Tag Archives: Victory Gin

We don’t need to escalate

Here we are again, looking for a target for all that stockpiled ordinance we have that’s sitting around not being useful and blowing people apart. As with Afghanistan in 2001, drawing up a list of targets when much of Syria is made of rubble will not be easy. But still that brave Mr Cameron is prepared to give it a go.


He claims that doing so will prevent an attack on UK soil, when – as with Iraq – all those remaining capable of rational thought and not so maddened by the scent of blood in the air must know that it makes such an attack more likely.

Then there is the question of exactly which faction of murderous nutters we will be bombing in support of. The likely beneficiaries, according to Patrick Cockburn in the Independent, are going to be groups dominated by fighters affiliated to Al-Qaeda. You will have to forgive me if I don’t break out the Victory Gin in response.

The only thing that is going to resolve Syria to the extent that refugees might consider returning is a political resolution. All sides know this but as all sides hate all of the potential outcomes, we are supposed to stand aside again as the war drums take another pounding and be painted as naive idiots for not wishing to jump into what Cockburn rightly describes as,

a civil war of great complexity and extreme savagery.

Those reasonable voices, by the way, do not all belong to the left, although the usual suspects in the media are doing their best to paint those lacking a lust for cluster bombs as sandal-wearing peaceniks. Tory MP John Baron has stated:

Air strikes will only reinforce the West’s failure in the region generally at a time when there are already too many aircraft chasing too few targets.

He noted recently in an article on Conservative Home (yes, I know. Not my usual choice of reading material either…) that there can be no realistic resolution without involving Iran and Russia. Or accepting the unpalatable spectre of Assad remaining in power for at least a time. Otherwise what comes after him will almost certainly make Libya look like a smooth transition to democracy.

Syria at this point is all grey area. There are no good or easy paths out of this quagmire. Any attempt to make it into a battle between ‘our’ good guys and ‘their’ bad guys will end in the arming and assisting of some truly awful people, leading to the same unintended consequences, heightened terror alerts and traumatised children who develop into tomorrow’s suicide bombers on the streets of another capital city. Instead of doing the same thing and expecting a different result, I wish we could take the road less travelled and, in the words of a song written for an earlier, far-off, yet too-similar war:

We’ve got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today

Let’s hope (against hope) that this time, we get it right.

Picture of Homs in 2011 and 2014 from the Guardian

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Where everybody knows your name

The lure of the perfect bar, like that of the perfect writing cafe, keeps me searching through the city streets.  A place for rowdy celebrations with friends, knocking back drinks while sharing gossip and laughter, or for sitting not saying much at all, with book, glass and lover close at hand.  A space that is good for reading yet never too bright, both cool in summer and soothing in winter, when dogs stretch lazily by the fire and the humans sleep off their Sunday lunches.

My dream is to find the bar where I will be so well-loved that when I go, this happens:

I know their favourite songs. I want to reopen and play each of the songs in their honour.

Maybe one day I will find it – like those who have left behind memories of their songs in Iwate – or maybe I won’t ever be so fortunate.  It is possible that my perfect bar only exists in my head.  Perhaps the answer will be to open one myself, to stand behind the counter playing my favourite songs and hope that others enjoy the atmosphere enough to share it with me briefly.

Until the day I get there, at least I can enjoy the search.

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Jishin-yoi: the feeling of earthquake drunkenness

It usually starts with a jolt.  If walking or standing, I notice the ground beneath my feet start to move, or if sitting I feel it along my spine.  I brace myself for what is coming, look up at the light switch to see if it is moving…

… but nothing.

Check Twitter but there are no messages saying ‘quake!’ or, as we have got used to them and levity has crept in, ‘first!’  No reports from the Meteorological Agency announce an aftershock has been recorded.  If there are other people around, my friends or students or coworkers, they do not seem to have noticed anything amiss.  I shrug my shoulders, try to escape the sense of unease and get back to whatever it was I was doing.  It must have been what I have started to think of as another ‘ghost aftershock’.

So I was perhaps gladdened, perhaps saddened to read this story from the Tokyo Times today.  On the one hand, it is nice to know that I am not going completely insane, that this is a recognised side-effect of being somewhere shaky.  As a Liverpool lass, I am also reassured to discover that this feeling is shared with sailors returning home after a long sea voyage.

The sadness comes from realising that, as with so much of the post-quake effects, however bad it is here, others have it so much worse.  A slight sense of giddiness every now and then is nothing compared to those in Northern Japan who have suffered panic attacks, fevers, vomiting and falling down, in addition to the many other physical and mental hardships they have had to endure.

Earthquake drunkenness will, I suspect, go away given enough time.  A recent visit to Kyoto, which sits on a different plate to Tokyo, saw the ghost aftershocks disappear completely for the duration of my stay.  Yet there are many serious problems affecting Tohoku for which people can’t wait for time to do its healing work, instead, help is needed much sooner.

So please, grab yourself a copy of #quakebook while I grab myself a glass of something fine and single malt-like.  It may not be strictly orthodox medical advice, still I reason, if you are going to be affected by ghost drunkenness, you might as well try to chase it away with the real kind!

Whisky glass and bottle on my desk, with postcard of ship at the Pier Head, Liverpool


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Hanami season has arrived, stirring feelings of joy at the onset of spring and the start of a new financial and academic year, tempered with melancholy at the knowledge that, as with the sakura, all beauty is mortal.  A finality which doesn’t need to be underscored too heavily at a time when there are still many thousands dead and missing in the North, most recently those killed by last night’s large aftershock.

Last week Tokyo’s government asked for restraint at this time of national mourning, while an association of Tohoku sake brewers countered by trying to encourage Tokyo’s drinkers to indulge, enjoy life and by doing so, support the remains of their industry.  It is understandable that people feel torn.  There is perhaps a reluctance to hold the raucous parties for which the season is renowned while their compatriots are struggling with everyday living.  Set against that, is of course, the near-impossible-to-resist joy that sakura season brings:

As I wrote in autumn, the Japanese love their trees and this regard was very much in evidence today in Ueno Park.  Everyone from teetering and bundled-up toddlers to almost bent-double grandparents walked beneath the boughs, loaded and heavy with blossoms close to their mankai, or full bloom, best.  The trees were truly gorgeous.  A heartbreakingly beautiful sight, the gentle pink at times hardly showing against the grey sky, but still strong enough to give the soul a lift and herald the end of winter.

The view was made all the more beautiful by its fleeting nature, the delicate blossom taking a battering from the wind, falling across the paths and walkers below the trees, as well as into my palm as I took these pictures.

So hard to believe that by next week they will be gone.

All pictures by me, happy for them to be used if you like them, a credit would be lovely.


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Rough day

Yesterday was tough.  The first full day back to work since the earthquake was always going to be something of a shock to the system and naturally there was only one main theme of conversation for the adult students.  Where were you, what did you see and exactly how long did it take you to get home?

There was also a genuine curiosity as to how a real live foreigner is reacting to the crisis.  Maybe they have read about the ‘flyjin‘ and are surprised to see that some of us have stayed, but there was also genuine concern for my safety, some checking that I knew what to do during a quake and enquiries as to how my family felt about me still being here.

It felt slightly strange to be providing reassurance that I felt safe, knew that I should open a door and duck under a table, that I had huge faith in Japanese engineering and building technology after seeing how little damage there had been in central Tokyo.  I am not entirely sure if I was trying to comfort those listening or myself.  As students told me that they jumped every time they heard a strange noise in the office, that they were buying bottled water as a precaution for their daughters or that a 30-minute commute home had taken seven hours to complete, I wondered whether we would ever be able to return to ‘normal’.

I also wondered what this was accomplishing, feeling equally powerless to assist in the face of such devastation or a student’s sudden tears.  So I came home, opened a bottle of wine, heard from some amazing people on Twitter and then regained a sense of perspective.  I didn’t have a tough day at work.  It was perhaps a little rougher than usual, but not in any way tough.  If you want to see some people who had a tough day at work yesterday, click here.

The Fukushima 50 are risking everything to keep everyone in Japan safe.  So next time I feel like having a whinge, I will be thinking of everything they are going through and lifting my chin a little higher.


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A week later

An evening spent writing, with the Stones on the stereo and a glass of whisky close at hand.

That was my plan for last Friday evening, mulled over as I headed into Tokyo for a little light shopping on a beautiful spring day off work that luckily coincided with payday.  Nature had other ideas though and once they were unleashed, it would be close to 30 hours before I saw my own front door again after walking through it that morning.

Now, a week later, we sit in a basement bar with the rumble of trains above our heads, swapping tales of where we were and what we saw, things we have read and can still barely believe.  We don’t have any words to castigate those who made the alternative call, knowing that their reasons were as sound as the ones that kept us here, but knowing equally that we have made the right one for us.  We are glad we stayed.

Colleagues, compatriots and strangers, all have become friends.  We have hugged each other, soothed ragged nerves with laughter and together we have survived.  We are no longer worried or fearful for ourselves, but for those in Northern Japan who have lost everything as the snow falls, the brave-beyond-words technicians in the power plant and loved ones at home who read the papers or watch the news and believe what they show.

The picture of a terrified Japan displayed in the UK media is not one I recognise.  In the last seven days I have come to love the people of this city and country more than I believed possible.  Today we were in Ueno, where the Zoo has been anticipating the unveiling of two giant pandas. The event has been delayed by the earthquake but the station is all set for their debut, as well as being a blaze of sakura blooms for this weekend’s hanami (flower viewing) holiday:

There is a long road ahead to heal the people and places left so devastated by last Friday’s earthquake, but from what I have seen in the last seven days, I know it can be done.  Whatever my own small part in that will be, I am ready to play it.

Ganbatte Nippon!


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Bye Bill

Bill Hicks.

Gone, much-missed and never forgotten. I can’t even figure out which is my favourite line of his, they are all on the internet, so as it is Sunday you should settle down and watch the whole lot.  Perhaps today it is this:

Anybody can be a bum; all it takes is the right girl, the right bar and the right friends

Here he is from Letterman in 1989:

Bye Bill.


Filed under The Golden Country