break on through to the other side

I keep my worlds separate. My school life is in many ways a galaxy away from my private life. There is a stark division: it feels water tight. Probably, everyone is similar in this way, keeping things distinct – especially in Japan, where no one asks questions, and privacy is respected to a degree that for a westerner can feel verging on disinterest: you say hello and goodbye; exchange pleasantries, have buoyant conversations in the workplace with those you get along with, but politics, religion, controversy – ie. many topics in the news, anything that might create disagreement, are taboo. You simply don’t rock the boat. To keep a nice atmosphere for everyone present is the ultimate concern (and there is a lot to be said for this: it is like entering a well managed aquarium that you can float in, unrocked, stable, if sometimes stagnant – rather than the churning waters of sparring egos, the clash of the aggressively opinionated sharks and killer whales and the angered ‘office politics’ of the western work place where cortisone is rocketed by incompatible adversaries digging into each other by the laminator). Thus; prying into someone’s personal affairs in Japan is considered anathema to the individual – you simply don’t ask if someone is married or if they are in a relationship, whether they have children etc etc unless you know them well (complete candour is between friends after work over drinks where nothing is secret); otherwise, the rule is simply : keep things light and friendly. Although my effusive and furious passions often seep through my pores despite my greatest efforts to contain them, especially with the younger adolescents I teach, I am possibly nothing more than a middle age, gammy-legged cipher. ‘Mr Chapman’.

Which is why it was strange the other day when at the beginning of a lesson and I asked a question about what was new, how they were, how the school day had gone, one boy said ‘I just heard you published a book on perfume and were in a magazine’. For a second I was flummoxed. I choked, slightly, on my words and couldn’t quite get out my next sentence. What? They know nothing of all that: I think they imagine rather that I am a quaint bachelor who lives alone with his cat and reads nineteenth century English literature at the weekends, cooking beef stew and picking fluff off my arran cardigans. Practicing Johann Sebastian Bach. A stiff. Which is ok. I am fine with however they see me, as I am not the important point in the equation, and I like being slightly enigmatic. But although the Black Narcissus is a very minor website in the scheme of things, with the book out, and mentions in various places, I am also not anonymous: and a brief click on the vast lagoon of words and images that exists within these ‘pages’ will reveal all kinds of frenzies; from ‘foul-mouthed’ political rants and foolish perfumed whimsies, to the Tokyo underworld and the making of horror movies and the shenanigans of D Whom and Burning Bush. I don’t want my worlds to bleed. Japanese schools have ‘morality clauses’ – your behaviour outside work must be exemplary ; teachers in my school are contractually forbidden to write books, never mind do naked butoh or crawl around the undergrowth in the local forest as a gothic spirit animal; essentially, once committed to the organization you belong to it; it becomes your life, and that is all, though as a semi-part time foreigner who nobody can control (I know they have given up trying – I exemplify the phrase ‘a world unto himself’) all of this probably has no bearing on me. I am detached; a one man show. After all, if you are not Japanese, you will forever be an outsider (which is probably why we settled here in the first place: we actively chose to live on the dreamy edges, undisturbed).

But ‘perfume’? It almost sounded like a dirty word in the context of a scuzzy cram school classroom – an outlier from another realm. Poncey, a bit gay. Glamorous. Inconceivable with my image. And in fact, when I took the issue of Vogue into school – because I just couldn’t resist it or stop myself I was so excited – the teacher oddball who sits next to me claimed that it could only be a case of a person with the same name; a doppelganger; surely it couldn’t be me, the man with the messiest desk in the whole company, in his tired, baggy suits (although I do have some great vintage Leonard Paris ties); until he saw the bio info about Kamakura and saw it was all true. The teachers were flabbergasted; it created quite a commotion, for a few minutes at least, even if, being so incongruous with the surroundings, I did feel that it pushed me even further into my own alien zone of the untouchable – both in the positive and negative connotation. I had not expected, though, that Mr G would then go and blurt out this information to the students in the corridor as they came into the school, making their way to the small room in which we were sitting. I felt slightly violated; as if some unassailable vow had been broken; that something was about to be let in.

Oh god, I thought. Here we go. The beginning of the end. What’s going to happen now. Though I can’t deny a part of me was also electrified. Ultimately, I like honesty, expression, real connection. And so thinking for a second, I then thought to myself, oh fuck it. The previous week’s lesson had been a misery. I had been too lazy to come up with something interesting, and so had instead just done a high level listening and speaking test from the TOEFL examination – internationally recognized, pedagogically useful (I always bear in mind that the parents are paying for these lessons – there has to be something educationally worthwhile in each one), but at the same time, with the students being of different ages – and it being Friday night; the atmosphere has yet to gel this term, it was a po-faced, tedious disaster; it is the rainy season; they are exhausted from their punishing schedules and just want to have some fun (sometimes I just can’t escape from myself when I am tired and have a million other things on my mind – to make a lesson work, you have to crack yourself open like a raw egg and flow into the air around you; fill the room with compassion, empathy and love like a guru to pierce the defence barriers and let the kids relax and interact freely with each other; you are the fluid; otherwise they are just tight, nervous containers with dour demeanours slumped sulkily on their desks itching to get back home and have a moment’s respite with a Friday night anime or TV drama or manga on the sofa.

‘Would you like to see the book? And the article in the magazine?’ I asked them. Nods all round. The feeling between the six of them was already warming up – like scandalized but excited co-conspirators who could sense something brewing. What I had been planning initially had to go out the window- a curious article I had found from The Japan Times last week about a shinkansen bullet train driver who left the cockpit for three minutes to go to the toilet, leaving the train with 125 passengers on board travelling at 150kph along the automated tracks because of abdominal pain, deciding to take this risk rather than make the train late. A train hurtling along the tracks without a driver. Punctuality prioritized over human life. A mindset I thought was worth their criticism and consideration. And we did come back to that later – somehow the topic of how late or early you are in general (I taught them the expression ‘arrive on the dot’, which is my own modus operandi – I like to arrive precisely at the appointed hour, with a slight sense of giri-giri – am I going to make it?). Still, at the beginning of the lesson I reluctantly felt like there was no going back : I returned to the teachers’ room, blushing slightly to myself, retrieving my book and Vogue Japan from my bag – my fault entirely for being vainglorious enough to need the attention and validation of the teachers rather than just keeping it all neatly to myself in the first place – but I am only human after all, and both things are cool, let’s face it: I then came back, a little gingerly, to the expectantly expanding classroom – and passed both round.

‘Is this you?’ said one sassy twelve year old girl, a K-pop fan with attitude who has a promising vigour to her, scrutinizing my flattering photo. ‘Are you married? It says here you live with your partner?’ Thanks a lot, Mr G, I thought to myself – why the hell did you have to tell them about this – ‘
No, I am not’ I said, leaving it open-ended. ‘Wow, I love the black and gold’, said one boy – who could be reading this, for all I know, now that everything is out in the open. ‘I am really impressed by your knowledge’ said another. K-pop was sniffing the pages. ‘Does it stink?’ I asked, fully aware that this edition of the book has been sitting in my incense-filled kitchen for months, and that I once poured vetiver oil down the spine one evening, spraying some Comme Des Garcons II on some of the pages as well for good measure. I can no longer smell anything on it, but she seemed transfixed; taking off her mask and taking long inhalations. ‘No. It smells really good’.

Was I igniting something? I don’t know. At the very least, they were looking at me differently. The feeling in the room had changed completely. Perhaps by finally being more open myself and exposing an entirely different aspect of my life to them, there was a new found clarity.

( There is no Doors content in this piece, by the way. Just the title of that song, Break On Through, which D loves to sing at karaoke, raucously, drunkenly when in excited mode (those were the days….it will be great to go to karaoke again, if we are ever safe here to do so); I love listening to the shimmering keyboards of Riders On The Storm in the rain; it fuses with the sky. And I have a wonderful memory, ten years ago, or so, in Berlin, when D’s parents came to the apartment we had just bought in Schoneberg, one sparklingly bright and cold December’s day, in the snow; after a trip to IKEA, where we had bought a bed – impossible to assemble; and being the more practical types, D and his mum got to work reading the instructions and piecing it together piece by labyrinthine piece; his dad just relaxed and looked on; and my job was cracking open bottles of champagne, and entertaining everyone by dancing around wildly to the Doors Greatest Hits ).


Filed under Flowers

42 responses to “break on through to the other side

  1. I find it amazing that you were able to keep your “identities” separate for so long, with everything being online and you helping the students become proficient enough to read (some of) your stuff! Didn’t know people weren’t allowed to write books on their own time—any books?!
    I have been thinking about the privacy vs. disinterest conundrum, though. All my life I’ve cringed my way through answering people’s nosy questions and thought that’s just the way everyone socialized with new people. Recently I joined a company where my coworkers seem very laid back, nobody has asked any personal questions, and “Where do you come from?” means which company you worked at previously, not which country. I love it and it’s a hugely refreshing change, but I’m also not used to it. (And it may not last, either, who knows.)
    Hope your newfound reconciliation of the two lives works out for the best! I can totally see the “celebrity” aspect bringing in more students… but I’ll stop there!

    • No – keep going. This is a very interesting conversation. I do think Japan is marvellous in the way that it respects the privacy of the individual (even while, ironically, crushing them under the weight of societal obligations – everything here is always a conundrum and a contradiction; everything.) Still, if I had not actually told some teachers about the book, I honestly think that no one in the entire company would have a clue about it. They have so little free time, and are so desperate to do whatever they want to do at that time, that they certainly wouldn’t be bothered to look me up even if they DID hear something.

      But I would have assumed that students or parents would have googled me. I am the first name that comes up now – and it is just a few clicks to get to anything you want to read about me on the Black Narcissus. It has long felt precarious, to be honest, and part of me has suffered mentally from the feeling that everything could all come crashing down at any moment. At the same time, my fierce need for true expression overrides all of that : if it came to it, I would choose this every time (in truth, though, art is respected here; the very fact I DO have a book, and was featured in a famous magazine ups the ante and is probably quite appealing for parents – wow, our son’s teacher is actually a writer – so it is not only a negative thing by any means).

      Glad you are in an environment where you are comfortable. I will never forget the day I started working at a school in London and was told to ‘fuck off’ during the first five minutes by a very angry teacher who was just taking out his frustrations at his lot in life on me: I practically had a heart attack from the stress. In England, although people are polite to a large extent, there is definitely more of a need to express the ego; I also have that, which is why I find it sometimes too repressive to my spirit to work too long in a Japanese staff room. At the same time, it is strangely liberating. Just keeping yourself to yourself, and then returning home to your own, secret world.

      • I imagine that parents would be clamoring to have their students in your class, to be taught English by a “famous author”—by that time, you would be charging premium rates and could even open your own school… I wasn’t sure this was quite your version of the fantasy, though, which is why I said I’d stop there!

        I’m sorry to hear you had such a bad experience. A close friend of mine was bullied by other teachers when she worked at a school in London many years ago—it made her really miserable and she had to take medical leave from the stress. She ended up taking the school to court and getting a settlement. (Now she is pursuing a career in law.)

        I could never quite grasp the extent of an emotion when expressed by a British person in some of my interactions. For example, when describing a meal, “It’s alright” to me would mean it’s mediocre, while they could be saying it’s quite good. Another time, someone else’s furious reaction was conveyed to me as, “She was a bit annoyed” (with no sarcasm).

        I’ve decided it’s easiest to expect work environments to stay as such—I will express myself in the way I dress and talk (not in any overdone way, just that everyone has different styles anyway), but I won’t proactively overshare about my personal life. If a friendship forms organically and we get to know more about each other on that level, then great, as has occasionally happened. But I won’t feel “not properly known” or anything if the boundary is never crossed. Me saying this probably goes against corporate America’s current messaging about “bringing your authentic self to work every day,” but to me, keeping things separate isn’t inauthentic, as I am 100% authentic in how I show up at work. On the other hand, every leadership development course advises that people should reveal some personal stuff and thus show vulnerability to be more relatable, which helps people to trust you and be more inclined to follow you. It is all about balance!

      • I think what you write here is brilliant.

        I also know what you mean about British understatement: I am Mr Hyperbole, so ‘a bit annoyed’ when the meaning is ‘fucking furious’ or ‘absolutely livid’ is inherently very irritating to me. D is naturally understated as well, so it causes clashes sometimes. I LOVE strong adjectives. Not all the time, obviously, as they would be rendered meaningless, but when the moment is right. ‘Irritated’ is not the same as ‘apoplectic’ – like when Facebook and Twitter closed down Donald. You can be sure that the latter adjective was more appropriate.

  2. Tara C

    I wish people were less nosy and inquisitive here in North America, I loathe being asked, Where are you from? Such a meaningless question, totally irrelevant to who I really am and who I want to be in the present moment. Why is it so important to people where I was born (something I had no control over), whether I’m married or have children, what I do for a living. Who cares about all that? I’d rather discuss a great book I just read, what I’m excited about right now, what makes me really happy. Things that actually matter. Failing that I’d prefer polite disinterest.
    I think it’s great that you got to show off your book and magazine article to the kids, despite the bit of fear it aroused. I imagine they’re so busy with their own lives they won’t spend time googling Black Narcissus. As you say they’d rather be reading manga and playing video games. But it’s right there on that edge, wanting to be known and also wanting to be let alone, anonymous.

    • Perfectly put. And it is interesting that you know exactly what I am talking about re: probing questions. I am ‘out’ at work, even though having to write that disgusting word makes me furious (the fact of people having to ‘come out’ in the first place is deeply, deeply infuriating to me – everyone can fuck off! How dare anyone even have to go through that excruciating and dehumanizing rite of passage, but I digress). In my case, it is not so much the gay thing but the savagery of some of my content that slightly worries me in terms of parents seeing it etc. Any other perfume blog would be fine – most are quite nicey nicey – but I have never had any interest in that (you can see why – I have quite enough of it in my daily life!) I would never redact or edit myself, as to me the Black Narcissus is my life and testament, and I LOVE it – but at the same time I do sometimes feel rather vulnerable. Overexposed. So really, I probably shouldn’t have taken in the book and magazines. I instigated this. But sometimes, you just want to start a fucking conversation.

      • Tara C

        It’s much more accepted now, but back when I started my working life, it was unacceptable, scandalous even, to not want children. What kind of woman doesn’t want a child? So I was very careful to hide it, sometimes even playing the infertility card just to be left alone. I can only imagine how deeply uncomfortable and infuriating it would be to be expected to reveal my sex life to complete strangers, as if it was anyone’s business but my own.

      • In Japan, anything sexual is strictly verboten. You would NEVER even broach the topic. Unless you were at an office drinking party, but those are thankfully dying with the older generation. The newer generation is much more protective of their free time etc and I am pleased this is happening.

        Sometimes, though, you wish people would at least discuss current events a bit more here. Or just admit that they are fed up or depressed because it is a horrible rainy day. I do sometimes find the ‘quest for pleasantness’ rather exhausting. I think I probably come across as emotionally juvenile to many Japanese people, because I hardly even TRY to hide my emotions. I am crap at it!

      • Tara C

        I don’t try much to hide mine either and I’m much more emotional than my husband, he judges me for getting angry or frustrated, which of course makes me even more aggravated.

      • I have some students who find a lack of emotional self control disgusting.

        This is the land of the samurai after all.

        But we are what we are. I am personally DELIGHTED not to have been born emotionally constipated – I think it would be tedious beyond imagining, being locked inside yourself. No thank you! And I think my feral self thrills quite a lot of the students, because they have probably never experienced anything like it before. I UNLOCK some of them, honestly.

    • Tara, this is exactly what I realized fairly recently about WHY I would tend to get annoyed when people ask streams of questions about my origin, family background, relationship status, etc. I used to think it was because I didn’t like some of the answers, and eventually rationalized to myself that people were curious because these details helped them understand why I thought or behaved a certain way. But that’s precisely it—these details are simply circumstantial, facts over which I have no control, and I would MUCH rather share the parts of who I am that I actively cultivated, such as interests, discoveries, preferences, and opinions.
      It makes me cringe that I have also made others uncomfortable in the very same way because I never thought that others would dislike it too—I was careful not to ask anything that I specifically wouldn’t want to answer for myself, but all else seemed fair game, because I thought that was simply THE way that people interacted and that leaving them alone would be perceived as disinterest on my part! Sigh.
      Totally relate to the “edge,” too—the balance is hard to manage.

      • I go over it: despite what I have written here, I am very direct and hit straight to the source: my eyes are quite penetrating, and some people find it all too much. I am completely contradicting myself here I know, but ultimately I do YEARN for meaningful interaction. At the same time, having societal barriers present means that there are protective buffer zones that you can hide behind; the feeling is so strong that you can physically sense that something shouldn’t be pushed further.

      • I yearn for it too, but many times people would ask a bunch of questions and then lose interest or forget soon after, such that nothing meaningful came out of the exchange. The good interactions happen organically, I find…

  3. Curious how the definition and levels of privacy varies across cultures. 
    India shocked me with its brazenness, strangers on the street feel entitled to ask you anything. Indians see no problem with asking you how much money you make to why you don’t have children. I have even been asked to remove my shoes to see if my feet are white like the rest of me.
    I would think being taught English by a famous writer would be a boon, no?

    • I am definitely not a famous writer, but I agree that some parents, of a more artistic bent, would certainly not mind the fact that their kids’ teacher can string a sentence together.

      I can just imagine a kid scrolling down through all of the BN though and coming across something rather fruity and scandalous and saying ‘mom? look at this!’

  4. Renée Stout

    I really enjoyed reading this. After Covid and the police killings and civil unrest of 2020, having a society that prides itself on maintaining a civil environment for ALL of its citizens is something that seems quite appealing. 2020 exposed, on every level, the shortcomings on valuing the right of the individual over the rights of the community/society that we each have to coexist in. I’m not saying that I would want the U.S. to be as extreme as Japan in its conformity, but we definitely could take lessons in civility from them to prevent the country from falling apart, which it seems to be doing as we speak. The world should observe this cautionary tale as it plays out and learn these lessons well.

    • I think this is a really good perspective and I agree entirely. Both philosophies/ societies are too extreme in the group-oriented/individualistic spectrum – also, in Japan there is the pressure to not stand out, whereas in the States it is surely the opposite; you are a ‘somebody, or a nobody’ – somewhere in between would be magnificent. Civility is alive and very well here – I think something feral and ferocious has been unleashed chez vous, and in the UK as well. People gnashing at each other like rottweilers, with pure hatred for the opposite political viewpoint. Sometimes it literally is better not to even KNOW the political viewpoint of your colleagues, and then you just create each other as human beings.

  5. emmawoolf

    Utterly fascinating. I don’t know really where to start here (plus ca change..), will email. I’m the opposite at work – definitely an oversharer. When I read your first sentence, my first thought was….really? But then… I don’t live or work in Japan. Your article shed an interesting light on Japanese culture (and see our Japanese students and Japanese boss in a different way. ) However, I feel that nothing but good can come of your new-found fame. For one thing, I’m so relieved to be in a job where I can actually be myself rather than put on a mask, which is utterly exhausting and I did it for far, far too long. All love x

    • You are an excellent example of work frustration, actually, which shows that it is not only a result of being in a foreign culture. You were dying before in that uptight, stressy, pretending to be nice to each other but actually screaming inside for years and years – and so I am delighted you are now able to be yourself. For me, if you can’t be yourself, you may as well be dead. There is no point being alive. That is how strongly I feel about it. But at the same time, if everybody were just extravagantly ‘themselves’ all the time, there would be no harmony. So I suppose it is all about degree.

      I can see why you might dispute my first sentence, actually, because it is not entirely true, you are right. I DO share a fair bit with a few the J-teachers I get on well with, and my aggressive personality certainly shines through in the classroom. But simultaneously, honestly, my students know NOTHING about me, and there are schools I go to where I literally discuss nothing, nor talk about anything, either because I can’t join in the conversation for linguistic reasons, or people are just discussing meaningless safe drivel such as how cheap the bento they managed to eat was (food is a very safe topic……(yawns himself to death), as is baseball etc (yawn even more).

      Some days are just konnichiwa and sayonara.

      This is why the second I get home no Friday nights and we open the wine, D gets a torrent of monologue that last the entire weekend. This term is fortunately better, as there are people I get on better with – we can actually discuss films! And I lend them DVDs and so on – and today, one of my colleagues is picking us up to do some filming – D drowning me at the bottom of a lake as Burning Bush, so this is DEFINITELY a case of breaking on through to the other side!

  6. Tom H.

    One of my all-time TBN favorites!!

    • Really? That’s nice to hear. I felt a bit exposed putting it up but wanted to share the experience.

    • Just to clarify and expand the conversation a little bit here in case I am just seen as generalising too much (which I am).

      What I say about Japanese office environments doesn’t mean that there are no clashes, disputes or disagreements. I have seen those on occasion. There is also quite a lot of puppet master moving and manoeuvring of people who don’t get on – someone was moved from one of my schools last week, so clearly he had been having interpersonal differences with others. I also had a colleague I couldn’t be in the same room as, and he couldn’t bear me either, and my bosses subtly rearranged our schedules so we would never have to see each other any more. The point was, there was never any outburst or actual argument or publicly pleasant words.

      Also, whenever I write something about Japan you have to bear in mind that I don’t have a command of the language; I only half-speak it, and can’t read and write. There are plenty of witty and intelligent people who are having conversations with each other in Japanese about god knows what – word play, sly humour, stuff I don’t get. Again, though, it is all definitely being kept on a pleasant level – that part is indisputable.

      Oh also: sighing is not allowed.


  7. Robin

    Really lovely, uplifting post to read on this Sunday afternoon, my dear Neil.

    I think this shift to reveal more of your self is a step in a good direction for both you and for your students. I can’t help but think that it will give you more energy back — the unconscious energy spent on compartmentalizing, keeping certain aspects of your true wholeness to yourself, even though in some ways that was easier, simpler, safer — and your students will have that extra facet of understanding a different way of being, a different personal culture, and might even awaken to aspects of that nature in themselves. Deeper education.

    I would have taken the mag and book into work, too. If you’ve got it, semi-flaunt it!

    I’m quite comfortable with Canadians and our ways. We’ve got a nice balance here of public and private personas. We’re open to hearing about people, but only to the extent they want to reveal themselves to us. We’re pretty accepting of differences, respectful, and tend to think that being vulnerable and willing to expose our shadow selves, our darker sides, is a brave and healthy thing. This is my personal experience as well as what I see in our media. I see the world becoming more divisive, though, and we have absorbed some of that way of thinking. I hope it doesn’t gather too much more momentum. It’s bad enough to see it happening to our neighbours to the south. We have many friends there and not all of them are happy with it. Some are leaning further towards one end of the spectrum or the other, and it’s harder for us to find the golden mean, to commonalities. Tricky stuff.

    • I sometimes don’t know what is NOT tricky in life anymore ; I also know that no nation is utopia. Culture, as in the different nations kind, is ultimately profoundly exhausting.

      Thanks for your understanding re the kids : I feel you are right. The book and the magazine might be doing the rounds this week.

  8. Robin

    Reflecting on your comment about culture and in the different nations kind. In some ways, I think I find dealing with sub-cultures within my own national culture more exhausting, because we have to co-exist, and it is wearying to constantly rub against our differences. Those underlying conflicts, in values and behaviour, can really mess with ya.

    • It all does, unless you have some Teflon Buddha-like consciousness. That is probably why you and I hole ourselves away half the time. The microworld.

      • Robin

        Yeah, definitely. I like living in the world of nature, art and my imagination. It’s a big, inviting space.

      • Robin

        And you with Duncan, and myself with Ric. That adds immeasurably to the pleasure and sense of connection.

  9. I love how people are able to keep their private lives private in Japan. As was stated above, here in North America, people want to know every minute detail of your life. It is so infuriating and invasive. I hate when people question why we don’t want children, it is ridiculous.
    I do have to say, I am surprised you were able to keep your private life hidden for so long. I figured all anyone had to do was search your name online and there you would be, but then again, maybe there is just an unspoken rule to not go prying into people’s lives even online.
    Would love to hear an update on what happens.

    • Well I have already had lessons with that class again, expected snide comments or sarcasm or something, but instead the atmosphere just felt fresher. I don’t know if this means that people researched and didn’t care, or more likely that they are simply too busy to be bothered.

      As you say, though, it is all online at the touch of a button, so there IS something rather mystifying about it all!

      In the US, in my experience people tend to reveal a great deal of personal information in the first couple of minutes – My wife and I are getting a divorce etc: in some ways it can be disarming and enable intimacy, but in others it sometimes feels a bit like a resume you just hand out to someone of all life’s major dramas. Here, it would take quite a while to get to that point.

      • That is wonderful that the atmosphere felt fresher. Anything to help lighten the heaviness of a cram school I guess.
        It is true in the US that people love to over share about themselves. It is so perplexing to me. I will never understand why there is this incessant need to bare all. I don’t need that immediate type of intimacy with random strangers.

      • Tara C

        What is ironic is people will overshare the most intimate information, but remain superficially friendly and never invite you over or become close. They seem very open but then keep you at arm’s length.

      • I am also very wary of that.

      • Very true. Like how everyone greets people in a store with “Hi, how are you?” When they really don’t care how you are at all. Being European, so many commonplace things in the states, leave me so puzzled.

      • The opposite can also be limiting though…

        Life, and human beings….so complicated.

  10. georgemarrows

    Thank you Mr C, I really enjoyed that one. It skipped beautifully from Japanese work culture to questions of identity, teaching techniques, adolescent life, and, er, The Doors. I wouldn’t have guessed you’d be any kind of fan – maybe you’re not? And that last image made me grin. Perhaps you could give a performance for the kids?

    • I actually do quite like the Doors in small doses.

      You wouldn’t believe that I have been listening to RAINBOW this weekend (and loving it). A secret rock penchant.

      I remember us dancing to Aerosmith in your mouldy basement flat. xxx

      And thanks, G. I just ramble these things out and never know what they will end up like.


      • georgemarrows

        Just revisiting The Doors now for the first time in years. I do like a bit of organ in my 60s’s music, and they have it front and centre. It’s the incredible disappearing rock instrument.

        Rainbow though, I have never knowingly heard a song by. Point me at a good one. There was a boy with long greasy hair at school whose bag had marker-pen logos for Rainbow and Deep Purple. He always seemed immensely uncool, even from my lowly rung on the cool ladder.

        Aerosmith 🙂

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