Sunday, May 28, 2006

Friday 26th May: Prevented by a Debilitating Fever...

The stresses and strains of the last month finally caught up with The Poor Little Cypriot. The last straw was probably the inclement weather. It is usually warm in Hiroshima in late May but Thursday and Friday evenings were chilly and Friday was wet.

Anyway, the PLC arrived at Kodama only to say "Hello" to Eri who has returned to the fray after a long absence, and to tie up some business with The Human Computer...

Mama served him a cup of green tea, and after mopping his fevered brow once or twice the PLC then departed and caught a taxi which took him all the way home. The PLC was in bed before 10pm - an almost unheard of occurrence on a Friday night in Hiroshima...

I am therefore unable to tell you how Noda continued his decline. Nor am I able to mention by what manner Jaime got into and back out of a tight hole. No more can I enlighten you, gentle reader, as to how it was that The Human Computer computed his way back into the black. Finally, I cannot relate how Eri fell to the bottom of the pile nor by what cunning ploy Jaime claimed yet another Kokushimusou - at her expense...

However, there is a place where one can read a faithful account of these events, and that place is here.

The score sheet reads:

Kenyon +42 +59 +0 +2 +4 = +107
Jaime -54 -17 +64 +18 +32 = +43
Noda +12 -29 +1 -20 -36 = -72
Eri -13 -65 = -78

David Hurley
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Thursday 25th May: The Taming of the Shrew

This year's production of The Taming of the Shrew by the International Theatre Company London was a great success here at Jogakuin University, Hiroshima.

Every May the International Theatre Company tours Japan performing a Shakespeare play and of the three I have seen (Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, The Taming of the Shrew) this one was by far the best so perhaps the director, Paul Stebbings, has learned from his previous experience in presenting the complexities of a Shakespeare play to a Japanese audience.

I felt that his decision to produce King Lear with a young cast of just seven actors last year was problematic and the Japanese students who I talked to who had seen the play said that even after preparing for the play by studying the plot and the main themes and characters of the play beforehand, they were still very confused by who was who in Spedding's production as the actors had frequently to change roles while other roles were merged or cut up and subsumed by other characters according to necessity.

Another problem with the production of King Lear was that there was not enough attention to costume so that there was little in what an actor was wearing to distinguish one character from another. This simply adds to the confusion in a play in which some of the main characters assume disguise as part of the plot!

Furthermore, on a pretty bare stage with a small cast, one or two of whom may at any time be engaged with the musical side of the performance, the court of King Lear never amounted to very much so you never felt he had very far to fall!

Finally, of course, the demands of tragedy, particularly a tragedy like Lear, or Richard II, are such that they militate against easy comprehension by an audience whose actual comprehension of standard modern English may be less than one would desire. In these tragedies the protagonist loses power early in the play and so his field of action is greatly reduced and this limitation is compensated for by his engagement in a poetic search for meaning. In short, Lear or Richard role becomes thoroughly rhetorical and the language of both these fallen kings is poetic, rich and complex.

In short, much of last year's production of King Lear went straight over the heads of many in the audience.

This year's production, The Taming of the Shrew, however, was a hit with the Japanese audience as well as the foreigners sat amongst them and it is not difficult to discover why that was so.

Firstly, although most of the audience didn't seem to realize it, the action began before the beginning of the play (so there was a kind of induction to the Induction as well as a play within a play).

What happened was that an English football supporter was prowling around among the audience making a bit of a drunken nuisance of himself. He was wearing an England shirt with "Beckham" on the back and pushed his way passed several demure young Japanese ladies to bag an empty seat right in the middle of their row. And then - horror of horrors!! - he began talking to them in an embarrassingly loud voice while brandishing a can of beer:

"Shakespeare isn't the most famous Englishman. Do you know who the most famous Englishman is...? It isn't Shakespeare... It's... (pointing to the back of his shirt) BECKHAM!"

A bit later, the cry of "ROOONEYYYY!" filled the hall. Most people dutifully tried to ignore his antics. He wandered off and picked on another set of victims and gradually elicited a few irritated hisses from various Japanese who must have felt that this typical England supporter - hoorigan - was about to spoil the show. It was not only the Japanese who were taken in, however. I was amused to see a certain colleague of mine, whose hair turns purple when the sun shines on it, screw his head around and give off various signs of disapproval.

Our football hooligan next sat himself near the front and noisly chatted to his chosen victim. An introductory speech was made by one of the specially groomed senior girls who was, the audience was informed by our football hooligan "a bit of alright!"

The next shocker for the audience was when our football hooligan got up, gave his can to a girl and said "hold that darling" and climbed up the steps at the front of the stage...

... and spoke the drunkard Christopher Sly's first lines.

You could hear from various parts of the audience "Oohhhhh he is actor!"

The stating of the bleeding obvious is one of the great "Japanese traditional" cultural art forms.

Anyway, because it is plot driven and a bit shallow on characterization, The Taming of the Shrew was ideal for a Japanese audience.

The framing of one play by another was also well taken. Speddings made the correct decision of adding the end of another, similar play (The Taming of A Shrew) to the end of Shakespeare's text, and then a coda onto that. By setting the Induction in modern times and the taming of the shrew play-within-a-play back in Renaissance Italy Speddings was able to convey the shift from the one to the other clearly and successfully.

It was also interesting to see Christopher Sly portrayed as a modern football supporter who encounters the city slickers who are keen on fox hunting. The references to contemporary English concerns were touched on very lightly.

In this production the play within the play was not presented to Sly by the Lord as a cure for his "madness" but rather it was Sly's dream in which he dreams that he is Petruchio (and therefore the same actor plays both roles). This immediately solves two problems, one of stage management and the other to do with right-on presentational concerns.

If Sly is dreaming the taming of the shrew then he can disappear from the stage as can the Lord and his servants - none of them has to pretend to serve sly at all.

Moreover, if the story of the taming of the shrew is Sly's dream then it can be portrayed as one unreconstructed male's fantasy of how he would like things to be between the sexes. The fact that at the end of the play there is a little coda in which Sly is carried home for punishment by his terrifying wife merely reinforces the point and keeps Speddings in with the politically correct. It must be admitted, however, that if there really were any worries about the "incorrectness" of the play they did not show during the boistrous and entertaining performance.

This year, who was who was clearly delineated by the costumes. The play was intelligently cut down so that the six actors were each able to play a range of clearly delineated characters. Furthermore, when a character adopted a disguise, he remained in his original costume, enough of which could be seen to make it obvious to all but the densest among the audience who was who... The disguises of Lucentio and Hortensio were carried off with amusing buffoonery, while the whole Tranio sub-plot was ditched altoghether; a bit of a pity, but a necessary concession to the size of the cast.

Speddings gave the performance further clarity by developing hints from the source material that Petruchio had been a soldier or a pirate. There was a comic "sea battle" in which the ship he and his thick sidekick are on gets sunk by the Turk. They then wash up in Padua (up the river probably) and come ashore penniless - hence his need for a quick marriage to a rich lady...

The military theme was continued when Petruchio went off with Kate - not to his house, as in Shakespeare's original - but to his military camp, manned by the thickest of the thick, one of whom was afflicted with a speech impediment that absolutely killed the audience. Nice one Speddings!

The tempo was maintained by the music and acapela performances of the cast. On the language front, comprehension was assisted by gesture on the one hand and by dutiful cutting or substitution on the other. Thus, when Kate is being starved, she does not long for a neat's foot but for a "pig's leg" or a "sausage"...

The cast came across much more strongly this year. Two of the cast returned from last year's Lear production. Robin Armstrong played Edgar last year and Petruchio this year and this year's performance was much more robust and virile than I had expected, I am pleased to say.
Rick Clodfelter played Gloucester last year and Baptista this - he is the company's "old man" it would seem!

The women put in much stronger performances this year than ever before. The contrast in character between Kate and Bianca was well delineated - and went beyond the dark looks of Kate being set off against the blond Bianca. Kate's transition from shrew to witty, playful and obedient wife was well negotiated and there was no sense at all at the end that we had a crushed woman on our hands and that positive conclusion is surely faithful to the original text.

Anyway, after the play the ladies in my company all played prim and proper and went home to their various husbands, were were led to believe, while Doctor Mogami, Mr Kurasuda and myself headed off to an izakaya in Hachobori where we supped and drank and chewed the fat about Shakespeare, and eventually about the war and in particular about Yamashita, the Lion of Singapore...

David Hurley
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Sunday 21st May: Oldest Striker in League Robbed of Glory!

Jaime and I got off the train at Kaita-Ichi and headed for the taxi rank. The driver had to be prized out of another taxi where he and his fellows were hanging out together. The next difficulty was in getting the driver to understand where we were going - i.e. to a sports ground just ten minutes' drive away...

Fortunately for us it was only 2:30 and kick off was not for another hour. But such was our lack of confidence in the driver that when he pulled up at a sports ground where a game of football was in progress, we double checked with a player from another team as to whether or not we really were in the right place.

It just so happened that the Brazilian team who defeated us last season, and who were promoted to the "A" division, were playing so, just to make sure we were really really in the right place, after we had pulled a rickety bench under the shade of a tree at the far end of the ground, Jaime called the Mrs and got her to check the fixture before ours via the internet. Indeed, the fixture before ours was being played by the Brazilian team.

We then sat back and watched the game, expecting to see a Brazilian victory. But instead, we were treated to the site of the Brazilians being contained and then pressed back and defeated by their Japanese oppononents. That's the "A" Division - a different kettle of fish, and our ambitions of a couple of seasons ago to gain promotion to it have rather withered on the vine...

We were eventually joined by the Japanese contingent of our team and our new captain, Yuusuke. Yuusuke had not been very communicative in the week leading up to this game and it turned out that Jaime had had to contact the previous captain in order to get any information about the game at all. Yuusuke arrived dressed in a natty red shirt and sporting a very pretty head of long girly hair. He is honing his barkeeper look and had not yet been to bed after "working" at a bar somewhere in the Nagarekawa all night... er and I suppose all day too as it was by now 3:15pm.

Several of the old and welcome faces were back again, and a couple of new ones, plucked from the recent intake of students - but I cannot say that they have left any impression on me yet. I cannot say that I remember a single thing about them.

Anyway, we ambled through some prematch preparations and all was very cheerful. The good news was that there was 13 of us - and Dan had yet to arrive! Actually, Dan was probably less than 500 yards away but was being dutifully misdirected by the locals who seem ignorant of anything in their locality beyond their own vegetable patch.

Our opponents were all pretty young and looked as if they could run around a bit. I had got exhausted merely putting on my grapefruit-smelling sunblock while Jaime was beginning to huff and puff after a couple of minutes of light kickaround.

Captain Yuusuke elected to substitute himself (this is a rather tiresome courtesy practised by our Japanese captains to give the less experienced players a runabout). Beginning with the defenders, he did not mention me so I thought I might by safely ensconced on the substitute bench and was quite looking forward to the rest. Then he announced the midfielders.... "Right Half... Davido"


I think I do a reasonable job as right back, actually, and can at least choose to advance only as far as the halfway line and plod up and down a nice little groove like a player in a game of table-top football. But right half usually involves tearing all over the pitch like a headless chicken - until you collapse in a winded and exhausted heap of sweating and trembling flesh...

As a final touch, Yuusuke elected to place the two (next to myself) most out of condition players up front, Jaime and our chubby young Japanese player who is usually a bit of a hero but was off colour today... The injunction to all and sundry was "Pass to Jaime" but as usual, this injunction was observed more in the breach than the performance.

After several minutes of having to try and get the ball off one of three players who were making nice passing triangles on our right, I thought I was the only player considering substituting himself, buy suddenly Jaime made his fastest move of the day and was racing for the touchline and had was sitting on the bench before you could say "Bob's yer uncle."

There was no choice for me but to play out the half. Knackered from tearing around, I quickly realised that a midfielder can operate in a more limited zone and so once their attackers had passed the midfield I tended to take a bit of a break and it was in one of those moments that the other team scored. I don't mean that they scored because I didn't go back and defend, merely that I ought to have dropped back more than I had done when they scored!

Anyway, apart from that goal, which was quite a good one, if I remember rightly, our goalkeeper had an excellent game. He made several good saves in the first half, including a low dive to the right to save a shot that was heading inside the right post. In the second half he saved a close range shot that was hammered towards the roof of the net.

The other goalkeeper was singularly untroubled. It was not that we were not attacking, just that our attacks broke down before the decisive moment was reached. Then I found myself trotting forwards, keeping pace with an attack that we were building on the left. Then the ball came across to me and I was just positioned sweetly to boot it with the inside of the old left foot as it came across. To my and everybody's amazement the ball curved straight towards the opposing team's goal and for a split second I thought I had scored - but the goalkeeper plucked the ball from its path and robbed us of our glory!!

Do not dwell on such things, but after a rueful glance, run back with the air of one who does that sort of thing as a matter of routine...

It turned out that that was our only shot on target all afternoon although in the second half Yuusuke came on and made a fine run through their defence and with just the goalkeeper to beat shot from an acute angle and beat him - but the ball, which we thought was about to go in - bounced off the post.

Jaime went back on a bit later and played out the whole of the second half while the chubby chap came off feeling the worse for wear.

We held our own agains the other team but the real problem, apart from a lack of practice and a bit of beginning of season ropiness, is the lack of service that our strikers get. Our Japanese players consistently try to play the ball in and that is where they more often than not come unstuck.

Still, thanks to our goalkeeper, the score was kept down to 1-0.

It is going to be a long season...

David Hurley
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Wednesday 17th May: The Elder Shall Serve the Younger!

After tangling with the complexities of the endgame of the Thirty Years War with Dr Mogami across the mahjong table in one of his father's upper rooms we cleared away books and maps and whiteboards and markers and pulled the cover off the mahjong table. The senior Mogamis came in and cheery greetings were exchanged all around and condolences offered and accepted. The servant was dispatched to fetch sandwiches and sundry refreshments from the local convenience store, and the fridge was checked to ensure that it was full of nappy ale.

All things being in order, play commenced.

Now the first game, as I recall, went into a third round as there was no overall winner, but in that round the balance of the game tipped in favour of Doctors Mogami, with myself and Mrs Mogami Sr somewhat below the bar. Since I was less below the bar than Mrs M Sr I was only clobbered with two of the dreaded "BATSU" penalties - XX.

The next game went to Dr Mogami Jr, who clobbered me several times in a row during the early part of the game. However, I eventually came in on dead-zero which, by agreement last time we played, meant that I would score two MARU bonuses - OO!

In the third game I suddenly woke up and won a string of hands and also managed to manipulate play so as to benefit from DORA bonus tiles, which are few and far between and so much more precious in the Mogami's game. The result here was that I was the only winner - with quite a nice score and a hefty boost of six MARU bonuses - OOOOOO!

Then, in the fourth game Mrs Mogami began to win some hands - she had had a pretty dismal afternoon and now her fun began. A struggle then ensued between the male members, so to speak, which was won by Dr Mogami Jr to ensure that he took first place for the evening. I polished off the final hand with an open Toi Toi hand which mitigated my losses in that game.

The final scores saw Dr M Jr walk away with 2,500 yen, myself with 1,750 yen while Dr M Sr had to fork out most of the elder players' bill...

We had managed four games in six hours and there was still plenty of time to hop on a tram and get home courtesy of my season ticket...

David Hurley
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Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday 12th May: The Universe is Contracting!

While I was away Noda, Jaime and Kenyon played a game of mahjong which Jaime described over on this page of his blog.

Those three met up again on 12th May and David joined them in time for the second game.

There were once again two Chombos committed during the course of the evening. I forget what Jaime's was, but Kenyon's was one of undue haste. David took a tile from the wall. Then Kenyon took a tile and threw a tile without waiting for David - so David claimed a Chombo and third player agreed!

However, Kenyon had racked up such a huge total in his first two games, being the only winner in both of them, that he was pretty immune to misfortune for the rest of the evening. He ended every one of the next five games in negative territory, yet still finished top dog for the night! That achievement enabled him to vault over Ray and close on the two occasional players, Eri and Tim... He is now just one point behind

Meanwhile, at the top of the table, Noda shed points in all three of the games that he played, so the universe contracted by about 25% as top and bottom headed back towards the centre...

At one point Jaime felt himself plummeting towards the bottom but managed to arrest his descent so effectively as once more to catapult himself upwards and back into the black...

David was treading water, but got waterlogged and then sank in the last game...

Kenyon +95, +70, -38, -23, -10, -6, -14 = +74
Jaime -46, -25, -29, +31, +18, +30, +69 = +48
Noda -49, -4, -2, --, --, --, --, = -55
David --, -41, +69, -8, -8, -24, -55 = -67

David Hurley
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Thursday, May 18, 2006

"...delivered from the burden of the flesh..."

Here is a photo of my late father when he was fourteen. It was taken in 1948, in the back garden of his grandparents' house in Leytonstone, London. He has recently become an uncle and his holding his nephew, Peter.

Dad was born in May 1934 and departed this life in April of this year.

In 1952 he joined the British army as a Sapper and served with the Royal Engineers for 22 years, completing his service as a staff sergeant. His overseas postings were to Austria and Malaya in the 1950s, Cyprus and Gibraltar in the 1960s.

Here is a photo of Dad (right) with a mate, off duty somewhere in Malaya.

Someone who spent two years in the RE's as a National Servicemen knew Dad in his heyday during the 1950s got back in contact with him a few years ago. They exchanged a couple of letters in which two pieces of information stood out; the first was a surprise, the second a confirmation of what I already knew. The National Serviceman writes that they were assigned to the same Squadron Office in Gillingham on returning from Austria and while awaiting a new posting to Malaya. He adds:

"... our other mutual interest as I recall was soccer, your favourite team being Millwall[!], mine Bournemouth AFC."

Millwall! Well, it makes sense for a Leytonstone boy, I suppose. My interest in football really began in 1970 on our return from Gibraltar, when we moved into a house of our own - rather than army "married quarters" - in Sandhurst, Kent. Football played a big part in the lives of the boys, especially during the winter term when there was "after school football" several times a week (as I remember).

Me: "Dad, what team do you support?"

Dad: "Leeds United."

That is how I became the only boy in our Kentish primary school to be a Leeds supporter and the only boy to wear all white for after school football.

Dad had been posted to Leeds in 1966 after a year in Maidstone. That is when our love affair with Yorkshire began. We lived in Leeds for one year and in Wakefield (where my sister was born) for another year before his next posting took the family to Gibraltar for a couple of years.

The second piece of information reads:
"Unlike yourself, I am afraid like most National Servicemen, I did not enjoy the two years I spent in the RE's..."
Dad always looked back fondly to those days when he was a Royal Engineer, especially, if I may say so, in the first few years when he was a young batchelor. I get the impression that the barracks life really suited him.

It was chiefly Dad who gave me a love of history. He was ever kind in small ways that will be missed. For as long as I can remember, I had always been supplied with goodly reading material. There is a photo somewhere of Staff Sgt Hurley reading a copy of the Beano at the dining room table and the Son and Heir (aged 5) struggling to read a little corner of it. Each week, in Gibraltar, Dad would read and then pass on to me the Beano, Dandy, Topper and Beezer, as well as a constant supply of War Picture Library and similar comic books. Later on, I got Battle Action comic and in the 1970's we collected the whole of Purnells six volume (later expanded to eight volumes) History of the Second World War in weekly installments. Then, it was War Monthly, and for about 20 years, History Today. That was replaced in recent years by BBC History and Military Illustrated, with the occasional copy of the Protestant "Reformer" magazine slipped inside the covers and would appear in my post box here in Hiroshima at regular intervals...

Although he was baptized into a strict Protestant denomination, Dad's faith in Sovereign Grace on the one hand and his loyalty to the British Army on the other did not prevent him from developing a deep interest in Irish history and a sympathy for the Republic as part of a process of uncovering the roots of the Hurley family and its Catholic ancestry.

Two hymns that were sung at his funeral. The first was "Amazing Grace" (one of his favourites, and one that the family felt everybody would know). The second was by Isaac Watts:

Give me the wings of faith to rise
Within the veil, and see
The saints above, how great their joys,
How bright their glories be.

David Hurley
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Friday 21st April: Ray Gets Off the Bottom of the Sea...

On Friday 21st April Noda, Jaime and Ray met at Kodama and played a couple of games in which Ray made a bid to move off the bottom of the Grand Accumulated Points Table by racking up a healthy lead of +72.

David arrived in time to join the third game, in which Ray managed a classic sequence of

Pon... Ron.... Chombo!

His mistake was to have claimed an open South Wind when it was neither his Wind nor the Table Wind!

In that and the next two games Ray spent his time giving away and then winning back his earlier winnings.

Jaime, however, sank like a land lubber with stones in his pockets. I was going to write that he "sank like a stone" but the variation in the speed of his descent suggests rather that a bit of kicking and flailing occurred from time to time, and on one occasion a Chombo was committed..

David also slid under the water beneath the rising tide. Noda was the only one in the boat, although Ray managed to cling to a lifeline and haul himself off the bottom...

Noda left the jansou another hundred points ahead of the competition on the Grand Accumulated Points Table.

The three foreigners played out a final game, which David won, and which enabled him to grasp the lifeline with one hand - he ended up down but not sunk.

Noda +32, -38, +43, +68, -4, --, = +101
Ray -12, +84, -8, -44, +43, -28 = +35
David --, --, -34, -13, +4, +31 = -12
Jaime -20, -46, -1, -11, -43, -3 = -124

The next evening, Saturday 22nd April, David and Jaime, along with Don, joined Tim at a yakiniku joint that was offering very cheap beer and cheap servings of meat for us to cook on a brazier sunk into the table. Consequently, quite a lot of beer went down the hatch and quite a lot of hot air was generated...

We ended up at Kulcha attempting to watch a couple of football matches. I remember a game of darts with those tiresome plastic tipped arrows that bounce more than they stick. I remember persuading Don that he ought to stay and watch the Chelsea game in the bar - and then I remember wanting to go home myself. It had reached that stage when the game is on and you are watching the screen with glazed eyes and nothing is registering...

David Hurley
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