There’s nothing disputed about the island I’ve relocated to. When it’s not doing its own thing – in that fiercely laidback island way – it is resolutely pro-China. On outlying islands where the British built council estates to contain previously nomadic fishing communities, having segregated the choicer cuts of the outcrops they decided to settle, it’s perhaps no surprise that there is little of the pro-dem Western liberalism you might find lapping at the shores of the cut-glass Hong Kong I’ve left behind. Whatever the exact historical reasons for the welcoming glances towards Beijing (and this being China, family ties doubtless have a greater pull than most other factors) myself and the few dozen other Brits here could have done without the recent exposure of our true motivations for living so far from home. Namely, that a fair percentage of us are MI6 flunkies with a direct line (or tunnel?) to the basement of the British Consulate in Admiralty: Beijing spy tales point election finger at UK
Along with avoiding poisonous snakes, and the wild dog pack that roams the nearest beach, I don’t want to have to spend my time averting my eyes from the suspicious glances of my new neighbours – I’d much rather they remained inquisitive (or apathetic). In truth, I’m worried I might crack under pressure. Quizzed by the ex-publisher landlord of the local pub, or the crack security team of geriatrics that guard my jungly compound, I worry I might confess to being…. what, exactly? A writer? Far too suspicious. A 39-year-old man living alone? It gets worse. Perhaps it’s best if I come clean: I was approached at University by someone asking if I wanted to join an agency. The work would rely on a squeaky-clean persona and the occasional handling of knives. Months later I was still working in the sweltering basement of the De Vere Hotel in Coventry, wondering how many more hot pans I would have to successfully dodge before they sent me here to uncover secret seafood recipes. With that off my chest, I’ll sit back and request another beer, toasting the spies and spy-catchers amongst us, who – despite their indiscretions – maintain a veneer of respectability that this retired pot-washer can only dream of.