absentfather

Letters for my kids to read in the future, from around the world now

Archive for the month “October, 2017”

Up Town Tokyo in a Typhoon

Dear G, B and E

I’m writing this somewhere over Siberia on my way home from Tokyo.

My first stop was Seoul yet again, but I didn’t really do much to speak of except work and walk. I spent a lot of my time on my own, exercising when I could and relaxing when I could. The trouble with attending events (this one was in the Coex centre in Gangnam) and being in meetings is that the rest of your work has less time to be done but is still there. So I’m a bit behind and very anxious about some of it, mostly because it is in preparation for my next trip with the man who could sack me if he wanted to. But that is just life at work, I think everyone feels like they could be doing more or doing it better.

The “glorious leader” of North Korea, Kim Jong Un has been posturing to the world recently and developing nuclear weapons. He’s been firing missiles over Japan and generally provoking everyone. This is not great when the idiot who is Donald Trump is president of the USA and is as measured and intelligent as an angry bull. So going to South Korea when mock military operations are underway seems risky as tensions and rhetoric are amplified. Seoul would be razed to ashes in 24 minutes should war start according to their strategists. Surprisingly, when you are in South Korea, the locals are talking about celebrities and the latest scandal involving a senior executive at tech giant Samsung, they couldn’t give a hoot about the nutter up North.

Very cool bookshop in COEX Mall, Seoul

After three days I flew to Taipei for presentations and then took the bullet train to Kaohsiung (industrial city in the south) to visit a university. The Taiwan High Speed Rail is fantastic, just like in Japan and I travelled the length of the island in 1 hour and 24 minutes. Super easy, super clean, super smooth. It was baking hot as I got shown around. The university is owned by a steel magnate who is a billionaire and also owns hospitals and entertainment companies. He has builtthe largest mall in Asia there with a theme park attached. Huge Ferris wheel dominates the skyline and it is tacky in a way only that part of Asia can do. Lots of pale pink and blue flashing lights, lots of shoddy workmanship and terrible sculptures of giant comic characters.

High Speed Rail and Casino in. university, Taiwan

The university is the only one I know that has a casino for education purposes (to train croupiers], which was a little strange considering casinos are illegal in Taiwan. The graduates go to Macau or SIngapore or elsewhere. I had some productive discussions and then had a lovely Japanese lunch in the shopping mall. There is a slide that you can take down three floors in instead of the escalator!

Onward to Tokyo, which I haven’t visited in a few years. It was freezing cold and constantly raining, because A giant typhoon was making it’s way to the island nation as a little treat for me. Taxis are prohibitively expensive in Japan and the public transport is so good that everyone tends to use it. I took the Sky Liner fast train from Narita Airport to Nippori station and then to Shinjuku where my hotel was. Still a 5 minute walk in which time I got soaked to the bone.

Japanese toilets are fantastic. They are electronic with heated seats, they can spray water in a cleaning function, then dry, then perfume your nether regions! Then flush when you stand because they have a sensor. I want one.

The approaching storm detracted from the pleasure I have previously had walking around Tokyo and just soaking up all the crazy and marvelling at the unexpected. Instead it was a constant sea of umbrellas and shuffling with wet feet. I went to the Shibuya Crossing where 5000 people cross every 3 minutes and got mesmerised by that again. I stopped at noodle bars and “sushi go around” restaurants for delicious and cheap food when I needed refuelling.

Shibuya scramble crossing, Tokyo

On the Saturday I visited Asato Goto, a fashion designer, at her studio near Roppongi, the most expensive area of Tokyo. She lives in an “old” wooden house, which is 30 years old. I told her that Morton Hill was over 300 years old and she laughed. She’s a really interesting character and we just talked about life for 2 hours over a very Japanese soup she made. Japanese people live in such tiny spaces, usually just 1 or 2 small rooms with tatami mat floors and roll out futons for beds. Tokyo is an absolute tangle of buildings taking up every inch of available space and it comes at a premium.

Asato in her studio

I walked around Meguro and found some of the crazy things I expected, like dog hotels, where you can rent puppies to pet. Went into a toy shop that had Japanese manga style dolls, Godzillas and the latest crazy crazes.

”Dog hotel”

The following day I went out for dinner with a couple of English guys who do the same work as me. We went to an isakaya, which is a Japanese pub. You order food on an iPad. We then went to Golden Gai which is a really interesting area of Shinjuku which was established as a bar district after world war II. It has 280 different bars in 140 buildings over 7 small streets. The bars each only seat about 6 people and are personalised by the owners so they all have their own feel. Some don’t allow foreigners in them, some almost only get “gaijen” as customers. After that we went for a traditional karaoke session. Karaoke businesses are everywhere and are vast, some with hundreds of rooms. You can order in food and they even supply outfits if you want to dress up.

The typhoon was raging by now with the rain coming heavy and sideways. I got a notification to tell me my flight home was delayed the next day, so was dreading it being cancelled but fortunately it passed over Tokyo beforehand and by the time I got to the airport it was blue skies. The only time it didn’t rain the whole time I was in Japan!

Pops had a fall on a walk and was taken in an ambulance to hospital, but is apparently ok. I’m going to see him, straight from the airport, hopefully back at his and Ouma’s house and not the hospital. I feel guilty for being away at these times and not being any use.

Eleanor has learnt to crawl whilst I’ve been away, but only in a kind of commando shuffle, I’ve seen evidence by video call. You guys are on half term so I’ve taken the week off to have some time with you before another trip to China, the one I’m dreading. Looking forward to some hugs when I see you later tonight.

Love

Dad x

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Your Pops has a brain tumour

Dear G, B and E

This is going to be a hard one, and I’ve thought about writing it for the last few weeks, for me as much as for you.

In July this year, Pops was on holiday with uncle Henry and Caz in Devon when he had a strange turn and became a little vacant in his behaviour. They were at the Eden Project and he wandered off and was not very responsive when they did catch up with him. Caz took him to hospital as she thought it might be a urinary tract infection (apparently common in old people and can have these symptoms), but they scanned him and found a large brain tumour in the middle left side of his head.

Henry called to tell me and my first thoughts were that it was something we could deal with and get through, with operations and treatment. After speaking to him, I looked up all the different types of brain cancer that are out there (and there are a lot) and my hope was given it’s first reality check. In younger people, when tumours are caught early and in places where they can be removed then survival can be good, but most of the time things are not so.

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Pops and baby E

I wanted to be with him so jumped in the car and drove the 5 hours down there in a strange and desperate mood, a kind of fuzz around me. I was in a rush and everything seemed to be going wrong: the traffic was terrible and then my rear tyre exploded. I managed to limp to a garage and eventually got the hospital to find dad in bed and not able to speak. His mobility was restricted and they had given him heavy doses of steroids to bring down swelling in the brain. After a couple of days of frantic phone calls to every doctor mum and dad know in Wolverhampton we got him transferred and allocated a space to see a specialist at the hospital in Birmingham. I drove them home in a nervous silence, dad just occasionally getting angry with somebody else’s driving.

People heard and started to visit, not really knowing what to say and drinking a lot of Dad’s wine. They are lucky to have so many close friends, but things like this hold up a mirror to their own mortality and some don’t know what to do with that reflection.

I sent the notes from Devon to a neurosurgeon friend of uncle Charlie’s and got my second reality check. I’ll never forget his words, they were powerful and awful. He said, “start making the most of him.”

In some cases of glioblastomas they can “de-bulk” the tumour through surgery and put chemotherapy wafers that dissolve right in the the brain, but Dad’s is inoperable. Radiotherapy can slow it’s growth but nothing can shrink it or stop it. Even if these are caught relatively early, almost 100% of people are dead within 5 years. Most people are dead within 1 year of diagnosis.

He had a biopsy and cried as he was wheeled away to surgery, one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve seen. The results were what we expected and that he has less than a year of palliative care.

I managed to arrange for him to come to Wales as part of our summer holiday in August and was so glad he got to see the village again and so many of the people he loves down there. My ‘fairly’ godmother (fairly because I was never actually christened) Bente flew over from Norway to help mum and stayed for weeks. She was amazing in so many ways and our family owes her a great debt for this selflessness.

He started radiotherapy 4 weeks ago, dual with chemo, which only works on a small proportion of brain cancers because of the brain/blood barrier. They make a mask to hold your head in place and then zap the active areas of the tumour when you are in it, accurate to the millimetre. A few hours after his first session he had a seizure and was hospitalised. He totally lost speech and much of the use of his right side, including walking and good use of his hand. He was confused and would get stuck on words and repeat them over and over again. He has spent three weeks in hospital in the oncology ward, which is not somewhere you want to spend time. The guy opposite died not long after dad arrived, people spend their nights coughing up blood. The good thing about hospital was that he could start treatment again and he could get speech therapy and physiotherapy every day, which quickly improved him, but he is still absent in many ways. We’ve already lost so much of him.

My first visit to him in this state put me in a misery I don’t remember ever feeling. I cried and cried for him, mostly on my own, sometimes uncontrollably in the car or anywhere out of sight, for the indignity of such a great and lovely man and for his helplessness.

The cruelty of this compared to other cancers is that it affects the brain and therefore slowly steals the person an inch at a time. The cancer itself just grows on the outer edge and then dies inside, leaving necrotic tissue in its wake. An existence with one goal: to squeeze into space that should be used for Dad’s brain and kill him.

The small mercy of it is that I don’t think he fully cares about his situation most of the time. He reads, but I don’t think he absorbs. He watches endless TV but I don’t think he really follows what is on (judging by the crap he is watching). He is there and is still caring, he still loves a hug and kiss, he still enjoys food and the whiskey we sneak into the ward.

Mum (Ouma) is battling on but her heart is crushed. Knowing that he is dying is to prolong grief, but it also prepares her and us for the end. Dealing with practical things makes you forget and being in the moment is how we get through life. You three children are a massive help to me and that I know he would all be so proud of what lovely kids you are. I wish he could live longer to get to know you as adults and that thought always makes me cry.

It looks like he is coming home today, back to the house he has lived in for 35 years, which is wonderful news. It will be hard for mum but much better for him.

I’ve had to leave on a plane, which is where I am now, on my way to Korea again.

Love

Dad x

AUSTRALIA, after a while

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Bondi Beach

Dear G, B and E

** Written back in June, just found on my iPad **

I haven’t written anything on my travels this year. A couple of reasons I suppose:

– It is now late June and the trip I am on now, to Shanghai, is only my third this year, so travel has been light (comparatively, for me); we had the arrival of Eleanor and all that goes with having a new baby (at first she was quite a handful and has since turned into a very reasonable infant);
– I have forgotten about this enterprise, only recently remembered when your Auntie Claire said that I should write about my travels and reminded me that I should write this to you.

I went to Korea in April and visited some cities I hadn’t been to before. I was with a Korean friend, Daniel Shin, who also has a young family. He’s been to our house, you might remember him, he’s a thoughtful chap and quite wise. He really opened my eyes to Korean culture, especially business culture and it makes me realise how simple the UK is in comparison (for someone from the UK I guess). Most of the world, including developed countries like South Korea, still depend on favours, good will and influence to operate and not straight forward, open transactions. For example, a guy wanted me to do a favour for his daughter, next thing I know he is taking me to a fancy restaurant because he feels that is expected. Every favour has a price. I went to a place called Cheonan that is famous for making walnut cookies and met their city council. If by the time you read this Nottingham is the twin city of Cheonan then it is my fault. It is very different to Seoul, more gritty and perhaps less of a façade, it felt more honest but in parts verging on seedy. Maybe that is just every provincial city in the world.

In May I went with my boss to Australia. I hadn’t been for 15 years (when your mum and me travelled the world together) and was excited to see it again and catch up with almost all my close friends who have decided to move there. One thing I hadn’t remembered is how far away it is. 7.5 hours to Dubai, change planes, then 15 hours to Melbourne. When I looked at the journey map and we were over Perth on the West coast, we still had another 5 hours to fly. Big ol’ place.

First stop Melbourne. When your mother and I visited all that time ago it was the same time of year and the same type of weather, like an early spring in the UK. I got a break in the rain and ran along the Yarra river in the morning, catching the cycling and running commuters coming the other way. The character of the city with its Victorian architecture, low rise sprawl and covered arcades really struck me. It is a charming city and that is how I think of it. Food culture is huge and I ate very well, catching up with my old work mate Simon Hall who treated me to a traditional “Parma” (chicken schnitzel baked in tomato and cheese, this one actually topped with smoked kangaroo!) and some great wine. I took the tram through the suburbs and through the south bank, taking in a visiting Van Gogh exhibition.

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Run down the Yarra River

Next stop Sydney. If Melbourne is charming, I’d forgotten how stunning Sydney is. I was picked up by my old School friend Hugh, who I haven’t seen in 9 years. He married an Aussie and now has an Aussie baby. We went to uncle Buzz’s flat and had a great night at a local hotel (pub) drinking scooners (2/3 pints) of various overpriced beer (lager) followed by much catching up over pizza. In the morning I got the true Sydneysider experience: run down to the beach, work out at the beach gym, jump in the ocean and look at the amazing fish then walk to cool cafe for avocado on toast and a whole lot of smugness, surrounded by the beautiful people in their “leisurewear” (everyone dresses as if they are on their way to yoga class). A similar day on Sunday, catching up with old friends who are enjoying life in that amazing city (but still missing the UK). I took a bus to the harbour for a walk at sunset on my own just to take it all in and saw the biggest cruise ship I’ve ever seen. Fun to wave at the passengers as they floated by. I’m still impressed by the boldness of the Sydney Opera House, that the city took the step to make something so controversial so central to their identity to be recognised the world over. I love it as a piece of architecture and how different it looks up close compared to the view we all know. I explored the angles for a while and marvelled that we humans can design and build such things.

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Stunning Sydney

Not much to say about Brisbane as I was only there for a day and a night, but the people were lovely and it seems pretty cool, if not a little provincial in direct comparison to Sydney. Again, I walked the river and got envious of all the boats and outdoorsiness of an average Aussie’s life, but then I remembered melting here in 35 degree heat last time and quickly got over it.

Returned home to a holiday in Norfolk with my favourite people (you). We had a great week visiting beaches, eating ice cream and adventuring. We didn’t manage to catch any crabs off Cromer pier but we did have a lot of fun.

Love

Dad x

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