Monday, January 20, 2020

Outré Odo

Here on the charge at Hastings is Odo of Bayeux, the man who commissioned the tapestry. 

Brother to William and a bishop. Even in 1066 this was fairly outré behaviour for  a member of the secular clergy. 

Yet being a respected man of the cloth, Odo apparently paid heed to the technicality that he was not permitted to draw blood and thus eschewed the pointier sort of weapon in favour of those designed to deliver blunt trauma. 

In effect, a baseball bat. It has always amused me that in public at least the Guatemalan legal system is geared up to resolve disputes through a process of reconciliation, yet almost every lawyer I have ever had here has privately opined that the best way to handle matters is in the manner of Odo above. 

Post-conquest Odo ended up owning Kent, which is where he recruited seamstresses to produce this monumental piece of medieval propaganda. 

After a spell in the nick, he later set off on the first crusade, died en-route and was laid to rest within the cathedral of Palermo. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

New funding model

The Queen's Sandringham estate in Norfolk has been receiving around £650,000 in EU CAP subsidies. 

Yet presumably, as the revenues from the crown estates revert to the Treasury, before being paid out to those members of the Royal Family who are still up for the job, this was quite a sneaky way of getting Johnny Foreigner to part pay for our pomp and circumstance. 

Regardless of the position they might take on Harry and Meghan as individuals, there will surely be analysts of the free-marketeer bent who will be keeping a close eye on how things pan out for them in 'North America'. There's a funding model being established for all members of the subsidiary or 'spare' branches of the Windsor tree. 

'Walmart with a crown on it'. It's a Brexit-ready solution. 

Meghan is not a UK citizen and is now unlikely to ever become one. Does Harry have a green card? 

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Garden of Forking Paths

This morning I re-read The Garden of Forking Paths, perhaps the archetypal Borgesian metaphysical enigma, written in 1941. 

It should perhaps be read as a companion piece to any more contemporary piece of popular scientific explanation, say The Order of Time, by Carlo Rovelli, in the interests of constructive bafflement over deceptive clarity. 

It’s one of those stories stacked with juiced-up sentences, not all of which will ignite the synapses on any given reading. 

My take-out today was as follows. The garden is, physically at least, an English garden, located in the fictional town or village of Ashgrove. When the train arrives at the station, nobody announces its name. 

Twice narrator Dr Tsun makes the point that the path he follows is on an incline, downwards. 

At the heart of the garden there’s a structure, which houses an even greater labyrinth, an infinite novel. And a man called Albert. Dr Tsun’s encounter with him is at once apposite and arbitrary. 

The nature of this novel is a riddle about Time, a word that it is careful never to mention during the course of this ‘guessing game’. 

Not all possible futures can be reached from a given location on the path. 

Borges had a solid, very modern grasp of the relationship of consciousness to the ‘flow’ of time. "Century follows century, and things happen only in the present. There are countless men in the air, on land and at sea, and all that really happens, happens to me."

This part of the story suggests an additional riddle for me, that may not even be ‘in’ the text. 

Consciousness is our subjective experience of the path, of the absence that is time, but is it always the same track that we are descending?  At times in my life I’ve had a strong sense of being on a specific and connotative path and at other times very much off it, lost in the labyrinth. 

Gregory Norminton once quipped that 'If God is truth, Satan was the first storyteller.' Put less theologically, the conscious mind is the universe's storyteller, stringing together those moments where we sense that the present is happening to us into a beaten path of apparent continuity. Yet is this just an analogue version of an objective path or indeed paths?

Both the English version of the title and the Spanish (El Jardín de Senderos que se Bifurcan) give us a plurality of paths through the maze. My intuition is that might encompass not just the bifurcations, but different originating paths. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The best of times, the worst of times...

Of all the incidents of murky political violence in the Guatemala I have known, this one (just) pips the bashing of Bishop Gerardi to top spot, as the murkiest of all. 

On May 10, 2009 attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano was shot in the back, and then four more times in the head and neck whilst out cycling in the capital. The next day a pre-recorded video emerged in which Rosenberg blamed the President and his wife for his imminent assassination. The government was rocked. Eventually a UN investigation concluded that the lawyer had himself offed precisely to effect a rocking of Álvaro Colom’s government. 

The trouble is, the UN investigators (CICIG), now outcasts, were somewhat mysteriously present at the crime scene before the posthumous video went public. This enigma is now the subject of a non-fictional political thriller by Guatemalan diplomat Fernando González Davison.

Cooking is Mood

We knew the chef here as a toddler. 

The very best of luck to her with her new YouTube channel. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Monday, January 13, 2020


I seem to be the only member of our household prepared to eat a white, Cavendish banana.

All our dogs adore criollos, but give them a bit of blanco and they'll spit it out almost at once. 

Since the 50s these relatively insipid bananas have become the most internationally-traded variety, thanks largely to their having been used to plug the gap left by the Gros Michel type, then attacked and depleted by Panama Disease. 

They are named after William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, who received a batch from Mauritius around 1834 and thereafter cultivated them at his Chatsworth House property. 

The most familiar form, in both supermarkets and sex education classes, is the Gran Nain or Chiquita banana, Chiquita being the modern name of the United Fruit Company of some notoriety in these parts.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019)

Tom Hanks received his first Oscar nomination in 19 years today for his role in this movie. Having had no previous exposure to Ted Rogers, watching it was a bit like sitting through The Theory of Everything never having heard of Stephen Hawking.

And not being innately inclined from childhood to regard this man as unimpeachably beatific, as well as finding both puppeteers and predicadores inherently rather creepy, I did find my internal Jimmy Saville klaxon was sounding a few times during its running time. 

Anyway, for the uninitiated it perhaps helps that Hanks is not actually playing the lead here, rather Welsh actor Matthew Rhys as a fictionalised version of journalist Tom Junod, who wrote this profile piece of Rogers for Esquire

The action is set over two decades ago in 1998, yet we found ourselves being reminded of this only once a piece of technology had entered a scene. There has to be something culturally significant about this. 

Back then, if you made a movie about the 70s, the period would be an ubiquitous presence. Ditto a movie about the 50s, made in the 70s. 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A bite out of the pizza

We had a rather poor meal the other day quite close to home. I don't like to give bad reviews online, naming names, so I won't do it here, only to say that two of the worst experiences of dining out we've had in the last couple of years have occurred in El Panorama, and there really aren't that many places to choose from.

I can't remember if I wrote up the previous one. I'll usually only use the written word where the negativity of an experience has some rather personal aspect to it that goes beyond the more general quality of the food and service. (If I did express some vitriol on social social, it will have been to mention the fact that some reprobate in the kitchen apparently took a substantial bite out of the 1/2 pizza that we'd asked to have packed up para llevar.)

Back at my (still) primary residence in the UK, there's an historic tithe barn — above  which is regularly used for events, weddings in particular, and it has astounded me how attendees at these gatherings have occasionally taken to Tripadvisor afterwards in order to diss the caterers. 

Note, these people were not the paying customers, they were honoured guests at someone else's special day. The Internet has become a place where basic manners have been exorcised and these evil ectoplasms are seeping back into the non-digital world. 

By far the greatest restaurant-based infámia that has ever happened to me took place over a decade ago in the centre of Antigua, and I did then feel the need to not so much pile-in as bile-out right here on this blog. 

We'd invited out an old friend, a restauranteur who happens also to be a close relative of the incoming alcalde. The meal was fine, the service was what it had always been at an establishment we'd regularly frequented since it opened in '96, though by then it had changed ownership, and not to especially good effect. 

Then came the bill. The bottom item was an unspecified and substantial surcharge. The waitress had made no mention of this when she passed me the piece of paper. 

I called her over. She explained that she had recognised my wife as a member of a large party that had gathered there the previous year and when payment was collected at the end, management had found themselves quite a bit short and had decided that it was now up to me to make up the difference...without mentioning this at any stage before presenting the bill, and even then not really mentioning it.

I duly explained that I had not been present at this earlier event and that my wife had attended only briefly and had left sufficient funds to cover the cost of her own meal, even though she had in effect been invited to join the long table by an old friend, already seated. 

The group had included some panza verde stalwarts and was fluid. It's quite possible that when the bill eventually came, someone dodged their own contribution by pointing the figure at those that had departed sooner. Worse things happen in this country. 

Yet no matter the original circumstances, this attempt to balance the books using guilt by association in a manner which defies all the rules of good sense and hospitality beggared belief. 

And when I called over the manager his rudeness further embarrassed me in front of my guest and guaranteed that we would never return. (The restaurant, for a long time the most popular in all of Antigua, went out of business shortly afterwards.) 

This week, rather than taking to the interwebs, we called over the manageress and, constructively I hope, explained how fried plantains are supposed to be prepared in a frying pan and not go anywhere near a microwave oven, and are thus supposed to retain a modicum of moisture. 

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Tiempos Recios (1)

Roughly midway through and I'm still feeling like one of the blind men touching up the elephant. What exactly do we have here?

I'd have to liken it to one of those grand old stadium bands coming out on stage not really knowing if they are going to concentrate on their new material or just bang out all the familiar crowd-pleasers. And then end up doing something akin to a mad, mashed-up medley of both kinds of sets.

In his pomp Vargas Llosa was a master at building an engrossing tale on the back of alternating narratives, often stylistically at variance. Yet here such differentiation occasionally manifests itself within the same chapter.

On more than one occasion I've been left to ponder whether the octogenarian Nobel Laureate reached his writing desk some mornings not quite remembering what sort of book he'd been working on. Fiction, non-fiction, political thriller, soapy family drama and so on. 

Important historical personages are introduced to the drama in ways that are thoroughly un-dramatic, more or less as static placeholders for their internal exposition. 

And although the novel is ostensibly set primarily in Guatemala during the 1950s, Vargas Llosa barely devotes a sentence to giving the reader a palpable sense of time and place.

So, although I'd still hold back from calling it a dog's dinner, and it is far from turgid, I'm not yet seeing the big picture. (TBC)

Wednesday, January 08, 2020


My wife was a Guatemalan national champion in fencing (foil). 

Some time after our first encounter we discovered that this was something we have in common: the fencing part, not the being particularly good at it part. 

She’s still feeling quite chuffed having heard someone she’s known for a very long time expressing the view over the festive period that she was a true pioneer of women’s sport in Guatemala. 

This is certainly true yet she hadn’t quite thought about it in this way before and perhaps imagined that he and everyone else might have forgotten. Her own experience of being a pionera en esgrima was actually one of pointed difficulty. 

Here at ExCel during London 2012 the most extraordinary thing we noticed about the fencing competition, aside from the razzmattazz presentation, was the unhooked, wifi nature of the swordplay. Back when we were assuming the en-garde position, each serious bout that followed tended to feel a bit like horizontal bungee jumping.

I had fenced at school level: mainly foil but I had dabbled in sabre too. I enjoyed the sport and took advantage of its relative prestige at St Paul’s, which boasted some of the best coaches and what was then at least, said to be the largest salle in Europe. 

Yet I never pierced the bubble of mediocrity. At the time I put this down to an innate lack of athleticism, hand-eye coordination and so on, but having later reached a pretty decent level at sports like tennis the truth, rather depressingly, probably had more to do with character and motivation. 

Not winning didn’t bother me all that much. And I never quite separated myself from the crowd of swordsmen who were only there in order not to be running around a rugby pitch in the freezing Thameside fogs of November. 

Yet in adult life I have discovered that I can generally be good at anything I am truly determined to be good at. 

Such determination needs to be consistent. As an investor for example, dips in attention or enthusiasm can be like micro-sleeps on the motorway: very expensive.

After university I went on to become a pioneer of sorts in the field of digital communication and investigation. My wife had before then moved on to another pioneering career, this time working for La Antigua’s very first firm offering computing-services. (She finds it rather amusing that probably the most well-known remaining operator in this field here today is run by the son of the city’s most recalcitrant former Luddite.) 

It was an era when Antigua seemed full of motivated foreign and local entrepreneurs who had a vision for developing the economy that has become more than a bit diluted. 

Nowadays the closest many young chapines get to participating in the information economy is when they throw open the doors of their own coffee shop. 

And the city now seems to act mainly as a lure to the kind of ex-pat investor who opens a restaurant because they don’t know how to do anything else, at least not anything that would allow them to keep their heads above the water. 

The whole NGO scam was far less well developed back in the day as well. 

Sunday, January 05, 2020

The UK Ism Pantheon

In a week in which UK legal system officially ushered veganism into the ism pantheon, where all our sacred dogmatic positions - aka 'legitimate philosophical positions', a term which has come to describe its very opposite - are protected and nurtured...

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Jonathan Swift's Resolutions (1699)

Not to marry a young Woman.
Not to keep young Company unless they reely desire it.
Not to be peevish or morose, or suspicious.
Not to scorn present Ways, or Wits, or Fashions, or Men, or War, &c.
Not to be fond of Children, or let them come near me hardly.
Not to tell the same story over and over to the same People.
Not to be covetous.
Not to neglect decency, or cleenlyness, for fear of falling into Nastyness.
Not to be over severe with young People, but give Allowances for their youthfull follyes and weaknesses.
Not to be influenced by, or give ear to knavish tatling servants, or others.
Not to be too free of advise, nor trouble any but those that desire it.
To desire some good Friends to inform me wch of these Resolutions I break, or neglect, and wherein; and reform accordingly.
Not to talk much, nor of my self.
Not to boast of my former beauty, or strength, or favor with Ladyes, &c.
Not to hearken to Flatteryes, nor conceive I can be beloved by a young woman, et eos qui hereditatem captant, odisse ac vitare.
Not to be positive or opiniative.
Not to sett up for observing all these Rules; for fear I should observe none.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

'Fíjese que ya no hay pan...'

Just how many tamales is this guy planning on guzzling tonight?

I know chapines like to stock up on bread when the local panadería threatens to close for one whole day, but one has to doubt whether there are any pirujos left in this village now...


We are reaching the combustive conclusion to that somewhat bizarre period between Christmas and the New year  the Norwegians have a rather lovely word for it, Romjul  where I am never quite sure upon waking if it is actually a weekend or if I need to check whether something interesting might be happening in the Premier League. 

If there's one thing I have learned over three decades in this country it is that there is an important difference between laws that exist and laws that are enforced. I'm hoping that this proposed prohibition has some teeth to it, as these globos chinos have become a real menace over the last five years or so. 

On the 24th I spotted one of these forking things sliding sideways across the valley in the now familiar manner. 

We are simply too high up here for them to ascend as intended and once launched in the centre of the city they have a tendency to seek out the trees and rooftops of El Panorama with some degree of inevitability. Three have come down in or immediately around our home on New Year's Eves, one making a fiery landfall on our roof.  

This year we're hoping to be able to get out and enjoy the arrival of the first decade of the millennium we actually all know to describe without this additional anxiety. 

After last year's conflagration near the arch, one has to imagine that the owners of popular bars and restaurants will be on hand to gently dissuade anyone looking to launch a globo tonight. 

The Trial of Christine Keeler (BBC, 2019)

The Beeb's flagship drama for the festive season comes with a good deal of personal, if slightly salacious interest.

Although my mother was not herself a member of the Astors' Cliveden set, she was really only one step removed, as Joy, one of her closest friends, was a fully paid-up participant and when the film Scandal was released in 1989, the last time Keeler and co were a hot topic, both women were contacted by the kind of journalist that Hugh Grant habitually disapproves of, indeed the sort that features herein as a series of stock caricatures. 

Meanwhile, my father was perhaps even closer to events as depicted, for he used to play chess with Dr Stephen Ward at his flat. Ward was then 50 and my father 35, so although it is fun to see James Norton inhabiting the innately creepy 'society osteopath', he is possibly a bit young for the role. 

This inter-marriage period in my father's life has always been a little murky and now that he is no longer with us, likely to remain so. Some people, including members of my family, adhere to the possibly apocryphal narrative that he 'dated' Christine Keeler for a while before she moved on to representatives of the British and Soviet adminstrations. 

I once tried to deftly interrogate him about this and was treated to one of his discouragingly vague denials. He did however admit to having seen Ward and Keeler together 'from the window of his office'. The trouble is that in 1960-62 I'm not sure which office he could have been referring to, and wasn't quick-off-the-mark enough then to question this little detail. 

And to make matters worse, I have surely transplanted a false memory onto this conversation, as each time I recall it, the view that springs to mind looks down onto Charing Cross Road at the Cambridge Circus end, and I have no idea why.

This was a period in which he boasted of a 'bachelor' pad in Cheyne Walk and enjoyed bromances with a coterie of sybaritic individuals who occupied mews flats. 

One of these, Belgravia antique-dealer Kenneth Sweet, would end up as best man at my parents' weddingg and was possessed of a tiger rug in the entrance of his Kinnerton Mews digs that I have never quite shifted from memory. 

He it was who intercepted a massive slab of gorgeous blue and grey granite destined for the palace of some Saudi sheikling, added appropriate legs and flogged it to my father as a dining room table. 

This is now my proudest possession, yet regretably it remains back in Blighty and I am waiting for the global economy to do another nosedive, which might allow me to import it via Santo Tomás de Castillo. 

One way or another it will end up in Guatemala, precisely because my mother never wanted it to. 

Whilst I do tend to regard the 60s as a bit over-sold, the three or so years either side of the inception of the decade do really fascinate me. Where the giant ugliness that is Centre Point now stands, there was a labyrinth of dirty old Victorian buildings (plus gaping holes left by Nazi bombs) which housed the jazz culture described in the novels of Colin MacInnes. Absolute Beginners, City of Spades etc. 

(A fun pic of my uncle David from that very era...)

I'm almost certain that V was the only Guatemalan present on the lawn outside the Palace of Westminster on November 20, 1990 in the hours after Margaret Thatcher's resignation. 

We then witnessed a scene almost out of the Hollywood playbook, with row upon row of reporters with microphones speaking to camera in almost every language imaginable and we rubbed shoulders with our former 'Father of the House' Ken Clarke, in that moment cast very much as the villain of the piece. 

V claimed to have a personal interest in as much as her erstwhile friend and colleague, Margarita Ascencio, now of Finca Colombia fame, was then widely referred to by the apodo 'Margaret Tatcha' here in the colonial city. 

The point of this recollection is that right then, a year after Scandal's release, Harold Macmillan and his contemporaries — I do remember them speechifying during the Thatcher years — had by then vanished into the mists. 

And now, when I think about the Iron Lady and her boys, they too have disappeared into written history. If I live long enough, I may yet get to see this happen a third time. 

Keeler died a few months after my father, though she was almost a generation younger. She has now been given a sensitive re-treatment for the #metoo zeitgeist

One wonders how we Brits will remember her in 30 years' time, if at all. Perhaps we will be scouring more recent timeframes for our myths of decline.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Space Invaders

President Piñera’s wife, Cecilia Morel, recently described the unrest in the streets of Chile as being rather like an alien invasion. 

In Chilean actor, dramatist and screenwriter Nona Fernández’s fictional debut from 2015, the extraterrestrial intruders are being put to a variety symbolic uses. They represent both the sacrifice and the relentlessness of resistance to Pinochet in the 80s, plus the regimentation of primary school life in a Santiago suburb. 

The novella itself is structured as a series of advancing, yet shifting temporal fragments, in sections referred to as lives, at least until the final one, 'Game Over'. 

The action within these vignettes is taken from the author's own childhood recollections of a vanished classmate, whose father turned out to be one of several National Police officers charged with the brutal murder of activists: El Caso Degollados. It's a very personal story of lost innocence; lost political innocence, where the central question is how old one has to be to ‘get into’ politics. 

Perhaps the overarching theme is the arbitrary exchange between private and collective memory. “The book was written out of wisps of air, constructed of snippets of dreams and memories, mine and others, like a collage, trying to account for the workings of fragmented, diffuse memory,” notes its author. 

The Atari game is a cultural artifact that presents me with a collection of really quite specific, connected flashbacks to the year 1980. In March that year I remember watching in awe behind an American girl of similar age as she exterminated wave after wave of the pixelated critters on the arcade version in our Orlando hotel. 

I acquired my console soon after and was quickly mastering the technique whereby skilled players might move across the bottom of the screen at just the right relative speed, so that missiles could be slid between the gaps, taking out both the higher value invaders at the top of the stack, along with the whirring saucers that occasionally passed above. 

No ’vintage’ emulation of the game for PC or Mac has ever given me the same sense of potential for scoring via this rather precise little dance.

I searched high and low around the Chilean capital for a paper version of this book, but in the end had to settle for an electronic one. 

This reading session was supported by La Mosquita Muerta (mezcal, triple sec, menta and fresas). 

Our Man West of Havana

In 1957, as Castro's rebels fought both government troops and communists in the east of the island, Norman Lewis was dispatched to Cuba by Ian Fleming in order to sound out Ernest Hemingway on the developing situation there.

The creator of 007 was thoroughly despised by his own publisher Jonathan Cape, who refused to even meet him. Yet 
Fleming was one of those tortured genre writers who craved to be taken more seriously and hankered after the company of poets and authors of genuine literary repute. 

Hemingway was also published by Jonathan Cape in London and Fleming had tried unsuccessfully to engage him in correspondence. At this time Foreign Manager of the Sunday Times, he was also probably still connected with the British intelligence services, so the uprising in Cuba presented a further opportunity for bothering the American writer, not just in the name of journalism, but also as a way of indulging his fantasy that Hemingway was, as Lewis put it, 'an extremely subtle and successful undercover agent'.

The Times's emissary duly turned up in a notably violent Havana 
— 'most beautiful city of the Americas' — and checked into the Seville Biltmore, which was also Graham Greene's favourite hotel in the city. (Though the Inglaterra has a bigger part to play in Our Man...)

At first Hemingway was hard to get hold of as the editor of the Havana Post had challenged him to a duel after the Nobel Laureate had whipped off Eva Gardner's pants and waved them around at a party thrown by the British ambassador.

So Lewis set off for the Oriente in order to gather the impressions of ordinary Cubans. On the roof terrace of the Casa Granda hotel in Santiago's Cespedes Square (where, on April 19, 2012 I watched Chelsea beat Barcelona 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions' League semi-final) Lewis observed an extraordinary gun battle between Fidel Castro's 26 July movement and local communists...

'By custom, the first shots were precisely at 10pm, giving the citizens the chance of a quiet stroll in the end of the evening before the bullets began to fly. With a half hour to go, and all the street lights ablaze, the promenaders began to stream out of the square and make for their homes, where they clustered at their doors like gophers ready to bolt for the shelter of their burrows when the shadow of an eagle fell upon them. Then as the cathedral clock struck ten, all the lights went out, and the streets were cleared for battle'. 

It had become clear to Lewis that at this stage Fidel's lot were middle-class rebels with no meaningful grasp of Marxist doctrine and that the 'reds' in Cuba wanted rid of them.  

Meanwhile Hemingway was writing to the Havana Post to decline the duel on behalf of his readers - he owed it to them not to endanger himself in this manner.

Lewis travelled out to La Vigía to meet him.

'At sixty years of age he looked like a man well into his seventies and he was in wretched physical shape...there was an exhaustion and emptiness in his face. This was an encounter which might have been dangerous and undermining to any young man in the full enjoyment of ambition and hope, because it presented a parable on the subject of futility. Hemingway's mournful eyes urged you to accept your lot as it was and be thankful for it...after all his conquests he seemed ready to weep with Alexander, and, looking into his face, it was hard to believe that he would ever smile again.'
Lewis did not find him forthcoming on the uprising.'How do you see all this ending?' 'My answer is that I live here,' was the novelist's slightly cryptic reply.

Back in London Lewis, one of the great British travel journalists of the last century, reported back to Ian Fleming: 'Finally I saw the Great Man, as instructed. He told me nothing, but he taught me a lot.'

(The original, long-form version of this tale appeared as an article entitled Mission to Havana by Norman Lewis.)

Thursday, December 26, 2019


The only thing Her Majesty appeared to lack there was a tamal...

Monday, December 23, 2019

Uncut Gems (2019)

Adam Sandler has made a career out of being annoying in almost every film he's appeared in. 

When, midway through this especially taut thriller, gem-dealer Howard Ratner is duly informed by his wife that he's the most annoying person on earth, most audience members will probably have to admit that on this occasion Sandler has somehow managed to contain this inherent irksomeness behind the fourth wall - which is probably why some critics have hailed this as a 'towering performance'. 

For me it was still just a bit one note and for V, the increasingly frantic drama almost unbearably 'shouty'. 

Yet it's a compelling and enjoyably wild ride and a movie that will surely be discussed passionately by film buffs for a long time, unlike say the one that won Best Picture last year at the Academy Awards. 

I'd say that the stand-out performances were in fact delivered by the two women in Ratner's life: Idina Menzel as the aforementioned put-upon spouse and girlfriend-employee Julia, played by Julia Fox, who must surely be about to break out beyond the confines of Instagram. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Coincidences are fun

When I was still in my teens and using Interrail to explore continental Europe, I made some interesting acquaintances, over and over again.

One of these was an impressive young former Israeli army officer called Moishe Cohen. We first exchanged words in the room we shared in the Amsterdam youth hostel. A few days later we bumped into each other on a tram in Vienna. He had acquired a very beautiful girlfriend. Then, maybe a week later, we ran into each other again in a tunnel in Paris.

I’d have started to worry that he was following me if it weren’t so obvious that the same thought was already giving him sleepless nights.

Ex-military Israelis make for intriguing travel companions as they tend to communicate with each other using an arcane sign language. It’s hard to tell whether, like newly-familiar Americans, all they are really dong is comparing notes about how much they have paid for stuff.

My wife has become convinced that certain Uber drivers are actively tracking her movements around town. As a counter-measure she only activates cellular data on her iPhone when she absolutely needs it. To be honest I’m not entirely sure that she has been beset by coincidences. She has already banished Siri to the sin bin, and for good reason.

Meanwhile, I keep running into my brother-in-law in precisely the same place in the street outside La Merced. I’m on foot and he’s passing in his car...

Tuesday, December 17, 2019


Good to see that in spite of his resounding majority, Boris has taken pains to ensure that the cliff edge has been fully reinstated and that 2020's season finale of Brexit will be the sort of squeaky bum entertainment that viewers of BBC Parliament have come to expect...
On a separate note, Sturgeon must be chuckling at the way she managed to engineer an unnecessary election using Corbyn and Swinson as her stooges. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

Cometh the hour...

Corbyn will be remembered as the candidate who made remainers want to get Brexit done. 

Cometh the hour, cometh the wrong man.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Fuckup Nights

At first glance I thought this sign at the Selina hostel was advertising a guided tour of some of Chepe’s less salubrious nocturnal hotspots. 

There are definitely cities in the world that might more naturally lend themselves to that sort of excursion (Tokyo for one), yet perhaps the unguided nature of the journey is an essential part of the experience. 

Anyway, ‘Fuckup’ here is a slightly more po-faced outing for those who haven’t so much come to Costa Rica for the leafy, off-the-grid professional intermission as for a personal and networking growth opportunity. 

Or maybe just to finally open up about the time they accidentally CC’d the entire company on THAT email. 

Appropriate to a slightly bizarre institution in Barrio Amon, which appears to cater largely for people who look like they work for Google.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Here we go again...

Increasingly convinced that La Antigua Guatemala could benefit from a name change to La Déjà Vu Guatemala...

No + Gases

At some point last month in Chile I made the conscious decision that being repeatedly tear-gassed was going to be the price I’d have to pay for witnessing the Estallido Social. Being one of the few without a mask, it was not at all a pleasant experience, and the stuff was still seeping out of my pores a week or so after my last significant exposure. 

And yet I’m still only talking about a handful of time-limited incidents, not months of the stuff in the air around my home such as these unfortunate residents of blocks around the ex-Plaza Italia and Parque Forestal have had to endure. 

In Valparaíso’s Plaza Victoria I came across gangs of well-meaning, young, middle-class volunteers recruited by the Muni to scrub the fountains and paving stones clean of graffiti (at that moment doing harm to little more than their civic pride), while around a kilometer away - close to the congress and the bus terminal - there was so much teargas residue still on the ground and in the atmosphere, that Saturday shoppers were wet-eyed and wheezing all around me. There appeared to be more pedestrians with surgical masks than one typically comes across in Kyoto, yet there were still plenty of pensioners and little children without them. 

This was where the clean-up was most needed and where, along with a humungous sneeze, I felt the righteous anger welling up inside me. Unless the threat of lethal violence is incontestable, either the canisters fired by carabineros, or indeed in hand-held form as pepper spray, this is a chemical weapon banned by convention from military use and, as such, a coward’s weapon.

Monday, December 09, 2019

The Brick Wall

Public speaking has always presented me with a range of inherent terrors, even though I have ended up quite experienced with the situation, at school, at Cambridge and then professionally (...the dreaded PowerPoint deck.)

l've come to understand that there are two specific circumstances which can result in me coming a bit unstuck. 

Perhaps my worst (combined) experience of this was at a big European-level internal conference which took place in Evian on Lake Geneva. I had flown out as a last minute replacement for a colleague with a basic brief on how to deliver his presentation to this eminent gathering and pretty much went straight from the airport at Geneva onto the stage. 

This moment failed both my key personal tests for a successful public address.

1) I had certain insecurities with regard to specific members of the audience and, perhaps more importantly, 2) there were parts of the presentation that I either didn't fully understand or wasn't myself entirely convinced by.

Things were going passably well until one slide around midway through the deck which I found particularly confounding. I was convinced that the spectacle I then presented was of someone going into anaphylactic shock. 

I eventually managed to get going again by clicking through to a slide I felt I could talk about. Later that evening over a shared dinner of raclette, I discovered that many members of the audience appeared not to have noticed my meltdown (Though those about whom I retained insecurities probably had.)

Fish out of water...

What's worse, keeping chickens next to the stove or washing your dirty linen in public? 
This extreme exponent of #firstworldproblems had me giggling into my coffee all morning. One reason that your bog standard Mercedes convertible is known as 'anti-suegras' here in Guatemala.
Amidst the comments was this gem: "Enjoy your cholera". I'm sure cólera was intended, the double-entendre was delicious. 
Anyway, it has to be said that this 'conversation starter' (in truth a massive shitstorm starter) ought to have have been framed as a more anonymous, generic 'fish out of water' situation. 
It really cannot be OK to demean a (future) relative in public in a language she would presumably not understand; in effect a hefty behind the back stab for the parent of one's betrothed. (In my case at least, that would have been an unambiguous sackable offence.)
It's worth adding that much of the 'fresh' water that emerges from springs around this valley has had little fish in it at some stage.