Monday, March 31, 2008

Last call for band names

A quiet month it has been over on the 'Possible Band Names' thread, but last month's star performers, Snopes and Gary, have belatedly weighed in with some more very fine suggestions. The top contenders include Dane Breath, Queen Kong, The Hip-Hop Replacements (geriatric rap group?), Candy Rabbit and Cutting Room Floor.

Think you can do better? Give it a go.

Since my 'months' on this competition seem to have been running over a week or so into the following month, I will give you until noon this Friday (I work on GMT, remember. Well, now, I suppose, it's British Summer Time: one hour later. I'm English - indulge me!) to post your entries.

Remember, there are supplementary competitions for 'Best Foreign Band Name' and 'Best Cover Band Name', for which you can also leave entries on the same thread.

Happy band naming!

The weekly bon mot

"An alcoholic is anyone you don't like who drinks as much as you do."

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Another three women

I am at a low ebb.

I have been ill..... for, oh, about the last 5 months, I suppose. But it's been particularly bad for the past two weeks. I can't tell if its a cold or the 'flu or just an allergy to all the crap in the air, but I feel terrible.

Some evening lecturing over the past few weeks has been proving cruelly exhausting. And I suppose the political situation here has been adding to my depression too.

I was not in a good state yesterday. The air quality outside appeared apocalyptically bad again, making me fearful to step outside. Instead I spent most of the day cowering under my duvet, popping Ibruprofen and anti-histamines and trying (in vain) to catch up on all the sleep I didn't get during the past week.

However, by mid-evening, I was beginning to think I ought to venture out for a little while, to try to clear some of the cobwebs out of my head. My throat was so croaky that I was beginning to feel I needed a Guinness to fix it. So, I thought, a brisk stroll down to the Pool Bar to stretch my legs, just one or two quick ones, and then home again for an early night.

Fate plays strange tricks on you sometimes.

As I set out, I remembered that a band called Brain Failure were supposed to be playing at MAO Live that evening. I was debating with myself whether to go as I walked down the road. I don't rate them all that much, but they are probably Beijing's most successful band, and I imagine that a club performance would be quite an event (I've only seen them at open-air festivals so far) because of the size and fervour of their following. Tempted as I was, I just didn't somehow feel in the mood, and - by the narrowest of margins - decided against the gig. However........ as MAO is just over the road from the Pool Bar, I thought I might as well check out what time the show was starting and how much it was.

And what do I discover? Brain Failure have cancelled. Tonight's headliners are going to be SUBS instead. SUBS!! As I have mentioned on here many times before, SUBS are an awesome live band, about my favourite act on the Beijing rock scene. This was a much more enticing prospect than a bunch of leather-trousered cock-rockers singing in bad English. But I had decided I wasn't in the mood for a gig, hadn't I? I retired over the road to ponder the matter further over a medicinal glass of Guinness.

A few minutes later, I got a phone call from my ex, The Poet. She was going to the gig, and happened to have been pulling up in a taxi just as I was leaving the venue and crossing the road. Well, this was a nice surprise. I hadn't seen her for ages. And she was in a very good mood, being sociable, being friendly - that happens sadly infrequently. Would I come and join her? Does the Pope shit in the woods?

Damn, she is so sexy there ought to be a law against it. And the broken pieces of my heart still sometimes rattle painfully in my chest when I see her like this. But I'm pretty much in control of all that wistfulness & regret nonsense now, able to enjoy her company as a friend - and it was great to be able to catch up with her for a while before the show.

And SUBS were their usual kick-arse selves. Their singer, Kang Mao, is also, as I have mentioned on here many times before, so-sexy-there-ought-to-be-a-law-against-it.

Ah yes, and there is a New Interest as well (as in 'new romantic interest', that is). Neither Kang Mao (though a man can dream....) nor The Poet, but another. These things always happen in threes, don't they?

Quite an eventful evening, then. And a long one too. 5 bars in all (well, 4 - I went to the Pool Bar twice, because, you know, it's on the way home). And 3 women. Why does it always seem to be 3 women???

I just wish they'd make their f***ing minds up!

As of yesterday, Blogspot was blocked again in China. Blocked, that is, to the 'second level'.

Blogspot is almost always blocked at its regular IP address. However, most of us foreigners are usually able to access it easily enough via an alternate IP address we've plugged into our Firefox browser. At the 'second level' of censorship arsiness, that gets blocked too.

The 'third level' is blocking even via robust proxy services like Anonymouse. We had that for a while a couple of weeks ago; but mercifully, the Kafka Boys aren't quite that pissed off with us at the moment.

I imagine blocking a multi-server proxy like that must be quite a complex undertaking. So, sometimes the chaps down at Kafka Central will just skip straight to the next level - which appears to be blocking the Net access of individual computers (an IT boffin I know didn't think this was possible, or at least had never heard of it being done - but I've now encountered two other foreigners who suffered from this, as I did, the other week).

The 'fifth level' - one step more extreme than that, but rather easier to implement - would be cutting off your home Internet connection entirely. (Although I suppose these days most people are using wi-fi a lot of the time; that would explain the appeal of blocking computers rather than connections. Maybe blocking a specific computer should actually be regarded as a higher level of obstructiveness.)

And the 'sixth level' would be being taken into custody. I would imagine that only native 'dissidents' would be in danger of that. We irreverent, super-critical laowai will simply be told - if we make one unsuitable joke too many - that our visas or our tax records are out of order, and be asked to leave the country at a few hours' notice.

This constant on/off/on censorship is very wearisome. I am having big problems getting Tor or Hotspot or (new candidate for top proxy gizmo, just recommended to me by a friend) FoxyProxy to work for me (my computer is old and slow, the wiring into my building is old and slow, the Chinese Internet architecture in general is pretty bloody slow, and with all of the extra filtering going on at the moment - well, the whole bloody thing is grinding to a halt). Thus, I am having to rely on web-based proxies, and these can be rather cumbersome in some ways. I am vexed. Mighty vexed.

But I think I'd be a lot less vexed if I knew that this was going to be the situation from here on and I could steel myself to embrace these irksome adaptations to my online life as permanent. The chopping and changing of the censorship regime every few days adds salt to the wounds, even when it's a change for the better.

This endless vacillating makes the Chinese government look even more buffoonish (buffoonish and goonish - not a good combination!) than usual. It makes it look as if they just can't decide what to block and why. It makes it look as if consistency in policy is quite beyond them. It makes it look (and I suspect there is some truth in this) as though the Internet censorship apparatus is so intricate that they're not really fully in control of it ("Ooops, what does this switch do?").

Also, of course, it fuels panicky speculation about the ongoing civil unrest. "They're tightening up on the Net censorship again! Did something really bad just happen out west??"

Trying to censor the Internet like this is just a really, really, really dumbass thing to do. But this is China. The country is run by a bunch of insecure assclowns.

Friday, March 28, 2008

HBH 73

Pursued, pursuing;
So tired of the whole darned thing!
Libido withers.

Hmm, is Libido Withers a plausible porn star name, do you think? I suppose it rather sends the wrong message, but it does have the right sort of ring to it.

My porn star name, by the way, is Jason Highfield. Not wonderful, but it will serve.

I'm not sure if I've played this game online before (though I certainly have, from time to time, via e-mail). The formula tends to work better, I think, for girls than for boys; but here it is.....

First name: Name of a pet you remember fondly from childhood

Last name: Street name of the first address you can remember living at

Go on, give it a go. Add your most amusing creations to the comments below.

Supplement: You might like to try out the Rum & Monkey porn name generator for more variety. This one turns me into (the not terrribly butch-sounding) Albert Butch. However, using one of my favourite pen names I get the far more suitable (and at least vaguely butch) Whiskey Dwayne. Give it a try and see what it does for you.

And if you really have time to waste..... you could take a look at the Gangstaname site. Their porn name generator doesn't seem to be that great (Hank Spankalicious??), but I quite like my alternate 'gangsta name' of Ribbed Hung Daddy, my 'pirate name' of Saggin' Jowls Gus, my 'taxi driver name' of Phazeplänte Washington, my 'cutesy, lovey-dovey pet name' of Poopy Balls (a particularly good name generator, this one: one of my exes came out as the [dangerously appropriate?] Jiggy Nutz), my 'mafia names' Alphonse Bruno or Fancy Pants Jake, and my 'luchador names' Vestido Candado and Poisón Rapido. Procrastination just got even easier.

Of course, I decided some time ago that my 'blues name' should be Stout Melon Coolidge.

And by the way, I forgot to mention it at first, but this (continuously evolving, not so little any more) post was No. 600 here on The Barstool. How time flies when you're having fun.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Another moment of cognitive dissonance

Moe's has a pool table?!

Who knew??

I've adored The Simpsons from the get-go, but I can't ever recall noticing the pool table before (though admittedly I very seldom get to see any episodes since moving to China). I suppose the regulars propping up the bar are the thing that always sticks firmest in the memory.

Funnily enough, I was musing just the other day about how like Moe's my beloved Pool Bar was..... in every respect except the pool table!

Monday, March 24, 2008

A delayed St Patrick's Day treat (Great Drinking Songs [4])

I had wanted to post some classic Irish drinking songs for the big day last Monday, but YouTube was blocked in China for 9 days because of the recent unrest. Today (amazingly, mystifyingly!) it is restored to us, so.......

Here's an amusing homemade video to accompany The Dubliners' version of The Seven Drunken Nights.

Here's another video with the same version of the song, a stop-frame animation - not bad. And here's another version (not The Dubliners, but I'm not sure who the singer is) that has no pictures but does provide the lyrics.

And here's a marvellous vintage clip (from a Pete Seeger TV show of the early 1960s) of The Clancy Brothers performing perhaps the ultimate pissed singalong number, The Wild Rover. (Alas, I couldn't find The Pogues' version I mentioned last week.)

If you'd rather have The Dubliners singing it, they are here. And this is rather a fun clip of American Paddy band the Dropkick Murphys doing the song in a pub on St Pat's a year or two ago.

Ah, YouTube - it's good to have you back. Please don't go away again.

A little taste of Hell

It came home to me with great force yesterday just how much I hate unintelligent middle-aged pissheads.

Some may object that this is a tad hypocritical of me. After all, they will say, I am middle-aged myself now. And so it is, I suppose, if you go by the date of birth in my passport; but I like to think that I am still 'young at heart'..... and not yet too decrepit in outward appearance either.

Others will say, surely I am a pisshead too. Well, yes, I am certainly fond, perhaps a little over-fond of quaffing alcoholic beverages..... but I can handle it. I very seldom become at all erratic or incoherent, and I never, never, never become obnoxious or belligerent. A little maudlin sometimes, but that's all.

And I can still usually hold my end up in a serious conversation, even when in quite an advanced state of drunkenness.

I think, also, that most of us allow a little more indulgence to the young. We expect them to be a little less prudent in their consumption, a little more riotous in their behaviour afterwards. We attribute it to youthful high spirits and inexperience, and we tolerate it rather more than we would with people of our own age or older.

There is something particularly ugly, undignified, horrific about aging drunks. And that's what I found myself briefly trapped in the midst of yesterday (fairly early in the evening!): a gaggle of late-40s or early-50s English teachers who'd been on the piss all afternoon and had completely lost the plot, degenerated into puerile, drivelling, raucous boorishness.

The Chairman had been out with them, and had, I think, been finding the latter stages of the experience every bit as excruciating as I did when I belatedly joined them; he, alas, was far too 'polite' and unassertive to tear himself away, and so summoned me to play the 7th Cavalry role. He owes me.

God, if I ever start to get like these people, I will give up drink immediately. And if I don't then give up, just shoot me, please.

The weekly bon mot

"The problem with some people is that when they aren't drunk, they're sober."

W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)

Sunday, March 23, 2008


After 5 straight days of unbelievably intense air pollution, the skies finally cleared today, giving us a dazzling day of Spring sunshine for Easter Sunday.

I enjoyed a lazy lunch with my friend H in Fish Nation on Nanluoguxiang, making the most of the fine weather on the rooftop patio.

Unfortunately, a girl in the party on the table next to us suddenly came over all unwell, and threw up copiously, very close to the head of the stairs. Her apologetic companions took her home, and explained that she had probably wildly overindulged on Easter eggs earlier that morning. The vomit did indeed look remarkably like chocolate milkshake (with just a sprinkling of the inevitable diced vegetables).

Even more unfortunately, it was nearly 40 minutes before a member of staff came upstairs to clean it up - during which time two or three later arrivals inadvertently stepped in it.

And when a waiter did finally appear to take on the unpleasant task of cleaning up this mess....... well, his technique was to dump two buckets of water over it, thus unleashing a tiny tsunami of dilute choccy-vom to seep over the entire patio.

We left. We happened to bump into The Choirboy and his girlfriend just arriving. When they heard the news, they promptly left as well. Just before the muddy, foul-smelling wave started dripping down the stairs, I imagine.

Now, I like Fish Nation, I really do - I like the decor, the location, the food. But the service is just abysmal. Since my friend 'Kobe' left the place a couple of years ago, all the staff they've had there have been somewhere beyond obtuse. Dear oh dear oh dear.

An oasis of civilization

I was walking along the street yesterday evening, on the opposite side of the road from The World's Greatest DVD Store (I was being strong, resisting the temptation to go in for a browse), when I heard a familiar, beloved tune drifting out of its open door. Yes, a Tom Waits song. A comparative rarity from the 'Early Years' compilations, at that. This place might just be The Best Music Shop In China as well.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Great txt msgs of the world

Tulsa, last night intermittently quizzing me by SMS as to the progress of The Plan, at one point provoked from me this rueful shard of philosophy:
"Came for the woman, stayed for the music. The story of my life - or one of them."

She fired back another query a little later: "Where are you then?"

I replied: "Half-way down the toilet, swimming against the tide."

No, not at all a successful evening. A thoroughly half-hearted and inept attempt to renounce my asexuality, in fact.

'The Plan' miscarries

Well, to be honest, it never was much of a Plan. Deeply, deeply flawed. Oh, how could I have been so foolish as to overlook these flaws?

Actually, it had looked like being a complete wash-out at the start of the evening..... but suprisingly ended up in something less than 100% failure, just a tantalising glimmer of hope.

Or perhaps I should say that it ended up being a failure in a more subtle, unexpected, excruciating way.

I think perhaps I need a Plan B......

"It's not the despair that kills you; it's the hope."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Zero Hour approaches.....

Today could be make-or-break time for The Plan. I say no more.

(Knots of tension form in the stomach.)

HBH 72

A neighbourhood bar,
But music from far away
- Transports us there too.

Yes, our favourite little "Uyghur jazz" group, Panjir, have begun a new Thursday night residency at one of my 'locals', Jiangjinjiu. It's only 15 minutes from my apartment, but I feel as if I've walked all the way from Turkey - strange!

Thursday, March 20, 2008


The one good thing about lecturing for 4 hours straight in the evening...... is getting cathartically wrecked afterwards.

The Choirboy's family are in town. An old friend has unexpectedly returned from the States. And JB's behind the bar mixing up lethal martinis. These are the evenings The Yacht Club was made for!

Today, of course, has been a slow day......

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


A cross-post from Froogville - unhappy news.


My two frivolous, inoffensive little blogs, Froogville and Barstool Blues, have made it on to the Chinese government's 'hate list', it seems.

Yes, as of some time on the evening of Tuesday, March 18th, I have been "harmonized" (as they like to put it in the local jargon). While most of Blogspot remains available, my blogs can no longer be reached from China - not even via Anonymouse. Gosh, that makes me feel special.

In fact, I am currently so 'special' that at around midnight last night my home Internet link was cut completely. That doesn't seem to have happened to any other laowai I know, so the Kafka Boys must really have decided that I am an ultra-bad dude.

Fortunately, they seem to have blocked me on the basis of my IP address rather than my Internet account - and, ta-daaaa, I happen to have a second computer, which is still able to get me online. Unfortunately, it is a truly ancient Vaio which is so SLOW that it barely functions with the modern Internet. And if the Kafka Boys really dislike me that much, I'm sure they'll soon notice this oversight, and block my home access completely. [By the way, does anyone happen to know how to change a laptop's IP address?]

Oh well, I have long been meaning to treat myself to a new computer anyway. And I have some 'Anonymizer' gizmos that supposedly beat all of the less drastic blocking techniques. And - if I can't get my home connection restored by yelling at the Internet provider on the phone all morning (that is my plan - I think it'll make me feel better, even if it doesn't produce any more concrete results) - perhaps I'll finally become a wi-fi fan and spend my days trying to get my work done in bars and cafés.

If I'd thought the authorities here would ever get this medieval on my arse, well, I would have liked to have done more to deserve it.

Yes, I have made fun of the Chinese government's propaganda-speak on occasion. I have made one or two indelicate references to Taiwan. And a couple of days ago, I was rash enough to mention a few China-based blogs I like to read that had already suffered "harmonization". I have also used my Blogger ID to comment in a few other places (notably on my friend J's excellent Chinese history blog, Jottings From The Granite Studio) on the current troubles - I wonder if that's what really got me into trouble.

On the whole, though, I'm really not a very political blogger: literature, cinema, music and humour (and love and regret and the consolation of a good beverage) are my main writing interests. I don't talk about China all that often, and I hardly ever mention current events. In particular, I had carefully avoided making any overt references on my own blogs to the Tibetan riots. And I certainly wasn't about to go posting any photographs or film clips of the events.

Now...... I wish I'd been more courageous, more outspoken.

Perhaps I will be from now on. After all, you might as well be hanged for a sheep as...... well, hanged for nothing at all.

And you can't imagine how pissed off I am at this sort of censorship. Losing my blogs is painful enough (I have become a bit of a junkie for them, I admit); but to lose my Internet connection - that disrupts, paralyses my social life, destroys much of my livelihood, cuts my only link to my family back home.

"Of course, you realise this means WAR?"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The elements of a pretty decent St Patrick's night

1) A familiar, friendly bar to hang out in
(The Pool Bar, of course!)

2) Guinness
(Only the bottled stuff - but heck, that's better than the draught most of the time.... the further away you get from Dublin.....)

3) Irish whiskey
(Jameson's is particularly prone to being faked in this town, but Luke is pretty careful about making sure that all his spirits at the Pool Bar are the real deal.)

4) Special offers
(Luke was generously entering into the spirit of the occasion by running a 4-for-the-price-of-3 deal on bottled beers and 3-for-2 on spirits. So, naturally enough, 4 bottles [I suppose that must be around 2 pints) of Guinness and a treble Jameson's chaser became my standard order. That was 130kuai for an hour of happiness - not bad!)

5) Irish music
(Luke has recently acquired the Pogues' albums If I Should Fall From Grace With God and Peace and Love and a few other odds and ends of theirs, to augment his already sterling computer playlist. I had been meaning to bring in some more Irish stuff for him, but it had slipped my mind. This was certainly enough to be getting on with, though; and he indulgently turned the volume up for a few of my very favourites. Yes, I had a little bit of a singalong with South Australia and a little bit of a moist-eyed moment with Thousands Are Sailing.)

6) Some like-minded company
(Well, this was the 'element' I was struggling most on, since - as I complained yesterday - I was being cruelly spurned by all of my usual drinking buddies. There were, however, a few familiar faces to keep me company down at the Pool Bar - that's one of the great things about the place: a good gang of 'regulars'.)

Not the best St Pat's I've ever had, not by a long chalk - but probably the best I've yet enjoyed in Beijing.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A world without YouTube

I did have a number of YouTube clips of classic Irish tunes in mind that I might have shared with you over this long St Patrick's Day weekend (probably a 4-day holiday in any civilized part of the world!): some Dubliners or Pogues or Christy Moore. The Wild Rover is, of course, a classic singalong on this night - and (although I have no idea if there was ever a video for this) The Pogues did a great version of it on one of their B-sides, recorded a capella in a pub, with percussive accompaniment provided by stamping boots on the floor and banging empty beer glasses on the table. That would have been a good one.

Or The Seven Drunken Nights - that was a song that became warmly associated with my first, very boozy, trip to China in 1994. And I have found a couple of good videos accompanying The Dubliners' rendition of that (although, of course, in their recorded version they wimp out at 5 nights, because it gets a little too risqué over the weekend).

Unfortunately, the present political troubles - and the ludicrous over-reaction of the Chinese government in trying to suppress all news coverage and online discussion of the events - mean that YouTube (and, indeed, most of the rest of the more interesting bits of the Internet) is being denied to us at the moment. And, I fear, for the foreseeable future. And quite possibly for weeks or months to come. These are unhappy times.

A quiet St Pat's?

Nobody really celebrates St Patrick's Day right in this city.

There are a handful of nominally 'Irish bars', but they're all a bit rubbish really: disappointingly inauthentic, and they don't make much of an effort to put on anything special for the big night. I remember going to meet a friend in Durty Nellie's (gosh, how authentic does that sound?!) on this night a few years ago and being greeted on arrival by a mediocre Filipino cover band bawling American Pie. Not the live music experience I would have chosen for an evening of getting in touch with my Celtic roots.

Oh yes, and draught Guinness costs a ridiculous 55rmb per pint (that's nearly twice as much as any other beer I drink out here, and 20 times as much as I usually pay for a bottle of the fine local product in a neighbourhood restaurant). No-one thinks of offering any discounts or special offers for St Pat's around here, I'm afraid. Although I'm not sure if there'll be any Guinness available this year anyway (I usually treat myself to a token pint or two on this night); I haven't heard whether the mysterious import embargo on the black stuff I mentioned a few months back has yet been resolved.

A St Patrick's Day with no decent bars and no decent music and no Guinness? It doesn't bear thinking about. I may cry......

No playmates either, it would appear. The Choirboy is busy entertaining his visiting family. And The Chairman is burnt out after a rather heavy last few days (his elder brother, now living just outside of Beijing, turns out to be even more of a wild man than The Chairman himself - and descends on us every other weekend like Attila the Hun, leaving us sleep-deprived, penniless, and brain-damaged). These are just about my only friends these days; certainly the only two with any Irish heritage.

And to cap it all, I have got myself landed with a teaching gig this evening. Evening teaching is never good; teaching a subject I know nothing about to a huge class of surly teenagers could prove to be a nightmare - for everyone concerned!

So, perhaps tonight, for the first time in several years (hmmmm, tries to remember: it could be the first time in about 20 or 25 years!) I may betray my Irish ancestry by having a quiet and abstemious night and retiring to bed at a respectable time.

Then again,........

The weekly bon mot

"It is most absurdly said, in popular language, of any man, that he is disguised in liquor; for, on the contrary, most men are disguised by sobriety."

Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

We are....

I have noted before that my gig-going here in China usually occurs in a fog of uncertainty as to which band I'm watching, because some perverse streak of humility seems to debar the performers from announcing their names.

I was therefore very pleasantly surprised at 2 Kolegas last night to hear both bands introducing themselves. Ah, but one of them - Shake Hands With Danger (like the name!) - were a laowai outfit, so that doesn't really count.

The other one - an identikit ska-punk group who gave the unfortunate impression that they were playing everything just a bit too slow (well, they did improve later in the set, but the first one or two songs really were limping along painfully) and whose diction was so bad that it was impossible to tell most of the time whether they were supposed to be singing in English or Chinese - was apparently called The K (dislike the name!). Except that, in the lead vocalist's fractured English, it sounded as if he'd said, "We are..... dickheads." Unfortunate.

And talking of band names..... we haven't had any new entries in the Suggest an amusing band name competition recently. What's up with all of you? There are prizes going begging.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Plan

What The Plan is cannot be stated. A secret it must remain; although I can hint at its outlines.

Admittedly there are some details still to be thrashed out. And I leave myself a generous amount of flexibility to allow for unforeseen developments. But, in essence, it's all there. After months (years?) of Planlessness, finally I have a Plan.

It involves giving up - at least temporarily - on Madame X, who has (probably without realising it!) broken my heart and trampled on the pieces over the past few weeks. It involves giving myself some recovery time from that ordeal. It involves exploring some other options. It involves reassessing my romantic situation in the light of that exploration.

It will probably then result in returning to the mire of being-miserably-unregarded-by-X. But at least I will have tried to escape.

Wish me luck. I'm going to need it.

HBH 71

Feelings of 'virtue'
Undercut by sleeplessness:
Alcohol-free day.

I am intermittently trying a little detox. It's not going well.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Anxious times at The Pool Bar

Luke, the genial owner of The Pool Bar, promised me last weekend that he was about to replace the pool table.

He has said this before and it did not come to pass. On that earlier occasion, I was desperately disappointed because the original table had deteriorated into a pretty ropey state, and it was undermining my game.

Now, however..... well, somehow or other, the venerable old table has come back: it's playing reasonably well again. And so am I. Maybe Luke re-levelled it. Maybe he gave the cloth a good brushing. Maybe it was an infinitely subtle interplay of environmental conditions that started warping the surface (or affecting the texture of the cloth or the liveliness of the cushion rails) in a positive way, counteracting some of those kinks and quirks that had rendered it for a time almost unplayable. Or maybe it's just that I've got used to all those kinks and quirks and am subconsciously making allowance for them - maybe I couldn't play so well on a flat table now?!

Then again, perhaps it's just a confidence thing. I was getting my ass whooped by some the regulars in The Pool Bar just too darned often, and, as my form went into a downward spiral, perhaps I was too inclined to look for excuses in the growing eccentricities of the table. My discovery of a good new pool hall on nearby Jiaodaokou Nandajie - with brand spanking new equipment, perfectly flat tables - just before Christmas may have been the turning point. On those tables, I suddenly found I could play like a god - I could even beat The Chairman pretty regularly. And after just a few sessions in there, I started winning at The Pool Bar again.

It's a mysterious game, all right.

Ah, yes, so now I face the prospect of the table being replaced with some trepidation. Even a very good table has its idiosyncracies to be learned. And however good the new one may be, it's not going to be the old one with which I have become so comfortably familiar.

And I'm really not sure the table needs to be replaced yet. There's only one moderately bad kink in the slate (well, it's probably not real slate, is it? And surely not in one piece?), and I figure we might be able to straighten that out by dismantling and reassembling the table. Just re-covering the baby would probably give it at least another year of useful life.

But perhaps these options are not available in China. Perhaps it's a new table or nothing.

So, I now find myself afraid to set foot in the place. I dread what I may find on my next visit there......

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Great Love Songs (4)

It's been a while since I put a favourite love song on here, so.....

This one, of course, dedicated to my mucker, The British Cowboy, who did his law degree down at Vanderbilt University in Nashville a few years ago, and hasn't been the same since.....

This is I Fall To Pieces, my very favourite Patsy Cline song.

If you must have Crazy, there's the link for you - I'm nice like that.

Missing Harry

Harry Connick, Jnr. is in town, playing a big gig tonight over at the Beijing Exhibition Centre (I think I know which one, but I'm not entirely sure - there are these days several Something-or-other Exhibition Centres dotted around the city).

It has been reasonably heavily promoted over the past couple of weeks, with billboards, flyers, magazine articles. There's even an online ticketing facility. But it's all in Chinese! And, I think, not very easy to navigate even for a Chinese speaker. There was also supposed to be an English phone line for ticket reservations, but..... nobody was answering that.

And two or three weeks isn't exactly a lot of lead-in time for such a big concert as this. HC has, I gather, been to China once before - but that was the mid-90s, and it was Shanghai. Shanghai is a whole other world. And 10 years ago in China was a whole different geological era. And, let's face it, most Chinese people haven't heard of Elvis, so I very much doubt if Mr Connick has much of a local following. If he were going to sell out that venue, he'd probably have to rely on a BIG turnout of laowai - who will probably have been finding it difficult or impossible to buy tickets. And the show was, I'm quite sure, "officially" sold out long since.

Not to worry, though. 'Sold out' in China usually means nothing of the kind. Most theatres and concert halls still maintain the old school Communist practice of maintaining the appearance of perfect sales/attendance by allocating a huge proportion of their tickets to various party cadres...... who are mostly indolent philistines who wouldn't be caught dead at a 'cultural' event. This tends to mean that huge numbers of tickets get handed on to drivers, ayis, and so on, eventually finding their way into the hands of piao fanzi ('ticket touts', or 'scalpers', as my American friends would have it). These guys are usually so numerous - and, I suspect, mostly 'amateurs' rather than the hard-bitten crooks we're used to having to deal with in the West - that it's never much of a problem to pick up tickets outside a venue just a quarter of an hour or so before the performance starts. Indeed, supply frequently outstrips demand; and the fanzi are so grateful to offload tickets (which they themselves have probably acquired for free, or very, very cheaply) that their prices can usually be beaten down to rock bottom. I almost always buy from piao fanzi, and I generally pay much less than the face value of the ticket that I would have had to pay at the Box Office. This I find to be one of the more charming and useful quirks of Chinese ineptitude; but it is, I fear, one that is being progressively stamped out as the country gets richer, more modern, more Olympics-ready........ (I haven't yet had the chance to go down the recently opened National Concert Hall - "The Egg" - to see if this eccentric system of ticket distribution holds true there as well: must do that some time soon!)

However, I think I'd be prepared to make a small wager that it would be relatively easy to pick up tickets for Mr Connick's show tonight on the street.

Of course, that's assuming I would want to go. I am open to most kinds of music. I particularly love the jaunty jazz traditions of Connick's native New Orleans (and I hear he's been doing some very commendable charity work there post-Katrina). It's a big band sound, which is good. And I gather that he has been forging a more individual musical style in recent years (I confess I found the Sinatra-lite persona of his early career a bit uninspiring). So...... yes, I would have been curious to have gone.

However, I couldn't find anyone else who was up for it.

And a couple of my lovely lady friends happen to be throwing a small party tonight. So, I have forsaken my cultural leanings for a promise of free pizza.

I am mildly ashamed of myself. Forgive me, Harry. I hope it's a great show.

Update: My blog-pal Jeremiah (who managed to score a pair of tickets in a prize draw - the lucky dog!) reports that the concert was vexingly attenuated and compromised by the last-minute interference of the Ministry of Culture. The control-freakery of the powers-that-be here can be so damned petty and stupid sometimes - I find it incredibly depressing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A new 'Pick of the Month'

Not that anyone will notice, I suppose. Very few people seem to have taken a second look at my opening recommendation, 'Zelig', even though I left it up there for two months rather than one.

Anyway, I will doggedly keep on trying to direct 'new readers' to the good stuff in the more remote archives. This month I nominate this favourite joke from the Hagar The Horrible cartoon strip. The link now appears in the sidebar too.

And I do, of course, continue to urge you to contribute to the Possible Band Names competition (and to the What Films Am I Referencing Here? sub-competition).

A noir-ish bon mot

"I think a man ought to get drunk at least twice a year just on principle, so he won't let himself get snotty about it."

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)

Quite so, my dear Raymond, well said. But only twice a year? Twice a week would be more like it, surely?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

My Barman's back....

..... and I'm gonna be sorry.....
..... Hey-naa, hey-naa, The Barman's back.....

Yep, my old buddy The Barman has just started working at Room 101.

Which is splendid news..... except that..... my life is now..... officially..... OVER.

Friday, March 07, 2008

February's band name winners

Of course, we couldn't match the bumper crop of entries in the launch month of our silly little possible band names competition, but the quality of suggestions in February was again very high. Indeed, I think I've had even more difficulty picking the winners this time...... but here goes.

A special commendation once again to Gary, who produced a list of absolute corkers; I loved Swimming Pool Pirates, Imaginary Fiends, Armed Bears, Fear Of All Sums, and the marvellously warped China reference, Y-Front Rebellion; and best of them all, I think, was Idiot Synchrony (yes, we get a lot of that in China.....) - in any other month that probably would have been a winner. I hope Gary won't take his disappointment too hard, but will rather be goaded into returning with another set of suggestions this month. If he keeps on coming up with ideas as good as this, he's bound to win sometime soon.

However, this month I'm going to award the top prize to my old friend Snopes (accuse me of nepotism, if you will!), who submitted a shorter but equally brilliant list, including such gems as the delightfully Dada-ist Bed of Noses, the China-friendly Dazed From The Red, and the surprisingly plausible Penny Arcane. However, my absolute favourite (cue: portentous drumroll) was........ Grouper Soup. We've had many varieties of wordplay in our band name suggestions, but this was our first instance of a spoonerism and it was sheer genius.

Further honourable mentions to my old Oxford pal, The Swordsman for The Screaming Victorias and Just Sevateem (Englishmen of a certain age will get the reference!), and to The Lunch for the superbly stupid Cancelled Due To Illness (they wonder why they play to empty houses!!).

There was only one 'Cover Band Name' entry this month, but it was a worthy winner - again from The Lunch: female AC/DC tribute band, Venus With Arms.

And I'm going to award the prize for 'Best Foreign Band Name' this month to my friend The Chairman for Der Traurigen Vetteren (German Country & Western group - "The Doleful Cousins"), although it should, I suppose more properly be credited to whoever wrote the antique German grammar book he is trying to teach himself from.

Special thanks also to Brendan for contributing our first entries in Chinese. I hope we'll see some more. 黑户 (hei hu - which means something like 'black clan': I'm not sure if it is a phrase with particular associations, gangster slang perhaps [Brendan? Help!]; but Brendan proposed the Spanish alternative, Los Illegales) was a close runner-up for 'Foreign Band Name'.

Do keep your suggestions coming..... in the comment-thread to the original post, please (not here). This is proving to be great fun.

And don't forget the new supplementary COMPETITION here!!

Yet another you-know-who haiku (HBH 70)

Loves past and present,
Both equally neglectful.
Heart sinks into boots.

The dratted X woman can be in the same room as me and completely unaware of my presence. Even when she is stood right next to me. Even when she is in the same conversation. I can't recall being so thoroughly unregarded by anyone ever before. Perhaps it is this that galls me more than the thwarted affection. Perhaps.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Advice from a master

The Chairman cried off tonight's Koryo Tours party, citing fatigue, an early start on Friday, etc.

He sent me the teasing text message:
"Don't do anything I would."

Unfortunately, I did.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Another competition for you

I haven't succeeded in attracting much attention to this 'spot my film references' challenge yet (a supplement to the 'Suggest an amusing name for a rock band' game, which I originally put in one of the comments to that post)....... so, I'll see if I have any more luck establishing it here in a post of its own.

These were originally some of my example suggestions for the possible band names competition, but every one of these doozies is also a reference to a favourite film; if you can spot them all, drop me an e-mail or leave me a note in the comments here to claim your very special prize.

1) Very Excellent Barbarian

2) Some Place Like Bolivia

3) Bullet Festival

4) Charlie's Point

5) Talking To A Corpse

6) Born Ready

7) A Trick With Sand

8) Macho Bullshit

9) Zed's Dead

10) Fuhrer Of The Beach

11) Aiming For The Horse

12) Greed is Good

13) Life Of The Mind

14) Big Man Out Of Shape

15) Nobody's Perfect

16) Napalm In The Morning

17) Top Of The World

18) Print The Legend

19) Klaatu Verata Niktu

20) Offer You Can't Refuse

21) Rodents Of Unusual Size

22) No Gold In Aqabar

23) Not The Third Switch

24) Full of Stars

25) Thumbs Gone Weird

26) Chocolate Squirrel

27) Purity Of Essence

28) Dereks Don't Run

Don't forget - there is a prize.

All a man needs??

I'm not sure that I agree with the small print. I very seldom do agree with the small print. I think I'd nominate sport, music, and salty snacks as my essential exceptions/additions.

Another quirky discovery on my trip to Harbin the other week. Alas, the 'bar' this was advertising was expensive, not very good, really more of a coffee shop - as were its two or three rivals, all the 'bars' I could locate in the city centre. But that's fairly typical of most Chinese cities I've visited. Proper bars are rare as hen's teeth; even Shanghai is not, I feel, as well catered to as Beijing. And we haven't exactly got scores to choose from..... that's why that 'Favourite Bars in Beijing/China' category never gets much bigger.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Great Drinking Songs (3)

Well, I'm not sure that this is a great drinking song, as such - not in the rollicking singalong ("And let's have another one while we're at it!") sense. But it does at least mention booze, and it is a damn fine, gruff, bluesy song. This is He Got All The Whiskey, from the wonderful - though largely unknown - British singer-songwriter, John Martyn, and his band. This is well-buried on YouTube; I only happened upon it at all because this version has the lovely Eddi Reader on backing vocals (and it's on about the 4th or 5th page of search results for her).

Bon mot of the week

"If the headache would only precede the intoxication, alcoholism would be a virtue."

Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

Well, that is pretty much how it works with me.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Traffic Report - blog stats for February

Still not much sign of a slowdown......

On Froogville, 49 posts and 16,500 words.

On Barstool Blues, 37 posts and 10,000 words.

I'm never going to get my novel written like this.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Planet of Beautiful Women attacks again!

My expectations of brain-wrecking alcohol consumption on Friday were not entirely disappointed.

I had been planning on a meditative 6-mile walk home and then a sensibly early night, but.... the atmosphere was horribly dusty that evening, and I grew desperate for a restorative drink to slake my parched throat. I decided to look in at what has recently become one of the most regular of my local haunts, Room 101, and began busily text-messaging friends to see if anyone fancied joining me. By chance, several of them had been having dinner nearby, and rolled up half an hour after I arrived. And, in a further outbreak of serendipity, I happened to bump into another friend on the street who tipped me off that one of my guitarist buddies was debuting there with his new jazz group that night. I arrived just in time for that.

A fine night suddenly evolved out of nothing; and 'just the one' became a 4-and-a-half hour session.

I do worry, though, that 101 is becoming a threat to my mental health, a challenge to my avowed asexualism. On the evidence of that night, it may be starting to outstrip The Library Bar as a magnet for beautiful women. My Gorgeousness Geiger Counter was off the scale. Oh dear!

The incredible disappearing party

I was saved from an evening of possibly terminal liver damage on Friday by the fact that the advertised all-you-can-drink event failed to materialize.

I had had my doubts about it all along. It was not advertised in any of the listings magazines, I don't think (even in City Weekend, which comes out fortnightly rather than monthly). No-one seemed to have heard anything about it (even people who use that bar quite a lot). Thus, there was no general confidence that the event would go ahead, and I couldn't persuade any of my usual drinking buddies to come and join me. Even the flyer advertising the event that I'd picked up last weekend worryingly omitted to include any details of the proposed starting time for the party. On Friday, I tried several times to call the bar's phone number to try to check what was going on, but there was no answer (at least it was an accurate phone number.... there was a very high-end bar [a dismal failure, now deceased] here a year or two ago called the Icehouse, which for a long time had an out-of-service phone number on all its business cards and its website - really).

It seemed a little sad to be going to such a party on my own, but..... well, I had arranged to have dinner nearby with an East Side friend, and since I was in the neighbourhood I felt I might as well at least check the place out. Arriving just before 9pm, I found absolutely no sign - inside or out - of any special promotion that night. Moreover, there were no customers: absolutely NONE. I turned on my heel and left again.

Such miscarried plans, cancelled or unfindable parties, etc. are all too common in China. We get used to it. Most of the time, it is more risible than annoying.