Expat@Large

Sleeping Bewdy

Posted in books, Japanese Literature, movies, stuff I should shutup about, waffle by expatatlarge on February 18, 2012

[Do’h! See comments.]

Seduced, mesmerised, captivated, as were we all indubitably, by the gentle pace and the soft visual caresses of that recent Orstrayen fillum, Sleeping Beauty (NOT the Disney pic), E@L allows himself to drift away and lose himself in the obscure world of sex, beauty and death that lies way above our tedious day-to-day existence, into that floating world of timeless daydreaming and soft-core porn.


Sleeping Beauty from Pollen Digital on Vimeo.

Anyone seen it? No? Figured as much. Philistines.

Art? Well it would have made to the select cellar of a hundred million or so unwatched arty-farty fillums, down there with Melancholia and Tree Of Life, but it was not shot in black and white.

So not quite art, perhaps. Not at all in B&W.

But then again, it is a… pale film. There is a lot of paleness to it. Not quite a whiter shade, but it is, you know, pale. Which is not to say it is an insipid or wishy-washy movie. F’kn weird, yes.

You see (no pun intended), Emily Browning – from Sucker Punch and Lemony Snicket – is in a state of near or complete undressedness for large sections for some parts of it, and she has the palest, purest, almost translucent skin. She must have come to HK or Thailand to get some of those skin bleaching treatments which are advertised ubiquitously there/here. Many of the rooms in the flick are white, light grey, cream… such as the cold, clinical white (cliché alert!) of the research-lab where she goes to swallow a gastric tube, yuck, to have her stomach acidity read (by guy looking at a syringe it seems – where the fuck is the proper analyser?). And, um, there are other bits that are white-ish as well. Need to re-watch. Again, wasn’t looking specifically for the colour scheme, was looking for breast and butts and lithe female forms.

Yep, a lot of paleness and a lot of flesh. Surely if that don’t approach a goddam work of art, I don’t know what does. Really, I do not know.

Recently I tried to convince Bruce that it was soft-porn (aka Art), so I re-watched it with him, and no, there’s not nearly so much nudity as I thought. He told me there was bugger all nakedness in fact, and that it was a fucking weird flick and he was going to hit me several times quite hard for making him watch it when he could have gone out for a rub and tug…

Grant you that.

Plot: girl gets put into a deep sleep so that impotent old men can look at her naked in bed.

Not much to go on, you say.

Grant you that, too.

However you have to admit Browning does a terrific job of staying “asleep” (spoiler: she is just acting really, at least I hope she is) in this, like, gross-out scene where veteran Oz actor Chris Haywood does some fancy eye- and nostril-licking. Shudder. And then the big guy has a heart-attack (I think) and drops her off the bed and onto the floor… Ouch! Hope the carpet was soft. If only there was an Academy Award for not reacting!

But, getting serious again, it is the gentle pacing of the editing and/or direction (not as slow as the slow bits in Drive – Antonioni remakes Fast and Furious, guffaw) that is reminiscent of something that I can’t quite place. Of course there is movement amongst all this stillness, call it action, but it is so quiet and understated that it can become a dream, a sleep-walking state… Not just Emily asleep, but the way all the people in the White House move so languorously: they are never in a hurry; and how they talk softly, in what you might call measured tones if you were fond of clichés. That stirring of the tea, with a whisk, Japanese style.1

It reminds me I think, of the way the more typical modern Japanese literature works. I have read something, somewhere, maybe from Soseki, Tanazaki or H. Murakami that has these qualities. Seriously, I *did* think this movie might have some Japanese origin… The old silence speaks volumes thing, the relaxation that creates tension (maybe it doesn’t that 100% successfully here, it is not a completely satisfying film), the speed at which you stay still, the perfect emotional control in a crisis.

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Now, sigh, I don’t have the movie on my hard-disk because that would constitute piracy (I didn’t back it up onto this HDD here with me in BKK) to check the credits so I can only look up IMDB or the website.

But I wanted to know what they say is the true source of this storyline, other than Grimm’s Fairy Tales? There seems to be nothing there on the internet – the script is attributed to Julia Leigh, the director. There’s no mention of it being adapted from any other source…

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SSSOOOooooooo… I was in Kinokinuya in Paragon shopping centre in BKK today (oh fuck, yesterday) in search of a remaindered copy (because I was not aware of a full price copy in Singapore, and he had mentioned it the other day on his blog, and here I am in Bangkok…) of Tim from Cultural Snow‘s book on the so-called Noughties – so-called because they ARE so called – and of course, having found one eventually: they hid that lost copy pretty damn well, right there under my nose, I continued on browsing.

Beleive it or not, Kinokinuya have a damn fine selection Japanese literature in English, 40% or so of which are written not by Haruki Murakami (this guy has Nobel Prize written all over him, surely, at least if sales are anything to go by. ). One author who is not H. Murakumi is Yasunari Kawabata. A damn great writer whom my friend who did Japanese literature in Tokyo has never heard of, even though, speaking of which, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1968.

Many great little books by Kawabata, some terrific longer ones too (allegedly, I’ve only finished the short ones), and I disappointed not to be able to locate (in Geelong, well d’uh) a copy of Kawabata’s semi-fictional novel, The Master Of Go. This I intended to present to No1 son during the Saturnalia period of gift-giving, to match with the Go set I did manage to find. (Hint: this is significant.2)

Anyways, here in BKK, I did find a book of Kawabata’s short stories, House Of The Sleeping Beauties. It is a Kawabata I haven’t read, wasn’t even aware of. The Izu Dancer (the book that made him famous and loved), The Master of Go, Beauty and Sadness, and Snow Country I have read, some a few times, and this is a small book too, so I purchased it of course. (That, Tim’s 0s, and a history of Bosnia [don’t ask], but where the fuck am I going to find space to put them?)

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The book was wrapped in plastic still, so E@L had no idea if there was any correspondence between these stories and the movie with a similar title. He had only a vague feeling of suspicion, of quiet anticipation, until he unwrapped it. It was one of those editions you only see from Japan: a paperback, with a dust-jacket! He turned it over to admire it. Mainly shiny black, with a gold Klimt image on the left side of the front – The Hydra. Admirable. He looked at the colour of the inner, true, cover. It was bright red, surprising, a hidden dangerous colour, concealed like the harsh sudden contrast of a woman’s innermost secret parts, revealed. Kodansha Intl. The title story was originally published, in Japanese, in 1961. This English edition dated from 2004.

He was sitting on a broad chair of Chinese design in a the private room of a gentleman’s parlour in the distinguished suburb of Nana, when he read the first sentence. His paramour de jour, a fragrant blossom of a thing whose name, Khun Ying, rang like a tiny bell to his ears, was bent over, filling the large bath and splashing soapy water onto the rubber mattress on the floor, rendering its friction minimal, surfactants releasing the mineral-hidden slipperiness of water. Her left hand was plashing in the bath, stirring up pillows of luxurious foam.

He almost laughed, almost out loud!

He was not to do anything in bad taste, the woman of the inn warned old Eguchi. He was not to put his finger into the mouth of the sleeping girl, or try anything of that sort.

“Oh ho! Oh Ho!, It is the same story, it is!” he laughed, out loud.

She turned her heart-shaped face towards him. She was naked of course, facing away from him at first. He paused his reading to admire her more attentively as she eased the shining parts of her soft female machine into a semi-profile. He could see the smooth hillock’s outline where her thigh merged with her hip; he could follow the reptilian arc of her spine from its lower dimples to a small inverted triangle of fine hair at the nape of her slender neck where she had tied up the black tresses to keep them from getting too wet and pinned them secure with a white butterfly clip; he could, and did, admire the outline at the soft fall of her small, perfect breast.

“Wah?”

“It is the movie,” he said. “It is exactly the same!” 3

“Why you say, moowee, wha moowee?”

The light was glistening on her wet skin where water beaded and fell in haphazard rivulets down the dark contours of her body, like condensation on a chilled beer glass. She stood up, placed her hand on her hip and looked at him, challengingly. Still, she stayed still. He felt quite heady under the power of her undaunted gaze. Against this female energy, this independence and will, he tried to assimilate the timeless beauty of her perfect form with the prejudices against her ancient profession. She was beautiful, perfect, classic, and she defied him to say otherwise. She defied him to judge, to say it made a difference, as if anything he could say or think would ever make a difference.

But still he was entranced by the gentleness of her body as she stood there, immobile. The delicate curve of her elbow, her arm smooth and dark as polished ebony (she was from down south), her hip jutting out to hold it, her knee slightly bent in just such a way; these features gave her entire stance the coquettish form of a famous statue, one he once knew but could not quite place…

He had seen her before, in her pure form: somewhere, she was a work of art.

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So I read a bit more of this story. I doesn’t take long to see what is happening here, another couple of paragraphs.

Plot: a girl gets put into a deep sleep so that impotent old men can look at her naked in bed!

This is it – absolutely 100% it. The plot for Sleeping Beauty comes from this Japanese story by Yasanuri Kawabata…

BING!

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1. I seem to recall (ther’s a lot vagueness in this post) that there is a fairly detailed description of the tea-ceremony in The Master Of Go  (this will make sense eventually, continue reading the post.), or maybe it is in another of Kawabata’s books. Green tea powder is whisked to a froth in the Japanese tea-ceremony, as Rachael Blake does with the sleeping draught she mixes for Emily Browning.

BING!

2. Browning’s character is a poor university student who is doing this sleep thing as an easy way for her to make good money. One of the lectures she walks out on in order to get to another of her on-call sleeping jobs is a lecture on a particular game of Go! “Why would the Master, after spending all this time thinking, make such a bad move?” or words to that effect. I seem to recollect this sort of conundrum being close to a section of that other Kawabata book, The Master of Go where an old master loses to a dashing young challenger (we’ve all been there).

BING!

Ancient Japanese Go-Go girls…

3. Almost. In the movie, Emily Browning as the candidate for the Sleeping Beauty job, is told that she will not, under any circumstances, be “penetrated”.

BING!

There are other points of correspondence too. The first old man holding, lifting and letting drop Browning’s arm – the description of a similar incident in the story is quite mesmerizing and it almost perfectly realized, word for word as it were, in the movie. And then there is… not sure, but there must be more. I’d better read more of the story before I can say.

BING!

Anyway, it’s a given.

Again, BING!

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Obviously all this was no mystery to Julia Leigh: she put that Go lecture in there for a reason. I am just wondering if she duly and correctly attributed the story to Kawabata in the credits. I’ll have to wait 4hrs until this new torrent downloads, I mean until I get back to Singapore to view my legit DVD.

So there you have it: E@L the literary detective solves the mystery yet again. (There was a mystery?) The movie Sleeping Beauty is, cunningly and in an attempt to divert suspicion, based on a Japanese story called House of The Sleeping Beauties. Who woulda thunk?

E@L

(I know none of you give a fuck about any of this, but it’s made my pathetic, wasted-life of a day, such as it was.)

(Also, this post was originally meant to constitute “a full critical analysis” of The Noughties, to be placed “http://culturalsnow.blogspot.com/2012/02/and-your-point-is.html“>here (i.e.: Tim’s blog) first thing in the morning. With footnotes.” Oops. Got distracted, again.)

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Bloggers, Blogging, Blogged, Buggered

I tend to forget that I am in Singapore sometimes. Yes, ambiguity intended. Sometimes I am in Singapore, and sometimes I forget this.

And so I don’t keep up with many Singaporean blogs. Read zero. At least since Mr Brown moved on to pod-casting, still funny and controversial but not really blogging IMHO. Xenoboy and MollyMeek have essentially disappeared. Then, of course, SPG moved into my apartment (temporarily, for a few years) and I could see what was going on in her life without having to read about it or admire the pictures of it (always a five minute warning sent when I was coming back from the airport.) Mainey quit from Kinokinuya so there was no chance of getting discount books (met her sister last week). VirginPornstar moved to Sydney after losing her virgin status and shut her blog down. Valkyrie’s spider’s all passed on, so I only see her when she comes to our place for D&D games (a while ago now, when Izzy was still here. Lovely lady, nice tattoos.)

However the complete absence of the bloggers I know is not the only reason I haven’t kept up with all local blogs that I know, There is one blogger I refuse to communicate with because of her criminally heartless treatment of one of my close friends. No names, no pack drill, as they say, and she is a lawyer so I’d probably get ripped a new arsehole if I linked to her after that comment.

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I’m not sure that there are any Singapore expat blogs I SHOULD be following, but there is nothing I need to know about bringing up babies, about local food or pet dogs or fashion or living advice for those on their first tour of duty.

I made an observation at the first/only Singapore Bloggers.sg.2005 bloggers meeting back in whenever, 2005 or so, about this, and the status hasn’t changed, at least for the people I know or should know. The taxi driver guy hasn’t published since April last year. Mike is now only talking about his burgeoning writing career (and you really should investigate his work – brilliant). Indy is back blogging under his Platypus moniker, but only about gaming and blowed if I can remember the link.

As a result, my blog is linked to by very few Singaporean expat bloggers. Read none. And it features on few of the lists that come up when you Google ‘Expat Bloggers Singapore’. Read none.

OK, I know I have a dedicated bunch of readers, a humble hi-5 guys and gals, but the list of followers is not expanding and my hits are practically non-existent compared to one or fifteen of the local blogs here.

Mind you my blog is pretty specialised. Specialised in a negative space way, excluded, preterite, I am the dark matter and background radiation hum of Singapore blogging that no-one sees unless they use sophisticated equipment to find it.

In fact my blog is damn useless: A list of complaints about toast and coffee with the occasional sex adventure of Bruce in Orchard Towers or Bangkok. Boring, right? Specialised topics, right?

Sigh.

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These thoughts were stimulated by a Chinese colleague – female – who says, yes, she glances at my blog every now and then but reads XiaXue every day. Every day. XiaXue gets the same hits per day as I have accumulated over the past 4 years, thanks to people like my colleague. I wish I could call her a dumb bitch, but she’s not. She does the same job as I do, so she’s obviously a genius.

But why the fuck do 380,000 people a week got to XiaXue’s blog? I’m not going to link to it because no matter what I say, if she finds out, she is bound to rip me a new arsehole. (I have met her once, briefly, seemed nice, completely ignored me.)

OK, new arsehole coming. It is completely beyond me what the pull is to her vacuous, narcissistic, rude and abusive tripe.

Completely. Beyond. Me.

As is popularity.

E@L

(Bit fretful of further damage to my arsehole it seems.)

Smaller Is Beautifuller

Posted in beer, capitalism, economics, stuff I should shutup about, vegemite, work by expatatlarge on April 4, 2010

There was great show about the decline of British industry on BBC TV just a minute ago, but on their website they say something else was broadcast. Did I really see it? Did it makes a noise? It certainly did.

The final concept on the show, after all the gloom of walking through the empty shells of extinct (read gone overseas) industries, was ‘sustainable capitalism’, supposedly based on the lessons of nature!?

It ended with interviews with the managers of several small companies in West Wales (that hub of business innovation) which work towards the optimization of profit and the flexibility that offers, rather than trying to screw everybody tight in order to maximize profits, i.e. to become uber-rich through shares and fantastic bonuses while everyone else becomes unemployed. They say that this latter goal gives big companies no room to move and, it goes without saying (though I’ll say it), destroys familiar social standards.

How? One major culprit in this fragmentation, but by no means the only one, is the effects of the global labour pool, of which I too am a participant. Because of this traditional jobs and career paths fall away and the family unit is broken apart when the breadwinners have to move around continually to find work. Not to mention the boom in coolie Asian or East European labour (though I’ll mention it).

And then there is the destruction of the environment which is never factored in to these companies’ bottom-line equations, and the bringing on of the end of the world as we know it, resulting the bleak choking post-apocalyptic death of our grandchildren (if the No.1 son and GF ever get a move on).

No, it is not communism. It is common sense.

And it’s not new. Small IS beautiful.

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It seems true to me anyway.

Until our uber-rich bonus-bloated aging CEO of the company that was my first expat posting stood to receive $35m in the deal, enough to fund his retirement home in the penthouse of the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, allowed it to be swallowed by the K-Mart of medical giants Philips, the first small(ish) company that I worked for was brilliant, apart from the traitorous CEO obviously. Everyone knew everybody (except the CEO); it was a casual Seattle-based environment; paperwork was minimal; unhelpful “management trainings” were eschewed; things got done through casual requests to the key people; employees stayed in their chosen roles for as long as they wished and therefore maintained a high level of expertise and then thy moved up if they wanted to, through their skill and experience and (for those who could find him) sucking up to the CEO.

Other companies called it “the farm” because of its laid-back attitude.

Everything in Philips was, by contrast, all glass and blue steel, formal and impersonal: they never knew what my skills actually were – REAL manager in an area I knew nothing about? no fucking way! – and the back-stabbing (including by the CEO) and politics was claustrophobic. The only benefit I gained from Philips was that I met some wonderful people, many of whom are still great friends, despite my move to Singapore.

But my current role in this small(er than Philips) Japanese company is much like I had in the farm. Apart from the games I play on my business card (I managed [ho! I must be a manager after all] to get away with claiming a bullshit “manager” role last time), nothing much happens formally except as one would expect within the structural anachronism of the Japanese company; paperwork is non-existent to minimal; they respect my actual skills and try to leverage them and I hope to have this low-stress job for as long as I want it (and the Yen eventually comes down). If my company goes under, it will be because it over-reaches itself in tough markets like Australia and the US, where Philips reigns due to its median-level pricing and the good technologies (all from one great [French Canadian] engineer, actually] that were inherited from my previous company.

It is in the lunge to get bigger that most smaller business fail.

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Or maybe, in the interest of destroying the global labour market from within, I should go back home now, give up my low-stress job and my *immense* salary (no shares, no bonuses) and tax benefits so I can be marginally employed, watch the five channels of Australian free-to-air television, wash down my vegemite sandwiches with VB, pick fights in pubs and argue with the neighbours, in the great Aussie social tradition?

At least they speak English there (depending upon my choice of suburb).

E@L

Accounting, For Tastes

Posted in economics, politics, stuff I should shutup about by expatatlarge on October 13, 2009

“I reclined on a sofa reading TGWKTHN for the last three hours, I am placing the piece in a place of honour (for pot-boilers)…” James Joyce. Well he said it about “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, so there’s obviously no accounting for taste, what?

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I just had to get up and come here to write this as a) I am sick of sitting on the sofa (recliner chair actually) and b) I had to pass on a bit from the book. This will not involve any spoilers (we all know Salander survived obviously or there wouldn’t be a third book!) but this is about a relatively minor sub-plot (or so it seems at the moment, who can tell?).

There’s this great little snippet about Erika Berger, who has left Millennium, and is now at the helm of some staid daily paper in Stockholm (known as S.M.P.) that need rejuvenation due to drastically falling revenues and circulation. It has been propped up and has maintained something like profitability by a continued and drawn out series of staff and wage cuts that have sapped the vitality of the paper and turned the journalists sour*, while the board members continue to reap their dividends and the shareholders hold their cyber fortunes. Sound familiar? She is being told by members of the board that more staff cuts are required… Instead of acquiescing, she rips them a new social democratic asshole!

“The board approved your measures [at cost-cutting], of course they did, because you guaranteed them a dividend each year. That’s what has to stop, and now.”

“So you’re suggesting in all seriousness that the board should decide to abolish dividends and bonuses. What makes you think the shareholders will agree to that?”

“I’m proposing a zero-profit operating budget this year… If the newspaper were stable and bringing in a tremendous profit, then pay out as much as you want in bonuses. But this is no time for you to be increasing your own bonus. I propose cutting all management salaries by half.”

“What you don’t understand is that our shareholders bought stock in the paper because they want to make money. That’s called capitalism. If you arrange that they’re going to lose money, then they won’t want to be shareholders any longer.” [Well duh, then they could sell their shares to some other sucker. Sorry. E@L]

“I’m not suggesting that they [the shareholders] should loose money, though it may come to that. Ownership implies responsibility. As you yourself have pointed out, capitalism is what matters here. S.M.P.‘s owner want to make a profit. But it is the market that decides whether you make a profit or take a loss. By your reasoning, you want the rules of capitalism to apply solely to the employees of S.M.P., while you and the shareholder will be exempt.” pg272.

All I could think about was the book, The Divine Right of Capital which, I believe – so therefore am probably wrong – argues for what they call “Economic Democracy”. Who said that the shareholder is the most important person in the company? Where did that come from? How has that become the last unassailable right in the world? Why did we allow The Shareholder to replace The King in such an all-powerful, all-hallowed role?

How do they suggest fixing this? Speaking of accounting (for tastes, remember?) – by placing the employees and the shareholders on the same side of the accounting equation. Just another little flip in the spreadsheet in order to a) give EQUALITY to workers and shareholders and b) to give them the FREEDOM OF SPEECH to have their say in running of the company that after all means much more to them, being often their sole source of income, than it does to those profit-hunting day-trading shareholders who’ll flip their “ownership” to someone else at the beep of margin-call. Hardly any loyalty or commitment there. The idea too, is to prevent the widespread and enormous corporate corruption that has been exposed recently – SHOCK HORROR – but which of course is part of the unspoken mainstay of the capitalist system, at least once the company gets to a certain level of capitalization, and usually shrugged over as just another way to make money.

It’s the “capitalism with responsibility” theme that is so important in the above quote. Corporatism and monopolisation and the inevitable exploitation that such one-sided power ushers in crush the meaning out of that phrase. No wonder people like me (and frequent commenter Mark), who have seen something of the world, balk at the damage done by the lack of freedom in the core of all unregulated free markets.

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* Which reminds me of what I was reading about in The Economist about the horrendous plague of suicides affecting French Telecom and about the tug between the demand for that overwhelming loyalty (something I never bought into at that crap-hole Philips where I worked for several years) modern companies seem to expect, and the worker’s awareness the company doesn’t give a flying fuck about the welfare of its employees when it comes to maxing up the Profit/Headcount Ratio (a genuine metric in Philips, I swear to Darwin) come dividend time. No wonder I was so cynical there. I spent half my time filling in forms about what I was doing, but nowhere on the forms was there a place where I could say that I had spent half my time filling in forms.

A more subtle problem lies in the mixed messages that companies send about loyalty and commitment. Many firms—particularly successful ones—demand extraordinary dedication from their employees. (Microsoft, according to an old joke, offers flexitime: “You can work any 18-hour shift that you want.”) Some provide perks that are intended to make the office feel like a second home. But companies also reserve the right to trim their workforce at the first sign of trouble. Most employees understand that their firms do not feel much responsibility to protect jobs. But they nevertheless find it wrenching to leave a post that has consumed so much of their lives

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Yes, indeed. And at the moment my previously wonderfully paperwork-free-zone company is going through a certification process due some clause about us importing medical products, even if only for demonstration, and so I spent most of today writing up my own job description, rather than doing anything that is actually ON that job description.

I was about to leap from the window with the panoramic view of the east end of Sentosa myself until I received a hint from boss-san: only put down stuff that you can actually prove with documentation… Well, that’s a lot easier! Nothing!

Plus it sounds a lot like a book I am currently reading…

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Speaking of Brand Loyalty, I will give this to Philips, they make crap TVs…

But if you used to work there, or if know someone who still works there, or even someone else who USED to work there, you can get cheap deals on the ex-display stock from their Tao Payao showroom. I’m picking up a 42″ LCD for SGD$600 to replace the old 42″ plasma (SGD$1300 three – or was it four? – years ago), which is starting to go on the blink again – only got a pure red colour first thing this morning. Not only is old one about to kark it, it doesn’t take digital signal. Might need that one day if I get a Blu-ray player. Or a game-console. When my shares dividends come in.

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Speaking of shares,etc – just want to let you know that the Hong Kong restaurant I invested in hasn’t returned a cracker in the last 18 months. I’m in it for the long haul. At least that what my investment advisor keeps telling me.

OK, enough rambling, time to get back to The Book.

E@L