Category: Blog

The Sartorial Conman

A jaunt around some of New York’s most exclusive member’s clubs.

If you can escape the clutches of Manhattan’s commercial district- a tangled orgy of concrete, glass and steel, tempered by unfettered human ambition -then lower mid-town offers a brief moment of respite before flinging you back into the depths of the city. Here the sun’s rays, having no longer to contend with the invasive reach of New York’s sky scrapers, flood through the sky-line and bathe among the broad avenues.

Jutting out from it’s perch off Park Avenue and in the heart of Murray Hill, the Union League Club is a prestigious social club that boasts a gilded list of alumni including J.P. Morgan, Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt. Robed in the candid American décor of early-twentieth century New York, the building’s earthen red façade is a timely reminder to the world that, “they make take our AAA credit rating, but they will never our Americanism!”

The Union League Club

Having being buffeted by such flag-waving machismo, presumably plucked straight from the timbers of the Bush family ranch, I made a subsequent discovery. The prestigious club stocked Johnson’s baby shampoo (which sincerely promised ‘no tears’) in its showers.

I am in possession of such an intimate knowledge of the Union League Club and other similar establishments because I have furnished my past month in New York conducting a social experiment. Drawing encouragement from the success of the world’s banking elite in evading significant retribution for the financial crisis, I concluded that we are bound by human nature rarely to question someone wearing a suit. After all, with some exceptions, they are usually correct with colour combinations.

Therefore armed with a dark blue pin-striped suit (and occasionally a briefcase, depending on my confidence levels), I have successfully strolled into some of New York’s most elite member’s clubs. The main perk being that the majority of these clubs have state-of-the-art facilities, including steam rooms, billiards tables and, in the case of the Union League Club, a golf simulator.

Breaching the clubs’ reception area, though, is a mere skirmish. From then on, your every movement and interaction must be governed by the chief priority of convincing members and staff that you are a fully-fledged member of the elitist establishment. The gleaming facilities at your fingertips are merely a third home, alongside that Upper-East penthouse and manor in the Hamptons.

Said Manor

Being among a herd of sliver Republican moustaches, I tended to stand out. As a result I took to painting myself as a flamboyant British aristocrat, in the mould of Oscar Wilde’s Algernon Moncrieff, to vault into the upper echelons of New York society.  My personal tale was one of shackled potential in rural Buckinghamshire that had driven me to cross the pond in a bid to unleash my creative beast (and wallet) upon the unsuspecting city.

I soon discovered that interactions with staff aided in smoothing the occasionally rough edges of the character. For example, to overcome the potentially awkward situation of being approached quizzically after making lavish use of the fitness equipment I merely brought the attack to the club’s employees; “Ahh “insert name on card here”, just hammered out 75 on the quadrilater, now that’s a p.b if I ever saw one. Am I right!” Accompany that with a pat on the shoulder and the club house is yours.

Conversations with members must be approached more cautiously. When the live stream of Fox News, radiating through the locker room, churned out a story of Tea Party member Christine O’Donnell allegedly practising witchcraft in her rebellious younger years (I guess it’s conservative Americans equivalent of listening to rap music), I had to suppress any laughter for fear that the Tea party had infiltrated the Union League. Perhaps by putting something in the drinks?

The Propaganda machine takes aim at Christine O' Donnell

When thrust into more intimate scenarios, such as the flabby depths of the steam room, it is advisable to preserve silence and escape, if the situation requires it, to your happy place. I once intruded on an elderly member who was going through what appeared to be some form of tantric workout on the marble benches. Through the coils of steam, I could make out his legs jutting at mathematically-implausible angles, and gyrating stubbornly. “Good amount of steam” offered the ghostly apparition in an eager New England accent. “Yep,” I replied “you can hardly see a thing”.

The beating heart of the club, and arguably American Republicanism, is to be found on the fourth floor and is aptly-named, ‘The President’s Room’. It houses a poker table, elegant leather couches and hums with exclusivity. My first and only visit to the room was greeted with the sight and smell of four stout middle-aged men with matching comb-overs. In a dense haze of cigar smoke, they were discussing voter turnout for the upcoming Presidential election beneath a portrait of Ronald Reagan, looking on approvingly. Upon my entrance, the group offered me a collective look as if I had just poured liquid shit into their whiskey glasses and a timely reminder that fictitious English aristocracy will only get you so far.

This clearly shook my hastily constructed pseudonym and, as I was leaving the club later, I heard a desperate shout snake after me, “Excuse me sir?” Needless to say, I have not been back since. After all, the Princeton Club is a leisurely stroll uptown.


Buying a motorcycle in Vietnam’s industrial capital 

On the road

  Every day hordes of motorcycles migrate across the concrete plains of Ho Chi Minh city, writhing in a demonic waltz with regal plumes of exhaust  and carrying anything from extended families to scores of live geese.       

The glittering legions

  Thanks, in part, to its  simplistic design cues, Honda enjoys a decisive monopoly over the motorcycle  industry, if such a term as industry can be gifted to the underground warren of wheeler-dealing that constitutes  buying a motorcycle. In the midst of such unadulterated chaos, our group would have some difficulty tracking down a band of suitably iconic bikes to serve on our proposed motorcycle trip around Vietnam, let alone ones whose exhaust pipes were not attached with blu-tack.       

The fallout from the Vietnamese war had birthed a litter of seedy bars which had been reared in grubby clumps across the city, the most prestigious of which is the aptly named Apocalypse Now, the seemingly ideal starting ground for the search.       

Between the practiced gaze of the resident working staff, I spotted a wizened veteran occupying a corner table with the pseudo-magnitude of a failed sea-captain. Having heard our predicament, he took a dramatic sip of his umbrella-enamoured cocktail before uttering a name whose very mention sent local motorcycle dealers scurrying to the road-side noodle bars from whence they came. Kevin, something of a spectre in the city’s motorcycle industry but undoubtedly the Mcdaddy and someone who would resurface later in our travels .      

With no direct access into the bowels of Kevin’s operation, we instead met a sprightly American duo who were willing to sell and had returned from leading a group of seven Minsk motorcycles up the fabled Ho Chi Minh Highway, a popular war-time route running up the spine of the country and one made famous in an episode of Top Gear. One of the duo’s carefully sculpted pony tail and ample girth were a nostalgic nod to his home country’s iconic cartoon character, the Comic Book Guy. 

A king amongst men

However, whilst such apparel would have condemned him to a nomadic life of certain ridicule back in the states, his exodus to Vietnam had bore fresh pastures. Now, rather than been viewed as an accessory for an unemployed addict of Warcraft, his hair was the garb of Greek mythology and he posed confidently on the street before us, a champion, a king amongst men.   

We assembled in a small cafe to do business and, as the duo’s Vietnamese attaché paced outside like an attack dog, I considered our options. Fortunately mandatory insurance for vehicles was a concept as unfamiliar to the Vietnamese as multi-party elections, but what we were doing was undoubtedly illegal and the fact none of our group had ever set foot on a motorcycle’s gear lever rendered our inevitable task of evading policemen an arduous one. What’s more, a recent visit to Vietnamese A&E and some painful stitches from a scooter accident had taught me that Vietnamese drivers are a ruthless bunch, Vietnam clocks four motorcycle fatalities a day, and riding through a city is not as easy as the video game Grand Theft Auto would have you believe.  

But none of this mattered now, there were four Minsks slumbering in the cavernous dark of a subterranean parking lot, waiting for us. 

Sleeping beauties

For those not acquainted with such testosterone-fuelled biking jargon as ‘Minsk,’ (essentially our position five minutes before purchasing the aforementioned vehicles) the Minsk is a bulky throwback to the glory days of communist Russia, when commissars roamed the countryside on them, herding peasants.  Years later, a wall collapsed, a Macdonald’s opened in Moscow and the Minsks found themselves exiled to the sculpted hills of Northern Vietnam where they were adopted by the communist-resilient North Vietnamese as a sentimental reminder of the ideology they had fought so bitterly for… and to carry grain. 

The sculpted hills of Sapa, North Vietnam

 When we were introduced, I noticed our bikes had been stripped to near skeletal remains, no doubt by the frugal innovation of some of Ho Chi Minh’s most dedicated mechanics, and crucial parts like wing mirrors and headlamps had been whored out to Honda Wave motorcycles across the city. My bike had been further castrated by a smothering of sickly pink paint and now lay shivering next to the phallic shrines of motorcycles that crowned the garage. 

It took a further four days and endless crusades across the city in search of mechanics before our bikes all started at the same time. Without functioning mufflers the occasion was a sonic recreation of the eruption of Krakota, the engines’ roars spewed across the road, easily drowning out the insectile drone of passing traffic. With our worldly possessions strapped hastily to the back like refugees, we fastened our $5, and undoubtedly polystyrene, helmets and readjusted our goggles. 


  The open road stretched before us. Well, that and the glittering legions of Vietnamese motorcyclists, polishing their headlights in anticipation having scented fresh meat on the early morning haze.

Offside (David Beckham)

Goldenballs lived up to his nickname with a darting run into his wife’s closet. The football icon was snapped sidling the streets in a fancy sarong. He’s always been famous for his crossing, but never cross-dressing. 

You Muppet! (Lady Gaga)

Onlookers were left far from pokerfaced when the songstress went all Kermit the frog in an interview for a German television show. At least this froggy number was more tasteful than the plastic bubble dress she wore during a concert. Hardly the behavior of a lady.

Dirty Harry (Prince Harry of Wales)

The prince was given a royal welcome when he arrived at a fancy dress party in a Nazi uniform. The reckless act earned him a swasticking off from his old man, Prince Charles. 

How could you furget? (Naomi Campbell)

She’s used to making U-turns on the catwalk, and supermodel Naomi Campbell took another one when she modeled in a fur coat, 15 years after fronting an anti-fur campaign. Hairy stuff.

Bar Review: Lotus

Wafts of Britney Spears’ fantasy perfume snake through the air and cigar-wielding playboys discuss Italian leather. We’re in poseur territory, two floors of it.  

Hugging the flank of Ludi Park, Lotus Club is a new addition to Shanghai’s horde of high-end dance clubs. Okay, so its exposed ceiling holds some impressive wooden beams and the glass walls are a healthy addition, especially when the balcony opens in May. Nice try, but Lotus is a bling palace through and through.  

The beers are expectedly expensive(RMB 45). We had their Friday night special- Long Volcano Island cocktail(RMB 60), an alcohol-strong Long Island with a dash of Tabasco.  

The downstairs deco is apparently Zen-inspired, all we saw was a miniature statue of Buddha. Aimed at the after-work crowd, it houses low-slung seating and the speakers spout Top 40 hits. Head upstairs for the partaay.  

Amidst the throng of suits and the rattle of dices, the dance floor is colonized by tipsy tycoons and tightly-packed bands of ladees. Aided by a bone-shaking speaker system, a mixture of international and home-grown DJS spin commercial mash-ups and house.  

A good soundtrack saves Lotus from the glittering depths of Fame, but we’ve seen it all before.

Open Mon-Sun, 7pm til late, Lane 66 Danshui Road, near Jinling Road

Contact-, 6386-9779.


In the Land of Closet Communists

Wandering through the metropolis, you could be forgiven for mistaking Shanghai for New York, or even Tokyo. Traditional buildings have fallen to the wrecking ball of modernity, replaced by the lethal smile of George Clooney and his Nespresso compatriot. Starbucks crown the corner of any street deemed sufficiently affluent, and the well-heeled scramble through the city, in search of the next big thing. Shanghai is a city of superlatives, the tallest hotel, the busiest port and in a few decades, if economic predictions are to be believed, the richest city.

Despite a veneer of Westernisation, established Chinese traditions remain. When selecting a mobile phone number, I was confronted by a cardboard sign with lists of numbers scrawled on. The phone numbers endowed with more 8s were being auctioned at ten times the price of numbers that were not gifted with such a lucky digit. Without wishing to anger the phone spirits into a storm of promotional texts, I went for the second cheapest number.

Elsewhere, the supernatural haunts the mind of many a local. Working for That’s Shanghai magazine, I have noticed that the government are happy to let all manner of profanaties swagger through the censorship net, but venture into the realms of ghosts and the axe of restriction is wielded. Whilst this may be a minor inconvenience, I count myself fortunate not to work in the magazine office of my German flatmate. Here, writers ply their trade under the mechanical gaze of a network of security cameras installed around the office, including the bogs.

Embodying the Chinese tradition of copying, Shanghai is known for its fake markets. Here, you can trawl through laminated booklets of Lacoste trainers, Prada handbags and Mont Blanc pens. After hearing my order, the shopkeeper barked commands to his daughter- and apparently his sherpa – who then ran the gauntlet to an offshore warehouse. After a twenty minute wait in the company of the owner, populated by sporadic head-nods and nervous laughter, I saw her return, clutching the sealed bin bag as if it were the last child on earth.

Others are more ostentatious with their wares. Equipped with a generic shirt template, a sowing set and a magazine of GQ, they have amassed a collection of luxury brand shirts that would rival the polished showrooms of Regent Street. However, with the lingering shadow of the law hanging above, brands that would attract the attention of the police- such as Armani – have to be fished out of hiding in a closet at the back.

A true spectacle of the fake market is the technique adopted by its female sales assistants. Having come from India, I was expecting a seething wall of gesticulating palms lining the doorway of each shop. Instead, with bowed heads, they view you nervously until you have passed their store before offering a lethargic murmur of ‘Shirts?’

The fashion offerings have their perks but, in order to fully appreciate Chinese talent, you have to engage with the pirate DVD market. The day a film is released onto the cinema, you can guarantee there is a concealed video camera amongst the audience. Stuffed into paper wallets, newly-released DVDs can be bought for a pound, and my find of the trip was the entire ten seasons of Friends for the princely sum of two pounds. There are, of course, roadside establishments offering cheaper prices, but the bargain-hunter risks falling foul of some moderate film-tampering. Said movies are played out in some unknown and lively dialogue, whilst others are entirely different films, with only a similar genre to connect them to the original.

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They may have stapled their name onto the export market and shown America the two fingers, but China still have some ground to make on the nightlife front, if they are to stake an effective claim on world supremacy.

Having lived in China’s flagship- Shanghai -for a month, and with a wizened liver to show for it, I have familiarized myself with the etiquette displayed by Chinese locals, when thrown into the tumultuous grounds of a nightclub. Unfortunately for said clubs, they remain the bastard child of the night, and any true Shanghainese is never seen anywhere else than a KTV Lounge, where you can rent out private rooms to perform classic crooners.

In their gilded hallways, these seedy numbers have resuscitated the dying breed of karaoke from the Wednesday nights at Glaswegian pubs. All to the euphoric reception of the Asian audience.

Befitting the ceremony that Shanghai pays to karaoke, I was led to our private room by the scantily-clad hostesses, whose faces were masked with practised abandon. A Chinese Bryan Adams wafted from other rooms and, peering through the door’s window, I could make out the diamond ear-pieces that marked their wearers as underlings of the Chinese mafia, a prolific client.

In the spangled grounds of a Shanghainese night club, you don’t require the blessing of money to come by a microphone and, if you have the backing of an authentic title, the mike is yours. Parading under the pseudonym of ‘ MC Natural Disaster,’ I was afforded a half hour monologue before being unceremoniously faded out by the DJ.

My set remained, thankfully, unmolested, and I was fortunate not to come into contact with the uniformed guards lurking in the shadows of the club. On the government payroll, they inspect the dance floor from beneath their commissar cap. A quiet reminder of their bosses standing.

Even with the benefit of a microphone, you would do well to lure a number of locals from the refuge of their tables. Under the erratic gaze of the club’s lights, they roll away their time with small dice games, where- with gambling illegalised -the stakes are a reluctant sip of whisky and green tea. No distinction is made between a restaurant and a night club, and you will often see someone tucking into a slice of watermelon- inches away from their dancing companions.

Not every girl has the benefit of this sanctuary and, with the terra incognita of the dance floor out of the question, they prefer instead to perch by the bar. Owing to their cold impassiveness, they morph into an extension of the table-top and, unless you are a mobile phone game of Tetris, there is no hope.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who’ve been educated in foreign fields. Some can be identified by a trophy nose piercing and others, by their familiarity with Chinese novelist Jung Chang- an outspoken critic of Mao. One who would disagree  with the general teaching in Chinese schools that Mao was 80 percent right, but fervent supporters of the chairman can still be found.

If this is a matter of contention amongst the Shanghainese, then something which does unite them is the shared curiosity of my Danish flatmate. All of 6ft 4 and gifted with a playful crop of blonde hair, in the warren of underground bars, he has become the apple of many a local businessman’s eye.

Regarded with the lofty bewilderment of a lesser-deity, he has a spot saved for him at a local bar, nestled between the wives of small business-owners. From this position, in the haze of cheap cigarette smoke, he can engage in dice combat with his Asian adversaries whilst dispersing, when he sees fit, small witticisms to the giggled delight of his female companions.

Shanghai nightlife is what you make of it, but it is never short of boring.

In the train waiting room

My travels around the north of India, and namely Rajasthan, had brought me once more into the arms of the Indian railways and I arrived on its dirt-laden platforms like a prodigal son returning home. Unfortunately, my inflated sense of confidence was somewhat undermined by the absence of accompanying equipment and my overnight bag, slung camply over the shoulder, looked out of place next to the guerrilla rucksacks of my travelling companions.
Once we had established that consistent advice on the location of our train would be a luxury, we chose instead to bide our time in the waiting room, which held an assortment of characters comparable to the board game Cluedo. One of whom -a Korean student- announced his presence with an act of gentle masochism that involved placing a number of burning coals across his forearm. A remedy, their box said ambitiously, ‘for all kinds of disease’. These tools were swiftly concealed when a good-looking girl, motivated more by a lack of alternatives than anything else, sat down in the chair next to him.

Sensing an opportunity, he reached  into his rucksack, brushing aside the Badminton travel kit for another occasion. Presumably he had read too much into the courting techniques advertised by Greek Mythology and withdrew instead a wooden pipe with a princely flourish. Whilst it did not have the desired romantic effect, his passionate display instead succeeded in rousing the resident population of rats from their subterranean lair. Once liberated, the horde wasted no time in inhabiting the nearby side room, whose sparing decorations and general decrepitude rendered it better suited for waiting to die than waiting for the train.
Despite its flaws, the Korean had already cast his sanitary eye over the room and deemed it acceptable to host his lifetime goal of sleeping overnight in a train station. I couldn’t help thinking that, whilst being a country of many firsts, India is not best-suited for this particular aspiration . Before leaving, though, I trusted he would value the information I had on his potential bedfellows, but his vocabulary did not extend to ‘weasel-sized rats’ and he offered me instead a naïve laugh before leaving to wash his hair in the bathroom sink. Blissfully unaware.

The train itself was sectioned into a range of different classes and the quest for the right carriage was a journey in itself. I was momentarily joined by the ‘flying Dutchman’,  a tourist from Holland who had occupied the previous half hour sprinting desperately across the platform, occasionally leaping onto what he thought was the right carriage before emerging seconds later, beaten back by a group of squabbling locals. As his panic mounted, the scene offered a small allegory for the Dutch colonial success in India.
I eventually found my carriage, which had been given the title of 3AC and thus housed a primitive ventilation system and a bunk bed comprising three platforms. The twist being that, by day, the middle bunk was temporarily retracted, making a back rest for passengers sitting on its bottom counterpart. This set-up inadvertently created a silent and strategic contest as to who would seize the top bunk. Other passengers had already laid weak territorial claims with the use of bags or by ostentatiously reviewing its mattress, but experience had taught me that these were mere frivolities and bore no influence on the eventual outcome.
I concluded that Machiavellian guile would be best-suited to the situation and so, feigning a visit to the toilet, I waited until relevant guards had been lowered, and scrabbled up the ladder and onto the top bunk. Gracious in defeat, the other contenders accepted the return of their baggage as the olive branch of peace, leaving me free to turn my attention to the fact it was only 8.30pm and I still had all three of the bunks’ bedding, sandwiched between my calf muscles.
Having severed diplomatic ties with my section of the carriage, I turned to the Eastern front for a means of depositing the, seemingly, goat-haired blankets. From my perch, I could make out a suitable space on the other bunk and, leaning across, placed my offering at the feet of its slumbering occupant. My assumptions that the recipient’s sleep would be long-lasting proved incorrect and, when I returned from the train‘s kitchen, the blankets had been stacked innocuously by my pillow.
Although his features betrayed little, I recognised the subtle invitation and, when he was forced to heed nature’s call, I readdressed the temporarily skewed balance by returning the pile. Defiant in the face of my advantageous high ground, he retaliated as soon as the situation allowed it and this war of attrition continued late into the night. As it breached 2am the effects were beginning to show on the carriage, blankets were strewn haphazardly across the theatre of conflict and, mercifully, a silent truce was agreed.
This, however, was by no means the end, and he exacted his revenge minutes later where, amongst the demonic orchestra of snores, his chainsaw-like offering distinguished itself in both pitch and tone.
The seventeen hour journey from Jaipur to Mumbai was buoyed by the train’s primary asset of doors which could be retracted when the train was in full flight. Undeterred by the 200 rupee fine (£2.80) , passengers used the area as a smoking section. The most prolific amongst this gathering were the train’s kitchen staff, whose professional perks included an uncontested position at the helm of the doorway.
During the quieter hours, the doorways offered an enclosed insight into rural India. If you can tolerate the track’s occasional encounters with gaping ravines, the mosaic of scenery is a stark contrast to the overflowing hue of cities. Glimpses of life present themselves in clusters of crude, wooden huts or the rhythmic bobbing of a farmer.
My position was located near the train’s kitchen and, during a routine night time stop, a band of country folk emerged from the veils of darkness surrounding the train. As I watched them clamber on, they were led, as if by natural intuition, to the awaiting cooks. After a round of handshakes, the visitors were handed the neatly-wrapped leftovers from dinner before returning into the night. The evidence was not conclusive enough to suggest a regular occurrence, but I feared the one-sided nature of the deal left the recipients in a precarious position, should there be a next time.
The breaking of dawn saw the surrounding bunks twitch into motion before the, now calming, sound of snores were replaced with awkward and ungainly shuffling that suggested the approach of Mumbai. I reached the doorway in time to see that the train was heading southwards through the city, and away from my flat in the suburbs. Having deemed my seventeen hour sentence as sufficient to experience the sleeper train and noticing the train had reached a manageable pace, I threw my bag onto the tracks before following shortly.
As I looked around for the recognisable features I had grown accustomed to in my previous stay, I noticed that I had caught Mumbai at a particularly vulnerable moment. The local men were firmly accustomed with the guilty pleasure of the early morning shit and had, for some reason, chosen the railway tracks as deserving of their waste. Whether as a sign of protest or appreciating the element of danger, the established technique seemed to be to squat directly over the train line, and the orderly line followed the track as far as my stomach would allow my eyes to see. With head firmly down, I passed in between a momentary gap and, seeing the relieved face of someone who had thought I was going for his spot, continued into the city.

Crawford Market

Mumbai has always struck me as having two personas. The older of the two can be found quietly surveying the city from its vantage point on the imposing state buildings which rise, detached, from the grubby roads. Characterizing the streets is the younger and more spontaneous Bombay who hustle and squat below, balancing their lives in the wicker baskets on their heads as they meander through the crowds. Crawford market is an arranged marriage of the two.

On the outside, the building’s colonial design plays to the tune of the fanny-pack brigade and the sleek Norman arches and sun burnt bricks wink sleazily at passing tourists, inviting them in. But not even the addition of a charming clock tower can hide its dirty secrets and the interior gives way to a more unruly underbelly where all manner of stalls are sprawled around the narrow passageways.

Brimming with confidence after I had successfully fought off the advances of a pony-tailed tailor, I saw the market’s enclosed space as the ideal grounds to give my newly acquired skills of evasion a fresh challenge. I was immediately put the test when, moments after I had read a sign which stated that visitor’s must be accompanied by a porter, an ancient figure apparated from the shadows right on cue.

Dressed head to toe in a white tunic, his attire was crowned by a small sailor’s hat that looked as if it might have been made out of origami. Neglecting any verbal introduction, he instead presented me his porter I.D card with the ill-disguised apprehension of a sixteen-year old handing his fake Belgian driving license to a nightclub bouncer.

Nevertheless, I was undeterred and I saw in him the qualities of a seasoned campaigner. He bore his marks proudly in the form of a glazed eye, and a reduced set of teeth which enabled him to open his sales pitch with the line, “I can show you shpishes, animalshs or shilk, what’sh it going to be?” After that I was taken over by curiosity, both in seeing what these categories would offer and hearing how my guide would tackle more complex sentences.

Upon my request, we headed for the animals and he led with the care and attentiveness of a loyal butler showing a visitor around his deceased master’s house, pausing to show me the firmness of the beetroots or thrust lemongrass under my nostrils. However, his monopoly power over the solitary tourist was short-lived and I was soon embroiled in an attempted coup d’etat from a predatory associate. Steering me in the direction of his potatoes, the relative youngster deposed my current guide unceremoniously saying, ‘that’s my father, he’s crazy.’ Looking at his crooked smile, I doubted any form of relation. My suspicions were confirmed when, after we were reunited, my host disowned his temporary son and ushered me onwards.

Although I knew little of what to expect, the courtyard which housed the animals certainly wasn’t on my list. Sawdust had been scattered across the ground and the smell had a pungent quality to it that far surpassed anything that had been offered by the outside streets. In modestly sized cages that were as crude as they were small, a Cruft’s catalogue worth of puppies lay around lethargically, almost resigned to their fate.

The message, however, had not gotten through to the hordes of rats, which clawed continuously at their glass walls in an effort that would have inspired communists worldwide. Lurking near the back of the courtyard was the largest cat I had ever seen and, borrowing a popular technique from Mother Nature, had further magnified its size by equipping itself with a rug of white fur. It was also one of the only animals to have the luxury of a personal cage, either because it had eaten the previous inhabitants or there was a subtle challenge from the owners to see if it could grow to fill the remaining inches of space.

In small shops, and with the benefit of shade, huge choruses of birds provided the soundtrack to this lively scene and their range of colors rivaled those of the saris that brushed past them. I was also surprised to see the addition of pigeons, who were seemingly aware of their role in making up the numbers and paced guiltily around the cage. In a bid to bring in some diversification, the walls had been lined with fish tanks in which, through the murky water, I could make out their aquatic inhabitants drifting around aimlessly. I couldn’t think why anyone would choose such a place of singular depression for the traditionally joyous activity of buying a pet, but the throng of people proved me wrong.

Back inside, I bypassed the spices in favour of the fruit and vegetable section. This was tended to by hawkers who had decided that the labyrinth of stalls was a picturesque setting for their early retirement. Having amassed a pile of supplies that towered over seven feet, they employed these sacks of carrots and lettuce as mattresses and surveyed my presence with the detachment of a Roman Emperor.

My guide seemed unable to comprehend that my visit was motivated by curiosity and chose instead to characterise me as some kind of underground fruit dealer. He savored in telling me the origins of each of the goods and looked expectantly for my approval when he described some melons as the “besht in whole of France.” It all got a bit much when, in a desperate effort to appeal to my fruit expertise, he jammed a banana in my face, squeezing it gently with an almost pedophilic glare while saying “you like that, eh. Shoft.”

After that, I started to have second doubts over my guide’s sanity and this was only made worse when he took me across the road to the silks, taking on the role of traffic-tamer in the process. As he slapped car bonnets and the backs of dawdling pedestrians, I began to reassess my assumption that he had lost his teeth through age, and not brawling. Whether it was through a general lack of knowledge about cars or sheer bravery, he seemed undeterred by their hulking mass and the horns only served to instill in him new degrees of fervor.

When we finally reached the other side, it was after he had re-enacted his individual take on Moses’ crossing of the Red Sea, where he had waded out into the traffic and held his arms aloft whilst irate drivers swerved to avoid him. His credentials as a subjective guide were then put under scrutiny, as he led me down a back alley to, what I can only assume, was his real son’s shop.

The tour, much like the hot water in my shower, was good while it lasted, but I soon had to leave and realised I would have to cross the exact road that he had just terrorised to return to the station.  As I left him arguing with a cab driver I regretted not catching his name, but I had a feeling I would see him again somewhere, probably on the news.

During the afternoon, at low tide, the sea retreats across the Mumbai shore line, leaving in its wake a jagged wilderness of rocks and stranded fishing boats. Although the terrain is particularly muddy, I had made a business investment of two hundred rupees to buy a box of equipment for a persistent shoe-shiner which, he reliably informed me, would propel him into a new league of shoe-cleaning. This also meant that, thanks to some fine print I had added in the deal, my shoes would enjoy his services free of charge and I thus had a blank cheque with regards to where I walked. He had originally tried to escape his charge by hiding out in Burger King and dimly-lit alleyways, but I had contacts in the shoe business and was determined to get all of the one hundred cleans which would constitute breaking even on my investment.

I was thus able to trudge confidently across the rocky beaches, a band of some of Mumbai’s numerous wild dogs momentarily joined me and I passed a policeman pissing nonchalantly across a boat’s hull. A sight, I thought, that might interest the graffiti-artist Banksy for his next work of art. This relative calmness was broken by the shouts of a few locals, who scampered towards me waving their arms. At first, I saw this as a warning sign that I had inadvertently strayed into gangland dog territory, and indeed the dried coils of shit placed tactically across rocks supported this theory.

(At this point, I would like to deter those who, thanks to the title, thought the story was heading in a different direction. You may depart, and shame on you…)

As the crowd drew closer, I noticed the plastic bags that were dangling threateningly by their sides and reassessed my original feeling of gratitude to them. But when the bags were opened, rather than the novelty junk I had expected, I was confronted by a seething mass of crabs. As appetizing as it was, seeing them silently fighting for their lives, I trusted neither my culinary ability nor my flat’s medieval pot to cook them, and turned down the opportunity of a purchase. I was more interested in the group that roamed the shores to find them.

Their ringleader, who also held the title of eldest, sported an authoritative moustache to show for his seniority. Whilst he preferred to operate as a lone wolf, the other three kept together and so I followed their lead as they crouched next to a large rock. The most obvious mark of their profession was a thin metal pole with a jagged hook on the end, which they brandished with the pride of a toddler holding a toy sword. As I soon discovered, this tool was thrust and jammed around the gaps between the rocks and beach, like someone picking a lock.

This activity went on for some time and, just as I had begun to lose interest, the pole was swiftly withdrawn to show a medium-sized crab flailing helplessly, its shell caught on the hook. From other viewings, and with the benefit of some theatrical hand movements, I worked out that the technique was to use the hook to taunt the crab as it lay in hiding and, once it had clamped the pole with its claw, to pull it out into the open. For more passive crabs, the claws were bypassed and the hook went straight for their hard exterior to latch onto an edge or gap. Once the crab was exposed in the open, another member ripped off the right claw impassively and jammed it between the crab’s shell and its left claw to nullify any risk to the fingers.

Thanks to a translational error, I had been given the name of Ocross, and I unconsciously fulfilled its prehistoric connotations as I scrabbled across the rocky landscape to keep up. One thing that interested me was the disparity in techniques. One member, who was known as the beggar due to his lack of success, was very tender with the movements of his pole and whispered gently to the rock as if reciting an ancient incantation. On the other end of the scale, the youngest hopped from nook to cranny with lightning speed and was so prolific that he had become a veritable danger to the beach’s crab population.

During a more prolonged hunt, the team had become so desperate that they had turned to my relative inexperience to remove a particularly stubborn crab. It was then, as I was forced onto my hands and knees to rummage into the far reaches of the rock’s underbelly, that another tourist appeared on the scene. Vulture-like, he had circled the group, but I was glad to see the loyalty displayed by my compatriots and his infiltration efforts were in vain. As he began to retreat to the path, I felt a tug from inside the rocks and pulled out the pole to reveal this brute of a crab clinging desperately to the hook.

As ‘the beggar’ tore off its right claw impassively, I saw a small wave of hesitancy flash across the outsider’s face. Sensing an opening, I pressed home the advantage and, wild-eyed with my hunting success, I gave him a look to say, “yes my friend, this is how we roll.”

Mumbai may be a city of diversity but there is no doubt that it is united under the language, and in some cases religion, of cricket; it is everywhere and it is huge. Cricket is a sport that knows no boundaries and the innovation of its disciples means that no open space is safe from their nomadic reach. Groups of players can be seen wandering from street to car park, bat in hand, searching for the next fix.

Whilst most surfaces are tolerated, there is a preference for would-be cricketers to flock to the many city parks, or maidans as they‘re known locally. As a result, daily attendance can easily breach the hundreds, and the relatively small grounds become so packed that games often overlap. One of the most popular venues is the southern-located Oval Maidan, where the matches are presided over by a horizon of prestigious buildings.

Although an attempted flying dismount from the train had left me with a reluctant ankle, I had been enticed by the ‘gateway drug’ of street cricket and, soon enough, found myself staggering across the Oval on the lookout for a game. My enthusiasm was there, but I had failed to observe the unofficial dress code of all-white kit, and my yellow shorts did me no favors amongst the traditionalists.

Fortunately, I spotted a group of ‘plainclothes’ who had been exiled from the good pitches and had settled instead on a cordoned-off section by the fence. The players’ liberal attire was also reflected in their attitude, and my approach was greeted as if I were an old friend. Soon enough, I was thrown the ball expectantly and, with the pride of a nation at stake, I bowled a shapely full-toss which was punished to the far-reaches of the park. My second ball suffered the same fate and I had to wait some time before I was given an opportunity to make amends.

Following in the same trend as my last deliveries, my next ball drifted lazily through the air. But at this point, the balaclava-clad batsman had let his confidence get the better of him and, having dodged past his wild swing, the ball thudded into the garbage bin which represented the wicket. Riding this wave of form, I seized the bat from him and eyed up his cock-eyed companion whom I assumed would be doing the bowling.

What I had failed to acknowledge was the monster that they had been preparing out of my line of sight and was now being summoned by his keepers to exact revenge on my British heritage. There was a fire in him which I knew, all too well, would only be extinguished by my tears of submission. He now held in his hand a prototype ball which lethally combined the bounce of a tennis ball with the hardness of a cricket ball.

With my protection comprising what was effectively a small stick, I desperately searched for any kind of natural armor in the bushes, but he was already galloping in. A black crow flew ominously across the pitch and, as the first ball whistled an inch past my hip, I finally understood that he was targeting my family tree and planned to erase any chances I had of having children. He was toying with me before he went in for the kill. His second delivery sailed over my head and it was only the fourth time lucky that he struck gold in the form of my ribcage.

Leaving me precious few minutes to recover, I was then drafted into the match that, apparently, being hit in the ribs constituted training for. The captain placed me in an innovative fielding position which saw my head stationed four inches away from the temperamental bat of a neighboring  match. I was further inspired when, later on, I noticed that the opposition had placed their oldest and most rotund player in the same position.

The standard of cricket was surprisingly high and every mistake was taken collectively to heart by the whole team. There was no room for baggage and, when I dropped a catch, I was viewed by an older player as if I had just emptied a bag of shit at his feet. I began to recognize that the manifesto for batting was ‘hit out or get out,’ and the path that wound through the park was consistently peppered by monstrous shots. I pitied the fielder who was placed in that particular firing zone, but his commitment was such that, when one ball was struck in his direction, he was so intent on catching it that he backed into a book stall by the path, scattering fake copies of War and Peace as he fell.

As it grew darker I kept expecting the game to be called off, but it was only after every movement became a gamble as to where the ball would land that we finally trooped back. As was tradition, we headed to the maidan’s pavilion. Or rather behind it, where there was a small crowd gathered round a simmering vat of tea. The cauldron belonged to a permanently cheerful local, who was introduced as something of a legend. As proof, he was surrounded by an assortment of newspaper clippings which pictured him with identical smiles and different Indian celebrities, including members of the national cricket team.

Before I left, one of the players put his fatherly hand around my shoulder and, unknowingly dismissing my ten years of experience, asked, “so Christian, how did you enjoy your first game of cricket.”

Training Day


Having endured a torrid first date, I have found a hidden gem in the Indian train service. But before this is dismissed as another homage to the relics of imperialism, hear me out.

Its appeals come from where it differs from its chubby and unreliable British counterpart.

Whilst any London commuters are regarded with eternal taboo if they brandish their elbows during the boarding process, a liberal forearm and a Rambo attitude are essential to have any chance of reaching the haven of the Indian railway carriage. The boarding technique preferred by locals is ‘the lion,’ where, having selected a carriage with suitably weak occupants, they chase it down across the platform until the train reaches a manageable speed to leap onto.

If you survive this process then you become accepted into the carriage community and are free to enjoy its membership benefits. An array of downward-facing fans provide the ventilation, but this is often not sufficient for some and there is stiff competition for places around the two-metre long open doorway. This prime spot has the benefits of a breeze and, at times, several people plunge their faces out of any available gaps to relish in the swirling air, whilst avoiding electricity pylons in the process. There is also a general consensus to beat a hasty retreat every time the train passes over the river of open sewage.

Due to the competition for places during rush hour, some mavericks take this pastime of ‘breeze riding’ to the next level and use the barred windows as a foothold to ride on the outside, clinging to any feature of the train that will have them. Fortunately, the Mumbaikers are more accommodating than their iron mount and one particular local took it upon himself to ensure the safety of his travelling companion by cradling him around the waist with his arms.

When they are not re-enacting scenes from the Titanic, commuters content themselves with watching the passing scenery, whilst some even burst into song. During one journey I was treated to a tear-jerking rendition of ‘Ain’t no Sunshine’ by the 50 year-old businessman, standing next to me who, I can safely say, had the sweetest voice in the Sub-Continent.

Things were not always so dandy.

On my first attempt, as a Virgin to the train etiquette, I saw a carriage that was only defended by a skeleton guard of Indian women. My luck had finally turned and I could avoid the wild rush going on around me. But as I got on I was immediately greeted by the shoos and hisses of a mob of female suffragettes who, led by a wrinkled reincarnation of Emily Pankhurst herself, forced me off the carriage. It later transpired that women had several carriages to themselves, probably to protect them from the boarding frenzy.

Fortunately I learnt this lesson before the arrival of the Pune express, a train made up of an entirely female contingency, and my attempts to board it would have appeared to the locals as a sex-starved tourist, desperate to get on to this mythological entity. It was factors out of my reach that had saved that train from certain boarding and as it danced gaily past, I set my sights on its successor.

Having already seen two legitimate trains escape my clutches, I was determined not to let the next fish get away. I selected a relatively empty carriage, that also appeared to be mixed, and tightened my grip for the long haul as the first signs of dissaproval, which at this point seemed inevitable, manifested themselves in the around me.

As the red mist descended and my knuckles whitened, I hung on amidst a growing chorus of unrest and it was only a particularly well-placed tug from one of the vigilantes who had gathered outside the carriage that dislodged me from my perch.

It was then, from this new perspective and with logic slowly returning, that I saw an indiscreet sign which showed that the carriage was reserved solely for disabled people and cancer patients.

With my tail between my legs I withdrew to the refuge of a cab, but I would be back. After all it is ten pence to ride anywhere in the city.

After seeing off the first assault of jet lag, bereft of any basic supplies and with ‘first-day explorer syndrome’ pulsing through my veins, I decided to extend my knowledge of Bandra beyond the cramped window of a taxi. A prestigious member of the ‘burbs, it had grown northward from the historic centre of Mumbai and was to be my haunting spot for the next month.

It took only a few chaotic minutes and a barrage from the local fruit-selling, Armani-wielding populous to convince me that, despite my best efforts, I could not go it alone and would need to recruit the aid of a local. Not only to help with general navigation, but also to sift through the hundreds of street vendors to find the most reputable source of food in an area where KFC was the landmark culinary establishment pointed out to me by my landlord.

Such a bill-fitter came in the unlikely form of Ravi, a novelty map seller who, still ruing the day he had given the finger to his waiter friends in favour of the alternative market for illustrated maps, was more than happy to throw off their laminated shackles. If nothing else then to placate the voice in his head, on a continuous loop saying “you should’ve slept on it mate…”

As a guide he was one of the most genuinely nice people I’ve met, despite that fact that he had the misfortune to look like an Indian version of Gareth from The Office. His voice filled with unadulterated regret when he spoke of the squalor which many of the locals lived in. Pointing out small patches by the road with only a dusty sheet to qualify them as houses.

Having never been to any form of school, Ravi had picked up Englishfrom his time in Delhi. Something which had proved an invaluable asset in the face of a merciless job market that did not look fondly on his lack of educational credentials. It also had its use in luring foreign dickheads to their demise at the hands of an over-friendly tailor. Dickheads like me.

But today was not such a day and, having escorted me to one of the few restaurants with roofs in the area and refusing any financial embellishment, he pledged to return in an hour to take me to his house. Although I didn’t know what to expect, I had an inkling that I could put my call to MTV cribs on hold.

As promised, he returned with minutes to spare and we set off on the long walk to the West side of Bandra. An area, I would later discover, that had a formidable slum population and was separated from its Eastern equivalent by a long railway bridge that was a hub of activity for beggars, hawkers and commuters alike. Crossing onto the other side I could detect no noticeable difference from the roads I had walked down before and it was only when we parted company with the main road into terra incognita that the stakes were raised.

Furnished by an alleyway that would be stretched to fit a well-sized American, the houses were intimately spaced to say the least. As particularly graphic scenes from City of God raced through my head, I reached into my pocket to fashion a home-made knuckle duster out of my flat keys, should the need arise. I also inched slightly closer to my guide, but without partaking in the exercise of ‘bromance’ that saw a number of Indian men holding pinkies through the streets, oblivious to any homosexual connotations.

My fears were, of course, unfounded and the only threats came in the form of passive women washing their clothes outside and the walls of smiles from the children who rushed to shake my hand and wish me a happy new year.

After a few minutes of walking we arrived at his pad, which distinguished itself from its neighbours only by the crackling din of a device that barely scraped the definition of a television. Apart from the fan, this was the only electrical device in the single-roomed house, and the only other furnishing was a tottering shelf with piles of metal pots balanced on top.

In one corner, the concrete wall bore the mark of a younger member of the family, who had tacked up any stickers he could find. Unfortunately for him, this meant that the corner was covered by a horde of lesser-successful Disney characters, and, for some reason, Tom Jones. If I returned, I resolved to bring a true ambassador of the Westside to the dilapidated walls, Tupac Shakur.

Eclipsing all of these features, and on the wall opposite the entrance, a plaster shrine to the Hindu God Ganesh revelled in its modest surroundings. Besides it, and sitting comfortable on a thin rug that also seemed to double as the bed, was the older brother who was intently watching a fuzzy screen which occasionally resembled a game of cricket.

Finally, as I removed my shoes, I was also greeted by the mother, who paused from washing the family’s clothes in one of the pots to offer the traditional Hindu greeting of pressed hands and a bowed head. Other than that, she was seemingly oblivious and treated the situation as if it were a daily occurrence.

Drawn in by the black and white cricket, I took my seat on the rug and watched as the two brothers had a quiet conversation which ended abruptly in the older one getting up to leave. As he did so I immediately regretted my decision to accept the offer of the communal cushion from behind his back, thinking that this was the cause of his departure. But, waving away any apologies, he left with a knowing smile.

During his departure, the hospitality of the family was made evident to me by the increasing array of offers poured on me, from drinks to full-on meals. I politely declined, conscious of the how little the family had. A crowd of young children had also gathered around the window and door and, despite the best efforts of my host to get rid of them, persevered, desperate to know what I thought of MS Dhoni or if I liked their trainers.

I answered the crowd as best I could and it was only the return of the older brother that ceased the question time, he had brought a coke with him from the local convenience store. Relatively, it was quite a small token, but the fact that Ravi told me, with a hint of regret in his usually passive voice, that his mother was going out begging soon made it seem like one of the most generous offering I’ve had, Any of my protests were resolutely dismissed and, reminding me that I was a guest in his house, he passed it over.

I spent another couple of hours in the room, in which I was also persuaded to have some of the bread, but eventually the time came to leave. Promising to come for a game of cricket later in the week, I started off on the long walk home, humbled by the kindness and good will of a slum-dweller.

Travelling through Mumbai is like nothing you could ever have imagined.

My steed was a black and yellow FIAT which looked as if it had driven straight out of 1970s Havana and boasted, amongst other gadgets, a solitary light bulb. However, by far the one accessory which interested the driver the most was the high pitched horn which acted as an outlet for his frustration and was thus used generously. In fact
most drivers shared this partiality and the overall effect was that of an urban rainforest with the mating calls of Honda Civics piercing through the dry air in a never-ending chorus.

The roadside scenery was littered with piles of rubble which, in places, were being tenderly transferred into dusty sacks. A job, I feared, that was cursed never to end, but the presence of this rubble also portrayed a symptom of the absence of much government activity on the street level.

You also couldn’t help but notice the array of slums which had evolved by the road. Some of the houses were comprised of large billboards with ‘Coca Cola’ draped next to the entrance in faded letters. Sitting on top of these DIY foundations at a fashionable slant, a corrugated iron roof provided the primary means of protection against the ominous monsoon rains.

Each of these houses were then balanced precariously on top of one another to give the impression of an unfinished jig-saw against the horizon. Whilst this organised chaos suggested the haphazard nature of the houses’ construction, it also lent an artistic flair to the surroundings which is barren to most Westernised cities.

Against this backdrop were the Mumbaikars themselves, the life force of the city who flowed and ebbed through the streets each with their own purpose and unique knowledge of the city.

Whilst activity was never far away, many locals contented themselves with perching besides stalls and watching the stream of bikes, cars and rickshaws- which resembles a cross between a scooter and a squeezed VW campervan- beep and whine their way through the streets. In fact, so little were these particular locals’ actions that they had ceased to become human and simply blended in with their surroundings as an another decoration for the stalls.

Inevitable to such a place of extreme poverty, beggars also walked the streets. Exercising their broken English phrases to any tourists strolling past and, when that failed, they pulled and tugged at clothes as if trying to will money out of the pockets. Even though such an activity was nothing new to me, it was a shock to see that none of them were older than seven. No doubt sent out by their parents to earn their keep, even at so young an age. Although the weight of the responsibility is distressing for such small shoulders, some comfort can be derived from the fact that, even in such dire circumstances, the children rallied together and still found the energy and will to play by the road.

Standing out amongst this bustle of life was the elegance of the women, who glided authoritatively through the crowds like a swan negotiating its way through a pond of lilies. In contrast to the dusty décor, which had been cast lavishly across the buildings and streets, vibrant colours, plucked from every crevice of the spectrum, lit up their saris. Plumes of emerald green collided with splashes and swirls of dark blue, whilst delicate patterns lined the edges, all to create small vortexes of colour in every direction you looked.

As if this elaborate attire was not sufficient, many women also sported patterns across their hands and upper arms in such a delicate shade of brown that it served to compliment the skin on which it rested. Though it was observed that plants and flowers served as the primary artistic inspiration, there seemed to be no limits to this extravagant ‘mehndi.’

The diversity of such characteristics gave the impression that you were revisiting a patchwork of old dreams. Being unable to remember one specific storyline, you have taken the highlights and put them together in a blend that defies any logic but somehow makes sense.

Sim City 5: Singapore Edition

Nestled between the baying mobs-  largely of workers plucked straight from the Strongbow advert – lined up to get their leg over South- East Asia, you will find a small and organized queue of pensioners aiming their over-sized arses in a similar direction. Despite the fact that these aforementioned accessories have undergone intensive Morrison’s sponsored training to ensure they act as a charming and buoyant ambassador between their owners and the airplane seats, they also represent the target tourist market for their destination. Singapore.

A city that pays homage to the Victorian novel ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by emulating the protagonist’s tempestuous nature on its remarkably litter free streets.

Here is a place where you can be caned by the iron fist of the law or, if it’s your cup of tea, by the velvet glove of the many prostitutes who frequent the city at night. Whilst these blemishes serve to add a bit of spice to the city’s underbelly, the spice is, unfortunately, Tesco’s value and does little to change the overall taste of a city that seems to have been presided over by a congregation of the Stepford wives.

That ‘s not say it doesn’t taste good, there’s nothing wrong with low crime and unemployment but the measures to achieve this have come at the cost of depriving the city of its own persona. Or, in other words, it’s a healthy looking enough baby but its creation in a test tube has removed any worldly imperfections.

Imperfections like the ones pulsing through Paris in the 1930s or San Francisco in the 60s. Sure these cities were breeding grounds for moral destitution, but the conditions materialized into the perfect mid-wives to enable the birth of some of the century’s most creative literary talents like Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller.

Whilst Miller’s work won’t be used as the manifesto for a Feminine Alliance group any time soon, it is a trophy for what individuals can achieve in these unique surroundings.  In comparison, Singapore’s sterilized surroundings have produced few avant-gardes or rockers of the global boat.

This is not through lack of intelligence, but rather because controversial thinking has become something of an inconvenience for a population so embroiled in government red tape. But far from being uncomfortable, this red tape caters to every Singaporean need and keeps them on the golden road of government-approved lifestyles. Whilst also ensuring they don’t stray too far from it.

Beyond this, the Herculean effort of government intervention boils down to one main problem. For all its manufactured charm and beauty, Singapore possesses no venerable vice that gives the city a personality and distinguishes it from an award winning design on Sim City.

At a dinner party, Singapore is not the grandfather whose farts smell of sulphur and harbors the enviable ability of clearing a busy room with one lift of his corduroy clad thigh. Nor is he the tinsel-mustached uncle, who has decided to exercise his weekly permitted risk in the form of a bowtie with mice on it, and ends up getting pissed up on sherry and chasing the Latino housemaid round the garden with a belt.

No, Singapore will have an agreeable time, maybe have a cheeky second glass of wine but at all times maintaining his pocket breathalyzer within arm’s reach to ensure that alcohol content remains at a sustainable level. He may even dance, if prompted, to the token Beach Boys’ number, reverting to his younger days of Top of the Pops for inspiration beyond the awkward ass wiggle that looks as if he is trying to dislodge a particularly stringy shit from his anus.

But, at the end of the night Singapore will return home having boosted fun levels to a record 67% and in prime form to catch up with the latest Dancing on Ice on Sky Plus. He has avoided any pregnancy scares with underage Polish sales assistants and late night hospital calls remain a plotline for E.R.

Whether you see this as a blessing or bore determines whether you should be booking a stay in Singapore or its unruly neighbor, Bangkok.