Something miraculous happened last night, or so it felt. We were still hanging out at the park when turned dark.  His friends had gone home for their tea but we were waiting to catch his bus to tennis. I’d spotted a young man of about 19 years of age in full training kit smashing a ball against a wall and practicing his ball control. His skills were impressive and I pointed him out to Taiga, who stood motionless, observing for a while. I kept orbiting, walking laps of this 300m square patch of land. Didn’t want to get in the way.

I was conscious of the clock, and the bus was due in about 15 minutes so I approached Taiga, ready to intervene and introduce him to this young footballer. But as I got closer Taiga batted me off with “You can go now Daddy” and I got back in my lane. On my next loop of the park I glanced over and saw them exchanging passes, and never before have I been so happy to hear the swoosh of the leather of the ball gliding back and forth across the concrete paving. I actually started crying. I was so proud that he did this. I felt like I had had a positive influence on him. 

It brought to mind our afternoons together down at Rinko Park (see pic), a popular haunt for young people to congregate on sunny days, set up little tents, share drinks, maybe a picnic. Taiga and I would turn up with our football goals and recruit strangers to make teams for these epic matches – kids against adults, England vs Japan, whatever it took to get the laughs going. 

He would be shy to approach folks and i’d be there, encouraging his advance out into the unknown and unchartered waters of anonymous people. 

Sorry to interrupt this story but – gotta share with you this little snippet of life here in the cafe – I just went to the counter and ordered another coffee – the server apologised to me for “such poor service yesterday”.  I must’ve looked puzzled, because I had no recollection of anything negative, but she felt it necessary to apologise for failing to present me with the scone and coffee I had bought at the same time, in the same bag. It all came back to me now, i’d picked a bag of ‘Christmas Blend’ coffee from the shelf as a thank you gift for Shin (a local musician who has leant me a piano for my stay) and the cashier placed the coffee in a paper bag. I ordered a scone for Taiga and a coffee for myself. But when they made the coffee, they forgot about the original paper bag. I remembered a few minutes later and went over and collected it myself. No big deal right?

But she had remembered this interaction! Such attention to detail! I told her not to worry, “Daijobu” (it’s OK!)

We should not be afraid of one another. Strangers are friends we’re yet to meet. This has always been my message to him but i’ve often worried something got lost along the way. He lived through a tough time with Covid here, where social distancing rules were so strictly obeyed that folks barely spoke to one another. Football and sport in general is such a great leveller, an ice breaker, and here is using it as his own currency to navigate this crazy world. 

As I write these words my own childhood comes rushing back to me now: me and Jo, brothers Chris and Will from no 18, in a makeshift go-cart, hurtling up and down Marchant Road, eyes fixed on the red post box and at the end of the street marking our outer limits. We knew all the kids on our block, and all their parents. Chris and Will’s mom Merrill with her knee injury sustained in that accident with the horse, Dan and Jonathon who lived around the corner but would pop around, Katy with her love of Elvis and Madonna who’s garden backed onto ours, Kiran and Kate, Ned and Jane and their magical railway line in the attic, in parallel on Westland. They were looking out for us, shaping us with comments, helping us – we didn’t see it this way at the time because we didn’t know any other way.

Of course I want the same (and more) for Taiga, no replica but for him to share this feeling of love as he grows so rapidly at this time. What the young lad did with him last night is akin to shedding light and oxygen on a plant. Taiga woke up this morning feeling a foot taller having had the nod from the elder boy. Thank you, whoever you are.

It feels appropriate to thank Shin today too. A talented blues guitarist, I met Shin-San in 2020, we went for a coffee and then had a rehearsal in a local studio where we recorded some really interesting tracks with his percussionist friend Satoshi-San. I contacted him a couple of weeks ago when I arrived here and explained I needed to hire a digital piano for the duration of my stay here. He asked around his network of musicians and within a couple of days they’d not only sourced me one that wasn’t being used but also offered a time to deliver it to my door! What a kind man. He deserves a lot more than that bag of coffee, I hope to return the love properly in due course.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. When you’ve grown up in a village you seek out fellow villagers wherever you go.

Recommended soundtrack for this post Everywhere I Go – Caitlin Rose

Recommended soundtrack is often what I was listening to at the time of writing.