A Blast from the Past
I have had another post in the works for about a month or so, involving an adventure I recently had 0n the Sailing Anarchy website. The working title is ‘Tits’ and it doesn’t just just refer to the inhabitants of that slime-encrusted, flea-bitten, semen-stained masturbating monkey-pit that comprises the Sailing Anarchy Forums. However, the more I work on it the more I realise a lot of is is (Ahem) inappropriate.
The main Sailing Anarchy website is a useful and informative Yotty site with lots of interesting news. I have followed it on and off for years, but had never been onto the Forums.
I originally went onto the main SA Forum looking for an asshole who did some damage to some friends of mine by posting a nasty and anonymous slander aimed at RHKYC and two of its finest pillars, both friends of mine. I suppose at this point I should mention that I do a little pro-bono private dickery in my spare time to spell the boredom of retirement – and I am good at it.
A couple of the attacks were verbal/in writing and not of much consequence, but annoying, and very malicious. One however, although I hadn’t connected it at the time, was physical and resulted in 5 days in hospital and a month on crutches for a very good mate. Semi-expertly executed (perhaps planned or merely expedient) by an asshole with advanced combat training (a former Royal Marine although a fat out-of-shape dickhead these days) and clearly intended to elicit a violent response which would have ruined my mate’s life. And which he thankfully has grown up enough to forgo at the time.
And I found the prick, although the should-be interested parties in authority don’t want to know.
Never mind, Karma will out and he’ll get his and if the vic can be persuaded to testify I reckon it’s good for 2 to 3 in Stanley Prison for GBH. I have a very large Police Superintendent pal who is all ears and got a look like my Ma’s old coonhound when I described what happened. The vic is recovering, has other priorities. Does not want to pursue at this time.
I’ve done my bit, not my call, the vic is a grown-up and can make up his own mind. I think the statute of limitations is seven years. My copper pal retires in three. Lots of time. He’s told me he’s put the SDU onto keeping an eye on the asshole. So asshole, if you are reading this, which I expect you are, better watch your ass. And get ready to kiss it goodbye.
Anyway, back to tits. While I was sleuthing on SA, I thought, ‘hey, a sailing forum, what a great place to advertise my old pal Chas from Tas’s book’.
So I started a thread to pump the book, then a second to ask for good photos of Chas (who is one of the best known sailors on the planet). It went swimmingly for about 15 minutes. However, my debut postings on the SA Forum offended some strange cultural norms which I was not aware of when I signed up. About a dozen posts in about Chas’ book, I got a message which I found rather rude:
fuck off newb
show us da tits
buy an ad
I rather took offense at that, and after the chap had repeated it three or four times, I got quite angry. So since everyone on the forum uses pseudonyms (except a very few people including me), I started another thread in this guy’s name and put out a bounty on him, offering unspecified favours for his identity and location. I figured he must have pissed a lot of other people off too and someone would shop him.
Lawsy me! That did not go down well. The forum erupted and people from all over the planet started hurling abuse at me, which I admit I quite enjoyed. At least until about 30 posts later when another denizen of that weird place explained that the offending message was considered a polite traditional greeting for a new poster on the forum and that etiquette demanded I post a picture of some nice boobies and, if I was selling something, buy an ad. One guy hinted what I had to do by posting this, but I was too thick to get it until my nose was rubbed in it.
I apologised profusely and posted this:
But the abuse continued, and the number of hits on the threads started to climb dramatically as I expertly and wittily fielded all the insults and hurled them back at the trolls.
I would have walked away, but as PT Barnum once reportedly said, ‘There is no such thing as bad publicity’, and just as the hit rate on the SA Forum climbed so did the hits on the Chas from Tas page.
So I stayed on the Forum and hurled shit at the masturbating monkeys for about six weeks. At one stage, several of the more intelligent monkeys found my LinkedIn profile and debated whether or not to e-mail the real Ian Dubin about the guy who was impersonating him on SA. It got very surreal. I made a few friends, some of them interested in helping my detective quest with bizarre results. One guy from Oz invented a strange narrative claiming I had ravished his mother 30 years ago and he was my son. A lot of it was very funny but there was an undertone of really nasty stuff from some. I’ll post some of the good bits one of these days.
In any event, I got death threats from five continents and there were attempts to hack my Google account from Taipei and Berlin. All good fun. Eventually, the noise from the forum started upsetting real-world people whose opinions matter to me and I bailed out, to considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth from the many fans who were enjoying the debacle.
So, my cunning plan worked. My shit-fight with the scrofulous monkeys on SA generated approximately 36,000 hits on Chas’ Facebook page. Not sure how book sales are going. The agent works a 23 hour day and is not inclined to casual communication. I need to check in with her shortly about Phase 2 of the pre-sale campaign,
In the meantime there’s been lots of drama, I have even been in a couple of fights, one for real (a drunken mate who went for me after I tried to stop him hammering his fist on a window). No real harm done although I had sore ribs for a couple of weeks. I wonder what a 64 year old guy is doing getting in fights? I have never started one in my life. It just seems to happen and there I am.
Who knows. Dum vivimus vivamus I guess. It reminded me of the last time anyone actually managed to tag me in the main bar, which was about 20 years ago. She was blonde, it caused enormous hilarity to the assembled Saturday night crowd and I richly deserved it. I’ll share that yarn another time.
In any event, alongside all the fun and games, pondering the past and apropos of not very much, I recently stumbled across a short story I wrote 23 years ago and entered into the South China Morning Post Short Story Contest (sadly defunct). First prize was two return trip tickets to London on British Airways.
At the time – 1992 – everyone here was consumed by the upcoming 1997 Handover. Chris Patten, ‘The Last Governor’ had just arrived, and lots of Hong Kong Chinese were scrambling like mad for foreign passports and overseas bolt-holes in case things turned bad after 1997. There was great consternation, speculation and concern over how things would turn out, and it was in this atmosphere that the SCMP advertised the theme of the contest.
Readers were invited to submit an original work of fiction, not more than 2000 words, on the theme ‘Five Years On’. What will the Fragrant Harbour be like in 2002, 5 years after the Handover?
My story won Second Prize, which was somewhat disappointing after reading the First Prize winner, and even more so after the editor told me soto voce at the prizegiving that the higher ups felt it would be better if a Local won, rather than a Gweilo. In retrospect, that 1992 attitude is very relevant today and maybe part of the reason I felt like posting this.
So no air tickets, but I was presented with a very nice silver S.T. DuPont fountain pen which I still use. Ironically, considering the subject of the story, I was informed of the contest results in mid-November 1992 by a mate who had flown in to Port Klang in Malaysia from HK, where I had just helped deliver a Yacht, very much like the one in the story and even more ironically, we had been bit in the bum by a typhoon on the trip..
Re-reading this work, I was struck by how at least one particular aspect of it was very ‘dated’. In 1992 I had only just started using the nascent internet. Had I foreseen what it would become by 2002, the whole premise of the story would have been ruined.
Whatever, for what it’s worth, here’s my 1992 view of Five Years On.
Whenever I see the boats I feel hollow, so many broken promises. Yeah, sure, perfidious Albion. Munich, India, Suez, Hong Kong. Maybe this time will be the last.
I was below at the navigation station, plotting our position, when the date displayed on the satellite receiver struck me. July 1st, 2002. Five years from the Handover. Much water, many bridges. I stifled regret and entered our position in the log, 21 North, 116 East, 130 nautical miles Southeast of Hong Kong, Yacht Similan, formerly of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, now of San Fernando and Pratas Reef, formerly a rich man’s pampered lady, now just an ordinary working girl, wrinkles showing in the harsh summer sun.
I tapped the barometer glass. Down another point. The latest printout from Tokyo was on the weatherfax and I cross-checked the forecast from the Yanks on Guam. There she was, Gill, rolling through the Bashi Channel on schedule, quite a nasty lady, just upgraded to typhoon with about 70 knots at the centre. Bad-tempered, short-term Queen of the South China Sea, she was just another working girl as well, helping me make some serious money.
Max hailed from the deck and I climbed the companionway into the noonday sun. He was sprawled by the wheel, steering casually, relaxed and loose as Similan rode the long, greasy swell at an easy eight knots. Unseasonable breeze, 15 knots easterly, full Mainsail and Genoa as fifty feet of aging sloop powered north, away from the invisible storm. She felt sluggish rising to the quartering sea. Not surprising, with two tons extra lashed down below in the saloon. There was a bit of high cloud starting to appear.
“There’s another one off the starboard bow” growled Max, and I dug out the big binoculars to have a look.
I found the smudge on the horizon and focused the glasses. Max squinted at the sky,
“How’s our little storm brewing?”
“Right on schedule,” I told him, “we’re getting good at this.”
The distant boat leapt into view. She was an old high-bowed Aberdeen trawler, well past it, probably built about ’92 or so, by now her nails were rusting out and she’d ship a fair bit of water in a seaway. Where she was headed they might find out. She seemed to be covered in multi-coloured rags but as we drew closer I began to make out heads and arms and bodies.
“How many?” Max hadn’t looked up.
“Christ,” I felt sick, “there must be two hundred. If Gill catches them they’re fish food. Max, steer up a couple of points.” I dug around in the cockpit locker for the loudhailer.
“Waste of time” growled Max, but he steered up anyway as I trimmed the sails.
We passed within a boat length. They were crammed onto the deck like anchovies in those flat little tins that Oliver’s used to sell. The way the trawler squatted down they must have had the hold jammed as well, down in the stink from the years of fishing, in 30 degree heat. I flicked on the loudhailer.
“Daai fung” my bad Cantonese boomed over the water “Daai fung laai, lei yiu faan hui Heung Gong”.
One of the men in the wheelhouse leaned over the side and cupped his hands.
“Thank you, Gweilo,” the wind carried his voice down, “we know about the typhoon. We cannot return to Hong Kong…”. They dwindled astern.
“You’d think the bloody fishermen would know better!” Max sounded disgusted at their stupidity.
“I didn’t see any on board, must have just sold ’em the boat and pointed ’em south.”
Neither of us said anything much for the next while. All of those people, trying for a better life, perhaps the old life. Headed into a Typhoon.
By midnight, the storm circulation had us, breeze a solid 40 knots and climbing steadily, seas up to fifteen feet on the starboard quarter. We’d reefed the main down a couple of times and rolled up most of the Genoa, Similan rode the seas with a thoroughbred’s gait. I knew Max would be calling me on deck soon to shorten sail again.
I was dripping sweat by the time I finished stripping the tarps off and checking the cargo. Twenty aluminium suitcases, O-ring seals, waterproof to 100 feet, 50 kilos apiece including the weights and electronics. My retirement. The kettle started singing as I straightened from the last one.
I took Max’s tea on deck along with my own and braced myself in the hatchway as Similan blasted down a wave at 14 knots. Spray arcing astern framed Max at the wheel, bare to the waist, rain running down his barrel chest and his grey hair streaming. He grinned at me.
“I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I need is a tall ship and a bloody great star to steer her by”.
He actually liked a good storm, the crazy bugger. To me it was just a scary diversion.
“Rosie-lee, Max?” I passed his mug.
“Cup-a-tea” he rhymed back, “we set?”
“Yep”, I slid into the cockpit and sipped my tea, “copacetic, cargo primed and on course. Three hours to the drop zone. We should make the Yacht Club for breakfast”.
“If they’ve got any tucker worth scoffing”. Max scowled as Similan soared into the gathering storm.
0900 Hours the next morning, Similan swung at the quarantine anchorage near where Kaitak used to be. Gill had passed on for Hainan, but she still packed enough breeze to make the rigging whistle and moan.
I came fuzzily awake at Max’s shake. Four hours since we moored. Not enough sleep. He pressed a mug into my hand.
“Three’s still up”.
Three, I thought, strange that with so many other differences they still use the old typhoon signals. I suppose no one ever agreed on what they should change to. As I sipped tea I felt Similan lurch.
“Chen’s here,” Max moved towards the galley ” I’d better put the kettle back on”.
I took my tea on deck. No need to pretend to be exhausted, grimy, and glad to be in port. What I had to pretend was a clear conscience and a lack of apprehension.
Alongside Similan was a grey, forty foot power launch. The two guys handling the lines tying up our visitor both wore Hong Kong Customs grey, same as they used to, but the one at the bow had something new, a red star over his Customs badge. He was one of the Cadres they’d started bringing in from Beijing in ’98. ‘Overseas recruitment,’ they said, ‘specialist skills, like when you British were in charge.’
I wondered what his specialist skills were. They certainly weren’t mooring a boat, he was making a botch of tying up to Similan’s bow cleat. Maybe they involved the 9 mil Star automatic in the beat-up holster on his right hip. He straightened from the mooring cleat and favoured me with a flat cold stare, hand on the gunbutt. I turned back to the launch.
Chen was standing motionless in the launch’s cockpit. I hadn’t seen him come on deck. His stocky frame was draped in regulation PLA green, knife sharp trouser creases. Probably had his uniforms made at Sams. His wide, flat face and cheerful smile hid an absolutely ruthless nature and I suppressed a surge of fear.
“Mr. Jones,” he stepped delicately aboard Similan and beamed at me, “don’t tell me you were caught out again?!”.
He didn’t wait for an answer, but went calmly below and settled himself in the main saloon. He graciously accepted tea from Max while his two henchmen passed into the bow cabin and started tearing the boat apart.
“Now Mr. Jones” we ignored the searchers, “perhaps you’d care to tell me about it? This is, what? The third time?”.
Third time lucky, I thought, and spun him the yarn. How we’d been caught off Pratas with a fishing charter, two Japanese after black marlin. How we’d put them ashore there when Gill formed up, where they’d flown out from the Taiwanese airstrip. As far as I knew he wouldn’t be able to check that, not since things had heated up again in the Taiwan Straits. I waxed lyrical about our run for cover, the storm catching us, the mad dash for Hong Kong in gale force winds, surfing down twenty foot seas as we charged past Waglan Island and Cape D’Aguilar to find sanctuary in the harbour. That was truth of course. I said nothing about the darkest part of the storm, 2 miles off Cape D’ag, Waglan’s light glimmering faintly, the mountainous seas driving the boat north, autopilot barely coping while Max and I sweated the cases onto the deck and over the side. They’d sunk instantly, and they’d stay happily on the bottom until the receivers picked up the short range signals and they popped to the surface. Hopefully long after we’d left.
Chen nodded cheerfully through my story as his men stripped out everything they could find. He’d heard it before and seen it before and we both knew they wouldn’t find anything. He finished his tea and beamed at our passports.
“I think I have heard enough today, Mr. Jones. You and your accomplice have 24 hours to put back to sea. Perhaps if this happens again we will confiscate your boat. I believe there was some question of ownership when you fled along with the others after the regrettable events in Statue Square”. He rose and stepped towards the hatch.
“No need to see me off, you and your friend can tidy up.” Chen stepped over the contents of the galley drawers, silverware scattered, and disappeared up the steps. The launch’s engine kicked over. Max and I grinned at each other but we didn’t say anything. Hong Kong’s electronics industry was down the tubes but Chen doubtless had access to Japanese equipment.
“C’mon Mate”, Max belted me on the shoulder, “lets see if we can whistle up a sampan for some tucker ashore”.
Twenty-four hours later we were back at sea, bright sun, good breeze, Waglan dwindling astern as we set course for the northern Philippines. That country was in it’s usual turmoil, but at least they still had elections, sort of. The confirmation on the money was sitting in the chart table below and Max and I were Four Mil US better off. Lee had been philosophical when I’d told him this was the last run.
We’d been seated at the outdoor Café at Blake’s pier, over a glass of warm beer and a great view of the dust cloud rising from the West Kowloon Reclamation. Lee wore the resurgent Mao suit that had come back into style after the Second Cultural Revolution.
“Certainly Mr. Jones, I understand your concerns, and with this payment to your Singapore Bank you can retire I think. We will find other ways to move material.”
I’m sure you will, I’d thought, as we shook hands. There was a huge market to the North. The underground economy swallowed it up – American movies and rock and roll, the latest London bestsellers, political tracts from the dissidents in California, tapes and floppies and CD’s and videos, two tons of freedom in my twenty suitcases. It would go to the pirate presses and tape copiers in Shenzhen and in days it would be all over China, opening the minds the Central Committee still tried to keep shut down.
I’d known it was time to quit. As I walked towards Connaught Road Chen looked up at me from the last table. He was in civilian clothes. He glanced at a gold Rolex.
“Time to go, Mr. Jones, your time is nearly up”. I knew then why Lee seemed unworried.
“My time was up years ago”. Some things never change, I thought, even five years on.
Very dated and thankfully not a good vision of the future, but I enjoyed writing it and hearing it read out on RTHK Radio back when the Post published it (RTHK was and is always looking for cheap content and this was certainly that). I had a tape of the reading but a certain ex-wife threw it out on me. The character Max was based on a very large friend of mine who currently lives in Phuket and the Typhoon, Gill, took her name from a girl I was developing a serious (and unsuccessful) case of the hots for.
Just for interest, the smuggling gambit was not my idea. A somewhat shady sailing buddy well into his cups one night, told me that when he arrived in HK the first time on a yacht delivery he’d actually used the trick to smuggle some sort of contraband into HK. He’d gone out three days after clearing in, hit some sort of transmitter button and his package popped up.
He never told me what he was smuggling and I didn’t ask.
That’s my story and I am sticking to it.