Saturday, 14 February 2015

Early doors

There is fast approaching a time when Our Man will have more to offer than his usual sketchbook dregs (this latest one titled "Afternoon drinks") and pseudo-philosophical empties. See, he's now published two more TEFL textbooks this year, and with only two more textbooks to go by April, he'll be relatively free to get on with the second novel that has been stewing in its first draft juices for nearly a year now. Once that's done, he's got a backlog of essays and short story ideas to churn out, all of which means he needs to get back into the swing of writing pretty words, pretty sharpish. He's running out of time to tell all that he wants to, but at least he'll not collapse on the newsroom floor. Only because no newsroom would have him.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Watanabe's stand

This is Watanabe-san's bicycle shop. It may not amount to much in the great scheme of things, but Our Man was reminded of how Mr Watanabe fixed up s bunch of bikes for free back on 2011 for tsunami survivors. Respect.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Man with the Golden Licence

Our Man figured out how to renew his Japanese driving licence at the Nageriyama Driving Centre this morning so you don't have to.

1. Go to Window 1. Say: Menkyo no koshin, onegaishimasu. "Licence renewal, pretty please."

2. They photocopy your old licence. You sign the photocopy, put your phone number on it and write two secret four-digit PINs in the top top right box in numbers legible from 10 feet.

3. Pay ¥3,100 at window 2. Stick the revenue stamps in the top right corner of the photocopy with damp sponge provided for your sticking pleasure.

4. Go to Window 8. Then when it transpires you didn't fill out or sign the back of the photocopy, go to Window 14, where a man shows you how to tick the "no" boxes to declare that you have caused no accidents to your knowledge.

5. Behind Window 14 perform sight test. Look at little horse shoes at 10 feet away and tell the man whether the gap in them is pointing up, down, to the right or left (ue, shita, migi or hidari). When you get one of them wrong make out it was your faulty Japanese not your faulty vision. Pass test with flying colours.

6. Rejoin the throng who have passed through Window 8, get in queue for window 10. Read a chapter of David Sedariss' amusing Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls collection of essays.  Hand in paperwork and declare you have not moved house, changed telephone number, religion or sexual preference to your knowledge in the last three years. Something like that. Say: "Zembu onaji." Everything's the same, dude.

7. Receive plastic chitty with three digits on it. Stand around until your number is called then stand in line some more to have your picture taken. Do not smile. Then go upstairs.

8.  Wait 20 minutes in Classroom 2 for a 30-minute drivers' education talk by an old man in a suit who has a very long bamboo stick which he uses to point at things on the overhead screen. Everything is over your head, so get on with a watercolour sketch of the backs of your classmates' heads (optional). Hide watercolour. Receive stamp to say you survived the talk.

9. Listen carefully for a different three-digit number on your stamped receipt hidden within a five digit number in the right hand corner. Didn't quite follow why this was so, but the watercolour came out quite well (see above). And they renewed Our Man's licence.

10. Now proud holder of a golden licence that means Our Man only has to do this whole thing again in five years, not three like the the plebs who got caught speeding on their old licences.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

On reading: Top 5 books Our Man read in 2014

To be a good writer you need to be able to quote Orwell's On Writing liberally. All Our Man can remember from it is you are supposed to not write more words than you need and something about requiring ego. Our Man has a bit of that, because why else would he keep an extensive record of what he's read this year and want to tell the world about it? And he likes short blog posts. But this one is a bit longer than usual.

Goodreads emailed Our Man that he had read 44 books in 2014. He'd aimed to read one a week this year, but with just a week to go he's going to throw in the towel and settle for just 44. That may seem like a big number, but he read somewhere (Stephen King's On Writing?) that if you have any pretentions of taking writing seriously, you have to read seriously. And not sure if "seriously" accurately describes how Our Man read in 2014, given the number of graphic novels and kids books he squeezed in, but he learnt a lot and has a few recommendations. All the reviews are here. But here are the best books (with Our Man's reviews) in his, er, humble opinion.

Number 5: The City and The City by China Mieville

If it were just the brilliant, warped sci-fi world in which two cities live on one shared space, with its citizens unseeing and unhearing their neighbours as foreigners, that would be enough to make it a great book. But more than that, it's a nuts and bolts whodunnit page-turner complete with good cops, bad cops, buddy cops and a conspiracy afoot that kept me turning pages. Oh, and it's got symbolics coming out the wazoo, if you are so inclined, but that's never overplayed.

The book's all about building a believable alternative world, and this it does brilliantly.

Apologies if I'm gushing (sure, all the cool kids already knew China Mieville was great...) so in the interests of finding some false balance, let me find a few faults. Tough, but if it were me, I'd have pushed the inspector's relationship with his female constable to see where that might go, and I'da thrown in a bit more humour, but hey, I'm just looking for nits to pick. This is great stuff. Loved it.

Number 4: Tokyo On Foot: Travels in the city's most colourful neighbourhoods by Florent Chavouet

Spend six months bumming around Tokyo and draw everything that you see. Then release it as a book. Simple, yet brilliant. The ideas, the drawings, the attitude. Who knew you could do so much with just a drawing pad and some coloured pencils? Inspirational. You read a book like this and think "why doesn't everyone learn to draw and do one for their own neighbourhood?" And, you know what, I think I will.

Number 3: Urban Sketching: The Complete Guide to Techniques by Thomas Thorspecken

This is not just a how-to-sketch book, it's a manifesto for the sketch artist as citizen journalist. It's packed with practical advice and examples of great sketches. After reading this, I shelved notions of buying a fancy camera to capture the world around me. I just need some pencils, paper and a spot of water colours (and a fold-up chair) and I'm good to go. This is inspiring stuff, the best of the three how-to art books I've read this year.

Number 2: The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad

I gave myself an evening off and read this short story. What Conrad can pack into a couple of dozen pages would take a lesser writer a lifetime. And we're all lesser writers. Here we have a conflicted hero, an exploration of morality, individual rights, a doppelgänger, a murder hunt, a love story all set aboard a ship and served as a gripping tale of suspense. Now, I want more Conrad. Read this for free from the Gutenburg folks.

Number 1: Invisible Colored White: Being White in a Black World by Richard Rizzo

Received wisdom is that you shouldn't write an autobiography unless you have led an extraordinary life. Richard Rizzo has arguably led such a life. But what makes his autobiography so extraordinary is that it is not so much about him as about the people around him.

We are fortunate to have a narrator with so little ego that he is able to see the good in bad situations and vice versa. And what's around him is nothing less than the story of post-war America. Rizzo is perfectly placed to observe the changes that ripped through the country: he is the son of a white Italian war veteran and the (at first) unwilling stepson of a black Communist Party leader, only to come of age in time for Vietnam.

Each chapter is a detailed vignette, a slice of his life, but the details he shapes into anecdotes reveal a grander story of the struggles of a nation. And by the way, this is excellently written and edited. In fact, it's the best self-published book I've read. I'm in awe. This is what writing is all about. Do Rizzo and yourself a favour and read it.