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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Peace in Our Time?

Matt Lucas is on the telly. Breakfast telly too. In Japan………..

Hang on a minute, that’s not Matt Lucas, that’s Kim Jong-un. This is my first morning at home – yesterday I spent a good hour or so at the bank, opening a bank account to pay for school lunches. (On other mornings I’ve hung around the school ostensibly to ‘help’ the boys, but actually doing very little.) So this is my first taste of Nihongo housewifery and what a Good News Story this is: the two leaders of the Koreas meeting up.

Considering that last year North Korea was shooting missiles over Japan, this is really great news for this part of the world. IMG_0986

Tim Marshall in his book “Prisoners of Geography” points out that moving on from the stalemate is unchartered and perhaps undesired territory, (at least for South Korea and China). This is because there will be huge demands economically on South Korea and a united Korea would also mean Beijing will share a border with a US ally.

Anyway, I’m hoping the Domesday Clock has gained some time from this development. Exciting times.

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Why I’ve stopped reading the Qur’an

Last time at Bookclub, after a rather tipsy chat about the latest ISIS atrocity, we rather drunkenly agreed it would be a great idea to read the Qur’an for next time, so that we could discover for ourselves whether it is a ‘religion of peace’.

At university, I’d done a year’s course in Islamic History. The course had taken us from the founding of the religion, including Mohammed’s flight to Jerusalem and battles in Mecca to the Ottoman empire. It highlighted the tolerant nature of the Abbasid caliphate and their scientific and linguistic achievements. I had also owned a copy of the Qur’an, which I’d glanced at, mainly to see how the main characters from the Bible were represented.

A few years ago my husband and I had visited the mosque in Edinburgh during an open day. I had an opinion that Muslims were a bit like Salvationists, (minus the music): generally good, religious people. Of course there are bad Muslims, and bad things done under the name of Islam, but surely these are the bad apples?

So I started reading the Qur’an a couple of weeks ago. And first off, I made the decision not to promote the fact I was reading it on Goodreads. This is aberrant behaviour for me. I always post everything about my reading on Goodreads, but having read some of the comments on people’s reviews on the Qur’an, I decided against it. I don’t want hassle. I want a quiet life.

At first I am making lots of notes from the Qur’an and was appalled at the view of unbelievers, Christians and Jews. But as I slowly read more and more of the book, I realised there is no point in making notes as it is the same two or three motifs repeated and repeated and repeated. Namely, that unbelievers will burn in hell, that all the prophets before Mohammed had failed in their attempts to make people follow God, and that as long as Muslims pray, believe in Gold and pay the prescribed alms; paradise will be theirs, (and they will hear the wails of the unbelievers and there is nothing the unbelievers will be able to do, come the day of Judgement, as they have swapped the glitter of this life for the flames of hell.)

I carried on reading, getting more and more depressed at the repetition and damnation until I was about 40% in. The date of our book club was postponed to allow more of us to finish it, but even so, I have made the decision to stop reading it.

Yes, I was getting bored with the lack of progression in the book, and yes, I was yearning for all the novels I could be reading instead, but I also was getting upset and depressed. I usually continue reading a book to the bitter end, no matter how much I hate the start (or middle), so this is a big deal for me. I feel like I am failing in my attempt to understand the Muslim faith, which was my initial aim, but honestly, it’s not doing me any good.

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And here’s the thing. I am lucky enough to live in a country where I am allowed not to read it, and allowed not to like it, and even allowed to express the fact that I don’t like it. So why force myself to read it?

I expressed the fact on twitter that I was finding it hard, and had a little dialogue with someone who noted that , yes, expressing anything negative about the Qur’an can lead to hassle. I replied saying that I wanted a quiet life, so I wouldn’t post anything more online.

Then I followed this person on twitter and started reading about how apostates are treated by Islam; about how dissidents in Saudi Arabia are treated and I felt shamed. There are people facing the death penalty and 50 lashes a week for expressing their thoughts and yet they still express themselves and criticise the faith. And here am I, in comfortable Cumbria, able to express myself but too chicken to incur the wrath of some folk a long way away, who can’t really do me any harm.

So I’m going to post an honest review on Goodreads. And I’ll post a link to this on Twitter. And to heck with the response. (There might not even be one. We’ll see.)

Bring on the Thrillers/ Literary Fiction/ Crime novels. I can’t wait!

Stress

There have been times this week when I’ve been so overwrought with stress that I haven’t been able to get the words out when speaking. It’s a bit concerning, (which adds to the stress), and I am realising that things need to change as this level of ineptitude is not sustainable. It feels like something is short-circuiting in my brain. Headaches are common, as is a desire to eat more crap. So, I’ve got a strategy.

1. Deal with things head-on.

2. Get more exercise.

3. Get more sleep

4. Suggest that Friends of Beckermet School cut down on their events as currently I am not coping.

Behind the scenes I have started reading my book for the new book club, (Oryx and Crake) and I’m loving it.

I also sent off a flurry of applications for online writing jobs and one has come to fruition. Go me. Except it’s writing other people’s essays and dissertations which I find morally troubling. Also, practicably, it’s going to be hard as I don’t have an academic library nearby. So oh dear. I think I’m going to have to be choosy about what I say I can do for them.

About to make the pastry for Friday’s Moorish Tart, so I’d better crack on.

Half-term is all but over.

Diggerland lived up to expectations. I’d even go so far as to say it exceeded them. I’m thinking of getting a licence for a JCB.

Beamish on the other hand? Well. Pah. The old trams and buses were cute, except when they were full, and I learned that British LSD (pounds, shillings and pence) was the last currency in the world still to be based on the Latin monetary system, (lira, something and dinarae). The staff weren’t as good as at Diggerland, even though they looked rather dapper in their period costumes. Many of them just couldn’t be arsed. And it reminded me of Chuck Palahniuk’s book, Choke. 

Yes it was fun taking the boys on an adventure to the North East (of England), and I even got a first glimpse of the Angel of the North which *is* awe-inspiring , but I was shattered. And a trip to Carlisle the following day to watch Shawn the Sheep pushed me over the edge. Or so I thought. It wasn’t an edge though. Not properly. It was simply a hillock.

The Angel of the North by Anthony Gormley

As you see, I then I realised what I’ve got on my metaphorical plate this week coming and basically I am up shit creek. Aaaargggh. But tonight I have wrestled out a menu for the forthcoming dinner party I’d arranged weeks ago. And created shopping lists and lists of what needs to be done when. Cause you see, it’s not enough simply to host a fancy dinner party for the first time as a Proper Adult. Oh no. You need to make sure you are running a second-hand uniform sale after school the same day. And that you are doing a three-hour first aid refresher at a venue 45 minutes away the night before. And that you have a party to cater for on the Sunday – 40 children no less. And a birthday cake to make for THIS Monday,  And a book to read before next Monday. (For book club – Oryx and Crake). And extra crockery and table linen  and placemats and coasters to buy. Hurrah.

But it’s now 2am. I’ve bought table stuff online. I’ve even ordered a grocery shop to be delivered too, (on top of the separate order of quails’ eggs because it seems you simply cannot buy quails’ eggs in West Cumbria). Tomorrow we are off food shopping early. I need to tidy the house a bit. Then the grandparents are coming over with the sons who are staying over tonight (there is a God). And I am going to be a little more organised, but still shattered.

And tomorrow…….Diggerland

The boys have been uber helpful and good today, all because tomorrow we rise early in the morning to cross the (thin end of the) country and get to explore Diggerland. Wooohoooo. Wooohooo.

Earlier they were musing at other possible tourist destinations. “Spiderland?”. Erm, no. “Motorbike land?”. Sorry. “Trainland?” (He must have been thinking of York.) Just goes to show the level of genius for whoever dreamt up the concept of “Diggerland” in that it a) makes sense and b) sounds good.

Our eldest son is a competent reader and riding this wave of helpfulness, we got them to wolf down their pancakes and told them that come 8pm, rain or shine, (or in pyjamas or not, more to the point), we would be sat infront of Holby, all parental rights abrogated. I managed to oversee toothbrushing before the witching hour, and assisted the younger one a wee bit in getting his pjs on and then removed ourselves from the shared bunk beds as eldest son had organised Thomas the Tank Engine stories on the stereo and had started reading ‘Supertato’ (our current favourite library book) to the wee one.

Hurray for tomorrow.