The Cradle of Chinese Communism: “A Glamorous City”

Changsha, Hunan Province

One of many Chinese cities where the streets are not designed for pedestrians- to walk downtown from the “downtown” Sheraton, there is no actual pavement- you have to walk first into the car park, and then out again through a side entrance. You aren’t expected to walk from A to A, let alone from A to B.

Continue reading


The King of Portugal’s Coconuts

“The King was happy with his coconuts

Thought they would last for many moons

But when he went away, the Queen had a field day

And turned them into macaroons!”

The King of Portugal’s Coconuts, calypso, © no-one else to blame for this lyric, 1998

Bread hangs on door handles. A dirt track leads to an outdoor home, with a too-small tarpaulin. Very short people with moustaches go about their business, or stand stock still, in smart shirts at 7am, looking askance at me. Continue reading

The sometimes painful magic

By 1997, I had performed several comedy shows, mainly performance poetry, using different voices, and in recent years including a musical double-act with Jeremy Limb (known as “Bax” since he was the grandson of musician Arnold Bax). Our friends seemed to generally enjoy our whimsicality, but with the exception of a few showcase events and radio appearances, it wasn’t exactly the big time.

That year in Brussels I read a LRB review of a biography of recently deceased satirist Peter Cook, by comedy producer Harry Thompson. Continue reading

Our human colleagues

While I feel a growing political and social gap between my London existence and Brussels, the geographical distance appears to have shortened considerably: my arrival has coincided with the opening of the Channel Tunnel. I take it hundreds of times during my 6 years living there. Flights are still favoured by regular Euro-commuters for the first few years. The old-fashioned route is still possible, too, with boat trains and ferry to Ostende, including a night crossing, which I resort to once when I miss the last Eurostar due to floods in England.

But rushing back from a translation exam at London’s Institute of Linguists, a few days after moving to Brussels, there is a new option on that November Sunday that had not existed the previous week. Continue reading

Barmy Brussels bureaucrats


It’s rather bizarre hearing first hand about EU legislation, and then reading the UK media. The institutional structure can be complex, but my compatriots do their best to turn the opaque Brussels-speak into simple, colloquial English. What a great service they are doing to communicate complex matters to the British public. Continue reading

Helping straighten the bananas

As the date of our final exam approaches, we are increasingly exposed to “real life” meetings, in what is called the “dummy booth”. Here we are dropped in at the deep end, as if we were already professionals, but do not switch on the microphone. We are listened to by more experienced colleagues and given some final tips. A group of us are so alarmed by what “reality” means that we send a delegation to the course director to say that we are more afraid of passing than we are of failing. Continue reading