Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Travel: your papers please sir...

Given that the story seems to be doing its rounds without me, I should confirm the facts: I remembered to pack my suit, I remembered Mrs Universal's cake plate, I remembered all the different international plugs for my computer and at the last minute I grabbed my Skype phone.

I did not remember my passport.

In fact, it's not that I didn't remember it, because that would require me to have thought about it some point, then forgotten. And the sad truth is that it never even crossed my mind. Never again will I be able to those airport documentaries and laugh at the morons who arrive at an international flight without thier pasport. (Although, in my defence, I did not actually try to check in. I called Mrs Universal's sister, and she performed some heroics.)

But I have put it all behind me. I am sitting in The Plaza Travellers' Lounge, Hong Kong International Airport - a pay lounge for travellers without access to other lounges - one leg away from the warmth and light of Brisbane. And it is brilliant. There are hardly any people here, so it has the quiet ambience of a first class lounge. The food is better than I have eaten in any other lounge. In the five hours I have been here I have eated roast chicken stuffed with vegetables, bok choy with oyster sauce and mushrooms, some tempura vegetables and a couple of spring rolls. And a bread and butter pudding. The seats are comfortable, I have a little marble table to myself and wireless internet access. So I have been able to sit here, sending and recieving email, and chatting on my Skype phone like I am at my desk. At last, a truly mobile office - well, not quite an office, because I have also had a shower, changed my clothes and had a fifteen minute seated massage. Brilliant.

Actually, one criticism: the toilets are outside and around the corner, and let's face it, one of the best things about a plush lounge is a plush bathroom to go with it.

The Plaza Traveller's Lounge
Hong Kong International Airport
Hong Kong, HK$300 for the five hour package which includes a 15 min massage, or 2 hour nap

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Film: The rest of us just think you're Americans

Once I went to see some commedians who liked to say fuck a lot. Not as punctuation, like Billy Connolly does, in a very funny way, but as the joke itself. It probably says a lot about them that they were the kind of commedians who built their short career out of the material that Billy uses as punctuation, but I didn't know that on the way in. Fuck as the joke. It did get a laugh, the first couple of times. Then it just became punctuation for them too, except they still paused for the laughter, so it now just looked like they were working out what to say next. Then they'd say fuck again to fill the gap, but we were all fucked out. Then we just felt fucked, so we fucked off home.

See what I mean.


Crash is a superb film. The finely crafted performances of Don Cheadle and Karina Aroyave were a pleasure to watch - though it's not a fun film. The pace, cinematography, editing, dialogue, direction and costumes are excellent. It's excellent, except that it is like a one joke commedian. It is a film about race.

Now Americans, and it seems, people from LA particularly, are very finely tuned to their racial differences, quick to take offence about race, and judging by Crash, quick to give offence. So Americans probably think it's a great film. For the rest of us, the 4.5 billion people who do not live in America, it's just a film about Americans being rude to eachother.

Written and directed by Paul Haggis
Seen in a private screening at The Hospital
Don't take my word for it, buy it on DVD now: UK £12.99; USA: $9.96, or $11.86

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Books: like a drunk and braying cross between Samuel Peyps and Forest Gump

Remember when, as a teenager, your friends would tell stories about how they got soooo drunk.Oh, you don't remember... well read The Insider - it will remind you because Piers Morgan is driven to drink by almost every front page story; a problem when you edit a national daily. And a shame, in this case, because the drunken bravado de-values the delicate balance of sensitivity and savvy which makes Morgan so interesting, and his story so amazing.

If you can get beyond Piers, his insights into Princess Diana, the royal family, celebrity and government are stunning, and the last quarter of the book, dealing with the gulf war, is riveting. In posterity, Morgan's Forest Gump like ability to be on the periphery of every major event of his time will probably make him a Peyps of the turn of the 21st century, but for now, his personality speaks louder than the events he chronicles.

The Insider: the private diaries of a scandalous decade
Piers Morgan
Ebury Press, UK: £3.99 or £17.99; USA: $10.77

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Shopping: Diane von Furstenberg, Notting Hill

Selena, at Diane von Furstenberg, Notting Hill is the best shop assitant in London. A bold call, I know, but an obvious one after experiencing 18 months of inattentiveness accompanied by sneering arrogance, forelock tucking obsequiousness or sheer incompetence. I'll explain.

A fortnight ago, Universal Wifey (didn't like being Mrs Universal) needed two light dresses for meetings in Australia, loves her current DvF silk number and wanted more. Planed to schlep to Portobello Rd for a coffee first, were arrested by the coat in the DvF window so popped in to enquire. Several sales people standing chatting, Selena breaks away, crosses the floor and delivers a smiley good morning and an answer to our enquiry before my gloves were off. Sapped, yet impressed, Wifey said we'd return after coffee.

Back again, mintues behind caffeine fuelled Wifey, who had heen recognised, "Did you enjoy your coffee?" and whisked downstairs to the fitting rooms, while I paused at a window two doors down. I followed, hit the husband chair and pulled out The Week - essential Punter research. Selena appears, with a pair of low heels,
"Madam, I have left some heels here so you can see the fit properly," then turns, "hello sir, would you like a drink while you're waiting there?"
"Nothing, thanks," says I, "well, maybe a glass of water."
"Still or sparkling?"
And that set the tone for the entire transaction: she was quick and responsive, pre-empted our needs, made us comfortable and welcome at all times and had us out of there with the correct size ordered (and couriered to Wifey's work on Wednesday). And she smiled all the time as if she was genuinely happy to be there, with us, shopping. It was like shopping in New York!

Contrast this with Thomas Pink last Saturday. His stripey shirt fitted my neck, and not my body - not Pink's problem, exclusively. His fitted shirt fitted, but not available in patterns - now that is Pink's problem, but it felt like it was my fault. I could have asked about other options, but I am neither deaf, nor mentally retarded, and was tired of being talked to as if I were.

Selena: goddess of retail
Diane von Furstenberg
83 Ledbury Road
London W11 2AG
+44 20 7221 1120

Man who looks like Frank Spencer: bog standard London
Thomas Pink
18 Davies Street
London W1y 1LH
+44 20 7499 4580