Saturday, 1 August 2015


Just got to the tiny hamlet of Keld. Finally left the Lake District. Camping the last few nights is cold! Done 98 miles. 
A few days back we met Ali, whom we swam in Ennerdale Water with. She's become a regular on this trip, someone to share cookies and green tea and even the occasional political tete-a-tete with. 
Others we see often are an Australian occupational therapist and her mum. The OT glumly told Dave to rest his battered leg, advice he didn't like, but did take. 
Nice sunset tonight. 


Sunday, 26 July 2015


Ennerdale to Grasmere. Done about 40 miles now. In quite a lot of pain. Dave has pulled muscle in his leg. It rained terribly today, and we are in a Youth Hostel tonight, in much needed warmth.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Day 2, C2C

Seems a lot further in than day two... We two travellers are now sturdy and worn hikers with 14 miles behind us. It's not a great feat, you might say, but oh with those bags and down that hill. That hill was Raven Crag , a spot so steep that people complain to the guide book for putting it on the trail. Actually it wasn't on Wainright's original walk, but has since become standard. Your knees shiver and begin to numb, and you continually wonder about sliding down on your bag. 

Most beautiful part of the walk was just after that descent, on the cusp of the Lake District, through a meandering valley. We met one man and his dog. Having coffee now in the Fox and Hounds, gotta run. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


Today I depart. Somewhat stupidly I decided to go back to china on land, and sandwich that trip with two wholemeal slices of travel, namely a 192 mile hike across England's rugged north, and a visit to Japan's old capital, Kyoto, to live for a week in a capsule. 

I calculated the mileage to be about 8892, although no website appears to be able to calculate train distances, somewhat annoyingly. So 8892 is a very rough estimate. It is however longer than the equatorial diameter of the earth, so pleasingly I can report that if I did this trip downwards, from New Milton through the centre of the earth, I'd pop out a few hundred miles south east of New Zealand and keep on climbing into the sky for hundreds of miles more. 

Tonight I'll be in New Cross, London. Tomorrow, the north!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Austrian School Chris

Two days into our new job, we were summoned to a meeting. Via a translator, we heard the encouraging words of the principle. He spoke of the "opportunities" that we English teachers should expect, and the "bright future" that the school has. After the principle left, we were left with the faculty. With the Chinese management on one side of the long, rather presidential, table, and us foreigners on the other, it was a little tense. The Chinese staff are young and inexperienced. They told us, much to my alarm, that we were obliged to come up with a curriculum, using the American text books they provided. "Hang on," I said, "didn't you say in the interview that you had a curriculum?" "They don't," came the American voice to my right. 

The American voice continued. It was the voice of Tyler, who has been teaching here for a while and hence has some experience with the system and the material. He said that it was unfair to put this pressure on us new teachers. Uh, yah, thought I. 

With Tyler having broken the quiet, nodding acceptance on our side of the table, the protests began to arose. Holly's was the most damning. In Holly's class is a young girl from America who, obviously, has a somewhat different capability from the local kids when it comes to Chinese class. Holly wasn't happy that the Chinese teacher didn't seem to appreciate this difference, and instead simply levelled some discipline at the girl. "That class is a waste of time," said Holly, "And all it will do is upset her."

That girl is the daughter of one of the teachers, Arizona Man. Another teacher, Austrian School Chris, also has kids in this school. He was late to the meeting because he had come across his daughter crying in the hallway. Upon hearing the Chinese teacher's treatment of one American girl, Austrian School Chris started wondering about the treatment of his own kids, and after seeing one crying, was beginning to put two and two together...

"Do you think this is a sound pedagogical methodology?" he asked. "That's a serious question."

The Chinese staff across the table smiled awkwardly, saying little until the vice principle said, "You have to understand, you're in China now, and there is some difference to how school works."

Austrian School Chris' hand slammed down on the table. He followed the slam by expressing himself at a high volume, threatened to quit, and left the room. Arizona Man and a few other teachers explained that the "China is different" explanation gets a little worn, and the teachers with kids should expect a decent education for said kids, as promised. This is, in name at least, an "international" school.

I got chatting with Austrian School Chris in the cafeteria only the next day, where he explained to me his take on monetarism and inflation, and how this relates to wage stagnation. He referred to Hayek rather than Friedman, and seemed to have problems with Keynes. After the financial crash in '09 Chris opened some economics books to try and make sense of things, and it appears that the ones he opened have been ones with what Foucault called "state phobia" as a general guiding principle. I do see some friendly arguments on the horizon, for it appears (but hasn't been stated) that Chris is a GOP supporter in the States. 

"I once got into this argument with this guy back home," he said, "who, after I told him which party's economic policies make more sense, he started assuming all my, you know, social principles and beliefs, saying what an evil guy I must be, and I was like hang on, we're talking economics here. No, I say, give me your take on fiscal discipline and spending; all the rest don't matter."

Chris is certainly a nice guy. But,... Republicans...? Ouch.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Lynne the Explorer

"You're a whiner," screamed Lynne the Explorer. A whiner! All I said was I need windscreen wipers on my glasses. We were riding our pushbikes by the lake, and the rains came. Lynne had already scouted out this whole area, somehow finding time between classes and sleeping. She'd biked along the highway, up to canals, turned back, gone through townships, shouted ni hao at the locals, hit another dead end... Now she was taking me there. She's a fearless explorer, with the spirit of a true adventurer. "We met the president of Honduras, we did," she told me. "He was just getting off the plane and we were there. Oh we took a photo with him, sure."

Lynne is from Minnesota, with a voice I recognise from Fargo. It's relentlessly friendly, and loud too. The locals light up on hearing her admittedly terrible Chinese. We biked into this small town, with one high street. I had my eye out for coffee but there wasn't a lot on offer. We followed the canals and strolled past tiny houses, cute bridges, barges made of, ahem, concrete, and plenty of intrigued Chinese faces. Lynne stopped to get all luvvie with the Chinese baby and her mum. No one spoke a word of English. 

At her last job in China, in Shaanxi province, Lynne moved out of the apartment block where the teachers lived and settled down in a cave with the locals. A cave is called a yaodong, and about 40 million people live in such things, would you believe it. 40 million and one, once Lynne heard about it. She still wants to kit out her new apartment in authentic stuff like the locals have, and down by the canal I found myself attempting to mediate a conversation in Chinese, with Lynne trying to ask where a wooden pot, like the one owned by the woman, could be bought. We never worked out the answer, and went away wondering if that pot was in fact a toilet.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Arizona Man

When, on the first night in my new flat, my internet seemed to be predictably faulty, typical for me, I reached out to the neighbours. Working my way down the corridor to a soundtrack of unanswered knocks, I came to room 506. A blond man with thick glasses and a walking stick answered. He was perhaps pushing 50, and spoke with a drawl. He looks like that drag queen from Under Siege, I thought. "Gary Busey!" he cackled on another occasion, remarking on his new persona in China. Would they even know Gary Busey? I thought. 

He hobbled down the hall telling me that he "dropped a goddamn piano on ma foot last week. Hurt like hell. Yeah, ah was moving it, getting reading to leave 'n come out over here, an' the thing slipped on me." He paused to point at his foot. "Broke both these bones." We picked up walking again. "Yeah I'm still walkin'. Just about ahaha. Yup I was in the army, can take a little pain all right. Little kids think I'm a machine." He paused again and pulled up his sleeve to flex his bicep. "I just show 'em this and, hahah, they're all 'wooa', haha, yea. Well, let's take a look at this internet of yours, I'm no wizard with the computer stuff, ah just stick it in there, seemed to work OK...."

In the flat I tried again with the ethernet cable. Arizona Man opined that I might have the wrong "hole". For all I knew he was right; I'm also no wizard with computer stuff. But then it just worked and all was well. 

It turns out that Arizona Man was a military man. Military intelligence, he told me under his breath, in case the CIA was listening. He been shot and blown up and all sorts. Now he's married to a Korean lady and they've adopted Arizona Man's son's daughter. The three of them are out here, seeking a new life. I popped by their flat for a cheeky can of Sprite and before five minutes had gone by, Arizona Man had his binder of songs out, his acoustic guitar on his knee, and was playing the Beatles. He followed that with a repertoire of blues songs, never finishing the whole song, but instead stopped to flick another page over in the binder and say, "Yea ah got all sorts in here, a ton 'a songs."

Next day, I was walking back to the school after a stroll, when I heard a holler: "You stand out man!" Arizona Man was waiting on the other side of the road, at the bus stop. I stand out? Where was he going. "Bought maself a printer yesterday, at the Metro," he shouted at me, waving a box. "Got back 'n there ain't nothing in there. Gone and bought maself an empty box, gonna head back and git the damn thing." Didn't you realise there was nothing in the box? I asked. Or you thought it was a really light printer? He flexed his bicep again. "Most thangs not much heavier than air to me, hahah." 

And off he went, sunsetwards.