Archive for November, 2010

Jimmy And The Djinn published today in Amazon Kindle edition

November 30, 2010
Hugh Paxton's Jimmy and The Djinn now on Kindle

Hugh Paxton's Jimmy and The Djinn now on Kindle

Hugh Paxton’s latest fantasy adventure hits the virtual bookshelves today – Jimmy And The Djinn. A supernatural fantasy adventure packed to the brim with battling knights, Djinni, Efreeti, ghouls and golems. Here’s the back cover blurb!

“Jimmy, 13, amiable, lazy but short of cash applies for a cleaning job offering ‘excellent remuneration’. He and his two friends hope to buy a boat. 

He is accepted. His winning qualifications are that he is: a) small, b) isn’t a Saracen and c) can’t whistle. His place of work is Monkshall, a grim and perplexing medieval complex that exists in a London square that isn’t on the A-Z map.

Monkshall is not what it seems. Nor are its inhabitants.
It is a prison for Djinn captured by a fanatical sect of warrior monks in the First Crusade. The undead crusaders and Djinn live on within its walls, their battle lines separated by a great net of prayer, enchantments, sentient architecture and alchemically created mechanical devices.

There is a history of violence, most notably the Great Chimney War where Djinn, due to the negligence of juvenile cleaning staff, were enraged and strengthened by casual whistling to break their chains and attempted to escape through the highly complex system of chimneys and secret passages.

The Djinn were subdued and re-imprisoned after prolonged chimney conflict by the Crusader Knight Grand Master Gilbert de Gris.

Jimmy wants money – and the pay is exceptional although the working conditions are frequently bizarre, and increasingly, nightmarish. Things really begin to go wrong when Jimmy’s co-cleaner and friend, Beryl, decides to become a nun and is selected to be a sacrificial victim on the annual Feast of Lights.

In a bid to rescue her Jimmy must release the Great Djinn, Sakhar, and extract three wishes. This is a great deal more difficult than he had imagined and Monkshall is engulfed in war.

So is some of London.

The ending is slightly enigmatic.”

More fun madness and mayhem from Hugh Paxton – an excellent virtual stocking filler for those with an Amazon Kindle!

Hobbits and Racism.

November 30, 2010

Peter Jackson’s production of The Hobbit has had a few hitches : a brush with trade unions demanding higher wages for goblins and suchlike. Now it’s being accused of racial discrimination by a woman of Pakistani origin who wasn’t allowed to be a hobbit extra because she was the wrong colour.

Well pardon me for stating the bleedingly obvious! She IS the wrong colour!  And she shouldn’t have applied for the job in the first place!

Hobbits are small white things with hairy feet and English/Irish/Scottish accents!

If they make a new version of Zulu I wouldn’t turn up for auditions as a Zulu warrior. Nor would I apply for a part in Pearl Harbour if they were advertising for a Zero fighter pilot.  And if I was Asian I wouldn’t audition to play the role of The White Witch in the next Narnia flick.

This woman is a trouble making goblin. She should have applied for that role.

Probably wouldn’t have got it.

Twisted. Angry. Yes. Not black enough.

Hugh Paxton’s Blog says let Jackson get on with The Hobbit and stop bothering him with pathetic quibbles!  I want to see the movies!  

Cheers!

“Good Time” Bad Trip!

November 29, 2010

Again Hugh Paxton’s Blog is indebted to the Bangkok Post’s Guru magazine for the following story.

Brace yourselves for the bizarrre (but, sadly, true) tale of Bulgarian national, Angel Atanasov.

He decided

1. To cut off a slice of his penis

then

2. slice his father’s ear off and run naked and bleeding into the street

then

3. jump into the car of a young lady who was unloading groceries and drive off

then

4. run a red light, hit a motorbike, leave the car and run for a farm

then

5. tried and failed to batter down the door

then

6. set fire to a haystack and stabbed a lamb to death

then

7. stripped off the remainder of his clothes and stole an axe

then

8. ran stark naked through Pazardzhik town before climbing up a high voltage cable pole to avoid police

then

9. was zapped by lots of volts and fell off smoking like a defunct firework

then

10. was admitted for intensive care in a hospital

Here come the quesions (BLOG ED NOTE: SLIGHTLY ALTERED BY HUGH PAXTON). Why did he do it?

a) He was barking mad

b) His brother was a journalist. It was a slow news day and he wanted to provide the poor hack (and this Blog) with some eye-catching hard copy to boost circulation.

c) He did it for a bet.

d) Drugs. (BLOG ED NOTE: HERE WE USE THE GURU MAGAZINE SUMMARY). “A police statement explained that on a slow day Atanasov had decided to take some drugs with a friend that were promised to “guarantee a good time”.

The police did not explain the nature of the drugs and offered no helpful advice on how we can get hold of them.

Spoilsports!

The Diary of Abbot Buggly: Chapters nineteen (News Shorts) and twenty (Christmas Is Coming)

November 29, 2010

The Diary of Abbot Buggly CoverHugh Paxton’s Blog continues the serialisation of The Diary of Abbot Buggly, an account of the first year of a young girl’s life in Namibia.

CHAPTER NINETEEN: News Shorts.

Namibia’s female soccer team, The Gladiators, is unlikely to astonish the world by sweeping the field clean come the Beijing Olympics.

But The Gladiators have just astonished Namibia.

On the evening prior to an Olympics qualifying match with South Africa’s women’s squad, Banyana Banyana, some of the girls stayed up late into the night watching pornographic movies on their hotel’s pay per view TVs.

Not just a couple of pornographic movies; six pornographic movies !

The next day, exhausted by this marathon, they lost 13-0.

The coach, Lucky by name, distinctly unlucky by nature, was given the boot.

In a return match with Banyana Banyana here in Namibia, The Gladiators compounded their disgrace by losing 13-1.

The sad irony of the affair is that if The Gladiators hadn’t vocally refused to pay their pay to view bill (N$800) the hotel wouldn’t have then publicly printed out the list of movies watched as evidence.

They’d still have lost 13-0. But that would merely have earned them a slot on the back page of The Namibian newspaper.

Instead they made front page and those of them who keep scrap books can paste in the banner headlines, “Gladiators prepared for key match by watching porno.”

Wendy, who was half watching two crazed Lesbians from “Somewhere Shameless, Tenessee” trying to kill each other’s cheating lovers on Gerry Springer (Wendy is a fan of Gerry Springer) huffed with disgust as she read of The Gladiators fall from Grace.

But otherwise there was no comment. The grappling lesbians now had her full attention.

If America wants to make a fool of itself, that’s entertainment. If Namibians do the same, it’s a private disgrace and shameful.

In other news, the Skeleton Coast has just acquired some more skeletons. The Skeleton Coast is one of the most striking, desolate, human-life threatening landscapes on the planet.

If you are a tourist, with your act together, this is its attraction. You drive in your air conditioned cocoon with your cooler box stuffed with ice and water and soft drinks or perhaps a bottle of crisp white South African wine and a Tupperware container filled with sandwiches or cold roast chicken, slices of ham, jellied beef tongue, perhaps a honeydew melon, and you cruise north of Swakopmund in your car.

You don’t even need a four wheel drive. This loneliest of roads is smooth, driving off it is prohibited (though you can stop and walk at any time, just don’t get lost) and as you drive, on every side there is a fantastic abundance of nothing.

Nature shaved bare. Raw. Ruthless. Gravel plains where nothing grows but lichens, moonscapes, towering Barchan dunes, all swept by the merciless eye of the sun by day and chilling sea fog by dawn, dusk, mid afternoon, and night.

There are plenty of skeletons on the Skeleton Coast; rusting hulks of shipwrecked merchant men, surrounded by raucous, stinking herds of bellowing Cape fur seals; the lonely and corroded debris of exhausted diamond mines; the forlorn graves of dead aborginals unearthed by the wind to reveal stick thin ribs; whale bones, bleak and huge; yes, the place is aptly named.

It is also used as a dumping ground for stowaways by budget-conscious captains of tramp freighters plying the wild west African shipping lanes.

Stowaways are a ship owner’s nightmare. International law stipulates that if stowaways are discovered, the ship must be impounded until the owners have organized and paid for the repatriation of the illegals. If the stowaways then claim refugee status things can become protracted.

Time is money. Particularly for cargo ships.

So, find a stowaway ? Skip the paperwork. Chuck him over the side. The odds of him (or her) making it through the gauntlet of the Skeleton Coast are slim to none. Chinese skippers seem particularly keen on heaving their uninvited passengers over the side.

Today nine west Africans from Gabon beat the odds. Two rafts made of oil drums were spotted by a roving Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources team on a fish tagging expedition with the Oranjemund Angling Club. Clinging limply to the drums were five girls and four men. All very salty, very scared.

Four other stowaways did not make it.

“There is little hope of finding them alive,” was the verdict of The Windhoek Observer’s editor, Smithie.

“There is little hope of finding them. Period,” was my father’s verdict.

If they’ve drowned, what’s left of them after the bronze whaler sharks (bronzies) have had their share will wash up to bleach then smother beneath sand blown by the ever restless wind.

If they make it to land, well, there are jackals and brown hyenas (and occasionally lions) that cruise the shore subsisting on seals and whale carcasses; there’s no water, no hope.

No hope at all.

……

To end on a brighter note – I’ve noticed news broadcasts like doing that – environmental officials have successfully rescued 45 hippos that had become bogged down in gluey mud after their river evaporated in the far north. One more hippo had to be shot after it charged its rescuers and one crocodile was also plugged after it, too, decided to bite the hands that were helping it.

Many other carcasses were found in the area and 27 elephant tusks were also retrieved. The eles had died after becoming mired two years earlier when the Kwando river level dropped.

Namibia only has four permanent rivers and even these aren’t terribly reliable.

But I’m glad they got the hippos out. Yes, I know hippos kill more people in Africa than any other mammal (human beings excepted), yes, I know they are bad tempered, fart a lot and probably wouldn’t romp home with first prize at a beauty contest. But they’ve got the most delightful laugh – a fat hurrr, hurrr, hurr – that rolls jovially across the water, the merry rumble of the River God. And there’s something about the way they wag their ears.

Yes, I’m glad they got the hippos out.

CHAPTER TWENTY:  Christmas Is Coming.

Nearly the end of November and I’ve just sent off my Christmas cards. It will be interesting to see whether they arrive.

The postal service here likes to keep its customers in suspense. That’s the fun of the thing. Most of the time the mail gets through and then suddenly it doesn’t, or it gets routed through North Korea and turns up eight month’s later with lots of weird postmarks…

To take today’s example, my mother’s newly arrived Japanese colleague has just taken possession of eleven boxes that she posted sea mail from London.

And that’s about all she took possession of.

Eleven boxes.

Somewhere between “The Smoke”(London) and “The Heat”(Windhoek) someone decided to unpack them for her.

All her books, a large consignment of clothes she’d earmarked as a donation to the needy of starving Namibia and Zimbabwe, her food stuffs – favorite nibbles, little luxuries – cassette tapes, the lot. Indeed practically the only items not liberated by the box raider were a handful of Japanese language books and a packet of glutinous flour used to make octopus tentacle dough balls.

The strange thing about the incident was that the box raider chose to reseal the boxes and send them on their way.

Perhaps he or she (or both of them) had enough boxes of their own.

ABBOT BUGGLY INTERPOL ADVISORY.

Keep your steely eyes peeled for someone who handles boxes anywhere between London and Windhoek, can’t read Japanese and doesn’t like octopus tentacle dough balls.

Then bust him or her (or both) but good.

….

We are also preparing various other festivities to mark the Yuletide. My father has asked Mr. Shibongo, his wife and daughter to help him roast a goat and stop my father burning it on the outside while keeping it raw within. That’s my father’s normal operating procedure.

I believe that roast turkey or goose is more British, that hams come out in the USA, the Norwegians favor semi-fermented trout and boiled sheep’s heads, and my father informs me that they do something clever with snails in France. Here, though, we’re going with goat.

We may be the only people eating it. Everyone we know, and everyone they know, seems to be clearing off.

It’s always the way, apparently. When December arrives, Windhoek departs. It’s like Sundays only more so. Everybody goes to the coastal resort town of Swakopmund (where it’s slightly cooler) or to farms or back north to the villages (where it’s significantly hotter).

Business and government offices all but shut down. Nothing much gets done.

For about six weeks.

Or in the case of the Parliament, longer. Already insufficient politicians are attending to make parliamentary business legally binding.

The busiest people in Windhoek at this time of peace and goodwill to all humankind are the private security companies. Them and the botsotsos (burglars, bad guys, habitual criminals) who turn up to loot the deserted houses.

My father spent the first four months of our stay here hoping that the botsotsos would leave Number 11 Wurlitzer Street well alone. He’s now hoping they won’t.

The reason he hopes someone will try to storm our house with rape, murder and pillage in mind is that he’s just had a chap called Van Zyl install a 7 line electric fence along the front wall. Unlike the clowns who put in the security gate (which took over two weeks to install and still doesn’t work properly – it opens of its own accord from time to time) Mijnheer Van Zyl got the fence up and clicking in two days.

The deal is that if anybody touches it, it triggers a silent alarm. Several hundred yards away from where we live is Windhoek Marsh. Unless it has rained it’s not much of a marsh, more a wild tangle of tall, dry reeds and dessicated trees shot through with shallow gulleys and baked, cracked mud decorated with half shredded plastic bags .

Lurking within Windhoek Marsh are a couple of cars painted with designs designed to intimidate and crewed by bored hard-cases cradling pump action shotguns. Should any botsotsos brush against the electric fence two things will immediately occur.

An alarm will sound, the cars will be alerted, the guys will exchange evilly delighted grins, then gun the engines and come roaring out to gun the botsotsos.

Simultaneously the electric fence will deliver a non-lethal zap guaranteed to discourage the casual enquirer or, more accurately, bring a Frankenstein monster to life; a sort of AC numbing thud that will knock the recipient flying, and send him staggering off dazed (and my father hopes with his arse on fire) into the welcoming gun sights of our lads in blue.

Strangely, ‘tis I, a small person who would not hurt a fly and who has never entertained a single malicious thought in my head, who is the inspiration for this potentially lethal set up.

Child rape, including the rape of very small babies, is an unpleasant but remotely possible event.

Namibia, I must stress, is one of the safest countries in Africa.

But there is one school of thought, perpetuated by certain traditional “healers” or, let’s cut to the chase and dispense with political correctness, witchdoctors, that maintains sex with a virgin will cure HIV-AIDS.

And you can’t get more virginal than a five month old baby.

Baby rape happens. Not just in Namibia but throughout southern Africa.

But its not going to happen here at number 11, Wurlitzer Street.

My father is waiting (with an expectant look in his eyes) to see if his electric fence works on the botsotsos as well as it did on him when he touched it to see if it was working.

It worked then.

No reason to suppose it won’t work again.

Just as dramatically.

I feel that I can sleep safely. But I fear for Santa Claus if he can’t find chimney access when he’s coming over from Finland to fill my rather small sock.

“’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,

Nothing was stirring, not even a mouse.

They were all out on the street, exchanging gunfire, screaming, and Rudolph’s nose was really red because it was on fire.”

A Christmas poem by A.Buggly.

Namibian Notes: Asking

November 29, 2010

Hugh Paxton’s Blog begins an occasional series on life in Namibia drawn from my stories published in The Namibian newspaper.

ASKING.

I took an English chap out to lunch. He’d spent a month working as a volunteer on an elephant conservation project up north and as it was his first time in Namibia I asked what his impressions were.

 “Everybody keeps asking for things,” Sam said.

 We were briefly interrupted as a woman approached my pre-school daughter and asked her for her lemonade. 

 “Sorry, Sam,” I said, “You were saying?”

 “Asking for things. Everybody keeps doing it.”

 Sam listed examples. One woman, missing a foot which she said had been eaten by a snake had asked for money. A colleague had asked him for his cell phone, the logic behind the request being two fold; it was “nice” and given the fact that Sam was from England he could quite easily afford to buy a new one. Another man had asked Sam for $50 because his mother had died and he needed “to phone him”. This may have been a language problem. Or the man might have simply been a moron. 

 Who knows and, indeed, who cares?

 Sam’s point was that almost every time he’d ventured out from his tent somebody had approached him with a request for something. Children, geriatrics, the healthy, the infirm, male and female. Indeed he now avoids walking past a grave yard lest the dead rise up and say, “Hello my friend! Can you help me out? I’ve got a problem.”    

 I’m not normally sympathetic to visitors who don’t enjoy Namibia. Obviously if they’ve been shot, robbed, kidnapped or have spent a night in a Namibia Wildlife Resorts bungalow, they’ve got a valid point (especially if they’ve spent a night in a Namibia Wildlife Resorts bungalow) and I’ll hear them out (unless they’re dead or in a coma).

 But overall this country has marvels for visitors and there’s nothing more irritating than hearing tourists complain that their brochure promised glorious views of the stars in the night sky but there was a fog bank and they couldn’t see them.  

 Sam’s observation, however, made me think. Think back, actually. I decided to list all the people who had asked ME for something. 

 The first person to spring to mind was Sackey Namugongo, a bloated toad of a man. He’d hit on my wife for a loan on her first day of work at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Happily he’s currently in prison for corruption after asking 20 casino owners to pay him for bogus gambling licenses. That guy’s always had a question too many. And he’s been asking for a jail sentence for years. If you ask me.

 The second character was a guy who had phoned me during Christmas. Several times.

 I’d asked him to go north to buy planks. I’d paid him, too. His first request was for funds to bury his sister’s child who had suddenly died. The telephonic tears were convincing. I coughed up. His sister, the very same day died of ‘grief.’ I paid for that one, too. In several ways. My wife asked me if I was a moron and knew where the spare bedroom was. I knew the answer to both questions. Several days later I phoned the guy’s number to ask him where my planks were and when he’d be back in Windhoek. I was answered by a woman who asked me to pay her the money Steven hadn’t paid her for – ouch! – the planks! And back to the spare room. 

 As I thought on, the list got longer. Gloom set in. I realized that I have been asked to pay for other people’s marriages, school fees, school books, clothes, funeral outfits, houses, bus fares, train tickets, illegal abortions, HIV tests, bubble gum, cigarettes, bread, beer, flood relief, blankets, cars, … and money. Loads of it! About the only things that I hadn’t been asked for are my internal organs for transplant purposes. This may be a good thing. Anyone who gets my liver would probably die on the spot.

 The ghastly realization dawned. I’d been asked and in many cases I’d given! Obviously not the illegal abortions and the bubble gum but the much of the rest yes! Argh! How much had I spent?  

 Morbidly I expanded on the theme of asking and my thought processes moved inexorably in the direction of foreign aid to Africa. I remembered being asked to give toys by a British children’s TV show to raise money for Ugandan farmers to buy tractors. The next year a reporter checked up on the tractors. None were working. No repairs had been conducted. A farmer explained that he was waiting for a new one from the BBC. That hunk of junk had cost me half my meager toy box! Then Tanzania invaded to depose Amin and there was a war. That tractor never really stood a chance. I was eight years old at the time.

 Western aid money floods Africa. Guys like Mugabe don’t even have to ask for it, indeed they are offered it and will refuse aid if it arrives with ‘conditions.’ Conditions like, stop beating up journalists, killing your people, and destroying your country in a manner unprecedented since Nkrumah said “We look neither East nor West. We only look Forward” then looked at his bank account and decided he’d prefer to look at filling his wallet and bankrupted Ghana.

 “Aid,” someone said, “is what poor people in rich countries give to rich people in poor countries.” 

 “Right!” I decided. “I’ll give up all this giving. “I’ll be strong! ‘No!’ shall be my watchword!”  Later that day the door bell rang. It was a lady from Reheboth with two black eyes. Tearfully she begged for $200 to get her back to Reheboth. Because her daughter had been run over. She insisted I would be repaid in an hour. Even with James Dean driving, getting there, sorting out a roadkill daughter, getting back and giving me my $200 back looked unlikely. In an hour? The wretched battered woman was lying through (what remained of) her teeth. But I gave it to her. She was suffering. I’d do my suffering later. In the spare room.         

As I closed the door I noticed that my daughter had a fistful of biscuits and a plastic teacup.

“Where did you get them?” I asked her.

“I asked that woman at the restaurant for them,” she replied.

“Attagirl,” said I. “You’re getting the hang of this fast!”

Leonie’s Bit: Mañana

November 28, 2010

Spanish singer Julio Iglesias was on television with British TV host Anne Diamond when he used the word “mañana” (pronounced “manyana”).

Diamond asked him to explain what it meant.

He said that the term means:”Maybe the job will be done tomorrow, maybe the next day, maybe the day after that. Or perhaps next week, next month, next year. Who really cares?”

The host turned to Mr. Sipho Msondtlwana who was also on the show and asked him if there was an equivalent term in his native language.

“Eish Madam” he replied. “In South Africa we don’t have a word to describe that degree of urgency.”

Japan Times: Snow Monkeys, Hell Valley, The Mansion of Heavy Snowfall and Battling Toads

November 28, 2010

Japanese Macaque, 'Snow Monkey' at Jigokudani

Japanese Macaque, 'Snow Monkey' at Jigokudani

The Korakukan inn in Hell Valley (Jigokudani) has been partially destroyed three times by floods and once by fire. But that all happened decades ago. And the family that owns the inn has become accustomed to rebuilding and recovering from disasters.

Despite its past traumas this traditional inn in Japan’s mountainous Nagano Prefecture on the main island of Honshu is a wonderful, creaky, old place, full of twisting corridors and narrow staircases. Not to mention cultural hazards.

As is common in old Japanese inns there are no beds – just thick quilted futons laid out on the floor – and while the corridors are surfaced in brightly polished wood the sleeping rooms have tatami mats.

There are quite a few ways of infuriating Japanese inn keepers. Failing to take your shoes off when entering a room is a good one. Works every time. Trust me. Accidentally leaning against (then crashing through) the bedroom door after one too many bottles of Asahi beer is another. The doors are made of paper. Beautiful. Fragile.

So easily crashable through.

And sticking your chopsticks upright in your rice bowl is a no no. This behaviour is only culturally permissible at funerals.

But enough, for the time being, about me and the innkeeper. Back to the inn! The dimly illuminated lower quarters of the Korakukan inn are haunted by wisps of sulphurous steam drifting from the indoor bath houses. The baths are filled by naturally occurring thermal springs and bathing in them is said to be medicinal. The baths are also extremely hot.

While they boil, bathers are treated to eerie moans that echo from the billowing volcanic geyser in the valley below.

They are also treated to strange noises from the roof. The first time I heard the sound of stealthy roof top maneuvering whimsical thoughts occurred – a slinking ninja hired by the inn keeper to kill me for destroying my bedroom door and leaving a boot mark on her tatami ? Some restless spirit drawn by the inn’s warmth from the dark cedar forests that cloak the valley walls? A burglar?

This last guess proved correct.

After a hunt through the inn I discovered the culprit was a monkey. One of Hell Valley’s 290 resident snow monkeys. It was taking a hopeful peek through the skylight into the kitchens in search of the inn’s speciality – chimaki , steamed rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves.

This inn is special. But so are many of Japan’s rural inns. It is the snow monkeys that make this inn extra special.

They are Japanese macaques and in Hell Valley they have pioneered a technique to defy the freezing temperatures of a mountain winter. Steaming volcanic baths!

Hell Valley is dotted with hot springs. While most snow monkeys congregate a little further up the gorge, human bathers in the inn’s outdoor hot pool are quite likely to be sharing the experience with solemn, red faced simians. Particularly so in winter months when the snow lies thick and icicles hang from the trees and eaves. It is rather fun having a bath by lantern light with a wild, red faced monkey while snow flakes drift down. Just don’t lend it use your soap.

Soap is taboo in Japanese baths. You shower, shampoo and soap first. Then you get into the bath. Break this rule and the inn keeper won’t be the only one who wants to kill you. All the other guests will sign up to help.

Don’t be surprised if lots of naked women join you and the monkeys in the outdoor bath. And don’t get too excited either. My lot were about two hundred years old and although they were great fun and were very complimentary about the size of my willy (be advised, when having a public bath in Japan, everybody will be curious about what foreigners have normally concealed in their trousers or bras, colour of pubic hair etc – many Japanese don’t really interact with foreigners and there’s a lot of speculation and rumour regarding size. If you are white be advised. If you are black be VERY advised. Their expectations are sometimes difficult to satisfy). And do not expect orgies.

In mixed Japanese public baths orgies really annoy the innkeeper. I’d done enough of that already.

I left the bath and the monkey and the women (who were now saying that Japanese penises were better – thinking, I presume, that I couldn’t understand a word they were saying) and decided to go to bed before the innkeeper discovered that I’d inadvertently dropped my bar of soap in her thermal bath.

Hugh Paxton Blog Travel Advisory: Getting to Hell Valley from Tokyo is painless. And fun. First a shinkansen (bullet train) ride to Nagano City. Then onto the local Nagano Dentetsu line for a leisurely trundle past rice fields and sleepy stations.

A highlight of this trip is a stop-off at the village of Obuse to visit the Ganshoin temple, built in 1472. In April during the cherry blossom season, the Temple’s “Pond of the Battling Toads” witnesses just that.  Battling toads.  For five days each year, hundreds of gamagaeru , heavily muscled amphibians roughly the size of a cow pat., assemble to mate and brawl.

Issa Kobayashi, one of Japan’s most celebrated poets visited Ganshoin on April 20, 1816 and was so inspired by the grappling amphibians that he composed a haiku, which he dedicated to his sickly son.

“Thin, frail toad,

Don’t get beaten.”

OK, so it loses something in translation. The haiku is carved upon a stone in the temple.

The ceiling of the temple is decorated by Hokusai’s famous painting of a phoenix.  It is huge (covering the equivalent of 21 tatami mats). It was expensive (the crushed Chinese agate and malachite paints alone cost the modern day equivalent of 2 million dollars).  And it positively gleams with over 4,400 sheets of gold leaf. A lustrous, splendid thing.

Hokusai spent his declining years in the Obuse area and the village also boasts a gallery that displays some 40 of his works.

The end of the line, 25 minutes’ train-ride later, is at the spa town of Yudanaka. Yudanaka is an architectural eyesore, but it contains one treasure; The Mansion of Heavy Snowfall.

This majestic wooden house was built around 1850 and was relocated here from Niigata prefecture. Niigata is known for its heavy snowfall (four to six meter drifts not being unusual) and the ‘mansion’ has been designed with long projected eaves to keep the roof from collapsing.  The mansion is a maze. It was once home to twenty people and one horse. The horse’s room is first on the right as you enter.

Now the mansion is crammed with historical artefacts and offers intriguing insights into how Japanese people lived in times past as well as painstakingly restored kitchens, larders, baths, bedrooms and so on.

Hell Valley is a 30 minute stroll through thick, still forests from the nearest Yudanaka road, so avoid bringing heavy luggage.

The best time to visit is during periods of snowfall. This is when the bathing monkeys are at their most dramatic; the young scampering about hurling snowballs, their mothers fretfully supervising them in the water; the leathery matriarchs looking world-weary and very human beneath wigs of snow as they soak.

This said, the monkeys, as well as other wildlife such as the Japanese serow, are here year round.

The Korakukan Inn is accustomed to receiving guests, film crews and naturalists from around the world and has English speaking staff. They also geo-thermally boil a very fine breakfast egg!

Bunny-crushing: A new low for humanity

November 27, 2010

There’s some pretty sick stuff out there in cyberspace but recent video uploads currently doing the rounds in China mark a new low for humanity.

Scene: Several pretty scantily clad giggling women are petting a baby rabbit. Ruffling its fur, cooing over it, tickling it behind the ears. After a few minutes one woman places the bunny on a table, covers it with a sheet of glass and then sits on it for about a minute. More giggling. The glass is removed and the girls (still giggling and smiling) examine the flattened rabbit, blood oozing from where it has burst. Another baby rabbit is produced, fondled lovingly then is stamped to death by one girl using her high heels. In other footage similar treatment is meted out to baby kittens.

These grotesque performances have caused popular outrage. Maybe there is hope for humanity!

“It is hard to believe someone could be so perverted,” commented one chat room participant on the popular portal NetEase.

The girls may not have too much to giggle about in the near future Hugh Paxton’s Blog is pleased to report.  

“Flesh search them! Uncover these rabbit abuse women and spit on them!” wrote another person.

The Flesh Search – a Chinese term meaning to use the internet to uncover and expose the identities of people involved in various crimes – has proved succesful in exposing corrupt businessmen and officials. It’s a sort of on-line vigilantism. And with tens of thousands of outraged Chinese Flesh Searchers currently on the job it is safe to assume that the bunny-crushers and their fetishist sponsors will be in a great deal of trouble. Some people sucessfully Flesh Searched have been shot.

Good!

More Religious Insanity: Toy Pigs banned from Goosefeather Farm. Sty and Oinks Remain

November 26, 2010

Hugh Paxton’s Blog is indebted to Bangkok Post’s Guru Magazine for the following short quiz:

Ready? Here it comes! Answer the questions and wince.

BLOG ED NOTE: This is one of those quizzes where you can only get the answers wrong if you still have a functioning brain cortex. Or an ounce of common sense.  

Question: Why has a plastic pig been removed from a toy farm set on sale in the UK?

A) Because it’s not kosher.

B) Because it’s not halal

C) Because it might upset people

D) All of the above. A mother who complained to toy shop Early Learning Centre (ELC) when she found the pig missing was told that it had been removed for “religious reasons.” The Sun (newspaper) reports the mother found there was no pig with the cow, sheep, chicken, horse and dog in the shop’s ‘HappyLand and Goosefeather Farm’, but the set still contained an empty sty and a button that made an oinking error when pressed. “Previously the pig was part of of The Goosefeather Farm. However due to customer feedback and religious reasons this is no longer part of the farm,”  ELC informed the mother.

BLOG ED NOTE: Given the recent Malaysian Islamic cleric’s fatwah on dogs as being unclean, I reckon Fido’s days on Goosefeather Farm are limited. British kids will be left with two buttons and the ghostly oink of a departed pig and a sorrowful woof from man’s best friend’s empty kennel.

Nice work Early Learning Centre! You are already teaching otherwise mentally healthy children that they must run their toy farms without animals that have inspired some of the best loved children’s stories written in Britain. You are bringing the future of our country up without pigs! I lament! And one thing is for bloody sure I will never buy anything from the Early learning Centre for any of the numerous children I will be buying Christmas presents for in the next few weeks! ELC can get stuffed!

This Blog urges a boycott before this madness spreads to the great British Breakfast! And pork pies and those soggy sausages you pick up in a Fish and Chip shop and…

Brigitte’s Pick: Chinese Police Solution To Kidnapping

November 25, 2010

Demands of Kidnapper to CHINESE Police Negotiators ‘I have 3 demands or I’ll kill the boy!’

Negotiators assess the situation from next door.

Head Negotiator In Position

Negotiations begin

Negotiations concluded

Negotiation Time = 3 min

The cost of the bullet R0.25.

  • In our country, we would shut the street down for 48 hours.

· Take 12 hours to talk him out of it.

· Spend R5 million giving him a fair trial.

· Pay his food and lodging for 6 months.

· …..and then find a technicality to let him go free.

No wonder their products are cheaper than ours!!


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