Archive | December, 2011

Forgotten post: (Just another brick in) The Wall

29 Dec

It all got a bit manic on my world tour… and in my annual clearup I found a few posts that didn’t make it. Here’s one – there might be more!!

China has a wall, you know. And it’s great. And it looks like this…

Great Wall - Badaling (1)

So, flushed with success from my Forbidden City trip, I suddenly (like, at 9am) decided I would make my own way to the Wall rather than join a tour. I was a bit worried about crowds, but I felt that it would be better to go now rather than go later, especially since the hotel couldn’t tell me when they would run the next tour.

So, round the metro and onto a 919 bus, helpfully located at the Dongshemen City Gate which you would really have to be blind to miss. An hour and 45 minutes later, and I am at Badaling, which isn’t the closest segment of the wall to Beijing, but it IS the one everyone visits.

Dongshamen Gate (3)

And, today, they really are all visiting. There’s a few Western faces, but mostly it’s Chinese visiting their national symbol. But even with thousands of people on it, it is absolutely incredible. Sure, it’s been rebuilt. It’s probably a bit wider… and maybe they have built up the walls to stop people falling off…. but it is absolutely, stupendously, amazingly huge. Here, it winds across the mountain back and forth hugging the mountain as it unfolds like a ribbon of stone across the landscape. I can imagine the scene with the Emperor:

Emperor: I’ve decided that to protect the empire, we’re going to build a wall

Chief councillor: excellent, your highness. Where shall we start building?

Emperor: there are some mountains near Badaling that would be a great location

Chief councillor: [neck-saving silence]

Great Wall - Badaling (72)Great Wall - Badaling (69)Great Wall - Badaling (9)Great Wall - Badaling (4)

There is something about the location, the incredible beauty of the mountains, the gorgeous blue of the sky and the insistent presence of a serpent-like wall of stone tracing its way across the rock face that makes this irresistible. Knowing that what you are seeing is part of 6000km of wall (and nearly 9000km of defences if you include rivers and mountains that didn’t need a wall building) – earthworks that go back to 200BC (although most of the wall was built during the Ming Dynasty). In human terms the cost was incredible – around a million workers died during its construction.

Is it visible from space? Opinions vary – including a Chinese astronaut who bravely said it wasn’t – not even in low earth orbit. Apparently, it’s too narrow. Some reported sightings turned out to be rivers.. but even so, it is incredible, breathtaking in its scope and its execution. I know this isn’t original – I know it isn’t even in its original location… but it’s still unbelievable

So.. what was it like? Well, for some reason all the Chinese turn right when presented with the choice. That takes them to the more scenic section… but it is jam packed with tourists. Ignoring the steep steps (some of them 18” or more high) and uneven worn stones, or the fact that they haven’t built steps on some bits – well, the main hazards are: tourists that aren’t aware of where they are in relation to anyone else; tourists that are holding umbrellas; tourists with cameras. If you are really unlucky, you will encounter an umbrella holding camera wielding tourist with no awareness of the world around him. And a word to the wise… don’t wear a short skirt. I didn’t and I was fine.

Great Wall - Badaling (51)Great Wall - Badaling (12)

Great Wall - Badaling (76)Great Wall - Badaling (63)

So, having negotiated the crush of people, and made my way to the furthest navigable reach of the wall (at present – they seem to be continually extending it) I made my way back up the Heroes Path. The fact that there are street vendors engraving certificates may be some indication of what it’s like… and having made my way down it, I should perhaps have realised what it was going to be like. Well over 500 steep, steep steps, and sections of slope without steps that would have a cable car if it was America. I feel great overtaking the youngsters, until a snowy haired Chinese man who must have been at least 65 breezes past me.

I wonder if you can snowboard down it…..

Great Wall - Badaling (139)Great Wall - Badaling (138)Great Wall - Badaling (119)Great Wall - Badaling (106)

I find myself overcome with a hilarity and sense of fun that causes me to suddenly appear in other people’s pictures.. which is actually welcomed by the Chinese, who love having a slant eyed foreigner in their pictures (yes, they really do think that – it’s a question of perspective, isn’t it?). There’s something about where I am, and what I have experienced (and, possibly, a little exhaustion – I have been pushing myself today) that has induced a crazy levity.

The Chinese haven’t been totally kind to the wall – there are cable cars, which seem OK, but the theme park ride and the bear enclosure detract from the surreal beauty of the location.

Having done what feels like the tourist section, I proceed to the other half. This is almost deserted, and the people that I do see are mostly Westerners. And at 4pm, it gets even quieter… so still, in fact, that I can hear the voice of my soul speaking. I just want to sit there and experience the stillness, the peace, the beauty, the tranquillity. Travel guides suggest that maybe 3 hours is enough. I spent over 7 hours and still didn’t want to leave, just letting things roll through my heart, pondering the last 10 months or so, and deciding what will be different for me when I get back. And Tigger and Snuff get a few photos too – which succeed in making it even more unreal, somehow.

Eventually, I walk back to the entrance – but the deserted slopes of the section of the wall that I had climbed before seems to call to me – so I climb it again. I end up having my photo taken by a Chinese girl (and managing what starts to feel like a photo shoot for her) and a couple of photos with another complete stranger (his name is Wenxhiu Zhang, and he’s a farmer). The street cleaner leaps into action and takes a few more snaps (and then sells me postcards. Ho hum)

Great Wall - Badaling (112)An UK Teacher Tim and a Chinese Farmer Wenxiu Zhang 20110601@ The Great Wall, Beijing, China

Great Wall - Badaling (160)Great Wall - Badaling (155)Great Wall - Badaling (152)Great Wall - Badaling (147)Great Wall - Badaling (136)

But the tranquillity of the wall, the huge open space, the beauty of the countryside… the simple fact that I am in China, and standing on the Great Wall just fills me with a completely profound sense of total gratitude.

I went through some crap to get here – dreams and hopes that didn’t work out, tough moments that took me to the edge of bankruptcy, to the dark shores of despair, that nearly destroyed my faith.. and yet, as I have said before, without that, I would not be here. I would never have taken the decision to take a year out, and I would never have had the experiences that I have had. And so, yet again, I give thanks for the people that inspired me to take this step of faith – and to the One who made it all possible.

I have to say . . . this is an incredible life.


Big Water

28 Dec

Carsington Water (10)After a night parking near Carsington Water, it’s time to explore the reservoir. It’s been an interesting night – parking on a hill causing me to roll out of bed from time to time.


Carsington Water (11)This time of year the reservoir is only 1/3 full, and there are few visitors. A walk round a reservoir is always fun, and I am still working through my personal challenge to cycle as many of them as I can. But the bike is still in storage, so I set off on a 9 mile walk round the reservoir. One of the benefits of a reservoir walk is that, by its nature, there aren’t many hills involved… a fact that appeals to the leisure cyclist too. There aren’t too many of those out today, and those that are politely ring a bell to alert me to their presence. I’m overtaken by a power walking trio, the clatter of their walking sticks eventually fading into the distance.

It’s time to think, time to dream – time to let go of some things to allow the new to occupy me. Time to wonder what 2012 will bring, and to consider the changes that I need to make. Another adventure is ready to unfurl itself as I step into the new – even if some of that ‘new’ feels like a step back.

(By the way, I’ve decided to take a flat back in Oundle, Northants, for a while in order to create some stability and to get familiar with some of the things that have been in storage for a long time – time to get on and create while I also simplify my life and reconnect with my family.)

Carsington Water (1)But for now, the reservoir is a place of peace, the calm surface only occasionally disturbed by a yachtsman out for a quiet autumn sail. Meanwhile, the sun hardly tries to rise above the horizon, staying low in the sky and casting a wintry and feeble light over the landscape.

Eventually, the welcome sight of Bessie in the distance causes me to hurry back – time to explore the sleepy town of Ashbourne, and grab some power (although sadly no internet) in the library before dinner.

The Timmy Gram

23 Dec

DSCF6971After I left university I became the annual recipient of a wonderful missive called the “Ganneygram”, sent by my long time friend and university colleague, Paul Ganney. In it Paul chronicled his year for those of us who missed out.. and over the years that GanneyGram blossomed into a multimedia experience in pictures and videos, appearing on line, on CD and on paper (well, obviously not the video bit, that would be crazy (although Paul may well have tried that)).

But over the years, my friends have been recipients of a briefer missive, sans multimedia experience. It was never called the Timmygram. But it was my year on two pages of A4 and in under 1200 words. Mostly, it’s been on paper. Mostly it got folded into a Christmas card envelope. (This year, due to the purchase of some smaller than usual cards, a lot more folding was required). One year I got creative and presented it as a crossword. People got, not surprisingly, cross.

Last year, they missed out (it’s funny, no-one complained), so this year I had to write two years’ worth. Fortunately, most of the pictures appear on this blog… but here, on line for the first time, for anyone who’s interested, is the 2010-2011 Tim’s Speech…enjoy.

From the desk of Tim Hodgson…..

Happy Christmas to you…. but what on earth happened to Tim last Christmas? No card? No phone call? No email? Where DID he vanish to… ?

Well, some of my friends and those who have been paying attention know the answer to that one… but we need to look back at 2009 to see where this all started. I was working for a friend in Sutton Coldfield, and I’d moved into a flat there – and then the wheels fell off that project. A change of direction was required, and so I found myself, again, out of work. I’d spent 9 months looking for a job the last time, and didn’t fancy a repeat of that – so I decided to retire (sort of!). Working for Unilever had been good for me, and I had a good final pension available. So I took some money out and embarked on a new project… a ’round the world’ tour, inspired by some of my friends who had done exactly that.

So the first part of 2010 was spent planning and trying to sort out how much of the world I could see in 12 months. There were some things I wanted to do, some places I wanted to visit, some experiences I wanted to have. And in and around all that, I took time to go snowboarding in France on a ski and dance holiday (snowboarding all day, dancing all night… perfect!!) and to go back to Mammoth Mountain in the US with David and Jonny. We love that mountain! I took up aikido, briefly – and learned to scuba dive to avoid wasting time on the trip. And Jonny graduated in International Politics (had to hang around so I could celebrate that!)

And, all too quickly, it was time to leave. The boys and I took a trip to Alton Towers to say farewell, and then it was off on the big adventure – first stop Hawai’i. The story of the adventure is well told in my travel blog at – check that out for the details of a voyage across 19 countries, told in many, many pictures, and even more words – but for me the highlights included…

Hawai’i – walking across the volcano floor, and poking a stick into red hot lava.. studying Huna with Serge King.. diving off cliffs and standing under waterfalls (although I should have taken the journal out of my pocket first)…

Oregon – studying with Neale Donald Walsch (author of the ‘Conversations With God’ books)

West Coast USA – touring the national parks on the Green Tortoise bus (sleep on the bus and wake up somewhere amazing) – descending into the Grand Canyon, climbing Angel’s Landing, and visiting some amazing rock formations including the setting of Wild Wild West.

Mexico – a crazy three day bus ride from Vegas. Being held up by Sandanista rebels and the teacher’s union… and deep spiritual experiences in the incredible ancient ruins of Palenque and Chichen Itza.

Cuba – sunsets on the Malecon, and the crazy experience of a dual currency country – and watching the rain pour down while people cleared their houses into the road.

A brief return to the UK in October saw me staying with my friend Heather for a while, and then off again….

Fiji – learning to dive and having quiet sunset thoughts on the pier at Nananu-Ra on my birthday.

New Zealand – climbing Mt Doom and tramping through Mordor in the Tongariro National Park – sailing Milford Sound and lying on deck looking up at the stars… and so, so much beautiful scenery.

Tasmania – more wild and wonderful beauty and a round island road trip – including a visit to Kettering (well, you’ve got to…).

Australia – crazy trips along the Great Ocean Road, and visiting Uluru, Kaja Tjutu and the Red Centre (and Alice Springs) – and then putting all that dive training into practice on a liveaboard off the Great Barrier Reef. Christmas celebrations in Melbourne and New Year in Adelaide.

Malaysia – a desperate race against time to meet my friend in Bangkok – armed with only around £20 to do it. And watching the Malay New Year unfold in fireworks from a vantage point above Georgetown.

Thailand – visiting temples and ancient sites.. and a two day trip down the Mekong River – and some beach time too, visiting James Bond Island and more.

Laos – a quiet time at an Eco Lodge in the jungle – and nearly getting myself married off on Women’s Day – and quiet reflection (and dolphin watching) on the backpacker island of Don Det.

Cambodia – losing my passport and being stranded for six weeks… jungle treks and sadness at man’s inhumanity at Choung Ek – and marvelling at the incredible temples of Siem Reap.

Vietnam – a mad dash up the country to catch up.. but a gorgeous couple of days sailing on Halong Bay.

Hong Kong – learning Tai Chi with Mr Peaceymind on the waterfront, and staying in crazy crap accommodation to save a few dollars. Watching the light show on the skyscrapers light up the sky. Visiting the Big Buddha and the tranquil majesty of the Heart Sutra sculptures on Lantau.

Macau – a desperate dash to see the island in a day, and just making it back to the boat in time.

China – the wonders of Shanghai and Beijing… the Forbidden Palace, Tianamen Square and the Great Wall of China. And losing my passport. Again. Doh!

Tibet – a wild three day train ride across China to get there – then monks, monasteries, pilgrims and the Himalayas.. camping at Everest Base Camp and an escape into Nepal (with a replacement passport again)

Nepal – more beauty, and a time to catch my breath – tramping through rice paddies and climbing mountains… and finally..

India – taking the decision to rush back to the UK to see my ex mother in law before she died… and spending the night on the streets of Mumbai.

And so many, many people that I met on the course of that trip…fellow travellers, locals, tour guides.. a little romance, a lot of friendship and fun…

And then back to the UK – time to catch up with my family and friends. I moved from home to home for a couple of months before taking ownership of Bessie, my camper van – I spent a month sleeping in Bessie before I eventually (in early December) got a small place back in Oundle… time to take a breath, get some stability, get reunited with my possessions (in storage for 16 months) and find some new clothes! Time to celebrate my eldest son’s Master’s Degree and see him move off to Edinburgh for teacher training… and see my youngest son off to Keele to study Ecological Politics for his Masters’.

And 2012? Well, who knows. Time to create some wealth and to rediscover my purpose.. and time to make a difference in the world. And maybe plan another adventure!

Anyway, that’s me and my life.. hope yours has been great too. Enjoy the holiday season… and who knows…we might meet up again this year.


Lunar winter

19 Dec

imageTonight, the moon is beautiful again – just above the horizon it floats, wrapped in a glowing blanket of soft cloud that echoes back its wintry beauty – hovering against a dark icy backdrop of glittering points of light, individual diamonds that sparkle as if a promise of infinite and endless treasure.

It’s a silent and peaceful counterpoint to the Christmas lights that hang, garish and yet with their own beauty in the street below. And it seems, to me, that wherever we find it, and whatever its setting, light has its own innate beauty, bringing not only illumination and clarity, but also, somehow, a touch of magic where ever it finds itself…

A Winter’s Tale

3 Dec

Nr Atherstone (2)Another night in the van – although I have a whole host of invites from people to stay, it feels important, somehow, to give myself space to be myself.. perhaps it’s been so long on the road that I need that independence, that looseness of commitment.

Tonight, the moon hangs low in the sky, framed by the branches of a wind swept tree, a skeleton of branches where only a few short weeks before the vibrant colours of autumn had drifted gently and softly to the ground. The moon itself is an icy cold shard of frosty white – gone is the warmth of the harvest moon, to be replaced by a crescent that gazes down with cold accusation, threatening to reveal hidden secrets in its dim illumination. Its counterpoint is a dark blanket of sky, not yet black yet scattered with the dim pinpoints of light from galaxies that are light years away – light that has fought its way through forbidding space to reach me. Tonight, the stars hold the promise that the moon refuses to bring – the promise of success against overwhelming odds, the certainty that even across impossible distances, light will always be light, and will always find its place, and the certainty that even if I was the only observer, that light would have still found its target.

Nr Atherstone (1)The sky itself is framed with the murky orange flare from a thousand streetlights, the warmth of the sodium flare muddied by the Black Country air as its light stumbles upward, only to finally fade away as it finally and inevitably loses the battle with nature’s overpowering darkness. The sky is beautiful tonight, and its savage chilly beauty wraps the fields and hedgerows in inky blackness. Yet strangely that blackness casts shadows that throw the details of the landscape into sharp relief – silhouettes that the brief blaze of a car’s headlights can only briefly wash with light before the darkness recovers its grip on the hills and bushes, the coppices and woodland scrub that pockmark the grasslands.

Steaming mug of coffee in hand, and beanie firmly on my head, I snuggle deeper into the sleeping bag as I read, looking up from time to time as the headlights of a passing car wash over Bessie and briefly light up the van – as the slipstream of the passing car rocks the van, as if attempting to lull me to sleep, and as the tail lights disappear into the distance as echoes of a brief moonlit encounter. More precious are the moments when I look up into a sky that seems only to echo promise and opportunity, and that glitters with a billion miracles that simply whisper ‘Believe’.

Lighting up the sky

1 Dec

Keele (4)Keele (6)

Having stayed with friends for a while, and having caught up with youngest son at Keele University, it’s back to the van. A night just outside Keele passes quietly, although the arrival of a LandRover which sits alongside Bessie in the early hours of the morning gives me some cause for concern until it simply drives off.

Nr Atherstone (1)Nr Atherstone (2)

Parking up in Leicestershire provides a surprise…The wind howls round the van like a scythe harvesting the last few ears of the harvest.. Bessie rocks in time with the gusts that tear across the Leicestershire landscape, carving their way through trees and over fences while an unexpected firework display lights up the sky with arcs of light on a thousand colours, each spark falling to earth as it lives out its brief life in an incandescent fury of brilliance and glory, light and flame, yet leaving a fleeting image on the retina while delighting the soul. Oh the unexpected joys of life in the road.. .

And then a peaceful morning near Atherstone gives me plenty of time to reflect on what’s been holding me back – disentangling myself from some of the dodgy thinking that has caused me to hold back from the next step. Certainly the uncertainty of the van hasn’t helped – but perhaps it’s now time to get traction and to make some things happen.

It’ll be good to get down to London to speak at the Conversations with God event on the 3rd… time to tell some stories, share some thoughts, and as ever, learn a little more in the process. So much to much fun to be had…

%d bloggers like this: