Wednesday, December 31, 2008
(Pointing to a small piece of card which I was already looking at) Aye.
Oh, ok...erm...so it hasn't got a firewire then?
And it comes with Works?
Aye, they all do.
Hmmm. Are these the only laptops you've got?
(Long pause while I wait, in vain, for more information) And is there any chance of getting anything off this one for cash?
Nah mate, it's already in the sale (but still more expensive than it costs online)
It's alright then, I've seen another one in Curry's.
Ok. See you, mate.
I went home, and bought from Amazon.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
So now we know for sure, we're heading for the shit.
"We are a big club and we need a big owner, and he is certainly that. When you look at all the foreign owners – and there are some good ones, don’t get me wrong – we have an English owner and that’s a great thing. We can go forward now in a positive vein." (Peter Beardsley, the Maxim Gorky of the Gallowgate)
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Friday, December 26, 2008
Boxing Day afternoon, and while rural England was busy re-enacting scenes from a Royal Doulton dinner plate (definitely not pursuant to the Hunting Act, 2004) I was attempting to stamp some life back into my feet on the four steps of terracing at the Arnott Stadium. The game finished two-two, a late own-goal for Durham levelling a Fowler-esque finish from a chubby Paul Brayson. I clogged my way back to the car on two lumps of ice.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Things weren't much better in Newcastle. Every shop had a red and white sale sign, a topless magician was attempting to unchain himself from a ladder by the Monument, and a line of kids was being pulled by the hand along Fenwick's Christmas window. People shopped because they had to, grim-faced and as joyless as a late-December dusk.
A tidy little sum for three months work. And a lot more than I'll bring home from Riga.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Three things I don't miss: the winner of a celebrity ballroom dancing contest making breaking news on the BBC, friends whose lives revolve around video games and getting smashed in the pub, the impossibility of cheap train travel unless you book three months in advance and trust it doesn't piss down in the place you want to visit.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
I did, man - for aboot thirty-five minutes.
I was fresh as fuck, me. I was wrecked last night 'n' aall.
Aye, I've been fucking wrecked since Wednesday neet.
On the flat screen TV Shola Ameobi stumbled, miscontrolled, then passed the ball - straight to a player in a pale blue shirt.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Fortunately, my next job entails a slightly shorter journey time.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Meanwhile, I'm playing on this.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
This being Japan, they even give you a plastic bag to carry it in.
My batteries die. I put away the camera and gaze, silently.
The sky was ominously grey the closer we got to Nara. Nearing the second last stop, Shin-Omiya, we cut through the site of the ancient palace: an old man jogging in a baseball cap, a baseball team playing catch, a line of cars stalled at the level crossing, Suzakumon Gate. We swept on into the city, past pachinko parlours and 24-hour McDonald's. "Nara, Nara desu," said the voice on the loudspeaker.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
They could be anything. Or nothing. A sleeping turtle or a stretched out seal. Which, I guess, is kind of the point.
After that things only got stranger.
Monday, December 15, 2008
It's already too late by the time I remember I don't need a bag. The two buns have been placed in transparent plastic, sealed at the top with shop-branded sellotape. My garlic baguette is wrapped as carefully as a Christmas present, in a mock-up of an old French newspaper, dyed brown, with headlines attacking the policies of Lionel Jospin. I'm handed a receipt for 372 yen, all three bow, and there's a chorus of arigatou gozaimashita as I open the door. On the pavement outside, it takes me two minutes of fumbling before I can start to eat.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
I walked around the corner and bumped into two more, taking pictures of a temple with a point-and-shoot camera.
I left the city behind at lunchtime, taking the Nara train two stops south to Fushimi Inari, the biggest of the 30,000 Inari shrines spread across Japan, and most famous for a four-kilometre long trail of wooden Torii winding through the hills like some kind of manic giant domino set.
The gates were sometimes little taller than my head, but mostly twice as big, painted red and black, as densely packed as self-seeded trees, some cracked open and bleached pink by the sun. I pass stone foxes dressed in red bibs, floating leaves on the surface of a pond, souvenir shops full of plastic torii (what else?), stray cats, hot cans of coffee, a jogger running up stone steps, open-fronted restaurants (This is NOT a place to sit and rest), graveyards and snatches of conversation: a group of Scandinavians, laughing and repeating the word Facebook; an Englishman and his Japanese girlfriend, "They only show films from Britain and Hollywood. Very few from mainland Europe." "Very few?"
Friday, December 12, 2008
It's just gone 7am in Kyoto．I'm standing in the grounds of Higashi-Honganji Temple, a quarter of an hour off the nightbus from Tokyo, watching drinking water trickle from a dragon`s mouth. Elderly Japanese are hosing down the courtyard, sweeping yellow leaves, sitting at benches with votive tablets and incense sticks, waiting in silence for the first customer of the day.
I set off towards the sun, a pale red orb above the eastern hills, racing the tour groups to Kiyomizudera.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
I sprinkle the gloop with chilli flakes and blow the heat off a cup of green tea. The first forkful hits the front of my tongue; I get the feeling that somehow things just aren't quite the same.
Monday, December 08, 2008
I stood for a while longer, watching the colours drain away. I checked my watch. I was almost late for class.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Friday, December 05, 2008
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
I mean, even my back of beyond, edge of the mountains university (foreign population five, of whom less than a fifth are actually Christian) has made a better fist of things.
Well, kind of.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
I moved forward a metre, to the very edge of the continent. Through the fence posts, fifty centimetres and a cliff face away, Pacific rollers were breaking on the rocks. The pool was shaped like a circle drawn by a child, big enough for twenty if everyone stood up, and enclosed on two sides by a wooden fence just about the right size for a tall man on tiptoes to peak over the top. A tuft of grass had grown from the rock, a metal standpipe gushed hot water. Straight ahead, across the ocean, were the mountains of the mainland, as drawn-out and lumpy as a boa after lunch. Lying on my back, all I could see was an endless blue sky and pine trees blown backwards by the wind.
Monday, December 01, 2008
It'll rain tomorrow. Bound to.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
I never once look up before Mejirodai.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I'll miss this job when it finishes. Maybe even enough to come back.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Skimming down, there was a house four streets away from me, a former councillor for South Shields (Progressive, ironically), email addresses proclaiming englishloyal and sexymisscrosby, a businessman (international, but then who isn't nowadays?), 73 Squadron Osnabruck and, more frequently, proof of entitlement seen (not only foreigners sponging of the state, then).
How to beat the BNP, squalled the odious Hazel Blears in the following morning's Guardian. Judging by the state of their members, they're doing a pretty good job of it themselves.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I've been here before. When I left Korea for the third and final time I had telephone interviews for Warsaw, Turin and Istanbul. Just before Christmas I turned them all down, on a whim. A few hours later I saw the advert for Sicily. I've never once looked back.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
For the hour and a quarter to the top of Mount Otsuka we tramped ever upwards, from narrow paths that had conifer roots sticking up like bones, through deep, biscuit-brown piles of birch leaves with the texture of tracing paper, to railway-sleeper risers scattered like matchsticks. We hurried on to Fuji Peak Garden, finding only a few picnic tables in the woods and a path to the Mitake-san cable car, where we hit a slow-moving town of concrete pavement, metal drains, electricity cables strung above hiking trail signposts, beer vending machines, souvenir shops selling wooden Buddhas and buckwheat noodles, bags of lemons and turnips for 200 yen (you paid by leaving two coins in a moneybox), and a two-hundred-year-old shrine that doubles as a mountaintop.
Continuing on to Mount Hinode, we lost the crowds within a few hundred metres, dropping down through conifer forest until the final climb to the circular summit. In the distance, Shinjuku stood like a citadel in a dusty brown haze, far across the urban sprawl. There was the sound of a transistor radio, a couple putting orange peel into an empty tin of Pringles, an plastic box of sushi and the hiss of camping gas. In the corner was the sign pointing us down to Hinatawada.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Monday, November 17, 2008
With the majority of Japanese working sixteen hours a day then coming home to flats the size of a litter-tray, life can be hard for pet-starved Tokyoites. Luckily, help is at hand in the form of the imaginatively-monikered Nekobukero, where for the small sum of just 500 yen (about two quid fifty before the pound went through the floor) you can spend all day stroking, feeding and generally bothering the hell out of a bunch of flea-ridden moggies in a themed cats' house (good job someone spotted the need for that possessive s or they'd have some seriously disappointed male visitors on their hands).
Sunday, November 16, 2008
And next Saturday I'll be getting up at noon.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Although this seems to suggest that number might be a bit of an underestimate.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
In my experience this never ends well.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
Saturday, November 08, 2008
Afterwards I whizzed round town Japanese-style, on the back of a mama-chari (mother's bike). The centre
had been closed for a festival. Stall fronts flapped in the wind, there was the smell of red beans and fried noodles, teenagers jumped around to hip-hop on a stage under traffic lights, a jazz band played in front of a cafe, a dance troupe blocked a street. By the time it got dark, we were already halfway home.
That even for a story about a Sunderland supporter becoming chancellor of Sunderland University, the mackems still need to go to Newcastle to take a pretty picture.
Joey Barton is actually a very good footballer, but still an accident waiting to happen.
A Confederacy of Dunces gets a whole lot better one hundred pages in.
A single vowel can make a very big difference (For the record, go-con is an innovative Japanese dating strategy whereby five men and five women hook-up in a public place; gokan will get you twenty years in jail - and a certain kind of respect from at least one of your male students).
It's possible to get sick of tofu. And curry rice.
Going to Shibuya dressed as Andy Warhol gets the girls. Going to Starbucks with a Teach Yourself Japanese book doesn't.
Lemsip really works. Eventually.
Friday, November 07, 2008
Twenty-six, twenty-one, eighteen kilometres to go. The speedometer flickered around 40, we entered yet another concrete tunnel. Over my shoulder middle-aged Japanese sat quiet and uncomplaining on fold-out seats in the aisle; two women picked up a conversation in French. The engine strained, the driver pushed a button to start another loop of adverts, traffic built-up patiently on the road behind.
The walk to Myojin Pond was flat and sunny, but the Japanese were dressed for a National Geographic expedition: waterproof boots, gaiters, retractable hiking poles, top-of-the-range Nikons with metre-long lenses and tripods, Gortex hats, designer jackets, and bells on their backpacks to ward off bears.
Which is slightly over the top when the biggest danger you face is the threat of a falling leaf.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
This is, indisputably, a bastard.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
There was a moment's silence. "Who...who`s McCain?"
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Fuji's appearances are as rare as a Sunderland derby win: other than the time I actually climbed it, I'd only seen the mountain twice before this morning. Once on a dawn Shinkansen ride to the airport, the other from my classroom window, hanging above the Tokyo skyline. Typically - maddeningly! - both times my camera was at home.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Back home it's raining. The daytime high is six above freezing.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
That's right, Christmas.
Friday, October 24, 2008
UPDATE: Every dog has its day, eventually. It's pathetic, but for the Mackems this is about as good as life ever gets.
My current hosts, like our own island race, can be insufferably clannish and chauvanistic about their culture, and while they don't like sumo all that much, they do lap up karaoke, fall asleep on overcrowded trains (sometimes while they're standing), get pissed on two beers and will only when backed into the very tightest of tight corners ever say the dreaded word no.
The Japanese stereotype of us? I got my students to shout out some words: bowler hat, English gentleman, afternoon tea, checked clothes, Peter Rabbit, pickpockets, tall, good at football, and (with the aid of an electronic dictionary) reserved women.
Clearly, they've never been to the Bigg Market on a Saturday. Or St James' Park.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
The government's position is nothing short of contemptible, as is the US state department's claim that terrorists could make use of a bunch of rocks in the middle of the ocean. Although, saying that, there are many who would argue they already are.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Much to my (continued) disappointment, the tour ended with a packet of salted rice crackers and three halves of lager (soft drinks if you come by bike!) rather than an unlimited supply of free beer. Even worse, we spent so long complaining I'd only just downed my second when we were kicked out.
Other than that, it was great.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
Saturday, October 11, 2008
I'm home by half seven, cook, go jogging along a cycle path, sit on the computer, read for thirty minutes, and fall into bed by midnight. Fridays a bunch of us hit an izakaya (a Japanese pub that serves snack food as well as alcohol) by the station where everything on the menu is 300 yen.
Pretty much, we live for weekends.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
There are two things you can't find in the world's biggest city: yellow fruit and overweight women.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Sunday, October 05, 2008
In future I think I'll be sticking to showers.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
High on sake and 300 yen beer, I stumbled, panted and sweated my way up 599 metres of Mount Takao. It took an hour and a bit to the top and half as much back down - most of it in the company of middle-aged Japanese in top-of-the-range hiking gear. A metal sign at the summit showed where Mount Fuji should have been, but in the haze all I could see was Tokyo sprawling like a fat man on a saggy couch.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
There's a reason he's a free-agent. It's because he's shit.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
I teach one lesson plan six times daily, providing ample opportunity to iron out the kinks from the first class and then cock it all up again by the end. The long day - half eight to half seven - is made up for by the doddle of a commute. One thing for working two stops from the end of the line - it guarantees you a seat on the train.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
The local baseball stadium. Left out of the flat, on the way to Fuchu Prison, a giant Toshiba factory and Kita-Fuchu station.
In the opposite direction, Tokyo Racecourse is just ten minutes away, a few hundred metres before the Suntory brewery, half a mile from the Tama Gawa river.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
I met the people I'm teaching with at the foreigner registration desk yesterday. There's a bloke from Swansea with a collection of creased-up Chinese suits, a serious looking Canadian fresh out of teachers' college, and a woman from Michigan who used to work in Prague. They seemed nice enough - just as well, as we'll be inhabiting the same six inches of floor space on the train five mornings a week.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Oh, and about a hundred million vending machines.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
And the queue to slap him would run into the tens of thousands.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
Financially, we're in a much stronger position than under the crippling mismanagement of Shepherd and Douglas Hall. On the pitch, we're no further forward at all.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
A threadbare squad (thanks Dennis!), rock bottom morale and no sense of direction. On yesterday's evidence the only place this club's going is down.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
It's simple. Really. Ashley's business model rests on the complicity of the people he's just pissed off. Buy a programme, a replica shirt, a pint of beer at Shearer's bar or a £3 Umbro t-shirt at Sports Direct and you're directly prolonging his stay at the club - and paying Dennis Wise's salary too.
Support the club, not The Man.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
The beaches were wide, the marina sweeping and the sun, as familiar as a clock face, moved somnambulantly through the sky, but the heat lent a shabbiness to the place: olive-green water under fishing boats, cigarette ends and dog shit on a cracked-up promenade, everywhere the smell of sea salt and rotting fish.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
This says it all.