Wednesday, 31 August 2011


It is in Jackie Fielding’s honour that I chose the vegetarian option for my dinner. That was on the train, the 17 :25 to London King’s Cross (a “225 electric service”) where, by an outlandish lavishness that suits my not-frugal-in-the-slightest nature, I had paid the extra fifteen quid to travel First bloody class. First bloody class !!!
Without any disrespect to the rest of the Pantheon that constitutes my friendship group, Jackie Fielding is the most noble, loyal and adorable woman I could have the privilege of knowing, as the following anecdotes might show.
Let me add that it was entirely in my own honour that I chose the Gin ‘n’ Tonic option for my pre- during- and après-dinner.

The title of this post is “Japprehensive”: that is how I am feeling. There are three possible explanations for this:
(1) – I always get a little nervous before air travel. Naturally, a feeling of apprehensiveness before a flight to the Land of the Rising Sun would be a feeling of Japprehensiveness, whatever the word processor’s devilish red squiggles might protest.
(2) – the organisers of the program have given us absolutely no information for our arrival. A gang of ten ex-students will rock up on a rock on the other side of the world: and then what…? Perhaps there’ll be a welcome party; I’ve always wanted to be greeted at an airport by someone holding a sign with my name on it, a desire that is yet to be fulfilled. If not, what do we do? Pub I suppose. Perhaps I’ll run away and join a Sumo training camp (like Al-Qaeda but with less facial hair and less Islam): one day I’ll be like “Fat Baaaarstard” from the Austin Powers films. Anyway, this is cause for concern.
(3) – the most likely explanation for my feeling Japprehensive is my desperate sorrow at once again leaving behind my parents and my people. Paris is one thing, and Fukuoka quite another.

The Japprehensive feeling is compounded by various factors relating to my own suitability to get to and survive on the other side of the world.
l-OBS: Brahms’s strings, Tchaikovsky’s soul and Enrique’s Iglesias swimming in my ears, I had a rummage in my backpack, looking for my phone charger. Naturally, I had left it on my computer table at home. This adventure begins, then, with an extremely low OBS[1] rating, and brings my credibility into choking disrepute.
unSUITableCASE: about a year ago, I was in London, staying with Joolz Collins in Clapham. Despite the interventions of that Nirish beauty, the suitcase I had with me, soundly buggered, had to be abandoned by a bin on the north edge of the Common. I had a panicked stroll down to the Tube station to find a replacement case. The shop I found was, of course, dodgy and, of course, a rip-off, but as we’ve all said to ourselves: oh balls to it, I’m desperate. I thus acquired the gayest suitcase in the known luggagiverse, appropriately decorated with images of the Eiffel Tower, and reminders of my destination:
je paris que vous avez pari que c’était Paris.
My failure to head all of the warnings manifest in the manifest dodginess of the Clapham Suitcase Emporium came to a rather sore head this morning when the bottom of the bloody thing disappeared and the bloody handle snapped in the middle of Central Station. Buggery.
Jackie “Leads-young-boys-astray” Fielding/Boob “Banter but bad influence” Reay: the two of them took me out last night, against my will, and forced me to drink an awful lot of tasty, reasonably priced, alcoholic drinks, thereby succeeding in their attempts to give me an awfully sore melon this morning.
The combination of all of this has contributed to the weird feelings in my tummy. Notwithstanding, though, the Hellespont (as I’ve been calling it: the bridge between Greece and Asia) has been a bittersweet vignette, igniting all of my enthusiastic adoration for the north east of England and its people. We’ve eaten so well: Flavours Indian Buffet with its lovely lovely Lady’s fingers, the new noodle restaurant near the gate. We’ve looked so good: my bebronzèd parents lending untoward glamour to the usual warmth of 27 Blagdon Avenue. We’ve supped of the milk of human kindness (and put it in coffee too, probably): the ladies in the Post office have all been gorgeous, on repeat, and Boob “Biggest Gun in the Borough” Reay bought my dinner.
The milkiest afternoon, however, has been this very one, 31st August. Seeing me snap the handle off my bloody case, and my peculiar distraught reaction, the said Fielding undertook to herd us to a café, hunt down a replacement suitcase, forget to ask the lady in the Grainger Market to keep it, go to try and buy it, find that it was sold, take me to Debenham’s and insist, insist, insist (“I’ll break your fucking nose” etc) on buying me a voluptuous violet valise to lighten my labours and remind me why leaving love is a loss. And it is.

And so it is that in the Newark twilight, my mother’s waving fresh in my solemn memory, I am aware, surprised, of the Japprehensiveness that erupts from my adrenal gland and makes the heart beat a little faster.  Adventure, here I come. Sadness-tinged excitement, here I come. Piss, here I come.

[1] This is classic banter. The OBS score of a person or event relates to and is a measure of the shittogetherness that can be associated therewith. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Pre-Japanter, and the Road to Hellespont.

Yesterday I received my ticket confirming that, at slightly earlier than 19:35 on 1st September 2011, MR GRAHAM ANDERSON (Yes, that old chestnut) will be boarding Korean Air flight KE908 to Seoul, and thence onwards to Fukuoka, Japan, where this whole shebang will, as they say, kick off.

At this point, that’s all the information I have. Nothing on how we’re getting from the airport to our digs at the less than inspirationally named “Cambridge House”, or what we do when we get there. This information drought aside, I have continued faith that all shall fall into place nicely. And if not, they have beer vending machines everywhere, I’m told.

Many people have asked me, upon learning that I’ve decided to put my life in Europe on hold for eleven months, “why?” There is no answer. The wonderful thing about this adventure, as I stand on the precipice, tiptoeing to the edge, trying to peer into the soy-sauce coloured abyss beyond, is that it really serves no purpose. For at least the last 8 years, every stage in my life has been, to an extent, predetermined and had a defined goal. Pass your GCSEs, AS levels, A levels, Cambridge degree, Paris degree. But now it’s different. Someone asked me if I wanted to have a (more or less) all expenses paid year in Japan. Of course I said yes. It has nothing to do with my future career (though perhaps being one of what must be a small number of London lawyers who speaks good Japanese will be of advantage to me in the years to come) or anything more concrete than a fascination about a country that has for years been an economic and cultural titan, and yet about which so few know so little. It might be wonderful, it might go completely tits up; but at least I’ll be able to say I’ve been and done it.  

It was put to me last night that I didn’t seem very excited about the prospect of Japan. Nothing could be further from the truth: as I write I’m perched on a harassed Hellenic hotelier’s balcony, eyes captivated by the ancient Ionian sea, nose by salt, skin by sun, but all that plays on my mind is the thought that “God, this is going to be so much banter. So much fucked-up banter. And there but for the grace of the aforementioned go I”. No, in recent years it has become quite clear to me that all of the interesting and, heck, wonderful things I’ve been able to do have come about because I have said “yes!” or have poked my nose in, been interested and gotten something out of it. Let us hope, for my sake, that this philosophy plays well on the other side of Eurasia, where social mores are, it is safe to say, not-the-same.

My preparation for the trip has been far from devoted. Instead of the preparatory language work I should have been doing, I have been teaching English to the unfortunate people of Essex, gallivanting with Italian teenagers, and missing people who, until two moons ago, were extremely present presences in my life. If I have any hesitation in going, it is echoed in the twinge of regret expressed by Ulysses in Tennyson’s eponymous poem. Quoth the hero: “I cannot rest from travel…”. The north east of England is beloved to me, and yet I have spent no real time there since I was 18. University in term time, the corners of the world in the holidays. Some of you will know that I have what looks like a fully-funded place on the bar course at Northumbria University, which I have had to delay in aid of the Japanter. I’m very much looking forward to doing it, not least so that I could finally settle in the city I love.
But as the famous saying goes: The Northumbrianter must wait!

The status quo is that I can just about handle one of the three Japanese writing systems (hiragana (ひらがな[1], the lovely curly alphabet that is indeed an alphabet and not idiographic, used for grammar and spelling obscure kanji[2] (the complex Chinese characters used for nouns, verbs and adjectives). I still need to put my hand (pen…?) to katakana (カタカナ) the Japanese use to spell foreign (notably English words) .  

I’ve read a couple of books about Japan, including the wonderfully colonial sounding “The Japanese Mind” by Davies and Ikeno; an interesting read for anyone interesting enough to be interested in interesting ol’ Japan.
If you go to Japan on holiday or something, you don’t need a visa, but as we’re studying, we do. I had hoped, vainly, that I would receive the paperwork while I was still in Paris (visa talk having begun back in March), such that I might pop along to see Monsieur l’Ambassadeur du Japon and get it all done and dusted. Sadly, the stuff did not arrive until about a week before I went to Greece, meaning a hasty trip on a windy-day to the Consulate in Edinburgh on Festival-Eve. Always a pleasure to see Harriett, of course, but never a pleasure to worry whether you’re going to miss your first family holiday in five years because the Royal Mail doesn’t post your passport back promptly. Still, they did and here I am.

My second run-in with the Royal Mail was when I realised that my aeroplane weight allowance would not be sufficient for the stuff I probably needed to take (fine wines, fur coats, jousting equipment) and so down I went to the post office. And herein commences a tale of woe:
Fuck up n° 1: Though the internet had promised me 75 GBP for the package I wanted to post, the slightly overawed lady at the counter said she couldn’t see less than 115 GBP.
Fuck up n° 2: “And in any case strange man who seems to be moving to the other side of the world, it won’t do to just send it like that, in a perfectly taped up box. Oh no, it must be wrapped. Them’s the rules”.
Fuck up n° 3 (the reader should be aware that Fuck up n° 3 takes place 24 hours after FUs ns° 1 and 2, after a session of wrestling with bin bags, and heaving the parcel through the South Shields rain): “Oh if I were you love, I would play it safe and pay 10 quid extra so that the parcel arrives in four days and you get insurance”. This despite the fact that I was heading to Greece and there would, as such, be no one to receive the parcel in four days’ time in Japan. Well, the lady was insistently concerned about the welfare of my package (ooh-err), and so agreed that it could be stored in her safe (I’m so sorry). Actually, it was the post office manager who said it could be stored in the safe until I come back to post it during what I’m going to call the Hellespont: the bridge between Greece and Asia (now Istanbul!).

I shall leave it there, and get back in the sun. As if a ginge like me will ever go brown, sigh…

[1] It took hours of fannying about to work out how to type this, so I hope you’re bloody grateful.
[2] I have no idea how to type these.