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Year Of The Monkey 2013: Kowloonatics

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to the best skyline on the entire fucking planet.September 14-18, 2013

As far as I can make out, these days the travel writing on this site falls into one of two categories. We either liveblog about a place while we’re there, or we make lots of notes at the time and then take over half a year to convert them into something readable. This is an example of the latter. Sorry about that.

Hong Kong! The Funnest Place On EarthTM! My first ever visit was in 1993, and since then I've been popping back regular as clockwork once every four years. It's true that I also transited through its airport in 2011 and 2012 on the way to Perth and Tokyo respectively, but I’m pretty sure those don’t count. Though to be frank our 2009 visit wasn't much better, given that it was just a couple of days at the end of our epic eclipse tour of China, and that I spent most of it on the toilet. 

But now it's September 2013 (yes, now, it's a literary device, shut up) and we're back. The Belated Birthday Girl and I have a full twelve days to play with, and have chosen to spread them over three different parts of the territory. STRUCTURE! Four days in Kowloon, the bit that borders onto mainland China: four days on Hong Kong itself: and four days on Lantau Island, as part of a general campaign to look at some of the other offshore bits. It’s a carefully planned-out itinerary, and it’s hard to see how anything can go wrong with it. FORESHADOWING!

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MOSTLY FILM: Introducing Mike Tobacconist

Mika Trafika, yesterdayAs you've probably realised by now, Monoglot Movie Club - my long-running series of articles for Mostly Film - largely exists because my Moderately Responsible Job In The Computer Industry involves a fair bit of foreign travel these days. During the day, I talk about hardware to people in something other than their first language: to relax in the evenings, I go to a local cinema and watch a movie in something other than my first language.

Sometimes I allow the two things to overlap, and tell the people I'm working with about MMC. The results can be interesting. They may be confused, or just amused, that I'm watching movies without any real understanding of what's being said. But occasionally, there's a sense of genuine delight that someone's taking the time to look at their national cinema.

That's what happened to me in the Czech Republic a couple of months ago, in a trip that I've just documented in a new Mostly Film piece called Introducing Mike Tobacconist. When a lunchtime discussion turned to movies, I soon discovered that I was in the one place outside of the old Film Unlimited talkboards where I could drop the title Tomorrow I'll Wake Up And Scald Myself With Tea and people would understand what I was on about. More than that, some of them had actually seen it.

At the end of my week-long assignment, my co-workers gave me a present. Rather than just recommend other Czech films to see, they gave me half a dozen instead: three on a flash drive, and another three on cheap DVDs. So, as the Red Button backup material for that Mostly Film piece, I'd like to share their recommendations with you. And as the article takes its somewhat ridiculous title from a lousy bit of automated translation, you're going to get a bit more of that as well.

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BrewDogging #14: Sheffield

BrewDog Sheffield. (Here's a thought: ignoring the Simian Site stuff, my last post on this site was on February 24th.)[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stockholm, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham]

So this conversation happened a few times during April.

- Going anywhere nice this Easter?

- Actually, we were thinking about Sheffield this time. The snooker will be starting that weekend, and we could meet up with Suze, and we've already got a film we can -

- Have they got one of those BrewDog bars?

- well, yeah, it only opened a couple of weeks ago, but -

- BrewDog bar. Easter holiday. Got it.

I mean, yes, that's part of the reason, but dammit.

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Simian Substitute Site For April 2014: Harp And A Monkey


Movies: Recently, The Belated Birthday Girl and I spent a Saturday night at home, watching a live stream of John Otway playing at the Half Moon Putney. At the time, it seemed like a curiously hi-tech thing for an old geezer like Otway to be doing. But a subsequent viewing of Otway The Movie - a biographical film that its subject is currently carrying around from cinema to cinema for a series of one-night-only screenings - revealed that this has been part of his modus operandi for some time now. Otway was one of the first artists to realise the power of an internet-enabled fanbase: initially getting them to vote Beware Of The Flowers the seventh most popular song lyric of all time, and then using them to co-ordinate the assault on the top ten that was his 2002 single Bunsen Burner. (I'd almost forgotten the row at the time over Woolworths snottily refusing to stock the record: still, as one interviewee points out, they went bust three years later, so fuck 'em.) Sure, the main narrative drive of the movie is a hilarious series of anecdotes about how Otway got his reputation as Rock And Roll's Greatest Failure, but I'm glad that it celebrates the stuff he's good at too. Catch the film on tour as it moves around, or wait for the DVD that he says should be on the way eventually.

Music: One of the highlights of Otway The Movie is some lovely footage from one of his other follies: an overambitious gig at the Royal Albert Hall in 1998, featuring support from loads of his mates and me in the audience. One of those mates was Wilko Johnson, whom I hadn't seen since his heyday with Dr Feelgood: both the late Rob D and I were astonished that without his distinctive haircut he now looked like Brian Eno. I started seeing him live on an irregular basis after that reintroduction, so when he announced his terminal cancer diagnosis last year it hit me pretty hard. But Johnson's refusing to go quietly: in the middle of a final series of concerts that's been going on far longer than his initially estimated lifespan, he's now released an album - Going Back Home - revisiting some of his classic tunes with no less than Roger Daltrey on lead vocals. In a curious reversal of the way it tends to work with classic rockers, Daltrey's lower register is somewhat gravelly these days, but he hits the high notes with almost as much force and clarity as he ever did. Meanwhile, Wilko is still Wilko: "smashing down the boundaries between lead and rhythm guitar in much the same way as he's always done for the last 35 years," as I appear to have said back in 2011. For a record made by a pair of pensioners, one of whom is living under a death sentence, it's got a ludicrous amount of life to it.

Theatre: It's sometimes easier to assume that Daniel Kitson never performs live, ever. Given how quickly his shows sell out, I'm still not quite sure how we came by tickets for Analog.Ue as easily as we did: and now that its run at the National Theatre is over, I'm not sure if there'll ever be another chance for you to see it. Another one of Kitson's storytelling shows, this one - like his earlier Edinburgh hit, It's Always Right Now Until It's Over - interweaves two stories, using physical props to mark out the chapters of each one. In the past, an old man sits down in front of an array of tape recorders to talk about his life. In the present, a young woman has acquired one of the tapes from that session, and has become dangerously obsessed with it. At that level, it's another fine piece of human observation from Kitson, as ever revelling in the tiny details that make life living. But it wasn't until after the performance that The Belated Birthday Girl asked me a question which made me realise I'd missed an entire level of the narrative - a series of throwaway details that reveals where the young woman's obsession eventually takes her. The fact that both interpretations of the story work equally well suggests that this is some sort of genius at work. But as I said, your chances of seeing it again are vanishingly small - as Kitson points out, the staging of his piece has a real-life endgame planned for it, and I'll be fascinated to see if there's any way of discovering how that works out.

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