The Japanese fascinate me; they are so completely different from most nationalities. Their dress sense, their manners, customs are such a novelty and not to forget their national dish sushi, a culinary attraction, which I have never understood.
Yozo, a 24-year-old boy from Kyoto, was one such person. Incredibly compact and neat looking with a quirky sense of dress. Quite shy and retiring until one evening he and I shared a bottle of wine and half cut decided to extend the kitchen table to play “ping pong” – (a term that I picked up from my school days at St Joseph’s Convent Girls School in Saddar, Karachi). After this our evenings were so pleasurable and relaxing because we had broken the formality and became somewhat like housemates. By the way, in case you are wondering, we did not polish off a bottle of wine every evening. Only every other day perhaps?
Football, and everything pertaining to it, leaves me unmoved and disinterested. However, the football season was in full swing at the time Yozo was staying with me. Most of his conversations were about how he could get tickets to go and see various teams playing. I was quite shocked (because I knew that he was on a very limited budget) when he said he had been looking for cheap fares to Germany wherever whoever was playing against another team, possibly one of his favourite teams.
Normally I sort of play down the fact that there is a TV in the living room; mainly a lesson learnt from when I offered a Brad Pitt look alike Russian boy who was staying with me to watch television if he felt like it or when he got lonely. What a mistake; he became permanently adhered to the sofa. I dreaded coming home, knowing that as I walked in I would see the back of his carefully streaked blonde hair, sitting for hours with the TV blaring loudly enough for me to want to flick the off switch in the electricity meter cupboard and pretend that there was a power failure.
Yozo was a different case. When I suggested that perhaps it would be cheaper to watch football on TV at home then to consider travelling all over Europe to watch the matches, he nearly fainted.
He could not stop thanking me enough and looked eternally beholden and grateful.
Well, after that every time there was match scheduled on TV, he would get all his homework out of the way, or at least that is the impression he gave me, buy himself a large bottle of lemonade from Iceland, a packet of Pringles, his favourite team’s scarf and he was lost to the world.
The sweetest sight was to see this almost boy/man, with his scarf round his neck, hand poised to pick up the bottle of lemonade to take a swig – mouth permanently ajar, frozen like a picture shot, not breathing whilst a penalty was being kicked. Then, depending on whom he was backing, there would be very restrained (in the typical Japanese style) sounds emanating from his half open mouth, which either were groans or equally restrained squeals of joy. I never got to learn the Japanese words for F….ing hell or S…t.
Whilst the match was being televised, I could stand on my head, shout that I was having a cardiac attack, it fell on deaf ears.
I had lost my newly acquired friend to the boring game of football. If it was cricket, you see it would be a different matter; I would have most probably been no different from him. Especially in the glorious days of Imran Khan, Botham, Lambie et al. Those were the days.
Besides all things pertaining to food, cricket was one of my other passions, but in the days long gone. In fact when I was at architectural school, we were allowed one fun project at the end of the first term, I chose to do my own recipe book. I used all the recipes that I had used when teaching at various Adult Education Centres from Holland Park School to Ladbroke Library. We were all allocated 20 minutes for our portfolio assessment; my tutors spent 18 minutes drooling over the lamb gosht and chicken tikka massala recipes.
My final dissertation, based on the Oval Cricket Ground and on which I had worked all hours that I could find in a day, was dealt with in the remaining 2 minutes.
I never did find out what is so special about sushi from Yozo. Who next; I will find out no doubt when the school next need me to provide a roof over some homesick young person who has never been on a plane, never mind been to a foreign country. No doubt you will read all about it all in the Diaries in the weeks to come.