Well then folks. This is it. Final bit of shut-eye before the big event, which kicks off in about 13 hours.

I’ve reached that stage now of having gone beyond preparation, a kind of, “Well, if I don’t know it now, I’ll never know it!” type waiting-stage. Yesterday I gave a performance for mum’s #2 & 3, and I must say, it was pretty confidence inspiring, a world of difference from a week ago. I no longer feel the need to hold onto the script for security, and I actually enjoy telling the story. I sometimes get a couple of similar sentences muddled up, but I won’t do that tomorrow, and if I do, it won’t matter. I also have a list of about eight questions drawn up which I may be asked in the Q & A session afterwards, with keywords that may come in handy. Let’s hope they at least choose a couple of them.

I spoke to one of the co-ordinators today at the Japan Foundation to check whether it was OK for my uncle to attend too – he was so friendly and reassuring, and yes, it’s ok if I’m accompanied by three relatives. I also enquired as to whether any of the embassy staff will be there. Yes, they will, two of them – and one of them is one of the five judges. I recognise her name and I’m pretty sure I’ve dealt with her in the past as she works in the cultural section (the folks who lend out cultural artifacts to Japan societies around the UK). It helps me if I can feel that the people I’m performing for are my friends.

Today has been a very tiring day. I thought it might be nice for mum and dad to be in the audience for the final at Imperial College London, as until now they have had virtually nothing to do with my university course other than helping me move my stuff to Sheffield and back every year. Thus, the three of us piled onto a train for London just after lunch, and settled back for the 4-hour trip. Dad of course spent quite a bit of time talking with strangers, making risque remarks in a bid to be friendly and strike up conversations. I thought he covered himself quite well after he accidentally called the lady in her 50s opposite him a ‘little old woman’. Sometimes he reminds me of David Brent.

And sometimes he reminds me of me. Perhaps that’s why I had to hide behind my laptop screen. I see in him so much of myself – stepping over the line, attempting to break down social barriers that are otherwise respected as the norm. I admire that to a certain extent, but I’m also grateful to be given the opportunity to see that it can be taken too far.

Father, pretending to be 7 years old

Having got into Paddington Station we had to take a tube, and then another train to my uncle’s house here in Croydon where we’re staying tonight (it’s actually dad’s family home – he lived here from about 1950. Not far away is the house mum lived in when they met).

The station at the heart of mum and dad’s ‘courting grounds’ in the early 1960s

That journey across London was possibly the most stressful experience I’ve had in the past few months, and by the end of it I was just exhausted, and had a banging headache. It wasn’t the crowds – it was my dear parents! I felt like I was accompanying 10 small children, constantly trying to keep them under control and focused on the job in hand (getting across London). I won’t go into details, but just to say that I am insisting that they make their own way to Imperial College tomorrow (I’ve bought them their tickets and printed out detailed travel plans for them, and they’ll be accompanied by my uncle, who I don’t think realises what he’s signed up for). I will leave an hour or so before them as all speech contest finalists are going for a meal together beforehand.

It really struck me today just how much grown-ups (in this case my parents) are really no more adult than the little children that they were 5 decades ago. Perhaps its age-related regression, but observing them today I found myself thinking time and time again just how much like ‘free’ children they were, in a way. Free in their actions, albeit not quite so free in terms of life-induced anxieties.

Father eats marmite from the jar by the knifeful

That’s something I’ve come to feel a lot more keenly lately, that really, when it comes to spirit, the core of a person, older people are no more grown up or ‘adult’ than me, because at heart we are all children. We may pretend otherwise by putting on some attitude of grown-up-ness, but beneath that, aside from acquired knowledge and experience, at the core, there’s no difference between myself and someone in their 70s. ‘Old people’ are not from another galaxy, they’re just like me. Like me, they too are constantly learning, wondering, exploring, adapting to changing times. The child in them lives on, albeit in a frame that is a little more frail.

That helps me feel better about growing old too. 🙂

Anyway, I’d best rest. It’s going to be an even longer day tomorrow!

xxx joseph

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