Saturday, September 22, 2007

The shoe's over

Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months. Oscar Wilde

I know this will open me up to accusations of fickleness, but wandering round Lane Crawford’s shoe department (shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather), I was struck by the sense that Christian Louboutin shoes suddenly seem somehow a little bit vulgar – even (gasp!) trashy. Maybe it’s overkill, or maybe it’s the fact that every cheap shoe-copying designer is now employing red soles, but the once-coveted shoes have lost their sheen for me.

I’ve also gone right off spindly heels, which are wholly impractical for Hong Kong’s hazardous pavements, and Louboutin’s range does seem to offer either verging-on-the-transvestite platform hoofers, or dainty little flimsy things with toothpick heels (even if they are in modish patinaed silver), and nothing inbetween. Give me a nice chunky Marni heel any day of the week. If it passes La Grande Poobah’s “biffer test” (Q. Is this a biffer shoe? – “biffer” meaning, I think, some incredibly easily overstepped line between superb and what can only be described as a transvestite/remedial combo, although perhaps she can clarify) then I couldn’t be happier.

Marni’s autumn/winter collection (I’ll be adding some pictures from French Vogue) is actually quite wonderful. The chunky stuff has in the past been a bit whimsical and childlike but this season it really seems to work.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

They're after my body

There’s a solicitors’ firm on the same floor as my office, named after the senior partner, a woman who is apparently very wealthy – and the reason we know this, apart from her general reputation, is that she has a bodyguard, a Gurkha. When she’s in the office he is usually stationed in reception, where there is nothing whatsoever to do, staring disconsolately out at passers-by; and he doesn’t get any activity unless she leaves the office or goes to the toilets on the same floor, at which point he follows her and stands outside. There is a ladies’ toilet and an “executive toilet”, for which only “executives” (including me) have the key; if she’s gone to the ladies, you can expect a stand-off outside as you try to get in while insisting to the embarrassed looking bodyguard that he can’t prevent entry to a public toilet, even if there may, in an extremely unlikely twist of fate, be armed-to-the-teeth mainlanders waiting inside to seize his employer. Standing outside, how can he protect her anyway?

This may seem an absurd over-reaction to an unlikely threat, but since poor old Teddy Wang was whacked in the eighties in an apparent kidnap-attempt-gone-wrong, the denizens of Hong Kong’s wealthier families have all been paranoid about being kidnapped for ransom and bodyguards are de rigeur. It’s also a very effective status symbol, signifying as it does both wealth and importance. I feel very sorry for the poor man, who has obviously never had to combat anything more dangerous than our meek and frankly puny office manager (albeit unusually irate on this occasion) trying to wash her hands.

Friday, September 14, 2007

I can read you like a book - and not a very good one

My first real job was with a legal publisher in Edinburgh, where I was employed as a legal editor writing law reports for an illustrious law journal (and managed as a result to learn a lot more about Scots law than I ever did at university). Plenty of things stay with me from that time, not least the cast of characters who were employed there – a constant turnover of malcontented law graduates, a lacklustre yet arrogant marketing department who used to produce leaflets littered with spelling mistakes (“an ideal book for practicioners”), and a tyrannical Managing Editor who always smelled faintly of TCP.

Duncan was one of my favourite colleagues because he was so determinedly himself in any situation. He was from the Black Isle, near Inverness, had been a prison officer and consequently played the bagpipes in the Inverness Prison Officers’ Pipe Band, and once uncompromisingly described our Managing Director as “a fat oaf, and a balloon” (you really need sound here to appreciate the full majesty of this remark when pronounced in the inimitable Black Isle accent). His catchphrase was “you can’t go wrong with a brass dog!” – his unerring advice to anyone looking to buy a special gift for someone.

These were the very first days of email and partly because of the novelty of it, Duncan and I used to exchange increasingly sarcastic messages with each other about the third occupant of the editors’ room. A thin, gaunt man, with a passion for Sarah Michelle Gellar, he became known to us as “Bravo Two Zero” or “BTZ” for short, due to his propensity to make up increasingly outlandish stories about himself. BTZ told me that he’d murdered someone once, with precise details of how he’d covered the floor of his bathroom with plastic binbags beforehand, surprised the victim with a chop to the throat, and disposed of the body by chopping it up and dropping small, bloody pieces from his car window a handful at a time as he sped through the Scottish countryside. He told Duncan he’d had to leave the west coast of Scotland (to come and hide in a small legal publishing office in the west end of Edinburgh) because of a Paisley drug deal gone wrong; and he told me that he’d had to flee Glasgow at the dead of night after the execution of Joe “Bananas” Hanlon and Bobby Glover (two notorious gangland figures who were shot in the head and dumped in a car boot in Barlanark) because he’d been involved in the “hit”.

Bravo’s finest hour was falling in love with, and subsequently stalking, a new, pretty editor. As I approached her desk one day I noticed that there was a huge bunch of roses shoved in her bin which she was kicking vengefully. I asked her what was going on and she broke down in tears and spilled the beans about her creepy suitor, who’d been following her home from the pub where she worked and loitering outside her bedroom window late into the night.

I left the company to work in London and Duncan went to Inverness to join the Procurator Fiscal Service. BTZ was discovered to have been running a record sales business from his desk instead of working for the company which was paying his salary. Now if he’d told us that, we certainly wouldn’t have believed it.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Japan to Japan

I saw my first live band in 1982 at the Edinburgh Playhouse – Japan. Some of the lyrics have dated badly, especially in my current context of living in Hong Kong (from the faintly embarrassing “Cantonese boy/Bang your tin drum” to the unnecessarily mystical: “We walk backwards/Say nothing”), but it’s hard to describe the excitement I remember feeling on going to see them at the age of 14 – the hush and then the roar as the lights went down as the band came on stage; the vision of David Sylvian, who was clearly some sort of god, singing on stage, with Ryuchi Sakamoto dancing on tiptoe beside him; the drum solo in “Visions of China”. Sylvian is playing in Hong Kong in a few weeks’ time and I was quite chastened to realise it would be 25 years since I last saw him live.

My excitement about music hasn’t really diminished in that time. My boyfriend at university said to me “One day you’ll meet someone who is as passionate about music as you are”. Even though I sometimes wonder what 20 year olds think of people like me abrogating “their” music (much the same attitude, I would think, as I would have taken as a 20 year old towards people in their late thirties trying to pretend they knew about music – see below under The Klaxons – They’re Shite), I still buy CDs, and listen to the radio when I’m in the UK, and the way I felt when Maximo Park came on to the stage at Summersonic didn’t feel any less intense to me than 25 years ago.

The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day

I know it’s futile to get worked up about music prizes, governed as they seem to be solely by considerations other than music, but it really is a travesty that the Klaxons should have won the Mercury Music Prize. Why, they’re terrible! I know this from personal experience at Summersonic in Tokyo. By unhappy coincidence, they were on the dance stage before Maximo Park. My sister and I had fought our way to very near the front in anticipation of "the Park" coming on, only to be completely blindsided by hordes of Japanese kids moshing like demons to the crass sound of the Klaxons. Their only half-decent song was a cover ("It's Not Over Yet" - a song title just begging for the response "But We Wish It Was"). Their lead singer, for some reason, was in a wheelchair. Their between-song banter was a joke. So we discreetly moved backwards and geared up for another forward surge.

Inexplicably, once the Klaxons finished, the crowd rapidly dispersed (perhaps because US mouthy shouters Sum41 were on next door) and there were relatively few people staying to see Maximo Park, although they were headlining. So Claire and I got right to the front, hanging on to the railings and gazing up in awe like star-struck teenagers.

I'm in two minds as to whether I really care that Maximo Park weren't as popular as the Klaxons. It's always a shame to see true genius (and I am not exaggerating, I think) go unacknowledged; but on the other hand we got to be right at the front, and I get to keep my sense of being part of something special which not everyone can truly appreciate.

Besides, any fatuous nonsense-peddler can win the Mercury Music Prize, and frequently does: M People, anyone?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Walk out to winter

I am not ashamed to say that I am really excited about the new season (which I might even be persuaded to call “Fall” – that’s how far gone I am, although I do find myself pretentiously fond of the conjunction “A/W” for “Autumn/Winter”). The shops are full of jewel colours and beautiful fabrics, the shoes are shiny, and gone are the unwearable shapes of summer, to be replaced by only slightly more wearable shapes; but that’s not the point, because this season is all about what are fatuously called “key pieces” and my favourites are all there, it seems, ie pencil skirts, peep-toe patent heels, and fitted jackets, though I’m not racing to acquire any pussycat bow blouses (frankly I don’t have the neck for it).

We’ve definitely been here before, but I am happy with anything 1940s-inspired, and thankfully there's a lot of it about. So easy to wear! So chic! And as ever the usual panoply of outrageous fashion in-jokes are being pitched at the unsuspecting, the predictably disastrous results of which which I am looking forward to seeing on the streets of Hong Kong. I can reveal that I haven’t seen any jodhpurs yet, even the Balenciaga ones which reputedly sold out everywhere to women who really want to add inches to their hips, but today I saw someone wearing patent leather knee high riding boots, AKA wellies (a nod to the jodhpurs perhaps). Given that it is still 30 degrees and 68% humidity here, this shows a dedication to fashion that is truly awe-inspiring.

Anything remotely welly-like always reminds me of Fireworks Night, circa 1974, when I spent an entire evening wondering why something felt funny inside my wellies, only to discover on returning home that our cat, Tigger, had the previous evening thoughtfully dumped a dead mouse in my boot as a gift, or as leftovers, and the crunching underfoot was of little bones.