Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

Midwinter Spring is Its Own Season
I write this post (or at least, begin it) in Aberystwyth, where I have come to examine a PhD. I will have to turn to PhD-examining matters shortly, so may have to finish this later, but wanted to share a couple of photos of Brockhampton Church near Hereford, which I visited yesterday en route to West Wales. It's all part of the Cotswold Project of course, even though Brockhampton isn't in the Cotswolds, for this is the church that some years ago was (for a small consideration) replicated by a Japanese hotel chain on the 20th floor of an Osaka hotel. (I will, naturally, be visiting the replica in May.) And, on that hotel's website, the church is kinda sorta implied to be in the Cotswolds, by way of a William Morris quotation that was I believe actually about the village of Bibury rather than the churches of the Cotswolds, but hey:

This authentic looking chapel is surrounded by green grass and vivid flowers and illuminated from above by the extensive glass roof. The design imitates the churches of the Cotswolds, described by the renowned designer William Morris as the most beautiful in England. Our chapel recreated the beauty of the Cotswolds, from its rolling green hills to its traditional arts and crafts culture.

Here's a promotional video showing how the replica is used as part of the Osaka hotel's wedding package:

The real church (I use the word with Baudrillard-esque knowingness), though it looks mediaeval, was actually consecrated only in 1902. It's the work of William Lethaby, an Arts-and-Crafts-inspired architect. Of course, it quotes lavishly from many earlier country churches, with its thatched roof, wooden tower and so on, so you might argue that it's no less "fake" than the one in Osaka, but either way the overall effect is beautiful, and Pevsner was rightly complimentary about it.


The view from the church is a little different from the one in Osaka, too:

The churchwarden, Brigadier Rodney Watkins, was kind enough to show me around inside and to give me some of the history of the place. I won't go into that here, but have a couple of tapestries made by the William Morris workshops, after Burne-Jones:


Amongst everything else, Brig. Watkins told me a story (possibly apocryphal but probably not) about a Japanese couple who were spotted drawing up to the church in a car. They got out, slipped into wedding gear, took a photograph of themselves in front of the church, then disappeared again. Can we doubt that they had been married in 20 floors up Osaka, and had come to the fountainhead to put the mother church's imprimatur on their union?

Then I set my sights to the west, and headed for Aber along the A44 - a really marvellous journey. It was late afternoon by then, and the winter light was slanted in that way that makes everything vivid and magical. Murmurations of starlings streamed from one side of the road to the other more than once at the level of my car, and sheep of preternatural whiteness strewed the hills. I was gurgling with delight, my joy mitigated only by the consciousness that such a wretch as I little deserved to witness such beauty, but what are you going to do?

Of course I can't show you any of that since I was driving, so you'll have to take my word for it, but if you enjoyed my pictures of honey-stoned Castle Combe the other week, perhaps you'll like half-timbered Eardisland by way of contrast, a small but worthwhile diversion from my westward road:

DSC00579DSC00576DSC00574DSC00572DSC00570 crop

At last, the sea, the sea by sundown.


An Emblem of Themselves in Plum or Pear.
Yesterday the Cotswold project took me back to Fosse Farmhouse, the model for Alice's house in the Kiniro Mosaic anime, in which its homemade jam actually gets a sly bit of product placement on Shinobu's breakfast table...

fosse farmhouse product placement
fosse farmhouse product placement - closeup

I was there to talk about the project with Caron, the owner, but happily my visit coincided with the arrival of a group of young Japanese students studying nearby in Bath, who had come to learn the ancient art of baking scones. Here they are, doing just that, in a scene reminiscent of Alice's and Shinobu's lesson in Episode 1 (that took place in the room next door, but the Homepride flour men are prominent in both):

DSC00501Alice and Shinobu 1Alice and Shinobu 2Alice and Shinobu 3

Admittedly yesterday's students weren't making names in dough, but here are some Caron made earlier:


Anyway, the end result was very good, and didn't taste like a cartoon at all:


The homemade jam was plum, not strawberry; Caron can't grow enough strawberries for the purpose, but has a very productive Victoria plum tree. I point that out purely for the sake of scholarship, but research is seldom this delicious.

Capillary Economics
Have you ever considered that leap years are a tax on the bourgeoisie?

Blue-collar and part-time workers tend to get paid hourly, daily or weekly; white-collar jobs are usually paid monthly. In a leap year, the income of a monthly-paid worker remains the same as in a non-leap year, meaning that the extra day is effectively unpaid labour; whereas someone paid by the hour, day or week will of course get extra money for the extra day.

I would like to say that the universe arranged this as a kind of redistributive fiscal policy, but sadly the extra money raised by the unpaid labour of the middle-classes doesn't go to the less well off - except, perhaps, to a small extent, in the case of public-sector workers. It's trickle-up economics, as usual. The solar system is a Tory - but I suppose we already knew that from Ulysses:

And therefore is the glorious planet Sol
In noble eminence enthroned and sphered
Amidst the other; whose medicinable eye
Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil,
And posts, like the commandment of a king,
Sans cheque to good and bad: but when the planets
In evil mixture to disorder wander,
What plagues and what portents! what mutiny!

Fighting the Man
It's not often I go to the cinema twice in a week, but this week I did - first, to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (which I wanted to see because I'd enjoyed Seven Psychopaths), and today to Japanese Girls Never Die (in Japanese, アズミ・ハルコは行方不明 or Haruko Azumi is Missing).

Walking through Stokes Croft to get to the cinema, I saw this piece of graffiti alluding to the first film - and, since the second is in part about graffiti, it formed a nice visual handshake:


I liked them both. Billboards was certainly the more polished of the two, and the characters were more complex (albeit working with familiar templates). Japanese Girls was less predictable, more exciting and risky, perhaps precisely because it felt as if it was slightly less safe in the director's hands. Both had a kind of small-town-where-everyone-knows-everyone-and-secrets-have-a-short-shelflife vibe, black humour and strangely incompetent police. The Japanese film was making a fairly explicit political statement (for Japan) about gender inequality. I'm not sure whether Billboards was making any kind of statement, other than a plea for human understanding. And that's fine; I was glad to see both.

Pobol y Combe
Yesterday I took a couple of hours to do my first (simplest, quickest) Cotswold project field trip - which was, basically, to go to Castle Combe and take some photographs of it. The weather was sunny, it was February (i.e. before the tourist season), and the middle of a working day, so the place was more or less deserted, and I got some nice pictures. To be honest, in a place like that it would be hard not to:

Combe under the cutCollapse )

When I visited with Haruka last year, she asked me, "Do people really live here?" In fact, they really do.

I called in at the Old Rectory Tea Room (that's the one with the stable half-door), and chatted with the owner about Japanese tourists. According to her, most visitors to Castle Combe are in fact Japanese, which was music to my ears. They come in organised tours, not necessarily in large coaches but perhaps in groups of half a dozen or less, but they generally can't speak English, so business has to be conducted by gesture. (They are usually also doing Stonehenge, Bath, Bourton-on-the-Water and Lacock - all on the same day?)

Also, the owner has written and self-published a children's book about a family of mice that moves to Castle Combe from London, as she and her family did, which she sells from the tea room shop, with many photographs of the village inside. Apparently her Japanese visitors are fond of buying the little knitted mice she also sells, who feature in the book. This kind of attempt at offering an integrated Castle Combe Enchantment experience is grist to my mill, naturally. It's a pity they can't read the book, but it's so heavily illustrated they barely need to.

Anyway, I don't have anything very interesting to say about all this, except that it's excellent material for the Cotswold project, but I thought you might like to see the pictures.

Economy Yucky
It's almost five years since I started learning Japanese. At about that time, inspired by watching Cardcaptor Sakura, I also made my first attempt at okonomiyaki. In the words of the Pokemon games, "It wasn't very effective."

Okonomiyaki (after a fashion)

As it happens, my Japanese class's homework this week was to make okonomiyaki, following a recipe in Japanese. It turned out rather better:


But of course, there's still a long way to go. Okonomiyaki here stands as a rather obvious metonym (or is it a synecdoche?) for my understanding of the culture and language generally. Vita brevis, ars longa, and all that.

Imbolc In Bulk and Candlemass En Masse
Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.

Happy first day of research leave, everyone!

Oh right, that would be just me, then. Oh well, never mind, I promise to keep you informed of all my amusing doings. I should add that it's only the fourth period of leave I've had in my 28 years as a university teacher (1995, 2004 and 2010 are the other blessed dates), so my cup, though brimming at the moment, can't be said to have run over on a regular enough basis that I need to call a plumber.

Before I go to contemptuously bowl over some rabbits (carelessly splitting infinitives as I pass), I'll just say that my three main aims, from the writing point of view, are: a) to write a piece on Lucy Boston and genre; b) to write a keynote on WWI children's fiction and empathy for a conference that's happening in September (with special reference to Geraldine McCaughrean, probably), and c) the Cotswolds project. a) and b) interest me, of course, but c) is the jewel the crown of 2018's spring and summer. What adventures await me? Already this week I've spoken with a real live brigadier in the line of duty - a first for me. (And writing that, I've realised that I am quite unable to put a brigade, a regiment and a division in order of size. Not that I want to become a military nerd, but that should be common knowledge, right? Away to Google!)

When You Want to Take Away the Taste of Unagi
I received some lovely presents for my birthday last week, but I'm especially fond of the bottle of "Ugai" mouthwash tablets that my daughter got me from Lush. Lush is of course a Dorset company through and through, but it's big in Japan, so I wasn't totally surprised to see them give mouthwash a Japanese twist. Nevertheless, the label is deliciously ridiculous:


"Inspired by the Japanese custom of gargling." Really? Are we going to pretend that gargling is a quintessentially Japanese concept, like bushido and origami?

In case you're wondering, "ugai" is indeed the Japanese word for gargling. In this context, though, it's reminiscent of Ross Geller declaring the necessity of "achieving true unagi".

From the Pages of The Journal of Unethical Research
Yesterday's news about Volkswagen conducting experiments on various primates that involved them breathing toxic fumes, has drawn down plenty of ire upon the company. However, it's an ill wind, to coin a phrase, and it's a good opportunity compare the different kinds of outrage. Are we more shocked by the use of monkeys (who could not consent) or by the humans (because "paragon of animals", etc.)?

The BBC gave them ore or less equal billing on their website:

humans and monkeys2

But the metadata tell a different story, suggesting that the monkeys were an afterthought:

humans and monkeys

The Independent, by contrast, puts the monkeys front and centre, with humans relegated to an afterthought a couple of paragraphs in:

humans and monkeys independent

The Guardian and The Mail don't mention the poor old humans at all! Nor do a lot of people, though I won't clutter up your friends page by proving it.

humans and monkeys guardianhumans and monkeys mail

All in all, the monkeys have it, and the BBC is, as it turns out, an outlier, despite their hasty attempt to catch up. And what do we conclude from all this? That we are nation of animal lovers? That the humans' consent absolves the experimenters of responsibility? That monkeys sell papers?

Or simply that I still haven't quite finished my marking?

A Stool to be Melancholy Upon
Tomorrow is my birthday, which will take me into the very midst of my mid-fifties. It occurs to me today that I have (within a month or two) also now been a university lecturer for exactly half my life.

In my rage for symmetry, I wonder if I am doomed to lecture for another 27 and a half years, before retiring at 82? It's not impossible, the economy being what it is. Thereafter, I will decline gracefully into the sunset of my dotage, before expiring gently at the at of 110, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, etc.

Actually, maybe I'm already sans taste - otherwise I'd have a much sharper wardrobe.

A Launch in the Fens
I'm still marking, hence my recent silence - and indeed, I should be doing so even now. If only I could train the two hemispheres of my brain to work on different tasks at the same time! Productivity - doubled.

Anyway, this is just a fly-by post to confirm that I'm still here in spirit, but I'll mention that I did take a quick break from marking to go to a book launch in Cambridge last week, for this book (to which I contributed a chapter on counterfactual histories). Here I am with the editors, Clémentine and Maria (plus mutual friend Eve), looking perhaps a little gormless but friendly enough:

cambridge book launch jan 18 a

I had lunch with Clémentine the next day, and mentioned that my Air B'n'B was cheap and central but pretty basic - which was reflected in the price. In particular it was rather cold, but I'd read that in the online reviews beforehand and packed an extra vest, so that was okay. "That's the most British thing I've ever heard," she said, or words to that effect. On reflection, though, I'm not sure whether she meant:

a) I am cheap enough to book somewhere I know to be uncomfortably cold
b) I wear vests in cold weather (and socks with sandals in the heat, no doubt)
c) I am always prepared - dib dib!
d) I am admirably stoic

Possibly all four. It was a nice lunch, anyway - Clémentine and I always seem to click - but all too soon I had to trundle my overnight case through the fenland rain back to the station, and thence to a trainload of marking.

Going down for the third time...

Cloud Cuckoo
I thought I might try my hand at translating English poetry into Japanese, taking "Daffodils" as a test text. (This is just a literal translation, note - no attempt at anything beautiful or subtle.)

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills

Becomes, as far as I can render it:


But it amused me to see what I was forced to do to the word order. This, my friends, is left-branching syntax at work:

[I] hills and dales o'er on high floating cloud as lonely wandered

Now, proof of concept fluttering in the breeze, let us away to The Prelude!

Japan Moriawase
Last semester's marking has just touched down in my in-tray, so I'm likely to be preoccupied over the next two or three weeks, but to keep my spirits up I've begun making arrangements for my research trip to Japan in May (which is, for the first half, a tour of resorts, malls, etc., inspired by Britain, and particularly the Cotswolds). First up, I've booked two nights in the B&B at Dreamton, near Kameoka (not far from Kyoto). There I will enjoy a full English breakfast in a country cottage with whitewashed walls, but also potentially be disturbed by the cry of frogs at night, according to the information I was sent on booking. This the kind of cognitive dissonance I particularly appreciate. (Of course, we have frogs in England too, but as I found last year Japanese ones sound quite different.) "京都の英国カントリーサイド、静かに流れる時間を存分にお楽しみください", says the booking form: "Enjoy time flowing quietly by in Kyoto's British countryside." I can't wait.

I've tried to contact British Hills, too, but so far no reply. Yufuin Floral Village is next on my list, where I hope to meet up with my good friend Chiho. Watch this space - or the next one.

I've often seen old anthropomorphic maps of England, Britain, or even the British Isles - stuff like this:


But check out the anime-style versions here (you need to scroll down some way). Are they not considerably more appealing than a sour-faced Britannia who has turned Wales into her chair-back?

In vocabulary news, I've long had difficulty remember the Japanese word for aquarium: suizokukan (水族館). I've seen it several times, but not often enough for it to stick. Now, I've just realised that kanji-by-kanji it can be translated as "hall of the watery tribe". Given that, I think I won't have any further difficulty. I'll just imagine it was coined by a minor eighteenth-century poet.

Cotswold Watch: Glastonbury supplement
I realise that Glastonbury doesn't really count as the Cotswolds, but I'm taking a very broad view of the matter for my Cotswold project. I've already noted Glastonbury's anime appearance in Fate/stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (contender for my least-snappy title award):

Fate stay night glastonbury

But now here comes Little Witch Academia. I'd seen the 2013 short film of LWA, a kind of Harry-Potter-inspired magic school story, with the interesting addition of Alfred Watkins' ley lines (leys, for the purists). A map shown briefly in that film had suggested a Glastonbury setting to me:

luna nova

But no location had been mentioned, so I was pleased to see yesterday, when I finally got around to watching the 2017 TV anime spin-off, that it is indeed set in Glastonbury. Not that we can quite read the name of the station where Acco disembarks (and not that Glastonbury actually has a station, for that matter):

Glastonbury Station

Nor does the town look that much like Glastonbury - more a generic Cotswoldy small town, where you can buy delicious potatoes:

Delicious potato

However, the Abbey ruins are pretty familiar, jungle creepers notwithstanding:

in glastobury abbey

And the same is true a fortiori of the Tor:

leyline terminal - chapel

The path up it brings back happy memories from last summer, with Haruka and Eriko:

chapel with witches 1

It turns out that the chapel is actually a portal from which one can ride the ley line straight to Luna Nova Academy:

leyline sign
the magic highway

So, now you know!

Conversations Internal and External
When I walked to Tesco yesterday I found myself sauntering past a very long queue of traffic trying to get into the Eastgate Centre, perhaps to stock up on last-minute booze - whereas I was only after soured cream. Detecting feelings of smugness, I prepared to suppress them in my usual authoritarian manner, then made a conscious decision not to, but rather - as an experiment - to view them positively, for all the world as if I were President Trump.

"There's nothing wrong with feeling smug," I told myself. "You deserve it. In fact, I think it's very brave of you to so honest about your feelings. Also, smug is so very in right now."

Didn't I do it well? I don't think anyone in the history of the world has been smug more expertly. But it hasn't changed me.

Today I decided to take a stroll around the zoo, an impulse that seems to afflict me only on New Year's Day, although this time I was in Bristol rather than Borth. I'd not been to Bristol Zoo for several years, and it was a rather nostalgic trip, which gave me a chance to compare meerkats, assess hippos, and so on.


The strangest part was the overhead conversation while watching the otters. A small boy - maybe four years old? - was there with his father. Looking at the pair of otters, he remarked: "I don't like the female otter." (How he could tell the difference is beyond me.) Not getting any reaction, he added after a few seconds: "I don't like girls."

"You do like girls," replied his father. "Because you got a princess dress for Christmas. And" - with a heavy emphasis - "you like wearing it."

It seemed a strange argument: does it really follow that a boy who likes princess dresses will also like their traditional occupants? Then I wondered whether it might have been partly for my benefit. After all, a few minutes earlier, when we'd all been looking at the golden lion tamarins and the boy had said the word "Fart!" very loudly, the father had apologised to me - so he was clearly sensitive to the way he was seen by others. If so, I suppose the first part - "You got a princess dress for Christmas" - was an example of what is fashionably called virtue signalling ("I am not one to force my child to conform to gender stereotypes"). But the second part - "And you like wearing it" - was a pre-emptive clarification, just in case I was a Mail reader ("Nor am I one to force my son to wear dresses").

From the boy's point of view, however, it must have all sounded like non sequitur upon non sequitur, though he was too polite to say so.

Pigs, Chickens and Snakes, Oh My
Yesterday I made oyakodon for the first time - a dish involving chicken and egg on rice. Which came first? The chicken, of course, with the egg being added just for a minute or so at the end.

The name "oyakodon" (親子丼) hides a slightly macabre joke, since oya (親) (parent) and ko (子) (child) refer to the relationship of the two main ingredients. But I like its straight talking, compared to, say, "pigs in blankets", which really ought to be called "One pig wrapped in another pig like something out of Silence of the Lambs but without any lamb in it".

The recipe book came from Haruka and her mother, who also sent me yuzu-themed bath supplies and some rather cute cat-shaped chopstick rests. Pullman figured large elsewhere in my haul, with both The Book of Dust and his essay collection. The latest Frances Hardinge was there too, and (at my request) the DVD of the 1970s series The Water Margin, a Japanese adaptation of the classic Chinese novel, the lengthy introduction to which (it begins, "The ancient sages said, 'Do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who is to say it will not become a dragon?'") I found I could still recite some 40 years on from its first broadcast. But honestly, has anyone ever despised a snake for having no horns? It would be like despising a lion for having no wings. Only winged lions are in a position to do that.

On Boxing Day I took Haawa to Winchester, ancient capital of England but in this case also the location of nearest KFC, her favourite food, which she is sadly denied in Romsey. KFC is also, by coincidence, the "traditional" Christmas fare in Japan, and sure enough there was a young man of oriental appearance sitting in it when we went, but since he didn't speak I can say no more than that.

A Solstice Song
The wheel has turned! The year awoke!
The gears of Spring are set in motion.
Astraea (after a lovely soak)
Is rousing from the baths of Ocean.

The bright stars drift about her thighs
Like yuzu floating in a tub,
And Summer waits, with hungry eyes,
To give her legs and back a rub.

Saving the Day, in an Only Slightly Racist Way
Okay, so I was doing some Christmas shopping this afternoon, which had taken me to the small indoor shopping centre in the middle of Bristol known as The Galleries. I'd pretty much run out of energy, but stopped into a bargain store to buy some kitchen paper before heading home. The shop was crowded, with quite a queue at the till. I noticed one little girl, maybe two years old, wander towards the door of the shop, then wander out of the shop, then turn right and disappear from sight. She didn't seem to have anyone with her.

I looked around. The girl had looked like she was of sub-Saharan descent, though relatively light-skinned - maybe of mixed race? But none of the families in the shop fitted that description. I asked out loud, to the the people there assembled. "Did that little girl who just walked out of the shop belong to anyone?"

No one took any notice - except one boy, aged about 9, with a Sikh top-knot. He was surrounded by several apparent younger siblings, and his apparent mother was bent over a buggy, simultaneously trying to deal with a baby and pay at the till. He came with me to the front of the shop ("Will it look like I'm trying to abduct him?" I wondered briefly). "Where's X?" he threw back at his mother. I didn't catch the name, but it must have belonged to the little girl, because his mother immediately rushed to the front of the shop in an understandably panicked way. There was no sign of the child.

"She seemed to turn right," I said as mother and son ran to the left. I went the other way, to the toyshop next-door but one - and there, sure enough,was the girl, watching some kind of mechanised toy in unworried fascination. I signalled through the crowd to the mother, and she came back and retrieved her daughter, who grinned at me conspiratorially from her mother's arms. ("Perhaps the father is African? Or Tamil?" flashed through my mind, though by now that wasn't the point.) The mother thanked me profusely, and I felt that, whatever the worth of the Christmas presents, I had justified my existence on earth for one day at least.

Now, part of me wants to find a lost child tomorrow as well.

Japanese Diary 36: the Five Stages of Learning Kanji
1. Denial
There are how many kanji in everyday use? Over two thousand? With tens of thousands more after that? And they almost all have more than one reading? That just can't be right!

2. Anger
Japanese has such a stupid writing system! Why can't they just use the alphabet like normal people?

3. Bargaining
If I just learn hiragana, katakana and a hundred or so kanji, that’ll get me by in most situations, right?

4. Depression
I’ll never do it. I may as well give up now.

5. Acceptance/Hope
Finally it’s starting to make sense. Sometimes these kanji are actually pretty useful…

I think I'm finally making it to 5, but with frequent relapses to 4 and 3.

Brexit Explained
The current state of the Brexit negotiations are complicated, but also very simple. In short, the DUP is in favour of these three policies:

a) Maintain integrity with the rest of the UK

b) Leave the customs union

c) Keep an open border with ROI

It's easy to get any two of these, but impossible to have all three without a contradiction. Which will be renounced? (Or rather, since this is a matter of diplomacy, which can most easily be dressed up in vague and ambiguous language to look like its opposite?)

I've no idea what was Mrs May on, thinking she could sacrifice a) when she's at the end of Arlene Foster's leash. b) is impossible for her too, because she's also on the leash of her own right wing.

Ergo, she will sacrifice c).

But no! Because the Irish government will veto further talks in that case.

But actually yes! Because ROI will be under pressure from the other member states, who want a deal, and will also be aware that if there is no deal a hard border will come into existence by default in 2019.

Also, c) is the most amenable to being dressed in vague and ambiguous language. Once phase 2 talks begin, the Irish lose their veto, and Mrs May (if she's still in office) will begin to backtrack by degrees. They don't call Albion perfidious for nothing - but actually, in this case it's the Tory party, who will sacrifice not only their own country to stay in power but also their neighbours'.


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