4. There is a hell of a lot to the New York Times
I have spent hours, days, just poring over one edition of The New York Times ( I have a small pile of them next to my bed) when I have been in the enviable, or unenviable – depending on your perspective – position of having ‘nothing to do’.


See me sigh and stretch ‘dolefully’, yawn contentedly, lazily, then reach out for whatever day of newspaper happens to be lying around; open it up to whatever page it opens to, and peruse the articles at my slow, unrushed leisure.
Too ‘liberal’ and left wing for many people, and probably not left wing enough for a great many of my friends, I personally find The New York Times to be ideal. Idealistic up to a point, but founded on reality. Humanistic, empathic, even very poetic, but its eyes impassioned and clear.
In Japan, the international edition of the NYT is delivered together, as a unified package, to people’s houses with the equally longstanding and ‘respected’ English national newspaper The Japan Times, though the quality of writing is actually incomparable. While interesting from some angles to get the Japanese, – and also the expatriate – perspective, much of the newspaper in truth comes across as parochial and amateurish, and it is packed with unintentionally comic misusages of words and/or peculiar, unnatural expressions that can be quite hilarious on a late Saturday morning together at home in Kamakura when we mockingly read out to each other the highlights : a long deceased author planning, apparently, a ‘comeback’, a commuter is ‘surprised’ to find a rotting dead grandmother packed into a suitcase in a train station coin locker, you can almost feel the writers thinking in Japanese and then writing in English, with an overpreponderance of certain expressions that invariably get on my wick.


The writers and editors try really hard to be colloquial in their headlines : “Japan, Aussies eye nuke deal” and such like, but for me the overfamilarity comes over as idiotic. “Ladies are able to enjoy a special, cherry-blossom themed lunch set just for women’ will be written in the what to do section, as though it were still 1896, so quaint and old fashioned ( and they still use the expression ” members of the opposite sex” which I personally think has no place in writing anywhere at all any more, but maybe that’s just me). It is so ‘off’ the majority of the time, but that’s also why I enjoy sometimes dipping into it.


I do have many criticisms about The Japan Times, yes, but then again I am intolerably pedantic when it comes to such things ( I am, after all, an English teacher even though I sometimes forget that reality ( especially now !). Simultaneously, though, as I said, I do still retain some affection, in a way, for its crappy little weirdly Nipponesque quirks.


I have no such quibbles with The New York Times of course. Surrounded by rubbish, inaccurate English all day long ( Japan’s English education system is a tragedy of incompetence and misguided strategy, but that’s a whole other story and I’ll come to it another time), this deservedly venerable publication and beauteous, relentless bleeding thorn in the side of the current ‘president’, is a fount of contemporary English that keeps my lexiconic bloodstream fresh and zinging.


While initially, many years ago, we only started having the NYT delivered because the newspaper guy who came knocking on the door one day on his motorbike was so cute, it was also the only newspaper available for regular delivery in Japan ( it might seem strange to some people reading this that an Englishman is so devoted to an American paper, but when returning back home and reading the approximate British equivalents – The Guardian or The Independent – on a train journey somewhere across the countryside, I am, as I alternate between trying to get through an article and daydreaming out the window at the beautiful green landscape, bored stiff. There is quite often a moroseness, there, a rainy British miserabilism that underlies the ethos and temperament of these publications: almost a fatalistic inevitability; and stone-set uniformity of opinion that to me, quite often, is quite honestly stultifying.
In this hospital I have not watched the news at all. Sometimes on the way to the physio room at 1pm I have caught glimpses of firemen climbing ladders, : smoke coming out of some building or other: talking heads mouthing about Trump or Kim Jong Un, but by that point I am already there disembarking from my wheelchair onto the exercise mat and am never able catch any of the unfolding, ‘horrifying’ details.


I actually haven’t watched the news, now, for about twenty odd years or so, in truth, for the quite simple reason that I don’t really consider it ‘news’. What it is, really, is quite cunningly selected sensationalism doled out by inhuman, wide-eyed presenters with phony compassion and horrendous makeup. People that are paid to pretend to CARE. I realized this most completely when in a hotel, last year, with the D, I think, in Hanoi, watching the ‘news hour’ on CNN, and the coiffed, gesticulating and maybellined anchors were in the middle of delivering and dramatizing up as much as they could, the main news story of that evening – an explosion at a chemical unit in a port city in southern China, and were assuring us that they would ‘keepus up to date’ the second they got more information ( i.e. the numbers of bodies, the billions of dollars damage, and on the spot ‘interviews’ with singed and shell shocked bystanders) and I remember thinking to myself, I’m sorry, but although i don’t wish death and destruction upon anybody, and in an abstract way, as a fellow human being who basically just wants us all to be able to live our lives happily and in peace, of course on one level I feel sorry for the injured or the bereaved, but let’s be completely honest here , I don’t know any of these people and don’t, actually, in truth, really even care and neither do you : at ALL. By tomorrow there will be another story, and the Chinese explosion victims will just be swept under the carpet and none of us will ever think about any of them ever again so just stop the fucking hypocritical claptrap.
I don’t need that kind of ‘news’: a pile up on a highway in central Japan; a car explosion in Baghdad, a shooting in America; what good does it do to know about these daily tragedies, when what we really should be worried about is the polar ice caps melting, or the gradual taking over the world by evil, and ruthlessly voracious, tycoons
No. I don’t need for my day to be sullied by this transparently alarmist insincerity. The same deaths on loop, the exclamation pointed, intentional terror – to keep us anxious and rueing the terrible world that we live in – negativity. The blabbering bullshit, the exasperating,serenity-polluting background noise. I remember one summer’s day at my parent’s house, and the TV was on in the background, and there was a story on the local news that I must have seen and heard three or four times during the course of one day concerning a light Cesna plane that had crashed in a field near a farm ( but nobody had been hurt, the pilot getting away fortunately with nothing more serious than a broken leg).


And I imagine that I was thinking ‘good for him’, or something along those lines, but by the final recitation, the fourth or fifth time, that same evening, of this pleasant, but not exactly mind-riveting turn of events, I was thinking for fuck’s sake, I can’t hear about that bloody plane anymore, turn that stupid thing OFF: it’s just drivel that bangs away incessantly in the background and occludes thoughts.


No. With my New York Times in hand I can avoid all this. I can turn the pages slowly and read the articles that I like, pieces not just about the latest outrages, but lengthy, brilliantly written pieces about all aspects of world culture; idiosyncratic – I really appreciate that they include so many different viewpoints, not just one filter bubble of fixed political preference-intelligent, and most of all, humorous. Some of the writers in this newspaper can be scathingly, hilariously funny and reading it through on a daily basis at home anyway, but REALLY reading it here with all this time on my hands, I can truly say that it is one of my biggest, most informative, and aesthetically pleasures of my life.






I can’t really think of a more mood-lifting perfume than Guerlain’s Terracotta parfum



When I first came here, after the double surgery, it was all about orange blossom and neroli : just happiness and positivity in a bottle, simplicity, because I felt so internally traumatized that I just wanted scents of easy sunshine yellow. For a few weeks, intermittently ( because I was constantly being reprimanded by the nurses about smell), that was all I was using.
With a hospital gift I then segued, for two or three weeks perhaps ( time has honestly become almost immeasurable), into the peculiarly-not-quite-right but still strangely enjoyable ( and good for compounding and consolidating memories of certain places, experiences and people): the chemicalized, laboratory-white-coat- smelling Kenzo Amour Eau Florale, that I quite enjoyed as a ‘made for hospital’ olfactory experience.

In the last few days, though, even if not quite right for a hospital ( none of it has been to be honest, but I don’t like the smell of the pyjamas that we have changed daily, which are obviously, for the benefit of the sick, not washed with any kind of scented washing powder or fabric conditioner that might make them feel uncomfortable or queasy) – or else allergic.


Instead, they smell of human – that tender, natural, musky family smell of another person’s skin and hair and bones that hasn’t quite come out in the wash. Natural, inevitable : but I don’t like it.
Fortunately, the body soap in the bathroom is quite scented, and it overpowers the latent and slightly pitiful smell of sick old man lingering still lingering in the bedwear, so that when you wheelchair yourself, clean, refreshed and vigorously showered back to your room, your skin is quite primed – pleasantly, for perfume.
The other day with the bright sun of May shining hotly in the new, blue, wind-swept sky, I could smell the sea, about half a mile away, and was suddenly desperate for that summertime, lazy beach feeling.
Fortunately I had already anticipated that I would be feeling like this and had got Duncan to bring in my wave washed, Polynesian fantasia, Eau De Tiare by Reva Tahiti which I am wearing right now – just delightful; perfect for today; gentle, like frangipani flowers just breathing in their beingness, and also from home ( where I was able to perfectly guide Duncan to where the bottles were in my messed up, haphazard collection- funny how the perfume geek just REMEMBERS, somehow): Guerlain’s two best tropical island get away reveries, Ylang Vanille from 1999, and 2014’s ravishing summer floral, Terracotta Le Parfum.





There is a lady who is dying in the room adjacent to mine. I saw her this morning- I try not to catch a glimpse, but sometimes the door is ajar and I just cannot help myself. She is clearly very near her death- in fact I have never seen someone so shockingly skeletal.


Cared for round the clock by the nurses, whose station is right next to her room, and relatives, who maintain a permanent, night and day vigil, it has been difficult to strike a balance between wanting to remain respectful, and to try not to disturb them as much as I humanly can (though I myself have quite often been disturbed by the voices that unavoidable come from there at all hours of the day and night), and just wanting to push all of it completely AWAY.


Only one wall divides us, and though we never know, any of us, when we are actually going to reach that long dreaded moment of the inevitable – for all I know, I could die before finishing this piece – seeing her, lying there just a few hours ago, face contorted back on the pillow in surrender and readiness, there is no doubt where the direct confrontation with mortality is actually occurring.


The lady’s relatives, despite the fact that we have been staying next door to one another for several weeks now, never acknowledge me. I can understand : they don’t need, in the middle of what must already be an incipient grieving process, to have to think about dealing with anyone, let alone a perfumed, weirdo foreigner, and they keep their eyes down and averted when we occasionally cross paths in the corridor. When they hear me coming out of my room, someone inside often locks the door.

I feel for them. Never have I seen a living person look so cadaver-like ( I don’t wish to see further), it cannot be easy for anyone concerned;band the situation could make me overly contemplate my own mortality, if I let it; at night, just knowing. At the same time, the lack of human greeting slightly hardens me, and I feel more justified in shutting my own door tight, and switching on the film projector that Duncan brought in for me, the lavishness of the light and the sheer indulgence of having my own cinema – a huge screen right before me on the wall that we share, as they bunker down inside with her, and the other patients, in their ward rooms, lie staring into the space around them, at their phones, or sleep openly.


It is my space. And without sinking into complete selfishness, I have to protect myself. I need scent to rise above, break through the membrane of irreality into my own reality : in my chamber. And these floral perfumes, so full of life, and light, and flowers that grow alongside hot sand, palm-fronded water, smell even more joyous and uplifting in these strained, unusual circumstances. I try not to overdo it, I don’t want to make anybody uncomfortable, but merely one spray on the right wrist of Terracotta, bursting with ylang ylang and coconut and frangipani, jasmine and orange flower and whispers of vanilla, just sometimes really isn’t enough. Perfumes like these – full of the living, solar jouissance of sensual, dynamic memory, are so hard for me – even when faced with the sad, morbid reality of a human being’s life – to resist.




6. Japanese is a beautiful language

Japanese, to me, is beautiful. A
shift between moisture and dry; between river reeds and rushes and rustling kimono and the tap a tap dry sun clack of geta on wood.


I will never master this language, because I am too lazy ( and lack the ability: I think that Japanese is a grammatical/visual/ conceptual linguistic system that some brains take much more readily to than others ), but simultaneously, it has been pleasureable being immersed in the many sounds of the language all of this time : gentle, clear: hypnotic.

When the physiotherapists are counting up to thirty or forty during the exercises, I sometimes lose myself within the numbers or the spaces in between; lulled by something ancient, tranquil, but stern; disciplined; fresh.



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1. Things smell differently in hospital

Hospitals are not known for smelling nice. Smells are definitively not the top priority; rather the elimination of them. Cleaning staff roam the rooms and the corridors in white masks, and aprons, mopping, wiping down and spraying. Surfaces are bleached, disinfected.

Due to this constantly cleaned, and unvaryingly blanded, out aroma; your gradual habituation to the nulled, daily aromascape of your own room, all other extraneous smells that come from outside, particularly perfumes, begin to loom large so full of life and colour, so pregnant with sensuality, they feel like alien invasions.

I soon began to be able to quite easily recognize which nurses were on the ward at any given time, without even seeing them, by the scent trail of their individual deodorants, washing powders or fabric conditioners – fascinating how long the smells of other people take to fully dissipate from my room: a gradual descrescendo of scent molecules slowly detaching themselves stubbornly from the air, as the ambience returns to its former state, although the majority of the staff, as you would probably expect, are scentless, or try to be ( with the very notable exception of one maturer nurse, more glamorous, always fully made-up,who is drenched in Opium every shift she works: you can smell her in every corner of the building, and it lingers, either vintage YSL, or a Japanese derivative ( but not Cinnabar, I’m still not quite sure quite what it is ) ……..I finally asked her yesterday and she said ‘Coco: Chanel ” but it still strikes me as quite unsuitable; such a heavy, vellutinous tigress prowling round the walls of the corridors at night.

I am surprised that Head Matron Number One, that most irritating of women – snooty, fastidious, who talks down to all the patients, especially me, as though we were three year olds, and regularly is returned with very barbed comments from yours truly ( my Japanese has really improved since being here), hasn’t chastised her for her spiced, balsamic crime already. She certainly has reprimanded me on several occasions (she was very alarmed by my frankincense; my ‘aromas’), and always talks to me, when she dares to enter my room, eyes averted, as if wasn’t there.


Everything comes across larger than life in a hospital. As though entering from another, more multilayered dimension (as I was going along in my wheelchair just now, someone unexpectedly just walked by me reeking of pure patchouli oil, clouds of it : astonishing, like a fabulous vision of my past).


Even perfume aside, though,  when a visitor enters my room, I can immediately can smell them, sense, the ozone: the hubbub and pheromones and certainties of life out there in the real world; the worries, the traffic, the distance and physical exertion of real, daily life, the sheer exhaustion of the surging day to day, and it sometimes almost makes me instantaneously feel anxious and aware of my coddling; of being ensconced and cocooned in my room for too long in my cotton, pale green pyjamas, and pillows and tepid soups and drinks ; an intimidated, semi-infantilized Andy Pandy who has to have everything given to him by nurses, at specified intervals, on a tray.


In here, all perfume smells Big, and Adult. Sexed.Impressive. My old friend Justin came with his wife to see me on a number of occasions and the Nuit De L’Homme that he wears, an Yves Saint Laurent perfume that I was not overly familiar with, was seductive. Sprayed just twice on his stomach before leaving their apartment, it was just the right amount of scent, just enough to give a present, sexual sway of scent without hammering it home. Another day, some younger, more recent American friends of friends who came to visit, went for a walk with me around the hospital and they just smelled delightfully, put-your-mind-at-rest clean, in a good way, as Americans usually do; of fabric softeners, body cremes, and sweet smelling citrus. I followed their soft sillage in my wheelchair, as we went up to the sea view seventh floor tea lounge, smiling.


Then there is Duncan.
Whenever he enters the room (and he has been here so much, weighed down with things that I need, tired from the long trip by bus, carrying fruit and pastries and all manner of things) he always comes, unconsciously on his part, roundedly redolent of the house; all residual patchouli and Japanese O-Koh : memories of perfume; the incense which must have penetrated the walls of our house; our rooms; and all our clothes, our lives even, more than I ever realized.



2. A drop of frankincense oil on the tongue makes me sleep


Although dosed with painkillers and a single sleeping tablet each night, plus earplugs just for good measure due to my extreme sound sensitivity ( and hypersensitivity to all sensorial stimuli in general), I still quite often wake up in the middle of the night because of the to-ing and froing; the clinical clatter, the loud-voiced old dears suffering from dementia who need to be taken to the toilet by the incredibly hardworking nurses working the night shift.


My dreamlife is now boring: attenuated and mundane – nothing ever gets to actually happen, that part of my brain switched down;  so I don’t mind being woken up from one of them. But glancing at my phone, usually at two hourly intervals or so, I think to myself: oh how am I ever going to get back to sleep?


A tiny dab from my frankincense bottle, placed next to my bed on the nightstand, put directly onto the tongue, is the answer.
Within minutes, seconds even, I find myself drifting off back to sleep.


Frankincense has also been amazingly effective for healing my scars. Although probably not allowed to by the doctors (we were told not to put anything on our legs), once the surgical wounds had closed over, I didn’t hesitate in applying some arnica tincture and oil of frankincense, each night, on the areas of my legs in closet proximity to the cuts; then, when they were healed and dry, directly onto them.


As I expected, the cicatrizing properties of these oils were very apparent : the wounds were paler, tighter, more healed. All of the doctors and nurses have commented on how ‘kirei’ my scars are: I have told no one the actual reason.



3. Japan has a really excellent healthcare system


I don’t personally believe that there is any contradiction in believing in a love of life and liberty, and the simultaneous existence of a social security system: one that cares for its citizens, and allows for basic necessary protections such as healthcare.

Freud said that the basic struggle for the human organism, and I feel this keenly myself as a very independent and rebellious individual, is the psychologically damaging clash between the desire for personal expression and the frustrating, but quite essential – to prevent total anarchy and chaos – repressions of society. Like a toddler, we want what we want, when we want it. We hate restrictions, we hate conventions ( at least I do ); we cannot tolerate having reins put on our intentions.


But no one can live without others, and surely this is one of the blessings as well as the curses of being a human being. We are sociable animals, for better or for worse; we are born into a society, a county, a city, a community, and so we cannot just say to hell with everybody else I am out for what’s mine, and let me leave bootmarks on your forehead while I am clawing up the  ‘ladder of success’in the process.


I am no communist, nor even a committed socialist, but I despise ruthless capitalism far, far more for its essential heartlessness and exploitative, money grubbing amorality. The divide of humanity into the Ultrarich, and the rest of us. The sickening, endless lust for money, and power.


And That Creature who is mystifyingly perched like a fat, grotesque parakeet somewhere in the environs of The White House embodies everything that disgusts me about that system the most.


For me, he is a paragon, an exemplar, of What Not To Be. That see-through selfishness. The thorough, and absolute, lack of true compassion.


And the ‘healthcare’ plans that those soulless, besuited antichrists want to bestow upon America, are so beyond contempt for me morally ( let’s just pray that the British Conservatives never succeed in aping the proposterously unfair US ‘model’ ) that I can’t quite find the right words to even address them.


But here I am, being treated properly, fairly, and kindly, in a real hospital. In Yokusuka, a city in Eastern Japan. A place to treat illness. Where every citizen in the country is entitled to be treated, by law, as the nation has mandatory 100% % coverage, insurance that is taken directly from your salary, or paid by the government if you don’t have one, and the individual is expected to pay around 30% percentage of the total cost for examinations and medicines upon presenting their national health card.


It is a system that works. I can’t find anything to object to in such a set up (those red faced, evil ‘Christians’ apoplectically screaming HEALTHCARE IS NOT A RIGHT !! at the top of their neighbour-hating lungs are so utterly beneath my ethical contempt that I have no words ):it’s just a deductible tax; everybody pays it, and then, as almost all humans do, when the day comes that they have a health problem, they have the reassurance that they will not just be abandoned to die just because they happened to have the misfortune to have been born into the wrong economic bracket.



The last time I was hospitalized was fifteen years ago, in London, for pneumonia. I checked myself in at the Royal Free in Hampstead, North London, and had excellent care for the eight days I stayed there. When I was discharged I didn’t have to pay a penny. The National Health Service is a source of great pride to many people, even if it is a huge, lumbering ship with many leaks that need fixing. Most British people can’t imagine life without it.


However, If I had needed this surgery in the U.K, I wouldn’t have been able to, as I am disenfranchised now from having been away so many years in a foreign country, and no longer entitled to claim the benefits of the free health care, but even if I had been living there as a tax-paying, regular Brit, there are waiting lists so extensive for this type of operation, that it could have taken years for me to ever get treated. I could have been really seriously crippled by the time I saw a surgeon.


Even then, even if I had been lucky enough to book the surgery, the procedure in the U.K. (and I think America as well, is really quite different.) At most, even for a double osteotomy, you would be in hospital for a week and then forced to just fend for yourself.


Hospital appointed physiotherapists would be sent to your living place twice weekly, but other than that it would just be painkillers and crutches, complete immobility, and painstaking efforts to avoid getting the scar tissue infected (GOD knows what happens in America to the poor and disadvantaged – do they just have to accept their disability and never walk again? Is that just their ‘lot’ in life, because they were too ‘lazy’ to sort out their own coverage? God, it really is a cruel and callous society sometimes). I cannot even imagine how I would have dealt with all this at home by myself when Duncan was at work.


Here, when you sign up for this surgery with the hospital, you sign up for the entire package; sign a declaration that you will entrust yourself to the care of the hospital, and will make proper efforts in the physiotherapy, and the hospital in turn promises to do their absolute best for you back in return.


And that is then what happens.


The British NHS website I looked at said that for the bi-lateral closed wedge high tibial osteotomies I had, the most complicated and painful of all the knee surgeries, apparently, because both legs are broken, cut, and rearranged, the patient could expect to start putting full weight on the knees at around 8 weeks after the operation and begin walking at around 12. Alone at home, I think this would have been quite nightmarish. With those bruises, bloodied, swollen legs that I could barely even move?


Here, once I was out of post-operative care and moved to the rehabilitation ward, there has been round the clock care, with all the necessary painkillers, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and Chinese herbal remedies ( considered essential – and I love that ) administered at the required intervals, daily examination by the doctors, advice by the nurses on what exercises to do and encouragement when exercising, and of course daily afternoon sessions and follow up with your physiotherapist, in the room just down the hallway.


With meals brought to you also (nutritious, well-balanced, if not to my taste, but more on that later ), and enough bed rest to let the bones and tissue heal between activity, the patient is in a position to relax and recuperate, while alternating between quite rigorous physiotherapy and individual exercise under the observance of the nurses. It’s no wonder, then, that I was not only just starting to put weight on my knees quite soon after the operation (that started quite early, if gradually, under guided supervision), but also walking freely, with a walking stick, at six to seven weeks. It is an excellent system: perfectly organized, well thought out, effective, and it doesn’t have to bankrupt the patients having it. The state covers the majority, the patient pays the rest, and everyone is happy.


I ask you : what’s not to like?


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returning …… JE REVIENS by WORTH ( 1932 )


IMG_2472         returning …… JE REVIENS by WORTH ( 1932 )


…because I am…

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IMG_2598.PNGSource: CARON L’ANARCHISTE ( 2000 )

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The Black Narcissus




One of the most striking differences between British and Japanese culture is in the mutual love of nature. There is no doubt that the denizens of both green ancient islands openly, even quite ostentatiously, enjoy gardens, flowers, and weekend walks in the countryside :  the deceptively ramshackle English garden known worldwide for its easy beauty; the Japanese, with its mossed green serenity, equally so.

The difference in outlook, however, comes in the peculiarly Nipponesque  art of flower ‘viewing’. Where back home, with the exception of flower shows such as Chelsea, nature is usually regarded in passing, en route, something you admire naturally in its own context, unhindered and ideally pristine, and if possible, alone, in Japan this is a public, almost theme park like event that can be baffling in its sheer, profound unaestheticness to the casual European observer. Put simply, to my eyes at least, it can…

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