Meeting Royalty


I was invited to be “presented” and was curious enough to put my good shoes on and drag my arse across town on a very cold night. It was a perfectly pleasant occasion, a good, interesting and committed speech made without much reference to notes, and a reasonably warm and pleasant mien, but I wouldn’t bother again. It’s slightly uneasy being part of a small group, where you aren’t sure who is supposed to initiate the conversation or move subjects on. There were one or two awkward silences as listeners struggled against the noisy acoustics, and struggled more to think of an appropriate way to make conversation. I don’t think that kind of protocol would be a useful way to govern social occasions. However nice the individual concerned. It’s interesting to think that our lives were governed by such etiquette at one point – and that in some places, similar codes still apply..

Maybe I should have gone to the Harry Potter preview instead. But that can be a weekend treat. At work I went to an interesting demonstration of a fantastic computer wall, a means of accessing content that offered great possibilities for the classroom and the living room, as demonstrated to a colleague in Tokyo. Only two years ago we were wildly speculating that such a thing might be possible at some distant time in the future.



Xinran, a Chinese broadcaster who now lives and works in London at SOAS, wrote a collection of pieces about Chinese women. They are sober reading. For anyone who wonders why feminists can still be so persistent when so much of what they fought for seems to have been achieved, this is the answer. As increasing numbers of women now we apparently have freedom to choose, aim to return to full time homemaking, we’re in danger of believing that feminism was a lot of fuss about nothing. I think the ability to choose to work or not to work is a fantastic, and important choice, and still not enjoyed by many people. But having recently made just such a choice, I’m glad I came across this book. It’s reminded me how difficult getting here was, and continues to be for many women across the world. I recommend it. It’s got some tough stories, but I also found it uplifting.



On the countdown to Christmas it’s day one in the Big Brother diet house and the inmates are already arguing about how many calories there are in a packet of cashew nuts. Bilbo claims that as nuts, they practically count as a fruit serving. I maintain they are the gastronomic equivalent of eating lard. We have some way to go before mutual harmony prevails. Anyway, what the hell have I been doing since June? Well, it’s all been very exciting. I took a short trip to Tokyo. My second, and it’s changed so much, even since 2001. Last time, the underground had no English signs. Now it’s a model of bilingual ease. Not just signs, but even announcements on some lines.

I arrived in the afternoon with no one to greet me, despite the emailed confirmation that they would be. The only choice was to get on a limousine bus and head for the hotel, which I hoped was booked for me, the Capitol Tokyu. Three nights of insomnia ensued, during which I enjoyed the films loaded on my nice new ipaq. Well, I say enjoyed. That was true of “Bonfire of the Vanities” which I’d owned for years and never watched as I rarely get to control the master TV, but less so of “The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse” which was disappointingly shoddy. But I was so awake, I was grateful for it passing an hour. A bit like a prisoner who suddenly finds the Star crossword an attractive challenge.

The work was enjoyable and I met some good people. On my day off I took the tourist trail to Hakone, which is great fun – a “romance train” a local train through an impressive gorge, a funicular, a rope car, a pirate boat and a bus. I got on the wrong bus back, but it didn’t matter, except to put me on a more ordinary train which was unbelievably slow in comparison to the first train of the day.

The following morning I nipped across to the Tsentso-Ji temple and then into Akihabara. I had previously scouted out Laox and now bought a ceramic white PSP. I should have searched further for the best price apparently but time wasn’t on my side and I knew it was a safe bet. And at £116 it was significantly better than the £180 in the UK. I wanted to see the burial place of Confucius which was close by, but failed to make that, and returned to the hotel for a quick kip before the evening do.

On the last day I shared a journey to the airport with the French delegate, a very pleasant young man who kept feeling the need to explain new media to me. I listened patiently for the most part, only intervening at his most basic explanations. But he was a very polite young man and able to converse fluently in English while I was too cowardly to use my French. But the young can be so patronising. I expect I was much the same at the same age. Doesn’t stop me wanting to slap them round the head with an old ZX Spectrum though.