Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Moon and dragon

Bleary day, after a terrible night's sleep. Once I did fall asleep I was woken inside ten minutes by shouting from outside. Missed my normal train by a few seconds, and sat on the next one which was strangely empty, writing a few lines of a poem about the waxing moon which I sent to Sarah who appreciates such things.

Not in a good frame of mind today at work, feeling disconnected and it that it is all meaningless. I have to nip this in the bud as I DO need to be paid. However at least today was another day eating pure stuff, and not drinking. My social life has been getting out of control lately.

Anton round in the evening with two large Ordnance Survey maps and print-outs from the Internet. We sat about drinking sparkling mineral water and discussing his ideas for a Dragon quest into East Sussex. Felt a bit like a scene from The Hobbit. This county does have some amazing history. The proposed route includes a fossil beach, abandoned airfields, an open prison, Roman ruins, castles, the sites of centuries-old forges and into St Leonard's forest, which was supposed to be a dragon's lair.

Anton had found a wonderful description of it from 1614. Apparently it spits: "He will cast his venome about four rodde from him, as by woefull experience it was proved on the bodies of a man and a woman comming that way, who afterwards were found dead, being poysoned and very much swelled..."

Will be sure to wear my Berghaus jacket with the hood down.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Fear and Trembling

Work is not buttering my parsnips at the moment. Took two briefs today, one of which is a healthcare one and potentially quite exciting. Sadly I have have undergone a successful enthusiasm bypass, but I expect enthusiasm's close cousin Fear will kick in soon and make me pull my finger out.

Slightly disturbing is the fact that the office is trembling. This is due to massive machines tearing up the concrete on the building site next door. I enquired about whether this was normal and was told it wasn't.

Still, there are conversations to be had. The Gnome showed me two new clever jazz chords on the guitar; Trace and I went for a walk at lunchtime by the cold river talking about relationships and psychological insights, and passed a winter tree full of parakeets. I still find this quite surreal even though they have become quite common now. Later, after sitting in another briefing, I went for a quick walk and gossip with the French Bloke just for a breath of air.

Also on the train home I found myself sitting next to Pam, who with her husband Nick, was one of the couples at Klaudia's party at the weekend. Have met her a few times before and always enjoyed talking to her, and we chatted all the way to Brighton.

Thank God I could detox today. Need to repeat this for the next few days too, and hopefully this will help the cursed dry skin business.

Most enjoyable flirting with Sarah in Florida in the evening by IM. Every time we talk she leaves me feeling more cheerful and positive than when she found me. She's a dab of butter on the parsnip of life.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Back on the boards

Well... My centre stage moment came quickly. I took myself down to the Sanctuary Cafe in Hove for an open mic night of poetry and song... And read my first poems at a real venue for about 13 years.

Despite being rusty and strangely nervous, what I read was well enough received. And I was delighted to have broken through a mental barrier. I associated performing poetry (which I did for years, often several times a week) with my friend Tim who died of AIDS, and also with being continually skint.

What I found however, was that I really enjoyed myself. The poetry was great, and very well performed with one or two excellent poems cropping up. The influence of rap is filtering through, since I went away, and there was one guy doing poetry improvised on the spot - a bit like the freestyling of rappers. Veered into logorrhoea sometimes but was still interesting.

The evening was recorded, and the odd poem may be broadcast on a new local radio.

There was a genuinely wonderful young singer songwriter during the break (stupidly can't remember her name) with a great voice and songs. Plus another music act with two women being ironically experimental, dressed in berets and matching outfits (with piano key socks) doing funny things with sampling and singing. Not to mention the woman playing keyboard leaning on it to make noises with her bust.

A very enjoyable night all in all. Another step into integrating myself in Brighton.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sunday people

Early start to the morning. A headache which I blame Brian for, and some pottering about. Then Anna and Brian called for me and overcame my feeble resistance and took me off to Bills for breakfast. Rather pepped up by a fresh rhubarb, ginger and apple juice followed by a nice herbstrewn and healthy full breakfast.

Hurried home to be there for my home delivery of groceries ordered off the Internet. This was clearly big and clever idea, and I don't really understand why I've not done it before. A very pleasant guy arrived exactly as arranged, and it saved me having to lug lots of heavy things like bottled water, and cans and so on up the hill and liberate my precious weekend time from the supermarket.

Spoke to Sarah twice today. Lots of laughing, she is a very funny person. I enjoyed hearing about her struggles with a lizard in Tampa, and learning about nail technicians and lots of other stuff I've never thought about before. Including photo of a catapult affair for firing balls for dogs to chase, or perhaps, more enjoyably, at them. She has a dog called Cabal who you can hear attention seeking over skype.

Ken called me this afternoon and brought around a nice bowl of spring bulbs that Janet had prepared. Much putting of the world to rights with him, although he was a bit gloomy, saying that he didn't think he was long for this world and so on. We had a glass of wine and he perked up somewhat, and was telling me about an idea for a book about Revolutions that he's had.

Anton has a new craze, and unlike many of them (such as Dutch bikes, carnivorous plants, watching television, global knives etc.) this one is a writing/walking project which he has already begun to research and sounds promising.

Still can't seem to do any actual writing myself at the moment. And my detox has been an abject failure this weekend. But tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Life is a bouncy castle

Anna, Brian and I drove off to a nearby church hall this morning to set up for Klaudia's birthday party. The hall was a good old fashioned one, and for a minute I jumped up and stood centre stage, and remembered how much I like it there.

Busyness followed. There were tables and chairs to set up, toys to be strewn about the place, balloons to hang and a bouncy castle to be inflated. Then the next couple of hours blurred by with a couple of dozen kids, (they are hard to count as they dart about in a kind of Brownian motion) and parents. Enjoyed seeing the kids bouncing around in the castle, and taking lots of photos and chatting with the mums and dads, many of whom I now know thanks to Anna and Anton. They are, by and large, a really pleasant bunch of people.

But it all went wrong for a bit as a duff batch of balloons began to spontaneously burst. This absolutely traumatised Klaudia to the point where she burst into tears and screamed in horror if taken back into the hall for any time. A bit later Anton handed me a still-recovering Klaudia, and as she cuddled onto me I felt quite proud to think that I am one of the people who make her feel safe.

Then back home with Anton, while Brian and Anna did more packing up, where I spooned various mushes into Oskar which was also good fun.

Then back down the hill to collect two Japanese prints I had framed, and I am very pleased with them. Also found time, among all the pottering about, to message the lovely Sarah in Florida.

In the evening was tempted back to Anton's place to gorge on Anton's exemplary gourmet home-made pizzas, and generally have a laugh and a gossipathon with Anna, Anton and Brian. Later I sloped off with Brian and Anton to the Eddy for a cheeky late beer (welcomed with a cheery "hello gorgeous" from the barman - who later rumpled Brian's hair somewhat) and after some time we went our separate ways, and I lurched home gratefully to bed thinking that it had been a really nice day.

Below: a leap on the bouncy castle, many kids (Klaudia far left), Klaudia, Oskar.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Friday in the company of ladies

A cheery Friday. I am still quite quiet at work, and was tempted out for lunch by Max the Mentor. Went to the Distillers which is fast becoming the agency pub since reopening and once inside we chatted to all and sundry. Max took me into a local cobblers, and did some shoe business. She told me she was wearing a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes which she said had cost a fortune. They were nice greeny multicoloured things and, admiring them, I felt I had stepped accidentally into an episode of Sex in the City as one of the gay best friends.

After work I met Mex my ex-wife, in Victoria and had a nice time catching up. Her fame is growing and she will be on TV again soon. And her website been nominated for the Bloggies. All richly deserved. She seems to be keeping incredibly busy, and it was good to see her.

During the day I was delighted to get a call from the very nice indeed Sarah to thank me for flowers I had sent her, as I had missed her recent birthday. She sent me a photo of them too and obviously really appreciated them. Had a late night skype chat when I got home to end my day in the company of ladies very nicely.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The itchy and scratchy show

Another swim today, which I'm loving. My skin is incredibly dry and itchy at the moment though, which means I can't go too often. It also necessitates the faintly homoerotic business of standing about rubbing moisturisers and unguents into myself in the often quite crowded changing room.

Curiously Blogging seems to be flavour of the month at the moment, and I have been asked to write another one for work soon.

In the evening met Paul, who I'd not seen for about six months. He is now creative director of his own starter agency, and was wearing his pinstripe suit and two tone shoes and generally looking gangsterish. He also had a mysterious Romanian woman called Diana in tow, who was having a difficult life crisis. She was interested that I wrote poetry, as she did too, and she had also studied philosophy. Paul had offered her a roof over her head while she gets things sorted out - typical of him as he is always helping people. They came to meet me in the agency, and I went out for yet another drink.

I need a massive detox and fast: it seems my Christmas festivities have all come a month late.

Fortunately it was not a long evening, and I returned home and bought fish and chips from Sing Li. And, after this guilty pleasure, I talked enjoyably on IM with Sarah for a bit before clambering gratefully into bed.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A white morning

Woke up to snow, which of course fell silently. It made me remember the opening phrase from the Coleridge poem Frost at Midnight "The Frost performs its secret ministry".

It made the train ride seem like travelling through a different country. And the countryside looked lovely. I tried unsuccessfully to take some photos through the window.

Arriving in London the tube had been plunged into disarray after the inch or so of snow. It never used to be like that when I was a lad... etc.

There were no tubes from Victoria. Eventually one turned up and the morning walk through the graveyard was beautiful.

Work was fine too, and I received a bonus which was a nice surprise. Slipped out to lunch with Max the Mentor and ate a steak and ale pie, and had a fast post Christmas catch up. She said she got her daughter a karaoke machine but ended up singing on it herself all Christmas morning while her family complained about the groaning.

In the evening I avioded the worst of the commute, and chatted in the agency bar. Ended up going for a drink with Robbie and his new art director before arriving home to a Chinese takeaway, and a hot water bottled bed.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Klaudia is three

Work uneventful today. I went for a swim, the first of the year and now far enough into January for the new year's resolution people to have thinned out. I am fat at the moment, and it was good to start to do some exercise again especially as limping has precluded much walking lately. Swimming instantly made me feel a bit less antsy, and appreciative of life in general, and Sarah in Florida in particular. Her friendship is a surprising gift. There's nothing like churning up and down for 40 minutes to get things in their proper order.

Left work slightly early as there was little to be done and, more importantly, it was Baby Klaudia's third birthday. She was still up late playing with her new doll's house, and also fairy princess Barbies with a horse and carriage when I arrived. Poor little mite has a scuffed nose where she fell over on the seafront at the weekend but otherwise seemed very cheerful. I'm amazed at how quickly those three years have gone, and what a character she is now.

Nice chat with Anna and Anton, all drinking sparkling mineral water. There will be a party for all the three year olds this weekend which I will be helping Anna to set up with Brian. Should be fun. Annoyingly I forgot to take my camera so I have no pictures of Klaudia today. Instead however...

Below a picture of Hiroko in Japan, with two Tanuki statues.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Dove and The Dark Place

Heard about Alice Coltrane's death today. She was an amazing woman who died on Jan 12th and her album Journey in Satchidananda has to be one of my top ten records of all time (despite being impossible to pronounce). She is a Jazz musician with a spiritual dimension and an Eastern flavour having lived in India for some time, and has some amazing moments.

Went to work. And I didn't like it. Sat in a soul-sapping meeting and then went out at lunchtime for a walk with the French Bloke along the river. It was a blessed relief. Sat in The Dove by the open fire and had a laugh and a beer before returning to The Dark Place. Work seems an intolerable burden, even though nothing bad is happening, and I am full of a yearning for freedom and a feeling of dissatisfaction with my lack of achievement. Part of me welcomes this, however, and I intend to use it as a spur.

Back home to my thankfully warm house, as the temperature is plummeting now to normal January levels. Warmed up with green teas and had an IM conversation with Sarah before bed, and she nicely helped me get a bit of perspective on life.

Below the late Alice Coltrane.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Brighton beach

Below a lively sea in afternoon sunlight. Stood by the sea for a while. When it is so white and foamy it almost appears solid and textured.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Happyness and the Mock Turtle

Trace down from London for the afternoon. A nice day chatting over wide-ranging subjects over a noodly lunch at Wagamamas. Trace wanted to see The Pursuit of Happyness. Will Smith's character was fighting against poverty, losing his home and partner and so on while working as an unpaid intern for a stockbroker's company while being an only parent for his son. It was a gruelling and grainily shot journey. "Happyness" is deliberately misspelled.

A quick hobble by the sea to watch Trace smoke a cigarette and blow the cobwebs away. Noticed the sliver of the new moon, with Venus gleaming above it in the clear sky. It made me feel very cheerful as I'd seen the last two new moons through train windows and, through no fault of my own, am superstitious about such things. It is going to be a cool month.

Repaired then to The Mock Turtle. I love it in there and Trace and I had a pot of tea, and I ate a scone, and she had a buck rarebit, and we discussed how grateful we were to be solvent.

After Trace had set off for London I spoke to Anton who was out with his pals John and Rick, who were in the same ante-natal group. Joined them for a few beers in The Basketmakers, and then The Great Eastern pubs. It is a top priority for me to get to know more people in Brighton this year. I'd met both before but it was a chance to get to know them better. John is a drum playing headmaster of a junior school and drops questions into the conversation all the time, such as "what is the highest-altitude European capital?" etc. A nice guy though. Rick is quite laid back and likable, and apparently is a good guitarist. A nice night full of chat.

Home, and a long chat with Sarah before dragging myself gratefully off to bed.

Friday, January 19, 2007

An elbow in the underpass

Journey to work a comedy of errors: train doors jamming so that the train couldn't set off at Brighton, the train inching along due to a land slip, tube trains creeping at wormspeed etc. etc. I don't even get irritable any more. I just get philosophical. I was grateful to escape and walk through the graveyard in a bright and blustery morning.

After being at the office for a couple of hours, the new head of design said he'd buy all the creatives a beer. Cue the creative department stampeding to the pub. Any desire I might have had for doing work evaporated quickly after, and having returned to work I skipped out late in the afternoon to meet the French Bloke for cheery beer.

Absolutely nothing to complain about, but inexplicably feeling tetchy, especially after an altercation with barging teenagers in Hammersmith underpass as I started my journey home, at whom I roared colourfully and with fluency. Not my finest hour. Pleased to be home and buying a cheeky Chinese takeaway.

Back in time to watch Celebrity Big Brother. This mindless reality show has managed to create a fairly serious diplomatic incident as one of the inmates of the Big Brother house, a poised Bollywood star called Shilpa Shetty, has been bullied by three noisome English z-list celebs led by Jade Goody who rose to fame through a non-celebrity version of the programme. The bullying had a racist element too, which sparked street protests in India and various questions in Parliament, and tricky press conferences for Gordon Brown, Prime Minister in waiting, who happened to be touring India.

Tonight Jade got voted off by 82% of the voting viewers, and she was shown the clips of her bad behaviour. She will now be bullied mercilessly herself by the press and the establishment. So it goes.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Stormy weather

Back to work. A dark, wet morning, which turned into an extremely windy one, with 77 mile an hour winds at Heathrow, and 10 people being killed across the country.

On the train listening to Tolkien to blot out a feeling of being quite dismally down. But this passed quite quickly once I'd reached work. Got an email from Sarah saying Florida was gripped by a London fog, while we had one of their hurricanes.

Between meetings, the Gnome and I spent the day looking down at the wind blowing so hard that spray was picked up from the river surface and whipped about. Trees were blown down nearby and roads were closed off. From our vantage point, the Gnome and me watched some new fencing being blown down on the building site nearby. I took a walk outside for a while and it was really buffeting, and almost difficult sometimes to stay on your feet.

Chatted with the FB who had flown in from New York this morning. He said the last fifteen minutes of the flight was a bit lively. With little to do, I left work early, anticipating major commuter disruption. There were horrible problems, however I managed to get home okay, though the journey took a lot longer than usual.

Jeff, one of the plumbers I spoke to yesterday called back this afternoon, and told me to call him in the evening. He guided me through fiddling with the boiler. I sent him a photo with my phone of the setup and he told me what to do. After several adjustments all was well. And he wouldn't accept any money. This was astonishing, and Jeff was such a nice guy too. Felt very happy about not having strange horse noises any more. All is well.

Below the storm lashes Brighton the beach near the pier -- nicked from the BBC news site.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The return of Orc Foot

Two weeks of limping heavily took their toll and my ankle painfully seized up overnight and is very hard to walk on. I lay in bed with my ankle throbbing, the rain pouring down outside, and my boiler making unspeakable groans and I decided that today would be an excellent day to drag myself off to a knacker's yard and simply get it all over with.

Instead as work was quiet, and I had a day off owed me from last year, I loped like an orc in the rain down to the surgery, and took the day off. The friendly Irish locum doctor insisted again that I sound Irish too. I don't but he is a nice guy. Anyway he gave me some fast-acting horse pills, and by evening I could walk without much pain.

Half a dozen futile calls to plumbers. But otherwise I very much enjoyed being at home, although I can't seem to write anything. Instead I enjoyed drawing while listening to my Lord of the Rings audio book. And I cooked the splendid homemade butternut, bacon, leek and lentil soup of my own devising.

Talked via IM with Sarah while she was at work, about flowers and dragonflies, which she counts as lucky omens, and the glories of food.

Early to bed.

The Ooigawa line

Below more pictures from a day in the mountains 2 Jan in Japan. Japan's highest altitude railway. Mr Suzuki watches members of the party like a sheepdog having dropped us at the station. Small, rather Harry Potterish trains but very good fun despite the rather sheer drops, Mr Suzuki racing the train James Bond style through the mountains to wait for us at every station; an enormous mountain dam.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A city mouse

Up early for porridge, toast and coffee with Mum and Mase. A drizzling grey day in London, so Mase kindly drove me to the tube station. From there the journey took about the same time as my trip in from Brighton. Commuting is vile, I thought at one point in some station or other, looking down at a mouse darting about on the track.

Only patches and scraps of work to do in the office, but I felt cheerful most of the day, and chatted a bit with the Gnome who has a new iPod, between discussing a football-related brief with two new clients and cat-herding my former art direct to completion of another.

In the evening went to Victoria to see Kate and drink a few expensive beers in the Thistle hotel. Sat about in an oasis of candle light and leather chairs and caught up with the gossip, telling Kate about my Japanese adventures, and hearing about her clan's gathering in the forest after Christmas. Still makes me laugh that, to quell fractious children, the adults simply put the clocks forward by three hours and sent them all off to bed. Kate's off to South Africa shortly to see Gav's family and escape the London grey.

To Brighton listening to my audiobook on the train until I dozed off. Then when at home I found it difficult to get into bed for some reason, maybe Kate had moved the hands of my watch.

Tomorrow: a detox.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Of boilers and soap nuts

Boiler kicked in with a nightmarish scream at 6:30, making me spring out of bed in horror, or hooorrrrr as the American film trailers say. I have to face the fact that the boiler is doomed, and at work I was soon onto Anton to recommend someone. He did, and I explained to the plumber that my boiler was screaming like a horse. Mystifyingly he couldn't pinpoint the problem from that verbal description, and will come around later in the week hopefully.

Work quite fun. The Gnome back from his long holiday which was nice as there was a bit of a draft coming from where he sits.

In the evening off to Edgware to see Mum and Mase. Had a glass of wine, and Mum explained the virtues of soap nuts, which are new to me. These are actual nutshells that you put inside a cotton bag in your washing machine. They produce an organic soapy substance when in warm water, and this cleans your clothes. She has two small sacks of them.

Then off to find a restaurant. Ended up in the imaginatively named Curry Centre in Edgware, where the service was rude but the food was okay.

Then back home to examine lots of nice new paintings Mum has done in her "moneymaking" style. (I took photos of two but have been forbidden to put them on the blog.) Then Mase and I had to rank them in terms of our favourites and supply reasons. All fun, and good because our favourites were pretty much the same.

And so to bed.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Home is where the heart is

Spring clean of the mind and home continues: I bought a small filing cabinet and files and now have all my bills and tiresome correspondence filed away. This is almost bordering on the organised. Also did a spot more shopping and saw an excellent bargain on a shop demonstration global knife, which brings my complement up to three which, according to Romy, is all the knives a gentleman needs. I then rounded up my arsenal of rubbish knives, about 12 of them. Not sure how to dispose of these, perhaps fling them at felons in the twitten.

Loved being at home today. I put a bean jar in the oven and loaded it with herbs, and I could smell it cooking allday. I also sat in front of my computer and tried to write but instead got sucked into listening to a dramatisation of Germinal by Zola on R4. Really good. But I know that there is a lot of stuff in the pipeline. To my surprise I was also contacted through IM by Mary Jane. She says that Jack is now a vegetarian, and Kate is behaving like a teenager. She also said that she found that Kate had kept a picture I'd drawn with her, which made me feel happy.

In the evening bizarrely gripped by, of all things, the World Darts championship final played between two 50 year olds, Adams and Nixon. A wonderful study in the psychology of "choking". Adams, the world no.1 - but, I learned, famed for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, stormed into a 6-0 lead. They had a break, and on return however his outsider opponent Nixon then produced amazing form to win the next six sets in a row, with Adams completely losing it (many entertaining shots of his wife on the edge of a breakdown in the crowd). However when they were 6-6, Nixon the underdog in turn suddenly lost his composure as the prospect of Victory dawned on him, and Adams won. This is fascinating to me as I always seem to choke too in one-on-one games. I still don't know how you'd overcome this. Why does it happen, only to leave you with a Charlie Brown gloom?

Before bed had a glass of wine had a warm and funny skype chat with Sarah in Florida whose birthday it was today. Interesting to hear about her weekend of celebrations with her pals in Tampa.

Then to bed listening to my boiler's mad screaming horse impressions which continued till I shut it down. I have a suspicion that the previous owner installed the system himself, and I've got a feeling that it is about to expire entirely.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A tidy mind

Decided at the last minute against a day of Buddhism with Sophie, and instead chose to get to grips with my home which had plummeted into a shambolic mess. Fortunately Sophie was fine about it, and we'll meet up in the next week or so. A lovely chat. Having known each other since we were 19 it really feels like we are brother and sister sometimes. She may be coming down to Brighton with the family again soon, which will be fun.

So a day of laundry, washing up, washing kitchen and bathroom floors. And now I can almost walk properly again. To celebrate this excellent news, I went shopping: buying food and shirts, energy-efficient lightbulbs (following mass lightbulb suicide pact over the last few days) and special bathroom cleaning spray that kills mould, and a backup disk drive so that if my laptop is stolen again or blows up I haven't lost all my work. Stupidly I began shopping for this last thing without consulting Anton. What was I thinking? A quick chat with him and I had the right one from the right shop in minutes.

Felt a big sense of relief to get things under control for a bit. Unfortunately my boiler is now making an occasional and very loud noise like a screaming horse. This can't be a good thing, and it makes me jump out of my skin every time it happens.

On a better note, my poem which was misprinted in Other Poetry is going to be reprinted. They were very apologetic, which was nice of them. Meanwhile was looking through A Hudson View, the new international magazine edited by Amitabh Mitra which is pretty interesting. It's always fascinating to see so voices side by side from different cultures. Amitabh will print some of mine in the second issue which I am looking forward to.

In the evening went up to Anton's place and had a splendid evening listening to twenty Jam singles in a row, and eating his home-made pizzas, and drinking Czech beer. Listening to the Jam kicked off an enjoyable nostalgia trip for punk rock, and London in the 70s. And at the end of the night we polished off the final bite of his Christmas cake with some Port before I shambled happily down the hill to bed.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Friday cyberdate

First week done with, and generally unscathed despite being appalled by the very notion of work. Not a bad day feeling quite subdued after laughing it up last night. One thing I did discover was the identity of the person who had been making silent calls to me off and on for a while. A very long way from impressed with this.

Friday at work ended with champagne and Ralphie giving a moving goodbye speech.

But I ended the day with that weird and wonderful modern phenomenon: a cyberdate. I ate pizza while Sarah drank a glass of wine in Florida, and we swapped jokes and laughed till late. A good deal better than most of the meatspace ones I have been on, that's for sure.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A passing breeze

A good night's sleep and a soporific journey into work. Dawdling vaguely at the ticket barriers in Victoria station I was barged so violently by the small woman following me that I popped out the other side like a cork. This made me feel rather disgruntled.

Due to leg malfunction (which is slowly improving) I spent lunchtime at my desk listening to my iPod. I have loaded so many of my CDs onto it, that occasionally it plays something I don't remember.

Today it played a song by Rachmaninoff called A Passing Breeze (Op.34, No.4) and even though I have no idea what the words mean it absolutely transfixed me. I had bought a CD and listened to it once or twice, and filed it in the "must listen to this improving work again sometime" section. However I repeated this song about five or six times and was spellbound. A singer, I don't even know who, and a accompanying piano and something which sounds to me like meditation on impermanence. I looked up Rachmaninoff on the internet and was interested to discover that he is quite modern; a Russian who died in America in 1943, which probably explains the couple of jazzy chords towards the end. Anyway, I had a really happy half an hour listening to this and watching a rain lash down in a fierce wind over the river.

After work it was a confluence of leaving dos in the Distillers pub around the corner for Ralph, and young Sam who directed my two most recent TV ads. Quite a few ex-colleagues turned up including the young brainiac Hazel who I'd not seen for some time and a good evening drinking was to be had, until the call of the seagull grew strong in me. Bumped into Reuben in Brighton Station who'd been working late on a pitch.

I then stole down to the Chinese takeaway, with a hankering for something oriental. I ate and had a leisurely chat to my Tampa-based correspondent. Then made up a hot waterbottle and fell asleep listening to the wind in the twitten.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

More rupture than rapture

Woke up at 5 am this morning and was unable to get back to sleep. Got up early and then went to see the doctor. Turns out that I have ruptured the soleus muscle in my calf. It should however recover with time. But it smarts, and is galling.

Then hobbled off to work, but found myself in a tetchy mood. At the moment I keep being asked to redo work I have already done, and it is the most tedious nothing jobs that are coming back. For some reason it is making me feel furious or like Michaelangelo being asked to paint a toilet wall, and then being told that it needs another coat.

Was phoned and told that the Polish guy who burgled my house was given a seven month prison sentence. It's almost as if they expect you to be whooping with delight when they phone you and tell you this. But I must be soft as I can't help feeling sorry for him, even though he caused me a huge amount of trouble. But because his sentence is custodial, I won't get any criminal compensation i.e. no cash back for me.

On a brighter note I was called by Carl, and by Shaila neither of whom I have spoken to for some time. Carl is talking about coming down south in a month or so to see me and Maddog, which is excellent. His health is better after his heart attack last year, and he is looking after himself. His business seems to be going well too. While Shaila is back from Hong Kong and Thailand so we will meet shortly. Also had a quick chat with Max the Mentor. And emails from Mex too re-arranging our evening out.

Missed my train again. As the tube train heading to Victoria simply changed destination without letting any of the passengers know, which was tiresome.

Home to homemade chicken and lentil soup and a generous glass of wine.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Woke up this morning... der-der der der

The January Blues is almost palpable. Commuters looking particularly grey-faced and etched with ennui this morning. As for me, I'm still cheery but my now-traditional January hobble in full force. So it is back to the bloody quack again tomorrow as the FB thinks I may have ruptured a tendon.

Work subdued, and I fiddled with scraps in the office revising other people's work on utilities, and snow leopards, and writing a jovial pitch blog. The Gnome is on holiday for the week.

Left the office a little early to ensure I had a good hobbling start. Some defective train on the line meant that it was cancelled (wouldn't have happened in Japan). As I shuffled with the purgatorial mobs on the platform, trying not to stand on the wrong leg, I lurched into a bleak looking Spooner: the January Blues in person. He was looking about him and saying "if you could bottle the pissed offness of people on this platform..."

He introduced me to a man who used to live down my Twitten who told me about collaring an inept thief crashing about in his yard. His wife phoned the police to say that it was important they understood that the big black bloke with the stick wasn't the criminal. Then an old boss of mine and Spooner's called Bob appeared, neither of us had seen him for some time and there was a bit of friendly banter. Mercifully a train pulled apologetically into the station and it was every man for himself.

Home at last, and I lay low uploading a few more Japanese pictures that you can see by scrolling down from here.

Monday, January 08, 2007

All's well that ends up in the Eddy

Woke in the middle of the night with an oddly throbbing head. But this abated after drugs.

Into work listening to
Lord of the Rings still. It goes on forever as an audiobook. And arriving at the office people unreasonably seemed to expect me to do some work, rather than simply swivel about on my chair talking airily about Japan. Nevertheless much of the day was spent this way, or working Japan into the conversation if by some oversight the person I was talking to had neglected to ask me about it.

I definitely feel as if the walls have been pushed back after my holiday. Feeling full of possibilities and optimism. Although I did have a sense of absurdity on the slow train ride up to London. There must be another way.

Absconded with Trace and the French Bloke to the nearby Thai restaurant for a very cheerful and chatty lunch, which help extend the holiday feeling. Much blaring about Japan over some cheeky beer and listening their news too. Over the holiday Trace had moved into a new flat close to work and is very happy there.

Caught up with some email... Sophie has invited me to go with her to do a day of Buddhist stuff on Saturday, which might be elevating and purifying. Got a lovely note too from Joan, with a wonderful pre-Christmas photo from Deviation Road. And from Kate too to arrange a sensible New Year's Beer.

Stupid leg not in great shape, however, and will have to show it to one of Brighton's mountebanks.

In the evening managed to hobble up to Anton and Anna's. Really nice to see them again. Ended the night in the Eddy with Anton. Such an excellent bar. They were playing old blues and we talked about Japan and an excellent idea Anton has for some children's books over a couple of pints of Harvey's beer (brewed in nearby Lewes) until I was yawning my head off. But it's nice to be home in Brighton again.

Below Joan's beautiful photo of the intrepid Pinkie exploring the forest behind her home just before Christmas.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Happiness is an oversized teabag

Jetlag, a cold, and dodgy leg kept me indoors all weekend. Dislocated physically, but feel very cheerful. Really nice to be at home and to spend time listening to the radio, generally cleaning and tidying, uploading photos from Japan and watching football on TV. Not to mention eating odd things at odd times with my bizarre eating irons.

Had a nice long chat to mum, and otherwise kept the lowest of profiles apart from speaking at length to my lovely new cyberfriend Sarah in Tampa.

Before I left Japan Hiroko gave me a few green tea onsen baths. I tried one and it contained a large teabag which made the water go quite green. Bobbed about in this for some time, deeply grateful that Mr Suzuki wasn't squeezed in next to me waving his arms around.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Chilled over Siberia

An epic journey. Up at 5:30am to shower and complete packing, followed by a hearty breakfast cooked by Hiroko. Then Toby, Romy and I were driven sleepily to Shizuoka shinkansen station by Hiroko. The moon was big and still full and Mount Fuji was clear and pink in the dawn. It was if Japan was making sure it would be remembered.

I was sorry to say goodbye to Hiroko in Shizuoka. She has been wonderfully hospitable and I've got on with her extremely well.

Despite the train being busy we managed to get seats next to each other, and bulleted into Tokyo, with Toby and me taking photos of Mt Fuji from the window.
At Tokyo Romy guided us through the huge mazy station and put me on the airport train. Toby kindly hefting my case about as my back and leg were still somewhat rubbish. Fond farewells to Toby and Romy. Not sure which country we'll all meet up again in, but that all adds to the fun.

Then an hour's ride to the airport. I had checked in online and my seat number of 20A made me think that I had been upgraded. So when I got to Narita airport I breezed past the queue and nodded when they asked me if I was business class. No waiting at all. Later I discovered that I hadn't been upgraded at all. Amazing what self-assurance can get you.

A weird thing happened to me on the flight home. I actually enjoyed long stretches of it. The stewardesses came over to talk to me shortly after take off as I was trying to snap (not very successfully) Mt Fuji from the air. The plane wasn't full and there was nobody sitting next to me, I had loads of legroom, and later an attentive Japanese stewardess kept asking me if I wanted another Heineken and looking faintly sorrowful if I refused. Sat there listening to my iPod audiobook and looking down at the clouds and the landscapes following the progress of the journey over the top of Asia on the plane's map. Amazing mountains in the far east of the old USSR. Both ways were almost completely free of turbulence too. Not like so many of my flights across the Atlantic. Over Europe, the cloud broke up over the edge of Finland. It looked really interesting. I'd like to go there one day.

Twelve hours on the plane, and then Heathrow. I have a cold so my ears were horrible. But picked up my case instantly (business class priority - ha!) and was on the tube quickly and easily - had a quick chat with Mum between tunnels. But felt short-changed that the Victoria to Brighton train wasn't a shinkansen.

Wonderful feeling to be home - so nice to have somewhere to call your own in this big wide world. Bought a few provisions checked my email and a fast messenger conversation with that lovely Sarah in Florida who happened to be online before sleep.

Sank into bed, grateful for the home I had to return to, and for my safe journey.

Below Hiroko and me this morning outside the Bowers School of English, Mount Fuji snapped from the shinkansen, and Japanese mountains from the jumbo.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A ferry to Izu

Managed to tweak my back this morning, as the hobbling had put it out of sync. This meant that the others had a sort of Frankenstein's Igor thing loping about with them during the day.

We drove off to the coast to catch a ferry to the Izu Peninsular. Hiroko, who can't swim and doesn't like water wailing Oh God this is scary! as we sped over the ramp into the car ferry. But the sea was very calm in the faintly misty morning, and I felt more relaxed than I could remember for as we sat about drinking coffee.

The Izu peninsular is very beautiful and has a distinctly different feel to the area Hiroko lives in. It has big bones - a mountainous interior with a craggy coastline that reminded me of Guernsey but on a much larger scale. And I really like all the rocks and small islands that complicate the shoreline.

Our first stop was at a coffee house owned by a sculptor and his wife who Hiroko knew. The place had spectacular views down the cliff to the sea, and to Fuji-san over the water. In the sky were several tombi, which are black kites, eagle-like birds which are very common in Japan.

The owner showed us a book of press cuttings and photos from an exhibition he'd had in Italy. His wife was very nice too and had some ceramic designs on the walls. A couple next to us were drawn into the conversation, and the man was a retired newspaper editor. This gave me the chance to witness the business card ceremony as Hiroko gave him her card. The retired editor took it in both hands and studied it gravely for some time, and then apologised for not having his cards with him.

Shortly before we left the owner then asked me if I was drunk, as I had a red face. I have a ruddy complexion at the best of times but was a bit coldy and flushed. I was asked this in the evening. Made me wonder if the Japanese simply assumed that I was drunk all the time.

Hiroko's onsen addiction then kicked in, and we sped from stunning view to stunning view with the agenda of finding somewhere to bathe. Eventually after Hiroko had sought directions in a shop (and left her handbag there) we found a suitable onsen. I declined to join them and instead took a walk along by the side of a river and snapped photos. Saw a kingfisher at one point, and generally had fun. Then we met up again and went to the nearby restaurant. One of the features of the meal was the fresh wasabi which you had to grate first. Had a deliciously fresh and mild flavour to the noodles I was eating.

Then off in the car into the mountains for a long drive through twisty roads and over bridges through the forested mountains. We were taking the long route back by car. We stopped at another coffee place much later and there was a girl in a kimono after a coming of age cerimony. We were served the slowest coffee in the entire world. A bit of a frenzied drive home as we were delayed.

Then straight off to the Yoshimura's restaurant bringing me full circle. Here we met Romy's second cousin, who is an architect, and his wife and two cute little girls of four and six. Interesting to see how they tuck into things like scallops which would have quite a few western children balking. The youngest was shyly hiding under the table but after about 15 minutes was running about and demonstrating karate moves. It was a nice meal in one of the special rooms; another low table but I am getting used to them now and lots of excellent sashimi. Also ate some beef intestines on a stick, which were very chewy indeed and got stuck in my teeth which I pulled at desperately when nobody was looking.

Then home, and two people were there (one of whom was the suicidal magician, and another female ex-student of Hiroko's) and it all got a bit confusing, as I was trying to print off my boarding pass, and pack and so on. Managed to hang out with them all at the end for a bit, and enjoyed answering the question from Hiroko's ex student what I liked best about Japan, and I said the ladies, which Romy translated for me. Much laughter and the student saying she wasn't married and what exactly was it that I liked about the ladies etc. All good fun. Hiroko, having taken a few cups of shochu barged in and told me her exact age and so on. Not exactly the subtlety you'd expect really!

Then had to retire early to get some
shut eye ready for the tomorrow's epic journey.

Below from the ferry. At Lover's point a small shrine with lots of hearts tied nearby with wishes from lovers. And a fallow paddy field I took while the others were in the onsen.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Shrine and Temple

After yesterday's exertions, a very low key day today. We did however go for a drive off to a nearby Shinto shrine, and a Buddhist temple. The temple was particularly lovely, set at the head of a wooded valley. It is the one that Hiroko goes to when she feels the need to go to the temple. Hobbling a bit due to my leg, but managed to take some photos.

In the evening we watched a programme about the Ancient Egyptians, which was quite enjoyable even in Japanese.

Below the shrine, Hiroko translates another fortune, part of the Temple garden, and the face of the statue of a monk.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Mr Suzuki takes us into the mountains

After making a dozen or so calls in the last two days to confirm details, Mr Suzuki came to collect us today in his luxurious car. He proudly showed us the onboard sat nav and the computer which he can bark instructions at. He only has to say "it's cold" and the car starts to warm itself up for him. It also has cameras which show you outside the car, especially useful when reverse parking. The computer screen predicts where your car will go too. Knowing nothing about cars I found this impressive.

A long drive calling initially at Mr Suzuki`s house. He is the president of a successful plastic modelling kit company. Pressed for space it seems even quite wealthy Japanese live in modest spaces. We met his wife again briefly. There is some ambiguity in Mr S`s life between his "classmate" who he clearly adores, and his wife who apparently rules him with a rod of iron. He is about 60 and is very kind and unbelievably eager to please but seems very lonely to me.

Then we drove for about an hour and a half into the mountainous Kawane region. We followed a river which had once been broad but was now reduced to small flow through a plain of big grey rocks, this is due to a massive hydroelectric dam being built upstream. To my eyes at least this had the effect of creating a massive stone garden with a stream in it. The mountains were huge and often quite sheer and covered in forest. Here and there in slightly flatter parts were tea plantations and the odd village.

We stopped in one which had a tiny picturesque station on the Ooigawa railway overlooking the green water below. Here we boarded a tiny red railway train. This was a somewhat Harry Potterish experience. The train is apparently the highest altitude line in Japan, and required at the stop after we got on the addition of a powerful engine as we were climbing steeply by the sides of some quite sheer drops and over high bridges. Some wonderful views down at the water and in the forest and mountains. We passed at one point the massive dam, which didn't seem to be a construction on a human scale at all.

We stopped at four or five stations. Mr Suzuki was racing the train in his car and was there grinning at us at one or two of them as we pulled in. Eventually we reached our destination of Sessokio and getting off at one station, we found ourselves outside the onsen. The ticket collector also worked at the onsen too, and after collecting the tickets he appeared at the baths.

In short order I found myself stripped and showering before plunging into the baths with Mr Suzuki who was explaining in Japanese all kinds of complicated things such as the nearby trees being used to make the paper for Japanese Yen and so on. None of which I was able to grasp at the time. We moved from the inside bath to the one outside and it was undeniably pleasant to be sat in the hot, oddly thick seeming water, looking up at the mountains and breathing the fresh mountain air.

After the bath I felt super hot (not to mention fat). But the water is naturally warm and leaves your skin feeling very smooth. Mr Suzuki has said (on more than one occasion) that if a fly lands on you it skids off afterwards. We all had some ice cold beer afterwards and then went down to another room to eat. In Japan as is well known people don't wear shoes inside. This means that there are a variety of slippers available for guests. Invariably these are small. I found myself wearing a nice pinkish pair which makes waddling about quite tricky. If you go to the toilet you have to take off these slippers and wear the ones that are in the toilet. It is all very civilised. Taking on and off your shoes is done lots in Japan, and Toby's top tip (naturally given me after my arrival) is that you should wear slip-on shoes. In Japan I am forever fiddling with my laces and rushing to catch up with everyone.

Lunch was splendid. The room had a hearth with a fire in it in the centre of the room. From the ceiling a big piece of time darkened bamboo hung down from a rope. On the end of this was an iron bowl cooking slowly. Inside the bowl was a wild boar stew, cooked in honour of it being the Year of the Boar (and I suspect, partly for me). In the stew was of course wild boar, and I think a type of pak-choi cabbage, lots of mushrooms all in a miso base. We ate these with toasted rice cake dipped in a soy and sugar mix.

For starters we ate sweet beans and shreds of pickle as well as an entire fish each. This always gives me pause, but the thing to do is to get the head down first and then it is fairly easy going until the tail. To crunch the tail or not to crunch. If possible don`t is my experience.

The others then went for another bath, while I stayed in the room, making a few notes and enjoying the scent of glowing charcoal and the aroma of stew which still hung about the place, and looking up at the sheer banking mountainside.

Then off again in Mr Suzuki's car. We stopped on the top of the vast dam and we took some photos. And it was here that I managed to conform to my own personal New Year`s tradition of a random injury. Hurrying to get back into the car my calf muscle which had been twinging lately after I twisted my leg suddenly made a popping sound and I think I have torn something. Very painful at first, but it got better gradually, I am hobbling somewhat though.

Finally after stopping at a teashop we arrived back at Mr Suzuki's house. Hiroko had insisted the night before that we would not be eating at their house, but there was a big spread nevertheless. Mr Suzuki showed us lots of things, and talked continuously saying increasingly sweeping things like if ever we needed money we only had to ask. And trying to give us things. I came away with a framed carved bamboo bird made by his brother, despite my protestations. Finally a taxi came and we could escape. He is a very kind man, but it all got a bit intense.

Home and the angelic Hitomi showed up and later, after Hiroko and I had shared a stiff drink, we went off to a nearby Sushi bar which is a particular favourite of Hiroko. She was very adamant that there was only one right way to eat sushi and that was sitting at a counter where you could point at the fish and watch the man making it. We ate lots of sushi (I am doubling my body mass in Japan) and drank some Sake. In the corner of the room was a television with the Japanese version of celebrity who wants to be a millionaire on. The presenter is on TV in a variety of shows every night. He was the first one I watched crying in the corner of the screen when a woman told her cancer battle story.

Hitomi a very nice woman, and laughing when Hiroko was calling me Peter chan which is a sort of affectionate diminutive, and quite funny given that I am about 13 inches taller than Hiroko. Hitomi also very attentive, in the Japanese manner. Making sure that Toby and my sake cups were replenished, and nicely folding my coat for me. A gentleman could get spoiled in Japan. Back to the ranch and Hitomi left, and Toby and Romy went to bed and I had an absolute bloody final drink with Hiroko before hobbling off to a dreamless sleep.

Below a Buddha in the mountains, starters, wild boar stew, Toby and Romy with the angelic Hitomi conforming to the unwritten law of making strange peace signs when being photographed in Japan.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Sunrise in the land of the rising sun

All of us up at 5:30 and soon drinking coffee and watching a national TV programme about the sun rising over Japan. After seven we piled into Hiroko's car with Haneko,the comedy-faced shitzu, and Miranda the spaniel, andset off for the nearby beach. Lots of people, some standing about a big impromptu-looking bonfire, others imbibing shots of sake against the bitter pre-dawn cold. Further along the beach were a group of drummers that I couldn`t see, but could certainly hear.

There were about 15 surfers in the sea with small boards and wetsuits - even though the sea was quite calm. It was freezing enough with a coat on, in fact Hiroko retired back to the car to watch the dawn through the windscreen, God alone knows what it must have been like with hands and head in the sea.

Toby Romy and I walked along a short pier out into the sea and waited for the sun. There was a low bank of cloud on the horizon and so a glimpse of the sun was slightly delayed, but when it came it was wonderful.

Here was the first dawn of the new year, in the land of the rising sun and I felt very cheerful and lucky. It seemed like a powerful symbol for the fresh start I need in my life.

Then there was a frozen scamper back to the car, and we went home to eat the rice cake that Hiroko had prepared, which most people in Japan would be eating as their first meal of the year.
Toby and Romy then sloped off back to bed and I tried to catch up on blogging for a bit. Gets quite hard when the onscreen instructions are all in Japanese, and I managed to lose a whole day`s entry at the moment of publishing which was a bit galling.

In the afternoon Hiroko and Romy went for a massage, while me and Toby sloped about in a shopping mall looking at stuff and then went for a walk outside having a good chat. In the Mall Mr Sizuki appeared with his "classmate" and her son and there was some coming and going about whether we should eat again with them. We managed not to. Said to Toby what a coincidence they should be at the Mall too. Later it transpired they had tracked us down, and then went to the onsen where Hiroko and Romy were. Slightly stalkerish really. He is tremendously excited about tomorrow, however, for he has arranged a trip for us to go to the North. It will be an adventure.

Another feast tonight cooked by Hiroko. A big Japanese stew, which was lovely, plus salad and grilled pork. And we drank some beer and bubbly, but Hiroko grew a bit sad with the booze and had to retire early. She has enormous respect here, that much is clear, and she has many accomplishments to be proud of, but her family makes her feel very sad sometimes.

Watching lots of Japanese TV shows which are quite fun, and often don`t require any Japanese to enjoy. Very much of it revolves around physical tasks and pranks. And there are food shows everywhere. Toby and I watched one which was the search for the perfect noodle, which simply involved a bloke wandering about eating noodles and watching the chefs prepare them. Strangely enough it was riveting. The done thing here is to slurp up the noodles noisily which takes a little adjusting to.

Then early to bed.

Below predawn light, and the first sighting of the sun.