Saturday, March 26, 2005

Aymen rang me this morning, and asked how I was in his usual sunny voice. I told him I had a pain in the ass. For some reason my butt was aching this morning, two days after going jogging with Thomas. Not that anything funny happened, you understand.

Anyway, slight bum pain didn't stop me spending an afternoon cycling along the Garonne today. The four of us covered over 46 clicks. The bike I hired from the town hall wasn't exactly the right one for the job. That's it in the front of the picture.

It could've done with more suspension and less granny basket. But hey, the super padded saddle protected my tender bottom from too bad a bashing as we thundered up and down the track.

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Friday, March 25, 2005

it's an outrage
I have had to complain quite strongly. I can't believe the way they're treating me. I am going to be forced out of the King's private jet, with it's gold double bedroom and platinum executive lounge area, and into a first class seat on some disgustingly normal plane belonging to an airline instead. I'll be like, with other normal peasant people and stuff.

For one work reason and another I have to accompany one of the most luxurious and bespoke planes in existence from the country of its owner, who owns the country and the plane, fly to London and then take another plane to Dallas. The whole thing will take a week before I get back to Toulouse. Hopefully I'll get a free moment to visit Southfork Ranch.

This is my first trip like this for work and I'm dead chuffed. Work is going so well at the moment. The change of department back in December has really paid off.

Oh and yeah - I got a letter this week saying that my application to become a Chartered Engineer has been accepted. Although I don't intend to use the letters much, and not that they are of an awful lot of use, it is nice to know that after 10 years I will finally be Mr D FamilyName CEng MRAeS.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

So I signed up for the BlogXchng webring, which is the brainchild and result of apparently considerable effort by Angela from Miss Sassafrass and Ana whose blog I don't know. I promised Angela I'd give BlogXchng a promotional plug, so here it is. In their own words...

BlogXchng is a free service designed to promote blog readership and community through a WebRing and Email Xchng. The focus is not on site hits or popularity contests but instead on helping readers find blogs that appeal to their own personal interests and life experiences and creating a comfortable atmosphere so that they may join in on the discussion."

And with my best dazzling white smile I can tell you from personal experience that the thing I like about BlogXchng is that as many days a week as you like, it will email you the address of a new blog or two to visit, according to your likes and interests. Since I'm a bit on the lazy side exploring blogland, this is pretty handy.. like being an couch potato blog surfer. Pass me those crisps and a can of beer, new blogs here I come! The flip side is, people come and visit my blog too.

So anyway, off you go and sign up now you bloggers. Chop chop.

And as for Vivi's Great International Secret Blog Exchange, I have to admit I have been a bit slack. I have atleast bought the gift, and to the exact specifications of my correspondent in Canada too. But I haven't sent it yet, mainly due to sleeping on Saturday mornings.

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Monday, March 21, 2005

a bit more Japan
Well it's just flying off the keyboard now! Here's another couple of paragraphs from the Japan story.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Seriously nice hot summeryness around here this weekend. Beers in the beer garden down the pub after work on Friday, and outside cafe's yesterday afternoon, watching the shoppers walking past. Today it was a stroll along the Garonne with Thomas, past the student bongo players wafting their rhythms across the river, and past the scruffy urchins scavving money for beer and to feed their dogs.

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After my fridge got its first clean a few weeks back, my windows got their turn today. With all the brilliant sunshine outside and stuff, I noticed that the quality of light coming through the glass into my front room was more than slightly jaded by a thick layer of street grime and dustyness that has built up over the last two years.

I'm not used to the idea of having to wash your windows. In the UK there was always some bloke that just appeared once a month or so. The Windowcleaner, we called him. He'd just start cleaning the windows, so the first you knew of his presence was usually when his face suddenly appeared at your upstairs window. I bet he always had a story to tell when he went home, if he wasn't so shocked by the things he saw that he fell backwards off his ladder into a pond or onto a privet hedge.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

st patrick's day
So I'm blogging early 'cos tonight is gonna be along one. Starting in about an hour I'm off with Oscar to some basque bar for some drinks before we go to band practice for a couple of hours. The Jacqui Chan Band has sorta tentatively let me in their group to do a couple of Travis songs and stuff which is pretty cool. I'm actually sitting here singing right now practicing my line-up and terrifying my neighbours.

Anyway, after that finishes at midnight I'm off for St Patrick's day celebrations at the De Danu pub, where I was last seen looking like a bearded freak.

I asked my boss for the morning off so that I don't have to turn up with a viscious stomach churning and head spinning hangover. "Fine...", he said, " long as you don't mind moving your Annual Interview to the afternoon". Hmmm, maybe this wasn't the best way to start a discussion about the future of my career ;)

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Japanese night
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I started this evening with a Japanese lesson, which I admit I sometimes need to force myself to go to after a day at work. But I do really like submerging myself in the language so I try to make the effort. Tonight I was lucky, and for some reason a group of five university students were brought by at the end of the class for a little bit of 'internationalisation'.

We did the usual polite introductions, and then dived into drinks and nibbles. They were all quite chatty and open, and one guy was particularly informal which is brave for a Japanese in these sort of settings. But it was the guy who announced that one of his hobbies was taking pictures of trains (yes, a real trainspotter!) who was paradoxically the most interesting. We had a good chin-wag about culture, how he thought modern Japanese culture was spiritually void, and how he wanted to live abroad, stuff like that.

Anyway, spurred on by that experience, I finally finished the next installment in my Japan story.

I've had a couple of comments from friends recently. One said that they wanted more personal feelings about stuff. Another said that they wanted less descriptions of buildings. All I can say for the moment is 'trust me'. If you are interested in the story and my personal feelings and experiences, you guys need to know the stuff I am writing about. These are early days and I am scene setting, so that my experiences will make sense. I will only apologise for taking so long to complete an episode ;)

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Sunday, March 13, 2005

Old school
It was really an Old School weekend the last three days. My sister Hannah, oldest friend Nick, and ex-classmate Harrinet came over this on Thursday for a bit of skiing, dragging Nick's fiancee Holly and my neice Alexandra along too. Our friend Owen was supposed to come too but shamefully easyJet cancelled his flight, bastards.

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This was Alex's first time skiing so I was quite excited about mucking about in the snow with her. We put her in for a couple of lessons at ski school and she reported that she had a great time. Give her a few more lessons and she'll be flying down the piste following the instructor as part of one of those snaking lines of kids, doing a fine job of annoying the feck out of the snowboarders.

It was good hanging out with everybody. It was a chance to get to know Holly a little better, which isn't a bad thing since I will be best man at her wedding to Nick. Unfortunately Nick was too good at snowboarding for me to find any funny stories that I could use as material for the speech. Harrinet was a good laugh, playing along with the teasing cheerfully. I have to mention that it was Harrinet's mum that turned me into a curry addict at the age of 11. I used to go around her house just up the street from us as often as I could to gorge myself on Eritrean spiciness.

I was well impressed with Les Angles. Without a doubt, the most beautifully scenic resort I have been to yet in the Pyrenees. It's set to one side of a wide open snow covered plain with another ridge of mountains to the far side so that the views are great, and the resort is below the tree line so that the whole place is filled with the contrast of green on white. They've got a great snowboard park too where I managed not to mess up a single jump, although obviously I have no proof of that ;-)

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We made an important discovery this weekend though. It seems that the French have stolen and mutilated the British cultural icon of Monster Munch. Not only are these pale imitations flat and ghost shaped instead of the familiar thick monster paw style, they don't even have pickled onion flavour! It's a travesty I tell ya.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

death of the nineties man
I bought my teacher Yoshiko a beer a few weeks back when or Japanese class was out at karaoke. It only cost 5 euros, and being British I was happy to buy it for her under the 'round' system, where beers bought are returned either that night or at some point soon. I'd say that it's generally considered bad form to count the beers and complain if you end up out of pocket. The point of rounds is that over time, you come out even. Over time, your mutual trust and friendship develop and grow.

The thing that struck me about Yoshiko was that at the end of the night, she expressed guilt about not having any change to pay me back. Of course, I told her that an Englishman doesn't worry about that, and I was happy for her to buy me a beer the next time we were out. She obviously went away without feeling any better about the situation, since when we were at the theatre the next week she made a point of paying for my ticket. As it happened, she ended up paying the exact amount she owed me even though I had completely forgotten about that one beer and couldn't have cared less about the money.

The whole way she had consciously remembered the amount and took the very next opportunity to repay the debt reminded me that this behaviour is in fact very very Japanese. It's strange how long you can go on living next to something, never understanding it, always wondering why it exists and why it's so weird. I never understood why the Japanese had to clutter up their lives and language with such complicated systems for indicating whether someone was giving or they were receiving, and how much. But this week I think the point has finally sunk in. Relationships are all about giving and receiving.

Events have shown me recently how a relationship that becomes unbalanced in the giving and receiving department is an unhealthy relationship. When a person gives and gives without receiving, they damage themselves to a point where the unsatisfied part of them that should be receiving starts screaming and shouting and generally demanding attention. So, keeping balanced seems to be key to harmony. But there's another factor, which is making sure that the exchanges happen at the right level. There are many levels over which we share our lives in relationships, including materially, sexually, emotionally and intellectually. Sometimes people try to swap something from one level for something from another. Sex for material, for example. Such exchanges wouldn't work for me, it wouldn't be fulfilling. But there are a lot of relationships out there that seem to function in that way.

In my own history of relationships, I have a history of doing a lot more giving than receiving. Regular readers of Glacons will be aware that this is the sort of thing I try to get to the bottom of. I never accept these things as some sort of unchangeable aspects of my character, I see them as conditioning that needs to be explored and replaced with something that will bring greater fulfilment. I have thought about it and figured out that since I grew up in the eighties and nineties, I was impressionable at an age when feminist ideas were making a lot of noise in British society, changing a lot of norms and inventing new concepts for femininity and masculinity.

I guess these concepts could be summed up as Career Girl, and Nineties Man. Career Girl was go-getting, leaving the kitchen behind and never to pick up a hoover. She would be happy to earn more than her husband, parading herself around town in her BMW and giant shoulder pads. Nineties Man was getting in touch with his emotions, being way less macho and a lot more caring. He would be happy to change a nappy and walk around the park with the baby in the pushchair. Of course it's plain to see now that these stereotypes are simply an unimaginative role reversal, rather than a genuine development in our coexistence.

Some people were exposed to these ideas in a context in which they were ridiculed. As far as my life goes, I was given a mother whose father who had been as emotional as a brick. Not only did she totally agree that men had to be more emotional, she had a massive emotional deficit to make up. Quite a number of times she has said, 'I always thought that my children would want to be cuddled all the time. But when I had you, that was the last thing you wanted.' My apparently obvious reluctance to be her teddy bear was not strong enough to get through her need though, with the result that I became conditioned into giving despite myself. She got a bit lecturesome the other day about this pattern in my life. I laughed ironically and told her that her lecture was a bit rich considering she'd set that train in motion. She laughed and said, 'Well, they always say that your parents will fuck you up!'. So there's another little bit of family history aired and cleared.

No matter how stupid the concepts of Nineties Man and Career Girl are, I reckon the upheaval in gender we have set in motion in our society is in the long run going to be of benefit. In most societies, women are economically dependent upon men. My own experience in Japan shows me that what this often creates is a situation where men are chosen for their material prospects and their status, and women are chosen for their beauty and subsequent role as a trophy wife. Clearly this is a classic case of exchanging material for sexual.

Over the last century, women have secured the cultural changes that were necessary to allow them to establish themselves with much more equality in our society. Now the sexes are free to build relationships where there can be a fair exchange of giving and receiving on all levels. That's obviously a good thing. But we'll only get there if we forget about the inherrent unbalance in the Nineties Man and Career Girl model, with his pathetic wimpiness, and her bitchy greed.

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Sunday, March 06, 2005

mother's day
French mother's day is on a totally different day to England, which of course means that we don't get reminded about it. Luckily I saw something on the internet which gave me the nudge I needed. I would've been in real trouble if I'd missed it too, since I missed her birthday last week.

I used to be highly cynical about these sorts of things, days of enforced gift giving. But my attitude has mellowed since the days when I was a stroppy teenager. More and more I'm coming to see the importance of making gestures in your relationships, whether they're scheduled or spontaneous.

It's easy to bugger up a relationship if you're not careful. Trouble is, there are so many ways to mess up. Taking without giving, responding with judgement and criticism instead of openness and acceptance, wanting someone to be your idea of what they should be and failing to recognise them for who they are, making people objects in your world rather than conciously making yourself more and more aware of their own world, raising people's expectations when you're not sure you can fulfill them, forgetting to treat people's emotions with respect.

I have been complaining recently about how I feel I've been treated. But I have to be honest and admit that my own behaviour is not exemplary or faultless. I can think of a number of people who I could have treated better over the last few months. I'll have to think of some suitable words or gestures.

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