Chapter 1 – How it all started … Africa 2007

1923389_6503423102_3692_n

……” In the middle of the Zambian bush I ran into Obe Wan Kanobe and his convoy of motorcycles. As we passed and waved at each other it took me a while to realise this was the “Long Way Down” TV expedition and so I turned around and caught up with them. After a brief exchange of pleasantries Ewan McGregor and his wife carried on riding towards Lusaka, but Charlie Boorman and Claudio Planta stayed behind, chatting by the side of a road in the middle of African bush about the “stuff ” bikers usually chat about“……

Chapter 1

At the start of the new Millennia I was working in the fraud investigation practice of one of the worlds largest consulting firms based in Hong Kong. I did challenging and occasionally rewarding work, usually got paid each month, and on the face of it life was pretty OK.

I lived in what can best be described as an “illegal hut” right next to a popular beach in the village of Sek O on the rural south side of Hong Kong Island. Various females, none of whom I liked particularly much (except for a cat), came and went.

I swam in the sea all year round, regularly ran along the mountain trails, kept myself extremely fit, rode to work at warp speed on a racing specification Yamaha YZF R1, and I could fly my paraglider up above Dragon’s Back Ridge, and land back down again right next to my hut.

However, I was becoming increasingly restless. Whilst I am very good at what I do, the pettiness and unpleasantness of the corporate world, office politics, an unplayable nutty “ex missus”, and the Hong Kong Knitting Circle was really beginning to irritate and annoy me

Time to clean out the sock drawer

Not being someone to do anything by half measures, I decided to press the reset button, resign from my job and chart a different course by enrolling as a mature student at one of the best universities in China. My plan was to differentiate myself from my peers by being able to speak, read and write Mandarin fluently, immerse myself in all things Chinese, and run my own practice.

As it turned out, a good plan.

As my first semester on the Mandarin language course at Tsinghua University (清華大學)in Beijing did not start until September 2007, some six months away, I had some time on my hands, and so I decided to challenge myself by riding a motorcycle across Africa.

I was allowed to resign almost immediately having completed all my projects as I am quite sure the painfully dull consultants I worked with were glad to see the back of me. I sold my cherished Yamaha R1 to an Italian chap, handed over my “hut” in Sek O to some French hippies, gave away the remainder of my few possessions, threw some t-shirts in a suitcase, and flew out to South Africa.

I had done some long distance motorcycle rides in Asia and Europe, but had never done any true “adventure riding”.

At the time legendary motorcycle riders like Ted Simons of “Jupiter’s Travels“, Sam Manicom of “Distant Suns“, and Nick Sanders of “Journey Beyond Reason: Fastest Man Around the World” had been riding all over the world and writing fascinating accounts about their adventures.

Also, like many other people at the time, I was captivated by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman’s  Long Way Round motorcycle expedition that had taken place a few years before, and vaguely aware they were completing yet another expedition in the continent I was planning to go to.

There was not a great deal of information about adventure riding on the internet, but there were a few decent “how to” books on planning, preparations and kit that I bought and digested. In particular, Chris Scott’s “Adventure Motorcycling Handbook” that I have to say was very informative.

I had virtually no motorcycle maintenance skills, and most of the bikes I had tinkered with over the years had been thoroughly wrecked by my complete incompetence.

No real “off road” riding experience either,  other than collecting cows on an old Matchless 350 cc motorcycle from down the meadows on the farm I worked on as a young kid, and of course hooliganing around country lanes and fields on my 50 cc moped … as all we 16 year old lads who were brought up in the English countryside were prone to do.

Given my time and available resources, I planned to ride for about five months and up through the Cederberg and Karoo of South Africa from my home in Arniston on the southern tip of Africa. I then planned to cross into Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania (if I can get in without carne de passage), Mozambique, and back into South Africa and through the Kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho, and perhaps see the Wild Coast, again.

A few year earlier I had yomped for several months down this spectacular coastline, sleeping under the stars or in a bunk in a backpackers hut, swimming and paddling across shark infested rivers, walking alongside whales and dolphins, and occasionally evading shiftas who were ambushing hikers and relieving them of their possessions! It was a truly amazing experience and I definitely wanted to see it again, but this time on a motorcycle.

ruperts-r1
My Yamaha YZF 1000cc R1 motorcycle outside the hut in Sek O
screenshot-8
Southern Africa route through South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho and back to South Africa … about 15,000 kms.
IMG_3256
My home in Arniston, on Southern Tip of Africa.
dscn0686
Running everyday along the beaches near my home in Arniston, South Africa to get fit for the expedition
8-20-2007-1214
KTM 990 Adventure (2007) ….just after I bought it… in my garden in Arniston.
my-ktm-990-adv
My KTM 990 Adventure on the day I sold it in 2011….four years and several expeditions later…spotless.
8-20-2007-1216
Clueless

So, to the planning and preparation.

I had read enough to know that the biggest dilemma when planning a long distance motorcycle expedition is the balance between carrying all the kit (you think) you might need and keeping weight to the bare minimum. I also didn’t have a great deal of cash to spend as I was paying alimony and also had to budget ahead for at least two years of self funded study with no income, and an uncertain future.

Even back in 2007 there were some decent bits of kit around that would have been useful, like GPS and satellite telephones. I didn’t have any of those. What I could muster together for navigation purposes were some basic tourist maps; a basic guide book on Namibia; a paragliding compass and altimeter; and sufficient lack of knowledge not to worry too much.

Anyway, I threw myself into the project and used my house in Arniston near the southern most tip of Africa as a base to get things ready.

But what bike?  This is the biggest decision and the choice really comes down to budget, riding ability and more often than not … just personal preference.

In recent times adventure motorcyclists have circumvented the globe on nearly everything on two wheels: 105 cc Australian “Postie” bikes; 50 cc mopeds and scooters; classic adventurers like the Honda Africa Twin and Yamaha XT 500; and of course the BMW GS Adventure series bikes used by Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor on their Long Way Round and Long Way Down television productions.

As a fairly experienced rider of sports motorcycles, like the Yamaha R1 and Honda Fireblade, I had come to expect a bit of speed and excitement and so I narrowed down my choice to the big powerful bikes, not knowing any better, and so my choice was between the BMW F1200GS Adventure, Yamaha XT1200Z Super Tenere, Honda XRV750T Africa Twin, and the KTM 990 or 950 Adventure.

I couldn’t find a decent second hand Africa Twin, and would probably have bought one if I had found one, the Yamaha was a distant fourth choice, and so it came down to the BMW or the KTM?

One of my first tasks on arriving in South Africa was to test ride the bikes and so I went to BMW Motorrad in Cape Town who I found to be extremely helpful and professional. However on the day they didn’t have a decent second hand bike and so I tested a new BMW F 1200 GS and found I really liked it. But it was very expensive, especially so with all the extra kit needed for the trip.

So off to KTM Cape Town who just happened to have a 1 year old low mileage black and grey KTM 990 Adventure with some of the kit I needed already fitted, and so I took it for a blast.

The KTM handled beautifully, was fast, powerful, reliable, balanced, looked the part and with the beautiful titanium Akropovik exhausts sounded absolutely glorious. Of course KTM were dominating (and have continued to do so) all the motorcycle rally competitions around the world, including the famous Dakar Rally and so my decision was an easy one.

A motorcycle is of course the most obvious thing you have to buy and probably the most expensive single item.  I also needed a decent helmet, protective boots, gloves, motorcycle adventure trousers and jacket, panniers, a duffel bag, camping gear, cooking gear, and perhaps some oil and maintenance tools! All these things add up.

KTM Cape Town (who happen to have relieved me of a lot of money over the years, sometimes for things I haven’t even bought !), sold me some Thor Blitz boots (half length boots that remain my favourites to this day), an Arai adventure helmet (a very good helmet that I never liked much, and many years later my other half, Fanny used it to ride around the world on her KTM), and very very expensive Touratech aluminium panniers … no other choice in South Africa at the time … and so I have used them for many other adventures since.

I really liked the KTM orange funky riding gear, but it was way too expensive and so I found some cheap three layer trousers and jacket (water proof lining, detachable warmth layer, outer tough material, and some basic internal amour) from a local manufacturer called Lookwell.  As it turned out it did look well, I thought, but wasn’t very warm, and certainly wasn’t very waterproof. That said, in Africa it did the job most of the time, and I lived in it for months on end and for many years.

Only years later did I realize that an initial investment in some higher quality, lighter and more comfortable riding gear with better protection might have been a wiser idea. I really like Rev ‘It and Klim motorcycling riding equipment, but then again I also like Ferraris and fine wine. I guess we all have to live within our means.

One of the good things about South Africa is that it has great camping equipment and 4×4 accessory shops, and you are spoiled for choice. I was also very lucky to get a North Face “Tadpole” tent that was on display in the shop and had 70% knocked off the price because there was a small hole in the fabric that I patched up fairly easily. I already had a ground mat, sleeping bag, head torch, MSR pocket rocket gas cooker, a basic first aid kit and some kind of hallucinogenic anti malaria tablets called Meflium, my digital camera, and some pots and pans. No funky light weight titanium anything… just odds and sods I took out of my kitchen drawers and cupboards.

So, that was about it.

I didn’t need a carne de passages (the document used to guarantee to foreign customs departments that you are temporarily importing a vehicle) because the Southern Africa countries I planned to travel through allowed South Africa registered vehicles access for just a few dollars, or even free of charge. As a British passport holder I didn’t need a visa for any of these countries either, I suspect because Britain used to run the show during the colonial years!

So nothing left than to get going. It really was that simple.

8-20-2007-1213
View from my friend John’s flat where I lived while visiting Cape Town
picture-803
The Yellow Peril near my home in Arniston. Nothing to do with motorcycling, but a car that will live long in my memory and used to lug things between Arniston and Cape Town… beer mostly.
img_0088
Garden of my bolthole in South Africa – The Weaver
DCIM100MEDIADJI_0006.JPG
My neighbours – Southern Right Whale and her calf
IMG_8964
Arniston
10398781_10650958102_713_n
At home at the Weaver
iphone-2013-085
Joined by a local dog for a walk along the long stretches of deserted beaches around Arniston.
weaver-2006
Weaver
208225_200906823273815_200422536655577_597769_7147001_n
Arniston Bay
1923423_6099108102_6993_n
May and June is winter in South Africa … so a fire takes the chill off in the evenings
8-20-2007-1225
This was about it. Traveling light and with paper maps.
8-20-2007-1226
I would later ride through mountains with snow… not what you expect in South Africa
8-20-2007-1220
A few trips on my new KTM between Arniston and Cape Town

I left Arniston and headed north across the Overberg, across the winelands in Robertson, and up into the snow capped mountains north of Worcester, as it was early May and therefore winter in the southern hemisphere.

I headed towards Ceres, Porteville and Citrusdal, all places I knew pretty well, but from several thousand meters above the ground whilst competing in the “All Africa Open ” paragliding competitions over the years. It is here that the tar roads suddenly changed to the ubiquitous hard packed gravel roads that would continue pretty much for most of the trip.

I had driven a Toyota Hilux across Southern Africa a few years previously as you could rent one very cheaply for a Windhoek to Johannesburg stretch, being the hire cars that were left in Namibia and needed returning to their hire base in South Africa. In fact, it was basically a free way of traveling, and on that occasion I managed to put 5,000 kilometers on the clock, and only lost control and spun it in the desert a couple of times! A very valuable lesson about speeding on sand and gravel. I slept in the back of it, a type of vehicle that is known as a “bakkie” in Africa, or a “Ute”in Australia,  and so I only had to pay for petrol and beer.

Now I was on two wheels, and despite very little experience on this kind of road surface, I was doing OK with only a few “dramas” when the bike occasionally veered off where I wasn’t pointing it, or the front wheel slid away on scree like gravel.  Later on when the gravel got even deeper, or was rutted and corrugated, or very sandy, did I start to struggle and fully appreciate my own limitations and the weight of the bike.

I have always been of the mind set that if someone else can do something, so can I.  There are of course some off road riding skills and fundamentals, especially on the dreaded sand, that I wish I had known about and been better at, but I just soldiered on and day by day I got used to the slightly “out of control” feel, and I guess by trial and error, stayed upright. I only dropped the bike much later on in deep fess fess talc like sand in the north of the Skeleton Coast, where no damage was caused to me or my bike, and no one around to see me make a hash of it. The only other big dramas involved some animals in Mozambique, but I will come on to that later.

About 300 kilometers after I set off I entered the magnificent Cederberg region and it was from here that I felt I was on a proper adventure. This is a mountainous and remote region of South Africa and home to Cape Leopards which are a tad smaller than their African cousins further north, but will still rip your head off, given half a chance. The locals say if you are out and about hiking in the mountains you will rarely see a Leopard, but if you do, you are being stalked and its already too late. A sobering thought!

At a place called Cederberg Oasis I stopped, set up my first camp in their field, bounced on their trampoline, swam in their pool, went for a short run, begged for some fuel, enjoyed a huge T-bone steak and chips, drank beer, did some organised stargazing at the crystal clear heavens above with my eccentric host, tried to chat up some Swedish girls (unsuccessfully) who were traveling in a two wheel drive VW Polo hire car, drank “Klippies and Coke”, got absolutely trolleyed, and woke up the next morning, sprawled out on the ground about 2 meters away from my tent.

All in all a very successful first 24 hours of my expedition.

During a huge cardiac arrest breakfast where I was nursing a well deserved hangover I found out that the way ahead through a remote little town called Wuppenthal required navigating along a twisty and sandy 4×4 route for about 40 kilometers.

It was indeed a tricky bit of trail, but as it turned out, this was enormous fun, a great bit of training, and gave me a huge amount of confidence and improved my handling of the big bike with all its luggage.

It is probably a good time to point out that my KTM had a 19.5 litre fuel tank that was good for a range of about 250-280 kilometers.  This range is good for weekend warriors in Europe and America, perhaps not so great in God’s backyard and the Cradle of Humankind.

I had pondered about getting an after market 38 or 45 litre tank, but at nearly a thousand quid a pop I balked at the idea, and so I decided to carry two 10 litres of extra fuel contained in yellow petrol cans I bought in a camping shop in Cape Town for ten quid each (technically diesel cans based on the yellow colour of the cans … a fact I found out 6 years later!)

As anyone will know, a litre of water is equivalent to a kilogram and so I was carrying nigh on 20 extra kilograms carried over the back wheel. Also, these petrol cans filled up most of my panniers and there was little room left for anything else apart from a few tools and other heavily kit that I stuffed around them to keep centre of gravity low.

This forced me to carry my few clothes and the camping gear in a North Face duffel bag that was tied at right angles over the top of both aluminium panniers using compression straps. An optimal luggage configuration that I have used ever since. Later I will swap the metal panniers for much more versatile soft panniers, such as those from Wolfman. http://wolfmanluggage.com/

In this particular part of South Africa, in fact in most of the rural areas, fuel was not readily available, and even less so in Namibia, Mozambique and Zambia and so I really needed the extra fuel. Later I would more accurately appraise the route ahead and only fill them up if I needed to in order to keep weight to a minimal. I would also do my best to keep my main tank full whenever I could, even if I had just filled it up. Nothing is worse than the stress and worry of riding in the middle of no where on “empty”. Something all adventure riders can relate to.

wuppenthal-2
Cederberg roads
IMG_0077
Cedarberg Roads – (pic a few years later) with my KTM 990 Adventure R that I rode around world on
dscn0782
Bouncy bouncy at Cedarberg Oasis. An overlander truck and its occupants also enjoying a beautiful part of South Africa
dscn0773
You can’t go wrong with beans and boerswurst
img_0064
I later got this tank bag and it was something I should have used on this first expedition. The map is the same though and I tucked it in the gap between the front of the seat and the tank. yep! … that was the extent of my navigation.
img_0083
Karoo
wuppenthal-3
Wuppenthal
img_1633
The Wuppenthal to Cederberg 4×4 Track I took… 6 years later on my RTW Adventure R
dscn0788
Me swimming in the Orange River at border between South Africa and Namibia
dscn0786
Camping at South Africa / Namibia border and swimming up and down the Orange River. Since a young lad I have enjoyed floating miles and miles down rivers to see where I end. Later I will float for tens of miles down rivers in Guilin China … just for fun.
dscn0790
Master Chef

I made a lot of progress on the second day and rode long distances across the huge expanses of the Karoo desert, rode alongside ostriches that ran and tried to keep up with me, open and closed a lot of gates on cattle farms, mastered riding over cattle grids (get them wrong and you’ll come off), had lunch in Clanwilliam, headed off east into the Karoo again towards Calvinia and reached the northerly South African town of Springbok as the sun was going down where I found a secluded spot and camped up.

The next day I stocked up with fuel, water, food provisions for a few days, checked the tension of the drive chain, engine oil, tire pressures, and bought a cheap sleeping bag from a Chinese “peg and plastic bucket” shop as I was absolutely freezing during the night. This low tech 60 Rand sleeping bag combined with my other sleeping bag kept me warm in the freezing nights ahead in the desert where the temperature sometimes plunged to minus 7 degrees centigrade and also acted as a nice mattress in the warmer climes of Zambia and Malawi.

All stocked up I then took the N7 highway from Springbok in north South Africa to the border post with Namibia at a place called, Vioolsdrift. The route up the highway was fast, but extremely windy as I passed through a dusty, orange and rather moonscape like terrain.

At this time I was riding way too fast, as was my habit at the time, often at 160-200 kph. This, I think, was because I was used to riding sports bikes at 240+ kph, which I will admit was not an uncommon occurence. Later, I slowed down to an average 100-120 kph as this is the optimal speed for tyres, fuel consumption, and to my mind the ideal adventure riding pace for comfort and enjoying the surroundings.

It takes a while to get into your head that this isn’t a race, I didn’t have to make an appointment, meet anyone, or get home quickly. I was in the moment, looking at new things, close to nature, enjoying my bike and riding in amazing places.

On average my riding pace would go down to about 60-120 kph on gravel, 15-50 kph on sand,  and a snail’s pace of 20-30 kph in African villages as children, goats, horn bills, pigs, dogs, cows, and other critters would feel compelled to jump out in front of me.

I would also have to wave a lot, as every human being I encountered in Africa would wave enthusiastically at me as I rode by, especially children. With the waving back and taking film and video using my left hand I think I have ridden across Africa using one hand more than two.

The ride up to the border was a particularly windy leg of the journey and my bike would often be leaning at a steep angle into the wind, something that would happen a lot in the early afternoons in southern Africa.

I arrived at the border about 2 p.m and decided to turn left and follow the Orange River westwards to find a campsite I had heard about. The gravel road was extremely dusty and it was quite hot as I slid and weaved along the sandy and rutted trail.

After about 30 kilometers I found the campsite, checked in, set up my tent next to the river, found the bar and some other travelers, chatted with the friendly staff who worked the bar and restaurant, and had an early evening swim in the river, oblivious to black mambas and cholera bacteria that were both reported to be in the water.

http://allafrica.com/stories/200704160878.html

8-20-2007-1224
Now where?
8-20-2007-1215
Long roads … no people
8-20-2007-1217
Crossing Orange River from South Africa to Namibia
8-20-2007-1230
Selfie
8-20-2007-1221
On the Namibian side of Orange River
8-20-2007-1234
Ahh!  Corrugations….judder judder.
8-20-2007-1235
Fish River Canyon towards Ais Ais.
8-20-2007-1233
A nice campsite in Ais Ais … with hot springs

The campsite was a really good one. It had a very nice bar with a veranda on the banks of the Orange River, decent food, cold Windhoek and Amstel beer, good company, and later I slept really well in my little tent next to the river.

In the morning over coffee and breakfast I decide to stay another day and go for a hike with the new friends I made. After lunch I rode my unladen bike for an explore further west into the Richtersveld National Park and further west towards Alexander Bay. This is a very remote part of South Africa, and I thought it would be a missed opportunity not to explore it by rushing into Namibia without seeing the southern side of the Orange River.

Tough riding, but well worth it, and I got back to camp after dark and again chanced my luck with a swim in the river, and actually swam across to Namibia and amused myself that I had entered it illegally without a formal border crossing.

The next day I really did have to get going. I packed up and I had some breakfast at a nice cafe next to the border crossing, filled up all my fuel cans and petrol tank, and had a very easy crossing through both sets of immigration and customs gates. Very easy.

I rode along a tar road for a while and then saw the sign indicating the route towards Ais Ais at Fish River Canyon, and so I turned left onto a dusty gravel track that had been grooved out by heavy traffic. Within a few minutes a large bus loomed up in my rear view mirror and as its soporific occupants gazed out of the windows it barged its way passed me at well over 120 kph, as that was the speed I was doing, and in its wake left me in a thick plume of dust. In doing so I was immediately blinded, unable to alter course, and briefly panicked. In the thick brown haze I was forced off the track and ran off at a tangent into the desert, narrowly missing large rocks, bushes and trees.

This was not my first encounter with “African driver”, but it was my closest shave so far. I had traveled this region before in a Toyota Hilux and been overtaken by trucks and buses with the drivers foot buried into the gas and at full pelt. Now I was on two wheels, feeling much more vulnerable, not least because changing direction meant leaving my chosen grove, sliding over the high grooves and ridges at speed and finding another grove in the road, if there was one.

Another notch on the learning curve.

8-20-2007-1241
Canyon Lodge
8-20-2007-1243
Stretch of tarmac that doesn’t last long until usual gravel roads
dscn0802
Namibia – rest stop
dscn0803
A typical Namibian scene

I continued on across largely deserted gravel trails through stunning scenery, rarely seeing anyone else. Namibia has one of the lowest population densities in the world, and its small population had recently been culled by the effects of AIDs and HIV.  Its one of the few countries where the population is actually declining, and most of the people that do live there are living in and around the capital city, Windhoek. A lot of the time I never saw anyone, and any other traffic could be seen miles away due to the telltale plumes of dust churned up in their wake.

Within a few hours I started descending down into the Fish River Canyon where I found the Ais Ais campsite and resort. It is a rather strange place and has several thermally heated swimming baths that were full of Afrikaners or Cape Coloureds and their kids. South Africans (black, white, pink or brown) are very fond of camping and the great outdoors, which they do with gusto, armed with various types of “bakkie” (pickup trucks), safari tents, portable “braai and potjie pots”, alcohol, and meat… always lots of alcohol and meat.

I was often asked to join them for beers and a chat as I was clearly a lone wolf traveler on an unusually large enduro style motorcycle. Charlie and Ewan and their round the world TV productions must be credited with the rise in popularity and development of adventure motorcycling and all the associated adventure equipment.  Before 2007 there really weren’t that many of us about and we were something of a rarity.

I had a very cold night in the tent, all my water bottles were frozen solid, and in the morning I was feeling stiff and sore. No worries. A few minutes wallowing in the thermal pools had me thawed out and loosened up. I made myself some coffee and ate some rolls I bought at the border, packed up my kit, and prepared for what would turn out to be an awesome day’s riding.

dscn0801
Bit of rain in the Namibcan be surprisingly cold, wet and windy in winter

I was finding my rhythm with gravel riding and thoroughly enjoying the southern Namib desert scenery. Namibia is one of my favourite countries, perhaps my favourite because its so unspoiled, beautiful and wild. The riding is on the enjoyable side of challenging, the colours are unearthly, the air is pure, and there are African wild animals and birds everywhere.

I was riding in a particularly desolate area when I saw a figure shimmering in the distance ahead. As I drew closer I realized it was a man, and closer still, a European man. He looked quite strange, was exceptionally thin and had his head concealed in a hoodie. He was dressed like the sort of street sleeper tramp one sees in an English city, except without a dog or selling the “Big Issue”.

I drew up along side him and asked if he was OK, or needed anything.

‘I’m fine’, came the reply in a very thick and difficult to understand accent.

Intrigued, I took off my helmet, looked around me from horizon to horizon and asked where he had come from.

At the time I did not fully comprehend what I was being told.

He answered, “I have crossed many times”, and went on to explain he was looking for Namib desert elephants.

I asked him if he was hungry, but he said he was not. Nonetheless, I fished around in my supplies and gave him a bread roll with ham and cheese and a bottle of water. He took the roll without any expression of gratitude, but gave me back the water saying I should keep it to stay hydrated.

It was all very strange. But then riding alone in far off places is often very strange. Ancient nomadic bushmen lived in this part of the world and lived off the land. But he certainly did not look or sound like a Namib bushman. Was he one of those European types that have given up on regular society and gone off to live like a nomad in the wilds?

In the days to come, often when I was alone in my tent at the end of a long day of riding my brain would go over this event, again and again and try and rationalise what I saw and heard. I would dig deep into my memory and search cognitively to remember all the details, what he said, how he sounded, where he was, what he looked like. There was something very odd about it all and my mind was not at peace. As Fanny always accuses me, I was thinking too much.

It was much later that I remembered. He had no bag.

Not being as well versed in quantum mechanics or the second law of thermodynamics as Sir Roger Penrose or Professor Stephen Hawking I have tried to get my head around this science non-fiction event. The man was definitely quite odd, painfully thin, completely ill equipped to be where he was, and was literally in the middle of nowhere without a bag.

I had been riding for hours in the Namib desert on sandy and rocky trails and there was absolutely nothing around and after I rode off there was still nothing around for several further hours. And yet there he was, a weird looking skinny man in a hoodie in the middle of the Namib Desert looking for desert elephants without a bag.

The thought did cross my mind that he could be from an alternative dimension and was on a time traveling safari! I mean, that is what he told me if I had listened to him properly and applied some deductive reasoning. However, everything we are taught and told suggests time travel or crossing from other dimensions is impossible. The stuff of science fiction. I am acutely aware we human beings think we are the centre of everything, brainwashed by religion, conditioned by social mores, and slaves to our human frailties and vices.

But science is an evolving subject. What if time tourists are among us all the time with nothing to distinguish them from us, unless of course they come from the far distant future and their appearance has evolved into a seemingly different being that looks “alien”. Maybe all the UFOs that are seen are not from far away alien planets but are crafts and devices from different dimensions or time.

I remember that he seemed fascinated by my motorcycle and examined it really closely. I guess a KTM 990 Adventure would be a interesting exhibit in a future museum, as indeed a stuffed Namib desert elephant must later become after they and many other flora and fauna we have today have become extinct.

As the thoroughly bizarre encounter came to a sort of natural end, he waved goodbye and then walked away.  I found it difficult not to watch him as he trundled off and disappeared into the heat haze of the desert.

I have thought about this encounter often, tried to work through some rational explanations, wondered what to do about this revelation, and decided not to say anything about it because being perceived as “mad” is generally frowned upon in polite society.

Even when I recount regular events from my life in the police or from my global travels nobody ever believes me. No one is going to believe I bumped into a time traveller, except perhaps the time traveller and his kind who may read this blog in years to come.

In roughly the same location a decade later when I was riding my KTM 1190 Adventure R I saw something even more strange than a time travellers traipsing through the dunes.

Messrs. Hammond, May, and Clarkson together with dozens of support crew and various vehicles and equipment were filming VW dune buggies for the Grand Tour TV series that I later watched on Amazon. Suffice to say, there was no sign of either me, Namib bushmen or any time travellers in any of the “heavily edited” footage!

8-20-2007-1238
Small baobab tree in Namib desert

The riding in the Namib was glorious. It was beautiful. I felt very free. I could go and do anything I wanted. No pressures. My only sadness was that I could not share it with anyone. On other expeditions I would.

I spent a few days riding around the desert and Fish River Canyon and wild camped until I ran out of supplies and then went to bar cum restaurant in the middle of nowhere called Canyon Lodge that was surrounded by sand and the rusted shells of 1950s cars with large cactus plants growing up through them.

Years later I returned to the same place with Fanny on our round the world expedition and the place looked very different with a museum full of automobile memorabilia, a gift shop, a fancy restaurant and bar, guest rooms and a proper petrol station.

In 2007 it was a very modest affair. I called into the bar for a cup of coffee and met the proprietor and her daughter who looked like they had Namibian “Bushman” Khoisan ancestry. They were very entertaining and funny people and we had a good laugh together. A unknown quantity of beer and many hours later I staggered out of the bar into the crisp coldness of night and an enormous star studded sky, stumbled about for a bit, staggered back into the bar and collapsed on their couch and fell asleep.

The next day I woke up with a hangover that was becoming a regular event and after coffee and breakfast with my new friends, filled up my petrol tanks at their ancient looking hand pumps, gathered some more water and supplies, bid them all farewell, started up the bike and blasted off back into the desert.

I had a great ride along virtually deserted roads. I rarely saw anyone. I consulted my paper tourist map of Namibia and using basic navigation that included orientating myself by the sun and consulting my compass aimed for a way-point about 300 kilometers away in a northwest (ish) direction. Botswana on the right, Atlantic Ocean on the left, and a few places dotted about, such as Solitaire and Sesrium. Navigation is not that difficult in Namibia as there are few roads and often signs at every road intersection.

As the sun was setting I reached a rather scruffy and uninviting town called Bethlehem and thought I should ride a little further away, find a quiet spot just off the gravel road, set up a fire to ward off the ghosts, and basically free camp. However, as I was riding along I saw an isolated green coloured farm house and as I got nearer there was a sign indicating that they offered accommodation, and so I pulled in and was received by Mr and Mrs Schmidt.

I explained that I couldn’t really afford a room, but would be happy to pay to pitch my tent somewhere and for something to eat, if they had anything.

Mr Schmidt said that I could have a room in a cabin, as it was very cold during the night, and also have dinner for a total of one hundred Namibian dollars (US$7). That sounded a very good deal indeed and so I accepted. Even my KTM got its own shade under a thatched porch and the dinner was superb… a hearty meal of South African style bobotie, aniseed flavoured cabbage, sweet potatoes, Melva pudding and custard, and coffee. Outstanding.

After dinner I got chatting with Mr Schmidt over a beer and he asked if I wanted to go with him in the morning and shoot some baboons that were killing his livestock. Apparently, a troop of baboons were coming down from the rocky hills and indiscriminately killing his sheep so they could tear open the udders of the ewes and drink their milk.  He said we would only have to shoot a few ringleaders for the message to get across!

In the early morning before the sun had come up, having allegedly agreed to kill some of my fellow primates, I got geared up with a rifle and ammunition and headed off with Mr. Schmidt to confront the planet of the apes. We walked for miles, patrolled a good part of his immense farm, saw the sun rise, and never saw a single baboon.

I was glad for the exercise as the first couple of weeks of my expedition had involved drinking my body weight in Windhoek beer, and I was secretly pleased I never had to shoot anything. During the hike I was thrilled to see all the birds, springboks, impala, dik diks and kudus, and when we got back I was fed a Namibian farmer’s breakfast, several litres of coffee, and had my fuel replenished for free, plus a packed lunch and a bag of delicious pomegranates to keep me going. What wonderful people. Its what life is really about.

Sad farewells, but a joyous sound as my motorcycle roared back into life at the first press of the starter. As I pulled out of the driveway and back onto the gravel road I saw the entire troop of baboons sitting about at the side of the road and perched on rocks, probably laughing at me.

8-20-2007-1240
Car park of canyon Lodge…2007
8-20-2007-1244
KTM camping with the Schmidts on their farm
8-20-2007-1245
Good morning
8-20-2007-1254
Why the long face?
8-20-2007-1246
Nothing is as glorious as an African sunset
8-20-2007-1248
Dinner for one
8-20-2007-1290
Those elephants are fast
8-20-2007-1253
Map in pocket
8-20-2007-1256
Quintessentially Namibia
8-20-2007-1257
Sun on the left? Going north.
img_0062
A graded bit of gravel track stretching and meandering into the far distance.
img_0049
Cars and bike can be seen for miles due to the tell-tale plume of dust
img_0011
On a lean in the Skeleton Coast
dscn0824
Sussesvlei and dunes
dscn0811
Left or right?
dscn0821
Scenery like no other
dscn0807
Not very polite
dscn0808
Perhaps even less so!
dscn0806
Classic Namibia… storm , lightening and rain in distance
dscn0810
Wide open spaces …few places in the world where you can experience such solitude
8-20-2007-1249
The Schmidt’s farm…. and Mrs Schmidt waving goodbye.

I rode across long stretches of gravel road and noticed that the general conditions of the road was getting worse. The ruts and corrugations were higher, the crevices were bigger and deeper and there was an increasing number of deep sandpits and potholes.  Often the road had been washed away leaving an uneven rocky surface that bore no resemblance to a road. The road would descend down steep ramps, across dry sandy river wadis, or streams and then rise up again.

I refueled at an isolated and very welcome petrol station, and while I was filling up and drinking water I noticed a South African registered Volvo SUV with a family pull up, its occupants filling the quiet of the desert with a cacophony of family sounds, refill, and then roar off back into the desert. A little while later, and in less of a rush, I left the petrol station and after about 10 minutes I came across the same family standing by the side of the road.

I stopped and asked if they were OK, and they said they had crashed, were uninjured, but they were obviously quite shaken, especially the kids. It didn’t require much investigation to realise they had lost control on the gravel road and rolled their car several times into the desert, and about 50 meters into the desert I could see the crumpled mess of their Volvo SUV.

They had called the automobile rescue services already and were waiting for a tow and a rescue. I asked if they needed me to go back to the petrol station and get help and they said they may have to wait for a while and could I go back and alert the petrol station attendant and bring back some cold drinks, which I did. Back at the petrol station the attendant already knew about the crash, and said this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence.

From my own experience driving a Hilux across Namibia, I knew it was very easy to lose control on the sand and gravel if you drove too quickly, or employed incorrect driving techniques, as I did on a few occasions. Like a motorcycle the only way to correct the back end starting to slide round is to apply gentle acceleration. Applying brake will cause the back end to slide and if you are going too fast that will drop a motorcycle, or cause a car to slide sideways and roll if its going too fast. Something I will see again many times, on this expedition and others in the future.

8-20-2007-1255
Quite a roll

Southern Namibia is made up of large European style farms, but to the west there seemed to be more and more sand and dunes. I rode for about 350 kilometers and was running low on fuel and needed to get to a place called Sesrium, which would have fuel, a campsite and is the gateway to the huge sand dunes, the largest in the world.

When I got there by mid afternoon I was quite tired having had a couple of sections of rough roads with lots of dust and sand. I pitched my tent among quite a few vehicles at the main campsite. It seemed there were two classes of visitor at Sesrium. Super rich ones who stayed at a five star luxury hotel at several hundred US dollars a night, and riff raff like me who were camping, drinking beer and burning boerewors.

As a famous tourist destination, Sesrium was quite crowded and there were lots tour operators offering all sorts of activities, from hiking, hot air ballooning, quad bikes, and microlight flights.

The best time to see the dunes is at sunset and sunrise when the colours are most radiant and the sun less hot. I decided to go very early in the morning and ride there myself and brave the soft sand.  I got up while it was still dark, quite cold and packed up all my stuff and rode west into the park.

As I was riding along and the sun just starting to light up all the dunes into a vivid reddish orange, I saw some white gazebos tents and a group of people in the middle of the pristine desert, dressed in finest “Out of Africa” khaki gear, sitting around a huge table that was set with what looked like a white linen table cloth, and I assume silver cutlery and bone china plates, uniformed waiters and the whole shebang. It was like an officers’ mess dinner, except in the middle of a desert. Surreal.

As I got nearer to Sussesvlei the dunes got taller and I could see signs indicating the name of each dune, unimaginatively with a number. Quite an impressive sight.

I parked up my bike, changed into running gear and decided I would run up and down a few dunes and take some pictures, which I did. Running up the sides of the shifting sand was very difficult as you go up 3 steps and slide down 2, rather like staggering home from the pub. Eventually I made it to the top of the tallest and most famous dune and ran along the ridges for several hours until I was thoroughly exhausted. That burnt off some carbs and earned some beer points.

I then rode back the way I came as there is no road, on or off, connecting Sussesvlei to the Atlantic Coast and continued riding for some time to my next resting stop at a place called Solitaire, which is a campsite, hostel, petrol station and restaurant located at a cross roads between Windhoek and the towns of Walvis Bay and Swarkopmund.

I pitched my tent on the rocky camp ground along with some 4×4 SUVs with Safari tents, and another adventure motorcyclist from Australia who was riding around the world on a 25 year old BMW R65 with very minimal kit. He had ridden across Asia, and just completed the more technical west route of Africa through the deserts and jungles of the Sahara, Mauritania, the DRC, Nigeria, the Congo, Sierra Leone and Angola.

He told me about his adventures, the technical riding challenges, repairing damage to his elderly BMW,  smashing the “sticky out” boxer engine cylinder heads on trees in the jungles of the Congo, and some close shaves with dodgy soldiers and the like in west Africa. All admirable derring do stuff, but Bush, Obama and Blair had yet to mess up Africa and the Middle East and inflame radical Islam. In 2007 adventure travel and the Dakar Rally had yet to be ruined by the idiot office wallahs and war lords from Brussels, Washington and London.

I felt a bit daft with my state of the art motorcycle and its shiny panniers having only ridden up from neighbouring South Africa, but fascinated by his stories. I offered him my house in Arniston to stay in for a few weeks when he got to South Africa and I later found out that he accepted and enjoyed the relaxation on the southern tip of the continent. There is a strong community spirit between adventure riders and I was very happy to help out, and indeed be helped out by others.

The next day after a decent breakfast and a slice of the famous Solitaire apple pie I headed off westwards towards Walvis Bay, again along quite rough and sandy roads. I crossed large expanses of rocky desert and saw my first giraffe of the trip, running elegantly, as giraffes do, across the road in front of me. Its a strange beast, and even more odd to see in the wilds. Like the desert elephants, one wonders how they survive in the deserts of Namibia.

I enjoyed this stretch of riding as the scenery was magnificent, but as I got nearer to the coast the air became rather humid, and the surroundings became greener and more lush. Having reached the coast I could see people surfing down the dunes on snowboards and there were a couple of people paragliding in the ridge lift which I thought looked fun.  I continued through Walvis Bay and into Swakopmund. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swakopmund)

Here I found a campsite on the beach, bought some supplies and prepared for the next leg of the trip up the skeleton coast. This stage was going to present my first real challenges as there are no supplies, no petrol, and technically motorcycles are not allowed in National Parks, which most of the skeleton coast is. Also, I heard it was very sandy, and the route up to the border with Angola largely inaccessible.

8-20-2007-1250
Vehicles can be seen miles away due to plume of dust
8-20-2007-1260
Road to dunes
8-20-2007-1273
Australian rider at Solitaire… having ridden across Asia and west coast of Africa on his old BMW R65 with tyres made in Taiwan. Respect!
8-20-2007-1272
Camping at Solitaire… good Apple Pie
8-20-2007-1274
Doogle from Magic Roundabout up a tree? No… Weaver nests.
8-20-2007-1261
Nice bit of tar road between the dunes
8-20-2007-1262
sand mountains
8-20-2007-1263
Yours truly at Dune 7 or 45 in Sussesvlei
8-20-2007-1264
Like the Afar region and Danikal depression in Ethiopia these Namibian dunes are truly mystical works of nature
8-20-2007-1266
My footsteps in the sand and bike down in the car park
8-20-2007-1267
Walk along the ridge is the way to do it
8-20-2007-1269
Dune beetle
8-20-2007-1270
View from the top
8-20-2007-1271
dscn0826
Back on the gravel
img_0010
Salt pans of the southern Skeleton Coast
14258234_10154493194058103_6769545745788000651_o
Seek forgiveness … not permission
dscn0845
On the way to Palmwag and my encounter with Sebastian the Bull elephant
img_0067
Long Long roads in north Namibia
dscn0828
Camping up and the daily routine of bit of bike maintenance and cleaning kit

With all my fuel cans full, plenty of water, and with enough food for a few days my bike was now totally unsuitable to ride on soft sand. But I needed all this stuff, and sand is what I would have to try and ride on.

As I was getting the last of my provisions in Swarkopmund I bumped into a group of British guys who were riding KTM 250 cc enduro bikes. They had joined a tour group in Windhoek and were being guided along a circular route of Namibia for 10 days. It all sounded super fun, but they seemed more interested in my journey and impressed with my bike and what I had ahead of me. They asked me if I was really going to ride my big KTM 990 along the Skeleton Coast?  Umm, yes!  But that got me thinking… what do they know that I don’t?

The initial ride up the Skeleton Coast was along amazingly flat and white salt pans. The wild Atlantic Ocean is on your left as you go north, and the desert and dunes are on your right, formed into strange multi coloured structures by ancient volcanic activity.

Also in the night and early morning the difference in temperature and humidity between the cool sea air and the hot dry desert air causes a lot of fog, some of it extremely thick, and it takes a few hours for it to burn away each morning, only to reappear again in the late afternoon and evening.

After several hours I found a very basic fuel station and topped up, and then carried on to the entrance of the national park, which is gated with an impressive skull and cross bone design and large elephant tusks. There is a manned office that takes tolls from cars, but motorcycles are not allowed in. All that said, I have to date crossed it twice. Once on this trip, and again two years later with my friend Nick Dobson, when we had to bribe our way in with 5 cigarettes and two peaches.

img_0031
Sneak in when nobody is looking

On this earlier occasion I just rode through the gates when nobody was looking and kept going. I hadn’t come all this way to turn around. Seek forgiveness, not permission, and all that stuff.

The riding was fine to start with, but later there were long stretches of deep sand and I struggled somewhat with either the front wheel washing away, or the rear wheel not getting enough traction and burying itself deep into the sand. Sometimes I would have to get off the bike, walk alongside the bike, and throttled it carefully through the deep sand traps until the road, if you could call it that, got better and I could get back on and get going again. Exhausting stuff.

I rode for a few hours until it started getting dark and turned left onto the beach behind a small dune and set up my tent.  I collected drift wood and made an amazing fire which I sat next to, staring out to sea until the sea mist came in and made everything a bit creepy, being on my own and all. The sound of the waves during the night was quite loud and the mist was quite thick, damp and smelt very salty and slightly fishy. Not the greatest night’s sleep of the trip.

The next day everything looked different and not so threatening. Remote, beautiful and unearthly. Any thoughts I had of John Carpenter’s movie, “The Fog” had melted away.

I had to plan the next stage, but my paper maps were not showing any roads north of Mowes Bay and so I carried on through Terrace Bay and along sand trails until it became apparent why there wasn’t anything on my map.

There was no more road.

The M34 just stopped. A 125 or 250 cc enduro bike might make some progress, my 1000 cc adventure bike definitely wouldn’t, and so I plotted another course to Palmwag that would later route me up to the river at the border with Angola.

So, I headed back the way I came, and after about 100 kilometres or so took a left turn onto a gravel road that took me up into the mountains and through very remote, barren and beautiful scenery.

After about 50 kilometers I came across “the other gate” to the Skeleton Coast Park and there was a park ranger standing at the gate indicating for me to stop.  I was expecting a “bollocking”, or perhaps have to pay a fine for illegally entering the National Park, but he just laughed at me, and waved me on.

Without finding illegal fuel stops here and there run by entrepreneurial locals and the extra kilograms of petrol I carried in the yellow cans I would not have made it.

I then rode along very long stretches of quite good gravel trails and eventually into the small town of Palmwag where I found a very nice game resort managed by a young English couple who had given up their life in the UK to do something completely different.

I paid for a camping spot, but actually slept in my sleeping bag in a hammock by the pool which was quite eventful because a huge bull elephant, called “Sebastian”, paid me a visit in the night and “snuffled” me with his truck. I can’t think of another word other than snuffle to describe being snorted on and prodded with an elephant’s truck. After all, it doesn’t happen that often!

This encounter wasn’t a complete surprise because I heard from the English managers that this elephant was legendary, very big, very pale grey in colour, wandered around the resort at night, and provided you didn’t startle him, would tip toe about and snuffle things, like he did with me.  The strange thing is that I could hear this enormous creature snapping off branches and twigs from the trees, but I couldn’t hear him actually move around, and I was excited and slightly anxious when he was suddenly towering above me and feeling around with his trunk.

Eventually Sebastian found something else to snuffle and disappeared as silently as he arrived. I heard cracks of branches in various parts of the resort all the way through the night, and in the morning there was no sign of him.  I mentioned the fact at breakfast, just to assure myself I wasn’t having one of my vivid dreams, and everyone just nodded matter of factly that it was indeed Sebastian.

I should note that it is at this time of the expedition in northern Namibia that I started taking my weekly meflium anti malaria tablets, which had a side effect that they gave me very weird and vivid dreams. I believe this particular medication is the cheap stuff the Americans developed for the Vietnam war that sent some of its soldier doolally, and today is routinely sold over the counter at any South African pharmacy.

I caught malaria in north South Africa in 2002 as I was hiking and free camping down the east coast, probably at the Swaziland border near St. Lucia and was deliriously ill with fever, being rescued by some unknown Xhosa people in the Transkei and ending up in Umtata hospital for a few days on a drip, which I escaped from when I felt a “bit” better. I hadn’t taken any anti malaria medication then and so this time I was prepared, to the extent you can be as malaria has several strains and can reoccur.

I now had a long stretch of riding ahead of me north to the Kunene River at the border of Angola and then east around the top of Etosha National Park and towards the Kalahari.

Should I admit that I crossed into Angola, or not, given there is no stamp in my passport?

I have illegally entered several countries on my expeditions, not to claim benefits or break the law, but through necessity or curiosity and always worked my way back.

The first occasions was in mid 1980s into China via Macau when I was a Royal Hong Kong Police Inspector and we were banned from entering China. I swam over to Namibia from South Africa as I mentioned earlier, I entered Thailand from Cambodia and visa versa, Burma from Thailand, and Kazakhstan from China, among various European excursions.

On this occasion I ran out of petrol in north Namibia near a place called Olifa (that had no fuel) and entered a surprisingly well developed Angola town via a motorised pontoon that was ferrying “everyone” illegally back and forth, (much like between Mozambique and Zimbabwe), and following directions found a modern fuel station that was ridiculously expensive.

My South Africa registered motorcycle and pink body quickly attracted the attention of some rather hostile and aggressive “gangsta” rapper types while I was filling up, but I extricated myself when I took my jacket off and was seen to be wearing a “I am not an Afrikaner” Chelsea football shirt. This went down extremely well with big smiles and African fist bumping, thumb twiddling handshaking “stuff”. My US dollar reserves were seriously depleted buying 40 litres of finest 95 Octane.

I did not hang around long and retraced my steps, paying far too much to get back on the pontoon and back into Namibia. At least I had that lovely feeling of a tanks and reserves full of fuel. Sadly, I saw little of Angola, but would on future trips.

I was now out of white farmer Namibia and into African tribal Namibia and so I encountered a lot more people, some of them Bushmen who spoke with a clicking sound and who are indigenous to this part of Africa, and have been around these parts for tens of thousands of years. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6WO5XabD-s

Other tribes like the Himba people are adorned in red clay and very handsome. Further east towards the Kalahari Herero women dress in vivid bright Victorian style dresses with head dresses that look like horns. I have to say some of the maturer ladies I bumped into were absolutely huge and quite a sight as they moved very slowly about their business.

I didn’t go into Ethosa Game Park, although I did a few years later on another motorcycle trip in 2009 with my friend Nick, but I did see a lot of animals, both domestic and wild, pretty much everywhere. Lots of springboks, ostriches, elephants, giraffes, impala, kudu, oryx, zebras, mongoose, meercats, hyenas, hippos and crocodiles in rivers and water holes, and lots of birds, especially hornbills and the funny drongos that would follow my bike as I rode along and eat the insects unearthed by my tyres running over the mud and gravel.

As I headed east towards Botswana and the Okavango Delta there was something that I really wanted to see near Grootfontein.

The Hoba Meteorite sits in the Kalahari after crashing into Planet Earth 80,000 years ago. It was found by a farmer whilst ploughing the land about 90 years and remains where it was found with a modest information plaque in an exhibit circle.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoba_meteorite

Again I had a long ride to get to Grootfontein and when I arrived I was surprised how accessible the meteorite actually was. Sadly, since it’s been discovered it has been vandalised over the years, with bits chipped off it, and graffiti scrawled into it. That said it is a very impressive hunk of metal (Iron, Nickel and Cobalt mostly with other trace elements), about 60 tons in mass, and is shiny in places where its been scuffed or damaged. It also seems unnaturally square, like a cube.

As I got there late, there was nobody around and so I pitched my tent about 5 meters away from the 2001 Space Odyssey like object. Its strange that it hasn’t been moved to a museum, and despite the effects of recent human curiosity and vandalism, I am sort of glad its still where it landed. During the night I brought out my sleeping bag, climbed on top, and slept until the morning.

I guess few other people can boast that they have slept with an alien.

8-20-2007-1277
Me standing on an alien … the Hoba meteorite
8-20-2007-1279
Some spiel about where it came from, how it was found and what its made of.
8-20-2007-1280
Kavango region of Kalahari
8-20-2007-1281
Caprivi Strip
1540453_10152181957298103_556509269_o
After you, Sir, or MadamI saw a lot of elephants
8-20-2007-1282
People I bumped into along Caprivi Strip collecting a green fruit
8-20-2007-1283
Okavango Delta in Botswana
8-20-2007-1284
Local huts… with fence around to keep livestock in… and hyenas and leopards out
8-20-2007-1285
I rode over 900 kilometers on this day across the Kalahari desert… absolutely shattered
8-20-2007-1286
A beer by the fire is all I could muster… out for the count
8-20-2007-1287
Okavango, Botswana
8-20-2007-1288
Zambia/Boswana border
8-20-2007-1289
Elephants …and a lot of them
8-20-2007-1291
Eagle
dscn0871

After my alien encounter I continued along some dusty yellow trails for many hours towards the border crossing with Botswana. I have to admit I was not entirely sure where I was, except that I was generally heading east.

The scenery was now Savannah scrubland with lots of bushes, baobab trees, the occasional wooden village, long stretches of gravel and sand roads, and lots of wildlife.

At one point in seemingly the middle of nowhere I stumbled upon a solitary little girl standing on the track in front of me. No more than four or five years old, she was dressed in traditional Kalahari clothing and carrying a stick twice as tall as she was.

She was quite startled to see me, but held her ground as she gazed at what must have seemed to her to be a black spaceman emerging on a noisy monster from out of the bush. I stopped next to her and we observed each other for a while, and so I took my helmet off and she seemed even more startled at the sight of my red face and blood shot blue eyes, rocking on her feet and on the verge of running away. I smiled and waved, and she suddenly beamed a huge smile, the sort of smile only Africans seem able to do.

I looked around and could see no sign at all of habitation, or where she had come from and why she was on her own. I asked her if she was OK, but she didn’t understand and just pointed into the distance and said something in her clicky dialect. Then I spotted what she was doing. She was guarding goats that were scattered here and there, and indeed some were perched precariously high up in the branches of some trees.

We had sort of run out of things to say, and I didn’t want to alarm her anymore, and so I started up my bike, the loud “braaaap” like noise breaking the silence of the bush, startling the birds, and making the little girl rear back in surprise, forcing a nervous laugh. We waved goodbye at each other as I disappeared off into the bush.

Even after ten or fifteen minutes of riding, I could see no sign of habitation. No smoke, no dogs, no people. My goodness, what a difference between her life and those of all the snowflakes in the West. Just a small little girl all by herself in the middle of the Kalahari desert.

I eventually reached the border crossing as the sun was going down, and I had missed the chance to cross it as everything was now locked up, and nobody was around.  It was one of the most basic border crossings I have ever seen, consisting of nothing more than two huts and two gates, one for Botswana and one for Namibia. So, I stopped, unpacked, set up my tent, made a fire, made some tea, and rummaged around for food.

All I had was some Simba peanuts with raisins, and a Bar One chocolate bar …both sold in every shop, however remote, across Africa and both would make a regular appearance in my supplies. There was nothing around me except bush, no signs of human life, and since it was now dark, it was probably very unwise for me to venture off exploring.

My tent was a small red one man contraption, quite well designed and rather compact. I had a thin ground mat, two sleeping bags (one inside the other if cold, or used as a mat if not), a torch, and that was about it.

I did have a small Nokia phone that I could put local SIM cards into, and occasionally I had a signal, but it wasn’t a smart phone like we have today…just a mobile phone that could also send text messages. I also had a small Mac Book 10 inch laptop in which I downloaded my pictures of the day and wrote up my blog… all of which are now lost (stolen in Windhoek a few years later). The only pictures of this trip I still have are those I posted on Facebook at the time.

I had two books at any one time due to necessity to reduce weight, a novel I was reading, that I swapped over for different ones at various lodges and campsites along the way, and the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook by Chris Scott which I read cover to cover and acted as my sort of bible. I did attempt to read the classic  Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simons, but it is more a travel book than a motorcycle adventure book, it just so happens he travels by motorcycle. In any case, I couldn’t get into it, or relate to his observations, and so it remains unfinished to this day.

When it came to the end of the day, especially camping in remote places, there was not much to do other than prepare the bike for the next day, cook up food, listen to my MP3 player, read my book, and more often than not just think about things. My expeditions over the last few years have been more Hi-tech and most of the time I have access to the Internet through my iPhone with the ubiquitous 3/4G coverage, but back then it seemed more isolated and remote.

This trip more than any time in my life gave me a time to reflect. Being solitary and in the wilderness takes some getting used to, but it is good for connecting with the Soul of the Universe and understanding one’s place in everything.

And sitting alone in the middle of the Kalahari gazing up at the night sky?

My goodness isn’t the sky big and our world small.

I got in the habit of wearing ear plugs as I am a light sleeper and would wake up if I heard a noise outside, or was disturbed by the strong winds as the tent flapped and cracked violently in the gusts whipped up in the night. The other disturbance is caused by birds which can make a real din, especially just before the sun comes up. Good if you need an alarm clock call at 3.30 to 4 am, not so great if you don’t.

There are lots of insects in the African bush as you can imagine. Lots of spiders, centipedes, mosquitoes, midges, moths, various types of beetles, and a fair few scorpions that will climb onto things and into your boots and jacket if they can. I have definitely had nocturnal visits by snakes, but apart from the psychological fear of them moving about, they cannot get into your tent while you are zipped up inside, but small ones can crawl underneath, and its a bit of a surprise to find one when you pack up, as are scorpions and large beetles to a lesser degree.

I have seen footprints of large cats, weasels, porcupines, honey badgers, elephants, antelope, and other furry critters that have obviously walked around my small tent while I was fast asleep, and left their tell-tale footprints in the sand. I imagine many of these animals could detect my presence by my smell, especially the way I did for most of the time, but I think they are just not programmed to recognise an inanimate object like a zipped up tent, and so they leave you alone.

Later on in this trip, when I am camping in Swaziland, I had a visit by a pack of hyenas and no amount of ear plugs was going filter out their rather terrifying cackling and screaming.  All part of the big adventure I suppose, and in reality one should be more concerned about the very small critters such as parasites and microbes that can crawl up your orifices and really ruin your day.

The next day I was up early, due mostly to the cacophony of the dawn chorus, and packed up ready for the immigration officials to arrive. Everything looked different in the light of day, but it was undoubtedly a very remote part of the world.

The Botswana officials turned up first and only an hour later did some old chap rock up on the Namibian side. He saw me waiting, smiled and greeted me, stamped my passport, and let me through. The Botswana side took no time at all either. All sorted without any drama, and off I went again, aiming for the huge swamplands of the Okavango Delta.

After a couple of hours I came across my first tarmac road for days and I had a decision to make. Do I head south and towards Maun and then up to Zambia via Chobe Game Reserve, or go north towards the Caprivi Strip?  The decision was simple, I was hungry and could see a sign advertising a game lodge to the north where I could probably get some brunch. And that is what I did.

The Okavango is a stunning bit of Africa and Botswana is probably the most well run country in the African continent at the moment.  Lowest levels of corruption, reasonably competent and clean leaders, decent infrastructure, a very mature and well run tourist industry, but rather expensive.

The Game Lodge I pulled into was very “larnie” (as South Africans say) and I had an all day breakfast sitting on a veranda overlooking the waters. Very picturesque and peaceful.

This would turn out to be my only meal of the day as I would do some serious riding and complete over 900 kilometers before it got dark. I pitched my tent right next to the the river near the border with the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, cracked open a beer, gazed at the bush TV (the fire), and was out for the count. No need for ear plugs.

I got up as the sun was rising above the wide Cubango River that feeds the enormous delta and gazed out at a quintessentially African scene. My fire had pretty much burned through all the wood during the night, but I was able to warm my hands on the remaining embers whilst taking in a view that was hidden by the darkness when I arrived. Everything was beautiful. The river, the trees and bushes, animals and birds, right through to the perfect climate and smell. Africa has the best smell in the world.

I sat and watched some hippos and white egrits in the water, was slightly alarmed to see dozens of crocodiles not very far from where I camped in the night, and various birds, including my first glimpse of the lilac breasted roller, a perfectly beautiful creature.

As I massaged my hands by the remaining heat of the fire I was still feeling rather stiff and sore, especially my bottom and my hands. My rear end because of an accumulation of nearly two month of riding, and the webbing between my fore fingers and thumbs because this small part of my hands is in contact with the bike all day long and takes the brunt of a lot of pressure whilst standing up on the foot pegs.

My KTM 990 Adventure motorcycle is a big and fairly comfortable machine. It has a very powerful 1000 cc V-twin engine, and it is quite smooth and balanced. The shock absorbers, made by WP, are some of the best there are, and take up a lot of the abuse as the front wheel crashes across potholes, rocks, and bumps. It is made for riding on every surface Planet earth has to offer.

Riding for 10+ hours every day, for months on end will take its toll on your body. I was still a little inexperienced to this off road riding lark, and perhaps gripping far too hard on the bars when things got interesting, which most of the time it was.  Later on, during subsequent expeditions, I would become more relaxed as I rode, grip my hands less firmly, and generally ride more confidently. A later addition to my bike of an after market gel seat and sheep skin seat cover would prove to be a saviour to my poor arse.

For now, however, I was beginning to suffer a bit.

I was pondering whether to ride south and enjoy more of the Okavango (which I did years later on the ride to Shanghai with Fanny) or head north towards Livingstone in southern Zambia and rest up for a while.

I needed a bit of a rest. Victoria Falls it is.

I passed through the Botswana / Namibia border very easily and both sets of officials were very friendly, quick and professional. No dramas at all, and so at the end of the road I turned right and followed the Caprivi Strip, which is a pan handle extension of Namibia that squeezes between Zambia and Angola in the north, and Zimbabwe and Botswana in the south.

It was a very enjoyable section on pretty good tar roads passing by lots of very primitive looking African villages, consisting mostly of circular rattan fences, surrounding ten or so thatched wooden or mud huts.

Near these villages the road would become an obstacle course of chickens, pigs, goats and donkeys. There were loads children everywhere, and they would run out excitedly, and waving furiously. If I was going slowly enough, I would high five the braver kids, much to their delight, and their mothers’disapproval.

Whenever I stopped I would be swamped by kids, they would often appear from nowhere, demanding pens and sweets. They would clamber onto my bike, and hands would ferret around in my pockets for anything they could relieve me of. Earlier on I had stocked myself up with large bags of toffees which I handed out like Father Christmas.

Maybe I was setting an annoying precedent for other adventure riders who would be pestered by little urchins demanding pens and sweets, but I did enjoy giving out something, and as it happened I found it a useful way of escaping, as the kids would have to let go of me, my bike, and its luggage, and use both hands to free the toffee from the wrapper. That said, on more than one occasion I had set off only to see a small grinning face in my rear view mirror perched on my panniers and hanging on for grim life.

In Africa, unlike in the US and Europe where the little snowflakes are driven everywhere by mummy in her Prius, the local kids walk really long distances, either to and from school, to collect water from wells and rivers, or to run errands for their parents. I would often pick up children, children with animals, women carrying large loads on their head, and even old chaps, who were in the middle of no-where and obviously hiking a fair old distance, and deposit them at their destination, much to their delight, and their families’gratitude.

As I was wearing a helmet I felt it appropriate for any of my passengers to wear one too, and so I invested in a Chinese open faced helmet at a local store, and insisted that everyone wore it, despite the fact that most of them didn’t have any shoes either.

In the West you would never do such a thing, as you would probably be accused of child abuse, breaching road traffic and safety regulations, kidnap, or worse!  The days of collective guardianship over the children of a community are over in the West. A European adult male like me, especially as I am no longer a police officer, will never engage or talk with a child one doesn’t know. However, here in the Africa bush things are different. I felt that if I could help and give someone with a lift, or lend a hand, I would. After all, as a child in 1970s’ Britain, I also hitch-hiked everywhere… no transport, no money, no choice.

Today, my sisters and friends in the UK would be no more inclined to have their kids walk anywhere, than encourage them to get a job sweeping chimneys. Hitch-hiking?  No way. Their “most special children in the world” are closeted, surgically attached to smart phones, and their every waking hour is strictly monitored and controlled.

When I remind them that our own childhoods where conducted with minimal adult supervision and zero regard to health and safety, they retort that the 21st Century is a much more dangerous time than when we were kids.  Well no it isn’t!

In the 1960s and 70s, all cars had leaded fuel, no one wore a seat belt, we all worked on farms, dentists gassed us and filled our teeth with mercury, and Myra Hindley and Jimmy Savile were on the prowl.

Anyway, I digress.

It is a little further along the Caprivi Strip that I actually ran my petrol tank dry, thus giving me a decent indication of exactly how far I could travel on one tank of fuel at 120 kph. The answer is 280 kilometres.

As I was refilling my tank at the side of the road from one of the yellow petrol cans stored in my panniers, two cyclists rode up to me to see if I was OK. They were a German couple who had ridden all the way down from Europe through Africa and were heading to Cape Agulhas, near where I lived.

We got chatting and I was intrigued by their bicycles, one of which was pulling a small trailer containing their possessions and covered in solar panels for re-charging their electrical equipment. I was so impressed with their achievement, and their kind attitude that I again offered them to stay at my house in Arniston, and at the end of my expedition when I returned home, I discovered that they had done so, and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Its a strange thing to cycle across Africa and I was glad I have a comfortable place on the southern tip that I can offer to my like minded adventurers.

Nowadays, people monetarise their motorcycle adventures through their YouTube channels that attract sponsors and advertising. A few very successfully, and most not.

I cherish my amateur photographs and clumsily edited and formatted videos, but I know I have a face for radio and a voice for writing. Anyway, I would not want to go through all the daily hassles of producing material to “like, share, subscribe” even though I do keep a YouTube channel. Facebook and YouTube are essentially free cloud storage to me. A written blog will do me. If people enjoy it fine, but I do it for posterity and for all the other reasons people keep diaries and journals.

That all said, I am glad there are people out there who do make an effort and have filming and editing skills. I like the idea that there are no production companies and people have ownership of their own “how to” videos, podcast interviews with interesting people, adventures, and reviews of products. As I have rejected mainstream media and their bias, I have embraced and live vicariously through other people’s YouTube talent and efforts. Old Joe Rogan, The Bald Explorer, Itchy Feet, 44 Teeth, etc.

Anyway, a day or so after this encounter I arrived at the border with Zambia and this was to be an indication of what officialdom was really like elsewhere in Africa. It was also going to be an important lesson on how to avoid being targeted for, lets call it, facilitation payments. No… let’s call what its is — bribery.

My first impression on arrival was that it was chaotic, with lots of vehicles queuing up to get through. As an important crossing point over the Zambezi River into Zambia there were commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses, South African SUVs towing safari tents, a few 4×4 overlander trucks, local people in various types of vehicles, blue Toyota taxis, an assortment of government vehicles, and loads of people milling about. I seemed to be the only motorcycle.

Getting out of Namibia was easy, getting into Zambia was going to be less so. The first thing that I was confronted with was that in addition to immigration and customs taxes and inspection, I would have to pay a vehicle emissions tax, a vehicle licence tax, and local insurance. As I didn’t have a carne de passage, but was driving a South African vehicle, I had to pay a customs import tax, that was about US$20, which I thought was fair enough. I had to pay an additional US$8 dollars to get a receipt for my contribution to a vehicle emissions tax.

Ironically, my bike produced nearly no emissions, being an EU category 3 vehicle, but I had no choice and had to part with my cash for this emissions tax in a converted ship container that had a charcoal fire outside belching out smoke!

Armed with all my receipts I joined the immigration queue and witnessed everyone… foreigners, Zambians, and other Africans being fleeced for a bribe. There always seemed to be something that required paying something to get round it, and the white South Africans with their Land Cruisers and Land Rovers were getting the brunt of it. The officials had this off pat, and knew that Afrikaner man was more scared of upsetting Afrikaner woman than relieving himself of a couple of hundred Rand. They complained bitterly, but still coughed up.

When it was my turn I handed everything over and was asked for a certificate of insurance, which I showed them. Inevitably enough my insurance policy was not good enough.

‘Yes, it is’, I insisted to the disinterested looking official.

After about 5 minutes of arguing the toss I was sent to the naughty corner.

As I had no Afrikaner wife, no game resort to check into, loads of time on my hands, and no inclination to be given “the treatment” I went over to the wooden bench where I remained singing to myself, farting loudly, doing press ups, pacing about, and generally being very naughty indeed.

After about fifteen minutes maximum the immigration officer called me over to his desk, asked for my passport, stamped it, and basically told me and my “morta sickle” to fuck off.

So, I was now in Zambia.

As I left, and with the general encouragement from what seemed like an entire infantry division of the Zambian Army, I wheelied away from the border post. I don’t normally pull wheelies, as I’m not very good at them, and it damages the chain, sprockets and clutch, but this little victory was worth it.

I then rode along a rather potholed tarmac road, weaving around the craters like a 1980s video game, missing most, but occasionally crashing into a few with a thud, bottoming out the suspension and clanging the rims as I climbed out. I was starting to think that it was far better riding off road in the desert than on Zambian tarmac roads.

Livingston was about 120 kilometers away from the border and I planned to stay there for about a week, do some side trips, see the magnificent Victoria Falls, and generally idle about.

screenshot-11_li
Route
8-20-2007-1293

Bumped into these cyclist who rode from Germany… here in the Caprivi Strip near Zambia

8-20-2007-1294
Crossing the Zambezi River into Zambia
8-20-2007-1295
Zambezi
8-20-2007-1296
Victoria Falls
8-20-2007-1297
Edge of Victoria Falls
8-20-2007-1298
8-20-2007-1299
Bridge to Zimbabwe
8-20-2007-1300
Lots of mist at Falls
8-20-2007-1303
Victoria Falls at sunset
8-20-2007-1304
My wonderful bike at Victoria Fall in Livingstone
8-20-2007-1306
Wandering around a local market in Victoria Falls
8-20-2007-1307
Agricultural display a fete I went to in Livingstone
8-20-2007-1308
Two lady police officers who I hung around with for while… lovely girls
8-20-2007-1321
Lookout point above Victoria Falls….quite wet
8-20-2007-1309
My friend, Stephen in Livingstone
8-20-2007-1311
Booze cruise on Zambezi
8-20-2007-1313
Called River Horse by Chinese
8-20-2007-1314
Not the time for a swim
8-20-2007-1315
Drinking with friends on an evening booze cruise on Zambezi
8-20-2007-1316
Elegant Zambian ladies… a big contrast to the heffa lumps in South africa
8-20-2007-1317
Having a coffee in Livingstone
8-20-2007-1318
Me writing my first blog … which was subsequently lost in 2009 with most of pictures and website when computer stolen in Windhoek. This blog 10 years ago is pieced together with pics found on facebook
8-20-2007-1319
Vic fall rainbow
8-20-2007-1322
They will steal your food, and anything else when you turn your back.

Despite having to navigate the mine field of potholes, I got to Livingstone quite quickly and searched about for a backpackers that I could stay at. I found one called Jollyboys and camped in their grounds and used the bar and restaurant for a couple of days, but later found a much nicer place called Zigzags who offered me a room in a cabin for the same price as camping, and so I booked it for a week.

I was really enjoying the break from long distance riding, and found Livingstone to be fascinating and thoroughly good fun. I met a lot of interesting local people and ended up hanging about with two very lovely Zambian female police officers who showed me around the tourist sites and took me out drinking at night. I met their friends, was invited to their homes for dinner, did a river booze cruise, and generally had a great time.

I helped with preparing a farm produce stall for a fete, and we were entered into a competition and came seventh or something out of ten against very stiff competition. I thoroughly explored a good radius of 50 kilometers around Livingstone on my bike, down single tracks and animal trails, hiked about, and went over to Vic Falls in Zimbabwe to have a look about, but without my bike.

I made friends with an American lady I met in a bakery who was in her mid 70s. She was a remarkable lady, a widow, had recently had a full heart transplant, and against the wishes of her children and friends had decided to backpack across Africa, which she did with the gusto of a twenty something.

I remember an occasion when we were on an evening booze cruise together with some other people from Zigzags and Jollyboys and my American friend got absolutely “trolleyed” on whiskey and coke and had to be restrained from jumping off the boat in the Zambezi. Another one of my new Zambian friends, who ran the evening booze cruises, said that they had lost an Australian chap earlier in the year who striped off and jumped into the river … and was immediately taken under by crocodiles never to be seen again. Serious stuff.

I got to like the local food quite a lot, mostly variations on the theme of nshima (cornmeal pap), cabbage and chicken or fish. The locals loved it and my friends admitted they really didn’t like anything else. Without nshima in their stomachs at least once a day they said they felt as if they were starving. Windhoek beer was replaced with Mosi beer, and I was no stranger to the bars and clubs where I seemed, as a middle aged forty something chap, to be surprisingly popular. I will leave it at that!

I think I stayed in Livingstone for a couple of weeks. I really enjoyed myself, and fell a little bit behind the fairly loose schedule I had set myself. I had partied hard enough and was ready to get back on the bike and head off to Lusaka to visit my uncle, Mick.

I took the main road, but because of the huge number of buses and trucks, which drove really badly and dangerously, I decided to detour along some trails and tracks and this added a day to my schedule. When I did eventually arrive in Lusaka I was a bit taken aback at being in such a large city after so long in the bush. Livingstone is a town, Lusaka is a proper city.

In addition to seeing my uncle, I also needed to collect a set of new Pirelli Scorpion tyres from the airport that had been shipped in from South Africa. I had been monitoring the decline of my tyre thread, that had received quite a beating on the gravel, especially in Namibia, and they were full of nicks and cuts. That all said, I never had a puncture on the entire expedition and the tyres were to be more resilient and last a lot longer than I initially thought.

Getting new tyres in Zambia was not cheap, and to be honest a bit of a hassle. The 90/90 21 inch fronts are quite common, but the back tyres are 150/70 R18 for the KTM 990 Adventure and not used on other bikes and therefore not easy to come by. For instance, the more common BMW GS used a 17 inch rear tyre and there was a lot more choice of tyre brand and type.

I picked up the tyres at Lusaka airport warehouse, got messed about a bit, paid some duties that were more expensive than I anticipated, and strapped them on the back of my bike until my current tyres were essentially threadbare and on their last legs (which happened much later than I expected when I entered Mozambique)

In the meantime I spent time with my uncle who I hadn’t seen much in my life. As a kid he was seen of as a sort of legend, he had been married to several very glamorous and beautiful women, was an artist and photographer, hill climbing rally driver, lived all over Africa, and when he was a young man part of the cool swinging sixties set in the King’s Road with Terrance Stamp and all that lot.

When I caught up with Mick he was divorced, again, and living in a small apartment in an interesting suburb of Lusaka. On the first night he took me to the famous Lusaka Club for steak and chips of which he ate hardly anything, but drank quite a lot as he was in the habit of doing.

I stayed with Mick for three days whilst waiting for the tyres and I think in that time we ploughed through a case of wine and half a case of scotch together. Its no mean feat I can tell you. On the day I left we had had a session the night before and I was feeling particularly fragile as I ventured off to my destination of Mama Rula’s Guest House near Chipata (http://www.mamarulas.com/) from where I intended stay and then to ride to see Mick’s Children, Nathan and Rosie, in South Luangwa National Park.

As I was riding along about 50 kilometers outside Lusaka I saw in the distance a convoy of motorcycles with their lights blazing. It took my befuddled brain a while to realize that this was the Long Way Down bikers on their way to Lusaka.

This made sense now as I had read on the internet that the LWD team were in Malawi and as I left Lusaka I saw some big motorcycles and their riders who shouted out something to me as I cruised by, but I didn’t stop, and I didn’t really hear what they said.  Now I assume they were Zambian fixers waiting for Ewan McGregor, Charlie Boorman and their entourage to arrive in Lusaka.

As my brain was registering that Obe Wan Kanobe was on the same road as me they just rode by and waved. I wondered if I should stop, but as they didn’t I felt a bit stupid and carried on. I kept a look out in my mirror and saw that they had indeed eventually stopped and so I turned around and met them. Ewan McGregor and his wife then carried on riding towards Lusaka, and Charlie Boorman and Claudio Planta stayed with me for a chat, which we did for about an hour at the side of the road.

It was good to meet them, not only because I enjoyed the Long Way Round TV series, but it was good to bump into and have a yarn with fellow bike riders and share our experiences. They were riding BMW F1200 GS bikes with all the extras, and of course film and communication equipment necessary to make a top quality TV production.

I was filmed and said what I said in the clip below, and more, later signing a disclaimer from the producers to allow the TV footage, and waited for the Nissan Pathfinders  with the support crew and spare equipment to arrive. As I was looking at their bikes I could see a six inch nail sticking through the tread of Claudio’s back tyre.  All OK, I was informed, they were changing them all in Lusaka!

Charlie Boorman saw that I had the Dakar logo on my bike and told me about his recent experience competing in the Dakar Rally and the subsequent Race to Dakar TV series. I knew nothing about this and found it fascinating. We also chatted about their route so far through Africa, some suggestions on places to stay, and about our bikes. Charlie seemed to like my KTM, especially the Akropovik exhausts, and I offered him a ride, but he declined, saying he was contracted to BMW and it would not be a good idea to be seen on a better bike. Actually he never said that, but I am sure that was what he was thinking. After that we bid each other farewell and went off in opposite directions.

When I got back from the trip I of course told everyone I was filmed on the Long Way Down TV series which was to be shown on the BBC in England. Of course, the series went by and there was no footage of me at all, which was a bit disappointing and I think everyone thought I was making it up.

A year or so later,  I received a lot of emails from my Australian friends who said they saw “my ugly face” on the LWD TV series that was broadcast in Australia on the Discovery channel. Later, when I got a DVD box set of the series, the original six episodes had been extended with extra footage, and so I have a small clip of talking scribble with Charlie Boorman in the middle of Zambia.

8-20-2007-1323
Local village in Zambia
8-20-2007-1324
An alien spaceship concealed in a cloud … obviously
8-20-2007-1325
Following my Uncle Mick in Lusaka
8-20-2007-1326
Dinner at the Lusaka Club with Mick, my mother’s brother
8-20-2007-1327
Mick’s home… the scene of the two bottles of scotch incident
8-20-2007-1328
New tyres picked up from Lusaka airport and carried until I fitted them in Mozambique
8-20-2007-1330
Charlie Boorman and Claudio
8-20-2007-1329
Posing for picture with Long Way Down team on a road in Zambian bush

Video below:

8-20-2007-1331
Meeting a group of volunteers from Scotland
8-20-2007-1332
On way to Chipata and mama rula campsite
8-20-2007-1333
Cotton trucks on road to South Luangwa
8-20-2007-1334
Not the greatest roads
8-20-2007-1335
Zambian bush on way to South Luangwa

After the LWD encounter I pushed on towards Chipata, passed by their support vehicles that waved furiously at me and flashed their lights, but I ran out of fuel just before I completed the journey.  In one day I had ridden the same distance the LWD guys did in two days and burned through 39.5 litres of fuel with no sign of a petrol station along the whole way.

Fortunately, after an hour or so I was rescued by a entrepreneurial young chap who appeared out of the bush on a bicycle with two corn oil drums containing rather murky looking fuel. I worked out how much I needed to get to a petrol station in Chipata, and bought 5 litres, but at triple the pump price.

Well the price was what is was, but even in those early days of my motorcycle expeditions I knew putting dodgy fuel in my tank was probably a bad thing. In fact, the biggest threat to motorcycles doing long distance journeys in Africa, or indeed Asia, is putting poor quality and contaminated fuel in your tank. The risk is that it will block the fuel pump, clog up the filter, knacker the EFi fuel injection system or carburetor jets, mess with the mapping, and more besides.

In fact, two years later a blockage of my fuel filter will cause my engine on the very same bike to stutter for many miles and eventually stop in the middle of Namibia. The cause was undoubtedly putting contaminated fuel straight into the tank without filtering it properly. In the Kenyan chapter of this blog you will read that Fanny and I prevented such problems by using a very effective home made petrol filter. Nobody ever takes any notice of my ramblings in these blogs, but I can tell you that is the way to do it. Watch and learn.

With enough petrol to get me to Chipata I got going again and managed to find a petrol station and fill up. I then checked into Mama Rulas Guest House who had received the LWD expedition a few days earlier and quite excited about it, and pitched my tent in the same place they did, probably.

My cousin, Rosie, told me that the road between Chipata and South Luangwa, about 150 kilometres in length, was absolutely terrible, and in recent months was impassable. That said, she was currently in South Luangwa and had presumably driven there in her beaten up Toyota Corola, and so I guessed it was probably OK for my bike, especially if I reduced the weight by leaving what I could at Mama Rula’s Guest House.

So, I dumped my spare tyres, my panniers, and strapped my camping gear and a small bag on the back of my bike and headed off down the muddy track which had been gouged out badly by conveys of very overladen cotton trucks. There were sections where the road had fallen away and I saw several trucks that had rolled over and been abandoned by the side of the track. This was quite a technical stretch of my ride and for the first time on the trip I had to ride across streams and small rivers, plough through thick mud, and ride very steep slopes.

With all the extra weight off my bike I was quite enjoying the ride that seemed a lot longer than 150 kilometres, but still had to keep my wits about me as I tackled the worst road I had ridden so far.  I was reading the road and plotting my track much better. I guess with confidence comes skill, and with skill come confidence. Its a gradual process and I was gradually getting better.

I eventually reached the Luangwa Valley at Malama and Kakumbi and found a route to my destination, Flat Dogs Camp (www.flatdogscamp.com/), named after the slang for a crocodile.

As I got nearer to the mighty river the surrounding land undulated with dry river wadis, streams, and small marshy tributaries. I was really enjoying the ride and the scenery notched up another level in African beauty. As I descended down a steep slope into a dusty dry river valley I ran straight into a herd of elephants.

This was the closest I had got to so many elephants, and was a bit alarmed when a young male mock charged me making one hell of a noise. Unlike many of the dramatic incidents on my expeditions, I had the presence of mind to take out my camera and snap a picture of the irritated elephant as he put on his show of defiance.

What a welcome to South Luangwa, probably the best game park in the whole of Africa.

8-20-2007-1336
This young elephant mock charged me… not a KTM fan
8-20-2007-1337
A safari tent … too expensive for me
8-20-2007-1338
Buffalo….African ones so much more aggressive than their Asian cousins
8-20-2007-1351
My home up a treeElephants, hippos and crocs would walk underneath, and monkeys would sit just above me in the branches
1923389_6503173102_3888_n
Frequent visits by elephants, hippos and monkeys
8-20-2007-1344
What can I say … girls love motorcycles
8-20-2007-1352
Riding around Zambia …sans kit
8-20-2007-1355
My neighbours
8-20-2007-1343
A heron cadging a lift on a hippo
8-20-2007-1347
View from my tent which was up a tree
8-20-2007-1339
heck ….
8-20-2007-1356
Riding into game park…
8-20-2007-1340
A mating couple … more on their mind than eating me… fortunately
8-20-2007-1358
Sandy trails in Luangwa
8-20-2007-1357
Lots of animals … luckily they don’t like the bike or can’t catch me.
8-20-2007-1401
Stripey horse …as the Chinese say
8-20-2007-1365
Long neck deer
8-20-2007-1360
Riding in Luangwa
8-20-2007-1361
A water crossing on a day exploring inside South Lungwa park
8-20-2007-1362
And up the other side
8-20-2007-1363
8-20-2007-1364
Local family living near river
8-20-2007-1359
Girl who took the pictures of my bike as I crossed the river
8-20-2007-1345
My cousin Nathan on my bike… he is Zambian and a wildlife film maker
8-20-2007-1346
Nathan Pilcher – wildlife camera man
8-20-2007-1366
8-20-2007-1350
8-20-2007-1367
Hyena coming out at night
8-20-2007-1368
Something is definitely looking at me … nice puddy puddy
8-20-2007-1369
Leopard in the bush at night
8-20-2007-1355
More elephants
8-20-2007-1341
Nice puddy
8-20-2007-1370
Wirly wind in the Chivimba village near South Luangwa
8-20-2007-1353
Market in Chivimba, Zambia
8-20-2007-1354
Shopping Mall

My cousin, Rosie was working at Flat Dogs at the time, and responsible for guest relations and organising tourist activities like walking safaris in the game park.  She was pretty preoccupied with what she had to do and so I booked a camping spot at the cheapest location which happened to be a platform about 5 meters up a tree.

There were rather nice safari tents and Rosie later arranged for me to move into one. For now, however, I moved into my new home with monkeys above me and elephants down below. Later I would also have nocturnal visits by hippos and crocodiles.

I really enjoyed my stay and would venture down from my tree tent and spend time with my cousins, eat and drink at the bar, and swim in the swimming pool, when of course it wasn’t being occupied by huge grey things with long trunks and big ears. I went for hikes along the Luangwa River, careful not to be on the wrong side of a hippo, or the right side of a crocodile. Many locals had lost their lives to these creatures over the years.

Our camp was shared by a large herds of elephants who would walk through at various times of the day and night. Whilst the elephants give the appearance of being docile, you do have to keep your distance otherwise they will charge you, with the real possibly that they could trample you to death. Elephants are wild animals and the staff of the various game resorts had to keep reminding their guests as they often became far too complacent.

I watched from the bar one day as an Italian tourist, who had been told many times not to go near the elephants, got chased at high speed by a huge trumpeting elephant as he attempted to get “just one more” close up photograph. It was all very dramatic as he was chased right up to the steps of the bar by a very disgruntled and noisy elephant. It was a rather ridiculous, if not dangerous sight, and I fell into fits of hysterical laughter, much to the Italian’s embarrassment and annoyance.

If I was up my tree in my tent I would have to wait until the elephants had slowly trooped by before I could come down. They would often butt and shake the trees, knocking off marula, mangoes and monkey pods that they liked eating very much.  On a couple of occasions while I was in the “heads” I would get barricaded inside until the elephants eventually wandered off. On one occasion while I was having a shower I heard a scream from the cubicle next to me. Apparently a trunk came through the open window and gave the occupant a fondle.

My cousin Nathan is a wildlife film maker and lives for months on end in the bush trying to get just a few minutes of footage of animals such as wild dogs or cheetahs. He came out to see me at Flat Dogs and after spending some time together he encouraged me to go for a ride into the park, directing me to an off the beaten track route that the locals take. Like most of Africa, motorcycles are not allowed in game parks, and so I thought this would be a great adventure.

I started off expecting to ride for just a few hours but didn’t get back until well after sunset, riding along single track sand paths among probably the largest concentration of African wild animals anywhere in the world. I assumed if the locals do it, what could possibly go wrong?

First, I went off without my helmet, or even a hat to screen me from the sun. No phone, no money, no nuffink!  Just a t-shirt, cargo trousers, my boots and my unladen KTM. What I hadn’t anticipated was that I would ride across rivers and streams and have to navigate windy narrow trails with no room to turn around.  Only when I was out in the bush for a few hours did it dawn on me that if I run into any large animal, or creature that might like to eat me, I would not be able to manoeuvre very easily and escape.

By mid afternoon I emerged from the dense bush and rode down to a river where I could see local Zambians washing themselves and their laundry in the water. I took some pictures and showed the people their photographs on the digital camera display and they were absolutely thrilled and excited. I suspected they had never seen such a camera before, nor their own images.

As I rarely got pictures of myself, being on my own and all, I asked a young teenage girl if she would take a picture of me riding across the river, and showed her how to operate the camera.  To set up the shot I rode across the river and hoped she would get a snap of me and my bike in the river. When I returned and examined her handiwork I was absolutely delighted that she had taken seven or eight perfectly framed action sequence pictures that I treasure to this day, and which some are reproduced in this blog.

I then rode back into the bush and into more open ground where I could see zebras, wildebeest, giraffe, impala, kudu, sable, elan, and more elephants. The rivers were full of hippos, and I could see lots of crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks, and scurrying back into the water at the sound of my exhausts. I didn’t see any cats, and I hoped they didn’t see me. They would certainly hear me though.

It soon became apparent that elephants absolutely hate motorcycles. Maybe its the noise, the size, the speed, or whatever, but they really react badly and I had to keep my distance from them as they became visibly agitated whenever I encountered them.

The animal I was most wary of were buffalo. I was told by my South African friends and Zambian relatives that these were the animals to keep well away from. As someone who grew up on a dairy farm in Staffordshire in England and handled cows everyday I found this rather strange, as buffalo do look like cows. Also, on Lantau Island in Hong Kong where I live, and in Thailand and Malaysia where I have visited often, there are big water buffalo, but they are very gentle and not easily roused.

The African buffalo is not a friendly beast. It is big, has a serious attitude, a lightening turn of speed, and is super aggressive.  If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time they will kill you. I did see many buffalo from a distance and they always reminded me of the Kray Twins, particularly the bad tempered mad one.

I got back to the camp in one piece with just enough fuel and shared my experience with my cousins, who of course had seen and heard it all before, but gracious enough to allow me to wax lyrical about the country they grew up in.

The next day I decided to go back into the game park, but this time in a safari game viewer (a long wheel based Landrover with open view seats for passengers) where my experienced guide could locate and introduce all the animals in relative safety.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and got a chance to tick off all the animals I hadn’t seen so far, including rhino, leopard, cheetah, hyenas, wild dog, lions, meercats, servals, caracals, and even a Rock python. Also, lots of birds, too many to name.

I hung around Luangwa for a few more days enjoying the amazing scenery and wildlife and then decided to ride up through central Zambia towards Tanzania and then into northern Malawi and ride south along the coast of Lake Nyasa towards Blantyre.  The problem was I had left my tyres and most of my luggage at Mama Rulas Guest House and so I had to backtrack along the challenging mud road, collect my stuff, and then plot a northerly course through Zambia and up into the mountains and forests near the north.

I was becoming a lot more confident in my riding, as one would expect riding for ten or so hours everyday on every surface Africa has to offer, and so I was not too daunted about a more off the beaten track route. After all, you can always turn around if it gets too difficult. It wasn’t a race, and as a solo rider I didn’t have to confer with anyone. I could do what I liked.

So, I rode for a couple of days directly north along the M12 that ran parallel to the Malawian border, and into the coniferous forests in the mountains near Lundozi, then headed west along the D104 towards North Luangwa and through the bush and mountain trails towards the border with Tanzania.  As I didn’t have a carne de passage riding into Tanzania was not impossible, but would have incurred a lot of expense and hassle.

I wanted to go to a game resort in Tanzania called Uwanda and so at a border town called Tunduma I rode around looking for a resort or guest house that would look after my motorcycle for a few days while I ventured on foot into Tanzania for a few day.  As I was looking around I saw a police station and so I rode in, introduced myself, and use a few “I used to be a policeman, don’t you know” credits. The local officers were happy to store my bike and kit for a few days. A case of Mosi beer didn’t go unappreciated either.

With KTM and kit secured in the safest spot in town, I packed up my day sack with my light sleeping bag, mozzie net, ground mat, some spare t-shirts, and my valuables. I then wandered down to the nearby border crossing, stamped out of Zambia and stamped into Tanzania. Not quick, but no real hassles. I then searched around for a cab, trying to avoid all the touts and border wallahs, and found an assortment of mini buses, cabs, motorcycles and tut-tuts parked just beyond the immigration complex.

Eventually, after the usual annoying and unnecessary haggling and jostling, I squeezed myself into a tightly packed and rather niffy mini bus, and when it was full, just beyond bursting point, it set off along fairly decent tar roads to a huge and rather chaotic town called Mbeya.

Around mid evening I hopped off as soon as I caught a glimpse of a backpackers sign, and checked into a dorm room with about 6 bunk beds. I didn’t hang around and quickly escaped to wander about town and find food and beer, which wasn’t difficult. Now I had a choice of four brands of beers, Kilimanjaro, Serengeti, Safari or Tusker. After trying them all over a few days I settled on Tusker, for no other reason than it had a picture of an elephant on the label.

In the morning at breakfast I was sort of regretting leaving my bike behind and having the hassle of trying to find my way around on foot and by uncomfortable and crowded public transport. Mbeya was definitely not worth it, but I planned to go to Uwanda Game Reserve and see the lake, see some coffee and tea plantations, and then double back to Zambia and get my bike.

The backpackers was an easy place to plan excursions and get transport to various places. By far the majority of people who were staying were on the way to Dar Salam, Zanzibar, Serengeti, or Mount Kilimanjaro… or had come back and were going to Zambia or Malawi.

I thought about going further north and decided against it, vowing to go there another time, as indeed I did with my lovely Fanny in 2011. Now all I wanted to do is just have a few days exploring a bit of Tanzania, get a feel for the place, and then carry on with my original plan.

Also, in my mind at least, I was a “lonely wolf motorcycle adventurer”, not a common or garden 20 something dread locked hippy bouncing from internet cafe to internet cafe, with a copy of the Lonely Planet, eating banana pancakes, and all that. Arrogant? Of course, its my best trait!

I took a mini bus in the late morning to Uwanda Game Reserve that I read in a guide book was famous for its flora, rather than fauna, and a must go destination for any budding botanists. It was also a paradise for water birds being on the shores of Lake Rukwa. The journey was quite long, but I managed to chat with the driver and arrange for a vehicle to take me straight from the game park campsite back to the border crossing with Zambia where I could retrieve my bike.

I didn’t have my tent and there wasn’t really an option to free camp and so I checked into a grass hut that was pretty comfortable with access to showers and the resort restaurant. I got chatting with the bus driver’s friend and he said he could organise a drive across the south of the park, see the lake and drive out of the west gate and into Tunduma at border with Zambia. After a bit of a haggle, a price was arranged which was fair to both of us, especially as I was cutting out a lot of hassle, the cost of a further nights camping, and could do a sort of mini safari at the same time.

After breakfast I caught up with my driver and to my surprise he had recruited a couple of young Dutch girls who also wanted to do the same route and so I had the extra benefit of reducing my taxi fee, and some not too unpleasant company to share it all with. The vehicle, as it turned out, was a dilapidated van of some kind, with a huge sunroof that we could stand up in, or in my case, sit on the roof.

I have to say the day was a very pleasant one in which I saw some rather different scenery than that of Luangwa. Not as many animals, but still very interesting and pretty, and as promised lots of birds and wild flowers. The Dutch girls were very friendly, quite funny and were also heading to Malawi. I don’t think they believed I was riding a motorcycle until I rocked up on it at the backpackers we all stayed at that evening on the Zambian side of the border.

We all had a few drinks and dinner together and I promised to look them up again in Malawi, which I actually did at a place called Kande Beach, some few weeks later.

After breakfast we all said goodbye and I was absolutely delighted to be back on my bike. The few days had given the blood a bit of time to recirculate in my bum, and perhaps my energy and enthusiasm for riding was renewed, as I had really missed the freedom, excitement and exhilaration of riding an adventure motorcycle.

However, I had perhaps not focused enough on the exact route I should take to Malawi and how I could actually get in. If I had crossed over into Tanzania it would be quite straightforward, but I wasn’t allowed to do that, and so I had to weave about and frequently get lost, often having to backtrack many kilometres until I found the correct route. I was fortunate enough after many hours on trails and mud roads to come across a young man who I gave a lift to, and who guided me to the border crossing into Malawi.

When we got to the crossing it was a very basic one, and apparently I was not allowed to use it as it was restricted to local Zambians and Malawians. Luckily I was on a South African registered motorcycle with current tax and insurance, and my Zambian riding companion made a passionate plea to the officials to let me through. If not, I would have had to ride another couple of hundred kilometers south to get across. As it was, I nipped across, got my passport stamped at both sides, and headed off towards Lake Nyasa.

By the time the sun set I was still on gravel tracks, winding through mountainous tracks and was still a long way from the lake. It was treacherous riding in the dark, very hilly, quite wooded, roads were awful in places, and so I had no choice but to pull off the road, find a reasonably flat space, and set up camp.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that I was completely lost, but at least I was somewhere in Malawi, I still had enough fuel to get to the north part of the lake, and it was a nice temperature, if not a tad cool up here in the hills. I nearly always carried a couple of bottle of beer in my pannier, and so I had those for dinner ….with half a chocolate bar. In the morning I made tea and had the other half of the chocolate bar for breakfast. Not so bad, I thought!

The next day I set off rather excited about the coming weeks ahead in Malawi. Everyone had told me it was really nice country and the people were very friendly. The first thing I noticed, however, was that it was possibly the poorest country I had been to so far. Everything was very basic and it had far less infrastructure, vehicles, or significant buildings than Zambia. The roads weren’t great, a lot of people seemed to live a rather primitive existence and the kids didn’t seem to go to school. The food the locals ate was mainly cassava, a white powdery starchy substance with the nutrition of a flip flop. The diet of the extremely poor.

I weaved left and right through quite steep hills and on gnarly gravel roads, and then by midday, I suddenly spotted the lake. My goodness, it looked like the sea. I knew that Tanzania and Mozambique were on the other side, but I couldn’t see anything except water.  As I got nearer I started to encounter more human activity, more animals, more village huts, and could see dugout canoes with fishermen on the water. All very beautiful and very exciting.

I decided to head south towards Livingstonia and look for a campsite by the lake. After about an hour, riding along a pretty decent tar road that ran parallel to the shoreline, I arrived at a section of resorts near Mushroom Farm. Having surveyed a number of signs for resorts and accommodation, I randomly picked one and rode down a sandy track for about 5 kilometres until I was in a cluster of thatched holiday huts with European looking tourists milling about.

For the next week or so I gradually migrated down the coast, stopping at lakeside resorts, pitching my tent, swimming in the lake, kayaking, snorkeling, meeting fellow travelers, twiddling with my bike, eating and drinking very well, and generally idling about.

Malawi is a very relaxed place and had a reputation as a source of cheap “weed” which all the young hippies were into, and much of the local community survived on. It was sold in corn on the cob sized packages which would keep the dread locked hippy brigade stoned for several days. For the rest of us we had more than enough beer and dodgy Malawian gin to keep us amused.

At a port town called Nkhata Bay I met fellow bikers who had ridden down from England on Honda XR 250 cc Baja motorcycles, like the ones Fanny and I rode ten years later in Sri Lanka. They had ridden down the west route of Africa through some challenging places, and even got engaged along the way! A lovely fun couple and I enjoyed their company. Later I would stay at Kande Beach resort where I think the LWD guys had stayed a few weeks before, and I met up again with the Dutch girls I first met in Tanzania.

The girls, like most other people, were partying hard. They easily encouraged me to join in and I can report I did so disgracefully, and as hard as anyone else. Although technically middle aged, I was not letting down the side, and gave the guys half my age a run for their money. I also had a motorcycle, enough said.

Things carried on in a similar vein when the Zambian and Malawian ladies I met in Livingstone decided to all come out to Monkey Bay and Cape McClear on the very south of Lake Nyasa. As did the Dutch girls, and several other groups of people I met at various backpacker resorts as I meandered down the shores of Lake Nyasa. I think it would be wise, for the sake of my children, relatives and any reputation I have left, that I employ the Kai Tak convention and say no more.

I’d like to say it was the “last hurrah”…. except it wasn’t. Things got much worse over the following few years as a student in Beijing. You’ll have to wait until I publish my memoires for anything more salacious.

I spent some time in Blantyre, getting prepared for the ride into Mozambique, and by all accounts I was to have a rather technical and extremely long stretch of sandy roads to the coast at Pemba.

I decided it was now time to replace my back tyre which was not only bald, but there were bits of fabric and radial lines sticking out of it. It was a bit gung ho, but I was trying to squeeze every last mile out of it. Strangely, over the last couple of thousand kilometres the back tyre just didn’t seem to wear down as much as I thought it would. I was expecting it to pop at anytime but it just kept going and I think I got a total of about 13,000 kilometers out of the rear Pirelli. The front looked fine, good for another 10,000 kilometers and so I didn’t change it.

Rather than hand the bike to someone to change over the tyre, or do it myself with three spoons and a rock, I found a small garage in Blantyre (aptly named) and paid a very small fee to use their tools, including a mechanical bead remover and do it myself. The beading on a tyre is the reinforced edge that fits securely into the rim of the wheel and can be the trickiest bit to get off and on.

As it turned out it wasn’t difficult and the new Pirelli Scorpion that I had been lugging on the back of the bike since Lusaka was replaced in no time. I also did my own wheel balancing using the axle spinning technique, gradually sticking on small lead weights to the inside rim until the exact balance point when the wheel would stop rotating on the axle. If the wheel isn’t balanced the heavier part of the wheel will rotate to the bottom through gravity. When it is balanced the wheel doesn’t move.  Quite easy when you know how.

I was a bit alarmed to see the tyre I had removed as the centre strip was so thin it was almost translucent and not far off splitting down the middle. Just in time principle, as Japanese logistic managers would say.

With my new back tyre fitted, chain adjusted and oiled, and fully laden with 39.5 litres of petrol, loads of water, Simba peanuts and Lion Bars, I was ready to go and I am guessing the border crossing from Namibia into Mozambique was pretty easy as I can’t really remember any drama or excitement.

Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony and so this would be the first country on the trip that the people didn’t speak English. It was also probably the poorest country I was to ride through and had been ravaged by a brutal and devastating civil war that not only decimated the population, but with hunger and no other choice, most of the wild animals had been eaten, which ordinarily would have been as abundant as they were anywhere else in Africa.

There were a lot of people moving about and I heard that there was a very porous border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe which at the time of my trip was suffering under the effects of Robert Mugabe and his henchmen, and so people were moving fairly freely between the two countries, trying to deal with the effects of hyperinflation, source food and fuel, and eek out some sort of an existence.

There is in fact no need for either country to be poor as they are both blessed with natural resources, rich agricultural lands and human beings who are perfectly able to make it all work. The problem, like in most of Africa, is that their leaders are all kleptomaniac despots, surround by self interested sycophants and cronies, and supported by brutal soldiers and evil secret police.  Any semblance of democracy is only used to hoodwink Western liberals and secure aid and money, which is inevitably squandered on palaces, motorcades and presidential jets.

The curse of the African continent is tribalism. Now, just as the Western Colonialists did in the 19th century, China has sidled up to these corrupt dictators as it sees Africa as an easy place to plunder and exploit. Mozambique with its empty national parks and dearth of flora and fauna is perhaps a blueprint of what the rest of Africa may look like after its been completely fucked up. All very sad.

Of course, the last thing an African needs to do is bring anymore hungry mouths into the world, but that is exactly what they do, and ironically the poorest people have the most kids. Condoms? Don’t get me started on organised religion and superstitious cultures!

I had also heard that I was riding into perhaps the more dangerous of the countries on the trip. Poverty and the struggle for survival causes people to engage in crime, or so Strain Theory of criminology tells us. I have to say that I generally found most people I encountered to be very nice, but like the Sinai of Egypt, there were places that it was wise to avoid, or at least have your wits about you and not do daft things like wandering around at night.

On my first day of riding I covered a lot of ground and because of the need to refuel and buy provisions I had to ride into populated areas eventually. For most of the first day I had ridden on hard packed gravel and my progress had been pretty good. I rode through some very run down villages and dodgy looking towns and decided against stopping. I therefore pushed on along narrow roads just south of Niassa National Park and had perhaps pushed my luck as the sun set quickly and I was now riding in the dark. A big no no in adventure riding and so I had no choice but to find a place to camp, or bite the bullet and check into a hotel in a town where I could try and keep a low profile and secure my bike.

Riding in the bush at night is quite challenging and I really could not see anything that wasn’t illuminated by my headlight, which I have to admit wasn’t the best headlight in the world. I had no spotlights and just a weak narrow beam, meaning everything left and right of me was completely black.

I eventually pulled into a very run down town and at the first sign of a hotel I pulled in. I wouldn’t say my reception was hostile, but it was decidedly frosty. Anyway, I managed to get a very cheap room, parked my bike right inside the lobby, and a lady cooked me up some Nshima and cabbage, with a rock hard chicken. It wouldn’t get a Michelin Star, but I have eaten a lot worse at my schools in England in the 1970s.

I looked around for a beer, and found some warm cans of Manica in a refrigerator that didn’t work. Conversation with my fellow guests was a bit stilted as everyone spoke Portuguese, but I understood “no” well enough to mean they thought it probably wasn’t a good idea for me to go wandering about in the dark by myself. But I did anyway, I couldn’t sleep, I had nothing to do, and I needed to stretch my body. And I was curious to just look about.

I walked up the street and despite the fact that the streets lights were either absent or not working, I could see it was actually quite a big town. There were little pool halls and shebeens here and there. I saw an auto repair shop and wandered in and looked about, and was pleased to be able to find a brighter bulb for my headlight, a replacement rear light bulb, some more electrical fuses, as occasionally they would go, and a Chinese made torch as mine had broken back in Zambia and I couldn’t find anything in Malawi.

By now I had a wallet full of an assortment of African currencies that I didn’t need anymore and so I swapped them all for Mozambique Meticals or Meticais, or whatever they were called. I think the money tout I found lurking outside a convenience store had done well on the deal, but I was happy enough with the wad of grubby notes I got back and generally used South African Rand that everyone seemed to accept, anyway. I also bought a Mozambique Sim card that was surprisingly good value, actually worked, and seemed to have a signal in most places.

Telecommunications was one of the few industries that was really flourishing in Africa, and I could often tell if I was getting close to a town by the telltale communication antennas on the hillsides. There were lots of advertising billboards promoting the local mobile phone operators, which of course all the Government cronies had a vested interest in. There were also lots of billboards advertising beer brands, and soap, for some reason.

The next day I got going very quickly as everything was already on my bike which I was thankful was still in the hotel lobby. As I rode through the town it looked completely different, and much less threatening than the previous evening. I filled up with what I remember to be quite cheap petrol, and continued on my eastwards journey to Pemba.

It was not long before the gravel roads turned to sand tracks and my progress really slowed down as I slid and paddled my way through long stretches of deep sand pits. I was not always confident to stand on the pegs in sand and often sat on the seat and waded along. Later, after a few courses, I conquered the sand, but for now my riding was rather ungainly. It took me a good eleven hours to actually get my first glimpse of the Indian Ocean and it was absolutely glorious.

Pemba is actually a popular tourist destination. It is situated on a small peninsula and surrounded by the sea, a huge lagoon, and lots of rivers and mangrove swamps. There were palm trees along the white sandy beaches, a few rather nice looking colonial looking hotels, small resorts with thatched huts spread out on the sand, restaurants, bars, and shops selling tourist stuff. There was also scuba diving and snorkeling, boat trips, canoes and hobby cats to hire. A real surprise compared with what I had seen in Mozambique so far. It was like a tropical paradise.

Unlike the wild and cold Atlantic Ocean on the west coast of Africa, the water at the same latitude on the east coast of the Indian Ocean was calm, crystal blue and warm. There were quite a few tourists, many who had come from Europe and it reminded me a bit of Thailand in the early days before it got developed. Very nice.

I decided to find a camping spot, but I found it just as cheap to rent a hut on the beach, and that is what I did. As was my habit now, after being bitten by some bed bugs and insects at other similar places, I dumped all their bedding, sprayed the mattress with some pesticide that was probably illegal in the West, set up my sleeping bag, and replaced their moth eaten mozzie net with my own one. I then stripped my bike down to bare minimum and changed into my beach riding gear of flip flops, shorts, t-shirt, sunglasses and my Dad’s old Tilly Hat and went to explore the area.

Like Malawi I idled about in the sea during the day, and joined the party at night. There was quite a bit of diving activity going on, but at that time I had not got my PADI qualifications and so I settled with swimming, snorkeling and canoeing in the mangroves.

After a couple of day I decided to start pushing on further south. I only had a few weeks left before I need to fly out to China and start my Mandarin course at Tsinghua University in Beijing. I was very much aware that my adventure was coming to an end and so I really tried to squeeze as much out of the remaining weeks.

There was only one fly in the ointment, and that was that my chain and sprockets on my bike were starting to disintegrate. I had a couple of thousand kilometers still to go and thought if I really clean and oil it well, I may make it.

The other annoyance was that the brand new front tyre I had been carrying had been damaged by the exhaust heat and fumes coming out of my Akropoviks. I had been careless and strapped them on too near to the exhaust outlets and some of the rubber had been burned.

Luckily the tyre on the front of my bike looked OK and had lots of tread left.  Still it was an annoying waste and an expensive lesson, especially as I had lugged it across Africa, and so I gave it to a local biker who didn’t think the damage was as serious as I did.

The road heading south does not always follow the coast, but often cuts back into land by quite a long way, looping back towards coastal towns every now and again. The surface was extremely sandy and of variable depth and softness.  On a rare stretch of gravel near a village I was cruising at a rather quick pace of 120 kph when a dog ran out in front of me and I literally ran over its neck launching me into the air for a few meters and luckily landing back down on my wheels and staying upright.

That was a shock, and I u-turned around and rode up to the dog which was clearly dead. I got off my bike and started hauling it to the side of the road when a woman came running out of a hut shouting at me, then a few more people followed her, and so I decided to scarper, quickly. Anywhere else I would have apologised and perhaps compensated the owners, but I knew this could easily escalate, and so I “hauled arse” as the Yanks say, feeling upset at killing the dog, and rather dishonourable at escaping.

Towards the end of the same day after doing many hours of tough riding a large cow walked out in front of me and I panicked, not being able to go either side of it, as I had done numerous times before with donkeys, pigs and other cattle, and I skidded on the gravel and sand for several meters and crashed into the cow, hitting it at about 20-25kph, but sufficiently fast enough for me to go right over my handles bars, clean over the cow and come crashing down on the other side.

The shock of my first ever motorcycle crash filled my body with adrenaline and I have to say I felt nothing and was completely uninjured except from grazing my gloves and my elbows. I had pretty much come off unscathed and even my helmet was undamaged.

I walked back to the cow, where my bike was laying on its side on the sand, and examined the cow, and it seemed perfectly fine. I had skidded sort of sideways and hit the cow on its rump. Being very used to cows from my childhood on a dairy farm, I examined and massaged its rear leg and bottom and could find no sign of injury at all.  She was still standing by the bike and so I pushed her forward and she walked OK. I rubbed her head and apologised and she seemed fine and eventually ambled off to the other side of the road. I then looked nervously around to see if any people were rushing out with pitch forks and lighted torches, but nobody was about.

I was a bit shaken and it took me a few attempts to lift up my bike and wheel it to the side of the road and examine it for damage. The mirror had turned around on the bracket but was OK, the hand guard was a bit scuffed, and there was a very small scrape on the pannier. The worse damage seemed to be to the crash bar that had a distinct silver scrape through the black powder coating, and apart from that, nothing. The handlebars were true and forks had not slipped in the triple clamp, and there was no damage to bodywork. Remarkable. I guess if the road hadn’t been so sandy or if I was on tarmac both KTM and Rupert would not have fared so well.

After dusting everything down and rearranging my mirrors, I set off, with the cow standing on the other side of the road looking at me. It was a big one and she didn’t look at all fussed by half a ton and motorcycle and rider whacking into her arse. What a strange world… it could all have gone terribly wrong…but I suppose it was a wake up call from my complacency as I was really pushing the limits on occasions.

Suffice to say, for the rest of the few hours before I stopped and set up camp I went a bit steadier, still a little shaken, but happy in the knowledge that the KTM really is a solid bit of kit. Later, while sleeping on my ground mat in my tent in the middle of nowhere did I feel the twinges of having hurt my neck and shoulder, and I could see I had bruised my forearm and hand. I guess not so bad, but a wake up call about the risks of charging about the bush on a motorcycle.

Over the next three or four days I worked my way down through Mozambique on very similar sandy gravel roads, rode some extremely long stretches, pushing my fuel range to the limit, and occasionally passing through some large built up port towns like Beira.

I was aiming for a couple of resorts called Vilankulos and Inhambane where I heard you could go swimming with Manta Rays, Devil Rays and the biggest fish on the planet, the Whale Shark.

I camped in Vilankulos for a night which was famous for scuba diving and excursions to the nearby islands, called Bazaruto and Ilha de Benguerra. Lots of interesting and relaxing resorts, but I needed to push on and so I ended up at a place called Tofo Beach near the town of Inhambane which was not as pretty as Pemba, but still pretty nice with long beaches and dunes.

Yet again I moved into a basic straw hut at one of the resorts where I made friends with my fellow travelers, that included a very adventurous couple from Japan, and two nurses from the south of England, who had moved to Mozambique to do voluntary aid work at a local hospital and to teach at a school.

I became very good friends with all of them, and particularly so with one of the nurses who would often join me on the back of the bike as we explored the lagoon and surrounding countryside. We canoeing in the lagoon, hiked, and the highlight of the stay, swam with Whale Sharks and Devil Rays. In the evening we would all eat and drink together, and join the inevitable party in the evening.

The food was excellent in Tofo Beach, but what I remember most was that a baby whale got washed up on the beach and was descended upon by the locals who butchered it up for meat. I was a bit shocked when my Japanese friends returned to the resort with a huge slab of whale meat that they were going to cook up. Would we join them?

Um no, I was suddenly inflicted with a severe bout of veganism.

It was now early September and I really did have to get going. My nurse friend was visibly upset, we had got on very well, but it was what it was. She was staying in Mozambique and I was going to Beijing. We were both grown up enough to know the way things are “on holiday” and so I headed off south towards the large city of Maputo that I was told was not a very safe place, and there were many stories circulating about tourists being robbed, assaulted and raped.

As it happened, when I got to Maputo I just rode straight through it and down to the border with Swaziland where I crossed without any drama and camped in Hlane National Park.

This was to prove to be a very strange experience.

First, I don’t recall anyone else being in the campsite at all. I paid to enter the national park and assumed I was in a campsite just outside the perimeter fences, or whatever they had.  I was to find out that I was in actual fact right inside the park, there were no facilities for food, a sign post indicated that the water was unsafe to drink, and during the night I became the center of attention for most of the wildlife, including a pack of hyenas that came right up to my tent.

Oh, shit. All this way and nearly home, and I get eaten.

I had a big fire going, that I stoked up while I still had the courage to stay outside, but eventually I went into my tent, closed the flysheet and zipper, and spent the night in abject fear listening to a cacophany of howls, roars, squeals, trumpeting, insects bouncing off my tent, and worse, things pacing about outside. It was a long night and I am not sure my pulse went below a hundred.

Dawn could not come quick enough, and as soon as it was light enough I was packed up and ready to ride off.

As I was leaving I saw a local lady and asked her where the game reserve actually was. You can imagine my alarm to discover I had been in it all the time, and the camp I was in was only supposed to be used as a day camp with caravans. Hey Ho.

I explored the Kingdom of Swaziland, which is quite interesting, but very poor. A lot of Red Cross, United Nations and other lords of poverty aid agency buildings and goings on. I did a sort of exploratory circular route around the country, camped up again, in a remote, but safer location near the border, and when the gate opened in the morning made my final crossing back into South Africa.

I drove down the coastal route to a town called St. Lucia. I vividly remember the cultural shock of suddenly being back in a 1st world country. Everything was familiar, but it also seemed very strange. I pulled into a typical South African shopping mall and parked outside a coffee shop called Mugg & Bean where I had a full English breakfast and some decent coffee. Zambia has some of the best coffee I have ever drunk, but Malawi and Mozambique have awful coffee, if indeed the brown liquid I drank really was coffee. Its worse than the coffee in the US of A and that takes some doing. I was a little taken aback about being back where the supermarkets are full of luxury good, the petrol is real 95 octane stuff, and the coffee was real.

I decided to push onto Durban as I was invited to stay with a friend. The first thing I did when I arrived was to get a pint of Guinness in a pub by the sea and I still have a picture of me, pint in hand, looking a bit worse for wear. I was very grateful to get a proper bed, a decent shower, and a delicious meal with good South African wine.

In the morning I decided to make a detour to Lesotho and climb up into the mountainous landlocked country from the Drakensburg up along the Sani Pass. I have done this route a few times since, but this first time was the best and I breezed up the twisty pass together with ll my luggage without difficulty.

I rode for many kilometres across a very remote and very cold plateau, passed by very basic cattle farms and farmers and shepherd boys wearing thick blankets, though steep twisty roads and passes and towards the source of the Orange River.

I was camping again in the cold and wet and it made a huge contrast to the hot, dry and dusty trails I had ridden on more months through the deserts and savannah of southern Africa. I also encountered the dreaded mud which was a relatively new experience for me, although I come from “Mud Island” and spent my youth wading through it in wellies and overalls on the Staffordshire dairy farm I worked on from 12 years old until 18 years when I escaped and went off to join Maggies Boot Boyz in London.

Eventually after after a couple of days I rode down the steep pass at Telle Bridge and revisited a pretty Afrikaner town called Lady Grey, a place I stayed a few years earlier and had an enormous amount of fun learning to suki suki dance with the locals into the small wee hours.

I stayed in the same hotel, had breakfast at the same Lady Grey cricket club house, and then headed through Umtata to the Transkei’s Wild Coast that I hiked along back in 2002. I wanted to revisit Port St. John’s, The Kraal, Hole in the Wall, and Coffee Bay.

It took me nearly six weeks back then hiking down the Wild Coast with little more than one set of clothes, a day sack and a black water proof bin liner, encountering Puff Adders on the trails, Zambezi Sharks in the estuaries, armed robbers in the woods, lightening strikes, and several days of fever.

Now on my KTM I skimmed across the gravel roads, past Xhosa traditional huts, across rivers and streams and through rolling hills with cattle and sheep. I camped at the Kraal and also on the hill in Coffee Bay above a backpackers, called the Coffee Shack that was pretty much as I remembered it and still full of an endless supply of “tie die, nose pierced, tattooed, lentil munching, dope smoking hippies” who were mostly following the Coast to Coast tourist booklet of the Garden Route and Wild Coast and traveling by bus with enormous rucksacks and sensible sandals. The same types you always see at the usual haunts in Malawi, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Laos.

I now had the final leg of the journey and it is at this point that my bike developed a serious problem that I had probably caused by over tightening the chain. The front and rear sprockets were now seriously worn, to the point that the teeth were bent over or worn nearly away. The chain was now missing many of the O-rings and starting to disintegrate, and worse, the chain had gauged a nasty groove in the swing arm, removing the plastic guards and cutting deep into the aluminium. Not good.

I still had a journey ahead of me of about 1000 kilometers down the garden route through the cities of East London, Port Elizabeth, Knysna, and George all the way to Swellendam, which I not only did with a chain on the verge of disintegrating, but in heavy traffic on the N2 highway, and in extremely heavy rain.

Given the limitations of my riding gear I was frozen to the core and completely soaked through.

At a reduced speed it took me two days solid, stopping in Knysna along the way.  When I got to Swellendam, having been stopped by the local traffic police at road blocks three times on my last day, I still had to ride the very last 80 kilometers across the windy farmlands of the Overberg, back to my home in Arniston.

It was a strange feeling to pull into my driveway at the southern most tip of Africa. My house suddenly seemed very luxurious and comfortable indeed, and it was odd to be sleeping in my own bed with the rhythmic sound of the waves churning over the pebbles and rocks on the beach below.  There was no reception committee, no one was around, in fact no one was particularly interested in what I had done, but I felt a huge sense of achievement.

Coming to the end of the expedition did make me feel a bit “low” and I was out of sorts, but all that subsided after a few days as I got back into the swing of things, keeping myself busy, cleaning things up, putting stuff away, morning swims, a bit of fishing, and going for long runs along stunningly beautiful stretches of sandy beaches with only Seagulls, Black Oyster Catchers, Arctic Terns, Cormorants, and the occasional Southern Right Whale to keep me company.

I often flicked through the photographs of the trip on my laptop and relived and reminisced about the many wonderful moments, the interesting people I met, the amazing things I saw, the tough challenges, and the sheer excitement of a real adventure. Nobody can take that away from you.

After about a week I left Arniston and rode my trusty war horse 200 kilometers to Cape Town. I had to nurse the bike back extremely gently as the chain was completely shot, no O-rings left at all, and it was sliding on the worn out and missing sprockets. I literally crawled into the KTM workshop where the chain finally gave up the ghost. That’s perfect timing for you.

Over the next few days the damaged swing arm was replaced, it got a new set of tyres, and a brand new chain and sprocket set. My wonderful motorcycle looked like new again and ready for another adventure.

But all that would have to wait. I had a completely different sort of adventure waiting for me in Beijing!

8-20-2007-1373
North Zambia
8-20-2007-1374
North Malawi as the sun was going down… must find a camping spot
8-20-2007-1375
The view from my place at Lake Nyasa in Malawi
8-20-2007-1376
Breakfast
8-20-2007-1378
Local boys swimming outside my hut
8-20-2007-1386
My home for a few days in Malawi
8-20-2007-1384
A biking couple I met in Malawi… Riding Honda Bajas 250s from UK down west of Africa
8-20-2007-1377
Honda 250 Baja near our tents in Malawi
8-20-2007-1381
My friends having a go on a proper bike
8-20-2007-1382
Monkey
8-20-2007-1380
Malawian boys football league
8-20-2007-1379
Ferry across Lake Nyasa
8-20-2007-1387
Mango tree … Malawi
dscn0774
Typical sandy roads
8-20-2007-1390
The laundromat… Malawi/Mozambique
8-20-2007-1393
Local boys visiting my tent
8-20-2007-1383
Dug out canoes on Lake Nyasa, Malawi
8-20-2007-1389
Lots of these blue tailed lizards in Malawi
8-20-2007-1394
Schools out for summer
8-20-2007-1392
Lots of baobab trees
20160719_093847
Cape McClear
8-20-2007-1397
My friends at Cape McClear
8-20-2007-1391
Two wheels good
8-20-2007-1398
One of my favourite pictures… filling up fuel in Malawi. Bike looks huge next to the fuel attendant. Note map tucked between seat and tank. No GPS .. just paper tourist maps and asking for directions.
8-20-2007-1399
Stalls in South Malawi
8-20-2007-1388
Beach in Malawi
8-20-2007-1402
Rhino near Tanzania/ Zambia border
8-20-2007-1405
One of huts that I lived in …Mozambique
8-20-2007-1407
View onto the Beach in Mozambique next to my hut
8-20-2007-1404
Emergency helicopter (casevac) in Malawi
8-20-2007-1406
Local Mozambique people butchering a baby whale that washed up on the beach
1923389_6503423102_3692_n
One of my favourite pictures …. a typical stretch of sandy road in Mozambique
1923423_6096973102_7306_n
Picture taken by me with underwater disposable camera while swimming with Whale sharks in Mozambique
14718585_10154596460913103_514011404755107599_n
One of my temporary homes in Mozambique
1923380_6213028102_3470_n
Going out diving with Devil rays and Whale sharks in Mozambique
1923423_6096968102_7087_n-1
Camping inside a game reserve in Swaziland where I received a night time visit by a pack of hyenas… not the most peaceful night I have ever had!
8-20-2007-1408
Having a Guinness in Durban, South Africa after the long trip …. quite exhausted and dishevelled.
209864_10150172913718103_6525839_o

Video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFTmtSkc6fA&t=4s

Royal Hong Kong Police Chapter 3 – Emergency Unit, Yip Kai Foon and AK47s

Following a long leave that allowed me to travel around the world, I returned to Hong Kong to start my second tour with the Royal Hong Kong Police and was unsurprised, although a tad disappointed to learn that I had been posted to three months detention at Headquarters’ Command and Control, otherwise known as PolMil.

In reality I was not being unfairly treated as most expatriate officers had to do a short stint in HQCCC at the beginning of their second tour because native English speakers were required to perform a job that mainly involved consolidating various sources of information to prepare the “situation report” for the senior brass each day.

HQCCC was located in the dungeons of Police Headquarters in Wanchai, and RHKP Inspectors were joined in the “Well” (as the windowless and lowered banks of computers, monitors and telephones were called) by British military officers of Major or Warrant Officer rank, and as far as I remember the job involved, in addition to preparing the HQ Situation Report, calling out EOD for bomb threats, deploying various specialists (many I wasn’t aware of such as professional lock pickers) and calling out RAF helicopters for various tasks such as casualty evacuations. One bizarre and pointless job was to monitor Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station in nearby China to make sure it hadn’t blown up!

Four Inspectors, all of whom I knew well (Dickie, Gus, Damian and I) covered the three shifts. For reasons I never understood the night shift (“C”) was ten hours long, the afternoon shift shift (“B”) was six hours long and the morning shift (“A”) was eight hours long.

We were supervised, allegedly, by a Chief Inspector who worked 9am-5pm. This position was filled by a newly promoted CIP who we all knew well called Steve who, in addition to becoming a good friend in later life, was responsible for making me levitate one day as I received the biggest “bollocking” of my life, and deservedly so for what I will describe later.

In addition to the official job description, PolMil really involved watching television in a command and control bunker in Police Headquarters, cut and pasting other people’s reports into a “sitrep” (literally with glue and scissors), eating junk food, watching more television, gossiping, sleeping while trying to look awake, making prank phone calls and plotting our escape.

The job was akin to being a couch potato, and sitting in a seat watching television and answering the telephone for ten hours a day was really not all that different to sitting in a seat watching television and answering the telephone for fourteen hours. So, Dickie and I devised a cunning plan to make life more interesting by working each other’s shift for a few days, allowing both of us to have a few days off and join our respective Cathay Pacific wives using their ID90 discount flight scheme to escape the monotony.

First, Dickie went to the Philippines with his wife and while he was away I covered both his shift and mine. On a couple of occasions my boss, Steve asked me where Dickie was and I just palmed him off saying it was my shift and he would be in later.

When Dickie came back from his jaunt to the Philippines he covered my shifts for a couple of days and so I joined my wife, Lilian on one of the flights she was working.

Allegedly, as I was in wandering around the cafes and art galleries of Paris, Steve asked Dickie the same question about where I was and Dickie panicked and said I was ill. Steve then said he would go and visit me and make sure I am OK, to which Dickie blurted out, the infamous and much recounted in bars and messes ever since,

“HE’S IN FRANCE”.

Its difficult to deny the fact, that I am indeed …in France

Oblivious to the fact our little ruse had been rumbled, I enjoyed a very pleasurable flight back to Hong Kong in first class, eating caviar and sipping champagne, but mostly asleep and rocked up for my next shift at HQCCC as fresh as a daisy.

Steve is from Hull, and Yorkshiremen are not known for mincing their words, and when I was intercepted an extremely loud, fruity, imaginative, and thoroughly well deserved “bollocking” ensued that was akin to standing in front of Marshall speakers at an AC/DC concert, except with a lot of swearing and saliva.

I can safely say I kept my head well and truly down and avoided eye contact for days.

I was later to learn that Dickie and my cunning plan to squeeze a short holiday by working each others’ shifts was not well received by the Colonial brass, and I understand the Assistant Commissioner of Operations saved our bacon and decided not to discipline us for going AWAL, which I will freely admit we should have been. Later on in my career I will be disciplined for things I should not have been disciplined for, and so I suppose in the grand scheme of things it balanced out.

For a while, at least.

The story went into RHKP folk legend and Steve, perhaps unfairly, always referred to Dickie thereafter as “Squealer”. Its ironic that several decades later Steve worked for Dickie in the private sector in airport security and probably addressed him as “Squealer, Sir”.

I have already described Gus in Chapter 1 of this RHKP blog, and he was quite a character. Far too intelligent for his own good, an accomplished musician, golfer, light aircraft pilot, mimic, amateur dramatics actor, comedian, linguist and “bullshitter” of note. Gus had a very low boredom threshold, and perhaps like me, this led to many accomplishments in life, but also to getting into trouble a lot.

One “Gus” incident I remember well was that a senior officer telephoned HQCCC and requested that EOD be called out to deal with an IED at the scene of some incident. At that time, Gus, Steve and I were all in the EOD Cadre and all of us should have known what the correct protocols were. Instead, Gus told the senior officer at the scene to get the suspect to dispose his own bomb. As pragmatic as this may seem, it was of course a very daft suggestion and resulted in a moderate amount of shit being directed into Gus’ fan.

It is also during this period of professional idling that Gus and I took up paragliding and we went on to become the founders of the Hong Kong Paragliding Association (www.hkpa.net) together with a Cathay Pacific 747 Captain called Tony. In these pioneering days my first fight was on Gus’ Airwave Black Magic paraglider, with no instruction, no clue and no worries.

I had always wanted to fly and Gus confidently reassured me that all my dreams would come true as he strapped me into his newly purchased paraglider and pushed me off a steep cliff at Long Ke Wan in Sai Kung Country Park.

Neither of us knew what we were doing, and in the strong winds I got seriously twisted up in the lines, was unceremoniously dragged up the hill and luckily hauled into the air before I got blown backwards into the lee side rotor of the hill and down a cliff.

Luckily, and with no help from Gus’ frantic instructions on the walkie talkie, my glider unspun itself and I ended up facing the right way and then enjoyed an idyllic free flight for a brief few minutes before I drifted down to the beach where I landed softly, and I have to say with a good deal of “ground kissing” and euphoria.

I was now addicted, and over subsequent months and years Gus, Tony and I leapt off every single hill and mountain in the territory of Hong Kong, getting better all the time and eventually achieving our goals of soaring and thermaling like eagles.

For the sake of my continued existence on Planet Earth I decided that I better learn how to paraglide properly and over the following years went on various courses. I did my formal qualifications with the British Hang-gliding & Paragliding Association (“BHPA”) schools in the UK and reached Advance Pilot level, Trainee Instructor and gained my Tandem pilot qualification. I also did cross country training in Taiwan, USA, Austria, Switzerland, South Africa and quite often in Chamonix in France. Later I learned to paramotor with an engine and propeller strapped on my back in Sacramento in northern California.

In those pioneering days in the early 1990s I was first to fly off Dragon’s Bank in Sek O and Sunset Peak in Lantau. Gus and Tony were the first to fly all the hills in Sai Kung and the New Territories. We later competed in paragliding cross country competitions around the world (Verbier in Switzerland in 1993 and Kyushu in Japan in 1995), usually coming last, but thoroughly enjoying the experience, especially as the Hong Kong Government sponsored us and gave us time off to represent the Colony.

Over the following years we recruited many of our colleagues into our growing paragliding club, including our boss, Steve, a senior officer called Gerry (who Gus tried to kill), our PTS squad mate, Ben, an SDU officer called Nick and a British Army Major called Chris, whom we worked with at PolMil.

Me flying at Sek O in early 90s

Video of flying at Sek O: https://youtu.be/51IQ8DJd0MM

The Hong Kong Paragliding Association Logo that Tony and I designed in 1990

The three months at HQCCC passed relatively quickly and despite an unequivocal breach of the Police and Civil Service discipline code I was very privileged and very fortunate to be selected to join Emergency Unit Kowloon West, perhaps the best uniform job in the Force, and also in the most interesting and exciting region of the Territory.

Maybe the Assistant Commissioner of Operations after my “Missing in France” escapades thought I was an energetic, innovative and resourceful officer suitable for a top front line job, or maybe he thought I would get shot by triads and be rid of me.

When I came back to Hong Kong from long leave with my new wife, Lilian we moved into a decent sized Government apartment in Mid-Levels. Seniority dictated how nice the apartment you could apply for and by the time I was a Senior Inspector we were living in a 2,000 square foot apartment in Mount Butler with stunning views over the whole of Hong Kong and the Harbour.

Accommodation was definitely a perk of joining the police, especially for expatriates. In recent years many of the government quarters have been sold off to the private sector and now police and other government officers get a rental allowance that they generally use for renting a far more modest apartment, or more sensibly, to buy a place and pay off a mortgage.

Emergency Unit Kowloon West was, and still is based at Mong Kok police station in the heart of Kowloon, where my PTU Company was also based. Emergency Unit is known as Chung Fung Dui (冲锋队)in Chinese and is the first police response unit to “999” calls.

EU is structured similarly to a PTU company, but larger and with far more experienced officers. Each platoon is made up of 50 or so Police Constables, 12 Sergeants, 1 Station Sergeant and commanded by a Senior Inspector. Each Region has four platoons commanded by a Superintendent who is assisted by a Chief Inspector who performs a more administrative role.

In Kowloon West we had 12 Mercedes Benz vans that were equipped with emergency kit and an assortment of weapons. Each car is manned by a Sergeant, an advance driver, a uniform crew member and a plain clothed officer who we could deploy to carry our surveillance or carry out reconnoitre before we executed any raids or preformed other tactical responses.

No 1 Platoon Emergency Unit / Kowloon West on a training day at CQBR

A Daai fei smugglers speed boat with a stolen car aboard … early 1990s
RHKP Anti Smuggling Task Force in pursuit

In Hong Kong during the early nineties the Colony was beset with very violent robberies, organised crime and smuggling. My tour in EU coincided with a period of frequent and very violent goldsmith robberies that were carried out by organised and well armed criminal gangs, some from Hong Kong, but mostly from mainland China.

Just before China resumed Sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997, it seemed China was allowing the two centuries of British rule to go out with a bang and so there were frequent gun battles on the streets, grenade attacks and blatant smuggling of stolen luxury cars carried our by armed gangs using “Daai Fei”s (four or five Mercury engine speed boats capable of sixty+ knots).

The gangs were often former military trained and had access to Chinese “People’s Liberation Army” weapons such as the Type 56 (7.62 mm Chinese AK47 assault rifle); Type 54 (7.62 Black Star pistol); Uzi type sub machine guns ( rapid fire lower velocity sub machine guns); and grenades.

Much to my, and many officers’ frustration, we were only armed with .38 Smith & Wesson revolvers loaded with just 6 rounds of ammunition. Later, as an interim measure and due to the frequency and scale of violence used by the armed robbers we were issued an extra 6 rounds which were stored in a “zip lock bag”. Thankfully, this was later replaced with 6 rounds in a speed loader, but not before we encountered several life threatening gun battles in which my officers had to open these wretched little bags whilst under fire and reload their revolvers. Quite ridiculous!

We were also issued with Remington 870 pump action shotguns with birdshot cartridges, later replaced with the very effective “00” buckshot half way through my tour of EU (again thankfully); and a Colt AR15 5.56mm semi automatic assault rifle that we were not allowed to use in the densely packed urban environment due to the rounds being high velocity and according to the “brass” with a risk of collateral damage. In the EU armoury, which I had to check each shift, there were many Sterling Machine guns, but we never used these and I was never told why we hung onto these obsolete weapons.

Emergency Units are perhaps manned by the most capable and experienced officers in the Force. There was no woke bedwetting Human Resources department diversity, inclusion and equal outcome bollocks that we see today. We just had the best and bravest police officers and if they didn’t cut the mustard they were transferred out, quickly and without ceremony.

Policing around the world generally consists of a lot of routine and run of the mill duties to perform, interspersed with moments of chaos, danger and madness. EU in the early 1990s was the opposite. Everyday was absolutely mad and our day at work was filled with life threatening and highly demanding situations.

I have never been in the military, although I think I would probably have faired pretty well if I had, but EU K/W in the early nineties was as close to being at war as it could be. On a daily basis we faced determined and ruthless criminals who were very keen on shooting us.

Individual members of my platoon were fearless and extremely brave, and one of my many grievances with the RHKP hierarchy at that time was that my men didn’t receive fair recognition by way of promotion or commendations for their professionalism and courage. If the standard for the award of a commendation was consistent I would not have been so pissed off, but it wasn’t.

Awards would be given out by senior officers to their rugby pals, freemason brothers, their ma jais (little horses), for quid pro quo favours, or just for turning up at work each day and not making any spelling mistakes.

In a regular unit you have a cross section of ability, qualifications and experience, but in a unit like EU all the police constables are qualified and deserving of being promoted, and the dilemma is that if they were indeed all recommended and did get promoted there would be insufficient candidates of the right stuff to fill the vacancies and provide continuity.

Its a difficult one, but recognising their efforts and courage by way of awards would have gone a long way to maintain morale and encourage continued professionalism. It is also just good manners to say, “Thank You”.

Alas, and to all of our shame, the EU officers did not received the recognition they deserved. Awards, such as Governors’ Commendations, Commissioner’s Commendations and the highest, the Queen’s Gallantry Medal, were surprisingly few despite almost weekly gun battles and arrests of criminals for serious and violent crimes.

As a platoon officer I would have some administrative tasks and paperwork to perform with my one finger tippy tappy typewriter, carbon paper and gallons of Tippex (does it still exist?), but mostly I was out and about on the streets of Kowloon in the command car, “Car five zero”.

The numerous robberies required an instant response that we practiced everyday on the streets and also in the relative safety of the Close Quarter Battle Range where NCO and Inspectors’ leadership and tactical ability could be put to the test and finely honed.

For me as an expatriate I was perhaps blessed by being ignorant of the gossip and distractions, but handicapped by my lack of fluency in Cantonese and so I relied a lot on my Platoon Orderly who was an instant translator and relay of information.

However, when the wheel came off, radio discipline was difficult to maintain and there would be a cacophony of rapid Cantonese as the command and control centre tasked the EU cars and their crews. In reply, the officers gave instant updates and directions as we tightened the net and closed in on the robbery, burglary in progress, gas leak, gang fight, triad chopping, murder, assault, theft, stolen car on the move or whatever.

In the command car I was sometimes with the Platoon Station Sergeant, but more often than not he patrolled in “Car four nine” so we could double up the supervisory and command presence if we had sufficient vehicles and drivers.

The streets of Kowloon are some of the densest on the planet, and let’s not forget with most buildings being over ten stories its also a three dimensional maze to navigate around. Getting to the scene of the emergency was always difficult, frustrating and exciting all at the same time.

I had chased around the streets of London in a Rover SD1 Area Car in the early 1980s and now I was chasing around the streets of Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po in a Mercedes Van in the early 1990s. Occasionally, I would patrol in an old school Land Rover that could really move in the hands of a good driver who knew the streets and all the shortcuts.

Like all officers, I tried to install a sense of Comradery and Esprit de Corp into my team. Whilst I insisted on high standards of discipline and conduct, I understood all too well that policing is a tough occupation and the irony that the harder you worked the more chance you had of getting into trouble. I always thought in policing its tough enough with villains out there trying to get us, without us turning on each other.

I got an opportunity to prove this point when I was called to a case of a firearm being found in a “love hotel” in Kowloon Tong. This is a rather affluent area in central Kowloon, but has several blocks of tacky sex themed hotels that rent out rooms to couples, usually to those who haven’t known each other for very long, nor will.

On arrival at the room in question the cleaning lady pointed out a weapon I knew very well lying on the bed side table. A Smith & Wesson .38 snub nosed revolver, the weapon issued to Royal Hong Kong Police detectives because it has a short 2 inch barrel and can easily be concealed.

My EU officers realised what it was as well and like me correctly guessed a detective had left it by mistake while getting up to mischief. Whether he was on duty or not is a mute point, detectives tend to work very long hours and spend time in dodgy places frequented by informants. That was not the issue, the issue was that “a firearm had been left unattended” and that was a serious breach of the RHKP disciplinary code.

As is often the case, EU are quickly joined at the scene of any incidents by officers from other units and it was clear to me that things were beginning to escalate fast as “sitreps” would be reported to the control room by various officers.

As luck would have it an Inspector from my intake at PTS suddenly appeared. “Henry” was a force entry Inspector and older than most having risen through the ranks of PC and Sergeant. He was looking extremely nervous.

I pulled him aside and asked if it was his revolver, and he sheepishly replied, ‘Yes’. I then told him to say he had been having a shower and had not left the premises. I spoke to the cleaning lady and told her what had happened and she obviously thought playing down the matters was as prudent as I did.

So, as one of the first officers on scene I could “testify” that Henry was indeed in the shower room when I arrived and so technically he never left his revolver unattended.

Not long afterwards, and no doubt due to conflicting reports being given to the Kowloon Regional Command and Control Centre, the divisional commander arrived and questioned Henry, myself and my EU officers about what happened and we all corroborated each other. I suspect he knew exactly what had really happened, but he did not press us further. No doubt at a more appropriate time and place he told Henry to stop shagging prostitutes and look after his gun, or else.

This incident, early on in my EU posting, resulted in several outcomes. Firstly, it protected the career of a good detective and potentially his marriage. Secondly, I knew Henry would never leave his revolver lying around again. Thirdly, I proved to my Hong Kong Chinese team that this new “gwailo bomban” could be relied upon. And lastly, as someone who loses his keys on a daily basis, I vowed never to carry a personal issue firearm.

The haze of time has dimmed a lot of the detail from my days in the Royal Hong Kong Police, but not the drama of armed robberies in progress that are etched vividly in my memory as if they had just happened. Without being overly dramatic, these incidents were against highly armed and extremely violent people who would not hesitate to kill us to get away.

After all, if they did get caught they were looking at life in prison. If they escaped, they would have millions of dollars of cash and valuables.

Between the two outcomes was us.

One of the infamous villains was Yip Kai Foon, a ruthless and daring armed robber who was behind many of the heists of goldsmith shops in the 1990s. In fact he had been arrested in late 1980s and managed to escape by feigning illness, and with assistance from his gang escaped from the hospital to continue to terrorise Hong Kong.

There were many other gangs, and I suppose the 1990s, just before the handover, was a period when these gangs could access Chinese military weapons, sneak into Hong Kong and escape back into China with impunity. China allowed this to happen and turned a blind eye for a while, but later this crime spree came to an end in the mid 1990s when the Chinese authorities started catching these villains and executing them. Whether you agree with Capital punishment or not, one thing is for certain. They don’t do it again.

Yip Kai Foon – Mug shot.
This picture (part of rare video recording) taken during an armed robbery in Nathan Road in which a nurse was shot dead is often identified by the press to be Yip Kai Foon. It is not. It is another gang and this robber didn’t live to see another Chinese New Year.

I genuinely believe very few people during their police careers, anywhere in the world, were at the sharp end of so many violent crimes as Emergency Unit was in the 1990s. My own platoon (No. 1 Platoon EU/KW) definitely having more than its fair share.

The Shui Hing Mahjong School robbery in Mong Kok sticks out as a particularly brutal crime that was a catalyst for change and forced the officers wallahs to do something and respond to our, up until then, rather futile attempts to better arm and better protect front line officers. As I mentioned above, although armed, we were woefully outgunned by this batch of professional armed robbers and the Shui Hing Mahjong School heist was a turning point.

On this particular evening in early 1990 I was actually patrolling Mong Kok in Car 50 when the call came out and responded with my cars from Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po, Yaumatei and adjacent districts where we actually cordoned off the vicinity using well rehearsed and practiced tactics honed during training exercises and more often than not in real life.

During the robbery four highly armed robbers stole cash, watches, jewellery and wallets from the occupants of a Mahjong parlour. They entered the building, locked the doors, stole what they could, and tragically shot at blank range two people who resisted or were perhaps hesitant in handing over their cherished gold Rolex watches.

The robbers then piled out of the building firing at us with Type 56 assault rifles, an Uzi style rapid fire machine gun, and pistols. We returned fire with our revolvers and Remington shotguns that had little effect on them as they were wearing military style ballistic helmets, bullet proof vests (“BRVs”), and they basically laid down more fire power than we could.

The driver of the Mong Kong EU car, a more elderly officer nick-named fan siu (meaning Sweet Potato) returned fire from behind the engine block of the van (as per our operational tactics), used up all his six rounds, and fumbled around in the wretched plastic zip lock bag to reload his revolver with a further six rounds while being fired upon by an AK47 and a machine pistol. Brave stuff.

A robber escaping down an alleyway was confronted by one of my officers who was armed with a Remington shotgun with birdshot ammunition, and the robber kept on running, seemingly oblivious to the pellets bouncing off his BRV and helmet.

Our cordon was breached, quite simply because we were out gunned.

The robbers carjacked a bus, and as we pursued them they threw stick grenades out of the windows at us, some going off and some not, being left as dangerous blinds on the streets of Kowloon for the EOD team, later, and with my joint role as an EOD Cadre member as coordinator, to render them safe.

The robbers managed to escape for a while, but were unable to get over to China, and were later arrested by crime units and various stolen goods and weapons were recovered. During one of the subsequent raids by crime units a Detective Inspector was shot in the face during a room entry. Despite the seriousness of the injuries and the bullet passing through his skull the officer managed to recover, but lost his sense of taste and smell and unfortunately passed away too early in life from illness.

As always in these cases there were always a group of mess bar experts giving post event analysis of what we should have done or could have done. I remember an officer many years later pontificating that our account of being fire at by Uzi type weapons was false and that Uzi style weapons were not used.

He is incorrect, as many of the bar experts usually are about matter that they did not witness first hand.

I remember clearly hearing the rapid fire of a machine pistol. Its very distinctive, and indeed my recollection of events is vindicated in the Chinese language documentary below (in which myself and my platoon feature) where the Ballistic Department give a briefing and introduce the various exhibits and weapons recovered, including the Chinese machine pistol.

My EU K/W platoon and I in middle of operation, weapons drawn. (Still at 14.40 taken from above documentary about robberies in Hong Kong in 1990s)
One of the machine pistols we were shot from at the Shui Hing Mahjong School
A look back to those days. Shame there was no 4K video quality in those day, however we did have the 14K!
English language documentary about Yip Kai Foon …. not as good a Cantonese documentary… but OK information

Emergency Units not only responded to robberies, but to all sorts of incidents that require immediate response. That said we were not always the first on scene and divisional uniform patrols and other units occasionally got to the scene before us, or were in the right place at the right time.

For instance, Yip Kai Foon (葉繼歡 – also known a “Dog Tooth’ or “Goosehead”) met his fate at the hands of a regular uniform patrol in the middle of the night while coming ashore from a boat on Hong Kong island in May 1996. He spent many years in Stanley Prison confined in a wheel chair for underestimating the pair of foot patrol officers who chased after and arrested him. Yip was found to be in possession of a machine pistol, a pistol and 1.8 kilograms of explosives.

I remember arriving at the scene of a Down’s Syndrome girl who had fallen from a twenty story apartment building. Due to her obesity and the height of the fall she had literally exploded like a water balloon. I had a “run in” with the local press who were in the habit of publishing grisly photographs of accident victims and dead bodies in their vulgar Chinese newspaper and pushed them away from the gruesome scene.

As an Inspector I had a duty to attend the scene of “sudden deaths” and form an opinion as to whether the death was suspicious or not. During subsequent inquiries into this tragic death I learned the poor girl, who was in her twenties, was never ever allowed out of her parent’s apartment, the reason being, although not explicitly stated by her parents, that they were ashamed of her going out in public.

The seriousness and often violent consequences of “losing face” was one of the cultural issues we expatriate officers had to get to grips with working as police officers in Hong Kong. Losing face was not only the cause of a lot of “revenge” crime, but also for behaviour such as locking away people with disabilities because of perceived “shame”.

Whilst I think Hong Kong Society as a whole is less violent and confrontational than British Society, based upon being a front line police officer is both, when the wheel does come off the violence can be horrific, evidenced by the severed fingers we would often come across responding to “choppings” (attacks with meat cleavers and butcher’s choppers).

A Triad settlement talk (a dispute resolution meeting), often in a restaurant or club could gravitate into an all out medieval style war between the two factions with whatever comes to hand, such as stools, chairs, knives, choppers, sticks, iron bars, etc., being used as weapons. Unlike in all the popular Hong Kong police and triad movies, firearms were rarely used in the gang fights.

However in the goldsmith robberies of the 1990s they were.

There were many robberies, and I have no idea why our platoon had more than our fair share to deal with. It was suggested by several of my police colleagues that the gangs knew the EU shift patterns and preferred to carry out their armed robberies when the gormless “gwailo” was on duty!

In another case, a goldsmith robbery in Sham Shui Po resulted in over fifty high velocity AK47 rounds going straight through one of our EU cars. This was because the crew of the SSPo EU car pulled up to set up a road block cordon right next to the “tai sui jai” (the lookout) and immediately came under fire. When I arrived shortly afterwards the crew were very shaken, but were fortunately uninjured, except some minors grazes and curs from some glass shards as the bullets passed right through the van.

There is a picture of Brian Heard of Ballistics Unit peering through a bullet hole.

A day at the office…. Story reads for itself
Chinese stick grenades, kidnapping, firearms. I recognise my former EOD boss, John R, dealing with some stick grenades.

The English press report of the Shui Hing Mahjong robbery, May 1992
The press being cordoned off, often took pictures of hard targeting tactics as we evacuated people from buildings before we raid them. EU would normally conduct the raids and be sweeping the buildings and PTU and Uniform manning the inner and outer cordons.
The Nathan Road robbery in January 1993. What was for the RHKP a well practiced response, appeared to the press for their headlines as a “wild chase”.
Picture of me in local press doing something or another after a robbery.
1) Holding a plastic toy grenade in the top picture.

Being in the EOD Cadre meant I could save EOD a lot of wasted time being called out for “nonsense” calls. In this case some idiot woman inspector cordoned off the whole of Kowloon City causing absolute chaos because a kid’s plastic toy was found on the street.

On arrival in Car 50 I quickly examined the plastic toy grenade, immediately recognised it for what it was, picked it up and told Woman Inspection Mo Lan Yung to stand down the cordon and get the traffic moving again.

Incredibly, but not surprisingly, the Woman Inspector complained to her DVC (the divisional boss) about me and both were put back in their box by the SBDO of EOD and the ACP Ops who said I did the correct thing. In fact, the SBDO said if they had got called out they would have been extremely annoyed, especially so as they have one of their EOD trained Cadre members patrolling the Kowloon streets in Emergency Unit.

The Woman Inspector was soon back to making the tea and giving the DVC his daily back rubs as she should have been doing in the first place.

2) Lower picture receiving some plaques and silver plates from local community leaders and goldsmith shop companies. I recognise next to me Craig M, who was a very decent CIP EU
Newspapers in early 1990s full of stories of robberies. I have many cuttings.
More bullet holes in our cars
Local press clipping of the Hung Hom armed robbery case. I am ringed searching the ferry pier
Me cutting the roasted suckling pig at a Bai Kwan Daai” ceremony in EU/KW Daai Fong following an open fire case

Typical Kwan Daai Alter with offerings of fruit, drink and joss sticks. Commanders would light three joss sticks, bow three times and place joss sticks before alter before every shift. Not something that I was required to do in the Met!

After every open fire case we would have a “Bai Kwan Daai” ceremony at an auspicious time to thank the “Soul of the Universe” for our continued existence on Planet Earth in which we would invite other officers to a buffet that included suckling pig, goose, chicken and duck.

Myself and other commanders would cut the roasted suckling pig and light joss sticks in a ceremony in front of the “Kwan Daai” statue, an alter that always had pride of place in every police station, unit or daai fong.

In the evenings after a Bai Kwan Daai we would have a “daai sik wooi” (big eating party) where Mahjong, gambling, drinking and a huge Chinese feast would take place at some closed off restaurant in Kowloon. It would be required that all my officers toast me with a “yam sing” over and over again until my eyes bled.

To be honest I have very few recollections of later events as I would get well and truly hammered, as required by tradition. That said, my officers would always ensure I got home, often tucking me up in the foetal position in my bed under the supervision of a grumpy, but understanding Mrs Utley who would tell me later the next day what an awful state I was in and how caring my boys were.

She had no need to remind me as my headache was usually a good indicator of my alcohol consumption. All that said, a few pints of water, a Gatorade and a long run along Bowen Road would have me revived and ready for the next day’s battle with the Hong Kong underworld.

I am often asked if we shot anyone and whether any of my unit got injured or killed. I suppose I can say the score was five-nil and how my boys never got seriously injured or worse is something I count as a blessing.

The case when 50 rounds of 7.62 mm were fired at point blank range into the SSPo EU car is like the “Divine Intervention” Scene in from the movie Pulp Fiction. As the rounds were fired the boys all hit the floor and apart from a few glass splinters and tattered nerves everyone was OK.

One of the later robberies in which we dispatched the robbers to their maker happened after we had been issued with “00” buckshot for our Remington shotguns. After robbing a goldsmith shop with high powered weapons the robbers fled in two directions in carjacked taxis and we caught them all in two separate locations, both incidents going into EU folklore.

One taxi with two armed robbers escaped towards To Kwa Wan area and it was intercepted at a roadblock where a exchange of fire took place. During that gun battle one my PCs got shot at with a Blackstar Pistol with one round going between his legs, just a few inches from his manhood, passing through the cloth of his uniform trouser legs and another round grazing the shoulder of his bullet proof vest.

I remember during the post shooting debriefs telling him it was mandatory for him to see the “trick cyclist”, as we referred to the Force Psychologist. He refused, laughing it off with typical bravado and police dark humour, but he later told me that three days later he woke up bolt upright in bed after suffering a panic attack. It was clear he had post traumatic stress, although the term PTSD hadn’t been used in those days, and so he did make the appointment with the psychologist in the end.

The second carjacked taxi with robbers onboard was intercepted on the flyover into the Lion Rock tunnel by several of my EU cars and what followed was one of the craziest incidents in EU history, witnessed by many officers from various perspectives. One of my officers who confronted the robbers is called Raymond Liu, and dare I say Raymond was one of my favourites (we are not supposed to have favourite children or subordinates are we?).

A very violent gun battle ensued in which one of the robbers opened fire with an AK47 rifle at the officers manning the road blocks and those behind the taxi in pursuit. At the time a Senior Superintendent who commanded Traffic Kowloon West was on his police motorcycle under the flyover and reported seeing spent AK47 cartridge cases raining off the flyover where the gun battle was occurring and scattering around him.

Raymond, bravely, professionally and I presume as calm as anyone being fired upon by an automatic assault weapon, returned fire with the Remington loaded with newly issued “00” buckshot and reported afterwards, words to the effect, that the robber literally stopped firing, lifted off the ground and fell backwards, spread-eagled on the road. The other robber was also shot, but lived to have his day in court.

Quite a haul that day.

I arrived at the Lion Rock Tunnel flyover scene very shortly afterwards and assessed the carnage and was obviously delighted my team were safe, and I have to say already drafting in my head the report to my seniors of how effective the new “00” buckshot is.

Post shooting crime scenes are complicated as evidence must be preserved for various forensic specialists and detectives to deal with. Also, ambulance and the fire brigade are often in attendance dealing with the injured. Not only that, but multitudes of senior officers feel compelled to be seen doing something, and EU and CID commanders often have to diplomatically tell their bosses to keep out of the cordon and stop trampling through the evidence. Also, as evidenced by all the news paper clipping above, dozens, if not hundreds of the Press turn up and its an effort to preserve the crime scene and ensure evidence isn’t contaminated.

On this occasion I had two crime scenes to manage and it was my job to make sure the first response was managed properly and efficiently, to preserve the scene, secure any evidence and hand it over to the forensic and criminal investigation units. On this occasion I had a lot of officers who had either been shot at or who had discharged firearms and there would inevitably be a huge mountain of paperwork to attend to.

I am glad to say that my job, which is why I liked it, involved minimal paperwork because it was our job to be on the streets, not behind a typewriter with Tippex, carbon paper, and two tappy fingers (no word processors or printers in those days).

Unfortunately the trail of mayhem we left on the streets of Kowloon were transferred to others, and one officer, Frank, was Chief Inspector of a Regional or Headquarters’ administration unit with the unenviable task of writing up, not only the open fire reports, but also prepare a report of every single time we drew our weapons.

Given we often had our weapons drawn “in readiness” as per tactical training, this mammoth of an admin task was multiplied into a constant stampede of marauding mammoths. I remember bumping into Frank many years later and him berating me (jokingly, I hope) for making his early 1990s a period of never ending work and headache.

In fact, one of my friends, Ian (“Shagger”) was in Traffic Kowloon West at the same time and was also based at Mong Kok Police Station. He often reminisces with me about the traffic chaos and mayhem “Mad Max” (my nickname) and his team caused in Kowloon. I often remind Ian that he was probably more in harms way than us as he often rode into the gun battles on his police motorcycle with a bright fluorescent “shoot me here” biker jacket.

I later wrote up Raymond’s recommendation for a commendation, along with many other recommendation that were unfairly (to my mind) turned down by the Brass, and was delighted and extremely proud that he was awarded a Governor’s Commendation, evidenced by him wearing a red lanyard instead of a black one around the shoulder of his uniform.

In fact, many years later, long after I had left the police, I was walking along Johnston Road on Hong Kong side and I saw a PTU Sergeant patrolling with some of his PCs and I noticed he had a “red lanyard” and while I was wondering what he had done to earn such a great honour the Sergeant ran up to me, gave me a bear hug, and said, “Its me Daai Lo, Raymond, how are you?” His PCs were as shocked as I was, and I have to say it brought a tear to my eye, because it is very unlike Hong Kong Chinese to express such emotion, especially in public.

As an Emergency Unit Platoon Commander patrolling the whole of Kowloon West Region each day it was less likely I would be first at the scene of an emergency, but I would get there eventually, and as quickly as I could, take command, direct actions, and always lead the raids into building and premises in pursuit of criminals who were either escaping or had run to ground. This happened often. Some were false calls, some were too late, and some were successful and we arrested the robbers or gangs.

Some video clips from the Canadian TV Series “To Serve & protect”.

However, on one occasion I was in the right place at the right time, so to speak. I had been patrolling around the Tsim Sha Tsui area in Car 50 when a call came up on the radio that there was a goldsmith robbery in progress in Mong Kok. Shortly afterwards was frenetic commentary as various EU cars honed in on the chase and it seemed the get away car was heading our way.

Several other EU Cars from the south of the region together with Car 50, crewed by myself, Fan Siu (driver) and Lung Jai (my orderly) blocked off escape routes around the Hung Hom ferry pier area.

As we listened into the radio commentary of the pursuit I watched in half disbelief as the get away car came screeching into the carpark of Hung Hom ferry pier with Car 8 from Mong Kok in hot pursuit.

Having realized their escape had been foiled, the robbers in the getaway car skidded violently to a halt, frantically selected reverse gear in a cloud of blue tyre smoke and rammed at high speed into the ferry pier bus stop, injuring several people and one women severely.

Platoon orderly, Lung Jai, and I were out of Car 50 in short order, revolvers drawn, and joining our colleagues as we chased down the three armed robbers who were now running away in different directions. Car 1 and Car 8 crews quickly caught and restrained two robbers, and Lung Jai and I chased after the third who was running into the ferry pier buildings.

I have chased down running villains before, especially during my time in the Metropolitan police, and of course many times during tactical training exercises when it can feel like the real thing, or perhaps the real thing feels like a training exercise. Anyway, I was not overly concerned about the potential dangers, just concerned that he might get away and we would have failed in our job. I have to admit that it is very exciting and as I look back I must have been feeling extremely confident and sure of myself.

I am, or was particularly so then, a good runner, but the robber was darting about and I briefly lost sight of him as he ran around a corner. I was not too sure about the layout of Hung Hom Ferry Pier, but logically the hard stuff must end and the sea begin and so I “assumed” he would eventually be trapped, especially with the arrival of other units who would join in on the chase and have the ferry pier tightly cordoned off.

I remember running towards the corner of a structure and our tactical training kicked in and I stopped, lowered myself (bringing my head down lower than one would expect) and then tactically from cover raised my revolver into the firing position and peered around the corner.

Fuck Me!

There he was standing just 5 meters away pointing a firearm directly at me and I exploded into a “GING CHAT MO YUK” (Police! Stop!) and was starting to squeeze the trigger for the “FAU JAT HOI CHEUNG” (otherwise I open fire) when he dropped the gun, swung around, legged it and leapt off the concourse into the sea.

A little shocked by what happened I ran up to the end of the ferry concourse and could see him down in the water, about 3 meters lower than me and he was starting to swim away.

I had my weapon trained on him and was shouting for him to stop. I was quickly joined by Lung Jai who was giving a “sitrep” on the radio in one hand and weapon trained on a flailing wet robber with the other.

It was now, no more than 15 seconds after the initial encounter that I was going over in my head the Police General Orders for justification in opening fire.

Serious and Violent Crime? “Yes” Affect the arrest? “Yes”. All justified.

Life threatening? Umm? Perhaps not any more.

After all he dropped his pistol when I did my Cantonese bit and the firearm was now lying on the concrete floor of the concourse where it would be cordoned off, photographed, examined by Ballistic Department for fingerprints, forensically test fired and matched to databases, and eventually bagged and tagged as an exhibit for court.

As Lung Jai and I were peering down, the robber then started to swim away. Shit! Now should I shoot? He is getting away, slowly I will admit, but he is getting away. It would take a while for Marine police to respond and he may come ashore on the other side of the harbour and escape our cordon.

Jumping in after him would be a bad option, but I noticed a small Sanpan (small traditional Chinese boat) with an elderly lady dressed in Tankwa black cloths and wide brimmed veiled hat a few meters away and we called and beckoned her over.

Eventually she responded, expertly turned her boat around, drew alongside the pier and we jumped aboard.

With “chase that man” instructions she took up the pursuit, albeit at a rather put put leisurely pace. I took up position on the bow of the boat with my revolver trained on the black mop of hair above a bobbing body and Lung Jai kept up the radio commentary.

There is a picture somewhere that appeared in the English language newspapers of me standing on the bow of the Sanpan with my weapon trained towards the swimming robber. I can’t find the picture among my stuff, but it would be nice to find it someday.

It was clear the robber was flagging in the water, and I think he was becoming resigned to the fact he was not going to get away. As we drew up along side him I asked Lung Jai for his handcuffs (as Inspectors did not carry them, or at least I did not) and leaned out over the Sanpan, grabbed one of his outstretched flailing arms and cuffed it. Instead of hauling him out of the sea I decided to just hold the other end of the cuffs and drag him along, occasionally dunking him into the water that seemed to keep him subdued.

Lung Jai instructed the old dear to drive the Sanpan to the other side of the small harbour in Hung Hom, now no longer there as the area has been reclaimed and developed, but at the time it was a small bay with a beach and a spur of sand.

I was pleased to see the crew of one of our EU cars positioned on the shore to receive us.

As we got nearer to where the EU crew reception party was waiting, the old dear said she couldn’t drive the Sanpan closer because of the shallow depth and so myself and Lung Jai jumped over board, got soaking wet, grappled with the robber who was flailing about, and in doing so my revolver fell out of its flimsy “cross draw” Calvary style holster and fell into the water. Fortunately in those days the revolver was tied to our Sam Browns (military style belts) with a lanyard and so I hauled it back up, gave it a few shakes to get water out of the barrel and then dragged the robber to the beach where we laid him out flat to search him.

CRIKEY!!

In his pockets was a second pistol, a pocket full of various sizes of ammunition, and a knife. As the dripping robber was relieved of his arsenal of weapons and was hauled into the EU car Lung Jai and I looked at each other, and he said, ‘I really thought you were going to shoot him, Sir, your knuckles were white on the trigger’. We both reflected on the fact that our tactics saved our life and resulted in the arrest of a very violent and dangerous criminal.

I heard on the radio that all the other robbers had been arrested, but sadly, that a pedestrian had been seriously injured when the get away car reversed into the bus stop outside the ferry pier.

As I was looking at the hapless robber cuffed and laid out on the floor of the EU car one of my Sergeants suggested I give “my arrest” to one of his car crew PCs, and so I did, not realising that doing so would erase my involvement and all chronology and history of me ever being involved. He later got a Commissioner’s Commendation for my efforts and a different coloured lanyard to prove so. I got nothing except some pithy remarks in the Officers’ Mess one evening that I should have shot the robber. I guess leadership comes in all shapes and sizes

I had had nearly three years of commanding one of the best police units up at the front line during one of Hong Kong’s most violent periods and was reaching nearly six years of service in the Royal Hong Kong Police. Given I had an outstanding record of service with several recommendations for various Commendations, had been early advanced in rank to Senior Inspectors on passing my Standard III Inspectors examinations, had been awarded Baton of Honour at PTS, Best Platoon at PTU, had a good record in the EOD Cadre and had passed my Intermediate Cantonese Course it wasn’t unreasonable to think I was a good contender to be promoted to Chief Inspector, earlier rather than later.

Little did I know that everything was going to come crashing down.

It all started because of a minor administration glitch and like all disasters was a result of bad luck, bad timing and bad intent on behalf of some bad eggs. At that time I was consumed everyday in leading an emergency unit team during a time many people wanted to kill us and doing it as professionally as I could.

In the 1990s an Inspector in Emergency Unit Kowloon West would work on average six days a week according to a shift pattern that could have you working nine days in a row. Each shift was at least nine and a half hours long and overtime was not paid to uniform Inspectors such as me. If we were involved in an arrest or had to work longer we didn’t get paid extra or get time off in lieu like British police, and indeed officers within RHKP Marine and CID.

The shift pattern for four platoons covered the three shifts of the day. One day a month was assigned a “training day” where we usually went up to the CQBR in the New Territories to practice room entries and tactics, or perhaps attended lectures or get involved in sporting events.

When I arrived at EUK/W the company administration PC would ask me each month which day I would like to book as a “floating rest” day and I would usually chose a day that joined another rest day to stretch out a day into two. This day would be covered by the Station Sergeant, and he in turn would chose a floating rest day when I was on duty.

As I worked a shift pattern I would sometimes go paragliding before or after work or on my rest days, especially if my wife, who was a Cathay Pacific flight attendant, was out of Hong Kong. The reality was I rarely saw Lilian as we were often working at different times and I have to say life was more like being single than married. I couldn’t say our relationship was particularly strained, because we rarely saw each other, but it wasn’t that close.

I suppose subconsciously my work was stressful with all the craziness going on and horrible things I would see everyday, but in those days I relished the challenge and was up for anything. One would never mention being stressed anyway for fear of being thought incapable of doing one’s job. However, I suppose all those dead bodies, violence, gang fights, shooting, grenades, blood, dishonesty, human evilness, close shaves and hassles at work does work on one’s mind. Leaping off cliffs, as my colleagues described paragliding back then, was a way to destress, as was trail running which I did a lot of.

As a spouse of a flight attendant I was entitled to several free flights a year and 90% discount on other Cathay Pacific flights. If I had sufficient leave, which wasn’t often, I could join Lilian on one of her local Asian flights, stay at her hotel for one or two nights, and come back to Hong Kong and continue my work. It was important for us to spend “some” time together. It was also great to just escape from the claustrophobia of Hong Kong now and again, even just for a day or two.

On one occasion Lilian invited me to join her on a two night flight to Penang in Malaysia. I checked the EU duty roster and I had two rest days joined together plus a “floating” rest day making a total of three days off and so I told her I could join her, even though I really wanted to spend the time with my friend and former Metropolitan Police colleague, called Iain Black (PC 673XD) who was staying at our apartment and perhaps go paragliding at Sek O or Ma On Shan.

Iain was an extremely talented SD1 Rover Advanced Driver and we had many adventures together in “X-Ray 2” Area Car in the early 1980s throughout West London. Iain was now working undercover as a surveillance officer with a focus on the Yardie gangs in London and had been going through a bit of a rough stretch with one thing or another and had taken a period of unpaid leave to travel the world and get his life back in balance.

At this time I had a very experienced, calm, loyal and kind Station Sergeant called Wong as my right hand man, and a smart and streetwise Platoon Orderly to watch my back, translate and keep me informed. Things went smoothly and I felt I was part of a tight knit team, just as I did in PTU.

However, Station Sergeant Wong eventually got transferred out and a Station Sergeant called Tsui took his place who, at least in the early days, I was never very sure about. Wong and a couple of my boys warned me to be wary of him. He was clearly a “I’m really in charge gwailos don’t know what they’re doing” type of NCO. Fair enough… it was sometimes true.

Also, my trusted and talented Platoon Orderly was rotated out to give another officer a stint and allow him to go on and perform other EU duties and broaden his experience. My new Orderly turned out to be a very loyal and trustworthy support to me and the Platoon. However, in hindsight, I realise too many things were in flux and I should have been more attentive to the “small stuff”.

In those Colonial days police officers were required to inform “Police Headquarter” that they were leaving “The Colony” and most never did. My local colleagues were always going to and from China to see relatives, stay at their ancestral homes or see their mistresses. Few, if any, bothered with this archaic requirement unless it was for a longer period of time.

I also did not like to let people know what I was doing in my private life. I controlled carefully what people knew about me, and was not unaccustomed to employing the “Bureau of Disinformation” as a smoke screen to keep things private. I did nothing wrong or illegal, but I did not want others to know what I was doing in my private life, or that I was privileged to fly around with my Cathay Pacific wife for nothing. Of course, for long leave I would submit the necessary notifications with my application for leave, but for the large part I believed my private life was my private life, not least for the good reason that several people wanted to kill me at that time.

Little did I foresee that by doing so I inadvertently, unintentionally and with no malice aforethought ruined my career in the Royal Hong Kong Police and all my hard fought professional reputation.

I flew to Penang with Lilian using her on her ID90 discount flight scheme on day one and flew back to Hong Kong on day three ready to start work again for my next shift as per the duty roster I had signed off at the beginning of the month.

However, on arrival back at Kai Tak airport I saw the Chief Inspector of EUK/W called Biggins, a bulging steroid popping rugby type from Bunterfract in England who effectively arrested me at the luggage claim carousel and hauled me back in a van to EUK/W base where it was alleged I had gone Absent without Leave (AWAL). A ridiculous trumped up charge that he said was substantiated by a fabricated allegation that my monthly “floating rest” day had not been recorded in the duty register.

To say I was in a state of shock is an understatement. I had never been arrested before and in retrospect the whole “arresting me at the airport” scam was just intended to humiliate me. Steroid Biggins kept justifying the arrest by saying the whole force was worried about me. He went on to say they thought I had gone paragliding, crashed and lay dead in the jungle. He said he went to my apartment and found a long haired hippy policeman who in typical “Metropolitan Police” style denied everything, which allegedly compounded their concern and justified their ridiculous and over the top response.

When I arrived at Mong Kok Police Station I tried to find my boss, Sean, who was a decent sort and he was nowhere to be found. I later found out the arrest at the airport was Steroid Biggins’ idea and of course, was illegal, although they later claimed I was not arrested but invited to escort him in a police van to Mong Kok police station report room. In fact, nothing happened at the police station, I wasn’t charged, I wasn’t interviewed, nothing.

Biggins had his fun and disappeared. I hung around needlessly, but eventually made my way home to a very worried wife and an uncertain future.

The next day I reported for work, as per the duty roster I had agreed to and signed off at the beginning of the month and was intercepted by S/Sgt Tsui who said it was a “fit up” and he had nothing to do with it. I immediately went in search of the duty roster kept by the EU administrative PC and on the version he had there was no “floating rest day” recorded for me for that month and it was not signed, although, tellingly, there was a floating rest day recorded earlier in the month for S/Sgt Tsui. I checked the duty rosters of all the other EU platoons and the “floating rest days” were all recorded for the respective platoon commanders and platoon Station Sergeants and signed off. Only mine was absent.

All very fishy.

Not long afterwards I saw my new Platoon Orderly, Lung Jai and he was contrite with shame and apologetic, blaming himself and saying, “Sorry, Ah Sir, it was all a mistake”. He was clearly very upset and I told the Station Sergeant and my Orderly that there must be an administration error and it will all get cleared up in the light of day. Let’s get back to work and forget about it.

I later had an interview with my boss, Sean, who commanded EU K/W and he also reassured me it must be a mistake, but later that day he called me back to his office and solemnly told me the bad news that it was decided from upon high that I was going to be defaulted, i.e. formal discipline procedures.

This was devastating news to me.

I had indeed left the Colony without notification and I suppose given my escapades in France three years previously when I was at HQCCC I was now viewed by the top brass to be a recidivist escaper.

I was now being made an example of even though my colleagues continued to go to China most months to see family, relatives and more often than you would think, their mistresses, and never ever notified anyone of their absence from the Colony. The reality was it was a classic case of “just because everyone does it, doesn’t make it right”.

I fully intended to fight the AWAL allegation that was patently unfair and clearly made up. Back then I was not the most cross the “T”s and dot the “I”s aficionado in the Force, but I definitely booked the “floating rest” day that month just as I had done for every other month over the previous three years. When asked by the Admin PC which day I wanted to take I always tagged my “floating rest” day next to the adjoining two rest days between the long stretch of night shifts and the beginning of the nine days of mornings and afternoon shifts. If there was a mistake it wasn’t mine.

The ridiculousness and spitefulness of Biggins arresting me at the airport for something that isn’t even an “arrestable” offence and could easily have been dealt with by a “come and see me in my office” the next day played on my mind.

As I look back it was clear Biggins had a beef with me.

I first came across him when he was PTU Staff. He wasn’t a serious man. I always thought, despite his artificial steroid bulk he was a bit of a “run with the herd lightweight” and a coward.

He was always playing tricks on me, winding me up, making prank phone calls, and giving me a dig whenever he could. I remember he got a woman to ring me up and pretend to be infatuated after my picture appeared in the English newspapers. I told Biggins and his Wanchai hooker to “fuck off” and this did not go down well and he pulled rank on me for insubordination, despite continually being unprofessional himself by messing me about. I guess the AWAL scam was a chance for him to humiliate me and given I had indeed left the Colony without giving notification he was going to turn the knife.

I will freely admit that in those days I was an arrogant type and didn’t suffer fools. I had no time for the little cliques, ma jaais, weak bullying types nor petty office politics and I will concede I probably rubbed some people up the wrong way. This was proved by the amount of “Holier than Thou” and exaggerated Officers’ Mess versions of these events, then and annoyingly in years to come. None more so when my PTS Squad mate, Guy, with unrestrained delight, scathingly remarked in his Brummie accent, ‘Oh, how the mighty have fallen’.

Defaulter proceedings were initiated, which means that I was named as the the defendant in an internal disciplinary “trial”. My fear, anxiety and panic turned into full scale depression.

The only thing I really had in my life was the police force. I had risked my life on numerous occasions, given one hundred percent, gone above and beyond the call of duty and now they had turned on me and were repeatedly kicking me in the solar plexus whilst on the floor. Schadenfreude, gossip and joyous amusement at my misfortune was in spades, not to mention the hypocrisy, double standards and blatant unfairness of it all. The true nature of human beings laid out bare.

The prosecutor, a quite nice and amiable Superintendent called Hugh, arranged a pre trial meeting with me and encouraged me to plead guilty to the AWAL charge, explaining “certain people in Police HQ were angry with me and they would make sure, one way or the other, that they got their pound of flesh “. He continued that if I did plead guilty I would just get a verbal reprimand without an entry in my record of service.

I thought through the fact that, yes, I had left the Colony without notification, just as nearly everyone else did in every unit I worked in, but I was adamant that I had not gone absent without leave. I had booked the same “floating rest day” I did every previous month.

Extremely distressed by the whole “scam” I discussed with my boss, Sean, whom I respected and admired at that time, about what to do and he said I should take the deal, explaining that in the circumstances it was the best option for me, my family and my career.

Like a man to the gallows I attended the defaulter hearing in full uniform and stood in a dock in a court room setting without anyone representing me in defence, heard the charge, pleaded guilty, and as promised I was awarded a “suspended verbal reprimand without record of service entry”.

Two days later I got called to Steroid Biggins’ office and he gleefully informed me that Police Headquarters thought the punishment was too lenient and had overturned the sentence, raising the award by two notches to Severe Reprimand with Record of Service Entry.

I had been well and truly fucked over.

What this meant in reality was that I was no longer eligible for promotion to Chief Inspector, at least for many years, had a Governors’ Commendation recommendation and two Commissioners’ Commendation recommendations cancelled, was hauled out of Emergency Unit in disgrace, and I was sentenced to the depressing housing estates of Tze Wan San Police Station in the back end of beyond.

That was the moment I fell out of love with Royal Hong Kong Police. From now on it was just a job.

Royal Hong Kong Police – Chapter 2

A one pip bomban

Immediately after passing out of the training school I was posted to Kowloon City police station which was not my first choice posting.

At a rental of 7.5% of my salary, I had been given accommodation at Homantin Single Inspectors’ quarters that consisted of a small living room with a kitchenette, a bedroom and a bathroom. Although modestly furnished with the standard Hong Kong government wooden chairs, PVC sofa and “hard as a plank of wood” bed, I really liked the place, not least because I had my own space and was now free from the previous 10 months of continual discipline and supervision at the police training school.

From my high rise apartment, I was lucky to enjoy superb views across Kowloon towards Sunset Peak on Lantau Island and being Autumn the sunsets were indeed amazing. Homantin was a convenient place to stay as the apartments had a communal restaurant and a busy bar, and it was a good place to meet my fellow expatriate officers who were posted all around the Colony.

Like every newly posted “one pip bomban” I had to do an initial stint as “Duty Officer” in Kowloon City Police Satation Report Room, a job so dull and pointless it seriously questioned why I was doing what I was doing. The hours seemed long and dragged by slowly, and as the only expatriate officer in the entire police station, apart from the boss, Mr. Deal, I felt isolated and lonely. My work day was depressing and painfully boring, with little more to do than sit at my desk filing in forms and entering bail balances into a huge ledger like an office clerk in colonial India.

However, after a week or so I managed to escape the purgatory of the report room and was posted as 2i/c of a Patrol Sub-Unit underneath a local one pip Inspector who I found to be a particularly unfriendly individual, and to be honest, a bit of a racist. I occupied my time by avoiding him and going out on patrol to explore To Kwa Wan and Kowloon City. I did my best to attend whatever came up on the radio so I could learn how things were done and get to know all the officers in my unit.

Over the following weeks I patrolled on foot most of my beat, including the infamous “Walled City” where I would often climb up onto the roof and watch the airliners skim between the high rise buildings just above my head and land at Kai Tak airport. The Walled City was a three dimensional maze, much like a scene from the dystopian science fiction movie, Blade Runner, with fizzing and sparking neon lights, dripping pipes, strange distorted noises and appeared to be the same night or day.

Kowloon Walled City

Huge rats with eyes that shined red in my torch beam ran up and down the maze of alleyways and there were hundreds of people milling about. I was immediately put off the ubiquitous local dish of fish balls for life after seeing them being made from huge piles of pungent fish paste fermenting in the humid heat on the dirty bare ground. Decades of rubbish and human detritus filled the voids between the densely packed tenement buildings. It smelt really bad and there was a cacophony of people shouting and arguing in Cantonese. Lining the outside of this Borg Cube were dozens of illegal dentists where the great unwashed got their fillings and dentures, with varying degrees of skill and hygiene. It was all very interesting to see, but it must have been nightmarish to live in.

What I found strange was despite the filth and deprivation inside the Walled City multitudes of children were going to and from school in immaculately white uniforms, tidy haircuts and with satchels full of school books. Well turned out school children seemed to be the norm in Hong Kong, regardless of wealth or poverty.

I got into the swing of things but it wasn’t long before I ran afoul of the top brass, most notably when I arrested a Radio Television Hong Kong (“RTHK”) film director for cruelty to animals.

I had taken a report from an RSPCA Inspector who alleged that a film made by RTHK involved several scenes that involved cruelty to animals and so I went to the local Magistrates Court along with the RSPCA Inspector as a witness and obtained a search warrant that I immediately executed at the RTHK studios in Kowloon Tong.

After several hours at the huge film studios, and with a little guidance from a lady I assumed was the original informant, we eventually found film reels showing several scenes of an actor slowly boiling a turtle alive in a wok, burning a bird alive in a bamboo cage and other scenes of inhumane slaughter of animals. No effort was made to use special effects.

I then located and arrested the RTHK director under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance and as I hauled her into a police car was filmed doing so by what seemed every TV station and newspaper in Hong Kong, my mugshot appearing on the front page of most newspapers the next day.

Light the blue touch paper and stand well back!!

A territory wide debate ensued, largely Westerners accusing Chinese of cruelty and breaking the law versus the local population complaining my actions were an attack on Chinese traditions and customs, as the theme of the movie was about a man battling cancer and showed him preparing Chinese traditional medicine as a cure.

Suffice to say, that same day I got hauled in to see the District Commander of Kowloon City (a Chinese Chief Superintendent whose name I have forgotten, if indeed I ever bothered to remember it) who was intent on giving me a good “bollocking”.

I was having none of it.

I produced a copy of Cap. 169, Laws of Hong Kong that I had already studied very carefully before applying for the search warrant and also referred the Chief Superintendent to the relevant chapter and verse in Police General Orders relating to “laying an information” before a Magistrate by an Inspector (pointing to my one pip on my shoulder for good measure), reminding the most senior officer in the district that the search was legal and with the authority of the Courts.

I am quite sure Chief Superintendent “Hoo Ever” had never met a “Probationary Inspector” such as Mad Max before and his attempts to admonish me along the theme of “you are new, you don’t understand Hong Kong, you don’t understand Chinese people”, was countered with, “the Rule of Law applies to everyone….equally”.

I don’t know if it was this “meeting without coffee” with the District Commander, or the fact that the RTHK Film Director eventually got convicted at court (a decision quite unpopular in the local press), but my preferred posting of Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station was suddenly approved and I was transferred almost immediately.

I was sorry to say goodbye to my DVC, Paul Deal as he was a good boss and a very nice guy, but I was delighted to be going. Apart from seeing the inside the Walled City, Kowloon City was not my cup of “naai cha”.

Tsim Sha Tsui was a completely different division. For a start there were a lot of expatriate officers in the police station, in fact I think every position at Chief Inspector and above was held by an expatriate. Also, the work was interesting, it was busy, and the Mess life was a lot of fun.

The District Commander of Yaumati was called Jim Main, an excellent officer with a fantastic reputation, and my Divisional Commander was called Dick Tudor, a highly respected former Special Duties Unit (counter terrorist team) commander. There was a charismatic and slightly insane Senior Superintendent called Ian from Scotland who was in charge of the vice squads and affectionately known as the “chicken killing gingsi” (chicken being a derogatory term in Cantonese for a prostitute and gingsi meaning Superintedent). There was also a Detective Chief Inspector called Robin with a West Country accent who was in charge of the district crime and anti triad squads and who could speak fluent Cantonese and was quite a character.

The “patch” of TST covered the southern most tip of the peninsular of Kowloon with the Star Ferry pier, Five Star hotels, Nathan Road tourist area, Chung King mansions, lots of interesting retail and commercial building, all the bars and clubs, and the infamous TST East nightclubs run by the Sun Yee On triads. The police officers appeared more savvy and streetwise and I was much happier to work with them as one of the Patrol Sub Unit Commanders. The most junior command position in the force, but front line and actually quite an important role, despite being lead by the most junior Inspectors.

A young Inspector Utley inspecting his patrol sub unit before going out on patrol (Winter Uniform)
A few months later in Summer Uniform at Tsim Sha Tsui

I moved out of the Homantin single Inspectors’ quarters in Kowloon and into the infamous Hermitage quarters in Kennedy Road, Mid-Levels on Hong Kong Island side. This was mainly because it was just a short walk and ride on the Star Ferry to get to and from work, and also because a lot of my PTS squad mates were already living there and social life would be better.

The Hermitage was the scene of all sorts of shenanigans and legendary stories. Drunken and noisy arguments with taxi drivers at 3am would be drowned out by someone lifting their loud speakers to their open apartment window and blaring out “Land of Hope and Glory”, there were more Wanchai bar girls wandering in and out of the apartments than in Wanchai itself, and the peace was often interrupted by arguments, drinking parties, orgies and even troubled bombans shooting themselves.

To keep “the Herm” in some semblance of order, each floor was serviced and looked after by a Chinese Amah of indeterminate age who collected our dirty washing, clean our rooms, annoyingly write our room number in thick felt tip pen on every item of our clothing, and nonchalantly continue to clean and sweep under our beds regardless of what ever or who ever was on top. Mad days, indeed

I enjoyed myself at “Jimsie” (TST Police Station). I commanded a patrol sub unit for a while, got involved in an assortment of operations and cases and worked with a great bunch of officers.

As a new pink face, expatriate officers I would often be required to engage in under cover operations, such as pretending to be tourists with the aim we would be solicited by prostitutes, touted to buy fake Rolex watches, buy drugs and pretend to be ripped off by the notorious Nathan Road camera shop salesmen.

The usual tactic was to wander around the tourist areas, get approached by a tout, and follow them back to a store room, office or shop, usually in the heart of some grotty commercial building. We would allow the “ruse” to continue until sufficient evidence was obtained and then we would call up our team would raid the premises, seize the exhibits and arrest the culprits. There were rules and guidelines about how far was far enough, and unsurprisingly there were quite a few volunteers, especially for the vice operations where many colleagues I know went far beyond what was considered “enough”.

I remember during one operation being picked up by a tout in Canton Road and being guided back to a room that was an Aladdin’s Cave of fake watches, handbags, belts, and other knock offs. I should have got an Oscar for my performance as a gormless tourist because when the police raiding party arrived the scamsters still didn’t know I was a police officers and continued coaching me on what to say to the police. As my colleagues were bashing down the door to get in, I was ushered into a secret room full of their best contraband. When I knew my officers were inside the other room I called out, ‘ Can I come out, yet?’ and as I emerged the scamsters were still holding their fingers to their lips and whispering for me to be quiet, until of course my team called me “Dai Lo” (the RHKP equivalent of a Metropolitan Police Officer calling their boss, “Guv”) and the penny finally dropped, as did the expressions on their faces. Oh joy!

One particular case I worked on was very disturbing and involved an investigation into nightclubs running drugs and supplying underage kids to paedophiles. I had been cultivating informants here and there, including some English mamasans who ran a nightclub in Tsim Sha Tsui called, “The Big Apple” and over time they disclosed useful information about their seedy customers, in particular intelligence about a paedophile ring involving so called reputable members of society who worked in the government, judiciary, financial and legal professions. All very nasty. Working on this case resulted in me being attached to the District Crime Squad with a Geordie named Dave, who was a former UK police officer, and working with his top class team of detectives.

It was proposed that I transfer to Criminal Investigation Department (“CID”), or indeed remain full time in DCS, but I had my heart set on joining the counter terrorist team, Special Duties Unit (“SDU”). This was encouraged by my divisional commander, Dick Tudor who used to command the unit and who thought I would make a good fit, if indeed I thoroughly prepared myself for the gruelling SAS type selection.

I was already doing quite a lot of running, weight training, and interval training in my spare time, including lunch time runs with Dick, and had started to ramp up my swimming, both in the sea and also at the Police Officers’ Club in Causeway Bay that had a fantastic swimming pool surrounded by all the high rises and neon advertising sign.

I had heard that the selection was designed by the British SAS and involved testing fitness, endurance and determination, which I sort of expected, but also that candidates would be put through various phobia tests, involving confined spaces, heights, and water. That did make me slightly anxious as you never know how you will react until you do it.

I had to pass a pre-selection fitness test, which I did easily enough and so I was enrolled onto the SDU selection that was scheduled to start in November 1988 at the “old” Police Tactical Unit base in the New Territories. I knew a few of the other candidates and it was common knowledge that an Inspector had died on selection the previous year. Apparently the poor chap got seriously dehydrated during one of many long runs and his muscles melted. A sobering thought.

Rupert (me) as a Sub Unit Commander at Tsim Sha Tsui when preparing for selection
Rupert (me) somewhere on Lantau Island. Getting fit… lots of running, swimming and endurance training

In the months leading to selection I followed a strict regime of fitness training and I think I was fairly well prepared when I eventually took the train up to PTU HQ in Fanling to start the selection process. I was a bit surprised when I arrived to see at least fifty Inspectors and Police Constables lined up on the parade ground for the initial briefing.

We were addressed by the SDU officers who were to perform the role of Directing Staff (“DS”) and they made it clear that selections was purely voluntary and we could leave at anytime without any drama. We were then issued with green overalls, and I was given a bib with “A1” written on it which I would be addressed by for the duration of selection.

We then started a series of non stop “beastings” that involved press ups, pull ups, sit ups, star jumps, climbing ropes, assault courses, burpees, running with people on your back, carrying heavy objects, interval running and sprinting, long runs, hill sprints, and the dreaded dumb bells that seemed to appear whenever we were at our lowest ebb and were intended to push you over your limits and throw in the towel if you didn’t cut the mustard.

The majority of the officers who lined up at the beginning gave up in the first 48 hours that to my recollection was horrendous and passed by in a blur of sweat, pain and exhaustion. Later, and often in the night we did long navigation runs in the mountains, through dark, prickly, and humid jungle undergrowth, and gut busting log runs up mountain trails. However fit you were, or thought you were, you were going to be taken beyond the point of exhaustion to test determination and character.

It reminded me of boxing training, but unrelenting and without rest, sleep or encouragement.

We did a lot of gym work, wrestling, boxing, milling and free fighting. The DS knew I had a boxing advantage and so during one session they set one person after another against me. I remember knocking out one other candidate and cutting open his face that resulted in several SDU junior officers piling in and hitting me at the same time until I dropped. I distinctly remember at some stage being held in a UFC style headlock on the ground during a wrestling test and biting my opponent’s ear to release myself, much to several of the onlooking SDU officers’ amusement, although inevitably I got punished with a session of dumbbells and press ups.

As candidate to become Assault Team Commanders, were also given leadership tasks to complete that involved planning assaults and instant action options to raid terrorist hideouts and release hostages. Often we wrote down operational assault plans or gave verbal briefings to the DS using 3D models of buildings, ships and aircraft. We also practiced assaults at the close quarter battle range (CQBR) that often involved climbing ropes, abseiling or running up bamboo ladders with a Heckler & Koch MP5 assault rifle loaded with exercise rounds and training stun grenades.

All good fun and reinforced my desire to join the unit and keep going.

In one test we were taken to a huge container ship out in the ocean and had to plan raids inside the cavernous vessel and also repeatedly jump off the highest point of the ship, hit the concrete like surface of the sea whilst hanging onto one’s balls, and then climb back up caving ladders which I also thought was enormous fun, but really really exhausting. I enjoyed all this so much I was eventually told to stop doing it because I was grinning so much. Again, my misspent youth and love of adventure came to my rescue as jumping off high cliffs into the sea or diving into waterfall rock pools was not uncommon. I do think, retrospectively, that expressing emotion, be it enjoyment, was perhaps a bad idea as I think the grey emotionless type is perhaps the ideal candidate.

We slept in barracks and often got woken up at odd hours to run here and there, always to a point of exhaustion and then being asked to do it again, and again. All the time being reminded in a quiet and calm manner that all the pain can stop and we can go home if we wanted.

Several candidates did just that and left.

By the end of the first week there were just three Inspectors left and a hand full of police constables. Over the weekend we were allowed home, but this wasn’t really a day off as we were all given tasks to perform that in my case included breaking into a Star Ferry boat, gathering some mundane intelligence, drawing up floorplans of the ferry without being caught and then return all the way back up to Fanling. I suspect this was so the DS could have a day off rather than give us a rest or change in scenery.

The second week continued with much longer runs and more complex exercises. On one of the Tarzan assault courses that we were often presented with I was traversing along a high rope and the rope broke behind me. I swung a short distance forward, crashed into the wooden frame, but managed to hang on. The other Inspector candidate, called Chris, who was behind me swung down into the ground, resulting in him breaking his back and being admitted into hospital. That left me and an officer called Mark as the surviving Inspectors.

We did more assault leadership tests and planning, more long distance endurance runs and some exercises that I remember very clearly such as creeping up under cover to “sniper positions” along streams and through thick prickly jungle. On this particular test I was crawling along a stream on my stomach, inching as stealthily as I could through the undergrowth and stopped in my tracks as a Banded Krate snake crawled from one side of the stream, over my arms to the other side. I can remember looking very closely at the orange, black and white stripes and shiny scales of the snake as it took its time and thinking I wish it would get a move on as the exercise clock was ticking down. Completely mad and shows the mental state you can get yourself into, because ordinarily you wouldn’t get me going anywhere near a snake, never mind such a venomous one.

Then came a couple of days of phobia tests that involved jumping out of helicopters blindfolded; scuba diving (which I had never done before) but with blacked out masks and sitting in the murky slime at the bottom of the harbour, taking off the mask and mouth piece underwater and replacing it; being tied up with a diving balaclava covering our eyes and thrown in the sea; murder water polo in a swimming pool which again was like drowning and very exhausting; crawling underwater in confined and completely dark water tunnels; very long distance swimming; climbing and rappelling; falling backwards from the top of a fire service tower on an abseil rope without holding on; and other unpleasantries. Before the selection I generally thought the height tests would give me the most problems, but they didn’t and actually I thought all the abseiling and jumping from height was a lot of fun.

Unexpectedly, it was “the boxes” that got a negative reaction out of me and a brief, but involuntary refusal at the starting gate. As I look back the whole build up to the exercise was designed to create panic and anxiety and see how you would react. The boxes were in fact assembled inside a hanger at the fire services department training school and consisted of a series of three dimensional wooden passages filled with CS gas that you had to squeeze through wearing an old style blacked out gas mask that made a farting sound and had restricted air ingress to induce panic and claustrophobia. The tight passages in the boxes could be changed by the DS by adjusting slats forcing the candidates to wriggle through tunnels and down vertical chimney like passages, make tight difficult turns and get trapped in coffin like boxes. All the time with disorientating and very loud banging, screeches and shouting in the background.

As unpleasant as it was, and believe me it was really horrendous, it was not the actual task that really caused me problems during selection, it was my reaction to the questions about the test when interviewed several days later that would seal my fate.

I suppose, apart from being very fit and determined, the key to success is to eat as much as you can, keep hydrated, sleep when you can and most importantly not keep guessing, stressing and worrying about what is coming up next. As each nasty test unfolded I kept telling myself that they wont kill me, which wasn’t helped by the fact that selection killed a candidate the previous year.

On what turned out to be the final day we finished a very long run and when we got to where we thought the end was we were given an almighty bollocking about not putting in enough effort, being the worst candidates they ever had on selection and were told to run back. As we started to stagger off the DS called us back and said the selection was over.

It took a while for the DS to persuade us it REALLY was over.

I remember all the SDU officers congratulating me and the other remaining candidate, Mark. One of the SDU officers I admired the most told me he looked forward to working with me in “land team” which is what I wanted. The other SDU teams being “water” and “sniper”.

Not long afterwards I was invited into a debrief meeting, and when I entered the room the entire SDU team was sitting behind a long table in the semi dark. I assumed it was just a formality and I would be informed I was in the unit and would be starting in “Charlie” team (the six months training unit).

Instead, the OC of the unit, Colin, just said, ‘you suffer from claustrophobia’. Taken aback and a bit flummoxed I denied that I did but admitted I didn’t enjoy the boxes. I was then asked if something happened to me in the past that would make me claustrophobic?

What I should have said is “No” and waited for the next question. I didn’t and foolishly thought I should explain myself. I recounted a bullying event when I was a kid and was trapped for hours under a tight tarpaulin by a notorious bully called Neil Grimley. It was horrific as I could hardly breathe, couldn’t moved and got spitefully kicked and punched as I pleaded to be let loose. I still have chipped front teeth to remind me when Grimnasty and his thugs pelted me with stones and rocks when I was swimming in a river one afternoon. He has a lot to answer for and its just as well for him and my continuing liberty that I never ran into him as an adult. Am I the only person who has fanaticised about meting out retribution to a school bully in later life?

Actually, during my youth I actually had no problems with crawling about in tight spaces, being underwater and much of my unsupervised childhood involved daft activities like climbing in cement mixers on building sites and starting them up to see how long we could last, crawling underneath the village church through the dark tight vaults and foundation vents, crawling through chimneys, and crawling through water tunnels near the reservoirs, etc. In fact, on the farm I worked on as a kid I often got attached to a rope by my ankles and dangled down a tight dark shit drain to retrieve the iron manhole cover that occasionally fell down the hole when scraping out. Nothing worse than that.

Anyway, little did a know that my answer sealed my fate. In an attempt to prove my worth I even went back the following year and did all the phobia tests again, successfully, but still didn’t get selected. So close and yet so far. To rub salt in a very sore wound Mark and Chris were selected, Chris having done little of the selection himself since he broke his back on the Tarzan course half way through.

Chris and Mark didn’t make it ultimately, as they managed to blow each other up on an exercise by selecting a real stun grenade instead of a training one, not fatally to their bodies, but fatally as far as remaining in the unit.

Some consolation, although not much, is that many years later I worked for the OC and with many of the SDU officers in the private sector and they often said I did well on passing selection and that in retrospect they should have selected me, but defended their position at the time by saying they feared I suffered from claustrophobia and as such there would be a risk I would not crawl through an aircon duct or tight space if it was a viable assault option.

The irony of it all is that I am sure SDU in their entire history have never crawled through an aircon duct as an entry option. However, in 2010, when I was leading a fraud investigation company I actually did crawl through an aircon duct in a false ceiling at 2am in the morning in an office building in Shanghai to gain access to a locked room so that we could forensically image the company servers. Also, I have since completed my PADI advanced open water scuba diving qualification in the Sinai of Egypt, dived all over Asia and even used Nitrous gas mixtures for technical diving in deep volcanic vents and underwater caves.

If the face don’t fit the face don’t fit.

The worst bit about failing a selection, apart from not doing the job you set your heart on, is that when you go back to your unit you are seen as a failure and its a bitter pill to swallow. I found it very difficult to deal with, even today, because I know I would have done an excellent job.

I went back to Tsim Sha Tsui police station to find that Dick Tudor had been promoted and the divisional commander position had been taken over by a chubby office wallah type called Rob and my job as sub unit commander had been replaced by a local officer and I had to act as his 2i/c, the excuse given that they thought I passed SDU selection and wasn’t coming back.

I was later further “demoted” and sentenced to a junior admin role (ASSUC) that I fucking hated and to be honest totally unsuited to. I raised my displeasure about this “square peg in a round hole” posting with the “fat controller” who reprimanded me for being a “prima donna” and told me to get on with it and do as I am told. I also faced the prospect of a posting I had no interest in called SDS, that was ostensibly formed to enforce street level vice, drugs and gambling laws.

I had in those days, and still to this day, absolutely no interest in enforcing these laws that I think should be decriminalised. Whilst drugs, prostitution and gambling are of course real social problems, on balance, I don’t agree with the vast sums of money and resources spent enforcing them as crimes, the mass incarcerations, nor the prohibition that creates the world’s most vicious crime syndicates. The war on drugs will never ever be won, and if I put my liberal criminologist hat on, there are far more harmful crimes that police and society should focus upon.

In the case of the Vice Squads, they were better known as the “Granny Squad” because all they ever arrested were grannies with “no previous convictions” for managing vice establishments and the triads behind the scenes got away scot-free as there was an endless supply of “grannies” who were quite happy to take a minor first conviction rap for a decent pay out.

As for gambling? The laws were designed to protect the biggest gambling syndicate in the whole Colony, The Hong Kong Jockey Club.

All that said, these police squads can’t be as bad as the ones they have today. I dread to think if I was told by my sergeant, ‘Right, PC Utley, you have to dress up as a rainbow bumblebee today and genuflect to Marxists R Us’, or forced to command the “you really hurt my feelings” squad.

Thank God I was born in the 60s.

Anyway, not to be outwitted, I started plotting my escape by getting myself listed as a platoon commander for the next Kowloon West Police Tactical Unit (“PTU”) company that was to form up in early summer 1989. That meant I had to find myself something to do for a few months rather than writing boring memoranda and staring out the window. The solution came from my PTS squad mate, Gus who had joined the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (“EOD”) Cadre and waxed lyrical about the joys of blowing things up and so I applied and was accepted for the upcoming course.

A few weeks later I was either sitting in a classroom, in the EOD laboratory or on the range learning about wheelbarrows, pig-sticks, bomb suits, needles, detonators, detcord, thyristors, PE4, amatol, bare wire loops, soak times, mercury tilt switches, collapsing circuits, x-ray inspectors, the art of hook and line, booby trapping white board rubbers and lavatory rolls and making things go “welly”. I also raised my skills in talking shit and drinking until my eyes bled to new levels in the EOD mess. I absolutely loved it.

The Senior Bomb Disposal Officer was called John R at the time, a former British Army Warrant Officer who performed many tours in Northern Ireland and survived many attempts by the IRA to kill him. After retirement from the British Army he joined the RHKP as a specialist Senior Superintendent to lead the EOD Unit. A great bloke who was supported at that time by the BDOs, Al, Jock, Jimmy and Bob, and indeed all the “Number Twos” of the Unit.

In essence, bomb disposal involves appreciating problems and solving them. There are many skills to learn and a lot of science to understand. The EOD cadre was formed to support the full time EOD Unit during periods of increased internal security and to focus on the criminal use of Improvised Explosives Devices (“IEDs”), rather than WWII bombs and other military ordnance that the full time officers focused upon.

During training we made every type of IED one could think of and then render the devices safe in realistic situations. In order not to blow ourselves up, but sufficiently scare us, the explosives and detonators in our letter bombs and other ingenious devises were replaced with “puffers” that are essentially very loud bangers. Black colour for outdoors and white colour for indoors. Nonetheless, both made your ears ring and your nerves jangle if you messed up.

I remember on one training week we each made about ten IEDs for a licensing exercise and one of my cadre team mates made an IED with a switch using a light sensitive diode with the idea that when the package is opened the electric circuit is complete and detonates the explosives. In the 1990s EOD HQ was located on the fifth floor of Police Headquarters in Arsenal Street, Wanchai and as we exited the building to load up the EOD vans, his pride and joy IED exploded in the compound, terrifying most of our more desk bound colleagues. An own goal because he neglected to factor in that ambient light in the EOD lab was not as strong as sunlight in the PHQ compound. It was also a reminder that many bomb makers blow themselves up when moving or arming their evil devices.

I passed the course and I stayed in the EOD cadre throughout my service in the RHKP until 1997. During that time we did an awful lot of training, I passed my licencing each year, was selected for the smaller and better trained Cadre, and was called up for several incidents. Without being too indiscreet, I count among my exploits: driving an EOD wheel barrow into the Excelsior Hotel and blowing up a box of moon cakes; blowing up a fish bomb stash of amatol on an island near China; blowing the tail off a crashed China Airways 747-400 that ran off the runway at Kai Tak airport; being involved in firing a rocket at a pleasure junk off Sek O quarry and setting it on fire; pig-sticking an IED used in a failed bank robbery; and killing a suicide dog, although I am pretty sure the dog was not called ISIS, nor had a settled intention of taking its own life.

EOD Unit in 1997… led by Bones
Me third from right. Norris (current SBDO) to my right
Working on an EOD wheelbarrow at Mount Butler Range in early 90s
Jim and I with our No.2
Clip from newspaper after the Excelsior Hotel “moon cake” incident
Local newspaper clipping – Rupert (me) rendering safe a real IED used in a bank robbery

Having spent many happy weeks blowing stuff up and making things go bang I returned to Tsim Sha Tsui police station with all my fingers and body parts where they should be and was attached to Yau Ma Tei District Crime Squad for a few weeks assisting Dave, Dave and Robin on a couple of interesting investigations before I headed off up north to Fanling to start training as one of eight platoon commanders in PTU “Foxtrot” Company (6/89).

Police Tactical Unit is also known as the “Blue Berets” (or lan mo ji) and is a sort of paramilitary unit of the police force, primarily used for maintaining internal security in Hong Kong and in my day assisting the British Army with manning the border with China.

They are the guys that were shown on the front line battling the anti China rioters and CIA sponsored anarchists on the streets of Hong Kong in 2019, albeit with funky new kit and equipment, and I dare say slightly different tactics from our 1980s tactics which were to keep the baying mob 100 meters away, keep them moving, and use copious amounts of CS gas or indeed shotguns to persuade them to keep moving.

There are six regions in Hong Kong (Hong Kong Island, Marine, New Territories North and South, and Kowloon East and West). Most of my service was in Kowloon West and so that was the PTU company I was attached to and in those days Kowloon West was manned by either Foxtrot (“F”) or Golf (“G”) company.

Usually there were one or two PTU company under training and several PTU companies on attachment, based at respective regional headquarter police stations. Each company was made up of four platoons and each platoon consists of about forty officers comprising four section, four section sergeants, a platoon sergeant and two platoon commanders.

The Company HQ was lead by a Company Commander at Superintendent rank, assisted by the Company 2i/c at Chief Inspector rank and a Company Station Sergeant.

Each section of a platoon had a role and position within the platoon formation. Section one was armed with rattan shields; section two with CS smoke guns (1.5 inch Federals); section three with baton rounds (again fired from 1.5 inch Federals); and section four which was the firearms section and officers were armed with either a Remington shot gun or a Colt AR15 rifle.

Initially Inspectors and NCOs arrived at PTU HQ and received training from PTU Staff who instructed us on all aspects of public order, riot training, sweeps, room entries, cordons and various internal security planning, techniques and operational orders. Later, Police Constable arrived and the platoon officers were responsible for their training and lesson planning, assisted by the PTU Staff.

At this time I was a keen runner and I would say there was far more physical fitness and running at PTU than at PTS. Most of the PCs were quite young, but some of the NCOs were getting on a bit and hadn’t done much physical training since they were themselves PCs in PTU.

Most of the Inspectors were one pips and an attachment to PTU was a prerequisite for promotion, with the exception of a few chain smoking, beer bellied CID officers who managed to escape any physical exertion.

When I started PTU I was dating Lilian, a Cathay Pacific stewardess who later went on to be my wife. Though I officially lived in single Inspector’s accommodation I mentioned above, I actually spent more time at her nice apartment in Junk Bay, near Sai Kung and so I commuted each day from Junk Bay along the Tolo Highway up to Fanling on my Suzuki GS 750 motorcycle. This classic blue Suzuki was replaced with a terrible Yamaha XS 750 I bought from Ben (my PTS squad mate) that never worked and I spent more time pushing it than riding it.

My usual routine was that I rode early to Fanling each day, did a run (either the PTU A, B, or C course), had breakfast in the Officers’ Mess, and then we started whatever we were doing that day which in the early stage of training was planning operational orders, fitness training, self defence, weapon training (where I finally mastered the marksmanship principles of our standard .38 Smith & Wesson revolver), company exercises, more running, and because I thought (stupidly) I might have another go at SDU selection, even more running and weight training after hours.

I became a bit obsessed with fitness and health, and all my spare time was spent training, trail running, riding motorcycles and my new hobby, paragliding which was in its infancy and which I did with Gus who owned the first paraglider in Hong Kong.

On exercise in a Saxon APC.
Lessons with my Oppo, Oscar Lam. Each company had a colour and Foxtrot Company colours were orange, which is apt given I became a KTM fan. We also had a company tune that we played on the tannoy as we returned to base from exercise.
I did a hell of a lot of running and nearly always came first. Here with A Bei, my Platoon Sergeant
Abseiling training, which I loved
Our platoon… Foxtrot 4. Together with our Company Commander Peter Bacon and Coy 2ic, Ringo
Oscar and I sneaking into the JPO Canteen with some of our boys for fried rice and milk tea. Yum!
Me green roping from a RAF Wessex helicopter outside Close Quarter Battle Range (“CQBR”)

Receiving Best Platoon Award on behalf of my lads
PTU Passing out parade 1989
Saxon APC
Rupert (me) paragliding at Sek O

I loved PTU training and I am immensely proud of my platoon for winning best platoon. My mother and Lilian came along to the Passing Out Parade together with my guest, Paul Deal, my divisional commander from Kowloon City days.

My “oppo”, Oscar Lam got to ride around the PTU parade square in a Saxon APC and I got to collect the trophy on behalf of No. 4 platoon, Foxtrot Company.

Our company did not perform border duties ( subsequent companies did get posted to the Hong Kong/China border after passing out, taking over the role from the British Army) and so we went straight to our region, which in our case was Kowloon West. We were based at Mong Kok police station, right in the heart of Kowloon and perhaps one of the busiest and most crime ridden divisions in the Colony.

We would be tasked to perform support to divisions, extra manpower for events, and security roles. This meant we went to different places in Kowloon everyday, and occasionally further afield for large scale operations. I fondly remember our platoon meals that we took at various police stations as one of my sergeants was a master chef and used to “source” and cook delicious lobsters, crabs, garoupa, prawns, and other sea food delicacies that were prepared in various police canteen kitchen. I can honestly say the food was some of the best I have ever eaten.

We occasionally responded to armed robberies and other serious crimes and I was often disappointed that Emergency Unit got all the exciting action. On one occasion we responded to a robbery and I was told by the EU commander, Bones Brittain, to form the outer cordon while his platoon swept the building, raided the apartment and arrested the villains. Bones was in the EOD Cadre with me at the time and later went on to be the SBDO of the Unit.

Years later, when we were in the EOD Mess together he would often reminisce how my platoon and I would eagerly turn up at a robbery or shooting scene in deepest darkest Kowloon, only to be sent off to do something mundane. Quite rightly, when the time came and I became a platoon commander in EU I would give some young and eager PTU bomban the same treatment with a “Right, I am in command here. You lot can go off and man the outer cordon”, just as Bones did to me.

We had a bit of excitement from time to time and an operation to arrest illegal immigrants had several PTU companies raid an entire construction site in Discovery Bay on Lantau Island at night. My platoon was given the task to green rope (slide down a thick rope that was green) from helicopters onto the top of high rises under construction and sweep the IIs down to other platoons who had cordoned off the buildings and secured the exits. It was quite risky running about on the top of a 30 story building under construction in the dark as there were many holes in the floors for lift shafts and rubbish shoots that you could fall through, many you could not see because the expanded polystyrene that was used to form the hole shape of shafts and ducts was covered in a thin layer of concrete.

In typical Hong Kong fashion the scaffolding was made of bamboo, fastened together with plastic cord and covered in green netting. The building we were searching was full of illegal immigrants from mainland China who were working and living in the construction sites and we found many were a lot more nimble than us skipping about on the bamboo scaffolding in their attempts to evade capture. One particular guy even leapt from the 25th floor of one building over to an adjacent building to escape us like some chase scene from a Bond movie.

I distinctly remember I told my platoon sergeant, Ah Bei, that if he wanted his freedom that much he deserved to have it and leave him be.

Inspectors (sitting) and NCOs (standing) of PTU “Foxtrot” Company in winter uniform at Mong Kok Police Station Compound 1989/90. I am far left sitting down with Oscar next to me. Ah Bei, our platoon sergeant behind my right shoulder, and the section sergeants behind. Company Commander Peter Bacon is seated at the center, with Ringo, Coy 2i/c and Company Si Sa.

As my very enjoyable attachment to PTU was coming to an end so was my first tour in the Royal Hong Kong Police.

As I look back I think this was my happiest time in the police. My platoon were a super bunch of guys, I was super fit, work was fun, my Company Commander, Peter Bacon was a great boss and very good to me. I had breezed through the Inspector’s Standard II examination and so I got confirmed in the rank of Inspector and got a second pip on my shoulder. I had a very pretty girlfriend whom I planned to marry and I had enough money to be comfortable. I was young, healthy and doing what I wanted in life.

The disbandment of PTU “Foxtrot” Company was a sad moment for me , but I was looking forward to my “long leave” and seeing more of the world. I was too late in joining the RHKP to be employed on Hong Kong Government pension terms, and so as a “contract officer” I received a 25% gratuity payment of the total of my salary earned during the 3 years of my contract, a business class return flight to UK (that I changed, like all other officers, for an economy round the world air ticket), and 5 months paid leave in which I planned to travel though Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, USA, Canada, Europe and then back to Hong Kong to start a second tour.

RHKP PTU Blue Beret

And that is what I did.

I spent some time with Lilian and her family at her home in Singapore, relaxed in Thailand and the Philippines, travelled across Australia with my PTS squad mate Stewart (who decided not to renew his contract in the RHKP, but to join HSBC Bank as an International Officer), did some hiking and exploring in New Zealand and Hawaii, met up with Lilian again in California as Cathay Pacific allowed flight attendants like her to swap flights to different locations and so we went to Vancouver, Mexico, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York and Washington DC on the east coast, and then eventually across the Atlantic back to England to see friends and family.

Normally short hair hair getting a bit bouffant on leave! Here wandering around on top of Ayers Rock in Australia with Stewart ….together as it happens with Phil Collins of Genesis fame. Its called Uluru now and climbing is banned.

Being back in England seemed very strange and it was as if I never left.

I recall being in a village pub with some guys I knew from school and they asked what I was doing in London. I told them I had actually joined the Royal Hong Kong Police and was midway through a story about sliding down ropes from helicopters and triad gun battles on the streets of Kowloon when I noticed their eyes glazing over, and so I stopped and the conversation reverted back to heifers breaking fences on farms, whose shagging who, and who crashed their car recently.

In the future when I was asked what it was like in Hong Kong I would just say, “Oh, its fine”.

Next ……Chapter 3 – Gun battles, Yip Kai Foon and Emergency Unit Kowloon West

Royal Hong Kong Police – Chapter 1

The goldsmith robbery getaway car came screeching into the carpark of Hung Hom ferry pier with Car 8 from Mong Kok in hot pursuit.

As the Platoon Commander of Emergency Unit Kowloon West I had been following the frenetic radio commentary from the front seat of EU Car 50 and together with EU Car 1 from Tsim Sha Tsui we blocked off all the exits.

Having realized their escape had been foiled, the robbers in the getaway car skidded violently to a halt, frantically selected reverse gear in a cloud of blue tyre smoke and rammed at high speed into the ferry pier bus stop, injuring several people and one women severely.

Platoon orderly, Lung Jai, and I were out of Car 50 in short order, revolvers drawn, and joining our colleagues as we chased down the three armed robbers who were now running away in different directions. Car 1 and Car 8 crews quickly caught and restrained two robbers, and Lung Jai and I chased after the third who was running into the ferry pier buildings.

The 13th of November 1991 was either going to be a very interesting day at the office, or perhaps our last.

Newspaper clipping from a local newspapers – November 14, 1991

Chapter 1 – Cantonese and standing on one leg.

On the 18th of February 1987 I boarded the second aeroplane I had ever been on in my life, and took a one way flight from Heathrow to Hong Kong.

I was joined by nine other “expatriate” recruits, some of whom I had met over previous months during the Royal Hong Kong Police interviews and selection process at the Hong Kong Government offices in Grafton Street in London.

I was one of three former Metropolitan Police officers who had been successful in applying to join “Asia’s Finest”. There was also a former Detective Sergeant from the Greater Manchester Police, a couple of former British Army officers, and the remainder were straight out of university.

Together with another 26 locally recruited Chinese officers from Hong Kong, including two ladies, Gloria and Geraldine, we were to form Probationary Inspectors’ course 306-308.

Given the horseplay and mayhem we caused on the 12 hour business class flight, mostly initiated by Gus, a former army officer, it was hard to believe that we represented the ten successful candidates out of many thousands of applicants.

As we approached Kai Tak airport we were all very excited and perhaps a little apprehensive about what lay ahead. We all gazed out of the windows in astonishment as the Cathay Pacific Boeing 747 seemed to squeeze between Lion Rock mountain and the densely populated high rises of Kowloon. The huge aeroplane, at seemingly low altitude, then performed a hard right hand bank for the final approach giving everyone on board an unnervingly close view of washing hanging out on poles from the densely populated Kowloon City apartments. It then skimmed over the roof of the infamous Walled City and landed on a thin ribbon of reclaimed land that stretched out into Hong Kong Harbour

As the aeroplane slowed and taxied back to the terminal buildings we inhaled our first whiffs of Hong Kong…. the pungent, and probably toxic fumes of Kai Tak nullah.

Waiting in the arrivals halls were our course instructors in full RHKP uniform, and grinning like a Cheshire Cat, our Drill & Musketry Instructor (“DMI”), Mr Cheung who would be responsible for our discipline, footdrill, and weapons training. He didn’t look like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from the film of the same year, Full Metal Jacket, but we were to find out he could shout like him.

Dragging along my entire possessions in a suitcase, we were herded onto a bus and driven through the busy and completely alien looking streets of Kowloon, through the dark tunnel under the harbour, out into Causeway Bay with huge neon advertising signs adorning the sky scrappers, into the gloom and diesel fumes of Aberdeen tunnel, and then out again into the bright sunshine of Wong Chuk Hang where the Police Training School nestled in tropical greenery between Brick Hill, Ocean Park and some sinister looking tobacco factories.

We all noticed the huge Ocean Park seahorse, carved out from the jungle foliage on the hill above the training school, and discussed among ourselves whether we would be able to get into the amusement park, enjoy the many swimming pools and water flumes and ride in the cable cars. None of us noticed the steep steps under the cable cars.

In comings weeks we would get to know those steps very well.

Seahorse or a dragon ?
RHKP Police Training School grounds today, barracks, drill square and firing ranges to left of picture. The green snake of the Mass Transit Railway and modern high rises are later additions. In our day a bus or a taxi was the only way in and out.
Day 2 . Stewart, Malcolm, Guy, Dave, Rupert (me) and Simon in winter school uniform
Chan Tak Sing (“Cheeky Chan”) – one of the few local Police Constables to be promoted to Police Inspector in our intake.

The 19th February 1987 was the official start of my Royal Hong Kong Police career and indeed my new life. The first five years of my adult life had been as a Constable in the Metropolitan police and was a mixed bag of disappointment, fleeting moments of success, long stretches of boredom, flashes of excitement and terror, toxic relationships, and always always being skint. I was ready to wipe the slate clean and start again. Do it better.

The 19th happened to be a Thursday and so we had a couple of days over the weekend to acclimatise to the weather and time zone until we were joined by the remainder of our intake who were all native Chinese officers from Hong Kong. Most recruited straight from university, but a few who had been promoted from the ranks of Police Constable or Sergeant.

As Probationary Inspectors (“PIs”) we were accommodated in military style dormitory barracks called “J’ Block for the junior stage of training. As we progressed through the ten months course our accommodation would improve slightly until by the senior stage we would have our own rooms in Heath House and a room boy to prepare our uniform and kit.

Ah Bat, the barber ensured all male officers received the uniform short back and sides, with sideburns no longer than the middle of our ears. Moustaches were still quite common in those days and I think Simon, Guy and Mike kept them throughout training, although an improperly trimmed “tache” was often an excuse to receive some kind of punishment from the DMI, as were unshaven cheeks, nostril hairs or bristle on the backs of our necks. Many Cantonese and southern Chinese men can’t grow full beards and often had miscreant “lucky” hairs sprouting from moles or “face fuzz” and so many were forced to shave for the first time in their life.

We all watched knowingly when a new recruit, and good friend of mine, called Rick arrived off the bus from the airport and entered the PTS Mess with 1980s blonde highlights in his hair. He managed about 12 hours before Ah Bat shaved the whole lot off and Rick was quite upset about this as he had spent quite a lot of money working on the Miami Vice look before he flew out from England.

Seniority of PIs under training was denoted by the colour of the backing flash under the “RHKP” badge on our epaulettes (blue, white, yellow) and in the junior stage I remember looking enviously at the senior stage PIs and wondering what we would have to go through before we were able to wear senior stage flashes .

We wore a cloth slide on our epaulettes, if indeed we wore shirts, or a wristband when bare chested, with our rank denoted by one British military star, and thus for our first three years of our service we were referred to as “one pip bombans”.

The badge of Royal Hong Kong Police from 1967 until 1997. Ironically it depicts a drug trafficking transaction on the beaches of Hong Kong between the British and Chinese.
RHKP badges of rank. On successful completion of training and having passed Standard I examinations an officer would be a Probationary Inspector for the first three years of service. On passing the Standard II Inspectors’ examinations we would be confirmed in the rank and have two pips, much like a UK Inspector, and then on passing the Standard III examinations and on completion of 5 years service we would be advanced in rank to Senior Inspector, denoted by two pips and a bar (as far as I got). The highest rank was Commissioner of Police and when I joined this was Mr. Raymond Anning. In addition to officer ranks there were Police Constables, Senior Constables, Sergeants and Station Sergeants.

As was traditional, the intake above us was responsible for our familiarisation, i.e. a guided “piss up” of Hong Kong’s watering holes. They were also responsible for the de rigeur initiation ceremony that I remember involved Greg (aka “Pik” because he was South African) dressing up as a DMI, doing a room inspection in which all our kit and bedding was strewn about on the floor and “attempting” to get us marching on the drill square in our underwear.

This it turns out was far more sensible than the initiation ceremony we had planned for the intake below us when the time came that involved, among other silliness, buying a “snake” from a wet market, with the intention, when the time came, to release it into the “newbies” barracks. A week later, and much to everyone’s alarm, an extremely angry Chinese Cobra emerged from its bag inside Ben’s locker, shot off at alarming speed, hissing and terrorising everyone until being finally captured by the official police snake catcher, no doubt to be sent to the snake soup shop it was originally destined to go.

Our lame excuses to our instructors that the snake must have crawled in from the jungle, which wasn’t actually an uncommon occurrence, was treated with the skepticism it deserved. The snake recognition skills of the two former army officers responsible for the prank, and indeed all their other military escapades and stories of daring do were now and forever in doubt.

Our Hong Kong familiarisation involved a very pleasurable boat trip in a Sampan (a small traditional junk boat) from Aberdeen harbour near the training school and around the island in choppy waters to Wanchai where we all stripped off and jumped into the sea. Suffice to say, Hong Kong harbour in the 1980s was not the cleanest bathing spot, nor one of the safest being at the time the busiest harbour on the planet.

After this baptism, I immediately developed a painful ear infection, no doubt from the high concentration of turd bacteria, and this ear and throat infection flared up frequently, as jumping into the South China Sea, for some reason or another, seemed to be a common activity throughout our training. A surreal experience nonetheless floating in a shipping channel and being surrounded by the biggest and most spectacular display of neon lights and brightly coloured advertising awnings in the world.

Back on shore, we were later familiarised with the famous curries in Chung King Mansion on Kowloon side in which my lasting reputation was forged, and perhaps my nickname. The sequence of events involved, allegedly, me stealing a potato chip from Pik’s plate, being stabbed in the back of my hand by Pik’s fork, and rolling around the floor choking Pik in a headlock.

It is debatable whether this incident resulted in my nickname, “Max” as in Mad Max, for which many people still know me, or because when my course instructor, Ken, asked me, ‘What’s your name?’, I replied, ‘Rupert’, to which he replied, ‘That’s a stupid name’, resulting in fits of hysterical laughter from my squad mates who there and then christened me “Max”, as they insisted I looked like the MTV computer generated host, Max Headroom.

The nick name has stuck ever since and still used by my friends, although in recent years I have become known by the Chinese name the Hong Kong Government bestowed on me, 歐奕礼 (Au Yik Lai in Cantonese, or nowadays using the Mandarin pronunciation, Ou Yi Li that my “other half” Fanny and and other Chinese friends call me to this day).

https://images.app.goo.gl/6GaNeXU3mD8ZW5ZQ6

After the Pik stabbing incident, we were familiarised with nightclubs, San Miguel beer, Carlsberg beer, Wan Chai girlie bars, more nightclubs, strange creatures on kebab sticks, and dancing with Filipino Amahs to the hit songs from Madonna, Michael Jackson and a local tune called, “Louie Louie Louie” that was repeated over and over again. I remember little more about that night other than waking up choking and nearly drowning in a huge hot tub together with Gus at some massage parlour in North Point at about 3am the next morning.

All in all, a very successful familiarisation to the Fragrant Harbour.

Hong Kong has a subtropical climate and has four distinct seasons. A cool and dry Winter, a humid and sticky Spring, a very hot and stormy Summer, and a pleasant, dry and sunny Autumn. When we arrived in February it was late winter and so the uniform we were issued with was dark blue trousers, a khaki green shirt, a blue navy style sweater, DMS boots and a flat dark blue cap with the RHKP badge.

As students we always wore white webbing belts that would constantly be wet and soggy from continual sweat. Often, the white blanco would smear all over our shorts or trousers and inevitably give the DMI some excuse to “gate” us (i.e. confined us to the school grounds on Saturday afternoons and Sundays to perform extra drill and perform mundane tasks).

As the cool weather in Hong Kong lasts for only about six weeks we soon changed out of winter uniform to the summer uniform of baggy khaki shorts, much like the uniform worn in the TV comedy, It Ain’t half Hot and so we were bare chested when outside for lessons such as tactics, foot drill, and weapon training. In the classrooms and Officers’ Mess we wore a khaki green shirt with a lanyard, whistle and mandatory notebook in our breast pocket. For leadership training we wore military style jungle kit, jungle boots and a blue jungle hat that took us, invariably, into the hot, steamy, spikey, mosquito infested jungles to get lost with a map and compass.

Summer PTS School Uniform and my first command!! The winning IS platoon. I am the pink with red spots human-being holding a loudhailer.

Geographically, Hong Kong is a collection of islands (Hong Kong, Lantau and many smaller islands ending in the word “Chau”) and a part of mainland China (Kowloon and the New Territories) on the southern coast. The territory is located to the south east of the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province, so the prevailing language is Cantonese, although government, administration and the documentation of the civil service in those days was in English.

Historically, The Qing dynasty ceded Hong Kong in perpetuity to the British Empire in 1842 through the treaty of Nanjing, ending the First Opium War. Hong Kong then became a British crown colony.[2] Britain also won the Second Opium War, forcing the Qing Empire to cede Kowloon in 1860, while leasing the New Territories for 99 years from 1898. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Hong_Kong).

So what did we do for that 10 months of training before we passed out and were thrust onto the streets of Hong Kong?

For the first eight weeks of training all expatriate officers had to undertake and pass the Basic Cantonese Language course. A language, I should note, that is notoriously difficult to learn and has at least seven tones, if not nine, so that gau, gau gau, gau, gau and gaau could mean nine, rubber, glue, dog, penis and enough…if not many other meanings. Without using the correct tone asking to stroke someone’s dog could have unexpected consequences!

Within my course we had Simon, a Mancunian with a nuff nuff monotone northern accent who tried really hard, and to this day, despite being married to a Cantonese woman for nearly four decades, still cannot pronounce anything in any Chinese dialect. On the other hand, Gus, a well spoken public school educated former army officer, a mimic, comedian, musician, bullshitter of note, and far too clever for his own good was a duck to water, quickly mastering the language and indeed every swear word and profanity, of which there are surprisingly many.

Cantonese class (well half of it) with left to right: Rupert (me), Ben, Gus, Stewart and Steve (giving a good impression of looking at a mobile phone that has yet to be invented for another two decades, at least)

For me, I came somewhere in the middle with my Cantonese ability. It is only now, being reasonably fluent in Mandarin, that I realise what my main problem with the Cantonese dialect actually is. I just don’t like it. To my mind it’s an ugly sounding, unnecessarily loud and vulgar dialect and the sooner everyone speaks Mandarin the better. This is, of course, a very contentious point of view, and will undoubtedly warrant rebuke from, well, Cantonese people. Still its my blog. My point of view.

As an ethnic minority in a foreign country, albeit a colonialist, I encountered quite a bit of racism, in both directions, I might add. Much of this racism was disguised or camouflaged due to the language and cultural barriers, but became increasingly apparent as our Cantonese ability improved and we realised what a lot of local people were actually saying. In Hong Kong the racial slur “gwailo” (鬼佬 – ghost guy) is often, if not always used to refer to a Westerner or European looking person. As for derogatory terms for Filipinos, Indians and Africans? Don’t ask. I always joke that for the first year of my life in Hong Kong I thought, “sei gwailo” (die foreign devil) meant “Good Morning”!

Back then in those colonial days it was a bit of “them and us” and the British system in many ways discriminated against local Chinese and so there was an underlying resentment towards the foreign colonial power that surfaced from time to time. Ironically, nowadays many older Chinese look back fondly to the colonial days. The younger generation who foolishly wave the British Hong Kong flag in defiance against communist China never actually experienced colonial Hong Kong and seem oblivious to the fact that democratic Britain never bestowed any democracy whatsoever on Hong Kong during its rule and in actual fact exercised a sort of apartheid for more than 150 years.

If the tables were turned and I joined the Isle of Wight Police Force on the southern coast of England and it was run by the Chinese and I was forced to speak Cantonese and eat chickens feet for breakfast I may also be a bit “hak hau hak min” .

Anyway, while we were struggling with guangdong wah, local Hong Kong officers were sent off to do a course that was also outside their comfort zone. The Police Adventure Training Course. A sort of outward bounds cum Duke of Edinburgh Awards course that had the locals going off into the wilds to pitch tents, make fires, paddle canoes, read maps and try to make a decision that does not involve several hours of bickering, changing their minds and collective faffing about. Later, these skills would help them with the one course they usually did quite poorly in as they were unable to rote learn how to do it from a training manual. Leadership!

It is not untrue to say that the vast majority of Hong Kong Chinese spent their entire youth rote learning “stuff” and regurgitating this “stuff” in the many examinations they had to endure. Climbing trees, riding bikes and messing about in rivers was alien to many of my local colleagues. The stereotypical Chinese student who was good at mathematics and could analyse Hang Seng Index trends, but could not tie a knot or think laterally was very much the norm back in those days.

There were a few Chinese officers who were educated overseas in the UK, America, Canada or Australia, but most had been through the Hong Kong education system that seemed to have the effect of erasing all initiative, creativity and individual thinking. That’s not to say they didn’t work hard. They work extremely hard which is why Hong Kong is so successful and I believe always will be.

However, back in the 1980s, it seemed that Rudyard Kipling’s East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet was never so true.

We were of course thrust together for all other aspects of training and lived cheek by jowl in the barrack dormitories. As our Cantonese ability was none existent, we conversed in Chinglish, a sort of pidgin English with Chinese characteristics. One of the things that the local Chinese officers were keen to talk about and share was their cuisine and I remember the joy and excitement of getting to know and try “real” Cantonese food and delicacies. The vast majority I love, especially Dim Sum, Dai Pai Dong dishes, Asian vegetables, Cha Siu pork, Chinese soups and curries. There are still a few things I steer well clear of, such as feet and innards, animals normally considered as pets, and especially locally harvested seafood that swim slower than I do!

Coming from England and not being as worldly travelled as I am today, I did find my Chinese colleagues a bit odd, in the sense that mundane things like washing habits, bodily noises, and table manners were “odd”. For instance, the locals always wore enormous baggy Y front underpants and flip flops in the shower, always carried a flannel to the “heads” like a wine waiter carries a napkin, and despite hot and cold water pouring out of the showerhead as effectively as anywhere else, always brought in a plastic bucket into the shower cubicle with a plastic cup!! The hacking phlegm dawn chorus was something to behold, as were the flip flop marks on every single lavatory seat, because the majority of Chinese squat on top of the seat for a poo rather than sit down like Westerners do.

Another cultural difference back in the 1970s and 80s was that you rarely saw Chinese engaging in outdoor activities or hiking about in the country parks and countryside, except the few Hakka and Tanka villagers going about their rural life, or indeed illegal immigrants who had swum over from China and had got lost.

This of course all changed at the end of the 1990s and Hong Kong people suddenly discovered the great outdoors, multi coloured lycra, yoga pants, and exciting toys to play with such as mountain bikes and surfboards. This outdoors revolution, some would say, was brought about because Chicken flu, Swine fever and the SARs epidemics scared the shit out of the local populace and breathing fresh air and mucking about in the great outdoors was no longer seen as some daft thing that gwailos did at the weekends.

The Officers’ Mess was a regular haunt, mainly due to the lure of beer and pies. Although I have never been in the military, the RHKP Mess traditions and customs, I am told, were fairly similar to the those in the British Army. At least very similar to all the colonial police forces around the world during the British Empire.

Every Officers’ Mess I ever went to back then seemed to have some former Rhodesian or Palestine Police “old boy”, dressed in a safari suit propping up the bar, much like the Major character in Fawlty Towers. The walls were always adorned with pictures of the Queen, Royal visitors, military and police plaques from guests, sepia pictures of colonial police stations, tiger hunting parties, and police units and sports teams from long ago.

There were rules about what items of uniform could be worn inside, rules about civilian attire, and written threats of bad things that will happen if you didn’t sign your Mess chit. Settling this bar bill seemed to take a good chunk out of our salaries at the end of the month and so with our weekend jaunts into the neon wonderlands of the “Wanch” we all seemed to save very little money. This contrasted with my training at Hendon Police College in 1982 where everything was free and I managed to save nearly all my salary which I used to buy my first car after we passed out.

We regularly dressed up in Mess kit for formal dinners and dining in new intakes. Like the UK military, there were lots of toasts to everyone, traditions such a female guests kissing the regimental duck that was paraded on top of the tables by the “Duck Major”, cigars, port, after dinner speeches and organised hooliganism such as Mess games.

Wednesday was curry lunch day and I had to endure Gus burping Vindaloo into my face all afternoon, and only English food was served in the Mess except for a once a month Chinese special that none of the locals thought very much of. Hong Kong has a tradition for superb curries because of the Indian and Nepalese communities, not least the Ghurkha Regiments that were stationed throughout Hong Kong and the Sikh officers who served in the police at the beginning of the last Century.

Whilst we were learning to use chopsticks and the etiquette required at a Chinese dinner table, the locals were battling with knives and forks. Many expatriate PIs vividly remember seeing their first Chinese officer lifting a whole fried egg off their plate with a knife and with a lot of slurping levitating it into the air and into their mouths.

Also, since having travelled to every province of China on my global wanderings and somewhat of an expert in gorging myself with all kinds of Chinese food, I now understand why Shepherd’s Pie, Beef Wellington and Cod and Chips might have been a culture shock to my local squad mates. In fact, Chinese food in China is not like Chinese food from the Happy Dragon or the Ho Li Fuk Takeaway in the West and is far more varied and delicious. You will never see a fortune cookie, Chicken Chow Mein or Emperor Pao’s Chicken.

The Officer’s Mess menu also explains why our Chinese colleagues couldn’t get out of PTS fast enough on Saturday afternoons.

They were all starving hungry.

Gloria kissing the Donald and the “Duck Major” who would walk along the tops of the tables presenting the duck to the female guests at Mess Diners. The role was always given to the smallest officers in the intake.
Toga Party in Officers Mess …author’s bum, Gus, Steve and Ben

A messy night – expat officers of PI 306-308 (Ben, Guy, Gus, Stewart, Mike, Rupert (author), Dave and Simon B)
Summer bar outside PTS Officers’ Mess where we could drink and buy food in PT kits and civvies… Guy in default gloomy mood and me looking disapprovingly at his tab.

Although I did learn some foot drill at Hendon Police College in London, it was limited to marching in a straight line, trying to halt together and turning right in readiness for our simple passing out ceremony.

In the Royal Hong Kong Police foot drill was of an extremely high standard, the drill square dominated the police training school and we would have early morning parades and drill lessons everyday. We spent more time standing on one leg than flamingos do in the Ngorongoro Crater. Tram lines were grooved into the tarmac by generations of police recruits stomping up and down to the sound of British military marching music provided by the world famous, and world travelled RHKP band with their brass and bagpipes sections, resplendent in tartan uniforms.

The insults from our Drill and Musketry Instructor, Mr Cheung during drill lesson were hilarious, not least because he usually mispronounced his English and had a very stereotype and Benny Hill type accent.

Missa Urry (me) you so tellible. Mat Ye Lai Ga… noz hairs, velly red, velly hairy, velly sweaty? Missa Lucas Aerospace why you look li thaa? You are disgwace to fworce. You so tellible. Missa Holaspooky waah you stand li thaa? Are you something strange? Missa Chan. You are fworce entwy you shoo no better than expat… DISGWACE DISGWACE. SQUAAAAD 1, AS YOU WERE. AS YOU WERE. DOH BEND KNEE. YOU ALL TELLIBLE.

Rupert (me) leading a squad and giving salute during a Passing Out Parade in July 1987

Our Pass Out Parade on November 14, 1987. The famous and well respected (and now late) Mr Willy Fullerton, Chief Drill & Musketry Instructor giving out the parade commands in his Scots Guards fashion

https://youtu.be/hOa8ZryxyHQ

https://youtu.be/8a8fzUuYAWo

When in uniform we had to march around the school in pairs or squad formation, so that if you wanted to go somewhere you had to find someone going in the same direction. All this discipline was aimed at turning us from lily-livered civilians into well disciplined officers, and all under the ever watchful eyes of the DMIs and the formidable and very well respected Chief Drill & Musketry Instructor and former Scots Guards RSM, Willy Fullerton.

Foot drill was universally disliked by most recruits, apart from some oddballs like myself. It was uncomfortable and tiring for sure, especially standing out on the drill square in the scorching sun and stiflingly hot tarmac, discreetly shifting from foot to foot like an Australian desert lizard, but I found it all quite enjoyable and therapeutic. Mastering the commands and drill movements was like mastering a martial art. I also liked the music and all the pomp and ceremony. I especially liked being outside, but being bare chested all the time meant my light pink Anglo Saxon skin burnt easily under the scorching sun. A body evolved and designed for temperate west European climes, not out in the midday sun with mad dogs and other Englishmen.

The academic side was quite demanding for Inspectors, especially the Chinese Inspectors who had to pass the frequent and rather stressful examinations in English. I worked hard on my studies and usually put in two or three hours study every night, and perhaps more just before examinations and usually came in the top two of the class. It was helped by the fact that Hong Kong law is very similar to UK law and I had studied much of it before in the Metropolitan Police where I also did reasonably well. To this day, I can still recite most sections of criminal law and the Hong Kong Law Ordinances pretty much verbatim.

However, there were other strange and rather alien laws specific to Hong Kong that we had to learn, such as laws relating to street hawkers, prostitution, gambling, dog meat, bans on homosexuality in the government and civil service (illegal in those days), corporal punishment for possession of offensive weapons, laws relating to triad organisations and of course anti corruption laws, which was pervasive in the Hong Kong Police and the disciplined services (Fire, Customs, Immigration, Correctional Services), Civil Service and other Government Departments in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Drink driving laws were less strict than the UK at the time, the excuse given that Chinese didn’t drink! That did change in coming years with the introduction of alcohol breath testing equipment and associated laws in 1990s. It appeared Chinese did drink and drive after all.

The most painfully dull material to learn was undoubtedly the contents of a heavy tome called Police General Orders which were about procedure, discipline, and to my mind very colonial and outdated.

Weapons training was something new to me and to start with I struggled to do well. It was not until I received individual firearms training from a very competent instructor called Clive at Police Tactical Unit in Fanling a few years later that I mastered the marksmanship principles and started getting decent groupings on the targets. To this date I am a pretty good shot, and indeed I needed to be later on in my police career when I would occasionally be on the wrong side of an AK47.

We would go to the outdoor ranges for Colt AR15 rifle, Remington 870 shotgun and revolver training, and there was an indoor range to simulate more realistic “shoot – don’t shoot” scenarios.

At first we used Colt Police Positive revolvers and I swear you could see the bullet coming out of the barrel and lob in an arc towards the target, that is if the cartridge ignited and the bullet didn’t get stuck in the barrel. Later during our training the standard firearm was changed to the .38 Smith and Wesson Model 10 revolver, one of the most common police sidearms in the day.

Smith & Wesson Model 10 Revolver
Remington 870 Shotgun … with an assortment of rounds to fire at bad people like Joshua and his CIA sponsored mates. Later when I am platoon Commander of Emergency Unit in Kowloon the “00” buckshot round in our Remington shotguns would be successful in our fight against goldsmith robbers
PI 308 on the PTS Upper Range doing AR15 training. As I am not in the picture and Mike is holding two weapons I must be shooting the camera!

I wasn’t the worst shot, some recruits were terrible, and to get through the range course examinations some of the better shots would sacrifice a couple of rounds and fire into their “squad mates” adjacent target to get them through.

In the early days of my RHKP career female officers were not armed and were not allowed into specialist units like Emergency Unit, Police Tactical Unit, Explosive Ordnance Disposal and the counter terrorist unit, SDU.

In 1995 when I was myself an instructor at the training school ( a cushy posting I applied for so I could study for my degree) I had the first intake of females who were weapons trained, and with mixed results. One of my WPIs called Samantha was a very slight framed female, even by the slight build of most Cantonese women, and could not for the life of her pull the trigger, and, to the horror of firearms training staff, repeatedly used two index fingers to yank at the trigger. Stray rounds flying off towards the densely populated Wong Chuk Hang estate would normally be an excuse for dismissal, so this resulted in several staff meetings to discuss what to do with her and what remedial action could be taken. This was the beginnings of the political correctness and inclusivity versus meritocracy and ability.

In the end we decided that Samantha was just going to have to strengthen her fingers or leave the course regardless of mandates from upon high, and to her credit she spent several months wandering around squeezing a hand strengthening device and eventually was able to pull the trigger with one finger, although I will admit I did see her use two fingers for the final qualifying examinations that got her through. I have no idea if she actually ever had to use a revolver in anger during her police career. The vast majority of police officers never do.

Over the following years females entered all the front line tactical and specialist units, including Explosive Ordinance Disposal (“EOD”) where it was decided that if a female officer, or indeed a male officer, can operate inside a 90 kilogram EOD bomb suit in 35 degrees centigrade heat and 100% humidity then she or he can apply for the unit. After all, its not getting down to the IED in the bomb suit that is so hard, its getting back up again and making a purposeful retreat on two legs back to the command post. However, you cannot get away from the fact that there are certain jobs in the police that require above average strength and physical fitness. If a woman can do it, fine, but I remain of the view that lowering standards and making exceptions is wrong just to “tick” the woke box. I think I am vindicated in this view when I witnessed “some” female officers serving in Police Tactical Unit struggling and having to be “covered” by their male colleagues during the violence of the anti China riots in 2019.

We also had leadership training that was to my mind, and indeed to most of the other expatriates’, like a day off hiking in the jungles, messing about in helicopters and speed boats, seafood lunches and 7 Up (“chat hei”) that tasted remarkably like beer! We practiced role playing scenarios such as setting up cordons, ambushes, raiding drugs and vice establishments and so forth. We learned how to structure orders and give commands using the GSMEAC (Ground, Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration and Logistics, Command and Signals) operational order and briefing format that I still use today for all my fraud investigations engagements. The Romans used it, the British Army use it, and so do the Hong Kong Police. Its logical and it makes sense.

Often we were ferried about Hong Kong by helicopter which I thought was enormous fun. Sometimes in a red and white Royal Auxiliary Air Force Aerospatiale helicopter and sometimes in the RAF Wessex helicopters that were built in the 1950s and 60s. I had never been in a helicopter before and thoroughly enjoyed flying in them, sometimes, during more serious exercises and operations, at ground hugging mountain contour heights.

Later in my career I would use helicopters to green rope into the Close Quarter Battle Range (CQBR) for training, on to the top of high rise buildings under construction during operations to arrests Illegal Immigrants, or onto container ships far out in the South China sea for counter terrorist exercises.

The RAF pilots were amazing. I am in awe at their skill.

Getting about on leadership exercises on a RHKP Marine launch. I always seemed to be wet, either from the sea or sweat!
Leadership training .. waiting for a speed boat to take us into the wilds of Hong Kong. The Chinese officer on the left is Mr Cheung Kam Chun, our Drill & Musketry Instructor, watching our every move.
Leadership camp in Sai Kung…. Cheeky (Chan Tak Sing) and Tojo (Lai Siu Kwong)
PI 308 course instructor, Ken, with Gloria in the background.
Another day in paradise. UHT milk and Frosties in 35 degrees heat… special.
PI course 307 with their instructor, the indomitable Tony Tam
A leadership exercise “sweep” through the prickliest plants on Mother Earth
Map and compass …what could go wrong? Ben and Stewart at Long Ke Wan in Sai Kung … a stunningly beautiful area.
I know by the hairline and the fact that he really is asleep that this is Simon… who managed to go through entire PTS training without ever going on the drill square because, “allegedly”, he had “shin splints”! Simon spent every single drill lesson and parade on the “sicknote bench”. He only came alive when he was telling awful jokes, shagging, drinking or eating weird things like fish eyeballs, snakes, and innards. I have never heard him correctly pronounce anything in Cantonese, despite the fact he married, and remains married to the lovely Kwan whom he met at PTS nearly four decades ago. Years later he ended up as my boss in the Fraud Investigation Team of Arthur Andersen in London and Switzerland. He spends his time nowadays mostly playing bridge and complaining as Kwan has banned most of his favourite activities and fish eyeballs and snake innards are hard to come by in Yorkshire..
Like Labrador dogs … we found some water to splash about in.
Simon and Rupert (me) on a Marine launch… with the “Terrible” T shirts (Our DMI, Mr Cheung Kam Chun’s favourite expression)
Nothing to see… just Stewart up a tree. I guarantee that modern day PIs from “police college” are not doing leadership training in the New Territories wearing People’s Liberation Army caps. Nor drinking beer out of 7 Up cans. Much to the detriment of the police force I would say, although I hear Prussian marching like in China is practiced on the drill square. Hey Ho!
Leadership also involves pointing a lot and speaking into radios. (Guy, Ben, Gus)
I remember this day well. The picture is one of my favourites. Its a snapshot in time of happy days.
This leadership lark is exhausting … here at “Wanky Restaurant” in Sai Wan. Left to right….Simon, Guy, Ben, Dave, me, Mike. Beer and Hong Kong Policemen go together like Tea and Crumpets
If you ever need a sweep, cordon or ambush planned and executed in Sai Kung country park, you know who to come to.
Hong Kong Rugby Sevens in 1987 at the old stadium in Causeway Bay … Rupert (me), Stewart, Dave, Ben, Guy and some other people!

Rupert (me) on leadership training in Sai Kung
Being picked up at PTS to go off into the jungle to get lost.
Yomping at High Island Reservoir… left to right Ben, Steward, Steve, Rupert (me)
Mike and Stewart wandering around Stanley market… as we often did. Professing our support for Tojo, aka Lai Siu Kwong, who was “gated” for an alleged heinous crime, such as fidgeting on parade.

It wasn’t all fun and games, stage examinations were always a cause for stress. Local officers would work feverishly into the night, often in study groups memorising law and procedures, lesson notes and weapons parts. I also put in a lot of effort as memorising “stuff” and rote learning has never come easy to me.

For a week or so before examinations I would manage my time very precisely. Study session in my room with a fan and mosquito coil, or perhaps two burning away. Go for a run. Study a bit. Have dinner in the Mess. Study a bit. Reward myself with a beer or two in the Mess with my squad mates (many of whom would appear to have been at the bar since classes ended and yet still many managed to pass out in the end… some not). Then study a bit more and prepare and lay out kit for the next day.

Unlike Hendon where every night we diligently pressed our police uniforms with steam irons and slivers of cloth, brushed helmets and tunics to within an inch of their life and “bulled” our boots to a mirror like shine, in Hong Kong we had room boys (mostly twice our age) who took away our smelly sweat soaked kit at the end of the day and in the morning it was washed, pressed and on a hanger outside our rooms, our boots shined, polished and placed on a mat.

My PT T-shirts always seemed to smell of ammonia within seconds of putting them on. As a human being of a race evolved in a cool temperate climate, I spent nearly all my time at PTS, and indeed after I was posted to various units in Hong Kong soaked in sweat. I suffered terribly from rashes and acne and often wondered why I subjected my pink body to this tropical soup. Our local colleagues rarely sweated and used to remark what sweaty and smelly creature we Europeans were. For me, I was dripping wet from the moment I put on my uniform, except in the lovely seasons of autumn and the few weeks of winter when it was actually quite cool and we wore UK style dark blue winter uniforms and sometimes overcoats.

Recruit Police Constables (RPCs), who undertook a shorter training period than Inspectors, did not have it so lucky and spent as much time, if not more as I did at Hendon polishing, brushing and cleaning their kit, including bayonets that were affixed to old style Lee Enfield rifles for foot drill. They were always running around in small groups and always saluting at anything that moved, especially expatriates who they would assume were Inspectors as none of us were recruited at constable rank anymore. In the old days they were.

At Easter in 1987 after a few months training we were told we had about four days off and so several of us applied to leave the Colony and spend the short public holiday in Thailand.

Usually, the Kai Tak Convention is applied to such trips and that means “What goes on tour, stays on tour”. This is a sensible policy as it protects marriages, relationships, and reputations, not least incarceration. However this is my blog, time has gone by and if any wives are going to divorce us they would surely have done so by now.

As well as the usual rugby, cricket, football, hockey and “whatever sport you are into” trips, these were really an excuse for lads escaping from the missus and behaving badly on tour. Much like stag tours in England. Often social or casual sporting teams would go en masse, dressed in finest Hawaiian shirts (prizes for best parrots and pineapples), very short shorts, and a very well practiced drinking arm. Some rugby games were played against local and expatriate teams in places like Thailand, Philippines or wherever and the evening and wee small hours would be spent on pub crawls and ladies who “loved us long time”.

In April 1987 when five of us landed at Bangkok airport it was another quantum leap in our ongoing culture shock. Throughout my early life and time in the “Met” I never had any money and had never been anywhere except to Bognor to stay with my grandmother and a budget school trip to Brittany, in which I had no pocket money and spent the whole trip eating cabbage soup and being scolded for my poor French.

When I was in the Metropolitan police I was married at twenty and divorced by twenty one. I have a lovely beautiful daughter, Becky whom I was rarely allowed to see back then and she was the reason, if I am being honest, for the unsuited union with her mother. When it all went south, as it undoubtedly would, the former Mrs U employed a leftie north London lawyer that maintained “Maggie’s Boot Boyz” like me were the Enemy of the State and ate small children for breakfast. However, they were not too conflicted to take all my money for maintenance and relieve me of my very few possessions. After several years of hard work, all I had to show for it all was a rented TV, a settee that had been discarded in a skip and a Triumph Herald motorcar that usually rested on bricks or was towed around England by the AA Relay service. If I ever had a spare tenner my brother, Simon, who was in the Blues & Royal Household Calvary based at Knightsbridge Barracks, would suddenly appear, tell me how he was suffering from post traumatic stress from when he was blown up by the IRA in Hyde Park and that would be the last I saw of it. They say money doesn’t bring happiness, but its a damned sight better than the alternative!

So, this was my first real holiday and by gosh, what a holiday it was.

After a rowdy flight from Kai Tak airport and a surreal taxi ride across Bangkok we arrived at a pretty decent hotel in the heart of the city. I think it was the first proper hotel I had ever stayed in and it was all very exciting. Later, whilst having dinner in the hotel restaurant we were joined by five unsolicited hookers who sat under our dinning table and stayed there throughout our entire meal applying makeup and giggling. To this day I have no idea what it was all about and we left them to it and went off to explore the bright lights of Soi Cowboy, or wherever.

It was all very odd, bizarre and rather exciting. Being young, being with good friends, experiencing new things, having some money in your pocket, seeing the world, and with the prospect of an exciting life ahead was thoroughly exhilarating.

I can vaguely remember that our short time in Bangkok involved seeing elephants wandering down the streets, racing about in tut tuts, Thai boxing, drinking heavily, prostitutes, “Crying Game incidents” with ladyboys, eating spicy Tom Yam Kung and satays with peanut sauce, racing about in speed boats down canals, dancing, laughing and having fun.

Simon and I racing around Bangkok
Simon, Rupert and Simon in the “we really did see some temples” photograph for our Mums and Dads
Bangkok … Oriental city… where the nights are long and the girls are sometimes boys.
Guy, Simon, Dave and Rupert

The next day we took another short flight and went to Phuket, which in 1987 was largely undeveloped with very few buildings over two stories in height. We stayed at a cheap and simple bungalow complex called Capricorn Bungalows, got closely followed about and stalked by grim hookers, and mostly escaped them by hiring mopeds and spending our days on deserted tropical paradise beaches where we messed about in the sea, relaxed in the shade under palm trees that were gently swishing in the fragrant breeze, had “proper” relaxing Thai massages, drank ice cold Singha beer, and ate papaya salad and super fresh seafood grilled by our own chef who appeared out of the jungle from nowhere and cooked for us throughout the day. Halcyon days, indeed.

As the sun set and the Thai sky turned from blue, through to yellow, orange, red and purple we would ride back to town and prepare for an evening of music, dancing, drinking and pretty girls, most of whom, if not all, wanted to relieve us of our money.

All too soon it was back on a plane to Hong Kong, the seeds of misadventure firmly sown.

Over the weekends the local PIs and RPCs all left PTS on Saturday afternoons to go home and came back on Sunday evenings and got back to studying for Monday morning examinations. That meant at the weekends after Saturday morning parade, PT lessons (usually a run or swimming) and perhaps some weapons training we expats had the training school largely to ourselves, with whoever was unfortunate enough to get “gated” over the weekend (confined to school and have to report to the Duty Officer every hour in full uniform).

We would often go off in small groups to explore Hong Kong, play sports, go shopping in Causeway Bay or Stanley, see girlfriends (if we had any, most of us did not until much later), go on junk trips, sun bathe on the nearby beaches of Deep Water Bay or Repulse Bay, and sometimes further afield to the beautiful beaches on Lantau Island or Sai Kung and get up to mischief in the bars and nightclubs of Tsim Sha Tsui, Wan Chai and Lan Kwai Fong.

Its strange to recall pre Internet days and how we kept in touch with family and friends back in England. I used to write letters often and back then we mostly used lightweight and reasonably cheap “aerograms” that folded in three, sold in the Officer’s Mess and had the postage included in the price. I remember we all loved receiving letters and these were handed out by our course instructors and we would often share the news from our respective homes. There was a public phone box that you could make overseas calls using a pre paid phone card and very occasionally we would receive overseas telephone calls and whoever heard the phone ring would run around the Mess and accommodation blocks looking for whoever it was for.

Most of us came from England, Scotland, Wales and both Northern and Southern Ireland with a few officers coming from Commonwealth Countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada or South Africa. However there were a few expatriate officers who were actually born or raised in Hong Kong, such as Dave, a fellow Metropolitan Police Officer whose father was a Superintendent at the training school. Also, Ian, who was in an intake behind us, and his father was a Squadron Leader in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and used to fly us around on training exercises in helicopters. There were a couple of guys who had been in the French Foreign Legion and one I knew who previously served in the Bermuda Police.

We would have to perform night shift “Duty Officer” from time to time that meant we practiced for the first job everyone of us would get when we got to our police stations. It involved learning how to use radios, call signs, RT procedure, filling in a log book (Occurrence book) and reporting to the CDMI, Mr Fullerton in the morning. This debrief usually involved being shouted at very loudly and receiving a de facto “bollocking”. The Occurrence book was scrutinised carefully for any errors, and given Mr Fullerton was a former British Army senior NCO with attention to detail habits like writing out long hand using a ruler, mistakes would always be found.

During one of these verbal assaults I was standing to attention, bolt upright in the CDMI’s office, eyes fixed on his cap badge, not moving an inch, when in the corner of my eye I noticed a change in light and then heard a thud. I watched carefully as Mr Fullerton’s eye line followed the source of the thud to the floor and returned to stare at me as if daring me to move. I then said, “Sir, permission to pick Inspector Wong off the floor”. The CDMI observed me closely and a faint smile crossed his face, and he then shouted, “Peeeer Mission Geer RRanted” in his drill square Scottish accent and I proceeded to heave the hapless Inspector Wong, who had evidently fainted out of sheer terror into the hallway and into the recovery position, from where he dozily emerged, muttering, “Sorry Sir, Sorry Sir” and then literally ran away.

Sadly, Mr Fullerton has since parted for the big drill square in the sky, but he was always fair to me at training school and on the occasions we met after I passed out he was always friendly and often chatted to me, mostly about his son, whom he told me joined the Metropolitan Police and was immensely proud of.

Training at PTS continued, with us ploughing through criminal law, police procedures, weapons training, foot drill, internal security training, physical training, first aid, tactical training and leadership. We were all getting fit with all the PT, with me getting seriously into running, and for a brief year or so having the record for the Brick Hill run, which involved running up steep steps underneath the Ocean Park cable car, running along the path at the top of the hill, running back down again, along Aberdeen Harbour and entering PTS from the Wong Chuk Hang entrance.

I can’t remember my time, although I was getting about 7 minutes 30 seconds on my regular 1.5 mile AFT runs (getting to my record of 7 minutes, 9 seconds at Police Tactical Unit a year or so later) and I usually came first on the long 6-12 kilometre runs, against stiff competition from Mike and a few racing snake RPCs.

All police officers have to pass the Annual Fitness Test that involves, among various exercises like sit ups, press ups, interval running, standing jump, etc., a timed 1.5 mile run and this timed run continues every year throughout our service with increasing time allowance given as we got older. I have witnessed some spectacular cheating over the years from some police officers, especially detectives from CID, married female officer, and senior NCOs whose only physical activities were inclined towards Mahjong and gambling. Having said that the RHKP really encouraged running and fitness and there were many races and competitions to enter. The Nine Dragons race over the peaks of Kowloon, the Dowman road race at High Island Reservoir, and the Sedan Chair race on the Peak, to name a few.

Later with my Platoon Sergeant , Ah Bei. My physique changed due to lots and lots of running.

At PTS, I made my time on the Brick Hill run on the down hill stage where I used to dive from the top of several steps, grab the hand rails half way down and swing onto the flat path below without having touched any of the steps. It is certainly not a manoeuvre that features in my middle age fitness regime.

I also made up for my appalling cricket and rugby ability by joining all the many opportunities to play sports. Unlike nearly all my fellow expatriate squad mates I had had a bad start as far as team sports went, with the exception of cross country running and boxing which can hardly be described as “team sports”.

Many people assume that because I was named “Rupert” and have a sort of “received” English accent that I came from a privileged middle class background. In fact, I did come from an average lower middle class family until the age of 9 or 10 years old when my parents moved from Burton Upon Trent to “the village of the damned” in the Staffordshire countryside, immediately got divorced, my father moved away, and my brother, two sisters and I were plunged into real poverty, my mother coming from a background that refused welfare and handouts, and so we went without.

I remember my mother wore the same clothes throughout my teenage years and worked tirelessly as a barmaid and pub cook to support us, sacrificing her own life and happiness so that there was always food on the table. Demands by her four children for footballs, cricket bats, bicycles, sports kit, school trips and uniforms must have been a purgatory for her. We all knew she was under great pressure and so we went without. That is until our early teens, when all of us found part time jobs that would fund the things most kids, and indeed our own kids, take for granted .

I fell off the grid from 11 years old until perhaps 13 or 14 years old and often skipped school. Formative years in any child’s development. It was a horrific time. I got bullied by the village kids, bullied at school, bashed by my mother’s boyfriend who also threatened to do the same to my father if he ever came round to see us, and I often received canings at school. I once received a public caning in the assembly hall for escaping from a religious education lesson where I told the teacher it was all “made up” and spent the rest of the day up a tree in the school grounds with all the students cheering and waving at me from the classrooms and furious teachers at the base of the tree trying to make me come down. As a master tree climber of note, it was a tree only I and perhaps a couple of other kids could climb.

Alas, I waited for several hours until school was over and everyone had gone, slunk down the tree, sidestepped the school caretaker who was waiting in vain to get me, and walked seven miles from the school in Uttoxeter to my home in the village of Abbots Bromley. Inevitably, the next day a reception party of teachers intercepted me as I stepped off the school bus and I was hauled out for my public shaming in the form of twelve of the best, administered by the head with a cane.

I can say I was caned, slippered, given the clothes brush, given the belt, whacked, slapped and even punched and beaten by various adults throughout my childhood. I didn’t like it, but once it was over it was over and sadly it sort of becomes the norm and you get used to it. Also, being small and immature for my age when others were going through puberty, and being called “Rupert” with a so called posh southern accent meant I was often in fights, which I usually lost… for a while at least.

This caning by teachers and bullying because I was different did little to bring me back to Jesus and I found solace by escaping from school to go on my various adventures and walkabouts. As an 11, 12 and 13 year old youth, instead of being at school I would often escape, spending my time swimming in reservoirs, drifting for miles down rivers all day, hitch-hiking to Dovedale or the Peak District, exploring the forests and hidden woods in Cannock Chase, sneaking into public swimming baths or Alton Towers where I would wander around the beautiful gardens (before it became a huge amusement park). On occasions these adventures were with my best friend, another “outsider” of my own age called Joe, who would go on to own a much admired Yamaha FS1E, become a soldier in the special forces, a North Sea deep sea diver and who sadly committed suicide on his 30th birthday.

Before all this, my earlier life was actually pretty happy, although quite strict by modern standards. My parents were well educated from good public schools, and we were brought up as Roman Catholics. My father was a manager at the tyre company, Pirelli and my mother was a housewife. I went to a superb Catholic primary school in Burton upon Trent and was taught by truly inspirational teachers, served at Mass as an alter boy, did reasonably well academically, was extremely adventurous and curious about everything, and more importantly I was a confident young fellow.

My brother Simon and I in 1960s… Felpham, Sussex

From 11 years old everything changed. Despite my father, who went to Ampleforth College and my mother, who went to a Catholic Covent in Dorking going completely off the Holy rails, I still went to Mass for a while, largely because my friend Joe’s family were also Catholics and encouraged me to do so. That was, of course, until the fateful day a few coins I earned washing cars was relieved from me and donated to Mother Teresa. That incident and of course my parents unholy behaviour was the end of Catholicism, and indeed all religion and adult guff for me. To borrow sentiment, if not the exact the words, from the late Christopher Hitchens, that Bitch of Calcutta got nothing from me again.

My form of escape and income in those days was working on a dairy farm about three miles from where we lived. At 12 years old, I decided to earn my own money and knocked on the doors of every farm I could think of. I was turned away by every single one, except by Graham and Jean Whirledge, who allowed me to spend weekends, holidays, after school, and occasionally when I should be at school working for 50p an hour on their Staffordshire dairy farm. Graham was quite strict, had an explosive temper, but he was also very fair and extremely kind. I found out much later he and his wife, Jean knew about all the beatings and misery at home and I suppose in a way they helped bring me up, and for that I am eternally grateful.

The reality was, I was just a young lad and pretty useless, but they persevered with me until by the time I was 14 years old I could pretty much do everything an adult farm labourer could do and could hold my own. I did everything from scraping out shit, feeding the animals, bailing straw and hay, silage making, milking, delivering calves, and tractor work down the fields. The English outdoors, its four seasons and the physical nature of farming toughened me up, made me quite independent and reinforced my love for nature, wildlife and the outdoors.

If I had not worked on the farm I would have had nothing. However, this farm work provided me with not just money, but some restoration of confidence and self esteem. I also became quite fit and I think it helped me develop the stamina, self discipline and respect for money I have today.

Anyway, before I started earning my own money, my brother and I could not afford all the required school uniform, nor any of the various bits of kit required for all the different sports and so PT lessons were a constant exercise in humiliation and shame. At my school any kids who had forgotten their kit, or just didn’t have any (like my brother and I) had to fish about in a large cardboard box before lessons for lost and discarded PT kit to wear for the gym and sports lessons and then hand it back after the lesson had finished, just so the the misery and shame was repeated every single lesson.

For many school terms my brother and I stood out from the others, not just because of the Monday morning public shaming of being named as eligible for free school meals, but visibly in scruffy uniform, mismatched and ill fitting PT kit, and the ultimate in humiliation having to do PT in your underwear. This resulted in both of us skipping either PT lessons or school entirely to avoid embarrassment, bullying, being made fun of by other students, and admonishment from teachers (as if either of us could do anything about it).

The other result of all this, and the point of this long sad old story, is that we really missed out on learning to play team sports, especially football, rugby and cricket that required boots, shirts, cricket whites and importantly someone who gave a shit with a car to take you to and from practices and games. My brother just escaped… mostly to his friend’s , farm and later joined the Junior Leaders Regiments of the British Army at 15 years old.

By the time I had my own money from working on the farm and when things had improved at home, my days of school sports was nearly over. I did eventually buy myself some proper school uniform, football boots and cricket whites and thoroughly enjoyed any opportunity to play, but by the fifth form I was immersed in catching up the missed classwork and studying to get my “O” levels.

At the same time I also discovered music that would have me hitchhiking all over the country, or later when I was 16 years old riding my 50 cc Batavus Mk4S moped, to see bands like Joy Division, The Cure, Bauhaus, Echo and the Bunnymen, Theatre of Hate, Swell Maps, and other late seventies new wave and punk bands. My desire to fit in when I was 12 years old was soon replaced by a rebellious streak at 15 years old not to.

So, when I arrived at PTS less than a decade later and was asked which sports I played, I optimistically informed the instructors I was an accomplished light heavyweight boxer, could swim very well and was quite a good runner.

I was disappointed that this, at least initially, was not particularly well received by my course instructors, nor by the rugby and cricket types who were at the training school. I got the initial impression that many RHKP officers did not think much of boxing, and the fact I did not play cricket or rugby didn’t help, not that the local Chinese officers could play either, preferring basketball, ping pong, watching football and in fact, not doing anything sporty at all if they could help it. I know looking back that I was being overly sensitive about all this, but psychological scars can run deep and last long.

Unlike the RHKP, the Metropolitan police highly respected boxing, and novice boxers like me received a lot of encouragement and support. We got time off to train, great kit, excellent facilities, we had brilliant trainers and coaches (some being former professional boxers and Olympians) and we got to compete in prestigious events like the LaFone Cup boxing competition.

I took to boxing like a duck to water, thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie, the tough training, and especially the fights themselves. Boxing also changed my physique dramatically and I became very fit indeed, and I think have remained reasonably fit with a habit for physical fitness and training ever since.

Those years of childhood bullying, mental trauma and being treated badly at school is also a reason why I have a very low threshold for being treated unfairly or unjustly, or if I perceive I am being so. To be honest, this line in the sand has served me well, but it is also a reason for my lack of tolerance and notoriously bad temper, especially during my twenties.

Despite being a fairly accomplished boxer and having studied some martial arts self defence disciplines such as Aikido and Krav Maga, I have rarely reverted to physical violence, although I am told by everyone that my vicious bark can be quite alarming. All that aside, I will not tolerate bullying (physical or intellectual), cheating, spitefulness, nor injustice. If the red mist comes down I remain unapologetic because at my core I have a strong sense of right and wrong. I am proud my moral compass always points in the right direction, even though on occasion doing so ruffles feathers and makes me unpopular. I have messed up in life many times, been carelessness, ignorant, and misplaced trust with the wrong people, but never down to lack of integrity or dishonesty.

I would dearly liked to have been good at football, cricket, rugby, or any team sport really, but I think you need to start young and receive good coaching to be really good. I know because my other half, Fanny, was a professional volleyball player and played for Shanghai and China. I am always amazed and proud how good she is, even now, but I know she started at 8 years old, had the right mental attitude, trained exceptionally hard, developed an athlete’s physique and was coached and mentored by the very best.

At PTS we all had to pass life saving examinations, much as we all had to do in the Metropolitan police. I was always a very good swimmer having taught myself to swim at Burton Upon Trent Swimming baths when I was six or seven years old. I spent an enormous amount of time throughout my childhood in swimming pools, rivers, lakes and the sea and was very comfortable, being able to swim many miles and wallow about in any condition all year round. Swimming in the English seas in winter, if I had the opportunity, was enjoyable and fun to me, although nowadays its safe to say you won’t find me in the English sea anytime soon.

I was a little surprised, however, that a few of the local Chinese officers were unable to swim when they first joined the police, and some not very well, but due to the hard work of all the PTIs everyone not only learned to swim, but passed the life saving and first aid examinations before passing out.

All Inspectors had to complete “leadership camp”, that consisted of a week of exercises in the great outdoors and designed to consolidate and test the theory and training we had learned so far. By and large the local Chinese dreaded leadership camp for reasons I already mentioned, but for expat officers it was a week of larking about, tomfoolery and drinking beer from 7 Up cans.

We were helicoptered into Sai Kung Country Park and stayed in barracks at the Police Adventure Training Centre near High Island Reservoir. In addition to all the leadership exercises, we had to prepare and cook our own food, and I remember our DMI getting annoyed because our western style chicken curry didn’t include every bit of the chicken, and there was a bit of a fracas when Mr Cheung retrieved the beaks, squeaks and innards from the bin and plopped them into the vat of curry we were preparing. Our expat revolt was quickly subdued when we tasted the curry and it was actually, alright.

I remember being quite honoured and pleased with myself to be chosen to lead an exercise in front of the Commissioner of Police and several senior ranking officers who flew out into the wilds of the New Territories from Police Headquarters to observe our training. In front of the entire top brass, including the Commandant of the training school, I gave a good show of consulting my map and compass, gave a “leadership like” briefing, pointed a lot and then proceeded to march my team off in completely the wrong direction.

Having been halted in my tracks by the “directing staff” who made it abundantly clear I had “fucked up”, they warned me, ever so nicely, of the repercussions of “fucking it up, again”. With all the top brass giving me a “standards aren’t what they used to be” look, I “about turned” my team, ignored a hissed appraisal of “idiot” from a group of course instructors, and as confidently as my acting skills allowed, marched back passed the entire entourage, nodding to Mr Raymond Anning (Commissioner of Police) and grinning like an imbecile.

I also remember an exciting night time exercise, ostensibly to raid a drugs transaction in a small village, where we approached the site in RAF helicopters, much like the Ride of the Valkyries scene in the movie, “Apocalypse Now”. The phenomenally skilful RAF pilots flew a few feet off the ground at night through the valleys and performed gut wrenching manoeuvres we all thought impossible in a helicopter. Fun? Of course it was. Dinner? Not much of it left.

In the senior stage we had to do a week of Internal Security training where Probationary Inspectors formed up with Recruit Police Constables and trained together to perform riot drills and public order exercises. It was an early taste of what to expect when a year of so later many of us would transfer to Police Tactical Unit. Under my first ever command my band of brothers and I were deemed the best platoon and were awarded a rather splendid trophy.

It was also a time when we took our final examinations and I think we all passed our Standard I Inspectors’ examination, myself with fairly decent grades in all papers. I was especially delighted when it was announced I had been awarded “Baton of Honour” as the best Inspector on completion of our training. It was hard work, but I thoroughly enjoyed PTS and count it among some of the best days of my life.

Before the passing out parade, we all had a week of attachment to the police station we were to be posted to after training. I had initially wanted to go to Marine Region and learn how to command a police launch and patrol the extensive waters and islands of Hong Kong. My course instructor, Ken told me this was not possible and I had to apply for a proper job! I replied, “OK, I want to go to Tsim Sha Tsui” which is an exciting and busy division on the southern tip of Kowloon and full of tourists, shops, nightclubs, hotels, and the notorious Sun Yee On Triads. Alas, I didn’t get that either and was instead posted to Kowloon City Division, of “Walled City” fame near Kai Tak Airport.

Stewart, Simon and Ben did get posted to Marine divisions and I have to say their shift pattern of two days “on” (48 hours) and five days “off” sounded a lot more appealing than my 6 days “on” (60 hours) and just one day “off” a week. So did charging around in speed boats and learning how to skipper a Marine launch. In fact, if you want to learn about Marine police read a book called “Small Band of Men” by my former colleague, Les Bird. An excellent read, very insightful and funny. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Small-Band-Men-marine-police-ebook/dp/B07YYLXBPJ

My attachment to Kowloon City turned out to be both interesting and a little unsettling. I found a Hong Kong police station to be very different to a London police station. One of the big differences, apart from all the discipline and the paramilitary nature of policing in Hong Kong, was that it seemed to me that police officers did not exercise much initiative and were not trusted to use any discretion. Duties were dominated by being told what to do under strict supervision and with the threat of being disciplined (defaulted) if they didn’t. For instance, Hong Kong policemen to this day are required to sign visiting books positioned around their beat to make sure they actually go on patrol. It seemed signing these archaic books was considered a satisfactory indicator of “doing your job”. Protecting life and property, keeping law and order, and preserving the peace? More like answers in a sergeant or inspector’s exam than primary aims of policing.

Compared to what I was used to in London, I found the paperwork, exhibit handling, statement taking, documentation and procedures laborious, repetitive and old fashioned. Everything was written out over and over again in occurrence books, ledgers, notebooks, and reports. There were dozens and dozens of forms, files, loose minutes and endless memos. Bagging up exhibits required dozens of people with PhDs in origami and stapling. The general interviewing skill of many of my colleagues was poor, and I am ashamed to say the tactic of thumping confessions out of prisoners with a telephone directory and a heavy object all too frequent. The few of us who were former police officers from the UK thought all of this was shameful, degrading and not least, damned right illegal. The majority of Inspectors who joined the force from other professions or straight from college, I suspect, didn’t know any better.

As an expatriate officer at Kowloon City I found it a lonely experience. I was largely ignored and the only other foreigner in the police station was the Divisional Commander, called Paul Deal who was a delightful man and a wonderful boss. If it was not for Superintendent Deal and his kindness and support I think I would have resigned.

The biggest draw back for an expatriate Inspector was our inability to speak and understand Cantonese very well, or at least in the early years, and I found this frustrating and a bit embarrassing.

In later years I came to understand the value and importance of expatriate officers in the Hong Kong police force. We were not really policemen, we were managers and leaders of policemen and brought many useful attributes and value to the task of policing an international and cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong. Our ignorance and perhaps detachment from the nuances of Chinese culture and language was often what defined our advantage because we did not get sucked into the quagmire of politics, superstition and little cliques. I have heard from many junior officers that they preferred working for expatriate officers because we were considered fair, impartial and professional, and maybe because we hadn’t a clue what was really going on. Of course, as we progressed through our careers expatriate officers like me would integrate more, speak better Cantonese, and become more like local Chinese in our outlook and thinking. Conversely, many long serving local officers embraced more western ways and become more like expatriates.

Anyway, on the second day of my attachment I was patrolling alone down a busy street in To Kwa Wan, taking in all the unusual sights, noises and smells when I heard a call on my radio and recognised the word, “da gip” meaning robbery and also recognised the Cantonese name of the road and the street number. As luck would have it I was standing underneath a road sign of the same name and quickly found the location of the robbery, which happened to be a restaurant.

As I peered inside I could see two people wrestling each other on the floor, engaged in a frantic struggle. Not unaccustomed to jumping into a fight I rushed into the restaurant, shouted “ging chaat, mo yuk” (meaning, Police, Stop) and being unable to distinguish robber from victim pulled both apart and had them spread eagled onto the floor with me on top of both of them.

Within a few minutes two Police Constables arrived and assisted me to identify who was who and arrest the villain. A red tab Constable (a red tab under the RHKP letters on his epaulette denoting a Constable who can speak English or has passed the equivalent of GCE “O” English) said he would take the arrest and so my real part in the arrest of the robber was erased from history.

This happened to me several times in the future, most notably in the early 1990s when I arrested an armed goldsmith robber when I was Platoon Commander in the Emergency Unit of Kowloon West as the robber was making his getaway at Hung Hong Ferry Pier. After what was quite an ordeal, that I will describe in a subsequent chapter, I arrested the robber and handed him over to one of my PCs who received a Commissioner’s Commendation for my efforts!

You’re welcome!

During the same week of attachment and again whilst out on my own I saw a uniform sergeant I recognised from the division, and who was supposed to be on duty, stripped off to the waist with his cap, uniform shirt, Sam Brown, revolver and radio lying on a stool and working in a hot and steamy “dai pai dong” (local restaurant) he clearly had a vested interest in. I didn’t need to pour over Police General Orders to know this was a serious breach of discipline, not least the unattended firearm. I hadn’t taken up command of a patrol sub-unit yet as I was on attachment and so I mentioned it to a local Inspector when I returned to the police station and was told in no uncertain terms to “forget what I saw” and not to cause trouble.

I was often told I didn’t understand Hong Kong during that brief attachment, but I think I was starting to.

On the morning of the 14 November 1987, together with my colleagues, I passed out of the training school in front of my mother and her partner who flew out to Hong Kong from England for the occasion. It was an especially proud moment for me and my family, as indeed I am sure it was for my squad mates and their own friends and families.

So, that was it. We were now officially unleashed onto the Hong Kong general public.

Baton of Honour
Our Pass Out Parade14 November 1987
Pass out pictureI am front row second from left with the IS trophy and Baton of Honour

Next…..Chapter 2 – One Pip Bomban

….

Riding around Sicily …….on a scooter

So anyway…

Fanny and I spent June riding through France, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy.  Fanny on her bright green Kawasaki ER6F and me on a KTM 990 SMT.

IMG_7165

Fanny somewhere along the Simplon Pass in Switzerland

IMG_7078

Me on the KTM in Chamonix

But before Fanny flew out from China to join me, I decided to fly out to Sicily and hire a scooter to explore the island.

I had been working really hard over the previous year and was a bit tired after the Coast to Coast yomp across northern England. Also, I had nowhere really to go having been unceremoniously kicked out onto the streets and subjected to unnecessary nonsense and drama by the evil Ayatollah of Wimborne and my 怕老婆小弟弟.

So, Sicily it is.

I booked a cheap and very basic British Airways flight from Gatwick to Catania, together with what seemed to be the entire lower middle middle class of Great Britain (as John Cleese would describe). Common people going to Spain, the lower middle middle class to Sicily, and the upper middle middle class to Cornwall. Or so it seemed.

IMG_6608

A few “tornadoes” to tackle on the scooter in central Sicily.

 

large-map-of-sicily

I rode the east, south and central parts of Sicily and visited most of the tourists spots, like Catania, Siracusa, Etna, Modica, Taormina etc… All lovely, but my favourite by far was central Sicily, and in particular Agira that I found so beautiful and peaceful.

IMG_6419

Breakfast!!    So, the general plan was during the two weeks in Sicily to ride (a bit only), drink copious amounts of coffee, eat gelato or raspberry sorbet, look about at stuff, amuse locals with my three Italian words, ride a bit more… and then stop for a beer or two.  A tad lonely without Fanny, but the locals were very friendly and kind.

IMG_6606

Set a route on Google maps on my Apple telephone and then generally ignore it! I loved the back roads pootling about at 30- 40 kph in the hot sunshine

IMG_6425

Catania… very pleasant.

IMG_6468

The Italians absolutely love parades. It gives them a chance to dress up and prance about. It also gives old people something to do between idling about outside cafes

Honda 125 scooter

The beast… my transport for 2 weeks. Brakes didn’t work very well, oil light was on the whole time (not my engine), but apart from that .. perfect for the job.

IMG_6502

Rode up the twisties to Mount Etna and then an unnecessary 4×4 taxi truck for final leg up to the crater. It was asleep.

IMG_6561

Lots of charming old towns and lanes across all of Sicily

IMG_6615

Very charming, indeed

 

IMG_6623

A beer and a good book, relaxing in a street cafe enjoying perfect weather …. a proper holiday

IMG_6868

Different book and a different drink…. same idling about though

IMG_6814

View from my room in Agari… Mt Etna and a plume of smoke in the far distance. By far the nicest place I stayed. It had a 9.7 rating on the booking.com and trip advisor. I could see why.

 

IMG_6813

Looking down from my room …. very nice. After its been hoovered or what ever they were doing for me I spent a relaxing afternoon reading, drinking and swimming.

 

Link to Facebook videos that I live streamed while riding here and there. Bit boring for everyone else, but a lovely reminder to me… and that’s what matters.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fposts%2F10156565786583103&width=500

IMG_6714

Morning coffee on my patio roof garden before heading off to explore again on the scooter

IMG_6829

I don’t normally like swimming pools as I always find a discarded Band Aid plaster stuck to my forehead when I get out… but I make an exception with this one. I was the only guest, too!

IMG_6668

I enjoyed the flora and fauna … reminded me a lot of South Africa

IMG_6631

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156558008028103%2F&show_text=1&width=267

IMG_6572

Only two good days with a boat. The day you buy it, and the day you sell it.

IMG_6570

Perhaps if you owned this one, such worries about money don’t apply… just other worries instead.

IMG_6421

A lot of churches and cathedrals in Sicily. This is just one of hundreds I stupidly photographed.  I realised when I got home and flicked through the album that they all look the same.

Links to Facebook videos I live streamed as I mooched about:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156557938953103%2F&show_text=0&width=267

IMG_6641

South coast of Sicily … I stayed in a lovely B&B

IMG_6749

Central Sicily … with Mount Etna always somewhere in the background. Hot, dry, nice breeze, smelt awesome.

IMG_6680

Lots of hill towns … all very charming and relaxed … except the rowdy scooter boys of course.

IMG_6696

So, I get tempted by a very pretty Sicilian lady (aren’t they all) to a  selection of cheeses and salamis …with beer of course. If I remember there was donkey salami, goat cheese, Sheep cheese, the local stuff (delicious)

 

Another short clip from Facebook Live …. needs reducing

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156557944523103%2F&show_text=1&width=267

IMG_6639

Another B&B … all found with booking.com and very reasonable

IMG_6646

Which reminds me —-The Mayor of Sheffield —- what an arse. It pleases me no end that I spend so little time in England.

IMG_6649

The bars in the early evening serve food with your drink….so much so that there is no room for dinner!! In fact, I was told that bars compete with each other to attract customers. Good stuff.. I like a bit of healthy competition and a free bun

IMG_6549

A nice evening setting. Popular with tourists. Food pretty good. Beer excellent.

IMG_6551

I am rather fond of mooching around piazzas

IMG_6590

A uniform so smart it has a PhD from Oxford

IMG_6936

East Sicily — just north of Catania

IMG_6553

It is Italy after all

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156569074518103%2F&show_text=0&width=267

IMG_6627

Veal … and a surprisingly good orange and onion salad … strange but tasty

IMG_6470

sword fish … not best I’ve had… but OK

IMG_6847

IMG_6585

If I am giving the impression all I do is drink beer and idle about … that would be about right.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156561323983103%2F&show_text=0&width=267

IMG_6597

IMG_6604

Pretty streets … we have these plants in Hong Kong… but no where near as lovely

IMG_6416

Oooh! cakes and pastries

IMG_6457

Nun today and none tomorrow … still keeps the old biddies off the streets

CKGD4804

A visit to the Canadian war cemetery near Agari. Beautifully kept and a poignant reminder of the ultimate sacrifice our ancestors made for our freedom. Sicily was the location of some fierce fighting in WWII and many soldiers on both sides died.  My Great Uncle Jim (Major James Utley) was there, albeit a staff officer like Captain Darling. He later became Papal Ambassador and lived in the Vatican until he was murdered. A book there somewhere.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156569001328103%2F&show_text=0&width=267

IMG_6691

Always charming. I like Italy more and more. I revisit a few weeks later with Fanny on our bikes, but the north and east parts. Very lovely.

IMG_6619

A gaggle of original Fiat 500s – “cinquecento”

IMG_6533

woof!

IMG_6434

Bit of an orgy going on there

IMG_6656

This dog was not sure of me at all.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156557928828103%2F&show_text=0&width=267

IMG_6942

Some Germans on Harleys … and a Honda scooter!!

IMG_6750

It seems to be a field full of paw paws

IMG_6777

Enter a caption

IMG_6912

Traveling light … the best way

IMG_7204

All is perfectly fine

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156558008028103%2F&show_text=0&width=267

IMG_6397

Right … back on the plane and landing at Gatwick at 2.30 am !!! No trains or buses and so quite an adventure to get home.

A really really good trip. I really liked Sicily. Must take Fanny there…. or even buy “that” villa near Agari one day.

 

Coast to Coast Hike – Lake District – Yorkshire Dales – Yorkshire Moors 2018

In May 2017 I hiked the Offa’s Dyke route from Prestatyn in north Wales to Chepstow down in the south. It was a hard old slog carrying all my kit and free camping along the way, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the blisters and sore feet and vowed to do another walk in England one day.

So, in May 2018 I flew back to the UK and was lucky to enjoy some bright and sunny weather as I yomped the “Coast to Coast” that stretches from the west coast of the Lake District (St. Bees) to the east coast (Robin Hood’s Bay), crossing the Lakes, Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coast_to_Coast_Walk

 

IMG_5681

IMG_5641

IMG_5649

The start at St.Bees… begins with a walk around the coast and then east up into the Lake District

 

Traveling from London via Carlisle on a very slow train, I arrived in St Bees at about 5 pm, and had 16 miles of hiking ahead of me across farmlands in pleasant evening sunshine to get to my first camp in the gardens of the Fox and Hounds at Ennerdale Bridge… and the first of several steak and ale pies.

I was using my new Tarptent Moment DW single man tent and a Hyke and Byke Eolus 800 goose down fill sleeping bag I ordered from the USA to keep weight to a minimum. I suffered somewhat on the Offa’s Dyke and I made a concerted effort to reduce backpack weight by 10 Kgs.

Later on when absolutely howling and pretty chilly up in the North Yorkshire Moors I used a silk bag liner for extra warmth, but for now I was comfortable.

Tent –  https://www.tarptent.com/momentdw.html

Sleeping Bag – https://www.hykeandbyke.com/collections/down-sleeping-bags/products/eolus-800-fill-power-0-f-goose-down-sleeping-bag

 

IMG_5648

IMG_5647

Looking back at St Bees

IMG_5761

Spring flowers still in bloom

IMG_5665

Setting sun behind me and heading east into the glorious Lake District

IMG_5669

IMG_5668

IMG_5670

My first camping site — in the garden of the Fox and Hounds Pub at Ennerdale Bridge

 

The next day I was up at 5.00 am, partly because of the eight hour time difference between the UK and Hong Kong, and partly because it was already light. By 6.00 am I was packed up, looking east, and heading towards Ennerdale Water.

I planned to walk 23 miles across the hills and valleys to Grasmere… and I did… including an extra 3 miles detour up and down a roller coaster ridge route, as recommended by a local hiker who told me, “the view is better”.

Possibly.  My feet thought otherwise.

IMG_5696

Early morning at Ennerdale Water

IMG_5691

Walking along the south side of the lake, that included a rather interesting rock scramble!

IMG_5699

Following the lake shoreline path… but at this part I have scramble up some rocks high above the lake

IMG_5700

Quite a steep bit of rock climbing, but not for very long before the path resumed

IMG_5682

Back lower down walking along the lake shore

IMG_5709

Looking back across Ennerdale Water

IMG_5774

Resting up for a while and taking stock of the scenery

IMG_5719

Lots of crystal clear streams and rivers

IMG_5720

I often filtered and drank the water directly from the waterfalls

IMG_5732

And back up again

IMG_5728

Am I to climb up there? — according to the route map, yes

IMG_5782

Day 2

IMG_5769

Still climbing… lots of water … which is why its called the Lake District

IMG_5735

Nearly there

IMG_5766

Down the other side

IMG_5755

A welcome sight … a rest, a wash in the river, and a pot of Yorkshire tea.

IMG_5812

That’ll be the path then

IMG_5813

A glimpse of another lake at the end of another valley

 

IMG_5791

A very embarrassed and exhausted man lugging his bicycle up a very remote and boggy mountain.

Although it was the second day, I had been hiking for less than 24 hours and had made about 37 miles when I came across a spartan and remote youth hostel called, “Blacksail”. It was being managed and looked after by a young couple and I was able to buy a hot drink and a piece of cake. Just before leaving I double checked on directions ahead as my friend Kieran Hale (former RHKP and keen hiker) said that at this point it was easy to walk off on the wrong trail. (Thanks for all the tips and advise, Kieran).

Following his advise I took the less obvious left hand path and started a climb, not dissimilar to climbing Sunset Peak on Lantau Island where I live, possibly not as high, perhaps 600-700 meters, and much cooler, with the Hong Kong snakes and kites replaced by English sheep and buzzards.

As I was climbing I bumped into a hardy looking fellow dressed in old style hiking kit with a face that had been exposed to the Cumbrian wind and rain, rather than computer monitors and fluorescent lighting. As I approached him he was laughing and cackling and pointing up the hill to a solitary figure that was making hard work of lugging a mountain bike up the steep path.

He couldn’t help himself laughing, but also expressed concern that the “idiot” was going to kill himself.  Looking up at the struggling figure he said, ‘Keep an eye on that one… he’s got lost… he thinks this is a bridle path’.

I consulted my map, and in fairness it did say “bridle path”. That said I assumed the bridle belonged to a mule or a donkey!

The old Cumbrian continued, ‘He is in even more trouble when he gets to the top…its just bog for miles and miles…no way he can ride that bike’.

I waved goodbye to the hardly hiker and quickly caught up with the hapless cyclist dressed in finest black lycra and lugging the sort of bicycle you would buy in a supermarket like Asda, certainly not one of those expensive downhill jobs I see back home on Lantau Island in Hong Kong.

He was in a right state, huffing and puffing, and had obviously rehearsed the, ‘Don’t laugh’, when he greeted me.

I walked with him and kept him company as he struggled with his bicycle up the rocky steep trail and when we got to the top felt really sorry for him when it became clear that the plateau was an endless and very soggy “bog”.  Bog and nothing but peat bog for miles. Fair play to him, he struggled on, navigating across fast streams and occasionally going knee deep into pools of deep black peat, and struggling to haul his machine out covered in mud.

I had been told by the “local” chap earlier on that the valley route to Grasmere was very wet and that if I had time I should continue to climb and follow the high ridge route, which I did, and which at the end of 20 odd miles of hiking I could have done without. It was like a roller coast, up and down steep climbs, with Grasmere in the distance seemingly getting no nearer, and if anything, further and further away.

Anyway, I eventually reached the end of the ridge in the early evening and scrambled down the steep scree path and into Grasmere, which I instantly took a dislike to. Its a pretty enough place, but seemed far to touristy and expensive.  I decided I would push on even though it was late, but first I needed some food and hauled myself and hiking kit into a pub for beer and nosh.

IMG_5894

Smile or a grimace… pain or joy?

IMG_5889

You take the low road and I’ll take the high

IMG_5847

Lamb shank and a pint of local bitter after a long day of hiking. There is nothing better than really earning your food.

grasmere-aerial

Aerial shot of Grasmere

After dinner, it started to drizzle and so I hiked out of Grasmere and headed for the hills where I found myself a free camping spot next to a sheep hut half way up the mountain. As I was setting up my tent the weather deteriorated and really start to rain. Inside my tent it was doing a good job and I was inside my sleeping bag and asleep in no time.

It rained and howled all night, but by sunrise it was blue, sunny, crisp. As I was packing up my tent I could see the first of the B&B hikers with their day packs starting out along the C2C route.

I caught up with a gaggle of hikers and exchanged pleasantries. Surprisingly, there were many Americans and Australians doing the hike. It seemed the coast to coast is a lot more famous than the Offa’s Dyke hike. Why? No idea. I can safety say having now completed both that they are superb hikes of pretty much the same length and difficulty. I was, however, better equipped for the coast to coast and carrying about 10 kilograms less kit and that made a huge difference.

The majority of hikers I encountered were middle aged, completing just a few sections at a time, or were hopping from Bed & Breakfast to another, with a transport company carrying all their possessions. Like the Offa’s Dyke, some were even transported to the start of the section each day.  Most were taking it very seriously indeed and had planned ahead for many months.

I was walking a lot further than most of my fellow hikers each day, mainly because I started earlier and carried on walking into the evening, whereas most hikers finished about 4 – 5.00 pm at a designated pub or bed & breakfast.

I normally stopped walking about 9.00 pm just before it started to get dark and pitched my tent on any flat dry grass, although on a few occasions I stopped earlier if I wanted to pitch the tent in their pub beer garden or in an adjacent field. I always had a couple of pints of local bitter with my evening meal, which was usually pub food, although in the remote areas I cooked up and ate whatever I had in the rucksack, usually noodles or  fruit and nuts. I tried to avoid sweets and chocolate this time, as I was trying to cut down on bad carbs just before sleeping.

Strangely enough, the real ale was the best food to have in the evenings as it not only