Friday, November 28, 2008


It's amazing what you can get done on-line these days. We're already checked in on our flight and holding our boarding passes, and we've not even been close to the airport.

But I'm sort of thankful that we're about to be disconnected from the web of the world as this far place moves itself halfway around the globe for the next month. There's no computer at either Mum's or Maureen's and no local Internet cafes we've ever been able to find on previous missions. We have to travel to central Manchester to get webbed up, so posting is likely to be intermittent.

Noi insists I take my mobile phone with me, though. Actually it's really hers, one she passed to me when she moved on to something that I gather is thought to be better for reasons which escape me. I was proud to be able to able to boast of not carrying one up to two years ago, but the dreadful things are pretty much unavoidable in my present place of work simply given the sheer size of the premises.

It took me up to the twenty-third of those months to discover what the phone is most useful for. Pretending to be engrossed in checking what is on it is a very effective way of keeping people off bothering you in those moments when you'd rather be alone with your thoughts. There's a small joy in using the hooks that connect us to become blissfully disconnected from it all.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Noi got back from Melaka late yesterday evening, with niece Ayu in tow. She's delivering Ayu to the Woodlands branch of the family this evening where, it seems, Fafa can't wait for her partner in crime to arrive. In the meantime I'll be spending the evening circulating at the Year 6 Prom.

The news of Mak is generally positive. That's good.

We've got a hundred and one things to do before getting on the plane tomorrow. That's not so good. But we'll cope. I think.

We brought a new suitcase this afternoon, except it isn't really a suitcase as suitcases no longer look like suitcases. This is change and, therefore, a good thing. One of the two suitcases we used to use gave up its useful life the last time we came back from the UK by developing a large rip along one of its corners. I wouldn't mind but I've only had it for twenty years. Nothing is made to last anymore!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A False Start

For the first time in quite a while I seem to have made a false start on a novel and am thinking of putting it to one side. This used to be a regular occurrence in my reading, and I can name any number of texts that I've put back on the shelf to eventually return to wondering what all the fuss was about, but I thought I had cured myself of the syndrome.

The puzzling thing is that I was thoroughly looking forward to the novel in question, Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red, having devoured Snow at double-quick pace not so long ago. Everything about it made me think This is my kind of book. And I rather think it is, but just not at this time. I suppose being overwhelmed with the stuff known as work hasn't helped the situation. Anyway, I don't think it'll be coming on the plane with me this Friday.

What I have been reading is Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World:- Science As A Candle In The Dark. I enjoyed this a lot when I borrowed it from the library a few years ago as a kind of light but informative read. Sagan says important, though somewhat over-simplified, things and his heart is in the right place. I'm a bit puzzled by Dawkins's encomium at the front which tells us he (Sagan) is incapable of composing a dull sentence. This is thankfully not the case. Carl indulges in more than a small amount of repetition, which makes for a pleasantly relaxing read late at night when your systems are winding down and you don't want to think too much. Sort of comfort-reading, I suppose.

But, again, the book won't make it to the plane as I'll probably finish it by Friday and I don't want it encumbering my luggage all the way to England and back. I generally travel light to leave as much room for as I can for purchases made in Manchester's big bookshops. (There's a terrific Waterstones on Deansgate.) So now I'm thinking of which novel to switch to, with Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay as a front runner as the garish cover makes me unreasonably cheerful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Time Is Tight

On the blower just now, brother-in-law John asked me whether we were packed for the UK, whence we will be bound this Friday night, all being well.

Not only are we not packed, we are nowhere close, being short of one suitcase and not having considered what to put in the other. The fact that Noi is in Melaka doesn't help, but, of course, in present circumstances that's the best place for her. Real life will be resumed when she gets back, which I think will be late tomorrow.

I suppose I should be panicking, but there's so much to do just getting work out of the way it seems beside the point to do so. This is going to be a sort of just-in-time experience, as is most of modern life, I suppose.

Monday, November 24, 2008

All The Right Notes

I did my best to draw it out as long as I could, but I finished Alex Ross's wonderful The Rest is Noise: Listening To The Twentieth Century over the weekend and I can only think of one bad thing to say about it: a reader who is less than expert on the repertoire covered is likely to finish the book with the wishlist to end all wishlists of CDs that they simply must buy.

One piece of advice I'd give to anyone likely to read the tome. There's a likelihood you'll be tempted to rifle through the text on a dip-in basis. I know I was. In fact, after reading the opening I immediately skipped to the segments on Britten's Peter Grimes and Messiaen's A Quartet for the End of Time. And what wonderful segments they are! But I then got back to reading in the right order, and was glad I did. Although individual segments are outstanding and do easily peel away from the main narrative, it's the inter-connecting sweep of that narrative that the power of the text lies in. Having said that, I'm readying myself to do some dipping quite soon, just as a refresher.

But in general terms Ross triumphantly links the dourest academic developments in twentieth century music to the tumultuous realities of on-going history, and to the various worlds of popular culture. It's this sense of context that makes for sometimes eye-opening reading. I still can't quite get over the fact that the CIA secretly funded concerts promoting 12 tone music as a way of supporting democracy!

Above all Ross is an enthusiast, rather than a critic. He wears his enthusiasms openly, and misses out a lot of stuff I'd have been happy to see him write about. (For example, you get lots of Britten but the merest mention of Tippett.) But it's that sense you are reading a personal account and hearing the world through two fine ears, not necessarily your own, that makes this far more than just a dry survey.

Oh, and I love the jacket design.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

All Creatures Great And Small

Well, monkeys, rats and wild boar, at least.

First the monkeys. We were driving from the taman down the hill, to get some breakfast on Saturday morning, when a big group, at least twelve, came down from the slope on the right and crossed the road in front of us. There have also been some unusual droppings around the house. We're wondering if these come from our simian chums. The little guys didn't look terribly cheerful, by the way. Survival on the edge of the city must be touch and go. One of the monkeys, presumably a female, appeared to be trailing a dead youngster with her.

The rats emerged as we were getting the car cleaned late on Saturday night. We were sitting on a couple of plastic chairs up against a sort of office-cum-hut in the compound of the cleaning place, adjacent to and sort of under the elevated ring road, near the Flamingo Hotel, when the two came out. Squeaking quite loudly, they didn't seem at all concerned that we were around, and made their way across the hut and underneath our chairs. We didn't stick around to chat.

And finally the boar. Actually these were in Melaka, and we didn't see them, but I heard about them first at Khir's wedding, when they came sniffing around the cooking area at the back of the house on the Friday night before I got there. It seems there were seven. I say 'were' as today's news was that one of them has been shot, to the delight of all it seems. Except me. Sentimental as I am, I can't help feel a sense of something being lost.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Onwards, Upwards

We'll be on our way northwards soon, to check the house in KL for the last time in 2008, and to see Mak - delivering a walking frame and a new gadget for checking blood pressure and other measurables. Noi will stay on in Melaka for a few days, so I'm home alone again next week. Then it's off to the other side of the world for a taste of real weather.

It's all go, to the point that I feel all gone.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Results

Today will be a very emotional one in a number of homes across this little island. The results of the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) are out - this being the one that sorts the mutton from the lamb and sends them onward to their varied shelves. Fifi got her big news today and is pretty pleased with herself, so that's good. Fortunately they'll be lots of kids in a similar sunny situation, which is also good, but unfortunately they'll be plenty over whom dark clouds are looming, which is not so good, but it's the way things are and it's difficult to see how the world could turn otherwise.

When I first came to Singapore I was impressed at the sense of direction that pervades society in terms of recognition of the importance of examinations and education in general. It was refreshing after dealing with teenagers in the UK who were often simply lazy, nowhere close to fulfilling their potential and who often showed no sense at all that school was important in their lives. They appeared to assume the world owed them a living. However, I quickly came to recognise that the unwavering spotlight on examination success came at a price. Paradoxically that price was sometimes a decent education in itself.

Two problems. First of all, the obvious point that letting assessment lead the curriculum is not exactly sensible. You will end up assessing only that which lends itself to being assessed, and, even more scary, a position is quickly reached in which students only take what they can be made to be successful in. Nothing else counts. Secondly, an obsession with results, especially achieving outstanding ones, leads to extraordinary levels of anxiety for all involved. It's to Fifi's credit that she seems to have sailed through the year and found plenty of time in which to enjoy herself (though it's going to be awfully easy to say of her, or any child for that matter, that her 'score' (that's the curious common usage here) could have been even better had she worked that little bit harder and sacrificed some of the time in which she was enjoying herself - like the times she was reading merely for pleasure.)

One thing I discovered very quickly in schools when I first arrived here was the curious reluctance of quite a number of teachers to actually teach what are termed graduating classes, because of the 'pressure' involved. Such pressure came, as far as I could see, not from any obvious extra workload, but simply from worrying about the results that might be achieved. Curiously since I felt no pressure at all, believing that, having done my best to teach as well as I could and worked hard to do so, the results were essentially those of the students who got them, I haven't felt any such reluctance. My guess is that not particularly caring makes me better at what I do.

I am still essentially impressed though with this far place - it's the balance that seems to me to be out (isn't it always?), but there's a base of achievement to build on, which is something. More young people here wake up hopeful and with a sense of what needs to be done rather than bored and lacking in any real direction, and that's no bad thing. I just hope that not too many youngsters have lost heart today.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Caught the last hour or so of that rare beast, an intelligent movie, the other night, and am now looking to see if they'll show it again. The animal in question was Longford with Jim Broadbent as our eponymous hero. Except he wasn't a hero in any simple sense, though deeply heroic in the ways that count. An English audience would immediately recognise the name, but not, as I have discovered through two conversations since, a Singaporean viewer, even the most cultivated.

In brief, he was a lord, of some fame/notoriety in the British media and world of politics generally for campaigning against pornography at a time when permissiveness was beginning to take off (more than in the simple sense of disrobing) and then supporting the cause of the jailed child killer Myra Hindley, in regard to attempting to get her parole as well as visiting her in prison. (Profoundly Christian in his beliefs he visited quite a number of other prisoners, but it was the deeply unpopular Hindley that brought the world down on his head.)

Was he right to believe she had reformed, that she deserved parole? The movie intelligently did not take sides on these impossible questions but rather made it its business to bring these issues powerfully to life in terms of their importance to all those caught up in the nightmare. I suppose I was drawn to the film partly because I grew up in the shadow of the murders, being almost exactly contemporary with the younger children involved. One was taken by Hindley, and her accomplice Brady, from Ashton market, a delightful place my wife and I love to visit when we go back to the UK. I remember the missing poster for another of the children sitting forlornly for what seemed an age in one of the windows of Denton Police Station. Now I know it couldn't have been up for all that long. Mum remembers a woman who worked opposite her saying that something was going on at her neighbour, Myra Hindley's house, on the morning of the big arrest.

The last meeting of Hindley and Longford in the film, at a point when Longford had long since been aware that Hindley had manipulated him for her own ends, quietly seemed to suggest something of a confrontation between good and evil, in the gentlest possible way. The lack of sensationalism about the whole thing was deeply impressive. Normally I'd be distrustful of a film dealing with such raw events. I'm not at all sure it's wise to put appalling murderers at the centre of our attention. But then this film didn't. It put a good, if deeply flawed, man there.

Finally there are never real answers. Just better questions.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fortunate Encounters

I'm supposed to be working on a chapter on Language for a booklet we're producing for our Year 3 and Year 4 guys for Philosophy of Disciplines, a sort of younger brother to Theory of Knowledge which they get to do from Year 5 onwards. The problem is that I seem to have stalled. It's a question of determining the right pitch for the material. Dumb it down too far and you sort of lose the point of the whole thing, but on the other hand I don't see why the kids should be subjected to ideas that may be beyond them developmentally. I remember doing The Ancient Mariner when I was in the second year of grammar school and being bewildered by the notion of pantheism. I understood the idea, it just didn't have any meaning in the real world for me, if you see what I mean.

Anyway, I deftly goofed off from what I should be doing by reading Hedda Gabler which I'm teaching next year. I don't think I've actually read it before though I've seen it on tv a couple of times. There can't be too many jobs that give you the opportunity to read like this and make you feel you're doing something constructive. It set me thinking about those times I've read stuff I don't think I would have done otherwise thus making great personal discoveries.

Two, of quite a satisfactory number, at this moment come to mind. The first was reading Leon Garfield's wonderful Smith back in the UK. I recall the strangeness of realising that such mesmeric writing could exist without me having the slightest awareness of it. I also recall knowing instantly that I could do Smith's voice perfectly - my mockney accent being something of a party piece - and that the class would love it. Which they did, partly, I think, because they sensed how much I loved it.

The second was reading O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night for an 'A' level class. Four pages in I knew I was reading one of the great dramatic masterpieces. Utterly true. Flawless. I gleefully plunged into an O'Neill phase of major proportions, centred around the later plays (A Moon for the Misbegotten, which never opened on Broadway, equally haunting) and a very fine, detailed, biography I luckily picked up at the library - though I'd have to look up who wrote it. Two things about O'Neill that are deeply resonant for me: the way he rose above the alcoholism he so deeply understood; the fact that he had a tin ear for dialogue and still wrote great plays. The man made himself great by virtue of an absorption in craft and through his demons. A great and terrible role model for any aspiring writer. A road that should not be taken.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Great Expectations

Noi is now on her way back from Melaka. We'd intended for her to come back today, taking the bus, but she was taking Mak to the hospital this morning, for a planned appointment, and there was an element of doubt as to whether it was wise for her to leave at this point. The decision was dependent on the doctor's advice and it looks like no big problem surfaced - as yet I don't know exactly what transpired; I've only received a couple of phone messages to let me know what's happening. But that's plenty good enough for me when the news is this good.

Apart from anything else, I'm running out of clean socks.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Other than getting out for a run yesterday, which appears to have done me no obvious damage, and getting the car serviced, and spending an hour or so at Parkway Parade (which is just not the same when you're on your own, as I quickly discovered), and doing a fair bit of work, I finished The Sound of Waves. And then I fell asleep, thus missing the first half of the United game.

It's always curious reading a text that I am going to, in some sense, teach. Apart from anything else, I'm aware that I'll be reading it again quite soon so the whole experience takes on a provisional air. Also I find myself on the lookout for what is 'teachable' about what I'm reading, which is not altogether healthy. I find myself trying to see the text to some degree through a teenager's eyes - in this case that certainly altered how I viewed the whole idea of 'first love' as experienced by the youngsters in the novel. What I think I would have read at some almost nostalgic distance became rather more immediate somehow. I'm certainly very interested to hear how authentic the teenagers I teach take the experience of the novel's protagonists as being. I felt it was all a touch artificial, but I'm not sure I was really able to make the jump into a different culture. At the simplest level, the happy ending came as quite a surprise.

Having said that, if I hadn't have known I was reading a modern Japanese classic I would have thought it was Hemingway in front of me, albeit a rather sentimentalised version thereof. The waves seem drenched in some fairly strident machismo.

I liked the way Mishima dealt with sexual experience, though. Refreshingly head on, but without prurience, I think, except for one odd segment dealing with the breasts of the female divers, and the linking of these with visible signs of virginity. Or perhaps that was my prurience infecting the text.

But I must say the general sense of the way of life of the inhabitants of the island in their fishing village is superbly done and the novel is worth a read for that alone.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Back On The Streets

Got out for a run this evening for the first time since fasting month. The back pain I was being self-pitying about in late October has subsided, but I remain troubled by discomfort at the top of my right leg. It was still bothering me today and it would have been easy, and possibly sensible, to have decided not to go running, but I had that now or never feeling. And it turned out to be now.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Bit of a Mess

The alteration in my domestic circumstances has not resulted in a flowering of reading and listening. Far from it: I've probably listened to less music and read less over the last couple of weeks than over any other similar period this year. It's true that I've been busy with work stuff, but there's still been a fair amount of time on my hands, yet I've felt directionless.

The novel I've got going is Mishima's The Sound of Waves, which we're adopting as one of our IB texts next year, and it's taking me seemingly forever to read. Yet I'm sure I could manage it at a couple of sittings in the right mood. The odd thing is that I'm enjoying the text, but don't feel any great inclination to pick it up once I've put it down. I suppose the narrative has a static quality which is beguiling, in its way, but it doesn't exactly demand attention.

I find myself picking up The Rest Is Noise with far greater frequency, but I'm being careful not to read too fast, I suppose trying to savour the experience. I'm still not past the Second World War and already the magnitude of achievement in music in the last century, I'm now aware, is stunning. It's always been there yet I've never quite grasped it was all happening at once.

Ross is exceptionally good at making the inherently obvious less so and so more real somehow. For example, his observation that 'classical' music acquired sinister overtones as a result of the rise of Nazism, and that composers in the second half of the century in a sense had to contend with such associations, struck me as something I kind of knew but never consciously realised. Similarly I was generally aware of what Prokofiev and Shostakovich suffered under Stalin but I failed to feel the importance of this in their music (and to them as human beings.)

As a younger man I think I was looking for something transcendent in art generally. Now I find I'm stirred by the local, the domestic, the contingent; the experience rooted in the mess of history.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Matters Medicinal

Odd synchronicity of sorts this evening - two conversations on the phone in which the management of medicine at home played a significant role.

Noi, still in Melaka helping to look after Mak, was describing her attempts to tidy up the supplies of medicine they've got there, mainly for Abba and Mak, I presume. I get the impression the family has a fairly cavalier attitude towards what they are prepared to ingest in the supposed interests of their health, so it was reassuring she's keeping a watching brief. The situation reminded me of Dad's equally cavalier approach to whatever the doctor had prescribed, frequently doubling or trebling doses to effect a speedy recovery.

Then it was on to Mum's full, if not positively overflowing, account of how she monitors her monthly delivery from the surgery down the road. She's somewhat aggrieved that they are pulling her in for a check before prescribing more of one of the painkillers in her little box of goodies. I pointed out to her that we can all be thankful she wasn't on the books of Dr Harold Shipman, Hyde's notorious serial killer, whose surgery is (or rather was) just opposite to that of the practice Mum attends. Brother-in-law John always reckons he'd have bumped her off in double quick time, but Mum and I both reckon she'd have given him a run for his money.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Out In The Street

I put Springsteen's The River into the car's CD changer a couple of weeks back (along with other goodies) and found myself listening to Out In The Street just before arriving at work a couple of mornings ago. I've always liked the song, tuneful & cheerful as it is, but didn't relate to any great degree with the lyric when I first played the album back in the last century. It's very much blue collar territory - unloading crates down on the dock - and there seemed to me then traces of the early Springsteen's attitudinizing as urban hero - fun, but not something I could take all that seriously, except as a kind of inspired performance. Like playing at being Brando.

It was only when I saw a live performance on DVD (the one in New York), by a distinctly elderly E Street Band, that I twigged what the song was really about and how wrong I'd been. Or perhaps the song has necessarily changed as we've all aged. It's essentially a celebration of the joy of being outside the grinding systems we inhabit; a metaphor for the desire to escape, rather than the escape, impossible, in itself. But this is an escape into the life of the city - the creativity of those who take the trouble to put their hair up right. So it is a performance, finally, but a willed performance becomes the reality of the escape.

Am I reading too much into a simple song (and it is, lyrically, gloriously simple.) Yes, of course, because the song doesn't need explaining. It just is. And it made me curiously cheerful going to work that morning.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Out On The Street

With the weekend (and after) being so busy I haven't had the chance to say much about Avenue Q so here's a little bit to make up for that. First of all it was an entertaining evening and I got a sense of what a good show this is. It was also well produced and well performed. But it wasn't done by an American cast and I think it needed to be to capture some kind of authenticity since it is very much an American show. Case in point: one of the running gags is that the janitor of the buildings constituting the avenue is supposed to be child star and sad human being Gary Coleman. The guy playing the part attempted a valiant impersonation, but looked white. This just didn't work. It was almost like watching a school production which is pretending to do an adult musical but can't quite pull it off. (But don't get me wrong, the show was thoroughly, impressively, professional.)

Secondly, the concept of the cast themselves performing all out whilst manipulating the puppets performing alongside them is a fascinating one that achieves an oddly alienating effect. But it doesn't work so well in ensemble scenes when there's so much going on that the eye becomes distracted. It works best in solo bits where you find yourself sort of superimposing one 'performer' on another in a kind of unity. I first saw this done in a play for children directed by Brian Seward, with whom I had the pleasure of working sometimes in schools, and in that case there was just one puppet involved. That achieved a greater sense of magic, for me at least, I think due to the intensity involved and the fact that you could give it your full focus.

Finally, the songs were ace. I urgently want to hear them again.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Secret Geographies

When we go to the Esplanade by bus, to save on the exorbitant parking, and because we enjoy a bus journey once in a while, Noi and I take the underpass to the bus stop over the road on the way home. I did the same last Friday and, as usual, the space below the road was crowded with kids, teenagers, making the area their own. There are always at least three dance groups rehearsing, practising, performing down there with conflicting music in attendance. Most of these look pretty funky, sometimes to the point of being a wee bit intimidating, but there're also geeky ones to even the score. And there's generally a few skate-boarders around. I don't know whether the authorities are aware of what goes on - surely they can't miss it? do they actually encourage it? - but if they are then they are turning an unusually wise blind eye.

It all looks splendid to me, though the lingering smell of perspiration, and the need to catch the bus, means I never stay to watch too long. The guys down there seem to be making the city, one small part of it, their own, almost as if it were their secret.

I remember doing something similar, with my friends, in a little bit of grassland, a park of sorts, near where I lived in Audenshaw when I was around ten years old, except that was a place kids were expected to make their own, I suppose. After England won the World Cup we were down there for a kick around, late on a Saturday afternoon, with coats for goalposts. There was real pitch there, with real posts, but someone must have been using it then because I distinctly remember using our coats. We played soldiers a lot, Japs vs Americans, near the railway lines. We got to be good at dying. There was always plenty of grass to hide in, and a sewage works in the distance for glamour.

The last time I was there was with Noi, some four years ago, and it was all very small, very tawdry, very ordinary. But I remember its days of glory on the endless Saturdays of 1966.

You never really know a city. You can only guess at its secret places and you're lucky if you've had access to just one.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Just back from Khir's wedding. Noi has stayed there to help with the on-going recovery of Mak.

Two useful lessons: it's wise not to leave your bags and clothes under an air-conditioning unit in a strange room, in case it leaks. And it's a good idea to travel with more than just a single pair of jeans. Those who enjoy filling the gaps in narratives might make much of what a difficult (and wet) day I've had.

And that's not saying anything about the large and vocal contingent of Arsenal supporters at the house.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Rush Hour

It's all go - change money, change car, change country (for a couple of days.) The plan is for to set off for Melaka tomorrow in the early hours immediately after swubuh prayers, picking up various members of the family on the way. Why not tonight? Because a few weeks back we made arrangements for a trip with some of our drama guys to see Avenue Q at the Esplanade. It's a sort of adult version of Sesame Street, as I understand it - very adult (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, if you know what I mean.) Sounds fun, and I'm looking forward to it, but the timing could have been better.

But then almost every time I go to anything worth attending I find myself thinking much the same thing. Still, there are worse ways to live frantically.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Caught Napping

I dozed off yesterday late in the evening, lying in front of our less than trusty stereo system, to be awoken by the ringing of the phone. In truth, I was not so much dozing as deeply asleep, which accounts for the fact that on waking I had no idea what time it was, what day it was or where I was. It took about a minute of conversation with my brother-in-law ringing from Manchester to piece together a picture of what was actually happening. Oddly enough I quite enjoyed the sensation as I was reasonably sure I wasn't supposed to be in work or some such serious location. Also it helped that I've had these experiences before (sometimes panicking that I was somewhere where I needed to be awake) and recognised the condition. Again rather oddly, I don't think I've ever done this when the missus has been around.

Bernard at work was asking for stories of students falling asleep in class, I'm not sure for what purpose, but he was after funny ones. I'm afraid I could only think of the times I've nodded off when I'm not supposed to, which I suppose says something about derogation of duty. When I first started teaching I used to regularly fall asleep going home from work on the bus from Rotherham to Sheffield and have to be awoken at the terminus by a generally gleeful conductor. Fortunately that was my stop so no great harm was done, other than being made to look like a complete idiot. But that in itself was useful as those experiences made me immune to the embarrassment of being seen to fall asleep publicly. Isn't the deeply ingrained sense of embarrassment at being seen to sleep interesting? Keats is very good on this, just as he's very good on sleep in general. A napper himself, I suspect.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Loose Ended

Someone, somewhere, somehow is making history, I guess, pretty much as usual. But for me the world is grievously shrunk to an absence: that of my wife who has gone off to Melaka to help out with stuff at home now Mak is out of hospital, and more specifically to do the industrial scale cooking necessary for Khir's wedding this weekend. Actually we'd planned for some time, well before Mak's illness, that she should go on the Tuesday, but we're now thinking of her staying there quite a bit longer than was originally intended.

Fortunately I'm the kind of person who has no problems with solitude. I don't see myself as a loner exactly, but I can easily cope with being alone to the point at which solitude has often been a real friend. So I'm not worried by being alone here, but without Noi I'm at the loosest of loose ends. Fortunately she left behind a seriously wonderful banana and walnut cake. And I will be seeing her at the wedding this weekend, so there are reasons to be cheerful.

And I must say, the news out of the States has cheered me, though I think it's all getting a bit needlessly messianic. Well soon enough reality will bite. I've never known it not to.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I suppose it's a virtuous circle. I read a chunk of Ross's The Rest Is Noise - last night it was the excellent chapter on Sibelius - and I rediscover my CDs of whatever he's covered that I've got, as I am doing with the Sibelius series, listening to them with new ears. The problem is that I'm building up a significant wish-list of stuff I'll need to buy, including a good many twentieth century operas, but in the meantime I can refresh my ears on the cheap just listening to what I've got and, not exactly failed to appreciate, but certainly failed to do justice to.

Another bit of reading involving a circle of sorts: I finished A Clockwork Orange over the weekend, in between visiting Mak, it being rather more than thirty years since the first time I finished it. This time the book had changed completely, or possibly I have, which is, in effect, the same thing. After all, essentially we're reading ourselves. This time I found myself engaged in what was obviously a theological tract - a very lively one, but a kind of extended sermon on the nature of aggression and its relation to creativity and the nature of choice. The shocking aspect of this sermon is the way it convincingly connects aspects of ourselves we'd rather keep mentally sundered from each other.

For some reason as I read I kept thinking of Kubrick's film, which I saw just before Kubrick pulled it off general release in the UK. I wasn't so much thinking of how well Kubrick brought the tract to life - frankly I don't think he did to any great degree having plentiful concerns of his own - but I was aware that it was an amazing piece of work and realised I wouldn't mind seeing it again in the hope that I would react differently. Older and wiser, I pray I would not now be quite so stirred by the violence as I was then, and I recall being genuinely excited, which is even odder considering I detest violent movies. Unsettling.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Speaking Out

We finally did our bit in supporting the local theatre scene and got ourselves to one of the Necessary Stage's productions yesterday afternoon, conveniently staged at the Marine Parade Library's Black Box just five minutes walk from our apartment. And a jolly afternoon's entertainment it was, as provided by Haresh Sharma's Gemuk Girls. Well 'jolly' is the wrong word, I suppose - thought-provoking, stirring, challenging: those are the more appropriate terms, but in a genuinely engaging context - the ninety minutes felt short and the piece, though worthily serious, worked as entertainment in the best sense.

It helped that the subject matter was pretty controversial, certainly in terms of what is generally deemed the standard political discourse on this little island. There was an opportunity to genuinely think about thorny, possibly unresolvable issues related to difficult events transpiring over the years of independence. The play revolved around the experience of a man detained without trial in the early sixties, who spends the rest of his life in prison, and the effects of this upon his immediate family, into the present day. Although the play wore its liberal credentials a little too openly there was a real attempt to deal with the human cost yet not to resort to easy cliches.

As is so often the case with small scale productions here, the production values were high, especially in terms of the incorporation of multi-media material. The three cast members gave solid performances, with the one guy, Najib Soiman, being quite outstanding. The best scenes were those dealing head-on with Mazurki's (the detainee's name) arrest and imprisonment and he played these with admirable restraint.

In some ways the most striking, almost refreshing, aspect of the whole thing for me was the audience itself. First of all, it was incredibly youthful. I'd guess the majority were under twenty-four. Secondly, it was extremely focused; although responsive in terms of knowing where to laugh there was a powerful sense of concentration and thought in the little space. Thirdly, it was full, for a little, rather demanding, piece. I can't imagine this twenty years back.

I think the importance of what is going on in these small spaces on the island is underestimated.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


We went to see Mak in the High Dependency Unit a couple of times before heading back to Singapore, where we arrived early this morning, listening to the BBC's live commentary on the United vs Hull game as we drove in, which provided more excitement than was really welcome at that hour. The doctor is talking about letting Mak go home on Tuesday but there's quite a bit of discussion (of the lively variety) amongst her sons and daughters as to what exactly is the best thing to do, and what long term arrangements need to be made. Noi's family pull together eventually but, understandably, can spend time pulling in different directions before things get sorted and stablise.

Mak's speech is slurred, but clearer than I expected. She has some feeling in her left leg, but very little, if any, in her left arm. I'm not sure if she can be expected to walk again. She's worrying about the wedding next weekend, and her worrying is worrying us. Noi will be going back on Tuesday as she has been appointed head chef for the occasion and I'm hoping her remarkable capacity for taking control in these situations helps Mak relax through it all.

I was worried on Friday about driving up as I felt so tired. I've experienced sleepiness on the highway before and it's frightening. Perversely, worrying about the journey made me sleep badly on Thursday night (as usual I nodded off quickly but then came crashing awake far too early), that and the fact I knew Friday was going to be busy following tough days on Wednesday and Thursday. Worst of all was that our plan was to go up in two cars, with Noi driving the other. This meant there would be no back-up driver for me if my systems decided to close down. In the event the two car idea fell through, I did have back-up, and it turned out I didn't need it as I was wide awake from start to finish.

When we finally got to the house, after dropping in to see Mak in the hospital in Melaka, I lay on the mattress fully clothed and fell asleep in less than two minutes, which is about as long as I could stay awake after getting back this morning. That moment when you can surrender yourself to sleep somehow makes up for all the trials of getting there.