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    Thursday, January 31, 2008

    Interview: 12th February at the Embassy

    Caw blimey, it's all happening. Just got a letter from the embassy - interview on the 12th February for the post of CIR.

    I called them a few minutes ago to confirm that I would like to attend. No problems there. Then, about 30 seconds later my Skype phone rings - it's the Embassy.

    "We received an email from you a couple of days ago, saying that you were going to be attending a wedding as a groom? Are we to take it then that you are going to get married? If so, we need that information for our database...

    Having noted the wedding details and the fact that *Twinkle* is Japanese, the chap, who until that point had been deadly serious and professional, started to laugh and said,
    "And of course, Congratulations!"

    Giving up the mobile habit

    As you can seen, my mobile phone is quite an old model, requiring a cable and long extension lead

    My phone's battery is flat, and my charger is in Sheffield.

    Perhaps this is what I've been waiting for.

    I've long struggled with mobile phones. They give people the ability to jump into your life at any moment they desire. Sure, they can be useful (e.g. in the case of emergency), but they are by no means essential (I can think of 4 friends who don't own mobiles and are none-the-worse for it).

    I don't like receiving calls on my mobile, and I like text messages even less (perhaps if I was a millionaire and thus could afford an iPhone I'd feel differently).

    So, as of today, I'm not going to use my mobile any more (feel free to Skype or email instead, I'm online about 98.9% of the time anyway...!)

    Getting married in Japan

    I've been trying to find out more about marriage in Japan. After a while I found the well-hidden homepage of Koshigaya city, our local ward office (town hall).

    They have a great translation engine on that site. Here's some choice extracts:

    "Please cooperate and donate blood of love"

    "news pack ... is rare with this finger!"

    Increase forest ward combination synthesis disaster prevention training Sunday, February 24 from 9:00 to 12:00 (rainy weather decisive action). In Koshigaya multi-purpose park multi-purpose athletic ground. I wait for coming of all of you.

    City exhibition(Koshigaya-shi art exhibition)
    From February 16 (Saturday) February 22 (Friday). I wait for arrival of people.

    I come back to the top of this page

    So, having got no sense out of that I decided to give them a call. I tell you, phoning local authorities in Japan is something that makes me really happy, as it reminds me that I can actually speak better Japanese than I could 5 years ago! I still feel somewhat detached from my ability, like, "was it really me that just had that conversation in Japanese with that women about obtaining a yoken gubi shomeisho (certificate of no impediment)?! Ah, I tell you, this language -learning thing, it's great!

    Turns out getting married in Japan is dead easy. Get a certificate here in the UK, take it to the embassy in Japan for translation, take the resulting document to the local ward office along with passport, details of family, fiance's family register, oh, and fiancé (although actually in Japan you can actually get married with only one of you present, as my friend did last year!), and Hey Presto! You're married on the spot. You can then have your certificate translated and recorded in the UK too if you wish, but that's optional.

    Woof Woof. Time for bed.

    The cost of marriage

    Talking to *Twinkle* this afternoon via Skype, we got on to the subject of marriage, or more specifically, our wedding.

    We've been thinking of marrying in the UK first (in July), and they getting our new family register sorted in Japan when we get back there.

    Today however, I spoke to a couple of local registry offices, and getting married in the UK suddenly seems not quite so attractive afterall.

    The idea was for *Twinkle* to come to the UK a couple of weeks before I'm due to return to Japan. We'd marry, then go on a very long honeymoon ( Japan!). There's a slight problem with that though, as she needs to be in the UK at least a week before we can even begin the procedure. After 7 days, we'd be allowed to go to an internationally certified registery office (the nearest one being Gloucester) where we'd declare our intention to marry. We then have to wait 15 days - on the 16th day we'd be allowed to marry. In total, we're told that a month in required to get it all tied up.

    A month rather a long time to take off work at this stage.

    Oh, and then, there's the visa.

    When the lady on the phone told me that the Fiance visa is quite expensive, I told her that yes, I'd expected that. About £100 or something.

    Then I checked on the British Consular Section's website in Tokyo:

    £500 / JPY 115,000!

    Five HUNDRED pounds for a visa?!

    I guess it's understandable. If it wasn't that much us poor british men would be inundated with marriage offers, being the legendary life partners that we are.

    So, marriage in Japan is suddenly seeming a lot more attractive, especially as after that discovery I learnt that (contrary to what I have been led to believe for 5 years) if you marry in Japan, it will be legally valid in the UK too. If I can marry on a tourist visa then we may do the deed at Easter in Saitama (just north of Tokyo), and party in July in the UK. If Japan also has some fiancé visa scheme to prop up the national economy we'll probably wait until the summer when I'm there on a work visa.

    Anyway, I'll give our local Ward office in Japan a call in the morning and see what they have to say about visas and so forth - and charges too.

    Ho hum. 3 days and counting.

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008

    The Family Archives

    Recently, I've been fortunate to have the use of a very high-quality negative scanner. Thinking that I had time on my hands/ in a bid to make my procrastination productive, I decided to make use of this opportunity, and scan in a bunch of negatives that I've had in storage for 14 years. The original shots were taken during the one year that I attended college, with dad's Olympus OM10.

    A few of them bring back a lot of memories. The first one is of the freight train that I jumped on in a bid to be like Clint Eastwood, and ended up being taken on a freezing cold, bloody scary trip to a high-security steel depot just south of Liverpool (the full story, complete with amazing graphics, is here). I can still remember the fear, the long wait at Shrewsbury in the middle of the night as the train driver checked all his carriages one-by-one, armed with a ladder and torch. I was sure I was going to be caught.

    The second one if of our adorable golden retriever, Toby, who died not long after this shot was taken. He was a great friend to us during my childhood. I remember the day we got him, when we lived on the farm in North Yorkshire. We played with him on the lawn in our pajamas, and just didn't want to go to bed.

    The final shot is yours truly. I think this was taken at college, by a friend. I would have been 16 at the time. I was very attached to that shirt. It was padded, had an orange lining. Given to me by Denny, my boss and friend at Wormelow Stores.

    Photos are precious things.

    So are words. Today, I was transferring some old documents of mum's from her prehistoric Canon word processor (actually, my first 'computer', bought when I was about 18 I think) to their new Macbook. Amongst the bits of autobiography were letters to a friend written in the 1960s (on paper, typed up by mum a few years back), in which she talks about meeting Dad, but no, she doesn't really fancy him, but he's a nice chap!

    We also found the letter from the doctor written for dad to prove that he was crazy, in order that he could get early retirement on grounds of ill health. A few other gems in there too...

    Hmm. I wonder if my children will ever read this?

    night night

    Monday, January 28, 2008

    The Japanese employment system

    Having just spent three hours writing eighteen 3 essays (18 A4 pages) on Work and Society in Japan, I don't feel too inclined to write another on the subject, but I do want to mention how studying the subject has influenced my take on Japan.

    Until I started revising for this topic, my view of Work in Japan was not all that positive. I saw big corporations eating up people's lives, tying their noses to grindstones, attempting to rein in rash streaks of individualism. Conformity reigned supreme. And I saw the secondary labour market, full of underpaid oldies, immigrants and students, eeking out a living on 800 yen per hour.

    I saw lifetime employment going down the drain, and Freeters all over the place.

    Of course, that's not really the case at all, although the media would like us to think that it is. The fact is that lifetime employment is probably going to be around for a long time, albeit in the form of lifetime employment within a group of businesses rather than a single enterprise (oldies at Toyota get moved into subsidiaries etc, bit like Amakudari only they get a 30% cut in pay instead of a golden handshake!). Age-related pay won't be disappearing anytime soon either - it'll just adapt. Freeters have always been there, just unreported, and most of them end up working in the end. I reckon as the number of employees continues to fall, so the minimum wage will rise - at the moment, if you work full time in Japan on the minimum wage you are technically living in relative poverty! How about that for a minimum!

    The thing that really encourages me though is the signs that employers are beginning to accept that employees are real people, people who unlike their post-war ancestors will not be content with working every hour under the sun for the sake of the company. Thus, we're seeing more flexibility in contracts offered.

    Some companies are taking steps to reach beyond the internal labour market when recruiting (mid-career switches from one employer to another in Japan are relatively rare: only 18% of Japanese managers have had more than one job, vs. 70% in the US, due to the closed internal labour market).

    And that's the other thing: a job for life in the UK sounds like absolute drudgery, but a job for life in Japan can mean a new job every three years what with the internal circulation system and progressive acquirement of skills / promotion (at least in big firms).

    Another great step forward is the introduction of child-care in 2001 leaving Japan with the best childcare system in the world (now they just have to encourage people to actually use it!). Most dad's in Japan aren't even aware that the law gives them two weeks paternity leave following birth, and those men working in companies that have long-term schemes are so scared of being overlooked for promotions or of 'letting the team down' that they won't use it! But I reckon that will change, as the Government invests more in the baby-making industry.

    I think the main feeling that I've come away with though is that Japanese society / working practices are moving in the right direction. They're moving towards increased diversity and respect for individual choices, and away from the influence of dominant social norms that stem from a time of post-war scarcity.

    I really like the idea of living in a country that is undergoing big changes, and being aware of those changes. (I mean, I'm sure the UK is undergoing big changes, but I don't know about it except when I accidentally catch sight of the Daily Mail which tells me that immigrants have caused a 30% rise in violent crime ...well spreading that news is really going to help the situation isn't it...). It gives me that sense of excitement, which I recall feeling when living in Tokyo for the first time in 2001. Stuff is happening, and overall social trends are heading in a really positive direction.

    OK, so Japan's economy may not exactly be in tip-top shape, but at least the country is no longer spending the equivalent of 1~2% of WORLD GDP on construction (hard to believe, but they did it!). There's more money going into the environment, increased diversity in education, more foreigners than ever (will we see multiculturalism in Japan in my lifetime? I think so!) and a growing organic sector (no pun intended). OK, so Tesco have moved in, but at least there's very few greenfield sites for them to decimate as they have done in the UK.

    And of course, Japan has *Twinkle* too.

    So, all in all, I have a far less cynical opinion of Japanese society than I did have. Whilst affluence hasn't brought the Japanese any great quality of life (I mean, come on, they all live in rabbit hutches), it has now given the younger generation the chance to stop and question what is really important in life, and I believe that as a result of that we're going to see more creativity and pursuit of passions in Japan than ever before. I look forward to being a part of it.

    90 minutes to blast-off

    When I find myself in this kind of situation (surrounded by notes, attempting to remember basic essay outlines for an exam due to start in just under 90 minutes), I find it relaxing to remember that

    I only need to Pass

    Despite what my ego says.

    Colour spaces

    Sorry to go on about this, but just LOOK what Firefox (left) does to my colours! Safari (right) shows the true colours in all their glory (I understand that Internet Explorer is also unable to read color spaces and so will mimic Firefox).

    Does anyone know of any plugin to get Firefox to read color spaces?

    Or a way to get LightRoom to export in a browser-friendly fashion? I'm exporting them with sRGB color space, but it's still not displaying correctly...


    Welcoming the oldies into the information age

    I think this is probably one of the most intense periods of my life to date, in terms of stress-inducing events (excluding those times full of events connected with relationships of course).

    A 3500 word essay. 3 x 3 hour written exams. One interview exam. One speech contest final. One (possible) interview at the embassy.

    3 down, 4 to go. The next one (a 3 hour exam on Work and Society in Japan) starts in 9 hours.

    Mum and Dad took delivery of their Mac on Friday. I must say, I am really really impressed with how quickly they are learning. This time last week, neither of them knew how to even widen an Explorer window or select a document (on Windows or a Mac) - but now they are lightening fast Quicksilver Users, creating Word docs and rotating their freshly downloaded digital images in their photo library, and all that.

    I must admit, I did knock up a quick automator action, so when they plug their new digital camera in (I've leant them mine till they can afford their own, or until I win one next week) the computer automatically downloads the images, ejects the camera, opens the file re-namer programs and then starts to talk out loud:
    "Anne and Peter, I have downloaded your lovely photos to my hard drive. Please turn off your camera and unplug it from my socket. Next, please rename your beautiful shots by dragging them into the window I have just opened for you, the one that says 'Renamer' at the top. When you have finished that, please click on 'Send to iPhoto'. By the way, have I told you how good you look today?"
    It then displays a dialog box with a "Send to iPhoto" button. They click that, it closes the renamer program, and imports the photos to iPhoto for them to view.

    It took about 3 minutes to build the application that co-ordinated all that. Love it.

    Mum used to be terrified of doing things 'wrong' on the Windows 98 machine, partly because it liked to throw up cryptic error messages (such as 'Fatal Error 65tG8889 - The World Will Now Explode'), and partly because it didn't have a friendly user interface. It didn't encourage her to click. But today, she was happy to just poke around and see what would happen if she did this etc.

    I've given them 1000 family photos to be going on with, and a load of music. Home videos too.

    I love the Mac Screen Sharing thing. It was funny today when they got home after a trip out. I was in my bed upstairs in the front bedroom, and heard them close the door behind them. I quickly opened up my Macbook and remotely logged in to theirs downstairs (on the kitchen table) via the wireless network, opened up iTunes and played them a welcome home chorus - they were pretty surprised!

    The next joke was to turn the webcam on (built-in above the screen on their mac) so I could see them. I put the special effects on to warp their heads (always a crowd pleaser that one), took a photo of them both hideously distorted, and then as they watched I emailed the photo to the local vicar! I could hear mum screaming out in laughter downstairs,
    "No, no, don't send it to the vicar!!!"
    (they don't actually have an internet connection yet so of course I didn't really send it.)

    I then typed a message for them in Word, and selected "speech" to have the Macbook read out my request for a cup of hot chocolate...

    It's amazing how different they feel about the Macbook, when compared with the old pc. That was something to be feared, to be sworn at, to be best avoided. The Macbook though is their baby, full of wonder and excitement! (A bit unfair to compare Windows 98 with an OS that is almost ten-years newer perhaps...!)

    They haven't even touched the internet yet though. They have all the delights of The Archers' homepage to come!

    Ok, on with the exam planning.

    Sunday, January 27, 2008

    Signs of Spring (and a dog)

    I like Bundle's Tail Action here.

    Friday, January 25, 2008

    A series of fortunate events

    Digging around in my recently-resurrected computer bag today, I rediscovered the safe place I'd put my engagement ring last November. I was pretty dismayed when I couldn't find it back then, and spent quite a while asking around in the places I'd been, but to no avail. But I was sure I hadn't 'lost' it, and I'm very happy that today it's been shown that I was right to think so. It means a lot to me. Of course it does, it's an engagement ring...

    I was reading that Paul McKenna book tonight, the one that gave me a funny reaction. I've since found that I can go into that somewhat magical state of being (30,000 volts passing through me) just by practicing deep breathing for several minutes. I guess it's just a physiological thing that we can all do, although if that's the case I'm surprised that I've not heard of it before. Whilst the hallucinations are a product of my mind, the ability to move into that state where they move so freely and without interruption from the outside world is also probably connected with changes in the blood or oxygen supply to whatever part of my body is connected with their production.

    Or perhaps it's all a product of spirit. :-)

    Anyway, reading chapter two tonight, which teaches how to create a physical switch to instantly bring on a certain feeling, I realise that the series of events that brought me to read this book - my father being ill which resulted in my spending time with an old friend which led to a mention of the author and beneficial effects of his techniques, and then the birthday amazon vouchers and the £15 minimum order fee thing which led me to buy a book that would never normally consider buying, have all been perfectly timed for the speech competition! This technique is just what I need! Although it takes time to perfect, even in the space of a few hours, I can already feel it's beneficial effect.

    Don't you just love 'coincidence' ...

    Anyway anyway, I really am off to bed now. Have to be up early for a jog in the morning sunlight - Spring is on the way!

    [edit: aahhh. 'Hyperventilating'. that's what you call it!]

    Thursday, January 24, 2008

    We're diamonds, covered in horse shit, with a layer of nail polish on top

    Something funny happened to my lock jaw a couple of weeks back. It had steadily been getting worse, to the extent that I couldn't eat things like apples that required wide mouth-opening.

    Then, one morning, I woke up, and found that that side of my jaw was really painful, as if it had been through a very traumatic, perhaps violent incident. Since then, the pain has slowly faded, and now, it doesn't really hurt at all. But, the odd thing is, I can't 'click' it anymore. What I'm thinking is that that night the joint jumped back into place, or perhaps out of place, or something like that. I think it was a good thing.

    It's not back to normal though. Now, whilst it doesn't hurt, it does make a noise like a creaky bed. A bit odd, but quite nice to be reminded of *Twinkle* every time I eat breakfast.

    We talked today. That was nice. Been so busy this past week we've not been in touch so much. Hhhmmm. I feel very close to her.

    I've been feeling a little disturbed this week by the extent to which we are robbed of our selves through the socialisation process. As children, we are not afraid to express ourselves, and we do not care about the opinions of others - and then look at us by the time we enter college! Is this a necessary evil? Yes, I think it is - but only to a certain extent. I think we take it waaay too far.

    "Inside, we're beautiful diamonds. Then, as we grow up, we bury ourselves in horse shit. Finally, in order that other people like us, we put a coat of nail varnish on top of the horse-shit, and live our lives with our true beauty hidden from the world, under a protective gloss coat and insulated by horse shit".

    I was thinking tonight that perhaps one outcome of a Steiner education is a slightly thinner layer of horse shit. I don't know much about anthroposophy in education, but I do know that one aim of a Steiner education is to nurture the inner child, with less of a focus upon academic achievement. Perhaps it does encourage children to not feel so in need of horse shit.

    I was also thinking tonight about the Daily Mumble's role in my personal attempt to cast off the nail varnish and coat of manure. It's been truly instrumental in helping me along the road towards abandoning attempts to look pretty in the eyes of others. I can vividly recall my reaction to negative comments received in late 2006 - it was positively painful to read that others (whom I respected) thought I was very mistaken, stupid even, and that they thought I was making a fool of myself. More recently however, I've been able to process those kinds of comments in a far less serious manner - these are just the opinions of others, and they have no more weight than my own words. To try and live up to the expectations of others is possibly one of the most miserable (unobtainable) fates one can choose for oneself.

    Whilst the person I'm thinking about hasn't commented for many months, I now feel that were they to re-appear, I would no longer spend hours mulling over what they said and feeling dark. Those who deliberately set out to un-constructively criticise or hurt aren't worthy of such respect in the first place - why aspire to please someone who works out of fear and antagonism?! (I'd just like to assure Anon that I am not referring to you here either. You are my nice little fluffy devil's advocate whom I love very much, and I know that secretly you are Louise Hay).

    I was thinking though, if I picture my friends (all 2 of them), I can't actually think of that many people who are overtly pessimistic and often advertise a severe lack of faith in their own abilities. Perhaps it's a case of very good applications of nail varnish on top of the horse shit, or perhaps they never accumulated the social coat of manure in the first place.

    Anyway, I can see I've chipped a bit off my right knee - best patch it up before I turn the light off.

    I'll Be Dead Soon

    This video dates back to 2005, but it's only today that I found out about it. It's the first time I've heard Apple CEO Steve Jobs talk about himself, and found it pretty relevant.

    Quotes I like from this:

    'Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.'

    'Every day, I get up and look in the mirror and ask myself, If today were the last day of my life, would I wanna do what I am planning to do today? Whenever the answer has been "No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

    'Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.'
    Whilst we're on the subject of Macs, I am happy to announce the arrival of a second in the family. By next week, mum and dad, who have until now been using a Windows '98 computer once a week to download emails via a dial-up connection, will be surfing the web and Facebooking everyone over a wireless broadband connection, using a lovely new sparkling Apple MacBook.

    One of the main features we'll be using in the early days is the superb screen-sharing function, whereby I can take control of the computer remotely and show them how to do stuff. Like send emails and browse the internet, create podcasts, and edit feature-length movies... (I just hope they manage to open the instant-messenger application that launches Screen Sharing).

    Now just to get the rest of the family to join the gang...

    Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    Scag and Twatface Wilksy

    Ha. I just love that film. The Bourne Ultimatum. Love it. I love the technology. I Love his cunning planning, and I love the way the baddies are made to pay for their crime at the end. It would be fantastic if that sort of thing happened in real life, and people like Bush and Blair were made to face the consequences of their war-mongering activities.

    So, speaking exam over and done with - and all that work, both in terms of preparing answers to questions, and in terms of teaching myself that I was going to be fine and I could relax - paid off. When they review the video tape they may notice me grinning madly at odd moments as I told myself, "I'm loving this, this is great fun!".

    Following that I had a run through of my speech. I was surprised by my sensei's reaction, I learnt quite a bit there...

    Today's speaking exam experience has demonstrated to me that the speech contest needn't be a Big Monster. If I put the time in to learn appropriate responses to the kinds of questions I anticipate will be asked, I'll be fine. In the speech exam, we were given a list of about 30 questions that might be asked (with only 5 appearing in the showdown) - I learnt approximate responses to them all, and so in the event, didn't panic once. This was such a huge change from our mock exam last month, when I literally fell to pieces, and had to be hoovered up.

    Also, in the event that I do get an interview at the embassy, I'll be prepared.

    On the train back tonight I was joined by a gang of yooves, on their way to a wicked party at Scag's place. Turns out Scag is a real cheeky c***. Got some of that coke last week, but his mum found it and flushed it. He's unreal though, goes out with the stuff all over is face. He said he shagged his last girl 4 times every day for 2 months, then got bored so took a month off. Well, that's what girls are for innit? ("No it ain't! says the only girl in the gang, sitting opposite me).

    ...I ain't got caned for ages, gonna have to have a good smoke tonight. You 'ear about Twatface Wilksy? yeah, he got 6 months last week for knifin that little squirt... ...ah, that's what I want, a slimline laptop (nodding in my direction, before asking me in an extremely polite and well-spoken manner...) "Excuse me, so sorry to trouble you. Could you tell me how much your computer cost?"

    I tried to stifle my laugh, seeing such a dramatic change in character. I wonder if his parents knew about the kinds of stuff he got up to with his mates - bet he's the angelic son at home!

    Anyway, I'm back in Wales now. On with the study.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    Wig sees me through my first exam

    That was gooood.

    In the league tables of non-panicky exams, I think that was number 1. I don't think there was a single moment when I thought "Crikey O'riley, what on Earth does that mean?!"

    Hmmmm, I am very happy to declare it a success. Not based on outcome, because we won't know that until next month, but based on satisfaction with performance, and in my book, that's what counts most. None of those horrendous moments of realisation after we're told to put our pens down.

    I stuffed up the precise translation, and the final bit which involved writing a terribly polite email (I'm not too hot on polite Japanese, I accidentally told the recipient to "sod off"), but the newspaper translation, comprehension and job application bits went very well.

    I was on a bit of high as I went in anyway, as I'd just picked up my essay on Women in the Japanese Workplace: 74%! I think that's the highest I've got for any essay since the first year (where marking is less stringent).

    Wiggy wig indeeed.

    Next: The Japanese Language Speaking Exam. Tomorrow @ Midday.

    Fingers crossed.

    Monday, January 21, 2008

    Audiobooks Rock!

    Wow. Audiobooks really are amazing.

    I signed up to again the other day. If you take out a 14.99 subscription, they give you two free audiobooks (no matter what the price) in addition to the two that you're entitled to with that deal. So I ended up with 4, which together would cost £60 if I bought them normally. I'll probably cancel my monthly subscription next month, and then wait another couple of months until there's another 4 books I want.

    If you want to sign up for the totally free trial (you pay, then if you cancel within a month you get a refund but keep your books, they have a 7.99 deal too) here's a link which, if used, will make Audible donate some of their profits to TDM!

    Audiobook Downloads at

    Audiobooks really are fabulous, they've changed my life. I just love learning, but find it hard to make time to read. But Audiobooks, well, you can listen anywhere. An amazing resource, we can just suck up years of research in a few years!

    And fiction too! I was listening to CS Lewis's Prince Caspian (from the Chronicles of Narnia) tonight - just great! I love Aslan's roar, and Lucy! She's just like in the original BBC series with the see-through special effects and bad acting. Love it.

    I'm about 10 hours into the unabridged version of Deepak Chopra's Life after Death: the burden of proof. I'm not sure I could handle the actual book (some bits are pretty demanding), but the audiobook is great. There's an overwelming amount of evidence, both scientific in nature and otherwise, that there is so much more than this physical realm. I must say, I feel so much better about death now. I haven't been 'made' to hold any fixed belief (Chopra doesn't tend to push any one idea), but rather, feel far more positively about it generally. It is in a way a wonderful thing, something to be celebrated. If we could take away the pain of loss, I think funerals would become parties.

    I truly look forward to carrying on my education post-uni, with the world's best teachers, as my teachers. :-)

    p.s. In the latter half of the book, Chopra looks at some intriguing questions such as, "Is the universe intelligent?" and "Can cats read their owners mind?"

    Also: A radio is active whilst music is played - but the radio is not the source of the music. What if, the same applied to the brain? The brain is active when we have thoughts - but does this prove that the brain is the source of thought?

    There's a lot of quantum physics in here. Strap in before pressing play.

    Incident on the line

    I'm back in Sheffield ...for the next 48 hours.

    We weren't far out of Hereford this afternoon when the train came to a halt at a signal. We must have been waiting for about five minutes when suddenly, the chap in front of me got up, kicked open the emergency door release, jumped out onto the tracks, and started running back towards Hereford.

    Clearly, it wasn't his time yet, as he jumped out 1 minute before the train in the opposite direction shot by.

    As is the custom, no one really reacted, other than to say "Gosh. That was a bit unexpected!"

    I remembered the vow I made a little while back: never be a bystander. There's too much bystanding in these kinds of situations - including that done by myself in the past. I've tended to wait until I've seen that no-one else is going to help, then reacted. I don't feel that's the right thing to do, unless there is a serious risk of myself getting badly injured when the victim is not in a life-threatening situation.

    Anyhow, the chap had disappeared down the line by this point, so there wasn't much I could do but run to the front of the train and knock on the driver's door. He and the guard were totally oblivious to the fact that an emergency door release widget had been smashed and one of the train doors was open - which I thought a little odd.

    My language exam is in about 14 hours. I'm not worried about it. If I think back to my 1st year when I got so wound up before exams that I gave myself a Grand Mal seizure (second one ever) I realise how silly it is to get psyched up in the slightest. Fight or Flight may help when being chased by a big hungry bear saying RAAAAAAAAAAA, but for a Japanese language exam? Surely, it's just a hindrance?

    Included in my preparation for tomorrow is the growing of a beard.

    Oh, and I wore my suit all day today. AND received a HUGE birthday parcel of organic goodies from Jo in Hereford - thank you love!

    I'm going to submit my famine essay tomorrow, and pick up the results of my women in the Japanese workplace essay. Looking forward to that! If I did well, great! If I did badly, Great! (It'll make me try harder in the exam!).


    Sunday, January 20, 2008

    Revision Resistence

    It's been a good day.

    The intention was to spend it revising for Monday's big exam. As it happened, I only got started at at 7pm in the end.

    I don't know what it is, but I'm putting up more resistance to this Japanese language exam than any up till now. I have no reason to be confident I feel confident? Or am I just using denial as a way to cope with the stress? That's more likely to be the case. But there is a part of me that is confident. I'm Joseph, I know what I know, and what I don't know, I don't know. I will do my best, and I will try hard. I will be happy, or rather, I will accept the results without regret, because I know that what I have done (or not done) in terms of revision, has been just right.

    The speech contest really has had a phenomenally powerful effect upon my feelings towards my command of the Japanese language. It's only ten minutes - but bloody hell! I can do it! 5 years ago I could barely speak a word of the language! I'm so fortunate to have such supportive teachers, such a supportive partner, and such supportive parents.

    It's two weeks until myself, mum and dad drive to London for the Big Event. Tonight, I did my first proper run-though 'in public', all suited up, in the lounge with an audience of two. The first time I was a bit of mess, getting it all mixed up in my head, forgetting bits, even though I KNOW IT! I paced the floor a bit, and waggled my arms willy-nilly style. Of course, I was oblivious to this.

    Mum and dad were excellent critics (also good proof-readers for essays on famine in China! As they know nothing about the subject they couldn't comment on content, but they could point out quite a few grammatical errors and typos - anyone who reads the Mumble often will know how necessary it is for me to have my work checked! ).

    As many of you know, my father was a head-teacher for about 35 years, and thus has a lot of experience of public speaking. He's also great at providing constructive criticism. having taken on board a whole list of comments I ran through it again, and I must say, it went so much better. As with my interview exam, the important thing is to strike that balance between 'the Japanese way' and the Joseph in me. Joseph is happy, Joseph likes to connect with his audience, make them feel a part of it all.

    I'm beginning to develop a strong picture of myself down there on the stage. Having seen videos of the competition in previous years I kind of know what to expect. I can see myself at the front of the lecture hall. I'm wearing my tie, but not standing behind the lectern. And if I adjust my point of view, there I am looking up at a big room full of people. It's kind of scary, but I like it. I can feel the energy. I'm going to give a great speech, and they're going to love it!

    Huge progress made at home today - mum and dad are going to enter the Broadband era! Currently, they have my first ever pc which is running Windows 98 - and are on dial up. Remember that? It's painful. Slow, and expensive. So, this afternoon I popped round to a neighbour's house to ask them about their service with Tiscali - what did they reckon, was it reliable? Certainly was. This was confirmed by my bro in Devon too. And they're cheap! We get a free modem, free wireless router, free phone calls 24/7 (including those to US/Australia and 5 other countries) 'free' line rental ...all for about £28 a month. This actually works out cheaper than NOT being on broadband as basic BT line rental is about 12 quid a month, then you have phone calls on top of that.

    They also need a laptop, otherwise, they just won't use it as the computer is in a cramped cold room upstairs. Oh, and the Windows 98 PC doesn't even have an ethernet port...!

    Really, they want a Mac (with Screen Sharing, technical support would be a doddle), but at £602 (cheapest Macbook with educational discount) it's a bit beyond their budget. So, we'll get them started with an old refurbished Windows laptop from some local business.

    It'll be great to have them online (not just so I can connect when I visit!). At the moment, reading emails from friends all over the world is a chore (go up to cold room, wind up Windows 98, dial up to 3bytes per hour connection etc), but if it was as simple as opening a laptop whilst sitting in the lounge, or lying in bed, well...

    So, exciting times.

    Anyway, sleepytime for me. Long day tomorrow. Revision in the morning (REALLY!) and then a train up to Sheffield. I'll be staying there exactly 48 hours before returning to the Welsh garden project / retreat. Selfish? Perhaps, but sometimes, you just have to look after No.1, because if No.1 collapses, No.1 won't be no use to no-one.


    Saturday, January 19, 2008

    A most extraordinary experience

    I've just had the most extraordinary experience. Completely unexpected. Looking back at it now almost makes me laugh.

    A while ago, I met up with a friend who was having a very difficult time. They had been made redundant, the victim of a personality assassination campaign carried out by an individual (their boss) who felt threatened by their lovely nature and care for all.

    I can't remember exactly what we were talking about - it might have been giving up smoking or something, but they mentioned that they'd been using some books by Paul McKenna.

    What? Paul McKenna, that hypnotist on TV? I started laughing; he was just another of those celebrity-magicians - he didn't rate in my book (especially not when compared to the God of TV magic, Paul Daniels, with his beautiful sidekick Debbie McGee who never seemed to tire of having swords stuck through her stomach).

    For my birthday, Mum's #2 & 3 very generously gave me some Amazon vouchers. Long frustrated by having a USB key the size of an elephant on steroids, I shopped around for a new slimmer version. That found, I proceeded to the checkout. ...but the order was just under £15 - I was going to be charged postage.

    OK then, let's add something else to my basket. It was then that I recalled my friend's mention of Paul McKenna, and the positive impact that he had had upon his life. I poked around the site a bit more, and found a cheap book of his with a nice corny title, typical of so many self-help books these days.


    Ok, whatever.

    The 4 gigabytes of pure USB sex arrived this morning, along with the McKenna book, which contained a free CD. Whilst creating my "If Found" text file for the USB stick, I slipped the CD into Baby Macbook for transfer to the iPod. As it ripped it, so it played it.

    It sounded almost as corny as the book title. After a couple of minutes, I switched off - I'd listen to it some other time.

    About an hour ago, I settled down in bed. Tired of run-throughs of my speech, I decided to read a bit, and picked up Paul's book, making quick work of the introduction. Having read quite a few self-development books over the past year or so, I was familiar with much of what was said; the promises of what could be achieved, the importance of Living in the Now etc.

    There's rarely anything new, but it does help to be reminded of these fundamental truths (which are working for me), and if this is done in a new and refreshing manner, then all the better.

    That done, I thought I'd give the CD a go (just ignore that warning for people with epilepsy...).

    It was here that things got interesting.

    Paul guided me into a relaxed state, encouraging me to concentrate on my breathing, and let go. So far, there was little by way of departure from other meditation guides I have, but none the less, I decided to remain totally open, to cast off all doubts as to the usefulness of this guide and follow the directions given.

    I guess it was after about 10 minutes that I first noticed something funny happen. Now before I go any further, I'd like to say that I am sure that what happened was something that happens to a lot of people, and there is no doubt some physiological explanation for it. Nonetheless, it was a first for me, so I'll describe it anyway.

    Usually, I find meditation very difficult - my mind flits and wanders all over the place. But tonight, I found it to be relatively subdued, resting on my breathing, which somehow seemed to be taking on a life of its own. It wasn't just regular breathing - it started to deepen, my lungs filling to capacity. Then, it started to quicken. It felt good, and at one point I let out an involuntary gasp of laughter. After a few minutes of this, I suddenly became aware that I could feel the blood flowing through every part of my body. It wasn't like being consciously aware of my foot or something, it was more like my entire body had a strong electric current buzzing through it. I felt almost frozen by this powerful force - just like in that electric bath in the public sento in central Kyoto.

    It wasn't an unpleasant sensation. When I moved my hand slightly, I felt the electricity surge as my fingers moved across the duvet. I was gripped by this forcefield.

    I can't remember what was being said at this point, but whatever suggestion was made saw me turning my attention away from my physical body, and into my 'mind'. What happened next was truly wonderful. With my eyes closed, and no particular thought in my mind, a scene opened up before me. It was a dark landscape. Not hostile ...more like space. Through this landscape, from close beside me on my right, sweeping off into the distance to the left of my field of vision, was some kind of barrier, like a superficial separation of worlds. This barrier wasn't hostile either, it was just an organic division.

    As I explored it with my vision, I found, in front of me, a little way off, a kind of opening in this barrier, sort of funneled rectangle shape, but with soft undefined edges. And through this, energy was pouring in to the where I was.

    And then, suddenly, I realised what it was - this was the energy that was sustaining me! It was pouring through from an infinite source, connecting me to whatever was beyond.

    Lying here in bed with my headphones on, I started to cry with happiness.

    As my breathing returned to normal, so the vision faded. Feeling somewhat dazed, I opened my eyes. The 30-minute CD was coming to an end: I was being told to come back to the here and now.

    Once wide awake, I sat up in bed and burst out laughing, tears still rolling down my cheeks. I laughed with happiness ...and at the thought that Paul Mckenna, of all people, had led me to have such an experience.

    I mentioned before that this was the first time that I have had this kind of experience. However, strictly speaking, that's not quite true. I have actually had several experiences of this nature, however, they were about 13 years ago, and all of them were induced by the consumption of either multiple joints or about 50 magic mushrooms. I do recall having intense trips when I felt surrounded by love, and I could feel the blood pumping around my body, but then I also recall intense trips when I was surrounded by wrought-iron gate-posts - "Thelda" and "Welda" were the two who made repeat appearances - at one point there was even the idea that my brother and I write a children's book about them.

    So whilst tonight's experience did in some way resemble those of my teenage years, it also differed significantly, in that I was still very much conscious and in the here and now.

    I'm not quite sure what to make of it all really. Part of me keeps on talking about chemical reactions in the body, breathing induced changes in blood flow, but another part of me feels there was more to it.

    Hmmm. Interesting thing this life business.

    Joseph, in Shock, wearing a shamanic headband.

    Friday, January 18, 2008


    Nothing like a bit of air pollution...

    Listening to that Heathrow Airport worker on the BBC earlier today, my hair all stood on end, and tears came to my eyes. He was reporting a brief conversation he'd had with the pilot of the flight that crash-landed at the airport this afternoon. The pilot had described how they'd experienced a complete power failure, and that he'd had to glide the plane in to land, a bit like a space shuttle.

    No one seriously hurt, great stuff. In fact, listening to the interviews with passengers afterwards, I was surprised to hear that they hadn't even realised that they'd crash-landed - now what does that say about the skill of the pilot!

    That's the kind of good news we need more of.

    I'm still keeping up with my no-news policy by the way, I love it. Only occasionally do I tune in (like today, when mum #2 mentioned the happy crash).

    By being signed up to various campaign e-newsletters, the only times I do hear about all the bad stuff (like the current troubles in Kenya) I can actually do something about it. I know there is a lot of scepticism regarding whether this makes a difference or not, but I don't think scepticism is reason enough to not at least try.

    Anyway, I really muct sleep. Can't be doing all-nighters with exams around the corner, the worst possible thing one can do - especially when ones an epilator :-)

    3500 words later...

    Everytime I see this photo I like it more.

    I don't know what it is. Perhaps the blue of the tarmac in the evening sun.

    It doesn't look so good in Internet Explorer or Firefox (Safari being the only web browser to read the color profile correctly ... I think)

    Everytime I see this photo I think I'm silly more.

    This was me the other night, on my birthday actually. I was given a surprise birthday meal. Unbeknown to me, mum and dad had sneaked in and were hiding in the lounge, as were friends Suzie and Richie.

    Then, I was called for supper. As ususal. I left my room, walked down the stairs and into the kitchen at which point they all appeared. I must admit, I wasn't so much surprised, as shocked! It was so far removed from what I was expecting to see in the room that I was stopped in my tracks, and struggled to deal with it.

    I wondered, is this how other people feel when they are surprised like that?

    me with birthday stuff

    For the past 14 hours I've been writing my essay on famine in China. I've just finished it. 3500 words in the end (excluding references). I feel like I know everything there is to know about it... should help for the exam, now if I can only learn about another 6 China-related subjects in such depth...

    Language exams only 4 days away now.

    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    Hollow Sheep

    That's what it is.

    More Hollow Sheep pictures in this month's photo album.

    'Hollow Sheep' is a part of TDM Death Series

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    Advice to the living, by the dying

    What would you do if today was your last day on Earth?

    BBC Radio 4:
    Advice to the Living

    People who only have a short time left to live give advice to the rest of us about what matters and what doesn't, and about enjoying every moment.

    Article here.

    Downloadable as a podcast from

    Or as an MP3 download for a limited period only from here.

    Part of TDM's Death Series

    Big views

    This is what I miss when in Japan - the English Welsh countryside.

    Not the floods though (note River Monnow that has burst its banks in foreground).

    And Skirrid. The mini-mountain that we lost Toby-dog's blue lead on about 17 years ago. Never found it.

    The famine is slowly moving on. I've managed to write the intro.

    In bullet-point form.

    Another reason to go Mac

    Introducing, MacBook Air.

    The world's thinnest Laptop.

    And sexiest.
    "There's a few things we've done on the environmental side. It's enclosed in a fully aluminum case - it's easily recycled, highly desirable by recyclers. It's our first mercury and arsenic-free display. All of the circuit boards are bromide and PVC free. We're very happy about that as well... the retail packaging is 50% less volume, this helps a great deal in energy expended in transporting and disposing the materials."

    - Steve Jobs

    Oh, and it's 10% cheaper if you buy it in Japan.

    Tuesday, January 15, 2008


    I'm just about to embark upon the writing of what may well be the final essay of my degree (that is, apart from those written in exams and my dissertation).

    It's a jolly subject - death in China.

    With an ever-increasing amount of death around me as friends age and cancer springs up all over the place, I thought it might be wise to spend some time contemplating death, and what it means to me, thus enabling me to cope better when people close to me do die (as they all will).

    So, today, whilst applying an undercoat of emulsion to some raw plaster walls, I began to listen to a 9 hour audiobook all about death and what happens next. It was written by our friend Deepak Chopra, who some people may be familiar with either through his books, or articles in such publications as Resurgence (as recently promoted by Annie Lennox to Gordon Brown on BBC TV!), possibly the best toilet magazine in the whole world.

    I like Deepak Chopra. I like the way he integrates medical science and quantum physics into his analysis of the spiritual realm. I like the way he challenges my thinking, and reminds me of the many amazing things that occur around me all the time.

    One such thing is birth. One would have thought that I might be a little tired of babies - despite not having one myself I've met so many newborns recently that I'm beginning to feel that the average age of people on the planet is about 5 months. But yeah, all these babies led me to think about childbirth, and what an incredible thing it is. I mean, one moment, there's this baby inside a nice cosy womb, wholly dependent upon its mother for life, and then a few seconds later, a living body full of organs that dramatically and instantaneously adapt to life out here. Isn't that incredible? And that's after all the amazing embryo stuff too. Just think, that embryo, even when its only the size of a pinhead, has all the information, all the programing to create a whole human being! What an amazing clock it must contain: "OK, we need to grow that nose a bit now! Right, let's have a chest, oh, and Pancreas, your turn to grow!" How can such a small thing contain such a complex set of instructions?

    Then there's the most amazing thing of all - spirirt. Where does that come from? If human's were just beating hearts and immune systems we wouldn't be all that much to shout about - but consciousness - now there's something to get excited about! Does that grow with the body? Or is it 'whole' at conception?

    Amazing stuff.

    Deepak also proposes that death, in its own way, is also a miracle. Not so dramatic, but amazing none the less. Whether or not I agree with what he says, I am finding that by learning about different approaches to death, it does make it that much more manageable, even, something to celebrate.

    Anyway, back to death in China.

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    A Year in Japan - Episode 13 Out Now!

    As usual, I seem to have exceeded my monthly bandwidth allowance, thus you can't download episode 13 via iTunesfrom the usual place until February.

    Instead, you can download it manually here: MP3 / M4a

    Oh yeah, it's full of wigness, at least after the first 37 minutes it is.

    Most of it was recorded in the woods actually. I was looking for the animals.

    Anyone whose read the Daily Mumble probably knows it all already, apart from the bit about the samurai wheelbarrow.

    I had fun recording it today - a birthday treat! It'll be good to listen to it in about 20 years and laugh at how silly I was, or perhaps marvel at how silly I wasn't...

    Perhaps not so good for listening to by listeners.

    Raaaaa! woof woof.

    Sunday, January 13, 2008

    I'm 30

    Hmmm, well 27 minutes into my thirties, I don't feel that different.

    Last time I had a birthday like this, I was, er, 20.

    I can't have changed much since then.

    Let's check shall we?

    Twenty-year old Joseph does look a bit young I suppose. A little on the innocent side. Mind you, that's hardly surprising, I hadn't found my wig back then.

    Oh, but hang on! What's that?! Look, up there, forehead's GOT BIGGER!

    If that is anything to go by, by the time I'm 40 & 50 I'm going to look like this!

    Cripes! Where's that hair grower?!

    It's a good job *Twinkle* doesn't know about this blog, otherwise she might call off the wedding!

    Speech contest: It's all in the mind

    I promised myself I'd learn that speech before I turned 30.

    I've done it, with 52 minutes to spare.

    Now I have twenty days to perfect it.

    Whilst the learning of the actual words is of course vital, I also need to put some thought into how I'm going to deal with the psychological side of things. If it was an English event, I wouldn't be that nervous at all, in fact I'd positively enjoy the experience. But Japanese? That freaks me out, makes me sweat. Wipes my memory clean.

    Clearly, I need to adjust my thinking, and rid myself of whatever negative associations I am making with a Japanese-public-speaking environment.

    So, at the moment, what I'm trying hard to do, is to visualise being in that great lecture hall, and loving it. I'm at the front of the room with a captive audience. I'm talking about Trailwalker; everyone is fully engaged with what I'm saying, picturing the scene as I describe how I emerged from that final forest and started to cry (that's the middle bit of the speech. After that I talk about how NGOs can work with the bureaucracy and business to democratise Japan. Nothing like a bit of variety).

    I've also been thinking about what I'm going to say in my acceptance speech.

    This is not due to some groundless faith in my own abilities, but rather, use of an imaginary scenario to encourage my subconscious to believe that it's going to go sooooo well that I don't need to worry about it at all.

    There are times when I'm halfway through the speech (I was practicing it constantly today whilst clearing out the stream in the garden), when suddenly I feel that belly-wobbling fear. In those instances I'm careful to stop, and start laughing, I dance and jump around. Make frog noises. This immediately does away with the fear, and hopefully is also training my subconscious to believe that Speech = Fun.

    I'm also hoping that this mind work will impact upon my performance in my speaking exam (which takes the form of a mock job interview), and if I get an interview for the CIR job, that too. (My friend today told me that he's just received a letter inviting him for interview for the post of ALT - on the 28th - the same day as my Population and Environment in China exam. Let's hope they don't choose that day for the CIRs!).

    Ho hum. So that's it for Joseph in his twenties. byeeeeeee!

    Let it snow Let it snow Let it snow

    Did I mention? I'm on retreat at the Welsh Garden Project. It snowed yesterday. I love snow. It's really soft and gentle and white, a bit like Andrex. Not so useful in the bathroom though.

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    God revisited

    2007 saw me trying to implement a number of changes in my thinking, with what I feel has been considerable success. I'm happier now than I have ever been (and this despite my love being in Japan and all that that entails... ;-p )

    One of those changes was to start to Let Go. I told myself over and over again to let go of my history, it just doesn't matter. The wake behind the boat does not determine its future course. It's done. It's past. It's history. Yes, ok, so I am a product of all that I have experienced until now, but that in no way pre-determines my future. What my life is tomorrow is up to me. I can change my life three billion percent tomorrow should I wish to - my past has no right to interfere with my free choice. I can start my life completely afresh tomorrow should I wish to do so. (As it happens, I have no wish to do so, as I am very, very happy and grateful for my life as it is today ...but that wasn't always the case). had a nice simple article about letting go.

    I was listening to Deepak Chopra's "How to Know God" on the bus to Bristol today. It's a good few hours long. I tend to listen to it when I go to sleep, his voice is soothing.

    I think if I'd listened to it a couple of years ago, I wouldn't have got past the first chapter, it would have been 'too religious' for me.

    The word 'God' used to be a real turn-off for me. The idea of handing over control of my life to an external, unreachable old bloke with a beard? No thanks. Now however, I am happy to accept that the word 'God' is just that, a word, which can be used to describe a myriad of different interpretations of 'Source', the energy from which we all stem.

    I now strongly feel that we all share the same source. The person opposite you on the train. You are a part of them, they are a part of you. And not just us people, but everything around us - the bed I'm lying on. The music in my ears. The air I'm breathing. It's all energy. And if that energy is 'God', what does that make us...?

    I'm also now more inclined to think that there is some kind of intelligence behind it all. The more 'miracles' I see in my life (and in the lives of those around me) the more convinced I am that this is the case. I think it's far more unrealistic to put down to 'coincidence' those events where just the right person enters your life at the right time than it is to put them down to some kind of intentional timing by some force.

    And what if I'm wrong? I don't think it matters in the slightest. We each have our own realities, and it's up to us as to what those realities are.

    Wow, the freedom!

    Why do we allow ourselves to be so constrained by society and the opinions of others?! How repressive must our childhoods be to make us forget the freedom of spirit we felt as young children?! Is that the sacrifice we must make in order to be accepted as adults? If so, is it really worth it?

    One of my goals for 2008 to recapture more of my childhood spirit, that un-self-conscious sense of wonder and joy, delighting in the 'miracle' of life.

    And to remember that at the end of the day, nothing really matters. When things don't go my way, that's ok. Things that happen in these human lives of ours are of little consequence. If I stay true to my source, and love unconditionally, there will be no place for regret, guilt or other bad feelings.

    That's how I want to live.

    Anyway, must manifest a hot water bottle now.

    xxx oyasumi xxx

    Wednesday, January 09, 2008

    My 30th Birthday

    This lunchtime I was reminded that this coming Sunday, I celebrate my 30th Birthday.

    Perhaps 'celebrate' is too strong a word, as the day will probably be spent writing an essay about famine.

    I've never been one to be that fussed about birthdays, at least, not my own birthdays. I think it started as a child when I didn't like having birthday parties as I worried about what other people would think of them. Also, mum didn't really like children, so was never that keen to be a party host. Later on, in my early teens, I was nervous about people kissing at parties, or drinking, nervous of being put in an awkward position. I still recall my first kiss. It was with the girl at school whom I really fancied. Terrible, terrible experience. She 'lost' at spin-the-bottle. No-one wanted to kiss me, as I looked like a girl, and hadn't a clue what I was doing anyway (it wasn't until my early twenties that I started to ooze sex appeal).

    Me on my tenth-ish birthday

    Birthdays in my early twenties were, I think for the most part, alcohol and marijuana fueled. I can't really remember, which kind of suggests that I'm not wrong in thinking so. Since I started uni it's generally been a case of taking a wee break from revision, but not having any mammouth celebration. Less involvement of alcohol too.

    I like it that way.

    I'm quite happy to be turning thirty. Long gone are fears of 'getting old'. My twenties have been great, wouldn't change a thing. Remarkable in fact. Looking back, I'm delighted with all I've done and all that has 'happened'. No regrets at all. ...But my thirties are going to be even more spectacular! The past 30 years have been preparation - now we really get going! Marriage, children, multiple business creation, and all the excitement that is further self-development in general! Oh, and a new Mac too!

    So yes, turning 30 feels very natural.

    30, I welcome you.

    Tuesday, January 08, 2008

    The Great Leap Forward

    Today I've been reading about Chairman Mao's Great Leap Forward, which took place between 1958 and 1961. Mao's drive for rapid modernisation was a catastrophic disaster, resulting in over 30 million deaths and untold hardship. The majority of the victims died of hunger, as famine ravaged the country. However, this famine was entirely man-made: as villagers died in their thousands, local Party-controlled grain stores were packed full of wheat, much of which was left to rot, or exported to demonstrate the success that communism had brought to China. Elsewhere, grain harvests were down as Mao diverted manpower away from harvesting crops, instead concentrating on a pointless campaign to raise steel production by encouraging everyone to melt down any metal they could find - this was done in backyard furnaces, which led to the first of China's three main deforestation disasters. The Great Leap Forward also saw an explosion in the number of water diversion and catchment projects: peasants were encouraged to build dams by the dozen. Made with mud and stone, most of these were washed away within a couple of years.

    What I've found most disturbing is the widespread cannibalism that people resorted to in their madness for food. Families would boil their children and eat them - this could be made easier (psychologically) by swapping the corpses of their freshly-murdered (or starved) children with their neighbours. Human flesh was sold on the black market as pork: dumplings could be bought - containing fingernails.

    It sounds like something out of a horror movie, or some ancient war narrative. But this was 1960s China. My parents were adults then.

    I find myself wondering why no-one assassinated Mao. Without him at the head of the party terrorising (or killing) all those who voiced disagreement with him (and thus demonstrating rightist tendencies), the system would have crumbled - millions of lives would have been saved. I find it extraordinary that this one delusional man was permitted to cause such suffering to a fifth of the world's population - suffering on a par with that of Hitler, and get away with it. (I also find it incredible that I didn't know anything about the Great Famine until now).

    Mao was of the opinion that Man could control nature, that the power of dreams could overcome any resistance that reality posed.

    I think it's important that I not forget that when dreaming, one must never go so far as to completely reject established norms to the extent that one loses touch with reality entirely. Of course, I don't see myself taking control of the UK and encouraging everyone to plant their potatoes in hand-dug trenches that are 10 foot deep (increases the yield don't you know) ...but I do take it as a timely warning that an over-indulgence in ego-licking and the denial of the opinions of others can lead to selfishness - and in extreme cases, the deaths of millions of people.

    Hmm. All very jolly.

    Stanley. He moos when he's happy.

    Stanley was born in a field in Southern Herefordshire in early 2008.

    He has qualifications in IT, double glazing and logs.

    Application forms available upon request.

    Every week, he meets Mr. Mouse. Mr. Mouse is an Underground Cheese Dealer. Due to the ban on cows consuming dairy products, Stanley has to meet him in secret. He goes disguised as a cow to fool the authorities.

    Last month, Stanley competed for the Second National Animal Poo Prize. He was joined by Mr. Elephant, Mr. Mouse (the underground cheese dealer), Mr. Tiger, and Mr. Pig.

    The animals were very proud.

    Animal Poos © *Twinkle* 2008
    Mouse, Tiger © *Twinkle* 2008
    Elephant, Pig, © J. Taylor 2008
    Stanley the Cow, © Joseph Tame 2008

    Love on a bridge

    I saw this girl on a bridge above the Thames the other day, and instantly fell passionately in love with her.

    Just can't get her out of my head

    The Crack

    If you go down to the Tate Modern today you're sure of a big surprise.

    If you go down to the Tate Modern today you're barely believe your eyes.

    For every crack that ever there was will gather there for certain because today's the day the national crack-in-the-floor is sti~ll there.

    Here, the legendary chasm that runs all the way from one end of the HUGE Turbine Hall to the other, is modelled by *Twinkle*s legs.

    Meanwhile, I need the loo.

    It's just like the grand canyon, complete with giant shoes. Watch out for suicidal ants.

    I liked this crack a lot. There's something about its depth, its naturalness, that draws you in, seduces you, incites you to walk along all 548 feet of it.

    Perhaps, if I looked carefully enough, I'd see Australia at the bottom.

    Monday, January 07, 2008

    New Year with *Twinkle*


    I think if there's one thing that really makes me feel truly grateful to be alive in this wonderful world, it is the love that *Twinkle* has brought into my life. I feel we have a strong purpose in being together that goes far beyond our everyday human lives. It is so delightful to explore with her, to adventure, to embrace all that is. She is my teacher in many ways. Long may our education continue :-)

    It's only natural that she attempts to impersonate me...

    *Twinkle* plays 'I can't see your sock' with little Nephew Ralph.

    New Year was wonderful. Myself and *Twinkle* joined 6 of our best friends, all of whom share our passion for pushing limits and believing in dreams. What an incredible atmosphere - it was like a weekend motivational workshop, the kind that people often pay hundreds of pounds to attend. We spent 4 days together: from 10am to 4pm we were out and about, exploring the South in WigMobile 1 and the TakiTransporter; in the evenings we sat down and celebrated past achievements, shared knowledge and examined tools for further development. On our final night together, we made our 3 year plans, establishing specific goals to get fired up about. This was vital for myself and *Twinkle* - being apart for the past four months has obviously impacted upon our ability to discuss changes in circumstance, and what paths we should take to make the most of these changes.

    With Will and Xinxin in central London

    "Uncle Joseph, you do look silly!"

    It was out of that planning session that our decision to marry in the UK this summer came about (the Japanese wedding will follow next year). It will be a small, home-grown, natural affair. I think most of *Twinkle*s immediate family will come over to join us, which will be great.

    Twinkle prepares to go over the moon

    Those few days served to further encourage me to regard anything as possible, to bite off big chunks, give it all I've got, and not obsess so much about outcomes. Think, it's often the process that counts the most, rather than the results.

    A daily application of Spinach gives *Twinkle* super-smooth skin. Perfect for kissing.

    The Marigold Sisters had always dreamed of being models

    I went for a jog today, up to Coles Tump, the distinctive hill that marks the edge of the relatively flat expanse of South Herefordshire. Up there I was reminded of the last time I stood in that breeze - 2 years ago, New Year 2006, with *Twinkle*. How much I'd achieved since then! I thought back over 2007 - what an amazing year it had been; I had a lot to be thankful for.

    Old trailer on Cole's Tump

    And what a lot we have to look forward to in 2008! Whilst we can reinvent ourselves in the blink of an eye any time we desire, I like the increased emphasis on change that a new year brings. It will be a tremendous year for many of my friends too, as they graduate, as their babies continue to grow, as we all grow together.

    Unwrapping Christmas presents at the family home

    For now though, I need to keep my eyes on my short-term goals: to do well in my exams, and to be happy with my performance at Imperial College next month.

    The revision starts here.

    After one more photo of my cutey.

    How *Twinkle* and I motivated BA to spend £1500 on us in order that we could spend another day together

    I don't believe in 'luck'.

    I used to though.

    When I was about 12 years old I started a campaign called "Save the Hi-fi". My idea was to rescue a Hi-fi from its miserable life in a box in the storeroom of my local Dixons branch. It would be brought home, and would spend many happy years sitting on my chest of drawers playing CDs, tapes, and The Archers.

    I made a special money-box in which to collect funds - constructed from a Cadbury's Drinking Chocolate tin. I put a label on the tin, and every week put all of my pocket money in it.

    After a year or so, I'd collected £400. Quite how I managed this I don't know. Perhaps I threatened my little sister with violence unless she donated her pocket money too.

    One Saturday, mum and dad took me into Hereford to buy my Hi-fi. I knew which model I wanted (it was a beautiful Sony, with a lovely grainy texture, like a 3D black & white photo), but I also knew it cost £600, and thus was way beyond my budget. I would have to settle for a far simpler machine, perhaps without that really funky 2-layer remote control.

    Arriving in Dixons though, what did I find? My Hi-fi, with a label that read "End of line sale - Reduced to clear - £400".

    Wow! How LUCKY IS THAT?!!!

    Looking back at it now, I don't believe it was luck. As with everything else in life, I drew it towards me. I put myself in the position to be ready to receive the benefit of 'circumstance' - something that I believe we all do every day all of the time.

    British Airways have recently started to balance their aricraft between lamp-posts prior to take-off to reduce fuel consumption

    Two nights ago, we were staying with my good friends in Bristol. It was late at night, *Twinkle* was packing her suitcase ready for the following day's flight, I was checking my emails. Reminded by the British Airways bookmark in Firefox, I asked her if she wanted to check-in online. A discussion followed, resulting in a joint decision to not check-in until we got to the airport. We had a strong feeling that she was going to get some kind of upgrade, and didn't want to obstruct the natural course of events.

    Arriving at the airport three hours before departure, we were greeted at the check-in desk by a smiling lady with a clipboard.

    "Good Morning! Are you checking in for BA005 to Tokyo? You are? Right, erm, would you be at all interested in volunteering to go on a later flight? You see, your flight has been overbooked - it often happens at this time of year - and we're looking for people who would be happy to go on another flight". You'd be put on a flight that goes via Hong Kong later today, and receive either £440 in cash or a £610 flight voucher as a Thank you".

    This sounded like the deal we'd been waiting for! With the first of our two weddings scheduled for this summer (oh, didn't I mention that before...?!), a return flight for Japan with BA would come in handy...

    We were directed to counter L, where Graham, the duty manager greeted us warmly, and thanked *Twinkle* for volunteering. "Your chances are a bit slim I'm afraid as we already have 8 people on the list ahead of you. Here's a £10 voucher - go get yourselves a cup of coffee and come back in an hour - we'll then know whether or not we need you to take another flight."

    One hour and a couple of coffees & nachos later, we joined a group of about 20 people assembled in front of the Customer Service Desk. All eyes were on Graham, busy on the phone confirming final numbers. The atmosphere was electric - who would win the lottery?!

    "Right then Ladies and Gentlemen, it's the moment you've been waiting for. I'm going to read out a list of names - those people I call will be put on our direct flight, those left will win the compensation and be booked on the next flight".

    "Greenwood!" The family of four beside us sighed. "Oh, well, nevermind..." said dad.

    "Yamanaka. Kojima. Kurosaki. Edwards..."

    One by one, disappointed faces stepped forwards and placed their bags on the conveyor. "Well, at least we get there as planned".

    Graham paused. There were four of us left, standing with baited breath. "And *Twinkle*, Jones, Congratulations! You've won!" The four of us erupted in cheers, causing everyone around us to turn and stare - what were we so pleased about?!"

    We were told to wait for a while as the first flight was despatched, and seats booked on the replacement. Dennis, the deputy manager came along with his compensation pack - what would we like? Cash or a travel voucher? *Twinkle* opted for the latter (being worth almost £200 more than the cash) - with that in hand, we sat down to wait, smiling all the while. Graham in the meantime was buzzing around like a busy bee. After 15 minutes or so he gathered us around:

    "I'm afraid I've got some bad news. That flight we were going to book you on is now full. So, we've got two options; we could put you on our next direct flight which departs in a couple of hours - or alternatively, because we're already overbooked on that, we'll give you another compensation package, pay for a local hotel with all meals included, and put you on tomorrow's flight. What do you reckon?"

    *Twinkle* and I debated it for about 3 seconds. What was it to be? Go our separate ways today, or spend the night in a top hotel for free, with an additional £440 in cash to use as we wished? It wasn't too hard a decision! *Twinkle* signed on the dotted line, and was presented with a credit card; "The PIN is in this envelope. Just put the card in that ATM over there - you can withdraw the £440 from that account".

    And so at 1pm, we walked back to the car, now holding a free return ticket for Japan, £440 in cash, two free bus tickets (worth £8, which we gave to a bemused German couple at the bus stop), and a voucher for a double room with meals in a £209-a-night hotel. Not bad for a few hours 'work'. We were very happy... and spent a fairytale last evening together.

    This morning we arrived back at the airport a little early. We knew that today's flights were overbooked too - perhaps *Twinkle* could help by volunteering to fly with another airline? When *Twinkle* suggested this, the duty manager paused. "Well, I'm not sure if we're doing that scheme today. But looking at the numbers, I suppose we should. Hang on a sec, let me check with Andrew - he's our banker!"

    A couple of minutes later he reappeared with Andrew. "Well, if you could do that that would be really helpful! We can get you on a flight that leaves in just under an hour - goes via Helsinki, and will get you in to Tokyo 50 minutes after our direct service that you were booked on. If you'd like to do that, we could give you another £220 cash!"

    Not bad, not bad.

    With that second ATM card taken into account, British Airways had given *Twinkle* a little over £1500 in cash and services, in return for her volunteering to spend a night with me in a nice hotel (the £660 cash just about covered my fee).

    So, a big THANK YOU to BA for your generosity. Really appreciate that.

    (Now if you can just make your planes pollution-free that would be great!)

    I strongly believe that 'luck' had little to do with events at Heathrow Airport.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong, but it's far more exciting to think of it as the result of a splendid interaction of purposeful energies, aligning themselves to bring it about, than to think of it as 'luck'. I feel that it was as much a case of 'good luck' as that when myself and *Twinkle* both decided to study at Sheffield University in 2005. I can't see our relationship being the result of 'good luck', not when so much has been leading towards it over so many years.

    So, a fantastic start to 2008. It fills me confidence and excitement when I think about what the year ahead holds. It's going to be just great!