Email to England 27.07.18

I hear you are having very hot weather in England at the moment. Here, it’s very wet, though the rain falls mostly at night. Sometimes, it’s so heavy, it wakes you up. But one consolation is that it’s good for the ferns and mosses in my natural garden. Recently, I took my wheelbarrow around the periphery of the local park, and found a few rocks and rotting logs among the bushes. These are now providing features in the garden. In places where I don’t have things growing I put down either stones or bark. I have white chips on the path that meanders to the front door.

These days, life revolves around yoga and tai chi lessons. I am seeing a total of four yoga teachers – each with his or her own style – and one tai chi teacher. I am the only man in two large yoga classes, which says a lot about the male lack of interest in maintaining one’s health into old age. In one class, many of the students appear to be well into their 80s. Sometimes, when I see one of these women entering the hall, I think to myself, “Good God, is she going to do yoga?” But although some of them are, indeed, very limited in their ability, they give everything a go. I guess men aren’t interested partly because there is no glory in yoga, and too much hard slog. It’s a long, slow process of correcting the bad habits of a lifetime. Fortunately, I don’t have any injuries to hold me back, and no arthritis that I am aware of.

Elaine joins me at one of the yoga classes. She’s quite keen, and is even trying to learn the Sanskrit terms for the different poses. One year, I joined her at her Zumba class. But I’m not too keen on Zumba, mainly because of the deafening music. Again, the Zumba class was often entirely female.

I never go to the doctor these days. Our family doctor, who retired nearly two years ago, repeatedly tried to persuade me to take a statin. But after reading three books on statins, one by a cardiologist, I think I knew more about these drugs than he did. I also looked up the guidelines for prescribers, and found that statins are not recommended for people aged 70 and above who have no history of cardiovascular disease. There is also research that suggests an elevated cholesterol level is actually protective in old age. 

I have also read six books on vaccination, and have refused the annual flu shot since 2013. Rightly or wrongly, I think influenza is largely a disease of vitamin D deficiency. So going into winter, I supplement with vitamin D and try to do a little sunbathing. I also refuse the shingles vaccine, which is offered free of charge to people over 65. You may have heard that we now have a shingles epidemic, thanks to the foolish practice of vaccinating children against chickenpox. In the old days, we all had chickenpox as little children, and then, as adults, boosted our immunity through contact with infected children. That doesn’t happen any more. Another consequence of the vaccination schedule is that adults now contract mumps, as a result of the ineffectiveness of the mumps component of the MMR vaccine. Last year, four members of the All Blacks rugby team came down with mumps.

You may remember that, even as a child, I suffered from rheumatism. You always used to say, “That’s the way you are”. The pain became so bad, when I was in my 60s, that my doctor sent me to see a geriatrician. He was a nice man, but the best solution he could come up with was codeine. But guess what, the problem is easy to solve – in my case, at any rate. You supplement with a little powdered magnesium, just before going to bed. Magnesium, which some researchers say we are all deficient in, also helps to prevent muscle cramps during yoga practice. 

I am still working on my diet, and eating no cakes or biscuits. The only bread I eat is a “grain-free paleo bread”, which also happens to be about four times as expensive as the regular loaf. My breakfast, which hasn’t changed much since I last wrote, consists of buckwheat, amaranth, chia, and almost every kind of nut, seed, and dried fruit I can lay my hands on. I used to eat all this with raw milk, but switched to coconut water about two years ago. I don’t drink tap water, which can be contaminated with dairy-shed effluent and possibly with the 1080 poison they drop in the countryside to control pests. In America, they say that any municipal tap water has already passed through the kidneys of at least half a dozen other people, and contains traces of all the drugs, including heroin and cocaine, that they have been taking.

I never visit the newspaper office these days. I doubt my job still exists. Of course, someone is still creating pages for the paper. But as the system is now entirely computerized, this can be done anywhere. I think most of the pages are now created in Wellington or Christchurch, at what they call “hubs”. Meanwhile, the paper gets smaller and smaller – in terms of staffing, circulation and physical size. And its news, these days, is largely propaganda, which the reader must  believe on pain of dismissal as a “conspiracy theorist”.  On television, the situation is even worse. TV “infotainment” is delivered with jokes and asides from the newsreaders, who have been converted into tabloid celebrities. It’s absolutely sickening, especially when the  newsreaders start wishing each other “happy birthday” and an “enjoyable rest of your evening”.

On a more positive note, The Japan Times is still going strong, though it is no longer a private company. Some years ago, it was bought by an industrialist. Without much ado, he demolished the two-storey building – the premises we moved into in 1965 – and put up a skyscraper. Tokyo skyscrapers sway in the wind, so I’m not sure I would enjoy working there now. But I still miss Tom Harada – the Shanghai-born, recorder-playing, Imperial Army veteran of the Burma campaign – who was news editor on the night shift during the 1960s. When I last saw him, in 1981, he gave me one of his miniature watercolours of a Buddhist temple, which now hangs in our bedroom.  He died one or two years later of cancer. Like many who suffered the privations of that campaign, which saw the Japanese advance to Imphal in India and then retreat all the way back to Rangoon, he probably never fully recovered.  

Our house in Japan is still standing. Now and then, I have a look at it on my computer. If I knew the email address of its current occupants, I’d send them some photos of the house and area in the late 1960s. From time to time, I also have a look at former homes in England. The Sheldon house has a large sign on it reading “New Coventry Road Dental Practice”. The inside of The Oaks, as seen on the website of a real estate agent, looks very posh. The house now has a value of something like £1.6 million. Wild Pear Cottage appears, finally, to have been rethatched, and now has a fox, possibly made of iron, mounted on the roof ridge – an interesting touch. Wennington School has been converted into luxury apartments. All the outbuildings that were not part of the original structure have been demolished, and the courtyard has been converted into an enclosed garden. The interior of the main building is almost unrecognisable. I believe there is a plaque somewhere to memorialise the building’s past life as a coed boarding school. Most of the former teachers are now dead. However, I was able to speak to former history teacher John Woods on the phone a few years ago. After leaving Wennington, he became headmaster of the Friends’ School in Saffron Walden. He was on television at the time of the “Svetlana Stalin affair”. I occasionally hear from former pupils of Solihull School, one of whom has written a novel in which headmaster Harry Hitchens, instead of committing suicide, has himself smuggled out of the country in a shipping container, leaving behind “everything except his love of the cane”. He eventually reaches a mythical country in South America, to continue, unconstrained,  his homosexual adventures. The novel’s author is now a degenerate hack living in Saigon – one of those “old boys” who can truly claim that “six of the best made me what I am”.

Well, this letter has turned out to be longer than I thought it would be. I hope you are well, and somehow surviving the heat. No doubt it will be very hot here next summer. The weather is all over the place.

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