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Here’s some more photos from Germany. From Harth in Nordrhein-Westfalen to be more precise. It’s a small village in the Sauerland, a scenic forest region about a hundred miles east of Cologne, popular for hiking and cycling. I was there for a week to teach a holiday course in a school in the local small town of Büren. It was a pretty good week- nice weather, good kids, and cheap food and drink in the inn we were staying in. The only real fly in the ointment was when one of the parents tried to put me down on the insurance when his child broke her phone. Casual insurance fraud (and insurance policies/claims for everything) is a national sport in Germany though.

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Nara Garden

You can see more photos from other places in the Japan category of this blog, and also read about the trip in the zine I wrote.

While we were in Nara we also visited a traditional Japanese tea garden. Unfortunately the tea house was shut, and it was raining, but it was still a lovely garden.

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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Deer

You can see more photos from other places in the Japan category of this blog, and also read about the trip in the zine I wrote.

Our final stop in Japan before flying home from Osaka was Nara. In the 700s it was the capital of Japan, at the time when Buddhism really became established in Japan. Nowadays as well as Buddhism, it’s known for the tame deer who live in the forest park surrounding the temples and shrines. We stayed in a hostel in the forest. It seemed a short walk from the train station, but we ended up walking along dark forest paths dragging cases seemingly forever, with deer staring at us accusingly like something out of Princess Mononoke. (The hostel turned out to be a pretty weird place too).

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Okunoshima- Rabbit Island

You can see more photos from other places in the Japan category of this blog, and also read about the trip in the zine I wrote.

While I was in Japan we visited the island of Okunoshima. In the Second World War it was a top secret chemical weapons plant, but now is a nature reserve famous for its free-ranging tame rabbits, who are probably the descendants of the lab rabbits.

On the ferry out to the semi-tropical, fern-covered island, we joked about it being like Jurassic Park but with rabid fluffy bunnies. They turned out to be even tamer than I had expected, probably tamer than a lot of pet rabbits. They’ve never seen predators, and all their experience of humans is being petted and fed in return for being friendly, so if you even sit down, a load of rabbits will pile onto your lap.

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Kyoto II

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Here’s some more photos of Kyoto. I have split the pictures up into several entries. You can see more photos from Kyoto and other cities in the Japan category, and also read about the trip in the zine I wrote. Kyoto is famous for its cherry blossom, but sadly we were there a couple of weeks earlier than it comes out in full bloom. You did see the odd bud here and there though.

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Instead of garden gnomes, people in Japan have tanuki figures. I didn’t see any wild racoon dogs.

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Charity shop finds

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I haven’t found as many good charity shop items lately as over the summer, but there’s been the odd few things. I got this vase for £2, which I’ve planted an aloe vera in, for my own plant version of Sideshow Bob.

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This box of Chris Ware stories, which hilariously was put in the children’s section as a board game for £7. Definitely not suitable for young children.

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This bananagrams game for £2. This one is suitable for all the family.

Triffids in search of a new home

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I’ve got a large number of cacti and succulents, some of which I’ve had for years (and have their own offshoot children growing in separate pots now). By the end of the summer, some of them were looking a bit sad, and were in serious need of repotting. I collected a load of Hornsea ware and other vintage pottery for £1-3 a time over the summer, and then had a big repotting session outside, just before the weather started turning cold.

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Here is how you successfully repot a cactus or succulent into a closed pot. They like dry soil that drains well- any moisture hanging around will make the roots start to rot. There’s a layer of gravel at the bottom for drainage, then a layer of activated charcoal to help stop any fungi growing. The soil is special cactus mix, which is dryer and sandier than regular potting soil (it feels very like coffee grounds). Don’t use soil from your garden as it will be too thick and might harbour pests. I used a brand of compost called Cactus Focus. The plants seem to like it, as they’ve been growing better in that than the stuff they came in. At the top of the pot you put more stones, for decoration, and to stop the fine-textured compost blowing away.

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That cat’s something I can’t explain

I don’t currently have any pets. Landlords in London who allow cats or dogs are a rare breed. My housemate has a tropical aquarium, and I don’t fancy getting hamsters or mice, and don’t have space for rats. So no pets other than fish for us.

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My mum has two cats, Oscar and Mitzi. Oscar decided at some point I was his person, and he gets very disappointed when I visit and turn out to not be moving in. I got his hopes up too much when I housesat for a couple of weeks in 2013. They are brother and sister, from the same litter. The mother is a Bengal cat, the father a Siamese. Oscar has come out almost completely Siamese though.

My mum retired and came into some money, and bought a house in a small town in France, so the cats now have their own passports. (Small french towns are full of older english people- all the young french people want to go Paris or London.) There’s an english family who live on a farm near her, who have a really friendly ragged old ginger barn cat named Henry. Henry likes to come in to my mum’s place, and sleep on the bed or sofa with her two cats (as close as they will let him- Henry gets flea treatments, so it’s ok if they did) and have a taste of their food. Oscar and Mitzi don’t get aggressive or territorial with him, they just sit there with mortified politeness like they’re going “well we didn’t invite him, but it would be rude to throw him out, can’t you do something?” like they’re children whose parents have organised a playdate with another kid they don’t like, while Henry purrs away like a rusty engine.

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