Monday, 26 December 2011


Does this mean that if I start drinking at midday there will be no woe involved? Or does it mean that getting up early will drive me to drink? Also, why does he look so smug? And why is he being showered with gold coins?

This poster seemed self-explanatory when I took the photo, but on reflection it makes less and less sense. Get plastered! But don't get up early. Getting up early will bring you woe.

Alcoholism has never seemed quite so attractive.

 I like the photo above better, but this one shows the whole poster. I almost (but not quite) wish I'd bought it at the flea market yesterday

Happy Boxing Day, everybody!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Black holes

Recently I heard from a friend about someone who was hospitalized during the summer after being stung by giant Japanese hornets. This reminded me of something that happened towards the end of last semester. I was teaching a class i'd had problems with all semester. Every semester there's at least one problem class, and this one was it. They were not a problem class because they behaved badly, though. I wished they would behave badly. That would have been easier to deal with. You can harness that kind of energy. Instead, they behaved well, and boringly. It was a small class, and getting them to talk to each other in English was almost impossible. They didn't even want to talk to each other in Japanese.

I don't know what the problem was. I worked hard all semester, trying every trick in the book (and a few not in the book) and made no progress at all. They just didn't seem to LIKE each other, and had nothing to say to each other, and that was that.

On this particular day they were all sitting in groups, as I'd placed them (otherwise they'd be scattered around the room as far from each other as possible), and the window was open, and a very large hornet flew in. It was a crazed hornet. It flew around the room fast and erratically, and at head height. That meant that as it flew towards them the students ducked their heads. From the vantage point of the  where I was standing it was easy to spot where the hornet was because it caused a bizarre sort of Mexican wave around the room. It flew around madly, and students ducked.

The hornet eventually landed on a window, and I used a laminated card to ease it outside. This took a little time and and some scary moments, but eventually it zoomed off outside. In any other class I would have been cheered for my achievement, but in this class everybody just stared blankly as I risked my life to tackle the hornet. I'm allergic to bees. I don't know whether I'm allergic to those long-legged monsters and didn't really want to find out, but nobody volunteered to help (but someone ALWAYS volunteers to help! That was a class of ZOMBIES!) and I wasn't going to risk a student's life. I was the teacher. I was in charge. I didn't really have a choice.

When I went back to the front of the class I remembered how the class had looked when heads were ducking, and started laughing.

The students stared blankly, so I told them why I was laughing. I told them they'd done a rather amazing Mexican head-wave and it had looked really, really funny.

They continued to stare at me blankly.

Around about then I gave up trying to get some sort of connection with the class. One student had a look in his eye that told me he would have responded if he could have extricated himself from the classroom atmosphere. He was the student who would have been a 'problem' student if only there was another student for him to be a problem with, but there wasn't. The others were all too sunk into their own little worlds and didn't communicate enough to be problem students.

(Oh, how I love problem students! But there has to be two.) 

That head-wave was the most entertainment that class provided me all semester. I had never seen them as animated as they were when that hornet flew straight at their faces and they ducked.

And I have never had a class where the classroom dynamics were quite as impossible as that one was. I put students in groups, pairs, in every possible combination, changing them around all the time, hoping that once they knew each other they'd wake up a bit, but nothing worked. They simply didn't want to talk to each other. Every other class that has started like that has eventually ended up with the usual problems of getting them to shut up because they've all become friends and want to chat (in Japanese) all the time. But in that class it never changed. They didn't become friends with each other. They didn't even unite against me, the ENEMY AUTHORITY. They were a constellation of individual black holes.

It was the hornet that made me realize there was nothing more I could do. It was towards the end of semester anyway, and I realized that if that didn't finally bring them together as a group nothing would. Any kind of large insect getting into a classroom is more or less guaranteed to create an uproar, but that one didn't cause anything except a bizarre visual effect.

I had a couple of classes this semester at the same university which threatened to be similar, but after the first couple of weeks they degenerated into the usual chaos of making friends, gossip, teasing, yelling at me, yelling from me, and the odd bit of learning.

This has made me happy. I thought I'd lost my touch.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Are you my family?

This is my favourite story of the year. Not that it took much – it hasn't been a year of good news, but really, I think this would be my favourite story of any year. The seal pup seems like a really determined seal pup (especially if it is the same one in all three incidents in the story).

This is the story of a seal who wants to find a family. He is "just weaned from its mum", the expert said, and I think his mum probably weaned him a wee bit too early, and the little seal has decided that he needs another family, one that will treat him more considerately. So he is wandering the streets of Tauranga looking for a new family, and when he found a house with cats and a dog (species-friendly!) and a seal pup-sized door, he thought his dreams had come true. 

Poor wee seal, forced away from the comfy sofa and back into the wild blue sea. I am cheered, however, by the news that he has not given up. He was spotted again later the same day (but managed to get away before the Department of Conservation van got there).

They made a mistake in the story, though. They said that the seal pup 'accidentally' turned on the radio in the DOC vehicle and 'accidentally' ended up in the front seat. I am fairly sure they are wrong about both these points. It is clear from the story that this seal is not stupid.

He turned on the radio for the same reason anybody turns on the radio. He wanted a bit of music. And he moved to the front seat because he wanted to see where he was going.

And why not? We all like to see where we are going, and some music to cheer us up.

(Don't forget to check out the other pictures.)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Moon eclipse

It's been so long since I used my camera on manual it took me a while to figure out how to get decent pictures without a tripod. (Or perhaps it's not possible with moon pictures.) Anyway, I took these pictures near the beginning of the eclipse, but missed the total eclipse. I was getting too cold, and didn't actually think these were working. It was only when I got them on the computer and resized them I saw that while most of them were hopeless blurry these three were actually quite good.

Actually I went to bed before the total eclipse. I did get up again to go out to see it, but I didn't take my camera. I was too sleepy to hold it steady.

I took these pictures lying on my back on the cold concrete and steadying the camera on my nose. They were taken only a minute apart, around 10.30. The full eclipse was at 11.05. I wish I'd taken some later ones, now.

Sunday, 20 November 2011


There are not many roundabouts in America? There are things I would never have thought of, having never been there. Roundabouts were an everyday thing for me in NZ (but not in Japan, where, come to think of it, I have never seen one). Roundabouts are such a sensible and easy way to turn a corner on a busy road.

Well, not always easy. I remember once going around the Basin Reserve roundabout four times, trying to get out the exit I wanted to get out (there are eight or nine). I just couldn't get into the outside lane at the right time. The Basin Reserve roundabout is a very large roundabout. It took a while to get around, and by the fourth time I was pretty well exasperated, mostly with myself.

But while the Basin Reserve roundabout is a bit hair-raising at rush hour, most roundabouts are a piece of cake, and WAY nicer than traffic lights. I recommend them.

Friday, 11 November 2011


Today something amazing happened. My classes on Fridays are all small ones, which is wonderful, because it means that the too cool for school kid who slouches in late, goes to the back of the very large room, slumps in a chair and tries to pretend he has been there all along, cannot get away with it, and in fact ends up looking a bit silly when he realizes that everyone else in the room is sitting at the front and enjoying speaking English with each other and with me, and he is being ignored. Eventually he slouches to the front and asks where he should sit, at which point I look surprised and ask him kindly whether he has a textbook. When he (inevitably) doesn't, I tell him (still kindly) that he can either go and buy one or sit at the back of the room and write – in English! – about what he did last weekend, because with no text he will not be able to do the work anyway.

The next week he turns up with a textbook or else he doesn't turn up again at all. (It is usually a he.)

Today the amazing thing that happened was that during a time when students were supposed to be speaking to each other in English about a topic of their own choosing, a couple of the good ones broke into Japanese. They don't, usually. When there are only twelve students they know I will know and mark them down for it. (Yes, I have to be draconian about this. They are not in English classes because they want to be. They are in English classes because it is a part of the required curriculum. The fear of failing the class and having to repeat it is usually greater than any other motivation they might bring with them, and even negative motivation is better than none at all. Sometimes they even end up enjoying themselves.)

These two students today are generally very good. They actually do want to learn English, and make a huge effort to express what they want to say in the required language. But today they broke into Japanese, so I listened carefully to find out what it was they were unable to manage in English and yet so worked up about they were willing to risk being marked down. I wanted to know what it was they wanted to argue about so seriously. My students do not usually argue, even in Japanese.

It turned out they were arguing about the TPP, and the reason they were using Japanese was that they didn't know the words for things like 'efficiency,' 'tariffs,' and 'competitiveness.'

What made this amazing was that I have never before heard any of my students even talking about politics before, let alone arguing about it. In fact I have often had the opposite problem, where I ask what they think about something dramatic that has happened in Japanese politics or business and they aren't even aware that it has happened. I have grown used to my students being so politically apathetic they are practically comatose.

Today I realized that while I had heard TPP mentioned in the news and knew that farmers did not like it, I didn't even know what TPP stood for. I had to look it up. (I have been preoccupied with following the Olympus scandal. I do not have the time to follow very much news, and recently the Olympus scandal has been it.)

I looked it up and discovered that TPP stands for "Trans-Pacific Partnership."

This did not really help, actually, so I decided that if I am suddenly going to have politically aware students (WHAT?) I should make an effort to find out what TPP actually MEANS.

But not tonight. I started a little research after I got home – I read an entire article about TPP, but my brain laughed and said,  You have to be joking, try reading it again when you're awake, idiot!

Maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Verb Garden

Years ago, while I was studying for my M. App. Ling., I got stuck on a train on a two-hour commute during which the train was delayed. All I had to read was a grammar dictionary. Also, I had recently spoken to my brother, who asked me how my herb garden was coming along. I told him my herb garden was a mess because I was now concentrating on my verb garden. I was studying grammar at the time, and was rather pleased with my play on words.

This following story was the result of these three things: the horrible commute, the grammar dictionary, and the conversation with my brother. I giggled a lot while writing it, probably confirming the suspicions of a few fellow commuters that gaijin are hen.

I showed the story to a friend, who told me I should not put it on the Internet anywhere; I should try to get it published in an academic journal. They take stuff like that, she told me. Academics like a joke too, sometimes, although it might not always seem like it.

That seemed like a good idea at the time. Wouldn't it be fun if my first academic publication was this silly thing (which I was nevertheless rather proud of)?

But I am a lazy person. The story sat on my hard drive through three computers (I'm a pretty good document backer-upper, less efficient with photos) and I never quite got around to doing anything with it. Today another friend's son called her with some grammar questions, and I remembered the story, did a search on my computer, and amazed myself by finding it.

I sent it to my friend to pass on to her son. I do not expect him to learn anything from it except that grammar is not always as unpleasant as we are led to believe. It can be interesting. Also, I have given him the grammar dictionary for his birthday. It is a little old and tattered (the dictionary, not the birthday), but I hope it will give him as much pleasure as it did me. And I'm pretty sure that after all these years I will never do anything with this story, so Internet (by which I mean the four or five of you who are still reading this sadly unsuccessful blog which I am too lazy to update very often BUT YOU ARE IMPORTANT, YOU MATTER TO ME AND THAT'S WHY I DON'T JUST GIVE IT UP), here you are. It is my little gift to you.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it and, I must confess, rereading it. It still makes me giggle. Grammar has all the rudest words.

The Verb Garden

What does a Verb Garden look like? Well, first of all you have to understand that the name is a little misleading: a Verb Garden does not contain only Verbs. It has all sort of other linguistic features as well. It's just that the Verbs tend to be more active, and you notice them first.

A Verb Garden looks a little like an ant farm, only instead of ants running around the place busily, it has Verbs and Adjectives and Articles and Vowels and Consonants and so on. Of course they don't all run - the Weak Vowels tend to huddle in a corner, and Passive Verbs don't do much, and Hanging Participles just hang around looking cute, but there is a lot of action all the same. It's all very entertaining, and best of all, a Verb Garden doesn't take up much space. You can keep the whole caboodle in the corner of a small room.

But Verb Gardens can be dangerous, as I discovered, and I gave up this fascinating hobby when it became more trouble than it was worth.

It all started when a Noun Phrase offered a rather feisty Dynamic Verb a Prepositional Complement. She thought the future perfect had finally arrived. "We've been living in synonymy for years," she said. "It's about time we conjugated."

("Oh, absolutely," simpered a passing Modal.)

Unfortunately, however, the Noun Phrase was paratactic at the time he made the offer, and in the morning he couldn't remember a thing. The Dynamic Verb was furious. She threw a plurale tantum, injuring a Passive Verb in the process and causing it to suffer from adnominal pains. (It consequently became Irregular.)

The offending Noun Phrase tried to explain his mistake. "It's not my fault!" he whined. "I'm delexical. It was meant to be a Deferred Preposition. Now I'm feeling all tense, and I'm not even a Verb."

"You idiolect!" the Dynamic Verb yelled. "You're nothing but a great exocentric corpus copular! I hate you! Why can't you be a Proper Noun?" She threw an Object, but it wasn't a Direct Object and narrowly missed his genitive.

The Head Noun heard the fuss and came to investigate. He was exophoric. "I've always fancied her, myself," he said. "Perhaps I should make my move now, while she's still hypotactic. I’d love to collocate with her. We'd make a great lexical item." He added smugly, "I predicated something like this would happen one day. That Noun Phrase was heading for trouble with his extralinguistic activities."

By now the Dynamic Verb was well and truly intransitive. "GET YOUR STUPID DANGLING MODIFIER OUT OF MY SIGHT! " she screamed at the Noun Phrase, "OR I’LL ELLIPT IT!"

(A Euphemism wafted past. "Oh, look!" it warbled. "A minor disagreement.")

The Noun Phrase backed away hurriedly, tripping over a Weak Vowel. The Weak Vowel was an 'O', and in a retroflexive action it started a lingual roll.

The result was catachrestic. The Weak Vowel, not watching where it was rolling, hit three Diphthongs and several Monophthongs. The ensuing domino effect caused a Great Vowel Shift which tipped the entire Verb Garden sideways. 
What a mess! There were split Infinitives all over the place. Subjects and Verbs got separated in the chaos and a whole bunch of new disagreements started. Polarity went from positive to negative, there was a great Plosion, and the entire population of my Verb Garden spilled over into the room.

I moved as fast as I could. I grabbed the Language Acquisition Device and vacuumed like mad, sucking up Metaphors and chasing Gliding Vowels across the tatami. It took some time, but eventually the whole squabbling bunch was back in the Garden, and I could relax. I thought I'd saved the day. Oh, I noticed a couple of Solecisms had got in there somehow, but I thought it was just a result of the general disorder.  I thought things would settle down in time.

But I was wrong. There were bugs in my Garden. In the frantic rush the Language Acquisition Device had somehow managed to suck up some student homework I'd carelessly left lying around, and after a few days the infection started to spread. Style Disjuncts demanded better outfits. Unfulfilled Conditions moaned in frustration, attracting the unwelcome attention of marauding gangs of Ejectives. Whole Clauses were rank-shifted without permission. Euphemisms proliferated, several Verbs were entirely abandoned and Adjective order was hopelessly scrambled. Punctuation got lost in the mess (aside from a few malfunctioning Colons), and when I asked what had happened to the Paragraphs a Run-on Sentence exhausted itself trying to explain. Nothing made sense. Subject-Verb disagreement became epidemic and the hideous noise kept me awake at night.

It was tragic, really, but there was nothing I could do. Inevitably some of my Garden escaped into the real world, leading to such incidents as the T-shirt I saw one day soon after the accident, on which was written: "A halt to action fresh perspiration brings forth a pleasant melody." It was all my fault! Feeling guilty, I decided on the spot to give up Verb Gardening until I knew what I was doing. I resolved to study hard, become a Grammarian, and somehow, someday, atone for my dreadful lapse in responsibility.

But it was fun while it lasted.

Thursday, 27 October 2011


I've had lots of things to blog about, but while I've been keeping notes I haven't actually done anything with them, as you might have noticed.

Here is one. Others will follow, eventually.

The other day I had to sign a form. This is not unusual, in itself. I often have to sign forms. But this one had an addendum at the bottom, kindly translated into English. It said something like:

I hope K___ University will not use my personal information except when necessary for work-related matters.

I did not actually have a choice about whether or not to sign it, at least not if I wanted to keep my job. But I didn't mind. In fact I giggled as I signed it, making several Japanese teachers in the teachers' room look at me, startled. I did not try to explain. That sort of thing is hard to explain.

But it was true! I really DO hope they do not use my email address for nefarious purposes, and was happy to sign something saying so, even though I wasn't quite sure why I needed to put my official signature to a 'hope.'

Besides, it is not often that a form makes me laugh.

Saturday, 8 October 2011


41 Gossip

The accepted idea is that conversation is a means to communicate ideas, practical information and intentions, for a useful purpose, with some gossip and self-serving showoff here and there to enliven it. Yet most conversation is gossip and self-serving showoff, with ideas, practical information and intentions here and there to justify them.

I do not understand everything, or even very much, of what is written at Opacity, but I love this one.

It is TRUE.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Fully charged

It's that time of year again. You can tell summer is over, because I am, once again, fully charged. I noticed it yesterday after screaming and tossing chalk in the air, and today, again, my students were enormously entertained by my occasional sudden eruptions of fright as I went to write on the board and got shocked. And when I say shocked, I mean SHOCKED.

They all learned the words static electricity. After that, the idea was that they'd know what it was all about and take it in their stride. Instead, I became, apparently, 'cute.' Every time I screamed and threw chalk in the air the students thought it was funny. "Kawaii!" I heard them saying. This is my third week with them and apparently I am keeping them interested,

But I am NOT kawaii. I am SHOCKED.

The (only) good thing about this problem is that it keeps the students focused. When they're all chatting happily and not paying attention to me or staying on task, at the very least my screams serve to jolt them into consciousness that there is a teacher in the room, who is expecting something of them, and who is writing something on the board that they should be paying attention to. They stop talking when I scream, and look at me. Then they see the board. And, sometimes, they continue to pay attention to what i am writing, which is quite frequently the instructions for what they are supposed to be doing.

I have to think of this as a good thing. Getting shocked on a regular basis is not pleasant, but at least it is pedagogically sound.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Solar light

I love this idea. It's so simple, cheap, and extraordinarily effective. The cheapest light bulb EVER.

Saturday, 24 September 2011


I am 'watching' the All Blacks vs France Rugby World Cup game on Twitter. It is not on Japanese TV. This means that I have been reading tweets in English and French, and I must say I am enjoying discovering that I understand French.

Take this, for example:

Franchement il sont courageux et ont du mental. Ils n'ont rien lâché malgré ces terribles essais intérieurs assassins.

That was really easy to understand.

The French, they are courageous and mental. They are not lazily malingering against the especially terrible interior assassins.

I'm thinking of becoming a translator.

Monday, 12 September 2011

RIver visit

Today I went for a short bicycle ride, and visited the river near where i used to teach. I hadn't been there for a long time. I did not stay long, though, because it turned out hotter than I expected and I was getting a headache.

I met some of my old friends, and a few new ones.

I met a heron. 

Then I met an egret.

Then I met some ducks. They looked at me funny. That made me pretty sure we'd met before.

A carp surfaced to say hello and ask if I had any food. Sadly, I didn't.

I also saw a grossly overweight Garbage Fish, sulking grumpily in the shallows. These are fairly common and I don't usually bother photographing them.

 Next I saw a Tin Can Fish. I have seen many of those before, too.

I also encountered an elderly woman feeding pigeons and sparrows.

And as I was leaving I had the great good fortune to spot, across the road, the rare and colourful Brassiere Bird, draped languidly in a tree.

While it is not uncommon to catch a glimpse of the Brassiere Bird in the wild, it is unusual to see them out in the open like this. 
It must have been the heat.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Sunday, 4 September 2011


This tropical storm has been moving so slowly it has lasted three days, or is it four? For two days we had warnings issued by the Met Office, but nothing much happened. Then yesterday afternoon I went out to get an acupuncture treatment and then have dinner with a friend, and was relieved to see the warnings had been downgraded to 'advisories.' We had a lovely Chinese meal, in one of the big covered shopping streets in Osaka, and then I went down to the underground station to catch the train. The train went underground until two stops before mine, and when we came out above ground I was surprised to see it was raining hard. It had been raining a little when I left the acupuncture clinic, but nothing serious.

At my station it was raining very hard indeed. I stood under cover, waiting and hoping it was one of those brief squalls. Finally I got sick of waiting, and made a dash for my bicycle. I had an umbrella, but this was not umbrella sort of rain. My head stayed dry, or at least dryish, but when I got home the only option I had, really, was to strip off just inside the door and make a run for the bathroom to grab a towel for myself and a bucket to put my clothes into to get them to the washing machine without dripping water all over the floor. It was THAT sort of rain.

It's raining again now.

It has been a lot worse in other areas in Japan, and there have been mudslides and flash floods and so on. So far twenty-one people have died and fifty-four are missing.

It was not raining when I took this picture. I wish I'd had my camera instead of my phone, though. (For those who know Osaka, this is the crosswalk between the JR and Hankyu stations.)

Friday, 2 September 2011

Typhoon Talas

A typhoon is due to hit us tomorrow and/or Saturday. It is really just a tropical storm still, and not expected to get much more powerful, but still, it is very large and is expected to make landfall in the Osaka/Kyoto area. I don't think we've had a direct hit here for quite a few years, so the next couple of days could be quite interesting.

It's already raining.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Haven't been updating much because it's too damned hot and humid. Also, I have a problem with my neck and back that makes my neck hurt sitting at the computer. I am working on rearranging my desk setup to make it more comfortable, but part of the problem with getting it done is that it's too damned hot and my neck hurts.

I just watered the garden. Today I timed it, because I was sure I wasn't spending THAT much time out there, so how come whenever I water the garden I get four mosquito bites? Our garden is small. 

It takes two minutes to water the garden. That means that out in the garden the mosquitoes bite at a rate of two per minute. Perhaps it is worth spraying myself before watering the garden after all. I always think it won't be worth it, because I do it so quickly.

The most enjoyable part of watering the garden is the bit where I spray water around randomly and watch little bits of plants detach themselves and launch skyward. Those little frogs are good at hiding until they get watered. Apparently they don't like it.

Or perhaps they do. Perhaps they're jumping for joy.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Watch he doesn't bite again!

Today I sorted out some academic papers I don't want or need any more (to give to a friend who is likely to be able to use them), then went to the pool (the old one), swam 1000 metres, came home, had dinner, and watched Waking Ned, a 1998 movie I hadn't seen before or even heard of before it was recommended to me.

Being on holiday is brilliant. I have time to sort stuff out and watch movies.

I can't remember who recommended this movie to me, but I'm glad they did, whoever they were. That was a lot of fun. David Kelly is particularly marvelous. What a wonderful face that man has! He gets better with age, I think, although I must admit that since I first saw him 20 years ago or so he has been looking more or less the same.

Also, I think that the nudity was the least gratuitous nudity I have ever seen in a movie. As an additional benefit, I didn't feel quite so scrawny after watching it.

I was going to link to the Wikipedia article for the movie, but it gives away the plot, and if you haven't seen it that would be a shame. It's more fun not knowing what will happen.

(The scene with the teeth was horrible, and made me laugh so hard I almost fell off my chair."Watch he doesn't bite again!")

Sunday, 21 August 2011

What did I do?

I went to a flea market today, and had a lovely time despite, or perhaps because of, the occasional drizzle. It rained quite hard at one point, but that coincided with the time we decided it was time for lunch, so that was perfect. Otherwise the temperatures were perfectly bearable. There was the occasional bit of misty rain, but although it was very humid it was MUCH nicer than the heat we've had recently. In fact it is unusually cool for August.

I haven't been taking many photos in the past couple of years and was never very good, really, at knowing how to use my lovely camera, and today I accidentally hit a button that caused this:

The problem was that I had no idea which button I'd hit, or how to change it back. WHY DID EVERYTHING GO BLUE? And WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT EVERYTHING TO GO BLUE? Why is it so easy for this to happen? Is it an effect people often want?

I took a few more photos and was distressed to see that that it wasn't a one-off thing. All the photos were turning out blue, and I didn't know how to change it back. Was I doomed to take blue photos for the rest of the day? I fiddled. I hit buttons. I didn't understand the menus (or even how to use them) because I hadn't used the camera for so long. I've used it recently a little, but only in auto mode. (Must read the manual again.)

Nothing worked.

Finally I had a clever (i.e. simple) idea and turned off the camera. Then I turned it on again, just in time to take this (in auto mode):

Thank goodness turning off the camera worked! I would have hated to miss this shot. It would have been even better from the front, but I was busy fiddling with the camera when they were coming towards me, and this shot from the rear is good enough. I particularly like the way the head priest (I'm assuming he's the head priest, since he has a minion to carry his umbrella and the others are all getting rained on) has a halo. Yes, I know it's someone's hat, but it looks to me like a halo that slipped slightly.

I like to think it slipped slightly because he'd just had a slightly naughty thought.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Just one more

I have started reading blogs again, when I have a moment.

But I should not have started reading Natalie Bennett's Philobiblon at 11 pm when I wanted to be asleep before midnight. I kept thinking 'just one more,' and it took me until well past one o'clock in the morning to notice that 'just one more' had stopped meaning anything at all.

I should have remembered that would happen.

And I have Pilates class tomorrow.

(Did you know that what is sold as honey in the US can be up to 80% corn syrup? CRIMINAL.)

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The fattening diet

This morning I weighed myself and discovered that so far I have lost just over half a kilo. Maybe I should try to LOSE weight, and see what happens?

The hot weather is not helping AT ALL.

Oh, well, my energy levels seem to be normal (for summer here), so I've decided not to worry about it.

Also, I went out to dinner last night and ate a lot. I will be doing the same tonight, and on Thursday night – and I have a good excuse to have two desserts. (Again!)

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Friday, 12 August 2011

Not very clever

Last weekend I went back to the pool I used to use before I joined a sports club. I did not want to join the sports club again. It is more convenient, but it costs too much and you have to join for a year. I use it almost daily during vacations (when I am here) but when semester starts I don't have time, and one day I sat down and calculated how much it cost me each time I went over a year, and almost fainted.

So instead, I went to the swimming school run by the city, where you can pay each time you go instead of on a monthly basis. I hadn't been there for about five or six years, and wasn't sure if it would still be there. It's a ten or fifteen minute bicycle ride away.

If it was there, I hoped it had been upgraded a bit.

It was still there. It had not been upgraded. I think they still have the same shower curtains, actually. I'm pretty sure I recognized some of those mould spots.

But at least I could swim, and I did. I did not swim lengths continuously – my back hurt too much for that (one of the reasons I've started this exercise regime) – so I swam one length, walked one, swam another, walked another, and so on. Occasionally I swam two lengths, just to prove to myself that I could.

In the dressing room afterwards I chatted with a lovely young woman who was there for the first time and was shocked by the showers. (They really are rather grotty.) She told me about another pool that is the same price, the same system (pay as you go), and, I'm pretty sure from looking at a map, a bit further away for me.

But a little more cycling distance wouldn't hurt me, I thought. It sounded ideal, so I decided to try it on Monday.

There is a free bus to this pool from my local train station, but I didn't want to depend on a bus timetable, so I rode my bicycle.

Have i mentioned that it is summer, and very hot? I don't think I have. And have I mentioned that although there is quite a lot of stealth green in my area (pot plants everywhere, stunted trees) there is also quite a lot of unrelenting, heat attracting, asphalt and concrete? Well, there is.

The new pool is located in a very industrial area, nearer to the sea than where I live, on reclaimed land. (One irritating 'feature' of Japanese cities is that often the nearer you get to the sea, the more industrialized and concrete and ugly and polluted everything gets. What a waste of seaside!)

I used the 'Maps' function on my iPhone to figure out how to get to the pool GPS on my shopping bicycle, hooray! I love my fancy gadgets, but I also love my old mamachari.

From what I could tell on the Maps app it would be fastest to go by road, but I thought it would also be hotter, and it would probably be nicer to go the long way and cycle along the Mukogawa river, where i used to take a lot of my bird photos. I had not been there for a long time. Maybe I could even take some pictures. After all, I had two baskets. I could carry my swimming gear and a camera, no problem.

It was sunny on Monday, perfect weather for swimming, less perfect for cycling. I prepared carefully. I slathered on sunscreen (I was planning to use my parasol, but I know from experience that there is often some wind down at the river and that can be awkward), and I prepared a litre of cold tea. One bottle was mugicha (barley tea), and the other was a Chinese herbal blend that is supposed to be good for coping with heat. I also took a bottle of water.

By the time I got to the river I had already gone through one bottle of tea and all the water. I bought another bottle of water at a vending machine, and went down to the riverside. There I stopped to have a little break under a tree.

Even the cormorants looked hot.

It felt a little cooler under the tree, and I relaxed there for a while. There were a few birds, and when I went to take out my camera I found, down the bottom of my bag, a thermometer. I had forgotten it was there. (I had it in my bag so I could measure the temperature in my classrooms at the end of semester. I was pretty sure the air conditioning wasn't working properly, and that it was too hot to study. I was right. 32C is not a suitable temperature for a classroom.)

When I took the thermometer out it told me that the temperature in my bag was 45C. I put it on the ground beside me, in the grass, and waited for it to go down and tell me how relatively comfortable it was under the tree.

I drank some more water, and took a couple of very bad pictures. I was feeling quite flustered and hot despite the shade.

The needle on the thermometer went down. Then it stopped moving. I waited a bit longer, and it continued to not move.

The weather forecast on Monday had told me that the temperature would be 32C. They also said, at the end of the day, that the high had been 32C. Where do they take those measurements? WHY DO THEY LIE?

I set off again along the river, now with a towel draped around my neck (to soak up sweat) and eventually my GPS told me I would need to get back onto the streets. It felt a lot hotter when I was back on asphalt, but I did not take out my thermometer. I thought I would probably get heatstroke just looking at it. I put up my parasol again, instead.

Eventually I got to the pool. (You can find it by copying this into Google Maps: "尼崎スポーツの森, Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan," and see what a desolate, hot, concrete wasteland it is set in.) However, as my informant had told me, the facilities were wonderful. There are several pools and a water park, and lots of space, and nice showers, and so on. But when I was in the changing room I happened to see myself in a mirror and was aghast at how dreadful I looked. My face was flushed, my eyes were bloodshot and I looked as though I were about to collapse.

Actually, I felt like that, too.

I sat down and drank some more water.

Then I went to the pool, and got into the 'walking lane.' I thought I should probably walk a bit and cool off before trying anything energetic, like a slow crawl. (A slow crawl is the only kind of crawl I can do.)

I stayed in the pool for a couple of hours. then cycled home again. It seemed even longer going back, and seemed to take forever.  I felt a bit like this turtle.

I drank another litre or so of water and tea on the way, and also stopped at a coffee shop to have a sandwich and coffee and several glasses of water. I got home around six, and did the washing. I was not hungry yet, and there was a lot of washing to do.

I had dinner quite late, and it wasn't until around nine o'clock that I realized that since I'd left the house at about one o'clock I hadn't peed, or felt the slightest urge to. Also, I had a headache.

Did I really sweat that much? (And if not, where did that two or three litres of water GO?)

I drank mugicha until my bladder started working again, ate dinner, and discovered the headache had disappeared.

That was a good ending to the day. I celebrated with a glass of wine, and promised myself that if I went to the nice pool again I would take the bus.

Riding my bicycle would not be very clever.

Noh by torchlight

This evening I went with a friend to see an outdoor performance of Noh by torchlight.

It was one of those perfect experiences, in the sense that it's something you like to use the present perfect tense to describe. You want to have seen Noh by torchlight. You don't particularly want to be seeing Noh by torchlight, or to see Noh by torchlight again, but to have seen Noh by torchlight is perfect, even if you didn't stay for the whole thing because it was boring, and even if it was by torchlight and fluorescent tube.

It is good to be able to say, "I have seen Noh by torchlight." When you describe things like that, you do not include descriptions of the fluorescent tubes, or the boredom, or the very smelly person sitting beside you (the other side, not your friend) or the even smellier person in front of you (also not your friend). You talk about the fantastic costumes (which you could not see very well because the smelly person in front of you had a very large head and the stage was too low and when you stood up for 2 seconds to take a picture a person behind you said, "SIT DOWN!" so you did even though nobody had moved a muscle on the stage for the last five minutes, and she then proceeded to chat droningly with her friends throughout the entire performance). (Well, as much of the performance as you stayed for before a bizarre combination of hunger (it was past dinner time) and nausea (from the smells) became more interesting than the performance.)

But it's now after 1am, I haven't uploaded the photos yet (and they probably won't be any good anyway because of the large head and the fluorescent tubes), so I'll write about it tomorrow.

Probably. Actually, I think I might have said all I want to say already, parenthetically. I am obviously not a very cultured person.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


Tonight I was talking to a friend on the phone, and I yawned. I then apologized for yawning, and wondered aloud why it was so contagious.

That reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend towards the end of semester, when we met for breakfast at the beginning of the day, and she could not stop yawning. Which meant that I could not stop yawning.

We sat and yawned for a bit, and then she apologized for having started me off. We wondered why this happened, and she told me that sometimes she did this with her small daughter. They would exchange yawns for a while. My friend would yawn. Her daughter would yawn. My friend. Her daughter. My friend. And then her daughter would stop.

"Hey, where's your yawn?" my friend would ask, and her daughter would reply,

"Sorry Mummy, I don't have any left."

This amazed me. Is this a kid thing? How can anybody possibly have no yawns left? I thought yawns were inexhaustible. I thought EVERYBODY had a bottomless pit of yawns.

Kids don't?

Sunday, 7 August 2011


What I saw today in my local shopping street was some kind of Shinto ritual. Shops got blessed. I do not know what it was all about in detail, though. I didn't even know it was going to happen. I was just going to the supermarket when I got caught up in it. I had been kicking myself for not taking my camera out of my bag before leaving, and then suddenly I was glad I had it.

This photo was taken with my phone, however. I had been taking video with the phone, then the priest started throwing confetti in the air, and I wanted to get a shot of that but didn't have my good camera ready.

What really got me about these priests, though, was the clogs they were wearing. I don't remember having seen them before. Was it just this particular shrine? Then, when I thought about it, I realized I had never seen a Shinto priest dressed for outside before. I have often seen them in shrines, performing their various duties, but inside they do not wear shoes.

They are wonderful clogs. There is something fantastically arty about them. Impractical, but arty.

The beautiful little girl doing the lie-down strike was determined to not respond to anybody. People asked her if she was all right, and she ignored them. Her mother waited patiently. I looked at her, then aimed my camera and clicked. Her expression did not change.

Then I squatted down and showed her the picture on the back of my camera. She stared at it, and one corner of her mouth twitched.

I think I might have been witnessing a quiet tantrum.

Lie-down strike

I will not move. It is too hot. Don't try and make me.

Oh, great Watermelon

Thursday, 4 August 2011


Who gets the royalties from the sale of Bibles?

All right, all right, I know the Bible is out of copyright (probably Paul the Apostle was yelling at scribes in 50 AD about them being late with his cheque), but I prefer to think of God as someone with a really big bank account who worries about what to do with all that money. A yacht, perhaps? A couple of racehorses? That would make an exciting hobby, especially if he didn't cheat and use his supernatural powers to win all the time. Or maybe plastic surgery? He's never liked his nose. Also, which currency should he keep his money in? The dollar seems a bit dodgy these days.

I like to think it keeps him awake at night, unable to concentrate on prayers.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


The summer vacation has started (more or less – I haven't quite finished grading) and in an effort to become a bit fitter and to help my back I have started Pilates classes. They are only twice a month, but the idea is supposed to be that you do it at home and get corrections and feedback when you do it in class.

(This is all a part of my plan to gain five kilos IN MUSCLE this summer vacation. I am flabby and underweight, and do not like it.)

Two weeks ago I had a 'sample' lesson, which I was told at the counter meant that I could watch and then decide whether or not to join the class. The teacher, however, invited me to join in, so I did. It was, I thought, pretty easy, and pretty much my speed. The only real problem I had with it was that the teacher's Japanese was quite fast at times, so I had the odd bit of cognitive overload while trying to understand what she was saying as well as concentrate on what I was supposed to be doing.

The cognitive overload reached tipping point when she told us to breathe in, and then a few seconds later to throw up. I'd been mentally congratulating myself on how well i was keeping up until that point. It was true that I wasn't understanding every word, but I was getting the general idea and didn't seem to be doing anything dramatically differently from the others in the class.

I was balanced rather tenuously on my side with one leg in the air when she told us to throw up, and that was enough to make me glance around, startled, to see whether anyone was actually following this bizarre instruction, and then to lose my balance and roll over, laughing helplessly. This led the teacher to assure me that it happened to everybody, especially at the beginning. She thought I was laughing because I was embarrassed.

I was not laughing because I was embarrassed about rolling over, but I did not tell her that. I was laughing at my terrible Japanese skills (after all these years!) that had led me to think that she had just instructed me to throw up.

Later, when I got home I looked up haku, and discovered it does, indeed, mean to throw up. It also means to breathe out. And to lie. I never knew that!

In today's class I did not lose my balance (or throw up), and I followed the teacher's instructions a little more easily than I did last time.

But I can see that Pilates is not the only thing I am going to be learning in these classes.

(Incidentally, remember I said the class seemed easy to me that first time? The day after the class every muscle in my body hurt. It was WONDERFUL. I had not done any exercise since that first class, though, so I fully expect to feel wonderful again tomorrow.)

Sunday, 31 July 2011

I learned something

I just learned (as you'll know if you read the comments on my first post) that if you're using Firefox and don't allow third party cookies, you can't post a comment on a Blogspot blog.

That's what I learned on Blogger help, anyway, when I looked it up to find out why my test comments were not appearing (but my friend's were.)

I did not want to accept third party cookies, so I figured out how to limit things a little. I allowed two exceptions, in preferences (privacy). I allowed and While this means I have probably allowed half the Internet to plant cookies in my browser (Google is everywhere these days), at least I haven't allowed ALL the Internet to plant cookies in my browser.


Saturday, 30 July 2011


I briefly tried out Tumblr, but decided Blogger is best for me. Familiar. Also, I didn't like the 'like' thing.


This whole social networking thing is difficult for me. 'Like.' 'Friend.' I joined Facebook once, under a different name, just to try it out. Next thing I knew someone was asking me to be their friend.


Friends are good. I like having friends. But you can't just suddenly decide you want to be friends with a stranger. You have to build a relationship first, or, preferably, an elationship.

So this is my new blog. Eventually I'll add a blogroll and a banner and so on, but I haven't been reading any blogs for a while and have not taken very many photos recently, and if I wait for inspiration for a lovely design I'll never get started. I'm keeping it simple, and will add things as I go.

Welcome back, me.