I like to delude myself that I am organised, that I approach every trip abroad with calm and poise. In my mind I am a Zen master. The very epitome of organisation. In the zone.

In fact nothing could be further from the truth. It has taken until today, only three days before the first salvoes of WPC 2019 are fired, for me to realise that entering Japan is not the same as nipping over the channel to pick up a few bottles of cheap burgundy. There are preparations to be made. Complex preparations. And ones that should really not have been left until day K-3.

This realisation has transformed me from a Zen master to a gibbering, disorganised halfwit in a matter of an hour or so. It is one thing finding that you don’t have enough shirts washed. It is quite another to realise that you have insufficient medication for the trip. And Japan is not the kind of place where you just turn up at the pharmacy and say “Twenty tablets of your finest levodopa if you please, squire. Quick as you can”. Firstly, they will not understand you. And secondly, they will almost certainly ignore you.

The voice in my head is telling me, in increasingly strident tone, “You should have thought of this earlier, dimwit. And by the way, you don’t have enough shirts either”. So this morning has been spent pleading with my GP to write a prescription on the spot (and if you really want to antagonise a GP, this is a brilliant way of doing it). Then a swift dash (figurative not real obviously) to the pharmacy, all the while praying that they will have everything in stock. As it happens, they do. Today the gods of pharmacy smile and they even make up the prescription in real-time before they close for lunch after my pleading (and if you really want to antagonise a pharmacist, this is a brilliant way of doing it).

So lunchtime arrives and my stocks of medication are now replenished. Which is more than can be said for my stocks of goodwill at the surgery and pharmacy. Normally the polite thank you letter does the trick, reminding them that they are appreciated. Which they are. But this has happened too often for them to be so easily placated. I need to up my game.

So the first crisis is averted. What next? Oh yes, I remember – shirts.

For some reason, my shirts are not where they should be and, only after an hour of brow furrowing do I remember their location. In a suitcase in the loft. Last September, as summer ended, I decided to create more space in my wardrobe by putting all my short-sleeved shirts and T-shirts into suitcases in the loft, safe and secure until next spring. Logical, sensible and space-saving. I remember congratulating myself on my brilliance.


While I remembered the day in September, I had forgotten the day last November when we, as a family, decided to throw out all the old suitcases we no longer needed. It’s my own fault really. Before I remembered their contents, they were already in the hands of the charity shops and presumably winging their way to places of urgent need. Pretty much my entire summer wardrobe. It’s strange to think that somewhere in Ethiopia or Eritrea there are now people dressed exactly like me. They probably think the same.

Strangely charming though this notion is, it doesn’t solve my immediate problem – it will be 30°C in Kyoto and my stock of winter woollens are hardly going to cut the mustard. Summer shirts are needed, and urgently. This is a job for Amazon Prime. Within 20 minutes I have ordered an entirely new wardrobe. Five shirts of linen and cotton, made in Nepal and Bangladesh. Some day they will doubtless find their way to some war-torn part of Africa but, for the moment at least, they are in my suitcase. Part of my suitcase will always be Kathmandu.

Medications for the trip arranged, located and purchased – TICK.
All summer clothes despatched unknowingly to Eritrea – TICK
New shirts purchased from Katmandhu and Dhaka – TICK

I am once again the Zen master. All is calm. I breathe in … I breathe out …. And relax.

Suddenly I am woken from my reverie, my body cold and sweaty – where did I leave the passport?

No, seriously, where did I leave it?

Kyoto diary 1: Preparation is everything