Weirdos on wheels. Cheapskates in trailers. Old people. While I’m fairly sure none of these categories could be stamped on my passport in good faith, from now on it’s the caravanning life for me. At least, with a few caveats.
I’ve no idea who these people are. I found them in the loft.
They were unearthed as I hunted for a water pipe. A pipe which, downstairs, is shrugging slow drips onto a very unhappy neighbour’s ceiling.
I should probably do something about that pipe, but in the meantime I have become fascinated by these photos. Hidden underneath the craggiest of floorboards, nestling secretly above my head for months (and many others’ for years), and coated by the sort of dust only deposited by decades of disinterest.
I assume they were taken either in my house, around my house or at the very least are of people who once lived in my house and that alone stikes me as strange.
Obviously, people lived here before me. I bought the place from two of them. But these greyscale interlopers are alien. Mysterious. Almost otherworldly.
The clueless backgrounds and snipped corners add to the allure. As records of history go, they’re beautifully vague.
I’d guess they’re from the 60s. A hasty Wikipedia raid shows the IBM Electric Typewriter box, then used for the more exciting task of puppy enclosure, could date back as far as 1935 but is more likely one of the last boxes Big Blue ever shipped, dating to 1967 at the latest.
The clothes suggest a similar vintage, but the rest? A close-cropped mystery.
I showed the pictures to a friend, and asked what he thought. “You should put them on the internet,” he said. Presumably he knows of a team who ceaselessly scour the web for photos left in a loft over 50 years ago.
Of course, I had already considered pumping them into the global digital hive mind. Social media, blogging, SEO and a thousand Twittering voices with a daily direct line to my prefrontal cortex have conditioned me to consider everything as ‘content’. But instead, I’m going to leave them here and research them the old fashioned way. Not in public, in search of hits and dwell times, but the old fashioned way, with books and paper and, hopefully, answers.
And the first answer I’m looking for? Which idiot concreted a knackered lead pipe into my loft…
They do almost everything differently in Tokyo, but while the hackneyed cliches about faultless trains and hilarious mis-translations shouldn’t surprise, the less known differences in Japanese culture are fascinating, and can be summed up with one word, in two different forms: Tonic.
The elevator doors slide open and an unmistakeable clinking floods the hallway. This Tokyo apartment block is home to a few dozen families, and like many in the Japanese capital, it is also packed with minuscule drinking dens.
One-room bars with low lighting and even lower music are sandwiched between front doors, with at least one occupying each floor of this four storey block. Inside, locals cram around the counter on stools, chatting and laughing. There is barely room for six people to huddle in front of the barman, but everyone is happy to squeeze in.
This is neighbourly conversation, not over the garden fence, but over a glass and rice-based bar snacks.
As I push on the door, half a dozen pairs of eyes swivel in my direction. The clientele seem surprised by the intrusion of a westerner. Their bar isn’t marked as such on the door. The only giveaway is the noise from within, but their response is even more unusual than their surroundings.
It’s a rare experience to be beckoned toward a bar stool by strangers cheering and waving, but in Tokyo it’s the sort of greeting a Gaijin should get used to. These private watering holes aren’t on any map or travel guide, but discovering them will give more satisfaction than ticking your way through any tourist to-do list. This is how the real Japan drinks.
Ordering is easy. The language barriers are immense, but the universal language of booze cuts through. “Gin tonic” dispenses with the redundant conjunction to get straight to the point and is greeted with nodding approval. Hefty measures are meted out and the bartender’s personal recommendations of a follow-up tipple are worthy of attention. These are serious drinkers, as well as seriously friendly.
For an even more intimate drinking experience, the twisting sake-soaked alleyways of the sprawling metropolis are the place to go. Dotted with rows of minuscule establishments, the shed-sized buildings in what the locals term ‘drunkard’s alley’ are beautifully kept, festooned with lanterns and the epitome of Japanese hospitality.
The tiny boozers struggle to host more than four drinkers at a time, with bar stools forced between the bar and bamboo-clad walls. And yet, it’s also possible to dine here.
An eye-widening selection of drinks and great conversation from locals with impressive English puts the western world’s most welcoming bars on notice: this is the stuff that tourists cherish. Not plastic smiles and ‘good customer service,’ but honesty and authenticity, preferably served with a chaser.
Don’t be fooled though. These boozy microcosms, like their apartment block brethren, aren’t tourist destinations. They are the usual preserve of locals and tricky to find amongst twisting alleyways, side passages and unmarked doors. For those willing to explore, a drink here is a tonic worth savouring. It’s one of the best ways to spend an evening in the Far Eastern capital, and unlike anything else on the globe.
In the harsh light of a Tokyo daybreak, there is only one way to shake off the sake and Shōchū fug: a dip in a traditional Japanese spa.
While the British are bashful about public bathing, the Japanese throw caution, not to mention their towels, to the wind. The prospect might produce more um-ing and ah-ing than a barbershop quartet rehearsal, but by the time I had been issued my pyjama-style bath wear, I was a flurry of nerves.
By contrast to the Japanese, the typical Englishman spends years perfecting the art of revealing one’s tallywhacker in a public changing room for the briefest of moments. We could, if not so shy about performing in front of a crowd, consider it a national sport.
In Japan, letting it all hang out is the norm. For a visiting Brit, it’s a reminder of our closeted cultural upbringing, and a lesson in bashful ceiling admiration.
But taking the plunge into temporary nudism has its upsides. Traditional Japanese baths are soul-cleansing, while simultaneously sloughing the skin of dead cells.
Once submerged in the saltwater, hot spring or icy plunge pools on offer, it’s almost impossible not to relax. Well, maybe not quite in the latter case. But the point remains: a Japanese ‘Healing Baden’ has the capacity to unwind the body and mind, even with physical embarrassment pecking away at the subconscious.
And the tonic-based lesson this time? It arrived just after my bath. As I was fumbling around the amply-equipped grooming stations available to every guest. Not being fluent in Japanese, and lacking my glasses, I had immediately attempted to moisturise my face with hair tonic.
I don’t even know what hair tonic is. That’s probably because, unlike Tokyo washrooms, it is a rare sight in Britain. Yet another hint that, in Japan, things are done properly or not at all.
Eyewear reinstated, the bashfulness might have been back, but it was joined by a dose of wisdom, relaxation and an ever-so-slightly reduced Britishness. I should try tonic, in all its forms, more often.
For more intelligent observations on Japan, try Joe Minihane’s On The Road Through Asia blog.
Thanks to Susi Weaser’s original* recipe, you too can now make Pulled Pork that tastes just like Bodeans! My version’s a bit simpler, because I’m lazy and/or couldn’t find some of the ingredients. It still works though. You will need:
- A slow cooker
- An onion, chopped finely
- 2 tablespoons of Jack Daniels BBQ sauce
- Half a cup of Heinz tomato ketchup
- 2 tablespoons of French’s yellow mustard
- One third of a cup of Cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons of Tomato puree
- 2 tablespoons of sugar (any kind, although you should probably use brown)
- Any cut of pork (I usually go for the second-cheapest leg joint, around 1.5kg)
Mix all the wet ingredients together in the slow cooker. Place the pork on top. Roll it around to coat it, and push the mixture into any gaps in the meat.
Put the lid on, cook it on high for 10 hours.
Tear it apart with a couple of forks and stir to coat in the sauce. Eat in a bap with pickles and/or coleslaw.
*she probably stole it, as I have stolen it from her.
You’ve got urticaria the doctor said.
I’d suspected at much, without knowing the medical term. But then came a question I wasn’t expecting.
Do you really need the dog?
Steve has been a daily part of my life for a year. She’s often the first person I say hello to. She’s usually the last person I say goodnight to. And yes, I think of her as a person. With four legs. And a taste for socks.
It’s like asking whether you need a brother or sister. Of course you don’t need them, but you want them. More than you want material possessions. You want them as part of your life. To make them happy, well-fed and mentally stimulated and… Maybe it is a need, after all.
But the alternative to Steve taking her last walkies out of the front door and into someone else’s home isn’t a nice thought. In fact, it’s almost unthinkable: It will mean living with constant skin irritation, sleepless nights and increasing irritability as the concentration of pet dander slowly builds in the air and the carpets of my home.
But I’m not giving up. For a start, even the doctor can’t even be sure Steve is the cause.
Urticaria is a very common, but very odd condition. It can be caused by many things, since it’s a general response to an allergen and it can pop into existence at any time. I have, until now, never been allergic to anything.
The cause of my sudden discomfort could be pet dander, but it could also be a type of food, pollen, alcohol, or in extreme cases: water.
Even stress can trigger urticaria, with rashes and hives a handy bonus for feeling a little frazzled. It makes your skin so sensitive, it’s possible to gently scratch the surface and write messages in raised welts, and while antihistamine tablets are usually ordered by the doctor as an effective treatment, even those can trigger the symptoms in some sufferers. Pinning down the exact cause is tricky.
So my approach is all-out war on the symptoms. I’m guzzling a daily dose of antihistamine. I’ve employed a cleaner to ensure the house is constantly dusted, hoovered and mopped. Next week I’m installing air purifiers, and Steve is now subjected to weekly washes.
All this because, and maybe it’s a symptom of the feelings I’ve already outlined, I’m not sure it’s her fault at all.
With some diligence, deductive reasoning, and my good friend Google throwing up helpful suggestions as quickly as Steve can shed dander, I’m slowly figuring out how to coexist in harmony with my live-in irritant, in the hope it’s really not her causing my discomfort after all.
And I think that has answered the doctor’s question: I wouldn’t do any of this if I didn’t need her.
Spotted this prop at the Film Museum of London’s Harry Potter exhibition (don’t bother, by the way. It’s rubbish.)
The “Potter’s anti-Christian” brigade are going to have a field day.
Papercrafting has taken over my living room. It’s a slow, tedious process, but the results are amazing.
"I’m too small for the sea"
Did you know London has a second tube network?… it’s deep under ground and completely secret, until now….
Royal Mail’s amazing underground train network has been completely sealed off for years, but these intrepid explorers got down amongst the tiny pneumatic trains, snapping tons of photos to reveal its subterranean secrets.
More mind-boggling photos are at SilentUK