Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
My test for how hot it's going to be is simple. As I leave the apartment at 6.05 in the morning if Noi says There's perspiration on your shirt a clammy day is guaranteed.
The advantage I have over most people in Singapore is that I actually like the heat. Certainly it can be uncomfortable, and quite headachy, but, trust me, anything is better than winter in the north of England.
Monday, April 28, 2008
But I wouldn't mind finding the pen tops. I keep marking my fingers with black ink, summoning memories of how incredibly, unhygienically, scruffy I was at school.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
The book in question is Patrick O'Brian's Master & Commander. Since I cannot think of much better to do in life than lose myself in an Aubrey/Maturin novel, it seemed to make sense to see if a full 15 CD reading can fit somewhere into my routines. (I'm thinking of listening in the car.)
This morning things got off to the best possible start with the magical meeting for the first time of our protagonists at the fateful (and hilarious) concert on Gibraltar. What's so remarkable about this is that O'Brian seems utterly certain about where the relationship is going from the beginning. The writing manages to be broad yet extraordinarily subtle at one and the same time.
And in the evening I found myself serenaded at the piano by my niece to make it a musical Happy Birthday to remember.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
The only place I've really been focusing on groovy sounds has been in the car and the CDs installed in the changer have been there for that period, only now being replaced. So this is what has engaged me recently: first off - Arctic Monkeys' first album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. I suppose this is my way of attempting to stay young and a very jolly way it is. Following that Robert Fripp's Exposure (the 2006 version), with CD2 being the one of the set that stayed longest in the changer. Then it's been The Complete A and B Sides 1963 - 1970 of Dusty Springfield. And after that Paul McCartney's Chaos And Creation In The Backyard. And finally Nightmoves from Kurt Elling.
There's something about the arbitrariness of the list I like, a kind of pleasing messiness. I'll let that speak for itself. A good way to stay old.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Of course, none of this is an excuse for not trying to make life fair - but I suspect this is only of any real worth when you are trying to make it fair for others. Something worth failing in.
(By the way, this is not a highfalutin way of suggesting that United should have two penalties last night against Barca. But they should have, anyway.)
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
If childhood might be partly characterised as a process of exploration and discovery regarding the potential of the body and mind, late middle age sees the whole thing in reverse - a time for realising that things really do fall apart. And things are not going to get any better soon.
This all sounds terribly glum, I know, but there's something rather comforting in the inevitable decrepitude implied. It speaks of rest, containment, an odd sort of peace.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
The odd thing is though that now my delight on being able to get hold of this excellent review is tempered by a mounting sense of guilt (it's pretty expensive) that I don't always read it all - lack of time - and an equally mounting sense of worry that I'll start to rely on it as a primary source of reading rather than actual books. I suspect this is what a number of the literati are prone to. I'm also concerned that this can easily become allied to an easy, lazy acceptance of ready-made opinions about books and writers in place of a genuine struggle to form one's own.
I noticed this when reading an interesting piece on John Steinbeck. It's easy to be grandly dismissive of a writer like Steinbeck whose faults are obvious and the article though informative tended to go in this direction. I had to struggle to remember the hair-raising power of The Grapes of Wrath - that extraordinary ending! - to keep myself in touch with the reality of the first-hand reading experience.
It's worth remembering when reading this kind of periodical that the worst insult the two tramps in Waiting for Godot can think of to throw at each other is 'Critic!'
Monday, April 21, 2008
In the meantime, spurred on by the possibility of making it to at least one more decade, I went for a run in the early evening, completing six (slow) laps of the track at school. I've hardly done any real exercise since Chinese New Year due to a highly disabling muscle strain in whatever muscle lurks in my right thigh, but the problem finally seems to have cleared and it's back to trying to take years off my biological age for me. (That's a line from So You Want To Live Longer, a programme the missus and I will be enjoying tonight, in my case even more self-righteously than usual.)
Sunday, April 20, 2008
We'll probably see few stars to count, except our own lucky ones.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
So I'll simply say that at this point in time I can't find it within me to make any enthusiastic kind of recommendation for Mr Bellow's work and I'm not in a desperate hurry to read Mr Sammler's Planet again, the other of his novels I have sitting on my bookshelves in KL. However, every right-thinking fan of singer-songwriters and lover of fine music generally should ensure he (or, for that matter, she) listens to Mr Stevens's recent albums, starting with his Illinoise masterpiece. Essential listening for banjo-lovers everywhere.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Thursday, April 17, 2008
I'm hoping to have done with Bellow's great neurotic by the weekend, having now reached the final fifty pages, but for some reason I seem to be slowing down again despite the fact that Herzog's run in with the police is the only part of the novel to achieve anything close to narrative momentum.
The problem is that I've let myself read the thing too slowly, dwelling upon the 'fine' writing, instead of just diving in, immersing myself in the character's worldview just enough to enjoy the flavour of his world, and not sticking around too long.
I've just not read the novel well enough, somehow. A failure of my imagination.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
It put me in mind of some twerp from an American right-wing think-tank I heard being questioned last year regarding his completely misplaced advice on the need to invade Iraq on the grounds that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. His oily reply was that everybody (meaning all the 'informed experts', like himself) had believed the same thing so he could hardly be blamed for advising the president as he did. Again, there was something about the voice, a quality of being excessively pleased with itself, that betrayed the fact he knew how ridiculous what he saying was, but delighted in the fact that he had covered himself sufficiently to get away with it.
What was peculiarly irritating in both instances was the sense that these guys were dedicating whatever intelligence they possessed not to an earnest attempt to understand the world but to a determined policy of furthering their own small places in it. A world shrunk to the petty ambitions of placeholders. Now that is funny.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Sunday, April 13, 2008
At this end of the phone we had a relaxing day at home, so relaxing we both fell asleep in the middle of a Midsomer Murder we'd taped before managing to drag ourselves to bed. Our tiredness was due in no small measure to the ministrations of Noi's 'massage lady', a lady who turns up once in a while to give a spectacularly powerful Malay-style massage to anyone who happens to be around. Noi usually invites a couple of friends to partake of the good lady's services and yesterday Norsiah dropped in.
I should specify, at this point, that Malay massage is of the strenuous variety. It involves finding which muscles are reluctant to be pummeled and subjecting them to an unforgettable, unforgiving raking with industrial strength fingers. It's not wise to scream as that just leads to an even greater focus on the area that hurts. This is all supposed to do you a lot of good. Just surviving the experience made me happy. And very tired.
Today I've been moving on with Herzog and finding much to enjoy simply at the level of style. But I still cannot connect with the characters.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Now it's true that I have been savouring some of the densely-packed prose, but I'm afraid the slow pace of my reading also relates to a problem I encountered with Bellow all those years ago when I first read Herzog: I don't relate to his characters at all. I suppose I believe in them but I can't summon the interest in them to bother myself with what all the fuss is about - and there is a lot of fuss in this novel.
This brings to mind a brief exchange I had with the guy who was teaching the course on the Contemporary American Novel on which I first read Bellow. We had been reading Mr Sammler's Planet and he was praising Bellow for the brilliant caricatures that stalk that text. (Oddly I cannot picture this scene at all,. or relate it to any kind of wider context. I just remember the exchange.) I think I snapped out something along the lines of: If he can't write about people with any sort of charity I can't see why he bothers writing at all. (I wasn't in a good mood.) The lecturer looked stunned and that was it. No reply. I suppose my supposition that writing required some sense of charity towards others to work was so naïve as beyond further discussion. Or possibly I was failing to recognise the positive qualities in Bellow's characters and my comment just reflected extremely shallow reading.
Anyway, I'm feeling pretty much the same way towards Bellow today as I was all those years ago. But I'll be soldiering on having acquired a little more patience than I possessed at that time.
In the meantime, still on the topic of soldiering on, I'm just working out what would be a good time to call Mum. It's her birthday today but as of now morning in England and she's not at her best before noon. On my count she hits eighty-nine this time around. And they say that smoking is bad for your health!
Friday, April 11, 2008
At one point I was walking along a walkway outside on my way to a meeting and two little lads were approaching in the opposite direction. There happened to be a patch of grass to their right and my left. Suddenly one of the lads launched himself sideways, for no reason I could fathom, onto the patch of grass, and proceeded to roll over, laughing exuberantly. His companion joined in the mirth but resisted the desire to achieve take-off. It occurred to me that it would be rather a good scheme to launch myself onto the grass also but I also resisted the temptation as good sense made me aware that it would be 1. difficult to do so whilst carrying two bags and a laptop computer and also 2. highly disturbing to our two small visitors to discover that at least one of the teachers in the rather grand school they found themselves in was quite mad.
Actually it's misleading to say the boy jumped for no reason - you don't need a reason for a swan-dive when you're that age. I think I spent a fair proportion of my childhood rolling around on grass, at least in the summer months. And a jolly good place to be it was.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
I was informed of his preference in an entertaining little piece on the World Service on the way in to work. A channel on Venezuelan tv has just cut Homer & family to replace them with episodes of Baywatch as they have decided the cartoon lacks educational content.
Incidentally when I was last in KL I noticed an edition of Lat's brilliant cartoon book (nowadays graphic novel, I suppose) Kampung Boy with a nice commendation from Matt Groening on the cover. Genius recognises genius. The great and good tend only to recognise the obvious. But having said that, someone, somewhere (in Venezuela) recognised the educational value of Baywatch. Now that takes some imagination.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
The nice thing about this kind of pain, apart from when it stops (which it still hasn't), is how it helps to remind one of the joys of not actually feeling any kind of discomfort whatsoever. My own experience of chronic pain over several years, from a bad back, had the beneficial side effect of making me no longer take health for granted, and I have managed, on the whole, to hold to that thought over the last few years of blessed release.
Tonight I'll be devoting a prayer to those for whom such release is denied. It's impossible to imagine the reality of such extremity but only too possible to understand how awfully common this must be.
Monday, April 7, 2008
My answer to the question is: by a kind of magic - which successfully, deliberately avoids any real answer. Frankly, I like the question and prefer it unanswered. I suspect Heaney feels something similar, for the next line in the poem ruefully runs, Ask me an easier one.
A wise unknowing is at work here.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
One article focusing on foreign workers in Singapore trying to make ends meet with prices shooting up was particularly thought-provoking. And I'm painfully aware I need to do something that goes beyond just thinking.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
This morning, on the way to a rehearsal at work, I listened to Out of the Bag, an unusually long piece for Heaney, blending extraordinary, almost hallucinogenic, memories of the doctor who came for the delivery of various of the Heaney siblings (at least, that's what I assume) with other times and places, Lourdes, a holiday in Greece and (possibly) his mother ill, later in life. The fact that I couldn't quite pin down an exact 'meaning' for the poem, and still can't despite a more leisurely reading later in the day, seems to add to its impact. Being able to be content with something less than full understanding seems to me a necessary part of the experience of reading - the possibility for even greater illumination somewhere down the road is, surely, liberating. As it is, regarding Heaney, I think I can grasp sufficient to 'get it' enough to be satisfied.
A question: could it be that our rage to understand, our will to know, is in itself a limitation on our knowingness?
Friday, April 4, 2008
The best evocation of tiredness I know of in literature is Willy Loman's in Death of a Salesman. I read the play at sixteen, seventeen and thought I understood it, but was unable to feel it to the bone, or anywhere close. I saw it performed in Manchester when I had gone thirty and began to grasp it. One of the party I saw it with, younger than me, has long passed the point of weariness.
Tonight I'm closer to an understanding of Miller's fundamental truth. That's the great thing about feeling shattered - it lets the light in. It makes you a little more human.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
I put these wise words into practice this evening by listening to the founder of Guitar Craft's one and only solo album (not counting soundscapes & stuff) whilst making exceptionally slow progress on the way home from work on a jammed AYE/ECP. Generally I'm distrustful of completism as a principle in buying the work of musicians I admire in that it seems to play directly into the hands of the record companies, but owning the full set of Exposure seems to me to be simply common sense in that the various versions so thoroughly complement each other. Tonight I was playing what Fripp considers Edition 3, and found myself bowled over by the Volume 2 tracks featuring Daryl Hall. This is the material that Mr Hall's record company, in cahoots with his then-manager Tommy Mottola, tried to make sure never saw (should that be heard?) public release, on the grounds that it would reduce his (then massive) commercial viability.
Hall's vocals on Mary and Disengage are some of the best I've heard from him (he's great on all the tracks on which he sings, but on these he gets into really extreme territory) and, yes, probably would have upset the more fragile end of the record buying public had they ever been exposed to Exposure. But, then, I don't think it's likely they would have been tempted to distress themselves by listening to such dangerously creative material.
According to Fripp's liner notes, Hall's management delayed release of Hall's own solo album Sacred Songs, recorded with Fripp as producer, for three years, again wary of the damage it might do to the singer as commodity. Very protective of them.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
As a result of this exposure to the wonderful world of finance, I've come to know that we (the world, I mean, in its world economy mode) are either heading for or are in the middle of a major mess. It seems this mess is the result of rampant greed on the part of quite a few people who've made a lot of money recently (for themselves) and lost a lot also (for the businesses they run.)
This may sound cynical, but I don't find any of this terribly surprising.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Now I'm, sadly, too old to play the fool. (Except unintentionally.)
It's interesting to try and figure out, by the way, how the Fool in Lear should be played. Young? Old? Tired? Manic? Crazy? It's the only part I can think of in pre-twentieth century drama that you can play as if he's just walked in from another time and place and make perfect sense in doing so.
And in connection with all this, Noi and I have found ourselves discussing a sequence of old men in the news who can't bear to let go of power, the latest being Mugabe. I hope someone somewhere is licensed to play the fool for that gentleman. He certainly needs one, urgently.