Sunday, September 30, 2007

At The Market

18 Ramadhan

Access to the computer is slightly more limited than usual due to the fact that our two houseguests need to be digitally connected themselves at least some of the time. Fi Fi needed to use it to get her homework done this morning, and to play her Cheetah Girls CD. One of these girls it seems is Raven-Symone whom I remember as a cute little thing on The Cosby Show. My, how she has changed.

We duly went to the bazaar last night, with Fuad's mother in attendance, but I came back a bit earlier than the ladies who were obviously in a shop till you drop kind of mood. It was more than a little crowded there, touching upon heaving with humanity and other such hyperbole. As is usually the case I rarely had any sense of my bearings at all, and since the main flats there have been demolished this was even more the case than previously when you could at least get some impression of where you were relative to them. I missed looking at the displays of fairy lights in which so many of the residents used to indulge. The bus had taken an age to get there, though it's a relatively short trip, due to the volume of traffic converging on the area and so I decided to walk back. Highly refreshing.

I've posted one or two shots of the market but they cannot evoke the noise, the smells (a lot of smoke around for some reason), and the tactility of crowds that are somehow always nudging you along. But gently so: not terribly unpleasant, if you are prepared to be patient.

Today we found ourselves at the market around the Mesjid Sultan in the late afternoon buying food for the breaking of fast. There were plenty of folk around, but walking was easier than it had been at Geylang.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Light Beyond

17 Ramadhan

I'd meant to write something yesterday about an article that appeared in The Straits Times on Thursday, an account of a visit to Turkey by a Christian pastor, Yap Kim Hao, from Singapore, in order to participate for a day in the fast of a family in Istanbul. It was nothing spectacular as such accounts go, but gently touching in its sincerity, as the seventy-eight-year-old ex-bishop gamely carried out the full day fast, complete with visits to two mosques for prayers. The ease with which the pastor negotiated the so-called 'clash of civilizations' was striking, and a reminder that this is always the case for ordinary people of goodwill. It's no accident that an article of this nature should appear in Singapore's major daily newspaper, though fairly inconspicuously. The state is utterly committed to religious and racial harmony, way beyond mere lip service, and such inconspicuous promotion of such on an almost daily basis is typical of the social climate here. Long may it continue to be so. There are enough ordinary people of ill-will to make this a necessity anywhere in the world that wants to be truly civilized.

Noi drove across to Woodlands earlier to pick-up Fi Fi, Fa Fa & their Ibu for a trip to the market at Geylang Serai tonight. We'll be going there after breaking our fast at home. Previous experience, over many years, shows that breaking fast in a big crowd can be a somewhat fraught experience. The girls will be staying on with us until Monday as it seems they've got some sort of holiday from school on that day. They'll be 'assisting' Mak Ndak in the making of biscuits for Hari Raya, a process that is now beginning to fire up and is likely to dominate our lives for the next couple of weeks.

On the Henry James front, Strether has now finally met Chad in Paris and is trying to make out exactly what he (Chad) is up to. No good, I'll be bound. I've got a pile of other stuff to read, including Gaiman's Stardust which I finally got hold of last weekend after a trip to Kinokuniya, but it's The Ambassadors or bust for me at present.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The View Beyond

16 Ramadhan

Just over halfway through the fast and it's become a familiar place to be. Not easy, but familiar, almost friendly. It's easy to lose oneself at such a time looking inward, but there's a world beyond, always, and dark places therein.

The news from Burma is not good. Brian Ng remarked to me today on the feeling of powerlessness that watching and listening to the reports from Rangoon engenders. The BBC World Service ran a brief report on an unsubstantiated e-mail they'd received (at this point I think the Internet there is pretty much closed down) which suggested the death toll was a lot higher yesterday than the nine the military government had admitted to. It talked of trucks being driven deliberately into crowds.

I've taught a few Burmese students over the years and they've been memorably good-natured, sweet individuals. There are times when you just can't make things connect. I suspect the generals who are pulling the strings there are simple, stupid, greedy thugs. Always dangerous people to have around; deadly if they get their hands on power.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Holiday Spirit

14 Ramadhan

Today I've been enjoying an unexpected one day holiday, awarded because the school is the top school for sport in the nation, or something along those lines. However, 'enjoying' is a bit of an exaggeration as I've spent the day so far working (though at home), and this will be continuing into the evening, though we do intend to pop to the fitness centre for an hour or so after breaking the fast.

All this means that I'll manage barely a glance at The Ambassadors in which I'm following Strether's progress after his arrival in Paris. That progress, as it is in the rest of the novel, I'm sure, is slow and measured. I mean extremely measured. To the tiniest fraction of an inch.

Now I don't mind slow-moving novels. I enjoyed Proust's In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past, however you want to translate it. That took me months, but the rewards were obvious. The problem I have, and always have had, with James is that I have little or no idea of what the rewards are. This goes back a long time over several novels and short stories. I remember watching the movie of The Turn of the Screw (I think directed by Jack Clayton, from the fifties, I guess) and being genuinely spooked - though I was only a kid at the time. The actual text was a severe let down. A great story shrouded in a lot of words that sometimes, for me at least, just didn't cohere. The Portrait of a Lady, What Maisie Knew, The Aspern Papers, The Europeans and other stuff I'm too lazy to recall at the moment have all been and gone for me, and I still don't get it.

So why persist? I don't think I would have had it not been for reading David Lodge's Author, Author last year, a brilliant account (sort of novelisation, I suppose) of James's experience in the theatre as a playwright. Basically his plays (or rather the key one) stunk and the poor guy suffered a really bad time. Lodge, one of my favourite writers, managed to convince me that James really does live up to his reputation and is well worth the time spent on him. So here I am trying to find that time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Over The Water

13 Ramadhan

I was talking to John & Maureen last night for the first time in a while. John phoned when it was quite late, as he generally does, to tell me that Mum got back safe from bingo despite the fact he failed to pick her up. His failure was related to the sudden appearance of a police car in the vicinity when he had already had 'a bit of a drink'. Anyway, he promptly disappeared to avoid PC Plod whilst Mum, in the meantime, not seeing him around, grabbed a convenient taxi. I've got a feeling she may give me a more colourful version of the story when I next speak to her.

Maureen went on to tell me that John had been bitten by a duck at the park, much to the amusement of all who know him, and that she's fed up of working for Sainsbury's who sound like real slave-drivers in terms of how they treat staff. It seems that if they're short of staff in the restaurant where she works those who are there have to cover for the absentee rather than bringing in the available off-duty staff. Result - misery for all as they can barely cope. (I assume also more money in the pockets of shareholders of this noble chain of supermarkets.)This sounds like an example of leadership with vision, to me. Making what were originally quite bearable jobs as stress-ridden as possible appears to be a talent required of almost all 'managers' these days.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Special Ones

12 Ramadhan

Noi stayed up last night to watch United beat Chelsea and gave me, who collapsed even before the kick off, a full match report - or, at least, as much as she could remember, which was the score. With the Special One gone it's hard to see Chelsea going anywhere but down. I'm now trying to see if there's a repeat on this evening.

The other thing I had been intending to write about is my latest reading, revolving around The Ambassadors by Henry James. However, an over-long staff meeting has left me in dire need of mental rest so I'll pass on the Master for the moment.

Phoned Mum yesterday. She was figuring out a way to get to bingo since Jim, who usually gives her a lift, is not around. Now there's determination. Special.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Let There Be Light

11 Ramadhan

I've just tested our fairy lights, decorating our balcony at the front, and they are functional for Hari Raya. With a third of the fasting month gone it's getting to the time when we start to gear up for the big celebration. We've still not gone to the bazaars at Geylang, or Arab Street as I've been snowed under with marking this weekend and will be continuing to dig myself out in the week ahead, but we usually don't go there until the second half of the month anyway.

Noi is now showing signs of embarking on the annual clean-up of everything around us, which means I can expect curtains and cushion-covers to start disappearing soon. The place will soon take on a distinctly depleted look, as if we've been visited by a particularly choosy band of thieves. Also there's been talk of biscuit-making, one of the great features of the later part of Ramadhan in our household.

One of the great things about the celebration of Hari Raya is the way it has generally resisted commercialisation. Of course, this is creeping in (and I'm sure we'll get to see the logo soon) but since the whole point of the experience of fasting is the cultivation of moderation, it seems to resist the more egregious manifestations of consumerism, such as those poor Christmas has fallen prey to.

Fight the power, say I.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


10 Ramadhan

So far I've spent the day marking and developing a headache. But the marking is done, the fast is broken and we'll be going out for a bit of a run in a few minutes.

In the meantime, a quick reflection on what it's all for: I mean, why exactly are we depriving ourselves of food & drink for most of the day as well as observing other do's and don't's. Isn't it all a bit, possibly a lot, pointless?

I could list some of the benefits involved, in fact, I will: a heightened sense of the deprivations faced by others, which should result in some form of action to directly help a few of them; a heightened sense of the importance and value of the basics of life we take for granted (trust me, you could not possibly enjoy a glass of water as much as I did just now, unless it was your first in thirteen hours); a comforting awareness of solidarity (and purpose) with those sharing the experience of fasting; a satisfying daily feeling of success at getting something really difficult done; a remarkable introduction to a way of developing a new perspective on time & intention, and a way of learning the value of slowness; numerous health benefits - which, I've noticed, frequently make it into the pages of newspapers these days, to the point at which it's almost as if fasting is being generally recommended. And yet, nowhere in this is the reason for fasting given.

The Qur'an: Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn self-restraint. It's a interesting value to consider, restraint; not exactly a fashionable one. It involves a radical re-orientation of things at the very centre of our being. The whole capitalist system, our beloved consumer society, might stand in danger of collapse if we could all learn it. (I include myself in there, being no more than a beginner.) We may even be able to preserve something of the natural environment we are happily stripping away to feed our need for that which we don't need.

Why is something which seems inherently negative - being prepared to deny ourselves what we want - so positive in its outcomes?

Friday, September 21, 2007


9 Ramadhan

The mosque was bursting at the seams today for Friday Prayers, as pretty much any mosque in Singapore, or Malaysia, is in this month. I arrived there a little later than I intended as my last lesson overran. By the time I got there the only place I could find to pray was on the tiled floor right at the back. It was more comfortable than I expected, and will now find a place on my list of unlikely spots I've prayed in and found reasonably conducive for concentration despite their limitations. I suppose the strangely conducive nature of such spots is due to the realisation that you've got to make the best of things and lose yourself in the experience.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


8 Ramadhan

A week of fasting has now gone by, and we're just about a quarter of the way completed. It's a been a long, slow week which seems to have passed quickly.

I'm marking some work on Donne's Batter my heart… sonnet. It's fascinating how often students substitute a comfortable, cliched idea of what Donne is talking about for the shocking actuality. Self protection, I suppose. Perhaps that's why religious scriptures are prey to sometimes egregiously wrong-headed interpretation. We need to defend ourselves against the remorseless, painful reality with which they confront us, and reading into them what we would like to have them say helps build necessary barriers.

I've sometimes found that reading English versions of The Holy Qur'an is a bit like being subjected to an assault. I suppose the fact these versions are in English serves as some kind of protection against its insistent, remorseless probing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Just Getting Through

7 Ramadhan

There are days which unfold and blossom in time lending fragrance to the soul. This was not one of them. This was a day designed for getting to the end of. Which I have.

Just for the record: we made it to the fitness centre yesterday evening after breaking the fast. First time ever, and still in one piece.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Tenuous Fellowship

6 Ramadhan

There was a brief moment today, and I'm talking of nothing more than a flicker of time, when I felt so utterly weary I wondered how exactly I was going to continue to climb the stairs I was on. I suppose it's a point when the body is drawing on a new set of reserves of fuel as one tank has been emptied, and the connection has not quite been made on the new pipeline. When I first started fasting, and I'm referring here to some years ago, such moments tended to be more plentiful than they are these days, though just as mercifully fleeting. I suppose the body fits itself to its intimate knowledge of the new circumstances it finds itself in.

Those moments of weariness are extremely precious. They are tiny windows into what it must be like for those for who fasting is not a voluntary activity pursued for a set number of hours that end, inevitably, in replenishment. You learn a little (and I mean a little) about the extremes such folk must face through sharing a tiny amount of one such extreme with them. A kind of soft echo of the loud shouting that constantly assails them. I'm mindful here of the ending of Gaiman's (and P. Craig Russell - I must not forget the artist) wonderful story Ramadan in The Sandman series in which, if I remember rightly, (and I haven't got the book with me as it's in KL) the boy who is listening to the magical story in a devastated Baghdad finds his fasting easy as food is hard to obtain.

Of course these windows are useless if you only look through them voyeuristically. Hence the association of Ramadhan with the giving of charity. And now I've got to think seriously of how and what to give. And make sure I do give.

Monday, September 17, 2007


5 Ramadhan

It was refreshing to break the fast in a bigger group yesterday. Today we're back to the dynamic duo - though I must say my partner would be my first choice of someone to break anything alongside. Fi Fi and Fa Fa have both kept up the fast so far, and earned a few dollars from Noi for doing so. (Yes, there can be an economic basis for piety in the young, and we're prepared to exploit that for the greater good.) Of course, the fact that youngsters can handle the hardships of the month with something like equanimity is an embarrassment for those of us who'd like to think we're doing something special. Equally obvious, except for when we allow ourselves to think we are somehow the whole world, or the bit of it that really counts, is the fact that the fast is a shared experience in which a fair proportion of the world's population is participating. That is reassuring and overwhelming in roughly equal proportions.

Something unusual for me: in the late morning, on my way to the staffroom, I had a vision of a plate of heavily salted, freshly fried chips. I do not regard myself as a particularly imaginative character, but those chips were possessed of a weight and majesty rare indeed. That I was able to put them to one side - mentally - has greatly enhanced my self-esteem. But I am troubled by the notion they may come back to haunt me. Possibly with sausages. The ignominy of it: to be haunted by one's dinner.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


4 Ramadhan

It's surprising how quickly one physically and mentally adjusts to new situations. I'm no longer quite so frequently subject to those let's-just-have-a-quick-snack-&-cup-of-tea moments, though only a few days into the fast. Past experience tells me with some confidence that there won't be any such moments at all in the second half of the month. Which is in itself a lesson learned regarding our ability to re-progamme our appetites.

Does this mean that the fast becomes easier? Perhaps, but it's never easy. Although one day may seem to pass fairly effortlessly that day is still set against a backdrop of a whole month, in which anything can happen to bring you down: illness, emotional upset, a moment of forgetfulness. (It's important to bear in mind that the fast extends beyond simply eating and drinking. A moment of excessive anger is enough to invalidate your efforts - so you never really quite know whether you have been successful at all. A bit like life, really.)

So on a fairly lazy Sunday fasting seems pretty easy. But early on Monday morning, with the work week stretching out like Black Hill in a particularly wet and windy and muddy season, it won't have quite the same complexion.


Just back from Woodlands, we drove through the lights at night at Geylang Serai for the first time this month: blue & green with splashes of yellow. Cantiknya. Earlier we visited Norsiah's father in Changi Hospital, where he's recovering from a heart attack. He was grumpy about being in there at all, which is a good sign, I guess.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Good Intentions

3 Ramadhan

Something quite new today. In over ten years of fasting for Ramadhan I've never attempted any kind of physical exercise in the holy month. (In fact, for most of those years this was true of all the months of the year, due to a chronically bad back.) Today Noi and I went for a bit of a run after breaking the fast, thus missing most of the second half of the United vs Everton game - though it was easy to drag myself away from an incredibly dull game, which United were very lucky to win. The run worked; we both enjoyed ourselves. It took quite a bit of thinking through in terms of exactly how much to eat and drink when breaking the fast, but that's a feature of the month anyway - the need to figure out new routines each day to meet the obligations imposed on one, or rather the obligations one imposes on oneself.

One interesting feature of the month is how easy it is to cheat on the fasting, and, at the same time, how it's quite impossible to do so. The simplicity lies in the impossibility of monitoring someone throughout daylight hours to ensure they do not eat or drink. One trip to the lavatory is enough to give the privacy needed to consume whatever it is one wishes to. But, then, someone who cheats in this manner is not interested in fulfilling what is necessary to fulfil, so there's no point in the attempt. In contrast, if your intention is genuine then cheating is out of the question. You either succeed or, sadly, fail, and if you fail you try and make up for it at some future date and continue to try and succeed. This stress on intentionality is captured in the niat, the prayer expressing the intention to fast and the reasons for doing so. How vital this is is illustrated in the fact that a day of fasting which is not based on the niat to do so is invalid. This struck me years ago as a bit of unnecessarily fussy legalism, but now it seems to me to go to the heart of what the month is about in psychological terms. It's pertinent to observe that the importance of intentionality, of properly focused attention, is at the heart of several esoteric traditions.

I think it's also what art demands from us to be genuine: a proper focus of intention.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fast Thinking

2 Ramadhan

One's perception of time is always curiously subjective, but the intensity of fasting slows it to an unusual degree. This is by no means simply a matter of waiting impatiently to be able to eat and drink. There a strong element of positive enjoyment in the curiously suspended state one enters into during daylight hours and almost something of fleeting regret when the time comes to step back into the ordinary stream of things.

There's also an odd sense of having much more time than usual on one's hands, and of this being a kind of slow time This is due, in part, to waking early for sahur, giving time for reading & meditation before the day even begins, but it's also a result of simply not having any involvement in the displacement activities that surround our sustenance. A kind of freedom is the result.

The month teaches you to be slow, and in slowness lies grace.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Holding Fast

1 Ramadhan

The first day of fasting is never easy, which is as it should be. However, I remained mercifully headache-free, which, considering some of the wallopers I've developed in previous years on day one, is a blessing. Come to think of it, I've not really been plagued by such headaches since giving up drinking coffee, an indication of just how addicted to caffeine I used to be. My theory is that the headaches (always on the first day of fasting only) were a manifestation of withdrawal symptoms from the drug.

The tough thing today was those moments when my brain would say, let's go and have a drink of water, a cup of tea, or a quick snack (in celebration for having survived yet another lesson) and my body would respond enthusiastically for a moment or two, before the crushing realisation that such small joys cannot, at present, be the order of the day.

Of course one of the benefits of the fast is to remind you of what genuine joys those moments are and how we need to celebrate the gift of having them in our lives.

Anyway the dates and longans and tea and curry puff with which I broke the fast tasted extraordinarily good and I'm going to eat a bit of porridge soon for the perfect end to the day. For all those fasting out there: selamat puasa!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Underdoing It

We postponed our visit to the fitness centre to tomorrow, allowing a little more time for creaky old bones to straighten themselves out. The wisdom of our decision was clear from the fact that we both dozed off in the early evening, indicating some kind of need to recharge.

And my reading for the evening has been determinedly light so far: one of the TinTin collections I bought in KL. Question - Is TinTin a sort of guy thing? I don't think I can recall seeing any girl ever reading Herge, and he seems to create an entirely male-dominated landscape, loaded with the kind of machines (toys really) that guys love - the beautifully detailed drawings of cars, for example. And the books are full of that kind of cheerful violence, which seems to derive from boys' fighting games. The kind where you get shot and jump up bounding with health, as TinTin seems to do at least once in every adventure.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Overdoing It

In honour of the Monday Staff Wellness I did six laps of the track this afternoon. Unfortunately I am now getting in touch with the aches in most of the muscles in my nether regions. Since I went running on Thursday and Saturday, and swimming on Friday, I'm making an educated guess that my body is attempting to inform me it's no longer that of the young lad who could run about one day and be recovered the next. We are supposed to be going to the fitness centre tomorrow but I may need to rethink exactly what I'm going to do when I'm there.

I suppose my current bout of enthusiasm for all things physical is the realisation that once we begin the fast it will be very hard to factor in any time at all for exercise. Having said that it was interesting that when Noi and I discussed this difficulty she was obviously keen to try and keep something going - maybe in the late evening. This will need some thought. The fact that fasting means you need to thoroughly consider everything you do is one of the reasons it's such an intense experience.

I read somewhere the other day that we renew our bodies entirely every seven years or so - that is, the stuff that makes them up is completely different after each cycle. That's a liberating and frightening thought at one and the same time. (I think I read this in The Cartoonist which is a bit embarrassing. I knew it before - I think - but had managed to forget it. Another joy of reading: finding out about things you should know but had forgotten. I think it's Montaigne in an essai that points out what a great advantage it is to be forgetful because then what you read is guaranteed novelty value, but then I'm too forgetful to be sure of the reference.)

Sunday, September 9, 2007


We are now reestablished in our Singapore home and gearing up for the dull but lively reality of an imminent Monday morning. I was hoping to get a lot of reading done over the break but I've had to compromise on this to some degree. The Drama Camp was so busy that the most I could do was dip into a book of poetry. Previous experience of such events has taught me the value of the slim volume and this time I plumped for something by Andrew Motion, Dangerous Play Poems 1974 - 1984. I bought the collection back in the late eighties but never really got into it in a big way. This time round I found several poems. possibly the majority of the collection, to be highly accessible, especially the longish Independence. However, there are still a number of pieces which seem irritatingly opaque, to the point where I wonder is it me or them. The problem is, it might well be me.

The big book for the break was undoubtedly Orhan Pamuk's Snow which I finished today. Now this was extremely accessible and instantly rewarding. The obviously remarkable thing about this novel is the sheer number of themes it encompasses: at one and the same time it's an exploration of political Islam, a treatise on the nature of poetic inspiration and an extremely complex love story. And that brief list is just skimming the surface of what also manages to be a highly entertaining, often gripping story. It was only in the last fifty pages or so that it flagged slightly for me, and this was specifically in terms of the relationship be between the main character Ka and the woman he falls in love with. Something about this didn't quite ring true, at least for this reader. Everything else convinced, in a big way.

I also read a little book by William Doyle in the Oxford Very Short Introduction series, this one on The French Revolution. This time last year I was ploughing my way through Carlyle's epic of the same title, more out of a sense of duty than pleasure I must admit, and found myself realising just how much I didn't know about a central event of European if not World history. So I suppose I'm trying to do a bit to put that right and, as usual, the books in this series make great places to start when battling one's ignorance of a particular topic. Anyway, I'm contemplating some bigger reads on the subject and maybe history in general in November/December.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to get hold of Gaiman's Stardust in KL, but I kept my graphic juices bubbling with a couple of TinTin collections - yes, really a sign of second childhood. As also was my reading of Betsy Byars's The Cartoonist. Not in the same league as her classic The Midnight Fox, but she's too much of a craftsman (should that be craftswoman?) to ever entirely disappoint, and her observation of what we would now term dysfunctional families is bracingly honest (and funny.)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

More About The House

We’ll be heading for Melaka this afternoon after an all-too-brief stay. The girls’ Ibu is in waiting for them there – as will be various cousins - for a reunion of sorts. I’ve just got back from 4 circuits of the taman. Noi is cleaning heroically. Meanwhile, some pictures of little and not so little things above.

Friday, September 7, 2007

About The House


We’ve just got back after a little jaunt around the hill and the girls are settling to watch HSM2 for the umpteenth time. We got Fa Fa out running yesterday, but Fi Fi claims to do quite enough exercise at school, thank you. They are both keen on going swimming today – we’ve discovered that a club on the hill allows open use of its facilities – but Noi seems to prefer the idea of going tomorrow. I’m trying to download the latest edition of an anti-virus thingie that has just come up from renewal and it’s taking a lifetime. Such are the major obstacles we face and decisions we need to make in our little lives here. This is all highly satisfactory.


And now we’ve just got back from munching nasi lemak from the Indian shop on the hill, after a dip in what turned out to be a very large, very warm, pool, which we had all to ourselves. The girls are reading – Fa Fa’s choice being a book we bought for her yesterday at KLCC, one of the excellent Geronimo Stilton series, (which I’ll probably sneak a read of myself before the weekend is out) while kakak is reading Simpsons A Go Go, one of my comics, actually. Noi has just put a big bowl of kerepok on the table as a final treat for the day. Once the epic download is done I’ll be posting this, a pretty good way to finish proceedings for the day.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Remembering History

I forgot to mention yesterday that another thing pushing me into my meditation on ages and, by implication, aging, was my involvement in the morning, before we set off to KL, in an interview for a book and film being put together by one of my former schools in Singapore. Trying to think back to what it was like to first teach in Singapore, some twenty years ago, was a perplexing exercise in that my memories of some aspects of specific events (Teachers’ Day, September 1988, for example) are vivid to the point of being as fresh as those of the Drama Camp we just completed, but they remain essentially uncommunicable, at least in the form of an interview for something as formal as a history of the school. I don’t think I make an easy subject for interview.

We handed a few pictures to Zarina, the girl doing the interview, mainly of stuff related to the musicals we did in the school in the early nineties. Of course, Noi was the one who knew where they were. She has always used photographs as triggers for memory, something which I think at one time I despised, believing that somehow it was the ‘real’ memory that counted. On this matter, as in many others, I’ve come to see how right my wife is. Handing over the pictures I was startled at the vivid recall they evoked of the textures of those times. I could smell the old orchestra pit at the Victoria Theatre and nearly fell back into it.

I wonder if twenty years from now I’ll be allowed to replay the good memories of the last few days in school when looking at the photos above? We can only pray for time’s mercy.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Some Ages of Man

This Far Place is now in temporary residence in its Malaysian home after a comfortable journey north with Fi Fi & Fa Fa in attendance. They are watching High School Musical 2 on DVD, borrowed from Khalsom. It seems this is the in thing amongst the pre-pubescent throughout the world. They tell us that, among the cognoscenti, it is known as HSM and is the chief subject of conversation in school, hence the desperate need to watch it, learn the songs, practise the dance routines, and so forth. I seem to remember childhood as a much simpler thing. I pointed out to Fi Fi that one day in the future (God willing) I’ll be teasing her about HSM as I now tease her about her days of Barneydom (a time when she’ll realise how ultra-hip my tastes in music are and be begging to borrow my CDs.) She sniffed and declared she would be loyal to HSM for life. That’s a long time.

And, talking of long times, it was good to meet Val & Peter after almost twenty years. Almost all the news of old friends and colleagues was positive (no deaths or grave illnesses) and Peter himself was looking extremely well (see evidence above) having come through his own encounter with cancer with a clean bill of health. Their children are no longer children – though, of course, they remain stubbornly so in my mind despite having children of their own and one having fought in the first Gulf War and the other being an Inspector for the police.

I have a theory concerning age that we are actually a mixture of ages inside with one age usually dominating as a sort of default position. I know that bits of me are distinctly five or six and other bits around seventy, and that this has always been the case, and I’ve observed something similar in most of the people I know well. It's interesting to figure out the default age of certain writers: Dickens is pretty obviously seven years old; Henry James around fifty. I’ve teaching one student at the moment who is strikingly middle-aged. My own basic age is a painfully callow sixteen.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Welcome to the Hotel Escandalosa

Just got back from the Drama Camp at the Hotel Escandalosa. (Actually a mafia-themed ACS(I)) Some of the evidence above. More to follow. Had a great time, and got to show off my Marlon Brando voice, as Mario 'The Don' Linguini - managing not to do too much damage to my throat in the process.

Should be seeing Val & Peter this afternoon and then getting ready for the journey north. Fruitfully busy.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Going Camping

Recent phone calls to Mum have revolved around the subject of a new video player Maureen & John got for her and how difficult it has been to programme the machine. It looks as if the saga is coming to an end with some kind of success involved, though this seems to depend on whether a recently recorded programme plays back as expected. For someone who claims to watch very little television ('There's nothing on these days'), it's odd how large all this looms in her life. Of course, it's a relief that she's fit enough for these things to loom at all.

I'm now considering what to pack for a Drama Camp we're holding for the next couple of days in school. I can always drive back for emergency supplies I suppose, but I'd like to survive comfortably without having to do too much motoring. Basically the students, or rather the Executive Committee of the club, will run the camp so the teachers involved are just around in an advisory capacity. It cuts into the holidays but it's not something that I greatly mind since it's easy to see the point of it all educationally. In fact, it has the makings of time well spent if it works.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


I spent part of the afternoon listening to an episode of The Verb a splendid literary-themed programme that goes out on the UK's Radio Three, introduced by the equally splendid Barnsley poet Ian McMillan. It can be accessed on the BBC's website here, on their Radio Player. This episode had food as its theme and made the insightful if not inciteful point that there are not enough poems about food.

This put me in mind of last night's sup tulang. If that wasn't a poem I don’t know what is. (See pictures above.)

We've also been munching away at various Teachers' Day goodies, with hot, sweet tea to boot. This means we'll be going out for a run tonight, to ease our guilt and waistlines.