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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

Ark Angels
Does reading make you a better person? A few days ago I posted this video to Green Knowe appreciation group on Facebook. Watch it: it's about a Syrian refugee who was offered shelter in an English stately home, not unlike (it seemed to me) the way that Ping was offered shelter by Mrs Oldknow.

Most people got the connection, but perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised to find one commenting:

our streets are full of English born homeless and a Syrian draft dodger ends up in a Stateley home - yeah thats sounds about right

I went and checked - this is no professional troll, but someone who's posted several relevant links to the group over time, and clearly loves the books in his own way. But what way is that? Could he really not have noticed their continuing preoccupation with offering homes to the homeless, and particularly to refugees? I think the first comparison to the Ark occurs in the first chapter of Book One, and the theme only continues from there: Tolly, Jacob, Oskar, Ping, Hanno. They come from four continents, and all find a home in Green Knowe. It's a quintessentially English series, yes, and I'm not surprised Julian Fellowes got his paws on it, but if you miss its internationalism you're not looking closely enough.
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Recorder Workout
I always keep a recorder handy when I'm working. When I'm stuck for ideas, I often find that a bit of jamming on a descant really helps me think (while robbing anyone nearby of that capacity, sadly, but what are you going to do?). It's been that way for a long time - roughly since I gave up recorder lessons at primary school. My favourite instrument is a pear-wood one that I bought when my father died, but the plastic Aulos range gets a workout, too.

My daughter sometimes expresses wry exasperation that my one superpower is apparently the ability to play any tune by ear on the recorder, just the format in which no one would want to hear it, and I admit that the situation does seem to bear the fingerprints of a vindictive fate. People are sometimes intrigued by my party trick, but they don't stay intrigued for long: a distinct air of "You have delighted us long enough" typically settles in by the second minute. That's okay, I only play for myself, really, and, as I say, to help jiggle my neurons into more cooperative constellations.

I've had a bad cold for the last few days, which is very frustrating as this is a rare non-teaching week and I'd had it earmarked for all kinds of useful tasks, which are now proceeding only at a snail's pace. In these circumstances, after writing about Lolly Willowes and Madoka yesterday, it seemed a fun idea to play Kyubey's invitation to the world of magic, Salve, Terrae Magicae, with a black cat on my lap. So I did. (Breathing was a problem, of course.)

A Witch in Waiting
I just finished Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes (1926), which I'd been meaning to read since forever, and I'm very glad I did. It's funny, and sharp, and Laura's gradual metamorphosis from Fanny Price to Mother Shipton is handled really well. One of my friends on FB called it "stealth SFF", which seems fair enough. I should say that I was sufficiently spoiled that I knew in advance the story's general direction of travel, but that didn't ruin it in the least (I was able to spot some foreshadowing that I would otherwise probably have missed), though it did make it a different experience from the one I'd have had cold.

Attentive readers of this blog will know that I am rather attracted to stories that change genre halfway through, or seem to. I've written about the phenomenon here, and elsewhere. But today the most relevant link from my previous maunderings is this one from six years ago, where the issue is much more personal to me. For I too am a story that changed genre - or seemed to - halfway through. The "seemed to" is explained at length in that entry, but briefly, my subjective experience before and after transition was largely one of continuity - I seemed to myself the same person - but some people found a jarring disconnect between me before and me after. In the entry I attempted to explain this by offering an analogy between reading genre and reading gender. People who'd read me in one way had to start reading me in another, according to another set of genre conventions, and for some it was a wrench; whereas for me (on the inside track, as it were, and thus "spoiled"), there was no such rupture.

So, does Laura really undergo a change from acquiescent maiden aunt to Satan-worshipping witch? Isn't it rather that certain qualities, interests and dispositions, present throughout, are allowed to assert themselves when her circumstances change? That she always was a witch in waiting, as it were? Her eventual pact with the Devil comes as no surprise to her, nor does it cause her any apprehension; that comes earlier, when she "comes out" to her family, defying social and financial pressure to assert her selfhood and move to a life of isolation in Great Mop. From there the step to witch-hood is almost inevitable. What else could such a woman be seen as?

(No such disquisition would be complete without at least a glancing nod at Madoka Magica, in which girls enter into a Faustian bargain to gain magic and, as it turns out, become witches. That revelation is certainly widely seen as a plot twist, and many viewers have seen it as triggering a change in genre, from idealistic shoujo anime to cynical seinen anime, but that change too may be more apparent than real, as I have argued here.)

"You should be women," says Banquo, "And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/ That you are so." Recognising witches - or indeed women - is a matter of the beholder's eye, and of the assumptions brought to the task of interpretation. No doubt Macbeth saw something different from Banquo; no doubt James I saw something different from Reginald Scot.

Mirai (review)
I watched Mamoru Hosoda's Mirai yesterday (in Japanese Mirai no Mirai [未来のミライ], or "The Future Mirai," a wordplay that doesn't carry over). I had very much enjoyed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, though not thinking it flawless, but had been put off by Summer Wars, a film that was widely acclaimed but seemed to me a more boring version of the The Digimon Movie (on which, I discovered only today, Hosoda was also a director). So I never made the effort to seek out Wolf Children or The Boy and the Beast, although the former, especially, intrigues me considerably. (Have I missed much?) But I saw posters for Mirai in Japan last May (it wasn't out there yet), and decided it looked worth a punt.

Anyway, Mirai was excellent. It deal with time slips in a confident, unfussy way that didn't feel obliged to erect a Heath-Robinson metaphysics to explain everything; it had Summer Wars's interest in family, but didn't bite off more than it could chew. Its use of a four-year-old (or thereabouts) as a protagonist was daring, but really worked. Funny, feel-good and affecting.

I was pleased with myself too, for spotting an early joke. When asked what they should call his baby sister, Kun-chan (who's into trains) suggests "Nozomi", which means "hope" or "wish". It's a reasonable suggestion, but he's made it only because it's also the name of a type of bullet train - something I spotted before his parents. Admittedly they're fictional characters made entirely of pixels, but they're native Japanese pixels, so I felt justified in my self-satisfaction.

Finally, for aficianados, the film gave a nod to Tom's Midnight Garden, the fons et origo of Japanese time-slip fantasy (as my friend Mihoko Tanaka has so eloquently shown in her book on the subject), by including a copy on young Kun-chan's bookshelf.

He must be a little young to read it yet, but when he's ready, the garden will be waiting.

For the Love of Three Yuzu
Perhaps you remember my yuzu poem and its chequered non-publication history? If so, you'll understand how excited I was to see that the Wasabi Company, based near my home town, is now selling fresh yuzu, albeit at great expense. I gulped and ordered a box, and here it is:


Aren't they pretty? I just shared half of one with my daughter and her boyfriend, neither of whom had eaten yuzu before, and they were naturally impressed. The other half I intend to make into a ponzu sauce, and the other two will be gifts for my Japanese teachers (because I am a teacher's pet, as well as a teacher).

Tongues of Confusion
"He sometimes works in the pet shop next door," I said to my Japanese teacher, referring to the man who had approached us in the cafe where we were sitting to say hello. "We got to know each other a bit because we came to the same cafe quite often."

"It's a good job you said that in Japanese," she replied (because I had). "What if he overheard you?"

I don't think he would have cared, frankly - his work as a part-time pet shop assistant is hardly a secret - but it got us talking about the way lesser-known languages are sometimes used as a secret code. My teacher's daughter, for example, has been known to make personal remarks about the appearance of people in the street, safe in the knowledge that she won't be "overheard" because she's making them in Japanese.

I can certainly see the appeal of using a language this way, but it's not something an English monoglot can ever do, given how widely English is understood. Even in Japanese it's a risk: who knows whether the person whose big behind you've just dissed may not also be studying for her JLPT1? Even if you're prepared to take the risk with Japanese, what about, say, German or Italian? How obscure would a language have to be for you to be publicly catty in it?

My friend Miho once told me how she and her husband were on a train in central Europe, going to a language conference. The only other person in the compartment was a European man, travelling alone. She and Hiroshi chatted in Japanese, naturally; but when they came to their destination, their companion surprised and (more interestingly) shocked them by making a polite remark in perfect Japanese as they disembarked.

What interests me about the story isn't that Miho was a little retrospectively embarrassed at being understood (though, knowing her, I don't suppose she had been poking fun at their companion), but that she felt quite strongly that the man should have made it clear that he could understand them much earlier. Apparently he felt it too, because later at the conference (where it turned out he too was a delegate) he found her and apologised for not speaking sooner.

To be honest, I find that quite hard to get my head round - but then, it would never occur to me to assume that no one could understand my native tongue.

Time and Taid
My cousin Vicky (daughter of my mother’s elder sister) visited my mother yesterday when I was there, and in telling of some cute thing that her granddaughter had said, inadvertently revealed that the girl addresses her as “Flo(w)”. The reason, apparently, is that her daughter-in-law’s parents had already bagged the titles “Gran” and “Grandad”, and they had to find an alternative. “What about Nain and Taid?” Vicky suggested, these being the Welsh equivalents. Her husband, however, who is very English, complained, “Taid? She may as well call us Ebb and Flow!” And so it was decided.

I suppose this must be a common problem, and potentially a tricky diplomatic one. Vicky seemed to believe that the mother's parents always (and rightly) had first dibsies, but is that a widespread convention? There was no such competition in the case of my own grandparents: they were Nana and Grandpa on my mother's side, but my paternal grandmother died before I was born, and my grandfather on that side preferred to be addressed in Esperanto, as "Avo". (To be honest I thought that was his name until years after he died.) The conventions for my own children's grandparents were dull enough, but evenhanded: Grandpa/ma + First Name. It seemed to work.

Vicky is always stylish, and on this occasion was wearing a very nice Alexander McQueen cardigan. When my mother admired it, she gave it her - and I think it suits her well.


My mother turned 94 the other day.

A Walk Around the Floating World
Well, that was a very Japanese and yet quite Bristolian day. It began with my walking to a disused church near my children's former primary school, the site of many a school disco and bouncy-castle party in those days, but today home to the "Bristol Japan Cultural Showcase 2018" - an opportunity to load up on Umaibou (the chicken curry flavour, if somewhat caricatured in design, lives up to its name in taste)...

DSC02243 crop

... and other snacks; to have people doing kendo shout Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: to try my clumsy hand at calligraphy (can you guess which is mine and which the actual calligrapher's?...


... of course you can); and have a go at ikebana, which was rather more successful:

DSC02236 - crop

I also got to talk Japanese to a lot of new people, of course, which is always fun. I don't think I embarrassed myself.

The plan was to walk from there to the city museum, about a mile away, where there's currently an exhibition of Hokusai and Hiroshige prints. However, the ikebana people kindly wrapped my effort in cellophane and gave it me, which (considering I was also carrying a couple of bags, including a PhD thesis) was a little cumbersome. I couldn't simply dump it in a bin en route, though, after they'd been so nice, and besides, I was genuinely quite pleased with my effort. Before long I walked past a shop called Kimonokimono, which turned out to sell... well, yes, kimonos and lots of other Japanoiserie, all very good quality. On impulse I offered the shopkeeper my ikebana, which he accepted and quickly put in place among his stock (arranging it rather better than I had), which seemed an elegant and appropriate solution to the problem:


Unencumbered, I made a quick detour to the Bristol Porridge Project for lunch - something I'd been intending to do when opportunity arose. I went for the "Crazy Clifton Combo", with toppings of cacao nibs, cinnamon spiced apple, dates and cranberries. Not half bad for £3, and I'm definitely going back.

The Hokusai and Hiroshige were as good as one might expect: the Tokaido trail and the views of Fuji in all seasons and weathers. I was just as intrigued, though, by the museum's collection of late-seventeenth-century Japanese pottery, imported at a time when the supply from China had been interrupted by civil war. I don't think I'd been aware of the sakoku-era fashion for this ware:


Then to Coffee #1 to drink tea and read the PhD thesis (on Irish children's literature) before a walk home in high winds that made the plane trees on Welsh Back gong the sea's sound through puffed cheeks, and drove white horses across the floating harbour.

Knights Who Don't Say "Ni"
Though I'm now relatively confident about writing emails in simple Japanese, I still like to paste the final result into Google translate, imperfect as it is, lest I've made some awful faux pas. There was a time at the beginning when I would write "henshi arigatou gozaimasu" (変死ありがとうございます)rather than "henji arigatou gozaimasu" (返事ありがとうございます), thus inadvertently thanking my correspondent for an unnatural death rather than their reply. It scarred me.

I haven't done anything quite that egregious for a while, but today I wanted to say that someone had been "helpful throughout". I decided that "zutto yaku ni tatsu deshita" (ずっと役に立つでした) might be the way to go. (I don't think it probably is - "yaku ni tatsu" means something more like "useful", which isn't the vibe I'm after.) However, I forgot the "ni", and ended up with "zutto yaku tatsu deshita" (ずっと役辰でした), which Google assures me means "It was a long-awaited dragon".

I don't quite know how Google came up with that, but it charms me, and makes me wish that I had occasion to write emails where that was the intended meaning.

Valencia Without the Beach
In the unlikely event that you've been asking yourself "Where's Steepholm?" over the last couple of days, the correct answer was "Valencia". I was part of a jury for a public doctoral defence - the first such procedure I've ever taken part in. (UK-style vivas are quite a different and more private thing, though not necessarily less tense.) Very interesting it was too, though since it's not my story to tell, I'll leave it at that, except to say that the defence was successful, and everybody was happy at the end of it. Unless of course the candidate had some secret enemies in the room, but if so they had the discretion to hide their chagrin.

It was a bit of a harsh trip, logistically. I had to catch a bus from Bristol to Gatwick at 2.25am on Friday, fly to Spain, and then preside over the defence in the afternoon. The following day I asked for an evening flight home so that I could take some time to look at the city, but that meant (thanks to some French air-traffic-control shenanigans) that my flight was delayed, I missed the last bus back to Bristol, and had to spend five hours in the early hours of Sunday at Gatwick, before catching the 5.40am home. It's now Sunday evening, and I've not had a lot of sleep.

Given that, here are some illustrated highlights of my trip, rather than a connected narrative. Some of the facts here come via the doctoral candidate, Catalina, who has also worked as a tour guide in Valencia, and kindly gave me and the other examiner a city tour yesterday.


First, paella. Almost the only thing I knew about Valencia was that it's the home of paella. In many places paella is made with seafood, but the traditional ingredients in its home town are, it turns out, chicken and rabbit, with snails and the local water rat as optional extras (mine had neither, sadly, but it was still delicious). Valencians never eat paella in the evening - it's strictly a lunch dish.

That was lunch yesterday: Friday evening was a rather opulent, multi-course affair, which was all delicious (though since I was among strangers I resisted the urge to photograph it). I think the strangest single dish contained the following elements, all of which had equal billing: pork snout, salmon roe, artichokes and parmesan cheese. It tasted nice (especially the artichokes), but in what fevered pipe dream did anyone come up with that combination?

Valencia is a Spanish city built in (or around) a Moorish city, built on a Visigothic city, built on a Roman city. I love places like that, and have done ever since I lived in York, which is similarly palimpsestuous. Here, for example, is the medieval "mountain gate", outside which barbers used to have their stalls, ready to shave any shaggy mountaineer coming to the big city for trade or talk:


Impressive, isn't it? But just a few yards inside, built into existing houses and shops, much of the Moorish city wall still remains. The Valencians are a practical people. Here are a couple of Moorish towers, about a thousand years old apiece, just being parts of people's houses, down back streets and beside little car parks:


The Moors themselves were far from averse to a bit of bricolage. Witness this walled-in arch, featuring bits of saints from a Visigothic church:


In the more on-show parts of the city, there's a good deal of Catholic bling, especially here in the church of St Nicolas:


Even St Raphael seems to be bragging about how much bigger his fish was:


More impressive to me (of the austere tastes) is this market hall, once home to traders in the silk that was for centuries Valencia's main commodity (before competition and disease in the mulberry trees made them turn instead to oranges). Each skeined pillar twists toward the heavens:


But besides the old Valencia, there's an ultra-modern Valencia, built by modern architects and sculptors. Here is a scene from circa 2100, near my hotel:

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There's some controversy in the city as to whether such expensive projects should be indulged in, when the old town needs so much support, and the country's on its uppers. As to that, I stay loftily neutral; but I'll be going back next year, Brexit sakoku notwithstanding, to look round Valencia again!

Rachel Real and the Amazing Time-Travelling Bed
Each night Rachel goes to sleep in her seemingly-ordinary bed, only to wake up on an entirely different day! Join Rachel on her amazing time-travel adventures.

Who knows, perhaps your bed is a secret time machine too?

*. *. *

I offer this revolutionary book idea to whoever want to write it. It could be the biggest seller since Go the Fuck to Sleep.

Every Railway Tunnel Deserves a String Quartet
But only the one in St Werburgh's has one, as I discovered this lunchtime.

Here's a view of the audience, both well rapt and well wrapped, it being nearly October. Those distant figures at the far end of the tunnel are graffiti artists. St Werburgh's is always in artistic ferment.


Finally, a topiary pig, to underline the point - if there was a point:


St Werburgh's, over and out.

Peanuts vs. Cats
"S. adored her old teacher," my friend told me of her 8-year-old daughter over lunch, "because she was a gymnastics coach, and S. loves gymnastics, so they got on really well. But she doesn't like her new teacher. She's into cats, and S. is cross because she has a cat allergy."

She found this attitude (amusingly) unreasonable in her daughter, and at first I was inclined to agree. But then I thought, what if she had a peanut allergy and her new teacher insisted on putting pictures of peanuts up round the classroom, dividing the classes into "Reese's" and "Sunpat", and generally singing the praises of peanuts in their manifold incarnations? That would seem more unreasonable on the teacher's part than the child's, wouldn't it? In fact, one might be tempted to contact the school for a Word.

What is the difference between the two cases? Is it just that I find cats cute myself, and peanuts not so much? Or more generally that cat lovers enjoy a recognised cultural niche, while peanut enthusiasts labour under the stigma of singularity? (But if so, shouldn't they be encouraged to express themselves, by way of showing the children that you don't have to be ashamed?) Or is it simply the contrast in seriousness between anaphylactic shock and a bit of a rash? (That said, I've known people whose social lives were seriously compromised by cat allergies.)

It may not be the most important debate of our times, but it's been bobbing around my brain ever since, so I put it here, under my ever-faithful "maunderings" tag.

Shopkeeper: Can I help you?
Frida Kahlo: I'm just brows-ing.

I wonder when the Frida Kahlo-isation of our culture first took serious hold? Not that I particularly object to it: I can see that, now Che Guevara's star has waned, there is a (counter-)cultural niche to be filled. And who better than Kahlo, with her take-me-as-I-am stare and striking looks? That she also had Trotsky a lodger certainly doesn't make her less cool.

I've known of her for a long time, in fact since the days when she was mostly spoken as Diego Rivera's partner ("Who he?" quoth the Zeitgeist), but I've only recently become aware of Kahlo merch in almost every shop, at least in Bristol and Brighton. Is it a recent phenomenon - and if so, what triggered it? Or has it been building slowly, and I've only just noticed, parboiled frog as I am?

2D, or not 2D?
"Of course, now I want to pop over to Cirencester (it’s only 40 minutes in the car) and pose like Alice and Shino. If only I knew someone who’d be willing to be my accomplice in so silly a mission."

I wrote those prophetic words in a post from May 2015, having only recently discovered that one of the settings of Kiniro Mosaic was Cirencester High Street. Now I understand of course that such posing trips (or seichi junrei/聖地巡礼 - a phrase translating roughly to "sacred pilgrimages") are utterly standard anime fan behaviour. Indeed, in Japan - where, naturally, most anime are set - city and prefectural governments often cooperate with anime studios to promote an anime with a local setting: the anime and the area provide each other with publicity, and everyone benefits. There's even an 88 stop anime pilgrimage route you can go on, much as pilgrims of old (and of now) take tours round various temples and shrines, getting a stamp in each on to prove they've done it. (Christian pilgrims are of course not dissimilar, with their collections of palms and scallops.) Some people pose as their anime heroes and heroines, possibly in cosplay, while others take a figurine to photograph in situ.

Well, of course I'm not the first person to notice all this, but I only recently learned about Sony's Butai Meguri app, which - using the same kind of GPS technology as Pokémon Go - allows you to photograph anime characters in the places where their stories are set. Not every anime is covered, of course, but Kiniro Mosaic is included. I learned all this from the owner of Fosse Farmhouse, whom I was helping with a Powerpoint presentation the other day. She lives in Alice's house, and kindly took a picture of me standing next to her youthful pixellated ward:

Alice and Butai Meguri at Fosse Farmhouse

Now, is this the same kind of thrill people get from going round, say, Hemingford Grey Manor and mentally inserting the characters from the Green Knowe books, as I was doing exactly a year ago?

Or is it very different?

[Not] all Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz
DNA may not change, but DNA analysis does. Just a few weeks ago, I posted the results from my Ancestry.com test, which looked like this:

DNA map

The other day I wanted to check it again, and logged into the site, only to find that the updated results are - considering the short time lag - already surprisingly different, presumably because of new data. Here's the updated me:

DNA map updated sept 2018

I've lost my Scandinavian, Iberian and Caucasian flourishes, and am now even more determinedly British, with 98% of me hailing from the British Isles and northwest Europe. But look! The remaining 2% turns out, with intriguing specificity, to be Sardinian! I've no idea where that came from, but I'd certainly like to know.

By the way, I discovered today that a blog I wrote a for a local travel company about my trip to Japan was published back in July. It would have been nice to know about it before, but here I am, in breathless journalistic style, taking part in non-academic engagement.

From Aardman to Armistice
If there are any Aardman fans here, feel free to flick through my Flickr account, where you will find ample photographic evidence of my trip to Cribbs Causeway (Bristol's very own out-of-town shopping centre) last week, in part to visit the Gromit Unleashed exhibition, in which all of the Wallace, Gromit and Feathers McGraw statues previously scattered throughout Bristol for the summer are reunited in one place. I'll start you off with a couple of faves, concentrating on allusions:

Star Trek

Where's Wally?

Monsters Inc.

Alice in Wonderland

But there are plenty of other themes, too. What will next year bring?

Or, if your bent runs more to haltingly delivered lectures on children's fantasy literature and the end of the Great War, with particular emphasis on memory and repression, you may like to hear the podcast of the lecture I gave last week at Exeter University as part of The Empathy Effect, a project I'm involved with. (The link's at the bottom.)

cathy pic

Have with You to Woking
As a teenager, I used to read a lot of G. K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw. They were sparring partners and friendly rivals; one Catholic with a fondness for beef and beer, the other an atheist vegetarian teetotaller. Both had a talent for controversy and paradox, and healthy egos to match, and I liked them both, while sharing the opinions of neither (though I preferred GKC).

Like any pair of duellists, Chesterton and Shaw had their seconds (at least in my head), in the form of Hilaire Belloc and H. G. Wells, whom I also read, but not so avidly. In my imagination, this foursome spent the first few decades of the last century as gung-ho, pamphleteering frenemies, warring and intimate in turns. I liked to think of them penning essays and manifestos by day, and enjoying a pint (or a soda water with lemon) together by night. I don't know if it was really like that, and I don't want to know.

Anyway, I just want to record my pleasure at finding this slim volume on sale for 20p at the local Amnesty shop:

Mr Belloc Objects

Watching people argue with such passion, and such a vivid sense of amour propre, about controversies now almost entirely irrelevant, is a strangely luxurious feeling for me, whether it be here or in the pamphlet battles of earlier ages (Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey are another favourite pairing). Perhaps future historians of social media will get a similar buzz when they come to review the story of gamergate, or whatever.

Why do these things give me pleasure? It's not an Olympian "what fools these mortals be!" disdain - not at all; more a reassurance that my own furious passions, too, will eventually be chaff, and that therefore I really needn't worry so much.

Even futility is a half-full cup.

Contradictory Lyrics
Remember these lines from the theme song to Cheers?

You want to go where people know
People are all the same.
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

Or perhaps it was actually:

You want to go where people know
People aren't all the same.
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

The weird thing is that they both work as feel-good messages - either about our shared humanity, or our individual uniqueness. I guess there's no real opposition there, but it still feels kind of odd that they both make sense when they appear to contradict each other. And I still don't know which version is correct.

Some International Cross-Cutting
Over the last week I've been visited by my friend Eriko Kawanashi, the anthropologist who has made a study of the beliefs and rituals of Glastonbury. We had a lot of fun, which I won't detail here (my proud boast is that, over the two days she was with me, I converted her to Marmite), but I was struck by her mentioning that, having learned a lot of her English in Glastonbury, she didn't realise the extent to which it departed from normal usage. Thus, she had been given to saying things like "I feel as if my chakras need cleansing today" to English people elsewhere, and being bemused by the looks they gave her.

Tangentially, two days ago in Athens (where I was attending the IBBY conference) I chatted with an Italian teacher of Japanese and some of my Japanese friends. It was noticeable that, although her Japanese was really excellent, she continued to gesture with her hands as if she were speaking Italian. It was strange how incongruous this looked, at least to undemonstrative me.

Anyway, Athens was a lot of fun, even though I didn't get a chance to do any sightseeing at all. The Acropolis remains unvisited. On the other hand, I heard a lot of interesting papers, gave one that went pretty well, and met some old friends, including Ali Baker and the Tokyo Joshidai Crew, Mihoko, Satomi and Mikako. By the way, here's me hangin' out with Eiko Kadono, the author of Kiki's Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便) and winner of this year's Hans Christian Andersen award, which was given her at the conference dinner, where she gave a really excellent speech. That's two Ghibli-fied authors I've met. Are there any others still alive?