Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Buy 28, get 1 free!

The latest of my insanely inventive bar promotion ideas, a little something special for Leap Day!

I imagine MB might be a little more willing to trial this down at the bar than my previous suggestion of a 'Singles get doubles' promotion for Valentine's Day. My friend, JK, the previous landlord, however, would almost certainly have felt that it would bite into his margins unacceptably.

[In fact, MB is taking a years rather than days approach to the 'leap' phenomenon, coming up with an altogether more realistic Buy-3-Get-1-FREE deal. That I might have to check out...

JK, I suspect would have favoured a Buy-4-Get-1/365th-Free formula.]

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Just what the doctor ordered!

I hadn't got out to Mai very much since the New Year (well, I haven't got out anywhere very much), but I caught up with owner Jeff there again last week. I was hankering for my favourite of his cocktail offerings, the Penicillin - but the dear chap had a bunch of new stuff he wanted me to try, so I didn't get around to it. The hankering grows stronger. Particularly after my recent dose of 'flu-from-hell.

Penicillin, you see, an invention of celebrated barman Sam Ross, is basically a cold toddy - Scotch whisky with honey, lemon, and ginger. Purists say you should infuse a honey-ginger syrup, but I think Jeff just uses honey and muddled ginger for simplicity. The drink is given an extra layer of sophistication by having a dribble of peaty Laphroaig floated on top (Jeff keeps the price down by using a perfume dispenser to lay a fine mist of the stuff over the top: works magnificently for the aroma, though obviously you're missing a little smokiness in the drink itself).  Served with big rocks of ice and a generous slice of raw ginger (which I quite often find myself eating: I love ginger, especially when it's whisky-infused!), it is heaven in a glass - even if you haven't got a cold.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Bon mot for the week

"It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life."

Joseph Campbell  (1904-1987)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mardi Gras leftovers

In Tuesday's hasty - caught with my trousers down, is it really that time of year again already? - posting of a great live performance of  I Wish I Was In New Orleans, Tom Waits's nostalgia-drenched paean to life in The Big Easy, I had to pass over a number of other intriguing oddities I turned up.

This, for example... a so-called "Calligraphy Animation" by Glen Epstein and John Richard (although the handful of lyric captions scarcely counts as 'calligraphy', and there's no animation at all; it's just a montage). The use of - mostly rather scarily intense and grotesque - figures from the sketches of Egon Schiele is quite compelling; and it does seem to be the only convenient posting of Waits's original studio recording of the song, from the Small Change album.

Even odder, I discovered that Scarlett Johansson produced an album of Tom Waits covers - Wherever I Lay My Head - about 4 years ago. This song is rendered as a breathy lullaby, with a ponderous plink-plink glockenspiel that soon becomes irritating. It's interestingly weird, I suppose (which Tom would doubtless like), but it doesn't inspire me to check out the rest of the record (although NME apparently rated it their 23rd best album of 2008 - so, perhaps it doesn't completely suck...[I'll have to take Wikipedia's word on that, because the NME site only lists their Top 10]).

A more satisfying discovery though was this, a different song of the same name by Ben Prestage, a rising star of American roots music. Here he seems to blend zydeco with a dash of delta blues to produce a zestful and upbeat stomp, a complete contrast to Tom's song, which is slow and introspective, all lilting melancholia. Apparently, Mr Prestage honed his craft busking in the blues Mecca of Memphis, Tennessee. He is someone I should look out for more of.

And finally, here's Tom again, doing a very gentle version of the song (followed by $29 from the Blue Valentines album, with some great sax on it!) at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1981.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A simple plan

The other day, I was succinctly explaining to a friend my sudden - but probably short-lived - return to going out in the evenings:

"I unexpectedly earned some money at the start of this week. I aim to drink it all as quickly as possible, and then return to monasticism."

HBH 274

Everybody's left,
Or leaving soon; life empties.
End of an era.

Three of my best friends - and those with the greatest number of years in China under their belt - all despaired of the place and quit last year. Three more are getting set to do so. And of the handful of my hardcore friends who still remain, just about all of them have got tied down with wives/girlfriends, steady jobs, mortgages, and have completely renounced their social lives.

My plan for a great farewell tour of erstwhile favourite bars - before I embark upon another spell of 'clean living' - has been rather hindered by having NO-ONE to accompany me on it. And now by a humdinger of a dose of 'flu!!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Great Dating Disasters (9)

I blame The Bookseller.  He set me off on this doomed path.

Perhaps I might not even have been at this wedding, but for him. (A strange story in itself. The bride was someone I'd met and become friends with at a wedding a few years before. I had introduced her to The Bookseller and they'd had a brief fling. Not so very long afterwards, she'd found 'true love', raced into marriage... and, unfathomably, put The Bookseller on the wedding invitation list. The Bookseller - a man of colossal indiscretion - is not to be trusted around his exes. So, I was obliged to attend to keep him out of mischief.)

The Bookseller's goading words to me, within just minutes of our arrival at the reception, were: "There's only one pretty girl here. And you'll probably monopolise her, like you always do."

For once, his assessment was remarkably astute, almost uncannily predictive. My friend, the bride, was an odd girl, a bit tomboyish, 'one of the lads'. She hardly had any female friends, and what few there were had all got married before her. The groom, recently moved to London from South Africa, didn't seem to have any friends at all. It was, thus, quite a sparsely attended wedding, and the guests were almost exclusively older family members.

There was only one single girl in the entire party. She didn't strike me as particularly pretty at first glance. And she was dangerously young. But she had something about her that drew a second glance, and a third: intelligence, vivacity, spirit.

Her mother was evidently appalled that she was spending so much time with this 'dirty old man' (although I was at this point only just past 30; I was in very good shape, after returning from my round-the-world backpacking year, and could still pass, I think, for early to mid-20s; and I'd just gone back to university to study law, and so was once again acting - and feeling - as if I were 19 or 20). She kept dragging her off to speak to some "nice young man" or other - well, I think there were only two of them, and they both looked to be in their first or second year at university. Evidently, the daughter did not find these nice young men very interesting, because she'd detach herself from them after a few minutes and come and seek me out again.

Very flattering, it was. And, my, yes, we hit it off. We had so much in common. In particular, she was a passionate film enthusiast; she liked Tarantino, and could give detailed arguments why; best of all, she shared my view that Reservoir Dogs is a more satisfying narrative than Pulp Fiction because of its perfect tragic arc, the epitome of Aristotle's conception. I'd been struggling to persuade The Bookseller of this for years; now, here was a young girl who made the case even more excitedly and cogently than I did.

So, I asked her if she'd like to come to the cinema with me some time in the following week (it didn't even feel like asking her on a 'date', the conversation was flowing so easily). And she said she feared she would be too busy. "Tough week at work?" I queried, trying not to appear too crestfallen. "Well, I have to finish a big art project for my A-Level," she said. I tried not to let my jaw sag too obviously. (A-Levels - 'Advanced Level' studies - are the senior high school exams in England. The most dazzling girl I'd met in years, the girl I'd just tried to ask out on a date was still at school - and perhaps as young as 16. She had seemed so mature; I had convinced myself that she must be at least 20, perhaps an undergraduate. The world started to spin around my head when I discovered she was possibly 14 or 15 years younger than me. I began to understand her mother's horror of me rather better.)

Well, it turned out she was only a few weeks shy of her 18th birthday - so my interest in her, our interest in each other, began to seem not quite so indecent. Her mother's guardedness towards me seemed to soften over the course of the afternoon. And the girl eventually managed to obtain her parents' permission to join the small after-party at a pub around the corner in the evening. Now I had her all to myself. I lost track of who else might have been there (even The Bookseller's notorious ineptitude was not going to mess this up for me!). I only had eyes for her.

Then, she realised she'd left something behind at the reception venue, nearly half a mile away - a pair of gloves, I think it was. I offered to walk with her to try to recover them. It had just begun raining, and we didn't have an umbrella. On the way back, the rain became a downpour. We kept on ducking into doorways or telephone kiosks every few yards down the road to try to get some shelter, but we were both absolutely soaked through. And every time we took cover from the rain in some archway or bus shelter or whatever... we kissed, passionately, exquisitely, at great length. Possibly the finest erotic memory of my entire life.

But wait, I hear the imaginary reader cry, that's not a dating disaster, is it? Quite the reverse!

No, indeed - but then, neither really was it a date.

When we did get together for a date, those really didn't go so well. The 'maturity' I'd so admired at the wedding party was evanescent. With make-up and a posh frock and entirely adult company, she'd been able to play the grown-up. But it wasn't yet her natural register. After an afternoon of cushion fights in her 6th Form Common Room, she was goofily juvenile - still quite charmingly vivacious, but not nearly as impressive as she'd been on that first meeting. After a couple of weeks, we reached a mutual decision that it wasn't working out, that the age gap was a bit too much. (We remained friends for a while, though. She sent me some postcards from her gap year; and I saw her again a year later, just after she started at Oxford - a Platonic catching-up-with-each-other 'date'.)

She was the youngest girl I've ever been out with (since I was at school myself, that is), and it was much the biggest age gap I've attempted to span (although a difference of 14 or 15 years seems less improper if the woman is over 30; I suppose it's possible I might set a new record here at some point).

I mention this now because of a very vivid dream I had at the start of this week, a dream in which I found myself attracted to a very young girl (not illegally so, I hasten to add; but still rather shamingly, inappropriately so - much too young for me), and felt myself consumed with guilt over it. But that, I think, is a story for another time and place.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The threshold of gloom

I am a depressive son-of-a-bitch, and thus acutely sensitive to the 'seasonal affective' impact of reduced hours of daylight during the winter months.

But I have realised in recent years that there is a critical threshold for my 'winter blues': as soon as it starts getting dark before 6pm, I start feeling miserable; as soon it starts staying light until 6pm or later, my mood lifts again.

And we've just passed that threshold in Beijing in the last week or two. (Weather Underground tells me the official 'sunset' time is 5.56pm today, but 'civil twilight' is nearly half an hour later.)

There's a spring in my step, a song in my heart, a faint stirring of long-dormant libido in my loins (no, surely not??!!). 

The next three months are usually the best time of the year in Beijing. And I find that I am indeed looking forward to it!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Once again, I wish I was in New Orleans...

It's snuck up on me completely unawares this time. My beloved Krewe du Vieux parade rolled on February 4th this year (on the theme of 'Crimes Against Nature'), but TODAY is Mardi Gras itself.

It's a pity nobody celebrates it properly in Beijing. I sometimes rather miss the old Big Easy down by the south gate of Chaoyang Park... demolished a good 6 or 7 years ago now.

Here's Tom, sharing the feeling...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bon mot for the week

"Acceptance breeds complacency and mediocrity. Rejection breeds determination and ultimate success."

Robert Wade 
(I'm not sure if that's this screenwriter or this painter...)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Never drink with a Jedi

Gosh, it seems I am too busy (and too uninspired) to write anything for you this weekend, so.... here's a quick cartoon (from Fritz Cartoons).

In general, I wouldn't recommend drinking with people you don't know well, or people who appear to have supernatural powers. Or weird-looking little green f***ers who can float three feet above the floor (that's a supernatural power right there - pay attention!). It's not going to end well.

Yoda would probably pull one of those Jedi mind-tricks on the poor barman as well - "This is not the tab you're looking for..." - to skip out of paying. And eventually it will all come back on you. "Hey, the green dude was with you, wasn't he? Are you going to pay for his drinks, or what?"

Obi-Wan is a different story: the guy is obviously pure class, a gentleman.  But that pointy-eared freak - I wouldn't trust him as far as I can spit.

Friday, February 17, 2012

HBH 273

3am haunting;
Up too late, loneliness strikes.
Timezones of the heart.

I should probably go to bed earlier...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Froog Solutions (23)

Head down to the bar for a tequila slammer (or two, or... and maybe a Long Island Iced Tea as well...).

I first developed a weakness for these in the mid-90s, when I found myself going to a rash of weddings for old university buddies, usually in the company of my Scots drinking buddy The Bookseller (recently reinvented as The Bookbinder), the only other diehard bachelor of our set. Finding the strained jollity and the increasingly ubiquitous happy-coupledom at these events rather oppressive to the soul, we got into a habit of hitting up the pub nearest to the church and downing one or two slammers immediately before the start of the ceremony - to dull the painful sensation of life passing us by.

I now have a deeply ingrained fondness for the ritual - on rare and special occasions. When you really need want to get a buzz on, there's nothing else quite like it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Singles get doubles!

My big idea for a Valentine's Day promotion!!

Take your mind off your loveless status by getting hammered on half-price spirits all night.

I doubt if I can persuade MB to give this a try down at the bar, alas.  I'd say it was worth experimenting with, because you still have a margin at two-for-one. And Tuesdays are otherwise a DEAD night...

Ah, look what the Internet turns up when you search for 'double shot'.... Only in America!

A bon mot for the wretched V-Day

Aha - and here's another one...

Bah, humbug! as a great man once said.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Goodbye to all that!

I have formulated a 'plan' for the year ahead.

It involves taking one or two long breaks out of Beijing, out of China, to clear some of the cobwebs out of my head about whether I can bear to stay here any longer. It involves researching some alternative places to live and work (Vilnius is singing a siren song...). And it involves focusing on my more serious writing, and maybe even trying to get paid for some of it.

And, most of all, in the short term, it involves trying to get back into reasonable shape again. Some old university buddies of mine are having a reunion at the end of May (no particular pretext - it's not the 20th or 21st or the 25th or the 30th anniversary of our first meeting or of our starting our courses [one of the ringleaders of the group wasn't an undergraduate anyway].... although - damn! - I suppose for most of us it is the 25th anniversary of our finishing our studies!!), and I'd rather not have them see me as the portly, wheezy, broken-down old wreck that I am at the moment.

Very little running over the past 18 months, and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle (as almost all of my work is now writing/editing that I do at home) have piled on the pounds. I peaked at 220lbs a little while ago: that's about the heaviest I've ever been in my life, and a good 10% more than I ought to be.

So, I've got a plan to address that: 2 or 3 months of stern dieting, daily exercise, lots of running - and laying off the booze. This weekend I went for my first run in 3 or 4 months, and while it was short, slow, and, yes, wheezy, it felt pretty good on the whole.

But, you know what, I've hardly been out on the town at all in the last 3 months. And if I'm going to spend 3 or 4 months away this year, and another 3 or 4 months in monastic self-denial... then I think I ought to have one last splurge.  Yep, I think I will spend the rest of this month revisiting all the places I haven't been to for ages - Flamme, Fubar, Union, The Brick, Grinders, Lily's, Mrs HippyHome Plate, Amilal, El Nido, Mai, Za JiaSand Pebbles... maybe even Chocolate and Hollywood's... and getting well and truly lashed.

In the words of St Augustine: 
"Give me continence and chastity - but not yet."

Bon mot for the week

"One should either be sad or joyful. Contentment is a warm sty for eaters and sleepers."

Eugene O'Neill  (1888-1953)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Another crying shame

Jorma Kaukonen - a founder member of classic bands Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna - is playing in Beijing today. A number of the online listings folks have been saying that he is the first Rock'n'Roll Hall of Famer ever to play here (I doubt that - probably Bob Dylan?); he's almost certainly the most important recording artist likely to be appearing here this year, or for a few years to come.

But, coming at the end of the Spring Festival Holiday, when all the music venues are only just opening up again after a two or three week shutdown, and when the expat magazines have been running on autopilot and largely ignored for the past month or more, this has had just about zero publicity. The venue sent me an e-mail notification about the gig only a couple of days ago.

I dare say the word will get around effectively enough, though. His support act, Beijing roots music combo The Randy Abel Stable, can probably rouse quite a fair-sized crowd just from the ranks of their friends and fans.

Unfortunately, the gig is at Yugong Yishan - so, I won't be going. These days, Jorma plays mostly American roots music - all or very largely acoustic. As I've observed a number of times before, the sound system and acoustics at Yugong are so poor that acoustic shows (and quieter electric ones) invariably get ruined by the background hubbub of the crowd.

Almost every experience I've had at Yugong in the last two or three years has SUCKED; and I think this is going to SUCK too.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope Jorma has brought his own engineer to tease the best out of the sound desk. I hope the crowd are going to be so awed by his presence that they will maintain a reverential silence throughout his set. I hope the attendance will be neither dangerously overfull nor disappointingly sparse. And I hope they've started carrying non-shanzhai booze behind the bar again. But we all know that's not going to happen, don't we?

So, here's what we'll be missing - Jorma Kaukonen performing one of his earliest numbers, Hesitation Blues, accompanied on mandolin by Barry Mitterhoff, who's playing with him tonight.

YouTube also has clips of him playing this on his own, with Hot Tuna... and with Janis Joplin.

I shall be keeping my ear to the ground, in the hopes that he might play an unscheduled after-show gig somewhere later tonight, or perhaps tomorrow. Jianghu or East Shore Live Jazz would the likeliest spots, I should think. Fingers crossed!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Strange karaoke

The last time music-crazy buddy Ruby and I got together for a nang bao rou in the little Muslim dive opposite Mao Live, we bumped into exuberant rock'n'roller Ricky Six there. He joined a bunch of his mates down at the front for a few beers, and before long snatches of song were ringing through the restaurant. An eclectic mix it was too: first, The KKK Took My Baby Away... a little later, part of Stairway to Heaven... and then MmmBop!

One of those great, weird Beijing moments.

HBH 272

No money, no friends.
Empty bars have no allure.
Abstinence beckons.

The dreaded Spring Festival is over and done with rather earlier than usual this year. But a lot of people are still on holiday. The wind is still lacerating. Work is unlikely to pick up much for another month or so. It looks like I'm in for another dry spell by default.

Well, except that my new water delivery company seems to be incapable of remembering my address. If they don't find me soon, I may be forced to have a beer for breakfast...

Thursday, February 09, 2012

It's crazy, but it just might work

Last weekend, I was casting around the Internet for some 'Super Bowl Party' ideas (pure fantasy living: there was no prospect that I would be attending such a party, much less throwing one) when I came upon some recipes for a Beer Margarita. [Most of them seem to recommend something called 'frozen limeade concentrate' - which, I gather, is sold by Minute Maid in the States, but is probably unavailable anywhere else - for the lime element. I assume regular lime cordial (also not easy to get hold of in Beijing!) and lemonade will do the job.]

The notion didn't seem too appealing at first, but the more I think about it, the more it grows on me. It might well be a good method for making crappy Mexican beers like Sol somewhere near drinkable. It could be just the thing for a Cinco de Mayo party this year.

Of course, I'll need to do some road testing first...

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Reef reborn!

I had been rather alarmed to notice around Christmas time that long-time Nanluoguxiang favourite Reef had abruptly closed and was being completely gutted by builders.

After a couple of weeks, as a new interior began to take shape, I began to recover my hopes that the place was still going to be a bar - instead of a naff boutique, like almost everything else on that strip these days - and, indeed, was perhaps still going to be our beloved Reef.

The place reopened at the start of the Chunjie holiday, and The Choirboy and I embarked on a first joint reconnaissance last week. Thank heavens - it is still Reef! Having exhausted the possibilities of expansion into neighbouring properties, Chen had the bright idea of digging up his floor to create a semi-basement; with the addition of a new mezzanine balcony, this means that he has very nearly doubled his effective seating space within the confines of his original bar. 

I'd been a little sceptical as to how this would turn out, but I have to say the renovation has been done, for the most part, very tastefully. The extravagant chandeliers above the narrow stairway down into the sunken area I could do without; but otherwise the effect is quite classy - dark wood, subdued lighting, decent quality furnishings. The bar itself is a little bigger as well, allowing for the installation of some draught beer taps. It's going to take him a little while to master how to work them, but it is good to have some Stella available in the neighbourhood again - albeit at the somewhat prohibitive price of 40rmb. (We'll have to see how long that lasts. Alba and the Bell & Drum in my locale both tried it for a short while, but gave up again. Over in Sanlitun, Luga's Villa and Fubar gave up on it [although Luga seems to have gone back to it, after a while]. I gather the Stella boys are particularly unreliable in their deliveries.)

The prices remain as keen as ever. And the photographs of the 'Yacht Club', my group of friends who were Chen's hardcore laowai fans in his very early days, have been retained in the rear of the lower section. However, I haven't noticed anything having been done to improve ventilation in there, which, given that the clientele has become almost exclusively Chinese in the last few years (and hence very heavy smoking), is likely to be an even greater problem after this expansion. And the music selection, alas, just keeps getting worse and worse: I suppose it's what the young people like - 'dance music' and rap, at eardrum-popping volumes - but it renders the place insufferable for me. Despite these failings, it remains one of only three bars on NLGX that are worthy of attention - the others, of course, being Salud and 12 Square Metres

And I hope we oldtimers will still be able to enjoy a quiet late afternoon or early evening rendezvous once in a while, before it gets too raucous in there.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Alternate reasons to celebrate

Today is the Chinese 'Lantern Festival' - the last day of the insufferable tedium that two or three weeks of almost continuous firework overkill become... after about one day.

Relief at the fact that the annual Hell Fortnight will soon be over is considerable; but having to put up with perhaps the most intensive concentration of explosions of the entire holiday this evening rouses a countervailing anguish and trepidation.  It's not a good night to be out on the streets.

On the other hand, I am in fairly buoyant spirits after this morning's (Beijing is thirteen hours later than American EST) Super Bowl. I had been intending to root for the Pats, in deference to a couple of people I know with Boston sympathies. But I wasn't watching the game with them, and I soon found myself being more drawn to the Giants in this game (they were, after all, the underdogs - albeit rather narrowly - and we Brits can't resist an underdog). Their fightback from a wretched 2nd and 3rd quarter was superb.  And the last few minutes were some of the tensest I can remember for a long time. (When was the last time the big game ended on a Hail Mary! play? Well, according to the relevant Wikipedia page - which has already added Tom Brady's failed attempt today - the answer would seem to be NEVER.)

Also, it is Bob Marley's birthday - which has two or three times provided me with an excuse for a party in Beijing. And I'm hoping one or two of my favourite bars might be prioritizing Marley (and friends) on their playlists tonight to commemorate the occasion - and distract us from all the bloody fireworks.

So, to get in the spirit of things, here's one of my favourite Wailers' songs, Stop That Train - which might well be my 'theme song' for the year, since I am pretty well resolved to try to find an escape route out of Beijing within the next six months or so.

I mentioned Marley's friends a moment ago: I think I prefer Peter Tosh to Marley, at least for his singing. And this song was, I believe, a Tosh composition. So... just found a great acoustic version by him.

Bon mot for the week

"Sometimes a lonely woman rolls into the bar like a live hand grenade. And you just have to throw yourself on top of her - to protect other people."


Not that this has happened to me recently. Perhaps not ever. But it is a line I'm thinking of using in my novel. One of them. One of the lines in one of the novels...

Sunday, February 05, 2012

All I want for Super Bowl Sunday Monday

I'd like to find a bar/restaurant that is actually showing the game....
(Last year, a lot of places surprisingly didn't bother to open for it.)

.... with a decent picture and audible commentary, in English....
(All of the major sports bars have at some point in the last few years proved unable to find a decent satellite link, and have ended up showing the same crappy BTV6 coverage in Chinese that we could watch at home; or, in the case of the disastrous Luga's Villa last year, decided not to open for the game at all! And Paddy O'Shea's last year, despite having good English coverage, was overdriving its loudspeakers so badly that the commentary was incomprehensible.)

.... without charging an exorbitant door fee, or attempting to insist on advance reservations...
(Last year, the wretched Stumble Inn had been advertising a preposterous 150 kuai door charge! And asking for reservations!)

.... that isn't ridiculously overcrowded...
(The proliferation of Americans - particularly young Americans - in Beijing in the last few years, and the withering in the number of sports bars, has meant that there is now often extreme pressure on available space for events like this.)

... and is reasonably accessible.
(I suspect that Grinders or The Irish Volunteer are likely to be two of the most amenable venues; but that's a hell of a long way for me to be going at 7am!)

Home Plate BBQ would be my dream venue for the game, but I don't think they've got satellite TV yet, and I haven't seen them advertising anything for tomorrow. And it is a bit far away from me.

Next likeliest option is the James Joyce - which is, hopefully, still sufficiently 'below the radar' to avoid excessive crowds (it's become my favourite place to watch English Premiership football games for that reason). It if it is too heaved out, I suppose the just revamped Luga's Villa is the likeliest emergency option - although they really don't deserve the support after last year's fiasco (and their generally dismal showing as a 'sports bar' over the past two or three years).

Actually, I fear the likeliest option is that I'll just not have the energy to attempt to go and see the game in public, and will make do with BTV6 at home. That's if I don't oversleep, and miss the game altogether.

Kick-off in 8 hours, and I don't feel like going to bed yet. And it's a 'Super Sunday' in the Premiership as well, - Chelsea v Manchester United likely to keep me up until 2am. Hmm, perhaps I won't subject myself to another round of Beijing sports bar HELL tomorrow: cheap beers in the fridge and a comfy sofa are starting to seem very appealing.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

That's exactly how I felt

New commenter King Tubby (eclectic music afionado from the Antipodes) kindly led me the other day to Pete & Dud's classic introduction to sex education, their 'Dirty Uncle Bertie' sketch. I was delighted to discover that there's now far more of their stuff on YouTube than there was when I last looked a year or two ago.

In particular, there are quite a few bits from their wonderful 1967 film comedy Bedazzled (which is one of the funniest films of all time, and, along with This Is Spinal Tap and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is on the 'most wanted' hit-list of films I've never managed to unearth in a Chinese DVD shop). It's a reworking of the Faust story, with lovelorn would-be suicide Dudley Moore selling his soul to the Devil (Cook the most engaging of screen Satans!) in return for 'seven wishes' which may help to unite him with object of his affections (Eleanor Bron). One of my very favourite scenes in it is this one, probably the best-ever explanation of the fall of Lucifer.

I've described this scene for people dozens of times over the years, but the film is so little known these days - particularly amongst non-Brits - that I often fear they think I'm simply making it up. At last, here is PROOF - another product of the genius of Peter Cook.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Limiting one's chances

I have just suffered once again the by now familiar frustration of having someone I was becoming romantically interested in decide to quit Beijing for good.

I don't think I was a factor in the decision to run away (I hope not!); but neither was I a sufficiently positive factor to entice the lady to reconsider her departure, or at least postpone it for a few months.

This is always a problem with expat life: most people are only here fairly short-term, and many wrap up and leave at very short notice. I have a sense, though, that the problem may be getting worse, that as Beijing becomes a less and less attractive place to live, the rate of turnover increases, fewer of the new arrivals are likely to become long-termers, and even the long-termers start to leave. Certainly, in my own unhappy, unlucky recent experience, it has seemed to be the case that there are more and more people who grow to hate the place so passionately after only a year or two that they will jump ship at the first opportunity. It's happened to me twice now in the last couple of years. And I dare say that, despite my best efforts to give up on the whole sex-and-love lark completely, it will almost certainly happen again at some point. Unless I manage to escape from this dratted place myself...

But, even before China, I had a pretty hopeless record in the romantic stakes.

I was having lunch the other day with an old Chinese friend, one of my first class of university students from 7 or 8 years ago, and she suddenly asked me - with that ruthless directness the Chinese have which can sometimes be refreshing, even though it's discomfiting - who my first girlfriend had been, why that hadn't worked out, why I was still single (despite being still so devilishly attractive).

That prompted several hours of glum introspection... by the end of which I think I'd formulated a fairly comprehensive list of reasons why I'm still on my own (a few of them are overlapping).

Reasons WHY my romantic interests haven't worked out in China

1)  Only here on holiday  -  4

2)  Only here on business  -  2

3)  Hated the place so much, they quit half-way through their contracts  -  2

4)  Were reaching the end of their allotted time here (within weeks or days of my meeting them), and were disinclined to consider an extension  -  5

5)  Worked for an embassy, and were thus almost permanently uncontactable (they usually have to drop their mobiles at the front desk for security reasons)  -  3

6)  Were perpetually "too busy" to consider a date  -  2

7)  Got kicked out of the country just before the Olympics  -  3

8)  Quit the country in a panic when SARS broke out  -  3

9)  Married/dating someone else  -  6

10)  Psycho stalker  -  1

11)  Disappeared off the face of the earth (and I lost her contact details!!)  -  1

12)  Glacially uninterested in me  -  3 (no, 4; no, 5; no, 6...)

13)  Shrewdly judged that I was perhaps not quite enough of a go-getter for her  -  1

14)  Turned out to be "a professional"  -  1

15)  Batshit crazy, depressive, reclusive and commitment-phobic  -  1

Not a very happy track record, is it? My friend DD always teases that there must be some self-destructive or commitment-phobic streak in me which directs me towards these unpromising prospects. But I am increasingly of the opinion that there's nothing but unpromising prospects in this city. We're ALL going to leave sooner or later. Maybe sooner.

HBH 271

Trash man winks hello.
He knows all of our secrets.
Clinking garbage bags.

I have hardly been out of the house in the last month. Alas, to my shame, this does not mean I have been moderating my drinking. The abundant wine and whisky left over from my little New Year's party and the ready availability of cheap tins of beer in nearby supermarkets has encouraged a maudlin over-indulgence. I cringe with shame every time I run into our neighbourhood's elderly recycling scavenger down by the bins.

February is going to be a month for some of those 'resolutions' I couldn't be bothered with at the start of January!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

New Picks of the Month

What were the highlights of my output in February 2009?  Let's see.

Well, on Froogville I choose Questions children ask, one of my favourite moments of 'found humour' from my former career as a recording artist for English listening materials.

And on The Barstool it has to be the brief, poignant tale of the Three Barmaids.


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Traffic Report - the blog stats for January

A relatively restrained month on the blogs this January. Well, a sensible average level of output, perhaps.

There were 38 posts and nearly 11,000 words on Froogville last month.

There were 31 posts and 9,500 words on Barstool Blues.

We had a visitor from Vietnam the other day, who I suspect might have been my old teaching buddy Big Frank, who's holidaying down there at the moment. Nothing else of note to mention this month. Ho hum.