Friday, July 30, 2004
I am a Bad Mum: woke up this morning to find Maggie asleep on her front, having surreptitiously rolled over; not only that, a cat was curled up asleep next to her. Bad.
And the hem of my trousers is held up wih double-sided sticky tape.

Thursday, July 29, 2004
Slings and things
Our new baby sling arrived this morning so we test-drove it to playgroup and around the supermarket. It is cooler fabric that our existing one, and special UV-proof stuff to boot - which is why I wanted it - but I think it is going to take some getting used to and I'm not convinced I will ever prefer it. For starters, it goes over one shoulder rather than distributing the weight evenly; not only is this probably quite bad for your back, it makes it quite hard to carry a bag at the same time. I ended up with my bag slung diagonally across the other way, hanging off my neck. The fabric, nice and cool and UV-proof, doesn't have any give in it and is quite rough. I had Maggie in the kangaroo carry position, with her legs crossed in front of her - only her feet ended up by her chest; is that good for them? I know she was folded up like that in the womb but that was four months ago (!) so is it still OK? It was difficult when she fell asleep and she never felt as secure as she does in the other one (but, again, this might just be a question of getting used to it) and I had to keep a hand on at all times (at least until after I had been to the supermarket and no longer had a free hand available) - but on the plus side, I could put her down in the sling when she was asleep; the other one requires me to lift her out of it. And she seemed happy enough, flirting with everybody on the train as usual. I had thought I wouldn't like to take her in a taxi in it (I don't actually like taking her in taxis in the other one but needs must) but I came out of Hiroo station to a typhoon so I overcame that doubt fairly quickly.
Everybody knows that autumn is typhoon season but we've had loads this year already. Today's forecast was a mere 'light rain', the edge of a typhoon that is due to hit over the weekend, only it wasn't; even the taxi driver remarked that it was sugoi (terrible) as he could barely see his bonnet. Still 30 degrees though.
Oh and by the way - I have baby slings because I like them and don't much like pushchairs, especially on the liftless subway here in Tokyo. I never describe it as baby-wearing, unlike that sears chap; bad enough all of Hollywood has to have one without a baby being seen as some kind of accessory to be worn. So there. I wear the sling to carry the baby. And enough about 'primitive' tribeswomen, too.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004
We spent a good half hour wandering around the health and beauty section of Loft* today - really just taking advantage of their airconditioning, plus Maggie likes their seasonal windchime display (what an odd country this is. Windchimes are seasonal because they make a cooling sound. Ditto ghost stories - being frightened is cooling - and eel - contains some ingredient that is good in the heat.) I was half-heartedly looking for some useful stickers I had last year for sticking your clothes to your skin - great for a shirt I found in the French Connection sale that keeps dropping off my shoulders. Didn't find them, but I did come across the following items:
  • mouth stretchers, to improve your smile
  • eyelid putty, for moulding that all-important western-style eye
  • foot cloths: from the picture on the front, it seems to be OK to take off your shoes and wipe the sweat off your feet in public
  • cosmetic cotton and patting cotton (patting cotton? I have no idea)
    And, um, other things but I didn't have a pen or any paper with me so I've forgotten. Boo.
    *Loft is an all-purpose shop: toilet brushes, antique furniture, spatulas, greetings cards, briefcases and nail polish, all under one roof.

  • Happy one-third birthday!
    That's right, Maggie is 4 months old today and I have finally written the last of my thank-you letters - the last three had to be in Japanese so I do have an excuse for taking so long over it. We seem to have been busy recently without actually having much to show for it. Apart from a new haircut on my part (first since February, hooray!). I am slightly worried it's a bit mumsy - given that it had to be a style that required no fussing whatsoever: the hairdresser kindly tried to reassure me by pointing out the 'funky fringe'; it looks like any old common-or-garden fringe to me but I'm not a hairdresser so I suppose she must know best. Maggie went to Tower Records while I was having it done and has been indoctrinated in the way of daddy's magazines (about silly old men with guitars; not like mummy's magazines which are usually about silly young women with shoes but sometimes silly celebrities).
    Now she rides facing out in her sling I go everywhere to a chorus of kawaii! (cute). Usually I just smile to acknowledge that yes, I heard and yes, she is cute, and usually that's enough. On Sunday we were surrounded by four old ladies who were distinctly lacking in vocabulary as we were there for a good 4 minutes of kawaii, kawaii without any one of them feeling the need to introduce another word. Perhaps they were trying to mesmerise me so they could get in closer - they were having a good squeeze of her little chubby legs and stroking her little chubby cheeks. Last week I was a bit bemused to hear omoshiroi (interesting or funny) instead of kawaii but, given that it came from two women with pushchairs, I imagine they were talking about the sling not the baby.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2004
    I wasn't making it up! Yesterday was officially Japan's hottest day ever (since, you know, records began and all). And the other news here is that Japan intends to increase the number of whales it catches for 'research purposes' (weigh 'em, measure 'em, eat 'em) despite the fact that whale meat is getting steadily less popular: the young people just prefer McDonalds. They even have to have whale-meat fetes to encourage consumption. Though they do stock hefty whale steaks and whale bacon in our local supermarket so somebody must be munching on it. According to the chap interviewed by the BBC, it's an essential part of Japanese culture. I haven't asked but perhaps when it gets cooler I'll conduct a quick pop-poll on the streets: I'm willing to bet nobody asked to describe what it means to be Japanese will say that eating whale is essential. But I might be wrong.

    Tuesday, July 20, 2004
    Well, we had a fantastic weekend. Cool mountain air and greenery has made Tokyo seem even more unbearable today - I'd have stayed indoors sulking if it weren't for bills to be paid, parcels to post and an abandoned bicycle to be retrieved before the tow-people found it. I hadn't realised how tired and stressed I'd been feeling until we were out in the country with nobody around and I felt it all melt away - magic. 6 unbroken months in the city is just too long, and summer here is just too hot. The besso was one of a group of six small cottages, all but one of which are only used at the weekends , the other being the home of a man who commutes daily to his job in Akasaka. Lovely though it was, nothing would induce me to commute three hours each way every day! The houses make two sides of a rectangle, the middle of which is a huge vegetable garden: each cottage has a section and there's a shared potato patch and it's all organic. How lovely to eat fresh peas and baby carrots and potatoes that have just been picked: I've brought home a courgette the size of a baseball bat which is going to be my tea all week. And then I will write my book: 101 ways with courgettes. 
    On Saturday we went to the promised farm (goats, sheep, cows) and walked a very overgrown path to a waterfall, stopping to admire Fuji on the way. It looks so unreal in its perfection, it's amazing to remember that we were up there just a year ago and it was rocky and dusty, cold and damp. Home via the supermarket where, balanced on the chiller cabinets, were small plastic boxes containing bell-beetles (presumably to be kept as pets?), which make a beautiful bell-like sound at sunset.  A soak in the o-furo (Japanese bath) - Maggie too! - and delicious local trout fished from the trout-farm on our way home. Sunday saw us about to sneak out for a walk on our own! when Maggie woke up, so we all had an excursion to a radio-telescope farm instead. Or so it appeared: small ones were in one field; larger ones in the next; four 10-metre ones stood in a group; then the mother, 45 metres, stood guard over them all. Kiyosato town centre provided 10 minutes' amusement, looking like a theme park and selling large cuddly stag-beetle toys in the one happy plaza, then we visited St Andrew's church (with tatami mats in place of pews) before stopping for icecream along with the rest of the Japanese population. Monday was a day for some manual work - Cameron cut grass and hefted wood, getting dirty and smelly and thoroughly enjoying hinself as he no longer has to do it every weekend: I vacuumed and tidied and did girl jobs in the house. Maggie rolled about on the floor.
    Back home, Cameron had to dash off for the first of this week's five dinners while I spent the evening listening to water dripping through the living-room ceiling: filling the baby bath without putting the plug in was probably a mistake.

    Friday, July 16, 2004
    No blogging this week, due mostly to the fact that it's been so hot we've not done a thing. Small outings to other mummies' houses where the airconditioning is on has been the order of it. This afternoon we were so flaked out by the heat when we got home from Kate-and-Alex's that we both fell asleep for an hour; I've just been woken by the most enormous clap of thunder and dashed downstairs to rescue the washing from the line. 50-pence-piece-sized plops on the patio saw me soaked in the 2 minutes it took and now it is absolutely throwing it down. Lovely; I might go out for a stroll and do singing in the rain dances down the street.
    I do hope it stops soon and leaves the air clean and fresh, for tomorrow we are going on our Grand Weekend Away. Not so grand, perhaps, only that I've not set foot outside Tokyo since January so feel quite inordinately excited by the prospect. Maggie has never been outside Tokyo - in fact, I don't suppose she knows there is anything but Tokyo - so she is excited too, especially as she's been promised a walk to a farm where there are cows, sheep, goats and horses. Not that she knows what any of those things are.
    We are going to stay with our Japanese teacher Takahashi-san and her husband Takahashi-san in their besso, their weekend home in the mountains. She assures us it will be cool - less than 28 degrees! As well as being very very excited I am distinctly anxious (6 months in one city leaves one with a certain dependence on the facilities): how much stuff does one baby need? And we have to carry it all on the train! And bring it back again! Including a weekend's-worth of dirty nappies! Perhaps I could get away with taking nothing for myself to cut down on luggage - or, even better, take nothing for Cameron.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2004
    Oh my goodness. Sorry if I'm behind on the news, but Katy has just told me about Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart having a holiday on a barge in Wales. Can you imagine? Eating bacon sandwiches and sleeping on a converted dining table and taking it in turns to do the locks (pretty hard work with just two I would imagine) and singing in the rain!
    Are wellies coming into fashion anywhere else or is that a Japanese weirdy thing? The salesgirl in the shoe department of Mitsukoshi was wearing pink flowered wellies with a short summery dress last week (must be disgustingly hot) and I spotted some brightly coloured ones for sale in an Omotesando fashion shop this morning.

    Her future's so bright... Posted by Hello

    Monday, July 12, 2004
    We were having a heatwave
    It's official; the BBC said so. Nice to know it wasn't just me being a wimp. And you'll be glad to know it's over, with thunderstorms yesterday and a very pleasant 26 degrees today, so now I can shut up about the weather.
    When I had Maggie, did I get a tattoo saying please advise me on childcare? I think I must have - if it's not a friend asking me four times if she is too cold (once would have been OK; four times seemed like she was accusing me of neglect...which part of 'no, she's fine, just sleepy' sounds like 'probably but I don't care'?) to the neighbour who told me off for taking her out in her buggy in the heat (I presume she wasn't actually suggesting I should stay indoors until October, although maybe if I did she would go to the supermarket for me?) via the numerous old ladies who want to know if she's OK in her sling, it is all a bit irritating. Though on the bright side, a nice man offered me his seat on the train last week - and he wasn't even in a priority seat! Imagine my surprise when I heard myself saying no thank you and insisting he keep it. No link from brain to mouth, that's my trouble.
    We had a very extravagent weekend. Having decided it was about time we went and looked for that step tansu (like this) we've been talking about for the past two years, we impulse-bought an antique-elm cabinet as well. Well, we both liked it and we thought if we bought the cabinet and not the tansu we'd only have to go back for one another day. But still. We'll have to eat beans on toast for dinner this week. Or, actually, baked potatoes because I found some big enough to bake today for the first time since we've been here, I think! Very exciting. Very heavy to carry up the hill.
    We also went to the gym on Saturday - my first time in about 6 months. I was surprisingly fit - perhaps carrying an ever-increasing weight about everywhere I go is doing me some good. Of course I am comparing my fitness level with that of my 7-month-pregnant self, but I was quite pleased.
    Lastly, here's an interesting article on the influence of British English in America (link borrowed from Meg). Nice to know the transfer goes both ways now even the BBC talks about movies. Actually, the shell expat magazine this quarter focuses on the UK as an expat location with some language tips amongst others, although I think some of the information is out of date, misleading or just plain odd (I don't think either "Expect a lot of soft pink and blue in your rented home...lilac front doors or bright yellow window frames are not unusual" and "Invite people to your house but...people tend to be quite reserved and won't ask you back" is true? And it also suggests we eat 'high tea' in the early evening - a hot dish or salad followed by tea and plenty of bread and cake. Surely not since the days of Enid Blyton.)

    Friday, July 09, 2004
    Heat, beds and a rambling witter about boobs
    I know I keep harping on about the weather but indulge me, I'm British. I popped out at 11 o'clock last night to hang out some washing (is this what they mean by a 24-hour society?) and, even that late, it was like stepping into a sauna. Not in some exaggerated, cliched analogy, but quite literally - the heat hit me in the face and I immediately started to sweat (or perspire, I suppose, being a lady and all). I pity the person who found me on a search for "tokyo what to wear weather" - I feel quite proud to come 10th, beneath a page debating whether shorts and sandals are acceptable here - my advice would be to stay in with the aircon on as much as is humanly possible rather than trying to stay cool through clothing.
    Speaking of being British, Cameron's (Japanese) counterpart in the UK was relieved to hear about Maggie falling off the bed as he thought we Brits had special DNA of not falling down from bed! His small son has a bar on his bed now so can manage (though there's a picture at the bottom of this page showing his first night in a bed), but his daughter falls out roughly once a week. I suppose if you've never been used to having to balance in your sleep it must be quite tricky - I remember falling out a few times as a child too. Oddly, I only remember it happening on the few occasions I was on the top bunk; did I subconciously know it wasn't worth falling from a low bed? It didn't always wake me up, I am a good solid sleeper.
    Heather's 7th July post ('the squid's embrace') has reminded me how lucky I am to be here in Japan, where the policy towards any kind of unusual behaviour is simply not to notice. Not that I am suggesting public breastfeeding to be unusual (before Maggie was born I was sure I would never never feed her in public; the reality of life with a small baby changed my mind in a matter of days. Would people prefer to sit near a screaming infant? Or perhaps mums should never leave the house, or certainly not for longer than 30 minutes at a time? Characteristically I have become mildly belligerent on the matter. Anyway, I digress.) but I fail to see how it can be offensive given that most mums don't expose any more flesh than absolutely necessary; most women here either go to the special curtained cubicle to be found in the baby room of every department store, or else drape a scarf or shawl. (Baby room: lots of changing units, comfy seats, a sink, sometimes scales and usually a formula vending machine.) I must admit I don't bother with drapery, nor do I go and hide in the loo when not in a department store, but I do try to be fairly discreet. Maggie doesn't always cooperate but I do what I can. Given the fashions at the moment, with teeny-tiny clothes (granted, the celebrities dressed like this have nice gym-toned bodies rather than the postpartum sag of the breastfeeding mother but that is by the by.) and translucent fabrics, how could anybody possibly find an inch or two of flashed skin a problem? I do note that this month's American Vogue has a cover story naughty vs nice: why showing skin is no longer in but feel fairly confident they are not referring to breastfeeding. This website talks about attitudes to public breastfeeding around the world (but the description of Japanese attitudes doesn't coincide with my observations - maybe outside Tokyo women bare all but certainly not here - so I wouldn't like to rely on the other countries' descriptions either. And while it is true that breastfeeding is the norm in hospitals and clinics here - I was never even asked how I'd be feeding her, it was just assumed - the falloff rate is pretty high.)

    Wednesday, July 07, 2004
    Sorry, sorry. Little time for blogging, eating, having a cup of coffee and certainly no time for reading now Maggie is experimenting with her new 'stay awake all day' plan. She got through the whole day today on just 45 minutes' sleep, snatched in odd 10-minute chunks. Then she fell off the bed, screamed, had a bath and has finally conked out! Poor wee mite.
    Cooking an evening meal seems to be taking over my entire day. In the old days (Before Maggie) I used to saunter down to the supermarket and throw together something edible before Cameron got home from work. With her unpredictable sleeping I now find myself frying onions while slurping my (inevitably cold) morning coffee, balancing a baby on my hip while whisking eggs and chopping herbs one-handed while frantically waving a rattle with the other hand. Not helped by the strange part of my psyche that is declaring that now I'm a mum we have to eat good solid nutritious meals: rather unexpectedly our dominos call-out rate has decreased since her birth. I have also (morphing into my own mother) started preparing stews and sauces on a Sunday that can lurk in the fridge until needed in the week. Still, most of our meals are coming out burnt as I hear wailing at a crucial point. Or caramelised, as it seems to be called these days (though whoever heard of caramelised rice?).
    Further evidence of my decline comes in the form of my clothing. I haven't started wearing summer clothes yet in spite of the 38-degree heat: when I was pregnant and wearing six items in rotation I looked forward to the days when I could wear real clothes again. Forgetting entirely the limitations imposed by breastfeeding: just why, exactly, is 90% of my summer wardrobe dresses and thus unwearable? Take out the strappy tops and skirts that still won't fasten around my widened waist and I'm left wearing dark denim in the heat.

    Monday, July 05, 2004
    Wandering around Shimokitazawa (yes again) on Saturday, we passed a dog-accessory shop: doggy coats, doggy shoes, doggy toys, snacks and crockery - and this, the palmino dog bicycle. No need to put your doggy in the basket when you could buy a specially designed bike with a doggy-holder! Clearly designed for dachshunds, I think you might struggle to fit a more rotund doggy in the holder. But then, the people here who tend to carry their doggies in bicycle basket or handbag do tend to have dachshunds. And the dachshunds tend to be dressed in sportswear; the more way-out outfits (my favourite ever was a pink tutu) are usually spotted on poodles. Poor poodles, they get a raw deal, either dressed up to the nines or shaved into odd shapes. Such a shame there isn't a picture of the palmino dog bicycle in use.
    Maggie has learnt to roll over! She is very advanced. She turned from front to back several times at the weekend - each time looking very confused about how she got there - and today she has completely forgotten she can do that but has mastered turning from back to front. (She then wails until I turn her back over; not so bright.)