Tuesday, 24 August 2010


While I've been away in Japan, there has apparently been an infestation of rabbits in this particular part of the suburban sprawl in which I live. When I was growing up I never saw wild rabbits in the gardens or streets, but now you see them almost every day.

I'm not sure if it's related, but over the past few weeks I've seen a fox out the back. It crosses our garden from the neighbours on the left, goes into the garden two houses down on the right, then heads through the back bushes into a garden in the street behind. Urban foxes are not a new phenomenon, though the news of one entering a house and attacking two baby girls a while back has made people more aware of them. Though I had seen a fox a couple of times in the garden before I went away to Japan three years ago, like the rabbits, the frequency with which I've seen them recently is really surprising.

Today, I was able to take a picture for the first time. My earlier sightings had both occurred in early evening, when the light was growing yellower but sunset was still far off. Today, I saw it in the morning. I wasn't able to get a picture of it in our garden because it caught be by surprise, but I grabbed my camera and took one from the hall window. This is the fox in the garden two doors down.
Click for the larger version (where you can actually see the fox). I've seen the rabbits in the garden as well so I'm wondering if some of them have become a food source for the foxes. Urban foxes are known to have a worse diet than their forest counterparts due to scavenging the crap that humans call food. Or that humans called food three days ago and threw out. I wonder if this guy has cubs somewhere that he's going back to. I find it interesting that he keeps going through these gardens - it might mean he has a den in one of them. The way he was heading doesn't lead to any wild land, though the direction he came from does.

For the time being I shall call him Steve and report if I see him again.

Friday, 20 August 2010

...is FAIL

I got an email to say the CELTA course in September is full. When they'd asked me in for an interview the last time they'd had three people who hadn't paid deposits, but now all the places have been filled. It's my own fault for taking too much time to decide to do the course, but I think I needed that time. Anyway, I can probably do it in October, but there was something else I wanted to do then and I'm not sure I can do them both at the same time.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


One of the things I thought would be good to do as an interim sort of job was teaching English to exchange students and other learners here in the UK, preferably here in Edinburgh. However, to do that you need a good TEFL qualification. One of the most highly regarded is the Cambridge CELTA course. I looked into it and there was one in town, so I got the application form and sent it off late last night. It included a brief English test and an essay on what makes a good language learner. I didn't expect such a fast response, but this morning I was told my application looked fine and they wanted to see me for an interview to see if I was up to the course. I should point out here that the course is quite expensive so it feels weird to have to jump through hoops for them, but whatever.

Anyway, if I want I can have an interview next Wednesday. During the process, which is a group interview, I have to 'teach' the others in the group how to do something. Suggestions included the operation of a camera, or origami. I've not decided finally, but I think I'll try to teach Perudo - or "Liar's dice" - a dice game that appears in the second Pirates of the Caribbean film. My friend/daughter Heather has a set (she taught me how to play) that she will let me borrow. I should probably do a practice run so I don't mess up.

The only thing is that if I'm successful on the day, I'll be told immediately and will be expected to pay a deposit for the course. Still not sure I want to pay so much for something I left Japan to avoid having to do.

But then, I need a job, or at least something to do, to avoid the crushing shame of living in my parent's house and sleeping till 1pm after staying up all night playing Left 4 Dead 2.

Friday, 13 August 2010

At the Boom-bassa-boom Festival

On Wednesday, Lenn came to town. Lenn is one of our old gang of high school friends who abandoned Edinburgh in favour of Glasgow, which makes her a blood traitor in some circles. I should clarify at this point that Lenn is a girl, and that her 'real' name is Kathleen. We had this Iranian physics teacher at school who pronounced her name 'Kathlenn', and this was picked up on by someone else in that class, and eventually we all started calling her 'Kathlenn', and eventually just 'Lenn'. It's the one nickname I've encountered so far in life that hasn't come off as forced or contrived. When I think of her now, I think 'Lenn', and 'Kathleen' sounds weird.

Anyway, she came to Edinburgh to see me, but as we were arranging plans, Kirsty texted me to ask if I wanted to see an a capella singing act called Out of the Blue in the festival. Naturally, I asked Lenn if she wanted to go too, and after a brief tirade about how much she hated the festival, she said she'd love to. Sorted.

Lenn and I met in the afternoon after some delays, and after asking me to wiggle my ears for her amusement (something she asks any time she hasn't seen me for a while) we set off to meet Kirsty. This was easier said than done, however, since neither Lenn nor I really knew the city very well. Street names are often meaningless to me. Which is a shame because Edinburgh has some wonderfully-named places. Kirsty had told us to meet them at George Square, but both Lenn and I had gotten this confused with St Andrew's Square, which is found at the end of George Street. Word association FAIL. After contacting Kirsty and arranging a different meeting place, we headed for the High Street - an upper portion of Edinburgh's Royal Mile that leads from the Castle down to Holyrood Palace at the centre of the City's historical Old Town. On the way, we passed a man in a cloak and hat giving a tour of one the area to a small group. Lenn grumbled about the audacity of the man - English by his accent - by thinking himself qualified to talk about a Scottish city. I laughed because this was classic Lenn.

There was much more cause for grumbling as we hit the centre of the pedestrian tourist traffic. The street was heaving with people watching street performers, going to and fro between show venues, or just soaking up the atmosphere. Someone told me recently that they hated the festival because for two weeks, Edinburgh turns into London, and all the reasons you wouldn't want to live in London start applying here. Lenn certainly wasn't impressed by the business of it all, especially not by the leafleters who shoved flyers for their shows in your face every few steps. Lenn complained about how she'd been brought up to be polite, and therefore couldn't tell them, as she wanted, to 'F*** off and die'.  For myself, having lived in quiet Tokushima for three years, I felt a little unaccustomed to the activity and was relieved when we reached the venue, which was either an Edinburgh university building or a theatre nestled among them.

The show was good. Out of the Blue are an all-male a capella group out of Oxford University. Yes, they are as preppy-looking as you would expect, but during the performance at least they manage to avoid coming across as arrogant snobbish twats. They opened with "Don't you want me" by the Human League and traversed various genres and eras of music before closing the show with a Poker Face-Sexy Back mashup with a teeny bit of Barbie girl thrown in, followed by an encore of "Backstreet's Back" with a touch of "I want it that way" thrown in. Aside from the singing and human beatboxing, the songs included various gestures and simple dances that made them more entertaining. It was a good show. Still not sure if it was worth £10 for 45 minutes, but I'm a bit tight with British money. I was more of a spender in Japan.

Watch this space to find out if I go to anything else this year.

Friday, 6 August 2010


On the Thursday before I left Japan I did what I'd been wanting to do for a while - socialise with my tai-chi teacher outside of the gym. He told me to meet him in the morning in the city and we'd go to karaoke. What I didn't realise was that we'd also be meeting other people from his tai-chi classes, most of whom are elderly Japanese ladies. There were a few younger people there as well, though, including a Korean girl and a Japanese girl who was born in Vietnam.

It meant that we were singing in four different languages - Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean. Although the majority was taken up by Japanese enka songs - enka being a kind of melodramatic 'oldies' style of song. They're really easy to sing along with because they all sound the same, but you have to be good at a kind of vocal flourish to do them well. Anyway, I recorded my tai chi teacher singing a song in Chinese. Enjoy:

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Ghost and Horse

This picture was on my wall for a while in my bedroom in Japan. It was painted by an ex-girlfriend of the guy who is now the husband one of my best former-ALT friends. I'd always thought it was missing something, so with a few days left in Japan I called Emily into service to improve it.

Here is the result:

A festival of conviviality

The Edinburgh festival propers starts in a day or two. There are all sorts of plays, street performances, musicals, comedy acts etc all over the city and the town is full of people promoting their groups. Yesterday I was with Euan, my oldest friend, and some other high school friends in Princes Street gardens, sitting enjoying the nice weather, when we were accosted by a young American guy and girl promoting their stuff. They'd actually only met each other the previous evening, and were representing different shows. Her's was an improv musical show, where they take a title from the audience and make up a musical around it, from the music to the lyrics and script. His was...well, I have no idea actually. He was an odd one. He represented himself as a kind of life coach, who used improv performance to help people with self-confidence issues. After hanging out for a while they gave us flyers and departed to bother other people. I checked his website earlier. It seems interesting.

The whole experience made me feel better about being back home. It's nice to be somewhere where stuff's happening. I've been sitting in limbo for the last week. Time to wake up.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

キャラクターグッズ(Character goods)

I have this student...or rather had this student that I exchanged a diary with to help her practice written English. One day, a month or so ago, she asked me the question, "Do you want character goods?"

I Japan, anime and video game merchandising is big business. I myself am a fan of a few Japanese animes and mangas, but there aren't many places to get these so-called 'character goods' in Tokushima. Unless you want Ghibli stuff. You can get Ghibli stuff anywhere.

Anyway, I wasn't sure whether she meant to ask whether I like character goods, or if she was making an explicit offer, but I replied with a simple, "Yes."

Oh Lordy.

The next time I saw her, she gave me three One Piece folding fans (One Piece is a long-running manga/anime). Later, she asked me to choose items from pictures she had on her phone. There was loads of stuff on there - figurines, lunchboxes, watches, stickers etc. She said I could have anything. Since I'm a fan of Fullmetal Alchemist, I said I'd take a figurine of one of the characters from that, and a One Piece watch, since I'd been getting by without a watch for two years.

However, the next time we met she was carrying a One Piece bag containing the watch, a set of figurines, some sound fx buttons and various other items. Then, on my last day at school, she was carrying a huge bag containing even more of these character goods. I asked her where she got all this stuff from, and she told me her mother won them at game centres from UFO catchers and the like. This thought disturbed me not a little. By this time my desire for free stuff had to do battle with my desire to keep my luggage down, but the former proved the stronger force and won the day. Here's a picture of my final spoils:

I love stuff.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Pin badges

This was my bag yesterday, as it has been for a couple of years now. Since I started sticking pin badges on it.

I love pin badges. Perhaps too much. But I have rules.

The rules of acquisition for pin badges (version 0.89)

1. Only one pin badge may be bought from any one series. That is, only one from any machine of the same type.
Machines in the same city or representing the same location - but with a different set of pins - are fare game.
2. On receiving a pin from the machine, no matter how much fishy Japanese food it represents, the pin must be accepted.

One of my favorite things about travelling around Japan is the promise of new pin badges. I managed to get a whopping seven on the trip to Okayama and Hiroshima. Of course, now I've left Japan, I worry I wont be getting many new ones any time soon. I had to get rid of my old bag which I'd been carrying around for three years wherever I'd gone. It was my primary means of displaying my pin badges. It looked so bald and barren when I took them all off:
 I was inspired when I was in China in March and saw a giant world map covered in pin badges. I want a collection like that some day. I'd like to start a blog in future dedicated to the acquisition of pin badges from around the world, where people would send me badges along with stories about the places they came from and I'd post them along with pictures of the badge.

That's if I got enough readers to make that possible. A man can dream!