Monday, July 30, 2012

Tropical Islands

This evening said goodbyes to neighbours Yuri & June and their children Greta & Otto (not forgetting their dog, Emily) as they embark on a new life in Singapore. We will miss them.
And while on the subject of tropical islands, I watched Tabu, a rather obscure film from 1931, set in Tahiti. It was conceived by F W Murnau (Nosferatu, Faust, Sunrise etc) and Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North, Moana etc - see this post) but they fell out and in the end Murnau directed it all, using mostly non-actors and non-professional crew. It has an innocent, doomed charm about it. And talking of doomed, Murnau died in a car accident the week before its premiere. It flopped.   

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Einstein A Go-Go

Another slightly bleary day given last night's excesses, but Markus and I managed a stroll in the park and a couple of rides - something called Splash Mountain and a zoom around on a Segway. Great little things and actually fairly easy to get the hang of. I've always been envious of the Beijing Airport security guys as they whip around Departures.
Talking of which, Markus left in the afternoon for Shanghai which left me with the big job of catching up with photo albums. I'm six months behind and am beginning to wonder whether it's worth it. Needed a good three hours to at least get going on it, so decided to listen to the whole of Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach from start to finish. I've probably only done that once before (when I bought it, 30 years ago) and will probably never do it again. Certainly not when the family's around... That said, it remains surprisingly exhilarating.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The World of Suzie Wong

Somehow, four hours sleep was enough. Lovely day, so Markus and I spent a chilled afternoon in 798 (which included a rare duff exhibition at UCCA), a visit to Bookworm, drinks in Sanlitun Village, and then on to The World of Suzie Wong. 
I'm not one for clubs these days but the name was enough to tempt me, having read the book and seen the film years ago (though not the play - and there was even a ballet), and it's practically next door to where we live so no excuses.
There are a few things that put me off clubbing. First, I'm getting a bit old for it, and there's nothing worse than a middle-aged ex-pat oggling the young, beautiful people (who seemed to be a mix of Chinese and willowy Russian models). I'm also not that keen on the music which seems to still be predominantly techno or house and too loud. And of course there's the overpriced drinks. Thankfully Wong's wasn't too bad on all these counts. We didn't look too out of place, the music was OK and we could actually have a conversation. My mate Youdai was DJ-ing unbeknownst to me and he came up to congratulate me on the London Opening Ceremony, which was nice of him though I can't really claim credit for it. And we befriended another (Brit) DJ, so yes, it was a good night. Perhaps I'm not too old for it after all?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Isles of Wonder

Well, it was fantastic. 
It was also funny, overblown, touching, confused, subversive, exhilarating, irreverent, cool and very very creative. It was bonkers. And somehow, amazingly given the scale of it all, it managed to be human.
It ticked all the boxes but in a very natural, uncynical way. It presented Britain as youthful and multicultural. It celebrated the commoner. Yes, the Queen was there to open it, but she also jumped out of a helicopter with Bond. That was inspired. Which other global head of state would agree to something like that. Hats off to you Ma'am. It featured all the right people: from celebs to volunteers. It was a laugh (Bean), it was poignant (Ali). The music was good - as it should have been (we could hardly get that wrong) and the grassy Glastonbury Tor was genius. It managed to integrate the Olympic bits seamlessly and tastefully: the speeches on the hill, the lighting of the flame, the parade of the athletes (and one Indian student)... One could quibble about bits of it - the parochial Eastenders and something about a lost mobile phone for example - but overall it was an absolute triumph.
It's funny, what Danny Boyle did was essentially the same as what I'm trying to do day-in day-out at the British Council. I thought with UK Now in China we were really upping the ante, but Boyle managed to condense into four hours what UK Now is attempting to do in eight months and I have been trying to do in a career: project a positive, creative image of Britain to the world. I feel like (happily) throwing in the towel!  But he did have £27 million to play with.
I must say, it did make me proud, I did have a tear or two in my eye, and as I switched the telly off at 8am China time, I wondered what Mum would have made of it all...

The Other Stadium

with Mike Summerbee
Before all the excitement at London's Olympic stadium, I paid my first visit to the Bird's Nest... strangely enough to see two Premier League teams, Man City and Arsenal, vie for something called the Winoly Cup: a pre-season exhibition match which would have cost Winoly a small fortune. 
Nice stadium, and very exciting to see our short video about UK Now (plus another on  the Olympics and a video message from the Ambassador) up on the giant screen before the match. Another minor thrill was meeting Mike Summerbee who played for City in their former glory years of the late 60s/early 70s. 
And the match itself? A game of two halves: two goals in the first, torrential rain in the second... it remained 2:0 the City. Any other day this would have been the highlight, but the real action was about to take place in the other stadium.   

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Awkward Auction

I went to a black tie dinner tonight, except it wasn't black tie and there was no dinner. It was a sort of charity auction in connection with the upcoming Arsenal v Man City game. Arsene Wenger and Roberto Mancini turned up halfway through, bringing with them a few players, two of whom did some live scribbling which went for £3,000. There were the inevitable signed shirts & footballs, a replica Princess Di handbag, a VIP box at the Bird's Nest etc, and we contributed a set of the London Olympics posters by some real artists which went for £1,500. 
Anyway, the invitation said 'black tie & gowns' so I duly donned a DJ and dicky-bird, only to find out that no-one else had. Well, not quite true - one other guy did. He came up to me halfway through and we commiserated with each other. 
Dinner turned out to be a few canapes, nibbled in armchairs while we watched the proceedings, which also included a song by a small throng of smiling children and a weepy video of some unsmiling orphans. All very weird. However, I did get to meet referee Howard Webb, famous for issuing 14 yellow cards and one red in the 2010 World Cup Final. Nice guy. He introduced me - if I got this right - to his manager and assistant. Since when did referees have managers and assistants?
I got home and had baked beans on toast.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fave films of the 70s

Bit of a gap since the last installment, but here's a fave list from my first real decade of movie-watching, which would have been at The Granada in Chichester, forays with my older siblings to cinemas in London, and finally graduating to the Duke of Yorks in Brighton and the holy grail of independent cinema, The Scala in London. But if I'm honest, many of these would have been after the event, on VHS or DVD.  
Let's get the big Hollywoods over with first: Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, Saturday Night Fever, The Deer Hunter, Grease, Alien, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I & II, Towering Inferno, and I suppose I'd have to include the overrated Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The 70s also introduced some of the greatest cop/crime/mafia movies: Mean Streets, Serpico, Shaft, Chinatown, The French Connection, Dirty Harry, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three... And some great comedies: all of Mel Brooks' 70s output: Blazing Saddles, Silent Movie, Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety...; Woody Allen's 'early funny films': Bananas, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), Sleeper, Play it Again Sam, Love and Death, Annie Hall and Manhattan; Steve Martin's debut The Jerk; National Lampon's Animal House...
And there was plenty more besides: M*A*S*H, Woodstock, Spielberg's debut Duel, Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man, Papillon, Marathon Man and Kramer vs Kramer; Klute, Network, The Last Picture Show (which felt like a 50s film), Cabaret, The Sting, Being There, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and - getting edgier - Play Misty for Me, Taxi Driver, The Exorcist, Straw Dogs...
On the cuddlier side, Disney limped through the 70s with The Aristocats, Robin Hood and The Rescuers. And on the weirder side there were animated versions of The Lord of the Rings and Watership Down.

It was a reasonable decade for Brit films, aesthetically if not commercially. The grim Get Carter and grimmer A Clockwork Orange (which of course I didn't see at the time - you couldn't); Nic Roeg's Performance, Don't Look Now, Walkabout and The Man Who Fell to Earth; The Wicker Man, That'll be the Day, Ryan's Daughter, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Monty Python & the Holy Grail & The Life of Brian, Midnight Express... And then there was Bond, James Bond, which saw Sean Connery (Diamonds are Forever) give way to Roger Moore (Live & Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy who Loved Me and Moonraker), all of which are guilty pleasures.

But it was German films - alongside Krautrock and the Bundesliga - that took my interest. It was probably Herzog's Aguirre, Wrath of God (soundtracked of course by Popol Vuh) that started it, quickly followed by Nosferatu, Stroszek  and Woyzeck before backtracking to The Enigma of Kasper Hauser and the very early, very weird Even Dwarves Started Small. Oddly, even though it's one of my fave Popol Vuh soundtracks, I didn't see Heart of Glass until much later, and it was only very recently that I watched Fata Morgana for the first time (which I didn't like). And then there was Fassbinder's Fear Eats the Soul (which made a big impression on me), Effi Briest, Chinese Roulette and The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (all of which I would have seen on late night TV), and The Marriage of Maria Braun and Berlin Alexanderplatz which I think I saw at the cinema. And then I think there were three Wim Wenders' films in the 70s: The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty, Alice in the Cities and Kings of the Road. Oh, and Schlondorff's The Tin Drum.
French cinema in the 70s rather passed me by, but I remember seeing Truffaut's The Story of Adele H (Isabelle Adjani's debut), L'Enfant Sauvage, The Man Who Loved Women and Day for Night; also I particularly liked Tacchella's Cousin Cousine (probably because of Marie-France Pisier) and Marcel Ophul's 4.5hr marathon, The Sorrow and the Pity.
Other European, Australian and Etceteras would have to include Bunuel's last decade of film-making: Tristana, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Phantom of Liberty and That Obscure Object of Desire; Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive, Fellini's Roma and Amarcord, Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo, Tarkovsky's Solaris and Stalker, Dario Argento's Suspiria; The Tree of Wooden Clogs, Polanski's The Tenant & Tess, Bergman's Autumn Sonata, Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dynamite. Further afield, I'd have to include Ozzy films Picnic at Hanging Rock and Mad Max; Kurosawa's Derzu Uzala (set in Siberia), Oshima's Ai No Corrida (which I remember watching at The Everyman in Hampstead), the silly but influential Enter the Dragon...
And last but not least, major mentions must be made of the weird & wonderful: Lynch's Eraserhead (a major influence); lo-budget slashers: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which I watched for the first and only time with members of Throbbing Gristle!) and George Romero's Dawn of the Dead; the first X-rated animation: Fritz the Cat; sleazy sexploitation: Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; just plain trashy: Divine in Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble; soft-core: Emmanuelle, The Story of O and other European fare masquerading as art-house; and of course I never watched Deep Throat
It's really difficult to list a Top 15. I could go for the ones that influenced me at the time, or that I rediscovered a lot later, or withstand repeated viewings, but anyway, then here goes:

- Blazing Saddles
- Young Frankenstein

- Fear Eats the Soul
- Eraserhead
- Nosferatu
- The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
- The Life of Brian
- Stalker
- The Man with the Golden Gun
- Annie Hall
- Alien
- Day for Night
- The Whicker Man
- The Godfather
- The French Connection

Monday, July 23, 2012

Trying to like Spike

This evening I watched a Best of Spike Milligan - "arguably the greatest comedian to have emerged in post-war Britain" it says here. Try as I might, I just don't find him funny. At all. It's a bit of a mystery. Everyone reveres the guy and I just don't get it. (In the same way that I don't get Billy Connelly). The way he 'unwittingly' laughs at his own jokes, the mild sexism (not as bad as Bennie Hill), even a bit of racism (though not as bad as Bernard Manning), but mostly because I just don't find him funny. So I bought a DVD at Heathrow last week and watched it all the way through in the 'hope' that I'd finally twig. I didn't. Actually, there was one thing he said about Harry Secombe which I liked: "I'm glad he died before me, because I didn't want him to sing at my funeral".

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Confucius and Dance

Incredible contrast with yesterday: a lovely sunny, blue sky day. So made the most of it and got on my bike to explore Beijing, which included a visit to the Confucius Temple, which was beautiful, tranquil... and a little bit boring. Chinese temples - Buddhist, Taoist or Confucian alike - are all well and good but I find them rather regimented, grid-like, with not a lot in them. Is it that we westerners are so used to cathedrals & churches being more like castles, palaces, stately homes... indeed museums - full of educational 'stuff'? 
Chinese temples are also 'visitor destinations' but seem more like places to simply 'be' rather than to interact with any content. Whatever, it was a pleasant, quiet hour.

In the evening I attended the opening night of Beijing Dance Festival featuring Janis Claxton Dance Company and Willy Tsao's LTDX. Janis has been coming to China regularly following a BC grant and tonight was the culmination of a 3-month collaboration called Songs: three pieces set to the music of Gorecki. It was very good, and interesting to compare the two sets of dancers: the gamin-like Chinese female dancers contrasted with the more muscly Brits, and more subtle differences like technique, movement and feeling. Did this have anything to with Confucius? Probably not.   

Saturday, July 21, 2012

And the Heavens Opened...

If I thought we'd had our fair share of rain in Britain, it was nothing to what fell on Beijing today: 170mm on average (and with one district, Fangshan, a colossal 460mm). It was positively - or negatively - biblical:12 hours solid, heaviest in 60 years, 37 people dead, 25 from drowning.And it wasn't just the rain either: the wind was something else - see pic. 
I stayed in and pottered, watched a film or two, wrote, listened to lots of music, read, went to the gym, had a swim... but all fairly joylessly. Missing the family. But count myself lucky...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Can the Can

Can's The Lost Tapes arrived in the bag today, a gorgeous 3CD + booklet in a 10" box, the type you'd see in old recording studios containing reel-to-reel tapes, exactly the sort of tapes that lay ignored in a cupboard in Can's Inner Space studios for 40 years. They cover 1968-77, pretty much Can's career (if you ignore the one-off album get-together in 1989), with a heavy emphasis on the early stuff. There are some great tracks and some not so great tracks but overall it hangs together very well. 
The best for me are those with Mooney, particularly Waiting for the Street Car which involves him, as usual, reciting the title over & over for 10 minutes against a hypnotic Can groove (it probably went on for an hour or more originally); he does the same with Deadly Doris. I'm less keen on the drifty mid-70s stuff.

Full marks to Irmin Schmidt and Jono Podmore for what must have been a mammoth job of sifting through 50 hours of stuff, choosing, editing and cleaning everything up. 
I never saw Can live and only ever met one of them, Irmin Schmidt, in 1982. I did a radio show interview with him with a friend Francois Grapard, funnily enough in recently visited Aix-en-Provence. He's lived in a nearby village for over 30 years. I still have a photo of the event.
I got so lost in listening that almost forgot about a gig tonight, so jumped on my bike to arrive halfway through an open-air set by Hanggai who play Mongolian-influenced world/folk or whatever you want to call it. A sort of cross between Huun-Huur-Tu (who specialise in Mongolian throat-singing but are actually Russian) and The Pogues?  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gold and Porcelain

This morning I attended the opening of a photography exhibition, Glory & Dream [sic], at the National Museum. It was of Chinese Olympic Gold Medallists, a stark B&W portrait of each and every one. There were a lot of course, but it surprised me to learn that all the athletes are still alive... until I remembered that China is a relative newcomer to the Games - their first was in 1980. 
Anyway, they were all taken by one guy, the very amiable Pang Xiaowei. He started searching them out six years ago and has now ticked them all off. Of course, the question is: will he continue the project? His response when I asked him was a cross between a laugh and a sigh. Given that China will probably win a treasure trove of Golds in London he might wish he'd never started it. It was funny: I was the only foreigner present, invited because of the London Olympics.
While in the Museum, I saw the British Museum / V&A's Passion for Porcelain exhibition which tells the story of Europe's fascination with, and import and later copying of, Chinese ceramics over the past several hundred years. Really interesting story, nicely laid out, a healthy number of visitors, and with a seriously big & impressive catalogue to boot. Here's a porcelain swan-shaped soup tureen made in England in around 1755. The top lifts off by grabbing, carefully, the bird's neck. 

Monday, July 16, 2012


Sad farewells to Liz and the girls, then off back to Beijing. It's been a nice nearly 4 weeks together, never mind the weather. The next 4 will be hard.
Surprisingly rubbish selection of in-flight films for once but enjoyed a three-and-a-quarter hour documentary about Woody Allen. It occurs to me that I've probably seen more films by him than anyone else. Great writer, decent director, OK actor (well, he just plays himself doesn't he?) and of course - re the Soon Yi thing - a deeply flawed human being. My Top 10 Woody films would have to be (1) Annie Hall, (2) Hannah and Her Sisters, (3) Manhattan, (4) The Purple Rose of Cairo, (5) Radio Days, (6) Crimes and Misdemeanours, (7) Midnight in Paris, (8) Vicky Cristina Barcelona, (9) Husbands and Wives, and (10) Bullets Over Broadway. Oddly, the 'early funny ones' don't figure. I like them but they're just a bit too slapstick. 
The usual: dump stuff at home, shower and into work at lunchtime; the usual rather removed, jetlaggy feeling.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Torch, Theatre and Tiddlywinks

So, yesterday we left Chichester feeling quite optimistic about coming back at some point. Tomorrow is Chichester's turn to host the Olympic torch relay - and the forecast is rain. It will finish up at the Festival Theatre... which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, with the usual impressive season. Nice mix of serious & light: Derek Jacobi in Shaw's Heartbreak House, Jonathan Kent directing Private Lives, Kim Cattrall in Antony & Cleopatra, some new plays presented in a temporary structure outside, Kiss Me Kate directed by Trevor Nunn etc. Laurence Olivier was the Theatre's first Artistic Director in 1962 and also starred in its first production, Uncle Vanya in 1962.
But today has been vegging with Nick & Mary in Beaconsfield, including some surprisingly good games of Tiddlywinks.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Laying Mum to Rest

Today we finished off what mum's funeral 7 months ago hadn't quite finished. We laid her to rest in the South Downs she loved. Rather than scatter her ashes randomly to the winds, we had selected the beautiful little graveyard of St Andrew's Church in the hamlet of West Stoke, near Kingley Vale and its fine old Yew forest where we used to go walking, Lavant House School where she once taught, and the lanes where we often cycled and picked blackberries. 
It was kind of unofficial - the church is CofE, mum was RC - but the priest, Father Charles, who had a naval background and looked like Cap'n Birdseye, agreed to the digging of a small hole a few paces from the church's Saxon walls. It had been raining all morning, and we'd had to negotiate flooded roads on the way, but as the little ceremony began the rain stopped. We gathered together around the hole, the priest said a few words, Andrew too, then we tipped mum's ashes into the hole. Alyssa & Naomi placed two posies of flowers from mum's garden on either side and then a very lovely thing happened: a butterfly came from nowhere and settled on one and then the other. I've got to say, I was quite choked...
Here's what Andrew said:
Here we are, probably for the last time, all together, to say goodbye to Mum.
This is where Mum wanted to be, with a view of her beloved South Downs and Chichester which she made the family home for 55 years and many more to come when David, Liz and family move in.
Mum had little to play with, especially after Dad died, but managed to create an environment which enabled us all to make the best of our talents. She was always positive with her encouragement, advice and assistance in enabling us to plan our futures.
We have all been lucky to have a Mum who has taken a keen interest in our partners and offspring, always remembering the correct names even if Tigger did feature quite strongly at times.
Thank you to Father Charles who has kindly allowed a Roman Catholic to share this consecrated ground and give Mum her desired resting place.
We then drove to The Royal Oak near Chilgrove in the Downs, for a pub lunch before going back to Mum's house for a final pack & tidy. It was strange leaving the house, now looking clean, empty, neutral & almost modern, but still very much Mum's, for what will probably be quite some time. But good to know that we will be back...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Man with Van, Bishop, Mammoth

Our last full day in Chichester - and the busiest. Man with a van (a very big van) came round to empty the garage and take everything away, including Mum's beloved armchair which we couldn't find a home for. That took half the day. We then paid a visit to Bishop Luffa School which, as the crow flies, is 520 metres away, but does not guarantee Alyssa a place should we end up back in Chichester next summer. The array of criteria for admissions to any school these days is bewildering. Anyway, it's a decent school, though it could do with a lick of paint. 
A final meeting with the letting agents, more cleaning (including a concerted effort on the conservatory) and then a break to take the girls to see Ice Age 4. I quite like the first three, not in the same league as Toy Story or Shrek, but quite funny. But this was crap. They've just completely run out of ideas. Extinction beckons.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

What have the Romans ever done for us?

While popping into the library, I discovered that, directly opposite, Chichester's new museum about itself, The Novium, is now open. In fact it opened just last weekend. It replaces a tiddly little place which attracted very few visitors over the course of 50 years. I think I went there just the once and have vague memories of flints and amulets in dusty display cases and a few faded photographs of mosaics. The new, impressively designed museum has been built on top of what used to be Roman baths (Novium is from Noviomagus Reginorum, the Roman name for Chichester). I hope it doesn't overdo the Roman stuff, as there's plenty of that in the much bigger, more established Fishbourne Roman Palace a mile or so down the road. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to check whether that was the case.
In the evening we met up with Iain & Shona and Sonny & Biba (Barney was on a school trip) at Pizza Express. Iain works for publishers Wiley whose UK HQ has, somewhat unfeasibly, been in Chichester for the past 40 years, but they live in Brighton. Good of Shona to drive all the way over and v nice to see them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tea with the Brewsters

More clearing and admin, but found time to see Lucy & Iain & family. It's funny, we see them twice a year - in Bangkok (where they're based) and Chichester (where Lucy's parents still live) - which is more than we can say for some friends who live in the same city as us!  Nice to see them all, despite not being able to be in the garden (rain, rain, rain, rain, rain... it has done so everyday since we've been in Britain) and the mixture of chaos & minimalism of indoors.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Books, Books, Books

Amongst all the tidying, chucking out, cleaning, phoning charity shops, talking to the letting agent, contacting the gardener, getting the gas switched back on, and so on... I spent ages going through Mum's books. Hundreds of them, and all good stuff - mostly history of art and biography hardbacks, not so much fiction. She was very intreated in diaries (though sadly never kept one herself), particularly by women from the mid-20th Century, and many of the biographies were of women through the ages: wives or mistresses of kings, novelists (she loved Jane Austen), all sorts. 
It was such good quality and in such good condition that I quite wanted to keep 90% of it, but would I really get round to reading them all? Where would we put them? So in the end I saved a boxful and divided the rest between a decent second-hand bookshop and Oxfam. The bookshop got a pretty good deal I have to say, and the guy from Oxfam said it was best selection he'd seen in years. I was surprised to hear him say that he didn't get many job-lots like this - there are so many elderly people in the Chichester area that I thought they'd be inundated with books, but apparently not. He took away a load of crockery too.
The scary thing about all these books was that they represented the tip of the iceberg so to speak. Most of Mum's reading matter came from the library

Monday, July 9, 2012

Buying / Selling

Today was a tale of two homes: one we're trying to sell, the other we're trying to buy. 
This morning we visited our Streatham flat to inspect the damp problem which has frustratingly put viewings on hold. Strange being in there after all these years. We only lived in it for six months, five and a half months of which we knew we'd be moving on, so it never really felt like home. But it looks nice, newly redecorated and with new carpets. Just got to sort out this annoying damp, caused by a loose brick under a gutter. Grrrr.
On then to Chichester to sort out Mum's house. Likewise, the decorating, new carpets and half a new kitchen make it look nice and airy, even modern, compared with how it looked when Mum was around. But there's a lot to be done. The garage is floor-to-ceiling full of stuff, the front and back gardens are jungles, and there's endless crockery and photographs and miscellaneous keepsakes that need sorting out. 
We rescued some mattresses from the garage, got the sleeping bags out and prepared ourselves for what will be a busy week ahead. Strange to be sleeping in Mum's room, now completely bare, but still very much hers.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Annette x 2

A day in Clapham with Renzo-Annette-Max and Sam-Annette-Zoe - the two Annettes being different I should add. Lunch at a nice gastropub called The Stonhouse, then ice creams at Nardulli's before going back to Renzo & Annette's to watch the Murray-Federer final with its predictable outcome. 
Actually, I got bored of it after a while and went out with Alyssa for a walk around old haunts: the kindergarten which she attended for a year, the playground on Clapham Common, past the church in which Liz & I got married and the haunted hotel we spent our wedding night... Nice memories and neighbourhood

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Today we went to Glyndebourne with our friends Renzo & Annette, both avid opera buffs. I'd never been before, which is strange given my job, the fact I grew up in the same county, and went to university just a few miles away. But perhaps not so strange given I'm not particularly partial to the genre and can count the number of production I've seen on one hand, so I'm not a good judge. 
In any case, Glyndebourne is different, it's a whole experience: its setting in the South Downs, its history (established by the Christie family in 1934 - same year as the British Council), its context adjacent to the beautiful 16thC Christie house, its incredibly loyal fan base (all performances sell out; you have to kill for tickets), the black tie dress code, the picnics on the lawns and the intimate atmosphere of the theatre itself. It started out as amateur dramatics but quickly became professional, outgrowing its piecemeal-developed theatre until a completely new one was built in 1994. What's particularly interesting is that it was paid for largely (90%) by its fan base, and the whole caboodle still operates without Arts Council funding (as opposed to the Royal Opera House, for example, which receives £26m p.a.). 
Anyway, it was all most enjoyable. We brought a picnic, but because of the inevitable rain, set it up in the semi-covered perimeters of the theatre which seemed to be designed for it. In fact, it was so full of little tables, each with neat table-cloths, champers in ice-buckets, even vases with flowers, that it took a while finding a spot. 
And the opera? Oh yes, we saw Rossini's La Cenerentola, which is basically the (pre-Disney) Cinderella story. A good romp, some fine singing, a nice set design, actually quite funny in parts. The Guardian gave it five stars. Me? I enjoyed it, but honestly I found the music pretty forgettable, the acting exaggerated (which I should just accept - that's opera... although funnily enough, the Chinese star Shenyang was utterly wooden), and of course it was overly long. But that aside, I did enjoy it. 
Interestingly, I just read the audience comments on the Glyndebourne blogsite and found the following: "We live in China for much of the year but look forward immensely to Glyndebourne on our annual summer visit... We would not have missed this production for anything. It was terrific." It wasn't us, but I would echo it. Thank you Renzo & Annette!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Designing Britain

More meetings in the morning, then off to the V&A to see the big British Design exhibition, which we've been hoping will come to China, but that's another story...
It's impressive, from one Olympics to another with 64 years of cultural history in-between: the Festival of Britain, architecture & new towns, graphic design, fashion, Concorde, E-types and Minis... and, stretching it a bit: ads, music videos, computer games and interactive installations by the likes of Troika and UVA. 
In the 50s and 60s much of the stuff was made in Britain - in our home we had a Martyn Rowlands Deltaphone (1963), a Kenwood Chefette food mixer by Kenneth Grange (1966) and tableware by David Harman Powell (1968) - but the UK's manufacturing industry has of course largely disappeared, though the creative ideas haven't. 
One of the most recent things was Thomas Heatherwick's UK Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010, which made a nice link to his own exhibition, Designing the Extraordinary, also on at the V&A. It was a bit cluttered but was pretty inspiring stuff, down to the ingenious crank-the-handle printed guide.
Hopped onto a Boris bike to see the Serpentine Pavilion by Herzog & De Meuron and Ai Weiwei which was a bit underwhelming, and then cycled through the West End (a joy, really) to meet Peter & Julie - equally enjoyable. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Up early to get into the office by 8am for a full day of meetings, around ten in all. I don't mind. Always good to touch base, show my face, catch up on gossip. The latest is that our physical footprint is shrinking still more...
Once upon a time, the British Council had four offices in London: the very large 65 Davies Street where I started out (vacated in 1992), 11 Portland Place opposite BBC Broadcasting House (where the arts departments used to be), two floors in an office in Bedfordbury in Covent Garden (which didn't last long), and its main office at 10 Spring Gardens, off Trafalgar Square which we're still in - but only just. This used to have an east & west wing, both pretty sizeable. We are now down to an east wing only and this autumn will rent out two of its floors. Which means that, if you discount the ground floor which is mostly reception, the entire British Council HQ will be crammed into just four floors. It's mind-boggling why we needed all that space beforehand. I suppose much of it was individual rooms of one or two people, with big wooden desks and secretaries and typing pools and libraries and endless files in massive grey metal cabinets and print rooms and all that stuff - as was pretty common those days. Now it's all open plan, seried ranks of hot-desks with a few bookable meeting rooms. Zilch character but functional. 
Anyway, met up with Stan for a drink in Covent Garden - good to see him; he seems pretty settled professionally & personally. And then Andrew H, who is similarly in a good place, enjoying parenthood and somehow continuing to be incredibly creative. The latest is that he's hoping to direct his first film. There seems to be backing, he's got a co-writer... Fingers crossed it all works out.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Off back to London, but it's Wednesday, so not before Grandmum's fabulous home-made pasties. An uneventful drive, listening to the entirety of Roald Dahl's Matilda, read by Joely Richardson. Pretty riveting. Miss Trunchbull: what a character - and matched perfectly by Pam Ferris in the Danny De Vito film. Lovely to see Nick & Kate and Emily & Sophie, who looked after our two so the oldies could go down the pub.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tilly and Rod

Today we pottered...My annual visit to The Bookshop to buy my birthday present from Grandmum (Sara Wheeler's Terra Incognita), the library, the bakery for gingerbread men, the Oxfam shop. To Andy's so he could show us Tilly, his new Eagle Owl. She's only 6 weeks old but is huge, nearly 2ft tall. She likes a bit of rock music in her cage: she was bobbing her head to Rod Stewart when we were there. He's also got ferrets, and gets quite a bit of work from farmers with rabbit problems. And if the ferrets don't do the trick, he's always got Tilly. Or Rod. Pump Do You Think I'm Sexy down a burrow and they'd come out with their hands up. Grandmum's looking well, though the constant rain must dampen her spirits...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mocca to go

To Liskeard, cross-country playing Mocca all the way. Mocca are a great jazzy-indie-poppy Indonesian band fronted by a girl who sings in perfect English. I like them, but our girls really like them. I just have the one album, Colours, from 2007, given to my by their record company when I was visiting their home town of Bandung. The packaging was amazing - a perfectly designed crayon carton - and I think it was that that made me actually listen to it. But actually it's her voice, the production and they do a great cover of Bjork's Hyperballad of all things.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tarka the Other

In the gaps between showers, we hired eight bikes and cycled from Torrington to Bideford and back along the Tarka Trail. It used to be a railway line until the Beeching Report closed it and a third of Britain's rail network in the 60s and 70s. A similar thing happened to the Chichester Line which ran through the South Downs to Midhurst: the southern bit of that is also now a cycle trail. The cuts didn't make any real savings though. It all seemed to be pushed through in the name of progress: trains were old, cars & roads were the future. Of course we now have way too many cars choking roads and air. Bring back trains. 
The evening was taken up with Spain's 4:0 thrashing of Italy in the Euros Final - quite the most accomplished, creative, flowiuid footballing performance I've seen in many a year.