I have just returned from my Spring Break which was spent partly in Baiyin and partly in various locations in England. I considered writing a detailed, coherent description of the trip, starting with sitting on, and breaking, my umbrella, on the bus from Yangshuo to the airport and finishing with fireworks all the way back from the airport to Yangshuo which were not, it seems, in honour of my return, but rather in honour of the Chinese New Year.
I considered it and rejected it.
Instead, here are some random observations from the five weeks in no particular order.
Before I left Baiyin Theresa asked me if I could take some pictures of my home town as she'd like to see where I grew up. With that intention I went out one morning with my camera. It rapidly became obvious that Bilston is not the town it once was. If I had to caption the pictures that I took they would say things like “The empty space where the swimming baths used to be”, “The fence around the empty space where the shops used to be” and “The fence around an empty space where I'm sure there used to be something but I can't for the life of me actually remember what it was”. There would of course also be “The new leisure centre where there used to be an empty space” but that looks like it landed from another planet yesterday and might well fly off home tomorrow. You will doubtless be pleased to hear that I don't intend to post the pictures. You'll just have to go to Bilston and not see the sights for yourself.
Wolverhampton isn't my home town, though the powers that exist in that part of the world seem determined that Bilston should be absorbed into it (and Wolverhampton itself absorbed into some weird nebulous entity called “Greater Birmingham"). In the centre of Wolverhampton is their large shopping development “The Mander Centre”. I, of course, am old enough to remember a time before the Mander Centre, a time when the shopping there consisted of the Queen's Arcade. I walked around it for a couple of hours and now fully expect to see the demise of the centre in my lifetime too. There appear to be a very large number of a new chain called “To Let :Retail Opportunity” though none of them were open when I visited.
Moving up (or possibly down depending on your point of view) I had a look at Birmingham's new library which hadn't yet opened when last I visited. Jolly nice it is too. I've got used to the odd, wedding-cake exterior and quite like it now and the interior is really very nice indeed. A fine job. It opened in 2013. The city now plans to reduce its opening hours – and its staff – by almost fifty percent. Who needs boring old books anyway?
Next door, and now part of the same complex, is Birmingham Rep where I took in a Matinee performance of Harvey where every seat was full and, at a childlike 57, I was clearly the youngest person in the audience. A very nice performance it was too, with James Dreyfus turning in an unexpectedly assertive variation on the Elwood P. Dowd role. It is the only time I have seen an audience give a loud and very enthusiastic round of applause when the curtain call cast are joined by an invisible rabbit. I expect they'll find a reason to close the Rep too if they try hard enough.
I was startled when watching Sky News at a friend's house to discover that a fictional soul band were expected to play a leading role in a current military crisis. At least that's how I interpret the ticker tape item that said “UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon expects the Commitments to end the crisis in the Ukraine”. (In the interests of full disclosure, there may not have been a capital C.)
I was equally baffled, though thoroughly unsurprised, when watching a quiz show I heard the question “Which Simon is the country 'Bolivia'” named after?” answered with “Simon Cowell”.
Speaking of odd comments on television I watched a financial analyst say, with a completely straight face, that the take over of the 99p shop by Poundland would inevitably lead to price rises. Either he had the most perfect line in deadpan comedy or he was serious. I hope it was the former but can't rule out the latter.
My poetry performance at Wolverhampton went down particularly well with praise being received from almost everyone. Even better was that, as well as the poetry I read from assorted Chinese poets, they actually seemed to like my own work too. No one had told me it was themed for Saint Valentines Day but fortunately, and purely by coincidence, the set I'd selected included a couple of love poems so that worked out OK. The other acts were the usual accomplished mixed bill. I expect it will still be there waiting for me to join in next time I visit, though that might be some considerable time in the future.
Of course before I went to England I went to Baiyin which has had a bit of an explosion in the coffee shop industry since I lived there, with the four that I previously knew being joined by at least another four. Staff training, as in England, appears to have been a bit hit and miss, though, as in two of them I was disappointed to discover that the sole person who knew how to operate the coffee machine was absent. The shops were still open but a coffee shop that offers a dozen different types of coffee all of which it is unable to prepare sounds as if it should be in a Monty Python sketch.
It looked for a while as if I would be getting rather more chance to not sample the coffees than I intended as a few days before I left the province had the same light dusting of snow that closed all roads to the airport last year. It closed them this year too. Then they opened them again as it started to clear only to have another light dusting (so little that you would sprinkle more icing sugar on a cake) on the morning I was leaving. Fortunately this time the airport road wasn't closed and I managed to get away OK.
OK, that's enough for now. I will doubtless think of another random sampling as soon as I het sen on this one. If I do, I'll add them later.(See thought of one already - I haven't mentioned the roadworks yet. Lead item in the next bulletin.)