Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bye, Streatham

Today we sold our flat in south London. It has taken forever due to a sluggish market, roof repairs, the freeholder selling up, planning permission sought (and later withdrawn) for the extension of a neighbouring Islamic Centre (!), you name it... 
We only lived there for a few months in between overseas posts. It was a nice enough flat and Tooting Common was lovely, but we never really warmed to Streatham itself. We bought it in the hope that it would 'come up'. It was going to be the new Clapham... or OK, the new Balham... or at least the new Tooting, but it still hasn't happened. Streatham High Road was voted Worst Street in Britain in a poll organised by the BBC in 2002 and remains an eyesore, there's no tube, the long-promised Tesco still hasn't come and there's not even a Starbucks - a double whammy of deprivation. Even its most famous former residents were hardly pillars of society: step forward satanist Aleister Crowley, Afghan warlord Zardad Khan, and 70s madame Cynthia Payne whose infamous brothel was just round the corner from us. So, farewell Streatham, we wish you all the best.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bye, Leigh

After nearly two years working together on UK Now - at first separately (she in London, me in Beijing), then joined at the hip here - it was time to say goodbye to Leigh Gibson, job done. Leigh was overall Director, responsible for strategy, looked after the sponsors and PR, reported to the Board etc. I was basically its curator, responsible for all the events and programmes. The roles blurred quite a lot and in the end I think it would be fair to say that we simply worked together on it. I honestly couldn't have wished for a calmer, nicer, more sensible partner-in-crime. So we had a team lunch and cake & stuff in the afternoon for the whole office, and then she was gone. It's going to be very strange without her around.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Middle Eight?

Lovely dinner with Leigh and Sam at Middle Eighth, a great Yunnanese restaurant in an unremarkable residential street in Sanlitun. Their name may be somehow 'wrong' but the menu is a work of art: 100 pages, each dish photographed like a Vogue shoot, one per page. It took us half an hour to order. Very nice evening, bidding advance farewells to two friends.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Mortgage Muzak

Excruciatingly dull hour and a half of phone calls this evening re mortgages. After navigating my way through the dial-1-for-this-dial-2-for-that, interminable muzak, getting through to 'Nick' and passing the security tests... we were cut off. On the second attempt I got 'Sharon' but she passed me on to 'Stewart' who took me through a bewildering array of fixed rates, trackers and base rates, multiple year options, fees which you could pay upfront or over time (it was like a game), but couldn't email me a summary. "Not empowered". In any case, turned out that they couldn't offer the type of mortgage that he thought I needed - but their subsidiary could. "But before you go Mr Elliott, what rating out of 5 would you give the service you had today?" I laughed and thought of giving him a 3 but generously said 4. "Why 4? What could I have done better?"
So I called another number and, after some slightly 'groovier' music, 'Tina' picked up the phone. "Hello sir, I'm only a temp so I'll have to get one of my colleagues to call you back". I told her I was calling from Beijing. "Oh, I've just got back from Hong Kong!" she trilled. "It's much warmer there than here. [Long pause...] So I guess we won't be able to call you then". I wondered why not and gave her my phone number. "Oh alright then". 
Is there anything in life more boring than a mortgage?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Andrew +4

I'm not much of a Facebooker, but I couldn't help noticing a timely post from Lawrence Burton today, which commemorates our mutual friend, Andrew Cox, who died four years ago yesterday. It's a touching piece, based around Lawrence and Andrew's regular meet-ups in the White Horse in Lewisham. 
I still think of him a lot and miss our creative collaborations, whether it was music, writing, painting or just endless talking. It's sad that he's not around to enjoy the MFH and Pump reissues of the last three years. Just started putting together an Andrew Cox Greatest Hits compilation, hopefully on Forced Nostalgia again, working title: A Complication. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Having watched the Disneyesque Anastasia story, which slipped in the hocus pocus of Rasputin and doubled up as a musical, we wondered whether the girls would like the 'real' version from the fifties, starring Bergman and Bryner. Of course there's very little that is real about the post-1918 story of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. It's now been conclusively proved that she was killed, along with her father Czar Nicholas II and the rest of the immediate royal family, on 17 July 1918 by the Bolshevik secret police. But over the subsequent years there were a number of women who claimed to be her, that she survived, and please could she have her title back and share of the estate. 
Ms Schanzkowska
The most famous was 'Anna Anderson', who lived off the curiosity of various Russian emigres in western Europe while alternately spending time in mental asylums. The Bergman/Bryner film is about her, although in true Hollywood style it suggests she was the real thing. 
'Anna' spent years living off various distant relatives. One such family was the Leuchtenbergs who put her up in their castle, while investigations continued (which ultimately came to the correct conclusion that she was actually a Pole by the name of Franziska Schanzkowska). In the end, Europe grew weary of the whole thing and 'Anna' moved to America, where she was feted for a while, continued to be a bit barking, married a professor of history and genealogy (of all subjects!) and died there in 1984. In the end, DNA tests in 2008 proved that she couldn't have been Anastasia. So that was that.
Except that there's a strange personal twist to the story. The Leuchtenbergs had a British governess called Faith Lavington who helped give testimony in the case. Turns out that she was Liz's grandmum's cousin!
So what did the girls think of all this? "We prefer the cartoon version". And so do I actually.

Friday, January 25, 2013

CNY Gangnam Style

It's that time of the year again - the (slightly early) office Chinese New Year party. Three hours of eating, drinking, gaming, dancing and singing. Inhibitions are lowered but the stakes are high. Can the Brits get through it without being utterly embarrassed? The man in this photo dancing gangnam style is my colleague Greg, poor soul. But of course he pulled me up on stage for the encore. In between there were various minor humiliations but all good clean fun. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bond, James Bond

The Bond film finally opened in China this week, three months after its UK premiere. It was supposed to happen last month, with Daniel Craig & co lined up to appear, but for various reasons it got pushed back, and because Craig is now filming in New York, the China openings have been comparatively muted. Still, my colleagues at the Embassy organized a special screening at MoMA with shaken-not-stirred cocktails, black tie and a couple of Aston Martins outside.
The series is as old as I am, and I confess to being a fan. Seen them all dozens of times. Skyfall is pretty good, much better than the last one. The usual extended opening chase, exotic locations, glamorous women, high body counts and wackos trying to take over the world, but I like the central theme of this one: that Bond - and M - are a bit past it. And the perfect Bond song. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Just read Simon Napier-Bell's Black Vinyl, White Powder, which charts (if you'll forgive the pun) 50 years of the British music industry. I'd read his Wham! in China book last autumn (see post) and also You Don't Have to Say You Love Me (his rather flippant book about the sixties), but BVWP is the one. He was there of course: joint-roller for the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra in the late 50s, music editor for What's New Pussycat, co-lyricist for that Dusty Springfield hit, and then manager of the Yardbirds, Japan, Wham! and a few other lesser-knowns.
He also - another pun alert! - takes us on a trip through each decade's drug of choice: amphetamines, cocaine, LSD, heroin, cannabis, ecstasy, uppers & downers... the works. But it's the cut-throat managers, record label directors, A&R men, critics, DJs, pluggers and, lest we forget, the musicians who are the main characters in what is a whistle-stop tour through skiffle, beat, psychedelia, glam, heavy metal, a bit of prog, punk, two-tone, new romantics, acid house, dance, britpop and boring boy bands. It was originally published in 2001 so the massive shake-up caused by the internet doesn't figure, but actually that's a bit dull. What we really want is rock operas, groupies, televisions thrown into swimming pools and general wanton excess. And it's here in spades. Very funny, but also refreshingly honest and very shrewd. 
He's been based in Pattaya in Thailand for many years now, but despite my four years in Bangkok, strangely we never met.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cigarettes and Alcohol

After my first game of squash for well over a year with new partner Greg, we went down the pub to put back the pounds we'd lost in the game. My nearest is the Black Sun Bar. It's not the best in Beijing (for others, see this post) and I can't think of a less attractive entrance. But you can't argue with a 5 minute stroll from home. Inside is OK: the usual footie on the telly, snooker, table-football, reasonable prices, decent food and there's even a summer patio. The down side is the smoke. And not just cigarettes: we left when the next door table lit up cigars. 

Monday, January 21, 2013


Monday evening art class. The girls' drawing and painting skills are coming on. They switch from drawing & shading cubes & cylinders, to painting colourful still lifes (lives?) of fruit. Here's Alyssa's today. They get a lot of help from the teacher, but I'm pretty impressed by this. Naomi's too. 
Despite being an Arts Manager, I don't remember being very enthused about art in school; didn't even take O-level. And I don't think we even touched on art history. On the other hand, brother Patrick was very good - at both. Funny how things turn out.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Day of domesticity, then dinner with Ken, our Japanese friend who's on a business visit. Nice to catch up on news of the family, including twins, Tatsuya and Chihiro, who went to school with our two in Bangkok. Like most Japanese children, they now supplement their regular school with juku ('cram') school four nights a week. Plus homework. For both. 
"Lucky you weren't born in Japan!", we joked to our two on the way home.
"We were!", they replied.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ping Pong

Deep in the bowels of our tower block, there is a table tennis room. I'd never seen it before, but if you ask reception, they'll give you a key and point you down a darkened corridor in B3, and there it is.
Patrick and I used to play quite regularly as teenagers. In fact we used to be in a team with another boy from my class (Nick Trend, now the Daily Telegraph's travel editor). I think we were called Chichester Youth Club but were based in Hunston village hall. My mum would take the three of us to matches in the Chichester area. I don't think we were that good, but it was a proper league and everything.
It's tempting to think that China invented table tennis, but actually, like a lot of sports, it originated in England in the 1880s. Still, the Chinese are masters of the game. You can often see tables set up in parks, like this one in Urumuqi.
So anyway, Naomi and I had a game. She's got a long way to go - our longest rally was six - but it was fun teaching her. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Under Construction

Such is the pace of expansion of Shanghai's cultural infrastructure that today my meetings took place in one museum that's just opened, another that's just about to, an office under chaotic renovation and a concert hall that ten years ago was moved 65 metres to the left to make way for a flyover. 
First up was a meeting with Wei Wang, the charming, killer-heeled wife of billionaire investor Liu Yiqian. The couple are proud owners of a fantastic Chinese art collection, lovingly amassed over 20 years. Better to show it off than keep it private, so they've built the beautiful state-of-the-art Long Museum, currently the largest private museum in China, out in Pudong. The opening selection features blue-chip Chinese contemporary art on the ground floor; Modernist works from the first half of the 20th century plus heroic, all-smiling revolutionary oil paintings from 1949-79 on the second (my favourites - it was like looking at history not art); and traditional works and ancient artefacts on the third... all in a gorgeously minimal Zhing Song-designed cube. And get this, they're building another, bigger museum downtown which will open later this year. With a Monet show. 
From there to Shanghai Concert Hall, the grand 1930s building which was literally picked up and moved a bit to make way for a flyover, then restored. In May they're going to present a weekend version of the South Bank Centre's The Rest is Noise festival (itself worthy of a post, but I'll make do with a link). 
The rest of the afternoon was spent talking about film - first with Shanghai International Film Festival in their noisy, under-renovation office; then wearing a yellow hat in the under-construction Shanghai Film Museum, which will be impressive when it's finished. This is the kind of day that makes my job such a joy.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Air Bridges at Lunch

Nursing a hangover, managed to get through a meeting with Shanghai's Cultural Bureau, a thank you lunch for some UK Now sponsors, a couple of internal meetings, and a long session with Ogilvy on turning our temporary festival website into a permanent non-festival site. At the lunch I sat next to a Chinese chap from HSBC who turned out to be Hertfordshire born & bred, didn't speak Mandarin and was called Calvin. He told me the story of how HSBC cornered the market on air-bridge advertising. It wasn't some well-thought through, year-long piece of marketing strategy; it was from a lunch, just like the one we were having.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Paris, Shanghai

To Shanghai. Internal meetings all afternoon, then dinner with the team - after which Leigh, Matt and I carried on drinking in a tiny French bar. We could have been in Paris. Zinc tables, newspapers on sticks, colonial concession architecture, a decent Sauvignon Blanc, European clientele and a reassuringly rude proprietor. (For the record, there are about 200,000 foreigners living in Shanghai, that's double the number in Beijing, but still only 1% of the population).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Our 14th wedding anniversary and a fine dinner at Mosto's to celebrate. Fourteen years of wedded bliss. Honestly. Last year was lace, this year it's ivory. Didn't give Liz a tusk.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Off the Scale

A thick smog has been hanging over Beijing since Thursday. OK, so the capital is no stranger to pollution, but this is off the scale. In terms of the PM2.5 index (that's particulate matters of less than 2.5 micrometres in size), the World Health Organization considers a safe daily level to be 25 micrograms per cubic metre. When I asked my Aussie friend Colin what a bad level would be like in Sydney he said 40. In Beijing it's often into the 100s, but today it's around 700!  We stayed indoors.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Alyssa brought someone over for a sleepover tonight. Or rather some thing. It was a Furby. An irritating, semi-interactive fluffy robot which initially speaks 'Furbish', but is programmed to start using English words and phrases over time. It has voice recognition, dances to music, gets angry, goes to sleep, you can 'feed' it, and there's some on-line stuff which it can interact with. It's kind of creepy - like a Gremlin. Apparently it's been around for ten or more years, but the new ones were this Christmas's must-have present. It's on loan for one night only from a friend, but of course she'll want one for herself. Aarrgh!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Dreams of a Life

Tonight, while Liz was out, Alyssa was on a sleepover, and Naomi and playdate watched the dreadful Ice Age 4 in the sitting room, I watched Dreams of a Life in the bedroom. We'd shown it as part of our British Film Week last month but it was the one film I didn't get a chance to see beforehand or during. Time to make amends. 
And it's brilliant. Haunting but compassionate. The story of Joyce Vincent, a Londoner of Caribbean descent, who died in 2003 in Wood Green in north London. Shockingly, her body lay undiscovered, surrounded by a small pile of unopened Christmas presents and with the television and heating still on, for approximately three years. The cause of her death remains unknown (no foul play was suspected), but how could someone's absence go unnoticed for so long? Who was Joyce Vincent? What was she like? How could she have been forgotten?
We were living in London at the time and I remember the tabloid headlines in early 2006 when the story broke. A young film-maker, Carol Morley (brother of music critic Paul), was similarly struck by the story, but for her it was life-changing: she knew she had to make a film about it. But first she had to find out who exactly Joyce Vincent was. Nobody knew anything about her. Morley placed adverts in newspapers, on internet sites, even on the sides of taxis, and eventually people got in touch and, piece-by-piece, Joyce's story came together.
The surprising thing was that Joyce had been a beautiful, vivacious young woman, working in the City. She'd dabbled in the music business through boyfriends (she'd even been out to dinner with Steve Wonder), but for various reasons she began to cut herself off from people, including her family; left her job, constantly changed addresses and finally 'disappeared'. 
Morley's film is excellent: part dramatised (Zawe Ashton plays Joyce), part interviews with those who knew her. I wholeheartedly recommend it, as well as an in-depth article in The Observer from 2009 which is still on-line here.
Ironically, I had the chance of bringing Carol Morley to Beijing for the opening of our Film Week, but chose Terence Davies instead - who at the last minute withdrew. I wish I'd chosen Carol.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Tube: 150 Today

150 years ago today, the London Underground began. A line went from Paddington to Farringdon and on the opening day 40,000 passengers boarded the subterranean steam train to travel all or part of it (there were seven stops in between). 
1863: imagine!  At that time Palmerston was PM, the Civil War was raging in America and the car had yet to be invented. 
I won't repeat my fascination with tube stations (see this post if you're interested), Edward Johnstone's typeface and logo, Henry Beck's famous map, the poster art, Poems on the Underground... Or indeed moan about its delays, overcrowdedness and the fact that it is very definitely showing its age... Or remember the tragedies of Moorgate, Kings Cross and 7/7/05. Suffice it to say, it's such a part of what London is about and I wish I was there this week for the celebrations.
And that's enough reminiscing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Stop! Look! Listen!

Over several months I've been working my way through a terrifying 2xDVD collection of health, safety and welfare films. They were among hundreds of short public information films, publications and other campaigns produced by the Orwellian-sounding Central Office of Information, from 1946-2012. People of my age will remember Keep Britain Tidy, Watch Out! There's a Thief About and Clunk Click, Every Trip. There was even a presciently early piece of creative industries propaganda in the 60s called Mini Skirts Make Money
But back to the scary stuff. Paraphrasing the booklet notes, I expect there are quite a lot of people of a certain age who bear deep-rooted scars as a result of having been relentlessly subjected to footage of children of their own age being fried alive while playing frisbee near an electric pylon, maimed by a firework, or crushed by a tractor whilst larking about on a farmyard. Indeed Lonely Water (1973) plays like a mini horror film (with voiceover by Donald Pleasance), deploying the menacing tone and special effects normally the preserve of X-rated shockers. In Building Sites Bite we witness one boy being buried alive, electrocuted, run over, crushed by piles of bricks, drowned and his neck broken after falling from a pipe. Others are more psychological: Never Go With Strangers is the stuff of nightmares.
Appearances by Michael Palin, Reg Varney, Valerie Singleton, a young Keith Chegwin and others bring some light relief to the terror and carnage, and there's some great Sham 69, Squeeze and Klark Kent music in the motorcycle safety film, 20 Times More Likely
It's difficult to know whether they did any good. I like to think so.   

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bowie's Back

I see that David Bowie, 66 today, has announced his first album in ten years: The Next Day, produced by Tony Visconti (who of course produced most of his 70s classics). Can't say I'm chomping at the bit but I'll certainly give it a whirl when it comes out in March - coinciding with a big retrospective exhibition at the V&A. 
Bowie was untouchable in the 70s. I cut my teeth on the glam of Ziggy, Pin-Ups and Aladdin Sane, was there for 'Starman' on TOTP, went back to Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory, followed him through the rock-to-soul-to-increasingly-experimental Diamond Dogs, Young Americans and Station to Station, and lapped up the Euro-Eno weirdness of LowHeroes and Lodger. Saw him once during this time - at London's Earls Court in 1978, while I was still at school. 
The 80s started well, with Scary Monsters, and Let's Dance was OK, but it all went downhill from there, including the awful Tin Machine. I tried to like him in the 90s, and to be fair Black Tie White Noise was passable, the overlooked Buddha of Suburbia soundtrack actually very good (Bowie once said it was his favourite), the Eno-produced Outside decent in parts (and I caught the tour at Wembley Arena), but I just couldn't get into Earthling and Hours
Come the 00s, Heathen Earth and Reality were merely OK, although Liz & I saw a great show at the Budokan in Tokyo in 2003... and then nothing. I see that Jon Barnbrook, who designed the last two albums, has come up with a controversial sleeve for the new one (see right). 
Which brings us to the 'Where Are We Now' single, out today. The theme of the album sleeve kind of suggests "forget the past", so it's odd that the song and video are all about Berlin, harking back to the late 70s. Tony Oursler's video is predictably, reassuringly strange, but who is Bowie sitting next to on that couch?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dentistry Now and Then

Poor Liz. One of her molars flared up on New Year's Eve but because her regular dentist was away for the holidays, she's had to tough it out on antibiotics and nurofen for seven long, painful days. She finally got it got it sorted today. Root canal. Ouch. 
How did people manage in 'the olden days'? I'd thought that until quite recently it was limited to just yanking out rotten teeth, but apparently there's evidence of basic dentistry, including - amazingly - a form of drill, going back to 7,000BC (in what is now Pakistan). But really it didn't get going until around 1650, the introduction of some kind of anaesthetic (gas) in the 1840s, and the invention of the high-speed electric drill in 1875. 
Nevertheless, I wouldn't want a dental problem in some of the more remote places in China - like Kashgar where I saw this street ad.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Rom(e) Com

Took the girls cycling on the main roads to Sanlitun Village. They're pretty confident now. And Naomi ordered lunch in Chinese. They're dying to go back to school. 
Liz and I watched the latest Woody Allen - his 42nd! - To Rome with Love. Naff title. Apparently Allen doesn't even like it; he was going to call it Bop Decameron or Nero Fiddles, but the Italian producers vetoed both. In his autumn years he seems to be working his way through European cities: London, Barcelona, Paris, Rome... I read that he schedules in plenty of museum time in between shooting. He's got it all sussed. 
Anyway, usual middle-class rom-com with a bit of magic realism to make it quirky. Some interesting casting: Robertio Benigni (director & star of Life is Beautiful), Jesse Eisenberg (fresh from being Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network), Alec Baldwin in a very slight role as a sort of critical angel, Penelope Cruz again, and Allen himself as his usual neurotic alter ego (first time he's cast himself in several years). It's OK, a bit below par, Allen on auto-pilot.  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

His Master's Voice

So, HMV are to close 60 stores. (40 HMVs, and 20 Waterstones which they also own). To be honest, I'm surprised it's not more of the former. They'll still have 245 left. That's a lot more than I thought they had. 

Friday, January 4, 2013


Today there was a massive spike in the number of weddings in China. In Beijing there were 12,000 alone. Why? Well, if you'll pardon the pun, it's all in what a date sounds like. If you say  2012 / 1 / 4 in Chinese, it sounds a bit like "Love you for a lifetime". Ah...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Life's a Beach

I've been reading an abridged version of Johann David Wyss's Swiss Family Robinson to the girls this week. It's a funny book. For a start, why is this Swiss family called Robinson? (The answer is they're a Robinson Crusoe-like family). But the really strange thing is that it's all so easy. 
It starts dramatically enough. On their way to a new life in Australia they get shipwrecked somewhere in the East Indies and the crew abandon them. But luckily the ship doesn't sink and they're within swimming distance of a beautiful island which has everything you could want to survive, including running water and a geographically impossible abundance of food and livestock. The ship conveniently remains intact long enough to get all its goodies onshore (more livestock, tools, chest of gold, you name it). They build a fabulous treehouse, including a front door and a staircase up through the trunk. They use rubber trees to make shoes and waterproof coats. There are a several light-hearted adventures, hardly a moment of hardship and Sundays are a day of rest. They live there for 13 years. Nice. 
But we mustn't be too critical I suppose. Wyss wrote it for his sons as a series of lessons about family values and self-reliance, and it resembles other early children's books of the 19th century. Of course it's got Disney written all over it, and they obliged with a suitably wholesome 1960 film starring John Mills.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Encyclopedic Palace

Back to work. Very quiet. Time enough to learn of a fascinating story behind this summer's upcoming Venice Biennale. The theme will be 'The Encyclopedic Palace', based on the project of a self-taught Italian-American artist, Marino Auriti (1891-1980). The Palace was an imaginary museum that was meant to house all worldly knowledge, bringing together the greatest discoveries of the human race, from the wheel to the satellite. Auriti took out a patent and built a scale model in the 1950s - looking like something out of Metropolis or a Le Corbusier blueprint. It never got built of course, and the model ended up languishing for decades in a lock-up storage unit in Newport, Delaware.
The story now transfers to his granddaughter, a certain B.G. Firmani, who with her husband, Damianmanaged to attract the attention of the American Folk Art Museum, where it was presented as part of an exhibition in 2004. It then disappeared into storage again before being singled out by the 2013 Venice Biennale's chief curator, Massimiliano Gioni, as the central exhibit and theme for this year's show. 
This is a good enough story in its own right - and you can read more here - but there's more. I don't know B.G.Fermani, but I do know her husband, Damian. At risk of sounding like a jetsetting Beatnik, we used to hang out in New York in the late-80s. Small world. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

She, a Chinese

Took the girls to Chaoyang Park for a couple of rides at the funfair and some tobogganing down an artificial hill. Freezing cold (-10C) but fun and good to get out. Less fun was Liz's continued toothache and a rather miserable film, She, a Chinese. It's about a young country girl who moves to Chongqing for work and then, through a twist of fate, ends up in London. The director, Xiaolu Guo, was herself from a peasant family, studied film-making in Beijing and then moved to London in 2002, so there's probably some of her story in this too. Full marks to her for securing the backing of Film 4 etc, as well as getting John Parrish (of PJ Harvey fame) to score the music - all on a shoestring I'm sure. The main character's time in China is bleak, but her experience in London isn't much better, which includes marrying an elderly widower and a relationship with a young Indian immigrant, and ends with her staring out to sea, heavily pregnant by the latter. Guo is actually better known for her novels. Her third, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers, was nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction.