Saturday, May 31, 2008

Taking Stock

It's been a funny week. Nominally the first week of the school holidays, yet I've been in work everyday, including this morning, and have found myself quite busy. In fact, on two of the days I was extremely busy to the point of feeling a touch frazzled - but only a touch. I'm too used to all this to lose proportion.

In addition to attempting to tie up the many loose ends at the end of a semester, I've been engaged in my half-yearly operation clean-up about the house. This involves ensuring the books and CDs are presentable and in some kind of order. It's a good way to get reacquainted with the better things in life, involving a rehabilitating tedium, and it keeps the missus happy. The problem has been finding the time to get it all out of the way before setting off for KL. We leave tomorrow.

In the meantime Noi and I have been engaging in our annual exchange of anniversary cards and we'll be off to dinner tonight to celebrate the best thing I ever did. It's all go!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Strictly Ballroom

Over the last few Fridays we've been watching Dancing With The Stars on the BBC Entertainment channel. It's an American version of a programme we watched back when we were last in England. Various celebrities get paired up with expert dancers/choreographers and fight it out with one pair eliminated each week (idol-style) to the last two standing. There's a theme each week in terms of the style of dance they've got to take on. It sounds utterly kitsch and it is and I love it. What's genuinely remarkable is how good the amateurs turn out to be and the sense of fun they bring to the routines. It's also quite something to watch how great the professionals are, week in, week out.

For me it brings back a lot of memories of watching Mum & Dad dance at the Labour Club as I sat there nursing my lemonade. Not that they were ever quite this dazzling, though Mum could cut up a rug when she wanted to. That's all part of a vanished era and I guess it won't be coming back any time soon, but the popularity of Dancing With The Stars (it's huge in America, I understand) suggests we're beginning to understand what we've thrown away.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More Kids' Stuff

A few more names of poets who've produced great work specifically for kids in the last forty years or so: Vernon Scannell, Roger McGough, Brian Patten, Wes Magee, Ian McMillan, Gareth Owen, Benjamin Zephaniah, James Berry, Michael Rosen, Kit Wright, Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein. Pretty obviously Spike Milligan and Roald Dahl, so famous it's easy to overlook them. And if we stretch it back far enough, James Reeves and Ogden Nash - I'm very hazy on dates here, but I suspect they don't quite make the forty year cut-off. But, blimey, it's quite a list to be going on with, eh? (The lack of women's names is a bit odd though. I've obviously got a major blind spot there.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Kids' Stuff

It's characteristic of a golden age that on the whole people don't recognise they're in one until it's over. They're either busy getting on with the things that result in the golden glow (well , a few of them anyway) or moaning (I'm now talking about the vast majority) about other people not doing what they should and, as a result, not being aware of whatever wonderful stuff is actually going on.

I reckon we've been in a golden age of poetry written for children for some little while. The splendours of the Collected Poems for Children of Charles Causley and, of course, Ted Hughes's stuff for kids (wonderfully captured in his own Collected) is sufficient evidence thereof. Both are on my reading list for June simply because I can't resist them and the world would be a better place if all right-thinking readers did likewise. (To be honest, it wouldn't make any difference to the world at all, but it would give a lot of readers a heck of a good time so my exaggeration can stand.)

Do bear in mind though that the Collected Causley does not include that funniest of all modern epics The Tail of the Trinosaur, so if you're one of the right-thinking readers thinking of following my advice you'll have to buy it (or loan it, or steal it) separately. It's now on my list as well.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Travel Plans

I phoned Mum yesterday to discover she won twenty quid at bingo last week and to tell her we've booked our tickets to Manchester for the end of November. I'm trying to forget just how cold it's likely to be over there in December but it certainly can't be as bad as the Genting Highlands were last December when we went with numerous kids in tow. I managed to sustain a nasty case of sunburn on my neck and catch a chill all on the same day. The problem up there is that there's no heating whatsoever, so on an overcast day (and we suffered three of them) you retreat to the hotel room to freeze. The kids, by the way, thought all this was wonderful, something in the way of a great adventure.

Noi actually bought for me a long sleeved sweater when we were there which probably saved my life. The only occasion I've had to wear it since was during the TOK presentations this year in the Staff Lounge in the boarding school in which the air-conditioning reaches a manic phase about forty-five minutes after it's switched on.

There are those who claim to miss the winter. They are mad.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In Development

I regard Joe Sacco's graphic novel/comic book Palestine as one of the great revelatory texts of our time, in a two-fold sense. In the first place if you don't know that much about life in the Occupied Territories (and when I first read it, I didn't) it supplies an extraordinary sense of the texture of that life, despite being somewhat dated. (Basically it deals with the period 1991 - 92.) Secondly it shows beyond any reasonable doubt that comics can function as high journalism if not high art.

When I first read it I was astonished at how assured it was, in terms of both brilliant draftsmanship and, perhaps even more impressively, its maintenance of a humanely balanced point of view regarding the unfolding of events. The writer functioned as a kind of Chaucerian everyman figure, engaged with and noticing everything with a kind of beguiling innocence belying the sharpness of vision underpinning the book as a whole.

Today I've been reading the much less impressive Notes From A Defeatist, a collection of Mr Sacco's earlier comics which I've dipped into previously but never with great enthusiasm. The origins of his style in the underground comics of the late-sixties, early-seventies are obvious, especially the influence of the work of Robert Crumb. There's an abundance of gratuitous profanity and an adolescent obsession with the physically grotesque that makes for tiresome reading at times. Also a kind of awkwardly heightened self-consciousness haunts the autobiographical material making it a matter of some astonishment that this came to be so utterly transcended in the later work. There are signs of this starting to happen, especially in More Women, More Children, More Quickly, a piece about Sacco's mother's experiences in the bombing of Malta, but little to suggest the confident mixture of distance and involvement achieved in Palestine. This piece also marks the adoption of a certain restraint in the depiction of human figures that blossoms into the tenderness of observation in the later comics.

I suppose the obvious point here is that great work does not usually come automatically, but is the fruit of talent (and how wonderful all the drawings are, from the very earliest) allied to sheer determination. And when that determination meshes with a concern for what is overwhelmingly important to others rather being narrowly focussed on oneself you get something very special.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


The centrality of food within Malay culture affords me much to be thankful for, and, equally much to be wary of. Noi's cousin, Rokiah, as so many Malay ladies do, expresses her affection through the food she feeds you, and she has deep wells of affection. She lives fairly close to my school and occasionally, like this morning, I drop Noi off at her place for a few hours whilst I go into work.

These visits invariably result in ample helpings of cardiac-inducing food & drink coming my way when I pick my wife up, and with equal inevitability we find ourselves heading home with enough supplies to feed a small army.

Today we've been snacking on goreng pisang and we've just had tahu goreng for dinner. These dishes give new meaning to the phrase 'to die for', being severely wonderful.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cunning Plans

I'm now putting together the What To Read Over The June Vacation list. This will be followed in due course by the What To Listen To Over The June Vacation list and, in further due course the What I'm Going To Try And Learn About Over The June Vacation list. I sometimes think it's more fun making the lists than actually doing the things on them.

Coleridge (Samuel Taylor) was a great one for lists - of projected great works - as I discovered when reading Richard Holmes's fine biography. The problem was he rarely got round to writing what was on them. Too busy getting stoned and not finishing Kubla Khan, I suppose. I actually do carry out what I plan, but this, unfortunately, fails to stretch to unfinished works of genius.

I must say, I rather like the idea of devising plans you don't carry out. Some might say this is the essential feature of most organisations, if they were honest about themselves, but I'm only really interested here in fine individual failures of which the individual is keenly aware. Sort of essays on absences, elegies on that which is not fulfilled.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Even More Celebratory

At 5.29 am things were not looking good. It had all the makings of a day to forget, or remember with at least a small measure of pain. Then a certain central defender stepped up to take a penalty and the world turned sunny again - and all this before the dawn prayer!

And in addition to that our drama guys got exactly the result they deserved.

Normally I'm sceptical about deciding matches - especially finals - on penalties, and giving awards for plays. But, just for today, I'm a believer.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gearing Up

I'm now setting the alarm to wake me early for the game in Moscow. I will undoubtedly pay for the lack of sleep with a major headache tomorrow afternoon but I am confident that the warm glow of triumph will get me through the difficult hours. At least I think I am.

There are many, many things of far greater importance than a game of football. It's just that, at this moment, I don't remember what any of them might be.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What's In A Name?

Noi is watching her current Tuesday night favourite serial - a Malay drama - which features an actor who goes by the cheerfully improbable name, Danny X-Factor. (I assume the 'F' is a capital.)

This almost, but not quite, beats my favourite daft name for a thespian, the legendarily monosyllabic Rip Torn. Mr Torn, of course, happens to be a genuinely talented actor. I have yet to identify the x-factor in Danny's performance.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Black September

A couple of years ago Nahar & Norharyati gave me Simon Reeve's book One Day In September as a birthday present. It's an account of the terrorist attack launched at the Munich Olympics in 1972, and the aftermath thereof, chiefly in terms of the retribution wrought on the supposed perpetrators by successive Israeli governments. I dipped into it when I first got it, mainly for the stuff about the original attack, but didn't try to read it cover to cover. I usefully put that right over the weekend and was glad I did since I found the book illuminating in several respects.

First of all, it's worth saying that Reeve gives a remarkably even-handed account of what took place. His sympathies lie with all who experienced loss and suffering and since this applies to just about everyone involved there's a powerful effort going on to understand what motivated and continues to motivate the key players. Oddly the only real sustained anger is directed at the ineptitude of the German cover-up of the events at the final massacre at the Furstenfeldbruck airfield. I can remember reading about the rescue attempt the day after it actually took place and even then being puzzled by just how badly it worked out. Now I have some understanding of why this was, an understanding which confirms one of my core beliefs: it's amazing how often those in high authority simply screw-up big time (and don't like to say so.)

Secondly, reading the book in sequence fosters an understanding of the utter pointlessness of killing in revenge. I know this sounds platitudinous but that doesn't make it any less true. As the bodies mount up, and there are lots of them, the understanding grows that one is moving further and further from any kind of justice, any kind of resolution.

Thirdly, quite a number of characters emerge from the narrative with real credit in their attempts to understand the nature of what they get caught up in and rise above the limitations of seeing everything just from the side they happen to be on. When this involves a degree of forgiveness for those who have hurt them so deeply it's particularly moving. In that respect the book is unexpectedly hopeful.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Yesterday saw something rare for us - a rather late night out. The musical didn't finish until well after 11.00 pm, running more than three hours, despite being billed as a two and a half hour show. Then we found that the hawker stalls previously situated next door to the Esplanade had been closed down (pity, one did a great roti john) which meant we had to catch an MRT train to Eunos (we hadn't bothered to go by car to save on parking) from whence we found our way to Geylang to our favourite teh tarik centre where I hungrily consumed a chunky piece of murtabak having not eaten anything before the show. We missed the cup final, but it sounds like a pretty drab affair from all accounts.

In contrast P. Ramlee, The Musical was far from drab, being cheerfully bright and colourful, though a bit overlong. According to Noi even that meant we got our money's worth so that's hardly a criticism. There's was certainly a lot of music. As well as a few P. Ramlee classics the show featured a slab of original material by Dick Lee all of which was, typically, easy on the ear, though a bit bland, especially in contrast to the maestro's material. Of course, that's rather unfair considering our lack of familiarity with the new material and it's true that Dick Lee's songs have an instantly hummable quality about them which means they work in the theatre. But I find his stuff has an oddly generic quality and when juxtaposed to the startling originality of P. Ramlee's blend of 1950's western popular music with the strains of the middle east and Malay folk music it came a distant second.

In fact, the essential triumph of the production lay in the way it brought out just how wonderful the classic songs were and are. There was a lovely sequence in the second act with Ramlee rehearsing Getaran Jiwa at the piano as a work in the making, then going on to a tentative duet with wife-and-singing-partner-to-be Saloma doing Senandung Kasih with her complaining about not understanding the metaphorical lyrics, in the course of which the audience burst into spontaneous applause on a number of occasions simply because it was just so uplifting. I'm smiling now thinking of it.

One obvious problem faced by the producers was that in the context of Malay culture a musical based on possibly the most beloved modern son of that culture couldn't really be anything other than celebratory in nature, to the point of the hagiographic, and that doesn't help in terms of putting genuine drama and tension on stage. But there was a real attempt to suggest the disappointments of our hero's life and the sense in which his very creativity took on an obsessive dimension, almost burning him up. There was also an extraordinary charm about the show drawn from deliberately reflecting the breezy optimism and occasional melodrama of the movies themselves.

It helped more than somewhat that the actor playing the lead, a P Ramlee impersonator called Musly Ramlee, was absolutely brilliant. This was more than impersonation - it felt close to a channeling of the great man's spirit, especially in the comic scenes.

There's not a lot in the way of simple charm in today's popular culture. The easy, good humoured tolerance and delicacy of those wonderful films doesn't find much of a echo in tv schedules these days. It was good to feel some measure of that humane decency and goodwill in the theatre yesterday.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

In Prospect

We're off to the Esplanade later for P. Ramlee, The Musical, which is exactly what it says - a musical based on the life and career of the multi-talented singer/actor/composer/director. Fortunately for me there'll be subtitles for the non-Malay speaking segment of the audience. I'm not sure if we'll be back in time for much of the cup final but I can't say I'm all that gripped by the prospect of the game. Now if Barnsley had made it then that would have been a different story.

Friday, May 16, 2008


I'm still finding that I'm listening to music in the car rather more than in other contexts. However, a long weekend looms as a result of Vesak Day falling on the coming Monday and, even though I have plenty of work to do, there should be a few opportunities to reacquaint myself with the finer points of my ears.

I'm just recharging the CD changer for the car which has been filled for the last two weeks with a pleasingly eclectic mix of stuff, including the Zappa I mentioned the other day. The CD that has had most impact on me out of the bunch, for the wrong reasons, has been Philip Glass's 'Heroes' Symphony. I can't make up my mind whether this is a genuinely very fine work or utterly banal muzak (with pretensions to hipness.) It doesn't help that it's played so beautifully - by The American Composers Orchestra - that it never sounds anything less than smoothly beguiling. But I don't want it to. The Bowie/Eno material from which it derives its themes is about as unsmooth as music gets - awkward, edgy, crackling with a kind of manic, uncontainable energy even at its most brooding. Glass turns it into something almost pointlessly beautiful.

Maybe he should have asked Fripp to lay some howling guitar lines across the top - essentially what Eno realised was necessary on the original material. As it stands the symphony is oddly decaffeinated. Oh, and it's not even remotely symphonic. Is that some sort of clever postmodern irony, or just lazy marketing?

Anyway, the original Heroes is going in the car and I'll be rocking out to it sometime tomorrow, if the missus lets me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Laughter In Heaven

Convinced secularists would do well to avoid the next paragraph. Or possibly read it metaphorically.

I don't think we actually own our talents. Rather they are on a short term lease from God. I suppose that makes us caretakers of a sort. When we use them well then the Almighty delights. And in that delight we find an echo in our own, less substantial, but (to us) more real delight. That moment when we know we've done something much bigger than what we really are is the real reward we strive for. This afternoon, around about two o' clock, despite the all-too-real-and-now troubles of our fallen world, I believe there were one or two chuckles up above.

Which is a long way round of saying I had a great time at the SYF Drama at which our guys gave a first rate, very funny performance. And in one tiny part of the world all was well.

I think it's in that most canny of epics The Mahabharata (or at least in one translation I know of it) that, at one point, a riddle is put to Yudhistira: What is it that is inevitable? And the answer is: Happiness.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Over the weekend I bought the May issue of The New York Review of Books. I'm increasingly wary of the way in which buying this excellent review (of which a number of articles are always available to read online here) has become something of a routine. It only lends assistance to the enemy in the War on Capitalism (I'm losing, by the way) and since I don't have time to read all the articles in any given edition I've now stockpiled a number I'd like to do justice to. My strategy henceforth will be to triumphantly fail to buy one or two (or more) editions as a reminder that completism can become something of a fetish.

The troubling thing about actually reading the paper is that I invariably wind up wanting to buy at least three or four of the tomes under review which is all very well when they relate to a field in which I previously had some interest but sort of troubling when I've been introduced to quite a new area which I otherwise would have been avoiding with cheerful ignorance. In this edition A. C. Grayling's piece on books relating to chimpanzees had me thinking that I really needed to take a much closer look at the work of Jane Goodall and I'm going to feel a bit guilty if, as is likely, I don't.

The problem is of course that we are privileged to live in an age when so much is available to us (with probably dreadful costs to future generations and, more pressingly, present generations not born with our good fortune) to the extent that it's ridiculous to see the situation as a problem. A cheerful forgetfulness is the way to cope with the (non-existent) problem compounded with as full a focus as can be achieved on what does come into view in order to do it at least some justice.

In the meantime, I'm going back to those chimps and that rather extraordinary lady who paid them such fruitful attention. There're baboons in there as well, I might add. (To be honest, the complete article is just a ten minute read so I don't know what I'm making such a fuss about all told.)

Monday, May 12, 2008


It was good, if somewhat wearing on the nerves, to see the premiership title go to the final game. United have never been a team for doing it the easy way if they can find ways of making you suffer up to the last. I don't think I've ever truly got over the last game of the '68 season when City pipped us to the title. I felt devastated for days. I think I cried. But beating Benfica at Wembley was ample compensation. (Even then, it took a brilliant late save by Stepney off Eusebio to keep us in the game. though we made it look easy in extra time. People talk now as if George Best had a great final when he didn't. The unsung Johnny Aston was everyone's man of the match at the time.)

Last night they were showing no fewer than eight games live on local tv. Unfortunately someone decided it would be a good wheeze to shrink the picture size to an awkwardly trapezoid half in order to show the goals from other games just after they'd been scored. When your tv is as small as ours - about 14 inches, I think - this means you keep unexpectedly losing normal coverage as the game suddenly appears viewed through the wrong end of a telescope. As I say, wearing on the nerves. (Noi stayed out of the room which I think was a comment on just how bad I get on these occasions. Poor girl.)

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Finished D. H. Lawrence's collection of short stories England, My England early today. There are only ten stories all told, none of any great length, but it's taken me several months to complete them. I remain sceptical regarding Lawrence's status as a great writer. The poetry, for the most part, yes; the fiction, not so sure. At one point in the penultimate story a woman is said to be passionately kissing his knees, and this of a gentleman whose clothes are wet through because he's just dragged her out of a lake in which she was trying to drown herself. Somehow I just can't visualise the scene. A couple of sentences later she's said to be kissing said knees indiscriminately. This rather begs the question of how one discriminates when kissing knees (especially through wet trousers.)

I think this will be my last Lawrence for a while. In fact after this and my recent bout with Saul Bellow I need to read some stuff where I'm just a simple fanboy - and there's plenty of that.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

On The Up

Just back from a late afternoon run around the streets of Katong. This is all part of a very gradual attempt to get back into the kind of routine of exercise I established last year. In late May 2007 I was in Vietnam bounding up various scenic ascents with the vim and vigour of a mountain goat - a goat that had no doubt been pensioned off and was in the sunset of its years but still sufficiently active to warrant the alliterative adjectives appended above.

At the moment I'm wondering if I've done myself any lasting damage through my efforts, but at my age this has to be considered after any and all forms of exertion. The joys of aging!

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Matter of Style

I spent a good deal of the day watching a fine game of cricket between my school's senior team and their number one rivals for the top slot in Singapore. Our opponents won but our guys put up a strong showing. In fact, at the point when I left for prayers at the nearby mosque I thought they might just snatch a victory, but by the time I got back it was all done and dusted. There's a lot of nonsense these days about winning being everything. It isn't. Giving it your best shot, doing it the right way and recognising both victory and defeat for the imposters they are: that's everything.

The best novel I know about school cricket, in fact, my all-time favourite school story (which I think I read probably twenty times around the age of eleven) is P. G. Wodehouse's Mike and Psmith (which marked Psmith's fictional debut.) Here's a paragraph describing one of the teachers attempting to bowl:

Mr Downing was a bowler with a style of his own. He took two short steps, two long steps, gave a jump, took three more short steps, and ended with a combination of step and jump, during which the ball emerged from behind his back and started on its slow career to the wicket. The whole business had some of the dignity of the old-fashioned minuet, subtly blended with the careless vigour of a cake-walk. The ball, when delivered, was billed to break from leg, but the programme was subject to alterations.

Now that's a style to which to aspire - the writing, not the bowling.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


The images of the aftermath of the dreadful storm that hit Burma are humbling. The sense that those who have least are most likely to have it taken from them is overwhelming.

Some shots shown on the BBC this morning of guys starting to repair simple structures were a reminder of what is most extraordinary about our species, in a good sense. The possibility that aid might not make it through to the rural areas at all, and the thought of what that will entail for the survivors, invokes the opposite.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

For Art's Sake

One of the features of art: it's like life, only more so. That defining intensity goes a long way to explaining why there's always at least one moment when doing a production that you think: It's not going to work. I wish we'd never started this. But it also explains those other moments when the thing takes off and soars. Today we've enjoyed more than a few of the flying high variety at our last rehearsal of the SYF piece in the venue where we'll actually perform next Thursday. Twenty cast members acting their socks off and a production team to die for. Yowza!

In the meantime we'll be pressing on with maintenance and high performance engineering in the days to come.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


According to the cliches it's reckoned to be melodious and soothing. It's not. The birdsong I get to hear in Singapore and Malaysia is scrappy, skittering, scatty stuff. And I love it - when I make myself hear it, that is. All too often I'm too busy thinking of weighty matters, like how many emails are lying in wait for me, to lend an ear to the cacophony that accompanies my entrance to the staffroom. These last few mornings I've made myself lend an ear though, and been all the better for it.

This was prompted by an observation from Bernard who reckons that one bird keeps singing t-o-k, t-o-k. I think I know the one he means. Smart little thing.

Monday, May 5, 2008


Yesterday I finished Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled, and a jolly good read it was. I think the first part of the book dealing with prosody is the most effective and sees him at his best, but there are sound judgements made throughout and the sheer enthusiasm of Fry towards all sorts of verse is infectious. It was heartening that this enthusiasm extended towards a good deal of modern poetry - some felicitous comments on Ted Hughes were particularly striking. I think Hughes's reputation is going to grow considerably in the next half century based on his accessibility, helped along by non-academic enthusiasts for poetry like Mr Fry.

In fact, that's where the future of poetry (and I believe it will have one) will lie - outside the Lit departments. With regard to most forms of art I long ago came to the conclusion that criticism as such was generally worse than useless. What counts then? Two things: the enthusiasm of the audience and an audience that actually practises art in terms of trying to make the thing. (Then they realise how difficult it all actually is, as well as quite enjoying the process of finding this out. The salutary effect of all this is to make you that bit more charitable as a responder, and a good deal more perspicacious.)

We can safely leave it to generations to come to discriminate between what was good and what wasn't. In the meantime it's best to simply get stuck into the stuff, with gusto.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Beyond Cynicism

I was coming to the end of my quota of marking for the day when I found myself watching something on the History Channel. (I regularly interrupt bouts of marking with short breaks to stretch, unwind and get in touch with real life.) The programme was about the history of Antarctica and began with an account of Shackleton's expedition on The Endurance, showing some great period film of the whaling station on South Georgia and of the ship breaking up in the ice.

The story was told in about fifteen minutes, but even that brief version was enough to remind me of how incredible (I use the word carefully) it all was. I suppose it would be fairly easy to comfortably deconstruct the whole thing to render it a metaphor for the failure of Empire or the like. But the difficult truth is that saving those twenty-two men was heroic in the simple sense of the word, and there is such a sense, regardless of how life might like to undercut it.

In fact, it doesn't take much imagination to grasp that, somewhere in this benighted world, there are taking place equally extraordinary tales of survival against the odds on a daily basis, featuring the kinds of people we find it difficult to envisage as heroes. Not so much a cause for celebration as for making you feel a bit small, a bit petty, a bit of a whinger, all told.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

More Cynicism

It's odd and interesting to degree to which cynicism can genuinely offend people. I suppose it represents a threat to our ability to deceive ourselves, a threat that, for some, must be quashed at all costs. Hence that curious sense of desperation, of wilful denial, that is so often apparent beneath the promotion of various manifestations of positive psychology.

But life is so much richer when we take cognisance of all its aspects, that is, insofar as we are capable of facing a little of the reality which ultimately we cannot bear. When Zappa's Oh No segues into the instrumental that follows we are treated to one of his most gloriously ebullient melodies, radiating a good natured humour and acceptance, in perfect balance with the mordancy of the lyric we've just heard. It's intoxicating (I've had the tune in my head all day, despite having known it for years) and life-affirming.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Virtues of Cynicism

One of the CDs that made into the car's CD changer this week is Zappa (and The Mothers') Weasels Ripped My Flesh. It's an album for which I have a good deal of affection despite being a messy hodge-podge of live and studio material with no real centre - well, not one I've ever been able to find. To be honest, I think it's the wonderfully offensive cover art that accounts for the nostalgic glow the thing evokes for me. I remember admiring it as something approaching the height of cool in a record shop near my secondary school back in 1969, or thereabouts, thinking one day I'm going to own that. And now I do.

It also contains what I consider one of Frank's all-time-great compositions: Oh No. (In fact, the segue into The Orange County Lumber Truck really means the album contains two such compositions, but I tend to hear them as one, which is how the Mothers live generally played them in this period.) To be honest, this first recording of Oh No is a pretty messy version compared to some of the great live accounts, but it's such a wonderful song it works in any context.

Its biting cynicism about the vague aspirations of the love generation (as far as I understand it was written in response to The Beatles's All You Need Is Love) is a welcome reminder that songs can be intelligently truthful about the world to which we are condemned, rather than blearily, Pollyannaishly, aspirational, as seems to be the case with most 'pop' music these days.

How refreshing it is to be told: Oh no I don't believe it / You say you think you know the meaning of love / You say love is all we need / You say with your love you can change / All of the fools, all of the hate / I think you're probably out to lunch.

Anyone who sings this on American Idol will get my vote.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Adam's Curse

On a day set aside for celebration of those who labour I found myself labouring, with ironic heroism, over a large pile of marking. As Noi would say, What to do?

Well, what I did, once I'd fulfilled my quota for the day, was get out for a run down to Siglap - not far, but a sensible distance considering my lack of fitness. Then it was back to preparing a lecture for tomorrow. Ho hum.

But it'll soon be time for the results show of this week's American Idol. My money's on the two Davids in the final and Jason for the long walk home tonight.