So here I am chatting to a woman I meet at a car boot, and I tell her I’m going on holiday, and she asks, ‘Anywhere nice?’
‘No, actually,’ I want to reply. ‘I’m going to Mordor.’
In reality I brightly replied ‘Greece,’ because I’m only rude when I’m drunk, or not paying attention. (Which probably amounts to the same thing.)
When I was at the doctor’s a few months ago, a neighbour came into the waiting room and said, ‘Hey! How are you?’ (Desired answer: I’ve got bubonic plague. Actual answer, Oh, I’m fine. You?’)
Why do we ask stupid questions? Why do people look at a new baby and ask, ‘Is he good?’ To which again, you want to reply, ‘No, he’s been inside for gbh.’
When two people meet in hell, one of them is bound to ask the other, ‘Hot enough for you?’ And when Captain Scott was trudging to the North Pole, I’d be prepared to bet a passing Eskimo greeted him with a, ‘Hi Bob! Cold enough for you?’
I was smugly seething about all this, because of course, I never ask stupid questions – until I remembered that last week, when a friend said they were going on holiday, I asked: ‘Anywhere interesting?’
She answered in much the same way as I had done, but I can’t remember where it was, (not that interesting, then) so not only did I ask a pointless question, I didn’t bother listening to the answer.
But maybe, that’s just it – we’re not looking for detailed answers. We are just registering an interest in someone we know; a sort of Facebook like. Which means I can now meet any daft question with the newly standard answer lol. Although, is that rude?
I am utterly and totally fed up of the casual racist comments I see every day in my Facebook news feed about muslims. What is it with everyone? What has happened to our common sense and our compassion?
What happened in Paris on Friday was awful. And yet what do we do? We turn on muslims. Has anybody stopped to think that, for the average Syrian, every night is Friday night in Paris? Has everybody forgotten the picture of the toddler washed up on that beach in Greece? Aylan Kurdi was a muslim.
The attack on Paris could have been so much, much worse. The suicide bomber outside the Stade de France was stopped from entering by a security guard, even though he had a valid ticket. The guard’s name was Zouheir. Eighty thousand people were in that stadium. The man who saved them was a muslim.
So many seemingly nice people seem to take comfort from sharing these ridiculous memes calling for women to stop wearing the burqa, and branding refugees, ‘sponging migrants’. How will banning the burqa stop terrorism? The men who carried out the atrocities in Paris didn’t wear burqas. The IRA killed 3,700 people during The Troubles. I don’t recall any of them wearing a burqa. In all the 30 years of attacks on the British mainland and in Ireland nobody blamed the Catholic Church. We didn’t think of the members of the IRA as primarily Catholic. We thought of them as terrorists. The killers in Paris are not muslims. They are terrorists.
And how can we, for the love of God, call people who are fleeing Syria sponging migrants? Spongers do not choose to live in plastic shacks on waste ground in Calais, or wade through mud in Croatia for a slice of bread and a bottle of water. Spongers are MPs who have fiddled their expenses. Spongers are big companies like Starbucks which benefit from our trade and avoid paying tax.
We look back on World War Two with pride when we think of how our country took in Jewish refugees and children on the Kinder Transport. What pride do we have now in the way we treat Syrian refugees? They may be muslims, but we are all human. Don’t let the terrorists split us up.
Today is Armistice Day. It marks the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when the guns finally fell silent on the Western Front.
I was going to put up a picture of my grandfather who spent four years driving trucks of supplies to the trenches in World War One.
But instead I am going to put up a picture of my father and the men he fought with in World War Two.
The No1 Sikh Engineer Battalion served in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt before being sent to Italy in 1943 to serve with the specialist troops of the British Eighth Army.
It is very hard to find out anything about the Sikhs who served in Italy. They don’t seem to get the attention they deserve. But, according to The Sikh Nugget 5,782 Indian soldiers died in the fighting there. Six out of the 20 Victoria Crosses awarded in that campaign were given to Indian soldiers.
My dad and the soldiers he served with were engineers. The only thing he would ever say about his experience in Italy was that he spent the entire campaign blowing up bridges and then building them again.
So, here’s to you, dad. Capt. David Scott, No 1 Sikh Engineer Battalion. And here are the names of the men you were with, that you so carefully wrote on the back of the picture.
Back row: Jemadar Bishan Singh; Capt. DE Gaye, RE; Jem. Bavant Singh; Lt. GL Nicholson, RE; Jem. Ralla Singh; Capt. J. Harcombe, RE.
Standing: Lt. SR. Bapat, IE; Jem. Gulwar Singh; Lt. David Scott; Jem. Baradur Singh; Lt. Srivastera, IAME; Jem. Amar Singh; Jem. Baradur Singh; Capt. RJ Ryan; Jem. Chayja Singh.
Sitting: Jem. Kishan Singh; Capt. IA Munro, RE; Subadar Mahan Singh; Maj. AE Coults, RE; Sub Maj and Hon Lt Bhagar Singh, OBI; Lt. Col. JP Davidson MCIE; Subadar Jina Singh; Capt. JM Scott (?); Jem. Mula Singh.
Front row: Jem Gian Singh; Jem Udham Singh; Lt. EG Mountford, RE; Jem. Blagwan Singh; Jem Tikla Singh.
Lest we forget.
I love the fact that there is only one story that has made it to the front page of nearly every British newspaper today; the news that Nadiya Hussain has been crowned winner of the Great British Bake Off.
Every single newspaper except the Times and the Daily Mail put Nadiya on their front pages. The uppercrust Daily Telegraph featured a recipe on how to make millefeuille. The Daily Mail has one for three-layer banana cake. The Daily Star, which often features naked buns, has one for perfect cupcakes.
An estimated 15 million people tuned in to the final programme last night. And you can’t move on Twitter for tearful tweets about her success. Even judge Mary Berry walked off camera rather than let her stiff upper lip quiver in public.
Nadiya’s win was on News at Ten and she was interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme (which is more weighty than a 10-tier wedding cake), plus numerous other radio phone-ins. I suspect her show-stopping lemon drizzle cake has got more column inches than David Cameron’s key note speech to the Conservative party conference.
It must seem odd to people outside Britain that we go so mad over a baking competition. But I think it is rather wonderful. Muslims get plenty of appalling press these days. Many of the above newspapers are happy to slag off the ‘swarms’ of Syrian refugees wearily arriving in Europe, and even question a woman’s right to wear the hijab.
There were mutterings at the beginning of the contest that Nadiya’s being on the programme smacked of tokenism and political correctness. They soon stilled. It seems there’s nothing like a gravity defying cheescake to silence racism.
She’s been hailed as an inspiration to British muslims. Dr Omer El-Hamdoon, president of the Muslim Association of Britain, said she “demonstrated the inclusivity of British Muslims in society.”
Nadiya said in one interview at the beginning of the series, “Originally, I was a bit nervous that people would look at me, a Muslim in a headscarf, and wonder if I could bake. But I hope that week by week people have realised that I can bake – and just because I’m not a stereotypical British person, it doesn’t mean that I am not into bunting, cake and tea.”
She began the competition with no confidence and got last place in the technical challenge on week one. But my god, she is a trier. She was cheerful, nervous, funny and determined. Maybe it’s odd that iced buns should cause such a fuss, or that she should cry over madeira cake. Or that half of the country should be yelling at the telly, when she made a bad decision to junk her vol au vents and make some new ones with the clock against her.
But she kept going, and we stayed with her. And when she was awarded her trophy (a cake stand, natch), she said, ‘I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can’t do it. I’m never gonna say “maybe”. I’m never gonna say “I don’t think I can”. I can and I will.’
Cake, eh? Who knew?
Has anybody seen those appalling posters on Facebook about the wonders of being British? Something along the lines of how we’d rather walk a mile in tight shoes than complain about our restaurant food, or how we’d probably describe a nuclear strike as a ‘bit warm’? About how marvellously modest and unassuming we are?? I mean, has the person who wrote that ever heard of Jeremy Clarkson? Boris Johnson? Brian Blessed? Or the fans of any football club you care to mention? (I suppose you could make a case for the modesty of Millwall supporters, whose motto is ‘no one likes us, we don’t care’ but only if you’d never heard them in full cry).
Anyway, I have been thinking about Britishness lately because I have just come back from France. And my topic du jour is kissing. We are all kissing each other’s cheeks in Britain now, and I blame the French. Time was, and I’m not that decrepit, when you only kissed your mum and dad. And, possibly, whiskery aunties. And then just a swift peck, mind you, none of this random face pressing that we all seem to be going for these days. No. Back then, we British (if I can get all Facebook postery) made do with a swift handshake and a mumbled hello. In fact, that probably counted as rather imaginative foreplay back in the day.
When I was 17 I was taken by my sister in law (French) to stay in Bordeaux for a week. When we got off the plane an entire phalanx of relatives were lined up (some actually wearing berets) and we all solemnly kissed each other. Took ages. (I have to say at this point, although it is somewhat off piste, that during this visit I was taken to meet some great uncle who was in hospital. He was a lovely, ancient man, aged about 804, tucked tightly into a spotless bed; and he too was wearing a beret. And, naturally enough, we all kissed him. Took ages.
Years later I went to see a friend in France who had teenage children. And get this, when they brought friends home, they all came up to us and kissed us. I was charmed, and somewhat staggered. I could, in no circumstances, think of being approached in Britain by a strange teenager who wanted to kiss me politely on the cheek and wish me good day.
And yet, that day may not be far off. Even now, in the South East, people who’ve known each other for quite a long time are kissing each other when they meet (except my friend Deborah, who refuses to give in to any of this continental canoodling and is hoisting the flag for traditional British circumspection). Brothers and sisters are kissing each other when they greet (yes, really) and er, quite a few other people in situations I can’t think of at the moment. The disease has certainly reached the midlands, but the jury is out on whether it will sweep Yorkshire (it’s the way they stare at you there which kind of brings you to a halt before you properly get to grips with your intended target, and the only way you can alleviate any possible embarrassment is to stop before you get any closer, lift your arms really expansively and say, ‘fancy a pint?’)
Still, think on this. A couple of years ago I was sitting on a train in a French railway station watching out of the window as an inspector tried to pacify a surging crowd of people whose train’s departure had been delayed. Suddenly, down the steps on to the platform came the boss of the whole shebang. Big hat, gold braid, the lot. He marched up to the inspector. The people gesticulated. (As they do.) I thought there was going to be a riot. The inspector turned to his boss. His boss looked at him. And yes. They kissed. Both cheeks. And suddenly, everything was fine. The people got on the train, the inspector got on the train and the boss waved them off as it hooted down the track.
Maybe if it has that kind of effect, we shouldn’t be so uptight. Anyone up for a kiss? Mr Clarkson? Boris?
Picture by Banksy, courtesy of Creative Commons at https://www.flickr.com/photos/leonsteber/1154551362/
So, at the carboot this morning there was an Irishman talking to a Polish guy:
Irishman: I was in Dublin. In Dublin.
Irishman: Yes. In Dublin. Dublin. At No 1 O’Connell Street.
Irishman: And there was an alligator in the bank.
Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China March 17
Plane to Nanning. The aircraft is much snazzier than the one to Lhasa and we get free hankies (my second), boxes of chrysanthemum tea (not dried tea; it’s a cold drink) and a compass on a key ring. I don’t know if the compass is supposed to make us feel more confident that the pilot knows what he’s doing, but we get there.
Cheryl and Elspeth were entranced by the news that, according to that guy I met in Cheng Du, you can get pizzas in Nanning. Unfortunately I can’t remember which hotel he said, and we trail round three with no success. Our packs are getting heavier as we are now carrying all our winter clothing. The further south we go, the hotter it gets. We’ll have to get out our shorts, soon. C and E have the heaviest loads with those huge Chinese coats.
Bereft of pizzas, we go back to the hotel where the airport bus dropped us off. There’s some kind of celebration going on; there’s a lion dance in the driveway and sheets of firecrackers. The place is packed and everyone is crowding into a special room (where the tables have tablecloths!). Don’t know if it’s supposed to be a particular function but, amazingly, there’s plenty of space for us. The waitress is friendly and the sweet and sour pork is lovely. A western family is here too. They have a baby and a six-year-old child. Both of them seem really ugly after Chinese children. Maybe they are just really ugly. Bed. My first time under a mosquito net.
Bus to railway station. Hard seat to Zhan Jiang, which is China’s southernmost town. It’s a nine-hour journey through the sort of countryside that everyone always associates with China – terraced fields; paddy fields, peasants in coolie hats, water buffalo and rich red earth like turmeric powder piled in heaps. It’s getting warmer and warmer.
At Zhan Jiang we get bicycle taxis to the hotel. I’m on the outside and it’s a bit scary when we go round corners. The hotel is a bit of a dump, but clean and cheap. No food. We go round the food stalls buying oranges and bananas for tomorrow’s trip and trying not to look at the varnished brown dog carcases hanging up with the chickens in the pavement cafes. We stop by a woman with buckets of rice and greens on the pavement and have that for tea. It’s cold, but at least it’s not dog.
Up in the velvety darkness at 5 am for our 6 am bus ride and ferry to Haikou, which is on the island of Hainan Dao. It’s supposed to be marvellously beautiful and unspoilt. It’s also a big military base, and we shouldn’t really be going there, as westerners, but after bottling out of the truck ride to Lhasa we’re going to try it. It’s another trip on the bicycle taxis. This time I sit on the inside, bang next to the back wheel. We get to the bus, and find that the world and his wife and all their pigs and chickens and spring onions are coming too. But, miraculously, we do actually set off at 6. And we’re in front seats, thank god. Some people are standing, and two are sitting on the engine cowling by the driver. Talk about a hot seat.
We go across a river on a raft. We have to get off the bus, which then drives on and we all crowd on after. Everybody spends the short trip fighting like hell to get back on the bus, because as soon as the raft docks the buses drive off – there’s no waiting about. Then we get to the real ferry for Hainan Dao. And, get this, we have to go up a proper gang plank to get on. Well, two planks actually, that wobble, and you have to step over a dead rat. How authentic is that? I feel like I’m in a proper English 20th century novel. Any minute now Peter Ustinov is going to push through the crowds towards us in a linen suit and a Panama hat, or maybe Clark Gable and Jean Harlow are already throwing plates at each other in the restaurant. But sadly not. The boat is just chock full of Chinese people (and pigs and chickens and vegetables) and us. And no restaurant. But, bizarrely, there is a woman selling pink-iced finger buns. We’re very doubtful about them, especially after my experience with the concrete bread rolls in Tibet, but they are lovely. Just like you’d buy in the bakers, back home.
I’m not entirely certain we’re going to get all the way there in one piece. Sealink would probably have sent the ferry for scrap in about 1915. On the up side, there are so many holes in it I get plenty of fresh air and am not seasick, which I was rather worried about.
Amazingly we are here. Another bus from the ferry to Haikou, and yet more bicycle taxis from the bus station to the hotel. It’s properly hot now. There are palm trees which C &E have never seen before in the wild, as it were, and they’re entranced. Elspeth hugs one with delight. ‘They’re great aren’t they?’ she announces. Cheryl is busy examining the patterned bark. I’m sitting on my pack writing this while I wait for them. Anybody would think they’d gone completely bonkers (and I’m sure some passing Chinese people do) but they’ve spent so long in the cold bleakness of northern China that all this lush greenery has completely gone to their heads. They are so happy. Extraordinary.
The hotel is amazing too. All glass and marble and we don’t know if we can afford it. The wall behind the reception desk has clocks showing the time in London and New York. But it’s only five kwai (£1) for a dorm bed. It looks as though they’re still building the place but it will be extremely posh indeed when they’ve finished it. The dormitory has a smoked glass door and white tiles on the floor – it’s like we’ve stumbled into the council chamber in Milton Keynes. However, there is no electricity. There are clerks at the end of the hall who are using candles, and they let us use their private bathroom for a wash.
Elspeth and I go exploring and find a restaurant which has a carpet on the floor and a nice Malaysian bloke who tells us about this coffee shop that sells toast. ‘No bangers and mash for you Brits,’ he laughs, ‘But lot of toast!’ He was dead right. Hot buttered toast. And proper tea. There are a load of young Chinese in, too, and they are all sitting round flashing their digital watches and eating their toast with forks, which they then wave theatrically about while talking very loudly to each other.
Spend the afternoon lying around, having baths and eating McVitites digestive biscuits, which they sell in the hotel shop. The shop sells the oddest things. Roget et Gallet perfumes, Californian wine (30 kwai) a Wrangler denim jacket and personal stereos. I want batteries for mine and point to a stereo in the display case. The bloke in charge gets it out and I point to the battery compartment.
‘Ah, you want batteries,’ he says and shows me two.
‘Yes, that’s exactly what I want,’ I reply.
‘No. Mayo,’ he says and puts them away.
Dinner in the restaurant. The tablecloths are filthy and the waitress sweeps up the leavings with a dirty dustpan and brush. But the service is quick and they are really friendly. The food is delicious; fish with melon, sweet and sour pork, beef with noodles and a huge plate of fried rice. Another big bill (15 kwai) and we begin to realise we haven’t got much money left. Prospects of going to Hong Kong now look definitely dodgy.
In the dorm we are joined by a German couple, two French girls and two Swedish guys. The folding wall down the centre of the room has been pulled out. And there is lots of shouting and shuffling on the other side. So we all creep up, shushing each other and giggling, and peek through the cracks.
All the waitresses from the restaurant are there, and there’s a man fiddling with a tape player. Then, as the strains of Carmen fill the room, he begins to shout instructions and the girls all pair up and start to solemnly tango. And, on our side, we fall silent and feel unaccountably homesick.
Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China
Woken up by the telephone.
‘Wei!’ yells Cheryl.
‘Wei’ shouts a voice on the other end.
Elspeth and I look blearily at each other. Is this their teacher ringing? Is she going to give the girls permission to go to Hong Kong?
Cheryl is desperately trying to keep up with the flood of Chinese coming out of the telephone. It’s not the teacher.
‘Sorry,’ she says at last. ‘I don’t understand.’
Silence. Then another voice comes on the phone. ‘Hello,’ it says. ‘Can I help you?’
‘Yes,’ says Cheryl. ‘What did the other man want?’
‘No,’ says the voice. ‘What do you want?’
‘I don’t want anything,’ says Cheryl.
‘I don’t think I can help you then,’ says the voice. And rings off.
Kunming is supposed to be the city of eternal spring and this is the first time it has shown any signs of it. The city was really cold when I arrived, although there were lots of flowers (poppies and hollyhocks), but today it’s warm and we go in search of Mr Tong the elusive restaurant owner.
He’s in a completely different part of town to the one we were wandering about in last night. We have to take a couple of buses and walk through some charming streets that look as if they are straight out of Hollywood; very old fashioned houses with curved roofs, lots of plants, little lanes, washing hanging out, and everything looking clean and bright.
One house is actually a hairdressers. It looks like it is someone’s front room, with three women, their hair in curlers sitting on a sofa, reading magazines and waiting their turn.
We walk through Green Lake Park, so called because the scum on the lake is a bright, bright green. There’s lots of building going on. The scaffolding is a crazy network of bamboo, and the bricks look like they’ve been thrown together, but I suppose the builders will cover it all in plaster, and it’ll look really solid.
And we find Mr Tong! He is everything Hannah said he would be, and more. He talks brilliant American. ‘Hey, you guys! How you doing?’ And he keeps patting us fondly on the back. The food is excellent and we get coffee and toffees and memorial chopsticks, just like Hannah’s. Hefty bill though – 17 kwai.
Slow contented walk back to the hotel in the sunshine. We wander through a tourist shop – beautiful china, but very pricey. Elspeth asks the cost of what she thinks is an antique bowl. The shop owner smiles at her. ‘500 kwai, and it’s brand new,’ he says proudly.
Evey single member of the Labour party should read this. But I expect they won’t. Ever since Blair ignored three million people marching against the invasion of Iraq, I get the impression that Labour MPs feel they know better than ‘ordinary people’. And now they wonder why they lost the election…
The below is a response from a lady called “Annette”, to an article by former Scottish Labour MSP Richard Baker entitled “Separation is not the answer” (to Labours woes).
The piece originally appeared on http://www.labourhame.com, and was brought to my attention by
@george_wallis. The original article can be found here: http://www.labourhame.com/separation-is-still-not-the-answer/#comment-128724
“I am so tired of the word “nationalism” being branded about by Labour. And, ooh, they inserted the word “patriotic” in their constitution, how quaint. Personally, I don’t give a toss about patriotism and nationalism. I am an EU citizen living in Scotland and I voted YES because it is my firm belief that every country has a right to political self-determination and should not be ruled by another country. This is something that I suspect most Labourites would in theory agree to, because it makes them sound noble, but when applied to Scotland, they suddenly…
View original post 1,673 more words
Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China We could go to Hong Kong with my credit card! What a lovely idea, all that cheese and hamburgers and cocktails. I think all of us have had enough of being in this country now. I can’t describe what it’s like being here. Like white noise, I suppose. You don’t notice the stress at first. But all the tiny little irritations just pile up and up, until you think your head is going to fall off. We’re all bizarrely unreasonable about ridiculous things, and Cheryl and Elspeth have been here way, way longer than me. I don’t know how they’ve managed it this far without going completely bonkers, like that American girl who smashed plates in Cheng Du. By not thinking too much, probably. Anyway we lie in our beds and discuss how bloody marvellous it would be just to go to Hong Kong, and then we go to the Public Security office, for the girls to get passes, which as students, they need before they can leave the country. And, of course, the office won’t hand over any passes without permission from their teacher in Beijing. Cheryl and Elspeth put through a person to person call in Beijing to try to get their teacher, but without much hope. Its 3.30 and she’s probably already gone home. The rest of the afternoon is spent waiting for the phone to ring, which it does frequently, but it’s only the operator saying, ‘No luck.’ Chinese telephone etiquette is quite startling. When you pick up the phone you yell, ‘Wei!’ and then the person at the other end yells, ‘Wei!’ and then you both pause while you wonder if the other person is still there. Hannah comes around and we go in search of Mr Tong, a ‘lovely little Burmese man’ who, according to her, runs a fantastic restaurant with really good coffee, but he wants to go back to Burma and the Chinese won’t let him. We follow her guide book’s instructions and get totally lost. We stand in the middle of the street and call, ‘Mr Tong!’ plaintively, like lost storks, but no joy, and no smiling Burmese gent, either. A bloke in a Vietnamese coffee bar offers to help, this though he admits he doesn’t like foreigners much, especially Americans, but even after he asks around for us, no one has heard of Mr Tong. In the end we eat at another restaurant where we get excellent food. Hannah rather sadly gets out her memorial chopsticks, given to her by Mr T and then realises he also gave her his card. Duh! We’ll go there tomorrow. Come back via a three storey department store. The counters are exactly as I remember them in Cairds, in Perth when I was about six. Like glass-topped desks. And the goods for sale are all in small enamel pie dishes. None of us can work out what the goods are though. They’re just metal things. But they have some lovely postcards, of beautiful water colour paintings by Pan Tian Shou. I take a packet to the till, and some bloke looks at me in disgust and says, ‘Why are you buying those? What do you know about Pan Tian Shou? You’re just a westerner. You cannot appreciate him.’ But I do. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons via http://arts.cultural-china.com/en/77Arts4565.html