From Guangxi Province to Kettering

Chinese people, said Amy, no like the way you make me talk.

As part of her drive to learn, Amy has been reading, and I suppose sharing, this blog.

I know. Dame Jenni ™ Murray was saying much the same thing, when she passed me in the corridor at the film production company. She called me patriarchal, patronising and racist. Is it because of leaving out the definite and indefinite articles?

Mainly that, said Amy. I don’t mind. Some Chinese people mind.

I’ve been thinking about it anyway. It’s a funny mixture. I write the words that you say but I don’t try to represent how you say them. There’s never a question of writing ‘borrocks’ even if that’s what you actually say – which you do when you’re cross and not when you aren’t. And Chinese people must have noticed that whatever you say it’s nearly always wise and generally right.

I suppose, I said, that it’s the elision of singular and plural, present and past, and the absence of the definite and indefinite articles that fascinate me. It’s the same with Russian, as to the definite and indefinite articles anyway. It makes for a completely different way of talking. But I couldn’t put it into the mouth of the better half. For one thing her English is too good. For another she’d kill me.

I no want better half say my words.

And so for the time being we left it. We were at Great Secret Miss. Amy had just barked an instruction to one of her girls, who returned some minutes later with a fish head on a plate. Amy set about it with some chopsticks and the occasional use of her fingers, removing small pieces of meat, but from time to time resorting to sucking.

Dame Jenni ™ Murray better not call you racist if she know which side her bun buttered. You very important film people.

Dame Jenni ™ Murray is first and last a person of principle, I said. That is the quality that she brings to Bunanza! and that is why Bunanza! will wipe the floor with the opposition, integrity-wise.

I was not going to discuss Bunanza! with Amy. There have been creative differences, as you’d expect, but that’s for another day.

Never mind Bunanza! and Dame Jenni ™ Murray. Tell me about your husband in Kettering.

Amy inspected her fish head. She had neatly reduced it to some small bones, some black stuff and two eyeballs and had eaten the rest.

I no eat fish eyes, said Amy. Eat enough, make you look like Japanese people.

I laughed. The trouble with you, Amy, is that you are patronising, patriarchal and racist.

Matriarchal, she said.

My mother-in-law won’t eat fish eyes because she says they are fattening.

Each person his own. What you say?

I say, when it’s fish, nothing above the neck. Or indeed that shiny bit just below. Unless it’s whitebait, of course. But tell me about your husband in Kettering.

Amy sighed.

Not complicated, not interesting.


Your son rescue me in South China Sea. I slave. With Aubergine Small. He slave too. Man cut his tongue.

I remember. And the son brought you both to England, but he left the other slaves that he freed with Social Services. How did you become a slave?

Amy paused.

I no tell you life story without definite and indefinite articles. Undignified.

OK. I’ll put you in reported speech.

She was born in China, in Guangxi Province. She had a brother and a sister. Her father was a chemical engineer. Once he was required by his company to travel to the West. Amy was vague about where: ‘not UK – some other‘. He came back with stories that disturbed and excited his family. It was not like on television, he said. There was freedom and opportunity. There were great clothes. They never sent him abroad again.

Amy’s sister had been more excited by what their father had said than had Amy. Amy wanted to finish her education, but the sister had already started work and was dissatisfied with it. She got a cheap ticket to England. Weeks went by and she sent word that she was staying. She had found some barely respectable language school and enrolled, so as to get a student visa. She wasn’t doing much language study, but she was working as a waitress in Chinatown and surviving. She said that London was as wonderful as their father had suggested it might be and that Amy should join her.

When Amy left school she did.

So you were in England before you became a slave in the South China Sea.

Of course!

She worked with her sister and they found a flat together, off the Harrow Road. She decided that she wanted to stay and, more methodical than her sister, that she should find a way to make it permanent. She found a husband.

Where did you meet him?

I find him on internet.

And he is in Kettering.

His name was Giles. He was in his fifties, English, divorced and troubled.

I told Amy that many of my family lived in Kettering.

Kettering very beautiful.

I’ve never been there. It’s none of my close relations. Sometimes one of them writes to the Daily Telegraph and people ask if it’s me. It’s not a common name.

Disgusted of Kettering?

Not for the first time I was amazed at what of life in England she knew and what she didn’t.

That sort of thing.

Amy had married Giles and moved to Kettering to live with him. He, it appeared, having married out of loneliness, fell for her deeply.

He very much in love with me. He hate when I leave the house, shopping, whatever.

At the same time his mental state deteriorated. He was convinced, it seems, that, having come into his life so suddenly, she would leave him as unexpectedly. He got in such a state that he had to give up work. Whereupon money, never in generous supply, became an acute problem.

I think, if need money, I must.

And it was that fateful decision that had led eventually to the meeting of Amy, Aubergine Small and the son in the South China Sea.

But now – Amy inspected the remains of her fish head with critical detachment – I must do work. I tell you more soon. Quite soon.

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