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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon
I've been baulked in my wish to keep up a daily blog since I came to Tokyo simply by lack of time - which is a better reason than some. I've had meetings (some just for pleasure, some academic) set up every day but one - and that was a cancellation - as well as which I've been doing some editorial work (i.e. correcting English) for Japanese academic friends. So, some things have had to give, and blogging was among the squeezable entities that made the ultimate sacrifice. I now have a few minutes to put that to rights, however, so here are some rather fragmentary memories and maunders that should at least get us to the end of last weekend.

I meant to mention last time that, two minutes' walk from my house, stands a Western clothing shop called "Guloucester", which is a welcome reminder of my own Gloucester Rd., albeit only in the matter of spelling, and only that to a certain extent...


Sentiment is a funny thing....

Sunday was my only truly free day, so I took the opportunity to visit the last day of the Winnie-the-Pooh exhibition, which had transferred to Bunkamura in Shibuya from the Victoria and Albert. It was packed, as it had apparently been every day: the popularity of Pooh in Japan hadn't quite been borne in on me before, although I gather from a couple of conversations I've had since I gather that many people believe it to be an invention of Disney. This exhibition would have set them straight, however. Although I could not photograph the MS pages and illustrations, I can at least include the Pooh-sticks bridge, complete with moving water effect:


I now know that in Japan, When Were Very Young and Now We are Six are translated as "Christopher Robin's Songs" and "Pooh Bear and Me." It's not unreasonable, I suppose, but it does change the timbre of those volumes somewhat. (Far less forgivable is turning The Wind in the Willows into "By the Fun River".)

The misspelling of "Owl" as "Wol" turns in Japanese into "Kufuro"/くふろ (instead of "Fukuro"/ふくろ). Cute.

After that I bumbled around Shibuya, looking at the cool kids and what they were buying. Among other things, I saw a rabbit café next to a cat café, which seems like a recipe for trouble down the line...


Culture note: Japanese people appear to find the idea of eating rabbits as bizarre as British people might eating, say, cats, although of course their diet includes many things from which the average Brit might shrink. I've known that for a while, but only yesterday did I learn that Japanese people (not all, I'm sure) find caterpillars as creepy and scary as Brits do spiders. I suspect most Brits - gardeners excepted - find caterpillars rather cute. On the other hand, spiders are less of a problem for them. (Admittedly I'm basing all this on the rather narrow basis of my personal acquaintance.)

Meanwhile, in Don Quixote (a pile-'em-high department store that's a great place for souvenir gifts), they are selling T-shirts to commemorate the end of the Heisei era and the coming of the Reiwa at the beginning of next month. Though not a monarchist, still less an imperialist, I'm curious to see how this is going to pan out, and I'll be watching the process with interest from my Odwara fastness on the day:


Later, I got chatting to Junko, my landlady, and we ended up going to eat Yakitori together at one of her favourite local places. I'm sorry to say that I didn't photograph it, not wanting to stand out too much, but it was in any case quite simple fair, though delicious. The guilt of the meat was offset by the healthiness of using raw cabbage leaves to scoop up miso - a surprisingly moreish snack. Junko's almost total lack of English meant that the conversation was entirely in Japanese, and I'm happy to say that it went pretty well.

This is Not my Beautiful House

I’d like to be able to say that it was encountering this very very large “The Road to Japan” sign in the middle of Cardiff on Monday that inspired me to come back, but the truth is that I spotted some time ago a conveniently Japan-shaped gap between the end of teaching and the start of marking, and into that gap I have been contriving to slide for some time.

Anyway, one way or another, here I am for the next few weeks. As usual, I’ll be blogging my experiences, and although, this being my fifth time, my impressions no longer offer the new-mown rawness of those 2015 entries, I’ll be doing plenty of new things along the way, and and revisiting old ones with a hitherto-undreamt-of depth of wisdom and understanding. So far I have managed to lose only one contact lens.

I started last year's trip with a picture of the Hello Kitty shop in Haneda airport, so to balance things here's the Miffy shop in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport:


I don't say that one is a knock off of the other, but I do say that Miffy came first. Otherwise I have little to tell about the journey itself. I was initially seated next to a Japanese man, and spoke to him a little, but then a woman asked to swap seats so that she could be with her husband, and I naturally obliged. Her original seat turned out to be between another couple, so I swapped a second time, before finally settling down to watch Killing Eve, or rather the first five of eight episodes. I can see why people like it. The duel between detective and psychopathic nemesis has of course been done multiple times (revamped Sherlock/Moriarty of course, but also Morse with Hugo De Vries, Tomomi Masaoka and Shogo Makishima, etc.) but this is the first all-female iteration I've seen, and a very stylish one it is too. The story is based on a series of novels, so perhaps the stylishness is the contribution of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. As things stand, Fiona Shaw's character seems likely to be the Big Bad, to the extent that it will be a much more interesting twist if she isn't; perhaps I'll find out on the way back to the UK. (My only real gripe was the corrupt MI5 agent explaining that he'd gone to the dark side to fund cancer treatments that the NHS wouldn't pay for. I know this is made by BBC America, but really - Breaking Bad is not a good premise for a UK-set programme.)

The spring is a little late in Tokyo this year, which means that I was able to enjoy the last ofthe sakura on the Meguro river last night - although it was too dark for pictures, so you'll have to take my word for it. As a poor substitute, here I am outside my Airbnb, waiting for check-in time under a cherry tree, and thinking wistfully of transience.


I hope to overtake the sakura tide a bit later in my visit when I go north, but more on that at the time...

The Airbnb is good: I have a spacious room, it has everything I need, and although I'm apparently sharing the place with 10 or so other people I've barely seen any of them. Junko, the landlady, had a nice chat with me when I arrived, and altogether it's quiet and simpatico, as is its neighbourhood of Hatanodai (literally "flag stand"), which is the kind of place where you walk down the narrow shopping streets to the sound of glockenspiels played (quietly) on a public address system. An odd sensation to one raised in the West, but not unusual here it seems. The local Inari shrine is down an alley, but I'm glad it's there:


I gathered a bunch of zzzs overnight, and feel well on the way to triumphing over jetlag, but I will wait a little before hoisting the pennant of victory. Today I went to see my friend Tomoko at her home in Sagamihara, out in Kanagawa Prefecture. She and her husband gave me an amazing lunch including squid grilled by said husband at the table, tuna cheek, cabbage-wrapped sushi and the gizzards of various shellfish, among other delights. (What do you mean, shellfish don't have gizzards? Then what do you call these?)



Afterwards Tomoko and I wandered round the area, where she tested me by getting me to read the kanji on all the windows of the local businesses. That went fine until we became so animated trying to read what it said on the window of a cram school that the owner came out and told us to go away. Luckily it was not in his power to set us homework.

Locked in the Garage with Uncle Sam
A few days before she died, my mother asked me to go into the garage and see if I could find the portrait that her great uncle, Samuel Parkes Cadman (early radio preacher and even now the only member of my family to have a New York street named after them), had had made by John Singer Sargent. It wasn't the original, of course, but "Uncle Sam" had made copies for all his nieces and nephews, including my grandmother. I remember the portrait hanging in the house during my early childhood, before my mother - whose main memory of the sitter was being told to "Shush" when he visited Wrexham, because "Uncle Sam was praying" - mustered the courage to consign it to the garage.

Anyway, I had a bit of a rummage, but couldn't at that time find the portrait. Instead, I came up with some old bottles of fruit wine that I had made in 1981, just before going to Uni. They didn't look too appetising, but they brought back nostalgic memories of my winemaking days. (Who could forget the terrible accident with the marrow rum?)


Today, I went back into the garage and found the portrait quite easily. I now feel a bit guilty that I was so easily distracted by the wine, and failed to fulfil what was, if I had known it, virtually a dying wish. That said, she didn't know it either, and I'm still not convinced I'd want this on my wall.


Next to the portait was a suitcase full of her old Magnets from the 1930s (with a few from the preceding and succeeding decades). She always half-joked that this collection about Greyfriars and Billy Bunter would be our real inheritance, but I have my doubts. Still, they certainly offer an insight into the comics of what we must now, I suppose, admit to be yore.


Pillow Words for a Pillow Book
I was looking up the ancient anthology Manyoshu (万葉集 = collection of ten thousand leaves) just now, because it is apparently the source of the new era name, 令和, and I came across a Wiki entry for "makura kotoba" or "pillow words." Pillow words seem to be a bit like (Wiki's own comparison) standard Greek epithets such as "grey-eyed Athena" or (what seems to me a bit closer, since "grey-eyed Athena" still contains "Athena") Old English kennings such as "whale road" for "sea". Anyway, this bit intrigued me:

Some historical makura kotoba have developed into the usual words for their meaning in modern Japanese, replacing the terms they originally alluded to. For example, niwa tsu tori (庭つ鳥, bird of the garden) was in classical Japanese a makura kotoba for kake (鶏, chicken). In modern Japanese, niwatori has displaced the latter word outright and become the everyday word for "chicken" (dropping the case marker tsu along the way).

That gave me a "now it all makes sense!" moment, as "niwatori" had always struck me as slightly odd.

I feel there must be quite a few words in English where a poetic term has replaced the ordinary one, or at least because as common, but I'm having trouble coming up with them. "Robin" for "redbreast" by way of "robin redbreast" is one, I suppose, and you can trace a similar route for some rhyming slang: it only occurred to me the other day that "Use your loaf!" involved rhyming slang, for example. But surely there must be other/better examples?

Japanese Diary 38: The End of an Era
Well, it's now April in Japan, which means that today is the day they will announce the name of the new era that's due to begin with the current (Heisei) Emperor's abdication in a month's time. The name has been kept under wraps, which must have been a real headache to everyone who needs to prepare for the change: e.g. by updating computer programs, printing stationery, etc. (It's not an abstruse matter: in Japan, in case you don't know, the regnal/imperial number is commonly used as a way of writing the year, rather than the Christocentric Western system.)

Anyway, word is that this time, in a break with protocol, the era name will for the first time be sponsored. McDonalds and Starbucks are both said to be interested, with ハッピーセット and スターバックスラテ among the bookies' favourites、but all eyes are on the Imperial Palace.

In totally unrelated news, it appears that, although the term "April Fools Day" is known in Japan, the practice of planting false news stories, etc., is not at all widespread. This gave me the opportunity the other day to tell my friend about the 1957 spaghetti harvest. Let's all relive it, shall we?

Islam, Christianity and Aggression
I put this up on Facebook, but thought I would save it too here for future reference.

For a while now, I’ve been seeing quotes to the effect that Islam is an aggressive religion intent on conquering the Western world. To that end, I thought it might be helpful if I made a list of majority Christian countries that have been invaded, occupied or ruled by majority Muslim countries at any point over the last century. Here is that list…

... okay, I couldn’t find any. Feel free to fill in the blank.

It’s strange, because it wasn’t hard at all to find majority Muslim countries that have been invaded, occupied or ruled by majority Christian countries over the same period:

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Burkina Faso
Palestinian Authority
Sierra Leone
United Arab Emirates
Western Sahara

And yet Islam is the aggressive religion of conquest - or so we’re told. Quite the puzzler, isn’t it?

A Voyage to Lilliput
Oh say, have you seen the model village at Bourton-on-the-Water? It was built in the mid-1930s by a local publican and recreates the village as it was at the time in Cotswold stone, at a scale of 1:9.

model village

At the entrance to the village, there's a large picture of Gulliver, striding through Bourton:


Being, as you know, interested in the Cotswolds' children's literature connections, I wanted to know about the origins of this picture. It clearly wasn't recent, but did it go all the way back to the village's construction, over 80 years ago?

I asked the owners, but they had only recently taken over and didn't know. So, I searched online, and found that the Gulliver analogy at least went back to the early days, as in this British Pathé film about the project from 1938, titled "Lilliput Village":

Not only that, it turns out that through the '50s and '60s the pub that owned the village printed and sold this pamphlet:

Scan_20190312 (2)

The pamphlet is the story of the village, as told by Gulliver himself, who has travelled into the future and encountered Mr Morris, "the genial host of the Old New Inn," whose brainchild the project was. Unlike the original Gulliver (who took a dim view of "projectors"), this one is most impressed, and describes the village's various charms in detail, concluding with the following thought experiment:

I tried to project myself into the mind of such a model maker and thought how he must be always living in two worlds at once — the actual and the miniature. How he must subconsciously be changing from the powerful Brobdingnagian when in his own workshop to the apprehensive Lilliputian when he battles in the vast world of reality.

This kind of thing is very apropos for my own project of course, and a voyage to Japanese Tripadvisor convinced me that many Japanese do indeed enjoy the experience of being a giant in the model village and juxtaposing it with that of the larger original. (Mise en abyme fans will be pleased to know that the model village contains a model of the model village, which in turns contains a model...) They write of feeling "feeling just like Gulliver" (すっかりガリバーになった気分だ).

For yes, in case you were wondering, Gulliver is well known in Japan - the only real country that Swift's Gulliver ever visited, after all. So well known is it, in fact, that in the 1990s they made a (short-lived) theme park near Mount Fuji, Gulliver's Kingdom. (If this link gives you an error message, reload it.)

Recent conversations revealed that the image of Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians had misled not one but two of my Japanese friends into believing that the story of Gulliver was that of a giant - a figure more like John Bunyan.

But of course, to the Lilliputians, that was indeed the case.

The Orsino Dilemma
"Someone who turns up the volume when a piece of music they like comes on is no better than someone who, when a waiter brings them something they find tasty, force feeds it to everyone in the restaurant."

a) Actually they are worse, because at least the food person has the generosity to give away something they like, whereas the music person is helping themselves to more.

b) Not quite as bad, because no one ever died of a music allergy. Besides, music is *meant* to be shared. To think of it as a solitary pleasure is to impose a restrictively Western viewpoint.

c) But the same is true of food, so nix to that argument!

d) Also, music and food are interchangeable in Illyria.

These maunderings were brought to you by having something else to do.

Pooh Bear or Faux Fur? A Quiz
The following quotations are all taken from a site devoted to inspirational Winnie-the-Pooh quotations, where they are all attributed to A. A. Milne. Most, of course, are entirely spurious, but there are three* genuine quotations hidden in with the rest. Which three?

Piglet: “How do you spell ‘love’?”
Pooh: “You don’t spell it... you feel it.”

“Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.”

“Love is taking a few steps backward, maybe even more... to give way to the happiness of the person you love.”

“If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.”

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.”

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
‘Pooh!’ he whispered.
‘Yes, Piglet?’
‘Nothing,’ said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. ‘I just wanted to be sure of you.’

“I wonder what Piglet is doing,” thought Pooh. “I wish I were there to be doing it, too.”

“‘We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.
‘Even longer,’ Pooh answered.”

“‘I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,’ said Pooh.
‘There, there,’ said Piglet. ‘I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.'”

“You’re braver than you believe and stronger and smarter than you think.”

“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”

“The things that make me different are the things that make me.”

“Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.”

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

“Think it over, think it under.”

“I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.”

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”

“My spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.”

Bonus question: of the spurious quotations, which were the most and the least Milne-esque?

* Just possibly more than three, but I could only find three in the Pooh books.

The Brexit Paradox
Did I read recently that, had the Brexit referendum been legally binding, the courts would have ruled it void because of the various frauds associated with it? But that, because it was only advisory, no such ruling was possible? I think I did.

This leads to the curious paradox whereby, had the referendum been obligatory it could have been cancelled, but because it was not, politicians feel they have no choice but to carry on with it. Such is British politics at the moment.

Random Thoughts on Recent Events (as promised)
I don't know if anyone here remembers this entry from 2010 about the death of my great-great-grandmother in 1891, but for obvious reasons I've been re-reading it. How different and how similar it seems! Even to the compulsion shared by me and my great-grandfather to record the event.

After my father died in a nursing home, I felt quite guilty. It's true I had young children at the time, and a marriage rapidly going down the pan, and the home was 70 miles away. Also, by the end he was barely aware of who I was. So, I had plenty of excuses not to go more often. (In fact, along with my brother and his partner I'd been to see the him a few hours before it happened.) Even so, the thought of him dying among strangers, bewildered and afraid, haunted (still haunts) me. I was determined to "do it right" with my mother, and I think I can truly say that I did. Project Oyakoukou (親孝行) was a labour of love, but of course it was partly motivated by a desire not to feel bad afterwards. Not that I`m apologising for that. What human endeavour lacks any scintilla of selfishness? There's no need to put a percentage on it.

Two bits of homespun wisdom I've found helpful so far:

From a documentary on the Amish that I saw a few years ago: "You can't stop a bird landing in your tree, but you don't have to let it build a nest."

From Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: "You can't run away from your own feet."

Driving back to Bristol last Saturday, I was flicking round the dial to escape Gardeners` Question Time, and came across a station playing Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, which I used to play all the time as a student but hadn`t listened to in years. Of course, I was in tears by the end - I think I suspected the end was close even then. Ever since it`s been going round my head, night and day. It`s playing even as I write this.

The next time I drove back was Tuesday, and I felt compelled to go via Stonehenge. Driving through a Bronze Age and Neolithic funereal landscape was oddly comforting. Plenty of others have walked this way before us. However, by the end of the journey my car had fallen ill (the battery was flashing on the dashboard), and so far the garage has failed to diagnose its illness.

Today we got my mother's death certificate from the hospital. Tomorrow, an appointment with the undertaker.

After a Short Illness
My mother died yesterday afternoon, in Southampton General Hospital.

I'm not sure yet what she died of. Early last month we were all very relieved (as you may remember) when she got the all-clear for bladder cancer. However, she started growing very weak a few days ago. On Friday I was worried by her lack of appetite and indifference even to wine (though she still managed a couple of fags). On Saturday evening, by which time I'd returned to Bristol, her carer Haawa and my brother were worried enough to have her taken to hospital.

By Sunday she was much improved, and was chatting and laughing with us in the ward. I joked that my first thought on seeing her there was "Malingerer!", which she found amusing. As I left, though, she squeezed my hand - not a usual action with her (we are not a very tactile family). Afterwards, of course, I remembered that - and remembered too that on Friday she'd told me and my brother how much she appreciated our looking after her. That was not so unusual - but she'd done it again on Saturday before I left.

Early on Monday morning, I had a call saying that she had lost blood pressure, and was in a bad way. "If it were my mother, I would come in," the doctor said. So I came back from Bristol - the third time in four days - and found her in the same bed but much changed, conscious but unable to speak. I helped her drink some water - she insisted on holding the cup with me - and she was able to nod or to give a feeble thumbs up, but not much more.

I don't know what was wrong. The urine in her catheter was dark; they were worried about a possible thrombosis in her leg, her breathing wasn't right. They were hesitating between continuing antibiotics and switching to morphine and end-of-life care. Hopkins's line kept going through my head: "Some fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended".

It was not the only line of poetry that rattled round and round my head like an ill-maintained rollercoaster over the next few hours. "The oldest hath borne most," "Cold as any stone" - all the old favourites, which she too would have known. I now realise that, faced with extreme situations, my mind turns into Palgrave's Golden Treasury. Also, a haiku took involuntary shape:

That old landline, kept
For you, will, from this winter,
Take only cold calls.

In the next bed a youngster of 82 offered sympathy and accounts of her own ailments in a strong Southampton accent, of a kind I hadn't heard for many years. Could I revive within me her symphony and song... Oh yes, she talked about "When I kicks the bucket."

The nurses said Mum could be there for some days, so I volunteered to take the first shift, and sat with her from about 11. I had some external examining scripts to do (I will always associate that time with neo-Victorian fiction), but most of the time I kept one hand on hers, which was gripping the rail of the bed. Her breathing was shallow but not laboured, and she seemed half asleep, and in due course more asleep than awake. Finally, as I watched, at about 3.40 she grimaced slightly, gave two deeper breaths, and stopped.

I was pretty sure she was dead, but went off to find a nurse to confirm it, then broke the news by phone to Haawa and Martin, who were already on their way. They arrived about ten minutes later. Haawa's eyes were as red as my own.

I think I must have gone a bit mad, because when Haawa mentioned that her hands were cold, I said "Mum's hands are getting cold too, but her body is still warm. Why don't you warm your hands on her? She wouldn't mind!"

They thought it black humour on my part, but at the time it seemed a perfectly sensible suggestion.

It doesn't feel as if she's gone, so I haven't started missing her yet.

I'll stop there, but I'll be posting more in the next few days, I expect, perhaps in a more fragmentary way.

mum in mill lane summer
Isobel Butler (nee Bowman)
9th October 1924-11th February 2019.

Dipping my Toes into a Cold Bathampton
In the middle of Bristol there was not much snow left this morning, but it was a different story down in Bathampton, where I went to visit my friend Dru in her narrowboat, currently moored in a frozen canal. She made me some very good ham and pea soup in her galley, though, which defrosted fingers and toes alike. Read moreCollapse )

The Hovis Delusion
Those of us of a certain age will remember Ridley Scott's famous Hovis ad, which shows a flat-capped baker's boy pushing his bicycle up a steep hill to the accompaniment of a brass band playing the New World symphony, while the voice of the (now grown) boy reminisces fondly about the old days. But where is the ad set?

I've always mentally put it up north somewhere, and I'm not alone. In this article, written in 2006 to mark the ad's being chosen "the nation's favourite", the writer places it in "a northern town". And this evening, one of the pundits on Radio 4's Powers of Persuasion twice mentioned the north in general, as well as Yorkshire in particular.

I'd read somewhere that the ad was actually filmed in Shaftesbury, Dorset, but I never wavered from my belief that the fictional setting was the north. [EDIT: As Kalimac points out over on the Dreamwidth version of this post, even the website for the hill in Shaftesbury where it was made mentions that the setting is "a northern industrial town".] After all, there's that brass band, and the voiceover is in a Yorkshire accent.

Except - it isn't. It's a West Country accent - quite possibly a Shaftesbury one. Listen for yourself:

I was only ten when the advert aired, and until they played it on the radio for the documentary this evening, I hadn't seen or heard it for years. Somehow, in the interim I grafted a northern accent onto my memory of it. That's a little odd, but what's more extraordinary is that the entire nation seems to have done the same thing. Even tonight, experts on the advert were talking about its northern setting, despite just having heard it.

Why? Is it the flat cap? (But people wore those in the south, too!) The brass band? That must have a lot to do with it.

Perhaps too there's a sense that a certain style of working-class nostalgia belongs properly to the north of England - or even that there is no southern working class at all?

Third Time's a Charm
People have missed a trick by not calling for a "third referendum." After all, that's what it would be - after the one in 1975 and the one in 2016.

It's not only a more accurate description, but it reminds us that, if another referendum now would be an affront to democracy, why so was the one three years ago. Why couldn't we respect the will of the people, as expressed - by an emphatic 67:33 margin - in June 1975?

It's true that many now of age were not in a position to vote at that time, and that many who could are now dead - but the same is true of the 2016 vote.

It's true too that the organisation we voted to stay in in 1975 was different from what the EU has since become, so one might argue that the vote has lost its legitimacy to that extent. But again, the Brexit described in 2016 was very different from the Brexit now on offer.

At any rate, let's please not call it a "People's Vote" - as if there were any other kind. The redundancy of the phrase is annoying, but I also associate the "People's X" meme with the maudlin nonsense that flared up around the death of Diana. It was then that someone (was it Tony Blair?) came up with the truly oxymoronic phrase, "the People's Princess." Ever since, it's had a sickly flavour, a bit like (but even worse than) "the Great British X."

A bas with them both!

Hoi Polloi Ahoy
Okay, just thinking aloud here. If May loses tomorrow and Labour calls a vote of no confidence in the Government, received wisdom is that the Government will win - right? Because obviously the Tories won't vote to lose their seats, and the DUP are quite happy with no deal - and together they have a majority.

BUT... if May's deal fails and parliamentary rules mean that it can't easily brought back for a second go, then that course would pretty much ensure a no-deal Brexit - because all the other routes May might take have been tried and failed (renegotiation) or would be unthinkable to her (calling a second referendum). It would only need a few Tory remainers to put their remain loyalties above their Tory loyalties to tip the balance. Some of them have safe seats, too, or (like Ken Clarke) are likely to retire, so have nothing to lose in terms of a future election.

So, I'm not so sure that a vote of no confidence would be won by the Government after all. (Though it probably would be. No one ever lost money by overestimating the Tory instinct to cling on to power.)

Anyway, we'll see soon enough.

Losing One's Baggage
The press is suddenly full of people who hate Marie Kondo. In the last few days alone, articles have appeared in my FB friends feed blaming her for encouraging mindless consumerism, being unnecessarily minimalist, and having a scunner against books. What's clear from the articles (especially ironically in the last case) is that the authors haven't actually read Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying - certainly not with any attention. That would seem to be a minimum requirement for writing an article about her philosophy for a national periodical, surely? After all, it's easy to obtain and quick to read. It's also very good, in my opinion. My two penn'orth from 2016 are here.

On a related note, two days ago I bought the ugliest suitcase in the world, simply because I thought it would be easy to spot on the carousel, and easy to describe if lost. These, to my mind, are two important functions of luggage. My daughter is appalled, but in me it sparks a kind of joy, albeit perverse.


My cheese diet took a knock recently when I ordered a coronation chicken panini in a sandwich shop, only to find once I'd got some way through it that cheese was a major ingredient. Would you consider cheese a component of coronation chicken?

"Not even Wensleydale?"
I don't normally do New Year Resolutions, but the recent combination of a high cholesterol score and steady cheese-fuelled weight gain since I returned from Japan have combined in a decision to lead a cheese-(and-snack)-free January, with the possible exception of my birthday. It's not just "naked" cheese that I'm ruling out, but also cheese as an ingredient. That extra restriction forbids a dispiritingly long roll-call of deliciousness.

I know this is no biggy. I'm not going vegan, or even veggie. My alimentary tract maintains its wonted hospitality to eggs and meat. I'm not even refraining from alcohol, although as it happens I've not had much occasion to drink it.

Maybe by the end of the month I'll have lost half a stone or so, but the cholesterol is the main thing.

Also - the cycle begins again! - I'm hoping to return to Japan at the end of the semester that's about to begin, a place where I always feel rather too big, so I suppose you could call this partly an exercise in getting a shrine-ready bod. But actually, let's not.

Girl from Nowhere - A Stranger Comes to Town
Has anyone else been watching the Thai drama, Girl from Nowhere, on Netflix? I'm only three episodes in (I ration myself to one per night) but I'm finding it really intriguing - and all because of our old friend, Genre Expectations Confounded.

I'd recently watched the live-action and anime versions of Kakegurui, a Japanese story about a school run by a gambling-obsessed student council that imposes a strict hierarchy based on one's gambling status. In that story, a mysterious girl arrives, and upsets the corrupt establishment one by one, dismantling their various scams and working her way up the hierarchy as she does so. It's a classic stranger-comes-to-town plot, the only slight twist being that Jabami is herself a compulsive gambler. If we had to pick a Clint Eastwood film to represent its type, it would be A Fistful of Dollars.

At first, Girl from Nowhere seems to be the same type of story. Each episode, so the blurb tells us, the mysterious Nanno arrives at a different school, where she exposes the misdeeds of staff and pupils alike. And the first episode seems to live up to that. One of the teachers has a habit of sexually assaulting (and in one case impregnating) the female pupils, despite having a squeaky-clean reputation, and a devoted wife and daughter.

Of course, he tries it on with Nanno was well, and of courses she foils him and exposes him. That much was obviously going to happen - but I didn't foresee that her plan would result in the daughter dying in a pool of her own blood, or that Nanno would remain unfazed by that.

Of course, the punishment of fathers sometimes involves the deaths of their daughters: think Midas, for example. But that's a different kind of story - isn't it?

And how are we meant to feel about Nanno after that? It's a moral question, but also a genre question. Is this a story about a hustler, an agent of justice, or a vengeful ghost? Three episodes in (I won't spoil further), I'm still not sure. It looks a lot more like High Plains Drifter than A Fistful of Dollars, but that's as much as I can say. I'm also wondering how much my disorientation has to do with my ignorance of Thai narrative traditions, moral sensibilities, etc. and how much it's just a clever mindfuck.

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda
I spent New Year in Borth, as I did three years ago, with my brother and his partner. I'm usually tucked up in bed by midnight, but managed to flop over the line into 2019 last night, and was rewarded with a crowd of huggy people spilling from pub to street (Borth has three of the former but only one of the latter), hearing a kilted piper, watching fireworks and bonfires on the beach, and so on. It's a lively place to see the new year in, considering it has only 2,000 inhabitants. Lately, this includes an amazing cinema, the interior of which I highly recommend should you find yourself in Hinterland country.

I caught no sight of the sun for the three days I was there, but it didn't really matter. Between drinking and eating, there were always the dependable charms of the great sea and the great bog.


Most interesting, I met a Lithuanian jeweller (partner of my brother's partner's nephew) who told me that Lithuania was pagan as late at the 1380s. I had no idea! (Did you?) This needs looking into.