Neko Neko?

Playing it cool under R’s low Japanese-style table

For anyone who read “A Day in My Life”, you might have noticed we were a tad concerned about one of our cats, Neko Neko. The good news is that he showed up the day after I wrote up that very long post and has been returning “home” again regularly, generally in no worse shape than he was.

The less good news is that he is still wandering off for various periods and wherever he’s hiding/sleeping, it’s not somewhere that we know about.

There are various theories on why he is doing this. He is a stray, after all, and our attempts to tame him have been slow and mixed so far. The outcomes we were hoping for, such as a cat that trusts us, lets us touch him and, most importantly, will at least sort of enable us to lug him to the vet for diagnosing what illnesses he has, treating them and, yes, desexing him haven’t really happened yet. So, he could be chasing female cats, hiding from the other tomcats (Neko Neko is far, far from alpha male status around here), simply wandering, or holing up somewhere when he’s feeling particularly sick. He might have just gotten tired of us. He might sense an epic disruption is afoot in the form of the pending arrival of the baby. It’s hard to say and worrying, but we’re at a bit of a loss as to what to do about it.

The thing about Japan’s good manners…

Many Japanese perceive themselves as being very, very polite. Even if a visitor comes here quite briefly, this can be the impression with which they also walk away. There is so much bowing and there are so many polite greetings. The streets, compared to those in many other countries, are very clean and people are dressed immaculately. Stay longer and you’ll discover a near obsession with anticipating the needs of others and “reading the atmosphere”.

Most of this comes under the definition of omotenashi. Omotenashi, already considered something of a unique trait, has become a big thing here since it was used in the campaign to get the 2020 Olympics for Tokyo Olympics. While it is originally intended as a way of describing how guests and customers should be treated, it can be summarised, as in the above link, as “to be treating others as generously as possible without expecting any favor in return.”

It’s a lovely idea, but the whole thing starts to sour a bit, though, when you perhaps eventually learn that you are less capable of these things yourself by virtue of just not being Japanese or, to try for a marginally less offensive stance, just not being educated to the same extent in these ways. Perhaps that sounds a bit harsh, bitter, and/or cynical, but there’s definitely something of an issue that gets considered in this article from The Japan Times about the whole concept of ‘omotenashi’ and the line that gets crossed between simply taking pride in one’s manners and a sense of arrogance and superiority.

The whole thing sours even further when you discover the lack of practical good manners.

After I discovered I was pregnant and the fetus grew large enough that a heartbeat could be registered (the requirement for this area, but not necessarily for everywhere else), I was required to go a department of our local ward and register the expected due date of the baby. As well as being given a lot of documents of varying degrees of usefulness and a special book in which to record mine and the baby’s medical information, I was given a tag like this:

The words translate to “there is a baby in my stomach”. It was intended that I affix this to my bag so that, when on public transport and the like, people would know I was pregnant even if I didn’t yet look it and let me sit down, especially in the priority seats.

Only after getting through the hazardous first trimester did I start to use the tag. The fact that first trimester is actually when I felt worst yet I wasn’t yet supposed to really admit to being pregnant is one of the cruel little ironies of the whole experience. Yet I waited and then, still not entirely convinced that this pregnancy would result in a baby at the end rather than disaster, I decided to start using it. While the symptoms of pregnancy were damn awful, I was still delighted by the existence of the baby at all and figured I would enjoy it as long as it lasted. Furthermore, I was still tired and occasionally nauseated by the time I headed into the second trimester, though, and starting to get subtly bigger, so I figured being able to get a seat was probably a good thing.

What happened after I started using that tag was an experience that I hadn’t had before in Japan. I became invisible.

People no longer wanted to gawk at the foreigner. Instead, I was a threat to their much-sought arse cushioning. If I stood on the train or the bus, the people around me would miraculously either fall asleep or become stunningly transfixed by their phones… except when they stole glances up to see if I was still there. Getting larger and larger until the pregnancy was undeniably obvious didn’t change matters at all. As I write this, I’m 39 weeks pregnant and I’ve been offered a seat a grand total of twice. In both cases, the people offering – a mother with a baby, and a wizened old lady – were both at least as entitled to the seats themselves. In both cases, as well as numerous others where nobody offered me a seat at all, there were other, healthier people also sitting in the priority seats who could quite easily have given up their seat. I accepted in the first case only because I was also lugging a  bunch of work stuff with me. I declined the latter.

That’s just one personal example, but there are numerous others just from within my circle of acquaintances. There’s the panicked foreigners on the confusing trains to the airport whom everyone decides they can’t see and/or are too frightened to help. There’s the time I had a ridiculously heavy suitcase and several bags that I could barely carry, yet all I got were curious stares from passers by – my own fault, yes, but still upsetting. There’s the simple inability to make minor changes to a dish in a restaurant – in this case, wanting just the soda part of an ice cream soda (and not expecting to pay any less). Worst, there was the overt groping of a female friend on a not very crowded public train by a stranger that the other passengers just ignored.

All of these are instances where a bit of common sense and genuine willingness to just help because you can would go a very long way, and be far more genuinely helpful than any overly-ritualised carry-on of simply showing good manners.

Like everything in life, there’s a balance to it, I know. I’m not saying all the (sometimes surprising) polite rituals are bad or silly. I love that, for example, the train drivers are dressed and behave more like pilots than truck drivers like they do back home, I think bowing and nodding are simple  yet effective communication strategies and a lot of the immaculately prepared dishes and arts and whatnot really are lovely.

Personally, though? I’d happily take a little less obsessive formalised needs anticipation and belief in the superiority of one’s taste in exchange for something a bit more genuinely helpful.

A Day in My Life: Thursday 22nd October 2015

The whole point of this is to detail something of a typical day for me. I’ve included some photos, but that isn’t going to make up for the unfortunate fact that, without meaning to, I actually chose quite a boring day to document. Sorry. There’s a lot of cleaning stuff up at home, resting, and fretting about one of “our” cats while discussing the other without a whole lot of resolution available to wrap up the issue.

On the plus side, I guess I can open up this page post-baby when I have no time whatsoever and realise that actually, I wasn’t doing a whole lot when I did have oodles of time?

Weather: 22 degrees Celsius, cloudy
Daylight hours: 5:52am – 4:55pm
Pregnancy: 39 weeks, 2 days

Something autumnal to kick us off!

Something autumnal to kick us off!

1:10am – Wake up, bathroom, return to futon.

3:30am – Wake up, bathroom, return to futon. Brain registers dull, PMS pain happening. Wearily remind self not to get excited as this happened last night too. My traipsing back from the bathroom woke R and he is a bit concerned.

5:50am – Wake up to Mark Two embarking on her usual collision course with the fly screen on the window. This is her morning routine – she wants breakfast, and she is prepared to try to yank open the screen herself to better promote her cause. Sometimes, she succeeds. This morning, she has crashed hard enough into it that she’s actually opened it a few centimetres. Instead of squirming inside, though, she waits patiently while I open it for her and fetch the dry
cat food. It’s cold enough at night now that we should have the window closed, but we don’t have the heart for it with the cats, especially since the baby’s arrival is going to put an end to that soon anyhow.

Mark Two: This was actually taken during her later lunch visit, but she makes frequent appearances today so you might as well get the main idea now.

Mark Two: This was actually taken during her later lunch visit, but she makes frequent appearances today so you might as well get the main idea now.

6:00am – Mark Two is done with breakfast and departs. There is no sign of Neko Neko, the other cat who has taken up lodging here and is arguably actually the star of the cat show. R and I are both worried since he was absent yesterday too. We are hoping he’s just wandering rather than in trouble or holed up sick somewhere.

6:30am – The alarm goes off for the first time on my phone, I hit snooze. This pattern usually continues every nine minutes until around 7:10am, but R is sleepy and cold today and doesn’t venture out until nearly 7:20am.

7:20am – R rolls out of his futon, gets dressed, goes off for a smoke and fetches his things. He asks, half-worried and half-hopeful, if I’m still in pain. I say no and tell him, again wearily, that I’ll call him if anything exciting happens.

7:30am – R departs for work on his motorbike. I spend the next hour drifting between dozing, figuring out what I’ll do with my day, worrying about Neko Neko and pondering when the baby will arrive.

8:30am – Finally drag self out of bed and take blood pressure. Being anxious at my prenatal appointments makes it spike, and Dr. I. decided that, to rule out high blood pressure medicine early on and make sure I wasn’t developing pre-eclampsia, that I should start taking it at home. That was back in May. Beyond showing what I understand is an expected average increase throughout the third trimester, my blood pressure has done very little of interest since, but I guess taking it at least feels productive.

8:45am – Stumble to the shower and then get dressed in the outfit below. Most of my maternity outfits are similar to this, a deliberate choice – I wanted dresses where it was a simple matter of modifying the layers because I knew I’d have to get through the horrors of the Japanese summer and then adapt for the autumn.

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Yarr, pregnant

9:00am – Am hungry after a light dinner last night and craving something sweet already, so I make pancakes for myself. Notice I am cramping again, feel grumpy, and try to ignore it.

9:15am – Eat. My thoughts feel scattered this morning but the food soon makes me focus again.

9:30am – Head for the laptop with a coffee in hand. Begin making notes about today and checking e-mail etc. One of my Kiva loans has a repayment. I’m getting reminders about NaNoWriMo and, momentarily, I feel a little sad that
there is no way in hell that is a good idea for this year. Noting that I am checking e-mails here guilts me into actually replying to a few. Eat a banana.

10:20am – Decide that’s probably enough internet-ing and head off to change the sheets. This was on today’s agenda anyhow, but R randomly declared late last night that he believed his bedding had absorbed the stench of his feet. Since I feared this was true, this lent the whole thing some urgency. Stripping the futons takes longer than expected when am thwarted by a caught zipper. Eventually get load of washing started.

10:40am – Do hair, brush teeth

10:50am – A host of chores ensues – washing dishes, putting away dishes, folding and putting away laundry, hanging out the new laundry and starting a new load, tidying up, and hanging out the futons to air and beating them. Make some time in the middle to pose for outfit photo. Find myself thinking morbid thoughts until I start feeling sleepy again instead.

12:10pm – Discover that R’s futon itself smells like his feet. Those things are powerful. Febreeze it and leave it to dry. Eye the baby’s cot and realise there’s a discrepancy between the width of the cot and the width of the futon/mattress R bought for it – the latter is noticeably narrower. Get up and fiddle with it, not sure if it’s a problem that can fixed by including a crib guard or if we need to get another damn mattress. Urgh. Decide it’s time for a break.

The main output of my morning.

The main output of my morning.

12:15pm – Small amount of interneting followed by something approximating a nap. Baby is kicking around.

12:45pm – Am disturbed by the washing machine alerting me to it being finished with its latest load. Hang out the last of it. Feel mildly accomplished. Changing the sheets etc. is such a pain in the arse and so very time-consuming. No sign of either of the cats. Note the morning’s antics down, discover blog comments (yay) and approve them.

1:15pm – Not feeling that hungry yet so carry on with tidying stuff up. Turn on the Listening function on my Japanese app to practice/study/distract self from self while doing so.

1:25pm – Get interrupted by Mark Two, who has decided it is lunch time, and feed her. Call out to see if Neko Neko appears, but no.

1:35pm – Mark Two finishes eating and departs. Resume tidying.

2:05pm – Decide I am so very done for now. My lunch is a salad with leftovers from last night, corn soup and toast. I’ll be hungry later, but it’s enough for now. Prepare, eat, play with phone.

2:35pm – Wash up, bring the futons in, decide am heading out for a long walk but am not yet sure where. Make shopping list. Rest a bit to ensure back doesn’t give me too many problems and end up dozing off again.

3:35pm – Finally head out and find myself walking towards the train stations and thus hub of town.

A random house from the walk with a persimmon tree outside.

A random house from the walk with a persimmon tree outside.

It ends up being a longer walk than anticipated and my stomach muscles are complaining by the time I finally find myself near some cafes. I need a break now – late pregnancy generally has been exacerbated by the seven weeks I had to spend resting and not much else, and the 2 miles I’ve walked today feels major. There’s nowhere else to sit down so a cafe it is.

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4:20pm – Choose a cafe, head in and hang out for awhile.

4:50pm – Time to head home, decide to take the bus. Get the first one heading in the general direction of our house that comes along, get a normal seat and thus do not have to deal with not getting a priority seat, and ride it around to the supermarket to save making an extra trip out later.

5:10pm – Head into the supermarket and shop. Since I have to walk now and carry it all home, I stick to things I’ll need strictly tonight and tomorrow morning. Buy food and get informed that my pregnant stomach really stands out by the lady at the register. R grew up in this area and I’ve lived here for six years, plus I stand out at the best of times, so all of the supermarket ladies know us. Many of them who are otherwise lovely feel comfortable patting the belly too, which is NOT cool.

5:35pm – Head out, walk home.

5:50pm – Finally arrive home again. Put away the groceries, play with my phone and hear plaintive meowing at the door. Mark Two wants her dinner now, still no sign of Neko Neko. Feed her.

6:00pm – R calls and I miss it. I try calling back a minute later and no response. Rest a bit, try again a couple of times, no luck.

7:00pm – Give up and go watch TV – I’m not hungry yet and I’m not going to bother cooking until I know roughly when R will return home. He finally calls again a couple of minutes later and reveals that he’ll be back “before 8” – this means “a bit after 8” – and that he got hungry and had a bento. We decide he’ll pick me up a bento too and I’ll cook tonight’s dinner tomorrow instead.

8:00pm – This week’s Criminal Minds has been substantially better than last week’s. R’s usual poor definition of “before 8” holds up and he doesn’t arrive home until…

8:20pm – R cruises up on his motorbike bearing a bento for me and a side salad. Mark Two hears him arrive and, in what is characteristic for Neko Neko but less so for her, shows up at the door for more food and lots of meowing. I have a theory that she is actually looking for Neko Neko as much as she is looking for food and R is inclined to agree with me. She adores Neko Neko. Have mixed feelings about the fact she does not appear to know where he is either.

8:25pm – Eat dinner.

8:40pm – R and I lay out the futons and chat briefly. He plays an old version of Final Fantasy, and I play an online game.

9:45pm – Get a bit fed up with the game – I mostly only play in the evenings in spite of my currently open schedule because it’s usually quiet and I get left alone (there’s a lot of water under the bridge with me and this game). There’s also usually a lot of stuff available, yet there isn’t tonight for some reason. Work on an entry for the blog instead – it’s a shorter one so it doesn’t take long, and schedule it to be published for tomorrow morning. I do the majority of my writing in the evening, but I prefer to actually post during the day when I can get notifications about the posts without having them interrupt my already fractured sleep. Fiddle with the draft of this one. Mark Two visits again.

10:50pm – R is sleepy and I’m always up for more sleep myself lately. I leave him dozing on his futon and go get ready for bed.
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11:30pm – Mess around with the phone for a bit because R has snapped out of his daze and is now watching something on YouTube. I’m actually internet-ed out, though, and am soon dozing off. R realises and turns off the lights. SLEEP!

Snacks in Japan – Meiji Galbo Ball

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My own image

I like snacks. No, really, I like snacks a lot. In these posts, I’ll post some of the interesting snacks of the moment that I’ve found hereabouts. Because it’s me that’s doing the eating, I admit we’ll probably err more on the side of sweet things, especially chocolates, and after much pondering, I’ve decided I’ll only post things that I’ve actually enjoyed.

Snack: Meiji Galbo Ball/s
Purchased: October 24th 2015
Found at: Family Mart, but also spotted at a couple of other convenience stores
Price: ~ 198 yen

So, Meiji’s Galbo Ball(s). Meiji is a big chocolate company here and Galbo is one of their product ranges. The characteristic of the Galbo chocolates is that they have a crunchy, almost biscuit-interior with a good, strong chocolate flavour surrounded by a layer of chocolate coating.

It has been something of a success for them and, if you want to click on that link for evidence, they have done as many Japanese confectionery companies are wont to do, taken the original concept and applied it to several other products. There are thus a whole bunch of Galbo things now, including Galbo mini in various flavours (such as, riight now, sweet potato) and the above pictured Galbo Ball(s).

Galbo Balls look to be a special product for winter and have thus only just started reappearing in convenience stores after enjoying some interest last year as well. Aside from being round, Galbo Balls follow the main Galbo concept. They have the crunchy, chocolate-biscuity interior and are surrounded by a layer of milk chocoolate. What makes them both stand out and taste particularly good, however, is the dusting of cocoa they are rolled in.

Care of Today’s Sweets (Japanese blog) – http://todayssweets.blog.fc2.com/

They are not especially large and you only get about ten per packet, but they’re pretty enjoyable and their packaging even looks quite pretty. Being the chocolate fiend I am, I automatically went for the pure chocolate flavour first, but you can also get a strawberry flavour wtih a dusting of white chocolate on the outside (snow-like?) and they look like they might be worth a try too!

“You’ll give people the wrong idea”

It took me awhile to read about Bisha K. Ali’s Facebook post neatly summarising all the things women hear in their lifetime, just because she is not someone with whom I’m exactly familiar and I’m a bit over hearing about female comedians when I’m not that interested in their work yet they seem to be all over the news.

Yet I’m very glad I did, eventually, investigate this because it’s not a skit at all. Nor is it very funny. What can I say? What it is actually is would be aggravating and depressing and oh so true. All those tiny, meaningless statements in themselves that add up to this big, overwhelming attitude and a horrible sense of not being able to win. I think of the girls I teach, the new niece (name still unknown) and I feel a bit helpless.

I have to keep remembering all the badass women I know who challenge things both directly and just by being awesome, I know. I just wish it was a matter of being rather than overcoming.

Halloween in Japan

Halloween’s a comparatively recent phenomenon in Japan. It’s a big marketing opportunity and while older Japanese typically cannot quite see what the fuss is about, children are definitely the major target of events, merchandise and advertising.

Because it’s perceived as a foreign holiday imported from “America” (I know, I know, just saying what the general perception is), English schools and lessons typically have to do a lot of stuff to celebrate it. There’s no differentiating between different native English speakers and our feelings on the matter, either – we all simply must be keen on it and that’s that.

Thus, for me, Halloween in a normal year typically means a lot of work. However much I might be feeling restless and missing work in a general sense right now, it is nice to see all that merchandise appear in the aisles of the shops and remember that hey, this once, I don’t have to do anything with it.

I can even look at pumpkins like the guy above, who has been perched in my local supermarket since around the start of October and whose cardboard features are steadily growing worse for wear, and feel quite amused!

“Criminal Minds” attempts PCOS and victim blaming, sort of

I am a long-term fan of “Criminal Minds” and I think I’ve watched most episodes, if not all.  If you’re unfamiliar with the show, the basic premise of it is this: a team of FBI profilers form the Behavioural Analysis Unit and are tasked with tracking down serial killers, typically by analysing the victims before proceeding to profile the killer and proceed to catch him/her. Wikipedia has more.

We’re now up to season eleven, though, and I’m not quite enjoying it the way I once was. Part of the problem is surely inherent in the words season eleven. If you’re being funded to make that many seasons of a TV show, you’ve clearly got a successful formula and you want to keep using it, yet you have to somehow manage to keep things interesting. This appears to be becoming something of a challenge. Another issue is that we have yet another new female character intended to try and replicate the popularity of a former one.Dr. Tara Lewis is played by Aisha Tyler and she’s the latest in a long line of attempts to, it seems, introduce a new female character to the mix that the fans will actually like. I think this is now the fourth attempt. While I didn’t have any objections to most of them, I’m starting to get a little weary of this parade too, and that’s because they’re all so similar. It’s a Female Agent with some experience in some related field that gives them an Invaluable Skill. Female Agent, however, brings Issues. There will be a Professional Issue, and there may also be a Personal Issue, often related to The Demands Of The Job. Female Agent has been introduced to us early in the season, and the forthcoming weeks involve gradually revealing her Issues. One of the Issues will more than likely tie in with the big season story arc.

In short, repetition has become an issue and that’s a huge reason behind what made episode three, “Til Death Do Us Part”, actually really quite weird. They found some new issues… and they tried to jam them into a single 40 minute episode.

To try and summarise a rather convoluted plot, somebody is killing brides-to-be on their hen’s nights, women whose typical behaviour would normally make them difficult targets but whose behaviour on the nights in question makes them much easier to kill. After a great deal of searching, brainstorming and, of course, behavioural analysis, the team eventually determines that the killer is actually a large woman, Dana. Dana works as a florist with her sister, Nicole, which is what brings her into contact with her victims, but her victims being shortly to marry is not her key motivator. Instead, she believes that she is in a secret romantic relationship with the photographer, Ryan, with whom she also works, and suffers from illusions featuring him. The illusion-version orders her to kill these women because they have been flirting with him and are thus threats to their love. The drama gets further upped as it becomes increasingly obvious that Ryan is actually romantically involved with the slimmer, happier Nicole and the whole thing comes to a head after he proposes.

Luckily, the BAU team eventually determines who Dana is in time as well as figuring out that she is most likely suffering from depression that has spiralled into psychosis after she stopped taking her medication. A search of her home leads them to conclude that she also has polycystic ovarian syndrome, PCOS, and this, rather than a bunch of other sad facts about her background, is likely the reason she suffered from depression in the first place. They also determine that the sisters have a greenhouse for their flowers and arrive there in time to stop Dana from slaying her sister.

GO TEAM!

Well… kind of?

I want to be fair and acknowledge that the production team for this episode did include two major women’s issues in their program. It’s a mainstream crime drama and these issues are definitely not its main focus, and thus their inclusion at all is notable. In the case of PCOS, it isn’t being treated as a strange, difficult topic best relegated to a carefully produced documentary but instead as something that just happens.

For me, however, the casualness with which the terms were tossed in is also a bit of a problem, though. The issue of victim-blaming was always going to be a bit awkward in being addressed in “Criminal Minds”. The entire premise of the show, after all, rests on an initial analysis of the victims and how they could have “attracted”, for want of a better term, their killers. Our sympathies are always directed towards the victims with at least one anecdote involved and even when the killer is revealed and humanised to some extent, it’s still not something treated as being the victim’s fault. That core idea, though, that the victim has done something that brings about their untimely demise, even inadvertently, is something that definitely ties in with the concept of victim-blaming and that could surely be worthy of being the main focus of an episode, at least.

Thus, when the new Dr. Lewis suddenly declared, mid-flight on the way to the scene of the crime, that “I’m not victim-blaming”, it was jarring. It stood out, if only because  It looked like it might actually go somewhere. To discover that it was basically a red herring felt like a missed opportunity. To then see the team carry on as usual, briefing the local population of women on staying vigilent and not doing anything risky, felt like the whole point had been utterly missed, an interesting and admittedly fraught issue relegated to what some see as a quotable line of dialogue.

Then there is the matter of PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS clearly affects enough women and registers widely enough on public consciousness that it can be included, but it is still unknown enough that it required a very brief, rapid-fire explanation from Dr. Reid, genius and long-term favourite of fans (including me). He offered us this list of symptoms:

  • Obesity
  • Excess hair growth
  • Acne
  • Depression

For me, the problem here is not dissimilar to the “victim-blaming” line. In this case, a collection of tidbits of information were tossed in very quickly that provided little plot value. In terms of awareness raising, it was too rushed to be of much use and it definitely couldn’t do justice to the complexities of the matter… or provide much information at all, actually. While Reid listed some of the symptoms of PCOS, yes, and Dr. Lewis kindly included how common it was, they managed to do this while not referring to the main function of ovaries at all, thus overlooking even more major signs of the condition. In short, PCOS leads to a lack of ovulation, which in turn means fertility issues and can result in irregular periods and/or particularly heavy or light ones. It was a bizarre omission and I can’t help but suspect some squeamishness about menstruation etc. being behind the lack of mention of it. Instead of really being well-informed by this, the rather troubling perception one could take away from that 60 second scene is that PCOS -> depression -> psychosis.

As I said above, there is an argument to be made that referencing the condition on a primetime TV drama is something of an an achievement. On social media, a lot of women who said they suffered from PCOS commented on how great it was to see it mentioned at all and noted that the manner in which it was included in the plot was a lot better than if, say, there had been a bunch of victims killed because of their infertility instead. This is true but, to me, if you are going to include something like this, whether it’s an attempt to raise awareness, make a plot more interesting, or just appear aware of contemporary issues, then it’s worth doing it a little better than it was done, especially if you seem to have plenty of episodes that need writing that could use some new ideas.

And, finally, on something of a side note – that room was so not that cluttered, Reid. It just looked like the chick had plenty of stuff and someone had made an effort to make the room seem a bit more lived in than your average film set. If a room like that is a sign of depression, then a lot of us are in very big trouble.