Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Halloween story

I heard tell of a boy who lived somewhere in the North, although the exact location I can't recall. No, nor the name of the boy in question, but let us call him Hiro, for he is, as such, the focus of this story, and his name should please those of an allegorical bent of mind.

Picture, if you will, an unremarkable sort of a boy: slender and slightly above average height, but with nothing particularly striking about his appearance; in his navy blue high school uniform, virtually indistinguishable from a score or more of his classmates. His one habit was a tendency to fiddle with his glasses, but this in itself was, again, unremarkable; the glasses were slightly misshapen from a time he had kept them in his pocket without their protective case and didn't sit on his nose quite as they ought to.

Despite his near sightedness and a slight tendency to hayfever, Hiro was otherwise blessed with a fairly robust constitution and rarely missed school through illness. He was a hard-working student, and his grades boded well for a successful future, particularly as he was strong at maths and physics and hoped to work as an engineer.

Hiro was also in the school baseball club, although in this he had the unhappy distinction of being far and away the worst player. Although enthusiastic and in reasonably good shape, he was malcoordinated to the nth degree and also, sadly, threw like an absolute girl. His continuing failure to get anywhere near a place in the school baseball team might have been expected to dampen his spirits by some, but it seems that his passion for the game was so great that nothing could put him off playing; no, not even his own rancid inability and the constant ridicule of his contemporaries.

This much we know of Hiro.


It was a practice game much like any other; certainly the game was close and both sets of players wanted to win, but with nothing at stake other than bragging rights, the atmosphere was fairly relaxed. Hiro was standing in the outfield watching intently as one of his classmates pitched. If one good thing could be said about Hiro and baseball, it would be that his concentration on the game absolutely never wavered, regardless of any circumstance; it is just that he was generally bad and couldn't throw to save his life, as has been mentioned above.


The ball rose high into the air.

Straining his eyes against the sun, Hiro realised that it was coming his way. Jogging a few steps backwards, he lost his footing somewhat and, in correcting himself, lost sight of the ball. Lowering his arms in bafflement, he picked it up again, and guessed that its trajectory would bring it down a few yards behind him. As he took a step backward, he lost the ball once more in the glare of the sun and, unnerved, commited the cardinal sin of looking away, fearful lest the ball should come down on his head.

Usually in such cases, Hiro would have heard the thump of the ball hitting the floor somewhere nearby, followed closely by groans from his teammates. On this occasion, however, he was rewarded by the rich thwock! of the ball landing in the glove shielding his head.

As it happened, this fortuitous catch heralded the end of the game. Realisation struck Hiro, he pumped a fist in triumph and shouted "Yatta!" at the top of his voice. It would be wonderful to say that his team flocked to him in congratulation, but, in actuality, they merely sniggered a bit at his uncharacteristically vocal celebration; this was, after all, only a practice game. Hiro didn't mind a bit: it would be an exaggeration to say that he had never caught a ball before, but this was by far the most important catch of his undistinguished baseball career and he couldn't keep himself from smiling afterwards in the changing room. His teammates teased him about his loud celebration, but he took it in good humour, even when they asked him to pose for victory photographs.

Hiro slept well and peacefully that night.

The following day in class, Hiro found a slim envelope tucked inside his textbook. Sitting over to one side of the class, he was free to open it and examine the contents without fear of discovery by his teacher. Curiously, he extracted a small note from the envelope and read it, frowning as he did so.

At first, the mysterious paper appeared to be nothing more than a "cursed" chain letter, not unknown amongst younger children, but virtually unheard of in high school. Hiro wondered who could be responsible for such a childish prank. He immediately looked around for the boy whom he had caught out the previous day, but he was nowhere nearby and, upon reflection, Hiro realised that he hadn't seen him all morning.

Reading the letter again, Hiro realised that there some unusual things about it. Firstly, it was written in a very strange, almost archaic hand, and had several characters that he didn't recognise. Furthermore, contrary to the usual letter which would bid the recipient to pass on copies to x number of people within y number of days, this one simply bade Hiro to keep it close to him at all times and not by any means to lose or destroy it; not, that is, unless he wished to die a grisly, grisly death.

Although taken aback by the apparent malice of the letter, and its strong wording, Hiro was initially inclined to discard it. However, he realised that he had no immediate means of doing so, the class waste paper basket being under the teacher's desk. On second thoughts, he tucked it back inside his textbook; he could deal with it later and besides, he quite wanted to look again at some of the unfamiliar characters.

Getting home and taking the textbook out of his bag, he found that the letter had disappeared.

Hiro's father often worked late, so on most evenings Hiro was alone at home with his mother. Sometimes they played cards or watched television together, but for the most part they were engaged in their separate activities: she with reading or housekeeping, he with homework. On this evening, he stayed up late studying hard, as he had a test the next day. Finally, unable to concentrate on his books any longer, he turned out the light and curled up in bed.

To Hiro's amazement, however, he soon discovered that he couldn't sleep at all. Although he was sure he was exhausted from his studies, he couldn't get comfortable in his bed and became aware of a strange, racing thrill in his chest. This persisted for some hours and eventually gave way to that falling sensation which all of us have felt at some time or another. For most of us, this happens every once in a while and is gone as suddenly as it comes as we snap awake with a startled jolt, but for Hiro this evening, the sensation was constant: every time he felt himself to be dozing off, he would get a giddy lurch as if he were plummeting to the ground and would instantly be awake again. Early in the morning, Hiro got out of bed, abandoning his attempts to sleep.

The day went by in a somnolent haze. Unable to focus properly, Hiro found the test difficult and was sure he had done much worse than usual. Furthermore, his attempts to get some sleep in the school library during break proved as futile as his efforts the previous night.

Slouching home with a heavy sense of inevitability, Hiro was exasperated to find that he still could not sleep. Again, the second he felt himself drifting off, he would suddenly wake with the sensation of his body slamming to the floor. Once again giving up on slumber, he started writing an essay that one of his teachers had set, but, with his eyes aching rawly and his brain groggy, he could hardly follow what he was writing and was not hopeful that the piece would turn out well.

The next day, Hiro stumbled to school feeling more dead than alive, he received his test results and found, as he had gloomily surmised, that he had done badly. Extremely badly. On top of being maladroit at baseball, he was now countenancing the possibility that "dumbo" status would also be conferred upon him.

Staggering blindly through the day, through the seemingly interminable string of classes, Hiro's world began to fray at the edges; voices he had known for years now seemed as harsh and alien as the babble of monkeys, yet the hush of students bent in concentration over their writing seemed to him a shocked silence, accusing him of some monstrous blasphemy. He betook himself to careful scrutiny of his wristwatch, counting down the seconds until the end of the day but this provided no solace as, before his despairing eyes, the gap between each tick and each tock grew exponentially larger until the hands finally froze, tantalizingly, before the last bell of the day.

Hiro stared ferociously at his wrist, holding his breath until his face turned livid purple. I can't breathe, he told himself, if I breathe I won't be able to contain myself. I'll scream. I'm going mad, I know I am. Is everyone else the same? Clinging onto the edge of their desk like it were a plank of wood in the middle of a turbulent ocean, the whole world, which seemed so solid and so stable crumbling insubstantially away, like a house of cards in the breeze...

...oh shit, I can't possibly hold my breath any longer...

By now a most alarming colour, Hiro dragged in a lungful of air that seemed to burn a layer off the inside of his chest, but, before he could release the primal roar of anguish that had been building inside him, like the water of an underground spring forcing its way upwards before it finally breaks the surface, the bell rang for the end of day. Salvation beckoned, for Hiro had a plan.

Running home on heavy legs, Hiro dragged himself up the stairs to the bathroom and took out the medicine box. As he had known for a long time, his father's job was stressful and he had been taking sleeping tablets. Without reading the label, or counting, or caring what the consequences were, Hiro upended the bottle into his mouth and then, feeling like a drowning man dragging himself out of the raging sea, he staggered to his room, casting off his rucksack full of school books and sank down on the bed.

This time, I can't fail, he whispered to himself. I'm going to sleep for sure this time. And if I don't, I'm going to jump in front of a fucking train. God help me, I will.

The ceiling of his room began to turn grey at the edges, then the greyness spread to the centre of his vision, turning to whiteness as it did so. The whiteness grew stronger and then faded as he closed his eyes. Once again, he felt he was falling, but now he no longer feared it.

I won't open my eyes, he whispered, if I have to fall forever, then I'll fall forever. I won't open my eyes, not this time. I can do it. Just watch me; I won't.

Hiro let himself go and, gradually, the sensation of falling slowed, stopped, and reversed itself; only this time there was no frantic rush of acceleration, just a serene progression into the sky, as if he were rising on a cloud. He breathed a sigh of contentment which he felt pass from his mouth and pass from his entire body at the same time, his muscles relaxed and his clenched fist loosened, revealing the empty bottle of tablets. Finally, he slept.


It is not the intention of this story that the reader be made to feel sad or wretched, so I will spare you most of the terrible things Hiro's parents must have felt when they discovered him dead that evening, smiling beatifically at the ceiling, with the empty bottle by his side. However, the story would be incomplete if I were not to recount a couple of things which mystified them until the end of their days.

Firstly, Hiro's father had always kept a scrupulous count of his sleeping tablets and swore that, by his count, whilst the dosage Hiro had taken would have been pretty strong, it would have been far short of fatal, particularly for such a healthy boy.

Hiro's mother never openly disputed this, although it may well have been that she harboured some private reservations as to whether her husband's record of his medication was quite as accurate as he claimed. Even had she done so, it is unlikely that she could have come up with a similarly prosaic explanation for the state of Hiro's room when she came in to fetch him, having called him down for his dinner several times and not received any kind of response.

The floorboards beneath Hiro's bed had cracked and bent downwards, as if forced by some tremendous weight. As for the bed itself, upon which Hiro lay peacefully, without a single scratch on his entire body: it was destroyed. The legs splintered like matchwood and the frame of the bed was wrecked beyond the skill of any repair, again, as if it had been crushed by some tremendous weight.

Or as if something had fallen on it from a very great height.


God forgive me, for I have fibbed

My Monday morning routine does not generally include going to the gym. No matter how much I pay per calendar month for my membership, I play football Sunday evenings, so Monday morning means dog tired.

HOWEVER, this week is a special occasion; because I didn't pay the water bill for the last quarter, I have no hot water. I wake up at 8am, smelling bad. I decide: 1500m on the treadmill at the gym, then I'll use THEIR shower before heading home to prepare for work.

So I get on the treadmill and am immediately conscious of the fact that these are not the gym's usual clientele. I'm accustomed to shapely, ahem, Eastern European ladies trimming it up on the stair walkers, instead of which I have wiry guys screaming at themselves as they force themselves to sprint finish on the running machine. For example: the guy behind me sounded like he was giving birth to a Land Rover.

Faced with such determined gerbils and not wishing to lose face, I ran off 5km on the treadmill, with my legs reminding me of the previous night's exertions from start to finish. No surrender to the salad dodgers.

I finally got back to the locker room and the shower I'd been waiting for. I flicked on the tap and the water was colder than any water I'd ever willingly splash on my body.

I tampered with the taps to no avail. I pulled my sweaty running shirt back on and went to find the gym's staff...

"Excuse me..."


"There's no hot water in the shower, only cold."

(she nods happily.)

"Well... er...Why?!"

"Every week, Monday is cold shower day."


STUDENT: Eh?! Really?!


Friday, October 27, 2006


Terms and conditions of use


This page does not tolerate fools gladly.

All instances of public effrontery, shouting at officers in uniform, running away from psychopaths, being run over, being kicked by French villains, singing the blues, trashing elbows, eating cheese before bed, crossing the road with my eyes shut to test how difficult it is for blind people, and generally larking about were conducted at the author's own risk.

All opinions expressed on this page are incontrovertibly true.


Is nothing sacred?!

Serendipity: n. a talent for making useful discoveries by chance

Classroom at the end of a long day, Dan and one student.

SHE: Can I ask one question?

ME: Sure.

SHE: What does knob cuff mean?

Pregnant pause. Dan's face is winning the war against guilt or mirth; hers is all angelic innocence.

ME: Where did you hear that?

SHE: I read it.

ME: Hmmm... I can only think of one place where you could possibly have read that...


So, it seems it's time to say hello to my Japanese readership.



Farewell to HK (no, not THAT HK...)

After two months or so of Thursday mayhem, I had my final stint at Hirakata Koen kids school yesterday; a mixed blessing.

Reasons to be grateful

1. Mad hima day: one lesson, a free period to travel one stop on the O-Keihan (which, incidentally, takes about two minutes), teach four sets of kids, another free period in which to manage the journey back to Hirakata, my break (by which time I'm wondering what on earth to do with myself), one lesson, then home or hostelry.

2. Cool junior and senior classes.

Reasons to be fearful

1. The school is a disorganised mess, which may partly be attributed to the dumbass who goes there on Wednesdays and leaves the place anything but shipshape.

2. The kinders are a very good indication of what is wrong with Japan these days; if I'd sired either of these turbulent runts I'd never get tired of beating them.

eight reasons to be cheerful

The most interesting class dynamic is the juniors: class of eight, one midget, a set of identical twins and the lone boy in the mix, rather than being self-conscious, spends most of his time shouting at himself and doing combat rolls around the room, much to the bafflement of his peers.

As a teacher it's my duty to try to calm things down, but I know good entertainment when I see it.

Seven girls huddle in the middle of the room, scary gaijin teacher is chasing eight-year-old boy round in circles, threatening to draw on his face with a board marker.

DAN: PANDA ni naru zo!

8YOB: Tasukete! (Help!)

Friday, October 20, 2006



I achieved my first mission of the day: got down to the Toho cinema and watched X-Men 3. I didn't expect a great deal from it, so I wasn't too disappointed; it would have been more faithful to the comic if Wolverine had acted like more of a prick though.

Japanese audiences have a tendency to sit through all of the end titles; I did so too, but this was because I wanted to check that nothing had fallen out of my pockets in the darkness. Imagine me clicking my tongue in irritation when, lo and behold, there's an extra scene at the end of the credits.

What looks like a very plush hospital room, male patient in classic coma situation. Enter nurse.

HE: Good morning, "Moira."

SHE: Charles..?

And to the reader who says "Hold on Dan- shouldn't you have included a spoiler warning there?" I say: that's ok, you can thank me later, for I despise this cheap bullshit trick whereby paying customers are forced to sit through all the credits, despite their full bladder, only to be rewarded with some mundane crap "twist" like the above.

If you're going to pull this kind of shit, just run the end credits halfway through the film and have done with it.


I raised my eyebrows somewhat when, halfway through the cast listing, and long after such leading lights as Magneto, Storm and Juggernaut had taken their bows, the names of Lawnmower man and Waterhose man cropped up. In all the excitement that particular deathmatch must have passed me by.

I can't say their special powers sound too promising though.

Unless, of course, you value a well-kept garden.


Sugaring the pill

Strong point and weak point...

Back when I was in charge of writing SBA FC match reports, I established the journalistic institution of shooters and rooters, these being the accolades given to those players who had, respectively, played like a wet dream and a wet bed.

Shortly before I came to Japan, I had a go at changing this to George Best and Fred West.

It didn't really catch on.

So, a senior instructor at the Happy Rabbit English Corporation, and occasional reader of this page, I might add, was asking me for some advice (by which I mean: going through the tiresome charade of asking me for some advice, as if he expected any kind of sense) about the format of the new batch of (laughingly titled) student progress reports:

HE: I have a plus as "strong point", a minus as "weak point"; is there a better way to phrase "weak point"?

ME (off guard): Er.. how about "needs work"?

(He gives this the thumbs up and heads for the PASOKON to make the necessary alterations, my brain rebounds to its normal state of operations.)

ME: Wait- how about this? A plus equals "big and ballsy", a minus equals "cerebral palsy?"

I received an old-fashioned look.

As per George Best vs Fred West, I think it may be some time before this one sees the light of day.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Deaf ears and random misdeeds

The siren was singing to me because that's what she does...

It wouldn't take me long
To tell you how to find it
To tell you where we'll meet
This little girl inside me
Is retreating to her favourite place

Go into the garden
Go under the ivy
Under the leaves
Away from the party
Go right to the rose
Go right to the white rose
(For me)

I sit here in the thunder
The green on the grey
I feel it all around me
And it's not easy for me
To give away a secret
It's not safe

But go into the garden
Go under the ivy
Under the leaves
Away from the party
Go right to the rose
Go right to the white rose
(For me)

Go into the garden
Go under the ivy
Go under the leaves with me
Go right to the rose
Go right to the white rose
I'll be waiting for you

It wouldn't take me long

I was deaf to her words, deaf to everything, alone in the centre of the dark desert and in the top bulb of the hour glass; until the shrill buzzing came.

My eyes peeled open and I was once again in my unruly cloister, alarm ringing, a nest of hornets in my ears. I checked to see if I'd managed to bring a handful of sand back with me as evidence: I hadn't.

Further investigation revealed that I'd slept fully clothed again, damn that demon drink, that sweet, sweet sorceress.

I rolled over toward the sound of my shrill tormenter and found a pair of chopsticks on my pillow, the paper sheaf identifying them as having been purloined from the previous night's bar.

Well, I thought, stranger things have happened.

I turned off the alarm and rolled over onto my other side and found that I was looking at a further ELEVEN pairs of stolen chopsticks.

Stranger things indeed; I don't think I'll be going back to Torikizoku for a while.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Is it a bird? Is is a plane?

OK, I said to the three ladies in class, acutely aware that I'd been drinking too much coffee, teaching too many kids and was generally not to be trusted around normal adults; do you have this game in Japan, where you look up at clouds and try to imagine what you see, like a boat or a horse or whatever?

After the customary pause necessary for the question to be unravelled in the various cerebra of room 5's finest, all three nodded an affirmative response.

Off you go then, I said, turning over my sheet of notepaper to reveal the picture I had scribbled in the 30 seconds prior to class: a man-shaped cloud kicking a dog-shaped cloud up in the air.

"Er, a man and a dog?" volunteered Charlie's most promising Angel.

You're close, I told her; the correct answer is an arm wrestler kicking a dog. You can see he's an arm wrestler because one arm is much bigger than the other...

I can't blame the students if, at any point, they wondered how their English was going to be improved by this.


Badly-clad despots and the truth about Japan's shellfish imports

Naturally enough, this week's hot topic in Japan is the nuclear-testing tomfoolery of neighbouring North Korea. My Japanese teacher was wailing about it last night. I pointed out that all this talk of nuclear tests was simply a plea for attention from the world's most drably-dressed dictator.

ME: Why does he always wear such dowdy clothes? African dictators are always so well dressed.

SHE: Hmmm...

I was delighted with this nugget of wisdom received on gmail from Andrew (late of these shores):

Japan bans North Korean imports. Tonight, millions of Japanese children will go without their bark and dirt soup. Stop the madness.

Good point, I thought, just what the hell does Japan actually get from North Korea. I did a quick web search and found the answer on asahi.com

...The government also required dealers to specify the origin of imported clams.

North Korean clams accounted for a large market share in Japan.

Other imports listed were crabs, sea urchins, mushrooms and, until last summer, smokeless coal.

How many did you guess?

5: North Korean farmer

3-4: Sound knowledge of Asian trade affairs

1-2: Useful in a pub quiz

0: Japanese person

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Theory and practice

Recently, I found myself so devoid of motivation in the teaching room, that I tossed them the topic 101 ways to use a hairdrier and told them to knock themselves out.

Some of the highlights:

- Moving balloons about (because, apparently, they're far too heavy to move by hand.)

- Revealing what's written on an invisible ink letter (use lemon juice as the ink.)

- Murdering someone in the bath.

I smiled to myself but resisted the urge to tell them about #83: The Tuesday Night Special:

The men's changing room in the Oasis Sports Club, five men seated in front of the mirror. Four stony-faced salarymen of indeterminate age are drying their hair, as is the fifth man: Dan. In contrast to the others, however, and to their tacit disapproval, Dan is drying the hair on his back.

Monday, October 02, 2006


The hot new flavour sensation that's got people in Shinsaibashi legging it for the bathroom



Malnutrition in a can

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