Christmas Day in Hangzhou.

Oh, hang on! I omitted an important element from my blow-by-blow description of last Saturday (see below). After dinner in the Jingle Bells Water Torture restaurant, J and I wandered round the corner and found a bustling little night market – complete with a lengthy strip of street stalls selling all manner of interesting looking hot food, which ran the full gamut from mouth-watering to deeply disturbing. Vows were made to return for the full experience; when this eventually happens, I’ll write it up.

Christmas Day, then.

Opened K’s presents: a lovely Paul Smith tie, and – as tradition dictates – four shortlisted CDs from the forthcoming Radio 3 World Music Awards, only one of which I had heard of before. Felt a sudden lurch of intense homesickness. Resolved not to give into it.

Left J still asleep at 14:00, and caught the 81 bus back to the north shore of the lake, alighting a mile or so earlier this time. Beautiful warm sunny day, in stark contrast to the freezing cold week; within 30 minutes, I was down to shirtsleeves.

Crossed a bridge over to a large island, and walked along its shore, past brides and grooms posing for photos in the most delightfully cheesy manner: the grooms in white tuxes, gallantly kissing the outstretched hands of their Proper Little Princess brides. In front of them, photographers’ assistants crouched on the ground with reflective panels, shining light back onto the bridal veils in order to create translucent “dappled” effects.

Continued walking… past scores of small boats, offering rides around the lake for fairly paltry sums… and onto a long causeway, packed with Sunday afternoon strollers. Smartly dressed urban types; hicks from up country, standing out a mile in their ill-fitting “Sunday best”; and hundreds of pairs of slightly shy young lovers, the boyfriends forever snapping their girlfriends in the full approved range of stock pouts and poses.

Ended up near the massive Hyatt Hotel on the east shore, in the heart of the downtown district, where I merged into the crowd in front of The Most Massive And Gobsmacking Fountain Ever. Actually, “fountain” doesn’t do it justice – this was more of a kinetic water sculpture, with hundreds of jets spurting out, in constantly varying heights, in synchronisation to an amplified soundtrack of light classics and Chinese pop ballads. Yes, it was cheesy. Yes, it was wonderful.

Back to the flat, where J is still in bed after fourteen hours. Wake him up, so that we can get ourselves down to The Shamrock in time for Christmas dinner at 18:00. Family phonecalls in the taxi en route.

Dinner places are laid out on long trestle tables, down the full extent of the ground floor bar area. Nine of us from the company eat together: four Brit blokes, and five Chinese girlies from P and C’s team. It’s yer Full English: soup and rolls, mulled wine, and then we all form a queue for roast turkey with all the trimmings.

Shuffling my way forward in the long queue, I experience another sudden, violent lurch downwards. Everything here is perfectly lovely – as lovely as could be expected, if not lovelier – but I badly do NOT want to be here anymore. Ach, bloody Christmas; it messes with your head. Buggered if I’m going to let it show, though. Mask on, smile fixed, I proceed to Make The Best Of The Situation.

At the end of the meal, R gets some party games going; I volunteer, and find myself trying to tear a sheet of paper into the shape of a Christmas tree, while holding the paper behind my back. Hint: fold the paper in half first. But lengthways, not widthways, as I did – thus producing a rather nice, if irrelevant, Olde English oak tree.

The Chinese girlies are getting restless, and want to move on. There’s a strong lobby for the SOS nightclub, but it’s still too early. Others – headed by a stylish young miss with a yen for crooning her party piece, Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” – want to go to a karaoke bar. Everyone looks to P the English team leader – but he’s, well, in an advanced state of lubrication. In the nicest possible way: he’s still great value, and the very soul of generosity, but possibly not best placed for strategic decision-making. As for me, I feel bad about slinking away from The Shamrock so early – but not for me to argue, best go with the flow, etc.

An increasingly bizarre, mystifying, random evening starts to unfold. Pure “Lost In Translation”, as we spill in and out of taxis, careering round the city in a mad sequence of long journeys, nobody quite certain of what’s going on, bright lights flashing past all the while, car parks, glittering lobbies, FULL signs, huddles, conferences, more taxi rides, bright lights, car parks, snow machines covering us in detergent foam, cash desks, money crises, mad taxi dashes to cashpoint machines, shoving coats in black plastic sacks…

…and somehow, an hour and a half later, we’re inside the SOS club, being handed plastic bags by an army of Santas, each bag containing a teeny-tiny orange “ringer tee”, as they call them over the pond, and Yet Another F***ing Santa Hat Yeah Thanks For Nothing You Must Be F***ing Kidding Pal.

The SOS is large, and glossy, and bewildering, and ruinously expensive, and uncomfortable in an angular way, and full of the haughty young rich, a-preening and a-posing in The Place To Be. The intention is possibly to re-create an Ibiza superclub, such as Pacha or Privilege. It’s sort-of successful; I hated those clubs ten years ago, and I hate this club now.

We try to sit at a table, but are informed that it will cost us 800 (around 55 quid, astronomic by Chinese prices) for the privilege. Bloody cheek. We’ll stand on the stairs in the main room instead, necking Bud Ices and enduring the crap R&B.

A couple of the girlies look completely fed up by now; heads bowed, coats on one arm, goodie bags in the other. A couple of the others are still making the best of the situation, bopping around with P the English team leader. It’s a sweet dynamic; he’s genially trashed, and they’re almost mothering him, waggling their figures, skittishly scolding, sharing the joke. P’s Angels. Ah, bless.

Suddenly, the vast projection screens behind the DJ booth dissolve, revealing an illuminated “Celebrity Squares” grid behind. The grid quickly fills with rather sulky girl and boy go-go dancers, in skimpy Santa costumes, disconsolately gyrating to the strains of – I kid you not – a gangsta rap version of “Jingle Bells”. Oooo-KAY. I text K: “You’re not going to believe this, but…”

Time passes. The room fills up. The music switches to chunky, bouncy techno. Ooh, much more like it. We can work with this. Now we’re all bopping on the steps, throwing shapes, laughing away. Every now and again, a curveball is thrown into the mix: a banging choon dissolves into a romantic karaoke ballad, then lurches back into the same chugging riff as before. The sound system is superb, the lasers are wild. We leave the club just as the overhead gymnastic display commences.

I’ve not experienced a single downwards lurch since.

Troubled Diva’s Favourite Albums Of 2005.

As with the singles, I’ve awarded my #1 slot to the album which has given me (and K) the most enjoyment in 2005 – and their live show is dynamite as well. In fact, the only gig I saw this year which surpassed Amadou & Mariam was the artist at #2, the incomparable Rufus Wainwright. Madonna damn nearly swung it this year, but I’ve decided to value songcraft and musicianship above impact and spectacle. Wow, must be growing up at last…

1 Dimanche à Bamako – Amadou & Mariam
2 Want Two – Rufus Wainwright
3 Confessions on a Dance Floor – Madonna
4 Chavez Ravine – Ry Cooder
5 I Am A Bird Now – Antony & The Johnsons
6 Tender Buttons – Broadcast
7 Coles Corner – Richard Hawley
8 Orientation – Thione Seck
9 Kongo Magni – Boubacar Traore
10 Echu Mingua – Miguel ‘Anga’ Diaz
11 Held on the Tips of Fingers – Polar Bear
12 Funeral – Arcade Fire
13 Back To Mine – (mixed by) Pet Shop Boys
14 Ruby Blue – Roisin Murphy
15 M’bemba – Salif Keita
16 ’64 – ’95 – Lemon Jelly
17 Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas – Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas
18 Illinoise – Sufjan Stevens
19 Supernature – Goldfrapp
20 Ceasefire – Emmanuel Jal & Abdel Gadir Salim
21 Some Cities – Doves
22 Stars Of CCTV – Hard-Fi
23 Introducing Daby Balde – Daby Balde
24 OK Cowboy – Vitalic
25 Plat Du Jour – Matthew Herbert
26 A Certain Trigger – Maxïmo Park
27 Cru – Seu Jorge
28 The Magic Numbers – The Magic Numbers
29 Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens – Kelley Polar
30 Feels – Animal Collective
31 How to Kill the DJ Vol.2 – (mixed by) Optimo
32 Clor – Clor
33 The Understanding – Röyksopp
34 Noah’s Ark – Cocorosie
35 Multiply – Jamie Lidell
36 In the Heart of the Moon – Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate
37 Get Behind Me Satan – White Stripes
38 Kitty Jay – Seth Lakeman
39 You Could Have It So Much Better – Franz Ferdinand
40 Come And Get It – Rachel Stevens

Delayed but played:
1 Amassakoul – Tinariwen
2 Bamba – Orchestra Baobab
3 Lagrimas Negras – Bebo & Cigala
4 The Art and Soul of the Mande Griots – Mandekalou
5 The Futureheads – The Futureheads
6 Tarefero De Mis Pagos – Chango Spasiuk
7 Kerrier District – Kerrier District
8 Legends of East Africa – Orchestra Makassy
9 The Rough Guide To Franco – Franco
10 Love Angel Music Baby – Gwen Stefani
11 Tekitoi – Rachid Taha
12 Buena Vista Social Club Presents… – Manuel ‘Guajiro’ Mirabal
13 Let It Die – Feist
14 The Living Road – Lhasa
15 Deb – Souad Massi
16 Seadrum/House Of Sun – Boredoms
17 Unclassics – (compiled by) Morgan Geist
18 Boomerang – Daara J

Troubled Diva’s Favourite Singles Of 2005.

I’m particularly struck by the concentration of material from the second quarter of the year, which – perhaps not surprisingly – more or less coincides with my spell on the Stylus Singles Jukebox. That aside, there did seem to be a sharp reduction in decent new releases towards the end of the year. Choosing a #1 was difficult, but I’ve opted for the song which I’ve consistently enjoyed the most over the last few months, and the song which I’m most likely to remember 2005 by. Finally, those of you who have known me a long time may well be gobsmacked by the appearance at #3 of an act who have always left me cold…

1 Hard To Beat – Hard-Fi
2 Side Streets – Saint Etienne
3 Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own – U2
4 I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor – Arctic Monkeys
5 Hope There’s Someone – Antony & The Johnsons
6 Negotiate With Love – Rachel Stevens
7 Oh My Gosh – Basement Jaxx
8 Signs – Snoop Dogg ft Justin Timberlake
9 Hung Up – Madonna
10 Ooh La La – Goldfrapp
11 Do You Want To – Franz Ferdinand
12 Appropriation (By Any Other Name) – The Long Blondes
13 1 Thing – Amerie
14 In My Arms – Mylo
15 Push The Button – Sugababes
16 Be Mine – Robyn
17 Only U – Ashanti
18 Stay With You – Lemon Jelly
19 Goodies – Ciara ft Petey Pablo
20 Black & White Town – Doves
21 My Friend Dario – Vitalic
22 Hounds Of Love – The Futureheads
23 So Much Love To Give – The Freeloaders ft The Real Thing
24 Giving You Up – Kylie Minogue
25 Avalon – Juliet
26 What Else Is There? – Röyksopp
27 Je Hebt Me Duizend Maal Belogen – Laura Lynn
28 Graffiti – Maxïmo Park
29 Juicebox – The Strokes
30 The One You Love – Rufus Wainwright
31 Taste The Last Girl – Sons And Daughters
32 Crazy All The Time – 33hz
33 Emily Kane – Art Brut
34 Give It – X-Press 2 ft Kurt Wagner
35 We Belong Together – Mariah Carey
36 Love’s A Game – Magic Numbers
37 You Are My Sister – Antony & The Johnsons
38 Fallen Leaves – Teenage Fanclub
39 Love And Pain – Clor
40 Love Is A Deserter – The Kills
41 22: The Death Of All The Romance – The Dears
42 Grass – Animal Collective
43 It’s A Hit – Rilo Kiley
44 Make Things Right – Lemon Jelly
45 Random – Lady Sovereign
46 Lose Control – Missy Elliott
47 Hollaback Girl – Gwen Stefani
48 It’s Like That – Mariah Carey
49 Decent Days & Nights – The Futureheads
50 Love Me Like You – Magic Numbers
51 Join Me In The Park – Nathalie Nordnes
52 Tied Up Too Tight – Hard-Fi
53 Biology – Girls Aloud
54 Don’t Cha – Tori Alamaze
55 I Said Never Again (But Here We Are) – Rachel Stevens
56 Angel Eyes – Raghav
57 Long Hot Summer – Girls Aloud
58 Number 1 – Goldfrapp
59 Harvey Nicks – The Mitchell Brothers ft Sway
60 Wait And See – Tiefschwarz ft Chikinki
61 L.i.p.s.t.i.c.k. – Ralph Myerz & The Jack Herren Band
62 Itch U Can’t Skratch – Junior Senior
63 Changes – Tahiti 80
64 Blue Orchid – White Stripes
65 It Ended On An Oily Stage – British Sea Power
66 Switch It On – Will Young
67 Crazy Chick – Charlotte Church
68 Believe – Chemical Brothers ft Kele Okereke
69 Chicken Payback – The Bees
70 Wake Me Up – Girls Aloud
71 So Good – Rachel Stevens
72 No Sleep Tonight – The Faders
73 Future – Cut Copy
74 Since U Been Gone – Kelly Clarkson
75 Love Is An Unfamiliar Name – The Duke Spirit
76 1-2-Step – Ciara ft Missy Elliott
77 Snowden – Doves
78 Lazer Beam – Super Furry Animals
79 Jacques Your Body (Make Me Sweat) – Les Rythmes Digitales
80 Move In My Direction – Bananarama

Best day yet, Part 2.

Compared to the timid week I’ve had so far, catching a Real Life Chinese Bus feels like the height of adventure. With no way of verifying that the 81 route does definitely take us to the lake, I try and plot our journey on the tiny little map from the official city guidebook. Our fellow bus travellers don’t bat an eyelid at the unusual sight of two tallish Westerners on the north-west edge of town, opting to share their transport rather than zoom around in taxis.

Westerners are rare creatures in this city – I’ve walked past no more than one or two others all week – and yet I have been pleasantly surprised by my general lack of Curiosity Value. Almost nobody stares, and – aside from one elderly woman near The Shamrock, working the same short strip with her begging bowl every night – nobody hassles us either. It’s like we’re invisible. Or perhaps people are just too polite to gawp.

After the bus has traced most of the lake’s north shore, we alight on the east side, near the main downtown area, and soon find ourselves wandering along a loose network of winding paths: sympathetically restored, neatly maintained and pleasantly landscaped. Visibility out over the water is poor – we can’t see the far side at all – but it’s good to get a glimpse of Hangzhou’s major tourist attraction at last.

We stop at one of the more reasonably priced tea shops, where rambunctious family groups are playing Mah-Jongg at the tables. Who would have thought that such a dainty parlour game could inspire so much laughter and noise? Our tea is so leaf-heavy that it takes an age to settle, and even then we’re forever extracting chunks of half-digested cud from our mouths. Hell of a kick to it, mind – an hour later, and I’m still buzzing.

J and I fall into animated conversation. We’re different in many ways – but it’s an invigorating difference, and we share a similarly skewed take on the world. This is is going to go well. J speaks a little conversational Mandarin, and starts to teach me a few basic words. But not, alas, the word for “toilet” – my “washy hands” mime causes the tea shop cleaner to convulse in hysterics the moment my back is turned.

“Tsi zwor”. OK, got that. Shan’t be forgetting in a hurry, either.

In the taxi back to the flat, our driver is yakking ten to the dozen to J, who is making all sorts of authentic sounding noises in response. Wow, impressed.

“Mike, can you start talking to me quick. This guy won’t shut up. I think he’s trying to get me a woman.”

A quick shower later, and we’re in another taxi, speeding back across town to The Shamrock. Trouble with this city: everything’s a 20 to 30 minute drive away. Nothing much to do near the flat, unless shopping malls, smart furniture shops and plush but miserable lounge-bar cafés are your bag.

We alight at The Shamrock and head for the strip of restaurants round the corner. I opt for the large place that R from The Shamrock took me to on Thursday. Like everywhere else, it has been Christmassed up to the max, with the obligatory, ubiquitous Santa hats on the heads of all the staff. This would be OK, were it not for the loud Chinese disco-pop version of “Jingle Bells” that plays on a loop, all the way through the meal. And I do mean ALL the way through the meal. Chinese water torture had nothing on this.

We’re in The Shamrock by 9pm, “just for a drink or two” as J has barely slept all weekend. However, company tradition dictates that I bring him down here, in order to “drink through” his jetlag. Just one or two, then. We pull up stools at the corner of the bar, next to R’s base of social operations. Hostess with the mostest. She’s a character and a half, that one. Love her to bits.

I’ve remembered to bring the Double Decker bar which I promised R over our introductory dinner on Thursday, “as a token of my esteem”. (I think it was at that precise moment that she decided she liked me.) She’s ecstatic; they’re her favourites, and she hasn’t had one in months. We discuss how best to savour it; R decides to eat half now, and half on Christmas Day. Spread the pleasure. Tonight’s half is consumed slowly, ceremoniously, and amidst general celebration from the increasingly lubricated throng at the bar.

The Shamrock isn’t one of those sorts of ex-pat bar. You know: the ones where jumped up petty officers of the New Asian Economy strut round like they own the place, dissing the shifty locals and their strange ways. R says that if anyone like that comes in here, she chucks them out on their f***ing ears. Instead, there’s a healthy mix of East and West, with tables of Chinese merry-makers rattling yellow plastic dice buckets all over the shop.

I keep checking back on J’s progress. Not wishing my lonely first few days in Hangzhou on anyone, I see it as my personal mission to ensure that his first few hours here are memorable ones. Yay, he’s loving it, chatting to all and sundry as The Pogues’ “Fairytale Of New York” blasts through the sound system for the umpteenth time. Tune of the trip – along with U2’s “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”, which nearly had me in tears on two occasions during the week.

Bloody hell, it’s 2 o’clock in the frigging morning. How the hell did that happen? God knows how many litre jars of Carlsberg I’ve knocked back, but I’m still just the right side of legless. Farewells all round – see you all back here tomorrow for Christmas dinner, OK? – and it’s taxi, crash in front of fifty-channels-of-crap Chinese telly, bed, oblivion.

Best day yet. The Hangzhou experience starts here, folks.

(The latter part of this post was bashed out under the influence of the trippy Korean twigs from the restaurant near the office, about an hour and a half ago. Well, how were we supposed to know that they were trippy? Or indeed twigs? They looked harmless enough on the laminated picture menu. You can end up with anything in this place. It’s part of its charm.)

Best day yet, Part 1.

How strange that, even in the absence of any public holidays, I should still be experiencing something of that characteristic bloated lethargy which descends in the immediate aftermath of Christmas. It must be an automatic seasonal response, which has been hard-wired into my system. Still, let’s rewind and recap the last few days, here in sunny/smoggy Hangzhou (delete as appropriate).

Saturday morning saw me back in the office, interviewing a candidate who had come over from Shanghai especially to see me. A personable young chap, who gave me my favourite answer to date.

Me: Could you tell me about your outside interests?

Him: Yes! I like watching movies – English movies. I watch between seven and ten English movies a week!

Me: What kind of movies do you like best?

Him: I like Hugh Grant… Nicholas Cage… and Brad Pitt. Because they are all very handsome! And very good!

At which point he flashed me his biggest and brightest smile, while I tried not to flush too violent a shade of puce. My God, am I that obvious?

This is what we call “taking a calculated risk”.

Bouncing out of the office an hour later, still with a smile on my face, I head over to 5th Avenue for lunch. This is a large, comfortably appointed restaurant on the same block, with an English language version of the menu, much favoured by our genial English office manager – and by JP, who bequeathed me his VIP discount card on his return to the UK.

Not that discounts are really here or there; provided our expenses don’t exceed a hundred quid a week (and believe me, you’d struggle to spend more), we can claim back all of our living costs on production of the all-important fa piao tax receipts. (Simple bills and till receipts aren’t enough; you have to make a special request for a fa piao when you pay.)

This lunchtime, 5th Avenue decide to add a soup and a simple salad to my order. Mine not to question why. I simply accept and enjoy them without further quibble. OK, so I’m charged extra for them at the end – but it’s only pennies, and I’m not about to waste my energies in attempting to dispute the bill. Especially since none of the staff speak English. It could be a rip-off – but it could just as easily be a cock-up, or even a whim. Frankly, as in so many situations over here, further speculation is fruitless. Try and seek a rational answer for all the seemingly illogical weirdnesses that beset you every day, and you may well go mad.

Does this make me think less of the Chinese? No, it doesn’t. To European eyes, the lack of so much of what we consider to be basic common sense can be baffling – to say nothing of the staggering lack of efficiency, and extraordinary levels of over-staffing.

(Sometimes it feels as if, at any given point, half of the working population is engaged in nothing more than standing around, silently waiting for something to happen. Especially in shops and restaurants. Perhaps it helps to have a richly developed inner life to fall back upon. Or then again, perhaps the opposite is preferable.)

However, there is much that the Chinese must find extraordinary about Western behaviour. The impatience; the manic drive to fill each moment of the day with purposeful activity; the emotional incontinence (*); the public drunkenness; the crime; the aggression; the cynicism; the inability to feel happy with one’s lot. So I’m not going to embark on any typically ex-pat “Ooh them crazy Chinks!” rants.

Well, maybe only occasionally.

I rush back to the flat, where my new flatmate J is expected at 14:00. He’s already there when I arrive, and a complicated pantomime ensues as both of us struggle with the tricky double locks on either side of the door. Finally, we meet. He’s spaced out with the jetlag, having had precious little sleep on the way over; I remember all too well what that feels like. However, the best solution is to keep going – and so, not much more than an hour after J’s arrival, we’re boarding the 81 bus for Hangzhou’s famous West Lake.

To be continued.

(*) Which reminds me: I’ve been told that the Chinese staff in our office receive special training in How To Deal With Stressed And Snappy Europeans Who Are Having Difficulty Settling In And Might Come Across As A Little Bit Rude. Which is a good job, considering my extended battle to get the heating in the flat sorted out last week…

Fancy a chat?

Right then. It’s Friday evening in Hangzhou, Friday afternoon in the UK, and I’ve finally – after a lengthy chain of authorisation requests which have taken all week – secured a broadband connection in the flat. As my flatmate J arrives tomorrow, this is the last time I’ll have the place to myself. So what better time – especially bearing in mind my lack of e-mail access – to have a little chat with my esteemed readership?

If you’re passing by, then please pop into the comments box and say hello.

(There’s just one snag: the comments seem to have gone down. Typical, just my luck, etc etc. Let’s hope that they’re restored before bedtime, eh?)

Saturday morning update: Aha. It would seem that my comments system is blocked by the broadband service in the apartment, whereas it is permitted in the office. Typical, just my luck, etc etc etc. Sorry to have missed you all last night.

Things which have made me smile this week.

1. The green walking man at the pedestrian crossings, who – as JP has accurately observed – looks as if he is pleasuring himself from both ends.

(To help you visualise this, please imagine someone pulling a small hand towel backwards and forwards between their legs. Got that? OK, now remove the towel.)

2. The restaurant on Monday lunchtime, where the waitress wordlessly snatched my napkin out of my lap, crossed over to the other side of the table, and placed it on my colleague’s empty lap. Cue fits of helpless, hysterical laughter. But that might have been the jetlag.

3. The cake shop on the walk to work. (Not the original boring walk to work, past all the huge stores – but the alternative route, along the smaller street, past all the dinky little shops. Humbler, more varied, more chaotic, more “typically Chinese”.) You have never seen such surreal icing jobs; I particularly love the spiky brown monsters.

Memo to self: take photos of cake shop. Memo to readers: don’t let him leave without photographing the cake shop.

4. The “Chinglish” menus, whose attempts to describe the dishes merely add to the confusion. Secretly Prepared Yellow Croakers, anyone?

(There are probably whole web sites devoted to this sort of stuff, so I shan’t dwell.)

5. The moment in The Shamrock (Irish pub and main ex-pat watering hole, yeah yeah OK it’s not “authentic” but we all need a social base) when the art and yoga teacher/hippy raver chick and I realise that we both know the same Berlin club promoter. Bulging eyes, open mouths and clappity-hands all round. World’s a village…

6. The completion of each successive stage in my protracted battle to warm the flat. Unworkable heater in bedroom switched on: check. Annotated photo diagram of multi-buttoned air-con system created: check. Second duvet provided, to lay on top of lightweight “summer weight” duvet: check. Additional portable electric fan heater purchased: check. We’ll get there eventually.

7. The range of bedroom slippers at the local mall. Plenty of choice, but a} they’re all made for diminutive Chinese tootsies, not clod-hopping British hooves, and b) they’re all SO CAMP! I’m not having my new flatmate walking in on me tomorrow, mincing round the place in teeny-tiny, fluffy pink, “Hello Kitty” mules. He’ll get quite the wrong idea.

8. Ditto the T-shirts, which I wanted to wear in bed. (Yup, I didn’t pack a single T-shirt. They’re so not me. Such unforgiving garments.) All the T-shirts on display came boxed up with matching “leisure pants”, in shades of citron and cerise. See previous flatmate-related anxiety.

9. Overhearing fragments of conversation in Myth, the rather gloomy restaurant round the corner which attempts Chinese approximations of European dishes. (My “steak” and “chips” were a valiant effort, and actually quite edible.) Particularly the American guy behind me, talking into his mobile:

“Listen, I haven’t told you yet today that I love you. Even though our relationship is in jeopardy right now. And I’ve got a girlfriend.”

(Frustratingly, he went a bit quieter after that. But you know there’s a whole story there.)

10. The answer given by the neatly groomed and very good looking young candidate (if you like that sort of thing, bit Twink for my tastes), working for a company called Handsome – who, when asked what personal skills he could bring to our company, replied: “Being Handsome, I have a lot to offer.” Never was a knuckle more hastily chewed.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

It’s good to purge.

Ah, the power of positive whinging! (See previous post for evidence of entirely typical Drama Queenery.) I feel so much better for that, so thanks for listening – and if you find me lapsing into my “The Little Boy Who Everyone Forgot” persona, then please feel free to administer a judicious slap.

(It’s my least attractive persona, and one which has dogged me for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, my present circumstances do appear to be activating it in a major way.)

Someone asked what my apartment was like, and I’m pleased to report that it more than adequately fulfils the Troubled Diva standard for acceptable interior design. In fact, give or take the odd dodgy framed print, it actively borders on the stylish. All credit to JP for nabbing it for me before leaving Hangzhou last week; he knows me so well. Why, the place is a veritable symphony of clean lines, clear surfaces, sympathetic lighting and attractive modular seating solutions in exciting shades of beige. And it’s huge.

However, the apartment’s open-plan capaciousness also means that it never quite gets warm enough – and in the sub-zero night-time temperatures which are now upon us, that’s a major issue. There’s a massive aircon unit in the far corner of the sitting-room area, belching out hot air for all it’s worth, but unfortunately this generates as much draught as it does heat, meaning that I can only sit comfortably on the aforementioned modular seating solutions if I wrap myself tightly in my duvet. The parquet flooring is also ice cold, making a pair of slippers the number one item on my shopping list. Which reminds me: I must let my future flatmate know about this.

Yes, that’s right: from Saturday afternoon onwards, I shall be alone no more, either in the apartment or in the office (where, in terms of job function, I have been a solo act all week). Judging by his photo on the company Intranet, he looks like a friendly sort of chap; and as it will also be his first visit to China, I shall be able to graduate from Nervous Novice to Seasoned Old Hand in a matter of days.

This is a healthy development. As a Nervous Novice, I do have a habit of making a rod for my own back – but I think I shall make quite a good job of being a Seasoned Old Hand. Whereas I baulk at marching up to strangers in the office and trying to ingratiate myself into their social lives, I’m actually the sort of person who naturally gravitates towards people in my own position. In social situations, I’m often the person making sure that the quiet one in the corner who doesn’t know anyone is included in the conversation. Show me a lame duck, and I’ll extend a fatherly wing.

(Assuming that he’s going to want to play the role of lame duck, that is. He’ll probably be out playing pool with The Lads down the ex-pat watering-hole on the first night, leaving me huddled under my duvet like a spurned Craig-out-of-Big-Brother, free to explore the finer points of the latest Sufjan Stevens album, or to get to grips with that particularly chewy 6000-word think-piece in the New Yorker.)

*** SLAP ***

As for work – and you know I don’t blog about work, but f**k it – it’s proving to be well within my capabilities, whilst not exactly making huge demands on my time. So thank goodness for the Internet, even if all Blogspot sites are blocked from over here. (Unless they’ve got full RSS feeds, in which case I can pick them up through Bloglines. Still can’t leave comments on them, though.)

Basically, I’m here to conduct what we call “fit interviews” with Chinese candidates for our Hangzhou office. Not to assess whether or not the candidates are Well Fit (I would never allow such considerations to etc etc etc), but to assess whether or not they would be a good “fit” for the company. So I’m not testing their technical knowledge, but determining their English communications skills and trying to get an impression of their overall personalities. The trick is to force them to deviate from their carefully rehearsed – and grammatically faultless – scripts, and to see whether they can provide thoughtful answers to some more unexpected questions. Sometimes this will be over the phone; more usually, it will be face to face. I make copious notes throughout, but what people are really interested in are my decisions: Yes+, Yes, Yes-, Hold, No.

It’s a simple equation of input and output. Each day, the cream of young Chinese manhood passes before my eyes (there haven’t been any women as yet, but I’m sure there will be soon), full of shining-eyed aspiration, eager to please, eager to better themselves, eager for the benefits of working for a fast-growing international company in an equally fast-growing economy, eager “to work hard, and learn new skills, and be good team member, and do my best for your company”.

Each day, I hear minor variations on the same answers, to which I nod and I smile, teasing out fuller answers where required, diligently transcribing their thoughts, experiences and Personal Goals onto sheets of paper which few, if any, will ever read. Finally, as I pass the candidates on for technical tests, I review my notes and – like a lofty panellist on a reality TV talent show – cast my judgement. Their lives in my hands. Or so I like to think, in my more delusional moments.

One of these days, I might actually get round to telling you a little about Hangzhou itself; but I haven’t seen a great deal of it yet, so patience. Now it’s time I donned my fleece and my puffa jacket and my Gore-Tex lined baseball cap and my iPod, and braved the icy blasts of my thirty-minute walk home. I may be gone some time…

Half a world away.

Well, I’m here. Sitting in the Hangzhou office, about to knock off for the day, and feeling… well… more than a little displaced, if you really want to know. Hangzhou looks a lot more Westernised than I had expected: smarter, cleaner, and with lashings of Christmas tat everywhere, amazingly enough. Including around my cubicle, which was festooned with multi-coloured tinsel within a couple of hours of my arrival. They know how to make a boy feel welcome.

However, appearances only go so far. In all other respects, I am a long, long way from anything familiar. Every detail of my life here feels new, and strange, and frequently bewildering.

I thought I was prepared for this. Having made something in the region of thirty business trips around Western Europe in 2003 and 2004, I have become acclimatised to the unfamiliar, and to that Mr. Bean type of existence which dictates that I will pull any door marked “Push”, order the wrong food in restaurants, and lose my keys five times a day. Nevertheless, this trip takes unfamiliarity to a whole new level… and with three weeks stretching ahead of me, the challenge feels all the greater.

Unlike my usual two day trips, I can’t just breeze in and out of the country in default airport-taxi-hotel-office Eurotrash Business Wonk mode. This time, I’ve got to engage fully with my surroundings. I need to establish a routine, but not get stuck in a rut. I need to find ways of enlivening tasks which might otherwise become repetitive. I need to feed myself, but not simply by nipping down to the nearest Pizza Hut night after night. I need to forge alliances, both in and out of the office.

In particular, I need to get a good social life going, and not just shrink into the background – spending night after night in my apartment, iPod tootling away, necking cans from the supermarket and smoking comfort fags to pass the time. The easy option, but also by far the hardest path.

It’s daunting, and I feel a lot more homesick at a much earlier stage than I would ever have expected. Residual jetlag and culture shock are of course playing a major part in this. But each day things move on, falling into place little by little. The people here are more than ready to offer help, advice and company. I’m getting a grip. I just need to keep reminding myself of this.

The pithy apercus and bon mots, and all the wry observational stuff which you’re waiting for, will commence very soon. Just let me find my bearings, and I’ll be right with you.

China bound.

Yikes, where did the time go? I’ve got to be out of the cottage in forty minutes, I haven’t run the bath yet… and I’m blogging instead. If I miss that plane, then it will all be your fault. You do know that, don’t you?

Blogging will continue while I’m in Hangzhou, although I probably won’t have much chance to read anybody else’s.

I’m back in the UK on Saturday January 7th. I’ll also be out of e-mail contact for the duration, at least on my home address; however, my work e-mail address will still be active, for those of you who know it.

What an adventure!

Please be nice to K when I’m away.

That lesbian wedding disco playlist in full – Disc Two.

(Disc One is here.)

1. I’m In The Mood For Dancing – The Nolans.

As I found out when handing the mix CDs over to Maureen (or is it Doreen?) earlier in the week, the disco dancing will actually be interspersed with an eclectic variety of live musical entertainment, provided by various friends of the brides. (The brides have a lot of musical friends. That’s musical, not “musical”. Well, that as well. Oh, you know what I’m saying.)

It is therefore fairly unlikely that every track on every CD will get played – thus putting paid to the worst of my Control Freak notions (see previous post). In which case, it might be an idea to skip straight to the start of Disc Two, where the ever-fragrant Nolan sisters are already “in the mood” for dancing. With an invitation like that, who could refuse?

2. 9 To 5 – Dolly Parton.

This song has loomed large over Nottingham gay nightlife for the past two or three years, by means of a rather cheap and nasty dance remix which speeds dear old Dolly up to positively Smurf-esque levels. This, needless to say, is the original. Absolute guaranteed floor-filler.

3. If I Had A Hammer – Trini Lopez.

A little indulgence, as I used to play this out a lot at my Stop Clause 28 benefit nights, usually nestling somewhere in the vicinity of “La Bamba” and “Hot Hot Hot”.

4. Reet Petite – Jackie Wilson.

One of the wedding guests had a Top 50 hit in the UK singles charts with a cover of this, as credited to a couple of dancing pigs called Pinky and Perky. He did the music, the speeded-up voices, everything. He doesn’t talk about it much, though. Hi, Paul!

5. You Never Can Tell – Chuck Berry.

“It was a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well… “C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.”

I’m getting visions of lines of wise old grandmas in the corner, nodding and smiling and waggling their fingers at the happy couple. Ee, Doris, who’d have thought it forty years ago? That we should have lived to see the day!

6. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go – Wham!

The last time I put a mix CD together for a disco – which turned out to be a good 50% teenage lesbians, but that’s another story – this was the biggest floor-filler. Mine not to question why, but I’m hoping for a repeat success.

7. Love Shack – The B-52’s.

Personally, I’ve always find this more than a little irritating. But then, one or two key tracks aside, I’ve always found The B-52’s a little irritating. (Wacky! and Kooky! don’t really do it for me.) Still, no wedding disco complete without, etc etc. I’m mixing out of this at the false ending, straight into…

8. Hey Ya! – Outkast.

…which makes for a very effective follow-on. This is the last of the run of ultra-uptempo tracks, as we slide into…

9. Take Your Mama – Scissor Sisters.

Something has just occurred to me. Of the four contemporary tunes thus far, three (Darkness, Timberlake, Scissors) have recently been performed on the telly by Shayne from X-Factor. How bizarre. I have no ready explanation for this.

10. Love The One You’re With – Isley Brothers.

Time for a brief respite from the cheese. This might clear the floor – but then again, Will Young covered it on his second album, so the recognition factor may still be high. Works well rhythmically after the Scissors.

11. Justified And Ancient – The KLF featuring Tammy Wynette.

Another special request from the brides, who know it simply as “Moo Moo Land”.

12. A Little Respect – Erasure.

Hurrah, it’s the Late 1980s Pop section! Which continues with…

13. Take On Me – A-ha.
14. Open Your Heart – Madonna.
15. I Think We’re Alone Now – Tiffany.

Cripes, is that the time? To coin a phrase, I shouldn’t be sitting here and talking to you like this. Not when there are garments to be folded. So let’s quickly whizz through the rest of Disc Two, which is entirely devoted to late 1970s disco. If all goes well, then tracks 18 through 20 should induce a particuarly Loved-up Communal Sisterhood vibe…

16. Knock On Wood – Amii Stewart.
17. Blame It On The Boogie – The Jacksons.
18. Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now – McFadden & Whitehead.
19. We Are Family – Sister Sledge.
20. Love Train – The O’Jays.
21. Don’t Leave Me This Way – Thelma Houston.
22. I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor.
23. Feel The Need In Me – Detroit Emeralds.

To be continued – but only if I get a break from the garment-folding.

How many more “farewell” evenings can a man take?

Last night’s itinerary: straight bar, tranny bar (*), gay bar, lesbian bar. How very inclusive. But just how did I end up singing karaoke in the lesbian bar at twenty to two in the morning, keeping my friends hanging around WAY past their bedtimes, politely waiting until my number came up?

I believe there might be photographic evidence. Let’s just hope it never surfaces.

(What’s that? You want to know what song? Let’s just say that it was wildly inappropriate, and that its wild inappropriateness only dawned on me halfway through the first verse. Stony faces all round. Probably. If I had dared to look at them. All very Phoenix Nights.)

A nice night, but this has got to stop. Get me on that slow boat to China.

(*) Well, I say “tranny bar”, but that’s stretching the definition somewhat. Remember George’s Bar in Broad Street: Nottingham’s last outpost of true Bohemia, which closed its doors for good at the start of the year? Well, the regulars all had a bit of a reunion last night: on the site of the original George’s, which has been knocked through into the Revolution franchise next door. (Every major city in the UK has got one now. Worse luck.)

Yup, we’re talking serious Circuit Drinking territory here: vast armies of bar staff, all pouring gallons of fluorescent industrial chemicals into vast buckets and swilling them around before decanting them into gigantic glass tumblers and charging a small fortune for them. A glimpse into another world. How we shuddered.

Thankfully, the old George’s crowd managed to commandeer a whole section of the “old” territory, approximately where the loos used to be, well away from the ebb and flow of the Pride Of Nottingham binge drinkers. (Binge drinking? We’d never do that.) All my favourite trannies were out in force, including the (very) senior member of the community in her usual teensy-weensy micro-skirt, and the charming couple who use kettles for handbags, all fighting to be heard over the hideous hardcore breakbeat cover versions of “Whole Lotta Love” and “The Sound Of Silence” (ha ha, very funny). It was all a far cry from Ethel Merman’s Disco Album and dancing on the tables to the Chicago soundtrack.

Through the newly installed skylight, we could look up and see Alan‘s bathroom window, three storeys up. “Shall I go upstairs and piss on everyone?”, he quipped. No, dear. Best leave that for another night.

A taste of things to come.

I have a bit of a head today. I know, I know, nothing new there – but this is a different kind of head. Thicker, blunter, stupider. And I only even had half a glass.

Getting ahead of myself already. Let’s backtrack.

K has lunch at the Man Ho restuarant about once a week, as his business partner has been a regular there for years. (Word to me homies: top of Hockley, where it meets Pelham Street. Yeah, that one.) So when the subject of my imminent business trip came up, the manager’s wife kindly offered to lay on a special “Hangzhou menu” for the two of us, comprising local specialities that don’t appear on their English language menu.

(Incidentally, I do love it when Chinese restaurants grant you access to their “Chinese only” menus. They sometimes take a little persuading, as they tend to be of the opinion that no English person could possibly want to be so adventurous – but if you’ve got to know them over time, then you’ll stand a better chance.)

All I can say is this: if I eat even half as well when I’m over there, then I’m in for an extended culinary treat. (Although judging by some of his blog postings over the past few weeks, I can hear my colleague JP’s hollow laugh from here.)

Our three main courses were as follows:

  • Tung Pau Yuk: Chunks of belly pork fat, slow-cooked for five or six hours until they become all soft and tender and caramelised and sweet and gooey, with the most heavenly concentration of flavour.
  • Sunn Hou Kok: deep-fried garlic ribs with five-spice seasoning.
  • Shanghai Noodles: long, fat, slippery and glistening, tubular in shape, and served with strips of meat and steamed vegetables.

While we ate, the manager and his wife took it in turns to come and chat to us. The manager’s wife had brought a photo album along to show me, consisting of photos from her trip to Hangzhou and Shanghai over the spring. This afforded me my first glimpse of Hangzhou’s major tourist attraction, the West Lake. It looked beautiful, dotted with pagodas and bridges, and with mountains in the background.

K looked up at me with wide-eyed amazement. “I had no idea that where you were going was so beautiful. You’ll have a wonderful time. I love the Far East. Wish I was going with you.”

(Did I mention that we looked into this? But with K’s company entering a crucial stage of its development, the timing isn’t right.)

The manager wrote down the names of our three dishes on a piece of card, so that I could point to them in restaurants. What with this and the “flash cards” that we’re issued with, to show to taxi drivers when we want to get to the office or to our apartments, I’m going to be doing a lot of pointing.

A quick language lesson ensued. As a result, I can now say “hello”, “how are you” and “thank you” in Mandarin. (Or was it Cantonese? Nope, Mandarin. I’ve got a lot to learn.) But only if I get the intonations right, of course. God knows what vile oaths I might be uttering otherwise. I bet that puns are big in China; there’s so much scope.

At the end of the meal, an elaborately cut bottle of rice wine was produced, still in its presentation box, and complementary glasses were poured for us with some degree of ceremony.

“Very strong!”, we were told. “50 percent! Very special flavour! It stays with you!”

About ten years ago, in the flock-covered dining room of possibly – hopefully – the last hotel in England which still subscribed to the Fawlty Towers management style (dinner at 7pm sharp, fixed menu, no choice of dishes), the ex-military owner served us with bowls of a “Chinese kidney soup” which looked and smelt exactly like hot urine. It was quite the most disgusting liquid I had ever tasted.

This was worse.

“I can’t drink this!”, I hissed at K. “They’ll be so offended. What can I do?”

“Wait till their backs are turned, then swap your glass for my empty one. I’ll polish it off. I actually quite like it.”

“You like it?”, asked the manager, collecting the empty glasses. “Give me the card, and I’ll write the name down for you: Wu Liang Ye. Now you can enjoy it wherever you go.”


Oh, bloody great. I know exactly how this is going to pan out when I’m over there. I’m going to end up with a bloody cocktail cabinet full of the stuff, aren’t I?

By this time, K was pie-eyed and burbling. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone get drunk quite so quickly. Christ, I felt bad enough; and that was just from the half glass that I’d managed to force down without gagging.

We staggered home, talking shit and giggling, as the vile flavour of the wine “repeated” itself in my mouth, bringing fresh waves of nausea with every gastric lurch.

Four cigarettes later, and all I had to show for my efforts was a mouth like an ashtray, and the same bloody taste, undimmed by my attempts at flushing it out with a cocktail of carcinogenic toxins. Very special flavour; it stays with you. Sheesh, they weren’t wrong.

It is now almost exactly forty-eight hours until my plane takes off. (Perhaps by then, the taste will finally have left my system. Yes, even as I type.)

None of it seems real yet. I can’t get my head around it at all. But I’m glad that last night at least gave me a hint of what’s in store.

If it moves, rank it.

I’ve written a guest post for the spiffing “Review 2005” series over at Feeling Listless, which has been running all month. Like all the other contributors, my brief was to pick a moment from the year when I finally did something I had always wanted to do.

Some have used this as an opportunity to talk, movingly, about parenthood, personal development, or the achievement of a long-held professional ambition.

As for me, I’ve just blathered on about making lists. On a site called, um, Feeling Listless. How marvellously conceptually dissonant.

Continue reading “If it moves, rank it.”

That lesbian wedding disco playlist in full – Disc One.

1. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You – Andy Williams.

I’m giving the brides – let’s call them Maureen and Doreen – strict instructions to start playing these three CDs EXACTLY four hours before chucking-out time at the Polish Centre. Also, the CDs MUST be played in the correct order, and NOBODY is allowed to fiddle around with them once they’ve started playing.

(You know those annoying bossy people at parties who commandeer YOUR hi-fi, and start skipping tracks halfway through, in order to find some “proper music”? Well, we’ll have none of that here, thank you. I might be on the other side of the world when all this is going on, but I can still exert some control. After all, the BEST fun is ORGANISED FUN. Oh yes.)

So, providing that my instructions are followed TO THE LETTER, this should serve as Maureen and Doreen’s official First Dance. Everybody say Aah…

2. Love Is In The Air – John Paul Young.

…after which the floor will slowly fill with soft-shoe shufflers, surrounding the happy couple as they daintily step out to this middle-of-the-road “guilty pleasure”. How ever so romantic.

3. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart – Dame Elton of John, and not forgetting the little lady with the big voice, Miss Kiki Dee.

Keeping it smooth and sweet, and gently funky in a Port And Lemon At The Rotary Club Dinner Dance stylee.

4. I Only Want To Be With You – Dusty Springfield.


5. Mamma Mia – Abba.

A wedding disco ain’t a wedding disco without Abba, so let’s get them out of the way nice and early. I rejected “Dancing Queen” for being, as Grandmaster Flash used to say a “used groove”, so have opted for something perky and bouncy and up-beat instead.

6. Sunday Girl – Blondie.

These are all light, breezy, tuneful selections, designed to entice people off their seats with the minimum of duress. Nothing too full-on as yet; it’s still early, and we fortysomethings have to deploy our energies sparingly.

7. Brown-Eyed Girl – Van Morrison.

Some Real Music for the Dads, who have been nursing their first after-dinner pints for long enough. At do’s like this, you need good strong recognisable intros, to drag people up on their feet without having to weigh up the Pros and Cons.

8. Let’s Stick Together – Bryan Ferry.

“And now the marriage vow is very sacred…” I’ve gone for Blindingly Obvious Lyrical Relevance in a major way with these mixes. Well, you can’t have any heartbreak songs on a day like this, can you?

9. I Believe In A Thing Called Love – The Darkness.

Hello, Young People! We haven’t forgotten you! The first song to be taken from the last 25 years brings us bang up to date with today’s modern chart sounds. Well, as far as autumn 2003, at any rate. For a wedding disco, that’s positively upfront.

10. Rebel Rebel – David Bowie.

OK Young People, you can sit yourselves down again. Thank you for your valued contribution.

11. Step On – Happy Mondays.

In which ex-raver uncles hunch their bodies forwards at disc-slipping angles, and throw interesting “shapes”, of the big-fish little-fish cardboard-box Ooh Missus Where’s Me Maracas variety. Ee, that Bez on Celebrity Big Brother, national treasure or what, yeah I went down the Hacienda in 1991 it were Top, etc etc.

12. Rock DJ – Robbie Williams.

Ah, Robbie Williams: one of those acts which only the general public seem to like. My partner’s parents’ best friends employed him in their shop as a Saturday Boy, you know. Yes, thought you’d be impressed. I’m doing a slow tempo-build here, leading nicely into…

13. Rock Your Body – Justin Timberlake.

Back in the public consciousness, thanks to its performance by fresh-faced obedient twink Shayne out of X-Factor. (Prediction: he’ll come second, do exactly what he’s told for 18 months, and have four or five hits before slipping away into the twilight world of reality TV renta-celeb-ism.)

14. You Sexy Thing – Hot Chocolate.

You have to have this one. It’s the law. This was considered quite cheeky at my 13th birthday party.

15. December ’63 (Oh What A Night) – The Four Seasons.

Another statutory must.

16. The Tide Is High – Blondie.

Momentary optimism from the Young People: “Oh wicked, Atomic Kitten.” Nuh-uh, fooled you. Index fingers ready for the “Number One” bit, boys and girls!

17. La Isla Bonita – Madonna.

“Last night I dreamt of some Dago… young girl with eyes like potatoes… tropical the island breeze… something something something Spanish lullaby.”

18. Killer – Adamski.

Sudden change of pace SHOCKAH. A special request from the brides, this one. “Racism amongst future kings can only lead to no good…” Oh, it’s that weird slow bit in the middle. Quickety-quick, mix straight into…

19. Groove Is In The Heart – Deee-Lite.

I’m seeing a packed dancefloor for this one. Ever seen it clear a room? No, thought not. It’s one of those “smash and grab in case of emergency” type tunes.

20. Manic Monday – The Bangles.

Actually, this could all too easily clear the floor. What on earth is this one doing here? Well, too late to change now: the CDs are burnt and wrapped – with strict DO NOT OPEN UNTIL THE DAY ITSELF instructions – and I’m handing them over to Maureen (or is it Doreen?) in ten minutes’ time.

21. When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going – Billy Ocean.

Hot Chocolate, Billy Ocean… why, it could be Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage. Disco will never die!

22. The Only Way Is Up – Yazz & The Plastic Population.

One for the “Stop Clause 28” crowd who used to come to my club nights in 1988 (and there will be several in attendance), where this ruled the floor for weeks. Don’t forget to punch the air in the right place, folks. “The only way is up… *PUNCH*…” Oh, we haven’t changed a bit actually actually I think you’ll find. Stand Up For Your Love Rights!

23. In The Middle Of Nowehere – Dusty Springfield.

Otherwise known as the theme tune from Smack The Pony, this brings Disc One to a close.

To be continued.

The Sanctuary for Abandoned Links.

Today, I was going to post a list of Troubled Diva’s Most Clicked Links of 2005 – or more exactly from March 7th onwards, which is when I installed MyBlogLog. However, it’s such a boringly predictable list that I’m not going to bother after all.

(OK, just one: the most popular link was Big Blogger 2005, which notched up 619 clicks.)

Instead, I have selected 16 links which have only been clicked once – generally because they were posted prior to March 2005 – in order to give them a second chance.

These have all been hand-picked for your re-enjoyment, and should therefore be clicked upon by absolutely everybody.

The list is arranged in no particular order of preference.

1. Conservative Pop Music? The Top 40 of the Top 40.
The text of a bizarre speech, which selects – in all seriousness – forty “conservative classics from the rock era”, with full explanations for each choice. Who says the Devil has all the best tunes? Or something.

2. The Search For Love In Manhattan: In the lesbians’ bathroom. (Thursday February 06, 2003)
In which Faustus M.D. recounts his experience as a sperm donor, via the medium of popular song. (I know a similar story about this, involving one of K’s ex-girlfriends and one of his ex-flatmates, but it’s sadly not mine to tell. Ask me about it the next time I see you.)

3. Welshcake: Dear, dear Johnny…
In which former thesp Duncan recounts a couple of choice anecdotes about the late Sir John Gielgud.

4. Mixmeister Express 6: free trial download.
Ever wondered what software I use to make those podcasts and megamixes? Here it is. Full purchase highly recommended.

5. Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter.
A web-enabled version of the classic compendium of lurid cautionary tales for children, complete with original illustrations. (As a little lad, I used to read these over and over again, absorbing their stern moral messages as I went along.) If pushed for time, then The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb gives as good a flavour as any.

6. Gayle – Gay South African Slang.
Sure, you’re fluent in Polari – but what about its even camper South African equivalent, where every word is rendered as a girl’s name? Read and digest, and then you too will be able to tell your Cora Doras from your Olga Pandoras.

7. Hydragenic: Nottingham Gallery, October 2002.
Gorgeous images of my home city, as taken by former resident Stuart Hg. Start here and follow the links…

8. Jenny Holzer: Believe?
A collection of slogans from the American conceptual artist, some of which were issued as stickers by The Face magazine in the 1980s. (I used to have “Abuse Of Power Comes As No Surprise” on my 12-inch singles DJ box.)

9. Civil partnership: legal recognition for same-sex couples.
Contains everything you need to know from the official point of view. For more information, I recommend the current (December 2005) issue of Gay Times, which is most thorough on the subject. (For instance, did you know that a civil partnership registration will render your existing will null and void?)

10. Alan Duncan MP: The Legalisation of Drugs.
Arguments in favour of legalisation, from the Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. My only criticism is that he misses a couple of extra points.

11. LeftLion: Nottingham Culture Online.
Online version of the groovy local freesheet, aimed at the hip young gun-slingers of the East Midlands.

12. Psychology of Cyberspace: The Online Disinhibition Effect.
A classic text, full of wisdom for would-be “confessional” bloggers, which seeks to explain just why we are so tempted to let it all hang out in front of a potential audience of millions.

13. Sierra Leone Web: Krio Proverbs And Stories.
Krio is Sierra Leone’s equivalent of Creole/Patois/Pidgin, with some marvellously expressive proverbs all of its own, and here are some examples (sadly in PDF format).

14. London Review Of Books: Classified Personals.
The legendarily witty and inventive Personal Ads column is still going strong. Makes a refreshing change from GWM WLTM similar w.GSOH ALAWP no timewasters fatties femmes or freaks.

15. The World, Backwards: The Trap Snaps and That’s That.
The eyes always averted, a brief glance and then set dead ahead. A torment I’m so inured to that the pain is all but theoretical. I know I’ve nothing to offer, beergut and sweaty forehead and eyes the wrong side of wild.” Confessional blogging at its finest, from TV’s Mr. Noodle Vague.

16. They’re Made Out Of Meat, by Terry Bisson.
So old it’s got whiskers on, but no less wonderful for all that. Sooner or later, everyone on the Internet stumbles across this one. Now it’s your turn.

Post of the Week: week 6 results.

With seventeen posts up for consideration (nine of them nominated by myself, in a sudden rash of enthusiasm), we had something of a bumper crop last week. My thanks to asta and Gordon for wading through them; we all agreed that this was a particularly tough selection to rank.

So, what themes cropped up this time? Inevitably, Christmas made its first appearance: trees were chosen, compilation CDs were marketed, and an unexpected wish list was made for Santa.

Celebs had a rough time of it: we bitched about a duck-faced actress and a podgy crooner on the verge of a comeback, and got an insider’s lowdown on the perils of shagging movie stars.

There was a strong showing from the Comedy Lobby, with tales of arsey hair salons, sexually incontinent students, and a comedy club audience with Other Things on its mind – not to mention a full dramatic reconstruction of a well known nursery rhyme.

We fell in love – or did we? We conquered stress – but in a way that you won’t find in any self-help manuals. We bade farewell to a much-loved London institution. We established ground rules for reading in public. And we saw red, gold and green in the queue at the Post Office.

As for the winner, it was neck-and-neck between the two posts which picked up votes from all three judges. In second position: Etcher’s fine, almost dream-like depiction of a day spent wandering the streets of a big city, which reminded me of similar days spent in West Berlin, many years ago.

However, just one point ahead, we have one of two nominees from the superb selection of “Review 2005” guest posts at feeling listless, which are running all the way through December. (Introduction and full list of contributors thus far is here.) So let’s hear it for this week’s winner…

feeling listless: Causality and the Invisible Girl.

And that’s your lot for now: Post of the Week is taking a break for a few weeks, as I’ll be flying to China next weekend and will have limited web access thereafter.

The next round of nominations will commence on Monday January 9th. So if you spot any exceptional posts between now and then, please hang onto them – as posts from the entire intervening period will be deemed eligible.