Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Rocky Horror Beach Party Horror

The rainy season has shown its rainy teeth at last. In Japan, tsuyu (rainy season) is supposed to be most of June. Until today, however, we'd been gettting off lightly. This week's weather looks to be miserable, which means I have an excuse to be miserable (as if I needed one). Seriously, look how depressing it is outside my window this evening:
Nothing too exciting to report of late, but the coming of the rainy season reminds me of something that happened this time two years ago. I don't like thinking about it, because it was such a complete disaster, but some day I'll probably forget about it, and regret doing so. So here it is, the story of the Rocky Horror Beach Party.

I think it was two (now former) ALTs from England who came up with the idea. It was a while in the planning, but it was eventually scheduled for a weekend in June. I have subsequently learned that planning outdoor activities in June, in the middle of the rainy season, is not a good idea, but hindsight is 20x20, as they say. The plan was to watch the movie, head to the beach, have a barbecue and some drinks, then camp out and leave in the morning. There were about ten ALTs in total who prepared costumes and took the two hour road trip south to Shirahama beach, Kochi Prefecture that fateful Saturday morning. The Rocky Horror soundtrack was blaring for most of the way, and, predictably, we felt obliged to sing along. We picked up meats and other foods to barbecue, and also took along a special guest - an effigy of Tim Curry, which was a blow-up lady doll that we stuck an afro on. Tim was inflated in the tiny car for part of the journey, much to the confusion of Japanese road users. I should say that at this point, though it had been raining earlier, it looked like sunshine wasn't beyond the realm of possibilities.

We stopped off at the home of one of the southern ALTs to watch Rocky Horror and change into our horror-wear. When the movie was over, we piled back into the cars and headed to the beach, which was another half an hour away. It had started to rain by then, but it wasn't too heavy. It was dark by the time we got to the beach, partly due to the foreboding cloud cover, and we used lamps to set up our tents, then make our way to the small covered areas where, at the Tokushima JET Welcome Party, we had the barbecue. This was where the first major hitch of the evening came in. There was no barbecue there. Now, I'd stupidly assumed that everyone knew that at the welcome party, it had been another ALT who had brought the barbecue - a large, primitive sort of half-barrel on legs with a grill over the top. I suppose that since the thing had been so old and rusty looking, the others had assumed it was part of the beach's facilities. My friend's Japanese boyfriend had to go to the beach hotel and beg the use of their barbecue. I wonder if they gave it to us out of pity, since it was dark, windy, and really starting to come down.

We set up the barbecue and began cooking our stuff. Some of the others went ahead with the games they'd planned for the event - beach Twister, which resulted in the spinny-thing getting soaked and becoming unusable - and what (if I recall correctly) was a three-legged beach stiletto heel race. I was hungry and didn't want to get soaked (ha!) so I didn't partake. Despite these frivolities, no one really wanted to party for long in this weather, so we started to head to the tents. It was possible, after all, that the weather would be fine and dandy in the morning, and we could have fun then. Oh dear.

The thing that really put a downer on my evening was discovered at this point, when we opened the tent to discover a conspicuous layer of water on the floor. This was caused, as I later realised, by the incorrect placement of the waterproof cover over the main tent. Only two of us decided to brave the tent that night - the others went to sleep in the car. I knew I wouldn't get any sleep in a sitting position, and I thought at that point that the water in the tent had just gotten there while we were setting it up, or while the door was open. However, on closer inspection, I realised that someone had actually hammered the peg for the waterproof cover into the ground in such a way that a giant flap was folded back on itself, leaving a gap for water to seep through. Looking back, it might have been better to try to fix it there, but the rain was so heavy at that point that I would have gotten completely soaked running outside to fix it, and I thought we might avoid the water by sticking to one side of the tent. I wrapped up as warm as I could and tried to get to sleep.

I've never been in trouble with the law before, but if I were to become a criminal mastermind bent on destroying the world, and I was captured and, ignoring the Geneva convention, they tried to extract information from me, there could be few contrivances less comfortable than being in that tent on that night. It was like Chinese water torture. I was trying to sleep with water constantly dripping on my face. I would roll over and land in a puddle. I could feel my clothes getting wetter and wetter, and I was getting colder and colder as I drifted in and out of very uneasy sleep. It was a nightmare where time seemed to stand still. I just wanted morning to come so we could get the hell out of there, but with the rain still pounding on the roof of the tent, the thought of having to take everything down and clear up in that weather made me shudder.

Morning did come, however, and in that odd way that seems to happen when camping, everyone seemed to wake up at the same time. Maybe it was just that no one was really sleeping to begin with. Somehow we got the tents cleared away (though not bothering to fold them up nicely) then rushed back to the cars. The ones who had borrowed the barbecue washed it with detergent in the sea...then returned it to the hotel. It was 5am.

The next hiccup was that our designated driver's old, rusty kei-car wouldn't start. Not at first, anyway. We sat there as she turned the key, and the engine coughed and spluttered and did nothing. It did start eventually, but since we can two hours of driving to get through I didn't allow myself to feel at ease quite yet. This was just as well, because after driving for about half an hour, we came to a road block. A road worker who came up to our car explained that the 55 - the main north-south road running through Tokushima Prefecture - was flooded beyond this point, and we would have to take a detour. We followed the car in front of us off the motorway and into the mountains. It occurred to us, as the road narrowed and got gradually sketchier, that the car in front might be heading to a house in the mountains and that we might therefore be going in entirely the wrong direction. To make matters worse, the rainstorm had caused some small landslides so the road was littered with rocks and debris in places. At one point we went over a rock that we barely had clearance for, and there was a nasty bumping sound from under the vehicle. Aware of the unreliability of this particular car, I was afraid the slightest knock might make the engine fall out, but the little thing held up. We saw a man by the road and decided to ask if we were going the right way. He was elderly and had such a strong Awa-ben (local dialect) accent that I could barely make out what he was saying, but he seemed to confirm that we were going the right way. We drove on through the windy roads under overgrown trees, dodging rocks and stones while the rain continued. It suddenly occurred to me how similar the scene was to the bit in Jurassic Park where Dennis Nedry is trying to escape in the rain after sabotaging the park systems. If a Pteradon had flown past it would not have looked out of place. When we finally made it back to the main road I was singing the Jurassic Park theme in triumph.

By the time I made it back to Tokushima City, the rain had cleared up, the temperature had risen, and the ground wasn't even wet any more. The sky was clear and you wouldn't have known to look at it just how much rain had just fallen. It hadn''t stopped from time we had arrived at the beach until we were driving home twelve hours later.

I was left with the blow-up doll to look after. I'm not sure what the reason for that was, now, but I think there was the suggestion we might need it again some day. We had noticed that seemed to be losing air, so I decided to see if I could find the hole. Since I felt like I needed a bath anyway, it seemed like a good way to kill two birds with one stone. It's how the bike shop finds tyre punctures:
This is the only photographic evidence I have to show that any of these things really happened. I took it because, as I stood there in my little bathroom, forcing an inflated lady companion doll under the water, it occurred to me that if, for whatever reason, the police were to burst into my apartment and find me there, it would look like I was drowning a prostitute in the bathtub. The absurdity tickled me, so I sent this picture to my friend, who has since used it as blackmail material.

The blowup doll was not the only casualty of the Rocky Horror Beach Party. A few days later, I started to run a high fever, and later found out I had infectious enteritis. I was off school for three weeks and lived a terrible hermit's existence watching Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. And Allo Allo. It was my lowest point since coming to Japan.

Still, I can laugh about it now. Cry.

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