Smoke free in China.

I wish I could find the photos of my one and only visit to China. They weren’t digital, digital wasn’t available. They were on 35mm film (shot with a Praktica B200 if anyone cares, and I still have it). They are in several packets somewhere.

That was around 1990 and even then, I found China to be nothing like the evil communist empire it was painted by the press. There weren’t many laws, in fact as far as traffic was concerned there seemed to be none at all. It seems to me that as long as you stay out of politics there, you can have a pretty good life.

Sure, people there don’t earn much compared to the West but then everything was so cheap, you don’t need much money at all. If you sold a house in Birmingham you could buy a town in China. The people weren’t oppressed. They were mostly pretty happy.

I mean, if it’s that bad a regime, how come we keep seeing stories about roads being built around someone’s house because they refused to move out, or the one shabby shack in the middle of a brand new housing estate because the shabby-shack owner refused to sell to the developers? In the UK they would have been subject to compulsory purchase and the residents frogmarched out. In China, redevelopment of entire blocks of flats can be held up by one stubborn sod.

We had ‘minders’ while there because it was work, none of us spoke a word of Mandarin and they were terrified of losing us. We were not prevented from photographing anything we wanted, not even inside the government buildings in Tiananmen Square.

Incidentally, Beijing had a lot of street sweepers keeping it clean but the only time I saw one of our minders tense was when he and I were smoking in Tiananmen square. It wasn’t the smoking. It was the cigarette butts. China is very proud of Tiananmen Square. Anywhere else in China you can dump a rusty truck or a dead elephant and nobody cares. In Tianamen Square, you do not drop any litter at all. Not one butt. If you stab someone you will be arrested for getting blood on the tiles. That’s why the tanks stopped for that student.

In China, if you smoke, nobody cares at all. Not in the slightest. They have not become weak little crybabies who demand their government protect them from a smell they dislike. If we ever go to war with China they will kick our arses and one of the main reasons is the Leftie enfeeblement of a large chunk of our population.

In the West we have law upon law against offending the ever-twitching nostrils of the Righteous or hurting their gossamer feelings by saying something not directed at them, to someone they don’t know. Or even saying something they disagree with.

In China, people can still look after themselves. Insult someone in China and they will choose one of the following options:

a) Insult you back while smiling, often in a way that you won’t understand is an insult until days later.

b) Rage at you in Mandarin so fast that even if you can speak the language you will have no idea what he is saying and will be expecting him to go all Jackie Chan on you at any moment.

c) Smack you in the mouth and move on.

Option c does not bring a charge of assault down upon them. They still live in the real world.

It’s now over thirty years since I was there, drinking some perfumed evil spirit with pig farmers, being carried back to the hotel and having to visit the Great Wall the next day. The photos were essential, I don’t remember much of that day.

One thing I do remember was a rare glimpse of the Chinese police. They were moving on a beggar. Gently, but determinedly. The beggar had transgressed by troubling tourists and that was not allowed.

Overall, China is not that bad a place. If you feel strongly about political change, best do it somewhere else. They really don’t like that. They don’t like murderers or rapists or drug dealers either – those are lucky if the police catch them first. Overall though, it’s a pretty nice place to live, I think.

You need to know ‘Lu Wai’ (old foreigner) because you’ll be called that often. It’s not like France or Germany where you can blend in by keeping silent. In China, if you’re not Chinese, you are very noticeable.

You definitely need to know that they drink spirits from tumblers and they have a tradition that the guest’s glass must never be less than full. Take a sip and they top it up. You have no idea how much you’re drinking. Also, if someone lifts their glass and says ‘Gambey’ to you, you are both expected to down it. The buggers have filled yours!

Another useful phrase is ‘Mae win ti’ which means ‘No problem’. You hear that a lot.

An aside (you knew it was coming, didn’t you?) – in Marseille for a conference, some years before the China visit, I was approached by one of those English types who think that all foreigners understand English but are deaf. You just have to shout it at them to get through. He wanted the post office. Which was behind him.

I tolerated him long enough to recall enough O-level French to say ‘Ah, oui, la gare’, and then gave him broken-English directions to the railway station. To get there he first had to turn to face the post office. Never saw him again. Probably for the best.

Can’t do that in China. It’s a very hard language to learn. They have Mandarin and Cantonese, they have many dialects and they have words that can mean very different things depending on the tone of voice it’s pronounced in. You can get a warm handshake or a black eye with the same sentence, depending on your tone.

Incidentally, in the University of Beijing they have a vast library. It contains pretty much everything written in every language plus a lot written only in the Chinese languages. They know a hell of a lot of stuff we don’t, you realise?

Maybe that’s why China isn’t smokefree.

In China, you can smoke free.

In the West… well, we call China ‘oppressive’ because it does not oppress the same way we do.

But we are learning from them. Soon we too will have controlled internet and one-child families.

I wonder how hard it is to move to China. To the Free East.

I think Brian Aldiss was prophetic with his short story ‘All the World’s Tears’. Eric Idle was prophetic also in 1980, with this…

Better get some Mandarin classes. They are going to walk the next world war.


The Hokey-Popey.

The Pope has declared that Halloween is evil. He wants to rename it ‘Holyween’ and have kids all dressing up as saints and praying. It sounds… very dull indeed.

No doubt they will go door to door and regale us with Gregorian monk chants until we throw sweets at them. They will then declare the appearance of the sweets a miracle although if you throw fish instead, a mackerel.

It sounds worse than ‘trick or treat’. I mean, they’ll be back in a month howling Christmas carols until we pay them to stop. Demanding money with monotones.

Ol’ Popey’s sidekick goes further. He declares that Halloween leads to an increase in demonic possessions.

Father Aldo Buonaiuto, of the International Association of Exorcists, which met in Rome at the weekend, said that a spike in demonic possessions in October is down to the phenomenon of Halloween.

I know the Greens want to take us back to the Middle Ages. Seems the Catholics want that too. Demonic possession? Look at the Halloween stuff on sale now. It’s worse than the Christmas tat. An enormous waste of plastic. The only enduring thing is the fake blood which could come in handy when cleaning Local Shop’s new bread slicer on Friday. The rest of it… no self-respecting demon or ghost would be seen alive wearing any of it.

Halloween does not happen until October 31st. It happens for one night. If there is any truth in the demon stuff at all, that one night is the time when the demons can get out. They do not get practice runs. The original Halloween did not start in September. One night. That’s all it is.

Having said that, October is now the month of the antismoker and the antidrinker. The demons might well be out in force. Then of course, there are the clowns.

Halloween is not a Christian festival. Neither are any of their other festivals, really, but this one is and always has been Pagan. Not the modern, Gerald Gardner Pagan. The proper, old ones, of which not much is really known these days.

What is known is that Samheim (the original name) was never about calling up demons. Those early Pagans didn’t want demons around. They were far more concerned with getting rid of them. Hence the bonfires (later shifted to Nov 5th thanks to the convenience of Guy Fawkes, to separate them from Halloween). They’d jump through the flames to ward off any demons that might be following them around.

It was never an evil festival. It was the start of winter, the start of a new year. It was a time to rid yourself of demons before the long dark nights let them take your soul. It was never a good time to call the damn things to you!

They were like that. The new day started when the sun went down. The new year started with the onset of winter. They liked to get the bad stuff out of the way first. A pretty sensible attitude, I’d say.

A random digression. Deosil and Widdershins were the terms used to describe the direction of movement around a circle. We would now say clockwise or anticlockwise but when those terms were invented, clocks hadn’t been.

We now have a generation who are used to digital clocks. Soon there won’t be anyone who knows what ‘clockwise’ means because there is no circle any more. Just changing numbers.

So, will they use the terms deosil and widdershins again, and wonder in the future what we meant by ‘clockwise’?

End digression, begin randomness.

Well, I’ll be out at work for Halloween and possibly at Smoky-Drinky after that so no scaring kids with my plastic body parts this year. They haven’t come here for the last few years anyway.

Seriously though. Holyween? What is this man thinking? Next he’ll want to change Christmas to Decemberween, right in the middle of nosmokingember and nodrinkingember and nopresentsember and capitalismbadember and all the rest of the things the Puritan Crackpots want to call every damn month until every calendar requires an entire tree’s worth of paper and you’ll need a ladder to see the charity nudes at the top.

None of those charity nudes ever show anything, do they? They aren’t all that serious about those charities.

Maybe I should make one. I could use my growing collection of nude celebrity photos. So far I have Sooty, Emu and Basil Brush, and I think I can get hold of images of Bungle and Zippy in a particularly sordid situation. It could be for my own charity, ‘Support the Distilleries’.

All of which has reminded me of something. I knew those words came from memories, not from pure imagination. It’s early yet but what the hell, shops are already selling five-pointed stars and sparkly garlands to represent intestines for the forthcoming sun-worship event now known as Christmas. So have an early Decemberween Mackerel on me.

That site has been silent for four years and it’s now livening up again. Hooray! Much timewasting… well not very much, so far, but there is hope.

But not so much for the Pope, perhaps. He’ll be a New Dementia Statistic if the Righteous get their way.


A New Terror

via @Dick Puddlecote on Twitter comes the latest in paranoid scareware.

Isn’t it delightful? It picks up parts-per-billion of nicotine. It is not intended to detect whether you have been smoking in a rental car or hotel room, there are far cheaper ways of doing that (the cheapest and best is called a ‘nose’). It is intended to detect second and third hand smoke. You know, stuff that doesn’t really exist.

I used to marvel at people buying ‘ghost detectors’ when nobody can say what ghosts are made of. The sellers were amateurs – this new breed sell things to detect the totally undetectable. Stuff nobody can claim to have ever seen. Amazing.

Parts per billion. Sit in that rental car and eat a tomato or a bag of chips. There isn’t much nicotine in either of those things but in an enclosed space with a detector that sensitive, you will be banned from ever hiring a car or hotel room again. Even if you have never so much as seen someone else smoking.

They are making wearable ones too. Oh, the fun to have, giving away cheese and tomato sandwiches to people wearing this thing. There will be total fear at any buffet when the potato salad sets it off, and the wearer notices his wrist flashing red.

“No! No! There is SMOKE in this room! One of you is a SMOKER! We are all going to die! AAAAH!”

Ha! An invention designed to heighten imagined terror right into the top end of heart-attack territory. I wish I’d thought of it. This thing will kill off the antismokers far more efficiently than anything I could dream up, including the dream involving the anvil and the ones involving various forms of heavy machinery with spikes on them. I think the dream-anvil had spikes on it too. Probably. I like spikes.

I must get hold of one, and find the best innocuous substance to set it off. Any Electrofag will do it, of course. You won’t even need to puff it, just press the button for a second and put it back in your pocket. It would set off every detector in the room and when the mob is panicked, you just point at the Dreadful Arnott and say ‘There she is’.

An Electrofag filled with tomato juice… the element would be ruined but they aren’t all that expensive and it would be so worth it. But then it doesn’t need to be that drastic. Nicotine solution in one that doesn’t look anything like an Electrofag, with no flavouring, perhaps with no PG so there isn’t any visible steam.

Every one of us could play ‘Angel of Death’ by setting off every paranoia-detector we pass. Set them off in hotel rooms with a quick squirt under the door. A shot into the air vents of rental cars. Antismokers will be sleeping in the streets and walking everywhere.

Oh wait – the streets are full of smokers…

I really hope this thing takes off big-time. They’ll have absolutely nowhere to hide.

And everything to fear.


Mumblings from the pit

An overfilled Zippo lighter in the dark is like having a little piece of Hell in your pocket. As I discovered this evening.

It was dark on the way to work tonight. It made me feel all Count Dracula, which was nice. Work settles back into fewer days next week but still, I want to have the Halloween story ready for Friday. Just have to check the physics of it all.

The deadline for that story is so I’m on quick visits this week. Just a few fast blasts tonight -

France has a cutlure minister who does not read books and never visits the theatre. Only France could do that.

If you live under the NHS in Wales, your body is their property.

Electrofags should be sold in plain packaging. Even though nobody at all carries their electrofag in the box it came in. The packaging is of no relevance at all. Yet it is the latest Puritan target.

Poundland have fake-Lego models in mystery packs. You don’t know which one you’ll get. Plain-packaged Lego..

They have seen the future,

Back to writing for me…the rift is coming.


Ban the toys.

Ah, back to civilised times. I start work at 6 pm tomorrow and that looks like being standard for a little while. The night is mine once again. The writing candle is lit – we all have our little foibles, for me I have to have a candle burning while I write even though this little room has two filament bulbs, one eco-pointless bulb, two halogens and two LED lights. They aren’t all on but even so, the candle is relevant to the writing, not the lighting.

I should have joined Twitter a long time ago. It is an information tsunami. Tonight it led me to a brilliant talk by Lord Monckton and the real effect of the ‘tax on the rich’. Well of course the rich are unaffected. They are the ones controlling the tax. Duh. It was never for them.

One that caught my eye was the terror of the drones. The drones are scared of… er… drones.

Some guy evidently used his radio-controlled toy helicopter, with camera attached, to try to watch a football game without paying. He was arrested under anti-terror laws. It was a stupid thing to do anyway, those things have a flight time of 20 minutes at best. He’d have had to bring it in to recharge and refuel just as the critical goal happened.

These ‘civilian drones’ have been around for a long time. I had a go at driving one myself at the local model club’s open day a few years back. I was crap at it. In those not-long-ago days they were called ‘radio controlled model aircraft’ and some are very impressive indeed. The one I was allowed to try was a very basic slow-flying one and I soon handed control back to the instructor. I’ll stick with boats.

It’s not a suitable hobby for me. Buying or building is incredibly expensive and every amateur crash has a three-figure repair bill. It does look like fun but as a hobby it’s one for those with a lot of disposable income.

There is also the question of insurance. The models are often quite large and capable of doing a hell of a lot of damage if they hit someone. The helicopters, especially, can kill if they crash. Sharp, shattered bits fly off in all directions at great speed. Those engaged in the hobby have up to a million pounds’ worth of liability insurance.

There was one great local story of a helicopter model that went out of control and flew into a Ferrari showroom. Apparently the model owner just put his controller away and went home. I don’t know if it’s true and I’m not going to ask the car showroom in case they think it was me.

I heard from one of the fly-guys that if your model has a forced landing (crash) in a field, it’s better in a field of sheep than a field of cows. The sheep will be all at the far end of the field when you go to pick up the bits. The cows will have investigated and stomped it into the ground. Take-home message: don’t be a sheep. When the weird shit lands, investigate and stomp.

Now all these toys are ‘drones’ just like the military ones. They are all capable of carrying more than their own weight of Semtax and we are all going to die.

Reality – they can carry a little digital camera if it’s balanced just right and maybe a sparkler or a Roman Candle. It’s really hard to make them carry anything of substance.

If the models really could carry enough explosives to blow up a shopping mall or a football stadium, the local model shop would have refitted with gold shelving courtesy of Al Qaeda. These models can do no such thing. If they could, the terrorists would have been using them for a very long time. Beats the blow-up waistcoat, for sure.

The Government want drones to watch us all and they don’t want us to have them in case we watch them back. It’s not a complex equation.

If you are engaged in the world of flying radio-controlled models, start fighting back right now.

It’ll be too late when you are classed as some kind of paramilitary drone operator.


Okay. Writing candle is burning. Have to go and make up some stuff to scare people. It does feel a little futile these days though.

Salty salty, killee monkey…

In the olden days (which were in black and white, I have photos to prove it) sailors took barrels of salt pork on voyages. Not lightly salted bits of bacon, these were whole barrels of salt with cooked pork buried in them. They didn’t die and they didn’t know why the salt worked. Remember, these people knew that drinking salt water would drive you mad while living on heavily salted pork. Nobody ever said ‘Hey, hang on a minute…’

Incidentally, as proof of my contention that all the old monochrome works of art were coloured in when colour was invented in the Seventies, they missed one. There really was no such thing as colour in those days and that’s why we oldies struggle with it even now. 64 million colours on my monitor? I’ve only just got to grips with seven – and indigo isn’t real.

Back to salt. Sailors managed to get around the planet living on seriously salted roast pork and rum without dying of saltiness. More people die of salt deprivation than of oversalting according to a study I just made up like everyone else does these days. There was a reason for all that salt.

Clostridium, the bacterial genus containing gas gangrene and botulism, can’t live in it. Food packed in salt won’t let them grow.

Not much else grows either. Microbial life is like all other life, it needs water to live and salt has this habit of sucking the water out of things. So, salty things are safe to eat.

If you wanted to kill lots of people – or rather, if you wanted lots of people to kill themselves on command, one easy way would be to make them scared of an essential nutrient. Like, perhaps, niacin. Nicotinic acid. Derived from nicotine. Vitamin B3, without which you experience pellagra. Which looks a lot like ebola. That’s probably a coincidence. Probably.

Or you can get people scared of salt. It comes out of the ground. You are eating dirt. Why not pay more for ‘pure’ dirt which is nothing of the kind? Pure sodium chloride is white. If it’s pink it probably has manganese chloride in it, which is not dangerous but you’ll soon be told it is. If it’s not white it certainly is not pure salt.

The salt scare woirks so well that people admitted to hospital with clear signs of salt deprivation are put onto a low-salt diet. And a saline drip. The irony goes ‘whoosh’ over their heads and even comes back for another flypast.

And yet, salt reduction continues. Okay, maybe there is too much salt in processed foods but it isn’t there for fun. It extends shelf life by inhibiting bacteria and enhances flavour. When I am working hours that make fresh-cooking impossible, I do not add salt to the microwave crap I live on during those times. I know they are already salted.

Salads are inedible without salt. A stick of celery is wonderful with the bitten end salted each time. Boiled eggs with no salt? Unthinkable!

Yet the drones believe salt will kill them when it is one of the most important things for keeping them alive.

What will they fear next? Sugar, perhaps? The fuel that brains run on?

Oh, right. Of course…