Archive for June, 2010

Tom didn’t come for dinner on Sunday, so that was one catastrophe averted. The other German came, though, and without his English son. Father and son needled one another by text.

“If you run out of tissues,” Andreas wrote as the English team collapsed under the superior German firepower, “you can tear up some of those English flags for handkerchiefs.”

“The Germans may have won the football match,” his son retorted, “but they are still very bad at making at jokes.”

Lanying roared with glee everytime Germany got the ball.

“Which team are you supporting, Mingzhu?” I asked, expecting her to side with England.

“Uh, I don’t know. Which team is better looking?”

In the end her allegiance was with the handsome German centre-back Arne Friedrich.

I was sent to fetch some Sichuan kebabs. At first the streets of London were deserted but, after Germany scored the third goal, the will of the nation wilted. Disheartened fans sidled out of pubs and living rooms to smoke a much-needed cigarette, kick a discarded beer can, or simply stare at the bluest sky we’ve had in years and wonder where it all went wrong.

As I waited on the corner of a deserted south London suburb I began to doubt my choice of rendezvous. I couldn’t have chosen a worse spot to wait. The sun was beating down on me, I looked shady in the shade and my view of the road was obscured by a dirty red brick bridge.

As I stood there, furtively counting my cash and avoiding the stares of the occasional passing drunk, I wondered whether I should risk getting out my iPhone and taking a picture. People have been stabbed on that street for less.

I slipped it out, took a quick snap (see above) and tucked it away again, resisting the urge to read Tales of Chinatown on it while I was waiting.

Then suddenly he was there, the motorcyclist from the restaurant. As he handed over the goods and I passed him the cash, I saw he had thrown in a free bottle of wine.

I love the Chinese. They are so flexible when it comes to doing business.

It’s a shame they are useless at football even though, as I was informed in detail over dinner, they invented it.


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Geoff Hurst scoring for England

On Sunday England will be playing Germany in the World Cup. Such matches always arouse strong feelings in England. If you are German you had better stay indoors.

My wife, who is German, doesn’t understand. “I should hang out a flag,” she said last night as we were walking along the river bank. She had seen an Australian flag draped over a balcony. Elsewhere there are England flags in windows, tied to gutters, pinned to walls, stuck on cars, flapping and fluttering wherever they can be hung.

“Other people have flags,” she said. “Why not me?”

Luckily it is impossible to buy a German flag in England. Otherwise she would probably do it and I’d be sweeping up broken glass in the living room instead of writing this.

She doesn’t appreciate the history. “I’ll always support Germany,” she said innocently while they were playing against Ghana the other night. “Because I like to see football played well. Yeah. The Germans really know how to play. This is proper football. Not like when England play.”

Ghana were in an all-white strip. Germany in an all-black one. “I hope they are not going to wear those awful black uniforms when they play England,” she said. “Really! Why do they have to wear black?”

Fortunately, because it is very important and she will probably be talking about it all through the match again otherwise, the Germans will be in White on Sunday. White shirts, black shorts and black socks.

England will be wearing their lucky all-red strip. They could have chosen red shirts, white shorts and red socks, the combination they wore in the 1966 World Cup final when, let us not forget, they beat Germany 4-2. But the all-red strip brought them victory against Slovenia on Wednesday and may be lucky again tomorrow.

Not that I’ll be seeing much of the match. Yesterday was Lanying’s birthday and Sunday is Mingzhu’s, so we’re having a double birthday celebration. Lanying and Mingzhu will watch the match and I’ll be going to Lanying’s favourite Chinese restaurant on the other side of the Thames to fetch some Sichuan kebabs.

The kebabs are for the meat-loving Germans who will be joining us for dinner and for Mingzhu, who also loves meat.

We have some new friends, Carley and Andreas. Carley is Chinese. Andreas is German. And Lanying has also invited Tom. I’ve mentioned Tom before. He’s the German who really likes Mingzhu and would probably be going out with her if there was any chemistry there. Lanying invited him because she was feeling sorry for him. He has been stuck at home after being crippled in a skiing accident so he has put on weight and become depressed.

So seeing the woman who won’t go out with him after watching his national team get thrashed will be just the thing to perk him up I expect.

Mingzhu doesn’t know he has been invited yet. I hope she doesn’t choke on her kebab.

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I adore Mingzhu. “You look so good in blue,” she told me the other week. “And you are so slim. You have no belly. There’s nothing there at all.”

“That’s because Lanying keeps me on a diet of tofu, fish and bitter green vegetables.”

“I couldn’t eat like that,” she said. “I love English roast dinners. Beef and Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes. I’ve got to have meat.”

“But you don’t put on weight. You have a perfect figure.”

“No, my belly’s bigger than yours. Look!”

I looked and I can still see it now. I think about it often, that belly. Smooth and shapely. Seductive. Slim. Gorgeous.

Last night the three of us were on the tube discussing Sex and the City 2. “I don’t like the way they approach other cultures,” Mingzhu said. “They went all the way to Abu Dhabi and they just wanted to behave like they were in a nightclub in Manhattan.”

Opposite us were four young men who had been drinking. They were staring at us. Well, not so much at me. “That’s what you want,” said one of them, who was a Geordie and was wearing a trilby. “You want to get off the beaten track.”

Mingzhu and Lanying couldn’t understand his accent but they nodded. He started to talk some more so Mingzhu said “What?”

“Get off the beaten track,” he repeated amiably.

They still didn’t understand.

“Get off the beaten track,” I said.

“Ah,” Mingzhu said, still puzzled. “Yes.”

We explained that we’d been to see Sex and the City, which led to a discussion about the best of British films since the original Ladykillers, which Lanying so admires. The Geordie had good taste. Unfortunately Mingzhu and Lanying couldn’t understand him. He warmly recommended Shogun Assassin and I told him I would put it on our rental wish list.

At London Bridge, Mingzhu had to get off. She gave me and Lanying a quick kiss and hurried to the doorway. The Geordie stared after her. “Stop drooling!” One of his friends told him. “It’s obvious what you’re thinking. She’s gorgeous.”

At the cinema Mingzhu had bought me a chocolate ice cream. She didn’t ask me, she just bought it. I had no choice but to eat it. It was delicious.

It was a quiet cinema where everyone is usually very well behaved. But last night there were groups of women drinking cocktails and hooting. They cheered loudly when Sarah Jessica Parker appeared on the screen. “Don’t they know it’s a film?” Mingzhu whispered to me. “She can’t hear them.” Mingzhu has never seen a single episode of Sex and the City, unlike Lanying, who has sat through every episode several times, with me at her side.

“I should have married Mingzhu,” I told Lanying today as we sat down to an octopus salad.


“I could have had roast dinner every weekend.”

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The Naming of the Seabourn Sojourn

The thousands of you who read my blog without ever commenting and yet very kindly take an interest in my personal situation must be itching to know what became of my plan to move house.

Well, it took seven months of tense negotiation but my plan finally came good. I have moved and I couldn’t be happier.

I have thrown away most of my possessions and my life has become richer and more enjoyable. All those musty old books have gone. All my furniture. Most of my clothes. The garden tools. Instead I now have a swimming pool, a gym, two jacuzzis and a fleet of boats to take me up and down the Thames.

A few nights ago I was startled by a loud explosion just outside the window. I peeped out and saw fireworks. I pulled on my shoes, ran like blazes and was treated to a spectacular display coming from the river near Greenwich. It was to celebrate the naming of the Seabourn Sojourn.

The photo by Lanying doesn’t do justice to the startling beauty of the explosions.

I saw The Seabourn Sojourn set off on its maiden voyage a few days later as I was coming back from my swim. It looked magnificent, lit up like a small city, gliding with majestic slowness.

But why the strange spelling? Well, the company has many ships and they’re all called Seabourn something. So it must be one of those strokes of marketing genius for search engine optimisation so I’ll just shut up about it and stop driving Lanying nuts.

Anyway, now I’ve had time to get settled on the Thames, I’m wondering what my next goal should be. Something big and complicated to distract me even more from the anxiety of literary endeavour. Maybe a holiday house in Krakow. It’s very beautiful there, I’ve heard.

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“How would you describe the way you speak, Joseph?” Mingzhu asked me the other day over dinner. “Are you posh? You sound very posh.” 

“I’m not so much posh as educated,” I said. 

“When I first came to England,” said my wife, Lanying, “I was very surprised that not everyone spoke clearly like Joseph. I couldn’t understand most people at first.” 

“But after a while don’t you find yourself talking like them?” Mingzhu asked. 

“Yes. Yes. There was one office I was working where they all came from Essex and Joseph said I was picking up all this Essex slang. I didn’t know it was slang I just heard it and copied it.” 

“Exactly,” agreed Mingzhu, “because as a foreigner speaking English you don’t have anything to fall back on. You just copy everything. You don’t have your own roots in the language.” 

“That’s why the work environment is so important,” said Lanying. “You have to choose your colleagues carefully otherwise you can end up using totally unsuitable expressions.” 

“I know,” said Mingzhu. “A lot of my colleagues are from Essex actually.” 

“And do you find yourself talking like them?” 

“Yes. Inevitably. One of them who sits opposite me is very funny. He uses lots of swear words. He can’t have a conversation on the phone without swearing. But in a funny way.” 

“A lot of people in England talk like that,” said Lanying. “On the train you hear swearing all the time and in these impenetrable accents, like Cockney and Brummie and Geordie. But Scottish is the worst. I can never understand people from Scotland.” 

“Well let me tell you something,” said Mingzhu. “The people in my office are all English and they complain all the time that they can’t understand people from Scotland, so you’re not alone there.” 

“The other day on the train,” said Lanying, “I was with my Chinese friend, Yin. She was was visiting from Switzerland. There were some German tourists in the other seat and they wanted to know if the train went to London Bridge. They asked some Scottish people but they couldn’t understand what the Scottish people said. So my friend, Yin, told them in German.” 

“They must have been very surprised to see a Chinese person in London suddenly switch to German.” 

“But why? That’s what Chinese are good at.” 

“What is?” 

“Lanuguages. We are great at languages. We can learn anything.” 

Mingzhu looked at her a moment. 

“Yes!” persisted Lanying. “We are very good at languages. We are great actually.” 

“There’s a word in English for that.” 


“For what you just said.” 

“What word?” 

“Up your own arse.”

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