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    Monday, July 31, 2006

    Festival Fever!

    Caw blimey gov I'm dead excited about life! It's just great, oh, except for when it involves inflamed tendons in one's right arm, a result of spending 5 hours trying to fix a glitch in a wee website I know called TGW. That was two days ago. My own silly fault, I didn't take any excerise breaks. Just hours of holding my arm in the same place, mouse in hand.

    Other than that though, all is super. *Twinkle* has been dazzling me again with her imagination and desires - I feel like anything is possible with her :-) except perhaps for me to get pregnant, that might be pushing it a bit. I must work on my self-belief though (I CAN get pregnant, I CAN!) - recent events have highlighted the fact that cynicism is coming to be a force within me with a little more vitality than I would ideally like - thus the fight-back begins.

    Still got that horse's head from The Godfather in my mind though. Started to watch it last night. Nice. Must be really shocking to wake up with a severed horse's head next to you. I mean, I find it shocking enough just waking up and finding that it's morning.

    Going to a HUGE beach festival this coming Friday, organised by my bro. The lineup is, as you can see, simply stunning. YOU are invited too, map here.

    You are invited to


    Friday 4th August 2006, 4pm onwards, Thurlestone Sands, South Devon

    Headline Artists:

    The Sand

    A collaborative performance of movement, sound, and lying about in a beach style configuration, The Sand will be performing throughout the afternoon and evening - 7.39 pm will mark the most extensive climax of this eclectic fusion of different rock and shell based artistes.
    - "Probably the largest group of individuals playing together over the festival season" NME

    The Sea
    The Sea - best known for the 1999 collaboration album "Waves on a Beach" will be the support act throughout the afternoon and evening festivities. For those late night revelers, The Sea will be rising up and taking over the stage at 1.57 AM, offering an epiphany of extensive dampness, in a performance which promises to be both salty and family friendly.
    - "In terms of sheer wetness, this is one act you'd be foolish to miss" Q Magazine

    YouLot - plus special guest stars: your favourite friends

    A melange of beautiful people, simply a bunch of darlings providing much of the entertainment in the myriad forms of sitting about chatting, dancing, sleeping, singing, playing, cooking up food on barbeques, frisbee, and cricket playing, eating, drinking and making merry.
    - "They know how to laugh and have a good time, in a carnival spirit which is magically both vibrantly mad and gently soothing"
    Robert Dunkleson- The Party Crowd Review 2006

    The Sun (T.B.C.)
    Currently touring the Southwest, bringing joy and happiness, we are hoping The Sun will be performing for much of the afternoon and early evening.

    Special Events

    All are invited to bring Frisbees for an attempt on the following world record: "Largest simultaneous Frisbee throw and catch on Thurlestone Beach at about 7 o'clock on Friday 4th August 2006"

    Last week I decided to make a video of myself running around a field as fast as possible and with as many sharp turns as possible. As one does. Freaked the dog out. More than that though, it left me almost paralysed with exhaustion, after about 30 seconds. Thing is, I have done almost no physical excercise (erm, well, almost none) since Spring 2002. Back then I was jogging down the back streets of downtown Tokyo, and suddenly felt like I was having a heart attack. At the local hospital I had a heart monitor strapped on, which I wore for 24 hours, before returning it to the hospital where I had to sell my kidneys to pay the bill. Anyhow, although the tests didn't show any abnormalities, since then I have been wary of excercise like that. However, the fact is that my heart is ok, and I really must stay fit and healthy (stay? doesn't that infer that one is already in such a position?) if I am to avoid my father's fate (incidentally, for an update on his condition read on). I've recently put on a bit of a belly, and don't really feel terribly healthy. The odd 'dizzy spell' (which falls under the epilepsy label) brought on by physical tirednesss reminds me that in order to keep healthy and not be effected by seizures I have to be fit and healthy in the first place.

    Thus, one thing I am doing is going back onto the fantastic organic & totally natural protein supplement that I took last year and which helped boost my energy levels, as I simultaneously increased my Epilim dosage (which can lead to tiredness). Secondly, and perhaps more significantly for lazyass me, is I am starting to jog everyday (shoutout to miss ene!!). Today was my first outing. Good job we have such a big garden. Didn't hurt, and no heart attack. Jolly good. I'm also going to start doing my daily excercises for my arms and shoulders too - you know my history of accidental dislocations at inopportune moments (such as when taking my coat off at the Bristol Japan Club meeting and suddenly screaming "FUCK FUCK FUCK!!" in front of a bunch of very quiet Japanese strangers as my arm popped out. I then explained to them that my arm has dislocated itself, but inadvertantly chose the same word in the dictionary that refers to feelings of not-belonging. They were bemused to say the least).

    So there's all this, then the Kanji, then the pile of books I want to read. Arrggh how on Earth can people have time for TV? Especially the UK average of about 25 hours per week.

    Dad's heart: About two months after the scare involving him being taken to hospital due to heart trouble (you will recall he's had a quad-bypass and all three of his brothers have heart problems), the consultant has finally returned from holiday and given their verdict - he's ok. Yes, a part of his heart muscle had been damaged, but apparently it's 'not a very important part' (What?!). If the trouble continues and his angina worsens in the artery that is a bit clogged he'll have a stent fitted (thing that widens the artery), but for now he's ok. As long as he doesn't overdo it. (A Tame overdo it? You must be kidding!).

    Was dragged kicking and screaming to Monmouth Festival the other night. A week-long party in the streets, featuring lots of alcohol and young farmers (see webcam here for a piece of the action, although you'll have to get your timing right). The music was a bit upbeat and jungle stylee for the locals that night, but I must admit, I pretty enjoyed it, and had I been a bit more drunk than I was when I took this shot I would have made my monkey moves.

    Monmouth really is a party town. This is evident from the town's car park where they have a special space for the full-time MC.

    Sarah & Ryan were my hosts that night, being related to mum#2 of Welsh Garden Project fame. Ryan actually made me cry, although thankfully this was due to laughter, and not a broken heart, as he recounted a tale of a previous year at Monmouth Festival when he made a very drunken promise to run the famous, gruelling Kymin Dash (check out that incline!), a 7 mile run around Monmouth. Now, most people train hard for this event, for at least a couple of months. Not Ryan though. It was late, the night before that year's race, and he was very drunk. He was talking to some girl who was telling him how hard she'd been training.
    "Yeah, I thought I'd do it too"

    he said, falling against a lampost.
    This throwaway remark was seized upon, and when Ryan awoke the following morning, still drunk, he recalled the promise he had made before a number of witnesses.
    Ryan did actually manage to complete the course the following day, but as Sarah reminded him,
    "Yes, but the other girl was actually able to walk after the race"

    Crossing the finishing line, Ryan fell face down onto the ground, paralysed by pain. For the following ten days he could only get around by impersonating someone who had both legs in plaster from the tips of their toes to the top of their thighs. It was his demonstration of this walk (worthy of the Ministry) that had me nearly wetting myself.

    Anyhow, it was a great night. Just a shame that *Twinkle* couldn't have been there too. Mind you, Saturday, oooh, I was very hung over, not really capable of doing anything. But it had been a wonderfully cathartic evening. All that pent-up emotion ousted, leaving me feeling wonderfully positive and just so excited about it all.

    Crikey oh riley, 5 weeks tomorrow. Have to start packing soon.


    Saturday, July 29, 2006

    my homemade stone staircase

    Tame Staircases - No job too small!

    Authentic Ye Olde Stone Staircases created for any location, although ideally suited to somewhere that has an up and a down.

    Rock solid through and through, using recycled materials from start to finish. Railings also available for oldies. Guaranteed for first 500 uses.

    COMING SOON: Pedal-Powered Stone Escalator.

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    Friday, July 28, 2006

    one big bundle of emotion

    I've got my soundtrack to the gardening down to a fine art now. Every night I create a playlist for my iPod for the following day. I use three sources: podcasts downloaded from the likes of the BBC, TWiT.TV, Guardian Unlimited, New Scientist; my second source is a collection of self-development seminar things that get me thinking about me; the third is a recording of the stories related to the kanji that I've learnt over the past few days. My playlist cycles through this collection, thus giving my brain a rest between lessons and the like. I LOVE learning though, it's such a thrill.

    For the past couple of days though, I've been thinking that there's something missing - Music. Nowhere in my playlist does music feature, despite the fact that I have over 13,000 songs to hand. I've started to miss music, and when out in the garden have thought 'hmm, must put some in the playlist tonight'.

    I've also been feeling increasingly emotional over the past few days. It could be due to tiredness, although it's more likely to be PMT. Anyhow, when I awoke this morning, I knew that I could wait no longer - I NEEDED music. I had my iPod by the bed having fallen asleep to the kanji last night (I tell you, apart from Glenn Hook, it is the BEST way to bore yourself to sleep!), and so it wasn't that hard to navigate away from the Gardening playlist and onto one that I have imaginativley called "4* and above".

    I was in for a bit of a shock; the effect that the music had on me was extremely powerful, and within 30 seconds I was in tears, desperately holding on to my teddy bear. Power of association. And it happens to be a beautiful song.

    I've been only too aware of the power of music ever since I carried out that experiment (of which I've spoken before) when, on my first trip to japan, I listened to U2's 'It's a Beautiful Day' first thing in the morning and last thing at night during my two weeks in Hokkaido. Even now, hearing that takes me straight back to that room, with the stinking kerosene heater, the ice on the windows, the smell of urine rising up from the communal hole-in-the-ground outside, my makeshift curtains, and the magnificent cranes standing motioneless together in the frozen ice-paddy to the front of Shin Shizen Juku ("New Natural School") where I was an inmate. I chopped wood, I attempted to pull up daikon (Japanese radish)s from the solid earth, I visited local colleges where I was due to start teaching English later that month (terrified, I skipped the island and got a ferry to the south!). My first visit to a Japanese post office took place there too. I can still remember trying to buy stamps, not knowing what the word for them was, let alone "England". Oh, and of course my legendary first trip to a public bath where I knew nothing of the protocol, and thus caused a great commotion.

    Incidentally, I have just received an email from a student in the year below me at Sheffield, who, upon my recommendation, decided to go WWOOFing in Japan this summer - they are having a fantastic time. Coincidentally, and rather bizarrely, they have ended up at 'Heart'n Tree', the family owned restaurant/pub just a couple of miles down the road from the New Natural School where we spent virtually every night getting drunk, before heading off in two cars down the long, straight deserted highway at crazy speeds, driving side by side and trying to attack one another with mops through the open windows. Ahh, happy days.

    Last night I watched a superb NHK production that the BBC had bought and added a David Attenborough soundtrack to. It told the story of a village not far from Kyoto that is surrounded by wetland, where the people live and work in harmony with nature (they do things like get the local overgrown goldfish to do their washing up - a clever idea or what?!). That really made me feel that I MUST go wwoofing again this coming year. I miss the isolation of rural Japan, most noteably Hokkaido.

    I've also been trying to get hold of another friend in the year below me at uni who was seduced by WWOOFing tales on TGW, and is now somewhere in the Japanese outback for a period of three months. I'm assuming that Saimon sama does not have internet access as he has been ignoring my requests for information on his well-being: if you are reading this get in touch you lazy b****** or you shall have your access to the TGW network withdrawn forever (evil cackle).

    The emotions connected with this September's return are beginning to accumulate. It really feels like it is a return home. Yes, yes, I know I was there last summer, but one is in a very different frame of mind when one is on a 3-month tourist visa! One's relationship with a place, if just visiting, is so different from that if one is staying. Constantly burdoned with a backpack, and no roots. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the freedom that the road provides, yet I feel that at heart I am a very homely person. I need to feel settled somewhere; constant limbo is exausting. And of course I'll have stability in my love life too, in the form of *Twinkle*. ...unlike last summer, when I was dogged by a rather complex situation involving someone whom I referred to as my 'friend', someone with whom I had a rather torrid 2-year on-and-off relationship. I won't criticise her in public.

    But she was completely insane.

    I was thinking last night, I'd really like to do a bit of a cycling tour of Japan. Train is all very well, but you miss so much. It's only when you go off the beaten track, as I did in Shikoku last summer when attempting to hitch-hike the 1000km back to Tokyo that you find yourself momentarily involved in other people's lives - and isn't that what we are all about - interaction? Remember the women in the little shop who gave me some watermelon? The local teacher who bought me bread? The village idiot who couldn't stop walking backwards and forwards in front of the strange foreigner? The pilgrim on her tour of the 88 temples? The train driver who abandoned his train on the platform and followed me downstairs to the ticket office to help me buy a ticket?

    I never finished writing that story on TDM, but I have it here, beside me in the pages of my 49th diary. This weekend I shall type up the remainder of the tale, in which I was charged 30 pounds to cross a bridge, then had to spend a night out on a pavement being watched by the local police, before managing to travel hundreds of kilometres by train for 80p.

    Ha! 38 days! That's only 17 days off the magic 3-week mark, and we all know what that means!

    Hmm, I'm ready to face the day now.


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    I never thought I'd see the day

    McDonald's joins fight to save the Amazon

    Take your hand off the mouse. Now reach over your shoulder, and pat yourself on the back. Because you did it. The mighty McDonald's jumped when you objected to their role in Amazon destruction. After only a few months of being in the spotlight over rainforest destruction, and receiving more than 30,000 emails, McDonald's not only made a U-turn in no longer sourcing soya from the ashes of the Amazon but are also actively urging other companies to join them. This week the world saw what happens when tens of thousands of Greenpeace supporters from all over the world act together as one to protect the environment. So take a bow, smile and accept our heartfelt thanks for your efforts.

    - Greenpeace News, Volume 6, Number 6 - July 2006

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    Tuesday, July 25, 2006

    Mr. Posty is my friend

    Look what Mr. Posty delivered this morning!

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    Monday, July 24, 2006

    SEAS Graduates

    "The bound-up brains of the St. Bernhard dog are held in equilibriam in the middle of the boulevard"

    Who'd have thought that repeating phrases such as that above would help you learn the Kanji... 950 down, 1092 to go.

    I heard yesterday that from my entire department (the School of East Asian Studies, encompassing Japanese, Chinese and Korean Studies), only 2 graduating students received Firsts this year. Is this abnormal?

    I also realised that there's going to be a maximum of 18 of us going to Japan for our third year, out of the 47 of us that started the course.

    Congrats to my good friend Lars on winning the Margaret Daniels Award, in recognition of his degree which was the best in the entire department. What a clever chap!

    The pain of wasp stings and visa applications

    I was out in the garden by 7am again today. With Europe in the grips of a heat wave it's the only way to survive long hours toiling away with a mattock and some huge great lumps of stone, part of the latest set of steps I have been commisioned to create on the Welsh Garden Project Site.

    Although I was out in the glorious morning sunshine at 7am, it wasn't until 8.15am that I really woke up fully: I accidentally stuck my hands into a wasps nest. The first I knew of it was a slight sting on my upper arm. "That's odd", I thought, "nettles don't usually get me through this fleece top". I looked down, and saw a wasp thrusting it's spiked arse through my sweater and deep into my skin, injecting its sweet poison. That was swiftly followed by a further two piercings of my delicate flesh by the angry mob.

    I RAN. And said "Fuck" quite a lot, then "shit" as I remembered that the lady of the house was tending her potatoes just the other side of the hedge.

    But you know what? The swines followed me! They were very pissed off at being disturbed so early on a Monday morning (no doubt had a heavy night boozing and playing chess with flea-corpses); crawling all over my fleece and gloves, I squished them hard one by one, causing the venom that had been destined for my bloodstream to squirt out in the manner of a pregnant pubescent spot squeezed by a pair of tweezers.

    That's the point when I decided to stop clearing the brambles from by the woodshed, and instead to a) have breakfast and then b) construct the long-awaited stairway to heaven behind the orchid house (which incidentally houses old videos of Taggart, and no orchids).

    Japan update: so it's all go. Confirmation received for flights, visa (almost) aquired. Last Friday saw my epic voyage into the heart of the Capital to attempt to apply for the vital document that will enable me to study and work in Japan for a year come September. Needless to say, things did not go smoothly.

    We (Twinkle and I) arrived at the embasssy at about 11.30am, giving me two hours to submit my application before they shut for lunch. Passing under the huge Japanese flag and into the cool of the building, I was greeted by two security guys, and an xray machine thingy, as seen at airports. In front of us was a pregnant Japanese woman. The following conversation then ensued:

    Pregenant Japanese Woman: I'm pregnant. Do I have to go through the gate?
    Security Guard: No madam, just put your bag on the conveyor, then you can go around.
    PJW: What about my can of coke?
    SG: It's OK, just go around.
    PJW: What? Are you saying I have to go through? I'm pregnant!
    SG: No madam, it's ok, you don't have to go through the gate, please just go around.
    PJW: (raised voice) What? Are you arguing with me?
    SG: (somewhat surprised) No madam, please, it's OK.
    PJW: I can't believe this! (Stomps around the gate to the other side as instructed. Goes to pick up back from other end of conveyor). I can't believe this! You starting a fight with me! All I want is to go around! I'm pregnant!
    SG: (looks bemused) OK madam...

    When it came to my turn I emptied my pockets out, dumped my bag on the conveyor and walked through the gate. It beeped.
    "Please, take your belt off"
    said the security guard. I obliged, whilst holding my trousers up. All clear.

    Once inside the embassy proper I took my ticket and waited. Soon, my number came up and I approached the window behind which stood the grumpy little jobsworth whom I feel I know personally having had numerous souless conversations with him over the past few months (he answers like a politician, always avoiding any direct response to your questions, and then speaks like God when it comes to telling you what to do) (except a bit less boomy, and without the clouds parting).

    I submitted all my carefully prepared paperwork, safe in the knowledge that I had done exactly what the embassy's visa guidelines instructed.

    "Where's your photocopy?" he asked.
    Sorry? Which photocopy's that?
    The photocopy of this he said, holding up my precious Certificate of Eligibility.
    Oh, sorry, it didn't say I needed one on the website

    His lips dissapeared into a thin line, reminding me of the backbone of a millipede. In his mind, the following words formed, sending a rush of adrenalin throughout his straight-laced body.
    Ha! I've got him! This pathetic little gaijin thinks he can waltz in here and get his visa just like that. Pah! I'll show him! No photocopy eh? Hmm, I may well be in a room full of the machines, but no, I shall not copy it for him, I shall send him on a quest across the capital in this boiling heat in search of such a contraption! And then I shall make him take another ticket and WAIT!!

    I could see all this running through his head.

    I stood there as King Arthur stood before the Knights who say Ni waiting to hear what I had to do to please his grace. With a wicked grin on his face, he presented me with a map of central London. It had "Photocopy Shop" written on it.

    Out into the baking heat, through the crowds, in search of said establishment. Eventually, I found it, grabbed my copy, and headed back to the embassy. In through the front door and oh damn, off with my belt again! Trousers nearly fell down as I dashed up the stairs and took my ticket.

    Back in front of Jobsworth, I awaited my next challenge. Sure enough, he spotted another flaw in my application, once again a minor point that was entirely overlooked on the embassy website, but that meant that I now had to find a bloomin' post office and buy a 500g Pre-paid Special Delivery envelope.

    Another map was produced. Again, his face flushed with satisfaction as he had successfully delayed my application. Knowing that I'd be coming in again I didn't bother put my belt on, but instead held onto my jeans to stop them falling to my ankles as I ducked and dived through streets and alleyways, dodging taxis, getting annoyed at people who hadn't a clue where anything was in the area even though they worked there, and in the end getting totally lost.

    Boy oh boy was I sweaty by the time I made it back to the embassy. By this time I felt I had an intimate bond with the security guards, but decided against dropping my trousers in front of them. Another ticket, another wait ...until it was time for the final showdown.

    It seemed that Jobsworth was now satisfied with my performance: I was worthy of a visa. He took my money, gave me a reciept, and said goodbye.

    So, as you can see, my experience of the Japanese authorities in the UK shows a remarkable resemblence to that of my experience of the Japanese Immigration Office in Tokyo. No wonder they have a problem with illigal immigrants - even if you do have all the correct paperwork they make the process so traumatic that one is reluctant to go through with it. Even I was attempted to get our little rubber dinghy out and start to row.

    Still, job done. My passport, complete with visa, should be here by the end of the week.

    Post application: *Twinkle* and I head off to the South Bank (where incidentally, one can barely walk for human statues. Personally I think they should all be cemented to the spot to teach them a lesson, that being to not be 10 years too late...

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    Such a damn hypocrite

    The Independent, 22 July 2006

    America's domestic policy vs America's foreign policy

    This week, George Bush used his presidential veto to block a bill on stem cell research, saying he couldn't support the 'taking of innocent human life'. In Iraq, six civilians are killed by a US air strike, while casualties in Lebanon and Israel mount. George Bush (and Tony Blair) oppose UN calls for an immediate ceasefire...
    (story continues here)

    Saturday, July 22, 2006

    Human Traffic

    Upon arrival in Japan these days, you may well be the recipient of a litle slip of paper stating, in several asian and south-american languages, "If you are a victim of human traficking please show this piece of paper to any Japanese person". Then, in Japanese, it reads,
    "HELP! I am a victim of Human Trafficking! Please take me to the nearest Police Station!"
    It seems that in Ledbury, a wee little rural town one stop down the line from my home town of Hereford, well-known for strawberry production, the immigration authorities are not so proactive in stopping this dreadful trade.

    Thus, an enterprising worker, probably one of the 3,000 who have arrived in the area from eastern Europe in the last couple of years, has resorted to taking extreme action to bring attention to his plight, at the mercy of an evil employer who only pays him 1 pound an hour and keeps him locked in the chicken shed at night.

    He has, as you can see, planted the crops so that they have grown to spell out in huge wheaty letters, H E L P !

    Shame I was on the train, otherwise I would have gone to investigate further.

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    Wednesday, July 19, 2006

    A walk in the peaks

    Caw blimey gov it's so bloomin hot. I'm staying in *Twinkle's* student flat, coincidentally the same place I lived in year before last. I'd forgotten just how hot the place gets. The window faces sort-of-south, and the curtains are lined with black felty stuff. Great for keeping the light out, but also great for absorbing heat. Last night was so impossibly hot that we had to get the ice-packs out of the freezer and use them as cold-water bottles.

    Even having the window open post-sunset doesn't help much. Although it does help one to overhear all the conversations that the prostitute outside has with clients. Last night business was brisk. Four indian lads in a car took it in turns, appearing and dissapearing in their white vauxhall every 30 minutes to pick one of their number up and drop another off for his bout. I'd get really pissed off with that nightly rountine if I lived here, although no-one can complain really as none of the houses in the area are owned by the occupants - it's either student accomodation or council flats. What a life. It's quite depressing really.

    As you probably gathered from previous posts, *Twinkle* and I made it out into the Peak District a couple of days ago, the national park situated just to the west of Sheffield. It really was lovely.

    Having taken the train to Hope, we set out on foot for the nearby village of Castleton. It was a really nice route, except for one anomaly - a huge great Blue Circle cement works rising from the meadows. Bizarre. A local later told me that it was accepted by local planners due to the employment it would bring to the region, although since its arrival it has brought nothing but lots of big lorrries, and a boom in sales of Photoshop as people seek to remove the renegade from their otherwise beautiful shots of the English countryside.

    Castleton, surprisingly enough, was host to a castle, where *Twinkle* strapped me to the roof of the keep and whipped me with birch bark, just for the fun of it.

    That done, we sat upon ye fair olde meadow in front of said keep, and gazed across to the ridge that ran the length of the other side of the valley, planning our route to the next pub. Now planning routes, as we all know, requires the use of a map. However, me being Clever Joseph and all that, I'd left my explorer map of the realm in Herefordshire. What to do...? I mean, it just wouldn't have been a proper hiking trip without a map to see exactly where we took the wrong path 3 fields back - and so the day before our trip I decided to fork out another 15 quid (yes, 15 QUID!) on another map, identical to the one I'd left at home and never used. But clever Joseph was not to be outdone by his rather bad logistical skills, oh no. Having used the bloomin expensive laminated beauty for the day, I then took it back to the book shop where I'd bought it 48 hours previously and told them I'd purchased it by accident. I got a full refund. Now THAT'S the way to do it.

    After a pub lunch we scaled the heights of the ridge on the opposite side, a ridge that provided us with a pretty impressive view across the park. Oh, and of the cement works. Following a bit of shadow puppetry on the triangualtion point thingy, it was then roley poley down the other side, towards the railway station. Having left our timing to the wind, we were delighted to find ourselves halfway down the hill when our train went by, like a little Hornby Locomotive, but slower.

    Caw blimey gov, it was bloomin boiling that afternoon. We drank litres and litres of water and juice, yet not a single pee passed from our bladders.

    All in all, a jolly nice day, and by the looks of things one of the last 'days out' we'll have in the UK. *Twinkle* has a lot to do for her dissertation, and I am also very busy with my kanji and all.

    Having actually paid for my flight it's all starting to look a bit real. agggh so much to do in so little time.

    Anyway, I shall stop my ramble here. Must return the DVD we watched last night - The Island - starring Ewen McGregor and Sexy babe whose name I forget. Loved the story.


    Stop Look Listen

    Yesterday, *Twinkle* and I took the cross-country route from Hope station to Castleton, situated in the peak district.

    A mile or so into our ramble we came across the West Coast Main Line. Being but a footpath, there were no barriers or flashing lights to warn us when a train was coming, just a notice, telling us to STOP, Look and Listen for approaching trains before crossing.

    Thus, I sensibly told *Twinkle* to go and put her ear to the track, to check that there were no locomotives in the area, before crossing the line.

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    True love is...

    ...feeling like this after 50 years of marriage

    (many thanks to the unwitting couple we found ourselves tailing in Castleton yesterday, whoever they may be)

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    Saturday, July 15, 2006


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    leaving, on a Virgin train

    I'm off on a day trip for the next week or so. I'll be going from here to Sheffield by Virgin, in order for *Twinkle* and I to make up for lost time, and hopefully get out into the Peak District which I have managed to avoid thus far despite having been wanting to go there for the past two years whilst living but 20 minutes from the place. See a film, do a bit of study - should be good.

    After that it's off to London to get my visa for Japan. All documents sorted, application form filled in, date set for departure (4th Sep) thus the new little countdown thing top right which had me hitting my keyboard with a mallet for a couple of hours earlier tonight as I struggled to do the maths behind the code that automatically generates the number of days left. Accomodation is sorted too. I won't be having any jabs - I heard that the uni health service was reccomending some which I think is absolutely ridiculous, this is Japan we're talking about, not sub-saharan Africa. I strongly object to the culture of vaccinations. Just like the over-use of antibiotics. Having said that, "serious inflammation of the brain, which may lead to permanent brain damage" does not sound like much fun, so I take back what I said above. My friend who's going to be in the far south-west of Japan probably has made the right decision after all!

    Much of today was spent moving huge great logs, and raking in the hay. The latter reminded me of the summer I spent doing just that in the Hobbit-shire like surroundings of Luzern, Switzerland. Shame I didn't have my amazing hay-wagon with it's 12 forward gears and 12 reverse gears. Still, I did have my bent rake.

    I was very naughty tonight and didn't do any kanji. I did some revision this morning using the free software that accompanies Heisig's book and my electronic tablet pen thingy , and listened to lists of vocab whilst working in the garden (I create a daily playlist for my iPod which has about 30 tracks, alternating between kanji revision and 20/30/60 minute radio programmes) ...but I haven't learnt 50 new ones as I should have done. Naughty me. I've covered 800 so far, and am happy to say I remember the meaning and writing of them all.

    Time is whizzing by.

    It will be really nice to spend some 'quality time' with *Twinkle*. Unfortunately she is in the middle of writing her dissertation on - guess what - Intercultural Couples, so does not exactly have a lot of free time. But I'll do my best to distract her. I mean, she can put any 'interaction' between us down as "field work", right?

    John John remains very much in my mind, much of the time. I don't think the reality of him not being around will really hit me until I return to Tokyo, where I'm used to him being. Only then will I be able to let go.

    Well, it's late, and the Welsh Garden Project Site is hosting a party tomorrow for a gaggle of 13-year-old ladies, and for which I must help prepare.

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    Friday, July 14, 2006

    The Old Goat and the Pogo Stick

    Last weekend I was fortunate enough to be in the UK when my two best friends Jo and Catherine (whose middle name is Joanne), and Jo's boyfriend Joe (I kid you not) decided to have their birthdays. Usually, they time their annual exploits to coincide with me not being here.

    Happily, this year, Joseph's in da area. (yo WIGGY!)

    The festivities also happened to coincide with the Hereford Beer and Cider Festival, held on the banks of the river Wye. Naturally we couldn't afford to miss this opportunity to support local breweries, and so with a hop, skip and a jump headed on down to the marquee next to the rowing club. (Incidentally, that's not the rowing club where, when I was 10 years old I took a canooing course, and was mistaken for a girl. Even after 6 weeks they still thought I was a girl and made me change with all the girls. I was too shy to say anything and so went to great lengths to hide my willy...)

    I'm not terribly good at making decisions under pressure. Thus, I knew that when it came to be my turn to be served I had to be absolutely certain about what I wanted. I scanned the labels on the huge selection of barrels on the rack behind the temporary bar. Old Rosie. Westons Traditional Organic. Brewer's Ace. Hecks Kingston Black. Ah, decisions decisions.

    I finally made my mind up, going for Dening's Medium. Now I just had to wait my turn.

    Eventually, after an eternity spent watching an argument between the drunk bartender and a man with a belly the size of one of Saturn's moons, (who DID say he wanted Perry not Cider), my time came. The bartender looked at me and grinned a toothy grin.
    "Idiot", he said.
    That threw me. I'd been expecting him to ask me what I wanted.
    "That man. Idiot" he said. "Now, what you havin'?"
    It was no good. I was overcome by blind panic. How was I to deal with a direct question following an opening like that? All my careful forethought into which cider I'd have flew out the door of the marquee at the speed of a Golden Eagle that has just accidentally sat on a rocket-propelled firework on New Year's Eve in central London, ignited by remote control on one of those barges in the middle of the Thames
    My eyes whipped down the line of kegs, desperately seeking out the answer to his question, which now seemed like it had come straight out of a molecular science exam paper rather than the mouth of a drunken Herefordian farmer-cum-barman with all the intelligence of a pair of green welly boots.
    "Old Goat!"
    I blurted out, the name being the only one of the many displayed strong enough to fight its way through the mask of terror in my head.

    Toothy turned away, filled my glass, and took the pound coin that I had carefully sought out beforehand.

    Walking away, I ran through the sequence of events that had just taken place, and asked myself why? I mean, I'd already made my decision so as to avoid the trauma of being caught off-guard. The fact is, I am no stranger to this kind of situation. I do find it difficult to deal with situations like that, i.e. ordering drinks at a bar. Perhaps that's why I do so little of it. It's the same with the supermarket, I loathe keeping them waiting as I fiddle around with change. In fact, in a myriad of situations I run through conversations before embarking upon them, sometimes weeks in advance.

    Anyway, it wasn't long before the trauma of ordering a drink that I never even wanted was forgotten, submerged under the trauma of drinking the drink that I never even wanted.
    "I wonder why it's called 'Old Goat'?"
    I said, before taking a sip and almost falling into the river.

    OMG. It really is Old Goat.

    They have taken a goat, pickled it, and then put the resulting (murky brown) liquid through the cider-making process. The result? A drink that is strong enough, and foul enough, to make your tastebuds, stomach and liver wish that you had opted to be the first ever person to have their lips sewn up to raise money for the Italian charity organisation NAPeLS THaTHELSU (National Association for People Who Like Silence and THErefore have their Lips Sewn Up).

    It was vile. Like gone-off snake venom, only worse, and more painful. I couldn't take another sip, and so poured it onto the grass, then watched as the worms emerged writhing in drunken agony, wishing that a blackbird would come and swallow them whole.

    Needless to say, at the BBQ the following day I was not drinking. No, it was orange juice for me all the way. That helped my recovery quite a bit actually, and by about 4pm, that's 28 hours after the lethal dose of fermented goat entrails, I was feeling pretty good. In fact, I'd recovered to such an extent that I was the best stilt-walker out of anyone in the garden.

    I proved to be quite a hit on the Pogo stick too - until I accidentally bounced off the concrete patio and onto the lawn: the stick shot down 3 metres into the carefully tended turf, hit a water main and flooded most of Herefordshire. Naturally, I ran away, well, bounced away, hopping over hedges whenever the FBI appeared on the horizon seeking out the terrorist who sought to endanger American lives by using a pogo stick as a weapon of mass destruction. Must have been my beard that prompted them to put me under surveillance in the first place.

    It was a somewhat dramatic end to what had been a delightful afternoon, in which games of hide and seek were played. Clare Johnson, of 19 Greenway Street, Hereford HR2 7TF, England Tel.01432 678534, who I shall refer to as "Ms. X" so as to protect her identity, proved to be really good at it. Took us hours to find her when she hid under the wheelbarrow, and it wasn't until sniffer dogs were called in that her cardboad box hiding place was identified.

    All in all, quite a weekend. I'm glad Jo and Catherine decided to have their birthdays at a time when I was in the UK.

    Happy birthday to you both.

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    Wednesday, July 12, 2006

    lovely people ...and exam results

    JJ's funeral (see previous entry) brought together a lovely group of people, many of whom I've had the opportunity to meet before now thanks to JJ; others, I knew in name, having heard great tales of their epic achivements. This was also recipricated, with a few people (strangers up until then) approaching me and commenting on TGW. I'm happy to say that JJ did enjoy this website, despite the fact that in its early days it revealed to the world (and to the Japanese authorities) that he had spent over thirty years in the country on tourist visas! He also enjoyed another short-lived website I ran, but perhaps the less said about that the better!

    It was lovely to see the Kobayashis and the Nakamuras again. Emmie and Russ, whom John John and I used to visit in a rent-a-car (which he was not allowed to drive!), were there, as were of course the Cooke family. I'm glad that *twinkle* was able to meet these people, although it was a shame that she had to return to Sheffield after the service, and couldn't join the little group of us that had dinner together.

    I really enjoyed that though, getting to know these people better. There really are so many good people in this world.

    ...Good people who let me use their internet. End of year exam results were released yesterday morning. Oooh, the nervous tension as I logged onto the uni server...

    (the ones highlighted in yellow are for this semester's exams, click on image for original size)

    I'm delighted to have achieved 71% in my Japanese language module. Quite how I managed it I don't know. Perhaps the lack of a social life helped. Or maybe it was the fact that I'm just so damn clvre.

    Japanese Politics (68%): not bad. My essay writing is not what it should be, and let me down here. I lack the ability to write an introduction, conclusion or state a clear argument (other than that...!)

    Contemporary Japanese Society (62): well, I really stuffed up with the essay, only getting about 55%, so I guess I got about 70% in the exam.

    Overall, according to my sums, I got 68.3% for the year - this will account for 50% of my final degree award. Not bad. Of course I would have preferred it to have been 1.7% higher, but it can't be helped! It's still a good result, and justifies all the work I put in.

    I'm trying not to think about the fact that I can't remember anything we studied last year.

    As for the rest of the class, I've had emails from a few people and he general trend looks pretty good. Well done us!! ...apart from one soul who unfortunately didn't quite make it through. That's a real shame as his presence has made a huge difference to the unity of our year, a real character will be leaving with him.

    In other exciting uni news, this morning I received my Certificate of Eligibility. This is the document that I have been trying to get my hands on since 2002! The pain and expense I've been through to get hold of it! I'll be off to the embassey next week to get it turned into a visa.

    Another document was the certificate absolutely confirming that I can buy my darling Sony Alpha 100 once I arrive in Tokyo on September 5th - that document being my scholarship certificate!! I've read the first review of the final production model, and it is very, very good. The A100 also happens to be over 200 pounds cheaper in Japan than in the UK, according to Yodobashi vs. Jessops.

    I'll be leaving in just over 7 weeks. Hmmm.

    Feels kind of funny.

    talking of feelings, my tummy feels hungry. I'd better go and fill it up with some nice vegee sausages.


    Free to fly

    Yesterday saw John John's body laid to rest in a woven bamboo coffin, in a quiet meadow in the Buckinghamshire countryside.

    The funeral was a simple affair, arranged by the Quakers, good friends of John John who have been wonderful in providing immense support for both him and all of us who knew him in his final weeks in this gravity-ruled world. I've not been to a funeral before, and always imagined them to be dark affairs full of mist, grey tombstones and cold earth. John John's, however, was not like that. Being a green burial site we were not surrounded by harsh slabs of granite, but rather, long grasses and trees.

    Saying goodbye for now to dear John was, for me, peaceful, calming, but intensely sad. He has given so much to so many - a fact that was made plain through the countless stories retold in the service later on, of how he had entered people's lives, and changed them forever.

    He certainly changed mine, and will never be forgotten.

    John John always saw the world somewhat differently to others!


    'John John' Yoxall

    "John embraced whimsy though he would not admit to eccentricity. On a whim he bought, for a few pounds, a blacksmith's shop in Devon 30 years ago - it was used only as one more prop in his story telling. He bought a Showman's Trailer, had friends working on it for hours, spent money on delicate cut glass, left it. Thirty years ago he sat in his Tokyo apato and talked of buying a house in Milton Keynes, again on a whim.

    And it was to Milton Keynes he finally returned: he'd visited the Quakers all over the world. He loved their silence. And they have shown him so much love here, in his final days.

    "Life" said John "Is a terminal disease." Visiting John-John towards the end of his life it seemed as if he was looking on the whole process as part of yet another tale to tell. Somewhere he or his spirit lives on, spinning a cobweb of stories, having another piece of bread and butter pudding. And laughing at life's - and death's - whimsical ways.

    Three days before he died, his lungs failing fast, John-John still found the energy to beguile a mesmerised visitor with a lengthy description of the intricacies of the Japanese toilet system. This was vintage John - his interest in obscure things, his enthusiasm for entertaining or shocking people and above all, his love of telling a story.

    John Yoxall was born during the war - a time, he said, of glumness and quirky Englishness: thick elastic bands on red OXO tins, Jowett Javelin motor cars, Bakelite wirelesses and damask table cloths and pieces of Madeira cake in the front room on Sunday afternoons. As with so many of John-John's tales, it was never clear how much was real and how much was the product of an imagination forever in overdrive. "Imagination is more important than knowledge" said Einstein. "Imagination encircles the world."

    John John selecting Japanese bamboos for his Milton Keynes garden

    John-John circled the world like another planet. Movement was constant. "I only travel for the insecurity" he'd say, walking out the door with his black bag. He worked with lepers in India - or maybe it was in Africa - in a hospital in Darwin, as a chapel warden in New Zealand. He lived in Japan for nearly 40 years yet for all that time he was on short term visas. He spoke very few words of Japanese yet, with that instinct and empathy he had, probably knew and understood Japan and its people as well as anyone.

    We - family and friends - are all part of the story: like a zealous stamp collector, John-John gathered everyone up and stuck us in the album of his phenomenal memory. He would arrive from somewhere out there in what he called the global village and, before drawing breath, the stories would begin- of the Sikh paraplegic trapeze artist, of the Australian truck driver craving a sex change, of the Japanese potter escaping his mistress's husband and running naked up the village street, of his times with Angela Carter - who said John did not realise just how original he was. The tales had no obvious beginnings and certainly no endings - deeply confusing and beguiling at the same time. It was like turning on Radio 4 on a slow afternoon, letting it all wash over you.

    Detail was of the essence- the pattern of the kitchen tiles, the crockery on the mantle piece. "You know" he'd say, rolling his eyes and about to guffaw - "She was the sort of person who would have a lilac coloured bathroom suite and drive a Mini Metro very slowly..." Shortly before he died the cook at the nursing home came inquiring about the food he wanted: "I do like your socks" he said. "And I wish I had those clown's trousers."

    He'd talk of the English disease and going on walkabout. He wanted to drive - to pick up hitchhikers and regale them with more tales: given John's very dodgy driving skills, it's not surprising there are so few hitchhikers about these days. He'd follow you down the garden: In return he'd expect hospitality - a constant supply of biscuits (chocolate digestives preferably) and pots of tea, trifle and bread and butter pudding. Various object d'art would be deposited - a stone rabbit, a phallic pepper pot, a precious chime. You'd be inveigled into various tasks. You'd never know when he'd come - or when he'd go.

    Some of us, immersed in what he'd call our humdrum lives, would grow tired - unable to give John the attention he warranted. We'd also wonder about his life - John was an artist when it came to never answering a question. We all loved him in our way: perhaps very few of us actually knew him."

    Kieran Cooke, BBC Correspondent

    John John, on his amazing folding bicyle with automatic gearbox, cycling away down a tree-lined avenue in Milton Keynes

    Friday, July 07, 2006

    a mixed bag

    It's been 6 days now since John John started out on his next intergalatic adventure, no doubt camera in hand. Since I heard the news that he had left us on planet Earth for places where one can travel without having to buy his favourite kind of ticket (that being the round-the-world airline type), I've found extracts from times spent together popping into my consciousness. The time he made two huge trifles which were put in the boot of our hire-car and driven down to the south coast of Japan along some very windy roads, the puddings slurping over the edges of their bowls; numerous trips to the 'healthy eating restaurant' in that basement in Kichijoji, or Muji where he'd always buy me an ice-cream; driving a van full of hundreds of pounds worth of huge bamboo plants across the UK, and unloading them into his living room which became an instant jungle. They were much too valuable to put in the garden in pots, and so had to stay indoors until planted! Our trip to Disneyland, the theme park upon which the rest of Japan is modelled... that was a funny day.

    Watching the Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony video became a given part of a trip round to his Kichijoji apartment. He loved it ...I can hear his voice now as he imitates the Australian commentator - he knew the script by heart!

    As I said before, John John has played a really important part in helping me to build up a relationship with Japan. He was an astute observer of Japanese society; much of what I heard from my lecturers at university I had first heard from JJ. He also enabled me to first see that it was possible to domesticate Tokyo, so that it wasn't a huge, cold sprawling metropolis to be overwhelmed by, but rather, a place that I could call home. It was through observing his relationship with the place that within days of my arrival back in 2000 I was able to make the city my own.

    What has struck me over the past week is just how many people John John has reached over the years. The variety and dispersion of friends and aquaintances is extraordainary. That will, no doubt, be demonstrated even more clearly on Monday when his physical self is laid to rest after a lifetime of dutiful service keeping up with an irrepressable spirit, in a beautiful bamboo coffin.


    Much of my time this week has been spent, unsurprisingly, in the garden. We've had some beautiful weather, and I've been able to get quite a bit done. Yesterday a member of the local wildlife trust came to visit and offer advice on how we can best manage the 4.5 acres in order to promote it as a wildlife habitat. She clearly enjoyed her two-hour tour of the garden, and was particularly delighted to find that we have more of one particularly rare (endangered) flower than can be found across the whole of South Wales!

    I've also had another toy to play with - an Allen Sythe. Whilst not terribly impressive to look at, it's performance in the field is not to be scoffed at. I managed to cut the whole meadow in under an hour with this thing. We were a bit concerned about the toads and the slow worms being harmed by the onslaught, but thankfully there was only one fatally - the dog's rubber duck lost its head!

    Speaking of fatalities, there was another this week that was very sad. One of the two kittens was hit by a car just up the road, having gone on the hunt for a Tom cat. Thankfully it was a swift death (according to the local who came to tell us). We buried her that evening in the little cat cemetry up the hill.

    My aunt and uncle came to visit the Welsh Garden Project with ma and pa a couple of days back. Lovely to see them. It's been yonks since I stopped off at theirs on my way to Japan. What lovely people they are too.

    Kanji: The Heisig method is truly remarkable, and I wish I'd done the course two years ago. I'm just approaching the end of week three now, and have learnt the meaning and writing of 698 kanji, many of which I have not studied before. 50 per day every weekday. The real test is of course whether or not I can remember them after some time delay - and I can, without mistakes in the vast majority of cases. I would never have believed that it really is possible to learn 250 kanji per week... but it is. I spend about 4 hours a day studying - half of that time is spent learning new ones with the book, a paper and pen, whilst the other two hours is spent reviewing the kanji using the excellent review software and a tablet pc thing.

    I recieved a nice surprise this morning in the form of 500 pounds from my local education authority. It's a grant (i.e. doesn't have to be paid back), to help me buy a new computer prepare for Japan. It's great timing, as my Certificate of Eligibility (a document issued by my Japanese uni to enable me to apply for my student visa) arrives tomorrow via superfast registered mail. Thus, I will have all of the paperwork necessary to get my visa, and can set a date for departure, and therefore, buy my ticket. Money always comes in handy for that sort of thing.

    It's been almost three weeks now since I saw *twinkle*, and I'm missing her :-( We'll see each other on Monday at John John's farewell, but then going our seperate ways again. I think I'll be heading up to Sheffield in a couple of weeks for graduation ceremonies. Hopefully not to retake my spring semester exams - results are published in 3 days (arghhh!)

    I won't be updating TDM now for a few days, as I will be in the internet wilderness until next Tuesday. This weekend sees my dear friend Catherine celebrate her birthday, so I'm off to yee oldy agricultural city of Hereford to partake in 'stuff'

    Hhmm, so life's a real old mixed bag at the moment.

    Take care out there


    Sunday, July 02, 2006

    a soul moves on

    A month and a day ago I wrote about dear John John. I had just received a phone call from a family friend telling me that JJ was not at all well; he had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. This came pretty much out of the blue, a month or two previously he's been ok, but then came down with pneumonia - it was this that had brought him back to the UK for treatment in the first place.

    Tonight, I received another call, to let me know that John John passed away this afternoon.

    I don't know what to say as I can't really think. I can't quite believe it. The idea of him not being around just does not fit in with my reality...

    I was able to speak with John but 36 hours ago, something I am very grateful for. He was very sweet, so gentle and kind, asking me how I was, and telling me to give his love to my 'better half', *twinkle*, whom he met a couple of weeks ago.

    John John, you will be sorely missed. You have been an integral part of my Japan ever since I first went there, and a big part of my warm feeling for the country stems from the welcome you always extended to me whenever I visited. Your memory will live on for many many years.

    You will be sorely missed.

    John John on his famous yellow bicycle in Kichijoji, Summer 2005.