Skinflint Sunday: A gift from the past.

Readers who’ve been around for a while might dimly recall a time 2 years ago that I went away to a Craft Camp and broke the 6-year sewing hiatus that I’d been on. I began a quilt for my oldest son, who was then Tom25.

I don’t know what I was thinking. WHO decides to relearn quilting by making a queen-sized quilt made up of over 1500 tiny squares? Only an idiot, that’s who.

When I started making it I wasn’t thinking of a specific pattern; just larger squares of 6 x 6 tiny squares in a diagonal. I wish I had’ve thought to use the same fabric running down the middle of each large square – it would’ve created an interesting grid feature on the quilt, but when I began it I was just looking to use up fabric.

This is the quilt top laid out on the floor so I could measure it to go and buy the backing.

So why did I suddenly drag it out and finish it? Because David25 wants me to make a quilt for his girlfriend, Izzy, for Christmas, so I thought I’d better get this job done. Besides, Tom27 knows about it. He said, “I thought it might be ready last Christmas and when I came in and there were no quilt-sized packages under the tree I went, “Uh…”

To be honest, I think I like the backing more than the front! But that’s ok, Tom27 should like the colours. The quilt isn’t for me, after all.

I quilted it in the ditch, which is THE HARDEST thing to do. I forgot.

There was a reason I started quilting in free form. It looks harder but is so much easier!

Look what I found when I opened my tin of quilting pins! This is from Evan23, back when he was 14 years old.

And here comes the gift from Past Frogdancer. Years ago, I published a tutorial on how to machine sew binding onto a quilt. Over the intervening years, I completely forgot how to do it. But I knew I had the tutorial on the blog

I chose a greeny fabric, because it’s Tom27’s favourite colour.

I took the measurements that I used to buy the backing fabric (180 cm X 230 cm) and added them up. Then I measured the width of the binding fabric against my cutting table (24 inches) and worked out how much fabric I needed to sew into strips.

Does anyone see where this is going???

This is the pile of LEFTOVER binding that I made. Yep, turns out mixing cm and inches doesn’t work out well. I made just over 14 Metres/15 yards too much. Lord knows how many extra quilts I could bind with all of this!

One broken needle later… because yes, of course, it would break just as I was finishing…

… we have a completed queen-sized quilt ready to be wrapped up for Christmas.

I wonder what I’ll make next?

 

 

Three more days till the holidays!!

Cpt Picard,"Holiday mode: ENGAGE!"

The last couple of weeks at work have been hectic, but then they always are at the end of semester. There’s always stray bits of work to catch up, exams and essays to mark, feral year 8’s to discipline… you know, that sort of thing. In three more days I have two glorious weeks stretching out before me, with only ONE definite day planned. The rest of the days are a wonderful patch of blankness in my calendar, ready to be filled (or unfilled) exactly as I please.

I can’t wait!

A few weeks ago I booked a ticket to “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” It’s only playing in 3 places on the whole planet and seeing as one of them is Melbourne, I thought it would be wasteful of me not to pop in and see it. I decided to go in by myself, so I scored magnificent seats seeing as I was only booking one ticket. Fourth row from the front!

Depending on how long the gap is between the two halves of the show, I thought I might take a tram down to the Gallery and have a quick gallop around to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibition. When we were in Beijing last year we decided against going to see them in their natural habitat because it’s pretty much a day trip and we were only there for a few days either side of our trip to North Korea. Now, I can see what all the fuss is about and cross them off my “Must See” list.

I’m thinking that on one day I might do a road trip and go to the Bendigo Art Gallery. They have an exhibition from the National Portrait Gallery in London called “Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits.” Anyone here who followed my UK and Europe trip back in 2015 would know how crazy I am about English history, so this exhibition is very tempting.

It’s a 3-hour car trip to Bendigo though. Still, imagine all the podcasts I could knock over on the drive there and back!

I still have Things To Do around the house, with the rest of the wicking garden beds needing to be put to bed over winter. That’ll be a couple of day’s work. I also want to get tradies in to give quotes for the roof I want to put in over the brick paving in the back yard. Time to cross that job off my list.

After lunch my year 9s have one more wide reading oral presentation to do, then as a reward for being beautifully behaved I’m going to show them ‘The Truman Show’. It’ll be a nice way to wind down the term for them (and me.) I’m showing my year 7s ‘Back to the Future’ – can you believe that only one of them has ever seen it???

Picture me at 2:30 on Friday. School lets out an hour early… imagine the joy!

 

 

In defence of Santa and my epic Christmas tree.

It’s Christmas Eve!! Look at this naughty girl up on the couch like a cat. On the coffee table behind her you can see the book I’m on at the moment. I set myself a Goodreads challenge of reading 80 books this year. I’m on number 73. Can I make it???

There’s also a purple ball of cotton yarn there. I’ve been making washcloths to go with the soap I made for people for Christmas.

In true Frogdancer form, I only got the idea to do this three weeks ago. I’ve been knitting like a maniac since then.

People have been really appreciative of them. God, I love Christmas!

Long-term readers will remember that when I had my huge trip to the UK and Europe, Scott put me onto buying Christmas tree decorations as low-weight, small souvenirs. It didn’t stop me buying enough to have to ship a large box of things home, but it does mean that I have a highly individual tree every year.

 

This year I bought things from North Korea and China. This little doll was bought at the cultural exchange centre in the middle of Pyongyang. I was getting a bit worried that I wouldn’t find anything appropriate from the DPRK to put on the tree, so I was so happy when I saw these!

She’s next to the Santa I bought in the Black Forest in Germany.

Hamlet holding Yorick’s head. “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well.” I bought this on the epic challenge day in Stratford-on-Avon. We wanted to see the 5 Shakespeare sites in an afternoon. We made it.

Obviously, when I went to China I needed something to go on the Christmas tree. I bought this at Mao’s tomb. He joins Napoleon’s hat, Richard III’s signature on a key-ring and Henry VIII and his six wives.

And Mary Queen of Scots. This year we put her next to the English telephone booth with robins on it that I bought in Bath. It’s the closest she’s ever likely to get to England.

Here’s my happy Scottish Santa that I bought with my friend Pam in the Georgian house’s gift shop in Edinburgh, next to the grumpy German puppet thing I bought in the Black Forest.

Another China decoration. This time it’s a wooden bookmark from the Forbidden City.

This was going to be a quick post that I put together on Christmas Eve, but it’s taken ages. When I was reading through the posts that I’ve linked to, I was amazed at how much I’d forgotten. Best Decision Ever to blog as I was travelling. I hope you enjoy seeing some of these places with me.

Before I wrote this post, I was on twitter and I saw a tweet from a blogging friend of mine about how they don’t ‘do’ Santa with their little boy. It got me thinking and remembering, so I put a post together on the other blog called “In Defence of Santa – from a Value-ist.”

Please take the time to read it, especially those of you who have watched the boys growing up. 🙂

Merry Christmas everyone! May your days be jolly!

Skinflint Sunday: on a Monday!

Phew! I finally finished blogging about North Korea on the other blog, so now it’s time to get back to regular programming around here. I’ve missed writing about the day-to-day, and I’ve got so much to tell you!

So, in the 5 months since I returned from North Korea, what’s been going on around here?

Everything. And nothing. I’ve set myself a target on Goodreads to read 80 books this year. As of this morning, I’m 6 books behind schedule. I’m only up to 52. I’ll be having a few ‘Reading Days’ these school holidays.

Did I mention it’s school holidays? if it wasn’t, I’d be in front of my year 9’s at the moment. They’re not my favourite class, if you get my drift, so that makes me sitting on the couch in my PJs at 12:20PM seem even sweeter.

There’s been a HUGE project that I’ve still not finished.

I’ve been getting my hands dirty again.

Life’s been good. Can’t wait to tell you all I’ve been doing.

 

China and the DPRK: Day 15- The last day.

We had a leisurely start to our last day in China. We packed our bags, left them in a room at the hotel and then grabbed some lunch. Matt came and took us for a walk around a lake. I have no idea what it’s called or where it is, but it was a serene, relaxed way to finish off what was at times a very hectic holiday.

I took these shots as we were walking around.

 

 

 

Most people would have been at work, but it was interesting to see that some people used the lake frontage like their own backyard.

 

 

 

 

This was a very smiley baby.

The pollen from some of the trees was incredibly thick. In one section I had to walk with my open phone in front of my nose to avoid breathing it in. Here’s a clump of pollen that was collected in a doorway.

Lucky little ducks! A duck village totally unconnected to the shore.

 

It was a warm day. By the river, the sounds from the nearby streets were muted.

We even saw this man swimming. I don’t know how clean the water is, but good luck to him!

Free enterprise is alive and well in Beijing. There were quite a few of these little ‘market stalls’ as we got nearer to the shopping centre.

It wasn’t all beautiful. Just a shot to keep things real.

As we got closer to the main thoroughfare, we started to encounter rickshaws.

Once we were back in town, we stopped for a bevvie in a café.

Then it was over the bridge and into the shopping precinct.

We thought this shop sounded interesting and Helen and I tried to go in to see what they were selling.

Couldn’t see a thing…

We kept seeing parked cars with this in front of the wheels. Apparently, it’s to stop dogs peeing on the tyres.

My last little car before flying home.

And Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again! No one sat next to me on the flight back. I’m short so I could stretch out.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts about the trip. Now it’ll be back to regular programming.

Beijing and the DPRK: Day 14 – The Great Wall of China.

Here’s what awaited us when we got out of our Uber and walked up to the Wall. Free enterprise at its finest! (In China Uber is called something else, but I can’t remember what it is. Ultra-cheap, though.) It was very handy having Matt with us, because being a tour guide AND a Beijing resident all in one meant that he knew what to do and how to organise it.

I had to laugh when I saw a Burger King here. China’s isolation has certainly faded over the years!

Helen and Rick went first on the chairlift; you can see Helen looking back at Matt and I.  It’s a very civilised way to make it up to the Wall.

The Great Wall has a brooding, medieval appearance as we got closer.

And then we were there!

The drainage tracks were a simple yet effective way to ensure that the Wall stayed dry underfoot when it rained.

This was inside one of the guardhouses. There were 14 guardhouses along this stretch of the Wall. The other 3 walked the whole stretch, but I only did 7 before I turned back. I know my limitations, especially after my walk on the mountain in North Korea!

Here’s Rick looking like the epitome of a bronzed Aussie on holidays.

As we walked along we came across a bride having wedding photos taken.

This is pretty much the view I had of the others the whole way along.

There was one thing I noticed pretty quickly about this wall – it wasn’t exactly level.

I’m in China! On the Great Wall! This is one place I never thought I’d see – I’m such a Europhile. Still – never say never. Life’s so exciting.

This set of steps was pretty brutal. They were steep and also shallow, so you end up stepping in ways that aren’t a natural fit.

And the highs and lows go on and on…

Huh?

Ohhh… glass stairs. 

Looking at that tower, I felt like I was back in Lincoln for a sec.

Tourists posing for a happy snap. Those stairs kept getting steeper and steeper.

But you can’t deny that the view was very spectacular. Look at the way the Wall snakes over the mountains.

Yikes! I still remember this set of stairs. They were steep and HIGH.

This was at the next bit. The staps on the right are leading up to another guardhouse. It was a warm day, but not too hot. Just perfect for walking.

The guardhouses don’t look like they would have been exactly filled with creature comforts. It must have been a miserable place here at times, particularly in the depths of winter and the heights of summer.

But this little teardrop of a window was pretty.

I was ambling along, enjoying myself, when I suddenly caught a glimpse of what lay ahead…

That’s a lot of Wall. A lot of ups and downsy steps. Did I really want to do all of it?

Here was where we stopped so Helen could visit the loo. I’ve never known a woman to need the toilet so often!

The rest of us did a lot of this on this trip. (Hello Helen, if you’re reading this. We all love you!!)

This was the place where I suggested that they go on while I turn back. I’d made it halfway along, so I figured that by the time I walked back it would be as if I’d walked the entire length of this section. That’s Mathematically sound, surely?

So they headed off and I turned around and started back.

I called out to them and gave them a last wave, then we went our separate ways.

These steps are steep. I can’t believe I made it all the way up on the way here. I must be a Superwoman.

Somewhere along the way here I fell into conversation with an American woman and her daughter. They were fascinated to hear that ‘d just come from North Korea, so we stopped and had a break while I told them a bit about it and showed them photos and videos. Unless the political situation changes dramatically it’s a place they’d never be able to see, so they loved seeing the snippets I could show them.

This girl was quietly sitting, catching up on Whatsapp. Couldn’t be FaceBook because it’s not allowed in China. So inconvenient.

After a while, I decided to try and take photos to make it look as if I was the only person on the Wall. It wasn’t totally packed, like some of the pictures you see, but there were certainly enough people around to make it a bit of a challenge. It reminded me of when Scott and I went to Versailles.

We raced ahead of the crowds and got to see The Hall of Mirrors like this. No crowds – just the unobstructed view of this beautiful place. It’s one of my most cherished memories.

So I began to stalk clear views of The Wall.

I’m so sad I didn’t have my phone angled just slightly higher. It would have been a perfect shot.

Look. No people. I was totally alone.

This was fun. The air was still so I could hear when people were approaching. Otherwise, all I could hear was the occasional bird.

I decided to show you that there really were other people around.

Will this Great Wall never end?

As I was walking, I looked down on what I thought was a market. Little did I know that this was the place where the chairlifts came in. I’d made it!

None the wiser, I pressed on.

And on.

I saw this cute little Cavalier-looking dog asleep in a guardhouse. That was nice.

I kept going.

You’d think the lines would be a hint, but they didn’t seem to be attached to a chairlift. I kept walking.

It was when I got to this place that I began to get suspicious. I knew I hadn’t seen this building before.

I retraced my steps and found where I was meant to be. I celebrated with an ice cream cone and sat, enjoying the view and waiting for the others to come and find me.

Here are some of the smartest dogs in China. I sat and watched these French tourists feed them whole plates of food. This must happen every day because they look fat and happy.

The dogs, I mean. Not the tourists.

Once the others got back we went and looked at how we were going to get back down from the Wall.

That’s right – a toboggan. How awesome is that?!?

I was excited.

This is all it is. You just lean forward to slow down and lean back to speed up. Or maybe it was the other way around. I can’t remember now.

The trick is to delay your departure as long as you can, because if you get stuck behind someone scared and slow it’d ruin the whole experience. But we had a dream run down.

Helen and Rick bought this shot. It was such fun!!

Later that night we went to a restaurant that Matt had heard about and wanted to try. It was popular – we had to wait nearly 2 hours before we could get a table.

But get one we did. And the meal was delicious.

We had only one more day in Beijing before our holiday would be over.

China and the DPRK: Day 13 – Beijing – The Llama Palace and hittin’ the hutong district!

The next morning Helen and I left the hotel just before lunch. Rick was as sick as a dog, so he was laying low. We were going to the Great Wall of China tomorrow and he wanted to be well for that.

I saw this guy as we were walking along the road towards the shopping centre. Looks pretty relaxed.

After eating the biggest bowl of soup I think I’ve ever seen, we took a train ride to the MONATRTY. Across the road, Helen pointed out a KFC.

This was the entrance to the Llama Temple. The day was pretty warm, but the trees here made the walk up to the gates seem cooler. There were lots of people here – it seemed to be a popular place.

This place was originally built in the 1690’s as a residence for the court’s eunuchs, but soon a guy called Prince Yong took it over. And honestly, why wouldn’t you? It was pretty gorgeous. When he became Emperor a few years later, half of it became a monastery while the other half remained a royal residence.

During the Cultural Revolution it was lucky enough not to be damaged. It’s easy to get to – it even has its own subway station named after it.

Each person was given a bundle of incense to burn as we went in. You are meant to burn it a stick at a time, bowing in all 4 directions before tossing the stick into one of the big containers that you see here.

But that was too slow for me. I burned the whole lot at once.

Helen, on the other hand, did everything she was supposed to.

As we moved further in, there were buildings and courtyards and lots of statues under cover.

A pomegranate tree It reminded me of my old garden back in Malane st.

This looked really impressive.

I liked the way they bent the tree to look like it was blowing back in the wind.

I really like the metal bells. This is to remind myself to get some when my backyard roof over the paving finally gets built.

While Helen was busy using up her incense by bowing at yet another shrine, I saw these monks ahead of us. I picked up the pace and followed them in.

This statue was IMMENSE! It towered over us. It looked like there were 3 floors built around it.

Standing directly under it. I think that hand was almost as big as I am.

I love these next two photos. I don’t know about you, but when I think of monks, I don’t automatically link them with mobile phones.

Yet here they were, doing the same things as all of the other tourists. Of course, they were chanting and praying as well.

I’ve included a couple of photos of some artifacts that I liked, but I’ll link to an article that I read on A Gai Shan Life about the Great Chinese Art Heist.

I have a friend I’ve known for the last 20 odd years who is on the dharmic path. This made me think of him.

Who wouldn’t love this guy?

The buildings were ornate, but not over the top. I loved the shape of them, especially when they were crowded together –

– like this. See the little Bridge of Sighs? That’s not what it’s called but that’s what it reminded me of.

Monks just chillin’.

See how close together some of the buildings were? As we got further towards the back, the closer together some of the buildings got. But look at the gold!

Another bell.

This was at the bottom of the steps leading to the women’s loos.

After we left the monastery, Helen wanted to wander around the neighbourhood so we set off.

I had to get a shot of this. A dog wearing little shoes!

Once we were back on the main drag, one of the red doors was open. Normally they’re closed, so I grabbed this shot of what lies beyond. The reason that there are so many public toilets in Beijing, and why they are usually very clean, is because these old homes don’t have their own loos, so the public toilets are actually everyone’s toilets.

But the little bar that we found to refresh ourselves looked extremely sanitised and homogenised.

Noice!

We met up with people from the tour for dinner. Peking Duck! Well, we couldn’t be in Beijing with trying this, could we?

Maria, Marjo, Matt (who had spent the day doing paperwork so he’d be free to take us to the Great Wall the next day) and James, who was supposed to be flying back to Dublin but his plane was cancelled. I was so happy to see him again. 🙂

We were half-way through our meal when Niall joined us. He and Wally had gone to the Great Wall that day and they’d just got back. Niall told us a harrowing tale of how Wally had insisted that they go past the end of the renovated wall and start climbing the ruined part.

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Niall said. “We were swinging from one hand-hold to the next over rocks and heights that’d kill you if you fell. I could’ve killed him!”

We were laughing. It was so typical of both of them, but especially Wally, to go where they weren’t supposed to go. Then they hitchhiked back to Beijing when they finally made it down. Wally was exhausted and went back to his hotel to rest, while Niall, who is clearly made of sterner stuff, came out to see us.

Then we all followed Matt as he took us to all of these hip and happening places in the hutong district. We walked down what seemed like miles of anonymous alleys, past lots of red doors with Matt checking his phone and following maps, then he’d open a door like all the others and this is what we’d find.

We had a great time.

The Great Wall tomorrow!!!!

China and the DPRK: Day 12- Beijing – no oxen here!

This was an astute buy from the supermarket in Pyongyang! The coffee was cold, but it was SO GOOD to get a hit of caffeine when I woke up and crawled down from my top bunk. Those mattresses are very thin.

We pulled in to the station at Beijing and said our goodbyes. Some of us were hanging around Beijing for a few days so we arranged to meet for dinner that night. Matt, our Aussie guide in North Korea who is also Helen’s son, lives in Beijing so he was going to meet us and then take us to some hip and happening places that night.

When we were all in the carpark at the station, Helen and Rick discovered that our Air BnB had cancelled on us. Rock and Matt went into overdrive on their phones and they eventually found us a hotel so we grabbed a taxi, waved our goodbyes and set off to find our new digs.

This is where we discovered the downside of travelling in Asia, where there aren’t that many signs in English and not that many people who speak it. Our taxi driver couldn’t find the exact address. After driving around the block a little while, he dropped us off and left us to it. Thank God it was in the middle of the day and not at midnight, like when we arrived in Beijing the first time!

I snapped this shot as we were wheeling our suitcases around and around the block. NOTHING could have made it clearer that we weren’t in North Korea anymore!

Gold Maserati, anyone?

After around half an hour of trying to find our hotel, Helen and Rick cracked it and went into a phone shop to try and get help. More and more people gathered to help them, while I stayed outside and helpfully guarded the suitcases. Turns out the hotel doesn’t have its own lobby or concierge… it shared the lobby with the phone company. FINALLY we could dump our bags and get some lunch.

We had a relaxing afternoon, just walking and eating, then back to the rooms for a nanna nap.

For dinner we met up with a few people from the tour, and we ate this Chinese hotpot and then went out into the Hutong section to find cute little cocktail bars.

It was a low-key start to our second Beijing experience. The Great Wall was coming up!

China and the DPRK- Day 11/12: The Train Ride to China.

After I packed my bags I was walking down the hallway to breakfast when I passed by Pierre’s room. He’d managed to open his window, which I’d tried and failed to do in my room, and the view was spectacular. Such a glorious morning and such a pretty way to say my final goodbye to this candy-coloured city.

I perched up on the window ledge and leaned (a little bit) out over the 32nd-floor window, listened to the wind and the quiet and took these photos. I was so glad I saw the door open and popped my head around it to say good morning. I would never have seen the view from here without glass in the way.

Obviously, we couldn’t be late, what with a train to catch and all, but I needed to see if I could find a copy of the book James bought yesterday – “Kim Jong Il – The Great Man.” Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again – the main bookshop in the hotel didn’t have it, but someone remembered seeing it in a little shop a floor below the main lobby. I galloped down the stairs like a fairground pony and found it.

A side-note to that is that for about 6 weeks after my trip, my year 8 kids were fighting over it to get to read it during the 10-minute wide-reading that I start every lesson with. They found it hilarious.

Then it was all in the bus, to the station where we said our goodbyes to Mr Kim and Un Ha. It was sad because we’ll never see them again. With my other tour guides from the UK and Europe, we’re friends on Facebook, but these two lovely people are isolated from us forever.

We found our berths, waved at Mr Kim and Un Ha as the train pulled out from the station and settled in for the ride.

There wasn’t much to do. There was a nice man doing a roaring trade with the drinks cart, coming by every half hour or so. Wally, Olly and Bek stayed in the berth the whole time, listening to Wally’s iPod music and drinking beer.

I was running very short of money, considering that I still had 3 days of Beijing and a Great Wall of China day to pay for, so I was reduced to eating the Pyongyang supermarket snacks and soju from my bag. But some of us had brought more interesting fare.

The North Korean dried fish. To be honest, when I saw Wally waving it around I didn’t think that it was going to end well. It certainly smells… fishy.

When it landed on someone’s pillow I could see bad times ahead. Wally was drinking a lot of beer and I knew that it would only be a matter of time before he hid the fish in someone’s suitcase or something.

After Rick posed for this photo I suggested that when the rubbish man came by next, we’d quietly throw it in the bin. So that’s what happened. No one wants to sleep on a pillow that smells of fish.

Sorry guys, if you’re reading this – it was ME!!!

The train stops at many little stations on the way to the border. When we were visiting people in the dining car, we saw this gathering at one of the stations. I’m not sure what was going on, but it looked like there was a teenage boy getting fêted by either the local media or his large family.

And the train rumbled on. After 10 days of travelling together, we were like family. In fact, Wally and Olly were just like an old married couple by this stage.

After a while I took a few last shots of North Korea.

Probably the last oxen and cart I’ll ever see again.

Then, all too soon, it was time for the train to stop at the border. Considering the cold welcome we received on the way in, we weren’t looking forward to it. At least the weather was a little warmer in case we had to get out onto the platform again.

As we got closer to the border, we started getting a little worried about the photos we had on our phones. As you’ve already seen, after a few days I pretty much ignored the “don’t take photos of the military” rule. I decided to let my phone battery run out so they couldn’t look at what I had. After all, we’d just be crossing the border. Nothing to see here…

Worst mistake I made on the trip.

This was the last photo I was able to take before my phone died. Niall decided to get the dress out.

When that happened, the Chinese and North Korean people on the train lost their shit! They were laughing and pointing. We could see soldiers outside on the platform, moving from carriage to carriage checking people’s papers and passports.

A bundle of papers was handed to Matt – all written in Korean – that we had to fill out. It took a lot of time for everyone to fill theirs in, because we had to pass Matt’s one around to see what to put where.

In the meantime, Niall was dancing with some of the Chinese men in the corridor.

Then the soldiers came in. They were grumpy and sour-faced.

At first.

Then they saw Niall.

At first everyone kept a low profile. The soldiers were brusque and efficient, making people hand over their passports, unzip their cases and go through their clothing to make sure no contraband was hiding. I was one of the first.

Once I was done, I stood with my back to the window in the corridor and watched the frighteningly serious woman who had just finished with me, move onto Niall. He was sitting on one bunk with his suitcase beside him, while she sat on the opposite bunk.

She motioned impatiently for him to open his case and then got him to move things around so she could see under things. Niall was quiet. She was very intimidating. She kept inspecting the innards of his suitcase in great detail, then without warning she leaned over to him…

… and straightened the bow on his dress. We all smiled. She leaned back with just the hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth.

And that was when the party started.

We were out on the platform for at least half an hour, but oh what a difference it was to the border crossing on the way in!

See this Chinese gentleman? He was dancing and dancing with whoever would dance with him, but Niall was his especial favourite. He was like the Duracell bunny. At first Niall was game to keep up with him, but as the time ticked by he got tired.

“Oh not again!” I heard him say as the Chinese gentleman grabbed his hand and whisked him away for another jig.

Then Olly and Wally started to much around, posing with their hands on each other’s bums and lifting each other in the air.

I only want him for his money!!” screamed out Wally and everyone roared.

I’m sure I saw two of the same guards that were so standoffish to us on the way in. They had big smiles on their faces this time.

Before we knew it we were back on the train and heading into border control in China. It was all a bit much for Niall; he had a quick nap while the rest of us queued up.

This is what’s printed on the bags of food at KFC in Dandong.

Hilarious. You can’t fault their honesty…

We had one more night’s sleep on the train getting back into Beijing. Niall had found a couple of bottles of the dreaded snake soju for sale in our hotel and he brought one out to enliven the trip back.

I thought that it couldn’t be as bad as the drink we had with the ancient-looking snake soju in the Juche Tower.

I think it might’ve been worse. Anyway, I downed my capful and refused to drink any more of the stuff. I heard next morning that after we all went to bed, Niall and James went down to the back of the train and were sharing it with the Chinese and North Koreans down there. A great time was had by all, judging from how quiet they were.

But first there was this. Our last night all being together.

We had a very bossy woman in the dining car. When Niall ducked out to the loo she locked the door after him. He was trapped.

While we were getting someone with a key to unlock the door for him, he made a friend.

But the bossy lady had her revenge. A half an hour later, when we wanted to go to bed, the dining car was locked. We couldn’t access the rest of the train to get to our bunks.

Ahh… fun times. We made it back eventually.