Rear cures

Suppositories are my new crack.

I was lying in bed, gazing at the waxy bullet shaped tablet that was bathed in morning light on the counter top. Magic.

It hadn't been the best of nights, can you tell? I had to admit, exploration of the Japanese health system would have been rather more fun if it hadn't required certain sacrifices on my part. Like being horribly sick.

The headache had started in the early evening. Since I'm prone to such nasties, I took the opportunity to blame my communication class, swallowed an analgesic and didn't think much of it until I headed home about 8 pm. By the time I was half way across campus and had accosted two lampposts, I was forced to acknowledge I had a problem. At 9 pm, I started an indepth conversation with my toilet. At 11 pm, I called my parents because I firmly believed in their power to do something magic from 5500 miles away. They had the rather more practical suggestion of asking a friend to sit with me for the next few hours. I phoned one of my work friends who appeared and took one look at my face before calling for reinforcements in the form of a second friend. So began an extremely long night.

The problem was I knew this was just a migraine. An incredibly bad migraine that made me fantasize about drilling a hole in my skull, but not one that was going to cause my sudden exit from this mortal coil. By the time we reached midnight, this last fact was nothing but disappointing.

I had previously had three headaches on this scale, two of which landed me in hospital, once in the UK and once in the USA. The first time had sent everyone into a whirl of excitement involving cat scans and suggested spinal taps before I persuaded my parents to organise a break out. The second time, I'd been left in a room to die, optimistically because it was deemed unlikely since I had been sick before. The third time, I'd been in Tokyo with no mobile phone and so had just spent the night rolling around on the floor and trying not to wake the neighbours with my muffled screams.

All of this had led me to the conclusion that hospitals either did nothing or they locked you up for days and threatened terrible tortures. Then there was the fact that I didn't understand how the Japanese health system worked.

Japan has social health care, but unlike Canada or the UK, the Government only pays 70% of your bill. Judging from some of the prices I'd seen in the USA, the remaining 30% had the potential to still be a hefty sum. Add to that the fact my health card was in my office and I had no credit card to put down for a bill, I was anxious about going to a hospital when I was pretty confident I would live to deal with the financial consequences.

So I opted for the cycle of drawn out discussions with my lavatory followed by fifteen minute intervals frozen in my bed. My bed, incidentally, is the only furniture in my apartment. This meant my poor, faithful, uncomplaining friends were on the floor. They tried to get water into me, rubbed my back as I vomited and tucked me up when I was done.

Rinse, repeat.

At 2 am, I was no worse but no better. I agreed we should call for a taxi.

The hospital my friends were familiar with was in the southern part of the city. I was cuddled in the back while I sobbed and the taxi driver attempted the smoothest journey possible, undoubtedly fearing for his upholstery. We reached a brightly lit building and were bowed inside by the waiting doorman.

It looked nothing like the emergency rooms I had seen in the UK or America. For one, it was quiet and only a few people were about. The room looked more like an airport lounge than a medical waiting area. At one end, there was a wooden reception desk and at the other, a door through to the consultation rooms.

I was seen almost immediately by a nurse who took my details, my friend translating as we went along. Either side of me were two small boys, both crying quietly. One had a bandage on his forehead, the other was complaining of a headache. It was clearly a bad night for heads in Sapporo. Shortly afterwards I was seen by a doctor who took another set of notes and prescribed a suppository for the pain and a IV drip for the nausea and dehydration.

The great thing about a suppository is that it's fast acting and you can't bring it up. The worst thing is ... well, I think that's obvious. I'd been led off to a quiet ward and the nurse drew the curtains around my bed, indicating that I should turn on my side and...

... let's just say she was an expert and all I managed was a surprised squeak much to my friend's amusement.

"No 1... 2... 3...?" she asked when the curtains were pulled back.

The IV drip was less successful. Try as she might, the nurse couldn't get the needle to sit in my vein. I am not a fan of needles and a certain level of mental reserve is needed for me to deal well with them. Currently, we had no mental reserves. None. This was somewhat balanced by me being too weak to conduct a good getaway, but my veins had disappeared into hiding. The nurse put this down to dehydration and I was able to weakly agree that this was certainly the reason and not my fault at all. My punishment was to be a wicked bruise on my arm the next morning.

The suppository though was doing its job. Within about 20 minutes I was feeling a lot better. The pain was easing and with it the sickness. I started drinking water like a champ. An hour later I was discharged. Wobbly and sore, but considerably better.

"You look pink," one of my friends told me. "When I first saw you, you were blue!"

Anxiously, I approached the reception desk to be told that I had to pay the full amount now, since I didn't have my health card, but I could claim it back later. They put the bill in front of me: 9,500 yen, or about $100. I handed over the cash. Best $100 I spent this month. I even got medicine for the next few days, should I need it.

"If there is a next time," I told my friends. "Don't take any crap from me. We're going to the hospital earlier."

"I learnt two new English words today," one of my friends remarked cheerfully as we got into a taxi. "Drip and suppository."

Apparently, everyone got something out of this visit.

The next morning I took my second suppository. It's not really the sort of thing you want lying around on the kitchen counter.

You might like...

There are times when I seriously wonder about the thoughts of web designers. Today, I followed a link to the website "The imperfect parent". It included an interesting article on the Girl Scouts of America welcoming transgender children. The report was brief, simply saying that the Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes any child that identifies as female into their organisation and I scanned through it to the bottom of the page.

Directly below the article were links to four other pieces on the website under the heading "You might like:" I glanced over their titles:

"Beaten, malnourished Oklahoma girl lives in closet - woman allegedly forced 5 year old to drink her own urine and eat feces."

"Parents go to concert, leave baby in trunk."

"California mother arrested for killing baby in microwave."

They were also all marked as "Minor Topics".

I stared at the headings for a moment and .... you know what? Despite the website's suggestion, I don't like ANY of these articles.

Never seen a raccoon fly

The Japanese love to wrap things; presents, beautifully presented boxes of cakes, even coke bottles or hot buns from the convenience store. The last time I purchased a loose apple, I concluded it might be quicker to grow the fruit myself than to wade through the layers of packaging the cashier had decided to bury my snack within.

This obsession is particularly unfortunate in light of the fact that one of the most complicated activities in Japan is taking out the garbage.

Upon taking up residence in my new apartment, I purchased a bin with four separate compartments. That's three compartments less than the number of designated rubbish types, each of which have their own collection day. Mondays are for burnable waste. Exactly what is burnable involves some guess work due to a misspent childhood not engaged in pyromania. It definitely includes food but not paper, since the collection day for that is Wednesdays. However, the Wednesday pick-up doesn't include newspapers, magazines, milk cartons or cardboard which must be collapsed and folded up separately before being taken down to a local store. It also doesn't happen on the third Wednesday of the month which is reserved for garden waste or the first Wednesday which is for all items that do not fit into the other six categories. Tuesdays are for plastic wrappings and containers, except for recyclable bottles which are to be taken out on Fridays. Thursday is a second burnable trash day since food is liable to smell and you can't take it from your apartment between collections, least it be thought you considered your half-eaten strawberry sandwich a plastic bottle and be carted away to a mental asylum.

Burnable items must be put in yellow bags, while everything else must be in white. It must also be taken out on the day of collection before 8:30 am. Under no circumstances must garbage bags be taken outside the night before their designated days.

This is because of the crows.

Crows are Sapporo's version of the raccoon. Disconcertingly similar in size, these giant evil looking fowl gather throughout the city staring hungrily at humans, pets and red, meat-coloured cars. Given the opportunity, your empty crisp packet will be in pieces throughout the city's four corners. It is impossible to know if the smell of food drives the act, or if it is a demonstration of what these black winged inhabitants would like to do to your eyeballs.

While being stalked around campus, I was reminded irrevocably of the signs that used to stand by Florida's waterways regarding alligators. These warning boards alerted the uninitiated to the local reptile's unfussy eating habits, be it child, beloved poodle or indeed, raccoon.

I feel Sapporo would benefit enormously from a similar sort of sign, but with the appropriate adjustments made:

The area for rubbish bags outside my apartment complex actually has a crow-proof net around it. Nevertheless, it is still against the rules to take your trash out the night before.



The upshot of this is that I spend a significant fraction of my time at home standing in front of my bin, trying to decide what container to put whatever piece of trash I have accumulated. Such exertions commonly leave me hungry, which results in me opening a bag of food and promptly being left with...

Not all new hobbies are fun.

Retro desires

Alarm clocks have few redeeming features. For 90% of their existence, they hang out and do nothing. A leech on your bedside's hospitality. They sit and wait until their owner and rightful lord and master is in a deep slumber of blissful relaxation after a hard day paying for their electricity.

Then they strike.

The only justice is that they frequently get clonked on the head.

The worst alarm clocks, in my opinion, are the ones that just beep. Not only is this particularly lazy on behalf of the object you have given houseroom to but it's downright obnoxious. I am forced to respond to such obsessive compulsive behaviour instantly rather a slower contemplation of what life might be like outside these blankets.

While it is rare that such considerations lead to acts of enthused energy, I still prefer to listen to the radio in the mornings. I therefore wanted to buy a radio alarm clock of the type I'd been using ... well ... all my life. I'm sure you know the idea; illuminated clock on the front, alarm and FM radio tuner controlled by buttons on the top.

The electrical system in Japan is similar to that in Canada, but their FM radio station frequencies are not, running from 76 - 90 MHz rather than 88 - 108 MHz. This meant that my previous North American-bought clock would be a paperweight, although not as illegal as USA baby monitors which can result in a year's gaol sentence until your offspring is too old to require such a device.

I assumed that replacing my cheap radio alarm clock would be a simple, easy chore.

I was wrong.

It is not acceptable to purchase a radio alarm clock in Japan.

Technically, it is possible to find these items. After weeks of searching, I located the appropriate shelf in a five story electrical store. They even had an exact replica on the one I had in Canada, purchased only a year previously. The problem was I obviously was not supposed to want to buy it. These clocks were in the 'retro' section of the shop. The area where grandpa drags the kids to show them was life was like in "dem good ole times".

Don't believe me? Allow me to put it in perspective:

On the same shelf, about six inches further along, were tape recorders.

Remember those? No, half of you don't. Consider your childhood twice the length of mine. 

One tape player (middle photo) was of the walkman type; the must-have accessory when I went on a school trip to Paris in 1992. The other (right) was a replica of the type I connected up to a computer when I was five to load games. The process took forever (double that by five year old standards) and frequently failed half-way through a load. Heaven help you if the tape needed to be reversed during that process. I probably played each game I owned twice before turning six and I was seriously into that computer.

So there I was, wanting to buy this radio alarm clock, but feeling far too young to be seen taking it to the cashier. Not only would the purchase be an embarrassment, but clearly the clock would become a forbidden never-to-be-discussed item in my apartment. Like the insane ex-wife locked in the west wing. I could see my future magical relationship with a Keanu Reeves look-a-like ending with:

"I'm sorry Elizabeth... I really like you... but ... we could never build a joint home together. First you want a radio alarm clock, then you'll talk of hunting mammoths and eating our young."


I looked around. Radios in general were apparently perfectly acceptable. There were many either on their own or part of elaborate stereo systems, but none with a clock that could balance on the sole chair --currently doubling as a bedside table-- in my apartment. Judging by the dizzying varieties available, the alternative you were supposed to buy was an iPod dock. Since I had an iPod, in theory this was a match. However, most of my music is bouncy upbeat tunes that makes me run into work. If that blared out at me first thing in the morning, I'd probably break my ankle jiving to the bathroom.

It was all too confusing. I went home, closed all the curtains and flipped open my computer. Alone in the dark, I browsed an online shopping site and I found a radio alarm clock that included an iPod dock (top left photo). If anyone asks, I did not scroll through twenty pages to find one that included a radio.

I have no mouth and I must scream

Excuse me?

It was after my Japanese communication class and I was anxiously bobbing behind our teacher while she packed away the materials she had used during our lesson.


We weren't supposed to speak English in this course, yet I had no idea how to express "Look, I suck. I gotta go down a level." in Japanese. Although possibly my attempt at such an expression would get the idea across. I gave it a go:

"よみ... と... ききーlistening ... だいじょうぶです。あの.... はなし... むずかしいです。"

I was trying to say that reading and listening were fine but anything that came out of my mouth would make even the vocally challenged 'Hello Kitty' weep. The teacher nodded sympathetically, undoubtedly recalling the seventeen handkerchiefs she had soaked through herself after our last lesson.

"I want to go down to 'Japanese Communication I'," I said in a rush. If you speak fast enough, no one will remember what language you've used, right?

The teacher put down her folder and considered me properly. "あなた にとって 'Communication I'のクラスは やさしいすぎています。"[*]

This is where I made a fatal error. If I'd had a bit more quick witted gumption, I'd have looked at her completely blankly and maybe inquired as to why she was talking about sweet potatoes. Instead, my treacherous features showed comprehension of what she had just said. This was unfortunate since she'd just told me the class below would be too easy for me and the fact I'd understood probably confirmed she was right. My shoulders drooped.

"I am concerned that I will hold the other students back," I explained in English, taking in the now empty classroom with a wave of my hand.

Let's cut to the chase; I knew MEAN GIRL was MEAN and I hated adding to her ammunition every lesson. Not that she'd said anything to me that day, but ... but ... SHE MIGHT HAVE DONE, OK? Being bottom of a group basically sucks.

"I think you are OK here," the teacher replied, stubbornly still speaking the language I was supposed to be learning.

I nodded resignedly, but I did feel a bit better. After all, if the teacher didn't mind my stuttering attempts at the exercises, it probably was fine. There was also no doubt I'd learn more in the harder class than going back over the basics and that was rather the point of being in the language school.

... and if I keep telling myself that, I'm totally going to start believing it.

I went to lunch and plotted revenge on mankind while eating noodles.

[*] Not an exact reproduction. If I could do that, I probably wouldn't have any trouble with this course.


The problem with spoken language is that it's horribly time dependent. My Japanese would be infinitely better if it were considered normal to say a sentence then wander off, have a cup of tea and maybe a fruit scone, take in some of the local sites before returning to see if the person you're speaking to has comprehended what you have said.

Such delays are not allowed in my communication class.

Held each Tuesday and Thursday morning, this class is entirely in Japanese and is focused on listening and speaking with dribbling recaps of the necessary grammar. The level is at the limit of my current Japanese which makes it NOT EASY. Add to the fact it's impossible to hide at the back when you have to speak the whole time, and this class is upgraded to HARD. The teacher, however, is cheerful and kind and so this would be fine if it wasn't for someone who will hence forth be known as:


MEAN GIRL's Japanese is better than mine but the jump between the different class levels is large, so such disparity is inevitable. Today, we were split into pairs to discuss our homework; stating what you want to do in response to a variety of different situations. I was paired with MEAN GIRL and we started going through the questions together. My stuttering speech led to overly patient looks and irritation that I'd misunderstood one of the questions. In actual fact, I'd showed this particular problem to a Japanese friend and he'd translated it as I had so it was NOT OBVIOUS, MEAN GIRL.

When it came to our turn to tell the class about each other's answers, I misread my handwriting which caused the teacher to pause and query me. MEAN GIRL mouthed the answer to the teacher behind me with an expression that suggested she had been paired with a retarded preschooler and was bored out of her wits.

This is why we do not like MEAN GIRL.

To be totally fair, this was my first dealings with MEAN GIRL, so some of her supposed distance might be her natural manner rather than a particular vendetta against me. However, I have declared her as MEAN GIRL and I believe she is MEAN.

On the way back to the department, I was accosted by another recruiting Christian group. I told them I was Jewish. Cockerels* or not, there's only so much you can take in one day. 

[*] "This very night, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times." -- Matthew 26:33-35, denial of Peter and all that...

Call me

However hard you think buying a phone is in Japan:

You're wrong.

It's harder than that. It's so hard it makes hard things look easy. Really hard things, like painting an elephant's toe nails or trying to reattach a wing of an aeroplane mid-flight.

The first problem is choice.

There are three major mobile phone companies in Japan; docomo, softbank and au. Docomo offers the best nation-wide signal, softbank offers the iPhone and au offers an android phone that runs on wimax (4G), rather than 3G. Each of these companies have a wide range of plans for their phones, depending on the handset you get and your usage. Amusingly, while all the smart phone plans have a sliding scale that caps out at a reasonable sum for unlimited data, you always pay for calls. In Japan, talking on your phone in many public places is considered rude, so email services run on even the most basic handsets.

Then there was the fact that Japan just doesn't do wifi hotspots. Not in stations, not in restaurants, not even in Starbucks. Nothing. Nowt. Yadda. Instead, people carry little pocket wifi routers that take a 3G signal and broadcast their own wireless hotspot that allows you to link up your laptop, tablet or any other device that has a hungering for internet anywhere where you are. These routers have similar contracts to mobile phones, although softbank were offering their own router in a special deal with their smart phones. On the other hand, an android phone from au would allow tethering to the wimax network which was a potentially faster connection with a single device. Tethering does wear down a battery though, so perhaps it would be better to have two devices and ...

It was hard, ok?

Add to that the iPhone 4S was due out in a week and would be offered by both softbank and au and I had a headache.

The second problem was all these options were in Japanese.

This meant that I had to glean what I could from the websites and then try and corner an assistant in one of the big electrical stores. In a large enough shop, there was a fighting chance that someone somewhere would speak some English. Sometimes my chosen captive had to be encouraged to go and find such an individual and sometimes they failed. Really, however it went down it was painful and I had to go back several times since it wasn't possible to answer all my questions in one go without putting the shop assistant in danger of cardiac arrest.

Ultimately though, I needed a phone. It was difficult to receive deliveries on the weekend, hard to catch up with what my friends were doing and the credit card company had point blank refused to issue a card to anyone who was too ridiculous to not own a mobile. I had to get this sorted and fast.

But I wanted to select the right option. The phone I would delight in using every day. A contract which would allow me to drink 101 pumpkin lattes in Starbucks while hooking up my laptop in a pretence of work. A miricle handset that would...

"Just get a god damn phone!"

That was a friend's comment on facebook after my 800th post on the subject.

... oh right. Bought the iPhone 4. Am delighted with it.

Then there was light

Japanese apartments --I was told-- do not have lights.

"You will find this a little strange."

Well, it did sound decidedly peculiar. In a country where the router stuffed in my back pocket gives me a 42 Mbps wifi connection, you'd think I'd be able to read a book at night.

What I had presumed this meant was that Japanese apartments did not have central ceiling lights. This wasn't completely bizarre, since I had seen America apartments which were lit purely by lamps plugged into wall sockets. This gentler 'mood lighting' was sometimes considered preferable to the dazzling illumination of a single main light.

Personally, I wasn't a fan of mood lighting. Either there should be light so I can see what is going on or there should be dark in which everyone disappears and I can get some sleep.

Light. Dark.

Simple binary love. Still, I was sure I would adapt and I went up to my new apartment to check out the possible positions for a set of lamps. Last time I had come up here, I did not have electricity so lights were a rather academic question and I hadn't paid the situation any heed. Now, I discovered two things:

Firstly, I did have normal spot lights in my kitchen, entrance way and bathroom. This was good to know since I saw disaster striking while I fumbled for a lamp to turn on when I came back at night.

Secondly, there were plugs on my ceiling.

Each room had a centrally positioned clip in the centre of its ceiling which was clearly designed to hold something electrical. This suggested it was time for an exploratory visit to a department store. The shop I picked had a wide variety of light fittings but the largest and most common were wide semicircular lights that clearly weren't supposed to stand alone. It was hard to examine the fitting, but it seemed highly likely that it would fit the ceiling plugs in my apartment.

I bought a single one experimentally and zipped back home.

Upon unpacking the light (left image), I found it had a detachable clip that did indeed plug into my ceiling socket (top centre and right images). Balanced slightly precariously on a stool, I plugged it in and then clipped the lamp on around it. There was a single wire to link the central clip to bulb and a smooth plastic shell to slide over the top.

I jumped down from the stool and tried the light switch.

Then I couldn't see anything for about 10 seconds. Probably shouldn't have been looking directly at the light when I did that.

Nevertheless, success! Even if I was now blind. This particular light came with a remote control, so I can turn it off from my bed... when I get a bed. It even has a timer so I tell it to go out in 30 or 60 minutes. Ideal for fooling stalkers who might be hanging outside my 9th floor window.

Light. Dark. Light. Dark. Light. Dark. Light....

Back in a bit.


There is nothing remotely pleasant about having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). You can eat a perfectly good meal, identical in every way to one you have eaten before, yet by the time you have walked two blocks from the restaurant your abdomen is one rolling mass of cramps. You then have about fifteen minutes to find a bathroom --every second of which will be indelibly printed on your memory-- or you will never wish to wear your current outfit again.

I liked the trousers I was wearing today. A bathroom needed to be located fast. 

So started the near run towards the mall. I contorted myself into various peculiar postures at each set of traffic lights before falling through the doors of a large department store. Since I had no intention of being a paying customer, the anonymity of a multi-level shop was preferable to trying to sneak past the staff at Starbucks. 

Up the escalators I scooted, trying to smile in a pleasant and relaxed manner at the other shoppers and resist the urge to kick small children out of my way. Into the bathroom I fled to discover I was at the back of a line. 

It was okay... the line was moving quite fast... I could wait... probably.

My turn came and I zipped down to the vacated stall to see a traditional hole-in-the-ground toilet. I just couldn't use it. Normally, I shrug and squat but I knew I had to be there for a while. My knees didn't feel up to it. This meant I had to turn away, walk back up the aisle and join the end of the queue. To add insult to injury, this particular restroom had an accompanying make-up area so I had a significant audience of reflected women and lipsticks for my unusual actions. Lipsticks are so judgmental. I glared at one in its black tube, daring it to mock me. I might have been feeling slightly stressed.

The cubicle stayed unoccupied. Evidently, everyone thought that I had not used it because it was blocked or over-flowing or filled with monsters. I thought about saying:

"No, no monsters. I am merely rejected your entire culture by demanding you provide facilities like the ones I have in my own superior country."

Somehow it just didn't sound right. I waited. I tried not to soil my clothing. My turn came again and I silently prayed that the next stall to become free would be one with a western toilet. A door swung open and I stumbled in to see all my --greatly reduced at present-- desires in cream plastic. 

It was all going to be fine and what was more, I could even write my blog post on my iPad while I waited for the fires to abate. I'll leave you to decide if I really did that.

Fun with undergrads

It is a sad fact that my head of group has a penchant for torturing students. It truth, I wouldn't really mind all that much, except that he has picked me as his tool for unimaginable mental pain. Newton's third law[*] tells us that this doesn't do anything for my own well being.

Friday night was the department party to welcome new physics undergraduates to Hokkaido University. The first set of students I would actually teach would be next year's intake, but I went along so that my face was known, senior undergraduates would recognise me as a possible project supervisor and --ultimately-- because I was told to...

... by my head of group

... who is secretly evil.

The form of torture was simple; creep up behind an unsuspecting undergraduate about to tuck into a piece of sushi. Then insist they come over and talk to me in English.

None of them wanted to. Many tried to literally hide behind their friends. Neither of us knew how to end the conversation. It was awkwardness supremo. Yes, I did make that word up. Such vocabulary acts probably didn't helping the situation.

Fortunately, once we got over the initial "Hello, my name is ..." part, things relaxed a little. For a start, I could also manage a basic self-introduction in Japanese which put us on a more even footing. They gave their rehearsed spiel in English, I gave mine in Japanese and neither of us knew what to do next. This sometimes gave them the confidence to ask a question. Eventually, they found a reason to escape (work / friends / dead grandmother / ooh look squirrel!) and we moved onto the next victim.

After an hour and a half things eased up. This wasn't due to a pause in our relentless pursuing of innocent young language sacrifices but due to the fact that said sacrifices were getting hammered. The legal drinking age in Japan is 20, so students in their second year and above were indulging in the large bottles of Sapporo beer scattered liberally around the tables. Since they would inevitably be the ones unable to run, we ended up in enthusiastic --if unintelligible-- conversation with two or three until my head of group decided the lack of terror was not nearly so fun and suggested we left.

Next time we do this, I'm sneaking in early and drinking one of those large beer bottles prior to the party starting.

[*] You push me, you feel the same amount of force back.

Street wise

The street naming system in Sapporo is confusing.

The most confusing thing about it is that is it on a grid and therefore should not be confusing.

Yet it is.

It is confusing and makes you feel like an idiot for being confused. See, just like that it gets you twice.

Contrary to popular opinion, just because I am British does not mean I can't handle a grid system. I did well in New York until I hit Broadway and I was fine in Florida until I found that 38th Street was followed by 38th Terrance followed by 38th Drive. America tried to confuse me. She failed. I just had to do a bunch of U-turns. Japan, however, saw me standing on a street corner utterly flummoxed.

On paper, Sapporo's street system looks amazingly ordered for a Japanese city. It is a strictly adhered to grid divided into quadrants by the long Odori Park which runs east-west through the city and the river which runs north-south. Addresses then have the format 'North X West Y'. Easy, no?

So how was it I was standing on the street corner of a road labelled '5-South, 12-West' which was being intersected at right angles by another road also declaring itself to be '5-South, 12-West'? What was more, the previous road that had intersected '5-South, 12-West' a block back was ALSO called '5-South, 12-West'.

My new apartment, incidentally, was at '5-South, 12-West'. I had previously visited the building by car (driven by the real estate broker) back in July, but now I had signed the contract and picked up my keys and I was excited to see my new home. Or at least, I had been until about twenty minutes ago. Now I just wanted to kick something.

Since I seemed to be in some kind of crazy magic mirror maze, I decided to scrap actual addresses and go for deduction. I had to be close and my apartment was on the ninth floor. That ruled out all the buildings in my immediate vicinity apart from four apartment blocks.

The first one of these was pink. I would not have picked a pink apartment. I dismissed it.

The second building had the wrong name. My building's name is "Classé", written "クラッセ" in Japanese, and this one was called 'Helio'.

The third building had the name "グラッセ" which is frankly just being mean.

Finally, I went to the forth building. This high-rise was one street over and as I walked, I realised what the street numbering system meant. '5-South, 12-West' wasn't a road or an intersection, it was a block. The roads on three of the block's four sides have the same name. This means that the street address actually marks out a region, not an individual road, and sometimes quite a large region since blocks can be big. It also explained why the taxi driver turned down a street too early when driving me from Sapporo station. I had just thought he was incompetent.

At this stage, I probably would have just broken in but fortunately my key fit the forth building's lobby lock. I walked into the bare apartment and went to sleep on the floor. Directions are too hard; I need a smart phone again.

Catch 22

"Your credit card application has ... this time ... been refused."

Our head of group was scanning the letter I had been sent from the credit card company which was all written in Japanese. I tried to rearrange my face into an expression of polite confusion as opposed to indignant fury. I had filled in that application at the end of July. It has come back to me once with queries about my contact details and now they had gone and rejected me point blank. What was more, it was the university's own credit card system for its staff and students, so credit history (or lack thereof) was specifically supposed to be not an issue. What was their beef?

"I will call them," our head of group promised. He returned a short while later saying that they were due to call him back with an English-speaking representative who could talk directly to me. Security considerations meant that they could not pass on details of my account to a third party. It made sense. I followed him into his office and waited for the phone to ring.

"Is this ... Tasker Elizabeth?"

That'd be me. In a backwards sort of way.

"Can you confirm your identity with your date of birth and office phone number?"

"Erm... could you please hold for two minutes?"

I hasten to add it was the phone number that I had no clue about. I never touch the handset on my desk since (a) fundamentally, I hate talking on the phone and (b) the fact it is likely to be in Japanese does not endear the situation to me. I dig out the phone number from a list of documents on my desk.

"Unfortunately, your application for a credit card has been refused this time."


"We cannot give details of our process."

Well, that clears everything up! I looked around for something to bang my head against.

"What confuses me," I tried again politely. "Is that I know you offer the credit card to foreign students. I am a foreign professor. How can I not qualify if the students do?"

The woman hesitated. "Well...," she said carefully. "It is hard to fill your details into the system when they are not complete. You have no number for a home or cell phone..."

"I don't have either."

"Yes, but that section is blank..."

I got what she was trying to tell me. My credit card application had been rejected because I didn't have a cell phone. That was all well and good except I needed a credit card to get a cell phone.

There was really nothing suitably hard enough to smack my head against in this room.

To be fair, once I'd recovered from my mild concussion, there were solutions to this problem. A credit card was not needed for a prepaid phone, I was just loathed to get one just so I could replace it with a smart phone once I got my credit card. However, I had only asked one company about contract deals and it would later turn out that other providers would accept a bank debit card instead of a credit card. Now the decision became: do I wait for the iPhone 5 later this month or get an android? Then if I went for the latter, there was a shiny new Fujitsu handset due out in November and ...

.... basically, I'm never getting that credit card. Or a cell phone. If you want to contact me, I hear messenger pigeons are great.

I eat a hand grenade for lunch

When I left Sapporo at the end of July, Odori Park was in the midst of a summer beer festival. When I returned in September, it had moved onto an autumn food festival. Me and this city were bonding.

On Friday lunchtime (a public holiday before you accuse me of skiving off) the festival stalls were bursting with different foods; crab was being cooked in its shell, skewers of chicken, beef and golden potato dumplings lay on a grill, deep fried balls of octopus sat in rows along with corn on the cob, pots of chowder, curry with giant naan breads, oysters in the half-shell...

... and spiny black balls that looked like hand grenades.

I did a double take as someone passed me with two balanced on a plastic plate. Was this a military training exercise or a snack with extra punch? Should I wrestle the man to the floor and call the police or... watch while he cracks one of the demonic spheres open and probes it with chopsticks. I tried to take a photo so I could demand answers from a safer distance but black spines on a black ball had stealth bomber properties for my phone camera. Short of propping my handset on the guy's shoulder (... no), I wasn't going to get a decent shot.

I had to find out where these came from.

I pushed back through the crowd, searching for people with similar platters of terminator snack food or the location of a high security military camp; one of the two. Eventually, I came across a grill that was advertising food from Rebun, an island off the northern coast of Japan. Judging from the map, it would indeed be the perfect place for a biological warfare unit.

I joined the queue.

Then something rather miraculous happened: my Japanese came through. Two places in front of me, I distinctly heard the woman order 'uni' meaning 'sea urchin'. I had eaten sea urchin before; it was a luminous orange, salty semi-liquid of a sea food. I'd had it with a rice bowl and on sushi but never ... well, in a sea urchin.

I tried to squint through the cracks of the grilling hand grenades to see if I could recognize the interior flesh. Different colours unhelpfully met my eyes. Still, since we seemed to be on a linguistic role, there was another option:

"Sore wa uni desuka," I inquired as I reached the counter.
Is that sea urchin?

The woman gave me a cheery smile, "Uni desuyo."
Yes, it is.

Comprehension AND communication! I was on fire.

"Ichi." I held up one finger.

In Japanese, numbers are usually followed by counters; words that indicate the type of object being enumerated. However, I had no idea what the counter for black-spiky-sea-urchin-bomb would be, so the request for 'one' was all she got.

I scuttled off to the corner of the lawn with my prize and pried it open with my chopsticks. Inside, there was the familiar orange strips that I had previously eaten, surrounded by green goop. What was the edibility factor for the green goop? Where a score '10' sees you ordering more and a '1' means that it is served at your funeral for company in the afterlife? Unfortunately, I had run away from the other urchin-bomb customers so I had no one close to compare eating habits to. In the end, I concluded that if anything green had to be definitely avoided, this would be one dangerous little number to serve up at a festival. Since no one seemed to be in charge of carrying off dozens of corpses, I ate all the orange, some of the green (I'll give it a '7') and decided that was enough excitement for one meal time.

Later, I looked up 'sea urchin' on wikipedia. Apparently, the orange delicacies are actually the sexual organs. Not all knowledge is good.

One size fits all

There are times when I feel that automatic emails could benefit from some tailoring. This evening I received an email with the subject:

Itinerary Change - Important Information from Virgin Atlantic

This raised alarm bells since the only pending Virgin Atlantic flight I had was my trip from India to the UK on December 23rd. Needless to say, I was cutting it rather fine for spending Christmas at home with my family and a delay could be bad. The start of the email was not encouraging:

We regret to advise there has been a time change...

The heavily serious tone was more reminiscent of a funeral than a flight alteration. It suggested that I would be spending Christmas in an airport in Europe, having been deposited there after all transportation services had stopped running for the season. Since it was a flight booked with my airmiles, I doubt I could change the date easily. My festive turkey was looking likely to be a chocolate bar out of a vending machine. Assuming I had change.

The flight is now departing Delhi on 23DEC at 1350.

The original time of departure had been .... 1345. I looked at the arrival time in London. That hadn't even shifted by 5 minutes.

Sorry for any inconvenience caused.

Evidently they mean to my health from reading that email.

Dance 100 billion stars

If you select the paper work type of lectures, you can limit number of students in your class and you will get a teaching assistant.

I was discussing the undergraduate course I would be teaching next semester with my head of group over email. The basic idea of the lecture series was to teach an introductory physics course in English, available to all students enrolled in the university. However, there were options concerning the structure of the course that I was struggling to understand, having not gone through the Japanese higher education system myself. I wrote back:

Could you please explain what a "paper work type of lecture" is?

My best guess at present was that there was a course type that shunned written material and presented information through interpretive dance. I wondered if I could get a student to leap through a wall in a demonstration for quantum mechanics. A few minutes later, I got my answer:

"Paper work type of lecture" means that in this lecture a professor spends his class time to make training of student's ability to write their papers, presentations or something.

.... whereas in the other type of lecture, the professor just sets up a game of hangman and doesn't bother with anything educational? This seemed implausible. I walked next door to see if I could extract a more complete explanation but failed. The joys of a language barrier!

Just when I'd resigned myself to showing my class how to play 'Portal' and leaving it at that, my head of group came back with a more complete explanation. It turned out that there two types of courses at Hokkaido University; the ones I would refer to as 'core' and were needed to graduate in a particular field and others that were more general interest and could be taken by students in any discipline. This second category (which was the one to which my course would belong) was again broken into two variations: courses where the professor stood at the front and delivered material to a passive class and another with a workshop competent that involved a level of audience participation. The course I had proposed included presentations from the students on different scientific topics and would therefore belong in this workshop or "paper work" type lecture.

So no computer games but no jumping through solid walls either. Perhaps it is for the best.

The sound of music

"Can I ask you a question?"

Evidently so, since you just did. Still, this particular Japanese passenger on the express train from New Chitose Airport to Sapporo was manoeuvring an intriguing large bag into which he'd managed to wedge a hard guitar case so the curiosity was mutual. I produced a smile that I hoped belied the fact I'd been travelling for over 24 hours and encouraged him to continue.

"What are you doing in Sapporo?"

He probably expected to hear something involving English teaching but instead received a far more unlikely tale consisting of an astrophysics appointment with a splattering of physics lecturing at the university.

"You're British!" he exclaimed. "Were we on the same plane?"

It turned out that my new friend had just arrived back from a year in London where he had been taking a graduate course. Prior to that, he had been teaching English in Taiwan. The guitar, I learned, was a British acquisition.

"I used to have a very expensive guitar," he told me wistfully. "But I sold it before I went to Taiwan and I didn't have one there. I really missed it. When I arrived in London, I went straight to the music shops!"

He looked like a musician too, if musicians can have certain looks. His black hair was shoulder length and he wore round glasses.

"Sapporo is a popular city to live in," he continued. "But few can because there aren't enough jobs in the area."


Wait no, that's the jet-lag talking. I re-phrased my instinctual response to say how much I had liked the city during my previous visits. He mentioned that he was particularly envious of me being at Hokkaido University since he would have liked to study there himself. I asked him where he had done his first degree.

"Ah, actually... not in Japan. I went to San Francisco." One hand dropped down to fondle the top of the guitar case. "I... didn't do all that well in High School so I couldn't get in. But in America you can study at community colleges to improve your grades and then transfer!"

It was a great system since school grades can go awry for many reasons. I glanced down to see my companion's hand was still hooked around the encased instrument. Of course, some instances of students under-performing perhaps had more obvious sources than others. It was interesting to note that apparently Japan did not have such a scheme for correcting the errors of a miss-spent youth.

"Yes... I really loved my music in school... perhaps too much."

Mmmhmm. Despite my amusement, it was impressive that this was now water under the bridge. Also, given the intense nature of the Japanese education system, it was rather reassuring to find that people have the same pitfalls the world over.

"The English was difficult in California." I was told after mentioning the musician's obvious linguistic skills as we pulled into Sapporo station. "The Japanese are very good at taking tests so we tend to get put in a high level language course. Then we struggle much more than other students with speech, but we catch up again with the essays."

I could see this so clearly that I had a feeling this was about to become the byline for my life.

Chipmunks and pudding

"You're scared because you're not from Yorkshire!"

No, I'm pretty sure it's because I've been physically strapped to a chair and now an IV drip is being fitted to my free hand. It was like the final scene in a death row movie where they administer the lethal injection.

But but but I only stole my Mum's sausage rolls once when I was 7 and I promise never everevertodoitagain!!

There were multiple reasons why I was about to make the heart monitor they'd attached to my chest leap off the scale:

Firstly, there was really very little to enjoy in the prospect of being heavily sedated so your impacted back teeth could be cut out of your mouth. It was like the problem with the potentially painful typhoid vaccination: how do you prepare to be ill? People's accounts regarding their wisdom teeth varied from mild discomfort to rolling around in agony on the sofa for weeks and there was no way of knowing which way this cookie was going to crumble.  

Secondly, I'd arrived (as per my orders) with a friend who also happened to be a respiratory therapist (never hurts to have a back-up plan). This was not the problem. The problem was that she had brought along her five year old daughter. This little poppet showed me she had lost two teeth of her own recently but assured me they would grow back.

... whatever I might know logically about the situation with baby versus wisdom teeth, it was still like being told I'd have to repeat all this next year.

I was sent out by a rather brisk receptionist to use the restroom; not a particularly easy task since I hadn't been allowed to drink anything since midnight the night before. When I returned, I found mother and daughter reading together. I hoped this would be a nice calming story about fluffy bunny rabbits I could listen in on. But no. Out of ALL THE MATERIAL in the waiting room, this demonic child had selected a leaflet on wisdom teeth to read. By the time I joined them, they had reached the page on 'possible complications after surgery'. With pictures.

My friend took one look at my face. "You know, let's read this page after El's gone in," she suggested to her little girl, who shortly afterwards demanded to know if she could watch the procedure.

Finally, the dental nurse had come out to give my friend some instructions regarding my aftercare. Her voice was a low, calming pitch which DID NOT HELP AT ALL. It sounded like the kind of voice you might use when discussing something very very serious and terrible. What I really needed was for someone to clonk me over the head with that rolled up leaflet on wisdom teeth and tell me to get in there because it'd be over in about forty minutes. Instead, she talked about pain and swelling and passed over a prescription. I whimpered.

"I'll give you two some time alone," she said as she went back behind the door.


"That is not the voice you use when you're telling someone that you have to switch off a ventilator machine," my RT friend told me firmly. "Trust me. Now go in."

There we go.

I inched through the door and crept towards a room full of IV bags. One positive thing the wisdom teeth leaflet had shown was examples of the different problems that occurred with these late arrivals. Two of the pictures matched my own issues; one tooth on its side and decayed and the other stuck under the jaw bone. They really did have to be removed.

Two nurses helped me to get set up and they were super nice. They assured me that everyone was nervous and told me at frequent intervals that I was doing really well. Given the reading on the heart monitor, I think the standard for this comment was that I hadn't yet bolted from the room. There was a blood pressure cuff on my right arm which is why that wrist was attached to the chair (very gently, I could have pulled it free). Then the dentist came in to fit the IV drip to my left hand, after complaining I wasn't a Yorkshireman. He then started slapping my hand really hard.

"Owch!" I complained indignantly.

"It's your fault," he told me. "You've gone and made yourself all nervous and now your big veins are hiding."

I was still in the chair. I think he should be grateful for what he had.

Despite the fact this did make me laugh, I started to feel sick and dizzy. I attempted to call one of the nurses 'Mum' but it didn't really help. I was assured this was just nerves and indeed, a few minutes later everything eased. I suspect some cheating was going on here and an anti-nausea agent was added to my drip. Either way, I started to feel a hell of a lot better and relaxed. An oxygen mask was fitted over my nose which ten minutes before would have made me think:


but now I thought:

Bet that looks funny.

.... Then I was being guided into the recovery room and looking up at a five year old peering curiously at me and mercifully not reading a leaflet on wisdom teeth.

My mouth was entirely numb and there was a couple of rolls of gauze tucked in the back but I felt fine. It would turn out the local aesthetic was quite powerful since it didn't wear off until the early evening. The current side affect was that I couldn't talk.

"We can leave when you're ready," my friend told me brightly.

I sat up. "Mumble wumble dumble!"

"OK, we can leave when the nurse says you're ready," came the slight amendment. 

Damn small print. Still, it was only a few more minutes and I was finally free to flee the dental surgery ... the sort of fleeing that requires you to be propped up by one adult and one child.

I was tag teamed over to a second friend (this one a minister who could potentially forgive me for the sausage roll incident and send me in the right direction if all my original suspicions had proved to be founded. Never let be said I did not think this through) since the sedative meant I had to be supervised for the next 24 hours. The only real challenge was that I had to drink two glasses of water without being able to feel my mouth. In the end, I used my hand to pull my lower lip over the glass' rim and tipped. I also had a few tablets to swallow. I put one on my tongue and tried to swallow except...

"Did you loose it?" my friend asked with a grin.

It was somewhere in my mouth but where .... I felt it reach my throat. Gotcha!

We watched a movie and some lie was spun to me about it being several hours long. I was there and it was 10 minutes, tops. As was the second one. But by the time the evening rolled around I was de-numbed and feeling right as rain. I really wanted a cheeseburger but was offered an apple puree pudding instead. It's possible the next few days will still see me looking like a chipmunk but I'll take that look and make it awesome.

Then future cheeseburgers; they will be mine.

(Plus my friends are awesome. They can share the cheeseburgers.)

Pin cushion

After being randomly accosted in the streets of Sapporo by a man telling me to go to India, there was really nothing left to do but book my flight. Since I was circumnavigating the globe at the end of the year to go home for Christmas and then onto Canada before returning to Japan, I thought it would be practically rude not to stop off in Delhi.

In terms of flight paths, this actually makes no sense whatsoever but let's just pretend the Earth is flat and carry on with the story. Besides, the difference in cost was pretty small.

The only downside to this plan-of-awesomeness was that India is home to more exciting diseases that those found in your average Toronto suburb and requires an arm full of vaccinations. Canada deals with such things through specialised travel clinics where the only difficulty is finding one open during the summer since they tend to be populated by doctors who go to tropical parts for their vacation rather than Niagara Falls like everyone else.

"Which vaccinations have you had?" The nurse clicked through her computer system, bringing up the list of inoculations needed for India. The page seemed rather long.


The problem with moving around so much is that it's hard to keep a consistent record. I rattled off the few I remembered with their dates and the nurse ran a pen down the screen.

"How about tetanus?"

"Maybe 2007."

I'd found a slip of paper while sorting out my apartment before the movers came that suggested such an event. Since it came from the USA, it was naturally a bill. Oddly though, I had no memory of the proceeding at all.

"... maybe 1995."

That was the last one I was certain about. The nurse lifted an eyebrow and pulled out the appropriate medicine vile.

"How about hepatitis A, B, typhoid or polio?"

I shook my head and the viles stacked up. She swizzled me around on the chair so my right arm was facing her and loaded up three syringes.

"You don't have a problem with needles, right?"

My mind flashed back to my school days; to standing in the queue for my measles booster, becoming so completely scared that I refused it point blank and felt sick all day with guilt and the huge unused adrenaline rush. To anyone who knew me then.... I can hear your laughter.

"Nah, it's no problem."

I am all about denial. Besides, it was probably true; eight years ago I took a course of prozac for a boat of clinical depression. Not only did it have the desired affect of re-balancing all to where it should be but it removed my fear of needles. The only (non-medical, entirely guessed) explanation I have, is the antidepressant suppressed the overwhelming adrenaline rush, allowing me to stay in control. I still don't like injections but then, if I actively enjoyed being shot in the arm with a needle that would also be of slight mental concern.

We did the first two and then I asked for a break. The dual hepatitus A & B vaccine is double the size of a normal shot and makes your arm ache. It wasn't painful but you couldn't ignore it was happening either. The nurse plonked me on the floor for good measure.

"People are really heavy when they faint," she told me matter-of-factly.

Still, there was only typhoid left and it was the normal quantity. I started to sit up again.

"This one feels like you've been punched!"

... I lay back down.

"I always believe in honesty. Some people don't feel a thing but one of the other nurses here said it was like being kicked by a horse!"

So, for the record, this is a situation where I DO NOT BELIEVE IN HONESTY. I totally support telling me it'll be totally fine and I won't feel a thing and then adding in the correction after its done. I don't actually have a low tollerance to pain, but the prospect of pain? I don't do it well. My imagination is good and Dante's inferno becomes a scorching likelihood in less than a second per circle of Hell.

"You need a second shot for your hepatitis next week, so we could do it then," the nurse suggested kindly.

I considered it but the wisdom teeth were next week. There's only so much I felt I could sign my future self up for.

"It's fine," I muttered, sitting up and looking away.

The nurse administered the shot and I lay straight back down again.

It was totally fine and I didn't feel a thing.

The nurse waggled a finger at me. "Stay there. You're green."

There's no accounting for what you can do to yourself.

Tell them a Yorkshire man did it to yer!

"This is a lot harder now you're older. Really, 28 should be the maximum age for this procedure. Some people say over 30 is a problem, but I say 28."

28? 30? We were only talking about two years and more to the point...

"I was 31 last month. How can it make that much of a difference?"

"Oh, it does." I was assured. "The 40s are the same. 40 is always fine but 41... same with 50 and 51...."

Picture the most unamused expression imaginable and crank it up by a factor of ten. That was a fraction of the look I shot the dentist who was examining an x-ray of my bottom wisdom teeth. It was true that by North American standards, I was late to have these problematic calcified numbers removed. The logic goes that the teeth become progressively more difficult to extract as the patient ages and the roots cement more firmly to the bone. In the UK, the premise is that not everyone has issues with their wisdom teeth and if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Regardless of the right or wrong of the matter, I had to have mine out next week. And I was being teased which was mean.

My dentist was a cheerful Yorkshire man who acknowledged our kindred roots by declaring that there were two types of people in the world; those from Yorkshire and those who wished they were from Yorkshire. He took unashamed delight in first describing the process in detail to me and then the after-care.

"You'll have holes in your mouth like the Grand Canyon! They'll be so big that ... "

I blanched. "Um, is it necessary to describe it so vividly?"

"Yes! Because the most common emergency call I receive on a Sunday afternoon is from people panicking they have holes where I took out teeth!"

Well, I guess that would annoy you. Apparently, the holes take four to six weeks to heal and they must be washed out to prevent food settling in there. I thought that sounded pretty disgusting.

"Oh, you wait till you see what comes out!"

I started to regret eating lunch. The swelling, I learnt, is likely to appear two or three days after the surgery and there were some who claimed they could see the inflammation come up in real time while watching in the mirror.

"... they don't really have very much to do," the dentist conceded after a moment's consideration.

I was also a little nervous about the recommended aesthetic, since the normal procedure involved an extremely heavy sedative. Then the dentist told me he couldn't really freeze with a local injection that deep in the mouth. Suddenly, I was all about sedation.

"Just don't make any important decisions that day," he recommended. "Could you be pregnant?"

"Hell, no!" I exclaimed in surprise.

"That's the answer I wanted to hear!"

Oddly, I was also told not to wear nail varnish the day of my appointment. It acts as a barrier for the pulse reader they clip on the end of your finger.

"Any other questions?" the dentist concluded.

I tried to think of something cool and calculating. Something to demonstrate that I had processed the information and was now calmly prepared to undergo this trifling event. "How long will it take?"

"The actual procedure, about forty minutes."

I felt relieved; forty minutes sounded short and manageable.

The dentist grinned as he left the room. "Good job we took your blood pressure before I came in," he said in way of a parting farewell. "Or it'd be through the roof!"

... Perhaps not so cool and calculating.

"Just tell them a Yorkshire man did it to yer!"

Everybody wish me luck for Tuesday.

Moving day

There was a skidding sound of paws on a polished wood floor followed by a thump. Then a brown and gold shape streaked from the main room to the bedroom. Rinse, repeat.

I leaned back against the kitchen wall and lifted the remains of the 2 litre soda bottle to my lips, waiting.

After a few more minutes the cycle seemed to break and my cat appeared beside me.

** There is nothing here! NOTHING! **

Then she was off for another lap around the apartment that had just been emptied by the movers in the first stage of shipping my belongings to Japan.

This had been my first experience with a moving company that packed as well as shipped. Normally, not boxing up everything yourself adds a ridiculous amount to the moving cost but it seemed for a journey over these distances, the company wanted to do it themselves and basically threw it in for free.

I had stood watching while one of the movers painstakingly wrapped my plastic water bottle in three layers of paper before gently placing it in a box before deciding I wasn't going to understand this process and retreating to the basement. Down here, I had put all the items the movers weren't to touch: my suitcase for the next 2-3 months, a few items I was donating to a charity thrift shop and my cat. Said feline had decided to take no chances and had curled up actually in the suitcase as a rather pointed hint.

Despite the simplicity of my instructions to the movers ("please take everything"), I was still asked a few of bizarre questions:

"Is this bookcase coming? And all the things on it?"

No dude, that's just my hand luggage. The mind boggles.

Now, however, they were gone and all I had left was a suitcase. Tallis came back from her mad sprint and sat at my feet.

** Our life used to be so much cooler than this. **

I picked her up and submitted to having my face washed. Possibly she was remembering the last time our house was emptied; an event that preceded a bunch of car rides and a three hour flight up from Florida to Canada. 

"Basically," I told her. "However bad you think this is going to be...? You're out. Waaaaay out."