La Foule

Sitting in front of my computer I am disturbed by a recurrent beep. Where is it coming from? I imagine it to be computer generated and so switch off and then on anything that might emanate a beep; to no avail. I look everywhere with no success. It drives me crazy! Luckily on a call with illustrious friend Naoko, it starts beeping. She recognizes it as the fire alarm asking for its battery to be changed.

So annoying especially at 02;00.

I try to open the device to change the battery but can’t. I worry abut breaking it. I go to Tomiya Housing who are my sort of landlord. They are so sweet! A young lady, Sumika san, who speaks impeccable English, organizes for someone to come and fix the difficulty.

“When do you think this person can come?”


I ask where she learned English.

” I was at school in Vevey in Switzerland.”

You never know.

The guy follows me to my apartment and installs new fire detectors in every room.

Very nice guy

Everything is fixed within an hour of me walking into the office. This is living in Japan. There is no charge. It is the owner’s responsibility.

Kiyuna san worries about my health. He comes to my apartment to install a device which he has designed and built that turns, what he refers to as dead tap water, into living healing water. Well, you know, give it a go.

The cylinder is packed with ancient stones.
Job done, he roars off on his 1945 Harley.

So Jiang Zemin has died. I met him. He visited CERN and went to see the L 3 experiment, conceived, built and led by the redoubtable Sam Ting.


Emportez par la foule, excuse poor grammar but I can’t find accents on my Japanese keyboard, I end up standing beside him. Hey watch on YouTube. You will not regret it.

The conversation went like this.

“It is very big.”

“Yes it is very big”

“It is red”

“Yes it is red”

” I do not understand”

” No, no”

Most powerful man in the world. Probably.

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Music to my Ears

The engine repair is nearing completion.

Kiyuna san does the work on the cockpit floor. How is he going to lift it into the engine compartment?He has a hoist which lifts it and lowers it but how to move it the meter or so forward to position it over the engine mountings is a mystery to me.

Tripod and hoist

Anyway, I come back a couple of days later and it is installed.


I ask Kiyuna san how he did it but he evades my questions. I can only go back to his, “I am not a mechanic, I am a magician!”

What’s more it works.

Music to my ears!

There are still a few jobs to do but the end is in sight, I think.

Nice dry bilges.

I mention that since my trip to Mexico earlier this year I have had recurrent bouts of diarrhea. Kiyuna san says he knows and will fix it. The next day he gives my a black ring that he has made. I must keep pressed against my stomach.

My ring

I try to to understand how it works but Kiyuna san cannot explain. I doubt the concepts, let alone the vocabulary, exist in English. I am wearing as I write. Give it a go.

I spend a lot of my time listening to the 3rd volume of Henry “Chips” Channon’s diaries. It covers 1943 to 1957. It is an amazing document. It should be required reading at all schools. It details the life and behavior of the British ruling classes. He is a wonderful writer.


I do not know how much of this behavior still exists. Maybe more than I thought given the recent resignation of a long time Lady in Waiting. An incident that would fit seamlessly into the diaries. No wonder Meghan Markle skidaddled straight back to California.

The time has come for another dental implant!

Kinjo sensei, a dab hand with the auger and ratchet.

It is not much fun but passes the time. There are several more procedures before the whole thing is finished.

Spot the implant.
Unusual selfie

The next day, feeling one degree under, I go to the opening of another exhibition by friend Kikuta Ichiro san. This time in beautiful villa resort on Yagagi island. Lots of speeches.旧称:屋我地あんさんぶる)/@26.6725986,128.0179498,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m8!3m7!1s0x34e457f0424fe00d:0x36e34b5e8d206cad!5m2!4m1!1i2!8m2!3d26.6725938!4d128.0201385

Ryukyu Robin
Benny Weed
Tomomi san with one of her Ikebana works

Off to an afternoon of Sibelius. A friend plays in the orchestra. Amazing new concert hall in Naha. Wonderful performances.

Music to my ears

Incidentally, my friend gets me a half price ticket, 1000 yen. This is nothing. Obviously the full price is twice that, still nothing! The concert must be heavily subsidized by the Okinawan local government. Bravo Japan for supporting the arts.

On the same theme, the Ginowan town hall sends me a booklet of vouchers that I can exchange for sashimi and stuff in local shops. Hello Kitty.

Thank you Kitty

Oh yes, Japan beat Spain! They top their group that included Germany and Spain. I am so proud of Japan!

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Just lots of bits of pieces that I will enjoy remembering when I am very old.

The weather has been a bit gloomy.

It is raining. Glamorous Isa from my terrace! You will notice that the great fish restaurant across the road did not survive Covid. There is now a meat restaurant! Haven’t been yet.

I have been editing/proofreading a long organizational yearbook. It has been great fun. My boss and I go to breakfast for the final check.


Tim gave me a tree about 2 years ago. It is a very interesting plant. It hates it when I go away and sheds most of its leaves, even though it is well watered and in good light.


As soon as I get back, it perks up and immediately new leaf buds pop up on all the main branches.

One of many, even in late November

This is a recurring cycle. I wonder why?

My friend Teruya san retires from OIST. He is a wonderful man. He has been at OIST for 19 years and was one of the very first people to work at the university. He was manager of the Community Relations Section and did an outstanding job in involving the Okinawan population in the adventure of OIST. Arisa, who also worked in Community Relations, and I take him out for a celebratory dinner.

We have a joyful evening! Thank you Teruya san, a great Okinawan.

My plughole. Not the most interesting subject you might think but it gives me great gratification. There are many layers of subtlety.

What you see.
Inside there is a big plastic basket filter into which you place a very fine net pouch.

When mood takes you, pull out the pouch and bin it.

I usually let the pouch fill more.

I have just bought a new packet of pouches, of which there is a vast range of choice at the 100yen store.

Clear instructions.
I place a new net – so gratifying!

This cleanliness theme of course leads me to Japan and the football World Cup. What joy to beat the huge Germans, what pain to lose to Costa Rica! Japan are of course the winners following the vast coverage of Japanese fans cleaning up the stadiums. This sense of communal responsibility pervades Japanese society.

When I last lived in France, a neighbor took his massive dog for a walk each morning. Each morning, the dog took a huge dump in the beautiful square, usually outside my front door. He made no effort to clean it up.

Spot the dog shit. Actually, the square looks unusually clean. Normally it was strewn with garbage.

I challenged him. “What! Are you crazy? I don’t pay taxes to pick up dog turds!”

So pleased I live in Japan.

I have a totally restored engine! Not installed but won’t be long.

High performance model. Thanks Kiyuna san!
Always good to have some handy.
Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to work I go.
Lunch as I write. 564 yen from San A
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Happiness and Joy

Okinawa weaves its net of charm on me again.

For a start, Kiyuna san is hard at it, restoring the Yanmar to pristine condition.

Not many of you have one of these I imagine.
Looks OK to me but Kiyuna san wants new valves and valve seats. So be it.

I pass by the Tomari Fish Market, a glorious place that I have mentioned many times before. So much really fresh fish.

Quick lunch.
Massive Tuna waiting for the chop.
Cannot resist fresh octopus

The big event was the opening of Ichiro san’s exhibition of byobus, made more lovely by fabulous ikebana displays by Tomomi san.

Hooray! Check out some of Ichiro san’s videos here;

On our way to the exhibition, we stop for soba in a very old restaurant near Shurijo.

So good

The exhibition is held in a building of sublime Japanese beauty that used to be the guest house for ambassadors, VIPs and the like.,127.7145116,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m8!1e2!3m6!1sAF1QipOhrh67VtMPLwxA1GziD-qG0dmQuzuRZTXah6_I!2e10!3e12!!7i3510!8i2343!4m6!3m5!1s0x34e5694fa4990145:0x95a7e826dc50e56b!8m2!3d26.2038547!4d127.7153279!16s%2Fm%2F0j_5f29

Beautiful building and surrounding park.

The building only uses Okinawan hardwoods
One of Tomomi’s pieces
Asuka san, Ichiro san, Mkio Uehara san great guy who used to be a security guard at OIST, me, Tomomi san, Kiyuna san.
Buy one now.
Me and Kiyuna san. Old but not wise.
Kiyuna san gives me an old wood carving. He says it looks like me!
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Goodness, Gracious, Me

Back in Okinawa!

Air travel is back to normal. After two and some years of empty airports and empty planes this trip was back to the harsh reality of overcrowded airport and full plane.

I rent a car from my friend Kano san.

He is such a great guy. He has a boat called Cutty Sark.

I have extreme jet lag. I never used to suffer from this but in my dotage it takes a toll. I deal with important stuff immediately, water machine and health.

Ice cold and boiling water a disposition

I go straight to the local clinic for a full check up. I have received a letter from the Ginowan Town Hall to inform me that, as I am in my dotage, I can have free total check up and flu jab. They see me immediately.

Shoko san is a wonderful person. She points out that not only is everything free but that I also get a 3000 yen voucher to spend as I wish. Probably alcohol!

Nagasaki sensei, er the doctor, has become a friend. He gives me a a beautiful pottery beer mug.We understand each other.

I will use it assiduously

OK the boat, I mean that is why I am here in Okinawa really. Kiyuna san calls me. We go to look at the current engine status.

The engine has been stolen!
Phew, we find it, admittedly in bits.

I query Kiyuna san as to the extent of awfulness. Dai jo bu he explains. I fix.

I am not a mechanic, I am a magician!

Arisa and I go to a restaurant that is only 2 minutes walk from my place. We have never been before. Its signage is so muted that you can walk by without realizing that it is a restaurant – so Japanese, er good wine needs no bush.

No better sashimi than this
Succulent pig’s feet or trotters should you prefer

We also had a plate of of delicious fu champuru but we were too far gone on beer and sake to take a photo.

Much happiness is usually accompanied with a balancing quantity of pain.

Returning to my apartment fom the airport, I switch on my computer. It does not respond. It is dead. Ouch! I try other power sources, no sign of life. Oh no!

In desperation, I take the computer to a local computer repair place. This morning, er Sunday, they send me an email saying the computer is OK. It is a miracle

What does it mean? They charge me nothing

So all of this is good but the really important event of the weekend was the Black Ferns win over England in the Women’s Rugby World Cup Final. England were the favorites; they had been victors in their last 30 games. Victorious but awful. Their game is so negative. Rolling mauls from huge chunks of flesh with zero personality. God bless New Zealand! Their game was based on speed, skill, fun.and personality. It is so rare to see fun vanquish professionalism. Such amazing athletes.

Yay Black Ferns!

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Through the Window

A reminder that this is my diary. I love looking back to see what I was doing, say 10 years ago and realizing what a pompous fool I was! Not much has changed. Anyway, read it if you want.

I now watch birds with my window open. I am amazed how usually skittish birds don’t seem to mind me sitting about 3 meters away. I have added a hummingbird feeder.

Female Anna’s Hummingbird just outside the window! Click twice on these shots to get amazing hi-res versions.
Male Anna’s Hummingbird

I have been given a job! I have to proofread and edit text for a yearbook. I love doing this. I sit on my couch in front of my wonderfully cosy gas fire and tinker away at the text. To my left is the open window through which I can spot and eventually photograph bird action. Such a good way to pass the time. I will also get paid real money as opposed to the money you see on web bank statements. I will spend all this real money on the best food and wines for one unforgettable meal with friends in Okinawa.

Beside me on the couch – ready for action!
Red masked Parakeets feed on juniper berries
Bushtit in the gloaming
Another Parakeet
So cosy!

Topher and I drive down to SLAC to have lunch with Melinda. We worked together about 15 years ago. As soon as we get into the main building, people come up and hug and cry and ask for their money back. We have a wonderful time!

Topher White, old guy, JoAnne Hewett, Melinda Lee

Shucks, so good to meet lots of old friends and realize that, although we may not have met for years, we still love one another.

In Melinda’a office in front of a bling Einstein we made for the cover of symmetry magazine.

Driving home, I ask Topher when his next trip will be.

“I go to Egypt on Sunday.”

“Where in Egypt?”



“I have to give a talk at COP27.”

I, on the other hand, go to Clement St to get some See’s Candy.

They love this stuff in Okinawa, where I will shortly be going.

Clement is very Chinese.

Amazing Grace!
Wonderful homemade Dim Sum


Takeaway Chinese food.
Fish and Pork – $9
I buy fish.
Skate wings or Ailes de Raies. Raie au Beurre Noire is one of the classic fish dishes.

The fish shop is full of middle aged Chinese ladies who are all pushing in and squabbling, all in Chinese of course. They remind me of Pygmy Nuthatches. One lady, who has just pushed in front of me and is shouting at the poor serving guy, turns to me when she sees me buying skate and in a very plummy English accent asks,

“Excuse me, what is that fish? I have never tried it?”

“It is skate.”

“How do you cook it?”

“Well, I sauté it in black butter and capers.”

“Do you think I could steam it?”

“I am sure you could.”

“Thank you so much. I has been very nice speaking to you.”

She then turns back to the poor server and lets him have it with both barrels in strident Chinese.

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I lived in France in the 1990s. There were only 3 television channels; TF1, A2, France 3. Sometimes on France 3, as part of another show, there would be a cooking demonstration by a lady called Maïté. This was way before cooking shows became popular, way before cuisine minceur, way before popular veganism. Maïtéïté cooked old time food from Gascony. There are lots of her videos on YouTube. She relies heavily on meat, wine, armagnac and cream. She never measures quantities, she rarely uses a chopping board but prefers to cut stuff up in her hands Her accent is strong and her delivery verges on anger.

Here is Poule Farcie. It is a joy to watch. I have not been able to track down a poule in San Francisco. It is a hen in English. It is an older bird as distinct from a chicken, which is younger. There are many classic French dishes that need a poule, Poule au Riz, Pot au Feu for example. The bird is simmered for a long time. Today’s chickens would simply fall apart.

Those were the days

I mention Maïté as I have spent a lot of time lately staring out of the window. I have set up a bird feeder and whist checking on birds I also watch YouTube stuff, mainly Maïté.

The feeder was up for about a week before any birds showed up. Then a male Oregon Junco shyly appeared and began to feed. Next day his wife comes too. Notice paler head.

Female. Notice paler head

A couple of days later a Chestnut Backed Chickadee shows up.

He brings his wife along a bit later. They wear unisex clothing.

It is tranquil; the birds do not fight.

Townsends Warbler.

Then a bird that I have never seen shows up – a Pygmy Nuthatch. Everything changes.


Within an hour, 8 of them completely take over. They chase off all the other birds fighting and squabbling incessantly. There cannot be many of these birds around here but within minutes the message of free food echoes around the Nuthatch population and they lay siege.


They swarm around the feeder, gorging and bickering. They empty the feeder twice in 2 days. How can such small birds eat so much?

Watching them is addictive. I have my window open and the feeder is only 3 meters from my Maïté couch. The birds seem unconcerned. A Nuthatch flies into my room but flies out again immediately.

A bit of local color before I return to the main narrative. I visit old friend Ken, who is an architect. He designed the Kavli building at SLAC when I was there and caramba when I got to OIST I found he was the architect for our amazing buildings.

Yay Ken!

He has a house on the coast just near Bean Hollow Beach.

Compensations of age

We eat perfect Lengua Tacos in nearby Pescadero.

James traps a sweet mouse, whom we release in the park.
Birdwatcher at Haight Street Fair last week.
James cooks Paella.
On the way to Gus’ on Haight

Anyway back to the birds, as I mentioned, Nuthatches swarmed the feeder.

Spot the Nuthatch

Just as Maïté is about to eat an Ortolan, a Nuthatch blasts through the window, through my rooms and into the apartment at large. I search but cannot find him, her, them. Immediately, the other Nuthatches disappear from the feeder and have not come back. How do they communicate?

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Off I go to the wetlands North of Sacramento. The first of the goose migrators should be there by now and what greater pleasure than watching Snow Geese as the sun goes down, or comes up, for that matter.

It is 17:00hrs ish when I get there. Perfect timing as thousands geese are just flying in to settle for the night after a hard day’s munching.

Evening Snow Goose
Not sure

The difficulty is where to sleep. It is very verboten to spend the night within the perimeter of the Sacramento Wildlife Reserve but legal campsites are a long way away. My aim is to get up before sunrise and watch as the geese take off on their hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go, duty.

I drive over to neighboring Willows and have a perfect steak and chips dinner at the Black Bear Diner.

Yum. Lasted a bit longer than Liz Truss.

I sneak back into the wildlife preserve under the cover of darkness and set up in a remote corner. There is absolutely no one around. I have my alibi ready. ” I can’t stay here? Oh I am sorry. I am an old man and have dementia. I have also drunk half a bottle of wine and do not think it right to drink and drive. I will be gone by 06:30. I have an English accent. Have mercy etc etc.”

I have forgotten to bring a corkscrew so half my alibi is shot but no worries as no one interrupts my blissful slumber. Too blissful as the sun is rising as I stumble out of the camper.

Too late!

The Snow Geese have already left! Not one to be seen. Damn. Still, there is lots of other stuff to see.

Dawn camper
Great Blue Heron
Mrs Shoveler
Peregrine Falcon, a long way away.
Northern Harrier
A gaggle of Greater White fronted Geese
Least Sandpiper. Tiny Bird!
Not sure but not a Red Tailed Hawk

White faced Ibis


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I Can’t Read

I have always loved listening to stories. My happiest memories are of awful weather in Scotland; howling winds, lashing rain, impossible to go outside. We, however, are curled up snug on the sofa and armchairs, cuddling orphaned lambs, puppies, kittens as the coal fired Rayburn pumps out heat. For entire afternoons our Mother would read us stories; Masterman Ready, Midshipman Easy, The Call of the Wild, What Katy Did, The Arabian Nights, Bosambo of the River, Swallows and Amazons. As the years passed my Mother was less inclined to spend her time reading me stories and I had to read books on my own.

This I loved too and spent far too much time reading when I should have been playing with my children or paying attention to my wife. However a decade or so ago I started listening to audiobooks. What a revelation! Someone was reading me a story! All I had to do was put my thumb in my mouth and cuddle an orphaned lamb. I almost completely stopped reading. In fact the only thing I have read in the last 10-15 years is the Marine Quarterly.

This is a book, recommended by Brother Ian. What do I do with it?

I try to read but I soon lose concentration. I wonder what Ruby Tui is doing.

Go Ruby! Go Black Ferns!

I go to YouTube to check on Ruby Tui stuff and before I know it, I am watching University Challenge or Hornblower or old rugby matches or cooking programs etc, etc.YouTube is the ultimate time waster.

I can no longer just read.

Anyway, I head South to Big Sur to try to find the huge Californian Condor. Such a great drive!

Fields and fields of pumpkins!
European Starling
Juvenile Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo
Great Blue Heron
Gas at Big Sur. I fear an insurrection!
Heerman’s Gull

I am out for 2 days but do not spot a Condor. Nevertheless, there is of course tons to see.

In the hills above Big Sur. Notice cloud covered ocean.
A couple of hours later. Notice blue ocean.
Marbled Godwit

Brown headed Cowbird

A Willet amongst Godwits

California is endlessly amazing but will I ever read again?

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The day has come when I try to be admitted into the noble brotherhood of E Clampus Vitus! Read all about them here.

There is an all day initiation ceremony on Saturday the details of which are kept secret beforehand. On Friday afternoon, Bebo, Ron and I show up at the meadow in the hills above Half Moon Bay where the ceremonial will take place . Wonderful place overlooking the Pacific, however sea mist invades the campsite for most of the time we are there.

I am a PBC, Poor Blind Candidate and as such am treated with disdain by those who have earned the right to wear red. We get straight to it. I mean eating and drinking. I am given humiliating fetch and carry jobs and then set to opening hundreds of oysters.

Roasted oysters with garlic butter.

There are about 50-60 of us camped out on the meadow. Dinner is oysters, pork chops and beans.

As much as you can eat.

No one drinks wine but lash down quantities of spirits with various mixers.

Help yourself.

We sit up drinking and talking late into the night. Remarkably I have drunk no alcohol for over a week due to extreme jet lag and dysentery. However I soon find my feet again. I crawl into the camper the worse for wear.

07:00 the next morning feeling a bit shaky.

I am immediately enlisted to cook breakfast.

Blueberry pancakes and pork sausage. Aided by Mike and Gary, fellow PBCs

After breakfast we started the initiation tests. There are strict rules. We cannot look at our instructors and have to keep our eyes on the ground. It being Fall and Half Moon Bay being a center of pumpkinoculture, a lot of the exercises are based on pumpkin stuff. There is very strict supervision to make sure we do not spill seed on the ground.

We have two history lessons. The first is by the owner of the property, also a Clamper, who gives fascinating talk on the early days of Half Moon Bay.

The owner speaks. Photo McGinnis

Then the Emperor Norton himself, head of the  Mother Lodge Yerba Buena #1 Capitulus Redivivus, hopefully my chapter to be, takes over and provides a detailed history of E Clampus Vitus.

More history. Photo McGinnis

Here is a picture of the Emperor in everyday clothes.

Rick,Vietnam fighter pilot, or Emperor Norton, on the left. Great guy!

We have to learn history. We have to learn several songs and Clamper sign language. We play bowling using pumpkins as bowling balls. This results in much spilt seed and fury from our invigilators. Each seed has to be picked up with all pumpkin interior sludge and dropped inside the costume of a mysterious character called The Frog.

I learn Clamper songs. Photo McGinnis

We break for lunch.

Hot dogs with serious sausages, coleslaw and choucroute.
Gnarled old Clampers. Ron, Rick, er dunno, Bebo

Training completed, we are blindfolded and led in single file, each holding the shoulder of the man in front, into the ceremonial hall. We have to chant Clamper songs as we go and are derided by the 50 or so Clampers who are watching.

The final induction ceremony must remain a mystery, but it involves a ancient staff!

I make it! I am admitted! What an honor for a poor boy from Scotland!

Physically and emotionally drained, I am held up by Ron and Rick.
At last I have made something of my life.

Thanks E Clampus Vitus for accepting me, a foreigner, into your ranks. Such fun, with a refreshing rejection of healthy living!

There is an onslaught of heavy drinking after the ceremonial and dinner to come. I have to get back to the city that night and so do not join. One thing that Japan has taught me is Do not Drink and Drive.

No 1 !

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