年末年始 The end of one year and the beginning of another

I see with some consternation that the last time I wrote a post was this time last year.

I have been reflecting over the last month about the last year, and have come to see it as the second half of a two-year period of lots of upheavals and changes. There have also been quite a lot of articles about the end of the decade, the awkward teenage years of this century.

In 2019 I left Japan, after twenty-seven years. I returned to the UK, and went back to college. I am no longer a teacher, but an ordinand training at the College of the Resurrection in West Yorkshire. Rather hilariously though, I am squeaking this post out in the remaining minutes of the year in . . . Tokyo. I am back for a short visit, because although I don’t miss living here, and I certainly don’t miss teaching, I do miss friends. So here I am, catching up with friends and eating as much sushi as I can, stocking up on yuzu kosho (柚子胡椒) and laundry bags with zips and enjoying an extra ninety minutes of daylight every day compared to the UK.

I have seen friends posting photos on social media of themselves ten years ago and now. I suppose it’s an end-of-a-decade thing. And quite a decade it’s been. 2011 was the year of the earthquake and tsunami, when I started sending long e-mails to family and friends, which led to me starting this blog. The decade has taken both my parents and left me a middle-aged orphan. The last five years have been a radical re-orientation of my life; a discernment of a call to ordained ministry and the long process of preparation, selection and finally beginning training. My life is a very different shape to what it was ten years ago.

I shall not be sorry to see the back of 2019. It has been a year of so much change, and I am exhausted. I think I wrote something similar last year, so don’t want to sound like I’m wishing my life away. I hope that now that I have moved back to the UK, that I am training at college, that I am done with swerves and speed bumps . . . but I suppose life isn’t really like that.

New Year’s resolutions: to blog more. Really. I want to write about everything from discernment to training over on my other blog, and I still have to write about grief and leaving Japan and being back in the UK and so many other things. I don’t know if people still read blogs; there is so much out there, who has the time to read even a fraction of what they want to? But I know that I enjoy writing, and so I shall do it anyway. I am going to read more, and not only the books I need for my studies.

Tomorrow I am starting the new year with Mass at the Anglican cathedral in Tokyo. In the afternoon I am going to do a Seven Lucky Gods walk with friends (and another one a few days later). Somehow by January 17th I’m going to produce three essays.

Off you go, 2019. Off you go, awkward teenage years of the twenty-first century. Time for a new year, and a new decade. Life is good. May 2020 be a good year for everyone.

Time to put 2018 to bed

I knew I hadn’t blogged in a long time, but I hadn’t realised it had been more than a year. It’s time to write a little about 2018, and in writing about it, put it to bed. It’s been quite a year.

2018 brought some highs and lows; the highest high was the culmination in May of a discernent process I had been in for almost three years, and the lowest low was losing my mother in September.

Grief is a strange country. I need to blog about it more in a separate post, but for now I can only say that it has hit me harder than I thought it would. I can get on with the general stuff of life, and then something triggers a memory or overloads my emotions, and I am weepy for a day, or two, or a week. Some days life seems almost normal, and others I can’t imagine it being normal ever again. I am in a work in progress.

Looking forward to 2019, I know there are going to be more big changes. The first, and maybe the biggest, is that I am leaving Japan at the end of March. After more than half my life there it is time to return to the UK. It feels right, it’s time to move, but it is still going to be a Big Thing.

Three years ago, in the summer of 2015, I discerned a call to ordained ministry, and then began the long and demanding journey to test that call. Again, it’s something I want to blog about more, but those posts will all be over on my other blog, Our Light In Darkness.

So, at the end of March I will be leaving Japan and returning to the UK. I’ll have a few months to settle back into life here and then in September I’ll be starting on a new, completely different journey; 2 years at theological college to train for ordained ministry in the Church of England.

2018, you have been quite a year. I am reminded of 2011, when my father died, and in Japan we lived through the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. This year has been even more demanding, and as I stagger across the finish line I feel grateful that I have actually made it. I know that 2019 will be another demanding year, but I am ready for new challenges, and new starts.

Off you go, 2018. That’s quite enough from you.

Upgraded to a liminal zone

Schiphol

For the last 30-plus years I have been a fairly frequent air traveller, mainly between the UK and Japan, but also within Europe. Over the years I have developed my flight kit, and my personal expectations of plane etiquette. For long-haul flights I always take a neck pillow and my own small blanket (I don’t think airlines clean the blankets after every flight, how could they?). I have a foldable water bottle, and a small plastic bag with toothbrush, moisturiser, eyedrops etc. I always carry my Kindle. For short-haul flights I can do without the neck pillow and blanket.

Plane etiquette: Of course I greet the person I’m going to be sitting next to, but after that I like to be in my own little bubble until just before the plane lands. After the travel to the airport and getting through luggage drop-off, hand luggage check, waiting at the gate, it’s nice to just unwind a bit. Unless you need me to pass you something or stand up so you can get past me I’d rather not have long conversations.

Several years ago, KLM announced some link-up with Facebook where you could search your flight for people who knew and then get seated next to them. No thank you. In all my years of travel there has been one occasion, only one, when my fellow passenger started talking to me before take off and I didn’t mind. We’ve stayed in touch, she’s a Facebook friend now, but that is the only time. (It was a December flight on Swiss Air, hello H if you’re reading this.)

In these 30-odd years I have also been a reasonably loyal customer, and have amassed air miles in a couple of frequent flier programmes. On a few occasions I have been upgraded, but it hadn’t happened for a while.

Last month I went on my annual visit to the Netherlands (more on that in another post). From Manchester to Schiphol is a very short flight, only about 50 minutes, barely time for the cabin crew to serve everyone a drink and clear up before we land. You take off, climb for a while, cruise briefly and then start to descend.

I checked in online, went to the airport, dropped off my bag and went to the gate (OK, I did make a brief detour through duty free and Costa Coffee). Just before boarding, they announced that the flight would be full and asked several passengers to come to the desk at the gate; one of the names they read was mine. They gave me a new boarding pass; I had been moved up to 1C from a few rows back. Oh what joy! It may be a very short flight, but a bit more space, being right at the front of the plane so I could get off ahead of everyone else, I was briefly happy with my lot.

The fun started when I got on the plane.

Sitting in seat 1A, the seat next to the window, was a British man in his late sixties or early seventies. Realising that I was going to be in 1C, he asked, would you like the window seat? I agreed to the seat swap, and as he settled into seat 1C he remarked, ‘I always sit in 1C.’ OK then. From there he didn’t stop talking until we landed at Schiphol.

Within a couple of minutes, he was telling me about his wife’s cancer and chemotherapy, his former life in South Africa, first as an engineer and then as a diamond dealer, (he was on his way to Antwerp that day), his reluctant return to the UK and disillusion with post-Apartheid South Africa, his own health concerns, including a recent colonoscopy (done by a doctor friend in Germany at no charge), how to book train tickets with the best app (the one I was relying on was not good, apparently); on and on he went.

I tried to avoid his conversation, first by pretending to doze. That didn’t work; I was poked awake for the snack (which is much nicer in business class). Later I pulled out a newspaper but he read over my shoulder and commented with some relish about the article on North Korea. I mentioned then that yes, it was concerning, particularly as I live in Tokyo. I thought he might find that interesting, but no, he ignored it completely. I was just the person he was talking at for the duration of the flight. Later I turned and looked out of the window, noting with some relief that I could see wind turbines in the sea, so we must be approaching the Dutch coast.

Just as I was thinking, oh thank goodness, a bit of peace, a hand snaked forward from the passenger in 2A. He poked me on the arm and said, ‘It’s a nice view, isn’t it?’ I gave up and asked a member of the cabin crew for a cup of tea, which was brought in a white china mug instead of the usual plastic cup. ‘Aha!’ said the man next to me, ‘I knew it! You’re from Yorkshire! My wife is from Yorkshire and is always drinking tea.’ Through gritted teeth I answered, ‘North East Derbyshire’. Of course, he didn’t hear me.

Finally, we landed at Schiphol, taxied, then got off the plane onto a bus to go to the terminal. Mr. Chatty picked up his briefcase, deplaned (as they say), hopped on the bus and started talking at someone else. It wasn’t me, it was him.