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March 2003, Tokyo and Okinawa, Japanprevious month

The Daily Mumble April 2003 Archive

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The 30th of March 2003 saw me returning to the UK after three years abroad, due to the Japanese government's ludicrous immigration laws that prevented me from working there.

A large part of those three years had been spent living very happily in Tokyo with my girlfriend Kae. The return to the UK was to be a huge shock to my system, with my world turning upside down and inside out within the space of 15 hours. Life as I knew it had simply vanished. I found myself on a seemingly different planet: Extreme culture shock, overwhelming fear of the future and the pain from having left my heart in Asia engulfed me- how on earth could I to go about starting my life all over again?

The story unfolds below..

April 2003 Highlights: Severe reverse culture shock hits, the world's most dangerous airline, arriving home, English cheekiness , Smoking Kills - can you say it any louder?, the legendary DJ Derek, Never make a call from Russia!, hitch-hiking the UK, Spring in England, Frances and the chimneypots, drugs on offer, foam party, jobseeking, my epilepsy calms down again, they always think I'm gay!, excited about uni, The Japanese Daily Mumble...

Links: Map - where am I today? April Photos Guestbook
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Tuesday 1st April 2003 - 20:20 (BST/GMT+1) My parent's house, Herefordshire, England

It's not like simply feeling the effects of severe culture shock.

It's not like simply getting on a plane, traveling halfway around the world and landing again.

It's not like simply saying goodbye to someone that you dearly love knowing that you won't see them again for a long time.

It's like going to sleep cuddled up to the one that you love in your comfortable, familiar world surrounded by warmth and reassurance, and waking up to find yourself alone on a cold featureless strange planet. All comfort gone - yet everything that you see has a strange familiarity to it. You know that you must have been here before, but you cannot recall how you are supposed to interact with all that is around you.

The combination of the loss of a loved one and what some people term "reverse culture shock" is potent indeed. Reverse culture shock is far more powerful than culture shock. Think about it: when you are on your way to a foreign country you expect everything to be different. You expect to find customs that you are not used to. You expect to find attitudes that differ wildly from those of your friends back home. You expect to find a new perception of reality.

Now imagine yourself going home having spent a few years abroad. You are going back to your motherland, the country that you were born in, the country that you lived in for 22 years. You think that you know the culture inside out. But, on arrival, you find that everything is completely different from what you were expecting. You had completely forgotten how life really was in your motherland.

Now couple the shock of discovering that your motherland is not the place that you thought it was with the severe shock of having your familiar environment (the foreign land that you are leaving) wrenched away from you by 15 hours spent inside a metal tube with wings.

Those two factors together form what is known as reverse culture shock. The traditional form of culture shock positively pales in comparison.

Then there's the fear of not being with the one person in this world who understands you the most. The one person in this world who cares for you the most, who loves you the most, and who, in return, you love for and care for the most. The fear of being without them (as circumstances have dictated that you must be) is absolutely overwhelming at times. Today I have really come to realise that this comes in waves: This morning I really felt ok, but, as the afternoon wore on so I have grown steadily more frightened. My shoulders are now just knots of tight, stressed muscles.

I think it was what happened in a cafe at 3.30pm that triggered it. There I was, sipping my tea, when over the speakers I heard the opening bars of a song that has come to represent the relationship between my girlfriend and I since it was released last autumn. We even saw it being performed live in Milan together. As soon as I realised what the song was I began to panic: should I stay in the cafe and try not to react, or should I leave immediately? I stayed, but a minute later I could hold back no more and burst into tears. Since then I have grown steadily more fearful. I try not to think about the situation, but the fear is in the pit of my stomach and cannot easily be ignored. It makes me want to vomit, it makes it difficult for me to breathe. It's quite simply, paralysing, I've been able to do very little since but sit here and try to lose myself in my electronic gadgets.

Well, despite the fact that the door was only stuck shut with duck tape, the Aeroflot plane that I took on Sunday afternoon did manage to make it all the way to Moscow. oh, and it's true - the passengers and staff do all give a round of applause upon landing!

Once there, we were herded off the antique aircraft without so much as a thank you and into Moscow International Airport's transfer lounge. Well, I wouldn't really describe it as a "lounge" - it resembled a prisoner-of-war camp what with the staff all being incredibly butch Russian woman the size of tanks with towering blonde hair do's... Having come from Tokyo's Narita airport (petite and incredibly polite stewardesses there) I was absolutely shocked by the manner in which I and my fellow passengers were almost frog-marched through immigration by these woman who were actually shouting, SHOUTING at us to hurry-up in deep broken English.

Having survived that ordeal I then tried to figure out how I could call my girlfriend in Tokyo. At the international phone card counter they only accepted Russian cash, and when I asked where the foreign exchange was I was told, "No! No exchange in this airport!" (Hang on a sec, isn't this an international gateway?). Eventually I got through using my old European mobile phone that I had with me, but after 13 seconds the battery packed up as I hadn't charged it since last November! Finally, I managed to locate the one phone in the entire 1960's complex that accepted credit cards.

I must say that the three hours that I spent in Moscow have left me with no desire to ever return there. Everyone was just so rude!

When boarding the plane for the second leg of the flight I noticed that it was the same one that had brought me to Moscow - duck tape-door and all! The young blonde girl behind me absolutely reeked of vodka and - get this - she used her mobile phone throughout the entire flight! Can you believe it?! And the stewards didn't even say anything to her despite seeing her doing it! How dangerous is that? In the past I've heard of Boeing 747s making emergency landings due to passengers' refusals to stop using their mobiles, yet this girl was allowed to chat away merrily for three hours.

Aeroflot rightly deserves it's reputation as being the world's most dangerous airline - but it is cheap!

Upon landing at London Heathrow I couldn't help but break down once again. The tears rolled down my cheeks as I tried to stifle my sobs. The whole reality of the situation was being confirmed to me once again as I touched British soil. Tokyo, and in particular, my girlfriend, really were a long way away now.

That continued on every leg of the journey. The bus from Heathrow to Oxford. The taxi from my sister's house (in Oxford) to the railway station. The closer that I got to Hereford the worse I felt. As the train pulled into Malvern and I began to recognise the curves of the surrounding landscape I just couldn't hide my grief. Sitting on the bus as it drove through my hometown provoked an astonishingly strong reaction within me, and I openly wept (much to the astonishment of the driver). The familiarity of it all: the fish and chip shop on Commercial Road, the traffic lights at the end of Widemarsh Street, the bus stop in Broad Street. All of these places rammed it home to me just where I was, and just where I most certainly wasn't.

At 2.15pm on Monday the 31st of March, some 36 hours after I'd left my home in Koenji, Tokyo, I arrived at the old phone box near our house, from where mum could pick me up in the car. Having phoned home, I collapsed on the kerb and let the tears flow as complete desolation engulfed my head and heart.

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Wednesday 2nd April 2003 - 08:30 (BST/GMT+1) My parent's house, Herefordshire, England

It's morning.

I've woken today feeling very frightened, but otherwise ok. I'm successfully managing to avoid thinking about reality, either this reality or the reality that was my life until last Sunday. I've got a huge pile of post to deal with, but can't bring myself to tackle it as it's a part of, well, reality.

My sister Emma, despite having 1001 things on her plate at the moment, has been incredibly supportive. She went through just the same thing (returning to the UK after a few years spent in a very different culture, in her case Bolivia, leaving the one that she loved all those thousands of miles away). She tells me how she spent her first three weeks shut up in her room, rarely stepping foot outside! I'm doing a little better than that thankfully, but only with a huge effort! I've been into the city centre a couple of times - although I must admit that the main reason for that was to buy a new phone so I can email Kae in Tokyo. Yes, the GadgetMan in me surfaced and I ended up buying the sexiest model - it's identical to those used in Japan, you know, the ones that bend in the middle, take photos etc. Much of the past two days has been spent sending photos of friends to it from my laptop, which it can magically talk to via infrared, so when they phone a photo of them pops up on screen. Totally pointless I know. For a start the few people who are likely to phone me I'd never forget anyway, and for a second there's no signal for mobile phones in the area where I live!

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Wednesday 2nd April 2003 - 13:21 (BST/GMT+1) My parent's house, Herefordshire, England

Having spent an hour on the phone to kaechan I'm feeling a lot calmer - this has resulted in me being able to tackle my pile of post.

One letter comes from a new penfriend in Davao City, the Philippines. He seems to be a very kind, loving, caring man, but I'm not quite sure what to make of one line from his self-introduction:

"On a personal level, I am certified male, endowment 6 cut bottom!"

You what? Certified maybe. Endowment 6 cut bottom? Sorry, have I missed something whilst I was away?!!!

I have to pen my reply now. Do you think I should congratulate or commiserate on his endowment 6 cut bottom?

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Wednesday 3rd April 2003 - 19:19 (BST/GMT+1) My parent's house, Herefordshire, England

Two things that I thought when coming home the other day:

"At least some things
never change!"

"At least it's a nice season to
return to the UK in"
My parent's house

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Thursday 3rd April 2003 - 23:59 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

Eight years ago I was appointed Trainee Manager of Wormelow Stores, the little off licence/ convenience store that serves the rural community around where my parent's live.

One customer complaint that I tackled at that time was connected to the frozen food department: the prices were not at all clearly displayed (due to a lack of space). I had a bright idea: why not stick all of the price labels in a little plastic book, each page representing a different group of foods? Frozen French Fries on one page, frozen peas on the next.

Eight years later that same plastic folder is still there, a little worse for wear, with my handwriting heading each page.

You see, nothing ever gets done without me.

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Friday 4th April 2003 - 00:12 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

So yesterday, after a few days at my parent's house in Orcop, I decided to head down to Bristol where I'm now staying with my sister Emma. I hitch-hiked (which was remarkably easy, one lift in a removal lorry virtually all the way) in order to get a bit more involved in this weird foreign (British) culture. Yesterday, four days after getting back, I still found myself literally jumping with shock upon hearing people in public speaking English. Crazy.

Even seeing this poster shocked me! It's the humour -
how can they get away with being so cheeky?!

I've also been taken aback by just how much complete strangers in England talk to one another. Whether it's a railway station, a shop, or simply when walking down the street, there's a weird sense of "we're in this together"ness that prompts strangers to chat as if they were best mates! In one way I find it scary, but in another way I'm loving it - I have permission to talk to whoever I want to! It's completely different to the cultures of both Japan and Switzerland where I've been for the past few years.

This being back in the UK business is turning out to be quite an interesting experience. (Having said that, I'm still having pretty severe panic attacks in connection with not being with Kae. Last night I had to turn to the cider to cope!)

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Friday 4th April 2003 - 20:36 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

I like Bristol. It's a nice town. Yes, I could happily live here.

Mm. Feeling more positive. I had a "good" day today. Met loads of new people, mostly teachers at the Bristol Steiner School (my sister being one of the gang). They were so friendly and nice. I just keep on being surprised by how nice and open people are here, I really don't remember it being like that! Mind you, I guess I did used to live in Torquay of all places. Grannies on heroin and 12-year-old mums, that's all Torquay is.

Other thoughts today:

Was surprised to discover that my old belief that there's nothing to take photos of in England was unsubstantiated. I took over 50 photos today - then promptly lost them all due to a formatting error on my camera's memory stick!

Was saddened to realise that I'm no longer exotic. I mean, I was expecting to lose my exotic status upon my return to the UK anyway, but the reality of it still affects my sense of self quite a bit. I'm no longer special. I'm just any old Joe.

Had a little debate with myself following a round of introductions with a bunch of folks my own age. I'd been introduced as "Joseph", but almost immediately became "Joe" in the minds of my new acquaintances. Should I impress upon people that I am "Joseph" and not "Joe", or just let it slip? I had been thinking that it was the biblical connotations that were putting people off calling me "Joseph", but then it was put to me that it might just be the fact that in the UK there's a strong tradition of shortening people's names, "Joseph" to "Joe" being one of the most common.

I thought hard about how much this matters to me, i.e. is it worth all the bother of setting people straight? My conclusion was that Yes, this does matter to me. After all, your name is one of the most important links between yourself and all other humans on planet Earth, right?

So yes, it's JOSEPH, OK?!

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Saturday 5th April 2003 - 12:11 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

Check out what's happened to the health warning on cigarette packs in the UK! It's great, and in stark contrast to those on Japanese packs which read something along the lines of "Smoking might harm your health so let's not smoke too many". (About 60% of one of the world's largest tobacco companies, JT, is owned by the Japanese government.)

I'm told that there's even one that reads "Smoking will give you a slow and painful death"!

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Saturday 5th April 2003 - 13:26 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

I was introduced to Bristol's clubbing scene last night - had a great time. Went to a gay club for the first time in my life which was great fun. Totally laid back, no lager louts, really nice atmosphere. Needed the toilet and smiled to find that both of them had signs reading "Ladies" on the doors! I was a bit wide-eyed at first, seeing these guys passionately kissing and all, but after a little while felt totally at home - friends have often said that when they first met me they thought that I was gay, and I do tend to get on much better with gay rather than straight men. I wasn't overly surprised when a very cute Romanian guy started to chat me up - I made it known that I wasn't really interested in going back to his place for coffee ("My partner's in Tokyo") and we went on to have a lovely chat, before going our separate ways at 4am when the music wound up.

I think if I ever feel in need of a good night out dancing with lots of lovely people in an atmosphere of acceptance, freedom and care, I'll go back there.

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Monday 7th April 2003 - 16:49 (BST/GMT+1) My brother's place, Totnes, England

I'm now down in Devon at my brother's place. The day today has been spent doing all of those things that one usually does with one's brother having not seen him for a while. You know, spending 4 hours choosing prescription sunglasses, going to a DIY superstore and sitting in the car park eating a bacon sandwich, visiting the local dump etc. Anyway, at the point where we were perusing the special pressure-release corks for home-brewed champagne, I spied this poster on the wall.

Respect to The Legendary DJ DEREK!!!


Needless to say I'll be down Totnes Pavillion on Friday the 2nd of May, sporting my Granny's Hip and purple wig.


I just found this whilst doing a google search on DJ Derek:

Granddaddy Rocker

Have you heard the urban myth about the sixty-year old white guy who is the best reggae, ska and soul DJ in Bristol? Well it's not a myth and his name is DJ Derek, a fella that looks a bit like your granddad and has been named DJ of the year by Venue (in 2000), played everywhere from Whoreditch's trendy 333 club to the WOMAD festival in Gran Canaria... (click here for article)


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Wednesday 9th April 2003 - 19:21 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

When I was checking my bank statement online yesterday, I noticed this payment of £19.92 (US$31) to some Russian company. Who on earth could it be? I was only there for 3 hours whilst changing planes at Moscow's dismal international airport, and I don't recall buying anything...

Then it hit me - the 4 minute phone call to Kae in Tokyo! £19.92! I could have spent 5 hours (no exaggeration) talking to her from the UK using a phonecard with that kind of credit on it!

WARNING: When transferring at Moscow airport NEVER use the international public phones!

p.s. Today we discovered that Kae can call my mobile phone here in the uk from Tokyo for completely free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! Thankyou Yahoo Japan!

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Wednesday 9th April 2003 - 19:23 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

This morning I hitch-hiked up from my brother's place in Totnes (Devon) to my sister's place in Bristol (Avon). I was very lucky with my lifts:

Totnes to Dartington: my brother drove me
Dartington to Riverford: lovely lady in a cute little red mini covered in big pictures of daisies (I mean the car was, not her)
Riverford to Buckfastleigh: Canadian woman doing a house-swap with a friend
Buckfastleigh to Exeter: Young businessman in Mercedes who pulled over to make a phonecall but couldn't say no to me once I'd opened the passenger door
Exeter to Bristol: Plater (guy who delivers new cars to garages around the country and when not driving gets around by hitch-hiking with those red-and-white plates)

Yeah, so it was a good trip, only took a couple of hours. Here's a very small action-shot of me hitching today:

Tomorrow I'll be doing the same trip, in reverse.

Hitch-hikers are becoming an endangered species in the UK. It's a shame because it's a great way to get around. It's environmentally friendly, and helps promote peace by temporarily bringing people from different walks of life together - thus increasing understanding (understanding being the key when it comes to the promotion of peace). It's not always easy though: just the other day I was picked up by a chap who told me that in his youth he'd hitch-hiked quite a bit. "Yeah, I remember the worst lifts were from those people who'd dump you on a crappy junction in the middle of nowhere, where you've got no chance of being picked up". I agreed with him, and then, 30 minutes later was wide-eyed in disbelief as he dumped me on a crappy junction in the middle of nowhere, where I had no chance of being picked up!

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Friday 11th April 2003 - 12:06 (BST/GMT+1) My brother's place, Totnes, England

There has to come a point when I say, "Right, it's time. Time to descend at least a few metres from the clouds where I've been floating for the past 6 months (or should that read 25 years?). Time to get a job. Time to commit myself to various courses at Bristol uni, time to, well, you know, stop floating around 10km up. It's the job thing that's scaring me the most. I haven't worked for such a long time long, and I haven't worked in a country where I can't hide in my gaijin bubble since 2000.

My accommodation seems to have sorted itself out, at least until August. My dear big sister Emma has given me a spare key to her lovely little flat in central Bristol. I can stay there anytime, and will have the place to myself until the end of the month (she's currently taking a well-earned holiday from Steiner School teaching in Greece), then again right through the summer when she disappears off to her spanish island. May, June and half of July have been taken care of by a very friendly, funny and my-kind-of-people family, one of whom also happens to be a Steiner School teacher. They have a spare room in their lovely big house in a very nice area of Bristol.

Anyhow, I'm starting to feel quite dizzy and epileptic now so I'd better leave it for tonight.

My brother Stephen, and Louise, as pictured in bed this morning

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Sunday 13th April 2003 - 14:29 (BST/GMT+1) My brother's place, Totnes, England

Hello, good afternoon, welcome, to nothing much.

I'm getting all fidgety about my move to Bristol which is now scheduled for Wednesday the 16th of April. Now it's so close the reality of it all is starting to get a bit scary. As I sit here listening to ABBA (click here for sound effects) I find myself thinking "Ugh Ugh Ugh I've got no friends there Ugh Ugh Ugh". I've found that one way to make myself feel better is by becoming extremely autistic. Sadly, this is only possible when I am either alone or with members of the family as it (understandably) tends to freak other people out.

Louise has now invited Stephen and I out on an exciting adventure - to the car wash. Needless to say, I've accepted.

Two hours later...

Having pretended that we hadn't seen the large sign that read , we drove on into the whirly whirly carwash machine in our Nissan with a large sticky-out roof rack. Sadly, the £4.50 that we paid didn't enable us to experience a fun, action-packed thrill ride that we'd we'd hoped the car wash would be. Nonetheless, it did kill an hour and brought suppertime just a bit closer (although that's still a little way off yet).

Hhhmm. It's 5pm. I think I'll walk to the supermarket.

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Tuesday 15th April 2003 - 00:05 (BST/GMT+1) My parent's house, Herefordshire, England

This copywrite infringement is totally nothing to do with me. I have no knowledge of how this picture got into The Daily Mumble. But I like it.(Thanks to Ann and Chris!)

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Thursday 17th April 2003 - 01:23 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

A letter to a friend:

Dear Marc

The annual explosion of Cherry Blossom plays a very important part in Japanese culture. It symbolises, amongst other things, the dawning of a New Year for nature. New growth, new hope. After work, office men and women in their thousands head for the local park where, under the thick canopy of petals, beers are cracked open, food eaten and general merriment flows. A foreigner observing this for the first time might find the scene quite bizarre as everyone, from the company president to the lowest ranking maker-of-tea can be seen together in their suits making complete fools of themselves. It is just wonderful.

In 2002 I joined in with all of these festivities, and occasionally thought back to dreary old England where the Cherry trees seemed to bloom for unseeing eyes, passed unnoticed. In fact, the only English blossom that I could recall was that of the six trees that stood along the route of the school bus as it entered Hereford on the A49 (just before the Welsh Club).

But, I was wrong. It's now almost three weeks since I returned to "Dreary old England". There's been only one day of rain, and you know what, I can't look anywhere without seeing blossom! Spring is everywhere, it is simply beautiful, and the feeling of hope and fresh starts is in the air.

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Thursday 17th April 2003 - 02:09 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

This morning my dear friend Frances picked me and 5 boxes of my stuff up in Orcop and drove me down to my sister's flat here in Bristol. I have already made the place completely my own, by spreading my junk out all over the floor (which as we all know is the first important step towards organisation). After faffing about for a while we went into town to try and find Frances some shoes, and, having failed to do that went to the supermarket instead. I was only intending to buy a small bottle of coke to mix with my beer in the fridge back home, but thankfully Frances knew better and helped me (in the manner of a mother feeding a baby boy who is frightened of putting a spoon in his mouth) to buy some proper food such as bread, vegetables and of course tins of Heinz Baked Beans. I found it all quite traumatic having not done this sort of shopping since, well, it reminded me so much of the times (a few years back) when Ruth and I used to go to the supermarket on a Saturday to see what was going cheap that week...

Frances on the roof of my sister's flat

Oh, this photo of Frances on the roof of Emma's flat reminds me of a discussion that we had at the time at which it was taken: Why are there so many chimney pots?

You must admit, 30 is quite a ludicrous number of chimneys for one house to have. I mean, how on Earth does Father Christmas know which one to go down? He'd spend the whole night of the 24th of December trying to find his way out again!

This afternoon I thought that I'd better find out about benefits (namely those related to unemployment and housing). Having found the Job Centre, it wasn't long before I was chatting to the girl behind the counter about Japan - she'd been there on holiday there a few years back and absolutely loved the place. Tales of Tokyo life put to one side for a moment, she told me that as I had a habit of leaving the UK only weeks after turning up it was unlikely that I'd receive any benefits. Well, that's OK. I'm in no doubt that I can get a job when I want one, but I'm just so scared of the whole work thing that I still can't face it.

Following that dip into reality, I felt in dire need of some intense autistic relief, and so called Kae in Tokyo. Talking, talking, making weird childlike noises, blowing down the mouthpiece and generally behaving like a toddler that's just learnt how to use a mobile phone, I began to feel much better. By the end of the call I found myself in front of Bristol University, where they do part-time courses in Japanese. Unfortunately, I'd been walking so slowly that when I reached the office they were closed - I'll go back tomorrow.

This evening, following more chatting and feeling not at all with it, Frances dropped me off in outer-Bristol at Jo's place, another very good friend whom I've known for years. There we watched British TV which I felt was mostly complete pants - although that tends to be my view about any TV anywhere - and I guess we did watch rather a lot of one of the most corny, predictable and downright daft films of all time (no, not Harry Potter - Rocket Man/1996/John Travolta).

Back here, I'm sitting on the floor listening to my favourite Bjork CD for the 5th time tonight, writing this, considering writing my private (paper) diary and thinking about the conversation that I had with two barbers today about family graves and copywrite. As I walked into that most bizarre, deserted, antique salon I got the impression that the two straw-hatted stripey-waistcoated gentleman sporting superb little black moustaches seldom did little else but debate the details of life - there was not a single fallen hair on those vinyl tiles. Still, they did teach me what "Tonsorial" means.

It's now 3am and I really should go to bed - and I would - if it weren't for the necessity to stay online to complete the final steps in the recovery from a vast system crash that has resulted in a 36-hour format-and-reinstall routine... you know what it's like.

Ah, my brain's stopped working. ("It never started!" "You be quiet you cheeky monkey!")

Oh, I know what I was going to tell you about - check this out!

Apologies for the rather bad photo!

Isn't that just the cutest caravan you've ever seen?! Towed by a tractor too, right in the heart of Bristol. I tell you, if it hasn't been done already this man needs to have a documentary made about his life on his orange tractor towing a Mini-Me caravan around the UK!

ok ok time for bed,

night nightxx

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Saturday 19th April 2003 - 16:46 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

Yesterday saw yet another 12 hours or so of lovely hot sunshine. Everyone was out enjoying the warmth - including this couple who live just down the road. As you can see they have cunningly taken advantage of the scaffolding being used by the men fixing the roof, and hoisted a very comfy sofa onto it! I couldn't resist but to ask them if I could take a photo.

My sister's flat that I'm currently staying in whilst she's on holiday is situated on the top floor of a fairly large victorian terraced house. The first two floors are inhabited by the owner, Margaret, a lovely lady in her 70's who is remarkably young for her years. A couple of days ago I was woken at lunchtime by the phone; it was Margaret, could I please come down to help her with something for a minute?

Thinking that she might need help with a heavy box or something, I went down to her front room. There, she thanked me, and handed me 3 remote controls.

"Well you see Joseph I've just bought this digital television box thing and I can't get it to work! The man said all I had to do was press this button and it would come on, but it's not happening. I just don't know what to do!"

A couple of minutes later, having managed to get it working (the remote control batteries weren't quite in place), I realised that Margaret really had no idea how to use the digital box. I asked her which of the 200+ channels she wanted to watch, to which she replied, "Well, just the usual five that we get on the analogue TV!" I was just thinking "Why on earth has she paid out all this money for digital TV?!!!" when the answer appeared in the form of an advert on the BBC. The commercial showed an old pensioner having all the wonderful merits of digital TV explained to her, "lots of channels, lots of choice, and so easy to use etc..." I couldn't believe that the BBC were trying to dupe our senior citizens into thinking that they needed digital TV, it's an outrage!

Having sorted all of that out, Margaret then said to me, "Ah, there is one more thing that you might be able to help me with." She gestured towards another grey box with lights on under the TV that until that point I hadn't noticed. I peered a little closer: "Internet Television SP3000". Internet television?!!! I couldn't help but burst out laughing; what on earth was she going to do with internet television? She went on to explain that she didn't want to get left behind in this new technological age, but that she had absolutely no idea how to use the Internet TV box - and by the way, what is the internet?! At that point we both started to laugh again.

She went on to tell me about how one time, when she heard her cordless phone ring, she answered it only to find that there was no-one on the other end, and that for some reason her electric armchair had decided to move of its own accord - it was a little while before she realised that she'd mistaken the chair's remote control for the phone! You can just picture it...

I wonder if I'll find myself in that situation 50 years from now. A gadget-obsessed grandfather trying to figure out how to get the latest robot-servant to release my dentures from its steel grip...

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Saturday 19th April 2003 - 18:08 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

Last night I met up with an old friend whom I haven't seen for years. My sister Jessie and I used to go around to Noah's house in Garway when we were about 8 years old, to play with his fantastic marble run and to go wild in his jungle of a garden. Since then, I've only seen him once, briefly, a few years back, and I'd totally forgotten who the person behind the name was. It was really nice to discover that the friendship that we shared some 17 years ago lives on.

So anyway, last night was my second night out in Bristol. We started off at a pub down by the harbour where they had an excellent Jazz band playing. After an hour or so spent sitting outside that place we moved our frozen limbs on to a very groovy pub, complete with resident goths and transvestites. At 11.30pm we were rudely reminded that this is the UK (ridiculous licensing laws mean that pubs call last orders at 11pm and shut at 11.30pm), and so wandered uptown to a popular club.

What is it with clubs that makes them so popular? Or, more to the point, what is it with clubs that play crap music that makes them so popular? I mean, if you can't dance to the music what else can you do? You can't talk to anyone because it's too noisy to hear anything. The drinks are bloody expensive too...

What surprised me though was the number of times I was offered pills. I'm just not used to that kind of thing. Mind you, the fact that virtually everyone in there except us was tripping would explain why the place was so popular!

Personally, I don't think that drugs such as E are a good idea at all. What I actually mean is, (he said, pausing to think how he could word it so as not to not offend a couple of friends who do E), what I mean is is that I think that introducing little bundles of man-made chemicals into your body so as to mess with the complex system of electrical contacts contained inside your skull is a really daft idea, especially when you never have a guarantee as to what is contained within that pill.

Nine years ago when I first came into contact with Es and speed I made a decision not to try anything other than 100% natural drugs (I'm talking about tea, Mum!). I think though that if it hadn't been for my Epilepsy (which I'd just been diagnosed with) I would have started to take Es, maybe not on a regular basis, but I would have dabbled. The peer pressure was at times pretty strong, and I think now that if I didn't have the excuse of an electrical brain disorder to hide behind I would have given in.

These days I feel permanently stoned without the aid of any stimulants - I think it must be this drug called "Life".

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Bank Holiday Monday 21st April 2003 - 13:34 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

Most of yesterday was spent watching Monty Python and The Holy Grail ("Aided by some hollow coconuts and a large wooden rabbit, the knights of the Round Table do battle with the Knights of Ni, some rude Frenchmen and sixty virgins between the ages of 18 and 22, all in the name of the grail."). There are some absolutely classic lines in that film, my favourites being uttered by the French Knight:

If you will not show us the Grail, we shall take your castle by force!

You don't frighten us, English pig-dogs! Go and boil your bottom, sons of a silly person. I blow my nose at you, so-called Arthur King, you and all your silly English k-nnnnniggets. Thpppppt! Thppt! Thppt!
What a strange person.
Now look here, my good man...
I don't wanna talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!

Yes, well, anyway, I must have spent hours watching that as on the Bonus DVD edition there were a couple of scenes from the Japanese version. I noted that there was no reference to hamsters or elderberries.

Last night, after a feeling-lonely-and-bored session I decided to have a sip of my favourite tipple, Cokebeer. This, as the name suggest, is a 50/50 mixture of cola and beer. Anyhow, after about a litre of that I started an international-phonecall session. That's the great thing about having good friends in three different time zones (Japan/Europe/America): someone is always awake. Following that, I still felt restless and so headed out into town in search of somewhere where the people looked friendly and the music sounded danceable-to. I soon found a venue down by the harbour that was both cheap and happnin', and, they were going to have a foam party that night. Now of course I've heard of foam parties, and I've seen them on TV etc, but I've never actually been to one; this would be a great opportunity to find out what it was all about. For those of you who don't know what they are, here's a picture:

That's all it is really, just foam, foam, and more foam, squirted out all over the dancefloor until you get lost in it. It's all very slippery and slimy, but I soon found myself in hysterics. It was just great fun!

I hadn't washed my jeans for a while either, so all in all, I'm glad I went out.

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Sunday 27th April 2003 - 00:08 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

Ok! Ok! I'm here ok! I'm writing! OK! (thanks to those of you who have been mailing me enquiring as to my whereabouts following my prolonged absence of, er, 6 days. Six days? Is that all? Anyone would think I was being paid to do this...!

I'm feeling a bit disturbed tonight, mainly due to David Lynch's classic The Elephant Man. It's one of those films that is so well-known that I'd just assumed that I'd seen it, but on renting a copy tonight, I discover that I hadn't. Astonishing story - especially when one considers the fact that it's true..

Moving on, why have I been away from The Daily Mumble this week? A couple of reasons:

1) my computer has been playing around like a right silly monkey which has meant that I haven't had proper internet access etc.

2) apparently I've been trying to find a job. This has involved visiting the government-run Job Centre most days where, in addition to filling out all the forms necessary to obtain unemployment benefit, I've also had the chance to browse their database of cleaning jobs in the south-west of England. Oh, I did find one interesting position advertised - working for a very high wage with Tony the Italian in his restaurant. Whilst walking to the interview I was trying to figure out what the catch was - for that hourly rate there had to be one. On entering the dim blue-lit home of pasta I found a scene straight out the film Goodfellas before me, with all these suited mafia-uncle-type men staring at me through the haze of cigar smoke. "Uncle" Tony called out in his thick Italian accent, beckoning me to join him at the table of spent espressos.

It turned out that Uncle Tony was a Good Fella. Sitting there with him, chatting away in a very relaxed manner, I was transported back to Milano where I lived last autumn - Oh for the Italian way of life! I'd hated it most of the time I was there, but now felt nostalgic about the whole episode. Flicking back into reality, I realised what the catch had been with this job - a good knowledge of Italian was essential (perhaps a slight oversight to omit that when choosing the wording for the ad?!).

Another job that I applied for was at a call centre for one of the UK's biggest breakdown recovery services. The money was good, and the work hopefully not too stressful - that's all I need for a few months. I called the number given on the ad, expecting to find an answer phone message asking me to leave my details. But no, instead of that I found myself tumbling headlong into a horrendous thirty minute telephone interview. All sorts of questions were fired at me, all of which were designed for people with years of telephone customer service experience. I've never done anything like that before, I mean, I have enough trouble just answering my mobile phone. Recently, every time it's rung I've had a mental battle to come up with a suitable opening line: should it be "Hello" or "Moshi Moshi" (the latter being the Japanese way of answering the phone, I just can't kick the habit)? What I've found myself saying in these situations is simply "Hai?", which although really is Japanese for "Yes?", it could be taken for "Hi!" in English.

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Sunday 27th April 2003 - 23:16 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

I am happy to announce that by increasing the amount of Epilim Chrono (Sodium Valproate) that I take on a daily basis from 200mg to 900mg I have successfully brought my Epilepsy under control, reducing the number of seizures that I have on a daily basis from March's peak of about 15, to zero today. That means that I'm now drugged up to my eyeballs, but smiling and not spinning off into dizzy spells that really freaked me out. It also confirms for me that it was Epilepsy that was the problem, and not something like a brain tumour - a thought that had of course crossed my mind. One always tends to imagine the worst, right? I'm on the waiting list for my local specialist centre - "oh, yes, we should be able to get you an appointment - within the next 21 weeks". 21 weeks?! What's that all about? I could be fitting all over the place for all they know! In fact I was when the referral letter was faxed to them by my doctor.

Well anyway, I'm ok now, with my purple pills. <click here for more on Epilepsy>

I've got a job! Well, I had a job. It only lasted for about an hour, but paid £20. No, I didn't get fired. The thing was, was that Margaret, the lady that owns the house in which I'm currently an unofficial tenant, has lost her cleaner. It's a long story (believe me, I've heard it twice!), but anyway, Margaret asked me if I wouldn't mind vacuuming the carpets as they hadn't been done in a month - she just couldn't manage it herself due to her age. When I'd finished, I asked Margaret if her daughter (who comes to visit now and then) has a dog, "only, I couldn't help but notice that there was a lot of white hair on the floor". "Oh! Really?" she asked with an alarmed look on her face and one hand clutched to her head. I realised my mistake almost immediately, but thankfully, Margaret was able to see the funny side of it. "Well you know, it just keeps on falling out! I really don't know what to do! I think I shall have to start wearing a hat, but I'm going to look very silly doing that in midsummer!

When I first got back to England I was shocked by the cost of living here, especially the cost of housing. However, my shock has now moved on to the average wage around here. When I was working in England (between 1996 and 2000) it stood at about £3.50 per hour for unskilled work. Now most jobs advertised are offering a minimum of £5 an hour, with many around the £6 mark. Suddenly, Tokyo isn't seeming all that expensive at all. Rent, part-time work wages; they're both about the same.

Friday night, or maybe it was Saturday, ah, hang on, according to The Daily Mumble today is Sunday therefore it must have been Friday night, yes, Friday night, Emma and I went out to the cinema. Our choice was the very silly film "Johnny English", starring Rowan Atkinson as the totally incompetent spy who finds himself having to save England from the hands of John Malkovich with a very bad French accent. (Bring back The Knights from the Castle Ahhgggg I say!)

It was amusing, in a Mr.Bean type way. I think my favourite bit was the part when he was in a Sushi restaurant speaking a bit of Japanese. He thinks that he's saying something very erotic to the beautiful lady beside him, but the English subtitles tell us that the actual translation of what he says is something like "I'm sorry about my big bottom". HOWEVER (stop press) I distinctly heard him say "okii chinchin" which as we all know means "big willy". Would someone care to enlighten me on why the subtitles are incorrect? Ok, enough nit-picking, moving swiftly on.

After the cinema experience we returned home, but on feeling a bout of anti-sleepitas coming on I decided to go down to Bristol's waterfront area to see if there was anything exciting happening there. Once again, I ended up in the cheesy joint that had the foam party last week - this Friday there was one of those rodeo things in the middle of the dancefloor, where you have to try and stay on the animatronic bull for as long as possible whilst it chucks you around in all directions. Fancy putting one of those in a club! Just the kind of thing Mr.Bean would do if he was the Events Manager.

Anyhow, after an hour or so of people watching and a bit of dancing (I have to watch my granny's hip you know) I was asked by the girl standing beside me if I was gay! I had to laugh. The number of times people have thought me to be gay, well, I've just lost count! It must be my feminine aura. Only a couple of weeks ago I was going on about it.

As a child, my lack of facial masculinity did at times cause problems for me. I remember, as an eight-year-old, doing an entire 4-week cannoo course with my sister Jessie, without the instructor even realising that I WAS a boy! I guess that childhood haircuts like this never helped much:

me, all blonde-haired
As a girl, age 6?
Ok, so maybe I do look a bit feminine

So, despite not wearing lipstick on a regular basis, when I'm out and about people do often assume that I'm gay (and tell me so when I get to know them a little better). I actually feel very comfortable with this. I don't like the stereotype of loud lairy raa raa raa men; perhaps that's why when choosing from a list of recreational activities at college I went for decoupage rather than fencing or football. I prefer the gentler, more feminine side of people, people that is including myself. Incidentally, these feeling won't lead anywhere, I'm sure about that. Men just aren't sexy enough, I mean, how silly does a willy look??!!! (Apologies if you find the word "willy" offensive. My suggestion is that you think of a killer whale whenever I use the term to avoid embarrassment).

Sorry, got a bit sidetracked there, I was meant to be telling you about my new friends, Alice and Jamie (is that the female spelling? I hope so), the girls who asked me if I was gay on Friday night in the club. When it all wound down and the rodeo did its final spin I accompanied them up the road as their student flat was pretty close to my sister's place. Once there, I was invited in to watch a video. Not any old video though, no, this was one that I'd really wanted to see: the ITV special on Major Charles Ingram, the guy who cheated his way to a million in the TV quiz "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" He had an accomplice who coughed at strategic moments to tell him what the right answers were to the questions asked by the host. It's a mad story, but the documentary was absolutely riveting! When it finished at 5.30am I found that the lightweight students I was with had passed out. I rewound the video, turned off the TV and quietly slipped out so as not to wake them up.

They have since texted me to say that they want me to go clothes-shopping with them. I've told them that I've got no sense of style and that I rely on my girlfriend to choose my garments, but they won't listen. They say that I'm to camp for that to be possible.

Kae and I are nearing the end of our days spent talking to one another for hours on end (for no charge). On the 31st of April the two-month free trial offer comes to a close, and so we'll be back onto pay-as-you-go phonecards. I miss her very much. I hope that I can visit her sometime in the summer.

OK, that's it for tonight. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow. I have to get up, eat, check my emails. Have a shower. Eat a bit more. I just don't know how I'm going to fit it all in.

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Monday 28th April 2003 - 22:18 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

I am just SOooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo excited about university. It may be 17 months before I hit the student union bar in Sheffield, I mean, before I finally get the opportunity to indulge in copious amounts of learning all about my favourite subject (that's Japan, the Japanese language and all things Japan related in case you hadn't realised). Tomorrow, I shall take my first step on the road to superstar status in the Land of the Rising Sun, by attending an information day at a local college where I have to do a one-year pre-university course. Sadly, I am not overwelmed with excitement at the prospect of spending 15 hours a week studying something that I'm not particularly interested in, but then, I could be wrong, let's see how I feel this time tomorrow.

In other news, I think that I might have found the perfect job. Well, for eight weeks at least. It pays £70 a day, and simply involves asking motorists questions on behalf of local transport authorities. The police will pull people off the road, and I'll interview them ("Where have you come from? Where are you going to?"), before handing them a postcard and waving goodbye. I haven't got the job yet, in fact, I haven't even filled in the application form, but I'm pretty confident. Watch this space.

On leaving the Job Centre I was stopped by a very dodgy looking man who was loitering outside the door. In the same tone as those lads who offered me pills the other night in the club, he said quietly, "You lookin' for a job?" Knowing that I had nothing to lose, I said yes, gave him my name and phone number before walking on. This evening I got a call asking me to attend an interview tomorrow at 4.15pm. "It's 41 Nelson Street. You find the Indian restaurant, we're the blue door opposite that. Press the top bell, we'll sort it all out for you. make sure you wear a suit." That was all he'd tell me.

I told him that I thought that it was a scam, but he flatly denied it, saying that he was working for the Job Centre. What I'll do is give the Job Centre a call tomorrow morning and find out if they know anything about this company. It just has to be a scam, right? I mean, I asked him why he wasn't inside the job Centre, and he just said, "well, sometimes I work inside, sometimes I work outside" - It was raining for heaven's sake!

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Wednesday 30th April 2003 - 00:42 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

I had so much to tell you tonight, but I'm pooped. I've just spent an hour or so throwing together a Letter of Application for Bristol City College where I'll be doing my access course. Click here if you want to know a little bit more about my attitude towards education U-turn and decision to commit to five years of study. Otherwise, click here.

Night Night.

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Wednesday 30th April 2003 - 16:45 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

This morning I called the Job Centre to find out if that dodgy geezer standing out in the rain yesterday was legitimate or not. "Ahh. What you're telling me is very interesting" the man on the other end said. "We've had complaints about this company in the past, they offer very dodgy jobs, my advice is stay away and we'll keep this call anonymous. I've heard that they can get a bit heavy..."

Needless to say I won't be pressing the top bell this afternoon.

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Wednesday 30th April 2003 - 23:02 (BST/GMT+1) My sister's flat, Bristol, England

Tonight saw the first time that I've been to any kind of structured school type thing in 9 years. Japanese Advanced 1 evening class. Boy is my brain slow! Sitting there, listening to what the tutor was telling us, I knew that I understood. I knew that what she was saying made sense, but I could feel that my brain was just not up to speed. It was almost a physical sensation. "Come on, come on! You know this stuff" I was saying, but my brain was thinking, "Heah, hang on, give me a minute, I have to work this through!"

Despite feeling a little mentally disabled, I was happy to find that the class is only a little further advanced than I am in the study of the language. I should be able to catch up pretty quickly, that's if my textbooks ever show up - I posted them in Tokyo over 6 weeks ago.

Tonight's 90 minute class has prompted me to start writing a simplified version of The Daily Mumble in Japanese. Well, that's the idea anyway. So far I have created the graphic which will head the page - heah, it's important ok! The red bit says "Japanese".

Do you like it? I do. Now there's just the small matter of writing something. Well, maybe that can wait until next month...

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