Claire Elliott is a lifelong Wolves fanatic watching the team in China with her husband Greg. WolvesBite.com editor Tim Nash has known her for many years and once smuggled her into the press box at Millwall to give a fan’s eye view for the Express & Star. Here’s her thoughts on the historic trip.
So an early rise and we look out of our 12th floor hotel room to see it’s already busy on the roads outside. Our guide, Joe is picking us up at 6pm and we are skimming Tiananmen Square before heading to the Great Wall and Summer Palace.
I’ve received some bad news from back home. The bloods I had taken the day I flew show my potassium is dangerously low. It’s a side effect I’ve had a few times since chemotherapy. They want me to go in for an infusion. A quick exchange of emails and I’m not going to A&E like they want but taking rehydration sachets to top up lost salts and eating bananas and nuts! This may seem a bit blasé to some people, but I’m very much trying to control my disease rather than the other way around.
About 20 months ago I formally submitted a ‘do not resuscitate’ form. My view is that if I was to die peacefully and swiftly – if prematurely – it would be better than a lingering death from cancer. It’s hard on Greg, but being open about my condition has made it easier for him as well.
In January last year I planned my funeral at St Peters Church in Wolverhampton. The vicar taking my service is the Wolves chaplain, Rev. David Wright. A lovely man, he used to be a barrister. Our chats have taken a broad plethora of topics. The hymns are planned as well as the pieces of music.
I wish to arrive to Aïda Act 2 Marcia Trionfale – you will know it when you hear it – and one of the pieces of music will be ‘Those Were The Days,’ by Mary Hopkins. Synonymous with Wolves, the words really could have been written about Wolves fans getting older and reminiscing.
My wake then is to be at Sir Jack’s and my burial at the Natural Burial Ground on the Wrottesley Estate, near Pattingham. I’m to be conveyed in a Nissan Leaf which is eco-friendly. As someone who is very green thinking and environmentally conscious, I try to be as climate aware as I can. Cremation is not very eco-friendly, so it’s a burial for me in a bio-degradable coffin and shroud.
You might wonder why I have gone to all the length of planning my funeral. We joke that as a builder, Greg would bury me in a skip, but truly it helps knowing my wishes are being heard and has given us the ability to put it behind us, knowing everything is planned, enabling me to fight some more for as long as possible.
So, back to Tiananmen Square. Our guide, Joe tells us 80,000 permits are issued a day. Then no more. Sometimes these have run out by lunchtime. It’s especially busy at weekends, in July and national holidays.
As a foreigner we have to carry our passports with us into the square. We take a look at the huge queue of people (with parasols) and decide we don’t need to go in it. We can see it from this side! Being aware of my ill health and the need to relax as much as possible, we take some photos and it’s off to the Great Wall of China.
Joe is our tour guide and he’s really interesting. We talk about the one-child rule (you can have two if you pay an extra 30,000RMB (about £3,500). We have twins and ask about this – apparently you are viewed as blessed if you have twins and there’s no extra charge. People in remote areas are encouraged to have two children (especially farmers) and Joe thinks that the government will stop the one-child policy soon.
We discuss drink driving, the death penalty and drug use. It’s so interesting to hear about how law and order is viewed over here. Criminals are shunned and can be banned from living in the same region again. It’s fascinating. If you drink-drive and kill someone, you face the death penalty. There’s little crime here. Harsh punishments seem to work.
There are cars everywhere. We broach pollution and climate change. China is very dependent on coal. Because it’s cheap and reliable. But polluting. Solar energy (which they clearly could benefit from) is seen as unreliable. Most people here live in apartments. Huge, high rise apartments. They loom out at you everywhere. Only rich people live in houses, due to the prohibitive cost.
Joe’s son Brian is at school. It’s encouraged that he goes to university. University places are very hard fought for. Brian is doing really well and is at a flute lesson this morning as all the schools are on holiday. English is learnt at the schools from a very early age.
After about 90 minutes we arrive at the Great Wall. We are accessing the Mutianyu part of it. It’s a cable car access and minimal walking for me. Joe has worked wonders. He knows I’m ill. He’s got us VIP access and we whizz past people already climbing the incline towards the cafe and ticket sales.
Since the chemotherapy I’ve been unable to feel my feet properly as the treatment destroyed the nerves in my feet, so steps and uneven ground are a nightmare for me. I’ve fallen a few times and I’m awaiting the results of an MRI I had the morning we flew out. I have been limping since a dog pulled me while out walking and I twisted my knee.
A few steps and we are on the ski-lift style cable cars to the first rung of the Great Wall. There’s a little rest area, before you can walk maybe a couple of hundred steps to the Tower. In this heat, it’s too much for me. We’ve brought our friend’s book with us and have strategically photographed it at a few places, so Greg and Joe take it up with them whilst I admire the view. Amazingly, this Wall was built less than 400 years ago, but the sheer task of getting all these blocks up here in such heat is no mean feat.
The book – if you are interested – is called Wolves, Battles, Bakes by Simon Rickards and it’s available from Amazon. It’s a great read about a friend of ours who suffers with an eating and mental health disorder and how he bakes to cope with it while being a Wolves fan based in Gloucestershire. It’s a great read with some lush recipes.
Anyone who knows me will be aware of what an animal lover I am, so it’s no surprise that the two dogs who are somehow up at this resting point seek me out. I share my water with them and take in the view. We are VERY high up.
Although we like to travel and see some of the sights, we don’t feel we have to see everything on a trip. We tell Joe I’m feeling a little unwell and head back to the hotel. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Whilst I wanted to see the Summer Palace and Maos tomb, we’ve come for the football.
A quick shower and we are off to the Forbidden City. A swift look around and it’s a cab to meet our friend Bish for a beer or two (them, not me, I’m teetotal) and a bite to eat. Finding Bish proves problematic. He’s gone to a trendy pub and our cabbie can’t find it. He tells us to get out of the cab via a Chinese/English translating app. We’re a little bit shocked but refuse and get him to take us to the nearest metro station.
After an hour (Bish has no local sim card, he is charging his phone behind the bar and is relying on wifi, plus he’s had a few to drink already) we meet up with him at McDonalds and are able to find a little bar which serves food. He hadn’t found the trendy pub himself! It’s in a back street hutong (alley.) Its so good to see him and we natter about all things Wolves. Bish is a fanatical Wolves can who, like us, also watches Glasgow Rangers and England. He was as shocked at Laurie’s departure as we were.
I have the local dish Mapo Tofu (with no meat!) and rice while the others have meatballs and ribs. The beers are cheap and good. The locals seem amused to see us in here. Our meals, with beers are less than £12! It’s now 1am and we have to be up at 5am for our train to Xi’an. Bish has checked in to our hotel so it’s a cab back which again is only about £3 each.
A few hours’ sleep then before a daunting trip to Beijing West – the biggest railway station in Asia apparently! The things we do for the love of our football club.