Too Shy

I felt the need to go for a long walk. Fukuoka is a big old town and I thought I’d wander over to the docks, stop by at the onsen for a hot bath before going back to the hotel.

Yes, it’s a big city but the most interesting, picturesque places are by the rivers.

Fukuoka
Confluence
One of the more interesting buildings

I wandered through a park where I came across a disused open-air theatre.

Open-air theatre

The most disappointing thing I saw though was a couple of homeless people. We were just talking about this a couple of days ago: where do all the homeless people in Japan go? We hadn’t seen any in Tokyo, or Kyoto, anywhere. Maybe there are none. Maybe everyone is looked after? But I saw a man and a lady today, each pushing a supermarket trolley full of plastic bags of stuff. These people looked a bit shabby too, which is most unusual.

Liesel missed out when I visited the art gallery. A collection of impressionist paintings on loan from the Burrell collection usually based in Glasgow.

The sign on the wall said it was OK to take pctures, but no flash, no tripod, no selfie stick. But I was told off when I tried to take a picture of the van Gogh painting.

A voyage to impressionism

I walked towards the docks but it was heavily industrialised, not a place to go for a walk, so I never did see the sea. Instead, I went to the onsen. Such a disappointment. I only have myself to blame, of course, for not even trying to learn some basic Japanese. But surely, if I go into a public bath, it’s pretty obvious what I’m there for? The receptionist pointed me in the direction of the café area. But I couldn’t even see how to order a cup of tea, if I wanted one. A few guys were sitting there with towels around their necks. But I couldn’t see where to go, for lockers, to pay, to take my clothes off, nothing. Too shy, shy, hush, hush, eye to eye. Very disappointed with myself but there are plenty of other public baths.

The docks are way, way over there somewhere

So, I thought to myself, I’ll go for a massage instead. I looked one up, followed directions and oh my goodness, I know I was still close to the dock area at this point, but this wasn’t the kind of massage I was looking for.

Another bridge

I walked back to the hotel where I had a bit of a lie down!

William looking good, happy birthday xx

Meanwhile, back in the UK, lovely William was celebrating his first birthday. We won’t miss his second, it’s too hard!

And so, on to our next port of call. The name of it has proved to be a bit of a mental block for me. Kajagoogoo. No. Kamikazi. Kama sutra. It’s on the tip of my tongue but I just can’t remember what it’s called.

To be fair, it’s not just Japanese place names I have such problems with. There was that night a couple of years ago when I was awake for hours trying to remember the name of Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis. Yes, I know it’s Moriarty. But I couldn’t recall it that night. Montgomery, Montmorency, Mycroft (close but…), Moorcroft, Moorcraft, on and on.

And while out walking the streets of Fukuoka yesterday, I kept thinking of Cosa Nostra, Kate O’Mara, cash ‘n’ carry.

Every time we pack, we think we have too much stuff. We walked to the station having a late breakfast slash early lunch on the way. Hard Rock Café, as it happens, salad and chips, always a good combination.

Today’s journey on the Shinkansen would be our final train ride in Japan, on this occasion. Such a shame it only took an hour and a half to get to kalamati, no, Kalahari, grrr…

Kagoshima. It’s Kagoshima, of course.

Our Airbnb host, Jin, picked us up from the station, took us to our apartment, way up on the fifth floor and there’s no lift. He introduced us to the local greengrocer, told us how good the chicken was, told us where we could get chicken sushimi for only 100, very cheap.

I went for a walk to confirm that I would be able to find the local hot bath tomorrow Yes, there’s one here too, just a two minute walk away, and I will persevere this time.

Sun sets, shrine appears on the hill

We should be used to it by now, but when the Sun sets here, it sets good and proper. No messing about with twilight and all that nonsense.

We look forward to exploring this place, Kagoshima, Kagoshima, more fully tomorrow!

Nachi Falls

The rain overnight was torrential, really loud and every now and then, it became louder. There was a steady drip drip drip somewhere that could have been someone playing a bongo extremely rhythmically and loudly. It was still raining when it was time to get out of bed. When I say, get out of bed, I mean, get up off the tatami mats that we were sleeping on.

Tatami mats OK. Being on the floor, not so much!

I don’t know why it should be so much harder to get up off the floor, but it is. My theory is that Japanese people do this every day from a very young age, build up very strong thigh muscles and then become sumo wrestlers.

I was very glad that I spent much of my youth practicing the fine art of origami. A passing knowledge is required if you want to make filter coffee. The thin cardboard handles unfold so the filter bag hangs into the cup.

Making coffee in a Moomin mug

Our plans to visit Nachi Falls looked like they biting the dust. The rain finally petered out after 11.00. By this time, Liesel was engrossed in a TV show on her phone, and I was messing up Soduko puzzles again. I really seem to have lost the Soduko mojo lately.

In the end, I visited the waterfall on my own. Nachi Falls is 133 metres high, the tallest in Japan. It’s a train and a bus ride away.

At Nachi Station, I passed time waiting for the bus by going for a quick walk on the beach. The clouds looked adorable, so nice and cute: just fluffy children’s drawings of clouds, nothing like the big, black angry ones that had been precipitating all night.

Nice beach at Nachi plus clouds
More clouds

There’s a fine memorial at the station for the man who brought Association Bootball to Japan. Again, I think my translating app needs some tweaking.

Let’s remember Nakamura Yoshiyuki
You get the gist…

The bus ride to the falls was quite long, so it’s a good job we’d already decided not to walk it. The site, and sight, is stunning and greatly revered by the local people by the looks of it.

Nachi Falls
Not a bad time exposure with the phone

A lot of water comes down but only a small stream trickled by where the people gathered.

I started walking up the stone steps towards the Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine but I could see the clouds were coming down fast and it was getting dark, plus I really didn’t want to miss the bus back.

Shoe car? Bike? Skateboard? Segway? Rollerskates?
The clouds are coming down as I’m going up

The bus system is totally different from any other one I’ve been on. While people are paying the driver and getting off at the front, you get on at the back and take a ticket from the machine. If you don’t know what the fare is, it doesn’t matter, because it’s shown on the laser display unit at the front of the bus.

What’s the story….?

Your ticket has a number on it, such as 3 or maybe 6, and this number corresponds with the numbers on the displayed grid. Each number has an amount underneath which represents the fare you would pay if you were to get off at the next stop. But if you stay on the bus, you’ll see the amount increase underneath your number and thus, if you were counting out the money so that you could tender the exact fare, you would have to recalculate. It’s like watching the fare in a taxi go up and up at a ridiculous rate, only there are six such numbers. Well, six for a while, then, as the journey progresses, it turns into a 3×4 grid, that is to say, there are now 12 possible different fares for people to pay, if they each joined the bus at a different location and thus received a ticket with a different number from each other. And the fares don’t go up by fixed amounts, either, oh no, sometimes the increase is 30, sometimes 50 yen and occasionally there are other odd increments. Sometimes two adjacent numbers might incur the same fare for a short while. But there is plenty of time in which to count out the coins so that you can get rid of as many as possible, thus reducing the weight of money in your pocket. You want it to be correct. So when the time comes and you’ve arrived at your destination, you stand up, walk to the front, try to hand the driver the correct fare. But no. There’s a plastic box there into which you drop the coins along with the ticket. Inside this box, there is a slow-moving conveyor belt taking the takings to, presumably, some sort of counting and checking device. But that doesn’t matter because, as I said, the conveyor belt moves quite slowly, so by the time it’s sucked in your final coin and your ticket, you are well away from the bus.

Also, I don’t know if it’s because many of the roads here are quite narrow and so the buses have to be narrow too, but there are only three seats across rather than the expected four plus the aisle.

Ooh, I didn’t realise Martha was driving the bus
Three seats across

Liesel did some laundry, thank you, and then she washed some fish. Obviously, we couldn’t put fish in the tumble dryer, that’s a ridiculous thing to do, so where’s the best place to hang them up to dry? Oh I know: the railway station.

Fish hanging in Shingu Railway Station

The following day, we packed and moved on to Kyoto. And not just to get away from the fish at Shingu station.

I realised that the Sudoku puzzles I’d got wrong were designated ٭٭٭٭٭٭ which is very, incredibly, almost impossibly difficult. I completed a few ٭٭٭ ones to prove to myself that I still had some basic skills and then, finally in the evening, I conquered a ٭٭٭٭٭٭ puzzle and celebrated with a minor fist pump.

But one thing I never did conquer in Shingu was this:

More functions than a party planner

You think Google Translate is funny? What about Google Maps when it hasn’t a clue:

It’s a mystery

After dumping our stuff in the hotel room, we went for a quick walk. Yes: hotel. Something big must be going on here, all the Airbnbs are booked up and at Shin-Osaka Station, there were hundreds of students gathered, going somewhere. Another mystery, eh, Google?

Cycling by the Kamo River at sunset

Basketball

Today’s afternoon walk only took me as far as KBC. The initial plan was to walk to the nearest barbershop, but it proved to be too far. If I could walk in a straight line across the international airport, it would have been a 20-minute walk. Going the long way round would take well over an hour and half. So my hair is still uncut, unkempt and certainly not making growing fast enough to give me a ponytail any time soon.

In the evening, we went to watch Kiran playing a couple of games of basketball. As we left the house, Liesel pointed out the moose. What moose, I asked, looking into the distance. That moose, said Liesel. Right by the car!

There’s a moose, loose, outside the hoose

Phil was coaching Kiran’s team and we watched from the gallery, with Una. Basketball is a very fast game, a lot more scoring than soccer, of course, and all the players were very skilful with the ball. Between the two games, Una took us to a nearby coffeeshop that shall remain nameless. No, it wasn’t the Voldemort Coffee shop.

Goal!!!
Yes, a very fast game

The venue was BHS. Not the now defunct UK chainstore, but Bartlett High School, way over on the other side of town.

The students are Bartlett Bears.

To round the evening off, Una took us to the Anchorage Ale House to watch and listen to an ’80s music covers band, I Like Robots. Really, ‘I Like Robots’ is the name of the band. (The copyrighted name for the Alaskan-based tribute band that we’re putting together is AnchoRage Against the Machine.)

I only had one beer, thanks
I Like Robots with all the best hits from the ’80s

We had a good old-fashioned singalong and had the pleasure of meeting a couple of Una’s friends, Lesley and Tina.

The place was heaving, really crowded, the music was loud, the hubbub was louder but man, was it a relief when we finally got seats! I think this is the latest we’ve been out, getting back home just before midnight. The Moon was peeping through the clouds accusingly.

Meanwhile, we’d missed the People’s Vote march in London. An estimated 700,000 people made it the second largest march ever in the UK. More people even than the total population of Alaska! No trouble, no violence, no arrests. A few weeks ago, 7,000 people attended the Leave Means Leave march and caused plenty of trouble. I hope I’m able to participate if there is a second referendum, especially if the option to remain in the EU is included.

Over the last few days, I’ve caught up on a few radio programmes and podcasts. Highlights include Danny Baker talking to Sir Bernard Cribbins and playing Right Said Fred by Maya Angelou and Jessica Mitford! Who knew? And the now award-winning podcast Fortunately! with Fi Glover and Jane Garvey, which you sometimes have to listen to through your fingers.

Socktober

A very lazy morning: I ate breakfast while messing up a Sudoku puzzle. In the afternoon, I walked to the coffee shop and back, enjoying the sunshine but not so much the cold. It’s borderline right now: too cold without a jacket, too warm with it.

Jewel Lake branch

It’s Socktober: a campaign to donate socks to homeless people. Elsewhere it’s Inktober, a challenge for artists all around the world to draw an ink picture every day and post it online. And it’s Stoptober, the campaign in England to help people give up smoking. But I like Socktober as a word…

Socktober

After dinner, we went to Aaron and Jodi’s. They were packing for their trip to New Orleans. Asa and Gideon went to bed after we watched a couple of episodes of Flight of the Conchords on TV.

Gideon likes to go to Campfire, the big breakfast party at school. Which is fine, except that it starts at half past seven. Far too early for civilised people. Liesel drove him while I stayed behind to look after Asa, who then walked to school on his own.

Liesel had another physio appointment and we walked there as it’s not too far from the house. We took the dog, Zipper with us, and while Liesel was being treated, Zipper and I found the coastal trail. Zipper pulled a lot and sniffed everything. I didn’t.

Someone had a placard in their front yard which I thought was quite sad.

The caption speaks for itself

After meeting up with Liesel again, we walked home via a baker slash coffee shop that we’d been to before: Fire Island: On the way, we passed dear old Star, the reindeer. Not the same Star that was here before, apparently. Like the good Doctor, Star regenerates every few years.

Star the Reindeer

It’s a pity he, she or it has to be behind such a dense fence though, with just a small area of dirty perspex to look through.

Ain’t nobody gonna get outta here

But we did like this park bench, seemingly inspired by Vincent van Gogh.

Front porch bench project

At Fire Island, we had a second, late breakfast.

In the evening, we took Gideon to play Futsal. He and his team wear the red shirts of England, hooray! It’s an indoor version of soccer, similar to 5-a-side football that I was no good at, at school. The indoor court is probably about the same size as a basketball court. The ball is smaller and less bouncy than a soccer ball and the goals are smaller too. But there are still five players on a team.

Klaus and Leslie met us there to look after the boys while Liesel and I went out for a Thai meal with Bob and Margot. Bob was Liesel’s boss in Anchorage until I dragged her kicking and screaming away to London. It was good to see them again, and Liesel and Bob caught up on news of many old acquaintances.

Bob and Liesel

We collected our charges from their Opa and Oma. I read Gid the first chapter of The Wolf Book after which he pretended to be asleep.

Here’s the first of today’s bonus pictures:

Registration number of the beast

My Dad had a Vauxhall Viva with the number THO666H, and you can imagine what teenage me and my sister thought of that! It was seen on TV once. No, not as a getaway vehicle on Crimewatch. More innocently, in the car park at Epsom races.

And here is the optical illusion of the day. I’ve seen it posted several times on Twitter and Facebook recently, so here it is, just so you know what you’re missing.

You want it to stop, but it won’t ….

Cross-country Runs

Wednesday morning at five o’clock as the day begins… we had to get up early as the cleaners were due at 7.30. We went out to the Bagel Factory for breakfast. Very nice bagel with far too much salad including bean sprouts that think they’re dental floss. And a huge gherkin (pickle) that even Liesel didn’t fancy.

Liesel had booked a massage at the gym so to keep her company, I walked fast on the treadmill for half an hour. Every time I do that, I think how much I prefer walking around outside. But I told myself that it was OK to be exercising inside when it’s so cold outside.

Boring photo of gym activity

Cold and wet. Klaus went out to run some errands, came back and told us about the big black cloud heading our way.

I was going to walk to Kincaid Park but by the time I’d got ready, it was raining really hard. Surely, I thought, they’ll cancel the cross-country race. But no.

In the end, I accepted a lift from Klaus and we watched the race that Asa took part in. It was cold and raining hard, just how I used to enjoy my cross-country runs at school. (I didn’t. See below(*))

Thanks to Jodi for the photo
Asa just finishing the race

There was a huge discrepancy between the actual temperature and what the internet told me. 16°C is 60°F. In fact, it was 47°F, a chilly 8°C.

47 chilly degrees
In a parallel universe, 60 degrees

We drove over to Aaron and Jodi’s in the evening for dinner and to be shown around the house. They’re off to New Orleans for ten days and Liesel and I are in charge of looking after Asa and Gideon!

They live downtown, nearer the city centre, so hopefully we’ll still be able to do some walking, even if much of it is inside the gigantic shops and department stores, away from the cold weather.

Did I mention that it has suddenly become really cold? Aaron commented that it was the first time he’d seen me wearing long trousers and long sleeves.

We have plans for our nephews: and that is meant in the best possible way, no manic laughter implied!!

(*) Yes, cross-country running wasn’t my favourite sports activity at school, mainly because I can’t run fast nor far, never could. I can still visualise the route through the woods at school, and how grateful I was when a friend, who lived nearby, showed us the shortcut.

A couple of years later, in a moment of madness, I volunteered to join the school team in a race which happened to be close to where I lived in Park Barn, Guildford. It was on what was then Bannister’s playing field, now occupied by Tesco. It was raining that day too, but at least I’d been taken most of the way home on the coach.

I was destined to come in last place from the very start, but my fate was sealed when, running back, my shoe became stuck in the mud and came off. Trying to pull a shoe out of thick clay, in the rain, while trying not to put the shoeless foot down and trying not to fall over was difficult but I managed. And yes, I secured my last place.

I was never picked for a cross-country team again, and I never volunteered.

Judge Una

You don’t often have to opportunity to witness history in the making. But it really was a privilege, an honour and a delight to witness our friend Una being installed as Judge of the Superior Court of Alaska. at the Boney Memorial Courthouse, Anchorage.

Una with here parents Lalita and Sharad, brother Ashwin and sister Geeta

This was such a positive event compared with what was happening on the other side of the country. Brett Kavanaugh has been appointed to the US Supreme Court. But several women have accused him of sexual assault. Will he take the seat? Probably. The pictures from Washington DC show old, white males, even if they believe the accusations, just not caring. It’s too horrible to contemplate. So I’m going to stick to events in Anchorage.

Alaska Skies by Suzanne Donazetti at the back of the courthouse

I don’t pretend to understand the details and niceties of the Alaskan judicial system but it was wonderful to hear five other judges, from various courts, speak about Una in such glowing terms. We’re really proud of her achievements. The Installation, sometimes referred to as Intubation, Inauguration, Ordination, depending on who can’t quite recall the correct terminology, was a very positive event.

Una becomes the first brown woman, or ‘woman of colour’, appointed to this position. Four out of the five other justices were women. We felt bad for the token white male. No, we didn’t: he was just as pleased to be there as the rest of us.

Administration of the Oath of Office: Una with the Honorable Susan M Carney, Justice, Alaska Supreme Court

The award for the best personal address of the day goes to Geeta, Una’s sister. She was very funny and I just hope someone recorded this talk: a little bit of self-deprecation but a beautifully told story of a close, supportive, if competitive family.

Liesel, Una, Leslie
The big family photo

After the formalities concluded, many of us went to the Snow City Café for the Reception, a chance to mingle and meet old freinds and new.

Liesel and I had picked her Mom up from work, leaving Dad at home. At Snow City, we drank wine, toasted Una and generally ligged.

Later in the evening, we repaired to Una and Phil’s house where a box of old photos provided much entertainment.

I’m going to be a judge when I grow up, just watch me
Liesel, Una and Jyoti when they were very young

Una’s been a good friend to Liesel for many years, decades even, and I too am very fond of her. Why?

Reader, she married us.

The Price is Right

In May 1980, Sarah and I were enjoying the World Snooker Championship Final on TV. Suddenly, the game was interrupted by a urgent news report.

A group of six armed men had stormed the Iranian Embassy in London a few days earlier. During this very exciting snooker match, the SAS stormed the Embassy in a bid to end the seige and liberate the hostages. All very exciting, yes, but we wanted our snooker back.

There were only three TV channels in the UK at the time and all of them were showing live pictures from the Iranian Embassy.

I think hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people must have complained to the BBC because fairly soon, we returned to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield to watch the rest of the match. Canadian Cliff Thorburn beat Alex Higgins, becoming the first ever non-British World Snooker Champion.

All this came back to mind this morning when Klaus became very animated when his favourite TV show was interrupted by a long breaking news item. Bill Cosby has been found guilty of drugging and sexually attacking a woman, and will serve between three and ten years in jail.

Can’t we have ‘The Price is Right’ back, begged Klaus. To be fair, the report did go on a bit too long, and really, it’s not that big a news story. Certainly when compared with the storming of an embassy.

The big question now of course is, why were we in the same room while that show was on TV? Well, breakfast. The other question is, will Bill Cosby follow in OJ Simpson’s footsteps and write a book called “I didn’t drug and rape that woman but if I wanted to, this is how I would have gone about it”?