Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Modern neon

Walking along behind this woman in Central today - all in black except for her neon satin shoes - I was suddenly pierced by the strongest memories of the early 1980s. Neon colours do that to me, perhaps because they are so clearly associated with that era, just when I was coming alive to colour and texture and the allure, elusiveness and changeability of fashion, and have never really been worn since - until now, apparently.

More specifically, I'm in Miss Selfridge in Hanover Street in Edinburgh, with The Church of the Poison Mind (which even at the time I derided as puerile) on the shop's stereo and spectacularly bad-tempered Shirley Manson serving behind the counter. I'm picking up a blue and white striped ra ra skirt and contemplating a neon yellow bangle or belt to go with it.

When I was 14, Miss Selfridge was the key to being the person I wanted to be: happy, confident, popular, wearing my stripy skirt, neon dangling from my ears as I skipped along Princes Street.
I think perhaps cynicism began to set in not long afterwards, and I favoured black (and dyed my hair to prove it); I never wore neon again and probably never will. It was strange to be skewered today by the sight of someone's shoes.

Monday, June 23, 2008

All bets are off

I was in Las Vegas in 2001, at an excruciating sales conference. In my jaundiced view, not helped by the event I was attending nor by the ludicrous hotel we were staying in (“New York New York”), it was a profoundly depressing place, and even from the absurdly privileged vantage point of a high-rolling banker’s free suite at the top of the Bellagio, with a glass of Dom Perignon in my hand, it seemed as hollow as it looks. The worst aspect, and sadly this accounts for the majority of the revenue generated by Las Vegas, was the slot machines: people dressed in extremely casual, almost pyjama-level clothing, each handing over their dollars for a big bucket of dimes which they then proceeded to feed into the slot machines for hours on end, as if participating in a giant metaphor for futility.

Melbourne has a super-casino too, by the river, flanked by strange, huge, sculptural towers spouting gouts of flame every minutes or so; but inside it has exactly the same feel as anywhere in Las Vegas: an ersatz environment, entirely focused on parting fools with their money. Adam Smith could have been thinking of super-casinos, had they existed in the 18th century, when he said: "A lottery is a tax on all the fools in creation".

Macau's casinos, 40 minutes by ferry from Hong Kong, have now overtaken Las Vegas in terms of revenue. In Macau, the interesting thing is that the revenue streams are reversed: 80% of Macau's revenue comes from the tables. This is, not surprisingly, attributed to the fact that the Chinese like people to know how much they are spending; it's a face issue (see below under Maybach, Napoleon wrasse, and Louis Vuitton). No miserable solitude at the slots for them.

Now Macau has become a replica of Las Vegas (which is itself a poor, hotel theme park replica of all the interesting places in the world) it's even less likely I will ever go there again, even if you can get the best Portuguese egg tarts in the kingdom at Lord Stow's Bakery in Coloane.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Draw a veil

In space-strapped Hong Kong, in Repulse Bay, on prime land overlooking the water, there's a huge car showroom taking up about as much room as a spacious residence with garden, or, let's say, a library, a school, or a public swimming pool. It only houses one car: the Maybach. It's a boring, big-bonneted, dim-looking car with strangely whimsical curtains in the back (for the esteemed passenger's privacy, I think) which remind me of those funny little elasticated curtains you get in caravans; and it costs about US$500,000. Not as ugly as the Chrysler Crematorium: but clearly not an attractive car in any way. (It's a must-have buy, of course, for your average Hong Kong tycoon; I think Stanley Ho has one.)

Not such a clever buy after all, though, Stanley: this is a car that, in the first three years of its life (and as soon as you've taken off the shrink wrap) depreciates by US$1,200 a week.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Change your spots

I may be the only woman in the world who doesn't like Sex and the City. I really can't be moved by anything about it. What I do share with (what I understand to be) one of the bubble-headed pre-occupations of its protagonists (I may be being unfair here, but so be it) is a love of shoes I can't explain.

Today, at lunchtime, in Lane Crawford: Alexander McQueen.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Nostalgia is the enemy of the future

Oh, but they look so good...


No more to be said. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Take the low road

My brother, sister and I were bullied by the kids in our village (see under "home schooling", below) for being toffs or tinks and well, just weird or different. I started going to school in Edinburgh aged 13 and used to have to get the bus home (no 113, 55p) and alight in the village by the phone box and walk up "the low path" through the woods to get home. The kids from the village were always hanging about near the bus stop intimidatingly. I remember practically hiding in the phone box one day calling for help; and I always felt a sense of relief on crossing the bridge and turning through the doorway onto the path away from the village.

With your family you often fall into a pattern that is hard to break even when you move away, and it's the same with bullies: even years later they can trigger some pathetic button that says they're in control. After I finished university I had to spend the summer at home and took the same bus journey from my part time job in a Musselburgh kebab shop, running the gauntlet of stares and abuse from Tennant's Special-toting losers by the Trevelyan Hall every day. One day the verbal attacks were particularly vicious and I went home in tears of anger and helplessness. My younger brother R, who'd suffered as much as I did, had just bought a beat up old second hand car and when he saw me he said "come on", and we got in and sped into the village whereupon he waded in to the group of louts shouting "say sorry to my sister!"

Brave and foolhardy, you might think: but the cowards were cowed and they muttered "Er, sorry hen" and slunk away into the evening. I never had any trouble from them again.

A moment to be proud of and a completely cathartic event for both me and R - and you don't get those very often.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Elementary, my dear

Much to the consternation of my fellow passengers (that 260 bus at 8am from Stanley to Central carries some heavy hitters, all of them on Blackberries and phones and laptops or talking about buying and selling gold) I laughed out loud on the bus to work this morning when I read the following email from my friend D, whom I’d challenged to use the word “lachrymose” in conversation:

“I felt pretty lachrymose at 2:00pm today when I read that Guy Ritchie will be
making a big budget Sherlock Holmes franchise, and that he will be ridding the
character of his ‘Victorian stuffiness’.
It all took place in seconds:
disbelief, denial, lachrymosity (starring Russell Crowe) and then a soul deep
need to push Guy Ritchie down a flight of stairs.
PS: Quite apart from
anything else, the character was never ‘stuffy’, or even particularly

And yes, a sense of revulsion and disbelief engulfed me too at the news that cack-handed Mockney Ritchie is to be entrusted with this pointless adaptation (“No Shit Sherlock”?) – no doubt plumbing the depths of the popular consensus and making Watson, and perhaps even Holmes himself, into some travesty of a Luvvable Cocker-ney into the bargain. Russell Crowe is part of the incipient farrago in the title role; as for Watson, is Michael Caine looking for work?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Any colour you want

Airhead "Nicky Hambleton-Jones", who is apparently the presenter of something called 10 Years Younger, although she doesn't look it, says in today's South China (and please put on a silly posh English accent when you read this to yourself, or indeed to any incredulous acquaintance or passer-by): "Your hair can also be incredibly ageing and jet-black hair is incredibly stark and draining on any skin. You can soften it by going for a dark brown or warm brown so it takes the edge off the black that's so popular in Hong Kong."

Er - that would be the natural hair colour of most people in Hong Kong?

Is not elegance being able to completely forget what you are wearing?

Yves St Laurent, 1936-2008.