Friday, February 29, 2008

Last call for this month's 'band names' suggestions

The 'suggest an amusing name for a rock band' thread is still ticking over (although it has inevitably slowed down a lot after the initial vigour of its opening month). Since I didn't actually launch it until January 12th (and February - even with the extra day this year - is still a pitifully short month), I'll leave things open for the February monthly prize until next Friday - 7th March.

We have some very strong suggestions once again from last month's runner-up, Gary, and also from my old friends, Snopes and The Swordsman.

Not many offers yet, though, in the 'Cover Band Name' and 'Foreign Language Band Name' sub-categories.

I'm really going to find it hard to pick a winner this month: Imaginary Fiends, Y-Front Rebellion, Romana's Schoolgirl Uniform, Dazed From The Red, Penny Arcane, Retired Superheroes, Fear Of All Sums, The Screaming Victorias, Bed of Noses......

But please, do try to make my choice even harder. There is still time.

In search of 'value' (II)

A bar on the far side of town has chosen to mark this superfluous day of the year with an all-you-can-drink event.

That seems a little too good to pass up.

I am reasonably confident that I can observe some prudent self-restraint in approaching this. And my alcohol tolerance is so high that all-I-would-drink very seldom exceeds all-I-can-drink.

However, I know that I have a self-destructive streak I sometimes need to be wary of. I also have a - closely related - streak of perverse competitiveness: not an urge to outstrip others, but a compulsion simply to measure myself, a kind of scientific curiosity to discover and extend the outer limits of my physical endurance.

And I also have this mildly obsessive impulse of thrift - so often in my life I have been in situations where it has been essential to extract the maximum value from little or no money; now, those hard lessons of survival have become habits of which I am sometimes scarcely conscious. It will be difficult, I know, not to regard tonight as a challenge - to see how just much value I can wring from the 80 kuai 'open bar' offer.

Wish me luck. You may not be hearing from your correspondent again for a while.....

In search of 'value' (I)

I have always preferred draught beer to bottles or cans. And now that I have forsaken the dratted Tsingtao (the local bottled beer most commonly served in bars here), the alternatives are scarce. Luckily, draught beer is far more widely available today than it was a few years ago.

I have recently noticed a worryingly habit-like pattern to my movements on a night out around my local bar district of Nanluoguxiang. I quite often kick off at Fish Nation, because I like the food - and their draught beer is usually well-kept, although a bit pricey at 25 kuai a pint. I typically move on to nearby Salud next, where they have some good live music mid-week - and the beer is only 20 kuai (still a little bit steep for my liking, but you do get the offer of a free plate of snacks with every glass - two or three of these make an adequate meal, obviating the need to expend money on food). And then at some point, I'll almost certainly stroll round the corner to Jianghu - where the draught is only 15 kuai (now, that's more like it!).

Honestly, it's like some sort of gravity well - I am sucked inexorably towards the cheapest draught beer. This bothers me only because it gives me a sense of compromising my status as a free agent; so long as I can maintain some conscious awareness of the reasons why my feet are taking me in a certain direction, I can be content, I think.

HBH 69

Midnight comes and goes,
One drink follows another;
Failing will-power.

The Bengali was being a 'bad influence' again last night: it ended up being quite a late one.....

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Classical 'Unsuitable Role Model'

It's been a little while since we had a 'Role Model' - so how about this?

This is a wonderful piece of frivolity from the Classical scholar and poet, A.E. Housman (who was endeared to me by the passionate enthusiasm of my favourite teacher at school), one of the great poems about drink - and its merits, relative to poetry, as a consolation or a depressant - concluding with his take on the story of Mithridates, the King of Pontus (the sixth of that name, if memory serves; I'm sure The Swordsman will correct me if I'm wrong) who gave the Romans a heap of problems in the early days of their Empire at the beginning of the 1st Century B.C.E. He is, as you shall see, a fine advertisement for the benefits of imbibing little and often.

"Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time,
Moping, melancholy, mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad."

Why, if 'tis dancing you would be,
There's brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh, many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
The mischief is that 'twill not last.
Oh, I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie god knows where,
And carried half-way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer.
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigh-ho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet;
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure,
Luck's a chance but trouble's sure,
I'd face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul's stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt
- I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

A.E. Housman (1859-1936)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Who's on first?

I have observed before that it can be vexingly difficult to find out the running order of bands at a gig in Beijing (or to identify the band currently playing - Chinese bands hardly ever seem to say "We are....... Gruntfuttock [or whatever it may be]. Thanks for listening." at any point in their set).

They don't even very often seem to follow the commonsense tactic adopted almost everywhere else in the world of putting the biggest band on last. I don't know if the phenomenon is a hangover of socialist egalitarianism, or of the exaggerated self-deprecation encouraged by Chinese culture, or a more specific product of the close camaraderie in the Beijing rock scene, but..... it's almost as if they draw lots to decide the order of playing. 9 times out of 10 there is absolutely no discernible logic to the running order, no kind of hierarchy based on seniority or ability or size of following.

I got royally screwed over by this at the weekend. I had headed over to the White Rabbit club intending to catch the wonderful band, Ziyo. It was, I think, the first time that this recent addition to the nightlife scene, really more of a dance club, had attempted to stage live music; and the gig hadn't been much publicized (I imagine the details had been confirmed too late for it to be included in any of the expat listings magazines). I happened to have picked up a flyer for it in one of my favoured 'locals', Room 101, just a day or two before. The other two bands on the bill I'd never heard of; but Ziyo are the business - probably Beijing's best (certainly most accessible, most commercial) band. Gigs in this town never start before 10pm, and rarely before 10.30pm. And, in this obscure company, it didn't seem credible that Ziyo (who, I understand, have recently landed a major recording deal) wouldn't be going on last - probably not until 11pm at the earliest, maybe nearer to midnight.

Nope, they went on first. I caught their last song as I arrived at about 10.40pm (I'd been watching the footie in a sports bar next door). The unlikely-ever-to-be-heard-of-again band who followed them on sucked lemons. I couldn't be bothered to hang around to see what the third outfit might be like.

Well, that's Beijing for you. It is a strange place: wonderful in many ways, infuriating in many others.....

The New Kid In Town

Last weekend I was enticed to try out a new-ish bar that's been attracting quite a lot of attention over the past few months, White Rabbit.

It is way over on the wrong side of town for me (actually, all sides of town are wrong for me; I live in the centre), and is really a dance club rather than a bar (albeit a rather low-rent, not to say divey one; it's probably appealing to the same kind of clientele as places like Sanlitun's Kai Bar...... and, apart from a dancefloor area somewhat more expansive than Kai's famous postage stamp, it's really not very much bigger - when you take into account Kai's upstairs lounge, and the capacity for overspill on to the street outside when the weather gets warmer).

I am not one of Nature's dancers, and I HATE the majority of modern dance music; in fact, I pretty much hate all loud music, unless it's being played live (and no, DJs don't count!). I therefore generally avoid such places like the plague. However, I was persuaded to give White Rabbit a look at last because it appears to be trying to establish itself now also as a venue for live music (unless last Saturday's gig was a one-off; it might prove to be so).

This is not a particularly promising development. Nightclubs do not in general make good spaces for live music; the two very different types of entertainment tend to require or to foster a completely different approach to the decor, ambience, layout of the space, the sound system; and they tend to establish very different kinds of clientele.

So, I approached this gig at White Rabbit (their first, as far as I know) with a fair amount of pessimism. And all of my misgivings proved justified. In particular, the sound sucked big time.

That's a problem they could sort out in time. However, the place doesn't have much else to recommend it either - a stark, gloomy, almost undecorated cellar, completely devoid of charm or atmosphere. The space is poorly laid out, too; the bar and sound booth (another unwelcome consequence of the cult of the DJ, I suspect: these people are so important they need a booth the size of a small office) are far bigger than necessary, occupying the whole of the back wall, and consuming probably a good 25% of the available floorspace in the main part of the room. The lounge area and the emergency exit corridor/loos/coatroom area also seem to eat up a lot of space; but there's not really anything else useful that can be done with those isolated wings of the room. I didn't even get a chance to check out the drinks prices because, even with a crowd of just a few dozen, the bar was completely overwhelmed.

White Rabbit appears to be becoming pretty successful as a low-priced dance venue. Good luck to it. That's not my kind of thing. If they can sort out the sound system for live rock music (and improve the bar service), it might make a passable gig venue too. But does Beijing need another live music venue anyway? I think not. We are reaching saturation point now - particularly given that there really aren't that many good bands around.

To my mind, the place is so far utterly lacking in positive qualities - but I can't really assign it to the 'Hate List' on the basis of a 15-minute visit (see following post). It's simply one of those bars that has nothing to appeal to me.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I think I can say the same

"I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me."

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A great song parody

Another little YouTube treat I've just dug up (prompted by dear old Tolstoy over on Webside Gleanings who recently posted a classic clip of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band): this is Neil Innes - the brilliant musician who created the Bonzos with the crackpot Viv Stanshall, and later went on to perform in the later series of Monty Python, and then to create the great Beatles spoof band The Rutles - here doing a spot-on parody of the meaningless clichés and facile rhymes of most Elton John/Bernie Taupin songs. This is the original performance of the song from the short-lived mid-70s BBC2 skit show Rutland Weekend Television (Eric Idle's first post-Python project). I rather prefer the later rendition from Neil's own show, The Innes Book Of Records, performed in the persona of his slightly creepy nightclub MC 'Nick Cabaret' - but there doesn't seem to be a full version of that available on YouTube. This one's OK, though; and the costume - spoofing Elton's get-up in Tommy - is pretty funny in itself.

The Innes Book Of Records was one of the great delights of my childhood: 30 minutes of brilliant musical pastiches accompanied by the most surreal videos (Does anyone else remember Neil in a kilt, dancing a highland jig over two crossed swordfish on the floor of a cave beside the sea?? I can't just have imagined that, can I??). I think only two series of 6 episodes each were made, in the mid or late 70s; as far as I know, they have never been repeated on the Beeb (although they have shown up a few times on cable channels such as UK Gold, which is where most of the handful of YouTube clips from it appear to have been sourced); and Innes is apparently now mired in a bitter fight over the rights to the programmes, a legal tussle which may prevent them being released on DVD for years yet. Very sad. Somewhere in my old vinyl record collection (I hope they're still safe, Lizzie?), I have three albums of these songs. I really should try to get that stuff shipped over here.

But I digress. Here is Neil singing Godfrey Daniel (the title is an oath favoured by W.C. Fields). I'll transcribe the lyrics in a comment - a masterpiece of meaninglessness!

If you liked that, here's another little gem from Book Of Records, the punk spoof Paranoia.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Chairman - a dangerous man to go on holiday with

"I've been thinking," said The Chairman a couple of nights ago, during our trip to Harbin, "we could buy a bottle vodka - for the train back."

The best beer deal in Harbin

I've just spent a few days up in Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province (the former Manchuria), far to the north-east (the city is, I think, just a smidge further north than the northernmost border of Outer Mongolia - so, it's pretty much the edge of Siberia: very bleak, very cold; the huge Songhua River freezes solid for 5 or 6 months of the year).

It is, in many ways, a great city: friendly people, characterful architecture (there's long been a strong Russian influence there), lots of sightseeing attractions round about. However, restaurants are not nearly as thick on the ground as in Beijing, and most of them suck mightily (I had the second worst jiaozi of my life there on this trip - and it's hard to get jiaozi wrong!). If there are any foreigner-friendly bars, they are nowhere near the city centre where we stayed (perhaps the University district would be a better bet?). We only found one (well, there were a few others, but they were really more coffee shops), and that, though quite charming in its way, was dauntingly expensive - 20 kuai for a third of a litre of draught beer, at least 35 or 40 for any spirit (and extra for the mixers). We really are spoiled in Beijing; in just about every other city I've been to in China (and I've been to quite a lot now), foreigner bars are a rarity, and almost invariably slightly 'upmarket' (even if they're dives!); you hardly ever find the bog-standard drinking dens with which Beijing still - mercifully - abounds: places where you can get a bottle of local beer (or a full half litre of draught) for 10-20 kuai, shooters for 10, mixed drinks for 25 or 30.

So, what to do?

Well, we went to Tatoc's. Tatoc's has a great location just off the main drag of Zhongyang Dajie. It invites you in with its cosy cellar ambience and its New York-style green awning over the entrance steps. It discourages you with the raucous Russian pop music blasting up those steps to try to attract the attention of passers-by; but we got over our distaste for that: it's much quieter inside (although they did play the same - rather short - compilation album of 60s and 70s American and UK folk-pop hits over and over and over again, which soon became rather wearing). The interior is actually quite beguiling: lots of dark wood and green leather bench seats, and the place is fairly brimming with antiques and oddball curios.

Tatoc's is one of the city's 'Russian' restaurants. There are fewer of these now than in the past; they're almost invariably run entirely by Chinese, and their conception of Russian food is at best a little sketchy. The Russian restaurants in Beijing are amongst my favourites, but the ones in Harbin offer a dining experience more akin to Russian Roulette. Old man Tatoc, who founded this place early last century, would probably be turning in his grave if he could see what they are now doing to his beloved cuisine of the Caucasus. We tried a meal there on our first night. It was well up there amongst the foulest dishes that have ever been served to me. Despite being ravenous after a long day of sightseeing in icy winds, I left half of it on my plate (and was for a long time concerned that I would soon be leaving the other half in a toilet bowl; although that fear proved unfounded).

However, my companions and I went back the following night. And the night after that. We didn't like to protest too robustly to the charming staff that their food was disgusting, but we did make a point of not ordering any more of it. No, we went solely for the beer. That's a 1.5 litre jug of beer in the picture. Very good draught beer (Harbin beer is, by some margin, the best in China). And only 18 kuai - bargain.

I would quite happily have stayed there from 7pm till 1am every night - but my companions lobbied for more variety in our choice of drinking venue. And the staff - rarely bothered by any customers other than us - were clearly restive to close up by 10 o'clock or so.

Keep this in mind, though, as a 'top tip' for a beer-drinking venue the next time you're in Harbin.

Footnote: They appear to sell vodka by the bottle for only 3 or 4 times as much as a single glass. The cheapest (Russian) brand - the ominously named AK-47 - is only about 50 or 60 kuai. Needless to say, they didn't have any. Against our better judgement, we accepted a Chinese substitute - the even less appealingly named Soffinaya Ante (Anti??) Vodka (product of the Anhui Ante Biological Chemistry Co., Ltd.): surprisingly non-vile, but also disappointingly short on alcoholic kick. Well, at least we lived to tell the tale.

Further Footnote: On reflection, I really think that might have been a TWO litre jug of beer!

Friday, February 22, 2008

HBH 68

A delicious chill
On fingers, lips, fire in throat:
Ice glass of vodka.

This week I took a jaunt off to the chilly northern city of Harbin - where I enjoyed the charming novelty of swigging vodka from a shot glass made out of ice (in a bar constructed entirely of ice). Pictures to follow, possibly.....

And look - now I've added a photograph for you (just in case you didn't believe me).

Monday, February 18, 2008

Going away

I'm off on a trip this week, to visit the frozen wilds of the far north.

So, there won't be any more posting here or on Froogville for the next 3 or 4 days.

However, I did just compile this useful list of all the YouTube clips I've posted on both blogs so far - that should keep you amply entertained for the week. I particularly recommend 'Spazz', a young American film student who does great videos of himself miming to favourite songs: this guy should be the next big star of the Internet - you can make it happen!

I also commend you to the 'possible band names' post. We've not had many contributions so far this month (Bookseller, where are you?); I hope to find dozens of side-splitting suggestions waiting for me on my return.

A reminder as well about the 'spot the film references' challenge. I'm sure someone out there has all the answers.

Martini time again

Last night saw the first Yacht Club session in a while - Sunday evening Martinis, very civilised!

The Monday morning that follows is inevitably rather a slow one; I found myself moved to root out this little piece by Ogden Nash in praise of this most excellent drink. You can't help wondering what he was putting in his Martinis to make 'em yellow! Actually, you know, I think the real 'secret' is the olives: I prefer my Martinis (like my women??) a little dirty.

A Drink With Something In It

There is something about a Martini,
A tingle remarkably pleasant;
A yellow, a mellow Martini;
I wish I had one at present.

There is something about a Martini,
Ere the dining and dancing begin;
And to tell you the truth,
It is not the vermouth -
I think that perhaps it's the gin.

Ogden Nash (1902-1971)

What is alcohol for? (Another bon mot)

"Alcohol is necessary for a man so that he can have a good opinion of himself, undisturbed by the facts."

Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936, Chicago newspaper humourist)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Last night, at the Pool Bar....

Oh, god..... they have discovered Tom Waits at the Pool Bar. I'm not sure how this happened (maybe it was Aussie Rick's doing - he seems to be even more of a fan than me, if such a thing is possible), but they seem to have just about everything he's ever recorded on the computer playlist now.

It must have been 3 or 4 in the morning before I was able to drag myself away.

My life is over.

Ultimate Chopstick Challenge

Try to pick a piece of ice out of the bottom of a glass of Long Island Iced Tea with a pair of flimsy plastic straws.

Go on. Try. It's not like you have anything better to do with your evening.

Mr Miyagi could do it.

But then, he had been practising his chopstick skills since childhood. And with those fiendishly slippery, sharp-pointed Japanese-style chopsticks, at that.

And he probably hadn't drunk the Long Island Iced Tea first.

I did eventually manage it - but only by pushing the ice up the side of the glass, rather than grasping it properly between the two straws.

However, these were exceptionally flimsy straws I was attempting the challenge with - more spastic than plastic, as I ruefully observed to one of the friends I had recruited into remote participation in the event via SMS. Now that could be a band name......

My epitaph?

My blog buddy Jeremiah observed of me a little while ago:

"Froog doesn't get hangovers; he gives them."

I can see that on my tombstone.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Great Love Songs (3)

The genius of Tom Waits manages to produce a Valentine's Day reference that I don't hate.

There are several songs from the Blue Valentines album that, like this, so brilliantly and quirkily tell a story; I used to use a number of them in my English literature classes when I was teaching in high school a decade or so ago. I'll try to post the lyrics to this in the comments (done!). I think I've said before that Waits is about the only songwriter I can think of whose lyrics consistently stand up on their own without the music, the only one who can make a real claim to being a poet (not Dylan, not Cohen).

This is A Christmas Card From A Hooker in Minneapolis, performed live (in, I would guess, the early '80s).

Friday, February 15, 2008

HBH 67

Eating in silence,
The rose beside her ignored:
Valentine's quarrel!

Even in a grotty Xinjiang hole-in-the-wall restaurant I couldn't quite escape the loathsome annual festival of forced sentiment that is Valentine's Day. However, the young Chinese couple at the table next to mine did not seem to be enjoying their 'celebration' - and, while I do not wish to rejoice in anyone else's unhappiness, I can nonetheless take some consolation from it myself.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Competition reminders

I am still soliciting your contributions to my 2 (or, perhaps 3) ongoing competitions. Take a little look at the sidebar over on Froogville.

1) For those of you based in Beijing, I invite you to share with me the lowest taxi driver registration number you come across each month (and any amusing story you may have about that taxi ride). I am encouraging the substitution of '**' for the last two digits, to spare the drivers concerned from any unwanted 'fame' (or 'notoriety'). It only really gets interesting, I think, down below 1500**; and you're not likely to win the monthly prize except with something substantially older than 1000**. Good luck. And for those of you outside of Beijing..... you could just make stuff up. I don't like to be exclusionary.

2) Make up an amusing band name. The first month went really, really well, but now we seem to have run out of steam rather. Come on, people. This is endlessly fun. And you can find inspiration anywhere - book titles, road signs, snippets of Chinglish, even real band names (I'm unlikely to recognise them and bust you!). The main prize here is for the band name suggestion that is most amusing but also most plausible/workable for an actual band. However, there are subsidiary prizes also for a 'Best French Band Name' and 'Best Cover Band Name'. Lots for you to think on.

3) There is also a spin-off of the 'band names' competition in which I have challenged you to identify the cinematic references behind a list of 28 possible band names I posted on January 23rd. It's really not that difficult.... but I do expect you to provide a complete set of answers on this one.

For any of these competitions, you may send me an e-mail or a text message if you know who I am..... but, really, whoever you are, wouldn't it just be easier to leave a comment on the relevant post? Yes, I think you all can manage that. I look forward to hearing from you.

What are the prizes? Well, I'll decide that when I see how good the entries are.....

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Recommended Posts, October-December 2007

Guided Tour - recommended posts
from the 4th quarter of '07

1) The Frankathon - 1st October

My old drinking buddy, Big Frank, comes to stay for a week - god help me!

2) Missing a gig (or three) - 7th October

A rare week in which I missed more gigs than I attended! I try to compensate by posting a fun video of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

3) Pool divination blues - 9th October

The state of my pool game is not good; nor of my love life either - it's all linked.

4) HBH 48: Staying up too late - 12th October

A better-than-average haiku, on the theme of late nights.

5) A new record - 12th October

The execrable D-22 slips even lower in my estimation!

6) A Glorious Pharmacy postscript - 14th October

A couple of YouTube clips of my favourite - oddball - Beijing musician, Xiao He, part of the experimental band, Glorious Pharmacy.

7) The Bullingdon Arms - 16th October

Recollections of a favourite Irish pub in Oxford - including the night a bunch of strangers in the snug joined together in singing Sam Cooke's Chain Gang.

8) The Library Bar - 20th October

I mark my birthday (and my blogs' 1,000th post) with this celebration of key Beijing institution, The Bookworm.

9) The end of my widowhood? - 23rd October

A brief rant against the game of rugby - which had robbed me of most of my friends for the previous 6 weeks, and spoiled my birthday.

10) A new 'Worst Bar in Beijing' contender - 26th October

A brief, traumatizing experience of new bar, Block8 - a place that epitomises everything I hate about naff, overpriced, pretentious 'luxury' bars.

11) What makes a great bar? - 28th October

A monster post, but a good one - in answer to a commission from The British Cowboy. I've already elevated it to a spot in the sidebar, but it's worth recording here in the quarterly 'best of' list as well.

12) A parable - 2nd November

An exchange of text messages throws up an amusing story - comparing my best friend to a goat!

13) It's strangely reassuring.... - 3rd November

A micro-anecdote about the queue for the loo at the extraordinarily good gig I went to at MAO Live the night before.

14) A poem from a distant land - 4th November

A great discovery - poetic snapshots of a disreputable sailors' tavern, by the Cape Verde poet, Aguinaldo Fonseca (a Spanish version and the original Portuguese added in the comments, courtesy of online research by the lovely OMG).

15) Why I don't have a girlfriend - 6th November

I 'poll' my various personalities to try to determine the likeliest causes of my love famine.

16) Asexualismo - 8th November

A two-for-the-price-of-one post: an appreciation of a literary hero, the scathing wit, Auberon Waugh, and my manifesto for saving the world by renouncing sex.

17) "Just one more" - a cautionary tale - 14th November

You couldn't make it up: another amusing foul-up by my charmingly inept friend, The Chairman.

18) A sit-down comedian - 26th November

Remembering Dave Allen, the great Irish comedian who was a TV favourite during my early childhood - complete with a YouTube clip.

19) Bad bars abound... - 27th November

Another new 'Worst Bar In Beijing' contender - the dreadful Paddy O'Shea's.

20) Beginning of the party season - 30th November

Christmas revelries start here - with the Koryo Tours 'Winter Party'. Beware of North Korean soju!

21) Secret of Success - 1st December

A snippet of bar conversation reveals one of The Secrets of Life.

22) The elements come together - 6th December

Blueprint for a near-perfect evening.

23) The Great Kissing Debate.... - 6th December

A discussion about male and female attitudes to kissing on Moonrat's blog leads to yet more dithering on my part in regard to 'Madame X'.

24) A wintry affair - 6th December

A recollection of the greatest love affair of my life - and one of the ridiculously romantic poems it spawned.

25) Wound salting - 8th December

Another early Christmas party is somewhat spoiled for me by the discovery - in quick succession - that two of the women I have loved in vain (loved without even being noticed, in one case) are "eternally single - in need of a good man - you'd be just right for her..."

26) The Long Way Home - 9th December

I realise that my almost nightly visits to my beloved Pool Bar can mainly be credited to its perfect location - a reflection that prompts me to dig out this video of that Tom Waits song a few days later.

27) Women don't understand 'romance' - 14th December

I think the Pool Bar is about the most 'romantic' place in Beijing; my female friends don't quite get it.

28) HBH 57 - 14th December

Madame X isn't very good at replying to text messages....

29) The outbound beer - 20th December

A bad habit I've fallen into recently.....

30) That love affair, again - 23rd December

Another poem inspired by that great, bad love affair of two years ago.

31) The hi-jacking of Christmas - 28th December

How the Chinese steal our holiday.

A slurry anecdote from Rowley Birkin, QC - the fabulous Fast Show character created by Paul Whitehouse, England's pre-eminent comedy genius.

The Super Bowl - a great sporting event, a great party excuse

I like American Football.

As a Brit, I am somewhat unusual in this. Most of my British friends complain that the game is too long, the play too repetitive, the rules too complicated, the whole affair too much structured around the TV ad breaks. But then, these are mostly guys who've never given the game a proper chance, guys who tend to affect a knee-jerk disdain for all emanations of the Transatlantic 'culture' (one of my Oxford buddies used to have a T-shirt that said, "Cornwallis surrendered; I didn't."). I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of the game's more technical rules, but the basic premise is beguilingly simple. And I love the gladiatorial intensity of it, the way that you can sense the changing momentum, the subtle shifts in the psychological balance of power between the two sides (something that usually ends up being decisive, even if it is not reflected in the actual scores for the majority of the game - sorry, Pats fans!). I think tennis is the only other game that has such a strong emotional dimension to it, the only contest where you can see the coming result in the players' body language, in their eyes, well before the end.

I'm not an obsessive fan, and I don't follow any particular team (although I grew quite attached to the 49ers in the great Joe Montana/Jerry Rice era, and more recently have tended to pull for the Cheeseheads' noble but perpetually thwarted attempt to give Brett Favre another shot at the Bowl). I'm not able to follow the regular season at all, such are the limitations of timezone difference and patchy TV sports coverage out here; I try to keep up with the progress of the play-offs, but am often thwarted in that as well. However, I always watch the Super Bowl (well, very nearly every year for the past 20 or so).

I have to confess that - apart from my longstanding affection for the sport and my appreciation of the magnitude of the event - I chiefly like the Super Bowl as an excuse for early morning drinking. American Football is a great excuse to get drunk at any time - the long duration and the 'soundbite' choppiness of the play are ideally suited to the tempo of a good drinking session. I watched a Thanksgiving Day game with The British Cowboy once in Philly; and I had a great time watching the Conference finals in a little sports bar in New Orleans with my buddy John a few years ago. And I have watched the Super Bowl itself in the States a few times (I was reminiscing just the other day about a particularly alcoholic one I enjoyed with The Cowboy in smalltown Pennsylvania a few years ago) - but drinking in the late afternoon, early evening is, well, just a bit too routine. In the UK, the Bowl usually starts in the wee small hours and goes on till nearly dawn. Here in China, the kick-off is around dawn, and the game ends mid- to late morning. Having a once-a-year excuse to get completely ripped that early in the day is most welcome.

(An aside: back in my undergraduate days, when I first became a keen student of the effects of alcohol, I derived the formula: "Lunchtime drinking counts double. Morning drinking counts treble." Not that I advocate or indulge in daytime drinking very much; but it definitely gets me drunk much easier [which is to say, at all; I have noted on here before, I think, that I am such an experienced drinker, I very seldom exceed my limits; these days, in fact, I mostly find drinking a rather frustrating activity in terms of 'getting high']; and, once in a blue moon, that is a rather agreeable indulgence.)

Last week's Bowl was quite a subdued drinking experience, since I was feeling badly depleted by sleeplessness and an attack of bad bowel (I drank only beer, relatively moderately, and more for rehydration than the buzz), and my companion was trying a spell on the wagon. Perhaps my comparative sobriety is one reason why I followed the game more closely than usual this year and was so enthralled by the closeness of the contest.

However, without question, the greatest, most protracted, most extreme Super Bowl 'party' I have ever experienced happened here in Beijing two years ago. There were a number of reasons why it turned out this way. I was an emotional wreck after the recent failure of a huge love affair. My oldest drinking buddy in this town, the notorious BIG Frank, was just about to leave for South Korea. It was the middle of the Chinese New Year holiday, so none of us had any work to worry about for the whole of the following week. It was a particularly drab, dark, cold day (it snowed pretty heavily from the early hours of the morning through till late afternoon), so there was no incentive to go outside and do anything else with the day. And the bar where we had intended to watch the game had lost its overseas satellite feed and was having to show the crappy terrestrial coverage (with Chinese commentary), so Frank and I made a last-minute decision to watch the game on our own in his apartment nearby. Afterwards, we watched crappy movies on a cable channel, reminisced about the 'good old days' together, and generally talked amusing bollocks to each other for another 4 or 5 hours - while getting completely slammed.

We drank mostly rum'n'coke, Frank's favoured tipple. We'd each bought a bottle of Bacardi for the occasion at the Jenny Lou's supermarket over the road, and Frank had another nearly-full one in his apartment already. We finished all three. And several beers. And three or four big fat spliffs. The snow let up just before dusk, and - thinking that it would be difficult to get taxis in these adverse weather conditions - I decided to try to walk all the way home (probably a 2-hour hike, even with clear sidewalks; nearer to 3 hours with all the snow). After a slightly head-clearing 30 minutes of slithering through the slush, I happened to get a call from my friend GG, who was hanging out in The Bookworm - conveniently on my way - so I dropped in there for a few more. I suspect I probably treated myself to one or two fine malt Scotches - which was my habit at that time.

A great day - a somewhat maudlin day, but a day of valuable catharsis. That might not be quite the most wrecked that I have ever been in China, but it would certainly be up there amongst the top contenders. And no, I can't remember the result of the game, or even who was playing.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A bon mot from history

"The first draught serveth for health, the second for pleasure, the third for shame, the fourth for madness."

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)

This does lead you to wonder what he was drinking. Did he bring back tequila from the New World along with the potato? Or did he invent poteen? And what were the Irish eating before this?? So many unanswered questions.....

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Party conversation fragments

"You don't look a day over - how old are you?"

"X is about to arrive; everybody pretend to be pleased to see him!"

"Your tiles are popping."

"Why did you lose your job?" "They hated me." "No?! Everyone loves you!" "Not people I work with." (This was me, of course.)

"I had a terrible time. I only spoke to my girlfriend."

"How did you escape from the massage parlour?"

"Awful party! Well, no, don't get me wrong - it was a great party. It's just that I don't like parties. Or people. I'm not good with people."

"If you had to wear underwear made out of living animals, which animal would you choose?" (For one possible answer, click here.)

"He's a French albino. It's going to be depressing."

"Ah, expat bars! The familiar odour of despair!"

"You haven't had a girlfriend in how long? Are those 'dog years', man?"

Yes, it was a very strange night last night. Very strange, but very good. There were many more such strangely brilliant lines in the course of it, but I fear I may have forgotten them forever. I really should start carrying a notebook with me.

I staggered home just before dawn. I fear I shall be paying the price in sleep-deprivation crankiness and 'jet-lag' for the next week. Gettin' too old for this shit......

Friday, February 08, 2008

We have a Winner!

My 'create a name for a rock band' game has attracted over 60 comments in its first month (although, admittedly, half of those have been mine!), and it is time to announce some winners.

Dave S takes the honours (narrowly, in the face of some very stiff competition) with the inspired - Panda Pornographers

I would also like to make a special award to Gary (although I have no idea who he is) for an entry that was exceptional in both quality and quantity: he submitted around 30 suggestions, all of them really, really good - a fine mixture of political satire (Public Transportation Will Get You Nowhere, My Igloo Is Melting), cunning punnery (The Norsemen Of The Apocalypse, Passion Victim, The Electric Heels), historical references (The Real Lindbergh Kidnappers, Arsenic In The Wallpaper), and pure-and-simple band-naming genius (Moonshine Hangover, The Net Porn Junkies, Zombie Cheerleaders, Minefield Hopscotch). His most brilliant offering (which would have won outright in any other month, and probably deserves a special prize all of its own) was Rasputin's Mole. This is not (I believe) a reference to a cute furry animal, but rather to the rumour that Rasputin's great success with the ladies of the Russian Imperial court was largely due to what one biography of him called "a large and strategically placed mole on his penis" - a phrase which, I feel, coyly covers up a failure in research: where exactly was this bloody mole? Enquiring minds want to know!

Commendations also to Ed Peto for Git Summit (I think I've attended a few of those in my time); to my old Oxford buddy, the Mothman, for his recent suggestions Standard Deviant and Random Crisis Generator; to OMG for Robbing Peter; and to Dave S (again!) for The Duffman Chronicles (Cowboy, that's not you in disguise, is it??).

A special prize (and a new category) for 'Best Cover Band Name':

The Bookseller has this one all sewn up on his own, with entries of such twisted brilliance as Better Led Than Dead, Electric Cher, and The Deng Beatles (big in China!); but the winner, of course, is his fantastic invention of a transvestite C & W tribute band called The Dixie Dicks.

Another additional prize category, for 'Best French Band Name':

Les Singes Capitulards (Yes, that was one of my own - why shouldn't I win something?)

Please, keep your contributions coming. I shall pick more winners each month, and hold a 'champion of champions' readers' poll at the end of the year.

Please also note that there is now a supplementary competition, a challenge to identify all the film references in this list of mine. Give it a try.

Thanks for playing. I hope to hear more from you.

HBH 66

The music takes us
To Chicago cellar bars.
Magic of the Blues.

Yes, we were hanging out in the charming company of Mr Musselwhite again last night. A bitchin' good show!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Momentous Day

Yes, of course, TODAY is........ Bob Marley's birthday

Those of you who foolishly base your understanding of such key events in world history on me and my blogs may have been misled on this point. It's true, my party to celebrate the great man's birthday last year was nearly a month late, on March 3rd, because I was unfortunately out of the country on the date itself.

Today is also...... Chinese New Year's Eve. There is a steady rumble and pop of fireworks all around me already - and it's only 9am.

All the best for the Year of the Rat!! Gongxi facai!!

Monday, February 04, 2008

A Gentleman of the Blues

So, this was the dude I was so anxious to see over the weekend.

I had in fact caught him at Yugong Yishan on Friday (although my response then was only somewhat lukewarm - partly down to the unappealing ambience of the venue, and partly, I think, just down to being all bluesed out after 2 full hours of great music from the support acts before he came on); and he's due to play a few more gigs around town this week.

But..... Memphis Charlie at Jianghu? Wow, that was not to be missed. That is just such a great venue for an artist like him: dark, cosy, intimate. And for such a small bar, it has a really good sound system. And..... well, it's my 'home'!

The great man did not disappoint. It was billed as a 'workshop' session rather than a gig, so he took a lot of time out to chat about his life and about how he'd learned elements of his technique from the other blues harmonica greats - men like Little Walter and Walter Horton. Damn, it was like having my record collection come to life: these were names I knew only from my old vinyl blues albums (a collection I have, sadly, long been separated from) - and Charlie used to be friends with them! Definitely a starstruck moment for me. He's a very engaging speaker - gracious, humorous, laid-back. However, he did play and sing plenty of music as well, and it was marvellous stuff: an utterly spellbinding afternoon - the time fairly flew by.

The crowd was just right: the main room well-filled, but not oppressively heaved out; a handful of late arrivals making do with watching from the adjacent courtyard. They were almost all Chinese musicians, probably a hand-picked invitation list (Tianxiao the laoban is a bit of a muso himself) - with the exception of Charlie's two backing musicians, his wife, and Royce, the harp player from local blues band Black Cat Bone. And the only other laowai present were Jeremiah, Tulsa, The Artist and myself - a select group indeed.

Kudos to Tianxiao for setting that up - a very special experience, likely to remain one of the very favourites of all my memories of Beijing.

Jeremiah has already written a short post about this, including a link to one of Charlie's performances on YouTube. I thought I'd post a clip of him too, just to give you a flavour of the man, in case you hadn't heard of him. I particularly like this performance, accompanying his daughter Layla singing one of his own compositions, In Your Darkest Hour. Enjoy.

The Grapevine

My music week last week panned out like this. Wednesday, I was supposed to be meeting up with my friend DD in Salud, but she cried off with a cold. I thought I'd trundle along anyway, since they usually have some live music there on Wednesday nights (I wasn't sure what because the lovely Mlle H was late getting out her weekly gig list): it turned out my old buddies Dan & Nico were on. And The Chairman happened to show up (despite having left his phone off all day and having thus been oblivious to my suggestions for a rendezvous there). As did Big Chris. And The Artist. And Tulsa. And a whole bunch of other people. A fine night.

Anyway, Dan informed me that they were playing a private party engagement on the next night, so wouldn't be performing their regular Thursday gig at Jianghu. Tired and penniless, I was grateful of an excuse to spend a night in. Tulsa went along anyway, to see what was happening - a loose little jam with the boss, Tianxiao (he plays a bit of tenor sax), and some of the Chinese regulars. Fun.

The next day, Tulsa reported to me that Tianxiao had invited her to a special gig there this coming Sunday afternoon. She hadn't clocked any details, thought vaguely the artist mentioned was "some laowai" but didn't recognise or remember the name (her musical knowledge is notoriously some way short of compendious). Sunday afternoon?? Hmm, curious - would be a nice change from the usual routine.

I bumped into Tianxiao at the show at Yugong Yishan on Friday night, and he was looking Cheshire-Cat pleased with himself - but the gig was already in progress, so we couldn't really talk. He just said, "Sunday, Sunday, must come!" Sure thing, TX, whatever you say.

Since it was, or had been, Tulsa's birthday, I skipped out of the Yugong gig a little early to meet up with her at Room 101 (fortuitously catching the last 30 seconds of their midnight 'happy hour' - which, T being a non-drinker, meant that she had to accept a pint of hot chocolate as her two-for-one....). And it just so happened that Dan & Nico were on there, jamming away with their new young guitarist buddy called Ben. They were having so much fun that they gave every impression of being likely to carry on playing until dawn (I finally dragged myself away around 3.15am). However, in one of the breaks, I quizzed Dan as to whether he knew anything about the mysterious 'special event' at Jianghu on Sunday afternoon.

"Oh, yeah," he said, "it's Charlie Musselwhite." What??!! Charlie Musselwhite at Jianghu????!!!! "Yes, that was the name he mentioned," nods Tulsa, belatedlly recovering the power of memory but still showing no inkling of realising the magnitude of what she has just said.

Charlie Musselwhite is A LEGEND. He is possibly the greatest living blues harp player. He has played with everyone. He's even played with my idol, Tom Waits. He is possibly the most important artist ever to play in China (no, I'm sorry, Wham! and Kenny G don't count). And he's playing in the bar that, over the last year (Tulsa, an obsessive-compulsive retainer of text messages, has determined that it was on January 19th last year that I first told her about the place) I have come to regard as my living room...... a bar that is, in fact, somewhat smaller than the living room of my apartment.

Oh my god.

So, yes, now I'm definitely going on Sunday afternoon, but...... extremely nervous as to whether word will get around too much. If more than 30 or 40 people show up, it will be unpleasantly crowded; if more than 60 or 70 show up, the show probably won't be able to go ahead.

After anguished consideration on Saturday afternoon, I nervously decided to notify three friends only - the three people that I consider to be the biggest music enthusiasts I know, and to whom I owe certain favours in this regard: Red T Ed, Mlle H (both music biz professionals) and my blog-buddy Jeremiah (a pianist himself, and a hugely knowledgeable music fan). I sternly reminded each of them of the tiny capacity of the venue, and begged them NOT TO TELL ANYONE ELSE.

I then spent a very jittery 24 hours, keeping my fingers crossed, hoping that the thing would go ahead...... trying not to get my expectations up too much.

Well, what can I say? We were not disappointed. Awesome.

Bon mot, plus bon mot

"A drink before and a cigarette afterwards are the three best things in life."


"A drink before, a drink afterwards, and a drink instead are the three best things in life."


Sunday, February 03, 2008


There is a rumour of a rather unusual gig happening today.

Nothing more must be said. It is a small venue and a strictly word-of-mouth kind of thing.

There is every possibility that the artist will not show up. There is every possibility that it won't be able to go ahead because of an excessive turnout. There is every possibility that the gig will happen, but be marred by being unpleasantly overcrowded (or disappointingly deserted). There is even a chance, I suppose, that the music will turn out to be not as good as we had hoped.

However, I remain optimistic that we could be in for something rather special.....

I shall report in a day or two.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Sometimes, when you are drunk and listening to music.....

..... a woman will catch your attention in a rather insistent way.

Especially if she is tall and sassy and (probably) American and (definitely) of a rather nice rusty blonde hair-colour and..... yes, well, thoroughly captivating in every way.

Of course, I was mesmerised by her for two hours and didn't dare to say hello. Even thinking about saying hello seemed dangerously like a possible violation of my asexualist principles.

I try to persuade myself that my paralysis was due to my being still fixated on a certain Ms X, but...... actually it's probably just down to me being crap and drunk and out of practice and shy and lame and useless etc.

Great Drinking Songs (2)

The first having been Streams of Whiskey by 'The Pogues'. Yes, I am attempting to initiate another regular-ish strand (monthly?) here on the Barstool.

This was popularly thought of as my 'theme song' during my last year or two at college (and ever since!) - "What's The Use Of Getting Sober (When You're Gonna Get Drunk Again)?". Originally a chart-topper during WWII for the great jazz band leader Louis Jourdan, I came to know it through Joe Jackson's Jumpin' Jive album, a fabulous tribute to the swing band era. Alas, I couldn't find a version by Joe [now available at last, but audio only (with a fan video); and the Louis Jourdan original can be heard here], but this one by the novelty band 'Big Cheese & The Jive Rats' is rather fun.

Friday, February 01, 2008

A last chance for Yugong

I loved the old Yugong Yishan music club. However, I am sorry to say that its new incarnation in the much larger premises of the old Duan Qi Rui government building has signally failed to win my over my affections so far.

I think just about every gig I've gone to in the 4 months or so it has been open has been in the range from 'somewhat disappointing' to 'utter shite' - and it's mostly down to the venue rather than the bands.

However, tonight there is what threatens to be an absolutely awesome gig there..... so I am giving the place one final chance. A really good experience there could buoy my spirits enough to make me persist with it for another 6 months. But if this show again disappoints...... well, I fear I am likely to give up on the place for good.

A big night ahead.....

Traffic Report - blog stats for January '08

56 posts on Froogville last month, and nearly 16,500 words.

Barstool Blues was again hard on its heels, largely thanks to the major series of posts on 'Dating in Beijing' last week: only 40 posts but getting on for 16,000 words.

The comment community is diversifying a little, as I have attracted a number of
Moonrat's Minions over here in the last month or so (although they usually seem to be frightened off by the craziness after a single visit!) and have also goaded old, old Oxford drinking buddies The Bookseller, Mothman, and Little Anthony out of their long hibernations. My 'competition' challenge to find the funniest name for your fantasy rock group also seems to have enticed in a few passing strangers. Perhaps this will be the year I finally make it 'big' in Blogland.

"I've always been big! It's the Internet that's small!"

Another you-know-who haiku (HBH 65)

The Watched Pot

Waiting for a sign,
The world grows old, heart wears out;
The smile never comes.