Bloody Brexit

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Today’s been pretty productive. I’ve got up early, written my Morning Pages for the first time; gone through my Anki flashcards (katakana, kanji and conversation); sewed some colours onto the boys’ gym hats for sports day; cooked porridge; stripped the bed; put a wash on; washed up. But then I peeked at Twitter. I know, I know. Stupid me.

Most week days I meet up with Dan and his colleagues for lunch. Most of us are English but usually there is at least one Japanese friend too. Most days we lament Brexit and I used to feel bad for our Nihongo friend for talking politics in front of him. A couple of months ago we’d be incredulous but jovial about it. More recently, however, the joy has gone and we are more angry and I am not feeling bad about talking politics because this is SEISMIC in terms of what it means to be British and the future of Britain and we are angry about it and this is a historical time for us and we care.

Yesterday there was a government advice notice, (or whatever they’re called) that puts it in black and white that air traffic could well be affected. I remember discussing this with a Brit I met at a hostel last October and the Europeans we were chatting with dismissed this – it wouldn’t happen. But I reckon it might. And when is Dan’s contract meant to end? When are we meant to fly back? Start of April. Ho, ho, ho!

I’m getting so angry about the stripping of rights and freedoms for us Brits and especially the younger generation. What is our country meant to become? What is our plan, our vision, our blueprint? Even now, there’s no obvious future except uncertainty at best and economic ruin and social chaos at worst. It’s been a shambles for TWO BLOODY YEARS. I’m sorry. I know this is nothing new but I just have to vent.

I get bogged down in this division that has been thrust upon us by the righteous 52% and then think, but it’s okay. There are still artists and kind people and beautiful green countryside and they make living in the UK worthwhile. But I also get the feeling that everyone is getting fed up with the whole Brexit process. At best they are ignoring it and assuming everything will be fine. At worst, friends are depressed and anxious about their jobs, their future, medicines, the food they will be able to buy and feed their families with and the cost of holidays. They are wondering if their neighbours are going to stick around; if there will be enough doctors and GPs, enough people to pick the food this country CAN grow.

Returning to the UK was going to be hard enough come the spring, but returning to Brexit Britain really makes my heart sink.

I’ve got lots of lovely holiday-type blog posts to write. I’m sorry I’m overdue. And if you’ve got this far through this post you deserve a gold star. Good on you. Take care of yourselves.

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It’s a New Term and a New Boo-Boo

Yes, we’re talking another episode of ‘King Family Disappointing the School’.

Poor Dan hasn’t had time off work since coming to the UK in April to help us clear out of the rented place after the fire and bring us out to Japan. Not the most relaxing week or two of his life. The boys and I went back to England, fleetingly – for just over two weeks, in August so that we could get our eyes checked, visit the dentist and so that George could go to his Razzamatazz summer school. We also had a lovely few days on the south coast visiting Parkin family. Anyway, before the kids broke up from school, we wrote in their communications books that we’d be taking them out of school for two weeks. (We’ll be visiting a rice farm during harvest, then exploring Osaka and Kyoto and Okinawa). The teachers wrote replies saying that this was ok.

Fast forward to today and Dan writes another nudge note in the comms book reminding the teachers that we’ll be away.

Then, after lunch, there is an email from the lovely lady from HR to say that the school had telephoned her and that they were shocked and concerned about the boys missing the preparation for Sports Day. (Which is happening on the Saturday, a week after our return from holiday). Thankfully the  WONDERFUL HR lady knows us well and is married to an American, (and so can see the foibles of Japanese school culture), and blagged it for us saying it was part of our homeschool programme and that the boys would continue with their prep for sports day whilst we were away. Anyway, I felt awful again. I do hate to disappoint the school, and if they had raised concerns about the block of time before the school holidays we could have altered things, perhaps.

Well, I then went to the Daiso (100yen shop) and bought what was on the list AND some of the very-tasty-full-of-artificial-colours-and-sour-Octopus-jelly-sweets and came home and now feel a little bit better.

This is the Soran Bushi dance that Oliver has to practise and that he’ll be performing on Sports Day. He’s been practising at home off his own bat, which has been really lovely as dance isn’t normally his thing. But he’s enjoying this, which is great. (Another credit to Motomachi school for that).

Back to School

We had a rather hectic fortnight in the UK at the end of August visiting friends and relatives and getting George to and from his Razzamatazz summer school. Sadly the UK’s heatwave had waved away so it was the usual grey chilly summer weather that I expect of Cumbria.

Right now I am shirking from the job of hanging out the washing on our balcony. I’ve just updated my LinkedIn profile. (Why?!) And am waiting for some actually caffeinated coffee to brew. (Again, why? I’ve been off caffeine for months now.) It’s a crazy morning.

Today is Disaster Training Day. Dan has it at work and the boys are doing it at school too. I have to go and pick them up at 11.20 as if there’s been a massive earthquake. (Remember to take slippers and PTA ID badge, though).

The boys have been back at school for one week and only mornings at that. I think it’s been a really good reintroduction to school life. That plus the AWESOME school party that was held last Saturday. We didn’t know what to expect, and Dan was wanting us to go to see the last of the summer fireworks at Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, where there would be large crowds of Japanese in their finery. But we were knackered from the jet lag and the boys had been griping about being back in Japan and having to go to school so I didn’t want a late night.

Anyway, we went and it was ace. There were food stalls and lucky dip type stalls and dancing, drumming and singing, and folks in their finery too. And there was a beer tent. Everyone was happy.

Our Mini Scouting Adventure

About a month ago I decided the boys had settled in enough with life here and we could shake things up by finding them a Beaver colony and Cub pack for them to join. We figured it would help George make friends outside school which would be a good thing too as he has been struggling a bit socially with his classmates.

Well, we were contacted by our nearest group who meet down the road and are based at the Catholic Church. They meet on Sunday mornings and we arranged a meeting with the leaders to find out more. Next came a wee interview by the deputy chair of the group (who spoke good English) and we were told about all the events that the group puts on through the year and also about the upcoming Group camp to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. In two weeks’ time. So we came away and thought about it. O was skeptical, G was keen. We went and bought the uniform. So. Cool.

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And then the boys had one session and we had to make a decision on camp that day. Thankfully they had a great time and fears were allayed, so the boys were happy to go camping. And then both Dan and I were asked if we wanted to go along too. Hell yes. So last Friday, we met at the church at 6.30am to get on a coach and we returned last Monday afternoon.

Usually the sections all camp separately, so this was a rather unique opportunity to meet the whole group and for Oliver to see what the Scouts get up to. (He will move up when he is eleven). You might know that we too had some extreme heat in Japan recently, well thankfully, that dissipated on the Friday only to make way for a typhoon. The Cubs and Beavers (and parents) were staying in a building with aircon whilst the Scouts and Venture Scouts were under canvas. This was a deal maker, really, in our decision on whether to go or not. The site was described as a Catholic university: I think it comprises a girls’ secondary school; a small community of sisters and various facilities. There was a chapel, a church, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, lines of tea bushes and a bamboo forest. Mount Fuji loomed in the distance above the campsite. Dan left on Sunday night after the campfire to catch the train back to Yokohama for work on Monday.

Food

In charge of the kitchen was a fantastic Scouter called Morai san. She was helped by another lady Scouter whose name I never mastered. I didn’t master many names, to be honest. Anyway. I tried to help out in the kitchen and I chopped cabbage, set tables and dished out food and probably got in the way a lot. The kitchen was much bigger than Ennerdale or Branthwaite’s – I was really impressed with the facilities.

We ate a lot of rice and the meals were simple with the exception of the most awesome barbecue. I managed to lose 1.7 kilos over the four days without being hungry which was brilliant!

Anyway, that barbecue. It was AMAZING. There was rice (and chopped carrot) cooked in bamboo canes; pork; sweet rice balls on sticks wrapped in bacon and doused in soy sauce; sweetcorn; aubergine; fish; baguettes packed with mozzarella, onions, tomatoes, wholegrain mustard and spam; whole chickens; watermelon; the most wonderful smores I’ve ever eaten and this was all washed down with iced tea and lemon water.

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Activities

There was a lot of formality. Each morning there was flag break and muster followed by callisthenics.

Generally Dan and I were both taken aback by the lack of things to do. It was all very relaxed and there was no morning or afternoon snacks. So an activity would be penciled in for ALL MORNING. There was a hike around a trail of bamboo crosses (that also doubled as teaching about the stations of the cross); a water fight; swimming; a night walk in the graveyard entitled ‘Test of Courage’; a mass; bamboo crafts and the campfire.

The tradition in Japan is that everyone wears their neckers (or chiefs as they call them here) on their heads. Every six/ group had prepared a sketch and there were songs too. I got them to sing the Spanish song about bogies. Always high brow, me. The camp fire was started with a bottle of lit flammable liquid travelling down a wire to the prepared fire stack. Very impressive. The campfire leader, (the Scout leader), would lead everyone to sing a chant that translated “Good evening, who is here? [person about to perform yells their name], everyone chants “what will you do?” [person responds] and then they do their thing. The campfire ended with us all stood round the fire, holding hands and singing a song to the tune of the New World Symphony and then humming it. Just lovely.

Out on the Town with the League of Japanese Gentlemen

Dan had been wanting us to meet one of his colleagues, Nakkei san, for a while. He finally arranged a meal out at a traditional Japanese restaurant chosen by Nakkei san and we were also accompanied by Nakkei san’s mentee and all-round Good Guy, (Junior) Suzuki san.

I got the kids to Dan’s office and then joined Nakkei san and junior Suzuki san for an introductory lesson in striving through crowds at rush hour to get on trains. Really, had we not had our Japanese friends with us I’m sure I would have waited in queues and the whole journey to Tobe would have taken twice as long. Let’s call this behaviour ‘Being Assertive’.

It was a lovely restaurant where you remove your shoes, and we ordered our food, and Dan ordered sake. I’d heard about it being presented in a glass in a box but never seen it before in the flesh, so to speak. I stuck with my oolong tea. We had a great night and tried Japanese Parfait as pudding for the first time and it was yummy. We learned that the gelatinous cubes were made from seaweed.

Having Nakkei san with us really enhanced the experience as he is from the countryside and is very knowledgeable about food. He and his brother have a rice farm and have invited us out there in September to stay with them and see the farm.

Bread and Circuses (or School Dinners and Japanese Theatre)

Quiet, Sophisticated Dining

Not surprisingly, this does not refer to the school dinners. Usually I meet Dan and a selection of his colleagues for lunch. At the start of June our numbers were depleted as Jermain san was on holiday and Paul san was in Hitachi city. So Dan, Sesheimo san and I had a couple of quieter lunches, the most memorable of which was at a French restaurant where I had my first ever galette. It was flavoured with blue cheese, pink peppercorns and honey. We ate outside and had beautiful views of the Yokohama wheel.

I’d first read about galettes in a book I read in October called ‘Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather’ set in Quebec. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17120581-fish-change-direction-in-cold-weather It’s a sweet book, I recommend it. The following day I had the school lunch to look forward to. Below are some snaps I took around Motomachi, where the school is situated.

 

School Dinners

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Armed with my slippers in a bag, my 260yen for lunch and a red PTA lanyard from the 100yen shop, I arrived at the school at the correct time. Go me.

Of course I hadn’t realised that there would be an hour-long presentation from the head of health and hygiene at the school about how the lunches are prepared.

It was all in Japanese but thankfully there were pictures too, but I did get more from the experience when an English speaker mother whose daughter is in Oliver’s class came over and explained some of it to me.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • All meals are made on site in the school kitchens.
  • They are making meals for over 600 people, (pupils and staff combined).
  • All meals are made from scratch, including broths. Recent changes to the amount of salt allowed in the meals means that more effort has to go into flavouring the broths, and ideally these would be simmered over a longer period, but due to time constraints they are not as flavourful as the staff would like. But it’s a compromise.
  • The staff take stringent measures to prevent against cross-contamination. Not only do they use separate knives and boards for different foods, but also different aprons, gloves and face masks. Wow.
  • There was a problem with waste at the school but after giving a presentation to the students about how hard the cooks work to ensure the children get tasty and healthy meals, the amount of waste has been drastically reduced.
  • Staff from Kamakura district education board were attending the presentation in order to learn from what Yokohama are doing. Yokohama must be a beacon of yumminess.

Finally, the presentation was over, and after washing our hands we lined up for our lunch.

PQ%9g9FYSICiIdfqk+UWZgIt was delicious. Except for the milk, which was just odd. I’m not a big milk drinker at the best of times, but I closed my eyes and sucked it up and then I could focus on the other elements of the meal: bread roll flavoured with cheese (yum); spaghetti bolognaise; cabbage salad and melon. Yum, yum, yum and yum.

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Theatre trip

That week also had Oliver going on a school trip to the theatre, which us parents were also invited to. So I walked through Nogai to the theatre and saw some new bits of Yokohama including this Art and Architecture library/ cafe, which I filed away to visit a later time.

I also clocked these bars along the banks of the canal that looked artistically seedy and so took this snap of them.

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I’ve never been to a Japanese theatre before, and apart from he decor, it was very similar to a British (modern) theatre. l+BOjgKiRHar+TZTkFIBRQ

When the curtain went up there were three gentlemen in Kimonos who came onto stage and played percussion instruments.

IMG_2133 Then a lady came on stage and played the shamisen. She played two or three tunes, including one western one which was familiar to me mainly through campfire singing at Guides. (‘Mary Had some Marmalade’ and ‘Jonny was a Parachuter’). There were three schools at the theatre, all of the kids were in the 5th grade. Two kids from each school were invited up on stage to have a go with the percussion whilst the shamisen player played alongside.

There was an interval, then one of the gentlemen came onstage and told a story.

IMG_2132 After this, the tone changed completely and a lady dressed in sparkly high heels, a split skirt and witchy get-up came on to do some magic.This bit was rather bizarre. The magic wasn’t that great either.

This was followed by another Japanese story telling session.

Quite an experience. Glad I went.

May’s Ending

Dan’s Birthday Weekend

Dan’s 41st Birthday fell on a Saturday this year. So did the first meeting of my new bookclub. Remember now: Bookclub = Friends, so despite the clash, I needed to go and make some friends.

First things first, though. The Friday night. We caught the bus to Honmoku and then walked along to Sankeien Gardens to go and see the fireflies. They were magical. Absolutely magical. But you’ll have to take our word for it as they were camera shy.


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On the way home from the fireflies we popped into our favourite bar, Cafe LeBron. Masagi, on the left, runs the place and it is just great – very friendly with a relaxed atmosphere, good food and I really like the whiskey highballs there.

Birthday!!

YiwEjI6nTgeuqpkRaFTEXQI’d struggled to get a birthday cake made locally, so I bought a sponge from the supermarket and then decorated it with whipped cream (which took ages to whip) and fruit. I also got this chocolate label thing from the 100yen shop and I’m pretty pleased with the result.

I made egg fried rice too (for breakfast) and we drank the wee bottle of champagne (as Buck’s Fizz) that I’d been given by my Nethertown pals for my birthday. And then we decided we’d also go out for brunch at a new place that has opened up locally called Smoke Shack which is run by a Glaswegian.

So at Smoke Shack I had a mojito, we shared some deep fried oysters and had Eggs Benedict too.

Fully replete, I then headed to an Indian restaurant in China Town to meet my new book buddies and Dan took the boys to Kita- Kamakura to do a wee hike with them.

The book we were discussing was ‘The Dispossessed’ by Ursula LeGuin. It was a big book. I was reading it on my Kindle and when I started reading it, the device reckoned I had 12 hours of reading ahead of me. It did not lie. Even with the assistance of my favourite peach alcopop, I only finished reading it the morning of the meet-up. But finish it I did.

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Unsurprisingly, after all that eating in the morning, at Bookclub I went for something light – the Idli setto – and it was okay. Aside from the food, I had a great couple of hours discussing the book and getting to know the other book gals, most of whom were American.

After the meeting I caught the train to Kamakura to meet up with the boys and then we came home to get ready for our babysitter to arrive so that Dan and I could go out AGAIN!

We wandered around aimlessly for a while, seeing the lights and the horse-and-trap-taxi, and then we discovered another newly opened business called Bruntons which specialises in beer.

The following morning we went for an explore; Dan planted up some flowers I’d bought and I started labelling Oliver’s clothes for his impending residential trip.

Oliver’s Residential

Come Monday afternoon I thought I’d better start packing. All the clothes were labelled, they just needed putting in the big rucksack (or the small rucksack) and checking off the illustrated list we were given. I’m so pleased I had made a start by the time the boys came home, as Oliver announces that a teacher from the International Classroom was on her way home with George to check on our packing. REALLY?!! Wow.

fullsizeoutput_2969So we get cracking. The teacher came. She was lovely. She was pleased with our procuring, labelling and packing. She told us not to back a paperback for Oliver. (Really?).

I felt so relieved. Until I remembered he needed an Obento box to take with him the following morning. Anyway, this is what I rustled up for him and he was happy with it.

The following morning he needed to be at school before 7am, so we all walked to the school and then left him to it. I’ve never felt so intrepid for him before. Poor lad, but he coped.

In the meanwhile I decided I really needed to get my learning head on and try a bit harder learning Nihongo.

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Also, whilst it wasn’t yet the rainy season, I might as well walk to destinations where possible and listen to lessons/ podcasts on the way.

Our next bookclub book is an American book which I found difficult to get hold of, except as an audio book with Audible, so that became another listening experience.

So I am trying to learn kanji piecemeal, often spurred by some kanji-based twitter accounts. I am using a youtube video for katakana and I used some online games to nail my hiragana. Pimsleur is helping me with speaking, listening and vocab, as is the LearnJapanesePod.

So here are a few of my snaps as I wander around. The hydrangeas are in bloom right now and are stunning. I never really ‘got’ them in the UK but here they are glorious.

George had his friend, Shoma, over one afternoon and then it was time for Oliver to come home. YEAH!! I’d missed him so much. I ran a bubble bath for him.

But he assured me that he’d had a bath before they got on the bus. So I put the cover on it and used it later.

The following morning he had a later start and so he and I went to a local cafe for a victory croissant. I love that boy so much.

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