Friday, December 29, 2006


On Xmas Day I went, as usual, to a flea market in Kyoto, with a bunch of friends. I had a lovely day, but didn't buy much (three little sake cups and a pair of earrings) and didn't even take many photos. One of my friends bought these figurines. Anybody know which manga characters they are?

Of the other photos I took, a definite theme emerged. Heads. There were heads all over the place. I thought of buying some. How would my room look like with a row of heads on sticks around the walls? I stared at that first box of heads and thought about it for a while, trying to imagine it. As I stared, the heads started to develop personalities.

I decided to photograph them and confine them to my blog instead. I think that was a sensible decision.

It cheered me up

An interview with the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra (with live music!) is up on Playing Favourites - but it won't be there for long. The first three minutes or so are particularly happy-making.

However, if you miss it, you can always go and see (and listen to) the fabulous orchestra at their website.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bad tactics

I do not enjoy giving students a failing grade. It does not give me any sense of achievement. In fact it makes me get all snarly. Sometimes it is inevitable, however, because there are always a few students who force it on me. This post is for them. Of course they will never read it, because they don't like English and never wanted to learn it in the first place. I know that, which is why I make my classes easy and fun. The opportunity is there for them to learn something if they want to and get high grades, or to pass the course with minimum effort (and a minimum grade) if that is their preference. I try to make it easy.

But not easy enough, apparently. The following are details of some tactics that will not work in my classes, collected over the past week or so. I am still working on grades, and we still have a couple of weeks left in the new year, so some students might redeem themselves and scrape through, but not if they use the tactics listed below.

Here is what not to do.

#1. If you are having a conversation test, and have a few minutes to prepare with your partner before the test, try to chose topics you are interested in to talk about. If you are not interested in them it is highly likely that I will not be either, especially when you start your 'conversation' like this:

"Do you like sports?"

"No. How about you?"


And then freeze, flummoxed, into a long silence. THIS IS NOT A GOOD TACTIC. You have had TWELVE WEEKS to prepare for this. Why have you chosen a topic neither of you have any interest in?

#2. Also, complaining that the conversation topics were boring is NOT A GOOD TACTIC. I did not force any topics on you. Part of your class work every week was to choose topics you wanted to talk about and prepare the vocabulary you needed. I was there to help you. I did not give you any boring topics. You chose them yourself.

#3. At this time of year I leave ten minutes at the end of class to answer questions. I deal with the one or two that come up, ask if there are any more, wait, and when nobody has any and everybody starts leaving and I file away all my papers for your class and put them away (being careful not to mix them up with other classes' paperwork) and put everything into my bag, and start walking out of the classroom, well, THAT means the class is over. If you ask me a question at this point I will not be happy. It means I have to unpack my bag and mess up my careful filing, which I will then have to throw into my bag in no particular order when I have finished with your question because I will be late for my next class. I will not feel generous or helpful, and therefore THIS IS NOT A GOOD TACTIC.

Also, when this happens (in almost every class towards the end of semester - why? WHY?) your questions are almost always stupid ones, like the one in #4.

#4. When you approach me at the end of class (see #3) to ask if you will be able to pass, and when I show you the records that demonstrate that you have been absent six times, done no homework, missed all the tests, and have slept through the classes you did come to and will therefore fail the class, do not gaze at me with puppy-dog eyes and whine,

"Sensei, sensei, onegaishimasu! I'm sorry! What can I do?"

The only help you will get from me at this point is a grammar correction. I will tell you,

"You have used the wrong tense. Repeat after me: What have I done?"

Then I will hand you another copy of the same handout written in English AND Japanese that I gave you at the beginning of semester, which explained the requirements for the class. The handout explains that these rules are the same for everybody and will not be changed if you beg pathetically at the end of semester. I went to a lot of trouble to make sure you had every chance to understand this at the beginning of semester. Looking at the handout as if you have never seen it before will not impress me, particularly when I can see your old copy sticking out the corner of your textbook, where I told you to put it. And this is why begging pathetically at the end of semester is NOT A GOOD TACTIC.

#5. When you hand in the final homework at the end of semester, which you know you need points from in order to pass the course, giving it to me on a scrap of paper ripped from your notebook with class notes on the other side is NOT A GOOD TACTIC, especially when your handwriting is difficult to decipher. Did you write it on the back of a galloping horse? I will be particularly unimpressed when you write English words using katakana and add in parentheses, Sorry, I don't know spelling. If it is too much trouble for you to look up a word in the dictionary, I'm afraid it will also be too much trouble for me to give your homework a passing grade. If it is particularly bad, I will not give it any grade at all. You were told about that on the handout, too. It is a sad fact of life that for my classes, English homework needs to be written in English.

#6. Buying a textbook and bringing it to the third-to-last class of semester will not magically make up for all the other times you came to class with no textbook, no paper, and no writing implement and when I asked you why you were not doing anything you said you couldn't because you didn't have a textbook, paper, or writing implement. THOSE WERE NOT GOOD TACTICS.

I'm having trouble with this one deciding here which was the stupidest tactic - the one where you sat in class looking alert and cooperative but doing nothing (because you had no text or writing materials and therefore, "Sorry sensei! I can't!" I have no text!" (and I'm too stupid to think of sharing a text or asking someone for some paper, or...), the one where you used my class as nap time (because you had no text or writing materials and therefore 'couldn't' study), or the one where you paid all that money for a nice new textbook and a nice new notebook at the end of semester and expected it to make a difference. You showed me your new, blank notebook with such pride! Was I supposed to give you points for your fantastic academic achievement of buying a notebook and not writing anything in it? And was I supposed to give you points for keeping the seat warm the twelve weeks you came to class and did nothing?

When I was working on the grades yesterday, in your case I was strongly tempted to deduct points for gross stupidity, but I discovered that if I did that you ended up with a negative grade. So you will get a far higher grade than you actually deserve: 26%. That is amazingly high considering how much work you did. I am a generous person.

#7. You were a really good student. You were alert, cooperative, funny, and studied hard. You were a real asset in the classroom, and I enjoyed having you in my class.

But when I had to tell you last week that you had failed and there was no point coming to the last two classes, WHY WERE YOU SURPRISED? Hadn't you noticed that you had missed seven weeks of classes, not taken any of the tests, and 'forgotten' all the homework? Those were NOT GOOD TACTICS. Incidentally, when it came time to collect homework and you apologized sweetly and said you didn't know about it because you had been absent, did you really think that was a valid reason? And when I told you to bring it next time, and next time you apologized charmingly and told me you'd 'forgotten,' did you think you'd get the points for it anyway because you had a winning smile?

Yes, you are a charming and sweet guy. I like you a lot. I could do with more like you in my classes. I gave you maximum points for the work you did, because you did it so well. That means your grade will be, as I told you, 27%.

"Can I do extra homework?" you asked hopefully.

"Yes, of course," I said. (I am always helpful.) You looked ecstatic. "The extra homework is worth ten points," I went on. "That will bring your grade to 37%, if you do a really good job."

Why were you shocked at my 'meanness'? That was written on the handout, too. You know, the one you were holding in your hand while I was talking to you. The one I gave you on the first day of semester.

To all the other students who will pass with flying colours, get average points, or squeak through with extra points if you do the extra homework well, congratulations. You passed a brain-dead course. Mine.

Some of you might have even learned something.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Who farted?

"What's that smell?"

"Smell? What sme -- YECH!"



"Who was it, do you reckon?

"I can't imagine."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Have a good one!

Merry Christmas to you all!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Please remember to leave the room backwards

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Imperial Majesty Badaunt the Mirthful of Goosnargh Leering
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

(via Pharyngula)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Stolen time

Yesterday I had to teach four extra classes at one of my universities. This was not because I had missed any. I hadn't. It was because ... oh, never mind. It is a very silly and meaningless bit of bureaucratic rubbish that I can't be bothered explaining.

But basically, the teachers have to be there whether or not students come. I decided to use this as an opportunity for students who were lagging. I gave a test a couple of weeks ago, and told students if they failed they could use the extra class to take the same test again. Others need not come, I said. This meant that all the sensible students studied, and passed it the first time round and I only had a handful of chronically lazy or disorganized students showing up yesterday.

And in the first class of the day, I had no students turning up at all.

I stayed in the classroom for a while, as I am required to just in case somebody comes, and when nobody did, went back to the teachers' room and kidnapped the secretary.

"We're going to the river," I said. "There were lots of gulls there when I went past this morning."

She didn't seem to mind being kidnapped. We went to the school store first, and bought some bread. Then we walked down to the river. It was a beautiful day.

The gulls saw us coming, and when we started chucking bread, they were pretty quick to catch on. I got the feeling this was a fairly frequent occurrence in their lives.

A couple of them were willing to eat from our hands ...

But most seemed to prefer playing catch.

They were pretty good at it.

In fact they were so good at it we ran out of bread rather quickly.

After that we hung around enjoying the sunshine for a while, then went back to work. We were only at the river for about half an hour, but it was the highlight of our day.

Sometimes the stolen moments are the sweetest.

Monday, December 18, 2006


"I'd be embarrassed, too. Pink? PINK? That is SO last year."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Pigeon-related comment outbreak

This news item has a very unusual comment thread, especially for a news story. For example:

Posted by: Gilgamesh on 12:42am Wed 6 Dec 06

(via Dodderyoldfart at Rest Area 300)

Friday, December 15, 2006

A visit to the doctor

I was not feeling very well, so I decided to see the doctor. Before I left the house, despite the pain, I showered and dressed carefully. It was a little difficult, but I knew it would help.

At the clinic the nurse at reception greeted me smilingly.

"How lovely to see you, Ms BadAunt," she said. "And what beautiful earrings!"

"Thank you," I said.

"Are you here to see the doctor?" she asked.

"Yes, I am," I said.

"You will have to wait about twenty minutes, I'm afraid," she said. "He's rather busy today. Is that all right?"

"It's fine," I said.

"You know how it is," she added confidentially. "Some cases take a little longer than others. I do appreciate your understanding. Please, take a seat."

"Thank you," I said, and sat.

After about twenty minutes the door to the doctor's office opened, and I heard voices from within.

"Mrs Wilson, I hope you are convinced now that that is the most gorgeous hairdo I have ever seen on you. Just marvelous! And I really do think you should wear orange more often."

"Oh, thank you doctor," a woman's voice murmured. "Thank you so much."

"My pleasure," said the doctor. "We always look forward to your visits. You add colour and zest to our lives here. I am sure you must brighten the lives of everybody around you."

"My husband doesn't seem to agree," said Mrs Wilson. "He says I'm mutton dressed as lamb, and I may as well stop bothering because nobody looks at me anyway."

"I can assure you he is wrong," said the doctor. "It would probably be helpful if you could persuade him to come and see me. I think his eyes need testing."

"Well he DID say his eyes hurt, this morning when he saw me," said Mrs Wilson, as they emerged into the waiting room. "Perhaps you are right. I'll see what I can do."

"In the meantime, any time you feel the headache coming on, take one of these, and come back any time for another dose," said the doctor, handing her a fat envelope.

On her way out Mrs Wilson stopped to to touch up the makeup covering her black eye and to smooth her orange hair in the mirror by the door. She plucked a piece of lint off her matching orange jumpsuit shoulder. Then she raised her head, smiled radiantly at the waiting patients, and left, leaving a slight orange afterglow as the door closed behind her.

The doctor returned to his office. The nurse called my name, and I went through to join him.

"Ms BadAunt!" cried the doctor, his face lighting up. "Have a seat. What a pleasure to see you! No wonder the nurse was looking so happy! Do you know how much we look forward to seeing you here? Do you have this effect on everybody you meet?"

"Well..." I said modestly, sitting down.

"And is that a new blouse? It's gorgeous!"

"Thank you so much, doctor," I said. "You're looking rather spiffy yourself. You've had a haircut, haven't you?"

"Oh, how observant of you!" said the doctor. "You know, this is one of the most admirable things about you. You are such a thoughtful, observant person. And really, I must say that colour does suit you. Look at how it brings out the red in your hair! Wonderful!"

We smiled at each other. Then I frowned slightly, and winced.

"Red?" I said. "Hair?" Then I remembered why I was there.

"Oh," I said. "That's what I'm here about, really. I wonder ... well, actually my hair doesn't normally have red in it. It's possible that I might need a few stitches. I slipped going down stairs this morning, and ... well, I hate to ask for something so mundane, but it's rather painful, and no matter how often I rinse it just won't stop bleeding. Could you have a look at it? Also, come to think of it, I'm feeling just a touch dizzy, and ... "

I slid off the chair to the floor.

When I came round the stitches were in my head and there was a very tidy turban tied over the bandage.

"Your favourite colour," said the nurse as she pinned it in place. "Burgundy red. It matches your blouse. The doctor is right, you know. It looks great on you."

"Oh, thank you," I said weakly, sitting up. "Sorry for bleeding all over the floor."

"No problem," she said. "Your blood is a lovely colour." She smiled. "The doctor had to take care of another patient," she added. "But he asked me to let you know that when you pass out, you do it with extraordinary grace and style. He said he had never seen such an elegant swoon."

"How sweet of him to say so," I said. "It's so nice to be appreciated. I'd been practicing all morning. Do thank him for me."

"He also left this for you," she said, handing me an envelope. "Take one or two every four hours."

"Thank you," I said.

I went home.

Four hours later I opened the envelope and took out a slip of paper. I unfolded it carefully, and read:

BadAunt, you are a splendid person!

I smiled. I was feeling better already.

(Inspiring link)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

At least I was a ROYAL lunatic

I'm Charles the Mad. Sclooop.
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

"A fine, amiable and dreamy young man, skilled in horsemanship and archery, you were also from a long line of dribbling madmen. King at 12 and quickly married to your sweetheart, Bavarian Princess Isabeau, you enjoyed many happy months together before either of you could speak anything of the other's language. However, after illness you became a tad unstable."

And so on. I'm too embarrassed to post the rest.

(Via Pharyngula.)

Saturday, December 09, 2006


"Hey, you!" said the egret.

I looked around.

"Me?" I asked.

"Yes, you," said the egret. "You're the one who gave the ducks all that free publicity, right?"

"Pardon?" I said. "That wasn't publicity! I was just reporting what I saw."

"No, you weren't," said the egret. "You were sucking up to the ducks. You're a duck-sucker-upper. What's so wonderful about ducks?"

"Well, it IS rather amazing how they walk on water," I said.

"That's NOTHING," said the egret. "WE can LEVITATE, but you don't write about that!"

"That's because I didn't know," I said. "Really? How? Do you use a Quack Echo Distributor, too?"

"Of course not, silly," said the egret. "We don't quack. Quackery's for the ducks."

"So what do you do, if you don't quack?" I asked.

"We bark," said the egret.

"You what?" I asked.

"Bark," said the egret.

"Like a dog?" I asked.

"Of course not!" said the egret. "It's the other way around. Dogs bark like us. Only they never levitate. They try, but they can't. It's because they're on land, and haven't figured out you need to be in the water to do it. They're a bit dim, dogs."

"That sounds a little strange to me," I said. "I mean, I've seen quite a lot of you, and I've never heard you bark."

"That's because with our superior technological skills we don't absorb only the echo, like ducks," said the egret. "We absorb the WHOLE THING. That's why we can levitate so well. You've seen us levitate, right?"

"Er..." I said, "I thought you were flying."

"We fly too, of course," said the egret. "And to the untrained eye there might not seem to be much difference, but I can assure you there is. Here, I'll show you."

The egret suddenly stuck its head in the water.

Then it emerged and did a funny little neck twist.

And then it ... levitated!

No, flew!

No, levitated!

Then it landed again.

"Well, what do you think?" it asked.

"What was that neck twist thing?" I asked.

"Oh, that was nothing," said the egret. "I got a frog in my throat. But weren't you impressed? Did you hear me bark?"

"No," I said.

"Well, there you are, then!" said the egret triumphantly. "That proves it!"

"Oh," I said.

"I think you should tell everybody about ME," said the egret.

"I will," I said.

"Show your photos, and don't forget to tell everybody I am barking," said the egret.

"If you insist," I said.

"I'm just surprised you hadn't noticed before," said the egret.

"Now that you mention it," I said, "I think I had."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


The problem with a fake-wood fence is that when a colourful little kingfisher lands on it, the kingfisher looks fake, too.

It wasn't, though.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Enhanced reality

Today I used the textbook questionnaire about fears again, with a different class. I'm getting a lot of mileage out of that questionnaire, and I was looking forward to it. Every time I have used it the same question has come up.

Sure enough, when the students got to the question, "Are you afraid of flying?" they asked me what it meant, and this time I was ready. I pushed off gently with my right foot and levitated upwards until I was hovering halfway between the ceiling and the floor.

"Flying," I said. "See? Like this, only in a plane."

I wafted a little higher, and started to circle the room above their heads. I would not have done this if I had been wearing a skirt, but today I wore my fabulous new French designer trousers, so I was safe. The trousers didn't only make the view from below less embarrassing than it could have been, but also gave me confidence. I was pretty sure I looked good as I flew gracefully around the room.

"Oh, FLYING," my students said, as I descended slowly. My new boots cushioned my landing, and the students went back to work.

"Are you afraid of flying?" they asked each other.

"No," said some of them.

"Yes," said others.


In one of the breaks I remembered to ask the other teachers about the mysterious men and their mysterious machine last week.

"Did they visit you as well?" I asked.

"Not last week," said one of the teachers. "But they visited me a few months ago. They lifted up the ceiling panels, too. I thought they were looking for asbestos or something."

"Asbestos?" I said. "There can't be asbestos! This is a new building!"

Everybody stared at me, and I blushed. Sometimes I forget where I am. In the rest of the world the big asbestos scandal happened twenty or thirty years ago, but here it was just last year.

One of the Japanese teachers looked thoughtful.

"I wonder if they were still looking for that missing uranium?" he mused, and the Canadian teacher spat some coffee all over his nice clean photocopies. The rest of us merely dropped our jaws.

"What uranium?" we asked.

"Oh, the uranium that went missing from the physics department a little while back," he said. "They hunted and hunted, and had to send apology letters to everybody in the neighbourhood. It was a terrible scandal, although they tried to keep it quiet. I don't know what happened in the end."

The bell rang into the stunned silence that followed, and we immediately leaped up and rushed off to class, being careful not to pick up the wrong jaw from the floor as we left. There's nothing more humiliating than turning up to class wearing the wrong jaw.


Before I am accused of making things up again, right here and now I freely admit that one of the incidents in today's blog entry is, indeed, slightly fictionalized. I know you think you already know which bit it is. However, I am afraid you are probably wrong. I will tell you right now that the bit where the bell rang and all the teachers immediately leaped up and rushed for the door is NOT MADE UP. There is a certain amount of exaggeration in that 'immediately,' yes, but you can't really say I made it up. I just stated the ideal rather than the exact reality. You could call it reality enhancement. I'm good at that. It's the way my brain works.

So, despite your skepticism, I will insist that the made up bit was not that. I know it seems unlikely, but we did get up after the bell rang, and we did go to class. We were perhaps not quite as quick or as enthusiastic as I implied, but we GOT UP. And we WENT. Eventually.

However, with that red herring out of the way, I will not insult your intelligence by telling you which bit was made up. I am sure that with a little careful thought you are clever enough to figure it out for yourselves.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Yesterday I was marking homework again. This homework was the first assignment I gave this semester at one of the universities where I work. It took so long to mark because, um, I was busy? Well, no. First it was because I lost it. Then when I found it I kept leaving it at school because I thought I'd find time to mark it there. Finally I brought it home and decided to JUST DO IT. I've already marked two other assignments since then, and it was getting ridiculous.

In the classes I teach at this university there is a very wide range of English ability. This post started off as an extended (VERY extended) complaint about the worst results I got from the homework, from the lowest level class, but I deleted it. You've heard it all before. Those results were even worse than I expected, and I was baffled and upset. When you've had a class for a whole semester you expect them to improve a little, or at least not get worse. This lot had become worse. They seemed to have forgotten everything they learned in the first semester and then some. Was it me? I wondered, and worried about it.

But I've decided to blame the teachers of the OTHER two English courses that class had in the first semester, who were supposed to be teaching them grammar and writing. After all, I teach 'conversation,' right? I am only a lowly foreigner who is not trusted to teach something as important as grammar. The fact that their grammar got worse has NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.

Instead, for this post, I have decided to focus on the better results I got from another class. With this other class I had asked them to choose one incident in their summer vacation and write about it. I said it could be something small or something big. I explained that I would have a lot of homework to read, so it would be good if they could make it interesting, because when I get to the fifteenth (or fiftieth) paper that starts off, I had a very good summer vacation. I went to my hometown. I met my family. I met my friends. I went shopping, I get bored. And while I try to be fair, when I'm bored it becomes more likely that I'll give lower grades.

"Tell me some detail!" I said. "Tell me something that will make your story different from all the others."

They are not a very high level class, but they all tried hard.

I am very happy with the results. These students stretched their English to its limits and did not bore me. So instead of quoting some of the bad results from the disaster class, I'm going to quote something from my good class.

This story comes from a guy who told me that he didn't do anything during the summer vacation. He just worked at his part-time job and nothing interesting happened. It was boring, he said. What could he write about?

Write about something SMALL, I said, and he thought about it. Then he nodded.

I think he has proved that you don't need something exciting to happen in order to write a good story.

In this summer vacation I was being bitten by mosquitoes. I live close to a ditch. My house (a bit of house) is the back of the ditch. Mosquito larva breed in the ditch. Ah, horrifying! Thanks to them, I feeled itchy every night in this summer.

Problem was lack of sleep. Boom of them interrupted my sleep. Every morning, lack of sleep reduced my energy. I had to make up the sleep at all costs. Sleep is necessary for good health!

One day, I eventually bought a mosquito coil of incence at Loft in Umeda. The goods was expensive...

Night fell. It was a still night. I prepared the same item. I had to cross them for myself. Business is business. At last I burned a mosquito coil of incence. To kill them.

The following morning, I felt refreshment of mind and body. Since I have slept soundly. Sound sleep freshened me up. I felt better after a sound sleep.

And, I found the carcass of them on tatami.

Then, somehow, I felt lonely. Somehow, I regretted having killed them. I have a temperamental dislike for sentiment, but, I still was something lonesome...

All right, there are a couple of things I don't quite understand. Mosquitoes that go boom? And why did he buy expensive mosquito coils at Loft when you can get cheap ones at any supermarket or drugstore? I think I know where 'cross' comes from. (Everybody gets let down by their dictionary now and again.)

But I understood everything else. The story may be short, but it has structure. It is a vivid story of conflict and drama (with carcasses, even), and I can picture the whole situation - the open stormwater drain, the whine of mosquitoes, the broken nights, the frustration, the lack of sleep, the determination to do something about it, and the final ruthless massacre. I can understand everything he felt.

Except the regret. I must admit I don't quite understand the regret.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I looked a bit like this before the shopping trip

What friends are for

Yesterday I had the most incredibly successful day shopping (for clothes) that I've ever had in my ENTIRE LIFE. I've been having a problem this year because I haven't bought any new winter clothes for so long that everything I have is either falling apart and/or getting holes that have to be patched up (the comfortable things I like wearing) or sitting there begging to be worn but never worn because ... well, basically I don't feel comfortable in them. (Those are mistakes I bought myself because I'm such a horrible shopper, or things I had given to me which look good on other people but don't quite suit me.) Things were getting desperate, so I went shopping last Sunday for the first time in ages, and spent about 6 hours walking around Kobe and buying nothing except several cups of coffee. I ended up exhausted and depressed by the whole exercise.

Obviously that didn't work, but then I remembered that last year before going to Europe I went shopping with a friend, and she gave good advice for clothes that I actually ended up wearing. It was just a couple of simple things, not expensive, but they were so successful I wore them almost the entire time I was away. That seemed like a good sign, so I asked her if she'd come shopping with me again this weekend. She was enthusiastic, and suggested meeting in Kobe today, which made my heart sink to my boots (since I spent so long there last weekend, so unsuccessfully), but I decided I should trust her.

We met, had a leisurely lunch at an Italian restaurant (lovely) and then set off. In the first place we went to, a shop I barely glanced at last weekend (pah! nothing there for me) I bought a skirt and two knitted jacket/cardigan things and a scarf, all very cheaply. The skirt is GENIUS. It was the sort of thing that you look at and think, well, maybe... but the moment I put it on there was no question, it was MADE for me. At the next place I got a pair of corduroy trousers. I'd already looked at on the rack and thought, nah, not for me, then my friend got to them and said, "Try these one, go on, just TRY!" and they fit perfectly and feel wonderfully comfortable, besides looking great and being on sale (some French designer label with a terrifying original price) and another spectacular skirt also on sale, designer, Italian, which I'd also passed by and my friend picked up. When I tried that one on I said, "There's something funny about the shape, am I wearing it the right way round?" and my friend turned it around so the zip was at the back where it was supposed to be and we both had another "Ooh!" moment - that skirt hangs beautifully when you have it the right way round. (But who would have paid ¥50,000 for it? Are they mad?) At the same place I got another knitted jacket they practically gave to me because they'd forgotten to put in the buttonholes, but it looks wonderful without them so who cares? After that we popped into an antique shop that also just happened to have some second hand designer clothes, and I got yet another skirt, wool, gorgeous, and a beautiful short tailored wool jacket, one button missing, both at giveaway prices.

Then it was boots time. Off we went to shoe shops, and I bought a pair of boots which fit like gloves and make me look TALL because they're sort of platform, not the sort of thing I usually wear but they look great and are really comfortable, but will I break an ankle? I walked up and down and up and down and up and down the shop trying to decide if they were good enough to work in, and finally decided to risk it. At the very least I can wear them for social events, if they turn out to be not comfortable enough for work.

Finally I took my friend to see the ox-blood-red Doc Martens which were the only things I tried on last week. I hadn't been able to decide. Too young for me? Too bright? Help! As soon I put them on she said "BUY THEM, THEY LOOK WONDERFUL!" and of course she was right, so I bought them. They were the most expensive purchase of the day but I expected that one. Feet are important, as you quickly find out when you're on them all day, and I don't care if I pay a lot as long as I'll be wearing them a lot. I've been wearing the same pair of boots almost daily for about five years now because everything else makes my feet hurt, and foot surgery is more expensive than good shoes, as several teachers I know have found out. I'm hoping that of these two new pairs at least one will be bearable on full teaching days.

Getting all this stuff home almost broke my elbows, but it was worth it. I have never felt so good about buying so much. It is all stuff I will wear. All I need now is a few more different coloured turtleneck cotton sweaters from Uniqlo and I will be able to mix and match and look fabulous. Or at least fabulously different from the way I've been looking the last few winters. My friend is a wonderful person to shop with. When I am uncertain she says, "NO!" or, alternatively, "YES!" and there is no waffling. I tried everything on again when I got home, and so far nothing has looked like a mistake. Nothing is startlingly different. (Startlingly different doesn't work when you tend to wear the same things for years.) It is all quality stuff I can wear for a long time. And now I can get rid of some things I've been wearing to work that are well past their wear-to-work condition, although there is a sweater I might have to keep despite the frayed cuffs and thin patches. It's only fifteen years old, and while it may be a little too shabby to wear it to work (although that didn't stop me last week) I'm sure it has a couple more years in it.

Usually shopping for clothes makes me miserable, but yesterday was fun. It was also incredibly quick. We got everything except the Doc Martens in the first couple of hours. The Doc Martens were a last minute thing we decided to check after our second coffee shop break, when we thought we had finished. I'm glad I got them. I now have some 'kick-your-arse' boots, and I shall wear them to work on days when I want to scare my students AND I will look good while doing so. Ha!

After getting home I emailed my friend to thank her for her help and for the fun I had. I think it was the first time I've ever really enjoyed shopping for clothes. Today I got an email back from her saying that she'd had a good time, too.

"Can't wait to spend more of your money," she wrote, and I thought, "Me, too!" Then I got worried. This is a new happy thing I'd better not get TOO excited about. It could get expensive if I indulged too often. Once or twice a year is probably about right.

And anyway, I still think that life would be a lot easier if we were covered in fur.