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.

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Fanny somewhere along the Simplon Pass in Switzerland

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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.

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A few “tornadoes” to tackle on the scooter in central Sicily.

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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Catania… very pleasant.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Lots of charming old towns and lanes across all of Sicily

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Very charming, indeed

 

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A beer and a good book, relaxing in a street cafe enjoying perfect weather …. a proper holiday

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Different book and a different drink…. same idling about though

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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.

 

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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

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Morning coffee on my patio roof garden before heading off to explore again on the scooter

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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!

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I enjoyed the flora and fauna … reminded me a lot of South Africa

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https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156558008028103%2F&show_text=1&width=267

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Only two good days with a boat. The day you buy it, and the day you sell it.

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Perhaps if you owned this one, such worries about money don’t apply… just other worries instead.

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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

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South coast of Sicily … I stayed in a lovely B&B

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Central Sicily … with Mount Etna always somewhere in the background. Hot, dry, nice breeze, smelt awesome.

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Lots of hill towns … all very charming and relaxed … except the rowdy scooter boys of course.

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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

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Another B&B … all found with booking.com and very reasonable

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Which reminds me —-The Mayor of Sheffield —- what an arse. It pleases me no end that I spend so little time in England.

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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

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A nice evening setting. Popular with tourists. Food pretty good. Beer excellent.

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I am rather fond of mooching around piazzas

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A uniform so smart it has a PhD from Oxford

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East Sicily — just north of Catania

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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

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Veal … and a surprisingly good orange and onion salad … strange but tasty

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sword fish … not best I’ve had… but OK

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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

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Pretty streets … we have these plants in Hong Kong… but no where near as lovely

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Oooh! cakes and pastries

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Nun today and none tomorrow … still keeps the old biddies off the streets

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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

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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.

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A gaggle of original Fiat 500s – “cinquecento”

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woof!

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Bit of an orgy going on there

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This dog was not sure of me at all.

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Some Germans on Harleys … and a Honda scooter!!

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It seems to be a field full of paw paws

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Traveling light … the best way

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All is perfectly fine

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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

 

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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

 

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Looking back at St Bees

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Spring flowers still in bloom

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Setting sun behind me and heading east into the glorious Lake District

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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.

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Early morning at Ennerdale Water

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Walking along the south side of the lake, that included a rather interesting rock scramble!

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Following the lake shoreline path… but at this part I have scramble up some rocks high above the lake

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Quite a steep bit of rock climbing, but not for very long before the path resumed

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Back lower down walking along the lake shore

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Looking back across Ennerdale Water

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Resting up for a while and taking stock of the scenery

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Lots of crystal clear streams and rivers

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I often filtered and drank the water directly from the waterfalls

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And back up again

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Am I to climb up there? — according to the route map, yes

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Day 2

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Still climbing… lots of water … which is why its called the Lake District

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Nearly there

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Down the other side

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A welcome sight … a rest, a wash in the river, and a pot of Yorkshire tea.

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That’ll be the path then

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A glimpse of another lake at the end of another valley

 

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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.

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Smile or a grimace… pain or joy?

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You take the low road and I’ll take the high

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Lamb shank and a pint of local bitter after a long day of hiking. There is nothing better than really earning your food.

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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 re-hydrated me, but is settling on the stomach after a long day of hiking and proper real ale is full of vitamins and minerals. I’m sticking with this story.

Whilst drinking and eating in the pubs with the other hikers it abundantly clear to them from my back pack and the state of me that I was a solo free camper and many would ask where I had started, where I was going, where I came from, what I did for a living, my plans, etc?

Those who know me, know these are not easy questions to answer.

A rambling answer, if I could be bothered and in the mood would include Hong Kong, South Africa, Shanghai, England, Staffordshire, Bournemouth, Royal Hong Kong Police, China, investigation, security, global adventuring, motorcycling, paragliding, etc.  I think most people I encountered thought I was making it all up.

What was clear to me, though, was that most people I met along my various hikes lead relatively boring lives. Or perhaps I lead a very interesting one.

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My campsite outside Grasmere

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A sunny, blue and fresh morning after a night of heavy rain and gales.

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A tarn … check your “O” level geography

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Pretty in pink …. I think by the Psychedelic Furs from the 80s

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Coffee time by a stream.

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Sandwiches — the cornerstone of a British diet …

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40 grams of snowflake flavoured lard . Where are Walkers salt & vinegar crisps nowadays?  Anyway, best hidden in a cheese and pickle sandwich

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A skinny decaf soya mocha macchiato? Sorry its black coffee or black coffee.. made with pond water and ewes urine. It’ll catch on eventually.

Around midday I would normally take a 20-30 minutes break in a picturesque spot with a stream, get a brew on, eat some fruit, nuts, noodles or a village post office sandwich, enjoy all the wildlife and watch the world go by.

The joy of this hike has been the total immersion in “nature”. Birds, insects, wild animals, domestic creatures, and especially butterflies. I loved them all.

The natural beauty of the English countryside is remarkable. All too often I would stumble as I gazed around me at the scenery and wildlife. I was lucky to see fox cubs peering out of their den, lapwings arching and swooping above the moorlands, grayling swimming in a crystal clear steams, and soaring buzzards.

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NH4NO3? A little bit too near Bradfordstan for my liking

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A policy that would go down splendidly in Mui Wo

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I pushed on through to Gelridding and Patterdale and up into the hills again. I was navigating using a dedicated Coast to Coast strip map that did not have as much detail as an OS map, but was much lighter, and if you concentrated and read it correctly, more than good enough.

The Coast to Coast is not as well sign posted as the Offa’s Dyke that has the “acorn” symbol at nearly every junction and stile. As such, I made mistakes, or perhaps wasn’t paying attention, and doing so led to my biggest diversion off the C2C route, but a diversion I would gladly do again because it led me to a beautiful valley where I pitched my tent in total isolation (except for the werewolves and goblins).

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I walked down the valley, realised it trended north and not east, and had obviously drifted off the path by several miles. No problems. I pitched my tent, settled in for the night, and retraced my steps the next day.

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My trusty home… Tarptent DW Moment

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Drying off the early morning dew in the warm sunshine.

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Breakfast = porridge oats, blueberries (“idiot berries” Fanny and I call them as they are supposed to ward off dementia), brazil nuts (supposed to make you happy) and a mug of tea (really does make me happy).  Perfick

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Looking back at my campsite as I retraced my steps back to where drifted off at the top of the mountain. The water in the distance to the north is Ullswater. Not where I should have be heading.

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Hiking back up the valley

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Back on track and the tarn with an island in the middle clear on my map. I should have been paying more attention. I start a few miles of jogging in penance.

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I was thinking that the island in the middle of the tarn would have made a great camping spot. Ah well, next time.

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Stunning scenery. Heading to Haweswater Reservoir and further on to Shap

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Following the trail down towards Haweswater Reservoir. Again I took another wrong turn that routed me over the top of several peaks instead of around them. As I caught up yet again with hikers I had overtaken hours before I tried to pretend that is where I had wanted to go.

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Walking 5 miles along the shore of Haweswater

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Refreshing waterfall and pool to cool down in … or at least a 5 minute soak. I will spare you a picture of my feet!

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Shale paths

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Boggy woods

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Bluebell woods

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What’s in Thomas’ Honest Box?

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Oh glory be… thankfully the honesty box of goodies and the  5 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were well away from Bradford or Oldham. Just saying!

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The scenery changing as I leave the Lakes and head eastwards towards the Dales

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Crossing many beautiful streams

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open the gate .. close the gate

Having got myself back on track I had a long hike ahead of me across classic Lake District highlands, across valleys, rivers, streams and along the shoreline of lakes towards Shap and Kirkby Steven that marked the end of the Lake District, and the start of the second phase of the coast to coast across the Yorkshire Dales. I yet again veered off the real Coast to Coast path and climbed several peaks that I assumed were included in the hike. Only when I came across hikers I had overtaken several hours before did I realise I might be making a tough hike tougher that I should. Still, nice views from the top.

The weather was pretty much perfect for hiking. My feet, which always let me down on long distance hikes due to being the wrong shape for a human being, had settled into an almost tolerable level of discomfort, if not, pain. I got in the habit of taking off my boots at lunch, soaking them in the streams and lakes, and taping up the blisters, or where blisters were starting to form around the toes and heel.

As I approached the outskirts of some hamlets I was delighted to come across “honesty boxes” full of soft drinks, beer, sweets and cakes, that were very welcome.

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3 and a half days to Shap

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Abbey ruins

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Moooo!

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An orchid perhaps

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I am assured by a fellow hiker, who I would wager is a teacher of some sort, that these are indeed orchids.

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Lovely and green

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Very green

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Crossing over the M6 motorway

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Nine Standards

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Looking back west towards Kirkby Steven and beyond

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After a long evening hike I reached the Nine Standards. Ahead lies deep peat bog that I navigate across in the late evening until I find a dry spot to pitch my tent.

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Me

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The light is fading and the ground is very soggy… will push on for another hour.

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An evening hike across the top of the moors … using the cairns (carefully arranged piles of stones) to navigate as path was missing

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Lots of deep and soggy bogs to jump across (or land in).

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A run down scout hut in the middle of nowhere. I had to laugh at some graffiti carved in the wood that said,  ‘Wainwright is a c**t’

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Home for the night… quite remote for the UK

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As dry as it gets up here.

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A bizarre farm where I bought a can of lemonade and was served by the caste of “Lord of the Flies”. Apparently, the dozen or so children who live there with their hippy parents were featured on a UK TV show called “Country File”

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A nice easy going route?

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A few long stretches of tarmac road .. tough on the soles of the feet I find

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Pretty waterfalls in the Dales

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Picturesque valleys

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Bumped into a fellow “free camping” hiker in Keld. He was doing the Pennine Way with his little four legged friends. One of the passionate walking types I met along the way.

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Some yurts that you can rent and stay in near Keld … a very nice location.

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Dales scenery

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Lots of bridges to cross

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Babbling brooks

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Climbing up into the hills and a few contour paths on very steep slopes.

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Steep sides and narrow paths

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Don’t trip

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Some arty agricultural sculpture… and my rucksack

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Stopped for lunch in Reeth and managed to watch Chelsea beat Man U in the FA Cup

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I camped in this field by the River Swale and this ewe and her lambs stayed with me all night… not worried by people. In fact, it seemed quite relaxed with me. Maybe it was hand reared.

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Occasionally an encounter with aliens. It does have a very strange face!!!

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Not quite half way.

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Free camping next to the River Swale

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Somethings never change … everything stops for the milk lorry

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Yorkshire Dales villages and farms – very pretty

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Bunting out for the Royal Wedding

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Lots of pheasants and ground birds in the fields

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No… I don’t have any milk

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A gate along the C2C path…. better go through it… I am English after all

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A Triumph Stag … not moving of course.

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Into Richmond … more than halfway now

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A Green Z1000 SX

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A black Z1000 SX

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Lovely little dog sitting outside a shop in Richmond

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Odd people

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Odd person

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Odd ladies

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Sunday lunch in a pub in Richmond – roast beef and Yorkshire pudding – it was excellent. And the beer of choice for the hike – Timothy Taylor “Landlord”  https://www.timothytaylor.co.uk/beer/landlord/

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River Swale in Richmond

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Leaving Richmond and heading towards Ingleby Arncliffe… 20 odd miles away

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Richmond Castle

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Following the river for many miles through woods and farmland

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England’s wild flowers are always beautiful

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Wild garlic… very aromatic.

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Still following the river, and glad to be out of the direct sunshine as I have an afternoon/evening sunburn (sets in the west…everyday) on back of my legs and arms.

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Rape seed fields

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Crossing bridges and walking through woods

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Some welcome shade from the sun…. can’t believe I said this about England

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Long flat trails through farmland and meadows

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OK, but is it a friendly bull, or should I start running now?

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Passing through Bolton on Swale

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Day 7 – on way to Ingleby

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Tulips …….Stopping by Kiplin Hall for afternoon tea and a carb loading cake

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Some lovely homes in Yorkshire … I particularly like the Morris Minor next to the Porche

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Afternoon tea at Kiplin Hall… very welcome.

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Kiplin Hall

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English gardens

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Danby Wiske – a stopping point for some hikers… but not for me… I am pushing on to Ingleby

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But I do stop for a pint

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A CAMERA pub too…. wonderful real ales. I resist temptation and just have a pint … or was it two?

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A normal enough stile to cross over… but it wasn’t!!!  The rats were laughing and talking to me. They were.

The Yorkshire Dales was my favourite part of the Coast to Coast hike. Why? I guess I have traveled all around the world and seen many mountainous places (Tibet, Alps, Himalayas, Pyrenees, US Rockies, Lesotho, Table Mountain, Sunset Peak, Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya etc). I have also been to and hiked through the Lake District many times and so, as beautiful as they are, there was nothing really surprising.

The Yorkshire Dales, however were superb. I guess because they are so quintessentially English.  Rolling green hills, secret blue bell woods, butterflies and birds, babbling crystal clear streams, and chocolate box “pretty” villages.  I was also blessed with glorious weather and that made all the difference. It was very enjoyable indeed.

 

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No sigh of the Slaughtered Lamb pub high up in the Yorkshire Moors.

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Crossing several railways lines

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Heading back to moorland again

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Long trails across moorland

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Reaching Ingleby Arncliffe where I camped in the beer garden of the Blue Bell Pub

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The beginning of North Yorkshire Moors section and my final 2 days of hiking. I camped in the beer garden of the Blue Bell Public House … ate good food and drank very decent beer. It was however quite cold and damp during night in my tent and it starting to rain the next day

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After camping in the beer garden I manage to get a hot breakfast before climbing up into the North Yorkshire Moors

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Ahhh!  Not much to see. A white out.

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Miles and miles of this….!

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It is now officially “chilly” and damp. Strong winds.

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Wrapped up in all I have … but quite adequate if all the zips are done up. Not much of a view though

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My only companion — a moor grouse

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I never saw it….

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A truly terrible night in the tent in the garden of the Lion Pub (highest in UK). Although I was warm in my sleeping bag and silk liner the noise of the wind and the tent flapping and thrashing about was unbearable.  Even with ear plugs in. I also developed a nagging cough that developed into a full blown chest infection that lingered for weeks afterwards until I found some antibiotics.

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Its grin and bear it time as I settle in for the last long stretch across windy moors to Robin Hood’s Bay nearly 30 miles away.

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Grouse trying to distract me from its nest

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Down off the moors into the pretty town of Glaisdale and then climbing back up into the moors for the final section

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I stopped here for a sandwich and a brew. Interesting toll sign on this Yorkshire building by the river

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More moors!

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33% incline for 2 miles —-Oh Joy!

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The last section of my map book … nearly the end

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Robin Hood’s Bay in the distance

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Following the coastal path for a few miles between Whitby and RHB

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And I made it. Nine Days.

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The North Yorkshire Moors? What can I say?

Cold, blowy, damp and I wasn’t feeling that great as I developed a chest infection. Visibility was poor, but I did see an amusing red grouse chasing me and making funny noises… and I shall remember that more than anything.

However, there was a big dampener put on the whole hike when I reached Robin Hood’s Bay.

I should have been celebrating, but I was presented with an unnecessary logistical headache when I should have been preparing for a motorcycle ride across Europe with Fanny and getting early medical attention for an annoying chest infection.

I called Fanny in Hong Kong to let her know I had completed the hike in nine days and what my plans were for the next few days.

She said, in her nonplussed way (sic), ‘ There is no ink in the printer ….. and your brother called me and said Marie (his wife) doesn’t want you to stay at their house any more’ !!!!

Huh?  No ink in the printer?

And what am I supposed to have done now?

‘You antagonized her, and you can’t stay anymore… I don’t want to get involved…. how come there is no printer ink?’ 

I was seriously perplexed. Antagonized?

‘Apparently you said English women are ugly’, Fanny added

‘I have said English women are ugly for over 35 years… that is why I am with you, my pinko commie 宝贝’

Fanny continued, ‘ I’ll talk to you later, take care, don’t cause anymore trouble’, and then she hung up.

WTF?

As I was sitting having my “celebratory” pints of Wainwright Ale in the Bay Hotel in Robin Hood’s Bay I was racking my brain to:

1) actually remember saying anything about fat ugly English women (after all its a universal truth and I have nothing more to add); and

2) work out the logistics for retrieving two motorcycles that are sitting in my brother’s garage in Wimborne with all my damp stuff.

And then it became clear.

Marie (aka the ayatollah) absolutely hates my mother. The ayatollah and our mother have never got on and been at each others throats for decades, so much so that she banned my brother, their children and their grandchildren from seeing her.

The back story is that before the hike my brother and I drove up to Staffordshire where we were brought up to see our ailing mother, and while we were there had a superb time (I thought), meeting school friends, regaling old stories, and drinking and eating in the local pubs. No mention was made of my female preferences and the next day my brother dropped me off at Stafford train station and I traveled up to the Lake District to start the hike.

I can only assume when Simon got home he was interrogated by the ayatollah and caved in, ‘ Yes Ma’am, its true, I had a wonderful time, saw my mother, had a few beers, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, don’t hit me, my brother made me do it’

So, having been evicted, with my personal possessions thrown into a damp garage in Dorset, I now had to spend many hundred pounds and several days recovering all my “stuff”. Its been a logistical pain in the arse and so I have no intention to write about it, nor describe further.

Anyway, I have learned my lesson, if you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all, and never trust a woman with thin lips.

I digress.

So, after a marathon relay across the south of England all the motorbikes are now safely in a garage in Bexhill on Sea, where they will be cared for by my friend Nick, who having spent a great deal of his time in Hong Kong, also shares my views on the attractiveness of English women, their tattoos, nose rings and cellulite, but is wise enough not to say anything to one!

What next then?

Well, Fanny is arriving in England in June and we will ride our motorcycles across Europe to visit my friend Mike in Amandola in Italy, and also call by Fanny’s company HQ in Basel, Switzerland (a new BBT chapter).

But in the meantime, I am off to ride a scooter across Sicily.

Ciao!

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A few Wainwright ales in the pub by the sea and then make my way to Whitby where I had booked a B&B for the last night.

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You know you are in Yorkshire when there are whippets in the pub.

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Stand and Deliver – Whitby

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No fish… I blame the French and the EU

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Whitby Harbour

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A very welcome hot shower, comfy sleep and delicious egg and bacon breakfast at my B&B in Whitby . I now had a long train journey back to Poole to retrieve the motorcycles… one by one and ride them to Bexhill before I head to Sicily.

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Train ……. Middlesborough-York- Kings Cross London-Waterloo London-Poole.

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Train journey home with Peter Hook from Joy Division and New Order

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After a very long journey and no where to stay I book into a B&B in Poole… which I arrived at very late and then a taxi at the “approved” time to retrieve the KTM whilst the ayatollah was out having her claws trimmed. I then had to do it all again a day or so later to retrieve Fanny’s Kawasaki.

 

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Nick and I riding again

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Second trip back to Poole to collect Fanny’s Kawasaki and ride it along the A272 back to east Sussex. Just as well I like trains and riding bikes.

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Hick!

 

The Best and Worst Awards

The best and worst awards for our motorcycle expedition across Africa, Europe and Asia.

Whilst the two of us are in agreement, we realize that many may disagree and so we welcome any comments.

MOST ENJOYABLE COUNTRY AWARD

AFRICA – TANZANIA

Tanzania just eclipses Kenya, Namibia and South Africa as our favourite country in Africa. Good infrastructure, decent roads, amazing scenery, friendly people, and abundant wildlife.  

The highlights:

  • the snow capped peaks of Kilimanjaro;
  • the glorious plains and wildlife of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater;
  • spicy and exotic Zanzibar;
  • our second favourite African city, Dar Es Salaam (Cape Town being our first);
  • a thoroughly enjoyable stay in Tanga on the east coast;
  • and our all time favourite camping spot on our whole trip, Lake Charla.

Riding towards Ngorogoro Crater

Snow peaked mountains in Tanzania

Lake Charla … elephants at the water hole

Lake Charla

Taking a ride on a Dhow in Zanzibar

Lake Charla with foothills of Kilimajaro in the background…

 

EUROPE – SCOTLAND (to be more precise West Scotland on a sunny day)

Many people are already aware of the amazing places to see in Turkey, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Greece etc…and we were privileged to do the European grand tour and take in many of the sights.

Italy was absolutely fascinating, superb architecture, rich history, good food and wine,  but not the easiest place to motorcycle in due to local driving conditions. . Good, but not great.

France was our biggest surprise. It is Britain’s next door neighbour and often maligned by Americans for being, well French, and by the English for old rivalries and wars over the centuries. However, we found it to be a stunning country and a motorcycling heaven. The Alps, Provence, the Southern coast, Loire valley, the wine-lands of Burgundy, pretty Brittany, the battle fields of Normandy and the many charming villages and towns we rode through. So much to see and we were treated very well by everyone we met… even by the Gendarmes.

However, taking the best motorcycling country in Europe award is Scotland…. especially western Scotland (see UK revisited chapter).

Pretty Scottish villages on west coast. An incredibly beautiful part of the world

Pretty Scottish villages on west coast. An incredibly beautiful part of the world

 

Due to the Gulf Stream that course up the west of the British Isles some parts of northern Scotland that are not far from the Arctic Circle are quite mild. It is, however, safe to say that the weather isn't always as glorious and when I was there and can be decidedly wet and blowy.

Due to the Gulf Stream that course up the west of the British Isles some parts of northern Scotland that are not far from the Arctic Circle are quite mild. It is, however, safe to say that the weather isn’t always as glorious and when I was there and can be decidedly wet and blowy.

 

Its gets even more like Tibet ... mountains and big hairy things in the road.

Its gets even more like Tibet … mountains and big hairy things in the road.

 

WORST COUNTRY AWARD 

There were no countries we did not enjoy to one degree or another.

Ethiopia,  undoubtedly rich in history and resplendent in natural beauty is a bit of a tragedy on the human side.

The country, especially the cities seems to have been left to rot and stagnate.  Ethiopians, a handsome lot as people go, appeared to be incredibly needy and nearly always had their hand out stretched begging for money. They often leaped out at us or grabbed our arms whilst shouting… ‘You, You, You…Money, Money, Money’.

It was tiresome, annoying and ever so slightly sad.

Meeting fellow bikers heading south at Ethiopian/ Sudan border

The former and now derelict train station in Addis Ababa

Cute little things .. but they always had their hand outstretched begging for money

Fanny surrounded by little friends in north west Ethiopia

Having been robbed blind by FTI Consulting,  I need to earn a crust somehow… so when in Ethiopia do as the Ethiopians do…

 

 

CHINA is a country on a continental scale and by far the most varied and diverse country we went to.

There were impressive and well planned super cities like Chengdu, Nanchang, Beijing and Shanghai, and prettier tourist towns like Lijiang, Yangshuo and Dali. We also rode through some of the most charming and idyllic countryside I have ever seen. Some rural areas have remained as they have been for centuries, despite the rapid pace of development going on around them.

But in China there are also some of the worst and most polluted places I have ever seen. Environmental plunder, architectural vandalism, motoring misery and pitiful squalour on an unprecedented scale. Quite a shock.

Some of the second and third tier Chinese cities were absolute shockers. Polluted and crowded beyond belief, bad roads and atrocious traffic jams, ridiculously bad urban planning and blighted by hideous buildings as far as the eye could see. Hong Kong and China seem to have a fatal attraction with adorning the outsides of their ugly concrete boxes with cheap toilet tiles.

Whether fascinating or depressing; ugly or stunningly beautiful; our experience riding over 13,000 kilometers through China was hugely rewarding and something we will never forget.

 

BIGGEST SURPRISE AWARD – SUDAN.

Sudan was our biggest surprise and we thoroughly recommend visiting.

It was a complete re-write of everything I had previously thought about its people and their culture. The kindness, politeness and gentleness of many of the people we met was incredible and we are very grateful to the hospitality extended to Fanny and I by many of the people we encountered.

That said, a cold beer in the scorching heat would be nice, as would a bacon sarnie with HP sauce, but I guess you can’t have everything. Treat it as a liver detox!

Kindness and hospitality given to Fanny and I in the middle of the Nubian desert in Sudan. Its strange that those with so little always offered us so much … and the converse!

Long sand roads .. and scorching heat in Sudan

Very friendly people

Replacing the starter relay in the middle of the Nubian desert in 50+ degrees heat.

Our kind host Mohammed and his children on banks of the River Nile in Sudan

Fanny with the guys who helped us repair her bike

Yes… there are pyramids in Sudan too

 

 

 

 

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Pyramids in Sudan

 

 

WORST EXPERIENCES 

We never really had any very bad experiences.

We managed to cross Africa without being eaten by wild animals, without having to pay a bribe, without being infected by deadly diseases, nor kidnapped by pirates or Jihadi nutters.

Our KTM 990 Adventure motorcycles have been superb, a joy to ride and very reliable.

The vast majority of people we encountered on the expedition have been wonderful and treated us very well…  the only exception being a few excitable types in Ethiopia who threw stones at us or lashed out as we were riding by with whips and sticks. Most of the border crossings and tourist locations attracted annoying touts, “shiftas” and fraudsters who were keen to relieve us of the few possessions we had. They were all unsuccessful.

A particular low was early on in the expedition when Fanny lost control of her motorcycle in the Namib Desert and came off at speed.

Fortunately, Fanny and her KTM motorcycle are a tough team and in no time were back together charging through the desert, albeit with a few scrapes and bruises.

In Europe our experience in Switzerland was not great, Fanny got arrested for involvement in an accident that wasn’t her fault, everything always seemed to be closed, everything was expensive, and we could hardly describe the Swiss as the friendliest people we met on our 53,800 kilometer ride around the world.

That said Switzerland is a very pretty country and we enjoyed riding through the Alps and up and down the many meandering passes.

In China/Asia I think the worst experience was just outside Chongqing City when a traffic official threw a traffic cone at Fanny while she was riding on the highway and knocked her off her bike. Anywhere else in the world this would be considered a serious criminal offence and front page news, but in China abuse of power by the authorities is common place and the “people” can’t do much about it. Fanny was injured slightly and very upset by the incident, but she managed to get back on her motorcycle and carry on.

Not being allowed to ride in certain Chinese cities and on most of the Chinese highway network is also pretty annoying and downright unnecessary in modern China on a modern motorcycle.

Apart from these incidents, and of course me getting stopped by the police at every single road block in Tibet, we had a really great adventure in China and had the chance to see places that very few people even know about, let alone visit.

USA?  Its a continent sized and a very well developed country that most non-Americans will know well enough through the ubiquitous TV shows and movies. Big, amazing wilderness, beautiful scenery,  wealthy,  but with a dark and sinister underbelly, especially in the inner cities.

To to be honest we still have a lot of riding to be done and places to see in the USA.

So far we have explored Washington, Oregon, Montana, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado in the west, and New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Ohio in the east. The south and the center remains to be explored.

From what I’ve seen of the rest of world, America sits in the middle ground. Its easy to get around, everything is super convenient, there is not a great deal of culture or history, the roads are far too straight and dull, and its not as “great” as Americans think it is. Nothing really interesting, and nothing really bad, except the food which is on the whole….a mixture of sugar and lard with a sprig of rocket.

I am afraid to so that Fanny doesn’t like America, but then she is a pinko commie!

South America?   That remains an adventure for the future.

A fussy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

A fuzzy unfocused picture of one of the officials who threw a traffic cone at Fanny and knocked her off her motorcycle. My hands were shaking with rage but I resisted the urge to administer some summary justice and so we got back on our motorcycles and carried on.

 

These police in Hubei were very friendly and kind... in fact with a couple of exceptions that we write about in the diary, the authorities in China treated us well.

These police in Hubei were very friendly and kind… in fact with a couple of exceptions that we write about in the diary, the authorities in China treated us well.

 

 

BEST CITY AWARD

AFRICA – DAR ES SALAAM 

When riding a motorcycle through Africa the last places you really want to see are the cities. The joy of riding through Africa is the beautiful countryside, meeting its people, and enjoying the amazing African flora and fauna. However, if pressed to pick an African city I would say Dar Es Salaam because it is a very interesting and lively city, friendly people, good food,  and one of the few cities in Africa I could live in outside South Africa. Traffic is quite bad though, but nothing two bikers from Shanghai can’t handle.

A dhow in Zanzibar

Having a coffee in a street in Zanzibar

Dar es Salem from the ferry

 .

EUROPE – Istanbul

It is a difficult call to decide on the best city award for Europe. We enjoyed many. Lucca, Rome, Florence and Pompei in Italy;  Saint Lo in France; St. Sebastian in the Basque Country; Barcelona in Spain; Saltzburg and Vienna in Austria; and Old Town Rhodes in Greece. We thoroughly enjoyed them all.

However, if we are pushed to choose one then Istanbul takes the award. Its got it all… great food, wonderful art, kind friendly people, fascinating history, amazing architecture, the east meets west straits between Black Sea and Marmara Sea, and yet its very much a first world city, things work and it feels very welcoming and exciting to be there.

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Fanny wandering along the streets of Taksin in Istanbul… a super city.

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Enjoying the cafes of Istanbul

 

 

 

ASIA/China – LHASA (followed by CHENGDU) 

I am not even going to consult Fanny because she will say Shanghai. It’s like asking a panda what its favourite food is.  I thought our ride through China was absolutely fascinating. There are hundreds of cities in China with populations over a million people… many are over 20 million and therefore bigger than many countries in the world.

Each city is diverse with the richest and poorest, ugliest and prettiest and tastiest and revolting all in one place. Cities to mention are Beijing where I went to university and have a special fondness for, colourful and spicy Chengdu in Sichuan (and prettiest women!), exotic Dali in Yunnan, the amazing “Red City” of  Nanchang in Jiangxi, so called because its the home of the “red” revolution.

However, our ride through Tibet is probably one of the highlights and so therefore Lhasa, its provincial capital stands out as the best city to see in respect to scenery, architecture, history and “never seen before” general interest.

I lost my trainers and so I klomped about Lhasa in my riding boots... which got looks of admiring looks and comments from the Tibetans.

Me outside the most sacred temple in Lhasa

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Fanny and I high up on the Tibet/Qinghai Plateau… the world’s highest.

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Just outside Lhasa in Tibet

 

An interesting picture on many levels

Fanny and Si Ba (a Lama friend we made on the road) walking down the high street in Lhasa

WORST CITY

Africa – Addis Ababa  … 

We were looking forward to Addis Ababa, a name that conjured up exotic images formed from school days for me. However, when we got there we found it to be a complete karsi. The decrepit and forlorn looking train station from a bygone era pretty much sums up Addis Ababa ‘s decline into squalour and poverty.

Bus station in Addis Ababa

.

Again corruption and inability to use a condom are to blame. Aggressive touts, annoying kids, unfriendly and hostile looking soldiers and policeman, and crumbling and decaying infrastructure. Its a big disappointment.

Fortunately we found refuge in a little oasis in the middle of this complete dog nest called “Wim’s Holland House”. Not the greatest backpackers in Africa, but the Dutch owner, Wim runs a decent hostel that serves more than the Ethiopian staple dish of  Tibis and sour pancakes and has a well stocked English pub-like bar that serves draft St.George’s beer.

ASIA – CHINA 

China is basically a large continent and currently going through the biggest phase of development any country has been through…ever,  and so some of its second and third tier cities (or lower) can easily qualify for worst, ugliest, most polluted, most corrupt, most congested, unhealthiest city anywhere on the planet.

Take your pick.

However the human inhabitants have no consideration or care for the environment, and like much of China and Taiwan throw rubbish and pollutants into the rivers, streams, outside their homes and anywhere except a rubbish bin. Its extremely depressing and disturbing.

Many people in China and Taiwan throw rubbish and pollutants into the rivers, streams, or just outside their homes ….anywhere except a rubbish bin. Its extremely depressing and disturbing. Hidden industrial pollution is off the scale.

Urban off roading

As with other parts of China, the average worker busts his hump and toils away seven days a week for hours on end for very little compensation. Throughout all of China we saw the poverty and the day to day struggle by many people just to survive and make a living. Putting up with conditions no one in the west would ever put up with.

A lot of China looks like this… a dusty, muddy, grey construction site on the cheap.

Really.... just unlucky ... could happen to anyone

An articulated lorry on its side in a dusty China street… quite normal

 

EUROPE – LUTON Picking a worst city in Europe is a difficult one.

Athens promised so much and delivered so little. We did wander around to see the sights of Ancient Greece, but the modern day city was depressing and the economic gloom palpable.

The city of my birth, London, is a mixed bag. A disappointment on many levels, can no longer be considered “English”,  but still an iconic and interesting city if you focus on the positives such as history, art and culture.

However, if I have to pick a candidate for worst city in Europe then I am going to say Luton or Slough in the United Kingdom.

Sorry Luton and Slough…… someone has to come last …..and you made no effort not to. 

 

WORST FLEAS, TICKS & LICEETHIOPIA

The mangey cats and dogs throughout Ethiopia are covered in them, as are most of the carpets, furniture and bedding. The lush grassland, especially after the rainy season is also home to ticks. As we were camping we had to remove quite a few of these little blood suckers that somehow found their way into various nooks and “fannys”.

“No” Best Flea Award….unsurprisingly!

 

BEST DRIVING STANDARD AWARDS –

Africa …South Africa (Western Cape)

Europe … Germany

China … umm?  Let’s say Hong Kong  … the standard is so incredibly poor.

Asia …  Japan

 

WORST DRIVING AWARDS –

Africa ….Egypt

Europe …. Italy

The World …. everywhere in China, followed very closely by Egypt and Bangkok in Thailand which is dangerous on a bike.

 

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Sri Lanka … driving standard is also pretty ropey … but at least its slow.

Tanzanian bus and truck drivers could take some kind of bad driving award judging by how many we saw overtaking dangerously or wrecked by the side of the road, but Egypt takes the “worst driving” award in Africa by a mile.

They are absolute shockers. Maybe  its because everyone is too busy shouting into their mobile phones all the time, or perhaps because everyone employs millimetre collision avoidance techniques, sometimes with success and sometimes without.  I saw a taxi mount a curb as the driver attempted to tackle a roundabout with one arm twisted around the wheel and the other holding a phone to his ear.

Rather than put his mobile phone down and use both arms to turn the wheel he preferred to carry on talking, veer off the road and mow down some pedestrians.

Me and my KTM at the Great Pyramids

 

Tahrir Square with the building we have to get our visas from at the top left hand side

Tahrir Square, in cairo with the government building we had to go to in order to extend our visas at the top left hand side. The Spring revolution was in full swing when we arrived in Cairo and so it was an interesting time.

 

BEST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION –

Africa …..Namibia/Tanzania

We have a difference of opinion due to our different levels of riding experience. Fanny goes for Tanzania for the same reasons (above) as for best country and I go for Namibia, to my mind the most awesome motorcycling country… anywhere.

Challenging, technical in parts, mind blowing scenery and importantly very few people and other vehicles. Its got sand, gravel, rocks, hills, deserts, salt pans, seascape, bush, wild animals, birds and fresh air…. AND no road blocks, no speed bumps, no police and no speed cameras.  I also really liked the Nubian deserts of Sudan. Clean, beautiful and spectacular.

Fanny cruising along the gravel roads in the Namib desert

 

left or right?

Left or right?  Freedom to do whatever.

 

BEST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION _ EUROPE …. Western Scotland (in the sun) followed by France

Scotland was a big surprise. In Jubilee year, 2012 when Fanny and I arrived in the UK we planned to ride to Scotland, but the weather was absolutely atrocious. A year later during what everyone was calling “The Summer of 2013”  the weather was absolutely glorious and western Scotland gave me some of the best riding I have ever experienced. Not to take anything away from Scotland, my KTM 990 Supermoto T I was riding was one of best motorcycles I have ever ridden. I have to say it was an awesome ride and Great Britain was truly “great”.

Now we are talking. The ride now moves up to a new quantum level of beautiful. Fanny and I have ridden around the world and been privileged to see the Himalayas, Pyrenees, Alps, Guilin, Rift Valley, Qinghai Cederberg, Atlas etc... but West Scotland on a good day is second to none.

West Scotland

 

This is what motorcycling is all about. Peace, fresh air, beautiful scenery and in the seat of perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden... the

This is what motorcycling is all about. Peace, fresh air, beautiful scenery and in the seat of perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden… the

 

ASIA …. Tibet and Cardomom mountains in Cambodia

Who, being given the chance, is not going to vote Tibet as one of the best motorcycling destinations on the planet?  Not me.

Also, Cardomom mountains in Cambodia are very interesting and enjoyable on a bike.

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Namib desert

"Yeah! - Go On... slap me on the arse and see what happens"

Yak 1000 Adventure

 USA – Valley of Gods, Utah

The best adventure motorcycling I have come across so far in the USA is probably the unearthly Valley of Gods in southern Utah. I have ridden all over the USA on various machines over the year, but there is still a lot for me to see and explore and so there may be better places, but the Valley of Gods, although quite small is a superb ride.

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Valley of Gods on Honda Africa Twin (BDR Utah)

 

WORST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION AWARDS

All African and Chinese inner cities (except Cape Town and Windhoek)

Riding through any of the African Capital cities was  tiresome, annoying, stressful and decidedly dangerous… in particular Cairo, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. It was no problem technically for either of us, we come from Shanghai after all where the traffic is atrocious and ride our bicycles everyday, but the appalling driving standards, poor urban planning and ever increasing traffic volume made riding less fun than it should be.

Whilst we rode on appalling roads and surfaces, such as the road from Marsabit to Moyale in north Kenya, they presented the  sort of challenges bikers relish and we confronted and overcame them with a huge sense of 成就感  and enjoyment.

Worst Motorcycling Experience in Europe … again the inner cities of Italy and England spring to mind…. but no where near as bad as China or Egypt.

In England the speed cameras ruin motorcycling and in Italy the narrow medieval roads through the towns, and aggressive and poor driving standard by Italians make riding a bit stressful, but not too bad.

In London, there are feral “non indigenous” teenagers who ride scooters, terrorize people, and steal with impunity because the police do nothing. These thugs also spray acid into people’s faces from squeezy bottles or attack people with hammers and angle grinders ….and get away with it because the ethnic majority have voted for treacherous politicians like Khan and Abbott who support these hooligans because they think the indigenous English deserve it.

The police, courts and authorities are stuck between a rock and a hard place and so they are largely impotent. They stick to arresting soft targets like 1970s DJs, non contentious traffic offences and local middle class people for Orwellian “thoughtcrimes”.

When I was a police officer in London in the 1980s it was urban chaos then, lots of race riots, inner city anomie, and quite dangerous. However, you did your job, your colleagues and bosses supported you, and you got promoted or advanced to more interesting jobs based on merit and ability. Now in politically correct and easily offended Britain its the opposite and so basically the police have given up and much of London is a “no go” ghetto.

By comparison, when we were riding in north Kenya, borders with Somalia, east Ethiopia, central and north Sinai and the western Sahara ISIS were just starting to take hold and there was a real possibility of running into a pickup truck of crazy Islamists. However, there were lots of armed police and army, local Bedouins were friendly and helpful, we were on fast powerful motorcycles, able and allowed to defend and look after ourselves, and so the odds were even.

Our advice is don’t ride into London. Ride around it, or park outside and take public transport into the tourist areas, see the changing of the guard, the museums, art galleries, theaters, cafes and shops and then get out as quick as possible.

In fact, best to avoid all English cities and head to the beautiful Cotswolds, Peak District, Devon and Cornwall, the Jurassic coast, the Fens, the Lake District, Scotland or Wales and a nice rural pub.

 

BEST CAMPSITES:

1. Lake Charla – Tanzania –  What a gem. perfect climate, stunning views of Mount Kilimanjaro, hundreds of elephants, Colobus monkeys, unspoiled bush, a spectacular volcanic crater lake, great bar, friendly hosts, and of course the famous roasted goat dinner.

 

2. Makuzi – Malawi. Peaceful paradise on the shores of Lake Malawi.

 

3. Mountain Rock – Kenya.  A lush enjoyable grassy campsite next to a trout filled river on the equator in the foothills of Mount Kenya.

 

Europe ….Scotland   no camp sites in the whole of Europe were on the same scale of the three above in Africa. Camping in Europe, regardless of whether its next to stunning scenery like Mont Blanc or near a historical town like Lucca in Italy has a whiff of concentration camp about it.  France has simple and clean municipal campsites that were great value. Italy had some decent places but they were expensive. Wales was quite good. England just doesn’t have any and the few there are are awful, with a few exceptions. Our worst experience on the whole expedition was at Crystal Palace in London where we were interrogated and abused by gestapo like camp wardens. Hobson’s choice because London is so expensive, in fact the most expensive anywhere, and so camping was the only alternative to paying over 100 pounds for a small room for a night.

Scotland however has no trespass laws and so provided you show respect for the owners property and leave the site in the condition you found it in you can free camp where you like. Its also a gloriously pretty and interesting country and so the best European camping award easily goes to Scotland, followed by France and Wales. 

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North west point of Scotland at 11pm in the evening.

 

Camping on Skye

Camping on Skye

 

China – Nan Tso (Tibet). 

China is a great country to back pack across (I have done it) and as such has great youth hostels and cheap accommodation in all cities and towns.  As for camping, China is, on the whole, a safe country (apart from driving standards). However, despite its enormous size there is not a great deal of spare land that is not farmed on or developed… until you get into the remote western provinces of Xizang (Tibet), Xinjiang and Qinghai. We were very fortunate to camp in two stunning locations.

One with Lamas on the banks of a river in the Himalayas and another in the middle of Tibet at over 5000 meters next to the shores of Tibet’s most sacred lake, Nam Tso with 7,000 meter + peaks surrounding us.

USA – Needles, Utah

Campsites in the USA are basic by African and European standards. They are clean, tidy, averagely cheap, have friendly elderly attendants, but usually lack ablutions and the facilities you get in continental European campsites and most African lodges.

Apart from free camping, which I did a lot and prefer, the best organised campsite I found was at Needles in Utah, just south of Moab. In other States the campsites are pretty gruesome, far too expensive and generally geared towards caravans and RVs, and so free camping with a tent is the best option, and easy to do.

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Camping with lamas in east Tibet

 

Camping at Nam Tso.

Camping on the shores of Nam Tso, Tibet

 

WORST CAMPSITES .

We never stayed at any really bad campsites. To our mind the simpler the better and there should be more like the good ones we saw in Africa.  Whilst Sudan allows free camping,  Egypt is heavily controlled by the military and police and our attempts to free camp were fruitless. We were chased off seemingly remote places in the desert and along the Red Sea by police, army and security people.

Being unable to camp in certain places, we did stay in some rather ropey (because they were cheap) hotels in Sudan and Ethiopia but you get what you pay for and we didn’t pay very much. The Kilpatra hotel in Wadi Halfa had the worst lavatory and shower outside China… a true shocker.

Of course, Europe is the land of the caravan. Rarely seen in Africa or Asia, these boxes on wheels are seen everywhere in western Europe, blocking the country lanes and oblivious or uncaring to the traffic mayhem they cause around them. To a biker they are annoying enough, but we can whizz pass them more often than not. To another car driver stuck behind one on a road in Cornwall I hate to think.

No wonder they are targets of Top Gear persecution and derision. Once they eventually get to their “beauty spot” they position themselves cheek by jowl and then the occupants immediately position themselves outside on deckchairs, guarding their plot with disapproving territorial expressions on their faces.

Actually, these caravan clubers are not a bad bunch when you get to know them and are often passionate about their caravaning lifestyles and can wax lyrical about chemical toilets and lace curtains.

I have to say caravaners, with their impressive tea making facilities and well stocked biscuit tins, who brew up on the hour every hour are always welcome next to our tent.

BEST FOOD AWARD

Africa ….  Egypt

Apart from the Chinese food we had in various places, Egypt probably just surpasses South Africa as the country with the best food in Africa. Fresh seafood, spicy curries, kebabs and falafel, roti, dates, fruit, salads, tasty bread… and good beer.

Lots of great street food in Egypt and Sudan

Back streets of Cairo

Lunch in Hurgharda

The food in Sudan is also pretty good and the Nile fish breakfast in Wadi Halfa is a special treat, especially with Bedouin coffee or tea. Again icy fruit juices are a specialty and very welcome when the temperature is scorching hot.

 

Europe … Turkey 

The best food we ate in Europe was in Turkey.  This was a big surprise as we don’t think either of us have been to a Turkish restaurant in our lives. Whilst in Istanbul and Mersin we were treated to some excellent local feasts by our new Turkish friends. The street food was also cheap and delicious, a bit like in Egypt.

Further along through Europe we had delicious cakes and pastries, especially in Austria, Italy and France, but the classic Italian and French fine cuisine famous throughout the World was not available to us because of the cost. I am sure its delicious, its just we couldn’t afford any.

We were fortunate to be in Italy during Easter and were treated to a delicious traditional Italian lunch with our friends Nick and Paola and her family near Rome. We also had some great home cooking with family and friends while we were in England and Wales.

I know there is good food about in Britain, but can you find it when you are hungry, or afford to eat decently in, say, London? No. Ubiquitous sandwich shops, junk food, petrol station food, and processed food is the tourists’ lot. Best you can get is a good cardiac arrest “fry up” breakfast at a roadside lay-by or fish and chips for dinner.

Even the so called ethnic food we had in the UK, like Indian or Thai was awful. So, unless you are lucky to be invited to eat at a “Master Chef” finalists’ house, have relatives and friends who are good cooks or win the lottery and have the chance to try out a Michelin starred restaurant you are going to be disappointed on the food front in the UK.

We met many tourists, especially Chinese who were on the verge of tour group mutiny in the UK because they disliked the food so much.

A wonderful lunch (into dinner) amongst the citrus groves at a superb restaurant in Mersin, Turkey. With our very kind hosts Metin and Sylvia who run the local KTMshop 。 

A wonderful lunch (into dinner) among the citrus groves at a superb restaurant in Mersin, Turkey. With our very kind hosts Metin and Sylvia who run the local KTM garage。

 

China – overall winner by a long way…..

Nothing beats the food in China for variety, freshness, health, flavour, texture, low cost, accessibility, colour, exoticness, pure joy and of course taste. Spicy Hunan and Sichuan, sweet and sour Shanghainese, salty and savoury Dong Bei, roasted meat from Xinjiang and seafood from Guangdong …..and it goes on with each province and each region within a province having their own specialties and traditions .

We all need food and everywhere we went in the world the people took pride in their local cuisine, but to our mind nothing beats Chinese food.

We and 1.4 billion others think so anyway..

Best Chinese Restaurant outside ChinaXiao Long (Laughing Dragon) – Livingstone, Zambia. On par with the Sichuan and Hunan food we have in China,  but I suspect only if you insist on the genuine stuff… in Mandarin ….and have a Chinese companion who does a thorough inspection of the kitchen, the ingredients and interrogates all the staff.

Worst Chinese Restaurant outside ChinaThe Panda – Mosi, Tanzania (The lovely girl, Cheng Yuan Yuan, who was left in charge of the restaurant while the owner went back to China admitted she couldn’t cook and neither could the chef). In the end one of the Chinese guests went in the kitchen and cooked a few dishes which we shared.

Would you believe it? Fanny eating again. Chengdu is famous for Xiao Chi (lit.. little eats) Snacks if you will.

Sichuan street food

I am like a dog in China. I get fed once a day, complete strangers come up and stroke the blonde hairs on my arms, in my presence I get spoken about in the third person, certain hotels wont let me in, and I have no idea what people are saying to me all the time. Woof Woof.

Yunnan food

Chatting with locals selling lianzi (lotus seeds) next to huge fields of lianhua (lotus)

Its exotic and specialties appeared on street corners and by the side of fields as we rode across the country . Here chatting with locals selling lianzi (lotus seeds) next to huge fields of lianhua (lotus)

WORST FOOD AWARDS

Worst food in Africa – Malawi

The lakeside resorts run by foreignors had pretty good food, but unless you like eating a diet consisting of 99% cassava (which has the nutritional value and taste of a flip flop) you will starve in the rest of the country as indeed a lot of the people are doing.  There is no excuse for this as Malawi has fresh water,  untapped natural resources and shares nearly the same geology and agricultural potential as Tanzania which grows coffee, tea, fruit and vegetables in abundance.

The problem, as with too many places in Africa, lies with the government who are greedy, corrupt and incompetent …and the people who put up with such tyrants who keep them in the stone age.

The other crop that grows pretty freely in Malawi is marijuana , so if you like you can spend your days in Malawi stoned out of your skull in a blue haze, however when you get the munchies don’t expect to see much in the fridge.

Worst food in Europe – the UK. If you have the money, or live with an excellent cook you will eat as well as anywhere in the world.

However for any visitor to the UK the food on the street is pretty dire. The healthy option, if so inclined, is a salad with a bit of meat or fish in a plastic box. Still hungry? .. of course you are … so a tub of lard for pudding. You can tell by the unhealty disposition and obesity of most English people that there is little nutrition in many peoples diet.

In England the day starts off well with a variety of decent breakfasts and then goes downhill thereon.

Worst food in China Tibet. If we are to be picky, a diet that consists of a thousand ways to eat yak and yak’s milk might be pushing the limits… so local Tibetan food, whilst pretty OK, is at bottom of of the list as there is some amazing food to be eaten in every province across China.

All this being said the upside of increasing migration of more Han Chinese into Tibet is that good food from other provinces can be found in the main cities in Tibet. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Its a good thing when you’re hungry.

Also, I have to mention the province of Guangxi and Chinese provinces bordering Laos and Vietnam for their fondness for dog, rat, pangolin, civet cat, and other furry, feathered and scaly creatures and their insides… nope…. not my cup of nai cha, nor Fanny’s.

BEST BEER AWARDS

Africa – Namibia – Windhoek beer.

Windhoek

 

 

Europe – English bitter (in particular Marston’s Pedigree from Burton Upon Trent)

Nice

Marston’s Pedigree – from Burton on Trent

China – Tsingdao beer  青岛啤酒)

tsingdao

Tsing Dao from Qingdao, China

 

WORST BEER AWARDS  – of course there is no worst beer award, but perhaps Sudan should get a mention for not allowing beer at all.  In fact the punishment for any alcohol possession in Sudan is 40 lashes.

Ouch!

BEST GAME PARK  AWARDS

1. Masai Mara (Kenya) (in late August)

We had an awesome time in Masai Mara. Great guides, reasonable entry fees (compared to Tanzania), and when we were there the great wildebeest migration was in residence and stretched across the grassy plains as far as the eye could see. It was true Lion King country and we had a terrific motorcycle ride to get there along cattle tracks and through Masai villages.

2. South Luangwa (Zambia).

South Luangwa National Park is possibly one of the prettiest and diverse game reserves in Africa. Certainly one of my favourite. Unfortunately, while I was there the last rhino had been poached in collusion with corrupt security guards who for their evil part were paid a fraction of what the horns were eventually sold for in Asia.

Whilst the 150 kilometer road from Chipata to the national park was too technical for Fanny at that particular stage of our expedition (not now of course), I had been there on a previous motorcycle trip across Africa and on the way bumped into the Long Way Down TV show motorcycles on their way to Lusaka. They had also decided against going to Luangwa because the road was too tough for Mr. and Mrs. McGregor, although easy for Charlie Boorman and the cameraman, Claudio I expect, who turned out to be decent guys and true motorcycle enthusiasts.

With the help of my Zambian cousin I managed to ride right into the game park along a locally used two track sand road and ride right up to many of the African animals and through the stunning bush of the Valley, but trying to keep a decent distance from creatures that might like a KTM sandwich. However, I inadvertently rode into a herd elephants and was mock charged by a young male which was quite exciting. They do not like the sound or sight of motorcycles at all, especially with loud Akropovik exhausts.

 

BEST DIVING & SNORKELING AWARD

Ras Mohammed, Dahab and Sharm El Sheikh, Sinai, Egypt.

I do not care for diving particularly having been put off  when I did a CT selection course when I was in the Royal Hong Kong police,  but due to putting down roots in Dahab by the beautiful Red Sea I had little to do while Fanny was windsurfing and so I have now completed the PADI open water and advanced scuba course with H2O Divers.

http://www.facebook.com/H2ODiversDahab

Dahab is 90 Kms away from Sharm El Sheikh in the Gulf of  Aqaba (Red Sea) and enjoys amazing marine life and is a very popular destination for kite surfing, wind surfing and diving. As well as scuba diving with an aqua lung, I also learnt to free dive and practised nearly everyday at the famous Blue Hole, or just off the coral reefs at Eel Garden, The Caves or Lighthouse. Amazing places. Fanny on the other hand learnt to windsurf in the lagoon with Planet Windsurf and is now a very competent sailor.

http://www.planetwindsurfholidays.com/resorts/egypt/dahab/

The Red Sea in Egypt, especially along the Sinai peninsular is absolutely spectacular. I have been fortunate to have traveled around most of South East Asia, but the Red Sea is to my mind better. Crystal clear warm waters, amazing tropical fish and coral reefs and pretty decent infrastructure to support it all. The Sinai desert mountains create an awesome backdrop to the coastal towns of Nuweiba, Taba and especially Dahab, and the desert itself is quite possibly the prettiest in the world, especially at sunset and sunrise.  That said, the whole tourism thing could be done so so much better, but then the Egyptian tourist industry is reeling from the Arab Spring revolution, the world economic downturn and the negative effects of blowing up tourists with fire-bombs.

WORST DIVING & SNORKELING AWARD

Any open water in East or South China. Polluted and disgusting.

BEST MOUNTAINS & VALLEYS

Africa – Ethiopia and Lesotho

Whilst we thought Ethiopia was spoiled a bit by some of its annoying stone throwing feral inhabitants and decaying cities, it does have spectacular natural beauty with mountains, rivers, pastures, lakes and valleys that looks a bit like those in Switzerland, Scotland or Austria.  The roads are also for the large part extremely good, although as I have said often crowded with people and animals.

Lesotho, which is bordered completely by South Africa, is also a very mountainous country and is an excellent place to visit, albeit a bit chilly to ride through in winter.

Ethiopia’s proximity to some very dodgy African countries, short visa restrictions and some very wet weather while we were there prevented us from exploring the amazing Danakil depression and Afar region in the east of the country which are said to be spectacular.

Not many regrets on the expedition, but not venturing to this amazing part of the world that features in the January 2012 edition of National Geographic magazine.

We did go to Lalibela to see the rock hewn churches, and they were fairly interesting. But unless you are an archaeologist or Christian pilgrim you’d be better off visiting Salisbury Cathedral, and indeed any Norman church in England as they are older, far more impressive and have less fleas. The ride there was fun though and took us  “off road” for a few hundred kilometers through valleys and across rivers and streams.

Europe – you are probably going the expect me to say The Alps, Pyrenees or the Dolomites, maybe the Brecon Beacons or Snowdonia in Wales and indeed they are spectacular, but I am going to have to pick the mountains and valleys I enjoyed riding through the most and so I will say The Highlands of Scotland.

West coast of Scotland

West coast of Scotland

 

China –  is a very mountainous part of the world and along our 13,000 kilometer ride through the middle kingdom we navigated over, around and often through many mountain ranges. Chinese history is steeped in legend about mountains and have been the subject of pilgrimages by emperors and philosophers throughout the ages.  We were lucky to see some of the wuyue 五岳 – sacred five and the Buddhist and Taoist fours. But for me and Fanny seeing (and riding through) the greatest mountain range on the planet with the highest peaks, the Himalayas was one of the highlights of the expedition.

After all the awful roads we get to cruise on the awesome S201 through Guangxi 广西。

Guangxi 广西。

These are the mountains that turn the Yellow River ... yellow

These are the mountains that turn the Yellow River … yellow

Tibet and the Himalayas from space

Tibet and the Himalayas from space

The Himalayas... what can you say?

The Himalayas… what can you say?

 

BEST BORDER CROSSING –

Africa – South Africa. Quite simply modern, efficient, quick and fair.

Europeall easy

Chinano border crossings.. although riding through the road blocks in Tibet was “interesting”.

WORST BORDER CROSSING 

1st Egypt and 2nd Sudan.

The opposite of modern, efficient, quick, or fair. The further north in Africa we went the worse the border crossings became.

LEAST CORRUPT COUNTRY AWARDS

Africa – Botswana

Europe – Austria

Asia – Singapore (its not going to be China is it?)

MOST CORRUPT COUNTRY AWARDS

Africa – Egypt

Europe – Italy

Asia – China

Most countries we went through in Africa could very fairly be described as corrupt. Some more than others. Unfortunately, there are countries we simply couldn’t risk traveling through because they are so corrupt and dangerous, such as the DRC, Chad, Nigeria etc.. Even the famous Dakar Rally no longer races through the Sahara to Dakar and has moved to Argentina and Chile in South America.

An anecdote from our first day in Egypt:

Having spent considerable time and parted with a huge amount of cash at customs and immigration at the Egyptian border in Aswan, we were stopped 50 meters away at a road block, the first of hundreds, by a policeman with an AK47 variant of assault rifle who looked us up and down and asked, ‘Where you come from?’

Me (clearly thinking this is stupid question at the Egypt/Sudan border) ‘ Sudan’

Policeman ‘What in bag?’

Me ‘ Our things’

Policeman ‘ Open up’

Me ‘OK’…. ‘It’ll take a bit of time… hang on a bit’

As I was getting off my bike to open the panniers the policeman said ‘ Ah.. no need, haha…  anything nice for me?’

Me ‘ I don’t pay bribes’ (eye to eye), and continued,  ‘Actually I used to be a policeman and think policemen like you are an insult to the cloth, you make the job of honest, conscientious policemen more difficult and more dangerous’ rant rant…

Policeman (grinning like an imbecile and waving me on) ‘ haha .. you can go’

Policeman to Fanny ‘Where you come from?’

Fanny ‘China’

Policeman to Fanny ‘ You got present for me?’

I turned around and shouted ‘ HEY! – I TOLD YOU’

Policeman ‘Haha.. OK you go’   and so we went.

On each occasion the authorities even suggested a bribe I stood my ground or played my “I used to be a policeman” trump card and they all gave up.

Some of Fanny’s friends, a Chinese expedition starting from South Africa and riding Jin Chiang motorcycle and side-cars, gave up in Tanzania after running out of money, spirit and heart after paying bribe after bribe and being messed about at every single border crossing.

I guess the Africans thought that Chinese are accustomed to paying bribes. Maybe they are, and maybe they are also as fed up as everyone else.

 

NOISIEST COUNTRY AWARDS  – Sudan followed by China and Egypt.

Sudan is a strictly Islamic country and so requires its Muslim population to pray five times a day among other noisy rituals. The density of mosques and minarets in Sudan is very high and the call to prayers starts at 4-5 am which is rather early and without doubt a very loud wake -up alarm call where ever you are.

I vaguely remember bell ringing on Sunday mornings from the church in the village, Abbots Bromley, I grew up in England, and even that annoyed me after a few peels.

As a Roaming Catholic of the lapsed kind I am a firm believer that anyone can believe in what they like provided it causes no harm to others, but object to people inflicting their superstitions, religion and beliefs on other people.

My helpful suggestion that calls to prayer be made using mobile phones on vibrate mode was not met enthusiastically by anyone I met, nor was the suggestion that  “All Things Bright and Beautiful” might be more cheerful.

China?

There are 1.4 billion Chinese, the streets are crowded, and they absolutely love noise and any excuse to make some is welcomed and encouraged.

Megaphones, public announcements, promotions, advertisements, car horns, traffic, construction noise, warning signals, conversations, music, talking in restaurants etc etc… DO IT LOUDLY!. T

There are four tones in Mandarin and to make sure the other person understands clearly its best to SHOUT. In Cantonese there are nine tones and so the Hong Kongers SHOUT EVEN LOUDER ……..AAAH MAAAA. 噪音太大。!!!!

 

MOST PEACEFUL COUNTRY AWARD – Namibia

To the motorcyclists who like a bit of technical off road riding, stunning scenery, quiet roads, good camping sites, African animals and birds, decent petrol and getting close to unspoiled nature then Namibia is the country to go and disturb the peace with your Akropovik or Leo Vince exhausts!

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A long way from anywhere…. The Skeleton Coast, Namibia