Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Readiness Is All

The odd thing about dress rehearsals is that you could go on having them forever and they'd remain at the same level - good, but not the thing itself. An audience is a necessity for completion.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Blake's The Great Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun adorns the cover of my World's Classics edition of Caleb Williams. What a great choice by the designer. Godwin may be clumsy but his analysis of power and the tradition of dissent fundamental to that analysis is essentially Blakean. What an honour it is to be able to think of oneself in relation to that tradition - the best thing about being English I can think of. In fact, the only thing about being English that makes me feel some vague sense of pride.

Almost finished with Caleb, but at present it's difficult to find time to breathe, never mind read.

Now feeling a yearning to drown in Blake - but this is a familiar temptation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I can think of nowhere more empty than an empty theatre. Being alone in one swallows you up. No wonder these places are haunted.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Approaching the end of Godwin's Caleb Williams. Basically Godwin is a poor writer, of novels anyway. Yet this is a compelling read. A rare example of a writer having something to say that transcends his capacity for saying it. What he says concerns power, and it's as relevant today as it was in that dawn when it was bliss to be alive.

Is it ever irrelevant not to be intimately concerned with our power over others, and theirs over us, and what it does to all and sundry?

Sunday, July 26, 2009


We'd planned to have a day spent largely relaxing at home, the only real action being Noi cooking a pile of epok epok for a teachers' charity lunch ahead of tomorrow. Sadly we got news of Karen's dad having passed away last Thursday and went to the wake, with Mei, in the afternoon to pay our respects. It wasn't an entirely sad occasion - the end of a life well-lived life surely never is. There were lots of recent happy pictures of Mr Goh looking in the best of health and spirits. The end, from a fall, came quickly and, in that sense, mercifully.

Similarly - though not so personal - it was sad to read of the death of the Malaysian film director Yasmin Ahmad. When we were in Melaka in June we watched our DVD of one of her recent movies, Mukhsin. This was sort of the completion of a trilogy, tracing the youth of the heroine of the earlier Sepet and Gubra. All three films have a spirit and out-spokenness rare in local cinema. Generally though her work is more familiar through the very classy advertisements she's made promoting messages for Hari Raya and the like. These are often intensely sentimental but beautifully judged little pieces, generally based around economically delivered little narratives - a form of popular art at its best. She was only fifty-one.

So when we got to the new Geylang Market in the late afternoon I found myself in a mildly melancholy frame of mind. I can't say the new version of the market thrilled me - too bright and clean by half, and neither quality can I see lasting too long. The old market had lots more character, and lots more rats, undoubtedly. But change is good, as they say, even when it isn't

Saturday, July 25, 2009


A good deal of the art of directing a school play lies in accounting for performers who are not around. It's possible to have a crowd scene on stage for which one has never had the full number in any rehearsal. This is all very irritating and hampers the production of good work, but it is inherent in the situation, especially in Singapore, especially in a 'busy' school, and mine is a very, very busy school in Singapore.

Today was a particularly bad day in this regard, and coming one week before actual performance that might be worrying were it not for the fact that we are going into the week in good shape with talented, adaptable performers. I'm guessing that things are pretty bad regarding attendance due to the plentiful amounts of flu doing the rounds. Certainly one of our leads, who had to miss the morning rehearsal, looked well the worse for wear by four o' clock.

All this leaves me with one unusual anxiety. Generally it's reasonable to assume that no one is going to cry off from the actual performance on the grounds of illness - after all, the show must go on. But in this case if we get one case of bad flu amongst the key cast, H1N1 or not, we are going to be staring cancellation in the face. I don't think people in schools here recognise that it isn't just a matter of being unable to go on without the leads. Our show has about twelve parts that simply can't be covered in a last minute emergency.

Considering this earlier today, in the course of a somewhat extended break in the middle of the day caused by the fact we were unable to stick to the scenes I wanted to run due to lack of bodies, I suddenly remembered the one time in my career as director when cancellation was imminent. It was during a four night run of a school musical at the Victoria Theatre, in fact the final Saturday. We found out in the afternoon that Harry the Horse (it was Guys and Dolls) was ill and wouldn't be showing up. A quick recce of the remaining cast was enough to establish that no one was capable of doing the role. So we were looking forward to sending around a thousand punters home disappointed, and not too chuffed with us. The result: I did Harry. It was pure luck, but I seemed to have accidentally largely memorised the part (probably from having stood in quite a few times in rehearsal) and, equally fortunately, I'd choregraphed the two dance routines the character was in (simple stuff, by the way) and remembered my own choreography.

It worked, just, but it was the longest night of my life.

Advice: don't ever perform before a paying audience when you are reading lines written on your sleeve. It isn't good for the heart.

The curious thing about all this was that after the event no one seemed to think that what took place was unusual. As far as I could tell it was taken for granted that that's what directors did.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Question Of Convenience

Noi and I spent a good two-and-a-half to three hours over the last two evenings, in both cases after ten o' clock, which is extremely late for me, attempting to book tickets on-line for a trip to England this December. We eventually succeeded, but not before having to make three very long phone calls to our credit card company and one to the airline itself. Thus something that we assumed would take around twenty minutes, as it has done in the past, turned into quite a saga.

At the heart of the problem lay, ironically, what the credit card company claimed were its attempts to protect my interests as a 'consumer' by making it almost impossible to actually use the card they had given me to secure my 'delightful experience' in the 'privileged world' to which they feel I have a right to belong. Much as I enjoy a nice bit of irony I found it difficult to really enter into the spirit of the thing, owing to the late hour(s) at which all this transpired.

The one saving grace for the credit card co. was the fact that the customer service representatives, which is what I think they call themselves, really performed heroically to try and deal with the mess that company policy had created. Fascinatingly, though, I couldn't help but notice that in their attempts to stay on script the blame for the initial fiasco was laid on me with a downright untruth. I was informed that the 'merchant' had declined the card, with the implication I had done something wrong in the submission, despite my certain knowledge that it was the credit card people themselves who had declined it. I knew this because they told me so directly and had reinforced this by announcing it on-line. It's to the credit, pun intended, of the reps that they quickly accepted the truth of what had happened, even though it was a bit embarrassing to have the clueless customer tell them what their company had actually done.

It's now all over - almost; I still need to make sure the airline don't charge for a set of tickets they are not going to give me in addition to the ones we've got - but it's been interesting to reflect on how much more relaxed life used to be when you didn't need to conduct so much of it on the telephone.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Playing in an ensemble, in theatrical terms, is underpinned above all by timing. The ability to sense what it is like to inhabit someone else's time, without bending it to one's own, is a special, generous talent. One person in an ensemble with it is enough. Two, and you really start to go places.

And in another sense of awareness of time, in the Islamic calendar today marks the beginning of Shaaban. A time to look ahead, for there lies challenge.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Results

The results are in from the medicals Noi and I attended. The good news is that we are generally healthy. The bad news is we are each now on a diet to lower high levels of cholesterol. Doh!

Teh tarik is now officially out of bounds. The injustice!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On First Hearing

The times I've bought albums based on walking into a record store, hearing something playing and saying I want that can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Indeed, as far as I can remember the finger of one finger. It was back in the days when the HMV store on Orchard Road was of a genuinely substantial size, had specialist rooms devoted to jazz and classical music and didn't carry a ship-load of DVDs. The album in question was Bill Frisell's The Sweetest Punch, his arrangement of the songs from Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach's Painted From Memory, and the track playing was the title track, the opening sequence thereof. It was so funkily luscious I had to have it, and I just knew I was about to discover a whole new area of work to engage with.

I was put in mind of this earlier this evening when, getting back from work, I gave the CD a spin for the first time in a little while and fell in love with it all over again. In fact, this time the more so. Familiarity had not bred contempt. When I first heard I didn't know the original Elvis and Burt album, but now it's well-established as a sure-fire winner in the household as the missus also has a soft spot for it. A great set of torch songs, by the way, the languorous Bacharach magic mixed in with some Costellian acid. (I've read a few comments here and there complaining about the vocals which simply confirms my opinion that a lot of folk have no idea of what a voice is meant to do.) So now I hear the Frisell arrangements in the full light of the original - each set of versions of the songs illuminating the other actually. Tonight it was the harmonies that got to me - there's more room in the jazz arrangements to fill them out and they're just gorgeous. Curiously the tempi are generally a bit more rushed than on the original songs, but this works in terms of the verve it brings. The melodies could have been over-milked but the temptation is resisted and the resulting crispness feels just right, especially in Frisell's oddly slightly sharp world.

Buying The Sweetest Punch was the gateway to my acquisition of the master work, and the realisation in the most general terms that if it was from Elvis it was worth getting hold of, however unlikely the collaboration might appear. (Tickets for his forthcoming appearance are safely ensconced in my wallet as I right. Just please don't cancel.) And it also led me to the estimable oeuvre of Bill Frisell himself, though maybe that's going a little too far. I've only got two other albums, both great favourites, but his material is hard to come by here and I suppose I have that sense that I've not even done justice to what I've got so restless acquisition is not the way to go.

Funnily enough that came home to me just after we installed the new Bose system and I played Frisell's Music from the Films of Buster Keaton: Go West. Previously I'd thought of it as a thoroughly pleasant, rather spare suite but not too much more than that. And then I really listened. And now I'm wondering why I'm not listening right now, and there is no good answer to that. So I'm just off to put my head between two speakers.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Drowning In Browning

I think I've figured out how to read Browning. Let me make that a bit more specific: a way for me to read Browning's The Ring and the Book that brings the magic that is undoubtedly in the poem into the lazy mind of this reader.

The poem presents problems of scale and density of detail for me, and I've never been much good at following complex plots. But I've discovered that reading each book with the sort of synopsis of the particular speaker of that book that Browning gives in Book 1 directly in mind, in other words re-reading as you go, is surprisingly helpful. You get pointed to the essence of what's going on. Now I'm only in Book 2, Half-Rome, which I've read before but I'm confident doing this will pay dividends for all the other books.

Secondly, I'm finding that deliberately stopping and re-reading substantial sections, hard on the heels of the first reading, I'm talking here of roughly 400 line blocks, lends an intensity to the second reading that makes me feel I'm genuinely responding to, rather than simply coping with the poem. It's as if the first reading is needed simply to get the drift, sort out the surface puzzles of meaning and attune oneself to what Browning is after. For me it's a cold reading. Mysteriously the reading that follows coheres in a way that leaves me wondering quite what the problem was in the first place. Passages seem to become almost transparent.

Bearing in mind that actually I have covered the first 5 books before, I'm conscious of the fact that the going is likely to get tougher as I hit genuinely virgin territory, but it's nice to feel I'm getting somewhere. Of course all this implies a hoary old message - you only get out of something what you're prepared to put into it. Oh, and if a thing's worth reading, it's worth reading slowly.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Touch Down

Got back from the moon this morning, with the help of that most fascinating guide to all things magical, Mr Norman Mailer, but feeling I'd spent quite long enough in his company, thank you. I felt the best part of Fire on the Moon, his account, or rather meditation upon the Apollo 11 moon landing, was the segment about the astronauts on the moon itself and the coda following, of Mailer and yet another marriage in a mess at the end of a decade that felt to him like the actual end of the century. (That's something that chimed oddly with my own sense of the period.)

There's a passage about how the lunarscape visually and possibly mentally affected Armstrong and Aldrin that, in itself, is worth the price of the book - though since I only paid 25 pence for it second hand back in the dear old cheap days, that's not saying enough: let's say the passage is worth the advance old Norman got paid for his ultra high-class journalism. Reading it put me in mind of the odd little fuss created this week about Nasa wiping its own tapes of their two heroes (or are they? - read Mailer - but I think yes) trotting around on the moon for the first time and having to ask for replacement footage from elsewhere. The claim that historically valuable material had been lost struck me as silly - there's plenty of extant film. But more than that, and surely more importantly, there're all the words to tell us more than the eye could ever see or read into some grainy film stock, which was never very interesting anyway. Mailer's words are a good place to start for anyone interested in the mission - rich, thought-provoking and surprisingly informative.

But I'm off back now to the late-eighteenth century with that old anarchist William Godwin and his lost soul Caleb Williams. It's good to get away sometimes

Saturday, July 18, 2009


In a ferociously busy week, including a full day of rehearsals today, I've actually found time somehow to watch a couple of episodes of Life on Earth from my DVDs. To do so was therapeutic in the extreme, though I'm not exactly sure why. But I can say with utter certainty that the shots of the storks nesting in the small Bavarian town before setting off on their long trek to Africa (in the episode on birds) did me a whole lot of good.

I suppose their natural beauty and grace had a lot to do with it. (I'm fascinated, by the way, at the whole notion of the beautiful, suspecting that our ability to recognise it is one of our more important gifts. Possibly the only one worth having.) But I think there's something else important here. It's being confronted by the glorious knowledge that there's something not remotely us out there which makes us look pretty mundane, pretty much earthbound.

It's all a bit Wordsworthian really, but old William, and, more particularly, young William knew more than a thing or two.

Friday, July 17, 2009


The problem of working on a show when you are in pain is that the work is so intense you forget about the pain. Until the rehearsal is over. Then you remember.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Blast Off

Only realised this evening, with the help of the World Service on the way back from work, that today marks the fortieth anniversary of the beginning of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. The fact that I'm reading Mailer's book about the mission, and had picked it up back in KL with no awareness whatsoever of the impending anniversary, seems a touch spooky. The irony is that it's taking me a lot longer to complete the book that it did for Armstrong & co to go there, have a bit of a trot on the lunar surface, and get back again.

There was a chap on the radio talking about how exciting and inspiring the whole mission was to a young adolescent - the guy having gone on to work for NASA - and he's right, it was. I can remember walking around Crown Point, Denton on the Sunday evening of the actual landing thinking that this really was the future and things just couldn't get more modern. Of course they could, they always can, but now I'm not so sure that's a good thing.

Sadly, once we got passed the drama of Apollo 13 it all got rather dull. One of the penalties of modernity, I suppose, the ridiculously short attention span we've developed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Hard Time

Pleased to see signs that President Obama is getting a rougher ride in the press and the honeymoon is over. The recent criticism of White House attempts to plant friendly questions at so-called town hall meetings and questions about the success of the first round of economic stimulus - about which Paul Krugman has written in an excellently pointed manner - will do more to help promote good governance than simply rolling over and letting what looks to be a fine administration in so many respects have its own way.

It seems to me that Obama is so obviously competent that his greatest enemy is his impressiveness. It doesn't do any of us any good, once out of adolescence, to be told regularly how right we are, even if we are right. We need the critical perspective and we need it uncontrolled by whatever influence we might have over it. And if we're in a position of any power we need it all the more.

I think the gentle ride given to Blair and New Labour in the early days can be seen as sowing many of the seeds that grew the weeds that have blighted the current Labour government in the UK. It seemed to result in a determination to spin everything the way the government wanted it instead of promoting a determination to be aware of deficiencies, mistakes, folly and address those all-too-human characteristics.

We have the opportunity to be at our best when facing criticism, and it doesn't necessarily have to be sincere and honest - just difficult and, therefore, worth listening to and answering.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bodily Functions

Paid a heartening visit yesterday afternoon to Boon, heart attack survivor extraordinaire. It turns out that he acquired something of the status of a minor celebrity at the hospital which saved his life as he drove himself there whilst under-going said attack. He looked so fit, though only having been discharged yesterday morning, that I envied him. Still, it's one heck of a lot of trouble to go to just to get a nice extended MC.

Oddly enough Noi and I attended our own health screening at East Shore Hospital just the day before. This was completely unrelated to Boon's bad news as we had booked the appointment in early June. It coincided with my latest visit to my back doctor which has seen me all medicated up again. We are now awaiting the results of the check-up with the mild trepidation anyone over fifty (this bit just applies to me, so maybe I'm the trepidatious one) is likely to feel.

I've already been advised to go to the optician's, advice which I will resolutely ignore. The nurse seemed startled that I couldn't see the screen at all once my right eye was blanked out, but since I've known this since I was ten-years-old I'm not intending to let it bother me.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Virtues And Vices

Yet another good piece in today's Sunday Times by Janadas Devan on the virtues of the vice of reading. He tells of how he frequently takes more books with him on vacation than he has any reasonable chance of paying due attention to. In fact, he's a lot worse than me in this respect so that I felt quite virtuous reading the article. I particularly liked the ending in which he notes how guilt - at not reading something - can function as an excellent motivator for getting the job done. That I can completely identify with.

It's certainly refreshing to have something in the newspaper that implies that it's a reasonable, in fact normal, thing for folk to read the likes of Tolstoy, Kant, Heidegger, Dante and Huxley for pleasure. It's an Huxley essay from the 1920's on tourists and what they take along to read that underpins Mr Devan's piece, in fact. A nice bit of cross-referencing. Unfortunately it's less refreshing to note that the review page devoted to reading this Sunday has got itself reduced to just half a page which deals only with the buying of books on line. Reading nation, here we come!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Feeling Driven

Having written the post for yesterday I realised I'd concentrated on all the music I am now longing to purchase. I also realised I'd completely understated the sheer amount involved. If I tell you that the names Yusof Islam, Paul Weller, Hank Williams, Levon Helms (and The Band, but as separate categories) and The Last Shadow Puppets comprise simply the beginning of the list you'll appreciate the extent of the problem. On the other hand, I think there's a reasonable case for arguing that all the work of these gentlemen should be part of the collection of any right thinking muso. Or is that simply self-deception? (Of course it is, but it works beautifully.) But my real point is that I realised I'd said nothing about books.

This, saying nothing I mean, is due to the fact that at this point in time I genuinely don't want to buy any more. This will only last to the point that I've completed my MUST READ list, but I'm reasonably confident it will last until then. (Of course, there's quite a list of texts I will immediately be shelling out on when the list, I mean the first list, not the second list - for some reason I find myself concocting all sorts of lists lately, something I rarely did in my youth - is put to rest. However, it's not so much that I want to buy these books as it's simply in the natural order of things that I must do so.)

Which leads to me to a quick run-down of my latest reading. I'm still making progress - slow, but distinct - on Mailer's A Fire on the Moon. I know he wrote this for money (but then, what writer doesn't/didn't, unless it's Joyce? - but I'm talking here about quick money and a lot of it from the magazine that commissioned him) because he says so right up front. And sometimes I can't help but wonder if all the technical data is just filler, but then I realise it's reasonably inspired filler, creating a kind of poetry of the machine. It's just that there's so much of it, and also that the ideas are essentially those of his great journalism of the sixties and, being more than a little aware of them, (I was a major fan at one time) I'm beginning to find the repetition a trifle wearing. Oddly enough, I've never read The Executioner's Song, which seems to be accepted generally as Mailer's most accomplished work. I didn't read it as I'd sort of fallen out of love with his work when it was published, assuming it would be more of the same. I get the impression from a distance that that's what it is, but better. Of course, this is now on the list, the second one.

The other thing I've got on the go (now in Book One) is Browning's The Ring and the Book, my third attempt to read the poem from cover to cover in the last two or three years. I suppose as with Mailer it's the sheer detail I'm finding difficult, but Browning can also be infuriatingly obscure even in the middle of his finest bits. It's embarrassing to admit that I still haven't done justice to this one, but also quite motivating in terms of doing the right thing. The only other text I can think of on which I have stalled more is Proust's mighty blockbuster, and I cracked that eventually. (Goodness me, this is beginning to sound as testosterone-driven as a Transformers movie.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

I Do Want What I Have Not Got

About a month ago I was feeling particularly virtuous regarding the fact that I was going into bookshops and record stores (do they still call them that?) and not buying anything. This was particularly true of our time in KL. It all boiled down to the fact that I had committed myself to a reading list of books that I owned but had either never read, or miserably failed to complete, and was even more embarrassingly aware than usual that I've got an awful lot of CDs that deserve better listening than I've ever given them. The result: I was popping into shops that would normally provoke a certain amount (actually a lot) of acquisitory salivation and genuinely wanting nothing.

Sadly that state of grace has not lasted and I blame Elvis Costello. The reason is simple, in a convoluted sort of way. Late last week I found out that the true King Elvis is due to play a solo concert in our little corner of the world. Now obviously it was imperative to buy tickets, even though it's a bad day - Monday night, ugh - but it also seemed relevant to weigh up which albums I've not got. Now I own quite a few but Elvis has a substantial catalogue which, as befits a genius, is growing all the time. I haven't got the last two albums, for example.

My research for this took place on and, of course, there are lots of useful links to all sorts of associated music. Browsing what's available from Allen Toussaint (Elvis fans will know how I got there), resulted in me wanting everything on his page, badly, really badly. And I progressed from there like a happy drunk falling from an especially high wagon.

The good news is, I'm too tight-fisted and guilt-ridden to have done anything about these desires yet. But the operative word is 'yet'. There's an inevitability about my wanting stuff that does not augur well for a frugal future.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


News of the sudden unexpected hospitalisation of a friend knocked me backwards, sideways and every which way today. A reminder of how essentially, irrevocably fragile we are even in the midst of our secure nests.

That isn't a happy or original thought, but it is an extraordinarily useful one.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Necessity Of Art

I've probably mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating: one of the few things my career and experience of life in general has convinced me of is that the need to produce some kind of art (or craft, for that matter - the labels don't matter) is utterly fundamental to our nature. And we deny it at our peril (just to sound properly apocalyptic.) The problem is that so much conspires to convince us that we need to be good at what we do in order to do it. Nonsense. We just need to enjoy it. If we do it a lot we'll probably get better at it, but it really doesn't matter if we don't.

The whole point of this is to please ourselves. If we happen to please others on the way, as is likely to happen to some degree, even if it's just our rather partial loved ones, then all well and good. I was certainly deeply chuffed at the little art exhibition yesterday and I suspect that most of the kids who'd created something had a fine old time doing it. It would be nice if one or two of them went on to become professional artists of some sort, or turned out to be major geniuses, but it'd be even better if the whole lot of them kept on making art of one sort or another, high or low, and having an even finer time.

Apropos of all this, I loved reading about Antony Gormley's new installation, or whatever they call it, in Trafalgar Square which has members of the public getting up on the plinth and doing their bit for an hour each. Great idea. A lot more exciting than old Horatio.

And what's the peril I referred to earlier? Well simply this: if we fail to give ourselves some kind of creative outlet as individuals we become pathologically unbalanced. And if we do the same on a bigger scale - that of a whole society - then that society stands in danger of developing pathological symptoms on the grand scale. It's not my idea, but something I heard a writer and educator called Peter Abbs say a few years ago. At the time I thought he was exaggerating. Now I'm sure he wasn't.

The good news is that most people inevitably do gravitate towards creative activity, they can't help it. I think most of those kids whose stuff I was enjoying yesterday will find themselves fruitfully producing something or other in their adult lives, assuming the world they will inherit allows them to.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

For Art's Sake

Spent a splendid hour and a half today at Kallang Leisure Park enjoying the art work at the Singapore Youth Festival 2009 Art and Crafts Exhibition, Youth Signatures. Basically the missus and I went because Fafa's Silver Award painting was on display, featuring a fabulously happy-looking smiling whale, but we enjoyed everything we saw as evinced by our frequent chuckles of sheer delight.

One piece, I think entitled Beauty Within, by kids from Paya Lebar Methodist Girls was so good it really deserves to go to the Tate Modern (my favourite gallery.) In fact the whole exhibition was so funky I'm thinking of writing and suggesting they give it a room there. It'd certainly cheer up those glum Londoners.

And who said Singaporeans couldn't do art?!

Monday, July 6, 2009


Solving and not solving technology-related problems took up most of my afternoon. None of this is life-threatening, just frustrating. Part of the experience involved a trip to Tampines Mall. (It's better not to ask why.) Some folk say that malls are characterless, essentially replicating locations in which the cult of shopping can be played out. I disagree. Whilst all malls are dreadful some are worse than others - i.e., Tampines Mall.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Psychology of Machines

Currently reading Mailer's A Fire on the Moon, his 1970 book on the first moon landing, and old Norman is ranting on about technology and what it does to us in the second section, in an overlong chapter entitled The Psychology of Machines. Some silliness but a lot of insights, a number of which seem appropriate to my situation as I have spent a fair chunk of the weekend wrestling with, or watching others wrestle with the technology (of the high variety, to do with communications) that surrounds me in an attempt to get onto broadband and get other machines to work that appear to have expired.

In A Fire on the Moon there's a lot about dread and, whilst I know Mailer is concerned with something a whole lot deeper, I can't help but reflect on the fact that dealing with fixing or altering any facet of the technology around me is worth dreading as it will be frustrating and time-consuming in equal proportions, as it was this weekend. The adventure is still not over, by the way, as I have several tasks to attempt to complete tomorrow. One of these involves dealing with Starhub and, based on previous attempts to get reasonable service which failed miserably, I'm not looking forward to that.

The irony is, of course, that when all this stuff works, which it does most of the time, it's so magical you come to feel you can't do without it

Friday, July 3, 2009

Journey's End

Finished off The Odyssey in the SAC of all places over a cup of tea. Normally I don't do more than glance at what I'm currently reading for pleasure there but I was gripped enough by the second half of Book Twenty-four, needing to know how Homer actually finished the whole thing off, to not be able to put it off to the evening.

I wasn't disappointed. Like so much of the rest of the epic, the conclusion was disturbingly strange yet oddly familiar. This is not a world we can easily recognise, we're a long way out of Kansas, Toto, but it is distinctly, nastily, nobly human. Barbaric. Sentimental. Superstitious. Irrational. Deeply partial. Nothing to like, but much to admire - from a safe distance.

It seems that the bit at the beginning of the final book, when the souls of the slaughtered suitors descend into Hades, was one of the examples Plato gave for keeping poets out of the ideal republic. Yes, you can see how this poet would be any administrator's nightmare.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Thought I saw the following headline on the front page of a supplement to The Straits Times today: New Era In Singapore Civilisation. Felt a mixture of surprise and bewilderment. Then realised it actually read: New Era In Singapore Civil Aviation. Said to myself, reassured, Now that's business as usual.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In The News

One of the privileges of a life lived elsewhere is the exposure one experiences to the press of another country, or countries. I suppose it's the key way in which one learns something about a nation beyond what conversations with friends, colleagues, acquaintances and taxi-drivers can open up. Of course, when there are restrictions of one sort or another operating on a nation's press a good deal of care needs to be taken, and a great deal of reading between the lines, in order for you to feel that you are genuinely learning something. A good question is always Why is this article appearing here, on this day? Mind you, this is true of any nation's press, I suppose. There are restrictions, of all sorts, everywhere.

I now feel I have developed a reasonable degree of expertise in understanding what gets into the papers in Singapore, and why. But Malaysian newspapers remain a bit of a mystery in a number of ways, essentially because I'm never in the country long enough to appreciate the nuances of what's going on. I enjoy reading them more than I do the papers here in Singapore simply because of that element of mystery.

I'd like to be back there at the moment to see what they're making of the government's liberalisation of the economy, especially in terms of the removal of the quota on Malay ownership of public-listed companies. It may sound like dry stuff, but there're deep and intense feelings and principles in all this. When we were in the country last month I noticed quite a number of letters and personal columns relating to the issue of using English in schools to teach Maths and Sciences - again, an extraordinarily loaded issue, and one that seems to me to be inherently deeply affecting, with language going, as it does, to the very roots of people's conception of self. The articles I read were very much in favour of the use of English (mind you, they were all in English language newspapers) and it seems to me inevitable that the use of Bahasa Malaysia is going to be steadily eroded by the pressures of modernity. But what's inevitable is not always good or right, whatever those simple yet deeply complex terms mean.

One of the reasons I would have made a lousy politician or administrator is that I just don't know the answers to big (or even little) questions.