Tuesday 15 May 2012

Last day memories with Arsenal

At the Gooner Podcast last night, I was staggered about my amnesia regarding final-day-of-the-season clashes. Mike Francis presented us all with a list of matches and all I could remember was the 2-0 victory over Liverpool in 1989!

Even then my memory played tricks on me. I said on the podcast that I was Indonesia for that one and picked up the result the following day when I read the International Herald. The latter part was true, but instead of being in Jakarta, I was, in fact, in Beijing.

Maybe it was selective amnesia as, while Alan Smith and Michael Thomas did the impossible at Anfield, a potential civil war was brewing on my doorstep on 26th May 1989. About a week later, it all went off, as I recall in this extract from my book, Inside Hai! Karate - Journey To Japan . . .

. . . And I’ll never forget my spell working there as a DJ at the Holiday Inn, Beijing. Especially as I was there for the Tiananmen Square Massacre in June 1989.

I’m in the realms of my imagination now as I drift off to sleep. Fact is mixing with fiction. Yes, my mind is recreating reality TV.

 A strange figure approaches me in the darkness of my room. It is holding a black circle. I peer closely. I can see it now as I squint. It’s a 12” inch single.

‘They don’t make music like they used to!’ I think to myself.

I look again. The face is familiar. Kind. On its head are a pair of headphones and a microphone headset, à la Janet Jackson in the 1980s video ‘Control’. The long-haired figure smiles at me. It’s not Janet Jackson. It looks more like a man. I reach out my hand to touch it, but my hand passes through the figure without touching anything.

As it speaks, the manly figure’s dulcet tones are amplified: ‘Do not be alarmed.’

‘Who are you?’

‘I am the Ghost of your DJing Past. Get out of bed, I’ve got something to show you.’

I’m not one for arguing with the supernatural, so I do as he says.

‘Can you moonwalk?’

‘I’m not Michael Jackson.’

‘Can you body pop?’

‘I’m not Jeffrey Daniel.’

‘Okay can you do “the snake”?

‘Come again?’

‘Do the neck ripple!’

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

The ghost demonstrates and does an 1980s move with his neck. He gestures for me to copy, but I don’t want to. ‘That’s so embarrassing. I used to do it, until I saw “Wet, Wet, Wet” doing it. That put me off forever.’

‘Do you want to visit your DJing past? Yes or no?’

‘Not if I have play Rick Astley again.’

‘How can I teach you from history if you won’t cooperate? Okay fine. If you don’t come with me, Bob Marley’s ghost will be along soon. You won’t mess with the skanking skeleton!’

He had a point, so I answered: ‘Okay Ghost. You convinced me. I’ll do the move.’

No sooner had I cricked my neck than I saw the floor, walls and ceiling vanish along with all the contents of the room. I felt weightless and I floated in the air alongside the ghost.

‘Where are we going to, Ghost?’

‘I am going to remind you why you’re still haunted by China. Now shut up and observe.’

We materialise in front of a sign that marks the entrance to the disco where I used to work in Beijing. It’s hand-painted. It looks amateurish. It reads: ‘Don’t miss ROCK ‘N’ ROLL NIGHT at the Holiday Inn Disco! Doors open at 9pm on Sunday 4th June 1989. Be there or be square!’

‘Ha ha! Ghost, that’ll be the work of the American PR lady. She was a bit too big for her boots . . . and her other items of clothing!’

We walk straight through the glass doors into the club. I can hear Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” playing.

‘Ghost, I warned you. I can’t tolerate Lick Ashtray!’

We walk to the DJ booth. I see my former self in conversation with a student I used to know.

‘Look, Ghost. It’s Tim. He’s a Chinese American who was studying at the University of Beijing. Talk about bad timing, eh?’

‘Shut up and listen,’ warns the ghost.

We hear 80s Joe tell Tim: ‘It’s so quiet tonight, I can’t believe it.’

‘They’re all at Tiananmen,’ Tim answers.

‘It’s all going to go off, I reckon.’

‘Why do you say that?’

‘Well, it’s obvious. Soldiers. Soldiers don’t carry guns for fun, you know.’

‘But it’s a peaceful protest.’

‘Listen mate, China has a violent history. You should know that. Don’t they teach you anything?’

‘But this is different. The soldiers are on the side of the people.’

An Asian man approaches Tim and they start speaking in Mandarin. I wish the ghost would translate, but he looks as nonplussed as I do. The man walks away and Tim quietly informs 80s Joe:

‘They’ve started firing.’

‘I bloody told you!’

Tim walks away.

I talk to the ghost again. ‘Yeah, I did, Ghost. I bloody told him. ‘Blood’ being the operative word, unfortunately.

A Western guy with a beard is now approaching the DJ booth. ‘Look, Ghost! That’s Sam the Texan! He was a good mate to me. He gave me loads of books to read. I would have died of boredom if it wasn’t for him.’

‘Listen!’ replied the Ghost.

‘What’s happening?’ says Sam to Joe 80s.

‘Everything’s going off. Especially guns.’

‘Oh, they’ve started firing, have they?’


Sam takes a sip on what looks like whisky and coke. ‘What do you expect? It’s rock ‘n’ roll night! The protestors are throwing rocks and the tanks are rolling.’

My former self laughs nervously.

The Ghost peers at me closely. ‘You’re very strange, aren’t you? You laugh in the face of danger. Let’s fast-forward in time now. I’m sure you don’t want to hear more Rick Astley. Follow me.’

I follow him out of the disco. We walk past the pizzeria, where Sam works, and the bowling alley, that I played in occasionally, past the security guards posted in the corridor leading to my old room in the hotel. As we approach the door, I see a familiar figure knocking on the door.

‘Look, Ghost! It’s Peter! He was general manager of another hotel. He was a great laugh. But tonight was the night he told me he was gay, so I don’t think I want to let him in.’

My former self opens the door.

Peter says: ‘I can’t get home. There are curfews everywhere. Can I stay the night?’

My former self says ‘okay’ and gestures to the other bed. Luckily, in this room there are two single beds.

Peter strips to his underwear and gets into bed while my former self is dozing off, fully clothed, watching CNN on TV. I watch the footage too and see the image of a lone man in front of a tank that now symbolises what happened at Tiananmen Square.

I can see that my former self is nodding off. Peter gets out of bed as if to go to the toilet, but then reaches his hand out towards my former self’s nether regions. My former self sits up abruptly and says: ‘What do you think you’re doing?’

‘I was just checking if you were asleep.’

‘I won’t be able to if you try stunts like that. Go to fucking sleep!’

Peter doesn’t need the toilet after all. He tucks himself back into bed and closes his eyes.

‘I think we need to fast forward to the next day,’ says the ghost. ‘Follow me.’

We leave the room and head over to the personnel department, which is located in a different building within the hotel grounds. It’s sunny now, so I can tell the ghost has made good his promise again to take us forward in time. We walk straight in and hear the conversation going on between my former self and the Singaporean guy in charge of HR.

My former self is almost screaming: ‘Get me out of here!’

‘I’m sorry, you’re not our responsibility.’

‘You’re evacuating everyone else.’

‘But they work directly for the hotel. You should contact your agent.’

‘How can I? All the phone lines are down.’

‘Well, you’re not our responsibility.’

‘Listen to me! If I die here, my blood will be forever on your hands. Can you live with that?’

‘Okay, okay. I will get you a ticket. Can you come back at 4pm?’

‘Yeah, of course.’

‘I’ll have a ticket for you then.’

The scene begins to dematerialise and I’m back in my London bedroom. The ghost turns to me and asks: ‘What have you learned?’

‘That being melodramatic can pay off?’

‘Yes, sometimes.’

‘What else?’

‘Don’t trust general managers?’

‘No. Don’t be silly? Maybe you need another lesson.

Smoke billowed all around us and when it cleared I was in my Holiday Inn hotel room with an Augustus Gloop lookalike. He was talking to my former self. There was a newspaper on the table. The date on it was 20th July 1989.

‘Please Joe. Call my ex-girlfriend.’

‘And say what?’

‘Tell her I died at Tianenmen. Please.’

My former self looked reluctant, but made the call anyway. I got myself nearer to the earpiece so I could hear the whole conversation.

‘Hello Cleo. It’s Joe.’

‘Hi Joe. Are you okay? I was worried about you after Tianenmen and everything.’

‘I’m okay, but Augustus…well, I don’t know how to tell you.’

‘Tell me what?’

My former self was acting now. Sniffing, breathing heavily. ‘Augustus is…Augustus is…he didn’t make it!’

‘What do you mean.’

‘He . . . he . . . he got run over by a tank.’

Augustus was rolling around on the floor like a pig in excrement at this point.

‘You mean, you mean he’s dead?’

‘Yes, he was so young!’ My former self’s voice cracked. How he suppressed a laugh I don’t know. Augustus was biting his hand.

Loud crying could be heard down the phone followed by Cleo saying: ‘I can’t talk anymore  . . . Isha wants to speak to you.’

Another girl’s voice started speaking: ‘Hello Joe. How are you?’

‘You heard. You heard about…about Augustus?’

‘Yes. It’s very sad.’ She said it without feeling before adding in a cheerful voice: ‘So what are you doing tonight?’

My ghost turned to me and said: ‘Have you seen enough?’
‘Yes Ghost. We live in a callous world, do we not?’

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