Home comforts

“Online, on digital and on 88 to 91 FM. This is BBC Radio 2“.

The mellifluous tones of Ken Bruce (on digital) were nothing short of a joy as I dipped chocolate biscuit after chocolate biscuit into my Ikea cup of Yorkshire tea after a chilly cycle back from Beida today. (Beida is the affectionate abbreviation of Beijing Daxue which is Peking University). I completely and utterly enjoyed the process of getting angry that Ken Bruce appeared to be covering for Steve Right in the afternoon before remembering I was being played fool by the eight hour time difference. A long wait for Drivetime lay ahead of me.

‘The Classic FM of pop music’, as some would describe it, conjured in that moment wonderfully familiar images of after-school glasses of orange squash at the kitchen table which were sometimes accompanied by the exciting promise of chicken pie for dinner later, bourbon biscuits, saying things like ‘the nights are drawing in’, the Sunday-evening depression made worse by the combination of the Antiques Roadshow theme tune battling against the Paul O’Grady radio show on in the other room, news of accidents on the A3 on dark rainy car journeys in a gridlocked Guildford to piano lessons, more bizarrely, Craig Revel-Horwood on Strictly Come Dancing and also of positive things – most potently, my parents, Fran just down the Dell and other lovely friends from home.

The only differences were that the biscuit-tin lid I safely clutched was part of an ex-mooncake tin, the biscuits themselves would consider themselves more at home in my local ‘world commodity living museum’ rather than in an aisle at Sainsburys, I’d used chopsticks to punish, drain and dispose of the teabag and most of all, that I’m here in my flat in the capital of CHINA. Tomorrow morning I will be woken by the blaring soundtrack of Tai-chi music and look down to see several groups of chinese men and women alike, out at the crack of dawn, harnessing the power of qi.

In all seriousness, the artful diplomacy of Jeremy Vine is just one extremely pleasing aspect of the institution that has been a solid cornerstone in my life so far – the BBC. It brings us  salts of the earth such as David Attenborough, Claire Balding (did she ever move to channel 4?) and Riz Lateef. Today, it is a home comfort that I am very grateful for. I thank all at Shepherds Bush or wherever the new broadcasting centre is now. You are wonderful, creative, right-minded people.



内蒙古 – Inner Mongolia (part 1)

To celebrate the National Day of the People’s Republic of China, some friends and I chose not to stay in and think quietly about what Mao Zedong and the Communist Party did for us. Instead, we bought eight-hour standing tickets to Hohhot in Inner Mongolia, giddy with the prospect of fresh, non-polluted air and of open spaces more expansive than Tiananmen square which are often hard to imagine with a view like this:

A reasonable day, from the tenth floor

A reasonable day, from the tenth floor

The train journey could have been horrendous. Raquel, Maddy, Jaq and I stepped onto what can only be described as the livestock carriage at the very back of the train and hopeful visions of the long journey ahead were suddenly humbled. Luckily, paying the equivalent of a meagre £3.50 to the right lady, gave us the privilege of a seat in the American diner-style canteen car, free cups of green tea, a hot dinner and an extraordinarily uncomfortable series of short kips on the benchseats.

Heads down, thumbs mostly also down

Heads down, thumbs mostly also down

The book that I brought for the week was ‘The Tao of Pooh’ by Benjamin Hoff, a present from my ‘incred’ friend Coco. It lent to the week a near-spiritual dimension in the most secular sense. It very lightly discusses the most simple, fundamental principle of Taoism, before its more deep and complicated branching off into the monastic and folk religious threads. Hoff does a great job. Not only was I so happy to be reminded of how enchanting the Winnie-the-Pooh stories are (and hopefully the others were too, once I inflicted narration upon the group one evening), but its’ beautifully simple message, dressed up in the calming-in-itself language of natural harmony and ‘The Way’, was that we should all be more like The Bear Of Very Little Brain.


Part 2 to follow.