Back in Blighty

Tower Bridge at stupid o’clock in the morning

Having arrived in the UK in one piece, albeit feeling like I had been pulled out of a matchbox when I eventually got off the plane. I had managed not to over self medicate, (something’s obviously wrong with me…) and I actually felt slightly human. If doing it one meal at a time counts, I’m also trying this vegetarian thing and remarkably, I am still enjoying it (thanks Liz!) but the problem is that a pint and a bag of pork scratchings does sort of scream ‘you’re back in Blighty now…’ and for old times sake, I just have to have them. It is possible to buy such an unhealthy snack in Oz of course, but somehow it’s more processed and removed from the farmyard than the fantastically greasy lumps of crunchy fat in a bag that the UK pubs can offer up.

In order to justify such a thing as part of my rehab, I have continued my early morning speed march efforts and as a blast from the past, I have dragged myself around a circuit of London Bridge, HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. It’s really quite mesmerising and I find myself stopping and staring often.

The bloody tower – it’s had some distinguished guests over the years

The Tower of London still has the capacity to send chills down your spine if you think about the number of people who were put to death there, both ‘judicially and otherwise’ or imprisoned.  One person who fitted in to the former category is Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, who was executed on tower green following false accusations of incest, witchcraft, adultery and conspiracy against the King; apparently on the grounds that she couldn’t produce a male heir (she did give birth to Elizabeth the 1st, one of England’s greatest monarchs mind you) and that she’d allegedly said that Henry was a crap shag.  He may well have been, given the size of him in the end.

Rudolf Hess, who was Hitlers deputy and the Kray twins were also imprisoned there for a while.  The Krays were there for avoiding national service apparently.  Not so tough after all perhaps.

Jet lagged. Can you tell, I can’t sleep?

There’s around a thousand years of history lessons in an hour of dawn walking. Maybe it’s just a boy thing, but I am really enjoying glancing down the riverside steps and seeing signs telling me that something nasty happened there.  Under Tower Bridge, to the left of the picture above, there’s small area called ‘dead mans hole’ where the victims of suicide or the short brutal life that poverty engendered, washed up.  Under the supports of the bridge there’s actually a small mortuary, disused now, where the bodies were stored before they could be identified (I wonder how often that happened?) and disposed of.  There is still a long pole with what looks like a grappling hook atop hanging on the wall, that can only have been used for dragging the corpses out of the river.

Dead mans hole and the open air mortuary

The large pole and hook reminded me of a boat hook we found in the river when Mrs Jerry and I lived on a small boat at Richmond on Thames.  we were too poor to pay rent in such an exalted neighbourhood, so we saved up some money from various jobs and bought ‘Snipe’ who was a wartime Thames cruiser, for us to live on. Snipe was very briefly a movie star in a ‘Fish called Wanda’ and can be glimpsed when Michael Palin and John Cleese are riding along the riverside on a motorcycle.

Snipe – allegedly, one the little ships that rescued troops from Dunkirk 

Snipe was small but beautiful inside, made of pitched pine, oak and teak, with a lovely enameled stove that warmed the boat through in the winter when you made a morning cup of tea.  My mother had made curtains and two hanging baskets for decorating our first home, but they were clearly under the assumption that we lived on something the size of a small ocean liner as they were huge, but they did look great sitting on the roof.  It wasn’t the easiest lifestyle, what with having to row out to Snipe when the tide was running, but it was very romantic and in the mornings, the swans used to tap with their beaks on the side of the boat when they wanted to be fed.

We were moored just off the very exclusive ‘Ducks Walk’ area of Richmond and not having the proverbial pot, we could only afford an in river mooring, rather than one alongside.

One of our neighbours and something more like our regular visitors were expecting!

This being the semi tidal part of the river, large party boats would sail up from central London, music blaring and turn around right next to us.  Once, they were so close, a swearing and shouting Mrs Jerry had to fend them off with the bargepole, to avoid them sinking Snipe.  The rooftop hanging baskets, fell into the water as she heeled over from the wash and had to be fished out later.

One of the party boats, called the Marchioness, was the worst culprit and the captain clearly did not value his reputation. In August, 1989, the Marchioness was literally run over by a dredger called the Bow Belle and 51 people died.

The salvaged Marchioness

Sadly, a couple of those people washed up river near us, as did a beautiful 8′ hard wood bargepole with a brass hook from the party boat.  We kept the bargepole, but it let Mrs Jerry down at a crucial time, breaking like a matchstick when she was mooring up against the buoy when the tide was in full flow.  We both think that it was cursed.

Yesterday, I wandered around the decks of HMS Belfast, the light cruiser that has been moored in the Pool of London since 1971.  The last time I was on board, was my last day in the paid service of Her Majesty.  I was actually an extra in a 1988 Denzil Washington movie called  For Queen and Country and if you’re bored, you can pick me out 3’58” into the movie, just for a brief second.  I’m just about the only one, apart from Denzil who couldn’t/wouldn’t grow a moustache – couldn’t in my case.  The big Sergeant dispatching the men out of the hatch and into the landing craft was the mountain leader who was shot in the chest during the raid on Top Malo house in the Falklands war.

HMS Belfast, moored just below Tower Bridge and she played a part in my misspent youth.

The Belfast is lovingly looked after by a number of volunteers and it really did take me back to my thoroughly undistinguished but much enjoyed days in the Corps.  I was what is known a ’embarked forces’ (just along for the ride) onboard HMS Invincible during one trip and below the decks, the Invincible looked just like the Belfast, albeit a lot larger of course.  Being drawn to that kind of thing, I also discovered that there is a great rooftop bar just above the ticket desk for the Belfast and it makes for a wonderful observation platform for Tower Bridge.  I can also highly recommend the charcuterie platter if you are hungry.

The next few days will round out what has effectively been three weeks on the road and I can’t wait to get home, but first there’s a night out in Covent Garden to contend with.

Keep smiling!




There are 9,000,000 bicycles in Beijing

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing

That’s a fact,
It’s a thing we can’t deny
Like the fact that I will love you till I die.

Katie Melua’s haunting and lovely song claims the there are nine million bicycles in Beijing; which may or may not be a fact, but given that there are over twenty one million people living here, it’s no stretch at all to think that there could well be more than that number of bikes. It makes sense too, as the majority of people couldn’t afford cars and I just wouldn’t want to think of how polluted Beijing would be if they could!

I arrived late at night and went straight to my favourite hotel but upon waking, I noticed that it was a lovely clear Sunday morning, with the air unencumbered by the previous weeks pollution. I got up early and as part of my ongoing rehab/drinkers guilt removal program, I took myself out for a short limp. It was shaping up to be a glorious day and the power station that looms over the hotel was like a sleeping dragon, no steam, smoke or soot to be seen at all. In the 1970’s there was little pollution because people all rode bicycles. The bike lanes were three cars wide and the model to strive for back then was the flying pigeon. Here it is, in all it’s glory!

The iconic ‘flying pigeon’ bicycle – I want one!

There were a number of years where bikes were commonplace in the country and even though China makes 800, 000 flying pigeons a year, the waiting list used to be as long as 8 months! It wasn’t long however, until
cars and scooters took over, but now petrol scooters have largely been banned in many of the cities because of the pollution and in their stead are now once again, millions of bicycles. This time, all for rent.

Renting a bike is cheap and convenient and users can users simply download an app on their smartphone, which then allows them to locate bikes and unlock them by scanning a QR code and getting a PIN for the lock. Rental is somewhere between 15 cents and 1 dollar and there are a couple of major players – Mobike and OfO. The problem with the various services (for everyone else) is that you don’t have to ‘dock’ them formally at the end of your ride like the blue bikes in Melbourne, you can just dismount and leave them wherever you like and this causes major congestion at junctions, barriers and stairs; so much so that sometimes it can be quite difficult and frustrating negotiating your way around them. So much so, that on my morning amble (yes P, I am using my cane), I stumbled over an abandoned yellow OfO bike and instantly christened them the “Ohh f**k Off!!!” bikes…

The not nearly so attractive “OfO” cycle – as usual seen in a mixed herd

On this particular trip to China I had a side mission, one which I chose to accept.  It was a task given to me by Mrs. Jerry who had asked me to take part of her ‘flat Stanley’ project away with me and photograph them in prominent places. I had never heard of flat Stanley, but as it turns out, flat Stanley is a character in a children’s book, written by Jeff Brown, who starts out as a normal boy and is squashed flat in an accident and gets into all sorts of adventures, that only a boy who is inches thick could get into. Mrs. Jerry’s class had all cut out pictures of flat Stanley, coloured them in, laminated them and after sticking a picture of themselves on the back, sent them out all over the World. Last week I took a picture of him in Singapore, outside of Raffles and this week, in China. Next week, he’ll be in London.

Raffles and Tianjin – the lad gets around, but he’s brought his crap photographer mate with him…

I spent a few days in a city called Tianjin, which is around three hours drive south east of Beijing, but I didn’t drive, I took the bullet train, which reduced the trip to a very respectable 35 minutes. This time, the same as the last, I stayed at the St. Regis, which is on the river Haihe.

The St Regis and its Dragons gate

It is a spectacular looking hotel, resembling a huge square doughnut. This design originated from Fung Shui design principles and the large void in the middle was to avoid frustrating the local dragon who wanted to fly down from the nearest peak to drink or bathe in the river or ocean. There are several large buildings on the hillside in the Repulse bay area of Hong Kong with ‘dragon’s gates’ as part of their design and whilst the design of the St Regis is more likely to have been an architectural conceit, it’s a nice nod to ‘old’ China and Fung Shui. If you are travelling down to Tianjin at any point, you might also like to know that between 6pm and 7.30pm, there is an absolutely free ‘happy hour and a half’ and you can sit and enjoy sundowners with this view.  I have enjoyed several pints of G&T here, I think.

The river Haihe, all lit up like Las Vegas

I also discovered a popular hobby for the elderly folk who live near the river. As with a lot of old people, they tend to get up very early and take themselves for a walk, with or without a tiny dog.

The sun rising over the Haihe

Some like to fish in the river Haihe and others like to paint graffiti on the flagstones. They aren’t your traditional vandals however, as they just use river water and a large calligraphy brush. I say they ‘just’ use river water as having looked at the murky liquid, I suspect that there are numerous biologicals in there as well… And to think, people actually swim in it and eat the fish from it.  They probably glow in the dark afterwards. The geriatric artists spend hours ‘painting’ Chinese characters onto the black granite pavers as a means of keeping their minds active and getting outdoors. It looks great and as it is usually patriotic slogans they are writing, it doesn’t upset anyone.

Sneaky revolutionaries painting with disappearing ink

A long drive back to Beijing with colleagues later and I’m back in my favourite hotel.  In a days time, I’m off to London, but first, I need to catch up on some sleep.

Stay safe,



‘Kiasu’ in Singapore

Singapore – looking towards the CBD and over the Padang (playing field), with the purple lights.  The well lit roads are all part of the F1 race route and you can see one of the stands to the bottom left.

I am back on the road again after 6 weeks of virtual house arrest following some fairly vicious bone carpentry. My first trip out of Australia is back to Singapore, a country I know very well and I am again staying at the hotel with the satanic toilet ( This time, I am limping a bit and I’m supposed to be using my cane, but I am far too vain to be caught with it by anyone I know.

The marina bay sands casino (and hotel); it’s known locally as ‘the surfboard’ 

When you live in Singapore as a foreigner, one of the first terms you learn is “Kiasu” … It is a Chinese word in the Hokkien dialect that defines anxious and selfish behaviour and means ‘scared to lose’ or, ‘FOMO’ to all you millennials. My other favourite daughter, who actually speaks the language, tells me that a related term is “Kiasi” or the extreme fear of death – related because missing out on something is apparently just as serious as dying. A state of Kiasi might apparently cause a person to lose their sense of justice and righteousness and act in way that was normally alien to them as exemplified when the store doors are open for the Chinese new year sales.   All of this eastern culture can be a bit confusing for the newbies who try to reconcile Asian linguistic nuance and mysticism with the ultra modern architecture looming over the traditional colonial buildings.

The term ‘Kiasu’ sums up the predominantly Chinese attitude towards living competitively here. Currently, the Island is gearing up for the Formula 1 races (next week) and the locals are already acting like they are practising their standing starts. I’ll give you an example: if you are walking towards an escalator and there’s someone approaching from another direction; even if they are further from the thing than you, you can guarantee that they will quicken their pace and attempt to beat you to it, because they are ‘scared to lose’…

Kiasu on the escalator

If you are on the MRT (the tube) a similar thing happens. Sadly, it isn’t generally in the local culture to allow commuters to alight before cramming onto the carriage and there is always a bit of a stoush* to get in and out.

* vernacular Australian for a scrap

In order to improve the situation, the government has sensibly placed lines on the ground showing where people should wait until the doors open and other travellers alight from the carriage. However, there is absolutely no way that a local of a certain vintage (my age and older usually) will allow someone to get off before they get on, even if it means dropping the shoulder and barging their way on.

The Singaporean guide to getting on and off the tube properly!

In a bid to engender more socially acceptable behaviour, the government has embarked on various initiatives that try to ‘educate’ the populace into being less selfish and dare I say it, more ‘international’ in their behaviour. A caveat here, I have many Singaporean friends and having enjoyed living here for 6 years, I can say that Singapore is definitely not as bereft of good manners as I may appear to be painting it. No, wait a minute… it is absolutely the case and what’s more, most of the locals will agree with me…

On the aforementioned tube trains, there are ‘messages’ on the floor and on the windows and walls, advising people that they should stand for the elderly and infirm (I pretty much qualify as both at the moment), take your bags off your shoulders, so as to avoid swiping others and to “give way to have a better day” (FFS!). They even have cartoon citizens to encourage people to identify with the characters positive behavioural traits.

Surely, the very image of a Singapore millennial?

As for me; I tried to navigate the station with my cane and was jostled, barged and tutted at, right up to the final limping step onto the carriage. And yet, whilst in the sanctuary of the car and surrounded by advisory signage, I was deferentially ushered into the seats reserved for the elderly, infirm and pregnant. I accepted gratefully, having got on the circle line towards my destination, purely to avoid long underground treks between stations.   I was even prepared to effectively circumnavigate the country on the circle line for the sake of a seat, but I soon found that the evil eye is alive and well and saved for people suspected of faking their conditions. I had various Aunty’s* standing, navels six inches from my sitting eyeline, shaming me into turning over the holy grail of a seat to them so I did, twice and they accepted, twice.

*the Singapore ‘Aunty’ is a subgroup of ladies of a certain age, who exhibit various traits that some find amusing. Think of the lady who peeks from behind her net curtains and gossips about the way ‘things used to be’ and you’ll get an inkling of the type of person we are referring to.

Anyway, it was a productive trip and I enjoyed being back in the warmth.  Sadly, I have only got 24 hours at home before getting the next plane, this time  to China!