Thames Town

Thames Town – the ‘authentic British-style town’ in Shanghai – is something that has been in the works since 2001. I hadn’t heard about it until this morning where pictures of the town’s pub and fish-‘n-chips shop provided the daily little anecdote for the morning newsreader. There has been some anxiety, apparently, in little ole Dorset, where they have something that looks like this,

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because in Thames Town, they have something that looks like this:

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(in case you can’t make it out, what we have here are two versions of the Rock Point Inn and the Cob Gate Fish Bar, pics courtesy of Shanghaiist).

Uhm, I don’t even know where to start with what kind of anxiety this causes me. Is it the idea of theme parks invading real life (or vice versa)? Or is it a question of copyright? Gail Caddy, the proprietor of the Dorset pub and chippy, is miffed that the Chinese forgot to ask her permission. Thing is, it’s a British development project, so Caddy’s irritation is misdirected.

Perhaps it’s this chilling line on the town’s official website that did it for me: “Embraced by lush greenery and beautiful scenery,the English church is an exclusive living space to begin a life of happiness and bliss.”

Huh?

François Sicart has written an article on how, despite developments like this, there is evidence of what he terms a “New Nationalism” in China. Maybe it would be more accurate to say because of developments like this? See, the word that keeps appearing in my head is, rather, imperialism. Colonialism. A new mutant strain that should tell us that something, somewhere, has gone very, very wrong.

Debord and the Situationists, it turns out, were right again. The people to watch out for are the townplanners. Urban geography is the most insidious weapon of all.


Meet Miss Scarlet

Scarlet O’Hansen had just sat down to pee when she noticed a fruit fly hovering around the bathroom. This was not good. She had a rather strong aversion to small things that fly or crawl. The fruit fly didn’t bother her as much as if it had been, say, a fat caterpillar doing that thing that caterpillars do, and that she especially hated. But it bothered her nevertheless. What bothered her was that it was inside, and what that might mean. Because now she remembered that she had forgotten to take out the bag of rubbish next to the stove. It hadn’t been there for that long, two days at the most. But if there was a fruit fly inside, the rubbish must be … better outside.

The idea of having to go out again also irritated her, because she had already prepared herself for not having to do that until morning. She had a dvd in the machine (a little indie film she was rather looking forward to), a bowl of popcorn on the table, alongside water (always water), tobacco, rizlas, lighter, ashtray, remotes in easy reach, cell phone close enough, and a little stool for her feet. The pee was the last thing to do before she could settle down to the goodies. But now there was a damn fruit fly and she’d have to find some shoes, unlock the door and go down to the black bins with the rubbish. She’d have to break the spell.

While she was thinking all this she could hear, from the lounge, the voice of a local DJ who was on TV with the debut program of some silly new game show. She hadn’t been paying much attention to what it was all about, but she kept hearing the refrain: “You’rrrrre Toast!” This type of lameness also irritated her. But she wanted to get on with the evening, so she wiped herself and got up and got out there with the rubbish.

After she had dumped the bag and was walking towards the steps leading up to her flat, she became aware of a sound. At first she thought it was coming from the flat she was just passing, but when she stopped to listen, she realised that it was coming from all around her. This was not the homely racket of some Mediterranean courtyard, with women chattering above laundry lines while children break windows with flying balls. No. This is one sound, or rather, the same sound, coming from all the flats around her. She couldn’t believe it. But yes, there it was: “You’rrrrre Toast!”

the best and the worst

Well the day started out on a pretty shitty note. By lunchtime I had had to deal with two different sets of students who hadn’t prepared for class. I walked out on the second bunch. It was my first walk-out and in retrospect it was as exhilerating as it was infuriating. At the time, though, it was only infuriating. I was pretty fed up with the whole business.

But a chance encounter with an artist friend had me posing for his life drawing class this evening. Yes, life = nude. And yes, it was my first life session.

It was a very interesting experience, and one which I will, in fact, recommend. I think my “moment” was about half-way into the first hour when I got over my self-consciousness because I realised that no one was looking at “me” but simply the potentially interesting contours that my body may produce. We were doing one-minute poses so I tried to think of interesting contours that my body might produce. During the break everyone said I was great, that I was doing some ‘really interesting’ poses (I wonder if Hiddingh has CCTV?).

And then I thought I would come home and tell people that that was the easiest X amount of money I had ever made. But the second hour killed that idea. It is f**king excruciating to stand absolutely still for 15 mins. I did get to sit down for the last session, but had to maintain the pose for 30 mins. Ouch! You try and sit still for that long.

Still, it was good. Different. A bit like getting a tattoo (another experience I can recommend).

So, I come home with enough to buy my car a tank of petrol, and bad day turns to good. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.

Fry Day

It’s been a dangerous week. And I’m not sure that the past tense is adequate. I’m in one of those whirlpools of 1000 things to do, 3 of which get half done while the thought of the rest paralyses. So, in lieu of stealing time to write anything interesting, I’ll just hook you up with one or two things of interest. An amouse-bouche, if you will…

This is a recent cartoon from The Sun which was inspired, so we are told, by a “true story”. That story is here. Yes, the junk food controversy continues, and our favourite superhero, Mr. Jamie Oliver, is again fuming. Gotta hand it to him, though. It’s a good way to get noticed.

What would he think if I told him that I am trying desperately to introduce MORE junk food into my diet? It’s true, every time I walk by a KFC I try, I really do. I try to go in and give them my money. But I’m a coward.

However, I have been promised a special meal tonight, to be cooked (perhaps it’s cooking as we speak?) by the mother of a special friend. It’s a leg of lamb. With, I am told, “special” fried potatoes. Ma bouche s’amuse….

I am that I am

Once I got it into my head that I should become a chef. So off I went to chef school.

We went to class and looked like this

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and we learned to make things like this

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(That’s real Danish pastry, of course. Wienerbrød.)

and this:

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(That’s really marzipan. I promise)

Even the famous horn-of-plenty:

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How very odd to think of that now. And how very much odder that I should suddenly feel the urge to proclaim this, on the internet, for anyone to read.

But OK, if I was Hans Christian Andersen and I was working on my autobiography, Mit Livs Eventyr (My Life’s Adventure, or The Adventure of my Life, or The Fairy Tale of my Life), I suppose this would be a chapter.

And let’s face it, if he were me, he would equally be tempted by the instant gratification of writing and publishing something immediately, with pictures (!), and that way circumvent the sinister threat of beginning yet another magnum opus which will end up gathering dust, unfinished, like all the rest, abandoned…

(Maybe HC was a bad example, since he was rather prolific, even without a blog).

But that’s enough about me. The pasta bell has rung.

flower mountain

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Just back from three days of luxury. It was at a place called Mont Fleur, in Stellenbosch, a.k.a the lovely Cape winelands.

Let’s see, a typical day: breakfast at 8, comprising the usual full spread (hot or cold, healthy or British, whatever, all with home-made bread and preserves). Tea at 10, with fresh scones, cream and strawberry jam (the stuff with real fruit). Lunch at 1, something “light” like a prawn and seafood skewer on a bed of wild rice with fresh salad. More of the good fresh bread. Tea at 4, with freshly baked lemon meringue (that’s mar-an-gyoo to you). Drinks from 5.30ish with snacks (peanuts, potato skins, pretzels and so forth). First course: blinis with smoked Franschoek trout and sour cream. Entree: Stuffed, deboned leg of lamb with pommes dauphinoise and a blah-blah jus. Dessert: Chocolate mousse with fresh strawberries. Or poached pears in a butterscotch reduction.

All accompanied, of course, with plentiful fine wine from the area. Some (no names mentioned) went on to after dinner drinks: Jagermeister, Amarula and so on.

Anyone hungry yet?

Well, I was, and it was all delicious. And in case you’re wondering what was happening in between all the feasting, it was a “writer’s workshop”. That’s another way of saying a departmental peer-review session. Or a getaway. Or a piss-up.

But let me not misrepresent. It was all useful in the ways that these things are, that is, in the way of picking you up and dunking you in a large barrel of icy water, which is both exhilerating and potentially deadly (if you should suddenly forget not to try to breathe underwater). They make you excited to come home and get on with your work and they also make you want to run for cover or look for work as a cashier. The ivory tower is a cold and magnificent place.

Page of Sage

So. Yes, it’s been a while. (Anyone else notice how the good old “while” has been speeding up lately? It just comes and goes, comes and goes.)

The week did not start on a good note. On Monday I met some bad mussels. They were good(ish) when I ate them but then something happened and I spent some time feeling bad.

Fortunately, though, I was strong enough to go for a steak the following evening (to replenish, you see). I was also lucky to be the only one in a party of six who was genuinely satisfied with my food. A medium-to-well blackened rump steak was just what the doctor ordered.

Wednesday and Thursday came and went as Wednesdays and Thursdays do.

On Friday (yesterday) I got invited – in the capacity of lovely assistant to a friend who was DJ-ing – to a farewell party thrown by people in a big house with enough money. I was actually relieved of my assistant duties as soon as we arrived (who knows why…), so the first part of the evening was spent sitting on the porch drinking champagne while DJ-friend had to lug speakers around.

Then people began to arrive and one of them was lugging a cello in a big black case which he proceeded to unpack and provide us with his classical repertoire while the sun set and more people arrived and bubbles were drunk and there was general glitter and sparkle. There were also children jumping on a trampoline. It was very cultured.

When the cello silenced the DJ started doing his thing, and the rest of the evening was spent, variously, dancing, eating lamb breyani (pretty tasty for a 50-cover production), dancing some more, talking and, finally, sampling one of the SIX decadent cakes. I had the cheesecake.

I slept well, woke up well, and spent the rest of the day doing nice Saturday things: a bit of shopping, a bit of work (!), a leisurely swim and a long sauna.

On the air: Cassandra Wilson.
On the programme: a BBC series on DVD borrowed from the library.
On the table: whisky (Famous Grouse)
On the stove: a pan simmering with a good-smelling combination of mini-mushrooms, onions, lots of garlic and sage, a few olives and a splash of balsamic.

I wanted to take a picture of the lovely ingredients but I realise I forgot my camera at a house where I went for dinner a week ago. It’s a house with heated pool and a jacuzzi and much of the night was spent in a watery way.

Jacuzzis? Parties with cellos? Cultured indeed. I have good friends.

But sometimes there is nothing better than a Saturday evening at home. If I would like to see anyone tonight, it would be only be my father. I’d like to have a whisky with him. He could always appreciate coming to the end of a hard day’s work.

Bing-je-ling, it’s spring

So I’m supposed to be cleaning my flat. I promised my mother I would. I would put on some nice music, tidy up my mess, and then take a walk down to Kloof Street for a cup of coffee. She’s good at helping me come up with little plans to cheer myself up, my mother.

I have a good mother.

I am 31 years old. I live about 2000km from my closest family. I have a car and a washing machine and a nice little computer. Plenty of other mod-cons. Some books (not as many as I’d like) and a nice collection of wine glasses. Many of my friends can add to this list, variously: husband, wife, a house, child(ren), dog(s), cat(s), useful credit cards. I have none of the above. The only one I’d really (REALLY) like is a house. I am suffering intense house envy these days.

But I have a good mother.

Well, mor, I got as far as the music. But the music was so nice that I had to start dancing. And then (still dancing) I smoked a little cigarette (yeah, yeah). That was nice. Then I had a piece of Stimorol, also very nice: fresh, licorice-y (liquorishy?). Then I thought, rather than clean up, I should make a list of some of the things I like:

I like to dance in my socks in the middle of the afternoon
I like the first five seconds of a fresh piece of Stimorol
I like drinking sparkling water just after those first five seconds of a fresh piece of Stimorol (it gives a nice burny feeling in the throat)
I like to bake in the evenings
I like to walk by the sea
I like driving on deserted urban roads on Sundays
I like cold Snickers

Today I even like my mess. It makes me feel busy. So I think I’ll just leave it where it is, perhaps dance some more (we’re onto Prince now) and head on down to Kloof a bit later for that coffee. Or, maybe for some bin qi lin (“bing-je-ling”), my mother’s favourite word. It’s Chinese for ice-cream (not Chinese ice-cream). And it is spring, after all.

So that’s it then?

This is scary:

‘Having ignored reality for years, newspapers are at last doing something. In order to cut costs, they are already spending less on journalism. Many are also trying to attract younger readers by shifting the mix of their stories towards entertainment, lifestyle and subjects that may seem more relevant to people’s daily lives than international affairs and politics are.’
(The future of newspapers, The Economist)

Great. In another twenty years when the ‘youth’ have lost complete interest in politics, it’ll be tabloids all the way.

I suppose the only redeeming thing about this is that people will finally stop pretending to have any interest in anything that matters.