I am starting to get like my father. Hair going,waist expanding and starting to grumble a lot. In a lot of ways I am not like my father. I like heavy metal and beer, he prefers jazz and wine. In one respect, however, we are similar. I have discovered one of the joys of a past generation. I am a house-husband which means I spend my time cooking and cleaning whilst my Wife goes to work.She allocates me money to spend on the house which I divert to beer with a monotonous regularity. The benefit to having one person playing house has become apparent. It is time. You cannot buy time or even trade it, yet since we arrived in this foreign country we seem to have gained an abundance of it.
When we were both out at work from seven in the morning until seven at night, our evenings were a mad rush of cooking and cleaning. A meal was something that went “splot” on a plate or went “ding” from the microwave. The weekends were when we hit the supermarket to buy next weeks supply of “splot” and “ding”. If I could manage a swift visit to the pub it was fitted in to a timetable of shopping, visiting and chores. Financially we were OK. We were neither rich nor poor. Our lifestyle involved us both working and enjoying ourselves in short bursts. Now we our leisure time together starts when Wife gets home from work. The meal is ready for us to consume once she arrives home and after that, the time is our own. I wave goodbye in the morning as she heads to work and do the mundane chores before deciding which bar to spend her money at.
We were money rich but time poor. I often consider our parents lifestyle to be a better balance. The main problem is that it has taken a six thousand mile journey to realise it
Last week after a long delay a new restaurant opened up near our flat. A dim sum restaurant to boot. It was supposed to be opened at the end of october but the windows were boarded up and the only hope seemed to be the pieces of A4 paper staple-gunned to the chipboard windows referring to the alcohol licence. Finally I wandered past and the windows were uncovered and the tables were set. I told Wife who threw the delicious evening meal on the floor and grabbed her purse. I took the hint that burnt chicken in soy sauce was no longer to her taste and followed her to the lift. We arrived at the newly opened restaurant and there we were appointed a table. The menu was plopped in front of us and Wife took the pamphlet from it`s holder and retrieved a pen. At this point a sense of panic enveloped me. I have slowly got used to the Chinese way but dim sum is a little different. I am not used to ordering seemingly random dishes and then wondering if what turns up is what i have actually ordered. I worry too much. Wife ticked the boxes and waved her hand to attract the waiter. ( A habit I use myself but still find a little rude. I am more used to the glancing-around-and-hoping-to-catch-the-eye-of-somebody who cares method!) The young lady approached, saw we where of western appearance and smiled, probably thinking to herself that she should have passed this table on to somebody else. A little while later the food started to arrive. In England we order food and it arrives at about the same time. It also follows a rhythm of starter main course and pudding. ( If you are posh or from the south, pudding equals dessert!).However in a chinese restaurant, food arrives when it is ready with no sort of pattern. It is not unusual to order extra items half way through a meal.Once you get used to the pattern of service, the meal experience is phenomenal! The food is amazing. Rice sheets wrapped over crispy seaweed and filled with prawns. Wonton steamed buns filled with barbecued pork and spring rolls filled with shredded chicken. It is all good and we order far too much as ever. The best thing to me is the price. It is a reasonable price for a restaurant and the food is so nice that I wonder why I bother to cook. I also worry that I am going to be a foody! The contrasts in flavours and textures that make the chinese cuisine so good is also the clichés that make enjoying a meal a bore. We left the restaurant with full bellies and big smiles. Even bigger than my stomach is the list of things I would like to try.And it is a big list. We took a menu with us and would run out of ink if we ticked everything on the menu we would like….
I glanced up briefly as the ferry lurched into the pier. We were docked so I could now disembark. All around me people were pointing cameras and the click-click-click of mpegs,jpegs and clothes pegs being stored on various digital media was almost deafening. I slowly stood up and glanced over as the mooring lines were pulled tight and the gangplank lowered. I joined the population shuffling off and walked past the salesmen asking me if I wanted a guided tour. I have been here over a year now and I know where I am going. The tourists stop and look at signs and consult maps. I don`t. I have my beer-head on so know exactly which way to head.
The ferry I had used was none other than then famous Star ferry. It endlessly ploughs between Hong Kong island and the mainland at Kowloon,crossing the busy waters of Victoria harbour. The design of the boat ( ferry/ship?) is an almost classic example of utilitarian design. The function is to get people on, across the water and off again. No messing about and the quicker the better. To this end the ship (boat/ferry?) has no bow or stern. To landlubbers like myself this means it has no pointy or blunt end.It leaves the pier at Kowloon and heads for Hong Kong island without needing to turn around.The bow is the stern one way and the stern is the bow on the return journey. How it works I have no idea. I presume it has a propellor at either end and it takes turns to move the ferry( ship/boat?). it is not only the propulsion system that works both ways. the benches feature a movable back-piece that ensures that one can always face the direction of travel. The trip across the harbour takes around five minutes and features a splendid view of the skyline of Hong Kong. It is always recommended for tourists to do yet for me it is merely a means of getting ever closer to my favourite bar and some beer.
Of course the main attraction for the Star ferry is cost. It is normally listed under tourist attractions but the reason it is so popular is cost. The fare is two Hong kong dollars to be gently carried across the harbour. In English money that is less than twenty pence. If you wish to go posh you can use the upper deck which is about twenty five pence.Either way it is a nice way to view Hong Kong. Of course for people like me who have seen it,done it and even got the T shirt it is no big deal.Until you glance up from the newspaper as tourists fight for prime position to get their photo taken. At this point you realise that living here is such a privilege. Perhaps you no longer notice the views but the life here involves so many good things that it is too easy to take them for granted. It is also very easy to forget what it is like the first time you boarded the Star ferry and headed to Hong Kong. Of course the only thing I never forget is how cheap it is…….!
One of my favourite bands is AC/DC. A few years ago they announced that they would be doing a world tour and my heart gave a flutter. I want to see them. I want to see them a lot and I will buy tickets. The only problem with a band like AC/DC is that a lot of people want to see them. And I mean a lot! Now that we have the internet there is no need to take a tent and sleep on the pavement outside the ticket office. It is all such a much more civilised affair now. You need to set up an account and at the alloted time press the “buy” button and before you know it you are singing along to “Thunderstruck.” That is the theory. In practice the start time for selling tickets is mid-morning when non-office workers are getting their hands dirty rather than getting RSI and the closest we can get to the internet is passing by a telephone line. I was very fortunate and had a nice and handsome and helpful and attractive and kind boss who let me slope off to the office to borrow a computer. I logged on to my account with the ticket seller and at the appointed time hit “buy.” The trouble was I worked on an estate in the middle of nowhere so my electrons took longer than normal to get to the office. I got tickets, really good tickets, but had fifteen minutes to enter my details. The egg-timer turned over and over and the modem (I believe that is what it is, to me it is a box with lights that flicker and that is as much as I know or care ) flashed and made noises. Too late! Timed out! “Please start again.” I pressed the “buy” button to be told that there was no tickets left and I had wasted all my bosses good humour for nothing. I crept away and sent Wife a text message explaining my total failure to provide her with an evening’s entertainment.
I decided that evening to see if I could buy tickets on ebay. My jaw dropped when I saw how many tickets were up for grabs! Not just the odd ticket but hundreds of them. The only niggle was the price had now risen by four or five hundred per cent! I looked on an internet forum where I discovered that these people had hooked multiple computers up to the web-site and bought as many as they could so they could sell them on at a profit. They even claimed that they were doing me a favour as now I could buy a ticket from them and go to a concert that was sold out because they had bought tickets to sell on!
I refused to buy tickets at this inflated price. As much as I wanted to go I could not justify paying so much money to somebody who`s internet capability was beyond mine. If the tickets were sold by somebody who could no longer go I could understand it, but these tickets were purchased with the sole intention of making money.
Human nature is what it is. The tout makes money from people who are willing to pay and who can say he is doing wrong when somebody will pass over money to buy a ticket for a sold out gig? Me? too tight and too mean pay over the odds.There has been many attempts to outlaw touting in the past few years but the only way to realistically put an end to this practice is for Joe Public to stop buying from touts. Back to human nature again!
( I got tickets to AC/DC in then end via the fan website at face price….then saw them again when they headlined Download!)
For many years in England I never used public transport. Why would I? I lived in a village in the midlands served with a bus twice an hour that took nearly 40 minutes to cover the 7 miles to the nearest town. The first time we took the bus was when we decided to go to a beer festival and the arguments between myself and Wife as to who would drive ran on like a prog-rock band`s guitar solo.We decided to catch the bus to the nearest town and then onwards with a train.
We arrived at the bus stop and waited for the bus. At this point you are probably thinking I will now start moaning about how late the bus was. Not a bit. Bang on time it turned up. The bus was clean and tidy and the driver was friendly. The one thing the bus did not have was an oxygen tank and a defibrillator. ” How much! ” I squeaked as I handed over two and a half pints worth of money.Wife helped me to my seat and I sobbed quietly as the bus took it`s tortuous route to town.We next headed to the railway station where once more the staff were friendly, competent and polite. They where not fazed when I passed out after passing over more beer money. The train was everything a modern transport system should be. It was on time, it was clean and it was quiet. It should be, I felt like I had bought the train rather than rented a seat on it. It whisked us to our destination from where we walked the last mile to the beer festival. The cost of getting there was frightening to say the least. It nearly put me off the beer. Well I did say “Nearly”….
The problem with using public transport in the England is that most people already have a car. Once you have made that large investment into a chunk of metal, any other means of hauling ones carcass around is an extra cost. If you are an accountant then a few calculations would probably show that public transport in England would cost less than the cost of running a car. How many people would wince at the cost of driving a few miles down the road if all the costs were charged up-front? You open your car door and a bill for that days insurance, a days worth of servicing costs, a days worth of road tax and a days worth of depreciation is plopped into your lap. Of course no-one thinks of that. The only immediate cost we think of is the fuel. The convenience of a car is so overwhelming. Door to door. When you want, no waiting. If we miss the bus we have thirty minutes to wait before the next one. If we go shopping for bulky items it is easy to get them into the car and transport them home with a minimum of fuss. Try getting your Ikea purchase home on public transport if you like a challenge.
Then I moved to Hong Kong. The first thing I got was an Octopus card. A credit card sized ticket that I can use on buses,trams,ferries and the MTR train system.As Hong Kong is a city as opposed to the village in England, missing a bus is not really a problem. There will be another one along in a few minutes.The main attraction to using public transport is cost. It is cheap. To get from my flat to my favourite bar on the island, a trip of about seven miles and done on the MTR, costs just over a pound. The star ferry crossing from Kowloon to Hong Kong island? Twenty pence! Buses are cheap and have a fixed fare. It is almost criminally easy to use an Octopus card.As you board a bus you place your wallet near the reader and it deduct the fare and on you get. No messing around with tickets or change, just bleep and go. The public transport here is fantastic and the people of Hong Kong are justifiably proud of their transport system. All I need them to do is organise a real ale festival and I will be in seventh heaven!
I read a lot of newspapers these days,even though they are actually on my computer screen and no longer involve chopping down trees and being delivered by a schoolboy early in the morning. The papers vary in their content but there is on constant. The youth of today are bad `uns. They think the world owes them a living and by `eck the exams are so easy….they are all evil and violent and will attack a grandmother for her pension to buy drugs in a flash. Well we all know that this is not true and last year my faith in the next generation was completely restored.
Despite my advancing years and waistline, I still like to attend the Download rock festival. If you are younger than me you will refer to it as “Download”. If you are my age you will possibly refer to it as ” Monsters of rock”. If you are older than me you will refer to it as “What!!!???”. The lineup normally features a mix from the rock world spectrum from light rock to the growling and incomprehensible death speed metal. It is a broad church that attracts a wide age group and wide section of society. I have been going for several years but as my age and creaking old bones need a rest at the end of the day we always go “posh camping”. We can take the car and fill it with stuff we do not need rather than haul a ton of junk across a field to ignore for four days and then drag back to the car. We get brick-built showers and proper toilets. Possibly the main attraction to yours truly is the on-site pub with real ale although that is just a rumour.
Before the festival starts is a strange two days of camping and drinking. The festival features several different areas outside the arena and one to visit is called “The Village” and is surrounded by the campsites for people who have a smaller budget and who decide to spend most of their festival cash on alcohol rather than clean lavatories.This is where we went to have a beer and wander around the stalls selling the usual festival add-ons of T-shirts with witty slogans and camping gear that was left behind in the shed. Of course there is the occasional bar. We were both tired from the long walk from our camp-site, I was tired from twenty minutes of shopping and Wife was exhausted from fifteen minutes of moaning from me about being fed up of looking at stalls. We headed towards the bars. The bars feature a bar and some bench-sets to sit on and it was packed. I bought some guinness and we looked for somewhere to rest our old bodies. A table full of people shouted across to us “Over here! space for two!” and all moved a buttock`s worth to the right. We perched on the remaining space and I looked at our neighbours. Tattoos, odd coloured hair, piercings and strange clothes and that was just the females.” Where you from? Who do you want to see?” asked the nearest. “Hong Kong”, I answered. “I quite fancy seeing Alice Cooper”. This was a catalyst to a memorable and fun afternoon.These folks were fantastic. They cared not one jot that I had no tatoos.The fact that we were in posh camping merely sparked a conversation about the merits of spending money on warm showers when there was beer to be purchased. They accepted us into their drinking circle with not an ounce of prejudice or jealousy.They had come to Download to have fun and enjoy themselves and that was what they where going to do. They were not feral, they all wanted to work and they never made the slightest attempt to mug me for drug money.We spent a really pleasant afternoon in the company of some nice people. Their appearance may make you want to cross the road but I found their attitudes to be a counterbalance to the stuff churned out by the media these days.The hackneyed old phrase of never judging a book by it`s cover should be amended to include piercings, hair dye and tattoos.
The day was warm. The boots sat in the corner whimpering slightly. I dreaded to say the word “walk” as they would head for the door without me. No, too hot to hike today so I fired up the venerable laptop and searched for somewhere to visit in this section of Asia. Some say I am a creature of habit, and it would be a little difficult to disagree. I have lived here for over a year and have two regular haunts and drink the same at each establishment. The menu is long ignored now and a nod is enough to bring out either the crab salad or the fixed special of the day. I even sit at the same place at the bar in the Globe. I know my route to and from my regular haunts and normally use autopilot to get me home. I decided that for a change I would go to Shek O. I used my usual train to get to Hong kong island, changed trains and headed to the east of the island. The final stage was done on a double-decker bus. I sat upstairs and gazed slack-jawed as the scenery brushed by the windows. The perception of Hong Kong as a built up metropolis is very quickly dispelled as the road twists through an incredible amount of lush greenery. Finally I arrive at Shek O. A brief walk from the bus leads me to a small but lovely beach. At the head of the beach are several BBQ establishments that offer a social meal out like no other. I am, however, flying solo so instead head off the beach to a chaotic and noisy restaurant. It`s charm is the friendly laid back atmosphere as locals and tourist peruse a long list that is disguised as a menu. I decide to go with a sweet and sour pork with rice. It arrives and is a delight. The food is simple but beautifully cooked. Not the sticky,cloying sweet and sour from a jar but a contrast in flavours that makes me become, for an instant, a dreadful food bore. The moment passes as I swill it down with a Tsingtao beer as opposed to an oaked chardonnay.
I am starting to get used to eating out in Hong Kong. Long gone are the days of walking past restaurant after restaurant because we failed to pluck up the courage to go in, although to be truthful there are some that display no English writing on the menu at all which we still pause by the door briefly before carrying on to one with at least pictures to point at. We have Chinese friends who have taken pity on us and taken us to some amazing places to eat. The food has been sublime and the cost has been miniscule but without our colleagues, we are like virgins in a brothel. We know what we should do but have no idea how to do it!
People ask me some questions as they pass me by some days. “Are you bored?”,”What do you do with yourself all day?” and “Do you miss England at all?”. Interestingly they all miss the obvious question really, “Would you like another drink?” is much more what I would like to hear. However the question that always gets me thinking is the one about England. Blighty, my home for many years is a long way away and my life here in Hong Kong is so very different. I used to live in a small village in the midlands and now I have a small apartment in the sky. I miss family and friends but things I miss about England? There is one thing I miss in a very odd way. Morris dancing.Morris dancing. I had to say it twice because I don`t quite believe it myself.I do not like Morris dancing. It is silly. It is named after a car.It is performed by strange men who seem to think that wafting sticks about and wearing beards is a perfectly acceptable pastime.It is also something so English that a Morris man should have his image on a pound coin.
Several years ago I was at a “gastro-pub” celebrating my wedding anniversary. We had a wonderful meal and after pudding, ( dessert for posh people ), we retired to the beer garden to allow me to swallow a pint of real ale.Two people-carriers arrived in the car park and half a dozen men scrambled out and headed towards the bar, bells jingling and beards wafting in the gentle heat of an English summer.The Morris men had arrived. This was their final call on a long tour that had started at lunchtime and possibly been preceded by some drinking to get themselves in the mood. There had been casualties on the way, the troupe should have numbered around about fifteen but some had called it a day earlier in the evening and silenced their bells and pocketed their hankies. The remaining group poured beer down their necks, wiped their beards and started to perform in the pub car park. Despite being short in numbers they still managed to hop, skip and wave hankies. The biggest problem was with one dance that featured swords. They were several numbers down and the finale, when performed correctly, would feature a fantastic spectacle of about twelve swords interlocked together and waved triumphantly by one member of the troupe. Despite heroic efforts by some dancers waving two swords, the end result was a shattering crash as the swords failed to lock together and ended up in a pile on the floor. Quick as a flash they were scooped up and the men jingled off behind the pub to fix the swords together. With a whoop and a cry they returned,swords joined and waved to the crowd. ” Pop-rivets rule!” cried the sword carrier!
It was terrible. Simon Cowell would have voted them off. Hughie Green would have switched off the clapometer and they would have found themselves outside of the big brother compound. Me? I was moved to tears.This was England! Drunk men wearing bells and ribbons.What other nation on this earth could supply something so wonderful? The Americans would have done it so much better, the Italians would have done it with so much passion and the French would have dressed the Morris men with fashionable haute couture. Whatever they would have done, they could not replicate the wonderful, memorable and daft thing that is Morris dancing! England in a nutshell and this defines the eccentricity of England that I miss so much.
I hate Christmas with a passion. Every little thing about it drives me into a pit of depression that normally lasts from when I see my first Christmas advert until the whole shabby thing is thrown into the attic in January. I loath the people who glare at me when I fail to smile at a whimsical santa. Especially when it is sat on a shelf in September. I detest the people who tell me it is “for the children”.They tell me this as the bottles of coca cola in their shopping trolleys are vastly outnumbered by the bottles of gin,whisky and rum. The worst, the foulest demons from the belly of hell, are those who tell me that I am just a miserable old sod. I am not miserable. I just wish that this post-Dickensian vision of Christmas would be cast into the oblivion of a nuclear reactor. Christmas is for those remaining christians amongst us. They can go to church and pray. The rest of us should embrace the wonderful winter festival of Yuletide. A celebration of the solstice, the point of a which is to enjoy the fact that although it is cold and miserable, the worst is over and the days are going to get longer and warmer. Have a party. Have a slap up dinner.Have a drink. No children are involved. They should be put to bed and told that “When they grow up they can join in the fun, until then stay quiet and out of the way”. Forget all this present buying nonsense,buy beer and food. All else is a waste of good money. Boxing day should be a day of indigestion,hangovers and full bank balances.
I am very happy to be away from England over the festive season. Here it is much less of an occasion and I can celebrate the fact that it is November and I still have not seen a Santa. I still buy presents out of a sense of duty although as friends have got older the presents have got harder to buy. Wife tells me I am a miserable toad and as she does all the Christmas shopping I have no excuse to moan. Excuse or not, I still cringe at the cost of the celebrations. Every December is spent trawling around the internet trying to find something we have never given before. Electric penguin cleaner? Navel fluff remover? Scented drawer liners? The images of things I never knew existed or would be desired flash over the screen as fast as I can scroll. I normally settle for booze for adults and cash for kids. It’s too much, my eyes bleed and my fingers go numb from the effort of searching for gifts. I have decided that a gift is something you buy when you cannot find a present. On christmas Eve I would console myself with the thought that it was over, another miserable three months finally done with.Now I could look forward to the days slowly drawing out and driving the car without first scraping the windscreen. Then I see the adverts for January sales. Starting boxing day….!