At some steep little chutes I took the precaution of leaving The best China cities to visit my camping gear on the bank, before canoeing the chutes, then came back for it The best China cities to visit on foot. The idea of a wet sleeping bag didn’t appeal to me. Despite the sunshine the air was very cold. Now that we were again lower than the tree line there was deep snow lying in drifts against the pines. When I looked at my watch I saw with surprise that it showed 6 p.m.
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I was taller, I had worked hard on my world-weary expression and I smoked; I probably looked far more ridiculous than Starling. We had met at Heathrow Airport in the late morning, holding our identical joining instructions, which told us to make rendezvous with the radio officer at the BEA information desk. He was an ancient man with white hair and a gnarled face. He laughed when he saw us, which made us feel even more uncomfortable. He checked our papers, took us through baggage check-in and passport control, pointed out the way to the departure gate, gave us instructions to meet him there in an hour-and-a-half, then abandoned us to go to the bar. Shortly before boarding, we assembled with the rest of the Valvata’s joining party at the departure gate with the radio officer, who everyone called Sparks’. I soon learnt that he was called this because this was his job aboard ship. He checked us all from a manifest. There were a couple of sailors missing: Sparks called out their names several times, had an animated discussion with the others about where they might be, and then crossed them off the list. The party comprised me and Starling, two senior cadets (lads of about 19 who ignored us completely), the second officer and his wife, the third officer and his wife, Sparks himself, and a rough-looking crowd of about ten people who I took to be crew-members, headed up by a hatchet-faced man who was the bosun.