Friday, October 30, 2009

Thursday Night, Tachikawa

"You're from Georgia? So's my friend here. He keeps goats." "No shit, man! Me too." He leaned drunkenly across the table, flashing a smile that was nine-tenths metal. "You got any hens? I get double yolkers." His girlfiend pushed closer, her hand against my knee. "I think my boyfriend gay. He say many problems Japanese girl, American man."

That was the kind of bar it was.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dr Jekyll and Northern Rock

Admittedly I've never thought of global money markets on any terms other than Upton Sinclair's - "Fascism is capitalism plus murder" - but I'm still struggling to fathom how the Northern Rock good bank / bad bank is actually supposed to work. Does one half smile encouragingly, build up rapport by offering you cigarettes and keep bringing cups of over-sweetened tea while the other sits backwards on a chair, beats you up in a cell and then has you stand in a pool of your own piss for sixteen hours straight? Or perhaps, as a friend put it, the tea comes before you get a mortgage, the piss after.

In essence, I suppose, the deal is this: the state gives £27 billion in aid to Bad Bank, which then, through a magician's sleight of hand, turns broken-down Good Bank into a profitable concern. Good Bank must now be sold because it's wrong for governments to interfere in the free market. Bad Bank, and its £27 billion debt to Good Bank the taxpayer, must now be dumped on the state, because it's wrong for governments to interfere in the free...

When done without government consent, this is more usually known as money laundering.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Naming Rights

Tempted as I was to join in with the barrage of insults aimed at Mike Ashley - "boycott, boycott, boycott," "Does a name change from a local name constitute ethnic cleansing?" (To the writer of that one: I don't think so, though you may want to double check with Radovan Karadzic just to be on the safe side), "Ashley, you're a cock" - I couldn't hope to beat this effort from the Guardian's sport blog:

Given Ashley's inability to conclude any kind of business deal it looks like NUFC can look forward to the team turning out at the Ashleydome next season wearing a Slazenger kit sponsored by Sport Direct.

Funny, but like a last-minute Danny Guthrie tackle, painfully close to the bone.


Sometimes it rained, but when it did, it truly poured; other times, everything was a radiance of blue - Pico Iyer, The Lady and the Monk.

After a whole weekend of English-winter drudgery - days of constant rain, the sky so dark you need a light on at noon, and that depressing cold-humid dampness that could permeate the walls of a bank vault - the sun came back out, turning maple leaves snooker-ball red and making the mountains as clearly visible as a fifty pound note on an empty pavement.

The nights are drawing in and the mornings turning chilly, but when autumn in Japan is good, it is, as Iyer wrote, "like I had never known autumn before".

Monday, October 26, 2009

At Work

This is my day: I'm up at twenty past seven and out of the door an hour later, my arrival at the station timed for the gap between the local train from Shinjuku and the 8.32 Semi-Special Express to Keio Hachioji. I take up my place on the platform exactly midway between the news kiosk and the lift in order to alight at the correct place twenty-six minutes later, facing the black-suited, white-shirted swarms heading in the opposite direction. Amusement arcade melodies announce the arrival of the train. The doors always stop precisely at my feet.

Off the train, I take the stairs two at a time to make sure of a seat on the ten-minute bus ride to campus. We file off one-by-one, the driver intoning thank-yous like a lobotomised monk as his machine spits back our pre-paid tickets. There are people sweeping fallen leaves, handing out free packets of tissues with advertising attached, slowly crawling to class. I head for an office of light-blue uniforms that bark "Morning" at me in perfect unison as I pick up the classroom key, passed two-handed with a bow by a security guard who then affixes his seal to the right of my signature. I teach seven classes a day, six per my lesson plan and one where the students are supposed to set the topic, have lunch before noon and go home, if I'm lucky, at around quarter to six.

I do this five days a week. I prefer the weekends.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Time For Change

Only the disaster prone Mike Ashley could contrive to offer a permanent contract to a caretaker manager right as the wheels threaten to come off our season. Chris Hughton's a likeable man who's done better than most of us expected, but he's no more likely to take us up on our unwanted owner's terms - and let's not beat about the bush here, he's getting the job because he's cheap and grateful enough to do whatever he's told - than a cricket nightwatchman is to score a double hundred in a Test Match.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Acceptable in the '80s

If nothing else the last 20 years should have busted the ideological fallacy that privatising public services is always a good thing. Competition means lower prices for consumers? Not if you're a gas and electricty user or need to take the train, it doesn't. The private sector is more skilled than the state? Tell that to the victims of Railtrack. Services plummet, prices soar, but the taxpayer subsidy continues unabated, hoovering public money into private pockets.

Royal Mail is the biggest but not the only current battlefield. Locally, see Shirley Ford on the de-facto privatisation of the Metro, demanded by the government as a condition of new investment (as if Metronet simply never happened). Peter Mandelson is said to be "beyond angry" at the threat of strike action. In truth, it's those of us who need a reliable post service and affordable public transport that should be incandescent with rage.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Danger Signals

One point from nine, a single goal in our last three games. As long as we remain second in the league it would be wrong to call it a crisis, but our currect form does show the folly of Ashley's attempts to get promotion on the cheap. Barring a frankly unnatural run of luck with form and injuries, the squad we have now is palpably not up to the job of a 46-game season. We're crying out for pace and creativity in midfield (we haven't had a player who could pass the ball accurately since Emre), for adequate cover in key positions - like the left-back that Keegan asked for fourteen months ago - and for long-term solutions to loan signing sticking plasters. It's not hard to imagine the damage a couple of injuries would do to our defence in January with Simpson and Khizanishvili both gone.

Knowing Ashley, I won't be holding my breath.

Mount Takao

Despite the dire precictions of the newspaper weather forecast (weatherunderground was far more optimistic, and we go back a long, long way), I managed to persuade two other people to join me on the fifty-five minute, hangover-busting ascent of Mount Takao. Things didn't begin well. Arriving at the station, we were met by an arrivals-hall scrum, guides with travel agency flags leading walkers to the cable car, people waiting by the ticket barriers with cardboard signs, dozen upon dozen queuing up for free maps. We lost the majority once we were past the cable car station, another few by taking the quietest trail to the top, but we didn't find that out-of-the-city feeling until we pushed on past the first peak. The trees were just beginning to turn, mountains ran away into the distance like a scene from a Chinese landscape painting.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Daily Heil: Hoist By Its Own Petard

From the paper that brought you Britain's support for the Nazis and the scandal of the million failed asylum seekers getting free treatment on the NHS comes this "hateful idiocy...of pure blockheaded spite", admirably and comprehensively savaged by the great Charlie Booker in this morning's Guardian.

It's already been the subject of several Twitter and Facebook campaigns and well over a thousand complaints to the PCC (it's a clear breach of articles 1,5 and 12 of the code, covering accuracy, intrusion into grief and discrimination). Bearing in mind the Mail's great love of public witchhunts over jokes about having sex with the granddaughters of minor celebrities, feel free to join in here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Even now, my fourth time here, the thing that gets me most about Tokyo is how silent its public places can be. Every night, changing trains at the busy junction of three different lines, I stand in soundless queues on crowded platforms and hear nothing except for birdsong being piped through the public address system. Once onboard, except for the odd gaggle of high school girls trilling "Bye bye" as their friends get off the train, each long carriage is deathly silent even when you're so crammed together your feet barely touch the floor. People read books, check emails, listen to music, scroll through mobile phone screens, play computer games, stare off into space, fall asleep with their mouths wide open. But only foreigners ever speak.

There are, unfortunately, exceptions. Living near a fire station, I'm regularly woken up at night by the wail of sirens - and a booming, megaphone-loud voice simultaneously thanking motorists for moving to one side.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

If Carslberg Did Typhoons...

Waking up to sunshine, twenty-five degrees by the middle of the day, an all-you-can-eat Thai buffet and a walk around the park, late-afternoon trains to Shinjuku, Fuji from the 45th floor, catching the end of happy hour and downing Kahlua when you should have been in work, Scottish football fans in kilts and saltire t-shirts.

And not a drop of piss-weak Scandinavian lager anywhere to be seen.

Storm Coming

The first typhoon to make landfall in Japan for two years also got me a day off work ("Classes cancelled tomorrow," read the slightly panicked email. "Please stay in your home.") In most other places I've worked an unexpected holiday would be a cause of unbridled joy. Here it means giving up a Saturday later in the term.

I woke up at ten and braved the storm by opening a window. The sun was out, a man rode past on a bicycle and the wind was no stronger than a blustery day in Newcastle.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Rainy Days

Typhoon Melor's northerly approach has led to two days of near-incessant rain in Tokyo (though mercifully caused a corresponding 100% fall in "Today is fine day" sentences from my students). The 75p all-plastic umbrella I bought last week is thus far proving not quite up to the job. The same, it has to be said, as more than one member of my nominally intermediate level class.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Night Out In The 'Pong

It's gone midnight by the time we leave the subway and Roppongi is just getting started. There are GIs in baggy jeans and white t-shirts, groups of Japanese with dyed hair and boots that reach past their knees, a man curled up drunk on a patch of grass by a public toilet, so much neon you only know it's dark when you look up at the sky. Taxi doors open automatically like CD player draws, lights scroll, flash and flicker, Nigerians move through the streets handing out piles of 500 yen drink fliers. "Club New York, down here," "Essential, upstairs. Entrance over there," "Hey man, where you from? Looking for somewhere good?"

Wandering the streets with convenience store beer we end up in Gas Panic, where your feet stick to the metal floor and anyone caught momentarily without alcohol is likely to have a menu and torch shoved in their face. No drink, no entry. Tequila shots, 500 yen. Cans of Asahi, six. Rumcola, eight. "I got another year and a half here, man," says the soldier with the broken thumb, continuing a conversation I hoped had ended twenty minutes earlier, "then I'm opening a bar in Texas or California. My family are all teachers. Math, Geography, History..."

We leave the last bar at six o'clock. The sun is up. Bodies sprawl across the train station platform.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

He's Not The Messiah

But to parahphrase Monty Python, he was working under some very naughty boys. A million quid in wages for "a player who was not expected to play in the first team," public statements that were, by the club's own admission, "simply untrue". "Profoundly unsatisfactory," was the verdict on Newcastle's defence.

Not much change there then.

Friday, October 02, 2009

A Million Miles From The Madding Crowd

Middlesbrough's misfiring team prefer playing away from home, thinks the soon-to-be-sacked Gareth Southgate. "We're fourth and my team are thinking 'What's going on?' The relationship between players and fans has clearly changed."

With the pathetic crowds Boro are getting this year I'm surprised noise still carries from the stands to the pitch. Fickleness, as endemic to Teesside as brown air, pot bellied women and concrete smoke stacks.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Simple Pleasures

It'd take a lot more than a day of light rain and Newcastle only managing to scrape a fortuitous home draw (and if you want one good reason why Hughton will never make a permanent boss it's attempting to play Nicky Butt wide left while leaving Gutierrez on the bench) to even begin to dampen the joy of waking up after seven and a half hours of (almost) uninterrupted kip.