I am on a nostalgia trip. A week ago I entered “Hereford” into the Flickr search engine. I grew up there from 1960 to roughly 1975. I then visited regularly until 2000, when my mother finally passed away. Most of my formative years were therefore spent in a small, relatively sleepy, agricultural city. No offense. And of course it didn’t seem that way at the time. The population was about 50,000 and on Thursdays it was swelled by the hill farmers of Wales coming in for market day. The Cattle Market was a true market for farm animals and not a Wanchai nightclub. More baaa and moo than Soo-zie Wong.
By the way, if you ever get the chance to watch the film “The World of Suzie Wong” do so. Its freely available on any Cathay flight with a decent entertainment system. Stars William Holden so you can guess how old it is.
The photos I found were both contemporary and old. It was the old ones that fascinated me. Buildings I remember, long gone now I suspect. In the name of progress, knock it down. The fashions, the vehicles, the advertisements all took me back and I was once again a teenager. I have some slides my father took in the 60s and 70s. I want to get them scanned. Somewhere I know there are slides of the great floods that covered the playing fields of Bishop’s Meadow, so high they covered Victoria Bridge. I must find them if they have not been mislaid as I have moved around the world. I remember having sufficient interest in wildlife to go to the museum and see the stuffed birds in glass cases. They were past their best then so I can’t believe they are still there. I was briefly fascinated by fossils and joined the Woolhope Club. Now I almost qualify as a fossil myself. I went for long walks with my father in Haugh Wood (pronounced ‘hoff’) and occasionally we ventured to Queen’s Wood. Apart from the normal struggles of growing up life was pretty simple.
What is also fascinating to me is the journey I have taken from those days in Hereford, when a 4 mile drive was something of an event, to where I am today. I think little of doing a day trip from HK to Abu Dhabi. Last year I flew into Heathrow from HK at 5am, did a day in London at the office and flew back to HK in the evening. I get used to being moved past immigration by protocol officers in “difficult” countries. Never queue. I travel there in cars with an armed guard by my side, cars front and rear. I take the kalashnikov for granted! It is something of an unreal existence at times and I can’t wait for it to end. It is not glamorous, I promise you. On Thursday night I boarded my Cathay Pacific flight from Dubai to HK at 11pm. We took off at 3.30am on Friday. Over 4 hours waiting for the plane to be deemed safe to fly. No aircon. Outside temperature was almost 40 Celsius. I was in row 2. I could wander around, stand in the doorway to get some breeze, chat to the pilot and the crew but at the back it was Dante’s Inferno. Each row further back was the descent into hell. Frayed temperatures, melting children, boiling parents. The perfect argument for teleportation. Beam me up, Scotty. When I arrived home in HK I had missed my afternoon meeting and I had managed two hours sleep in 36.
In 2004 I met a group of uni friends for the first time in 25 years. Just a dozen of us. It was an alarming experience. Only two of us were what I would call well-travelled. Most had settled in to a routine that worked for them but would have driven me mad. One died shortly after the reunion. I have lost touch with most of them again. I wonder what a school reunion would be like? In Hereford. I’d jump at the chance. Fly 6,000 miles to take part. But I fear I would again be the struggling teenager, unable to fit in. I’ve been in Papua New Guinea, Galapagos, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Lima, Kathmandu, Kakadu….. I met Yvonne Goolagong at Ayers Rock – what about that?! And yet I would love to go the cattle market again, see The Bulls play at Edgar Street, visit Castle Green, walk through The Close and hear the choir sing in the cathedral. Why, it must be about time for the Three Choirs Festival. I would drive out to Mordiford, up to Hay, down to Symonds Yat to see the peregrines ……. I would walk through the churchyard of St. Paul’s, Tupsley and see if Mrs. Foley is still in Hampton Dene Road. I would walk the roads we lived in and remember the family friends we grew up with. On reflection, it beats the Kazakhstan kalashnikov experience.
A friend wrote to me this week bemoaning the state of the UK. The looting and rioting is sickening to watch. He speculated that this is just the start of the war between the Haves and the Have-Nots. I guess I am a Have, I am not sure. And I will never live in Britain again. But Hong Kong has similar tensions, not yet so strongly manifested. I think the crisis is more profound. I think it is a crisis of leadership, a dearth of people prepared to stand up and do what is right. How many Madibas are there out there? Not many. And that is more worrying. The world is so connected today. Now more than ever we need people who can take a global view. Volunteers please step forward. In the absence of anybody better here is my candidate:
Now don’t you just think everybody would vote for my dog? Never mind O’Barmy, Cameron, Merkel, Gillard (is she a real person or straight out of madame Tussaud’s?), or indeed Mr. Wu the window cleaner, VOTE FOR LULU.