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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

England from above

Thought I'd post a few photos from the journey: First up is mum and dad through the train window at Hereford, Pepé at Heathrow Airport, and my last look at England.

goodbye parents_9396

pepe at heathrow_9402

view from the plane_9403

view from the plane: Scandinavia from 33,000ft

Scandinavian islands - not a bad shot considering it was taken from 33,000 feet

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Live from 33,000 feet above Siberia

view from the plane: Scandinavia from 33,000 feet

A photo I took a while back, showing somewhere in Scandinavia from 33,000ft

Seat 40K.

It's been a good flight so far. The LHR Termonal 5 experience lived up to expectations - all very convenient, and no stress whatsoever. The only tiem I felt uncomfortable was when waiting for the gate to ppen, As expected, theer were quite a few Japanese people waiting with me. It felt odd to be in a Japanese speaking environment. Kind of disconcerting. I guess there might be a bit more of that when we land.

I'm really impressed with BA's in-flight entertainment, It's the first time I've ever been on a plane where you have a choice of over 200 movies / TV programs ? Radio shows (including 'I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue'), all on demand, You can pause them whenever you want, rewind if you miss a bit etc - how they provide that for hundreds of passengers simultaneously I don't know. There must be a very big computer on board somewhere.

I'm also really struck by the fact that we're actually flying. I mean, this plane is huge, it must weigh a tonne (or two)! I just find it incredible, looking out of the window beside me at the two huge Rolls Royce engines strapped to the bottom of an enourmous wing, that we've been able to create such a big, complex machine that is capable of staying in the air for so long, travelling at such speeds (600mph ish), transporting so many people in such comfort,

Pepé is pretty impressed too. It's his first time on a plane. He likes the view. It must be about midnight 'local' time (7.30pm GMT, 3.30am JST), so it's virtually piytch black. But there's still two sources of light, the first of which is the stars twinkling brightly. For a time I had my face pressed against the window, trying to mak eout the constellations. Not much luck there, but I did see a shooting star.That made me smile.

The second (occasional) source of light is the cities of Russia. Under a thin klayer of cloud about 9km below us, they glow like luminous marshmallows, (big luminous marshmallows).

During the trip to Heathrow by train and bus, I went through my thoughts about Catherine following yesterdays reading and talking. That coincided with the train passing through Oxford where my younger sister lives, and I was suddenly overcome with sadness at the thought of leaving my family.

It's not as if I see them regularly in the UK (I only saw my siblings maybe twice or three times a year when at uni), but when I do see them, it means a lot. Thinking about the loss of Catherine, and the fact that I won't be able to see my brothers, sisters and parents for some time was very upsetting. I've not felt like that on previous trips to Japan as they have always been for limited time periods, but what with this trip being open-ended, well, it changes things.

The closer we get to Japan though, the more that reality creeps in. The thought of walking down a Tokyo street or riding on a Tokyo train with *Twinkle* fills me with happiness - is it really going to happen later today?! I'm also looking forward to going to bed and sleeping on a comfy futon (with *Twinkle* ;-) - I fidn it hard to sleep on planes, wven when I'm as sleepy as I am now.

Anyway, I think I'll sign off for now. Time for a bit more in-flight entertainment.

xxx

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Goodbye to England, and Hello to my sister

Here we are then, all set. My big bag is now down to 23kg, my two carry on bags about 500kg each. I've checked in online - seat 40k, just behind the right-hand wing, by the window.

It's been a really 'full' day. It's featured a lot of packing and repacking, backing up data, eating, thinking and feeling funny. And a final visit to our wedding oak, which is doing well in the Millennium Wood.

This morning, mum No.2 and her daughter (old school friend) came round to eat cake and say goodbye. That was very much appreciated.

I'm very excited, but nervous too. My schedule for the first couple of weeks is already pretty jam-packed - the result of a long wait (of 13 months) by *Twinkle* to have me back in the country.

I think I'm more prepared for this trip than any other before now. I have a clear picture of what needs doing when. The reality that awaits me is already a reality in my head, based on my knowledge and experience of the places I need to go, the people I need to see, the things I need to do. There's not much by way of unknowns, just lots of knowns - in a new context.

I've enjoyed being around mum and dad today. They've been very well-behaved, and supportive of me in my state of change. Thank you both. Dad has also written a little card for me with some things to keep in mind. I'm touched by how appropriate it is, and will carry it with me, referring to it when need be in Japan. Mum has also helped me a great deal, as mentioned below. Thanks mum.




Today has been a very unusual day, in that as well as my preparing to leave for a new life in Japan, I have spent a good deal of time getting to know my sister, Catherine. Catherine, who bravely battled against a complex mental illness, committed suicide at the age of fifteen - I was three at the time. I remember virtually nothing of her life or death, but have always felt close to her. I'm told that we were close. I've long known that at some point I would need to form a new relationship with her.

The timing may seem strange, but it was only last night, during a coaching session, that it became apparent that it had to be now. I won't be back here for a long time, and this is the place where her belongings, letters, and the diary in which she write of her feelings during her final few months, are recorded.

I read them all, and made digital copies of those that struck me as especially important, in order that I can think on them more in Japan. I also packed the blanket that she made for me, and from which I couldn't be parted as a child. I had been planning to leave it here in the UK.

Catherine really was very brave. The letters of condolence from people who worked with her were full of praise for her friendly, caring, thoughtful manner. But behind her smile there was a huge battle taking place. It's only today, reading her diary and talking to mum for a couple of hours that I have started to get an idea of just how hard life was for her.

Catherine lives on in all of us siblings, and in our parents too. I've long felt supported by her, and I hope that through the work I'll be doing over the next few weeks, I can start to feel settled in my relationship with her.

I'll do my absolute best to make this new life something wonderful that benefits all those that know me.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

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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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ittekimasu!

Ittekimasu is what Japanese people say when they are leaving the hosue. It literally means, "I'm going, and I'll come back".

I'm off to Heathrow - *Twinkle* should be touching down in just under three hours. It's terminal 5 - let's hope the wedding dress makes it too!

xxx

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Train Story

hereford station_8704

Back on the train today, heading for Bristol to find some clothes that might be suitable for a wedding (our wedding). It’s been an interesting journey so far. Started in the musty waiting room on platform two - a forgotten waiting room. No matter how long the wait or how bad the weather, no one goes in there. The space just hangs, not moving, only nudged by the occasional tannoy announcement.

Attached to the wall of the forgotten waiting room are three glass-fronted notice boards: inside them a series of photos depicting the station as it has changed over time. Apparently, it was built as a temporary stop in the mid-1850s, serving as the terminal station for three different lines that ran on different gauges. I found it interesting that health and safety officials were active even back then - in the years after the station’s opening they demanded that the platforms be rearranged so as to prevent accidental deaths.

Looking at those photos of folks waiting for trains in the late 1800s and early 1900s made me wonder what life was like for them. They must have had very different concerns, and I’m sure lived much more in the present than we do now. I wonder how changes in circumstance have changed us in terms of fundamental beliefs and spiritual values, Were they more in tune with spirit back then than we are now? Have the distractions of modern life left us disconnected with source? Difficult to know. I guess I could go and take the Connection Test on spirit.com to find out.

Boarding the train, I found an empty table and took a seat. I was listening to my iPod - an audiobook featuring the 81 verses of the Tao. I find it very calming. The message ‘none of this matters’ is repeated again and again, and helps me to let go of any stress I may have attached to my daily to-do list. It’s liberating to be reminded that it’s not really about achievement, success or possession. It’s just about being, now. Sometimes it’s difficult having that as a core belief when society dictates something else.

orcop from train_8703
The hill on which I live, as seen from the train

I was soon joined by a family of three: mum, dad and 17-year-old daughter Holly. They were on their way to an open day at Swansea University, which has lower entrance requirements that Birmingham (where Holly really should go because it has the best neuroscience department). Best to have a back-up plan in case Holly doesn’t get straight ‘A’s for her exams, but we know you’ll get those, won’t you Holly?

I sat next to them in silence for a long time, listening to mother doing enough talking for all three of them. It was clear that she was the boss. The exact opposite of her withdrawn husband, she had opinions on everything, and especially what Holly wants to do with her the rest of her life.

I wondered at what age Holly will rebel. She’s still at home, still under her mother’s spell at the moment. But when she gets to uni it will all change. She’ll give up Polo and take up drinking. She’ll decide that actually she hasn’t the slightest bit of interest in neuroscience, pack her bags and go travelling around India with her new boyfriend. One year later she’ll write home, a scribbled message on the back of a photo of her 4-week-old baby - she’s now in Malaysia where she’s set up a school for impoverished children.

We were ten minutes from my stop, a good time to start a conversation. I wasn’t so interested with what Mother had to say, I was more interested in what Holly really thought about uni. Looking Holly in the eye, I told her that I had a couple of friends who went to Swansea - they’d loved it. She was about to reply when Mother jumped in, and for the next ten minutes told me about her friend who had a problem with snails eating their vegetables.

That threw me. The monologue lasted ten minutes. I wished Holly well, said goodbye to mother and father, and alighted at Newport.

And here I am, on the train for Bristol (currently under the river Severn).

The plan today is to spend some quality time with Tim, Mel and Callum, and buy my wedding outfit. I have a good feeling about this.

Tarra

[EDIT]

Anonymous has rightly pointed out that I could have read Holly and her mum all wrong - (s)he has an alternative reading of the situation in the comments section.

This prompted me to take another look at Holly and her mother, and in this time, I found something very different...

"...Maybe, just maybe, her overbearing mother is actually a superhero, who is usually to be found leaping between tree tops in the Amazon in a bid to save the rainforest.

She lives on a diet of raw cocoa and hippo milk (the secret to her super powers) and does battle with illegal loggers who visit the region in order to supply Harrods with expensive furniture. Her greatest weapon is a sonic boom which she emits by saving her vocal cords for three days, releasing all the energy at once.

She has saved over 30,000 hectares of pristine forest in this way.

By day, she is mother to Holly."

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Parting

So here we are WigStylers, back in my hometown. I mean, home village. It's been a manic few days, what with my travelling by train or car hundreds of miles to the three corners of the UK (Sheffield, London, Hereford) to meet important people, give presentations, pack all my belongings and move house.

In the past 24 hours I've given away at least half of all of my worldy stuff. I find it has to be done in stages. On the first day I can only dispose of those things that I have no emotional attachment to and have no use for, but by day three I'm giving away things I've had for years, presents from friends and family, valuable stuff that I could use but would cost too much to send to Japan.

It hurts to part with some of these things, but I think it's healthy. I don't want to be dependent upon 'stuff' for happiness in life. All of these belongings will find new homes thanks to the local charity shops.

Having said that, I can't live without my Macbook so no, you can't have it.

The remaining three boxes await Yamato Kuro Neko (Japan's No.1 courier which also has an office in the UK, Tel 01753 657 688) who will come and pick them up to Ship to Japan at the end of the month (£50 for a 25kg box by surface mail, £80 by airmail).

It's good to have left Broad Lane Court. I feel I'm able to get a bit more closure on my uni years and associated projects. With no base there any more, I feel able to shift my energy and attention down to Herefordshire (and of course the wedding). I do still have three Sheffield-based projects left to deal with, but am working on that. 

Need to get it all done ASAP, *Twinkle* arrives in 8 days, and I still have a wedding to sort out. 

It's a pretty wiggy time though. I think life is going to get even more interesting from here on. 

I wonder where I'll be a year from now...

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Covent Garden

I spent a few hours walking the streets of London yesterday.

In my attempt to find Tottenham Court Road, I managed to end up in Covent Garden, somewhere I've not been before.

I loved it.

There was this talking dog. He just sat there, all day.

covent garden_8635

covent garden_8641


These statues were something else. I've never seen anyone be so statue-like. Not even a hint of breath. In fact, I was thinking that they might actually be real statues, secretly put there by a human statue in the middle of the night when he got tired of standing still for a living.

covent garden_8653

covent garden_8644

The volunteer. Why do we feel so pressured to grow up?

covent garden_8626

This opera singer was amazing. I've found myself becoming increasingly attracted to male opera singers. Good job *Twinkle*gets here soon, don't want all that wedding planning going to waste.

covent garden_8613

covent garden_8582

Tarra

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Cloud tales

The main line that heads out due West from London towards Swansea provides great views of the English countryside.The tracks are often raised on big beds of gravel, providing us with superb views across the surrounding fields. The first cut of this season’s hay has just been made, leaving doogle bales dotting the landscape. Moo cows, meahs and neigh-neighs also feature prominently - I wonder why we need so many horses?

But it’s the sky that really grabs the attention. Sunny, with rainy patches, it’s essentially blue, but with two distinct layers of periodic cloud. High-up there’s the seemingly motionless candy-floss cumulous grand-daddies, and below them, a few hundred metres from the ground, wispy floaty teenage clouds. The speed of the train and relative distance of the two types creates a dramatic sense of the different attitudes towards life these two types take. The teenagers are playing games with their shadows, their favourite being “How many cows can you make sit down?” The Grand-daddies meanwhile have long since said goodbye to those days of racing across the landscape. They’re happy to sit in their armchairs, smoking their pipes and sending great puffs up into to sky above them. Looking down, they share stories of the time that they were young whippersnappers, mischievously relieving themselves on the shoppers in Chippenham and Bath. They see the train I’m on speeding to the West; “remember in the old days the trains would send up those great clouds of smoke! Used to make me cough they did. Never did get any compensation from the environment agency”.

That’s the kind of thing clouds talk about. That and the group on the social networking site Cloudbook that has secretly formed to organise a mass protest against pollution over the Beijing Olympics. They’ve heard that the humans are planning to use rockets loaded with chemical warheads against them, but the leaders of the movement are steadfast in their resolve. They will not disperse.

Ho hum. Here’s Bristol. Looks like rain.

Image: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton on Flickr

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

From the train: Nuclear Drivers and Being the Change



I'm on the train back to Sheffield. It's been a pretty easy journey, relaxing. For the first leg I was on a rail-relacement bus. I sat at the front as I often do on buses, provided they have seat-belts. Next to me was a chap in his 40s. Pretty scruffy, stinking of cigarettes.

"This bus journey is costing me £400" he said to the driver, clearly pretty pissed off. "I'm a truckie - got a load of nuclear waste to take to Germany tonight, have to be at Dover by 10pm. I'm gonna miss that ferry because of these engineering works - you have no idea how much trouble that's gonna cause. They have to make special allowances for me, have to make sure I'm on the deck - it's a nuclear load you know"

The bus driver mumbled something about the train company working to upgrade the track.

"Yeah, well, it's just not good enough. I'm gonna make sure this rail company gets all the bad press it deserves."

Well, that'll certainly help, won't it?

Things were quiet after that. Just the guy at Stockport who seemed suicidal in a manic kind of way. Thankfully he didn't jump in front of the train - just banged repeatedly on the door until it opened.

I've been reading more of the Be The Change. I tell you, if you have any dreams of starting any kind of movement or company to bring about positive change, this book is a must. It is so inspiring. You can't help but feel "Why not me?" after reading this book.

The other message that comes out of it's butterfly-adorned pages is that it is vital to follow your passion. You also need to have a laser-like focus; seek advice as widely as possible; have a plan that is set and followed, yet flexible; get a great team around you.
If you have these things, you can't fail in whatever you do.

I'm struck by what these people have achieved. They have touched the lives of billions. They are incredible - and yet at the same time they are no different from Joe Bloggs. Indeed, it's that message that is one of the loudest. These folks don't have buckets of money, they aren't nuclear physicists, they don't necessarily have any clear idea of what they want to do at the outset - but they do find their passion, and follow it.

Mind you, if I look around, I see people like that everywhere, doing amazing things (be they small or big amazing things) on a daily basis, making a difference. I bet if I interviewed a sample of my friends and acquaintances (and mumblers) I'd be able to fill a book that was just as inspiring, in its own way.

All of this keeps on leading me back to my new life with *Twinkle*. Just can't get her out of my head. This new partnership excites me so much. Scares me too. So much change, so much opportunity - am I going to be brave enough to step outside of my comfort zone and follow my heart? It would be far easier to just settle for something that doesn't stretch me too much, but I think long term that would be quite painful.

Ho hum.

Just pulling into Sheffield Station, must dash.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Took the train south

mac on train_7525

It's good to be back in nature.

marigold_7560

gazanias_7700

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Day in snapshots



I've had this camera follow me around all day. It's been taking snapshots of my thinking. Kinda strange. I developed the film, here's what came out.



It's 5.45am. My phone alarm goes off. I think about whether I want to wake up - i think, "well, the interview isn't until 8am, I can sleep till 7am." I doze for another hour.

8am. Skype rings. It's the company in Tokyo for the job interview. I'm feeling pretty relaxed, but the voice... it's not the woman I was expecting. No, this is someone new. She's Japanese, has an American accent, but I get this idea she's been to Australia too. She's friendly and responds well to humour. This is going to be good.

20 minutes in. Things are going well, I'm enjoying talking to her. Then she asks me a question I'd not thought about; "What are the most important qualities for an employee of this company?". I feel that fear, and fall over over my words as I try to come up with something. I give an answer. "Is that all?" she asks. I grope about in the dark, and come up with something else. Something good. Crisis over, I'm back on track.

40 minutes is up. "Well, thank you, it's been real nice chatting" she says. "Likewise". I'm happy.

Next snapshot, I'm in the CILASS office at 9.20am. I'm happy to see Sabine, Pam and Nicola. "You're not in today!" I'm told. "No, you're right, I'm on a train to Bradford in 30 mins! A few minutes later the powerpoint is printed, and I run for the tram.

The journey to Bradford takes 90 minutes, but I don't notice it. First off, I read my newspaper. Nothing of interest apart from an article about the possibility of using the iPhone in education. I repackage the many sections of the paper and leave them on the seat opposite, hoping they will appeal to someone else later on - it's not fair that they have such a short life. Then I'm watching a DVD, Sliding Doors, a film I loved when I first saw it, but now am more inclined to agree with my friend who thinks it's pants.

Bradford. I've not been here before. I ask the girl in WHSMITHs where the uni is, she points, 'over there'.

Bradford Town Hall. Clearly modelled on Sheffield's Florence's Palazzo Vecchio (thanks to our Tokyo correspondent for that update)

Walking down the street in my patchwork jeans and Tilley Hat - I'm excited! I'm the new kid in town. Wow, so many chances to interact with all these people - I'm buzzing.

But three minutes later, I'm lost. I ask a scruffy old man, white hair, wonkey teeth, dirty green shirt, "Excuse me, could you tell me the way to the University please?" He doesn't know. To my surprise he then starts barking out at passers-by, "University? University anyone?" People ignore us, stare at us. I'm about to assure him that it's ok, when a couple in matching denim outfits stop. "University? Yeah, we're going that way! Come with us!"

15 minutes later I'm on the university campus. It's nice. Kind of out of place, surrounded by boarded-up shops and derelict buildings. I reach the library building, reception check my name off the list and lets me in.

I'm there for a workshop organised by the Yorkshire universities, the topic is Web 2.0 & Information Literacy - myself and a CILASS colleague are to give the student view.

But first we listen to a very funny guy talk about his thoughts on web 2.0 for 45 minutes. He's in his 50s, white hair, has long since dispensed with concerns over what other people think of him. I like him - his show seems to be 90% Flickr, photos representing ideas, with the odd image thrown in that had no connection to anything, but reminded him of his son on holiday. I smile.

Break for lunch. Sandwiches are OK. Vegetable Samosa's not bad either. Red grapes are my favourite. I make an attempt to connect with the lady who seems to be hosting it. She's cool. I like her name badge. They don't have name badges like those at Sheffield.

1.45pm and we're up! *Twinkle* flashes up as my desktop background, but she's masked by the opening slide. We've a lot to get through and have to rush it a bit, but it's fun. It reminds me of the last time I presented to a group of staff, the lack of reactions from 2/3 of the audience. They must have had to sit through hundreds of presentations, and there was no way they were going to feign enthusiasm just because the presenter had multicolour patchwork jeans on. But it's OK, a good third of them are engaging. They are the ones that know me, and the younger strangers.

Presentation successfully delivered, we pack up and head off. My post-presentation headache kicks in - always does. I didn't get that nervous about it all, but I guess the excitement of presenting to 25 librarians is too much for my head.

I joke with my colleague, "when I'm presenting to 10,000 people I'll have to look back on this and laugh!".

I've got time to visit the National Media Museum before heading back to Sheffield for the Japan soc BBQ. Just my luck - the U2 show at the IMAX finished the night before, and today it's nothing but overgrown dinosaurs. Oh, and two of the galleries are closed for installation works. Still, the rest of the place is open, and the staff are so enthusiastic & really keen to help - I feel excited.

I'm in the basement, watching 1970s Kodak commercials. I love them. Those revolutionary single-use flash bulbs that mean you can take photos INSIDE! Or how about the camera with the handle so you can hold it steady - meaning you can even get good shots on rainy days!

Minutes later - an encounter with a dalek...



I'm on the 4th floor now, in the BBC studio mock-up. I try my hand at delivering the weather forecast. The camera wants to chop my head off.



I then play the role of presenter of the BBC news - but the seat is too high and when I watch the playback on the big screen afterwards I can only see the bottom half of my face!

Through to the other half of the building, and there's a real glass-walled BBC radio studio in there - on air.

I move on up to the children's TV floor. OMG it's Zippy and George! The actual puppets used on Rainbow. And next to them the toys from Playschool! Wow, I haven't seen Humpty in years! It's quite an emotional reunion.





I sit in one of the TV booths and choose to watch Dangermouse. It only seems appropriate as I've come to Bradford on CILASS business and have had Danger Mouse as the folder icon for CILASS on my mac for months.

I'm getting tired. As I make my way back to the station, I wonder why I get so tired walking across cities some times. Well, it's been a long day I guess.

I'm back on the train. I'd decided to not check the platform and go on intuition. After 20 minutes travelling in the wrong direction I reluctantly decide to get off the Skipton Train at some pretend station, cross to the other platform and wait for the train that is actually going to Sheffield.

As I'm waiting I find my banana in the bottom of my bag. It's been squashed, but is still edible. I stuff it all in at once and then try and shield my face from the girl in the shelter. I wonder if she's afraid of me.

I'm listening to Murakami's Dance Dance Dance on my iPod all this time. I'm enjoying it. That was part of the reason why I didn't want to get off the train going to Skipton. I wanted to listen to my story.

The train terminates at Leeds and I need to change. As I wait for my (delayed) connection I get a call from my japan soc friend - Aren't you coming to the final BBQ? "I got on the wrong train" I tell her, feeling bad that I'm going to miss it. I should have been there, and I knew it.

Well, I'll email later and apologise. I feel pretty bad about it.

I'm now sitting inside a luggage rack on a jam-packed train to Sheffield. I'm trying not to lean on my rucksack' knowing that I could damage my laptop screen.

The guy sitting inside the luggage rack opposite me is another of these white-haired men in their 50s. We strike up a silent friendship, both sharing unusual seats. We joke with our eyes about the group of girls behaving outrageously between us.

A chap shouts down the carriage "Can't you move up?! There's people still trying to get on".
I admire him for speaking up, and wonder what it was that made him into the kind of person that could say that to a group of strangers on a train in such an assertive tone.

I understand when he gets off 2 stops later: he has a badge on a webbed string around his neck, it reads: "British Transport Police".

We arrive at Sheffield. i say goodbye to my luggage rack friend, and take the tram home.

I'm in bed, shattered. I don't want to do anything, but don't want to sleep. So, I watch a DVD - 'Stranger than Fiction'. It's ok. It entertains me. I like the love story, implausible though it is.

Film over, I think about the day just gone. It's been a good one. I enjoyed all these interactions, and being a stranger in a new town.

This life thing, it's kinda cool really. I like it.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Norwegian Wood, Religious Weddings and the Canvas of Life


Latest addition to my mum's art portfolio

Fascinating, thrilling day today. It is so great to see family after such a long time.

I caught the tram at 6.30am, train down to Hereford, bus to Wormelow, car to Orcop. Thoroughly enjoyable journey. Not only did I get to indulge in one of all-time favourite hobbies -sewing patches on my jeans (and this was a MAJOR patch, handmade by my talented friend Suzie H a couple of years back, I've been saving it for such an occasion as today's), but also, I was able to indulge in listening to a new Audiobook - Norwegian Wood by Murakami. I've not read it before, but have long wanted to, knowing how much it is liked by so many of my friends. I absolutely loved 'Kafka on the Shore': I listened to that as I crossed the East China Sea, and found myself identifying with the characters as they made their own journey's West.

Whilst the narration of Norwegian Wood is not spellbinding in the way that that of Kafka was, I'm really enjoying the story nonetheless. I recognise the characters in people I know, the most prominent example being that of the upper-class womaniser destined to be a bureaucrat, who appears to me as the chap from Oxford university who made it to the final of the speech contest with me last month (to the right of me in this picture).



I did a bit of PC-doctoring today, getting my sister's webcam working for Skype (secret is to uninstall the Logitec software and let Skype handle the camera itself) which the boys liked (funny seeing yourself on screen for the first time!), and setting up iTunes so she can listen to some of the audiobooks I've purchased from Audible (you can license up to 3 computers to play your DRM-protected tracks).

Also talked about the wedding quite a bit, lots of good ideas emerging. It's going to be great.

One 'issue' that comes up for some people is this getting-married-in-a-church business. Neither *Twinkle* or I are particularly religious, and as you know, I am not too keen on traditional Christian notions of an almighty 'God' ...so why do I want to get married in a church?

Well, as with everything in life, a church wedding only carries the meaning that an individual chooses to assign to it. In Japan, 'church' weddings are popular (although the church is unlikely to be 'real' and the priest may well be a fake). I feel I have been somewhat influenced by the research I carried out on Japanese 'Christian weddings' in 2006/07, in that for me such a wedding does not necessarily have to relate to any religious tradition, and is really very appealing.

What others may label as "God" I feel is a nameless infinite source; love; an immense energy that fills us, that is us, and all of our surroundings.

Thus, a demonstration of my commitment to *Twinkle* in the 'presence of God' is for me, not a subscription to norms as laid out in holy texts, but rather, a powerful acknowledgement of our decision to commit to strive to bring our energies, our love, into flexible alignment.

There's other, somewhat more tangible reasons for having a church wedding too. I want to see my dream bride walk down the aisle in a beautiful white dress -it's in all the movies! I want the experience of church bells ringing overhead, confetti being thrown as we leave the church. I've been influenced by popular culture, and I want to live the dream.

I also feel that our parents would appreciate a church wedding. Perhaps here again I am influenced by Japanese customs I feel that our wedding is in a way as much an event for our families as it is for us.

Dad

I'm not sure I could have handled a church wedding a year or two ago, but the timing now is perfect.




It's been a tremendous day of synchronisity. I won't go into details here, but just to say that thoughts that have been circulating within my head have today been vocalised by two people close to me, quite out of the blue. It's all related to where do I go from here? Suddenly, concerns over employment after I return to Japan are made to seem like nothing but minor details that are sure to addressed through the natural unfolding of life.

These worries have been dwarfed by the appearance of this huge blank canvas that stretches out as far as the eye can see. In front of it is this incredible array of coloured materials and tools for their application. There's a sign there too. It reads:

Paint your future. Then Live it.


Aghh! I can't deal with that! Where's the colouring book with the numbered options: 1 for red, 2 for blue, 3 for green? Just choose your picture and fill in as prescribed. I know if I do that I'll succeed, everyone does!

...but a blank canvas?! You mean I can paint anything at all? ...But, I dunno what to paint! And what if I go wrong, what if I get the colours mixed up?

I must work to accept that it's only when artists move away from the colouring template that new colours are created by the mixing of the primaries, its only through experimentation that breakthroughs in style are made - and that it is these breakthroughs that bring great joy to artist and onlooker alike.

I've not been faced with such a huge canvas before. It keeps on getting bigger too as it is unrolled further by friends, by family, by books, by experiences. I understand that I'm being challenged to pick up one of the many tools before me and make my mark, but what tool I should use, and what colour should I apply?

It'll come to me. I know it will. I needn't be afraid because I will be guided by someone or something.

It's also important that I not feel I have to paint the whole picture with a single brushstroke - I'd never dare make that sweep from left to right! If I start small with little dabs, holding a clear idea of what I'm looking to create in my mind, with time the scene will emerge. I may accidentally put a splurge of red where green would be better suited, but that red will come to play an important part, perhaps a little poppy in the field of wheat.

Hmm, it's very exciting.

What's even more exciting though, is that in reality, we are all faced with this canvas, every single day.

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