24 August 2014


With the air cool and crisp, my morning run to work has regained some of the magic it had when I first arrived. Finally, after 18 months, 19 months of sliding, my body is starting to come back to where it before we left the UK the first time. Better still is the sense that it will not all fall apart in a moment, something that has kept me feeling uneasy in an imperceptible way: Yoko calls it being 'nervous', a strange katakana word that has a different sense in English than it does in Japanese.

After choosing to join the Harborne gym for the pool membership, I have had a mania for making the membership worth all the money it costs and have been going every day to work out, lifting weights and doing the sort of mad interval cum kettlebell training that matches my masochistic approach to healthy living. When you run, you automatically regulate yourself for distance rather than speed. If you are going to run three miles and you run a lot, you will pace yourself naturally, but you won't tend to push yourself. With the interval and kettlebell training, the increments are much easier to see — more reps, more sets, higher weights, less time resting. There is something remarkably satisfying about expending all your energy.

This alleviates some of the unease, although not all of it. I want to push that button, whichever button it is to make yourself more content.

Yesterday, Naomi kept asking to go to Queen's Park to pick up conkers and chesnuts. It was just before dusk and quiet in the park, the sun going down on the other side of town. We paced around under the trees and came home, down behind the fish and chips shop, chatting in the way you do with a seven year old, like suddenly you have interesting things to talk about. We held hands, and came home and Yoko was baking in the kitchen. I hung up my coat and Naomi sorted the things she had found.

19 August 2014

An imperceptible

The autumn continues to creep in as it does in England — a process that progresses almost imperceptibly from the last week of July clear through to October. In Malaysia, when September came, a sort of depression hit me as I realised it wasn't going to get cooler and the summer that had stretched on and on from January would continue on, with nothing ever changing. 

This morning I woke up earlier than I wanted to, the house quiet and Mia sleeping next to me. Yoko had come and gone in the night. I weighed myself and had two pieces of toast, a banana and a bit of cereal. Some time in the last three weeks, my mania for eating has subsided and I'm back to something normal, something before last year. I had a cup of coffee and the girls began to wake up: Mia came downstairs calling for mummy and looking first in the laundry closet and then seeing me sitting on the sofa. Naomi promised to fold the laundry and put it away if I gave her some money: they are saving change to go to Disneyland now and I kissed everyone goodbye before running to the gym.

09 August 2014

Bear Crawl

Botanical Gardens
The Pihlaja family, in an effort to help the kids stay active and healthy, have become members of the Harborne Health and Fitness Club, which we joined for £20.12, and will pay £58 in direct debit payments in September and October. This membership gives us access to everything in the gym, importantly the pool, but I chose the £58 option over the £40 option, as it would give us access to the weights and the chance to again recover my body after the last 18 months of stuffing myself with nasi goreng and then, more recently, yo-yoing 4 or 5 kgs back and forth, depending on how manic I feel, and whether my mania is driving exercise or eating.

This time last year, sitting in the heat of the Taman Sri Minang, my trip to Europe done for the summer, I had resolved to be back in England, come hell or high water. I made the first payments for Naomi's private school, and made my first series of applications for jobs back here, back in England. At the time, I didn't think it would be possible, that it was impossible to somehow right the ship after we had gone back to Asia. It was over: in three years I would be back in Japan, teaching English like I always expected I would end up.

Put in that perspective, sitting in Harborne, the windows open with the cool autumn air just touching everything, is a kind of dream come true. The sky is blue and the girls are playing downstairs, waiting for lunch.

In Malaysia, there was always an event to crystallise how I felt at any moment. I fell in a hole on the way to the bird park. There. That's all you need to know. Here, in Harborne, there is no experience like that. The benefits letter sitting on the kitchen counter for days, perhaps? No, there's nothing.