Ejo #86 – Drunk In….. Tokyo (Part 2)

So, guess what? I love Tokyo. Tell you something you don’t know?? Don’t worry, I plan to. We just got back from our fourth trip to Japan a week ago and I am still recovering from all the awesomeness. It’s a truly vibrant city, absolutely chock-a-block full of wonderful establishments to get varying degrees of drunk in. So here we go with the second volume in what I’m sure will be an ongoing saga of tipsiness in Tokyo (Part 1 is here). We did return to quite a few of the scenes of our old crimes, but I’ll feature only all the new places we discovered on this trip. Are you ready?  Let’s go!

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MYSTERY IZAKAYA #1

Every single neighbourhood in Tokyo is crawling with tiny little izakayas* where the beer and sake flow freely (and usually the staff don’t speak English).  Here’s my advice to you. Learn a few phrases.  Some that we found useful are “Nama biru, o kudasai” which translates as “Draft beer please”.  Very handy indeed.  Another that we used a lot was “Osusume” which translates as “Whatever you recommend”.  This can be used to refer to a choice of sake, or an entire food menu.  We’ve used it for both with unmitigated success. Don’t be fussy, just eat what they give you.  It’s going to be amazing.

So, it was our first day in Tokyo.  We’d found our Airbnb, dropped off our bags and headed out into the mean streets of Shibuya looking for some action.  About two minutes later we found it when we walked by this little place.  The plan was to grab a beer to hydrate, and some gyoza for energy before moving on – there’s such a plethora of restaurants and izakayas, there’s no point staying in one place too long, you’ve just gotta keep moving.  Or at least that’s our motto.  So while we were relishing our gyoza and beer we noticed that EVERY single other person in the place was eating this weird looking cabbage stew.  We thought, fuck it and decided to get one each.  Oh my god, what a perfect thing to eat on a freezing cold Tokyo winter night.  Comforting, warming, delicious.  It was packed with chewy noodles, fatty pork bits that just melted in your mouth, and seafood galore.  It was a delight.

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Because every good izakaya serves beer.

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The first stop on our Gyoza Tour Of Tokyo

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Noodle, pork and seafood hotpot with cabbage.

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LAST:ORDER WINE BAR

There’s a whiskey bar in Minato called Bar Le Coq which we stumbled upon a couple of years ago and decided we had to go back to.  When we arrived, we were disappointed to find that the street sign heralding its presence in an unassuming residential building was no longer there.  Perhaps it had closed. Being the intrepid travellers that we are though, we decided to go upstairs and try anyway. We walked up the stairs and faced what appeared to be the front door of someone’s apartment.  We looked at each other, and pushed the door open. And there it was, in all it’s glory.  But different.  Unfortunately, the old owner had died of a heart attack in the two years since we’d last been and it was no longer a whiskey bar, having morphed into a wine bar called Last:order.  We ordered some whiskey as a tribute to the previous owner and looked around the empty bar, wondering how the place stayed afloat with absolutely no signage and no patrons, when suddenly the door flung open and a group of young movers & shakers took the place over (which wasn’t hard as it is a very small bar, probably smaller than your living room).  Over the course of our drink (which was supplemented with some very tasty Pinot Noir, compliments of the owner) we learned that we were in the company of a famous Tokyo film director and actor, and their entourage. That’s how we do, folks!

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Mmmm, Pinot Noir – oh, and a whiskey highball. And an incredible bar made of a single, twenty foot long, piece of wood.

INFO:
南青山4-1-8 Minato-ku, Tokyo
+81 3 6438 9864
1900-0200

CLICK FOR MAP

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ABOUT LIFE COFFEE BREWERS

Every good lush knows exactly where to get good, strong coffee for those morning-after paroxysms.  I’d done my research and we tried a few different ones, but the best (and the closest to our Shibuya apartment) was About Life Coffee Brewers, a small little shop window on a street corner.  The coffee was tasty, strong and consistent.  And that’s about all you need to know.

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Good coffee’s worth waiting for.

INFO:
1-19-8 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku
+81 3 6809 0751
0830-2030

CLICK FOR MAP

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SAKESTAND

Since we’re always on the lookout, our eyes peeled for drinking opportunities, we happened to notice that two doors down from About Life Coffee was a place called SAKESTAND.  We were intrigued, so we decided to explore (mind you, this was after a little skiing mishap I’d had, so navigating the steep stairs of this establishment was a bit of an ordeal, but totally worth it in the interests of research).  What first struck us is that the staircase is completely wallpapered in sake bottle labels.  Very fucking cool.  Upstairs revealed a cute (and yes, tiny) space that kind of resembled an espresso bar in Italy – standing room only, hence the name. We asked the lady behind the bar to recommend a sake for us (“osusume”) and she gave us a very fine selection indeed.  Unfortunately we had to pack for our flight home that evening, so we couldn’t linger, which is a shame.  But probably a good thing.  But we’ll definitely come back next time.  And so should you.

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What it says on the label. Immediately to the left of this door is About Life Coffee.

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Steep stairs. Sake labels.

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Sake in a wine glass, coz we’re fancy like that.

INFO:
〒150-0043 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, Dōgenzaka, 1 Chome−19−8, 2F
+81 3 6416 4200
1500-2330

CLICK FOR MAP

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MYSTERY IZAKAYA #2

Here’s the thing about Tokyo.  As of a few minutes ago there are 82,824 restaurants in the city.  And that’s only counting the ones that are registered on Tripadvisor.  Our favourite restaurant in Tokyo, No Name Teppanyaki isn’t even on there.  Thank god or it might be overrun with tourists (we’ve never seen another gaijin eating in there and I hope we never do which is pretty awful of me, but that’s just what I’m like, and if you didn’t know me by now, well… that’s on you). Anyway, what I’m trying to tell you is that when you want to get drunk in Tokyo, just take a walk. There’s an izakaya calling your name, just around every corner.  For instance, one afternoon after gorging ourselves on Nagi Golden Gai ramen, but before heading out for a late fancy sushi dinner we needed somewhere to go for an in-betweenie.  We spotted this mystery izakaya half a block from our house, and we took the plunge.  This place was a particular challenge as it had signs all the way down the staircase exclaiming “No English, Japanese only”.  We slid open the door and a lady stared us down.  In my very broken Japanese I asked if we could come in for some sake.  She looked dubious.  I looked her in the eye and said, “I understand Japanese” in Japanese, and she bought it!!!  The farce didn’t last long (who the fuck did I think I was fooling), but she served us sake anyway and then told us to get the hell out.  But it was nice while it lasted.  My advice to you?  Give it a go.  Walk through that curtain, slide open the door and say “Konban wa”.

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She filled our glasses to overfilling, but refused to refill them because we wouldn’t order anything to eat.  I liked her.  I liked her a lot.

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SUMO WRESTLING

If you travel to an amazing city like Tokyo just to get drunk, sorry buddy, but you’re doing it wrong.  You need to balance all that drinking with some culture (especially the kind where you can grab a beer at the same time).  This is something I refuse to compromise on, being the high-culture hound that I am (cough cough). And so, we went to see the Sumo.  Firstly, this is some serious Japanese culture right here. I’m not going to go into the history of it, but there’s a LOT of history – check it out. Secondly, I am going to make a huge confession and admit that the last time we’d had reservations to see the Sumo, we missed it because we were so hungover from karaoke the night before (more on that later). And just to give you some perspective on that, you can enter the stadium anytime up until 3pm.  So yeah, we were hungover.  Anyway, this time we made SURE we got there on time – and we were so glad we did.  We expected to maybe hang around for an hour, watch a match or two, tick the box and leave.  But no, we were there for nearly three hours, drank a few beers each and had a rip roaring time.  Check out the video below of one of the earlier bouts.  AMAZING!!  If you’re in Tokyo during Sumo season this is a MUST do – we’ll definitely be back. Word of warning, if you stump for those ringside seats be prepared to have a Sumo wrestler fall on, and probably crush, you.

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This is the crowd at 3pm on a Thursday!!!!  Completely booked out.

Check out the unbelievable athleticism. No, I’m not joking. These guys train like warriors. They’re agile, flexible and STRONG!!!

INFO:
Ryōgoku Kokugikan
1 Chome-3-28 Yokoami, Sumida-ku, Tōkyō-to 130-0015
+81 3 3623 5111
Various tournaments throughout the year

CLICK FOR MAP

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DAVID BOWIE IS

OK, so I’m posting two culture hits in a row.  Whaaaaaaat??  Who am I anyway??  Trust me, I was drunk at both, so it’s fine.  But seriously, when a friend (thanks Cath) gives you the heads up that this exhibition is going to be in town at the same time as you are, you book the goddamn tickets. And because I am rather self-actualised, we paid extra for the “come-whenever-you-want-and-not-at-a-specific-date-or-time” tickets.  Worth every yen. Unfortunately, cameras were strictly forbidden in the exhibition itself, so I couldn’t take any pics of the exhibits, but let me just say that we spent three hours poring over his handwritten notes, mind-blowing costumes, video footage, interviews, music clips and much much more. The most I have ever spent in any museum or gallery is an hour – tops.  We actually ate into valuable drinking time by staying that long, but it was just so mesmerising.  I loved David Bowie before.  Now, I feel like I know him, and love him even more.  If you have the chance, go. Just go.  It’s on in Tokyo until 9th April 2017.

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It was light when we went in.

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Dark when we came out.

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Yes, he is.

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Oh, you pretty thing.

INFO:
Check website for details.

CLICK FOR MAP

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Bar Martha

This bar in Ebisu is on the same street as our favourite No Name Teppanyaki.  It’s kind of an imposing place, inside and out, and it definitely divides people.  Tripadvisor is peppered with reviews saying things like “worst experience in Tokyo”, “very unfriendly to foreigners”, “rude people, not worth the visit”, “rudest staff I’ve ever encountered” and, quite alarmingly, “the downside of Japan”.  On the other hand, some of the reviews state “a must visit if you love early rock music”, “amazing listening bar” and “not for everyone, but I loved it”. Guess which camp I sit in!  So, you walk in to this place and are abruptly told not to take photos.  And then the bar staff kind of ignore you until you actively seek their attention.  There’s no cocktail menu, per se, so that pisses people off too.  And then, there’s the fact that the staff don’t speak much English.  How inconsiderate!!! Seriously people, get over yourselves.  The bar has great booze, amazing records spinning and a lively atmosphere. What the hell is not to like about that.  We got the attention of our surly bar lady and with our broken Japanese ordered some whiskey cocktails, dealer’s choice.  She whipped up some very tasty concoctions and left us to enjoy them while she changed records.  She seemed to be in charge of the music, so of course I started wondering if she was Martha.  After our second round of osusume cocktails (gin for me and tequila for David), I mustered up the Dutch courage to hobble together in Japanese the question, “Are you Martha?”.  A huge smile crossed her formerly surly face and she ran to the back of the bar to flick through some albums.  She came back and showed me the back of Tom Waits’ album, Closing Time and pointed to one of the songs, “Martha”.  She smiled again as we put on our coats and left.  See, it’s not that hard to make friends with people that others might consider rude.  All you’ve gotta do is be silly, nice and just a little bit drunk.

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Uh, I’ll do what I goddamn please. In the toilet anyway.

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But not where people can see, and evict, me – in which case I’ll use a photo I found on Google Images. Two walls are completely covered, from floor to ceiling in records.  Vinyl heaven!!!

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The last song on Side 1 – Martha.

INFO:
1 Chome-22-23 Ebisu, 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0013, Japan
+81 3 3441 5055
1900-0500

CLICK FOR MAP

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EBISU YOKOCHO

What is a yokocho, you ask.  I must admit, I was also in the dark until our most recent trip enlightened me, as I am about to enlighten you.  The literal translation is “an alleyway off to the side of a main street”.  How that translates into real life is a collection of small eateries and drinkeries all collected in an enclosed alleyway.  This is NOT fancy food.  It’s rough, and it’s a little bit intimidating, but it’s also a lot of fun.  We were in between eating gigs (again) and only had time to drop in for a quick sake.  This little shop had a few big bottles peering at us seductively, so we stopped for a while.  The only other customers were three burly Japanese men who good-naturedly (I think) made fun of us until we took off our coats and sat down. Once we were seated, I instantly felt at home and we osusume’d our way to this delicious sake (I told you that phrase came in handy).  My suggestion to you, if you want to visit a yokocho – have a drink before you go, just to loosen up a bit, and then walk through and try a little something something from each of the shops.  While they all serve something different, the one thing on the menu that they all offer is Japanese hospitality.

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So you can aim where you’re drinking.

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Really delicious sake in a really rough and tumble alleyway.

INFO:
Some stalls are open from 1100, but most open at 1700 and stay open until very late

CLICK FOR MAP

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BIG ECHO KARAOKE

What to say about karaoke in Tokyo.  Bloody hell!  Just… bloody hell.  It’s fun.  It’s dangerous. It’s addictive.  It’s something we do every time we go to Tokyo, and something we will continue doing whenever we go back.  We like the Big Echo chain, and in particular the one across the street from Ebisu Station.  They have different size rooms depending on your group, and we always get the smallest but there’s still room for at least four people in there (maybe you’ll join us next time!).  It ain’t fancy but it has everything you need.  There’re booths, a table, a television and speakers, microphones, tambourines, a telephone and a drinks menu. There might be a food menu too, but I wouldn’t know coz we don’t come here to eat, bitches! We come here to sing, and we come here to drink.  What we like to do is order bottles of dry sparkling sake and glasses of umeshu, a kind of sour, kind of sweet liqueur made from ume plums.  And what we do is tell the staff to keep ’em coming!! Because everyone knows you can’t do karaoke unless you’re drunk!  Time behaves differently in Big Echo. You walk in at 10pm, all bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to party, and about forty five minutes later you’re stumbling out into the cold street and it’s 4.15am! This happens ALL the time.  I tell you – it’s dangerous.  This time we decided we had to do a David Bowie, George Michael and Prince tribute. Seven hours wasn’t enough, so we did another five hours a few days later.  Dangerous.

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Enter these doors if you dare.

INFO:
Various locations throughout the city

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AFURI RAMEN

Thank god for Afuri Ramen.  In more ways than one.  Firstly, it’s fucking amazing ramen – a lighter variety that’s made from chicken rather than pork stock, it’s also seasoned with yuzu, a tangy Japanese citrus that makes the soup dance in your mouth. Secondly, it closes at 5am which is the ONLY reason we ever left the Big Echo karaoke before the sun came up. I swear, if this place was open 24 hours a day, we’d still be doing karaoke.  This ramen calms you down, but revitalises you at the same time.  It’s a miracle cure for whatever might ail you, especially if you’ve gone a little overboard on the drinking.  You MUST eat here if you are ever in Tokyo.  And when you face down that vending machine all written in Japanese, just press the button with the handwritten sign that says #1 Classic.  That’s all you need to know. You will thank me later.

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What you need to perk you up at the end of a long night of drinking.

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We stuck to the classic Tanrei (which was recommended), and never once felt we were missing anything.

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Oh my god, the ramen.

INFO:
1F, 117 Bld., 1-1-7 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
1100-0500

CLICK FOR MAP

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LIBRARY LOUNGE THESE

So there was a LOT of beer and a LOT of sake drunk on this trip (did you happen to notice that?).  Sometimes, you just get a hankering for a good ol’ cocktail, so we headed out to find Library Lounge These (with a minor accidental detour to a French/Japanese fusion izakaya for a glass of wine along the way). When we arrived, we were greeted warmly (a stark contrast to the welcome we received at the edgier Bar Martha) and shown to the bar before being presented with a bowl of fruit and asked to pick a couple each.  David went with pomegranate and lemon, while I chose mint and lemongrass.  Hey, we’re nothing if not adventurers.  We watched the man behind the bar do his magic and then marvelled at the beautiful libations he presented us.  And then we drank them, and we ordered some more.  This is a really lovely place where you could spend some serious time having some seriously good cocktails.

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Fruit, glorious fruit

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Pomegranate & lemon

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Lemongrass & mint

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Pear & ginger

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Tequila negroni – YUM!

INFO:
〒106-0031 Tokyo, Minato, Nishiazabu, 2−15−12, カルテットビル 1F
+81 3 5466 7331
1900-0400 (-0200 on Sundays)

CLICK FOR MAP

* an izakaya is a place that serves sake but usually only with food – it’s not a bar, it’s not a restaurant, it’s an izakaya.

Ejo #85 – Our Kitchen Rules

In March 2016, right after moving into our new place, David and I realised that our kitchen was in dire need of an overhaul. The woman who lived in the apartment before us was a slovenly wench, who had allowed the place to putresce into filth and disrepair. The kitchen (and bathroom) cabinets were all water-damaged and mouldy on the inside, so it was imperative to replace them as soon as possible.

Hahaha, did I say as soon as possible?? Forthwith, the best laid plans!!

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Brown. 

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Taupe.

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Tan.

I got busy designing our new kitchen using IKEAs 3D kitchen design programme. It’s basically like baby-CAD, allowing you to enter the dimensions of your room and then play around with inserting different IKEA products and colours. It’s pretty fun to use and I spent hours and hours on it trying to create our perfect kitchen. Or at the very least a better kitchen.

So, the idea was that once we’d figured out the design, we would replace all the yucky brown floor and wall tiles, and then install the sexy, sparkling new kitchen. Since IKEA would do the installation of the new cabinets, we just needed to find a tiler who would also do us the favour of smashing and removing the offending cupboards. Easy, right?  No. The deal is, if you want to get anything other than minor work done in any apartment on Palm Jumeirah, you need to get a permit from the developer, Nakheel. And they only issue permits to companies that have Contractor’s All-Risk Insurance. What is CAR insurance? I have no idea, but I do know that not many companies have it. Because it’s expensive as fuck. I looked it up and it seems the only companies that can afford this crazy insurance are the big ones, the construction firms that build apartment blocks and malls. So, after getting a few quotes, we realised that the tilers we could afford couldn’t afford the insurance. Catch-22. Dead end. Plans on ice.

As we are wont to do, we moved on with our lives and we kind of got used to the shitty brown kitchen. It was gross, yes. It was damaged, yes. But it was functional, so we normalised it. I guess that’s just the brain’s way of dealing with crappy situations, and as a defence mechanism it worked a treat because we continued using the kitchen for the next nine months without too much drama. But still… existential kitchen discontent crept in. Slowly. But surely. Until it became impossible to ignore. We needed to get back on the horse and find a company that could fix our awful kitchen. Oh, and don’t think we didn’t consider the old let’s-renovate-the-kitchen-without-official-approval trick. We thought it through and concluded it just wasn’t worth it. We live in a very strange country and we don’t know the consequences of breaking rules like that, so we wanted to do it all above board.

And then, out of nowhere, we had a stroke of good luck. A colleague of mine mentioned that she was renovating her place, and how impressed she was with the guys that she had hired to renovate her bathrooms. They’d been recommended to her by her previous renovators who had exclaimed that she was “Too fussy, madam!!!!”. I thought, “Eureka, they sound perfect”. And so I reached out to MobiCon to ask them for a quote and to see if they could get all the necessary permits from Nakheel, and lo and behold, it turns out that they could.

But there was a hitch (as if there wouldn’t be a hitch). The permit was issued with the proviso that no floor tiles were allowed to be removed. If we wanted to put new tiles on the floor we had to do it over the top of the existing ones. WTF? Apparently the home owner’s association carries some pretty heavy clout around here, and one of their main priorities is protecting residents from excessive renovation noise. How delightful. But not very convenient for us. We had a representative of Nakheel come to the house to tell us this and to ensure that the contractor was fully aware of the restriction. An Emirati man wearing national dress, Mr B. cut an imposing figure as he loomed in our beige kitchen. But somehow, during his fifteen minute visit, David and I convinced him to approve the removal of floor tiles. Yeah, it shocked the hell out of me too! How’d we do it? The old-fashioned way, of course. We grovelled and pleaded and prostrated ourselves, and promised that there would be NO complaints of noise from ANY of the neighbours. He looked suitably dubious and said that if there were any complaints (even just one) he would shut the whole thing down, regardless of how incomplete the work was. Scary stuff, particularly as people in Dubai seem to be rather fond of dobbing, as opposed to the more civilised option of knocking on your door and having a quiet word.

So, two days before work was to begin David and I went around to the neighbours that were most likely to be affected by the noise. We introduced ourselves, explained what was going on and offered gifts of appeasement – chocolate (the really good stuff of course, this was serious business after all!!!). And it worked. Even though the tile removal was hella noisy, no-one complained, and I consider that to be a minor miracle.

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Mmmmmm, Patchi chocolate. 2.4kgs of the stuff!!!  Note the grungy floor tiles (shudder!!). 

The work was supposed to take 10 days but of course it took closer to three weeks. And for three weeks our house looked like the set from Mad Max. Everything was covered in a fine, grey dust. Including us!!! Also, for three weeks we couldn’t cook anything, so we either ate salads for dinner or had take-out (guess which one we did more). And for three weeks, we couldn’t do any laundry, since the washing machine fittings are in the kitchen. Three weeks, friends. I got down to one pair of underpants!! And yes, I suppose I could have hand washed them but that’s just not my stripe. Neither is sending them out to be washed by a stranger. Ew!  (Click on the thumbnails below for a description of each photo)

Anyway, after the tiling was all done it was IKEA’s turn to come and do their thing. They installed the entire kitchen in just one day. At one point there were seven guys working on it. It was impressive to watch. Once the kitchen was in, we had to organise electricians and plumbers to hook everything back up again, as well as getting the gas reconnected. We wheeled and we dealed and somehow we got everything completed by the evening of 24th December. Our first cooked meal in our brand new kitchen was going to be Christmas lunch. Perfect timing. To celebrate, we had beer and pizza for dinner (old habits die hard). (Click on the thumbnails below for a description of each photo)

The next day I started preparing our Christmas feast while David put on a load of washing (one pair of undies, remember!!!). I was about to put the cake in the oven when we noticed water streaming out in tidal waves from under the washing machine. I experienced a sinking feeling (egad! our new kitchen was ruined in less than one day!!!) but there was also a feeling of just getting on with it. Nothing was going to ruin Christmas lunch. We mopped up the water, and I continued prepping the roast while David called the plumbers back. It took them a while to fix the problem (blocked pipes or something like that) but I kept cooking that damn meal around them and their tools. And it turned out wonderful. In fact, it was everything that a first meal in a new kitchen on Christmas day should be.

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Ermahgerd, I love this kitchen so much.

 

Ejo #84 – Girl On Fire

Something very unpleasant happened to me earlier this month. Something so unpleasant that I feel the need to record it for posterity, before all its unpleasantness washes away and I’m left with nothing but a dim memory. I WANT to remember how bad it was, so please excuse the indulgence of this ejo.

So, on the plane home from Australia in the first week of October, David and I sat across the way from a fellow who spent the entire flight trying to barf up a lung. Dude was sweating, coughing, sneezing, spluttering and downright acting as if he had Ebola. My heart sank. Two days later I started getting sick.

First I got the chest infection. Coughing, a slight fever and congestion. A week into that I got hit with a ferocious stomach bug. For four days, everything I consumed rapidly evacuated my body in liquid form. I was gouged out. It was not very nice. And then, to top it off I got a cold. Sore throat, runny nose – and my cough worsened. I was off work for several days and visited the doctor who did a blood test to determine that it was all viral, so no anti-biotics (which is great because I think they’re over-prescribed anyway). By the third week my gut was better and the cold was gone but I still had a persistent, dry cough. I wasn’t feeling “sick” anymore though, so I went back to work – just in time for my annual competency check.

The first day of the check went great. But the next morning, when I got up, I was alarmed to see some red spots on my neck and arms and torso. Not many, but alarming nonetheless. I googled chicken pox to see what they looked like. Doing this was not an overreaction. A couple of months earlier, a work colleague had come to work with chicken pox. I’ve never had them before so I was terrified (I’d heard some pretty disgusting horror stories of the pain and indignity of adult chicken pox). But no, my spots didn’t look like that. Thank god.

I sucked it up and went to work to complete day two of my competency check. During the course of the morning, two things happened. First, my cough got a whole lot worse, very quickly. And second, the spots started to spread and get hella itchy. Luckily I’d done the most important, operational part of my check the day before, and all that was left was the tape review (where my examiner and I listen to a random recording of my work in order to assess my phraseology). Everything was fine (naturally) and we finished up early. I drove straight to the doctor’s office where he expressed concern about my cough and diagnosed my spots as urticaria, otherwise known as hives.

I’m not new to hives – I’ve had them twice before. The first time was when I was fifteen. I’d begged my parents to let me get a perm for my birthday and I guess I had some kind of reaction to the chemicals. The second time was during a New Year’s camping trip with friends on the coast of New South Wales. I was 25 years old. My friend Svetlana caught some kind of stomach bug and was projectile vomiting everywhere. And I had an allergic reaction to sunscreen and broke out in hives. A couple of hours after 1996 limped in, we were both in the emergency room at the local hospital. I got a painful jab of anti-histamines in my butt cheek and, when they finally figured out that Svet was actually sick and not just drunk, they took care of her too.

So, it had been twenty years since I last experienced the joy of hives. Even though I was anxious about them, the doctor seemed more concerned about the cough and he insisted I get a chest x-ray. Turns out I had mild pneumonia. I was prescribed a course of antibiotics for my cough and some Telfast for the hives and sent home. And, naïvely, I was actually hopeful that they would just go away. Because the trauma of the other two times had been whitewashed by time. Sure I was a little itchy now, and I remember being itchy the previous two times but…. whitewash.

What happened next seemed to me like the ultimate betrayal of my body. The hives kept on coming, kept growing, kept joining together on my skin to create super-hives. And the itching was maddening. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it was one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced. I’ve torn two ligaments in my knee in a skiing accident. I’ve had emergency surgery for burst ovarian cysts. And I’ve chopped the top of my finger off with a butcher’s knife. None of these things come close to the sheer torture of hives. My skin felt like it had red-hot, razor-sharp, blood-sucking leeches crawling all over it. It was relentless, and there was no reprieve. I tried to take my mind off it, but there is nothing that brings you more into the present than the irresistible urge to scratch off your own skin. I honestly still don’t understand how my own body could have turned on me so viciously.

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This was Day 1.  Shit got a WHOLE lot worse.  Even my palms were itchy.

I spent the next thirty six hours on the couch, getting up only to go to the toilet. David brought me tea and water. I retreated into myself, to a dark place.  Like a wounded animal. I wasn’t reading. I wasn’t watching TV. I could barely speak because speaking meant breaking the concentration required to not scratch. And I’d learned early on that to scratch, while providing a miniscule moment of relief from the itch, ended very badly for me. Once (just once) I fell into the itch/scratch abyss, going absolutely nuts on the back of my neck, shouting at myself to stop, stop, stop and being completely unable to. It took an hour lying face down on the couch not moving before I recovered from that. It was excruciating. So I gathered my fortitude and I faced down the itchiness.

But then, to add insult to injury, my face started doing weird shit. My forehead swelled up and became blotchy. Red and yellow veiny lines appeared. I looked like an extra on Star Trek, no special effects required. The bridge of my nose started getting puffy. And then… well, then my eyes started swelling shut. I was NOT in a good way. Obviously the Telfast wasn’t working so David drove me to the clinic. A new doctor quickly assessed the situation and hooked me up to an IV so she could inject me with some serious anti-allergens, and fast. I spent several hours of that day, and the next, lying on that clinic bed being shot up with all sorts of things, to no avail. Nothing was working, and the doctor was flummoxed (bless). She sent me home with some new meds, and instructions to call an ambulance if I started having trouble breathing. Heartening.

Over the next four hours I actually did start improving. Which is great because we had overseas guests arriving that evening for three days. Perfect timing, huh? By the time they arrived my eyes had miraculously opened up and my welts had mostly receded. I wasn’t in the best of health for their visit but it sure could have been a whole lot worse. It’s taken nearly a week for the itching to completely subside (though in the writing of this ejo, I’ve suddenly become afflicted with full body phantom itches). The doctor still doesn’t know what caused the whole thing – all the blood tests came back negative for allergies. She guesses it was just my body going berzerka after being sick with so many different viruses.

Whatever it was, I’ve made peace with my body and we’re buddies again. I’m treating it real nice, with some good healthy living and I’m hopeful that everything will be just fine. But it was scary to experience how quickly and easily your body can turn on you for no apparent reason. I’m better now, but my body still carries ghost marks of the welts, and I look kinda kooky naked. The marks come and go, but they are gradually receding. Thanks to this ejo, the memory will not.