Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Palace on the Hill

Today we walked through Chapultepec park, within which is a hill and, on top of it, the Castillo de Chapultepec. It's not really a castle, more a palace, with commanding views of the city, not least east along the broad avenue that is now Paseo del Reforma. The building dates from 1775 but there were stops & starts along the way - the War of Independence from Spain (1810-21), the war with the United States (1847), a brief sumptuous period when Emperor Maximilian and his wife, Empress Carlota occupied it, then a period of disuse, before a number of presidents made it their home... until finally it became a museum in 1939. 
Lovely interiors, including elaborate stairways, stained glass windows and the inevitable murals, but what I liked most was the roof garden (see pic).  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Barber with a Difference

Another city, another barber to find... In Tokyo I used to go to a barber in Iidabashi near the office where we talked football in (my) broken Japanese. In Bangkok it was just round the corner from our home, cheap & cheerful with a shoulder massage thrown in. In Beijing it was a few blocks away, where the young & big-haired coiffeurs (clearly influenced by Korean K-pop) must have been frustrated by my three quid "short trim". 
So I've found a barber in Mexico City, a block from the office. At £15 it's surprisingly expensive, for me anyway, but you get a wash, a drink and - get this - a copy of Playboy... which I flicked through nervously, pretending I was reading the car and fashion features. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

It's Me, Kathy

Meanwhile in London, hushed expectation, disbelief and then reality befell those lucky enough to witness Kate Bush in concert, 35 years since she last performed live. 
Whereas many would have chosen a few mega shows at Wembley or O2, Kate, ever contrary, has gone for the more intimate experience of 22 shows throughout this autumn at the Hammersmith Odeon (I refuse to call it anything else). 
The reviews are good, polite, respectful, even if she didn't play the early hits. But she did perform Running Up That Hill, Cloudbusting, even the whole (?) of The Ninth Wave, as well as more recent stuff including a fair chunk of Aerial. And typically, there are weird bits - a mini play in which her teenage son appears, a short film, dancers dressed up as fish skeletons... A quiet triumph by all accounts. Ah well, I await the DVD.
KB's early years coincided with my late teens, but did I have Kate on my bedroom wall (so-to-speak)? No, it was Debbie Harry for me.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Back to School

First day at school for our girls. I felt for them as we took them, wearing their new uniforms, to the bus stop, still dark, off to a strange place. The bus was late, their names were missed off class lists and the lunch arrangements were a bit weird, but they got through it. Poor things: they looked exhausted this evening as they recounted the experience. But all part of life's rich tapestry, as they say.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Old Friends

A strange thing. Our Austrian neighbours from Bangkok, Peter & Anke and their three children, are now living in Mexico City - in fact have been for two years. They live out to the south west in a nice house with a tree stuck in the middle of it. Today they invited us over and we got the low-down on living in Mexico. Good to see them again. And nice for our two to have some non-adult time in preparation for the big day tomorrow. 
Although hardly an old friend (I met him once), respect to Sir Richard Attenborough who died today. Six decades an actor and director. I particularly liked him in Brighton Rock and I'm Alright Jack, although my two remember him for The Miracle on 34th Street. Whichever era you choose, he had a hand in it. 
Why I met him was through a mutual interest in Charlie Chaplin. He was in the middle of directing his biopic and I had just written & produced a small exhibition. Dickie came to the opening.  Nice, effusive chap. A total lovey, grabbing my arm, saying all the right things.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Centre of Mexico

Time to explore the city and the obvious place to start is the Zocalo, the main square in the historic centre and according to Aztec beliefs, the centre of not just Mexico but the universe. 
It's big, though not as big I was expecting (a quarter of the size of Tiananm'en Square for example). On the north side is the Catedral Metropolitana, on the east the Palacio Nacional and in between, just out of view, the remains of the Aztec Great Temple. The Zocalo has been a gathering place for Mexicans since the 15th Century and now plays hosts to a massive great flagpole, demonstrations and the occasional rock concert. Paul McCartney performed to 250,000 here in 2012. We took it easy, dodging the 'Aztec' dancers, mariachis and organ-grinders.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Stroll in the Park

A few hundred yards from our temporary home is the Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the largest city parks in the western hemisphere (and two and a half times the size of Hyde Park in London). Bosque means forest, and Chapultepec is a Nahuatl (Aztec) words meaning 'grasshopper hill'. On Sundays the park is alive with strolling families and stalls selling stuff, the main Paseo de la Reforma avenue is shut to traffic, and the Museum of Anthropology, Museum of Modern Art and Tamayo Museum are free. We wandered through it all, pondering what on earth we were doing here.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Left Tokyo mid-afternoon, crossed the Pacific, and arrived pretty much the same time, same day, courtesy of the International Date Line. The plane descends through turbulence over the enormous sprawl that is Mexico City and on landing A promptly pukes into a paper bag. Welcome to Mexico! 
Patty & Eduardo from the office pick us up and we drive to what will be our home for the next few weeks - some serviced apartments on the edge of Polanco. So here we are in Mexico. Who'd have thought it. Never been before, for work or holiday, but it's to be our home for the next two years. Lots of challenges ahead I'm sure, but looking forward to it.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tokyo Story

A nostalgic afternoon revisiting old haunts in Yotsuya. Our old home is still there and the little park with the big tree (and deafening cicadas), and Mikuni restaurant across the road. Marusho supermarket too, though it's moved across the road. Paul and Tokyo Soup Stock eateries are still by the train station, but Little India has gone. 
In Shinjuku, Tower Records is still by the station, all four floors of it. But Disk Union has slimmed down from 7 floors to 2, and the prog basement across the road has gone completely. Funny how important these little things remain in my mind... But really, the day was about soaking in the Tokyo atmosphere: the narrow backstreets, prefab houses, combini stores and mess/mass of overhead cables; the bowing, the sumimasens, the incredible politeness, the cool chic of youngsters and well-dressed elderlies; the sounds of the Odakyu and Yamonote lines. Wonderful.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Last Day in Beijing

Handover continues with Nick. Meetings at the Ministry of Culture, CAFA Museum and British Embassy, plus lots of admin in between. Then goodbyes: nicer, less stressful than last time, including Yuxi telling me she's getting married. Lovely.
Our last evening is, impromptu, spent with the Jias. We'd planned to have Peking Duck at Dadong and luckily that's what we end up doing. Four years, gone in a flash, but too frantic a day to pause for reflection. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014


My big toe is now excruciatingly painful - almost certainly gout. But no time to do anything about it or feel sorry for myself. This morning we packed up (again) and drove off to Heathrow via a southerly, circuitous route because of a big bike race in town. Then boarded the BA flight to Beijing... for the last time?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Juliet of the Spirits

Today, niece Juliet got hitched to nice guy Daniel. It had it all really. Fabulous venue (Westminster Cathedral no less), bride half an hour late (dress issue), speeches with awful jokes (that's 'good awful', not nasty awful), a covers band (to which we witnessed, open-mouthed, grandmum dancing, a first) and no punch-ups. Juliet looked lovely and seemed pretty relaxed. One down, four to go.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Centenary Poppies

100 years ago today, the First World War started and it would be no exaggeration to say that it changed the world. Tanks, machine guns, trenches, aerial combat... all firsts (?) and all on a global scale, with a commensurate number of deaths.
Of the many artistic responses this summer,  Paul Cummins's massive installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London is the most dramatic. Currently there are about 100,000 of them but it will number over 800,000 by Armistice Day, one for every British and Commonwealth soldier who died. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Fruit of the Loom

The girls have well and truly joined in the loom band craze that's sweeping Britain. It's basically crochet, but can get very complex. 
An American Malaysian of Chinese descent, Cheong Choon Ng, invented it in Michigan in 2011. Its complexity meant that it didn't catch on for a couple of years, until he struck on the idea of his daughters and nieces doing video demos on YouTube. I am now the proud owner of four (thankfully fairly manly) rubber bracelets, while Liz has them coming up to her elbow in a multitude of colours. 
I approve: it's creative, good for dexterity and keeps them off gadgets. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Daughtry versus The Fault in Our Stars

Alyssa has moved on from the Latin-American pop of Selena Gomez to US rock band Daughtry's Baptised and the soundtrack to the tear-jerking The Fault in Our Stars movie. Neither would normally make it into my collection, but they're not bad at all and have been 'on heavy rotation' in our car. I can even forgive Chris Daughtry's American Idol beginnings, bulging, tattooed biceps, nostalgia-driven lyrics and vocal posturing. (One thing I've noticed about high-end productions these days is how they're designed to be heard while driving. With the constant ambient noise of engine and rubber on tarmac, I struggle to hear the bass and even mid-range of most of my CDs, but Daughtry seems crystal clear).
The Fault in Our Stars features a bunch of indie artists like Ed Sheeran, Tom Odell, M83, Kodaline, Birdy etc, united by a kind of gloomy aesthetic redolent of 4AD. It was only a matter of time before the girls would be determining what's hip and what isn't. My Klaus Schulze, Shriekback and Blancmange discs have been consigned to the glove compartment.