Monthly Archives: March 2020















I first met Mr K around twenty years ago. As one of the most experienced and knowledgeable English teachers in the school, he could explain the finer grammar points to me better than I understood them myself, and he was valued by the company for his ability to instill this impractical but necessary English in students for the higher level entrance exams. Suspicious of me at first, his narrow, deep set eyes watching me closely in his snide, if humorously and appealingly hippopotamus-like face as I walked into the room, with his faltering, heavily-accented English that he was obviously quite self-conscious of, he hesitated to address me directly, but gradually let down his guard and began to take to me –  and me to him. I found him amusing. We had a similarly absurdist sense of humour, a general skepticism, a playful mockery and politically left of centre tendencies (he had supposedly been a ‘revolutionary communist’ at his university, when longhaired and speaking Chinese and womanizing). He had a wild side I could correspond with,  even if I hardly agreed with his general philosophy of life. With his louche and sexist ways – constantly disparaging his wife and ex-wife in mean fashion – he was almost disgustingly libidinous, always reducing women to their basic physical elements and appraising their value as such: after work he would usually drink sake in Fujisawa late at night at the ‘hostess’ or the many Thai ‘nyu-haafu’ (transsexual ) bars until he passed out, sometimes coming in to work the next day dishevelled and reeking of alcohol as though he had slept under a hedge. I would give him mints and tell him to go and smarten himself up. In many ways, he was a disgrace. His views often offended me, but he also amused me : at least here was somebody with character and obvious defects he didn’t try to hide. He wasn’t always trying to appear ‘perfect’. I found it refreshing. At least at first.

Despite his dissolute lifestyle, Mr K in other ways was as rigidly conservative as they come, very much of the old school way of thinking – still very prevalent – that the university you go to completely defines you as a human being, meaning that with my Cambridge credentials I was automatically elevated to ‘acceptable person’ status. Graduating from the ivory towers was all he needed to know. I was bona fide, based on my certificate: my academic ‘prestige’. Little else really counted for him.This man fully believed, deep down in his soul, that ‘intelligence’ could be measured solely by how a person performs in the hopelessly archaic Japanese high school and university entrance exams; that your fundamental worth comes from the establishment that you eventually, after years of studying hard at schools and cramming at night schools, manage to enter. It was all hierarchy, ranking, name. It irked me. And was nonsense. A student, say, who to me was obviously very talented, even possibly a genius at several subjects would be immediately discounted as competely ‘stupid’ if they couldn’t do mathematics or science (so that obviously includes me as well then ), or if they were more logically minded  – a future Nobel scientist – but  couldn’t grasp the nuances and ambiguity of written Japanese (‘baka’ : :  he is stupid). No. Only a blinking automaton who acquiesced in a servile manner: humble, committed to rote learning and using their ‘intelligence’ consistently across the board in order to answer, passively, all the multiple choice questions that will never really help them in real life; who bowed respectfully when he walked in, managed to stifle their yawns in his notoriously static and mind-numbing evening classes (I saw this on many occasion with my own eyes when I passed by his classroom)  – only they would be accepted as being, in the severe restrictedness of his view, remotely ‘intelligent’. And intelligence, and academic prowess, were all that mattered.

Mr K had gone to the elite Tokyo Institute Of Foreign Languages, where he had specialized in English and Mandarin in the 1970s. Coming from Kagoshima Prefecture on the lusher, slower island of Kyūshū, this was his one claim to greatness; the one fact his porcelain pride could cling to  – seemingly, even the very pillar of his identity – he was always talking about it, though he had left that linguistic institution more than thirty years before. Despite his occasionally amusing anecdotes and observations in the teachers’ room, to me it made him an objectionable academic snob. Ranking people in direction proportion to their university degrees. The lower, the more inferior. But worse, I later came to realize that he was also an inveterate bully. And it was this, as I gradually witnessed him viciously verbally abusing at least three of my Japanese colleagues first hand  – two of whom developed very serious psychosomatic illnesses as a direct result of his nastiness, with all the standard consequent psychological repercussions – that made me quickly realize that I was teaching in quite a toxic environment. And later, it would happen also to me. At his hands. I had always thought of myself as much stronger – immune, if you like – but I came to see and experience personally just how badly bullying does affect people. And it was this side of Mr K that then dominated in my view of him, despite his better attributes – I know that he was proud of, and loved his children very much – and why I was glad, in the end, to see him gone. Even not, ideally, in those particular, sorry circumstances.

While Mr K continued to quietly, if openly, bully a sweet, if somewhat docile  – and in truth, occasionally incompetent –  English teacher I sat next to and got on perfectly well with, on the whole, this harmless married man in his thirties was able to take – just – his ‘superior’s’ incessant, critical verbal tirades about his lack of ability or lack of intelligence –  until the time he finally started developing quite crippling stomach pains – probably ulcers, or polyps- from all the stress, and which in the end kept him from work for quite a while (highly unusual in Japan  – people do not take days off from work here unless they are virtually dying). I really felt for him, and tried to be nice. Chatting to him and making small talk in order to encourage him. And when alone with Mr K, I told him directly that he should stop being so obnoxious, criticizing him openly when he wouldn’t let up, and the poor man sitting next to me seemed nervous and pale.

I wasn’t to know, however, that he was just warming up. Saving his most hateful and hot-blooded vitriol for a lovely young teacher who became a good friend of mine and his eventual suffering victim and who I shall for the rest of this chapter call Yuina. As far as I was concerned, this new, petite, smiling and girlish colleague that I found sitting next to me one spring and whose marriage I would one day go to:  her parents came up to me in order to thank me personally for looking after her during this terrible time in her life – was a quick-silver intelligent, self-deprecating person, immediately loved by all the students, very genuine, if vulnerable, and someone I instantly clicked with. At the beginning, she was always smiling. Someone who enjoyed a lot of things and laughed a lot, while simultaneously being aware. And although she claimed not to be able to speak English despite having lived in America for a while as a child, she understood everything that I was saying, with all the nuances (which Mr K never had a chance in hell of doing, and I think it was that which made him jealous). A Disney lover – something I can’t relate to personally, she was also a bass guitarist in an all girl pop punk rock group who she loved performing with;she appreciated the darker side of life too alongside her enjoyment of happy endings: horror movies, thrillers..we had what I call the ‘ether’: banter about nonsense that made me laugh unselfconsciously and quickly – not all the forced humour of the teachers’ room where everyone is basically permanently on edge and performing -just random silliness: she would say things in Japanese, and I would reply in English and vice versa, which was an odd state of affairs but we always knew exactly what the other was talking about. I was so happy to finally have someone beside me I could actually feel at home with.

Was this why the mean-spirited man opposite us, vituperously stewing in his own juices and pride every day, decided to then pick on her so ferociously? Because with Yuina he became a monster. Yes, when teaching the students and joshing in the hallways, messing with kids’ hair and teasing them harmlessly, he seemed just like a jovial big bear. But with my friend, riled with incomprehensible rage he seemed to desire nothing less than the destruction of her spirit. To ‘tame’ her. ‘Bring her round’. Nail her. He truly seemed to hate her, and used his position of power and advancement to say to her whatever he wanted, unpunished. He was never reprimanded. At least not in front of me. And I simply couldn’t understand it. She hadn’t done anything. Except, perhaps, just be her sunny self. And, of course, to not have graduated from the blessed Institute Of Foreign Languages (but she had been to Keio – equally respected, if you really care about such things……. I just found the whole thing utterly ridiculous) One factor I think that led to her being subjugated to his vicious whims on a daily basis was that she was what is known as a kikokushijo, or ‘returnee’, having lived abroad for a while because of her father’s work and therefore, in some people’s eyes, not ‘pure Japanese’. This is a common problem for people coming home: although it is possible that envy – in being able to speak real English, for a start, which the current Japanese education system simply does not allow people to do – plays a part, it is also the issue of differing temperament and behaviour. Although ethnically identical to their friends at school, a few years out of the straitjacket can do wonders for a person’s perspective on the world – not to mention having the experience of that strange and exotic, unimaginable concept called free time. Students here simply can’t believe that in Europe and in fact most of the world, a six to eight week summer holiday, or even longer in places like Italy, where you are pretty much free to do whatever you want, is essentially the norm. And the students I teach who have experienced this uniformly love it.

They get used to it. The body language changes. It loosens. There is more eye contact, a slovenly effect, I suppose, sometimes a sense of being a bit too comfortable in one’s own skin, that comes across to some as iikagen or bad-mannered; immodest, lazy at any rate – not a person who has done the full conveyor belt J-citizen factory from kindergarten through to graduating from university. To many, the returning students are simply not ‘real’ Japanese anymore, and they therefore often face a peculiar kind of discrimination. Perhaps this is what I liked about her, I don’t know. Not being able to transform myself into the kind of foreigner who willingly absorbs Japaneseness to the point of no return, I myself was also like a hybrid in many ways, and so was she: to me Yuina was just a unrestrained: she dared to be ebullient. But Mr K detested this. To him she was some kind of abomination.

From the moment she entered the teachers’ room, even though, or perhaps because she had been a former student at the school, taught by Mr K – how dare she now be his equal in the staff room! – he was finding fault with her, almost leering in his constant pinpointing of what was wrong with her – that she wasn’t ‘polite’ enough, that she wasn’t ‘feminine’ enough, that she was insolent, indolent, spent too much time talking to me, that she didn’t know anything about English or English grammar, that she was a useless teacher, and he would frequently reduce her to tears. In the staff room.  I would do all that I could to intervene, when I was working with her at the same time, though I knew that whenever I wasn’t it was even worse, that he really laid into her, got really deep and wouldn’t let up. And as a new teacher, an underling, she had no right to answer back. Particuarly not to an older, experienced, ‘veteran’ teacher. I noticed that she was getting more and more run-down. Red-eyed. Coming down all the time with colds and coughs with a permanent, slightly too high temperature. Wearing surgical masks to cover her face and protect herself from some of the criticism. She didn’t look well at all, and started to speak much less to me, keep herself to herself. Sit quietly. I think the incremental bullying accrued in her bloodstream; accumulated, little by little knocking down her immune system and self-esteem;  along with the stomach pain that the two other male colleagues I had sat next to suffered – one was visibly becoming more and more disheartened and depressed as the weeks went by; he apparently had the ‘sin of arrogance’ (admittedly, he wasn’t subservient, and had an ego, his own ideas about things, and was quite ‘K.Y’ – literally kuki yomenai – someone who can’t ‘read the air’ ie clueless) but he wasn’t a bad sort by any means either and certainly didn’t merit such horrible treatment – for just existing. Yuina, though, the object of K’s deep misogynist fury – was obviously in a class of her own.

One day, when I was sitting next to her one afternoon, she suddenly couldn’t see. ‘I can’t see anything’ she said to me quietly. She was staring forward, eyes open. ‘I can’t see’. Clearly very distressed, as was I, but trying not to draw attention to herself, she was closing her eyes, then opening them – but she wasn’t able to focus. She sat still in her seat, trying to compose herself, willing this away. I didn’t know what to do; couldn’t quite believe what was happening. She couldn’t see? It seemed that the stress of all the bullying had made her temporarily actually go blind. Not just a migraine – which the other bullied teachers were also sometimes getting – but so many flashes of white in her irises that she simply wasn’t able to see. And she was in a panic – and I for her (blindness is my greatest fear) : and I could hardly believe what was happening; and he just sat there, blank-faced, almost enjoying it as another human being was going through such tremendous suffering, inflicted by him, as she was led out eventually and, once the initial crisis had subsided and her eyesight was working a little again, allowed to go home. I had no words.

Except I did, a little later, when we had one of the few social events that I was somehow required to go to  – a goodbye party in an izakaya organized by our jovial, good-hearted manager Mr Takamine (a well meaning individual, overall, but why didn’t he step in more to intervene in this situation? Such vile and demeaning treatment by one of his teachers? Did he also think that she needed to be ‘taught a lesson or two’ or ‘go through the ropes’? (was this some form of psychological hazing?) I was sat in a corner opposite Mr K and next to Yuina who, despite the food she was picking at and the alcohol she was being coerced to drink  – even though she reacted badly to it – and the supposedly upbeat and  ‘celebratory’ atmosphere was, once again, unsurprisingly, being bullied (but at a party?)  And this time it was like a soliloquy.  A rant by him;  a monologue against her. Yuina weeping silently, head down, as the puffed up, unthinking ‘linguist’ continuously hounded her with insults and rudeness until finally, my blood boiling I could take it no more: smashing my fists on the table to the gasps and stares of other onlookers in the restaurant, standing up and shouting into his face with multiple middle fingers and fuck yous I erupted into a blind rage that totally shocked everyone there and I instructed him to stop this immediately, shouting at my manager for not doing anything either as she cowered into her corner probably wishing she could disappear but I couldn’t stop ( I should have done this decisively, and earlier).  I told him how cruel he was, that I wouldn’t stand for it any longer, that he was hurting her, in a mix of English and Japanese, imperfect, but there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever for anyone there about how I felt. I stormed out in a cyclone of mayhem and  with a feeling of despair that verged on suicidal. An inchoate sadness at the inherent injustice of the situation. A person in power taking advantage of someone in a weaker position and just intentionally ripping her apart. Day after day. His behaviour offended me to the depths of my being in its unfairness, its pointlessness, and sheer cruelty.

Which is, of course, the essence of bullying, a problem that lies at the heart of Japan – and of virtually every other culture, no one is immune –  but particularly here, and a problem that can no longer be ignored. A recent government report indicates that cases of bullying, both physical intimidation and verbal abuse, have escalated over the last few years, particularly in elementary and junior high schools (with maturity, it seems the problem is less endemic once kids actually start to develop more empathy as their brains develop), but as in any culture where blind conformity is expected, fissures of stress will inevitably break open, and those that are weak, independent or different in any way will always bear the brunt. Deru kugi wa utareru  – ‘the nail that sticks out must be hammered down’ is a famous expression in Japan, a proverb that speaks for itself. I have had students who have been bullied at their schools (not our evening classes – I have an absolute zero tolerance policy towards anything even approaching bullying), and who come to juku depressed, sullen, unresponsive. The bullying can range from the familiar victimization of anyone physically different, to those with ‘quirky’ personalities, to even just the stress of being in a ‘group’ of friends at school where you are expected to do what your friends do without question. Girls, especially, seem bound to belong to a trio or quartet of some peers from their class or their club activity, with a designated ‘leader’ who makes all the main decisions for which their tacit acquiescence is required; they do everything together; decide everything together, and while much of the time this can undoubtedly lead to fluttering hearts and passionate pubescent mutual confidences, and in the best cases, true friendships for a lifetime, it can also lead to huge frustration and a stultifying loss of liberation and personal identity. One girl I taught, a student who had been abroad and was basically friends with everyone in her class there, was horrified to find that she was silently expected to join one of these cutesy ‘cliques’ made up entirely of girls of her own age when she really didn’t want to. A naturally fun and effusive girl, it was very alarming to me to see her getting more and more sad and listless each time she came to my class, weighed down with the burden of intricate social minutiae she wasn’t remotely interested in to begin with, all the unspoken social ‘rules’; that she was supposed to intimate her friends’ deeper feelings through intuition, rather than having them stated far more openly, which she said that she was used to (an intrinsic cultural gulf, that exists deep down in the essential supposed differences between Japanese and western cultures made small in the confines of a provincial school classroom). But it was all just a hassle to her. And she knew it couldn’t continue (whenever students tell me ‘I hate my friends’, I always explain the inherent contradiction).

One day she had had enough. That evening she came in cheerful and beaming. I asked, as I always did, about the subtle bullying she had received at the hands of the ‘leader’ and her handmaidens in the playground. ‘I am no longer a member of the group’, she told me. ‘How did that happen?’ I inquired. ’I wrote her a letter today. I told her that I didn’t like any of them, and that I was leaving’ she told me – ‘I have left them’ : an act of great bravery in the context I thought. And that was that.

Others are not quite so lucky. One student of mine was repeatedly viciously bullied, both physically and verbally, on a daily basis, by a group of boys who harangued him relentlessly to the point where he actually barricaded himself in his bedroom for a while and refused to go to school for a few weeks. His mother was in contact with me, pleading with me to give her ideas on how to help him: one particularly heartless student at his school, one day forced him down onto the floor and deliberately stood on his leg, pressing down with all his weight until his femur cracked, and act of physical and emotional violence that agonizingly painful and traumatizing to him. No wonder he felt he had to cocoon himself away. His crime was twofold : again, he had been in America, like many of my students, and had just not been able to get used to the overseriousness of Japanese school life, and again, he was a little ‘K.Y’ – maladjusted to his life in Japan, and I supoose also quite immature emotionally, often acting out in class and taking it out on me on a Friday night – I have often been used as an emotional punching bag by students, absorbing their angst, while trying to getting them into a decent high school to kickstart their futures so they can go to a university and then escape all of this, but it can take years for them to process and heal from the trauma of bullying. The effects of it can resonate for a lifetime.

With my naturally strong personality and waywardness, I had always personally thought of myself as ‘unbulliable’; having emerged from an education in England largely unscathed. My first school, in the Black Country area of the Midlands, was decidedly rougher than my second, in the much more financially comfortable area I grew up in, and I was, admittedly, sometimes pushed about a bit in the playground. There was an atmosphere in that place that felt threatening. And as a four year old, I had been wide eyed and astonished (and so bitterly crestfallen) when some tougher kids deliberately, after I had gone into the woods and picked them in sweet fairytale ignorance, knocked the Snow White-like red and white magic toadstools I had lovingly wrapped in crepe paper and brought to school to show my teacher out of my hands and then stamped on them on the floor, for no reason. Just for the hell of it. It was a senselessness I couldn’t fathom or understand at that age and I remember staring at them, bursting into tears. I was occasionally kicked a bit at breaktime, but was protected by a big West Indian girl called Sylvia who took me under her wing and physically forced them away from me. Most kids, in any country, experience some kind of teasing or conflict. It is a part of growing up and learning to deal with other people. And I cannot deny either ever having been spiteful to other students or teasing people heartlessly: I think insecurity and pressure causes people to behave that way: being a child is not easy, and I wasn’t an innocent angel either. I could be mean to certain kids I didn’t like as I had a big mouth on me: words at my disposal. At comprehensive school, there was the odd incident in my teens when I had been badmouthing and gossipping about some of the more badly behaved boys in my year who were sleeping with girls and I suppose I got my just deserts – being pushed over in the playground or even forced into a physical fight, but these were rare incidents. On the whole, my time at school was fun and enjoyable – and I thrived on it. I don’t think I could ever truly claim in all honesty, to have really bullied when I was growing up.

The first time I was, it was in Japan. By Mr K. And as a ‘middle-aged’ man (an easy target here, actually, where anyone past the prime blushes of young manhood, with the unforgiveable sins of ageing, or a receding hairline  – god help you if you should go bald! – or have weight gain, the all telling expanding waistline, the prime symptoms of being an ‘oji-san’ – literally ‘uncle’, but more generally a friendly pejorative for a ‘man that is past it’). Even though he was about fifteen years older than me, very overweight and no handsome young prince himself, to put it mildly, I suppose with a bully, it is easy for these people to find the Achilles Heel, the obvious chink in your armour; hone in to your vulnerabilities, and then exploit them to their advantage. My appeance was mine. ‘You look good in photographs but terrible in real life’. ‘How fat you are!’ ‘How much you have aged!’ etc etc, he would say, as though these were acceptable things to say to a colleague in a work situation. I laughed these comments off, but they always really hurt. I am very sensitive, and I suppose narcissistic. But nobody expects the people they work with to say things like this to them out of the blue, during the working day when you are preparing for your lessons. It wrecks your mood. It is very wounding.

Ageing is what it is. We all come to terms with it in our own way. And most people don’t look the same at 50 as they did at 20. No matter. Despite of the fact that the teachers’ room didn’t exactly look like a modelling agency, any change in size or weight or visible wearing of stress on a person’s face was often remarked upon, out loud, in front of other staff, on a fairly regular basis. Part of this can be attributed to one part of Japanese culture in which it is acceptable for men to make jokes about each other’s appearance; family members also joke around about such things perhaps more than we would do in England, for example. And I was aware of this. But this was somehow different. Even after I developed severe leg pain because of a hereditary, arthritic loss of cartilage in both knees with the resulting loss of mobility, he would taunt, out of the blue, when I came back from lunch: ‘Wow. Mr Chapman was so handsome when he joined this school. And look at him now’ – to the embarrassment of the other, far more decent teachers- they knew that this was unacceptable and contained nothing but ill intent. I laughed, or protested weakly, but had been disarmed and weakend. I learned what bullying can do to people for the first time, first hand. You become more generally prone to anxiety, more worried, more depressed; you get a lurch in your stomach even thinking about going in to work – it can have a significant impact on your quality of life. I got so wound up and upset at the thought of being mocked in front of other teachers that I eventually started writing up a very carefully worded legal document threatening him with action if he continued in this manner: that if he didn’t stop I was going to take this seriously, take it up with the senior administrative staff and get him removed; at the very least, reprimanded. In the end, it wasn’t necessary.

Coming back to school after a six month rehabilitation for knee surgery, having had to learn to walk again from scratch – a long and arduous process that involved a lot of pain and effort –  one of the things I was most dreading about returning to my desk was having K’s mean, beady eyes fixed on my sorry frame as I hobbled back into the room and making new and merciless jibes at my expense. I was dreading it. And wasn’t sure if I could take it.

As it happened, though, when I entered the room and saw his empty desk, asked where he was, I was told that he had in fact recently had a severely damaging stroke. This had incapacitated him completely, and he had not only had to learn to walk again like me, but also talk. No more mean words. Ironically, while I had been learning to walk again, so had he. In his case, though, it had also affected his brain and he was now a shattered man. Although the school tried to allow him back eventually, to teach some lessons, he was so slow, thin, weak, shuffling along with his walking stick that it was obvious he would never be able to work there again. His long-suffering wife was now looking after him, at home, where he just sat and watched TV. When I heard he was coming into the school one day to say goodbye, I felt a tightening in my chest; a darkness, but when I saw him, I could not gloat. He looked pathetic. I couldn’t help but somehow feel sorry for him, as a human being. We had shared some laughs. His life was over. At the same time, as I got stronger, and back into the work routine, I can’t exactly say I mourned his absence.

Bullying is an extremely seriously problem in Japan, leading to a great deal of stress, mental illness, and often suicide. It prevails in all parts of society, and in a variety of different ways. It can be the straightforward malice of the classroom, the ‘power harassment’ of the workplace, the ganging up on mothers in ‘mama-san’ groups of parents (a good friend of mine was forced into expensive psychotherapy, her dread of the other mothers’ censure and malicious conformism growing to such an extent that she could barely function normally); it can be the ‘playful’ bullying of bosses forcing their underlings to drink alcohol even when they are allergic to it, to down shōchū and beer at after work parties, or university students feeling obliged to drink very dangerous quantities of spirits at binge-drinking gatherings, where they are egged on to go further under social duress, even to a perilous degree. Year after year there are reports of deaths from the highest level universities about students, unaccustomed, succumbing to extreme alcohol poisoning, under the canopies of campus cherry trees.

The key to beating this scourge is, I believe, education. The society is changing, often in very good ways, and I encourage my students to be themselves as much as possible, to think outside the group where necessary (to discourage group dynamics completely would be akin to dismissing the essence of Japanese culture, which derives many positive aspects from being group-oriented – see the response to the Great Tohoku earthquake of 2011 as one example, and there are many). To try to instill self-confidence in one’s own peculiarities and uniqueness; to respect differences, and to refuse or denigrate any form of coercion or bullying in the first place. To stand up to it.Although the sheer toll of ijime on the thousands of souls of Japanese people by Japanese people is incomprehensible (in 2018, the number of reported cases of severe bullying in elementary schools was 317, 121 – and that was just those that came to light), concurrently there does now seem to be more awareness of the seriousness of the problem,  both at the individual and societal, even governmental level – there are posters featuring famous athletes and other celebrities on my local bus with appeals to stop bullying, campaigns in schools, all of which raises the hope of letting some light in (Yuina eventually moved to another school, teaching younger kids where she nows seems bright as a bean) :  illuminating, and hopefully destroying, the darkness of all this wasteful, devastating, and totally unnecessary misery.




Filed under Flowers










My scent of the days is 4160 Tuesday’s Rhubarb & Custard.

It smells like…………rhubarb and custard. But not only the classic British pudding, which I love and sometimes viscerally miss – especially rhubarb crumble and custard, a classic ending to a Sunday dinner when you are so full you just want to collapse onto the sofa and listen to the birds sing from the garden,

















but also, and for me just as delicious (this morning, after randomly reaching out for this perfume from my futon, I found myself badly craving confectionery – there has just been far too much healthy home made cooking going on recently)     the boiled sweets you get in a crumpled white paper bag filled with sugar coated hard boiled loveliness that were always my favourite when you got them after school at the sweet shop in the newsagents at Dovehouse Lane.

















Oh my god I used to love these. Lemon bonbons too. And I quite liked Kola Kubes, even if there was something rather odd about them (that I kept coming back to). Chocolate limes somehow repelled me, the way the clashing liquid chocolate interior melted into the crunchiness of the coloured citrus in a way that I knew wasn’t right, and dad was always all alone with his blackcurrant liquorice, barley sugars, and striped humbugs, which only he liked.




I loved the tartness and milkiness of Rhubarb and Custards. The contrast between the acidic fruit taste (my grandmother Ivy always bought me hard boiled sour cherry sweets as well which I loved equally : I would eat a whole packet in one go until the roof of my red mouth actually hurt)  – and the vanilla custard flavouring, packed around it dusted with smashed tiny icicles of confectioner’s sugar.






One spray of Sarah McCartney’s tender childhood gourmand brought all of this rushing back this morning. This very likeable and easygoing scent convincingly captures both the dessert, with real fruit, and the sweets, though as the composition tilts into a simple warm vanilla, the acerbic tang of the rhubarb gradually fades (if never completely), leaving you with a sweet, nuzzly array. Today I find all this enormously comforting.






It is strange when you think back to those times when your world was so much smaller. And yet looming equally huge. A small being, growing up, with terrors and excitements, the immensity of sensation and uncovered feelings; the delights of simple pleasures; the fastening on to what you knew you definitely liked; the things that defined you.





And things like a bag of sweets – in America you would say candy I think – were so exciting.  You would daydream at the back of the classroom just thinking about the moment the bell would go and you could get out of school; take the 893 bus, your goal only your Rhubarb & Custard, or the Double Decker or Milky Way or Refreshers chews (my goodness I loved those as well; chewy fizzly things with a great dollop of sherbet in the centre that made your mouth pop – I would arrive home alive and effervescent dying to watch TV and put off my homework as long as humanly possible). I would walk down Dovehouse Lane, linger, past Gwen’s house if we were walking home together; sometimes dawdle via Helen’s down Bourton Road, and then after a while after a mug of tea at hers go round the corner and down the road past Owen’s,  then Julianne’s, then turn round the corner again and eventually get home to number 51:  all with the pleasantly tired afterfeeling from school and the lingering sugar taste of whatever confectionery I had just been eating and savouring immensely (as though, at that moment, your world was nothing more than the ever disappearing sweets at the bottom of the paper bag; sugared sheddings adorning the inside as you pudged down your finger to access the sorry last one; eat every crystal.)…… It is amazing for me to remember all these memories again, today; as adults we eat and enjoy so  many things ( I can still go into a slightly religious trance eating chocolate), but it is not quite the same – that time  when your entire world was perfectly concentrated in one, adrenalizing, single sugar rush.










D reminded me also this morning of this, which I had somehow forgotten in the brainless sands of time. Roobarb & Custard was also the name of a TV programme, a cartoon that was shown five minutes every night just before the news.







Watching the intro music just now














just plunged me down a rabbit hole of deep remembrance, the zoingy moog squelch of the buzzsawing main theme: wow: I can see myself as a five year old – or was it older?  – sat goggle eyed in front of the screen on the carpet in front of the fireplace when it was on, ravenous for dinner; the travails of a green dog and a pink cat, and a narrator posher than I remember –  the name of the cartoon obviously referencing the old fashioned traditional dessert that some people dreaded having to eat after their main meal on Sunday but which I basically  loved (my mum grew a lot of rhubarb down the garden as a lot of people do, along with runner beans and sweet peas : how I loved those flowers’ delicate, refined scent);  and the smell of the gorgeously sour magenta and green stems bubbling up with sugar as they were boiled in a saucepan, filling up the whole house, is a memory I have very vividly but also want to experience in person again this summer.  I love rhubarb – as does D  – and it is something that you can only buy on import here in Japan as a gourmet item in louche supermarkets; tiny stalks wrapped up  in cellophane for petite experiments with foreign ingredients in expensive restaurants (although some farmers’ markets have started selling it in certain places). Still, it is not a well known fruit  – so it is possible that perfumes like Hermès’ Rhubarbe Ecarlate, a chic approximating of the fruit in a stringent grapefruity atmosphere of Parisian cologne that I think is quite nice might be appreciated for its smell but not ring any particular rhubarbian bells in those Japanese perfumer wearers who may try it. Aedes De Venustas’ austere take on rhubarb similarly has a velveteen, woody deep gravitas that I also quite like but it does not quite fit my personal, more down to earth associations with the fruit. Comme Des Garçons Sherbet Rhubarb is much better in that regard – I like its upbeatness. On a whim I recently, in Italy, bought L’Erbolario’s Rabarbaro for Duncan : a rhubarb-centred fresh summer cologne that smells like a more purpled and fruit tinged Kenzo Pour Homme, but which will most definitely be best enjoyed when the weather gets much hotter. For today, if we are talking rhubarb (and we most definitely are), then 4160’s Rhubarb and Custard gets the pink and yellow Sports Day rosette.

























Going back to rhubarb and custard  (sorry, I have nothing else to do today),  the fruit ladled in with the English tinned version of crème anglaise  – almost all households that I knew of made their custard from a powdered packet, or else you had cans of Ambrosia, which I loved and would sometimes steal a can of and eat cold with a spoon from the direct source upstairs in my bedroom; also their delectable cold rice pudding: heaven!  —— musing on this hot, regular pudding this morning it also brought back memories of personal domestic irritations and niggling bȇtes noires. We all have them: I read yesterday that since the quarantine has been lifted in Hubei province and other places, the law courts have been flooded with files for divorce from couples finding that they simply couldn’t tolerate living with each other all day in cramped spaces with nothing to do but stare into their computer screens trying to avoid each other and won’t take it a single minute longer ; the suffocation of warm, heated interiors and net curtains peeping outside for other signs of life; the smell of the grill; the annoying little foibles of other people that drive us crazy even when we don’t know why; those that make you grit your teeth or shout out loud to just stop it; family flare ups over pittances that can turn into full scale domestic armageddons.









One of mine was definitely the un-kosher mixing of the rhubarb crumble and custard together. I can’t remember which people in my family, as we sat gathered round, committed this grave tabletime sin – I know I tried it a couple of times myself and then couldn’t eat it; I think others did it voluptuously just to spite me but it made me sick. And still does. In one whirl of the spoon my world is ruined. I like to keep these things separate. To enjoy as mutual complements. I can’t stand it when Duncan stirs his cappuccino too much either – the tinny spoon continuously tapping the side of the cup really puts my teeth on edge, as does any scraping on earthenware or stoneware pots and dishes ( I die internally);  or when he folds foods into each other on the plate (no!!!!: leave the maple syrup where it is, and don’t mix it actually into the porridge, like this morning; I can’t bear it. Please leave the honey actually in the centre of the yoghurt where I placed it à la Grecque (blending it just turns it into cat food).  You spoon the yoghurt and then take on a little bit of honey. Don’t dazzle; dip your headlights. Obviously, I know that it is his right to do whatever the hell he wants to with his breakfast, or dinner, or lunch, but I am just saying  – I know you have similar pet hates, and I am dying to hear them. This can be hilarious:   I remember Helen actively wanted to kill people who ate with their mouths open. Or had long, greasy hair (a loathing I have inherited from her directly and have to keep in check when I come into contact with such people in public on the bus)). We all have things that grate on us when we are all cooped up inside together: asking Duncan if there were any such things that drove him crazy about me this morning he replied with an unhesitating yes: never throwing things away (‘ you’re a hoarder!’); squeezing the toothpaste from the middle  – why do you do it? ; oh my god, not putting the lids or caps back on anything grrrrrrr it’s so annoying ; never putting your clothes away, leaving oils and gungy fragrance crap on lightbulbs, god I hate that; ugh,  stained bedsheets from essential oils you drip all over the place; is it really necessary to have so many pots of rooibos tea crowded round the bed? I know he also detests all my perfumed experiments, the scented sticks stuck in random places, the goo, the mess;  the vaseline; the very worst being once when I stupidly heated a vat of frankincense crystals up in the oven in our old house, turning the smell environment into a vast, catholic mass –  that I loved – it smelled amazing –  the problem being that every future dish from that oven then tasted of charred olibanum; bread and butter pudding a la frankincense; frankincensed chicken; (I learned my lesson with that one); me aside, he also can’t stand it when old Japanese men pick their teeth grossly with toothpicks or make strange gurgling noises with their throats (or spit out snot into the street or even on moving escalators ); I can’t stand it when office ladies here won’t drink directly from their own plastic water bottles, but tip it – slowly, slowly, daintily, up gradually towards their mouths until a polite little drop tips gently onto their tongue: at that moment I always feel like rushing towards them with a hose pipe and hydrating them forcefully, but of course I know that it is precisely up to them. I know that. 










Duncan told me also surprisingly that his mum Daphne can’t stand the toilet seat being left up; it must be closed (you could have told me! All these years, Daphne………….I am sorry and will never do it again). His dad shares my deep, deep hatred of tea and coffee that isn’t hot enough ( Duncan, this morning’s tea was really substandard. I was so miserable drinking that tepid crap, in which you hadn’t left the tea bag in long enough, and put too much milk in to boot – you know you are supposed to heat the entire tea cup with boiling water beforehand; I was miserable as I sipped at the failed Earl Grey just after I had woken up); both Rod and I, and my mum too, must have our coffee piping hot or it makes us heave  (my sister Deborah, conversely, really, really hates it, and flies through the roof if any scalding drink comes near her cat-like tongue); my brother Greg and I when children used to challenge each other to make the perfect marmalade sandwich, in which a Mother’s Pride white loaf would be commandeered to create the idealised proportions of butter and bitter orange marmalade, spread to the edges and cut just so; (oh my god, I have just remembered  – the rage of butter when it has been refrigerated too much and cuts holes in the bread in the morning and you immediately lose the will to live; No No No keep it at room temperature in a nice white ceramic dish, please – – – –  I beseech you.








The list could surely go on and on. We all have our foibles and pet hates and things that truly irritate the hell out of us at times  – when we have the luxury to do so. It can’t be helped. We are only human. Last night, on the brilliant recommendation of Michael, we watched an amazing, very beautiful documentary called The Joneses, about a family of what I suppose you might call misfits, in a trailer house in Jackson, Mississippi, a close – if quite argumentative – family with a lot of problems, illnesses physical and mental, serious financial issues and even big challenges in terms of identity and hidden secrets: there were some really crippling scenes, and the levels of emotional honesty and the dignity they consistently upheld were heartrending, yet very uplifting. We finished it, together on the bed with the cat, feeling purified, tranquil, and grateful. It brought home what is important. People we cherish. Being stuck at home, bored out of our brains, on Saturday and Sunday rainy afternoons as kids. Tedious, tedious, football matches playing on Match Of The Day. The exhortations upstairs to bring down your cups and to tidy your room.  And then the wondrous, delicious, smell of the Sunday roast downstairs……….  wafting into the living room from the kitchen.








Filed under Flowers













The weather is a psycho. It has been sunny, even humid; people picnicking in the parks. We woke up this morning thinking there might be burglars downstairs or a poltergeist, but were too tired and snug under our duvets to be bothered to go downstairs and check (the cat kept restlessly going in and out across the balcony during the night in the cold rain keeping us from getting a proper night’s sleep, and we were completely out of it in the a.m). When I opened the shutters this morning I gasped out loud: there had been a bout of heavy snowfall , dropping from the roof in great clods, and the roofs of the houses next door and all along the street. Soft thuds. This strange happening apparently only last occurred over two hundred years ago during cherry blossom season: yesterday, in the bruising winds it was raining sakura petals; the temperature dropping clearly as we cycled along an avenue of cherry trees, the sky darkening, the flowers pattering down being blown by brooding gusts. Our friends will be getting married in falling snowflakes today, in a silent plague of epidemic: but I know the strictly monochrome theme will making perfect, shivering photos of the black and white attendees (I was just about to write ‘huddling’)      –    standing six feet apart from each other in the snow.







Yesterday, with all the gloom I found myself yearning for something solar and brain tight; nothing too drowsy or doleful or earthy – a perfume with no strings attached, and the beauty that is the extrait de parfum of Romeo by Romeo Gigli, was the perfect accompaniment for the evening on the back of my hand. I have two or three bottles of this: a 30ml parfum and two 5ml miniatures that I was lucky to once find in a Fujisawa antique shop: it is a perfume I use only for such occasions. This really is true sunniness though :  orange blossom and neroli are always fundamentally happiness-inducing main ingredients in perfumery, and yet much as I love them, fragrances featuring these flowers as their main theme are often very flush and bucolic; blowsy; rasping: all nuptials in Normandy, fresh air and white dresses: the pleasures of spring, indolic orange buds on new sheets and mattresses : joyous.








Romeo Di Romeo Gigli, particularly in the extract, which is the version I would definitely recommend of this extremely crisp and glinting perfume, is also centred on neroli and orange blossom but tautens the whole beautifully with a very galvanising and wind shorn orchestration of fresh top notes that clasp the orange flowers tightly in an almost fluorescent white room of eighties and nineties urban chic: to me I am always reminded me of glass tables and ginger lilies next to a leather sofa in a room of Robert Mapplethorpe.















































Vivid, fresh green top notes of lime, basil, marigold, various citruses, and, unusually, the sulphuric Indian herb asafoetida alongside a hint of mango bind and pressurize the neroli top note into a shining realness that can stop me in my tracks; a lure of other flowers (freesia, jasmine, lily of the valley, possibly tuberose) keeps the bouquet buoyant and lively. The whole is vaguely redolent in some ways of some of the other florals from the era such as Cabotine, Red Door, Tendre Poison, et al, but is beyond, more timeless:   (Tora, if you are reading this, I assumed you wore this back in the day or still do now – if not it would be a perfect addition to your orange blossom collection, worn discreetly with a white Gianfranco Ferre tailored shirt);  the end notes of benzoin, orris root, incense and a discreet sandalwood serving as a gentle denouement.










The perfume’s tagline in the original advertisements for the initial release was ‘a perfume that reminds you of a woman that reminds you of a perfume’ – an intriguing idea, and one that I think makes sense in the context of how the fragrances smells. There is an abstraction to this scent that makes it difficult to immediately decode: this is not the flowers in your garden, but neither is it artificial. More, it is the kind of perfume you can walk into an empty room, make your presence felt,  and leave an artful trace.






















































Filed under Flowers




Bayou Swamp Scene with Spanish MossECB4959SpanishMoss




Not wanting to cancel our appointments at a hair salon down the hill yesterday despite deciding to no longer attend the wedding tomorrow afternoon, D went in first:  I followed him an hour later. I have never been one to enjoy having my hair cut – to put it mildly – and have been sticking to the same old barber in Ofuna for a good few years, intermittently, when I don’t just snip at my barnet myself (I often just can’t be bothered with all the hassle of the experience; the having to make conversation, avert your eyes, watch yourself get transformed – often not in quite the way you imagined – and walk out feeling like a different person). Which I get is the whole point for many people – when it goes right, a new haircut can be quite refreshing, like sprucing up a hedge in the garden, or dusting your shelves, or a good-fitting new winter coat.



Yesterday’s experience was one of the better ones. We had never been to that particular place before : straight down the hill on the bike to the corner that meets the railway tracks, and it was pricier, but they were younger, there was a lot of natural light, and space, and the conversation in my always slightly stilted Japanese flowed fairly smoothly: I suppose having not really socialised with many people outside this household for a while I suddenly found myself in super-extrovert mode, making them laugh the second I went in, playing the buffoonish gaijin……….. the whole process felt effortless (as though I wasn’t even aware that they were cutting my hair…………). I came out of the shop feeling neater, and somewhat renewed – a bit preppier, younger; not that anyone is really going to see me for a while, as we are thinking that from today we might be shutting ourselves in properly just like everybody else.



Neither the hairstylist nor his assistant were wearing masks. And neither were Duncan nor I. You have to question yourself: what does this mean? I know in the UK, hair salons are going out of business – I have a friend who is now unemployed – it seems obvious that this is a perfect opportunity to get infected, with all the personal space being reduced to the intimacy of physical contact and shared oxygen, but, like many people here – despite the semi-mandatory lockdown this weekend, in which no one in Tokyo is supposed to go out of their houses except for the essentials – cue mass supermarket panics like everywhere else – and throngs unable to resist the allure of the opening cherry blossoms – reality has not quite bitten yet. It is still lurking as a possibility. Japan is a genius of deflection: turning a (knowing) blind eye a preternatural state of existence.



And yet this morning I have read that Birmingham Airport, ten minutes by car from my parent’s house, is being converted into a temporary makeshift morgue to store 1,500 bodies in the expected rise in mortal cases. My cousin’s case of coronavirus has come back, and now her husband has got it as well. Another cousin’s close friend actually died of it yesterday.  I am sure we have reached a situation, or will do soon, in which everybody will know somebody who has either come down with the illness or died from it, or at the very least lost their jobs and entered a perilous state of financial security (someone even closer in my family has reached this dreadful situation and is in a very dangerous state psychologically ). D and I even talked, quite matter of factly, of making wills this afternoon just in case. Not that we have any especially exciting assets to speak of (except, bizarrely, for an apartment in Berlin), but, you know,  just in case. I like to be truthful, face facts, and not to unduly beat around the bush (     though I do love to bush around the beat, and was dancing upstairs in the room I am writing this yesterday, vogueing like a fool with D, concurrently just living in the spontaneous moment because I have to and we totally felt like it. Nothing can stop me enjoying life, especially not the shadow of death).       It is quite mindbogglingly awful, though, that the whole world is now in a similar predicament, in fear of no longer existing:  or much worse, that we have entered the rites of plague, without funerals, that a hangar in my hometown is now being turned into a place for corpse storage, that the virus is in the town where my parents live: it is difficult how to know what to do with the worry, where to store it, in which internal organs, out of reach……..



















I am aware of the great importance of being thankful for what you have got. So far, it seems that both of our jobs are safe; that we will still get paid, because education is at the very heart of Japanese priorities, more so than anywhere else I am aware of. For parents, it is everything. Far too much, in my humble opinion. To the detriment of too many other things, like free time and self-exploration, or just the criminally under appreciated importance of simple relaxation ( I thank god that despite the histrionics of my nature, my nervous volatility and piteous lack of impulse control -as a result of which I truly do live in the moment, another thing I am grateful for despite its sometimes dangerous repercussions – I am simultaneously really very good at doing nothing and truly switching off. My family knows that I am the best at this: the slob to end all slobs: I can luxuriate all day; a friend the other day said she just sits on the edge of her sofa and stares at the sky and I think that this is wonderful: some people can never turn off their brains, which is why it is so necessary to be able to focus on other things, such as reading, watching TV series or films, writing, playing the piano, cooking, swimming, having sex, running, walking, talking to others, daydreaming, even – with almost 100% of your concentration. To lose yourself. I always have been good at doing this,I must say,  but I mean that in a good way; particularly in the times we are living in right now : if you can’t escape, mentally, spiritually, from the relentless misery that is in the news then there is the potential to go under, and I don’t want to until I am taking my very last breath on that ventilator, intubated alone (that is, presuming the Japanese authorities even let a foreigner take a place in one of those limited hospital beds, who knows?) Until then, though, I intend to keep surfing on the crest of the ether and the pleasure receptors that are working full tick, in fact better than ever, if I am truthful with you; a curious state of affairs when you think about it, given these grotesquely surreal current circumstances.


















I have a friend who lives in Berlin  – A French/ Indian/ British dancer and performance artist who deals with quite abstract philosophical issues: last time we were in London Duncan in fact took part in one of her ‘collapses’ – a protest against Brexit, staged in front of King’s Cross St Pancras station in which the participants slowly – out of the blue – in broad public, started falling, very slowly, towards the ground, in an eerie and provocative dance piece of solidarity and collaboration. I was one of the spectators, just one of the public sitting in the square, and though the skeptical will find such ‘nonsense’ pretentious posturing and so on, I personally found the ‘disruption’ of normal perception very interesting; cleansing; watching people’s reactions on the street : it was like opening up something pre-existing – I remember a Chinese man coming up to me and striking up a conversation about what the hell I thought was going on: to me it was like slicing through the quotidian grime of people zoned out in their own preoccupied little capsules of apprehension; all of us walking forward lost in our thoughts, trapped in our necessities and agendas, getting through the day.




Writing this I suppose I should be now be saying, how I yearn for those regular times before all this happened, the normality, just the normal clockwork workings of the day, but as I tap these words onto the computer that is not actually the way I am feeling. Does that make me terrible? I don’t know. Dominique, the artist in question, has written extensively, and done performances, about her theory of ‘somatic revolt’, the idea that even when you are consciously aware of the importance of an office job, for example, in which you feel repressed or which feels deeply unnatural to you  – as it does for me, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, like psychosomatic illness, your body will eventually revolt ; against itself, against society, which is why there are so many auto-immune disorders and so much mental illness worldwide: this ruthless system, in truth, just doesn’t work for people  (and don’t think for a minute that I am just a spoilt little bitch who is not aware of ‘the necessity of work’: I come from a regular background,  and as I have written above, people I know are in quite dire situations and I am very worried for them ; I am genuinely grateful to still have a job; we don’t have sufficient savings to sustain us should we become unemployed; I have always worked, and would be fucked if I didn’t have any income coming in) – but at the same time, I dp know that working, at least doing what I am doing, or at least the general environment, is not good for my actual health. Right now I feel 100% human; 100% alive. In some ways, despite the horror, quite amazing. Four weeks ago I was in a situation – which I documented on here – in which the reprehensible decision by my ‘superior’ to make me work and teach students in ludicrous emergency conditions even though the rest of the company and the whole country was on lockdown made me so angry – I would say apoplectic – that I literally exploded myself out of the situation in the purest form of somatic revolt: my body simply could not contain my frustration and fury and I lost it, with the result  that although I have been working in that particular school for almost twenty years, my desk has now been ‘removed’ : I have been summarily ejected, and I will be working in another section from this April, assuming the virus hasn’t spread, and we are still required to go into the school in order to teach our lessons.







While part of me was indignant, and slightly embarrassed, to be honest with you, to have ended my time. my ‘career’ in that stuff, unbreathable and mouldering teachers’ room in such an out of control fashion, a much, much  bigger part of me is truly delighted; I did it! I will be with much more sophisticated colleagues from now who will actually talk to me, and with much more natural light surrounding me (which is absolutely essential to my well being). I am pretty sure that my stress levels will be significantly reduced, so in the end, my uncontrollable instincts were proven right. I don’t deny them, nor disassociate myself from them. Work environments can be extraordinarily stressful; sometimes you don’t even realise yourself how much they are affecting you until you are taken away from that physical space. And I imagine that all around the world right now, though people are dismayed at the prospect of rapidly changing living and work circumstances  – and the prospect of actual death  ( I know several friends back home in the UK who are probably reading this and nodding to themselves ruefully : some literally even wondering how they are going to put food on the table, I am not in any way ignorant of this ) –  at the same time, I have to say that this enforced isolation will probably be making a very large number of people reassess the meaning of their life itself; when forced to slow down, to stay inside, to regroup, and remodel your whole way of living,you are taken away from the ‘hustle and bustle’ of daily life (which I know we all ‘need’ to keep busy, though deep down I say it can go fuck itself) :you are compelled – against your will in many cases – to travel inside. 











The quality of this ‘travelling’ of course, will depend on what kind of apartment or house you are living in. I have friends up in Tokyo who live in tiny shoeboxes: one in particular who is hoping to move soon to London (what timing!) to further her work as a milliner is living, like a great many Tokyoites, in a tiny space; hardly enough to move around and I do worry about what will happen to my friends in these situations if it all actually does come to a fully fledged lockdown. It might be a little bit like being trapped in a prison cell, albeit one decorated with your own furnishings. I am worried that they will feel too penned in, submerged in their own isolation tank. In contrast I am lucky: I happen to live in an old, quite run down house that is nevertheless the perfect, ideal size for me. It is not big: D estimated the other day that it is no more than 80 metres squared, which shocked me ( I would have said at least a hundred, but his spatial awareness is far better than mine is so I will kowtow to his slightly more mathematical brain). I do know though that I often see huge, spacious, palatial houses and apartments in TV shows and films and unlike many, who sigh with aspiration – I must keep working to ‘better myself’; to climb the ladder! To have more! to ‘live the dream’ – I just see cold, empty spaces full of air and windows: meaningless ostentation. Showrooms. Catalogues. For me, the perfect balance between claustro and agora phobias  – enough space to feel free and unhindered but also withdrawn enough, unvisible,  to be able to hide, and nest –  must be right for me to ever fully enjoy living somewhere, and this place just happens to hit the spot very nicely. Our old place  – just one street along where we lived for thirteen years – was ok in some ways but a little too cramped and you could hear the man upstairs: where we are living now, since the earthquake, in a house,  D says he sometimes finds cramped, or rather in his words, ‘poky’ – but it is the opposite for me. Quiet. Virtually no noise. Just ambient sounds from outside. An upstairs and a downstairs; a contrast between a bohemian, den-like kitchen and sitting area with red lights and an almost sleazy aspect to it, packed with records, art books, knickknacks, spice shelves, patterned fabrics, kitsch bits and pieces – my dad sometimes says it is like talking to me in a red light district in Amsterdam when we communicate on FaceTime or WhatsApp  – why is your face always orange, why are you always in a bordello; but to me it is my lair, my refuge. I know there are a lot of bitter online debates between people about minimalism versus the opposite, but some friends who came the other day and marinaded themselves in our peculiar surroundings  said that they now were rethinking their positions – ‘we love this cosiness’,  —- and so do I.








Upstairs is very different. Light blue, green, or aquamarine. All the plants. The kitchen gets very little natural daylight, which is why it was pointless having it as anything other than a Madamish parlour à la Toulouse Lautrec (incidentally, we found some fabulous art books the other day in the trash, including a couple on the ultimate Parisian decadent: Friday is book collection day, and you wouldn’t believe some of the beautiful books that get thrown away,  just tied up with a little string, or sometimes kimono fabric: though considered rat like and scummiest – the stinking foreign reprobate – I have no compunction in riding along on my bicycle and    – yes, I’ll have that pile thank you very much :    whipping it up with my little finger and enduring the pain until I get the pile back to our house just down the street: wonderful to then lie on the sofa with your herb tea or beer and leaf through some art catalogues from the seventies, or books on psychology and sociology, or just picture books on Persia and places around Japan (although there was a deathly dull book I picked up the other day which featured a series of photographs on the North Japanese logging industry, in black and white; rarely have I been more bored than staring at pictures of tied up, immobile riverside logs); still, it provided a momentary diversion, and I think I am going to keep it. Why not? You never know when a Log Lady might turn up for the evening and be in absolute heaven, leafing through the pages in somatic ecstasy.












Yes, exploring our own house has actually been quite fascinating. We never would have done this if we hadn’t had so much time off to physically do so. Not able to go out as much as usual, we have made discoveries. The record player is broken, as is the projector, so there are so many films, so much beauteous vinyl just sitting there, pleading to be enjoyed, but it will just have to wait. When this coronashite subsides – and it WILL, it MUST – I will sip on a whisky and enter heaven on multiple occasions, on repetition (my favourite films are in my bloodstream; I sometimes have a physical ache for them); my record collection is no less precious. I could swear that just looking through my 12″s and LPs strengthens my immune system. I can feel it. But moving upstairs, past bookshelves filled with novels I have never read, and magazines and pamphlets I never knew existed (my boyfriend is a true magpie: not only is there always an ever growing dressing up cupboard, there are draws and draws filled with jewellery and sunglasses and postcards and inexplicable paraphernalia and curious accessories if you ever fancy coming round and dressing up, not to mention the costumes of Burning Bush and D Whom and Zarza Ardiente and Leon Charmé, if you can even get into the galakutabeya, or rubbish repository, or jumble cupboard, or Mr Benn’s changing room , whatever you want to call it, with its dolls heads and mannequins and taxidermy and wigs and god knows what – D’s family were supposed to be coming for a holiday in March and we were looking forward to having movie screenings and dressing up boxes with his four nieces and nephews – I can just imagine what hilarity and chaos would have ensued – but it will have to happen another day, maybe next year in October…………….









As you go up the narrow staircase you reach the only typically ‘tasteful’ room in our house. More refined, with no colour, only natural materials…..the traditional Japanese room, made of wood, with high ceiling, shoji screens, tatami mats –  but also antique armoires packed full of perfumes for you to peruse and spray on (what time are you coming over?). It has been wonderful just lazing around in the morning and reaching out for some perfume I had forgotten I even had, or else one of Zubeyde’s, which I had somewhat neglected to put put back in her collection – and which is still in the genkan, blocking the entrance, hundreds and hundreds of rare and precious perfumes she has not yet been able to pick up (Z, your coffee awaits you!) ; this morning I was trying on something from my own collection that Duncan had brought home for me one day and I hadn’t yet properly tested on my skin, Alla Festa, by Pola – a Japanese marigold floral a little like vintage Lauren by Ralph Lauren with a rich shampoo sheen that will do nicely for this afternoon. Enlivening. Just one spray and it takes me out of myself.










The cat is clearly very contented having us both home together at the same time. She follows us everywhere. The other day we found ourselves in the piano room, looking through books and finding things we didn’t even know were there (or even existed, really): oh look at this, this is interesting; where did this come from? actually using those that had been neglected or unread or unlistened to: a beautiful book of paintings and sculptures by Max Ernst, one of our surrealist favourites, some vintage Japanese erotica; photograph albums (enough to lose a whole day in); boxes of tapes – incredibly enjoyable to be listening to; whole eras and times I had forgotten coming back; not being able to listen to records has made us listen to long forgotten CDs and cassettes again,  compilations from when we first met each other – one he made me for Valentine’s Day when I was 23; yesterday I really teared up and became emotional listening to one made in my friend Peter’s university room and which I remembered listened to on the day after I came out to my parents – (literally:  Dancing Queen), a very momentous day for me emotionally, the importance of which cannot be underestimated; and the list of tracks ended eventually, after some music from the gorgeous French film Diva, about a down and out biker falling in love with an opera singer, with some unexpected music by Michael The Zither Man, a homeless, madrigal-like musician who used to play very magical music on his strange instruments that tinged the twilight blue sky outside of King’s College, Cambridge on June summer evenings         –        hearing it all again quite startling.












With a need for evening entertainment, but no DVDs to watch until we hear from the projector factory, we have been glued to the screen of the computer on which I am writing this (the lightest room in the house, and the one that houses the more contemporary perfumes for me to reach out for when I am writing about scent as well as white painted shelves housing part of the movie collection)………….I don’t think it can be emphasised how lucky we all are in many ways to be living in this era and  to have access to such endless visual diversions. Whenever we want them.  Yes, as my favourite film critic Manohla Dargis wrote the other day in a very moving piece in the New York Times about the beauty of sharing a space in the dark with your fellow man to watch a piece of cinema, and the great loss she is feeling right now from its absence, the alternative might be merely ‘suboptimal’ TV series on streaming services such as Netflix (which for a month cost half the price of one cinema ticket ), but in my view, so many of these series are so totally involving, and of such quality, that the so called phenomenon of ‘binge-viewing’ (which unnecessarily denigrates the natural pleasure of viewing and being fully engrossed in something) is a true blessing for humanity, especially right now, and I couldn’t be more happy to be so susceptible. Granted, were you to spend every single day of your life doing nothing other than being immersed in other people’s worlds, it might be regrettable – depending on your life philosophy-  although a very ill friend of mine in Leicester truly has no other option as she is virtually unable to move because of paralysing nerve issues and it really does give her a portal to staying afloat when her body has been giving up on her for so long –  – – – – – she is sustained and kept part of humanity  by continuously watching the programmes that she loves. But though we tend to feel ‘guilty’ about spending so much time absorbed in the dramas of other people’s lives, real, or fictional, for me it is the opposite: I couldn’t be more curious about other spaces, other realities, other places, I want to go everywhere, I want to step inside every house, to smell it, see through its windows, feel how the occupants live, sense their lives, imbibe them; hear other languages, wonder over other cultures; different realms of possibility; the beautiful stimulation of different light, nature, belief systems, knowledge (we watched a very interesting documentary about babies that was extremely enlightening the other day ); to be aroused, horrified, excited, amused; the fact that we have these experiences constructed by other, creative people on tap for us at the mere touch of a button is in many ways nothing short of miraculous when in truth otherwise we could be just interiorising our fears and own built in limitations and just fretting; wrecking our bodies with all the stress : I say no, turn your gaze outwards ; drink in the world through your senses, take it in without tedious remorse over laziness or ‘unproductiveness’:  instead, in my view,  this is a gift.












‘Tiger King’ a wild, bizarre, hilarious, unbelievable, trashy, and utterly thrilling documentary we watched the last two days on Netflix, had both of us agape on the bed, screaming at the camp and the ‘murder and mayhem’ of the true story of rival tiger owners in the US (did you know that there are 5,000 – 10,000 tigers kept as pets in America, but only 4,000 alive in the wild worldwide?), in a plot that you couldn’t possibly make up because nobody would ever believe it, and which, I could tell, was stimulating Duncan to the depths of his core – he looked elated  (“This is the best thing I have seen since Toni Erdmann”, he exclaimed, as we rushed to make dinner to get back to it – the beyond brilliant absurdist German film that was the film critics’ number one choice globally a few years ago, a film you can’t quite imagine until you see it, both grotesque and tender and hilarious beyond measure; ; ; ; ; )  this also took us out of ourselves to the extent that I felt thoroughly exhausted and brain-mashed by the time we finally went to bed. I felt that my head couldn’t possibly take any more. It was about to explode with what I had just absorbed into my body and brain, which couldn’t’ quite take in the preposterousness of what I was viewing. (I think of this phenomenon as a good thing though; to empty your own head, and have it occupied, for a while, by someone else, another moment. Just let it flood in). Filmed in Tampa, Florida, it really made me ache for foreign travel again, to go back to the Deep South – New Orleans, in particular, a place that has always stayed with us, badly, for some reason  – I remember us, after an especially mad night of tequila and dancing in every club we could find in the town centre of Tampa, where Duncan was going nuts on the dance floor next to go go  boys and we danced to merengue in a Cuban bar and he had one of the worst hangovers of his life, the next day while he slept it off I wrote an extended piece on The Black Narcissus about New Orleans, trying to capture the experience, and the city itself in words, as we travelled back from Tampa to Miami by train in a private car, and I couldn’t possibly have been more happy; watching the bayous and the beautiful, trailing Spanish moss trees that seemed so specific to that part of the world alongside the humid orange groves; the sheer wealth of literature and cinema and music from those specific places that are steeped in our general consciousness: Elizabeth Taylor pleading with Paul Newman in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof; the moist mysteries of Truman Capote and his strange families of oddballs lounging on their verandas like lizards: Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes raging on the post Katrina streets in the brilliant Bad Lieutenant, Port Of Call, New Orleans by Werner Herzog with its iguanas and voodoo cemeteries; its saloon bars and sea snakes and dry crouching alligators; the over plenitude of crocodiles at the amusement park that we all went to, slinking into the waters but so close to the crowding families out to have fun in the hot summertime sunshine; the swirling deliciousness of the rich, Louisiana food; the crazed delectability of the lobster bisque, served by a waiter who then took us on a secret tour of the famous old restaurant we had dinner in, taking us upstairs to all the backrooms, the laced dining rooms with their solid wood tables where the movers and shakers of the city did their deals, looking out from the balustraded rooftops over the city with its warm, sluggish seduction and its derelict vampire graves; the solemn beauty of the old houses, the cascading trees, the river, and the jazz bars.










The perfumeries of the French Quarter. Hové Parfumeur and its other worldliness; the bunches of dried Creole vetivert grass piled up for purchase; soap, eaux de toilette, parfum strength; this in enough would warrant a trip back for me – next time I will fill up my suitcase with the stuff, I can tell you. The oozy aldehydic Pirate’s Gold that smelled so unctuously glinting on Duncan that he got through his small bottle of parfum in no time when we got back to Japan ; it smelled so decadent, and yet so simultaneously trustworthy and warm. I adored it. And Spanish Moss. What a beautiful perfume. I came across it again the other day, when randomly going through my collection: my small bottle, waiting to be found by me, having forgotten that it even existed. But this is treasure. The smell of acacia blossoms shot through with honey; the bearded willows of the Spanish Moss trees trailing gently above the flowing river waters; sweet with mosses and orange flowers (lilac; heliotrope, osmanthus) ; green, with a clandestine tenderness and optimism; composed within itself with an unforced ease of long ago: a replete – and life-giving  – elixir.








Filed under Flowers








I am delighted to announce that I have been nominated as one of the finalists for the Perfumed Plume Book Of The Year 2020 award  – for “Perfume: In Search Of Your Signature Scent”, the guide to scent that I published last year with Hardie Grant. My co-nominees in the category include “The Perfume Roads” by Creezy Courtoy, an intriguing treatise on the historical and cultural origins of perfumery; “Nose Dive” by artist Catherine Haley Epstein – an in-depth and highly original journey into the sense of smell itself and  (I can hardly believe I am writing this), “Perfume Legends II: French Feminine Fragrances” by Michael Edwards. ‘Legendary’ doesn’t even begin to cover it! I am honoured, and very pleased to say the least, to be in such company, even if it looks unlikely that I will be able to make it to New York for the awards ceremony, assuming there even is one given the current circumstances. Still, I can’t deny that I am slightly puffing up my plumage this afternoon, here in Japan.




Here is the full list of nominees for each category :








Tra la la !!





Filed under Flowers












It goes without saying that it is difficult for all of us to completely think straight right now in these times of escalating infection and lockdowns. I am also wondering about what to do on here: should I just be creating a ‘space of dreams’ to escape from the increasingly terrifying realities by melding perfume with memory and sensation as I usually do, or should I instead just be writing about what is happening around me in the world from my country of residence’s bizarrely head in the sand Japanese perspective ;  or alternatively, not writing at all? Advice welcome – is it even ‘appropriate’ at this particular time to be rambling on about perfume –  I know that all of us have much more important things on our plates than to even contemplate thinking about such ‘frivolities’.







We have a morning ritual. We wake up, and D makes Earl Grey.  He brings up the Japan Times and The New York Times, which we read virtually from cover to cover through the morning as I go downstairs and make mugs of coffee, grinding the beans (which I sometimes find exhausting, so lazy am I). I have an insatiable desire to read as much as I possibly can, though, about the coronavirus, sick though we already all are with reading and hearing about it; the horror in the New York Hospitals, the epidemic in Spain, the malignant fuckwit that is ‘the president of Brazil’ calling the entire thing simply a left wing ‘fantasia’  – (can’t this dastardly virus be more selective in who it takes out?) ;  the Japanese weirdly muted response that is still entirely baffling to the mind and which is so very different to our neighbours South Korea and China who have taken swift action to deal with the pandemic (sometimes I honestly feel like I am living in a dream world. Examples: our lovely neighbours and a family we are very close to, and who I would never say a bad word about, well not usually, bumped into D as he was taking out the rubbish to the assigned place the other day – they are both around eighty years of age- and it was great, if perplexing, to hear that they apparently seemed so cheery and business as usual: ‘This is a high class place, so we are not worried. We will be ok’. Er…………..mmmmm …………..The same day, a little bit later as we were heading along on our bicycles heading for yet another rendezvous (so much for social distancing! We are failing miserably) – we saw our very overworked local doctor on the street who was making a house call looking flustered but cheerful as always and who assured us ‘ daijobu yo! Koko wa heiwa desu yo!’ “ It’s ok! It is fine! It is peaceful up here’! as though we were all nuns at the top of a cliff in the Himalayas, cut off from the rest of the world with no possible transference of any communicable diseases, when the reality is that yes, we do live at the top of a hill, in a residential area that was carved into a former zen temple mountain at the end of the 1960’s, but it is a commuter area: everyone either takes the bus down to Ofuna  (twenty minutes) where there have been confirmed cases – or walks down the hill along the scenic route past the temples to the station at Kitakamakura (fifteen minutes), home of Engakuji, world centre of Zen Buddhism, but as far as I know, still not a protector against the virus; the point being that people are coming and going all the time from Tokyo and Yokohama where they work, and then returning to the relative haven that is Imaizumidai, packed on trains and on buses back up here to their homes…….as far as I am concerned an awareness of this is just common sense (says he who was planning to go to a friend’s wedding on Sunday! ). AT ANY RATE the idea that we are somehow safe and living ‘peacefully’ ‘up here’ is pure and unadulterated nonsense. Bullshit. I feel like I am living in a surreal zone of oddness where people can say such things that are pleasantly self-deceiving to keep up the spirits – which I understand – you need need to be as cheerful as you possibly can – but at the same time, almost  – if I am honest with you –    quite i n s a n e. 








As is planning to go to a wedding with a room full of dressed up guests in a Yokohama hotel when the world is in self-isolation mode and even Japan, now the Olympics have officially been postponed, is beginning to murmur about lockdowns just like everybody else (some articles have put forward the idea that this country is just quietly dealing with ‘pneumonia’ cases and then just treating them as pneumonia cases without actually doing the test to find out if it is anything else ; thus keeping the official figures, and the panic levels down  – and the economy ticking obliviously along –  – – –  = = = ). I don’t know. I don’t want to let my friends down when they are ‘braving everything’ to go ahead with the wedding as intended, and wasting so much money, but I am also starting to realise that this is more than slightly foolish. I have had severe pneumonia twice, as you know (as has the bride! just two years ago, and she had it really badly, dear god what are we all thinking), and realistically none of us should be putting ourselves in a position of physical danger all for the sake of a punkish middle fingered hedonism, which as you all know, I am also severely prone to, and have been from the moment I plugged in to my own personality as a teen ; like most other people I love life, and enjoyment, and pleasure; parties, people, perfume, food, alcohol, dancing, photography, art, music, experience – anything that isn’t the daily grind – which I am significantly less partial to  – but let’s face it, despite this appalling libertarian Sagittarianness of freedom über alles there are limits. Yes, we bought new clothes the other day, after a mutually irritable day of bickering and taunting, but so what (all resolved by a delicious Thai meal at my favourite restaurant, I must say; the second the coconut based kaffir lime sublime balance of the Tom Yum Kun soup hit our taste buds and smell receptors, warming our throats with the extraordinary  deliciousness reserved for the finest cuisine from that most sensuous of culinary cultures, everything got immediately better; the moods back on an even keel, helped along immeasurably by cold Chang beers, and the neon of the street outside; as the reality parameters became more blurred; and the imminent threat of mortal illness subsided, and we re-entered the dream state that is our default modus operandi).









But. We are not stupid, I hope. At least not completely. On the way up on the train on Tuesday to Yokohama to hunt down some clothes at our usual haunts we had our masks on together: the first time we have ever been out wearing them as a pair –    reused ones,  as we can’t buy any more  here, and so probably quite pointless; D’s pitiful number hardly even covered up his face with big gaps at the side; for comfort, I had turned my also multiply-utilised mask upside down, which made me look something like the walrus from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky; even the right way up it looks ridiculous, supposedly a mask to stop your glasses from steaming up, but on me with the horns pointing towards the eyeballs it just made me look really ugly and very evil. So no properly working masks. And probably no wedding, either we are beginning to realise, as it is a little bit too reckless, even for us. I don’t want to worry our parents back home, who think we are mad as it is even at the best of times (because you know, you only live once – as far as we know – and we have always hated the mundane and that really is never going to change: : : but even so).









No. Not attending the wedding is obviously the most sensible option, even if I know I will get pangs of regret when I see all the photos published in droves on social media with a D+ N shaped hole in them and feel like something of a coward (I love all the bonhomie – the clinking of glasses; the toasts and the hors d’oeuvres  :the possibly misguided ‘rising above’ the sense of global calamity that the Japanese government has attempted to hide from us “We can overcome the coronavirus!” shouts Abe, but which we all deep down know is obviously the reality, because you feel it in the deeper recesses of your corpuscles).  You know it in the back of your mind (and at night in your dreams). We should not  be going to this wedding  (     tell me honestly: I think all exchanges of conversation and communication are good at this time between us all, no matter the subject, as a way of lightning the psychic burden on the spirit). And on that note, how are you doing personally, right this moment,  in terms of health and happiness and sanity, as you read this, in this bizarre ‘new world’  that has suddenly been turned completely  upside down?

























The sun was shining on the sea,


Shining with all his might:


























He did his very best to make


The billows smooth and bright ………


























And this was odd, because it was














The middle of the night.












Filed under Flowers














I have been to a fair number of weddings in my time and I sometimes enjoy them. I have never, I must say though, considered going to one in the middle of a viral pandemic. Not that Japan seems to be having one: as I wrote the other day, everything is business as usual here. Either we have dodged the bullet – which strikes me as impossible – or something else is going on. I do know that it is very complicated for non-Japanese to get tested for Covid-19 even if you do come down with symptoms (it sounds like a bureaucratic labyrinth from the depths of hell). I don’t know. We have been invited – it is on Sunday – and are still thinking about going. We don’t want to let her down. The bride’s family can’t attend from America, so it will be up to us to fill up her side of the aisle; her other extended family of quite unconventional people; gamers, anime freaks, cabaret artistes and death metal fans dressed in black.






I have never been to a Goth wedding. Which is an added bonus for me, something new (all the weddings I have ever been to have been delightful at times, especially when you know that the couple are made for one another  but also exhausting: traditionally I have usually been asked to play the piano  – I once also did a Vivaldi flute concerto accompanied by a professional string quartet – and so also have had a lot of stage fright). This one will be a little bit different I would imagine  – I hope – and we would like to support our friends – Amber has DJed at some of our events, been Duncan’s back up dancer in one of his performances, along with Dayane













who will also be in attendance (as a bridesmaid). My own personal dilemma has been what to wear (in terms of clothes – I simply do not have anything whatsoever to wear right now and have spent all of this month’s money stocking up on food and supplies for Armageddon so would have to go out and buy a secondhand suit this week, do what I always dislike…..going shopping (something a little bit dandyish, perhaps, compared to my boring work suit?, I don’t know). Another option, of course, was to go as Burning Bush, but I am just not in the mood. Several of my other friends are weighing up which incarnation they would like to rock up in, though – it’s interesting to have this as an option. But no, I am just going to go as myself in something simple.In terms of scent,I am feeling like something deep and masculine but not too obvious ; either the original Gentleman by Givenchy (1974), an enveloping leather patchouli, or else Ermenigildo Zegna’s Haitian Vetiver from 2012  – staid, sturdy, dependable – which I have been wearing as a body scent and then topping up with other vetiver perfumes or citruses like Armani Pour Homme (which goes with it perfectly). I am more in the mood for being a subdued spectatorright now – if I go – and just let the young people do their thing. As Yukiro said last night, he doesn’t want to upstage the bride, if he goes as the ever beautiful Die Schwarze Frau.















(Atsushi. The best man? It is going to be interesting to see how some of the attendees dress: whether they will be toning it down for the groom’s family in attendance or going full out like the above, which would be somewhat astonishing).








One thing that I am sure none of us would consider wearing for these nuptials I think is Radiant Tuberose by Jimmy Choo, which Yukiro has just tried on downstairs and promptly washed off with great vehemence (he and D have spent the last two nights going through footage of their film; I have kept out of the way for the most part but looked in at times and what I have seen has been hilarious and outrageous; all of the people pictured here also feature in the movie). Our Swedish master of the macabre is not at all afraid of wearing florid flowers, not at all, and has received quite a few perfumes from me in his time as well, as do all my friends,  but this one – a very chokeworthy if,  yes radiant – as in, it irradiates through the room like leakage from a nuclear reactor –  full of ylang ylang a little in the vein of Dipytque’s Eau Moheli, all peppery and pretty and tuberosey and bright as the lights in an operating theatre – is just too much. The kind of perfume that some ladies might wear to a wedding; done up a couple of notches too many in their orange foundation and false eyelashes;  too keen to catch the bouquet – the scent you can imagine on those British holidaygoers stuck in Tenerife, clutching cocktails, wearing bikinis, and gas masks by the pool.















Pasha by Cartier is no less sexy  – I think the Jimmy Choo could probably work okay in limited doses – even if it is as predictable as the morning sun. A brand new parfum version of the 1992 macho-fougère, it is fresh and spicy and lavendery and manly as you would expect from a perfume of this genre; Yukiro’s reaction just now; ‘My god, that would really add to the stress of the office …………..if I had to work in one’, and I know what he means. Despite its suave efficacy, it would bug me.





















A touch too much of Pasha Parfum on the wrong obnoxious male could be an absolute headache. YES, a part of me will always like these classic ‘barbershop’ old style fougères such as Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Pour Homme (because it is a recipe that is unequivocally erotic on the right man, and sometimes woman);  and D has a crisp little thing called Eau De Berlin that we picked up in Germany one year and which he sometimes wears  ( I also really rather like Grigioperla, grey pearl,  which to me is like dawn light glinting on granite as the groom has pre-wedding jitters, smoking a cigarette on the patio outside with his best mates sprucing up after the inevitable stag do); this, though, obviously, is not the kind of fragrance that I would ever consider wearing in a million years, despite its competent construction (the oudh-amber base note, on me, which I have just had to shower off, is truly grim). There’s manly, and there is manly. And there is feminine, and there is ridiculousAnd neither the bride, nor the groom, at this wedding, if we go, has any truck with traditional gender roles:  I would be embarrassed to turn up smelling in either of these perfumes – not that we can hug or kiss anyone there, presumably  – social distancing regulations undoubtedly strictly enforced  – so they might not even notice.. But even so, I would feel like I was boxed up in restriction. Wafting from my wedding table, tucking into my amuses bouches. Smelling horrible. So I will have to think out mine and the D’s perfume selections a bit more carefully, to get it right – ( I still haven’t actually decided). Plus in truth, it’s highly unlikely that either of the wedding couple, it being Japan  – will be wearing any perfume in the first place –  though I did once give Amber a miniature bottle of vintage Vivenne Westwood Boudoir, her all time favourite and one I can wear quite impressively myself as well in truth ….all incense dens, leopard skin throws, salmon sheets and quilted hookah pipes………………………………………)








Filed under Flowers










In David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Donna goes to the house of The Orchid Man  –  a germ fearing, horticulturalist agoraphobe who never leaves his rooms, surrounded by his darlings, during an episode entitled ‘The Orchid Curse’. They kiss. Chaos ensues. Cigarettes.

























Orchids always strike me as being very extreme. The care they require, the obsession they evoke in those that tend to them (Clint Eastwood’s flawed but intriguing film ‘The Mule’ from 2018 was centred around a flower grower so possessed with the blooming of his orchids that he was willing to not only sacrifice his family, but also become a drug runner for the Mexican cartels); in Java, I witnessed firsthand the painstaking work required by the employees on the vanilla plantation to nurture the vines, spread out as over several hectares of forests while the orchid plants climbed quietly and stealthily up the trees but would bloom only one day of the year – that frantic time when the workers would be searching the entire premises looking for the ice cream coloured flower as it opened for the process of pollination;  a precious, beeless moment that, despite seeing every other step of the agricultural methods used to produce one hanging vanilla pod, I was unfortunately just a few days too early to witness firsthand.































I have noticed recently – having seen lots of documentaries set in various parts of the world, but especially in the U.S, that there is a  preponderance of  minimalism in many of the interiors (‘millennials favour experiences, not possessions‘), almost as if they themselves, the protagonists, form the decoration in the places that they live; the surroundings almost plain, utilitarian.   Space.














I am a lot more like the Orchid Man. I love to be inside. Surrounded by things, living or otherwise. If I could grow them, I would have them trailing the balcony, strangling other plants. Breathing. I want tropical flowers, succulents, as many as possible. If I could, I would make the inside of my house like a jungle. 













Picture 10.png










In ‘Orchid Fever – A Horticultural Tale Of Love, Lust and Lunacy’ by Eric Hansen, we come to learn of perfumers working for Shiseido who have consulted orchidologists in order to recreate the specific scent of a delicately perfumed orchid that is favoured in Japan (the perfume was an Asia only release), the Chinese Cymbidium :


















































Shiseido pages












Indeed, as described, this understated perfume is gentle and delicate, but more than discreetly erotic as well (after all, tentatrice does mean  ‘temptress’ in French); based more on a gorgeously prominent note of palpably living jasmine than any orchid that I have smelled (I was once amazed by the low, numb glow of the scent of a sweet powdered orchid that had opened in the botanical garden at Shinjukugyoen national park: I think previously I had thought that the flowers’ perfume was imaginary ) – though we smell something of the snake in the hothouse here in the foreground as well; leaves, a fresh white, a calm, but also a coquettishness that I remember was much more prevalent here in Japan when I arrived in the late 1990’s when women were less afraid to smell sexy (despite the clannish cultural ‘exclusivity’ of the above, if you can read it, this perfume could work very effectively on anyone, anywhere). There was more of an international mindset still going on at that time, before the slow interiority of the last two decades started to set in to calcify the  veins and women became, on the whole, somewhat more dowdy and/ or ‘childlike’ (and with a tedious prevalence of desexualised rose perfumes to match). Tentatrice is different, and quite imaginable on a much more mentally and physically lithe and unafraid woman of the late Bubble Era who may well still be wearing this mid 90’s fragrance right now somewhere in Tokyo as I write this;  someone chic but not uptight; one who would value her perfume properly,  happily to regularly use these reconstituted flowers – these living, mysterious, sexual analogies  – as ensnaring, and skin close    —   eaux de toilette. 


























Filed under Flowers



















Peach is not a note I often reach for. Though there are peach notes in the obvious classics: Femme De Rochas, Mitsouko, those are chypre peaches. I do like the powdery rose peaches such as Guerlain Nahéma and Unum Rosa Nigra; tight, pressed-peach rose pressing powders perhaps because they remind me of a hilarious incident as a university student when I was horsing around one lazy afternoon with my friend George when we should have been studying but instead were messing around in my room and in the process wrestled with each other and somehow the lid suddenly flew off a huge brand new tin of Marks & Spencers Peach Talc – a smell I adored and  which I would smother myself in nightly after bathing – which blasted off a whole swathe of cloying peachy talcum  – the entire contents  – into our hair and mouths as we laughed our powdered heads off  while at that very same moment, as we choked and declogged our eyes and throats, a  prim friend of mine called Chloe walked in unexpectedly to ask me a question about some matter academic : blinking non-comprehendingly at us, the sight and smell that met her eyes.






Peach. I had peach pot pourri also in that room I remember as I suppose I was going through something of a peachy phase generally, even if I have always hated ‘peach’ as a colour (I remember when we nearly got to see Prince for his Sign O The Times tour in 1987 – he cancelled for some reason I can’t remember –  and I was so excited, but was also dreading the sight of everyone wearing peach and black which his Highness had decreed that his funking acolytes shouldwear….I would rather have died ); but I have never really worn a peach peach perfume I don’t think until a couple of weeks ago when I just couldn’t resist buying a cheap bottle of The Different Company’s White Zagara which I found in a shop in Isezakicho and which in truth is not a solifruit pȇche number really, but more a mood enhancing, very well blended and carefree white springtime floral of orange blossom and honeyed tuberose with delicious citrus overtones – citron and bergamot – with also a very pronounced and lovely orange note that melds perfectly with a delightfully charming peach blossom note that is somewhat irresistible: even if in truth at this stage of my life and manhood I am not 100% persuaded that I can convincingly pull such an exuberant and girlishly giddy scent off.
























Right now, in the bathroom, however, I do in fact have a conditioner by the always very strong smelling Herbal Essences called White Grapefruit and Mosa Mint that, when it has been rinsed out smells just like peaches, and I can imagine after drying my hair on a nice day in April a few spritzes of this lovely little perfume  would be quite a mood lifter (not that I need that, necessarily; the world has gone bananas, and I am coming to that  – sorry, it can’t be avoided – ) but we are still very much, the two of use, in Gloriously Uplifted Oblivious Spring Holiday mode, cycling about as though on a summer picnic, enjoying the sun, the blue sky, and Mount Fuji, which looked so spectacular when we turned round the corner yesterday at Zushi Marina that I intook my breath very sharply: staggered just by how beautiful it looked against the surrealist blue waves; like a dream of  Magritte; hyperreal, knowing full well it would not come out on an iPhone lens so feasting my eyes on the scene and drinking it in as we sped along in hyperkinetic action mode, past the throngs of people out and enjoying their day (social distancing?! ) Ha! Don’t make me laugh…..yesterday was like a national celebration and I asked Duncan to confirm it last night as I tried to take stock of the day we had had  (I sometimes need corroboration that my wilder instincts and natural hyperbole are not off target). ‘When I write about this tomorrow, could I not describe today as almost celebratory? Do you think I could even say that it was rapturous’?









He did not disagree. We had cycled into Kamakura, past groups of giggling happy girls in white blouses, whose hair, as I rode past them, gave off a perfume quite similar to the one I am describing here today; unimpeachable (sorry!), clean and fresh, sensual enough to get married but not improper  – usually the case here: young woman often do smell extremely nice with all their shampoos and hair treatments and lightly scented skin care, and White Zagara would  – if more widely promoted – probably become a monster seller here in Japan if it were slightly less expensive as it is so balanced and seamless in its blending that it immediately brings a smile to the face: and smiles were in great abundance yesterday, I am telling you: you would never, in a million years, have suspected that a worldwide pandemic was happening simultaneously all over the world (and probably here as well). All were out and about, no one was self-isolating (and neither were we: so it would be hypocritical to criticise others): it was such a beautiful day, about 20 degrees, breezy so the waves were white capped and frothed and the air was filled with a rigorous and consolidating  energy; surfers and windsurfers and sailing boats were bobbing along delightedly on the wind-whipped waves; children ate ice creams, mothers and fathers were laughing, and everyone was smiling like there was no tomorrow. We sat on a hillside gazing, like many other couples as though it were Woodstock, or the Solstice, as the shades and the colours of Magnificent Mount Fuji changed slowly with the sunset; we sat with the sun shining full on our faces to the point of sunburn, drinking up the vitamin D and the exultingly pleasant air, with other families, and little dogs, and old couples who had climbed up to sample the view, and I wondered, and we discussed openly, whether this all was some form of madness that we were warped up in, or was it just the rest of the world – huddling frightenedly inside their houses, that was booby-trapped with disinformation and was this in fact the reality (seriously, I am carried away here, I know, but I know that if you had been with me yesterday you would have seen the same thing: it was undeniable; wedding parties out laughing, restaurants and cafes in full swing, hundreds on the beaches, everyone out enjoying the sunny Friday: I would not have entirely been surprised to find myself waking up, plugged in the back of the head like Keanu Reeves into the Matrix to find that all this eye-popping colour and beauty was just a simulation to keep my mind occupied while my body was pumped with a ventilator to keep my lungs going ), except I am not actually mad and yesterday was real. 











The Japan Times this morning had the headline: ‘WHAT IS BEHIND JAPAN’S FLAT CURVE OF INFECTIONS’? I am also desperate to know. All of my non-Japanese friends here in Japan are lamenting and ranting quite righteously in hypercritical mode at the country they have chosen to live in, up in arms at the complete nonchalance that seems to have taken over the entire country like some sleeping sickness : the majority of people yesterday weren’t even wearing masks, we included – the fact that the trains are packed as usual, and school kids are going back in just a week or two, wondering whether the country has ‘somehow dodged a bullet’ and is just lucky, or whether the fact that we have so little testing compared to other countries means that a mass epidemic is just lurking underneath the peachy keen skin of the current, obliviously happy madness.























You can argue from where you are sitting, locked down in New York or London or San Paolo or wherever you are reading this from that the latter must definitely be the case (and I do suspect as such myself; after all, I am a skeptical, some might say cynical, person by nature, and I know that Abe will do anything not to cancel the Olympics, which was to be the swan song of his legacy); plus I also know from personal experience that Japan is the pretend that nothing is wrong country par excellence  – it thrives on maintaining surface appearances which is why everything is always so smooth (interesting that contrary to all assurances otherwise, Greenpeace has found radiation spots along the Olympic Torch route (see my piece on the Earthquake of 2011 for much more on what has turned out to be a similar situation in some ways – Reality vs Reality vs Reality  (because it always just depends on how you look at it)). And yet according to the newspaper this morning, which is quite left in its leanings and always very critical of the government, cases of coronavirus in Tokyo ‘make up 0.0008 per cent of the population’  –  I checked those three zeros carefully – so no wonder people are not panicking especially at this very moment as this is the very opposite of Northern Italy where people seem to be going down like flies and we read about tragic cases of bodies piling up in morgues that can’t yet be buried like scenes from a Medieval Plague. Surely, if in Tokyo there really were such levels of infections and deaths occurring, it would be impossible for the government to cover them up? A body is a body. If the health services were truly so overwhelmed, I am pretty certain that the TV companies and voracious media here, which are no less vulture-like and sordid than the notorious tabloids back home, would quickly get a whiff of it and – though fearful of reprisals from the government – my Japanese friend says that this country is essentially becoming a Police State – if things were truly cataclysmic, then surely we would know. We would smell it. And right now, it is eerily normal. No, better than normal because of the cherry blossom blooming and the sun.









Speaking of my Japanese friend, I got an email from him yesterday morning in which to be honest I was slightly worried about his mental health as he is truly fuming at what he sees is the docility of the inhabitants of this country and yearning for the executions of certain people in power saying quite openly that ‘it’s actually no different from North Korea’, and both D and I did also note, while cycling along as happy as Larry yesterday afternoon that if the government had, out of the blue, suddenly released an edict saying ‘STAY INSIDE. THERE IS DANGER. WEAR MASKS. A NEW OUTBREAK HAS OCCURRED’ then you can bet your bottom dollar that the streets would be totally EMPTY.  People would OBEY. IMMEDIATELY. Which we can laugh at. Ha ha ha the obedient orientals. And yet, now the tables are turned (that piece I wrote a few weeks ago, if you remember, about Penhaligons Heartless Helen, where I was in Yokohama the very day that the infected passengers were being released from the Diamond Princess and I was freaking out, feels like an eternity ago now. You read it from wherever you were and thought, perhaps, oh dear, Neil is in a bit of a weird situation, he sounds like he is starting to losing it a bit), but I imagine that it seemed so distant to you, nothing really to do with you, and yet look at all of us now. All in quarantine. Yet it seems that the more line-towing cultures, the ‘tighter’ ones like Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam and Singapore, are the ones that are actually managing to keep the virus under control, whereas the so called ‘looser’ societies  – the term that the New York Times was using yesterday in an analytical piece on the situation, the cultures that value individual freedom, defying the law, doing exactly what you want, are anti big government, like Italy, the UK and America, are how the ones that are currently terrifyingly under siege. So I don’t know. I don’t know what is real. Yesterday’s Day Of Beauty, which was so intense it seared itself into my retina and brain and I had to go to bed early as I felt strange and tired and overwhelmed (from the physical activity- we cycled for quite a long way), but also from the amazement that I could be having such a perfectly lovely day with my D in these circumstances, left me feeling that I genuinely don’t know what information – my own sense included – that I can trust,; that I can’t parse the layers of truth; that there are very different possibilities simultaneously, but also that, like White Zagara, with its dazzling positivity in its flourishingly delicious top notes that could convince you that the world is just a big happy peach; concurrently, a very generic, unthinking white musk in the base lies underneath all of this; undermining those cheerful flowers with its yielding and conformist, gentle passivity : a little bit gullible, and quite a bit dumb.






Filed under Flowers






















The wonderful thing about living now is how connected we are. I know that this is problematic as well: you don’t need to tell me. But when we are faced with the prospect of all being locked up inside, going barn crazy, it is so great that we can just press a few buttons and talk to our family and friends and simultaneously see their faces while doing so. This was something I actively used to fantasise about when watching Startrek on TV as a child. To boldly go. And now it is real.







Talking with my parents today earlier – them in the living room in their dressing gowns, us upstairs in ‘Joni Mitchell’ (the piano and cinema room) about the escalating situations around the world that we are all glued to, even if it is quite nice to take your mind off it sometimes for a while (D and I spent this glorious sunny afternoon cycling along parts of our neighbourhood we have infrequently or never been to before; random roads, past unknown houses), I discovered to my absolute astonishment during the conversation that one of my cousins has in fact already come down with the virus and already recovered (she caught it in Northern Italy, when skiing and is now in isolation).






My senses went into overdrive. Somehow, feeling all greasy and grotty after all the exercise in the unusually warm sun and then from the heat of cooking dinner ce soir, the news that someone in my family has already been through the coronavirus and come out the other side alive just made me suddenly despair strongly for something soft, aldehydic, harmless, lovely – a hot shower with lots of soap and then rushing upstairs frantically in search of More By Shiseido, my first choice that came immediately to mind, a sixties or seventies floral aldehydic that has all the fluffiness and teen bedroomness of those cozed up in the sheets pyjama party perfumes like Chantilly by Houbigant (remember that one? so damn comforting); but try as I might I just couldn’t locate the gorgeously crisp yet talcum powdery confection that is More. Instead, my lingering wrist chanced lightly among my armoire upon a small bottle of Indra!, a cheap as chips little perfume (rose, jasmine, iris, aldehydes, soft base)  – given to me by a friend a few years ago and that I had somehow neglected but that actually ended up being even better. As I sit here in my pyjamas, clean and very pleased that my cousin is alright ( I know it doesn’t detract from the severity of the worldwide situation, but just let me have my five minutes), this perfume couldn’t possibly be more perfect right now, at this actual moment. I don’t need to psychoanalyse the situation.  I just know that this smells like 1983, and I am happy.






















Filed under Flowers