Thursday, March 23, 2017

Unwelcome News

Enjoyed a jolly evening yesterday in the company of David & Shirley, who are passing through to attend the wedding of David's son in Australia. An opportunity, among other things, to catch up with news from my old stomping grounds in Rawmarsh. Sadly, inevitably, some of the news was not good. Hearing of the death of one old colleague in particular came as a bit of a shock, for the old colleague was not exactly old in the usual sense. The problem is that I've reached that stage of life in which such news is becoming routine. 

Mind you, the latest news regarding Osman's chemotherapy here on this island sounds very promising indeed. As Peter reminded me the other day at work, when telling me some more bad news about one of our current colleagues: we need to count our blessings. Utterly clich├ęd because it's so entirely true and sane.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Safe Spaces

Disheartened to read in a recent issue of Philosophy Now of an attempt by the student union at Bristol University to prevent Sir Roger Scruton from speaking there on the grounds that his offensive views on gay marriage (offensive, that is, to those who support the idea) render gay students less safe (due to their sheer offensiveness. I think that's the way the argument goes.) It seems this is known as no-platforming, a ghastly neologism for a spectacularly dumb idea.

Astonishing. If I were a gay student supporting the concept of gay marriage, or a straight student supporting the concept, or an asexual student supporting the concept, I surely would want to listen to such an accomplished speaker and thinker to hear his arguments and engage with him to show where he is going wrong and creating the offence I might be feeling. I might even be humble enough to accept the idea I might learn something from him, even if it's only learning exactly what his perspective is. Who knows, I might even find I'm no longer quite so offended. Sometimes those whom we regard as being in the wrong can be in the wrong in interesting and illuminating ways. Isn't this the kind of civilised dialogue and exchange of ideas that universities were created for?

It worries me that in seeking to keep students safe we may render them safe from actually learning anything.

Monday, March 20, 2017

In Delay

In delay there lies no plenty, says Shakespeare's great song in Twelfth Night. That seems so obviously true as to be axiomatic, but finding a sense of plenitude in delay is possible, and extremely useful. Think of how much richer life might be if we could actually enjoy being stuck in a traffic jam. I haven't quite reached the stage of living that wisdom, but I'm getting there.

Last night, for example, when I saw the tailback of red lights snaking down from the peak of the bridge at Tuas, to within range of the Malaysian customs, did I rage and curse? Only sort of, Gentle Reader, and that was on the inside. To the casual observer, not that there were any, I would have appeared not shaken and only mildly stirred.

(In truth, I made an instant estimate that we might effect entry to this far place in two hours and was highly gratified in managing to get through in just fifty-five minutes. So that helped considerably in the lowering of temperature.) It's good to be put the test once in a while (as long as it is only once, that is.)

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Now briefly at Mak's house in Melaka. Arrived yesterday evening, early enough to venture into Alor Gajah for a teh tarik and burger and get a good night's rest ahead of the term beginning. Noi was plying the clippers this morning to ensure I'm suitably shorn for the rigours ahead - and she also cut Mak's hair as well.

We were trying to figure out when we bought the Remington clippers Noi traditionally uses. Sometime in the last millennium, I suspect. It's a long time since I paid for a haircut so the clippers have definitely paid for themselves. For a cheapskate like myself this is a big deal, you know!

Saturday, March 18, 2017


Got carried away reading Jonathan Bate's Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life yesterday and finished it this morning. Left with a feeling of mild depression. Good to find out more about Hughes post-1963, but can't escape the sense that his was a life underpinned by dreadful suffering - of himself and others.
I can't see myself wanting to read anything other than the wonderful poetry of Hughes and Sylvia Plath (and their often wonderful prose also) in future. I feel like I know too much about stuff I shouldn't.
Bate is a lot more sensitive in his treatment of the material than I'd expected from reading Janet Malcolm's demolition piece in the NYRB last year (I think it was), but I've just glanced at what she wrote again and, despite the many good things I can think of to say about Bate's book I can see her point. An inability to do real justice to the writer and those around him is built into the whole biographical process. But if all this secures Hughes's place as a great poet then I suppose it's gruesomely necessary.
One thing about myself as a reader that hit me very strongly reading the biography was just how much I love Hughes's work for children and in what high regard I hold it. Bate hardly seems to take books like What is the Truth? Under the North Star and Season Songs seriously. For me, they represent something close to pure delight and, in that simple sense, real vision.

I suppose that's why the biographical aspect of the whole Hughes/Plath phantasmagoria gives me a headache. There's something essentially cheerful and life-affirming about TH that it misses. Mind you, it could well be that I'm just one of the infantile adults that Hughes joked he wrote Season Songs for.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Found Out

Following a very hot Wednesday we've experienced a very wet Thursday and Friday. Not that it has rained throughout either day, but both have featured fierce storms with attendant thunder & lightning in the afternoon. Towards the end of yesterday's storm we realised that the house had sprung a leak or two, as a result of which we called our contractor Ah Seng today. His man did a bit of patching up in the morning which was found to be inadequate by today's storm. The upshot is we need a new roof and soon. We're targeting June, when we'll next be here.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Separate Lives

I was vaguely hoping to get to the end of Boswell's Life of Johnson whilst we are here in KL. However, this is almost certainly not going to be the case. I'm within sight of the ending - about a quarter of the total left - but there's no real momentum to my reading. Basically each page is more of the same, which is enjoyable in its way, but other than the inevitable deterioration of the great man's health (and that of others, with quite a number of friends and companions off to meet their Maker in recent pages) it's obvious that there'll be little new under the sun.

Indeed, it's the curiously circular, repetitive nature of the writing that exerts an unusual kind of narrative hold as once again either Boswell, or Johnson, or both, obsess about whether abstaining from wine is a good thing, whether they should really be hob-knobbing with dreadful Whigs & Infidels and the like, why subordination according to birth is essential to a healthy society and why women sleeping around is infinitely worse than their husbands doing the same thing (amongst any number of other weird and wonderful concerns.) I suppose, though, there are other elements of narrative, or rather gaps in the narrative, that have a kind of intrigue about them: Exactly what is it that Mrs B. has got against the Doctor and will she ever forgive him? Is the biographer or his subject the more prone to the Black Dog, a shared species of suffering that clearly contributes to their odd sense of closeness? Just how outrageous does Johnson's behaviour have to get before someone decides to stick one on him?

So there is, I suppose, a kind of narrative pleasure to be derived from the text even as one has grown thoroughly accustomed to it. But this is not enough to keep this reader desperate for more. So for respite I've been dipping into Bate's Unauthorised Life of Ted Hughes. And here comes an odd synchronicity, of the sort that the great Yorkshire Bard would have enjoyed. It seems that the subject of the essay that Hughes was blocked on when he had the now famous dream of the man-fox was Samuel Johnson. Interestingly Bate reckons that TH was an admirer of the great lexicographer, despite not being able to get writing about him. I think I know why. Whatever else Johnson did he certainly lived.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Still Napping

Out of all my many talents (real or imagined) my ability to fall asleep in almost any location or situation is one of those I prize highest. Further proof of my considerable ability in this domain has emerged over the last couple of days in which I managed to start yawning whilst driving to KL despite extensive napping in the twenty-four hours prior to the journey, contrived to fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow when I finally took to my bed here, achieved a great many hours more than the prescribed eight after doing so, only waking briefly for the azan, then fell asleep listening to Brahms's mighty 4th Symphony in the early afternoon, and, finally, nodded again after an elegant sufficiency of late afternoon tea and curry puffs.

I suppose there's an element of catching up on lost kip in all this, but I can't honestly say I felt in desperate need of more than I've been getting for the last few weeks. I think it's all down to the fact that I enjoy sleeping so much and have never risen to the guilt felt by some folks on dozing their lives away.

Also it's mightily hot here, which lends a certain inevitability to the notion of a siesta or two or three to pass a highly satisfactory afternoon.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Caught Napping

We're off north in an hour or so and the Missus has announced that driving duties will devolve to myself. With this in mind I've been endeavouring, over the last twenty-four hours, to ensure I get enough sleep to ensure a reasonable degree of alertness all the way to KL. I'm happy to say I've been deeply successful in this regard. Time in oblivion is time well spent, I reckon.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Dark Places

It's been a long, long time since I've watched anything at the Victoria Theatre. We found ourselves there yesterday and the interior was unrecognisable. It all looked a bit rundown the last time I sat in the stalls. Now it's as plush as The Esplanade.

We were there for Pangdemonium's production of Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman. I had high expectations and wasn't let down. The play was brilliantly crafted and the players performed in with an equivalent brilliance. Each time I see Adrian Pang on stage he seems to get better. I mean he's always top notch but the range he's capable of just seems limitless. In broad terms, I can't imagine a West End or Broadway production could have been any better than what we saw last night.

The only slight reservation I had about the piece was the length. It ran at almost three hours by my watch. The interval came after a full two hours, though I must say the first act was so gripping that it really didn't seem that long. But I thought the last half hour felt a few minutes too long. McDonagh seems to me to milk the self-referencing a bit further than needed. The stuff about 'fashionable down-beat endings' seemed more than a little superficial after the raw power of the material dealing with child abuse.

I suppose that's where the uncertainty might come in as to whether this is truly great drama, for all its many virtues. Does the play as a whole convince that it's doing justice to its awful material? It takes crazy tactless risks - and I think that's part of the reason it succeeds.