Special thanks to the generously talented Bhavini Raval who performed my monologue ‘The Tutterer’ at Cosmic Chauffeur’s music and spoken word event earlier this month. No easy task. It’s about high-achieving expat ladies who lurch (and tut) in Hong Kong and asks what makes them tick (and tut). Here’s a taster:
“It’s not easy for a girl as attractive as me to get the level of attention she requires. By which I mean: enough to reassure me that my looks are holding out, but not so much that I’m cultivating stalkers whenever I show a little thigh. I object to being objectified, you see. I’m sensitive, almost to a fault. David may not think so but I’m bloody human. Just like you, only slightly easier on the eye.”
I plan to write and perform more Hong Kong monologues over the next few months with with the aim of offending as many societal groups here as possible before leaving. I’m also approaching the end of ‘the big one’. Nothing to do with the panic-stricken protagonist of ‘Locked in Love’, just the latest of my efforts to complete a novel I’m truly happy with. As ever, this is being workshopped by a group of battle-hardened fellow travellers through the Hong Kong Writers Circle. Working title: Altered State.
At least a couple of new Hong Kong authors are ahead of me on this score. Look out for my reviews of these recently published novels over the next few weeks.
The Lethian by Rufi Angel (young adult fantasy/adventure)
Drachen by Brendan Le Grange (contemporary thriller)
‘To be perfectly honest, I like a woman with spirit.’ So said hapless builder Mr O’Reilly to fiery Cybil Fawlty in the British sitcom before being struck about the head and torso with an umbrella by the immovable object of his affections. At the wonderful Kendal Calling festival at Lowther Deer Park, near Penrith, Kate Tempest offered us a gentler kind of beating in the Calling Out tent on day one, despite abandoning the poppier touches that accompany her laser-sharp poetics on debut album ‘Everybody Down’ and infusing her set with dark and brooding drum and bass.
In forming such a musical landscape it would have been easy for Tempest’s hyperactive percussionist and coy DJ accompanist to affect menacing pantomime poses, but like Tempest herself they can’t seem to stop smiling, whether in cathartic relief as her home truths are delivered with thumping accuracy or simply at the thrill of a performance greeted rapturously from the off.
Yet Tempest’s steely compassion accepts no distraction, knows no bounds. When she raps of young lovers separated by shyness at a London café in ‘Lonely Daze’ we quickly accept that this is no storm in a teacup but an everyday drama of Shakespearian proportions – whether it happens to be happening to you or one of the billions who crave love and acceptance just like you.
Hong Kong’s Emmy the Great, also performing at the Calling Out tent, had to compete with one of the biggest acts of the three day event.
‘I guess you guys don’t like Snoop, huh?’
Emmy sounds almost sorry for Snoop in a way that he might feel truly sorry for anyone who failed to attend one of his shows. But Emmy’s lilting melodies aren’t intended for those seeking easy answers. Snoop may talk the talk but few on site could claim to be even moderately challenged by his sing-along gangsterisms, whereas Emmy has something to say.
Let down by an ex-lover who chose his religious calling over his relationship with her, Emmy closes her set with the haunting refrain ‘There’s no such thing as ghosts’ from her deceptively tender ‘Easter Parade’. Like Mr O’Reilly (secretly) we’re left appreciating every blow delivered by these spirited women at a festival dominated – albeit in a soft power way – by competing male egos.
Top 5 ‘happenings’ at Kendal Calling:
- Jangling our bells in the intimacy of the Jam Tent as Billy Bragg sings old Woody Guthrie songs in support of the Music Links outreach programme and their energetic charges.
- Sitting outside our tent each morning feasting on squashed brioche and cheap sausage rolls, remembering the night before.
- Friend meeting someone who shares the same unusual (sweet or savoury, pastry-lined) surname in a sun-dappled beer garden where the latter had already tried all 17 real ales on offer.
- Not falling over despite lack of wellies and surfeit of mud (New Balance still going strong)
- Standing in line to be hosed down by portly Virgin Trains staff before we could board our carriage home. We are the freaks!
An exclusive extract from my hotly anticipated new novelette, ‘Amber Rainstorm – my part in her downpour’:
The rain fell like hundreds of tiny silver bullets onto his forehead, nose, ears, ankles and other exposed parts of his face and body. ‘Ouch’, he said. ‘This rain is really hard’. ‘I’m soaked to the bone,’ she concurred. ‘Really?’ he countered. ‘Or is that just a convenient cliché?’ ‘Sometimes I wish you weren’t a writer,’ she said. ‘Yeah?’ he sneered. ‘What would you have I be instead then?’ She slapped his big wet face in slow motion. ‘A meteorologist,’ she thundered precipitously, slipping on her bright red, thigh-length wellingtons and storming out of the flat.
Arriving at Hong Kong observatory that afternoon, the writer receding into distant memory like the Hell’s Angel, furniture delivery guy, and college football star before him, Amber knocked twice at the heavy oak door. The observatory sat on a green hill high above the city. There was a crow’s nest of TV aerials and satellite dishes attached to the top of the building, along with an illegal rooftop apartment shared by a number of unemployed RTHK weather forecasters. She glimpsed one through a taped-up window eating noodles straight from the pan in her curlers – sans make-up – and shuddered involuntarily.
Eventually the door was answered by a shorter-than-average panda in a three-piece suit and bowler hat who invited Amber to remove her wellies and enter.
‘I’m looking for a meteorologist. Must have liquid assets and GSOH,’ she told the panda in her indiscriminately icy manner. The panda nodded politely and gestured towards a man in a white coat who was seated in front of a huge bank of flickering monitors. When the man spun in his chair to face her she recoiled in horror. He wore an eye patch and was completely bald.
‘Sorry, I don’t like baldies,’ she said, firmly and then – to break the awkward silence that followed – ‘How will the weather be…next week?’
‘How should I know?’ the scientist replied impatiently, waving towards the TV screens that showed hundreds of protestors camped out in the middle of Hong Kong. ‘The climate is changeable…distinctly changeable.’
[To be continued…]