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Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two May 14th 2022

Yesterday morning, May 13th 2022, I learnt from the Guardian newspaper that Robert Gillmor, the bird artist, had died. I was slightly shocked. He is probably the most famous person I have ever spoken to. We have several things in common: he loved birds; he was Reading born and bred; he was a teacher (at Leighton Park School in Reading); he knew my mother. I first came across him in Reading in the mid-1960s. At that time my mother was a private nurse, and her latest assignment was caring for Robert Gillmor’s old mother. When Robert learnt I was a keen bird-watcher and a member of ROC (Reading Ornithological Club), he made a point of meeting me. I can’t remember if he gave me anything, but he may have – possibly Xmas cards adorned with his ... read more
Bullfinches
Mute Swan

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two May 7th 2022

Every day, for the past few weeks, I have been posting a saucy old seaside postcard on my Facebook page. Back in the late 1950s and early 60s, I used to see such postcards when we went for family holidays to Hayling Island. What do we mean by saucy seaside postcards? The term was coined for cards featuring images of well-endowed, often scantily clad, females and doubles entendres full of sexual innuendo. The most celebrated creator of such images is Donald McGill. In 1954 he was prosecuted for his designs under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act, found guilty and fined £50 with costs of £25. McGill was so famous – or notorious – that, in 1941, George Orwell wrote an essay about him and the whole saucy postcard genre. According to Orwell: “Your first impression is ... read more
Classic Donald McGill - Pickled Gherkin
Cox
Stowaway

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two May 2nd 2022

Many years ago I wrote an essay entitled ‘The Fascination of Chess’. Now I am writing a similar essay about snooker. The trigger for this essay is the World Snooker Championship, which I am watching on TV. The semi-finals finished yesterday – Saturday April 30th 2022 – and the final begins today. Ronnie O’Sullivan will be playing Judd Trump. The standard of play in this world championship has been very high. Three seasoned old pros – O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams - have been playing near or at their absolute best. In a semi-final that will live long in the memory, Judd Trump, a mere stripling at 32, vanquished Williams 17-16. Williams was trailing 1-7, and later 5-12, but, incredibly, took a 16-15 lead, before Trump won the final two frames and the match. Definitely ... read more
Genius at Work 2022
Alex Higgins
World Champion 1982

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City January 11th 2022

I passed on a Guardian poetry article to my friend David Cooke, who is a published poet. Dave is old school; he adores the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin and early Ted Hughes. For Dave, poetry is all about craftsmanship - selecting the right words and putting them in the right order. It has little to do with content and nothing at all to do with the personality of the poet. Dave is cynical about modern poetry. He thinks that these days a poet stands a greater chance of being published if he or she is gay / coloured / ethnically unusual / physically or socially disadvantaged / strange in some way. The more of these boxes a poet ticks, the more successful he or she is likely to be. The quality of the actual ... read more
David Cooke

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two January 6th 2022

When ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ was released in 1994, I couldn’t make head nor tail of the title and assumed it must be pretty boring. And it may have been the title that put off a large section of the public, because the movie earned a mere $16 million in its first theatrical run, way short of its $25 million budget. By contrast, the critics loved it, and in 1995 it was nominated for 7 Oscars. Since then ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ has become legendary, rated by all and sundry as one of the finest movies ever made. The imdb website gives it a 9.3 rating, the highest of any movie – higher than ‘The Godfather’ (9.2) or ‘The Godfather: Part 2’ (9.0) or ‘Pulp Fiction’ (8.9) or ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ ... read more
'Marriage of Figaro' Scene
The Escape Tunnel
Free At Last

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two December 27th 2021

As I grow older, I become increasingly nostalgic. I often look back at my childhood in Reading, a period of my life which now seems almost idyllic. I have already written several essays about growing up in Reading, but I have never written about the variety of tradesmen and other people who passed by our house or came to our front door. For no particular reason, one of them popped into my mind today, and then another one and then some more. We lived at 36 Hatherley Road in an end-of-terrace house in a working-class neighbourhood. My father bought the house in 1955, and I lived there continuously until going to Leeds University in 1970. Every morning the milk and newspapers and mail would be delivered. There was no internet, so we relied on the radio ... read more
Lighting the Gas Lamps
Coal Delivery
Tonibell Ice-Cream Van

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two December 19th 2021

In 2010 I was still teaching at the American International School in HCMC. Here is the Xmas letter I sent out to friends: Dear Overseas Friend(s) When I sent out my 2009 Xmas encyclical, I was struggling to cope with a deranged boss. Well, he jumped ship last February, before they could sack him, and was replaced by a kindergarten-trained German lady with no previous experience of running a High School. She is a workaholic but directs her energy into some pretty useless channels and is too egotistical to seek advice. However, she is passably competent, which means I am probably saddled with her for as long as I remain at AIS (American International School) – which may be a long long time. My attempts to find employment at another, better, school in Saigon have, for ... read more

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two December 19th 2021

In 2011 I was in my second year as Head of English at Renaissance International School in HCMC. Here is the Xmas letter I sent out to friends: Apt B-17-08 Central Garden 225 Ben Chuong Duong District 1 Saigon Vietnam December 14th Dear Overseas Friend(s) Since last Xmas, my life has been very pleasant, if not terribly exciting. But at my age – 62 on Dec 22nd – comfort, not excitement, is the main thing. I’ll begin with a bit of a rant… Now in my second year as Head of English at the Renaissance School, I am blessed with an excellent team of English teachers – all of them hard-working, clever and cooperative. I teach 4 classes only, which gives me time to strategize. However, there is a very large fly in the ointment: my ... read more

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two December 19th 2021

In 2015 I was in my final year at the Renaissance International School and worried about finding a new job. Saigon December 19th Dear Overseas Friends Not a vintage year for me, with one glorious exception. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. My wife Thuy’s brother-in-law died of meningitis at the age of 42. If he had received good hospital treatment from the start, he would be alive today, but hospitals in the provinces are piss-poor, and by the time we got him into a good hospital in Saigon, he was too far gone. He was a very nice guy, sorely missed by Thuy and all her family. Thuy’s Tan Chau restaurant and karaoke suffered in the exceptionally wet weather last September. The foundations of her restaurant subsided, and the karaoke was ... read more

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two December 19th 2021

In 2016 I left Renaissance School and began my second stint at ISHCMC - a year of English teaching that proved to be my very last. Here is the Xmas letter I wrote to friends: Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) December 10th 2016 Dear Overseas Friend(s) The story of my 2016 has been about leaving my old job, starting a new job, solving the problems afflicting my wife’s family and following the sagas of Brexit and Trump. My final 6 months at Renaissance School were bitter-sweet. Nice classes, good colleagues, but crap admin: the triple whammy of a dire Headmaster, servile Deputy Head and obnoxious Head of English. I left Renaissance in June, having failed to find a new job in HCMC (where I am determined to stay). Some of my applications were rejected on ... read more




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