Saturday, January 08, 2011

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF (HIS) MIND..

In some ways the TH is spectacularly dependable.
For instance, I can totally depend on him to do some slightly 'odd' things in my absence. Putting his name down for a 300 mile bike ride when he didn't even own a bike, is one case which springs to mind.

So it came as no great surprise this morning to hear, by way of twitter, that no sooner am I on a plane and out of sight, he has decided to 'do' the Brockwell Lido Mid-Winter Swim today. Which would be all very well, (well, when I say 'all very well', clearly I don't mean that - how is it 'all very well' to swim in an outdoor unheated pool in minus 4 degrees? But we're talking about the TH here so let's make some allowances). It might be 'all very well', except for the fact that the first (and indeed last) time I found myself in a pool with him, I discovered he couldn't really actually....errrr...swim....?

In tour management we call that 'logistically impossible', but he's in IT so I guess to him it's merely an 'issue'.

Good luck with that then....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JOBS, KEYS, PLANTS AND ANIMALS

In my desperation to leave New York's unbearable heat, I have somehow ended up on the West Coast responsible for one and a half apartments, two cairn terriers, 30 plants, an office, a music festival and (part of the time) two cats.
As something or someone always needs feeding, watering, peeing, tuning, cleaning, walking, organising, rehearsing, marketing, complimenting, ushering or selling, then unfortunately there is absolutely No.Time.To.Blog.
Or eat.
Or sleep.

Monday, June 23, 2008

OUT OF CONTROL

I got back from Rochester (note to self - do not explore any more of the USA - NY is just fine) to find a significant amount of rubble on the kitchen floor, and a hole in the wall. The TH, despite having been here the whole time, had somehow failed to notice this. I really don't like the outdoors at the best of times, and particularly at this time of year, and now there is uncontrollable 'weather' in the kitchen.
I am presuming that this is a 'mistake' rather than the revised building 'Fire Safety Plan'....although the builders responsible for the hole clearly aren't particularly perturbed as they have disappeared. For two days now.

The doorbell rang at 7am this morning and the neighbour is delivering our current house guest, who she'd found asleep outside on the corridor floor. She hates anything 'messing up' the corridor, and given the fuss she makes about umbrellas being left there, I can see that the aftermath of finding a whole person on the doorstep is going to run and run. I use the term 'whole person' with caution, as this is the second time in 3 nights now that J has spectacularly failed to find his bed and what with jetting about, jetlag, jazz gigs and JB taking care of 23 hours out of every 24, I figure he can't have had more than one night's sleep in about the last 6 days.
He is nevertheless looking far better for it than I am.

I just knew it was going to get messy.

Monday, June 16, 2008

EST

A sad day.

I found myself quite by accident this afternoon watching Lee Siegel's fascinating talk about the internet and how it affects/has affected our lives and culture.
To take his comments slightly out of context (which of course he'd hate), what rang particularly true for me today was his description of the difference between 'commercial' culture and 'high' culture.
'Commercial culture is all about the gratification of self-interest and it involves the total engagement of your ego'.
Whereas with 'high' culture - 'At the heart of a successful work of Art, lies something fresh and other.' You are 'sprung from the daily pressures of self-interest and you lay yourself and your ego aside'.

I mention all this because I found out this morning that the Swedish pianist Esbjorn Svensson died on Saturday evening in a diving accident.
He was 44.
Quite apart from feeling the tragedy of someone dying so young and leaving behind a young family, I was surprised at how personally upset I felt. And I think the reason relates to Siegel's words.
I have been to hear the Esbjorn Svensson Trio perform maybe a dozen times, I met him a couple of times and I loved his music.
He was one of the rare performers I could go to hear where, no matter what was going on in my life, I could guarantee that I would be 'taken out of myself' and would literally 'lose' myself in his musical storytelling. A very welcome 'laying aside' of the ego. For whatever reason, this happens to me only occasionally these days - the odd amazing book and a small number of musical experiences. There is now one less and I feel that loss.

In a World where we are inundated with 'commercial' culture, his music reached out to touch a new younger audience for jazz, it was popular in the broadest sense, and yet retained the utmost artistic integrity.

He leaves us with an amazing collection of beautiful recorded work, but already I miss the anticipation of his next live performance, the promise of experiencing something 'other'.
Here is one of my favourite pieces - from gagarin's point of view.
RIP Esbjorn.




Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It’s been over 100 degrees here for days now. Obviously I’m not going out in that! So with so much Mozart work to do I’ve had to be quite creative in devising apartment-bound procrastination techniques. Having cleaned everything, deleted 543 emails, filed all my documents and got back in touch with everyone I vaguely remember on Friends Reunited.... I've now resorted to memes. Here’s a fantastic pointless waste of time. You set your itunes to ‘random’ then answer the following questions with whatever track comes up. No cheating. It’s uncanny!

What does next year have in store for me?
Seattle – Avishai Cohen

What’s my love life like?
He Thinks He’ll Keep Her – Mary Chapin Carpenter

What do I say when life gets hard?
It’s Crazy – Sarah Vaughan

What song should I have danced to at my wedding?
All the Things You are – Clare Foster (Clare actually sang at my wedding, so it’s entirely possible this happened..)

What do you want as a career?
1979 Semi-Finalist – Bad Plus

Famous last words?
Sweet Sorrow – Joshua Redman

Your favourite saying?
Interested – India Arie

Favourite place?
St Louis Blues – Gil Evans

What do you think of your parents?
I Worn My Elbows – Ivor Cutler

Where would you go on a first date?
What Was Going On – Steve Lawson

Describe yourself.
You are Driving Me Crazy – Chet Baker

What is the thing I like doing most?
Stuff Like That – Quincy Jones

What is my state of mind like at the moment?
Vicious World – Rufus Wainwright

How will I die?
Speed Of Light – Teenage Fanclub

Saturday, June 07, 2008

BUMF

Today we received a document from our landlord entitled 'Fire Safety Plan'.

'Aha' I thought, 'finally they've noticed that our building is rather prone to spontaneous combustion....'

This is what it says:

Sprinkler System: No
Fire Alarm: No
Public Address System: No
Other Information: There is no access to any adjoining buildings from the roof level.

That is actually ALL it says, apart from mentioning that our exit is via the main lobby door, which after three years here I've just about got to grips with...

Hmmm. So where exactly is the 'safety' part, or indeed the 'plan'?

Friday, June 06, 2008

WORK IS THE CURSE OF THE DRINKING CLASSES

Paula in town a couple of weeks ago. Her presence tornado-like, sweeping up everyone around her and carrying them along in a whirlwind of spontaneous adventure and ...errrr ...champagne. You’ve got to love a girl you’ve never met before who hands you a book (a very beautiful book I might add) of photos of herself (mostly minus clothing), practically before she’s even said hello. We were introduced by a mutual friend, and clearly he has permission to introduce anyone to me from now on.

There haven’t been enough people in my life like this lately, but unfortunately they have all chosen to visit in the same month. I think I can say with some precision that I am unlikely to be sober again now until June 29th.

And so to the Marquis and Ben. The really terrible thing about house guests like these is that at some point they GO HOME. Who is leaving liquor chocolates on my pillow, making Vietnamese coffee and playing Chopin in the front room now huh? Not the TH....
Oh God I love these two. Serene and charming by day, witty and spirited at night.

All too soon their final evening, which began in a very civilized manner with drinks and chat on JB & Uptown Nigel’s roof deck. One of those totally perfect times with four of my favourite people in the World, who were all totally in love with each other from practically the moment they met. (Flashbacks to Commuter Jazz Friday gatherings.) It was hard to believe (certainly from my point of view) that the evening could possibly get any better than THIS.



But 6 hours and many drinks later, off we cabbed into the village night. Despite persistent denials from the Marquis, I remain convinced that he is keyholder of this entire city, as I have yet to enter a bar with him where everything is not ‘taken care of’ by some mysterious benefactor behind the scenes. And so it was at the first bar, where incidentally, even Brooke Shields hobbled over on her crutches to catch a glimpse of the glamorous Nola boys (although for some reason they thought it was the other way round). There was also a famous rock band at our table, apparently. But don’t ask who because by this point I could barely remember my own name.

2am or thereabouts and onto another bar. On the way I befriended one of our party – a lovely guy from New Orleans who looked like a sound engineer and was called Newark or Kennedy or perhaps some other airport? Oh wait, maybe it was a State? He’d just been auditioning for a ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ movie special and was clearly about 50 drinks behind us. He was one of several people that evening I think I invited to come and stay at some point...but probably the only time I meant it..

Everybody at the next bar had had at least as much to drink as us and it appeared that they had been waiting for our arrival all night. JB had a harem following him around from the moment he walked through the door and there was a pool game, of sorts, but very little of it was taking place on the pool table. Despite being (the only) female in a gay bar, even I got hit on. My hitter was cute as all hell and I was more than happy to spend an hour staring into his pretty eyes whilst he poured out his heart about having a girlfriend at home who had no idea that he was gay. I don’t think I invited him to stay too, but it’s not impossible....

Home finally at 0 dark thirty. The Marquis and I debrief at the kitchen table, and I brag about never getting to the point when I’ve drunk too much to talk. I am conscious that I am slurring the word ‘talk’. And the word ‘alcohol’ is impossible.

I hate it when they leave, but it’s fortuitous at least for Demidenko, who might not otherwise have had a piano for his performances in July....
Owen arrives next week for doubtless more of the same. And so it goes on....

But for now Shark is Working.
Please Do Not Disturb.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

TOWERING INFERNO 2. THE SEQUEL.

The sirens are louder than usual and more persistent. After ten minutes of this racket I go to the window.

Flashbacks to November ’05, only this time there are NINE fire engines parked outside our apartment block and the avenue has been cordoned off three blocks in both directions. A crowd has gathered and is staring up at somewhere that looks alarmingly close to us.



I immediately hear fireman Barry Whybrow’s voice in these situations and go into auto-pilot from years of fire training at the RFH. They were skills I never actually got to use there (which is amazing now that I think about the various drunken escapades I was involved in during that particular period of my life), but need all too often in NY it seems. I check the corridor – a smell of burning but no smoke. In the bedroom however, alongside the smell of burning there is an ominous noise of clanking metal, shouting and banging coming from the direction of 13B on the other side of the wall. Hang on – that’s our ‘love, marriage and relationship Gua’. It can’t burn down! I can’t even begin to imagine what the burning down of an entire Gua means in Feng Shui, but I’m sure it’s not good. This being no wimpy ‘two engine fire’ just a wall away from us, I start shutting windows and doors and get my jacket.

‘I think the fire’s on the other side of our bedroom wall’.
The TH, who has clearly never done one nanosecond of fire training in his life, sits back down on the sofa.
‘What are you doing?!’
‘I’m watching the end of ‘House’.
‘Oh okay – I’ll tell the fire to wait until ‘House’ has finished shall I……’.
‘It’s under control now’.
‘And you know this HOW?’

I vaguely remember being taught about people like the TH in fire training too, and seem to recall that you’re supposed to knock them out. (Or was that life-saving someone who’s drowning?)

A lot of the tenants are in the lobby or collecting underneath the scaffolding outside. It’s rare you get to see the inhabitants of the whole building together like this and the doorman is not finding the fact that the building is on fire during his shift anywhere near as difficult as the fact that all his ‘girlfriends’ are suddenly all together in one place, demanding his usually forthcoming ‘special attention’.



It’s warm outside, but there are miniscule shivering dogs everywhere, because clearly they’re too tiny to maintain any kind of sensible body temperature. I have to concentrate hard not to tread on them.

Most gatherings of more than two people in NY turn into a ‘speed dating’ event sooner or later, and the TH has scored within seconds, as some scantily-clad-twenty-something-yr-old-stranger starts telling him all about her last disastrous relationship, and asks if all men in the UK are ‘nice like him’. Only in New York. I move over and put my arm through his. She looks devastated, and is suddenly not interested in his company and wanders off to order a takeout to be delivered to her ‘on the sidewalk where the fire is’. A couple of apartments are burning down and the neighbours are hitting on each other’s husbands and ordering their dinner. 
Don’t you just love this city.



The fire out, we trudge back up 26 flights of stairs, where it becomes all too apparent who goes to the gym and who doesn't.  On the upside, nobody was injured this time around, and it turns out that the fire wasn't in our relationship Gua. It remains to be seen who or what is......

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

QI TO THE HIGHWAY

Apologies for the 9 month glitch. No I haven’t had a baby. Actually I’ve no idea what happened, aside from a few months work, but I have to write now because I’ve been introduced to Feng Shui by the ever-helpful T, and one of the fundamental rules is that if I haven’t used something for months then I have to throw it away.

The introduction of Feng Shui into my life was supposed to make things easier, but instead it seems to have thrown up a whole new layer of problems.
For instance – our apartment’s 'Bagua' totally lacks a ‘love, marriage and relationship’ section. It simply doesn’t have one. Our love, marriage and relationship area is actually in apartment 13B. I have no idea who lives in 13B. (Yet...)
‘Perhaps we should find out who lives in apartment 13B. We may find the love of our lives there or something…’ (me to the TH. Half joking. Obviously).
TH, not even looking up from his latest CDO crisis - ‘yes darling, that’s a great idea. I totally agree’.
‘Errrr, did you hear what I said?’
Pause. ‘Errr .. no not really’.
All of which kind of speaks for itself.

Then there is the prosperity, wealth and abundance area. Currently the toilet. Which frankly explains a lot. Short of moving the lavatory or the front door, neither of which would probably be acceptable tenant behaviour, there is very little I can do.
‘You’ll have to move’ T concluded decisively. Actually with our current prosperity, wealth and abundance situation we probably will have to move…..

Aside from these major problems, there is the relatively minor problem of me sleeping directly underneath a beam. This merely means that I have health problems in my whole body. I tried sleeping across the bed, which apparently only creates health problems in the thigh area, but this puts me in the ‘lonely pillow’ position.
Yeah. I’ll say.
Have you ever tried sleeping diagonally across your partner?

And DON’T and I repeat DON’T try this at home - the’ hanging of bamboo flutes from the beam’ solution - because they HURT when they fall on your head.
There is an alternative if we switch the whole room around, but this would mean Qi coming down from the sides of the beam between us, causing ‘separation or divorce’. A no win situation I think you’ll agree.

On the upside, if you're coming to visit, then the guest room is the centre of offspring. You have been warned.

So I have to do what I can, which is the 'clearing of clutter'. Luckily it is Spring in New York now, which usually lasts for about 4 days, so I am spending the week spring cleaning before it gets too hot to do anything other than get on a plane to somewhere else.

As part of this process, the right hand links column of this blog is about to undergo a ruthless cull, so if you want to stay linked you’d better have blogged in the last few months or I'd better have eaten in you. In short, and in the words of Ryan Seacrest, very few of you, aside from my American Idol the Marquis, are 'safe'.
Just sayin’.

Thursday, August 30, 2007




Harlem sunset.




Harlem blues.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

PUTTING MY FOOT IN IT

'Could the next guest in line step down please'.

Uh?

I am in the chemists, where I have been queuing (as opposed to 'lining') for at least 10 minutes, whilst the one member of staff on a till does everything BUT take money from people (telephone calls, fetching carrier-bags, discussing the weather).

I have had a futile shopping afternoon where I have been humiliated in at least ten shoe shops for the size of my feet, which absolutely nowhere, (and I repeat nowhere) in this 'capital of all cities' caters for, and this sentence is frankly the final straw.

Hell, if she can discuss hurricanes for five minutes, she can discuss this. 'I am not a guest, I'm a customer'. She looks at me like I'm insane. I probably look insane with my American size 11 ww freaky feet. 'A patron, a customer, but not a guest'. I am quite calm in my madness. She has gone all quiet and takes my money very quickly. 'I would be a guest if I had stayed here for the night for instance'. I realise I have gone a little too far now, and the thought also strikes me that it's entirely possible that people spend the whole night in drugstores here on account of it being impossible to find anything. But I carry on nevertheless 'and it's not step down, because there's no step and we're not on any sort of gradient - it's an entirely flat surface'.
Sometimes I can be really mean and horrible.

She hands me my receipt and eyes the phone.
I, for once, do not get told to have a nice day, and to add insult to injury she then says 'Could the next guest in line step down'.

Today my Bridget Jones count is:
packets of hula hoops consumed - 3.

As these clearly go straight to my feet, I guess I come out the loser.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

TALES FROM THE CITY



I am doing the craziest job. Last week working 14-hour days. Thrown in at the deep end, there was nothing for it but to crisis-manage seven days a week. For instance, I didn’t really expect to be having to first build the venues I was supposed to be working in ……the orchestra rehearsing as I (try to quietly) move 600 chairs around them, labeling them with seat numbers…..

But there can be no better place in which to commute.
This city is beautiful. Taking the MUNI to work in the morning, a ten minute journey on the cute one-car KLM trains, I feel like a tourist in my wonder, but a local as the newspaper-stand man nods a good-morning recognition greeting to me, offering change as I stand by the ticket machines. I wear my weirdest clothes, and unlike in New York, nobody cares or stares.

Driving through Californian micro-climates for hours, to and from the concerts with the festival director, the soloist and her husband – lovely people. Several nationalities of humour going on in the car, but we nevertheless get on fabulously.

I smoke occasionally late at night on the back balcony, losing whole packets of cigarettes to the middle-class ‘Rear Window’ patios and random passageways in the perpetual SF breeze. The apartment directly behind has had the same dishes waiting to be washed in the sink for 12 days now. A photograph on the wall of the apartment across the way appears and disappears, depending on who is visiting.....
I observe these human scenes, but it is the mists which really fascinate me – forever changing over Twin Peaks in the near distance.
There is proper weather here.



I am staying in an apartment owned by singers, but clearly run by cats. Voices from behind every door - E rehearsing Mozart, the lovely S rehearsing show songs, J next door - a beautiful and powerful voice rehearsing for the Met.

Magnificat is totally in control. Pizzicato lounges around nonchalantly, venturing out of hiding only occasionally to get beaten up by her brother, and partake of some serious stroking and the ‘catnip high’ bestowed on her by passing adults. I’m very fond of Pizzi, and relate to her lifestyle utterly. If I were a cat, I would be like this cat. Aloof yet desiring of affection, but not willing to move too far in order to receive it....

Friday, July 13, 2007

FACING UP TO THE PAST

My online life seems to have migrated to facebook, and as if that isn't bad enough news for this blog, I discovered from a 19 yr old last night that something called (if I understood correctly) 'asmallworld' is about to 'take over' from facebook. Blogging is clearly not even yesterday's news anymore, but more like a relic from the upper jurassic period.

Frankly, it's asmallenoughworldalready for me, as recently I've become re-acquainted (via facebook and myspace and everyone else's spacebooks) with not only pretty much every ex-significant-other I ever had, but also people I merely bought a lettuce off in 1979. If I re-discover any more friends or acquaintances from my very distant past I'm in serious danger of losing my mystique.

So anyway, I went to Canada. And that was a blast. Met some amazing people, saw some brilliant music and did some very successful research for next year's jazz project. Oh yes, and I went on a boat underneath this......



I was under the mistaken impression that Niagara Falls was one of the Seven Wonders of the World (which believe me, it should be), until I did some online research. It seems that nowadays wonders of the world are being created and re-named all the time, rather like online communities, and far from being just seven, there are now about 150 of them. But sadly no Niagara.

Whilst I was away the TH managed to enroll himself on a 275 mile sponsored bike ride. Which is all very well, except I had to point out to him that he didn't even own a bike. (Forward planning has never been one of his strengths.) So I sent him off to buy a bike and he also came back with an i-phone - which is apparently completely essential biking gear. Yeah right. He has since started 'training', which is a rather glamorous way of saying that he now cycles to KFC when he has a craving in the middle of the night, rather than walks.
If you would like to sponsor him, you can do so online here.
It's a very worthy cause, and he's determined to do it, though heaven knows at what cost in medical bills afterwards....

And now I must pack. Again. Tomorrow to San Francisco.

Friday, June 15, 2007

FLYING VISITS

Knowing Andy is like having an up-to-the-minute interactive copy of Time Out London, as he is inevitably taking part in any event worth seeing. So last Friday and Saturday was spent at the Royal Festival Hall re-opening events (where A was performing), catching up with many very missed friends, joy-riding in the new glass elevator and testing out all the new bars (including one which was formerly my office....)


RFH re-opening 'Singing River' Project

Two hours after playing sax in a big band at the RFH, A was riding naked through the streets of London in the World Naked Bike Ride. Obviously.

J felt it only right and proper to set up a water station at the side of the road, but was (for some reason) being very selective as to who was allowed water. I will leave the criteria to your imagination.




A opts for something stronger

Have since spent a day with the lovely sister et famille who were visiting from Berlin, attended meetings re. my trip to Canada next week (where I'll be researching a very exciting forthcoming jazz project), lost games of Pictionary to the lovely tenants, refurbished the bathroom, attended the RFH gala opening concert and traversed London three times to get rebuilt by my genius osteopath.

What I've not managed to do is sleep.

Tomorrow New York. Next week Canada.
My global footprint is fast becoming as embarrassing as my actual shoe size...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

I think it's only fair to point out to anyone who may be contemplating a NY visit to stay chez nous, that a whole new standard has been set in house guests recently.

These days it is customary to cook gourmet meals for the hosts on a daily basis (thanks L), whilst pandering to the dietary whims of the shark following wisdom teeth removal (thanks to the marquis for the best chocolate mousse I have ever tasted), arrive with the entire contents of a 5-star casino minibar (thanks Ben) and THEN send care packages post departure, either containing clothes that the shark has coveted (thanks in advance L) or containing limited edition art for our hitherto artless walls (thanks to the very talented Todd Perley).

No pressure....




You can see more of Todd's wonderful artwork here

Monday, June 04, 2007

ON BEING A PROMOTER AND A FAN

18 months down the line and I feel I am really getting to grips with the jazz scene here.
It’s not simply a case of knowing who plays or sings with whom, how good they are and what they sound like. To me it is also just as important to know, for instance, that Robert Glasper drinks vodka and cranberry juice and nods on the offbeat, whereas Derrick Hodge nods on the beat. It is important to know who brings their own piano stool or mic to a gig, which make of piano or bass amp they prefer, whether they’re a left or right-handed drummer and what their preferred stage layout is, whether they’re vegetarian, vegan or carnivores. Because those details are what make a promoter a really good promoter. I have been watching, listening and learning, and finally I am feeling the beginnings of a reassuring familiarity here.

And a word on my new favourite venue - the Highline Ballroom. It's only been open for just over a month, but despite a few teething problems (very few in fact, considering, such as the kitchen not being quite operational yet), it already seems to be selling-out a large number of shows (not bad for a 700 capacity venue), and has found a niche that no other venue in New York seems to be covering. If the TH and I were to come up with a list of all the bands we'd like to see live, they are already on, or doubtless soon will be on the Highline's programme. This is even more interesting considering our tastes, which despite crossing over to some degree, are still fairly different. We have been to 6 or 7 gigs there already and have a whole lot more booked. In fact, between us, we ARE the target audience, clearly. There is no other venue I can think of with a programme covering everything from Amy Winehouse to the Bad Plus, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jonatha Brooke, Ojos de Brujo, Mos Def and the Brand New Heavies. Joe's Pub, our erstwhile favourite venue, comes close, but isn't big enough to attract the larger names.

On top of which, here is a venue that seems to have got everything RIGHT. The layout is superb, feeling intimate despite its capacity, with perfect sightlines everywhere. The sound system and lighting are awesome, and the staff are (so far) lovely. They still haven't quite sorted out their seating policy, which seems to change on an almost daily basis, but as we've befriended the bartenders, we have so far been lucky enough to procure a seat whenever we've wanted one. And it's not cheap - but then why should it be, considering the quality of the bands, equipment and general gig experience there. So a BIG UP to the Highline, and if you've not yet been, then check it out.



Mos Def at the Highline Ballroom

Sunday, May 13, 2007

NEVER WORK WITH CHILDREN OR ANIMALS

Have spent the week in dark gigs on account of half my face turning blue. I take it this is some sort of after-effect of wisdom teeth removal, but at my post-op appointment on Thursday the surgeon was convinced that it was way too late for bruises to start appearing so it must be something to do with the TH. I could have dined out on that one quite a bit this week, if I were able to dine yet, that is.
The medical profession will say anything here to avoid being sued, although I guess I could have sued him for libel.

So last night en-route to another gig, the TH and I stumbled into one of those peculiarly New York cab experiences.
Granted it was a people carrier, but it's not often you get into a taxi and immediately realise that you're sharing it with quite a few others. For starters there was a large cat draped across the top of the dashboard. And a young child in the front passenger seat. I say 'in' but she had no seatbelt on and a very bad case of ADD, so was more or less everywhere in the car except in the front passenger seat. She spent most of the journey on or around the steering wheel, occasionally crawling down to experiment with the pedals. The driver, who was straight out of The Sopranos, seemed totally oblivious to this and was on his cellphone ordering takeout pizza whilst simultaneously running a heartfelt momologue to nobody in particular about how cellphones cause brain tumours and in 34 years exactly, all the cellphone companies would have to compensate everyone and hence provide him with a pension. In his free hand he was brandishing a bottle of chocolate milk at just about every other driver on the road.
At one point the cat stretched and yawned, completely obscuring the windscreen, the chocolate milk went flying and were it not for the child landing on the brake pedal, last night's gig would have had two less patrons. It was during the emergency stop, as we lurched backwards that we noticed the jagged metal rods protruding between our seats and turned round to find the entire contents of somebody's house in the back. Completely obscuring the rear window. Maths has never been my strong point so I genuinely lost count of the number of violations we were dealing with here, but that was probably just as well, seeing as we were stuck in a confined space with a couple of troubled Sopranos. And I'm not talking about their vocal range.

I do love the Eggplants, but I've never felt quite so happy to arrive at one of their gigs. We handed over a ten dollar bill for the 7 dollar fare. The child (who can't have been older than 6) grabbed the money and asked us threateningly if we wanted change. Of course we didn't.....

Thursday, May 03, 2007

SLEEPY HEAD

So these are the lengths I'll go to lately in order to score a couple of hours of sleep. This morning I had my first ever general anaesthetic.

I was actually having my wisdom teeth removed at the time, but I don't think anyone would have got me to the surgeon in the first place for this particularly jaunty little Thursday outing unless there was at least the promise of a good nap attached.

General anaesthetics are a pretty weird sort of sleep it turned out -
I didn't dream and I had no concept whatsoever of the passage of time, so I did feel a bit cheated out of knowing that I'd slept. After the fact like.... But the words small, mercy, thankful, one should be, come to mind, because I can also now strike off my very extensive list of pointless (though imaginative) worries, (which are part of my insomnia problem in the first place), the one where I might be one of those people who doesn't respond to general anaesthetics and is therefore aware during operations without being able to communicate it - euggggh. I don't need to worry about that anymore because I was definitely unconscious. I know this because in the interim I'd managed to gain several holes in my mouth (although weirdly some where there weren't even teeth ...), which are now stuffed with gauze, a bunch of random stitches, and a really fashionable, if scary, chipmunk-gets-botox-and-collagen-lips kind of look (which, sadly, might help in job interviews) - all without having a clue as to how. Mind you I've had real sleeps when I've woken up in that state too, but not, I think, since I stopped partaking in the 'Westgate Run' in Wakefield, circa 1983.

So now the pain is kicking in and despite being very hungry, I can't face the thought of the inevitable battle that would ensue between my mouth and anything I might try to put in it at the moment. So instead I am off to experiment with the sleep inducing properties of vicodin....be afraid.

Monday, April 23, 2007

DIRTY MIND

At least I knew which city I was in when I woke at 3am this morning. I knew this because as I gained consciousness my brain was already deeply involved in working out the answer to a very Manhattan-specific question - 'where is my nearest soil?'. (Clearly if I'd still been in Tokyo, the question would have been totally different, and something along the lines of 'which bits of this plate of soil sitting in front of me is it safe to eat?')

I've no idea why I was so concerned about finding soil at 3am, but it seemed pretty important at the time, in the cold dark of night, so I figured the sooner I'd worked out the answer, the sooner I could get back to sleep. It was actually more complicated than I thought. Strictly speaking my nearest soil is in a small square garden a mere 2 long blocks from here. But that doesn't really count, as the garden is only accessible to residents and I don't have a key - 'private' soil, in other words. A breaking and entering situation seems a bit of a risky venture just to get hold of some soil, particularly when you don't even know what you want it for.

My nearest 'public' soil therefore must be 6 blocks south or 5 long blocks west. Which seems an awful long way when you come from London, where even in the centre of the city there are bits of grass or garden pretty much around every corner.

It's dangerous to get into any sort of 3.30am panic when you're suffering from insomnia, so even though I don't need any soil, I vowed to go out and buy some in the morning, just so as it'll be around, and I can stop worrying about it and go back to sleep. Except I have no idea where my nearest garden centre is, so now it is 4.10am and I am googling Manhattan garden centres for some soil I don't want or need, and I am very much awake.........

Sunday, April 22, 2007

JETLAG

1pm. I sit upright in bed, in Japan and in a panic. 'What time do we have to check out of the room?!"
The TH 'We don't have to check out of the room - you're at home......'

For three consecutive mornings (between the hours of 6am and 8am) I've had a recurring claustrophobic nightmare about lying underneath a car, (where I am retrieving someone else's mail, obviously?). My clothes get caught on the car underside, thereby trapping me. I wake up exhausted, fighting my Japanese duvet.

It is 3.44am and our nightly insomniacs party is kicking off. The TH is choosing movies and I rummage through cupboards looking for exciting ingredients to add to camomile tea.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The TH has been having a kind of mid-life crisis, brought about by his 40th birthday a couple of weeks ago. The crisis is manifesting itself in a strong desire to do dangerous things, such as bungee jumping, diving with sharks, white water rafting and eating 5-course traditional Japanese meals. I have managed to talk him out of most of these things, but yesterday failed miserably to prevent him dragging me into a Japanese restaurant. It was totally empty and nobody could speak English - never good signs in any restaurant anywhere in my book, but the TH was determined. Between bows we were muttering at each other under our breath 'It's okay I'll let you do the bungee jump, just don't make me eat here!' 'You said we're not insured for sports'. 'We're not insured for anything since Thursday. Including food!'

It was just as I'd feared. For starters the appetisers looked far from appetising. There was a solitary prawn in a lump of jelly, some raw eel and a couple of totally unidentifiable things. I ate the tiny asparagus decoration, put the eel on the TH's plate and made an attempt at the jellied prawn. Totally disgusting. Then there was a sashimi course - raw tuna and something else unidentifiable. Definitely not for me. I'll say something for Japanese food - at least it comes in really tiny portions so it can be easily disposed of in a serviette. Managed to eat the tiny piece of cooked fish which was the third course, but it was really bland ('not bland - 'subtle' the TH insisted). Then the raw beef course, by which time I was getting really hungry and my serviette was getting really full. Some rice, miso and green tea appeared, but even the rice had unidentifiable fishy things in it. The tea was murky, like a garden pond.
Dessert though, was the creme de la creme. Yum - a pot of totally tasteless white slimy things in brown sludge.



One mouthful of this and I really thought I was going to puke. It was really really really gross. It was so gross I became convinced that the chef was watching us from somewhere having a good laugh 'look at those silly English people eating the stuff I just scraped up from the plughole'.

I have not seen one overweight person since I've been in Japan. I wonder why.

Friday, April 13, 2007

TOKYO

It was a long haul into Tokyo.
Contrary to expectation the Japanese hardly use (or accept) credit cards, so having cash is pretty essential. Unfortunately they don't seem to use ATM's very much either, and the ones they do use don't like USA or UK cards. It took ages to find the one machine in the whole of Narita that would give us any money, and then we went slightly mad, drawing out millions of yen in a sort of cashpoint panic.

A 70 minute fast-train into Ueno, Tokyo and there we had to switch onto the subway.
The Tokyo subway map looks like a 2-year old sat down with 24 coloured crayons and scribbled for an hour. Then some really clever calligrapher with amazing eyesight added hundreds of really tiny Kanji symbols. Errr.......?



The big subway map on the wall and all the ticket price charts were in Kanji. So were the ticket machines. On top of which, the TH kept almost knocking himself out because the entire subway system is built for people under 5 foot 8". Oh and there were hundreds and hundreds of people running around madly, trying to get to work, (or to who knows where, 'cos we couldn't read any place names.)

A long time later (ie. when we'd had time to learn the Japanese language) we managed to work out the Kanji symbol for the station we were going to, and then with much trial and error, make the ticket machine understand that too. The TH has lived in Japan for a year before now, so we were clearly at an advantage (though I failed to see what advantage exactly).

Finally we arrived at Shibuya and crossed over the famous 4-way crossing, as seen in Lost in Translation, and doubtless countless other movies.



First impressions of Tokyo.
The noise is extraordinary. All the huge billboard videos on the sides of buildings have a soundtrack and every shop has music spilling outside. It is overwhelmingly loud.

It is fast. A fast that makes New York look like a bunch of English Sunday drivers. We stopped for a coffee at Starbucks and a queue of around 20 people was served in less than a minute - scary fast. In Starbucks, as almost everywhere else, people are employed specifically to organise other people, so two people were simply organising the queue. Later that day we glimpsed the subway marshals in action, employed literally to push people on and off the overcrowded trains, and clear the platforms. I stopped on the platform for a moment to get my bearings and got ushered towards an exit quite aggressively. When a train empties, the platform is cleared within seconds.

Consequently everything at least gives the outward appearance of being super-efficient. But sometimes it feels like Big Brother. For instance, there appear to be two traffic police at each traffic light later in the day, who march into the road hands in the air at every red light. Why does a red traffic light also need two people to stop the traffic one has to ask?

We walked around the area and up to Takeshita Street - which I guess is Tokyo's Camden. The pavements are spotlessly clean - not a cigarette butt in sight. Then I realise that there are 'no smoking' signs along the actual streets and smoking areas with ashtrays at street corners. The few people who are smoking as they walk are carrying portable ashtrays.

Yes it's true that Japanese schoolgirls wear ridiculously short mini-skirts. And yes it's true that you can buy almost anything from a myriad of vending machines. It also seems to be true that Japanese females wear shoes at least 2 sizes too big for them, making it very difficult for them to walk and almost impossible to run as they drag their hanging-off-footwear after them. I can only presume this is some sort of weird fashion statement?



Then the subway to Roppongi. Tokyo is vast and sprawling, which you start to understand when you realise you can spend 40 minutes on a subway and still exit somewhere as central as when you went in. First to the new Ritz-Carlton hotel to check out the venue Tessa will be playing in all Summer. We sneaked past a 'residents only' sign and had a couple of drinks in the gorgeous 45th floor lounge, taking sneaky photos to show T. That'll be a nice gig. Then to a bar Bryan had mentioned to us the previous evening - 'Geronimo's'. It's extraordinary how bars here can be up in a tiny elevator to the second floor, like you're going to someone's apartment, with no clue whatsoever on the outside as to where the place is. The bar was full of English-speaking residents and within the hour we were all MySpace friends because they're musicians really. It's a shot bar so we left before we were forced to buy the whole bar a round and donate a tie of the TH's to the trader's 'wall of ties'.......

The last train to Narita.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

NARITA

Narita airport is something between 60 and 90km from downtown Tokyo, depending which guide book you're reading, but either way it's a very long train journey or apparently 300 dollars in a cab. So, as we only expected to be here for one night, we're staying at the Narita Hilton, near the airport.

In the bar yesterday evening, I had my first lesson in Japanese culture. The waiters first bowing, then crouching down below my eye-level to talk to me or serve my drink. The seats are pretty low anyway, so this is some big crouch thing going on. I wonder how I could ever strike up any kind of meaningful conversation or relationship with a bartender under these circumstances (which disturbs me.) On top of which, I am feeling for their knees.....

Then this morning I had to become familiar with the ritual at the swimming pool. First there's the bowing, then establishing that I want to swim when the receptionist understands no English, so a bit of swimming miming followed by some more bowing. Then I get a locker key in exchange for my room key and a bow, then some form filling in exchange for some towels and some bowing. Wow. I'd pretty much had a workout by the time I got to the entrance. Then you have to take your shoes off and swap them for some slippers to walk to the changing room, where you take them off again (?) and put them in the slipper basket. Then before getting into the pool you have to walk through a series of about 3 showers and paddling pools until you're really really clean. And only then can you go swimming, but only if you're wearing compulsory swimming cap and goggles. I have to say though, it's all worth it. This is the best pool ever in a hotel, and possibly the best pool ever. Period.

To Narita City. Disguised as a village. Narita is a quaint little place, with two very contrasting main purposes - the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple complex, and the fact that it's an airport City. The former wins out, so despite the fact that hundreds of airline crew are passing through each week, there are still only a couple of English speaking bars and the more traditional shops, restaurants and drinking places are much more predominant. We got incredibly stared at of course. (Not only is there an Afro-Caribbean person in town, but he's with a white person in strange clothes. And they're both really really tall.)



The traditional food was freaking me out. Old men were cooking what looked like large long caterpillars in the front of tiny dark restaurants. Big maggoty things were swimming in buckets before being fried. I was particularly alarmed by all this on account of the fact that our holiday insurance ran out today. The TH was up for it, but I stuck with the only food in the whole City that I recognised.



The Naritasan Shinshoji Temple area is huge and impressive and consists of many different buildings all having a different purpose. This one for instance - the Issai-Kyouzou (House of all Sutras), houses a complete set of the Buddhist scriptures.







Feeling suitably karmic after a long walk around the temples, we headed for the English speaking bar - the Barge Inn. Here we met the wonderful, witty and sharp bartender Bryan. All karmic feelings went swiftly out of the window when the freight pilots came in. A true boys club. After a couple of pints the conversation turned to women and one of them stated pointedly in my direction 'It's our fault - we should never have given women the vote'. Bryan leapt in with a 'Come on guys, there's a lady present', so Mr Pilot added 'no offence - we're simple creatures - all we need from women is a bit of rubby-rubby and a cold beer'.

Eeewwww. Nice guys. Not. Haha. After a couple more happy hour drinks and moans about their ex (quel surpris) wives, they left (as Bryan had predicted - apparently freight pilots don't like to pay full price), and we had a good long chat with B about how to get to Tokyo the following day and what to do there....

HOTEL LOO

It strikes me that this loo would be an excellent management training tool to demonstrate the importance of attention to detail. You really don't want to be sitting on it until you've read the small print and located the 'stop' button. Believe me.
(Although one has to wonder why 'splashing the lid with water' might cause 'fire or trouble' ?)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

LOST IN TRANSLATION

Very conscious that we didn't spend long enough in Sydney to experience it properly. On Tuesday morning Easter was over, the sun came out and the City felt like a different place entirely. In the meantime, we managed a road trip to the Blue Mountains (which aren't blue, incidentally), and lunch at a gorgeous secret Italian place - Sopra (shhhhhhh), with Tessa's wonderful friends Nick and Jules. Tessa is much better connected in Australia than the internet is, and that's a fact.

Horrible day of travel to Tokyo via practically every other city we hadn't visited in Australia, and seemingly the world. The plane kept errrr ....landing, rather than actually flying. So we went via Brisbane, Cairns, Ramsay Street, Coronation Street etc etc. On top of which we'd been given the exit seats on the plane (as like a 'favour' for our extensive travel status and because the TH is tall,) and found out on boarding that said exit seats were in fact worse than normal seats on account of the great-wall-of-china-bulkhead situated about 4 inches in front of them. So on-off on-off on-off the same plane all day long to the same rubbish seats, learning three times the same way to open the same exit door, till it got to the point that when a new crew got onboard at Cairns I was so grumpy that I greeted them with an unamused 'welcome onboard'. Of course that really helped endear me to them for the longest leg of the journey. Not.

12 miserable hours later - Tokyo. Wow. I have never been to a country before where I don't understand a single word of the language, and what's more, nobody seems to understand any English either. I have never been to an airport before where there is no sign of a cashpoint machine or a taxi, just hundreds of buses with Kanji symbols on them.
We got to the hotel. (Somehow.) And in front of us a group of Japanese businessmen are checking in, greeting each other with an extraordinary and extensive head- nodding ritual. This goes on for so long I feel I must be in an episode of Fawlty Towers.

And then I see the hotel pool. Oh my God! A 4-lane 25 metre empty swimming pool. We can't possibly stay in Tokyo for just one night then leave........how silly would that be?!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

HARBOURING DOUBTS

The TH insists that this is a holiday not a moving recce, but just for the record, I think I could probably live in Melbourne. The architecture is beautiful, the natives are friendly, the toilet paper is scented and the whole place is a manageable size, seemingly without the danger of boredom. Oh and they have the most random signs I have ever seen, which is always a plus in a City.



And so to Sydney.
By the time we'd had lunch, booked a guided tour of the opera house and the TH had satisfied his boyish urge to ride on a very fast thunderjet boat for half an hour, we had only been in town for a couple of hours and had said goodbye to over 150 quid. This was clearly going to be unsustainable over 5 days....

The (26 dollar) opera house tour only consisted of the largest auditorium, the foyer and a recently redeveloped room used for functions, which looked like an incomplete loft conversion. There was apparently another tour which takes you backstage, so I went to the information desk to investigate.
'It's at 7am each day and costs 140 dollars.'
'You what?!!!'
They must be having a laugh! 140 dollars to see a few dressing rooms and an orchestral warm-up area, when I used to take backstage tours of the Festival Hall for one pound!! (That's 2.4015 dollars to you, Mr Information Desk.) Hell, you can probably buy a named seat for 140 dollars at the RFH! I think, under the circumstances, I can probably manage to live without seeing another dressing room.

I guess on the upside for the opera house, with the number of tours which were pouring in and out and crashing into each other just in the short time we were there, I think they'll probably have raised their 1 billion dollars for refurbishment by the end of next week.

By the time we got out of there, I was 'outraged of 10010', and kept muttering '140 dollars!' incredulously. And it was raining. A lot. On top of which I was starting to worry that since being in Sydney I'd not heard the phrase 'no worries'. Not even once...



We decided to splash out and buy an umbrella with the remains of the kids inheritance. Luckily for the kids, we've got no kids. We then spent the rest of the day wandering around a selection of very similar-looking bays in search of a place where we could afford a coffee.
Julian Joseph used to have an excellent phrase for times like this, 'I'm not feeling it'. And I definitely wasn't 'feeling' Sydney that day.

Last night to Rose Bay to visit friends of T's, who'd kindly invited us round for drinks. There things definitely started to look up. Shona and Chris are totally adorable people, and drinks turned into much gorgeous wine and Thai food whilst sitting on their picuresque candlelit balcony with their lovely friends, bats, and a huge spider for company. Much entertaining conversation above the torrential rain. Lots of fun.....

This morning the TH was that person being breathalised at 8am before being allowed to do the (189 dollar) Sydney Bridge climb. He was also that person who was failing his breathaliser test at 8am. His second test was borderline, so he was allowed to do the climb, which is just as well, or we wouldn't now have an excellent 60 dollar photograph of him doing a Mexican wave 134 metres above some outrageously expensive restaurants.

Not that this City is making us totally bankrupt or anything, but tomorrow we are hiring a car and driving somewhere else, because we figured it would be cheaper to eat that way. Or we might just eat the car.

This blog was brought to you by 'rooms online broadband' (24 dollars 99 cents).

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

URBAN WORRIES



Melbourne since Friday. Freo was relaxing and lovely, but ah the relief to be back amongst skyscrapers, neon and ambiguous graffiti.
The holiday has turned into a series of babies and meals. On Sunday to visit the lovely Anna and Laurence and their (on this trip compulsory) cute children. Had lunch and dinner with them and much catching-up time - I've only seen Anna once in the last 14 years, since she left London, so the who's who of our lives since then took care of the best part of the day.



I ended up putting the second Australian under 2-yr-old in 3 days to bed (the adorable Max), and realised I was becoming horrifyingly familiar with the routine, not to mention the Wiggles (don't ask) and Elmo.

Yesterday for lunch with Lynette, who we'd met in NY last year, then dinner with Andre et famille at his gorgeous family home in Brighton beach. Andre has a 6 month old, so my super-nanny skills are getting more impressive by the day. Baby wipes are now a permanent feature in my handbag.

Meal of the holiday (and possibly the year) award goes to the Flower Drum, where we had lunch today. I have no idea how we got in, as there's supposed to be a waiting list of at least 6 weeks and folks such as Madonna dine there. Not only did we get in but we were sat a fair way from the door, where apparently they put the celebs. I can only pesume that the TH was mistaken for Frank Bruno again. Stuff happens, and sometimes good stuff. Entirely perfect food and service.

You will gather from this that I am veritably eating and drinking my way through Australia state by state and am therefore becoming HUGE. There's only one solution as I see it - to burn the extra 4,000 calories per day that I'm consuming, I'll have to become a wet nurse and start breast feeding too......

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

GODSON



The lovely Gabriel of Perth.
I would travel half way round the world to meet this little man. Oh wait....I did!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

NO WORRIES?

Western Australian people are some of the loveliest, most helpful and friendly people I have ever met. Nothing is too much trouble. This is in part due to the extremely laid-back Australian lifestyle, which can be summed up in two very common phrases, used in response to almost anything - 'no worries' and 'no drama'.
Personally I have quite a lot of worries. No internet being one of them. K still has dial- up (?), which is about as useful as giving me a pen and writing paper with which to communicate. Then there is the heat (on average 35 degrees, which means I have a suntan! Nah, just kidding - I'm RED), crawling wildlife (gardens containing poisonous redback spiders and snakes), and flying wildlife (32 mosquito bites and counting).

The TH has taken to all this like a kangaroo to the outback and has been whizzing around barefoot and bare-chested in a whole series of borrowed cars (people are so generous here they lend their cars more readily than New Yorkers would give their best mate a cigarette ). So last week he borrowed a 4-wheel drive Nissan Patrol affair (which looked like it had had a long career as a getaway car in B movies), and we ventured into the outback for 3 days, driving south to Margaret River. Our truck had no air-conditioning (unless you count the passenger door, which was hanging off one hinge), the windscreen wipers didn't work and the spare wheel kept falling off the back. But no worries, because the population is something like one person per 1000 sq miles here, so we saw absolutely nobody for something like 150 kilometres of sparse cacti-covered dustbowl. That is until we stumbled upon a roadside cafe called, aptly, ' The Centre of the Universe'. There was a family sitting silently inside, eating (each other probably), and they all trooped out one by one to take a look at the TH, as clearly they'd never seen anything quite like him before. We got out of there pretty quick. No drama.



By the time we reached Yallingup, I'd forgotten which phobia I was most worried about, having passed through agoraphobia, arachnophobia, thermophobia, ophidiophobia, molysmophobia, levophobia, insectophobia and hodophobia.
No worries. Much.

Something about this area reminds me of California, and more specifically LA. Life would be totally impossible without a car (and this applies to every bit of Australia I've seen yet). There's one main road surrounded by trees and bush with only dirt tracks leading to anything resembling civilisation. The agoraphobia kicked in big time here (all accomodation being called a 'retreat'), so having retreated quite enough already for one week, I insisted we moved on to Margaret River, which at least resembled a village. There we found an apartment (thanks to ultra friendly helpful receptionist at the full hotel) with a real live television and a road with vague traffic sounds nearby. Next day on a Margaret River winery tour. Four vinyards, a cheese farm and chocolate factory later and I'm feeling a little more grounded. To Lake Cave and Mammoth Cave before the long drive back to Fremantle (where K lives), stopping on the way at Busselton to check out the underwater observatory. NOW we're talking. A couple of kilometres walk out to sea on a narrow piece of board in gale force winds (with railings on one side only) to get to the observatory (I'd love to see this pass a Lambeth health and safety test....) The observatory takes you 8 metres underwater to observe whatever sea life happens to be around at the time. No sharks unfortunately, but nevertheless totally brilliant.



There seems to be a readily available rent-a-crowd of the loveliest people in Freo and K did a fantastic job of creating a gorgeous 40th birthday party barbecue for the TH. I hate to stereotype, but in our first four days in Australia we'd been to four barbecues. Just sayin'.....

The quality of life here is amazing it has to be said. There are stars in the sky every night like you'd only normally see far out to sea, and the bird calls from the garden in the morning are those you'd only hear in a zoo back home. But in the centre of Perth on Friday night, was there a jazz gig to be found? Errrrr no. As the next nearest City is Adelaide, a mere 2500 kilometres away, I don't see a busman's holiday happening anytime soon, nor an emigration......

Monday, March 19, 2007

WIFE SWAP

So there's this girl who lives in a high rise in Manhattan. She loves very cold weather and hates the sun, wears black all the time and spends the majority of her spare time on the internet or hanging out drinking in jazz clubs after dark.
In this week's episode, after 3 days spent on planes with very little sleep, she arrives on the edge of the outback where her black clothes are taken from her, she's put in a colourful sarong and bare feet, and dumped on a beach with no shade in 35 degrees.
Her disorientation further increases when she is taken to the house where she is to stay for the next 10 days and there is no alcohol, no air conditioning, no wifi and no broadband connection. Furthermore there is a baby she has no idea how to look after, and no jazz club for miles.
Will she survive? To be continued.........

Thursday, March 15, 2007

CONTINENTAL DRIFT

I know, I know - I never write, I never call.....checking in to every which-where-airport-and-place but this blog. So a quick debrief.

Currently sitting in Hong Kong airport (and it's pretty cruisy up top here in the lounge I can tell you...) Other than that, it's exactly like being at home. Any of my homes. The TH and I are sitting opposite each other behind computers and I can see a 'Tie Rack' through the window. This seems to be a fitting situation in which to use the Catster's current favourite word 'Meh!'' But I'm only guessing and it's entirely possible I might have this whole new-cult-word-thing all wrong.....

London for a week. Just lovely to spend quality time with my family of very missed friends, to regularly and randomly crash into old acquaintances in the street, have people laugh at my jokes (because they..errr...get them), and drink at second-home bars where the staff know me and don't need telling 'no fruit' in the gin. Stayed with my lovely tenants/friends who were paradoxically paying me rent whilst putting me up for a few days in my own apartment. (Errrr....you what?! I said they were lovely!)

Took care of lots of UK business with banks, moonlighting Poles (who of course only work by moonlight), phone & insurance companies and freeholders etc. Lovely day with L and Catster and very positive meeting with I in Brighton re. possible work in New York, (also, as always, checked on the Brighton hut - a whole other story, for another time).

Moved to H's wondrous Old St loft for the last few days, ate & drank way too much, revised my babysitting skills (on hitherto complete strangers), explored L's fabulous and long-awaited new gaff, and played about 950 games of Skip-Bo. On Wednesday H's wifi connection went down and the boiler broke. Bah. Lofts huh! So we thought 'F***k this, let's go to another continent!'
Just kiddin'.
Although not about the continent bit, clearly.

Next up - Godson, TH's 40th birthday, our very postponed honeymoon. Tomorrow in Perth.
The 12 hour journey to Hong Kong (I think the first time I've slept on a plane ever), was an upgrade to business class, thanks to dear friend Brian, who got in touch with the lovely J, (who I've not seen for a while, but used to work with at the RFH years ago - when the RFH was veritably swimming in such adorable people - and now works at Heathrow). Thank you a million times J, if you're reading this! J is clearly going under the pseudonym of 'Eddy' these days, as every favour we received in the airport (and there were many), was given to us with a wink and a 'from Eddy'. So I'm presuming that all this loveliness was from J.....
If, instead, it was randomly given by a stranger called Eddy, then that would be very weird.
Very weird indeed.

So. I have no idea what time of day or night it is here (or in NY.) I think it is breakfast time in London, but I am sipping a large g&t just to be on the safe side.
You are, I am sure, gathering from all of this that life could be very much worse.....but to put it in realistic terms that H will definitely understand - it doubtless will be, at some point.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

THE OSCARS

Have clearly cracked this city finally, because last Sunday we found ourselves invited to not one, but two Oscars parties.
On Friday it occurred to me that I hadn't yet seen any of the movies that had been nominated. And I mean any. So I spent the next 48 hours in cinemas, clocking up six movies. By Saturday night I had haemorrhoids and was apparently talking about makeup artists in my sleep.
On Sunday I showered and ate to film soundtracks and spent the remainder of the day revising documentary and animated shorts.
The Tactile Helpdesk pointed out dryly that if I were even half as competitive in my career as I am when it comes to TV programmes, then I'd probably be very rich by now. As I see it, most of my earnings so far this year have come from betting on the outcome of TV programmes, so it practically IS my career..... and anyway, there was to be a 5 dollar winner-takes-all ballot at the party......

T's friends, B and I, are totally adorable people - welcoming, friendly, relaxed, witty. And as for their beautiful Upper West Side apartment. Let's just say a pianist was playing Oscar-winning film soundtracks on a (grand) piano in (one) of the living rooms. There were (real) Dali's on the wall. (Plural).
Gorgeous food, lovely guests.

A whole room was set aside for the ballot and I spent at least as much time on the ballot paper as I did on my German O' level back in 1979. So long in fact, that when I finally emerged, I was asked for a second 5 dollars because another ice-age had begun outside and everyone had forgotten that, back in 2007 when I entered the room, I'd paid already. (Next time they need an invigilator.) Then obviously I had to copy down my ballot form answers into my little black book, because I needed to remember who I'd voted for so as I could cheer. Unfortunately the host read this as me not trusting her to mark the papers correctly, which hadn't even occurred to me.
At least until she mentioned it.......

As I was defending my little black book actions, the TH shot me the first of many 'stop taking this so seriously' looks. I glared back with a 'you're on your third drink already and everyone else is drinking water' look. That's the lovely thing about being married - after a year or two most necessary communication can be achieved with an alarmingly small number of all too familiar facial expressions.

T and I blagged some precious TV room sofa seats and got stuck into serious red carpet dress-bitching with all the guys who had been hooked on the TV since entering the party and seemed to know all the costume designers personally .....

By the time Ellen started to do her thing (and how cool was SHE!), the TV room was filling up and I was starting to get that anxious sitting-on-the-subway-should-give-up-seat-to-someone-more-needy feeling. I kept glancing behind to see if there were any signs to that effect, but no.... just beautiful sculptures.
Finally my morality (read 'guilt') got the upper hand and I had to let the 8-month pregnant woman and one-legged 95 yr old man take my seat. (Okay not quite that needy, but I had been sitting for at least an hour.)

The TH had decided that the kitchen was where it was at. It was where the alcohol was at too. Weird that. I stopped by for a drink and a chat then probably appeared very rude to the host by running out mid-sentence to check my score. Several things became apparent as the evening progressed - nobody at this party was drinking even remotely as much as the Brits - ie. T, myself and the TH. In fact the majority appeared to be not drinking at all. Hmmmm.....?
Nobody at the party was taking their score quite as seriously as I was, as evidenced by my panic when some near-end scores came in and I knew I had 12, which would have put me in second place, but was told I had 11. The TH gave me a third or fourth 'warning look' at that point, although by then his looks were getting a little less focused, so he might equally have been looking at the rather amazing Victorian brass hand collection.

I knew I'd not won when the best movie came in. I'd wanted 'Little Miss Sunshine' to win (which, incidentally, you absolutely MUST see,) but I figured it wouldn't win, so I'd gone for 'Babel' instead, on account of it being big and profound and traumatic. Wrong....

I'd added up my score as 14. The winner had 15. She went home with the money. Then someone else got a second prize for 14. Errrrr......?
The TH was practically trying to drag me out by this point, but I was adamant. 'Re-count!' I demanded. Nobody was paying any attention, which was just as well. It was late and everyone had to be up at 6 or something, so the place emptied quickly, leaving only the TH (incapable of counting anything), myself (demanding a re-count) and a not exactly sober T (doing the re-counting.) Here you see the basis of the vast cultural difference between Americans and Brits. If this had been a party in Herne Hill on a Sunday evening, there would already have been at least one divorce, a fire, and someone sleeping in or at least on the washing machine. Nobody would have gone home yet, and most people wouldn't have been able to remember where home was. Sometimes it's kind of embarrassing being British in New York.

Anyway, following T's re-count, it transpired that I had definitely come joint second, so she insisted that I also got a second prize, which was a packet of customized M&M's with the hosts names printed on them. I really didn't mind whether I got a prize or not by this point - it was merely a matter of pride, but this prize worried me slightly (despite the fact that I am a total M&M's addict). It seems sort of weird to eat M&M's with people's names on, like a bad omen thing. I decided we could only use them as 'emergency' chocolate. And because I'd had drinks, many drinks, something made my outside voice go through all the possible emergencies which could result in me eating these M&M's - divorce, death,......

We got out. Even the TH had sobered enough to push me out of the door mid this-particular-monologue. All in all a rather wonderful evening at the home of some truly gorgeous people. And I do hope our behaviour wasn't too shameful.......but I'm not betting on it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

MAY CAUSE DROWSINESS

It's that time of the year again. American Idol predictions.
I apologise.
I'm not feeling as confident as I did last year. The standard is much higher in general, and I didn't get that immediate 'he/she's going to win' feeling that I felt last year on first hearing Taylor Hicks.
I'm therefore rooting for the most honest vocalists. The ones to whom delivering the song was more important than delivering an image of themselves singing it. The ones who were not a step or more removed from their performances. The ones who sang with the most sincerity and the least self-consciousness. In short, those with the most natural musical talent, aside from their voices, looks, image etc.
Shark's winning predictions are therefore Phil Stacey or Lakisha Jones.

Friday, February 16, 2007

VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE



Guess what! More upside down nakedness!
The theme of random unsavoury lack of clothes continues this week. Our Valentine's night outing was initially looking all set to be nudity-free, which clearly one would expect from a Kurt Elling gig at the Blue Note (totally amazing of course). I was feeling all loved-up, until the TH insisted on a detour on the way home and dragged me into a seedy club called (I think, imaginatively) 'Love'. I very much agree with the Groucho Marx sentiment of refusing to join any club that would have me as a member, particularly a night club in New York on Valentine's night, without the aid of a Marquis to see me through the velvet ropes. There were no velvet ropes (never a promising sign, much as I hate them) and the doormen were throwing us in, not out. In fact it was a whole lot easier to get into this club than to log on to blogger these days. There was of course a reason for this - the place was full of (but far from full) sad single crazies and geeks out on the pull, dressed in practically nothing, displaying body parts best left unseen and demonstrating all manner of quirky non-rhythmic dance movements, which left no further need for an explanation as to why they were on their own. There were also a handful of extremely young people, young enough to be my children, or possibly my grandchildren. Since we were there and there was no queue at the bar it seemed rude not to try out their house gin, which I'm fairly sure was called 'Crap', which sounds unlikely, although made sense. (Whatever it was called, it was definitely responsible for the mysterious disappearance of February 15th.) Sometimes the 5 year age gap between myself and the TH seems like about 25 years, because I think he was actually having fun...? I was not. However, I definitely got my own back by taking advantage of the practically empty dance floor (what were those DJ's doing?) to run through the entire repertoire of my sister's contemporary dance career. By the time I had got to a piece called 'The Wrecking Yard' the TH was more than ready to leave.......

Tonight I am going to a party in a church in honour of the Reverend's parents. I await with interest to see if the nudity theme of the week is going to continue to play itself out.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

FAIRY TALE

I woke this morning to the sound of fairies dancing on the air-conditioner outside the window, their footsteps like tiny wind-chimes.
Finally it is snowing.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

BUM 'N' BASS

So there's been lots going on of course. It's just that I've somehow lost the ability to log it all. I mean Steve and Lo came back to stay for another week, which was loads of fun, oh and we're heading for bankruptcy on account of the TH's housing allowance mysteriously CEASING ALTOGETHER! But really, all that pales into insignificance in the light of tonight's gig.
I am a serious Me'shell Ndegeocello fan, but the TH is even more so. So his valentine treat from me was tonight's gig at Joe's Pub. Totally sold out of course, huge anticipation vibe, the place rocking out to DJ Beverley Bond's hardcore funk intro. Then Me'shell comes on with a SERIOUSLY AMAZING band. But during the first number a half-dressed woman(?)appears in the very tenuous 'gangway' doing a dubious 'erotic' dance, flinging a feather boa in everyone's face. Uh? I am thinking maybe this is a quirk, like from the audience. The place is full of them after all - the guy sitting next to me is swaying to the music so alarmingly that if I don't sway along with him I'll get knocked out. I'm a little distracted, but she disappears, so all is good, that is until she re-appears on the stage......
She then proceeds to dance around Me'shell, sucking on random mics and licking any musician bodily part which presented itself, before taking off her top. This is so incongruous with what we all expect from a Me'shell gig that the audience is somewhat.... errrrr...gobsmacked? Call me old-fashioned, but believe me it's really really hard to appreciate a Robert Glasper or Jason Lindner solo when there is a practically naked woman doing a headstand in your lap with her feet on your shoulders, which is exactly what happened to me a couple of numbers later.....
(And no, 'could you get off me please, I'm trying to watch the gig' wouldn't have worked under the circumstances/position.)



At one point there was a bra hanging on Me'shell's mic (naturally), and the sound guy needed to change the mic. He proceeded to do this, then carefully replaced the bra on the new mic.....a pure comedy moment. I have no idea what was happening at that gig tonight. The band were awesome and groovesome - I mean you can't fault Charles Haynes, Oren Bloedow, Mark Kelley, Brandon Ross etc - they're amazing musicians, but this was like a Burlesque show. Me'shell I think (?) sensed the audience confusion - 'I'm just trying out some things that are going on in my head'.....errrrrrr okaaaaaay...... ? It's absolutely bizarre to me that she should feel that anything else is necessary apart from her music. She is a genius bass-player, vocalist, composer. Why on earth does she need anyone or anything to distract from this that we all came to see and hear?
Hey whatever. We all do what we have to do, but the lack of demand for an encore after what was a stunning night of music kind of said it all.....

Monday, February 05, 2007





Wednesday, January 31, 2007



One of the reasons for my lack of blogging lately is discovering Stumbleupon. (Thanks O. Not).
Join at your own risk, and if you had a life then wave goodbye to it.
Sooner or later I will stumble upon my own blog and then you may get another entry...

Monday, January 15, 2007

IAJE

Four days of extreme noise terror sitting on the JSL stand next to 60 or so music shops all demonstrating their instruments. Lovely. Then there was the scale of the light show on the neighbouring stand, which I hold solely responsible for this year's inevitable iceberg breakup and for me now appearing to have a tan. Also no voice - hoarse from shouting above the din to answer the endlessly repeated question 'what does jazz services do?'

Hours of hanging in the bar, catching up with lovely friends, musicians and promoters from London, NY and elsewhere, ducking, diving and collecting the flying business cards. Free-drink-friendly with the hotel bartender by Friday - fortuitous, as a glass of wine cost 13 dollars. Offered 4 jobs. Granted it was 4am and everyone was drunk, but at least two still seemed fairly promising at dawn. Tired and emotional took on new meaning as the sad news spread of the deaths of Michael Brecker and Alice Coltrane on Saturday.

Profound and moving acceptance speeches from all this year's NEA Jazz Master's Award winners. Phil Woods a born comedian. The Clayton Brothers Quintet performing, masters of stop-time, and that thing Americans do so well - jazz families. John's son Gerald Clayton on piano, only 22 - but a seriously talented player. Then Nancy Wilson - totally ageless onstage, extraordinary charisma and an amazing voice, which swoops and laughs and cries in the style of her mentor Jimmy Scott, who watched from the audience.

Last day. We pack up the stand and head to the ‘Europe’ reception. Walking with the lovely folks from Dune Records, stopping every few feet to chat to people on the way, it’s very slow progress. 7.30pm and alcohol has yet to pass our lips. Abram - ‘Do you want me to introduce you to Russell Malone?' Hmmmm. Russell Malone. Glass of wine. Russell Malone. Glass of wine. J and I – ‘errr no it’s okay thanks – some other time….’

Final gig at 1am - Avishai Cohen Trio. Have seen this band so many times. Have loved their music perhaps more than any other music over the last couple of years. But this gig was the ONE. The massive ballroom full, anticipation high. But nothing of the last 4 days had prepared anyone for the electric tension of these three world class musicians, communicating in so rare and magical a way that there was surely a sixth sense at work. Hundreds on the edges of seats with excitement. Everyone transfixed in the same moment. And somehow time, though pounding by as Avishai drummed the body and soul of his bass, was standing still. No industry conference cynicism here - the audience in a standing ovation frenzy. The trio. Mark Guiliana (of my previous Heernt ravings) definitely my favourite drummer in the world - always surprising, switching from style to style with ease and an inspired bravery, creating whole new styles on the way. And pianist Shai Maestro. A huge discovery. It's nothing short of ridiculous that someone only 19 years old can play with such assurity, creativity and wisdom. And therein lies the mystery of this music, which keeps us all locked in.

3am and the doormen at the Hilton are doing birdsong impressions to while away the hours, delighting in the confused faces of weary guests as they peer into the concrete darkness for signs of an aviary. On the corner of 53rd the ever present long line at a small roadside stall, as people wait in the rain for the chicken and rice we have all partaken of at some point during the week.

Back at home gorgeous vegetarian food awaits me as it has every night this week. The lovely Stevie has been staying, and L from Montreal. They cook. Loving these guests (and not just because they cook), and wishing I'd had a chance to see more of them.....