Wednesday, March 31, 2010


There are so many things wrong with this, why, I don't even know where to begin. The man (nominally) responsible for this deplorable quarterboot suedette sandal (this is my name for it, but I welcome other attempts to describe it) is Michael Kors. Kors - hang your head in shame! The worst offence is the sheer pointlessness of it: the excess fabric that some poor animal died to provide, uselessly adorning the unlucky wearer's upper ankle, and the insolence of that gold-look buckle, coupled with an entirely petty heel... it's the cankle (a condition whereby your ankles and your calves merge into one) made all too real. This unspeakable item can be yours for US$295. As an ex-colleague of mine from a best-forgotten summer job at Edinburgh University Registry was fond of remarking: "I could scream!"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Damned lies

(Photograph Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Not long after I arrived in Hong Kong, a lavish, shiny brochure came through the door for an incredible-looking new development, "Bel-Air on the Peak". In the pictures, graceful landscaped gardens wound down to a pier where a white boat awaited. Chandeliers glistered and Old Masters glimmered from the walls of high ceilinged French-style apartments. A woman in a couture gown darted barefoot along soft grass; beyond lay a building resembling the Palace of Versailles.

Closer scrutiny revealed the following: the building was not "on the Peak" (the most expensive place in Hong Kong and a prestigious address); it was in a new development, built on reclaimed land and therefore much closer to sea level, called Cyberport which had been handed by the government to the wealthy princeling son of one of Asia's richest men without going to competitive tender. There was no access to the waterfront, and there would therefore be no elegant boats waiting to whisk the residents to the Riviera. There were tiny gardens with no grass. The pictures were of a French palace - in France.

It turns out that this entirely fraudulent depiction, which would not be permitted in other jurisdictions, is quite commonplace in Hong Kong. The adverts often follow the same pattern: featuring beautiful couples (often of Western appearance), the women in extravagant dresses, the man in a suit, comporting themselves smugly/elegantly before a generously laid table with champagne glasses in hand, an incredible view out of their window. Blue skies, expansive space, greenery everywhere.

I was reminded of this trickery this morning on glimpsing another risible, aspirational ad: a man playing chess with a genius child in front of their floor-to-ceiling picture window with, again, clear skies and twinkling lights just like diamonds. Compare and contrast this with what is really outside every window in Hong Kong: in the last couple of days, pollution levels well over even the piss-poor, forgiving Hong Kong scale. Tonight's paddle was cancelled due to pollution - a first. But I suppose Hong Kongers will continue to convince themselves, as they drive to work in their Mercedes, encouraged by deceitful advertising and the government blaming sandstorms in Beijing, that they aren't part of the problem.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Turn the wheel and look to windward

This is a photograph of my parents, Chris and Marg, taken on a trip from Esjberg in Denmark to Harwich in 1963 by, according to my dad, a psychologist from Albuquerque who Chris remembers for "his beautiful jade and silver rings". I love this photograph, which is nearly 50 years old but has a strangely modern quality.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Spring heeled gym

I first joined a gym in 2000, when I worked in Fleet Street in London. It was a Fitness First, with trademark anodyne slogans, apparently intended to inspire, stenciled on the lime green walls (so bland were they, I can't remember them now, but they would have been of the "power comes from within" variety). Since then I've been a member of a few.

Each gym is astonishingly similar to the next: brightly lit, garishly painted, and always pumping with execrable music (today, in Seasons Fitness in the Citibank Tower in Hong Kong: Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart to a pounding disco beat, and more Black Eyed Peas than anyone could possibly deserve: thus cementing my firm belief that My Humps is one of the single most vacuous, idly offensive, and stupid records ever made. "My lovely lady lumps!"). Generally speaking, though, and despite the urban myths, even the most expensive gyms tend not to be places where people show off. Absurdly, my current gym has a "Women only" section which is always empty. That's because everyone is studiously minding their own business and no one cares if you're sweating and grunting because they are too.

I've had a personal trainer, a Chinese guy called Peter, for the last few months. We've rarely done the same exercise twice and I often laugh out loud during our sessions because I'm enjoying it so much, despite the fact that he works me so hard. In a complete reversal of fortune from my 20s and early 30s, I need to exercise and get miserable if I don't. I'm always complaining about the music, though, to no avail - whether it's writing "No more Black Eyed Peas Please!" on the feedback form at Seasons Fitness yesterday, or suggesting to a blank-eyed creature, who was languidly arranged behind the counter and apparently in charge at Red gym in SoHo, that perhaps the self-indulgent faux-suicidal howlings of American goth rockers Evanescence might not be conducive to positive thinking, gym-style.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Those are pearls

Shoes, Chie Mihara, from Pl├╝mo.

This is the second pair of Chie Mihara shoes I've stumbled upon (weirdly, on her website - watch out for the noodling Spanish guitar, running water and birdsong - I couldn't find a single pair I liked). These are a little bit chunky, but have such a lovely mother of pearl detail that I can forgive them anything. They have a 1940s feel so at first I thought that a teadress might be a perfect match, but I think they are perhaps too complicated to compete with a pattern, so red it is, and what's more no jewellery is to be worn, or else.
Dress, Giambattista Valli, from Browns.

Tagine over the asylum

An excellent recipe for lamb tagine from I'm not the greatest cook, and I don't really like to follow recipes (too impatient), but I followed this one, the results were delicious, and I was inordinately pleased with myself as a result. I love the sweet and savoury combination of lamb and apricots. I was once told by a po-faced personal trainer, who fancied himself as a nutritionist, that I should never combine fruit and meat: I am frequently delighted to ignore that advice. If this doesn't make you feel hungry, here's some painstaking sausage-related research.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 teaspoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
1.2kg diced lamb
1 cup chicken stock
3/4 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup thick, Greek-style yoghurt
1/2 cup pistachio kernels, roughly chopped
couscous, to serve


1. Combine spices and salt in a large bowl. Add oil, rind and half the juice and stir to form a paste. Add lamb and stir until well-coated in paste. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours if time permits.
2. Preheat oven to 180°C. Put lamb mixture into a casserole dish with a tight-fitting lid. Add stock and remaining lemon juice. Stir until well-combined.
3. Cover and cook for 1 hour. Stir in dried apricot and raisins. Cook, covered for a further 40 minutes or until lamb is tender. Serve immediately with a dollop of yoghurt, sprinkling of pistachio kernels and couscous on the side.