A funny thing happened to me on the way home from work (and yes that’s how I’m starting this entry – bodes well doesn’t it?) around about an apartment building at the connecting bit between two parts of the giant escalator I was banging on about last month. Yes that’s right I’ve found it! And it’s made my commute back from work much easier, much cheaper and much more irritating. The sights and sounds of Soho and the surrounding area are entertaining on the way up the first couple of times you do it but they start to lose their novelty like most things do when you experience them every weekday. It should be noted that Hong Kong Soho is nothing like London Soho. Whereas in London Soho you’ll find mucky pictures in phone booths and unsavoury ladies of the night with less teeth than your average Ukrainian great-grandmother (ladies who are probably on their way to becoming Ukrainian great-grandmothers themselves), in Hong Kong Soho you’ll find faux English pubs selling faux Italian food while snotty ex-pats stare at you from their seats as you and the rest of the dishevelled just-got-out-of-work masses glide past their overpriced Chardonnay. I’m making out like it’s middle class hell, it’s actually quite nice. I did however wince at the discovery of a bar called ‘Yorkshire Pudding’ that whilst attempting a decorative St George cross on the front of their little English pub mock up have managed to come away with a Red Cross symbol next to the name. The result is a bar that looks like it could offer you a room temperature ale with your blood transfusion. That’s not a bad idea that…
The information on the plane flying into Hong Kong offered this little pearl of wisdom: ‘Don’t go dressed like a hobo if you want to go out in Soho!’ This is plainly bollocks. Not just because the first reaction it sparks is ‘Piss off I’ll dress how I like!’ not ‘Oo how charming and cute *titter titter*’ but because it doesn’t look as fancy as the plane thinks it does. It’s a place where ex-pats put on a shirt and go have a glass of wine, not put on a smoking jacket and have a cigar and a brandy whilst joining in a rousing game of kick the butler. So it all looks rather nice but the smug looking patrons do tend to rub one (read: me) the wrong way if you’re (read: seeing as I’m always) in a mood.
It’s not just that though, I’m not that anti-social yet (I’m waiting until senility kicks in during my later years before I become that easily enraged, and what a joyous time that will be!), it’s the pet hates about crowds that followed me from England as well. I remember commenting to a friend back home that I felt like I had really settled in at the point when the crowds weren’t walking fast enough for me. I had obviously tuned into the Hong Kong pace. This was a double-edged bastard of a blade as the sheer number of people living and working in Hong Kong has doubled the irritating effect of the slow-walker on my ridiculous lack of patience. You’d think all these people didn’t want to get home the way they clog up those escalators (Stand on the right so impatient people can walk past on the left!), stop abruptly in the middle of the path (What? Did it just sink in that you didn’t set the TV to record MORON TV live from the small village of Little MORON-ington!) or slow down to a crawl causing massive people-jams (What? Are you afraid you’ll leave your child behind!? Oh you are? Oh. Fair enough… Sorry.) I’m a miserable git I know, these things shouldn’t bother me as much as they do but there we have it. The crowds had me riled up tonight which brings us back round to the original point. Yes there was a point, stop looking at me like that.
I’ve elbowed past an escalator of people onto the aforementioned connecting bit outside an apartment building all on my own where two clipboard ninjas were poised ready to spring out with their surveys or some such nonsense. The younger of the two, perhaps being an inexperienced but eager rookie, steps forward to approach me. Just as she makes that step the older one of the two, perhaps a wise sensei figure, puts her arm out and pulls her back with a solemn shake of the head. She knew. She took one look at me and she knew to let me pass. They didn’t want none of this. I laughed a little to myself at how I’d scared off the clipboard ninjas. That is until I caught a glimpse of myself in a window as I turned the corner. What I saw was not myself. Staring out from that window was my mother’s face on my father’s body. This was no victory; the wise clipboard sensei had delivered a delayed and crushing defeat. She was probably explaining this to her padawan right at that moment when the horror sank in.
Now this is not the first time I have noticed this. I have been told all my life how like my father I am and my own mother was the first one to comment on the her-head-on-Dad’s-body phenomenon. Noticing the image myself was merely a routine gutpunch of the inevitable that I’m quite familiar with. What shocked me was not that I looked like my mother but that I looked like my mother executing the dreaded Hall Glare! Please feel free to insert your own thunder clap sound effects and dramatic organ music there. Perhaps a child screaming in the distance. The Hall Glare (Hall being my mother’s maiden name) is a technique most of the Halls from that side of the family are well versed in. It is a terrifying squint that suggests imminent bodily harm is about to befall you and it has been a staple of my own and my siblings’ childhood. If you were one of us then wherever you were if Mum was close by and you were maybe doing something you shouldn’t have been doing, there starts a definite physical burning sensation in the back of your head. You slowly turn around and immediately you eyes pick out the face in the crowd perhaps half a mile away… the Hall Glare! You swallow hard. A bead of sweat runs down your forehead. Mum slowly turns her head away whilst ensuring the longest amount of eye-contact possible. You have been warned. Silently but effectively. Sometimes she just did if she wanted our attention. This was cruel and unusual to be sure.
So imagine the agony, imagine the horror when I realised I was wearing the very same scowl that was used against me during my childhood. At some point we all become our parents, I’ve had a long time to accept that I will turn into my Dad because people have been telling me I already have done since I was about ten. Hell I’m sure the transformation is at least 75% complete at twenty two years and ten months but this? This was a shock to the system.
Or was it? Clearly it had just worked well for me. I had managed to avoid the advances of the clipboard ninja whose brethren I loathed so much on the streets of Kingston and the UK in general. And I didn’t even need to say a word or even look at them. The scowl was enough to put them straight, to protect me. I gained a new found respect for the Hall Glare. My mother clearly perfected it, it came naturally to her brother, her Father was apparently the grand master of it and now it has been passed on, knowingly or not, to me and also my brother (the Hall is strong in this one). It’s now time to make my peace with the glare and use it for myself; after all my mother clearly did a damn good job of raising us and passing on just one thing to me makes me think I won’t be a terrible father if or when the time comes. It’s always a great source of mirth to despair about how much I look and act like my Dad (making fun of Dad is practically the Hetherington equivalent of Family Game Night) but the secret truth is I’m proud of it. Dad looks and acts exactly like his father (Papa as we call him) and he in turn apparently inherited the same traits from his. Perhaps what I saw tonight isn’t so much a horrifying glimpse of the future but a sign that I might get the best of both worlds. There’s no shame in knowing where you come from, in seeing it every time you look in the mirror. Especially when you have so much respect for the people you see looking back at you.
The family friend who is currently so kindly providing me board and lodge out here commented how much I reminded her of Papa.
She honestly couldn’t have given me a greater compliment.