Captain Moonlight's Notebook: Aching-Bones refuses to be laid to rest

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DEAR old Sir David Akers-Jones appeared again in the papers last week, lured to Peking's side in the Chinese government's dispute with Chris Patten over democracy in Hong Kong. He has always known what's best for the people of the colony.

When I was in Hong Kong we knew him as Aching-Bones, an enormously self-regarding Chief Secretary and acting Governor who was rather miffed that he was never chosen to wear the Governor's plumed helmet. Retreads, we used to call these former colonial office officials who came to Hong Kong in the late 1950s and early 1960s from newly-independent imperial outposts.

He did well, spoke Cantonese like a mother tongue, impressed his audience by reading his speeches from characters written on notepaper, and became a mediator for the clan leaders of the New Territories when the economic boom hit Hong Kong in the 1960s. The New Territories, that once rural part of the colony that was leased from China, was his special love and where he lives now. He had never wanted to return to live in Britain; a pity really, as the ordering-home policy of former times was designed to prevent retired officials like him from interfering in matters that had passed them by.

Captain Moonlight last saw Aching-Bones a few years ago outside the Xinhua news agency office in Happy Valley when Zhou Nan, Peking's envoy to the colony, addressed a gathering of local notables on his appointment.

The speech, which ignored the people of Hong Kong, emphasised that Peking would only deal with London on the colony's future, and sent shivers down many spines. It didn't bother Sir David, though, who discussed with my companion his good luck in finding a second-hand Jaguar limousine to carry him about the colony in his new position as Chairman of the Hong Kong Housing Authority. The government car, a lowly saloon, would not do. It was all a question of 'face'.