John Fleming

I recently did an interview with John Fleming, who has been described in The Skinny as ‘one of the most influential figures in British comedy’. We discussed Chinese-language songwriting, satire, WH Auden, Bjork, Yes Minister, and much more.

The write-up for the interview can be found here and here, but I think I prefer the unedited audio.

Beyond the Wings March 2020

Well, that happened fast. I of course had to cancel my album launch party in April, and it looks highly unlikely that my MBA graduation will happen in June. Many of my favourite activities – including going to the gym, the cinema, the swimming pool, and the pub – will be off for the foreseeable future, but I am trying to keep busy.

Activities

Since most of my activities, both paid work and passion projects, are solitary in nature, or can be moved online, I should be able to ride out this crisis as well as most people. I am still teaching online, Mandarin, the guitar, creative writing, and essay writing.

I am also set to get a short story published this week and have been working on some new music videos. I received a 19-page report on my novel, working title ‘In a Lonely Hour’, and have started addressing the many critiques.

Output

Both of my albums have now been released. The English album ‘TMItastic’ is available on all major online platforms, and also on CD if you message me directly. Here is the trailer:

The Chinese-language album 《失败博物馆》 ‘Museum of Failure’  will soon be available online. Here is a trailer for it:

My chances of making money off them have all but evaporated due to the virus, but the early feedback has been heartening. Hopefully there will be more online evidence of this over the coming month.

Wider World

I was seventeen when 9/11 happened, and twenty-four when the Global Financial Crisis toppled the economic superiority of the West, but this is the first time I have been so directly affected by an international upheaval.

The virus originated in China, but that country appears to be over the worst of it while Europe and North America could be six months away from starting to revive their industry. During the inevitable recession, I may consider returning to East Asia to ride out the lean years.

Beyond the Wings, February 2020

After months of false starts and messing around, The Kev’s English-language album ‘TMItastic’ and Chinese-language album 《失败博物馆》should be available by the middle of March, ahead of the launch party on April 18th.

Activities

This month I have continued teaching Mandarin, and now have four regular clients. I have also learned my first Spanish-language song and may put the effort online at some point.

In writing, I have had another piece published in LA Review of Books China Channel. I have given the novel a rest for the past three weeks pending another beta reading; however, I have had an acceptance letter for ‘Kobe Bryant and the Freedom Swimmer’, a short story that I started working on in 2015, which is very encouraging.

Screenshot 2020-02-24 at 15.42.15

Output

I have completed some last-minute additions to TMItastic. One of the songs, “Childhood”, had B-side written all over it, so I replaced it with this one

Then I decided “Catholic Love” was not quite right, so I replaced it with this one, about how technology has improved millions of lives in a way that is not often talked about.

Wider World

Bernie Sanders is now clear favourite to be the Democratic nominee to oppose Donald Trump in November. He would be the oldest ever president by some distance and his policies imply massive tax increases, but it is not completely impossible that he will win.

As the Economist has pointed out, if the election is simply a referendum on President Trump, then he will be very vulnerable. However, all of the Democratic contenders have major flaws, Buttigieg is too green, Klobuchar lacks national name recognition, Bloomberg is too compromised, Warren – probably the most viable – is too left wing in most people’s eyes, and Biden is barely medically alive.

One of the possible knock-on effects of the Coronavirus is a recession, which could cause the incumbent problems at the ballot box. Only a fool would predict anything too confidently.

Beyond the Wings January 2020

After what was a great year creatively but a bad year professionally, January 2020 has had plenty of positives.

Activities

My tutoring business has had a very encouraging month, particularly of Mandarin (though I also teach creative writing, essay writing, and the guitar).

There have been some reviews:

Screenshot 2020-01-06 at 21.34.59

Screenshot 2020-01-31 at 10.49.19

This was also the month I decided to get strong enough to bench my own weight and reach a higher level in spoken Spanish by the end of the year. Sporadic progress was made on both fronts.

Output

I finished recording both of my albums ahead of the launch party in April. English-language album “TMI-Tastic” and Chinese language album 《失败博物馆》(“Museum of Failure”) should hopefully be available for purchase within six weeks. The latest song to be recorded for the English album is an ode to drinking:

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I have also been working on the fourth draft of my millennia-spanning, transcontinental novel (working title “In a Lonely Hour”). After finishing the current draft within the next week, I will leave it for at least another month before tackling the fifth attempt.

I am also halfway through the Comma Press short story course and should have a fresh body of work to show for it afterwards.

Wider World

I had been invited to go to a wedding in Eastern China in Spring, and I was highly tempted, but ultimately the decision has been made for me by the terrifying Coronavirus.

Dan Harris of The China Law Blog had this to say about it:

“I am angry at the Chinese government for initially trying harder to hide it than to stop. I will never forgive it for arresting the first eight people caught writing about it. I am also angry at the Chinese government for refusing to allow Taiwan to participate in the WHO meetings on the coronavirus, cementing for me that it is still more interested in preserving its own power than in saving human lives. I also do not trust the numbers coming from China regarding the virus, nor do I trust its competence or its willingness to get appropriate help to stop it. I am convinced this virus will spread around the world and thousands will die. And that is the saddest part.”

With my experience of the Chinese government, I am not one bit surprised by what has happened. “Out of Mao’s Shadow” by Philip Pan is a great read on the subject.

With Brexit finally becoming irreversible, marked by a graceless farewell from Nigel Farage, and Trump looking certain to survive his impeachment trial in the United States Senate, it has never been so obvious that there are no grownups in charge.

Wade Schroeder

One of the biggest sacrifices of the expatriate’s life is the perishability of the friendships we make. Attempts to maintain contact with those we once lived and worked closely with often fall victim to geographical distance and changes in lifestyle.

One person who I had not met for six and a half years but left a deep impression on everyone who knew him was Wade Schroeder – a South African former water polo player known throughout our place of work as a gentle giant. After arriving in Huizhou, Guangdong Province in 2006 to work to work as a language tutor at Thames School of Languages, the following year he became the school’s sole full-time kindergarten teacher.Wade

Wade had a laugh like Mozart in ‘Amadeus’, would do anything for anyone, and was the only long-term China expat I met who responded to every shout of “hello” from a stranger with a broad smile and a like-for-like response (in Huizhou at that time, friendly attention directed at foreigners was as oppressive as paparazzi).

While the 23 other expatriate teachers who taught primary and middle school-aged children had the linguistic safety net of a teaching assistant and the cultural safety net of each other’s company, Wade was getting an entirely grassroots-level experience of China. Despite being in a very different world from his native Port Elizabeth, there was no danger of Wade saying or doing anything insensitive or inappropriate as he would never wantonly hurt anyone.

He had slightly old-fashioned ideas about being a perfect gentleman, holding doors open and letting people get off the elevator first, regardless of how unlikely his courtesy was to be reciprocated.

Wade had a different schedule to the other expatriate teachers, but whether you wanted a wild night in a noisy bar or to sit on the balcony talking about life the universe and everything, Wade was among everybody’s favourite people to spend time with. His death, aged 31, inspired people across continents and time zones to pay their  respects.

My favourite memory of Wade (among many) involved a prank that woke him up in the small hours of the morning. He had to be up at six for work the next day, but as he sat alone at breakfast, instead of being angry, as was his right, he could only sit laughing to himself in that inimitable way.

The children who were our students are now teenagers, and the teenagers are now adults, and our colleagues have scattered around the world. But the memories are still with us, and what memories, and what a man.

Beyond the Wings December 2019

This is a slightly late edition of Beyond the Wings, the last month of the 2010s, the decade of smart phones and social media, and when the world went from Obama to Trump. Still, it was a considerable improvement on the 1910s.

Activities

As always, December was a month of festivities that aim to distract from the terrible weather. At a wedding weekend in Ireland I gave a brief performance that inspired new songs, and sets me up further for the album launch in Manchester on April 18th.

I also reached the halfway point of my Comma Press short story course and finished the third draft of my novel (working title ‘The Watcher’). New Years’ Resolutions are:

  1. Release at least two albums
  2. Get novel up to submittable standard
  3. Get fit enough to bench press own weight
  4. Reach a higher level in conversational Spanish

Output

I sent my Chinese-language album 《失败博物馆》off to be printed. The English album should be finished by the end of February. Recently finished songs include a song about love:

And a song about avoiding having inappropriate thoughts about friends’ wives:

Wider World

As expected, the Labour party fell to a defeat in the UK general election. This means that in the early 2020s, Brexit will happen. It will be bad but not catastrophic. Also, Trump was impeached, but he is still expected to survive his senate trial and the favourite to win the November election.

Here are some of my highlights of the 2010s:

Books:  Fiction 1. The Incarnations by Susan Barker 2. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng 3. Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich

Non-fiction 1. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari 2. The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman 3. Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Movies: 1. The Irishman 2. Twelve Years a Slave 3. Inside Llewyn Davies