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Two weeks ago I left London in a rental car. It was a one-way trip. Having completed my basic training as a member of the jet set, it is now time to undertake an overseas tour. Hong Kong or bust!

As TUPNews has been a record of my life as a London business traveller, it seems an appropriate time to bring it to a close. I've filed fewer reports this year, not because I've fallen out of love with London, but because fewer things have struck me as urgently newsworthy. My love for the capital has settled into a contented hum, not a giddy newlywed high. I've continued to travel, but have spent more time returning to old haunts (Singapore, Houston) - having a wonderful time, but uncovering little new to share with you, dear reader. I took this as a sign to shake things up, to have a little adventure. Five years in London = the working week. Two years in Hong Kong = the weekend. Don't worry, I'll definitely be back for the Olympics.

I'll keep you abreast of what is happening on the other side of the world once I get there, but it will be through another medium. Until then, thank you for your support of TUPNews and all the best for the future!




Reducing bus fares AND annoying Times readers in one fell swoop. Red Ken: always into something.



I am live blogging from the British Museum, where I have just seen the chinese fellas. It is really quite marvellous, i must say. Christ I love this city.



It’s Friday afternoon and I’m mildly drunk at work, so here’s some racy TUPNewsExtra! In a departure from our usual practice all of this information is second- or third-hand, but I still felt it worth reporting.

A colleague of mine (male, Malay, Muslim and married) recently visited Japan’s Tokyo for a conference, and hooked up with a Japanese friend living there. It turns out that Japan really is a nation of perverts - but an impressively innovative bunch of perverts.

First off, even karaoke, innocent pissed-up entertainment in Western Europe, has a seedy undertone in Japan. If you visit Martha Lane Fox’s “authentic” private booths in Soho, you will probably not be invited to take your pick from a line-up of young girls, for a companion who will sit on your knee, laugh at your jokes and duet with you. Hmmm.

Next up are the rather disturbing “scenario” clubs, where different rooms are made up to represent a subway carriage, a locker room, a classroom (!) etc. Here you will hang on to a pretend strap surrounded by hostess girls in commuter clothes while a tannoy issues instructions – move closer to the girl, now everybody grab a whatever, etc. Unbelievable. My colleague wasn’t allowed in to this one, though, as he is not Japanese.

Pushing it a bit further are Soapland bars, mostly located in the Yoshiwara district of Japan. Here you are taken to a private room and bathed by a soaped-up naked Japanese girl. You lie on your back on a rubber mattress and she squirms around you, even under your legs – as in, between your back and the mattress. Then, if you want, sex.

My colleague did actually go to one of these, although I don’t know how far it went. He remarked that it was “nice to leave a club feeling nice and clean, rather than grimy like you usually do.”

Finally and most appalling/fascinating are the kaiten-eros bars. Kaiten-sushi is the Japanese term for those conveyor belt sushi places. At a kaiten-eros bar, you sit in a three-sided booth, with the open side facing a stage. Some girls dance on the stage, but a line of girls walks in a circle in front of the booths (unfortunately they are not literally on a conveyor belt). If you see one you like, you simply call her in to your booth.

So far, so uniquely demeaning. Here’s where it gets really odd: the girls only perform oral sex, and, as my colleague put it, everything has to be “done and dusted” within about ten minutes, or they will just leave. However! You are not paying on a per-transaction basis – rather, you pay by the hour and can take advantage of the services as much as you want – an “all-you-can-be-eaten” offer, to put it crudely.

Again: from a moral angle, pretty awful; from a consumer choice angle, laudable.



TUPNews recently visited the Bowery, in America’s New York, to walk around, drink beer and watch soccer.

This was back in May, in fact, and the soccer game in question was the Champions’ League final between Liverpool FC and AC Milan. I dropped into my firm’s office on Lafayette Street at around noon to make arrangements with a Scouse-supporting expat colleague. Kick off was 2.45pm Eastern Standard Time; although my hangover from the previous day’s long, long lunch was imploring me to stay in the air-conditioned office and fuck about on the internet, my more adventurous spirit prevailed. After all, I was on vacation!

The Bowery is famous both as a notoriously shitty area and also (and relatedly) as the birthplace of New York punk rock; in particular, the home of the now-defunct Country, Bluegrass and Blues club (CBGB’s). Impoverished artists and musicians including Television, Talking Heads, Ramones and Blondie were drawn to the area’s cheap rents and bohemian ethos in the late 1970s, spawning a music and fashion scene which, whilst counter-cultural at the time, was revived and brought into the mainstream during the first half of this decade with remarkable success. As such, the Bowery is a newly relevant site of historical interest, the wellspring of every 2005 teenager’s stripy shirt and Converse All-Stars.

Post-Guiliani, the Bowery is pleasantly down-at-heel rather than outright scummy. Large parts of it, particularly the southern half, have been absorbed into New York’s Chinatown. Much larger than the London equivalent, this Chinatown seems to make even less concession to the non-Chinese speaker than central Hong Kong. Commerce is driven largely by restaurants and food centres, but also by mobile telephone vendors and massage parlours.

The real treat was up the street, however. Block after block of the northern half of the Bowery is made up by a series of ridiculously specific wholesale stores. For example, an entire massive store that just sells cash registers. Next to one that just sells scales for kitchens. Next to one that sells kitchen equipment, but only for pizzerias. Bizarre, and genius.

America generally dries me out, New York included, just through its sheer try-hard contrivance. Authenticity, that much-maligned anchor of sanity, is thin on the ground over there. Everything is marketed to the point where nothing carries the charm of a surprise: once the initial African/snow giddiness of witnessing a truly, impressively consumerist society in action (free refills!) subsides, a craving for unassuming reality, for texture, kicks in. It is there, but you have to look a little harder for it than in most places. But here, down some obscure corridor of American capitalism, I was surprised, and charmed.

I arrived at the appointed bar – Irish, and profoundly Liverpool-supporting – a little early, in order to secure a seat. Before my colleague arrived, I fell into conversation with some American college students, who played soccer locally and followed the European leagues. We discussed Beckham and the US soccer scene; I filled them in on some EPL info. My colleague arrived and the game started. The bar was now packed, roughly half American and half Brit. I was struck immediately by the different modes adopted by spectators on the other side of the pond. The Englishman watches an important football match in near silence, furrowing his brow and letting out occasional grunts of approval or frustration (take any group of friends watching a match: invariably it will be the least knowledgeable who talks the most.). He flatly refuses to state the obvious, such as shouting for offside or loudly denouncing unsportsmanlike conduct; at the most, he will growl “Ref…” under his breath. Instead, he will occasionally make insightful comments in a low voice to his companions, such as “they need to use the width”, or, “Player X looks tired.” This is because he is saving up his emotional energy for goal celebrations and chants.

The American, by contrast, plays a more up-tempo game, responding immediately and vociferously to the events of the match with a constant stream of analysis and invective – and the more knowledgeable the fan, the more vibrant the chatter. I sat wedged between my silent and increasingly sullen colleague and an enthusiastic Yank, enjoying the contrast.

By the end of the game I was blind drunk, and elected to spend another night in New York. The city is starting to grow on me.



LV County Championship Division 1

Surrey bt Lancashire by 24 runs

TUPNews recently reported my intention to take in more cricket at The Oval. Naturally I didn't get round to it until this Saturday, when I popped up to watch the post-tea session of what it turns out was the last match of the season for Surrey CCC, vs Lancs. I tipped up at a half three, hoping to wangle a discount from the £12 full day price, only to discover that they let you in for free after 4pm! Take note, reader. Not a bad thing to do on a Saturday at all, really - take in an hour or so of county cricket in the late afternoon before commencing with the hardcore new-rave clubbing/raving, or whatever it is kids etc etc. I had a quick drink in the Beehive (mock Tudor on the outside, leathery poshness on the inside), and arrived back at the ground at five to four. There were about twenty other scabs standing outside the Hobbs gate (pictured).

I would recommend that the reader arrives at five past rather than five to, in order to breeze through the gates like a ghost rather than stand outside like a beggar. Incredibly, people waiting outside were actually gently arguing with the steward ("by whose watch? but they had an early tea? surely-"), working themselves into the quiet indignation of the mildly-inconvenienced British customer. "IT'S FREE FOR FUCK'S SAKE" I roared at them, in my head. Finally the Oval's clock struck four and we wandered in.

Watching county cricket as a neutral is a pleasantly meditative experience: the ground was barely a tenth full, so quiet that the people dotted around me - a mixture of elderly men, middle-aged couples, Times readers and families - kept their conversations quiet in order not to attract attention to themselves. When my mobile rang, I rushed to answer it as if it had gone off in a gallery. I have a theory that, as one gets older, one enjoys feeling pleasantly bored and will seek out excuses to do so - here is an excellent excuse.

I had to leave after about ten overs to go meet people, which is a shame as I was starting to become engaged in the Lancashire run-chase. I learnt later that had that run-chase been successful, they would have won the championship. I kicked myself for not finding out about the free gate earlier, and hoped that in sharing this information with you, reader, I could atone. Next summer, enjoy.



TUPNews recently popped over to Paris, to see how the French are holding up. They're doing just fine, I'm pleased to report.

Longtime readers may recall that on my last visit to Paris, the French were all about the roller skates. This time, it's all about the free bikes.

A couple of months ago the mayor of Paris installed self-service bike rental terminals at dozens of locations within La Peripherie. You leave a credit card deposit, get your ticket, punch in the number of the bike you want to take, and off you trot. When you get to where you're going, you find a station and drop it off, and it automatically charges you whatever you owe. There's like, ten thousand of these fucking bikes - grey, three-speed, durable and faintly art-deco - and the stations are everywhere, not just in the touristy areas.

It's cheap as well. The first 30 minutes is always free; after that, a nominal per-hour charge kicks in. Streetwise Parisians never stay on a bike for more than 25 minutes, preferring to avoid the charges by changing bikes several times on their journey. I couldn't be bothered with this, so just stayed on the bike for the duration. Four hours on the bike worked out to six euros, including the one-euro 24-hour subscription charge. Bonzer.

That said, it took some persuading for me to actually get on one. My girlfriend, who has a near-suicidal disregard for the dangers of the road (frequently walking out into traffic without looking, bombing down the A40 at 100mph in a rent-a-wreck after taking the wheel for the first time in two years, speeding through a Spanish hailstorm, over winding unlit Pyrenees motorway, while I squeeze the handle of the passenger door, in the dark) was immediately up for it, even insisting that we cycle five miles back to the hotel after a long boozy dinner. I, however, have neither a driving license nor a cycling proficiency certificate, and found the idea of weaving through Parisian traffic completely terrifying, and flatly refused. On the second day, however, I relented, and agreed to cycle from our hotel near the Eiffel Tower to a restaurant in the Latin Quarter. Here began my conversion to cyclism - I was so taken with the experience that we spent the whole of the next day bitching around town on our velos.

It's simply a fantastic way to see the city. Unlike London, Paris is one of those cities that can just be absorbed. While London is a patchwork of villages, some colourful, some dull, there is a uniform pleasantness to central Paris that rewards the unfocused, free-spirited tourist. When you're breezing along on a bike, that charm is amplified - for the first time in six or seven visits, I felt almost like a local. A sunny day in Paris, the wind in your hair; anonymous, invisible, free - this can't be commercialised or made touristic, not like the cynical pricing in the pavement cafe outside Pere Lachaise, or the English language bookshop on the South Bank (with the cat, the upstairs library, the cots, the typewriter anyone can have a go on, perfectly, perfectly bohemian, and thus sadly but inevitably filled with American post-grads drinking wine, playing Doors covers on an acoustic guitar and trying to lay each other) - past monuments and down scummy side streets, it's a pure experience. I was even wearing a stripy shirt; it was like a fucking Belle & Sebastian song.

And it's a cycle-friendly city, made up for the most part of long, broad boulevards, many of which sport separate cycle lanes. There is a stretch along the North Bank where the bike lane is lined for about a kilometre by poplars, creating the effect of a shady country lane, until you look to your right and see the Musee D'Orsay through the trees. Then left, up towards the opera house, left again down to Place Madeleine (one of my favourite parts of Paris, not really sure why), left again onto Place Vendome, then right up the Champs-Elysees.

At this point, somewhat intoxicated with my newfound comfort on the bike, I insisted that we circumvent the Arc de Triomphe. This is, of course, ludicrously dangerous - even my daredevil girlfriend was skeptical. But I was hooked.

My heart was pounding as we waited at the final traffic lights. It should be easy enough - we could just stay on the outside lane and go three-quarters around. The lights changed and I set off - within twenty metres, it was clear that this was not a great idea. The outside lane - a purely abstract notion, as there are no marked lanes - offered me little safety, as cars veered aggressively across my path to make their exits. I pulled over to reassess my approach, expecting my girlfriend to follow suit. Of course, she overtook me and plunged straight into the chaos. As she disappeared around the bend, I prepared to set off again, but was stopped by a middle-aged Frenchwoman. She asked whether I was Parisian; learning that I was not, she implored me not to go through with it ("Tres dangeruex!")

Sheepishly, I dismounted and walked my bike back over the pedestrian crossing, braced for the sound of screeching tires. Killing one's girlfriend tends to put a damper on a romantic holiday, so I was of course extremely relieved to see her arrive safely, if a little ashen, at the three-quarter mark. This proved enough excitement for one day; we took a far more leisurely cycle back to the Eiffel Tour, and our hotel.

Long story short, let's get this set up in London as soon as we can.



TUPNews recently took in some stand-up comedy at the Round Table pub in Covent Garden. I went with members of my book club. In a tiny, antique room at the top of the pub, a crowd of no more than twenty packed in to watch five low-rung comedians.

The tension in the air was palpable from the start. Stand-up takes more guts than any other type of performance – you simply cannot hide from not being funny. The audience also shares in the fear of failure: what could be more excruciating than watching a failing comic at such close quarters?

This was, in fact, what we got right from the offing. The compere was a sympathetic yet visibly drunk girl who hashed through ten minutes of poorly-improvised banter, to limited nervous laughter. My colleagues cringed; I found it electrifying. Such a crucible! My friend Al had expressed some anxiety beforehand: he had been cajoled into audience participation at a previous comedy show with embarrassing results, and feared a repeat. Sure enough, he was picked out right away by the compere for some what’s-your-name-and-what-do-you-do. “Mark, maths teacher” was a sturdy forward defensive, but did not prevent him from being appointed applause captain for our side of the room. I delighted in his stoic discomfort.

The first comic upped the ante even further, dispensing with his routine and making an apparently cocaine-fuelled attempt to base his entire set on free-flowing audience interaction. The results were miserable – long silences, baiting of tourists, a total inability to convert what scraps he was offered into anything resembling comic bronze, let alone gold. By the end, some audience members were openly begging the guy to tell a joke. It was awful, and utterly compelling.

Thankfully the rest of the comics actually had routines, and the standard steadily improved across the night (although the last two were polished to the point of being somewhat bland). It was not until the final comic was well into his act, however, that the knot in my stomach began to unwind. We walked out into the night breeze sighing with relief, as if leaving a tricky yet well-handled examination.

I don't know if I'll be back in a hurry, but there was a low, furtive thrill about the whole affair that has stuck in my mind, even if few of the jokes have.