Wednesday, February 21, 2018


I took along a nice little cache of CDs to KL on our recent visit intending to luxuriate in sweet sounds. Sadly, this was not to be. The main stereo system suddenly decided not to play CDs and I had no back-up. So I was reduced to groovy listening in the car only. Fortunately I now know how to play my iPod stuff through the car's system so was able to appreciate just how good Bill Frisell's Disframer is as driving music in addition to simply being great music.

Also it was my good fortune to have plenty to read including the December 21 holiday issue of The New York Review of Books, which was something of a bumper issue. I'm still only halfway through it, but the quotient of deeply rewarding articles is already extremely high. My two favourites so far were a fascinating article on Goethe, the one obviously great classic writer whom I seem to know next to nothing about, and a very moving piece by Pakhaj Mishra concerning the plight of the Dalit caste in India. Both articles illuminated some dark places.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


We've spent the last two nights in Melaka, travelling down on Sunday evening when we able to admire the vast amount of traffic flooding into the Malaysian capital at the end of the Chinese New Year weekend whilst we were able to drive unhindered south. We're hoping for similarly unencumbered roads later today when we travel even further south to our usual Far Place.

I decided to switch things round a bit from our usual practice when resident at Mak's house. Bearing in mind the aches and pains manifesting in my back the last time we were here at the New Year, I opted to kip on the floor, hoping a hard surface would give my spine the necessary support that a soft bed just doesn't. It seems to have worked. Although I found myself aching considerably doing the Dawn Prayer, later in the day I've felt reasonably normal - a very happy place to be indeed.

This all serves as a reminder that I'm not exactly a stranger to sleeping on floors. I spent a fair amount of time at university and the years immediately following finding ways of getting comfortable on a hard surface. It's a skill well worth practising.

Monday, February 19, 2018


Found ourselves a bit lost but mostly found in the centre of Melaka in the afternoon. We were attempting to let those good people at Astro know of a change of credit card number, which means we’ve not paid any bills so far this year. Fortunately they’ve not cut off our service. Unfortunately they seem to want to make it as difficult as possible to actually pay them, being reluctant to accept my trusty credit card, despite it, in a previous incarnation, having provided them the necessary shekels for a number of years. Somehow we managed to give them the money they so richly deserve, though a trip to a smalll 7-Eleven store was necessary to actually get the cash into their hands.

But aside from this adventure we found ourselves loosely exploring Noi’s sort of hometown, which has changed considerably from the days we frequented Mahkota Parade on a regular basis. There are a lot more shops now, but that seems to be an inevitable feature of modernity. On the whole I’d say it’s a cheerful sort of place, despite the commerce. And I even managed to post today's update from there, using my phone. In itself, a bit of a first.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Children's Voices

Noi and I have been trying to think back to the last time Maison KL echoed to the sound of children's play and clatter and chatter. Looking at Fifi, Fafa & Ayu now it's difficult to place them as the little girls who entertained us with their Abba-themed concerts so long ago. In fact, we met up with Fuad and family yesterday evening at KLCC and it was entertaining to watch the very grown-up Fifi & Fafa dealing with Rozaidah's children - the triple A of Afnan, Akmar & Aishah - who were also noisily, ever so, in attendance.

Triple A & their poor parents came to stay the night, the catalyst for Noi and I thinking back to less peaceful pasts. What strange joy is it that kids find in running pointlessly around in large circles? Whatever it is, we could all do with some of it.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Of Sleep, No Shortage

I can't honestly say I was feeling particularly tired at work as the Chinese New Year came upon us, but I must say I managed to sleep more than well yesterday and today. I nodded off several times on Friday, even before attending Prayers, yet had no problem at all crashing out as soon as I went to bed at night, which was by no means at a late hour. And today I've successfully re-visited the land of nod a couple of times since getting up, despite not really intending to. This is all highly satisfactory even though it does interfere with my reading.

Still I managed to finish all the stories in Idries Shah's highly enjoyable Tales of the Dervishes. There's a fair amount of controversy regarding Mr Shah's standing as a kind of spokesperson for Sufism (assuming there is such a thing in a simple sense) but that doesn't detract from the obvious value of the teaching stories in the volume. Most have the simplicity of the great fairy tales combined with the depth of the great parables in a manner that's utterly beguiling. I'm also pressing on with Joseph Campbell's Primitive Mythology, the first in his four volumes in The Masks of God sequence. Again, beguiling stuff. We all need some enchantment in our lives.

And to balance the enchantment I thought I'd reread a battered paperback I've got of Hobbes's Leviathan. It's an abridged version but comes with an excellent introduction by its editor, John Plamenatz. A cheap Fontana from the mid-seventies, it's a reminder of a time when you could get hold of philosophical classics in well-edited popular paperbacks. TH has little time for enchantment, of course, but there's a kind of magic in connecting with one of the great minds of the seventeenth century making sense of the chaos of civil war and man's capacity for brutishness. Plenty to keep me awake here.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Dropping In

Now resident at Maison KL for Chinese New Year we managed to drop in on two of our neighbours on the first day of the festival and got treated to some splendid festive goodies in the process. Reports on events at our Taman from Susan & Mike and Mr Lian were essentially positive with membership of the association for the residents here picking up. We also got some background on our animal neighbours. It seems that wild deer have been spotted on the hillside nearby. Hooray.

To be honest we were not exactly delighted to find a heap of animal droppings on our balcony on arrival, which we initially ascribed to the monkey, or one of his simian chums, who'd so nonchalantly climbed up there when we were last here. Mike suggested that the more likely culprit was musang and after Susan & Mike described the smell said musang leave behind once they've been up on your roof I'm inclined to agree. When we arrived here late last night there was a strong, though not unpleasant, odour in our bedroom. I thought it might have something to do with a glade air-freshener we'd installed in the attached bathroom, but it sounded just like the smell left behind by a musang as described by our neighbours.

This doesn't make us any happier about the droppings, I'm afraid. One of life's great lessons: Neighbours who regard your balcony as a toilet are not to be encouraged. (As opposed to neighbours who have endless supplies of biscuits and goodies and are ever so ready to share them at CNY.)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

In Contrast

Odd morning. I happened to glance at the on-line edition of The Guardian a few minutes before things at work got really started and saw, with a familiar, sickening sense of horrified inevitability, the breaking news about the latest mass shooting in a US school. Then I moved on to a happy hour or so with the main class I'm assigned to followed by a very jolly celebration of the imminent Chinese New Year. Just before the celebration concert got started I updated myself on the latest on the shooting. It wasn't good.

I tried to process the two different worlds in which I found myself engaged. Couldn't. Felt very thankful indeed to be in the world I was.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Highs And Lows

Quite a few contenders for the high spot of the day. The award goes to the early morning exchange of slushy cards with you-know-who.

And, ironically, quite a few serious contenders for the low point. After painful consideration this goes to the moment when my laptop told me I couldn't unplug it because it was downloading something I hadn't asked for, and I desperately needed to pack it away and move on to an important duty that needed to begin in the next five minutes.

I remain baffled as to why I'm frequently told that this mysterious thing called IT facilitates my work when it has made my work far more complicated and taxing than it was some 25 to 30 years ago.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Hard Lessons

I thought there was little that could surprise me regarding the darker side of our nature. But the scandal emerging around the misdeeds of various people involved in the charity Oxfam has taken me aback. The revelations about young volunteer workers for the charity in their high street shops being abused particularly.

Something I know now that I didn't just ten years ago: Any organisation at all, regardless of its background, in the private or public sphere, needs necessarily to be monitored, indeed policed, as a likely location for abuse - whether psychological or physical. This sounds cynical, I suppose. But I don't think it is. It's just an acknowledgement of what we now know for sure about the way things are, the way we are.

And acknowledgement of the way things are is the beginning of a way forward.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Losing Touch

It's almost 30 years since I taught in the U.K. and I haven't much of a clue now as to the school system over there and how it functions today.  What I can say is that essentially I enjoyed my 10 years of teaching in South Yorkshire in the last century, remembering it as a time when I enjoyed a reasonable degree of autonomy as to what went on in my classroom. Having said that, I can also recall the irritation of being forced into a fair number of time-consuming pointless activities despite my relative freedom.

It was soon after I left that the system underwent dramatic changes related to central government taking a greater degree of control over pretty much every aspect of school life. At least, that's the general impression I got from a distance, and from my very, very occasional encounters with teachers from over there. Since I was teaching myself in a highly centralised system I can't say I felt any deep sympathy for folks caught up in those changes, already having wasted most of my sympathy on my poor self.

But over the last 8 or so years I've slowly formed the impression that in many ways things are now far worse for the ordinary classroom teacher in British schools than for most of us labouring at the whiteboard in this Far Place. This impression was dramatically reinforced for me today on reading an article in the online edition of The Guardian from the Secret Teacher files, not so subtly headlined, I feel stuck in a profession that's making me ill. It wasn't so much the story itself that had an impact, though the piece in itself made for sobering reading, as the narrative that emerged from my perusal of some of the 1535 comments at the bottom of the page.

How did things get so obviously crazy? It's a question worth asking of many an organisation, of course, and not just in the field of education. The funny thing is that I think I know a large part of the answer, though it would take a long time to explain this. I reckon it boils down to a single development, one that affects the modern world in all manner of ways. Once the discovery was made of the supposed need for managers and the curious science of management we were doomed ,no matter where we made our home or whatever trade we plied.