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Today's quote:

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

In memory of Vati

geboren 9.12.1907 - gestorben 31.1.1984


Steht nicht an meinem Grab und weint,
denkt an mich, wenn die Sonne scheint.
Ich bin nicht mehr an diesem Ort,
Ich schlafe nicht und bin nicht fort.

Ich bin der Wind über brausender See,
Ich bin der Schimmer auf frischem Schnee.
Ich bin die Sonne in goldener Pracht,
Ich bin der Glanz der Sterne bei Nacht.
Ich bin die Freude der Blumen die blühn,
Ich bin für Euch in allem was schön.

Steht nicht an meinem Grab und weint,
denkt an mich, wenn die Sonne scheint.
Ich bin nicht mehr an diesem Ort,
Ich schlafe nicht und bin nicht fort.


There's always room for a couple of beers with a friend

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the two beers.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous 'yes.'

The professor then produced two beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

'Now,' said the professor as the laughter subsided, 'I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things --- your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favourite passions --- and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.'

'The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else --- the small stuff.'

'If you put the sand into the jar first,' he continued, 'there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.'

'Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first --- the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.'

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The professor smiled and said, 'I'm glad you asked. The beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of beers with a friend.'



Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Would somebody please put me out of my misery!


Yesterday's blog about women-only pool days in Germany solicited a few responses, including the above photo of a sign from a "multicultural" beach around Melbourne. This beats anything Al Grassby ever did to this country!

I mean, I agree I might look a bit out of place if I cross-dressed in a bikini, but do I run the risk of getting arrested if I eat a ham sandwich on the beach or continue to swim while they're praying towards Mecca?

Would somebody please put me out of my misery and tell me that this is just a cleverly PHOTOSHOPped joke?



Monday, January 29, 2018

Don't baulk at the price; just buy it!


A former colleague of mine wants to move back to the country, so she and hubby have put up their Sydney house for sale - see here. I was going to give her some marketing ideas - see here, but when I got there, I found that super salesman Burkie was already on the job.

The way he's sitting you can't see his white shoes but that floral shirt and those sunnies are a dead give-away, don't you think?

Anyway, good luck with the sale, Colleen! If you ever decide to go to auction, let me know and I'll send Ernie Dingo over to give you a hand:




He'd already passed on with barely a ripple

Click on image to enlarge


There's this chap in one of those ingenious Hobie Pedal Kayaks who's been passing "Riverbend" every morning for the last few days, and I've been meaning to take a photo of him as he looks so relaxed and happy serenely floating down the river.

I saw him again this morning but by the time I'd grapped my camera and gone out on the verandah, he'd already passed on with barely a ripple.

Padma went to the Bay with some friends to see 'The Post', a political movie about the Pentagon Papers. Pentagon, hexagon, septagon, octa-gon, nonagon - methinks they've gone to get an eyeful of Tom Hanks.

The longer they peep at Tom, the better for me, so that I can enjoy the peace and quiet of "Riverbend" and just watch the ripples on the water. The sheer bliss of it! Thanks, Hanks!



"Why don't you visit the (c)old country before it's too late?"

How Germany copes with its new citizens


How many times have people asked me this question! And how many times have I briefly hesitated before telling them, "Well, perhaps one day I will."

I've just now visited the facebook page of my old hometown and found a photo of the communal swimming pool with a large sign proclaiming, "Mondays is women-only day except during Ramadan".

This is a very provincial town where the mostly non-swimming Muslims are still very much a tiny minority, and yet they've already comman-deered a whole day for themselves in the precious indoor pool!

When I said as much on the facebook page, I was shouted down by Germans themselves who considered such comments "unakzeptierbar". Unacceptable? They used much stronger words eighty years ago but the results were the same: no discussions, no opposition, no free speech!

Mohamed Atta told the doomed airline passengers on 9/11, "Stay quiet and you’ll be okay". Well, I'm not staying quiet because I know it won't be okay. Nor am I visiting the (c)old country again. It's already too late!




Saturday, January 27, 2018

They aren't called CELL phones for nothing!


We already had mobile phones when I was a kid in Germany back in the 'fifties but they were those old-fashioned types that didn't replace your camera, calendar, computer, watch, alarm clock, and - in extreme cases - your family and friends.

I don't want one of those new-fangled mobile or cell phones. I don't want to be always on call. And I don't want to feel like a prisoner on day release, constantly being monitored by an electronic ankle bracelet.

Although I did buy one of those hands-free jobs but I put it away until I need it. On that fateful day when I discover that I've started talking to myself in public, I retrieve it, fit the earpiece, and hit the street secure in the knowledge that no one will suspect me of talking to myself.

They'll think I'm a hip oldie and talking on my mobile.



Those were the days my friend


The discovery of vast copper ore deposits in Bougainville's Crown Prince Range led to the construction of a huge copper mine which began in 1969 and lasted for three years.

Tens of thousands of workers toiled in the mud and the heat ten hours a day six days a week under the most primitive conditions. Our 'homes' were 9x9ft dongas tastefully decorated with PLAYBOY centrefolds of girls waxed to the point of martyrdom, and our needs for comfort were satisfied by a red plastic chair on the porch.

When production started and the regular mine workers with their wives and kids arrived - see here -, things became a bit too 'civilised' for the rough construction crews and it was time to move on.

As an old Bougainville friend from those early days, who stayed until the very end of the construction phase, wrote, "I remember clearing up old files after Bechtel left. There were a couple of box files filled with letters from women, solicitors, lawyers etc., all much of the same theme, so-and-so was believed to be working on the project and was wanted for child support payments, etc. The standard reply clipped under the lid was to the effect that there were over fifty companies working on the project with a total of 10,000 workers, and if the writer would please care to contact the respective company. Of course, they knew that if they dobbed in one guy, they would instantly lose a big percentage of the workforce."

Those were the days my friend; we thought they'd never end. For more, click here.



Friday, January 26, 2018

The money or the box?


On April 26, 1956, a crane lifted fifty-eight aluminium truck bodies aboard an aging tanker ship moored in Newark, New Jersey. Five days later, the 'Ideal-X' sailed into Houston, where fifty-eight trucks waited to take on the metal boxes and haul them to their destinations. Such was the beginning of a revolution."

And such is the beginning of Marc Levinson's book "The Box", the first comprehensive history of the shipping container, that simple metal box we would today label a disruptive technology because it altered the very fundamentals of not just the shipping industry but industry itself.

It's perhaps not the 'sexiest' book to read if you've never been involved in the shipping industry as I've been, or caught in a tropical downpour as I've been just now when I became so desperate for something to do that I would've read the back of a cereal box, why not read "The Box" itself?

By the time of my second shipping involvement in 1978 when I was in a team of consultants doing an economic traffic forecast for a major port in a South-East Asian country, containerships had already been crossing oceans on regular schedules for more than a decade but that mattered little to one of those dyed-in-the-wool consultants who looked at the world only through a spreadsheet before it had even been invented.

He had just completed a port consulting job in an obscure African port better known for its shootings than its shipping, and was on a roll. You remember Robert Townsend's "Up the Organisation" which had as its subtitle "How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time”? Well, this consultant had "stolen" everything that he'd ever written on the previous job and he was going to "reinvent" it all over again on this job, come hell or high water or containerisation.

Of course, it was all more subtle than this; in fact, Martin Kihn's much later book about the wacky world of consulting, "The House of Lies", describes much better than I ever could the charade that took place day after day: that vacuous look out of watery blue eyes into the middle distance, the intermittent tapping of the index finger against the pursed upper lip, and the sudden rush to commit to paper what had no doubt been committed to memory from the African job the night before.

Even the nominal project manager, who flew in a couple of times a year to puff on his pipe, take in the sights, and fly out again, admitted as much when he suggested that we would be in real trouble if the photo-copier ever broke down. Of course we never used anything as blatant as a photocopier; it was always that vacuous look, the intermittent tapping of the index finger, and the sudden rush to the writing pad, while the rest of us recalculated pointless depreciation rates on pointless port assets and drew pointless pie charts and gave pointless presentations.

The money or the box? Consulting firms are far too focused on making money than to let their minds wander to wonder if a boring metal box could turn the world of shipping, indeed the whole world, inside out and upside down. Don't ask them what time it is; use your own watch!


P.S. Insurance, banking, chartered accounting, construction, electricity generation, airlines, oil exploration, retail, mining, software develop-ment, even truck driving - I only ever tried these things once or at best twice, but shipping lured me four times: to Samoa in 1978, back to South-East Asia later in the same year - see above -, back to Papua New Guinea in 1982, then to Saudi Arabia and Greece from 1982 to 1985.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Life's not all pins and needles


I've just come back from my cup-of-tea-in-hand wander down the property to walk off the pins and needles in my feet and legs. You know, that uncomfortable tingling or prickling you feel in your arms, legs, hands or feet after you've been leaning awkwardly on an arm or leg? Except I haven't been leaning awkwardly - not even to the right - and the pins and needles have been quite persistent, especially at bedtime.

I consulted Dr Google who suggests several causes, such as pregnancy (which I've ruled out), certain medication use (the strongest medication I use is Tiger Balm), but also kidney failure and diabetic neuropathy as a result of nerve damage caused by high blood sugar. Hmmm.

Perhaps it's time I consulted a real doctor, and so I phoned that new-in-town Sri Lankan doctor with a name as long as the alphabet (and with as many different letters in it), only to be told that he's now practising in Sydney. What a shame! I only consulted him once but was struck by his efficiency and knowledge. No doubt he became disenchanted with all those bulk-billing hypochondriacs that have turned Medicare into a monster, and went to Sydney to get more professionally challenged.

Anyway, life's not all pins and needles. With the Australia Day long weekend coming up, I'm preoccupied with whether I've been nominated for the Old Australian of the Year Award. I find myself another doctor, albeit with a shorter name, sometime next week.



Who is Piers Akerman?

This cartoon is by Larry Pickering, the last politically incorrect Australian who dares to call a spade a spade and not a digging implement. On February 10, 2017, at a speech for the far-right Q Society, he (in)famously denounced Muslims and homosexuals, saying "I can't stand Muslims. If they are in the same street as me, I start shaking. They are not all bad [because] they do chuck pillow-biters off buildings". THE PICKERING POST is a classic!


He's an Australian journalist, conservative commentator and columnist for The Daily Telegraph which just now printed his piece about Australia Day, "This week the great majority of Australians, including those who identify as Aboriginal, will celebrate the end of the Stone Age on this continent."

How absolutely true and how utterly politically incorrect! Take a bow, Piers Akerman! And he continues, "A handful of backward ­progressives, chiefly the Greens and those employed by the ABC and Fairfax, will mount a campaign against this celebration. In their narrative, the dawning of modern civilisation in Australia brought about an unmiti-gated tragedy for which we all must admit ­responsibility and keep paying atonement. This is sheer ­lunacy ..."

Of course, Akerman has never shied away from controversies. His columns raised the ire of Mark Latham who led the Australian Labor Party to defeat at the 2004 federal election (which must be a good thing!); he's a climate change sceptic; and he wrote that there were more pressing issues worrying Australians than voting on the issue of marriage equality. Take another bow, Piers Akerman!

He closes his Australia Day piece by saying, "Those seeking to change the date of Australia Day aren’t bent on making things better for those less well off. They are displaying their hatred of Australia. They are still living in the Stone Age."

Do we blame the Mongolians of today for Genghis Khan? Do we blame the Italians of today for the invasion of the Romans? Do we blame the Germans of today for the Nazis? Do we blame the Japanese of today for the atrocities of WWII? So why blame today's Australians for what hap-pened two hundred years ago? Never forget it, learn from it, move on!



As for me, come tomorrow, I want to join millions of my ­fellow Austral-ians to declare my faith in what, to me, is surely still the best country in the world, despite the do-gooders' best efforts. Happy Australia Day!



Wednesday, January 24, 2018

La Paluma


Cairns has Kuranda, Mackay has Eungella, and Townsville has its "Village in the Clouds", Paluma, nearly 3000 feet above and as much as 10 degrees below the sweltering heat at sea level and steeped in almost 150 years of history - see here.

Just an hour-or-so drive from Townsville, Paluma is quite literally an island in the clouds, cool and misty one minute, then suddenly the clouds part to reveal a brilliant blue sky and dazzling sunshine that bathes the glistening rainforest in shades of turquoise and emerald green, with birds and butterflies adding a riot of colours.

During my short attempt at domesticity in Townsville in 1981 when I unsuccessfully tried to answer that nagging question "Is that all there is?" with a hesitant-sounding "Y-e-s", before again returning to the wilds of New Guinea, followed by the emptiness of Saudi Arabia and the glory that is Greece, I visited Paluma a couple of times.

With little more than two dozen residents, it was then as sleepy as it is today, and it may get sleepier still, since what little commercial activ-ities there are to attract the passing tourist seem all up for sale: there is the Rainforest Inn which didn't even exist back then, but has since 2013 been listed for sale; then there are the Hidden Valley Cabins which were still being constructed when I last visited and which are now also for sale; and even the owner of Paluma's oldest attraction, the Ivy Cottage Tea Rooms, wants to move on after twenty years - see here.


Click here for an aerial view of the Ivy Cottage Tea Rooms on GOOGLE Map


During WWII, it was called 'Hotel Australia' and served as recreation area for Australian troops. When the village was returned back to the control of the residents after the war, the building became "The Ivy Cottage Tea Rooms" under the original proprietors, Mr and Mrs England, a retired sea captain and his wife, who served Devonshire tea and homemade scones.

It changed hands several times - most recently in 1986 for $65,000, and in 1998 for $220,000 -, but almost all previous owners still live in the village. The current owners, Ian & Sandy Marshall, now want to sell up for $430,000. As Sandy explains on facebook:

"Thank You to all our wonderful customers, many of whom have become our friends.

Thank you for your Loyalty over the last 20 years, when Ivy Cottage has not just been our Café, but also our home. It was for you that we reopened 3 years ago.

Thank you for your “Bookings” that are such a help in trying to “Guestimate” how busy it will be, how many staff we will need and how much to cook.

Thank you for your patience during “Peak Hour”, when everyone gets hungry at the same time and there isn’t a table to spare, when a simple pot of Tea, or coffee and scones can take over half an hour to arrive at your table, and the noise and confusion makes you doubt our sanity.

Thank you for graciously and discreetly letting us know if we make a mistake, forget something, or in some way fail to meet our usually high standards, and for giving us the opportunity to quickly make it right.

Thank you for taking the time to brighten our day, especially when you can see that we are too exhausted to brighten yours.

Thank you for your consideration and kind words and for Thanking Us – for welcoming you into our rainforest sanctuary, for giving up our weekends and our holidays from our “Real Jobs”, for being here and being open.

In February (date to be advised), Ivy Cottage will close for the “Wet Season” and we can not say for sure when or IF we will reopen.

Ivy Cottage has been For Sale for a year, with plenty of interest. But with no school in Paluma and no deliveries of any kind, the new owner of this Iconic Cottage has not yet been found.

It may be that Ivy Cottage will simply become someone else’s “Private” Rain Forest Sanctuary, but as it is zoned “commercial shopping”, it could become almost anything for it’s new owners.

Wishing you all the best for 2018 and Thank You once again."

Although I wasn't at my tearoom stage in life back in 1981, I remember it well and wish them well with their sale. Now that I'm into my 25th year at "Riverbend", I could just as easily see myself doing another ten-years-plus at Paluma. How one's perspective on life keeps changing!


P.S. Speaking of perspective makes me think of that old codger who's having a drink in a bar. Suddenly a gorgeous girl enters and sits down a few seats away. The girl is so attractive that he just can’t take his eyes off her. After a short while the girl notices him staring and approaches him. Before the old bloke has time to apologise, the girl looks him deep in the eyes and says to him in a sultry tone: “I’ll do anything you’d like. Anything you can imagine in your wildest dreams, it doesn’t matter how extreme or unusual it is, I’m game. I want $100, and there’s another condition”. Completely stunned by the sudden turn of events, the man asks her what her condition is. “You have to tell me what you want me to do in just three words”, she says. The man takes a moment to think, then whips out his wallet, puts ten $10-bills in her outstretched hand, looks her square in the eyes, and says, “Paint my house.”


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Never again

This is the full-length movie 'Never on Sunday'. Enjoy!


Remember the American tourist Homer Thrace who, having gone to Greece in search of its ancient philosophers but becoming disillusioned, interrogates a prostitute named Ilya (played by Melina Mercouri) about what has gone wrong?

‘No society ever reached the heights that were attained by ancient Greece! It was the cradle of culture. It was a happy country. What happened? What made it fall?’ he pleads with her - click here.

But was there ever such a Greek Golden Age? When, exactly, was Greece great? In fact, nostalgia for a lost greatness can be found in the so-called Golden Age itself. Even in the mid-fifth century BCE, Athenians were already looking back with longing. And so it goes for the rest of us: we all look back with longing to our own 'Golden Age' and, in doing so, proclaim our own decline.

I think I just sit back and watch 'Never on Sunday' to remind myself of my own personal 'Golden Age' in Greece which will never come again.



Monday, January 22, 2018

I cried all morning


If you're hungry, make THIS your new screen saver!


What Mark Anthony in Shakespeare's Cleopatra referred to as "the tears that live in the onion" were in full flow this morning as I chopped several of them to put into the cucumber salad.

Add oil and vinegar, a squeezed lemon, pepper and salt, and a finely sliced carrot for a touch of colour (I was fresh out of red capsicum), and today's harvest from the vegie garden was turned into a deliciously refreshing cucumber salad to go with a couple of chicken drumsticks, not to mention the glass of red.

I've never been a foodie and always regarded eating as the equivalent human function to putting petrol in a car, but it's amazing what retire-ment can do to you, as retiring on an empty stomach leaves a lot of time with nothing else to do.

To think what I could've been with my latent and too-late-discovered culinary skills! With a bowl of freshly prepared cucumber salad in one hand and a copy of "Mein Kampf" in the other, I would've been the perfect "mein host".



What arrogance!


Quite some time ago, this septuagenarian sat down with an octogenarian who shared his migrant experience with me. Like me, he had come out to Australia but ten years earlier and from Austria, that little country next to mine. He confided in me that he was going to burn it all and leave nothing to charity. As he put it, "No one ever did me a favour!

What arrogance! I mean, we all live in this web of interdependence of family and friends, neighbours, teachers, and employers who exerted influence over us and did us favours for which we owe them gratitude.

There was "Herr Sapper", my primary school teacher, who expressed his regrets at my parents' financial inability to let me go on to higher edu-cation in a glowing reference which convinced "Herr Weber", then direc-tor of one of Germany's largest insurance companies, to sign me on as articled clerk which ordinarily would've required tertiary qualifications.

I'll never forget the name of the Australian immigration officer who gave my "Auswanderungsantrag nach Australien mit Fahrtunterstützung" the big tick. He signed my character assessment - "Appears good type. Neatly dressed. Should settle without difficulties" - with a great flour-ishing "Accepted. Schultz" (pipe down, all you Hogan's Heroes fans!)

There was Mr Robert Reid, ANZ Bank's Canberra manager, who gave me my first real job in a new country, even though he couldn't read a word of was written in my German references. And it was Mr Reid again who rehired me after my sojourn to Germany and South Africa, despite the bank's rule never to rehire anyone who had left.

Then there is that 'Good Samaritan' in the ANZ Bank who helped me get into chartered accountancy after I had applied for a position in Hancock Woodward & Neill's Rabaul office. Their branch manager in Canberra started the interview by saying, "I don't really need to see you as some-one in the ANZ Bank I play golf with has already praised you highly. I just wanted to shake hands with you and welcome you to the firm."

There was the Czech-American Sid Lhotka who in less time than it took to exchange pleasantries hired me for the Bougainville Copper Project; and my next boss, Merv Nightingale, who, at the end of a very tough six months during which we successfully started one of the world's biggest industrial catering contracts, gave me a reference so full of praise that the Frenchies hired me sight unseen as their chief accountant in Burma.

And what about Hong Kong-based Robert Bell of Price Waterhouse Associates who looked me up in Burma? He later hired me for a job in Malaysia, thus giving me an introduction to the smoke and mirrors of management consulting and the confidence to start my own firm later.

I think I got the lucrative job in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia solely on the strength of my knowledge that the Spanish Muslims in Cordoba already had paved roads and street lighting when the rest of Europe was still living in smoke-filled hovels, so here's thanks to my history teacher.

In 1985, having created my very own annus horribilis by recklessly turning my back on an expatriate lifestyle and returning to Australia without a job and a home, the owner of a multi-million-dollar mail order business hired me to computerise his business and for a year I wrote software in PICK. He fell victim to the taxman and still earns an occasional dollar "doing casual character work in stores", i.e. Santa Claus at Christmas time, whereas I've gone from strength to strength.

But don't get me wrong: some of all that good fortune had to do with the fact that I didn't fit the stereotype of your average married-with-two-kids-and-a-mortgage accountant and was willing to go where others feared to tread; also, none of those people hired me for the express purpose of doing me a favour but to do a job for them - and I like to think that I repaid them in spades and gave them many times their money's worth - but I still think they did me a favour. To think otherwise would be the height of German arrogance - or Austrian for that matter!


P.S. 'Septuagenarian' as in September - or seventh month ('octogenarian' as in October - or eighth month). September the seventh month? Yes, in the original Roman republican calendar, September was the seventh month of the year rather than the ninth. The Roman calendar was only ten months long and included the following months — Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December. The last six months were assigned names according to their ordinal numbers — Quintilis is the fifth month, Sextilis is the sixth month, and so on. It wasn’t until 45 BC, when Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar (named after Caesar, himself), that the year grew to include two more months, January and February. Quintilis and Sextilis were later renamed to July and August in honor of Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar, but despite repeated attempts to change them, the names for September, October, November, and December not only stuck, but spread to other languages. I'm still trying to educate you, Des!


Happy Birthday, liebe Bärbel!


Heute - oder erst morgen in Deinem Falle - ist Dein Geburtstag und ich wünsche Dir alles, alles Gute. Und ich möchte mich auch noch einmal für die schönen Erinnerungen bedanken die Du mir gegeben hast.

Also, mach Dir ein paar schöne Stunden, geh' nicht ins Kino sondern feiere Deinen Geburtstag denn man wird ja nicht jeden Tag wieder 21 Jahre alt, oder?  ☺


Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Grande Dame of the Far East


They say the French do things in style, so when in late 1974 Compagnie Française des Pétroles - better known as TOTAL - flew me from Port Moresby to Rangoon, with stop-overs in Hong Kong and New Delhi, they'd booked me, in keeping with my high-sounding title of Chief Accountant, into The Peninsula in Kowloon.

There I was, in a pair of Aussie stubbies and t-shirt, being met at Chek Lap Kok Airport by an inscrutable white-gloved Chinese driver decked out in a livery tailored to absolute perfection, who held up a sign which must have taken them weeks to engrave with my name.

Without a second look at my knobbly knees, this benign-looking Fu Manchu opened the door to a luxurious green machine which was a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud whose loudest noise came from its electric clock. And there wasn't much of it either as I was ushered into the hushed gilt-rococo splendour of the Peninsula's lobby.

Everything had been prepaid and so, without further ado, I was escorted, with a deference usually given to royalty, to my suite overlooking Kowloon Harbour. Miraculously, my humble duffel bag had escaped fumigation and possible incineration and was already atop a rosewood luggage rack normally reserved for personally monogrammed Louis Vuitton leather luggage sets.

I won't bother you with all the other luxuries this Grande Dame of the Far East bestowed on me and which I thoroughly enjoyed and made full use of. Had it been my own money, I would've just as happily put up at the YMCA around the corner in Salisbury Road but, hey, my new employ-ers were France's national oil company and they were footing the bill. Profite de la vie, suis tes envies, vis sans regrets, ..... tu sais pas où tu seras demain.



Saturday, January 20, 2018

Whatever gets you through the night


"My" corner in my room at the Al-Harithy Hotel


The story of my life reads like a fairy tale - GRIMM!   And there was no grimmer time than my years in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia! Being paid extremely well and living in a five-star hotel was small compensation for living in the world's largest sandbox.

The Four Pillars of Prohibition in Saudi Arabia are No Piss, No Pork, No Pornography and No Prostitution but it was the sheer loneliness of the place that could reduce even the most hardened men to tears. Some of us resident expats would meet at lunchtime around the wind- and sand-blown swimming pool of the Al-Harithy Hotel on Medina Road in Jeddah for a swim and a game of chess.

Then came the long night and the lack of entertainment and the lack of companionship until perhaps some time after midnight, just when I had conquered my insomnia, there was a hesitant tap on the door. Outside stood one of the expats I had met at the swimming pool at lunchtime, with a chess-board under his arm, asking in a timid voice, "Feel like a game of chess?"


But, of course, I didn't say that. Instead, I switched on the coffee kettle, set up the chess-board, and made the appropriate moves. Literally! Because it wasn't about chess but about the choking isolation, or about a "Dear John" letter from home, or, worse, no letter at all.

And so I played the game because it might be my turn next to stand outside someone's door and ask, "Feel like a game of chess?"