The English Patience

“What y’all speaking Arabic for? Ain’t that one of them there dead languages?” – yes, seriously

There is a conspiracy theory that states certain foreign governments hire Americans to travel around the world making loud obnoxious nuisances of themselves in order to spread a negative international reputation of America. There is actually a slightly more believable conspiracy theory that states certain types of American are pretty good at this already, foreign employers or no.

I went to Paddy O’Shea’s* to shoot the breeze with a mate. We were approached by a group of Americans, possibly in the employ of outside governments, who wanted to take a photograph of the wall behind us (“Hey, d’you guys recognize me?” “No.” “I’m on… THE WALL!”**) They wanted to take a photo of the photo, which was put to us as a friendly suggestion that it’d be really great if we could move away from the wall for just a second to allow for this twice in a lifetime opportunity, which we politely did. Then another American arrived and it was suggested that hey buddy it’d be really really great if they could get just one more photo, at which point we politely pointed out that actually they were already in possession of a photo of the bloody wall and that we’d quite like to sit still and enjoy our pints in peace. Luckily these chaps took this as intended: as a move from the martial arts manual that I refer to as The Art of Telling People to Fuck Off Without Actually Resorting to Telling Them to Fuck Off (TATPFOWARTTFO).***

One of my friends, a long-haired poet from middle England, once took a road trip to visit our cousins across the pond. Stopping in a gas station in Kentucky he was told in no uncertain terms by the shotgun toting James Dickey character behind the counter that “We don’t serve faggots round here!”

I don’t really know why a certain type of good ole boy votes in an angry midget with a nylon head to run things at home and then immediately pack a rucksack to travel around (“I like to say I have a BLACK BELT in travel y’know!”) complaining about the service and acting agog when they discover an international reputation as ‘rather loud and a little on the irritating side’.

I do not, under any circumstances, mean to imply that every white American is bigoted, annoying and socially inept… but damn the ones who are ain’t doing y’all many favours are they?



*(in the running along with Flann O’Brien’s in Bangkok and Johnny Fox’s Irish Snug in Vancouver for World’s Greatest cod-Irish Pub)

*Not a Pink Floyd reference, apparently.

*** See:


The Power of Derp


“There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” – Buffalo Springfield

In 1979, Hal Ashby* directed Peter Sellers in a film called Being There. Sellers plays a low IQ gardener called Chance, who has never left the stately home in which he lives and works. All he knows of the outside world is what he’s seen on television while obsessively switching between channels: snippets of Sesame Street and Johnny Carson and Mr. Rogers. When his employer dies, Chance the gardener is forced to confront the real America for the first time. For various reasons, he ends up living with a socialite who takes every one of his dumbass monosyllabic (and televisual inspired) utterances as profound, metaphorical wisdom. Chance’s new friend introduces him to the president of the United States, and the theme becomes ‘just how far can a white retarded person actually get in American politics?’ Bear in mind that this was a far-fetched comedy film at the time, but you only have to look at what’s happened recently in the real world to guess the answer.

There are some people who object to my use, either in conversation or in written form, of the word ‘retarded’. There are other people (slightly less retarded ones) who completely ‘get’ that I use this incendiary word not to mock those with a genuine, medically diagnosed Forest Gump/Rain Man/Malkovich-in-that-Gary-Sinise-movie form of mental handicap. Mental or physical disability is of course nothing to be made fun of.

No. The sort of tards I wish to poke with a stick are the 20-watt energy-savers who voted for Brexit without knowing what an EU was; the half-sharp foreskins who are more concerned about a female Doctor Who than a female prime minister that no one initially voted for; the dull-witted gammon flaps who use tiki torches not for some friendly neighbourhood gathering, but for attending racist protests swaddled in Nazi iconography and then for drying their uncontrollable tears when someone on YouTube points out that they’re a bit of a racist.

I completely understand if the word ‘retard’ upsets you. There are words that upset me, but that’s not your problem is it? I hope that my outright abhorrence at some mayonnaise hued twat waving a swastika and doing the Roman salute here in the troubled 21st century is your problem, and I hope that you’re as angry about it as I am.

“I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but believe that I might understand.” – Anselm of Canterbury


Freedom of speech means that people have the right to say something that you disagree with. It does not mean you have to accept what they say without comment. It does not mean that they should be surprised or upset if someone challenges them verbally, physically or (at the very least) on the internet.

Papering over or ignoring the differences between cultures is pointless. I’ve spent enough time in China to know, for example, that Chinese people often think differently from me. I’m not always comfortable with that, but I can accept it. Accepting and celebrating those differences instead of getting angry about them or pretending they don’t exist is surely a sign of sanity, maybe even maturity? But accepting a bug-eyed, gap-toothed Nazi salute on American soil? Are you even remotely serious?

People have the right to be heard. Perhaps they even have the right to be understood. But to be accepted? Fuck no. The idea that we need to accept everyone, whatever their beliefs, is nonsense. Toxic, dangerous nonsense. We should not be accepting or ignoring the current level of open, unabashed pants-shitting ignorance and tongue-lolling intolerance, we should be stamping it out like the rubbish bin fire it is before it’s allowed to become a flat out blazing landfill inferno. These arseholes should be scurrying back into the woodwork, cowering and crying and waiting to be arrested. As philosopher Karl Popper says, a healthy society must (paradoxically) become intolerant of intolerance.

I’m not solipsistic. I’m not a nihilist. I do care about you and yor’n, but if y’all got your fat rube head wedged in the glass jar of stoopid, all I can humbly offer is a ball-peen hammer and the hope that you get the sort of education or medication that will finally help you outwit that turnip.

“To me, it seems to be negligence if, after confirmation in the faith, we do not study to understand that which we believe.” – Anselm of Canterbury


Words** have exactly as much power and emotion as people ascribe to them. Some atheists get annoyed when people use the word ‘God’ (especially with a capital ‘g’). Certain names for ‘god’ will even get you on the sort of list that it’s pretty hard to extricate yourself from. Equally, some religious people get annoyed when atheists use words like “grow” and “up”. But the theologian Anselm of Canterbury once described his philosophy as “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God”. If you replace the word ‘god’ with ‘the universe’, then isn’t that pretty much what Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the rest of the guys who bat for the other team are still doing?

If your reaction to a complicated universe is to try to make it as simple as possible by following an ideology that chimes with your limited beliefs, more power to you. If you want to put that ideology on a flag, you go right ahead my thick son. But if you’re gonna try to force those beliefs on others and disagree violently with their own beliefs while spastically waving that flag in everyone’s face, don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself wearing yer flag rectally (and yes, by ‘rectally’ I mean a literal placing of flagpole betwixt the cheeks of your dumb cracker arse)

A couple of years ago, I blogged on the virtues of anger as an energy to motivate.*** But I wasn’t talking about thick, impotent rage: standing about with your milky white arm extended and your crimson neck knotted, hurling things and shouting ‘sner’ at people who already have reason to believe that you ain’t the sharpest fork at the dinner. I was talking about what the Christians might call ‘righteous’ anger. Channeled, distilled, targeted anger that is borne out of dissatisfaction with the world as it is; burned off in the alchemical and probably blasphemous crucible like lead into gold; forged and alloyed into a sword of awesome. I was talking about what the buddhists might call participating fully in the joyful sorrows and sorrowful joys of the world; understanding that existence is pain; that life is not supposed to be easy and that you, sir, as Mohandas K. Gandhi told us, gotta be the change y’all wanna see! Admittedly, if the change you want to see involves being surrounded by the corpses of your imagined enemies, or only white people emigrating, maybe rethink that shit a little, yeah?

I am someone who loves words and tries to appreciate their power. I try always to choose my words carefully. But they are ‘just’ words. They can put us to sleep or wake us up, like inputting the right code into the software; and if you’re not running a powerful enough computer, then the code becomes meaningless. But I believe there’s a process here: thought/word/deed. Get your thinking clear, and you will almost certainly find the right words. If you’re really lucky (and sufficiently motivated) then hopefully the right actions will follow.

*(possibly the most underrated of film directors in Hollywood’s long and checkered history)

**(including the word ‘retard’)

*** see:

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies


“I hear you’re a racist now father. How did you get interested in that sorta thing? Should we all be racists now? Only the farm takes up most of my day and at night I just like a good cuppa tea; I mightn’t be able to devote myself full time to the auld racism.” – Father Ted

I just got caught in a downpour on my way to Zoo Coffee, where I wanted to put on a movie and test my now disproven theory that I’ll watch David Duchovny in literally anything. With rain hammering down outside, I found another mini-storm on the internet. As usual, people are very vocal about the casting of the latest Doctor Who. This time it isn’t that he’s “too old” or “not enough of a mincing hipster”, it’s that he, well… he’s no longer a ‘he’ at all. The news that a quasi-immortal shapeshifting alien has finally found the ability to regenerate into something other than a white male aged 28-58 has come as quite the shock to an angry, vocal, chronically uneducated minority of ‘fans’, as if this casting decision will suddenly affect their daily life in some hideous way. The BBC is even being accused of political correctness.*

Some have questioned how the TARDIS, a  near infinitely large craft that transcends dimensions, will have enough room for tampon dispensers, and that the next thing we know it will be James Bond who’ll be female or, God forbid, perhaps even ‘ethnic’.

When Colin Salmon and Idris Elba were once considered for Bond, there were those who suggested that they “weren’t English enough”, seemingly unaware that the fact they were both born in England actually makes them at least 99% (perhaps even slightly more) English than Pierce Brosnan, George Lazenby, and Sean Connery. Combined.

After fifty years of asexual men in silly jumpers (and an episode where the moon turned out to be a giant egg) are you really going to take the Doctor less seriously in a a dress? Call me crazy, but I’d even be happier to watch a female Bond than I would to watch almost any of the ones that start with Roger Moore at the end of the gun barrel (national treasure or no).

The poet I mentioned a few entries ago (the fella who’s sort of a fusion between Dante, Alan Watts and the guy who wrote the soundtrack for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) has a philosophy. He won’t print his own t-shirts in XL or above, because he doesn’t like the idea of unhealthy, overweight people wearing his merchandise. Like me, he never liked that it’s socially acceptable for people to say things like “you look like a scarecrow” or “you look like a skeleton”, but that its suddenly not cool for us skinny folk to reply, “yeah, and you like like a pregnant elephant you rude motherfucker!”

He took a lot of flak for this view, but I always respected him for it. I took a lot of flak for my un-PC comments about many of the 40-watt bulbs that walked in our circle at the time, including some of his own pooh-flinging mates.

In a free society (if such a thing is not a contradiction in terms), everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how bizarre/offensive/despicable/smeared-in-their-own-feces it may be, but if you don’t like the idea of a female Who might I suggest that you simply don’t bother watching the programme anymore? ** I don’t like the idea of American figure skaters and slinky Greek assassins falling in love with a leathery old belt, which is why I switched off whichever one that is after whispering the word ‘dogshit’.

I have nothing against fat people. I have nothing against the late Roger Moore. I have nothing against the kind of people who want to fling internet pooh at the poor actress chosen to portray the thirteenth Doctor. Nor do I give a particular fuck who plays Doctor Who or James Bond (although I’d admittedly be a little more hesitant if either of them were suddenly played by an American). Because absolutely none of this has any bearing on how I choose to live my life.

The rain outside has cleared. The storm has passed. We can’t unwatch Moonraker or David Duchovny’s self-penned directorial debut, but we can choose to ignore them.

Let’s move on.

*That hallowed and ancient organization may be many things, but politically correct has never been one of them. Ahead-of-its-time has never been another: a female Who has been rumored, on and off, since Tom Baker left.

**And I’m not posting this suggestion as a reply to other people’s Facebook comments or tweets for the same reason that I don’t have a comments section on my blog: because I consider ‘online debate’ a mild learning disability.


Fear & Loathing in Russiatown


“My only feeling about this place is that it’s [a] shithole.”

Ritan Park is decorated with murals of solar mythology and decals of three-legged phoenixes. ‘Ritan’ translates to English as ‘temple of the sun’. Turns out that ‘sun worship’ once meant more than lazing about in the garden wearing a pair of budgie smugglers. Who knew?

When it comes to irrational fears I’ll admit that I have a wee handful: organized social events, confined spaces, things that live underwater, pretty much everything invented by man or woman since 1993. But I’ve tried never to use being afraid of something as an excuse not to try it. For example, potholing, sleeping on tour bus bunks and riding the Batong Line at rush hour have all contributed to desensitizing me toward claustrophobia. And I still attend parties even though I would absolutely and with every fiber of my being rather take a one way trip across the event horizon of a black hole.

The gf is really only afraid of two things: foreigners, and the feeling of embarrassment that comes with not quite understanding what foreigners are saying. She has, of course, been taking the occasional leaf out of my potholing manual by confronting some of her predjudices.


And so, after a visit to the solar temple of Ritan Park, we crossed the road to Ya Bao Lu, Beijing’s ‘Russiatown’ (and its front running candidate for Weirdest Street). My only personal experience of Russia was a five hour stopover at Moscow airport with nary a ruble for a cup of coffee, so for all I know Ya Bao Lu is as Russian as Omar Shariff. There are Russian speakers (and pidgin Russian speakers) there, many of them hidden away in underground garment markets.There’s also more Cyrillic signage than you can shake a Yevgeny Zamyatin paperback at. There are even places that look suspiciously like Fat Tony’s legitimate businessmen’s club, including establishments that can apparently figure out the logistics behind shipping even more Russian-style crap from the motherland into the heart of China’s capital, presumably on your dime.


Walking around one particularly monstrous shopping mall (four entire floors of which were devoted to shoes lurking behind curtains), we both tired of broadening our horizons. Having had our fill of fur coats and Doctor Zhivago hats and, realizing that I had scraped the very barrel of ironically xenophobic clichés, we left Ancient Treasure Road and headed over to Wangfujing for beer and glass noodles.


It May Be Easter Outside, But in My Heart it’s Spring


“God bless those pagans.” – Homer Simpson

Smarter people than I have questioned the relevance of eating chocolate eggs to celebrate the fact that, as Douglas Adams puts it, “one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change”. Rumours abound that the eggs represent the tomb that the almighty was buried in for four days and that breaking them open represents him kicking down the door with his punctured feet.

Truth is, of course, that Easter (like all good Christian festivals) was just nicked from the pagans. Jakob Grimm (of those Grimms), once pointed out that the German word ‘ostar‘ (or, roughly, “moving towards the sun”) has a similar meaning to the Norse word ‘austr‘ and the Anglo-Saxon ‘eastor‘. The mother-goddess Ēostre was named after the Saxon word for springtime. Other gods and godesses from heathen societies, such as Ishtar (Assyrian goddess of fertility), Osiris (a.k.a. Ausar, Egyptian god of death and resurrection), and Ostara (Norse goddess of exactly the same thing as Ēostre) not only had suspiciously similar-sounding names but were also worshiped during springtime festivals. Sometimes Ēostre is written as ‘Eastre‘, so if you were a big fat genius you could almost crack this fiendishly difficult anagram and put together a theory about the ‘true’ meaning of Easter.

Somehow, this complex mess of cult and occult worship has lead to me hopping around a Chinese classroom like a bunny so that I can pay my rent.

Call me crazy, but is it almost as if all these Easter-inspiring gods were doing the same thing? Is it almost as if invading religions just bulldoze over the stuff that’s already there in the hope that eventually everyone will just forget where it came from?* Is it almost as if you don’t have to be the son of god to understand that ‘death’ and ‘rebirth’ is cyclical and that being afraid to die makes no more sense than being afraid of never having been born in the first place?

Maybe there’s a reason that the author of Death is Not the End recently won the Nobel Prize.

As the sublime writer Joseph Campbell** told us, “Those who know, not only that the Everlasting lives in them but that what they, and all things, really are is the Everlasting, dwell in the groves of the wish-fullfilling trees, drink the brew of immortality, and listen to the unheard music of eternal concord. These are the immortals.” That’s the sort of religious experience I could get behind.

The great character actor Harry Dean Stanton said that part of the reason he has worked with David Lynch more than any other director is because they have a similar outlook on so many things. “Except meditation,” he added. When asked if he believed in mediation at all, Stanton said “of course, but this is meditation. Everything is a meditation.” I’m with Harry Dean on this one. If you can’t take a moment to see the universe in the pavement cracks then you need to slow the fuck down. One of my rituals that I have when commuting (apart from trying to read a decent book with some dude’s rucksack wedged in my ribcage) is to sip a cup of takeaway coffee, quiet my thoughts and see what little ripples turn up in the pond.


An American chap who studied anthropology once showed me an interesting phenomenon. He asked me which way time moved. I thought about it for a second and then drew a straight line in the air. Delighted, he then called my girlfriend over and asked her the same question. She drew a circle in the air. We repeated this experiment with other Westerners and other Chinese people, and exactly the same thing happened each time.

Scientific studies on the influence of ‘culture’ have shown similar results. In one experiment, children were shown a photograph of a tiger in the jungle. Researchers found not only that Eastern and Western people think differently, but that their eye movements indicate that they even focus on different aspects of the same picture: Westerners focusing on the tiger (or ‘content’), East Asians on the jungle (or ‘context’). Interestingly, researchers found that ‘bicultural’ people, raised in two different social systems, can be primed to respond in different ways, indicating that this sort of thinking and behavior is flexible.

My girlfriend says that one reason she doesn’t like a lot of American films (apart from the bleeding obvious) is that they often focus too much on a single character (mostly because Hollywood is great at misunderstanding Joseph Campbell!) In contrast, the four ‘great novels’ of Chinese literature are all named after places.***

Is the difference between ‘a tiger’ and ‘a tiger in the jungle’ so abstract that there’s no right or wrong way of describing it, or should we indeed be nailing people to things because they think time moves differently or because their silly god has a slightly different name and a hat that looks like a massive clitoris?

Yes I am looking at you, Osiris.

I don’t have the answer, but I know that a wise dead guy once told us we should look for the truth, and that the truth shall set us free.

*Perhaps there is even truth in the old superstition that gods and wizards and other Tolkienesque characters simply evaporate if no one is left to believe in them.

**(who once dropkicked a nun in the face by admitting that he believed Jesus was the son of god, but ‘only if we all are’)

***Journey to the West, The Water Margin, Dream of the Red Chamber, The Three Kingdoms. As opposed to, say, Batman, The Graduate, The Hobbit (etc.)


The Hitchhikers Guide to Reality

“Curiouser and curiouser”

I was sitting in a café here in ‘the Stan’, chatting to my arty friend about the circumstances that have led us to Brexit, the Trump presidency and other instances of weird and stupid shit that doesn’t seem to be making the world a better place.

It’s nice, having recently written about games and people’s distraction with them, to see world events like the women’s marches and other instances of people standing up and being counted, as if they suddenly are more interested in the world around them than the ones they’ve been building in Second Life or The Sims.



Before leaving China I was, with some trepidation, having a chat about the country’s lack of protests (the very famous exception from the late 80s not exactly being a popular topic of conversation there). One young Chinese woman was telling me about her visit to Spain where she was talking to an activist who asked her to spread the word in her home country. “Of course,” she said, only to be handed a pile of anti-Chinese-government flyers which she immediately chucked in the bin.

In the café I discussed the seemingly mad but somehow believable conspiracy theory that the Large Hadron Collider has tripped us into some hellish alternative Alice in Wonderland dimension that was foretold in an episode of the Simpsons!* We talked about quantum field theory, non-violent resistance and six more impossible things before breakfast, chatting so much ‘pub physics’ that we probably looked like a Monty Python sketch.


As Winston Churchill says, “Men ** occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” To me, the thought of a young Chinese person fearfully tossing the truth in the bin is sad, but understandable given the cultural context. But the thought of a young American person doing the same, at a time when facts have become meaningless in the face of half-witted debate, where American journalists are arrested and detained just for doing their job, is nothing short of a tragedy.

I could personally give some credence to the theory that we’ve shifted into some bonkers new dimension; that our reality is just another virtual reality; even that our universe is housed in the equivalent of some kind of really powerful PlayStation. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t treat our games very seriously indeed.

*I haven’t seen the episode in question but it sounds like that show, like 70s Doctor Who, got really good at predicting weird crap.

**[and women, natch]


The Batong to Banbury

“When you can take the pebble from my hand…”

My Chinese odyssey has come to an end, not with the bang of celebratory fireworks and shrimp dumplings, but the whimper of having to exit the country the day before my visa expired. A year to the day since I touched down at Terminal 2 of Beijing International Airport, I flew out again, and Im not writing this from a Tongzhou coffee shop but from the lounge of my sister’s flat in Oxfordshire.

I’ve enjoyed using this blog to stretch some writing muscles and share with you some of my adventures and misadventures in one of the most interesting cities I’ve ever visited. It was sometimes overwhelming, often frustrating and not always fun but it was always interesting and I learned a lot. I went out to China with an open mind and no expectations, and I came back with a lot of stories, many new friends and a sense of achievement.

There were a lot of contradictions: I enjoyed most of the food but it didn’t often agree with me. I enjoyed my job as a teacher but I was not overly impressed with the company that I chose to work for. Some of Beijing’s inhabitants were the warmest, friendliest and most helpful people I’ve ever met while others would have happily run me over if it meant beating the traffic light, or kick me to death on the subway if it meant a seat to Wudaoko.

As someone who once spent seven years in the same dead-end job, rarely enthusiastic about the thought of leaving my own flat, I think I did pretty well just getting on the plane in the first place. As someone who spent those same years filling notebooks and journals full of stories and ideas that I was too afraid to share, it has been a pleasure to write this blog and receive such enthusiastic response from my friends and family.

If I have learned anything from my travels to China’s capital it’s that there are more similarities than differences between people, places and cultures (something I have long suspected anyway). Why not go and see for yourself?

In the borrowed words of professor Tolkien, “not all who wander are lost”; or of professor Manheim, “you are always closer to home than you think”.

So long, and I’ll see you on the next adventure.