Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Christmas Spirit, Again

It was round about this time last year that I discovered the joys of Dylan's Christmas album, the wonderfully accurately titled Christmas in the Heart. I'd heard about the release of the album, back in 2009, and wondered about getting hold of it then, but the generally poor reviews put me off. Silly me! I played it twice last year, the first time on the way down to Honey Street in Devon, and then in Kate and Rob's old house itself, in the kitchen, before the rest of the household awoke. As I reported then, it seemed to me the perfect Christmas album, strangely bringing back for me a visceral sense of Christmas Past and its particular joys.

I gave it another spin today and was swept away. I never thought I would ache with such nostalgia for the season, but the memories came flooding back from the first strains of Here Comes Santa Claus. And, funnily enough, nostalgia for our Devon sojourn was in the mix somewhere.

This is all deeply strange. Although I know most of the songs on the album, the carols most obviously, Dylan's Christmas is an entirely American one, it seems to me, situated some time in the late 1940s. I can't quite work out how this becomes a Manchester Christmas of the 1960s, though I suppose America is what we got on the telly. (For some reason I keep thinking of Andy Williams.) Indeed, the songs that now are regarded as Christmas songs in the UK, generally having their origins in the 1970s, uniformly depress me.

One aspect of the magic is Dylan's voice. It's almost completely raddled and works in complete contrast to the breezily cute, very white harmonies of the backing singers, the painfully lovely strings, (not credited for some reason) and the lush yet spare precision of the band. But he really means what he's singing in an entirely, goofily manner. You sort of want to laugh, and frequently smile, but the tenderness sucks you in. How sad it must be not to enjoy this.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Dampened Enthusiasm

Found myself at Holland Village this afternoon, supping a leisurely chai latte and not doing much of anything, and doing it very well I might add. The Missus has popped over to Melaka for a few days to help look after Mak but I've got some duties to attend to over here so we were unable to pop together. Sad, but it allows me time to play what Noi terms 'loud music' (not really sure what she means by this) and to have a walk to HV and back, which she's understandably reluctant to do whilst wearing the hijab.

Today's walk to the village was easily accomplished given the coolish weather. It had rained earlier in the afternoon and the world felt suitably washed and in order. However, whilst I was sitting with my drink in splendid idleness the rain resumed in a distinctly established manner, much to my chagrin. I really, really wanted to walk back and shake out the accumulated knottiness of recent days and here was the universe denying me. Having released my inner infant in a bout of petulant longing I realised that endeavouring to make the return journey on foot was a possibility. It was raining but not pouring and only the other evening I'd been chatting with Fuad about just how much ground you can cover under cover (as it were) in the city and environs now there are so many pedestrian walkways.

So I decided to endeavour and stepped out accordingly. Let me tell you, Gentle Reader, it is quite amazing just how much of the walk from Holland Village to Dover Road can be accomplished with excellent protection from the rain. Unfortunately, for the final stretch of the journey, after Rochester Mall, around Anglo-Chinese Junior College, the cover effectively disappears, apart from a few benign trees. Ironically this is probably the prettiest part of the way back. On a wet afternoon, however, it is wet in the wettest sense of the word.

In summary, I arrived home happily exercised and somewhat unhappily wet, having learnt that when the universe wants its own way there's precious little you can do about it. I was able to cheer myself up though remembering just how thoroughly miserably cold and wet we managed to get in Edinburgh this time last year. In comparison this Far Place offers a distinctly comfortably warm version of wetness, a sort of easy dampness.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Easy Listening

How much live Crimson is enough? I've successfully resisted buying the mega-box sets. So far. But listening to the magnificent King Crimson: Live In Chicago I'm beginning to wonder whether there isn't a case to be made for getting everything possible. It's the way the repertoire is constantly being rethought, clearly in the excitement of actual performance, that makes Crimson essentially a live unit, whatever the particular formation being listened to. So for anyone, like myself, reasonably familiar with the repertoire the live stuff is constantly surprising, revelatory, rewarding.

Now listening to the reworking of Indiscipline, with Jakko outrageously singing the spoken segment, wonderfully not knowing what's coming next on a piece that's always been a fave. I do think it's good!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Listening Hard

I recently acquired a 10 CD set of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas as performed by Daniel Barenboim. I did wonder about the degree of foolhardiness involved in acquiring so much at one go, but since I've found myself listening very regularly to the 5 CD set of the Mozart Piano Sonatas I got hold of some two years ago, I thought it made sense to go in this expansive direction in broadening my musical education.

I've heard the most famous of the Beethoven Sonatas before, having owned a few on cheap cassette tapes, so the material isn't exactly new to me. But having played the first half of the set I've found myself slightly shocked at just how demanding old Ludwig is in comparison to Wolfgang Amadeus. It's possible to bang on the Mozart and just enjoy the sound for the sound, if you know what I mean. It's basically beautiful in what seems an uncomplicated kind of way (though 'seems' is the operative word here.) With the Beethoven you're left in no doubt that whilst enjoyment is one of the responses available to the listener there are numerous others, and the composer is going to rip those responses out of you, come what may, assuming you're prepared to listen.

So I'm afraid I'd better get prepared to listen to get my money's worth. (Isn't it extraordinary, by the way, just how much the highest of high culture is available to us for so little?)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Thinking Hard

Avoiding any kind of really difficult thinking is, as we all know, very easy in the times in which we live. So much of what the world offers seems designed to prevent any kind of deeply considered thought that there's a distinct whiff of the conspiratorial about it. But, to balance that rather paranoid notion there are also paths to follow which allow engagement with the kind of thought that requires muscular flexing of the grey matter. (Ridiculous image, but how does one convey what it's like to struggle with ideas in a strenuous fashion?)

I've deliberately been trying to expose myself to this kind of thinking in recent years, to supplement the generally enjoyably self-indulgent way I foster the life of the mind. In the last few weeks such exposure has involved rereading Prof Feser's Philosophy of Mind: A Short Introduction in an attempt to grasp with reasonable clarity the totality of the field. I've now covered the first four chapters, generally grasping the ideas, though I'll need to go over Chapter 4, on Qualia, at least once more to ensure I've finally understood the point of the philosophical zombies argument. 

An odd but useful coincidence has been the fact that the issue of Philosophy Now I'm reading, the one for August/September - which has taken me ages to get round to - has several articles related to questions of consciousness. The ones dealing with panpsychism I found particularly interesting. I can see the appeal of the concept, goofy as it initially sounds, but am also keenly aware of the need to give it a good deal more thought, hard thought, than I have at present.

The one article in the issue that proved beyond me was the one dealing with quantum theory: Does Consciousness Cause Quantum Collapse? I followed the first three-quarters but the last few paragraphs proved too knotty. I suppose that given my commitment to the notion of thinking hard I should persist in trying to crack the piece, but sometimes the lurking suspicion that the knottiness might be the result of muddled thinking at the writer's end undercuts even the most determined frame of mind.

Friday, December 8, 2017

On Their Way, Again

We were back at Changi Airport this afternoon, this time at the highly impressive Terminal 3 which found itself filled with groups - I counted at least four separate ones - setting off for the Umrah. Today we were there to see off Osman and Rohana.

Osman continues his fight against cancer, and we're all hoping, and praying, that the restoring power of the pilgrimage will help in the battle. He looked typically cheerful, so the send-off was a positive one. Just hoping that he's able to keep clear of any infection from the crowds he'll encounter in Medinah & Makkah.

They've just heard that MUIS have confirmed that they'll be able to complete the Hajj in 2018, so more positive news there.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

On Their Way

Went to Changi Airport early in the morning to wish Yati & Nahar well as they set off for the Umrah. Tried to tell them something useful from our experience to help them on their way, but realised how difficult it is to communicate anything of the lived reality without resorting to clich├ęs. No doubt they'll be finding out what they need to know for themselves even as I write.

How strange any pilgrimage is. Intensely private yet entirely communal.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Lack Of Balance

Found myself thinking about food today - not so much in terms of obsessing about what I wanted to eat, but with regard to our collective relationship with the stuff. My thoughts were partly prompted by having read somewhere that the rate of obesity in the US is now around 40% for the adult population. This struck me as both horrifying yet entirely plausible at one and the same time. I'm not even sure that this is the highest rate among nations at this time, though I'm assuming it must be in the top three. I'm also assuming that where the US leads the rest of the world is likely to follow. Hope I'm wrong about this.

Then as we began to eat dinner just now, Sky News ran an item on food wastage in the UK. I can't remember the numbers, I just know that the wastage per household was staggering. This was partly related to the labelling of food and the misunderstanding of 'best-eaten by' dates so there was some kind of logic involved, but I strongly suspected that attributing the problem to that single cause was misguided. Noi and I watched in fascination the other day as a pair of well-healed ladies in Malaysia left behind almost the entirety of two dishes they'd ordered in a restaurant. It was painful to see the perfectly good food being thrown into the waste as the table was cleared. This little anecdote doesn't in any way explain the wastage on a national scale but it says something about perfectly ordinary behaviour I think most of us are very familiar with.

We make the oddest assumptions about being balanced as individuals but the crazy imbalances in the way our species deals with food should help us see a deep truth about ourselves. We are fundamentally distorted in the fundamentals of our being in any number of ways. Balance is something to seek, and seek desperately.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Some Comfort

Now back in our usual Far Place. Went to my back doctor this afternoon, not because of the aches and pains of the last two days, but for a purely routine appointment. To my surprise he gave the workings of my spine and lower back a completely clean bill of health, saying the movement was free and flexible. The odd thing was that I felt myself recovering from the aches and pains of the weekend even before the drive back here, and the drive itself proved almost entirely comfortable.

I decided, perhaps in somewhat foolhardy fashion, to get myself back to the gym this evening and, as far as I can tell, the workout has furthered the process of recovery - though I'll know more about this tomorrow. It's oddly fascinating to have to deal with an intimate part of the self that one hardly knows in any real sense at all.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Not So Comfortable

I've been following my usual routine in Melaka, not doing much of anything at all. This has been made even easier to follow by the fact that my back is aching with a small but righteous fury. Not sure why. I suppose I put it down to changing beds, the one here being comfortable but a bit too soft to provide real support. We'll be on the road later, which is a bit challenging given the circumstances, but I've felt a lot worse in the past and managed to cope.

Actually coping with the ordinary business of life becomes an interesting challenge when your body is distinctly less than interested in helping you do so.