I wake in cold blue before the sun. Unraveling the dreams I have come to treasure. One or five AM. I have no idea. My head so cold it aches. I check the kids are covered and brave downstairs. Three degrees in the kitchen. But the fish are still swimming. I light the stove with stones thrown from Asamayama soaked in kerosene. Set the coffee on it. A shower, the quickest way to warm up. But it`s hard to get in. Ice on the inside of the window. Frosted glass. Move the frozen laundry. On tip-toes against cold tiles. Harder to get out.
Minus eight during the day. Minus twenty at night. All effort spent on keeping the family alive. No time for anything other than the business of surviving the weather. Chopping wood while the sun shines. Sleeping once it sets. A complicated city boy with a simple country life. It can be good to have your priorities straightened once in a while.
Snow makes roads impassable, so I carry my youngest son to school. My own personal trainer. These weeks we are working mainly on calves and shoulders. Dressed in cheap Wellingtons, three layers of thermals and a goose-down jacket that was too warm to ever wear comfortably in England. Now I never leave the house without it.
We take a short-cut. Across jidoukan. The snow has cleaned everything. Made everywhere new. It shines with countless jewels. Our footprints the first. It seems a shame to leave them. Ever more elaborate chandeliers of ice, dragon`s teeth, hang from drainpipes and branches.
Down empty streets early morning in Nakakaruizawa. Not the Old Town, with the summer houses, the bessou, the money, the famous and the expensive French restaurants, but the community of people who work to serve the holiday makers. Jimoto no hito. Those that suffer the seasonal cold. Lack of activity and lack of work. Together. Don`t worry. Shinpaishinai de kudasai. There`ll be skiing come February. The roads will soon be busy again.
We stand at a crossroads. Waiting for lights. Watching the sun reflect off everything in long broken sunglasses. A bright red hat bought from Slam City before the kids with “Destructo” stitched on it. I draw air through my nose and it hurts. I think about a balaclava. Then memories of meeting Millwall. I guess I might be a bit scary in a ski-mask. Most likely get arrested as I enter Lawson. Get shot as I go for my point card.
As we pass, a village wakes and shutters rise on a parade of shops where, customer-less, life goes on. Slowly. The bakery are playing my CD. With optimism, we talk of sledging and snowmen. My youngest son and I. We wonder at our freezing breath. We play at who can make the bigger cloud.
Weekends we go ice-skating. The open-air arena at Kazakoshi Kouen. My kids struggle with their laces, and I selfishly lose a Karuizawa minute in thoughts of Streatham on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes a Wednesday night. Nicola Sagar, Tony Chattaway, Dave Miller. Steven Wilbury, Robert Storer, Mark Perry. Karen Szulkai. Tony and Steven Robinson. DaSilva. Jackie and Janice. The Human League versus Frankie Smith. George Benson. Give me the night. Bauer hockey boots. The barrel roll. Galaxian and Centipede. Leaving my diary around so others might reveal my loves. To shy or lame to do so myself. Innocent days. Moments before drink. And discos. Twenty-nine years off the ice and fifteen minutes back on and I think of buying my own boots again. Smiling with the past for once. I watch a pretty girl skate backwards. Nostalgia. Love. Promise. To the south, mountains are all I see.
The skating has had another plus besides reminding me of being next to teenage girls in tight jeans and tie-blouses. It has put me back in touch with my second son. Six years old now, but only three when we arrived in Japan. In England I would carry him everywhere, and he would not sleep unless I was next to him. Then came his younger brother, putting some distance between us. And then came the language. More fluent now in Japanese, he often needs his older brother to translate my questions and requests. But by taking his hand on the ice a trust was renewed. I tell him to go faster. As fast as he can. I tell him I will not let him fall. To catch my sons. The only reason I remain strong. Now he reads me books in Japanese. Explaining words I might not understand. Carefully re-pronouncing them until I have managed to get them right. And every night he lets me read him The Mr Men.
Evenings, I keep the sake outside. No need for a fridge. My intake limited to that which has refused to freeze. Sake in moonlight. Tastes better this way. One long night late December our carpenters taught me that.
Come summer our new home will be complete. Underfloor-heating, four-wheel drive, a dishwasher. I won`t know what to do with myself. But I am happy now. I want for nothing. And now is what`s important.
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