The *Twinkle* Fund

This morning I got a warning from the company that hosts the podcast I recorded in Japan last year, A Year In Japan.

“Our bandwidth monitoring systems have detected that you have currently used
100% of your available monthly bandwidth.

The good news is your podcast is very popular!

Please be aware, however, that if you reach your bandwidth limit before the end of the
month you may find that subscribers to your podcast are unable to download
or access your content until next month.

We recommend that you consider upgrading your Jellycast service to the next
service plan level in order to prevent this from happening.”

Looking at the iTunes Podcast library, I note that it’s just inside the top 30 (number 28) when it comes to Japan-related podcasts, despite the fact that I’ve not released a new episode for a few months.

So, what to do? With my current plan, it’s hosted for free, and I can’t afford the £10-per-month fee for the upgrade to the next package. One thought I had was advertising.

Advertising was something I pretty much avoided on the TGW network until last year, afraid that it would degrade the site. However, with rising bandwidth costs, and a whole load of domain names to renew every year or two, I realised that I was starting to lose quite a bit of money through TGW.

That was when I started using Google AdWords. These covered all my bandwidth & domain costs …but I felt that their intrusiveness couldn’t be justified by the relatively low returns.

Amazon has been yielding slightly better results, and I prefer supporting the publishing industry than some of those companies that appear on Google.

By clicking on my Amazon links, 5% of the profit that usually goes to Amazon comes to TGW, money that is being channeled into the fund to bring *Twinkle* to the UK this Christmas, a fund that in two weeks has raised £565 (only a tiny proportion of which is from Amazon).

(So, this Christmas, if you do shop at or please consider using these links – it won’t affect your shopping experience at all – the site appears as normal.

UK shoppers:

Japan shoppers

If you’re considering becoming an eBayer (eBay being the place where you can get stuff dirt cheap, like the webcam I got last week for £1.99!), 25% of eBay charges will be redirected to the *Twinkle* Fund:
Register on!

And of course, we have the wonderful folks at Audible too, who have really helped me change the way I look at life:

2 for 1 audiobook downloads at

Whilst this kind of advertising does bring in a small, steady income that just covers the costs of running the site, it’s not enough to cover further expansion as well or fund campaigns such as Bring *Twinkle* to the UK.

For that, I need proper advertising partners, of which I am fortunate to have a few.

Earlier this month I went to the pub with my friends, and a decision was made to raise £1000 for a fund to bring *Twinkle* to the UK, as mentioned above.

Within 24 hours of that, and as a direct result of that decision, I had sold £360 of advertising on TGW!

This really demonstrated to me that advertising does pay, and does not necessarily have to be intrusive. Thus, my thinking about A Year in Japan – could I use advertising to pay those bandwidth costs?

The reminder that my Podcast is being well received also encourages me to start it again – After all, I have my big sexy mic and headphones here beside me. Time is a factor though, …so I think I’ll have to wait till I can release a New Year Special just after *Twinkle* goes home.

I’ll definitely start doing it again next year when back in Japan, I imagine that my job (should I be fortunate enough to get it) will provide me with a few more insights into Japanese culture.

Anyway, must be off to the library, have a tonne of homework to do.


p.s. I signed up for a free Trial of Amazon’s rental-DVD-by-post service on Friday – it’s fantastic! I had my first 2 DVDs through my letter box within 24 hours. When I send them back, they send the next ones on my list. Freepost envelopes provided. If anyone’s interested in a free trial let me know and I’ll send you an invite, and should you choose to carry on using the service a £5 donation will be made by Amazon to the *Twinkle* fund!

(Also, by being a member, you get 5% off all DVD purchases on Amazon.)

Last night I watched the first in the Series of the BBC’s ‘Planet Earth’. WOW! If you haven’t seen these, you must! Last night’s episode, all about caves and the life within them, saw me gasping, smiling widely and feeling so incredibly fortunate to live on such a beautiful planet. Highly recommended!

Changing the face of the globe

Whilst researching the Three Gorges Dam for a presentation I have in a few weeks, I came across this talk by the photographer Edward Burtynsky, taken from the excellent TEDTalks series.

I found it pretty terrifying. Familiar too in the case of Shanghai.

But inspiring too – a single person can make a difference.


On a related theme, there’s this:

Here’s one of the videos from his series – thanks to Stu, and my brother, for the tip-off

Now please excuse me whilst I wind up my Macbook’s spring.

Astral Weeks

Last night, lying on my bed exhausted, I picked up my remote control and began to idly browse my music library. There’s so much stuff in there that a lot of it is rarely heard, buried beneath thousands of other songs that have been lucky recipients of a couple of stars at some point in the past.

Flicking through the album art, I noted how each album cover summoned up different emotions within me – many of these images signified far more than the sounds I would hear if they were selected.

It was then that I came across Astral Weeks.

1968 was the year that Van Morrison released this record, a record that was to become a landmark in my life.

I remember that time well.

I was age 23, living in Switzerland. Kussnacht-am-Rigi. “Lord of the Rings Country” I called it, what with its rolling hillsides, deep blue lake, and mighty snow-capped mountain rising to dominate the horizon.

I was initially drawn to this place, a family-run dairy farm, by the description of its owners, Fredi and Antonia, in the International WWOOF handbook.

They were described as being a kind couple, who hoped to provide an atmosphere that enabled people to work through difficult times by helping in the daily routines of the farm. Living in an old, traditional Swiss chalet, they played host to a couple of young lads from the Dominican Republic who had been abused as children. To Hans, a man in his 40s who had never felt happy fitting in with society and preferred to spend his evenings in quiet contemplation, surrounded by books on woodwork and philosophy. To Suzie, a local girl who’s mother had passed away, leaving her with an abusive step-father.

Having just emerged from a difficult two-and-a-half year relationship myself, I decided that I’d fit in perfectly.

I did.

The routine followed that of a typical dairy farm. Up at 5am to milk the cows, muck out their stalls, feed the sheep and pigs and then go out to work on the land. The previous Christmas had seen severe storms in Europe, so much of our time was spent chopping, transporting and stacking wood. It was a very therapeutic exercise: over the course of several months we transformed the landscape from one of chaos, destruction and disorder into one that was once again workable, the nature-felled trees now arranged in neat piles of 2-foot long logs, ready to fuel the family over the long cold winter.

This work outdoors mirrored the changes going on within me. During that time I was able to work through the crap that accompanied the breakup, every swing of the axe serving to cleanse me of the anger I felt. At night I would disappear into the work shed and chisel away at a block of cherry that was to become a wooden owl, a gift for my now ex-partner that was to help me apologise.

It was after I’d been there a few weeks that I discovered an old vinyl copy of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. Wow, this really knocked me for six. The confusion, pain, love …and glimmer of bright hope it held touched me where it was hurting. I listened again and again, sometimes in floods of desperate tears, sometimes with so much joy I would feel compelled to climb to the top of the mountain on whose slopes we lived, and shout it out to the world.

He would sing me to sleep at night, he would wake me in the morning.

That time was very important for me; its legacy lives on in who I am now. My trust that I can work through difficulties and emerge stronger. My love of self-sufficiency. My belief that surrounded by love and honesty, even the most hurt people can be healed.

That time is referred to whenever I say my name: up until then, I had been ‘Joe’. It was only then that I had the strength to cast aside the mask, and start to get to know the boy Joseph.

Listening to Astral Weeks now, I’m transported back to that time of growth. Remember those creaking floorboards? I used to wince with every step as I’d come in late at night from the woodshed, trying not to wake the rest of the family who slept at 9pm. Oh, and the dog! It was vital that I try and get her to see me before she heard me, otherwise she’d erupt into a chorus of howls.

There was no insulation in the chalet, and I recall showers in the outhouse being a ‘bracing’ experience. I remember the lock on the door too. I piece of wood hanging on a nail.

Meals stand out in my memory too, had as they were as a family, seated around a huge round table that almost filled the entire room. Breakfast was always the most delicious muesli, with milk straight from the udder (had a hell of a time getting the cow to stand still on the dining room table…) and fresh berries from the hedgerows. Lunch tended to be lovely wholemeal bread, home-baked in the log-fired Ager, topped with either local cheese or jams made by the grandparents who lived in the chalet next door. Supper often featured steamed potatoes and other assorted vegetables from the garden, accompanied by some kind of grain.

As mentioned before, most of the family retired to bed early, but there was usually time for a little talk. Freddi was a great comfort, his limited English ability and my poor German not really standing as any barrier to our communication. Antonia too, mother to all, remarkable. Drama would be provided by the boys from the Dominican Republic working through their histories, peace by Hans, normality by the Freddi and Antonio’s own children age 7 and 9.

I’ve not been in touch with the family since I last saw them, 6 years ago. It is important that I see them again in order that I may thank them, thus, when I do next make my way to Switzerland, Kussnacht-am-Rigi will definitely be on the schedule.

And of course, van Morrison’s Astral Weeks will be playing as I make my through Tolkien land, up from the shores of the lake below to the old chalet on the slopes of the snow-capped mountain.

It seems that others have also found Astral Weeks to be a great comfort in difficult times: Link

Letting fear get the better of me

I can’t help but feel a sense of disappointment for not dealing with my fear towards my Japanese presentation today at an earlier date. This fear, which saw me spending ages creating a Keynote presentation (only to scrap most of it when I found out it was way too long), resulted in my failing to learn my script properly, which had a major detrimental impact upon my performance.

I feel disappointed with myself, and take it as a lesson that this is not to be repeated.

In other news, happily, I am increasingly saying ‘No’. I’ve said it a number of times this week. In fact, just this morning I said ‘No’. Long may the ‘No’s’ continue!


Caw blimey, whoever invented this life thing, they get Top Marks. I’m lovin’ it!

Today was yet another superbly sublime day. Thank you everyone who was in it; I hope it was sublime for you too.

I was just looking at some photos of *Twinkle*, who I haven’t seen now for, er, over THREE MONTHS!

Looking through my albums I can’t quite believe how cute she is. Really makes my heart beat faster seeing photos of her, butterflies in my stomach. I think it must be love 🙂

…and I get to see her in 34 days!!!

Picture: Ian Spooner