Tag Archives: japan

Extreme Bucket List

One of the silly little Christmas prezzies I got Gill was a pack of cards.

But not a normal deck. These cards contain a list of 500 Totally Extreme Awesome Out There & Radical Things To Do. “The ultimate list of 500 EXTREME things that just have to be done at least once. WARNING! Not for the faint-hearted.”

The original idea behind this blog was to share the spirit of a vibrant post-work life with you. With that in mind, have a crack at some of these ideas from Gill’s special cards. Some of them really are radical, extreme and out there. Gill has already done some of them. I’ve done others. Some are impossible….whatever your age. Some are just stupid.

Here are a handful to inspire/scare/appal you:

12 – hike Corsica’s GR20, Europe’s mountain trek  (we’ve done a couple of very small bits, does that count? Doing the whole thing is a real challenge, but one that was always on our list. We’re not getting any younger though….)

497 – meditate every day for a year (Gill doesn’t slow down enough to meditate for 5 minutes, so a whole year would be a real stretch)

256 – take the bullet train in Japan  (I’ve done that one – on business in the 1990s – but Gill can keep it on her list)

372 – start your own business   (Gill started and ran South Minster Kitchens for 14 years)

398 – stand in a supermarket, pretending to do market research, preferably with an accent (I like this one: fun, easily achievable….and totally humiliating. Sainsburys in Godalming, you’ve been warned)

344 – mentor a youth (do Gill’s nephew Ben and nieces Jess & Lucy count? She’s always telling them what to do. Sorry, helping to steer them in the right direction)

44 – press to impress with extreme ironing – it really is a sport (unlikely…..Gill doesn’t even know where the iron lives. That’s my job)

480 – go to a train station and take the next train to its destination (love this one too. Also, go to an airport and take the next flight out…wherever it’s going)

479 – start a religion (an interesting challenge, but dangerous. The ones we’ve got already don’t seem to co-exist very peacefully)

211 – climb Kilimanjaro  (woohooo…we’ve both done that one already. A painful tick)

154 – learn kung fu at Wudang Shan – but you have to become a monk first (I told you some of them are just ridiculous)

55 – ride on the outside of a tram in San Francisco (great excuse to book a trip to the West Coast)

345 – go to a naturist camp (no offence Gill, but if we’re doing this challenge, let’s do its sooner rather than later)

85 – climb Mount Everest (that might have stayed on the list….until a few days ago)

79 – walk hot coals in northern Greece (now this is timely….we’re going to Thessaloniki and Halkidiki in April. I think Gill should take up the challenge. Well, they are her cards)

457 – throw a tomato at an electric fan (ha! While it’s going, presumably. And preferably in someone else’s house, Gill)

OK, you get the idea. Fun, crazy, ridiculous, impossible…but also strangely inspiring. And the clock is ticking…..

Good luck, and enjoy the card game with a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book review – The Narrow Road to the Deep North

I can’t remember feeling quite so emotionally drained as I did late last night,  after reading the final few words of Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Winner of the prestigious Man Booker prize in 2014, the Tasmanian writer’s novel is epic in scale, with a beauty of language describing an atrocity of actions that breaks the reader’s heart on almost every page.

Dorrigo Evans is the story’s main protagonist. He is at once both a good man and a bad man, and in Flanagan’s deft hands becomes one of contemporary literature’s most memorable characters.

As a young surgeon and officer, waiting in Adelaide to be called up to WWII, he has a chance meeting – in a dusty bookshop – with an alluring girl. He discovers Amy is the much younger wife of his uncle Keith, but that does not deter them from embarking on a torrid love affair that will haunt Dorrigo for the remainder of his complex life.

The core of the novel is the horror resulting from the Japanese Emperor’s grand project to build a railway from Burma to Siam, in an impossibly short time and in inhuman conditions, using forced labour from 60,000 allied POWs and more than 180,000 Asian civilians.

The subject of so many other graphic films and novels, Flanagan somehow elevates – or debases – the Death Railway story further, through a haunting combination of almost poetic language and characterisation.

Dorrigo – Big Fella – fights an unwinnable battle every day, with the Japanese POW camp officer Major Nakamura and with nature: his 1,000 charges – no longer soldiers, and barely still men – suffer from dysentery, malaria, beri-beri, malnutrition and myriad other diseases. The surgeon does what he can to delay inevitable death for them, but is still forced to choose those least sick to buckle to the Emperor’s impossible demands in building The Line.

The detail in the description of their deprivation is difficult at times to read, impossible always to understand.

In a makeshift operating theatre, Dorrigo does what he can to save the leg of one of his men. It’s already gangrenous and previously amputated, but he was frantically searching the muck of Jack’s stump with his fingers, trying to find something to stitch, pinching vaulting slime, groping pitching slop, there was nothing, nothing to stitch into, nothing that might hold the thread. The artery walls were wet blotting paper. There was, realised Dorrigo Evans, with a rising horror as the blood continued to pump out, as Jack Rainbow’s body went into a terrible series of violent fits, nothing he could do.

Other characters are fleshed out into whole human beings, even as they waste away to diseased skin and battered bone. We come to know and care about Wat Cooney, Jimmy Bigelow, Squizzy Taylor, Rooster MacNeice, Tiny Middleton , Bonox Baker and other lost souls, as much as their respected officer – Dorrigo, Big Fella.

But the author reserves his most devastating detail and horrific narrative for Darky Gardiner. Essentially a good man, Darky becomes a hapless victim of circumstance one day, and an unavoidable example of Japanese brutality, necessary as Nakamura sees it, to maintain discipline and impose the Emperor’s determination to finish The Line.

The novel extends way beyond that terrible 18 months on The Line, but inevitably Dorrigo’s life after the war is moulded by the horror endured in Burma. He marries Ella, his old fiancee, they have children, he becomes a distinguished surgeon, a public figure and a reckless philanderer. But he still thinks of Amy.

We follow Nakamura and his brutal Korean guard, The Goanna,  who rationalise their brutality, with differing outcomes.

We see how some of the other few surviving POWs deal with freedom, home and memories.

But most of all, we remember horror.

My father’s cousin’s husband – Fred Seiker – is 100 tomorrow. Fred survived a Japanese POW camp and, like one of Dorrigo’s men, sketched life in the camp, presumably also risking immediate death if discovered. His published images remain enduringly haunting, and we should never forget The Death Railway. I will certainly never forget The Narrow Road to the Deep North.