Thursday, April 30, 2015


A is 13 today. The end of childhood and the beginnings of teenagerdom. Her big present was a smartphone, for which she paid half with her savings. It’s tempting to say that it is an extravagance, but comparisons with what I received at the same age aren’t so outlandish. Needless to say, mobile phones were science fiction when I turned 13, but I guess my Chopper bike was roughly equivalent. Of course we don’t want her on it day and night but she’s sensible. And she needs to keep abreast of technology and communications, even if it might simply be posting, sharing or ‘liking’ a cute image on Instagram.

Friday, April 24, 2015


My home town of Chichester is officially twinned with Chartres in France. In my youth there were school exchanges, mayors gave speeches at each others' festivals and stuff. Nothing elaborate, but the link seemed to make some sense. Both cities have Roman history, famous cathedrals, are not too far apart and are roughly the same size. 
But the bigger the city the less sense it makes. Mexico City is twinned with the usual plethora of capitals around the world: Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Bogota, Buenos Aires and some 50 others. But what do they actually do together?  Particularly puzzling is its twinning with Andorra la Vella… The world's most and least populous capitals? 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Life of Two Halves

Slightly delirious day at home suffering the effects of food-poisoning, slumped on the sofa reading Marcus O'Dair's biography of Robert Wyatt, Different Every Time. One of those very rare occasions when I could read a music biography from cover to cover in one day, and accompanied by music all the way through: Wilde Flowers, Soft Machine 1-4, Matching Mole, Rock Bottom, Live at Drury Lane, Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard, Shleep and Comicopera.  Good book, divided naturally between pre- and post-June 1973 when he fell from a 4th floor window, broke his back and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since. Before, he'd been a bit of a beatnik, played in bands, principally as a drummer, sang occasionally, sowed his oats and got regularly plastered. Afterwards, he went solo, stopped drumming,  focussed on singing, became politicised and found contentment with Alfie Benge, his muse, manager and creative counterpart.
It was an interesting exercise, following someone's life over 400 pages in a day, with the soundtrack to match. We've never met, but I feel I know him quite intimately now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Finally, after weeks of rehearsals, A got to flex her acting chops in the school musical The Lion King. She and her best friend got plum roles: Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the warthog. They don't really kick in until the second half but then it's all them, hamming it up, delivering all the best lines. I was dead proud. We did see a version at Hong Kong Disneyland five years ago, and a big, Spanish-language production is coming to Mexico City next month. But it won't compare of course.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Today the Queen is 89. Born the same year as David Attenborough, Fidel Castro, Hugh Heffner, Mel Brooks, George Martin and Chuck Berry… Who weren't invited to her birthday party this evening - the annual networking event organised by British embassies around the world. I've been to a fair few in my time abroad but this was my first in Mexico. And it was fun, attended by 1,200 people who all seemed to have a good time. Music, food, wine and everyone looking their best.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Jodorowsky's Dune

Tonight watched a great documentary, about Chilean/French director Alejandro Jodorowsky's gallant attempt to make a movie based on Frank Herbert's Dune
You've got to admire the guy. He'd made three absolutely wacko films in the late 60s / early 70s, Fando y LisEl Topo and The Holy Mountain which against all the odds had been quite successful. So for the next project, his producer gave him carte blanche. What do you want to do next?  The reply was Dune. He'd never even read the book but a friend had said it was great so Dune it was. 
Work began in 1975 with Jodo signing up people left, right and centre. David Carradine who was enjoying fame with the Kung Fu  TV series said yes; Mick Jagger - yes; a bloated Orson Welles - yes; 76-year-old Gloria Swanson - yes; Salvador Dali - yes ("but it must include a flaming giraffe and Amanda [Lear, his then muse]". 
For special effects he wanted Douglas Trumbull who'd done 2001 A Space Odyssey, met him, didn't like him, went out to a little cinema nearby and saw Dark Star and hired the guy, Dan O'Bannon, who did the FX for that instead ("Sell everything you have and come to Paris now"). His powers of persuasion were incredible. 
For the designs he hired artists HR Giger (who'd never done a film before) and Chris Foss (famous for Asimov SF covers). For the storyboard he hired the best French cartoonist Jean 'Moebius' Giraud. For the music he approached Tangerine Dream, Mike Oldfield and Gong, but settled for Magma (Giger would later design their Attahk sleeve) and Pink Floyd. And finally he cast his own son, aged 12, in the lead role as Paul. Pre-production rolled on and finally a massive, meticulously produced storyboard was sent to all the Hollywood studios… and you can guess what happened next.
Hollywood didn't like it. Too expensive, too long, too crazy, too ambitious. Over.
Jodo and co were mortified, made worse when, a few years later, they found out that it would be made by David Lynch, a director Jodo greatly respected. It took enormous willpower to go see the film in 1984. He felt sure it would be a success and his humiliation would be complete. But the film was rubbish, a failure. So it had a happy ending.

PS. Jodorowsky lived in Mexico City during most of the 60s and it was where he shot his first film, Fando y Lis - the first screening of which ended in a near riot, after which was banned outright.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Butter wouldn't melt
This evening our Gothic Film Festival opened at the excellent Cineteca Nacional.  Ten films, dating from 1945 (Dead of Night) to 1984 (A Company of Wolves) with lots of Hammer Horror, The Whicker Man etc in between. But the opening film was The Innocents (1961), a creepy film, shot in B&W, starring Deborah Kerr and two child actors Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin. They're made out to be the weirdos, but by the slightly ambiguous ending it's more likely that Kerr's the whacko.
I'm always curious as to know what happens to child actors in adult life. Martin Stephens had made a habit of appearing in films about weird children: at aged 10, he was in the infamous The Village of the Damned (1960) and later appears in The Witches (1966). Perhaps they'd screwed him up because after that he decided to jack it in and become an architect. Pamela Franklin had a moderately successful film and TV career up to the mid 70s, including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969). Anyway, good film. See full list here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Alfa 91.3

Today I appeared on Toño Esquinca's show on Alfa 91.3 (if one can 'appear' on a radio show), supported by my colleague Keri. After a lot of hanging around we finally got to chat with smooth-talking Toño about UKMX. It was pretty relaxed. It took me back to when I did my own radio show at university, playing weird music to a campus audience of potentially 5,000 but in reality you could probably knock off a couple of noughts. What a nice job: playing your favourite music and occasionally someone would actually phone in and say they liked it.
Toño is a big star with squillions of twitter followers. He's hosted The Killers, Foo Fighters and Lady Gaga, and Mark Ronson is due in tomorrow. Today must have been a slow day. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

El Chopper

Day off work / time out with Liz, wandering around the Centro Historico. Partly to check out several supply shops for Liz's silver-smithing (tiny Aladdin's caves above shops which you'd otherwise have no idea they were there), partly to see a couple of exhibitions (Tate Landscapes at MUNAL and a history of the bicycle at Franz Mayer Museum), and partly simply to have some time to ourselves.
The BICI exhibition was great: bikes through the ages, imaginatively laid out with interesting stories about their history in Mexico. It included an orange Chopper from the early 70s. I had one of these, a brilliant piece of design. It still looks modern.   

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

French Kissing in the DF

A visitor recently asked me: "Does everyone in Mexico snog in the streets?" Well, no, but a full-on, oblivious-to-all, tongues-and-everything, public clinch is fairly common. Having spent 15 years in East Asia, it's quite something.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Eggs

Easter Sunday means time for the annual trail. Twenty clues dotted around our home (and one in the garage) which A&N had to decipher, eventually leading to the clutch of chocolate eggs nestled in the washing machine. Ah, the simple joys of life...

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Teenage Dystopia

Took A to see Divergent, the latest in the 'Insurgent' series, based on the novels by Veronica Roth. A likes the books and loves Shailene Woodley, star of her favourite movie, The Fault in Our Stars. But she's 12 (OK, 13 before the end of this month) and there's a big difference between reading a book & letting your mind fill in the visuals and sitting through this new fad of dystopian films which leave very little to the imagination.
Divergent, like the similar teenage sci-fi series, The Hunger Games, is bleak as hell. I personally found the latter's theme of teenagers killing each other pretty distasteful. Divergent doesn't limit its violence to teenagers, but its still pretty brutal, formulaic and its post-apocalyptic setting just plain grim. We left after half an hour. Give me Disney any day.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Costa Cancun

On the way to the airport, we took a quick gander at Cancun. Not the town (which is now usually referred to Centro and is quite old) but the strip of hotels which juts out into the Caribbean. At the beginning of the 1970s there was nothing there. Then the Mexican government decided that it would make a good tourist destination,, and they were right. It, and the 100kms of coast stretching southwards (ending in Tulum where we've just been) accounts for 50% of Mexico's tourist revenue.
But we didn't like it. Endless hotels with 30,000 rooms and zero atmosphere. A cross between Miami Beach and Benidorm. What's more, because of the rapid development, the sand is literally being washed away and they're having to spend millions of dollars to keep it there.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Chichen Itza & Merida

A two-hour drive west, bisecting flat-as-a-pancake, featureless Yucatan. We pass through a timezone (the coastal strip of Quintana Roo is one hour ahead of the rest of the horn, simply to benefit the tourist industry), through weirdly named villages mostly beginning with X, and arrive in Chichen Itza late morning.
Founded around 800 AD and abandoned 700 years later when the Spaniards came, Chichen Itza is the best-preserved of all the Mayan ruins. It is also the most visited, as we jostled with coachloads of tourists to enter.
Once in, though, it’s big enough not to seem too crowded. A central pyramid, utterly geometrical, dominates, with other buildings scattered around a large area. One of the most interesting is the Ball Court. This is where the Mayans used to play a kind of football, except they couldn’t use feet or hands, just hips, knees and elbows. No-one really knows the rules, but we know they used a big rubber ball and at least one of the objectives was to get it through two stone hoops set high up on either side of the court. Losing was pretty final, and we’re not talking about relegation to Division Two.

We then continued westwards to Yucatan’s capital, Merida, famous for hats and hammocks, and its cathedral, the first to be built in Meso America (1598). Nice place, full of colourful colonial buildings, street-side cafes and tree-filled squares, though very hot. Would have liked to stay longer but it was a three-hour drive back so we had to cut it short. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Pinch punch, but no April Fool jokes. Today we went to a cenote which is a cross-between a cave and a sinkhole, filled with crystal clear water. There are a number of them in the vicinity, hidden in stunted jungle. You can swim through a series of interconnected pools, some open to the elements, others roofed by limestone and all pretty deep – deep enough for us to jump off a 6-metre high cliff and not worry about hitting the bottom.