Friday, January 31, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis

Managed to sleep fairly well despite the blood pressure sleeve squeezing my arm every hour. I took it off after 7.00am, and dropped this off at the surgery, and then went, feeling free as a bird to a cafe to do some work.

Home via Sainsbury's, to work from home. Feeling very happy to be working on the book,w ith the rain falling constantly overhead. Lorraine home early and we made off in the rain to see Inside Llewyn Davis again. Rosie was earlier than us reaching the cinema and bought us pints of lager and a really good hotdogs, which we decadently ate in the cinema.

Interesting, and very enjoyable movie. A rather melancholy depiction of a failing folk singer in 1962, living a hand to mouth existence as all he encounters is discouragement. There is no happy ending, but is quite humorous and a wonderfully shot.

From here off to the Basketmakers, where Lorraine, Rosie and I met Matt. Good to see him. Irish Tom there too, but was in his cups and lurched out into the night shortly after we arrived. Nice to have a drink in the Basketmakers, which was absolutely crowded, perhaps all those people who had a dry January finally letting their hair down.

Bought some lightbulbs from the shop below. Walked in and of course said 'how much is that doggie in the window?' Nobody laughed.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

No pressure

A curiously terrible night's sleep, followed by a first thing visit to the quacks to get my long postponed 24 hour blood pressure monitor. Ridiculously, I am usually gripped by a hysterical white coat syndrome when having my blood pressure taken, so readings of my blood pressure are always readings of my blood pressure when highly stressed, not under normal conditions. Very nice nurse at the surgery, who remembered I had got married recently too and cheerfully endured my hypochondria.

Having your blood pressure taken by a machine twice an hour in your own home is better - not completely relaxing of course - but but not hysteria inducing and a kind of exposure therapy too, in that after the thing had gone off a dozen times it was hard to get too excitable about it. I had feared it might just extend the twitching over 24 hours, but this didn't happen.

Little other news, other than I had another Facetime call from Mum, who is well into her iPad now, was offered yet more work, and I pressed on resiliently with my book. Sonia here today, and having a conversation about bread, saying the bread here was sticky, and not like proper Bulgarian bread. Sonia often looks back with nostalgic fondness to Bulgaria in its communist heyday.

Lorraine out tonight eating red snapper in the Thai Restaurant Red Snapper. Home with her top hat on slightly askew.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Outside Llewyn Davis

Another morning waking up with a sore lump in my throat. Sadly I am unable to moan about this as Lorraine has the same thing, but has to drive around the county advising schools while having the same thing. I was texted by my old Friend Keith offering me some work at 7:40, which I declined. I found this quite difficult as he was an old friend in need, but I must get the book finished, come hell or high water. Luckily I had an excellent day's work today, which made me feel cheerful and as if I was actually getting somewhere.

Another ghastly rain-filled day, in a soaking winter. Lorraine home early, however, and we decided to walk out in the rain to see Inside Llewyn Davis. My shiny newish black shoes leaking abominably at the toes. Surely one of the prime directives of shoe technology is not to admit freezing water to your socked feet. Arrived at the Kommedia only to discover that everyone else in Brighton had shared the same idea and it was sold out.

We had summoned Rosie Taylor into the rain too, and Lorraine and I repaired across the road to have a bite to eat in the Dorset and Rosie joined us eating a dessert plate of cheese and a glass of wine. Anton dropped in on the way home from London. I told Rosie about the book I've been working on, and she seemed genuinely interested in it, and Anton told me that he was reading Lord of the Rings again, and wanted to reassess the performance of the characters using the kind of statistical analysis used in the Premier League. Anton again proving he is a person who thinks about unusual things. Rosie talking about ways of teaching the first World War, as the centenary is this year, she is inventing characters to personalise the experiences of people living in Brighton at the start of it. A very creative approach.

Walked home in refreshingly light rain with Lorraine, and went to bed early as we were both somewhat throaty and wan. I also donned my thick socks knitted by Joan in Canada, and perfect for reheating frozen feet.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A stroll in the past

Working all day at my desk. Rain tumbling onto the roof overhead in my study. By the late afternoon I decided I needed to unshackle myself from the desk.

I recently discovered that my biological father, who I've not seen since I was around five, may live about 25 minutes walk from our house. While he has never contacted me nor my brother, and I have little desire to open this can of worms, the coincidence of this proximity does play on my mind.

I decided to find the address. It transpires this is on the edge of a small, run down council estate which reminded me of parts of London in my childhood. My cunning plan, such as it was, was simply to walk past the house and move on. The address, however, was at the end of an unwelcoming cul-de-sac. To any onlookers, I may as well have been wearing a stripy shirt and carrying a swag sack as I looked through an upstairs window at a large wall mounted television screen. I felt no urge to knock on the door and, as there was nowhere else to go, I turned for home.

The rain started again in earnest and as I walked back past the old council flats, and thought about the vague and unhappy associations this experience had provoked, I felt like I was returning to the present where life is brighter and happier. Home, I changed out of my wet clothes and, watched by cats, started supper and thought about my book and waited for my wife to return home to our warm and comfy house.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Retracted head

My head retracted into the tortoise shell of work, but conscious how lucky I am to have time for this luxury. Also paid my taxes without it precipitating any kind of a crisis. The only dampener is a proper winter's sore throat and attendant lethargy. Only a quick saunter for half an hour or so rain dodging this afternoon.

Listening to The Shining by Steven King as an audiobook. Not read any King before now and find it very well written. The Shining is my favourite horror film. Lorraine had a sore throat today too and so declined choir. We had a blameless night in.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

To Kent in a rainstorm

Lorraine and I up fairly early and drove off to Kent today to see Pat and Maureen. Rainy day, with the spray from the road coating the windscreen all the time. We listened to the Kermode and Mayo 'wittertainment' podcast en route, thanks to a new plug in gadget Lorraine has got which turns the iPod into a radio signal the car radio can pick up.

Off to have a nice Sunday lunch at a nearby pub called The Blacksmith's Arms with Pat and Maureen. A nice pub decorated with dried hops hung around like vines as is traditional in Kent. We all enjoyed a decent Sunday roast, homemade tomato soup, and a traditional bread and butter pudding for dessert. A really nice pint of Golden Sheep beer served there too. The waitress twice bringing a beer to the table and looking quizzically at me, Golden Sheep? she'd say. Yes that's me, I'd reply, fleecily. Maureen being funny as usual, talking about a Belgian brewery visit they made years ago, I've never seen so many chicken spits, she said.  She and Pat were interested to look at the pictures from Japan, which Lorraine took them through. We made Maureen try on the Japanese pinafore that Hiroko had given Lorraine.

Home driving through the sheeting rain, but fairly swiftly. Lorraine talking about her work challenges and arranging them in mental boxes. A quiet night once we got home.

Below the Maureen in a Japanese pinafore, and The Blacksmith's Arms in the rain.



Saturday, January 25, 2014

Klaudia again

Feeling slightly unwell, lethargic and wanting sleep. Lorraine off for most of the afternoon having her hair done by Paul, her hairdresser with a dog that sings in the salon when the radio is on. Apparently it likes all the same tunes as its owner, who has to listen with headphones whenever he wants to enjoy his music.

I mooched over to Anna's house where Anton was there helping to prepare for Klaudia's entire class to come for her birthday party. Anna showed me the cover of the book she has written with two others and a large beehive cake she made for the party.  Klaudia happy with the presents bought to Anton's specifications, which were clothes for a doll called Violet. Klaudia and Oskar both have skateboards too, as does Anton. Good to see my Godbairns who bless them always seem pleased to see me too. Later, received texts from a shattered Anton, after having been challenged by looking after around 26 or more children for two hours.

On return I did some reading research for the book I am working on. Read 36 Dramatic Situations by George Polti - or enough of it to get a sufficient grip on it. I quote this in thing I am working on, so I thought I had better give it a thorough going through.

Feeling increasingly lethargic as was the sleek haired Lorraine, so we stayed in. I watched a movie called Rise of the Lycans, which was mainly about werewolves and vampires and quite good fun in a b-movie-ish way. I went around saying Rise of the Lycans aloud to myself and Lorraine, and imagining sequels such as Rage of the Mosses.

Below Klaudia, then pulling a face, and her cake.





Friday, January 24, 2014

Knife and forkwork

Some good and steady work this morning, and at two o'clock met Catherine for a late lunch and a couple of beers to celebrate her finishing her PhD thesis. I am keen to hear about people finishing things at the moment, but Catherine she said she felt strangely bereft after working on it for so long.

Had a decent plate of fish and chips and a couple of pints of Lanes best before I swapped to mineral water. Wide ranging conversation with Catherine, who I admire immensely. She is an amazing source of information about Victorian literature and history. Also good to hear her perspective as a publisher. I always feel I learn lots when I talk to her.

Grabbed a bus home feeling suddenly under the weather, but rallied enough to enjoy more knife and forkwork with Lynne and Malcolm who had joined us this evening for a cheeky curry at the Shahi. An ofstead inspection at Lynne's school finished this afternoon, which Lorraine was involved with too: so a high high pressure day for both. Nice to see Lynn, who since she has taken up running, has slimmed down impressively, and to chat to Malcolm about his love of cartoons. Interesting on how he uses Twitter too to link with the cartoonist's fraternity.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Klaudia is 10 shocker

Frustrated by an IT rebellion wasting the precious morning hours and generally workin' my nerve following an iTunes update failure. Sorted it out this afternoon with a system restore and by reinstalling all the Apple software.

Off to Starbucks full of IT rage where I, slightly depressingly, found the section I was working on to be a load of tripe and onions. Then to the gym for a grrr-reducing workout. Followed by some shopping for a birthday present for Klaudia as recommended by Anton. Later I spoke to my Goddaughter on the phone, who was about to go off skateboarding on her new skateboard, and signing off with an affectionate 'bye weasel' to me as we finished talking, which I liked. Chatted to Anna too, for the first time in a while. Hard to believe it is ten years since I first saw Klaudia on her first day in the world.

Quite focused this afternoon. Spoke to mum by phone and then using facetime from the iPad Toby and Romy bought her.  This was fun. More computer stuff this evening with Lorraine, moving photos about through dropbox. Watched last night's football on play again to see Manchester United lose yet again. Their demise is even more fascinating than watching Chelsea win. Anton has responded to this by steadily refusing to talk about football for some months. I feel for their new manager David Moyes looking strained in the face of his misfortunes.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tracing Tracey

Lorraine off teaching governors this evening, and so I had a fairly monkish day working on the book all day and in the evening too. Got a good deal done however, which is pleasing.

Following my conversation with Mum yesterday found a piece of music by Stan Tracey called Starless and Bible Black (the same Dylan Thomas inspired title used by King Crimson ten years later). The Stan Tracey piece absolutely beautiful though, and from an album of music inspired by Under Milk Wood.

Go on, treat yourself and play this… I can't believe I have never heard this before.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An awayday with Mum

Up fairly early and catching up on some admin. Also writing to Mike Stirzaker, an old friend from university. He was dating a woman called Clare when we were at Warwick, and they are still together and have had two daughters. Quite impressive.

Off to meet Mum in London. Was slightly late leaving, and missed my train so was annoyingly late. As the train left Brighton there was a big pall of smoke in the sky, seeming to come from near our house. However, when I got home everything was okay, except for a trace of lingering smoke in the air.

Good to see Mum. Met in the old gin palace of The Salisbury, and after chatting there for some time, and giving her a lovely dragonfly broach Romy and Toby had bought her, and a Japanese ink brush that Lorraine and I had found, we wandered into Soho's Chinatown where preparations are clearly underway for Chinese New Year, which is being celebrated here on February 2nd. Rather than the Japanese who have aligned it to the calendar and start it as the year starts.  Either way it is good for people who are plagued by sore throats as it is the year of the hoarse.

In Gerrard Street a man slipped on a horsey token and cheap beads onto mum's wrist and suddenly wanted £20 for these charms. Eventually we had to be stern to shake him off. We ducked into the Four Seasons restaurant and ate some reasonable grub. The service was abrupt as is standard in Chinatown, and my days of finding this charming are over. Compared to the immaculate service in Japan or the warmth and friendliness of the Shahi and other Brighton restaurants it feels unwelcoming.

However we had a good time chatting and chop sticking our way through a couple of dishes and lots of rice. We wandered out, past where Mum used to work when Ronnie Scotts was located there and she told me that Stan Tracey house pianist and British Jazz legend used to give her baby clothes for me. She also said that he was so off his face sometimes that he would play runs along the keyboard until the keys ran out and he slumped over the side.

After returning to the restaurant to collect her cossack-like hat, we pushed off to the Portrait Gallery to squint at some portraits. Looked at portraits of the Tudors, including the one of Thomas Cromwell hero of the Hilary Mantel book Wolf Hall. Also looked at more modern paintings, including a rather astonishing one by Lowry, a self portrait of himself with red eyes.

Fond farewells with Mum, and then off home and Lorraine was already home. Then the execution of a new strategy: a home delivery of groceries. A penetratingly good idea.

Below Mum in Gerrard Street, and Lowry's self portrait at the National Portrait Gallery.


Monday, January 20, 2014

A writerly day

A late start for a Monday, and disgracefully not working till gone nine. Lorraine working on the desk next to me, which is always nice. Did some good work today, and virtuously went to the gym for the first time in a week, talking to Bob while on the cross trainer. Home and a quick miso and noodle soup with Lorraine and an afternoon of work.

In the evening Lorraine went to choir and I sauntered off to Brighton Poetry Stanza group workshop in a room in the Caxton pub. A well attended night, and always fascinating to hear how people think, and write completely differently. I squeezed in a poem too, which went down fairly well. This time a few of the poets had a drink afterwards, and it ended on a friendly note.  I warmed to Andie, (who had put together the Brighton Anthology) whose life change completely in his mid fifties and he now expresses his feminine side in his persona, clothing and makeup. Also enjoyed speaking to Susan who is a lively performance poet, whose friends I was sat next to at the Anthology launch last year. There is talk of tighter workshop group too, which would be a boon.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Seaweed and Shakespeare

A pleasant day of diverse activities. Did not spring from bed this morning. Eventually got up and walked to the nearby Japanese shop to buy fixin's for the easy Japanese meal we had selected to cook from Everyday Harumi, by Harumi Kurihara. We bought essentials like Japanese soy, Mirin sauce, konubu seaweed, katsuobushi (flaked of bonito fish)  and some cooking sake from our new friend in the Japanese store.

Home and making our basic Ichiban dashi stock, from the konubu seaweed and the flaked fish filled the room with an unmistakable Japanese aroma, we cooked Japanese rice in this stock (with added soy and Mirin) and followed the recipe and cooked a simple pork and carrot dish to go with it. Lorraine hammering the pork with a rolling pin to tenderise it. Good wholesome grub it was too. Quite enjoyed the seaweed part of the process, which made the seaweed grow mysteriously in the pot.

When not doing this Lorraine and I were tidying up and interrogating furniture, in our long process of trying to remove clutter. We also took a nice walk around the park, into 'our' walled garden which was showing signs of an early spring. Sniffed happily at the tiny white flowers of viburnum.

In the evening off to the World's End pub, just a few hundred yards away to see The Shakespeare Heptet holding their own in a busy pub. They look like a band now, and are playing very well together. Good to chat to Claudius, Steve, Richard and Maria, Dipak and briefly to Sam who is brings a ray of feminine sunniness to the band. Back home in time to see the end of Chelsea beating Manchester United 3-1, rounding off what was a excellent Sunday.

Below the Shakeys being watched by manager Claudius.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Zen of The Hulk

Up fairly early for breakfast. I sloped off into happily to buy bread and eggs, and Lorraine starting breakfast when I got back. Everyday things like this make me feel very happy for some reason. I must be more of a creature of habit than I think. Betty off to work, slightly under a gloom cloud, and then back to London. Lorraine and I had a unruffled day. Walked into Brighton, bumping into Dipak in the street, and then popped in to see Matt and Irish Tom for a cup of tea and a chat. Bought some sausage rolls from the store below which we ate with Matt who seemed in good spirits having walked for hours this morning in the country, which peaked the Pollard toes Lorraine had treated a few weeks ago.

Lorraine and I mooching happily in various shops for a few hours. We had been given quite a few vouchers for our wedding and one or two for Christmas. Could find nothing that demanded buying, other than a book of Japanese cookery that Romy had recommended to Lorraine. Home on the bus.

I was feeling rather tired. Lorraine fished out the balti dishes and cooked a splendid curry, while I sat on my butt watching The Incredible Hulk on TV. I have watched very few of these superhero movies, surprising as I loved those marvel comics for a while when I was a child. The image of the Hulk tearing up through the tarmac is one I have always seemed to have in my mind, and this film had a scene like this too. I liked how Marvel heroes ripped their way through concrete and buildings and sometimes different dimensions, signifying, Grasshopper, the fragility of reality.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Ghastly stories

Really thankful to be working at home. Slightly hungover after my evening with Anton and a deluge overnight flooded a railway tunnel so getting to London would have been a nightmare. This deluge also flooded many roads in Sussex, and the school Lorraine was due to visit called her to cancel, which meant we worked on desks side by side all day. Nice to have companionable bowls of tomato soup with my lovely wife for lunch. Worked well on the book all day, and breaking off for the luxury of a brief snooze this afternoon.

Spoke to Matty boy today, and heard more about his baby daughter Elsie and talking about going up to see Isy, him and the baby.

After work was done, Dawn called around and then Rosie arrived by taxi as we went off to The Shahi. The restaurant unusually quiet and Sabir finding time to talk to me about writing. A curious night telling each other ghastly stories, Rosie giving us a vivid description of a poisonous king brown snake being killed in Australia, two appalling road accident stories from Dawn and Rosie, Lorraine's giant spider being killed with an axe story and so on. Feeling a bit sorry for Beth, who'd caught a cab from the station to join us, looking tired and having a day of teaching tomorrow morning, and working till 2am on Saturday night to look forward to.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ganbatte

Working really well on the book today. Broke off to have a haircut and then to Starbucks for a change of scene and a cinnamon swirl. I am writing this thing in a Japanese spirit of ganbatte i.e. just bloody getting on with it and persisting, but today I allowed myself to feel positive about what I have written, even laughing aloud in the cafe when reviewing some sections I'd not read for months. But this of course may just be sign that I have finally lost the plot - next stop The Shining.

Out with Anton this evening. Met him at Brighton station, and we walked over the hill via his house into Hove. Ducked into a pub just before a downpour started, and walked to the Brunswick Tavern but the food Anton wanted wasn't there so we had nothing instead. Ended up sipping a late beer in The Eddy. A cheerful night, however, and Anton pleased with himself after a splendid annual review at his work.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A bit of focus

Got down to some serious bloody work today. Printed out book and sat downstairs working on the kitchen table. Seeing it in hard copy does help, especially when the document you are working on is more than 300 A5 pages. Much better than seeing it on a screen, as you can see a dozen pages at the same time. Mixed feelings though, daunted by the sheer bulk of what I have written, and the amount of tweaking that remains to be done.

In other news, the orc foot has worn off thank God. Lorraine and I back to fish, rice and steamed veggies tonight.  The agency I worked with before Christmas contacting me as they want me to work with them again -- which is reassuring. But I am focused on finishing the book now.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Something afoot

Change of plan today, as I went to bed with a gym twinge in my foot which quickly morphed into a painful attack of gout. I have avoided beef for a couple of years and have avoided gout. The large real beef burger I ate a couple of days ago may have been be the trigger. Unable to walk in the morning and having had no sleep since midnight, had to phone mum first thing to bump the day I had intended to spend with her in London. Recent article in the Guardian about gout and how it is one of the last medical conditions that people feel free to laugh about.    

I spent the day shunning work, instead read a novel called Stoner by John Williams (click through for Julian Barnes writing about this). I'd not read a novel clean through in one day for many years. Stoner is a wonderful book, but the story about an unremarkable university professor is persistently sad and quietly ghastly. It had been a previously obscure work which has suddenly been picked up and become a word of mouth success. This finished I started a book First Matie lent me called Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel. But I find her prose annoyingly cluttered and laborious in contrast to the spare faultless prose of Stoner.

Happily the orc foot abated and I could walk about by the end of the day. Lorraine home and looked after me, which is nicely weird. Watched a new sitcom House of Fools with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, which was puerile, rude and surreal. I absolutely loved it.

Below comedy heroes Vic and Bob.


Monday, January 13, 2014

A small slice of Japan

Working on the book much easier now the jet lag has almost gone. To the gym at lunchtime, the place cluttered with new year resolutioners, and I had a decent but not yet maximum workout. Lorraine working at home, and I made miso soup featuring noodles and slices of lotus root for lunch, which we had bought frozen the other day. I find myself thinking about Japan more this time than I did the last.

Find myself visiting the Japan Today site for Japanese news. Broadly I think the first time I visited I noticed the similarities, and this time I was slightly more aware of the differences. Lorraine also thinking about the trip lots, and both really pleased that we went.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hoarding and dumping

Mrs Kenny and I filled with a degree of steely resolve this morning, and we decided to take quite a few things to the recycling dump, and to a charity shop and generally sort out a corner of the house. First the triage of frowning at bits and wondering under what combination of circumstances, a meteorite strike, invasion of giant rats etc. would something remain useful. Useless things are dragged to the car.

I always feel guilty going to the dump. The very name dump gives it a Freudian association with defecation, as if your house were having a poo. You void your junk from the boot of the car, hoping people aren't looking to closely at what you are dropping off, and then speed away feeling curiously liberated. Explaining this to Lorraine, she suggested this isn't an entirely helpful way of thinking about it.

Home and companionably listening with Lorraine to the end of the 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Cathy N. Davidson audiobook.

In the evening, collected Anton and then made off to the Marina where we saw The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug. This was an enjoyable foray back into Middle Earth, and not a load of Bilbo Bobbins as I was fearing. I am not so attached to The Hobbit as I am to LoTR so the liberties taken with the plot and so on bother me less. Because the Hobbit is being stretched out over 3 movies there is still that sense that it could all have been done a lot quicker, and there is a good deal of padding, the visual wonder of the landscapes and the dragon and so on are marvellous and so a Tolkien fan like myself could watch it endlessly just for realisation of Tolkein's Middle Earth. Bilbo's discovery of Smaug's treasure hoard  was quite wonderful.

We all enjoyed it, although Anton worried about the flirtation between the Jackson-invented female elf character and one of the dwarves.

Rain down by the sea as we left the cinema. A nice day, and I'd really enjoyed my weekend.

Below Smaug peeping out of the gold...



Saturday, January 11, 2014

Past the buried benches of Hove

Up early for a Saturday. Beautiful day, feeling cheerful as I sauntered around the corner to buy some bread for breakfast. We dropped Beth off to the school for her Saturday job, before she returned to London, and then we walked down to the seafront. A cloudless, cool blue day and the seafront in Hove (Actually) covered in pebbles driven up by high tides and storms, and the line of benches were half buried in stones. Lots of people walking about, and even at noon casting long winter shadows. Dozens of little Lowry dogs running among people too.

Lorraine and I chatted about our plans for the year, caught up in the sunny and optimistic feel to the day.  We sat on one of the groynes with the sun warming our faces, an angler or two wrapped up agains the cold. More taken aback as a hardy middle aged couple went for a swim. The water looked unutterably freezing but the skinny man who danced down the pebbles in just his speedos and then swam for ten minutes seemed completely unfazed.

After this lengthy amble a spot of shopping at Waitrose before heading home.  The rest of the day a peaceful regrouping affair. Lorraine working on a quilt, and me toying on my laptop, while listening to podcasts, and catching up on the last episode of Last Tango in Halifax. And later, by extreme contrast, a couple of episodes of The Wire.

Surfing Facebook caught a clip that the French Bloke and Max, who live near the Thames, had uploaded of the drive from their house, now virtually an island, requiring them drive across a sodden field and flooded roads to get out.

In other news Isy and Matty boy have had their daughter Elsie this week, and Matt's sister Tasha is due any moment now.

Below a stunning day on the seafront in Hove; the stairs down to the beach disappearing into the pebbles, seaside benches, and hardy January swimmers.






Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday fun

Up early and working, before going to the gym.  Really pleased that Friday had arrived principally because it meant Lorraine wouldn't be driving around the county for hours with jet lag.

Contact today from Kev Holmes, an old University pal.  By coincidence one of his children just started Warwick this term, doing the same computer science course that Kev had done.

In the afternoon, off to drink tea and eat tasty Japanese cookies given me by Hitomi with Janet and Ken. Both not feeling in the most robust of health, and Janet keen to get her medications properly balanced after her stents were put in. They were interested in hearing about Japan, and we had lots of good chats with them, including regulation beardy kisses from Ken on the way out.

Back home to find Lorraine finished for the week, and having a light snooze.

In the evening off to The Sussex Yeoman. Here Lorraine and I met Betty, Anton, Rosie and Cath and for drinks and some good pub grub. Matt came by later, too. Very good to see these friends, and actually have a drink in a pub, which we hadn't done for some weeks. Anton now skateboarding, with a skateboard that reaches his chin, which he is doing to keep Oskar company. Rosie telling me about her new thing which is hot yoga. Apparently the heat relaxes your muscles and helps you do more. Betty said she did the reading of a poem exercise this week, and she did one of mine which was quite flattering. Apparently people asked her about the poem, and she said it was written by her stepfather, which was all rather touching. Matt had a pretty emotionally gruelling trip home by the sound of it. He also showed me selfies he had taken with Calliope on his phone.

Betty, Lorraine and I cabbed home, and I watched some darts on TV, which as far as viewing pleasure is concerned is second only to a good game of football. You can keep your Wimbledon's I prefer to see fat blokes playing darts. Having expressed these opinions it was soon time for bed.

Below Matt with Calliope whose loyalty to me is clearly paper thin.




Thursday, January 09, 2014

Lamenting the old order

Able to think again. Worked at fairly productively till Sonia arrived. An amusing chat with her, lamenting Christmas in Romania under communism, because at least you got two weeks off to spend with your family. Capitalism she maintains has ruined her country having brought in corruption and inequalities and undermined basics such as healthcare, and now having moved to the UK she finds work never stops.We laughed about the past always being golden, and she told me darkly that the best part of our lives was now gone. At this point I made my excuses and hurried to Starbucks, laptop in my bag.

I like Sonia a good deal, and she is full of character. She comes to clean for us for a couple of hours every week, which is a boon and of course we pay her, but this always makes me feel slightly awkward and I'm not sure why.  

Jane's been at it again, this time for Kleenex here, and featured on the Daily Express website, which also has an interview with Alison Jackson (plus an articulate vignette from Jane).

Listening at every available opportunity to 36 Views of Mount Fuji, by Cathy N. Davidson. Highly readable, sensitive and enriching even if you haven't just been to Japan.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

New resolutioners

Up early again. The jetlag abating slowly.A productive morning but as the day wore on my ability to form sentences abandoned me, making me feel irritable. Instead I spoke to Mum to arrange a rendezvous next week, to Janet and Ken, who I will see on Friday afternoon, and to Anton who I will drink beer with soon.

To the gym at 3pm but feeling very jetlagged. It made me feel a little livelier for half an hour then I had to stop as I felt dizzy. The place crammed with the New Year Resolutioners. Enjoyed wondering how many of them are there in February as it made me feel like a steely eyed gym bunny. An inordinate amount of metrosexual mirror work in the male changing rooms this afternoon. All these guys in their twenties made me feel a bit ancient, and remember my rugby playing days, where that sort of thing would have asked for a kicking. Society has come a long way.

Pretty useless once home. Watched Captain Kirk battle the Gorn, which is amusing. Then I cooked, and sat on the gold sofa with my lovely wife. A great advance today, however, was that I lasted till gone 10 o'clock before slumping. Life is normalising.  

  

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Another glimpse of the sea

Awake for several hours before dawn. Brian, having brought us two rats since we got home, arrived in our bedroom meeping triumphantly and carrying something in his mouth. It was only when we were fully awake was it clear that it was one of his cat toys.

The remainder of the night spent staring out of the Velux windows at low clouds skidding across the sky and wishing I could sleep. Calliope sitting on my chest and purring into my face. Life was quite nice without cats.

Up before seven feeling woolly headed. If in doubt tidy up. Having not worked at my desk at home since November I discovered thick dust and scatterings of bits of paper and the remnants of work half done. Struggling to impose order and pick up the threads again. Phoned Mum and got a call from Betty about the script she is working on.

Feeling a good deal luckier than Lorraine and Toby and Romy. At least I didn't have to plunge back into a working environment - or return to the 'Polar Vortex' currently afflicting North America.

In the afternoon a walk down to the sea to see the high tide down at the seafront. Heavy, muscular waves breaking over the groynes, and lots of people on the pier taking photographs. But none of the house-high devastating waves breaking elsewhere. I have to use my iPhone for the time being as my camera has been dropped once too often and isn't working and there is a problem with the lens. I might have to treat myself to a new one soon. Enjoying blasting myself with fresh air and appreciating the delights of being back in Brighton.

Listening to an audiobook called 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Cathy N. Davidson, which I am enjoying being the memoirs of an American teacher working at universities and living in Japan in the eighties. She mentions in her introduction that she did not see Mount Fuji for years despite living in Japan. I saw Fuji-san before I'd even landed the first time I visited. Home and making what turned out to be a rather good chicken stew, which Lorraine and I enjoyed.

All fine for a while then the jetlag flipped my off switch as I sat on the sofa and crawled up to bed shortly before nine to sleep heavily.

Below snaps of the seafront this afternoon.





Monday, January 06, 2014

Monday jetlag

Awake early this morning, and got up with Lorraine at half six. After she left for work, poor thing, I walked down to the sea. The tide was right out, but there was evidence of great amounts of shingle and pebbles having been shifted about by stormy tides. Saw the sun rise, making me think of the sunrise five days earlier in Japan. Quite nice to be here though in the fresh wind, and still holding on to that feeling that the year holds some good things.

Home and I did a little writing on the business book, after an ah-ha! moment while ironing a shirt this morning. Betty came down from bed, and we worked on characters for her play for a few hours. She'd had a bit of a mental block about it, but we soon got things rolling and made some good progress.

By mid afternoon, I found my jet lag really difficult, and I was unable even to spell simple words at times.

Betty back to London at tea time, and Lorraine and I sat about blearily on the gold sofa before going to bed at around nine o'clock.

Below Brighton pier first thing this morning.


Sunday, January 05, 2014

Home sweet home

Woke up at 7am UK time, after a pretty solid 10 hours sleep feeling fairly refreshed, and profoundly pleased to be at home sweet home, rather than facing another epic journey across the world. Up early with an unquenchable desire for tea. Fed the cats, and caught up with my blog in bed. Lorraine, having a pee in the middle of the night, had a 'welcome home' rodent corpse dropped at her feet.

A slow unpacking and clothes laundering day. No fish today, instead a toast and fried tomato and bacon breakfast.  Then out shopping for food, with Lorraine on a cooking mission making a roast chicken with half a dozen vegetables followed by an apple and blackberry crumble. Across the precinct from Sainsbury's is a little Japanese shop full of imported niceness. Cheerful Japanese owner busy making sushi, and keen to hear about Japan from us, as I told him we'd just got back. Noticed a calendar with Mount Fuji by the till, and thought that we'd only seen it yesterday. It already seemed slightly remote. I bought some Asahi black and Kirin Ichiban beers, and Lorraine found a bag of frozen lotus root pieces.

Betty asleep on the gold sofa most of the day and afternoon, and rallied later, she is in a bit of a slump about her drama course, and needed to talk to Lorraine about it. I spoke to mum but this coincided with a slump where my inner clock realised it was midnight in Japan. She said that Toby was going to phone her today to impart four essential things about the iPad. Managed the rest of the day quite well, however drank a couple of bottles of Japanese beer, plus loads of sparkling water, ate the delicious Sunday roast Lorraine cooked, and repaired to bed at 8:30pm unable to keep my eyes open.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Journey on the edge of light

Up in the dark at 5:30 in Makinohara. Having packed discovered that Toby and Romy were up, Hiroko had cooked us breakfast and made tea, Hitome had arrived thinking she was going to drive us to the station. Bade a sleepy but fond farewell to Hiroko, who had been wonderfully hospitable as usual and to Hitome, who Lorraine invited to stay with us in Brighton. And of course Toby who it is always hard to say goodbye to.

We were driven to Kakegawa station by Eitero, who seems to have become as fond of us as we have of him. He returned last night laden with gifts for example. He is mad for cars and we saw him driving two of them. He has a curious hunched stance when driving, and frequently opts for the no hands steering wheel technique. This morning he showed us clips of Lorraine, Romy and Hiroko singing last night in the karaoke bar. Lorraine cringing at her rendition of a Mumford & Sons tune.

Kakegawa statino smelled strangely of drains, but Romy helped us with the tickets, and Eitaro brought us some hot tea and it was time to say goodbye. More fond farewells here.

Lorraine broke our journey down to stages. The car ride was stage one, stage two the Shinkansen boofing to Shinagawa providing us with more amazing views of Fuji. Funny how on the train, even the Japanese who must see Fuji all the time make time to look at it.  This accomplished with no trouble we made an easy change to the Narita Express which takes you to the airport. This journey, stage 3, achieved with no trouble other than me forgetting where I had stored the cases.

Getting through Narita we considered stage four. This was a difficult stage as when we checked in we were told that we couldn't sit next to each other and was this all right? Lorraine, bless her said no it wasn't alright and went into a length description of what a neurotic flyer I was, I chimed in by saying that I was very disappointed, that this was our honeymoon and so on. Eventually they rearranged the seats for us just before we boarded. We'd paid extra for premium economy and there were lots of people flying singly and it should never have been a problem. Made for a stressful hour or so though.

The plane flew so far north that the sun was merely a ruby red glow in the southern horizon for much of the journey, despite the flight being during the day.

We had seats together in the middle row of the plane, so this stage of the journey wasn't ideal as I was unable to stare out of the window to keep the plane straight and level through sheer willpower and assess the weather conditions, something for which I have developed an eagle eye for over the years.

Instead I watched movies, including About Time, which was inoffensive plane viewing with some charm the latest Richard Curtis movie, then I did what I rarely did watch films with violence and explosions in them while flying. I watched Elysium and Pacific Rim. Both fine in their own SF action way, but lost most of their virtue by being on a small screen. I opted to take some tranquillisers en route and this proved to be a good plan as we hit quite a bit of turbulence in the last three hours as we approached home probably caused by the bad storms that hit the UK in the last few days. After circling London several times we finally landed at Heathrow and stage five of our journey was over.

Getting through Heathrow fairly painless, and we were lucky enough to run to catch a National Coach to Brighton. This coach shambolic however. The storage was stuffed to capacity and highly disorganised,  and it was only by watching with eagle eyes that I noticed our cases about to be left on the pavement at the next Heathrow terminal we stopped at and I had to run out of the coach to save them, which compelled me then to neurotically monitor each subsequent stop. Finally we arrived at Preston Park and Betty appeared at the stop. I had to personally crawl into the bowels of the coach to retrieve our cases. Home at last. Really good to see Betty and tell her about some of our adventures.

I had a shower and, slightly surreally, we three made off for the Shahi for a comforting curry with Betty who hadn't eaten all day. Lorraine and I quite bright and awake. Suddenly towards the end of the meal,  I was so overcome I could have slept on the table. Home and straight to bed.

Below a view of Fuji-san from inside the shinkansen.


Friday, January 03, 2014

Lorraine ends with a song

A terrible night, where I developed a very rapid pulse, sweating with a temperature and a stomach like fire. Woke Lorraine up after several hours of this feeling rather panicked. Poor girl. She smoothed me down and eventually I got some fitful sleep. I can only think something I ate had not agreed with me at all. Still shaky and weak in the morning, but as the day pressed on I began to feel much improved.

A lake breakfast, and Hitomi brought little Hana around. Hana is very cute and two years old, and seemed a bit dubious about dogs.

followed by an early lunch at an eel restaurant, where we had our own private room. Hitomi brought little Hana, and there were also an elderly couple who had babysat Romy when she was little, and their daughter who had spent time in Canada. We all sat down to a healthy eel based snack. A deliciously eel inflected miso, a hearty bowl of rice layered on top with strips of cooked eel fillets and some salty salad pickles.

After this surprisingly filling food, Lorraine and I went for walk along by the water, seeing a dozen heron and white egret. We returned home to find an apparently empty house. Romy and Hiroko off to the onsen, and Toby secreted upstairs marking some school work. Lorraine did the impossible by densely packing an enormous amount into two cases.

Returning later to the kitchen we found an interesting scene, with Hiroko beginning to cook, and one of her old classmates massaging Toby who was sprawled face down by the katatsu. The old classmate had been waiting, she said, seven years to give Toby a massage, and apart from batting away the animals she did a very intense job. Romy taught Lorraine how to make Chinese dumplings. A Chinese student of Hiroko's called Reika, who works as a cook in the hospital, arrived and took over the frying and boiling of the dumplings to excellent effect. Eitero arrived home from work, running his own lift repair company, armed with bags of bar snacks, chocolate and beers. We all sat down, with the Chinese student, and the massaging school mate, who was very funny and talkative, and ate the dumplings with rice with lots of rice with vegetables, salad, sweet black beans, Korean pickles, pork in egg, and sampled the variety of beers that Eitero had brought. He is making it a mission to educate Toby, Lorraine and I in the ways of Japanese beers. Some of the dark beer was really nice although after the rigours of last night I was not too keen on drinking.

Then Toby and I remained home, and after chatting and watching some TV sloped off to an early night. Lorraine however went out with Hiroko, Romy, Eitero and Reika to a small karaoke bar, populated with older men who were singing. Lorraine sang a duet with Hiroko of two Carpenter's songs (the Carpenters being held in the highest esteem in Japan, as I noticed last time I visited) and also a Mumford &; Son's song. Lorraine said the best bit was when Romy and Hiroko sang together.

Below Hitomi and Hana; an eel based lunch; the eel restaurant owner who was a former student of Hiroko, and a playmate of Romy; egrets by the river; Eitaro, Toby and me at the table; two shots of those assembled for supper.







Thursday, January 02, 2014

Fuji-san and crunchy prawn heads

Hungover this morning and my lovely wife brought me a cup of tea and generally looked after me. Went off for a drive in Eitaro's great boat of a car to Shizuoka where we went to a mall, had a noodle soup lunch, which was rather restorative. Lorraine, Toby and my meal rather delayed as we did not press the little bell on the table to get service till Romy told us to. Generally mooched about in the mall, and Hiroko went off to have a massage, and Lorraine made friends with an elderly man and three elderly ladies. The man gave her a sweet for New Year, and told her where she could get some oishii delicious coffee for free.

Then a drive outside town to a pine lined wooden path, which has recently been designated a world heritage site. We all walked down this path and arrived at a pine grove Miho-no Matsubra pine forest by the seaside, which is associated with a legend of a Hagoromo. A fisherman finds a robe hanging on the branches of pine tree It belonged to a celestial lady, who needed it to return to heaven. After haggling she did a lovely dance in the moonlight for the fisherman before returning to heaven.  Mo-no Matsubra pine forest. Through these pines is a beach of what Lorraine said was volcanic sand with a view over the water to the Izu peninsular, walk down towards the water then you have the magical view of Mount Fuji, and pines too. A combination much loved here judging by the swarms of people who had come down to do what we were doing. Fuji-san an amazing sight.

Then all aboard Eitaro's car and back home, driving towards the new moon the thinnest slither I have ever seen it lying on its back, and driving through long tunnels under mountains. Home and off to a local sushi bar, which Hiroko says is the best in town. A delicious if slightly challenging meal. Started off with a whelk, and included tuna and white fish of amazing quality, salmon roe, huge prawns, as well as the crunchy snack of toasted prawn head and legs which Lorraine balked at. I was challenged by sea urchins, dusky orange dabs of evil. However the chef said his were fantastic and compelled me to have them. They were indeed much better than I'd had before but would not challenge for a place in my top 1000 foods. We also ate abalone, which is a close relative of Guernsey's orrmer and was rather tasty. A delicious soup with the legs of a spider crab sliding about in the bowl was amazing until I started thinking about giant spiders. My favourite was thin steak-like strips of this perfect tuna, which were set on fire for a few seconds, and tasted absolutely delicious.  A jolly evening, with a jolly host who prepared all the food before us as well as keeping up an entertaining stream of comedy banter. When we left he also gave Lorraine and I some chopstick holders, which was kind of him. He was a genuine entertainer.

Home again, with a driver come to take us home in Eitaro's car. Then for me and Lorraine an early night.

Below views of Mount Fuji; inside the sushi bar.











Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Just in time sunrise

Up slightly shambolically first thing and all crammed into Eitaro's elegant large car with Romy and Hiroko folded neatly into the back. Chasing the sunrise we made it just in time to the beach as it was growing light. A handful of driftwood bonfires on the shore and we stood near one waiting for the sun to rise. It seemed to be a little later than everyone had expected but when it rose it was redder than I have ever seen the sun, it was a beautiful moment.

This witnessed the crowds melted away and we drove off with them, home for breakfast which included traditional rice cakes in a traditional soup. And a glass of good stiff sake. The TV in the corner of the room featured lots of people wearing comedy horse costumes as this is the year of the horse.

Then most of us went back to bed. I found I fell asleep for a good couple of hours and having been a bit groggy first thing felt considerably better.  A slow kind of day, which was welcome, getting to know Romy-chan, Little Romy, the bright green parrot which Hiroko inherited recently.  I've never spent much time with a parrot before but it seems remarkably intelligent and watchful. Sadly however, even when the cage door is left invitingly open Romy-chan will not leave its cage.

A walk with Toby and Romy this afternoon, after a delicious lunch, down to the sea where the pines are, reminding us all a little of Icart. Home again in a race against time, as we had strayed a bit further than we needed. Then Eitaro drove us all to a local temple, which we had to get to before sundown. I had visited this temple last time I came, with the idea of getting a fortune from a little machine, where you pop in a 100 yen coin and get a folded up piece of paper with your fortune on it. If it is a dud, you can tie it to a frame for the purpose, and buy another one. Lorraine and I got middling fortunes, and I chucked mine in a bin wishing that, like Toby, I hadn't done it. We shall make our own fortunes.

I wonder what the fortune was of the monk who scuffed into a post near the temple as we were leaving. New year's day demands a good deal of drinking in Japan, and our collective opinion was that the monk was drunk.

We stopped on the way home in a supermarket where I bought some beers to add to the impressive stock of booze in the house. Home again and Hiroko produced yet another magnificent feast, featuring lots of tempora vegetables and pork. The evening was accompanied with a good deal of booze, and Eitaro and I ended the night drinking a fine selection of Japanese boozes with Romy as our translator.  Towards the end Eitaro wanted to go out, but I declined this offer, just as well as he fell through the door shortly afterwards. He rallied magnificently though and one of his friends arrived, and I shortly after drunkenly sloped off to bed.

Below all off to see the sunrise; a couple of snaps from the evening's temple.