Wee Bro had managed to find himself a promising job as the editor of China Economic Review (CER). Both Sandra Pang and I were pleased, seeing his appointment as an opportunity for advancement not only for my brother Joel but for the rest of us. China Economic Review was founded in 1990 in the hopes it would take on the mantle of the dying but much lamented Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), which reduced itself from biweekly to come out periodically until its last edition in 2009. It had been owned since its 1946 founding by local tycoon-philanthropists, the Kadoorie family, then the venerable Jardines, then the Hong Kong Bank, the South China Morning Post in Rupert Murdoch's day, and in the end, the last to hold the torch, Dow Jones, which owns the Wall Street Journal.
CER had no such illustrious past. It was owned by one Graham Earnshaw, an ex-Daily Telegraph man I mistakenly thought might have shared the political outlook of my favourite and only conservative newspaper in Fleet Street. But his attitudes were more aligned with the typical liberal left that had dominated journalism forever, it seemed. I contacted my old East Anglian Daily Times chum, David Twiston Davies, long ensconced on the Daily Telegraph supervising the obituaries, who told me that a number of his colleagues were most interested in Mr Earnshaw's venture in China.
Joel had a stable of regular contributors, one a former FEER man. But there was plenty of work to do and I was up for it. The first was a big cover story about the rising Chinese middle class, which involved a lot of Googling to acquire solid information that was not too out of date—always a problem when looking for free stuff on the Internet.
While I met him often enough, I never got to know Mr Earnshaw. He was a man who kept himself at a distance. He had a pronounced limp, despite which he had undertaken to walk across China and did a day's march on weekends when he could.
Sadly, Joel's ride at CER was short-lived and bumpy. He was plagued with meetings with Earnshaw at all hours, not at all unusual with publishers I have known in fact and fiction. They soon take on Lord Copper’s airs, as in Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop. One publisher I had in Canada would go through the mail every day and insist that I attend him so he could consult with me about something that caught his interest. This had me to-ing and fro-ing from my office to his for an hour or two every morning. Another publisher had me in for long talks about how we were to cover an event like an election. There was no question but that we would do it in the usual way, giving fair coverage to each candidate. We had no differences on this or anything else of substance. He simply wanted to air his views on journalistic ethics at length. When I protested that these talks, which took an hour or two twice a week, were a waste of time and needlessly added to the length of my working day, he protested. He thought it entirely reasonable that if the publisher of the New York Times wanted to consult his editor, he would be perfectly entitled to do so. I replied that his analogy was imperfect, because I was not only the editor but also 90 per cent of the editorial staff.
Joel was more impatient than I; such things and various instructions with which he disagreed ended up in an impasse that resulted in him leaving within a few months.
During this period, I again scrambled about for work, with CER becoming a third to half of my income. Sandra was also able to supply the odd press release from Pronto Communications, which had accounts with a Dutch merchant bank, ABN AMRO, Absolut vodka, a major US shopping mall industry association and various one-off jobs as well as her longstanding consultancy with her old school chum, Carmen Yeung, owner of Together Expo, which organised booths at the Beijing Coal Fair.
As I recall, Joel's exit from CER was more gradual than his other sorties. In the process, he advanced my name as a replacement, and Earnshaw and I eventually met in the Foreign Correspondents Club. I cannot say we hit it off, but he was pleased that I had actual experience of life in China, with more than two years in Wuhan.
I was one of two candidates for the job, up against Tim Burroughs, a BA holder (Class of '98) from the University of York who had studied Mandarin and belittled others' skills in the language. When we met, he told me he was the son of an unsuccessful lawyer and that he didn't read books, which I thought odd for a fellow who majored in English at uni.
Later on, we had a curious disagreement. He insisted that the "Met," the London Metropolitan Police, policed the City of London, while I held that an independent force, the City of London Police, did so. He was quite cross when I was proved right and was not at all interested in my explanation of how this ancient right derived from the ascension of William the Conqueror back in 1066. Having worked at Euromoney, between Blackfriars Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral—apart from my fascination with history—I delighted in the quirks that the City's ancient rights conferred.
Pronto Communications—in which Joel was a director and I was now an associate, having a business card with my own Chinese name, Ma Guo Ming—had rented a luxury flat in Shanghai, a city whose heft, style and scale reminded me very much of New York. Although officially based in Hong Kong, lodged in a computer file of an accountant's office in Gloucester Road in Wanchai, CER's principal operations were in Shanghai. This was one of the many things that made Joel uneasy. CER occupied substantial space—the better part of a floor of a substantial office building in Shanghai's central business district. Joel was also worried that it had no standing with the Communist Party's Propaganda Committee, which meant the operation was technically illegal. But in those days so much more was tolerated than it is today.
I stayed in the flat for three weeks—one of many luxury buildings within a gated compound, with manicured shrubbery along neatly paved streets and roads separating the best quality apartment blocks I had seen in China. While there, I learned more of the operation and why Joel had come a cropper. His role was rather like mine as editor at Montreal Business Magazine, more of an editorial manager than the free-wheeling editor he expected to be.
In that job in the mid-'90s, I did not mind the publisher Mark Weller, who had no journalistic experience, taking the lead, as he knew the business community he wanted to reach and ordered this and that. After one such meeting, to which I invited Joel on one of his visits to Montreal, Joel took umbrage at Mark's attitude towards me. But I saw my tactic of carrying out his wishes and occasionally advising against a course I deemed inadvisable as the best way forward. At these points, he usually took my advice. My Montreal Business Magazine editorship was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, as I was simultaneously the editor of The Suburban multi-edition weekly. It nonetheless persisted for two years, during which we eventually parleyed the magazine into becoming a supplement in the national daily, the Toronto Globe and Mail.
I had been familiar with newspaper publishers as long as I could remember. The careers and antics of Lord Northcliffe, Hearst, Beaverbrook, Lord Thomson, the Whites, Peters and McConnells had been the stuff of after-dinner conversations throughout my childhood. My mother even won a few hundred dollars from a television quiz show for knowing the life of William Randolph Hearst back to front. Thus, I continued these interests into adulthood, following the careers of Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black, reading whatever could be read about them. And positively delighting in Robert Morley playing Lord Northcliffe in "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines."
Joel insisted the lines of command should be precisely defined: the publisher would take care of financial matters and the editor editorial matters, and between the two there should be fixed a great gulf. He evidently did not know what Rupert Murdoch told the editor of the Times or Sunday Times (forget which), when he bought them from Lord Thomson. When the editor made the usual pitch for editorial independence, Murdoch said: "Why should you have all the fun?"
Which is how I regarded Wee Bro's complaints at the time, somewhat unjustly. True, he combined them with criticisms that CER was being run like a pirate ship without standing with the Communist Party's Propaganda Committee. In the days of Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, when things were loosening up, I confidently—though foolishly—thought that the Communist Party itself would fade away rather like the Church of England. Unwisely, though not out of line with the optimism of the day, I expected the efficacy of commercial arbitration, already in widespread use, would morph itself into something approaching rule of law. But few foresaw what the ascendency of Xi Jinping would mean in those free-wheeling days.
I should have appreciated Joel's problem more than I did. Of course, he didn't help by peppering me with challenging questions on economic matters, which I fended off satisfactorily—much to his barely concealed annoyance. In some ways, it was good preparation, him saying that it was important to get the language right so one could respond to various economic questions with the jargon of the day. In business, buzz words are here today and gone tomorrow. I could understand basic principles well enough, but if one's expressions were out of date this would not do in business journalism, and I had to admit that my economic vocabulary—beyond stocks and bonds—went back to my Euromoney days in mid-'80s London.
Joel's problem was not being able to take advantage of favourable winds as they blew by, the way our father did in the days of the Montreal Herald, when he drove the daily circulation up from 15,000 to 50,000. Dad used to say that if you weren't going up, you're going down. Implicit in that was to avoid down drafts.
Once Dad saw the sports department discard a stunning photo of Rocky Marciano decking Johnny Greco. The sports department didn't want to use it because they had put their money on Greco and were disappointed with the result, so clearly evident in Dave Bier's spectacular photograph. Well, Dad just took the photo and covered the tabloid's front page with it, winning widespread disapproval for giving such prominence to a sports picture. That would have been forgivable if the Canadiens had won the Stanley Cup, but to give it to a low-brow boxing picture was too tasteless for words. But such voices were muted when the paper was sold out and the fight was the talk of the town.
Which is not to say one should fall to every passing temptation. These things are a matter of judgment. One's publication should stick to its core mission and not hare off into new directions willy-nilly. I always thought good writing and good editing were a bit like handling a troika, Russia's three-horse-drawn sleigh. It's matter of getting the best performance from the team without having them splay out too far and work against each other, and yet not having the horses so close they are getting in each other's way. Yet there is no one way of doing it, because changing terrain dictates having more of one and less of the other.
Both Earnshaw and Burroughs, when I was taken on staff, shared a blinkered approach bent on devising a plan and working through it no matter what. None of that cheekiness one might find in the Economist, with its cover showing Irish hooligans throwing petrol bombs under the head: "Playing Fields of Ulster." Exhibiting the same lack of humour and verve, both the Montreal Daily News and the Hong Kong iMail were prisoners of one idée fixe or another.
It was a different idea in each case, but both were obsessively fixated to an operational model that had worked elsewhere under circumstances that bore little resemblance to those that these publications faced. How I remember Bruce Taylor, then the editor of the Montreal Sunday Express, telling me with great pride that his edition that day was just what "your father would have done with the old Herald." I smiled wanly, realising that 1970 was a long way from the late 1940s. I felt certain that had Dad been in charge of Sunday Express that day, he would not have been living up to an ideal of the '40s.
They were all the same that way. The HK iMail wanted to become a born-again London Daily Mail and the Montreal Daily News wanted to combine the images of their two owners, something of Pierre Peladeau's irreverent and successful Journal de Montréal, and the tits-and-bums tea-tent tabloid the London Daily Mirror had become under Robert Maxwell. But without the tits and bums, of course, because that would have offended the sensibilities of the leftwing staff, whose opinions were unwisely considered important.
In each of these cases, they made no attempt to please the people to whom they were selling. They simply decided to please the readership they wished to please with no thought to whether it existed or not.
Earnshaw clearly had his heart in the venture and had taken great risks to make it a success. That had won my highest respect from the start and endures to this day. But it wasn't long before Joel came home looking increasingly unhappy, in a position that was no better than mine in some ways, submitting work for inspection by Earnshaw and not being heeded at all. That was okay with me at Montreal Business Magazine but not with Joel at CER. So things came sputtering to an end.
I stayed on as deputy editor as Burroughs became the editor, though nothing changed. There was no reason for us to stay in Shanghai, cut off from reliable internet service. Wuhan internet had been acceptable. There, apart from being denied access to Wikipedia's Tiananmen Square entry, and having satellite images of China blurred out here and there, most everything was accessible with sufficient speed to be useful. But Shanghai would block the BBC when they felt something critical was expected or refuse to let you read Hong Kong's South China Morning Post when they feared something untoward would be said.
Shenzhen, across from Hong Kong, was worse in many ways. One would key in a something usually of a commercial nature, and it would not come up or would come up after a long delay. I got the feeling that the request was being monitored for approval. There were times when it was denied. Although I would have liked to live on the mainland and would have happily returned to Wuhan where I had friends, Shenzhen and Shanghai were hopeless because of the lack of internet access. So Hong Kong is where Burroughs and I stayed, living not far from each other in Kennedy Town.
I was happy enough in Hong Kong, occasionally living on Lamma Island when Joel was in California on various jobs, and Sandra was off pursuing new business from London to Shanghai. At these times, I was needed for dog-sitting duties because Sandra's husky-chow mix Cosco needed to be fed and watered. But the CER job was demanding, and Burroughs was hypercritical of my efforts, most often with Earnshaw's approval.
I soon discovered that far from the Daily Telegraph mentality I was hoping for, the political mentality at CER was the usual ubiquitous leftist muddle that had captured anglospheric journalism worldwide. Such was not seen as leftism, of course, but as obvious decency and normality, the only possible attitude, with all else being kooky rightist wingnuttery. When I, trying to be co-operative, suggested that hydro-electric power replace coal where possible, outlining opportunities in the Three Gorges on the Yangtze and other sites of the Pearl and the Yellow rivers, Burroughs was at first interested but fell away when he discovered I had massive Hydro-Quebec dams in mind. What he wanted was more like a ma-and-pa, tie-dye operation, something cute and politically picturesque.
There was the odd interesting task, like finding back-street billions that were largely unregistered and untaxed. Such was fairly obvious to me as I walked to work in Wuhan between the gleaming streets. It was where the much of the people's business was done in a totally unsupervised way. The showy storefronts and restaurants on the main thoroughfares had very few people, while the back lanes were teeming with makeshift shops. Impromptu restaurants with trestle tables covered by plastic sheeting were supplied with noodle and rice concoctions from giant woks simmering on oil drum braziers burning coal and yesterday's chopsticks. In between stood micro-marts, which would be rigged for sleeping quarters to accommodate a family of four at night. And in obscure corners, there were barber-shop brothels, where one was shorn in public and other bodily needs attended to in thinly partitioned private sections.
During the day these back lanes took on a special charm with what looked like unofficial housing that resembled a village Geppetto might have lived in, in Disney's Pinocchio. So we at CER made a fuss about them being untaxed "back-street billions." But I wished them well and hoped that the emperors of regulation were far away and remained so.
Our course, every time I returned to Hong Kong for my three-month China visa renewals, I noted that there were always new rules in place. Motorcycle taxis disappeared, then came compulsory seat belt enforcement, and non-emergency honking of car horns ceased. I remember thinking that there was more freedom in Red China than there was anywhere else in the world I had been, and it was disappearing in an ever-tightening regulatory python.
If it weren't for the pressure of work, which was incessant, I would have enjoyed the one task that advanced my understanding of China on a regular basis. That was my obligation to read and review a book about China every month. Given that I was the only one on staff who seemed to read books, I was the obvious choice. Of course, of all the reviewing tasks, these are the most arduous, because one must spend hours reading a book quite apart from the time one spends reviewing it. This is quite unlike movies, restaurants, art exhibitions and concert reviewing, where one spends an hour or two on site and retires to write the review.
I had always reviewed nonfiction by telling the story the book had to tell, devoting no more than five per cent of the space to my assessment of the work's quality. As a long-time reader of the New York Times book review section, the New York Review of Books and The Times [of London] Literary Supplement, these were the expository reviews I most enjoyed.
So I emerged from reading a few works on the Tiananmen Square riot in 1989 with a more pro-Beijing attitude than when I started, after considering the numbers and the terrain involved. I concluded that if a million angry students appeared on Canada's Parliament Hill like that, Ottawa would have called in the tanks of the Royal Canadian Dragoons with no complaints from me.
I noticed that the Wikipedia entry today makes scant reference to the number of troops first deployed or very much of the early days of the demonstration, but I remember there were about 5,000 formed up with rifles, probably unloaded, strung in five ranks along one side of the square, which was the length of four football fields. Arrayed against them at that early point were 100,000 students, though Wikipedia says at its peak there were 1,000,000 there. Wikipedia also says there were 250,000 troops "deployed to Beijing," which doesn't mean they got to the square itself.
What struck me from the first was the initial mistake of having the troops in their "party hats," as I said at the time, looking non-threatening. Living in China, I had always been struck by the pleasant appearance of PLA soldiers I saw on the street. Presumably, there were killer dog units in the PLA, brutal licentious soldiery whoring their way through the fleshpots of Hainan Island, but I never saw them on the streets in China's major cities. They all looked like nice boys a girl could take home to her mother.
And these were the troops lining one side of the square about five days, having to urinate, defecate, eat and drink, all the while simpering to the truculent and ever encroaching crowd, wearing their nice walking out uniforms with their best forage caps. One picture even had flowers in the barrels of their rifles.
It was obvious that Beijing's first idea was to try to placate them with a charm offensive, but it was clear that that was not working as the students poured in, numbering about 100,000—against 5,000 of these nice PLA boys. I am not sure we can trust the Wikipedia numbers of one million—10 times the number of students that were there at first—and I have long lost the books in my nomadic life since.
Another key factor was that there were only four points of entry and exit from the square. Two were clogged with incoming students, one was held by the authorities, and one was congested with civilians and soldiers, a site of riotous skirmishing from time to time as military reinforcements and supplies tried to get through with sporadic success.
As anyone who has dealt with student riots knows, they are the most dangerous of all rioters as they are young, fearless, at the height of their physical powers and, in the presence of females, seek to impress and rival each other to gain their attention by performing acts of conspicuous daring. They are immune to official charm and refuse to be intimidated by the sheer—or should I say mere?—majesty of state.
It was my thinking that the 5,000 troops would have been enough had they been helmeted and in battledress, accompanied by armoured cars with machineguns they could test-fire from time to time, let loose smoke grenades and generally appear menacing, frightening girls and disheartening boys. It would also be good if they could have mustered 5,000 who looked at least as threatening as the Beefeaters at the Tower of London. Had they done that from the start, 5,000 might well have been enough to have more people exit than enter the square.
The televised "tankman" incident, which captured the world's attention, struck me as silly at the time. First of all, there was enough space on both sides of the tank for other tanks to pass by. What the incident revealed to me was indecision on the part of the authorities. I saw that tank commander contacting his troop leader for instructions, who undoubtedly contacted his squadron leader, who contacted his regimental commander—each officer contacting each rung all the way up the hierarchical ladder and no one being able to make a decision without consulting the guy above.
I would not have been surprised if the go-around tankman option had been omitted from the tank commander's initial report and wasn't appreciated as an option by those with sufficient rank to take advantage of it until the whole world saw the tankman show on TV hours later. One of those "for a want of a horseshoe nail" outcomes, I'll wager.
As for the rest of the disaster, the problem boiled down to the people not leaving the square any faster than they possibly could. There were only two points of egress for the rioters, the PLA having by now blocked the other two for their own use. The soldiers in their armoured vehicles, never known for their acuity even in broad daylight, were now blinded as twilight faded into night. Clutches of diehard students battled on while most of the crowd, said to run as high a million at this time, did their best to funnel out of the square. It was a bit like draining a large full bathtub through a clogged drain. The rate of egress was painfully slow.
But this was not visible to the soldiers ordered to clear the square soonest. They were battling what they took to be stubbornly resisting students, who were probably willing to fall back if they could, but they couldn't. I believe this was the main cause of the thousands of wrongful deaths in what many came to call a dragonade.
As the only new books I reviewed were about China, and in short supply, some turned out to be turkeys. One called "Sun Tzu and Project Battleground" was an example of what was being sold back then, and probably still is, to take advantage of the China craze that had befallen the world. One simply hooks up to a famous name, like Sun Tzu, the Warring States Chinese general of 300 BC, (Clausewitz of the East), and applies his strategic advice, however spuriously, to business dealings to sell one's book.
Military terms and analogies are so attractive to businessmen that they often seek to have themselves and their activities described in such a manner, so they can apply terms like "strategic" and "logistics" to imbue themselves with the life-and-death importance that military matters impose. As I was interested in military affairs long before I became interested in business, I had read Sun Tzu, where indeed I had found value, far more than in "Cloudy Clausewitz."
But while Sun Tzu is of greater use to business, and far more dramatic in his conclusions, his most dramatic moments are the least applicable to business, because rarely, if ever, do business ventures demand one put all at risk in one Gotterdammerung moment.
Sun Tzu is of greater value in his more prosaic moments, when he advises one to know one's strengths and weaknesses in detail. Not simply to be aware of them, but to have them measured and memorised. Few do, of course; thus, few can wield their powers as well as those who have an intimate acquaintance with the actual extent of their forces. But this is too unromantic to serve as a business book theme.
Among the book reviews, Brook Larmer's basketball saga, “Operation Yao Ming," was a real eye-opener, showing to what extent the Communist Party will go to be victorious in the class struggle.
In the 1960s, the Cultural Revolution swept China, just as the Great Leap Forward had in the 1950s. In those days, the West regarded China in much the same way we regard North Korea today, as a mysterious no-go zone, an Orwellian "Nineteen-Eighty Four" Eastasia we Oceanians loved to hate.
While my interest in sport can be lost in a thimble, I was aware with some pride as a Canadian that one of our number invented basketball. I also noted that the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) in Springfield, Massachusetts, where the game was first played in 1891, was a British institution that had first come to North America via my hometown of Montreal, then the second city in the biggest empire the world has ever known. So I was doubly pleased to read of the impact a Canadian invention had in the world's oldest empire.
In short, the Y's efforts to spread itself via basketball was one of the great success stories of late 19th/ early 20th-century China. First designed to be played indoors during inclement weather, it could be played on nearly any hardened flat surface with a ball and a basket. Thus, it spread throughout China.
It even turned out to be compatible with communist social theory, which was supervising life in detail down to how children arranged their pencils. Basketball also provided opportunities to demonstrate how socialist co-operation triumphed over capitalist competition—even if it didn't.
But in those days, Red China was an international pariah shunned by all but the Iron Curtain countries. Officialdom, craving international recognition denied to them diplomatically, planned to secure it through sport competitions.
China was already advanced in ping-pong, or table tennis, as it was formally called. It started as small after-dinner entertainment in upper-crust England, with a row of books acting as the net. Before World War I, it had come to India and the Far Eastern station as an after-dinner activity for officers in the Indian Army. In the 1930s, Edgar Snow commented in "Red Star Over China" that the Communist forces in the Chinese Civil War had a "passion for it," which he found "bizarre,” notes Wikipedia.
And so it spread. The Chinese excelled in this sport as no other. It was also one of those few games that men and women could play together sharing similar performance levels, thus extending its social range.
Trouble was, no one took ping pong seriously. What they wanted was to star in a "big ball sport." While baseball and soccer—unlike American football and rugby for example—offered opportunities for players of smaller physiques to excel, these games required playing fields that China found difficult to provide at a time when it led the poverty league tables.
And while China was excelling in basketball, their players were diminutive compared to Westerners, putting them at a permanent disadvantage.
So they simply set out to breed their way out of the problem. As this was a national diplomatic problem, it was given the highest priority, even designated as a matter of "national security." There were two principal groups that took on the project: the People's Liberation Army and the Shanghai Sharks basketball team.
The idea was to find tall basketball players, male and female, and have them breed. Basketball's natural selection process tended to gather the tallest players available. After that, this national eugenics programme became more focused. The authorities snatched tall children from their mothers' arms at the age of 14 and shipped them to an army camp for basketball training six days a week. In the end, the programme achieved its objectives. The PLA's Wang Zhizhi, who was the first to join America's NBA, grew to 7'1", while Yao Ming, who later joined the NBA, grew to 7'6". The average NBA player's height is 6'6", says Google. They both did well in the NBA, but Yao stuck with his Chinese roots while Wang defected. But Wang later recanted, returned home after apologising to officialdom and lived a life of respectability.
What struck me about the whole affair was the length to which the communists will go to achieve social engineering objectives, using ruthless wartime measures in peacetime. Even though I have little interest in sports, I found the Yao Ming tale the most profound experience of my time at China Economic Review.
Which was coming to an end.
One surviving connection with Wuhan was my friendship with Ilya Deng, who had replaced our one Chinese English speaker in the office when she left to take up a post teaching English at a local school. Ilya, who was quite a beauty, was also a model for an artist whose work I admired greatly and offered to market in Hong Kong. I was confident I would have many takers—silly me!—and spent some money on promotional literature, having it translated with full colour illustrations of the art.
Between doing odd jobs for Pronto Communications and sending out job applications, I kept myself busy. But now my 60 years on the planet were beginning work against me. And sadly, there were no takers at the galleries. It was one of those things where one was not part of the in-crowd, the same attitude I encountered at the weekly Kerryman in Tralee 25 years before, where submitted work would not even be considered because it had not been submitted by the right people with the proper introductions.
What makes this relevant to my leaving China Economic Review was CER’s similar refusal to use—or even consider—my suggested cover picture for a story on China's "one child policy." I imagined a knockout image by Ilya’s artist. It combined Norman Rockwell's warmth with Alex Colville's chill. A most arresting cover. What's more, I knew I could get it free because the artist could have used its publication in CER in his own promotional material, which I would have helped him produce.
But Burroughs just said no. And I knew Earnshaw would back him, as he backed him in everything else. It was time to go, and I went with the minimum of discussion.
Nicola Nightingale, an Englishwoman and fellow journalist, had been a profound disappointment for me since the day we met her 15 years before when I first came to Hong Kong. Back from my sojourn in Sri Lanka, she gave me a scolding on the footpath on Lamma Island for being an unauthorised war correspondent chasing Tamil Tigers. I was touched by what sounded like genuine concern for my welfare and also that my brother had characterised my paltry activities there in such an heroic light.
What made Nicola such a personal disappointment was that we both shared a passion that what we could not share. And as soon as we first met we greeted each other such joy of great expectations to come, only to collide like two lacrosse balls instantly repelling one another when we discovered that our attitudes to the objects of our passion differed so.
We shared a passion for the writings of Rudyard Kipling with me loving his work and she hating it. It always intrigued me why someone would spend her university years studying someone she loathed. While there was never any question of us becoming romantic, I always longed for someone who I could share such a profound interest in a positive way.
Kipling was the only author who could make me cry, particularly his "Daughter of the Regiment", though that was not the only one. As our social circles overlapped, there would be moments, in her Fabian socialist mode, when she would make a remark about Kipling having a change of heart about the justice of the British imperial mission, in his poem "Recessional", for example. At which point I would counter with an arcane point that would elude everyone's understanding and we were the only ones who knew what we are talking about. Despite their argumentative nature, I found these infrequent exchanges oddly gratifying.
About this time, while scratching about for any editorial job I could do, answering any advertised position that seemed suitable, I ran into one Angela Leary, soon to become my Tasmanian devil, immediately after a party on Lamma Island, where I was then staying with Wee Bro. It was pretty much love at first sight, or so we both imagined. There were warning signs even then. She was a vegetarian, an animal rights partisan, believed in feminism, technocratic authoritarianism and other unpalatable stuff.
She was a lively Australian. who grew up in Tasmania, and whose surviving family, now whittled down to an a married sister, a cousin or two, who lived in Melbourne except for a brother who was still in Tasmania, processing pre-cooked McDonalds french-fries for export to most of Asia.
Angela had a high-paying job - HK$45,000 a month - as writer for the Hong Kong Government Information Service and had been part of the Fairfax Media apparatus in Australia both in Hobart, the Tasmanian capital and in Canberra.
I soon moved in with her, in a large flat in Shek Tong Choi near Kennedy Town at the west end of Hong Kong Island. I had to overlook her leftism, her animal rights passion, something called Mindfulness that seemed to be a species of Buddhism, and a strong feminist streak, the wisdom of which she assured she could convince me one day. To tell the truth, I looked forward to her arguments on that point, but they soon petered out as they were unavailing and easily countered. All gweilo girls were infected with some sort of "edgy" meme in those days, and perhaps still are. But armed with my usual CCI - cheerful Canadian indifference - I carried on regardless in relative good humour.
She was glad to have me share her life, as she had absent-mindedly, perhaps under the influence of alcohol, taken on tasks that required much extra work and long hours and was happy to have me do them. This suited me too, and I took on what seemed to be menial tasks, but turned out to be richly rewarding in terms of the vast amount of information the work provided. The money wasn't bad either so savings resumed their happy northerly course.
One task was to transcribe voice recordings of a confidential gathering of highly-paid experts on just about everything that could interest Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia. Each expert gave papers and questioned one another over several days. One might have thought the task would be entirely donkey work, but I found myself Googling for the spelling of place names in the sands of Arabia or some information that would make a veiled reference or a passing reference intelligible. Never had I encountered a task that gave me such an overview of the current geo-political economic scene of the Asia Pacific region so I was as grateful what I learned from the work as I was getting paid for it. The fact that I had to type it out also assisted me in committing what I had learnt to memory.
Using my editing skills more, I jumped into a few masters degree papers, which were of varying quality; one that I remember was the Hong Kong system of recruiting, training and retaining housemaids from the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. There was much of interest here, but the one thing that sticks in my mind about the task was that it pays to be unattractive if one is a housemaid if the woman of the house has anything to say about hiring. In most cases the most attractive woman - all things being equal - will get the job. But in the domestic helper business beauty is a definite liability lest the man of the house fall prey to temptation.
While the bloom was still on the rose, Angela and I decided to go to Australia for a holiday and to meet the folks as we were thinking of a permanent union. Our friends thought we were the perfect couple - we even looked alike. When times were good, they were very good. On our return from Australia, we would go directly to Wuhan for a few days as I was missing my old friends there and anxious to show Angela the town as I knew it.
We would first fly to Melbourne from Hong Kong, which I was surprised to learn was farther away than Vancouver was to St John's, Newfoundland, the entire breadth of Canada. That turned out to be not the last thing that brought Canada to mind.
It was a sweltering mid-January morning when we arrived in Melbourne, which was not surprising given the expected southern hemispheric seasonal inversion. Angela even poured a half glass of water on my head in a mischievous, playful gesture that marked the "line crossing" initiation as we flew over the equator, being my first time to do so. British soldiers going to the Falklands War were so dunked as they crossed the line.
I had once supposed it would be a brilliant idea to manufacture "Australian globes". As there is no up and down in space, there is no reason to think of the northern hemisphere as being on top any more of thinking of the southern end was on the bottom. I thought I was about to make a million selling upside-down globes, but it wasn't long before I discovered the problem. Conceptually, the idea was clever enough, but physically, there was too little going on in the southern hemisphere, and far, far too much water. All one is left with overturning the globe is South America, sub-Saharan Africa and Australia. A chunk of Indonesia and that's it.
Still it was interesting to see Australia. Even if the customs officer, with a disconcerting hoop earring questioned me with disturbing severity, thinking my arrival was a covert bid at immigration. I was only slightly comforted by the large Queen's crown on his polo shirt which looked too casual to be what it was, the uniform of HM Australian Customs, that might easily been mistaken for beach wear more suitable in a lifeguard.
Once out of the airport into a sweltering mid-January Melbourne morning, we bundled ourselves into a cab and headed into town. Nothing much to report here. It looked much like every other airport road I had travelled in Hong Kong, Singapore, Amsterdam or Toronto.
More striking was what was on the radio. Except for the Australian accents, it seemed I might have heard the same thing on morning radio in Canada with a hectoring feminist demanding this and that, then a professor yattering on about how the government wasn't do it all it could for aboriginal peoples. It sounded exactly what I would hear on the CBC morning show in Montreal except for the accents.
We were greeted by Angela's kindly older sister and given a cup of tea. When we reported there was no sleep on the plane and looked grateful for an offer of a bed, we were ushered into our bedroom.
Even then I was trying to make something of my surroundings culturally. I noticed from the air as we flew into Melbourne, it looked something like California, with orange terra cotta roofing arrayed about on suburban bungalows. Now inside the house, with its four poster bedstead and floral wall paper, it reminded of the seaside hotel in Somerset's Weston Super Mare where I went to every month for Euromoney as a stone sub. The interior had the look and feel of an English seaside home that stressed pastels.
As much as we craved sleep, we couldn't, so decided go for a walk along nearby Chapel Street, which was the chic shopping street a mile or two from downtown central business district. But no sooner had we risen the day, while still sunny, took on a surprising chill and Angela dove into bags to fetch sweaters, repeating of old saw that there are "four seasons a day in Melbourne".
We hit the streets with a nip in the air that hadn't been there on our way in. But now bundled, we cheerfully crossed a bridge over the Yarrow River, which seemed to be on a scale of the Liffey in Dublin. Chapel Street itself was an charming array of two- and three-storey ginger bread buildings of Victorian or Edwardian vintage. This too reminded me of Ireland.
My first sight of Limerick came to mind as I walked through the high street with Alan Ritchie after arriving at Shannon Airport in 1966. My brother had long treasured his bon mot about Australia that it was a "country populated by one people from one district of one town - the east end London Irish. This is a gross exaggeration, of course but can be made more accurate if restated as "traditionally made up largely of the criminal classes of one district of one city". Of course, it was just that tribe that I had entered and expected to make my own family through marriage.
During my long lost and greatly lamented legislativenews.org days, I had formed comparative views of the four legislatures I covered and their respective members - Canada's, Britain's, America's and Australia's. The Australians were the most rambunctious of the four and had the shortest names for everyone and everything. The Brits were the wittiest and made the best speeches. What's more, they covered the widest area of public affairs. In Australia, the US and Canada, vast areas of legislative territory was undiscussed at the federal level because much was relegated to the states and provinces. Canadians were the most sophisticated and had the longest names, perhaps because the need of having to work in two languages. The Americans were the most sonorous, making long, deep and ringing speeches. What made them interesting was the amount of research they bought to bear in their fact-packed speeches. Each congressman and senator had research facilities that drawfed that of most daily newspapers.
While Australians were more like Britons than others in the Anglosphere, they had the greatest resentment towards the UK and the greater affection for Americans. A measure of Anglophobia stemmed from the fact that so many arrived as convicts, many of whom were Irish with the usual Irish antipathy towards England. This contrasted with Canadians, whose English majority led by Scots ended up sounding so much like Americans that no one could tell them apart. Yet this surface sameness masked a loyalty that manifested itself in the mimicking of Westminster forms and parliamentary procedures.
Angela and I walked along Chapel Street and decided to sample the fare at an outdoor sidewalk cafe, which except for the Aussie accents seemed indistinguishable from a sidewalk cafe in any western city. That is was in the hip and cool style I first saw in Burlington, Vermont, which became ubiquitous globally and perhaps most widely exemplified in Starbucks. But no sooner had our food arrived, a sandwich and coffee, that we were struck by a spattering of rain drops and determined gusts of wind that blew napkins hither and yon.
After wolfing down our sandwiches we caught a tram, which I found disappointing - not a patch on our charming double-deckers in Hong Kong, for which I had developed much affection. The Melbourne tram, a charmless, lumbering single-decker was devoid of all interest except for its complex payment system, which eluded my understanding despite Angela's spirited attempts to explain.
When we got back, we were ready for sleep and enjoyed a welcome two-hour nap. On rising, we discovered family plans to take us out to a Greek restaurant that evening, where we ate and drank heartedly into the night. They were surprised to hear me claim that I knew all the verses to Australia's unofficial anthem, "Waltzing Matilda". They were even more surprised to know that I learned it in school.
Back in the 1950s, when I delivered milk from a horse-drawn cart we still believed in the Empire and loved all those pink bits on the map in our classrooms as the Union Jack that hung there. Doubts were expressed about my claims so I obliged the jam-packed taxi with a full rendition of "Waltzing Matilda" on the way home - much to the astonishment of the driver who sounded Greek or Lebanese with an Aussie overlay, that included words and phrases like "crikey" and "fair dinkum".
The next morning Angela decided we would walk downtown on along the banks of the Yarrow, that was laid out like as an elongated parkland much like the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. It was pleasant enough until it started to rain. Angela, not one to complain, and I marched on regardless despite our drenching. Half mile on, it stopped and were immersed in a tropical heat wave that dried us enough so not arouse attention as we slipped into a pub either near or in the magnificent Flinders Street railway station.
Externally, Flinders Street station was clearly the most impressive public building I saw during my time in the country, with its khaki-coloured Victorian arches, porticos and massive dome, its sub-domes and a huge clock encased cupola. But to see what the interior designers had done to its innards was truly soul-crushing, with its crass modernity of sheer white walls, unsightly large Helvetica signage, dumbed down barriers and partitions, completely devoid of any quality that matched the buildings glorious exterior. I was so upset I wanted to leave the building immediately.
The pub we entered for a restorative pint, was of the old school. It seemed to combine decorations of an English pub with the vast expanse typical of a Canadian beer parlour designed for mass industrial drinking. As we arrived just past 11 o'clock in the morning, so it was mostly empty, barring a few dedicated drinkers.
What made it different from the Canadian beer parlour, which were universal in Canada, though not in the Province of Quebec, which had a range of bar-restaurants and men-only taverns, was the long bar. Neither the beer parlour nor tavern had long bars that served customers directly. All drinks had to be served at tables by waiters.
The presence of these enormously extended bars in Australian pubs and their total absence in Canadian beer parlours was the result of two sets of restrictive drinking laws. The extended bar in Australia was adopted to accommodate the long-gone "daily swill". Australia passed laws to restrict pub hours in World War I. This mirrored Britain's wartime Defence of the Realm Act (DORA), which closed British pubs from before 11am and after 2pm, re-opening them from 6-11pm. Conditions were more severe in truly unruly Australia. And until 1967, in Melbourne and much of the country, pubs had to close at 6pm.That meant that a man getting off work at 5pm had no more than an hour to drink before he had to stop.
The "six o'clock swill" resulted in a culture of heavy drinking, says Wikipedia. And the pubs, like the one we were in, stressed efficiency to get has much drink drunk and sold in the shortest possible time. This accounted for the enormously extended bar in the pub we were in where pints would be set up in anticipation of patrons who arrived with exact change and grabbed already poured beer. These laws were dropped in 1967 for the most part, as it was a state or provincial matter. But it older pubs the long bars remained.
That night we gathered in a newer and smaller local pub with friends and relatives, one of whom was said to be hard to talk as she was autistic. But apart from being quiet and shunning the noise and hubbub of the admittedly joyous and rowdy reunion of friends and family, all bursting with questions about what the prodigal daughter had brought home. Once they gave me the once-over, they clustered about Angela to learn her news as they had not seen her in years. The autistic girl and I found each other as a relief from the maddening crowd. There was another woman, with a few drinks in her, that broke into song about the "gardens" and how great they were. Then it struck me that it wasn't "gardens" she was referring to, but the "Gordons", namely the Gordon Highlanders Regiment, the ones with whom the Royal Canadian Regiment had a brief altercation at De Arr, South Africa in the Boer War, as they left the camp latrines in a filthy state. While I never got the denouement of that tiff, it probably did not end too badly. When Googling unsuccessfully for the lyrics of that song I did learn that the RCRs adopted the Gordon Highlanders march "Cock o the North" as their own official march.
A downpour broke out when we were at the pub, and the throng screamed and shouted alarm at a huge thunder clap. While it was very loud, I had heard louder in Hong Kong and in Canada. So while I was not surprised by the fuss it caused in the pub that night, I was astonished that it was the lead story in the daily Melbourne newspaper the next day making me wonder if mid-January was the equivalent of the northern hemisphere's summer silly season when almost anything can make the paper.
It was time to head south from Melbourne to Devonport on the northern coast of Tasmania 12 hours away on a ship slightly larger than the Empress of Canada that I took to Montreal from Liverpool in 1969. It turned out to be a rougher than normal crossing with waves showering promenade decks with spray with some pitching and rolling. I was a little miffed about the lack nautical flavour about the ship itself. There were floors not decks, walls not bulkheads, left and right, not port and starboard on the signage and all the usages aboard such as loud speaker announcements were entirely devoid of nautical flavour.
All of which put me off from the start, leaving me to speculate that Australians, having descended from convicts who survived arduous sea voyages and no love of the sea.
After a sleepless night on a deckchair - thankfully not on deck - we arrived at the Devonport ferry terminal in a light rain. We rented a car and drove to a relative in nearby Penguin, which seemed more of an area than a town. There we found a brother, who entertained us for an hour or two, before we headed off to a place where there was to be a big booze up 50, 60 miles away, with another brother and his mates, one of whom was housesitting, thus able to provide a mansion venue with all the mod cons.
The house was large and seemingly remote with lots of neighbourless bushland around. Much drinking made the experience tolerable, except that Angela got so drunk she was not fit to drive the next day, so I took the wheel for the first time in years, and without a licence I steered south on the five-hour trip to the state capital of Hobart.
With Angela curled up on the back seat, I drove down the two-lane national highway, with no stop lanes, which I found disconcerting. By this time, I had been an experienced driver, but my licence had not been renewed for five years since it had been stolen with my wallet from our house, when I was in Grinnell, Iowa. Having been thrown out by my wife, there was a brief stay Edmonton, Alberta, before an even briefer stopover in Palo Alto, California, and thence to Hong Kong, during which time I never renewed my licence.
Hong Kong was like Montreal with efficient public transit, so a car was superfluous to anyone who did not have to travel to the boondocks, quite apart from parking being a huge problem. Later I had a boss with a car, and I sought to duck his offers of a lift if I had to accompany him because he could only find parking far away from wherever we were going. This meant long walks to wherever he had found parking. I preferred to take cab at my own expense - they were reasonably cheap and rarely used - and brought one where one wanted to go.
Now driving south, I found the Tasmanian flora was a tapestry of russets with splashes of green, over gently rolling terrain that reminded me of the Eastern Townships south of Montreal. I had never driven British style on the left before, making left turns easy-peasy and right turns a terror. But they didn't come up most of the way. As I recall, there were no cars going in our direction and very few oncoming. Angela raised herself from the back seat to satisfy herself that my driving was adequate, but was happy to slumber on through her hangover. She roused herself in one town where she wanted something to eat. She had lived there, or went to school there as a girl. Then she spotted someone she knew, a man who had been a Labor MP when she was a reporter for the Fairfax Media in Hobart and Canberra.
I was au courant with the Australian parliamentary scene by virtue of my legislativenews.org experience, and so the man in his early 50s, who seemed to be happy to be out of politics, and I had an interesting chat - perhaps the most interesting exchange of the entire trip.
I regretted that it ended before I could find out about more about Richard Butler, the governor of Tasmania (equivalent to Lieutenant Governors of Canadian provinces, the Queen's representative, playing a largely ceremonial role). I had read Butler's book "Saddam Defiant", he had written as the UN arms inspector in Iraq, the UNSCOM chief. Butler's hawkish stance informed my positive view of the Iraq attack.
But I was rushed off before that could start, largely because we were discussing things that did not interest Angela, who viewed military discussions as bad and boring. Anyway, Angela would be against me, as she always upheld the leftist feminist orthodoxy shared by most every journalist in the Anglosphere then and now.
I has been against the Afghan attack from the start. It wasn't clear to me if Osama bin Laden had much more to do with the 9/11 Twin Towers strike than lead the Muslim cheerleaders. To me attacking Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama was like moving heaven and earth to attack a football star who had lost the ball, if he ever had it.
But I favoured the Iraq attack and thought President George W Bush's initial moves were good, until that tasteless "Mission Accomplished" display on the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln where he made his hubristic speech, declaring himself to be a "war president". Americans!!! They are their own worst enemies.
Still, Afghanistan was useful in that it got the war off to a good start. The Taliban and been stoning women to death in the sports palace, which put the hostile female anti-war faction onside supporting full mobilisation. After 9/11, even the sneering, jeering media and Hollywood celebs were clicking their heels like Prussian grenadiers. I thought the idea of activating the National Guard with army trucks to-ing and fro-ing through US cities and towns large and small, further enlivened the Excited States of America that there was a war on. Splendid touch, I thought at the time. That was before I found out that they were going to actually deploy them. This began the disastrous Vietnamisation of the war. This should have been a reg force operation from start to finish.
I could see that Afghanistan, as a military power had shot its bolt offensively. And apart from a number of killer dog special forces running about for the cameras to keep the women onside, the country could be policed from a distance by B-52 bombing. Harmlessly, if Kabul played ball and restricted itself to opium smuggling, but devastatingly - with World War II area bombing - if they returned to public stonings of women and the like. I am reasonably tolerant of domestic beastly behaviour within sovereign states, if as Mrs Patrick Campbell once said, "they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses".
I saw Iraq was the real international menace. Being a sovereign state, the size of Texas with decent oil reserves, and with a hostile regime in place, ready, willing and able to conquer its oil rich neighbours, it was a country - unlike Afghanistan - fully capable of replicating 9/11 operations like using commercial aircraft as artillery for instance, perhaps under remote drone control. Half a dozen containers deep amidships in a 10,000-TEU vessel containing nukes exploding simultaneously in the Suez and Panama canals could stymie world trade for a year. Afghanistan had no such capacity. People talked of bombing it to the stone age forgetting that it was mostly there.
I believed the weapons of mass destruction argument, though it was not what moved me. How difficult would it be to hide three or four nuclear warheads? They could be housed in a couple of Quonset huts. They could be disposed of just as easily.
A view I did hold but no longer do was the erroneous belief that rudimentary democracy and rule of law could be imposed on Muslim lands the way it had been imposed on postwar Germany and Japan. What I forgot was that we were willing to kill civilian populations without compunction and the Germans and Japanese knew it.
This was not the case in this instance. This is why the Iraq and Afghan wars can be likened to some aspects of World War I more than World War II. In World War I, Germany did not surrender, it signed and armistice, The allies had no thought slaughtering civilians en masse. Not so in World War II.
The reason I was interested in Richard Butler was that he was the last head of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), the UN weapons inspection organisation in Iraq. What's more he was a leftist, an Australian Labor Party luminary, whose pro-Iraq attack views were at odds with those of the parliamentary left worldwide, and so his views were handy to buttress my own pro-Bush/Blair arguments.
So to get him out of the way, the Labor brass gave him the sinecure of being the viceroy of Down Under's sinister sounding Van Diemen's Land, the old name of Tasmania.
Angela was in no mood to take over the wheel all the way to Hobart. When we finally got there, it seemed like a continuation of the main road that first plunged down a steep hill into the city itself and then rose up sharply. This involved much derring-do. To me it seemed like one of those death-defying near vertical skateboard runs, plunging down one side and scooting up another.
This, now in serious traffic, I found terrifying, particularly when asked to do a right turn around at the top of the hill all the while feeling like a Battle of Britain pilot, not in a Spitfire or Hurricane but in a lumbering Swordfish bi-plane fearing police cars that might zip out of nowhere like ME109s.
Angela got us into a pleasant seaside hotel with a room with a view on the picturesque harbour and the truly impressive Mount Wellington, more than twice the size (4,170 ft) of Hong Kong Island's Victoria Peak. Once we were settled in, we drove up to the top, but found the peak in cloud and only when we descended could we see the picturesque town below.
It reminded me of the views returning from the mountains of North Vancouver and seeing the idyllic seaside town encircling English Bay in the early 1970s. Hobart was prettier than Vancouver, which I remembered as a shack town under a fishnet of overhead electric, telephone and trolley bus cables. But I found myself being more interested in the name of the mountain rather than the mountain itself.
The Duke of Wellington was one of my heroes having read two of his biographies. I found the epithet hurled at him by Continental foes that he was a "lucky sergeant" to be less blameworthy than his critics meant it to be. He was faulted for not having the Cromwellian ambitions of Napoleon to become the head of state, when he might seized power. He was satisfied to be a sergeant in spirit, satisfied with limited authority he was assigned to exercise.
As a result he took over as prime minister twice to run his "little dictatorship", as he called it, but left office the moment proper politicians were ready to resume power. Yes, he was not a liberal, and stood against their sweeping reforms. If everyone had his proper place in the pecking order, so did he, and all changes would be made through the good offices of the King, Lords and Commons.
But few are for God, Queen and Country anymore, and fewer still in Australia. Few talk about in it Canada, and the Canadian government in its quest to frenchify what they can, have done its best to throttle that feeling. Yet it clings on regardless, though I fear it is a losing battle.
Driving down Mount Wellington, Angela, again at the wheel, screeched to a halt to avoid hitting a squirrel-like critter called an "eastern barred bandicoot" as best as I make out from a range of pictures that appeared on Google. She ooed and awed the way girls do over babies and cute things, and discussed these incidents at length. Was she going to advocate crossing guards next, I wondered. There was much talk of animal cruelty and the efficacy of vegetarianism in general. As I was not a foodie, I fell in with the vegetarianism without difficulty in her presence, never demanding anything more than that what was served. Of course, I didn't mind dropping in for a Big Mac or its equivalent. Meanwhile, Angela drank coffee or ate something she was assured had not been cooked in the dead bodies of "sentient animals".
There was a lone piper on the waterfront, a large marina with a fast array of light passenger and pleasure craft. I asked the piper to play Black Bear, which he did. It was then I noticed how clear the air was. It was as if one's eyesight had improved. At this latitude - next stop, Antarctica - there were so few impurities that acuity was clearly better. Distant clouds and mountain peaks came into sharp focus. But still, despite recognising the indisputable truth of these observations, I didn't really care.
It might have been at that point or a few hours before that a sea change occurred. Sometimes, I think of it like sex, when feels intensely one way one moment and then one doesn't the next. I found myself half listening to what was going on around me as we visited one thing after another. There was a psychologist being interviewed on the car radio on the way to some place called Paradise, who said that one could meet one's husband or wife if one met 37 eligible people long enough to say yea or nay. Not just anybody, but people who one's friends and relations thought were in the eligible range, and not simply 37 culturally remote passengers at an airport.
Increasingly, I began to withdraw into my own thoughts, thinking more along these lines. Here was Angela, perfectly suitable in many ways. We even looked alike, both were of Irish stock, our friends thought we were well suited. I could see why they were wrong. We both had a binge drinking problem and made each other worse not better. Then there was the political baggage. I was a conservative and not a follower left-liberalism that consumed 90 per cent of my fellow journalists. I was not too attracted to the craft the way most others were. I was born into it, Both parents were journalists. True, I had my youthful leftist period even three or four years of Marxism, but returned to first what I called Louis St Laurent Liberalism (Canada's wartime prime minister), then to find myself a Conservative when the Liberal Party increasingly adopted socialist, even Marxist policies, much the same as the openly socialist New Democratic Party in much the same way the US Democratic Party had done.
After doing the rounds of cute animal refuges and noisy pubs and quick look at a feeble war memorial before being rushed off to do something else, we headed north, there was a flash of the old camaraderie as we approached Queenstown one dark and stormy night. Queenstown, in remote western Tasmania, was once the world's richest gold and copper mining town was now stripped of trees from mass logging 100 year ago. It had become a surreal, rocky moonscape of bare mountainous undulating rock through which rough treacherous ill-marked roads were faintly carved, or so it seemed in the dark.
In retrospect, I see how we came together in adversity on that dangerous road into Queenstown, which except for a drive home in a blizzard in Quebec, where semis were spinning off the road every few miles, was the most perilous driving conditions I had ever experienced. At any moment we could plunge off the road and down a precipitous rocky slope to our deaths. With our heads stuck out the window as we wended our way round sharp turns combined with steep inclines until we arrived in town's neon stripe and put into a Best Western for the night.
That camaraderie on the darkened road and genuine fear of accidental death brought us together as nothing else could. On reflection, it put me in mind of heroic times when Australians and Canadians worked together with great effect. The Royal Canadian Regiment and the Queensland Mounted Infantry surprised and smashed a Boer commando in a surprise attack at Belmont in South Africa in 1900. It was the first time the Canadian and Australian army fought an overseas action, and success was credited to an easy comradeship between officers and men of the two dominion forces, so different from the airs of superiority one had to endure from our British betters. Feelings were so good after the Belmont action that the Canadians erected a memorial to the Australian dead who suffered the only serious casualties there.
And then again, the tricks Canucks and Aussies got up to fooling the Germans made the August 1918 Battle of Amiens, the beginning of end of World War I. That's when the Canadians pretended to move to the left flank of the Australian main attack, inducing the Germans to transfer their main force from the right to the left to meet the Canadians who weren't there. Fooled by the ruse, the Germans braced themselves for an attack that never came. The resulting confusion allowed the Aussies to bash their way in for three miles, while the Canadians, facing nothing but corporal's guard romped forward largely unopposed for 10 miles - unheard of back then. It was the "Black Day of the German Army" said General Ludendorff. That's about the time the Germans started to contemplate an armistice.
But those good feelings soon wore off. And we did not have to say that our planned trip to Wuhan, which I was to pay for, was off. The prospect of more time together than was necessary was no longer welcome. So as good a spirit of toleration as we could muster for the duration we got home to Hong Kong in good order, and went through a period of disengagement over six weeks, with me getting my own flat in Kennedy Town, to begin, after a difficult start, by far my happiest times in Hong Kong Island.