Friday, December 31, 2004

turning Japanese
Between jet-lag and a hangover, and on an empty stomach waiting to be filled with a Spicy MOS Burger, it's pretty tough to string some words together right now. Aymen and I finally stepped off the plane 12 hours after we left Paris and since then have been whirling about around Tokyo from Shinjuku to Shibuya and back again.

Hanging out here with Ralph and Chika feels so easy it's almost like I never left, except they have two mega-cute kids, Reggie and Mimi. For the moment I am loving the swing of this place, surprised to find how it all comes back so naturally - the chatting, the train catching, the street navigation. A part of me turned a little Japanese over my two years here and it seems it has become hard wired.

Aymen is so blown away with Tokyo that yesterday he had sensory overload and had to shut down with his eyes closed on the train back around to Shinjuku to go to for some food and karaoke with Jerry.

Anyway, I'm off out again. Check out these pics from yesterday. Move your mouse over the image to get the pop-up description. Happy New Year to you all!! Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!!

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Sunday, December 26, 2004

the big three zero
Some people get all panicky when heading towards thirty. If I have been getting panicky I haven't noticed. Mind you, there has been a lot to distract my attention. Firstly, I am now the proud owner of a camper van.

It's so tiny you can hardly believe that it actually is a camper van. But is has a fridge, a cooker, and space for a smallish double bed. It's in perfect condition and has only done 25000 miles even though it's about 16 years old. It's gonna be so much fun in that this summer.

Other that that it has been the usual sort of Christmas thing, with the presents and the food and stuff. Alexandra has been running around all over the place and is a little ball of energy, although our friend Kate's daughter Lilly came out best on camera.

I have to admit that my birthday does usually feel a little flat. Everybody is away, exhausted, hung over, or busy with family, so it very rarely contains a big celebration of my birth onto the planet. This situation needs a remedy, so I reckon I'll have a big party when I back to Toulouse.

But atleast I did do something for myself today - I told Tomomi (ex gf) I don't want to see her when I am in Japan. I was always doing what I didn't want to with her. Throughout the relationship I never got the feeling she could appreciate me. Since then I have had only more and more reason to be convinced that the main thing she liked me for was for being a potential passport to overseas.

The way I see it, there are two ways to be attracted to someone. You can be attracted to someone because of the status they offer, material benefits they bring. Or you can be attracted to someone just because you appreciate them.

Japan, being quite a sexist society, is full of the first type of relationship, with women needing to establish themselves through their choice of husband. This basis for a relationship completely neglects the inner person. If wealth, fame, power, or any other form of social status is what has attracted your partner, they're not going to be interested in you as a person. There's no heart to heart bond formed.

It feels right for me today to assert my intention to have better than that. I know better that that does exist since I have glimpsed it before. And because I have learnt to appreciate people. I admit that the chances of two people meeting and appreciating each other at the same time, managing to see past their own assumptions, cultural preferences and prejudices, does seem to be slim. But has anybody out there had that experience?

I'm talking about the experience where you can see each other, all the broken as well as the brilliant bits. In the act of seeing each other in that beautiful broken way, quivering with fear of rejection, and then showing you still want to be with them, the broken bits seem to melt away.

The time it happened to me, it opened up aspects of myself I never knew existed. So opening up the chance of experiencing that again is my birthday present to myself.

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Thursday, December 23, 2004

bonnes fetes mes amis

Ahhh... I am sitting here this afternoon, stuffed after a big lunch with Sara, just whiling away the last few hours until I head back to Blighty. Everybody is leaving here and there's a buzz of happy laziness in the air as the Spanish and the Germans and the French all wind down in their own Christmassy ways.

The Spanish are hopping into shared cars to head off to Madrid or Barcelona. Many of the French are driving too, some as much as 9 hours North to Alsace. Many of the Germans are taking the company shuttle to fly off to Hamburg. Me, I'm flying off too, with easyJet to Gatwick. Then it's the train. The whole thing costs only 60 quid and takes 3 hours, assuming no annoying easyJet delays.

I was out last night with some friends saying goodbye. After that I wandered through town and it seems that there are some desperate people out there, trying to get money to buy presents. Three lads came up to me and tried to persuade me to practice a football tackle. It was a totally blatant ruse to grab my wallet out of my pocket and I told them in a cheery Christmas way to feck off.

Knowing Toulouse girls, I'm not surprised these boys were feeling the need to get some money together. Fabien from my Japanese class and I were complaining last night about how materialistic the girls are around here. I'm pretty sure that if you didn't present your Toulousain girlfriend with anything short of a diamond ring you'd be out the door and in the cold as soon as all the family obligations were complete.

As for me, I have few obligations this year. Just a relaxing time with the folks, then my 30th birthday on the 26th including a piss up on the streets of my childhood in Eastbourne with my old mates, no doubt bumping into some random faces from school. New Year Aymen and I are gonna spend in Tokyo with Ralph and Chika and Jerry, and maybe my ex Tomomi, although I'm sure how I feel about that one. But whatever, I can hardly complain can I? New Year's in Tokyo - what a tough life ;)

Finally there will be a little road trip back to France from the UK around the middle of Jan, taking the ferry across the channel with my newly acquired camper van. Yeehay ;))

Happy Christmas, Felix Navidad, Joyeaux Noel to all my blogland friends!

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Monday, December 20, 2004

toulouse christmas
What with going snowboarding every weekend, I've been desperately behind with my shopping for Christmas and was getting a bit concerned when my boss said that I couldn't have the day off today. Not to worry though. He let me nip out early, so Tanya and I trundled around the town centre for a couple of hours.

The streets have been done up pretty well, and although my camera ran out of battery before I got quite the shots I wanted, I'm sure these will give you the idea. There's a great christmas market covering the whole of Place Capitol at the moment, with stalls selling all sorts of stuff ranging from candles to foie gras. Tanya and I couldn't resist tucking into some Tartiflette and Mulled Wine. Hmmmm, yum :)

Having sorted out presents for some people is making me feel quite a lot more Christmasy. I'm leaving here with easyJet later in the week and have quite a Christmas planned. I would love to say that the highlight will be being with my folks back in the UK, but actually, I think it is going to be that 10 day trip to see my friends in Japan I have got lined up. Oh yes.

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Sunday, December 19, 2004

christmas gifts
It being the Christmas period I suppose gifts are all the rage, but this weekend Christmas came a bit early in Toulouse. I guess you may have noticed the flashy new blog design. Well, this is all thanks to the talent and generosity of Mai, who also redesigned ViVi's blog.

Mai and I, complete strangers until a week ago, separated by the Atlantic, emailed each other a bit after her work on ViVi's blog. I explained the theme of my blog, then she put her creativity to work and came up with this masterpiece. I am so chuffed!! You're brilliant Mai.

For the rest of this weekend apart from this evening, I've been up in Andorra for some skiing and snowboarding with about 60 people from my company. Last weekend I got some training to be a snowboard instructor, and this weekend I was let loose on my first victim. I spent the weekend teaching Sara, who had never seen a ski resort before let alone snowboarded.

A few years ago I would never have devoted so much time to someone else when there was good boarding to be had. But I've been doing it for about 8 years now. After a while, fun though it is, I get quite bored of hairing down the piste as fast as I can. Teaching is a way for me to develop myself further as a boarder, not only because it means learning teaching skills, but also because it gives me the chance to learn new boarding skills too.

My instructor training last week didn't involve learning theoretical skills rubbish though. The lesson consisted entirely of making us snowboard backwards for the weekend, even sending us up the dreaded buttons lifts that way! Going backwards is a bit like a right handed person trying to write with their left hand, so I can tell you, I spent a good few days of last week in pain.

Anyway, it was all worth it to see the joy on Sara's face when she made her first run on Saturday. She was a brilliant student, always following my suggestions, physically very co-ordinated, standing very naturally on the board and even managing to put together some turns before I'd mentioned anything about them. That's almost unheard of!

Despite all the aches and pains and bruises we of course managed to enjoy a good dose of apres ski. The best bit was leaving the pub and everybody falling over and sliding down the hill and stuff. I managed to kill a dustbin at one point, and only narrowly avoided some poor kid whose butt slider we borrowed.

There was one major casualty that I have to report, and that was my snowboard boots. They've done a good job for the last 6 years, but when I looked at them this morning they really were hardly even glued together. They're now heading for some Andorran furnace.

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Thursday, December 16, 2004

the world's biggest status symbol
Life does on the whole feel very fortunate these days. If you've ever had the feeling that your current life is somehow a shadow of the one you could be having, then you might be able to imagine how it would feel to get some light shined on in there, busting those shadows.

Apart from the contents of my last two pasts, my professional life has taken a big upswing. I've said before that I'm not a big career builder. The reason I have a profession is to bring something out in me. After some years in the doldrums, I am suddenly having a flourish where energy, quality and decisiveness are back in the game.

Just to add a little extra passion, we got some pictures through today of the prototype of our new aircraft type rolling off the production line. Take a look at this absolute monster.

Can you believe the size of that thing?! Its wings are so unbelievably wide they just stretch and stretch until they're out of the picture. It's scheduled to fly within four months. Hopefully we'll all be invited to be on the airfield to watch it.

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Thursday, December 09, 2004

toulouse morning
So I mentioned that my car has broken down. I haven't got it fixed yet, and one of the reasons is that I am actually really enjoying taking the bus into work. The number 66 leaves from St Cyprien - a ten minute walk across the river.

I love meeting Toulouse like this in the morning. There is always a darkened hazy light settled over the river, blanching the distant buildings, threatening to keep people in their warm beds. But not those who I pass, dressed up in their long coats and scarves, walking briskly into town to sit with coffees and pens in their papery offices.

By the bus stop I can grab a quick Pain au Chocolat, and watch the world in their cars pass by the St Cyprien fruit and veg market. Fortunately the ride is rarely boring because there's either a friend from work to chat to on the bus, or the free Metro newspaper to read.

But there is another reason why I haven't fixed my car.

I am getting, for free, a camper van. Complete with double bed and kitchen facility. I am so so so happy about that. I go away out of town a lot, especially with snowboarding, and now it's gonna be dirt cheap.

Summer's gonna be fantastic. I fancy three weeks driving around Italy with that someone I'm crazy about, stopping near camp sites and sneaking in in the early morning to illicitly use their showers.

I love living here.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

a very strange place
I'm in a very strange place, looking down a road I haven't been on for over six years. It used to look so enticing, so desirable, so necessary that I'd have given anything to walk there along that road of dreams and hopes.

And it has mostly been looking the same way. Yet my eyes have glimpsed something I don't like.

It is lurking almost out of sight and I have to strain to see even its shadow, hidden at the haunted edges of my thirsty craze.

Whatever it is I want, it isn't down there in that place of distressed insufficiency.

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Monday, December 06, 2004

Reading ViVi's post today persuaded me to write about my mate Nick. I was mulling over the idea of posting about him because he was in my dreams last night.

In this dream, we were outside our houses in the road we grew up on and where our parents still live. I was looking towards the road when suddenly a group of dancing showpeople popped up all dressed in glittery costumes, performing "You're the one that I want" from Grease, of all things. If that doesn't sound strange enough, Nick was dressed in a tight blue lycra outfit.

Before you start accusing me of anything Thomas, Nick's girlfriend Holly was also in the performance ;)

Since we were born only two doors away from each other and 6 months apart, I have known Nick longer than I have known my own sister, Hannah. Nick was my pal for adventures out on the fields building camps and tree houses, and on the railway lines looking for and hiding from trains, and building dams in rivers and running away from angry cows. Like you do.

I'm definately very lucky to still have Nick as a friend. I see him quite regularly since London is only 1.5 hours and 60 euros away from Toulouse by plane. We went on holiday together this summer to Sri Lanka and Qatar where we had a great time, with not even the slighest hint of a disagreement on the itinerary. Cheers to Nick! :)

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Sunday, December 05, 2004

snow and singing
Bit of a varied weekend this one. Friday night was a party organised by my Spanish friends for about 200 people. The place was packed, and there was whiskey everywhere. The highlight of the night, or atleast the bit I can remember, was the debut performance in public of The Jacqui Chan Band. Here they are.

I would write more except that my memory is a bit vague after they left the stage. I know I came home in a bad mood though, hence the rather short post from Saturday morning. Maybe it was the whiskey. Anyway, having the mother of all hangovers, I stayed in bed until 6pm yesterday, and then went to Tanya's for some food.

Today I got up and actually did something. My first day on the slopes this season, was a major success. The sun was out, the snow was fresh and powdery. I was burning it up and doing the odd 180, although they were pretty rusty I have to admit. Here's a picture of Si trying to spray me with snow.

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Saturday, December 04, 2004

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Thursday, December 02, 2004

fill 'er up
Everything's been braking recently. Last night I walked out of my Braking Systems team office and jumped into my car only to find half way through the trip home that the brakes themselves had broken. Fun!

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee along the circular up behind some weavy traffic narrowly escaping death, smoke pouring from left hand side as some seriously screechy differential braking action goes on with my left foot touching the floor pushing out the last drop of brake fluid from a gaping hole somewhere in the system onto the now slippery roads of Toulouse. Pant pant, sweat sweat, heart a thump a thump. Slooooow slooow slow down, breath, breath calmly. Use emergency handbrake braking technique.

Needless to say I was catching the bus in this morning. And I was so glad that my car decided to choose this week to give it up. And that the bus drivers chose this week to go on strike. Oh yes, so glad.

Anyway, I've had enough of brakes breaking, and not braking. That's why this morning I walked into a new office and started the first full day on my new job. My official job title is now 'Aircraft Fuel Systems Engineer'. That's the bits like the fuel tanks and the automatic centre of gravity control and stuff. I know that sounds boring but actually it isn't. You believe me right?

My new team consists of two Scots, two English including me, one Italian, a Moroccan, a French, a Spaniard and a German. Smart :)

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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

revamping the union jack
I noticed on the Little Britain link I followed from Chinkel's website the other day that they had a competition to design a new flag for Britain. There are some pretty good designs in there. I especially like the Full English one. So good it's making me hungry. The All New Characterless Britain was also quite amusing in a cynical way.

I thought this competition was quite a good idea but unfortunately it had finished by the time I found it, so I decided to make an entry anyway and post it up here instead.

Looking at all the flags of the world I actually do quite like the way all the lines are arranged. I mean, please indulge me and forgive any offence, but the French flag and the German flag and the Italian flag and the Irish flag, and loads of other flags, are just a boring arrangement of three different coloured lines. Then there's a whole fiesta of flags that are just different coloured versions of the cross on a background theme.

Yup, as far as I am concerned, the arrangement of lines is a plus and it can stay. Not only does it look good, make the flag distinct amongst its friends the other flags of the world, but there are also some historical reasons for that form which it would be appropriate to respect. The only thing I could really change then, was the colours.

I had a little fiddle around and came up with this.

I quite like that, me. Not only is it the colour of all the lovely grass we have over in blighty, the green is also 'British Racing Green' and so evokes memories of classic Jaguars and other cultural motoring icons.

If that wasn't good enough reason, I can think of two other benefits from changing the red bits. One, because the St George Cross is now associated only with football. Two, because it's not the Scottish bit, so they can't complain ;)

What do you reckon? Shall we go for it? Non Brits, don't you think it would suit us better than that old red, white and blue thing?

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