Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Human Nature...

To understand human nature, look how worn out the lift's "close the door" button is compared to the "keep the door open" button.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Limehouse...

So another election is upon us? (sigh)

Last Thursday Stuart and I went to see timely drama Limehouse at the Donmar Warehouse in London's glitzy West End.

The story is set in a house in Limehouse in 1981 where the so-called 'Gang of Four' – Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams - meet to plot their future, the future of the Labour Party, and indeed the future of British politics.

At the time of the Limehouse meeting Britain had an adamantine female prime minister with a strong right-wing majority and a Labour Party divided over how to respond, arguing over Trident and in disarray over Europe. Sound familiar?

After Margaret Thatcher's big win in 1979, the Labour Party took a big jump to the Left. And the moderates/right-wingers of the Labour Party like our Gang of Four weren't too happy. So they met in secret to talk it through – do they stay and fight or break away and form a new party?

By the end of the day they had set aside their rivalries, anger, guilt, squabbling, in-fighting, jealousies and bitter recriminations and come up with The Limehouse Declaration. A statement that signalled their intent all to leave the Labour Party and form a Council for Social Democracy.

The Social Democrats were wildly successful for a while polling at 25% but then after Thatcher's Falklands War election win in 1983 they waned until merging with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats. And look where *they* are now.

In some ways, the Social Democrats were the New Labour of their day. And if May gets a huge majority in 8 weeks’ time... who knows?... maybe their time will come again.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Queer British Art 1861-1967 @ Tate Britain...

Last Friday Stuart, my brother Simon, my sister Joanna, my niece Charlotte, Paul, Simon and I went to see Queer British Art 1861-1967 at Tate Britain in London's glitzy Pimlico.

Two pieces of legislation set the timespan for this exhibition. One is the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy in 1861; the other is the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. And it’s the shadow of illegality and widespread prejudice that’s cast over everything on display in this rich and fascinating survey of queer art.

Weaving between history and gossip, private lives and public declarations, repression and celebration, the exhibition recounts a complicated story of sexuality and desire through work that is as often as coded and veiled as it is candid and outspoken.

Although wide-ranging, I'd like to highlight three pieces from the exhibition that spoke to me.

The first is the calling card left by the Marquess of Queensberry for Oscar Wilde (with the words “for Oscar Wilde, posing Somdomite” [sic]) left at Wilde’s club. The card hangs near a full-length portrait of Wilde, as an elegant man about town and the door to his cell in Reading jail.

The second is Duncan Grant’s 1930 portrait of PC Harry Daley which commemorates the Hammersmith policeman who was, for a time, EM Forster’s lover, and who went on to write a book recounting his experiences on both sides of the law.

Thirdly the heart-breaking pieces by precocious Jewish pre-Raphaelite painter Simeon Solomon who was arrested for cottaging, first in London, later in Paris, and spent the last 20 years of his life in St Giles workhouse, alcoholic and abandoned by many of his friends.

The show is strange, sexy, and oft heart wrenching. From Man Ray’s portrait of Virginia Woolf to Orton’s library book collages and Noël Coward’s dressing gown, this vital survey is bursting with fascinating stories.

Go see.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Ebola vs. Tulisa...

Q: What's the difference between Ebola and Tulisa?
A: Ebola will finish you off.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Boom, Boom!...

My grandad said, "It's going to be hot this weekend."
I said, "Tell me something I don't know!"
Grandad replied, "Your Nana's arse can take my whole fist."


Talking of my Nana. Last Sunday she invited Stuart and I round for a roast.
Kinky bitch!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

42nd Street...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see showbiz musical 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London's glitzy West End.

Synopsis: Paper thin plot but wow what a show!

There are few more famous openings in musical theatre: the curtain rises a few inches, just enough to reveal a line of tap shoes thundering away. 42nd Street, the ultimate backstage musical, is a blunt force trauma of a show. It roars where others purr. Mark Bramble, who co-wrote the book for original 1980 Broadway show, in turn based on the 1933 MGM smash film, continues his long association with the musical as director here.

And it’s an extraordinary thing, crammed with songs by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, full of the sound and fury of tapping feet, illuminated by dazzling colour. So much so, in fact, that it’s easy to ignore the fact that by interval time nothing has really happened.

Famed director Julian Marsh is putting on a huge show, Pretty Lady, in the middle of the Great Depression. “This is April 3rd 1933 and we start work on a new show”, he says helpfully, embodying the show’s characteristic avoidance of subtlety. Erstwhile star Dorothy Brock has been reluctantly cast as the lead so that the producers can get a wedge of investment money from her rich beau.

A young woman from small town Pennsylvania, Peggy Sawyer, rolls up late looking for a job in the chorus line. She's an instant hit with the show's leading man, not so much anyone else. Eventually – and not before a lot of songs and dances – Brock breaks her ankle, Sawyer steps up and the dream comes alive for everyone.

It’s a show with a strange history: its original director, Gower Champion, died on opening night in 1980. Catherine Zeta-Jones was propelled from chorus girl to star in the 1984 West End production in this same theatre. Bramble has been there all the way, and he clearly knows this piece inside out, and that’s apparent from the occasional flashes of real complexity in the production.

Layer upon layer of artifice is built up, completely blurring the line between what’s real life and what’s happening on stage. Sets represent sets, costumes double as costumes, actors play actors

The production recognises the rust that’s bloomed on many of these MGM-era tropes and it paints them with silliness, rather than seriousness. The hackneyed lines – “Sawyer, you're going out a youngster but you've got to come back a star!” – are played for laughs and the zero-to-hero ridiculousness of the story and its setting is amplified.

Every number, from familiar songs like Keep Young and Beautiful and Shuffle Off to Buffalo to lesser known numbers like Boulevard of Broken Dreams (added to the production especially to showcase Sheena Easton’s voice) swells to a huge climax and although there are a few forgettable performances, perhaps inevitable in a cast of 48, the good ones are great.

Tom Lister doesn't make Julian Marsh the dictator he's often played as. Instead there's more of a 'firm but fair' vibe. It means that, until Lister can show off his powerful baritone voice late in the show, the character is somewhat diminished, especially in the midst of three extraordinary women.

Clare Halse as Peggy is, without doubt, a phenomenal dancer. She moves so fast and with such precision that in some moments her legs are a blur. She’s got the acting skill too, an endearing brew of optimism and bewilderment, with a sharp comic sense – “eyes shining like a kid at Christmas” as one of the characters describes her. But she’s a whisper of a threat away from the triple, with a voice that doesn’t knock one’s socks off in the way her dancing does.

Jasna Ivir is hilarious as Pretty Lady’s composer Maggie Jones and, in her West End debut, Sheena Easton’s sneers and snarls as Dorothy Brock almost push her diva routine into panto villain territory, but it sets the tone for whole show – one of embracing the silliness, revelling in the recognisability of all the old Golden Age cliches.

Everything conjures the America of the 1930s – except the accents, most of which got lost somewhere across the Atlantic. Douglas W Schmidt’s set and Roger Kirk’s costumes – every colour dialled up a hue – show just how appealing the theatre would have been in the Great Depression, a world full of smiles and sequins.

One scene sees four urchins find a dime in a gutter, and within seconds colossal coins are rolled onto the stage and set down like circular stages, danced upon by chorines wearing all the spangles and glitter in the world. Opulence and escapism meet Depression-era America head on, a reminder that the 1933 film’s colossal success was due in no small part to the feel-good and consequence-free lavishness it offered in contrast to the poverty of its audience’s lives.

In a brilliant hat-tip to the iconic film, during one chorus scene a giant art deco mirror hangs above the stage and we see the dancers blossom and grow into abstract geometric shapes. Busby Berkeley’s groundbreaking film choreography is resurrected in glorious Technicolor onstage.

The musical has always been about immensity: subtlety begone, nothing by halves. It’s a show that can say all it needs to through numbers alone: 48 cast members, 432 costumes, 2,000 lights; it holds, and has shattered, Broadway records. Sometimes that magnitude, that earth-quaking rumble of dancing feet is enough to sustain it. It can survive through sheer size.

But, here and now, it’s combined with a nascent West End nostalgia kick and seems to be tapping (sorry) into an audience that is desperate for the classics. An American in Paris opened a couple of weeks ago, borrowing from the Gershwins’ songbook, there was La La Land of course, Sunset Boulevard – in fact the producers of the recent Glenn Close production, Michael Grade and Michael Linnit, also produced this show.

We may not be in the middle of a major economic depression, but things aren’t looking that rosy at the moment either. A show that’s all about pretence is well timed. 42nd Street is where the underground meets the elite, and that’s what theatre is too: a girl from small town Pennsylvania has to pretend to be a star; chorines crammed 10 to a dressing room backstage have to conjure incredible worlds on stage.

When that army of dancers gets going, when the rows of lights start twinkling and tap shoes hit the bleachers extending towards the audience from the back of the stage, it’s simply, overwhelmingly, stunning.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead...


Last night Stuart and I went to see Tom Stoppard's absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at The Old Vic in London's glitzy Waterloo.


Against the backdrop of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this mind-bending situation comedy sees two hapless minor characters, Rosencrantz (Daniel Radcliffe) and Guildenstern (Joshua McGuire), take centre stage with David Haig as The Player. Increasingly out of their depth, the young double act stumble their way in and out of the action of this iconic drama. In a literary hall of mirrors, Stoppard’s brilliantly funny, existential labyrinth sees us witness the ultimate identity crisis.

Both Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire are excellent; the first two acts producing some full-on belly laughs – none more so that when they play Questions. The production perhaps loses its way a little in the final third act though as the events of Hamlet play a more prominent part of the action.

The play is delightfully absurd and as the characters constantly ask themselves what is going on - we the audience know only too well – they demonstrate theie conflict between art and reality.

Metatheatre is a central structural element of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Scenes that are staged as plays, dumb shows, or commentaries on dramatic theory and practice, are prominent in both Stoppard's play and Shakespeare's original tragedy Hamlet. In Hamlet, metatheatrical elements include the Player's speech, Hamlet's advice to the Players, and the meta-play "The Mousetrap". Since Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are characters from Hamlet itself, Stoppard's entire play can be considered a piece of metatheatre.

Luckily all this self-referentialism is not only clever but funny. Very, very funny.

Recommended: If you like Hamlet. And Stoppard. And metatheatre!

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Arsenal 3 - 0 West Ham...

We didn't hold out much hope last night at the Emirates due to our pretty poor run of form of late but despite a boring first half we really pulled to together in the second. 

Yay for our team!

 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Should He Stay Or Should He Go?...

I have fond memories of Arsene Wenger. Whether he stays for a bit longer or goes at the end of this season I hope those memories don't get tarnished by a slow, awkward and disruptive departure.

AW deserves repect for what he has achieved to get Arsenal FC where they are now but that respect could soon turned sour if he is seen to putting himself before the club. It may be hard for him to take but he may not be the best thing for Arsenal's future.

Where I work we have succession planning meetings. We make arrangements for what will happen when (not if) someone leaves the company. I chair the group and I usually start each meetings with the same phrase, "The graveyard is littered with indispensable people. If we don't plan for the future we are betraying those who will follow us and they will curse us for our lack of foresight."

No one likes change but it is nearly always for the best in the long run. Afterwards people often wonder why they never did it earlier.

I just hope Arsene does the right thing by the club - even if the right thing is he not staying on and so making way for the fresh ideas the club so obviously needs. It would be such a shame to see him hounded out and my memories become those of his ungracious exit and not of his glory years.

If you prune an aging rose bush well you can watch it sprout new wood and bloom a wondrous red rose once again.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Hamlet...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see Andrew Scott take on the Bard's mightiest role as he played Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

Synopsis: So "Hamlet" then Moriarty... 221B or not 221B? He did not disappoint. Wonderful. Long but wonderful.

David Tennant has had a go. Benedict Cumberbatch has taken a stab at it. And now fellow star of BBC Steven Moffat dramas Andrew Scott – Moriarty in Sherlock – is giving us his apparently compulsory Hamlet. When will it be Martin Freeman's turn, I wonder? Or Billie Piper's? Actually, there's a thought!

But be reassured dear reader, Mr Scott's sweet prince was top notch. His was a moving and human Hamlet, full of charm, self-mockery, and ability to speak directly to the audience. He found new paths through Hamlet's soliloquies, dwelling on certain words as if caressing their edges. Cleverly each seemed like an act of intimacy with the audience.

As we've come to expect from director Robert Icke the production is clever too. Bob Dylan songs regularly float across the auditorium, the ghost of Hamlet's father is first seen on CCTV, and Polonius wears a wire.

It's transferring to the West End soon so if fancy 4 hours of good quality Shakespeare - this is the show for you.

In the foyer we spotted Benedict Cumberbatch with Sophie Hunter. He was obviously there to support his friend - and check out if he had done any better than his own fairly lacklustre production at the Barbican a couple of years back. And when Mr Scott uttered the immortal line "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him.." I'm sure we heard Cumberbatch mutter under his breath "I knew him better!"

Monday, April 03, 2017

Pet Shop Boys...

Last night Stuart and I went to see the Pet Shop Boys alongside Johnny Marr and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra perform in aid on The Teenage Cancer Trust at the Royal Albert Hall in London's well-heeled Kensington.

Good egg Roger Daltrey was on hand too to help get the message across about the good work The Teenage Cancer Trust does.

Neil was in fine voice and on good form. Chris didn't move from his chair(!)

"We have often combined electronics with orchestrations on our records and now we’re going to do this in concert. Johnny has played on many of our albums and it will be a real thrill to have him on stage with us."

The orchestral arrangements were great filling the auditorium with beautiful concert music coupled with the PSB's inimitable wit and sound - "Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat."

It was a great night that brought tears to my eyes. The cause was a good one and the performance was sensational.

The set-list was:-

Act 1
Left To My Own Devices
Tonight Is Forever
This Must Be The Place I've Waited Years To Leave
Rent
Later Tonight
New York City Boy
Miracles
The Survivors
Leaving
Jealousy

Interval

Act 2
Hold On
It Couldn't Happen Here
All Of Us
Can You Forgive Her?
Breathing Space
He Dreamed of Machines
Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin
Indefinite Leave To Remain
West End Girls
It's Alright
It's A Sin


 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Don Juan in Soho...

Last night Stuart and I went to see David Tennant star in Don Juan In Soho at the Wyndham's Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Patrick Marber's version of Molière's story about a serial seducer of women transports the action to contemporary London. It is rude, it is crude, and it is very, very funny.

Tennant plays the recently renamed DJ as a magnificent, terminally bored, quasi-toff who beds, dumps and cruelly taunts his conquests. He is dangerous, sleazy, a hedonist, and he is not fussy about orifices either, “He'd do it with anything – a hole in the ozone layer.”

His chubby little factotum Stan (excellently played by Adrian Scarborough) struggles to keep up.

The humour ranges from hysterical slapstick to downright offensive. Tennant hits the heights as he tries to control the pleasure wrought under the blanket by expert fellatio from one woman, while his upper half engages in conversation with and oozes fake concern towards the wife of a male rival whom he has considerately put in a coma. The lows are plumbed when he taunts a homeless man by dangling a £1,000 watch if he agrees to blaspheme against Allah.

Is DJ one of J. M. Barrie's Lost Boys? Is he the Devil incarnate? Or just a sex addict?

Fans of Tennant will love this. The critics have been somewhat sniffy. Critics? Cretins!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

An American in Paris...

Last night Roger and I went to see new musical An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Synopsis: Well-produced show reimagined from the 1951 Gene Kelly Hollywood film. It has gained 5-star reviews across the board from most critics. To my taste, it was perhaps a little light on the songs at the start and a little too heavy on the ballet in the end. But by the second half the show had really taken flight.

An American in Paris is ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's first stab at directing a musical. And it is largely a success. He shows a love of the source material - Gene Kelly's dancing and Gershwin's tunes are done great justice. The plot has perhaps turned a little darker with more hints of Nazi-collaboration and closeted-homosexuality than I remember from the film. But that all adds more light and shade to the four-way love-triangular plot. (Can a triangle have four sides? In musicals I guess it can.)

We are in Paris just after the war. A GI wants to be an artist, another GI wants to be a composer, and a Frenchman wants to sing jazz in America. Centre stage is a ballet dancer who is looking for her big break. He loves her, he loves her too, oh and so does he. You get the picture. They all love her. So whom will she choose? My money is on the one with the biggest jeté. For all the principle parts are played by ballet stars. And 'ballet' they do. A lot. It is good toes, bad toes all the way in this show.

We did enjoy ourselves alot and the performances were all solid but... my main quibble might be that it took over 15 minutes before we got to hear our first Gershwin song. And this is a musical after all. And while we wait for the singing there are lengthy interludes with just ballet - no talking, no acting, no songs - just ballet. Solid, athletic, ballet. Now don't get me wrong, I like ballet as much as the next West End Wendy but it made for a rather ponderous show when you are waiting for the next line and the lead actor has to do another few circuits around the stage spinning his head like The Exorcist on fast-forward before suggesting they both go for a walk along the Seine.

And while I'm quibbling I'd have to say that the Dominion Theatre is big theatre with a very big stage. It needs to be filled with sound and filled with light to make a great show work and both these qualities were rather lacking in the first half. Turn it up please! Neither the should-be-infectious "I've Got Rhythm" nor heart-felt "The Man I Love" really took flight as they were too quietly performed and you could bearly see the action though the dimly lit auditorium.

However things were very, very different in the second half. The show suddenly took flight. The band played up, the lights shone brightly, the scenery settled down, the back projection ignited like a firework, and the big production numbers simply blazed on the stage. It was funnier, slicker and the plot simply tore along. In the second half Gerswin's tunes came thick and fast and the whole show soared. It was like a different show. Even the 20 minute ballet towards the end seemed to have earned its bright Piet Mondrian stripes.

Kick, turn, kick-kick, turn - feathers, top hats, show tunes - tap dancing, show girls - kick-kick, turn. Wow! It was wow. It was gorgeous. This is what we came to see! Gershwin tunes writ large on a big stage, played by a big band with dazzling dancing.

Now if only the first half had been as good as the second I'd have joined the 5-star reviewers in my fulsome praise.

Verdict: If you like Gershwin and you love ballet - this is the show for you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Caravan Club...

Last Saturday Stuart, Oliver, Marcin and I took a queer walking tour around London's glitzy Soho and followed it up with a night at the infamous Caravan Club.

The walking tour was great - taking in such places as the old Colony Club, various queer haunts of the 1930s and beyond, and peppered with illuminating (and sometimes funny) stories of the arrest and persecution of gay men and women by the police.

The Caravan Club, once billed as the capital's greatest bohemian rendezvous, had been lovingly recreated for National Trust and National Archives Queer City project. It was originally a short-lived queer meeting place back in the 1930s festooned with flowing shawls and coloured blankets. And the 2017 recreation was spot on.

We were greeted at the door by a suitable discerning but fabulously camp/butch bouncer who asked us our business. Once reassured that we were 'just so' he soon allowed us entry into the dim twilight world of the homosexual beyond the curtain.

Immersive actors played suitably fey characters, sang for us and encouraged us to mingle and recite limericks and songs to entertain our fellow caravaners. We were served cocktails, felt a real sense of history and laughed a lot.

The night drew to a close with a police raid. Of course.

Well done National Trust.




  

Friday, March 24, 2017

Call Me God: A Dictator's Final Speech...


Last night Stuart and I went to see John Malkovich in Call Me God: A Dictator's Final Speech at Union Chapel in London's glitzy Islington.

Synopsis: Nice to see Malkovich in the flesh but the show is rather Just Call Me God-awful.

John Malkovich is no stranger to dark roles, so it is no wonder that he has become a sort of muse to writer-director Michael Sturminger. After exploring two extremes together – a serial killer and Casanova – their third collaboration sees them carry on the theme of extremism. Just Call Me God: The Final Speech of a Dictator premiered in Hamburg earlier this month, and the London stop of its European tour is taking place in the charming Union Chapel. Even before the show starts, amid the bustle of the audience finding their seats, the chapel makes its presence felt and creates a special atmosphere.

While the venue does half the job, Malkovich gamely tries to do the other. Sadly in vain.

He plays Satur Diman Cha, a dictator in hiding who has recently lost all his power. When a group of soldiers and a bold female journalist, Caroline, enter his palace, he attacks them and leaves most of the party for dead. In an attempt to save herself, Caroline challenges the ruler with an impromptu interview, declaring that she is interested in his side of the story. A surreal power game ensues.

The surprising element of Just Call Me God is the number of scenarios normally associated with high tension, if not terror, that become laugh-out-loud moments. The failing is that many of these moments are far from intentionally funny though. Malkovich can be superb in veiling the sinister core of his characters with waves of sheer hilarity but here he simply corpses at his own jokes. Unprofessional? Tedious? A few people left.

The play sits somewhere between theatre and cinema, with cameras on stage and a large screen above the action showing close-ups and otherwise unnoticeable details. Malkovich traditionally is at ease with both mediums but the execution here is poor and confusing - under-rehearsed even.

It is very clear that Sturminger created Satur Diman Cha around Malkovich, because the role fits him like a soggy glove. But the play seems to rely too heavily on its protagonist, and it sometimes becomes apparent that without him it would not hold up half as well. Even when he goes off stage for a few moments, it feels as if what little magic there is is momentarily deactivated.

Since the subject-matter is not fresh, the execution ought to be wildly imaginative to justify its existence. The main character is essentially a medley of dictators, but condensing all the despots into one does not make Satur more powerful, only too generic to offer much beyond an caricature. The problematic factor of depicting a dictator is that this figure has become the villain par excellence, and two-dimensional baddies have never fared too well.

Overall this is a pretty weak production - although bravely supported by the strong presence of Malkovich, it is only the aura of the venue and conductor Martin Haselböck’s organ concerto that makes Just Call Me God experience just about bearable.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Singapore...

Stuart and I arrived in Singapore last Friday and we've been pretty much partying ever since. Dawn and Al have been our hosts and rather lovely hosts they are too. City Tour, sky-high bars and electric trees followed by Singapore Slings at Raffles. What's not to like?!

Singapore is an unusual place. It's isolated, beautiful, clean and safe. There are lots of great places to eat, drink and hangout and being just shy of the equator the place is rather lush with vegetation. It's also a gated community bulging with skyscrapers, ex-pats and clammy weather so attracts a certain well-heeled crowd.

The 15% tax rate fills the place with high-end economic migrants, making it a global centre for trade and shipping, and it is a nice place to live - for those with money that is. For calling the place "expensive" doesn't even begin to cover it. Most things including food and drink seem to be 2 - 3 times even London prices.

And this little paradise island also has some tough rules to accompany its good living. Apart from the well-known no spitting and no chewing gum laws, commiting more serious crimes can prove costly or even fatal. Some have described Singapore as Disneyland with the death penalty. Singapore has the second highest per-capita execution rate in the world. The semi-authoritarian regime is run by a governing party that has been in power since 1959 and their motto is effectively, "If you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to fear." Now where have I heard that before?

So Singapore is a nice place to live, expensive but nice. Just don't break the law.
 
    

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Macau: Getting There...

Yesterday Stuart and I ventured 40 miles west of Hong Kong to the most densely populated place on earth. It is one of the richest, has the 4th highest life expectancy and is the world's biggest gambling area. It also gaudy, tacky and defies belief.

Macau was the last European colony in Asia before it returned to the Chinese from Portuguese hands in 1999. Originally a key trading post to the Orient it is now a Mecca for gamblers. Tourists flock here in their millions to fritter away their hard-earned dosh, catch a spectacular show and eat and drink themselves that little bit poorer in one or more of the massive, themed hotel cum casinos.

The Venetian, the MGM Grand, the Wynn - all familiar hotel names to those who have visited a certain place in the Nevada desert. It shares the dancing fountains, the over the top animatronics, and the similarly high electricity bill of that place too.

Perhaps not quite as spectacularly sprawling as Las Vegas, what this tiny place lacks in size it more than makes up for in ambition. Macau has a new mega casino/hotel being built every month. And as they run out of space here they simply reclaim a bit more of the sea. This place is growing, literally.

If you like gambling, flashing neon and industrial scale chintz - this is the place for you! 

Us? We're heading back to Honkers for the peace and quiet.
 
    

Hong Kong: Welcome...

So Stuart and I have arrived in Honkers and it is as hot, as bustling, and as chaotic as I remember it. 

Stuart's lovely friend Laura was our tour guide on our first full day here and as it was Stuart's first time she showed us the sights, the sounds and smells of the place. It was great to have an ex-pat's perspective on the place. And boy did she make us laugh.

I was last here in 1996 just before Honk Kong was returned to Chinese rule and there was alot of uncertainty around at that time.

On the face of it I can't see much change since then although there is some evidence of street protest with banners about more local rule. One thing is for sure though - social media Facebook and Blogger work here - which they didn't in mainland China when we went there two years ago. So it not all bad.

Another thing that's stayed the same is that Hong Kong is a crazy city of excess. Its packed full of dizzingly high skyscrapers, dazzling lights, and hard-working and hard-partying people. It's not cheap here either but like most places in this world if you have money you are sorted. They say if you can't get it here, you can't get it. So if you are young, working, and healthy then life can certainly be lived to the max here. You can work until you drop and then party until you drop some more. 

However Hong Kong is also a place of have nots. There no social security here so if you are old, have no family, or no money you are on your own - often living rough and/or begging on the street. We saw old people and disabled people shaking tins for coins and pushing carts of dirty cardboard around (their makeshift beds for the night). A few feet away in a street cafe were a small group of business men gathered around a table with two bottles of champagne spilling it in their excitement to celebrate their latest big wheeler deal. The contrast could not have been more stark. It reminded me of London in the 1980s with its financial big bang and its huge social division between rich and poor.

A lovely place Honkers, if you can keep up with the lifestyle... and the payments.
 
 
 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Japan: Ye Gods!...

Waiting for check-in to open at Tokyo airport (Catherine Tate would have been proud...)

Me: They have a lot of Gods in Japan, don't they?
Stu: Do they?
Me: Yes. They do. Guess how many they have?
Stu: I don't know.
Me: Well, have a guess.
Stu: I really don't know.
Me: Well, GUESS!
Stu: 4
Me: 4?!!!
Stu: Well, I don't know!
Me: 4!
Stu: OK, a billion then.
Me: A BILLION?!!!
Stu: I don't know!
Me: A BILLION GODS! You think the Japanese worship a billion Gods?
Stu: They might do.
Me: The population the size of Japan and they have 100 Gods... EACH?!
Stu: I told you I don't know.
Me: A billion Gods?!
(Pause)
Stu: How many you they have then?
Me: 8 million.
Stu: Really?
Me: Yes. They have 8 million Gods. Which I think is alot. Not a billion granted but alot. 
Stu: OK. That is alot.
(Pause)
Stu: Where shall we eat?
 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Japan: Magome to Tsumago...

Stuart and I set off early after a Japanese breakfast (heavy on the fish, light on the toast) on the old postal trail from the delightful Japanese hamlet of Magome through the mountain pass to the equally delightful village of Tsumago. Anything Joanna Lumley can do...

The trail was only about 8km as the red-crowned crane flies but with the ups and downs it was about twice that. It was great fun - winding paths through the hills, thick bamboo forests, the never-melting snow, passing ancient castles, male and female waterfalls, and lots of great views of the mountains.

Japan's really has beautiful countryside and it is quite a revelation to be out of the cities: no concrete, no neon, just lovely houses and amazing landscapes. People say it's the 'real' Japan and I'm minded to agree. 

We even found Joanna Lumley's walking stick.

(Thank you Toby for the fabulous suggest of this part of our trip.)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Japan: Magome...

After the dazzling cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima it's nice to have a bit of downtime in the beautiful village of Magome in the Kiso Valley. 

So quintessentially Japanese it almost seems too good to be true.

We are staying in a classic Royakan with sliding paper doors, communal bathing and communial eating.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Japan: Miyajima...

Located in Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture, Miyajima is a Shinto shrine on the island of Itsukushima. The island is best known for its "floating" torii gate. And it's simply fab. 

Stuart and I arrived having spent the day in Hiroshima so we were a little shell-shocked. So imagine our delight arriving on such an idyll. 

The place is simple enchanting. The ferry brought us over from the mainland to an island where there are precious few cars, a "floating" temple snuggles the beach complete with a "floating" gate out at sea, the whole place is an UNESCO site dating from 593 AD and at dusk delightful lanterns illuminated the sea front.