Monday, June 30, 2008


Slings and arrows, sticks and stones

I have the worst doorbell in the world: a kind of discordant jangle complete with death rattle at the end, possibly due to an exhausted battery. It seldom bodes well either: most of my actual friends hammer on the door, walk straight in or, as is most generally the case, just don't bother coming over.

I open the door without having the wit to check through the peephole first. First thing I register is the attache case. Balls. Religious types. I smile disingenuously and wait for my cue.

Hi, he says, we're making brief religious calls in the area.

Ah, my cue.

Brief it is then, I respond with my most winsome twinkle, shutting the door in his face.

I check the peephole a minute later: they are still standing there, apparently unsure what I meant. I lock the door as audibly as possible.


We were no strangers to nuisance at number 57, thanks largely to our phone number. Originally, it was 76777. Then all the Coventry numbers got standardised to 6 digits and all numbers falling short had an extra "6" tagged on the front, leaving us with 676777. Then the area got changed again and all numbers had a gratuitous "76" stuck on the front, leaving us with 76676777.

Most homes have nuisance calls offering unsolicited insurance and double glazing. We got calls from people who wanted to buy these things off us. I remember offering one bloke a very competitive package on his motorbike.

We got phone calls from people who thought we were a health centre. A message left from some old Doris who wanted to renew her prescription. I can't believe my ears. I call Joe over, he listens to it solemnly, then tells me that he'd told her to pop in on Monday and we'd have it ready for her. Now I really can't believe my ears.

We got phone calls from people who thought we were Birmingham International Airport. The phone rings next to my parents' bed at 4 in the morning, with an inquiry about Flight 123 or whatever from LA. My mother callously informs the caller that the plane has crashed, before slamming the phone down.


On the worst days, the noise of raised voices would hit me the second I walked through the door. On this occasion, however, it is Joe going to town on a cold caller:


He whacks the phone down hard enough to damage it, takes a deep breath and the next second has never shouted before in his life.

"Alright Danny, how was work?"

I ask what that was all about. Apparently, the cold caller phoned up and asked if he could speak to Mr Mc-Kay-Own, to which my badly-tempered sibling replied "no" and bashed the phone straight down. The cold caller, having apparently had a bad day and not experiencing a surfeit of job satisfaction, decided to call back and ask what Joe meant by "no" whereupon his day was not vastly improved.


Brrrr brrrr


(Weedy pre-adolescent voice): "Is Mr Wall there?"

I freeze. I am getting the dreaded wall call, famed in the schoolyard: is Mr Wall there? No. Mrs Wall? No. Are the walls not there? No. Then how does the ceiling stay up? Laugh. Hang up.

Somehow, this couldn't be creepier if I'd picked up the phone and been told seven days. I have a brief, tortured vision of myself numbly playing out my part as above, too befuddled to do anything other.

My instinct for self preservation has other ideas. I blurt out the words "go to hell" and hang up.

Phew, that was a close one.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008


Monkeys, monkeys everywhere and not a brain to eat

A Japanese mobile phone firm said today it had pulled a TV advert depicting a monkey as a political candidate amid accusations that it was a racist reference to Barack Obama, who is seeking to become the first black US president.

The ad, for eMobile, shows a monkey in a suit addressing an election rally, surrounded by supporters carrying placards with the word "Change".


Obama is hugely popular in Japan, not least among the residents of a fishing town on the Japan Sea coast that shares his name.

The residents of Obama - "little shore" in Japanese - formed a supporters' group to follow his progress through the Democratic primaries.

His Japanese supporters made sweet-bean buns bearing Obama's face and "I love Obama" T-shirts, as well as similarly themed chopsticks, which the town's mayor sent to the candidate along with a message of support.

Monkey advert 'resembling' Obama is pulled in Japan
The Grauniad, Friday June 27, 2008


One of them showed me a ring that he had of your
daughter for a monkey.

Out upon her! Thou torturest me, Tubal: it was my
turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor:
I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.

The Merchant of Venice


The police finally got round to arresting former NOVA president Nozomu Sa(ru)hashi this week, "on suspicion of instructing the firm's accountants to misappropriate the reserve funds of the firm's employees."

My thoughts:

1. Sahashi should have been arrested last November, at the very latest.

2. The entire NOVA accounts department should also be arrested: by being too spineless to blow the whistle on the misappropriation of money designated as employees' rent, they were complicit in the whole fiasco and endangered the welfare and wellbeing of company employees.

3. Sahashi should have hopped on a jetski to Korea, changed his name to Kim and had some plastic surgery while the authorities were faffing about.

4. Where's my cheesecake?


DAN: I hope he ends up in a cell with the Aomori rapist.

JIM: Is that a real person?

DAN: Nope.

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Monday, June 23, 2008


From today's lesson notes

My new company has a great computerised system for making notes during lessons. We provide the students with a printout at the end. Here's an example from today:

nostalgia (n), nostalgic (adj, feeling) = missing things from your past

My grandad feels nostalgic about the 40s. He used to enjoy shooting Germans.

Publish and be damned, I guess.


I'm also a big fan of VMM's definition of "snap": what Steven Seagal does to the people's necks



*Sigh* It's not a bee, it's a wasp. Bees make honey, wasps don't.

One of my occasional pleasures / study strategies is grappling with Japanese newspapers. (This should be taken literally to some extent: this place is still in the broadsheet era.)

The business section has little to interest me, likewise the sports section except in times of sumo. What I pray for every time I buy is some really bizarre or gruesome incident to read about. Earthquakes are pretty good, although unscheduled helicopter landings are also a favourite. The exaggerated perils of Chinese food provide some interesting vocabulary, as well as some nice examples of how to dress up your xenophobia as civic concern.

A few weeks ago, I was blessed with a rather nasty incident in Kyoto zoo. According to the newspaper, a zookeeper was found severely injured in the tiger enclosure and later died of his injuries. Of the two tigers present, suspicion fell on Victor, a male, because of conspicuous bloodstains around his mouth.

The article also made mention of an incident at the same zoo three years previously, involving the mauling of another of the hapless zookeepers by a "North Pole bear."

I was absolutely horrified: the Japanese have two words for polar bear. I was already familiar with shiro-kuma ("white bear"), but it turns out they also have hokkyoku-guma ("hokkyoku" meaning the North Pole.)

I think this rather unfair in light of the fact that the crocodiles and alligators both have to make do with the word wani. Adam and I used to devote a lot of energy to teaching students the difference between these, cheetahs and leopards, right and wrong, as well as other things.

The title of the post may give you some idea.

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Making a deal with God

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian air force planes dropped a 25-kg (55-lb) sack of cement on a suburban Moscow home last week while seeding clouds to prevent rain from spoiling a holiday, Russian media said on Tuesday...

...June 12 was Russia Day, a patriotic holiday celebrating the country's independence after the break-up of the Soviet Union.



Perhaps the strangest thing about this article is the fact that the Russians celebrate the break-up of the Soviet Union. It's not like we celebrate the dissolution of the British Empire, after all.

For anyone not in the know, cloud seeding involves lobbing stuff into clouds in order to induce precipitation. It is used to ensure clear skies ahead of holidays, to cause extra snow over ski resorts, and to deprive neighbouring countries of valuable rainclouds, ensuring drought, hardship and economic decline.

I was aware that dry ice was widely used in cloud seeding, although the practice of tossing hefty sacks of cement out of planes is a new one to me. Apparently the Russians have been doing this every year since 1990 and this is the first time they've smashed a hole in anyone's roof (no one was injured, but a lawsuit is pending.)

With the Beijing olympics imminent and the Chinese seeding clouds ahead of medal ceremonies, I have a gloomy inkling that packing a waterproof for the games may not be enough.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008


The fisher king

From The Wasteland: III. The fire sermon

A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank
While I sat fishing in the dull canal
On a winter evening round behind the gashouse
Musing upon the king my brother's wreck
And on the king my father's death before him.
White bodies naked on the low damp ground
And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
Rattled by the rat's foot only, year to year.

Emergency operator. What service do you require?

One Grail Knight, please: I've suffered a dolorous stroke.

Click, bzzzz...


Football tournament in Nagano: no problem. Six-hour car journey home: no problem. Wake up Monday morning and the muscle in my thigh is absolute agony. Hobble, hobble, hobble: the key is snapped in my bike's lock, not that I could ride it anyway.

The pain has now subsided to a throbbing warmth that doesn't reassure me. Maimed and impotent in my dark castle, I read by the light of the top window and await better days. The blazing, dead heat stifles; the rain fertilises nothing but my imagination.


Friday, June 13, 2008


Roach watch 08 #1

For all of you who enjoyed last year's action as Dan took out comically-named bugs as they scuttled round his apartment, here's our first installment for 2008.

Bug #1: "Hillary"

Very big, black bug. I suddenly noticed him scuttling up my wall towards the ceiling. A fierce whack with a towel brought him down to earth, where he lay, twitching feebly. I rummaged out a bottle of washing up liquid and administered the coup de grace, whereupon he expended the last of his energy pushing himself over onto his back to assume the now-legendary "dead cockroach" position. (Why do they always do that?)

I was going to dub him "Edmund Hillary" in recognition of his climbing exploits. On further consideration, I decided that "Hillary" would be sufficient.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Breath-holding for men

The textbook I'm teaching from at the moment is up to date enough to include David Blaine, would-be latter-day Houdini, whose magical shenanigans are at least not as irritating as watching David Copperfield.

The book doesn't include Blaine's underwater breath-holding world record, though: 17 minutes 4.4 seconds, which puts my own record of two minutes in the shade. Blaine's record has apparently now been broken, but I think the "underwater" format could use a change:

ME: What's the big deal about holding your breath underwater? Why not do it in a room full of poisonous gas? That'd be wicked.



Monday, June 09, 2008


Bailey's soccer skills

Introducing Mark Bailey, would-be "talent" (TV celebrity.) Sadly, he has yet to get his big break, but he's been the star of both my youtube videos to date. Here's the latest screen outing for Real Osaka's prodigal son, complete with transcript for anyone who wants to reenact this at home.

Setting: Awaji-shima, on the eve of the ALT soccer tournament (western.)

DAN: You join us here at "Bailey's soccer skills", as the ball has just gone under my chair. Here's Bailey: he's-

BAILEY (brightly): Hi! I'm Bailey. This is my soccer. Here are my skills.

Does about three keepy-ups before dollying the ball off in a random direction.

...that is my skills.

DAN: Sorry, you're going to have to be charismatic a bit louder than that: I had my thumb over the microphone.

BAILEY: (inaudible)... So, for any young kids out there watching, this is how to do skills.

GAMBLE: What do you call this one? What's the move called? "The Bailey?"

BAILEY: This is... ah... this is called "The Peasant", and it goes a little like this:

Manages to get the ball airborne, then accidentally shanks it at Gamble's head. The ball ends up on top of a dresser.

GAMBLE: Ooh God! Oh God! Argh!

DAN: That was like a magic trick, except that I think we all pretty much figured out how the ball got there.

BAILEY: Yeah, it's called "The Peasant" because it's bare, it has no substance and it's generally going to starve to death in any kind of skills tournament. If you're looking for a little meat on the bone, you probably want to go with this-

DAN (giggling): Bailey, I've seen people juggle a dead mole better than this.

BAILEY: A mole would probably be better.

GAMBLE: Show us your magnum.

DAN: A dead mole! The noise it makes when you kick a dead mole up in the air...

BAILEY: I wasn't doing so bad before, it's the camera- ah, there we go... oh god...*

Actually manages to string a couple of keepy-ups together, before spooning it again

DAN: Actually, I wasn't pointing the camera at you that time.

This is a lie designed to boost Bailey's confidence. It works: Bailey manages to keep the ball aloft.

BAILEY: This is, uh, (tries to think of a name) this is "The Hebrew."

Plays the ball off the wall, keeps it aloft, then loses control and ends up hoofing it at the camera.

DAN: Next is "Devin's soccer skills."

Devin looks anything but enthusiastic.

* "God" capitalised for Gamble, but not for Bailey, as I'm fairly sure that Bailey's an atheist.


Disgracefully, Bailey went on to win our Player of the tournament award as Real claimed the Western Japan ALT crown.

Fans of Bailey and Real can also check out How to get a strike: take one and take two

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Friday, June 06, 2008


Open mike night

Was playing guitar in my room the other night. When I finished, I put some dinner on. To my surprise, I could still hear guitar-ish noises coming through the air vent above my cooker. I wandered out onto the roof of the building and there was Thom, one of the guys from downstairs, jamming with a friend over a bottle of wine.

I was all up for a rooftop sing along, but time was scarce as Thom had to be at a bar in America-mura for an open mike night that he was hosting. He invited me to go along and help him out.

The open mike night is held once a month and Thom is away next month, so he's looking for someone to fill in as host. He offered me the job, but I'm not too sure about my work schedule at the moment.

As a co-host, I did a pretty good job: I called one act a "pair of pussies" for bailing out after only one song. Thom said this made me ideal host material.

I also managed to deal with the one act that no one wants to follow (a pretty common occurrence at such events): some guitar hero with his wife on drums. The wedlocked wailers treated themselves to about ten minutes of high-octane musical self indulgence, then left the stage.

As no one wanted to fill the void, I decided it was time to hit the "reset" switch. Up I went and got on my best Simon and Garfunkel-style fingerpicking. Extremely soulful stuff. The lyrics left a little to be desired though:

Postman Pat
Postman Pat
Postman Pat and his black and white cat...

Still, it's not what you've got, it's how you use it: several of the Japanese patrons, failing to comprehend the lyrics at all, were visibly moved by the performance; even the Welsh guy who'd been heckling me admitted that I carried it off pretty well.

And no one was scared about coming onto stage after that.


Monday, June 02, 2008


Stop scratching at my window, there is no cheese in here

A homeless woman who sneaked into a man's house and lived undetected in his closet for a year was arrested in Japan after he became suspicious when food mysteriously began disappearing.

Police found the 58-year-old woman Thursday hiding in the top compartment of the man's closet and arrested her for trespassing, police spokesman Hiroki Itakura from southern Kasuya town said Friday.

The resident of the home installed security cameras that transmitted images to his mobile phone after becoming puzzled by food disappearing from his kitchen over the past several months.

One of the cameras captured someone moving inside his home Thursday after he had left, and he called police believing it was a burglar. However, when they arrived they found the door locked and all windows closed.

"We searched the house ... checking everywhere someone could possibly hide," Itakura said. "When we slid open the shelf closet, there she was, nervously curled up on her side."

The woman told police she had no place to live and first sneaked into the man's house about a year ago when he left it unlocked.

The closet is part of a Japanese-style room, one of several rooms in his one-story house where the man lived alone - or so he had thought.

Police were investigating how she managed to go in and out of the house unnoticed, as well as details of her life inside the closet, and if she had taken anything else besides food.

She had moved a mattress into the small closet space and apparently even took showers, Itakura said, calling the woman "neat and clean."

Homeless Japanese woman arrested after living undetected in man's closet for a year
Yomiuri 2nd June, 2008


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