December 2


The early evening sky is black and white no
It’s not it’s dark grey and light grey lightning
Smashes it alight and a-bright every now and then
Children are running in and out between the raindrops
To and fro between buildings to and fro between loves
A dog floats past I think it’s asleep I hope
It’s asleep and dreaming about pretty cats
Like the one we saw last night a skeleton in fur
So happy to be eating the fish-head I couldn’t
Although I ate hearts but the hearts of what I don’t know
(“You’re so fucking heartless,” she said. She was wrong.)
But they were pretty small and pretty is a strange word
I have trouble explaining it and myself always
Trouble with myself in some shape or form
(“Be happy with yourself,” she said. Idiot.)
Either too hot or too cold too happy or too tired
Often the day is too long the night too short
My language inadequate strength of mind funny
Now it’s pouring rain the top of the mountain
Has disappeared the street is awash with shoes
Shoes are awash with the distance between us
Under the bridge in the rain the canal
The canal is brown its fish are fuck knows what its fish are
Evening drops out of the sky early
(“You think the sky is going to fall on you,” she said.
“It won’t.” But it did.)
It did and it will and it does and it doesn’t
A friend tells me the rain bothers her
And suddenly a small boat sinks outside
My apartment on its way to England
This is a very symbolic moment or it would be
If it happened but nothing happens
So I go to the coffee shop and see Li Feng Xia
Who as usual is smiling lightly and brightly laughing
And I’m reminded of the days long ago
When I was experimenting with the darkness
And my mother would come in and turn on the fucking light
I have no idea really what anything means if it matters



December 4


Road behaviour in China somewhat defies description, which is what people always say just before they try to describe it. In general, cars, buses, motorcycles and motor scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, people pushing carts full of fruit or garbage or more or less anything that will fit into a cart and many things that won’t fit into a cart but are in it anyway, all these things don't so much jostle for space in the busiest areas but claim their own space and damn the consequences for anyone else. The idea that you can be on the wrong side of the road, or be aware that you're going in the opposite direction to everyone else (or more likely at right angles to everyone else), or the idea that you might give way to someone else, or look and see if anything is coming before you do anything stupid like pull out from a turning, or step across the road -- frankly, ideas like that haven’t reached here yet.

Pictures_1_002So you have to be very careful. I ride my bicycle here a lot, both through the busy streets and in the quiet countryside: it’s great exercise, and it’s a pretty cool bike too (look!). But you have to be very careful.

Which is how come yesterday as I was passing a parked car the driver of that car with typical disregard for anything else going on around him opened his door and sent me sprawling on to the ground, and how come I have a rather beautiful red and blue bruise across my chest from where I landed on the handlebars, a bruised knee, and a wrist that hurts quite a bit. I guess I should be thankful I didn’t fall under the wheels of the truck that went by me a few seconds before.

I’m here, of course, to teach conversational English, and the driver of the car and I had a great conversation after I’d picked myself up off the ground and he’d picked my bike up for me. He said “Sorry” about 50 times, and I demonstrated my command of the English swear word. I think the onlookers were impressed by my vocabulary even if they didn't fully understand all the subtleties I threw in; but some of them were taking notes, I think.

None of which has anything to do with my drawing your attention to a new poem at Stride, but it’s a chance I guess to take a photograph of my bicycle and show it to the world. I’d take a photo of my red and blue chest, but I’m not that kind of boy.



December 10


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Pictures_1_080 Pictures_1_099 Pictures_1_103 Pictures_1_116

You will find out more about "The Peony Pavilion" by clicking here than I can possibly tell you, because what I know about Chinese opera doesn't even begin to register on the scale, but last night my friend Dŏng Yĭng suggested I accompany her to the second night (the thing is so long it's played over three nights) of the opera's staging in Zhuhai. I'd seen some Chinese opera in Beijing earlier in the year, and I was happy to go. Of course, the whole thing was quite beautiful. Dŏng Yĭng told me that this kind of opera was different from that which I'd have seen in Beijing; a different singing style, apparently. I really couldn't tell, to be honest. As for the story, not an awful lot happened (unless you think death, being granted a reprieve to return to life, falling in love with a picture, being haunted by a ghost and falling in love with her, and resurrection are "an awful lot") and it took quite a long time to happen or not, as the case may be, but it did it with a remarkable grace and elegance.

Oh, and the Great Hall of Zhuhai was packed, and there were lots of students there who didn't have to be there. They were there because this stuff is still watched here with reverence and awe and, more importantly, great enjoyment by people of all ages and from all backgrounds. (Having said which, I bumped into Mengchao at lunchtime today and she told me she and her friends left halfway through to go to dinner....)

Oh, and before you ask, No, I didn't understand most of the Chinese they sang, but there are big electronic notice boards at each side of the stage with the words in Chinese and English on them, so there's no problem knowing what's going on.



December 15


A new poem by Andrew Motion graces (if that’s the right word, which it isn’t, so why the hell I’m using it I don’t know unless it’s in a spirit of Friday afternoon just woke up after a nap slightly depressed but I'll be ok in a moment irony) The Poetry Society’s new website , which has just been launched.

Take a look. It’s bloody horrible.

But do I mean the design of the website, or the poem?

Both, actually.



December 16


After the depression of yesterday, the undiluted joy of today. I'm not in the habit of putting songs in the main posts here, but this is such a belter I reckon it belongs. Thanks to my pal Dave for sending me the link to find the song, and thanks to the people who made the record, of course. The only thing wrong with this mp3 of a new Arcade Fire song off their next LP is the few seconds of BBC DJ at the end, but who cares? This is glorious. [Listen]



December 23


Holly Dogs that howl on Christmas Eve will go mad
before the end of the year.

Fling open the doors of the house
at midnight on Christmas Eve to let out
any trapped evil spirits.

Don’t send Christmas carollers away
empty-handed, no matter how badly they sing.
One could be a king in disguise.

Take three leaves of holly and on them prick the initials
of three of your admirers. On Christmas Eve
place the leaves under your pillow;
the one you will marry will appear to you in a dream.

Or sew nine holly-leaves on to your night-time clothing,
borrow a wedding ring and place it on the third finger of your left hand,
and then go to bed. During the night,
your future husband will appear to you in a vision.

Or make a dumb cake at midnight on Christmas Eve.
After eating the cake, walk backwards to your bed,
there to dream of your future spouse.

Or make a chain of holly, mistletoe and juniper, and tie an acorn between each link. Find 2 other girls to assist you. At midnight on Christmas Eve the 3 of you must go into a room where a fire is lit, lock the door, hang the key over the mantelpiece and open the window wide. Then wrap the chain around a log and sprinkle it with oil, a few pinches of salt and some earth. The log and chain must be placed on the fire and all lights turned out. Then sit by the fire, each of you with a prayer-book upon your knees, opened at the marriage service. As soon as the chain has been burnt, each girl will see a vision of her future husband crossing the room. If such a vision does not appear to a girl, she will never marry; or if she sees a phantom, such as a skeleton, which causes fear, it is a sign that she will remain a spinster.

Christmas candles should be left burning
until Christmas morning
and should rest undisturbed from time of lighting
until they are snuffed.

The first member of the household to open the door
on Christmas morning must shout,
Welcome, Old Father Christmas!
to the empty street.

Sweep the threshold with a broom to clear it of trouble.

First foots (the first Christmas visitor to your house)
who bring evergreens (especially holly) or coal
are prized for their thoughtfulness.
When the first foot is a man,
he should be welcomed with a drink
and perhaps a bite to eat.
A boy should be given a coin or two.
First foots often kiss all the women in the house.

Good fortune will attach to the household
if the first visitor on Christmas is a dark-haired man.
A visit from a red-haired man is a bad omen;
if the first-foot is a woman disaster is just around the corner.

Difficulty lighting the fire on Christmas Day
presages a bad year ahead.

It is unlucky to do any unnecessary work on Christmas Day.
This day is deemed too holy for ordinary work.

Those born on Christmas day
will never encounter a ghost,
nor will they have anything to fear from spirits.
They are also protected against death by drowning or hanging.

If Christmas pudding is on the menu, all present must take part in stirring it if the household is to prosper. Stir the mixture at least three times, seeing the bottom of the pot each time. Even tiny babies take their turn, with parents guiding a little one's hand on the spoon. Unmarried girls who forget to give the pudding its requisite stirs might as well forget about finding a husband in the upcoming year.

When making Christmas pudding, drop into it a silver coin, a thimble, and a ring. He who is served the coin finds luck, he who retrieves the thimble brings himself prosperity, and he who comes up with the ring hastens a wedding in his family.

As many mince pies as you sample
at different houses during the festive season,
so you will have happy months in the year to come.
Mince pies must not be cut lest you cut your luck.
None must be eaten before Christmas Eve
nor after Twelfth Night.

A Christmas candle left burning in the window all night
guarantees the household's good luck in the coming year.
If the candle goes out, it is bad luck.

It is good luck to kiss under the mistletoe,
bad luck to deliberately avoid it.

Tie a sprig of holly to each leg of your bedstead,
and before you go to bed eat a roasted apple.
Your future partner in marriage will come
and speak to you in your dreams.

Look to the shadows cast
by those gathered round the fire on Christmas night;
if any of these shades appears to lack a head
that person will die within the year.



December 26


There are some poems at Steven Waling's website you might be interested in. I can't say they're new because they're not, but they are new insofar as they've never seen much of the outside world before now.

And I don't think this is any sort of omen, but as I was typing this entry the building shook, twice inside a couple of minutes..... people are out of their rooms, and busy phoning each other and checking things out, because 2 minutes ago we just had a goddam earthquake. A small one, admittedly, but an earthquake is an earthquake..... on Boxing Day, too. What's God up to?

POSTSCRIPT: January 5th

Those of you who read Earthquake News or subscribe to the Seismologists' Newsletter will know that this was actually a pretty big earthquake off the coast of Taiwan. It damaged undersea communication cables, and as a result internet access here has been severely disrupted. Our usually crap service has gone into crap-overdrive, and we've been unable to get to anything outside China apart from e-mail. Things seem to be getting back to normal, but it's still not good. It took me 2 days to get Sandra Tappenden's poem online. But at least my building is still standing.