Saturday, 20 July 2013


A swarm of tourists following a man with a flag around London is the image that the word ‘Japanese’ would have conjured in my mind, before my flight landed at Narita Airport, Tokyo.

The first thing that struck me about the city is how clean it is, the second that people genuinely queue for the tube and the third that people don’t eat or smoke on the streets.

It is as chaotic as you would imagine a city with 30 million inhabitants to be, but it also has a sense of calmness about it – its people seem focussed, respectful and dignified.

Parts of the city and the city of Osaka that I visited, you would imagine should belong in a science-fiction movie where flashy neon lights make a suffocating blanket of colour. Arriving at any of the main tube stations, you can simply feel everyone marching to a rapid drumbeat. The kanji character signs make the tube stations a jungle of foreignness at times, I got lost repeatedly.

In the electrical area of Tokyo, Akihabara, I found tides of businessmen playing on video consoles after their day's work. Besides electronic retailers lining the streets, you can find robot restaurants and maid cafes where the waiters dress up as certain characters.

The mayhem of the world's biggest fish market, Tsukijishijo, and dodging the scooters carrying purchased fish at 6am were definitely highlights of Tokyo for me.
Women often walk around with sun umbrellas as to ensure their skin stays as pale as possible; judging by how well they age, we should take note.

On a trip to Hakone with my friend, Liz, we stayed in a traditional Japanese hotel, a Ryokan, bathed naked in the traditional baths, Onsens, and took part in traditional and ever popular in Japan, karaoke. Heartfelt karaoke.

Egg ice cream featured in the trip to see the active volcano, Mount Fuji.

In search of a paradoxical mix of what the country could offer, I visited an esoteric Buddhist town, known as Koyasan, after taking a subway, two trains, a cable car and a bus from the city of Osaka. I slept in one of the sacred temples with the monks, dinner was served in my room at 5pm, and then I wasn't allowed to leave until morning prayer at 5am. Rather than discovering my inner spiritual being, the only thing that I discovered about myself was that I didn’t like Buddhist vegetarian food and it simply made me crave the madhouses of Japanese cities.

The attractive city of Kyoto is where they still have geishas, as well as endless temples, - according to a Japanese couchsurfer I met, it simply takes an intense interest in Japanese culture and 6 years of training to become a geisha. After I asked him endless questions about Japan, he joked that I could qualify; always good to have a back up career option...

Japan boasts one of the world's lowest crime rates and in comparison to a trip round South America, it is far less exhausting for a woman. I am told by people who have lived in the country for a while that ‘passive aggressiveness’ is common.

I don’t think that I have ever been anywhere where I have had such a yearning to know so much more about the way of life and its people by the time I leave.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Marathon Madness

My Marathon Madness - from being chased by dogs to the start line

"If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon." Katherine Switzer, New York City Marathon winner

Do you know one of the worst ways to wake up? By your mother after she has run 20 miles and you are in bed. There is now nothing you can say or do to make up for the fact she has ‘made the most of‘ the morning and you feel groggy at midday.

It must have been a post-Christmas blowout cry of desperation. But, I saw the charity email at work asking if we would advertise to our readers for a last space to run the London Marathon. And I thought, why not?

Well in hindsight, there are plenty of reasons why not. But, hindsight is a fabulous thing I guess.

I rang my marathon-pro mother asking if she thought I could train for a marathon in 16 weeks.

“Of course” she replied.

I should have known that mum is nothing but a fitness anomaly and thinks nothing of running 15 miles before breakfast so really, I should have gone for a second opinion.

Training began in the snow. I shall add that I have done a few 10km races, but I feel that marathon running is a rather big step up. I was dropped off somewhere in the countryside in Cheshire, I put on the ‘The Trap’ theme tune and I started jogging – with my hat, gloves and fleece as obviously the weatherman failed to consider Laura was training for a marathon.

Then I got ‘marathon training packs’ thrown at me. I soon realised what I had let myself in for - A seven day 24 hour endurance test. I simply do not understand how people can work and stick rigidly to one of these plans. What we really need is 'marathon leave' from work. I stuck to my plan loosely.

I tried to run a few times in the week for around 6 miles and then a long run at the weekends.

I purchased one of those pro rucksacks. I felt a bit like one of those people at school who would have six tennis rackets and came across all threatening, but could barely hit the ball.

Anyway, the pro rucksack was important to carry water.

Running has actually been a good way to see the London sights. From Sunday afternoons in Battersea park to the bridges and Kensington Gardens.

I got lost in Wapping one day and was rather close to using my emergency money to get a cab home. And another time I rang my sister in tears as I fell over and some dogs were chasing me. Whatever you are meant to do in these situations, I am pretty sure what I did was not it - panic, scream and cry.

I ran a half marathon in Milton Keynes in the snow.

And then my Virgin London Marathon number came through the door. I can honestly say that my heart sank. I mean, the administration details seemed to be beyond my capabiltiies for my French coursework deadline at university, so why did this one work? How did I manage not to mess up the bureaucracy, when for once, it would have been pretty handy?

I definitely do not have the Paula Radcliffe type body. But, running just seems to be about self- belief. And I do think that if you think you can do it, it helps you in other parts of your life too. Obviously, I am talking about getting round the marathon unscathed for the most part, I am not talking to you people out there who do sub four hour marathons.

Everyone talks about the amazing feeling of camaraderie there is at a marathon. However, will this be enough when I meet the 20-mile wall? Doubtful.

And five days to go.

Just giving page