Thursday, 31 August 2006

We’re going the zoo, zoo, zoo...

So, been away for a while, but am back now. First things first, should get the ‘gazette’ stuff over and done with first, so congratulations and felicitations to my father, who celebrated his sixty-something birthday by visiting the village of Goosnargh in Scotland, a town with great family connections (and, indeed, connections with anyone who has read The Meaning of Liff), so well done you. Also, not six days later, the Guru celebrated her something-something birthday, we celebrated that by eating curry in Nishi Kawaguchi, well known for its large, non-Japanese population, most of whom work in the ‘pink’ trade, as it is sometimes affectionately known. In fact walking back through the town after eating the aforementioned curry we wandered across a sort of cross roads that seemed to have about half a dozen slightly disreputable persons standing in the corners, almost as if they were about the re-enact the climatic scene from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, where Clint, Tuco and Angel Eyes face off in the cemetery. Actually, with a toddler in a pushchair it could have been the Odessa Steps scene from Battleship Potemkin, but I could be heading towards pseud’s corner quite quickly, so had better stop. Anyway happy birthday to parental and guru.

Last week was off and, for the most part, was devoted to studying. This was a good thing as I am now nearing the end of this damned course. About 11,500 words have been written and rewritten, so only about 8,500 to go, but I’m quite happy with most of those 11,500 done so far, though I must admit to being a bit worried about the rest. But what the hell, it will all be over by Christmas! (now where have we heard that before…?) although really it will all be over by the end of November, which is even better. However what we also did was spend a long weekend with the in-laws who live down Chiba way, as I may have mentioned. Their place is very much more ‘in the countryside’ than us here in Kawaguchi, so the air was clear and the heat and humidity milder, which was pleasant indeed. They also live quite close to Chiba Zoo, so we went there for the day.

Now I must admit that I am not a great fan of zoos at the best of times and I’m afraid that Chiba Zoo isn’t very close to ‘the best of times’ at all. Quite far from it really. But they do have what they called a ‘Kids Zoo’, which I suppose is what you would more likely know as a petting zoo, or somewhere where the kids can get closer to some animals, touch and stroke them if they wish and watch them doing lots of poos. So that was where we headed so the little ‘un could commune with nature a little more than he has. But of course he wasn’t reallt that interested. This might have had something to do with the fact that the animals weren’t really interested in him, who knows. But we went into the sheep and goats enclosure at feeding time and he looked about warily as I held onto him, I thought about letting him go, but figured that he would grab and twist handfuls of fur/ear/leg/anything, so discretion meant I kept a reasonably firm hold on the young chap. And so the animals sort of swarmed around our legs and he watched them go by, and they ate leaves and then he tried to wander off. I think he enjoyed it as he point at a few things and make noises, but then again he does that for most things. In the kids zoo bit we also got to look at pigs, horses, ducks and cows, so all very domesticated, but also parrots, prairie dogs and penguins, which makes me think the zoo couldn’t quite decide what to do with animals that start with the letter ‘p’, so put them in there. The most fun thing in the kids zoo, for some reason, was the big washing sink and taps, which the little ‘un thought was the best thing he had seen in ages and so kept wanting to go back and wash his hands, something he never does at home – odd that.

The rest of the animals in the zoo seemed pretty sad and listless, sitting around and not doing too much. We saw an old elephant, camels, giraffes (who did seem quite animated), kangaroos, a water buffalo, monkeys and baboons and a stately emu. But the best thing was actually when we got home. We had taken some wooden toy animals with us and when we saw an animal for which we also had a toy, we made great play of showing them together, making the noises and generally trying to get the youngster to realise that the toys were representations etc. So, when we got home he got the bag of animals and started to show them to his grandparentals, but only picking out the ones we had seen earlier that day. This impressed us no end and, whilst it may appear a little dull, was fascinating to watch him and the development of his cognitive reasoning, or something.

Other news is that we are now mobile with the youngster. Being a big urban megalopolis (remembering my GCSE geography – the others being Boswash, Chipitts and Sansan, if you’re interested (well, they were in 1989, could all have changed now)) there isn’t too much piint having a car, but you’ve got to have a bicycle. In Japan these are often known as mamachari’s, or mama chariot’s, as they are used for carting kids about to and from shops, clinics and the like. Anyway we purchased a brand new Bridgestone contraption with a built baby/toddler seat over the front handlebars (specially designed by NASA scientists to be in the optimum load bearing/centre of gravity position, or something), and a mighty fine ride it is. When you try and manhandle the thing it feels like it weighs a quarter of a ton, but once you get one, that passenger is on too, it is surprisingly easy to manoeuvre, and with three gears one can fairly race along as well. So taken with it was I that I took the little ‘un out for a spin and we ended up at the water park about 40 minutes away – on our first trip! He seemed to enjoy it, which is the important thing, and not object too strongly to wearing a baby skid-lid (which, it comes as no surprise, are mystifyingly scarce in Japan, even though mothers everywhere take their kids, everywhere, by bike. I don’t wear a helmet, but I’m buggered if I’m going to let my son on a bike without one. But then again, this is a country where kids routinely stand on their father’s laps, or on the passenger side seat, when being driven in cars, so there you go, I suppose).

And now I’m back to work – and what a joy that is...

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Just because you'll all dying to know

I finally reached the end of my aural odyssey this morning; track #1799, Ziggy Stardust, was played around Kudanshita station on the Tozai line at about 855am. It has been a long, hard journey but certainly a worthwhile one.

I might even provide some analysis next time I post...

Monday, 14 August 2006


So no post for a while, but I reckon you spotted that already.

The reason behind this is two fold, or possibly three- or four-fold, it depends on how many I can think of whilst typing between here and when I get there, or something. Anyway the main reason was work (and, totally unrelated, here’s a point about ms word – when you misspell a word, for example leave a letter out, it tells you, but why, when you add a number into a word by accident, such as behi9nd, it doesn’t? (and that happens a lot when I type the letter ‘i’ as this keyboard is a little small)). Anyway work was shitty because everyone went on holiday. This is usually a sign to kick back and surf the net, but not for me as it left me ‘in charge’. I don’t mean in a nominal sense, I unfortunately mean in a ‘questions from the CE and MD’ kind of in charge. What made it worse was not only did my boss disappear on July 31st, but so did the recruitment manager (my old job, for those paying attention to such things), so not only did I have my job to do, but I had not one but two others as well. Even better was this was in the eight or so working days up to the Obon holiday, not traditionally a time for the faeces to hit the fan (much, if at all. Any way I can make that more ironic?). And now, just to add insult to injury, their returns may well be delayed due to all the nonsense going on the UK with the airports and the terror and whatnot, so my ‘one day back in the office to handover’ on the 16th, before my holiday starts, may well also be delayed (like f*ck will it, even though I have nothing more planned than a trip to the outlaws, if the MD tries to stop me by as much as a day then an invoice for an extremely expensive flight to the UK for the 17th for the whole family will mysteriously appear (I didn’t work closely with all those airlines for nothing)).

The second thing was that on the final day of term, before the Obon holiday started, I had to go and get drunk, as is traditional at these times. So chalk off the middle of last week as it now takes me a day and a half to recover from these things.

Then, on Friday, I had an appointment with death.

But that was after I had my annual health check up. This went quite smoothly though again, as I wrote about last year (or maybe the year before that) I think the scales they use are slightly dodgy. Or they’re just plain wrong. But this year I fear they are even wronger as they seemed to indicate that my lithe and svelte look was nothing of the sort and 3 kilos (or 6 pounds in old money) had appeared upon my person from somewhere. I know what you’re thinking but no, it was either the wrong scales or the nurse had her foot on the back of the scales as well as yours truly. However being a realist I realised that diet or amputation is the only real way forward from here, I will let you know which it is in due course.

That was Friday morning and then, in the afternoon, I had the aforementioned appointment with death. Now you may think I am over-dramatising here, but I can think of them in no other way. I mean, they take pleasure in the pain and torment of others (just like death). They smile far too much (just like death). The first two letters of their profession are d-e- (just like death). And they are evil (ok, not like death, but I’ve got to try and keep the analogy going). So, if you haven’t already guessed from my obtuse prose, I had to go to the dentist.

I have not had a particularly relationship with dentists. The first one, when we lived in Somerset, was fine as I was too young to know any different and he didn’t inflict years of unwavering pain upon me. Unlike the right bastard who ‘looked after’ me when we lived in Hampshire. His name was Dr Yoong (de Sade), a gentleman of (possibly) Singaporean descent who tortured me for about three or four years whilst at secondary school by fitting me with a brace – the split level ‘train tracks’ variety, which meant monthly visits to his chamber (the inaptly named ‘Health House’) whereby he would tighten the ****ing thing with pliers, electric screwdrivers, crowbars and anything else he could lay his hands on. But that, actually, wasn’t the worst of it. Because my jaw and/or mouth is too small (ironic, for those who’ve met me) I had to have four teeth taken out. Four healthy, living, well attached to my jaw teeth. It was the anaesthetic that really got me. On the chair, oriental gentleman say ‘relax, this may hurt a little’ (as if you can relax when someone tells you, a 13 yr old, it is going to hurt!) and then watching a needle about 8 feet long and 2 feet wide (the joys of perspective) being lowered slowly and then the excruciating agony of this needle being poked directly into my gums and the roof of my mouth. Of course his knee on my chest as he tried to prise the healthy teeth from the living bone of my jaw didn’t help much either. I’m wincing as I write this now – time does not heal all wounds, not by a long ****ing chalk.

Once I had the thing off my teeth that was it for me and dentists. I was lucky in that my teeth never actually hurt so I had no reason to go back. Well, except when a bit fell off one of my teeth whilst we were living in Brixton a few years back. At that moment I thought it prudent to go and see another one, all of about 15 years since I had last set foot in a surgery. This time it wasn’t a Singaporean gentleman but one from central Europe, Czechoslovakia perhaps. Anyway he looked at my back tooth, from whence the bit had fallen off, and said ‘hmm, yes, it vill haff to come out, but maybe today, maybe tomorrow, who knows? But it vill be tricky as it is right at za back, you know…’ Which of course I did know as I could feel it. But, happy that he was so non-committal, I figured that maybe later was good enough for me and never went back to him (or his surgery which, I swear, had a Dickensian air about it – dimly lit, musty smell, peeling wallpaper...ok, it had a Rising Damp air about it).

Into the present and I suspect you are wondering why I eventually gathered up the courage to go. Well, mainly it was because I discovered that dental was actually included on our insurance policy so I wouldn’t have to pay for it, and secondly the Guru had been going and the bloke didn’t sound like a complete, evil bastard (as dentists go). Indeed he seemed something of a gaijin-ophile and was always asking the Guru about her foreign husband. But of course I was wary, not only for the reasons stated above, but also because the Japanese, as a nation, seem to have bloody awful teeth (better, I suppose, than awfully bloody teeth). Mouths full of gold and/or other substances or, more commonly mouths half full of black teeth, or, not uncommonly, mouths full of nothing at all. Doesn’t fill you with confidence, that. Theories are put forward like lack of calcium in the diet from an early age (also blamed for higher levels of osteoporosis) or a lack of fluoride in the water system, but I personally blame dentists as I figure it is a plot by them to stay in business (like garage mechanics, they’re never going to completely fix everything, now are they, as then you might not need to come back).

So I knew I had to go, even though I still had no pain from my teeth, and so last Friday was deemed D-day. So we go in and the place is jolly swish, no Dickensian/Rising Damp here. Importantly everything looked new, shiny and professional. And, far more importantly, the nurses looked pretty – a far more important consideration if you are about to have pain inflicted upon you. First up was a quick sit in the chair, which had a pleasantly space-age feel about it, including a computer monitor attached showing scuba diving pictures (‘probably feed my remains to his fish’ was my thought). Then it was an x-ray. At the Health house this had taken weeks to do and probably involved pain, but this was just ‘stand here; chin here; bite this; don’t move; whirr; done’. Cool, then, as I sat back down in the space chair my x-ray came up on the screen! (Apologies if this isn’t hi-tech at all and is now common across dentists world wide – it has been 20 years, after all).

And yes, he confirmed that top-right-back was indeed rotten and would need to be pulled out, the sooner the better (I could have told him that... I did tell him that on the beloved Japanese pre-action questionnaire!). But top-left-back, which I thought in a similar condition, actually wasn’t too bad. But the worst bit was back-right-bottom; I’ve always though this one was a bit odd, but the x-ray showed that whilst healthy, it is at completely the wrong angle. Teeth should all be in a nice neat line with the roots pointing down and crown pointing up. This tooth, whilst in a neat line, has its root pointing out the back of my head and the crown at ninety degrees growing into the next tooth. Bugger.

So the doc said that top-right-back needed to come out right away and would be a cinch, 5 minutes at most (what was in Czech dentist said again?), but bottom-right-back needed to come out as well but this would be hard because of the angle and the fact that it is still healthy – he even sucked in his breath through his teeth when he said it...

And then we did the rotten top-right-back. Now if you remember it was the anaesthetic that caused me most issue when I was a kid and I was expecting more of the same. Indeed the new style syringe looked a bit like a hot glue gun you used to get, so I wasn’t holding out much hope, but when he did the business I didn’t feel a thing. I didn’t, for want of a better expression, feel even a slight prick. Wow. And the old style used to make the whole side of my face go numb, but this one was pretty localised around the tooth in question – in fact I began to worry that the anaesthesia had worn off as I could feel the outside of my cheek, but when I gave the gum a surreptitious poke with my finger, no feeling was to be had. Wow again.

Then, in order for the numbness to take full effect, I was put into the hands of a nurse with very pretty eyes who had the undoubted pleasure of cleaning 20 years of tartar of the backs of my teeth, lucky her. So caked on was it that she only had time to do the bottom row before the Doc called me back. With trepidation I settled back into the space chair and let him do his thing. And true to his word, in less than 5 minutes and with barely a sustained tug, the offending peg was in his hand and I didn’t feel a thing. Wow for a third time. And that, rather anti-climactically, was it.

He was relived as he could tell I was sooo stressed about the whole thing, whilst I was full of admiration for his technique – or whoever invented to the new anaesthetic thing. I still have to go back for a bit or remedial work, and the tricky bottom-right-back, which could, literally, be a pain. But overall a little bit of faith has been restored in the dentisting profession, and by a Japanese dentist to boot.

A little was then lost when I found out I was banned from alcohol for the evening to prevent infection, or something. Nice of him to tell me that after the procedure.