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    Thursday, February 28, 2008

    Me and drink

    I never thought I'd see the day: an hour spent procrastinating by doing instant messenger - with my mum and dad. Just show how times change, and that you can teach old parents new tricks!

    It's been a pretty full on week. Lots of meetings for this that and the other, and then there was Wednesday - when I had a pint of beer. That really threw me. Drunk after a few sips, and emotionally de-stabilised for the following 24 hours.

    I was thinking afterwards how deciding not to drink alcohol as a matter of course has been the single-most positive lifestyle choice I have made this past year. When I drink, whilst in the short term I may feel more 'relaxed' (with immediate causes of concern fading into insignificance), as the hours progress so I become more emotionally unstable. We're not talking bursting into tears or anything, more, unable to effectively deal with emotions, attaching undue weight to them and ultimately feeling controlled by them.

    The following day I will often feel somewhat depressed, which in a way is far more dehabilitating than any hangover I might have.

    With this is mind, I've come to appreciate that far from making life more fun and manageable, in the long term, drinking makes a life a lot harder. My nervous system has enough to deal with just being in this world - having to cope with the stimulant and depressant properties of alcohol doesn't exactly help.

    Drinking also makes life a lot harder for those around me, and especially those who are closest to me. *Twinkle* feels quite grateful that I have stopped drinking. It can be difficult having a meaningful relationship with someone who drinks regularly, partly as they are prone to forgetfulness and cease to play by the unspoken rules that help maintain trust and understanding. (It also means no more nights trying to lead a Joseph home who is insisting that he talks to all the road signs along the route).

    I remember the birthday party of a friend that I went to a few years back. I recall sitting at the table (or perhaps this memory is actually just based on the photos) and having a long conversation with the birthday girl. A few weeks later she thanked me, and told me that that conversation had meant a lot to her. My reaction? I was pretty embarrassed, I couldn't remember it at all. Realising this, my friend's smile disappeared in disappointment. I felt very bad, almost as if I had conned her.

    Since then, whenever I've drunk I've worn a bow-tie with a built-in MP3 recorder.

    What I find interesting is how when I did drink as a matter of course (and did not necessarily get drunk in seconds), I never really noticed these negative side effects. There was no post-drink depression, it was just another day. Thus, I wonder, did I feel somewhat down in general and thus noticed no difference, or was it simply a lack of acknowledgment of the effects upon my emotional wellbeing?

    Perhaps I should start drinking every day on an experimental basis and see if I do start feeling miserable... :-)

    When Joseph Gets Drunk...

    I'm not an advocate for a Teetotalistic revolution - for one thing, we need drunk students in order to support Higher Education in the UK (Sheffield Union's Bar One is probably one of the most profitable bars in South Yorkshire!). And I know that alcohol has helped me hundreds of times in the past feel able to deal with social situations.

    But now, for me personally, no alcohol is good, and 8 months after I stopped drinking I can't ever see myself starting again. (Watch this space!)

    Wednesday, February 27, 2008


    Bloody hell! We just had an earthquake! Strong one too - we're talking creaking walls!

    Arts Tower still standing though.

    That's only the second one in my entire life I've felt in the UK...

    Update: BBC News

    Anne Tame the Artist

    Two years ago my mother picked up a paint brush. She'd not really painted before, other than the walls, so I was pretty surprised when she started producing these great pictures.

    I've uploaded a selection for you to have a look at. Once the album's loaded click the buttons bottom left to change the way you view them.

    Some of you may recognise this picture of a little girl - I met her in Shanghai - click here for the original.

    Oraganic Vegees, our Wedding Date, and Peace

    A mixture of thoughts tonight, starting with...

    Weekly shopping

    Delicious homemade organic potato and onion soup for supper.

    Tuesdays are shopping day for me. I only shop in one place - Beanies - it's a privately run wholefood shop that in addition to having a fantastic range of natural foods, has the freshest local organic fruit and veg in Sheffield. I have a standing order for a vegee box, which costs me £9.50 a week. This is an increase from last year's £6 as the real price of vegetables has gone up due to last season's extreme weather. Unlike supermarkets, which tend to only pay farmers what they feel like paying, places like Beanies will pass farmer's costs on to consumers, and I am only too happy to pay the higher price if it means I am not supporting the exploitation of others.

    Thus, almost half of my weekly shopping bill of about £22 is accounted for by delicious organic fruit and vegees, the other half by things like organic bread, yeast extract, raisins (for my porridge) and soya milk. I was fortunate to be given about 5kg of rice at the beginning of the year, and I bought myself 3kg of organic pasta, 2kg of which remains waiting to be eaten!

    All this is a far cry from my shopping habits last year in Tokyo. There, our local wholefood shop had very few organic vegetables - most were just labelled "eco" meaning they had less pesticides on than normal vegees.

    (Did you know, Japan uses more chemical fertilizers than any other country in the world. Even more than China).

    I hope that next year I will be able to afford the high price demanded by producers of organic produce, as it really changes my whole relationship with food, and feels far more in harmony with what I feel my body needs.

    The Wedding Date

    The wedding date is set - Friday 25th July 2008! I'll be phoning the vicar tomorrow to discuss what we're going to do. I'm dead excited though...

    Oh, and I think we might be able to invite ALL Mumblers too. Will keep you informed re. those plans.

    So how does one organise a wedding anyway? What needs to be done? All ideas welcomed.

    Daily Effort: Kanji & Ego

    One week ago I decided that I really needed to put some energy into what was important but not urgent - study kanji. Over the past 7 days I have revised 100 kanji per day - it's already having an effect. Oh, and I'm really making progress with my getting up time too; after one week of training my body clock is pretty close to a 6.30am wakeup. Good stuff. Daily exercise is proving to be fun too, and getting more enjoyable by the day as the tilt of the Earth makes for warmer mornings.

    With so much going on I felt myself in need of reassurance at the weekend, and so started listening to Wayne Dyer's take on LaoTze's TaoDeJing again (all 81 verses available here. In it's raw form it's not for the feint hearted - but with a guide one can really appreciate the wisdom it contains).

    I do find it truly inspirational and uplifting. The central message for me is to trust, and let go. Such a simple thing, yet such a powerful tool for dealing with whatever challenges I may attract into my life.

    It's interesting how the first time I listened to it (a process which took about a month I think) I found myself drifting off at times, not really taking it all in, or struggling to understand these ideas which at times ran contrary to my own beliefs. Listening to it a second time, it feels a lot more natural, and in line with how I try to live my life - although a lot of it remains beyond me. But this time, I do recognise some of the benefits that are spoken of in my life, so some of it must have sunk in.

    The biggest area for improvement for me lies in ego management. It's so tricky to balance ego demands (for attention etc) with what I feel deep inside is 'right'. Only the other day I caught my ego galloping off down the road, having latched on to the interest that the other party had shown in my activities. I was aware of this, and made a conscious decision to let it run its course - I'd pick up the pieces afterwards. I would like to get to the stage where even when beckoned my ego doesn't feel the need to gallop off, but is content to just 'be'.

    It's a tricky one, because I'm a great advocate of people accepting that they are indeed amazing and incredible, and of giving people the recognition that they deserve. But in oneself, well, if one's not careful the resulting good feeling of that sort of attention can get hijacked by the ego - making for arrogance and ignorance.

    Anyhow anyhow, it's late, and all this blogging isn't getting my dissertation off the ground. Best go to bed so I wake up happy and refreshed. And probably smelly after all those baked beans I've had today.


    Tuesday, February 26, 2008

    A new lease of photographic life

    It's amazing what an effect that podcast has had on my feelings towards photography. It's really got me excited, makes me want to just take photos all over the place!

    Having an understanding of where digital photography is now and where it's going in the future is also very exciting. I love taking photos, and I love gadgets, thus hearing about the incredible new technologies that are being developed is really something to get jumpy-up-and-down about. As was said on the podcast, we're now reaching the stage where digital photography has gone as far as it can in duplicating what film can do - we're on this tipping point where the very nature of photography starts to change as technology enables us to do things that were never possible before.

    Things like the new Nikon which can basically see more than the human eye can in low light conditions it's that sensitive. Bye bye flash, hello low-light shots without grain.

    I've also started to use the iso function on my Nikon D40x (iso determines the sensitivity of the sensor to light, but the more sensitive it is, the more grainy the image gets, just like with film (over 400 iso tends to = graininess)). I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but it was only last week when doing the food photo shoot that I realised I could manually set the iso. With a film camera you never had that choice - you put a 200 speed film in and that was that. Thus, I had no prior experience of having that choice and thus didn't consider it an option.

    Bamboo forest, Arashiyama

    Looking through my photo library when sorted by iso, I see that I have shot quite a few with my D40x at 1600 iso without knowing it (when in auto mode) - and I must say, I'm pretty staggered by the lack of grain.

    Listening to the podcast has also brought Apple's Aperture 2 to my attention. Released a couple of weeks back, it's Apple's newest version of their answer to Adobe Lightroom. I downloaded the trial version last night before I went to bed. Seven hours later it was still importing my library of over 19,000 photos. I waited, and waited, and finally, when it was done, gave it a spin.

    It's nice, and sure, it's well-integrated into the other Apple Apps - but it still doesn't compare to LightRoom - so I'll be sticking with that.

    Unlike Photoshop, as well as being a photo library, Lightroom is primarily designed for making general adjustments to RAW images (as opposed to JPEGS etc), adjustments such as saturation, colour balance, exposure etc. It's not for manipulating specific areas of a photo. Most non DSLR cameras record images in JPEG, which essentially means that the camera itself is deciding how to interpret the image captured through the lens. When you shoot in RAW, you just get the basic raw data, and you decide how it is interpreted before exporting it for print or publishing.

    I'm also finding myself more and more inclined to not consider making a lot of money out of photography. I'd rather keep it as a hobby, using the images to illustrate my website / books etc.

    So yeah, it's all good.

    Right, on with this newspaper article about the Kaguya space probe. Talk about new vocab...!

    Saturday, February 23, 2008

    The Case Studies Project

    It's been a good day.

    I spent about 90 minutes on my kanji this morning, after my 20 minutes of exercise and two bowls of porridge, then off to uni for Angela's class. I like that class. We're all together, all 17 of us, for the first time ever (usually we're split into two groups). It's quite a appropriate really, as not long from now, it will be Angela's Friday afternoon class that will be our last ever language class at Sheffield. Our last ever class together.

    Thinking about that makes me feel pretty sad. I mean, we've been through so much together, we've achieved so much - can it really just end - like that?

    I'm happy today to have been given the opportunity to get involved in the Case Studies project run by LeTS, which is still in its infancy. I must admit, when I replied to the email I didn't have a clue what it was all about, but now I seem to be somewhat 'involved', to put it mildly. I can't really say much more as myself and the co-ordinator have a secret plan up our sleeves. If we manage to pull it off, it should have a significant impact not only upon the program, but also upon my confidence levels re. performing for a large audience. (Funny that, I was just on the lookout for my next public speaking role...!)

    I'm also going to be writing a case study of my experience at the School of East Asian Studies. Well, actually, I've already written it. Took me about 5 hours, but was immensely therapeutic. Another bit of synchronisity here too - I've been looking for an opportunity to express my gratitude for all that the department has given me, and when I mentioned my feelings towards the departmental staff to the Case Studies co-ordinator she almost jumped for joy: Wow! This is EXACTLY what I've been looking for! You have no idea how difficult it is to find people who are thinking like that...!

    So it's all good.

    Now I just need to find someone to research and write my dissertation for me as I do all this other stuff!

    night night.

    Friday, February 22, 2008


    Podcasts really are great.

    I was just thinking the other day how much I have learnt about Macs through listening to Macbreak Weekly (which admittedly is more rat hole that mac-info, but that adds to the charm. I feel the presenters are my private fwends, private in that no-one else that I know personally knows them). I didn't know anything about them two years ago, and whilst I'm certainly no pro-user, I am now more than happy to run Mac intro sessions for the uninitiated. (Mum and dad were practice. I did a session on iLife for a local artist, and hopefully next week will be doing one on Mac GTD for a few friends next week.

    Anyway, a couple of days ago I was thinking about me and my photography, and how ignorant I am of what is going on in the photography world, not to mention techniques to improve my skills. Yes, one day I'll go on a photography course.... 'One Day'? Come on joseph, you know better than that. Unless you make this a priority it will never happen.

    With time and money being a bit of an issue there initially seemed to be little I could do ...ah, but hang on, if I could learn a load of stuff about Macs through a podcast, couldn't I do the same with photography?

    So as of yesterday I've started my photographic education, initially courtesy of This week in Photography, which as the name might suggest is part of the TWIT (This Week in Tech) network. I like the presenters, I like the show, and I've learnt a thing or two already. Like the fact that the camera I'd like costs about £3000.

    If anyone has any recommendations for photography podcasts please do let me know ...and if there's anything you'd like to learn about in your spare time, have you checked out the podcast section of iTunes? There's some real gems in there.

    [can you seriously imagine a camera that takes 1200 frames per second...?!! Casio have made one]

    My Emissions

    We gave the first in a series of presentations in our Japanese speaking / listening class toady. The theme, Global warming, was a nice gentle one to warm us up before we move onto euthanasia in a couple of weeks. I've yet to seriously consider my feelings on that topic and look forward to having the opportunity to explore.

    Anyhow, I really enjoyed today's global warming presentation. My partner (Jen) and I decided to demonstrate to our audience the horrendous consequences of flying - one return flight to Japan will account for almost half of the annual CO2 output of an average person (or about 20% of the annual output of a Japanese person).

    We were extremely successfully in conveying our message. I wasn't so interested in getting good marks as I was in making people forget that this was a classroom situation, and leading them to consider the consequences of their actions. All Japanese pairs who participated as audience members expressed a good deal of surprise, and in one case absolute horror at the effect that they had had upon the environment. They simply had never thought that flying could have such an impact.

    Awareness of an individual's contribution to CO2 emissions seems to be pretty scarce in Japan. No-one had any idea what their annual output amounted too, and trying to find Japanese language CO2 calculators was difficult. Considering the seriousness of the problem awareness levels in this country are also pretty poor, but at least the government and to a certain degree the media is making an effort to educate people.

    To calculate your CO2 emissions in the UK, you could use the extremely sexy site created by the UK Gov, In Japan, you have, which is not exactly the most user-friendly of CO2 calculators. I mean, without going to find some old gas bill, do you actually know how many cubic metres of gas you used (not emitted) last year?

    ho hum

    [Edit: see also: Switching Lifestyles to save carbon emissions]

    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    How to lose someone's trust in less than 10 seconds

    I'm really very grateful to that student from Eastern Europe whom I met in Japan last year. I've talked about her before - she's the one who unintentionally taught me that speaking badly of someone behind their back is fundamentally wrong, and to do so in order to somehow make oneself look 'good' in the face of others is a sign of a thinking that could be seen as flawed.

    I was reminded of this twice last week.

    The first time, it was me that made the criticism. It wasn't intentional on a conscious level, and I didn't really realise what I'd done until the person I critisised in a mail to another friend replied to me (I had deliberately BCC'd them for various reasons, including wanting to maintain transparency), saying they were not happy with my public display of disrespect. I was profusely apologetic as I recognised that I had spoken ill of them in front of another (albeit unintentionally), and naturally, this shook their trust in me. I was genuinely sorry, and have since done the best I can to make up for my mistake.

    A couple of days later a class mate sent me a link to this article.
    Facebook can ruin your life. And so can MySpace, Bebo...
    What struck me about this was not so much the horror of companies using info they find online against you, but rather, the lack of judgment on the part of those who post criticisms of others for the whole world to see! I see it as only natural that should they do such things, they feel the consequences. Negativity Breeds Negativity, You Get What You Give etc.

    I know I'm no saint; this site probably contains quite a bit of criticism of others - but I think where there is some, it will not be personal, and / or it will not be current. Bad-mouthing people feels fundamentally wrong, and to do so for short-term gain is just plain silly.

    Anyhow, with this as background, you can imagine my sadness when last week whilst in the pub (even I take time off sometimes!) a friend, whom I had had a lot of respect for, started to talk about how they really didn't like another Japanese Studies student, how that person looked silly, and did stupid things etc.

    I was really taken aback. Here was someone I trusted, and someone I liked a lot, demonstrating that they clearly did not deserve that trust. Whilst those around may have laughed and played along, what was the lingering feeling? Here is someone who, when your back is turned, does not play fair, and thus someone who cannot be trusted entirely.

    Of course this person isn't alone in behaving like that. I'm sure the vast majority of people on the planet have done it at some time or other. I myself included, of course. Although I have never been fond of bad-mouthing, until late 2006 I had not made a promise to myself to never indulge in such games. Having made that conscious decision I find myself feeling a lot more positively towards others who might otherwise become the butt of my criticism, my frustration, my anger. By not going down that road of focusing upon (what I may perceive to be) 'negative' character aspects, and by instead attempting to understand that person and why they may be behaving in such a manner, one can develop sympathy, care, compassion and love for them (obviously not romantic love as *Twinkle* would whip my arse). This is turn can lead to great friendships, and possibly even a change in behaviour in that person as they come to appreciate that (in these circumstances), they don't have to be on the defensive as they are being accepted for who they are.

    I know this is all really common-sensical stuff, but this last week I have seen it being 'forgotten' by myself, by a friend, and by the wider internet community - thus my desire to write about it.

    I don't know whether or not the friend in question reads the mumble (not if they have any sense!). I'm not being critical of them in the slightest as I know that I have been there too, and also, we are exposed to such a barrage of outrageous personality assassinations in the media that it could also be thought of as natural that we behave in such a manner ourselves.

    Ho hum.

    Tuesday, February 19, 2008

    Embracing variety

    So, good news re. the Business Competition - we've made it through to the next stage with our publishing company. We're going to need to put a lot of work into preparing a full, detailed plan for submission in April to ensure we make it to the final in May - but it will all be worth it. If things go according to plan we'll be in the first stages of testing the website by then, making it all the more 'real'.

    In other news, I'm liking this idea of Ubiquitous Capture, whereby I simple write down any and all substantial ideas / to do's as and when they occur, and later action them (whether that be upon return to base or at a later date having added them to Omnifocus, which I'm very much in love with), thus leaving my head clear and me de-stressed in order to deal with the here and now. It's working. It's good. we like it. We'll like it even more when we have an omnifocus-enabled iPhone, if *Twinkle* lets me get one.

    The photo shoot is finally over, and the clients are very happy with the 10GB of results. As am I actually. Food is quite tricky to photograph so it doesn't look flat and lifeless. But, with the aid of a magic red blanket, numerous spotlights and a local community centre I think we did quite well. Got to eat all these amazing Japanese dishes too!

    I really enjoyed it actually, as on Sunday nights the community centre plays host to a local jazz band - wow, they are sooooo good. What was their name...? They had me singing and humming along to all the classics such as Take Five and The Girl from Ipanema. I've been a fan of Getz & Gilberto for about ten years now. Used to listen to it all the time when working as a barman in the hotel in Switzerland in 1998ish. Happy memories of a very difficult time.

    Painful times too. The old stereo system wasn't earthed properly, and if you touched it and the stainless steel bar on the other side at the same time, you got a huge bolt of electricity pass through you. I only found this out when my alcoholic manager suggested I try it to see what happened... Funny, I still feel very fond of him too, much grief though he gave me.

    Congrats are in order for Will and Xinxin on your engagement (OK to mention you by name now!). Although asking me for advice on how to propose was perhaps not the best idea, given how much I struggled to ask *Twinkle*! But yes, we are delighted. Been waiting for that for a while.

    Whoever said that marriage is going out of fashion?

    Had a really productive day today, starting with yet another call to try and get our boiler fixed. Two days without heating or hot water in temperatures that never really lifted about minus 4. Slept in my 4 season sleeping bag last night in all my clothes, with wooly hat on. Woke up with a frozen nose.

    Coming back home tonight I found that they had still not come to 'fix' the 'broken' boiler.

    It was only then that it struck me that maybe I could 'fix' it myself. So I gave it a go. I opened the flap to reveal the controls, and pressed the button with the picture of the gas flame on.

    The boiler started up. It was 'fixed'.

    It struck me how living in such a nanny environment (where we are told to call for help from the university when a light-bulb goes) makes one forget that one is actually perfectly capable of doing things oneself. I mean, if this had been my house, my boiler, the first thing I would have done is taken a look at the control panel. But here - it never occurred to me. Thus, two days of cold.

    (As it happens, the central heating pressure is way too low and so that does need 'fixing'. I'm reluctant to try turning one of the internal taps myself in case it is connected to the outflow for the Atlantic Ocean.

    Productive meeting just before lunch discussing plans for the CILASS website, then final prep for tomorrow's (assessed) Japanese language presentation. Looking forward to that. Following a mad couple of hours trying to tie up all sorts of loose email ends, it was time for the School of East Asian Studies Open Day. I love these. I've loved them since the first time I attended one myself as a student, way back then... Good old (young) Dr. Siddle doing his bit, me so excited and asking questions in the boardroom, meeting Susie and co.

    As mentioned on a post last month, these past few years the 'talk with real live current students' bit has got a bit longer, and I've started taking along examples of homework at all levels along. I love meeting prospective students and telling them how great (and how hard) it is, and answering all the same questions I had myself. Good crowd today - over 90 of them apparently.

    I was in a bit of a quandary though: I had a training session at Sheffield Hallum University (our rival down town) at 4pm on web marketing ...but the open day didn't finish until 4pm. I do make an effort to not be late as I think it shows a lack of respect for the other's party's time; what to do? In the end, it was a case of weighing up priorities - SEAS had given me so much, and the least I could do was give a little back with the open day.

    Turns out that despite being half an hour late for the web session, I'd made the 'right' decision as they'd started late. That was pretty interesting though, and made me see online advertising in a whole new (negative) light. You won't see any major changes round here though as a) this is not a business site and b) current ads are pretty unobtrusive.

    Back home and the chap arrives to pick up my DVD music collection (freecycle frees me of crap), then a Japanese friend calls for the 3rd time in a week. They've just got a job at a travel agent here in the UK and can't get their heads around the ridiculously complex small print on various airline tickets. So they ask me, and I sit there, wondering what it means in English let alone Japanese!

    I attended the university's Travel Roadshow yesterday, having been intrigued to learn more about our local car club. Sounds fantastic, and I'm delighted to learn that it is getting lots of city council support (thanks to the council's goal of lowering local CO2 emissions). I'm more and more of the opinion that I don't want to own a car - unless it has zero emissions. Ideally, I would have a car powered by compressed air, with the compressor running off solar panels and a wind turbine at home. It is a goal of mine to be self-sufficient energy wise, and to have a carbon footprint of zero.

    Looks like it'll be a busy Thursday and Friday too. Tomorrow I have an 'induction' to our new office located on the roof of the local cinema, and on Friday a training session on being a case study - what that entails I don't really know!

    Okey dokey, time for a cuppa.

    Sunday, February 17, 2008

    GTD: Omnifocus

    So having made my timetable, and having stuck to it pretty well, I felt satisfied ...but at the same time something was niggling at me. This To-Do list, whilst based upon my own judgment as to what was most important in my life, felt somewhat restrictive, it was robbing me of my freedom to act spontaneously.

    And then wadda-you-know, the next chapter in the book I'm currently listening to is all about time management. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey talks about the development of time management, beginning with the introduction of notes and checklists, followed by calendars and diaries. However, use of these tools never really caught on outside of the office due to their lack of flexibility. They doesn't account for the elastic nature of time, nor do they react well to interruptions or acts of spontaneity. They can lead people to feel so tied to their schedules that life becomes a chore. Not only that, they can serve to diminish the importance of interaction with others, and thus, inevitably, the decision is reached that this time-management thing has too high a price tag - " they throw the baby out with the bathwater".

    Anyway, this got me thinking. Perhaps I should consider using one of those Getting Things Done (GTD) tools again. They address the problems of basic lists by introducing contexts and enabling you to easily assign different levels of importance to tasks. So, I resurrected iGTD, a free app that gets pretty good reviews. However, after it crashed 4 times in 10 minutes I binned it and thought again.

    It was then that into my head popped Merlin Mann of 43 Folders and Macbreak Weekly (and That Phone Guy). What was that software he was involved in the development of? Oh yeah, OmniFocus, winner of Macworld's Best in Show. So, off to Omni I go and download it ...and I tell you, it is a beauty.

    If you are having to juggle a number of projects with multiple mini-deadlines, all requiring attention but some more urgent than others (and if you own a Mac), this is for you. It's highly intelligent, flexible, and helps you get a clear idea of what needs doing when. Data entry is super quick and easy, and there's iCal integration.

    Merely adding all the stuff I need to do to its database has lifted a huge weight from my shoulders. I have a clear picture of every stage of every project, and can easily select items to do tomorrow from the various categories with a single click.

    This emptying of my mind of 'all these things I have to do' has really set me free today (first day of the OmniFocus trial), it's enabled me to let go and put all of my energy into the tasks I've set myself. Three homework assignments completed, a 90-minute call to my *Twinkle*, a 30 minute exercise session in the park, a little shopping escapade, and three good meals. I tell you, without Omnifocus, i couldn't have done it.

    It seems that the key is to appreciate that it's not about time management - it's about self-management. For me, I place a lot of emphasis upon how I visualise my workload, thus, to have a clear welcoming picture before me of things to be done actually changes my feelings towards the tasks themselves, discouraging procrastination and getting me all excited about writing a essay in Japanese on binge drinking.

    I think Omnifocus have done a tremendous job by making such an easy to use yet powerful GTD tool.

    Two week trial available. Take a peek at it here.

    Saturday, February 16, 2008

    Friday Night

    Caw blimey gov, tough week.

    Thursday was particularly difficult and saw me spending much of the day stifling tears, staggered by the power of emotions I'd not felt for many years. It did get better though, as I met a close friend who told me of their plan to present their partner with a ring. I couldn't hold back the tears then - although they were of course tears of happiness (and yes, she said yes!).

    Today has been easier, as I've been super busy. In addition to the six Japanese language homework assignments we've been given (oh, and all seventeen of us passed our exams by the way, hurrah! Results out in ten days), I seem to have got myself somewhat majorly involved in initial planning for a campaign designed at changing student attitudes towards their study environment, to be launched in September. I'm quite excited about that, despite the challenges it poses.

    Myself and my web-group colleague also met today to discuss further development of the CILASS student website, which whilst being 100% more 'there' than last year, is in desperate need of further development.

    Oh, and I've finally got my head around domain MX records (far simpler than I had previously thought), meaning that much time has been spent configuring Google Apps to deal with email flowing through the many domains I've collected. In English, this means that any email now sent to joseph [at mark] goes straight to a sexy user-friendly spam-proof Gmail inbox, rather than getting lost in the pretty crappy mail box provided by the domain registrar. You may not think this is exciting, but you'd be wrong. (If you own your own domain and want a reliable email server, check out Google Apps).

    Had a groovy meeting re. our publishing company, and thanks to my friend's superb negotiating skills, we should be signing the contract Monday for the development of our very sexy and highly intelligent website (the initial quote we received was over £9000!).

    The photography work has been ongoing, deadline of Monday for that. A lot of Raw files to sort - it's at times like this I wish I had a Mac Pro! (You know, I touched my first ever Mac Air the other day. It may be lacking in practical things such as a CD/DVD drive, but my god is it sexy. Reality-defying. You will Oooh and Aaaah when you see it, believe me).

    I've started getting my organic vegee box again, and I am feeling good eating huge plates of spinach. Oh, and exercise! I've started my daily exercise again. It's good. Only about 20 minutes in the morning (time courtesy of the reintroduction of the up-at-6am, bed at 11pm system).

    Of course all of this has meant that I need to resurrect the daily-planning book. In here, every night before I go to bed I write myself a list of goals, and then create a rough timetable for the following day. I'm timetabling absolutely everything in, including meals, homework and other non-academic tasks. It's very rewarding, and makes me a lot more productive. Far less room for procrastination, and as I'm also timetabling in a little relaxation time each day I don't feel like it's a chore. Having said that, I do feel a little sorry that I choose to prioritise business over pleasure (and thus I will probably be the only one not going to the big birthday party tonight).

    Righty ho, must be time for the tumble drier.

    I'm going to have an immensely productive weekend.

    Wednesday, February 13, 2008

    Message from the dying

    I asked the dying what they wished they'd had more of in their lives. Their responses came,


    "...Less worry".

    None of them said, "MacBooks".

    Interview at the Japanese Embassy

    Few. That's that over with!

    I'm sitting in a pub next to London Victoria Coach Station, waiting for my coach back to Sheffield, and breathing out after that interview experience.

    Had a nice journey down with course-mates Jon and Jenny. Sat in the cafe together next to the embassy for a bit, before Jenny went off for her slot. Jon and I attempted to forget about it all by going for a walk to Buckingham Palace, just the other side of Green Park. I've not been there for many years. I liked that.

    Then it was back to the embassy. Jon was first. I passed the time by going to the loo.

    So how was it? Well, I am very happy with how it went (that does not equate to "I think I got the job". I wouldn't be so arrogant as to think so with so many excellent candidates, like my course-mates).

    Security was pretty tight. Having gone through the x-ray machine, we were locked in some glass-walled reception area with a manga exhibition, quizzed several times to assert as to whether or not we were carrying any cameras. Taken through some airlock, and told time and time again to not make any contact with any other candidates as we left - not even a quick glance.

    The English grammar test beforehand was bloomin' tough! I never knew English could be so hard. I know I make a lot fo mistakes in the Mumble - but those are typos and the result of rapid transfer of thought-to-keyboard. Generally, I consider myself to have a pretty good grasp of English grammar - but that was tough.

    The three interviewers were really nice people, you could tell that no matter how hard they tried to look intimidating behind that big desk. Two male Japanese diplomats in their, er, late 40s, and a young English lady. The whole interview, which I think went on for about 25 minutes, was conducted in Japanese.

    My goals for this interview were

    a) to be relaxed
    b) to be me.

    I managed both, comfortably, getting laughs out of all of them and generally enjoying it. There was only one OMG moment - during the Japanese test. The first article I was handed was fine, all about Taiwanese tourists going to Japan (did you know that Taiwanese driver's licences are valid in Japan now?). But the second piece, which I was also given one minute to read, was an absolute swine, and I only managed to read through half of it, and struggled to understand that. Still, when faced with questions on it, I simply apologised and told them that I didn't quite understand it. That was ok.

    Anyway, basically I was completely honest, and I did as well as I could, and thus I will be happy with the decision whatever it is. I won't make any guesses as to whether I passed or not as I don't know what elements they will be concentrating on. If it's based on language ability or willingness to go anywhere in Japan then I doubt I will get through - I made my feelings re. *Twinkle* pretty clear.

    If I don't get it, I will be happy knowing that I gave it my best shot, and that there are other opportunities waiting for me elsewhere. I feel pretty chuffed with what I've achieved so far anyway, getting an interview at the embassy was my goal back in 2003 (although admittedly that was the British Embassy in Tokyo not the Japanese Embassy in London!).

    Looking back on it, I find it ironic that I was far, far faaaar more stressed out for last month's mock interview that we had as an exam with our favourite teachers. I mean, preparing for that, I completely lost the power of speech. I think in that exam situation I was trying hard to not make mistakes, whereas today I just let myself free with my normal Japanese. Perhaps they will mark me down for not using sufficiently polite Japanese, but I wasn't rude, I used 'desu' 'masu throughout - and I was me.

    According to the published info, the short-list of candidates is announced in April, with notification of selection and placement in May.

    So, plenty of time to forget about it for now.

    Right, best be off, have a bus to catch. Back to Sheffield and all the madness that the uni thing entails.

    love joseph

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    Not having enough time

    You know you're back at uni when your calendar suddenly becomes so full of meetings and deadlines that you have to switch from monthly view to weekly few, and even, dare I say it, daily view. Twelve this week alone, plus classes. Arrrr jimlad, love it.

    When I feel stressed about 'not having enough time', I find it really helps to try and learn from experience. If I look back at the last, say, 30 years, has there ever been a time when not having enough time has killed me?
    Er.... no.
    And has there ever been a time when I have not got through a very busy patch.
    Erm, no.
    So, did worrying about not having enough time have a positive impact upon the getting-things-done-ness?
    I spose not. It made it rather stressful actually and encouraged me to procrastinate.
    So why not learn from 30 years of experience and accept that you will successfully move through the busy period / difficult time, and come out the other end with even more experience and having accomplished a great deal?
    You mean I don't have to worry? Sounds a bit unrealistic.
    Is that 'realistic' as in 'reality' as in '30 years of'?
    Ahh. yes. I see your point. Ok.

    Monday, February 11, 2008

    The Star Thrower

    "There was a man who was walking along a sandy beach where thousands of starfish had been washed up on the shore. He noticed a boy picking the starfish one by one and throwing them back into the ocean.

    The man observed the boy for a few minutes and then asked what he was doing. The boy replied that he was returning the starfish to the sea, otherwise they would die.

    The man asked how saving a few, when so many were doomed, would make any difference whatsoever? The boy picked up a starfish and threw it back into the ocean and said

    "Made a difference to that one..."

    The man left the boy and went home, deep in thought of what the boy had

    He soon returned to the beach and spent the rest of the day helping the boy throw starfish in to the sea.

    Sunday, February 10, 2008

    Reasons to smile

    Tee hee, I'm so wicked.

    Earlier today I spotted that someone was inadvertently sharing their private printer over the university network (thanks to Apple's Bonjour networking capabilities). I thought it might be quite amusing to send them a message - that is, write a letter to them, and send it by selecting to have it printed out on their printer!

    So that's what I did, asking if they could do a home delivery service too :-)

    About an hour later I received an email from the owner of the printer (I'd included my email address in my letter) - they said that initially they were pretty freaked out by the sudden unprompted printer action - was there some ghost in the room trying to get through to them? No, just Joseph the other side of the campus.

    They had no idea that they had inadvertently turned printer sharing on - how could they turn it off?! (I sent instructions, but their printer still appears as my default!)

    I've spent the last 6 hours trawling through the various websites associated with the JET program that I've applied for. It's been mightily handy, but has also made me realise just how competitive the market is. There seem to be a lot of people applying for the position of CIR year after year, trying to get in.

    Reading about the amazing things that people are doing makes me feel a little queasy, as does some of the insider information on what happens once you walk into the interview. Still, if I wear my bullet-proof vest I should be OK.

    I think the key is just to Be Me.

    I really do love spring. I was really happy with the photos that I took this morning in Sheffield's Botanical Gardens.

    I'd like to share a few with you.

    Squirrel Nutkins was digging away like crazy! Where had he buried his nuts?

    I like cacti. They know how to weather the hard times.

    [sing] ...all around the bloomin' heather...

    Much fun was had around the crocuses. Most of these were taken from a distance of about 2m with my 70mm-200mm zoom. I was happy with the results.

    Mr. B was having a devil of a job getting in to gather pollen

    Hopping from one to the next

    all beauty originates from nature

    Banana anyone?

    To be a Bee

    Seems I'm not with only with with goals in sight for Spring.

    Saturday, February 09, 2008

    Post-exam relief

    It's been another fabulous day. I've been having a mild case of culture shock, having not really been here for 7 weeks, but I think now I've got my room tidied and all last semester's work filed away in my archive, all's good. Oh, hoovering helped clear my mind too, as did reporting the faulty light in the loo.

    It began then at about 7am, when I woke to read through my post-it notes. I used the post-it note revision technique in my first year with "Understanding Japan". It worked wonders! Essentially, when reading text books, I write the key facts on individual post it notes. These are then stuck to the wall by the bed / desk for rearrangement and review later. You should have seem me last night in the library with my post-its everywhere - certainly got a few strange looks. I grouped them into categores, and then went through them all: first population (sub-divided into birth / death / migration etc) then environment (pollution / law / energy etc). The advantage with the post-it method if that you can easily combine several texts without constantly having to shuffle through sheets of A4. Also, if you are like me and often associate memories with specific locations in your field of vision, this works wonderfully.

    The exam went better than I expected. I know I really mucked one of the three questions up, as it was essentially a re-write of the essay that I submitted last week and got back today after the exam! This particular lecturer is (by his own admission) a very harsh marker. I got 61% (a 2:1). I can live with that.

    So, in summary, exams went very well.

    After collecting my essay results it was back home for a quick bite to eat, then out to the Info Commons for a CILASS tech group meeting. We've been given a very tricky project this semester which I'll tell you more about at a later date. It's going to be a great challenge... We'll also be holding more technology sessions for university staff. After managing to teach mum how to video conference today I feel there's even hope for some of our more senior professors!

    Following that I had another meeting to discuss this photography job. Apparently the design company doesn't actually realise that I'm not really a pro - this is one of those life chances, I can feel it!

    This evening I've been working through a huge backlog of stuff that I've just not had time to do over the 'holidays'. Now is the first time since last September that I've not actually been under pressure to prepare for something. Oh, apart from my interview on Tuesday... I was talking to the staff member who used to sit on that interview panel - he's delighted that so many of us Sheffieldians have got an interview - let's hope several if not all of us make it through.

    I received an email today from a member of uni staff who tells me that they'd like to put me forward for an award, a medal, to recognise extra-curricular activities (that's in addition to the Sheffield Graduate Award which I'm doing anyway). I must admit I was surprised and delighted, and very grateful to even be considered. I told them I'd get a list together of things that they might want to include. It turned out to be a bit longer than anticipated: since starting uni in 2004 I've initiated / been heavily involved in 45 non-academic uni-related projects!

    You may recall last year my wondering whether I should continue to be involved in extra-curricular activities. Well, there's not a shadow of doubt in my mind now - whilst the degree has of course been wonderful and its value should not be underestimated (it's not over yet Joseph!), these other projects have really enriched my time here, and made it so worthwhile. I really have loved university, it's come along just at the right time, allowing me to put to use all the 'stuff' I've picked up over time. And allowing me to meet *Twinkle*, who I think we need a photo of.

    Here she is under a railway bridge in the Peak District.

    Caw, I get to marry her later this year!

    Going through that list of projects tonight, and thinking about all the wonderful people who've made it happen for me, I can't help but feel incredibly happy, and grateful. It really does fill my chest with joy, brings a smile to my face and tears to my eyes to think about all the good that is done here at university by so many people. What a great place Sheffield is! ...And in many ways, that has nothing to do with my degree.

    Anyhow, I have to be up at 8am to have my mane cut in preparation for the interview. I realised tonight when trying to find a barber, that I've never had my haircut in Sheffield. In fact, I've not had my hair cut in the UK for about 3 years, choosing instead to shave it all off now and then.

    But at the moment, I like hair, so I'll just have a trim.

    Oyasumi xxx

    Poorly cow meets giant baby foot

    BUT! Before it met the Giant Baby's Foot it was given some poisoned cheese by a naughty mouse!

    For those of who especially interested in the final moments of Cow, here's some still shots from the video:

    Friday, February 08, 2008

    The end starts here

    OK, so we're back online after a couple of days in the wilderness in search of the correct DNS settings. It was pretty handy actually, as with no access to my server I was able to learn quite a bit about population issues in China for the exam which starts in, er, cripes, 13 hours.

    It's the final exam of the season. And explains why I'm back in Sheffield. I'll be here pretty much till the end now, except for Easter when I'll either go to Japan or Wales. Bearing in mind the cost of rail travel in the UK Japan might actually be cheaper. Mind you, by doing so I'd be doubling my 2008 CO2 output...

    I'm looking forward to my final semester. I'm planning to use my time as efficiently as possible, with extensive use of my calendar for planning, emails to organise, skype for meetings and a complete ban on mobile phone usage. In fact, the other day, when walking past the Orange Shop I decided the best way to not receive phone calls was to get a new phone number. So I did. Whilst I was intending to keep the old Sim card and put it in now and then to check for stray messages, I now realise I've left it the other end of the country - so I really will have a peaceful life.

    As I said before, I have a Skype number, and people can send SMS messages to that if they're desperate - the BT woman reads them out for me. Quite how Skype manage to offer a BT line for just £15 a year I don't know - BT charge £12.50 a month.

    I'm starting to get rid of 'stuff' in preparation for my return to Japan too. The first thing to go is my printer, which is being sent to the now Mac-equipped parents in a bid to persuade mum to finally stop using my 1930s word processor which will leave everything she types in some obscure format that our grandchildren won't be able to read. I plan to start to sell / give away the remainder of my books soon, followed by the collection of stationary that I've been hoarding for uni (Oh! Woops! I've nearly graduated!). It's all a part of the bid to make myself less materialistic, to encourage the belief (fact) that I am but a temporary keeper of all of this stuff - letting go brings liberation!

    This weekend I have my first job as a 'professional' photographer. I'm to receive a briefing from a local design company tomorrow, following which I will go to and type "How to become a professional photographer".

    Looking forward to the interview on Tuesday, should be groovy. Go down London town with my classmates. Have to make sure they don't try and push me (or each other) off the train as we're all vying for the same job, and competition is intense.

    And then there's classes. I'm liking my timetable, it's nice and empty, and those times when I do have classes, they are held by people who are possibly the nicest lecturers to have the misfortune to receive Sheffield University 'salaries'. They often send a hat round at the beginning of class in order that they can afford to pay the coal man when he brings his sacks of anthracite around the 5th floor of the arts tower.

    Oh, speaking of which - have you seen the Arts Tower in Google Earth lately? It's been updated, and now features the McMillan nurses appeal daffodil!

    Real life photo by me:

    Google Earth 3d model:

    I know, very exciting.

    When I was demonstrating Google Earth to ma and pa yesterday we found my uncle's yellow car parked in his driveway. Verrrrrrry exciting.

    Right, enough rambling. It's off to the Info Commons for me for a final bit of distraction-free revision.


    Monday, February 04, 2008

    Spring. I love it.

    A few shots taken in my parents' garden this weekend.

    Sunday, February 03, 2008

    The Japanese Speech Competition

    What a day it’s been! One I shall never forget. A real highlight of my Japanese Studies degree course.

    Four years ago, I never would have believed that in February 2008, I’d be one of the finalists on stage in a national Japanese language speech contest. Looking back on the day’s events, I can still scarcely believe it.

    I was one of six finalists chosen following the first two rounds which involved submission of a short essay, then a ten minute telephone interview (from hell!).
    Everyone was so good! Really exceptional speakers. I think the judges had a really hard job choosing the winners (first and second place) - we were all pretty evenly matched. As it was, I didn’t make it to first or second place, but I must say, I don’t mind at all. There really was such a strong feeling of us all doing so well - amusingly reinforced by the singing of a SMAP song (twice), “Sekai ni hitotsu dake no hana” - the first line of which is “It’s OK if I’m not No.1”.

    Prior to departure for London, I gave mum and dad a taste of my speech in our mock lecture theatre.

    The camaraderie between the six of us was strong. Initially, we were gathered together in a small classroom at Imperial College and taken through the rules (no props! Stand between the microphones!), given cheques to cover our travel expenses, and told “Good luck”!

    Then, it was down to the lecture hall. Not too big, but seating about 100 people nonetheless. First to present were those students who studied Japanese part time. They were amazing, and one guy, from Korea, blew everyone else away. I seriously couldn’t distinguish his Japanese from a native speaker’s (2 years education in Japan as a child may have had something to do with it...!). His speech was very funny, all about his hobby, Magic. He played on the fact that we couldn’t use props, telling us how disappointed he was that he couldn’t show us some amazing tricks that he’s learnt especially for the event!

    Us finalists had a funny seating arrangement. We were to sit in the front row, in order of appearance, and every time someone went up to speak we’d move along one place so that the next person to speak was always at the end of the row. Whilst this may have been done for practical reasons, it actually made us feel like we were slowly edging towards a Cliff of Doom off which we were soon to fall.

    As the afternoon wore on, so the tension mounted. The first prize was a return ticket to Japan, £1000 and a Japan Rail Pass, amounting to well over £2000 of ‘stuff’. Second prize was a digital camera and £500. There were goody-bags for the four runner’s up. Thinking about all that though only make me even more stressed, best treat it as ‘an experience’.

    Finally, the questioning of the speaker before me came to an end. I took one last glance at my parents and uncle at the back, and then my teacher, Miyuki sensei, who had come all the way from Sheffield to support me. She smiled back with thumbs up ...and onto the stage I walked.

    I remember starting the speech; talking about the NPO law and it’s special place in Japanese political history. Then, I sort of started to drift. I’d gone onto autopilot. I have a vivid memory of actually saying to myself, “Gosh, Joseph, you don’t even have to think about this! You’re giving your speech, and talking to yourself at the same time!” Then another voice said, “Joseph, no! NO! Concentrate!” and I was back there in the lecture hall.

    The only shot I have of me actually giving my speech. Suitably blurred, like my memory of it.

    There’s one section of my speech that I really like. Having talked about NGOs in Japan in general, I then went go on to tell the Trailwalker story. For this section I do some acting, staggering across the stage as I make my way out of a dense forest to be greeted by the beautiful Mt. Fuji gleaming in the sun’s rays. Then, there I am on the final stretch - I see the support team ahead of me at the finish, tears fill my eyes - I can’t believe I’ve made it to the end!!!

    After that, as I went on to talk about the way in which civil society (and in particular NGOs) can play a vital role in the democratization of Japan, I mucked it up a bit, skipping a bit, repeating a bit. I forget what happened really, it was like a dream. Having said it so many times I couldn’t remember if I’d said that bit today already, or perhaps it was yesterday - or last week..?

    By the time we’d reached the Q & A section I was just being me, having discarded any speech-persona I’d previously had. The audience liked it, but I doubt it did me much good on the judges score cards!

    The poor chap after me really had a tough time. He’d been pretty relaxed, but once up on stage he was completely thrown by something. It later emerged that his note cards were out of sync. Mind you, I was barely listening then, my lower back oozing with stress-induced pain.

    Following the end of our speeches we had an hour of entertainment as the judges made their decision. That, I really enjoyed. Myself and the other finalists, so relieved to have got our speeches out of the way, were kind of celebrating together as the college’s student-run Japan Society did a silly japan-themed quiz. We then we sang that SMAP song a couple of times (I wondered how mum, dad and Uncle E were getting on with it at the back as the lyrics were all in Japanese!). Oh, and there was a raffle too, which I took part in by shouting out all the winning numbers in English, trying to sound like Jim Bowen on Bullseye (no “One-hundred-and-Eightyyyy!” though.)

    There was also a little musical interlude. A student, with her guitar, playing the most beautiful song. I don’t know what it was, but hearing it, and seeing her fingers move so fast to create so many beautiful sounds made my hair stand on end. I was happy. And relaxed.

    We were called up on stage for the announcement of the winner. I thought I might be in with a chance at 2nd place, but no, that went to the Polish chap, Antoni Slodkowski, who handled the Q&A session wonderfully (as well as giving a really interesting speech about living in a tea house in Kyoto). The winner was Michael Downey from Leeds, who had given a superb talk about the manner in which the Japanese show consideration for others, and the disappearance of this phenomenon from modern society. As with Antoni, his Q & A skills were fantastic.

    The twelve finalists from the two groups with the event sponsors

    When the announcement was made, I didn’t really feel disappointed. Such was the sense of achievement for having got that far (and having been given so much praise by the judges and the president of the Japan Foundation (UK)), that I could do nothing but grin madly as a stunned Michael was presented with his prizes. (The chap next to me, who I actually already knew of as he was a classmate of my classmate Jon at Keio University last year in Japan, didn’t look best pleased though!).

    I myself received a certificate recognising my achievement, a traditional Japanese tableware set from the Japan Centre, a book and a couple of CDs from JP Books.

    Following the presentations was the reception: lovely sushi and tempura, washed down with wine (or juice in my case). I was grateful to the President of the Sasakawa foundation for his seeking me out to tell me how much he enjoyed my speech, and how much he was impressed by not only by my Japanese language skills, but also by what I had got up to in Japan. (He also told me of a friend of his whom I should contact re. NGO links between Japan and the UK, which could be handy for my dissertation). Nice chap - I may see him around as the Sasakawa Foundation is sponsoring a new position at Sheffield Uni as a part of the White Rose project.

    One of the judges sought me out too - Mizutori san, Minister and Director of the Japan Information and Cultural Centre at the Embassy of Japan. She knew of Trailwalker too, as one of her friends’ sons had participated in it. I’d been meaning to talk to her anyway as I’ve dealt with her office quite a bit in the past through Sheffield Japan Society - and of course, as she heads the department that oversees the UK branch of the JET program I thought she might be one of the people interviewing me on the 12th February. No, she’s not on that panel, she tells me.

    A couple of people commented on my performance skills too - is public speaking something I intend to pick up in the future? Not if it requires that much preparation and tension! Oh, but that reminded me - I’m making my national (Japanese) TV debut this month I think, starring alongside Tokiwa Takako in the Fuji TV drama, ‘Bizan’. I think they said it was going to be broadcast in February. Must look it up - I need a DVD copy!

    Whilst I may not have received a big cash prize for my efforts, the experience I gained was priceless. Making my way back to Uncle’s on the train tonight, I sat in a dazed silence and thought about how much I love Japanese ...and what was this? Did I feel a renewed enthusiasm for studying the language?! Yes, I think so... Seeing what people could do with their acquired skills was truly motivational. It made it ‘real’ again, taking it out of the classroom and into a situation where our achievements were truly celebrated.

    It also helped put exams in perspective. Exams, compared to that, are like a leisurely walk in the park! 3 hours in which to express yourself - luxury! And my upcoming interview at the embassy too: there’ll only be an audience of three, not hundreds!

    At the reception afterwards my mum and dad were able to have a good long chat with Miyuki, my teacher. I’m glad they’ve finally been able to connect with the one person who more than anyone else has encouraged me to keep trying my best at my degree (since leaving Imperial College this evening, both they and my uncle haven’t stopped saying what a lovely person she is!).

    Myself and Miyuki

    I am deeply grateful to her, not just for being there for me and all my class mates over the past few years, but also, more specifically, for encouraging me to enter the speech competition. It’s been a hell of a lot of hard work (mid-exams too!), but boy has it been an amazing experience.

    I’m also grateful to my mum and dad for all their advice, and faith in me. And for providing me with an idea of what being responsible for about 10 children whilst crossing London is like! And Mum’s #2 and 3: without your patience, understanding and support I couldn’t have prepared as I did, thank you so much, and my apologies for the knock-on effects.

    And of course, thank you to *Twinkle*.

    With there being no such thing as ‘failure’, I think putting myself through experiences like this is one of the best ways in which I can learn and grow. I’d strongly encourage any other students that are eligible to enter to do so - you won’t regret it. Sitting on that conveyor-belt cliff for almost three hours may be one of the most stressful experiences you’ll have to endure during your degree course, but it certainly gives you confirmation that yes, you have actually learnt a thing or two!

    Anyway, tomorrow I turn my attention to my final exam, that being Population and Environment in China, on Friday. Following that, I have three days to prepare for my trip to the embassy, and then it’s into the final semester of my five student years. Then finally, I will have achieved the goal I set myself in early 2003 - to return to Japan with a visa that will allow me to live off more than a credit card.


    Saturday, February 02, 2008

    Travelling with my parents

    Well then folks. This is it. Final bit of shut-eye before the big event, which kicks off in about 13 hours.

    I’ve reached that stage now of having gone beyond preparation, a kind of, “Well, if I don’t know it now, I’ll never know it!” type waiting-stage. Yesterday I gave a performance for mum’s #2 & 3, and I must say, it was pretty confidence inspiring, a world of difference from a week ago. I no longer feel the need to hold onto the script for security, and I actually enjoy telling the story. I sometimes get a couple of similar sentences muddled up, but I won’t do that tomorrow, and if I do, it won’t matter. I also have a list of about eight questions drawn up which I may be asked in the Q & A session afterwards, with keywords that may come in handy. Let’s hope they at least choose a couple of them.

    I spoke to one of the co-ordinators today at the Japan Foundation to check whether it was OK for my uncle to attend too - he was so friendly and reassuring, and yes, it’s ok if I’m accompanied by three relatives. I also enquired as to whether any of the embassy staff will be there. Yes, they will, two of them - and one of them is one of the five judges. I recognise her name and I’m pretty sure I’ve dealt with her in the past as she works in the cultural section (the folks who lend out cultural artifacts to Japan societies around the UK). It helps me if I can feel that the people I’m performing for are my friends.

    Today has been a very tiring day. I thought it might be nice for mum and dad to be in the audience for the final at Imperial College London, as until now they have had virtually nothing to do with my university course other than helping me move my stuff to Sheffield and back every year. Thus, the three of us piled onto a train for London just after lunch, and settled back for the 4-hour trip. Dad of course spent quite a bit of time talking with strangers, making risque remarks in a bid to be friendly and strike up conversations. I thought he covered himself quite well after he accidentally called the lady in her 50s opposite him a ‘little old woman’. Sometimes he reminds me of David Brent.

    And sometimes he reminds me of me. Perhaps that’s why I had to hide behind my laptop screen. I see in him so much of myself - stepping over the line, attempting to break down social barriers that are otherwise respected as the norm. I admire that to a certain extent, but I’m also grateful to be given the opportunity to see that it can be taken too far.

    Father, pretending to be 7 years old

    Having got into Paddington Station we had to take a tube, and then another train to my uncle’s house here in Croydon where we’re staying tonight (it’s actually dad’s family home - he lived here from about 1950. Not far away is the house mum lived in when they met).

    The station at the heart of mum and dad's 'courting grounds' in the early 1960s

    That journey across London was possibly the most stressful experience I’ve had in the past few months, and by the end of it I was just exhausted, and had a banging headache. It wasn’t the crowds - it was my dear parents! I felt like I was accompanying 10 small children, constantly trying to keep them under control and focused on the job in hand (getting across London). I won’t go into details, but just to say that I am insisting that they make their own way to Imperial College tomorrow (I’ve bought them their tickets and printed out detailed travel plans for them, and they’ll be accompanied by my uncle, who I don’t think realises what he’s signed up for). I will leave an hour or so before them as all speech contest finalists are going for a meal together beforehand.

    It really struck me today just how much grown-ups (in this case my parents) are really no more adult than the little children that they were 5 decades ago. Perhaps its age-related regression, but observing them today I found myself thinking time and time again just how much like ‘free’ children they were, in a way. Free in their actions, albeit not quite so free in terms of life-induced anxieties.

    Father eats marmite from the jar by the knifeful

    That’s something I’ve come to feel a lot more keenly lately, that really, when it comes to spirit, the core of a person, older people are no more grown up or ‘adult’ than me, because at heart we are all children. We may pretend otherwise by putting on some attitude of grown-up-ness, but beneath that, aside from acquired knowledge and experience, at the core, there’s no difference between myself and someone in their 70s. ‘Old people’ are not from another galaxy, they’re just like me. Like me, they too are constantly learning, wondering, exploring, adapting to changing times. The child in them lives on, albeit in a frame that is a little more frail.

    That helps me feel better about growing old too. :-)

    Anyway, I’d best rest. It’s going to be an even longer day tomorrow!

    xxx joseph