Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Let Me Tell You About My Mother..."

From an RPG.net thread:

"My brother was interviewed recently by a Christian group seeking to introduce its (teen) membership to a variety of faiths.

One of the questions he was asked, non-ironically, was 'Do atheists dream?'"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

I've had the copy of the revised thesis I gave to my tutor back, and there are no major issues. Tomorrow I should get the copy from my internal examiner, but I saw him today and it doesn't seem like he's picked up much either. I should be on course to actually re-submit it quite soon. All that will remain is what the external thinks. I don't think he'll be able to say that I didn't address the topics he wanted addressed, but whether he'll like what I've said is another matter.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Love in the Time of Culture

Love in the Time of Culture

Renshaw Street, Liverpool, summer 2008.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Fooling No-One

Just brought to my attention, the flag of the Χρυσή Αυγή ("Golden Dawn") party in Greece:



Hmmmmmmmmmmm. That's the most interesting use of the Greek meander pattern I've seen in a while.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Last Man Standing

My housemate has just moved out of the place where I live, so I currently have the place to myself. Actually, since when I move out at Christmas the landlord will move in here to do some renovations before selling it on, I'm the last tenant to ever occupy the house.

It's strange, because until quite recently I really hated the idea and the reality of living alone - dig back in this blog far enough and you'll find at least one post to that effect. These days, however, living on my own probably suits me best. A factor of age perhaps.

That said, I do now have plenty of space to put people up in if they're in Liverpool over the next few months.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Idiosyncratic History of the Music Video, Part 1

with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark - that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

There is a common agreement - repeated so often that it has become cliche - that the 1960s ended with the death of Meredith Hunter during The Rolling Stones' set at Altamont in 1969. The point where other pop-culture decades ended is usually less clear. I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone put foward an event which ended the 1970s. This is perhaps because everyone was glad the 1970s were over, but that's beside the point.

My suggestion for when the 1970s ended involved Mick Jagger once again, making him some kind of agent of change. The event itself comes in 1985, with the release of the video for Jagger and David Bowie's ill-advised cover version of "Dancing in the Street". Suddenly the world was confronted with Earth's two coolest men somehow contriving to look like nothing so much as your dad and your uncle dancing at a wedding.

Perhaps due to the embarrasment of the participants, it seems that it isn't possible to embed any of the Youtube versions of the video, so if you want to see the evidence you'll have to follow a link.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

An Elegant Weapon For A Less Civilised Age

I was recently in Dublin for a "War and Death" conference, and it reminded me that I still had videos of the bronze sword display from WAC-6 last year. I though people might be interested in seeing them, so here we go:



Dr. Alan Peatfield uses a bronze short sword on a melon.




Dr. Barry Molloy uses an Egyptian khephesh on rolled tatami mat, simulating a limb.



Drs. Peatfield and Molloy demonstrate the use of a khephesh against a shield. As far as I know, the man who breaks and runs on 0.19 is not doing so in fear of his life.


Sadly, I was not filming when a Very Eminent Scandinavian Prehistorian accidently almost opened up a woman's arm with a swing of a Bronze Age rapier - a near-miss that was not his fault, but still nearly took experimental archaeology onto a whole new level.

Monday, August 31, 2009

"Would You Like To Play A Game?"

madagascar

It was the President Madagascar meme which first put me on to Pandemic 2 - a free online Flash game in which you play the part of a global pandemic, with the aim being to wipe out humanity as quickly as possible. The joke is that Madagascar has only a single seaport as a point of entry in the game, and the government there is extremely quick to shut off all communications before your virus arrives. For the record, I have yet to win the game, although I did manage to wipe out everyone apart from Japan, New Zealand, and (of course) Madagascar.

The topicality of the game put me in mind of a text-only game from the 1980s - which I cannot find mentioned anywhere on the internet - which allowed you to simulate a nuclear exchanged between the US and USSR. It did a very nice job of re-creating the mindset of MAD: launch everything you have at everything they have in the first wave, and hope that you still have something left at the end to technically make you the winner.

It also made me think that topicality in games was something that we didn't have for quite a while. In the glory days of the British computer game industry in the 1980s we had plenty, with Harrier Attack and Wanted: Monty Mole springing to mind. I suppose the small size of games then made it easy to produce them quickly, while events were still recent. As game have gotten more complex, the development time has increased markedly. Flash games seem to have provided a new way of producing things quickly, though.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Academic Comedy

Yesterday brought the revelation that my internal examiner is a big fan of BBC Three's not-as-good-as-Boosh-or-Conchords-but-still-good-fun comedy We Are Klang. This is funny both because he himself reminds me a lot of the guy in it who plays the teacher in The Inbetweeners, and because I suspect the programme represents his view of the department.

There's also the matter of this little gem on prehistoric art from my external examiner's 2007 book:

And the men are usually phallic. Why? Presumably not because they fought battles in that state; apart from the obvious discomfort and impracticality, one would think it would be physically impossible to sustain such a state during combat (it seems unlikely that experimental archaeology will come to our aid in this instance).
He wasn't that bleedin' funny in the viva, let me tell you.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Don't You...



I think I first saw The Breakfast Club when I was about 15, which is probably the perfect age at which to do so. A few years later, when I was at university, I forced some of my friends to watch it. They didn't get it, I still did. These things stay with you: I'm considering re-creating the Judd-Nelson-on-the-football-field pose here in Liverpool when I finally get the thesis re-submitted.

It's easy to get caught up in the 80s nostalgia element of the John Hughes films, but they're more than that. I reckon they're streets ahead of most films made for a teenage audience today, at any rate.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hit And Hope

This week I submitted an application to an institution in New York which funds research into human aggression, domination and violence. It should probably be there now, in fact. I asked for a year's funding to expand the work of my thesis into a published monograph. I have pretty much no expectation that the application will be successful, but there you go.

Monday, July 20, 2009

There's A Popular Misconception/Says We Haven't Seen Anything Yet

So here we are at the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11. For me the most surprising thing is discovering that Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were all 39 when they did the mission. Clearly there's plenty of time left for me to do something important.

It seems to be pretty common these days for people to dismiss the whole Apollo project as a meaningless exercise which cost a huge amount of money which could've been better spent elsewhere. Perhaps, but it's worth noting that Apollo cost far less than the Vietnam war and killed a significantly smaller number of people.

Anyway, by way of celebration, some music. It was down to either this, or "Also Sprach Zarathustra". The tie-breaker was that Clint Boon was DJ-ing in a club once where I got so drunk that I couldn't see properly. Has Richard Strauss done that for me? Has he bollocks.




And, because it's one of the best things ever to appear on the internet, here we have Buzz Aldrin ("Second comes right after first!") offering a robust response to someone claiming that he never actually went to the moon:


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Park Live

At the point in British pop-culture when it was imperative that one chose between Blur and Oasis, I chose Blur. In Manchester in 1995, this was an interesting and perhaps hazardous choice. However, looking at the post-Britpop careers of the two bands, I'm pretty sure I made the right choice. Thanks to my sister, we got tickets to the first of the Blur gigs in Hyde Park on Thursday last week. Because it was really hot in London that day, and because the support acts were so disappointing (The Foals? Friendly Fires? Where are all Damon's world music mates when you need them?) we decided to turn up pretty late in the day, about seven. This worked pretty well, with the heat starting to die off as we arrived, although we also managed to make our usual error in going to the wrong tube station and having to walk the long way round to the entrance.

I confess to not really having followed the ins and outs of the Blur breakup when it happened, so my sister filled me in on the fact that it was Coxon vs. everyone else. Also discussed was how Damon had gone from being reviled in the mid-90s to pretty popular today, while Alex James is now apparently hated for for owning a dairy and writing about it in The Observer. It just goes to show though: someone should have told Jackson that all he needed to do was spend a decade pretending to be an animated character and writing elaborate stage shows about monkeys, and all would have been forgiven.

Once inside we grabbed a beer and headed into the crowd to get a good spot in what turned out to be a very big crowd indeed. As ever, the crowd itself provided all the needed entertainment before the band comes on. On particularly good form were two guys stood just behind us:

[Roadies wheel a big trolly of equipment onto the stage]

MAN 1: Maybe Damon's going to come on early and do some of his solo stuff?

MAN 2: I think everyone would get tired of Dub Reggae pretty quickly.

Then, a bit later:

MAN 1: (Observing the big map of Britain to the right of the stage) What's that island between Britain and Ireland?

MAN 2: I dunno, but I reckon we should go and check it out.

I hope they do, but I can't help but feel that they'll only be disappointed.

We've been to festivals and gigs in Hyde Park for a few years now, and what surprised us this time was the amount of plastic bottle-throwing, which started prior to the band coming on and continued throughout the evening. It reached epidemic proportions just before Blur took to the stage, and was oddly impressive, like a low-budget fireworks display. Also it was fun to imagine Blur cowering backstage, thinking "Oh God, is our comeback going to vanish under a hail of empty Tuborg bottles?"

Fortunately this failed to happen, and a cheerful and slightly dazed-seeming Albarn and the rest entered from the right. Albarn's somewhat garbled take on things was a main feature of the evening - comparable to seeing The Who a few years ago, but Townsend and Daltry have the excuse that they're now nearly a thousand years old. My favourite piece of incomprehensible banter from Damon? "At one point during this song I'm going to start running towards you, and I want you all to literally run towards me...literally, but not physically." What?

My era of Blur was really "The Great Escape", because I preferred them pretending to be The Kinks rather than pretending to be Pavement. What turned out to be one of my highlights of the evening came pretty early on, with a thumping, up-tempo version of "Girls and Boys": parody of Ibiza dance doing a pretty good job of being the real thing.

Perhaps it was the heat, or the size of the crowd, but the twat-ratio seemed to be higher than previous Hyde Park gigs we'd been to - witness the bottle throwing, but also one guy stood near us who, before nearly every song, shouted "PLAY THE ELVIS ONE!" Bizarrely, it turned out that this meant "Tender is the Night". No, I don't know why, either.

Tender is the night was very popular with the crowd, who continued to sing "Oh my baby/Oh my baby/Oh why/Oh my" for a short time after the song had finished. This did not go down well on stage, and Albarn responded with "If you want to carry on singing, could you leave the park and go down the road a bit?" Gracious as ever, Damo!

All the big hits were played, with people going absolutely fucking mental for "Song 2", causing a guy just to my left, who had a bag full of Graham Coxon flyers he was giving out, to desperately dive around saving the bag from beneath people's feet. "Coffee and TV" was enjoyed in a more sedate way, and it was only when Coxon introduced it that I realised that I'd somehow made it all the way through the 90s without realising that he has a really silly speaking voice. Maybe that's what drove him to drink?

"Park Life" obviously, was the centrepiece of the set, for which Phil Daniels joined the band on stage for simian-style mockney-dancing. Damon also told us that Hyde Park was the inspiration for the song, because he'd lived just around the corner in the early 90s.

The encore closed with "The Universal", always one of my favourites, although unlike the video there were no Clockwork Orange references forthcoming from the stage. It was a great way to finish - after all, it is now the next century...

WE really enjoyed the whole thing, and given the amount of energy expended by Albarn and the band it might be a good thing that we were there on the first night, because they must have been knackered on the Friday. I'd certainly be interested in new Blur album, if one's in the offing.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Teaching Greek Pottery To The Inbetweeners

Well, this week saw me doing a little outreach work for the department, by giving the Greek pottery session that I do for the undergraduates to classes of Sixth-Form students, in the hope that it'll encourage them to come here and do archaeology. It's a tough balance to strike: you want to be upbeat and friendly, but it's very easy to slip into doing this to nightmarish levels - see Graham Norton's character of the Youth Group Priest in Father Ted for reference.

it seemed to go pretty well. Despite the title of the post, the groups were really good, and I'd have been happy to have had them as an Undergraduate class.

My other work at the moment sees me writing a chapter on Bronze Age warfare in Italy and the Balkans. This has involved mechanically translating five books out of German, then making notes on the translation. Still, I now know an awful lot about the bronze swords of Hungary and Romania. I look forward to listing that as a skill to someone at the Job Centre.

Monday, June 22, 2009

You Can't Help Being Hard Up/Can't Trust The Gods We Trusted

entertain-tickets


There is, of course, a question as to whether I can afford the time or the money to go and see them. There's also a question as to whether I can afford to *not* have the bass line to "At Home He's a Tourist" echo around my ribcage.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Waiting For The Tanks

Found here, a "new" photograph of a familiar and moving scene. Remarkable.

Waiting for the Tanks

Friday, May 08, 2009

Disaster Response

In a spectacularly good coincidence last week, Channel 4 had George Romero's The Crazies (1973) on, which I had heard of but hadn't seen before. The premise of the film is that a virus causing homicidal insanity has accidentally become loose in a small town in America. In a sense, what we have is a zombie film without any zombies.

Being made in-between Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978), Romero clearly had very little money to spend on this, and it has that look that all low-budget 70s horror films seem to. What sets The Crazies apart from those films is Romero's more sophisticated take on the situation: the problem isn't so much the virus, but more the incompetent and heavy-handed response from the authorities.

I see from IMDB that an inevitable remake should be out next year. The core concept certainly has potential for a bigger budget remake, but I have a suspicion that, like the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, the badly flawed original will remain the more interesting piece.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why I Hate Saturn

I recently aquired a scanner for the purposes of OCRing foreign-language papers and then running them through an automatic translator, rather than actually being able to read foreign languages like proper academics do. One spin-off from the purchase is that it came with a gadget to let you scan slides.

Now, unlike most people I know, I do actually have some slides - the product of spending your teenage years taking photos of the night sky, rather than doing something healthier, like talking to girls.

So, for the first time on the internet, some of the results. First up, Comet C/1996 B2 Hyakutake:

Comet Hyakutake


Comet Hyakutake 2


Then, a bit later, Comet C/1995 O1 Hale-Bopp:

Comet Hale-Bopp


Comet Hale-Bopp and Cassiopeia


With the constellation Cassiopeia


Comet Hale-Bopp 2


Taken slightly later, you can see that the tail has changed shape as the comet changes position relative to the sun

Friday, April 17, 2009

Walled In

[River Deep-Mountain High] was the simulacrum of all Spector's grandiosity, his overarching ambition; it was all his passion, his thirst for revenge and his madness. It was a record that swept you up into its particular psychosis and left you stunned and exhausted in its wake. You could be enthralled by it, but you could never love it.
- Mick Brown, Tearing Down The Wall Of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector (2007)

Second-degree murder is, I suspect, a pretty accurate reflection of what happened. I was curious in the media reports of the verdict that Spector was described as having a history of threatening women with guns - this is true, but only in the sense that he had a history of threatening people in general with guns, The Ramones only being the most famous example.

This isn't to say, of course, that Spector's relationship with women wasn't extremely odd. That much was testified in the music, going right the way back to the beginning: tell me that there isn't something a little strange about the last line of "Spanish Harlem".

All in all, yet another case of someone being a great artist and a terrible human being.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pandarama

As promised, videos of the wildlife from my visit to "Ocean Park" in Hong Kong.



The dolphins are housed in a place called "Dolphin University". This one just got a 2:2, but it's OK: that's what he expected to get.



In this one, the Dolphins can be heard talking, although the subject of the conversation is unclear.



A popular pastime for the members of "Dolphin University" is to roll over on their backs and let the water spray on their bellies.



I've always been fond of Rays, and this one very kindly surfaced and flapped along the shoreline while I was nearby.



Actually, they might be Seals rather than Sea Lions, but I'm not sure I can tell the difference. They seemed to like shooting along the bottom of the pool on their backs with their eyes closed.



"Lucky" has scars on his shell which suggest he was hit by a propeller. He spent several months in intensive care before joining the aquarium.



One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Ocean Park was the promise of Pandas. I was not disappointed. Apparently in the wild they are solitary animals, and the black-and-white coats help them avoid each other. It's no wonder breeding is such a problem for them.



These Pandas are asleep, and they don't have to justify themselves to you. The wobbling at the end of this clip is because a small child has just head-butted me in the stomach.



Jia Jia had been dozing sat up when I first got into the Panda enclosure. Then she woke up and scratched herself on a tree-trunk, to general excitement.

Friday, March 13, 2009

White Wedding (Part 1)

It's high time I finished off the posts about my visit to Hong Kong. I was up pretty early on the morning of the wedding itself, thanks to the effects of jet-lag. This did, however, give me plenty of time to go and poke about Aberdeen Harbour. From here you can get boats out to the floating seafood restaurants, but given that the food they serve is apparently pretty bad, and that they aren't actually floating, I didn't take up the opportunity.

Aberdeen Blocks


Due to my deep, deep fear of becoming trapped in some obscure part of Hong Kong and unable to make it to the wedding, I changed into my suit before heading into town to spend the morning in Central. This meant that many of the citizens of Hong Kong got to see a profusely sweating white guy walking around the mid-levels, but I'm sure they're fairly used to that.

The mid-levels were reached by taking a series of escalators suspended above street level, which is a somewhat strange way to travel, but did help reduce the effects of wearing the suit. I got off at Hollywood Road to poke about the antiques district and visit the Man Mo temple. Some of the shops did have interesting antiquities that were far out of my price range. Man Mo temple is quite strangely placed, with modern buildings having grown up all around it.

Roof of the Man Mo Temple


There were what looked like nice carvings at the ground-level of the temple too, but the slightly strange decision to preserve them by encasing them in bubble-wrap had been taken, so it was hard to see what they actually were. In the neighbouring streets I kept an eye out for any "Bank of Hell" banknotes (because who wouldn't want currency from the Bank of Hell?) which are burned as offerings in the temple, but I drew a blank.

My previous visit to Kowloon had been done using the underground system, but I wanted to make the crossing by ferry at least once, so I decided to do that now. Comparisons to the Mersey ferries are favourable: not only are the Hong Kong ferries cheaper, they don't bombard you with a recording of "Ferry Across The Mersey", either. Although I suppose it would be quite weird if they did.

My worries about missing the wedding were unfounded, as I turned up about 15 minutes early, about the same time that Tom and his family got there. Being Valentine's Day, the church was having back-to-back wedding all day. Weddings were tending to collide with each other outside, and I wouldn't be surprised if at some point that day someone found themselves in the wrong one. I was interested to note the neon haloes on the statues inside the church, although apparently that's pretty common in the Far East.

As for the service itself, my Catholic upbringing was not enough for me to instinctively remember when I should be stood up or sat down. Doing what the majority of people did was clearly the best policy, although the cases where there wasn't a clear majority were a risky.

After the service, I joined everyone else in dodging between the official photographers - who had been fearless in getting in close for their shots during the service - in order to steal a few photos.

For the reception, we were bussed as a mob to a very nice hotel - the location of which I'm still not sure of - for a meal. I'm thinking the music was Tom's department, given that the playlist began with David Bowie's last good song ("Absolute Beginners" if you're wondering). I was also amused that he did, after all, manage to sneak Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" in, which prompted a discussion on my table about other unconventional songs for weddings - post yours in the comments section.

Post-reception, we decamped back to the Irish bar where the stag-night had begun. I left earlier than I would have liked, but I was mindful of the possibility that I'd be left in the middle of nowhere again, and the next day would be my last in Hong Kong. As it was, I needn't have worried - the taxi driver knew the address, and dropped me off at the door of the hotel with no fuss. Where had that guy been all the other times?

The next day, I started off by heading to Ocean Park, the theme park on the south coast. Despite Aberdeen being quite near it, it seemed that the easiest way was to go to central and get the dedicated bus. Admission was £20, which is pretty reasonable. I had no intention of going on any of the rides, but was there to see the sealife - and pandas. I've got videos of this which I'll put up sometime soon, but it was well worth the visit.

Ray

I had a few other things to tick off on my list that day, which involved heading a little bit out into the suburbs. Wong Tai Sin temple was apparently miraculously saved several times from destruction by the Japanese in the Second World War, and has now given its name to the whole area.

Wong Tai Sin Temple In Context

I did go inside, although photography there was not allowed. Worship here took the form of shaking a beaker full of sticks in front of the altar - I think this causes one stick to come out, and that they have characters on which can be interpreted for meaning. Interesting to see.

Even further into the heart of suburbia was Kowloon Walled City Park, which I admit I was visiting purely because of the mentions William Gibson had given to the Walled City. Left out of the treaty which ceded Hong Kong to Britain, the Walled City had existed without a government until it was pulled down in 1992. It appears not to have been the crime-ridden hell-hole you might have imagined, either, despite apparently being run by Triad gangs. These days, the site is a really nice park, which contains some of the remains of the city, as well as a model of how it looked.

Model of Kowloon Walled City


The last things I did were purchasing some gifts for people back home - a Chinese film flyer from the shop next to the Broadway Cinematheque for my sister, some green stone elephants and a teapot for my parents from Temple Street Night Market. The latter two items involved haggling, although I'm temperamentally unsuited to the activity, and I clearly paid well over the odds. On the other hand, it was never a game I was actually going to win at.

From there it was back to central to collect my case, then out to the airport to come home. There were some things I couldn't do because of the weather, and it would have been nice to have an extra day in the city, but I had a great time out there. Perhaps one day I'll go again.

Monday, March 02, 2009

"Well They'd Already Be In There, Wouldn't They?"

I spent this weekend in London, becuase my sister had cleverly gotten tickets to the premieres of the Red Riding Trilogy at the BFI, before the first one screens on Channel 4 later this week.

As readers of the blog and people who know me in real life will know, I'm a big fan of the novels, and of Peace's writing in general. Combined with the fact that this is my very own blog, I've never had such a good opportunity to become a raging fanboi. I'm going to try and pass the opportunity up, however.

As with any attempt to transform a novel into a 90-minute film, there is an inevitable process of reduction. The plots have had to be somewhat simplified, some characters amalgamated. Gone too are the first-person perspectives and internal monologues, replaced by a more standard third-person approach.

I'm not going to go into too much detail about the films, because people may well be seeing these stories for the first time later in the week. What was interesting was that, like the novels, 1980 is the gem here, and 1983 is easily the weakest. The latter compounds this by including a completely new ending which I suspect will cause David Peace to vomit with rage. 1974, the first part, makes the main protagonist far more sympathetic that he is in the novel - perilously close to a Sam Tyler-figure, in fact - but features some of the best cinematography of the three. The trilogy also features strong performances by several members of the cast - Paddy Considine, David Morrissey, Sean Bean, and Sean Harris all stand out.

All in all, did I get the competition to The Wire that I was looking for? Not quite, but then comparing a 13-hour series with three 1.5-hour films isn't really fair. What we have got, though, is some superior British crime drama, something of an antidote to the carefully edited I Love The 70s nostalgia and the tea-and-scones vision of police corruption found in Life On Mars. Watch the series, but do go and find the novels, too.

Being the BFI screening, the audience was full of members of the cast and crew, and other well-known figures. Mike Leigh was sat two rows directly in front of me, and I could totally have bounced a scrunched-up piece of paper off the back of his head. I didn't, though. I'm not sure I'd ever been around so many famous people - it's not everyday you walk past one of Alex's Droogs sharing a cigarette with Fred Flintstone.

The films were followed by a Q&A. Given that many of the people in the audience were 1) in the films and 2) full of wine the questions weren't always that interesting. Warren Clarke believed that the films had "brought the bollocks back to British TV", but he meant it in a good way. I'll always remember this portion of the evening for the following:

HOST: (searches the audience) I understand that the Yorkshire Ripper is here, minus his beard?

[Joseph Mawle waves his arm in the air. There is a scattered round of applause - whether it's for being the Yorkshire Ripper or for having shaved is unclear]

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sensoria

Hong Kong Island


I got into Hong Kong airport at about 2PM, and after failing to get my mobile phone working at the airport took the fast train into Central. At the Pacific Coffee Company in the IFC mall I was able to get internet access with my coffee, and discovered that I'd forgotten to put a "+" in front of the country code. I was then able to call Tom, who was able to round me up with his mum, brother, and Jon Brown, who I hadn't seen since London in 2003.

Tom was also kind enough to get me to Aberdeen on the south side of the island, where my hotel was. The taxi driver did not know where this was, and left us in the middle of nowhere - the start of a recurring pattern with me and Hong Kong taxi drivers. If Tom hadn't come with me I would probably never have been seen again.

Soon after reaching my hotel it was time to leave it again, and head out for the stag night on Lan Kwai Fong, which began at an Irish bar, took in one quite good place that had a band, and finished in a cheap dive which I was later informed was where everyone's maid goes when they're off-duty. My memories of the whole thing are a bit hazy, but those that are there are fun. Plus, travel is all about new experiences, and I'd never been accosted by an Aussie pimp before.

We left the last club at about 6AM, and I made the fatal mistake of attempting to get a taxi back to Aberdeen. Despite having the hotel address written down in Chinese characters, he left me in a different part of the middle of nowhere. Fortunately all signs in Hong Kong are bi-lingual, so I was able to find a bus stop which would take me back to central, where I could get a bus to Aberdeen.

In central I wanted a coffee and some breakfast. By this point, however, I had been awake for a dangerous number of hours, and had been drinking. Having my eyes open was strangely painful. There was clearly something wrong with my demeanour as I entered the IFC mall, because I was intercepted by the security staff. Fortunately for me they accepted that I wanted a coffee, rather than to kill everyone and burn the place to the ground, so I was allowed to proceed.

I finally returned to the hotel at about 9.30AM, a good 13 hours since I'd last been there. Most of Friday was therefore lost to sleep. In the evening, however, I made it over to Kowloon to the Night Market. If you want something in your house with a picture of one of the 20th Century's most effective mass murderers, you can buy it here, along with lots of fake watches, copied DVDs, and so on. Also, a surprising number of stalls seemed to be devoted to selling sex toys.

Kowloon Lights


"He say you Blade Runner": Neon signs on Temple Street, Kowloon.


I was feeling a bit guilty that I'd been in Hong Kong this long and hadn't actually eaten any Chinese food yet. Not wanting to be ill for the wedding, I avoided the food stalls on Temple Street and headed to the "Heaven on Earth" restaurant on Knutsford Terrace, who were able to find me a table despite it being the day before Valentine's Day. They come recommended, if you ever go to Hong Kong.

To round things off, I walked down to Tsim Sha Tsui to see the famous Hong Kong skyline at night, where I took the picture at the top of this post. After the previous night, I made sure I took the bus back to Aberdeen.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cities In Dust

Skyscraper District

The beginning of a full report of my visit to Hong Kong this month. As originally planned, I was going to spend about two hours in Qatar at Doha airport, waiting for my connecting flight to Hong Kong. As it turned out, a thick fog meant that I missed the connection, and had to wait 20 hours for the next one. I ended up being given a visa for Qatar, presumably to stop me escaping and living out my days as some sort of fierce desert bandit, but I hadn't packed for that anyway.

Fortunately, the airline put me up at a hotel for the day. More specifically, the five star Mövenpick Towers & Suites. It is, needless to say, the nicest hotel I've ever been in, and I'm unlikely to ever be anywhere that nice again. I would quite happily have rented my room as an apartment. Everyone else there was wearing very nice suits, and I was wearing a ten year-old sweater and had holes in my shoes. I felt somewhat out of place and apologetic, and that was before the incident with the orange juice at breakfast.

The hotel room contained a thick visitors guide to the country. It gave me a brief list of behaviour to avoid which included:
  1. Don't take photos of buildings.
  2. Don't take photos of people.
  3. Don't talk to any Arab women.
It was shaping up to be a fun visit. Getting to the souks would also involve changing money into Riyals and getting to the other side of town, and I didn't want to miss any messages from the airline. I did, however, venture out onto the Corniche. As you'll see from the photos, the murk was beginning to gather again, and I wondered if I might be there even longer.

West Bay, Doha

I was already breaking rule 1, but no-one arrested me on charges of spying on Qatar's huge military secrets. It pretty quickly became apparent that the whole West Bay area consists of nothing except luxury hotels and business skyscrapers. Anyone staying there is going to be spending a lot of time in the hotel, unless they're going to the golf course. Ten years ago there must have been hardly anything to Doha at all, which makes you wonder where, precisely, all that oil money was going before it was stimulating hotel construction.

Sheraton Hotel, Doha

The Sheraton hotel, Doha: Someone's been watching "Blade Runner". Also, if you get a penthouse suite you're allowed to cut someone's heart out and kick their body down the outside of the building.*
Something else was also becoming clear: in Doha, everyone drives everywhere. The only other people I encountered walking around were imported labourers here to do all the skyscraper-building, and joggers. Walking was a sign of extreme poverty. I still felt more at home than I did in the hotel.

The furthest point I reached was the mascot for the 2006 Asian Games. "What's the single most terrifying thing we could do?" they asked themselves. "How about building a giant, torch-wielding Oryx, and then leaving it to decay by the seashore?"

Giant Oryx

One day it will surely rampage amongst the skyscrapers. Until then, it waits.

I walked back to the hotel as evening set in. At 11 O'Clock the hotel bus ran me and the other passengers out to the airport. Seven hours later I was in Hong Kong, a day late, but still in time for the stag night. That's for the next post.

*This is a lie.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hong Kong Conversation

I have now returned from Tom's wedding in Hong Kong. A fuller account will follow, with pictures and videos and everything. For now, please be content with this fragment of conversations, which I thought was worth preserving.

Tom: That's the tower that Batman jumps off in "The Dark Knight".

Tom's Mum: That seems like an unwise thing to do.

Tom: He's always been a bit of a loose cannon, that Batman.

Tom's Brother: Yes - he should be stopped.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Never Never

Well, this week I got my rejection letter from the museum, having failed to get an interview for it. I'm reliably in formed that it was an inside job, so it doesn't seem that there was any danger of them letting the likes of me anywhere near it anyway. This doesn't really change the question, though, which is that if I wasn't considered suitable for this post, is there a post that I am going to be thought of as suitable for?

With an estimated 3.5 million unemployed this year, the corrections to the thesis, and getting The Worst Peer-Review ever this time last year, I'm increasingly thinking that finishing the thesis is the last thing I'll be doing in archaeology.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Blue Lights On Black Sky

The first half of 2009 contains a couple of things in film and television which are of considerable interest to me - both of them David Peace - related. I already knew that a film adaptation of The Damned United with Michael Sheen as Brian Clough was going to be out. Now a preview of the year in one of the papers has informed me that Channel 4 will be screening an adaption of the same author's Red Riding Quartet starting in March.

This has considerable potential. For some time I've felt that British T.V. drama has been severely outclassed by that of American T.V., and by the output of H.B.O. in particular - the fact that I'm currently five episodes into the first series of The Wire is only confirming my opinion. Handled right, the Red Riding novels are the kind of source material which could produce something good. There are, of course, the normal concerns about the lower budgets of British T.V. and the possibility of a certain level of sanitisation taking place - things which made the recent adaptations of Jake Arnott's The Long Firm and He Kills Coppers somewhat lacklusture. Either way, I await the broadcasts with interest.