Friday, June 30, 2006

Very Obviously a Mouse

My mouse was, as I told the junior high school students I was teaching, very obviously a mouse.

This ended up in my blog as "very obviously a lizard" and I don't seem to be able to edit it. The edit button doesn't seem to work for me for some reason.

Brain damage in progress, I suppose.

Drawing a Dangomushi

Drawing a dangomushi.

From time to time, my two-year-old daughter draws with crayons. When she does so, she draws with the verve and reckless confidence which Picasso so admired in young children.

A draftsman's rectitude is alien to her nature; the crayons go screaming across the paper like fragments of exploded rainbow, a nonstop outpouring of creativity.

To join in the fun, I drew a dangomushi, featured above. I colored it yellow. In nature, the slater, as we call it in New Zealand, is not yellow. But I took artistic license and drew it that way.

Other things I can draw are cats and snails. I am particularly good at snails.

Once, at junior high school, I ventured to draw a mouse on the chalkboard. I then asked the students what it was. In unison, they responded "Tokage". Meaning "lizard". I protested that it was not a lizard but was, very obviously, a lizard. However, they refused to believe me.

This caused my confidence to take a heavy hit, and, as a consequence, I have never again permitted anyone on planet earth to see one of my mouse drawings.

I was more successful with my cats, and I found out a way to get a cheap laugh at junior high school level. You draw a very simple cat, just a circle on top of a larger circle, add whiskers, make sure the students know it is a cat, then add the tail. And exaggerate the tail so it sprawls to impossible length.

There's something about this aberrant long tail which hits the funnybone of the average junior high school kid.

And maybe my drawing talents will come in useful in the future when I'm working with small children, which is a possibility, since the organization for which I am now teaching accepts students as young as age two.

Those who are aged only two or three, however, are at all times accompanied by a parent.

From my own daughter I'm learning more and more about the world as it is experienced at age two, and I am adding to my Japanese vocabulary terms that I had not previously learnt, such as "dangomushi".

We have these creatures in our concrete garage, where, presumably, they eat the concrete itself, as there is nothing else there to eat.

Another word I learnt the other day from my daughter was "sakuranbo", which she started screaming out after dinner.

I realized immediately what this must mean. I already knew "sakura", the cherry tree, and, on the two evenings previously, we had eaten actual cherries, therefore "sakuranbo" must be those cherries.

My wife patiently explained, five times, that there were no cherries to be had, for the simple reason that we had gone and eaten them. All of them.

Until just a couple of days ago, my daughter had never eaten a cherry before in her life, but she immediately identified this as one of life's Good Things.

Another Good Thing she encountered for the first time in her life was the fan, which stands on the floor and rotates from side to side, putting out a refreshing breeze which is most welcome in the summer. The blade is in its own cage and my daughter is not yet at the stage of being able to open the cage, so it's not a source of danger.

One thing that is dangerous is the front door, which is extremely heavy and has the potential to mash a small child severely, if the door succumbs to gravity and swings home.

I wrote a poem recently about almost crunching my daughter. It's called THAT MORSEL, MY DAUGHTER.


The daughter is a morsel
In the jaws of the slamming door,
The door which my wife catches
Just in time.
The door which I, distracted,
Do not see,
Yawping toward catastrophe.
The daughter is the living light
Of the incarnated sun.
One flipped switch distant
From the cacophony of bluebottles.
I must think
More of the daughter
And less of the next train,
The ironing waiting to be steam ironed.

Back to Work

Sunday 25 June 2006, an idyllic Sunday. My wife ran the vacuum cleaner over the floor then watched the Sunday art program on TV, while I sat with my two-year-old daughter in the garden as she blew bubbles, then kicked the ball with her, then did jigsaws, then read her books.

My wife put me on the scales and I weighed in at 70.7 kilos, a kilogram down from last time. We've all three been ill with some kind of virus and, consequently, off our food.

I continue to sort through my personal room and to address the issue of what to do with the archives of my life. Most of this stuff I'm simply throwing away.

I have kept, for example, the records of my weight from May through August 2004, at a time when I was losing weight and nobody could discover why. In 2004, my weight dropped from 68.2 kilograms on May 2 down to 62.1 on August 15.

I had never been in a household which had a pair of accurate bathroom scales until we went and bought a set following the birth of our daughter. That was when I was finally able to test the ridiculous proposition that, immediately after you finish eating a meal, you are lighter than you started.

Someone confidently asserted this when I was in high school, and I knew immediately that it was a logical nonsense, but more than twenty years had gone by without me putting the hypothesis to the test, because never before had I had access to a set of household scales.

Finally, it occurred to me to run the experiment. So I weighed myself, ate a meal then weighed myself again. I was, naturally, heavier. Roughly one kilogram heavier.

And so another schoolyard myth bites the dust.

I've consigned the list of weight measurements to the bin. If it no longer holds my own interest then it's highly unlikely to be of interest to anyone else.

Nevertheless, some of my surviving archives still hold at least a little interest for me, and I had hoped to do some work on sifting and sorting these in the week starting Monday.

However, that proved impossible, as I was busy for the first three days doing full-time training for my new job, which started on Thursday 29 June.

I was dubious about my prospects of getting through the full-time training, as I have stamina issues. But, as the job I was heading for was only three hours a day, Monday through Friday, I figured I would be okay if I could only get through the training.

The first day seemed endless and I seriously thought about just walking out.

But I was encouraged by a cheerful young woman from the British isles who told me "On my first day I wanted to be sick".

My reaction, then, was not entirely idiosyncratic, and this perception helped me get through that first day, after which things became easier.

During training I taught actual students and, on one occasion, found my mouth getting horribly dry as my lesson started to hit rocky ground and the stress got to me.

During the day I made a point of drinking a lot of water, as my body seems to require it, more these days than formerly.

Some time back, I was with my wife and she said "Your mouth is really dry."

"Yes," I said. "But how do you know?"

"Because the inside of your mouth is white."

Physically, I'd rate myself at thirty percent at the moment.

That's okay with the prospect of a regular three-hour working day ahead of me, but I don't think I could cope with the viciously busy schedule I was working back in 2004.

By the third day of training, I was into the swing of things, and was actually starting to enjoy teaching English, although enjoying teaching had not been part of my game plan.

After the last lesson which I taught, the teacher who had monitored my performance complimented me on my obvious confidence. I didn't say, hey, I've done this a million times before.

The first time I taught at a conversation school in Japan, I realized, later, that I had put people's backs up by letting a sense of superiority leak out ... the professional amidst the amateurs. So, this time, I'm deliberately toning things down, trying to be a quiet cog in the machine.

So, after a rocky start, training went well.

Early in the week, my wife phoned Dr Gunma at Meijin Hospital, and discussed with him the two-millimeter node he had discovered in my "shono", the cerebellum. (The vowel in "sho" is long as is the vowel in "no".)

Checking my dictionary, I find the brain divides into a front part, the cerebrum, and a rear part, the cerebellum.

The cerebellum maintains balance and also coordinates muscular activity.

Obviously a lot of potential for fun and games here if your lymphoma decides to run amok and trash your cerebellum.

The next MRI, scheduled for 1 September, will say if this node is a recurrence of lymphoma or just radiation damage.

Dr Gunma told my wife that if the lymphoma has recurred then I may start feeling unsteady, and, if so, I should report to the hospital immediately without bothering with an appointment. But not Wednesdays because he won't be there on Wednesday.

The node showed up on my latest MRI scan. We went to a private clinic, had the MRI done and took physical film to the hospital.

My wife phoned the clinic. Could we get the MRI scan on CD-ROM? Yes, that was technically possible.

My wife and I discussed the possibility of getting such a CD and sending it to New Zealand, where the hospital system has my last MRI which they could use for comparison. But we also supplied Dr Gunma with copies of previous scans on CD-ROM.

I decided, no, I don't want to divide my diagnosis between Japan and New Zealand. If this guy in Japan doesn't know what he's doing then that's just too bad. But, as it is, I happen to have confidence in him.

My wife discussed delaying going back to work until the 1 September result, but I was negative on that idea.

Assuming that I live, my brain will continue to change and morph for the next ten to fifteen years as the radiation does its work, and my feeling is that we can't keep putting our lives on hold every time something odd shows up on an MRI scan.

So, all going to plan, as of Monday 3 July, our lives will be back to normal, or as normal as they are going to get.

My wife will be going to her civil service job. I will drop the child off at the daycare center at 0830, go to work, work until shortly after 1300, come home, check my e-mail then pick the child up at 1800. And that will be the pattern of our lives Monday through Friday.

So, at this stage, it seems I have a life.

It's a return to the past. The company that I've rejoined is basing me at an English-language conversation school that I'll choose to call Waniguchi Gakko, ie "Crocodile Mouth School", for the simple reason that the true Japanese placename always sounds to me, for some reason that I can't explain, like a large crocodile yawning.

I was most surprised when I found that the company was going to be sending me to Waniguchi Gakko, because Waniguchi was the place where I worked for the same company for two years in the period May 1997 through March 1999.

Finding I was going to be going back was a bit like finding out that I was being unexpected enrolled in my old high school.

I rejoined the company for a number of reasons. First, I'd worked for them before, so they had a file on me. Second, they always have jobs. Third, they always have students.

I fooled with the idea of getting my own private students, but my tentative exploration of that market did not encourage further effort. The response to advertisements posted on the community notice board and in the post office was zero.

(Locally, you're permitted to place a notice on the community noticeboard for ten days, and on the post office noticeboard for a month. The post office has two conditions: your message must display your phone number and, if you are a foreigner, you must show your ID card, which, as a foreigner resident in Japan, you will have.)

And, looking at the ads in METROPOLIS, I find that people advertising for private students do not seem to take out repeat ads, which suggests to me not that business is booming but, rather, the reverse.

The remuneration for this part-time work is not exactly princely, but it's enough money for our present life. We're obviously not, this year, going to take another overseas trip. Nor will this be the year in which we go buy the humongous high definition plasma TV which, back in 2003-2004, was a definite "we will buy this soon".

However. By the standards which most of the rest of the world endures, we're rich. Clean water, unlimited, straight out of the tap. So we can't complain.

Sidebar to close with: someone recently sent me a recommended reading list which included the science fiction writer Jack Vance. And, coincidentally, I got a communication recently from someone who told me that Jack Vance is continuing to write and publish in the face of blindness.

So I punched "Jack Vance blindness" into Google, and, sure enough, a bunch of hits popped up.

An example setter, obviously, hanging in there.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Brain cancer and hallucinatory screaming: normality persists.

Brain cancer and hallucinatory screaming: normality persists.

On Friday 23 June 2006 I saw my hematologist, Dr Gunma, at Meijin Hospital here in the city of Yokohama in Japan, and was interrogated.

Back home, I was interrogated about the interrogation by my wife, who had not been able to attend personally, because the daycare had summoned us to uplift our daughter, who was running a fever, which ultimately hit almost forty degrees centigrade.

"And did you have any unusual things happening to your body?" said my wife.

"I keep hearing the sounds of small children screaming," I replied.

To which my wife responded blandly:

"That is normal."

The results of my latest magnetic resonance imaging scan were undramatic. The scan shows a small node of something or other somewhere in the brain, a node about two millimeters in diameter.

This is either (a) a recurrence of lymphoma or (b) a product of radiation damage.

I am scheduled to have another MRI of the brain on 1 September, a Friday. I will have it in the morning and have been promised that the result will be ready in the afternoon. If the little itty bitty two-millimeter node turns out to have gotten larger, then this will indicate that it is the lymphoma, back again.

Meantime, daily life continues as usual. With screaming.

"Rayshoe!" screamed my daughter one morning.

She screamed and screamed in eye-watering agony. I had no idea what she was on about. But my wife figured it out.

"Raisins!" said my wife.

And, glaringly, there were no raisins to be seen in the child's breakfast bowl. The mother immediately formed the thesis that the delinquent father had, unaccountably, failed to add the required raisins to the daughter's morning ration of cornflakes.

I protested my innocence.

"She ate them!" I said.

And she ate the next lot, too, then resumed her agonized screaming:

"Rayshoe! Rayshoe!"

And screamed intermittently during the night, too, though for that she had a decent excuse, her ongoing fever.

Not only has she been feverish but it has been getting hot, the high summer of August almost upon us.

Saturday morning, my wife went out to do the supermarket shopping and another task, leaving me to look after our two-year-old daughter from 9 am to 11 am.

Having realized that her mother had absconded from the family home, the child screamed for the first hour. Then settled down, but refused to play with the kitchen set, play with her butterfly wings and fairy wand, do a jigsaw, listen to books, play with the neighboring boy's tricycle or play with the ball in the garden.

Finally, however, she settled down and consented to go for a walk, so I pushed her in the pushchair to the local elementary school, where she said hello (and, later, "bye-bye") to the rabbits, the chickens, the tomatoes, the capsicums and the eggplants.

Sunday, another quiet day at home. Monday, daycare again, and my daughter's daycare hours will be extended from about 0845 to 1800.

The longer hours are because my wife will soon be going back to work, and, all going to plan, so will I, starting Monday.

I don't know how this new job is going to work out, but I have training Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday then actual work on Thursday and Friday.

When I saw Dr Gunma on Friday 23 he asked me to get my wife to phone him. Why? What topic did he want to discuss? My work, apparently. He thought it would be difficult for me to get work, and this was the subject he wanted to discuss with my wife.

I had thought it would be difficult to get work, too. But, after surviving a two-hour interview process, doing a grammar test, writing a couple of essays, doing some on-the-spot lesson preparation from a previously unsighted textbook and filling in quite a bit of paperwork, it seems that I do have a job.

We'll just see how this works out in practice.

Meantime, I have received a communication from Anonymous, a prolific author whose works I have encountered intermittently throughout my life.

Anonymous tells me how to stop Google from defaulting to Japanese when the genius computers at Google figure out that my internet service provider is based in Japan.

The trick, apparently, is to specify "the hl parameter", which you can do by copying and pasting the following URL into your browser:

I tried this and it works. The site is still Google's site in Japan but the language now displayed is English.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sex and violence - crude, degrading and disgusting.

I make a point of not deconstructing small insects in the presence of my two-year-old daughter; that said, the ants in the garden which bite me only ever get one chance to pull that stunt.

This being the case, I was shocked and disgusted by what I saw the other day on Japanese TV, a program about water boatmen, those insects which live comfortable on the surface tension of water.

I had always imagined these denizens of planet earth to be peaceful zen Buddhist vegetarians, devoted to meditation and focused on the path to nirvana. But not a but of it!

It turns out that these monsters are cruel and ruthless carnivores, brutal with their enemies.

We saw, on TV, a bunch of the boatmen ganging up on a white butterfly which was floundering helplessly in the water. They needled into it while it was still alive. Then we saw an ant struggling in the water. And they went and murdered that, too.

Then, having engaged in an orgy of violence, the insects turned to sex, and started copulating in front of us.

The Japanese-language voice-over coyly said that the insects were "married". But I saw nothing which looked even remotely like a marriage ceremony.

I do not believe that what I saw took place within the sacred bounds of matrimony. Rather, I believe that what I saw on screen was an expression of monstrous insectile lust.

There was, by the way, no artistic justification for this sex and violence in terms of plot development, for example, or the illustration of character development. It was just brutality for its own sake and orgasmic license likewise.

I wish I could extract some kind of meaning from this unwelcome insight into the hidden horrors of the universe of insects, but, much as I ponder it, it remains in my mind as undigested horror, bereft of any redeeming feature or any moral point.

As I was brooding about the horror of the boatmen I happened to receive a communication from Steve, who told me about the website

An Internet magazine which, apparently, bills itself in the following terms:

"Helix exists to publish the stories that are "too 'dark', too unconventional” or, most disturbingly of all, too likely to offend somebody."

The boatmen are definitely dark, as dark as dark gets, so maybe helixsf would be an outlet. Or maybe someone has already discovered the boatmen and has written a twelve-volume series about them, with titles such as DUNGEONS OF THE BOATMEN, ACID BATHS OF THE BOATMEN and WATER BOATMEN: PICNIC AT HADITHA.

Story at the top of the helixsf page was called A FEAST OF COUSINS and carried the rubric "some things are best kept in the family".


"Consanguinity was Cousin Tessa's new favorite word. The one she whispered to me last week, when we made sticky, bone-crunching love in her bedroom. Tess collected words like pennies, snatching them up from wherever, setting them sideways and spinning them around, before she lost interest and tossed them aside for a newer, shinier word. She did the same with lovers."

Okay, so far so good. I'm curious. Why is the love "bone crunching"? Is it because they haven't cleared away the bones from their recent cannibal feast? Or is "bone crunching" a standard mode of American love-making of which I, having never gotten intimate with anyone in the United States of America, am ignorant?

The title "After the Protocols" also caught my eye, and I clicked.

But, face to face with the computer screen, I find myself impatient, not in a mood to settle to the task of reading. The computer encourages habits of impatience. But I do plan to come back to this site and see what they are up to.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Gmail Sign-up

For my gmail sign-up, my country was stated to be Japan, something that Google determined from my internet service provider. Similarly, the terms of service were in Japanese, a language in which I am signboard literate but not much else.

When I search with, it always defaults to Japanese, which is inconvenient. I have found a workaround for this, which is to go to, enter the search term, search the news for it then click on "web". After that, the search stays in English.

Although Google knows I am in Japan, there was no sign of this when I took a look at the Google page where, without having gotten an invitation from someone, you try to get the code you need for your gmail account.

If I understood the page correctly, your first step is to fill in a form which requires you to provide your mobile phone number. To provide the number, you have to choose a country from a pull-down list.

But it's a very weird list, a bizarre assortment of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Indonesia and the United States. But not Japan. And not any nation in Europe, either. Not Portugal, for example.

There was a facility you could use to send an "I have a problem" e-mail to Google, and I did get back an answer from some kind of software robot, which referred me to online help pages.

I don't know if the answer to my conundrum was in the pages because I did not need the answer.

Anyone who has a gmail account can invite anyone else, and Jorge of Portugal very kindly invited me.

When I opened up my Yahoo account on Saturday evening, there was an e-mail from Google which Jorge had organized for me, complete with an URL which I could copy and paste into my browser. The URL, which included a formidably complex code, took me directly to the sign-up page.

There I hit a problem in the form of the robot bouncer. This I read easily enough as "motpress".

But then, for some reason, I was asked to input my password (once anew and then again for confirmation) and I was confronted by another robot bouncer. This one is shown below and it completely threw me.

The image now under discussion is the distorted word at the very top of this page.

What does the image say? I had no idea. I could read the "icat" at the end as clearly as anything, but the first part entirely defeated me.

I thought of asking my wife for help but two things dissuaded me. First, my ability to read eccentric Japanese fonts is limited, so I suspected she might have similar problems with English. Second, I mistakenly thought that she was asleep. It was, after all, almost midnight.

Later I found out that my wife was, in fact, downstairs watching World Cup soccer on TV with the sound turned down.

Why couldn't I decrypt the code word? Maybe brain damage was responsible or maybe I was turning cyborg without realizing it.

Giving up, I clicked on the little wheelchair to the right of the box for entering the code, curious as to what would happen next.

My browser threw up a message of some kind which I captured with my screen saver. I glanced at it through my magnifying glass, and thought it said that Mozilla could not handle this kind of file. In fact, it was telling me that I had a bunch of options, one being to open the file (an audio file in wav/Wave Sound format) with the default application.

So, not realizing that my browser could have read the code aloud for me, I struggled some more with the pictorially encrypted word. Having captured it with my screen capture program, I expanded it to make it clearer, but expansion did not assist decryption.

The problem was not with my eyesight but with my cognitive capacity.

Finally, I took my best guess: univicat.

This worked.

Thanks, Jorge.

From what I saw on my sign-up day, I gather that Google's free storage limits now exceed two and a half gigabytes, and that the URL to log in is

When Jorge offered to get me a Google invite I immediately said a hearty "yes please", and explained why I do not personally have a mobile phone, the requirement to get a gmail account if you do not have an invitation. I wrote:

"I have resisted getting a mobile phone even though everyone has one here in Japan.

"What finally persuaded me not to get one was the experience of a teacher at the company I was
previously working for. He was on the train early in the morning when his phone rang.

"'Are you on the train heading in the direction of X?'

"'Yes, I am.'

"'Well, do you know Y?'

"'Yes, I do.'

"'Well, we think he's on the same train as you, and we've just had a phone call to the office telling him his class has been cancelled. So could you please walk down the train and see if he's on it?'

"The teacher complied. Teacher Y was not, as it happened, on the phone."

To this, Jorge responded:

"Stories like this are known here, but I thought it was some kind of
urban myth!"

Japan is very much a cellphone society and my wife commented, recently, when the daycare center gave everyone a list of the contact numbers for all the parents, that we were the only ones who did not have a mobile.

My wife has been thinking about getting her own cellphone after an incident that occurred while I was still in New Zealand.

My wife has to reach the daycare center in time for the evening pickup deadline, but someone jumped in front of her train, causing a delay.

She was stuck quite some distance from our home station and the train had halted between stations. There was no way for her to make a phone call. There are public telephones on the bullet trains in Japan, but none on ordinary commuter trains.

Then, at the next station, by chance a workmate boarded the train, and my wife was able to borrow the workmate's phone and make two phone calls. One was to a neighbor who has a child at the same daycare center and who agreed to pick up our daughter, Cornucopia. The other was to the daycare center, advising them that the neighbor would be picking up the child.

When I told my mother this story she said "How terrible!"

Meaning how terrible it was that someone had been desperate enough to throw themselves in front of a train. But I thought nothing of it. The Tokyo-Yokohama area is suicide city, and, every year, the number of people who use the train lines to terminate themselves run into the hundreds.

Since being back in Japan for a couple of months I've noticed, from time to time, newsflash items on the TV saying that such-and-such a train has been delayed because of a "human body incident", but one notices this at the same level at which one notices the weather updates.

When I was working for my previous company, one of the other teachers said:

"I really hate it the way these Japanese people jump in front of trains."

To which I responded:

"Why? They don't make YOU jump in front of them."

Which sounds callous, but that's the living reality of this particular urban environment.

I've never actually been on a train which came to a crunching halt because someone jumped in front of it, but, on a number of occasions, I've waited on a platform watching a Japanese-language message scrolling on an LCD screen saying that the train was delayed because of a "human body incident"..

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Death Poems

I have now published a set of death poems at:

This is a set of poems which were originally intended to be the core of a projected book, THE DEATH OF BIRDS, the working plan for which was to record the progress, physical and psychological, of my own death.

However, unfortunately, I did not die, which rather spoilt the plan of the book.

Still, I did get some death poems out of it, and these I incorporated into my literary miscellany, THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOUR GOD: A HUGH COOK READER.

Writing about death and dying gives you more options than you realize. For example, you can kick back and have a bit of fun with the death concept, as in the following poem:


The happy peanut butter sandwiches
Get up in the morning and get eaten.
They don't expect it
But the munch teeth come and crunch them.
Good point about this:
Your tax liability
Drops steeply down to zero.
And Christmas cards?
Your last hard corners,
Your last little nuggety chunks of personal essence,
Get flossed away to limbo
And you're excused.

In the course of cleaning up my personal room, I continue to discover unexpected (forgotten) things. Such as a mini disk labeled "Nakatani Miki". And I think: Who the hell is Nakatani Miki?

But, bit by bit, playing this stuff, I remember ... yes, I have heard this before. A long time ago. In a different life, I think. Not this one.

I also came upon a few more poems, some completed and some in draft form, and I hope to post these, too, once I get round to it.

Meantime, I'm plugging ahead with the new edition of THE SHIFT, which should be out some time this year.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Imaginative Play - two-year-old child

My wife and I are hiding a secret from our daughter. It's upstairs in my wife's personal room. It's a telephone. A telephone which plays "Home, home on the range" if you push the button to pause a call, and which reads out each number as you press it.

The numbers are extremely large, and I can see them easily.

The main phone, holding the answering phone messages, is upstairs, but a radio-connected handset is plugged in downstairs.

My daughter saw the handset last night and ended up playing with the "start a call" and "end a call" buttons, both of which make delicious electronic beeps.

The master phone in the upstairs room would have been doubly delicious, no doubt, but we will keep it a secret for as long as we can.

My daughter likes the handset downstairs, and I'm sure she would like to have her own mobile phone, but, as yet, she does not have one. Consequently, she cannot (as yet) get her own gmail account, since Google has chosen to deny these to anyone who does not have access to a mobile phone.

When my daughter is old enough for her own mobile phone (a social necessity in a couple of years, I suspect) then I will borrow her phone and set up my own gmail account.

As has already been indicated, my daughter, Aiko Cornucopia Nishikawa, likes electronic things that beep. She also likes videos (of which she has a collection of five), and she likes screaming, which is not just a hobby but a vocation.

She also likes icecream, oranges, bananas, and the piano.

As yet, she is too young to learn to play the piano. She is only two years old. (Or, more exactly, is about 26 months old.)

On Monday 5 June, when my wife dropped in at the piano school which operates just round the corner from the station, my wife was told that a child's hands do not mature to piano-playing strength until the child is four years old.

Nevertheless, Cornucopia knows what a piano is. She has been watching a TV novel which has a pianist as its heroine and which screens in 15-minute segments six days a week.

Although Cornucopia will not be physically mature enough to thump the piano properly for another year, apparently she can start piano lessons when she is only three.

Meantime, I have noticed that she has started imaginative play.

I don't know when she started this, but I have noticed her doing it in the last few weeks. She will say she is going shopping, and will tell you what she plans to buy, then disappears in the direction of the stairs, and returns shortly and announces that she is back. Then she will tell you what she has bought at the supermarket, which she visits with us every Saturday morning.

My wife recently went to the Kawasaki branch of the baby-and-child store, Akachan Honpo, and bought a cooking set. This features plastic plates, a plastic frying pan, a plastic gas stove, and various food items, including food items which are stuck together with Velcro (in Japanese, "magic tape") so they can be cut in two with the plastic knife.

The food items include an egg, a lemon and a hamburger (or, in Cornucopia's parlance, a "hamburgler"), and a fish. The fish has a big fillet which can be detached to reveal the inner bones.

There are also other things, such as a small milk carton and a couple of packets of curry.

Cornucopia likes to stand in the kitchen watching her mother cook, something she started doing when we were all staying at my parents' place in Auckland, New Zealand, earlier this year.

When she is in the kitchen, which is a very dangerous place, she has to stay on a stool, which provides an element of control.

I keep noticing the mismatch between her intellectual development and her emotional development. From her level of emotional maturity, you would think she is just five minutes old.

But this is standard for kids of this age, as I notice when I drop my daughter off at the daycare center in the morning. Sometimes it seems as if everyone in the world is screaming.

Intellectually, Cornucopia seems to have a grip on the past, the present and the future. There are photos on a windowledge in the room upstairs where we sleep, showing people who we encountered while Cornucopia and my wife were in New Zealand earlier this year, and Cornucopia confidently identifies them.

However, as yet, THE CAT IN THE HAT is too recondite for her. Also, she does not get my jokes, and her mother has to tell her when it's a joke.

Cornucopia: "Iku ka". (Literally: "Go. This is a question mark." To the English-speaking ear, it sounds like "Iku car".

Hugh: "Iku bus."

Mama: "Papa just made a joke. Laugh, Cornucopia. Ha ha ha!"

Cornucopia: (loudly and obediently): "Ha ha ha!"

Presently, I leave home with Cornucopia at 0830 to deliver her to the daycare center, ten minutes away by pushchair, and pick her up at 1715 each evening. Once my wife goes back to work, which will probably be next month, in July, or at the end of this month, I will pick Cornucopia up at 1800.

This will allow me to commute to a part-time job during the day or, if I end up teaching private English conversation students at home, which is possible, to teach at home while my wife is at work and while my daughter is at the daycare center.

We have just about done everything that needs to be done in preparation for my wife's return to work. On Monday 5 June we bought the phone mentioned earlier, and also a new vacuum cleaner.

The same day, we went to the Immigration Department in Yokohama. (Take the Toyoko line to Motomachi-chukagai, go out of exit 4, turn left out of the station, turn left down the first road you come to, keep going with the overhead expressway on your right, and you find the Immigration Department on the left. On the fifth floor.)

One thing we are waiting for is my next appointment, toward the end of June, when I will receive the results of the MRI scan of the brain which I had recently.

After a bumpy return to Japan, Cornucopia has settled back in at the daycare center, and has a regular evening routine, which features one or more of the following: playing with the plastic tricycles parked in the neighbor's carparking space (which she is kindly permitted to do); blowing bubbles (at the recent daycare center picnic, everyone got two bubble pipes and containers for holding them); doing jigsaws; watching her video collection (with a maximum of two videos being permitted in one evening session); doing jigsaws; playing with her cooking set; dressing up with her fairy wig, her butterfly wings, her bunny ears, her princess crown and her magic fairy wand; and, of course, since she is very definitely one of the terrible twos, screaming.

Burn in hell, you bastards.

Page 20 — Part One — ISLAM
Page 43 — Part Two — CANCER BLOG
Page 207 — Part Three — HOW TO WRITE
Page 259 — Part Four — STORIES
Page 312 — Part Five — POEMS
Page 353 — Part Six — DEATH POEMS
Page 383 — Part Seven —.WRAPPING UP MY LIFE

In revising my book THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOUR GOD: A HUGH COOK READER, the contents of which are indicated above, I added a tailend piece called BURN IN HELL YOU BASTARDS, which features the passage below, which is a synthesis of a couple of pieces I wrote in May 2006 plus a little additional new material.

The nominal date of 19 May has been given to this piece, as shown below.

Friday 19 May 2006
Brain damage I was warned about. I should expect, quite possibly, short term memory loss. If so, then I would have to live with it.
This I can cope with.
When seeking directions in Tokyo's crowded Shibuya district, I was asking for the music store HMV but ended up asking where I could find HIV. No problem. The store is a major landmark, and the guy I was talking to figured out my meaning.
Recently, when renewing my card at the local library, I was convinced that the librarian had retained my car. It turned out, however, to be in my wallet.
This kind of minor glitch is not disabling. If that's the price, then, okay, I was warned.
But the blindness which has come upon me, this, the heartbreaking tragedy which has shattered my life, of this I had no warning. And I believe that I inquired specifically into this danger, and that I was denied the knowledge that, by rights, I should have been given.
If there is a hell, then I most sincerely hope that my radiation oncologists end up burning in it.
Meantime, the reality is that I am partly blind and quite possibly heading in the direction of being totally blind. It is possible that I am already legally blind.
Which brings us to today's question: what does legally blind mean?
A reader sent an angry letter to a New Zealand newspaper denouncing a customer who had been seen in a supermarket with a dog. The dog was a guide dog, but the woman was plainly not blind, since she was peering at groceries on the shelves.
Someone wrote in to explain that people who are visually disabled may fit into a "legally blind" category which does not necessarily mean being stone blind. The woman seen in the supermarket might quite possibly have been able to see the groceries at close range, yet need the guide dog for survival on the busy streets.
The situation is, I believe, similar in America, New Zealand and Japan. People who are visually disabled may fit into a "legally blind" category if they satisfy one of two requirements:
(a) They can only read very large print; or
(b) Their visual field has failed to a stated extent.
I do not know whether I, personally, fit into the Japanese category of "legally blind", as the eye specialist who will interpret the result of my recent visual field test has not yet delivered his analysis.
But, regardless of the technicalities, it is possible that my eyesight will deteriorate, in the left eye, to a state of near-total blindness, just as it has in the right eye.
This uncertainty is, to put it mildly, disconcerting.
I was grateful to receive an encouraging comment from a reader, Melvin, who wrote, in part:
"I hope that life still has more than enough things to enjoy and experience, and unfinished business to pursue, that it never becomes tiresome."
In that spirit, my intention is to push ahead with further projects, to the extent to which that is practical, the latest being a new edition of my science fiction book THE SHIFT, out of print since 1986.
For practical purposes, I have two problems:
1. Things I see which do not really exist, and
2. Things which do exist but which I fail to see.
The latest sumo tournament is in full swing and, while watching TV, I saw a very formal ceremony in which, to my eyes, one of the sumo wrestlers appeared to be wearing a black bra. I knew that this was impossible so dismissed the vision.
On the other hand, there was the incident of the draining board.
It is made of two pieces of plastic, and water drains through into the lower compartment, so it is my habit to pick it up and empty out the water.
Recently I did this and a drinking glass, which was invisible to me, went crashing into the sink and smashed.
The next day, I looked very carefully and, before reaching for the draining board, checked to make sure it was empty. There was nothing there.
Then I swept my hand through the "empty" space and found, perched on the edge of the draining board, a while plastic bread board sitting (invisibly, as far as I was concerned) against the white paint of the kitchen wall.
In the brightness of the day, I need sunglasses. That's no problem. In a dimly-lit room, however, I am blind.
The day I recently went to a noodle restaurant with my wife, I opted to sit outside rather than inside because I could not see in the murky gloom of the interior.
Even outside in the bright sunshine I could not see properly, and confidently poured soy sauce onto the surface of the table when I thought I was adding it to a small dish of condiments.
Still, at this stage I can still work reasonably effectively using my computer, as the easiest thing for me to see is black print on an illuminated screen.
I am, then, not totally blind, not at this stage, though, subjectively, it seems to me that my remaining eyesight is deteriorating at an alarming rate.
And am I legally blind by Japanese standards?
Well, a local eye specialist's analysis of my recent visual field test will supply an answer to that.
Earlier, back in January, I wrote about a visual field test that I had done on both eyes in Auckland, New Zealand.
At that time, the result indicated a loss of vision in the upper right hand quadrant of each eye and, additionally, some loss of the central vision in the right eye. My ophthalmologist agreed with the notion that this eye damage was caused, in all probability, by the radiation therapy I was subjected to back in 2004.
This time, no test was done on the right eye because the right eye is now blind and useless.
The latest visual field test shows the white area as being those in which I see and the dark areas as being those that I do not see.
The test was the same in Japan as in New Zealand, but for two points.
For a visual field test, you stare at a fixed point on a screen, without chasing any flashing lights you might see, and you click a button every time you see a flashing white light.
A computer generates an image showing the result, as pictured above.
The first difference was that, in Japan, before the test began, they displayed, on the screen, four orange lights, which made a diamond pattern on the screen. They told me to watch for a flashing white light in the center of the diamond, which I did.
In other words, the first significant difference was that you got to see the flashing white light before you started looking for it. You were shown an example of exactly what you were looking for.
The second difference was that they told me about how long it would take -- ten minutes or so. The first time, I was given no guidance on timing, and, subjectively, I thought the test was about half an hour ago.
Additionally, when I did the visual field test in New Zealand, another person was already hard at work in the same room doing such a test, and so the person supervising the test was reluctant to answer my questions.
That said, the test was essentially the same.
I noticed that some of the flashing lights were much brighter than others, which I assume is because part of the eye was more damaged than other parts.
Before undergoing radiation therapy in New Zealand, I asked my radiation oncologists about the possibility of eye damage, and was told that I could expect the development of cataracts in a few years, because radiation grazing the backs of the lenses would cause the development of cataracts.
Cataracts, however, are not a big deal, as they can be surgically managed, and I received cataract surgery on both eyes last year, in 2005. The surgery was successful and, in the wake of that success, nothing prepared me for the disaster which was coming.
If I had been told that the radiation would result in blindness then I would not have opted for the radiation. I would, rather, have taken my chance.
I asked my radiation oncologists about this particular point, the risk of damage to the eyes, and I was not adequately informed.
As far as I am concerned, I was lied to. My life was destroyed by a decision made by doctors who did not adequately inform me about a point on which I raised the specific issue.
Burn in hell, you bastards.

Laser surgery: a cure for blindness?

The Japanese pharmacist who filled my prescription for ophthalmic steroids, the keyword in his question being "butsu", to beat or to strike. I answered, in Japanese, very simply:

"No, laser."

I came away from the pharmacy with two small bottles, these to be used on the right eye, one drop four times a day until both bottles are finished. The Japanese ophthalmologist who prescribed these drops will review my condition in three months, in September, at which time I will undergo yet another visual field test.

The Japanese ophthalmologist, who works at the hospital which I now attend in Yokohama, and who I will call Dr Kanto, took a look at my eyes on Tuesday 6 June 2006.

When questioned, he was unable to say whether the radiation therapy which I underwent last year was or was not the cause of the deterioration in my eyesight. Certainly some people do suffer eyesight damage from radiotherapy. But he could not say what, exactly, had caused my present problems. It was quite simply impossible to tell.

That said, Dr Kanto told me that, in his view, the deterioration in my eyes was not "active". To make this statement, he used the English word "active"; he occasionally seeded his Japanese with a word or two of English.

The prognosis that he gave me was that I could expect that the condition of my eyes would remain stable, and that I should not expect to experience any further deterioration.

This was not a hard-and-fast promise to be relied upon as a picture of my future, but, rather, his take on the present situation. He does think that I should continue to be monitored and aims to see me every three months or so.

It was, he said, within the bounds of possibility that, in the long event of time, I might see some improvement in both eyes. But, when damaged eyes do recover, they do so with agonising slowness.

For the left eye, he had no treatment to offer. He showed me enlarged photos displayed on a computer screen and pointed out the patches that were clearly damaged. But he had some good news. The macula, the critically important light-sensitive portion of the left eye, was intact.

For the right eye, through which I see almost nothing whatsoever, he proposed laser treatment to punch a small hole in the eye, which, in some way, will help drain the eye. He predicted that the right eye would at least become brighter and that, possibly perhaps, I might experience some small improvement in my visual acuity in the right eye.

Whatever the result, I would see the result the following day. He characterised the treatment as risk-free and gave an assurance that it was entirely affordable.

Affordable? Yes. I went ahead and had the laser treatment, and, when I paid, my bill for my day at the hospital, a day on which I arrived at about 0830 and ended up leaving at about 1630, came to 5690 yen. That included the laser surgery. Computing this in American dollars at the approximate figure of 110 yen to the dollar, this works out at about US $52.

That was the cost to me under the terms of the Japanese national health insurance scheme, under which I, as the patient, pay only 30%, with the state footing the bill for the remaining 70%.

I was invited to take my time and think about the laser surgery, but, to me, it was a no brainer. Let's give it a shot.

The eye clinic was stacked up with waiting patients, so I left the hospital and went and had lunch, returning to keep a 2 pm appointment for the eye surgery. Naturally, the appointment did not run to time, so I sat around waiting.

Eventually, I was called to the laser treatment room.

A contact lens was placed in my right eye. This was unexpected and was considerably uncomfortable. I sat for what seemed like a very long time staring into the lens of a machine which made intermittent sharp brittle clicks, like the sound of a needle punching into something.

While Dr Kanto worked at the controls of the eye laser machine, a nurse held my face in position with both hands, so I would not move.

Finally, it was done.

"Umaku dekimashita," said Dr Kanto, which I think means "Well done".

Five minutes after the laser surgery, five minutes by the clock, Dr Kanto was looking eagerly into my right eye. Then he had his assistant had me do another eye chart test. But there was no sudden miraculous improvement, though I got the impression that Dr Kanto and his assistant had expected that perhaps there might be.

At that time, apart from anything else, my right eye was massively dilated by eyedrops in preparation for the laser surgery, so sharpness of vision could not be expected. In fact, as previously, in the center of my visual field all I saw was a smudged pool of darkness.

Picking up on the obvious anticipation of the doctor and his assistant, I was reminded, irresistibly, of the impatience of my two-year-old daughter, who must never be offered anything (icecream, or an orange, or whatever) unless it is immediately available, because she wants it right now.

And the desire, the anticipation, is understandable, because if they had rectified my eye by the simple procedure of punching a hole in it, then this would have been a miracle. But, as it was, I was still in the mundane world, the world of survival rather than cure, the world of, at best, incremental improvements.

Finally, having paid, I exited the hospital, feeling totally exhausted, as if at the end of a long and punishing siege of my body and soul.

But I walked out of the hospital with a future ahead of me, which was more than I had arrived with, since I had spent the previous weeks very much with the feeling that I was wrapping up my life, and that my life, as I had known it, was more or less over.

In the morning, in the dimness before dawn, I could see, mistily, the house, with my right eye. But this I could do before the laser surgery. The brightness of the sun, the brightness of daylight, totally washes out the field of vision in the right eye, but, in a twilight which is close to darkness but which is not darkness, I can see, vaguely, shapes: a doorway, for example, or a window on the stairway.

At 0551 I closed my left eye and looked at the world through the right. I could read nothing on my computer screen, but I could make out the rectangle of the illuminated screen, which appeared to be muddy gray, its grayness always in motion as patterns of meaningless interference played across the view.

Through the left eye, I could see the alarm clock sitting on the desk, and, next to it, a bowl containing two pairs of scissors and a bunch of pens. Through the right eye, I could see neither of these objects.

But, in my mind's eye, I could see the future I would make for myself, in the survival space which Dr Kanto had offered me. After long weeks of progressive hopelessness, he had offered me both treatment and a workable prognosis, a prognosis which I could live with, a future in which I could survive.

And, perhaps, prosper.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Teaching English in Japan - seeking private students

The two lines of Japanese both convey pretty much the same message, something like "If you're interested in group lessons with two or three people or more, then let's talk."

But the top line was composed by me in my own primitive version of Japanese, whereas the second line has been native speakered into proper Japanese by my wife.

The top line, romanized, says "Kibou wa ni, san nin ijou no jugyou dattara. zehi soudan shite kudasai."

The second line reads "Ni, san nin ijou no jugyou ga go kibou deshitara, zehi go soudan kudasai."

Translated word for word, as literally as possible, the first line reads "Desire, that being the topic of this sentence, two, three people or more's class if exists, by all means consultation do please."

The second line, redacted by my wife, has a couple of honorables thrown in to make it more polite, and translates, literally, word for word, like this:

"Two, three people or more's class, this is now the subject that I am talking about, honorable desire if is, by all means honorable consultation please".

Rectification accomplished, I printed out a copy of my Japanese-language advertisement ready to put up on the community noticeboard, something I can do for free.

As for advertising elsewhere, well, I'm still thinking about that.

I did plan to take out an ad in the free give-away magazine METROPOLIS, but now I've done a rethink.

Rereading the data about the ads in METROPOLIS, I find they are actually more expensive than I thought, and what I thought were the cheapest commercial rates were actually for upgrades from free ads, and I do not fit into the free ad category.

As I read the information now, it seems to me that the cheapest ad I could buy would be a "silver ad" for 9975 yen.

Now we're talking about serious money, particularly if this becomes a weekly overhead.

One of my experiences was to work for a debt collecting company for a couple of years. We had a file on every person, a file containing a form which they had filled in, a form detailing their financial outgoings, including all their regular expenses.

And what I realized was that it is not occasional extravagances which break you financially, like splurging on the occasional CAT scan. No, it's your overheads which kill you.

So I'm reluctant to spend money on ads when I have no idea how effective they may be.

Thinking about this, I thought about Tokyo, Yokohama and Chiba, the places where METROPOLIS says it distributes its magazine.

It occurred to me that what I really need is a local publication, and I realized that we have at least one, a free newspaper. My wife dug an old issue of just such a newspaper out of a cupboard and we took a look.

This paper goes to every household in the area where I'm living. It's in Japanese, and the students I am targeting are native speakers of Japanese. The homes that this newspaper goes to are within a reasonable commuting distance of my home.

As for cost, well, one short line costs about 1,500 yen and I would need two lines for a short ad, so about 3000 yen.
This seems to me to be a better idea from the advertising point of view.

Then I remembered seeing ads for companies offering to supply you with private students. I don't know how these outfits work, but there seem to be a number of them, and presumably they do at least some business, since they advertise.

For example this ad in section 15.15 of the classified ads in METROPOLIS:

"FIND PRIVATE STUDENTS! Interested in having your own conversation students? Set your own rates, schedule and location. Register at today. It's free!"

So I've decided to explore this a little.

Meanwhile, I've updated my resume, and have added a section about my skills, in which I have included my computer skills, in which I have listed the ability to do Japanese-language word processing with a Japanese-language version of Word.

The Word document for my advertisement converted painlessly to a web page, but I decided not to use that Japanese-language HTML document. Instead, I opted for an English-language HTML document, and included the script in the Japanese language as a JPEG graphic, captured from the screen.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Going Blind

I can't help being repeatedly reminded that I am going blind. Well, probably. Certainly my vision is deteriorating, and has been for some time, apparently because of demyelination caused by radiation therapy, a process which medical science is unable to halt or reverse.

My field of vision gradually but inexorably gets dirtier and dirtier.

Sunday 4 June, I went out for a walk with my wife and daughter, and I, too, could see the zeppelin in the sky, a gray air machine in a gray sky above the gray of the city of Yokohama.

But I could not make out the word emblazoned on the side of the blimp, which was, apparently, Nissan.

Nissan, my wife tells me, has bought the naming rights for the stadium in Yokohama, and there will be an audience in the stadium this morning for a baseball game.

Later, after we had visited the rabbits and the chickens at the local elementary school, my daughter discovered a tiny caterpillar which my wife described as "chichai", i.e. tiny. She told me, correctly, that it was probably too small for me to see.

The experience of going blind is, quite simply, terrifying, and I am reminded, repeatedly, of some junk TV I once watched. It was footage of houses falling into sinkholes somewhere in America, big two-story houses, obviously worth a lot of money, sliding down to destruction.

I feel that my life has become like one of those houses, teetering toward the edge of absolute destruction, with no way to stop it.

This morning I fired up Outlook Express, deleted nine pieces of junk mail then went to my Yahoo account, where I found just one e-mail message waiting, a longish e-mail message from Melvin, who wrote, in part:

"I started this email after I read your blog entry about being legally blind."

At this writing, 4 June 2006, it is not clear that I am legally blind. I went and saw an eye specialist who made a report on my condition, and I got some medical paperwork touching on the subject of my prior medical history, and tall this paperwork went to the ward office, the local government office.

In three months or so, the bureaucracy will deliver a decision, and if I am legally blind then there may be a payoff of sorts, a kind of "discount book" which, like the community services card that we have in New Zealand, entitles you to a range of discounts in a number of places.

(That's all I know about this "discount book" at the moment.)

As Melvin rightly points out, regardless of my legal status, for the time being I can still see, up to a point, otherwise his e-mail would have been written for no purpose.

But how long is "for the time being?" I have no idea. My eyesight was okay back in January, but the right eye was effectively out of action by March, and the left deteriorated alarmingly just last month, in May.

Melvin writes that he has been reading the books in the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS series, with the exception of THE WEREWOLF AND THE WORMLORD, which has somehow eluded him.

If anyone is looking for a copy of this book, it is on sale at at:

On the site the same title is listed at:

On the UK site, the book is said to be from Colin Smythe Ltd. This paperback will be a rebadged copy of the original Corgi edition, Colin Smythe having bought remaindered stock, rebadging the paperbacks with new ISBN numbers.

On sale for a price stated, in British pounds, as 6.99 plus a "sourcing fee" of 1.99.

The writer, then, trumps the cancer patient, giving me more things to think about than houses sliding into sinkholes.
Amazon reports that this is available new and that, additionally, there is one used copy on sale.

As what I've just written demonstrates, the writing business very naturally comes to the fore of my thoughts, the question of the availability of the books trumping, for the moment, thoughts about eyesight problems.

Melvin writes, in part:

"I also enjoyed BAMBOO HORSES, and look forward to reading more of your works."

I, for my part, look forward to writing them, if I am granted the time.

Meanwhile, on the periphery, there is the issue of a job to be addressed, and I am continuing to think about getting my own private students, of setting up my own business as an English teacher.

I have found, on the site, a useful page of links, which is:

If you were looking for esl material on the Internet, this page would save you a lot of clicking around on Google.

This morning I thought some more about paying for an ad in METROPOLIS, the free give-away magazine which says that it is distributed in 600 sites in Tokyo, Yokohama and Chiba. I can buy an add for 2000 yen for 35 words, with extra words available at 75 yen each.

The number of teachers advertising private lessons was small but they exist. The only quoted price was 2800 yen an hour, with group rates available.

As I was studying my copy of METROPOLIS, my two-year-old daughter, having finished her cornflakes, her bread and her pieces of orange, laid claim to eh magazine, which contains a lot of small colored photographs, which appealed to her.

She commented on a car and asked about another photo, which I said was of a woman. And so it was, a woman advertised as follows:

"AIKO HIGH CLASS ESCORT for the most sensual experience in Tokyo. Introducing beautiful ladies from Japan and from all around the world for good times you will not forget. Now hiring girls." (Phone number given.)

Ads in METROPOLIS can be purchased online. I haven't been to the site yet, and, in fact, I am still thinking about whether I want to go ahead with the experiment of purchasing my own ad. But, for the record, in the copy of METROPOLIS that I have in my hand, the link for buying ads is stated to be:

It seems that, as well as paying by credit card, you have other options, such as going to the post office and making a payment into an account. A lot of people in Japan either do not have credit cards, or have them but prefer not to use them, so online payments are often made at, for example, a convenience store.

My wife shops online but does not have a credit card. When we bought our rice cooker online, we were sent a form by mail, which we took to a convenience store to pay. And, when we bought Norton
Antivirus 2005 from Norton here in Japan, we were offered not just the option of paying by credit card but, also, of paying at a convenience store.

Tomorrow, Monday, the Immigration Department. Later in the week, the eye clinic at Meijin Hospital. And sometime during the week I plan to check my revised Japanese-language advertisement with my wife, and think some more about buying an advertisement on METROPOLIS.

I might also find the time to think some more about the question of learning braille. So far, I have acquired a braille alphabet which someone sent me by mail, and maybe acquiring some braille learning materials might be a smart next move.

As far as my writing is concerned, I have three things planned: to continue preparing a new edition of THE SHIFT and to write the next two books in the TALES OF OOLONG MORBLOCK series, these books being COMRADE RAT MUST DIE and INTREPID GIRL REPORTER. I have also, as I have noted elsewhere, come up with an idea for the fourth book, which is planned to be OCEANS OF WEALTH.

Closing note: as I mentioned earlier, on the offchance I looked for the blog And there it was. Encouraged, I went in search of But George, evidently, has been too busy with other things to sign up for his own blog.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Awash with resources - Internet Englsih teaching resources

My early explorations of English teaching material on the Internet seem to be confirming my first impressions, which is that the web is awash with resources.

The screenshot pictured is from the site On the front page you have a menu featuring, for example, "Idea Cookbook". Click on this and it unfolds to give a range of options, such as "Ice Breakers".

Continuing the search, I did a Google search for "ESL free lesson plans" and decided to take a look at:

Here I clicked on "conversational lesson plans" and then on "press conference", and there it was, a proper lesson plan.

Having taught English in Japan for a total of seven years, and having taught English in New Zealand for a year before that, I have no shortage of confidence in my teaching ability. But the massive resources available online help bolster my confidence.

My wife, having seen my self-made Japanese-language advertisement, could not wait to get started on a revision. Obviously the clunkiness of my text was painful.

She revised it on our ancient Windows 98 i-series Thinkpad, and I transferred the revised version to my XP computer via floppy disk. One thing I bought a few years ago was a USB floppy disk drive, since I have an archive of floppy disks.

Because I have enabled east asian fonts in XP, I can view Japanese script on the XP computer. Even so, as I mentioned in an earlier entry, when I was loading Japanese-language software onto the XP (two programs which came on CDs which came with the wi-fi equipment from Buffalo) all I could see on screen was, instead of Japanese-language installation instructions, meaningless strings of question marks.

My wife's first change was to add the following line:

"Eikaiwa o hajimete mimasho ka?"

Something like "How about taking a shot at English conversation?" or "Why don't we try English conversation?"

She saw fit to add in my alma mater, Auckland university, and mentioned that I had taught at junior high school.

My wife made a suggestion, which I think is a good one, which is that I offer students the opportunity of taking lessons together rather than on a one-on-one basis, because it is hard for a student who is just a beginner to be one-on-one with the teacher.

I thought this was a good suggestion, not least because it is easier to teach if you have more than one student.

The idea number, in my opinion, is six, because it is very easy to make pairs and change the pairs.

One activity I often do with a new group is to give the answers to a set of questions about me, for example "sushi" and "natto". The students are tasked to write the appropriate questions, for example, "What Japanese food do you like?" or "What Japanese food do you hate?"

I then have them pair up, with one playing at being a journalist and the other playing at being Hugh, the instruction being "interview Hugh".

I then change pairs and have them do it again.

I have never yet had an adult class which was unable to cope with this exercise, and it's flexible in terms of the students' levels.

If I have an odd-numbered group, for example eleven, and if I have the students run through two sets of interviews, then there is one person who has not played both the Hugh role and the journalist role. That person, ideally the strongest student in the class, gets a turn in the hot seat, again playing Hugh, only this time in a press conference setting, with all the students playing journalists.

For a teacher, there's really no more work involved in teaching six people than there is in teaching one, though, as the numbers increase, things do become more difficult.

In junior high school, there were often forty to forty-five kids in a class, so a class of twelve people looks small to me.

In Japan, teachers who take on private students usually teach them one-to-one, but I think one major reason for this is that many teachers do not have a venue to teach in. I think sometimes they end up teaching their students in coffee bars.

In my case, I have a house available to me, with a dining table and six chairs, and with a stereo where I can play cassette tapes or experiment with background music.

I've decided on how to direct students to the house. Very simply: by meeting them at the station on the occasion of the first visit.

Our house is in a maze of streets and streets in Japan, with a few exceptions, do not have names, which is every bit as silly and impractical as you might think.

As for getting the students, well, there's always the community noticeboard. I also want to think about advertising in METROPOLIS, which used to be called TOKYO CLASSIFIEDS (or, perhaps, TOKYO CLASSIFIED), and which you can pick up for free at selected locations.

I have just done a search and have found their site:

Also, and I think it's the same organization,

Meantime, life rolls on. Here in Japan, it's Saturday 3 June, and today, I think, my wife is going to cook banana cake.

I will look after our two-year-old daughter while my wife makes a quick trip to the supermarket, and then wife and child will go to the daycare center where, this Saturday, there is a screening of movies for kids from 1000 to 1100.

Time which I, quite possibly, will spend clicking round the Internet.

The really good point about getting back to Japan is that, here, we have a rock-solid broadband Internet connection, something which does not really exist in New Zealand, because, in Internet terms, it's a third world country.

Things are so bad that, in recent months, I saw an article in a newspaper in New Zealand about how major players in the software industry, such as Microsoft, had been pressuring the government into doing something about the situation.

And at least the government is making appropriate noises.

The basic problem is that the dominant telephone company, Telecom, is more or less a monopoly, and should either be regulated or broken up. The government pays lip service to this notion, and has been doing so, I think, for some years now.

But so far it's all talk and no action.

While I was clicking round the Internet, one question which popped into my head was "Does Saddam Hussein have cancer?" I saw him on the site, which made me remember that I read, somewhere, that he had cancer.

However, all the news about Saddam relates to his ongoing trial, which has, for the moment, been adjourned.

The news on the web about Saddam's cancer seems to be old news, and, judging by what I've seen.

On spec, I tried

And there it was, Saddam's blog, with a bunch of links to click on, one being, in case you have not seen them, "The infamous Muhammad cartons". Which seems to have a bunch of cartoons about cartoons rather than THE cartoons.

If Saddam had cancer then I would expect to see a link to this on his blog, but I don't, so I guess he's as hale and hearty as he seems to be.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Advertisements for Myself

Thursday 1 June 2006 I bought online a download of Norton Antivirus 2005, which was a major hassle.

First, Norton will not sell downloads except from a site directed at your own country, which meant, in my case, that I had to navigate through the site in the Japanese language.

Whether you try to buy directly from Norton or whether you go to, they will not sell you a download if you live outside the United States. They will not export the download. You can buy it, but only from a site dedicated to the country where you live.

What kind of weirdness is this? Some kind of War on Terror extremism, or what?

As I've explained elsewhere, I cannot use the free version of AVG's software on my Windows 98 PC because I do not have the necessary memory, though I do use it on my XP machine.

So I'm thrown back on Norton.

Norton no longer makes new software for Windows 98 so you have to buy the 2005 version rather than the 2006 version. You need, for Windows 98, at least 64 megabytes of RAM and what seemed like a formidably fast processor, I think something like 133 megahertz or something like that.

I had no idea how to find the chip speed of my ancient i-series Thinkpad and spent some time messing around with it until I realized that the processor speed, 500 megahertz, was proudly emblazoned on the very keyboard itself.

With the Japanese-language version of Windows 98 running and with my Japanese-language version of Microsoft Word cranked up, I made an advertisement for myself, in two formats, one to be printed out and posted on a community noticeboard in the neighborhood and one to be posted online at

There are also free giveaway publications in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, and there are also sites in Japan which offer to send students in your direction, for which, I think, they charge the students, though I have no yet researched the details of this.

I've decided to advertize 50-minute lessons rather than the standard one hour slot.

When I was teaching corporate lessons, the standard lesson was two hours with five minutes as a break in each hour, with the two breaks usually being taken as a single ten-minute break in the middle of the lesson.

Additionally, at junior high school, where I taught for some years, the standard lesson was, if memory serves, a bit less than an hour.

Thursday, also, I took a quick look for resources online and found scads. A Google search for "ESL lesson plans" threw up any number of these, free and ready to download.

I have begun exploring, a site which seems to do it all: look for a job, post your resume online, get lesson plans, the works.

Friday, 2 June, I went downstairs and found our minuscule foyer filled with rubbish bags, eleven of them, all from my personal room. Admittedly, they were no very large rubbish bags, but eleven is a lot.

Having returned to Japan in April, I have succeeded in cleaning up my personal room, in getting my XP computer connected to the home wi-fi system, and I have also succeeded in mastering the routines of delivering my daughter to the daycare center and of uplifting her in the afternoon.

I have found a hospital and the appropriate medical specialist, the hematologist I am calling Dr Gunma, and I have also found an eye specialist locally, near the train station and just next to the barber shop where I used to have my hair cut.

In the week ahead, I will attend the eye clinic at Meijin Hospital, taking with me the film of the MRI of my brain, the MRI that I underwent this week, and we will see if the eye specialist there can do anything for me. Probably not.

Probably the radiation therapy which I had following chemotherapy has irrevocably damaged my eyes.

My radiation oncologists did not warn me about this, and, after stewing about it for some considerable time, I decided to revise my recently-published book, THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOUR GOD: A HUGH COOK READER.

I have written a closing piece with the title BURN IN HELL YOU BASTARDS, and, once I have uploaded the new version of the book, I will publish this BURN piece here on my blog.

In theory, you can republish books you have published with, changing everything from the covers to the content. I think I've figured out how to do this, and I plan to take a shot at it in the next few days.

All going well, I will upload the new version of THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOUR GOD. I will also upload a new version of the short story collection THE SUCCUBUS AND OTHER STORIES, and I have decided to buy an ISBN number for this, so that this, like THIS IS A PICTURE OF YOUR GOD, will be available from

All going to plan, my wife and I will head down to the immigration department in the coming week and file paperwork asking for a renewal of my spouse visa. At the same time, I will also apply for a reentry permit.

The spouse visa will run for at least three years, though we are planning to see if they might grant one for five. Assuming that the visa is granted, and in all probability it will be, then I will be legally free to do any job that I can find in Japan.

Assuming that everything goes well, my wife will probably be heading back to work toward the end of June or early in July. And by that stage life will have returned to normal, to the extent that "normal" exists in my revised universe.

A closing note of happiness: when I got back from dropping off my daughter at the daycare center on Friday 2 June, my wife reported that, while I was out, she had booted the Windows 98 Thinkpad, had connected successfully to the Internet via our wi-fi system, and had gone online.

Coming as it does after quite a bit of computer stress, this happy ending comes as a great relief.

Spring in Japan. My wife upstairs, at work on the room I thought I had tidied up to perfection. A cassette is playing on my stereo system, the piece of junk I have advertised as being free to a good home, and the music is sitar music, which I do not remember having taped, but, evidently, I have.

Having just recently flown back to Japan after spending more than a year in my father's house, I have come to concede that my father is right: Mozart, rather than Beethoven, is the greater composer.

But there are other worlds of music, and right now I have Led Zeppelin blasting into my ears, and I am working on fine-tuning the revised version of one of the books I plan to upload in the next few days, and I find myself, unexpectedly, improbably, for the moment, happy.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Teaching English in Japan

Teaching English in Japan: my own private students.

That's the plan.

My wife has been persistently pursuing this idea, which would see me teach from home, avoiding the problems of commuting. In particular, my wife does not want me commuting by night, because my night vision is trashed to the point where I am almost entirely blind if the lighting is dim.

I have been resisting the notion of getting my own students, because it entails all the hassle of running your own business. I'd rather have someone else take care of the management issues while I just do my work.

Also, I don't know what the market is like.

Various companies, both online and in the newspapers, are offering pay rates of about 3,000 yen an hour to teach students one on one, which means there must be at least a small reservoir of students who are prepared to pay at least that much.

Whether I can find the students is another matter, but I guess the easiest way to find out is to give it a shot and see what happens.

My investment would be zero so the penalty for failure would be more or less zero, and if the enterprise was a success then it would solve the problem of finding work.

In terms of economic rationality, the tutor teaching a single student one-on-one is the way to go because you have no overheads.

In New Zealand, I worked for a company for about a year in the 1990s, teaching English to foreign students in Auckland. At that time, there were a number of schools teaching English in that city, though I think the business has declined and that now most of these, if not all, no longer exist.

The man who ran the company for which I worked complained that these days, now he was running his own company, he was making less money than he had as a private tutor.

To me, it was obvious that he should close down his school and go back to what he was doing, but he did not see it that way. He had his dream, and his dream was to run his own English school.

He cut his overheads by persuading some young Japanese women to work for him for free as "volunteers". How they were sold on this deal I have no idea, but there they were, and he was always unsatisfied with them, complaining about their lack of initiative and the like.

So, over the weekend, I will put together a notice in Japanese, and post it on the public noticeboard near the local ward office, and maybe advertise in some other venues, and maybe make some Japanese-language web pages to accompany this teaching enterprise.

As I've been cleaning up my personal room, I've been making a stack of the stuff which might be suitable for one-on-one teaching. A lot of this is very simple but also very useful: interesting photos from newspapers on a range of subjects.

I also want to look online for English language teaching resources.

If anyone is looking online for information about teaching English in Japan, the site I would recommend is, which contains a lot of advertisements for work plus information about Japan and the like.

One idea I considered earlier was to find free-lance work on the Internet, since I had read a couple of print media articles indicating that this was possible.

Accordingly, I spent a few hours one day clicking around, searching for various terms such as "free lance writing", "editing" and "proofreading".

I soon decided that nobody makes money this way, excepting the people who are running the sites, which, typically, give you the opportunity to give them money so they, in return, can offer you the addresses where you can approach employers to try to get work.

I was reminded of something I read many years ago about the gold rush days in the United States. A lot of people made good money by supplying gold prospectors, but the prospectors themselves typically ended up making little or nothing.

After a few hours of this, I could hear a hissing sound in my ears, which I identified as the sound of valuable time decaying into nothingness.

I was persuaded that none of this would come to anything when I read the most glowing testimonial I could find online. The person praising the site through which she had found work seemed sincere, but the work she was praising struck me as being at the hobbyist level: getting to proofread a short Microsoft Word document for a particular company, for instance.

So I started and abandoned the freelnace idea in the same day.

That doesn't mean that some people don't make money at it, but I imagine that, if they do, then they invest years of effort in it. And the "years of effort required" market is not the market I'm in.

Gallium Count Poem Gallium Count Poetry

Gallium count poem gallium poetry.

In chapter 11 of my medical memoir CANCER PATIENT I wrote about the investigative test called a gallium count. It is a two-step procedure. First, you go to the hospital and get injected with a radioactive isotope of gallium. Then you go away, returning in a couple of days to be photographed.

For the photographs, you lie very still for about half an hour while photographic negatives are brought into close proximity to your body, and the radiation creates a photograph of the interior of your body. The gallium tends to concentrate in problem areas, helping to diagnose not just cancer but other conditions, such as the degenerative disease known as sarcoidosis.

When I was putting together my book of poems, ARC OF LIGHT, I remembered a poem I had written about the gallium count, and I wanted to include it in the book. But the relevant notebook was in my personal room in our house in Japan, and I was afraid that trying to get my wife to hunt for it would constitute cruel and unusual punishment of a kind which would make a good excuse for a divorce.

As it was, I arrived back in Japan of April 2006 and did not find the desired poem until the start of June. That same day, I found, in one drawer, my minidisk player, a minidisk being a tiny disk which holds about a CD's worth of sound, and is recordable. And, in a mess of electronic wiring on a burdened bookshelf, I discovered the recharger for the minidisk player.

I had tried to reconstruct the poem from memory, but all I could remember was two lines:

The woman who shoots me up is good at this,
And knows it.

Here, finally, is the missing poem, the gallium count poem:


This is the cool room in the basement
Where the pace is slower,
The pace of those
Not hasty in their deaths.
The woman who shoots me up
Is good at this, and knows it.
Inserts the needle,
Pulls back the plunger,
Confirms the flood of red in the chamber
Then pushes the plunger home.
Into the vein.
"It doesn't hurt?"
"It doesn't hurt."
A slick hit, smooth
And painless.
Mainlining gallium,
I am at ease,
Feet snug in their trefoil slippers,
The mind
But something must have happened,
Because I am lost,
Misconstruing the maze,
Baffled by the blandness
Of the all-directions blue.
Finding in the dead ends
Of my predicament
Only myself,
Stunningly alone.