n a t a l e 2 0 0 7

[ 22:35 monday 24 december – roskear street, camborne, cornwall ]

en famille, anna and adam’s sitting room in cornwall. dad unfurls a paper, adam pores over a cycling magazine, anna’s curled up in an armchair and mum’s up to something in the kitchen. after dinner we played a game rather like the victorian parlour game where players attempt to communicate a word through drawing but in this case the word had to be conveyed by sculpting it in brightly-coloured clay. during my childhood we rarely played games together as a family but it’s generally a hoot when we do.

this afternoon mum, dad and i went for a walk from peranuthno around cudden point and back again. a keen south-westerly wind was pummeling the high rollers into the rocks, augmented by the big spring tide. afterwards we stopped in marazion to buy wrapping paper. the lady in the post office gave me a glass of mulled wine. a twenty-piece silver band was assembling in the village centre beside a big christmas tree, so we joined the crowd and listened for half an hour.

i’m strikingly happy and stimulated at the moment, which crept up on me unawares. one factor in this is the reemergence of music-making as a big component in my life. at the beginning of the year i started obsessively working obsessively at bach’s forty-eight preludes and fugues on my electronic keyboard. i’ve tinkered with them sporadically over the last few years but with no obvious trigger it suddenly became much more serious, i felt a hunger to truly master them. by august my technique was back up to where it was when i was eighteen and i could give a decent account of about half of the forty-eight. when i came down to cornwall for my birthday in september i visited my piano teacher viola nettle at her home in redruth and played a dozen of them for her. viola taught me from the age of seven to seventeen but this was the first time i’d played for her in nineteen years. she’s been one of the great inspirations in my life.

around the same time i started experimenting with karsten with him playing electronics and drums whilst i hopped between electric keyboard and accordion. in september i moved into a big flat above a glass-maker’s workshop in dalston which proved to be something of a catalyst. for the first time in london i have plenty of space and no neighbours, so i can make as much noise as i want at any hour of the day. i bought an upright piano (via ebay) from a japanese girl returning to tokyo after three years’ study at trinity college of music. i replaced the amplifier and speakers i’ve been using since cambridge. under karsten’s guidance i got some high-quality microphones. dexter loaned me a drum kit. timur contributed an amplifier and guitar. in november jam sessions started happening at my flat each week with a succession of new musicians coming along. meanwhile i started playing several times each week with josselin, a double bass player who also does some mean beatbox. it’s been great picking up a thread that’s been so central to my life after twenty years in abeyance.

this has been a demanding period for trampoline with the team trebling in size and a huge ramp-up in our engagement with customers. once all the new people were in post we took a deep breath, put all previous assumptions to one side and spent several months working together to plan the company’s strategy for the next year. there are few enough fixed points in any start-up so removing the ones that exist creates a certain amount of discomfort. but as i gain more experience running the business i’m discovering that removing structure can be as important as creating it. in the last couple of weeks we had a number of great developments with new clients so we all had the satisfaction of ending the year on a high.

last week i received a rather wonderful christmas present from the aether. for no discernible reason the bbc invited me and peter (plus guests) to a gala screening of this year’s doctor who christmas special. for friends outside britain, doctor who is a somewhat eccentric science fiction television drama for children that’s been on the air since nineteen sixty-three. the programme rapidly established itself as a cultural institution, a status undiminished forty-four years on. i loved it as a child and i still harbour a guilty fondness for it. so on tuesday evening, after a frantic day at the office, i zipped home to change my clothes then got a cab with timur to kings cross. the screening was in the science museum’s cinema so we took the piccadilly line down to south kensington. however at covent garden the train ground to a halt and it became clear it wouldn’t be moving again. we sped up to street level and ran through the streets to embankment station, dodging traffic and pedestrians on the way. we finally arrived at the science museum three quarters of an hour after the screening was due to start, gloomily resigned to having missed most of it. an attendant whisked us through corridors and up the back stairs. we finally emerged into the auditorium to discover that bbc executives had been droning on for the previous forty minutes and the film was was about to commence. joy!

the show was super. afterwards there were questions and answers with the cast and finally a party. at every turn i bumped into actors who’d appeared in doctor who at one time or another over the past forty years, plus an assortment of bbc grandees and minor-league politicians. it was deeply surreal and i felt gratifyingly like a ten year-old. my outfit played a useful role in the proceedings. back in october i went to a tailor in san francisco with a pattern for an english formal jacket circa 1780 and had them make one for me in lilac mohair velvet. the finished article arrived a week ago, so i wore it to the doctor who extravaganza. half-way through the party i bumped into russell davies, the programme’s ebullient writer and producer. after chatting for a few minutes he looked me up and down and said: “you look fabulous, you should be the eleventh doctor!”. my christmas was made then and there.

to my friends everywhere, happy christmas!

: c :

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d e n v e r

[ 17:37 tuesday 6 november – united 732, denver airport, colorado ]

one hundred and fifty-six business people squeezed into a tube that will carry them from denver to san jose. serried ranks of standard- issue wheely cases line the overhead lockers. denver airport is an hour’s drive from the city itself, though all that lies between them is a vast empty plain. driving across this expanse from denver the spiky airport building slowly rises on the horizon like a giant white armadillo.

denver felt strangely derelict with a chill bone-dry wind blowing through vacant streets. it feels as if the city has some rather serious social problems. on each of the nights i was in town there was a fatal shooting within two blocks of my hotel, which was right in the city centre. to balance this rather bleak picture, on sunday night i walked out to a place i’d heard of called the “mercury cafe” and it was a gem. i ate a superb meal in its organic cafe with a riotous series of performances going on in the theatre next-door and a swing dance class continuing upstairs. a frail-looking gentlemen in full wizard regalia came in and sat down blandly at a table.

i flew in from san francisco on sunday evening to talk at a conference about social networks. now i’m heading to san jose to give a lecture at another conference.

departure is announced. time to close my laptop.

: c :

h a l l o w e e n

[ 15:53 saturday 3 november – leavenworth street, san francisco, california ]

the afternoon sun filters through maple leaves where i sit on the roof terrace atop warren and ann’s san francisco house. a humming- bird flits back and forth, restlessly probing flowers on one bush after another. the honk of sea lions drifts up from fisherman’s wharf half a mile below. a permanent gaggle of tourists chatters and snaps their cameras at lombard street’s famously wiggly section immediately beneath the house. each time i come i feel more at home. it helps when the weather is so sublime, unusual even for san francisco in november.

i landed here on tuesday for some conference presentations and a string of meetings. an hour after i arrived at the house i was startled by a bang followed by several seconds of creaking and lurching. reverting quickly to ann’s instruction i leapt up and stood under the open doorway, recognising that an earthquake was in progress. the following day it was reported as 5.6 richter, the strongest since 1989, with an epicentre near fremont on the east bay. san francisco’s way of saying hallo.

wednesday evening was halloween which it turns out is a key date in the city’s calendar, on a par with good friday in trapani. the festival here has transcended the conventional panoply of witches, ghouls and trick-or-treating to become a much broader orgy of self- expression and outrageous costume. the whole city takes part but the homosexual community seems to play a catalytic role and the castro, the city’s “gay ghetto”, has established itself as the centre of festivities with tens of thousands of revelers cramming into a few blocks.

however last year things got out of hand and there were nine shootings during the castro party so this year the city government decided to cancel it. they persuaded a lot of bars and clubs to shut for the day, closed down buses and underground services to the area and mounted a propaganda campaign on the theme “home for halloween”. but it’s hard to stand in the way of a public ritual that’s gathered such momentum and ten to twenty thousand people turned up despite the government’s efforts. people kept coming up and congratulating me on my costume which was slightly perplexing since i was just wearing my everyday clothes.

: c :

b u d a p e s t

[ 18:44 tuesday 9 october – budapest, hungary ]

a funky cafe behind the opera house. high ceilings, warm colours and a smattering of young people, many poring over laptops. budapest is a curious place. its profusion of vast monumental buildings reminds me of vienna but the preponderant style here is art nouveau rather than neo-baroque. walking around almost every building looks as if it originates from some time between 1880 and 1915. but all is not as it seems. the city was almost completely flattened by the russians towards the end of the second world war then rebuilt in the fifties. notwithstanding this pervasive fakery it is an impressive and beautiful city.

the conference has been fun. i gave my presentation yesterday afternoon and it got a great reaction. an intimidating slice of the world’s most influential venture capitalists are here, with a few technology bigwigs thrown in for good measure. the floor sessions i’ve attended haven’t been particularly stimulating but as usual it’s the conversations and encounters around the edges where interesting things happen.

i seem to be getting a reputation for my dress sense. on the plus side this gives me licence to wear interesting clothes. on the minus side reputations have to be lived up to. yesterday i wore a magnificent jacket i picked up second hand at spitalfields market. it’s got sections in salmon pink and cream with embroidered decoration in silver. i wore it to my great aunt jean’s ninetieth birthday last month (she’s a great dresser herself and she loved it) but yesterday was the first time i’ve worn it for business. everyone else here is wearing dark suits so it’s fair to say i was noticed. actually it provoked some unexpectedly confessional responses, with a succession of people coming up to me through the day to admit they hated wearing the business uniform. i bonded with one of the stewards called bob who’s been sporting natty suits he had made in vietnam.

one observation about the locals is that they expect rules to be observed. my first experience was arriving at the airport, buying a ticket for the bus and metro to the town centre, putting it in the validation machine on the bus, then being stopped by an inspector when i arrived at my destination. it turned out the validation machine hadn’t stamped the ticket. i explained that it was my first time in budapest, that i’d bought a ticket and attempted to validate it, but the inspector was completely unsympathetic. he flatly repeated that the fine was five thousand forints (about thirteen pounds) until finally i paid up. then on my first morning i got down to breakfast in the hotel five minutes after breakfast officially ended. there were still half a dozen people eating and the food was all laid out but the waiter bluntly told me i was too late. when i insisted he eventually allowed me to pick up a plate and get some bits to eat but then he made me go to a different room to eat it. there were still a couple of people finishing their breakfasts in the restaurant when i handed in my plate and left so the whole exercise seemed ridilulous. i don’t think i function very well in cultures where rules are followed too rigorously. i suspect that’s part of what i find so agreeable about southern italy.

: c :

t r a i n c h a o s

[ 14:13 sunday 7 october – first capital connect train, streatham to luton airport ]

my elaborate web of connections across italy, spain and morocco went off without a hitch. today’s journey from london to budapest has made up for all that. my flight departed from gatwick an hour ago and i was not on board. i arrived at london bridge station three hours ago with plenty of time in hand for my train. but the moment i set foot on the platform a twenty minute delay was announced. then ten minutes later the train was cancelled. this was irritating but the next train would still get me to the airport in time. however after twenty minutes this service too was cancelled. at this point i started to feel at little anxious. a rumour went round that someone had committed suicide at purley and services across south london were in chaos. there were no announcements about the situation but it wasn’t looking promising.

together with three other passengers i set off in a taxi for gatwick. but driving from london bridge to gatwick takes half an hour longer than the train and speaking to the driver as we sped south it became clear the likelihood of me getting there in time was slim. i called kaz and rebecca who generously interrupted their sundays to assist me. in minutes rebecca had booked a flight from luton to budapest which departs at five o’clock. yipee! i asked the driver to drop me off and bid farewell to the other passengers. the cab dropped me in front of streatham hill station but that had no useful services so i walked the half mile to streatham, studied the routings and decided my best bet was to take this train. it follows an improbable route from here heading south then westward through tooting and wimbledon, then north and eastward through bermondsey to london bridge before turning north-west through king’s cross thameslink and continuing to luton. the train is half an hour late but it’s running and i expect to reach luton airport with plenty of time to spare for my flight.

i’m going to budapest for three days for the etre conference, a gathering of influential venture capitalists and technology moguls. i’m due to give a talk tomorrow afternoon. as soon i’ve checked into my hotel and found some supper i ought to start working on my presentation. rebecca mailed the briefing notes to my house so they were there to pick up when i arrived last night.

looking back to the last forty-eight hours, the thirteen-hour bus journey from ouazazate to tangier was far less arduous than i feared, largely because it was half empty. andrew, cristina and i arrived in tangier at eleven, fantasising about coffee and pastries, only to discover that all the cafes were shut for ramadan. so we got straight into a taxi for the two-hour journey along the coast to the spanish colony of ceuta where we were finally able to satisfy our cravings. after that we went for a swim and spent the afternoon vegetating blissfully on the beach. to enter ceuta from morocco one passes through a proper old-fashioned frontier with border guards, check- points, barbed wire and a stretch of no-man’s-land in the middle. it projects a powerful sense of crossing from one world into another. in the evening we united with some of cristina’s journalist friends. after an orientational stroll around the town we dined on intriguing spanish-moroccan hybrid tapas then moved to an irish pub which seems to be the hub of the ceutan journalism community. i didn’t miss alcohol during the week in morocco but the first cold beer did taste good (as did the second, third..).

the spanish coast is clearly visible across the mediterranean sea from ceuta and the next day i said goodbye to andrew and cristina after our journey together and got on a ship for the hour-long trip to algeciras on the other side. from there i took a bus round the bay to la linea then walked over the frontier into gibralter. the contrast was much less dramatic than the morocco/ceuto border but it was surreal suddenly to enter a domain peppered with british symbols like gilbert scott’s red telephone boxes and double decker buses. gibralter felt simultaneously nostalgic and a tiny bit seedy, an echo of a world where such impositions were common-place. after checking in at the airport (the first i’ve encountered where a main road crosses the middle of the runway) i picked my way behind a row of sheds and found a dirtly little beach facing algericas and the afternoon sun. a couple of english families were set up, with the children playing in the shallows. i propped a broken chair against a concrete wall and sat there sunbathing for a last luxurious half- hour. then i walked back to the terminal and got on my way. the flight back from gibralter was uneventful. next stop budapest.

: c :

o u a r z a z a t e

[ 21:03 thursday 4 october – overnight bus ouzazate to tangier, morocco ]

andrew, cristina and i have just boarded this long-distance bus at ouzazate in the far south of morocco. i’ll be in this seat, hopefully with occasional remission, for the next fourteen hours. it’s not likely to be pleasant.

my preference would have been to take a taxi collectif to marrakech (three hours, crossing the high atlas mountains), then a train from there to casablanca (another three hours) and finally the sleeper train to tangier (i don’t how long this takes). that would offer much more chance of arriving in tangier fresh and relaxed rather than crumbling zombie-like out of this bus in fourteen hours’ time. i love sleeper trains anyway. however we wanted to spend a night in the fringes of the sahara desert and the only way we could fit this in was by taking the overnight bus back north. our moment in the desert was magical so i don’t begrudge the coming ordeal in the least.

the coach’s cabin lights were extinguished shortly after departure and the reading lights don’t work so i have to hold my diary right under my nose so i can see to write. meanwhile the coach is lurching around as we start the climb into the mountains. it’s not the easiest environment for writing but the effort is quite entertaining. andrew and cristina are in the row in front of me. niko and pau (new friends with whom we journeyed to the desert) are in the row to my right. a few minutes ago niko held the ink bottle so i could refill my pen, quite a perilous undertaking.

my smartphone continued its decline to the point where i can’t even use it as an address book now. the wretched thing lost two wanderer messages in successive system freezes, obliterating my accounts of madrid and marrakech. hence i’m writing this despatch by pen in my diary, a more trustworthy technology.

: c :

p i a z z a d a n t e

[ 17:41 friday 28 september – piazza dante, napoli ]

sitting on the plinth of dante’s graffiti-laden statue in the centre of the piazza waiting for maurizio, a talented performer of the city’s traditional music and street theatre whom i met a year ago on stromboli. there’s a band warming up on a stage to my right. the early evening crowd ebbs and flows around me.

napoli overwhelms the senses. this decaying, anarchic, spectacular city grips and fascinates me like no other. its vitality is uncontainable. every facet of human possibility is found here, crammed into this this highly unstable patch of ground.

: c :