Friday, September 30, 2005

Work Niggle...

The past week has been one of the best of my short time so far at the high school... the classes have gone well, even the usual terrible ones, and things have been quite relaxed. But, one of the teachers is starting to annoy me.

It's nothing major, it's just that I think that perhaps she is not as sweet and good natured as she pretends to be. The first inkling I got of this was when one of my students came to the teacher room to talk to me. He's a bit slow and if truth be told a little crazy, but there was no need for the barely concealed death stare that the teacher in question gave him.

Then there's the small matter of her computer mouse, or rather the tracking wheel, which sounds like someone dragging a pencil along a washboard, a sound that seems to occur far more often than it should.

There's also the fact that she doesn't attend the morning meeting, for some reason, and only teaches 15 lessons a week, compared to everyone else on 17 and 18. If her model lesson was anything to go by, she's not even a good teacher.

Perhaps it's just Friday and I'm aching for the weekend to begin... maybe.

Alternative Heroes - Dermot Power

I was 13 years, 5 months and 10 days old when I first encountered Dermot Power. Having read some of my best friend's back issues of the weekly comic 2000AD, I decided to start collecting it. The first issue I bought happened to feature two stories illustrated by Power, as well as the front cover. Although I religiously collected the comic for another 8 years, I was never awed in the same way by any other artwork.

Dermot Power's work in those early issues (particularly in the Slaine story Demon Killer) was breathtaking... his paintings were sophisticated and beautiful, reminiscent of the Renaissance masters, and from that moment on I was hooked. Although legendary artist Carlos Esquerra is rightly considered the definitive Judge Dredd artist, I was always particularly pleased when Dermot Power was given the canvas, notably in the excellent Book of the Dead. Since I lost touch with 2000AD, I haven't really heard too much about him. I did hear that he worked as a story board coordinator on the Star Wars prequels, but that's about it.

I was always an avid artist, sketcher and drawer, but seeing the incredible works of art that Power produced inspired me greatly and forced me to improve and progress further than I would have done otherwise. For this, as well as for being, in my humble opinion, the greatest comic book artist that has ever been, Dermot Power you are an alternative hero.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Finally! Back online!

The Dell Inspiron is dead... long live the Toshiba Dynabook! Having spent almost a month without the internet, I went to the electronics store this evening to pick up my new computer (on my grandmother bike, which was no mean fear over a mile and a bit of Japanese roads and traffic).

Peace is restored... I can now check my emails without giggling schoolgirls peering over my shoulder and whining to let them chat to their friends in Taiwan...

Just some of the reasons why Predator is a superior film

- the predator is revealed in stages, fuelling the imaginations of the audience.
- the film raises the hypothetical scenario of humans being deposed from the top of the food chain and being hunted for sport, echoing man's hunt for big game.  
- finding himself out-gunned, under-strength and out-thought after the death of his team, Dutch fights a guerrilla war, relying not on technology and weopons but camoflage, evasion, traps and counter traps.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Joy unfettered!

Joy! Merriment! Relief!

Having accidentally doused my PC in orange juice a few weeks ago, I feared that my data would be lost forever (including 2000 of my irreplaceable mobile phone photos). However, although my computer is a write off, the hard disk was ok, and a very helpful little chap at work called Yokoyama-san has managed to salvage it for me to use as an external device. The little champion!

Relief is the overriding emotion... I was stupid to have orange juice anywhere near the computer. I was stupid to have not backed up the photos beforehand. But although it means that I have to dig into my pocket and buy a new computer, I still consider myself fortunate.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

When in Japan...

Amidst the planning of wedding details, there has arisen the small matter of the photos.. my fiance's mum wants us to enlist the services of a photo shop, to have professionally taken shots. The trouble is, they will only take 3 photos, and will charge 15000yen (75 pounds) for each one. Call me old fashioned but 225 quid for 3 photos is ridiculous. I told my fiance and her mother in no uncertain terms that i would not be paying, and offered a perfectly sound alternative - enlisting the services of one of my students who would, for a small fee, be the photographer for a day, but this idea was laughed off (for now). Considering the calibre of digital photography in Japan, we could easily simulate the shop photos and save a great deal of money in the process. But this is Japan, where impressions have to be made and the right thing has to be seen to be done. And despite being continually urged to save money, my every attempt to do so with the wedding
falls on deaf ears... what a place!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Alternative Heroes - Robert Shaw

Robert Shaw is in my opinion the best actor of all time. Every character he's played on the screen has been different, deep, memorable and utterly believable, a testament to his tremendous prowess in front of the camera.

Perhaps best known for his famous supporting role as Quint, the weather beaten fisherman from Jaws, it's his legendary portrayal of SPECTRE henchman Grant in the James Bond film From Russia With Love that marks the true zenith of his brilliant but tragically short portfolio.

With dyed blonde hair and a granite expression, Shaw gave us arguably the purest Bond henchman. His character in the film was a convicted murderer who escaped from a Dartmoor prison, before being recruited by SPECTRE in Tangier and reportedly responding excellently to their indoctrination methods. The quiet menace with which Shaw plays Grant and the cantankerous determination with which he plays Quint are enough to assure his status as one of the great character actors. These two roles alone would have assured his supremacy, but remarkably there are numerous other films in which Shaw acts everyone else under the table - playing Mr Blue in The Taking of Pelham 123 and Doyle Lonegan in The Sting being amongst the best.

When Robert Shaw died of a heart attack in August 1978, the world lost one of its finest actors. At no point when I watch a Robert Shaw film do I think that he's an actor. If Shaw had never spoken in any of his roles, it would have been the same. He just looked right.

For my money From Russia With Love, The Sting, The Taking of Pelham 123 and Jaws would still have been great films without Shaw, but his characterisations lifted them to something more, something darker, closer and deeper. For this, as well as for the scar scene in Jaws and for having Connery's Bond in genuine, desperate danger, Robert Shaw, you are an alternative hero.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Will I make the train?

The bus is minutes ahead of schedule but there are loads of old ladies infront of me.. they are no doubt going to count their money and put it into the machine coin by infuriating coin..

Two apples on a tree...

There were two apples on a tree, in an orchard in a non-remarkable part of England. One was pale green, and quite small, about the size of a golf ball. The second was bright green with a gentle wash of pink on one side, the size and shape you would expect of such an apple.

They were friends, and the only two left on the tree. One summer morning they were talking, and as is often the case with apple conversations, the mood deepened and there was tangible sadness in the air.

"I know that I shouldn't be sad," the smaller apple said quietly, "but I can't help it."

"If you are sad for me," the larger apple replied, "then you shouldn't be."

The small apple thought of a dozen things to say, but they remained as thoughts and died quietly in the warmth of the morning. The small apple knew that his companion would soon be picked and eaten, and this touched him sharply. What use is there in being big and beautiful if it means you will die sooner?

In the long months of the autum, alone and unchanged, the smaller apple hung to it's branchlet and thought about how transient and maudlin life was for the choicest apples. But in all that time, the small apple never considered that the sadness, the transience and the pain was all its own.

Alternative Heroes - Jeremy Paxman

As host of the BBC's flagship political show, Newsnight, Jeremy Paxman has been putting politicians over hot coals for about 16 years. He is uncompromising, relentless and sharply intelligent - and isn't afraid to stand up to those masters of spin and avoidance, as Michael Howard famously found out in 1998 when Paxman repeated "did you overrule him?" some 28 times when the MP tried to dodge the question.

Seeing Paxman in full flow is one of the things I miss about living in England. In Japan the way people talk on TV means there's no real difference between a political correspondent questioning an MP or a cookery show host asking an old lady how to make a cake. There are rigid rules, and everyone seems to follow them. We could certainly use a few Paxman's over here, and for that, as well as being the Inquisitor General of Whitehall and keeping University Challenge under a firm hand, Jeremy Paxman, you are an alternative hero.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Friday Train

Due to the prowess of the bus driver and my running for the train, I am now on my way home a lot earlier than expected. But perhaps to dampen my good fortune, the guy next to me is close to putting my eye out with his newspaper and there is a nutpiece by the door who is humming and tisssing to an imaginary walkman and bopping from the waist.. such is life as someone used to say..

Thursday, September 15, 2005

New lifestyle

In a bid to lose the 7 or so kilos that I have gained during my tenure so far in Japan, I started on a strict diet at the start of September. The guidelines were simple - no coffee, no fatty foods, no high-calorie foods, no junk food, no excess sugars, all bought meals to be under 500kcal. I very occasionally have a beer, but now opt for the healthier option of shochu or sake. I'm trying to drink 2 liters of water every day, and drink mugi cha and green tea every so often, and try to play with the school volleyball team at least once a week.

For the first time in my life, I am counting calories, and it's a little strange. But by far the strangest thing is that I don't really miss drinking coffee... perhaps now my body clock is in it's most natural state since I was about 10 years old. I decided to give the new regime a month and see how I felt. At this rate, it might stick for good.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Of all the things to be on Japanese TV..

S Club Seven's TV show... but as part of another show, where guests look at the scenes and analyse the English.. Christ! All the great TV shows they had to choose from, and they chose a steaming turd, whose only saving grace was showing Rachel Stevens in a bikini..

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Had enough for one day

God what a foul mood I'm in.. is it because I'm tired? Is it because I've only had a small yoghurt since 10pm last night? Is it because my usual fun students today were boorish and immature? Probably a mixture of the three...

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Some waghand product names seen whilst food shopping

- carrot au lait
- shall we?
- creamy collon
- look nuts
- hard horn
- potato de walk

Friday, September 09, 2005


Aarrrgghh! Just as I'm getting to the meaty part of my latest Frederick Forsythe novel, I go and leave it at school for the weekend! That'll teach me to be in a rush to leave..

Weekend beer

I am so looking forward to my weekend beer tomorrow night that I can taste it now.. and by all gods born and yet to be born I could murder some fish and chips..

Friday, September 02, 2005

If ever proof were needed that high school sport in England is anaemic...

In an effort to become fitter, I have decided that this month, I will eat only healthy, low calorie food, drink only water or tea or sports drinks and play volleyball with the high school team every day after work.

I played volleyball at university, and whilst I was never spectacular I always thought I was pretty good. Yet playing with the students yesterday reminded me of how poorly sport is handled at school in England, and my three years of inactivity rang loud in my ears and my legs.

If you are in a high school team in England, you might practice a couple of times a week for an hour or two at most. The crux of the practice is in the regular scheduled games lessons, which, at least when I was at high school, were basically 45 minute matches. Some students played outside of school at the weekends for local teams (especially football), but many didn't.

If you are in a high school team in Japan, you practice every day after school, for about 3-4 hours. Some teams have to practice before school as well (such as the judo club at my friend's high school, whose members have to run up and down a mountain at 7am). Teams are given intensive fitness and technical drills, such as practicing volleyball with old basketballs to build strength or walking on your hands up and down the court to develop balance.

A high school student's life in Japan is, by English standards, pretty grim. You have to get up at dawn, either complete extra classes or extra sports training, then do a full day at school, then participate in club activities, and then many go on to cram schools. Weekends, usually free time in England, are opportunities for more sports practice, as are holidays (a lot of teams will practice all day every day during the summer holidays).

Despite my height, my inactivity for the past three years and the superb athleticism of the volleyball students means that they can jump higher and hit the ball more powerfully than me. If the Japanese were a little taller and genetically more powerful, they would undoubtedly dominate a number of world sports.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


The long and the short of it is that I spilt orange juice on my laptop and now it doesn't work. I'm hopeful that I can get it fixed, but there are a number of things that are standing in the way, namely:

* My laptop is from England, so the parts may be slightly different to those available in Japan.
* It's also two and a half years old, so some of the damaged parts may not be available easily.
* I don't have as much faith in Japanese computer repair men as I do English ones.
* It could very well cost a lot of money, and it's not my highest priority at the moment.