Sunday, July 31, 2011

Questioning Belief

This is by way of a further comment on the two anonymous comments which I allowed to appear on the entry for 24 July. I was asked to consider some 'articles' on a particular website apparently devoted to 'understanding Islam' and say what I made of them. Well, there's not much to say really. The material was simplistic in the extreme (pun intended) and that's about it.

I'd rather take this opportunity to point out that there's something inherently untrustworthy about any source claiming to understand any mode of thought that then seeks to discredit it. Indeed, if any of my students are reading this, please note that it's a useful rule of thumb regarding any Internet-based source that if it's obviously attacking something - a religion, a mode of thought or set of ideas, an individual, an institution - it needs to be read with particular care and scepticism. That's not to say all such material is flawed, but it's healthy to read it as if it is.

And for those of my particular religious persuasion: selamat berpuasa to you all.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Of National Importance

Another kind of rehearsing today involving family. Brother-in-law Fuad's younger brother, Fahmi, is the Parade Commander this year for the big National Day Parade and they've got the dress rehearsal today, the dress rehearsal being pretty much the real thing with a big audience who get to enjoy all the performances. Rozita & Fuad are going along, but it looks like Fafa will be attending our little show this evening.

Hope Fahmi is in good voice - as his son Shibri rightly pointed out to the press, he's generally so gently spoken it's difficult to imagine him barking out orders on the big field. Actually he's one of the nicest blokes I know and it's lovely to think of him being centrestage. For once, we'll be glued to our tv screens for the whole jamboree come 9 August.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Stepping Outside

Something unusual today: I actually found time to get to Friday Prayers on the first day of performance of a show. Testimony indeed to how well our cast and crew prepared themselves.

And it was at prayers that, in a moment of reflection, the ultimate 'message' of the show, in so far as a message may be discerned from so many voices, became apparent to me: In our guilt and our fear and our secrets and shame / On The Inside we are all much the same. (With apologies to Gabriel and his secret world.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Now putting the finishing touches to a mosaic created by one heck of a lot of people. As always, wonderfully rewarding and a touch scary. One thing for sure: there'll be plenty of adrenaline flowing tomorrow, even in this old body.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Out Of This World

When Noi got back from her weekend visit to Melaka she was not aware of the terrible events in Norway of the previous days. It's often that way when we travel north. I remember us not knowing about the US-led invasion of Iraq until three days into the operation.

Sometimes it's good not to know. It's the closest we'll ever get to some kind of return to innocence.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Amy, Amy, Amy

Played the first Amy Winehouse album, Frank, over the weekend. I never got the other better selling one, but it was sort of on my list for the future. First saw her on the Jools Holland programme they sometimes used to air over here - she appeared on the same night as Pearl Jam (who were brilliant.) This was before she became a bit of a public embarrassment, or before I became aware that she was such.

It's an engaging album with genuine originality. My favourite track Amy, Amy, Amy actually manages self-deprecating humour, charm and real oomph. I understand she was just nineteen when she wrote it. They say she couldn't handle the fame her gift brought with it. She certainly couldn't handle the drugs.

I'm not thinking too deeply about this, except to say I loathe the kind of drug culture that battens on victims like this poor kid. Twenty-seven. Just at the beginning. People who know about these things sometimes refer to getting wasted on illegal substances. Absolutely - a complete waste.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Questions Of Belief

Today's entry is by way of a reply to some interesting questions asked of me by someone who'd read the blog a few days back under the comments bit. S/he inquired as to where I saw myself fitting into Islam, whether I converted due to social necessity and whether my faith is unshakeable.

As I answered under the same comments, I find myself fitting into the world of Islam with remarkable ease. Its rich and varied thought world has been and is exciting to explore. I suppose I feel most at ease with what might broadly be termed the Sufi tendencies within the faith, but this is, as always, to oversimplify. I might add here that I follow Blake's dictum All Religions Are One, so what I find rewarding in Islam is not exclusive to the faith, but I do feel temperamentally attuned to the Muslim way of doing things. And another clarification is worthwhile here. I find a lot of people seem to assume that religious faiths are somehow monolithic in their dogma. Whilst I can understand why this assumption is made, it seems to me deeply uncharacteristic of the nature of those faiths. The capacity to cater to a vast range of needs and demands of their adherents is more obviously what distinguishes living faiths.

I certainly did need to convert in order to marry my wife, a need that was attended with deep joy. Would I have converted had I never met her? I think there's a fair chance I would have. Indeed, there's an argument that says once you are able to say: There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his Messenger, you are muslim (though perhaps not Muslim.) I reckon accepting this argument might well exponentially increase the number of muslims in the world. However, had I remained on that level I'd never have experienced the rewards of Muslim practice - and there's an argument that Muslims might be distinguished by what they do, rather than what they believe.

As for the notion of steadfastness, I must say it doesn't have a lot of meaning for me. I don't find great obstacles to belief, quite the opposite, but I'm happy to consider well-founded, well-informed criticisms of Islam, or religious faith in general. I suppose you might say I don't feel in the least threatened by these. I've always been puzzled by the notion that theists of various colours don't feel doubt when it's so obvious that most, if not all, do - and rightly so. The dark night of the soul is a real lived experience, and possibly a necessary one.

Anyway that's my fairly obviously inadequate attempt to do justice to the questions. I'd get seriously worried if I found the answers flowing more readily.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ear Candy

Listening to a bit of Ravel from the Proms courtesy of the Radio 3 website. This is starting to become a bit of a habit, and what an excellent one it is to acquire. I'm in danger of remembering how to relax, and since I don't have that much work to do tomorrow, this may be intensified through some more judiciously applied aural medicine in the course of Sunday.

But, fear not, from Monday there won't be time to spit out as my dad used to say.

Friday, July 22, 2011

In The Soup

I'm about to treat myself to an overwhelmingly scrumptious bowl of oxtail soup. Or, rather, Noi is treating me, in her absence. She set off for Mak's this afternoon to attend a kenduri for Abah, and cooked the soup this afternoon (and other goodies) in order that I might survive the lonely weekend ahead. It'll be a close thing, but with sustenance like this I may just pull through.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dressing Up

There's something a touch suspect about an old fellah who enjoys dressing up, if you ask me. Evidence above.

But this was my way of promoting harmony on this little island, so I might be forgiven, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gothic Voices

Got back in early enough to allow myself a listen to the recent Proms performance of Havergal Brian's 1st symphony, the Gothic, courtesy of the wonderful Radio 3 page at the BBC. I first heard of the piece when reading the obituaries for Brian in the early seventies (I think 1972.) At that time my only real musical interest lay in what might broadly be termed rock music, but I think Melody Maker had an article on the composer basically to the effect that there was great music out there that never got played (the Gothic is so vast in scale it is rarely performed and Brian was and is hardly fashionable as a composer) so rock musicians should think themselves very lucky. My interest was piqued but, alas, I never got my hands on a recording, since there wasn't one.

Fast forward to this year and old friend David H. e-mails me to say he's in the choir for the symphony (as a member of the Huddersfield Choral Society.) I happen to check out the Radio 3 page a couple of days ago and, blimey, they're providing a link to the actual performance. So being fated to listen I do.

And it was lovely stuff. Very English but ridiculously ambitious. All sorts going on, most of it tunefully. Loved every minute, of which there were many.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Moving On

I'm making alarmingly slow progress with Thoreau's A Week, and I don't know who's to blame. Probably me. There's no way I'm going to get to Walden by fasting month so now I'll be content just to make it to the end of the jaunt down the Concord. The detours are interesting - plenty of Hindu philosophy on Monday - but a bit jarring at times, owing to them being so unexpected. I think that's part of what's slowing me down. And simple laziness, of course.

My plans for Ramadhan reading are pretty much in place. I picked up The God Delusion from the library, intending to test the 'robustness' of my faith. At least the blurb on the back says it will, so here's hoping. I'm intending to re-read Karen Armstrong's fine biography of the Prophet (peace be upon him) since the last couple of biogaphies I read have been hagiographical if not devotional in nature - though very fine. (Martin Lings & Tariq Ramadhan.) And striking out into new territory (and not reading at all) I'm intending to watch the full BBC Life series (which Noi bought for a birthday that's now rather too long ago.) This is by way of reading the book of the world. Looking for signs, as they say.

I've decided to forego a reading of the Qur'an, partly because I feel it's time to tackle a different translation from the three I know, and I haven't got one.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

This Enchanted Evening

Just back from prata & teh tarik at the Al Ameen Restaurant just up the road from here. It's one of those wonderfully run-down places that comes in a tawdry blur of gaudy lights along a row of dark shophouses, announcing good food with no frills. The walls nicely painted, but all the electric wires showing, several bandaged unconvincingly with duct tape. Next door is one of those old provision shops, that seems to stock everything in the space of a single shelf at the Giant at IMM. And on the corner of the row is a little mesjid, modern in style, where you fancy doing the prayer just because it looks so cosy.

We ate outside on the front, like most of the other customers, wrapped in the sultry warmth of a typical Singapore evening. It was sort of busy but not really. And it was sort of wonderful, absolutely really.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Close To The Edge

We completed the script last night for the show we will be doing less than two weeks from today. And five days ago about a third of it wasn't actually down on paper, though it was to a large degree in the collective heads of myself and my drama guys, especially that of one particularly talented young lady, who was the one initially putting pen to paper. Working in this fashion - trusting the process, even if it takes us near the edge - has been stressful and exhilarating in roughly equal measures.

A trio of discoveries regarding my own creative juices, though not so much discoveries as confirmation of what I've always known:

Deadlines free me to write, and the more imminent the deadline the better.

I have very little interest in originality, much preferring to re-parcel whatever's been left lying around, a process so close to stealing that it's embarrassing.

I am almost completely immune to embarrassment once I'm near a stage.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Self Expression

There's always that moment, staring at the blank page, about to express your inner self when you realise there's no inner self to express. Awkward, eh?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Press Mess

Coverage of the phone-hacking mess in the UK confirms the obvious: never trust any journalist ever. And even more so if s/he works for Rupert Murdoch.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Spent the afternoon listening to speeches. Not from politicians. Not from educationalists. Nothing from the great and good. Just twenty or so students. And it was great. The missus came along, and she agrees. Which says it all.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Catching Up

Enjoyed a surprise visit from Karen this evening, who'd dropped Ryan off somewhere near Holland Village to do something or other connected with school, and rightly decided to spend her waiting time with us at the Hall. Getting up to date with all sorts of family news is the way a good evening should be spent. And that's exactly what we did - with Noi also making some epok epok for tomorrow as the icing on the cake (with apologies for the dreadful mixed metaphor.)

Wise words of the evening (uttered by self): You can never have enough fridge magnets. (A lifetime's experience lies behind that, by the way.)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Further Update

In summarising the reading I did back in KL the other day I forgot to mention The Faber Companion To Samuel Beckett, edited by C.J. Ackerley and S.E. Gontarski, a compendium of articles on all aspects of old Sam, arranged alphabetically. Initially I was just dipping into the rather grand tome as the fancy took me, but then decided to read it sequentially, basically just for the hell of it. I'm halfway through 'E', just past Endgame. Highly informative and a little bit loopy at times, much like the great man himself. Of course, as a result of my reading I now feel a burning need to read the trilogy, Murphy, Watt, etc.

And, although this is not strictly reading as such, I should mention that I listened to my CD set of Jim Norton reading Finnegans Wake from cover to cover, as it were. The editor reckons this covers a quarter of the actual text, which is pretty good going for a supposedly unreadable text. Whilst it may be unreadable it's far from unlistenable. Indeed, this is the medium in which I reckon it should be encountered as above all it reminds you, well me anyway, of what a delight the work is. Funny to think that the young Sam Beckett once sat taking Joyce's dictation on the Wake. Well not funny really. Illuminating.

What I didn't read in KL was Prof. Ricks's Keats and Embarrassment, though I started on it well before going up north. I mention this simply because I finished it this evening, having drawn out my reading just to slowly savour its insights. Apart from its many other virtues it contains long chunks of quite a number of Keats's letters, with attendant sympathetic readings, reminding me I don't have any edition of them for some reason I can't fathom. Ricks seems to think that many are as good as the poems, and he's right. The last one Keats ever wrote, to Charles Armitage Brown, is powerfully moving and Ricks leaves it until his particularly fine final chapter which in itself almost justifies the sorry business of lit. crit.

Note to self: Must get an edition of the letters and Andrew Motion's biography of Keats when I finally allow myself to buy some books again.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Bit Of A Mess

Water-cannon and tear-gas on the streets of KL. Quite exciting, as long as you're not in the middle of it, as fortunately we are not. Some sort of Arab Spring going on? I don't think so. It was easy to see this coming when we were there a couple of weeks ago, and it was easy to see how it could be avoided. Nobody comes out of this one with much credit, I'm afraid.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Still in minimalist mode, I followed up Plastic Ono Band with Dylan's John Wesley Harding the other day. Another album which puzzled me in its heyday, aside from the instantly accessible All Along The Watchtower, but which I came to some terms with some years ago. So nothing revelatory, as with the Lennon, this time round, aside from a heightened awareness of just how many masks the Bobster wears in the various songs. In fact, how indirect an artist he really is, always coming at things at a slant, crooked. Always trying on the character who sings the song, who's never quite really Dylan. Whilst Lennon absolutely is himself in Plastic Ono Band, painfully, sometimes embarrassingly, but always wonderfully so.

Two ways of making art - from the utterly sincere, to the entirely false. Both turn out to be true.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Back To Basics

Came back home yesterday to listen to Lennon's Plastic Ono Band album. Sometimes a voice (in this case a great one), a piano, a guitar and an attitude are all you need. (Though nice bass - Voorman - and gut-bucket drums - Ringo - help.)

I didn't quite get that, back in the seventies, when I thought John had rather lost the plot. Yesterday I grasped the album for the first time - I mean I really got it. And when you're in it, it's difficult to get out, happily so.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Down The Road

We're now well and truly into Syaaban, the month preceding Ramadhan, so we're peeking ahead beginning to plan for fasting. Not too many years ago I would have been nervously expectant at this point; now it's a happy expectancy - with just a touch of nerves. Bring it on, say I!

Monday, July 4, 2011


Still reflecting on recent reading, the one that got away was Dawkins's The God Delusion. I've been meaning to read it for a while, basically to see what all the fuss was about. These New (or Gnu) Atheist chappies seem very vocal of late as if something has really rattled their cage, and the good prof appears to be prettty much their patron saint and in large part responsible for the fuss. At least two bloggers I think are generally fairly sensible hold the book in high regard. So I live in hopes of finding something genuinely stimulating and challenging when I finally get round to it.

Unfortunately I found Hitchens's rather silly book on the same lines so disappointing that it quite took away my enthusiasm for reading the more celebrated tome. And I'm still manfully avoiding the buying of new books until I clear the backlog on my shelves. So eventually I passed on the Dawkins, for the present at least. It might be fun to read in fasting month though!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Odd Bunch

Now reading Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers in the handsome Library of America edition, which includes Walden and a couple of other pieces. Actually I bought it for Walden, a classic I've never read cover to cover, but started on A Week as it's the first thing in the collection. Relaxing stuff so far. A reminder of a better age.

I love the LoA editions, of course, but it was odd finishing Ubik in the Philip K. Dick collection the other week as I can't help but feel that Dick should be read in cheap paperbacks. I don't mean this in an insulting way, far from it. Cheap paperbacks often feature fine works, as in the case of Dick, and the raw vigour of his novels seem better suited to them somehow.

Ubik was part of my scheduled holiday reading which, other than the stuff I've already blogged about, also included Ackroyd's nifty, and delightfully demotic, 'translation' of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Heaney's The Spirit Level, Beckett's Waiting For Godot and Sophocles's Oedipus Rex (in Don Taylor's translation). The last two are texts I am teaching later in the year, but I'm happy to say that I was reading them purely and wonderfully for pleasure. All in all, a fruitful list, I think, if a slightly odd bunch.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Western Eyes

Finished Conrad's Under Western Eyes just now, having read most of the final section on the bus up to Melaka, and most of the rest in the last days of my June vacation in KL. It wasn't actually on my reading list for the holiday but I completed the other stuff I brought up from Singapore (of which more later) and picked up my old Pan paperback from the shelves of Maison KL realising I didn't think I'd ever really got into the novel after the brilliant first section set in Russia and it wouldn't do any harm to see if this time I could. And I did.

That first section is like something out of Dostoyevsky, consciously so on Conrad's part, though I don't think he thought all that much of Dostoyevsky as a guide to life. When I first read it I was deeply into the second greatest Russian novelist - to the point that I thought him the greatest - which is something that should be the case for all literary-minded teenagers. (I suppose it's the intensity of it all that does it - like Dickens on amphetamines.) So, of course, the Dostoyevskian Conrad had me hooked. But then comes the Conradian Conrad, and this is a kind of criticism of Dostoevsky - distant, cool, ironic, sceptical - and I suppose I just didn't have the temperament for it then. Why the distancing narrative that makes us view Razumov from the outside rather than treating us directly to his tortured consciousness? Why the clear-eyed, jaundiced view of those loopy 'revolutionists'? In fact, why the jaundiced view of everyone and everything, except perhaps Miss Haldin (and that's a big perhaps)? Now I think I get it, I suppose because I share that jaundice.

In these troubled times Conrad is an amazingly prescient guide regarding fanaticism of all stripes. Reading Under Western Eyes today you get an extraordinary sense of how right Conrad was about early twentieth century Russia. Note to self: must find time to reread The Secret Agent soon.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Matters of Life and Death

Sitting with Noi, talking. Mainly about the small things. The real things. The only things that matter.