This is definitely not a picture taken in China, it was taken in London but it serves as an introduction to the story of how I ended up spending two years of my mature years living in China, from September 2010 to late August 2012. Needless to say, that period has defined and affected my life considerably since then and has resulted in my all-encompassing ‘love affair’ with everything Chinese.
The image is a view from my third-floor flat window in 33 Cathnor Road, Shepherd’s Bush where I had settled in mid-2004 after living in Germany for the past eleven years. At this point I introduce Judy, who I got to know during a brief first visit to Shanghai at Christmastime 2005. She was one of a group of young adults peddling paintings in East Nanjing Road, under the guise of being students from a university in Beijing selling art to support fellow students.
Judy came to the UK in late Summer 2006 to study for an MA at Hertfordshire University in Hatfield. We communicated frequently by phone and I met her and a friend in London, then visited them in Hatfield where we had a communal meal with her other Chinese friends in their hall of residence. It happened that her fellow students disappeared back to China for Christmas, leaving Judy alone in Hatfield. I invited her to stay with me in my London flat for her Christmas break.
After graduating, under the then prevailing visa conditions, Judy had the option to stay in the UK by either taking a job or setting up a business. She graduated in early summer 2007 and initially decided to find a job, but continued to be undecided, especially as she found it difficult to apply for jobs from Hatfield. As her first stay with me had been comfortable I had no difficulty in inviting her to stay in my flat again until she found a job in London. Content to use my living room sofa for her bed She moved into my flat in June 2006.
Encouraged by her elder sister, Qin, Judy finally elected to establish a business selling Chinese antiques and collectables in London. Qin had considerable knowledge and experience in buying and selling appropriate items, she sourced Judy’s wares and shipped them to the UK, packed in large wooden crates.
I agreed that Judy could temporarily use my Cathnor Road flat as a base and storage of whatever Qin sent over, little knowing what I was letting myself in for. Deliveries soon began to arrive, the large wooden cases contained porcelain of all kinds, bronzes, paintings, snuff bottles and many other small items. We broke open the crates and carried the contents up three flights of stairs to my flat where they were stacked around all available wall space. The remaining wood and packaging materials from the shipment had to be broken down and disposed of, in itself a significant challenge in West London. Judy started selling her wares at a number of London street markets, including Brick Lane, Spitalfields, St James, and later on Portobello Road. You have to imagine a 5 ft tall young Chinese woman, waking very early in the morning, lugging a heavy, fully laden holdall down the stairs, catching the 92 bus on Goldhawk Road and sometime later emerging at the market of the day, spreading her wares on show and standing all day selling, in all weathers, and highly successfully as it turned out.
In those early days, I supported Judy with unloading the crates and disposing of their remains, preparing sandwiches and warm drinks and being generally interested in how she was getting on. At the same time, I was intrigued to learn increasingly more about the items that she was selling, and the history behind them. My interest in Judy’s business grew to the extent that I began to consider joining her in her venture. It became apparent that my flat had become too small and I agreed that we moved to a larger flat in Conningham Road, just a short distance away. Judy’s business had expanded considerably, she was able to buy a car and rent storage space, as well as pay the higher rent on this property. My involvement in Judy’s business had become a feature of my life; effectively, I committed myself fully to joining in. As well as the afore-mentioned tasks, I did her book-keeping, found and liaised with an accountant, helped out with a few legal problems, sold her items at auction houses and, until she passed her driving test, was her chauffeur, transporting her to the markets in the early morning and picking her up again in the evening. I also maintained the house and was chief cook and bottle-washer. It wasn’t long before the Conningham Road flat was also deemed too small and we moved yet again, this time to a largish Edwardian house in Egerton Gardens, Ealing.
Judy was a very generous person. Early in 2010, she offered me the opportunity to have a six-week long ‘holiday of a lifetime’ in China at her expense. Initially, I was hesitant to accept the idea, but gradually warmed to it and started to plan an ambitious journey around China to visit the four major ancient capital cities of the country throughout its long-chequered history – Beijing, Nanjing, Luoyang and Xi’an. I solicited help from my other Chinese friends but soon realised that I would have to be flexible and finalise itinerary and arrangements once I reached China, reasoning that six weeks would be time enough to achieve my goal. Hence it happened that, now nearly 72 years of age, I left London for Shanghai on September 1, 2010. It was to be the start of what was turned out to be another amazing and very fulfilling adventure in my life.
My plans for my trip to the four capital cities of modern and ancient China were dealt a blow when I went down with a stomach bug on the second day of my visit, which afflicted me for most o0f my six-week stay. As a result, I jettisoned the idea and stayed mainly in Shanghai and Beijing with a brief visit to Jingdezhen. This, thanks to my friendship with Qin, Judy’s sister, and the Li family, who cared for me when ill and made all the arrangements for my various journeys and my accommodation during my stay.
After the conclusion of my ‘holiday of a lifetime’, I decided for personal reasons to return to China and lived there for two years until a problem with a deep vein thrombosis meant that long distance flying was inadvisable and prematurely terminated my plans to continue doing so. The images in my three galleries China 2010, China 2011 and China 2012 as well as the cameo galleries ‘The Li Family’, ‘Alice’ and ‘Cathy, Cheeky Monkey’ document my experiences during that time and the relationships I enjoyed with my closest and dearest Chinese friends.