Thursday, 30 June 2016

Return to Oz

I'm going to return to Melbourne soon- fantastic, right? If you've followed my various blogs over the years, then you'll know the twelve months I lived there was possibly the happiest of my life. And yet, I'm apprehensive.

I'm going back for several reasons: it's cheaper to travel there from Japan than from England; it'll be nice and cool after the unbearable humidity of Hyogo; because I have old friends there it's a nice compromise between travelling alone, which can get dull, and traveling in a group, which can get stifling over long periods. That is, if people want to meet with me.

I like to think that I made quite a few friends during my year abroad, but I haven't seen anyone from Melbourne in the flesh since 2013, excepting David, who randomly popped up in Paris. I've changed, I imagine they've changed; I haven't spoken to most of them in three years and I worry we'll have nothing to say to one another.
When I returned to Edinburgh, there were a couple of relationships I just couldn't re-establish: they'd been too much based on a mix of easy proximity and who we used to be that distance and personal growth put the kibosh on our camaraderie. But that was ok because there were new people I could make friends with and even some old acquaintances who I reassessed. It was mostly tit for tat. But when I return to Australia it won't be in an academic context- there won't be meet-and-greets: if I don't click with my old friends, I'll just be alone for three weeks in a city I kind of remember.
Some people I've been in contact with have jumped at the chance to see me. Others I had hoped would be responsive have instead been eerily silent. I wasn't expecting everyone to want to see me... except I sort of was. I don't think it's a lot to ask for one coffee after three years, but maybe people have just forgotten about me. After all, I doubt that year was anywhere near as important to them as it was to me.

But that's not even what worries me most. My year in Melbourne was by no means perfect, but, as I said, it's probably the happiest I've ever felt.. An I don't have any delusions that that's because Melbourne is my True Home or anything - it's because it was so different and new, I had no responsibilities and the year preceding it had been pretty terrible. Two of those things won't be true this time (I'll still have no responsibilities).
I don't expect this holiday to match or even come close to that year but I fear that if I don't enjoy myself this time, Melbourne will be tainted in my eyes forever. I'm aware that I rose-tint my time in Australia and that's stupid (and possibly even dangerous) but in a way it's pleasing to have a time in my life which I see as idyllic and quixotic. An era about which I can wax nostalgic and compare all other periods to, knowing that of course they will be found severely wanting.
I don't want to think of Melbourne as real place in much the same way as I don't want to see my parents as real people. I want the fantasy and at the moment I actually have it- I'm scared that I'm giving that up for a holiday. It had better at least be cool.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

2015: Year in Review (What kind of a year it's been)

Normally I wouldn't write this until the dying hours of the year, but I'm gonna be in Thailand then, possibly nowhere near a modem and almost certainly not feeling like pouring my heart out on the internet. Also, in case you hadn't noticed, I've not been great about writing blog posts these last few months and I don't want to neglect this one as well. I have so much to say about this year.

Which is strange because 2015 has felt very short to me: I kind of feel that this year didn't start until late April, when I finally left France. Hell, a small part of me feels that this year didn't really start until I moved to Japan at the beginning of August, meaning that it was 2015 for a mere five months.

But of course that's not the case- this year was as long as any other (excepting leap years) and I can't excise parts of it just because nothing really happened.

Not to say I didn't have any fun at all for the first few months, but it was almost invariably on a weekend, in a major European capital (Paris, Brussels, London) and involving one or more of the following people: Dani, Grace, Jonathan, David, Poppy, DKB, Patrick, Jari, John, Naomi and Nicole. I want to thank all of you for adding some much needed fun to an otherwise bleak time.

For you see, Laon was miserable. I'm very glad that I was only there for seven months, as it means that it's already been over for longer than it was happening and that very soon it will have paled into insignificance. I spent  weekdays mostly in my room watching old episodes of 30 Rock and worrying about how I was soon going to be out of a job. I wasn't depressed or anything, but I didn't have a lot going on.

 In April, everything changed when I found out I would be going to Japan. I had actually forgotten all about the JET programme by the time my acceptance letter came through, so this was really a big shock- I'd been planning to move back to Edinburgh, try and find some kind of middling job which paid the bills but gave me enough time to do theatre on the side and, as much as possible, resume my life from uni.

I'm very, very glad I didn't do this.

Edinburgh friends, you remain amazing as does our fair city. But I cannot recapture the lightning in a bottle that was the best parts of my time at university (I also, thankfully, cannot recapture the first half of second year or that time my mother poisoned me before an exam). My life in Japan is brilliant, in many of the same ways that my life in Edinburgh was, except that I have money here and there are monkeys and hotsprings. I really wish that there was some way I could do theatre here (Japan is really not into that, it seems) but apart from that, I have no real complaints.

2015 has not been as...cohesive as the other years I have reviewed on my blogs (2014 began and ended in the exact same place; this year I'll be thousands of miles away from where I was 12 months ago). I like to look for patterns, lessons that keep coming up, recurring themes to try and tie the whole thing together because I am, at heart, a storyteller and I love a satisfying thematic denouement but it's not really possible for this year because it's just been so wildly varied.

The first part was spent trying to pass the time in rural Europe, the middle frantically preparing in England and the last part just mostly doing whatever I want in Japan. I don't know if this is relevant, but this is also the year when I spent the least time in Edinburgh, which maybe meant that I had to evolve more as a person, as I wasn't always trying to be the same as I was at uni. But maybe I'm grasping at straws.

Does it matter that this year didn't have an overarching message? Of course not. And while I find it distressing that almost a third of this year was a write-off (again, I only mean the weekdays, not the weekends, Euro-friends), it doesn't eclipse the fact that life is really great for me right now. I hope this continues so that in a year's time, when I'm reviewing 2016, the theme can just be 'Everything is Awesome all the time'. Who knows? We'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

What Kind of a Month It's Been Part 2: Midnight in Himeji

So, I haven't updated in a long time: over a month. But unlike the similar incident last year when I went radio silent for a month, it's not because my life has become unbearably repetitive like a Sisyphean nightmare or a Coldplay song, it's because there's just been so much happening. Every time I thought I might sit down and
write a post, some other, better offer has come up. Sorry, guys, but fun comes first, even at the expense of updating y'all.

Speaking of: it was my birthday recently. You may remember that last year I had an absolutely ridiculously amazing birthday and yet again this year, I'm gonna put off talking about stuff like work and interpersonal relations to tell you all about my party.
One of the great things about last year was the spontaneity: I knew Dani, yes, but I'd never met any of the other people she introduced me to that day and it was fantastic to make so many new friends. Also, I hadn't been planning to go to Paris until later. I just hopped on a train on impulse and it all worked out beautifully.
This time, things were more scheduled but no less beautiful. I made an event a couple weeks ahead of time to go to the Penguin Bar in Kobe on the weekend before my birthday. Obviously, I haven't been here very long and no one really knows me, so I was grateful that I actually got seven people to come: Louis, Elise, Justin, Tom, Emma, Jason and Geoff. That's more than any of my parties in Edinburgh. Just sayin'.
Anyway, we had a great time: we met at Sannomiya and headed to the bar from there. There was 'all-you-can-drink', which explains why I only remember 40-50% of the evening after we arrived. I know I drank ten screwdrivers and one mint julip. I know we cleared the bar clean out of potatoes. I know there were penguins.  PENGUINS!

I really hope Penguin Selfies become our generation's version of those Warhol Monroe pieces.
I also know that I had an awful lot of fun and I'm very grateful to the above seven people for keeping me safe and cheerful. At some point, we decided to go to karaoke and our raiding party was reduced to four: Emma, Tom, Geoff and me. Yet again, I'm a bit hazy on the details: I know something spilled; I know Emma sang that totally depressing song from Tarzan and Geoff rocked out to 'I Put a Spell on You'; I know we all harmonised for 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and it was as beautiful as it is any time anyone sings that song, which is to say immensely.
I got home safe, and I can only imagine that's thanks to Geoff, who was the only member of the party left who also lives in Himeji. But thanks to everyone who came: I'm pretty sure it was an amazing night.

The next day I was kind of groggy, which only seems fair. It cleared up in the afternoon, which is good cos there was a festival. I thought this would be a very formal, rarefied affair and I would witness something truly cultural.
We all sat outside and ate pretzels while some Japanese music played. It was meant to be a 'Moon Viewing' Festival but honestly, I don't think anyone was looking at the moon- they might have missed out on the pretzels. Still, it was a nice chance to see the people from the previous evening and find out if I did anything outlandish and/or hilarious. I'll merely say 'yes' and let you guys determine which.

I was obviously meant to be working on Monday, but due to my patented blend of idiocy and indolence, I got the day off. That's right, this was the eighth year in a row that I had my birthday free: I am some kind of wizard and you all should worship me. I made the most of it, too.
I went to get my phone fixed (long story) and then headed to Arima, one of the top three Onsen in Japan. It was boiling outside and the particular spa I had in mind was up a hill and I can tell you that there is nothing quite like cooling down in a natural hot spring after hiking in the desertous sun. I didn't stay too long.
Afterwards I went for a massage...chair. It was lovely. And then I went to the toy museum, which was actually pretty cool.

There were lots of talks at the museum, but they were all in Japanese so I just watched things whirr, spin and light up and then left when I got bored, even if someone was in the middle of a portentous speech. It was a lot like that time I watched Taken drunk.
After this, I came back, and bought myself an absolutely awesome cake.

Don't be fooled by the fruit, it was actually really bad for you and thus fantastic. Having finished the cake, Brittany, Elise, Marle and I decided to tackle the other two food groups and bought some wine and crisps at the local bar. And then we played Settlers of Catan, which I only learnt about last Tuesday but to which I have already assimilated my worldview. It's so genius, guys: it's like Chess with none of the dignity, and that suits me to a tee.
And that was my birthday: varied, hot, not exactly what I planned but a hell of a lot of fun, which is a perfect metaphor for my time in Japan thus far. Let's hope it stays that way.

(Hopefully, I'll write more about the stuff that happened between my sister going and my birthday but if not, just know that it was amazing and I'll see you next time, whenever that is.)

Sunday, 23 August 2015

What Kind of a Month It's Been Part 1

A lot, a lot, a lot has happened in the past few weeks. Most likely, more will happen in the coming days and if I were being smart about this, which I'm not (why start now?), I would probably wait until everything's done to write about it all, but I'm not really sure when everything will be done. Joss Whedon once wrote

"you keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize this is it; the dust is your life going on"
and that just struck me as very profound. So I started paraphrasing it and just letting people I'd thought of it then and there. I'm so bad.

Anyway, my sister's here to visit: she's out for a trip to a nearby town right now and I elected to stay where it is air conditioned, i.e. the hermetic bubble of my room. Moi's visit has given an unexpected but not entirely unwelcome enema to the latter half of August, i.e. The Month When I Moved to Japan. The visit was perfectly timed, really, as it has extended the honeymoon period of my upheaval and encouraged to go out and visit more parts of this new country, whereas otherwise I might have been inclined to just rest a while and get my metaphorical breath back.

But before Moi arrived, there was still some fun stuff going on, although honestly I'll probably get the order wrong and forget to tag a bunch of people cos I'm shit but oh well. I'll use headers to try and remember to write everything.

We went the the Pokémon Centre

'We' being myself, Louis and Brittany. It's a massive shop where they only sell Pokémon merchandise.

And sometimes real life Pokémon turn up. Because.

And they have a couple of Pokémon games. And I don't mean for the gameboy.

I'm mentioning this mainly to explain the sudden insertion of this guy

into my life. His name is Rorlax and you will be seeing a lot more of him.

I Went to Arcades

I've been to a lot of arcades recently: they're a big thing in Japan, you see. My current jams are Mario Kart, at which I have always sucked, and a new game called Pokken Tournament, where you get to have Pokémon battles from the point of view of a Pokémon. Sadly, you can't play as this guy

but it's still pretty cool. I vary at this game depending on whether or not the wind is blowing East. Or something. I dunno.

At an arcade in Osaka

 though, I tried something entirely different: a 4D horror simulation.
It was brilliant.
I was shown around a bunch of different crime scenes (there was some kind of backstory about a video of a girl killing herself or something- I dunno, it was in Japanese) and someone was chasing us and I had to put down orchids at the right time and pay my respects or they would kill me and at one point, I had to run through a bunch of dead bodies strung from the ceiling like cow carcasses and it was actually pretty scary. Would definitely scream again.

We Went to a Beer Garden

'We' being all the JETs in Hyogo, who met in Himeji at a beer garden- which does not mean the same thing as it does in the UK; it's a seasonal rooftop BBQ all-you-can-drink thing

(and, yes, this is way better than British beer gardens)- and I mingled and met a bunch of new people (pretty much all of whose names I have now forgotten, alack). Lovely view from the roof, though.

Afterwards, we went to karaoke then left and then we went back to karaoke and did it again. It was odd. But very enjoyable, and I got to try my hand at rapping which went as well as I think we're all imagining.

We Went to Kobe

'We' being the municipal ALTs in Hyogo. We didn't have much time there, sadly, because we had to attend this rather perfunctory talk where they told us how to do a job that we've been employed in for two and a half weeks and reiterated a bunch of stuff that was on the website when we first applied for this job, nine months ago. Time well spent.

I Went on Walks

As I'm still very often a prisoner of the sun, I've been exploring Himeji mainly by moonlight, strolling around the various neighbourhoods at night, sometimes accompanied, sometimes not. Louis and I had an illuminating conversation about imagining our lives as TV shows and Brittany and I tried our hands at herding feral cats, of which there are a tonne in Himeji.
I also found my new favourite shop in Himeji, which is called 'books and coffee' despite not selling coffee or books BUT they have this Power Rangers aisle, arranged by the year and corresponding team and it just made my heart melt.

We Went to a Water Park

'We' being the inhabitants of my building- or, at least, some of them. There is a waterpark in Himeji called...something Japanese and we went on one of the days where you could actually go outside but it was still hot enough to go to a water park, i.e. a where the sun might possibly hide behind the cloud for a couple of minutes.
We cycled there, because I haven't fallen over enough since I've come to Japan and I just want to put up my personal evidence to refute the received wisdom about the riding of bicycles and memorability thereof.
The park itself was alright: there was an extremely lazy Lazy River, see: a donut shaped pool with two, count 'em two, jets not-so-strategically placed about three meters apart. We had to flap most of the time to stay afloat, and even then we only moved at a pace akin to a caterpillar on a travellator, but it was still surprisingly fun.
The flumes, however, were amazing.
I rocketed down there like a friggin' fox whose just heard 'view halloo' and crashed out the other side like an anvil on Wile E. Coyote and then I rushed back up and did it again. It was amazing and just a little bit painful, like any experience involving pipes and wetness should be.

That's all I have time for right now and this is already a very long post, but part two, detailing places I went with Moi as well as maybe some other stuff, is coming soon. 

Friday, 7 August 2015

An Englishman in Japan

I am safe in Japan; as for being sound, well, that's for the courts to decide.
I arrived at the airport twenty minutes before I was meant to, even though we'd actually planned to arrive about an hour ahead of time, which says bad things about my time management skills. I said goodbye to my parents who, true to form, seemed much more concerned with getting back to the car before the half-hour £3.50 parking ran out than seeing me off. They left before anyone else's parents (yes, I was keeping score) and the last thing my dad said to me was 'download Whatsapp'. Truly, the art of valedictoriation is dead.
The flight was split into two: one lap to Amsterdam then on to Tokyo. I was out like a light on the way to Amsterdam; I slept through the entire flight, just woke up in time for them to give me cookies and then we landed. The perfect journey if you ask me.
The flight to Tokyo was hell in the skies. I didn't sleep at all. We were on the plane for eleven hours. I felt nauteous and hot and stressed and grumpy. And the TV kept on stalling so I couldn't watch Shaun the Sheep all the way through in one go.
Then we alighted the train and were hit with a wall of heat. Fun fact: Japan has no atmosphere, just steam. So far, whenever I've stepped outside I've felt like I'm being waterboarded in a sauna. It's horrible. Thankfully, most indoor structures so far have had air conditioning and everyone says that at the end of September it gets more bearable, so that's only two months.
However, not for me the furrowed brow. The vast majority of the other JETs were lovely and sympathetic and laughed at my pathetic attempts at humor. I was sharing with two other Brits, and I made some friends during the various workshops and lectures (most of which were almost entirely, but not quite, pointless). On the first night, I went out for sushi and ended up eating raw octopus and then ordering more when I tried to ask for the bill. We live and learn.
Other good things: the hotel breakfast was amazing,

and it we got to go a couple of posh parties hosted by the British embassy. I tried traditional Japanese drumming
which was, naturally, set to 'Yellow Submarine'.

I went to karaoke with some other jets and ruined my voicebox singing to Sweet Dreams Are Made of This and Copacabana and, most triumphantly, Hey Jude. It was All-You-Can-Drink, which means the edges of the memories in my head are fuzzy but tinted with joy. I climbed a government skyscraper which had an observatorium on top, where I finally began to realise just how much of Tokyo there actually is, and they cleverly thwarted my efforts to break their copyright on this view by photographing it by erecting a sheet of glass between me and the air, thus rendering my reflection my own worst enemy. This was the best I could do:
Yeah, it's not so much the window that trounced me as the fact that I'm awful at photography.
'But, Rory!' you cry, hoping I'll hear you all the way across the ocean, 'What about the place you're actually living in Japan?!!' To which I say A) Don't shout and B) I'm getting to that, jeez. So, yes, early on Wednesday, I left Tokyo and the fanciest hotel in which I will ever stay, and headed to Himeji. The journey was quite long, but I got to go on a bullet train, which I photographed from the outside instead of any of the beautiful countryside through which we rocketed because I am an aesthetic genius.
The bullet train goes fast, that is all I have to say on the matter.
So, we got to Himeji, and I met my supervisor, who is lovely but who asked me if I wanted to be called 'Lawley' or 'Lolly' and then said 'obvious-ry', so I know he can get the rhotic but just seems not to with my name. I also met Brittany and Louis, the other JETs (though from Canada and New Zealand, respectively, not Britain) who are stationed in Himeji. Though we are the only JETs, there are other English speakers here, through the Sister Cities programme which I think is bullshit, because I've don't even know where my hometown is twinned with and have certainly never been invited to teach there. Yes, I'm bitter.
Anyway, Sister Cities means that there are lot of Aussies and Yanks and I have experience with both of those groups, so it's all good.
Himeji seems lovely, if a little incredibly unbelievably mind-staggeringly hot and humid. This is the city mascot:
Her name is Round Castle Princess and they're really lucky they got there before Adventure Time did. 
I want to genetically engineer a real one and have it round around my back garden eating the grass. She is frickin' adorable.
We went out for noodles with the other English teachers in Himeji, and it was great- everyone was so welcoming and positive and I just hope I can be the same when more new teachers arrive (later this month and in December).
So far I haven't done any actual work, but I've been told a lot about what I'll be doing and how to comport myself in Japan (I've had to alter how I write 7s and 1s, because Japanese people can't recognise them: my handwriting is also too big for Japanese forms. Also, I put down my basket in a supermarket the other day and a woman looked at me as though I'd just spat at a baby, so there is so much I have to learn.

Lots of folks have asked me what the weirdest thing I've seen so far is, and I'll answer with this:
That's the Coco Pops monkey shilling Weetos. Weetos aren't even a Kellog's product! TRAITOR!

Friday, 31 July 2015

Last Seen

I'm always interested in the last times we see characters in fiction: not the main characters, usually, cos their fates are normally spelt out pretty clearly and are often quite boring. But, for example, the last time we see Esme Squalor in A Series of Unfortunate Events, she's on the second floor of a hotel that's on fire. The last time we see Ludo Bagman in Harry Potter, he's on the run from the Goblin Mafia. And the final time we see Screwy Squirrel on Looney Tunes, he's just been crushed by a dog he'd been tormenting for what seemed like time immemorial. Fun fact: they originally planned to make more Screwy Squirrel but the animators were afraid of him and so we are left to assume he died.
Those are all rather morbid, or at least perilous, examples and I hope to God none of the people mentioned in this post find themselves in the situations above but whenever I'm about to move, I'm powerfully aware that I won't see some people again, even if I want to. When I came back from Australia, I just honestly presumed I'd see Moe again, but even after I acquired his phone number, he never reappeared in my life. Sometimes, people get lost.

Anyway, that was a rather indulgent and ultimately tangential introduction to a pretty long post about the 'goodbye period' before my move to Japan. I haven't been updating this blog due to a mixture of indolence and preoccupation, so I'm going to have to get through a lot in a short time.
First off, I went to visit my sister in her new flat and new job just before she left both of them. Not much happened during that trip because the town where she was living, Bottesford, was boring as hell and smelt faintly of dog poo. Still, it's always nice to see Moi and we watched a lot of documentaries so at least I came away smarter.

Then, the day I arrived back from Bottesford, Grace came to stay and it was just magical. We talked for two days straight and never ran out of conversational material. We cooked, went for walks, gave each other nicknames and drew each other.
My picture of Grace, as she pointed out, ended up looking slightly...Quasimodoish. But then she left it at my house anyway so we both hurt each others' feelings.

A few days later, Tom Lee (who has previously been referred to in the narrative as just Tom, but now there's another one, so I've given him a surname, and chosen to honour late actor Christopher Lee) and I went to see The Merchant of Venice by the RSC. It was great but I actually saw Tom Lee again, so won't describe it here.

Then, Tom Jennings (who was, of course, named after Alex Jennings, who played Prince Charles in The Queen)- an old school friend who now works in the village- and I went for drinks. It was strange, catching up with someone after nine years; he knew me before I was out and before uni took its various tolls on my personality and general outlook, so I can only imagine how I appeared to him. But Tom Jennings seemed quite unchanged- he was still high-spirited, analytical and with his finger on the cultural pulse: he recommended a Netflix series which I have been rabidly devouring instead of packing, much to the chagrin of my parents.

Next I said goodbye to Husnain, Ella and Patrick, at a small gathering at Ella's which was ostensibly to celebrate Paddy's birthday but really just involved lots of cake, booze and random in-jokes between us. This is, I think, the perfect way to sum up my friendship with these guys (well, ok, not the booze for Husnain): Ella was cool and calming, Husnain was mellow and considered and Patrick was somewhere on Mars, waving down at us earthlings. I stayed the night at Ella's and then went shopping around Shrewsbury's finest tat shops looking for gifts to give my Japanese colleagues. This is what I got:
All of English culture for under £5.
They're gonna love me.

The day after that, I went to the zoo with my parents. I'm not gonna lie, I know it's not a hip thing to say but I freakin' love zoos. And Chester zoo, where we went, is huge and conservationistic, so one doesn't have to feel guilty. What I love about it especially is there's always something new to see: for example, this time the two animals that stole the show were the chameleons- surprisingly active and cute- and the birds- amazingly up close and personal. I never usually spend that long watching either of those two animals, but this time they held my attention for a really long time. Sadly, this meant there was less time to fawn over the penguins, but I'll make up for that in the future when I own several of my own and keep them all in my house like that film with that guy that no one saw.

Then, I saw Tom again and this was actually our final rendez-vous. We drank and discussed the woes and being young and creative in an area which is not designed for either of those categories. Tom is at least finding an outlet in his work: I have not updated my writing blog for several days, and I imagine it will be a while yet due to my impending move.

And then finally today I said goodbye to my neighbour Norma, who is something of a surrogate grandmother for me (I'm not sure she'd appreciate me saying that). Norma is the way I want to be when I'm seventy- she's fun and funny, with a twinkle in her eye and a lust for life. She went to the same RSC production as Tom and I and we had a very spirited discussion about art and realism and accents and acting: I hope these are still things that concern me when I'm older.

And so yeah, that's pretty much it. It'll be August in a couple of minutes and then I move to Japan.
Holy shit.
Wish me luck.

Monday, 13 July 2015


I headed down to London on Wednesday for a pre-departure training session for the new job I'll be starting in just under three weeks' time- just enough time to completely forget everything they told me.

I arrived a day early, partially because the thing started ridiculously early (and there was a planned tube strike) but it also afforded me the opportunity to see my eldest sister one more time before I leave for a year. I was also meant to get to see Laurel, but sadly this did not work out (bloody tube strike).
However, someone had organised a pre-pre-departure meet-up for folks who will be doing the same teaching scheme as me. Since I was in London, I decided to tag along. It was a scavenger hunt, and I arrived on the sixth clue in the dead heat of the day. We galloped through galleries, breezed over bridges and circled around sun dials, in the pursuit of miscellany and digital validation from an unseen but all-seeing Big Brother, doling out rewards and penalties to the citizens who dared to play its deadly game. By the end, we just resorted to guessing and were actually fractionally more successful. Sadly, there were a lot of names said to me over a long period of time and I only remember three: Will, Josh and Nick. Still, it was nice to meet new people and see parts of London I hadn't glimpsed before.

After this, I went to meet my elder sister at Oxford circus: earlier in the day, I'd scored (i.e. bought) tickets to Death of a Salesman. We went to get a bite to eat and then to the play. I think Orla was quite taken with my new haircut and suit: she said after years of trying I'd finally achieved a 'smart casual' vibe and seemed generally less ashamed to be seen with me.
Death of a Salesman was terrific, but I don't advise seeing it with your much more financially successful older sibling. Sadly, the tube strike ruined the evening as we had to wait forty five minutes for a bus that was then too full to take on new passengers, meaning that by the time we got back, we had time only for the must summary goodbyes before we both had to go to bed.

The next day, I actually managed to reach the venue without too much trouble (one of the overground trains I tried to get was too full to allow people on, but that was all.) However, once I got to the venue, I was really in trouble because the place was massive and we were needed in one specific part. Luckily, I ran into Josh, who'd had the presence of mind to bring a map; we got there at 9.20 but didn't manage to register until 10.10, such a queue was there. Another twenty minutes and we would've been thrown off the programme, according to the official literature.
I'm not going to describe the various lectures and workshops we attended there, I'll just say that it was very hot and some of the talks seemed honestly unnecessary (Will remarked that we' just given two days to being told not to do drugs).
However, in the evening after the first day, we all went out for drinks. It was a bit like Freshers' Week only this time I had some semblance of social skills: I kept meeting new people and asking where they were going and what they'd studied and making jokes about the programme and drinking vodka. It was terrific. At one point we actually left the pub and went back to the accommodation (we were staying in student halls, heightening the Fresher vibe) to play the Pokemon drinking game, which is possibly the most student-y thing one can do.

After the second day finished, I went to see War Horse: I'd seen it before, years ago, on a school trip with Tom, and it was at the time the best piece of theatre I'd ever seen. I don't know if I've changed or the production has- actually, I know for a fact that we've both changed- but this time it didn't hold the same frisson of excitement. It's still a good show, but it felt much more staid this time around; maybe it's because I knew what was going to happen, or maybe I've just experienced so much more theatre- both fore- and back- stage- that it takes more to impress me. The horse remains amazing, though: I think the National Theatre has actually just discovered the secret of Golemry and the 'puppeteers' are just there to maintain the illusion. It's too lifelike. Naturally, Spielberg's decision to eschew this dark wizardry in favour of CGI was part of what doomed the film version.

On the Saturday, I met Poppy and oh, the time we wasted. Eleven hours, all told, and all of it gloriously, extravagantly meaningless. We talked about so much- politics and the human condition and psychology and culture- but with such childish interjections and sophomorish tangents that it was a bit like a PPE syllabus as dictated by a toddler. We also wondered all around the covent gardens area, popping into Forbidden Planet and taking I think the definitive picture of Poppy Dillon:

You're just jealous cos I'm a genuine freak and you have to wear a mask.
We also at one point broke into Somerset House, curious about a random string of numbers glaring at us from the front facade in neon pink. Sadly, no one in there could assuage our curiosity and they all seemed to want us to leave ASAPP- As Soon As Plebbishly Possible.
I commented to Poppy at the end of the day that I thought that this would be the form into which our friendship solidified: we'd meet semi-annually, spend an entire day together, doing nothing and conversing everything and then part, feet aching and hearts lightened. I hope I'm right.

I did nothing of note on the Sunday and then returned to my life, much as it ever was. Still, it was a fun diversion.