Saturday, March 17, 2018

Less Than Selfish

Finished my reading of the Autobiographical Writings of John Clare today with the final, haunting Journey out of Essex. How strange that final fragment is. The brief reference in an early paragraph to his troops following him is the only obvious indicator in the early paragraphs of the poor man's madness, but the strange feeling that there is no real personality, just a suffering body, behind the bare details of his escape from the asylum and subsequent wandering north is a kind of madness, I suppose. It certainly ties in with the general sense that Clare is never quite to be trusted regarding the selves with whom he presents the reader throughout his prose versions of his life and experiences.

Yet behind the majority of the poems, particularly those descriptive of village life and the various beings that comprise that life, it seems to me we know there to be a fully integrated creator, at one with his creation - as implied participant and observer. The mystery is how someone so simple can be so disturbingly complex.

Did he find himself as a Poet and lose himself in all other ways?

Friday, March 16, 2018


Clare seems to have been an extraordinarily superstitious man, if the evidence in Autobiographical Writings is anything to go by. Credulous to the point of absurdity he's capable of spooking himself so intensely with regard to particular locations and the stories surrounding them as to spend any night hours passed nearby in a state of something like real terror. At first I attributed this to the times in which he lived and his rural background. Now, approaching the end of Eric Robinson's edition of the Writings, I'm not so sure.

Having become familiar with a number of the guises in which our Countryman Poet could present himself, I'm beginning to wonder about the degree of performance of a role in his prose. He writes with wonderful freshness and sincerity of the fear of the unknown, so much so as to remind even the most jaded reader of what it was like to be a child genuinely frightened of the dark and all it implied, but I reckon he puts it on a bit.

I might be mistaken, I might be seeing things, but I wonder if there's another Clare standing behind the ghost self he serves up for his public.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Bit Of A Rest

To say that I've been having a lazy time of it here at Maison KL would be an understatement, and then some. The funny thing is that I didn't feel especially tired at the end of our first term. Maybe my body's just aware of how tired I'm likely to get over the next couple of months and is compensating in advance.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Matter Of Routine

We drove up to KL yesterday. Generally the roads were clear and the driving easy. There were only two short hold-ups on the way, but the awful thing is that one definitely involved a fatality and I wouldn't be surprised if someone had been killed in the other.

The first hold-up came just before the rest place at Kulai, a tail-back from an accident just beyond the resting area. A motor-bike seemed to have been hit by a lorry. There were no emergency services around, but a blanket was covering something humped in the road. We assumed it was the body of the bike's rider. Then a lot further on, a few kilometres after we had stopped at the ARAB cafĂ© for a much needed cuppa, we passed the scene of what looked like an accident that had just occurred. A lorry seemed to have toppled over and shunted around, blocking the fast lane. In retrospect I wonder if the driver was okay - the lorry looked strangely deserted, but possibly the door had jammed shut. Further on down the road we found ourselves worrying as to whether any speeding traffic in the outside lane might collide with the lorry. I suppose the right thing to do would have been to get out and investigate, but you just don't think of that when you're making your way, tending to assume that someone must be dealing with the situation.

It's intensely selfish, but it couldn't be otherwise. It's difficult to imagine anything more mundane than driving as a matter of routine along the North-South Highway, yet for some that journey becomes one involving the most significant and terrible extremes of all.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Something Glorious

Now reading a collection of the poet John Clare's Autobiographical Writings as edited by Eric Robinson. I felt I needed to immerse myself in something that offered instant, rich gratification, and Clare is the man to escape to for simple wonder. There's a segment early in the Autobiographical Fragments section Robinson tentatively entitles Leisure that explodes with a sense of delight over Clare's landscape that should be offered as therapy for the depressed. One particular sentence just seems to go wonderfully, deliriously out of control:

I marked the varied colors in flat spreading fields checkerd with closes of different tinted grain like the colors in a map the copper tinted colors of clover in blossom the sun tand green of the ripening hay the lighter hues of wheat and barley intermixd with the sunny glare of the yellow c[h]arlock and the sunset imitation of the scarlet head aches with the blue corn bottles crowding thier splendid colors in large sheets over the lands  and 'troubling the corn fields' with destroying beauty the different greens of the woodland trees the dark oak the paler ash the mellow Lime the white poplar peeping above the rest like leafy steeples the grey willow shining chilly in the sun as if the morning mist still lingerd in its cool green[.]

Gosh - isn't that fine!

Reading (and rereading) that and its accompanying sentences put any and all troubles I have into massive perspective.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Of No Importance

Of all the ways in which one might establish one's utter and total and complete unimportance in the great scheme of things, I warmly recommend trying to get through to a 'customer service officer' at Singtel to discuss the possibility of an appointment to install a connection to what they call their Fibre Network. Once the recorded voice has told you for the 1000th time your call is important to them you couldn't possibly be under any illusion that your call mattered to them in the slightest.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


It's a few years since I bought the four volumes that make up Joseph Campbell's The Masks of God, his magisterial work on various manifestations of myth in our collective history. Since then I've dipped into the four, but never set about a sustained reading. I decided to put that right a few weeks back having determined that I needed to do justice to all the tomes on my shelves before shelling out for more. So I began at the beginning with Primitive Mythology, his Volume 1, which I finished today.

I'm glad I decided to read it cover to cover, despite the fact that some of it was heavy-going, since a sustained reading gives a far greater sense of Campbell sustaining a thesis, as opposed to an awareness of his brilliant insights fostered by simply dipping in. I'm not sure how many of his assumptions about the spread of our species around the globe have been superseded by research undertaken subsequent to his writing - quite a number I would guess - but it's the poetry of his account that convinces.

I must say though, I closed the book with a feeling of relief at living at a time when one is not subject to the traditions and myths of one's tribe in an absolute manner. Several of the pages evoked a distinct sense of claustrophobia, a feeling of needing to escape from the confining thought-worlds under analysis. I wonder how many of the living sacrifices described within the pages of the volume felt the same way as their dreadful destinies became clear to them?

Saturday, March 10, 2018


I've reached an age when my employers require me to undergo an annual check-up before they hire me for the year ahead. I can see their point: some sort of assurance that an old chap like myself won't suddenly come to a juddering halt in the middle of all the insane busyness they require makes sense. And I really don't mind being given some sort of medical seal of approval on occasion, though I take these with a reasonable pinch of salt.

So today I was nothing loath, as they say, to show up at the medical centre to do the necessary. And I'm pleased to say my blood pressure impressed the doc, though that was about all that actually was checked in any meaningful way. It remains for me to get my chest x-rayed and the rather light-weight process will be over. To be honest, I think I'd prefer something rather more thorough, which I suppose I'll provide for myself later in the year at some point.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


My standard answer to the question, Who was the greatest female vocalist of the twentieth century? is simple, clear and unarguably true: Ella Fitzgerald. Beyond dispute, as I'm sure you'll agree. But my goodness me, Sandy Denny wasn't far behind, as I reminded myself this evening after stumbling upon a video of her with Fotheringay, live at the Beat Club in long ago 1970.

But here's the thing. Listening to Ella invariably makes me happy. Sheer uncompromised joy. Listening to Sandy evokes nothing but sadness and loss. Who could have known where the time would go, eh?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Bit Of Conflict

Found myself thinking today, rather unexpectedly actually, about the notion of 'Character Strengths' as related to the field of what has come to be termed 'Positive Psychology'. In some ways the concept appeals to me, especially in its relation to Virtue Ethics, the mode of ethical reasoning I find myself embracing in my dotage, insofar as I consciously embrace any such mode; in some ways I find myself almost instinctively distrusting what, in some of its incarnations, looks suspiciously susceptible to metamorphosing into a monster of pop psychology.

I am conflicted. In fact, I've been thinking about some of the fundamental issues involved herein hard enough to give myself a mild headache. So I'll let this go for the moment, but I know I'm bound to return to these issues and I know I need to do a lot more reading and observing before I reach not so much an answer, as a truce.