Sunday, December 31, 2006

A potter in the mountains

Last day of the new year, and not one I will look back on with completely unmixed affection, though there have been some excellent parts too, such as my holiday in Guernsey with my family... And this trip to Japan is an excellent way to end it.

Today we took Jennifer off to the shinkansen station in Kakegawa as she is returning to Hong Kong. After we said goodbye to Jennifer (who I always think of as Jen-i-fah wa? or where`s Jennifer? a refrain of Hiroko's when we were travelling) we sloped off for some more food. This time I tried a Japanese curry with udon noodles. Not so wild about this meal as some of the others. And we ate in a restaurant which made me feel like Gulliver in Lilliput as the space was so cramped, and barging around makes the locals snicker.

Then up to Kakegawa castle which was closed, but we had a really lovely view there over town and the mountains around.

We took a scenic drive back home, through the hills and got slightly lost. However we found a potter`s studio ideally situated on the side of a mountain. He had been in London and spoke some English and we had a really nice chat about writing and the pottery he had seen in England. He said he had wanted to be a writer, and then turned to pottery. His work was very nice, but nothing grabbed me completely apart from some tea bowls which were prohibitively expensive but had an utterly beautiful cracked glaze finish.

He said that his area was very dark at night and the stars were bright. For some reason I told him that he caught the darkness in the bottom of his pots, and he seemed to like this.

Hiroko knew him vaguely too - which was interesting considering we had been lost.

Home and another massive feast, which I took a photograph of. Toby and I phoned Mum and then settled down to a few drinks and to watch a TV show which is a national institution on New Year's Eve. A programme with dozens of singers appealing to all generations, and split into red and white teams for some sort of sing off at the end.

And so to bed.

Below a bite to eat on the kotatsu local graveyard, Kakegawa Castle,

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A party in Makinohara

A slightly sluggish start to the day. Managed to avoid going to the onsen (baths) again, with the ladies, but I have now run out of excuses and will have to waddle forth among the petite and slim Japanese like a Sumo any day now.

For some reason had an upset stomach this morning but this was fixed by a bowl of udon noodles in a delicious soupy broth. We went to Hiroko`s favourite noodle place nearby, not flashy but really tasty grub.

Home again after a spot of food shopping, and as Hiroko began her preparations for a party this evening, Toby Romy and me sloped off for a walk. Warm sunny weather during the day here, unlike the very chilly nights. Came across a couple of local temples and discovered a crystal clear pond full of beautiful koi.

Yet another nap, and Toby woke me up to join the gathering party. About ten of Hiroko`s friends including Mr Sizuki from last night, this time with Mrs Sizuki, and some other gents. Got talking to one very nice retired teacher, called Kenjiro Kasahara who Hiroko told me later had won a medal from the Emperor last year for his services to Education. He told me that Japanese is a very difficult language to learn. For example, the names of the numbers change depending on the nature of the objects you are counting.

Romy and me tormenting Toby about his email writing skills. My brother has a PhD in Literature but finds it hard to go beyond the two line mark. Today is Mum`s birthday, so Toby set about sending a long email. Things kept corrupting however on the computer, and after five attempts he gave up enraged. I managed to send one first time, which may not have helped. As I did so Mr Sizuki sang a Japanese version of Happy Birthday, which was nice of him.

He is a lovely man, although a bit twitchy and full of physical tics. He is very funny though. He was making pig noses at me companionably as we have both discovered that we are boars, and next year is Year of the Boar, which the Japanese have borrowed from Chinese culture.

Lots of lovely food, including scallops which were brought by a guest and were so fresh that they were still alive when Hiroko was cleaning them. She cooked them in a lovely white sauce, and also she made some lasagna for her guests, which was a much appreciated delicacy.

And so to bed, after another fascinating day in Japan.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Of snow and eel intestines

My cold somewhat abated, I got up just before dawn and opened the curtains, then climbed back into bed to watch the falling snow. Kyoto is bordered on three sides with mountains and gets very wintery.

Met Toby Romy and Hiroko and we set off in the cold to a nearby Starbucks which overlooked the snowy river, and was a wonderful place to enjoy hot cofee. Toby busy saying it was the world`s best Starbucks and he is probably right. Thus fortified we went back to the hotel to pack. Popped out then to a particularly lovely shop to look again at its prints and brushes and expensive pottery.

Then after settling-up at the hotel, we taxied to our final temple. Sanjusangen-do was unheated and freezing. Inside was a structure like a long wooden football terrace, with 1000 life size sculptures of the Buddhist deity called Kannon. They flank one enormous seated deity. Spaced between them are a 28 other deities representing thunder, wind and other forces of nature. The sculptures were made in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Quite intimidating to be stared at by such ranks of sculptures, and Toby pointed out it would be a very creepy place to be alone in at night.

We then went to the shinkansen station, buying bento boxes full of goodies to eat on the train, apparently a very Japanese experience. It was snowing quite heavily as we zoomed in comfort from Kyoto - a total white out at one point. But after half an hour or so travelling north the snow had given out, and by the time we reached Hiroko's city of Makinohara in her car, it was a crystal clear sunny day.

It allowed us beautiful views of Mount Fuju, or Fuji-san, as they call it here respectfully. No wonder it dominates Japanese consiousness so much. As Japan's tallest mountain, and in it`s most populated region, it`s snowy volcanic peak is visible to many millions and is wonderfully proportioned.

Much needed napping in the afternoon (as I seem to be suffering from some sort of narcolepsy). In the evening off to the counterbar owned by the Yoshimuras again. This time joined by some classmates of Hiroko's brother. One of whom Sizuki-san was so drunk, having been at a funeral all day, that he fell off the platform we were eating from twice, the second time taking Hiroko with him. This recieved with general good humour and laughter all round. Loads of interesting food. Mr Sizuki has promised to take us on a trip, and was impressed with our enjoyment of Japan.

One delicacy Hiroko encouraged me to eat was fried eel intestines, which tasted rather like liver. Not a dish I will be hurrying to repeat. Everything else however lovely. Lots of beer and sake and generally a good night had by all.

Below the 1001 statues at Sanjusangen-do (nicked from the internet as you can't take photos in the temple). A meal with the classmates. Clockwise from bottom left: Jennifer; Hiroko; Mr Suzuki (shortly before falling off the platform); a classmate of Hiroko's brother and his future son in law; Glamourous classmate; Toby and Romy.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A climb up monkey mountain

Somewhat worse for wear this morning - a hangover, a gathering cold and jetlag all making themselves felt. Undeterred I was up with the lark and Toby and Romy and I went off for more coffee and a walk through the pine tree planted gardens of the old imperial palace.

We also stopped off at the same early morning coffee shop, Toby kicking me in the shins because I was staring at a man on a nearby table openly reading soft porn first thing in the morning.

Felt full of ideas about how to re-engineer my working life this morning and Toby and Romy were inspiring me.

Back to the hotel and collected Hiroko (chuckling guiltily about how rough around the edges we felt) and met Jennifer. Another taxi ride to the Golden Temple. Literally a golden temple that gleamed across a lake that could have been designed by Roger Dean with tiny islands and strategically placed rocks that seemed to be afloat in the water. At this temple Romy went for her third attempt at getting a satisfactory fortune, and this time managed it. I bought a long life and good health charm for myself.

Then a walk through the intermittent rain to Ryoanji temple with its famous rock garden of raked gravel and big moss dotted stones. Behind the temple was a wash basin bearing the legend "I learn only to be contented". Then another taxi to Koryuji temple full of marvellous wooden sculptures of the Buddha and other subjects. I stared at one Buddha so long that I felt that at any moment he was going to open his eyes.

Then off for another meal. This one eating at a low table, and Tobs and me creaking slightly trying to fit around it and eat with dignity. Had a slightly runny chicken sauce thing with sticky rice and it was really nice.

Cold beginning to hold sway over me but was rewarded after a stiff twenty minute climb up a small mountain to discover a troupe of 150 red faced Japanese monkeys and an awe inspiring view of Kyoto. Much playing with monkeys and feeding them from the safety of a wire windowed shack.

We taxied back to the hotel then, but my adventures were over for the day. As my cold kicked in and Romy got me a bento box of tasty Japanese fast food and I sipped tea and sniffed until about 8.00pm when I slept like a log. The temperature plummeting outside.

Below The Golden Temple, the stone garden, and nuff monkeys.

Four windows in Kyoto

Below maneki neko lucky cats, fine books, and two arty shots: a portentous "reflections on Japan" self portrait, and an arty, rather zen shot representing the aching void at the heart of human experience.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A day of wonders

Woke in the middle of the night and wrote a poem, then up again at 6 to catch up on my diary, which is eventually making its way to this blog when I get the opportunity. Set off out into Kyoto with Toby and Romy early. Lovely sunny morning. The hotel is near a river and it looked at times like a woodblock print because of all the birds seeming like emblems of Japan. There were big black crows, snow white cranes standing next to dignified herons, black snakey necked cormorants. And scooting about on the water were the odd familiar mallard. Ghosting about above were hawks of some description which our taxi driver said had come to feed on rubbish.

Kyoto is a lovely city. We threaded through backstreets which reminded me faintly of Paris until we found a coffee shop run by a very pleasant lady, and dominated by a big stuffed seabass.

We returned to the hotel, met up with Hiroko and Jennifer and set off for the historic part of town. The loveliness of Kyoto had not prepared me for the historic part of town. It is simply stunning. Everything seems to have been art directed by the Gods. Attention to detail is everywhere and where there is an opportunity for colours to harmonise it is taken. For example we stopped for some tea at some point in a little tea shop. The foamy tea was pea green and they had selected just the right bowl to set off the colours. Even their clothes and the colours of the walls harmonised. The Japanese aesthetic is so finely tuned. Wonderful.

We started off by being dropped in a narrow climbing street flanked with perfect little shops and walked uphill to a Buddhist temple called Kiyomizu Dera. It is a complex of buildings dominated by a bright red three storied pagoda, and the amazing Hondo -- the wooden temple structure. At most temples you can get your fortune by paying a few yen and selecting a boxwood stick from a tube that you shake. Hiroko translated mine and it was a very good one I got a good fortune luckily. If you don`t like your reading you can tie it to a tree or a frame at the temple and leave it behind you. Which Romy did with her one.

Then we went to the spring where people were enthusiastically gulping the water from the mountain. After this temple we walked for hours, down little sloping stone paved streets, pausing here and there at a series of breathtaking temples. I remember standing in one, copying the locals by washing myself in incense smoke and having a wonderful moment of stillness and cheer. Life seemed very good and full of possibilities. Then we threaded along by a long stream called the philosopher`s walk and ended up at Hiroko's favourite: the silver temple Ginkakuji. I will post lots of photos when I get back to England here. It is not actually silver, but is reckoned by the discerning to be one of the best.

We`d stopped off for some noodles and after the silver temple headed back to the hotel.

In the evening we regrouped in the wonderful hotel bar and gargled down G&Ts, (Hiroko had something called a Salty Dog). Then we wandered down to an area Pontocho Alley - a bustling narrow street lined with restaurants. Lots of red lanterns, guys talking on mobile phones, and a group of drunken young salarymen all dressed nearly identically.

We went to an Italian restaurant, ate raw fish and traditional "western" delicacies such as croquette potatoes, garlic bread, and pieces of pizza eaten with chopsticks were found among other Japanese food.

After supper the others went home and Hiroko and me set off for some karaoke. Drink, it has to be said, had been taken. As you know, I have many talents, but singing is not one of them. It is a surprisingly penetrating but tuneless drone. Anyway we found an intimate little room and we sat down at the bar (the only seats in the place) and the two of us had many drinks and sung the night away. I pause now to remember my execrable version of Buffalo Soldier by the immortal Bob Marley, complete with faux Jamaican stylings and my toes are curling like Catherine wheels. And the less said about my essays into the Lennon McCartney songbook the better. Hiroko however has a wondrous singing voice and received warm applause each time she sang. We had an excellent night, Hiroko flirting with a silver haired fox of a gent who turned out to be an author, and me chatting with the barmaid and everyone in the tiny bar. Alcohol is the best translator.

Lurched back late with Hiroko to the Hotel some time after midnight. Toby has a most excellent mother in law when it comes to having a night on the town.

Below some Maiko speeding by in rickshaws like filmstars. Hiroko: "ugly". Stone paved streets, a massive temple gateway. Toby and Romy having climbed the gateway, the Silver Temple Ginkakuji.

Kyoto Karaoke

Below charming silver-haired fox of a gentleman who kept calling me my boy, a blurry singer, Hiroko duetting with the s-h f, the charming barmaid posing for the camera.

At Kiyomizu Dera

Below up the hill to the temple. The gateway, the pagoda, Romy having recieved a bad fortune leaves it tied in the temple, a passerby encounters a dragon, the taking the purifying waters from the clear springs.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A night in Kyoto

Having to type this hurriedly in the foyer of the Kyoto Hotel Okura.

A night of terrible dreams with the constant theme of things getting out of control. Slugged about this morning till Hiroko prompted us to start our journey to Kyoto. She had been cooking in the night and we set off armed with a variety of edible delights for our journey.

Drove to the shinkansen station sitting in the front next to Hiroko. She is a fascinating person, last night she showed me a copy of her book of essays called "I am the D51" which is the name of a railway engine and a reference in part to her travelling the world when she was in her twenties in the 1960s.

Onto the shinkansen and rifled south through the eastern coastal plain. Looking out eastwards from the train there is flatness - heavily populated with scraps everywhere of agriculture. To the west there is a long line of pristine rain blurred mountains. Then through Nagoya, a big treeless, packed-looking city. Spent most of the journey gawping from the window and tucking into Hiroko's seaweed wrapped rice balls, filled at the centre with a little smoked bonito fish. Yum.

Into Kyoto and taxied through the bustling and upmarket shopping district to our hotel. The hotel dates from the 1930s and is quite grand in the lobby at least. Jennifer staying at another hotel.

After dropping stuff off in our rooms, Romy and Toby and myself set off for a walk in the afternoon rain. Wonderful time walking down long historic roofed arcades. A multitude of small shops selling everything from prints and calligraphy brushes to food and fish; shops selling miso from big barrels, and fish and seafood everywhere in all varieties. Dried bonito very popular which was shredded in one place to look exactly like wood shavings, and is used as a stock base for soups.

Found myself instantly falling in love with Kyoto and became spellbound by most ordinary things. The streets are incredibly safe, the people are very pleasant and polite, and the women very beautiful.

Stopped off for some coffee and creap in a chilled cafe then home to the hotel to enjoy a swift shower and went to meet Hiroko for a pre-meal drink. We four had a brilliant time drinking gin and tonic (Hiroko quaffing something called a salty dog), and chatting and laughing in this grand wood-filled bar. Our seats were by windows looking down at the rainsoaked, brighly-lit streets, and the only other people there were two older and important gents sunk in deep chairs by the bar. It was an excellent moment.

Eventually we pushed off, when Jennifer arrived, to search for food. Ended up scurrying in the rain between to roofed arcades, and ended up in a fairly modest place, but still had lots of fun.

Back to the hotel early for bed. Not before again enjoying my Japanese toilet. It has a heated seat and will jet surprisingly well-targeted spouts of water into your nether regions at the press of a button.

Below pillow origami in my hotel, my favourite train ever: the shinkansen, a random Kyoto streetshot, a vat of miso paste, and a Pachinko parlour - a extremely popular pursuit involving ball bearings and slot machines. The music inside was at a deafening volume, and the word Pachinko sounds like the "kerch-ing!" of winning.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Kanpai Christmas

Slept fairly heavily and well on my futon, getting up at around seven. Hiroko was up and Romy off walking one of the dogs. Sitting companionably around the kotatsu (which squeaks with hiding cats when you put your feet under it) we watched some TV. Some mentions of Melly Ch`istmas! here and there among TV articles about a local woman jazz singers dying of cancer, with the scowly host in tears in a box in the corner of the screen, and the dangers of wheels coming loose from trucks and hitting houses. Meanwhile Hiroko gave me tea until I could speak.

Soon joined by Toby and Romy and Jennifer. And milling around with us and the five pets were
a series of visitors. My favourite was an older lady in her 70s bursting with vigour and clutching big spilling bags of satsumas. Like a laughing whirlwind. Another, a nice youngish guy, appeared late at night when only me and Hiroko were about, and showed us some magic tricks. Between tricks he told Hiroko about how he had attempted suicide and had just got out of hospital His marriage had broken down and there was some business about access to his daughter. When the story got too bad he`d do another trick. Like something from a play.

During the day we went off to the local supermarket. Toby and me strolling about being fascinated by the products on sale: particularly liked a coffee creamer called Creap and Meltykisses, chocolate cubes. There were thousands of imaginative beer snacks (surely a signifier of an extremely sophisticated society) too. Entire dried squid seems to be a favourite to go with beer.

In the fish section was fascinated by entire octopus in plastic boxes.

I sensibly bought some beer, and then some baby chopsticks in pink and blue for Klaudia and Oskar.

In the afternoon Romy, Toby and I went for a pleasant walk down to the nearby Pacific. Hiroko`s area fairly quiet, but every square foot seems to be used for agriculture or housing or business. But there were laden orange trees in gardens, tea bushes, paddy fields and so on everywhere. Everything grows here. As we walked down to the sea, Toby explained that it was thanks to having a Gemini brother that I got to see the world.

Saw a heron and a dozen or so Japanese cormorant flying in formation. We walked for a while on the beach between the sea and a long thin strip of pine woodland that acted as a windbreak along the coast to protect the crops inland. Then walked back inland passing a small temple and graveyard.

In the evening off to another local restaurant. We squeezed into the car and it wouldn`t start. Hiroko, by now quite keen for her first sharpener of the day, called the local garage and the man arrived with jump leads inside five minutes. Funny drive there with Hiroko talking to numerous people on her cell phone, while steering erratically and parking abominably.

Relieved, we scrambled out into the restaurant for another feast. It was kanpai! (cheers!) with lots of drink and then an extended feast amid murmurings of "oishii" (delicious!) every now and again when things were delicious, which they quite frequently were. A tempura of fried small fish and spring chrysanthemum rather top. Tried mackerel sushimi again. Had it once in London and it made me gag. Here it was especially fine and made me gag too. All other raw fish very fine however. Just mackerel which is odd because I love it grilled.

Home with a driver for the car, and the tiny Hiroko hiding on the floor in the back in case stopped by the police. Chuckling, she explained that she is an important local figure and it would be on TV if she fell foul of the law.

I am taking lots of photos... but they will have to wait till I return to be uploaded. Merry Christmas everyone!

Below a temple gargoyle, teabushes in Makinohara, octopus and squid in the supermarket.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Touchdown in Japan

Set off at the crack of dawn from Edgware. The journey to Heathrow very simple but the airport itself a wretched and Dantesque spectacle. Queues hundreds of people long, of stressed out, crying and anxious people desperately trying to get home or away for Christmas. Fortunately, having checked in online, I managed to battle through in only 45 minutes. On the other side of security things much calmer and I did a spot of shopping, and settled into the bar drinking a brace of stiff pre-flight gin and tonics, and having a few last minute chats on my mobile.

Boarding was only delayed by twenty minutes. Curiously the G&Ts had worked a powerful magic, and I felt curiously chilled out. I had booked premium economy this time and the extra leg room suddenly took away the horror of claustrophobia. Curiously I had what was almost an enjoyable flight after being so stressed about it for weeks. Dozing a fair bit. I pulled open the window at one point and as I did so I saw a falling star`s brief streak somewhere over Siberia.

Was fairly relaxed when arriving at Tokyo. Interesting to see the lay of the land when flying over: the flat populated plains, mountains and the sea. The airport itself fine, and I got through customs and so on quickly and smoothly.

Naturally felt somewhat braindead, and as promised Hitomi was waiting for me. We shook hands and then we were off. She was a highly-organised angel, shepherded me through the train journeys and stations and finally onto the shinkansen bullet train. She was extremely patient when I fed all my tickets in wrongly and so on. Updating Hiroko at every stage by mobile phone. We got on very well and had a good laugh on route, especially when I was telling her about my guide book which contained everything I needed to know about Japan. She was one of Hiroko's first English students and is now 33.

She literally saw me to my seat, and then waved me from the shinkansen station in Tokyo. Then phoned Hiroko with my exact seat number. She also gave me a printed out map of Shizuoka station with the right way to go through it and the wrong way clearly marked. It rather made me laugh, but she was so thorough it would have seemed rude.

The shinkansen sped south along the densely populated eastern coastal strip of Japan. Lots of housing, factories, and fascinating buildings mainly on the seaward side with big mountains inland. Paddy fields recently harvested, and tea bushes braided neatly over scraps of hills and land between houses.

Was particularly impressed with the ticket inspector. A young woman dressed impeccably, giving a short formal speech and bowing before collecting the tickets. Then bowing and thanking everyone before going to the next coach. Amazingly considerate and civilised.

Arrived at Shizuoka station stepped onto the platform and Hiroko (Romy's mum) was waiting for me at exactly the right spot. We'd not seen each other for years and it was a fond hello. Then for the last leg of the journey, Hiroko driving me to her home in Makinohara-shi. She gave me some sandwiches to munch, and some hot green tea in a plastic bottle from a coin machine. Things out here were a bit more rural, with fields of cabbage and lettuce between houses and shops and right next to the road.

Finally arrived home at the Bowers English School, on a pleasant street. Kicked off my shoes in the doma or entrance, and went in. Met Jennifer who is a friend of Romy who is staying here too. Soon I was having a shower and then was went to sleep on a futon mattress in a lovely traditional room with tatimi mats and sliding doors, and a tokenama, a wooden-floored alcove with a picture of Ranie's (Romy's sister) yoga guru in it.

Woke up a few hours later and sat companionably with Hiroko and Jennifer and some cats and a shitzu dog and a cocker spaniel around a kotatsu - a low table with heating underneath. We then left to go to Kishkoken, a local restaurant bar. Went by taxi and passed a bunch of firemen dressed as Santa and his elves waving enthusiastically at us. Lovely food at the restaurant, sat there drinking saki and eating. The only other customer in the small side room was a very refreshed former karata champion who was very cheery. He did a magic trick on me involving a smudge of soot in the palm of my hand, which didn`t quite work. He apologised and said he was drunk.

Mrs Yoshimura kept a constant stream of lovely grub coming. Sashimi, tempura, noodles, crab-filled parcels and lots more. And I drank Isigima sake, which is is excellent enough to be drank cold apparently. I tested the theory and agreed. Mr Yoshimura drove us home personally.

Soon Toby and Romy arrived, and we drank beer and all chatted happily for some time before everyone felt various species of jetlag and exhaustion and retired to bed.

At the end of the day, had a strong and inexplicable feeling of familiarity for Japan. It doesn't feel very foreign to me at all. And so to bed.

Below my room at Hiroko's house, and Mrs Yoshimura holding the bottle of sake I'd been drinking.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Pea soup and venison stew

Fog update - according to the BA website it looks like my flight to Japan will be happening tomorrow. My flight is BA0005. I have reserved my window seat in advance and it has bags of legroom. For it is a fact that if I stare anxiously out of the window, wringing my hands and muttering prayers under my breath, this is the main contributor to the safety of all on board. Not that they thank you for it, especially the ones sitting next to you.

I have Lord of the Rings on my iPod and loads of drugs so all should be well.

Typically, this is the most protracted amount of fog I have ever experienced. Brings to mind London's old pea soupers in which it was impossible to see a pickpocket held in front of your face. Those were the early industrial days where smoking chimneys turned London's fog into a dense noxious smog. This inspired Monet in his painting of the Houses of Parliament, not to mention Jack the Ripper.

Popped up the road to give young Klaudia and Oskar their presents and have a nice mince pie, my first of the season, with Anna and Anton. I told them as such, but Anton said that it probably wasn't my first mince though, was it? The bairns being adorable as usual. Oskar happily sitting on my knee and beaming at me at one point: he's a good little lad.

Then home to swear and pack by turn.

Slightly galled this morning. My play has come back from the BBC clearly unread after a few months. I simply need to change my strategy. I also have another box fresh one ready to send when I get back. Also this morning got Other Poetry magazine with one of my poems in it. They had rightly corrected my usage in my poem, which I happily agreed to. However when it got around to printing it the useless arses left out an entire line which rendered a section of it meaningless, they also saw fit to alter the title without asking me. A small thing, but galling enough in a Pooterish way. Especially when actual publications this year have been a bit thin on the ground. Ah well. Sometimes the Gods and Goddesses don't smile you.

Sometimes, however, they do. Abundantly.

Schlepped up to Mum and Mase's place to hang out with them this evening feeling a bit worn out. Mase cooked a big bowl of venison stew for us, however, and all was cozy and warm against the dankness outside.

So, if you have been, thank you for reading my blog. Merry Christmas to you!

God willing, my next post will be from Japan. Sayonara!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Burning of the Clocks

The fog thing now getting beyond a joke. A thick soup of it today that starts just a bit inland from Brighton, and my flight just two days away. Will I escape?

Last day at work, mercifully. Worked quite hard in the morning and then straight home for a microsleep. I feel shattered.

Then off to the Burning of the Clocks with Anton. I absolutely loved this. We huddled in a few bars near the seafront and then went down to the beach, to see a procession of mad drummers and hundreds of lanterns some of them in amazing dragon, octopus and people shapes with clocks on them. It is the darkest day and this is a new Brighton pagan tradition. The clocks were ultimately burnt on a big pyre after a symbolic sun was set on fire against the backdrop of the dark winter sea. Really excellent. And there were thousands there, and a great atmosphere too. The event was rounded off by some truly spectacular fireworks.

Loved the symbolism of it too. The year turning and a burning symbol of the things in life I would like to see gone.
Then back up to Anton's house via a brace of pubs to eat curry with Anna, before I lurched home. Skype then with Toby and my new friend the lovely Sarah in Florida. Below the pyre just before it went up. And a clump of lantern clocks.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Work is almost at an end

Off to the quack this morning to score drugs for my plane journey. I am taking no chances. Not that there seems much prospect of flying at the moment. Southern England is covered in dense fog. Above fog in the graveyard near my work.

Why am I always flying when I hate it? But being in Japan is going to be excellent so it is worth paying the terrible ferryman to get there.

Greeted when finally at work by the Gnome back from having a cold saying that we'd won the pitch I travelled up to Bradford for. Was fairly amazed at this. But it does mean that for a short stretch me and the Gnome are officially big and clever. Later, writing my pitch blog for work, I had to stop myself drifting into an overblown description of fog as a homage to Dickens's Bleak House.

Lots of pesky work to clear up this morning then off to the Stonemason's with the Gnome where we joined a Christmas luncheon. The French Bloke was there and we fell to the task of celebrating with some gusto.

Home and a late Chinese takeaway with an unexpectedly spicy side dish.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A vision in Villiers Street

Up late again feeling a bit groggy. A night of significant seeming dreams. In one I was taking a small toddler, a thought daughter, to the house in Guernsey where I lived as a child. I took her into it, knowing the house to be haunted, and was expecting at any moment something frightening to happen, but nothing did. When I woke up I had a strong sense of a new start. It felt good.

Off to work, the train tunnelling through thick fog. Work still busy but not too bad... Snuck off at lunchtime and met the French Bloke for a quick and cheery beer which was excellent. I can't remember the last time we went for a beer.

After work I went into Soho to meet the usual bunch of ex-colleagues in the Crown and Two Chairman pub, and then off to eat at the Delhi Brasserie. Usual mixture of industry gossip (this is the closest thing I get to networking) and stories -- Marcella talking about her recent trip to Morocco for example. There were six of us tonight: young James, Arno, Phil and Ash, and Marcella... and there were affectionate goodbyes and Merry Christmases. After crossing Soho I walked down Villiers Street to Embankment tube, and was filled with a sudden burst of happiness. As if something squatting on my soul had sprung off into the darkness and I was left with a fleeting certainty that everything -- somehow -- was going to be okay.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A pain free Monday

Snuffly this morning, and a bit jaded after a lively night in with Janet and Ken. That Armagnac did for me I think. Was late, but bolshy and unapologetic so nobody questioned me, and damn right too.

Listening to an album I bought the yesterday called Be by Common. Been nodding my head to it all day with what I hope is a hip sort of knowing look on my face, especially to a track called Love is which has an excellent laid back groove.

Home early for once. Bumped into Reuben at Brighton Station. Home and looking forward to a long and relaxing shower.

Got an email from Romy at work with photos from Deviation Road, from last weekend. Here's what Winter is supposed to look like...

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Snuffling a bit on Saturday morning... slept in for hours. Chilled out completely with little blogworthy, apart from a funny skype conversation with another new friend in Florida called Sarah. Almost everyone I meet these days is called Sarah for some reason. Even the men.

Normally I'd prefer to plunge red hot pokers into my eyes than go Christmas shopping, but in Brighton on Sunday I felt consumed by a joie de vivre and feelings of tremendous freedom. I managed to get everything I needed, including lots of glasses as in the past couple of months I have recreationally smashed through loads of them. (This morning it was the turn of the cafetiere.)

In the evening Janet and Ken came by, and we had a lovely convivial evening. Enjoyed cooking and even shopping for it. They guinea pigged my experimental butternut and leek soup and survived. Lots of chat, and a fair amount of wine drunk. Topped off the night with the excellent Armagnac Bob gave me the other night.

Below... A photo of the feet of a tightrope walker/fiddle player in the lanes today, and sun caught in the Christmas lights.

Friday, December 15, 2006

There are ghosts on the streets of London

In the dark slouched like a rough beast to Brighton Station at 5:55am. Pointed my face into the newspaper and it was only about 50 minutes later, when the train reached the outskirts of London did I realise I hadn't actually read any of it. Fortunately a fairly direct journey to Kings Cross where I needed to meet my colleagues. Met the three grey-faced agency blokes there and we all drank from paper coffee cups and mumbled at small overpriced baguettes till our train was ready to board.

Journey to Yorkshire, Bradford via Leeds. The further north we went, the more the low clouds full of fine soaking rain filled the sky. The four of us running through the presentation, and generally laughing and joking. It's like when I used to play rugby... Slightly nervous, but suddenly you realise that you quite like the guys you work with and that, compared to the opposition, they were great.

The pitch itself, which was 2 hours of ...blah blah have you thought about this big and clever idea? and here's how we'd tackle it... blah blah.... But I am certain we didn't win it. I acquitted myself fairly well though.

Taxi back to Leeds. Bradford grey and rainy and utterly miserable looking. But the taxi passed some brightly lit shop windows full of vividly-coloured saris; little glimpses into a sunnier world.

Journey back to London painless. The train was crowded to standing room only, but I suggested an upgrade to first class and the suits readily agreed. Phoned my boss who was enjoying another shouty-sounding Christmas party which I should have been at. Hmm. He's not the boss for nothing. That's two parties this accursed pitch has forced me to miss. Rick, the planner was tormenting me by saying there was one more pitch that needed to be done before Christmas... I'm hoping he was joking.

Back to Kings Cross and then off to meet Mad Dog. Decided to walk to where we were meeting, and I felt quite wussy and exhausted when I got there. Had a short night out with Bob, who thoughtfully gave me a card and a bottle of brandy as a Christmas present. We sloped off to a Philippine restaurant
and were tempted by a variety of tasty morsels and had a couple of beers. Walked slowly and companionably through town crossing Oxford street, through Soho, Chinatown, St Martins in the Fields down to Embankment Station. Very very busy, lots of cheeriness (some of it rather drunken) as yesterday and today were apparently the peak nights for work Christmas parties.

Fond farewells to Bob and then home at last. Curiously felt quite buzzy despite being so tired. Sat up late thinking about my anima.

Below: 7:40am outside Kings Cross struck by the pink and purple dawn. And, while I was waiting or Bob outside a pub, I was playing about with the night setting on my camera. The long exposure turns pedestrians into ghosts and suggestions.