Friday, July 21, 2006

Monday, July 10, 2006

Everyone sang

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight.

Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away . . . O, but everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

Siegfried Sassoon

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Speak, memory

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the London bombings. A year ago me and J were driving from Edinburgh to Halifax airport, returning our hire car and listening to the radio. We knew straight away what it meant, as most people listening must have, when they said there had been a reported "power surge" on the London underground and that people were emerging injured from the stations.

Our friend G was in the first carriage of the Piccadilly Line train that was bombed, a route I used to meet him on when I worked in London, before I started travelling by scooter becaue I couldn't bear the rush and the crush. He would get on at Turnpike Lane and I would get on one stop later at Manor House, often letting three or four packed trains go by, unable to get on. We would change at Holborn, and he would continue his journey to Swiss Cottage. I know that journey so well.

G is a New Yorker transplanted to London, warm-hearted, generous, inquisitive (he made it his mission to disembark at every tube station in the city in his first year, and walk for ten minutes to either side, so he knows London better than most Londoners do). He makes the most powerful vodka martinis I've ever tasted and laughs very long and hard at his friends' jokes even if they're quite unfunny. He's a loyal friend and a pragmatist. When the bomb went off he was standing in a different place from his usual spot, and thus avoided injury. He walked along the rails to Russell Square, emerged into the daylight, and amazingly, went to work as usual. He hasn't talked about anything he saw. Those are his memories.

I emailed him yesterday to tell him I was thinking of him, and he said he'd made the same journey, the train as packed as ever, and stood in the place he should have been standing at the same time, and thought about what had happened a year ago. No drama, no histrionics, just what he did and what happened to him.

Who you know

I was off ill from work yesterday, and miserable and listless in my flat. I ventured out once, to do some software training for clients which no one else was available to do, and on the way home in stifling humidity and sunshine, I succumbed to buying a copy of British VOGUE.

I should have known better. More than usually after reading it, I felt the mix of excitement and despair that always stems from reading fashion magazines: "I could be like that/I'm not like that". Sometimes the clothes seem baroque, ugly, unwearable, but sometimes deep in my shallow little black heart all I want to do is rush out and buy "autumn's new egg shape".

But this time I was also absolutely infuriated by much of the content. The cover story "COUNTRY HOUSE FASHION GETS A REVAMP" should have alerted me; the nod to the toff Tory leader David Cameron in the editor's letter; the Checklist piece which began "British Fashion has no greater champion than the Queen"; but worst of all, even by VOGUE's London-insular, nepotistic standards, was an article about "YOUNG LONDON" photographed by Mario Testino. Darling Mario says at the beginning

"What I absolutely loved about this shoot was photographing all the kids of my

- such an unvarnished, unashamed admission of what this piece was really about! And sure enough, across dozens of pages the spoiled, petulant offspring of the rich and well-connected, among them the sons and daughters of VOGUE contributors ("London's coolest teenagers") sprawled their way and, despite the billing ("our 'Young London' story ... shows that teen style can be every bit as quirky and innovative as it ever was", Alexandra Shulman gushes in her intro), they were not even wearing their own clothes. A sample:

"VIOLET NAYLOR-LEYLAND in Luella, LUCY LYTTLETON in Molly Grad ... Photographed at the Cuckoo Club."

"Fifteen year old TAMARA BELL claims she grew tired of the London club scene
when she turned 12. These days, though, she promotes a music night at Madame
Jojo's in Soho."

and most risible of all (but absolutely typical of the fawning tone of the entire piece):

"Art lover CLARA PAGET, the 17 year old daughter of the Earl of Uxbridge, loves
the culture surrounding the drum'n'bass scene and has been known to devote entire evenings to flyering upcoming nights." [my emphasis]

Sadly, none of the above is ironic. Rarely has the phrase "First up against the wall come the revolution" seemed more appealing.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Island of lost souls

I’ve spent the last few days in a strange netherworld, on an island in the Whitsundays in North East Queensland where golf buggies are the only form of transport - almost, but not quite, as scary as Discovery Bay in Hong Kong, near where the new theme park has been built: a Stepford toytown built primarily for the amusement of children, with Disneyland nearby.

My outrigger team (HKOC) participated in the Hamilton Island Cup. We didn’t win anything, because competition is fierce and sport is a religion in Australia; but we had a great time on the water and off, with much drunken capering at the party on Saturday night (tip: never drink a shot of any description containing Bailey’s) and have started to recruit teams to paddle in this year’s Round the Island Race.

I was in the support boat for the 46K change race, having applied super-strength anti-emetic patches the night before (usually I’m seasick at the slightest provocation), and M and I had a great time bobbing up and down on the high seas with two laconic Australian fishermen, one of whom cracked open the beers at approximately 10am and kept drinking all day, to the sounds of Jack Johnson (clearly Maximo Park would have been preferable, but there’s some thing nicely soporific about Jack’s voice that went well with the sunshine), while we waited for the canoe and held up seat numbers for the changes. The team finished in under 4 hours, which was a fantastic achievement.

Later we went up the hill - me behind the wheel of the buggy belonging to our villa, which turned out to be the slowest buggy in the kingdom, although I got up a good turn of speed on the downhill with the engine off - and watched the sunset next to a mobile bar, which appeared out of nowhere and packed up when the sun went down.

One thing I found extraordinarily frustrating during this trip was the lack of availability of international news from any source. The only TV news seemed to be very local, as was the newspapers’ coverage. Having been in Sydney and Melbourne for work the week before, I came back to Hong Kong feeling as though I’d been in a vacuum for two weeks.