Canterbury, England.

Canterbury is a  located an hours train journey from central London. I have lived here for just under a year and a half now.

Canterbury is a tourist hot-spot, especially in the summer. The whole city is crammed full of school visits from other countries. It is also a university town, with 2 local universities.

It has it’s own theater, The Marlow, and an independent cinema The Curzon. There are 2 main streets running down the center of town, one of which is the high street. The are 2 main parks in the city. One near Canterbury East train station, and on the other side of the center. My favorite is Westgate Gardens, it’s beautiful in the summer.

Food culture is fairly good here and you can find some really good stuff if you know where to look. My personal fave by far is The Goods Shed. It’s an indoor market located next to Canterbury West train station and it is home to a handful of local businesses, including: A butcher, a fishmonger, a cheese monger, a tapas bar, a craft ale shop/bar, a artisan sandwich maker, a baker, a veg stall a wine merchant a delicatessen and a restaurant. The food and produce sold there is seriously good.

There are some really good pubs kicking about in the city, best of all is The Dolphin which has a lovely suntrap garden that you can sit in all day. They even sell street food in the back. Well worth a visit when the sun is shining.

If you’re into cocktails there definitely check out Bramleys, a hidden cocktail bar that has a very speakeasy feel to it. The decor is fantastic with old typewriters and a parachute hanging from the ceiling. If you’ve got the dough, the cocktails are great too. They even have live music.

Beyond this you wont find much more in Canterbury, small city vibes. A fun place to spend a week, summer, or couple of years. A nice place to lay down roots if that’s your plan, and a good place to settle down.

IMG_2819

The Sausage, The Tree and The Hobo

In my first memory I am standing in a train station with my father. I have no idea in which city, or how old I was. I don’t think I was older than 4 years of age. We were waiting for my friend and his father (my fathers friend.) Dad had bought me a jumbo sausage from a chip shop and I had munched most of it but was too full to finish it off. Turning to my father I explained that I was full and he told me to throw it into a dustbin. Looking briefly around I discovered that there was in fact no bin within which to throw said remainder of said jumbo sausage. Returning to my father I explained this fact to him and he said something along the lines of “Oh just put it any where son,” I cast my gaze around once more seeing a large plant pot housing a mangy dying tree, a man with a large unkept beard slumped against a wall and a few bollards.
“Shall I give it to that man dad?” I asked.
“No son, I don’t think he’ll want it.” To my father the man was clearly asleep, or dead. Probably for the best that I didn’t disturb him. As I had previously done a moment earlier, he cast his gaze around discovering the grubby plant pot and the bollards.
“Just throw it into the plant pot Jack,” he said. He couldn’t have possibly comprehended the effect that those words would have on my future. As I stared incredulously at my father barely able to conceive of the notion of shirking responsibility for this sausage into said plant pot, notions ran wildly though my head. It was in this moment that my innocence was lost; I knew in that second that all bets were off. If I could rightly discard a half eaten jumbo sausage into a plant pot, I could do anything. It was an idea that has grown to define my entire psyche. Whilst I stood there, whole universes of possibility opening out in front of me my father took the greasy half chewed sausage out of my hand and casually tossed it into the plant pot. Even now some 22 years later I can still see that jumbo sausage wheeling through the air somersaulting down towards the earth. I can even hear the light thud as it hit the soil.
As my father returned to me unaware of the whirlwind of realization going on inside my head, he noticed the expression on my face. “What’s the problem Jack?” He asked.
“But… but… the plant pot isn’t a dustbin,” I managed to say.
“It’s just a sausage son.” It’s just a sausage. JUST A SAUSAGE. I still couldn’t believe the events that had just taken place and in the years to come I would often return to this defining moment and remind myself in times of moral quandaries that if it’s okay to wantonly discard a sausage into a plant pot then any course of action is actually okay. At this moment however I couldn’t understand why I had such a strong urge to retrieve it? My father could still sense my unease.
“Do you want to be holding it all night?”
“No…”
“So don’t worry about it.”
My mind couldn’t fathom what would happen next. I knew at that age that if you throw something into a dustbin then someone would collect that rubbish and put it into a place with other rubbish. But what would happen to the sausage? Even now I wonder what happened to it. So many different things could have transpired.

1. Eventually the homeless man woke up. Groggy and hungover he said something unintelligible he managed to drag himself to his feet. Swaying slightly he went over to the plant pot. People often threw fag buts in there and he could do with a smoke. Low and behold he discovered a half eaten jumbo sausage. Not really what he was looking for, but there weren’t any fag buts in the plant pot. He hadn’t eaten in a few days and it had been a long time since he had felt any sense of shame or propriety. In other words he was not above fishing a jumbo sausage out of a plant pot, wiping off the dirt and eating it. Which was exactly what he did. The second that salty lukewarm sausage touched his lips he knew he had discovered heaven on earth. “How could anything be so delicious?” He thought. “How, in my 53 years on this planet have I not eaten one of these?” Something deep inside him woke up. Something he hadn’t felt for a long time. A hope. A dream that he could once again enjoy such a sumptuous feast as this. Things had to change. It was time to stop shitting his pants outside of train stations, and time to take back control of his destiny. One way or another he was going to do something… something to do with sausages. Okay, so it wasn’t a fully realized plan, but lets face it, a half drunk man who’d been wearing the same clothes for 7 years could only take things one step at a time. “So what was step one?” He thought. He hadn’t been prone to tending his appearance for a long time he realized, but looking down he discovered that he looked pretty bloody awful. His clothes were caked in years of stains. His skin was so covered in grime that there was not one inch that could be considered even slightly clean. “If I have a hope of getting more of those delicious sausages I’ve got to clean myself up,” he thought. He had no watch, but judging by the sky it was probably around 3am. He knew that it would be a few hours until he could steal some clothes but he could at least clean himself up a little. He was still a little groggy, but with every passing moment his mind, his plan and his purpose was getting clearer. He made his way into the public bathroom of the train station. There was a tired looking business man washing his hands in the sink.
“Spare a little change, I haven’t eaten in days.” This was a lie, he’d just had the most delicious meal of his entire life, but now was not the moment for truth. Now was the moment for action! The business man fished around awkwardly in his pockets and dug out some change. “That’s all I’ve got,” he mumbled before quickly escaping the bathroom. The homeless man stood swaying in front of the mirror.
“Jesus christ,” he was an absolute state. He could barely see himself through the grimy matted hair on his head and the beard on his face which were both streaked with grey. His face (what he could see of it) was dark brown, leathery and weather beaten. He started to take off his clothes, stripping down to his t-shirt and his y-fronts. Taking his shoes off was the biggest challenge. His motor skills were not what they used to be and it took him at least 5 minutes to undo to the grime-crusted laces. He got a sudden after taste of jumbo sausage on his tongue and it reinvigorated his senses. With a renewed sense of purpose he fumbled at the laces and managed with sustained effort to remove the shoes from his feet.  He took his bundle of grimy belongings and went into the toilet stall. He used the water to bathe his underwear.  Through a process of soak, rinse, drain and repeat he managed to get all his clothes and even himself to a semi passable state. Yes his clothes were stained and dirty, there were some stains that would never come out, but the smell was greatly diminished. He had even managed to clean the dirt off his skin and the grime out of his hair. He put his damp clothes back on, but his spirits would not be dampened. On his way out of the stall he took a look in the mirror, his efforts had taken years off. One of the train station staff had walked into the toilet and the homeless man realized that he had left an almighty mess in the stall. He quickly made his departure and once out the doorway faintly heard the man say “What the fuck is this!?”
By the time he exited the train station it was full daylight, more people were milling around now. It might have been his good spirits but he noticed that people were looking a little less disgusted by him than usual. In the foggy recesses of his mind he remembered that there was an army surplus store on the other side of the city. It took him a good couple of hours to get there and by the time he arrived it was almost midday. He pushed open the door and stepped inside, it was dark and untidy. The counter was vacant and so he took his chance. Moving as quickly as his tired limbs would allow he quickly grabbed up a new t-shirt, trousers, jacket, boots and socks and exited the store. His heart pumping and adrenaline flowing through his veins he made his way down to a bridge nearby. He stripped down once more and changed into his new threads, chucking his old mangy clothes into the river. With every passing moment he felt vigour and life returning to his body. He’d need to shave and cut his hair. Lifting the scissors and razors were easy and it wasn’t long before he had made his way to another public toilet. The scissors made short work of his hair and soon enough he had a passable if not trendy mop atop his head. Removing the beard was a little more tricky. The scissors took it down mostly. By this point there were vast clumps of grey streaked hair covering the toilet floor. His hand shaking a little as he took the razor to his face. It had been a long time since he had done this, not since he had been in the army. It wasn’t long before he cut himself, blood trickled into the sink and he swore. He cut himself 5 more times whilst shaving, but it was worth it. He looked in awe at his face. The years had not been kind. His lips were dry and chapped and compared to his dark brown leathery sun-damaged forehead below the nose his skin was pale and somewhat ridiculous. Dabbing toilet paper to his skin he removed the blood. New clothes. New face. Fresh start. Now where were those jumbo sausages?

2. A dog ate it.

3. The half chewed sausage was never removed from the plat pot, as the months passed it slowly decomposed into the soil. After a year the sausage had been completely absorbed into the soil beneath it and came to form the balance of nutrients for the tree that grew in the plant pot. After another year, 98% of the matter that had made up the sausage had been absorbed through the soil and into the tree. 6 months after this the station was given the funds to improve its decor and by now though the tree was healthy, the plant pot was chipped and discolored. It was taken along with the tree to a landfill and tossed away. Over the next week the tree began to die. It’s leaves started to discolor and turn yellow, the roots began to shrivel. “I’m fucked,” the tree thought. It prayed day and night to the tree god to be saved but no help came. It thought back wistfully to it’s life outside the train station. It hadn’t been a bad life. He hadn’t really appreciated everything he’d had there. Trees don’t have faces, but if they did he would have been smiling in remembrance of the time a man threw a sausage onto the earth he was planed in. He had watched the small child stood next to the man, the child was clearly going though some sort of realization. One thing humans don’t know is that trees are telepathic. They can read our thoughts like an open text book. In fact they can read all animals thoughts. Trees are very empathetic plants and have an unrivaled knowledge and understanding of the world around them; which is quite useless really as they can’t move or communicate in any way. Nevertheless, being telepathic is a godsend for trees as it breaks up the utter mind-bending monotony of not being able to speak or move. Honestly, being a tree can be awful sometimes; having all the wisdom of the ages but being able to do sod all with it. Trees are actually very witty too, and great with puns. It’s the main reason why trees grow together in forests, so that they can chat to each other, telepathically of course.
So, the tree was led on the landfill. He was next to a bunch of flowers that had been withering next to him, but flowers were known in the social tree circles to be vain and flamboyant. Fairly distasteful plants really. For the first few days they had ignored each other completely; the flowers being too proud and the tree too stubborn. Eventually the tree was like:
“Alright?”
“Oh, your talking to me are you?”
“If you’re going to be like that you can fuck off.”
“No, sorry. I was just… No, I was just checking it was me you were talking to.” The tree contemplated this for a moment. It was a ridiculous thing to say.
“There are literally no other plants in a mile wide radius. Who else would I be talking to?” The tree said, dripping with sarcasm. They didn’t talk to each other for the next couple of days. Eventually the flowers said.
“I’m a bit scared.” The flowers were pretty withered by this point and it was quite obvious that they would be dead before long.
“Me too.” The tree admitted.
“We’re going to die aren’t we.” The flowers remarked.
“It looks that way. Yes. I think we are.”
“I never knew my mother,” said the flowers. The tree thought about this for a second.
“What happened?”
“I was taken away by a bee when I was just a pollen,” said the flower. “By the time I grew into a flower I was far away..”
“That’s too bad.” The tree felt a little sorry for the flowers. Many flowers had a hard little life really. “Wanna talk about it?”
“The bee took me to Flowertropolis.” The tree had never heard of this place before, he suspected it was some naïve name for a field of some sort, but he kept that thought to himself.
“What’s Flowertropolis?” He asked.
“Oh it’s a wonderful place, well, it was at first. I grew up around thousands of other flowers, there were so many different species. Flowers from all different grows of life. The soil was rich and delicious and we were happy there. We heard stories of humans cutting the flowers down but we didn’t believe them, it was all too perfect. Then one day I saw a human for the first time. I caught sight of something glinting in her hand. She knelt down next to a bunch of flowers growing not too far from me and started inspecting them. Picking through them. Suddenly she moved the shiny object towards the stem of one of the flowers, it all happened so fast. The metal object cut the flower out of the ground. I can still hear her screams today. A quiet chill fell over that entire field. The rumors were true. Humans were harvesting us. Every day the woman would return and others too, picking the best of us, cutting us down in our prime. Every day I would pray to the flower god: Not me, not me, don’t pick me! I could feel myself growing and knew my time would soon be up. Most of my friends had been picked by now, the field that had once held so much joy and life was desolate and barren. When my day came I was already resigned to my fate. The woman came at me with the sharp things. Aren’t you a pretty little thing, she remarked. Then she cut me down and threw me into a sack. The next time I saw light I was in a human city. I was in amongst flowers of all different types, all as scared as each other, praying that the flower god would bring me a swift and merciful death; but he wasn’t listening. We were bunched together. Soon enough other humans were looking at us. Bunch after bunch were taken away and eventually I was taken by a man in a suit. He held me tightly in his hand. Too tightly. He went to a place where lots of humans were gathered sitting and eating. He gave me to a woman who smelled my petals and smiled. She asked another person in a white shirt to bring a vase with a little water and she placed me in there. I drank deep from the water feeling gratitude to the woman. They proceeded to eat and talk for a few hours. After they had eaten 3 meals the woman got up and left and I was alone with the man. He pulled a small box from his pocket and took out a ring of silver metal. He called over the other man in the white shirt and asked him to: Put the ring in a glass of Champagne and bring it back when she returns to the table. She returned and the man brought a see-through vessel with bubbling yellow liquid. The silver ring of metal was in the bottom. She noticed the silver ring immediately. Marry me, he said. Yes, yes, yes of course! She cried. Then she put the ring onto her finger. Later that night she put me into another vessel and I watched as they made love. I sat in this vessel for 1 week and then one day the man gathered me up and brought me here.”
“Those bastards,” said the tree. “How could they?” The tree paused to think for a moment. “Thank you for sharing that story. Thanks a bunch.” He doubted the flowers would get it.
“I just wish I knew what it was all for,” said the flowers. She died later that day. One week later, the tree died too. He never knew his mother either.

I have often wondered why my first memory should be set outside this drab grey train station with the plant pot, the homeless man and the bollards. Most people recall a memory of a birthday party, or Christmas. For me it’s a jumbo sausage and a plant pot. Why? Evidently this event whilst not on the same level as murder or theft stuck a cord with me. There was something about it that just didn’t seem right. How could my father, my moral compass, the man who I looked to to lead me and guide me behave in this manner? If a person could just go throwing sausages around willy nilly then what else could they do? It was shortly after this that I stole a micro machine from playgroup. My mother went ballistic! I was confused. I no longer knew right from wrong, the only guidance I could now trust was the feeling in my heart. The rules of society no longer meant so much, I could only rely on my inner judgement to steer me. In stealing the micro machine I knew I had made a blunder. I felt bad about it, and in this feeling balance was restored. Regardless, I would never be the same.

I wonder to myself, is there a point to this story? What is the significance. I guess the point is this: In a world of endless possibilities anything can happen. Though whatever happened to that sausage, it’s long gone now.

Tokyo – First Impressions

photo

Tokyo is an assault on the senses. The food, buildings, people and it’s sheer vastness combine to create a city that will blow you away. I have lived in Tokyo for just under 2 weeks now and I’m constantly amazed by this vast and diverse city. Whilst it would be wrong to say that Tokyo is beautiful, it is undeniably astounding. It is the biggest city in the world and when you are inside it, that’s truly how it feels.

Technically I don’t live in Tokyo, I live in Kawasaki; however most of Tokyo is accessible within an hour by train. Greater Tokyo is actually made up of several cities and populated areas but for all intents and purposes it may as well all fall under the same name as the city never really stops. So far I have barely scratched the surface but honestly a person could live their entire life here and never even come close to discovering all it’s secrets. Tokyo is an unimaginably huge and seemingly endless metropolis. I even heard an American say that it was actually a megalopolis. That is actually a real word. I googled it. I despair. Actually, personally I think that Tokyo is ultramegahugeopolis… so there.

The first night jet lagged and grumpy I arrived at the hostel in which I was staying. Within 10 minutes of getting there I had met an American army doctor on vacation. We decided shortly after to get some food and go out drinking. The conversation went.

“Hi, hows it going.”

“Good thanks. Just got in?”

“Yeah. I need a shower, then lets get drunk.”

“OK.”

VERBATIM

That first night was a blur of whisky, cigarettes and karaoke. We went out to get drunk and trust me, Tokyo provided. We were staying in Asakusa but we headed over to Roppongi to drink for a good part of the evening. Roppongi is where the majority of the westerners go to drink. I haven’t been back since, but sooner or later I’ll check it out as there is a wide variety of places to drink dance and have fun! Roppongi pretty much came across as a maze of pubs, bars and clubs as we didn’t hit it until nightfall. It’s not the cheapest area of Tokyo, but there is certainly fun to be had there and I would highly recommend it for anyone seeking mindless drunken shenanigans. We headed back to Asakusa before the last train and pestered a local salary-man there until he agreed to show us to a karaoke place. Once there we pestered him some more until he agreed to come and sing with us. After a good few hours we headed back to the hostel where we discovered a Super Nintendo and Street Fighter in the communal area. Words cannot express the joy that we both felt at that moment as we prepared to drunkenly revisit our childhood. We played this for quite a while, and probably disturbed a quite few people too by shouting “HADOUKEN,” every time Ryu threw a punch. Shortly after we went to bed.

Next day I was all set for doing nothing but my compadre from the evening before was awake and had decided to wake me up for breakfast and exploration. We started the day with Ramen. Ramen is damn good, and especially good when you’re hungover. A big bowl of greasy noodles, pork, and a soft boiled egg in a savoury soy broth. Additional braised cabbage with sesame, chilli and spices are all readily available to jazz up your ramen too in most places. One common misconception is that Japanese people have a healthy diet. They don’t. At least, many of them don’t. Yes Sushi is healthy, and there are other equally healthy things around, but there there is a lot more greasy, fried or sweet food readily available. They sell fried chicken in most convenience stores, and it’s good too. After the Ramen we headed to Shibuya. Shibuya crossing is just as you would expect, but it’s mind blowing all the same. Hundreds of people all crossing at the same time in a giant square. Advertisements from huge screens blurt out above your head on every side, people push past you and the streets stretch on for miles in each direction. Blade runner aint got shit on Shibuya.

In Tokyo the train system stops promptly at midnight, which means on any given night out you have to either know when your last train is and plan accordingly, or throw caution to the wind and let the chips fall where they may. The trade off is that there are many places to stay in each area you go, and most of them are cheap. One of the most popular choices if you get stuck in a district is to buy a karaoke booth and spend the night there. It costs about 4000 yen (£20, $40) to spend the night in a karaoke booth and that is including (in many places) unlimited booze. That’s right folks, Tokyo is the land of “All you can drink,” or as the locals call it “Nomi Holdai,” It is a dangerous, yet cost effective way to get drunk. I was out on an evening in which we were in the middle of a Nomi Holdai session and someone (English) said “C’mon mate, drink up! It’s drink as much as you can!” I questioned: “Isn’t the saying all you can drink?” To which I received a blank stare. I quickly finished my drink and ordered another. In these places you can also order an assortment of food, and I highly recommend doing so. Not because it is necessarily any good, but because without food you will wind up very drunk, and fast. Nomi Holdai is at it’s most dangerous in a Karaoke booth. Here, time and space will cease to exist. All you see will be bright lights, and all you hear will be singing, some good, some bad. The world outside will be shut off. Inside the booth is a phone, by which you can order more drinks, or food if you choose. The hours melt away and before long it’s 4am, you’re utterly fucked and you’re singing Park Life as loud as you possibly can in an over the top Lahndan accent. I have since come to realize that karaoke is EVERYWHERE in Tokyo. They love that shit, and I can see why, it’s so much fun! The Japanese take it to the next level. For £12 per head you can buy a karaoke booth for 2 hours in most places with unlimited drinks. The booth consists of a large karaoke machine next to the door, a big flat screen TV, 2 wireless microphones, and various bells and whistles including a few (very) loud speakers and stage lighting on the ceiling. You can comfortably fit about 12 or so people in one booth, and these karaoke machines have nearly every song you could possibly think of. The types of karaoke venue vary but the central premise stays mainly the same, a booth, karaoke machine, seating, a table and 2 microphones.

The Japanese seem to have a mild mannered and reserved society, yet in Tokyo pornography and prostitution are everywhere. It is thrust in your face in most corner shops and there are massage parlours dotted all over with girls in skimpy clothing calling out “massagi,” to men as they pass. A few friends of mine have checked out the 7 floor sex department store and they described it thusly:

“We decided to start at the top. Giggly and intrigued we made our way through the funny costumes, various appliances, instruments and DVD’s. As we descended downwards though this building the content got darker, the fetishes got freakier and our smiles began to fade. As we neared the bottom the trend towards smaller/younger looking women on display began to get more and more obvious. There were miniature dolls that were in fact male masturbators, the tag line in Japanese being “F**k her up to her brain.” By the time that we reached the lowest level our smiles were gone and we were only continuing to exploring through sheer morbid curiosity. We left heads lowered, barely talking, both feeling empty and visually abused.”

The weather so far is fairly similar to that of England, though more tropical. It’ll be raining one day and sunny the next. For the most part though the air in winter completely lacks humidity and this has had an unfortunate side effect; it causes me to receive regular electric shocks. For a while, every metal door handle, fridge handle, surface or object would shock me and it was really quite irritating. There has also been some serious downpours since I got here, usually accompanied by umbrella breaking wind. I am told that this gets much worse during the monsoon season.

For my part I work for a company that teaches English as a foreign language. Having waited, bar tended, shaken cocktails, cooked food and managed in restaurants and bars for the past 9 years I was very ready for something new. I still love food and drink culture with a passion and may well go back to it someday, but for now, whilst I am young and free enough to do so I want to travel. Since I can speak Britanish well gud, I thought that would be fairly decent passport to take me around the world and Japan is as good a place to start as any.

From it’s vast variety of food to it’s incredibly diverse markets and fashion culture, there is no doubt that everyone could find something that would interest them here. If you are not careful, unless you speak the language and understand the culture Tokyo is a city that could quite easily chew you up and spit you out. If there is only bit of advice about Tokyo that is vitally important it is that never, ever, under any circumstances should you ever…

These are just the beginning of my adventures… there will be more to follow.

Clouds

Words. Electronically created and stored online.

I currently live in Tokyo. I got here yesterday. I’m 27, I’ve got a beard and I’m 6ft 2″. I’m English.

I think it’s only fair that I give a bit of info about who I am and how I’ve ended up here for when this blog gets huge and all the people are like, “Who is this guy, oh my god, are you serious, he’s super hot.” Ahem…

A few people have been all, “Send me pictures, send me e-mails.” I thought, why not a blog instead. I’ve been talking about doing travel writing for years, but have never made the effort to do it. Well ENOUGH! I’m going to do it, I’m going to f£$%&ing do it alright! I will be saying what I think and what I have and will experience in the big bad world.

So, here we go. Just the big facts – I was born in Truro, Cornwall. Moved to Stroud, Gloucestershire when I was three. Had my first ever kiss with a girl at 5 I think, she was nice, an older woman (the year above me) but ultimately we wanted different things. She was into My Little pony a lot, and I’d always been more of a Thomas the Tank Engine kind of guy.

We lived in Stroud until I was 11 and then we moved back to Truro Cornwall until I was 13… At 13 we moved to Bath. This is where I spent my teenage years and part of my early 20’s. Bath is a nice place to grow up, big enough to be fun, not so big that you can’t walk from one place to another.

Moved to Oz for 6 months aged 21. Moved back to Bath and got a job as a waiter. At the end of the summer I went to university in Newcastle. Newcastle was good. I got liver damage. Whoop, whoop!  Whilst I was at uni, aside from studying and drinking too much I traveled around Egypt in my first summer, I lived in Porto, Portugal for 3 months during the second year, I went to China twice and I inter-railed around Europe. I got a good bit of traveling done, and I’ll write about my adventures in those places in another post.

So, uni’s done. I’m back in Bath working for Pizza Express, I got offered the job as Assistant manager in my restaurant which I took.

So I found another job in York, working for Jamies Italian as a departmental manager.

I left York and I have moved to Japan.

Stay tuned for Tales From Egypt, The Great Wall of China – is that all?, and Why you shouldn’t except shots from strangers in Barcelona. Don’t worry, the best is yet to come.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine