Tag Archives: Victory Gin

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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Spring

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 the three 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.

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The state of us

It is becoming increasingly clear that the things we need to have happen in order for a fairer, more just society to emerge, from economic reforms to climate change measures, as well as improvements in education, health and social care are further away than ever.  The systems of government hamper more than they help, either by way of elected officials for reasons of ideology or because they are in the thrall of lobbyists or the Sir Humphreys of this world:

Yes, yes, yes, I do see that there is a real dilemma here. In that, while it has been government policy to regard policy as a responsibility of Ministers and administration as a responsibility of Officials, the questions of administrative policy can cause confusion between the policy of administration and the administration of policy, especially when responsibility for the administration of the policy of administration conflicts, or overlaps with, responsibility for the policy of the administration of policy

Quite.

Regaining control will be more of a headache than marking an ‘X’ every five years and expecting that to do.  It requires engagement and understanding and other words which have become sullied by overuse in the kind of overeager council leaflet often used to line kitty litter trays.  But if the last nine months have shown anything, it is that the kind of people who seek elected office can in no way be trusted with the responsibility of it.

On everything from tax kickbacks for the rich to flogging off the forests, our ‘leaders’ are dangerously out of step with what rational thoughts and future generations require.  To justify it they point to a woeful majority of voters who agree with some of their policies, although not many of these were explicitly laid out in the manifesto.  They can ignore scientists, economists and the advice of history as they run amok and seek to dismantle in months what it took our forefathers generations to establish.  The only response we have is to change them for another, similar shower in different coloured rosettes with slightly nuanced policy differences in half a decade.

It’s almost enough to make you turn to drink

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No half measures

Julia's desk, Tokyo, today

ten minutes hate is not often given to dishing out advice for living, preferring to let people get on with messing things up in their own unique way without unasked-for interference.

Predictably, perhaps, a birthday sees a departure from that path, in order to offer up the following admonition:

Accept no half measures.

Let your glass always be brimful, savour every sip and make sure to drain every last drop with panache and with gusto.  In life, in your work, in friendships and romance, try to ensure you are getting the equivalent of an aged 21-year single malt, or whatever else is your particular tipple of choice.

Kampai!

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Building a dream

Diane Abbott called it right.  According to Paul Waugh on Twitter:

As well they might.  But do not be mistaken, although Liberal Democrats with narrow majorities over Labour MPs will be rueing the day they lined up for such a shafting, it is all of us who will be getting fucked.

Royally, in fact.  While the Queen struggles to get by on £7.9m, while the banks cough up an estimated £2bn per year in return for the £850bn they were gifted, pensioners, the disabled, the unemployed, those claiming housing benefit, lone parents and pregnant women – fat cats one and all – will be ensuring that Britain’s books are balanced by the time of the Olympics after the one we are still spending billions on.

Whatever else you think of it, it is no-one’s idea of progressive. Nor is the raise in VAT, of which the richest 10% pay one in every 25 pounds of their income and the poorest 10% pay one in every seven pounds.  Meanwhile our corporation tax will now fall to a level that, according to the Channel 4 News FactCheck, will make it the fifth lowest in the G20.  Hooray for corporations!

Still, at least the cider tax has been reduced.  I suggest you lay in a few bottles before the VAT goes up.  You will soon be needing the warm glow and sweet balm of oblivion that they can provide, along with this beautiful evocation of Depression-era survival techniques from Tom Waits:

A warning: the last time Conservatives tried cutting public spending in response to a global financial catastrophe, it did not end well.  See you on the bread lines.

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How much??!

They spent over three hundred grand on the CPS website.

Julia spent the square root of feck all on ten minutes hate.  Which one do we think looks better?

Think I might change tack and start tendering for government IT contracts.  At this rate I could undercut all the competition and still have enough to keep me in single malts, vintage Penguins and rare, hand-crafted fountain pens.

Photo from the Guardian, hat tipped to the ever-wonderful Richard Wilson

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