• Mwah! One kiss or two?

    (Photo by Guido Fuà)

    In England, when I grew up, kissing or not kissing women on the cheek was a class issue. Lots of people think the English don’t do the kiss on the cheek. Not true. The posher you are, the more kissing there is. It’s so French and sophisticated, see? 

    Among my mates, it was simple: no one ever touched the opposite sex, prior to a full snog, let alone kissed them on the cheek. 

    Then I went to university, like a fresh-faced extra in The Line of Beauty

    A good friend took me to the nightspots of Fulham and Chelsea, and I discovered that I was expected to kiss every girl I was introduced to. It was extraordinary. 

    One cheek or two? 

    I made a total hash of it, and did one-and-a-half. 

    This inept action left everyone awkward and unsure of my intentions. Was I using the opportunity to go in for the kill? Or was I so put off by their first cheek that I couldn’t bear to fully kiss the other one?

    This is the part of the blog where I say: Obviously, over time I got it down pat. Nowadays, I’m a natural with the ladies… [Is that coughing I can hear at the back? Hey, come on, pipe down!]

    Intimacy is, as anyone who’s lived a long time will know, fraught with dangers. 

    Alas, such sociable cultural fun might just be one of the casualties of Covid. But a nostalgic part of me hopes this awkward British institution will live on.

    Like this? See what I can do with a cucumber

  • What is Hong Kong?

    Hong Kong Island skyline with Kowloon in the background
    A city or a state? (Photo by Ryan McManimie)

    Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain in 1997. Now it’s Chinese. Looking from the UK, that’s pretty much how things appear. It’s only as you get closer that you find it’s not so simple as that. 

    Sort of sovereign

    In light of the current protests against extraditing Hong Kongers to Mainland China, I was reminded of my surprise – on crossing the land border – at the extent to which Hong Kong still feels like a separate state.

    I first visited Hong Kong in the 2000s. At the time, I regarded it as my first visit to China. After all, it’s officially Chinese territory. On top of that, it’s quite clearly a Chinese city in ethnic and cultural terms. 

    When I took the boat to Kowloon, I was even surer I was in China. The district felt a little less Western, a little less British than Hong Kong Island. What’s more, Kowloon is on the mainland – in purely geographical terms. 

    Where does the mainland start?

    I made my second visit to Hong Kong in January 2019. That time, I crossed the border between Hong Kong and what everyone calls ‘The Mainland’. I visited the Chinese city of Shenzhen – and this was no EU-style border. 

    The majority of Hong Kong’s land is actually a peninsula of the mainland, not islands. Along its 30km land border with ‘The Mainland’, there are several border crossings. 

    Whereas borders between sovereign states within the European Union can be crossed without even realizing it, you know all about moving from Hong Kong into Mainland China. 

    Passports and visas please!

    You must pass Hong Kong border guards. Then you’re driven across no man’s land. Finally, you must pass Chinese border guards. All that can come as a shock to someone who thought it was all one country. 

    And officially it is. One country, two systems, and all that. Just don’t forget your passport. 

    Read more about my visit to Shenzhen in my blog: When Baldrick met a QR Code in China

  • Does shandy have an age limit?

    Reading Will Self’s novella on Brexit in The New European last week, I read the following:

    “The prime minister’s holed up in Chequers, on the Chiltern fringe. I used to walk out that way, towards Wendover Hill, with my unpatriotic, but deeply beery father, back in the flannel-and-Gannex sixties, when you knew where you stood: in Britain; and what you stood in: leather. We’d stop at the Sundown Inn, and he’d pour half his pint into my lemonade, then we’d stagger on. I’d have been around 10 years old, but it was an innocent era – and when my mother chided my father for giving me watered-down wine at lunch, he’d say, “The French do it”. As if that settled the matter.”

    In its contents, that paragraph was almost a carbon copy of my own childhood, two decades later in the 1980s. That means whatever kind of puritanical tide has engulfed Britain in the meantime, it hadn’t yet happened in the 80s. They, too, must have been an era of innocence. 

    Has it really become unacceptable to give your child a shandy? Or is it still happening quietly behind closed doors up and down the land? I can’t give a definitive answer. My child is 3 years old, which let’s face it is just too young, so I have no primary research to fall back on. 

    “The French do it”

    This is the telling line. It reminds me of my gap year on an Italian farm where the farmer gave me weak red wine in the morning as a thirst quencher while digging potatoes, but where I never saw anyone actually pissed in my entire trip. 

    The French do do it, but like most southern Europeans, they seem to do it steadily and with sobriety. Given the northern tendency towards oblivion, whenever talk turns to allowing a child to drink, it tends to conjure images of a youngster reeling and barfing on a stupid father’s pack of Stella. 

    More interested in food than drink? Here’s an idea for reinventing how we eat