people are spending more of their income on rent than ever before. The article then goes on to point out a few ways that people can get onto the property ladder. They seem mostly to involve either borrowing from mum and dad or getting involved in some fancy rent-to-buy scheme. When we first clambered onto the property juggernaut we were allowed to borrow two-and-a-half times joint income. This was more than I thought we could actually borrow as it was based on the income before tax. We took a mortgage out on a little two bedroomed house that we kitted out with furniture that we could afford. That was two deck chairs and a coffee table! Over the next few years as our finances slowly improved we moved the deck chairs outside and bought a sofa and a chair. We were now living the high life! our finances improved to such a degree that we even had a car that we traded in rather than send to the scrap-yard. Then we moved again. Our house had tripled in value whilst we had been there. Great. The price of the next house we went to buy had also tripled so our mortgage went up even more. Fortunately we still had the deck chairs so we could sit on something in the short period of time I was actually in the house, as opposed to the amount of time we now spent out of the house earning enough money to actually buy it. At this point there was a housing boom which seemed to be  ” a good thing.” according to the umpteen television programs  that talked about “profits” , “investments”  and of course “higher prices.”. There was me thinking that I wanted somewhere to live and it turns out I was trying to make money all along. The house I now owned and intended to be taken out of in a pine box suddenly doubled in value in three years. I was told I had made fifty thousand pounds profit on my house. I was happy, nay ecstatic! I looked in my bank accounts, I looked in my savings account, I even looked under the bed. No. Nothing. Zip. Nada. I could not see any money. Then I was told that to get this money I would have to sell my house. This is where I start to lose the plot a little. Where do I live if I have sold my house and made some money? By the time I have paid off the mortgage I would have some cash left, but with no-where to live the bill to live at a holiday inn would soon work through my profit and besides, where do I put my model railway?

Why did this idea that house prices heading for the sky like a rocket on Guy Fawkes`s night was a good idea? Why should we work more and more hours to buy a house? Life is about more than just obsessing about house prices. The house is a home, somewhere to relax in, laugh in and if the fancy takes you, to raise a family. Me? I want a house full of books, steam engines and memories. If I want an investment I will buy stocks and shares,houses are to nest in, not invest in.

The problem with the worship of house price inflation is the eventual sad “pop” as the bubble explodes. The banks have lent more and more money to people to buy houses, government has produced more and more schemes to make these affordable. The net result is that house prices have been maintained far too high and this has pushed rents up.Now the next generation cannot afford to get on the housing ladder and rents are pushed beyond the reach of ordinary people. I often think that the two-and-a-half times maximum mortgage was a good idea as it pegged the prices that first time buyers could pay and therefore held the market at a reasonable price. We could not actually afford to buy back our first house based on this formula……….!

The long and windy road….

As I looked down I suddenly realised that my feet were no longer fully visable.In fact my twelve lace hole trainers appeared to only have four holes and the knot was invisable.It could be the good life here in Hong Kong or possibly the beer but my stomach seemed to be trying to eclipse my feet. I reasoned that I can do one of two things. I can exercise more or cut out the beer. With that in mind I looked at gym membership. I joined a gym many moons ago and never really liked it. The idea of doing something physical for no wages seemed illogical. Then you remember you have to pay get on a torture machine in the first place and then you decide that you will do something else. Like have another beer.

I used to enjoy walking in the country in England and still own a pair of boots so I packed up my troubles in my old rucksack and headed for the hills. Hong Kong is essentially a hectic city surrounded by greenery. The misconception I had when it was first mooted that we would head for foreign climes was that we would be living in a heaving metropolis. Well, to a degree that is very true. Hong Kong island has a huge amount of skyscrapers crowded along its iconic waterfront but the whole area is 85% green. I decided that a trip to the hills of Lantau would be a good idea.

Hong Kong is blessed with the sort of public transport system that would make an environmentalist weep into his muesli. The MTR is quick, clean and electric. Buses bustle around like a bunch of worker ants preparing the winters store. I took the MTR to Tung Chung and a bus to  Pak Kung Au. As the bus headed off I started my 100 yard stroll to the section of the Lantau trail that i had decide to attempt. As I got to the picnic area that marked the start of the footpath I noticed that my heart was already pounding and there was a glow of sweat on my forehead. “Must be excitement at the challenge ahead.” I thought.

The footpath is well marked and very easy to follow. It is also steep. I mean steep.I mean really steep! The path is laid out with stones that form a rough staircase that seems to disappear into the sky. Sunset peak was the target I had set myself so off I scampered.

The scamper lasted a few moments and was rapidly reduced to a steady plod as I hauled myself up the seemingly never-ending hill. At this point a snake slithered surreptitiously in front of me. I jumped out of my skin and gave an involuntary squeak. What is it about snakes that cause such an irrational fear? It was not a huge man-eating python and I doubt if it would be able to eat anything bigger than a grasshopper but it still raised my heart rate by a considerable amount. Perhaps it is a fear bred into us from early stories from the bible and the garden of Eden or the Tarzan films I used to watch as a child. I was just glad it did not bite me. I really did not fancy having to cut myself and suck the poison out. Once my heart rate had dropped away from the red-line I carried on.

The view from Sunset peak is a trifle disappointing if I am honest. The walk itself is very good but the ubiquitous haze means that the horizon fades into a grey haze. The descent towards Mui Wo  was pretty tough going. The path is still well marked but it is a steady but steep route down. My knees were now starting to hurt and my eyes felt red-raw where the sweat had dripped into them. I pushed on, knowing that the only other option was to head back and since that was uphill it was onwards and downwards.

I arrived at Nam Shan and took the tree walk to another picnic area and took the old village footpath to Mui Wo. I thought by now my feet and knees would be taking a break. Not a bit of it. The footpath was more of the stone staircase so I hunkered down and stumbled towards my final destination.

The trail ends up through some houses and is thankfully level and very easy going from this point onwards. As I manfully covered the last few yards to the ferry port I rejoiced in the fact that I had accomplished what I had intended to do and also relished the thought of not walking anywhere for the foreseeable future. It was at this point I spotted a bar and thought “Mmmm!  Beer!”  I promptly walked a few yards on my blisters and collapsed into a seat. The first pint of Murphy`s never touched the side, the second paused briefly on the way down and the third I savoured for a while as my feet and knees gradually stopped sending pain messages to my brain.

I got home an hour later, aching and in pain.I tried to point out to Wife that I had in fact saved money on gym membership and could consider the days venture as an economy drive. For some reason she did not view my little adventure in the same light. My stomach is still the same size and my legs ache. Perhaps I should just give up food.

Weekend heroes

I like motorsport. That does not mean I am  a bad person but I do like the smell of high octane fuel and burning rubber. Where to satisfy that craving in Hong Kong? Well of course you can stand at a set of traffic lights I suppose but it`s not really the same thing. I have to say that it is the one thing I miss about not being in the UK. I always enjoyed going to one of the smaller circuits in the UK to watch a good club racing meeting. I have a sneaking admiration for these amateur racers who spend their weekends prepping their own cars and entering a race which if they win would result in a few lonely spectators on the bank wafting a program at them! Not for these weekend heroes the yacht at Monaco and a cuddle from a grid girl. A plastic trophy is the best that they can hope for all the while risking tangling with one of his fellow warriors and incurring the cost of a new corner or a new panel.I admire these men and women`s desire to race, the wish to pursue the adrenaline rush that costs them so dear. What  a pity that people look at motorsport as something that only happens once a year when the formula one circus comes to town. I have attended a few GPs at Silverstone and enjoyed every one. After the last trip to Northamptonshire and in the cold light of day the sad facts were that I had spent enough money for a weeks holiday to camp in a field and watch some cars go past. At this point I decided I would go on holiday and stick to watching these incredible machines on the TV.

The formula one teams must be like the queen and think that everywhere they go smells of fresh paint. I just wish that a few of the people who go to watch the Silverstone circus would nip to their local circuit and watch the “amateur” racers at play. A fraction of the cost and the opportunity to wave a program at true motorsport heroes.