Sunday, February 25, 2007
The other book I read in KL (cover to cover, in this case) was Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety. I'd previously read his The Consolations of Philosophy and enjoyed it, though I did feel a bit puzzled about the surrounding hype. Readable, certainly, but hardly earth-shattering in terms of content. But now I see that this is part of the attraction. Both books are supremely accessible. They take ideas that could easily be over-complicated and explore them in a simple and straightforward manner that is most engaging, especially in terms of the sheer approachability of the writer. He sounds pretty much like one of us, keen to learn useful lessons from those who have something to teach and keen to show us exactly how they might be applied to our difficult lives. I suppose this is a branch of 'self-help' literature, but in this case genuinely helpful in getting us beyond considerations of self. Certainly I recognised much of myself in Status Anxiety, which is odd really since a few years back I think I would have said that status meant little or nothing to me. Most of all it's the corrosive nature of envy, regarding which de Botton is spot on, that has become unpleasantly familiar to some of my thoughts, some of the time. And that some is too much.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Despite the general busyness of work I've been getting on with Fredy Neptune and am now well into the fourth section of the novel/poem, The Police Revolution. We're in Germany, Nazism is on the rise and people are doing terrible things to each other. It's depressing & bracing in roughly equal measures. No, that last phrase is there as a cliché. It's depressing. But there's an awful sense of this is probably what it was like then, and this is what it will be like anywhere the ethical climate gets poisoned enough to let us be depressingly human in our cruelty and negligence. Back in KL I also started reading English Passengers in tandem with Fredy Neptune and this is serving to reinforce my literary bout of depression. English Passengers is highly entertaining as a read and the sections dealing with the experience of the Tasmanian aborigines are outstandingly well done but the fact that you know these poor souls are going to be wiped out means you read with that dark cloud hovering over everything. And this happened so casually so inevitably so unjustly just yesterday! It would seem a good idea for me to get though these texts as soon as possible and fall into something a touch more cheerful. Having said that, I'm due to reread Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things as I'm going to be talking to one of my classes about it and Miss Roy knows more than a few things about the dark places in the human soul. Puzzle: given that literature attempts to deal with life at some sort of truthful level, and given the awful truth about our species, can there be such a thing as a genuinely cheerful sunnily cloudless book? I suppose Wodehouse comes as close as anyone has ever got, hence that peculiar sense of walking in a kind of earthly paradise you can get with Jeeves & Gally & Psmith et al.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Why had I never heard of Les Murray's Fredy Neptune (a novel in verse) until I came across it on one of those favourites lists at amazon.com? Possibly it's simply because I'm very badly informed about what's hot in the world of books, but I have the feeling that this gem has not got anything close to the acclaim it deserves. Written in what seem to be fairly flexible eight-line stanzas, it lurches through the history of the early twentieth century (moving around a fair bit - the Middle East, Australia, the United States, so far, and I'm about two-thirds of the way through) in picaresque fashion, with a curiously engaging hero. He's curious because, for much of the narrative, (1) he lacks all sense of feeling due to a kind of moral shock after witnessing appalling cruelty from his fellow humans (in a sense the whole poem is a meditation upon our species' capacity for cruelty) and (2) he doesn't really have great depths as a character, despite the ruminative nature of the kind of text he's part of. Things, many of them, just seem to keep happening to him, packing the stanzas with events to keep things moving despite the heavily clotted nature of the language they move in. Many sections demand a sustained effort to get through, especially the dialogue-heavy verses, but I had no problem in willingly making that effort, meeting that demand. Quite often I found myself relishing reading back over a few stanzas to get back to my place and feeling the material come alive twice-over in doing so. It helps that I find myself wanting to know, in a simple way, what's going to happen next. And that's what I'll be doing later, before catching up with my beauty sleep. On holiday I was making steady progress through Fredy but on a working day three or four pages is all I can manage, and is really all I want because this poem is too good to be rushed.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
We've been away in Kuala Lumpur, then Melaka, over the long weekend for Chinese New Year. The computer at our house in KL has a problem with its modem which means I've not been on-line there since the end of last year. Since that time we've not been around long enough to get it fixed. And in Melaka, at Noi's parents' house, the computer is pretty much in constant demand from various members of Noi's family. Hence the lack of postings in recent days. If I had posted I would probably have burbled on about the excellence of Les Murray's Fredy Neptune, the general goodness of Matthew Kneale's English Passengers and Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety, and the wonderful voice and songs of Sandy Denny. There were other fine things I enjoyed over the last five days or so and I hope to get round to saying a bit more about them between now and the weekend. But it's already fairly late here and there's work tomorrow so it's time to hit the sack.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
It's close to the midnight hour and I'm just about to eat dinner after a looong day. The rehearsal went well and lasted to around 7.30. I finally got a sense of the shape of the show, the momentum of the farce. After that it was off to the car dealer's to close what looks like a good deal. Time, and the rigours of the road, will tell.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Highlight of the day: exchanging Valentine cards with my wife at 6.10 this morning, to send me off happy to work. After that it had to have been all downhill, but it wasn't too steep a descent, thankfully, though a fairly long meeting in the afternoon was not exactly a bundle of laughs. But these things have to be, and it was well-organised and, as things go, it went. We were supposed to get a new car this evening but there's been a slight delay. Tomorrow will be a long day with a rehearsal for Black Comedy to be followed by receipt of the said vehicle. When you think about it those are by no means unpleasant ways of spending one's time. Always look on the bright side…
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
We faced a small crisis yesterday evening, one that accounts for the lack of diarying for 12 February. The fates (and our foolishness) conspired to get us locked out of our computer room. The lesson we learned: keep keys to a room outside the room itself. And it was an expensive lesson - Noi had to plead with a locksmith chappie, employed occasionally by Gebian, to come and do the necessary, all the way from Tuas. He arrived, I'm told, just before midnight, taking all of 5 minutes to break-in. By that hour I was enjoying a few zzzz's so I missed the drama of it all. If we hadn't have been able to get someone around I would have faced a dreadful day at work since my school bag was inside the locked room. Thank goodness for Noi's (considerable) powers of persuasion. I'm trying to sustain some real reading but finding myself tending to merely dip here & there. I've embarked on Fredy Neptune a novel in verse by Les Murray, and it's cracking stuff, but it needs, it deserves, to be read slowly. The result is a lot of enjoyment for me but a feeling I'm not fully applying the grey matter. Also Boon leant me Karen Armstrong's book on the axial age and it's a bit too substantial to surrender to a few day's reading but I can't resist dipping in. However, it's kind of cutting across some other stuff I had in mind and I'm inclined to put it to one side for a while.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Today has been blighted by a tough spell of marking. Things started reasonably smoothly but I hit a few roadblocks on the last set of work, slowing my pace considerably. Still the day is not exactly over. Rozita & the children are visiting and we'll be off to dinner shortly. And United beat Charlton last night, so things can hardly be said to be bleak. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the last time I phoned Mum she'd posted yet another big win at Bingo - 60 quid, no less. I'll be phoning her later in the hope of further good news on that front.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Life seems to be getting distinctly busier, hence the missing entry for yesterday, Friday. I got back home around 7.00 pm (we'd gone for a cuppa and a bit of shopping at Katong Mall) and Mei & Boon arrived at 7.30 to accompany us on a brisk walk to East Coast Park. On the way back we dropped into Komala's for some rather spendid nosh (thosai for me!) with Yati & Nahar joining us. It was a nice break to our usual routine but it meant we didn't get back until later than we normally would have done so I forewent any form of diarying/blogging. This morning I dropped Noi off at IKEA whist I went into work for a rehearsal of a scene from Black Comedy, which we're putting on in March. The scene hadn't been blocked before, basically due to the technicalities involved in terms of props, so it presented a bit of a challenge. However, the rehearsal went well. The cast are well into their roles now and have a lot of nous concerning what to do and what not to do and things generally flowed along. I think we're at that point where once the players know where they have to be they'll find out the fine detail of what they need to do there for themselves. Back home I finished Martin Lings's little book Symbol & Archetype. I've been reading this on and off for months. Rich in meaning (after all it's A Study of the Meaning of Existence and things don't get much richer than that) I can't imagine any other pace to read it than an extremely slow and reflective one. By the way, in Preview mode this is rather neatly paragraphed, so don't blame me for a badly blocked production.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
The high point of the day: in the hawker centre next to Eunos MRT station, eating hot curry puffs (two for me) and drinking hot, sweet tea in the company of my wife, with nothing else to think about for that half-an-hour. Life just doesn't get any better.
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
I enjoyed listening to Lear in the car going into work but, oddly, couldn't get into it at all on the way back home. The traffic was heavy, presenting an opportunity to listen to a goodly stretch, and I'd reached some of my favourite bits of Act IV but I just couldn't focus. I realised this when I found I'd zoned out on the Oswald/Edgar fight, a part of the play I feel a particular need to bring alive for myself since, somehow or other, I've never got deeply involved in it (and I'm talking about all the way back to first reading the play at sixteen years old.) Finally I decided to switch to a bit of music - the incomparable Richard Thompson. The CD of choice was you? me? us? which remains a personal favourite despite not being so highly rated by critics (or at least that's the vague impression I've got. Not caring much for music critics means I'm generally woefully ignorant of accepted wisdom in the area of popular, or not so popular music.) For some reason Dark Hand Over My Heart speaks with great power to me despite my personal situation being very different from that of the lyrical voice.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Yesterday's run did not result in the kind of creaky legs I suffered last week - a small mercy. And somehow I've avoided, so far, Noi's sore throat being passed on. The strange thing about the extraordinary good fortune of being reasonably healthy is the way in which I take it completely for granted. I just hope my undeserved good fortune holds. In Jakarta people are dealing with flooding, to name one troubled spot close to home. Again, reflecting upon one's lack of real problems is a humbling experience. My biggest irritant of the moment is not being able to get this written in paragraphs.
Monday, February 5, 2007
I got 9 laps of the track done today in the late afternoon. My pace is slow, almost to the point of stopping at times, but that's no bad thing. I don't want to injure myself by overdoing it and I sense my back is still vulnerable. Let's face it, back in 1999 or thereabouts I don't think I would have believed you if you told me that one day I'd be running again. I've been listening to my Naxos CDs of King Lear in the car (again). I was very tempted to buy even more spoken word stuff when we were in England in December (especially a set containing excerpts from Spenser's Faerie Queen) but I restrained myself, partly because I was concerned about problems carrying the CDs in my hand luggage, and partly because I wasn't sure I'd find the time to do the stuff justice. I've managed to give Lear a fair amount of air time so perhaps the second concern wasn't really valid. This time round I'm particularly enjoying the performance of Kent, an actor called David Burke, if I'm not mistaken. When in disguise he speaks in a wonderful Geordie accent which seems completely right for this most plain of all characters. Kent is a wonderfully unsophisticatedly noble nobleman. His rant against Oswald at Gloucester's castle is a great set-piece and he can be loved simply for this. I have no idea why I identify with him, but I do - in an aspiring sort of way. Some of my students were airing their uncertainties about why the school had selected the local poetry anthology No Other City as one of their set texts for the IBDP. One or two seemed to think the school had been thinking in terms of delivering National Education in making this choice. For anyone outside Singapore the phrase 'national education' probably doesn't mean a lot, but if you're a student or teacher in Singapore you'll know just how large this looms in schools here. Despite my outsider status I don't have much of a problem with NE, as it is generally, if not affectionately, termed. The policy (if that's what it is) revolves around some six or so key messages which schools seek to either encourage students to explore or simply impress upon them. Since I don't find anything to argue with in the messages, and I'm keen to explore ideas of national significance, I sort of enjoy doing my share of delivering NE. (These days most things in school are delivered rather than taught.) But what was interesting to me today was the sense I had that most of the students in the class seemed either scornful or distrustful of NE, or both. From my perspective No Other City is almost the antithesis of what is commonly taken to be NE. Most of the voices therein seem deeply critical of the way in which Singapore has developed and, if anything, it strikes me as quite a subversive text (if only gently so.) I'm interested to see if the class change their mind(s) about why we are taking the collection on board. There was also a sense in which the students took it that the text had been selected to show that Singapore could produce something in literary terms as good as other nations' work, but that, in reality, the work was second rate. Again, I find my own feelings of what literature (or any art) is for, so radically different in conception that it's hard to quickly and clearly explain why I don't think in this way. The challenge for me is to try and convey how I feel about this without forcing my views on the class.
Sunday, February 4, 2007
My delight in solving the great paragraph problem in this forum proved premature. Yesterday's entry looked okay in the Preview window, but that didn't translate to its virtual presence on the web. But at least I can now get italics for titles. Yesterday ZK phoned. He tells me he's lost a lot of weight, through cycling it seems. Again I was made to feel a touch guilty regarding leaving my previous school. I thought I'd made it clear to him I'd be going, but it seems not. Now he's reached Secondary Four I'm hoping he finds getting through school reasonably smooth sailing. He's happy with his teachers, especially his Form Teacher, so that much suggests the year could be a success story. I invited him around some time and hope he follows me up on this. He certainly knows how to make himself at home here.
Saturday, February 3, 2007
The highlight of the day (so far) was brunch at Upper Thompson Road (prata & teh tarik) with Brian Ng & Tony Green, the latter being over in Singapore from New Zealand for a spell. Good food & better conversation was followed by a brief visit to the park at Upper Peirce Reservoir where there were monkeys and peace in abundance. At one point I found myself waxing lyrical over the brilliance of the Aubrey/Maturin novels and Russell Crowe's performance in Master & Commander. Unfortunately I don’t think I did my subject matter justice but possibly my sincerity will have made the point for me. It looks as if I might finally be able to write in paragraphs as the formatting seems to be responsive, at last. A major step forward indeed!
Friday, February 2, 2007
Noi & I went for a brisk walk to East Coast Park earlier this evening. My legs have felt a bit creaky since Monday's jaunt and it felt good to get some more exercise, though of a much milder variety. On our way back I bumped into some ex-students of mine from the school I was teaching in for the three years immediately before this. I felt oddly guilty that I was no longer there - which was particularly strange since all these kids had left anyway. As usual most of their names escaped me and that made me feel bad, as if I somehow didn't value them as individuals. Oddly enough I vividly remembered them in school. It's just that my brain seems jammed with names and there only ever seems enough room for the names of students I'm currently teaching. The truth is that each student is a universe to themselves and as a teacher you can never do justice to their individuality - but you should never cease from striving to do so.
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Yesterday was a long one in terms of work. After the afternoon session with the ACSIS branch of Drama Club Ferdinand & I took the 6 committee members to Pizza Hut for dinner and a committee meeting. It was time well spent. I'm finding my work in the sessions invigorating. The quality of what the students produce is excellent, particularly considering the time constraints they are up against when getting material ready for in-house performance. I'm finding simply planning the sessions a pleasure. The evening meal was fun and, I think, useful in sorting out issues related to the functioning of the CCA. It's not all clear sailing - and that's good because the learning comes from dealing with the obstacles, and that's my learning as much as the students. Today was also a bit of a challenge, especially trying to put together a meaningful PC period for my class. I'm trying to avoid turning into a preacher or a nagger, but those are such easy modes to adopt. The guys in my class are simply too grown-up for me to take the easy way out and deliver neatly packaged homilies. I don't think I succeeded in what I was shooting for today, but I think there was some value in what was happening. Uncertainty is good for me. I'm far too complacent about my work.