David Chart's Japan Diary

October 9th 2008

A short gap this time, as I make a start on my plan to get caught up. This entry, however, is slightly misnamed, as it's not about Japan at all; it's about our trip back to the UK in August, or, at least, the part that I was there for.

Yuriko and Mayuki in Business Class Yuriko and Mayuki enjoying the flight

The trip started very well when we were upgraded to business class on the flight out. Although this has happened to some of my relatives before, it was the first time it happened to me, and I have to say that business class is very nice. There's a massive amount of leg room, you can lie down in the chairs, and the food is good. For all that, I don't think it's worth paying the extra to actually buy tickets for it, at least not unless you're absurdly wealthy.

This was, of course, Mayuki's first international flight. Before she turned one. Being in an international family does change things; it was always inevitable that Mayuki would travel abroad at a very early age. I was discussing it with Mum later, and she pointed out that I'd had my first international trip ten years younger than she had, and Mayuki had had hers ten years younger than me. It will, however, be difficult for this trend to be maintained.

Anyway, we were, naturally, a little worried about how Mayuki would respond to the flight, with visions of being stuck with a crying baby for hours, and no way to take her anywhere. Fortunately, that didn't happen. Mayuki was very cheerful for much of the flight and slept for most of the rest of it, so keeping her quiet wasn't as difficult as it might have been. It might actually get harder as she gets older, and more easily bored.

In England, we were staying with Mum and Ray. We didn't really have a choice about that, not that we wanted one; after all, Mum wanted as much granddaughter time as possible, and staying with them was the best way to ensure that. They'd borrowed toys and all the necessary baby things, and as far as we can judge Mayuki had a great time. She liked the plastic toys that lit up and played music when you pressed buttons, so she now has a couple of those of her own, here, and she had lots of walking practice holding Grandma's hand, something she has built on back in Japan.

Hilly's Wedding

Dressed for the Wedding All Dressed Up

There were three reasons for being in the UK. The first was Hilly's wedding (that's my youngest sister). Although she's American, she's decided to marry a Brit, possibly following her mother's example. She's also moved to the UK, which just increases the international nature of our family. All the family made it to the wedding, which looked a bit doubtful at various points, as people had to go quite a long way. The wedding happened in London, in old Marylebone Town Hall, which is now the Westminster Register Office. I was a groomsman, which meant I had to wear a black suit and a (cheap) bowler hat. I can't complain, though; it's not as strange as the kimono and pompom that Dad and Ray had to wear for my wedding. As you can see from the photo, Yuriko did wear her kimono, and Mayuki wore her fancy dress.

The ceremony was nice, with the wedding party in black, apart from the bride in white, and an address that was quite definitely not religious. For the trip from the ceremony to the reception, they had booked two Routemaster buses, the traditional London double-deckers, which was a nice touch. The reception itself was in a riverside pub, and we had a chance to talk to some relatives we hadn't seen for a while. Perhaps most important, my American siblings got to meet Mayuki, and I got to meet my newest American nephews. So, I've now seen all my American sisters safely married.


The day after the wedding, the three of us went into Cambridge to meet up with some of my friends. Most of them were Ars Magica friends, and the others were married or otherwise attached to Ars Magica friends. There were some people I hadn't seen for years, but it was remarkable how many of them had not managed to escape the gravitational pull of Cambridge. There is a saying that if you don't get out of Cambridge within ten years, you never will; it's obviously not quite true, but there does seem to be a strong element of truth to it.

It was great to have a chance to catch up with people a bit; one of my former players now has children, a bit older than Mayuki, so the conversation included baby stuff as well as gaming stuff. I think Yuriko also enjoyed meeting some more of my friends. At least, I hope so.

Ray's 75th

Grandparents, Mother, and Child At Ray's Party.

The next event was only a couple of days later. Ray had his 75h birthday, and there was a big party in a restaurant in Thetford. Dad and Joy came as well, and this time they weren't busy, so we actually had a chance to talk to them, and they had a chance to play with Mayuki. The party seemed to go very well; the food was very nice, people said nice things about Yuriko's kimono, and a few people made speeches about Ray. I hear that Ray enjoyed it, which, obviously, is the most important thing.

We were seated with some of Ray's other grandchildren, all of whom are teenagers now, and they took turns at playing with Mayuki. Mayuki, of course, loved the attention. She's still generally happy to play with other people, as long as Yuriko or I am around. If we're not, she still gets a bit nervous with people she doesn't know, but she's fine with Grandma, and, generally, with Yuriko's parents. It's a shame that they all live too far away to do much babysitting.


Me and Mayuki on the train Fun on the train

The next event in the non-stop trip was a visit to Manchester. This is where I grew up, and my best friend from secondary school, also called David, still lives there. He came over to our wedding, and we were under strict instructions to visit him when we went to the UK. So we did. We got the train up from Norfolk, and Mayuki was fine on the train as well. We were less nervous about that than about the plane, of course, because she's been on trains in Japan without any problems. It's quite a long journey, but the last bit goes through the Peak District, so the views are great.

David met us at Stockport station, with his son John, who is three and three quarters. He also likes other children, and played nicely with Mayuki throughout the days we were staying there. We did notice that John appears to have an infinite amount of energy. He fell asleep in the car on the last day, which David showed us as proof that he did sleep occasionally. Anyway, the first thing we did in Manchester was go to Heaton Moor, to see the street and house where I was born and grew up. The area hasn't changed much in the last twenty years, and the house looked very similar. The new owners have grassed over the front garden, but that seems to be about it.

From there, we drove to my primary school, which, as far as I could see from outside, has changed a bit; they've roofed over the courtyard. We couldn't go inside, though, so I have no idea what else might have changed.

Me and Mayuki in MGS In the Memorial Hall

The next stop was the Manchester Grammar School, my secondary school, and where I met David. There, we could go inside. It was the summer holiday, so there were no pupils around, but we could wander around and see how the school has changed. In the bits we saw, the physical structure was much the same, but some rooms had new purposes. The room that was our form room when we started is now the maths teachers' staff room, for example, and the changing room for the swimming pool is now the women's changing room. The school is still all-male, but it has more female staff than it did in our day. The sign on the door was interesting: "No boys or male staff". "Right," I said, "let's go in. We're neither of those, after all." (It was probably locked -- certainly should have been.)

We got to talk to a couple of staff members who were around, but we didn't see anyone we knew. All the same, it was nice to see the school, as it was almost twenty years since I'd been back inside. And that's a scary thought.

We were staying at David's house, which is very nice, and very big. Plenty of space for us. Unfortunately, we can't fully reciprocate if they come to Japan, but we still hope that they do. Unfortunately, I was ill one day, with a combination of a cold and being very tired, I think, and I slept most of the time while everyone else went to Tatton Park. As that was somewhere I went quite a lot when I was young, I'm glad that Yuriko got to see it.

We also spent a day in central Manchester, looking around. Unlike the other places I visited, that has changed a lot. The IRA bombed it shortly after I left, and that seems to have stgarted a wave of rebuilding. I have to say that I think it's a substantial improvement. Even the Arndale Centre looks better with its new facade, and the area around the cathedral is much more open and pleasant than I remember. We went in the Royal Exchange and looked at the theatre, and popped in a few shops, as well as looking at the view from the law courts. (David's a barrister, so that's where he works.)

On the last day, we had lunch with my aunt (my Mum's sister) and her family, and I saw my cousin for the first time in years. In fact, I think the last time I saw her was at her wedding; they now have two children. Both the children are blonde-haired, and very fair, just like both of my cousins. This is odd, because neither my aunt nor my uncle is... (Blonde is recessive, so this can in fact work without anything dubious happening.) I'm glad we got to meet them and introduce Mayuki to them, and I hope that my cousin and her family will be able to visit us in Japan at some point, when the children are a little bit older.

And then David gave us a lift back to Stockport station, and we got the train back to Norfolk.

Grand Tribunal

The next day, I went to Cambridge to meet my friends, who gave me a lift to Cheltenham, where there was an Ars Magica convention. In Cambridge, I tried to claim this as a reason for the trip to the UK, but one of my friends pointed out that the convention was being held because I was in the UK, rather than vice versa. Either way, I'm very glad it was happening, because I got to meet several authors I hadn't met before, and, for the first time in too long, actually got to play Ars Magica.

It was a small convention, with under thirty attendees, but it was a lot of fun, with several table-top games, a big freeform, and discussion sessions, including a "Grill the Line Editor" one. We also managed a live video link-up with a parallel convention in California, so I got to say hello to a few more authors, and other people I know from online discussions. In fact, I think I knew just about everyone at the convention from online, although I'd only met a very small number of them in person before.

After the convention, I had one day to catch my breath and pack before I set off back to Japan. Yuriko and Mayuki stayed in the UK for another week, but I had to get back to do some work. Unfortunately, I didn't get upgraded to business class on the return trip, but we'd paid for Premium Economy. That is, definitely, worth it for a long-haul flight. There's just a bit more leg room, enough to make it comfortable for me, and a bit of space around the seat. I still couldn't eat the food, though.

I got back to Japan ready for a rest.