Monday, June 30, 2008

Signed, Sealed and Delivered

"But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad".

James Joyce - The Dubliners

My contract for Japan arrived this morning. September 23rd to December 19th, six classes a day times ten weeks, "business attire" mandatory, initial each page and return. Typically, no sooner had I decided to go than I had the chance of two permanent jobs here. Not that I have any regrets. Put it down to an itch, an obsessive curiosity, but like most people in this job I only started teaching as a means to live elsewhere.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lifting Out

Japanese Onions drying on a patio table. After wasting twenty minutes trying fruitlessly to wind the foliage round a bit of wool, I gave up, shook the soil off and hung them on a shelf in the cabin to store.

Where they might soon be joined by a strawberry or two.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Friday Night In Shields

Roxanne's at a few minutes to twelve. On the dancefloor a pair of mini-skirted fiftysomethings shuffle through wisps of smoke. A bouncer eyes the room from a bar rail and men in untucked shirts stare malevolently at a staircase. Mirrors on the far wall reflect the bottom half of my body and the unfinished £3 pint that tastes of pipe cleaner and over-ripe orange. The air reeks of mildew, spilt beer and too much aftershave. My feet squelch against the carpet. Down the street, past the burger van, neon-lit shark heads, cashpoint queues and late night McDonald's, the last metro pulls out of the station.

We drink up, grimacing, and head next door.

The Business of Security

Talking cameras, tracking devices in bins and eye-stalks on street corners. "Draconian and creepy" ain't the half of it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mugabe Stripped Of Knighthood

Yeah, that'll teach him. Fix elections, starve your people and intimidate opponents all you want, mate - but you'd better not be sticking KCB on your letterheads or bragging about the Order of Bath...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Italy versus Spain

That's two and a half hours of my life I'll never get back. At least, being on the Beeb, we were spared the witterings of 'expert' summariser Sam Allardyce (who would have played six in midfield, eight at the back and been three-nil down after twenty minutes). The worst thing is, you knew what was coming from the start: Italy are to verve and entertainment what Luca Toni is to clinical finishing. Germany against Spain in the final - and the Germans to win two-one.

Japanese Onions

Planted last September, and taking up a fair-sized chunk of my tiny veggie patch, the four rows of Japanese Onions are almost ready for lifting. Over the past week the upright foliage has yellowed at the tips and flopped to the ground, while the bulbs have swelled until they've almost prised themselves free of the soil. A week or so longer and I should be able to pull them up by hand.

Although they fill the gap before maincrop varieties are ready, the problem with Japanese Onions is that they don't store very well - which means by this time next month I'll have a cupboardful of the fuckers and never want to taste one again.

Assignment 6.2

Finished! And believe me, if you'd had to spend all yesterday afternoon writing this, all that atrocious weather wouldn't have bothered you one little bit.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

And Then We Came To The End

After six long months, my last day of full-time teaching this side of Japan. I won't miss the workload, that's for sure: the never ending paperwork, weekends given up to lesson planning and monotonous, time consuming, one-size-fits-all government strictures that do little but distract from the job of educating people (which is, when all's said and done, what we're actually paid to do).

I need a holiday. A long one.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Six Years To The Day

South Korea versus Italy, live in Daejeon. A flicked header from Ahn Jung-hwan loops through the humid night air. The tiny pocket of Italians down to our left leaves en masse. Hysteria grips a whole nation (and I get lots of free beer).

Cutting The Purse Strings

'If Labour is no longer the party of collective action through government (and public sector employment), what is it?' asks the Guardian's David Walker.

Deep in debt and haemorrhaging members, without its union subscriptions Labour would struggle to survive as a political party, let alone a government. In the week when ministers urged sub-inflation pay restraint on trade union members while pledging to block any attempts to regulate exectutive pay, wouldn't a more apposite question be this: if New Labour is no longer the party of the public sector, then why should the public sector continue to prop it up?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Off To A Flier

Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, the fixture computer comes up with Man United and Arsenal away in August, a trip to Wigan for the second Boxing Day in a row, and end-of-season visits to Liverpool and Aston Villa. On the plus side, the last weekend in January looks a cinch already. Well, something had to.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ty Vole

Despite having The Best Goalkeeper In The World, the demise of the Czech Republic was hardly a shock. I never could work out why they were considered Europe's great emerging nation when, with Nedved, Smicer and Poborsky about to retire, Koller and Galasek straining their legs, and Baros proving the wrong side of the adage that form is temporary but class is permanent, they were a team whose peak had clearly come and gone at Euro 2004.

So who to jinx next?

Group Stage Party

It was a dangerously simple idea: Baltika beer, vodka and a bottle of ouzo, plus a dish from each of the four countries (herring and mashed potatoes from Sweden, a Russian rice-and-crabstick salad, Catalunyan-style pasta and, erm, peanuts, feta cheese and these vine wrapped thingys from that haven of Greek culture known locally as Lidl the budget supermarket).

My head shut down around one. It might just have recovered in time for the quarter finals.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


With my vegetable patch given over to shallots, runner beans and Japanese onions, this summer I've been experimenting with containers: radish in shallow plastic troughs, dwarf beans in hanging baskets, courgettes and dill in broken buckets, and potatoes in an old rubbish bin, scrubbed clean and half filled with soil and compost.

So far, so good - but the proof is in the digging up.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Fire Sale

Nobody in, Rozenhal, Emre and, probably, Milner out, Barton locked-up and Ameobi running his contract down. The squad, already small, is looking as thin as the average fan's wallet (and that's before the latest price rises). Lucky we have the Euro jamboree to distract us - I haven't been so despondent about a new season since 2001, when all we had to show for two months of transfer talk was a bigmouth forward from a relegated team and an inconsistent winger from Paris St Germain...

Monday, June 09, 2008


By and large the last week has been spectacular gardening weather, long hot days, hardly any wind and plenty of rain. Suddenly, everything is shooting up: potatoes sprouting out of bins, overwintered sweet peas opening on a trellis, Delphinium Giants and rhubarb, year-old Foxgloves budding in the borders.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Euro 2008

Another month of beer and football. In the absence of any home nations, I'll be supporting the Czech Republic - one year in Liberec beats six months in Sicily, and they do have a (soon to be ex-) Newcastle player in defence. Watch them stumble through the group stages, then go and lose to the Germans on penalties in their first big game. Nothing much changes there, then - except Plasil and Jankulovski are infinitely more likeable than Stevie G and Cashley Cole.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Game 39

Is now dead in the water. Instead, the Manchester United supporting inhabitants of Saudi, Malaysia and Beijing can look forward to a branded pre-season kickaround at forty quid a pop.

Sounds alright to me.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Over The Line

As the superdelegates pile in for the Man Who (Maybe) Can, Associated Press reports that Hillary would be "open to" a shot at being vice president. Dream ticket or clever bind? If he agrees, Obama risks looking weak. But if he says no...

Do the Clintons know no shame?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Waving Goodbye

To the wrong ship. The German girls left our rainy island five minutes' later, scanning the riverbank for hankies and pom-poms. Meanwhile, we fell about on wet sand.

Vorsprung Durch Idiots.