Friday, February 27, 2009


For anyone who missed the reference earlier....

Yes, I was of course thinking of Edward Hopper's famous painting of that name.

In searching for a good copy of it to post just now, I happened to turn up this variation on it, from a website called Worth1000.

Then I recalled that on my old computer I had this scan of a Simpsons postcard as a screensaver.

And then, of course, as an avowed Tom Waits fan, I couldn't resist throwing in the cover of his marvellous
live album from 1975.

And here's the song that includes the line, Eggs and Sausage, in a brilliant unaccompanied performance from a TV show called 'Soundstage'.

HBH 121

Nighthawks at the Diner (Chinese style)

A timeless haven:
cares recede, bed forgotten;
cheap beer and kebabs.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Easy come, easy go

I just wrote an uncommonly tedious post over on Froogville about my current financial woes, in which I outlined my policy of attempting always to spend no more than I earn in any one month.

One of the drawbacks of this approach to budgeting is that, particularly in times of scarcity such as now, it rather too easily inverts into spending everything you earn - as soon as you earn it.

The other day I picked up a very welcome 400 RMB for chairing a discussion group with some nice lady lawyers..... and immediately afterwards went out in Sanlitun with The Choirboy until 3am or 4am and pretty nigh blew the lot.

Naughty, naughty, Froogie - you must rein in these reckless bouts of self-indulgence.


There was a bit of high excitement in my 'hood last Sunday around midnight.

Everyone's favourite Muslim joint (getting a bit too popular for its own good, really: it's just over the road from MAO Live House, so the bands and their groupies regularly pack the place out pre- and post-show) nearly burned down. Well, the chuanr stand at the front did, anyway.

The road was closed for a while, but I didn't see a fire engine in attendance. Luckily, somebody was able to dump large quantities of water on the blaze to snuff it out. The initial response, though, seemed to be dangerously, er, casual. A fire like that in the hutongs might quickly engulf the entire block if allowed to take hold. One young chap had climbed up on to the roofs, I assume, to check whether any sparks had spread up there.... and he was for a while dancing around very agitatedly as if to suggest there was a rooftop fire as well; but it seems not.

I was seriously concerned for a while because I thought I'd seen flames coming out of the front door (though perhaps they'd merely been beside the door) and the smoke was so thick that it was impossible to see anything inside. Nor was there was any sign of the laoban outside (a very sweet guy who once chased me down the street to apologise for having inadvertently overcharged me by a few kuai). Fortunately, everyone had got out safely, and the fire seems not to have spread inside.

They'd managed to clean the place up enough to reopen the following evening (although it's still smelling a bit smoky in there). The only evidence of the previous night's close call was the anxiousness with which laoban was supervising the chuanr boy as he got to work at the replacement barbecue stand.

I know, I know - pretty trivial compared to the CCTV fire the other week; but we don't have a lot to keep us entertained around here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In the worst possible taste....

Ultimate rock star death - crashing your plane into a swimming pool full of vomit.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Plug of the day/week (2)

Simon Cockerell (of Koryo Tours) is holding another of his occasional series of North Korean film shows tonight, Tuesday 24th - from about 7pm, once again upstairs at Bar Blu.

Tonight's programme is supposed to be Americans in Pyongyang, a 50-minute documentary about last year's ground-breaking visit by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra; followed by the (curiously - not to say disturbingly - named) Our Fragrance, a North Korean rom-com.

I don't suppose it will quite match the thigh-slapping hilarity (sorry, I meant chin-stroking political allegory) of the "Godzilla" romp Pulgasari that we saw last time, but it sounds interesting. I'm hoping I'll be able to make it.

Plug of the day/week (1)

Joseph, the Aussie proprietor of 12 Square Metres ("Beijing's smallest bar"!), was back home in Oz for several weeks at the beginning of this year, and thus missed Australia Day on January 26th.

He's decided to have a belated celebration of his nation's foundation exactly one month on - this Thursday, February 26th.

The rather fine Cooper's ales are all going to be reduced to a very tempting 15 RMB per bottle, and there will be some discounts on other booze too - including 5 RMB shaved off the already rather reasonably priced malt whiskies on the top shelf.

It's likely to be a busy night, I think.

I aim to get there early, before the crowds.....

Monday, February 23, 2009

A similar state of drunkenness

There's a theory I've often heard, and, I confess, often repeated. I've no idea what scientific basis it may have amongst the authoritative researches of cognitive psychologists, but I feel it has a commonsense plausibility about it.

The theory states, basically, that you have better recall of things when you are in a similar state of mind to the state you were in when you first learned them. In fact, you may only be able to recall certain things when you are in a closely similar mental state to when you first learned them. This is particularly true of the radically altered states of mind that can be induced by the consumption of drugs or alcohol.

In short, things you discover while drunk can usually only be recalled when you achieve a similar state of drunkenness. You may have forgotten them completely while sober. You may not be able to recall them when less drunk or more drunk than when you first learned them. But if you can get almost exactly as drunk again, it all comes flooding back to you.

This is particularly useful, of course, when trying to remember the whereabouts of that really good new bar you stumbled upon by accident in the middle of an epic pub crawl. Or the phone number of that utterly gorgeous girl that you wrote down on the back of your hand but then washed off in a moment of self-destructive carelessness.

This theory is troubling me again just at the moment because I am being urged to take part in a trivia quiz tonight..... for the first time in..... ever such a long time.

And I reflect that, while I have been quite a formidable quizzer at various stages of my life, most of the quiz-worthy information that should be stored somewhere in my brain was in fact acquired at quizzes..... and hence while I was in a state of some drunkenness.

At present, sleep-deprived and perhaps ever-so-slightly hungover, but severely sober.... well, I struggle to remember my own name (when I start answering to 'Froog' in the bar, I'll know this whole blogging thing has gone too far!). I worry I'm not going to be of very much use to my team mates at all.

I need to work out exactly how drunk I usually used to get at the quizzes I took part in 15 or 20 years ago..... and try to achieve that state again. Wish me luck.

The weekly bon mot

"We confess our little faults to persuade people that we have no large ones."

François de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

And perhaps to persuade ourselves?

All blogging is self-exoneration. Discuss.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dorian Gray

Don't look in the wing-mirror of the taxi.

Well, at my age, it's probably never a good idea to look in a mirror. Certainly not when you're tired and drunk.

But - never, never look in the wing-mirror of your taxi home.

Because you will almost certainly be tired and drunk. And the light will be poor. And there are going to deep shadows across your face (what light there is coming from streetlights, high up). That mirror isn't likely to be very clean, which may make things even worse. And it's a magnifying mirror, which is apt to distort your features in most unflattering ways. And...... Just DON'T!

I happened to catch a glimpse of my face in the wing-mirror of a taxi a few nights ago, and I was shocked, appalled, horrified. Hooded eyes, coarse skin, wrinkles like canyons; everything pallid and puffy, bloated and sagging. Just horrible. I was uncomfortably reminded of the face of my elder brother, who did not age well (lost most of his hair in his early 20s, poor chap; and, with a mostly sedentary job and an excessive fondness for spending all his spare time in the pub, he began to pile on weight shortly after that: he looked 40+ before he'd reached 30). I have always liked to think that I am rather the reverse: that despite having passed the baleful threshold of 40, I can still usually pass for 30. But perhaps the years have finally caught up with me. Caught up with and overtaken.....

No, no, it's not that bad. Poor light. A slightly convex mirror. A long day and too much booze. As soon as I got home, I marched into the bathroom to check on my appearance and was reassured to find that, with decent lighting, I looked much younger and sexier, far less raddled and ravaged, considerably further from death's door..... than I had in that bloody taxi wing-mirror.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I gather that there is another 'Japanese whisky bar' in town (not a phenomenon I particularly warm to; note my comments on Ichikura in my annual bar awards post!) that I haven't yet tried.

This one, I'm told, emphasises North American whiskies rather than Scotch or Irish ones, and has an enormous selection of them.

I was reminded when watching The Hustler again recently that Fast Eddie's favoured poison is a brand of bourbon called J.T.S. Brown. I hadn't remembered this detail from the film, and I don't think I've ever seen or heard of this whiskey. However, as an idolater of this film and this character, I feel I ought to find some and give it a try.

It seems as though this obscure Japanese place would be my best bet for getting hold of some in Beijing. Unfortunately, I can't for the life of me remember what it is called, and I have no idea whereabouts in the city it is supposed to be. And if it's as crazily inconspicuous as its brothers Ichikura and Glen (no sign out front, entrance round the side, up a fire staircase), it could take me a very long time to track it down.

Still, it's good to set goals and objectives for yourself, isn't it?

Remembering 101

The other day, a drinking companion suggested having a bite of supper in a Muslim restaurant just off Andingmennei. It's rather a good little hole-in-the-wall, but I hadn't been there for 4 or 5 months, had almost forgotten about it completely.

This restaurant had, for a while last summer, started to become a new favourite haunt - primarily because it was just around the corner from Room 101, my premier watering-hole for much of last year.

So, while enjoying my chuanr that night, I found myself getting rather wistful again about the demise of 101.

It was an odd combination of circumstances that brought this bar to such a position of prominence in my life - and I rather doubt if any other bar could now repeat the feat. No, even if Room 101 itself were to be resurrected in its original form, I don't think I'd be going there very much now. It was a transient phenomenon.

How did this phenomenon come about?

Well, in the first place, there happened to be a vacancy in my life for a new bar; or a semi-vacancy, at any rate. I had been going to the Pool Bar just a little too much at the end of the preceding year, and needed a little bit of a change of scene. And, much as I love the place, not having any draught beer is a serious handicap. When I renounced bottled Tsingtao at the beginning of last year, I was rather left without anything to drink there! Also, to be frank, there were one or two people there I was trying to avoid at that time.....

So, the Pool Bar's monopoly on my affections was for a little while broken, or at least weakened. And amongst my other favourites.... Jianghu compromised its charm with some renovations and some price rises (and by breaking its relationship with my two guitarist buddies who used to put on such a great show there every Thursday night), Salud was prevented from hosting live music for much of the year (bloody Olympics!!), and 12 Square Metres (then a very recent opening) was not yet on my radar.

So - somewhat unusually - I had space in my life for a new bar; particularly one that was hosting live music once in a while. And particularly one that was less than a 25-minute walk from my home. And particularly one that had good draught beer (my weakness for Stella Artois piled the pounds on me last summer) and reasonable prices. And particularly one that had such a beautiful, beautiful island bar. The 6pm-8pm happy hour was a big attraction too: I'd often be tempted to start the evening there, especially on a Friday (or a Saturday, or a Sunday), before going on to eat or play pool or listen to music somewhere else.

Even so, it still might not have entrenched its position so deeply in my routine but for the fact that I started a twice-weekly evening teaching gig nearby. Through the spring and early summer, every Tuesday and Thursday I was finishing work - exhausted and thirsty - at 8pm.... with the allure of Room 101 only 10 minutes or so away and - kind of - on the way home. I got into the habit of phoning ahead or sending a text message to get them to pour me my first Stella on the happy hour tariff at 7.59.

And then.... my old friend The Barman went to work there for a while; and that really sealed the deal for me: it's great to have a bar where you know there's always going to be at least one person you can hang out and shoot the shit with.

But now..... everything has changed. The Barman has moved on to pastures new. I am refusing to accept any more evening teaching jobs because they make me horribly grouchy. I've given up on my attempt to avoid the dratted Tsingtao completely (and anyway, the Pool Bar has recently started selling the far preferable Harbin beer at the same price), and I am containing my Stella craving with once or twice a week visits to a couple of promising new bars, Luga's Villa and the Stumble Inn. The Wednesday music nights are restored at Salud. I'm growing used to the new ambience at Jianghu. And best of all, 12 Square Metres is now established as my preferred spot for drinking alone - because you can always look forward to an interesting chat with the friendly owners or one of the constant trickle of exotic visitors who pass through the doors.

Yep, if Room 101 had opened this year, I think I might have spurned it. Funny how these things go......

Friday, February 20, 2009

Now they've made a T-shirt for me

HBH 120

Night usurps the day,
Stealing half of tomorrow.
Four in the morning.

Yes, it happened again. Yes, I blame The Weeble.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Anchor

Oxford is an idyllic place: a city in name only, it really has much more the feel of a medium-sized town. Its leafy northern suburbs are particularly gorgeous, but during my student days I wouldn't often venture that far out of the centre. One year, some friends of mine rented a house on Polstead Road which boasted a Blue Plaque commemorating the fact that T.E. Lawrence once lived there. They had two or three 'Lawrence of Arabia' costume parties during that year, but those were probably the only occasions on which I walked down that road, and, if I had noted the large-ish pub at the western end of it, it had not made any deep impression on me. I'm not sure if I'd ever looked inside it in those days.

But then, a few years later, another friend of mine - a Distinguished Theologian, funnily enough - was living on that street while he laboured over his doctoral thesis. I was still visiting Oxford fairly regularly while in my first job (as an English teacher in a boarding school in Somerset), and then, quite soon, I found myself living in the city again myself.... in the northern suburbs, not too far from the Distinguished Theologian. And somewhere about that time, the early '90s this would have been, a remarkable thing happened to that pub on the corner of Polstead Road. For a year or two, it became very nearly the best pub in the world.

Now, in many ways, it really shouldn't have insinuated its way into my heart so. It failed to satisfy a number of the key criteria I have identified as crucial to a great bar. The decoration was a little too swish (lots of art deco fittings: tastefully chosen, quite gorgeous, but just too fancy for a down-to-earth boozer). It was a little too light and airy (that one year I was hanging out there all the time we enjoyed an exceptionally sunny spring and summer). The food - fantastic! - was rather more elaborate than we really need in our local (it was a pioneering 'gastro-pub', before that phenomenon had really taken off).

No, not at all my usual ideal, but..... so much love had been lavished on the reconstructed Anchor that it was difficult even for me to curmudge about it too much. It was a retirement project for an affable chap called Charlie, who had apparently spent most of his working life as a salesman for a brewery and so knew the pub trade inside and out.

If the place was just a bit too genteel and upmarket for my usual tastes, there were many things about it that were just right. This is the kind of place I dream about when dissatisfaction with my current bar options overwhelms me. It was a traditional Victorian 'corner house' - redbrick exterior and tiled walls within. Two stout wooden bars, of ideal leaning height. An excellent selection of beers on draught. And, ah yes, not one, not two, but three of the loveliest barmaids I have ever known. Heaven.

As with all things of beauty, of course it did not last. The custom, I imagine, was not quite strong enough to repay the massive investment Charlie had made in renovating the place, and he gave up on the project after a year or two. The Anchor quickly reverted to being an unremarkable neighbourhood dive, barely distinguishable from the dozen or so other pubs in that corner of the city. But, for one glorious summer, at least, it had come astonishingly close to pub perfection.

Midday drinking?

My regular leader-astray, The Choirboy, currently (like so many of us!) between jobs, had suggested some consolatory daytime indulgence this lunchtime.

As I have mentioned before, I rarely indulge in daytime drinking - but when I do, I rather enjoy it, because I actually find it possible to get drunk. My physiological and psychological adaptation to drinking at night is far too robust; but daytime drinking counts double, it enables me to exceed my limits and get into the happy floaty zone relatively easily.

So, having nothing else on this week, I had been rather looking forward to this interlude of irresponsible hedonism in the middle of the day.

And you know what? The bugger digs up a freelance assignment from somewhere and cancels on me.

So, once again I must content myself with the more purely intellectual pleasure of reading, & co.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why we play pool

I bought myself a copy of The Hustler up in Harbin a year ago, but I only just got around to watching it again.

I suppose "Fast Eddie" Felson might rank as one of my 'Unsuitable Role Models'.

Here's his great - inspirational - speech about how he feels when he's playing the game.

"I just had to show those creeps and those punks what the game is like when it's great, when it's really great. You know, like anything can be great. Anything can be great. I don't care; bricklaying can be great, if a guy knows... if he knows what he's doing and why, and if he can make it come off. When I'm goin', I mean, when I'm really goin', I feel like a... like a jockey must feel. He's sitting on his horse, he's got all that speed and that power underneath him, he's coming into the stretch, the pressure's on him, and he knows... just feels... when to let it go and how much. 'Cause he's got everything working for him: timing, touch. It's a great feeling, boy, it's a real great feeling - when you're right and you know you're right. It's like all of a sudden I got oil in my arm. The pool cue's part of me, you know; it's... the pool cue, it's got nerves in it. It's a piece of wood; it's got nerves in it! Feel the roll of those balls. You don't have to look, you just know. You can make shots that nobody's ever made before."

And, of course, immediately after that, his kooky girlfriend Sarah, suitably impressed, comments, "You're not a loser, Eddie. You're a winner. Most men never get to feel that way about anything."

It's a great, great film. And, while not being anything like the player that "Fast Eddie" was (nor half the player that Paul Newman was, either), I do know that feeling.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bon mot for the week

"What is man, when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine?"

Karen von Blixen-Finecke (1885-1962)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Great Love Songs (15)

Given my profound distaste for the whole Valentine's Day concept, I wasn't about to post in this series on the hateful day itself. Even a day late, I worry that some of my readers may think I am succumbing to the prevailing slushiness, so..... instead of a great soppy love song I give you a great breakup song: Her Father Never Liked Me Anyway.

This is an old Gerry Rafferty song, though I first came to know it through the ferocious cover version on Shane MacGowan's first solo album, The Snake [now on YouTube here, but without a video; there's also Gerry Rafferty's original version, recorded with Billy Connolly, later better known as a comedian, in their late-60s folk band The Humblebums]. However, the only version available [at the time of original posting] on YouTube is this gender-inverted one from another great Irish singer, Eleanor McEvoy. (Who does her voice remind me of?? I'm drawing a blank on the comparison just at the moment, and it's driving me nuts.)

Romance, of a sort

To the handful of people who enquired last night about how my Valentine's Day was going I sent the terse SMS response:

"Two lamb pies for supper has been the highlight of my day so far. However, I may be about to get intimate with a bottle of Irish whiskey."

Saturday, February 14, 2009


1) I didn't realise just how many foreigners there were in Beijing now.

2) I didn't realise that almost all of them are under 25.

3) I didn't realise they'd all be in Tun on Friday evening.

4) I didn't realise how annoying young people are.

5) I didn't realise just how old I've become.

But I know now. Oh yes, I know now.

Friday, February 13, 2009

No loft pigeon for me!

I've been filling my idle moments this week by reading Jonathan Spence's God's Chinese Son, an account of the bloody Taiping Rebellion of the mid-1800s (highly recommended - the book, that is, not bloody rebellion).

From the first chapter I learned that the word pidgin originates from the hybrid language that evolved in the first European trade settlement at Canton in the early 1800s, a contraction of the locals' attempt to pronounce (and/or to transliterate in Chinese characters) 'business' - 'pidginess'.

Many different types of activity became designated as some variety of 'pidgin' in this improvised language. Religious services, for example, were joss pidgin (joss deriving from 'deos', the Portuguese for 'god').

My favourite example, though, is this: SEX was termed love-business - lof pidgin.

Alas, I never did have much of a head for business.

And I fear it is going to be a long, long time before I transact any love-business again.

"That's your date, that is, Froog."

HBH 119

All the clocks are stopped;
outside, Time scurries on, but
in the bar - stillness.

Yep, we had yet another of those "How the heck did it get to be 4.30am so soon?" moments in the Pool Bar the other night.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Three Barmaids

Once there were three barmaids.

Not just run-of-the-mill barmaids, of average looks and charm. No, no, these barmaids were all head-turningly beautiful. And they all worked in the same pub. It was a very good pub anyway, but the three beautiful barmaids elevated it to being one of the best pubs in the world ever.

They were of rather different ages, and each beautiful in a rather different way; but each of them was very, very, very beautiful.

One was the mother-figure of the trio (though probably not more than 30), a little more mature and savvy than her friends, and probably the one I should have fallen for most heavily, the one who would have been the best match for me (though I was probably a year or two younger than her).

Another was skittish and feisty, and wore her hair severely short (I've always had a weakness for hairstyles that highlight the nape of a woman's neck). In most circumstances, she would have been the one I would have fallen for most heavily.

But the last one, the youngest one, was the sort of girl you wish you'd grown up next door to and been in love with since the age of 8. She came from Cornwall, of course (long known as the home of the prettiest girls in England, if not the world); and her name was Sally.

I was for a while so pitifully smitten with Sally that I actually became tongue-tied whenever she was serving. I am not normally given to shyness, nor to indecisiveness in choosing my drinks; but whenever I went up to that bar and was greeted by Sally, my mind went blank and there would be a painfully long pause while I fumbled for the words I needed.

This did not go unnoticed by the other two barmaids (although I think it did by dear, sweet, innocent, barely-out-of-her-teens Sally), and they would tease me about it gently but persistently.

The really terrible thing about this recollection is that I now realise I had got to know them well enough that I probably could have asked any one of them out (with a reasonable chance of success!). I just never got around to it, somehow. Maybe I couldn't get over my feeling that it is taboo to ask a barmaid out. Maybe I was just too paralysed by my infatuation with the lovely Sally. Maybe I was too afraid of possible rejection. Or maybe I just couldn't choose between them.

In fact, I think, I was inhibited by the fear that if I started going out with one of them, I would lose the frisson of flirtation with all three of them.... and the atmosphere of that wonderful bar might be compromised by that.... it might cease to be one of the best pubs in the world ever.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

'Jet-lagged' and shell-shocked

The Weeble, he is a bad man.

As I have observed before, he wobbles but he does not fall down. Neither does he go to bed.

On five of the last six nights (and the last four in a row), I have been out till well after 2am, not getting to bed until 3am or so; on one occasion, well after 4am. And it is mostly The Weeble's fault. Mostly.

I fear I really am getting too old for this. I am a complete wreck. I just want to sleep in until mid-day every day to recover. Which is really no way to live. (Unless you're a translator, apparently.....)

Monday, February 09, 2009

Dream Bar

I have been dreaming about bars just lately.

Well, not a whole bunch of different bars, but one bar in particular.

Odd thing is that it doesn't exist.

If I were dreaming about the Pool Bar or 12 Square Metres or any of the other bars that I like in Beijing, or any of the other bars that I've ever liked anywhere, I could understand it more readily. But here I am having a series of dreams about an entirely fictitious bar....

Not that I haven't had such experiences before, but.... well, usually, when I dream about a bar, it seems to be an idealised bar, a bar that I wish I did know in the real world. And usually, too, the dream bar is fairly recognisably an amalgam of certain not-quite-perfect bars I have recently been frequenting.

This latest 'dream bar' doesn't seem to be quite like that. Well, yes, perhaps 'idealised' in some ways, but in many others quite far short of an ideal; and not closely based on any bar I actually know in China, or anywhere else.

It's a music bar - but quite a bit bigger and better appointed than any of the music bars in Beijing. Sort of what we hoped the new Yugong Yishan might have been like, if it could have trebled in size while retaining the unpretentious grunginess of its original incarnation. Or sort of what D-22 aspires to be..... if only it were twice as big and had decent acoustics. Or what 2 Kolegas would have to be if they ever wanted a crowd of more than 200 people.

There was a door charge. This was non-ideal: dream bars should not have door charges, though in the real world we don't begrudge the bands and the venues making a bit more money off us. It has been a difficult psychological adjustment, though. Until a couple of years ago, most of the rock venues in Beijing had no door charge at all, or only a very low one. Having to shell out 50 kuai or more just to walk in and have a drink still draws a bit of a wince.

The door charge was supposed to include a free cocktail. But it didn't. Well, apparently that was some sort of 'ladies' night' promotion: girls got a free cocktail with their ticket, boys didn't. This had not been made at all clear on the door. The boss (English??!!) was sufficiently sympathetic with my companion's and my disgruntlement to offer us a taster of the special cocktail. It was a sweet and poisonous concoction of Blue Curacao and probably-fake vodka. We decided we were happy enough to have dodged the bullet of the 'free cocktail'.

The bar staff were all, or nearly all English too; or foreign, at any rate. And female. (Ah, so it was just a sex dream, was it?) Now, I don't think I'm getting impatient with Chinese bar staff as such (standards are very much improved over the past year or two, and there are plenty of perfectly decent barmen around now), but..... I do miss barmaids, I confess.

Was this a bar in England or America, then? Oh no. There were a number of Chinese around amongst the punters, and on the door, and all of the musicians milling about at the front waiting to go on stage. And everything was priced in RMB. And there were the all-too-familiar vagaries with the drinks list: a bizarre and overpriced selection of imported beers (Boddington's in a can!); cheap but probably poisonously fake basic spirits.

The bar itself wasn't at all bad, though. Properly dark, with a long, long serving counter, and reasonably friendly and attentive staff. Not unduly high prices.

Unfortunately, my friend and I had arrived early, and there was hardly anyone there.

And, although I've now gone through several fragmentary variations of this dream, always in definitively the same bar, I never seem to get beyond the difficulties at the door and trying to decide what to drink. Never yet had a conversation with anyone there (except the owner and one of his barmaids). Never yet heard the music start. Maybe tonight. Or the next night.

What does it all mean, Dr Freud?

The weekly bon mot

"I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned to swim."

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Well, I'd never seen this famous quip attributed to her before, but the Internet assures me it is so.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

More band name winners

We had quite a few entertaining suggestions in the Possible Band Names competition in January.

Caren offered us String Theory, and Brendan The Jesus Christ Dinosaur Hypothesis and Plastic Reindeer Rules (now that he's explained the stories behind them, they seem slightly less weird) and Bovril By Electrocution (an idea he pinched from me!). I myself suggested Redneckland and January Abstinence. And Gary once again spoiled us with a batch of inspired names: Batatouille, The Colonic Irrigators, Mellow Peril, Suspicious Mines, Donkeyburger.

This month I think I'm going to have to declare a joint first prize, because I can't choose between Brendan's DTMFA (apparently it's short for "Dump the motherfucker already!", a regular piece of advice from online sex columnist Dan Savage) and Gary's Uses Of A Banana.

Brendan, however, clearly scoops the Best Foreign Band Name with Casu Marzu (it's an almost unbelievably horrible Sicilian cheese).

Gary once again claims the Best Cover Band award with Dreadlock Holiday (reggae covers of 10cc hits, what else?).

Thank you, everyone. Please keep those suggestions coming.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Happy Birthday, Bob

Today, February 6th, is the 64th anniversary of the birth of the great reggae musician, Bob Marley.

Last night, at midnight, the DJ in Saddle Cantina chose to mark this event by playing an excruciating modern 're-mix' of No Woman, No Cry - an atrocity so foul as to make me to reconsider my position on the death penalty.

This, I feel, would be an altogether more appropriate commemoration - Stir It Up.

Or this - Redemption Song, from a concert he gave in Dortmund less than a year before his death.

Recognition at last

Wow - I've just been given a "good blog-writing" award. A trivial thing, to be sure, but it is nice to be appreciated. Please see here for fuller details.

Yes, it's one of those chain-letter deals, I'm afraid. I have my misgivings about these usually, but this one seems like a harmless, share-the-love kind of thing, so I passed on the accolade to the following excellent blogs:

Jottings From The Granite Studio

Found In China

Editorial Ass


Other Men's Flowers

I hope you'll go and check them out.

HBH 118

Factories derelict,
But the bars are all teeming.
Drinking to forget.

A little meltdown number for you there.

In fact, bars, though they may - at least in this initial phase of denial - be holding up much better than many other kinds of business, are probably going to be hard hit this year. Most of the bars in Beijing were already pretty hard hit last year, with much of the resident expat population being flushed out of the city for the Olympics and foreign tourism taking a big dip also. And there's a huge over-supply of bars now, with so many new places having opened up in a blaze of misguided optimism last year - but now facing a dwindling in the numbers of free-spending laowai, as well as a more general decline in consumer spending.

We could probably run a Dead Pool game, predicting the first bar to go under. Several of the places I pilloried in my 2008 Bar Awards would be leading candidates, especially those in the Most Pointless New Bar category.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The perfect name for a Chinese bar

FU Bar

Of course! Why didn't I think of it earlier??

(fu), you see, means 'riches', and is the character traditionally posted on the door to your house at Chinese New Year to express the hope for prosperity in the year ahead.

While, of course, in contemporary American slang, FUBAR..... er, well, it describes the current state of the world rather too aptly.

The Chinese version of the name might also work quite well, since (ba) is commonly used to represent the English 'bar' (though usually in the compound noun 酒吧 - jiu ba, an alcohol bar). Yet also serves as a modal particle added to the end of statements to transform them into polite questions or suggestions: so, in Chinese characters it would indicate a phrase like "Rich, yes?" or "How about some wealth?"

And there might be opportunity for some further punnery here, since - meaning the number 8, traditionally viewed as the luckiest in Chinese numerology - has the same sound, ba.

So, if the logo says (in lucky red, of course)


our Chinese friends will think it is an incredibly propitious place to drink in.... while we worldweary and cynical laowai will be put in quite a different sort of mood, but one no less conducive to drinking.

Erratum: Perhaps that should be


I pulled the wrong fu from my online Chinese dictionary there. I don't read much Chinese, but I had a nagging feeling this character didn't look quite right. When I compared it to the on my front door, I realised my mistake (although it's a little tricky to recognise this fu the right way up, as the traditional New Year's door decorations are always hung upside down; it's another one of those Chinese puns - apparently the words for 'down' and 'come' sound alike, so this is a way of saying "fu is here!"). means 'happiness' or 'good fortune'; I think in fact I prefer the more blatantly materialistic , 'rich' - but maybe this is used only as an adjective. You can see that is derived from it. Yes, is probably the fu we should go for.

I really should add this to my Great Bar Names thread.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Cowboy revealed

Doubts have been expressed by some as to whether Mr Philip Seymour Hoffman, first-rate actor though he undoubtedly is, can adequately portray my friend The British Cowboy. This, it has been suggested to me, is a far more telling representation.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

New Picks of the Month

Since I am feeling in a somewhat autobiographical mode at the moment....

On Froogville I nominate as my new recommendation from the archives to put in the sidebar this month 10 Curious Facts About Me, a post from January 2007.

On Barstool Blues my selection is In defence of my 'love life', some observations on my unhappy record with girlfriends (well, not so unhappy, but....) posted just a few days later.

I hope some of you will go and check them out.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Messing with the clock

My flirtation with abstinence got badly derailed in the second half of January. I think there were only 3 or 4 days (perhaps 5) out of the last 14 that I didn't drink, although - by my egregious standards - I have only been drinking very moderately.

Today, however, I definitively fell off the wagon with a mighty great thump. I got up before dawn to watch the Super Bowl, and was of course completely wrecked before noon.

It's one of my
"theories" that daytime drinking counts double; it's approximately twice as intoxicating as drinking in the evening (I don't know whether it's something to do with body chemistry, or purely a psychological thing deriving from the fact that we are less used to it... or find it more exhilaratingly naughty). Morning drinking, especially early morning drinking, counts treble.

I tried to freshen myself up a bit by walking home (a good eight miles or so), but..... well, I crashed out almost as soon as I got home in the mid-afternoon, and when I was awoken by the buzzing of my mobile phone at around 8.30 or 9, I was for a moment quite convinced that I was late for work tomorrow morning. Oh dear.

Don't try this at home, children.

Traffic Report - the blog stats for January

I was well up to my usual excess last month, with

55 posts and around 23,000 words on Froogville (although a fair chunk of that was reprinted posts from the tail-end of my Christmas Review of the Year),


40 posts and just over 11,000 words on Barstool Blues.

The Barstool passed its 1,000th post just over a week ago (with a 'special' about my favourite bar in America - Philadelphia's marvellous T. Hogan's), and also registered its 15,000th visitor (although that's according to Sitemeter; I think the real total might be nearly twice as much). Froogville is closing in on its 1,500th post and its 20,000th ('official') visitor.

Also on the Barstool recently, the Possible Band Names game entered its second year (and, like the world's economy, sputtering but not quite dead yet), and I completed the casting for a projected Hollywood treatment of my life and blogs!!

And, according to Statcounter, we have added Israel, Portugal, and Singapore to the list of countries that have looked in on us - without leaving any record of their visit.

Thank you for watching. It's been emotional.

Bon mot for the week

"Alcohol does not make you more attractive; but it does make other people less discriminating."


Sunday, February 01, 2009

More thoughts on sobriety

Drying out

Sober, I shrink somehow,
retreat from the surface forms
and patterns of existence,
detach from the husk of habit
as I shrivel inwardly.
I wear my life
like an old man's suit,
suddenly too big.
I am strange to others
and myself; frail, distant,
a hollow shell.
And yet this withered me
may richer grow within,
refine its essence; like
the raisin, concentrate
its sweetness.

Only a 'work in progress'. Not even that, really - a 'scribble', no more. Probably not ready for the light of day. But I wanted to try and say something about this latest experiment of mine with complete abstinence, which I have found particularly strange, more so than any in the past (and there have been many); it has been a more than usually introspective month.