Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sunday 20th May: Victory for the Hiroshima Blues

DEH 4 v AC Telan 0: The DEH boys march on!
Our new goal-scoring hero is third from right.

(Photo: Jaime, 20/5/07)

There was a time when The Poor Little Cypriot and most of the football team he played for, Inter-Milang, a team of English teachers, Peruvian labourers, and one or two brave or foolhardy Japanese guys, took it for granted that training for a Sunday match was something that took place at a selection of watering holes on the Saturday night before the game.

The keenest players would often extend their pre-match training session into the early daylight hours of the same Sunday morning. How fondly I remember raising the umpteenth glass of nappy ale to our distinguished captain, C. Sevenoaks (Chelsea), who, propping up the bar with his elbow, would remove the drooping cigarette from his slackening lip and raise a glass in hearty toast to the merits of barside training.

Our pallid and motley crew would arrive at the football pitch a bare ten minutes before kick off and look with misgiving at the immaculately track-suited Japanese opposition. We would marvel at their preened hairstyles and at the sheer number of balls they had to practise with as compared to our one (or occasional less than one) rather grubby and under-inflated specimen. Yes, we were up against the likes of Hitler or Goebbels when it came to ball possession.

The less gung-ho, or less experienced, players would opine with oracular certainty,

"We're going to get stuffed..."

It must be confessed that sometimes they were right. Who would want to remember the 8-1 stuffing that was administered to us on a wet and miserably hung-over day when we had to resort to calling upon the mighty frame of the gentle Canadian rugby-playing giant David Berger to stand in for our missing goalkeeper?

But, more often than not, Inter-Milang would march, or totter, or huff and puff its hungover way to glory via a fag-break at half time for Captain C. Sevenoaks, and the remarkably agile winger Guy Perrin and the even more remarkably gifted ball artist Trevor (Surname?) who had a very peculiar - yet peculiarly effective - style on the ball.

In the very early days there was also the physical toughness of a fellow Leeds United supporter, Simon, whose words of encouragement usually went along the lines of, "Knock one or two of them down in the first five minutes and we'll be alright." Harsh, but effective. In the world of Japanese Sunday football, anybody who looks like he's not going to pull out of a challenge often finds himself in possession of the ball which, in my case at least, can be a bit of a problem because I don't mind the challenge but am always perplexed when I find the ball at my feet...

In those far distant bachelor days of yore the biggest match of the season was the one between the two rival English Language School teams, Inter-Milang and David English House. In the first such match Yours Truly volunteered to go in goal and pulled off enough fine saves to bring us, the firm underdogs, through to a 2-1 victory (as I recall). DEH was big enough in those days to field an "A" and a "B" team and most of the players were DEH teachers (unlike the situation nowadays). Inter-Milang was supposed to be playing the DEH "B" team, but the ranks of DEH "B" (can anybody remember what they called their team?) were liberally reinforced with players drafted in from the "A" team which made that early victory all the sweeter.

Roll forward fourteen years(!) and DEH fields just one team, Lang Education Centre none at all. All three foreign players who regularly play for DEH used to play for Inter-Milang and the pre-match barside training, although it does sometimes occur, is less common than in former times. Thus it came to pass that last Saturday two of the foreign players were in a bar watching the F. A. Cup final but NOT drinking. The third foreign player cannot abide to be in a bar without drinking and so elected to play it safe and stay at home since age and unfitness have rendered the ancient body less resilient to the rigours of an all night drinking session with Tim Buthod followed by a football match in the early summer heat against a team of fit 19-21 year-olds.

Thus it was that the three of us met at Hiroshima Airport clear headed and keen and eager for the game which was at what we now consider our "home" pitch, an all grass affair between the airport, Forest Hills golf course and a woodland park.

When I say we were eager for the game, I ought also to confess that we were all very pleased to see that our Japanese team mates had turned up in sufficient numbers for there to be one substitute. I should also mention that I leapt for joy when I was asked to be the sub!

The first half was a pretty evenly matched affair, but as the team had played well I told the captain that he should keep things as they were and bring me on later. Anyway, I was working hard enough shouting from the sideline.

We had a new player, little but effective, and since it was his first game he was expected to come off at half time to let the older player on according to the Japanese rules of seniority. However, it was obvious to me that the worst thing we could do would be to substitute me for him. About ten minutes into the second half, after he had scored our opening goal, he came over to me and put on an almost convincing show of "tiredness" but I prevailed upon him to get back on the pitch and within five minutes he had scored a second!!

With about a quarter of an hour to go Jaime flagged and so I went on for him. Jaime had had a good game and been involved in setting up one of the goals and had a few chances himself in both halves. I had expected to come on for Dan, but he remained solid in defence throughout the game.

Being brought on in place of Jaime meant that I was to play in attack...! My first touch of the ball was to nod on a goal kick, which perhaps fooled the other team into thinking they had a major force to be reckoned with in attack. Unfortunately, hesitation on the ball in one incident, and an inept kick that sent the ball towards our defenders may have shattered that illusion... Nevertheless, the fact is that we scored two more goals in that last fifteen minutes, but if I was involved it was more in the capacity of drawing off defenders. If only I'd run to the post for a corner... Later, a juicy header went - over my head... Then, a split second vision of an open goal was swiftly slammed shut...

Still, we finished 4-0 ahead, scoring more goals and winning more points than in the whole of our "B" Division campaign last season!

Jaime has written a full report on his blog here.

After the match the three foreigners celebrated victory over a rather good okonomiyaki and beer at Hiroshima Airport, where the arrival of the Pokemon aeroplane caused a stir on the viewing platform...

David Hurley

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Friday, May 25, 2007

The Wisdom of the Wise or the Keenness of the Keane?

The inverse-correlation between mahjong results and football results continues apace.

Until last weekend we had confined our speculations to the English Premiership and Championship, however, when Jaime finished top last in last Friday's game the feeling was that it boded ill for his team, MUFC, which was to play Chelsea in the FA Cup Final at the new Wembley stadium the following day.

Now, according to the inverse-correlation rule, a player's form at the mahjong table yields the opposite result for his team on the pitch. David's recent recovery of form at MJ coincided with Leeds United's relegation to Division One (i.e. Division Three in the good old way of reckoning things), while Jaime's poor form marched in step with MUFC's successful Premiership campaign.

So with Jaime chalking up a couple of victories and getting himself back into the black the feeling was that Chelsea would be taking the cup home with them this season.

And so it proved: Chelsea 1, MUFC 0

As I sporadically followed the match on the
BBC website from the comfort of home I felt relieved that I had not gone traipsing into town to watch the game with the lads:

1505: Incredibly slow start. Not much to get excited about.

"It's a bit more Community Shield than FA Cup final at the moment."BBC Sport's Mark Lawrenson

1512: Didier Drogba has never scored against Manchester United. At this rate he won't today either. (...!)

"This is a good advert for the cricket season."BBC Sport's Mark Lawrenson

1520: This is utter rubbish. These two are the best in the land. Never mind a good advert for cricket, it's a terrible advert for English football with an estimated 500 million watching around the world.

1523: Anyone got any paint to go and watch dry?

1530: A shot on goal. Do not fall out of your seat, but it is worth repeating, we have had a first shot on target.

1533: John Arlott once fell asleep while commentating on a county cricket match.


Talking of Chelsea and MUFC, I have been pondering the management careers of two of their veteran players, Dennis Wise of Chelsea (1990-2001) and Roy Keane of MUFC (1993-2005).

Roy Keane became the manager of Sunderland at the end of August 2006. A month later Dennis Wise was installed at Leeds. Both teams were stuck at the bottom or near the bottom of the Championship when their respective managers took over.

One year later and Sunderland have won the Championship and promotion to the Premiership while Leeds head the other way.

Management stats:

Keano: 39 games; 24 wins; 8 losses; 7 draws = 61.53% winning margin.

Wise: 33 games; 10 wins; 17 losses; 6 draws = 30.30% winning margin.

For more comparative info on Keano and Wise click here.

David Hurley

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Friday 18th May: Double Chombo at Koyo Janso!

There were just the three regular gaijin in tonight's game so we took the opportunity to head over to Koyo Janso, aka Jantopia where the Mama-san is very friendly and cheerful but the food not so good. Actually, the food is non-existent and has to be ordered in from some distant locale. It took well over half an hour for the Poor Starving Little Cypriot to get his yakimeshi order delivered and when it arrived it was luke warm, less than half the size of Kodama Janso Mama's stirling culinary masterpiece - oh, and the soup was missing too!

Talking of soup, that is what the PLC was stuck in for the duration of the evening.

Such were the trying circumstances appertaining to supper. They provided the PLC with a convenient excuse for his miserable performance at the table tonight. Tired and hungry and on his third beer before any vittals arrived, and of course distracted thereby when they did arrive, he managed to do the dreaded deed twice in a night - he committed two Chombo as he struggled to complete hands with the table form running against him.

The first Chombo was committed in the first game, before dinner had arrived, when he declared an open Pon forgot about it (despite the obvious shortage of tiles in the remnant of his closed hand), got to Tenpai, smartly declared Riichi, completed his hand, and was busy counting up the score, including the open Pon, discounted the Tsumo, but still failed to notice his error until the ever beady eyed Kenyon pointed it out!

That game went to Jaime. The second game went to Kenyon with Jaime second and in the black. The third game went to Jaime and it was during that game that the PLC's second Chombo was committed.

Once again he had opened his hand, but instead of going for a quick safe low scoring finish, he opted to try and add Toitoi to the score on a one-tile wait. That was all well and good while he was waiting for the 2-Bamboo, but when he threw that safe tile and kept the 8-Coins he got himself into trouble as he had a set of three 6-Coins and had thrown two 7-Coins and was completely oblivious to the 6-6-6-7-8 alternative finishing option to the 6-6-6-8-8. He completed his hand and was once again engrossed in the cheerful pursuit of counting up his score when The Finger of Kenyon hoved into view and began to prod the 7-Coins, so innocuous-seeming sitting in his discard row like the little foxes that spoil the vines.

That put the kibosh on any hopes of his staging a last game recovery although it was his best performance of the evening, finishing on -2, with Kenyon on -17 but doing just enough to finish the evening in the black.

Jaime is staging something of an end of Premiership recovery. Unfortunately for him, however, his victory tonight boded ill for Manchester United's chances against Chelsea in the F. A. Cup Final at the new Wembley, but we will save that for our next blog!

The PLC's one victory of the evening was to escape relatively lightly on the cash payout front and to catch the last tram home!

Jaime +42, +18, +19 = +79
Kenyon -12, +34, -17 = +5
David -30,* -52, -2* = -84

David Hurley

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mahjong Question: Ron or Chombo?

Hey David,

So last night I was playing and this situation came up:

Player 1 (Oya) has declared Riichi. Play goes twice around, then Player 2 declares Riichi. I'm Player 3 and I don't go Riichi but wait (if a 9-Circles comes I can go Ron with Itsuukan, but otherwise am just going to play it safe and look for Tsumo or safe discards). Goes around again and Player 2 discards a 9-Circles and I call "Ron". In frustration, Player 2 flips his hand over explaining how close he was, yet upon looking we both realize that he in fact committed a Chombo - He declared Riichi but was unable to finish. This was after I had claimed Ron off his discard.

Therefore, does the Ron stand, or a delayed Chombo stand? In the end, he wasn't paying much more (8,000 points versus a 9,000 point Chombo mistake) and it was agreed that it would be unfair to the Oya to have it change over due to his mistake since it's possible to discard differently due to a Riichi, therefore we called the win null and forced Player 2 to pay a Chombo.

Was this the correct thing to do?

Thanks, hope all is well in Nippon,


David Hurley
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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Friday 11th May: How Many Times In A Night?

Enami-san returned to the table from a holiday in New York dedicated to watching baseball and basketball. The change of scene had a deliterious effect on his game as he failed to get into the black at any point in the evening, got stuck with his Yakitori on the table at the end of the first, and had dropped four places in the rankings by the end of the evening.

It was left up to his son-in-law, Hide-san to uphold family honour and win back most of the points dropped by Enami-san and finish in top place, lifting himself off the bottom of the Grand Accumulated Results Table. His victory was secured in the latter part of the evening after the senior players had retired and when the foreign players faded.

Noda put in another solid performance marking a clear trend which could see him get into the black before the second quarter is out...

Jaime managed to arrest his decline by avoiding the red in the first three games of the evening despite a spectacular Chombo in the third game. The early positives outweighed the later negatives and saw Jaime climb back into the black in the GAR table. As for the Chombo, it happened like this: Jaime declared Riichi and then began to concentrate intently on his hand to work out how many possible finishes he had. Hide threw the 4-Coins and there was no response from Jaime or move to take a tile. Hide and David were joking about not knowing Hide's fate when Jaime took a tile and threw it and play continued, only for Jaime to throw open his tiles and confess that he had committed a Chombo - twice! Once on Hide's tile and once on his own 7-Coin discard, both tiles being finishing tiles for his hand!!

To do it once in a night might be considered unfortunate, but to do it twice - virtually unheard of!

Jaime also chalked up his first ever "Double Riichi" although I forget whether or not he was able to complete the hand.

David suffered from mid-term late-night fade, profiting from Enami but losing out to the buoyant Hide.

Hide drove David part-way home, discoursing on how many times a night one may give pleasure and supposing that in David's case it, what with his advanced years and all, it was probably not more than once and with David adding that even that was pushing it a bit what with one thing and another and that to do it once a night might be considered fortunate, but to do it twice a night virtually unheard of and anyway the word pleasure might itself be a bit of an optimistic way of putting it and the two of them then compared the relative merits of marriage romantick (so called) and marriage by courtesy of the shotgun, or "dekichatta kekkon" as it is delicately known in the native tongue. They came down firmly in favour of the latter as being the more likely to produce an estate of conjugal felicity, starting as it does with no absurd inflation of expectations beyond the expectation of an imminent debutancy whereas the former, with its superabundance of hyperbolic conceit, which, once disappointed, will brook no accomodation to the unprepossessing quotidian pleasures of sociable cohabitation, by which time, they had arrived at Route Two and went their separate ways.

Hide --, -12, +42, -14, +32, +42 = +90
Noda +34, -7, --, +14, --, -- = +41
Jaime +4, --, +12,* +41, -22, -15 = +20
David -2, +47, -21, -41, -10, -27 = -54
Enami -36,** -28, -33, --, --, -- = -97

David Hurley
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Friday, May 11, 2007

Thursday 10th May: Mrs M Builds A Mighty Fortress!

On Wednesday I lengthened out Doctor M's "History in English" class so that we could finish the book we have been reading over much of the past year, "A Mighty Fortress" by Steven Ozment. It has been an interesting read, although the style leaves much to be desired. Ozment's conclusions are bold and optimistic, and he rightly gives Guenter Grass and the Green Party "Fundis" some stick for having wanted to perpetuate Germany's division after 1989, arguing, I think correctly, that it is better for Germany, Europe and ultimately the whole world if Germany pursue "normal nation status".

The title of the book is of course taken from Luther's great hymn, the battle cry of the Reformation,

Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott,
Ein' gute Wehr und Waffen;
Er hilft uns frei aus aller Not,
Die uns jetzt hat betroffen.
Der alt’ böse Feind,
Mit Ernst er’s jetzt meint,
Groß’ Macht und viel List
Sein’ grausam’ Rüstung ist,
Auf Erd’ ist nicht seins Gleichen.

Translations vary, but I guess Ozment was thinking of Hedge's classic:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid
the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to
work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

We know much about the threat of German power, but Germany has also had much need of mighty fortresses in her time, having been trampled upon severally by Romans, heathen tribes from the East, by the French, the Swedes and I wot not who else.

Modern Germany is constituted of five layers, writes Ozment, from the most local level of identity, the town or village, the state, the nation, participation in Europe, and ultimately the cosmopolitan arena or the world stage.

That latter identification of the German with the worldwide "everyman" is not so new either. A 19th century German ethnologist saw the German as possessing characteristics of the various races of the world, including, incidentally, a large proportion of "Jewish" traits. Going out into the world to discover a local German identity was not an uncommon activity for German intellectuals. At a time when Germany was divided into hundreds of petty principalities the Grimm brothers sought to strengthen the Germans' sense of their higher unity through the medium of language. However, the fairy stories they published had been culled from various European traditions both within and outside Germany (although the Grimm brothers were somewhat economical with the truth about that).

[The German Invention of Race]

Next week we'll study A Midsummer Night's Dream, and then next month we begin reading the first volume of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which, unlike A Mighty Fortress, is beautifully written, and has much relevance to the modern world.

The following day I was strolling up to the doctor's for our monthly session of mahjong when I heard somebody call out "Herro!" behind me. It is not an unusual experience in Japan to have some fellow call out "Herro!" behind your back and since the crier never calls out of a genuine desire for communication it is best ignored. So I ignored it and kept on walking at a slightly brisker pace, only to hear the cry repeated and see the younger Doc M come running and puffing up.

"Oh, sorry Doc," I said, "I thought you were just some madman crying after me in the street. There are a lot of madmen in Japan you know. Best avoided, what?"

When we arrived at the senior doc's residence, the junior doc's face fell perche c'era la bicicletta del suo zio nella entrata.

"Oddio!" disse.
"Suo amico e' venuto a giocare?", chiesi.
"No. Mio zio. E' sempre collerico," rispose.

We went in and I could hear la voce dello zio booming out as I headed discreetly upstairs. Lo zio parti and the family joined me in the upper room. Dr M. senior showed me a recent acquisition, an antique edition of Turner's "Rivers of France" complete with copperplate prints, (first published 1837).

We settled down around the table and played out the East round with only one moderately sized hand, won off Mrs M by Dr M jr for 12,000 points. Every other hand was for piddling amounts until Mrs M's took over as (last) Oya and began to rack up the tenbo. In one game, she opened her hand to claim the White and Green Dragons, then a few tiles later she threw the Red Dragon, and Dr M jr promptly did likewise. We were laughing about that when I threw the seven of Characters, which Dr M sr had thrown safely the previous turn, only to hear Mrs M cry out "Ron!" I only suspected anything was amiss as my fingers relinquished their hold on the tile, but it was a stupid oversite really, and quite costly too and marked the beginning of my downward slide (not that I had won anything earlier, just that nobody had won anything much off me).

Mrs M finished top and continued to do well in the second game. In two hands in a row South was Dora in the South round of play, and on both occasions I had either three or four of the little buggers, but both times Mrs M started chuckling to herself and then went out on relatively small hands! It was at this stage when it seemed to me that I was taking the lead with the risky tiles while the doctors were able to safely follow that I repeated to Dr M jr a phrase from the last chapter of Ozment's A Mighty Fortress about being "a canary in a mine".

Four Wind tiles were shuffled to reallocate seats after the second game and I shifted to where Dr M jr had been sitting and Mrs M moved to my seat. I told her not to worry, for I feared that the bad luck was moving with me. And so it proved, just as it was with Job so it was with me:

For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.

Up the slippery pole to Tenpai, and then back down again as somebody else declared Riichi or went straight out. Then Mrs M began to chuckle again and advanced her time as Oya through five or six wins, emptying out my tray. Having two periods of Ryanshi in one session at the doctor's had never happened before.

Another event that I have not often experienced occurred at my expense when I was making a charge for Chinitsu with the Coins. I opened my hand for the 8-Coins Pon, and then upgraded it to a Kan, but my "kong" was well and truly robbed when Dr M sr went out on my 8-Coins on an Iipeiko, Tanyao hand.

I requested a sixth beer observing to Dr M jr, nomu shika wa nai - there ain't nothin' else to do but drink.

I did finally complete a hand - my only one of the evening!! (Boy am I glad there's no Yakitori penalty - the XXXX Batsu are bad enough.) It was a nice one, however, being Riichi, Tsumo, Honitsu, North (Player's Wind), and the West Wind as Head and also counting as two Dora.

Still, it had been an highly entertaining evening and after my indulgence on the beer and pies front it was only right that I should give something back to the market!

The game had extended perilously close to the witching hour. The last tram had gone and so a lanky and thoroughly unfit English chap could be seen legging it for the station, which he hopes will put him in good stead for the start of the DEH football season, soon to be upon us...

David Hurley

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Friday 27th April: "At Least You Don't Have the Red Ones..."

Tonight's was another active session which saw Jaime plunge into the red, David consolidate his position at the top and Kenyon and Noda make further upward progress towards zero.

There were also two
Chombo mishaps, two failures to win a single hand in a game, one quotation that shall live in the annals of mahjong history, and one case of Daisangen.

The session played itself out quite differently for the three players who ended the evening above the bar. David made the early evening running and managed to respond to Noda's mid-evening charge with enough good results to retain the top spot.

Conversly, Noda began badly with his Yakitori tessera stuck on the table throughout the whole of the first game and much of the second too. However, once he had one a hand he took over the running for much of the middle period of the evening.

Kenyon, on the other hand, ploughed a furrow of his own, avoiding the red in the first two games, losing just a little in the third and winning the fourth to finish "second and in the black".

According to the 2007 MJ hypothesis, Jaime's performance at the table virtually guaranteed that Manchester United would win the Premiership, and as I write this today (Monday 7th May) that prognosis has been confirmed.

At the other end of the table, David's solid result ensured Leeds United's relegation into Division One.

In the second game David declared Riichi on a nice three tile Bamboo wait while Jaime was expatiating upon the latest tv game gizmo "Wii"** which has recently been installed in his flat. David drew a Bamboo tile and declared
Ippatsu Tsumo only to take a second look at the tile to notice that it was not one of the three he'd been waiting for...

In the third game David had opened his hand with two
Pon declarations on the White and Green Dragons. Noda and Kenyon had each thrown out a Red Dragon and David was Tenpai and waiting for the 7-Coin Dora tile when he picked up the third Red Dragon. Throwing the Dora improved his hand to Honitsu Shosangen Tenpai but with just one tile available to finish on... at which point Kenyon drew the last Red Dragon from the wall, surveyed the situation, and seeing two Red Dragons had been discarded he declared,

"At least you don't have the red ones",
and threw the Red Dragon. David promptly turned over his tiles to reveal the extent to which Kenyon's hypothesis had (to quote Jaime) "gone haywire".

In the next hand Noda promptly took many more points of David by claiming the Red Dragon for a Daisangen hand which ensured that Noda would finish in the black that evening!

Jaime also picked up a
Chombo when he went Riichi on the wrong tile in the same game and then got stuck with his Yakitori.

Kenyon won the fourth game, but only just. Actually, he and Noda finished on equal points, but it was seat position that won it for Kenyon! And the extra points for coming top in that game put him and not Noda into second place!

David +72, -2, +8,* -34 = +44
Kenyon +18, +4, -8, +25 = +39
Noda -53,** +30, +32, +4 = +13
Jaime -37, -32, -32,*** +5 = -96

** A few days later a few of us spent the afternoon at Jaime's. David got lost riding the beer-wine-whisky elevator but has vague memories of shouting at a ghostlike figure on the We screen while trying to send a virtual bowling ball down a virtual alley without crashing into the all too solid screen... My impression is that Jaime has spent far too much time in front of that screen honing his skills by going through the motions of bowling and batting in the middle of his front room. The game should be called Weiird, not Wii...

David Hurley


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