Friday, March 31, 2006

Tuesday 28th March: A Game for All Seasons in One Day

The 7:45 train train from Itsukaichi to Hiroshima arrives at Itsukaichi at about 7:35. It comes from Hiroshima so everybody gets off which means that it is dead easy to get a seat - ideal if you are lugging a set of golf clubs during the morning rush hour... I was on my way to meet Jaime at Hiroshima and head off to Yoshina with him to play golf at the Misawa Setouchi Golf Resort. Unfortunately, the Miyoshi-bound train was packed as was the platform so I had to cuddle my golf bag and push may way on. Jaime dropped his bag on someone's foot. Still, after a couple of stops most of the sons of toil have got off and everything gets much easier - although I was nearly clobbered by an old geezer's walking stick as he hopped up and down on and off the seat next to me, unsure of where he was.

We completed the final leg of the journey by taxi and shortly afterwards Jaime was whisking us off to hole no. 10 in the golf buggy.

Hole 10?

Ah, well, the few golfers on the course today had been divided between the two halves of the course - and at this point I ought to explain that a Japanese golf course such as the Misawa Setouchi has a very pleasant feature, namely that it is divided into two 9-hole courses and that there is a lunch break between the two halves. The divided course also enables the management to divide the punters between the two halves which allows more punter per hour throughput - or on an uncrowded day such as today - allows the inexperienced punter to enjoy his golf without having a traffic jam of golf buggies full of competent golfers observing his every hack and slash...

The 10th hole was a par 4. Jaime teed off and sent his ball on a pleasing trajectory down the green, more or less straight. The Poor Little Cypriot also managed to clobber his ball on the first stroke and sent it on its way towards the yellow flag - which Jaime pointed out was not actually the flag on the green, but the half way marker. I note that I marked the score card with a cross which suggests that I was "forgiven" a shot. Anyway, I scored 6, a double bogey and Jaime scored 5, so not a bad start to the day. However, that was my best score of the morning! On the other hand, I only entered double figures (10) once.

I should point out that I only took up golf last year, played four games and spent a few hours at the driving range in Mitaki and had not touched a golf club since November 2005. I had intended to get some practice in at a driving range before our trip to Misawa... but didn't get around to it. I had intended to drag my clubs out of the cupboard and practice my swing on the balcony... but I didn't get around to that either. Finally, I thought I ought to consult my "Golf Swing" book - the one by that geezer who taught Nick Faldo everything he knew about golf - but I didn't even get around to that! Actually, Tuesday morning while waiting for the kettle to boil I DID pull the book off the shelf to read over breakfast, but didn't manage to open it. I did look at the cover and admire the author in his check golfing trousers. It seems that golfing gives chaps a licence to wear outrageous gear. I did not have anything outrageous in the trouser department to offer the world, but I was rather pleased with my natty combination of a blue striped golfing shirt (arms too short) and a natty sleeveless jumper that the aged matriarch knitted for me a few years ago.

But that's enough about me. How did Jaime perform after his golfing adventures in Northumbria? He scored a bogey, bogey, double bogey, par, par, bogey, double bogey... then a major club-throwing balls up and finally a double bogey in the driving rain that started up on the 16th or 17th (our 7th or 8th) hole.

How sweet it is to be able to putter back to the club house after a nine hole hack and relax over lunch.
We both went for the eel baked on rice in a stone bowl option, which proved to be a winner - especially for me as Jaime doesn't like miso soup so I got double helpings. Anyway, this baked eel on rice business is well worth burning your hands on the piping hot stone bowl for... After you have consumed about half the contents you take the accompanying teapot and pour the contents - Chinese tea - over the remaining rice and eel, then add japanese horseradish and spring onions (if you are not allergic to them) and voila! you have converted your meal into a delicious eel-n-rice ochazuke. Naturally, it was washed down with a cleansing beer although we had rededicated ourselves to the Lenten fast but two days ago...

The wind had got up to near gale force over lunch time but it had abated somewhat for the second innings (if that is the word). The afternoon's play rather declined from the stirling exertions of the morning... Jaime's first shot was not too hot, but my first lurching swipe sent the ball off low to the left for about 10 yards... and it took nine more swipes and perhaps a kick or two to get the damned ball into the hole.

It just so happened that a couple of workmen were - well, working, or pretending to down in the dip where the lake that lay between the tee and the green was being drained. It was a par 3. All you had to do was pop the ball over the lake and onto the green... Jaime plopped his ball into the mud - or rather, if I remember rightly, it landed on the other side of the lake and then rolled in! What was that chortling sound from down in the valley? My method on these par 3 wallop-your-ball-across-the-bally-valley type holes is to play my own game my own way and pull out the driver. As things stand, if I wallop the ball straight with the driver it only goes about 130 yards anyway - perfect for a par 3 hole! However, SHAME caused me to avoid that option before the faces of the workers down below, so I pulled out a trusty iron - number 5 perhaps... and sent the ball rolling down the bank - but NOT into the lake!

My next shot was pulled off with a casual air that enabled me to make out that it had all been intentional - the good old no. 9 iron sent the ball over the lake and onto the green - well, it was on the green momentarily, but rolled off and into a bunker. It took five more wretched shots to get the ball from the bunker to the hole...

Hole no. 3: Another water obstacle. Jaime's ball went soaring over the obstacle and off to the right somewhere. I clobbered my ball with the old driver and it went low and as it went I said to Jaime that it would bounce off the water - and bounce it did! It almost made it onto terra firma but, cruelly, it hit the top of the bank and bounced back into the water.

The lake feeds into a little stream that runs much of the length of the fairway and then crosses it at the approach to the green. My second shot, from the second tee, went straight and true - and straight into the stream where it crosses the fairway.

We stopped for a cleansing beer after the fifth. There is a little refreshements shop with a stunning view of the Inland Sea that you can enjoy while sat at the bar.

On six of the nine holes my score was 9. However, the dismal run was broken at the 7th, a par 3, with a brilliant demonstration of the Hurley speciality - drive the ball across the valley and straight onto the edge of the green 170 yards away! Any competent player would use an iron but what the heck, I was on the green for a possible BIRDY!! Ah, but the first nervous putt was under hit, the second one was over hit and the third went in, so I finished one over - nevertheless "4" was my best score of the day. This was also the only hole where I beat Jaime and I was most impressed with the distance he hurled his no. 10 iron out of the bunker.

The rain and the wind came and went and came back again... but no matter - when a wonderfully hot hot spring bath awaits you back at the club house.

Back at Yoshina station a train done up with fixtures and fittings like an old boat - complete with porthole windows and so forth took us part of the way back to Hiroshima.

A fine day indeed - and I am sure that I really want to practice more in future... My target: Get my score beneath 120!

David Hurley
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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Fourth Sunday in Lent: A Trip to Hiroshima Prefectural Art Gallery

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

BCP: The Collect for The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Midway through the Lenten season it seems that we have broken our fast more than we have kept it. Today, for the first time in weeks, all three of us made it to Fukatsu Kyoukak in time for the sermon... According to Mrs H today's sermon by the visiting chaplain touched upon the nature of the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Today is Mothering Sunday, which has been celebrated in England, since at least the 17th Century. A special type of fruit cake, known as Simnel Cake, was baked for the fourth Sunday of Lent. Another name for this Sunday is also "Laetare Sunday" or "Rejoice" or "Refresh" Sunday. Thus, in the midst of the spartan season of Lent we take time to rejoice and refresh ourselves and rededicate ourselves for the remaining days of Lent. Well, we shall see...

The last hymn was well chosen: Christians Seek Not Yet Repose by Charlotte Elliot.

This afternoon we strolled over to the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Gallery to see an exhibition of Flemish Art from the Hermitage. Nineteen of the paintings were by Teniers the Younger.

I went armed with a pair of Soviet-era opera glasses. If you have never tried using a small pair of binoculars when viewing paintings, particularly paintings with a lot of detail and character, or paintings crowded with people and animals such as those by Teniers the Younger at today's exhibition, then you don't know how much you are missing. Firstly, you can view pictures from a distance, which is very useful when an exhibition is crowded, as today's was. It enables you to get a clear, sharply focussed overview of a painting before moving in to view it with the naked eye. Secondly, you can focus on a small portion of a canvas and see it in amazing detail. A feature which may appear dull and flat to the naked eye suddenly jumps out in round and vivid detail.

Many of Tenier's paintings make a point of showing people - peasants, soldiers, cooks , winebibbers, amid their paraphanalia - glistening pots and pans, the tackle of warfare cast aside for the gaming table, dead fish and game and so forth, whether indoors or out. No detail of the squalid poverty of the interior of a base tavern seems to have been omitted. A shadowy fellow with his back to the viewer pisses against the wall by the chimney while his fellows play cards around a mean table. A pot, a dish, a basket laid aside catch what light the dim interior affords.

Move to an outdoor scene - a peasant festival - and there is a similar fellow with his back to the viewer, pissing against a wall... and once you have noticed this "one that pisseth against a wall" (I Kings XVI xii) in a couple of paintings you begin to seek him out in the other crowd scenes and as often as not he is to be found, this sempiternal wall-pisser.

David Hurley
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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Friday 24th March: Blacker and Blacker and Still in the Black

I felt something like old Banquo when I woke up from an afternoon snooze: a heavy summons lay like lead upon me and I would quite happily have slept for another couple of hours.

The leaden feeling lasted all evening. Brutus-like, I was not gamesome and every time I made a hash of my tiles or every time the turn of the tiles went against me it only confirmed that I ought to have stayed in bed and slept through the evening.

There were only three of us present tonight - the three players who are currently in the black on the Grand Accumulated Results Table: Jaime, Noda and David. Actually, there was a fourth player but she was not in the mahjong parlour and contented herself with buzzing Jaime's mobile phone every five minutes. Tim also popped in for a beer and a chat with Kenyon - who was not there.

Tonight's results reconfirmed the current form and so the mahjong table appears to be modelling itself on the theory of the expanding universe.

Jaime won the first two games. The feeling David had during Tuesday's game at the Mogamis' continued tonight as Jaime, fiddling with his telephone, would suddenly go out just as David was thinking that the game might go to him! That was how the first game ended.

The second game started of with a sudden dramatic turn. David's second discard was
Hatsu. three turns later Noda also threw out Hatsu and Jaime declared Ron! He turned his tiles over to reveal Kokushimusou - one of the fastest ever completions of that hand.

That result set jaime up nicely for the second game and he finished on exactly +32, (i.e. with the 32,000 points he received from Noda still in his tray) which was enough for him to finish as the only winner of the second game.

However, Noda was getting into the groove of his game and he came into his own in the third game and even went out on
Kokushimusou on the 9-Coins. Jaime had gone Pon and Noda plucked the 9-Coins from the wall which perhaps saved David - who missed his turn - from having to pay the whole bill. Actually, it would have been much worse if David had drawn and thrown the 9-Coins because Jaime was Tempai again with Toitoi, Honitsu and 2 Dragons, waiting for... 9-Coins. That would have been a very painful Double Ron indeed! And David had to admit, looking at his tiles, that he would have probably discarded the 9-Coins had he drawn it from the wall. As Oya Noda won 48,000 - and was the only winner of the third game.

That was the only game in which Jaime suffered. It completely reversed Noda's fortunes as he went from -34 to +34. David's mediocre performance continued. Not so dire as to end up with his Yakitori on the table, but even successful hands were piddling affairs.

Jaime had only just managed to stay in the black but recovered in the fourth round to reclaim the lead over Noda. David, as starting
Oya in the fourth, was beginning to anticipate a revival in his fortunes as he built a reasonable hand with a three tile wait - only to see Jaime go out on Suuanko. Then, in another hand of this game, David made the common error of failing to collect a tile from the back of the wall after declaring a Dora. Now, Jaime had made a similar mistake in an earlier game, but in that game he had managed to maintain a threatening posture, with three bonus tiles and an open Dragon on view. David had nothing to offer but a crumpled posture and a resigned tossing out of three East (not active) tiles in a row as he watched a nice series of Bamboo tiles fill up his 12-tile hand... So, far from seeing a revival, David's fortunes continued to worsen - each game had finished worse than the previous one. This time, David was the only loser, whereas until now he had always had someone to share the misery with.

Finally, in the fifth game, David made a consolatory recovery. His best hand of the evening, won from Noda, was a combination of
Shosangen and Honitsu, but by the end of the evening the current form of the players was reconfirmed and David was the only loser for the evening, on -48.

Still, on the other hand, we wrapped up the session at 11pm so the trams were still running and David saved himself a 3,500 yen taxi ride home. A victory of sorts!

So, while David manages to stay in the black on the Grand Accumulated Results Table, Noda advances a little, and Jaime extends his lead. The universe is expanding.

Jaime: +16, +32, -45, +38, +2 = +43
Noda: -12, -22, +68, +2, -31 = +5
David: -4, -10, -23, -40, +29 = -48

David Hurley
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Friday, March 24, 2006

Tuesday 21st March: Spring Equinox at the Mogami's

Tuesday was the spring national holiday here in Japan and Dr Mogami and I had arranged to take advantage of the holiday to play mahjong with his parents from 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

It took us until 9.30 to get through four games!

In the first couple of games Dr Mogami Sr seemed to be forever declaring "Riichi" and going out. In the South round of the first game, with me sinking towards empty-traydom, I thought my moment had come when, as Oya, I was building a Pinfu hand with a head made up of 2 West tiles. West was not an active Wind, but it was the Dora tile for that hand. In the four player game it is quite important to incorporate any Dora you get into your hand. I drew a third West so I changed my hand and was one away from Tenpai when Doctor Mogami Jr, sitting to my left, declared Riichi. I then picked up the Bamboo I needed to slot into my hand to make a 2-5-8 wait - but I had to throw out the 4-Coins and declare Riichi. I didn't like the look of it, but as I was Oya on a potentially high scoring hand, I went for it and threw the 4-Coins...

"Ron!" went Doctor Mogami jr and that was the rather expensive end of my attempted revival.

I missed out on quite a few "Tenpai with Dora" hands during the course of the afternoon - mostly because of Doctor Mogami Jr's knack of going Riichi either just before or just after me and stealing my thunder...

At other times, it must be admitted, I went Riichi on less probable waits and got hammered more often than I got the tile...

After two games we drew tiles and swapped seats. I drew East and opted to sit where Doc M Sr. had been as that seemed to be the lucky seat. Indeed, in the third game I came top and cut away at my losses. The sweetest hand was

In the final game I had been in positive territory for a while but Doctor M sr went out on a tile I was waiting for (5-Character) so once again some carefully nurtured bonus tiles went down the drain. I completed a hand to rob Doctor M jr of the Oya almost as soon as he inherited it.

Last Oya was Mrs Mogami who had had a string of losses and was propping up the bottom of the table. She declared a hidden Kan and then a few turns later she went out and flipped over her tiles to reveal what the docs at first thought was Sananko - but in fact was Suuanko, which sank me and catapulted Mrs M off the bottom...

That situation was confirmed when I went out on a miserable hand to polish off the game for the evening. I say "for the evening," but Dr Mogami sr seemed willing, even eager, to play an unprecedented fifth game... I preferred, however, to cut my losses and amble off to catch a tram in good time and avoid a pricey taxi fare!

The two doctors were today's winners. Over the afternoon I had come in 4th, 4th, 1st, 3rd, which saw me down a moderate 2,450 yen.

David Hurley
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Saturday, March 18, 2006

All Changed at the Top as St Pad Sends a Message

Kodama jansou was busy on Saint Patrick's Day with most of the tables in use (not that the Japanese were aware that it was Saint Paddy's Day) and the Cock's Eye Club also had a good turnout with five players playing and five games played. Of those five players, four were Johnny Foreigners, and of those four three have some degree of the Paddy in them, and of those three the middle name of one is... Paddy - the one with the Irish surname to boot.

Jaime and Tim had both returned from their holidays and were hanging out at Kembys so the first game was between Noda, David, Ray and Kenyon. That game went to Ray and at some point during the course of it Kenyan committed a
chombo though I forget what it was now.

Noda then claimed a hand off Kenyon by "
robbing the "Kong" (as it is called in the Western game). Kenyon turned an open Pon into an open Kan after Noda had declared Riichi and Noda tutted and went out - Ron! We had to remind ourselves of the rule, which is that if you have a Yaku and are Tenpai you can go out if someone turns an open Pon into a Kan. You can also go out if you are Tenpai on Kokushimusou and someone claims a hidden Kan with the tile that you need.

Noda's charge was reduced to zero by Ray's +21 victory. David came in at -4 and Kenyon at -17.

When Jaime arrived we agreed to play with all five players in and rotate around the table. Kenyon received lashings of loot from Jaime and David after covering classes for them in recent days and he was also hoping to receive lashings more to make up for his disastrous loss of form at the table. Now that Kenyon's wallet was bulging I wondered whether Fortune would not favour him tonight for Fortune, being a woman, tends to favour bulging wallets over empty sacks and it has often been noted that he who comes impoverished to the table often leaves in dire straits.

After a few weeks away from the table, would Jaime relinquish his recent mahjong winnings?

Er, not at all.

Midway through the second game, while Jaime was piling up the winnings he pointed out a peculiar phenomenon - that Kenyon was drinking and the PLC was not... Well, it is Lent... Ah, but it is St Patrick's day and the PLC is 1/8th Irish and two out of three of his names are Irish and here comes Tim with a bag of Peruvian knitted finger puppets. Tim also claims some Irish blood - making it four out of five Johnny foreigners in the joint now professing Paddy parentage... At that point the PLC said "Bugger Lent," and he and Tim ordered beer to celebrate St Pad and Tim's return - so the Resident Non Paddy also ordered a beer. By now the only non-drinker amongst us was the Paddiest of us all - Ray!

The Resident Non Paddy completed his first game in a month on a seemingly effortless +66. In short, St Pad had abandoned Ray midway through the game and gone over to the drinkers' party; D. Patrick Hurley came in second-and-in-the-black and Kenyon was also blessed with his second best result of the evening (-13).

Saint Pad had not finished with us yet. In the next game he blessed all three foreigners who had taken a glass of beer - and the results prove it! The PLC, with Patrick in his name, came top on +66, the RNP, specially favoured for overall victory, finished on +33 (the value of Francis Bacon's surname!), a most auspicious score, while even Kenyon came in ahead on +16. Now let us add up the score:

66 + 33 + 16 = 115 = 1 + 1 + 5 = 7 = Perfect!

But how do I know that the message was from St Pad? Because Noda, who, being Japanese and therefore a nominal Shinto-Buddhist, doesn't count in the calculation, finished on -15. Ray, however, finished on -100 so clearly St. Pad was sending him a message and he left his signature on it:

115 - 100 = 15. 15 = P. P = Patrick!

Don't tell me that the 15th letter of the alphabet = O. St Pad was a Latin scholar and the Latin alphabet omits J so, as I say, 15 = P!

Clearly, then, the message was: "Greetings, Sons of Christendom, Ye Who Drink a Toast in My Name and Curses to Ye Who Do Not!" Ray's
Suuanko hand could do nothing to reverse the verdict of St P.

Good bloke, old St Pad, and in light of this the PLC ordered another beer.

The results were impressive! David finished the fourth game top again, this time on +56.

Noda beetled off home after the end of the third game, only his second defeat of the year. David looked like finishing as the only winner of the fourth game when Jaime ended the game by claiming some points of him to finish on +1! He then went on to finish on +2 in the fifth to complete four games in the row in positive territory.

The fifth game went to Ray. By now all the drinking had stopped and so the Drinking-to-St-Pad factor was in abeyance - and therefore the Paddiest of them all would naturally be expected to emerge as the winner of the game, which is what happened. The famous "Ray Revival" kicked in and Ray finished on +53 with Jaime on +2. David signed off for the evening on zero and so
in the fifth game Kenyon had to bear the burden of defeat alone...

The final scores were:

David: -4, +17, +66, +56, 0 = +135
Jaime: --, +66, +33, +1, +2 = +102
Noda: 0, -58, -15 = -73
Ray: +21, -12, -100, -37, +53 = -75
Kenyon: -17, -13, +16, -20, -55 = -89

Tonight's results had a dramatic effect on the Grand Accumulated Results Table.

Before St Pad's:

Noda: +225
Jaime: +150
Ray : +38
David: -52
Eri : -104
Kenyon : -257

After St Pad's:

Jaime: +252
Noda: +152
David: +83
Ray: -37
Eri: -104
Kenyon: -346

David Hurley
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Monday, March 06, 2006

Sunday 5th March - DEH: A Great End to a Mixed Season

Perfect in every way. The match did not start until 1pm. Mrs H had the day off and had offered to take Dan and I to the football ground which was about an hour's drive away in the hills north east of Tenno Station, south east of Hiroshima.

In car conversation touched upon Championship football, and cookery (as well as upon what the missing English player in our team would be up to in the spring).

: David enthusiastically filled Dan in on how Sheffield Utd drew with bottom placed Crewe and Watford drew with Derby while Leeds beat fourth placed Crystal Palace to move back into third and six points behind Sheffield Utd with a game in hand... Dan, however, bemoaned the fate of Stoke who lost away to Norwich whom they had hoped to get even with on points but instead slumped to 16th place.

Cookery: Ah, well, David cooked a few pancakes on Shrove Tuesday but only achieved perfection on the fifth; the egg/milk ratio on the one hand and the new IH cooker on the other caused the first two to end up too thick and too burnt, the third and fourth to be less well done and less thick, and the fifth to be what he thought to be the apotheosis of pancakes... until Dan described how he had followed Delia Smith's method and... well, here it is:

First of all sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl with the sieve held high above the bowl so the flour gets an airing. [Did most of that, except to hold the seive high.] Now make a well in the centre of the flour and break the eggs into it. Then begin whisking the eggs incorporating any bits of flour from around the edge of the bowl as you do so. [Did it.]

Next, gradually add small quantities of the milk and water mixture, [ah, I didn't add any water...] still whisking. When all the liquid has been added, use a rubber spatula to scrape any elusive bits of flour from around the edge into the centre, then whisk once more until the batter is smooth, with the consistency of thin cream. [Whisk again? Thin cream?] Now melt the butter in the pan. Spoon 2 tablespoons of it into the batter and whisk it in, [Do what?] then pour the rest into a bowl and use it when needed to lubricate the pan, using a wodge of kitchen paper to smear it round. [Good grief, this is turning into quite a business.]

Now get the pan really hot, [Did that.] then turn the heat down to medium [ah!] and, to start with, do a test pancake to see if you're using the correct amount of batter. [First pancake was for Mrs H. That was the test pancake.] It's also helpful if you spoon the batter into a ladle so it can be poured into the hot pan in one go. [Come off it, Delia.] As soon as the batter hits the hot pan, tip it around from side to side to get the base evenly coated with batter. [Yeah yeah, did that.] It should take only half a minute or so to cook; you can lift the edge with a palette knife to see if it's tinged gold [or black] as it should be. Flip the pancake over with a pan slice or palette knife – the other side will need a few seconds only – then simply slide it out of the pan on to a plate.

As I listened to Dan expatiate on the Delia Smith method I began to realize that perhaps my approach had not been ideal.

We then touched upon the subject of dinner and it turns out that Dan's Mrs has not been converted to English methods as has Mrs H. Mrs H has discovered that English cooking is much easier than Japanese cooking and she also likes English food - you know, spuds, veg, meat and gravy in various combinations. And with a steamer the whole lot takes just a few minutes, and now with an IH cooker she has discovered that she can cook while in the bath although I have not inquired too deeply into how that is achieved. Last Thursday, for instance, I returned home weak hungry and drained after a hungover day, but instantly revived as I entered the portals and was greeted by the aroma of sausages and gravy on the go...

Jaime's Spring: As this blog is in the public domain what was said on this subject will be passed over with a diplomatic silence...

We were the first of our team to arrive at the football ground. It was a bright day but the wind was a bit sharpish. We didn't have a ball, but then too much of a warm up and practice is not good for the aged constitution so we stood around and chatted and watched the game that was in progress and noted that one of the teams had a couple of old geezers in it too.

The captain arrived with a couple of the lads and told us that there would be 15 players today. We were delighted. In the end 14 showed up, but still, it meant that Dan would play in the first half and I would replace him in the second half.

The rest of the team came shambling over, a motley looking bunch who appeared to have done an Inter-Milang trick of arriving straight from MAC bar. One guy, who will be our deputy captain next season, was sporting a purple-striped shirt and purple tie - but appearances can deceive.

The team included several of our strongest players including our stirling central defender, and a now long-haired Yuusuke who turned up to play in attack after a long absence, and who will be our captain next year - or at least he and the vice-captain will take turns...

Anyway, our opponents, playing in white, were Hiroshima Vanqueuru. DEH kicked off and it quickly became evident that the teams were evenly matched and that it was going to be a fast paced game, especially, it seemed, on our right, where I was to play in the second half... It also became evident that the referee and the bespectacled linesman were the worst ever...

Cheering on our boys from the sideline I was constantly impressed with their effort and commitment. The future deputy captain was excellent at picking up balls in defence, and our nippy number 22, Yuji, was running all over the place and always to the point. Over on the left too, Ochi, the slight but agressive guy who scored that brilliant goal-in-15 seconds of kick off in a previous game, stormed up and down too. But, the early goal didn't come and Vanqueru began to press and it was beginning to feel a bit frustrating as we were playing a strong and deep defence with little to show - it seemed - up front...

Dan, in the centre of defence, had a good, committed first half. What had he said to me before the match? I really don't like heading the ball... What did he have to do time and again, but intercept balls at head height! Despite the pressure our goalkeeper, Kurimura, did not have an awful lot to do.

One of our midfielders, a bit beefier than the average in our team, put in a nice crunching tackle that I thoroughly appreciated. Then, in another attack down our right, one of our defenders ran back and took out their attacker just outside the penalty box. Vanqueru players, realizing that this ref was not keen on making his own decisions appealed for a penalty but he must have actually been looking as he gave them a free kick outside the box to the right. Kurimura carefully arranged his wall with Dan on the left end, but the guy who took the kick curled it round him and into the bottom right corner of the goal. 0-1. Oh dear, is it going to be one of those days again...?

After attempting a shot from the centre spot, DEH got back into the game again and rediscovered their attacking spirit. A lovely little string of passes saw Yuji, No 22, receive, pass and run on down the right wing to pick up the ball again in a lovely little move and slot it home. It was a brilliant moment - you could see the whole thing unfolding in your mind; and there it was on the pitch too! Sheer inspiration and a well deserved goal from our most improved player this season (goalkeeper excepted). 1-1.

Then about ten minutes later Yuusuke connected with a ball coming in low from the right across the face of the goal and whacked it home. 2-1.

I could watch this game all day... Then Dan shouted across to me:
We've been playing an awfully long time!
Was that just old age speaking? Actually no, what it was was that the ref didn't have a watch and was afraid to call time too early. After about 50 minutes of play he consulted the bespectacled linesman, who of course didn't have a clue. I was nearby and pointed to my wrist and nodded sagely. I didn't have a watch either, but we were winning 2-1 and it was obviously well past full time. "Mou chotto surun..." said the perplexed ref, but the ball had gone off for a Vanqueru goalkick and so the ref, without actually blowing his whistle, ambled off and we came to the conclusion that it was half time!

It was good news for me that the ref had knackered everybody in the first half, but even so, the second half seemed to go on at a hardly slackened pace. The captain prudently decided to place me in centre-right of defence rather than out on the wing where three nippy Vanqueru attackers were very adept at making little triangles and switching the ball about. I told the future deputy captain, playing on my right, something or other and he looked with total incomprehension which made the rest of the team laugh. Next thing, I was yelling at our centre forward to watch out for the shot-from-the centre spot but he had spotted the danger and forestalled it.

Vanqueru did not have any surprises to spring on us in the second half. I had already noted how mobile their No 6 was. In the heat of the game I remember a constant procedure of having to close down the right, a crunching tackle on a guy coming through the middle, treading on a couple of other attackers' feet, heading one ball out and blocking a stinging cross at close range with my back, not getting called for foul throws.

Vanqueru did get a great shot in, which Kurimura tipped over the bar. Also, there was a scary moment when a corner kick came in high and came off the bar with Kurimura's hand just beneath and myself also on the line thinking "Oh cluck..." but today the defence managed to deal with everything that was thrown at them.

Then disaster: two of us were chasing an attacker into the penalty box when he went down and claimed he had been fouled by the other guy (future deputy captain?). I marched to the post telling the ref to call a corner but it didn't work...

There was a bit more comedy as the penalty spot had to be marked out. One of our guys paced it out and the Vanqueru penalty taker came out with the inevitable "ashi ga nagai" quip. Kurimura, our goalkeeper stood quite close to the ball and then, back on his line he crouched low. I was thinking, "Dive to the right... dive to the right..." Then an utterly brilliant thing happened. The penalty was taken, hit with the right foot towards the left, i.e. the goalkeeper's right, and Kurimura dived to his right and stuck out an arm and batted the ball away... I was so delighted and I was the first one onto the ball although being old it took me a while to orient myself so as to face the right way and boot it up the field to cries of "Keep it in, Debido." Of course, it did not go very far up the field and it went straight to a white shirt, but nothing came of that. 2-1 still! That knocked the wind out of their sails.

Then, five minutes later Ochi picked up the ball and headed goalwards and slotted it over the goalkeeper. Oh this is wonderful! 3-1.

We won a late corner and the Ancient of Days headed up the field and into the penalty box doing a sort of Crouch impression. Yuusuke took the corner and perhaps he was aiming for me because it landed among the defenders in front of me and one of them booted it and I booted it forwards, but unfortunately not goalwards... but the dream lives on... just.

Our retiring captain was asked what had been the best game for him during his captaincy and without hesitation he said "Yapari, saigo no."

I recovered with the family in Yamato-no-Yu and allowed myself a Lenten indulgence of a beer before and a beer after in celebration.

So we finish on 10 points having won 3, drawn 1 and lost 4 in the league. That means we could finish somewhere between 5th (unlikely) and 7th. A couple of teams have two or even three games left. I predict that we'll finish in 6th place out of 9... and retain our B Division status.

David Hurley
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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Parkside Hotel All Over Again!

Parkside Hotel, scene of the last act of the Ash Wednesday Supper, glimmered and glowered at the Poor Little Still-Feeling-Rather-Delicate Cypriot as he disappeared into the Kodama mahjong parlour just across the road.

With the Poor Little Cypriot officially off the sauce the only imbiber at the table tonight was Mr Noda who drank his shochu after the manner of the natives. The whisky was nowhere to be seen. Mrs Noda is back.

Kenyon joined us tonight and was looking for a reversal of fortunes and a way off the bottom of the Grand Accumulated Results Table. In the first game, however, David made the running with a regular supply of swiftly completing hands and managed to rack up 100-
tenbo as Oya and Kenyon's Yakitori took its time about leaving the table. Thus Ray, who had arrived just after the game had started, was able to chomp his way through the yaki-meshi at his leisure... Actually, a whole hour was devoted to the first game, and then just as Ray thought he was in for the second game the starting Oya went to Kenyon who was sat to his right, so Ray was promptly out again!

The second game was Noda's alone. The evening had started with Noda looking as if he was about to give up some more ground at the top of the GAR Table after shedding some points last week (for the first time this year). At one point in the first game David had gone into treble figures on the positive side, but the Noda revival began in the South round of that game so that David went from +102 back down to +39 whereas Noda had recovered to -4 and, as I say, his performance went from strength to strength in the second game.

It has sometimes been observed that when Noda goes
Riichi he is usually waiting for suit tiles. However, David was punished twice for testing this rule, both times with the Green Dragon, Hatsu, once when it was a bonus tile... Noda also took Kenyon for a huge sum - was it 36,000? On another occasion when the hand played out with no result Noda had been lurking on Tenpai with Kokushimusou. The result of all this was that Kenyon more than doubled his losses and David gave back much of his early winnings while Ray managed to keep his losses in single figures.

Then, in the third game of the evening, it turned out that Noda had peaked as Ray emerged to repeat his act of playing just a couple of games and coming out ahead! Noda was hit the hardest by Ray's run, but he still finished in the black and well ahead at the top of the GAR Table. Ray's run sent David into the red for the evening. Kenyon finished that game second and in the black, but it was not enough to do anything for him as he had added so much lead to the anchor that holds him at the bottom.

Ray, however, has moved up into the black half of the GAR Table. Here are the results:

Ray: --, -8, +55 = +47
Noda: -4, +81, -38 = +39
David: +39, -29, -22 = -12
Kenyon: -35, -44, +5 = -74

With Noda and David knackered the game shut down at 11pm and each of the four players headed for home in a different direction and by a different means. Noda drove, Kenyon cycled, David caught the tram and Ray, well Ray crossed the road and straight into...

Parkside Hotel!

David Hurley
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Friday, March 03, 2006

An Ash Wednesday Supper

There were only three players in the mahjong parlour Friday evening, Noda, David and Ray. Mama was complaining about the unpredictability of business these days. Mind you, all three of us ordered grub and Noda and David drank their way through the evening so she did ok out of us.

Tonight, however, the luck was with the sober Irish. Ray was the only winner in three out of six games. Details have become a little bit blurred in the Poor Little Cypriot's memory due partly to the intake of alcohol that night, the gap between then and now and the rather larger intake of booze midweek...

What I do remember is that while going "Ron" and "Tsumo" quite a lot, Ray expatiated upon the inventive speeches that the dropouts at his school produced for a speech contest, speeches which were ruled out for nomination despite their close approximation to spoken native English patterns:
Cinderella went to the ball. Suddenly it was twelve o'clock.

"Oh shit."
and, from an Irvine Welsh fan:
"Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers..."
The Cinderella story had Old Noda chuckling away and perhaps it was that that caused him to lose the plot for the first time this year... Noda lost games 1-4 and he ended up with his Yakitori stuck on the table at the end of the fourth game. By now Noda was over 100 points into minus territory. Actually, I remember now, it was not so much Cinderalla's "shit" that affected him so much as the booze. Noda had brought his hip flask with him tonight and was liberally adding its contents to the Japanese alcohol that he was drinking - shochu as a mixer for whiskey! Wery good Mr Noda.

Mrs Noda is away from home at the moment and Mr Noda is having to cope all by himeself for a while. This appears to be proving difficult. He ran himself a bath and after about 20 minutes or so he got undressed and strolled into the bathroom only to find that he had not put the plug in.

At some point in the evening Ray went out on Suuanko and he reached a peak of +127. But then in the last two games Noda, fired up perhaps by the potent brew he was imbibing, recovered and came top twice to haul himself back to a less disastrous final score of -38. That put him one point ahead of the Poor Little Cypriot, but Noda had to pay out a bit more cash because of his Yakitori.

For Ray it was a big step in the right direction as he overtook David in the Grand Accumulated Results Table, but there are still only two players in the black this year, Noda (still top) and Jaime.

Here are the figures for Friday's game (24th Feb):

Ray: +37, +20, -11, +81, -3, -47 = +77
Noda: -22, -7, -31, -42**, +29, +35 = -38
David: -15, -13, +42, -39, -26, +12 = -39

The next day saw The PLC and Old Ardle meet up again in the BFC for a light lunch and another round of igo. Despite previous affirmations to the effect that there will be no more wall building Old Ardle's preference for bricklaying immediately reasserted itself and the PLC (white) who was not going to have any of that gammon simply extended his line.

Thou wall, O wall! O sweet and lovely wall!
Show me thy chink to blink through with mine eyne.

Old Ardle captured one abandoned piece but then suffered a laspe of vision as a small outpost of his own, unprotected by the wall was surrounded and extirpated.

O wicked wall! through whom I see no bliss;
Curs'd be thy stones for thus deceiving me!
The game is to be saved for the duration of Old Ardle's immanent sojourn in Australia.

The day after playing igo, however, we met up again over at the Ardle's Nest to kick off our latest project which is called A-Bomb City, podcasting to the world from the world's first ABC. We aimed to make two editions of the podcast which will be launched after Old Ardle returns from Australia... With the studio set up and everything apparently ready we were hit by a bout of nerves and giggles and made several false starts and resorted to the bottle, which did the trick... eventually we got going and got more confident as we went on. But just as we thought we had finished we discovered that my microphone was set too low after Ardle had adjusted it to compensate for my booming voice but had not readjusted it when I readjusted my own volume! In the end though, after redoing the second one we agreed that it was much better although one of us did go on a bit too much about the pros and cons of the bomb...

The 28th of February was Shrove Tuesday this year and so I did my first bit of cooking in the new PLC residence: five pancakes. The first one, for the Mrs, was too thick, with the wrong proportion of egg to flour and burnt on the new IH cooker. The next one, for me, was a bit better, the third one for the Mrs, once again suffered from a surfeit of egg so resembled an omlette more than a pancake. Little E then piped up and said she wanted one and that one turned out quite cute as the mixture hit the pan and formed a face framed by "long hair" with blueberry eyes and nose added for effect - of a sort. The last one, for me, was perfect! Correct mixture, nice thin spread over the pan, cooked just right, not screwed up when it came to turning it over. Lashings of lemon and blueberry jam slapped on top, then rolled up and down the hatch. Excellent! That is my cooking over and done with for another year or so.

Now, this year the PLC is going on a Lenten fast again - a booze-free six weeks. However, as Ash Wednesday happened to fall on St David's Day, the PLC's onomastico, and as David Rhea, a former colleague at Clang Education Centre a few years ago, was back in town, we decided to feast rather than to fast.

1. The feasting kicked off with an Ash Wednesday lunch at Regalio's with Old Ardle (again) and Waterboy. Despite OA mumbling about the Italian primo piatto being Japanese bits and pieces, the meal went down a treat and the pizza was thin and one of the best we've had in Hiloshima.

2. We then wandered over to J Cafe to lounge in a couple of the red sofas and admire the balcony. Tom Waits' album Bone Machine was mentioned with approval by the Waterboy. Conversation turned to Chiron the Centaur; particularly what it means to be British today, the necessity of tolerance and the necessity of defining -or redefining - its limits, and whether or not there was an International Jewish Conspiracy out to get David Irving and Ken Livingstone. Even if there was, and despite Chiron's affection for Eliot's dictum (borrowed from Joyce, but taken more seriously) that a culture be defined as "the same people in the same place" the contribution of freethinking Jewry to British culture was generally approved of (pace Eliot), Clement Freud was acclaimed by all present to be a jolly good egg and while on the subject of freethinking Jewry, American experimental psychologist Steven Pinker's work ab ovum was also cited with approval.

The Waterboy also wanted to know what these here gadgets called wireless tefelones were all about and he was encouraged by the other members to measure his own resistance to the modern plague of self-censorship by starting a blog of his own...

3. Waterboy and the PLC wandered up to Kemby's to meet David Rhea and his girlfriend Fuki, and were joined by the SS and Mrs SS.

4. The PLC, and the two couples moved on to an izakaya for their Ash Wednesday Supper. The SS impressed everybody with his recent reading programme. A certain French fellow named Fauckall or something was wheeled out for an airing, swiftly followed by Eisler and her Chalice and the Blade.

5. PLC, David R and Fuki headed towards Kulcha but the PLC, remembering the range of whiskys and the cigars and comfortable armchairs at D Bar suggested that the party go there, where they were joined by the SS a bit later. The intention was to have a look at the comparative merits of Bourbon and Scotch and then head over to Kulcha, but we got rather carried away with our project and covered in cigar ash and wreathed in smoke as SS and PLC puffed away and huffed and puffed about rights of sojourners in strange lands and got tangled up in a controversy over the support for British troops in Iraq irrespective of whether or not one supports their being there!

I sent myself an e-mail so that I would not forget the Bourbons that David had introduced me to:

knob creek, bards town ky. bookers sbb.

I hope that is clear. The Bourbon was followed up with a 30yo Laphroaig.

6. David and David popped into Lawsons for a pack of beer to polish off back at David's room in the Parkside Hotel opposite Kodama jansou. The PLC finished his cigar but the drinking ground to a halt somewhere around 4am and he stumbled off and fell into a taxi...

Thursday was Hell, but no appointments were missed and now that it is Friday evening again we have just about recovered sufficiently to head off into town to play mahjong again...

David Hurley
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