Wednesday, March 31, 2010

National Geographic Top 100 Adventure Books

Just stumbled upon this. It’s from a few years back, but it’s pretty timeless. See full list here.
It’s worth saying straight off that it’s focussed on adventure rather than, simply, travel. By adventure they mean exploration or survival, and excluded books that didn't involve “at least a measure of physical risk or audacity”. I would quibble and say that almost any travel writer exposes him/herself to some sort of danger – like crossing a street in Hanoi or entering a bar in Rio! In any case, the likes of Bill Bryson, Pico Iyer, Paul Theroux, Colin Thubron, Bruce Chatwin, Dervla Murphy, Jonathan Raban etc are not included. Still, it’s quite a list. Interestingly, a good third of them are from the 19th Century or earlier, when any travel was an adventure (btw, a book that really should have featured here is George Kennan’s excellent Tent Life in Siberia which I’ve just finshed).

Top of the list is Apsley Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World - his account of Scott's doomed journey to the South Pole. To my surprise, I've only read half a dozen or so from the total.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Our niece, Emily, arrived yesterday to stay for a few days - the first on Liz's side of the family to do so. She's actually visiting her boyfriend in Singapore but has popped up to see us while he's busy at work. Nice to see her. A & N are very happy! They love their cousins and it's one of the drawbacks of being ex-pat that they don't see them as much as they'd like.

Was I close to my cousins at their age? Not especially as we were scattered around the country, although I had (still have!) quite a lot of them. However, I do remember fun times at my grandparents' golden wedding anniversary mucking around in the lift; visits to Llanthony; going to see Leeds United play in Leicester with John; games in the long back garden at Stanton St John near Oxford; a house swap with the Spooners (where I first saw a Tangerine Dream album); and the (at one time) annual Elliott get-togethers when we'd catch up on what we were all doing.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Thai nicknames

Thais have forenames and surnames just like westerners, but the latter weren't really used until the 1920s, and are often very long. A colleague of mine is called Mr Wanichupatumkul. Most people - even adults - refer to each other by their nicknames, many of which are Anglicized. In our office we have a Cherry and an Apple; A Bow and a Boy (Boat left last year); an Ao and an Ai; a Moo (the aforementioned Wanichupatumkul); a Dear; a Night; a Jam and a Joy; a Toy; and a Pop and a Pink. But there are weirder ones out there. Take God for example! By the way, for some reason I was called Yoko by a few friends at primary school. More evidence for my post of 21 March?

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Today was a bit of a right-off. I've got some kind of bug that has laid me low yesterday and today. Stayed indoors all day, read, made a cardboard washing machine with A, slept, made an apple crumble... Was looking forward to watching the new lavish biopic, Confucius, directed by one of China's few female directors, Hu Mei. But the subtitles were complete nonsense. Here's a sample:

- Warlord: Here you rob Ping of the peer to be dead when Aa New this long.
- Confucius: Equivalent to pee state.
- Warlord: A person who loves digital j j and their families.
- Confucius: Because otherwise I am beginning to do your vertical hold.
- Warlord: Is responsible for both New Aa Aa graduate Air commander in Chief.
- Confucius: You're great.

Surreal and amusing for ten minutes or so, but given this was a film about the wise words of a great philosopher, I'm either going to have to brush up my Mandarin or revert to a more reputable DVD retailer.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Top 10 Albums of 1999

And finally, Simon, here’s 1999:

- XTC Apple Venus
- To Rococo Rot The Amateur View
- Pet Shop Boys Nightlife
- David Sylvian Dead Bees on a Cake
- Ryuichi Sakamoto BTTB
- Underworld Beaucoup Fish
- Paul Schutze The Gazing Engine
- Sha’cho Mouse Photo-Synthesizer
- Sigur Ros Agaetis Byrjun
- Moby Play

Apple Venus and Dead Bees will always remind me of Fukuoka where I did a homestay for three weeks on moving to Japan in April, and Moby will always remind me of BBC World News.

Live-wise, I saw Roedelius twice, if you count his short but lovely piano sketch at our wedding in January (truly an honour!), and the second time in Tokyo, the day after I arrived. Japan is a bit of a haven for kraut/prog-rock survivors: later in the year I saw Charles Hayward (ex Quiet Sun & This Heat), Keith & Julie Tippett (ex-Centipede), and Michael Rother & Dieter Moebius (ex-Harmonia), all - separately! - at a tiny venue in the western suburbs called Star Pines Café. Another honour was having dinner with Rother & Mobi afterwards.

Other oddities were Rovo and the fabulous DJ Eye (Eye Yamatska of The Boredoms) at the old Liquid Room in Shinjuku – a deathtrap if ever there was one; some laptop doodling by Carl Stone at the dry but occasionally interesting Inter-Communication Centre (says it all really); Christian Marclay, Keiji Haino & Yoshihide Otomo at a big gallery opening; and the very wonderful Huun Huur Tu throat-singers from Mongolia.

On a more conventional note, Liz and I went to Fuji Rock in the Japan Alps, one of the world’s great festivals, not least because of its setting. Music wasn’t bad either: Underworld, Chemical Brothers, Blur, Tricky, Happy Mondays, Joe Strummer, Boredoms, Femi Kuti etc. And we rounded off the year with Pet Shop Boys back in London at Wembley Arena. Oh yes, and in those post-Walkman and pre-iPod days, I was really into mini-discs. Remember them?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Camping Out

Finally, after much anticipation, A went on her school camping trip last night. Just one night and actually just within the school grounds, but still, she’s been able to think of little else the last fortnight. Off she went in the morning, carrying sleeping bag, mat, toothbrush, PJs and of course Rabbit. They set up the tents in the afternoon, learned about team-working, played games, prepared a barbeque… and then she promptly felt ill with a temperature of 39C. Poor A, she was distraught. The school nurse gave her some Calpol, she rallied a bit, and even managed to join in with Murder Mystery in the dark, but in the end I had to come and take her home at 9pm.

Actually, it wasn’t quite the calamity it sounded. The teachers had by this time decided that it was too hot to sleep in the tents, so all the children slept in the gym. And if I could bring her back by 7 o’clock the next morning she’d join them again for breakfast. So that’s what we did. A got a good night’s sleep at home and didn’t miss too much fun.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Wire

Last night I went through all my backcopies of The Wire. We’re on a bit of a mission to throw out stuff we don’t absolutely need in the run-up to the big move. My collection goes back to 1995 so that’s around 180 copies to sort through. Somewhat incredibly I'd brought them all with me to Bangkok. Of course I can’t just throw them away; I’ve got to cut out the essential, defining articles for re-reading later (but when?), plus all the reviews I've written - although there were less of these than I thought.

Funnily enough, the only full-length feature I ever wrote was a complete one-off on Urban Sax way back in 1983, a year after the magazine was launched and while I was still at univ. Coincidentally, it was the same year that I met the current editor, Chris Bohn, at a party in Notting Hill. At the time he was writing for NME and had just interviewed Let's Dance-era David Bowie (I remember being very impressed by that). After that we'd bump into each other at various gigs throughout the 80s when I was freelancing for Sounds. So we've known each other off and on for 27 years - a high point being a double-concert we co-organized in Tokyo and Osaka featuring Talvin Singh, Philip Jeck, Paul Schutze & Simon Hopkins from UK and Eye Yamatska and Chari Chari from Japan (Talvin's strange behaviour excepted).

Anyway, back to the back-issues. It was interesting revisiting the second half of the 90s. I still listen to a lot of the stuff covered then, compared with the last five years which I’m less interested in. Just received the new issue: good articles on Konono No.1, Edgard Varese and Joanna Newsom (interrogated by the Invisible Jukebox, which I'm glad to say is still going). But most of the rest I’ve never heard of and I doubt I’ll play the free CD. Of course it’s me that’s changed not the magazine. It's still cutting-edge (I think I've blunted), attracts good writers and ploughs its own furrow.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wo xiang yao pijiu

I have some new sounds on my iPod. It’s called "Rapid Chinese" by Earworms – that’s teach yourself Mandarin and not the latest breakbeat or electronica. Although funnily enough, it is set to music. A female teacher and a male student converse over an unobtrusive beat, and words are sometimes looped or echoed to fit in with the rhythm. Sounds a bit mad but actually works quite well. So my 30 minute commute to work is now set to the techno sounds of Wo xiang yao pijiu (I would like a beer), Wo bu mingbai (I don’t understand) and Bu yong xie (You’re welome). Trouble is, I’ve got to say the words and I feel a bit of a berk saying them out loud on the Skytrain to no-one in particular.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

School Newsletter

The latest BSB News is out. Liz has edited this, once a term, almost since we arrived. BSB stands for British School of Bangkok – the posher name of Topsy Turvy where our two charmers go. This issue features a report of a month-long charity motorbike ride around Thailand by the Principal’s two daughters (who are also cover teachers), how the children made Jungle Juice to raise money for the Haiti earthquake appeal, an article on the schools in the rural north that BSB supports, the usual focus on one of the teachers, a report of BSB’s first ever football match against another school (which ended 3:3 but they lost on penalties – why couldn’t they have just settled on a draw?) and some healthy recipes. All good stuff.

I used to edit a footie fanzine, To Feet! To Feet!!, so I know how much work goes into them. Sourcing stories, getting parents to contribute, obtaining photos, designing it all, preparing it for the printer… and then very little feedback once it’s out. It’s a thankless task sometimes. But it’s a good source of info, fosters a community spirit, keeps us in the thick of things (for better or worse!) and is nicely designed. And it keeps up Liz's editing & publishing skills. Who'll do it when we leave?

Monday, March 22, 2010


I love maps. When I was very young I created an imaginary country called Egna and drew various maps of it showing towns, roads, mountain ranges, mineral deposits, you name it (see right). I loved doing map jigsaws, especially the ones which had pieces shaped like countries or states or counties. I got heavily into Ordnance Survey maps, and when we went on camping holidays to France I bought around 20 Michelin maps. My bedroom walls were plastered with posters of Debbie Harry, Roger Dean landscapes and South East Asia. Similarly, the study wall I'm staring at now is taken up with maps of Thailand and Bangkok. I once wanted to be a cartographer or town planner. And of course Geography was my favourite subject, until I went and studied it at university.

Today I bought a map of Beijing and spent an hour or so marking it with where the British Council is, the locations of schools (very spread out) and therefore where our accommodation options are. Instantly the city is starting to make sense.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Japanese gene?

Bit of a hangover this morning but managed to remember Happy Mother's Day A Week Delayed. Presented Liz with coffee in bed, home-made cards, plastic roses and breakfast on the balcony before taking A off to ballet class. I normally take N on saturday mornings so this was the first time I'd seen A's part in La Fille Mal Gardee. She impressed with elegant poise. Back home for lunch and a Wallace & Gromit that we had on DVD but had somehow never seen: A Matter of Loaf and Death. Bad title but story just as good as the others.

Mayumi, Tatsuya and Chihiro came round in the afternoon. We'd only just seen them in Tokyo but they're here for a fortnight during Japanese school holidays to brush up the twins' English at Topsy Turvy. Quite hard for them. I dug out some old Japanese LPs - Kitaro, YMO, Sakamoto, Sab, Akiko Yano, Masami Tsuchiya, Sandii & the Sunsetz. Mayumi knew most of them and was pretty amazed that a gaijin would have such things, especially in their Bangkok home. Interestingly, they're all from way before we lived in Japan. I've clearly got a Japanese gene in me. Or perhaps I was Japanese in a previous life?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

A rare event: we went to a club tonight. It was called Titanium on Sukhumvit Soi 22 and comprised a cramped ground floor, bargirls in Chinese silk dresses, an all-girl band (actually pretty good), lots of ex-pats and an upstairs which had - no, not what you're thinking... - a balcony overlooking the band and a shot bar which was kept at -10C. Surreal. All quite novel for us. Difficult to have a conversation but we enjoyed it. In the taxi home, gone midnight, we passed Thai kids cleaning windscreens or just hanging out on street corners, their parents busy elsewhere trying to earn a crust. A tale of two cities...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Top 10 Albums of 1989

It’s Friday, so trivial nostalgia time, and this week it’s a continuation of Simon’s Year-Ending-In-Nine request spot. So what was I listening to in 1989?

- Julee Cruise Floating into the Night
- The Blue Nile Hats
- Stone Roses Stone Roses
- Jane Siberry Bound by the Beauty
- He Said Take Care
- Madonna Like a Prayer
- XTC Oranges & Lemons
- Pixies Doolittle
- AR Kane i
- The Cure Disintegration

Compared to my 1979 list (22 Feb), this looks almost conventional. Bubbling under are New Order’s Technique, Soul II Soul’s Back to Life, and De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. It was the time of Indie and Acid House (though the latter passed me by), and the beginnings of Ambient House (The Orb’s A Huge, Ever Growing Pulsating Brain ‘single’) and Shoegazing (My Bloody Valentine). There were some fine singles - though not albums - by Kate Bush (The Sensual World), Electronic (Getting Away With It), Wire (Eardrum Buzz) and the last of The Sugarcubes (Regina) before Bjork went solo; even Debbie Harry (Brite Side). But best of all, for me, was Julee Cruise who came out of that whole David Lynch / Angelo Badalamenti / Twin Peaks thing.

Live-wise, I saw a spellbinding Mary Margaret O’Hara before she disappeared off the planet, Dead Can Dance (at University of London Student Union, including a drink with Brendan Perry at the bar beforehand), Elvis Costello (my only time), Pet Shop Boys and The Cure (at Wembley Arena, separately), Debbie Harry (still a siren), Laurie Anderson (in New York, he said, showing nonchalant cool), Swans, Einsturzende Neubaten, Front 242, The Residents (at Sadlers Wells of all places), Lights In A Fat City (at the Scala), Bow Gamelan, and several performances by ‘new music’ friends Graham Fitkin, Laurence Crane and Simon Rackham. Oh yes, and Reading Festival featuring New Order, The Pogues, Sugarcubes, House of Love etc from the vantage point of a tent in an inevitably rain-soaked field.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I am not a lunch-is-for-wimps or sandwich-at-my-desk sort of person. I like to get out, walk around, do something other than work, read the newspaper or a magazine, usually for a full hour, often alone, occasionally with a colleague. Here's where I go:

- Chulalongkorn University refectory. In the airy basement below our office. Rice with a scoop each of meat and vegetables plus a fried egg on top. All for 26 baht (50p) and eaten on long wooden tressle-like tables with students and faculty. Busy, noisy and great if in a hurry.
- Noodle Bar. In a nearby arcade, 5 mins from the office. Zero atmosphere but good Chicken Khao Soi - chicken and noodles in a thick chilli soup. Not recommended when wearing a white shirt.
- Rice. Trendy Japanese cafe serving great rice dishes with unagi (eel) or tonkatsu (pork) plus a good lemon soda.
- Novotel cafe. Good for their tuna focaccia sandwiches with fries and salad. This is the hotel where we put up most of our visitors, so we get a 15% discount on everything.
- Starbucks. I make no apologies for occasionally having a chicken caesar or smoked duck wrap. I like the armchair atmosphere, even the music (currently Bowie, Massive Attack, Bryan Ferry etc).
- Inter. Typical Thai cheapo restaurant, always busy, good for lunching with colleagues. We'd share chicken with cashew nuts, morning glory, chillied prawns, maybe a beef dish and rice all round.
- Loft. Top floor of Central Chidlom department store, convenient if I've got an errand. Ten different food bars themed by country. I usually have tempura udon (Japanese thick noodles with battered prawns) or a soup & samosas.
- Vanilla Brasserie. Very occasionally go here for something more upmarket, sometimes with a guest. Nice French decor and ambience.

Lucky to have such a choice, although I did in London HQ and Tokyo too. Not sure if our Beijing office will be so well provided...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hearing (Return Of)

Mum's got her hearing back, sort of. She phoned at the weekend and this evening after two months of silence. Good to have a conversation at last, although it's still a bit stilted. And thanks to Mary she also had an appointment with the doctor about her ankle which seems to be inflamation of the achilles tendon (which she tore severely 40 years ago doing the foxtrot). Feel a bit guilty sitting here in Bangkok while Andrew and Mary to and fro to Chichester. The flowers we sent for Mothers Day were delivered although because she didn't hear the front door, they were sitting outside for three hours, wilting. Interestingly, Mary phoned the florist to complain and they said they'd send another bunch. Mary's good like that.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Yesterday I read an old Asterix book, Asterix and the Roman Agent. I’ve got them all but they’re in storage in a warehouse in Wembley. The girls had borrowed it from the library. It was as brilliant as I remembered it. Great story (a mischievous Roman civilian sowing dischord in a Gallic village), great characters, wonderful wit (even in translation) and fabulously drawn. Makes me want to read them all again.

Asterix is a year older than I am. To date, 325 million copies of 34 books have been sold worldwide, making co-creators Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo France's bestselling authors abroad. There have also been 11 films and numerous games. But the books are the best. The first one to be published in English was Asterix the Gaul in 1969, which was probably the first one I read. My faves are the ones set abroad: Asterix in Britain, Asterix and the Laurel Wreath (set in Rome), Asterix and the Legionary (set in North Africa) and perhaps Asterix in Spain, though there’s not really a dud amongst them. I’ve just realized I haven’t got the latest, Asterix & Obelix’s Birthday.

The Japanese have manga, the Brits and Americans have comics, but the French and Belgians have made 'bandes dessinees' their own. Their bookshops are full of countless characters. When I lived in France for a year in the early 80s, I got into Gaston and Spirou & Fantasio, but they never made it into translation. Which brings us to the question of Asterix’s only serious competition, Tintin. Who’s better? Answers on a postcard to…

Monday, March 15, 2010

Red Shirts

The Red Shirts are back in town. Some 100,000 of them, mainly from the north and most of them Thaksin supporters. They’re demanding that PM Abhisit steps down and calls for elections on the basis that he was not democratically elected and that their man, Thaksin, was ousted undemocratically in the September 2006 coup – both true. Abhisit and his coalition government are refusing to give in to their demands although accepts that there should be elections in a year or two. So, looks like we’re in for a week of brinkmanship (I love that word).

So far the Reds (or UDD – United front for Democracy against Dictatorship to give them their proper title) have been boisterous but well-behaved, milling around Bangkok in a sort of pre FA Cup Final match atmosphere. Their previous show of force in April last year was uglier: skirmishes with the military and tension with Bangkok citizens resulting in two deaths. Tomorrow they’re threatening to paint the entrance of Government House with their own blood (voluntarily given I might add). Personally, I've not seen anybody on the streets, and life continues as normal. Having said that, David and Henrietta were frisked on their way home on Saturday night; they live 100m from Abhisit's home. Anyway, let’s hope it all ends peaceably…

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Today I am still fortysomething. Just. Last night we had friends round for dinner. A lot of wine was drunk so today has been 'leisurely'. Rather awkwardly it's also Mothers Day. By rights the girls and I should have been pampering Liz but I got all the attention. Breakfast on the balcony. A massacred the grapefruits but the croissants were perfect. A few presents: the girls made me nice cards and gave me chocolate. Liz got me a lovely book on China (I'm really excited about the whole thing now), a very bright Paul Smith tie (which I wouldn't have dreamt of buying myself but actually it's great), and cufflinks (funny, that).

What with a hangover and being Sunday, we all took it easy. Watched three Wallace & Gromit videos, had boiled eggs for lunch, did my photo album, listened to YMO's Live in London and Haruomi Hosono's Love, Peace & Trance, had a delicious ice cream cake (with those candles that stay alight even when you blow them out), Gary and Wolfgang phoned, went for a swim and had dinner at our local Italian. Doesn't feel so bad reaching 49. I'm losing my hair and getting a bit of a belly, but I feel early- rather than late-forties. Next year will be a big one though.

NB: I share my birthday with Albert Einstein, Johann Strauss, Jasper Carrott, Quincy Jones and Nicholas Anelka. Fine company.

Friday, March 12, 2010

B is for...

It's Friday so frivolity time again. Here's my Top 20 groups & solo artists beginning with B...
  • David Bowie
  • The Beatles
  • Bjork
  • Kate Bush
  • The Blue Nile
  • Blancmange
  • Between
  • Blondie
  • Peter Baumann
  • John Barry
  • Biosphere
  • Harold Budd
  • Buffalo Daughter
  • The Black Dog
  • Michael Brook
  • Baked Beans
  • Bark Psychosis
  • Banco da Gaia
  • The Beach Boys
  • Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band

And look who weren't included: Blur, David Byrne, Buzzcocks, Bomb the Bass, Boards of Canada, Broadcast, Benge, Howie B, Martyn Bates, The Birthday Party, Bauhaus, Belle & Sebastian, The Beloved, Buena Vista Social Club, Gavin Bryars, Glenn Branca, David Borden, Bohren & der Club of Gore, The Boredoms, James Brown, Arthur Baker, BEF etc.

Can I really justify the inclusion of The Black Dog over and above James Brown?! Clearly not in the great scheme of things but I still prefer those early 90s examples of electronica to the Godfather of Soul. Is Peter Baumann, with his two great late 70s albums and rubbish early 80s ones, more important than David Byrne? I can't really answer that, except that Romance 76 and Trans Harmonic Nights were important to me at the time and I still play them a lot. More than Byrne. Are Bark Psychosis 'better' than The Birthday Party? Hmmmm... Comments please...

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Today I wore cufflinks. Funny, fiddly things but nice with a suit. These are my fave four. Liz made the two in the middle at her silversmithing class: I wore the design on the right (copper and black resin on a silver base) which she gave me on our wedding anniversary a couple of months ago; the one on the left with the finely coiled silver thread is one of the first pieces she ever made and remains my favourite. The far left 'winks' and occasionally gets comments at meetings. Can't remember where I got that from. The stripey one on the right is a shop-bought present from Liz. Apparently there's a Cufflink Museum in New Hampshire which has 70,000 pairs. Back to buttons tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Hot on the heels of gym is squash. I hadn't played this for years, since schooldays really, until it became apparent that my friend, another David, had a court in his apartment block here in Bangkok. We've been playing every two weeks or so, and it's been a good workout. David edged me 4:3 this evening but I think I'm ahead overall. I used to play a fair bit in my teens and remember quite clearly buying my first raquet, a wooden Sondico for £5.60. Afterwards we walked down Soi 31, past the Prime Minister's house with its half-hearted security cordon, and along to the Robin Hood pub for our usual two pints, fish & chips and a game of pool. Talked half-term holidays, China and i-Phones. Not much different from a night out with a mate in London really.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I try to get to the gym every morning, before breakfast, just for 25-30 mins. It's actually in the building so not as heroic as it might sound, and I still struggle to get up at 6.30am. But it sets me up for the day: 15 mins on the treadmill, 5 mins neck exercises and 5 mins sit-ups. It's my time for planning the day ahead and gets me in a positive mood. It's also a good opportunity to listen to music, mainly rhythmic stuff like Underworld and Speedy J; Oblivion with Bells and G Spot are current faves.

One day I should try to run round Lumphini Park but getting there puts me off. It's an awkward 500m or so along broken pavements, alongside fumey traffic and then across a busy intersection. Once there, it would probably be OK and I might even enjoy it. Marc, a French guy who until recently lived in the apartment below ours, ran there every morning. But he was super-serious, did triathlons and the like. I remember once he hurt his ankle and had to miss out on his morning sessions for a while. He missed it so much that he'd take an alternative route to work just so he could avoid seeing the other joggers. I'm not that keen.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Yesterday we all went to Ayutthaya, 60m miles north of Bangkok. It was the capital from 1350 to 1767 and apparently had a population of around 1m in 1700 (double London’s) before being destroyed by the Burmese. Nowadays it’s a largely anonymous town but with a UNESCO-preserved centre full of ruined temples. We took a coach trip there, stopping off at Bang Pa In summer palace on the way – a lovely though slightly sterile collection of buildings in European & Chinese style.

Once in Ayutthaya we explored one ruined temple, one working temple, and one large reclining Buddha in stifling heat – an appetizer for Gary & Pat who are off to Angkok tomorrow. Perhaps the nicest part, though, was the slow, sedate cruise down the Chao Phrya River back to Bangkok. Buffet lunch then just relaxing, watching life on either bank drift by. Towards the end they played The Three Degrees’ When Will I See You Again on a kind of loop, and Pat and I found ourselves singing along with it. Funny to see A embarrassed by daddy singing a slushy love song.

Finished off the day by watching a DVD of Anna and the King. A real Thai day for once.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Neilson Hays Library

Back in Bangkok. Gary and Pat are visiting and this morning, while Liz takes N to ballet, I take them + A and her friend Marika to Neilson Hays Library in nearby Silom. It’s a wonderful place, built in 1922. Inside and out is pure colonial: old wooden cabinets, mostly with glass doors (which do their best to forestay humidity-induced decay or 'foxing' as Pat expertly says... 'Foxing'...), are packed with interesting English-language titles; fans whir high up in the ceiling; another cabinet houses an old-fashioned card-index system; a small rotunda-shaped gallery displays ceramics by a local artist.

A and Marika read books to each other in the well-stocked children’s section while Gary, Pat and I look at the travel section. Gary half-jokingly suggests I check for books on Siberia. There are two: Dervla Murphy’s Silverland and George Kennan’s Tent Life in Siberia, the latter first published in 1870, republished 1986. I take this out.

But best of all is a book by the French female explorer Alexandra David-Neel, My Journey to Lhasa, written in the twenties and published in 1927, the first edition of which sits here. Amazingly Gary has read it (!), though in a later edition. She sounds an extraordinary character: an anarchist & free-thinker in her teens, lived in a cave in Sikkim for two years, was the first western woman to visit Lhasa, and reached the ripe old age of 100. I love the page stuck in the front with the return-by dates - see pic. It was first borrowed on 30 August 1954 and then another 32 times since. I have to have this too!

Friday, March 5, 2010


Last day of Connected. Great panel discussion with Duncan Speakman, Matt Adams, Tassos Stevens, and three Japanese artists. More and more impressed with Duncan's work. Emmanuelle de Montgazon (ex-French Cultural Attache to Japan, now curator, married to Ryoji Ikeda, and one-time neighbours of ours) popped by but I missed her. Tim Crouch gave a sterling performance of My Arm. Melanie Wilson's Simple Girl a bit underwhelming though I really wanted to like it. And then closing party + skype chat with Battersea Arts Centre down in Ebisu which was a nice way to end the week, Manami saying a few words (right). It's 2:15am. I'm knackered, pleased it all went well, have eaten badly, haven't exercised in a week, looking forward to getting home, and doing non-BC stuff. But first, some sleep.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Footwashing and More

More interactive fun & games in downtown Ikebukuro... First off, I took my boss Christopher to have his feet washed, oiled & kissed by Adrian Howells, as you do. We would also film it. He was a little nervous but got into the spirit. I'd had the pleasure six months ago at the Edinburgh Festival so I know it's quite an intense, private act. Turned out that Christopher cried during part of it, which meant that my boss is human after all.

After that was Billy Cowie's In the Flesh 3D video installation of dancers, one screened on the ceiling, the other on the floor, both mesmerising (see photo - which of course in 2D doesn't do it justice). Then a networking lunch; a presentation by Stan's Cafe; a seminar on Cities and Art with Jude Kelly, Andy Field and three Japanese speakers; and various stuff inbetween. Must make sure all the delegates are talking to the artists and not sneaking off.

In the evening most people did the Subtlemob and Live Art Speed Dating but having already done those, I went to see a dance event featuring Karttunen Kollektiv from Finland which was OK, and Nan Jombang Dance Company from Indonesia which was excellent. The five dancers - one guy, four girls, all siblings - performed a lithe, traditional-meets-contemporary work set in what seemed to be a sparse kitchen and also using a table, plates, and their own skirts as percussion. The choreography is by their father Ery Mefri. Check them out on YouTube here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More Connected Goings-on in Tokyo

Goodbye panel discussions, hello art. Today I took part in three 'happenings'. Tassos Stevens started off giving a presentation about Coney but left after ten minutes saying that he had to make an urgent call, leaving us and the interpreter in a room wondering what to do. Meanwhile his still-running powerpoint dissolved into unintelligible anecdotes and finally a blank slide. Then a phone on the wall rang. The interpreter (who was not in on the joke) picked it up and was asked to convey instructions to us. It turned out that we needed to answer some riddles, some of which were about rabbits, by making our way in groups of five to Ikebukuro JR Station. It was fun and got us all interacting.

The second event was Duncan Speakman's Subtlemob: As If It Were The Last Time which involved people, in couples, walking slowly or just standing in a busy nearby street while listening to a 30-minute narrative on an MP3 player. The general public were unaware of what was going on while we acted out a subtle, yet emotional silent 'play'. That is until the finale when the narrator asked us to dance with our partner through the street. The sight of 20 couples slowly & silently dancing in a busy street while pedestrians flowed round us was both strange and moving.

The third event was Live Art Speed Dating by the wonderfully named Stoke Newington International Airport, at Super Deluxe in Roppongi. It was whacky and fun. I had 'dates' with a short, somewhat stout Okinawan dancer, another young woman covered in barcodes which I could scan to play music, and, weirdest of all actually, a guy who did reiki therapy on my head and neck. His hands barely touched me yet weirdly when he'd finished I couldn't move my head! The sensation wore off after a minute or two but it was the strangest thing.

The evening was made even more enjoyable by meeting up with some friends: Morgan, Suzannah, Michael from Namaiki, and two Japanese girls who seemed to know me quite well but I'd completely forgotten who they were. A strange day by any stretch of the imagination.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The world's longest escalator?

Day 1 of Tokyo Performing Arts Market and our Connected mini-showcase. The venue for much of it, Metropolitan Art Space, is conveniently next door to our hotel. It is, to be honest, a huge and rather non-descript slab of concrete with an over-designed front of glass & steel, built in the late 80s when money was no object. A tremendously long escalator is suspended in the cavernous atrium which takes people from ground to 5th floor in one go. I half expect the pearly gates at the top. We register and filter down clinical corridors into a soulless meeting room for a kick-off seminar on the state of Japan's performing arts scene. So far so bland.

But it's the people that make these things tick. After lunch we run a briefing for the artists and delegates and get them to write out their aspirations on post-its which we stick on the walls. Then there's the official opening reception with, amazingly, only one speech. We film and interview people and then most of our crowd head off to a show across town. I stay to see a concert by Yasuaki Shimizu (sax) and Keiichiro Shuibuya (piano). It's good to see Yasuaki and Lisa afterwards, and I also bump into magazine editor Masa Sugatsuke and others from my previous life here. I should also say that the auditorium is very nice.

It's still only 9.30pm so, on a whim, I take the Yamanote line to Shinjuku and indulge myself for an hour in Tower Records which I know will still be open. Wonderful to browse through racks and racks of CDs, all beautifully over-packaged and overpriced. I limit myself to Haruomi Hosono's Love, Peace & Trance from 1994 and a YMO double live CD, recorded in London a couple of years ago. Bit predictable but it seemed appropriate.