An Englishman Abroad.

I am an Englishman. I define myself as “English”, not british and definitely not european. Many people think that I must be a foreigner hating lunatic, ( one of those words may be correct but that is a judgement call). I have visited europe on many occasions and enjoyed myself every time. I Found the Spanish pleasant people and the French anything but rude. I have eaten pasta and camembert, I even have the ability to speak a few words of french. VERY LOUDLY OF COURSE SO THAT THEY CAN UNDERSTAND YOU. That does not mean that I like the idea of the european union. I understand the logic of harmonising rules and regulations, it makes a lot of sense to standardise things. I do, of course, want to keep my pints and miles. I also want to keep the pound.

A country that relinguishes the control of its currency becomes a victim of somebody else. When Greece joined the Euro I read many columnists who said that this was not a particularly good idea. The politicians and the bankers naturally knew better than the great unwashed and went ahead anyway. Greece was showered with money and even held an olympic games. What could possibly go wrong? The plebs like me who were naturally suspicious of a european plan were decried as luddite nay sayers, the sort of people who thought that England still ruled the waves and anything after Dover should be marked on a map as “Here be dragons.” I was told repeatedly that high finance was not a concern of mine and it would be fine. A few months later and the chickens came home to roost and brought a few friends with them to ram the point home.
Europe had tried to tie the powerhouse of Germany to a rural and tourist industry based Greece. Suddenly the brown stuff hit the air circulating device. Amazingly, the Greek government had borrowed more money than it could afford and now needed bailing out. In reality the French and German banks that had lent money to Greece needed bailing out rapidly so the EU and the IMF and many other capital letters joined together to make money out of nothing and throw it about. The Greek citizens lost their jobs and their livelihoods but the bankers got their money so that was alright then.
I am a natural sceptic. When I hear of people being conned out of money my first instinct is to blame the person who lost out. It may seem harsh, but if you are a mug who buys an item from a paper for twenty quid that promises to cut all your bills in half, when you open the package and find a pair of scissors I am afraid sympathy is not going to come from this direction.
Every time I hear of anything from Europe my first instinct is to say “NO!” perhaps our wonderful leaders should learn to say “Non” rather than “Ja!”

Tung Chung to Discovery Bay ( beer optional extra.)

My Wife, who follows this blog as a means to understand why her purse becomes empty, asked why I do not write a hiking guide as opposed to some random dribbling. As she has a point and also a full purse, I decided to describe to you a rather pleasant stroll that I took last week.

 As I am neither a professional guide or a font of all knowledge, please be aware that the following is my opinion and if you fancy following in my footsteps, seek medical and legal advice. Whatever you do, you are responsible and I accept no blame if you fall over and break your camera. So there! That was the legal bit!

 The walk from Tung Chung to Discovery Bay will take around about four hours. You will need good boots, good socks,bug spray and plenty of water.You will also need beer money and bus,train or ferry fare. The optional extra`s are map,compass and GPS navigation system. The footpaths are well marked and easy to follow,  a map  is useful so that you can point in the general direction of Lo Fu Tau and refer to its height and other points of interest.

 Once the train pulls up at Tung Chung get off the train. If you stay on the train you will be transported back towards Hong Kong and you do not want to do that just yet. Leave the train and head for exit C. Up the escalators until you are at the top and try not to look too out of place as you walk past all the designer shops in your shorts and walking boots. Go past the Pacific Coffee and go down one set of escalators and head out of the mall. immediately you leave the mall turn right and go down the diagonal stairs. At the bottom head sort of left but straight onish and walk past all the high rises that are on your left. Keep going until you see a petrol station. At this point walk right along Hei Tung street and squeeze down the small space between the wall and the chain link fence. All you do now is walk for about 20 minutes along the side of the railway line until you reach an underpass that takes you to the start of the olympic path. At this point you have walked on a level and concrete path and been assisted in going in an upward direction by electric powered escalators. No more! leg power is required for the next few hours. The footpath meanders through several small villages and is really easy to follow. Once you head out into the hills, the footpath begins to get steeper and steeper. interspaces with well made concrete steps the footpath rises higher and higher. The sweat begins to flow at this point! When you see a sign announcing that you have entered an extension of the Lantau park, turn around and walk back a few yards and you will find a rest area that gives a wonderful view of the airport and the mainland. Of course if it is hazy and foggy you will see nothing but at least you can rest your weary trotters. Upwards , ever upwards until you reach the top of the olympic trail. It should take about two hours to reach this point. It is well marked with a rest area and  huge board with a map on it. At this point you can decide which way to go. Straight on is towards Mui Wo and is a similar path to the one you have followed. If you go this way keep going and follow the signs for the ferry pier. I would recommend either the China Bear or the Bahce for food before boarding the ferry for central or taking a bus back to Tung Chung.

 Of course the route we take is left. The trail stops being a concrete path and becomes  a well trodden route. If you have bug spray, use it now!  There maybe snakes on this part, but since you are way too big for  a snake to eat they are not really interested in biting you. If, however, you decide to pick a snake up, they just might decide to give you a quick nip. My advice is to leave sleeping snakes lie.If you really want to pick up a snake, please get one of your friends to video it as these videos are really popular on youtube.

 The trail leads onwards and upwards. Steep sections are marked out by a rough stone staircase and the pools of sweat beside them. After about an hourand a half from the junction with the olympic trail you will reach the summit of Lo Fu Tau . The peak features two information boards that tell you the names of the hills and islands you cannot see. It is now decision time. If you carry on the trail becomes very very difficult but gets you into Discovery Bay in about 45 minutes. Wimps like me head back the way we came and turn right at the board with the map on. The trail is well marked but very steep for the next thirty minutes or so. Once you get to a junction in the path that features telegraph poles, turn right and head down hill. More bug spray should be applied at this point and caution should be taken as the downhill bit appears to follow a water course so is very slippy and covered in rocks that move. If you are at this point and wearing flip-flops you may be regretting not taking my advice and wearing boots! As you slither and slide towards Discovery bay the path suddenly disappears! Fear not! Just turn left and follow the drainage ditch for about thirty yards, go down the rough concrete stairs and then hop over the wall. bear left and then right and you are now on a main road i Discovery bay! If you are a wuss then there are bus stops nearby. If you are determined to get the most of your walk today keep going downhill until you get to the tennis courts. At this point turn left and walk into the main shopping area of Discovery Bay. There are several eating and drinking establishments here. You may need them!

 Once you have finished eating and drinking there is a ferry to take you to central or buses to take you to Tung Chung or Sunny bay. From there the MTR will whisk your aching body home.

Death and Taxes

Even though I am located many miles from my original home of England, I still follow news via the internet thingy with interest. It was budget day in the UK recently and the chap with a red briefcase stood up and tried to explain that he was being nice to everybody. As all those with more brain cells than an amoeba know, that does not happen. There are winners and there are losers. The question is, how does it all balance out in the end?
The problem with all taxes is twofold. The first problem is that it is complicated. I do not like complicated things, you only have to watch me use a computer to realise that all the wonderful shortcuts, icons and menus are no use to an oaf like me who likes to point and click at something. If a pretty picture pops up or a video of somebody falling over appears, all the better, I do not really want much more than that. Tax allowances, child tax credits, capital gains tax and offset tax allowances (overseas) subsection 3 para 4 have little or no interest to me. I am but a simple soul who has money in his pocket until it is gone. I know that when I worked for fifty hours a week the money I earned would be magically reduced to mean that I could spend what I had earned in forty hours. I did try to see if I could just work for forty hours and be done with it but apparently that is illegal and would see an honest bloke hauled in front of the beak for a bit of a telling off and even perhaps a bit of time in the clink.
The second thing with taxes is that everyone thinks that they should pay less and somebody else should pay more. This does lead to a few problems and possibly even a punch-up down the pub. If you earn 10WM$* a week and you are taxed at ten per cent, you receive in your grubby mitt 9WM$. If you earn 20WM$ you pay 2WM$ and recieve 18WM$. The problem occurs when you earn 30WM$ and as you are obviously rich you must now pay a higher rate of tax of twenty per cent. so your 30WM$ is reduced to 24WM$. You might think its unfair, you may even regard the fact that you work harder than the others as a bit unjust, it is tough! It is a democracy and you are in the minority so pay up. Of course the problem occurs as it now becomes possible for you to hire an accountant for 1WM$ who can now show that you have so many liabilities that in fact your income is only 18WM$ so the net result is that an accountant makes money, you keep more of your money and the tax goes down from 6WM$ to 1.8WM$ and no-one is happy apart from your accountant and yourself. You are now the greedy one and you had better board up your windows and doors!

Of course that is the simplistic argument that high earners have used for avoiding paying tax. If you earn three times the average perhaps you should pay more than your fair share by paying a higher rate.

Of course the other thing the budget tends to focus on is property taxes. I have a bit of an issue with property taxes. I bought my house with money that has been taxed. Most of that money went to buying it and guess what? I am to be taxed on the fact that I own a house. I am always amazed at the way a house is taxed as if it is a luxury! where the heck am I supposed to keep all my rubbish? Of course a fair system would be a tax per person so that everybody pays for the services a council provides. I think we could call it a community charge….mmm, yes, I remember how well that particular tax went down with the population!

The next tax that gets me cross is taxes associated with cars. I go to work and need a car to get to work. The money I earn to buy the car has been taxed, I buy the car and pay tax on the purchase of my little tin box. I park it in my garage and pay extra council tax as I own a garage and do not park my car on the road. Then I need insurance. That is then subject to VAT and an insurance tax. Of course I need to get a tax disc, the clue in the name really. That is supposed to pay for the roads but has many years ago been swallowed up into general taxation. As if insult and injury were not close enough bedfellows I have to put fuel into my work transportation device.And would you credit it, the taxman has got there first and put a tax on petrol! To to add a quick kick in the rear as he raided my wallet he also put VAT onto the tax he puts on petrol! A tax on a tax! That is inspired! Of course to unwind from this never ending round of paying tax I leave the car at home and head for the pub for a pint to drown my sorrows. I think we can all figure out which direction the rant takes now!

* A WM$ is a currency I have invented. Should you wish to use it, 10% WMAT is to be forwarded to my account! ( WMAT is Wheel Monkey Added Tax!)

A valuable guide to saving money.

I have just eaten a rather fine lunch whilst overlooking the South China Sea. As the waiter approached with my third ( second if the wife is reading this) beer, I got to contemplating life and how to get the most out of it. It dawned on me that making your (wifes) money go as far as possible is always helpful. So here it is, the Wheelmonkey`s guide to saving money!

1) Shop online! It sounds like a daft idea as you must now pay delivery charges for buying your groceries, but if you calculate how much fuel you use to get to the supermarket it is not that bad a deal.Of course the other advantage is that you no longer drive to the supermarket for a loaf of bread and return with a dishwasher,four packs of firelighters and a pressure washer.

2) Do not shop at supermarkets! Now i realise that this contradicts point one but if you go to a local fruit and veg market you will save money.

3) When you go to the supermarket ( yes I know, contradicts points one and two..) never, ever use a trolley. Always use a basket. Once it gets too heavy to carry you will be forced to head to the check-out as you cannot carry anymore therefore saving valuable cash.

4) When you are at the supermarket and invoking rule three, head for the beer aisle first. Stock up on as much beer as you can get away with. You must remember that beer is a staple food item so money spent here is never wasted. The big advantage is that your basket becomes too heavy very quickly so the milk and bread will have to be sacrificed.

5) If you are shopping at the supermarket and your wife starts to scowl due to your sensible cost cutting exercises, give her the basket to carry. Checkout here we go!

6) Beware the false god of BOGOFS! As a careful shopper it is too easy for your eyes to be drawn to the ” Buy One Get One Free ” tickets. If you had the intention of buying one of the items, fine, you have got two for the price of one. You must be aware, however, that just because cat food has a BOGOF it does not really make it a bargain, especially if you are not a cat owner.

7) The food that is close to it`s sell-by date is always a good bargain. If it is blue cheese that was originally Wenslydale, perhaps not such a good bargain. ( Although if you can eat it, then be seriously ill you may have a claim for compensation from the supermarket, your call really.) Again, if you are lactose intolerant, then perhaps you should not really have bought fifteen cartons of yogurt for half price on the basis that “It is a good deal”.

8) The best way to double your money is to take it out of your pocket, fold it in half and put it back again.

9 ) If it sounds too good to be true, it is!

10) Buying beer at Happy Hour is good as it is half price, so you can have twice as much.

I hope that these few helpful hints will ensure that your hard-earned cash goes a bit further, perhaps even as far as next pay day!

These Boots Are Made For Blisters.

Since I have just completed one of my excercise tasks for the week and am now sat replete from a chilli and beer, I have decided to help everybody out with my guide to walking.

1) Walking is good exercise. It is also cheap. You do not need special equipment to do it and the instruction book for walking boots is simple. Left foot forward, right foot forward and repeat.
2) You will need a pair of good boots. Pay a few quid for them and it is money well spent. As for point one, chuck the instructions away.
3) Get some good walking socks too. They cost a few bob more than your 20 pairs for a fiver from the car boot sale but again it is money well spent.
4) Walking poles are for experts. You are going to saunter along a footpath and perhaps up a mound. You do not need poles. If you are in receipt of a free bus pass, however, get a walking stick. It will not help you in the slightest as you wheeze and pant your way along a footpath in the great outdoors, but they are an invaluable pointing device and can also be used to wave at approaching friends.
5) When you go to an outdoor shop you will be approached by salesmen. Ignore them, they are there to divide you from your cash. You do not need equipment more suited to an attack on the north face of the Igor if in fact you are going for a gentle stroll around Derbyshire.
6) You may find it useful to have map and compass if you intend to head slightly off the beaten track. If by “off the beaten track” you are in fact wandering around Leicestershire then trust me, you do not really need a GPS system that can pinpoint your position to three meters, no matter what the salesman says.
7) If it is raining, you will get wet. You have two choices. The first (and possibly my favourite) is to glance out of the window and roll over and go back to sleep. The second, for the keener types, is to don the fantastic set of waterproofs that the oft mentioned salesman has sold you. His commission has already been spent down the pub, where, you will note, he is dry. You, on the other hand will head off to the hills and become damp as your sweat condenses on the inside of your waterproofs. You will be dry for the first part of the walk but after a bit you will wish that you had either rolled over in bed or joined the salesman for a swift half down the pub.
8) When you are out walking you will meet other walkers. If they are fat,unfit and sweating, talk to them. That is your fellow man. If they are barely drawing breath and speeding past you, try and hit them if you can. Whatever you do under no circumstances engage them in conversation. These are those salesmen on their day off. If you engage them in conversation they will merely point out that your boots are last years model and laugh at your paper map.
9) When you plan your route, try to make it either a circular route or one that starts and finishes somewhere where you can hop on a bus to finish your walk off. The there-and-back-again walks always seem so sad as you turn around and retrace your steps.
10) If possible arrange to finish your walk at a point of refreshment. If you are a girl it is acceptable to finish at a tea shop. Men are only allowed to finish at the pub. This is when the sweating actually pays off as by now you are guaranteed to get served as every body gives you a really wide berth at the bar.
11) If anybody approaches you at the bar to engage you in conversation, Allow the sweat to dribble down your forehead and then triple the actual distance you have travelled. If your fellow bar fly starts to name every hillock and tuft of grass make your excuses and run, he is a salesman and will try and sell you more stuff.
12) As you return home and remove your boots and stinky socks, consider that you have burned off a lot of calories and have become fitter and healthier. Do, however, omit to mention to anybody the five pints of beer and the steak and kidney pie and chips you rewarded yourself with at the end of your forty-five minute walk.

As ever, I hope this handy guide will aid and assist you in choosing a new and healthy pastime.

weather nice……

I have managed to avoid as much as possible the infamous “w” word. Not work you understand, but weather. It is fair to say that I have managed to avoid talking about the weather as much as possible. In Hong Kong a greeting of “Have you eaten?” is common. The English tend to ignore such culinary references and start a conversation with “Nice weather for the time of year”. Of course in reality England does not have either weather or climate, England gets a three-day summer and the rest varies between grey, greyer and “a bit nippy!” The English are an optimistic breed, how else do you explain the crowds in a garden centre on the one day of summer when the sun decides to break out from behind the clouds. Like moths to a candle the hordes descend to buy gazebo`s, swing seats and patio sets. Of course the realists also buy patio heaters and chimineas….
I would sweat and suffer on the warm days and look forward to returning home to a beer and a sit on the decking whilst surveying my garden. The truth was that I would arrive home, have a wash and a scrub and by the time I had plonked myself down on the outdoor furniture it was getting dark and a jumper would be required. The beer would be too cold and the garden would be something to squint at in the dark.
Winter in Hong Kong is cool. Cool is a relative term of course as it rarely drops below 12 degrees. The main problem with weather in Hong Kong is of course that the flats are geared up to be cool in the summer. That means that as the alarm clock goes off, signalling that it is time to apply a forceful foot to Wifes backside to persuade her to go and earn my beer money, the marble effect floor is an icy touch to the tootsies.The floor acts like the slab in an Edwardian pantry, keeping things cool in a warm enviroment. The trouble is that the only heating system we have is a fan heater that seems to disturb dust more efficiently than it heats the flat. The last few weeks have been spent shivering under blankets and wearing jumpers. But not today! The weather has brightened up, the sun has blasted through the haze and the temperature has hit the low 20s. Time to do what every true blooded Englishman wants to do. I head for the beach and have pizza and beer and sit outside whilst watching the world go by. English summers spent sitting in a beer garden are a distant false memory. Here in Hong Kong the beach,the bar and the sunshine are a fantastic reality