Monday, April 30, 2007
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Now we've just got back from a kenduri at Kak Kiah's, where we said prayers for Abang Mat who passed away a year ago. Fi Fi is with us as we're taking her to Phantom of the Opera tomorrow. We heard the news about United's victory (and Chelsea's lack of one) on the way back which engendered general cheerfulness, if not actual rejoicing.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Yesterday evening saw Noi & I happily making our way to our friendly gym at Katong, and coming back equally happy but rather more tired than when we set off. I still managed to get some reading done afterwards so I felt even more virtuous than in the previous week. I was a bit worried I might have overdone things but I'm mobile today so the damage couldn't have been too extensive. A motto for the moment: just keep going, you fool.
Actually I've felt for a long time that stubborn keepgoingness is a crucial quality in teachers but it never seems to really get acknowledged in the various systems of assessment one gets exposed to.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Woke to find out that United could only manage a draw with Middlesborough last night. Are they now stuttering in the race for the title? Chelsea have a tricky trip to Newcastle today so let's hope for the best.
I didn't try to stay up for the football last night as we came back fairly late and very tired from an evening at Vivo City, just one more amongst Singapore's multiplicity of shopping malls. We took the bus there as it's on a direct route from where we live. The great thing about going by bus is that you can use the journey to read as well as doing your (very little) bit for the environment. I wasn't exactly keen on going but it was a reasonably painless experience and we found quite a good place to eat - the Fig & Olive. I think Noi has had it in mind to try them out for quite some time. We also bought (or rather Noi bought for me) some new weighing scales which also do other extremely invasive things like measuring your body fat and body water, at least I think that's what the salesguy said. Body water, I'm not too sure of & need to look at the instruction book to find out if that's what they calculate and why one might need to know about this.
This morning I finished D. H. Lawrence's The Rainbow, which was what I was reading on the bus yesterday when in multi-tasking mode. I picked my copy off the shelves when we in KL after I completed Beckett's More Pricks Than Kicks. Lawrence has never been a writer with whom I've felt in any kind of sympathy, except in short bursts (though some of the poetry works its magic), but I suppose I felt an obligation to revisit something substantial of his and see if time had changed my attitude. It hadn't. The novel has its moments for me - the section dealing with Ursula's experience of teaching is extraordinarily resonant - but for most of its length I felt outside Lawrence's peculiarly intense world, though generally able to have some appreciation of what he is attempting.
Just back from Geylang market where we had a more than nice cup of tea and Noi bought chicken & stuff for tonight's dinner. We're heading over to Woodlands where Rozita will provide the other half of the dinner and the girls will crown me the 'King of Cadoo' (at my request.)
Once in a while I find myself wondering what it might be or might have been like to meet a particular writer. I don't think I would have enjoyed meeting Lawrence. The character to whom I seem closest in The Rainbow is Mr Harby, the dreadful schoolmaster and bully of Ursula. Sometimes literature can be less than reassuring.
On the other hand, I suspect meeting Joyce would have been a hoot. Though he would probably have tapped me for a few quid - well worth it in his case.
I've been pushing on with Alexander McCall Smith's The Sunday Philosophy Club this afternoon. It's one of two novels I picked up at the library last week and I suppose I picked it up expecting light entertainment with a bit of an edge. I enjoyed Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency more than somewhat. In fact, I left my copy with Mum in Manchester thinking that she'd enjoy it too. I don't think The Sunday Philosophy Club is in the same league though it's been an easy, enjoyable read. But I do think the writer is a little too fond of his main character, who is, in turn, a little too fond of herself. Normally I like novels with decent, likeable characters at their centre, but this one doesn't work hard enough to convince the reader of how difficult it is to be convincingly decent and, well, good.
Just back from playing Upwords with Fi Fi & Fa Fa & Mak Ndak at Woodlands. Great fun for all.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Friday, April 20, 2007
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
A bit more on Peter Grimes: the original libretto included material on Grimes as sexual predator, preying on the workhouse boys who are forced to assist him. This angle was never part of Crabbe's original poem The Borough, the basis of the opera. Britten & Pears decided to get Slater, the librettist, to excise these references, though I presume it was they who had originally encouraged their inclusion. At least I think this is what took place based on material I've seen recently on the Internet. (In his fine book Britten in the Master Musicians series, Michael Kennedy mentions none of this stuff regarding the development of the libretto though he does discuss the extent to which Britten's homosexuality informs the character of Grimes as outsider.) I can't help but feel that some of the power and complexity of Grimes himself derives from this 'missing' material, and also some of the discomfort we experience in responding to his character. I'm made to feel even more uncomfortable here at the absurd equating of homosexuality with paedophilia that seems to be implied in all this. I don't think the opera's creators have really got any of this under their control, and that's wonderful because the opera passionately lives as a result.
By the way, I'd completely forgotten that Kennedy's book was on my shelf until this evening so now I'm spurred to listen to the opera again in the light of the pretty detailed commentary provided by Kennedy. Good exercise for the ears. Let's hope I hear things better the next time round.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Also, I suppose, a great story. This I'm tentative about though. I'm not sure I really get the point. Yes, the portrait of the fishing community is convincing enough for me to suspend my disbelief, and individuals within that community are superbly delineated. Yet the problem of Grimes himself remains, and Ellen in relation to him. What is the listener supposed to make of him? Sympathy is easy, and cheap somehow. But are we to understand him? I don't think I can, possibly because I can't grasp what his music has to tell me. Perhaps simply, Man invented morals, but tides have none?
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Another, better, reason for feeling our little jaunt wasn't a waste of time was for the simple pleasure of taking the walk. The main road in Katong is quite a lively spot at weekends and it was fun just browsing the shops, mingling with the crowd. Quite a few new businesses have opened over the last couple of years in the area - and a number have vanished. An ice cream outlet that had been there for some years seems to be one of the casualties but such is the nature of the flux that we weren't really sure if we were looking in the right place for it. The new businesses seem generally of a yuppified nature - cake shops, spas, art shops - but there are also plenty of down-to-earth places - for example, at least three outlets selling fruit spill out onto the pavement.
Lately it's been raining quite a bit in the afternoons and it felt like we might be in for some more rain whilst we were walking, but we finished in bright sunshine and debilitating heat. People here often complain about the weather when it's hot but it suits me just fine. Lazy hot Friday afternoons in Geylang with Noi - where we used to go after I'd been to Mesjid Khadijah for prayers - don't feature in our lives like they used to due to changes in routines, but they persist in memory as amongst the best of times. Today's walk will join them.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
I suggested to her that we should aim to try and get out a couple of times each week from now on and I think she's interested in doing so. However, I don't want a situation in which exercising begins to feel like a burden to either of us. At the moment it feels like fun and it would good to keep it that way. On a trip to the library today we popped in at the community centre to check the price of using the gym there. Noi is interested in the treadmills but actually I wouldn't mind doing something with weights. That's a kind of exercise I've never really got involved in but I think it could prove a useful addition to the cardiovascular stuff I'm more familiar with.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
On a darker note, Kurt Vonnegut died today. So it goes. At one time I thought Slaughterhouse 5 was one of the greatest novels ever written - and I still do. But I have a greater soft spot for Cat's Cradle. That was the beginning, and they say you never quite get over the first time. Suddenly I want to read them all again.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Today I treated myself to what is probably my favourite CD of Vaughn Williams's music. (On this favourite I do need to hedge slightly, there are a few contenders.) The version of The Lark Ascending by the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, conducted by Neville Marriner, with Iona Brown as soloist, it contains is probably the closest I can think of to 16 minutes of earthly paradise. When I first heard it, in the early eighties, I spent several weeks with it almost continuously running through my head. Listening to it again, I can understand why. If music is capable of knowledge or wisdom then this music has it. As well as beauty. Perhaps they are the same thing?
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
On the way home today it was Molly Bloom's turn, via a magical reading by Sinead Cusack, to remind me that there are three utterly convincing characterisations in Ulysses. We have much to thank Nora Barnacle for. She turned Joyce into a major writer. It's not fair to equate her with Molly, and I hope I'm not doing so, but it's hard to imagine the splendid ordinariness of the novel without her.
How incredibly brave the two of them were to set up together, to leave Ireland behind. Especially Nora. The "remarkable in the commonplace" - I got that from Ellmann's biography. Not a bad definition of art, I suppose.
Monday, April 9, 2007
CDs currently on rotation: Rufus Wainwright's Want 2; Tull's Songs From the Wood; Springsteen's The Rising; Elvis Costello's Painted from Memory (the one with Burt Bacharach); Stevie Wonder's Innervisions; and a compilation of Arab songs entitled Cairo Road. I also took a 3 CD Otis Redding set to KL along with Sufjan Stevens's Seven Swans and John McLaughlin's Thieves and Poets. Not a bad little list, but a touch nostalgic I suppose.
Sunday, April 8, 2007
As usual, there was an abundance of children in Melaka. Mak's house seems designed to let them rove as freely as possible. They certainly keep popping up everywhere.
Saturday, April 7, 2007
I found a bit of time on Friday to get some reading done, in between protracted naps. I finished The Van over which I still have mixed - though mainly positive - feelings. There were several sequences which were as good as anything in the earlier novels, particularly the scenes involving Ireland’s progress in the World Cup, but I felt the whole thing was just a bit too long and a bit predictable. A bit too spelt out, I suppose. Having put down The Van I found myself picking up Samuel Beckett’s More Pricks Than Kicks. From one fine Irish writer to another – though I don’t think one can accuse Beckett of spelling out anything, or of being particularly Irish. But he is very funny (like Doyle) – at least when you manage to get the hang of what’s going on.I also embarked on Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book.
I’ve been intending to read this for months since acquiring a rather tasty edition with useful notes (at the foot of the page, by the way, where all good notes should be.) What is it I find so attractive about book-length narrative poems? I suppose partly it’s the sense that anyone who has bothered to craft something of this size probably has got something worth saying. Also the feeling that something’s come along that you can really let yourself sink into, ignoring human voices long enough to drown. Never underestimate the value of literature as escapism.