20 October 2009
Not a very auspicious start to our journey when the limousine driver couldnâ€™t find the house. However, having persuaded Emirates to pick us up at six oâ€™clock rather than 7.15, in the event, this did not turn out to be a disaster. I cannot imagine how, or why Emirates would have suggested a 7.15 pick up for a 10.15 flight, everyone knows that the M25 can be a complete disaster and you can sit there for an hour and not move â€“ if there has been an accident or there were the inevitable road works â€“ and leaving three hours from home to flight departure, would be courting disaster from the beginning, meaning one could arrive half-an-hour or so before check in and be denied boarding.
At Heathrow there is never any guarantee how long security and such matters can take, so there is always a strong possibility with such a late pick up, one could miss the flight, however, having said all that, the journey to the airport went very smoothly and we found ourselves sitting comfortably in the Business Lounge with a couple of hours to spare.
We were able then to indulge in a very good meal, having made up our minds that once we got on the â€˜plane we would doss down for the six-and-a-half hours and would not bother with the food on offer.
The selection of food, in the airport lounge, was extremely good. I started with some quail eggs and delicious smoked salmon, and then followed with one of the best racks of lamb that I have had for a considerable length of time, all liberally washed down with a few glasses of champagne.
This set me up for an early head-down once we hit the â€˜plane itself. Sadly, it was a 777 and the Business Class seats really arenâ€™t that comfortable, but the six-and-a-half hour flight to Dubai went reasonably quickly, uninterrupted by those incessant meals that one gets on such flights.
We had something like two-and-three quarter hours to kill in Dubai which, again, in the biggest airport lounge in the world extremely well-serviced with food bars, business centres etc, was no great hardship. We boarded our flight at 20.15 for Beijing and although, it was one of the airbuses, again, the Business Class seats had not been â€œmodernisedâ€ and although slightly better than the 777 were still not particularly comfortable, but as the flight was of similar length to that from London – six-and-a-half hours or so â€“ it was no great hardship. Unfortunately the flight was delayed by the illness of a young Arab at the door of the Business Class entrance to the â€˜plane and it took about three-quarters of an hour before they decided they would unload him which meant they had to find his luggage in the hold and anything that he had brought on to the aircraft and deposited in the overhead lockers. I must confess I was a little bit apprehensive as to whether he had managed to smuggle on some bomb or other, which was not then associated with his personal overhead luggage and that we might be destined for some incident on the flight to Beijing.
Fortunately, my fears were unfounded, and the flight was uneventful although we arrived somewhat later than scheduled. As I can no longer wield a pen Mick is of inestimable value in completing the Arrival and Exit Forms, which seem to go on forever. We were met by a nice young student, Alex ( Sun Ye Ping), who ferried us through to a taxi and to the Friendship Hotel, arriving there around half-past midnight. It took for ever to book us in as we asked for adjoining rooms as this would facilitate the good Doctor assisting me with the various bits and pieces â€“ dressing, washing etc â€“ for which I now need help.
I managed to ring â€˜my lovelyâ€™ in Cornwall just before I went to bed. around 1.30 a.m. local time,. I was awake at 4.30 after my normal three hours sleep despite the jet lag so-called, and taking my normal sleeping pills etc, however, I held on to around 5.30 when I got up and started dictating this blog.
From Clavering to the Friendship Hotel in Beijing had taken approximately 24 hours so I suppose I wasnâ€™t doing too badly. It augured well for the lectures to come for which Alex told me there were to be around 130 students. I managed to make myself a cup of green tea by tearing the packet apart in my teeth, without disturbing the good Doctor. I did my morning exercises â€“ as I do every day at home â€“ but for the first time ever I was unable to raise my arm and opposite leg from the floor. Maybe it is something to do with the Chinese floors or the out-of-phase timing, but this is a rather an alarming development.
Went to the University to meet Maggie and to check out the papers etc, all very much under control â€“ it looks like 120-130 students so should be quite a good class. Then we had a very good lunch â€“ far too much to eat â€“ and then off to the Silk Market to buy some cashmere sweaters for â€˜my lovelyâ€™ and Chloe â€“ got the wrong sizes and the wrong colour, sadly because I had left Aliceâ€™s clear instructions behind at the hotel, so poor Mick is going to have to go back tomorrow and change them. As he is planning to go to the Forbidden City it not so far out of his way.
The Silk Market is one of my favourite shopping venues in Beijing. It is located quite a long way from the Hotel â€“ way beyond the Forbidden City â€“ but it is well worthwhile a visit. When I first came to Beijing the market used to be literally that â€“ open air market stalls with a tarpaulin thrown over them â€“ now it is housed in a five or six storey building but, nevertheless, retains much of the original souk (market) feel. I go to a particular shop â€“ No 88 â€“ to which I was recommended by a friend from the British Embassy many years ago. I have always beaten down the price asked and got what I believe is an good bargain from the dear lady who runs it. She almost weeps when I turn up but, nevertheless, I think that is all part of the game. I bought two beautiful sweaters â€“ one for each of my. girls. Whether it really such a good bargain these days I’m not so sure. From the asking price 860 yuan each (Â£76) I beat her down to 550 yuan each (Â£48) but then someone has to make a living. All I know is that they are the best Inner Mongolian cashmere but they may well have been cheaper in M&Sâ€™s in the UK!
Before returning to the hotel we sat in the street having a cup of coffee and a smoke. I used my patent hands-free cigar holder which caused quite a stir amongst the local populace. If I had had a suitcase of them with me I could probably have sold them on the spot. At some stage I will include a photograph of this ingenious gadget on this blog
Then back to the Hotel for a bit of rest â€“ I was a bit weary â€“ before another heavy meal. Gosh, one seems to be eating all the time here! Wonderful food but really far too much! The great thing about the Chinese is that they donâ€™t seem to hang around over their meals â€“ we didnâ€™t leave the hotel much before 6.30, got to the restaurant at seven oâ€™clock and we were back in the Hotel around nine oâ€™clock ready to go to bed early for an early start tomorrow for the beginning of the lectures. I shall be very interested to see how I manage physically. In the meantime the good old Doctor is doing a great job as my carer â€“ he seems to have taken over wonderfully from Alice so I am extremely well looked after.
So, first day of the lectures. Michael was an absolute star, got me up at 7.10 and not only helped me with my bits and pieces but washed me with my sponge, dressed me, got me down to breakfast and in the hall by 8.30. We were at the University just before nine when the lectures were due to start. After a little bit of a problem with the PowerPoint slide projector and so on – which seems par for he course – things got underway and, and I must say, went extremely well.
I was very pleased with the morning performance â€“ I didnâ€™t have to do it all â€“ Bill Godwin did his bit and I did mine â€“ I managed to keep my voice up at a reasonable volume and I believe kept the interest of the students. We then had a nice lunch â€“ as always far too much â€“ I try not to over eat at lunch time when I am lecturing as it makes me feel a bit sleepy. I then had a good rest until the mid-afternoon break when I took over again.
Of course, we went out to supper that evening with the students but did manage to get a relatively early night.
The second day lectures also went extremely well. In the event they were apparent in 140 students. I must say having Bill helping me took some of the weight off my shoulders, certainly I have been pleasantly surprised at the energy I have been able to inject in the lectures and still keep the students attentive and laughing at the right time and so on.
Ironically, my greatest fear has been the lavatory, because the lavatories in the old block at the University are all squats â€“ ceramic lined holes in the floor and you have to squat down and frankly the condition of my knees and legs at the moment is such if I got myself in that position I wouldnâ€™t ever be able to get up again. What on earth happens to oneâ€™s trousers and bits and pieces that are down on the floor, in such a circumstance, well, one shudders to think. How does one get assistance to pull up a half naked professor? I wonâ€™t go into any great detail, I will just leave it to the reader to imagine the horrors of it. All I can say is thank goodness I was constipated and therefore had no need to squat in the lavatory.
We had our usual delicious lunch in one of the private rooms at the back of the students canteen. Lots of lovely of tofu, prawns and other exciting dishes that you donâ€™t get in Chinese restaurants in London. The afternoon session again went well and after a short rest the helpful Mick got me dressed quickly to go to the famous Beijing Quanjude Shuangyushu Roast Duck Restaurant. The Dean, Professor Shijian (John) Mo, came a little later but when we arrived we were greeted by the deputy dean, Professor Zhang Lying and her lovely daughter Dear. I’m glad to say that the wonderfully helpful students, Alex and Bessie (Yan Guanzu) were invited as well.. It was a fantastic meal interspersed with toasts every few minutes. All terribly complimentary; â€˜to the Professor for comingâ€™ and â€˜to his wonderful Doctor and so on and so forth â€“ a lot of fun, really a great deal of fun. Again, despite the grand occasion it was all over by nine oâ€™clock, of which I certainly approve. However, this wouldnâ€™t go down too well at home â€“ certainly not with my sister-in-law who frequently doesnâ€™t start eating until 9.30 or 10 oâ€™clock. Anyway, towards the end of the meal there was the inevitable presentation of gifts. Mine turned out to be a magnificent china violin decorated with very delicate flowers and a butterfly.â€“ I have no idea of its significance but it was clearly an extremely fine gift. Different from European taste, admittedly, but, nevertheless, a beautiful piece of porcelain.
Mick, was also recognised. Indeed he has been recognised quite a lot of the time by the staff; his health drunk and thanks given to him for all the wonderful work he is doing in keeping me sort of propped up and sprucely dressed and so on.
They really appreciate that he is making it possible for me to deliver my lectures and, as such, he hasnâ€™t been in the shadows in any way. They have referred to the good Doctor on many occasions, and on this occasion gave him a very nice gift too.
Thank goodness this is the last day as I seem to have survived reasonably well. Fortunately only had one major lecture to give, then after that we had role play and I used some American students, Will, Rod, Nancy and Yolande who were absolutely magnificent. They really were â€“ it was the best role play we have had in he 10 years or so since I’ve been doing this course. We played out a sketch, or at least a part mock arbitration that I had written many years ago in connection with Yangzi River Dam. The dispute was about a software failure in connection with the lifts that take the ships at the bottom of the Dam – anything up to 3,000 tons – and blow them out at the top. There were all sorts of claims and counter-claims and I had written a very amusing piece of dialogue between the barristers over various applications before and during the interlocutory period. That went down extremely well with the students.
On this last day I realised there was a rather smart looking, elderly gentleman at the back of the classroom and I wondered who on earth he was, so I went up and introduced myself and discovered he was an Italian Professor of Finance. Heaven knows why he sat in on my lectures, as I discovered that he had come to the university to see the Dean who was away at the time. He apparently speaks five different languages and seems to be one of those people who can absorb knowledge, so I suppose he thought he might fill in the time he and waiting to see the Dean to learn a bit about dispute resolution. Anyway he was a very nice guy so I invited him to join us for lunch on the Saturday and we sat and had a chat. Apparently, his field, outside his main business I suppose, for he is a lawyer but also a financial advisor, is the purchase of very expensive wines that get laid down and mature and then are sold on â€“ very rarely drunk of course. I took an instant shine to this Professor and decided that I would probably follow up on him, when I got home, and have a little flutter on wine myself.
We finished fairly early mid-afternoon and then we had the certificate presentation. Almost all of the 140 students, for some extraordinary reason, wanted to be photographed with the Professor, which was absolutely crazy, so we did them five at a time and after about 40 of them dear Maggie decided that that was enough for the poor old Professor. So I left, or at least I tried to leave â€“ went through the back of the classroom and they came out in hoards these girls. â€˜Professor, Professor, I want your photograph with meâ€™ and so on and so on, How could I deny them, so I stood there like a film star for 20 minutes or so being photographed with all these lovely little girls. After a while I just fled and when back to the hotel to have a short rest before going out to yet another final dinner and then, no sooner had I settled down, than the telephone rang saying not 6 oâ€™clock, as originally planned, but would we be in the lobby at 5.30, so our rest was cut short.
One thing I should stress, and should stress, most strongly, is that although all of my time is given voluntarily, and unpaid, to this teaching assignment, none of it would be possible without the very generous support of the members of the Arbitration Club, which I founded 20 years ago, who has established a China Fund to cover the travel expenses.
As a result something in the order of 1000 Chinese lawyers, or would-be lawyers, reading for a Masters degree in international law have benefited. A truly worthwhile venture for a club whose motto is Excellence through Sharing.
Off we went to the restaurant where I had invited the American students, who had been so good in the role play. Maggie was there too, as was the larger than life Dr. Jonathan Ma â€“ I was delighted to see him (hadnâ€™t seen him for years) but he is the most extraordinary lively sort of person.
We had a delicious meal which, as it turned out was Will (Devennyâ€™s) 24th birthday, who, instead of us giving him a present – we had no idea it was his birthday â€“ generously gave us a wonderful bottle of some very expensive Chinese spirit which, turned out to be 52% proof – pretty potent stuff.
Unfortunately another large box for poor old Mick to carry who will, no doubt, end up looking rather like a Christmas Tree but, nevertheless, it was very kind of Will, who rather unexpectedly insisted on giving me big hug before he went off, obviously to celebrate his birthday with his friends where he was probably meant to be the whole evening but was too polite to reject my invitation to join us.
Again, it was fortunate that the evening was cut short fairly early â€“ about 9 oâ€™clock â€“ we managed to get away back to our hotel â€“ Mick and I sat and had a quiet whiskey together and had an early night already thinking about the morrow when we would have to pack â€“ have one day left and leave about 7 oâ€™clock in the evening for the flight to Thailand.
Maggie had very kindly asked me what I’d like to do on my last day and I had suggested visiting somewhere in old Beijing — not one of the usual tourist attractions. So we packed up, left our bags with the hall porter and went off on a Mystery Tour with Alex and Bessie.
The destination proved to be the Emperorâ€™s magnificent private garden ( Bei hai Park) behind, and adjoining the Forbidden City. Before we did that we went into some lovely old butongs, which is where the Chinese used to live â€“ tiny little courtyards â€“ hidden behind a substantial studded, frequently highly decorated, wooden door. The courtyard would have buildings on all four sidesâ€“ a studio perhaps, bedrooms, dining room and so on with the elderly parents living in one part of it and the daughter, husband and children in the other and maybe an office in the other part. It was a great excitement to experience what China was really like once. The particularly butong we visited happened to be the studio of a well-known expert in the art of paper cutting. Mick bought a cutting of an owl.
Whilst in this little area of old China we had to travel round in rickshaws because no cars were allowed. Then we went off into the Park â€“ the one behind the Forbidden City. It must have been be over hundred acres with its lakes ( Qian Hai â€“â€œFront Seaâ€ and Hou Hai â€“ â€œBack Seaâ€), temples and so on â€“ that was really quite exciting. We had a very pleasant modest lunch by the lake. On the way out of the Park, before we left to go back to the Hotel, we came across a lot elderly people dancing and singing and exercising as they do in China and Mick joined in and had a little dance with one of the old ladies. It was so beautiful and so Chinese. A delightful finish to our trip.
Then back to the Hotel to pick up our suitcases and off to the airport with Alex and Bessie characteristically absolutely insisted on coming with us all the way, even seeing us through the departure gate, just to make sure that everything was under control and there were no snags. They have both been marvellous.
We had our flight then to Thailand on Air China, a flight of around four and-a-half hours â€“ we were cramped up in Economy for the first time â€“ but it went quite quickly and wasnâ€™t too bad. Our driver, who I had used previously, was thankfully waiting for us at Bangkok Airport.
27 Oct 2009.
We left the Airport around 1.20 a.m and sped through the virtually empty motorways, arriving at the Anantara in just over two hours, which was amazing. We got to bed at about 3.15 and having had about three or four hours sleep â€“ I got up about 7.30, and breakfasted in what has become very familiar surroundings. We were greeted at every turn by the staff who charmingly, and with great enthusiasm, welcomed us back.
So we started the day as if we had been here all along. Mick stayed in his room and did some updating on his reports and I went off to my usual sunbed. It was baking hot and very sticky so I didnâ€™t stay at it too long, being the first day and then went back to my room at lunch time to ring â€˜my lovelyâ€™ as I always do at this time of day.
After a very pleasant morning lying on that isolated little platform, opposite our Lagoon houses, I spent the afternoon on my shaded balcony â€“ spreadeagled on very large with a terrifically long soft couch. Being absolutely private I lay there naked listened to music and reading â€“ the sun comes round around two oâ€™clock so I had a little more sun bathing, before preparing to go out for our first evening in town and our visit to Danush, the Royal Boss, the tailor where I had one or two things I need him to make for me.
As usual we caught the six oâ€™clock bus into Hua Hinâ€“ the journey taking about five or eight minutes. We marched off to the supermarket, changed some money, got some tonic water and then went up to see our tailor. Unfortunately, Danush has gone home to Nepal â€“ I always thought his was Indian but it seems he is Nepalese – and wasnâ€™t there and probably wonâ€™t be back before we leave which is very sad but his assistant took my measurements for trousers and some shirts for Karl, my son-in-law, but unfortunately wasnâ€™t able to even consider making my flannel wrap round draws, which I had so carefully designed and thought was a brilliant idea to go under my kilt for the winter months when I go round with the geriatrics at golf, on Tuesdays, so I am having to think again on that one.
Anyway, from there we went on down the Poolsuk Road to the Bam Bam – by reputation, with the locals ex-pats who live here – one of the best restaurants in the town – where we have been many a time, over the years, and had a meal. We sat next to a rather charming middle aged Dutch couple â€“ they looked rather jolly and I rather insulted them by saying that their language was disgusting but I didnâ€™t mean it quite as badly as that and I apologised â€“ what I meant was that it is an extremely difficult language to master. I explained to them that I had a Dutch son-in-law and that I had spent nearly three months trying to perfect a five-minute address to the 30 odd Dutch guests who came to Karl and Chloeâ€™s wedding, 16/17 years ago.
Anyway we got on very well with them â€“ a very sweet couple. The guy told us that he retired at 50 and they were spending six months of the year travelling round the world, but rather sadly said, when I asked him what he had done for gainful employment he told me that. he had had a variety of jobs â€“ estate agency and so on â€“ that he had only worked to live – I find that a terrible indictment.. I think anybody who does a job and doesnâ€™t enjoy it should stop and do something else, but there we are â€“ everybody is different.
We then we hailed a took took back to our hotel, 120 baht â€“ at least I beat the poor lady down who was driving to took took from 150 baht to 120.
She had a little boy with her, as she drove us back to the hotel and, predictably, when we got there, Michael â€“ being the generous person he is â€“ gave her a 20/30 baht tip which brought us back to the 150 but thatâ€™s typical of Michael.
Like Alice he is one on life’s giver. The world is divided between givers and takers â€“ Alice and Michael are givers, sadly, I am a taker but I have tried very, very hard not to be for many years. So, we then go back to our rooms, as we always do, when we are here, we settled down over a nice large glass of Black Label â€“ we enjoy that â€“ propped ourselves up my bed and watched a video. This one was about the young Victoria which was a really lovely and interesting film. I learnt things like the fact that the young Queen Victoria, was the first occupant of Buckingham Palace â€“ I didnâ€™t know that. In fact, I rather stupidly didnâ€™t know that she wasnâ€™t even in direct line for the throne â€“ but she was the only offspring of three uncles â€“ King William IVth. had no children and as she was the daughter of the Duke of Kent, a fourth son of George III, he was next in line. â€“ I should have known that but I didnâ€™t. Anyway, it was a very pleasant film and so to bed.
Got up early this morning â€“ Mick had a swim and we went off and had our usual fantastic breakfast â€“ it has to be the best breakfast anywhere in the world â€“ the widest variety of food and fruits â€“ all sorts of goodies. We then went back to our rooms and on to the platform across the lagoon, opposite where Michael settled me down on my sunbed, covered me all over in oil, clamped on the I-Pod, so I could listen to some music. I started off the day with some adagioâ€™s, which I adore, soft, sweet and gentle music. I have a fantastic range of music on my I-Pod â€“ something like 4600 pieces â€“lots of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and so on â€“ all the ordinary or commonplace stuff but, in addition, some lesser known works from composers like Field. At some future date, in my blog, I will list some of these more interesting pieces. So I lay there in the sunshine, happy as a sand boy until about 12 when I then read for an hour and then went to my back to my room.
Last night Michael had two great ideas. One, he suggested that I should get some one to write a paper about the miracle of my artificial urinary sphincter (AUS) ( See May 2008/Jan 2009 entry). How, through this great accident the miracle had happened and it should be written up in one of the medical journals. I agreed that I would try to co-paper with a Professor of Urology â€“ I would write the lay bit and the Professor can write the medical bit â€“ Michael suggests we have an MRI to see, or try to see, exactly what is happening with this AUS and perhaps the bio-plastic insert and try to discover why the whole thing happens to be working and retaining the urine. I am sure it will be a fascinating paper.
The second idea Michael had â€“ and I think itâ€™s a lovely one â€“ is that we should make a short DVD that can be used at the beginning of my lectures in China when I can no longer deliver them lectures myself. The idea of being that I can welcome the students each time, in absentia so to speak, and I’m no longer around to deliver the lectures myself. I love that idea, so I shall work on it before next year’s lectures.
This morning, at breakfast, it was rather sweet, I was wearing my apron, which is what I have to wear because I am so messy now, and it is the apron which was designed by the school which my grandchildren attend and it is covered with little drawings, all done by the children themselves â€“ I think they are four to five year olds.
Most extraordinary little drawings, how they see themselves â€“ I think a psychiatrist could make a great deal out of it and underneath each little drawing is written the name of the child who drew it. A dear Thai lady came up and said I looked very nice and very smart â€“ I donâ€™t know quite what she meant but she was fascinated by the apron.
Then at lunch time, I went back to my room to do a little bit of dictation and had my lunch and then I spent the afternoon on my balcony before showering to go into town. Then back to the hotel for our whisky and video. That is the pattern of things day after day. We donâ€™t get bored. In those few hours that I am lying around listening to music or reading I forget my disability, so itâ€™s completely therapeutic. I donâ€™t know how much more I shall need to say about these eight days because I canâ€™t imagine that there will be many incidents to report but if there are I will do so. Otherwise you can take it that that is how we spend the time in this exquisite hotel at the Anantara in Hua Hin.
After watching the film about the young Victoria last night, who had the Duchess of Sutherland I think it was, as her Mistress of the Robes, I have now decided to dub my dear friend Michael Master of the Robes as he obviously helps me dress etc â€“ that is his new title. He is also great on wiping my bottom; he doesnâ€™t seem to mind performing this task, which, with my crippled hands I now finding virtually impossible. He is very keen on clean bottoms is Michael â€“ he has done a great deal of inspections over the years and seen a great number of backsides! He told me, rather amusingly, of the number of smartly dressed people who used to come into his surgery and after getting them to undress was amazed how many of them didnâ€™t wear any underpants!
Yesterday, I was on the sunbed outside and had to go and use the outside loo in the garden, open on one side but, stupidly having locked the door, I couldnâ€™t get out. I managed to scramble my little swimming costume up to a respectable level and then the only way I could get out was to go through the opening at the end of the lavatory cubicle and struggle through the jungle, clutching my swimming trunks so that they didnâ€™t fall off. Anyway, there we are â€“ this is one of those things I now have to put up with, like it or lump it.
For my lunch everyday I have a nice box of fruit which dear Michael has to fill for me now at breakfast, unashamedly going up to the bench where all the fruit is. The staff donâ€™t seem to mind. He fills it with mangoes, pineapples and water melon and some little bits of lime. This then is my lunch every day, while I am here, which is great. He fills the bottle with orange juice and again, the staff donâ€™t seem to mind â€“ so it is a very healthy lunch.
After my lunch of my fresh fruit, I go out onto the balcony and lie au naturelle after being oiled up by Mick â€“ he applies the oil as if I were an Egyptian about to be mummified! I have an hour or so in the sun before I go on reading my current book which is The Last Apostle by James Becker, light holiday reading.
I found this book in the â€˜left booksâ€™ tray at the Lagoon Bar in this resort. At first I thought it a pale imitation of Dan Brownâ€™s â€˜The Da Vinci Codeâ€™ but as I got into it I realised that it was a very good and exciting story. Basically, itâ€™s about the pursuit of a sacred relic by a maverick policeman and his estranged wife after the murder of his erstwhile lover in Italy who lived in a 14th Century house, near Ponticelli, where a Latin inscription, HIC VANDICI LATITANT (â€˜Here Lie the Liarersâ€™) had been found hidden behind the plaster-work. Itâ€™s all about this couple getting embroiled in a chase over a number of months to follow a complicated trail of clues to find this sacred relic – which the Vatican itself has been looking for over the past 1500 years – supported allegedly by The Mafioso .
The relic allegedly proves that St Peter and St Paul (as they became) were agents of the Emperor Nero, who started what he called the â€œChrist Mythâ€ in order to divert the Jews who were being rather troublesome at the time.
Now before I quote from the book (without the authorâ€™s consent, I must stress) let me say that Iâ€™m quite interested in this subject, though not morbidly so, having read Professor Dawkinsâ€™ denial of God, â€˜The God Delusionâ€™, and this follows, in a funny sort of way, the same sort of trail, and because of my â€˜afflictionâ€™ I will obviously know whether God exists, or not ( as I believe to be the case) before most of my readers!
â€˜The Last Apostleâ€™, is of course, as the author says, a novel; and to the best of his knowledge no documents resembling the Vitalian Codex ( the document buried deep in the Vatican’s most secret vaults which purports to evidence that Peter and Paul were Neroâ€™s secret agents) â€“ existed or ever existed.
However, quoting from James Becker:
â€œâ€¦the central idea of this book is founded on fact because, despite my fiction, there is some historical evidence that St Paul was an agent of Rome, employed by the Emperor Nero in precisely the manner Iâ€™ve suggested in this bookâ€¦â€
â€œâ€¦for more information about this, readers are directed to Joseph Atwilâ€™s, â€˜Caeserâ€™s Messiah.â€
The hypothesis is that Paul and Titus Flavius Josephus – a 1st Century Jewish historian – was employed by Rome to foster a peaceful messianic religion in Judea in an attempt to reduce the rebelliousness of the Jews and their opposition to Roman rule. If this is true, this suggests an interesting piece of lateral thinking on the part of the Roman Emperorsâ€¦â€
A little further back in the book is another interesting, if provocative, quote:
â€œâ€¦in the 1st Century AD the Romans had been fighting the Jews for decades and the constant military campaigns were weakening the empire. Rather than initiate a massive military response, Emperor Nero decided to create a new religion based on one of the dozens of messiahs who were then wandering about the Middle-East.
He chose a Roman citizen called Saul of Tarsus as his paid agent. Together they decided that a minor prophet and self-proclaiming messiah named Jesus, who had died in obscurity somewhere in Europe a few years earlier after attracting a small following in Judea, was ideal. Nero and Saul concocted a plan that would allow Saul to hijack the fledgling religion for his own purposes.
Saul would first achieve a reputation as a persecutor of Christians, as the followers of Jesus were becoming known, and then undergo a â€œspiritualâ€ revelation that would turn him from persecutor into apostle. This would allow Saul to insinuate himself into a position of power and leadership and he would then direct the followers – namely Jews of course – into a path of peaceful cooperation with the Romans occupying forces. He would tell them to â€œturn the other cheekâ€, â€œrender under Caesarâ€ and so on.
In order to achieve this fairly quickly Saul needed to â€œtalk upâ€ Jesus into far more than he ever was in real life. He decided that the obvious option was to portray him as the son of God. He concocted a variety of stories about him starting with a virgin birth and finishing with him rising from the dead and proclaiming these to be the absolute truthâ€¦â€
Admittedly all of this could be said to be fairly fanciful.
In one of those hypothetical discussions about the existence of Jesus early on in the book the author says the following to one of the Senior Cardinals of the Vatican:
â€œâ€¦you canâ€™t prove God exists but I can almost prove that Jesus didnâ€™t. The only place where there is any reference to Jesus Christ is in the New Testament and that – and you know this just as well as I do, whether you admit it or not – is a heavily edited collection of writings, not one of which can be considered to be even vaguely contemporary with the subject matter. To come up with the â€œagreedâ€ gospels the Church banned dozens of other writings that flatly contradict the Jesus myth.
If Jesus was such a charismatic and inspiring leader and performed the miracles and all the other things the Church claims he did, how come there is not one single reference to him in any piece of contemporary Greek, Roman or Jewish literature? If this man was so important, attracted such a devoted following and was such a thorn in the side of the occupying Roman Army, why didnâ€™t anybody write something about him? The fact is he only exists in the New Testament, the â€œsourceâ€ that the Church has fabricated and edited over the centuries and there is not a single shred of independent evidence that he ever existedâ€¦â€
Is this a good point?
Finally, on that theme, allegedly (in the book) Leo X, the Medici Pope, apparently said that the Christ myth had â€œserved them wellâ€. This is very interesting and I would love to know from a scholar if it is recorded that Leo X ever actually said something similar to this.
In the Epilogue there are interesting things about St Paul (as he is known today); and he undoubtedly, according to the author, existed – born around AD 9 to wealthy Jewish merchants in Cilicia. As a young man he was a violent opponent of Christ and was active in identifying those he saw as heretic Jews and delivering them for punishment.
Tradition holds that he was on his way to Damascus to continue his persecution of Jews when he was blinded by a light from heaven and underwent his celebrated conversion, following which he remained blind for some time. Once his sight was restored he became an ardent Christian. This apocryphal incident may have been inspired by ophthalmia neonatorum, a painful weakness of the eyes that left him almost blind in later life.
The other important apostle, St Peter, the author refers the reader to a Spanish scholar, Josep Puente, who suggests that he may not have existed at all as he is only found within the pages of the New Testament, and there is no independent historical evidence to substantiate his existence.
As I say, a fascinating book, a good page turner – in my opinion, every bit as good as Dan Brownâ€™s â€˜The Da Vinci Codeâ€™. I certainly recommend it anyone who likes a good ripping tale – true or not – and I wish Mr Becker every success
In contrast to this Michael has read a biography of Hitler; a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer; then a book about the French Revolution and is currently reading John Stott- a book about an English evangelist. I, on the other hand, have now moved on to A.J. Croninâ€™s â€œGrand Canaryâ€.
Around four oâ€™clock, most days, we reckon is drink time, we order some ice and have a nice long gin and tonic and sit under the fan on the balcony before getting ready to go out in the evening to catch the six oâ€™clock bus into town.
This evening before we had supper, we got dropped off at the most sophisticated craft shop, just outside Hua Hin, to purchase a beautiful silk square for Dr â€œMaggieâ€ Quin (the kind, gentle and unruffled Maggie) as a very small token of our esteem and gratitude for the wonderful way in which she organised every single detail of our visit to China including the provision of a fresh red rose every morning for my button hole. After buying that we went back and saw the tailor to have a fitting for the trousers he was making for me. Mick ordered some shirts and then we went off to the Onn Onn Corner restaurant where we had a far better meal then we had the night before at the Bam Bam. Mike had had some hot Thai soup with prawns, mushrooms and coconut milk and some egg fried rice and I had squid, which was a little bit rubbery, with a lot of red and green peppers and things with it and a plate of fried rice. We had a bottle and a half of Singha beer â€“ the total cost was 470 baht â€“ roughly about Â£8.50.
Last night, we went to the Onn Onn, again, not very adventurous but the food was so good last time we couldn’t resist it. We both had scallops â€“ mine with a green Thai curry (quite a light curry) and Mick with coconut milk. He had a bowl of steamed rice and we shared a large plate of Onn Onn special rice.
Then, as is our usual wont, we got a took took back to the hotel where we settled ourselves down with our Black Label whiskey and watched Clint Eastwood in a really lovely film, Gran Torrino, not too violent, but the language was a little bit strong, and then had a fairly early night 10 oâ€™clock.
This morning Mick banged on the door at seven oâ€™clock having had his second day when he had a swim having started off with six lengths â€“ this morning he managed 12 â€“ he is determined to get it up to 20 tomorrow, so he is getting fit and he is getting a little bit brown â€“ he doesnâ€™t sit in the sun like I do. After I had shaved, lying down, we went off and had our wonderful breakfast, filled my fruit box and then he put me on my sunbed, which is in view of our house, again oiled where I lay for an hour and a half of so with a couple of cool showers and a drink in between. I then read for an hour till one oâ€™clock when I went back to my room for my lunch.
Then my daily telephone call to â€˜my lovelyâ€™ I have never failed to make a call in the 47 years we have been married, not always getting through but I have always tried. Just the sound of her voice is enough to carry me on to the next day. It all seems to work very well.
The staff here are as wonderful as ever. They know me now very well having been here around a dozen times and the good Doctor â€“ this is his third visit.
We had a talk with Tim Boda, the director/manager, and he told me that he had been following my blog from the beginning, which is interesting and even sent one of my jokes -the one about the two old gentlemen -Â to his father who found it amusing.
On the way into town tonight we called at the Craft Centre to pick up the silk square for Maggie and Mick bought one â€“ not as nice as Maggieâ€™s, â€“ for one of his friends, Leen in Dubai. Then we got a took took to the corner restaurant near the Temple. Mick was very hungry. He had a bowl of steamed rice, half a dish of fried rice, some magnificent prawns in mango sauce and a terrific seafood soup to start with. I was very abstemious, as he was paying!
I just had some fried squid, some fried rice and we shared a bottle and half of beer. We got back incredibly early in time for our whisky and our film which was entitled Good. Â It was an interesting film about a nice young lecturer â€“ be involved in a moral dilemma against the power of the Nazi State â€“ he couldnâ€™t refuse to join them and hated himself for it. It was of particular interest to me because in the film,, he had written an novel about assisted suicide because his mother was ill and it was a terrible shock to him to see her going down hill. The Nazis jumped on this as an example of exterminating handicapped and disabled people and got him to write a paper justifying such extermination on humanity grounds and thus his dilemma.
So we got back last night from the market, had our usual whisky and watched a film and then we tried Willâ€™s very kind and generous present of Chinese liquor â€“ delicious but deadly stuff – the taste stayed with me half the night.
This morning Mick did his 20 laps. For breakfast, I usually have a couple of poached eggs and some streaky back but I start off with a plate of fresh mango, pineapple and water melon smothered in muesli. I finish with a tiny piece of toast and marmalade and coffee, of course, and lots of orange juice. After breakfast I usually â€˜bakeâ€™ till about 11 oâ€™clock when I go for a freezing cold shower and a dip in the pool and a drink, then back for a little more â€˜bakingâ€™ before reading for about an hour bringing the time out to up to about one oâ€™clock, lunchtime.
I forgot to mention at breakfast when Michael, my Master of the Robes, rushes around collecting my food, he is now in strong competition with the staff who also seem to know that I need help and it is very amusing to see which can get to me first. One great feature of breakfast is a honeycomb that they hang up over a long wooden trough â€“ about 2/3 feet long â€“ with a bowl underneath it and the honey drips off the honeycomb into the trough and into the bowl and people help themselves. An ancient way of collecting honey.
This evening we decided to eat at the corner restaurant on Deachanuchit Road, just up from the Royal Boss tailor. Although it is a scruffy looking place is reputed to have the best food in Hua-Hin. Mick stayed and queued up while I went for a second fitting for my trousers.
Mick had an enormous bowl of sweet chilli, yam and shrimps â€“ the chilli was a bit hot â€“ but he managed to knock it down with two large plates of steamed rice with which he seems to get on well, in addition to another plate of prawns in oyster sauce, so he had a pretty good meal. I had, on the other hand, some mushrooms and fried squid, which werenâ€™t fried in the end â€“ it was all steamed â€“ with the button mushrooms being a little disappointing but I did have a very nice dish of noodles and five tiger prawns which poor Mick had to peel for me because I couldnâ€™t manage it myself.
We washed the whole lot down with a bottle of Singha beer and the cost tonight went up to 560 bahts, around a tenner â€“ my turn to pay!. Then we got a took took back home and settled down to watch our evening movie.
The thing about this particular restaurant it is a hot and open to the air on two sides â€“ just a deck really with a lot of cheap and nasty chairs and tables but the food is meant to be the best in Bangkok and its reputation is such that the Thai Prime Minister is said to have eaten there last year, which is probably the reason the food there is a little more expensive than the other restaurants in which we eat. The amazing thing is that they donâ€™t have a kitchen â€“ and cook, in the gutter, where they have row after row of all sorts of little pots on charcoal fires. It must be good because there is always a queue of people waiting to get in and 95% of the customers are Thai. The washing up is done in three enormous sort of vats â€“ one of soapy water, where the first food comes off and then it is rinsed in another one, then finally rinsed in a third before being wiped.
You could be excused in thinking that from such primitive washing up you would get the most disgusting diseases and things and runny tummies but I have never had one yet. This incredible industry, all in the street, has to be seen to be believed.
I have decided that Michael is to have a third title, apart from Master of the Robes, dressing me, washing me and all the rest of it and in between, Jeeves attending to my other needs, I think I am going to call him the Kindly Reaper, as opposed to the Grim Reaper, dressed in a sparkling white robe, maybe with a hint of wings coming through his shoulder blades, and perhaps a glimmer of a halo. He knows so many dying and sick people and has buried quite a few of them over the past few years â€“ I donâ€™t know what it is about him that seems to attract him to them or the other way around â€“ I suppose being a doctor he attracts those sort of people, thus the Kindly Reaper – even his dear sister Jenny died only a couple of weeks ago. Anyway that is my third title for Michael.
Tonight, before we got our usual six o’clock bus into Hua Hin we had been invited to visit Connie (Constance M Heinecke) whom we have got to know over the years. She is regarded as the Grande Dame of the whole place and lives in a beautiful penthouse apartment in the condominium, adjacent to the resort, Anantara. From this rooftop dwelling there was a wonderful breeze and an incredible view of the coast. The apartment has a surrounding balcony, copiously enriched by numerous and variable plants in pots forming a lush garden. Connie is a fascinating, bubbly 90-year-old and the mother of William Heinecke, CEO and chairman of “Minor”, a fast growing international company operating our resort, Anantara, and another 50 or more hotels and 1500 or so restaurants throughout Thailand and internationally. The Heinecke family are committed to ‘giving back’ to the community. They have set up the “Roy E Heinecke Foundation”, named after Connie’s late husband, The Foundation has, and is presently giving, around 300 full education scholarships in Thailand and this number is increasing. Separately, the family have taken to providing regular daily lunches at schools for more than 3000 children. Roy Heinecke worked in American Embassies in and about South East Asia. Connie was a advertising manager for Newsweek Asia for 15 years and woman’s editor for the Army, Navy and Air Force Times in the Korean War. Connie and Roy began their lives with nothing. With Connie we also met another lovely Italian lady, Angela Paola, who lives with her husband in the condominium, as well as in Northern Italy. A delightful interlude.
Then we went into town as usual and went down the little market, at the end of the Buddist Temple where Mick bought four pairs of Calvin Klein XXL boxers for 600 baht â€“ just over Â£10 for four pairs.
Then we tried a new restaurant The Smile, which is between the Bam Bam and the Onn Onn. The Bam Bam was eerily empty – only four people in there tonight. I have never seen it so empty before. Something clearly has gone wrong â€“ it was, according to the ex pat population who live here – the most popular restaurant in Hua-Hin in the old days. Anyway, Smile was very good. I had crab fried rice, which was delicious and a hot plate of steamed seafood. Mick had a rather poor supper of mussels which he hated because he doesnâ€™t like messing around with shells and some steamed rice. He also ate half of my fried rice, but it was still an inadequate supper for him. With one bottle of beer, the total cost was a 500 baht. Then back to our room where we were going to watch A Handful of Dust â€“ we didnâ€™t watch it last night. Instead we watched The Eagle has Landed – the plot to kidnap Churchill towards the end of the war. Whether it was true or not I know not but it was a very good film.
2 Nov. 2009
This evening, on the way to the tailor, we noticed that there was no queue for the famous corner restaurant so rather unadventurously decided to eat there again.
Being so much emptier it was far more pleasant. We had, in fact, a very good meal. Mick had a bowl of delicious looking seafood soup which was watery and not too spicy and only one plate of steamed rice â€“ he is getting very abstemious. We shared a plate of mixed seafood of scallops, squid and prawns in an oyster sauce. I modestly had a very cheap plate of mixed stir fry vegetables and seafood which I found very much to my taste. We shared a bottle of beer and the total cost was 360 baht.
After supper Mick insisted in walking down the main market. Every two or three minutes he would disappear into some stall or other â€“ it was a real pain. It was very hot. He bought some more pants â€“ he just loves buying these boxers â€“ he must have about 74 pairs by now. Michaelâ€™s favours bright red underpants â€“ which is somewhat rather strange because most of his clothes are a sort of grey or brown â€“ rather drab, not what I’m called a snappy dresser! â€“ I canâ€™t help feeling he is a sort of closet dandy somewhere waiting to come out.
After a while I had had enough of the stifling heat of the market anyway and I tried dragging him away, and but he insisted on trying to buy a suitcase but I wouldnâ€™t let him because it was too expensive.
That evening watched a film called Crash which was weird â€“ I didnâ€™t entirely understand it so I went out to clean my teeth at what Mick described as a key moment. Anyway he got a little cross with me but anyway it was OK. A lovely day and a very pleasant evening.
3 Nov. 2009
Tonight the hotel staff kindly invited us to participate in The Loy Krathong Festival which has been celebrated in Thailand since the 13th century. Of Brahmin origin, the Festival involves placing a decorated float, traditionally made of a banana tree stump, but now usually of Styrofoam (sad) into a river or stream to let the â€œloyâ€, or â€œfloatâ€ drift away with oneâ€™s prays or wishes to the sea, where the Hindu God Vishnu resides.
The garden below us round the little lagoon was beautifully lit up and flowers everywhere. Each department of the hotel made an enormous floral wreath to float on the water, something like 2/3 feet in diameter, all different colours and shapes with incense and candles in them and there was a small individual one on every table.
The tables, with their white linen tablecloths were set out on the lawn under strips of coloured lights where we ate â€“ a table having been reserved for us â€“ and the food, row after row after row, of different types â€“ were all in the little shelter where they give cookery lessons on the edge of the lagoon. The scene was enchanting and then, at the end of the meal, we lit our incense and candles and floated our individual loys on the lagoon as the locals sang the Loy Festival song.
It was particularly poignant in Michaelâ€™s case because, dear Jenny, his sister â€“ who, of course, I also knew pretty well – died only two weeks ago and Lars Aby, a good friend from Loa, in Sweden, died only a few days ago, so we thought of them both as our little flower wreath floated away.
The wind got up during the night and there was a terrific storm, a lot of branches and leaves came down and things blew over and so on. So the hotel were extremely lucky to have such a lovely evening for their celebration. Amazing enough, talking about weather, when we left Beijing there was with a bright blue sky and the temperature was 23Â°C. We heard, a day or two ago, that it is now – 8Â°C and snowing -something that hasn’t happened in Beijing in living memory. What an amazing change and how lucky we were to have such beautiful weather while we were there.
Today, after the storm, it is very cloudy, in fact a little bit chilly. No sunbathing today so Mick and I caught up with e-mails and that sort of thing but the day slipped by very happily. We looked forward to our last night to Hua-Hin, to pick up our clothes, pay the tailor and so on and have our final meal in the Onn Onn and then and start thinking about packing for home.
It was pouring with rain this evening for the first time so we trudged around with our umbrellas through puddles and went to the supermarket where. Mick finally bought himself a new suitcase to carry some more of the junk that he had accumulated. Then we went for our last supper. Mick had some green Thai curry and steamed rice. Then back to the hotel to watch a very elderly Clint Eastwood in The Good the Bad and the Ugly. For a Western – a surprisingly good film.
Our last day. Fortunately the sun came out and I was able to have a final morning on the sunbed listening to exquisite music. I packed up and returned to my room around 1.00 p.m for my fruit lunch and, with considerable help from Mick, completed my packing before spending a last hour au naterelle spread eagle on my balcony couch.
A note was delivered to my room, with the account, enabling an express checkout with the following charming message.
Once upon a time, in the Gulf of Siam,
on the coastline of Thailandâ€™s Prachuap Khiri Khiri province
a Voyager known as
Found the jewel of the Kingâ€™s Heart
Seduced by the tranquil setting and lush gardens
as he was leaving this paradise known as Anantara Resor
he forgot that he had scheduled his departure at 17.00 hours
The kind people at the Anantara resor
sent this note as a gentle reminder, sayingâ€¦
We look forward to seeing you again soon.
This charmingly summed up a delightful stay.
Apologies to the reader for the surfeit of discussion about meals, but the food on this trip was absolutely delicious, as you will gather, particularly the seafood in Thailand.
Our car had been booked for 4 p.m. but turned up 20 minute late. However, we had a good driver who got us to the airport in under three hours. We then had time for a glass or two of champagne (or in Mickâ€™s case whisky) and a light supper before boarding the aircraft around 9.30. The â€˜plane turned out to be one of the new 380 Airbuses. The seats went flat and were quite comfortable and therefore we were able to sleep for a good part of the 6 Â½. hour flight to Dubai.