72. Just Another Manic Monday

Post 71 attracted more readers than ever before. Sorry folks if you thought I had the answer to what’s happening with the fleet. It’s like I’m in a holding pattern, waiting to see where I get diverted to and have I enough fuel or time to get there? I’ve decided to get on with my life until we have firm news from Clipper on where the fleet are going to land up, then I’ll decide whether I’m going there as well (whether it’s possible as much as whether I want to).

What have I being doing, you ask? Apart from emails from the boss asking me to buy yet more socks, I’ve been enjoying London culture. I’m starting to have a routine: piano practice (yes honestly, but I had to start at my Grade 1 book again as I’d forgotten where Middle C was. Oops!) then a 15 minute or so walk in the fresh air. The Garden Museum is about that far and I love it. The latest exhibition is about the Royal Parks. I hadn’t realised that the pelicans have been in St James’ Park since 1664, a present from the Russian ambassador. Nor that there were piggeries in Hyde Park and potato fields in Richmond and Bushy Parks during World War II. It may yet happen again now that we need to be self-reliant and not rely on imported food.

Parade of Sail, Sydney Harbour, New Year’s Eve

After my walk it’s a free day. So far I’ve been to see Touching the Void play and Mitsuko Uchida play (and conduct) Mozart at the Royal Festival Hall. These were both amazing. I’ve had six days where I’ve met up with pals, some pre-existing and some from Clipper. I’ve had a hair cut and done a bit of shopping for JD (oh, have I already mentioned that?). I have had a complete blank in my diary for three days of the first fortnight back. Bliss! The laundry and shopping don’t do themselves (although I’m working on it. Anyone want to be my valet?).

If you’ve read the book or seen the film of Touching the Void you must wonder how on earth they managed to put it on stage. It was visually fascinating, set in a pub with imaginative use of tables and chairs up the theatre sides as climbing walls. On one part, where they were falling into the crevasse, they were lying on tables facing the audience but it looked as though they were falling down into the darkness. It’s soon to finish but if you have time to spare then it’s well worth the trip to London. Very intense though so be prepared.

View from my seat (before the performance)

The other performance, at the Royal Festival Hall, you can’t see, although you might be able to see a similar performance. Mitsuko Uchida, DBE, who will be 71 this year, is a highly talented classical pianist and is currently the Artistic Partner of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Here they played Mozart’s Piano Concertos 17 and 22: she conducted the orchestra from her piano as well as playing. The music was sublime, I bought my seat at the last minute and I’m sure it was one of the best in the hall. It made me realise that my piano playing is like painting-by-numbers versus Manet or Turner. If you think she merely played the score as written, then I found out that Mozart played a lot of his own music and often didn’t leave a proper score to follow. The concert was about two hours but I could have listened all night. It’s not music you hum along to like Abba or Queen (well, I don’t) but you get lost in it when they’re playing. One thing I’ve yet to work out: the drummer (sorry, percussionist) kept resting his nose gently on the drums. Testing for vibrations? Answers on a postcard please (or via the comment section of this blog).

View from my seat (after the performance)

Talking of the comment section, thank you to all who commented either this way or off line to say how relieved you were that I’m not going to China. The trip was preying on my mind so I’m glad the decision was made for me by the FCO.

I guess at some stage I need to mention the Race. They are now through the Doldrums Corridor and have passed over the Equator again so are back in the Northern Hemisphere. Those new leggers who had not crossed the Equator (pollywogs) had a visit from King Neptune and all are now shellbacks. I still don’t know how tadpoles become turtles, must be something to do with evolution. However, the Trade Winds have not yet appeared (Sunday night) so if you look at Race Viewer they seem to be milling around with no obvious line of sail. (If you’ve forgotten where to find this, go to https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/race/standings and click on the windsock to see wind speeds (or lack thereof)). Blue is bad and has been there for days. A few boats have been in or are in Stealth mode. The boredom on the boats has been relieved by them playing Assassin, not a game I’d come across but a bit like Cluedo. Each crew member has a weapon, a place and a fellow member to murder. If successful, you get the victim’s “cards” and so have another murder to commit. I guess you need to be in an enclosed space to play it well.

Which way should we go?

The Scoring Gate has been passed and the results are: Ha Long Bay (HLB) three points, WTC Logistics two points and Dare to Lead (DTL) one point. This is great for DTL as it’s their first bonus point. It’s not so great for Qingdao as HLB is now only two points behind them. It’s getting exciting!

…It’s now the Manic Monday of today’s title. I started off with trying to sort out finances. Having gone to the bank on Friday without some of the documents I needed, I went back today with everything, I thought. All went well until he asked “security” questions like what direct debits had been cancelled in the last year and when did I open the business account (I didn’t even know I had one). After an hour all seemed to be sorted but I now need to investigate this business account, apparently it has money in it!

Are we there yet?

That wasn’t the real manic bit though. At 1300 today, the Clipper office announced that the fleet would not be going into Sanya (think we’d worked that one out) but they WILL be going into Subic Bay early and staying there for “a minimum of nine days”, with the arrival window estimated to start on 13th February. NEXT WEEK! Much liaison between supporters as it’s recommended you don’t stay alone out there. Yes, dear reader, I’m about to be your foreign correspondent again, not from China though. I managed to get the last room in a hotel close to Subic Bay marina. Also, the fleet now have a bit of orange and red to the winds so should speed up. Just not too fast please, I need to be there first. You’ll also see that the race end has been updated to Subic Bay.

If you’ve read enough from me, here’s a crew diary from Angie that mentions JD’s culinary skills. https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew-diary/unicef/1046 and one from the man himself https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew-diary/unicef/1048

Philippines, here I come!

71. The Best Laid Schemes

Well, I’m neither man nor mouse but my plans are ganging aft agley. I’ll be missing out on the promised joy but hope not to have the grief and pain promised in Rabbie Burns’ poem To A Mouse. I had been ambivalent about this trip across the three Chinese ports (Sanya, Zhuhai and Qingdao) with Subic Bay thrown in. As well as a seven week trip and all the preparation that entails, I would be going from temperatures of mid-30s in Subic Bay to just above zero in Qingdao. A normal trip to one zone has required two large bags, what would I need for this?

New (smaller) cabin bag

In preparation I bought a Kindle while flying home as a lot of my weight is books. The day after I arrived home I went to have my fingerprints taken at the Chinese Visa Centre. I found the phrase books I had. I bought a smaller cabin bag so I wouldn’t have to struggle so much (it fits on top of the big case without falling off everywhere). I bought some cotton dresses and trousers that were larger than I needed so that I’d feel cool in the heat of Sanya, having felt way too hot in Australia. I downloaded a VPN and the WeChat app for use in China: for the latter I needed someone who had been using it for over a month to “sponsor” me, luckily I have a Chinese pal who did this. Items that George had ordered arrived so I packed them ready to take. I bought some earrings to compliment my birthday necklace. I ordered Sealskinz socks and a Spinlock bag and Musto gloves that John had asked me to get for him. I received two birthday cards from families for crew members on other boats to take out to Sanya. An email from John and another Unicef crew member asked me to buy more socks so I did that.

Christmas present for John, yet to be seen!

My passport had not come back by the promised date (I paid extra for it to be fast-tracked) so I chased the agents. It was delayed due to Chinese New Year but would be with me the next day. They called me back the next day and said I had been issued with the wrong visa, valid for only 30 days, so I’d need to go back and have my fingerprints taken again. This was arranged for 31st January, still plenty of time before my flight on 7th February.

My birthday necklace plus earrings from London

Then on 28th January the FCO issued advice about travelling to Wuhan and the Hubei province in China. That was OK, I wasn’t going anywhere near the areas highlighted. The following day I woke to the news that BA had suspended flights to China, shortly followed by the FCO saying travel to anywhere in mainland China was not recommended. This was becoming serious. Even if we could get there, would we get out again? I spoke with Sue, who was meant to be travelling with me, and we decided to cancel the whole trip.

I have kept the hotel in Subic Bay for the moment, if the boats land there OBB may need the rooms, even if I don’t manage to get there. We don’t yet know what’s happening with the fleet, they are still on the way to Sanya. With luck by the time I do my next update I’ll be able to tell you. If they don’t go to China, Clipper need to find a port that can take eleven large (ish) yachts at short notice, when cruise ships and other shipping are also trying to divert. They need a port that has sufficient shops to allow the crews to buy enough groceries to take them to Seattle. Zhuhai (close to Hong Kong) is the end of this Leg, so there will be crew members needing to get off and go home, and other crew members wanting to join their boat. If the Hong Kong flights are cancelled then they’ll need an airport that is open and close to wherever the fleet ends up.

If only Unicef had seen this route to Durban!

Meanwhile I’m using the time to empty my in-tray, complete my to-do list and practice the piano. And the Chinese visa? Well, because my passport isn’t British, the visa wouldn’t last for two years so I’ll reapply when I need one. By then I might need to apply for one to live here as well, today is BREXIT DAY! Happy New World everyone and BYE until the next time!