Friday, October 20, 2017

Grub, Plenty Of

It's been a week of our version of fine dining: Christmas dinner, for which we went vegetarian (don't ask); Deepavali nosh with various buddies; a hall outing involving a rather jolly buffet; and today Noi left me a resplendent bowl of mee goreng, cooked ahead of her driving up north to see Mak over the weekend. All very wonderful; all a bit much. Looking forward to easing up and giving my digestive system a rest.

Further reminders of a fortunately privileged existence.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Good News, Sort Of

Found myself reading a number of stories in the press in the last two or three days dealing with the mistreatment of women by the film producer Harvey Weinstein and, stemming from those revelations, further articles outlining the kind of abusive behaviour various individual women have detailed to illustrate just how pervasive such behaviour is in circles beyond those immediately surrounding the Hollywood casting couch. It's all been very depressing to read, so how much, much more horrendous in its effects must it be to have been on the receiving end. There's much darkness there.

So it was sort of refreshing to read a sort of good news story today. This concerned the library in Auckland - one of my favourite cities - which has just solved the mystery of why some of its books had gone missing and then turned up in some very odd corners. It turns out that rough sleepers in the city were to blame, though not actually being blameworthy in any way. They seem to have been protecting the books, in their fashion, since the books were so important to them as things to read and they didn't want to take them out with them where the books would be vulnerable. The library officials have shown exemplary concern for these hugely important customers. For once I felt sort of good after reading something in the news (though the figures given for the numbers of homeless and rough sleepers in this lovely city gave those positive thoughts something of a melancholy cast.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Something New Under The Sun

So there I was thinking that I'd reached the point at which nothing could excite me quite as much as getting to see Pink Floyd performing Atom Heart Mother live with choir and brass section as a callow fourteen-year-old. Then I find out in a single day that there's a new live Crimson album featuring the double quartet version of the Greatest Band in the Known Universe with excerpts from Lizard (Dawn Song; Last Skirmish; Prince Rupert's Lament) and Islands featured amongst much else and the first novel in the second trilogy set in Philip Pullman's worlds of His Dark Materials is published this Thursday. The new trilogy is entitled The Book of Dust and the novel itself, La Belle Sauvage, and I love both titles. I feel like I'm fourteen again - and, in truth, I'm probably just as callow.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Not So Fiery

Found myself thinking of a wonderfully lugubrious chorus from the mighty Dan's (Steely, that is) first album, Can't Buy A Thrill: There's fire in the hole / And nothing left to burn. As I inelegantly fell apart towards the end of my statutory 40 minutes of torture in the gym it struck me what whatever fire had been lit in the hole had long since been extinguished.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Not Going Backwards

Just got off the phone after chatting with John, though in truth 'chatting' is not exactly the most accurate word to describe the delivery of his standard litany of woes about the state of his health and the health of pretty much everyone he knows, and the faults of the UK's NHS, I've come to expect. Fortunately this was the standard version, concluded with his observation, we're not going backwards, so I felt some considerable relief at how reasonably positive he was, once the account was complete. There's been improvement in Maureen's vision, she's going to be involved in some further version of rehab, and John is happily suing the doctor who messed up on the treatment of his leg, which gives him something to which he can look forward. (Of course, there was a lot, lot more than this, but I'll save you the details. Especially the gory ones.)

I'm becoming increasingly aware of just how often concerns about health feature in my conversations with my contemporaries and those of a slightly older generation. Far from being bothered about people moaning about such matters I generally take a keen interest, knowing that I face my fair share of such concerns - if not now, then most likely in the future. It's more interesting than talking about the weather - especially the highly predictable version of the weather in this Far Place.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Going Back

This afternoon I found myself wandering around the premises of the first school in which I taught in this Far Place. The premises are no longer the premises of the original school but belong to another school now. Indeed, the premises to which that school relocated are now being 'up-graded' in routine local fashion, so the school has relocated for the meantime to the premises of a school which no longer exists. So wherever you go back to you know you can never go back.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bodying Forth

Now in the last sixty pages of McGilchrist's The Master and his Emissary. It continues to delight, illuminate and, occasionally, astonish. Now thinking about the link between modernity and what McGilchrist describes (rightly, I think) as a kind of assault on embodied being. The notion explains a lot about our collective madness regarding our bodies and what we do with them, in the developed world that is.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


In my teenage years I'd occasionally watch Masterclass programmes on the telly. These involved great musicians hearing really gifted students play and giving them instruction. Most of what was played and said went way over my head, but even a distinctly ungifted kid like myself got some benefit from being exposed to the very, very best dealing in considerable detail with what they were the very, very best at. At the least I got to understand just how jaw-droppingly talented these people were and how deep and detailed the art they helped create was, even if I didn't really understand most of what was being said.

Today I attended a real live Masterclass over at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory. It featured the beyond jaw-droppingly talented concert pianist Stephen Hough (wow! in real life and close up!) and three averagely jaw-droppingly talented young pianists - two studying at the university and one being my school's very own Jonah. Things have changed a bit for me, but not that much. It was all still miles over my head, but these days I've got enough concentration to hang on every note, and hang on I did through three wonderful performances. Following each of which the masterly Mr Hough took what we'd heard wonderfully to pieces, showing each performer how they could be even better. We're talking about excellence in every dimension on a staggering level here.

Sometimes, only very occasionally fortunately, students tell me I am awesome in some way. This is very nice of them, but inaccurate in the extreme. What I enjoyed this afternoon really deserved the label. And then some.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Faking It?

Was thinking earlier this evening of one of my rare encounters with a visual artist. It happened in Todmorden of all places and I was in the unlikely company of Tony and Ann. I think it took place just before I came to Singapore, around 1987, and it was all entirely accidental. We were just wandering around of a weekend, exploring the area, when we caught sight of the artist's shop, a small one, not anything like a gallery, and popped in just out of curiosity. The guy's name was Bohuslav Barlow, and his work was quite impressive in a spooky kind of way. We were able to see a fair amount of it in a restaurant in the area, some time after meeting Mr Barlow, as they'd put on a display of some of his pieces for sale there. The canvases were way too big and expensive for the likes of me, but I bought a book entitled Visual Alchemy at the shop with some rather fetching illustrations. Chatting with the artist was interesting in a sort of professional kind of way. He didn't try too hard to sell us anything, and said little or nothing about matters of 'inspiration' and the like, but was forthcoming about his art classes and what it was like trying to earn a living in that part of the country.
For some reason all this came back to my mind earlier this evening and I suddenly realised I might well find something on the WWW about the guy and, hey presto, I found his website almost right away - after figuring out how to spell his first name. The thing that really stood out in mind about our meeting related more to Tony than the artist himself, oddly enough. Tony seemed convinced that the work we saw (which included a few of the paintings featured on the website) was a kind of con. It wasn't that he thought he couldn't paint, and do so very well - I don't think anyone with eyes would dispute that. No, what bothered Tony was the choice of subject matter. He was convinced that it was contrived to appeal to folk who liked stuff that was a bit spooky, a bit occult, a bit surreal.

But he really couldn't deal with what I thought was an obvious rejoinder to all this: what did it matter if it was all a bit of a fiddle if you were able to respond to the pictures with enjoyment - and possibly a touch of dread - and wanted to put one or two on your walls to keep doing so? I suppose this simplicity of outlook lies behind my enjoyment of the kind of modern art that bothers so many. As long as I like it I don't care what it means or whether I'm being tricked. Sometimes you can try a bit too hard to guarantee your money's worth, you know.

(Should just say for clarification's sake that BB's work is so obviously not 'faked' in any sense that I did wonder just a little about Tony's sanity. But that's what being an engineer does to you, I suppose.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

From Afar

I've found a simple remedy for all those days on which I realise I feel overly cheerful. Reading any of the news relating to the negotiations over Brexit instantly restores sobriety, quickly succeeded by a refreshing melancholy. Mind you, I enjoy the happy distance of self-imposed exile which helps keep the whole fiasco in some sort of proportion.