Claude Ballantyne-Deadwood – Her Majesty’s Longest Serving Resident

This is a simple story about one aspect of expat life. There are no hefty morals to this story but perhaps some insight into the variety of the human condition.  This story is about one of the ‘Good Men in China’ and it’s important that some of these stories are recorded in case they slip away and the hilarity and eccentricity that is the hallmark of living in a place that was once a ‘frontier’ town  is lost forever.

Many years ago I watched a movie called ‘Good Man in Africa’ starring, amongst others Sean Connery, which was, in its own way, an insight in to the quirks of human behaviour when outside of the person’s normal environment.

Expat life attracts people from so many different places in the spectrum of human accomplishment and lives seem to be more vivid and colorful when this broad array of peculiarities gets together.

As China develops and as the cities become reflections of other places in the world the colorful characters fade and the eccentrics disappear from the expat scene, and today I mourn for the loss of these true characters. Now the people who come to China, come knowing that life is pretty much the same as where they left, and sadly, there is so much missing from the fabric of community life when the oddities and the originals have left.

Over the years you meet a lot of people. You meet the good, the bad and some just really normal boring old people. Once in a life you get to meet someone that is so off the planet that you simply don’t know where to begin and where to end telling the stories about them and expecting anyone to believe you.

Claude Ballantyne-Deadwood was such a person.  A real life combination of Walter Mitty meets Dumb and Dumber. Alas somewhere there is indeed a village sadly missing their idiot.

For a long time, I would have been able to answer the missing persons advert as the whereabouts of that idiot – domiciled in the middle of China and for a number of years parked on our doorstep and providing almost daily entertainment.

Claude was a ‘businessman’. He had been inherited by a European company when the company he had been working for was sold. And despite never making a single sale in the entire time we were within his orbit, for some strange reason, he was kept on the books so his company was able to say: ‘We Have a Good Man in China’.

There was nothing like a July 4th celebration in Chengdu back in the early 90’s. A gathering of the 3 and half foreigners living here – pretty much everyone was invited to the Consulate General – a beautiful compound surrounded by machine-gun toting guards that had its very own swimming pool and sumptuous lawn area.

It was the social highlight of the year and generous US companies would provide delicacies like lashings of KFC from the brand new solitary KFC store that had opened. Coors Beers. Sausages.

Barbeque cooked by a selection of the US’s finest. And a completely casual atmosphere.

The Consul General at the time, Case Keur was a great guy – very down to earth and very relaxed. On this particular 4th of July he was clad in Hawaiian Shirt. Flip Flops. Beer in Hand. Happy smile on face.

On this fine sunny summer’s day, it was by coincidence that I was standing talking to him close to the entrance to the Consulate when the taxi pulled up. It wasn’t a small little red Suzuki Alto taxi. No No No. It was a big black expensive taxi. The ones that you order when you are out to impress.

And from its interior emerged a snazzily dressed man in a fake Armani suit probably bought from the Georgio MRFINI shop down the road and a crocodile skin black leather briefcase.

Through the security check. X-ray. Passport Check. And into the compound.  We were engrossed in who this might be – a foreign dignitary? A visiting scholar? Perhaps a politician.

This gentleman, who graced our lives for several years after this fateful day, strode up the Consul General, with his briefcase held in a completely strange way – one handed and hanging across his chest, thrust his hand out and said:

“Sir, Claude Ballantyne-Deadwood, Honorary British Consul”

The Consul General smiled and said” Mr Deadwood, I believe there has been a slip in protocol here. We haven’t been notified by the British Embassy of a new honorary Consul in Chengdu.”

There was a pause. And indecently long pause. And a slight throat cough emerged before Claude Ballantyne-Deadwood added:

“I am Her Majesty’s longest serving Resident in Chengdu”

The Consul General literally forced back the mirth – we couldn’t look at each other in the eyes for fear of bursting into uncontrollable laugher and he said:

‘Well, in that case, you better come and in have a beer then’.

us-consulate

US Consulate Chengdu

 

When you live in a place where there are so few of you – expats, foreigners – you tend to overlook people’s foibles and take people as you find them.  An expat community in a place that is far away and unrecognized is a place where you can meet some seriously interesting people – whether they are misfits in their own country, running away from themselves or just simply finding themselves, there is a much higher number of people with interesting stories than you are going to find in Suburbsville.

It’s not like someone with a settled life and a family, friends at the pub and working to pay the mortgage wakes up one morning and say: “

Why don’t we root our entire life and head to the middle of China, to a place that virtually (even today) no-one has ever heard of, and see what’s what.”

Places like Chengdu at the beginning China’s opening were extremely unusual places and they attracted a parade of extremely interesting and downright odd people.

There was the character who prior to coming to Chengdu was the only person at the time who was able to sign the name – Ron L Hubbard – on Church of Scientology papers and who had somehow fallen foul of the organization and considered the middle of China a suitable place to recover his equilibrium.

There was the son of a mafia boss who didn’t want the mafia life and ended up marrying a local film actress and who by the age of 42 had already had 3 major heart attacks.

There was the Persian scholar, who, just for fun I believe, came to China to learn perfect Chinese in 3 months and do his degree in small particle physics in Chinese and would don a Mao suit and pass as a genuine Chinese – thus being able to buy vegetables for half the price that we big noses could, and was able to get beneath the façade of reality and learn exactly how China really was.

There was the Israeli doctor studying Chinese medicine who flew in a whole team of heart surgeons from Israel to perform heart surgery on his dog. And who would get up in the middle of the night on a whim and go on bike rides into the Tibetan areas that lasted for weeks, with the same dog trotting beside him day after day.

There was the Australian reprobate who was hiding from the Biker gangs in Australia who had a contract out on him for his injudicious talks with the police, whose party trick was to front up to the smallest man in the room and knock them senseless.  A coward and a bully.

There was the enormously famous film producer/actors’ nephew who was also studying Chinese medicine who was beguiled by ‘Loose Legs Ling Ling’ into marriage and divorce and the accompanying huge alimony payments – despite being warned a hundred times that perhaps they may have been better choices.

There were the blaggards and the bletherers, the ditherers and the drunkards and Claude turned out to be their king.

The July 4th party that day had a pair of Russians from Vladivostok, in attendance that day – Sasha and Pasha.

Yep, that was their name.

Two really strapping young men, with muscles on their muscles. And muscles on those muscles on their muscles.  Full of fun and after a couple of hours full of vodka as well.

And a new exciting game started being played. Throw everyone who is not wet into the swimming pool. It was actually great fun – temperatures being around 38C.

But not if you are dressed in an Armani suit – fake or otherwise – when everyone is in their shorts and t-shirts.

Talk about a bright red target on your back.

It wasn’t long before Claude was being chased around the swimming pool – to be fair, not for very long because he wasn’t exactly the most athletic of men and was unceremoniously thrown into the swimming pool.

An angry red faced Englishman emerged from the pool, coughing and spluttering and in a terrible rage.

It appears that perhaps before being thrown into the swimming pool you should take your mobile phone out of your pocket and alas, Sasha and Pasha had not had the forethought to do so.

Claude simply couldn’t speak – couldn’t compose any words beyond four letter ones – and, on backward reflection, I am very surprised that he did not use his special forces super powers that I learned later he claimed to have.

In a huff he left the party.

It was certainly a great debut into the social scene in Chengdu.

Because we didn’t really know the guy at this stage, even though we were all crippled with laughter, we certainly felt a bit sorry for the guy losing his phone and crumpling his carefully ironed suit, and we became acquaintances if not really friends and, we exchanged contacts and started to meet up from time to time.

On the evening that my son, James arrived in China, we went out to a Taiwanese restaurant for a meal and we invited Claude along for the evening. James was only 16 years old at the time and it was his first time travelling abroad and certainly first time in China.

The meal was extremely delicious and we were enjoying a bit of banter, when Claude picked up a chopstick and turned to my 16-year-old son and asked him what it was.

“It’s a chopstick, Claude”.

“No it isn’t” replied Claude. “What is it?”

“It’s a chopstick”

“No. It’s a deadly weapon”

And with sleight of hand spun the innocuous chopstick around in his hand and tried to stab James.

“I could take you out right now” exclaimed Claude. “I am trained in many highly deadly skills. This is one of them”

James was basically pissing himself with laughter.

“What’s this Claude? A noodle you say? No. It is a deadly weapon”

“What’s this? A paper napkin? No a deadly weapon”

cvhopstick

noodle

Deadly Weapons

This went on for a little while and Claude turned around to me and said my son better watch himself – he had his eye on him and it would be a deadly assault that would befall him.

His chance came a week or so later.

We received a call saying that there was a special guest in town and that Claude was hosting him at a bar and would we like to join him for a drink.

The bar turned out to be a small, what can I say? A small shithole.  Filled with ‘drink alcohol with the guests’ girls – whose job was not of a sexual nature – just pretty young things who would sit beside men and ‘encourage’ them to drink more.

The guest turned out to be a backpacker who was just passing through and a decent sort of guy with good stories and pleasant company.

Claude wasn’t getting as much attention as he wanted so his bottom lip started to trip over his shoes and after a while he couldn’t hold it in any longer.

He looked at my son, all 16 years old, and said:

“You fancy a go do you?”

“Sorry? What do you mean?”

“Do you fancy a go do you? Come outside and let me wipe that smile of your face.”

You would have to know Claude to know that this was like a poodle asking if you wanted a lick.

So out they went. Bang. One smack to the ear and Claude was down like a sack of potatoes.

The backpacker sat there incredulously. What the ‘bleep’ was that all about.

“Don’t worry mate – that’s just Claude forgetting to take his medication.”

In they came. Claude happy as anything and leaned down to me and said:

“Strong lad your lad”

And carried on as if nothing had happened.

Another time we were sitting watching a movie at our place and Claude jumped and grabbed my son and said:

‘C’mon. Time you were taught a lesson.’

Two minutes later and Claude is on his backside with James sitting on him and he looked up and said:

“Do you give up?”

We literally fell on the floor laughing – “Yes, Claude. I give up”

Several weeks passed and situation after situation like this happened until we sort of came to expect that life was never going to be dull.

Claude had these ideas that were totally untrue – he had been in the special forces – “If I tell you what I did I would have to kill you.”

“Served in Iraq I did – can’t say anything about that though”.

“My father was the father of the nuclear weapons industry”

“My father has the No Bell Prize, but he isn’t allowed to tell anyone.

“What – he has a door-knocker instead does he?”

Day after day new things about his illustrious past would surface – By God we were in the orbit of a living legend.

One evening around midnight, the phone went.

A faint voice on the phone said: “Help me.” “Help Me”

“Is that you Claude? What’s wrong”

Click. Receiver dead.

Three minutes later and the phone goes again: “Gavin, Help Me”

Click. Receiver dead.

My dear wife and I were pretty worried – the guy was a total loose cannon – he had a wife – his fourth wife – and to say that there was little marital bliss would be a gross understatement.

There were several scenarios that were going through my mind – ranging from him murdering his wife, her murdering him, him trying to commit suicide to all sorts of things in-between. I would also add that his wife was quite possibly the most annoying person I have ever met so the scenarios were not only realistic but too close for comfort.

We jumped in a taxi and drove over to his apartment in a very down-market part of town.

The apartment was one of the ubiquitous gray neo-Stalinist 7-story walk-ups with a gate guard. A gate guard who liked to be in bed asleep at midnight and who had to be paid to open the gate after 10pm.

Usually this was around 1-2 RMB – about 12-20 cents at the time. But not tonight. I was a foreigner trying to get in and the price went up exponentially. It was a whole 20 RMB to get in the gate – which was truly a rip-off and if had not been for the fact that we were really worried then we wouldn’t have even considered such extortion.

Of course he would live on the seventh floor. Of course there wasn’t a lift.

chinese-apartments-580x435

Ubiquitous 7 Story Walk-up similar to the abode of Claude Ballantyne Deadwood

And it didn’t appear there was anyone home either. We were hammering on the door for ages and ages – something like 20 minutes. We were at the point of calling the police because we seriously didn’t know what was on the other side of that steel door, when the door opened and a silent sullen sultry dame looked at us and took off into the bedroom.

I said to my wife: “You go and speak to her and I’ll find him”

And find him I did.

He was stretched out on the floor of the living room utterly stark raving naked and looking like he was unconscious.

You can’t imagine what went through my mind. Apart from the hairy arse poking up at me, I thought I was going to be dealing with my very first murder enquiry.

I bent down and felt him – he was warm – that’s a good sign.

I shook him. Nothing. I shook him again. Nothing. I tried to find a pulse.

And he started to move and moan and moan again.

“Where am I?”

“Wake up. Wake up. What’s going on?”

Groggily, he turned over. Wedding tackle flying in the breeze.

“It’s happened again.”

What’s happened again?”

“Flashback to the Gulf War”

“What do you mean flashback to the Gulf War” “You weren’t in the Gulf War”

“Yes I was.”

“No you weren’t”

“Yes I was”

Since we had established that the Gulf War story was bollocks – that he had in fact been in the army he was a radio operator and had not been sent into Iraq – it was obviously a story to explain the phone call and the lying on your living room floor with not a stitch of clothing anywhere to be seen. And the angry bitter woman who had by this time was out in the living room with a look of utter derision on her face – a face that could only be described as a looking like a bulldog chewing a wasp.

To cut a long story short, my wife was able to establish that he had been at the seedy bar down the road and had come home drunk as a ‘lord’ and had decided bashing up the wife was good sport and after a few whacks she was calling the police.

At which point he collapsed on the floor and pretended to be dead.

Living in a city in the middle of China of some 12 million people at that time, and being in a community of only a hundred or so foreigners, this was not a happy situation. This was the type of thing that could end up in many of us becoming the target of just anger for a foreigner hitting a woman. It was seriously unacceptable and put all of us at real physical risk not to mention simply being unacceptable on every single level.

His wife, was yelling and saying that she was coming to live with us and that wasn’t such a good idea.

So we took another option – “Have you got any Valium in the house Claude?

There is nothing like a few valium to settle someone down for the night – it’s truly wonderful what 4 valium will do to de-escalate a situation.

Ten minutes later there was a babe in arms sleeping soundly in the spare room and his wife was well and truly locked in the main bedroom – pretty much all Chinese apartments in those days had locks on all the internal doors to keep the burglars away from stealing things in the night.

And sleep he did. Until 6pm the next night. At which time the British Warden and I called him around to our apartment for a little, shall we say ‘chat’. The Warden is an upstanding British citizen appointee and in this case one of my closest friends, whose job it was to keep an eye on the British citizens (including Her Majesty’s Longest Serving Resident).

It wasn’t a choice for him to come over – it was made pretty clear that this was a very necessary visit on his part to face the music.

Frankly, the Warden, Allan, and myself were pretty pissed off at this and we decided he had to be stopped from ever doing this again, and both of us being pretty solid lads we got him into the spare room and gave him a jolly good talking to. Probably shouldn’t say a jolly good hiding so I won’t.

When we had finished ‘talking’ to him he looked at us firmly in the eyes with a puppy dog sincere look in his eyes and said:

“You guys are the best friends I have ever had”.

Sorry? We have just read from the good book and we are now your best friends.

Thank You God. Thank You very very much.

We never got rid of him after that. He moved into the apartment complex where we lived and we were assailed daily by phone calls and visits.

Because he was working for a company that had no interest in what was going on there Claude used to mosey on down to the bar at 10am and start drinking. A few beers later and the phone would go.

“What are you doing?”

“Working, Claude”.

“Fancy a beer?”

“No thanks.”

My son’s phone would go.

“What are you doing?”

“My study, Claude”.

“Fancy a beer?”

“No thanks.”

Allan’s phone would go.

“What are you doing?”

“Working, Claude”.

“Fancy a beer?”

“No thanks.”

Day after day. Week after week. Month after month.

At six o’clock he would come home legless. Climb his stairs to his apartment and then the argument would start.

An American who lived in the same stairwell as him but lower down told us that every single night she would throw potatoes at him and he would yell at her – but, to his minimal credit, he never hit her again. Then he would go to bed at 8pm.

The next day, some little while after 10am the phone would go:

“What are you doing?”

“Working, Claude”.

“Fancy a beer?”

“No thanks.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

One fine day there was a holiday in town and the majority of the foreigners ended up at the Newcastle Bar for an evening’s entertainment and one of these was Claude and his wife.

We were all sitting on a big long table right at the front of the dance floor in the bar – which was a massive two story affair and packed with people enjoying a not so quite pint for the holiday. A few local diplomats amongst our number, the two Russians, Sasha and Pasha and an interesting group of Tibetans sitting at another table.

My dear wife engaged in some discussion with the Tibetans and invited me over to say hello. By coincidence the Dalai Lama happened to be visiting Wellington at that time. Now this is a very touchy subject in China – one of the three ‘T’s’ that should never be discussed if unless you wish to outstay your welcome – but since I am from New Zealand the Tibetans were pretty stoked to meet a Kiwi given the visit. A glass of ale together, hail fellow well met, and back to the group.

Probably the luckiest meeting I have ever had in my life.

Where we were sitting there was a stair going up to the second floor and in the middle of the revelry Claude’s wife started bawling her eyes out.

‘What’s wrong?’ we enquired. And in between sniffles it emerged that 6 young testosterone filled locals had come and told her she was a woman of dubious morality for being with a foreigner and that they were going to this serious betrayal of Chinese culture into their own hands and she should get ready for trouble.

Claude started to stand up and ‘Bang’ a big whack to the snozz and down he went. I was sitting next to where the guy who hit him was standing and up came my fist and clipped him right underneath the jaw and he was able to listen to the little birdies flying around his head.

Big mistake.

The entire bar erupted into an anti-foreign uproar. It was all on.

The Russians grabbed me and pushed me behind them with my back to the wall and the started holding off the 6 young guys from kicking the living bejeezus out of me. But the crowd just got bigger and bigger and things were really ugly.

The bars’ security guards were really struggling – we are talking 2-300 people here up in arms and baying for blood.

Sasha and Pasha said that they didn’t think they could hold the crowd back much longer and for me to get ready to fight before being kicked to kingdom come. Great!

Then like Gandalf riding to save the day the Tibetans moseyed over and pulled out they long curved knives, which they are allow to carry and formed a protective screen around me and got down to business.

There is an idea that Tibetans are peace loving vegans who meditate all day and say prayers for world peace. Fortunately for me, this is a complete myth. Tibetans are some of the fiercest people on the planet.

Used to running up and down 20,000 foot mountains carrying 4 tonnes of rocks every day, all the while breathing a gulp of air every three days or so, you really really don’t want to get into any nonsense with a group of angry Tibetans, brandishing their Gyirab knives.

tibetan-knife

So, here I was, in the middle of China, in a bar filled with a million drunken people, after my scalp and family jewels not to mention my life and being protected by two big Russians and group of Tibetans

What could go wrong?

The security guards were starting to make a bit of headway. In China the security guards in bars were usually sourced from the military or armed police – these were the only people able to get licenses for the work – and they didn’t muck around. They were trained in the fine art of ejection.

People were being dragged by the hair and disgorged unceremoniously from the bar, with swift kicks to the posterior, arms being broken and skulls were being cracked by their batons and shocks to the system delivered via their cattle prods. Literally.

And the situation was being restored.

The manager of the bar, who went by the name of Boston had seen what had happened and wasn’t going to throw us out.

The diplomats had fled, along with all the other scaredy cats, and our numbers were depleted, but that meant that the free drinks the manager showered on us could be shared amongst the brave few.

scared-cat

As I sat down – heart racing and adrenaline pumping, considering how close to nirvana I had just come, Claude grabbed me and looked at me earnestly and said:

‘Don’t you ever hold me back again’. ‘Don’t you ever hold me back again’.

And Walter Mitty’s honour was restored. No flashbacks required.

I refrained from enquiring who then had held him back while I was about to get a beating.

After that night, he never ever set foot in the Newcastle Bar again and confined his drinking to daytime between the hours of 10am and 6pm.

I, on the other hand, was encouraged to leave at the end of the night via the back door, as the 6 guys who started the fracas, waited across the street in a beat-up old Russian car, to beat up where they left off.

Discretion was definitely the better part of valor and joyfully they had the memories of goldfish and they never came back to the bar ever again.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Claude was an aficionado of gin. Good old mothers ruin.

Don’t know about mothers but it was pretty much Claude’s ruin as well.

Claude never did any work – once every few days his boss would call him and enquire if all was well on this lonely outpost of the Empire.

Problem was he never knew when his boss would call.

In the summer there was a lovely swimming pool to be enjoyed, so Claude came up with the brainwave that if he ran a telephone line out of his 5th floor window and across the path and into the swimming pool he could sit and enjoy the sunshine, while sipping on a lovely G&T, ready for any and all calls that came in.

Prerequisite of this brilliant award winning idea though is that sobriety is probably a better option while sitting in the sun than drunken revelry.

The day came, when after that one Gin too many Claude fell asleep in the sun on the deck chair. Which, at the time, was under the umbrella and in the shade.

But not for long.

The Sichuan sun is an elusive beast – usually covered by clouds, when it does come out, it makes up for lost time, and is as fierce as a fire ant.

Just as, when you are married to a local girl, half the time you are in heaven, Claude was half the time in the sun. The right half. And not the left half.

There was a line of blisters on blisters on red sunburn right down the right side of his body.

The worst case of sunburn I have ever seen.

Hospitalization level sunburn.

Sheer unremitting agony type sunburn.

The phone went but no-one was there to answer it.

The trees and the flowers never did see the supine form of Claude enjoying the delights of expat poolside living ever again.

Gin was the undoing of Claude one other fine day but in quite a different way.

On hearing that I had brought back a 1.125l bottle from one of my travels, I found him standing outside the apartment at the good old hour of 10am wondering if he could have a small drink.

Why not we said – let’s have a small noggin to start the day. It is after all the weekend.

Claude’s noggin was somewhere north of 2 gallons and the first glass was a highball glass with 98.7% gin and three drops of lemonade.

We were a tad more circumspect and watch in awe when the entire glass disappeared in a 5 seconds. Followed by another glass and then another.

The bottle was actually empty and we had had two small nips each and Claude had had the rest.

Out came the air guitar and happiness.

Mid-morning monkeyshines all round. Someone was glowing. Or a more accurate description ‘downright pissed’.

And then, something that I thought only happens in cartoons happened in front of our very eyes. Somewhere, riffing to Dire Straights, our air guitar hero stood up dead straight – to attention. Then slowly at first, then gathering pace, fell rigidly backwards in the middle of the room and passed out on the carpet.

Stone cold passed out.

We checked all vital signs – still breathing, heart still beating. Still moving ever so slightly. But dead to the world.

We got a blanket and a pillow and made the poor gin soaked fellow comfortable and went about our daily ways.

Our maid arrived home with a bag or two of vegetables and on seeing the unconscious foreigner lying sleeping in the middle of the room at lunchtime, cast a look that shrieked ‘derision’.

I don’t believe she could understand the peculiar world that we foreign expats inhabited.

She wasn’t the only one – my wife came home and her first reaction was to see if we had been stupid enough to have imbibed in the same way as Claude.

Fortunately, there would be no ‘ear-softening’ pull on my ear today.

Claude slept until 6pm, Raised himself from the carpet. Bid us a very good evening and disappeared.

As if nothing had happened, with the only evidence being a completely empty bottle of gin as witness.

gin-bottle

…………………………………………………

One day the phone went and, surprise surprise, Claude was on the other end.

“Come down and see my new motorbike. We are off on tours around China.”

Wow, we thought. Getting a motorbike in China in those times was well nigh impossible. The laws around licenses and registration pretty much precluded a foreigner being allowed to buy a motorbike and we were intrigued to find out how he had managed it and dreams of hurtling down the highway with the wind in our hair was a compelling thought.

We waited at the gate to the apartment complex for the expectant arrival of Claude on his brand new motorbike.

Did I mention that there was a loophole in the laws surrounding motorbikes? Anything under 50cc was considered not to be a motorbike.

With 50ccs being somewhere in between a sewing machine and a lawnmower this couldn’t really be considered to be Easy Rider material.

Then we heard the deep throated rumble of the approaching motorbike with Claude, who was a hefty lad, tink tink tinkling down the road on a 49cc motorized food processor. Fully decked out in black leathers and aviator sunglasses.

We fell on the ground laughing. A thing with a motor that was around the size of a 5-year old’s bike with a 110kg leather clad biker perched on the top with the seat disappearing into God knows where.

jeff-on-the-pocket-bike_medium

We couldn’t stop laughing and as we laughed someone kept getting angrier and angrier. Until he stormed off in a paddy and promised never to speak to us again.

Which oath was foresworn a mere half an hour later.

“What are you doing?”

“Laughing, Claude”.

“Fancy a beer?”

“Why not! See you at the pub”

I have yet to embark on a motorbike trip around China but when I do I shall buy a bike that has slightly more grunt than a ceiling fan on wheels.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The day came when the party came to an end – the company decided that having someone in China probably wasn’t as important as they had first thought and Claude was recalled to the motherland and his days as Her Majesty’s Longest Serving Resident came to an end.

There is much missing from this story – I haven’t included the time Claude had tea with the Premier of China (not) or the time he was given permission to take a baby panda to sit on a stall at a trade fair (not) or the time his wife threw their dog out the window after Claude had drawn the ire of the local newspapers for having a dog ten times the size of the then permitted maximum, the fights and the arguments and the time his wife broke the TV because he was gambling with matches. There simply isn’t enough room for five years of tales.

The ‘diplomatic’ service in Chengdu would never be the same and the most colorful character I have ever met finally departed. Gone but no way ever forgotten.

The small bar where Claude used to drink from 10am until 6pm closed down – he had been perhaps their only customer for the past couple of years and when he left the doors were closed and the sun set on this lonely outpost of Empire that had been kept running for all these years singlehandedly by Claude.

The China story didn’t end here. He took his wife with him back to the UK and on the day she was granted her permanent residency she up and left a mere 5 minutes after getting her papers.

Apparently the years throwing potatoes at each other every evening had left a few scars.

Undaunted to be single again he found solace in the arms of her best friend and married for the fifth time and returned to China where he opened a bar and served home cooking English food.

We heard that most nights he would close at 8 o’clock and throw all the customers out because he was ‘tired’ after a heavy day’s elbow lifting. Those gin bottles won’t empty themselves now will they?

Things never remain the same in life – no matter how we try and hold back the retreating steps of time, things change. When development creates easier places to live and the frontier character disappears, there is a part of life in which the colors lose their vividness and excitement is dulled.

Bring back the ‘Good Men in China’

eccentric

 

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