|1-7 October 2006|
|Sun, 1 Oct
And so we bid farewell to historic Stonegallows, gateway to the West. Normally at this stage of the annual Filial Piety Tour, I would wend my way to the capital city of the Little Satan, and thence to the seat of government of the Great Satan, from which I would proceed to the remote mountain hamlet that is home to the Appalachian branch of the Hemlock clan. This year, sadly, I will not be seeing my stateside kin, with their breakfasts of Twinkies and grits and their snake-handling neighbours who speak in tongues. I have to be back in the Big Lychee this time next week. And I need to see long-lost friends in London-by-Sea. Both sound reasons, mercifully freeing me of the temptation to concoct lame excuses to avoid flying on the route that terrorists would most like to attack.
The statistically improbable prospect of being blown up in mid-air doesn't worry me. It is the thought of the hours-long procession through security, the removal of shoes and belts, the confiscation of toothpaste, the sight of mothers sipping their babies' milk to prove it isn't explosive, and all the other rigmarole. The additional precautions introduced following the scare in August have largely been lifted, but I am just not in the mood. What can you do when faced with impressionable young, semi-fascistic folk who probably say to themselves, “We are all killers until we stop flying”?
That said, it would be fun to do an extra few thousand miles in the air simply to irritate someone called George Monbiot. Although unknown to the rest of the planet, Mr Monbiot is hard to avoid here. He appears in certain newspapers and magazines very frequently, wringing his hands about how hard he tries to insulate his house, avoid Brazilian beef, cycle everywhere, and grow his own vegetables. He is strongly opposed – and you are not allowed to forget it – to evil supermarkets, evil Western companies in Africa, evil Western countries' foreign policies, energy of most descriptions, wealth and fun. And air transport – telling us that...
|Already, one fifth of all the world’s international air passengers fly to or from an airport in the UK ... Orwell’s most accurate prediction in 1984 was the mutation of Britain into Airstrip One.|
|...in an article called We are all killers until we stop flying. He has an adoring fan club of impressionable young folk who write to him with their exciting and well-thought out ideas...|
How would you limit air travel? I can think of a few options: Very high levels of taxation. As part of a wider carbon rationing/quota scheme. A more bureacratic approach that banned air travel for non-essential purposes - requiring a permit to be allowed to travel by air.
I wonder what you think about alternatives [eg Zeppelins]?
|Hong Kong seems more inviting by the minute.|
|Wed, 4 Oct
Government Service. That’s what I had to write down as my occupation if I was asked when I was living and working in London-on-Sea. It was an amusing job in its junior way, checking people’s documents – lots of passports and birth certificates, but also some eccentric proofs of identity, like an international pilot’s licence in French held by a former glamorous aviatrix, and the occasional wedding or divorce papers issued by Far Eastern Command in what Hongkongers now call Tamar.
I am staying with old friends with university and Hong Kong connections who have settled here. One is now a renowned professor in an unfathomable tech-related field, the other a regionally recognized arbiter of interior design and architecture. They have produced dazzling offspring in the traditional manner – let them grow up running around in the dirt and see what happens. They have been together for ages, and put their marital success down to the sort of mutual trust that allows the wife to forge her husband’s signature when she wants to take out yet another mortgage on a dilapidated building that begs to be renovated.
The town now styles itself a city and is trying to shed its old sleazy image by hosting improbable meteorological events and mundane municipal ones, and passing local laws that infringe on the ancient rights of citizens to collapse in a drunken, vomiting heap on the sidewalk. My old apartment, with its magnificent views of the grey sea, is somewhere in a stretch of Georgian houses. I can’t remember which one. It was more living than working in those days.
|Thurs, 5 Oct
All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go, I'm standing here outside your door, I hate to wake you up to say goodbye. And it would be absurd if I did, since it’s midday and everyone is already up, and I still have a couple of days to go before I head off. But the fragrant harbour, named for its heady and pungent aroma of money, is beckoning.
It has been interesting catching up with London-on-Sea after several years’ absence…
|The old West Pier burnt down – no mean feat for a structure sealed off to visitors and surrounded by water. After it was pronounced almost salvageable, and therefore still a potential rival to the other pier a few hundred yards away, it mysteriously caught fire a second time. Normally monosyllabic types who would struggle to say ‘arson’ are finding the phrase ‘spontaneous combustion’ trips off the tongue with ease.|
|The local entertainment, arts and culture scene is more vibrant (or desperate, according to taste) than ever.|
|The National Museum of Curry, built by John Nash in the 1820s, remains popular with visitors.|
|The Mile Oak to Whitehawk bus service continues to shuttle stray members of the underclass back to where they belong. Most cities put their welfare mothers, crack addicts and other local colour in public housing estates scattered around the undesirable central district or out near the shut-down factories. London-on-Sea puts them all between two ridges of hills stretching down to the sea in the far east of the town. Whitehawk sounds better than Valley of the Doomed.|
|At first glance, I thought they were offering vacations in Hong Kong, homesickness convincing me that the colonnade is that of the Legislative Council building. But no – the fashionable tourist destination for locals is Cuba.|
|Outsiders of course come here for the sun and the beach.|
|Fri, 6 Oct
A parting thought. Why do people here pronounce the word ‘mall’ to rhyme with ‘mal’, as in petit mal or grand mal? Why don’t they rhyme it with all, ball, call, fall, gall, hall, pall, tall and wall (leaving Pall Mall out of it)?
All I know is that you get the same retail outlets everywhere these days – once you’ve seen one shopping center, you’ve seen a mall.