Archive | December, 2012

London: we’ve been doing this for centuries

19 Dec

covent garden christmasI’ve just been back to London this week for a pre-Christmas wedding, which involved the ceremonial catch-ups with mates and ex-colleagues and a particularly lovely encounter with a bacon and cheese toastie, which will stay with me for a very long time.

Festive London really is a lovely affair. Christmas as we know it in the UK is pretty much a Victorian invention so it’s probably fitting that the capital – with its imposing monuments, churches, statues and stations from this period – does it better than anywhere else. Even Covent Garden comes into its own at Christmas – I dunno, there’s just something very festive about cobbled stones, failed actors and terrible mime artists.

It’s always bitter sweet, going home after any length of time abroad and it can be difficult to get over the feeling of having being left behind. London had its best mockney attitude on for Christmas, though, and did its best to persuade me to stay. Eccentric little bars, restaurants, cafes and clubs are dotted all over the place from Soho to Exmouth Market, Borough to Brixton. Menus glued to the inside of Cannon and Ball albums, blackboards scrawled with the lyrics of classic indie songs, bar staff with more piercings, tattoos, casual unaffected humour and just plain weirdness than you can shake a stick at: London is just better at this shit than anywhere else.

In Hong Kong, of course, the biggest tragedy of the absurdly high rents is that any budding entrepreneur looking to succeed in the hospitality space needs a combination of luck, friends in high places, plenty of money and a business plan aimed at servicing wealthy ex-pats, tourists and super-rich locals with lots of money but no taste. This is the Armani and Cristal set, who’d rather preen with a cocktail halfway up a skyscraper than slum it in an artsy dive bar basement. The fact that there are few alternatives to get wonky in Honky is a tragedy.

London’s not all good though. I was staying in Elephant and Castle, an area which has redefined the meaning of underachievement. Zone 1, 10 mins by Tube to the City, West End, etc etc and yet a wasteland of brutalist 1950s housing estates, 99p Shops, Halal butchers and payday loan shops. This is urban planning by the bastard child of Corbussier and Waynetta Slob and it has been waiting for renewal for about 20 years while successive local councillors bicker over the small print.

If this was Hong Kong, Elephant would have been restored to its rightful place as the Piccadilly Circus of the south by now. No political infighting, no squabbles over funding – just getting shit done. Then again, it would have probably ended up with 35 x 7-11s, 5 x private members’ bars, 3 x shopping malls filled with luxury fashion and jewelry brands, far too many escalators and housing that no-body who currently lives there can afford. I love Hong Kong – “sometimes misguided but always enthusiastic” – but it needs to loosen up a bit or its poor citizens will be drinking in vapid grief-holes for the rest of their days.

Clocks still flapping? Clockenflap 2012

4 Dec

One of the most frustrating things about living in Hong Kong for any length of time is the absolute paucity of good live music. I’m not talking about Hong Kong’s burgeoning local indie and rock scene – um, wherever that is – but world class bands and DJs.


Enter Clockenflap 2012, a music and arts festival held on a scrap of disused land in West Kowloon. It is quite simply the only thing going on here, bar the odd club night and an occasional flying visit from a DJ with every ‘s’ in his moniker replaced by ‘z’. It started off life in 2008 in Cyberport – unfortunately not as cool as it sounds – with a mission to bring decent music to HK and provide a platform for local talent.

This year was the first to charge for entry and by all accounts was the busiest yet (Hong Kong-ers prefer the idea of paying for stuff). Even if the quality early doors left a bit to be desired, there were six stages, a film tent and several after-parties…which in my book is not a bad set-up at all.

Klaxons killed it on Sunday, De La Soul were surprise hit of the weekend and Primal Scream just about made it to the end without collapsing or forgetting where they were. And Black Bart DJs – bedecked in neon-coloured Native American headwear – were as understated as ever.

With a backdrop like Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, there’s not much that can go wrong. Cheap-ish beer, decent food and some heroically skimpy festival attire (female) ensured the weekend passed by in a blur of alcohol, terrible dancing and bumping into things. The bankers-on-their-day-off vibe (you wouldn’t see expensive red wine being glugged at T in the Park), the massive queue for the bogs, and the unfathomably risk averse security staff who took offense to any shoulder-climbing, just added to the charm.

Can’t wait to flap our clocks in 2013. I’ll see you down the front, yeah?