Sunday, December 31, 2006


2006: that was the year that was

There were tears of sadness and of happiness, hearts broken and promises likewise, but also new, stronger bonds of friendship forged in the fiery fires of adversity...

And here are some of my favourite pictures from the year. Enjoy!


A rather dirty-looking grave mound statue in Vietnam. Some kind of celebration of life, apparently.

Snowing again
Me not feeling much like celebrating life as I ride the shinkansen from Tokyo through the snowy wilderness of central Japan.

Mike dying a grisly death underwater in Kanazawa.

My first plaster cast. For my Dad's birthday I treated him to a one-handed guitar rendition of "Happy Birthday To You," delivered via mobile phone across a distance of several thousand miles.

Get in there!
Decisive SF penalty kick in the June Awaji football tournament. Pick it out!

With Grandma
Me and Dad with Grandma, now no longer with us.

At Murphy's with Andrew, as was often the case.

Comfortably my worst pull of 2006.


Dog's breakfast

Sitting in Burger King in Busan Station, munching away on the double cheese burger, I became vaguely aware of some noise on the edge of hearing; slightly beyond the incomprehensible babble around me.

I paused in my mastication.

"Say, does anybody else hear yapping?"

My travelling comrades gave me an old-fashioned look, paused in their own chewing to listen, then began to look as puzzled as I was. As I had thought, almost drowned out by the hum of conversation at surrounding tables, the yapping of dogs could be faintly heard.

The Human Torch swallowed his mouthful of burger.

"Hell, I hope they're not slaughtering that shit on premises."

As his words sank in, so did my own eyes sink to the half-eaten burger in my hand.

In comic performance, I placed the burger daintily on the tray and busied myself cleaning my fingers with my napkin.

"Oh look," said Muzz, "here's a dog now."

Sure enough, a door at the back of the cafeteria had swung open, admitting a small and very excited white dog, which capered endearingly around the bemused BK patrons before a woman swept it up in her arms and carried it off.

I figured that there was a dog care facility adjacent to the food court for those who wanted a few minutes off from their pets while they were eating.

Feigning relief, I picked up my burger and resumed my chewing. It tasted good. Really good.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Christmas short story

Obviously not entirely true, but based on a real incident. Enjoy! DM

"A merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight."


I reflected on the sonorous emphasis of the Goodnight as I lay in the top bunk, arms folded behind my head, gazing morbidly over at the two rugby socks on the fireplace: one for me, one for my sister.

At seven and a half years of age (I was always particular about mentioning the half as it separated me from all the poxy little twerps at school who were merely seven), although no longer under the impression that all other people in the world were simply provided for my entertainment, I had yet to develop any kind of true insight into the workings of other people's minds.

All I knew as I listened to the drunken revelry downstairs was that it was stupid to put a seven and a half year old to bed and expect them to go straight to sleep, especially on Christmas Eve.

Because of early bed times, sleeplessness had latterly become a nightly ordeal for me: sometimes my parents would become aware that I wasn't asleep so they would come in and shout at me to go to sleep, then I would get upset and so it didn't really help. On other nights, I would lie in the dark frantically trying to go to sleep, terrified lest one or other of the parents came in to check on us and berated me for being awake. Of course this state of nervous tension wasn't really conducive to peaceful slumber either.

If my usual sleeplessness was a strain on me, Christmas Eve sleeplessness was doubly so. Earlier in the evening I'd had my uncles roaring with laughter and my aunts pale with shock when, on bended knees, I had begged my father to mash me in the head with a hammer, thus rendering me unconscious until the morning; I had even brought his largest hammer from the tool box in the downstairs toilet, ignoring the feral-tom stench caused by my uncle having accidentally urinated in said tool box the previous evening. Cruel to be kind I had said then, remembering an adult having used these words before and thinking them suitable to this occasion. Sadly my father wasn't cruel enough to be kind, but he was at least cruel enough to call me a stupid git and tell me to give the hammer a rinse under the tap before putting it back.

I wasn't the only one who'd suffered planning difficulties in the lead up to Christmas: my mother, after having had a particularly difficult time with buying presents the previous year, had vowed to complete the Christmas shopping by the end of August this time around: all of it. Which, as it turns out, included the turkey which she had purchased in non-perishable form

The first time our cat saw a live turkey strutting round the garden, it went flat eared with terror and shot up the apple tree like a champagne cork. Shortly after this it was living in hermetic solitude in the attic, occasionally venturing out onto the roof to defecate in the gutter.

I was hardly any happier as I liked to play football in the garden during the summer months when the ground was harder and less likely to be damaged by my play. The turkey was a serious obstacle and made a tremendous noise the first time it got hit by a ball. My mother confiscated the ball after this and told me I could have it back at Christmas, which annoyed me even more. I pointed out (quite reasonably, I thought) that Christmas was a time when my parents should give me new things, not things they'd stolen from me four months previously. My mother, seeing the truth of this, told me I would receive a new football for Christmas then attacked the existing ball with a kitchen knife, succeeding at last in puncturing it after several nasty ricochets.

As for the precious turkey itself, it led a life of moribund perplexity in our garden for the next fortnight before it was picked off by an opportunistic fox. My mother, although no doubt secretly glad to have the cat back, was absolutely livid about the loss of her turkey and went so far as to phone up a fox hunt in the Warwickshire region and demand that they come and rid us of "this bloody menace". I could only hear my Mother's side of the conversation on the telephone, but I guessed that the fox hunting fellows weren't keen on the idea. She harangued them for fully ten minutes by my count before they had the sense to hang up.

As I mused on this, I heard the click downstairs of the kitchen light being turned off, soft footsteps on the stairs and whispered goodnights. A heavy, suffocating silence descended on the house.


I was as susceptible to nocturnal paranoia, fear of the dark and phantoms of the imagination as any other child my age. With the house completely quiet, save for the roaring of blood in my ears, so loud I felt it must surely wake everyone up, a nasty thought came to me: I suddenly became convinced that breathing required a conscious effort on the part of the breather. To test this, I decided to halt all breathing effort and try to get some idea of how long I would be able to last in the event that I forgot how to breathe.

After five minutes of listening to my strangulated gasping, my six-year-old sister in the bunk below told me to shut the fuck up. We had heard my father shouting these words at some carol singers and thought them tremendously adult. I was even impressed with them coming from my sister, but, then again, she always had a curiously deep voice.

With my sister asleep once more, I had nothing better to occupy myself with than trying to recite The Night Before Christmas in my head. Although I had most of the story down pat, the reindeers' names always gave me a bit of trouble.

I had got as far as Rinser and Mincer when the door swung open.

A rotund figure in a red hat bestrode the doorway; I was less than happy- it was my father. Thoroughly expecting to be shouted at for my inability to sleep, I lay motionless in the bed. However, whatever mysterious sixth sense usually enabled my parents to detect wakeful children was evidently not in action tonight. My father, after a perfunctory scan of the beds, tiptoed across the room in a camp pantomime style, removed our stockings from the fireplace and snuck back out.

There were furtive rustlings outside.

The would-be St. Nick came back in, replaced the stockings delicately on the fireplace, downed the whisky we'd left out and pocketed the mince pie.

Just as my father reached the door, I called out "ho, ho, ho" in a low voice. Pausing in the doorway, he called me a bastard, then left.

I grinned in the darkness, rolled over and was asleep within five minutes.


Welcome to Osaka: water capital.

The Dotonbori: there's always been construction work going on here and, latterly, I have begun to suspect that there always will be. By the time they actually "finish" something, earlier pieces will undoubtedly require touching up. Welcome to the self-perpetuating nightmare of the Japanese construction industry.

It's like Sisyphus volunteered for the stone.


Kafka on the floor

I devoted some of my time yesterday to reading Franz Kafka's The Man Who Disappeared. It was thoroughly terrible.

For those who haven't read it (all of you, hopefully) it is an "unfinished" work: the story runs for about 190 pages, there is a further 10 pages or so, composed of story fragments, then the whole debacle comes to a halt.

The worst thing was, what little Kafka had managed to write wasn't especially good; even after his mastery of prose had been gushed over in the introduction by whichever learned beard translated the wretched thing.

I was so full of ire by the time I'd finished that it was completely beyond me to comprehend how Kafka achieved any kind of recognition, other than such as befits a lazy scoundrel. Apparently, his other two novels remain unfinished as well.

I say this now: Kafka was an ignoble hack.

If anyone feels I am being unfair, feel free to click the comment button and tell me why Kafka was so ace. Go on.


My early New Year's resolution is that I will be writing a stinging letter to Penguin, demanding to know how they think they can justify sticking a price tag of 8.99 on this book.


Where every day is Christmas Day

Does Christmas ever get you down? Check this out...

Bad tidings

In the tiny town of North Pole, Alaska, it's Christmas 365 days of the year. Santa is king, schoolchildren are his 'little helpers' replying to letters from around the world - good cheer is a civic duty. So why did six pupils plot a Columbine-style massacre last April? Jon Ronson investigates .

Saturday December 23, 2006
The Guardian (click on link for full story, Charlie Sheen)


Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Beware the Bishop of Southwark

The Bishop of Southwark today said he was having tests for amnesia following his infamous evening out at a Christmas drinks reception two weeks ago.

The Right Rev Tom Butler, one of the Church of England's most senior bishops, said it would have been "entirely out of character" if he had been drunk after attending a party at the Irish embassy in London.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme prior to delivering his regular Thought for the Day, he described a witness account of him throwing toys around the back of a stranger's parked and unlocked Mercedes as "very strange".

The bishop, who suffered a black eye during the evening and lost some of his belongings, told his congregation on the following morning that he had been mugged - a claim police are no longer investigating.

...According to a report, Paul Sumpter, the car's owner, saw a man who looked like the bishop getting into the back of the Mercedes near London Bridge, close to his cathedral.

The man was alleged to have been throwing children's toys around and to have announced: "I'm the Bishop of Southwark. It's what I do."

It would be out of character if I was drunk, says bishop
The Guardian


Monday, December 18, 2006



Yeah, right!

I almost couldn't believe it. Almost.

Apparently, there's a small town in Aomori prefecture, right at the Northern tip of Honshu, Japan's main island, which claims to be the final resting place of Jesus Christ. According to the local legend, for 11 years prior to the crucifixion Jesus lived and studied in Japan, after which he went back to the Middle East to preach about the wonders of this place. For such heresy, he was condemned to death but, thanks to a deft switcheroo, his little-known brother, Isukiri, got nailed up in his stead. Jesus then came back to Japan, settled down, had three kids, and died aged 106. This despite the generally inclement weather in the Aomori region.

For more information (if such it may be called), click here.


And if Jesus were still alive today, a little short of his 2007th birthday, this is the kind of neighbour he'd have to contend with:

A firefighter was arrested Saturday on suspicion of driving under the influence and fleeing the scene of an accident after his car hit a signboard and a snow blower in Aomori, police said.

According to the police, Koji Shimanaka, 31, of Imabetsumachi, Aomori Prefecture, was driving under the influence at 2:45 a.m. Friday when his car collided with the signboard and a snow blower at the side of the road as he turned right at an intersection on a municipal road. Shimanaka then drove off, they said.

from the Yomiuri



I am a traitor to the cause

As a reward for our recent victory in the Awaji football tournament, my team were entitled to travel to Saitama to take part in the national tournament (for fat balding English teachers.)

I was considering this a mixed blessing: guaranteed horrible weather and an expensive weekend away, after my trip to Korea but before my next payday.

Combine this with the departure of Andy (the team's other literate player) and counting my blessings was becoming an advanced exercise in balance sheet manipulation.

Then came the good news, in an e-mail from team manager Tricky:

bad news!! 3 teams dropped out so they cancelled saitama!!!

I shot back with:

really? have you told Gamble or would you prefer I do it? and give me back my 5000 yen you thieving turkey


deadly serious. i told gamble 3 times but he wont believe me coz of the kenji incident.


well I don't believe you either, but I'll still have my money back

Never before has news of a football cancellation made me so happy. I can stop my ridiculous budget (gruel for dinner, even after getting paid) and concentrate on living life to the fullest again. It's the most wonderful time of the year.


Laughter and forgetting

Saturday night was Andy's sayonara party- a scrambled meal in 280 followed by more beers, then dancing until 5 am at the Triangle club. I fell into bed closer to 6 and closer, by far, to death than I care to remember.

Last night was our school's Xmas party/bounenkai- the traditional Japanese end-of-year party. On the back of sleep deprivation and work, I was ready for some anti-social behaviour.

#1. I complimented one Japanese staff girl on her new hairstyle. When she fell for it and thanked me, I casually asked her which bakery she'd gone to, prompting some ill-natured cackling from the other gaijin and a complete lack of comprehension from the voluminously-haired staff member.

#2. I then proceeded to alienate the staff further by treating them to my impersonations of them. Particularly good was the one who's such a dunce she doesn't even understand her own name when you say it to her.

#3. ...and then got in a macho contest with an ostensibly male Japanese staff member regarding who could handle the most hot sauce on their pizza. I put mine away with considerably more heroism and stoicism than my rival, whose glasses got all fogged up. He then said that the first person to sip any of their beer was the loser, in response to which I pointed out that there wasn't much point to putting restrictions on beer drinking at a year-end party. Realising the wisdom of this, he downed his beer so fast he nearly swallowed the glass, then went on to order several ice creams.

I stole the hot sauce.


Bounenkai means a party to forget the year, but I think I could use a party to forget the party. The book we teach from is called "Diplomat"; I seem to be anything but.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Plan K

In fifteen days I will be aboard a ferry bound for Korea, adventure and really wild things. Trouble is, the schedule is, as yet, a little unclear. Lets take a look:

27 Dec: Board ferry at Osaka Port, clutching two six-packs of beer.

28 Dec: Disembark ferry at Pusan, Korea, clutching head and making moaning noises that come out shaped like bubbles.


02 Jan: Board return ferry at Pusan, clutching sanity like a flimsy plank of wood in an uproarious sea.

03 Jan: Disembark ferry at Osaka, clutching any items of interest I may have managed to "liberate" from the boat during my customary drunken kleptomaniac binge.

The sharpest eyes amongst you may have noticed the gaping hole in the middle which represents the question: what am I actually going to do in Korea?

And here's the problem: I haven't a clue. To be more precise we haven't a clue; I am, after all, going as part of a non-fantastic four, in which the role of "the human torch" will be played by a man from Philadelphia.

Rather than drawing up a travel itinerary, I have thus far busied myself with memorising the Korean Hangeul script. Having been hammering Japanese into my thick skull for the last three years or so, the collection of fruity squiggles by which the Koreans communicate has not been as daunting as might have been supposed. Indeed, I can now haltingly pronounce most of the mumbo-jumbo in the back of my Lonely Planet: Seoul guidebook and, occasionally, it even matches up to one or other of the five words of Korean I actually know.

The two bonuses of learning Hangeul before going to Korea as I see it:

1. Should there be no English translation available on the menu, we may not be entirely stuck.

2. I won't get a migraine from looking at signs, buildings, etc. That used to happen a lot in my first few weeks in Japan.


The important bit (hopefully you've read this far, bless you)

This is the part where I chuck the baton over to you, the reader: if anyone has any fantastic suggestions for what we should do in Korea (test-drive the latest Hyundai, get take-out at a pet shop, etc), LET'S HEAR THEM. Even if it's just something you remember reading in the Guardian travel section in 1991.

I'm waiting...


The Guide aside

A little piece of genius here from Douglas Adams.

For those amongst you who have yet to read The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, Private Detective Dirk Gently has his house destroyed in a freak accident, involving an RAF Tornado and Thor, the Norse god of thunder.


And also the insurance problem from hell. The insurance companies involved had all claimed that this was, by any reasonable standards, an act of God. But, Dirk had argued, which god? Britain was constitutionally a Christian monotheistic state, and therefore any "act of God" defined in a legal document must refer to the Anglican chap in the stained glass and not some polytheistic thug from Norway. And so on.

-from The Salmon of Doubt

Friday, December 08, 2006


How to win football tournaments

Well, we won the Awaji football tournament for the third time on the bounce; here's my condensed report. It wasn't always a triumph for football, though...

Having managed the team to a breath-taking victory in June with a heady combination of derring-do and negligence, I was back amongst the rank and file for this one. Better still, I went out on the Friday night, for a couple of drinks with the other members of the New Year Korea expedition. A couple became a deluge, two of us bounced to another bar, Korean plans were left scarcely any further forward than they'd been at the beginning of the evening and the 50-odd pairs of chopsticks I stole from the bar (plus the service bell) left me with scant consolation on Saturday morning when I awoke to the realisation that I'd only had three hours of sleep ahead of the football tournament that I'd been in the gym a couple of times a week for the past three months preparing for.

Not the most auspicious of starts.

Now no longer the manager, I still retained my position as janken counselor to the team captain, Gamble. To elucidate this, it's worth mentioning that we have to play "paper, scissors, stone" (or janken to those of us familiar with vintage Sega game, Alex Kidd in Miracle World) before every game in lieu of the coin toss favoured in England.

This is one of the primary reasons we've been so successful in recent years: thanks to a brief scrutiny and psychoanalytical evaluation of the opposition (based on choice of kit colour, history of results between our teams, demeanour and attitude, etc), I can usually come up with a winning janken strategy around 70% of the time.

And here, my dear readers, I bequeath my wisdom unto you, to do with it as you will.

Dan's basic guide to janken mentality, sponsored by Watami and Aquarius Sports Drink:

Opponent who is likely to choose stone

Often macho, but unintelligent. May suffer from abandonment issues, leaving them with a driving urge to prove themselves. If your opponent is born under the sign of Aries, you've got a pretty good chance. Unfortunately, it's pretty difficult to ascertain your opponent's star sign without putting him on his guard.

Opponent who is likely to choose paper

Quite the reverse of the above: Whilst stoners will often have regulation short hair and a dark kit, these guys will generally play in lighter kit and, whilst the above will do a rigorous warm up, more for the sake of intimidating the opposition than anything else, paper users will appear much more diffident, relaxed and jokey. If we look at academic background, paper users are far more likely to have an arts-related degree or a language than stoners, who generally studied something manly like engineering in the vain Oedipal hope of supplanting their father in their mother's affections.

Opponent who is likely to choose scissors

A bit of a sod to pick. Basically, they form the third point of a human triangle, of which the other two points have already been described above. Basic weakness is vanity. If you get the impression that your opponent feels too manly for paper but is too much of an intellectual snob to bother with stone, you may well have found a scissor hands.

Of course, whilst the guidelines above will take you into the foothills of janken eminence, if you want to scale the lofty peak of true janken mastery, there are also times when you either have to Gamble on luck, ahahahaha, or just be a bit of a bastard.

Prior to kick off, Mr Craig Gamble, captain of Real Osaka, jogs over to where Dan is hawkishly scanning the opposition

GAMBLE: What are we going here?

DAN: I'm having a bit of a hard time reading this lot, so here's what I want you to do: just as you pull your hand up before the final blow, I want you to open it up suddenly to paper, then close it to stone again as you bring it down.

Gamble looks suitably awed at my devious nature. 30 seconds later, our team is crossing over the halfway line to play the first half with a gale-force wind at our backs.

DAN: It worked then?


Sadly, Gamble chose to resign his captaincy after the first game of the second day, citing (somewhat vocally) footballing differences with our manager, Tricky, who can best be described in team management terms as a bit of a latter-day Oliver Cromwell.

And said Tricky, having initially made me walk down a touchline to see if I was sober enough to play, ha bloody ha, then bestowed the vacant captaincy upon me.

Hence, my rather fetching armband and air of calm authority in this photo.

Of course, with such a splendid captain the trophy was as good as won. I swept aside my puny janken opponents in the semi-final and the final to leave my record over the weekend at 100%, and we won the final 3-0, prompting wild indifference from those worthy souls who hadn't gone home by this stage.


After our victory sesh in the Outback Steakhouse, I hopped across to Kyobashi to call in on a sayonara party for one of my old managers. Naturally, I was full of my janken exploits and some unworthy doubters called upon me to prove myself.

ADAM: Well I always choose the same thing. What do you think it is?

Brief thought: too smart to dirty his hands with stone; too worried about looking like a homosexual to use paper.

DAN: Scissors.

He concedes gracefully.



Upshot of the previous post

Last night's capsule hotel wasn't too flash. The communal bathing facilities were sub-standard, compounded by the fact that they didn't have the ban on tattoos that most places have.

For those of you wondering what the significance of this is, tattoos are mostly a Yakuza thing over here. No tattoos = no gangsters.

So the end of a perfect day: me naked amongst gangsters. Live the dream.

Thursday, December 07, 2006



Guess which genius left his keys at work today.

If you correctly guessed the answer to #1, you may be able to get the following question as well: guess which prat's going to be sleeping in a capsule hotel tonight?

Yeah. Goognight.

ps. Happy birthday Kate!

Friday, December 01, 2006


What in the world is wrong with me?

My dream starred Mel Gibson. He was a fairly well-off guy in a fairly well-off neighbourhood. He had a nice house and a nice car and a nice life. Except for the neighbourhood kids, that is.

For some reason, these two otherwise mild-mannered kids made Mel Gibson the target of a vicious campaign of broken windows, vandalism and they even stole his car. Fairly understandable behaviour, you might think except that this wasn't meant to be the Mel Gibson; it was Mel Gibson playing the role of a relatively blameless person. My dream was a movie, you see.

So, in the climactic scene of the movie, Tommy and Jimmy (I just gave them these names) were walking home from after-school club one evening and they found Mel Gibson asleep in, of all things, an abandoned Land Rover. That's when they realised that their continual abuse had crushed Mel Gibson to the extent that he now didn't even have a roof to sleep under.

I was expecting a Hollywood ending, where the youthful tykes would realise that their high jinks had gone too far and would beg for Mel Gibson's forgiveness on bended knees. Of course, it would then transpire that the whole situation was a misunderstanding, that he was not, in fact, destitute; there was a perfectly harmless explanation for why he was asleep in an abandoned Land Rover. Regardless, the boys would have realised the error of their ways and everyone would be a little older and a little wiser.

That's how the Hollywood ending would have gone.

In my dream, the boys set fire to the Land Rover.

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