Goodbye to England, and Hello to my sister

Here we are then, all set. My big bag is now down to 23kg, my two carry on bags about 500kg each. I’ve checked in online – seat 40k, just behind the right-hand wing, by the window.

It’s been a really ‘full’ day. It’s featured a lot of packing and repacking, backing up data, eating, thinking and feeling funny. And a final visit to our wedding oak, which is doing well in the Millennium Wood.

This morning, mum No.2 and her daughter (old school friend) came round to eat cake and say goodbye. That was very much appreciated.

I’m very excited, but nervous too. My schedule for the first couple of weeks is already pretty jam-packed – the result of a long wait (of 13 months) by *Twinkle* to have me back in the country.

I think I’m more prepared for this trip than any other before now. I have a clear picture of what needs doing when. The reality that awaits me is already a reality in my head, based on my knowledge and experience of the places I need to go, the people I need to see, the things I need to do. There’s not much by way of unknowns, just lots of knowns – in a new context.

I’ve enjoyed being around mum and dad today. They’ve been very well-behaved, and supportive of me in my state of change. Thank you both. Dad has also written a little card for me with some things to keep in mind. I’m touched by how appropriate it is, and will carry it with me, referring to it when need be in Japan. Mum has also helped me a great deal, as mentioned below. Thanks mum.


Today has been a very unusual day, in that as well as my preparing to leave for a new life in Japan, I have spent a good deal of time getting to know my sister, Catherine. Catherine, who bravely battled against a complex mental illness, committed suicide at the age of fifteen – I was three at the time. I remember virtually nothing of her life or death, but have always felt close to her. I’m told that we were close. I’ve long known that at some point I would need to form a new relationship with her.

The timing may seem strange, but it was only last night, during a coaching session, that it became apparent that it had to be now. I won’t be back here for a long time, and this is the place where her belongings, letters, and the diary in which she write of her feelings during her final few months, are recorded.

I read them all, and made digital copies of those that struck me as especially important, in order that I can think on them more in Japan. I also packed the blanket that she made for me, and from which I couldn’t be parted as a child. I had been planning to leave it here in the UK.

Catherine really was very brave. The letters of condolence from people who worked with her were full of praise for her friendly, caring, thoughtful manner. But behind her smile there was a huge battle taking place. It’s only today, reading her diary and talking to mum for a couple of hours that I have started to get an idea of just how hard life was for her.

Catherine lives on in all of us siblings, and in our parents too. I’ve long felt supported by her, and I hope that through the work I’ll be doing over the next few weeks, I can start to feel settled in my relationship with her.

I’ll do my absolute best to make this new life something wonderful that benefits all those that know me.

An Amazing Adventure

Amazing day. A true adventure.

Following 20 hours of non-stop activity I am pretty out of it, but I’d like to note down a few things from today that really struck me as pretty damn wonderful.

It all started at 6am, I’m up to drive to the kitchen at the community centre where the sushi is prepared. 6.30am, I’m at our first outlet, stocking their fridge. I met them for the first time two weeks ago. We see each other for 5 minutes three times a week, so that means I’ve spent 30 minutes with them in total.

Today, they ask me about Japan – what’s it like teaching there? That’s a great conversation, all three of us fully engaged as the salmon wraps go on the top shelf and California Sunrise below. The owner’s sister-in-law worked there – yeah, loved it! Maybe we’ll move out there when the lease on this place expires! I leave there feeling really happy. Things are good.

At 7am I’m at the third outlet. We chat too. I like him. He picks me up on little errors, is often concerned about temperatures, but I’m confident in what I’m doing, and I feel he trusts me now. I can be frank with him, it’s great to talk. Meaningful ‘thank you’s and ‘goodbyes’ – real effort on his part to make eye contact, and say thank you with his face as well as words. I feel appreciated. I return with the same heartfelt thanks.

8.30am: I’m at uni now, in our CELTA portacabin. I love seeing my coursemates every day.

Does anyone have any sleep I can borrow?

We help each other out with lesson plans. We laugh and joke. We’re on this journey together, and I tell you, it really does feel like a true journey. The landscape is changing around us the more we learn. We’re all starting to come into our own. Caw blimey everyone should do this!

10.30am and I need to get down to the station for my train to London. I shouldn’t really miss a day of the course at all, but I need to apply for the visa in person, and today is the only day we have no Teaching Practice. “Good luck! Good luck!” my coursemates tell me as I leave via the back door.

10.35am: I’m walking down West Street, and see the university’s Pro-vice Chancellor of Learning and Teaching on his phone as he crosses the road a little behind me. I want to thank him – we got to know one another through my work as a CILASS Student Ambassador, and the last time I saw him was on stage at my graduation ceremony: he made a special effort to whisper his congrats and give me a big grin as I walked past – he’s such a nice guy. He asks me what’s next for me: I tell him, and he’s really happy. We say goodbye – I thank him for his kindness, and as he continues down the road, in my head I tell him that people like him are what make Sheffield Uni so welcoming.

We’re on the train to London now. Sitting opposite me is a man with an iPod, playing his music so loud I feel like I’m the one wearing the headphones. I can’t help but laugh at the irony of the situation: the headphone’s he’s using are actually mine – him having asked if he could borrow them a few minutes beforehand.

But the music doesn’t distract me for long: an Indian family come and sit in the seats surrounding us. They speak part English, part something else. The 19-year-old daughter, and mother start to play the card game Uno. ten minutes later I find myself bursting out laughing with the rest of the family as the mother, who is being thrashed by her daughter, keeps on making silly mistakes (like saying “Uno” – only to have it pointed out to her that she has two cards in her hand, not one!). The score at the end: 565 to 28. We all wish each other the best as we get off the train in London. (10 hours later we are to meet again on the return train).

I’m at the Japanese embassy. I recognise the security guards and like to think that they recognise me – of course they don’t. Once scanned, I’m in, press the button for a ticket for the visa section: no sooner do I have ’47’ in my hand than ’47’ flashes up on the “next” sign.

The chap taking my application for a spouse visa is very friendly. We chat about our respective degrees whilst he meticulously checks the great pile of documents I’ve provided. I accidentally give him the wrong bank book – he is wondering how I am going to convince them that 417 yen (£2) is going to keep me going for a month. I swap it with the post office book, we laugh.

Everything is in order, I reckon we can have this in the post to you tomorrow, he tells me. I’m delighted. In the midst of the mirth the person at the next counter turns to me, “hello Joseph!”. It’s a Japanese friend from Sheffield. Funny, I’d expected to see someone from Sheffield here. We sit down and talk about his plans for the summer – he’s off to see a match at Wembley tonight, then tomorrow, Penzance.

Before I leave the embassy, I ask if Stephen is in today. Stephen is the legend. He has provided me with so much advice, help and support as I’ve prepared for my visa application, and I want to thank him in person. He appears at the window, a little bashful as I thank him. “Looking forward to your next podcast!” he tells me. “Me too! (as soon as I have time for it!) I reply.

I leave, grateful, and careful to say goodbye and thank you to the security guards who I like to think know me, but who don’t.

I’m then getting off the Tube at the wrong stop and trudging for about 45 mins in search of the river Thames. I’m starting to slip into that old thinking mode: I’m tired, Im lost, I’m not going to find a cafe round here. But then I catch myself. I stop, stand still. How about if I approach this in a different way? How about ‘I’m heading straight towards the place I need to go, although I don’t know where that is yet. The exercise is good for me, I enjoy exploring London.’

suddenly, things are a lot easier.

Eventually I find myself in Trafalgar Square. There’s a bookshop, and in the bookshop, a cafe. Perfect. I order some italian milkshake, shake all the sugar off my chair and onto the sugared carpet, and get my pen and paper out. Time for some lesson planning.

The train journey had provided me with ample opportunity for brainstorming – an idea was now taking shape as to how this lesson could look. I scribble it all down. I’m there for two hours. Writing. Thinking. Listening to Patrick, the little 4 year old at the table next to mine with his mum and dad. He’s really happy watching the cars through the window.

Look! A blue one!

Oh, it’s gone now. Mum, the blue car’s gone!

The two Scottish businessmen on my right have been here since I arrived, slagging off their clients.

“I get angry with my colleagues too. They just can’t do it right, I can’t trust them, so I do it myself”. 

I’m happy i don’t work for them.

I turn back to the child talk, it’s like the pot of gold at the other end of a rainbow that has somehow found itself with one foot in an oil-slick.

Piccadilly Circus next for Curry Rice. It’s a genuine Japanese restaurant. Not a Chinese Japanese restaurant or a British Japanese restaurant but a real Japanese one. The staff are Japanese, and so is the curry rice. It tastes like home.

I’m full, and standing watching the crowds go by. Wow! It’s exhilarating! So many amazing stories walking by! I want to film it and speed it up. But I don’t.

If I had a tripod it would be ok. I could pretend I was a film-maker then. But filming handheld I’d probably get arrested as a terror suspect.

I have two hours until my train – back to St Pancras International – and what a beautiful station it is since the trains to Paris came to call it home last November. I sit in Costa Coffee, still devising my lesson plan whilst trying not to listen to the conversation being held by the Japanese couple beside me. I can’t not listen! In the end, I move to the other end of the cafe.

I’m happy to see the train back to Sheffield is one of the new models = power socket for laptop = can work more on my lesson plan. I do. There’s a man opposite me who’s also got a laptop. It’s a Dell. Then a man on the table the other side of the corridor gets his out and starts to type. As if in response to this two more men then appear and plonk a shared Sony Vaio down. We look quite funny, A lady walking by stops and laughs,

“Look at you boys with your toys. Is this some kind of competition?!”

The man opposite me smiles and says, “Mine’s bigger than theirs!”.

I respond by stroking my MacBook in mock-seduction, “Yes, but it’s not necessarily size that counts…”

The carriage is filled with laughter. The woman moves on. We men now pretend that it didn’t happen.

On the two hour journey home I near the completion of my lesson plan. It’s been real fun, and I feel it’s a good plan. Yep, I’ve achieved a lot today.

As the train pulls into Sheffield a man runs down the aisle with a coffee, shouting “F*ck!”. We smile, pack our laptops away, and head out onto the concourse. I feel music is needed to accompany my walk up through town to the SushiMobile. Ah yes, I was going to associate this time with the new Coldplay album wasn’t I?

And then there I am, walking up past the illuminated fountains, listening to the first track on the album. …and I’d not noticed this before, but crikey, this first instrumental track really does sum it all up! There’s the sense of a great history of ‘stuff’ leading to this moment (a moment lasting several weeks), this moment marking the dawning of a new and truly exciting era. But it’s not all about anticipation, it’s glorious and exciting in itself, every bit!

I think back on the day. I’d met so many people, so many lovely, kind, funny, happy people. Even people who might in some novels be thought of as insignificant extras – like the man in the Post office who sold me the Recorded Delivery pack for my passport. I forget what it was that he said to me, but it was kind, and not in his job description – I appreciated that.

And now finally, I’m here, in bed. *Twinkle* is with me (via emails to and from her mobile), telling me to go to sleep and blog tomorrow. (I can’t, I need to let it out, it’s been such a good day).

None of this would have been possible without other people. And with only a couple of exceptions, that’s other people who were and who basically still are complete strangers, whom I will never see again. Together, this amazing pattern has been woven. Bloomin marvellous.

LIfe. I highly recommend it.

(OK *Twinkle*, I’ll go to bed now…)

Night Night.

Ittekimasu!

Ittekimasu is what Japanese people say when they are leaving the hosue. It literally means, “I’m going, and I’ll come back”.

I’m off to Heathrow – *Twinkle* should be touching down in just under three hours. It’s terminal 5 – let’s hope the wedding dress makes it too!

xxx

Train Story

hereford station_8704

Back on the train today, heading for Bristol to find some clothes that might be suitable for a wedding (our wedding). It’s been an interesting journey so far. Started in the musty waiting room on platform two – a forgotten waiting room. No matter how long the wait or how bad the weather, no one goes in there. The space just hangs, not moving, only nudged by the occasional tannoy announcement.

Attached to the wall of the forgotten waiting room are three glass-fronted notice boards: inside them a series of photos depicting the station as it has changed over time. Apparently, it was built as a temporary stop in the mid-1850s, serving as the terminal station for three different lines that ran on different gauges. I found it interesting that health and safety officials were active even back then – in the years after the station’s opening they demanded that the platforms be rearranged so as to prevent accidental deaths.

Looking at those photos of folks waiting for trains in the late 1800s and early 1900s made me wonder what life was like for them. They must have had very different concerns, and I’m sure lived much more in the present than we do now. I wonder how changes in circumstance have changed us in terms of fundamental beliefs and spiritual values, Were they more in tune with spirit back then than we are now? Have the distractions of modern life left us disconnected with source? Difficult to know. I guess I could go and take the Connection Test on spirit.com to find out.

Boarding the train, I found an empty table and took a seat. I was listening to my iPod – an audiobook featuring the 81 verses of the Tao. I find it very calming. The message ‘none of this matters’ is repeated again and again, and helps me to let go of any stress I may have attached to my daily to-do list. It’s liberating to be reminded that it’s not really about achievement, success or possession. It’s just about being, now. Sometimes it’s difficult having that as a core belief when society dictates something else.

orcop from train_8703
The hill on which I live, as seen from the train

I was soon joined by a family of three: mum, dad and 17-year-old daughter Holly. They were on their way to an open day at Swansea University, which has lower entrance requirements that Birmingham (where Holly really should go because it has the best neuroscience department). Best to have a back-up plan in case Holly doesn’t get straight ‘A’s for her exams, but we know you’ll get those, won’t you Holly?

I sat next to them in silence for a long time, listening to mother doing enough talking for all three of them. It was clear that she was the boss. The exact opposite of her withdrawn husband, she had opinions on everything, and especially what Holly wants to do with her the rest of her life.

I wondered at what age Holly will rebel. She’s still at home, still under her mother’s spell at the moment. But when she gets to uni it will all change. She’ll give up Polo and take up drinking. She’ll decide that actually she hasn’t the slightest bit of interest in neuroscience, pack her bags and go travelling around India with her new boyfriend. One year later she’ll write home, a scribbled message on the back of a photo of her 4-week-old baby – she’s now in Malaysia where she’s set up a school for impoverished children.

We were ten minutes from my stop, a good time to start a conversation. I wasn’t so interested with what Mother had to say, I was more interested in what Holly really thought about uni. Looking Holly in the eye, I told her that I had a couple of friends who went to Swansea – they’d loved it. She was about to reply when Mother jumped in, and for the next ten minutes told me about her friend who had a problem with snails eating their vegetables.

That threw me. The monologue lasted ten minutes. I wished Holly well, said goodbye to mother and father, and alighted at Newport.

And here I am, on the train for Bristol (currently under the river Severn).

The plan today is to spend some quality time with Tim, Mel and Callum, and buy my wedding outfit. I have a good feeling about this.

Tarra

[EDIT]

Anonymous has rightly pointed out that I could have read Holly and her mum all wrong – (s)he has an alternative reading of the situation in the comments section.

This prompted me to take another look at Holly and her mother, and in this time, I found something very different…

“…Maybe, just maybe, her overbearing mother is actually a superhero, who is usually to be found leaping between tree tops in the Amazon in a bid to save the rainforest.

She lives on a diet of raw cocoa and hippo milk (the secret to her super powers) and does battle with illegal loggers who visit the region in order to supply Harrods with expensive furniture. Her greatest weapon is a sonic boom which she emits by saving her vocal cords for three days, releasing all the energy at once.

She has saved over 30,000 hectares of pristine forest in this way.

By day, she is mother to Holly.”

Parting

So here we are WigStylers, back in my hometown. I mean, home village. It’s been a manic few days, what with my travelling by train or car hundreds of miles to the three corners of the UK (Sheffield, London, Hereford) to meet important people, give presentations, pack all my belongings and move house.

In the past 24 hours I’ve given away at least half of all of my worldy stuff. I find it has to be done in stages. On the first day I can only dispose of those things that I have no emotional attachment to and have no use for, but by day three I’m giving away things I’ve had for years, presents from friends and family, valuable stuff that I could use but would cost too much to send to Japan.

It hurts to part with some of these things, but I think it’s healthy. I don’t want to be dependent upon ‘stuff’ for happiness in life. All of these belongings will find new homes thanks to the local charity shops.

Having said that, I can’t live without my Macbook so no, you can’t have it.

The remaining three boxes await Yamato Kuro Neko (Japan’s No.1 courier which also has an office in the UK, Tel 01753 657 688) who will come and pick them up to Ship to Japan at the end of the month (£50 for a 25kg box by surface mail, £80 by airmail).

It’s good to have left Broad Lane Court. I feel I’m able to get a bit more closure on my uni years and associated projects. With no base there any more, I feel able to shift my energy and attention down to Herefordshire (and of course the wedding). I do still have three Sheffield-based projects left to deal with, but am working on that. 

Need to get it all done ASAP, *Twinkle* arrives in 8 days, and I still have a wedding to sort out. 
It’s a pretty wiggy time though. I think life is going to get even more interesting from here on. 
I wonder where I’ll be a year from now…