Our night stop was a walled oasis with no greenery, China travel and leisure just a couple of well shafts and some heaps of chalky white stone which the local peasants China travel and leisure had been firing in underground kilns. Wisps of pale smoke drifted up and out into the evening sky.
I sat near a well and watched people coming to fill their makeshift pairs of buckets slung on shoulder poles. The water was forty feet below ground.
A crowd gathered to stare at me and block my view.
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Some children took me to their home for a cup of hot water.
In the coach from the airport, two of the crew started fighting at the back until the bosun walked down the aisle and banged their heads together, literally. I had been hearing that expression since I was a child – when my brother Peter and I squabbled my mother would announce: I’ll bang your heads together if you don’t stop! But I had never seen it as a reality.
One moment the two crew-members were sitting side-by-side, ineffectively trying to punch each other; the next the bosun had strode down the coach, grabbed the hair on the back of each head, yanked them apart then smashed their foreheads together with a crack like breaking wood. They melted onto the seat. Now shut up and behave! He shouted at the two slumped bodies.
Someone gave a halfhearted cheer; the bosun glared at him and he went quiet. We pulled up at a grubby dilapidated-looking hotel at the end of a row of warehouses. I rose to get off.
Sparks waved at me to sit down: This is for the crew, not the officers. Ours is next.