Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Say, what?

I'll give sixpence to the first person who can explain the English on this advertisement to me.

Bilston Voices

It's damned inconvenient being able to post to my blog via email but not actually look at my blog because it means that I have a tendency to forget what I posted about. Still, while I'm in China it's a situation that's unlikely to change. The Chinese Government isn't in love with the concept of blogging and specifically block all blogs hosted by blogger and usually (though not always) all blogs hosted by wordpress.

Which is my way of apologising if I blogged this before.

I'll be home for the summer before returning to China for a second year of my contract, and I have a gig.

For anyone interested I should be appearing on the August bill of Bilston voices performing a selection of my China poems. The intention is to perform some of the poems I wrote detailing my life in Baiyin. This is a one off world exclusive and almost certainly my only performance of the year.

It's at the Cafe Metro in Bilston on 23 August. Hope you can make it.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

China Daily Horoscopes

I don't usually read horoscope but the other day, while I was sitting quietly doing the China Daily crossword my eye fell on the horoscope printed on the same page. I was instantly fascinated, so fascinated that I read all of the horoscopes for every sign.

The thing about them was that were not the usual vaguely predictive stuff. You know the kind of thing – "today you will have a chance encounter that could lead to a big opportunity, lucky number 6, lucky colour mauve".

They weren't predictions at all. They were more in the nature of party slogans. They have the feel of advice offered to keep you toeing the party line. I'm especially fond of Cancer, though the hint of menace in Libra is also interesting.


Here, slightly edited for length, is the whole collection.


Capricorn: Forming an association for the wrong reason might drag you down. Make sure it has a legitimate purpose.


Aquarius: Before making promises to friends think twice about why they are asking.


Pisces: When taking on a job or performing a service be sure that you estimate the costs correctly.


Aries: Keep disagreements private rather than making them public.


Taurus: Be understanding not critical when someone is trying to help you.


Gemini: Do not let extravagance get the better of you. Put necessity ahead of desire.


Cancer: Stick to matters that are materially meaningful and leave social concerns to someone else.


Leo: Your limitations are the result of your negative thinking. You must change your outlook.


Virgo: People will treat you equally as generously as you treat them.


Libra: It is not smart to accept a business invitation from people you know on a social basis.


Scorpio: You might seek out accolades and endorsement, yet not necessarily do anything to earn them.


Sagittarius: If you are not getting the best results with traditional techniques experiment with new procedures.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

China: The substituted days out Part 1 - The Yellow River

I'm not really sure what to make of my rather sporadic posting to this blog of late but whatever it is must certainly account also for my complete failure to maintain my other blog – the photoblog over at

Whatever it is I seem to never be posting as much as  I know that I ought to.

It isn't lack of time. I spend most of my free hours sitting at the computer either reading through those blogs that I can still access here, downloading things to watch or listen to or watching and listening to them.

I say "those blogs I can still access" because I can't access anything hosted by blogger and things on wordpress can be seen about ten percent of the time.


I suspect that it's a combination of the relative sameness of the days and my inability to access my own blog and see what I've written that is responsible.


Anyway, let's redress the problem temporarily with a post.


In the post about making plans I said that my trip to Xiahe was off and so it was. I also said there might be a replacement trip to the yellow river which I had done before. Well I've been out to the yellow river a couple of times but this turned out to be different.

Three of the four of us – Aubri being unavailable for the trip – met up with Richard to take a drive out to the river. Richard, you will recall, is the very helpful son of our administrator. There was a car and a driver waiting. It wasn't, as it might have been, one of the somewhat ramshackle taxis that ply their trade in and around Baiyin. It was a modern luxury car with air conditioning and, for once, a driver who didn't scare me half to death with reckless acts of motoring bravado.

We climbed in and set off out of town in a direction I haven't previously explored much. My Saturday strolls have taken me to most places but to the north I have been only as far as the railway line and the tumbledown dwellings that run beside it. We were soon past those and while there does appear to be another section of town that I may explore later predominantly it is industrial and unpleasant. What was interesting was that, as in the centre of the city, spring was coming and things were blooming. Such is the usual sandy bleakness that even this sparse vegetation seemed luxurious and the colour green, so long absent from the views, was striking.

We headed out away from civilization and were soon driving through hills that were initially identical to those to the south of the city. As we cut away from the main road though things started to change. We climbed a winding road and turned a corner to see the hills laid out before us and the road, lined with warning markers, plunging down between them. For thirty minutes we negotiated this switchback and then we arrived at a gate.

It looked more like a military guard post than the entrance to a well known local beauty spot but there were queues of cars and coaches being allowed in one at a time past the chain barrier. We took our turn and started down into the valley. It was breathtaking. The serpentine road twisted down through the cliffs which grew taller and taller around us as we craned our necks to catch the momentary glimpses of the flat and fertile valley bottom.

This is fruit growing country and at the bottom we found ourselves on an unexpectedly grid-like sequence of roads between the trees that led us at last to the riverside.

It was a busy and bustling place. There were plenty of tourists there but we were the only three who weren't Chinese. The tourist experience is well-defined and after that spectacular descent the next step is boating.

Boating as I have never experienced it before. In my travels I have taken canoes and kayaks, been white water rafting, travelled on ferry's and paddle steamers but never have I seen such rafts as these. Bamboo frames approximately eight feet square are lashed to tarred and inflated sheepskins. About a dozen of these skins are what keeps the raft afloat while the boatman steers it down the river.

We took two and set off. In the air-conditioned car I had been aware of the heat in a vague theoretical way but out on the river the sun was fierce. The water was moving quickly but smoothly as we drifted along. The view was magnificent. Towering cliffs gradually moved in towards the water. There was a thin white ribbon of a road at the base which we saw cars move along occasionally but the slow glide down  the river on this precarious vessel was far more satisfying.

After an all too brief ride we fetched up on a stony beach at the foot of a valley that ran away from the shore. This was the next part of the tourist trail.


We handed in our bright orange life-jackets and walked a little way up the trail. There were three choices for proceeding – on foot, on horseback or by donkey cart. We chose the donkey carts. They are gaily painted but barely faster than walking and not especially comfortable. Nevertheless, as we bounced along on  the canopied flat-bed pulled by a bored donkey and its handler, I reflected that this was the kind of day that makes travel worthwhile. There was a never-ending stream of near identical carts and sometimes they passed us and sometimes we passed them but always the Chinese tourists on the others did a double-take and pointed their cameras at us rather than at the infinitely more interesting rock formations that rose barely yards away.

We waved and smiled.

The bright sunlight etched every shadow and every angle of the rocks in sharply distinguished tones, turned it into a chiaroscuro landscape of contrasting tones.

As with the boat ride it was too soon done and we paused at the head of the trail to stretch our legs before remounting the cart to head down, not to the boats – upriver would be rather more difficult to achieve – but to our waiting car and that narrow road which, on closer inspection, had numerous signs in Chinese, English and rather graphic drawings warning that the cliffs above us were dangerous and prone to crumbling.

They didn't crumble onto us though and soon we were back at the town where we had started.

We ate a splendid lunch and drank a couple of beers in a shaded courtyard restaurant, happy to be sitting out of the direct sunlight as the food, ordered by Richard was brought out to our table along with a bowl of truly delicious local apples.

We had intended to take a walk around the orchards but a slight delay in the valley meant that there was no time for that so when we had finished we climbed back into the car and retraced our route to Baiyin. It was a marvellous on the way back as it had been on the way out and when we arrived in the late afternoon we were all in agreement that this had been a pretty good last minute substitution in our plans.


Xiahe will still be there for another time.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Correcting the joke...

Living in China I get to watch a lot of...ahem... locally produced... DVDs.
Naturally these have Chinese subtitles to go with the western content. Often though, names go untranslated being rendered as English script in the middle of a line of Chinese script.
In a program I was watching a character said, "As Shakespeare said,'it's better to have loved and lost'..."
The subtitles corrected it to "Alfred Lord Tennyson".
The correction is accurate but I'm sure that the 'mistake' was intentional. The program was Big Bang Theory and it's not the kind of thing they get wrong. It was the character getting it wrong, not the writer.
I wonder whether the reason for the change was that the translator thought it was a genuine mistake or simply thought that the audience wouldn't get the fact that it was intended.

We Need Fresh Blood

Apart from the occasional accidental internet tourist who strays onto my blog, looks at it for five minutes (I know Dave, more like five seconds - no need to tell me) and then never visits again, my readership consists almost solely of people known personally to me - people I've been to the pub with.
Because of that it's with a little reluctance that I'm about to post an invitation to join me on a discussion board. I've been on it for quite a few years now and who knows what things I may have posted that refer to people I know? I can't remember everything I've done today let alone everything I've posted on a discussion board on the internet.

Anyway, here's the invitation.

Come and join us at

wordcraft (

We are in need of some new blood over there and personally I'd hate to see one of my favourite internet hangouts disappear through a gradual but pernicious decline in interest.

What's it all about?

Primarily language but don't let that put you off. A look at recent topics reveals that we are, or have been, discussing

1 - Our regular bluffing game (more of which later)
2 - The (over)use of the metaphor "through the looking glass" by everybody from sports writers to Al-Jazeera
3 - whether saying "recalictrant instead of "stubborn" makes you arrogant
4 - "American Exceptionalism"
5 - grammatical gender
6 - Dilbert and The Office
7 - whether "muckle" is a real word
8 - a whole bunch of really awful puns
9 - our regular limerick game (also more of which later)
10 - The bizarre list of words banned in NY on student exam papers
11 - the linguistic peculiarities of Chicago's Mayor Daley
12 - my latest poem about my current flatmate
13 - Saint George's Day

Some of those sound a little heavy but, trust me, we discuss everything in a pretty light-hearted way and see ourselves more as a nice friendly place to discuss stuff with friends than an overly-dour academic resource.
This is shown by our popular word game threads where we do puns, crazy definition games, limericks, world's worst jokes and whatever else from time to time takes our fancy.

There is also a weekly online chat though at the moment I can't take part in that because I'm living in China and the time-difference is a killer.

We have also had a couple of actually honest-to-goodness get-togethers and met each other in person in the USA or the UK

So, if you have any interest at all in language come on over and take a look.

Remember the address is

And if you stumble on anything that looks as if I wrote it about you then please be assured it's actually about some other Dave/Pete/Phil/John/Jill/Silvia/whoever and not actually about you at all. Honest!