Saturday, 30 April 2011

Pippa Middleton Stops London Traffic

Know what, luv, your dress is the same colour as my Porsche

A Diehard Monarchist Reflects on the Royal Wedding

Round up the usual suspects

Got home early and watched the VIP guests being chauffeured to the Abbey via Horse Guards Parade, especially enjoying the sight of the minor royals travelling in a convoy of minibuses from Buckingham Palace.

Got quite tearful when I heard that the Queen will make the first ever state visit by a monarch to Ireland later this year. Such an immense thing given all the history. I pointed out to my daughter the significance of the commentator in chief being Welsh (and very good too) and one of the fashionistas Irish, as Wales and especially Scotland move seemingly inexorably towards independence and the joys of a presidential system.

Future queen?

Dress of the day for me had to go to Camilla, 'though Kate would look good in anything. A lot of men must be trying to get little sister Pippa's number. What a figure! (And cleavage on the maid of honour's dress was even deeper than on the bride's!)

Please, please, look at my sister!!

I thought the choice of lesson (from Romans) was interesting and original, so too the choice of the reader (brother James). I guess they reckoned Harry or another of Wills's armed forces or polo mates would have forgotten the words. My only criticism with his delivery was the unnatural pauses between "brothers" and "sisters" at the beginning, but otherwise excellent. Liked the Archbishop (what a voice - he would make a mint as a voiceover talent) but didn't go for the Bishop of London or his sermon very much.

This is worse than listening to father talking to his plants

Thought Kate already holds herself much better than William, who sat there slumped during the sermon as if he were listening to a colonel drone on in the regimental mess. She would seem to have more gumption. Is that why they broke up? (I'm assuming it was her doing - not being a subscriber of OK or Hello).

Present queen

Will be interested to hear what my little Royalist thought of the whole thing. (She watched at a friend's.) One thing Britain still does best. Those who say the Royal Family are a waste of money should consider how much tourism revenue it still rakes in, however strong their prejudice towards republicanism might be ...

Friday, 29 April 2011

Policeman Charged with Possession

It's a open secret that law enforcers the world over are especially liable to various forms of addictive behaviour, such as smoking, gambling, alcoholism and dressing up in funny clothes and giving each other funny handshakes.

This is due of course to a combination of factors, most notably the strains of the job, the chance to earn when they leave school at 18 with five O-levels three times as much as their classmate who graduates from university, and the hours of endless reflection as they walk the beat wondering if they really made the right career choice when they spun the coin and it came down on the side of the law rather than that of the criminals.

Be all that as it may, until now I had never imagined that members of Hong Kong's finest would be adherents of spiritualism. That rather naïf expectation was cruelly shattered when I opened an envelope from the boys in blue yesterday evening to discover that I had been arraigned for driving my car in excess of the speed limit near Chainage 5.8 of Tai Po Road.

Since I had been detected by a camera and these machines are notoriously prone to inaccuracy, as Peter Lam demonstrated, my first impulse was to dispute liability and take my chance in court. However, one look at the name of the person (person, I hope) who had signed the notice demanding payment sent chills down my spine and convinced me that resistance would be futile whatever evidence I presented in court, expert witnesses notwithstanding.

For just what chance would I have when the chief prosecutor goes under the name of Ng Chi Keung, Demon?

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Scot Bleats his Way into British Hearts

In a controversy that threatens to eclipse the nuptials of Will and Kiss-Me-Kate-&-Make-Me-Proud, Coatbridge crooner Edward Reid is insisting that his cover of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" is totally original with no borrowings whatsoever.

Already touted as the next Susan Boyle, this fellow with no socks and the suit that doesn't fit seems set to replace Andy Murray as most successful Scottish male on the planet. (The "singing" starts at 1:40.)

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

De Niro Hits Back at Trump

I may look like I've been dragged through a hedgerow backwards, but at least I left the latticework on the back porch

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Airs from Hoffmann

Check out two of the best known arias from Offenbach's magical Tales of Hoffmann. First, Miguel Villabella, the Basque tenor who made his home and his name in Paris, sings, from the second act, "O dieu! de quelle ivresse" ("O God, what intoxication is this with which you set my heart on fire?") with his trademark ease and expressiveness. (The video is from the Archers' film version, which was not sung by Villabella.)

Second, from act one, a clockwork Moira Shearer dances, accompanied by Léonide Massine on "harp" and Frederick Ashton on winding-up duties, under the watchful gaze of Robert Rounseville in a pair of Dr. Coppélius's magic glasses and an appreciative, if somewhat uncoordinated, audience of mechanical dolls. (The aria "Les oiseaux dans la charmille" ("The birds in the hedgerows") is sung, in English, by Dorothy Bond, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Thomas Beecham.)

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Tales of Hoffmann

It says something about the crowning achievements of human artistic endeavour that many of the greatest works were never finished. Into that category fall The Faerie Queene, Don Juan, arguably The Aeneid, and certainly The Tales of Hoffmann, Jacques Offenbach's masterpiece, which was cobbled together after his death.

Indeed, the best known song from the opera, the barcarole, used in a number of films, including La Vita è Bella, 1999's Best Foreign Language Film, was actually written by the composer 20 years earlier and added to the unfinished opera by those charged with knocking the German-born Frenchman's last composition into shape.

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger broke new ground when they made their Tales of Hoffmann in 1950, as, rather than being content with a mere film version of a stage opera, the writer-director team known as the Archers marshalled the formidable weaponry of their combined talents to brilliant effect to make a picture that may have bamboozled Roger Ebert's American film students but has secured a place in the pantheon of their greatest films, up there with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale and The Red Shoes.

I don't know how much Ingmar Bergman's Magic Flute owed to Powell's movie made a quarter of a century earlier, but both films flourish despite male leads that are less than stellar. In both films, it is the magical atmosphere conjured up by the director - so thick at times that you can almost taste it - that transports the viewer. And I use the word "viewer" advisedly with regard to Powell's piece in particular, as, in Hoffmann, as in all his mature pictures, the cinematic qualities - the sets, the costumes, the Technicolor, the camerawork - not only complement the musical score, they need to be kept on a leash in order that they might not overwhelm it.

I look forward to reading about the making of the film in greater detail in the second part of Powell's autobiography, Million Dollar Movie. Until then, there is much to reward multiple viewings: the performances of fading ballet stars Léonide Massine and Robert Helpmann, whose competitiveness and mutual loathing was masterfully exploited by the director, the more understated, but equally magical performances of British dancers Moira Shearer and Frederick Ashton, and the screen presence of arguably Powell's greatest love (and he had enough of them), Pamela Brown, in the important, if understated, part of Hoffmann's sidekick Nicklaus, a role traditionally sung by a woman.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Poll time

It's a while since I had a poll, and since we're off on our annual Easter pilgrimage to Macau tomorrow, I thought I'd stick one up to keep you entertained in the interim. You have until midnight on Tuesday to answer. The results will be forwarded to that doctor (at HKU, is it? - chucked yesterday's Post away) who does research into peanuts, even though he clearly knows absolutely nothing about them, given that academics in Hong Kong are sadly not paid commensurate with their abilities (geddit?) but according to their talent for setting up units, centres and institutes, screwing funding out of the University Grants Committee, Research Grants Council, Quality Education Fund, etc., and licking serious Mainland arse.

Plus, as a bonus, I'm going to give you three rebuses (rebi?) that cropped up in the last Cricket Club quiz. The first is easy, but the other two a little harder (you need to imagine the "u" to the right of, as well as under, shop etc.):



M 1 Y

L 1 I 1 F 1 E

A night with Princess Madeleine for the winner. A night with Carla Bruni for 20 runner-ups. (All together, of course.)

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Getting Down and Dirty

"HK kids most allergy-prone in the region" trumpets the South China Morning Post in one of its headlines today.

The article goes on to inform us that kids here (Chinese, we may assume) are "much less prone to food allergies than those in North America but are still twice as likely to be sufferers than others in Southeast Asia".

Two main reasons are given. One, children in countries like the USA and the UK stuff their faces with McDonald’s when they're not being given stuff from the freezer. (Heated up first – not even Americans mums are that lazy.) That explains the first part of the equation.

Two, Hong Kong kids are so cosseted that they pick up all sorts of lurgies, as well as allergies, that their cousins on the Mainland (excepting the sons and daughters of the well-off) are in great part immune to, owing to the fact that they build up a natural immunity by mucking around outside and by not having their bloody Hello Kitty scissors sterilised in the restaurant's special delivery of boiling water before their dim sum is cut up for them by six screaming female relatives all competing for the title of Wrecker of Health in Chief.

Right – I'm glad I've got that off my chest. Tomorrow, or the next day, I'll be reporting on a most interesting conversation I had at the weekend with a psychiatrist – not in a professional capacity, I can assure you (they didn't work); one with strong views on the causes (or, as he would prefer to say, the factors) behind depression and other related conditions (again, as he prefers to call them, rather than diseases).

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Kate Middleton Edges out Carla Bruni in Poll

Marry me and you can give up this flight attendant business for ever

Monday, 18 April 2011

Sinfonietta Season Starts

Arguably the greatest advantage the Hong Kong Sinfonietta has is that it performs most of its concerts at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall, the venue with the best acoustics in Hong Kong.

Yip Wing Sie and her troubadours were up and running last Friday with an interesting programme comprising Bernstein’s Serenade, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite and a world premiere of local composer Lam Lan Chee's Lotus.

On this evidence, Ms Lam, just 28, is one to watch. Her short tone poem was rousing and soulful, and a tune nearly broke out at one point – quite a bonus in modern music.

She also kept Sinfonietta percussionist in chief, Chau Chin Tung, and his sidekick, as busy as a hamster on a wheel – a wheel being about the only instrument Chau wasn't called upon to whack or rattle. No wonder they call the percussion section the kitchen.

The highlight of the evening was French soloist Laurent Korcia's playing of Bernstein’s quasi violin concerto, loosely based on the characters of Plato's Symposium. Fittingly, Socrates gets the best part – the slow section that kicks off the fifth and final movement.

The second half of the show consisted of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, the 1945 arrangement of his 1910 collaboration with Diaghilev and Ballets Russes. The strings acquitted themselves well in this early work influenced by Stravinsky's teacher Rimsky-Korsakov as well as by Debussy and Skryabin, but the ensemble was once again let down by the horns.

Upcoming Sinfonietta concerts include French pianist Bertrand Chamayou on 7 May (playing Liszt’s E flat concerto) and concertmaster James Cuddeford on 20 May (playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons). Later in the year, Wendy Law will play Elgar’s cello concerto, so memorably performed by Lynn Harrell in 1999 with the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

Friday, 15 April 2011

All Uphill from Here

Whatever that means. You see, if "all downhill from here" means it's going to get worse, then you'd have thought "all uphill from here" would have to mean it's going to get better, but I can't see how you can get that from "uphill" since that's a word that typically collocates with words with a negative prosody like "struggle" and "battle".

Maybe, these hilly expressions can be used interchangeably, like "slow down" and "slow up", another example of opposites which mean the same, as opposed to sames which mean the opposite, like "cleave", with its two meanings of separate or join together, or "liberal", with its two meanings of tree-hugging hypocrite or someone like me with the right kind of ideas.

Anyway, I digress. This is a landmark day for me, marking my 1,000th post (how cool is that?) since I wrote my very first one back in August 2007, which was called "Gijón 1: Lonely Planet paradise" and was illustrated by a couple of photos I found on the internet. Nothing new there, then.

My second effort, imaginatively entitled "Gijón 2: sun, sand, sex and sidra", has proved to be one of my sleeper hits, especially with my Islamic readers, who are attracted to this post in large numbers, although not with quite the same degree of interest which they show in a later piece called "Sleeping with the enema".

Anywho (as my daughter likes to say), it's just nice to be appreciated by readers in places such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Kuwait.

The idea for this retrospective was actually planted by a recent commenter, who mentioned that my post on Nadezhda Mandelstam's Hope Abandoned came up number one on Google. I tried this myself the other day and, you know, he was right. I have to say the feeling this gave me was right up there with the first time I shaved or the time I fooled my ex boss by continually saying "Hello?" down the phone when I could hear him perfectly well because he was such a prat before finally signing off with a superfluous and yet immensely satisfying "I’m sorry, I can't hear anything; I'm ending the call now".

So, I thought, to celebrate this extraordinary milestone, I'd use my Google Analytics and my Statcounter, together of course with my ingenuity, to find out just which have been the most popular posts and which the cult classics – the latter once being described by Francois Truffaut as films that aren't quite good enough to make it without being adopted out of sympathy by those with a rather higher opinion of their critical abilities than the facts warrant. The Angelina Jolie Adopted Vietnamese Babies of the film world, in other words.

Since we're on film, what better way to start than with possibly my most popular post of all time (the stats only cover a month at most, so I have to do a bit of extrapolation here and there) – with the exception of "Zheng Jie nude" … oh, and "Sleeping with the enema", and maybe "One Night Only - Pseudo Model Chrissie Chau at HKUST" – namely, "Putting the Asset on Standby until the Rendition Protocol Arrives". What particularly intrigues me with this one is just how many people there are out there who can’t go to bed at night without having discovered what a rendition protocol is. Of course, the irony is they won't be any the wiser after reading my Montaignesque, ever so slightly rambling, essay, which nonetheless drew comments from two Bournophiles, one of whom, Philip Chandler, sounds like a thriller writer, and the other, Venkatesh Sivaraj, like, well, an Indian.

I knew if I started this, I wouldn't want it to end, but I still underestimated just how enjoyable and addictive this narcissistic navel-gazing is. A search for "Le Jardin de Joel Robuchon" will bring you straight to my thoroughly objective review of a meal taken there a year or so ago, right next to the restaurant's own website. It gives me a warm glowy feeling to think that Frenchman and Englishman are reading each other's sites, engaged in a mutual learning process that breaks down boundaries raised by language and years of selling pretentious over-priced comestibles on very large plates.

It's hard to know how to cap that. One of those silver domed trolleys from Simpson's in the Strand would probably do the trick.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Putting the Berke into Berkeley

What a pity that I will be gainfully employed in Happy Valley on Wednesday 24 April, as that evening a fellow called Robert Cervero, from Berkeley, no less, will be giving the latest talk in the University of Hong Kong's Distinguished Transport Lecture series, which are always good for a laugh.

Cervero will be pushing something called Transit Oriented Development (I'm struggling to think of any urban development which isn't transport oriented), something adopted apparently by "global cities" such as Stockholm and a place I'd never heard of in Brazil that sounds like a skin disease called Curitiba. (Given that it's a God-forsaken place stuck on a plateau miles from anywhere, chances are most Brazilians haven't heard of it either.)

Cervero's lecture abstract is particularly aptly named, containing sentences such as "Hedonic price model results for several mixed-use settings reveal that real-estate markets capitalize such benefits" and "Supply-side benefits of inter-mixing land uses include opportunities for shared parking and reduced impervious surfaces for roads and highways."

Rather worryingly, we are told that the author of this guff has twice won the Article of the Year award from the Journal of the American Planning Association and currently serves on the editorial boards of ten scholarly journals.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Definitely Grieg

With a quiz title to defend at the Hong Kong Cricket Club on Thursday, I'm still trying to banish memories of a Rory McIlroy style implosion during the music round of a recent contest at the Ladies Recreation Club.

Needing to identify the introductions to four romantic piano concertos, I nodded my confidence to my team-mates before leading them to a miserable score of one, mixing up my Rachmaninov, Grieg and Schumann, while ignoring protestations from one member who thought he knew better than me, which of course he did.

Well known as Grieg's piano concerto in A minor is, some cognoscenti believe that his masterpiece is the song Våren, pronounced Voren, in case you were wondering, which is usually rendered as "Last Spring" in English.

If you like it, you can hear it sung in the original Norwegian (or something approximating to it – like Danish, if you will) by the Cecilian Singers tomorrow evening at the Methodist International Church in Wan Chai.

To get you in the mood, here's the Brussels Chamber Choir:

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Gay Caveman Seeks Attention Whoring Archaeologist

Is that a rock in your loincloth or are you just pleased to see me?

Friday, 8 April 2011

Obedience is Never Calm in him who Reasons and Disputes

Writing 430 years ago, Michel de Montaigne was a great believer in tradition and in obeying just laws. Pointing out that the first law God ever gave to man was a law of pure obedience (not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), he writes "From obedience and submission spring all other virtues, as all sin does from self-opinion".

In another place, observing that "it is easy to accuse a government of imperfection", he urges his fellow Frenchmen not to be continually tinkering with the laws and thus begetting in the people a contempt of ancient observances.

It is against this somewhat idealised notion of a stable state founded on just laws that he calls "happy the people who do what they are commanded … who suffer themselves gently to roll after the celestial revolution".

Montaigne would, I think, have found it difficult to conceive of a state like the People's Republic of China today, where it is the rulers themselves who show a contempt for ancient observances as well as for their own laws.

So, when he writes,

"Obedience is never pure nor calm in him who reasons and disputes",

I think we are more than justified in inverting his meaning and adopting these words as a tribute to those who refuse to toe the line, when that line is rotten through and through.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Ai Weiwei

"To be yourself, to state your mind clearly and to tell people what is right and what is wrong."

"Nobody can stop the course of change – people wanting to be happy and free, and to enjoy life. No power can stop that. It’s only a matter of time."

Dan Rather's interview with Ai Weiwei:

More here:

"The most damaged area is [that] people have no creativity because this is a system against individuality, against personal freedom and human rights. So what they're having today is a modern slave."

One of the designers of the Bird's Nest Stadium, Ai Weiwei disappeared on 3 April and is at the time of writing under investigation "in accordance with Chinese law" for "suspected economic crimes".

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Daily Telegraph Comprises of Variable Sub-editors

I was gratified that my email pointing out an ugly solecism was answered almost at once by the folk who in general terms provide such an excellent service at Telegraph online.

What once read "Mr Clarkson bought the property, which comprises of three cottages that surround a 63ft automatic lighthouse, as a country retreat for his family" has now been corrected to "comprises three cottages".

That said, I rather like the headline, which reads:

Jeremy Clarkson's wife at 'end of tether' over fence

conjuring up images of the big man's wife hung out to dry while he gets down and dirty with Kristin Scott Thomas.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Cecilian Singers Concert on 12 April

While the Welshmen prepare for their annual visit to Angeles (Philippines, not California), I’m taking a well earned sabbatical from singing songs in Welsh to singing them in Latin, French, Norwegian, Zulu, English and even American.

The Cecilian Singers have been around in a couple of incarnations for nearly 50 years and specialise in a cappella and close harmony singing. Think Glee matured in oak barrels.

According to its website, the choir’s original aim was to promote European choral music with a repertoire spanning at least five centuries, which is pretty much what it will be doing at the Methodist International Church on the corner of Queen’s Road East and Kennedy Road on Tuesday 12 April at 7.30pm. Cheese and wine will be available after the concert from about 8.45pm. Tickets are HK$120, available on the door or via, with proceeds going to relief efforts in the wake of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

The first half of the programme has an Easter theme, with songs by, among others Charles Villiers Stanford, the fiery Anglo-Irishman (is there any other kind?) who wrote the piece that I sang more than any other as a chorister at Papplewick School, Ascot, the Magnificat in B flat.

We won’t actually be singing his Magnificat, as that is more of a Christmassy number. Instead, we’ll be performing a rather sonorous setting of a poem by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, great-grandniece of the opium-loving poet once lampooned by Byron as “Explaining metaphysics to the nation – I wish he would explain his explanation", called “When Mary through the garden went”.

The second half of the show is an altogether more secular affair, with a jolly madrigal from the madrigal king, Thomas Morley, a piece considered by some critics to be Edvard Grieg’s masterpiece, Våren (“Spring”), and Aaron Copland’s minstrel song, “Ching-a-ring chaw”.

A highlight of the evening for me is Samuel Barber’s setting of James Agee’s poem “Sure on this shining night”, sung here by the Kaohsiung Chamber Choir from Taiwan:

Friday, 1 April 2011

Donald Tsang Admits Civil Servants are Overpaid

We are addressing the problem of overstaffing and overpayment and cuts will be made