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    Sunday, August 31, 2008

    Needed: Advice on paying tax in Japan

    I was wondering if anyone out there can give me some advice, or point me in the direction of a reliable information source, regarding tax and insurance in Japan.

    Until now, when working in Japan my income tax has always been sorted out by my employer. Also, as I have never stayed there for a full year, I think I have escaped from having to pay certain other taxes. My health insurance has also been sorted out either by my employer or university.

    As of next week, I’ll be pretty much self-employed.

    I don’t want to find myself in the position where a year down the line I am suddenly faced with a large tax bill, so my question to people living in Japan is, does anyone know what I have to pay and how I go about paying it? Is there just income tax, or do they also have what we call Council Tax (charged to households, as opposed to , to pay for local services). Would I be eligible for the Japanese state pension if I payed contributions towards that, or would I be better off sorting out my own? Does anyone know of any specialist support centres / helplines that I could contact that give advice on all of the above?

    Also, can anyone recommend a reputable life insurance company?

    Finally, does anyone know how one goes about creating one’s Last Will and Testament in Japan, or what the default rules are if one dies without one?

    Any advice would be gratefully received. Thanks :-)

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    Saturday, August 30, 2008

    CELTA: we did it!

    Who’da thought it, the end of August. The trees are already starting to drop their leaves - is summer really over already? Seems like it was only yesterday that I was in my little student flat in Sheffield, wishing the winter would end. That’s one thing I miss when I’m busy: I don’t have time to take in the passing seasons.

    I’m now on a little First Great Western train heading south towards Devon, having left Sheffield for the final time about 5 hours ago. It’s been a good journey; all’s gone smoothly with only the compulsive nose-picker causing any discomfort. When the train stopped at Hereford I had the chance to offload my huge bag on mum and dad - they were waiting on the platform, and handed me my passport and other post in return. back on the same train, I can now travel light as I visit my siblings in the south.

    CELTA - The end cometh

    Yesterday, after 4 weeks of intense learning involving over 150 hours of contact time and 80 hours of homework, we finally completed our CELTA course. Of the sixteen of us that began, only one dropped out - everyone else passed - well done us!
    Whilst we all sought to support everyone else, it was the other three members of our Teaching Practice groups (four groups of four) that we spent most of our time working with, and thus supporting / being supported by. Our group lost one of our members in week two (due to stress overload perhaps?/ undue lack of confidence), and whilst this was a bit of a blow, Jane, Josh and I decided that it was that bit of extra adversity that we had to overcome in order that we could go on to greater glory.
    We were right to think that: when the provisional grades were handed out yesterday all three of us were delighted to be amongst those who received ‘B’s, which on average only 25% of CELTA-ites achieve.
    As a group we also applauded Alice, who demonstrated such a talent for teaching that she was awarded an ‘A’ - a grade that only 5% of students achieve (as we were jokingly told at the beginning, “Only people who don’t need to come on the course achieve As”).

    It had been a good final day. We’d started off with an advice session on job-hunting / TEFL CV writing (very useful), then spent some time getting our portfolios (containing records of all completed assignments / teaching practice / observation) up to date for submission. In the afternoon, some trainees gave their final lessons, whilst the rest of us were overcome by ‘creativeness’ and dreamed up a couple of videos starring a set of white board pens sporting blu-tac faces. Video shoot complete, we made our way to the garden for a celebratory party put on by the English Language Teaching Centre, for the benefit of summer school teachers and CELTA trainees. The perfect way to bring things to a close.
    It felt a bit funny when we finished. We’ve been given our certificates, we’d exchanged thanks - we were free to go, but no-one moved. Was it really over? What were we supposed to do now?
    After a few minutes, we started to move. Thank you, thank you, it’s been great, tough, but really enjoyed it, thank you.
    Pub anyone? Sounds like a good idea.

    We sat in the back garden for an hour or so chatting. Talking about the past few weeks, talking about the next few months. Some people are off to work abroad (Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, Spain to name but a few). Others are sticking around in Sheffield for a bit whilst they look for work. Some still have their degrees to complete.
    We were talking about how these days, a goodbye is no longer a ‘good bye’. The reason? Facebook. With Facebook, you can contact virtually anyone incredibly easily, even without their contact details, so there seems little need for real ‘goodbyes’. It’s not that Facebook provides a continuation of real-life social interaction (although it can help alleviate feelings of sadness related to not being able to hang out with friends, as it provides small but regular doses of ‘themness’), it’s more that it increases the chances that you’ll see people again.

    I find it fascinating how in this way technology has fundamentally changed what I used to feel was an important part of human interaction (saying semi-permenant goodbyes). Personally, I think this is a very good thing, as I never liked goodbyes, and the number of times I’ve met people for a second time whom I never thought I’d see again tells me that there really is no need for goodbyes anyway. But I’m grateful for Facebook for giving me a socially acceptable reason / excuse to not place great weight on partings, when social norms might dictate that I do otherwise.

    Having said all that, I will miss my coursemates. Genuinely ‘good’ people, the kind of people who will make a difference wherever they go.

    Anyway, the train is now approaching Newton Abbot where my brother should be waiting to pick me up. I’d best sign off.

    Tarra.

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    Passed de TEFL Now I'm Qualified

    We had a bit of free time this afternoon - this went from idea to YouTube in 30 minutes :-)

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    Thursday, August 28, 2008

    Oh So Nearly There

    oh yes, things are good. I passed my final CELTA assignment on first submission (yay!), now just planning my final lesson (featuring Mr. Bean; he's a real global celebrity), for delivery in about 20 hours from now.

    We have a wee bit more to do on the Friday, but it's not going to be too demanding, and should be pretty handy - it's all about finding TEFL jobs. In the afternoon we'll be attending a summer school party (food and drink kindly provided by the centre), then that's it. We're done. We should be given our provisional results on the day.

    I travel to Devon to see my brother and family on Saturday, Bristol on Sunday to see my sister and co., Oxford on Monday to see my other sis and co, then I have two days of final packing / sorting out currency / tying up all loose ends here in the UK.

    Then, 6am Thursday morning I leave for Heathrow.

    All I need now is my visa - the embassy has had my application for a week - might give them a call tomorrow to see if all's OK.

    Very very excited!

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    Tuesday, August 26, 2008

    CELTA - Into the home straight

    I feel we're over the 3-week hump now. And so we should be. It's week four.

    Despite being even more absolutely shattered than last night (I've had to resort to a continuous intake of caffeine / taurine packed Red Bull to stay awake), I'm feeling a whole lot better tonight.

    This is mainly due to the fact that we're into our final week - just 4 days to go until we can declare victory. I've submitted my final assignment (should hear tomorrow if it needs to be re-written), and taught my last one-hour lesson (my final TP is on Thursday, just 30 minutes to take me up to the 6 hours required by the course).

    We've been receiving a lot of encouragement from our tutors - and from the students too :-)

    It's all good. Just a shame that I lack any remaining brainpower for witty blog posts (no change there then).

    If you're TEFL-inclined, you could go take a look at Alex Case's section of the Tefl.net website. His comment on my previous post resulted in many of our class taking a break from lesson planning this morning and learning how many TEFL teachers it takes to change a lightbulb.

    Right. Best get off to bed.

    Tatta

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    Ice breaker

    It was a Thursday. 7pm. West Street, Sheffield. I was waiting for the number 52 bus home.

    He came from behind me. Shuffled past me. Stopped. Looked me in the eye, then opened his mouth to speak:

    Do you know who said

    "This precious stone set in a silver sea"

    I made a valiant attempt at not looking in the least bit surprised, and admitted that no, I didn't.

    "Shakespeare"

    "I see", I said. "And do you agree with him?"

    I do, I love it here! He was Russian. Had only arrived in the UK a few weeks beforehand. He found this a good way to make friends.

    Well, why not? I thought. After all, I used a pet penguin to do the very same thing in his home country.

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    Monday, August 25, 2008

    CELTA - Week three blues

    It's 2am on Bank Holiday Monday, and I've just finished the last of three assignments we've had over the last three weekends. It hasn't been easy, but it's been OK. The guidelines are pretty clear, and it's all based on what we've been taught up until now.

    This assignment consisted of several stages: the first was to observe our students in class (on Thursday and Friday), carry out a survey, analyse the results and then come up with a summary of their needs.

    Next, we had to find a text (reading or listening) that would be appropriate for our learners, and justify our choice. I chose to create an original text focusing upon the Olympic Games closing ceremony (recorded, in conjunction with my course-mate Josh, onto my Macbook in the echoey stairwell between floors 4 and 5 of the IC!)

    Finally, we had to create a lesson plan based on that text. Thankfully, the lesson plan can be used not only for the assignment, but also in tomorrow's class (provided any students show up - it is Bank Holiday after all! Fingers crossed - we need those teaching hours)




    Until a couple of days ago I felt that week one was the hardest. But then on Thursday I found myself starting to get a bit depressed - three weeks of not getting enough sleep was really getting to me (note to others: don't sign up for early-morning sushi delivering if opting to do CELTA). I've felt pretty crap most of the weekend too. Moving to Japan, which in reality is only about 11 days away, seems about as real as a fictional holiday that David Archer is going to take on the Archers next week. Even receiving a stack of train tickets for all the travel I'll be doing between finishing this course and flying from Heathrow didn't make it any more real.

    The only thing that is real is that is I have to be up in a few hours.




    On a more upbeat note, congrats to my dear friends Jo and Joe on the birth of their second son! Look forward to meeting the new baby next week!

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    Saturday, August 23, 2008

    CELTA in a Wordle

    celta wordle

    (Click for larger image. You have to be a Flickr contact to see the original).

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    Friday, August 22, 2008

    A semi-permanent state of Christmas morning-ness

    I think I'm somewhat ridiculously over-excited about moving back to Japan. I'll be there in two weeks.

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    CELTA, and other means of self-improvement

    My lesson today didn't really go as planned. Whilst I think I met my goals as stated on my plan (present models of obligation / no obligation / prohibition and then provide writing practice), I did so in a pretty shoddy manner. Hhm, I may have failed it actually - I'm looking forward to receiving constructive criticism from my supervisor in the morning. It all helps me become a better teacher!

    It was a really good experience to go through, sweat though I did at the time. My presentation of the grammar seemed to go on forever - I felt trapped by the way i was going about doing it, and found it hard to move things on.

    I have to remember to not be too hard on myself. I've only been teaching in a classroom setting for a total of about 4 hours so far. That's only half a day. Having said that, it's astonishing how much progress has been made in those 4 hours with this intense learning model. Everyone is so much better than when we gave our first lessons two weeks ago.

    We've now received our second assignments back (reflective writing, I passed first time this time, hurrah!), and have been given our third assignment, about which I'll tell you more at the weekend, as that's pretty much all I'll be doing :-)

    I can't believe we only have a week left. I've grown pretty close to my coursemates, and feel very lucky to have been able to be a part if this with them.

    We do all get on remarkably well. Perhaps too well: today there was much hilarity as Alice took a look at the magazine I'd bought to use in my lesson to introduce my students to problem pages. I'd picked Bliss, which is aimed at teenage girls. The man at WHSMITH at London St. Pancreas failed to stifle his laugh when I bought it.

    I'd innocently imagined that there would be some problems along the lines of "I fancy this boy at school and don't know what to say to him" and "My dad is an alcoholic - what should I do?"

    But no. The questions sent in are pornographic in nature. We're talking a lot of detail, and some pretty bizarre misconceptions. (The only one missing was "can I get pregnant if I French kiss my boyfriend?"

    We're all shocked at how things have changed 'since we were young', and imagine the situation whereby I go into class without having checked the suitability of the magazine. References to the problems page pop up in class throughout the rest of the day.




    I can scarcely believe that in two weeks from now I'll be flying to Japan to start my new life.

    I'm now in week 4 of the second in a series of coaching courses I'm taking with TSI. This one lasts 8 weeks, and consists of weekly written assignments, action steps, and a series of hour-long one-on-one calls.

    I'm finding this very beneficial. I'm using it to focus upon career / locating my passion. It's not so much a process designed to make me find 'the answer', but rather, it is helping me to identify the blockages that prevent me from figuring it out in my own time.

    I'll keep you informed.

    Well, I must sleep now. I can hear the sushi calling 7 hours from now.

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    Thursday, August 21, 2008

    CELTA - it's like a rocket-propelled knitting competition

    knitting_7944

    Despite only getting to sleep shortly before 3am last night, and despite having not slept more than 5 hours in the previous 44 hours, I still woke up at 6.30am of my own accord.

    It's been like this ever since I started CELTA. This is very unusual for me - normally I need a good 8 hours sleep each night (it's an integral part of my epilepsy-management program for starters).

    I can think of 3 reasons why this is happening though.

    1) I have to wake up at 6am three days a week to deliver sushi, thus my internal body clock is now tuned to that routine.
    2) There's no curtains at my friend's house. I've not made time to get any big sheets of black paper with which to keep the morning light out.
    3) ADRENALINE! This is a major factor. Doing CELTA is like taking part in a rocket-propelled knitting competition. The pace is extreme, and you can't let your attention falter: in addition to staying on course generally, every mile you have to deposit a freshly-knitted Tea-cosy at the checkpoint (a.k.a. teach guinea pig students every other day).

    Studies have show that the adrenaline produced by this high speed knitting competition is equivalent in volume to that produces by 54 bungee jumps.

    By the time next Friday comes around I should be a pro at both plain and pearl.

    Wow. What a snug-fitting metaphor (...perhaps I should get some more sleep!)

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    Won't Sell

    This is what happens when Mrs Dribblethwaite of 56 Leopold Avenue refuses to sell the family home.

    won't sell

    (As seen in London yesterday)

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    An Amazing Adventure

    Amazing day. A true adventure.

    Following 20 hours of non-stop activity I am pretty out of it, but I'd like to note down a few things from today that really struck me as pretty damn wonderful.

    It all started at 6am, I'm up to drive to the kitchen at the community centre where the sushi is prepared. 6.30am, I'm at our first outlet, stocking their fridge. I met them for the first time two weeks ago. We see each other for 5 minutes three times a week, so that means I've spent 30 minutes with them in total.

    Today, they ask me about Japan - what's it like teaching there? That's a great conversation, all three of us fully engaged as the salmon wraps go on the top shelf and California Sunrise below. The owner's sister-in-law worked there - yeah, loved it! Maybe we'll move out there when the lease on this place expires! I leave there feeling really happy. Things are good.

    At 7am I'm at the third outlet. We chat too. I like him. He picks me up on little errors, is often concerned about temperatures, but I'm confident in what I'm doing, and I feel he trusts me now. I can be frank with him, it's great to talk. Meaningful 'thank you's and 'goodbyes' - real effort on his part to make eye contact, and say thank you with his face as well as words. I feel appreciated. I return with the same heartfelt thanks.

    8.30am: I'm at uni now, in our CELTA portacabin. I love seeing my coursemates every day.
    Does anyone have any sleep I can borrow?
    We help each other out with lesson plans. We laugh and joke. We're on this journey together, and I tell you, it really does feel like a true journey. The landscape is changing around us the more we learn. We're all starting to come into our own. Caw blimey everyone should do this!

    10.30am and I need to get down to the station for my train to London. I shouldn't really miss a day of the course at all, but I need to apply for the visa in person, and today is the only day we have no Teaching Practice. "Good luck! Good luck!" my coursemates tell me as I leave via the back door.

    10.35am: I'm walking down West Street, and see the university's Pro-vice Chancellor of Learning and Teaching on his phone as he crosses the road a little behind me. I want to thank him - we got to know one another through my work as a CILASS Student Ambassador, and the last time I saw him was on stage at my graduation ceremony: he made a special effort to whisper his congrats and give me a big grin as I walked past - he's such a nice guy. He asks me what's next for me: I tell him, and he's really happy. We say goodbye - I thank him for his kindness, and as he continues down the road, in my head I tell him that people like him are what make Sheffield Uni so welcoming.

    We're on the train to London now. Sitting opposite me is a man with an iPod, playing his music so loud I feel like I'm the one wearing the headphones. I can't help but laugh at the irony of the situation: the headphone's he's using are actually mine - him having asked if he could borrow them a few minutes beforehand.

    But the music doesn't distract me for long: an Indian family come and sit in the seats surrounding us. They speak part English, part something else. The 19-year-old daughter, and mother start to play the card game Uno. ten minutes later I find myself bursting out laughing with the rest of the family as the mother, who is being thrashed by her daughter, keeps on making silly mistakes (like saying "Uno" - only to have it pointed out to her that she has two cards in her hand, not one!). The score at the end: 565 to 28. We all wish each other the best as we get off the train in London. (10 hours later we are to meet again on the return train).

    I'm at the Japanese embassy. I recognise the security guards and like to think that they recognise me - of course they don't. Once scanned, I'm in, press the button for a ticket for the visa section: no sooner do I have '47' in my hand than '47' flashes up on the "next" sign.

    The chap taking my application for a spouse visa is very friendly. We chat about our respective degrees whilst he meticulously checks the great pile of documents I've provided. I accidentally give him the wrong bank book - he is wondering how I am going to convince them that 417 yen (£2) is going to keep me going for a month. I swap it with the post office book, we laugh.

    Everything is in order, I reckon we can have this in the post to you tomorrow, he tells me. I'm delighted. In the midst of the mirth the person at the next counter turns to me, "hello Joseph!". It's a Japanese friend from Sheffield. Funny, I'd expected to see someone from Sheffield here. We sit down and talk about his plans for the summer - he's off to see a match at Wembley tonight, then tomorrow, Penzance.

    Before I leave the embassy, I ask if Stephen is in today. Stephen is the legend. He has provided me with so much advice, help and support as I've prepared for my visa application, and I want to thank him in person. He appears at the window, a little bashful as I thank him. "Looking forward to your next podcast!" he tells me. "Me too! (as soon as I have time for it!) I reply.

    I leave, grateful, and careful to say goodbye and thank you to the security guards who I like to think know me, but who don't.

    I'm then getting off the Tube at the wrong stop and trudging for about 45 mins in search of the river Thames. I'm starting to slip into that old thinking mode: I'm tired, Im lost, I'm not going to find a cafe round here. But then I catch myself. I stop, stand still. How about if I approach this in a different way? How about 'I'm heading straight towards the place I need to go, although I don't know where that is yet. The exercise is good for me, I enjoy exploring London.'

    suddenly, things are a lot easier.

    Eventually I find myself in Trafalgar Square. There's a bookshop, and in the bookshop, a cafe. Perfect. I order some italian milkshake, shake all the sugar off my chair and onto the sugared carpet, and get my pen and paper out. Time for some lesson planning.

    The train journey had provided me with ample opportunity for brainstorming - an idea was now taking shape as to how this lesson could look. I scribble it all down. I'm there for two hours. Writing. Thinking. Listening to Patrick, the little 4 year old at the table next to mine with his mum and dad. He's really happy watching the cars through the window.

    Look! A blue one!

    Oh, it's gone now. Mum, the blue car's gone!

    The two Scottish businessmen on my right have been here since I arrived, slagging off their clients.
    "I get angry with my colleagues too. They just can't do it right, I can't trust them, so I do it myself". 
    I'm happy i don't work for them.

    I turn back to the child talk, it's like the pot of gold at the other end of a rainbow that has somehow found itself with one foot in an oil-slick.

    Piccadilly Circus next for Curry Rice. It's a genuine Japanese restaurant. Not a Chinese Japanese restaurant or a British Japanese restaurant but a real Japanese one. The staff are Japanese, and so is the curry rice. It tastes like home.

    I'm full, and standing watching the crowds go by. Wow! It's exhilarating! So many amazing stories walking by! I want to film it and speed it up. But I don't.

    If I had a tripod it would be ok. I could pretend I was a film-maker then. But filming handheld I'd probably get arrested as a terror suspect.

    I have two hours until my train - back to St Pancras International - and what a beautiful station it is since the trains to Paris came to call it home last November. I sit in Costa Coffee, still devising my lesson plan whilst trying not to listen to the conversation being held by the Japanese couple beside me. I can't not listen! In the end, I move to the other end of the cafe.

    I'm happy to see the train back to Sheffield is one of the new models = power socket for laptop = can work more on my lesson plan. I do. There's a man opposite me who's also got a laptop. It's a Dell. Then a man on the table the other side of the corridor gets his out and starts to type. As if in response to this two more men then appear and plonk a shared Sony Vaio down. We look quite funny, A lady walking by stops and laughs,

    "Look at you boys with your toys. Is this some kind of competition?!"

    The man opposite me smiles and says, "Mine's bigger than theirs!".

    I respond by stroking my MacBook in mock-seduction, "Yes, but it's not necessarily size that counts..."

    The carriage is filled with laughter. The woman moves on. We men now pretend that it didn't happen.

    On the two hour journey home I near the completion of my lesson plan. It's been real fun, and I feel it's a good plan. Yep, I've achieved a lot today.

    As the train pulls into Sheffield a man runs down the aisle with a coffee, shouting "F*ck!". We smile, pack our laptops away, and head out onto the concourse. I feel music is needed to accompany my walk up through town to the SushiMobile. Ah yes, I was going to associate this time with the new Coldplay album wasn't I?

    And then there I am, walking up past the illuminated fountains, listening to the first track on the album. ...and I'd not noticed this before, but crikey, this first instrumental track really does sum it all up! There's the sense of a great history of 'stuff' leading to this moment (a moment lasting several weeks), this moment marking the dawning of a new and truly exciting era. But it's not all about anticipation, it's glorious and exciting in itself, every bit!

    I think back on the day. I'd met so many people, so many lovely, kind, funny, happy people. Even people who might in some novels be thought of as insignificant extras - like the man in the Post office who sold me the Recorded Delivery pack for my passport. I forget what it was that he said to me, but it was kind, and not in his job description - I appreciated that.

    And now finally, I'm here, in bed. *Twinkle* is with me (via emails to and from her mobile), telling me to go to sleep and blog tomorrow. (I can't, I need to let it out, it's been such a good day).

    None of this would have been possible without other people. And with only a couple of exceptions, that's other people who were and who basically still are complete strangers, whom I will never see again. Together, this amazing pattern has been woven. Bloomin marvellous.

    LIfe. I highly recommend it.

    (OK *Twinkle*, I'll go to bed now...)

    Night Night.

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    Tuesday, August 19, 2008

    When 5 miles makes all the difference

    So our family register and associated vital docs required for applying for my visa took only a little over 48 hours to get from Tokyo to the Parcelforce depot 5.4 miles away from where I'm staying here in the North of England.

    I would be pretty delighted by this, were it not for the fact that the documents are still sitting in the depot, as the driver was unable to find our house this morning despite the address being correct.

    Thus, with the human phone lines now closed (and the voice recognition system doing a superb job of not recognising my voice), tomorrow I shall visit the depot at about 6am, and hopefully intercept the driver, or at least put him straight on where we live.

    Well, it wouldn't be a proper story without a last minute hiccup would it?

    I've emailed the embassy to tell them I'll be there at 2pm on Wednesday - fingers crossed they don't choose to add to the drama.

    Right, on with the lesson planning.

    Joseph

    [EDIT]

    That's the thing with living in new-build - it's not on the map. Have provided driver with detailed instructions on getting here - fingers crossed!

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    Monday, August 18, 2008

    Date set for departure for a new life

    This morning I decided to have faith in the international postal service and the Japanese embassy in London, and buy my flight to Japan, despite not having yet applied for my visa, or having yet received the documents I need from Japan to apply for it.

    Having been granted student status again I was able to benefit from STA travel's 'Blue flights" - £382 to Tokyo, direct with British Airways. I'll be leaving on the 4th of September from Heathrow's Terminal 5.

    The documents (Japanese family register, *Twinkle*s certificate of residency, copy of her passport including all UK entry/exit stamps and letter of guarantee from her) are scheduled to arrive by EMS on Tuesday. Provided they do turn up then, I can go down to London on Wednesday (Wednesday being the only day i can really take off from CELTA due to it being the only day that we don't teach on), if everything's in order I should then (hopefully) receive the visa by the 28th of August, about a week prior to departure.

    I will have achieved my goal of getting back into Japan on a long-term visa. It will have taken me five years and cost me in excess of £20,000 (US$40k) - but it will have been worth it. I mean, come on, I get to spend the rest of my life with *Twinkle*. Who wouldn't invest that amount in order to be able to do that?

    Hmm. So that means that in three weeks from now, I'll be with my *Twinkle* in our flat in central Tokyo, at the start of a long and happy life together. It seems somewhat unreal. We've never been in that situation before. Up until now we've always been on 'one year contracts' - not just in terms of housing, but in terms of how our entire relationship is structured. This will be different. There will be no enforced changes to act as a safety valve. I'm going to have to start working harder on our relationship than ever before. I want it to be the most rewarding relationship it could possibly be, for both of us. I'm also going to have to work harder in a job than I have for many years in order to pay back the debts we have. I think I'm going to be very busy.

    Anyway, my eyes are tired, and I want to go to sleep dreaming of what it will be like living with *Twinkle*.

    night
    xxx

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    Another CELTAesque weekend

    Yesterday, being a Saturday, I went to uni.

    The previous day we'd been given the option of either watching a teaching practice video on the Friday, or of going in on the Saturday morning and watching it then. Four of us chose the latter option, as we felt that it would be a good way of making sure we got started on with the pile of work that we had to do for the course over the weekend.

    It was a good choice (although I did feel for one of my coursemates who was a little the worse for wear, having only got to bed at 4.30am that morning!); once we'd watched the video we were able to spend some time working on our lesson plans and getting a little feedback.

    Following that, it was off to the Information Commons. The previous day had seen us finally granted our full PG student ID cards, which in addition to entitling us to some great discounts at cinemas, restaurants and at online stores such as Adobe.com (85% off Photoshop CS3 extended) and Apple (free 3 year warranty + 11% discount), also give us access to the uni's wireless network, allow remote access via VPN, and access to all library resources. It's a real blessing (one tends to take it for granted until all your privileges are removed upon graduation!).

    Once inside the (very quiet) IC, we set to work re-writing our first assignments (language analysis), penning our second assignments (a piece of reflective writing) and planning next week's lessons. It was good. I enjoyed working with my new friends, just getting on with it. and checking facebook.

    Today's been pretty relaxed. I've done a little lesson planning, but also had time to do my own stuff. It's been good.

    I'd say that the first week was definitely the hardest. It's not that the pace has slackened off all that much, but rather, we have a better idea of what's expected of us now.

    This afternoon I was thinking about what I like about the course, what would make me recommend it to others over say, a cheaper distance learning course. It's something I wondered about before signing up, and I would have liked to have had some guidance to help me make the choice. CELTA is not cheap - there's TEFL courses out there that cost a quarter of the fee that we've paid.

    I think if there is one thing that really sets it apart it's the opportunities that we have to observe qualified teaches, and then teach ourselves. We learn the theory, we apply it when writing our lesson plans, and we can then try it out on real students. That's followed by evaluation, which allows us to reflect and adjust our technique appropriately for following sessions.

    The theory and instruction are of course vitally important, but without real live students to try it all out on, well, how could we really judge our progress or get feedback on where more work is required? I'm thinking now of distance learning courses, which strike me as being far less useful. I liken them to taking a course of driving lessons without ever getting in a car.

    Of course I might be way off the mark - I've never done a distance learning TEFL course. But I know there's a lot of them about, and they're not necessarily all that cheap.

    The other thing is the quality of instruction we're receiving. Our tutors have decades of TEFL experience between them, and they all have to be licensed by Cambridge in order to teach the course. They frequently monitor one another - and in a few days we'll have a Cambridge examiner coming up to visit us to ensure that the course meets their requirements.

    Tomorrow, we'll be embracing a whole new bunch of students. The course requires that we teach at least two levels of students - our group has been teaching upper-intermediate until now, but as of tomorrow we'll be with a group of students who are far less proficient.

    ...I guess that means even less of my stunning sense of humour in the class, shame!

    Anyway, best be off to bed. There's a long 3rd week ahead of us!

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    Saturday, August 16, 2008

    life purpose

    I feel a great responsibility to make the most of my life.

    I've been blessed with good health. I've been blessed with a loving family.
    I've been blessed with a wife who is love and light.
    I've been blessed with many true friends.

    I frequently find myself feeling like this. Feeling almost overwhelmed by fortune.

    When this happens during daylight hours, when I'm out and about, I might pause and smile, and say thank you. I then resume whatever the task at hand is.

    But when the feeling comes in the evening when I'm at rest, I find it fills my whole body, until I'm buzzing. I'm gripped by it.

    And it gets me thinking - what is it that I need to do?

    I don't believe that our lives have been mapped out for us. I strongly believe that we shape our own present through the decisions we make, both conscious and unconscious. But I also believe that it's not just us and our logical brains. I believe we have a guiding spirit within us all to help us choose the path that is right for us. We refer to that resource many times every day when listening to our inner feelings (not ego) when making decisions.

    I also believe strongly in Synchronicity, I see it manifested in my life almost every day, and have come to trust in it.

    However, at times I'm concerned that if I trust in synchronicity to too greater an extend, I could begin to resign myself to paths that I might otherwise proactively choose to branch from. For example, if i find myself in a 'bad' situation, I might say to myself, "It's ok - the reason will show itself in due course" and not make active attempts to end the badness, or avoid it in the future.

    Well, whatever.

    It's finding that balance, between acting in accordance with my own feelings, and acting in harmony with 'externals' that I attract into my life.

    This all relates to my feeling of uneasiness in not 'knowing' where I'm heading next. The next two weeks are sorted (CELTA), and an undefined period after that is sorted too - I have a job at an English school in central Tokyo. But what about long term? I feel I need a clear idea of where I'm heading, what my role is to be. But how far do I push myself to decide, and to what extend do I trust that the right things will fall into place to guide me when the time comes?

    Mind you, even as I write this I find myself saying, "Woah there Joseph. Let's have a look and see if we can learn anything from the last 30 years: hasn't everything always happened at just the right time? Haven't you always found yourself experiencing just what you need to experience at any particular point in life?"

    Ah, yeah, that's a good point.

    But OK, even if everything will work out for the best, what decisions do I need to make today?!

    I go back to the feelings of fortune I expressed above, and I feel that I need to give a lot back in order to redress the balance. But how?

    I hope that I can get a clearer idea when I'm with *Twinkle* again. She occupies a central place in my life, and I find that my thinking is really helped by talking about stuff with others.

    (Which is why we have the daily mumble.)

    I look forward to reading this in ten years. I wonder if I'll be any closer to finding the answers to these questions.

    Night night. xxx

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    Friday, August 15, 2008

    CELTA: nearly half-way there

    A poster I created to help get students in the mood for learning the second conditional: "If I won a million pounds I'd..." (the building featured houses about 5 classrooms that we teach in).


    Wah. Shatterficated. That's what I be.

    We're now almost half way through CELTA. The pace hasn't let up at all, really is intense.

    I've found that I need to get in to uni for about 8am most days, after doing my Willyaki deliveries. Lunchtimes are pretty much taken up by lesson planning, so it's basically non-stop input and output all day; we are finishing by about 6pm most days now though which is nice.

    For the first week, we were basically spoon-fed our lesson material. We'd write our plans with our tutors. This week however, we're just told what subject to teach, and pointed in the direction of what we might find useful. Next week it'll all just be left to us.

    Last night, after four hours planning for today's one-hour lesson, I was thinking about how much longer it's taking me to prepare for lessons here than it did in Japan. The main reason for this is that if we are not careful to meet all the criteria, our lessons (which are observed by three other trainees and our tutor) will be failed (and quite a few people have been failed. I had a near-miss in today's grammar class teaching the second conditional, but thankfully just managed to pull it off). Fails can be made up for in future classes.

    In class, I find it really challenging to maintain awareness of everything going on around me whilst at the same time focusing upon my lesson aims and objectives, and providing clear grammatical explanations (my weak area). I feel I need a clone.

    This afternoon whilst explaining the difference between would and could to an individual student who was struggling to create example sentences, I noticed that two students on another table had finished and were looking around with bored expressions.. not good (and of course picked up by my assessor). I find in those situations my brain actually splits in half through necessity - one half continuing to deal with the student in need of an explanation, and the other figuring out what mini-activity to distract the advanced types with (should be on the plan though if I've done it properly).

    Overall however, classes are going well. My strong point is rapport with the students (at the end of today's lesson a student announced to the class, 'You will make a great teacher Joseph!"). My weak points: board work, keeping the pace going, grammar explanations.

    Back in the classroom where we are the students, there's been a lot to take in. Today we were looking at lesson sequencing (devising a plan that covers a series of lessons), and then later, integrating the four skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing). That was a lot of fun as we were set a 'running dictation' - a competitive race done in pairs - with one person writing, and the other running back and forth to a text stuck on the wall at the end of the hallway remembering and dictating the passage sentence by sentence. Very funny :-) We also learned more about the problems that learners face with English verbs, notably when 'present' and 'past' tense verbs are put to other uses.

    Yesterday, we studied phonemes and were taught the phonetic alphabet. That was absolutely fascinating (I'm not kidding!). We also looked at how we physically create these sounds (what parts of the vocal gear we employ) - you know I never realised that the sound 'd' is an unvoiced 't', that 'j' is an unvoiced 'sh'.

    Time and time again I'm staggered by the amount of stuff we know without even knowing it! The way I move all those muscles in order to produce the word 'hello' - and I can do that at the same time as walking up a flight of stairs, skillfully (and unconsciously) maintaining my balance through thousands of computations telling my body to move this way or that in response to input from my balance sensors. Just incredible how it all work. 

    Also yesterday, we looked at study spaces (our group offered the IC's CILASS Collab 2 as a model study space, adapting it to suit a deprived African village), and the use of technology / realia (that's real 'things').

    Other sessions this week have included 'teacher talk', materials development. assessing, and questioning - with such a variety (and at such a pace) I don't find myself tuning out at all, no matter how shattered I am.

    Oh, we received our first (grammar focused) written assignments back today, the ones we were warned that we probably wouldn't pass first time. They were right - out of 16 of us, 13 failed! That's ok though, it's written into the plan. We now have the weekend to go through the incredibly detailed feedback and submit them a second time next week.

    Anyway , almost halfway through the intensive course, I'd have no hesitation in recommending CELTA to anyone thinking of teaching English as a foreign / second language. And whilst I haven't done the one-year version, I feel that this intense course is possibly more effective (maybe? Maybe not. OK, so they are different things really. Perhaps). 

    I dunno, it's just that with teaching practice two to three times a week, and immediate feedback on virtually everything we do, we have a chance to rectify our mistakes and focus upon our shortcomings whilst they are still fresh in our minds. Rapid and effective change. Faults dealt with before they have a chance to become patterns.

    I think it's also a lot more fun - it's like being locked in a submarine with a bunch of strangers for a month. Allows for friendship development to occur at ultra-high speed; such a pleasure to experience (especially with such a nice group of people).

    Anyway, I need some shut-eye. Today's Teaching Practice has left me pooped. Need to rest as much as possible in prep for the weekend which I think is scheduled to be filled with re-writing assignment 1, and writing assignment 2!

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    Tuesday, August 12, 2008

    Married for the second time in a month

    As mentioned on Twitter this morning, *Twinkle* and I got 'married' again today. I was in bed, asleep in the north of England. *Twinkle* was in her local town hall, Japan.

    I was happy (I mean even happier)

    All she needed was our original wedding certificate, my original birth certificate and copies of my passport. With that, she created a new family register (koseki tohon) in the name of 'Tame'. She also officially changed her name to Tame.

    The Japanese certificate will take a week to arrive at our place in Japan, house, then another week to get here. The embassy in London have said that they may be able to process my visa application in a week, so if all goes smoothly I should be flying out in the first week of September.

    fingers crossed.

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    Monday, August 11, 2008

    A CELTA weekend, and Family Planning

    So this is what a CELTA weekend is like then: study, study and more study (and a very enjoyable 3-hour trip out to the Peak District to see friends - thank you!)

    It's been fun though. You know, I think I'm actually starting to get my head around English grammatical terms, after 30 years of being frightened of them (yep, right from birth). Did you know that a preposition is a word (or group of words) that is used to show the way in which other words are connected? I didn't.

    Spent a good few hours on my first assignment too - language analysis. I find it strangely interesting.

    Today I'm creating my lesson plan for tomorrow afternoon, a 40-minute class teaching listening skills. My theme: "Mysteries of Everyday Life". Looking forward to it. :-)


    Joseph and Twinkle do purikura

    Spent a while on the phone to my darling in Tokyo today. Crikey I think I'm rather in love with her. Anyway anyway, we've set aside a weekend soon after my arrival to make some life plans / family plans together. What we would like to achieve in life both individually and as a family, when we'd like to have children (being conceived in Paris so I'm told), that sort of thing. Once that's done we'll look at what we need in order to accomplish those goals, how we need to improve (or bring in outside help) to achieve them.

    Of course we've both done this as individuals several times over the past couple of years, but this will be our first family plan as such. It's very exciting!

    Caw blimey, I'm going to be living with my cutey by a big pond ten mins from Shibuya in four weeks!

    I love life.

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    Saturday, August 09, 2008

    CELTA: 25% down, 75% to go

    We made it. First week of CELTA complete. 25% down, 75% to go!

    The Wikiepdia description is turning out to be spot-on:
    The full-time four-week course is very intensive, and students taking it must be prepared to dedicate all their waking hours to it for the duration. Even the part-time version of the course can take up more time than a full-time job for many students, especially those with no teaching background.
    The first three days were the toughest. Studying intensively for over 8 hours a day is not something I've ever done before, and my brain felt like it was under siege. So much so that I had to think of a way to give it some relaxation therapy on the way home - if I just did nothing when sitting on the bus it would just be buzzing with the days learning, and aching. First off, I tried the audio book I've been making my way through over the past month (Colin Thurbron - Shadow of the Silk Road), but after two days of that I realised I just kept on tuning out, my brain was complaining about having to process even more data; it was hard work to listen.

    Music Therapy

    I think it was Wednesday that I remembered the power of music. A few weeks back I'd bought the new Coldplay album, sort-of listened to it once or twice, and then forgotten about it.

    Why not revive that? - if it was suitable, I could even turn it into one of those key soundtracks to a distinct period in my life (a technique mentioned halfway through this mumble).

    It's turned out to be ideal. With my big headphones on I'm not bothered by the sound of the chatter on the bus, the stress of the shock absorbers when we hit the speed bumps, the squealing of the brakes. The music does not demand my attention, but rather just offers itself as a place that I can relax in. I can drift in and out of it without feeling that I've missed anything.

    Just 30 minutes of music therapy after a long day in the classroom sets me up for further study when I get home.

    CELTA course classes

    We've covered a huge variety of topics during our first week of classes, including: learner styles and levels; needs analysis; lesson planning; many different teaching methods; grammar; ELT resources; error correction; classroom management ...and much much more.

    The thing that really strikes me about this course is that we are deliberately being taught how to teach through loop input. That is, our tutors are using the teaching methods on us that we will be using in the classroom (so, in effect, we're kind of getting 80 hours of teaching in a forty hour week!).

    Simple example: We might be put into pairs to do a timed brainstorming exercise on aspects of classroom management, followed by a feedback session in which all students are asked to contribute an idea to a table on the whiteboard - in that lesson then we will not only have learnt classroom management techniques, but will also have picked up more ideas on ways in which to elicit information from students / check understanding of meaning.

    Sometimes, our tutors will stop at the end of a mini-exercise and ask us things like, "did you notice that I gave you the instructions before handing out the question sheet...?" (students [myself included] often tune out when given a piece of paper - they just have to read it!). In this way, we are being fed a wealth of little tips that will help us make small improvements to our teaching.

    Teaching Practice

    The hardest aspect so far has been preparing for our teaching practice. It's not that it's been a particularly difficult activity in itself - being week one, we have basically been told what to teach it, and to a large extent, how to teach it. The issue has been time - or a lack of it. Whilst ideally we would be writing lesson plans in the evenings, the exhaustion has left me feeling unable to do much except read sections of my 'How to Teach English' text book, and thus yesterday's (for example) was created between 8am and 9.30am, and then finished off at lunchtime (I think lunchtime for everyone yesterday turned into "Teaching Practice Planning"!). It's a good lesson in the importance of time management for teachers!

    This will of course change the more that we do it. At the moment everything is new, and takes a lot longer than usual.

    We've now had three Teaching Practice sessions, attended by students from all over the world who are happy to act as guinea pigs in what are for them free English lessons.

    The first one was pretty nerve-wracking. It went Ok though, although I did a very poor job of introducing the vocab, and found myself telling a joke which no-one understood (I'm learning though trial-and-error about the extent to which humour can be used - it's always a bit of a gamble. Keep it simple, or avoid it altogether!).

    My second class went a lot better, and I actually enjoyed it; I started to find my confidence. The third class (yesterday) was even more fun, despite a section of my lesson plan inadvertently being made redundant by a colleague who, when teaching the session immediately prior to mine, adjusted their plan so that they ended up doing an exercise that I was going to do! I decided that this was an opportunity to learn about the importance of having a plan B, and it seemed to pay off.


    Following our final class last night, we popped off down the pub for a celebratory drink - we'd completed our first week! Looking back on it all now, it's great to see the progress we've made. I've not taken an intensive course before, but I'm impressed by just how much can be covered with a well-designed course and dedicated students (who have no life outside of it). It seems to me to be a pretty effective way to learn, and I feel sure now that CELTA is worth every penny of the not-insignificant sum of money invested in it.

    Anyway, this weekend I've got an awful lot of homework to do. Reading, lesson planning, oh, and I have my first written assignment too... best get on.

    joseph

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    Friday, August 08, 2008

    Merhaba! Nasılsın?

    In this morning's first class we were treated to the most extraordinary experience. It was absolutely captivating, and made me forget all about the scary half-naked man at the bus stop 30 minutes earlier who had thrown bricks at a carpet-delivery van containing three men, one of whom had briefly emerged with a long iron bar and said some rather rude words to the half-naked man.

    We arrived in class, only to be greeted by a woman we'd never met before who immediately started to talk to us in a made-up language. It was complete nonsense, a few of us couldn't help but laugh.

    Then someone remembered - we were time-tabled to have an 'unknown language lesson', to give us a sense of what it might be like if we go to teach English in a foreign country where the students have absolutely no prior knowledge of English.

    And we had none whatsoever of this 'language'. During our interviews we had been asked to list all the languages that we spoke - even if it was just a tiny bit. Our course directors then found a teacher of a language that appeared on none of the resulting 16 lists.

    Having gathered from her gestures that she wanted us to go into a different classroom, we moved next door and sat in the chairs that had been arranged in a semicircle. She then started repeating strange-sounding phrases to us. We gathered that this was a drilling exercise, and so played along.

    She'd say a sentence several times, we'd repeat several times. This went on for some time, gradually building up to about 7 phrases. Nothing was written on the board, and we were banned from writing anything down ourselves. It was all just these sounds in our ears that we copied, not knowing what they meant.

    We were then shown a short video of two people saying these phrases. At certain points the people indicated towards a picture of a shop, then a house.

    Slowly, the sounds started to mean something. "Merhaba!" must be 'Hello' in whatever this language was." Sen" appeared to mean "you". Ah... and "Nasılsın" must be "How are you?"

    After thirty minutes of watching, listening and repeating (and nothing else), the meaning started to become clear.
    Hello!
    Hello!
    How are you?
    I'm fine, how are you?
    Fine thank you. Where are you going?
    I'm going to the shop (or was it an office?!) Where are you going?
    I'm going home.
    Good bye!
    Good Bye!

    We were paired off, and practised this new strange language.

    (We later found out that it was Turkish that we were speaking).

    This exercise struck me as being absolutely remarkable, and afterwards I felt positively elated.

    Why?

    It had given us the chance to do something we could never normally do. We were allowed to return to babyhood and experience the first year or two of language development within the space of one hour!

    It really felt like that. We had no other 'language' that we could fall back on, all there was was these new strange sounds that we tried to emulate with no concrete idea of what we were saying. It was only through use over time that we figured out the meaning - although not all of us did, with some only finding out in the feedback session afterwards.

    It was so exciting to be learning to communicate all over again, from scratch.

    A brilliant exercise. Thank you ELTC.




    We had our second teaching practice today. I really enjoyed it. After I'd finished my bit, one of the the students passed me a note "You're going to become a great teacher" - this was was very encouraging, and much appreciated. Still a long long way to go though.

    Of course I'm absolutely shattered again. I've made my packed lunch for tomorrow and will go to bed shortly. I know I really should do my teaching plan for tomorrow's course - I'l start it, and see how far I get before falling alseep!

    night night

    p.s. coursemates really are bloomin wonderful.

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    Thursday, August 07, 2008

    a brief hello

    The way things are shaping up I think there will be very little in terms of blog activity from me this month. Or any other kind of activity, other than working towards gaining my CELTA certificate.

    It's incredibly intense. from 9.30am to 6.30pm (7pm yesterday) the 16 of us are either in our classroom being taught how to teach, or, just up the road in another classroom, teaching.

    When we get home, we have a considerable amount of homework to do, including lesson planning for the following day's class, and the study of English grammar.

    My brain doesn't know what's hit it! Eight hours+ of constant input is very draining, and leaves me feeling pretty out of it when I do get home. The weekend is only 2 days away - but then we have the first of four assignments to complete (for the Monday).

    Not that I'm complaining - It's a fantastic course, and we must be learning an awful lot. I'll appreciate it when it's overm I know :-)

    There's the camaraderie too, couldn't have wished for a nicer bunch of CELTA classmates. It's only day three - but we've already spent a whole 24 hours working together in a group, and thus know each other pretty well.

    Our students are nice too. They're our guinea pigs, getting their lessons free (I guess I'm actually paying to teach them!).

    I'm glad I have a comfortable home I can collapse in. I'm staying at my friends' house whilst they're in China (nice bit of synchronisity there). Part of the deal though is that I deliver sushi to 5 outlets four times a week for their catering company in return - thus it's up at 6am on those days.

    I think i'll need a holiday when I get to japan!

    xxx

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    Sunday, August 03, 2008

    Video: dancing at our wedding

    In case you didn't realise, *Twinkle* is the one in the cute white dress, and I'm the one dancing with her!



    Thanks to Jessica for the video

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    Recent uploads

    Our guests really did get some fabulous shots - thank you!

    Here's a few that were uploaded by someone a few hours ago (let me know who you are and I'll credit you - they are fabulous!)




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    Friday, August 01, 2008

    The Wedding Reception

    The wedding website has now be updated to reflect the post-wedding reality of our present existence. Anyone interested in taking a peek can find it at www.twinkleandjoseph.net (with the name 'twinkle' being replaced with a name she uses in 1st life). The username is 'guest', the password 'banana'.




    So there we were. Married, with the church bells ringing. Very happy (I was then able to freely talk to *Twinkle* and tell her how gorgeous she looked).

    The next 15 to 20 minutes were very surreal. There we were as a bride and groom, surrounded by about 80 people with cameras. These were friends and family who represented so many different aspects of our lives, all gathered in the same place. I was at a loss as to what to do, feeling concerned that I should be 'doing something', that I should be making sure everyone felt included. It was a hopeless task though, so after a bit I decided to stop trying to read everyone else's thoughts / feelings / desires and just *be* with *Twinkle*.

    wedding_ceremony_0443
    With *Twinkle*s family

    wedding_ceremony_0459
    With The Tames (and Elaine)

    Once the family photos had been taken we proceeded to our car - and what a lovely car it was! I'd seen it in the garage a few days beforehand, but now it was all decked out in ribbon and flowers. ha! That was fun, rolling down the road in the Alvis, waving bye-bye to people in the assumed manor of posh people from the 1930s. :-)

    wedding_ceremony_0499

    That was such a happy car journey. Dream-like in its perfectness.

    A few minutes later we were at Orcop Village Hall, location of the reception. The forecast rain had not come, and all on was track - let the party commence.

    ...oh, after a bit more surreality. Brother Stephen led the champagne toast (devil of a job to make it without electrocuting yourself), then there were calls for a speech. I'm not a big one for speeches at weddings, and have been known to do some pretty illegal and stupid things in the past to escape from them. Mind you, the speeches at Catherine and Stewart's wedding the previous week had been really good, meaningful, and funny (and not too long!).

    There was only one problem though: The notes I'd written for my speech were in my rucksack, and that was in the car ...and the car was at the church a mile up the road!

    *Twinkle* and I had been discussing a few ideas about what we might want to say - THANK YOU being the most important. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen, thank you to everyone for coming, thankyou for everyone's support of us as a couple. Really, we couldn't have done it without you.

    Then, perhaps a word or two about how me met (the gatecrashed sushi party), and how we decided to use one another for our studies (*Twinkle* using me as half of a case study for her Masters Dissertation on Intercultural couples, and me using her for speaking practice for my BA Japanese Studies degree).

    wedding_reception_0580

    Finally, a mention of how 2 years living in minute shoeboxes together and then 11 months apart (with 2 brief respites totalling 20 days) really helped us to test the relationship, and become more sure than ever that this was the right thing to do.

    As *Twinkle* said, despite the distance and my lack of awareness of her everyday routine (and therefore ability to provide context-based advice), I was still the one that she first wanted to turn to, to share and discuss things with.

    I felt the same.

    There was also that feeling that we both had (and which still continues with us being parted once again), that feeling that we were together all along. We are with one another at all times - I can feel *Twinkle*s presence. She's with me now here in Orcop at 10.11am as she goes about whatever she's doing at 6.11pm in Tokyo.

    It's a first for me, to feel that for such a prolonged period of time.



    Following my mini-speech, it was time for the cutting of the cake. When asked by mum what kind of cake we'd like I told her to use her imagination, and as you can see, she has a pretty wild imagination!

    As is her style, she made two. A traditional fruit cake (covered in feathers), and a chocolate cake (covered in flying saucers). Both delicious, and both providing a good insight into how mad our family is.

    wedding_reception_0549

    wedding_reception_0548

    We then had a couple of hours 'free time', partly to allow *Twinkle* to get changed into her wedding kimono, a beautiful family heirloom. I also changed into my organic fair trade cotton clothes, which felt much more *me* (should have sorted out my collar though).

    wedding_reception_9932

    When it came to food, we'd decided to make it a bring-and-share affair, and boy-oh-boy was that a good idea! Our guests brought the most delicious dishes, and lots of them (I was frequently made fun of that evening for having worried that there would not be enough to feed everyone).

    Main courses and desserts, absolutely gorgeous. (*Twinkle and I ended up taking three huge bowls of desserts back to our honeymoon hotel too :-)

    It was after all the proper wedding things were over with that I was able to truly relax (I think had I not given up drinking last year I would have been completely plastered by this time). It was just a shame that I hadn't brought my clone - so many people I wanted to talk to and so little time to do so!

    It was so good to look around and see happy people everywhere. Groups of friends inter-mingling ("Oh good, good, so-and-so is talking to so-and-so, I knew they'd get on well!"). Some were outside on the grass, sitting on the straw bales, others were sitting at our beautifully decorated tables chatting and eating, or hanging out right by the buffet tables... hmmm, it was nice.

    wedding_reception_0063

    wedding_reception_0064

    wedding_reception_0065






    Later on the fantastically talented and very lovely members of Wiffeldy came on to play some lovely tunes ...and then get us dancing with a ceilidh!




    Ha! That was such fun, I just loved it (as did *Twinkle* and a lot of our guests I think). I love ceilidhs. What a great way to party. Caw blimey. You know what was really nice though, was seeing my in-laws embrace their first encounter with this kind of madness. And other friends too who had never experienced the delights of a barn dance, really giving it their all.

    By now it was growing late. What a great day it had been. Just perfect, it couldn't have gone any better. Like a dream.

    It was time for us to retire to our honeymoon suite. We said our goodbyes, and made the 10 minute journey to the Pengethley Hotel ...when I realised that I had neglected to sort out a night key, and everyone was asleep (with no night porter). I had visions of us having to go back to mum and dad's on our wedding night, and having to share the front room with my sister, her husband and a baby (it's not that I don't like them...!)

    However, after ten minutes of knocking on windows and ringing what I thought was the doorbell, I spotted a half-naked man looking out of an upstairs window. It wasn't long before he opened the door to us, and we made our way to our lovely suite.

    It was so nice to be together, married, eating left-over dessert and opening the many many beautiful cards that we had received. Everyone was so generous with their gifts - we are deeply grateful.

    And with that, our wedding day came to a close.

    Thank you so much for all involved. You made our day.

    Thank you also to my dear cutey, *Twinkle*, for being my dear cutey, who I'm so excited about spending the rest of my life with!!!

    xxx

    Photos: John Dinnen and other guests - thank you

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