Monday, June 29, 2015

I'd Like To Be, Under The Sea

As mentioned in this post a few months ago, you can't escape The Beatles here. This evening, Mexico City's Tourist Office invited me to take part in a press conference announcing a series of upcoming Fab4 events: an exhibition, gigs by cover bands, a replica of the Cavern Club in the Zocalo, a Magical Mystery Tour… Bizarrely, it was held in an aquarium (cue renditions of Octopus's Garden and Yellow Submarine). 
One of the guys on the panel was Ricardo Calderon who's been collecting Beatles paraphernalia since 1964 and now has one of the biggest collections in the world, some of which will form the exhibition which opens at the Soumaya Museum later this week. He's an annual visitor to the International Beatles Week in Liverpool. In fact, he's been so many times, bringing a posse of Mexican fans with him, that the Mayor bestowed on him the title of Honorary Ambassador to the City of Liverpool. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Late Chris Squire

Farewell Chris (Fish) Squire, who died yesterday, aged 67, of a rare form of leukaemia - in Phoenix, just 'up the road' from me. 
I don't mind admitting I was a Yes fan in the early-to-mid-70s, saw them twice, had all the albums, Roger Dean posters on the wall and greatly admired Squire's bass playing (and was once laughed at for saying so by a Glenn Matlock fan). I even had Squire's 1975  Fish Out of Water solo album and am playing it as I write this. He appeared on every single Yes studio album, the only one to do so. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Red Tops

Never mind page three and Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster, Britain's tabloids have got nothing on the Mexican red tops (prensa roja). There's not a day goes by without either a dead male body or a naked female one on Mexico's tabloid front pages. Sometimes you get both, like this one today, which is relatively mild compared to others I've seen on the newsstands. The former is almost always a drug-related crime, usually a shot to the head but sometimes worse. There's another tabloid called Grafica which is more or less the same, and another, El Nuevo Alarma!, which deals only in crime. Not even naked women.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Wrist Revisited

To the hospital again to swap N's temporary caste for a something more rigid. Ingenious new material. Soft underlying bandage as normal, then thick, multicoloured sticky tape which once wound round went completely solid. And you can get it wet, have a shower, even swim - though I don't think she'll be doing that for a while… The bad news is that it's got to stay on for six weeks. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


A day trip to Monterrey, 800kms north, not far from the US border, population around 4m. 
On our way into town from the airport the first thing that strikes you are the mountains which come right up to the city (or the city comes right up to them), including The Saddle seen here. Stopped off at the Consulate (which w share with Canada) then into the foothills to the house of Liliana Melo de Sada, a wealthy patron of the arts. And what a house. It looked like a 17th Century English country pile chocabloc of antique furniture, paintings covering every inch of wall space, a trophy room… but learnt that it was built just 32 years ago. Anyway, nice lady, good meeting about a couple of dance projects, and always interesting to see how the other half live. 
In the afternoon we visited the 100 year old Escuela Superior de Musica y Danza de Monterrey which will be the venue for one of the projects, and then MARCO, the city's big contemporary art museum. Great building designed by Ricardo Legoretta and two interesting exhibitions: American graphic designer Lance Wyman (which I already saw at MUAC in Mexico City) and a big one on Stanley Kubrick which made me want to see his films all over again. But it was the building that really did it for me.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Announcement of UK programme at FIL

This morning we announced the UK programme for FIL (Feria Internacional del Libro) at a packed press conference in the Museo Tamayo. 150 writers, academics, publishers and artists; nine nights of music & dance; science, children's & gastronomic programmes; three exhibitions; a film festival; and a whopping great pavilion.
Too many names to list here but the writers include Irvine Welsh, Jeanette Winterson, Philippa Gregory, Andrew Motion; numerous professors inc Alan Knight and Paul Garner; Random Dance Company, Jazz Jamaica; Aurora Orchestra; indie hand Spector, a folk night from all four home countries; exhibitions by Davids Hockney & Shrigley; nine independent films; Shaun the Sheep etc etc. For full list (feel, the 80% that's so far confirmed), see here

Primary Graduation

This evening we attended a graduation ceremony to mark the end of the school year, or rather N and her peers' end of primary school. That's both childhoods nearly over. End of an era. It was quite well done with school orchestra, songs, dancing and certificates. Seems like yesterday that she started primary in Bangkok. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dia del Padre

Fathers' Day. Its origins are obscure but date back to around 100 years ago, just after Mothers' Day was established. An American Civil War vet by the name of William Jackson Smart had raised six children after his wife had died giving birth to the last of them. His one daughter, who had helped bring them up, proposed fathers be honoured. But it was pretty local to Spokane, Washington State, and didn't really catch on until companies selling ties, pipes and slippers saw the commercial potential (much like the card, flower and spa industries championed Mothers' Day). Finally, thanks to Nixon, it became a public holiday in 1972. 
It isn't in Mexico. But the girls made me photo coasters, Liz gave me chocolate, we had lunch at Pain de Quotidien, and I got free time to do some writing. No ties. Perfect.

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Took N to the hospital this morning. Yup, she's fractured her wrist, having slipped & fallen at her friend's home last night. This is the third time. Did the same in Beijing and Bangkok, but other arm. Needs a caste, but have to wait for swelling to go down so temporary one for now. Just in time for the holidays!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Magic Museum

Nothing to do with me or UKMX, The Magic Museum is a play/musical playing for one day only in Mexico City and featuring our N. This term the school's been studying a bunch of artists through 500 years of world history and at the end of it the children devised a show based on four of them: Da Vinci, Hokusai, Van Gogh and Picasso. 
The story revolved around some children who are struggling with their art history homework. In desperation they go to a museum to try to get some inspiration. And lo-and-behold the paintings speak to them. So we were treated to a race through the Renaissance, Ukiyo-e, Impressionism and Cubism. N played a spirited young Leonardo da Vinci. We are hopeful of Dreamworks optioning the rights. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Today I played Lego all day. Seriously. A dozen of us got out of the office and had a facilitated session on the way we work, processes, integration, stuff like that. It was kind of fun: constructing towers that somehow represented core strategy, or rickety bridges between the different types of work we do. Even in the breaks I found myself playing with the stuff, just for tactile pleasure.
Apparently, 'Lego for adults' (or to give it its trademarked name, Lego® Serious Play®) has been around for 20 years and is big business. Did it really help in our strategic thinking? Honestly? No. But it was an experiment and a nice break from the office, computers, SAP, agenda-driven meetings and form-filling.  

Monday, June 15, 2015

White into Colour

This morning I went to the Centro de Cultura Digital to take part in a press conference for a project called Digital Futures which is taking place this weekend. It's kind of difficult to explain but involves Mexican and British designer-makers, app creators, hackers etc. See here. Anyway, that's to come...
Afterwards I popped into one of CCD's galleries to check out a work by Antonio Russek called "TS". It's basically a large, completely white room (walls, floor, ceiling) with an audio-visual installation, the gallery's lighting triggered by grating electronic music. White light, white noise. Nothing amazing, but I took a panoramic photo just for the hell of it and got this multi-coloured, stripy result. Weird.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Test of a Man

It was a chance to prove I was a man. Driving along the Paseo de la Reforma in the borrowed office car, we got a puncture. In 37 years of driving I'd never had a flat tyre. (Admittedly only one of those years involved us actually owning a car). Anyway, instead of phoning up the MX equivalent of the RAC I decided to have a go myself. Spare wheel: check. Jack: check. Wrench: check. Put jack under chassis, lift up car, unscrew nuts on wheel. Simple really. But would the nuts come off? Would they hell. 
A car pulled up and two guys got out to help. "No, you've lifted the car too high". They lowered it. The nuts came off easily. They put the spare wheel on and it was done. I could see Liz was impressed. I blew it.

Friday, June 12, 2015


Just finished reading a biography of Empress Dowager Cixi, (1835-1908) who ruled China for nearly 50 years as it tried to transform itself from an inward-looking, largely agrarian empire to a more modern, forward-looking one, with and without the help of interfering countries like Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Japan and the United States.
Jung Chang (Wild Swans and Mao - the Untold Story) paints a sympathetic picture of Cixi, who rose from the status of concubine to ruler of 450 million people. And it's true, she played a leading, reforming role in turning China around. But you don't get to that position, and stay at that position, without being pretty ruthless. And Cixi was certainly that. The early coup to get rid of the regency placing her and the ex-Emperor's wife as co-governors while her feeble son, Emperor Tongzhi, came of age (conveniently dying young); diverting money from the navy to fund her lavish Summer Palace; encouraging the Boxer Rebellion (or at least not stopping it); ordering numerous executions including throwing the Emperor's concubine down a well; poisoning the Guangxu Emperor (her adopted son, whom she never liked), so as to install the more malleable 2-year old Puyi (the subject of Bertolucci's The Last Emperor), and so on. Anyway, a riveting read.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

RIP Christopher Lee

And farewell Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, Lord Summerisle, Scaramanga, Dr Wonka, Saruman and Jabberwocky; and also WW2 war vet  and heavy metal singer. Fangs for the memories (groan).

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

RIP James Last

Farewell James Last at 86, purveyor of Happy Music to millions of retired couples the world over. He sold somewhere in the region of 200 million records and had 65 albums in the UK charts alone, including Gentleman of Music, Best of Kapt'n James and Non Stop Dancing 8. And when he wasn't recording he was touring, playing 90 concerts in the Royal Albert Hall alone. 
I saw one of those, in 1985. It was an extraordinary evening. Here's a fragment of my review in Sounds: 
Thrill to the sound of The Police reduced (?) to supermarket pulp, swoon to a couple of smulchy Lionel Richie hits, gasp as they massacre Debussy's Clair de Lune, wonder what he's saying between numbers.
It's like a drug. Everything, but everything, has a beat. During the 'slow, romantic' ones couples hold hands and the woman next to me dabs her eye with a handkerchief. Then in comes a 'fast, happy one' and people are dancing in the aisles, clapping meticulously in time […] 
'The Long and Winding Road' produced lumps in throats. 'Two Tribes' was hilarious, Horn on helium. It's all too much for a cynical young hack - an evening beyond criticism, a sub-culture. I will, of course, deny that I stood up and clapped along to 'Wake Me Up Before You Go Go'. It just didn't happen.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Short Stories

Pleasant evening with short story writers Tania Hershman & Paul McVeigh from UK and Mónica Lavín & Maurizio Montiel from Mexico. Funny grenre. How many words is the max? Is a novella the same thing or a bit longer? Stylistically, is there anything that defines a short story as opposed to a novel? Fewer characters, shorter periods of time, basically less complex? Tania offered this comparison: "Think of a short story as a poem and a novel as an opera." They're a funny couple, Tania & Paul. I mean, they're not an item, but just the way they banter. We're splitting them up tomorrow: Tania's off to Monterrey, Paul to Tijuana.
I also really enjoyed talking to Maurizio Montiel who, apart from writing short stories, is writing a novel, El Hombre de Tweed, on Twitter. He's been posting 140 character sections for the last two or three years and is nearing the end. It's here, if you can figure it out.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Finally getting into some Mexican music. Elfmilk (basically Eddie Harari and a few guest contributions) are kind off proggy, dark wave, with two albums out, the uninspiringly named Extragalactic Distance and Relocation. Sounds like a cross-between Lard Free and Bohren & der Club of Gore.  Thirty years ago I would probably have got into this but there is too much music and life is too short. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Mid-term Elections

Today, Mexico went to the polls. Not to vote for the Presidency, but mid-term elections for Congress and Governorships. The result is that the political landscape is more fragmented than ever with no one party dominating. For a long time, Mexico has had three strong parties and a few smaller ones. Now there are five or more with sizeable support, including an independent candidate who won Nuevo Leon, Mexico´s most important state economically. Happily the day passed fairly peacefully. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Guys, Girls, Kids, playing to Stereotypes

In a few more weeks, N will have finished primary school. End of an era. Today the Parents Association organized a 'graduation party' in a function room with a big garden way out in the hills. Turned out really well. The children ate & played out in the garden (huge bouncy castle, water fights and all that) while we adults enjoyed a great Mexican buffet. And then they showed the Champions League Final. It was such a cliche. Blokes huddled together watching the footie, women chatting away at the tables and children running around outside. Of course, like me, the Mexicans were all rooting for Barca. What a team. Victory was a foregone conclusion but there was a 10 minute spell in the second half when you did wonder a bit.
Here's me and my mate Angel, the grandfather of N's best classmate. He's Spanish, and a Real fan as it happens, but he didn't begrudge Barca their moment of glory.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Mountain Quake

One doesn't readily think of earthquakes affecting mountain tops, but today I learned that one of the two 'Donkeys Ears' on Mount Kinabalu in East Malaysia was snapped off in a 6.0 magnitude quake. I climbed this 18 months ago (see post). Here's the before & after.
Two people were killed and 100 stranded by falling boulders and bad weather. Lucky I climbed it when I did.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

1984: The Last Great Year of Pop

Today I've 'come out'. I'm writing a book. It's tentatively - or rather provocatively - titled 1984: the Last Great Year of Pop. Actually, I've been researching it for over a year, and thinking about it for much longer, but now I need to get on with the business of writing it. So I've taken three days off work and am marshalling facts & notes into prose to start making some inroads.
Who's this?
Why 1984?  Well, it's often said that the late 70s / early 80s was a glorious time for pop, and it was, coinciding with my late teens/early twenties. Plenty has been written about punk but the early 80s was also an inspirational time for pop; Simon Reynolds wrote an excellent book about the period (Rip It Up & Start Again: Post Punk 1978-84). At the same time the mid-to-late 80s have also been much maligned as the decade of big hair, bad drum sounds and style over content. It is a period which fascinates & divides opinion, more than the 90s for example which is still too close. 
There are personal, more subjective reasons too. For a start, I was there. It was the year I moved to London and started writing freelance for Sounds. It gave me privileged access to free records and concert guest lists. Of course, it wasn't just about pop (though for some reason I decided to buy every issue of Smash Hits that year, having never bought it before) and mostly I wrote about weird stuff like Nurse With Wound or Cabaret Voltaire, but I did get heavily into pop too. Anyway, here's 15 other reasons:
And these?
  • It was a year that began with the banning of Frankie's Relax and ended with Band Aid (the latter a significant event whichever way you look at it).
  • It was a year of many different scenes & genres (not just one overpowering one) with literally hundreds of great bands jostling for attention.
  • It was a year dominated by the Miners' strike, Cold War paranoia and more politically inspired pop than any other year before or since. 
  • It was the year of The Smiths, The Blue Nile, Depeche Mode, Scritti Politti, David Sylvian, The Style Council, Tears For Fears, The Cure, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Fall, Talk Talk, Echo & the Bunnymen, U2 hiring Eno etc.
  • It was the coming of age for Factory, 4AD, Mute and Some Bizarre; This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance...
  • It saw the beginning of the Pet Shop Boys, Fine Young Cannibals, Lloyd Cole, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Pogues, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, My Bloody Valentine and (gulp) Stock Aitken and Waterman.
  • It was the year of the 12" single, of remixes, of dance becoming incorporated into pop.
  • Yes yes yes, it made stars of Sade, Wham!, Nik Kershaw, Howard Jones and all that - and even bigger stars of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet - none of whom were as bad as we sometimes believe(d) them to be.
    And this glamorous singer? (Clue: it's not Carmel)
  • It was the winding up of the 'Second British Invasion' and the big-time beginnings of Madonna and Prince who promptly reclaimed the US charts.
  • It was also a strong year for alternatives: Cabaret Voltaire, Test Dept, Einsturzende Neubaten, Coil, 23 Skidoo, Foetus, Chakk, Man Jumping, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Bill Nelson and countless others; it also saw the release (though very few clocked it at the time) of Manuel Gottsching's E2-E4 and plenty more great stuff from Le Continent.
  • It was a time when the music press (there were four weekly papers) still mattered, and the nascent time of Smash Hits and style-bibles The Face and i-D. 
  • You didn’t go out on Thursdays or Fridays until after Top of the Pops and The Tube had finished. 
  • It was great graphic design and Frankie Say T-shirts, a year between analogue and digital and when synthesizers and drum-machines came of age. It was the beginning of the CD. 
  • It was the year of unsung heroes: Shriekback, XTC, Frank Chickens, 1000 Mexicans, Shock Headed Peters, The Sound, Thomas Leer, Sheila Chandra, The Daintees... 
  • It was the end of The Police and Soft Cell and the beginning of the end of Culture Club, Bowie, Eurythmics, Adam Ant, The Clash, The Stranglers, Madness, Human League and Heaven 17 though each definitely had their moments in 84.
  • It was also the year of Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and (its antidotal) Spinal Tap.
And this guy?
Over the last ten years, I've slowly realised just how much great music came out of '84 and currently have a playlist of some 300 tracks which I listen to fairly constantly. Of course, this could all be just so much nostalgia from a fiftysomething bloke who's living in the past (but I don't think so), and I'm definitely not saying 1984 was the best year ever (there are many earlier contenders)... just the last great year. 
Anyway, let's see how it goes. Don't hold your breath.-