Tag Archives: tea

The Sound of the City

My desk space in the city is located just off Dale Street. I love walking to work across town in the morning, past the sprinkling of market traders that are left, setting up for the day ahead. I see steaming cups of tea being administered to people who look like they desperately need them. I try to interact with this dying breed of trader. Use them or lose them! I try to buy vegetables from the stalls as often as I can. I could not get a pumpkin at Halloween last year for love nor money. One of the regular stalls I go to complained about how they simply cannot compete with the supermarkets,

Even I had to buy mine from the Asda, lad!

I love this humour that is used as an attitude in this city. The unshakeable wit of Scousers that can be heard everywhere. Recently on a bus a teenage girl was arguing/flirting with one of her male friends, who had taken a picture of her on his phone,

Do you know it’s illegal to keep a picture on ye phone if the other person doesn’t want you to?

She barked. To which he quickly retorted,

Do you know it’s illegal to have them eyebrows?

The acidic comeback is natural to the average Scouser. It’s all part of the sound of the city. It is all about survival. I have noticed in the past few years, a couple of the flower sellers have vanished on my route, withering away into nothing like the flowers they sold. There is still the occasional Eccoooooooooooo of an Echo seller and thankfully the sounds of the buskers if you can manage to ferry your way past the Predator, the Alien, a balloon squeezing Mario (plumbing obviously has been affected by the recession) and the odd Olaf. (Please note it is not recommended to tell a three-year old if the said man in a snowman costume is not present by stating, ‘he must have melted’, as my nephew was traumatised by this for several hours after.)

But one of the most gratifying sounds is the one I often hear, the music from rehearsal rooms on Dale Street. A banging drum set beat as I walk to work early in the morning and guitar solos flooding into the night air as I finish in the evening. This always raises a smile on my face, as you can hear the soul that is going into the practice. It is so much more refreshing a sound than ‘Cashier number three please.’ It is part of the DNA of this city, music, yes respecting the past but also moving progressively forward, to the future bands.

princes buildings

I was appalled at the news that this magnet for musical talent, the Princes Studios could be threatened with closure. We need to close a vital creative hub – that makes great sense! We need new apartments in the city like the world needs Ebola!

As those behind a recent petition to the Council asking to save the building have written:

Princes Studios currently houses over 250 musicians and 50+ bands who make up a large percentage of Liverpool’s illustrious music scene.

If the building closes it will have a huge negative impact on the Liverpool music scene as there is a chronic shortage of flexible and permanent rehearsal space in the city.

I was so proud to show off this City over the holidays to friends who were genuinely shocked by the culture, humour, history and vibe that we have. I do wish I was equally as proud of its elected leaders. The local Council – the alleged custodians of the city – do not seem to realise they do not own this city, the people do!

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Time off

When you leave the house without your young kids – ensuring there is another compos mentis adult around first, of course – it can be difficult to switch off the instincts. Someone struggles with their coat next to you: leave them to it! People drop umbrellas: they can pick them up themselves! You don’t have to be a twit about it and if help is obviously needed and can be given, it should be offered. But none of these other humans are entirely reliant on you and isn’t that marvellous?

Everyone thinks – and you think yourself – that what you will want to do as soon as you have ‘time off’ are the big things: shopping, manicure, ski trip, etc – but actually what you crave is down time.

Ginza tea and cake

Sitting in a cafe, eating without interruption, staring into space or reading a book in bed. It is the little moments that matter more than a night in a club. Anyway, when you have done newborn duty pulling an all-nighter seems less hardcore. Try 100 nights of sleep broken into two-hour intervals. Being a sleep-lover, I am still not sure how I made it through…

Best thing has to be though, after a couple of hours away, you feel like you have been away a bit too long. (Really you have felt this since about 10 minutes after you left, but you have reached a point of being unable to ignore it.) Then you get back home, keen to see the little faces again. Walk in the door and…

…they didn’t even realise you had gone.

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Time for tea

Well, I can think of more comfortable places to rest the teapot, but I wholeheartedly agree with ensuring that there is always a teacup within reach!

Thanks to a good friend and talented lady for sending the picture

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The Teas That Bind from Lulu

Lulu are running a special offer at the moment, so you can get 20% off  the price of the paperback of The Teas That Bind by using the code SILVERUK, as long as you do it before Friday 27 July.

Don’t miss out!

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The Teas That Bind at The Cat’s Meow

I will be signing books and talking about The Teas That Bind at The Cat’s Meow on Friday 11 May. The event runs from 8:30-10:30pm and tickets are 3,500 yen, which includes a drink, snacks and a copy of the book.

Come along to hear all about surviving earthquakes, one pot of tea at a time…

You can also get your book signed and ask any questions you have about the book, volunteering, tea, earthquakes and self-publishing. Full details and a form to RSVP are here.

Hope to see you there!

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ten minutes hate is on holiday

Feeling very lucky and grateful to all those who have fought for my right to kick back and enjoy time away from work.

If you are looking for holiday reading material, my recommendation is here.

Back soon!

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Friday May 11th, 8:30 -10:30 PM The Teas that Bind by J.C. Greenway at Biscotti Tapas

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Stirring the pot

Abiko is an often unloved and unremarked upon corner of Chiba Prefecture in Japan. Proud owner of what until recently was the dirtiest lake in Japan, at times it must have appeared as if this ‘Kamakura of the North’ (are you SURE about this? – ed.) was missing out on distinguishing features, even to those of us lucky enough to have experienced its charms.

No longer.

Now it has the Abiko Free Press, the great minds behind Reconstructing 3/11, aiming to put quality fiction and non-fiction writing about Japan in your hands by whatever means they can. If you haven’t already, you should get a copy of their latest, containing expert reflections on the 12 months since the Great East Japan Earthquake.

And also head over to their website, where I was interviewed recently about everything to do with writing, publishing  and promoting The Teas That Bind. If you like what you read there, its available now on Lulu, Amazon and Smashwords.

Perfect reading for your Friday tea-break!

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The Teas That Bind

My new book is available for download!

Surviving earthquakes, one brew at a time.

The book comprises posts written for ten minutes hate since the Great East Japan earthquake struck on 11 March 2011, along with emails, tweets and status updates sent over the last year. There are photographs – some you may have seen before and some exclusive to this book – along with plenty of new material about what happened on the day, how fundraising efforts came together for #quakebook and how I became a volunteer with It’s Not Just Mud in Tohoku.It is my attempt at answering the question ‘what was it like?’

Copies of the e-book are available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Please don’t worry if you don’t have an e-book reader – you can download a free application from Amazon to read it on any computer, or Smashwords can make it available for you as a PDF. If you really can’t do without pages to turn, then – never fear! – a print version is on its way.

My thanks to all the talented people who have helped me make The Teas That Bind look and read as well as it does. I hope you enjoy the book!

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Ishinomaki, December 2011

There is too much to tell you and not enough words.

Everyone who was here on 11 March must have a story to make the hair stand on end, about where they were and what they saw, who they lost and where they found the strength to continue.  Every empty plot of land, ruined shop and smashed car has its own story, of the people who lived or worked there, the journeys they took together and their hopes and fears for the future that never came, washed away on a tide of mud and debris that overwhelmed manmade defences too easily.  The lines on the buildings tell their own tale of how high the waters rose.

I wasn’t even sure I should go.  I’m not strong, not good at digging, not a builder or a carpenter and worried I would get in the way of those that are.  My Japanese is so lacking that I can’t even read enough to book the bus tickets.  More than once I convinced myself I should leave it to others.  Then I read the Frequently Used Excuses page on the It’s Not Just Mud website, send some emails and almost before I know how, am getting off a bus into the crisp, cold air of the most gorgeous morning I have seen since I arrived in Japan. Taking a deep breath because here I am in Ishinomaki, the city we have all seen countless times on the news, yet everything looks – well, kind of ok.

Parts of the city are relatively and reassuringly normal.  The pachinko parlour, konbinis and petrol station are open, while the streets are full of gleaming new cars.  I come from another northern port, so when I see a broken window high on a warehouse, I don’t automatically think of quake damage.  I know the wear and tear is harder here than in the pampered capital.  As you would expect, the busy streets around the central station have been repaired first, so the first-time visitor is spared an immediate surprise.  That’s reserved for the drive out to INJM’s HQ, located in the suburb of Watanoha, where the scale of the destruction begins to make itself known with every empty tract of land.  The really dramatic damage you remember from the press –boats left in the middle of the street and broken timber strewn storeys high – has largely been cleared.  What is left is somehow worse, houses standing alone where once they would have brushed up against their neighbours, and plenty of new car parks.

But there isn’t much time to dwell on such thoughts.  The INJM day starts with the more experienced hands welcoming that day’s arrivals over breakfast.  British volunteers will be happy to note there is a plentiful supply of Yorkshire Tea and no shortage of toast and jam either.  Suitably refreshed and following a quick update on the work schedule, it is time to begin the sometimes mammoth task of getting people and equipment into one of the pool of cars the group has commandeered.   INJM works with other organisations such as Samaritan’s Purse, and has a variety of projects on at any one time, so it is only possible to give a general idea of what you will be doing if you join them.   While I was there, volunteers were cleaning a damaged community centre ready for a forthcoming concert, removing mud from documents and photographs belonging to local people and ripping out damaged parts of houses ready for rebuilding.

Cleaning mud from documents and photographs is perhaps the perfect job for a writer.  I found myself alternatively marvelling that they were intact and speculating whether a computer’s hard drive would have survived so well.  It was also impossible not to wonder what had become of all the celebrating people in the photographs, enjoying sports days and cultural events.  Or while working through a file of financial records, to keep from thinking about where the hand which had idly scribbled notes across a page was now.  In the ‘to be cleaned’ pile was a schoolbag, identical to the one that all my young students have, still with mud-encrusted toy attached to the zip.  I found myself hoping that its owner was somewhere missing it, in spite of knowing that the death toll from schools in the city must make that impossible.

There are two Japanese words quoted in Jake Adelstein’s book, Tokyo Vice: setsunai and yarusenai, which are translated as ‘a physical feeling of sadness’ and ‘a sadness that you can’t clear away’ respectively.  When working in a city which is still a disaster zone, feelings like these are never very far from you, however, I believe the most practical way to deal with them is to get on with helping the survivors.  Each person does as much as they can and tasks tend to get assigned via a process of ‘can you do…’  ‘Yes, fine!’  ‘OK then, do it!’  It works well.  Breaks crop up exactly when you feel most in need of them, teas and coffees are produced, a bag of Kit Kats handed around and there is time for a chat before getting back to it.  In a Tohoku winter, there is a lot of incentive to throw yourself into work until your muscles hum and you don’t notice the cold or that the clock has ticked around to midday.  The lunches at INJM were some of the best I’ve eaten in Japan, which should give you a measure of exactly how good they were.  Warm, nourishing and served up with good humour by Hashimoto san, whose house has become an unofficial second home to the city’s volunteers.  Her kotatsu heated table was also a joy to the toes.

Donating your time and energy to help Ishinomaki via INJM in no way means living a Spartan existence.  After the afternoon’s work, brought to an end around the time the light starts to fade, everyone heads towards the onsen.  There is running water at the INJM house, but the queues and rage that would no doubt ensue from 20 people trying to get a shower mean that it’s much easier and far more pleasant to use the public baths for a scrub and a soak.  The evening draws to a close with more eating and chatting, maybe a couple of drinks to soothe us off to sleep, without causing too much of a headache in the morning!  Then the only job that remains is to find a space to set up your own array of futons, blankets and quilts – saying a quick prayer to make sure you don’t snore please – before the lights go out ready for another early start on the following day.

If you are wavering about going, don’t.  Yes, if you are strong, speak good Japanese, can drive or dig, or have any experience of building, you should definitely go!  But even if not, go anyway.  You are needed, people will be happy to see you and you will leave feeling that you have done something, even if it is only a fraction of what needs to be done.  By everyone who can taking on a little part of it, what could appear to be an overwhelming task becomes that much easier.  A lot has already been done, but there is more still to take care of.  Maybe it will happen without you, but maybe it will take even longer.

And if you need any further incentive, did I mention how good the food was?

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