Humbug and other sweets

Two months ago today we boarded a FinnAir flight to Hong Kong. Two weeks ago we parted company with our beautiful Hampshire home. The process, barring a few formalities, is complete. It remains only to sort out utility bills. Southern Water wants to charge me £100+ for water during the period the house was empty and unused. As we were in HK we could not take a meter reading so they have estimated our usage. I had warned them a long time in advance that the house would be unoccupied but hey, they say I should have given two days notice of sale and so they can estimate the reading at whatever they like unless I can give them the actual reading. Which of course I can’t. Rogues.

Nevertheless we feel settled in our rental apartment. My walks have been slightly curtailed by events, dear boy, events. The odd lunch has intervened. A day of work. Some minor contributions to the wedding preparations. But I do have a new improved, whiter than white, Daz sparkly walk. Non-bio of course. This has been introduced to try and capture two extra sites of possible bird interest. Instead of looping round Harlech Road I know go up and over the Peak. This is an extra climb but worth it. Then I have worked out how to include Pik Shan Path without doubling back on myself. The problem with this is that it also means my walks now take considerably longer. No point in simply walking through or along these paths. They must be explored. That takes time. My longest absence was 8 hours. No lunch.

Carrying the camera gear is not too bad. The Fuji performs adequately enough. I keep tinkering with my technique as I try to find the best way of using what is admittedly a much slower autofocus than the old Canon bodies. I have added the 80mm macro lens to my armory, effective 120mm. I have carried it for 2 weeks in my backpack and hardly used it. The bugs are, as it were, snug in a rug somewhere and not coming out to play. And the birds stay over the hill and far away. Hence the order of a 1.4x tele-converter for delivery today.

There is little sign of Christmas here. Somewhat surprisingly we received yesterday two physical cards. Real ones you can touch, handle, read and throw away (recycle) later. I am in favour of a virtual Christmas. In an ideal world I would virtually ignore it. We do have a proper Christmas lunch. Each year we decamp to the club, where a buffet is available. This could, I suspect, feed a small country in remote parts of Africa, for a year. It is the one day of the year when the dress code is slightly relaxed although the younger cost centre was refused entry a few years back for ‘inappropriate footwear’. Quite right too. But jacket and tie are not mandatory. Mobile phones may be used for taking pictures but not of course for making calls. The meal always starts with lobster served at the table. I am not allowed shellfish so usually one of the others wolfs mine down. I on the other hand will ask for extra stuffing. There is an obligatory visit from Santa. I always try to see if I can spot a bottle of Black Label sticking out of his coat pocket but it seems club rules forbid even a modest snort on this occasion. Probably the designated sleigh driver will have a tincture or two after his ordeal is over. I know the guests do. The trick is to wait until the desired foodstuff is almost finished, and then join the queue. By the time you reach the front a splendid new side of beef / turkey / pork / venison etc. will have been produced and the juices are soon dribbling down the chin (or chins in many cases). The Christmas bread and butter pudding is a thing to be treasured and devoured. Away with the traditional pudding. Stick a sprig of holly in the B&BP and ho ho ho, you too can weigh like Santa. Go back for seconds or thirds. Help it slide down with the club’s superb chocolate mousse. Perhaps a token slice of fruit to assuage the conscience. Followed by coffee. Mrs. Ha and I are teetotal so we shy away from the brandy sauce, the butterscotch schnapps and the lashings and lashings of Bolly. This then is pretty much our sole concession to Christmas. A couple of hours of sheer unadulterated gluttony. It would be no great challenge to turn into a pumpkin at 3pm.

At some point I do try to find some Christmas music. The first challenge this year will be to find the CDs, as yet unpacked. I don’t think my family really ever appreciated Noddy Holder screaming “it’s Chrissssssssmaaaaaas”. So I will go for something a little more genteel. Slade was never Easy Listening even in the 70s. Which reminds me that I have also so far overlooked to plumb in the rather antiquated CD player. I am sure that millennial child will do everything by Wi-Fi or shout, “Alexa, play some Christmas carols”. I don’t think our CD player has valves that need warming up but it definitely has wires for the mains and the speakers. Our outrageously smart TV connects to something that looks like a speaker (but may be something completely different) by Bluetooth. Except it doesn’t. Despite several visits from John Lewis’ tech team and a couple from the Sony engineers nobody ever managed to get it to work. So we resorted to yet another cable. I was also assured that I could ‘stream music from my phone to the TV’. Fascinating but for the fact that I a) don’t have any music on my phone and b) have no idea how to do it even if I did. How much simpler it was when Christmas morning consisted of a darned sock containing a few nuts, some squashed satsumas and chocolates, a Rupert the Bear annual and a battery powered Dalek. The Dalek was happily not full size and as far as I recall never exterminated anybody. Dad occasionally hoped it would. His mother gave him the same present each year. Well, similar anyway. He would get an ounce of St. Bruno Flake and a Giles annual. And socks. Always socks. Each year he would go through the pretence of having no idea what was in the paper package. He would shake it and make some outrageous guess whilst Granny H smiled happily thinking what a wonderful surprise it would be for little Jimmy.

Far-fetched as this may seem to the youth of today (who is the youth of today? Has anybody met him?) it is largely true. So simple. And that is why I have such a jaundiced view of Christmas today. It has lost all meaning. As one cartoonist wonderfully captured it this week, the Three Wise Men would today probably bring Gold, Frankincense and Bitcoins. And on that bubbly note, I wish both my readers a very happy holiday and please remember to give thanks to the good folk of Alabama. Amen.

A brief moment of hope.

The clear out is coming to an end. We have taken possession of the new rented apartment in Hong Kong. Lulu is happily ensconced in her new kingdom.

As part of the clear out I have been putting some of the older furniture on a site called Gumtree. It has been reasonably successful. Last week I put on 2 rather worn and bruised bedside cabinets. One even had a small split from the humidity in Hong Kong. I advertised them under ‘Freebies’. Collect for free.

The first person messaged me several times and we agreed a time to collect. The time came and went and eventually I chased them. Oh, give it to someone else. I can’t come, they said. I felt rather annoyed but this is about par for the course I thought. So I put them back on the site and half an hour later I had a taker. Very polite enquiry. I agreed a time again and wondered.

Spot on 11am the taker arrived. A young man with his partner. I showed them the bedside cabinets and apologized for the condition. Absolutely no problem they said. She, bubbling with gratitude, he efficiently lifting them into the back of the car. They were getting their first flat together next week. They can’t afford to buy new so essentially they will take what they can get with gratitude. They don’t want to start with a load of debt.

After they had left I reflected on how refreshing their attitude was. Incredibly polite. Eminently sensible. And how unusual at a time when consumer debt is escalating again to levels that are starting to concern the great and the good. I was brought up to avoid debt as much as possible. My parents saved then bought. They bought little and bought quality that would last. Several pieces of their furniture grace our home today. Far removed from the instant gratification that seems to prevail today. I am sure I won’t see the young couple again but I wish them every happiness and thank them for cheering up my day.

A whiter shade of pale

If you were paying attention to my last post (take 100 lines if you weren’t) you will recall I was due to have a potential skin cancer checked out. Well here is how it (roughly) played out earlier today.

Cast in alternating order of appearance:

  1. Consultant dermatologist
  2. Me  (patient)

Good morning, I’m doctor *****.

Good morning. I’ve been referred by my GP

Can you show me the problem?




Why not?

I can’t see it.

At this point the CD refers to the notes she has been given by the GP.

I see. It’s on your left lower arm.

CD takes my left lower arm and spends about 20 seconds examining under a magnifying glass.

Right, I can see you have a difference in pigmentation and I know what it is causing it.

Oh! Is it serious?

It’s a watch mark.

A watch mark?

Yes, where you wear your watch your wrist is untanned – pale in fact. The leather watch strap has possibly rubbed the skin slightly too.

What about the cancer?

It’s a watch mark.

Are you sure?

Trust me. I’m a doctor.

Is that it?


Are you sure there is nothing else? What about that?

A scar.

Can I go?

Yes. Have a nice day.


Mrs. Ha and I left and as we walked down the corridor I’m sure I heard laughter in the consulting room. The total time for this exchange was less than 2 minutes. I had waited 2 months for the appointment and it probably cost the health service a few bob. I suppose it is better to be safe than sorry but I am going to go without my watch for a while to get rid of the mark. I shall call it solar surgery.