Christine and Joe are getting married

I heard some very good news the other day. I got a message from my great friend Christine informing me she and Joe are going to take ‘the plunge’ as she called it The big M. Marriage. While there are some reasons which would make their lives easier being married (visa issues), they have been together longer enough and get on well enough to make a huge success of it. The ceremony will be next month and only parents are invited.

However next year, it will be all made up to us friends as we’re invited to a big do over in Florida with hopefully a lot of old names from Japan. This I might use that opportunity to see some friends round that way, get to other cities and then down to Colombia. (Gabriel invited me to go back to Colombia this August when he has to go back for 2 weeks. It’s so tempting to throw plans out the window and just do it).

Christine has been a good friend for a long time, since January 2nd 2002. I was meeting LP in a bar in Shinsaibashi, Osaka and was keeping to my traditional poor timing. LP being the jovial type and having an eye for the ladies, starting talking with 2 girls getting drunk on a table nearby. I swung in without fear and met up with Bobbi and Christine. Ironically I stayed over with a friend that night but Christine made me a tea in the morning and we became firm friends. I could see Christine radiated intellect and consideration as well as a vivacious eye for fun.

I was going to Korea to work and persuaded Christine to come over. Arriving a month earlier than Christine and naturally lived on a mattress in the living room, paying scant attention to the rest of the rooms except Christine’s room which I spent a tortuous few hours trying to figure out how to put together a bed from a plan in Korean. Dave picked up Christine at the airport bus stop and brought her to the apartment. Within a week, the apartment was transformed from heroin chic by simple organisation and thought.

The year went by, both of us frustrated with our jobs and the country but never with each other. Only once did we fall out, the famous clock-changing night, but the rest of the time shivered and sweating through the wearisome four seasons fluidly and without incident. We made friends with the local bars owners and generally found a niche even if we found it too tight. I am not a patient person and without Christine there to lighten my mood, listen to my various rants over too many awful beers and inform me about some books, music and WINNNAAAAApeg (home of Neil Young apparently), I might have gone postal.

So this wedding party is gonna be fun. Of course I take all the credit for Christine meeting Joe. Too long has passed but we stay in good contact and miss each other. She is a true friend.

(And that’s 1000 posts!)

Newcastle United Are Relegated

I have taken time over this. I don’t have an special emotion. Being relegated for the second time as a Newcastle supporter, it isn’t a total shock. The season has been such a disaster from the top down. A new start was promised under Ashley but his plans, which had some merit were enforced by the wrong people in the wrong way and completely ignored any traditional values or ideas in the most traditional of clubs and cities.

Maybe you can buy Chelsea or Spurs fans and give them unprecedented success but Newcastle United is different. Moderate success is fine as long as the fans are entertained and feel part of the movement. With Keegan (and Shearer), Ashley brought inspire into the movement and sought to be part of its congregation. Alas, you then can’t reject God when he doesn’t fit your rules and then claim intimidation from the very people you tried to bribe with charm and appointments. Ashley fled town like a charlatan on the run from his fooled congregation.

I didn’t want Keegan back in general but he has an eye for a player and is respected. JFK can take his middle name and off. Shearer isn’t the man either but he might has the clout to change the club around. He is the new God when we really need an experienced and persistent Scotsman.

I am looking forward to the Championship. Maybe I haven’t fully been exposed to it yet but there are at least 8 teams who are at least as big as the smaller teams in the Premier League. We have a chance to reorganise, jettison some of the highly paid wasters and get some wins under our belt. Sure we won’t be playing the bigger teams but for a while it would be nice to go into games without foreboding. A more simple and less delusional season.

But let’s not here anything about the fans needing to be more realistic. This isn’t my job or my bank account. This is football, my team, my hopes and dreams. Don’t go into games hoping to eek a win against Gillingham. Hope of smashing them, sending them back to wherever Gillingham is with harsh memories of power and verve. As Mark Twain stated ‘keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.’


(Sunrise 2003 in Bolivia on the way to Argentina)

In Poland, all women’s names ending in the letter A. Malgorzata, Magda, Anna, Karolina etc. 100%. Bet on it. Men have a touch more variety but almost all names are derived from the Bible. Have a stab at translating Tomasz, Piotr, Mariusz, Lukasz, Jacek. have noticed a slight leaning towards Scottish names as well. The Prime Minister is called Donald. I know a few Roberts too. But I have yet to meet a Bruce. One reason for the ubiquity is the tradition of name days. Everyone in Poland has a name day. At least everyone I have met. It’s more important than a birthday. Presents are given, friends meet up and toast the name-holder.

I have a name day too. Unlike my birthday, I can’t ignore it. Being a known person is an effective tool of communication in my job. I would let it slide by unnoticed but gratefully received some beer and pens. Pens. Like biros. Might sound tight but my chewed pens are well-known here. Their broken spines and gnawed tips raised eyebrows. I thanked all and passed the pens into the bottom of my bag. I prefer the weathered look.

It gets light very early in Poland more than I am used to. 4:34AM is my regular waking time right now. Despite going to bed close to 2am each evening, my body clock registers the first light as an overwhelming signal to lurch me into consciousness. The sky is pale, tinted with rouge. It doesn’t impact my eyes but dulls my senses back to sleep. I have no need for 4:34AM. Closing the blinds might help but I fear I will sleep straight to a more preferable hour. 9am or so sounds rather attractive on a week days.

I am not for flogging myself for this company. I do my work, do it better than anyone before me according to my colleagues. I am part-time psychologist, part story-teller, intense relief from work and a goal to focus at outside the daily drudge. I enjoy my work, guiding people to better opportunities in life, opening minds and possibly, possibly inspiring them. It’s not really work at all.

Right gotta go to bed. Don’t wanna not wake up.

Mes Que Un Club

A match of the top two teams in the world turned predictable as Barcelona pinned United back with pin-point possession football. But the match was always meant to be that way. United were to then play at pace on the break, attacking Barcelona’s patched-up defence. This is a team shorn of 3 of it’s best defenders but United were unable to penetrate. Their centre midfield had been made to look impotent. It was simply bypassed at times. All the hype about Anderson and Vidic’s defensive abilities look forlorn as Toure, Puyol, Pique and Silvinho had few problems after a nervous first 10minutes.

Ronaldo became increasingly frustrated but his arrogant, blinkered sulking would have missed the genius at the other end. Like Cantona, Maradona and Zidane, Messi’s talent is that he is a team player despite his extravagant skills. Other players are willing to make runs for him for two simple reasons. 1) there is a very good chance he will pass the ball; and 2) he will likely use the created space to further the team. Too often Ronaldo ran aimlessly, over-running the ball or simply running at his own men before running into a wall of defenders.

Going forward, Barcelona were constrained by a less than fit Henry but Eto took his chance like a quality striker. Xavi and Iniesta controlled the ball with such fluidity. British commentators before the game questioned if they could handle the physical side of United’s game. Seems laughable now. You can only tackle a man with the ball. Barcelona moved it round with such fast accuracy, Anderson and Carrick were by-standers. Rooney was positioned out the game. Park barely touched the ball. Berbatov was wasteful while Scholes and Giggs looked their age for once.

All credit to Barcelona though. They bought well in the summer, complimented the supreme talent they have in midfield matched together with solidity and organisation at the back. World class team certainly but with the ability and age to keep it going for 2/3 years.

Let’s not have any talk about Messi going to Chelsea, Man City or Manchester United. Say what you want about revenue or profit. Messi is already at the best club in the world in a fantastic city, getting paid and his family taken care. Que Mes Un Club.

Apologies and commiserations to Si, Danny, LP, Vedran, Jennie!

Some Recommendations For You

I don’t watch too many films but prefer to pick out the less luminous but greater acclaimed features. Milena, a friend here made up a CD and sent me some fair crackers.

The Proposition

Nick Cave written film and rightly feted. Set in the Australian Outback in 1880s as Ray Winstone chased down the Burns Gang. It haunts you for a long time after.

Urga (1991)

Winner of numerous prizes back then and rightly so. A tale of a Mongolian man helping a travelling Russian. Very cute, very funny, simply told and looks stunning.

Thanks to Milena for both recommendations.

The Hurt Locker (2008)

Good movie indeed. Realistic looking, it’s a film with about essentially 6 or so scenes which dealing with the fearful and exposed nature of the army’s work out there, exploring the confused state of mind of the US soldiers and the ambivalent feelings of the Iraqis to their liberators. Its very simply and well-made and taunt with tension at times. I am not sure it’s brilliant but its certainly very, very good and memorable.


I also watched Once Upon a Time in the West. Cuuulasssiccc!

>Bad Boy!

>I have internet installed in my apartment by the company and have rightly abused this free facility to over-dulge my heart with downloaded music. Dazed has aided this by allowing me access to his log-in and password on a music hosting site, the kid of places you can find anything and usually before it is officially released.

So I have been able to update and upgrade my music! Bad eh!

The list is something like this:

The Allmans Brothers

Andrew Bird

Amadou and Mariam

Anthony and the Johnsons

Arctic Monkeys

Badly Drawn Boy

Band of Horses


Belle and Sebastian


Bob Dylan

Bon Iver

Brian Wilson

British Sea Power

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Soundtrack

Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah


Dark Was the Night – Various Artists

David Bowie

Devendra Banhart

The Eels


Fleet Foxes

Franz Ferdinand



Graham Coxon

Grizzly Bear




Jimi Hendrix

Jim Ward

Johnny Cash


Led Zeppellin


Leonard Cohen

Lou Reed

Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell

Massive Attack



My Bloody Valentine

My Morning Jacket

Neutral Milk Hotel

Nick Cave


Olafur Arnalds


Patrick Watson

Paul Weller


PJ Harvey


Queens of the Stone Age


Ryan Adams

Serge Gainsbourg

Sonic Youth

Super Furry Animals

The Arcade Fire

The Breeders

The Clash

The Field

The Flaming Lips

The Kills

The Last Shadow Puppets

The Shins

The Stone Roses

The Streets

The Velvet Underground

The White Stripes

The Wombats

Tom Waits

TV on the Radio

Vampire Weekend

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

I discovered Lonestar had a buddy the other day. Just taking my traditional lengthy shower before the mad rush for the bus, I petted Lonestar and low and behold, he had a junior sprouting next to him. Not quite as tall or brave as Lonestar but Steve (as I have called him) will no doubt seek to reach the same gaudy heights as the silver croner/warrior. A veritable Blake Carrington amongst chest hairs.

A few days ago, a pretty young girl, doing a temp job no doubt outside a department store, handed me a free sample of Niveau Anti-Ageing Cream. I took it, crossed the street and sat on a wall, curious to know why she had handed it to me. What did she think of me? Was I in the appropriate age bracket? She gave the next sample to a man far older but then ignored a student looking waster. Hmmm.

I used the cream. Why not? Did it make me look younger streaming down the street like a spring breeze ? I don’t think. But it ran out today and I remembered that as I sat at work, blabbering on about the Japanese Yakuza. Did it concern me? I am pondering that right now. And I probably will until I get some vodka in me later.

At work, I spend a few hours a week with the head of investment, a man of 65 years and in his last few months here after a life-time of employment. Technically we are meant to discuss his various duties and work on his speeches. But almost always, we fall into philosophical discussion centred on the meaning of his life. At his age, his age has real meaning. Realistic or chirpy answers don’t help the soul. Today we discussed the question of whether it is better to have made a mistake than regret a past opportunity.

He asked me how responsible he should feel for his grown-up children’s mistakes now. As a man who devoted himself to the company, pushing himself to earn a good salary throughout the communist era, he spent more time at work than he feels he should have. He has regrets and reflects on what he perceives as failure. Successes are the beacons others admire while deep in a man’s soul, he wonders what else he could have done.

It’s a musing I have known. I quoted a paragraph from Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace of Desire to him. The father is shamed by an action of his eldest son Yasin saying to his friend ‘it is a father’s greatest loss to have a son who disappoints him.’ But what he can’t explain publicly are his similar failures and personality traits, something he tries to keep hidden from his family through stern leadership. He wonders whether these ‘failures’ are simply a case of his son following his lead or a direct result of his failure to warm to his family. In younger days, he would absolve himself of blame stating ‘it is in God’s hands now’ and continue on his own selfish path. As an older man, his decision-making comes under greater personal scrutiny. He worries that he might regret the choices in life.

As nostalgia warms us on cold days, melancholy sits deep in our soul, a feeling of guilt that may be controlled but never doused. Like hurt, it never goes away. Not fully. It’s a stick we beat ourselves with. It keeps us modest, more patient and rooted. There needs to be a limit of course. The well can get very dark with unresolved searching. But while the feeling fades, it never goes away. Only by passing it on to those who live on, can it survive. For while the sun sets on us, our memories need not be washed away as Glen Campbell sings in Rhinestone Cowboy. So remember when you ride off into the sun, the dust is never the same afterwards.

>There won’t be blood

From the Economist

WESTMINSTER loves the language of gore. People talk of “back-stabbings” and “assassins”; of electoral “massacres”; of paths to power “littered with corpses” and of “bloodbaths” if the powerful are crossed. In this sanguinary lexicon MPs are accounted “brave” and “heroic” for drafting a motion that calls for a parliamentary official to resign, or for writing newspaper articles that are codedly critical of their leaders.

They aren’t. It is brave to attend a protest rally in Burma. It is brave to be an independent journalist in Russia. It is brave to be a human-rights monitor in Syria. In Britain heads roll or are impaled on spikes only metaphorically. Only ink actually gets spilt: there will not be blood. The costs of sticking out a neck are pifflingly low. Ordinary Britons might well wonder why in these febrile times so few politicians, whether commanders or foot soldiers, are willing to make a stand.

Consider the three imbroglios that have paralysed politics. First, the fate of the soon to be ex-speaker, Michael Martin. On May 11th he rebuked two MPs who said things he didn’t like; attempting, on May 18th, to cling to his canopied chair, he seemed mumblingly ignorant of the procedures he is supposed to oversee. After his failings on MPs’ expenses (see article), it was painfully clear that he had to go. And on May 19th Mr Martin announced that he would. Yet only 23 MPs were “brave” enough to sign the “no confidence” motion that exhorted him to.

In fact, some of the reasons offered by those who backed the speaker had merit. Mr Martin did not force those implicated in the expenses debacle to submit dodgy claims. Why should he be sacrificed to camouflage the guilt of others?

Quite so: others should plainly go too. Some MPs worked the expenses system too disreputably to keep their seats or, in some cases, their ministerial jobs or places on the Conservative front bench. Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, who wrote a belated cheque for the amount of capital-gains tax she didn’t pay when selling what was once, for expenses purposes, her “second home”, is not the only cabinet member in this category. Those top Tories who made lucrative second-home claims on properties in spitting distance of their first homes are similarly bespattered.

Yet, so far, a pair of the most disgraced Labour MPs have been suspended by their parliamentary party and one disposable junior minister has stepped down; on the Tory side, David Cameron jettisoned an aide, and a few backbenchers who made baronial expenses claims have said they will not stand again. Some have apologised and, like Ms Blears, brandished penitential cheques. But otherwise Gordon Brown and Mr Cameron have hidden behind scrutiny panels and regulatory reforms—classic bureaucratic responses to an essentially moral problem. Mr Brown vowed to prevent anyone who had “defied the rules” from seeking re-election, and called the antics of Ms Blears and others “unacceptable”. But neither he nor Mr Cameron has employed the obvious remedy: to sack the egregious offenders and urge specific deselections, or impose them on reluctant constituencies if necessary. And although some activists are calling for a cull, few MPs, even among the clean ones, have joined them.

So to the final intrigue—the revived murmurs among Labour MPs about ditching Mr Brown himself. Before he became prime minister in 2007, few raised a squeal of protest; since then, some have been grumbling almost constantly. The arguments for and against installing another leader voiced during last summer’s aborted mutiny are again doing the rounds. Again MPs lament Mr Brown’s charmlessness and Labour’s likely electoral rout. Again they meekly look to the cabinet to lead a coup.
A time to cull

These different instances of collective timidity have some common explanations. In each case “boldness” has been inhibited by loyalty to friends, qualms about ruining careers and concern about constitutional niceties (it has been one of those weeks when commentators sagely bandy about medieval dates and precedents hastily garnered from Wikipedia).

The main explanation, however, is politicians’ self-interest. Backbenchers fear the ghoulish tortures of whips and the lost chance of preferment that rudeness about the prime minister might incur. Some fear that speaking out about the need for expenses-related sackings could set off a wave of retribution that could eventually engulf them too. The party leaders are stalling, reluctant to wield their metaphorical axes until they are sure where the chopping would end. Mr Brown may worry that punishing some MPs will make him still less loved among the rest.

Unfortunately, the politicians’ self-interest is unenlightened and myopic. With so little life left in the government, the cost to the careers of Labour mutineers would be nugatory; indeed, their stature might be enhanced if the plot came off. The confrontation between Mr Brown and the malcontents is less like a gunslingers’ deadly stand-off than the Monty Python sketch in which two men slap each other with fish. Meanwhile, implementing or supporting tough discipline for the most extravagant expenses artists might indeed lead to awkwardness and perhaps the odd by-election. But through their hesitancy the big parties have been tainted more than they need have been by the chancers they harbour. And they have left a space that insurgent parties and anti-sleaze independents are moving into.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that too many politicians are immobilised by a mix of inertia and spinelessness. Obstacles that are actually puny to them look Himalayan. To be snubbed in a parliamentary canteen seems as daunting as being put against a bullet-dented wall. Like many cowards, alas, they risk bringing on the fate they most fear.

President Roh Commits Suicide

Roh Moo-hyun, the President of South Korea from 2003 -2008. I was there during 2004-2005 and I liked that guy. I thought he got a very raw deal from the usual rumble-tumble childishness of Korean politics. Politics is divided along stubborn political lines that espouse ideology but in reality are more concerned with influence and pork-barrel money-grabbing. Roh was a brave human rights lawyer in the era of dictatorship and was asked to enter politics but fellow idealists who believed he might promote long-needed change. Roh didn’t feel emotionally up to the job and the traditional regionalism which besets Korean politics. In the end, his own party near abandoned him, his popularity fell and a good man who might have been able to change the dynamic left office, pushed out but entrenched corrupted politicians who felt threatened by change. After office, he was investigated for his family and himself taking bribes, leaving him further isolated and yesterday while hiking in the woods, he jumped from a rock, leaving this note; I can’t imagine the countless agonies down the road. The rest of my life would only be a burden for others. I can’t do anything because I’m not healthy. I can’t read books, nor can I write. Don’t be too sad. Isn’t life and death all part of nature? Don’t be sorry. Don’t blame anybody. It’s fate. Please cremate me. And please leave a small tombstone near home. I’ve long thought about that.