Observatory

How To Avoid Becoming Opinionated

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                              There was a time when I used to go to dinners and listen to elderly writers holding court. Now, there’s a time for respecting lifetimes of experience and wisdom, but these events weren’t like that. They mostly consisted of listening […]

Product Of The Week: Build Your Own Cat

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Lasers. Remember them? ‘No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!’ They were bright orange pencil beams and hummed as they melted their way through steel plate, heading towards your pants. But it turns out they had another use, for fine-cutting incredibly delicate shapes. This kit from D-Torso is fiddly for people with big fingers […]

And Finally: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Japan

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Presupposing you’ve not been there, of course. As a first-timer, these are some of the things that particularly surprised me. A quarter of Japan lives in Tokyo. Of what we used to call the Big Four (London, New York, Paris and Tokyo, although we should probably revise that list to include at least two SE […]

Japan: Two Sides To Tokyo

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They say nobody vacations in Tokyo. In order to prove them wrong, I’m spending my last few days here. My first stop was to be Yoyogi Park, but dengue fever has broken out there for the first time since 1945 – it’s not fatal and the numbers are small, but officials are being careful. But […]

Japan: Good For The Senses, Hard On The Knees

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Over at ChristopherRobertFowler on Facebook, I’ve been running shots from around Japan, mostly of toilets, which range from insanely complex to hole-in-the-floor types, which are trickier for inflexible westerners. Having mastered bath etiquette (very serious stuff) and the art of the tea ceremony (sitting on my heels on a tatami mat for hours nearly finished […]

Japan: The Art Of Efficiency

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  It strikes me today that the extraordinary level of efficiency you find in Japan is based on a simple principle; instead of trying to stop people from being messy analogues, you retrain them and channel their natural tendencies. Assuming they’ll be disorganised, you organise them in advance. Assuming they’ll be untidy, you tidy everything […]

Getting ‘Lost’ In Tokyo

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So, first time in Japan, yes I negotiated the toilet instructions and the art of who bows when and why. I even managed to remember the rules of the Onsen. But I was finally undone by the more extreme end of the sushi spectrum, which involved jellified fish-faces in tiny bowls of what tasted like […]

The Author As Traveller

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One thing writers need constantly is fresh inspiration, otherwise we end up writing about writers writing. I travel whenever I can, which is to say, when there’s time and money. Living next door to an international railway station (sorry, I can’t bring myself to use ‘train station’) means that I can get anywhere in Europe […]

Ten Ways You Know You’re A Townie

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The last time I felt that maybe I’d travelled out of my comfort zone was when I caught an overland train to Dalston. It’s two stops from where I live. And this from a man who happily will go to part of the Middle East that’s so obscure and unvisited that he’s the only non-Muslim […]

Lights Out One Last Time

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  Last night, 1,700 people attended a final concert from Westminster Abbey featuring poetry, music and speeches from the First World War, and the televised event proved an extraordinarily moving and powerful experience. The service of remembrance was conducted surrounding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier As lights were turned off across the nation to […]