Walking on eggshells

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste

“I don’t pretend to be a gentleman, but I am entitled to paint what I see.” – Interview tapes with G B Cotton & Frank Mullineux (undated) L. S. Lowry – A Biography by Shelley Rhode

Free Pussy Riots was the best banner that I ever witnessed at a Man City game. The cardboard boos shown to UEFA were a close second. Is protesting and politics at home in sport?

“Hey John, how can you be so ignorant to China and H.K.?” – someone asked me this today, in China. And like anything else political here, I replied with, “This is not the place to have this discussion and I am not prepared to carry on.” I also wanted to say that I refuse to influence people in China – and I do. It is not my job to meddle in politics and the policy of China. Of course, I have an opinion. I have beliefs but I also have the wisdom to know that you cannot tickle a tiger’s balls and expect to get away with it.

So, NBA has gone down a bit in China due to comments on social media. Politics and sports cannot be mixed these days – and certainly not on mediums such as Twitter. At a Philadelphia Sixers game versus Guangzhou Loong Lions, a fan and his wife were ejected for shouting their views on Hong Kong. The Wells Fargo Center court is located in as Francis Scott Key said, “the land of the free”. The American national anthem features something similar, right? Well, sport, has a long-winded and painful view of politics and freedom. To cut a story short, great moments of history such as the 1968 black power movement stand out in history – because they signify defiance and stand for belief. It wasn’t part of the running material and matchday programme. Tommie Smith and John Carlos have statues on the San Jose State University campus grounds. They joined in the 2008 Global Human Rights Torch Relay which ran in parallel to the Beijing Olympics torch.

Protests affect more people than you often know. They send little and big ripples, visible and invisible, left, right and centre. One NBA tweet, by Houston Rockets’ coach Daryl Morey, who retracted it, has been slammed by President Trump.

In China, Chinese sponsors have suspended their ties with NBA clubs. The TV channels have removed tonight’s games and other games from the schedules. Since then NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended Morey’s right to tweet as he wishes. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich backed him up, “He came out strongly for freedom of speech.” NBA fans in China are backing their country over their love for the game of basketball. Most fans here demand an apology before they carry on their love affair with America’s basketball. A huge repletion of one quote can be found seemingly everywhere, “China-U.S. relations began with ping-pong, and they’ve ended with basketball.” What President Nixon did in 1971 is being undone by a closed-shop sports league that usually puts capital over principals.

What’s the story, Mr Morey? Well, he later added a post to the affects of a desperate boyfriend who has shunned the love of his life. Basketball is huge in China. China is huge. Almost every garden, park or recreation area has a court, or two, or more. The Chinese Basketball Association believes 300 million people play the sport. I feel that is an understatement. From school bus drivers to security guards to uncles minding their grand kids, and the other more expected hoop-throwing youths, it is everywhere. It dominates ball sports here. Rugby Union played its part in Apartheid; the Munich massacre happened; LGBT rights protests surrounded the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia; 8 nations (including China) boycotted the 1956 Olympics in Australia after Russia were suspended for invading Hungary; China boycotted two other Olympic games (’64 as China had entered the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO);’80 due to USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan); the massacre at Tlatelolco happened; but overall sport is essential to world relations. Now, NBA is thrust into the limelight (unlike South Park, removed from search histories).

As NBA has been met with displeasure, some hot heads have used stronger language and hate as their reply. That’s not on. It can’t be that way. How can we all find a common path to the future if we don’t talk? For some fashion and perfume brands, China is not a good place to trade now. Keeping quiet has more of a benefit than losing potential custom. Sport is the same. Discrimination is bad. The vulnerable, the needy and those subject to abuse because of prejudices need a voice. Colour, race, ethnicity, religion are always topics which will need sensitivity. But, on the other hand, how far do you believe in your freedom of speech? And right now, many brave souls are stepping up.

Whether with Extinction Rebellion at London City Airport, or forming a rather large Tibet flag at a French football game… even a 91-year-old called John has been arrested, complete with a walking stick. Of course, Liverpool FC faced opposition to their attempt to trademark the name of Liverpool, and also when they drove local property values down in a bid to buy the properties for cheaper later – because commercial development is where it is at. But, we must look at the other side of the conversations too. China may be huge but its 5000 years of civilisation as been invaded in many places, colonised and used as a factory. Now it gathers strength enough to speak out loud. China sings from the same hymn sheet – and mostly through pride in identity. Other countries are often divided – split and messy, yet they all like to shout about how it is done.

Sport is a great friendship tool. It bridges division and cultures. Iraq play football and could face Nepal, equally they could host Australia or Qatar. England can travel to Scotland, Sweden or Slovenia. The game of football, like basketball and other such sports can influence and deepen relations. Claimed sovereignty, national interests and cultures can be better understood. When two differences are clear, then dialogue can be heard – or silenced. Boycotts and closure won’t help every battle. Tolerance is not even enough. We must be careful in this day and age, as people, not to shout abuse and close our minds.

For me, I’d like to view Tibet first hand, and see the region. I will remain neutral. I’d like to speak about Hong Kong, but I won’t. I must remain neutral – Hong Kong is part of China – and the days of it being a British colony are long gone. This is a matter for the people of the affected regions and not the former occupants and their Union Flag. I’m here in China as a guest. A foreigner who feels foreign and is always reminded that I’ll never be local or Chinese. I know where I stand. That’s fine. It is accepted. I’m just trying to make a living and find a way to get onto the U.K. property ladder in my home country that is also far from free. I want to be like Mel Gibson’s William Wallace and say something like he did in the movie Braveheart, “I came back home to raise crops, and God willing, a family. If I can live in peace, I will.”

East and West are crashing together like heavy waves on a shoreline susceptible to costal erosion. For those of us living between the two, we have to knuckle down and work, without tickling any tiger’s testicles – and keeping the burning heat of tiger balm far away from our balls.

“I look upon human beings as automatons because they all think they can do what they want but they can’t. They are not free. No one is.” – Maitland Tapes-interview with Prof. Hugh Maitland 1970 L. S. Lowry – A Biography by Shelley Rhode

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

The bee’s knees

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste / Gled tae meet ye A’m gled tae meet ye,

It’s been dunky’s since a last saw ye…

Loch Awe Dalmally (159)Sometimes, some places really surprise you. Some people are wonderful, and staying in Dalmally Railway Station’s The Posting Room was one such experience. The hosts, as listed on AirBnB were Liz and Graham (Angus too). They’re ace. Graham welcomed us immediately from our train which arrived on the opposite platform. A proffering of tea and coffee, followed by some delicious courgette and tomato soup. The welcoming really was the bee’s knees.

Loch Awe Dalmally (19)Throughout the weekend Liz and Graham offered great destinations and advice about the locality. Following a ramble up to the Duncan Ban Mcintyre monument, the path swooped down to the A819 road caressing the Loch Awe’s bankside. Here a walk to view the beautiful Kilchurn Castle and Loch Awe scenery was essential. Heavy rain and a lift back by a friendly truck driver capped off a good wander. By evening hunger had arrived. Two miles up the road later: One pub meal in Ben Cruachin Inn resulted in rhubarb crumble. I was over the moon. The mains selected on visiting were something similar to the following:

SMOKED HADDOCK KEDGEREE RISOTTO Arborio rice, turmeric, saffron, garlic & boiled egg. £12.95
FILLET OF LOCH FYNE SALMON Saffron beurre blanc, asparagus & new potatoes. £16.95

The food at the Ben Cruachin Inn is hearty and filling. The local Fyne Ales equally tasty and refreshing. After dinner, the feeding of the legendary Scottish midges commenced at Loch Awe railway station, before a short ten minute journey into Dalmally for cups of tea and bed.

Loch Awe Dalmally (164)In the morning Graham delivered us more brews with porridge and some cake. If Mrs Doyle from Father Ted fame has a male Scottish counterpart, then Graham is he. That’s meant with no disrespect whatsoever. I haven’t experienced this nature of hospitality ever. A host who really cares about his guests. His partner Liz was busy with her felt studio, Heartfelt by Liz (located on the platform). Graham could be seen zipping between guest throughout the day and delivering warm pots of tea and coffee at almost every hour. It seemed everyone was invited for a brew, “On your way back, call by and come and have a brew.”

Loch Awe Dalmally (72)They go out of their way for you. Hospitality at its absolute best. I really want to revisit the station. Maybe next time I can try the Ben Cruachin room or the Rambler’s Rest – or ideally The Writer’s Retreat. The Shepherd’s Hut doesn’t look too bad too. All have great West Highland picturesque views, a stone’s throw from lochs, mountains and wildlife like the tawny owls or screeches of buzzards in the daytime. The idyllic village is a little far out from many places but a wonderful location for hiking, cycling and exploring the region. The venison burgers up the road in the Kilchurn Castle car park aren’t too bad an option. Add haggis.

Loch Awe Dalmally (144)Staying in The Posting Room was idyllic. With a great variety of biscuits, porridge, jams and brew options. A rucksack of food provisions was barely needed! The final day of two involved a stroll to St.Conan’s Kirk, a church containing a bone fragment from Robert The Bruce. The architecture is splendid, diverse and varied. The architect Walter Douglas Campbell mixed in Norman, Roman, Celtic and other styles. There are famous ship timbers and it is easy to see why it was added to the Top 10 buildings in Scotland of the last 100 years list. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland made that list in 2016. The building was built around 1881 and renovated in 1906. Beyond the church there is a great tea room outside and the author Mary Stewart once resided at the nearby House of Letterawe.

Loch Awe Dalmally (49)


Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle (35)Before visiting Dalmally, the whistlestop tour of Scotland began much further east in Stonehaven. The castle of Dunnotar has featured in Victor Frankenstein (starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe), Hamlet (with Mel Gibson) and other productions. For me, it was a castle I had seen in a book. Its clifftop location, on a kind of island of rock has long stuck with me. A walk from the charming Stonehaven Harbour, passing the dramatic (and deliberately unfinished) war memorial, leads to Dunnotar Castle. The memorial on Black Hill is imposing and powerful. A line of poem can be found inside the octagonal towers.

Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle (21)

“One by one death challenged them, they smiled in his grim visage and refused to be dismayed” – Sankey’s Student in Arms

Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle (66)Staying with another Graham – and Sam, in Aberdeenshire, an introduction to their master Percy and enjoyed wonderful hosts. Their house at the top of a hill gave the legs some good stretching but the location was peaceful and the room more than luxurious. The monk fish and chips from the sustainability champions at The Bay Fish and Chips was the best I have had in years. They were so good, a shitehawk (a gull) dropped a bomb across the back of my navy-blue shirt with precision. It didn’t get a single chip. Back off shitehawks!


Doune Castle (37)

Following a night in Stonehaven, a night in Stirling was next on the agenda. The famous National Wallace Monument was visible from the room at yet another AirBnB place with Iona and her family. After the quickest breakfast ever we headed to Doune Castle – as seen as Winterfell, Castle Anthrax, and series such as Outlander.

Your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries” – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Stirling Castle (11)Later in the day the National Wallace Monument witnessed a 120kg man struggling up the stairs and then being thankful he had no hair to blow away, once at the summit platform of the tower. Taking in each gallery along the way on the steps down, seemed the backwards way to do it, but damned if I was going to take a break on the 246 steep steps upwards. The Guardian of Scotland and influence of legendary stories since (including Mel Gibson’s Braveheart) featured alongside exhibitions on Robbie Burns (the famous poet) and Robert the Bruce. The monument is dramatic and almost like something from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

From Dalmally the road (well railway) led ot Edinburgh… via Glasgow… and a route of other rained upon soggy places.

See ye efter

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā / Bye for noo