Today, it was time for my wife’s family’s annual barbecue. This an occasion where I get to practice listening to old-man Japanese – mainly growls and grunts, as far as the most elderly uncles are concerned – and marvel at the quite frankly astonishing sounds some people can make when transferring food from plate to stomach. A mellifluous experience, it is not.
This year I was seated between one chap who brought his tongue out a good minute early in preparation for his very slow head-to-bowl descent, and a fellow who, when still a boy, had fought in China. I engaged in conversation with the latter, if only because the former didn’t bring his head back up for quite some time and appeared to have fallen asleep in his food. The chap I spoke to was lovely. He was knowledgeable and curious, open-minded and funny. We spoke of the war, we spoke of Margaret Thatcher – who he was fascinated to learn was not universally popular in the UK – we spoke of The Falklands, and we spoke of his love of painting. I could have chatted with him all day, but unfortunately we were interrupted by a much younger uncle, one who spied me eating fish and took it as an opportunity to ask whether we ate fish in Britain.
And that was it. My interesting day was hi-jacked and instead of a fascinating conversation with a worldly-wise old man I was back to what I am all-too used to: answering whether we have this, that and the other in my home country. I’d struggled with some of the Japanese the old fellow had been using. Now, I was having no problems. After all, repetitive practice serves you well.