Wednesday, 26 July 2006

Caterpillars

Been thinking a lot about The Very Hungary Caterpillar recently, mainly as I seem to have to read it at least 4 times an evening to the young chap (and no, I’m not talking about George Dubya here) as it is one of his favourite reads. So ok, the caterpillar is born and is hungry, good premise so far. His diet over the first week, if you have forgotten, is thus:

Monday – one apple
Tuesday – two pears
Wednesday – three plums
Thursday – four strawberries
Friday – five oranges

So far so good, but then, as we know, he goes for the blow out smorgasbord on Saturday:

One piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon.

And that night, as the story goes, he had a stomachache.

But what is this story trying to tell us, really?

Is the book trying to say that eating a lot of food isn’t a good idea? This seems to be the case as the caterpillar goes from eating five bits of fruit to eating a whole load of stuff. So the underlying message to the young mind might be ‘only eat as much as you need and don’t stuff your face else you’ll end up a fat wheezy kid no one picks for their team’.

But wait; if we look at it from a nutritionist’s point of view might the problem be with the choice of food? I mean the caterpillar, for the first 5 days of his life is following a strictly fruitarian diet – on raw fruit dropped from the bough. But then on Saturday he suddenly gets into complex sugars and starches, diary products, processed and cured meats and strong acidic vinegars. Wow, that would be a shock to anyone’s system, surely? So perhaps what the book is really trying to say is ‘keep as far away from man-made, processed foods and unnecessary fats and sugars as they are not good for you and will mean you have to detox your body else you’ll end up a fat wheezy kid no one picks for their team’. (Ok, similar sort of message but from a very different perspective)

However it might not be as simple as either of those possibilities. What if the book, and its author Eric Carle, is actually trying to suggest to young minds that there is a radical and destructive dichotomy in the world between the haves and the have-nots? In the first 5 days of his life the caterpillar eats as if he is in a pastoral/agricultural economy, what might be construed as the third world, where food is raw and unprocessed and what is eaten is whatever can be grown. But on the Saturday the caterpillar, Gulliver-like, is transported to the ‘first’ world, where he gets to eat all he rubbish that is regularly consumed by overweight westerners who have lost touch with what it means to nurture and grow food and who are at a loss if faced by something raw and unpackaged. No wonder the caterpillar gets sick, we think, but not sick on the food but on the consumerist over consumption of junk whilst half the world starves. So the message might be ‘don’t eat and eat and eat all this rubbish food but realise there is a whole world of starvation out there and anything you can do to help them is a good thing’. (Perhaps the one nice green leaf the caterpillar eats the next day to make himself feel better could be a metaphor for overseas aid and the good work of bodies like Oxfam and the UNHCR).

But of course the nutritionist would be asking “where are the vegetables in this caterpillar’s diet?” And, perhaps more to the point, what does he drink?

I never realised that picture books for young children could be radicalised in quite such a way. But do the kids get it, that’s the important question? I mean, I have been reading the book for a few months now but it has taken me quite a long time to realise that there are far deeper layers than at first you might assume (a bit like Rousseau comparing society to the layers of an onion, in whichever book it was that he wrote that (but I wouldn’t want you to think that I am comparing TVHC to Rousseau, I think the caterpillar is way beyond anything that tiresome French windbag could come up with, though they are both obviously very into their pastoral)). Naturally now I am trying to read all Marcus’ books first, but now with an open mind to see if hidden ideas can be discerned. My worry is, of course, that that in some innocent looking story about a train taking animals to the beach there will be a subliminal message exhorting the youngster to become an accountant, or something equally devastating.

Of course I might be reading too much into it, but don’t get me started on Curious George...

And congratulations...

...to my cousin Matthew who was married to Be├íta on a boat in Budapest on Saturday. We couldn’t be there, I am very sad to say, but as soon as someone sends me some photos of the actual wedding I will glad put them up in their honour.

Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Reverse angle

Ok, I know this is a bit late as the association football world kickabout finished over a week ago, but the computer decided to do something funny on Monday evening (not yesterday but the week before) which is only just righting itself. No idea what happened, but seemed to coincide with the date that those wonderful people at microsoft decided to stop supporting windows 98 – now I know we should get a new computer, one a bit more up to date and that has a larger memory than my ipod, but to hell with it, the good ole’ NEC has only caused me hours of frustration so far, and what makes you think a new one would be any better? Anyway I asked the Japanbloggers webring if anyone had any ideas and they were all very helpful (thank you all), suggesting solutions that had lots of acronyms in them. It tried to do what was suggested, but got bogged down and in the end the laptop seems to have righted itself, after a fashion, anyway. IE is still pretty tetchy, which was where the problem was, it wouldn’t load any pages, and suffice it to say that when we do eventually get a new computer I will certainly be downloading netscape, which I use at work and prefer – if I tried that with the NEC it would explode, or rather implode, I feel sure.

Anyway, a few things to mention this week. As it says above, the reverse angle. Now I watched quite a lot of the world kickabout and cannot quite fathom the reverse angle. I mean take Zindane’s header towards the end of extra time in the final. First of all we get the normal, as-it-happens shot in real time. Fine, great header, great save. Then, as there are about a zillion cameras in the stadium, we start to get the replays, from about a zillion different angles. But then, for some reason, the producer decides that one particular angle is the ‘reverse angle’ and the legend duly pops up on screen. Now from watching all these games I still cannot understand what constitutes the ‘reverse’ angle. Sometimes it is 90 degrees from the original live footage, other times it was 180 degrees, so where was the consistency and, more importantly how did the producer know? Is it important for the match, be judged by the TMO or something? Also, what was the point? As I said each incident was filmed from a zillion different angles so why should one be singled out as the ‘reverse angle’ – ok, it’s one of a zillion angles that isn’t particularly better than any other, so what? I just didn’t get it, and still don’t. I watched the tri-nations Australia versus South Africa game on Saturday night to see of they indulged in the ‘reverse angle’ conspiracy, but I don’t think they bothered – though the data from this piece of investigative rugby watching must be tempered by the fact that I was a bit pissed and actually fell asleep for the last 10 minutes (they were showing it late after all), so it might just be that I missed the sign coming up on the screen. Anyway I shall continue to investigate with any major sporting event that I happen to come across on the telly.

Cute

Cute, for those of you who don’t live here or have never visited, is big in Japan. I don’t mean big in the sense that little kids like cute stuff (though they do, like kids everywhere), or that the people of these fair isles are particularly cute in a good looking way (though again some, most of them undoubtedly are). No, cute is big in Japan in the sense that not only do little kids like cute, furry, cuddly things, the entire population does. Unlike say the UK, where girls grow out of the cute phase by about the age of, I don’t know, ten (I haven’t lived there for a while), in Japan this carries on well into adulthood. There are lots of books written about this and from the outside I am sure it is a psychoanalyst’s wet dream. Perhaps it is the glorification of the young that does it, or maybe it’s just great branding and marketing, who knows? But it seems to permeate every level of society – where else do apparently sophisticated 20-something urbanites of both sexes have Hello! Kitty straps on their mobile phones?

Anyway this was brought home to me the other day whilst I was with the youngster down on the riverbank. There has been quite a bit of construction going on recently, widening and paving the footpaths, that sort of thing. Now as in most countries warning signs are put up to, well, warn people that construction work is going on. here is one I spotted...

silly signs #1

and just to zoom in to close up on the bottom of that signboard...

silly signs #2

Quite what a couple of cute pussies have in common with repaving footpaths, I don’t know. Also in this series was the ubiquitous floppy-eared dog and, strangely, an image of some penguins (?). seems to me that if you want small kids to be attracted to something, the best bet is to put cute pictures on it, but surely the point of warning signs is to keep people, especially little kids, away from potentially dangerous situations. A contradistinction, methinks...

Krazy Kim

Is at it again. As I am sure you know Krazy Kim fired off some rockets from his People Mart a couple of weeks ago. He did this around 5am on the day of the Italy v Germany kickabout semi-final, which caused panic in the massed ranks of mass media in Japan. now as I have written before, somewhere, Japan has some pretty odd ideas when it comes to screening sports fixtures, and this was no exception. So, Italy Germany went to full time all square. During the second half Krazy Kim looses his rockets. As extra time starts NHK channel 1, showing the footy but nominally a news and current affairs channel, says “thanks for watching the footy so far, but as this news is so massively important we are going to switch the rest of the footy to NHK channel 3. We are sorry that this will completely ruin anyone’s day who is recording the footy on this channel, but, well, fuck you, we don’t care.” Or words to that effect. But it was ok as the two periods of extra time weren’t that interesting, where they? Oh! Ah...

Anyway whilst Krazy Kim has been firing his arsenal at Japan, Russia and anyone else who he deems fit, the Kool Kid has been away on the government sponsored world junket. Now this would, it would appear, be all right and proper, but actually with parliament now closed until September, when the Kid is going to stand down, what this tour really amounts to is a glorious goof off. I mean, he’s been pretended to be Elvis in Graceland, pretended to be Indiana Jones outside Petra and, most recently, pretended to be Japanese prime minister in Saint Petersburg. Nice work!

Thursday, 13 July 2006

....++++Hello Houston++++....

....++++We seem to be experiencing technical difficulties++++....

....++++er.....think it might be because Microsoft have stopped support for windows 98++++....

....++++probably ought to buy a new computer sometime this century++++....

Monday, 3 July 2006

Well thank goodness that’s over and done with.

So, once again England fail to show the necessary class against handy but, let’s face it, not exactly superior opposition. Was it the mind games that didn’t work? Are the team just mentally not strong enough? Who knows... Can we take any positives from it all? Well, some of the news members of the squad did well, and some of the senior pros played well in places, but once again it was the old England failing of not all playing well for the whole game, or series of games, really. To be without you captain obviously doesn’t help, but then again there should have been enough quality on display to overcome that and put the game away. But again we failed when the pressure got too much. Have we learnt anything from it all? Well, play your strongest team in the positions they play day-in, day-out would be a start. Have a plan B would be another. But, at the end of the day, I don’t think we’re going to have too many international teams quaking in their boots right now, especially the Australians, who we visit this winter, or indeed the Pakistanis, who are next up. So, on the whole a bit of a debacle for the tour, but well done Sri Lanka and their 5-0 drubbing of the England cricket team.

Oh, and apparently something similar happened in the football, but that wasn’t exactly unexpected, now was it?

And it comes to a pretty pass when I have to rely on a Scottish tennis player for a bit of sporting relief (though as I type Mr Murray may well have been knocked out of Wimbledon already).

Life in Japan carries on apace, as it is wont to do. Nice to see the Kool Kid over in the US of A, making a bit of a fool of himself by pretending to be Elvis. Now personally I have nothing against trying to be Elvis, indeed I have be known to do the odd song by the ‘king’ during a karaoke evening, mainly as these are the types of songs that just about anyone (i.e. me) can sing without sounding totally off-key/rhythm/timing/tone/pitch/etc as I normally do when attempting to sing. But to do it on national news tv and, at the same time, making GWBush look less of a prat than normal, well, it doesn’t really project the image of a senior politico figurehead. But then again, why not, I suppose? The Kid is off later this year, retiring with grace to do who knows what, so why not enjoy his last few months in the job, organise a few foreign trips at the taxpayer’s expense, he won’t get them any more, after all. I feel sure that the Kid went to the land of the free to discuss something along political lines, but I’m buggered if I can remember seeing anything in the papers about new accords being signed. I remember seeing GW saying “buy our beef, it’s great”, but if his level of senility is anything to go by, I would not be buying any slightly dangerous foodstuff that he recommends.

The real issue is that the whole country is waiting for him to go so they can get on with the life. It is a bit like the whole Blair-Brown sage going on the UK, though at least we know when the Kid is off (well, when I say ‘we know’ I mean we know in a general sense of ‘later this year’, but truth be told I can’t recollect right now when this might be). Anyway as I wrote about once before a number of bigwigs are doing their bouffant best to position themselves in their ‘what me, take over from the Kid? The thought never crossed my mind…but now that you mention it’ pose. Still no one wants to come out and say that yes, they want to do it, but I suppose that isn’t the way its done in this neck of the woods – a bit more back room back scratching to do just now, then, just as someone shouts ‘look over there’, we’ll find we have a new PM whilst no one was looking.

But talking of PMs, as we were, it was sad to see Ryutaro Hashimoto pop his clogs at the weekend. Hashimoto was the PM when I first came to Japan in 1996 so I’ve always had a certain affinity for him. If the Kid is the Elvis of the Japanese politic world, the Hashimoto was the Bryan Ferry. If you’re wondering quite what I mean by that, it wasn’t that he was a brilliantly avant-garde muso or a stylish and contemporary dresser in white dinner jackets. No, he just had really greasy looking hair. But still, it meant that he stood out from most politicos as most only have quite greasy hair, and not a great deal of it, but old Hashimoto had a startling head of hair slicked back with a day’s worth of OPEC production. He did two years as PM, which wasn’t bad in the post war years, but again a reason to like him was that he was the chap accused of taking bungs from the political division of the Japan Dentist’s Association, which again I wrote about here I mean, if you’re going to take bribes, sorry donation, from a service industry, dentists are as good as any, and they’re rich, and you might get some decent dental care out of it.

And what with ‘Fiery’ F.S. Trueman shuffling off this mortal coil, it was a bit of a weekend, all told.