Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
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
Monday, July 27, 2009
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
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
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
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
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
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
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
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
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
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
Thursday, July 16, 2009
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
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
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
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
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
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 amazon.com 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
That isn't a happy or original thought, but it is an extraordinarily useful one.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
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
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
Sunday, July 5, 2009
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
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
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
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.