Sunday, February 21, 2010

Benjamin Douglas Hargreaves

Welcome, nephew!

I am sitting in the Cathay lounge, waiting for my flight to Hong Kong, I have just sunk a beer ... and I am marvelling at the last two weeks. No posts in the last fortnight, I know I know - blame - but lots to talk about.

First and foremost, naturally, is my wonderful, mesmerising, delightful (and a little pooey) little nephew, Benjamin Douglas Hargreaves. Benjamin, Ben, Benji, BB (Baby Benjamin), Peanut, B&H ... who knows how he will grow up, but it's with the warmest, most loving mother and father, doting and deliriously happy grandparents, a welcoming home and not a bad uncle too, that he starts his journey. Hi.

He's already demonstrating a canny sense of comic timing - he managed to be born while I was dressed as a woman (ask me some other time), and waited for a full nine days before leaving the hospital, getting home a mere 30 minutes before my arrival in Cambridge. I can only imagine the mischievous giggle of forcing my own mum and dad wait more than a week to finally be allowed to meet him. Indeed, mum was like a greyhound out a gate as the car pulled into Ele's driveway - she was not going to let son #1 delay her first grandson #1 experience. I think I like him already.

I have met plenty of newborns before - bagged-up, wriggly little poo machines that gurgle and coo during regular stinky sessions, scream in the interim, and sleep for short bursts while waiting for fresh milk and chances to decorate the inside of a fresh nappy. With Ben it was a little different; the mild sense of vertigo as Ele leaves the room to have a shower, leaving me with him will be something that stays with me for a long time. The giddy reaction of my whole family watching me change my first ever nappy will be something that I hope leaves a little quicker (aren't his balls big!), but I am sure photographic evidence will prove otherwise. And watching him sleep in my arms, feet twitching in dream, was utterly magical; what is he dreaming about?; it must be blurry ... and based on only a couple of weeks of experiences. Milk or poo, in all probability.

Just try to hold her back! A Grandmother possessed!

Biddle-style greetings.

Unadulterated joy.

Mum & Mum

Sleepy time.


Some more sleepy time.

Just a little more.

No visit back to the UK would be complete without a good trip into the mountains, and we did that, again opting for Wales, and a relative break in the cold and wet / frozen weather of the proceeding weeks. Three days in the mountains getting a little lost, eating up a storm at 'The Best Restaurant in Wales 2008' and delighting in the trials and tribulations of the local farmers in the pub, warmed me up nicely for a trip down to the south to meet up with my aunt and Grandmother (isn't she wicked with a camera!) and set the ball rolling for a few days in the big smoke.

Welsh Rarebit.

Fixer upper.

Tree Cathederal


Mummy, can I have a pony?

Isn't the typography just darling?

My Grandmother is a demon with the camera!

Family business.

A semi-random encounter with Lars (are there any other types?) lit the fuse to a fine weekend in East-Central London, and rattling around with Phil B. Yes we watched Avatar in 3D, no I thought it was tiresome, and yes Phil beat me in frames of pool at Elbow Rooms. But it was great to get some shopping in, peruse the exhibits at the never-less-than awe-inspiring British Museum, and gawp slanty-headed at the modern art exhibits at the Saatchi gallery over in Chelsea with Cressida. All punctuated with a few beers, naturally, and shopping for some treats and eats in the Covent Garden retail zoo.

Brilliant encounter with Lars - all too short!

The sublime Foster & Partners at the British Museum.

Crowds stand, transfixed by the Rosetta Stone.

Elgin Marbles.

In the balls!

Phil appreciates.

Cressida has a irrational phobia of large things standing next to short things... I therefore took great pleasure in finding a room with a large, 10ft-tall child, and a tiny, mini-child in the other corner.

I have been dying to see Richard Wilson's work for years ... on permanent display at the Saatchi Gallery (incidentally, did not enjoy the gallery as a whole as much as I was expecting).

Rich and Phil on the night bus back home ...

After these days of sleeping in cold, lumpy beds, or on floors with little more than sofa cushions on the floor, I was glad to get home and get connected with the house again, and to acquaint myself with Dad's evolving assortment of mechanical delights - this time with rather a handsome BSA Goldstar café racer, complete with gorgeous polished aluminium fuel tank and rocking clip-on handle bars. We cruised the local villages looking for a fight with some local Mods on scooters, but had to head home, disappointed and shivering after the chilly air of the Fens got the better of us. Round-2 in the TVR was a little more successful, but no less noisy than the 1950s racing exhaust pipes of the BSA that caused involuntary snapping of heads, of grandfathers pushing pushchairs and disapproving stares of their wives ("no you cannot get one").

Giving it a bit of welly.



Only in Cambridge ... found on our MTB ride to St. Ives.

Serious downtime this week was just what was needed. Coming up to six years in Taiwan (six!) without an extended break at home can wear a little thin. The timing of the holiday could not have been better timed; not only for obvious family reasons, but also because a change of roles at Dell means absolutely nothing pending on my mind, my head full of bright thoughts, and zero to-do list (I took very great pleasure in systematically deleting every last appointment from Outlook). With no stress and great family news, I am at-present feeling completely relaxed ... I recommend it!

In that vein, I must also mention; I was coming through the x-ray screening area and removed my laptop for inspection. Upon preparing to slide it back into my bag, the man behind me said "Hey, I couldn't help but notice your laptop there - what is it?". When I explained it was a just released model and explaining where to get one, I couldn't resist telling him who designed it. "Kudos!" ... and one very x-ray happy traveller!

Back to vacay: the last couple of days were again devoted to family, and shaking out every last moment of time with Benji (my favourite name for him). Wrapped up in a ridiculous woolly outfit for a hike in the winter sun avec famille Wimpole Hall, he looked like a perfect bundle of joy, and I am sure he has a wonderful, bright future ahead. I do have some explaining to do in about 18 years though, when I explain why I was dressed as a woman when he arrived. My plan to craft an image of being his roguish, dangerous and mildly unhinged uncle are off to a great start!

A meeting of minds. Welcome, Benjamin!

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Cat Burglars

The door was locked.

The cats, beyond the door sounded like they had just knocked something over. "Silly cats." Taking out the key and turning it in the lock, I didn't get the usual three-stage series of weighted clicks; instead just a solitary single rotation, signifying a flatmate was home.


No answer, I walk into my room, but catch a glance of Abe's. "He must be doing washing." Clothes everywhere. Cupboards open. Something is not right. Thoughts of Abe or his girlfriend in a frenzied argument wander through my brain, as I pass into my room and see a symmetrical display of laundry. Something is definitely not right.

The penny drops at about the same speed as my jaw as I glance round my room. Lenses and camera intact. Passport strewn on the bed. Computer accounted for. I run back into Abe's room; again I see his camera equipment and computer, and am even more confused. The trifecta of laundry-themed rooms ends in Armando's, as I run past on the way to the living room, and awaiting brand-new Macbook Pro. What is going on?

Abe. No reply. A quick word with Armando, and he cuts short dinner to run home. Obviously avoiding touching anything at all, I do a quick second sweep of the rooms - the only stuff missing seems to be Abe's computer and our beloved three-legged cat, Tripod, who is likely hiding in a dark corner somewhere. Armando arrives - pennies and jaws dropping all around.

"What's the number for emergency services in Taiwan? ... 012?"

I try Abe again. No response, so I call Natasha and ruin one more evening.

Time to dive into emergency Chinese, and I dial. The guy on the end of the phone is calm and positive, and he dispatches a policeman to arrive in the next few minutes. Just before hanging up, he compliments me on my Chinese; and even under such stress my ego still pauses to be stroked before I shake myself out of it. Meanwhile, Armando is doing his own sweep of the house, shocked that he had only left home an hour previously at 6:50. We play out the scenario - the door, the lights, the stuff left lying around - nothing quite making sense. I grab the camera, take some shots of each room, and run a video around while narrating what I remember.


My dirty laundry


Abe one more time. Or maybe two. His phone is clearly off.

The first cop arrives, and I rattle off what happened to him. This shit clearly happens all the time, and he calmly listens to our story while he wanders around and takes photos of the most pertinent details. He sits me down and I sign some forms that seem to allow detectives to come in and do a formal inspection. Switching between his Nokia cell phone and radio, he radios for backup, and Armando and I look up to see the househould Hulk cookie jar, well, ajar; it's head and shoulders telling the story of a very polite burglar taking a peek inside and returning the lid.

The phone rings. A conversation completely out of context is difficult enough to grasp at the best of times, and it was only after a minute that I realised it was the police call centre asking to see if I was 'satisfied' with the timely service so far? Satisfied? What... yeah sure. Thanks. Slightly knocked sideways, it seemed all the more natural to strike up a conversation about our cats, while watching the policeman edging towards Datou. A few photos are collected on his official camera; and in mild disbelief I watch as he takes out his cell phone and adds a couple for himself. Are we looking for a cat burglar here?

Datou has a new friend.

More police begin arriving, and questions begin to be asked of the likely location of the other keys. Abe is out of contact, Natasha is on the way, and I don't even have the cell phone of the landlord. Raised eyebrows, inspection of ID card etc etc. This is getting a bit frustrating.

The CSI dude turns up, and he begins inspecting the main door lock. No joy. Then, his eye wanders over to the window opening into the living room; a brief flash of the light and it's clear that's where they came in. Bars block the windows of most houses in Taiwan, and ours is no exception. The only surprise is how easily they prised the bars - with an adjustable spanner, no less. So, let me ask you - if you can get through the bars with such a crude tool, and the bars themselves work as a ladder, what is the freaking point. Strike one for Taiwan. Not in our favour is the fact that we often leave that window open to allow air in, and it was unlikely that it was locked - lesson learnt.


Breaking and entering

Prints are taken on the window, and ... Hulk. Gloves. They came and went through the same place, which probably explains the scuffling sound when I arrived. We chat briefly about what to do, and his advice sounds like it is coming from a man that has seen this way, way too often. The adrenaline starts to fade as he leaves, and we assess the damage. Tasha arrives, slightly breathless.

Yes - Hulk. Please take him in for more questioning, by all means...

It's quite clear straight off the bat that we got away amazingly lightly. A few hundred dollars in American cash, and all the expensive equipment and travel documents are still intact, as far as we can see. But still one cat missing.

Tripod is timid cat at the best of times, but she was not to be found in any of her typical hiding places. I shine a light quickly outside, and nothing. I go and get my camera, and set the flash on, hoping to capture some reflective eyes; nothing. Did they really steal her?

Another shot with the torch, and the other guys hear a loud "meow". Tripod, except for Gizmo-like sound effects simply does not meow, ever, and I am in disbelief that it is her. Datou, on the other hand, makes a bolt for the window, clearly in distress - what a hero! Some more flash photographs taken down the alleyway, and sure enough it is her, lurking behind an air conditioning unit. I grab a torch, throw on some shoes and run out of the door, with Natasha in hot pursuit.


The rear of the apartment building is dark, dim, and not easy to access. I catch sight of her, and she scampers off (with three legs it's hard to do much else), and I worry that we are about to start a bizarre game of mouse and cat. But I corner her, and manage to pick her shivering body up. Safe. And I pass her up to Armando, manhandling herself up the bars and into the warm light of the apartment.

Covered in the muck of a million scooters, I head back to join Natasha and walk back around to the apartment entrance. Call Abe a dozen or more times. Talk at length about what the hell just happened, and wait for his arrival. And it was about this point that we realised just how hungry we were. The adrenalin surge comes to an abrupt stop.

We didn't need to wait to long for Abe to come back. Without wanting to get too dramatic, we walked him through the house, and it was clear that he was as shocked as the rest of us. Turns out his phone had run out of power. It's at times like this that I realise my daily Chinese skills have definite limits - vocabulary that Abe is talented and dedicated enough to learn. Still, we got through, and in the end what more is there to say? We were amazingly lucky.

We'll be lodging the full report with the police tomorrow, but until then I have rather an important gathering to attend - the departure of Nick Chaney from Taiwan. But I'll leave that for the next post.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Trans-Pacific Adventures

Connections in Dallas

I just landed from a three week trip to the USA, taking in Miami and Austin, with brief stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The last time I was here, was right at the end of my Cambridge University masters; and it therefore offers rather a convenient moment of Texan-style punctuation from which to reflect and digest.

What a long way I have come. The first time was trans-Atlantic with nothing more than a backpack, a Greyhound ticket via San Antonio, a whim and perhaps a prayer. The next was trans-Pacific, taking in a global design conference, and with an extended stay at the Austin mothership, visiting colleagues that have become firm friends. I have, geographically-speaking at least, come full circle.

It also allows me to look at my Asian experience and life through a different, Americana, lens. I am positive I could feel myself being 'reculturalized' (as our resident Cuban, Pedro, so eloquently puts it) back to Western ways in a way I did not feel when returning to Blighty, perhaps because I am on holiday when I head back there. It's a good feeling to head back to the office with a bit more confrontational spirit and less of the passive-aggressiveness reticence.

Usually, I enjoy writing these blog posts on the way through the trip. I think I felt some mild feeling of vertigo, however, as I imagined a virtual life in the USA, and re-imagined my Asian life; which felt more like a daydream, frankly - Kyoto to Taipei to Shanghai to Miami to Texas ... what a head spin!

Jet lag is oozing from every pore of my being right now ... time to sort out some photos, unpack and have a coffee. Good to be back to the daydream!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Blimey ... I am 30!

And you know what? It feels pretty good. This is in no small part due to the amazing efforts of my friends, especially Abe who put quite some effort into setting things up, and Tanja & Michael who jetted over from Hong Kong to join us. Biking, partying, eating and hot springing - just like the old days! Cheers everyone; it was magic.

Tanja approaches with caution

Cables haven't moved.

Preening and Prodding

The coolest old man.


Changing Rooms


As you might notice from the box at the top, I am also jumping into Flickr, after years of not really diving into it. The new camera rather warrants more than 410 pixel-wide images. Speaking of which, it is becoming increasingly clear that I might need to think about transitioning to a new format that supports better photos. I'll need to give that some thought.

More birthday photos and videos on the way, as I sort them out.

Come check out Jonathan Biddle on Flickr!

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