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The last time I blogged I was about to set off for the Orient.
Here’s someone who never left the Orient:
Long ago in a distant galaxy my friend Townsend and I would spend our Saturday afternoons on a windswept slope called Bunkers Hill, supporting through thick and thin – often VERY thick, often indescribably thin – a wayward and often feckless Hull City Football Club as it roamed the Third Division.
Last week Townsend came to visit Walthamstow Waterside, all the way from Wellington New Zealand. Across the marshes we heard the strangled cries of a failing football club – Leyton Orient! We hailed a cab – ten minutes later we were pushing through real old-fashioned turn-styles, forking out fifteen pounds apiece. We paid threepence to see City, but hey, that was in a different universe where balls were made of leather, super-stars like Stanley Matthews were paid twenty pounds a week, and your half-time cracked mug of Bovril set you back tuppence.
And the O’s God bless ’em, need the money. Not only are they now facing major competition in the shape of Premier side West Ham having moved into the Olympic stadium a bare mile from their ground, but they seem to have lost the knack of winning any games. They’ve sunk to the very bottom rung of what is cruelly called League Two, a misleading modern euphemism for the Fourth Division, and now face relegation clean out of the Football League.
The day we went they lost 4-1 to Doncaster Rovers, whose supporters were in full voice, robust full-throated northern vowels rattling the rafters of the East Stand, bringing echoes of those far-off Humberside days. Sympathetically we chewed on hot meat-pies at half time, and marvelled at the resolute cheeriness of the several thousand locals who turn out in regular support.
There’s a crowd-fund been started to raise the quarter of a million reported necessary to save the club from bankruptcy – the link is below. This is grass-roots stuff, it’s one of London’s oldest football clubs, an oasis of fun and colour it would be so sad to lose, so I’m going to chip in. When I last looked they’d raised £154, so there’s a bit of a way to go…
And meanwhile, what of the other Orient, of Far Cathay? Back in November I retreated from the worrying West as Trump triumphed and Brexit began to bite, and went off to work at one of China’s most venerable seats of learning, Peking University. This has a beautiful campus in Beijing, in the palatial grounds of a former home of an Imperial minister in pre-revolution days:
It’s a university steeped in history, regarded by many as parallel with Oxford or Cambridge, and in the last century was a focus for both Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the 1989 Tienanmen Square protests. Nowadays there is much talk of cultural links with other countries – the gent on the plinth is Miguel de Cervantes, no doubt dreaming the impossible dream…
…here’s the same view 3 hours later…