Sunday, October 31, 2010
Saturday, October 30, 2010
We set out to try and sort out this mess and restore communications late this morning, none too hopeful of achieving very much. And then we found ourselves in several queues, being shunted from one attendant to another, as is often the way here. But astonishingly, it worked. By the time we reached home our phone lines were working and our internet connection restored. Mind you, the monkey droppings are still there. Still, two out of three's not bad at all.
Friday, October 29, 2010
This time I just had to buy a copy though since, as well as finishing the previous edition, I noticed from the online edition that there was an excellent article on Duke Ellington, and since he's one of my super-heroes I just had to have the hard copy to savour it. Somehow reading it the old-fashioned way makes it feel more real.
I suppose that's somewhat similar to the sense you have of listening to real music made by real men (and a lady or two) when savouring the Duke's actual recordings.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Our songster was, as were we all, a big fan of the Stones and he suddenly realised The Clash were doing what The Rolling Stones had done; in fact they were being the Stones, and there was nothing stopping anybody and everybody having a go too, if they were so inclined. Billy was (so inclined) and the rest is history, so to speak.
This was the essential lesson of punk, not the safety pins, the mohicans, the spitting and general cursing - as much fun as they were. Write the song yourself and play it yourself, preferably for an audience of more than one. And don't let anyone tell you you can't.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
So to redress the balance I'm just going to mention four bright spots of my Tuesday, in no particular order of merit, as they say:
1. Enjoyed all the teaching that went on. Really pleasant students and I think one or two learnt a bit.
2. Saw a squirrel crossing the driveway at work. Fabulously bushy tail.
3. One colleague talked about recovering from a very bad illness. Another of his young daughter's recovery from something awfully similar. More than enough to keep any small troubles of my own in proportion.
4. Came home to play Elvis Costello's North. My fourth listen. Genius. Now at the point that I'm carrying around fragments of several of the songs all day long.
Now if you can come close to matching that list I reckon you're very, very lucky indeed.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
But it's not all been Ibsenite gloom (or light, possibly) lately. The joys of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? have done much to remind me of just how flexible a medium for ideas the novel can be. At least one trick he pulls off, amongst many, is quite remarkable. I'm referring to the way he takes tissue thin characters - at times little more than ciphers for the real thing - and endows them, or evokes through them, powerful layers of emotion. The bit where Phil Resch, the android hunter that our 'hero' and chief android-hunter, Rick Deckard, encounters at the 'other' police department, is wondering whether he himself is also an android, and coolly assessing how he intends to do away with himself, had me both genuinely on the edge of my seat with suspense (I'd completely forgotten what happens next) and feeling a sense of potential real loss. It's as if you are made to endow the characters with the psychological depth Dick doesn't bother to give them - or cunningly implies. I suppose.
I've also been holidaying in the sunlit world of Anthony Buckeridge's characters Jennings and Darbishire having picked up one of the series in a recent amazonian foray. More of which anon, as I am now going to get ready to take our nieces for a bit of a nosh-up in honour of Fifi's birthday. There's more to life than just books, you know.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Worryingly I saw enough of myself in Torvald Helmer to instill at least a temporary sense of humility regarding the scandals of others.
Secondly I think Joyce saw, even just on the printed page since he wouldn't have witnessed any productions, the poetry that seems to lie behind the plays. The action of each seems to take place against a web of symbolic associations, signaled clearly in the titles of the two I'm talking about here. This poetry takes us beyond the immediate social applications of the dramas. It gives them that peculiarly Joycean sense of stasis, the integritas, consonantia, claritas of Aquinas that Joyce made his own, and ours.
It seems to me remarkable that the young Joyce knew immediately what hardly anyone else of his time recognised - that these are not in any sense 'message' plays.
Friday, October 22, 2010
The last time I met them was quite a number of years ago when I originally read a fair bit of Ibsen. They weren't quite as frightening then - but nothing is at that age.
I realised that the main reason I'm reading Ibsen again, other than teaching Hedda Gabler which we use as one of our World Lit texts in school, is as a result of my recent immersion in Joyce's Stephen Hero. I'd half-forgotten what a great fan of Ibsen Joyce (and hence Stephen) was. The young Jim Joyce after all wrote a fan letter to the elderly Ibsen, a rather touching one, in fact. Being reminded of this made me interested in what exactly it was that Joyce found so deeply impressive in the dramas. It's not as if they obviously correspond to the aesthetic theories expounded in A Portrait and Stephen Hero.
I think I found the answer - two answers indeed. And I might just say what they are if I can find the time tomorrow.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I think I'm right in saying that the last thing I read in terms of ghost stories that got under my skin was Stephen King's The Shining, and that was back when I was in my mid-twenties. I remember not being too happy at the book being in the house yet not being able to stop myself from picking it up. But much as I've enjoyed most of King's other work since then nothing else has been close to being as powerful as that was on a purely visceral level.
Sometimes, once or twice, when Noi has been away over the weekend I've found myself thinking I'm standing here in the dark and there's nobody else around - this should be spooky (this on going to bed) and it has been mildly disconcerting for all of a few seconds, then I just forget about it. Similarly alone in a deserted place - the Victoria Theatre comes to mind when I did a few shows there with a previous school and I was the first and only one in - I've felt a distinct discomfort at what might just decide to manifest itself but I soon get busy and just forget to bother.
Yes, something has been lost. Now I just get frightened by stuff that's all too real and doesn't go away so easily.
Monday, October 18, 2010
I also got thinking of writers who were notorious walkers. Three sprung to mind for whom I think you could make a fair case for their walking being integral to their work - Dickens, Wordsworth and Joyce. Not a bad triumvirate, eh? My recent reading of the Stephen Hero fragment reminded me of just how much wandering the young Joyce did around the streets of Dublin - unfortunately, from his mum and dad's point of view, when he should have been applying himself to his books. Makes you wonder about the value of education, doesn't it? Or what an education comprises.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Now to be honest I don't know much about all this and am not terribly concerned about the issue. But I was reminded of the first time I was made aware of the plan to build the centre that's causing all the fuss. It was when one of the main guys involved in the planning of the building came to Singapore (and, I think, he went on to Malaysia), basically to sing the praises of America to Muslims here for the tolerance and understanding being shown by what he clearly regarded as a nation embodying the best of what loosely be termed democratic values. I was a bit surprised myself on reading this in the paper - that the building of the proposed centre had been deemed acceptable - and heartened by what was going on - this being before the unpleasant stuff hit the fan. The surprise came from the fact that I'd become so used to distortions regarding almost anything relating to Islam in American culture and politics that such reasonable, civilised behaviour seemed to buck an unstoppable descent into ignorance and foolishness.
Sadly this has not proved to be the case. I wonder if the citizens of that once great nation realise the degree to which they've shot themselves in the foot over this one? There're a lot of Muslims out there watching all this who are not terribly impressed with what's being said about them and whose attitudes are inevitably going to be coloured by such nonsense. In addition there are lots of civilised, intelligent people of all faiths, and some of none, who are also going to read this as yet another example of a lurch towards the kind of petty, insidious fascism that would be funny if it weren't so frightening.
But, back to the beginning. The Fox News fellow, in the middle of a lot of other stuff, told the world that he was disturbed by 'moderate Muslims' not being opposed to, or not condemning those who pursue jihad, or words to that effect. Now this was a bit odd. I mean you'd really have to have locked yourself away in a very small cell in a very isolated spot not to be aware of the deadeningly consistent condemnations of violent terrorism from every corner of the Islamic world and every mainstream Islamic organisation, and particularly of the specific horror of what occurred in New York as the century began. The guy is a journalist, of sorts, and seemed to be well-up in this sort of thing, or so he claimed, so how could he not know this? I know it and, like I said, I can't honestly say I consciously pay that much attention to such matters.
The sort of scary thing is the idea that he does know this and is deliberately, consciously misleading his audience. I hope I'm wrong and he's just plain foolish. But, either way, it doesn't make one too hopeful for the future of the beacon of the free world.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
I'd have paid easily a hundred dollars for it. Even two hundred. And that despite the fact that, as it's all of five metres across, I'd have nowhere to put it.
Friday, October 15, 2010
But the point I'm actually getting to is this - the dynamic duo looked distinctly elderly and even more distinctly the worse for wear. They could have done with a stint on one of those How To Look Ten Years Younger programmes there are so many of these days. Furthermore, they obviously didn't care. Probably too focused on creating wonderful music to bother. The nerve of it!
And now I'm stuck with an even longer wishlist of albums to buy, not so much because of their collaborative piece but as a result of realising I haven't got any of Danny's solo work and am now perplexed as to how this deficiency has come to be
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Or rather, what works so well in the text, the sudden, abrupt, spooky shifts of planes of reality would just appear as cliched on the big screen.
As to why they work so well in words, I suppose that's related to Dick's own very real experiences of the awful hallucinatory power of certain illicit substances. That and the tremendous, unflagging pace of the narrative.
Pity about the title though. I almost skipped the novel - which I've not read previously - and jumped to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - which I've read before - simply on the grounds it sounds so thunderously pretentious. Now I come to think of it, though, the book itself is more than a little pretentious - but in a good way, like a fine Star Trek episode, written by a usefully mad man.
For some reason I'm now reading a bit of Ibsen. Yet another plane of reality.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
In my case both were of far better quality than the ones I normally equip myself with. So after years of wielding my cheapo cheapo signature black biro I rather think I'm going to use the fine and rather funky pen they have provided for me. (Nick tells me refills are easily available so this model will be able to run and run, as it were.) Apart from anything else it made my scrawl look reasonably intelligible so I may be able to actually read my messages to myself.
Not so stuck in the mud after all, eh?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Oddly enough I'm told that there are a few old biddies in the hospital who manage to wheel themselves outside for a few drags now and then without getting into trouble, so we assume that Mum hasn't seen them at it as she certainly would be more than a little inclined to join them.
I don't think suddenly quitting like this is going to make much difference to her health, though. She's been at it for some seventy-eight years on my count and that's a lot to make up for in two weeks. But the improved diet she's on and carefully measured medication is very helpful from what we can gather. John reckons she's a lot better than she was with a distinct improvement in short-term memory, though she still looks frail. That's good to hear, but I'd rather hear it from her directly and that's not going to happen since the nurses, understandably, are not going to put me through to her to talk directly.
It's very strange after months of talking to her virtually every night not to have spoken directly for so long. There's a peculiar comfort in the sound of her voice, even when she's just complaining about everything and everybody.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
So now I'm looking for something to fill the gap, as it were. A couple of the short stories from Ackroyd's The Collection went down predictably well before we set off for Singapore - and in between getting some actual work done. Now I'm thinking it's time for a big dose of Philip K Dick - I suppose a bit like those heroin substitutes they give hard-core addicts going cold turkey.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
I also think that every right-thinking teenager should read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man when they are too young to really grasp it, but old enough to be mesmerised. This is on the grounds that it will mess them up forever. This is not a long held belief of mine, being formulated only today, but it's one that might well last. It came to mind as I'm now well into a recently acquired edition of Joyce's Stephen Hero, which is not really a novel at all, being the fragment that survived of the original very long manuscript of the work that he threw into the fire that eventually 'became' A Portrait. Oddly I read Stephen Hero as a youngster before A Portrait simply because Denton Library had a copy of it (which is quite peculiar considering how out of the mainstream it is) and I mistook one for the other. I think I was around thirteen at the time so the mistake is forgivable. I'm not at all sure then that I knew what it was all about but it certainly did something to me from which I've been benefiting or, perhaps, recovering ever since.
I'm not carrying too many books up to Melaka today since we're coming back tomorrow and one of the books being carried is the aforementioned Stephen Hero. I'm enjoying it so much that everything else I'm reading pales into insignificance.
Friday, October 8, 2010
But another bit of me, the seventeen-year-old devil-may-care enthusiast-for-anything-and-everything, has recently exploded into life (he's always lurking just below the surface) as a result of a visit to the Yellow Room. Said room is the blog of one Sidney Smith, a place I drop into pretty regularly. (I exhibit a caution similar to that regarding expanding my capacity for being able to access more stuff to listen to regarding blogs & webpages I drop in on. I have a limited, and, I'm happy to say, eclectic range of a few favourites - less than ten - and that's it.) Now Sid has been posting some very tasty looking podcasts, featuring the kind of sounds I enjoy more than somewhat, for quite a while. But I've never been able to open them (is that how you say it?) to get to listen.
And then last week I was idly browsing one of Sid's posts about his latest podcast when, blow me, the thing started to play of its own accord - and it was as good, if not better, as I'd imagined it to be. I suppose somewhere along the line my computer has mysteriously downloaded whatever it needs to get these things to work. After that I found I could get to play most of the previous ones I accessed as well. I'm luxuriating in Episode 16 at this very moment, the funkily mellifluous sounds of Nik Bartsch. Thus, it now occurs to me that if it's this easy to get to listen to such wonderful stuff I really should be doing it more often.
So that's my dilemma for the evening, delightfully unresolved.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
There's a quote from some reviewer in the blurb saying that as soon as you finish you immediately want to re-read Martel's Booker winner, but it isn't so for me. I found it fun but can't honestly say it struck me as having huge depth. I've noticed that a lot of students seem to like it, and I think that's appropriate somehow. A really well-crafted introduction to the world of fictive games, but that's about it for me. (Mind you, that in itself is quite a lot. And I don't mean the comment about students to sound patronising. I just think that certain books, many very fine ones, seem particularly well-tuned to that readership.)
Oh, and I should add I had a rare old time with an old, huge favourite, prior to embarking on Pi's voyage. I finally found the Library of America edition comprising four of Philip K. Dick's novels of the sixties and fell in love again with the alternative history of The Man in the High Castle. Nobody has ever done it better. And Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is in there too! Yowza!
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Now I'm reasonably familiar with the poem. I remember years ago, probably in my teenage years, reading it and trying to 'get' Milton. I sort of enjoyed it, but definitely didn't get it. Too artificial, overblown, rhetorical. But in the car I fell in love with those very qualities. The sheer musicality of the piece washed into and through me, sort of (if music can wash, that is.)
And then came Lycidas. Of course it's always been obvious to me that this is a great poem - or, at least, I've understood why others have regarded it as great. (And quite a few, as not so. Again, overdone, overwrought, not connecting.) But this time I connected with it big time.
Just one example. The wonderfully monosyllabic (almost), And wipe the tears forever from his eyes, pinned me to the seat. The power lay not only in the limpid clarity of the line, that impossible, sad yearning for a consolation that can never be, no matter how lovely the music, the singing (it's singing that does the wiping, strangely, but the line itself, of course, sings. But hang on, it could be the angels moving as they sing that wipe.) But the power also related to the context, the general simplicity of the section, approaching the end of the poem, after the fireworks of so much of what we've had so far.
Milton wiped away almost all my tears in that moment. Almost.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Then I realised just how embarrassingly childish and petty I was being. Fortunately this realisation counted for nothing and I continued having a fine old time of it.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Saturday, October 2, 2010
In the meantime, as I write, and keep well out of the way since I'm more than usually useless at this point in time, something's (in fact lots of things) stirring (and baking and the like) in our tiny Mansion kitchen. Yes, we're throwing the doors open today from 2.00 onwards for family, friends and neighbours of all ilks. Let's hope they've got good appetites.
Friday, October 1, 2010
At the time I walked by them it was very warm, well hot really, in the way that Friday afternoons in the tropics have of being gloriously debilitating when you get the chance to walk out in them. I wasn't going to be too long in the mid-day sun myself, and the workers clearly knew the best place to be, and what to be doing, at that time.
There was a touching vulnerability and trust about them as they slept. And an odd strength. You need to be tough to grab some zzzzz's on the old concrete. I suppose they considered themselves to be invisible, as blokes who do this kind of work here seem to be, in social terms.
By the time I made my way back from prayers they'd managed to disappear.