Friday, November 24, 2017

The Road About To Be Taken

Now contemplating, with a reasonable degree of equanimity, the road ahead to the Malaysian capital, to be taken once I get back from Friday Prayers. Whether that equanimity remains in place once we're actually on that road remains to be seen.

Main highlight of the journey was a gorgeous rainbow which manifested itself in spectacular fashion after some rain around the Pagoh area. Unfortunately the rainbow appeared in the south and we were driving north, but I got a decent enough view from my side mirrors to feel reasonably elevated. Second place highlight was the tea and toasted bread at the ARAB CafĂ© at Ayer Keroh.

There were several lowlights, but since these were eminently forgettable, generally involving slow-moving traffic, of which there is a plenitude in Malaysia, I have forgotten them

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A La Turka

Making excellently slow progress on Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul. Since his memoir sees the Nobel Laureate at his most melancholic and Proustian, then slow reading is the only way to go. In contrast I fairly shot through Stephen Kinzer's Crescent & Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds which Jamilah very kindly leant to me, expressing much enthusiasm for the text. I could see why. It's very informative indeed on Turkish history and culture in general, especially the Ataturk era and its legacy. Kinzer has very clear views on where Turkey needs to go in future - towards the EU and democracy - and is a tad patronising and simplistic at times, but his heart is in the right place and he clearly knows a lot about Turkey, which he conveys in a thoroughly engaging manner.

Jamilah also passed me a novel by Elif Shafak, about whom she was even more enthusiastic than she was about Mr Kinzer. So at the moment there's no escape from Turkey for me, a very welcome state indeed.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Place Of Magic

Initially I was a wee bit disappointed by Collected Grimm Tales. Since it's advertised as containing the dramatisation for the stage by Tim Supple and the Young Vic Company I thought I'd be reading some fairly detailed scripts, but this was not the case. It's very difficult indeed to figure out how exactly the Tales worked on stage, as the script given is pretty much the translations/adaptations from the Brothers Grimm by Carol Ann Duffy divided up for voices with very little in the way of explanations of how the words were 'played' on stage. However, I soon got over whatever disappointment I felt in the simple pleasure of reading the texts.

The poet's rendering of the stories is stark and to the point, exactly what's needed to bring them to rumbustious life. I was struck by the sheer simple energy of the tales, how pure they are in terms of reducing everything to bare story, yet how genuinely magical they are in their pragmatic acceptance of the unlikeliness of the events involved. No worries here about characterisation. The characters just are: they do what they need to do and leave the listener to catch up with them.

I was particularly struck by just how dark the tales could be, especially in terms of the vicious relish with which the fates of the 'villains' was rendered. I don't think I'd ever encountered the notion of the step-mother of Snow White being forced to wear red hot shoes and dance to her death at her step-daughter's marriage feast, but it's an image that will stay with me.

My favourite of all the stories was Rumpelstiltskin, a tale I loved as a child and which I don't think I'd read since. Carol Ann Duffy's retelling seemed exactly the same as what I'd heard as a nipper. The titular character's rage at the end, tearing himself in two, seemed just as impressive to me as an old geezer as it did all those years ago. Not sure how you'd put that on stage!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

To Some Effect

It takes about a minute of my being on the elliptical trainer to realise just how much I don't enjoy the experience. This is so different from the days I used to go running when I'd enjoy almost every moment of the exercise. Wherein lies the difference? Well in the old days I was running somewhere and the rewarding sense of being out in the rich and varied world was  integral to the experience. On the trainer I go nowhere fast - or, rather, quite slowly, since I set the resistance to make it an uphill task. In the old days I took some pride in never breathing too heavily and trying to look reasonably comfortable as I ran. Now I find myself blowing like a beached whale and contorting my face in a version of something close to agony.

It isn't that I'm terribly unfit now - at least, I don't think this is the case. Rather, I think I'm pushing myself to the limit since there's really not much else to do when I'm on the machine and staring at the numbers. But there's a positive side to all this. Strangely I don't find myself in any way reluctant to get to the gym - far from it, in fact. And when I come away it feels just as good as it always did.

And slowly but surely, over time, I've definitely got fitter, which was something I doubted would happen a couple of years back when I discovered the joys of my machine of choice. Last Tuesday I posted my best ever numbers, and felt strong doing so. Of course, I'd still much rather be running out on the streets and sometimes fantasise about doing so, but I'll happily settle for the next-best thing if it means I can exercise reasonably regularly and escape injury in doing so.

Monday, November 20, 2017


The season of semi-formal dinners is at an end, with the final one being negotiated this evening. I suppose at one time the thought of filling my face held a primitive appeal. Now I find the amount I'm expected to scoff over-whelming. Fortunately I've managed to get to the gym fairly regularly over the last month or so, and kept myself moving at work, so I remain close to my fighting weight.

Fortunately I generally feel very uncomfortable carrying any excess weight at all, so the idea of cutting down on my intake is, if anything, a restful one. But it's a horrible irony that I sometimes find myself avoiding food in a world in which others are literally dying for it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Something Positive

Attended the wake for Daryl's dad this evening. Deeply sad, but also inspiring in terms of the sense of a life extraordinarily well lived, with remarkable courage over its final stretch.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

More Than Enough

We took Ann to the Gardens on the Bay yesterday afternoon, after picking her up at Serangoon Road. She didn't quite realise what she was in for, thinking we were simply going to a fairly ordinary park. It was nice to see her delight at the visual riches provided there, which reinforced our sense of how extraordinary the gardens are. A single flower is a treat for the eye; the mighty proliferation at the Bay goes beyond a feast.

I've rarely seen so much photography, from so many different angles, going on in a single location. Something strikingly beautiful everywhere you looked. I resisted the temptation, knowing I'll have opportunities for taking pictures in the future and feeling that just looking was more than enough.

Friday, November 17, 2017


Came home quite late just now and for reasons I don't quite understand found myself watching part of one of the Transformers movies. Had no idea what was actually happening on screen, but there was a lot going on. It was very noisy, very destructive and, for this viewer, very boring. But visually incredibly rich, to the point of being impossible to process. Tried to imagine someone watching this for enjoyment. Still trying. Tried to imagine someone making this. Couldn't.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


We've been catching up with Ann, who's passing through on her way back to York from the land of Oz, regarding what's been going on with various acquaintances in the UK, sometimes getting more detail of stories with which we're familiar to some degree. At times I'm troubled by a sense of intruding in some way into the affairs of others, but I'm also aware of feeling a genuine concern. The problem is that several of the stories are essentially sad. It's easier in so many ways to hear tales of success, but this is a salutary reminder that the ultimate end of every individual story is inevitably sad. The best we can hope for is a life well lived. But what a cause for celebration that is!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Remembering Solidariy

On the way to the airport just now to pick up a friend arriving from Australia I found myself listening to a fascinating programme on the BBC World Service covering the turbulent history of the Polish trade union - though that description fails to do justice to the organisation - Solidarity. It featured quite a number of those directly associated with the movement, several of whom had spent periods in prison on account of their brave attempts to foster democracy in Poland in the early eighties.

In retrospect the fall of the totalitarian regimes behind the Iron Curtain seems inevitable. At the time it seemed anything but, at least to the younger version of myself who assumed that little would change, despite the obvious courage of Lech Walesa and the like. How wonderfully wrong I was. And how wonderful it's been to witness so many unexpected developments in the world in my lifetime.

You may think things are standing still. They never are. Which is both exciting and deeply disturbing at one and same time. I'd be tempted to say that the story of Solidarity had a sort of happy outcome, except it didn't as we never get to see a final outcome for anything.