Walks and Thoughts

of Michael Simes

An old Man's Tale:

Shelf

Brighouse

West Vale

Clay House

Ripponden

Cragg Vale

Todmorden

Heptonstall

Pecket Well

Luddenden Dean

Jerusalem Farm

Catherine Slack

Stone Chair

It's Just Like Home:

Hong Kong

Auckland

Rotarua

Napier

Picton

Marlborough Sounds

Kaikoura

Milford Sound

Sydney

Manly

Blue Mountains

Northern Beaches

Thailand

A City Of Revolution:

Paris

Versailles

Sacré-Cœur

Notre Dame

Discovering Hong Kong

Travelling Round Hong Kong Sightseeing and Exploring


Hong Kong


And this is how it begins:

“I would like to thank you all for coming tonight. It’s nice to know I’ve got so many friends.

Hope you enjoyed your curry and spices. I’ve had lots of cards and messages, lots of kind words but one departing remark sticks in my mind. The Mother of someone I’ve worked with for over 25 years told me, “You’ve done well to get to retirement with all your bits still on”.

I’m not sure what she meant but us post Freudians have our own interpretations.

Carolyn and Mr Keith Williamson told me I should make a speech. I always do what they tell me. Carolyn said I should tell you about all the jobs I did before I started my career in Mental Health. It would take all night. But it did make me think about why I spent 26 years in the mental health unit. It seems amazing to me and my family. I’d never spent longer than twelve months in one job before.

I stayed so long for two reasons. I’ve found it a privilege to work in Mental Health and devote my working life to help look after other people. It’s been special to work with people doing the same. The second reason is to do with this place. It wasn’t always a curry restaurant. In the olden days it was the depot, the administration building for the bus station, the West Yorkshire Road Car Company, the red buses. I worked here as a bus conductor for over a year. We worked as a team with our own drivers. There were many characters with Oxbridge graduation and other casualties of failed careers. We enjoyed ourselves and we often had competitions. We held two world records. One for the fastest time between Baildon and Bradford and one for the longest distance without picking up a passenger, between Harrogate and Bradford.

After I’d left I came back to these offices looking for my old job. I was shown into the Manager’s office. He seemed pleased and enjoying asking me questions. At the end of our little chat, “we don’t employ people like you anymore”.

Another job which lasted for 12 months was working in Social Work in Halifax. Again I went back and met the Assistant Director. He was friendly and enjoyed talking. He concluded triumphantly, “we don’t employ people like you anymore”. End of interview.

I never wanted to be called into see Mr Don Wright for him to tell me, “we don’t employ people like you anymore”.

“We did promote you!”

You know that on Monday we will be travelling to the other side of the world. Over forty years ago I set off twice to travel around the world. The first time I went to visit friends all over the country. Partying and intoxicating I returned home destitute without leaving the country. Plan had been to start a job for the United Nations in Lebanon. The second time I did exactly the same thing except I had learnt my lesson. Ending up at Heathrow I asked how far I could travel for £10. I took up their offer of flying and arrived in Jersey penniless. I stayed for six months and built the power station at the port of St Helier.

Two years ago we had a nostalgic visit to Jersey. We found my power station shut down and padlocked. It seems a sad obsolescence. After a couple of days the whole island had a power cut as the cable providing electricity from France had broken. They had to reopen my power station which again provided the supply for Jersey. It just goes to show that even if you’re obsolete, put out to grass, smothered in moth balls that you can, with a bit of stoking, be brought back into service in an emergency. You never know! You just never know!”

And off we go. Starting with the mundane, exquisite municipal omnibus masquerading as ordinary, as one of ours. The unintended consequences of the Thatcher counter-revolution to transform the intrinsic value of the ordinary. Nostalgia for our buses. Bus travel - a Victoria Wood sketch on wheels with the freedom to daydream. All of this as we trundle on wheels over a few hundred yards of broken pavements. The tyranny of everyday life rattles away as our journey begins.

A quarter of a century alongside murderers, rapists, offenders – the excluded marginalised raged deviants. My kind of people: it is my community through a prism of state sponsored structures and conformity. Victims marbled to death by a premeditated cosh railed in vicious hatred of the closed availability of a woman’s intimacy. A defilement, a tortured empty nihilism filled with puffed up rage seeking solace and relief. Geoffrey retreats now as a moral guardian. A laundry man absorbed in scrubbing skid marks from starched whites of notorious killers.

Sixty could be a watershed. Silver-haired divorces escalate as careers terminated and children mature. A lifetime separated in episodes. You can’t be satisfied with the common grass. Unforgettable places to see before you die – Steve Davey passed away before he was forty-seven.

As we depart the International Committee of the 4th International solemnly predicts financial catastrophe and social and economic devastation. The counting houses of global capitalism in freefall after unleashing financial weapons of mass destruction. Exposed as a confidence trick the lending feast has given way to the borrowing famine. The tuxedo Taliban's and spivs have it. Capitalism’s cathartic moment yet to unravel. The squealing of the Darwinian Neanderthals of the city is globalised. Will they put Humpty Dumpty together again? Starving billions remain ignorant.

Retirement a stage for summation, abstraction and reflection. Skipping the luxury of world travel is not considered. We’re the new breed of older demographic workers distancing their woes with an extended trip. A rite of passage for time out with the mature elderly.

Hong Kong

Our first stay over is Hong Kong, the former colony snatched back by the Chinese in 1997. A semi-democratic capitalist enclave as a special administration region of China. A cosmopolitan place where Cantonese is the language and cuisine. The land of dim sum, subtropical climate and seven million population.

Arrived at Hong Kong airport jet lagged, tired and disorientated. A bumpy ride. Strangely unconcerned as pilot broadcast that we dropped 20,000 feet. “I told you I would never make my 60th”

Met with reassuringly familiar buildings, systems and language. Impressive organisation and transfers perfected through authoritarian conventions and control of the masses. A surfeit of meeters and greeters.

Skyscrapers reveal a bustling commercialism shading the sun. Row upon row of one man bands spilling into the road. Coach transfer induces nodding sleep. Pedestrians buzz with masks to protect against pollution. Aesthetic cleanliness does not screen out polluted carcinogenic particles.

The Kowloon Metro Park offers a morning roof top swim - swimming on the 21st floor to the sound of Auld Lang Syne. The bell captains anticipate tips. Met two American swimmers from the mid-West. They recommend Victoria Peak and the woman’s market. Good selection at breakfast, staff friendly and helpful.

Chinese people constantly milling. Streets heavy with neon advertising. People wear masks and umbrellas against the sun. Must be a dangerous place. Heat haze and pollution fog add to the mystery.

Down at Kowloon harbour you stare over the South China sea to Hong Kong island announcing itself with perpendiculars christened with Samsung, HSBC, Olympus, Philips, Panasonic. Where are all the famous Chinese junks? Kowloon promenade functional yet impressive. Lone student reading from a song sheet sings under her umbrella in brilliant sunshine, learning her songs. Local children engage us in photographs, surveys and English practical conversation.

A surprising place, more than a transit. A hedonistic shock to be transported from winter to tropical summer in a few hours. We force down Mandarin drink, tastes like apple disinfectant and leaves after taste of watered down fat. Decide it must be good for you, but never buy another bottle. Coca cola have cornered the market.

Wander round Hong Kong searching for tram to Victoria Peak. Looking for a place for a picnic lunch. Chinese have no concept of public sitting. Space at a premium and few corners for benches. Excess of eight-seater people carriers with no passengers. They don’t do small cars: little people, big cars. Solitary bench entertains with a bag lady preening and twirling hair and soaking her head in cold poultice. Chinese woman engaged in eclectic mix of Tai Chi, star jumps, twists and stretches fuelled by street cleaners bag of dried fruits. Graffiti with message to HSBC “money don’t buy you happiness”.

Peak historic tramway steeps to 60% above erectile skyscrapers. Escalating upwards above urban sprawl of fading skyscrapers. Why should these phalluses of finance seem so attractive? “Don’t go that way you will have to pay”. Masses progressing like worker ants, constant noise of buzzing people to the piped background of Christmas jingles.

Sedan chairs and strong coolies were replaced by the Peak Tram in 1888. It’s a double reversible funicular Railway. Walked the sedate Peak trail with openings to Kowloon and surrounding islands. “Don’t let your dog deposit its faeces”.

We are the grown up children of the empire on a discovery tour of the colonies. We should not forget the Japanese occupation. Star ferries on old colonial relic providing enjoyable and efficient transport.

Our local Chinese workers’ café is a family affair with deliciously flavoured sweet and sour. There are knives and forks. Locals are offered chopsticks, Carolyn chooses chopsticks.

Our morning trail is a cooling archway of trees. A tree-lined oasis of peace above the bustling crowds. Hong Kong shrouded in a geological mist. A retreat for wild birds, damsel flies and western visitors. A sort of invalids walk for tired homo comsumas. The governors residence is at the Peak. Buildings scaffolded with bamboo shoots. Bamboo is available at our café. Hong Kong’s a Jurassic rock island where tea trees can grow to 30 metres. Chinese have been drinking tea for thousands of years. Skyscrapers have been feng shuied of mixed shapes, shadowed and illuminated by the sun.

Herald Tribune reports protestors invade and close down Bangkok airport, site of our return stop-over. Links with Thaksin, purchaser of our Manchester City. Corruption in exile in the North of England. Global financial meltdown, it’s all to do with leverage.

At the Peak Starbucks provides cappuccinos, muffins and Danish. Chinese monopoly played on tables alfresco. One third of Chinese rivers unfit for any purpose with breakneck industrial growth morphed into sewage channels.

Night skyscrapers come alive emphasising and boasting with assortment of lights and colour. You don’t need the laser show. A symphony of lights in glittering wonderland.

Cheung Chau

The slow ferry to Cheung Chau takes fifty minutes. An outlying fisherman’s and bicycle island with no cars. Here we see authentic Chinese boats. Not junks, just like Bridlington trawlers. Fishermen have been zig zagging across the green Hong Kong waters for hundreds of years. I could have been a sailor. I joined the Navy to see the sea and all I saw was Gravesend, one of our ancestral homes. Our Australians cousins describe Gravesend as the “arse end from which England shat its emigrants”. I lasted only three days of assaults and infighting. “If you survive here you can survive in any ship in the world”. A poor man’s fag system of heirarchies and privileges. Not the stuff of a working class revolutionary.

Late Autumn, it’s warm and sunny in Hong Kong. I can see the shorts but where’s the bare torsos? Deep throbbing progress of slow Star ferry keeps pace with thirst for spectacular views. Coming into Hong Kong reminds of Venice. The medieval against the post modern. Grubby, grabbing capitalism has its own raw beauty. A cultural kaleidoscope impossible to ignore.

Ships strewn across the sea, parked and waiting in Cheung Chau. Shark nets offer safe swimming with distant views to Hong Kong Island. Wonderful toilet facilities. A comprehensible measure of public wealth. “Criminal damage is a serious offence. Offender liable on conviction to a maximum punishment of imprisonment for life”. Still cannot avoid dog shit grained into my trainers.

The advert says no cars, but noisy motorised put-puts and quad bikes break through. A miniature fire engine puts in an appearance. Noblesse oblige survives in seaside playground donated by the Jockey Club of Hong Kong. Where’s the charity in them determining our surplus value?

“We’re from Blackpool, we like being by the sea. We were here twenty years ago. It’s changed a lot. Aberdeen was just a small place, look at it now. The Chinese are so friendly and talkative, they didn’t talk to you before.” Liberated from the colonial choker they are free to love the Brits.

Ate fish and prawns overlooking harbour watching fishermen in native cone hats. Local woman introduced us to 1,000 year old tree shading an ornamental temple. She proudly showed off the town beach. A deserted landscape of virgin sand and translucent sea where you can escape stresses of modern life. Echoes of where our species emerged. A beach frontier between water and solid ground, between wild and domestic. A place where social hierarchies temporarily suspended. Her pride is well grounded. Lone fisherman beats sharks away to protect his fish nets.

The co-op movements strong and thriving in the Cheung Chau Pig Raising Co-operative Society. How do the Maoists fit in? Roving electric hospital and Red Cross milk floats tout for business. Bikes with bells warn of hazards. Have a tailor made gents package in 24 hours for $1300. Breathtaking mountain background. Painstakingly prolonged activity achieves limited tasks. Capitalism is the danger. Jet lagged it’s easy to fit into a nocturnal routine.

Rushed to Kowloon Harbour for 8.00pm - recommended laser light show on Hong Kong. Quick turn around, no tea, cold, muffling extra clothing but still missed the entertainment. Opera in the prom offered consolation.

Searched for best restaurants in Kowloon. The Tak Kee in the Temple Street night market. Brightened, chaotic and overcrowded streets. Our maitre d’hotel aggressive, agitated and manic. A little runt of a man, stunted at birth and raged ever since. After some confusion my toilet request met by angry bustling up dark alley. A non functioning toilet filled with stench of sick and shit. A locked staff facility. Meal slapped on our table at high speed and overcharged. Good food but hardly enjoyed. Contemplated if worth fighting over retrieving piffling amount. Decided triads may win. Echoes of imperialist heritage in visions of machete wielding staff emerging manically from kitchens, demanding cents. An attractive image as landmark of 60th year approaches. Respect is everything. Not on our list for the future.

Breakfast at Teresa’s Coffee House. A frantic pace but served swiftly. Observing young girl absorbed in sucking her breakfast with wonderful serene expressive eyes.

The MTR is quick clean and efficient. Thought for the day displayed “look after others more”, “help the young and elderly”. They have signposts for the direction of travel - management speak which makes sense.

Tourists don’t know what day it is. Cultural imperialism vibrates with traditions. Short skirts compete with demur Chinese cover. You could tell the story of the world through legs.

Lantau

Ferry trip to Lantau to find the giant Buddha, eastern equivalent of Rio’s Christ. Two hundred and seventy-eight steps to enlightenment. Cable car over the sea has a tower missing as cable sags under the strain.

Pilgrims chanting, chiming and prostrating their way up to touch Gautama Siddartha. A praying circle with flags of the Earth, face your maker. The Buddha could admonish, the spirit isn’t eminence. Man forlorn on prayer mat worshipping the image.

Meditation regulates breathing, calmness and striking a serene balance and equanimity. Gently pulsating, sensitivities around the body. An amused detachment, like getting old.

The big trip heralds a return to simple pleasures and physicality of existence. Danger persists of modelling yourself on over activity.

Nearly missed the Wisdom Path. It has toilets at the end and in the beginning. There’s no spitting, it’s an offence. Wisdom chimneys are straight, tall and grouped together in a figure of 8, representing infinity. Professor Jao spliced chimneys of wood set in concrete for perfect harmony and bliss.

Lunch at the top with Gautama salivating on french bacon sandwiches with warmed comforted bodies. China was made for old men. The respect agenda started here. “We’re from Nashville, Tennessee, going back tonight just had a month in South East Asia - Nam, Cambodia. Thanksgiving yesterday so we had turkey. It’s something to do with pilgrim fathers. We missed all the election stuff but we’re pleased with result. Our luggage got lost in Kuala Lumpa. We did England twenty five years ago. For our lost luggage they offered 480 Hong Kong dollars. It’s nothing but you can’t argue on their territories.

Avenue of stars promenade offers concrete handprints of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. Cliff Richard obtrudes with simpering piped carols. “O pray let us adore him”. Restored junk, the Aqua Luna, collects tourists for harbour cruises. Served by white breakfast suits to the sound of Beach Boys surfing songs. Laughter emanates from complimentary gin and tonic. Passengers already reposing on cushioned recliners. The Aqua Luna gives way to the Star ferry on its sail to Stanley Market. Wedding parties promenade by the sea staring wonderingly over to Hong Kong.

Meandering round the harbour inevitably you get sucked into giant shopping malls. Shop till you drop. Every exit leads back into shops. Welcome joggers slowed as crowd encloses. Monaco arrests the bare-chested. Warming sunshine, gentle breeze, ozone on seaside bench enjoyed nibbling peanuts, mango and oranges.

Tai Chi exercises and classes begin at 8.00am at the harbour. Lessons cancelled if there’s a typhoon. Feng Shui tour reveals the ancient Chinese art of geomancy and divination. You could do Chinese tea drinking or Disneyland. Let’s give Madame Tussauds a miss with its Aaron Kwok and British royal family. Somehow they’ve slipped Tiger Woods in there. Horse racing and dolphin watching make Hong Kong the events capital of Asia.

Another morning of running and exercises with the dawn Tai Chi veterans in local parkland. Traditions will continue.