Jonnie Common

I spent last night desperately pawing at my phone in an attempt to let it let me compel it to delete some songs and add some new ones. I ended up accidentally updating to a new operating system, which meant while it was deliberating I couldn’t go to sleep, because my phone is my alarm, and I hadn’t set it yet. Somewhere, somehow, a past version of me is pointing and laughing at the present me.

This morning I am tired but I can listen to some new music. Today’s trundle through the suburbs has been soundtracked by Jonnie Common, the charming moustache wearing gentleman I saw on Saturday. First listen, it’s Pagan Wanderer Lu meets Steve Mason, with a tiny tinkle of early Hot Chip in his soft wee voice.


Sea car

Went to the sea today. No particular reason, I just had a desire to see it, make sure it’s still there. The moon has been getting ideas above its station lately, including a flirtation with blocking the sun, so it was nice to watch it doing its more day-to-day job of maintaining the tides.

There was an abandoned car in the sea, floating gently at high tide as the waves hurried in and out. This was near Margate’s bathing pool, just along from the Lido, which has seen better days. Other attractions included a dead seal, and a small Broadstairs park entirely operated by cats.

In one of Margate’s many second hand bookshops, I bought “far from the sodding crowd”, a book about idiosyncratic British tourist attractions by the guys who do the fake news stories in Viz magazine. It starts with Margate shell grotto, which is either a pagan chapel or a Victorian tourist attraction masquerading as a pagan chapel. It’s an enjoyable book, the kind of gently erudite travel guide that I’d love to write one day.

An eclipse, a new editor and a jazz cover of Creep by Radiohead

I neglected to post an entry yesterday or Saturday. Let me relate some fragments of memory from these days.

There was a partial eclipse on Friday. London was resolutely cloudy, as happens. I went outside and stared at the clouds at the eclipse’s fullest point. It got colder. The ducks on regents canal went about their business as normal. A milk float appeared out of a tear in the fabric of space/time and fell into the waters. I went back to my desk.

Later I posted an article of soul-sappingly underwhelming eclipse pictures from Guardian readers. 

After a climb with Russell, I headed back to King’s Cross for drinks and to find out who the new editor was. There hasn’t been a new Guardian editor since Britpop, so this was quite a big deal. 

Grauniad journalists get to vote for editor via an NUJ organised ballot. The trust are free to choose whoever they like, but they wisely went with the hack vote. Kath Viner is our new editor. I voted for Kath. I don’t think anyone I’ve voted for has ever won anything before, so this is a new sensation.

She was in the bar, as was the current ed and most of the guardian’s editorial staff. I told her people were taking selfies with her in the background. “They should be taking selfies WITH me,” she replied. 

I got some good advice from one of our planning editors, some of which I can remember. It was a heavy night.

Saturday was a day of music. I headed on the retro-futurist DLR to Beckton to jam with Russell. We ate pizza, watched the He Man / She Ra crossover movie and recorded some covers. My favourites were a bass & uke bare necessities, a very Chas n Dave Country House, and an accidental jazz take on Creep by Radiohead, where I imagined I was singing to disinterested drinkers in an upscale hotel bar. There’s something magical about playing with someone else. I can see why bands are popular.

The eve I saw Jonnie Common with the Eigg crew of Jenny and Kelly. And also bid farewell to Kate, who is off to Myanmar for two years to do the TEFL shuffle.

Jonnie Common is like a less depressed Pagan Wanderer Lu. I really liked him, and bought his record. Let this diary bear witness to my desire to start listening to new music again. It’s time.

The Nazis, Kula Shaker and the 1999 eclipse

Not much to report today, but by Tautatis this is a daily diary, and so I shall squeeze some words out from the bottom of the toothpaste tube. If only I’d started with the words at the bottom to begin with, then we wouldn’t be in this situation.

I have spent much of the evening watching the Nazis spread across Europe, narrated by Lawrence Olivier. The World At War is available on the BBC Iplayer, and I am finding it compelling all over again. We live in pretty appalling geopolitical times, but I think we can all agree that the Nazis really took the biscuit.

Tomorrow morning sees an eclipse. If you’re lucky enough to be in the Faroe Islands it’s a full eclipse. London’s is 85%, still pretty high. The last one round these parts was 1999, as predicted by Kula Shaker in their career-ending “mystical machine gun” single.

I remember it clearly. I was in my garden in New Malden, with Alastair, who had flown back from Indonesia earlier the same day. In fact, the route of the eclipse followed Alastair across the globe, like a harbinger of unique evil. At least, this is how I remembered it at the time.

Shortly before the eclipse, we had had a Wimpy, in New Malden Wimpy, now a Korean restaurant. The waiter, nicknamed Whirlwind on account of his speedy service, was nonplussed by the imminent majestic dance of heavenly bodies. He said he’d watch it through his car’s tinted windshield.

I followed the advice of Patrick Moore and used the pinhole and piece of card technique. Soon enough an image of the moon eating into the sun was flickering its way across my bit of card. As the skies darkened and the birds fell ominously silent, I worried for Whirlwind’s burnt retinas, and whether the sun would ever appear again.

There was a moment of hysteria, pagan magnificence and some slight giggling, before the sun started to reassert its mastery. Then my grandma appeared to tell the family that a milk float had crashed into a house up the road.

We hurried up to see for ourselves. Sure enough, the float had smashed through the low garden wall, coming to rest just outside the kitchen window. Mysteriously, the driver was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he’d gone to join Kula Shaker?

I hope tomorrow’s eclipse proves similarly memorable.

Climbing, kebabs and conspiracy theories

An evening of climbing in a former biscuit factory in Bermondsey tonight, with my old friend Russell. He’s a very calming presence, like a 24 hour shop or a warm radiator on a stormy night. His main news since our last meeting is the discovery of the horror channel on freeview, and with it the ability to watch the Incredible Hulk. We also discussed a proposed Arnie all-nighter at the Prince Charles cinema, conspiracy theories about the Japanese economy at the fall of the Berlin Wall, Terry Pratchett, and the 1980s cartoon MASK. 

Thereafter we retired to a kebab shop in London Bridge. As we waited for our Lamb Doners, a resting member of staff painted several pieces of cheap white bread with Nutella, before placing each inside his face. It was not the best advert for the shop’s wares. But man cannot live on kebab alone. 

We also found our way into a pub for a quick drink: the market porter, beloved of Borough traders who can go for a post-shift pint between 6 and 9am on a weekday morning. Years ago, when a still ascendant New Labour were luring young voters with the promise of 24 hour drinking, some friends and I hatched a plan to finish a night of drinking in said pub at 6am. But it never happened. Another terrible plan, terribly never brought to fruition. And now everyone else has children.

Home to housemate and the cat, both located on or in blankets on the sofa. The cat now has most of the living room dedicated to her whims and assumed pleasure. It’s a mess of boxes, more boxes, and assorted toys and hides. I see no problem with this, though. Cats spent thousands of years domesticating us, so we might as well make them comfortable. 

A diary 

This blog has, until now, been only sporadically updated, with overheard conversations, travels, and the odd review. But from today, reenergised as I am by a visit to the unexotic East, I intend to write a daily update. In short, this will become a public diary, regardless of whether I have anything interesting to say. In fact: especially if I have nothing of interest to say. 

I will write whatever comes into my head, be it a simple account of daily events, treasties on the big issues of the day, or profound insights gleaned from my life of varied experiences and unexpected incidents. One recurring anxiety of mine is that life is just whooshing by, like one of Douglas Adams’ deadlines, without the time or perhaps the inclination to take stock.

Another is that I’m not writing enough. There are so many sentences in my head, and perhaps by allowing some of them to leak out, I can retain some equilibrium, like a quack self-prescribing a bit of light bleeding in order to rebalance the humours. 

And lo: at some future date, many years hence, I will gaze on this diary and rejoice at a life well lived and reasonably well recounted. Or weep boozy tears at the terrible waste of it all.

I do not expect this diary to be particularly well read. Not many are. Samuel Pepys’ own writings only achieved widespread fame because of the extraordinary times in which he lived. Plus of course he murdered all of his literate contemporaries. Today, with much of London rebuilt and far fewer suffering from plague, there are many more with the ability to write. Killing all of them would simply be too time consuming, before we even consider the moral implications. 

I find myself in Sainsbury’s, a shop, with no memory of deciding to come here. I will write more later.

St Patrick in Harajuku

Irishness is still an internationally adored commodity, as long as Irishness means drinking green beer, wearing silly hats, listening to fiddley-dee music, then drinking more green beer. St Patrick’s Day came to Tokyo two days early, in the form of the “I love Ireland” celebration in Yoyogi park.

It was a lovely afternoon. There were pretty authentic Irish music performances on the main stage, enthusiastic lessons in Irish folk dancing, and a lot of green being worn by locals and expats (“immigrants“) alike. There was also a tent in which you could learn about investment opportunities in Northern Ireland, manned by a bloke drinking a can of Guinness. For some reason, this pleased me.

I do find these kind of events a bit culturally baffling – there were American guys wearing “I’m the Irish guy your parents warned you about” t-shirts, odiously – but I can’t be too snooty about it. Irishness is seen as a good thing, synonymous with having a good time and not taking things too seriously. There are worse cultural legacies.

Kita Otsuka Ramen

Sometimes good places, you don’t want to tell others about it

An intriguing if slightly counter-intuitive introduction to Kita Otsuka Ramen, a tiny neighbourhood restaurant in Sugamo, Tokyo. This write-up was from the owner of the apartment we were renting. I thought of the mystical Neko Ramen in Tatami Galaxy, and ramen’s special place in japanese culture generally. Surely these words were heartfelt. Clearly we had to go.

Yuki did some googling, and said the place was pretty popular, and we’d have to queue. I was incredulous. On a rainy Monday lunchtime in the middle of a residential distict? Surely not. 

Wrong again. We arrived to the tiny premises, on an unremarkable street opposite a huge, ugly apartment block, to find six men standing in front of us. There was just over 40 minutes to go til the end of lunchtime opening hours. Shortly after we arrived, the proprietress came out to tell us they were running low on soup, and handed Yuki a sign telling her so. This confused us. Did Yuki’s possession of the sign act as a warning that we may not acquire ramen that day, or – an uplift of optimism – that we were the last customers who would be served?

It was the latter. The sign had an immediate effect on those arriving after us: one sumimasen from Yuki, a glance at the symbols, and they left, thanking her for the information. They seemed pretty stoic about their unsated fate, but I suppose they were locals. There’d be other opportunities.

We shuffled forwards. Yuki peered inside. There were seven counter stools,  arranged along two sides of the ramen preparation area. There was a large metal cauldron, that had clearly seen many years’ worth of work. This was encouraging.

We made it inside, and the proprietress – in her late sixties, I would guess – immediately put a sign outside to deter further customers. As is customary, there was a machine with which you make and pay for your order, then handing your ticket to the staff. Who, in this case, were just two: the sign-wielding lady, and her grey moustached, ramen-wielding husband. 

Two stools became available, and we squeezed in at the end of the row. Ramen excitement was now high. I was still slightly worried that they’d turn around and go, sorry. All the soup is gone. Go away. Instead, the lady came to hand Yuki her ¥550 back: her ramen was on the house, as thanks for her sign-holding efforts.

And then the ramen arrived.

Sometimes good places, you want to tell others about it.

Bathing in Hakone

You can’t take smartphones in the bath. Well, can you? I suspect someone somewhere has already invented a waterproof smartphone, to solve a problem that didn’t exist, just as we’ll soon have watches that will predict the exact moment of our death. 

Until such a time, then, we have bathing. Immersed in hot water, with absolutely no opportunity to check if someone has liked something you’ve digitally done, the past and future melt away, and time loses itself, just for a bit.

Assorted cultures have their own proud bathing traditions, but I’m particularly fond of Japanese onsen. For a volcanically active country, with the grumblings of the earth a permanent reminder of the impermanence of things, it makes sense that the favoured holiday pastime is to sit and contemplate in waters warmed by geothermal springs.

I’m writing this from Hakone, the Godfather of all Japanese onsen resorts, where Tokyo and Yokohama types get away from the chaos of the city for the slightly gentler chaos of the touristy mountains. The Japanese like their nature to be tidy and prefer their beauty spots to come with a handy restaurant and gift shop, but there’s nothing unusual about that. Jerome K Jerome was gently mocking the Germans for similar behaviour a hundred years ago in Three Men on the Bummel.

Away from the cable cars and ersatz pirate ships with views of Mount Fuji, there are onsen galore. Our hotel has both the indoor and outdoor type. It’s still late winter here, or possibly very early spring, and we braved the outdoor bath late last night, in windy conditions. Past visitors to Skegness will know what I mean when I say it was very bracing. 

Early this morning I returned to the male-only outdoor onsen. I got there just as the sun was rising over the hill facing us. The wind had dropped, and the virgin sunlight danced on the waters. I had a moment of genuine calm, not worrying, as I often am, about the past or the future.

And then I thought: I’ll blog about this later.

Akiba Fukurou – Tokyo owl cafe

There’s a pop-up owl cafe that is causing some controversy in London, where the idea of a temporary cocktail bar stuffed full of owls at which to gawp has struck some as cruel. An online petition on demands it not be allowed to go ahead, and the organisers have replaced the booze with smoothies in a hasty pr smoothing exercise.

The home of the inexplicable owl cafe is, of course, Japan. So while visiting Tokyo, I decided to give one a try.

First up: the owl cafe is not really a cafe. You can’t order a full English (or Japanese), though you are offered bottled water to vaguely keep up the pretence of this being somehow cafe related.

But blimey, are there owls. Lots of owls.