It seems not that long ago, but in the Summer of 1989 and I was living in West Berlin. Spending a “year out” working in Germany as part of my degree course had been a fantastic experience, but now it was time to return to the UK.
It was a time of flux. People were leaving the Eastern Bloc in droves through the newly opened border between Hungary and Austria. Rumours were flying around about the political future, yet the Berlin Wall was still up and I needed to get back home.
The easiest way to get to and from the West was via Tegel Airport. That way you could avoid the hassle of travelling along the transit stretches of motorway or taking the trains through East Germany.
Nevertheless I decided to go by train, as I had to lug a fair bit of stuff back after clearing out of my flat.
At that time there was the only station that you could get a train out of West Berlin. It was called “Bahnhof Zoo” by the locals, it only had a couple of platforms, that were raised above the street level and it was a dark and depressing place.
The train I was due to catch ran overnight to Brussels. As soon as it arrived I jumped on and quickly sat down, dumping all my stuff in the first compartment that I came to. There was no point in getting settled, as the East German border control would be coming up soon.
The only other person already in the compartment was a young bloke, who was decked out in a classic “Chairman Mao” suit. He also wore a matching hat with the red star above its peak. The hat was as far better fit than his trousers, which were about 4 inches too short for him.
Like me he also had a fair amount of luggage. Most of his gear was stuffed into two huge laundry bags. The ones made of woven nylon that are virtually indestructible, but once the zip goes you have had it and they are rendered useless.
The East German border guards came on the train and checked our passports and visas without a hitch and then we were on our way. It turned out that “Chairman Mao” was in fact a Scouser called Gavin. He was on his way home to England as well.
The train we were on was from Moscow and Gavin had been on it from the start. I had a made up some food and brought some beer for the journey which we shared and we got chatting.
Gavin had been working as a nurse out in Australia on a short term contract and when it ended he just decided to come back surface rather than fly home. He travelled through Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand mainly by train. One thing he noticed along the route was wherever he stopped, no matter how remote it was, you could just as easily find someone selling cans of Coke, as you could get your hands on a bowl of rice.
He avoided travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia, but had to endure a bumpy bus ride through Laos in order to reach the Chinese border.
“What was China like?” I asked. “Totally alien. Like being on a different planet” replied Gavin.
Wherever he went he was just gawped at. China was only opening up after being a closed country for so long. Not many people would approach him, which made sense as most had probably not seen a Westerner before. They just stood and stared.
He was out there for almost a month, but knew it was time to leave when he realised he was talking to himself on the street one day. “It just got a bit overwhelming, and I also got tired of everybody spitting everywhere.”
So he bought a train ticket from Beijing back to the UK, which must have cost him buttons compared to today’s prices.
“Avoid the Mongolian dining car,” was his advice about The Trans-Siberian railway which in itself sounded an amazing experience. Gavin described one “Genghis Kahn” look a like who raced the train for a while on horseback just for a bit of fun, before wheeling back to his camp.
A mis-calculation of the journey time meant he ran out of clean clothes. Hence the Chairman Mao suit, bought as a gift for his Dad, was pressed into service.
The next morning we were able to catch the Jetfoil from Ostend to Dover. In the days before the Eurostar it was the quickest way to get over the Channel.
The train station at Dover Docks was dank, and depressing and a bit of a let down after the speedy boat crossing. The slam door train to London Victoria was old and grubby. Welcome back to Blighty!
To cap it all Gavin failed to impress the British Rail guard with his Beijing to Birkenhead rail ticket. Folded and creased, it had certainly seen better days. It was made from the waxy carbon paper that you used to see on the old style airline tickets. It had a few holes punched in it by previous ticket inspectors.
The guard stood there giving a clearly tired “Chairman Mao” a knowing look.
“No need to start on one mate” said Gavin in his broad Scouse accent, “Think about it. If that ticket has got me this far already, it will do you!”
I went to buy some bread from a baker’s shop in a smart part of town the other day.
When I asked for a small “Wholemeal”, I was told that there were none there. In fact it was a not a case of running out, but they did not sell wholemeal loaves at all. The nearest they had to that was a “mixed grain sourdough loaf”. One of three types of sourdough bread they stocked in the shop. It looked lovely stuff in there too.
Nevertheless I was a bit taken aback. Is this the price of gentrification?
Added to this if I know the looks I would get if I asked for sourdough bread in my local bakers.
This List is cold, harsh and to the point.
A hard copy was given away as part of a supplement with today’s (20 June 2018) print edition of the Guardian. I only came across it as a scrabbled around for the sport section of the newspaper.
It makes sobering reading.
Dennis Skinner was at it yet again today. Unfortunately the State Opening of Parliament clashes with Day 2 of the Royal Ascot Race meeting and it is no secret as to where the Queen would rather be. It is a perfect opportunity for Dennis to just do what he does best.
Even in what was a shortened ceremony Black Rod still came knocking on the door of the House of Commons to summon MPs through to the so called Upper Chamber in order to hear the Queen’s Speech. This is the way things work in our Parliamentary Democracy. The Queen sits in the House of Lords and tells someone to fetch the Commoners to hear what she has to say.
Not for the first time and hopefully not the last Dennis Skinner delivered yet another classic one liner.
Maybe we will not have to wait 2 years to hear the next one.
It seems that the HS2 development is causing greater agitation among the locals the closer it gets to the time that it really does get built.
As the tension rises people get more desperate. One outcome of this is that I somehow got put on an anti HS2 mailing list by a well meaning soul who lives locally. A mail-shot came my way that had a form letter attached to it. This letter was intended for people to complain through a public consultation exercise to the Government about HS2. The original sender urged me to forward the email on to others as they had done and as a consequence it had become a glorified chain letter.
I ignored this initial email, but when I received it again from some random person who had hit the “reply all” button I was shaken into action. The letter was copied as requested, but edited somewhat in order to reflect my own personal views and I hope that some of the suits in Whitehall read this:Dear Prime Minister aka “Posh Boy” and Secretary of State for Transport
HS2:(London-West Midlands) Property & Compensation Consultation ResponseShort-sighted folks around here are whining about HS2. There is no blight which is severely disrupting people’s lives in Great Missenden – I recently got my house valued and it has increased in its worth over the past 18 months. The people around here who are concerned about HS2, put up signs against a development that will benefit the whole of the UK. These billboards stuck at the end of private roads and well manicured driveways are a blot on the landscape and create a feeling of negativity that does not serve any common good and instead creates a poor public image of the Chilterns.My two next door neighbours are some of the most vulnerable members of the community and they are subjected to a noisy and dangerous drive-by twice every school day by a stream of 4x4s with “no to HS2” stickers stuck on their back windows. That is a local transport issue that needs action, not a public transport improvement that will benefit so many people. The same folk who steam past our front doors, at high speeds too, in their gas guzzlers are happy to jump on the Skitrain or go for a jaunt in Paris via Eurostar. Yet these same people had and still have no regard for any impact that the Eurostar link has in Kent for example. What is good for the goose……These same people even send me junk texts and emails urging me to write to you, so I have.
Get HS2 built please and don’t worry about if the Government can afford it. If we can’t afford HS2 then tax the rich folk and close the loopholes that their accountants use to lower what they should be paying to the Inland Revenue in the first place.I believe that the current compensation proposals are adequate, just get HS2 built please.
Tell George not to worry about his furious constituents just get the cheque signed!