28 January 2015

Seven love letters

The weather changes so quickly in January. Suddenly, the sun is shining. Last night, I came home and I sat on the stoop of the house on Victoria Rd and smoked my pipe without a coat. It stopped raining after it started, and you could remember the world in Birmingham as it is in the spring. It will snow again, sure, but the spring is coming.

Last week, it was Yoko's birthday, and we packed up the family — the kids and wife and guineas — went south to Cardiff. I drove, like I always do, and had my mobile phone out waiting for a call about the promotion round interview that never came. Instead, we made our way out to Ogmore, on a glorious day. Ogmore, where a river I didn't catch the name of flows into the sea and the girls took their shoes and socks off and ran around in the sand, despite it being so cold.

At one point, the girls, Mei and Mia, needed to go to the toilet and I picked them both up, and started walking briskly across the rocks back towards the car park. They were both laughing and I was confidently making long strides until suddenly, expectedly, I slipped and fell forward. Mei landed well, but Mia fell hard on her tailbone and head, and I caught myself on my knee. Mia started crying hard, and Yoko came running up from the beach. I was apologising to them like it mattered, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, silly daddy' and we checked them both for cuts and bruises. Mia didn't stop crying, but I held Mei's hand and held Mia and continued on towards the car park and the toilet in the brilliant sun. Silly daddy, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

The year so far has felt like gaining weight and I had missed the January depression that usually comes, except in the last three years when things have been too busy to be depressed and cold. This month is gone now; my hairline is receding and I am again the fat man in the gym, fighting against myself: I am a stone wanting to roll down the hill. I am dirty, and bent over, and brooding. The girls all sequester themselves upstairs at bedtime, and I kiss them all goodnight, but stay downstairs, away from whatever is happening.

Now, it is the final days of the month though, and the grass outside my window is green. Sure it will snow in February, but it's a short month.

15 January 2015


If the moment hasn't passed.

We went the first time in 2009. Mei had just been born three months earlier. We walked and walked and walked. It rained, and we stayed in the centre — the magical tourist centre, where you don't see any of the mess. Like Disneyland, but with hints on the edges of the mess. All the pictures, as I flip through them, are of Naomi eating chocolate. Perfect little tourists, all of us. I came back and talked about how enchanted and enchanting it was. I studied French for a year at the OU. It's so close — two hours and you are in Gare du Nord. Pronounce it right: we've been saying it wrong this whole time.

And then in 2011, when my sister came and we flew there together. We did the centre again — walked and walked and sat under a bridge near Notre Dame, eating kebabs. It was a kind of ending to that time in our lives, like we both had to then grow up. Yoko said it was the first time she had seen me smile in year, taking us to catch an early Easyjet flight from Luton. We walked and walked and finally sat down, at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or the first stop on the lift, the cheaper one because we both didn't want to spend any more money. I don't remember what either of us said: in the picture, I am wearing a blue shirt and jeans.

I've made Paris what I want it to be, but of course, none of my Paris is really real. Or only real in a very limited way. Chinese men holding up smart phones to take pictures of the Mona Lisa. Sitting on Bassin Octogonal. Of course we all want to be French too, skinny and white and smoking cigarettes with espresso, emanating sex, the chairs of the cafe looking outward, towards the boulevards. There are so many French words in English.

03 January 2015

New soles and founding myths

When we moved back to England last year, I bought a pair of cheap Clark's desert boots for work. The soles have not kept up with the amount of walking I do, and after my socks getting soaked several times in the last month, I turned them over to find there were holes in them. My brother has recently bought Red Wing boots, the Iron Rangers, the ones I've wanted to get, the same ones my grandfather wore as a miner in northern Minnesota, but the £250 has been too much for me to excuse, to indulge. Instead, after two weeks of trawling Ebay and coming one click away from buying a pair from Asos, I decided to have my Clark's resoled for £29 at Timpson's. This morning, I walked to pick them up and when the cobbler in the apron took them off the wall and out of the bag, I felt a sense of relief. They looked better than I thought they would. I brushed and polished them and they fit the way boots you have walked in for several hundred miles fit.

Dry boots are a necessity; it's always raining. This January low pressure system carries with it all sorts of memories: Birmingham is further north than Niigata City, where I met Yoko in 2005, but January is the same. The rain is always on the edge of turning to snow and the sky is grey to the horizon on all sides. Some days are deceptively warm, but then the rain turns to snow and it is dusk at four, like it's been for months.

In 2005, at the end of the year, the power went out in Matsuhama, the small fishing town I stayed in. Yoko and I had been spending all our time together after we finished work and our studies, and the night the power went out, I pulled out the futon I had, both of them, and we slept next to each other like an old married couple. We slept together but didn't sleep together, something I was concerned with stressing when I was a Christian and something I am concerned with stressing now for different reasons. The story only works if we slept together, but didn't sleep together. At some point during the night, the power came on and Yoko must have gone home because in the morning, I was alone. It was snowing and I filled my kerosene heater and waited for her to text me and come back.

Sometime in the next five weeks, from when the power went out until the twenty-third of January, we decided to marry. We looked at rings at Isetan and she picked one out. It was 70,0000 yen — conservative with three small diamonds that did not rise off the band, something Yoko wanted because she worked with her hands and wanted a ring that wouldn't get in the way. I remember that point, I remember her saying that exact thing. I gave her the ring on a Monday night, on my way home from work. I just did it and we set a date to marry.

Founding myths of relationships aren't true, in a strict sense, but behave like truth when you reach back and animate them. When you are reminded and you remember what it was like to believe even if you don't still believe. Suddenly, walking up the road some thousands of miles and nearly a decade passed, it's there, all the words I remember saying, and the years that followed, one after another until now. I pull on my boots, help the kids into the car in the rain. It's raining again.

02 January 2015

Like a dream

When I woke on New Year's Day last year, the balance of my life had shifted. I stepped out in the cold, in that cottage we stayed with Yoko's friend and the beautiful half-Japanese children, and I smoked a cigarello, cold like I hadn't been cold in a year. The metaphor of balance is wrong; the whole world had changed over night. I had a list of things to do, but it was 1 January and nothing was open. We went to the Buddhist temple in Milton Keynes, prayed the pagan prayers and sat under the Japanese kotatsu as people filed in and out. The second of January I came to Birmingham and found this house, the terrace house on Victoria Rd. I drove that little Corsa I had rented. I ticked things off, one at a time, taking in the cold and the night coming quickly. The list was long, yes, but it was a clear list.

This year, I woke up when I woke up — there was a bit of light, so I knew I had slept late. I got up and ran after talking myself into it, and came back to the quiet house. It was warmer today and I made coffee while the house woke up. Yoko and the kids have been hibernating, lounging around and watching TV between the Japanese New Year habits and customs: cleaning and eating mochi. I had cash to deposit in the bank and so at about one, packed my pipe, and set out up Victoria Rd, catching glimpses of myself in the car windows as I went up. Yesterday, I had gotten my hair cut by Dez, my barber who charges £6.50, but I paid £10 because he had done such a good job. I crossed Harborne Park Road, walked up to the High St and deposited the money.

This walk is a kind of anaphora. A reference back to the first time I came to Harborne Park Rd and waited for the traffic to pass. Is there meaning to be made at that moment, in my old grey coat, with a new haircut, my body trying to decide if it is gaining or losing weight. The problem with analogies is what they hide. Is it sleepwalking? I wanted to write out a set of resolutions for this year, but it's just silence. Let me pace it out this month. I will make sense of it by spring. Cross the road, wait for the text from Yoko. All the silence says is that things will stay same. The references will stay the same.