I have decided to migrate my monthly newsletter to Substack. Here is the January edition
As with perhaps most people, this was the year I said bye to the pandemic and hello to a bunch of other challenges. Here are some of the things I did.
Tutoring: Since 2019, my main professional activity has been tutoring. This year, as well as continuing with private pupils, losing some and gaining others, I have also started with corporate clients. Say what you want about it, I have always benefited from the structure of corporate life.
The Kev: The creative highlight of this year was of course the gig at Academy 3 on August 20th.
Recording professionally is slow and expensive, but I have already written the next The Kev album, and it will be released in 2023, hopefully in the spring.
麦凯文: I wrote three new Chinese songs, and rewrote an old one. This was probably the most daunting task I set myself at the start of the year, but the launch event in February will be a satisfying farewell to my China years. I miss the place but my run there is over, as I explain in this song.
Non-fiction: Literature is, according to former Oxford professor John Carey, the highest of all artforms. Reasons for this include that literature is the only art that can criticise itself, and the only art that is capable of reasoning.
Skits: I always wanted to master the art of comedy, but being a naturally earnest person seemed like a disadvantage. Nonetheless, this year I recorded four skits, and wrote more. All got good feedback.
Music: I ran a series of monthly covers, popular songs that I have always adored. These included ‘Little Miss Strange’ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Dreams Come Through’ by Meatloaf, who we sadly lost this year.
I have decided to start the OYNB (One Year No Beer) challenge early, so on Christmas Day, when Charles III delivers the King’s Speech for the first time, I am unlikely to carry on like this.
This month, I recorded my first classical guitar piece since the middle of the summer. ‘Cancion de Cuna’ by Cuban maestro Leo Bröuwer was not written specifically for Christmas but sounds like it might as well have been.
I also finished another between-song skit:
One of my biggest hopes for 2023 is to be able to film some skits with high production values.
For the first time since 2013, I am being paid to write reports about China. Topics include everything from the recent anti-government protests, to Mandopop, to the problems with the healthcare system. Here are some extracts:
The tuition business is thriving, but the different areas of it – writing, music, English, Chinese – continue to ebb and flow.
Christmas is a time when refugees are celebrated. Mary and Joseph had to search for a place to give birth before having to flee King Herod. This year has been, among other things, the year of the refugee.
The modern definition of the word refugee was drafted in the UN’s 1951 convention as someone who is outside of their country of nationality and is unable to return because of well-founded fears of being persecuted. In 2022 this phenomenon has happened on a continent that seemed to have moved beyond land war.
With the climate catastrophe manifesting itself in the form of Pakistan’s floods and China’s drought, nobody is in a position to be complacent about their own probability of becoming a refugee. This reminds me of a poem by holocaust survivor Primo Levi:
Shemà – Primo Levi
You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider whether this is a man,
Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.
Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.
With the World Cup in Qatar, this month everybody is talking about repressive regimes.
In fact, the tournament was held in fascist Italy in 1934 and in Argentina’s military dictatorship in 1978. If Robert Rensenbrink’s late effort had gone in in the latter final, would the Dutch team have got out of Buenos Aires alive?
Football has never had a conscience, but it’s easy on the eye sometimes. Speaking of trying to entertain, here is some of what I have been up to this month.
This month’s miscellaneous covers were a medley of songs about peculiar encounters. These were ‘Bully Boy’ by Shed Seven, ‘Little Miss Strange’ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and ‘The Card Cheat’ by The Clash.
I have decided to put the Substack series on hold until next year. The next subject will be education. I found this interview very informative. In it, I chatted with author Gerry Fialka about education, creativity, professionalism, James Joyce, Alan Watts, slapstick comedy, and more.
In each area, business comes and goes. This year I have gained and lost pupils for both Mandarin and English, but lately, my Creative Writing Master’s has been particularly pulling its weight.
As well as teaching four hours a week of essay writing, I am set to start a gig writing reports about China for a client. I can’t wait.
Although China is seeing some of its largest anti-government protests in decades, the government still looks impossible to topple. The same cannot be said of Iran.
The regime’s treatment of women was what started the current protests, but now every aspect of its governance is under fire. The supreme leader’s niece was arrested for condemning the leadership and has since called on foreign nations to cut ties with Iran.
Of course, bringing down the regime is just the beginning. Dictatorships do such a good job of crushing opposition that anything that replaces it is often even worse. The ayatollahs in Iran were preceded by the Shah, a terrible, U.S-backed dictator under whom Tehran lacked a proper sewer system.
It is important to remain sceptical that anything that replaces the status quo will be much better. I am reminded of two great literary quotes:
Franz Kafka: “Every revolution dissolves into the slime of a new bureaucracy”.
Gustave Flaubert: “Inside every revolutionary is a policeman”.
Here are some highlights