Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

As Spain is my adopted homeland, I suppose it’s only right that I should support them in the World Cup – with the talented team they’ve got it’s also a lot less stress inducing than supporting England.

This week my eye was caught by these.

So in one fell swoop, I made my first summer rebajas (sales) purchase (€2.00) and made a statement to show my allegiance to España at the same time.

You could say I’m supporting Spain, whilst Spain supports me.

They could also come in useful if I ever have a jacuzzi built. Whilst I’m in it I could swap the sandals around and leave them at the front gate to let people know where I was.

Two easy ways for a quick insight into a country you’re unfamiliar with are to visit the local supermarket and to watch its national TV.

I know I bitch and moan a lot about Spanish TV, but: –

  1. I believe I’m performing an important public service for anyone thinking of moving to Tenerife or Spain and…
  2. It really deserves all the bitchin’ it gets.

The World Cup is an ideal example and national TV coverage is quite illuminating.

Firstly, whilst most of Europe is able to watch every game on free-to-air TV, Spanish TV are only screening 24 matches. 16 on Cuatro and 8 on Telecinco.

During the qualifying groups Telecinco are only screening football matches which involve Spain.

For football lovers like me and Andy, the internet is a gift from a technologically advanced god. But as well as actually being able to see all the games we want to see, comparing coverage between British and Spanish TV has been fascinating.

For a start, until Spain kicked a ball in the tournament, Spanish TV’s coverage had consisted of broadcasting the game just as it was about to kick-off and stopping within seconds of the final whistle.

When the first game of the tournament was about to kick-off and the host country’s national anthem was being played, Spanish TV in a display of rudeness, ignorance, disrespect or stupidity, switched to the adverts.

Yesterday was Spain’s first match and the World Cup started for Spanish TV. Suddenly, nearly a week into the competition, there were World Cup programmes featuring third rate celebrities wearing the Spanish strip and even highlight shows.

As I watched a group of eejits pretending they were interested in football just to get their mugs on the telly, I turned up the sound on the computer to listen to the British coverage at half time.

I was quite overcome with emotion as I listened to black South Africans recount stories about Soweta and the atrocities carried out under apartheid, and watched footballers visiting orphanages they’d help sponsor. In the studio, groups of ex footballers mainly from Britain, but also from France, Holland, Germany and Africa spoke not only about football, but about what hosting the World Cup meant to South Africa. Other former footballers reported on games from poor townships, bantering with local children who clearly were delighted to be visited by their heroes.

And therein lies a difference which speaks volumes.

The coverage I’ve watched on the BBC is about more than just a game, it’s about an event which captures the imagination of the World and is evidence of the realisation of a nation’s dream. It makes you realise that the World Cup is something very, very special.

On Spanish TV, the World Cup is simply about Spain.

I’ve got a message for Spanish TV programmers nicked from Bono, Geldoff et al:

“There’s a world outside your window…”

Go look at it from time to time.

CD Tenerife in La Liga...bring on Ronaldo

CD Tenerife in La Liga...bring on Ronaldo

It once seemed like a distant dream, but now it looks as though instead of lining up against Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, the petulant one will be facing the likes of Tenerife. At least he should be guaranteed better weather when he visits. Whether he’ll get a warm welcome from CD Tenerife’s foreign contingent of fans is a different matter.

Yesterday in the 30 plus degrees and no shade of Plaza España in Santa Cruz, we joined tens of thousands of CD Tenerife supporters to watch the blanquiazul achieve the not so impossible dream.

 WATER result

WAT-ER result

It was an electric and hectic atmosphere and actually trying to watch the giant TV screens involved utilising a series of movements that, had there been a ringmaster in the area he’d have immediately signed us up for his circus as a contortionist double bill.

As always here the crowd was a deliriously happy one and the most innocuous incident on the pitch (broadcast from Girona) had the fans going off like a rocket. A ‘non’ goal caused wild celebrations and bottles of cava and beer were sprayed across the plaza. In theory it should have been great material for photos; in reality I could hardly keep my camera out long enough to focus it in case it was drenched.

When CD Tenerife scored and more or less clinched their place in La Liga, the plaza erupted into madness. We’d already moved once for a better view and away from a group of lads who were using their cans of beer like machine guns, but talk about moving from the frying pan and into the fire.

Adelante Tenerife

Adelante Tenerife

Our spot beside Plaza España’s lagoon sized fountain seemed a perfect spot. We could see the screens and also were in the perfect position for photographing ‘aficionados’ celebrating in the pool. Naïve or stupid? When the final whistle blew there was a stampede and twenty thousand or so ecstatic fans swept toward the fountain…and us.

Andy wisely did a runner and deserted me, leaving me stranded at the fountain’s edge trying to take a few shots before things went too wet ‘n’ wild. I was bumped and jostled from all angles; one group of burly lads nearly took me with them straight into the water. Every time I thought I’d found a relatively safe spot a manically grinning fan would come rushing through the fountain kicking water everywhere and I’d have to spin around trying to save my camera from an unwanted bath. It was loco. In the end I snapped a few shots before my nerve broke (rather it than the camera) and I legged it to the higher ground.

I thought I’d witnessed wild crowds in Tenerife before, during Carnaval, but this, like CD Tenerife now, was in another league. And despite there being thousands upon thousands of people soaking each other, I didn’t witness the slightest bit of aggression…only unadulterated joy.

Yesterday history was made in Tenerife and I’m really pleased that I was there to feel a part of it.

After our encounter with the harridan of La Orotava, a bit of Carnaval time was needed to remind us that most Canarios are friendly, happy people. However, the feeling of annoyance at an antiquated system which stubbornly refuses to wake up to the fact that ‘customers’ actually have rights didn’t leave me in the best of moods for what should have been a fun night, i.e. the Burial of the Sardine.

I decided against dressing up as a widow this year on the grounds that I must be one of the few people on the planet who doesn’t look good in a little black number.
Even by the time we took up position to watch the parade I was still feeling a bit narky and the Canarian habit of waiting till the last minute before muscling in on your space, albeit good-naturedly, and blocking your view didn’t help.

A merry widow

A 'merry' widow

Some people here have the most incredible talent. A middle aged couple squeezed in to a tiny space behind me but within a few minutes, during which time they didn’t appear to move and I’m pretty sure my feet were firmly fixed to the ground, I found that I was behind them. It’s incredible – I’ve witnessed it time and time again and I’ve no idea how it happens. At first my British conditioning had me huffing and puffing, but after Andy pointed out that it didn’t really matter, we were all going to see the parade and I looked at the smiley happy faces around me, I realised that it was me who was out of step. I was looking for orderly when half the fun of Carnaval is that it’s chaotic and disorderly.

By the time that the first ‘widows’ appeared wailing, falling to the ground in grief and generally hamming it up to such an extent that had ‘Crossroads’ still been going, half of them would have been signed up for starring roles, I was feeling far more chilled.

The sardine when it arrived, looked as splendid as always –blond flowing locks, dangly earrings, scarlet lipstick (yes, this is the sardine I’m describing). However, there weren’t as many ‘widows’ as in previous years; something that was later attributed to the Real Madrid – Liverpool champion’s league match being screened on TV at the same time. Still it was all outrageous fun, and some of the widows’ accessories were in such serious bad taste that if I posted a photo (and I’m tempted), this blog would have to come with an ‘adult content’ warning.

Andy found us a great, if precarious, position to watch the sardine being ‘barbecued’ and from our vantage point on a wall beside the harbour we spotted another reason why there might have been a lack of grand dames at the parade; a group of glamorous widows were packed into one of the little fishermen’s bars knocking back the combinados.

No doubt drowning their sorrows.

A truly beautiful Carnaval Queen

A truly beautiful Carnaval Queen

With the pressure on our ‘schedule’ eased a little because of the rearranged election of the Carnaval Queen, we were able to enjoy Man U beating Blackburn and actually have time to eat some dinner, before slapping on the face paint and setting off on the trek into town at around 23.00.

For those who don’t know Tenerife, there are two Tenerife’s. There’s the one built predominately to cater for people looking for a sun and fun holiday and then there’s the rest of Tenerife; what we call the ‘Real Tenerife’. In the former, Carnaval is little more than a footnote which can pass by almost unnoticed. In the latter it’s the biggest event of the year and you might as well write off trying to do anything other than selling your soul to the gods of fun for a week. Even in Puerto de la Cruz, which is first and foremost a Canarian working town, the differences between these two Tenerife’s can be illustrated depending on which side of town you happen to be in.

The approach into town passes the La Paz area and Avenida Generalisimo where there are a clutch of hotels. On these streets nobody is wearing fancy dress, so Andy, kitted out as Cleopatra, and me as Willie Wallace (Braveheart) stood out like sore thumbs, attracting strange looks from visitors sitting at the bars and restaurants we passed. It’s only when you get near to the older part of town that you enter the magic kingdom that is Carnaval and the streets fill with belly dancers and vampires, so many batmen that the bat mobile would have to be traded in for a bat bus (but strangely no jokers), smurfs, sexy nurses, nuns with slits in their habits up to their armpits, cavemen, clowns, witches, zombie nurses, cowboys, Indians and assorted superheroes enjoying a well deserved night off. In this surreal land, it’s the ‘civilians’ which look out of place and we learned very early on that to be part of Carnaval, rather than to watch Carnaval requires simply throwing on some sort of fancy dress costume, even if it’s only a false wig, or a hat from one of the stalls surrounding Plaza del Charco.

And an almost equally pretty runner up

And an almost equally pretty runner up

By midnight, when we reached the plaza, it was filling up nicely with revellers in costume, but it was strangely silent. There was no live band, no pumping dance music from the stall in Calle Perdomo, just hordes of people in fancy dress milling about looking as though they were waiting for something to happen.  The only music was provided by a gang of mime artists, all lads of about 16 – 17 years old, who were circuiting the plaza, stopping at anyone not in fancy dress to jump up and down and hum loudly something that sounded suspiciously like a riff from ‘I will Survive’. This is the things I love about Carnaval, the bits which are slightly trippy and surreal.

The lack of music was because the Gala involving the election of the Carnaval Queen was still taking place beside the harbour, so we wandered through a new addition, a ‘Dance’ tent (so in terms of dance area that makes it, the plaza for live music; Calle Perdomo for dance music, the square beside the harbour for dance music for teens and now a dance tent – isn’t it great?) to the main Carnaval stage where the Carnaval Queen was just being announced to the accompaniment of a barrage of fireworks. The judges chose well; this year’s Carnaval Queen, Elsa Eichner is a beautiful girl with a smile which would light up a dark room with no windows.  (see our CARNAVAL PHOTO OF THE DAY)

The fireworks were also the sign for Carnaval to really let loose and no sooner had the explosion died down when the boom of the fireworks were replaced by thumping drums and a Latino dance beat which announced Carnaval 2009 was underway at last and the assorted trannies, monsters, angels and creatures of the night could begin their week long party.

Its Party Time!

It's Party Time!

Carnaval is like an insatiable lover; she’s never satisfied until she’s sucked the last spark of energy from you and even then, when your body is an exhausted shell, she demands more and like a love struck fool you have to answer her call; just for that one last taste of pleasure.

I know this only too well from previous Carnavals and with equal mixture of excitement and dread at the pounding my ‘getting too old for this’ body was about to take, I awaited Carnaval’s hedonistic holler.

Only superman or somebody running purely on Billy Whizz could manage to take in the whole of Carnaval in Puerto de la Cruz, so we’d set out a game plan of ‘must do’s’.

Attend the opening parade, first Saturday night street party, Burial of the Sardine, High Heels drag marathon, closing parade and round it all off with the closing night street party a week later…then head to the cemetery and collapse into the nearest grave.

However looking at the first night’s events, I could see us stumbling at the first hurdle, mainly because TV programmers in Britain had pulled a cruel trick. They’d scheduled Man U to play at 17.30 on the opening day of Carnaval. This meant that we’d have to watch the game at the Beehive, then head straight to the opening parade at 20.00. The parade usually starts late and lasts for a couple of hours, meaning it would be about 22.30 by the time we headed for home where it would be a mad rush to get into costume and head back down to Puerto for the street party; knackered before we’d even started.

Then the gods played a blinder. A decent downpour of rain on Thursday afternoon was enough to cause council chiefs to postpone the election of the Carnaval Queen till Friday…when the heavens opened and a deluge of water from the heavens of monsoon proportions resulted in the election being moved to Saturday. Okay this isn’t good news for the people organizing Carnaval, but it did mean that the opening parade was pushed to Sunday night (you can’t have an opening parade when the Carnaval Queen ain’t been picked yet) and we were able to enjoy planning for an opening night which was going to be less about endurance and more about having shedloads of fun.

Whatever happened to lazy Sunday afternoon? There hardly seemed a second yesterday when we weren’t rushing from one place to the next. Actually rushing anywhere on a Sunday is clearly an inaccurate statement as the Tinerfeños take to the roads by the town load and despite what anyone will try to tell you about locals driving like madmen on the roads (motorways apart), on the country roads most drive at the pace of a snail…with a bad limp.

Is this really Tenerife?

Is this really Tenerife?

First stop was Las Cañadas del Teide to see what last week’s snowfall had done to the lunar landscape. It turned out that everyone else (well everyone who wasn’t escaping cold, grim snow covered northern Europe for Tenerife’s beaches) had the same idea.

It was party time in the crater and the road was full of locals parking wherever there was a hint of a space, irrespective of how much their car was blocking the road, turning the crater road into a single lane affair. Huge picnics were unpacked from the back of 4x4s as well as body boards, inflatable beds, sun visors and black plastic bags…anything in fact that could be turned into a makeshift sled. Sledging down a mountain probably isn’t an activity most people would associate with Tenerife.

We would have stayed longer except that the mighty diablos rojos were playing at 16.00, so our trip to winter wonderland was cut short and we headed back down through scenery that seemed more Alpine-esque than Canarian to watch Giggsy roll back the years and score an absolute corker of a goal which sent us back to the top of the Premiership.

Gladrags, but no handbags in glamorous Puerto de la Cruz

Gladrags, but no handbags in 'glamorous' Puerto de la Cruz

We barely had time to get home and make and eat dinner before we headed back into town to watch the presentation of the candidates for this year’s Carnaval Queen beauty contest. The theme for the Puerto de la Cruz Carnaval this year is ‘Africa, Land of Tribes’ and after an opener of some authentic African dancing the show strayed into ‘Black and White Minstrels’ territory (it was always on the cards) before the candidates for infant Carnaval Queen and then the adults were ‘exposed’.

The adult girl’s dresses ranged from the exquisitely elegant to the borderline trampy (okay I’m being generous here…the dress had crossed the border and was deep into red light territory); there were creations where necklines plunged to almost meet hemlines; there were backless numbers…God, there were even nearly frontless ones. It will come as no surprise when I tell you that it was a well attended event. Luckily for the girls the weather was kind to them. Had the event been held last week, there would have been an impressive display of goose pimples on show, but it was a beautifully mild night, so no quivering bosoms (damn).

We didn’t stay till the end; these events can drag on a bit, but the one and a half hours we did stay was a reminder that the organised Carnaval events involve a hell of a lot of standing around. The fact that my legs were aching and my back was stiff after a relatively short time also told me something…Carnaval is less than two weeks away and I’m nowhere near match fit.

Last Saturday it was chestnuts, wine and kamikaze youths on wooden trays, this Saturday it was giant Ferris wheels, bucking broncos, a grumpy Sunderland fan and contemplating nature and the universe in a darkened room.

Jesús, our neighbour, had suggested we pop down to his house for a little ‘chill’ on Saturday night, but first there was the small matter of a trip to the Beehive Bar to watch Manchester Utd against Sunderland.

All the fun of the fair

All the fun of the fair

The 17.30 kick-off is a real pain in the rear; it really interferes with Saturday night and is neither here nor there, but what can you do? The first thing that struck us on arriving at the town car park was that there was a colossal green wheel dominating the skyline – a Puerto Eye of sorts.
It was a clear signal that we’re rushing headlong into the prime Xmas season as it was the new addition to the traditional funfair which sets up beside Puerto de la Cruz’ harbour for festive season.

Time was getting on so we decided to investigate after the game which was about as one-sided an affair as you’re likely to see. Sunderland parked their team in front of goal and hoped that the human barrier would hold for ninety minutes. And it nearly worked, but unfortunately for Sunderland, there were more than 90 minutes and seconds into injury time our big centre-half, Vidic latched onto a rebound off the post and won the game for us, silencing a Sunderland fan next to me who had been laughing at every one of our failed attempts to score. It’s nice to see people who are magnanimous in defeat, but this wasn’t the case on this occasion. As I went to the gents, he came across to Andy and grumbled in her face:
“You didn’t deserve that.”

Still, relieved and happy we headed to the harbour to check out the funfair. By this time, 19.45, it was already buzzing and in the darkness the neon lights, especially those of the jolly green giant looked magical and ignited nostalgic childhood memories.

The smell of hot dogs and onions, fried churros, hot waffles with cream, candy floss, popcorn et al added to the buzzing funfair atmosphere and the night sky was filled with those wonderful funfair sounds – klazons, cheesy music, screams mixed with laughter, hissing pneumatics and the crunch of dodgems colliding head on.

Fairground stall - Spanish style

Fairground stall - Spanish style

There were also the usual goldfish stalls, shooting and dart throwing stalls decorated with rows of human sized cuddly toys. At one stall a hairy leg appeared, then another as a life size cuddly ape seemed to bizarrely come to life and be making a bid for freedom. This being Spain, the funfair had a couple of odd additions such as the Jamon tombola; a stall brimming with shanks of Jamon Serrano. There was also a bucking bulls attraction which looked like great fun as these mock Spanish bulls got their own back by dumping their screaming riders, strangely wearing Dalmatian patterned Stetsons, onto the ground unceremoniously.
However, time was getting on and we’d promised Jesús that we’d spend some of Saturday night with him, so we left the fair and headed for home.

By the time we’d escaped the town car park, got home, showered, prepared the chilli and eaten it was after 22.00 and Jesús’ house was in darkness.
With most people you’d take that as a sign that they’d gone out, or gone to bed, but Jesús isn’t most people; we know he likes to sit in the dark and contemplate life, so we grabbed a bottle of wine, wandered the few metres down the path and loitered outside his window. There was no sign of life.
“Hey, Jesús,” I half whispered, half spoke. “Are you awake?”
There was a mumble from inside which we couldn’t make out.
“What?”
Another mumble which we couldn’t make out, then he appeared at his door, everything still in darkness.
“Sorry were you sleeping,” Andy whispered. “We’ll leave you alone, no problem.”
“No, No it’s fine,” Jesús laughed. “Come in…Andy you stay outside.”
Jesús pulled me inside and we looked out of the window to where Andy stood with her small torch giving off a soft blue light.
“Look, it’s amazing isn’t it? It’s like watching a movie.”
Jesús had a point. The moon was out and the silver glow from it combined with the blue light from the torch gave the outside scene a strange dreamlike quality. Once I acknowledged as much, a slightly bemused Andy was allowed to enter.

As it turned out he’d had a visit from his friend, Maria Juanita and visits from MJ always leaves Jesús in a contemplative mood and full of wonder for Mother Nature. So for a couple of hours on Saturday night, we sat in a darkened room contemplating nature. Well Jesús contemplated nature, being British we sat in the darkness feeling quite ridiculous until a decent amount of time passed and we felt it was okay to leave without appearing rude.

It’s typical of the contrasts you can experience here. One moment we’d been in the middle of the bright lights and frantic bustling of a lively funfair, the next we were sitting in a room lit by only the moonlight looking out at a silent landscape whilst our neighbour sought consciousness expansion.

Funny but after we got home I had an overwhelming urge to play some Alabama 3.

Last night when a weather-beaten little farmer in a dry stone cottage deep in the Basque country, where no non-Basque speaker had set foot in the last 10 years, took off his beret, poured himself a generous glass of country wine and sat himself down in his ragged but comfortable armchair to enjoy a Carling Cup football match between Arsenal and Wigan on one of Spain’s main TV stations, TV2, what were we treated to here in Tenerife?

In their infinite wisdom, the people who control what we see on Canarian TV must have decided that, despite the mix of nationalities (a substantial amount of them being British) in the Canaries, a British football match wasn’t the sort of thing the good people in Tenerife and the Canary Islands wanted to see. Instead they must have decided that what the good people of the Canaries would prefer to watch a group of people sitting around talking a load of utter shite! Let me rephrase that…another programme featuring a group of people sitting around talking a load of shite, because let’s face it; we’ve already got shedloads of channels which consist of nothing else.

FFS – Is there not one of them with a brain? It’s not like I wanted to watch the Gooners, god forbid, but having British football on Spanish TV is popular with the Canarios as well and it would have made a nice change from watching people who like the sound of their own voices.

A rickety way to board the boat

A rickety way to board the boat

Watching the Olympics on TV reawakened memories of a trip we made to China a few years ago. The main purpose was to take a trip up the Yangtze before much of it was flooded by the opening of the Three Gorges Dam, but it also included spending a few days in Beijing.

Apart from the day we arrived, the weather was pretty appalling, low clouds, drizzle, grey skies which washed out the unique oriental scenery of the Yangtze and iconic landmarks like The Great Wall and Tiananmen Square. The funny thing is that I only know that because of the photos we took during the trip which, incidentally, were bobbins (my defence being that I was more interested in my new mini video camera at that time).

The truth is that the weather didn’t figure highly in our memories of the trip just a series of unforgettable experiences of an incredible country. I could wax lyrical for hours about them, but don’t worry I’ll summarize:

Eating smoked eel for breakfast in Beijing whilst Andy stuck a chunky slice of bread in the do-it-yourself toaster setting it on fire.

Being approached by a business man in the hotel bar who bizarrely asked us to check his translation of an email about what was clearly a secret business ‘takeover’ proposal.

A Chinese diner in a restaurant buying everybody in the restaurant a glass of ‘special’ Chinese wine at £80 a bottle because China had just won a World Cup qualifier.

So thats 3 scorpions, 2 worms and a fried centipede?

So that's 3 scorpions, 2 worms and a fried centipede?

Watching a chef at the Beijing night market reach into a steel drum filled with scorpions, centipedes, silkworms and all sorts of creepy crawlies, stick them on a skewer and frying the lot on a wok beside sparrow kebabs.

On a rainy night, following a white uniformed sailor down a dark alley (no jokes) and across a Joining the Yangtze riverboat by way of a series of wooden planks across a muddy approach where other crew members in equally pristine uniforms held out umbrellas – very 1950s

The shock of finding that the alarm system in the cabin went off at 6am, when what started as quietly jaunty Chinese music got louder and louder.

The bigger shock of finding out that there was no way to turn the dammed thing off; softened by the amusement of a bleary eyed Andy cursing and smacking every impotent button on the bedside cabinets.

Being invited to partner a Chinese girl in a traditional dance which involved her putting her skirt over my head (I can think of worse traditions).

Asking another passenger, an Irish dentist, whether he thought that they’d be showing Manchester United’s Champion’s League qualifier on TV to which he replied;
“That’s the problem with you Manchester United supporters; you think everyone is going to be interested in Manchester United. We’re on the Yangtze for god’s sake; they’ve never even heard of Manchester United here.”
Within thirty minutes of the conversation we alighted at the city of Chongqing to be faced by a billboard with…David Beckham and Ryan Giggs’ faces plastered over it. HA!

Wet Wheels

Wet Wheels

The fact that the Yangtze River was brown and the cities on the banks were not straight out of ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, but were industrial and grimy black with coal dusk.

Huge empty white cities built above the existing cities, capable of housing a million people, just waiting for the new dam to go into operation when the lower cities would be completely flooded.

The ship’s alcoholic doctor, who tried to prescribe cough medicine for an infected insect bite on Andy’s leg.

The ghost city of Fengdu, where boats wouldn’t dock in the night for fear of spirits coming on board and where shopkeepers kept a bowl of water at the till, where customers had to drop their money(ghost money floats apparently).

Undergoing a series of mystical tests in the King of the Dead’s palace in Fengdu the result of which a) Andy and I will be together for eternity and b) we both became immortal – a good result I thought.

Finding out that you need to be skilled in mountaineering to scale the Great Wall, so steep are its steps.

Causing havoc during an exhibition of Chinese medicine by fainting for the first time in my life when undergoing a medical examination; the diagnosis? “Fear of white coats”.

The emotion of standing in Tiananmen Square.

Ditto for the Forbidden City.

Seeing a real live panda and being told that said panda because of its lack of interest in having sex with its ‘girlfriend’ was being force fed a diet of porno movies…featuring humans to give it some idea of what to do!!!

Discovering that Beijing was probably the most modern city I’ve ever visited.

Tiananmen Square - an emotional place

Tiananmen Square - an emotional place

Noting the differences in politics and attitudes between tour guides of different ages. The one in her mid forties was very defensive about Mao Tse -Tung – obviously a supporter of his cultural revolution; I bet she still had his little red book. Whilst the other, in her mid twenties, had a more balanced view about China’s past and criticised some of his policies. Mind you her other main topic was David and Victoria Beckham – she wanted to know if reports of what they earned were true, but didn’t believe us anyway when we told her they were.

In the Forbidden City, jokingly trying to guess which burly men were the ‘Secret Service’ agents who were no doubt following our every step to ensure we didn’t stray from the official guide. When we got back to Blighty and sat through six hour of video we noticed the same little Chinese woman, pulling a child, sticking close to our group in every single location; In Beijing, in different riverside cities, Chengdu, Chongking – clever.

There were many, many more, but that’s more than enough for one blog.