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Sunday, 12 April 2015

Plane Talking, Wild Films and Winning Olaf

Shinjuku. You kinda blew my mind.

My friend Michael used to say that if he wanted to think he would often get on a bus. Its motion, plus the literal fact of travelling somewhere used to bring thoughts to him as if by magic. I feel the same way about travel, of all kinds, whether on foot walking or running, by bus, car, train or plane, the motion calms me with its peaceful continuation, with or without me (except for the walking or running, I guess) and I often find myself thinking philosophically about my life and where I’m going with it – figuratively.

LOVE film. On Planes. I watched 6.5 on the HND-->CDG flight.

Some of this comes from watching films on aeroplanes, and with a fourteen hour flight from Haneda, Tokyo to Charles de Gaulle before my tiny final hop over le Havre, it’s easy to see why from the films I like to choose. I’ve just watched a great film – Chef – written and directed by Jon Favreau about a disenfranchised Los Angeles chef whose mighty fall from grace via an utter lack of social media knowledge leads him to reassess his priorities and find happiness in Cuban sandwiches, a food truck, and a reunion with his ten year old son.

Favreau doing what he does best: small scale, big heart, good humour. 
And the sandwiches looked amazing. Drooool.

Next up is Wild, about the writer and walker of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I've read the book – I love books (especially written by women, though Bill Bryson and Stephen Katz’s journey along some of the Appalachian Trail has a special place in my heart) about writers who are on a literal journey. I’m not obsessed by travel writing, I think it’s the bravery of doing something out there that is different and the sheer factor of their having come through their journey to an end point, challenges and all.

Katz and Bryson. A hilarious unlikely walking duo.

When I find myself in bed dreading the day, having no desire whatsoever to leave my bed because every bloody thing is just too hard, I find I can go on their travels with them, and it makes me feel better. What’s even greater about this particular plane journey, that is, my own, is the fact that I am feeling unusual sensations I haven’t recognised in myself for quite a while. I feel content. I feel rested. The idea of being delighted at the sun shining, a good film, a fun day out was almost lost to me about a week and a half ago, when I felt my depression plateauing, still bad, still not bad enough to go back to hospital, still just about okay to keep working. Today I feel...good. It’s a bizarre and unfamiliar thing for me. Perhaps it will be gone by next week – because, just in case you’re wondering, happy things do not make depressed people feel better. There’s a difference between feeling happy and feeling well. Or, to explain it better, I can still be happy about things while generally feeling pretty awful.

Walk it off. I cannot WAIT for my foot to be better so I can do more hiking. 

Here are some things that I've been able to feel good about this week: I made it to Japan in one piece and took sensible amounts of painkillers, was assertive about my mobility needs and got help when I needed it. This is a step forward: better self care. My friends (I feel genuinely) were both happy to see me and made me feel that it was okay to be myself – to drink or not drink alcohol as I wished (even if they were downing sake!); to sleep early; to say “I need to stop for a rest”. I've a long way to go toward feeling more secure in myself, but assertiveness is something positive: I've never really been good at stating my needs or putting myself first (except probably in a work context, as I've always been ambitious). I've also been able to experience joy, pure and simple, in small things: seeing friends from Australia two weeks ago and laughing till my cheeks hurt; cherry blossom, eating crab innards (probably I’m slightly out on a limb with that one). 

Aliens. "You have saved our lives." Etc. Etc.

And yesterday, on my last day in Tokyo, Helen and I went to Shinjuku in search of an arcade; not the mad slots that are louder than I knew slots could be and have promotional staff outside jumping around and shouting in a forced jollity that is either cocaine induced or must be a genetic mutation; no, I’m talking about modern old fashioned arcades like we know from the sea side, where you can try and fail to win soft toys, and in Japan where you can make your face look exceptionally weird and then decorate it for about £2.50. On our way back from the photo booth I decided to try to win an Olaf snowman soft toy from one of those claw machines (think cute green aliens in Toy Story at Planet Pizza, except 8 times the size. You got it).

Detached but still so cute. 

Helen had won an Olaf a few days before I arrived, a small cute version with detachable body parts (Velcro is a spectacular invention...see Girls Just Want to Have Fun). The only Olafs available in the arcade were enormous, but knowing I had little chance of success I thought I would go for it just the same. 500 yen bought me six goes. Helen and I talked strategy. The claws are weedy in the extreme for all their look of metallic mettle, and I played my turns by moving the claw so that it would rotate and bump Olaf towards the drop point. After six goes he had moved quite a way, and I wasn't ready to give up. Another 500 yen. This time I needed to raise my game so that Olaf would be mine. In one turn I moved him yet more across the drop point, but he rested on bars. I heard gasps behind and beside me as I played.

Lynne: Velcro. Next to the Walkman and tab it is the coolest invention of the 20th century!

Three or four Japanese young women had come to watch. Another move. Nearly – I tried to nudge him with the grabber and everyone gasped. Finally – he was so nearly mine – everyone weighed in – “Push him down with the claw,” they said – now ten or twelve people around me. I moved the claw to the right then froze with stage fright. My brain couldn't compute the final move with these people all around me. “You do it,” I told (begged) Helen, and she moved the claw forward one last time. The claws opened and the grabber moved down, pushing Olaf’s stomach. And then he fell through. Cheers from all around – young girlish yelps of delight! I have not smiled so much for a year I don’t think. I am smiling now. 

Helen and I, with *some* adjustments...

What a lovely way to end a holiday – not only with a gorgeous cuddly Olaf to envelop in warm hugs, but the pure unadulterated pleasure of others at one’s own success. They didn't know me, they will never see me again. 


But they were rooting for me and were pleased for me. It feels wonderful today, and felt wonderful yesterday. I wish I could bottle it and keep it forever, that feeling. But if I can’t, well; I had it today, didn’t I?

Giant, faintly scary, Hello Kitties. (I wonder if that's been pluralised before.)

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Toasting Tokyo: A Taste of Tall Towers and Tinny Tunes

View from Karaoke. 
In retrospect we should probably have been singing 'Everything is Awesome'

Now, still a large city, it has nothing of the New York Times Square feel to it that much of Tokyo’s Shibuya and Shinjuku areas offer. For the most part the office blocks are lower rise, but this sprawling city is really a prefecture by any other name, spanning hundreds of square kilometres and sprawling out as far as my eyes could see, even from the 350th floor of Tokyo’s Skytree building.

Lights in Skytree lift. Stunning, even as my ears popped, again.

In the film Lost in Translation I remember loving the soundtrack and an overwhelming sense of being very alone in the city. For this reason, as I type this, I’m so lucky to have been able to see it with great school friends who know me very well. With these friends I have always been able to pick up just as if they had stepped out of the room – just for a moment – and are now stepping back in. We know how little work we did in English (me), how talented at art and dance (them) and where we have struggled through the twenty or so years of knowing one another.

Prosecco with dried fruit and views of Tokyo as the sun went down. Lovely.

Having a frame of reference for me is not just about being able to relate my surroundings to something I recognise, but being able to experience it with others to have an holistic experience of what others are feeling about the art exhibition, the building, the crazy arcade and so on, and with this comfort to my anxiety I was able to enjoy Tokyo fully in all its foreignness.

'Times Square' Equivalent - Shibuya, Tokyo

Heated loo seats here too, added to which were a number of additional features: my favourite is the sound of running water, which you can choose to play in public toilets as a way of modestly hiding the sound of one’s own activities in the loo. (We could have used this at school, in our drafty and ancient loos, where we used hand dryers to mask any sounds that might prove we were using the toilets as nature (by our nurture, of course) intended.

Another toilet. In this case, after a little sake, I was at first puzzled, and seriously wondered whether Japanese men (who like all Japanese people, are on average not tall compared to us westerners) were expected to pee into the top of the loo...!

I had my arm twisted (yeah right, I was jumping at the opportunity) to ignore my extremely sore throat and take the opportunity for karaoke. The words ‘kara’ and ‘oke’, which I first remember being introduced to (again) on Blue Peter, when they ended up naming their two kittens after the new found hobby, mean ‘empty orchestra’ and we were up for the challenge of lending our voices to the mix. Being women of education and taste, only the finest songs of our generation would do: Like a Virgin, Bohemian Rhapsody, Let it Go and Don’t Cry for Me Argentina were all on our one hour’s hit list before we knew it, and we certainly did let it go. So did the Japanese, it would seem, when it comes to artistic input.

It all went wrong when you decided to stop using Clearasil, love. 
Also, blue is not your colour.

The video footage accompanying each song made us laugh so hard we could scarcely sing: ‘The Summer of Sixty Nine’ featuring a spotty student who spends so much time looking seriously and whistfully at his computer screen one can only assume he’s watching porn; the gothic girl who looks more Dark Water monster than the first lady of Argentina and Like a Virgin? Well, there was a lot of walking around and touching metal bars. I think we’ll leave it there.

My feet and me (just about) looking down 350 floors. When I have vertigo. Yikes.

Through the bright lights of the streets of the Shibuya and Shinjuku regions I was pleased to learn I had unwittingly visited one of the film locations for Lost in Translation: a super busy Starbucks. I may hate coffee, but I love wifi, and it was great to see the bustling mix of Japanese people and tourists, clambering for tables which were at such a premium that, oh so politely as always, we were given a time slot by which to vacate the table. I typed fast!

Shopping in the Skytree Mall.
Hello Kitty, Goodbye Cash.

My feet were still a major factor in selecting a daily limit for activities, so the Skytree was not to be missed, but had to be factored in to lots of sitting down. Luckily we were able to enjoy prosecco and see the city lights come on as the sky light faded, toasting Tokyo. We shopped a little in the mall, although we knew we were sitting ducks for sky high prices as well as sky high views. There was no getting away from the fact that, on this trip unlike many of the other places I've visited, I was a tourist only, so felt no compulsion to shun the tourist sites. I embraced them!

Flamed salmon. Delicious. And the plates were beautiful, and used to indicate the price of 
the different options

However, I love to get to grips with the culture of a place as best I can and had the opportunity to do so shortly after spending all my money on Hello Kitty toenail clippers. (No, not, really.) In Ueno, opposite exit seven of the station, we went on our second night to meet Helen’s friend Phil, who is a man of many talents, teaching English, acting in commercials and voicing electronic toy animals as well as finding time to be a coach in global communications some of his multiple claims to fame and fortune. Phil, originally from South Carolina (though sounding nothing like this until he staggered us by lurching into a southern drawl as smoothly as hot molasses, speaks perfect Japanese, and thus we were able to taste some of the best, freshest and most adventurous sushi.

Lost in Translation - Literally. But SO good.

And here it is! Don't say anything nasty about the way it looks. Honestly it was fabulous.

We had flamed salmon (think crème brulée but with fish), sea urchin which, alas, I couldn’t taste - damn you taste buds! – and my personal favourite...the untranslatable delicacy seen below. It tasted like paté, my culinary equivalent of ‘You had me at hello’. Yum. Taking it very easy on the alcohol because of my medication and general cold / sore throat, the delightful hosts plied us with free, excellent (apparently) sake, both hot and cold, green tea and some very good Japanese white wine. The best part was we were able to talk to one another by interpretation. どうもありがとうございました (arigato gozaimashita) is about as far as I got with the Japanese, but you’d be surprised how far being able to say thank you can get you.

I have to dash to get on a plane home, and there's just so much more to say. For now, though, here's to a taste of Tokyo, and more soon. 

Friday, 10 April 2015

Kyoto: Geisha Girls, Sakura, Sushi, Sweat and Shinkansen

Sakura (Cherry Blossom season) is ending but I've made it - 
just in time to catch the last of this stunning array of blossoms

Kyoto was once the capital city of Japan, but it’s hard to feel that on arrival at a railway station whose outside plaza looked like a smaller version of Tokyo’s, with fewer bright lights but the same style of cafe, taxis and nearby office buildings (again shorter). In fact it was originally the capital of Japan when most of the inhabited parts of Japan could only properly be called ‘villages’ or, at best, ‘towns’. Prior to 1550 Kyoto was one of the two or three places which could rightly be called a city.
I was so tired and aching on the plane that I did not manage to accomplish my customary pleasure of reading the guidebook or history of the place to which I am about to fly. I knew I would not have time to visit Nara, where Kyoto was first established as capital.

Pork Curry. Yum. Nomnomnom.
Little wonder I needed a lie down afterwards...

Straight off to lunch at a restaurant by the railway station, I had my first taste of ‘real’ Japanese food in the form of pork curry (a bit like katsu curry for Wagamama lovers everywhere), accompanied, of course, by rice, which I think I have now (as I write this days later) have fully accepted as my dietary staple, along with whatever fresh fish it comes with. Other items on the menu at the restaurant included spag bol, ham sandwiches and pancakes. Hmmm. Yes, I think that the brand strategy of this restaurant was: let’s offer something that could be eaten at any time of day from USA or that’s vaguely European and throw in a couple of Japanese things as an afterthought.

My feet were by this stage in a pretty awful state and my eyelids dropping, so after a rainy walk along a few of the city’s streets I tucked myself up in bed in our hotel room for the afternoon and left the girls to visit the Geishas in another part of the city. What a change from a couple of years ago where I would have exhausted myself by ignoring all of my body's and mind’s pleas. Sometimes I now know that I have to, and their photos – particularly this one Helen took of Geishas by a vending machine, showed to me the bizarre but somehow quite natural mixture of the very modern and ancient traditions of the country.

Vending machines are everywhere, selling a variety of drinks with simple names such as Pocari Sweat, which is not the labours of ancient Samurai bottled in liquid form, but a bit like a saline drip in a bottle, and just what I needed to try to address my dehydrated head and body from the 15 hour flight. Now, don’t take my word for it, because my sense of smell and taste were damaged in my fall, but it’s actually not too bad. I’m sure it’s a bit like Lucozade Sport with less sugar; I’m equally sure the name might not catch on in the west!

Pocari Sweat. A drip (IV) in a bottle by another name.

Further natural needs are addressed with a very hi-tech approach, namely, the W.C.s. Never in my life have I been so baffled by the complexities of a toilet. Some of you may remember shivering in winter on well ventilated, unheated toilets: not in Japan. Here you more often than not (in cities) can have your rump pampered with a warmed seat! We stayed at the Karasuma Kyoto hotel and had a lovely warm loo seat. You can also have a bidet, more water, and a host of other things I am not quite able to interpret with my Japanese being as it is, limited to ‘thank you’, ‘hello’, ‘yes’, ‘goodbye’, and of course the all important, ‘sake’. I have (yes I know, I’m weird, but come on, you knew that) taken some pictures for you to see for yourselves. I think this definitely could catch on in the UK. Forget under floor heating. Let’s go for heated loo seats. (Then again, the loo readers among us would then take even longer to vacate the premises, especially in winter. Perhaps that’s why (to my knowledge) it hasn’t yet featured on Dragons’ Den.)

There appears to be a musical option here I didn't try. 
Make sure you don't let the opportunity pass?

Waking in the evening just in time for drinks and dinner, we visited the hotel bar where an entire jamon Iberico appeared to be on display as well as lots and lots of single malts and other whiskies. This is something I had read about before I came: Japan loves its whisky, so much so that one man has created an extremely successful whisky business (Suntory) – Insert website information – and this is readily available in cans a bit like one might by a G&T from the station.

Delicious sushi for dinner

If you don’t like fish at all, you can still eat in Japan, but I am pleased to say that despite my muted taste buds, I adore fish, not lessened since I found out it helps build up vitamin D levels, and therefore prevent further fractures or breakages, fall or no fall. I came to realise that the Japanese like saying sorry perhaps even more than we do.

My friend Caro overheard a disgruntled hotel guest berating a Japanese maid for her room’s failings; the Japanese maid in question then returned to her friend around the corner, out of earshot of the fearsome fraulein and started to sing a kind of impromptu karaoke: Sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry I kept you waiting in a bizarre but potentially successful bid for a place on Japan’s Got Talent. Clearly they (like us Brits) don’t always mean it, but say it as a reflex response. But they do say it. They say it A LOT. We ordered sushi, sashimi and tempura in our Kyoto hotel bar: the waiter apologised it would take an hour to prepare. (It didn’t.) We passed someone on the train. The people we passed apologised to us. (We hadn’t touched them, a big no-no in Japan, nor they us.) I visited a temple and was asked to put my brolly down with gesturing and "Sorry" as this was the only word which could indicate polite but obligatory request...And on it goes.

Geishas and vending machines. Majestic meets modern. 
(Thanks to Helen for the photo)

Although consistently cloudy weather out paid to any chances of seeing Mount Fuji, we made our way among a thousand other tourists, armed with our transparent umbrellas, to the Kyoto imperial palace, on one of its many open days. The palace is sprawling, with many chambers open for tantalising views of the inner sanctums of Kyoto’s ancient elite. One Japanese stereotype I had forgotten was that they love to take photographs. They sure do.

Imperial Palace, Kyoto, gardens
Bird of prey in distance (just seen)

These days it’s more iPhones than Nikon but queues within the palace were everywhere as people patiently waited for their chance to photograph every aspect of the palace’s gardens and buildings. The roof, made of cypress bark, amazed me, as did the beauty of the architecture. I think I associate it with calmness because of the many Japanese films I have watched. There is always something spiritual in the way that people interact, and with such stunning landscapes, my mind was calmed and the rain seemed immaterial to appreciating the serenity.

Imperial Palace, Kyoto

Next stop, Tokyo, and a stay near the Times Square equivalent. Anticipating a further culture shock, we boarded Shinkansen again as a three. Like all of Japanese transport it runs like clockwork (or perhaps that’s inaccurate; it runs as clockwork should!) and the seats quickly rotate so that all passengers are able to travel facing forward should they wish. I was delighted to eat my first Japanese bento box for lunch, which followed not by the work I had hoped to do, but by drooping eyelids once more, as the train lulled me seductively into a deep sleep. ZZzzz.

A Bento Box Like No Other

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Japan is an Anagram: TOKYO to KYOTO

TOKYO to KYOTO, Shinkansen style.

Travelling on the Shinkansen (bullet train) has long been an ambition of mine ever since I saw it as a child featured on Blue Peter, and of course that other time I saw it – in Entrapment – where Catherine Zeta Jones magically disappears, which probably would have been the best course of action for that watchable-though-terrible film in its entirety. It was pretty exciting, therefore, that this is how my journey in Japan began. Or nearly anyway.

Yep, These hair cuts were totally acceptable when I was a child.
And the shirts are now in style if you're a Brooklyn hipster.

Travelling has now become something I almost never do, so to contemplate a 14 hour flight was no mean feat. I flew business class to enable me to lie flat, armed with enough pain killers to tranquilise a horse and my usual coterie of anti depressants and side-effect-countering medication to stem the tide of anxiety at the unknown effects of travelling such a distance after such a catalogue of ailments and injuries over the past year.

Merci Beaucoup Air France!

Business class is an extremely strange experience. Rather than feeling you're crammed into a carriage of four hundred people all sitting within spitting distance, and that's just the adults (let's not talk about the children...not on fourteen hour flights. Just no) I felt like I was practically the only person on the flight at all. (And luckily it was very quiet in business so I did what I do best and nicked all the pillows to make myself a little comfy nest for my back, elbow etc.)

Seats appropriate for the vertically challenged. 
In the sense that being vertical is a challenge.

Menus in three languages were presented; Champagne offered; real glass, real knives and forks and, most importantly, real pillows were mine for the taking. Food was presented in a way that almost looked tasty, and even my breakfast croissant tasted like a croissant and not some half defrosted packet of puff pastry. Films were available (more than the usual number in French, well this was, after all, an Air France flight). I love the way the French rename their films to suit their own preferences. I remember laughing when my French pen pal circa 1995 confirmed that Home Alone was – in France – called “Maman, J’ai Raté L’avion”. (I think Home Alone Two was also called “Maman, Encore J’ai Raté L’avion”.)

Admit it, you thought I'd made that up. See?!

I had never thought of "Silver Linings Playbook" as "Happiness Therapy"...

Luckily I made it – arriving in Tokyo at 7am on a grey morning not unlike weather one might expect to see in England, and managed to move my (hand luggage only) bags along the many moving walkways towards the immigration desks.

At which point I realised I had made a gross error in assuming it would be a smooth pathway through super-efficient Japanese gates. Although my foot problem has now been diagnosed as not a stress fracture but tendonitis, and although I have been wearing (off the shelf) orthotics in my shoes to correct my gait and help me walk without pain, I just cannot stand up in line for more than about 3 minutes before I feel distinctly unwell. In fact standing is without a doubt the least possible of all postures for me, as it fatigues my back, my arm and my feet and I’ve never been able to stand up for long anyway.

Note: this picture is from Google images.
I wasn't rude enough to photograph the genuinely long queues. And then put them on here.

When I started dating my (now) husband almost ten years ago one of the biggest compromises in our budding relationship was the fact that there was no way that I could stand at a pub bar for a drink. Even in my injury-free state, it was sit or go home. Cursing myself for not asking for a wheelchair from the aeroplane, I asked a very nice security guard who brought another official who brought another official with a wheelchair – success! – and suddenly my tired and aching back, arm and feet were rolled through customs without a second glance at the other four hundred people waiting.

One of the many, many, MANY reasons why Nige and I are unmatched.
So sad. So very, very, sad. 

The Japanese (I have now found consistently true) are unfailingly kind and go out of their way to be helpful. In general I am so grateful for the help available to people like me who have (albeit temporary) disabilities which make travelling pretty impossible without flat beds along the way and moving vehicles the rest of the time in which to sit or lie. The Japanese, however, take this to a whole different level, and in transit I was always able to find an escalator or elevator to help me toddle along to my next point of transport.

Thank you, THANK YOU, Japan, for realising that English people are not thoughtful enough to prepare and actually learn your language. I'm sorry!

Having exchanged my Japan rail pass for an actual Japan Rail card, off I crawled towards the monorail, then the JR train to the Tokyo hub where I could catch the Shinkansen to Kyoto and take the bullet train. From some of the photos you will see how many different options were available. It is absolutely incredible to me now, having visited many of Japan’s subway, monorail and Shinkansen stations, how any visitor not used to the Roman alphabet can possible comprehend our London underground system or our trains. I haven’t attempted this myself, but I’m fairly sure that you cannot press a button on any of our various automatic ticket dispensing machines that turns all the instructions to Japanese. No longer any surprise to me now that many Japanese tourists arrive in coaches for their tours of England. How on earth would they be able to navigate a country which expects you to have a pretty darn good working knowledge of the English language if you want to do anything at all?

Yeah baby. This is how we roll.

In Japan there are three classes of Shinkansen, the fastest being the Nozomi, mostly used by commuters, which travels at roughly the speed of light and helps you to arrive at your destination before you left. Okay so none of that is true, but it doesn’t make as many stops so is the ideal commuter train. These trains are unavailable to the Japan rail pass holders. (Note: if you’re going to Japan make sure you buy your JR pass a few days before and have it sent to you / pick it up in your own country, as it’s far, far cheaper to do this than to buy it in Japan itself). The next option is the Hikari, which travels very fast, but makes more stops, so you reach your destination about the time you left. Ha. I’d recommend the trains. (Then again I am a nerdy train spotter by all accounts.) They’re very clean, run like clockwork, have lovely staff offering you many completely indistinguishable food and drink items, and beer / wine if you feel that 9 am is an appropriate time to be drinking (It isn’t).

From rural...

I may have slightly exaggerated the true speed of Shinkansen, but the speed at which the landscape changed before my eyes kept them open in spite of my enormous fatigue and pain, and I took many, many photos of varying degrees of blurriness to capture the city blocks, apartments, houses, fields, mountains, rural land and rivers we passed along our way. Like a time-lapse capture documentary of the geography of a country, the bullet train is worth the ride just for offering a true glimpse of the very varied landscapes of Japan, at a glance. industrial, in under three hours. Like magic.

Given my aforementioned slightly wounded state, to which I now add painful blocked ears from the plane’s descent and a sudden raging cold and sore throat, which I would be unsurprised to learn came from my general anxiety at flying thousands of miles away from all the support networks available to me at home for my depression, it would be fair to say that I was feeling rather delicate on the train. It was, then, by some miracle that I made it in my jet-lagged, pained and dazed state onto the Shinkansen, though not before watching a curious TV show in the station waiting room featuring two men each sitting on a basketball trying to dislodge the other from his seat by yanking on tea towels which both held (two towels, crossed over) over a number of minutes. Bizarre. I’d rather watch Gardener’s World, I think.

Yeah, Lorraine. Sorry, you still don't make the cut. Sorry. 
Although if you fancy trying the basketball game I might tune in. Maybe.

2.5 hours later I arrived in Kyoto, which is just under 300 miles away from Japan. Amazing. More amazing still, my friends successfully found me at the station without any use of mobile phone technology, especially despite the many, many exits there appear to be at most railway stations in Japan. More on Kyoto soon. But immediately after lunch it became apparent that no, I would in no way be making it through the afternoon without a good three hour ‘nap’ and that yes, the travel had not left me unscathed. More soon. Now sleep. さようなら Sayōnara for now! 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Laptop On Tour Once More! Part One: Ceci, c'est un blog, pas une blague

Alors, mes amis, je suis arrivé à Paris! Yes, today I have finally left Teddington and am on my way to my first holiday in eight months, and since having my terrible physical accident! It's exciting but a little bit scary.

Paris and Le Tour Eiffel (just seen), from the air

Some things remain normal of course, one of them my best and beloved terminal (terminal) 4 at Heathrow airport, where to stand a chance of making your flight on time it is best to arrive seven hours before your flight is scheduled to take off (i.e. delayed, cancelled, moved to another day, be grounded by rain...), to travel business or blag your way into the fast track queue to escape the endless tedium of explaining to an official who has no interest in working whatsoever that your laptop cable is, in fact, a laptop cable, which tragically leaves only five minutes to buy everything in sight in duty free, despite the fact that you need none of it, especially the M&Ms, and finally take your seat in the queue. Yes, of course I'm joking: you won't get a seat, and twenty minutes before there's any chance of learning whether your flight will actually take off at all you're going to be joining twenty thousand other people who've materialised as if from nowhere in a long line to make sure that their assigned seat isn't given away to four other people, also hoping to get on the same flight.

Just another day at Heathow. 

So, situation normal so far. I am very, very lucky to have been able to fly business class on this occasion, with a great deal I considered worth it when putting my health - back, foot, arm, head (in both senses) - first, rather than 'out' on the mammoth plane journey upon which I am about to embark.

Le Petit Dejeuner. Actually quite nice for airline food.

Of course situation is not quite normal, because it is still only a few days since the tragedy of Germanwings and flight attendants are understandably being more attentive to safety than ever before. (And I say flight attendants as I didn't see any pilots or co-pilots on my first trip. Much has now been said about the Germanwings tragedy, and some of it has been (and is about to be) said by me.

Last week I spoke to Grazia magazine, who were looking for a female to speak to them about her own experences of having depression to see 'what it's really like'. This feature will appear in Tuesday's edition of the paper while I am away (I'm going to Japan by the way, but am writing this from the lovely Charles de Gaulle airport). I was asked about many aspects of my depression - how it started, how long I have had it, the struggles that I have had and the things I have achieved in spite of the (at times) wholly debilitating nature of this condition. I am hoping that my involvement with the news feature will go some way to widening the perspective of life with depression.

Oh Grazia (and Katy) I love you so

On the other hand, having done many media appearances in the last year, the flip side of being interviewed for print is that my words are not exactly my own. In this case, the (really lovely) journalist I spoke to at Grazia wrote my words as if I had written the article myself - i.e. in the first person, which was a strange experience for me, as many of my specific comments had been either paraphrased or fitted neatly into a fifty word box-sized sentence where I probably spent at least 200-300 words on each topic we discussed. Fair enough, we all have confines to which we work in our specific jobs and career paths.

The strangest thing about the experience - one which I have now had twice - is the way that a participant like me is able to check the information given and give comments on the article if I am unhappy with the way that any comments have been phrased: the journalists read the text aloud to the interviewee over the phone. On the last occasion I was speaking to the Standard (who didn't end up using my quotations) I found it quite easy to receive the comments read out this way, because there were just a couple of quotations being used; in the Grazia article 500 words (roughly) are devoted to my 'first person' account. I actually took notes during the reading to enable me to try to catch sentences I felt did not express my opinions truthfully, or were too far off from what I had originally said.

(And I would like to say, that as you imagine me being sensible and trying to ensure I was being represented, there was the other half of me which was jumping up and down in delight at BEING IN GRAZIA MAGAZINE! There's even going to be a tiny picture of me in there. And when I asked them what the average age of their reader was, they said 37! So (because of course I needed reassurance) I'm okay!)

Then comes a little discussion where we debate word choices and rework sentences. All of this done over the phone. I have to say this is a pretty difficult thing to do - I could easily miss something and risk allowing a voice that is not really mine but is presented as such stating views that are not my own. The only real time this happened which so concerned me is a short sentence where the gist of what 'I' was saying was: 'in male working environments the sense that one can't talk about depression is stronger and it's for this reason that more men commit suicide.' To which I said, "Errr...where did that come from? I have no authority whatsoever to make a comment like that at all and although we discussed the fact that if a man felt (as an individual) that he for some reason had to be 'strong' and couldn't show what might be perceived as 'weakness' by admitting to any need for support with an illness then that would be very difficult.

As it turns out, there is evidence to support the above viewpoint from research; but of course I didn't conduct any research myself and wasn't happy to make such a statement at all - firstly because I don't believe it is true in those sweeping terms, and secondly because I have no authority to make such a statement. I think what we ended up saying that I knew some colleagues who were male and who had felt unable to talk about their illnesses, and perhaps that men might talk about their problems less which might exacerbate the problem.

Listening. Harder than reading. You heard it here first.

I will be flying to Japan in another hour from now and will not be able to check anything online for 15 hours, so, effectively tomorrow. This will still mean there's time before the article comes out, but this time I did take pause to wonder whether I would like to have articles in which I am quoted 'read' to me in future, rather than sent over as a PDF for me to read for myself. I think the latter is a much safer option. (Also, I just read Jon Ronson's "So You've Been Publicly Shamed) so I'm rather more nervous after the event than perhaps I would have been before.)

 I'm not ashamed to have depression,
but I don't want to be shamed for speaking out...

I am grateful to have a chance to give a voice to what depression is like from my point of view - but, as I've said many times before - that's all I'm giving. I only know what depression is like for me, not for others. I take medication that has been prescribed for me, while many others take many other things and do / do not have therapy as suits them. I am one person with one voice, my own, and my experiences may be unlike any others.

I'm very fortunate to have this blog to voice my own views on this and that, write about my vacations and my trials and tribulations. I don't necessarily write a neat five hundred words, but what you read is all me. It means a lot to me to be able to be honest in this blog. I struggled this week, for example, and managed to have a good cry at a dinner party with friends that I was thoroughly enjoying despite having massive anxiety sporadically throughout. Sometimes these things just happen. I'm not 'well' yet; I'm just working at getting better.

I need to set off for the gate now so I'll wave au revoir from Paris, and I will write some more - I hope - soon - from Japan itself. Until then, Happy Easter and, as always, take care.