Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How Not to Sell a Laptop

Excuse me, have you got any more information about this laptop?
(Pointing to a small piece of card which I was already looking at) Aye.
Oh, 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

Ashley Stays

"I am happy to end the uncertainty fans may have had about the club's future direction."

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

Left to Seed

Three months is a long time to leave a greenhouse untended. Too long. Baby slugs had moved into one of the plantpots, dill had turned the colour of tea, and the only things growing in the courgette containers were grass seeds and dandelion roots. I cleared things up the best I could, scraping out the dried-up compost and planting some persimmon seeds I'd brought back with me from Japan. Outside, the slugs moved away with the speed of a Mark Viduka sprint.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Ground 105: Arnott Stadium

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

Christmas Eve

At two pound fifty a ride, the Victorian carousel in Sunderland town centre was almost empty. A Bengali was playing the accordion, badly, from a stool in front of Burger King. Inside the shopping centre everywhere was packed, but there were more people than carrier bags and the biggest queue was for the Lottery machine.

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.

Teaching Pays

It took me two hours and a twenty pound handling charge to wire my money back from Japan, but the exchange rate had dropped to a hundred and thirty nine yen - leaving almost four thousand quid to clear out of my account.

A tidy little sum for three months work. And a lot more than I'll bring home from Riga.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Passing Through

All things considered, there's very little I miss about living in England: real ale, fish and chips with batter and curry sauce on the side, the occasional game of football, being able to actually feel a newspaper while you read it, and having the time and space to grow stuff in a garden. It's not that I dislike being here but home feels more and more like a place to pass through - I'm no sooner back than I'm ready to leave.

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

Conversation In A Bar

I never had a hangover this morning, like.
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

Home Newcastle

The sun was already setting as we flew across the capital. From the air the Thames looked like it had been coloured with a blunt pencil, the city grey and cold. We landed on time. I had four and a half hours to wait for the flight to Newcastle.

Fortunately, my next job entails a slightly shorter journey time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Almost Done

I've spent most of the morning tidying the flat, getting ready for the final room inspection. This afternoon someone will come and take my suitcase to the airport. At 7.04 tomorrow I'll be on the train, heading to Narita.

And home.

Meanwhile, I'm playing on this.

Goodbye Shinjuku

The lights were coming on but from the 45th floor the city was a blank, buildings rising sepulchrally through the clouds. There wasn't a single customer in the souvenir shop. Rain spattered hard on the window.

Mount Takao Again

The first time I climbed Mount Takao, at the beginning of October, I sweated my way along the easy route in a t-shirt and suncream. The second and third times I was glad of my jacket only when I reached the summit. On Monday it was hat and gloves weather. I scampered to the top on the number six trail, cutting half an hour off the estimated hiking time. I'd missed Fuji by twenty minutes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Foot Spa, Arashiyama

A Sunday evening at Arashiyama Station, last stop on the Keifuku tram line. We're sitting on a wooden bench at the end of the platform, a few metres away from the 7.13 back to the centre of town, trousers rolled up to the knees, six-inches deep in bath-hot water. We wait for half an hour, watching the trams pull in and out. As we leave, an English sign invites us to take a towel for free.

This being Japan, they even give you a plastic bag to carry it in.

Afternoon in Nara Park

By early afternoon the sun and the tour groups had both come out. There were long, straggling lines of school children, dressed in matching blue blazers and regulation haircuts. At the front of each line was a guide in a beanie hat, shouting inanities through a megaphone. I escaped up the stone steps of a temple. From the top you could see the whole of Nara, squashed between the mountains like an arm in a vice.

Todaiji Temple

The interior of Daibutsuden Hall is huge and dark, illuminated by a strip-light above the souvenir shop and the constant flash of cameras. The Buddha sits with eyes tight shut, one hand raised in admonition, the other curled, beckoning us in. School groups sort through key rings and bookmarks, a sign advertises Fortunes Told in English for 200 Yen, an elderly woman climbs through a hole in one of the wooden pillars, getting stuck in the middle.

My batteries die. I put away the camera and gaze, silently.

Sunday Morning In Nara

The streetlights were still on outside Nara Station and the Japanese had their umbrellas open, ready for the rain. An old woman was selling disposable cameras; another sweet potatoes baked on a wood-burning stove. I turned in at the first temple I came to and saw the famous semi-wild deer, drinking water from a gutter in the courtyard, metres away from a five-storey pagoda. Nearby, a woman in a headscarf was praying at the shrine.

The Nara Train

It was 7am when I heard my phone, rumbling on the pillow. The message on the screen said Time's Arrived. Outside the hostel window, traffic had already started moving. I was packed and on the pavement in half an hour flat, and sitting on the heated Kintetsu Line express before the clock had turned eight.

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

Late Evening, Ryoanji

The garden at Ryoanji is twenty-five metres long by ten across, bordered on three sides by moss and low clay walls, discoloured by oil. There are fifteen rocks in the centre, and gravel raked like seed furrows, or ripples in a garden pond. A bare willow droops over the wall, the audience sit on a wooden step on the opposite side. There are camera clicks and high-pitched laughs, voices saying nothing, Japanese counting the rocks: ichi, ni, san...

They could be anything. Or nothing. A sleeping turtle or a stretched out seal. Which, I guess, is kind of the point.

Tokyo Disney Sea

At the entrance to Disney Sea there was a queue of people waiting to take photos in front of a golden statue of Mickey Mouse. I walked through an arcade of shops and out onto a Venetian waterfront, steamer ships on a lake, an Arabesque fort, Japanese steering gondolas in front of a full-size pirate ship, The First Noel on the tannoy system, girls in leopardskin mouse ears and a volcano smoking in the background.

After that things only got stranger.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lunchtime in Kyoto

I stop for lunch at a bakery near Daitokuji Temple. It's mid-afternoon and I'm the only customer. Automatically, the three girls behind the counter assign themselves a different role: one takes my money, another individually wraps my three pieces of bread, the third stands to the side, holding open a carrier bag.

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.

Kyoto, Saturday Morning

The noise of the city sounds dimly at Nanzenji: footsteps on a gravel path, an aqueduct carrying water, leaf-blowing machines in the forest, the clang of a gong, a suitcase on wheels, Japanese praying soundlessly in front of the main hall, sunlight slanting through wooden beams. I find my bike and cycle back along the riverside path, in the general direction of Gingakuji. The early morning cool slowly burns away.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ground 104: National Stadium, Tokyo

The stadium was less than a quarter full for the opening game of the FIFA Club World Cup. We sat in the cheapest seats, behind the goal, open to the sky. To the left, the Olympic flame was dwarfed by a FIFA logo. On the other side, past a tiny group of flag-waving Adelaide fans, the lights were still on in the skyscrapers of Shinjuku. The Japanese, generous to a fault, politely cheered for both teams at once, screaming at each near miss. An hour and a half later I was sitting on the nightbus, heading to Kyoto.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On A Geisha Hunt

It was the okobo I heard first, clip-clopping down the hill like horses' hooves on a stable floor. A small crowd had already gathered in front and behind; the salarymen next to me scrambled for their mobile phones. Nervous, blocked off by unwanted bodies, I missed with the first shot but got all four with the second, framed against a lattice door. As they passed there was silence. The last of the maiko half turned her white ceramic face, smiling remotely in my direction. Or that's how it seemed at the time.

I walked around the corner and bumped into two more, taking pictures of a temple with a point-and-shoot camera.

Why I Travel

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

The Old Capital

The Buddha is always there. But, alas, he never shows himself.

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

Two Weeks Till Christmas

It feels more like March than the beginning of December. I woke up with a hangover, cooked what was left in my fridge, then walked to the library in a sweatshirt to stock up on books for Kyoto, dodging grandmothers on bicycles, potted poinsettias and the confetti of fallen gingko leaves.

People Like Us

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Full Japanese

Sausages the size of my little finger, rashers of bacon that you couldn't wrap twice around the head of a toothbrush, and an egg that spontaneously combusts upon contact with metal, pushed around the pan with the kind of fork you'd usually see accompanying a children's portion in a Little Chef.

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

Night Falls, Edge of a City

You could see it best from the top of the hill, midway between the bridge and the running track. The sun had already gone down behind the mountains. The sky above was like an upside down pond, rippled as if a stone had just been plopped into its centre. There were pale-blue streaks amid a continent of orange, fading to yellow, flecked with puffs of cloud rising like smoke.

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

Parking Problems

With space in the city at such a premium, Tokyo car owners have to resort to ever more ingenious ways of conjuring up a place to park.

Like this:
Which, you have to admit, is a bit more imaginative than merely paving over the garden.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Shinjuku Gyoen

I was up early enough to have the taste of last night's beer in my mouth as I boarded the train for Shinjuku Gyoen. A five-minute walk from the planet's busiest railway station, it was here I used to come to escape the worst of the summer heat. Here too, four years ago, spread across the grass with an illicit can of beer and the Daily Yomiuri, where I made up my mind to come back to Japan.

The park's at its best in autumn: bare trees in a tangle of knots, white daffodils by the glasshouse, red leaves fluttering to the ground like discarded bus tickets, picnic mats and rice balls, twisted maple trees reflected in the water, a couple walking arm-in-arm in matching koala face earmuffs. I found a sunny spot, lay down on the grass, and breathed.

Tokyo Beach, Sunset

Friday, December 05, 2008

What I Like About Sunderland

Is no matter how painful it gets supporting Newcastle there's always a reminder that things could be worse.
Much worse.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

To The End

I've reached that time again, the time of lasts (the last class on a Thursday, the last time I'll be stuck in work till half past six) and goodbyes, the time of moving on. To Spain, perhaps. Or Germany. Or - who knows? - Libya or Italy or any of a dozen other places. For now, all I'm sure about is where I won't be, and that two weeks tomorrow I'll be back in England, getting up late, drinking warm beer, shivering in the damp.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

That Special Time of Year

As if it wasn't a miserable enough experience living in Peterlee the rest of the year, you'd think they'd be able to manage better than this sorry display of Christmas cheer (and if the council won't then surely it's the perfect opportunity for Orange - operators of a local breeze-block and box hedge sweatshop - to re-invest some of those extortionate roaming charges of theirs).

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

Dogashima Spa

He had a pale blue towel knotted round his head and teeth like the tombstones in an old Jewish cemetery. When he spoke, it was with a flash of gold on the right hand side of his mouth. "Motorbike?" He turned suddenly, with a splash. "No, bus. Shimoda." "Alone?" "No, one more. Other side," I gestured towards the fence separating us from the women. He laughed, turned back to his friends, and resumed a conversation about fishing in a gale.

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.

Things Move On

Like all good fads the Banana Diet has run its course. As usual, some people are quicker to catch on than others. In the local Shop 99 there are stacks of the things in three different sizes, four for 50p.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Saturday Night, Minshuku Otsuka

During the night the wind picked up. The paper doors rattled, cables blew against the side of the room, the sound of traffic on the road below was masked by waves thudding against the torso-shaped sea defences and what was left of the beach. I turned over on the futon, my feet spilling onto the tatami mat. Someone was puking in the toilet down the hall.

December the First

Another beautiful day in Japan. Students lie stretched out on the grass, as dry as hay and now more white than green, or gather on staircases, talking with their coats unzipped. A crow sits on a flowerpot, and the mountains are printed against the sky. Maple leaves have turned yellow and blood-red, spilling through the near-bare zelkova branches like a lava flow stopped in mid-air. Above the campus, clouds blow past like smoke.

It'll rain tomorrow. Bound to.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Ship Without A Sale

So, no sale until summer (or at least not at the inflated price Ashley is looking for). Kinnear's done a decent job, no more, and there's nothing in his track record to suggest we're going to be making a charge up the table (as the otherwise anonymous Michael Owen suggested on the back of one good result against Aston Villa). Without some new faces in January, the most we can hope for this season is simply to stay up. We're like a ship without a sail - and half of the passengers want to jump overboard.

Train Ride to Jogasaki

The seats on the Alpha Resort 21 had been turned to face the sea, blue and choppy, breaking on rocks and black, volcanic sand. We glided through Ito; the man behind finished his beer and began to snore. Autumn hadn't come this far south - the trees were still heavy with leaves, only now beginning to yellow. We ate tangerines we'd just picked in Usami and matched up islands to points on the map. Too late, we realised we'd overshot our stop.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Go Home and Procreate

Sounds like a plan to me.

To Work and Back

My commute's been a whole lot more enjoyable since I came across the library. No more scouring the train for a space between bleary-eyed workers in beetle-black suits or counting station platforms, closed-up eyelids and sloping heads. Instead, I saunter on to the carriage with a book, stand with my back against the metal rail, and work through a chapter's worth of Rebus, several pages of Kobo Abe, or a short story and a half by Yasunari Kawabata.

I never once look up before Mejirodai.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


After the panoply of delights that is teaching in an FE college, my workload here is a walk in the park. I've been busy this week with my final reports: circling numbered boxes, then adding some pre-prepared suggestion codes (B078 - should attend class more; B004 - should sing English songs aloud) to the bottom of the page. All in all, it took a couple of hours - or about the same length of time as getting a single pre-Entry student enrolled on a course.

I'll miss this job when it finishes. Maybe even enough to come back.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Find A Fascist

Yesterday I finally had time to browse the record of UK based fascists otherwise known as the BNP membership list. Fittingly, much of it reads like an elegy to an England that never existed for nine-tenths of the people who lived there: tea with the vicar and village fetes, cricket whites and croquet on the lawn. A member of Yorkshire CCC, name change by deed poll to Placidly, won't be renewing (unhappy with an Excalibur order), ex-serviceman, former proof reader (BA Language and Literature). Like minor characters in a Graham Greene novel, the respectable face of the party lives in the twilight, refugees from the surrounding world; even their hobbies are anachronisms - freshwater fishing and classic Ford cars, amateur radio and church crawling, medieval longbow, knitting, cross-stitching and "helping people in need" (though presumably this excludes foreigners, blacks and those Muslims in the corner shop).

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

Autumn Day in Tokyo

Where To Now?

If you don't want to teach children or spend half your day commuting to one-on-one lessons with businessmen, finding a good TEFL job in Europe can be a very slow experience. So far there have been only titbits: a school in Spanish Morocco that looked wonderful until I scrolled down and saw the kindergarten classes; Western Siberia I wrote off as too cold to start in January; Porto would be great, but I'm much more interested in picking up Spanish than Portuguese.

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.

Sunday Morning Heaven

I woke up late to the sun shining on mountains, had a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich (Japanese rashers, the shape and thickness of a bookmark) while I read slowly through the last ten pages of The Great Railway Bazaar, then looked up last night's score on the BBC. Chelsea 0 Newcastle 0. In these times, it's as good as a victory.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Climbing the Oku-Tama

Armed with four photocopied pages from a fifteen-year-old guidebook, I took the local train an hour west to Kori Station for a three-peak hike through the Oku-Tama. The front car was packed with Japanese walkers, metal poles and camera tripods poking out of their designer day-packs. A man dressed all in red pushed his palm against the driver's carriage window, half blocking my view. There were weeds along the track and small, two-storey houses with gardens the size of a parked car. Two women in white face masks sat either side of me, hiking hats pulled low so that only their eyes and ear lobes remained contagious. Above the doors, a murdered ex-cabinet minister was on the TV news, followed by pictures of a Dutch seaside town.

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

The Upside of the Down

The plunging pound may be a worry for some, but for itinerant English teachers in Japan things are getting better by the day. When I arrived two months ago, 10,000 yen was worth just a little under fifty quid, more or less what it was last time I was here in 2005. This afternoon it was up to £71 - which makes the hundred grand I managed to save out of last month's pay (and the 250,000 I'll pocket two days before I leave) look a whole lot better than it did when I signed the contract.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On A Late Night Run

With one thing and another I haven't been able to run much recently. In fact, I'd almost forgotten how much I enjoyed the route: the two-lane cycle path shared with returning office workers, shirts loosened at the top button, and the dark shapes of cyclists without lights. Onions browning between houses in small, furrowed fields. A woman in a golf visor holding a carrier bag open for her dog to shit into. Three vending machines, bright and incongruous beside a rice paddy. The slight incline over the railway tracks and the turn by the river. Stacks of metal beer kegs piled-up behind the Suntory brewery. Trumpet flower scent and a green and white, floodlit cube with the name of a supermarket, hanging in the night sky. The illuminated metal cylinders where I turn for home that always make me think of China. The public bathouse at the end of my street, laundry spinning in machines and an old man closing his bakery for another night. I stop by the bins, jog up nine flights of stairs, key in the door code, and stumble to my bed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

His Master's Voice

The company president had on a dark blue suit and a paternalistic smile, worn like a necktie, as a fixture of his dress. Like an emperor, he travelled with a retinue to feed him names before the start of each audience. There was the clatter of hard-soled shoes outside my classroom door, a voice said "Michael desu. Igirisu-jin", a file snapped shut, and suddenly I saw an outstretched hand in front of my chest and greying hair, gelled back at the sides. "It's Michael, isn't it? How's everything going? Any problems?" I tried to squeeze out a reply, but he'd already hurried on. "You're from England, right? I've been told you're doing a great job. Thanks a lot. Keep up the hard work." Another smile, polite laughter, then the door was closed and I was left alone with my baggy suit and the lingering smell of aftershave.

Fuchu Library

The find of the week has undoubtedly been the Fuchu City Library, which one of my workmates stumbled across by chance while transporting a carrier bag of beer to the park. It's a proper Aladdin's Cave of English-language books (everything from Vonnegut to Yasunari, a complete set of Rebus to Basho's haiku travelogues), foreign magazines, DVDs and - wonder of wonders - VHS cassettes (my flat, like all shoebox-sized abodes, comes with a combined portable TV and video player, which until yesterday had remained unplugged). Our morning commute is now marked by its complete lack of any social intercourse. Who needs to talk when you can lean against the handrail and read The Little Prince?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hanging With The Cool Cats

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

Christmas Lights, Fuchu Station

Twenty-foot high Christmas trees in department store forecourts, Jingle Bells playing in a 7-11, a row of tatty baubles in the 100 Yen shop and KFC gearing their staff up for the December 24th rush. Well, there are only thirty-eight shopping days to go I suppose.

Cold Day In Nikko

For the second weekend in a row I was out of the house for half past six - this time for the long train ride north to UNESCO-listed Nikko (in Tochigi Prefecture, the first place I ever lived in Japan). As you can see, the crowds and autumn leaves were both at their peak.

And next Saturday I'll be getting up at noon.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Self-Service Society

Japanese vending machines are as ubiquitous as sheep in Australia, only without the practical benefits to lonely, single males. There are reckoned to be about 5.5 million of them in the country - one for every twenty-five people - selling everything from flowers to fishing bait, cigarettes and beer to the frankly unforgettable bread in a can (sadly, the machines dispensing soiled underwear have disappeared from the seedier corners of Tokyo).

Although this seems to suggest that number might be a bit of an underestimate.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

White Heat

For a high-tech country Japan adopts some pretty low-tech solutions. Mostly this has to do with keeping as many people as possible in some kind of employment - how else could you explain the old man in a hard hat and rubber flip-flops directing non-existent traffic around clearly-marked roadworks on a narrow backstreet? Or elderly ticket collectors who stand behind desks within touching distance of a self-service machine? All day today I watched two women work a 200-metre stretch of road with a twine brush and a dustpan the size of half a sledge, sweeping zelkova leaves into piles by the pavement. When they left at four, the road was no cleaner than it had been when they started.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cooling Off

The middle of week seven. We've snuck past halfway. It's right about this time that things normally begin to cool - relationships as quickly as the climate. The danger of doing short-term work in a country as alien as Japan is that you wind up teaching, living and socializing with at least one person who you'd barely give the time of day to under any other circumstances.

In my experience this never ends well.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Hiking the Western Tama

The view from Mount Jinba, slap bang on the border of Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures. I was home at two this morning, and back on the train for half past six. Four peaks and a long way later we made it to the rundown town by Sagamiko Lake just as the streetlights were coming on.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Coming Home

I started my last day in Matsumoto in a hotel onsen. The morning breeze blew dark red leaves into the outdoor pool. Through the steam I looked up at a pale blue sky and densely forested hills. Except for a fat man from Gibraltar, I had the whole place to myself.

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.

Stuff I Learned This Week

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

The Teacher's Voice

Since I came back from holiday I've been struggling to maintain a dynamic classroom presence while sounding like Macy Gray post-laryngectomy. For a language teacher losing your voice is about the worst thing that can happen to you, but right now it's calamitous. According to the terms of my contract, if I can't teach I not only lose a day's salary but also have to make-up the lessons on "a normal business day" - i.e. I get stuck with more work for zero extra pay.

This is, indisputably, a bastard.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Change Is Gonna Come

We got the news between classes, in the first afternoon break. The two Americans I work with got all excited, their teenage, one-party-state, shopaholic students were mostly nonplussed. "So guys, did you hear the news? Obama won. He`s the first black president...he beat McCain."
There was a moment's silence. "Who...who`s McCain?"

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Matsumoto Castle

Local Train to Matsumoto

The conductor walked the length of the train, touching the peak of his cap and bowing as he entered and left each carriage. Two old women in hiking boots passed boiled sweets to each other; the man opposite, bent forwards by the angle of his iron-hard seatback, turned another page in his book, bound in shiny brown envelope paper; people slept, their heads lolling around with the movement of the train. I folded my legs under the seat and tried my best to sleep between stations, opening my eyes to see a children's cartoon map of Fuji, persimmon trees, people dragging bikes in bags. As we pulled into Matsumoto a piped voice announced our arrival, drawing out the final syllable until we were halfway up the stairs. All around the station there were snow-capped mountains.

Friday, October 31, 2008

"We Must Do What We Must Do"

With a five-line email and three weeks' notice my holidays changed completely. The Thursday and Friday I thought I had off in the middle of November have been tacked on to the 'in-service days' at the end of my contract, leaving me with a useless fifty quid ticket to Kyoto and a hostel booking to cancel. Tomorrow morning I'm taking the train to Matsumoto, a small castle town in Nagano Prefecture, on the edge of the Japanese Alps. I guess I'd better make the most of it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

To A Coy Mountain

It was nothing more than a few snatched glimpses, peeping in and out of the trees and the approach to the station, but the snow-streaked cone was unmistakeably Mount Fuji. We scrambled out of our seats, craned our necks to the window, jabbered excitedly. The Japanese slept, or looked on impassively. Just another bunch of weird foreigners.

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

Late October, Tokyo

Autumn's here and the temperature's falling as fast as the leaves. Only twenty-one degrees today, and the sun was down by five o'clock. If it gets much worse I might even have to put a jacket on. That or move my scarf to the front of the wardrobe.

Back home it's raining. The daytime high is six above freezing.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

'Tis The Season

Now the life's been sucked out of Halloween, and with shopping a close third to getting excessive amounts of sleep and visiting Disneyland in the average Japanese teenager's list of must-do everyday activities, Tokyo's department stores are already gearing up for their next big event.

That's right, Christmas.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Derby Day

I might be eight time zones and almost six thousand miles away from home, but these things still matter. Kick-off's 8.45 in Tokyo. I'm feeling dangerously confident.

Howay lads!

UPDATE: Every dog has its day, eventually. It's pathetic, but for the Mackems this is about as good as life ever gets.

Yesterday's Man

Talking of stereotypes, bad news for David Beckham who, in the three years since I was last in Japan, has gone from demi-god to half forgotten has-been.

A bit like his role in the England team, really.


Generally speaking, living abroad has taught me that a lot of our ideas about other nationalities have more than a grain of truth to them. The Chinese really can be rude, abrupt and money-obsessed; Czechs rarely smile until they've sunk at least five beers (and don't ever get them started on the Roma); the Korean temper is as hot as their food; Italians flirt with every woman except their mother and still think it's cool to wear sunglasses indoors (I swear in five months in Sicily I never once saw my landlady's eyes).

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

Stealing A Country: Our National Shame

We are cursed with a government that sees personal freedoms as a cumbersome liability, exploits fear for its own ends, and would rather pander to prejudice than tackle it head on. It's evident in everything from ID cards and 42-days to the treatment of the Gurkha veterans, but most of all in the case of the Chagossians, a thirty-year scandal which makes me ashamed to be British.

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

Suntory Beer Tour

With some difficulty I managed to rouse myself from bed early enough on Saturday to do the hour long tour of Suntory's Musashino Brewery. It was an unsurprisingly surreal experience, conducted entirely in Japanese by a woman in a Butlin's jacket with a megaphone round her neck. The building was more like a nuclear power station than a place to brew beer, only marginally less interesting.

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.

Lazy Life

Although the days are way too long one thing I really like about this job is how little preparation it takes. I usually spend about 10-15 minutes each day planning, sometimes half as much again if I need to make materials. As for paperwork, all I've had to do so far is take a paper copy of the register and input it by computer once a week. Compared to my last job, it's a breeze.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Who Swears Wins

Almost. The world has certainly changed when you're so chuffed with a point at home to Manchester City. It could have been more, too, if not for another abject penalty decision from Rob Styles. Since when did a perfectly-timed tackle become a sending-off offence?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ground 103: Ajinomoto Stadium

It was lucky I'd had a few drinks beforehand because this was a dire, dire game. At kick-off Omiya were second bottom, behind Verdy only on goal difference. A few thousand aimless hoofs and one bit of soft defending later they were waist deep in sticky stuff and, after six defeats in a row, looking dead certs for the drop to J2. In England the atmosphere would have turned nasty long before Diego's late winner, but the Omiya fans carried on singing regardless, the final score incidental to the enjoyment of a sunny day out. At full-time the players stood in a line and bowed to the away end. We tidied up our beer cans, dropped them into rubbish bags at the exit, and headed home.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Vocabulary Building

There are three things my students never do: take notes, ask questions, or leave the room unless I actually stand by the door, hold it open, and usher them out one at a time. So I was doubly surprised today, at the end of a lesson on extreme adjectives, to see the whole class surround the board with their camera phones, snapping pictures of new words. It was (appropriately enough considering the subject matter) pretty hilarious.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The TEFL Trap

One of the many small ironies of the English teacher's life is being expected to improve your students' linguistic abilities at the same time as your own is slowly, constantly and, so it seems, irredeemably deteriorating. We've all had it, that awful feeling when you look at the whiteboard and realise you're no longer capable of spelling even the easiest of words. In the Czech Republic I saw a teacher spell habit with a double b; today, in the classroom next door, a scrawled dialogue began with the line Why are you so exited?; I once had three goes at architect while ten Italian teenagers looked on. But the symptoms are even worse for those of us who had no grounding in the language at school. Early on in my teaching career an over-keen Korean student sprung a question about transitive and intransitive verbs on me, right in the middle of class. It was way above my level of grammatical competence (even with my degree in English I would've struggled to explain the difference between a noun and a verb). Luckily, it was way above his too. Like all good teachers, I bluffed it out.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Things You See In Yokohama

There were two of them in the pushchair, dressed in frilly white hats and baby blue polo shirts, but it was the mother I noticed first. She was wearing a tight leather mini-skirt, matching boots turned down at the knee, and sunglasses that masked a good half of her face, a pair of bell rope-sized pig-tails swinging from the side. As we passed her children turned their faces towards me. It took another second before I realised they were dogs.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Daily Grind

Don't get me wrong, it's great being in Tokyo, but Monday to Friday my life is a set routine. Up at quarter past seven, on the train at 8.39, in class forty minutes later. I teach from twenty past ten to six. In my three allotted breaks I walk in circles round the campus. For lunch I have Power Donburi (a bowl of boiled rice and pork strips topped with fried egg yolk that hits your stomach likes a hammer) or whatever I can grab from the shop by the classroom (yesterday was a white rice triangle wrapped in dried, salted seaweed, a passable approximation of a Danish pastry with caramel in the middle, and a pack of three thinly-sliced sandwiches with ham and processed cheese). The air conditioning flits between 22 and 24 degrees. I make the same jokes six times a day, five on Mondays.

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

Jimenez Departs

"To pursue other interests" (renewing his 'executive' season ticket at Stamford Bridge?) Wanted: One vice-president (player recruitment). No prior experience. Spanish contacts only.

Song Day

Today was Song Day, a chance for students to learn English through the medium of popular music. In practice, this meant I got to listen to John Lennon singing Imagine twenty-four times in seven hours. After fifteen piano intros I finally understood what had motivated Mark Chapman.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Bald, Naked Man

Chases policemen with a rock and plastic pole. "He must be a bit crazy," says Japanese passer-by.

Banana Diet

The latest Japanese fad is the Banana Diet. Eat nothing but bananas in the morning, anything you want for the rest of the day, and make sure you're tucked up in bed by midnight.

There are two things you can't find in the world's biggest city: yellow fruit and overweight women.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Omiya Down

Meanwhile my Japanese team continued their headlong plummet to J2 hell, tonked four-nil at home by a side without a win in ten and three players light through suspension. Next up is third from bottom Tokyo Verdy. Away.

A Point!

I woke up to my mobile screaming the time in Japanese, switched on the laptop, made a cup of tea, replied to some emails, then resigned myself to looking at the score. Out of the corner of my eye all I could see was Everton 2...

Thank f*** for Steven Taylor!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Afternoons in Onsens

I solved my bathtime dilemma with a trip to the Jindaiji hot spring in Chofu, six minutes away on the express train to Shinjuku. There were four outdoor pools, a wooden barrel that shot jets of warm water down the small of your back, a sauna room and hot tub at only eight quid and change for the whole of the day.


Like almost everything else in my bathroom the tub is made from a runny-custard coloured plastic. It's big enough to sit cross-legged in, head and shoulders touching the back wall, knees three quarters of the way up the sides. By wedging the soles of my feet flat against the wall, arching my back so only the middle of my spine touches the bottom and holding on to the sides with either hand I'm just about able to dunk my hair in the water.

In future I think I'll be sticking to showers.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

University Students Arrested

For possession of 0.3 grammes of "dried plant material". Only in Japan would students smoking dope make the national news.

Mount Takao

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.

"F*** off. F*** off. It's your last f***ing chance"

I don't care what Kinnear manages on the pitch, anyone who opens a press conference with the line Which one is Simon Bird? You're a c*** will do fine for me.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Scraping The Barrel

No matter which bunch of businessmen take over the club, where we finish in the league this season, or who ends up as manager, the biggest indictment of Dennis Wise's spell as commander-in-chief is this - that our squad was so bad we considered re-signing Stephen 'Can't pass, can't run, can't tackle' Carr.

There's a reason he's a free-agent. It's because he's shit.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Campus

My classroom's in the basement, between the toilets and a shop selling University-branded souvenirs. It's decorated in the style of an Austrian teenager's bedroom: square and windowless, with strip lights, a whiteboard on wheels and air-conditioning that sounds like a boiling kettle.

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


It started raining. After work I went to the 100 yen shop and bought the cheapest umbrella I could find - a white-handled, transparent plastic-rain-mac number straight out of an early episode of Dr Who.

Funnily enough, it goes rather well with my suit.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

In My Street

After a week of unplanned early mornings, I woke at noon and decided to take in those parts of Fuchu that don't sell cheap groceries or advertise beer for 500 yen a glass. I didn't make it much further than either end of the street. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

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.

The Ito Yokado Incident

I'd left the supermarket and was halfway down the street before the check-out girl caught me up. She bowed, apologised twice, and handed over my change. It was a one yen coin. There are two hundred to the pound.

Friday, September 26, 2008

King Kinnear

My first thought was, isn't he dead? With some of the players in our squad, he might as well be for all he difference he'll make.

Just be grateful it's not Howard Wilkinson.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Training Day

Since arriving in Japan I've done almost nothing but drink beer, cook bad food under the influence of drink and wander aimlessly around town looking for pubs. Today though, the fun stops. Two days of training - or as I remember it from last time, listening to long speeches in a very hot room - and then work starts properly on Monday with six classes and a fifty-minute commute.

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

Business Hotel Cesar

My flat is a two-roomed Bento box on the ninth floor of an apartment building. I have a balcony that looks out on the mountains, a side window with views of the elevated Keisei line, a bathtub long enough to fit both feet in at once, a kettle that looks like a thermos flask and four cupboards (five if you include the kitchen). There's a Hot Pub hostess bar and a Nepalese restaurant downstairs and across the road a multi-storey carpark disguised as a Scalextric track, a corner supermarket where everything costs 50p and a sign posted in a snack pub doorway for "attractive Filipina waitresses".

Oh, and about a hundred million vending machines.

Sunset Over Fuchu

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fuchu It Is

For the next three months home will be here. On the edge of a megalopolis, near a beer factory and an art museum - and the busiest train station on the planet just a 25 minute ride away.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

West Ham 3 Newcastle 1

What are the chances of Ashley getting £480 million for a club in the Championship? Because make no mistake about it, if he hasn't sold up by the January transfer window then that's where we're headed.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Llambias: I Wanted To Slap Keegan

There's a school of thought that says none of this would have happened if Chris Mort had been in charge. I'm not so sure myself: Wise would still have brought the same players in, Ashley would still have had the final say. Whatever else though, Llambias has been an unmitigated, Shepherd-esque disaster as chairman.

And the queue to slap him would run into the tens of thousands.


I was thinking of going to Paris this week. Instead I went to Berwick. As you can see, it's pretty much the same thing.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Grow Carrots

Knobbled, gnarled and shrunken, but carrots all the same. I found this out, too: beans in hanging baskets are never a bad idea.

Monday, September 15, 2008

On The Market

He seems like a farly decent bloke, Mike Ashley, so I'll assume he's just been very badly advised by the people in day-to-day charge of the club. Or else he's a complete fool. Either way, he understands very little about what the fans actually want. Nobody seriously expected any £30 million superstar signings this summer, but nor did the thousands of people who paid £1,500 for three-year season tickets expect the club to go backwards so quickly. With the sale of Milner, the squad needed five more signings to do any better than last year (a replacement winger, creative midfielder, left-back, centre-half and a target man to cover for Viduka). At best we got one out of five - and lost a manager for pointing out the obvious. That would never have happened at Arsenal.

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


You knew we'd lose to Hull, that N'Zogbia would go missing for one of their goals, that Ameobi would be subsituted long before the end (and be booed off the pitch by idiots who'd only turned up to support the team), that Ashley wouldn't be there, that people who moaned all week would still queue up for their half-time pint.

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

The Return?

Even in the constant soap opera that is Newcastle United Football Club this one takes some beating.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We Shall Overcome

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

Santa Pola

Somehow I ended up in Santa Pola at the hottest part of the day. The high, narrow streets were shut up against the sun, the display on the municipal clock flapped between 27 and 28 degrees, leather-skinned drunks sat at plastic tables, captives in the shade.

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

The Cronies Keep Digging

But overdo the parallelism. It is a fact we don't have a manager four games into the season. It is a fact we don't have a fit left back over eighteen years of age. It is a fact the club brought in more money than was spent in the transfer window despite an increase in season ticket prices and a glaringly weak squad. It is a fact that we're going nowhere but backwards.

This says it all.

From A Rooftop

I'm lounging - literally - on a rooftop, beer on one side, book spine on the other. It's almost teatime in England, siesta time in Spain, and the only noise I can make out is the faint shrill of cicadas and voices carrying up from the pool. The sea is a cartoon blue and candyfloss clouds wisp lazily across the sky. The breeze rustles, a car engine starts, an inflatable ball slaps against water, across the bay a city slumbers.