Monday, May 31, 2010

David Elliott Day

Many years ago, when I lived in London, I would pick up The Evening Standard on 31 May and, several years in a row, would see this peculiar cartoon strip by Frank Dickens. Bizarre, right?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

An Adventure

So, time to go home... A 1hr flight… just 3hrs door-to-door? Or an 18hr marathon via taxi, boat, coach and overnight train? The latter of course! Not sure why – something about an adventure I think. And Liz and the girls had never been on a Thai train before. All the usual stresses: taxi drops us off at the wrong pier with ten minutes to spare, suitcase breaks in three places; squeeze on to boat with a hangover (I think the collective noun is) of full moon party revelers, 25 years our junior; dropped off at ‘the wrong pier’ on the mainland; long hot bus journey with our tattooed and barely-clothed th(r)ong who – if they’re awake – consider us with some amusement; an hour wait for the train at Surit Thani in the Thai equivalent of a greasy spoon. Liz asks for a large bottle of beer before I can even get the words out and A, empathetic as ever, massages her shoulders.

The train is a comparative doddle. We find the right carriage and compartment and the conductor sorts out the bunks and bedding. It’s a 12hr journey: Liz and I wake up every time we stop at a station but the girls sleep pretty much right through. At 5.30am we are brought breakfast and we slip into Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Station at dawn. Dump the bags at home and straight into work / school. OK, so not a big deal really, but for us it was An Adventure.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Blessing

Unlike last time when we stayed put in the hotel, this time we've got out and about a bit. A spot of elephant trekking, a big Buddha, a monkey trained to scamper up palm trees and take down coconuts before they drop on people's heads, a waterfall (albeit reduced to a trickle), a couple of rude rock formations, a mummified monk with sunglasses, and a blessing by a very much alive monk. Here's Liz receiving a sprinkling and a string bracelet.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Closing the Circle

The first place we ever visited in Thailand was the island of Ko Samui, five and a bit years ago. We stopped off there on our return to England after six years in Japan, stressed out by all the packing and goodbyes. So we've decided to repeat it: a long weekend in the same hotel, even (we think) the same room. A little risky trying to replicate perfection, but what the heck - it's half-term, we got a good deal and the return leg will have a twist.

Engrossed in Jung Chang's Wild Swans which I've finally got around to reading. Fabulous biography of three generations of Chinese women: the author (a young member of the Red Guard but who has lived in London for the last 30 years), her mother (a good Party Member but who suffered persecution during the Cultural Revolution) and her grandmother (a one-time concubine to a Kuomintang warlord). Riveting.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


But much better was Tim Crouch's I Peaseblossom, a version of Midsummer Night's Dream from the point of view of one of its lesser characters, the fairy Peaseblossom - who only gets one word in Shakespeare's play. A brilliant one man show full of humour, ingenuity, emotion and engagement with the audience (I 'played' Demetrius). And all at 10 o'clock in the morning.

Third and last day of the regional meeting. We ended it in Thiong Baru, one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore, and where Joe Lawlor and Christine Malloy (Desperate Optimists) are shooting one of their Civic Life films. It's a great place, gorgeous art deco housing, lively food court and a wonderful sense of community. Said goodbye to my team, possibly for the last time in some cases. Here we are on the steps of the community centre.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

11 and 12

Ironic, given I'm an arts manager, that I don't get to see much art in Bangkok. Making up for it a bit in Singapore with Peter Brook's play 11 and 12 - athough I found it largely disappointing. There was much to like in the acting, direction, music, design and lighting, but the story wandered around aimlessly, the characters got confused and the moral/resolution lost.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Flip cameras

Nice to see everyone: Ingrid & Gareth from NZ, new guy Nick from Oz, Yudhi & Winda from Indonesia, Sunitha & new guy Grey from Malaysia, Mallika & Pred fresh from Bangkok turmoil, Tram & Tho from Vietnam, Yoonjoe from Korea, Manami from Japan, Sandy from Taiwan, Ana from Philippines; Claire, Deborah & Carole from London; Neil from China; and Christopher, Mark & new guy Craig from Singapore. The last time I'll see most of them for... who knows?

Went through everyone's plans, peer-reviewed them, kept it at a fairly strategic level. But ended on a light note making videos using easy-to-use Flip cameras. Great fun. Craig and I did a nice little 30-seconder sending up the 'Your Singapore' campaign, while others interviewed people on the street about Singapore Arts Festival. Half an hour of editing, titling and rendering on our laptops and hey presto we'd all made decent little movies without any fuss or bother.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wrong address

I'm in Singapore for the annual British Council East Asia Arts Meeting where we will define what each of our 11 countries will be doing over the next year. Last year it was in the Marriott in Jakarta, a week before it was bombed. Hopefully this year will be relatively uneventful.

Bizarre beginning though. My boss, Christopher, invited me and my successor Neil to dinner at his place. He gave me the address over the phone - 16 Belmont Park, apt 0303 - and off we went in the taxi. Arrived, buzzed 0303, saying it was David & Neil, main gate opened, went up to the 3rd floor, buzzed on their door and were let in by a Chinese woman ('the maid?') and into a sitting room in which sat a Middle Eastern man wondering who we were. The feeling was mutual, and not a little Lynchian. Turned out that we went to 16 Belmont Road by mistake, which also happened to have an apartment numbered 0303. How weird was that!?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

100th post

Home sweet home. We had a stroll around but Rama IV is still sealed off so there was nothing dramatic to see. Got the neighbours' stories but I sense we'll only have a few days before it's back to normality and we'll start missing the communality of phoning & texting everyone and 'being in it all together'.

So ton up... I do wonder about this blog sometimes. It wasn't long ago that I was railing against Facebook and the Me generation. Me, me, me - listen to what I've got to say! And now I'm doing exactly that. l can't be bothered about FB and Twitter, but I like the discipline of near-daily posts. And even Liz is getting into instant messaging on Skype. If you can't beat them, join them.

Friday, May 21, 2010

An exciting trip to the airport

Awoke to smoke billowing around the hotel... which turned out to be a farmer burning a field 500m away. Unfortunate timing to say the least, and illegal given the proximity to the airport. Jagged nerves frazzled further.

We were planning to return home today but on informing the Embassy, they told us to hang on while they checked with the police that it was safe, and the police said no. But needed a change of scenery, so decided to take the shuttle bus to the airport for lunch and a bit of shopping. Thrilling! I remember once as a kid going to Heathrow to watch the planes from some kind of viewing platform. Do they still have these? Unlikely. Nowadays, air travel is just a way of getting from A to B, airports are glorified shopping malls with longer queues, fewer seats and more security, and jumbo jets are just boring.

Hopefully home tomorrow.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The top of our street

This is what it looks like at the top of Soi Ngamduplee (which ironically means Looking Beautiful), 200m from our home... The bank on the left went up in flames yesterday afternoon which cut off the electricity to nearby buildings, including ours.

Barry's drive through town

My heroic colleague, Barry, decided to see if he could get to Siam Square to check on our office. He drove slowly along Sukhumvit to Ratchaprasong where the Red Shirts HQ had been. The scene there was of utter desolation with Central World destroyed and the Big C supermarket still in flames. He then turned left into Rachadamri Road but was told to stop by the army. Shots rang out from down the road and the army fired back. Barry had to get out of the car and hit the deck. Fifteen minutes later they said he could continue, so he drove down to Rama IV Road which also looked terrible. "Soi Ngamduplee was not looking pretty".

Then round the backstreets via numerous checkpoints to Siam Square. The BC office is OK and our two security guards who, unbelievably, had stayed inside throughout the mayhem were very happy to see him. Much of Siam Square has been destroyed however, including the wonderful old Siam Theatre cinema and hundreds of arcade shops. It will be very strange going back there -which won't be for another 10 days for me.
No heroics from us: a quiet day in the hotel in the middle of nowhere, me working, Liz keeping the girls occupied.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Red Shirt Leaders Surrender

This morning the army stopped messing around. For the last few days it's been involved in clashes with protesters outside the Red Shirts' occupied zone. Today it burst through the barricades on the corner of Silom/Lumphini Park, with tanks and hundreds of soldiers (followed by scores of the world's press). We watched it all live on Aljazeera, still from the confines of our hotel room. By early afternoon the Red Shirt leaders had surrendered and were being led away. But many protesters, bitter in defeat, carried on the violence and arson in various places around central Bangkok. Central World, the biggest shopping mall in SE Asia, has been set ablaze [see photo] and "may collapse". Echoes of World Trade Centre. Siam Square has apparently been looted, though not much to steal in our office other than English textbooks...

There is a sense of relief on the one hand, but continued foreboding on the other. For a start, there's the likelihood that disgruntled hardliners will continue a kind of guerilla war against the government, army, perhaps even against normal civilians. And then there's the much bigger issue of trying to actually tackle the issues that are behind all this: the haves & have-nots. And of course there's still Thaksin, looming large from abroad (a Hermes shop in Paris to be precise).
There's a curfew tonight. Not that we're thinking of going anywhere - our hotel's in the middle of an industrial estate. Guests aren't even allowed to go to the airport. For the first time the restaurant was heaving and we had to wait an hour for a table. So, our third night here. What chance of a return home tomorrow? Unlikely, given continued skirmishes and the fact that Serenity Park apparently has no electricity. Still, we can't complain.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Well, here we are in a hotel near the airport. Khun Kantapong got through OK to pick us up and the drive to our new temporary abode was unremarkable. It's on the edge of an industrial estate but quite nice, brand new, fine for a few days if need be. Attempted to combine work with keeping the girls amused. Liz didn't get much sleep last night so I took the girls down to the bar where we played cards and a nice Indian man showed them a couple of magic tricks. This while having a phone call with Singapore about the annual arts meeting I'm organizing for next week. I don't fancy leaving the family in Bangkok if things stay like this, so maybe the option is to take them with me...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Boxed in

It's turning very nasty in our neighbourhood now. There's been gunfire and explosions throughout the day on Rama IV Road, and we've seen big plumes of black smoke from our balcony. This evening the Red Shirts have set up a barricade 150m the other way, round the corner, where Egon & family live. They're one of just four families left now in a block of 50 apartments. Our trusty taxi driver, Khun Kantapong, has agreed to wind his way round the backstreets to pick us up tomorrow morning and take us to a hotel near the airport - where our friends Xavier & Irena are. Hopefully we'll be able to return in a few days? Just need to get through tonight.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

N is 6!

Not the sort of birthday we'd planned. For a start, we cancelled her party (not fair to invite mums and children into the warzone) and for the rest of the day we were confined to our home. However, we made the most of it. N stunned us by agreeing to breakfast before presents. The big one was a dolls house - flatpacked, so I had to put it together. So now they have one each. She loves it. We had our American and French-Czech neighbours come down for cake. Getting a bit cabin-fevery...
Meanwhile, Bangkok city centre bristles with skirmishes and we can hear bombs and gunfire every now and again. Two short power cuts while the girls were in the bath didn't help. Though it does help that they don't really understand what's going on.

I was going to watch the FA Cup Final with my Dutch friend Egon, but even though he only lives a molotov cocktail's throw away, it wasn't worth it. So we resorted to text-banter. Bit delayed, but it had its moments. Chelsea deserved winners but if Boateng hadn't missed that penalty...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bangkok Blitz

It's finally showdown between the Red Shirts and the army. The latter have moved in to tighten the noose around the protesters who've been occupying strategic intersections in downtown Bangkok for two months now. As they were starting to do so, Seh Daeng, the Red Shirts' so-called military commander was shot in the head talking to a journalist.

We've shut down the British Council office and the girls' school is closed too, so we've spent today at home, keeping a close watch on the TV and online. The morning was actually quiet enough for us to attempt to pop out to our local cafe round the corner but just as we were about to turn into the street we heard gunshots so the guards ushered us back in. Since then there have been skirmishes all around the city centre, including 200m away at the end of our street where it meets Rama IV Road. We can hear gunshots, explosions, sirens, occasionally whooping from what are probably large crowds. We're staying put. (The photo above is from the street alongside Lumphini Park about 1km from us; I didn't take it!)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

F is for...

Hot on the heals of E...

- Focus
- Faust
- Robert Fripp
- Graham Fitkin
- Four Tet
- Future Sound of London
- Morgan Fisher
- John Foxx
- Fairport Convention
- Fujiya & Miyagi

Focus 3 was the first album I ever bought when I was 11. It must have been January 1973 after Sylvia and Hocus Pocus became freak hits. (It wasn’t the first album I owned – that honour goes to 20 Fantastic Hits Volume 2, which I got for Christmas a month earlier). So a double album by an instrumental Dutch group… a sign of things to come I guess. I then saved up my pocket money to buy their two earlier albums. They went downhill pretty soon after that but I still have a soft spot for them. Actually, they’re still going – I saw them in Japan a few years ago – but I don’t think Van Leer can manage the yodels these days

Fairport Convention’s Liege and Leaf is still my favourite folk album. Faust’s first four were all fabulous. Fripp was my fave guitarist – and King Crimson my favourite group – for a year or so in the 70s. I still like the ambient frippertronics stuff he continues to play, though not particularly Crimson Mk 8 or whatever we’re up to.

Morgan Fisher was ex-Mott the Hoople (whom I liked a lot in the 70s), curated the legendary Miniatures LP, recorded a great album with Lol Coxhill, went all Bhagwan Shree Rajneeshy, and moved to Japan – where he and I became friends. We had a drink in Tokyo a couple of months ago. Funny how these things happen.

John Foxx passed me by at the time, though I’ve gotten into his old and new stuff recently. Graham Fitkin is one of Britain’s best ‘classical’ composers, particularly for piano. Future Sound of London were really good in the 90s (though I’ve not followed their more recent psychedelic output). Fujiya & Miyagi are about the best attempt at contemporizing Neu! as you could get these days. And Four Tet (aka Kieran Hebden) always put out interesting stuff.

Other good Fs: Franz Ferdinand, Fad Gadget, Felt, The Fall, Flying Lizards, Five or Six, Faith Over Reason, Fun Boy Three, Fluke, Fila Brazilia, FFWD, Fischerspooner, Funkstorung, Fra Lippo Lippi, 400 Blows, Frank Chickens, Fundamental, Foetus … And from Germany: early stuff by Edgar Froese & Chris Franke, Flim, FSK and possibly even Fuhrs & Frohling, but not Floh de Cologne. And let’s not forget Frankie Goes To Hollywood if only for the hype & production values. And the oldies: Bryan Ferry, Marianne Faithful, The Faces, Free, Fleetwood Mac.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brown stands down

10 years ago, when we were living in Japan, I remember a telling incident concerning Gordon Brown. There was a G8 conference in Okinawa and both Blair and Brown were attending. Their relationship was, as we all know, strained. They even flew in separately. It was the job of our Ambassador, Stephen Gomersall to meet them at the airport and take them to the hotel. In the car, the conversation with Blair was continuous, lively and wide-ranging, lots of eye contact, questions about family etc. With Brown it was slow, almost perfunctory and all the wrong body language. (By the way, I wasn’t there, sitting in the passenger seat – I got this from the ambo). Maybe he was jetlagged. But it sums up the difference between the two. Poor old Brown: some people are good at that kind of thing, some aren’t. But as PM you have to be good at that kind of thing.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Not Fade Away

As a follow-up to yesterday's overly long post, I've often wondered why and when fade-outs to recordings were introduced. It's an odd phenomenon: you'd think that a musical composition would have a defined start and end. Most do, but a lot of popular music just kind of peters out after it's made its 3-minute point. Conversely, in a concert, how do you end a song which in its original recorded version fades out? Do you come up with a new ending, fade it out on the mixing desk or just let it clumsily subside?

A smidgen of research reveals that one of the first pop examples was Bill Haley's Rocket 88 (1951) which fades out to indicate the titular car driving away. There are claims that The Beatles' Eight Days a Week (1964) was the first song to use the reverse effect, a fade-in, and their Hey Jude has one of the longest fade-outs in history.

Of course, artists like Eno have made a career of music which fades in and fades out with very little change inbetween, as if you're listening to something from a much longer continuum which might last hours, days or years.

Anyway, idle musings... (fade out)...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Birth of Rock & Roll in Britain

I've just finished The Restless Generation by Pete Frame (he of Rock Family Trees fame). It chronicles the birth of rock & roll in 1950s Britain and was a right riveting read about a subject I knew very little about.

First off, it’s not my kind of music, but to be taken back to the era – a time of continuing austerity, national service, the emergence of teenagers, the fascination with all things American and the beginnings of popular culture – brought it all to life.

So it seemed to begin in the early 50s with jazzmen like Bill & Ken Colyer, Chris Barber and the likes. They and others (many as merchant seamen) had been to America and came back wide-eyed. They started to play rootsier jazz and blues. Then Lonnie Donnegan made it even simpler with washboards and box bass and it became known as Skiffle. In July 1954 he recorded Rock Island Line (in the same week as Elvis Presley’s That’s All Right), although it would be two years before it was released.

In the meantime Bill Haley, Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and others were releasing a totally new sound. Not that you could hear much of it in Britain. The BBC were sniffy and the Musicians Union restrictive about air time. One of the few that did get released here was Heartbreak Hotel, described by the NME as follows: “If you like gimmick voices, Elvis will slay you. But if you appreciate good singing, I don’t suppose you’ll manage to hear this disc all through.” The Melody Maker went further, with this famous quote from Steve Race: “Viewed as a social phenomenon, the current craze for rock & roll is one of the most terrifying things ever to have happened to popular music. The promotion and acceptance of this cult is a monstrous threat… let us oppose it to the end.”

By 1956, Skiffle was huge. It was still mostly American songs, largely about trains and sung with American accents. It wasn’t yet rock, more a hybrid of jazz & blues still, and also folk. Nevertheless, Donnegan's Rock Island Line sold a million copies (but only earned him £3.10/-). The first real rock & roll record by a British singer was arguably Tommy Steele’s Rock With The Caveman. The difference was a more insistent beat, amplification, formulaic lyrics which had switched from trains to getting or losing a gal, and, crucially, sex appeal. Bands, especially the singers, needed to look cool and rebelious, like their American heroes. "All our school photographs looked as if we were waiting to go into the army; theirs looked like police mug-shots".

Suddenly, jazz musicians (particularly the brass sections) were history. Many switched allegiances: “I’ve been a martyr long enough – now I want to eat! That’s the great things about rock and roll… we get an audience! It’s a question of economics: I am merely giving the public what it wants.”

Everyone wanted to be in on the act. Managers like Larry Parnes prowled venues like The 2Is on London's Old Compton Street for teenage talent he could mould; Jack Good put them on TV. Everyone but everyone changed their name: Tommy Hicks became Steele, Reginald Smith became Marty Wilde, Maurice Holden became Vince Taylor, Ronnie Wycherley became Billy Fury, Clive Powell became Georgie Fame, Brian Rankin became Hank Marvin, and of course Harry Webb metamorphosed into Cliff Richard.

Many were one-hit wonders, others had two or three years in the spotlight, touring up and down the country, performing twice a night with seven other bands, Sundays off if they were lucky, panto at Christmas. “Looking back, it seems amazing that everything fell into place so smoothly”, said one rocker, “but we accepted it as the way things were done. What you did was form a group, do some gigs, make a demo, go and see a man with a big cigar, he got you a recording contract, you went on television and signed autographs, and all the girls loved you. That’s exactly the way it happened: we hardly gave it a second thought.”

And yet so much was based on chance. Most groups’ singles were poorly arranged and recorded tunes pulled from obscure American records (not even the good ones, which they couldn't improve upon). Cliff Richard’s career could have stalled if Jack Good hadn’t swapped the dull A-side, Schoolboy Crush, for the band-penned B-side, Move It.

But enough! As you can see I really enjoyed the
book. Pity there were no pictures, but that's a minor gripe. I can also recommend two good compilations: Skiffle - the Essential Collection (2CD) [btw, the review here is by D.Elliott, but not me!] and British Rock'n'Roll Anthology (5CD).

Saturday, May 8, 2010


So, surprise surprise, we have a hung parliament. I'll leave it to the legion of political analysts to comment on the situation. It was interesting following the election from Bangkok (which has its own political turmoil). I confess I didn't vote. I could have done so - by post - but I didn't. To be honest it's really hard to tell them apart these days. Anyway, I followed it on the BBC's website, which I must say was excellent.

My first election was the Big One in 1979. I had just turned 18 and knew nothing. After Callaghan, endless strikes, rubbish collecting on the streets, England not qualifing for the World Cups twice in succession, I voted for a woman. I knew no better. In 1983 I was doing my finals at Univ and voted for the SDP-Liberal Alliance who seemed a better bet than the extremes of the other two. In 1987 I was living in London and voted for Labour, and have done so ever since, though it took another 10 years for them to win.

No surprises in 'my' constituencies: my home town of Chichester swung even further to the Conservatives, and Streatham (our last UK home) remained Labour, though only just held off the LibDems. Somewhat disappointingly, I didn't spot any silly name parties.

Friday, May 7, 2010

E is for...

A fair number of good Es, but we'll limit it to 10 in no particular order:
- Brian Eno
- Eyeless in Gaza
- Eurythmics
- Roger Eno
- 808 State
- Einsturzende Neubaten
- Efterklang
- Echo & the Bunnymen

For those who know me, no surprises about Eno. And even his brother gets in. I've always loved Eyeless in Gaza (pictured, along with Mr Ambient), underrated, the missing link between folk, pop and experimental, and still going strong. Eurythmics are included for their first two or three albums only; Neubaten for continuing to plough their own unique furrow. 808 State were great & influential in the early 90s. I'm ashamed to say that Efterklang are the only 21st century combo amongst this lot.

What can I say about the inclusion of Emerson Lake & Palmer and Electric Light Orchestra?! ELP were certainly of their time, like most prog. But it was a genre I grew up with (along with Kraut, punk, new wave etc). It's true I went through a subsequent period of self-denial, but am happy to confess. Pompous, overblown and ridiculous? Yes! As for ELO, I was a sucker for their great period between 1976-79ish, in parallel with punk & new wave, when they released a succession of perfect pop singles. I even saw them on the 'spaceship' tour and will always remember Tony Curtis stepping out onto the stage to introduce 'the greatest band in the world'. Guilty pleasures.

Bubbling under: 801 (a one-off live band so don't really count), The Eagles (actually, they had their moments), Egg, Etron Fou Leloublan, Electronic (if only for their first single with the Pet Shop Boys), Eruption, Embryo, Eroc, Experimental Audio Research, Everything But The Girl, Editors, Erasure and, if pushed, Enya?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Confucius say...

..."If you are in a book store and cannot find the book for which you search, you are obviously in the...

(Thanks to Annette for this)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Volcano Fallout

Finally, a big box of Pump CDs have arrived (see 7 April), about a month after they were originally sent, delayed initially by the vagaries of the Belgian and/or UK postal system and then by a volcano in Iceland. No matter, they're in my sweaty palms and now I can start sending copies to those who might influence it becoming a million-seller. Or not. Ironically this will involve sending quite a number of them back to the UK, which one hopes will not take another month. You can see why downloading has become popular can't you?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Liz's birthday

It would be ungentlemanly to reveal my good wife’s age but suffice to say she is not looking it! As luck would have it, Liz’s birthday has fallen on a public holiday, though strangely this didn’t apply to A & N’s school. So we had the day together without the kids: a rare pleasure.

With just two months before we leave Thailand, we’re trying to tick off the things we’ve not yet done. So this morning Liz showed me round Chinatown which is a chaotic labyrinth of wholesale shops and stalls stretching a mile or so along the river. I have been a couple of times before but it was a disorientating experience. You have to know where to go and what you want. Liz is a real pro now and whisked me from a shop selling gold leaf to another one specialising in every type of bead you could possibly think of. And where to get the best wrapping paper. And a tailor selling good Japanese cloth, up an escalator which clearly hadn’t worked for decades. And finally to a shop in what was probably Bangkok’s first ever shopping mall to buy some ‘schlack’ (a kind of lacquer for silver). You rarely see foreigners here. There are no MacDonalds, Starbucks, Gap, anything resembling a western shop. It has the feel and patina of another era, tatty, but with character.

In the afternoon, we went to Khao San Road, the backpackers hangout, (in)famous for its cheapo hostels, bars and stalls selling CDs, DVDs and trinket tat. I’ve been a couple of times in four years but Liz, never. Actually, we quite enjoyed it. One end has loads of silver shops so Liz was able to stock up on supplies and we had a beer while watching dreadlocked and tatooed twenty-year-olds from every corner of the globe. We ended up in a Thai restaurant on the river with only one other group of diners. OK, it was a Monday night, but it’s obvious that the Red Shirts turmoil is taking its toll.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Children's books

One of the many pleasures of having a family is that you get to read children's books again. The ones you read the first time round, the ones you missed out on, and there's even some half-decent new ones out there.

Growing up in the 60s, the books I loved most were Richard Scarry's Busy Busy World, What Do People Do All Day? etc. Brilliantly drawn worlds of animals masquerading as humans going about their daily business in Busytown. Busy Busy World, particularly, got me interested in geography and travel. I've also enjoyed revisiting the weird world of Dr Seuss, and getting re-stuck into abridged classics like Oliver Twist, Little Women, Peter Pan, Swiss Family Robinson, Alice in Wonderland... And of course Hans Christian Anderson, Grimm and many a scary folk tale. Great stuff.
Apart from Noddy (which was too odd to ignore), Enid Blyton's 700+ titles passed me by, but the girls are really into the Famous Five and Secret Seven, and retrospectively I am too. Guilty pleasures... I also missed out on The Chronicles of Narnia which are all the rage now. And I don't recall reading Roald Dahl then either (A especially loves Matilda). An important discovery has been the Frog and Toad books written by Arnold Lobel in the 70s. Funny, dry and philosophical. Bizarrely, an ex-pat theatre group performed a musical version here in Bangkok. And there's always the Mr Men.

New faves include Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler's Gruffalo etc and some of Michael Morpurgo's output... but I'm getting to be like I am in music: the oldies are the best. Interestingly, the girls have just started appreciating Asterix. But whither Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons? I remember liking them - and my mother certainly did. They're a bit Blyton-ish so they might go for it. And just to wrap this up, here's a little-known fact: Ransome spent a good deal of his early writing career in Russia, before and after the Revolution, married Trotsky's personal secretary and dabbled in espionage.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Volcano and coincidence

Liz went topical on the cake front for A's birthday: a volcano. Difficult to see in the photo, but it's a chocolate cake covered in brown icing and red lava erupting from the top and spewing down the sides. No ash cloud. She had a nice party at home with half a dozen close friends. The easiest one we've done I think.
The strangest thing happened to our friend Iain on the way here to pick up A's friend Flora. Yesterday he had emailed an old college friend in London from 15 years ago, to see what she was up to these days, and got an out-of-office message saying she was travelling for six months. On his way over to us he stopped at traffic lights and there she was, crossing the road in front of him! An amazing coincidence. Before the lights changed he shouted out "Get in" and brought her to our party.