Monday, March 30, 2009


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

A distorted reality

Sometimes I find that I like the idea of fashion so much more than the reality. Lanvin is a good example of this: the clothes are so touchable, the colours beautiful, satin and grosgrain in jewel colours and my favourite shade of slate grey. But they are particularly expensive and extravagant; dreams, destined to remain unworn, no doubt, and as these pictures from Paris Fashion Week show, wholly unsuited to anyone fatter than a stick (so many folds of material would look ridiculous covering curves; and satin is a very unforgiving fabric).

Looking through photos of the Autumn/Winter 2009-2010 season from the Paris shows on French Vogue (where these photos came from), there are definitely some regrettable things going on: dresses with only one sleeve, for no discernible reason; fur adorning everything, despoiling some otherwise perfect 1940s silhouettes; the aforementioned wayward folds of fabric (beautifully seamed and sewn, often, but peculiar nonetheless); and Alber Elbaz will make his models wear rats' nests in their hair. Once again, what silly Karl Lagerfeld termed "the new modesty" is nowhere in evidence.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Travels with my ants

I awoke at 6am this morning in my Singapore hotel room with a strange crawling sensation on my skin. After lying immobile and sleep-dazed for a few minutes, I switched on the light to discover that my pillow, and a swathe of the bed, was part of the highway infrastructure for a colony of tiny ants which was making its way purposefully and undaunted directly across the room, and accordingly across my body, which happened to be en route. I must have been doing battle with them in the night, because crushed bodies lay far and wide.

I called reception and asked if I could change the room; presumably they'll give it a brisk sweep, change the sheets, scoosh some insect killer around the place, and put some other unsuspecting guest in the room to become an ant landscape in the night.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Over the hump

A humpbacked whale has wandered into the vicinity of Hong Kong island (no whale in its right mind would choose to live here: for one thing there's practically nothing left to eat in Hong Kong waters) and is currently hanging out at Cape D'Aguilar. This morning, I was steering a crew that had fallen behind the other OC6 we were racing. As we came back around Beaufort Island and into Stanley Bay, in completely calm conditions, we saw the whale was right in front of us. Suddenly winning didn't seem so important anymore: we watched the whale surface lazily, rolling in the water, and then jump fully into the air no more than 50 metres away as we gasped like overawed children at a fireworks display.

The government isn't stopping anyone from coming in to the area, even though any noise louder than 160 decibels may damage the whale's hearing and cause further disorientation. I felt conscious enough of this in our little boat but all around us speedboats and police launches sent rumbles through the water that we could feel. The channel behind Beaufort Island and Po Toi is one of the busiest in the world; at night I can hear the mournful sounds of ships' horns, the noise and traffic is constant, and it's got to be a matter of concern whether the whale can actually get out of there to continue its migratory journey.

Our paddle home was considerably more calm; I got everyone to paddle with their eyes closed for four sets, and talked about being in harmony with the boat and each other as we paddle. The timing issues we'd been having seemed to iron themselves out and we ended up racing home, everyone paddling hard. It sounds cheesy but I think we all felt we'd experienced something special together and it seemed to make a difference.

Photo © REUTERS/Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Practical magic

From a flat in a rarefied gated community full of expats, who go from house to car to office without ever setting foot in the street, I've moved to Ma Hang in Stanley; a public housing estate, where there's mah jong tables out the back, shaded areas, a big stone dragon, waterfalls, an auditorium where people do tai chi, and, at the bus stop, a row of chairs donated by locals for the old folk.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Quinquereme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedar wood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, ironware, and cheap tin trays.

John Masefield (1878-1967)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On the rocks

Chloé's latest ad campaign, as seen on a huge billboard in Happy Valley which I passed on the bus this morning, shows two waiflike models walking across some rocks in vertiginous heels (heels not included in picture below, but those are some rocks). I'm not necessarily known for my appropriate footwear, and I love wearing heels, for my own, (probably) highly suspect, reasons; but this surely illustrates the utter departure from practicality of current women's footwear. Go into any shoe shop and you'll notice that heels have got dramatically higher (a vacuous video by a "high heels expert" on the Guardian website purports to show you how to walk in heels, but I can save you the burden of watching it: it does nothing of the sort), viz. the six-inch heels by Louboutin that various celebrity no-marks have been sporting. Sometimes it seems as though this is all part of a vast conspiracy; and really it's akin to the binding which Chinese women used to undergo to make their feet look smaller.

I once went on a hike in the fjords of Norway, south of Stavanger (a pretty, and pretty dull, town where I walked disconsolately round the supermarket poking at the whale meat, and where I learned that rural Norwegians shoot feral cats for sport). For once I was sensibly shod, but I remember watching a woman clambering across Pulpit Rock (which was by no means small and was covered in ice) in heels. She was clearly blazing a trail for just this sort of nonsense.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Accessory after the fact

The relentless drive to infantilise women - with, apparently, our eager encouragement - continues with the launch of the Hello Kitty make-up line by MAC. Clearly I am out of step with what modern women want: I find all of this ("über-cute beaded charm bracelets" and "black plastic brush holder in shape of a Hello Kitty head") loathsome. It will go down a storm in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Thief in the night

Phuket (formerly known as "Junk Ceylon") is only three and a half hours' flight from Hong Kong and, according to the woman I sat next to on the way home, is where everyone from Hong Kong goes on holiday. Although the name apparently means "hill" in Malay, and there is a mountain range on the island, most of the landscape where we were, near Surin Beach, was extremely flat.

Most of the wedding guests stayed at the Chedi, a slightly down-at-heel resort consisting of villas on stilts in the hillside near the sea, linked by a network of wooden steps and bridges. The wedding took place in a curiously bland mega-villa owned by a prominent Hong Kong couple. The sun shone, everyone was happy, and the groom, an Australian, quoted Alasdair Gray to describe how he felt about being with his wife, a Scot: "Work as though you live in the early days of a better nation". When it got dark, we released huge paper lanterns into the night sky; they disappeared twinkling into the distance.

The only small blot on the weekend happened on Saturday night. While I was asleep, some opportunist opened the sliding door of the villa, which was unlocked, and took a few steps to my bedside to find my camera, wallet and phone. The camera was, humiliatingly, clearly found wanting (and to be fair it's seen better days) - that was discarded outside the door; the cash from my wallet was taken too but they left the credit cards. People kept asking me if I was traumatised by the experience. I wasn't: I didn't know any better; I was asleep at the time. If anything I feel lucky: I didn't wake up to see them there, they didn't get much, and no doubt they needed the money more than I did.