Thursday, 23 December 2010

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

I actually wrote "Goodbye and thanks for all the fishes" before something told me to check it on Google and I got the quote/book title, whatever, right. According to Wikipedia, this is "the fourth book of the 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' trilogy" written by that megabore Douglas Adams, which is either a joke on the same level as the other rubbish found in the 1979 blockbuster or a mistake. On the other hand, it could be something of pseudo-cosmic faux-significance – like something out of Dan Brown – in which case I really don't want to know.

Which is all by way of saying that this will be my last offering of 2010, as, after years of denial and failed and expensive therapy, I have finally listened to my inner male menopause and booked the family into Club Med for a week of boozing and pretending to enjoy being pressganged into activities and, very likely, once the booze kicks in, dressing up as a woman for an evening entertainment's that will make the dross on TVB on a Saturday night look like Proust.

But before I go, I thought I'd do what any self-respecting blogger does at this time of year and bore people with their stats for the year. Since I'm a cheapskate and won't pay for that kind of stuff, I only have stats for the last month, so it's even less interesting than you might think – if that were possible.

Most of my readers (I should say "visitors", as many people come here via search engines (31.72% - so there!), and I think they sometimes leave before reading when they've come all they way from Islamabad for "enema sex while sleeping") – oh, damn, I’ve preempted myself – as I was saying, most of my readers come either from Google or direct from bookmarks or feeders.

Then there are those who come from other sites (mostly blogs). And I'm glad I checked this because it turns out that my second major blogger referrer is Gweipo. I say I'm glad not merely because she seems such a delightful person, but also because, seeing this, I did a search for her site, which I thought had ceased to be, and found that it was alive and kicking. So, back you have gone on my blogroll, GP, if you're reading this. (And also if you're not – of course, before Foamie steps in.)

The top ten referrers contain the usual suspects (Hemlock + anon (Dr. Adams?), Gweipo, Foamier, Ordinary Gweilo, Joyce, Spike, Webs of Significance, Mr Bijou) but also two surprises, in the shape of Hong Kong Paintings – up there in third place, take a bow, Jim – and Cantopopped, which Mat hasn't added to for nearly two years – which can only mean he keeps it going to keep up with the Hong Kong blogs. Good on you, mate!

Which leaves us with the most popular post category. Here are the winners.

Is that what a year's bloggin boils down to? Apparently, yes.

Can things only get better? I'd put about as much money on that as on England winning either of the next two Test matches against those Aussie bastards.

And with that I sign off and wish you all (Jew, Moslem, Hindu, Christian, miserable atheist alike) a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Putting in Goliath

If anyone still suffers from the misconception that cruciverbalists (people who do crosswords to you) are dull and humourless pedants, think again.

Comparing performances on a puzzle on the Times for the Times blog last week, one regular solver wrote that he had "jumped out of bed in the middle of the night to put in 'Goliath'." To which a fellow who uses the moniker "lonny2" made his first contribution to this year's blog a memorable one with the comeback:

"'I jumped out of bed in the middle of the night to put in Goliath.' There are too many people boasting on this site!"

For those who are interested, the original clue was "Trouble arising when captured by barbarian or Philistine (7)."

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Lib Dem Support Halved as Colin Firth Quits Party

You do realise that the Party booked both tables but the other supporter is stuck in snow

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Shortbread Company, Tai Po

One thing's a given for Hong Kong Islanders after the energy they're going to expend working out how to get to Tai Po, and this is that they'll be looking for a place to top up their batteries when they finally get there.

Into this category, if it could sort out a number of shortcomings, might come a place called The Shortbread Company. Open seven days a week from 7.30am to 6.00pm, the restaurant-cum-bakery is located at 16 Nam Shing Street not far from the Railway Museum (2654-6328).

You'll know you're near when you see a Shenzhen-style reproduction of the Union Flag jutting out on the street. The same lack of attention to detail is apparent inside the restaurant, where the blackboards offer "coffe" and "broccolli". (Even their business card manages to misspell Hang Seng Bank and to call the East Rail Line the "North-East China Railway Line".)

We didn't try the broccolli, but two of us had the coffe and it looked like mud and tasted like mud. Mud with a splash of chicory, perhaps, but mainly mud. Which was rather baffling, as one of the numerous blackboards was dedicated to coffee ("fair trade", no less), informing us that the day's set meals were being accompanied by Brazilian beans, while Ethiopian were available à la carte.

Drinks are not this place's strong point, as the orange juice my daughter ordered tasted like orange squash with a dash of guava and her cousin's iced lemon tea came with no syrup, until he asked, and even then was inferior to the stuff served up in a traditional cha chaan teng. To complete a dismal beverage performance, the waitress brought hot milk with the order for breakfast tea.

All this is pretty disappointing in view of the fact that the eatery sells itself on its "UK homebaking" – hence the fake Union Jack. As for the food, at HK$60 a throw, the full English is 50% more expensive than you'd find at any decent club around town and not so full. Our two voracious teenage appetites were disappointed that the serving of baked beans was so small and missed the hash browns that are standard elsewhere. The three adults each had the "mini breakfast" (one egg, one sausage, two rashers of bacon, half a half-cooked tomato, one slice of buttered toast), which was fine (except I wish they would baste the egg whites so the area around the yolk is actually white rather than translucent and yucky), but twice what a breakfast sets you back at a cha chaan teng.

Even if the fare served at The Shortbread Company, and the cooking, is in a different league to that of a local greasy spoon, this will not cut much ice with locals (of whom there were several in the place) in the long run, I fear, so long as the price differential is so marked. But, first, they need to sort out the drinks.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Short Selling

Yesterday it was the IT guy, today it’s the photographer. And another in that line of stories that used to keep Nury Vitacchi in clover when he worked at the South China Morning Post and presided over a column called “Lai See”, in which he reproduced stories that readers sent him. (By the way, has anyone read Nury's book North Wind, in which he apparently claims he was sacked by the Post for upsetting Beijing? Did they really care about plagiarism so much in those days?)

Ah Hing, AKA Hing Jai, is responsible for capturing for posterity all the junkets and jamborees that senior management get up to. You can guess the kind of thing: "The Southern District Civic Education Outstanding Enterprise Awards cum Care for the Elderly Poster Design Competition" or "The Most Professional Toilet Attendant Election". (What is it with the Chinese and phoney elections?)

So, last week, Hing Jai is there in the Marketing Conference Room to take snaps of the latest "meaningful activity undertaken by the Company", as the PR blurb would have it. This event not being deemed quite meaningful enough for the MD to attend, he had deputed the Commercial Director to go in his place. "

Now, the Commercial Director (or “CD", as she is known) is six feet tall, which is rather above average for a Chinese woman. Much more of the average height was her co-organiser at the event, a lady who wouldn't look out of place at a congress of Shetland Pony jockeys.

This is where it gets a bit complex, so I'll endeavour to keep things as simple as possible. Besides CD and the other woman (to whom I’ll give the pseudonym Tai-nee), there were a bunch of schoolkids. One lot were sitting in the front row, while another lot were standing behind them, with CD and Tai-nee in the middle.

Behind everyone was another feature beloved of the Hong Kong activity, the backdrop with slogan. And the problem was, that in the photos taken by Hing Jai CD’s head blotted out the key Chinese characters. Thus it was that Hing Jai was asked to switch the positions of CD and Tai-nee. No problem for photoshop. Problem solved.

Or so he thought …

The corporate magazine in which the photo was to appear had all but gone to press when there was an intervention from the deputy head of the department that had run the original event to say that Tai-nee must be elevated by six inches, thereby halving the height differential between her and CD.

Hing Jai dutifully complied, only to find (as he had secretly suspected) that Tai-nee's bonce now blocked out the key Chinese characters, which it had been top priority to protect. Which just goes to prove that, when push comes to shove, face really does come before character.

Thursday, 16 December 2010


Working in Hong Kong affords many moments when you have to check that you're not dreaming or that the Martians haven't landed. In one way they have, of course, as the local business scene boasts more than its fair share of spacemen and spacewomen. If the lunatics haven't taken over the asylum, that's only because the astronauts got there first.

Chatting with our IT man a few months back as he was fixing my computer (why is it that, even if you send these guys a screen-shot of the dialog box telling them what the problem is, they are programmed to keep on asking you questions until they find one you can't answer?), he told me the latest story about a department head who will shall call Sarah Wong.

Now, Sarah's main achievement in the five years she's worked here is to be disliked by everyone. She also contends annually for the coveted title "Laziest Bugger in the Company" – Ivan the computer guy says he's yet to fix her computer when it’s not her private stuff that’s caused the problem.

In the summer, while I was in the Basque Country, we had one of those internal award ceremonies that Hong Kong is so fond of, and Sarah did her usual thing of turning up late. The only problem was that she was so late that the HR staff who were running the event had left their station in the corridor and gone inside to cheer on the MD.

The room where the award was being held is actually two rooms (with a folding dividing wall) and since a stage had been set up at one end, the door nearest to the lift lobby had been locked. When the HR drones heard Sarah tugging away at the locked door, they nipped out of the other door and cheerily asked her to join the party.

Without a word of reply, Sarah stormed back to the lift lobby, not able to comprehend first a door that wouldn't obey her and then staff who dared usher her towards the correct entrance.

Just this morning I was reminded of this story when I had occasion to go down to the 8th Floor, where HR have their training centre. I noticed that the door to the nearer training room was absent – its hinges bearing silent witness to its removal.

I may have an overactive imagination, but my mind was instantly transported back to Medieval times, when courts used to put pigs on trial for putting their snout in the wrong trough and condemn them to death when found guilty. Had this woman become more feudal than the feudalists, ordering the carting off the offending portal for judgement before a tribunal of Hong Kong's whackier judges?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Gay Football Fans Given 12 Years by F IFA Chief to Go Celibate

It's catching. The day after Cornish guesthouse owners, Mr. and Mrs. Bull, defended their right to decide who may or not stay at their boarding establishment, Sepp Blatter, a serial contender for the title World's Stupidest Swiss, has issued a bull of his own.

Besides overseeing the award of the 2022 World Cup to a country the size of a postage stamp with no football teams, no football fans, no football grounds and no alcohol – but loads of oil – the mad Helvetian appears to see no problem in staging the football showpiece in an absolute monarchy with a human rights record so poor that it makes Russia, the 2018 winner, look like a poster boy for Wikileaks.

Addressing the issue of gay football fans bunking down in a country where homosexuality is illegal, the former president of the World Society of Friends of Suspenders, a group which campaigned to make women wear stockings instead of tights, declared that they "should refrain from any sexual activities".

Well, at least he didn't tell them to go straight.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Gay Stay?

Twenty years ago next summer, my wife to be and I broke our journey from Edinburgh to Orkney at Inverness. It was pretty late when we knocked at a guesthouse door to see if they had a room for the night. Both of us were taken aback when the landlady, who resembled the housekeeper in Dr Findlay's Casebook, asked if we were married.

"Yes," I responded with all the confidence I could muster.

"Weil, why thein wood yourr waife nay be wearing a weiding rring?" she asked with an accusing glint briefly twinkling from her grey eyes before her face resumed its flint-like aspect.

"Ah," said my wife to be, "I always take it off when I'm doing the washing up."

A perfect non-sequitur if ever I heard one, given that we'd just stepped off the 3.30 from Edinburgh Waverley. But it worked.

The gay rights organisation Stonewall isn't past trying it on either, it would seem, judging from a case that is being heard in Bristol. They'd obviously had the "married-couples only" hotel on their gaydar for some time, as they had written to the Christian proprietors of the Cornish hotel advising them of the new equality legislation a month before two of their gay members attempted to book in for the night, only to be refused.

The gay couple are suing for sexual orientation discrimination, a claim which the hoteliers deny on the grounds that they have a long-standing policy banning all unmarried couples whether heterosexual or gay from sharing a room.

While I'm all in favour of a private hotel having the right to set its own policy so long as it's in accordance with the laws, I'm rather puzzled since, as far as I understand matters, England and Wales only allows gay and lesbian couples to tie the knot in civil partnerships, rather than in marriages.

As things stand, it would appear that straight couples need to try the washing-up gambit, while homosexual couples are, well, stuffed.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Sticking out like a Tso Kai Sum

Hong Kong is a good place to retire in, as luminaries such as former Executive Councillor Sir Sze Yuen Chung can testify. Chung still holds the reins at Transport International Holdings (KMB to you and me) at the ripe old age of 93, having succeeded to the post of chairman in the last year of the last millennium when he received the baton from another former Exco man, Woo Pak Chuen, who was 89 when he finally quit.

Elsewhere, the likes of David Akers-Jones, once Hong Kong's Chief Secretary, is still at the age of 83 making a nice living from jobs such as chairing Hysan Development, a company he is likely to have run across when he was chairman of the Hong Kong Housing Authority from 1987 to 1992.

Besides helping our buses to run on time and with those infernal televisions blaring out their inane messages (but enough of the Government's APIs), Sir SY is also a director of CLP Holdings. Over at their competitors (sort of competitors – this is Hong Kong, after all), HK Electric, things are taken a little further, with the chief executive himself in his 80th year. (The practice at most large Hong Kong companies is for the CEO/MD to retire at 65.)

Unfortunately, the ravages of time appear to be catching up with Mr. Tso, if his latest message in HK Electric's quarterly magazine Contact is anything to go by. Expressing his pleasure at the company’s recent acquisition of Electricit√© de France's UK electricity distribution interest, Tso crows that "this is the largest deal ever undertaken by us and it is expected to increase our earnings outside Hong Kong to more than 50% within two years".

To more than 50% of what? English prepositions are indeed pesky things; all the more reason to set aside some of those record profits the company is making to hire someone who can write the language properly. I notice from his Wikipedia entry that Akers-Jones is president of the English-Speaking Union in Hong Kong.

A win-win solution with Hong Kong characteristics surely beckons.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Australians Resort to 4-letter Words as Hopes Go up in Ashes

Talk about finding comfort in the bottom of a glass, the Australians have reacted to their pummelling in the Adelaide Test match by picking a bloke called Beer. By a strange coincidence, he replaces another bloke called Xavier, who turned out to be anything but, his two wickets against England coming at an average of 102.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Assange Answers Condom’s Rape Charge

It was an amicable split

My Life Will Has Been Ruined Claims Condom

I put it to you, Mr. Assange, that, notwithstanding the fact that Miss A had consensual sex with you, you brutally raped Miss A’s condom and then callously refused to share a post-coital cigarette with it.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Mossad Chief Denies Egyptian Shark Attack

The claims are utterly groundless and quite preposterous

Making a Difference

Good to know it's not just the Jockey Club's horse racing presenters who read this blog. Season's greetings to Jenny Chapman, Clint Hutchison and the peerless Darren Flindell, who no longer fluff their lines on a nag called Koenigsberg thanks to a little help from you know who. (Brett Davis, you didn't pay enough attention in school, did you?)

Yesterday at a packed St John's, the Revd Nigel Gibson lauded the "vital work, largely unseen and unsung" performed by the Society for the Promotion of Hospice Care, almost as if he were reading from the piece I wrote on Monday.

It's reassuring that avid Ulaca readers are to be found in every pillar of our community: not just the Honourable Scottish Beancounters Club and the Highest Kickback Joins Club, but also Mother Kirk herself.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Razor-sharp Writing?

I'm not sure what the people at the South China Morning Post think anyone would want with a one-month "Y5ZONE Wi-Fi account worth HK$98‏", but that is what was on offer when I checked my email this morning.

The catch? They wanted me to shell out 400 dollars so that I could read their "topical features and razor-sharp writing" online.

It's not often I bother with the office copy of the SCMP these days, but I thought I'd have a look to see what I was missing.

Not a lot, was the answer, of course. I'd only got as far as page 2 when I was confronted with a photo of an annoying Greenpeace type protesting about nuclear energy. The sub-editor had managed to display his or her monumental ignorance of Hong Kong (and whoever is responsible for checking copy, his or her monumental laziness) by referring to the offices of the "Environmental (sic) Bureau" in Wan Chai.

Why would anyone want to pay for this drivel when you he can get the Telegraph or the New York Times for free? Or even The Sun?

Transfer Norman Stanley Fletcher to a Hong Kong jail and he surely would have quipped, "Get me a copy of the South China Morning Post ... oh yeah and get me something to read as well."

Monday, 6 December 2010

Light up a Life Concert at St John's Cathedral

If you asked me what my favourite charity was, I would answer the same as I did forty years ago, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. I take my hat off to anyone who's willing to go out in a storm and try and rescue other people. A close second, though, must come the Society for the Promotion of Hospice Care, who do vital work that is largely unseen and unsung.

The society's annual Light up a Life Concert takes place at St John's Cathedral tomorrow evening, starting at 7.30pm. If you haven’t yet obtained a ticket (HK$150), make sure you get along early to secure your place.

This year, the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir will be back, performing alongside the Filipino Fellowship Choir and the South Island School Orchestra and Choir. After the concert, mulled wine and minced pies will be available in the cathedral garden courtesy of the volunteer association of St. John's Cathedral – and there’s even a vicious rumour that the Welshmen will be back on duty to serenade concertgoers with popular Christmas numbers such as "White Christmas" and "Jingle Bells".

Before then, the men in scarlet will be giving their renditions of "The Coventry Carol", "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", "In the Bleak Midwinter", "I Wonder as I Wander" and "O Holy Night" (Cantique de Noel).

Here's "I Wonder as I Wander" sung by the London Gay Men's Chorus:

Friday, 3 December 2010

Clinton Leaks

With all the kerfuffle created by Wikileaks in recent weeks, one headline stood out from the rest: "Clinton: Leaks". Given that Hillary Rodham is quite an authority on scandals, I ought perhaps to have been more attentive to what she had to say, but I have to confess my mind soon began to wander. However hard I tried to focus on the half-witted Prince Andrew's considered opinion of the Americans, French, Chinese and Russians, or visions of North Korea and Iran tying the nuclear knot at a ceremony presided over by China, my mind kept drifting to weightier matters, like, where is Clinton Leeks today and what is he doing?

For those who don't know, Clinton Leeks was a faintly familiar figure on the local scene in the years straddling the handover. Something of an odd-job man, he earned his money variously as David Wilson's private secretary, Vietnamese boatperson spokesperson (he penned a chapter on the asylum seekers in Empire and After – I only mention this because it was edited by the magnificently named Michael Twaddle) and spin king at the Airport Authority before heading back to Blighty to take up a similar position at Crossrail, a new railway line across (and under) London, which is due to open in 2018 just so long as there are no leaves or snow on the tracks.

Leaks was also chairman of the Hong Kong Society before passing the baton on to the pandaesque Lydia Dunn (just as well it wasn't made of bamboo or she might have eaten it) or "Baroness Dunn, of Hong Kong Island in Hong Kong and of Knightsbridge in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea", to give the septuagenarian her full title – clearly designed with geographically challenged Americans in mind.

Meanwhile, back in the Hong Kong blogosphere, ex HSBC chairman David Eldon marks the end of the two-month official mourning period for the demise of wealthy Yank John Thornton's attempt to obtain the post he once held by turning his formidable weaponry on the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange. Or, to be more precise, "Mr. Assange".

If the icy stare from under the salt and pepper eyebrows is difficult to read, then semioticians would have a field day with Eldon's use or, more significantly, non-use of Christian names, out-group membership being signalled once more by the sneering disyllabic "Mister":

"Let me state up front that while I am all in favour of truth, openness and integrity, I am not a fan of Mr. Assange and his Wikileaks organisation."

As if the canny Scot were aware that some of his readers might be raising their own eyebrows at the idea that he should be a fan of truth, openness and integrity after a career spent in banking, Eldon leaves the best till last. One can imagine those beetle brows twitching with feverish mischief as he avows his belief in “transparency and good corporate governance”.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The "Royal Me" Cocks a Snook at Protocol

At least he would if he knew where his snook was as well as he knows where his ... you get the meaning.

This photo needs no caption of mine. Here's Becks in his own words.

Me, Prince William and the Prime Minister arriving here has turned things around.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Three Stooges

No, Wills, this is the World Cup for the round ball game.