Even my mother has written to ask if I’m having a blog vacation, so it’s clearly time to get another post up. Sadly, I haven’t spent the last couple of weeks gorging myself on Japanese cheese sausages or even riding in the snow. Instead, it’s been a fairly boring lead-up to my last classes of the semester, lots of time cycling on the indoor trainer and very occasional vacuuming.

I am now on holiday from my university teaching job. I’m not sure when it starts again but probably not until the end of March or possibly into April. The good thing is I’ll still be getting my monthly pay cheque (bank deposit, if you’re pedantic) and you would think I’d be enjoying the holiday but all it does is remind me that finding employment has been the single disappointing element of my time in Japan so far. Actually, that’s not quite true – I’m also disappointed with the amount of Japanese I can speak but employment has been the more glaring one. I take some solace that my colleagues tell me they never seen so few jobs about but I wouldn’t half mind a bit more work to give me something to do. Sadly, the only jobs advertised lately have been out of town or teaching children younger than six, which is my idea of a nightmare. I quite enjoy teaching English but the only time I’ve ever woken in the morning and not wanted to go to work was because I had classes of infants. It’s bloody daycare is all it is. Mothers – if you really want your infant to start learning a foreign language, teach it to them yourself. You’ll learn it quicker than them anyway and you are, after all, a mother figure.

So that rant aside, I’m still hopeful something might come up. Apparently this is the time of year that the universities start scratching about for employees. Although I only have a part-time job, it kept me surprisingly busy during the term. I’m usually in the habit of eschewing lesson preparation for a form of ad-lib stand up comedy routine which is surprisingly popular with students but in my current job, for reasons I can’t understand, I’ve had to spend at least as much time preparing, organising and marking at home as I have in the classroom – a very rare situation for me. On the other hand, setting up a computer portal thingy for study (I don’t know the proper names for these things, Alastair) and a very thorough series of computer revision quizzes is probably the thing that got me a year’s contract extension. With luck I can go back to being a slacker next time I teach the course.

In any case, I now have a wealth of free time on my hands which I’m determined not to waste. I haven’t made any resolutions but I do have some goals for the year ahead. One is, obviously, to find more employment. I have also resolved to work much harder at improving my Japanese. I would hate to come away from here without at least conversational Japanese ability and I’m always reminded of how rubbish my Japanese is so I’ve been hitting the books. And finally, I find I’m very much looking forward to next year’s cycle racing season. I’ve only ever done a handful of races before so it promises to be a an exciting learning experience full of highs, lows and undoubtedly bitter defeats but in preparation I have been spending a lot of time on the indoor trainer (if you hadn’t noticed me mentioning it several times both on this blog and in my Twitter feed). I’m slightly nervous to admit that I occasionally find myself enjoying it. I’m trying to combine goals by studying my vocabulary notebook while pedalling away. Perhaps I will start phoning prospective employers while training as well. I have no photos of myself training but here is one of Kazuko working hard:

Whoops! Kaz has disapproved the photo. Just picture someone doing indoor training on a bicycle.

I don’t have a fan to blow cool air on me but opening the window lets in a delightfully cool breeze. I know I’m warm when I can’t see for the steam coming off me.

In other news, to help us get through the winter, Kazuko and I are now proud owners of a Nintendo Wii. The ping-pong is surprisingly realistic. Kazuko and I have been having nightly challenges at the various sports on our Nintendo Resort disc. Am I allowed to admit I quite enjoy it?

Last night at the konbini, I noticed that there was a new novelty beer available – a collabo between Sapporo beer and the notorious Royce’ chocolate company. Not satisfied with dominating the chocolate-coated potato chip market (they do it in both white and milk chocolate), Royce’ have branched out into alcoholic beverages with the Chocolat Brewery Bitter. I think the word bitter refers to the flavour rather than the style of beer (unlike Victoria Bitter where the word is essentially meaningless). The beer claims to count cacao as one of its ingredients. I once had an eager barman tell me that a beer contained chocolate when in fact it contained chocolate malt which is an entirely different thing. Chocolate malt gets its name because it is roasted to a chocolatey colour. It gives colour to the beer but doesn’t add a chocolate taste. That wasn’t as bad a blunder as the barman who tried to tell me that India Pale Ale comes from India. Why do people just make stuff up and then try to pass it off as authoritative truth? I can assure I showed both those barmen the error of their ways.

Is there anything Royce' can't combine with chocolate?

It was impossible for me not to take a couple home and I’m happy to report it wasn’t too bad. Although a dark beer, it wasn’t thick like a stout and the initial taste was quite sweet. I think they wanted it to have a chocolatey smell but it didn’t really and without any aroma hops, the aroma was a bit disappointing. I would have thrown in some nice ale hops such as Fuggles or Kent Goldings but that’s just my opinion. I think the cacao may have been responsible for some of the bitterness in the end taste but overall I got the impression it could do with a little more aging to allow the flavours to blend together a bit better. Nonetheless, an enjoyable drop. I give it 3 and a half stars.

A wholesome treat.

And speaking of aging, it’s about time they marketed a dog food for the OAP market:

A tasty treat when the pension gets low.

And on a final note, I’ve been enjoying the blog of a chap called Nate Fitzgerald who is writing a novel about a troupe of crime-solving circus performers and trying to get it published. He’s posted a couple of extracts. I quite like it and hope it does get published. Have a look here: http://love-of-turnips.blogspot.com/

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