As Kirsty MacColl sang in the legendary Fairytale of New York: "Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last." Fag?
Moving from Hong Kong/China to Mallorca it appears I have fallen out of the ashes and right into the other ashes, fag wise. Everybody smokes. Well, not exactly everybody, but it seems there are a higher percentage of smokers here than in Hong Kong and China because here women smoke too whereas in the Chinese world they haven't quite caught up.
Christmas always reminds me of the joyous fact that I don't smoke anymore. A few days ago it was eight years since I took my last drag on those smelly twigs, and I haven't looked back. Some ex smokers say they never stop dreaming of cigarettes, calling getting rid of them "giving up" as if it was a sacrifice, but apart from a few fleeting seconds in the beginning where the mental habit manifested itself, I never thought of cigarettes again.
Over the years I had stopped many times, then started again. I never saw myself as a "real" smoker, but thought I needed fags as a crutch because my life was so difficult. It took me years to realise that my life was so difficult because I smoked. Yes, yes, only when drinking, but that was more than enough. I could easily put away a packet of Marlboro Lights (lights! So healthy!) in an evening. The alcohol and nicotine evened one another out, to enable me to drink more.
I started feeling heart palpitations and pains in my leg, but would I stop? My mother died of lung cancer and that frightened me, so I needed to comfort myself with my good friends Fags. One day I just got down on my knees and cried, praying to God: "I can't go on like this! Please let me never want to smoke again." Three weeks later, the 20th of December, I went on a Christmas trip to mainland China with two non smoking friends, and from then on I have been free! If I hadn't been a Christian before, I certainly was now. If God can make me stop smoking without pain, what can't He do?
Ordinarily, of course, mainland China would be the worst place in the world to go if you want to stop smoking.
China and smoke are like... lips and teeth. One can exist without the other but it’s a miserable existence, cold and full of longing. Cartons of cigarettes is a currency, frequently handed out, gift wrapped, at special occasions, like your child's kindergarten graduation. Guys light up as they walk into lifts. Restaurants, shops, taxis, massage parlours; no place is off-limits for the Chinese fuming male.
Once, on an already full overnight sleeper bus from Dandong to Beijing, the driver started letting on stray people without official bus tickets soon after departure until every square inch of the bus was full of people, mattresses, blankets, sheets and pillows, presumably of the cheapest material available. The staff’s hull on the Mayflower would have been like a ballroom in comparison. And all the men smoked, maybe to allay their fear of death as the overfilled bus careened all over the road for ten hours.
I spent the night in a state of hyper alert, terrified of perishing in a fireball. That’s when I decided to stop smoking, again! And only seven short years later, I did.
So now I'm the one sitting alone at bar tables while all the other people are out in the street, smoking. I would say I miss the camaraderie, but feeling smug makes up for it. That, and waking up the next morning happy and free.
Woo hooo! Celebrations, jubilations! Asians! Everything that ends in -ons and -ans! MallorCA'N Relish, the brainchild of affable Leeds man let's call him J. Le Fet, has finally emerged from the primal soup and crawled up on dry land, blinking in the unexpected sunlight.
In the first edition you can read articles about the most happening barrio in Palma, El Terreno, how to banish the Covid blues through talking to a transformation coach, where to go for a Staycation in a Mallorca where most hotels are closed, (hint, one of them will allow you to catch the sunrise in Valldemossa, below)
You will see where you can get an almost proper yam cha in Palma as well as how possibly the two most famous women connected to Mallorca, George Sand and Santa Catalina, lived only a few metres apart.
Most of all, you will see the weirdest bodega in Mallorca, possibly the world, with, again possibly, the only Spanish wine with a Bengali name. As well as lots and lots of stuff about places, cycling, scoffing down food, deliveries, services ...
In short! MallorCA'N* Relish is well and truly laaaaauuuuunched! Tonight I'll finally be celebrating before the much needed new restrictions set in. My guess: Stay home 24 hours a day while wearing a wetsuit and breathing through a straw.
*CA'N means 'home of' in Mallorquin.
FINALLY! Tomorrow marks the launch of long-awaited MallorCAN Relish, an online magazine about all the great things about Mallorca, in which I am co editor! Yaoooooo! Be-bop-a lula! Yippeeeee! Etc. This is what I have always wanted.
I'm lucky! It all started with me getting a job as an interviewer and photographer in Olive Valley, a website for Mallorca's business community. The Covid rigmarole/lockdown put something of a damper on that endeavour, but not before I had met John M at an Olive valley function. He asked me to write for a new online magazine he was starting. It was originally meant to be about catering, but then he thought: Catering? Why not cycling too? Why not restaurants? Why not local people who do stuff?
Yes! People who do stuff - excellent. They need support and encouragement. This was a dream come true, because in this magazine, no one would be messing with my writing, unlike in my former life in Hong Kong where I worked in English language South China Morning Post as a feature writer and columnist. That was a great job, a magnificent job but... well, let's just say that like many newspapers, the SCMP had this policy where sub editors had to insert their own stuff. And the sub editors were often Indian. They would take my best jokes and puns, and make them look like the minutes of a meeting of chartered accountants.
That was bad enough, but at least the original meaning was legible. What was far worse was when they took a sentence and changed it to what they thought it ought to be, rendering the whole story meaningless.
As long as I can remember I have wanted to be a writer, or rather, an author. Oh, to see one's name on the back of a book, and on the front, preferably followed by "Oliver Twist" "The Three Musketeers" or "Tom Sawyer's Adventures," my three go-to books as a child. I must have read them 50 times put together, in addition to the hundreds of other books I read each year to escape from my childhood.
The problem with those books was: They made me want big adventures. I wanted to go everywhere and see everything. I wanted to BE D'Artagnan, Tom Sawyer and, to a certain degree, the Artful Dodger, not sit in a room by myself and write. So I half solved it by, when I finally became an adult, travelling a lot but writing hundreds if not thousands of letters to friends and family.
When I finally ended up in Hong Kong, I somehow managed to be asked by a publisher to write a book - about anything. The result was Blonde Lotus, a semi-autographical novel set in China and Hong Kong, which took me five months to write.
That's when I realised that what I really wanted from life was to have had written books. Book launches, book tours, signing books, yeah, baby! But the actual process of writing? Not for me! It was so excruciatingly boring and mentally punishing, not to mention physically painful (arms, back) that I swore one was enough.
Then a Norwegian publisher asked me to translate and rewrite Blonde Lotus, a novel, ... to Blond Lotus, en roman! That was only slightly less punishing, but the book tour of Norway (to all of two towns) was great fun. After that, I wrote Don't Joke on the Stairs, a collection of essays/travelogue describing 20 years of travelling through the surreal fun fest that was the China of yore, complaining of back pain and boredom all the way, and swearing "never again."
Then I felt compelled to write a cookbook, CHILLies, Sichuan Food Made Easy, while the whole time working at South China Morning Post as a columnist and feature writer.
But do you think I saw myself as a writer? Oh no. Writers sit in brown, book-filled rooms in Paris overlooking an autumnal park, not on an island in Hong Kong with humidity-sweat dripping down on the keyboards, teaching Cantonese for a living, running an AirBnB and buggering off to mainland China at every given opportunity.
But now! Now I live in Mallorca and spend my days writing. Next week a business associate and I are launching an online magazine which is all about Mallorca! Watch this space.
It's so exciting. This is what i always wanted to do: Like the late great A.A. Gill of The Sunday Times, to "go to places and interview them." And I write in a beautiful room overlooking a garden with falling autumn leaves.
Do I feel like a "writer"? Do I hell! But I've come to realise that the label or identity isn't so important. The most important thing is jolly well doing it.
Hundreds of dogs in the leafy hillside of Mid-Levels, one of the few places people can legally walk their mutts in dog-hostile Hong Kong, have fallen victims to his psychotic canine cleansing. He? Well, yes. For some reason, everyone thinks it's a he, although he has never been spotted as he puts down his choice pieces of chicken or pork drenched in poison.
I lived far away from Bowen Road on an island, but dog poisonings were not unknown there either: Villagers with an axe to grind, barbecue materials left behind, crap with crappy crap in it everywhere, etc.
Koldbrann in Mallorca, Bellver Forest
I was therefore so happy to come to Mallorca with its cleanliness and dog loving shops and restaurants - imagine the double take I had to do the first time I saw someone taking their dog into the bank! But my joy soon turned to dismay. For here, people love animals so much, they put out dried cat food absolutely everywhere, and since coming here, Koldbrann has developed an even finer sense of smell.
He is like a heat seeking missile, honing in on cat food, discarded baguettes and other delicacies from kilometres away. One of his favoured delicacies is outdoor deposited human poo, the incidence of which has increased exponentially this year with young people partying outdoors where before they sat civilised-ish in a bar.
I keep Koldbrann on a leash most of the time, but even then he manages to dive like a hawk to vacuum up all sorts of crap from the pavements, forest lanes and tree rings. If something has ever been alive, been inside a package or someone's intestine, he will find it.
But when he is at home he is a paragon of restraint, waiting to eat until he is invited, never touching the dustbin or things on low tables or chairs. And he sleeps through the night.
I therefore knew something was seriously wrong when he woke me up at 02:43 Friday morning, dancing round the bed, nudging me and yelping softly. What the? I had only seen him like that once before, last year when he wanted to get outside to puke. But this time the balcony door was already open, and what's more, I saw to my alarm, he had already puked.
I jumped in my clothes and flip flops, feeling there was no time to waste on shoe laces. Out we dashed, but wait! We are living under curfew! House arrested! Koldbrann was beside himself with - something - and dragged me down the street, galloping. Oh no, a car! What if it was the police? Wouldn't it be absolutely ridiculous if I were arrested - for being outside? I dove into the shadows, feeling like some kind of beret wearing heroine of the Resistance.
Koldbrann looking at goats, Mallorca
Finally we were in the little harbour of Can Barbera, the nearest nature-like place. And that's when Koldbrann could finally let it rip, with a projectile diarrhoea so straight and perfectly aimed at a tree, no one would think it wasn't ... just discoloured water.
We trudged home, clinging to the shadows, and I went back to bed. At 04:45 the same thing happened. Hop, hop, yelp, flip flops, projectile diarrhoea in Can Barbera.
It's a good thing I like to get up early! I got a lot done that day.
And were we ever caught breaking the curfew? Of course not! No police. Only lawbreakers like me are outside at that time of night.