Latest BBC feature: The London workforce not receiving a Games bonus

Dave Choo runs a souvenir stall in Oxford Street, central London

Hundreds of workers employed on London’s ‘Boris bike’ hire service have become the latest people to secure a bonus for working over the Olympic Games.

It seems each day brings another group of workers demanding a golden £500. The bus drivers are protesting, hot on the heels of London’s train and Tube workers.

But what about the majority of Londoners who will not be receiving extra money for their added time and hard work?

Asked if anyone in the Olympic Stadium’s borough, Newham, would be receiving a bonus, a press officer answered: “No, we’re all just going to have to work bloody hard.”

And that seems to sum up the resolve of most of London’s unsung heroes – the shop workers putting in extra hours, the hauliers who will work through the night to get deliveries made, the postal workers who could well find themselves sitting in their van cabins clocking up unpaid overtime.

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Battersea toasts ‘eccentric’ Britain for Jubilee party

Ladies offer the chance to make a toast wearing silly hats; what else?

Bennie Banares, from Vancouver, Canada, writes a Christmas card to the Queen every year.

So, with Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee approaching, she naturally sent the monarch a letter to find out how she could be involved.

Five months later the 63-year-old and a group of 43 friends from Canada found themselves on the banks of the Thames in Battersea Park where the Diamond Jubilee Festival was held.

She said: “Even in my dreams I couldn’t imagine being here for the 60th Diamond [Jubilee].”

The Queen’s secretary had replied to her with information on where to buy tickets.

“I knew everything before the tour operators,” she said.

“It is such a privilege to be here. I always read about fairy tales but this is real.”

Bling queens

The festival was dubbed a chance to celebrate “eccentric British culture”, bringing together artists, designers, chefs and bakers.

There was high demand for tickets and up to 90,000 people attended.

Those who could drag themselves away from the riverside where spaces were saved and camps set up found the chance to dress up as a queen.

They could also watch an attempt to build the tallest cake in Britain, enjoy buns baked by the Women’s Institute, dance to live music, make their own crown or escape to a tranquil tent for some storytelling.

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Latest BBC feature: The Olympics missile base with sun deck, pool and bar

It has underground parking, 24-hour security, a gym, swimming pool, residents-only bar, water features and a sun deck overlooking the Olympic Park.

And soon it could be home to a Ministry of Defence surface-to-air missile post.

“I wish the media would stop calling it a block of flats,” a suited man says to another as he stands in the sun beside a koi carp-filled pond, surrounded by a growing melee of Army personnel and reporters.

“We don’t pay extortionate service charges and mortgages for it to be called a block of flats. It’s a gated community,” insurance worker Richard Piatt replies when asked what people should be calling it.

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Pretty vacant


“You sound more British. It’s nice,” said my French friend with whom I was flatmates in Shanghai, when I met with her last week.


Until then, no-one had pointed out any change that had occurred in me since returning to the UK after four years in Shanghai.


To me, I have always had an unmistakably standard southern British accent, which if anything, tended to sound ridiculously plummy around Kiwis, Americans, South Africans and Australians in Shanghai.


But then, it is easy to pick up an Australian twang in the Asia Pacific region, and this can make you adopt a cockney sound to boot. I discovered this when I first watched myself presenting on the TV programme, Shanghai Live. I sounded like a cross between Jo Brand and Sid James.


When you are used to speaking English to people for whom English is a second or third language, you learn to speak slowly and use fewer Britishisms  too. Once I described someone as “stocky” to a Chilean friend and she burst out laughing, saying how much she loved British terms. My parting gift to her was a list of more words we are fond of in England, including lanky, chavvy, nippy and of course the best of all, dodgy.


But if anything, I am struck by little habits that I have not yet shrugged off from Shanghai life (not that I want to).


For one, I still look both ways when crossing a one-way street. This is a life-saving reflex you develop early on in China because you never know where a scooterist on a silent electric bike ( a ‘silent assassin’) will be coming from.


But the main quirk is that I always open the doors of public loo cubicles (more on Chinese loos here and here) extremely cautiously. I suppose it is natural since I have been conditioned to expect to walk in to a supposedly vacant loo only to find a woman sitting on the loo, or even worse hovering over a squatter.

Walking into Chinese cubicles that are occupied, despite appearing vacant has scarred me for life

I never did get down to the bottom (ahem) of why Chinese ladies so often use loos without locking them. I would often walk in on colleagues having been given the green light of the ‘vacant’ sign, only to wish they had taken the time to save me the sight and the embarrassment. I imagine it comes down to the very flimsy concept of privacy in China.

But the mental damage has clearly been considerable as, even though I’m back in the UK, I cannot  trust a loo that says it’s vacant.



It’s now been nearly two months since I got back from China where I lived for four years.

And the best thing is that with the combination of delivery times and Christmas there are various elements of my Shanghai life migrating to London at the moment. British friends are coming home for Christmas and I have now received four of the five green plastic China Post boxes I posted, containing clothes and household items, before I left.

Despite one horror story from a friend who lost all of his belongings in the post from China and my misgivings when the postal worker on Nanjing Road insisted on cramming the flimsy- looking boxes with my belongings until they looked fit to burst, everything has arrived in tact.

The much maligned trunk I bought and shipped has also made the distance.

Best of all, today I also received a box containing a felt rug I bought in Kashgar, Xinjiang, north-west China. Back at the end of October when I left the two Uighur rug-sellers I befriended with my money, I have to admit I wondered for a moment if they would take the trouble to take my purchase to the post office for me and carefully write out the foreign address in English. But I needn’t have questioned their integrity. The combination of the biro scrawl on the box saying ‘Xinjiang,China’ and the postman who delivered it wearing a ‘London’ cap with a union jack emblem, delighted me.

The rug I bought was lovingly bundled up and posted from Xinjiang, China...

But while I’m pleased to have my Shanghai life catching up with me I’m also a little sad that when the last box arrives it will be the last physical connection I have with the city that was my home.

... and delivered to my door in London

As the months go on I am sure I will start to question the relevance of the electronic reminders in my day to day life- the desktop clock on my laptop still set to Shanghai time, the newsletters emailed to me from Shanghai Expat, Time Out Shanghai, Time Out Beijing and the British embassy. Occasionally I read the weekly Time Out Shanghai newsletter to kid myself I can keep up with the various bars and clubs that open and close on what seems like a weekly basis. I tell myself it’s worth it so that when Shanghai friends talk about a bar they’ve been to I’ll still know where they are talking about. It’s hard to let go.

But, above all, I’m pleased that I carried out the most traumatic transportation process- getting myself on a plane for London. The enjoyment of being at home at this time of year, in particular, vindicates my decision to leave.

Becoming a born-again tourist


The best thing about knowing that you will soon leave a place is that you suddenly start appreciating it even more than before. I’m a born-again tourist. I’m manically chronicling every part of Shanghai life that I ever took for granted, from abuse of zebra crossings and red lights to my route home on nights out, my favourite restaurants and all the colourful street life (not in the Randy Crawford sense) that makes the city so great. Today, I even bought an ‘I loveShanghai’ t-shirt (from Giordano,627 East Nanjing Road). Why not?

I'm a born-again tourist

Last week was a national holiday, and perhaps one of the best staycations I have had. I think it’s fair to say I am having the best tourist experience possible. I already know all the best things to see and do, I’m not freaked out about being in China, I can communicate with people, I have lots of outgoing, fun people to do things with and a choice of either scooter or bicycle to get around the place. It’s also the best season to be here.

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(Published first on Telegraph Expat on Monday, October 10, 2011.)