Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One Day More

As the proud owner of two cheapo cheapo Casio digital watches I now find myself in a major quandary. They have both decided that today should be the first day of March. It's a measure of my peculiarly obsessive attitude towards matters relating to time that glancing down all day at a watch telling me it is WE 1 has proved very disconcerting. Noi is convinced I can remedy this by adjusting the date thingee on the watches tomorrow, but I'm not so sure. I have a horrible feeling I will end up confusing my trusty timepieces with regard to how many days there are in various of the months that lie ahead of us.

Still, time will tell. Or perhaps it won't.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Here's a frightening thought: the single most fulfilling moment of my day came when I finally managed to get some pointless data loaded into a system which up to that moment had been reluctant to accept it. I actually felt something akin to genuine pleasure.


Monday, February 27, 2012

And Furthermore

Just a couple of random points to add to my posts of the last couple of days.

I forgot to mention how much I liked Diamond's word kleptocracy, used to describe those elites who convince us of their absolute necessity to our well-being such that they cream off the surpluses societies produce. I must say though, that I really don't mind if they're obviously worth it - e.g., Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, et al.

And on a completely different note, a quick glance through Sid Smith's magisterial if toxic tome on all things Crimson rendered the info that Robert Fripp's solo on the studio cut of The Night Watch was a first take! It seems that John Wetton on a first hearing didn't regard it as anything special until the Frippster told him to listen again, really listen. And then he got it. Now that kind of talent is priceless.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Limping Along

I picked up Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel today for the first time in over a week, resuming proceedings with some fascinating insights into the differences between tribes and states and why one can become the other. The realisation that this was my first genuine reading - in terms of my reading as opposed to reading for work - came with a fair amount of gloom, but also a kind of jaded realism that this, after all, comes with the territory. The toad Work can squat disproportionally upon one's life, like it or not.

In truth, January was not so bad in this regard. I even managed to adhere to my private Learn Malay campaign with a reasonable degree of success. Alas, not so since then - in fact since 31 January to be precise. But since I've hacked out a little breathing space this weekend I'm aiming to resume said campaign in the next hour or so.

The only real reading I managed in Hong Kong, by the way, in case you're wondering, centred on The New York Review of Books and even then I completed only a couple of articles, which made all the recommending of interesting books that went on seem oddly superfluous. At times like that I feel like a kind of charlatan.

Let's hope March gives a little more room for real life to be lived, eh?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Great Guitar Solos 2

In something of an audiophilic fit this morning I listened to no fewer than four versions of King Crimson's song The Night Watch in a bid to determine which of Robert Fripp's solos was the best - to these ears, at least. As I sort of suspected, it was the one on the 'official' rendering of the song, on Starless and Bible Black, that held me most enchanted. This version of the song is the most lush of all, fairly obviously since, unlike the three live versions I listened to, it features a fair amount of multi-tracking. For example, you get Mr Fripp playing rather lovely lead lines as ornamentation around Wetton's rendering of the early verses - like the one that follows ...upon the canvas dark with age... . On the live versions here we get mellotron and gentle chordal picking on the guitar: quite lovely but sparsely so in comparison to the original. That lushness seems characteristic of the wonderful solo played after the rather duff verse-ending, ...guitar lessons for the wife. (Oh how I wish lyricist Palmer-James, to whom I never really did take, had gone for a half rhyme on wives instead, which would have made for a classier line all round. An even greater pity in that this is his one reasonably successful lyric - with the exception of this blemish - on the three albums for which he wrote.)

The solo is by no means Fripp's most striking, original or incandescent - there's a very long line of candidates fulfiling various of these qualities, with the one on the studio version of The Sailor's Tale extraordinarily managing all three - but it is surely the most beguiling solo he ever got down on vinyl. Somehow it contrives to blend into the musical canvas all about it such that it's easy to forget it is a solo. You can almost not notice it, except as something fascinating taking place within the textures on offer, but when you do give it your undivided attention you realise how peculiar it is in terms of the oddly jagged nature of its timing against the pulse of the song. I read somewhere that it sounds as if whatever was originally recorded has been played backward and, yes, that's a fair description of the initial impression you get.

It's obvious that when the band played The Night Watch live that Fripp wasn't interested in reproducing the studio version of the solo. I listened to versions from Glasgow 1973, Mainz 1974 and Pennsylvania 1974 and enjoyed the great performances of the song, and just how brilliant our guitarist's full parts in each piece were, but at no point did he get close to the spell-binding quality of what he achieved in the studio.

And that leads me to the thought that it's quite striking how often a musician who's known for his absorption in live music has delivered definitive material in the dry studio context - a testament to the discipline he so values.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Surf's Up

We had Kate and Rob staying over last night just at the end of their three month stint in New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in search of sun, fun, broader horizons and finding themselves. Actually I don't think the last of these was on their minds, but Rob did mention some of his friends had talked about that possibility. They arrived looking like two extremely cool surfer dudes and I was, and am, of course, suffused with envy that they have crammed into their three month sojourn more than I've managed in quite a few years. But then I reckon I found myself quite a while ago. (And wasn't terribly impressed, if truth be told. Hah!)

We'll be taking them to the airport later and are now contemplating the logistical puzzle inherent in figuring out how to get Rob's surf board, I kid you not, into our little car.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Less Deceived

Finally watched Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy all the way through, wide awake. The screen on the return flight to Singapore was bigger than the one on the way there, which helped, but it was the quality of the film that held me. Oldman's Smiley is excellent - somehow harder and more dangerous than the Guinness vintage, but beautifully underplayed, restrained. But every performance is excellent.

Great faces everywhere. Real ones, I mean. Raddled. Ordinary. Nice sense of period and place.

Wonderfully paced, with a genuine sense of unease in several scenes that gets under the skin. Somehow more down-to-earth than the cerebral BBC version.

Leaves you wanting to be a spy as you know you have the necessary capacity for ruthless deception.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


It's a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world I gaze upon through the window of the hotel room. I'm looking out onto the apartment blocks and hotels on the opposite side of the street and there's that jarring, incongruous mixing of styles and periods typical of the city. A glossy structure shooting up some thirty floors or so sits adjacent to a seven storey run-down old tenement block, on the top level - I suppose the roof - of which a lady is busy dealing with her laundry. Or maybe it's a business she's running there - hard to tell. Her blue plastic bucket strikes me as the most cheerful feature of the scene.

There's something very endearing about that bucket, and its presumed owner, and the general messiness of the architecture all around us.

Monday, February 20, 2012


I've been here in Hong Kong these last few days to attend a course related to my work. It's been a pleasure to have been in the company of a number of bright, articulate people, most of whom are a fair bit younger than me (and a fair bit brighter, to boot.). One young lady in particular struck me as early as the first day as someone likely to go places and do lots of good work.

And then today I suddenly remembered another such young lady, from more than thirty years ago now, on another course - one that proved very useful to me in a number of ways - who had struck me then as equally capable, and rightly so. But she died many years ago, and as far as I understand it, that wonderful youthful promise had somehow gone well before she left us.

I can see her now, in my mind's eye, more vividly than I can recall the rather striking girl who so impressed me over the last three days. And I am baffled at what went wrong for her. Sometimes we lose it, whatever small grace we have been granted - a grant not to take for granted. So I ended up this evening saying a sad prayer for the girl who died, and one for the girl who has so much to live for, and one for eveyone in that room that fate might treat them kindly.

None of this is anything of ours.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Just One Story

Watched a video today of a talk by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie. The basic idea is that of the single story, and a beautifully framed idea it is. Nothing terribly new, but something terribly true. What oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed.

Which leads me to realise, we can never hear enough stories - never know enough. I've always known that, but not quite so feelingly as when listening to Ms Adichie.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Little Chill

It's not exactly warm here. I was sort of expecting Hong Kong to be a slightly more Chinese version of Singapore - whatever that means. It isn't. Not in any way at all.

The problem is, though, that unlike in Beijing where the hotels compensate for the low temperatures by being stiflingly warm, the hotels here, or at least the one we're in, seem to think they are in Singapore and don't have any obvious form of heating. So there's quite a chill in the air and the only way around it is to take to bed, which is where I'm going; so goodnight.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Missed Opportunity

I've been keen to watch the recent version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, having been a huge fan of the original BBC series. So when I realised it was one of the in-flight movies on the way to Hong Kong I was more than a little pleased. Unfortunately said flight took off at 7.30 this morning, which means I surfaced from my dreams around 4.45. This in turn resulted in me nodding off mid-way through Gary Oldman's bravura turn as Smiley.

And it wasn't because I was bored, let me assure you.

So now my next opportunity to view the thing will be, I assume, on the way back next Tuesday. I hope I'll be reasonably awake the next time around.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Without quite ever intending to I've developed a system of exhausting myself prior to any journey involving a flight so as to sleep on the plane. In this regard my work is very helpful. So I'm expecting to be firmly in the realms of nod for much of tomorrow morning on the way to Hong Kong.

Mind you, my system has been known to fail with spectacular effects. I remember a flight from Manchester to Singapore many, many years ago, just after Christmas, when I was certain I would spend at least three-quarters of the journey sound asleep in my carefully selected window seat where no one would disturb me. I didn't count on being asked by a young married couple to switch to the seat next to the aisle so they could occupy the two inner seats of the three adjacent to the window - and then finding myself asked to move by them no fewer than eight times (yes, I counted) in the course of the flight, apologetically waking me each time, so the young lady could use the toilet.

With good fortune I may find myself next to someone reasonably civilised with a functioning bladder on the morrow. But I'm not counting on it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Just Playing

Only an actor could have written Hamlet.

But that doesn't tell us much, because we are all actors.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Into Gear, Sort Of

I'm off to Hong Kong on Friday, for a long weekend: a work-related jaunt (i.e., plenty of work, minimal jaunt.) So I should now be gearing up for the experience. Which I'm not, not really.

Fortunately the Missus is gearing up on my behalf, something, I hasten to add, I don't take for granted, but take for grateful.

Best moment of the day: exchange of suspiciously teenager-ish cards in the early morn. Something worth getting up for.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Sense of Healing

There are poets one respects and admires and there are poets one loves. (And respects and admires.) None more lovable to my mind than the good doctor (and he was a very good doctor) William Carlos Williams. Great piece on him by Adam Kirch in the current New York Review of Books. But there's nothing beats the poems themselves. Medicine for the soul.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Just Walking

Fifi, Fafa and their Ibu & Ayah arrived at 4.00 this afternoon and we set off on a not-terribly-energetic walk up the road, round the old nice houses on the little estate off Maidstone Road, and then through the new University Town, discovering where the big Starbucks is located there. Then it was back home for muffins and two DVDs: Peter Gabriel's Secret World and Adele's Live at the Albert Hall and soon it will be nosh somewhere on Clementi Road.

Verdict: Life is good.

But don't you just want to punch the guy who broke Adele's heart?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Great Guitar Solos 1

Ever since I posted about Johnnie Mac's solo on the Mahavishnu's Orchestra's lovely Dawn - and followed up by listening to it three or four times in one day - I've had it running through my head as a kind of highly welcome ear-worm. Actually I've always been prone to ear-worms but thankfully they're nearly always snippets, or extended sections, of really fine music so it's not so much a curse as a blessing. If I tell you I once couldn't get the central segment of VW's The Lark Ascending out of my head for three months or so you'll appreciate what I'm getting at.

I suppose though I'm using the term solo in an extremely loose way here. Really I'm thinking of the whole guitar part, but with particular emphasis on the early segment around 1'25'' in when McLaughlin stops simply doubling the gorgeous violin line and starts developing increasingly, improbably faster and faster lines, until the whole shebang explodes around 2'30'' into a new descending melody for unison guitar and violin and the heart sings.

The first time I heard the track I loved the ensemble playing and the sort of soft rock segments - the closest the guys ever came to AOR - but couldn't quite grasp McLaughlin's playing. It sounded sort of wrong somehow, especially in the early part of the track, as if he were trying to blend in, but failing, the guitar line sounding slightly out in terms of the general timing. Although I was familiar with the sustain being used from Robert Fripp's playing with Crimson, which is why I suppose I keep talking about guitar lines rather than notes, I'd never encountered anything quite this spiky on music that otherwise seemed designed to be accessible. Listening now it just seems so utterly right I can't grasp why my teenage ears couldn't quite get round it all, initially at least.

Of course when McLaughlin plays fast it's astonishing in itself, but what I love about his playing is the way in which the speed is always there for a reason, is at the service of a greater cause. The sensation of sheer over-abundant joy that is created in the first half of Dawn that speed, the sense of something genuinely dawning, as it were, is extraordinary. Awesome in the real sense of that word.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Energy is eternal delight, said the wisest of the English poets.

Wish I had some. Just a bit would do.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

In Control

Snippet from a dialogue today:

Speaker: Let's pretend to be in control of the situation. Then, mysteriously, it might turn out that we get control. At least we know we're not in control. That's a step forward.

Confession: Yes, gentle reader, it was me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Start

Had what seemed at the time (about 11.00 this morning) to be a dazzling idea for a script we might be in need of later in the year. I've definitely got a title. Now all I need is the rest of the play. Hah!

(In a few months I'll look back on today's post as either the start of something big (well, for us anyway) or evidence of distinctly delusional - or should that be deluded? - tendencies, and more than a few of them.)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Going Solo

The other day for reasons I still don't quite understand, possibly related to the wanderings of an aged mind, I found myself, whilst shaving, reflecting upon guitar solos and their place in my life. Truth to tell, they don't occupy any particularly startling spot as I've never greatly cared for them, despite emerging from a generation of musos to whom the (great) guitar solo was seen as something of significance. (Something similar might be said of the drum solo, but those I care not to think of at all, ever, and never did, though dutifully joining in with the mindless applause when one was completed, all those years ago.)

Anyway in my ruminations upon the guitar solo as a sort of sub-genre of rock music it occurred to me that I could genuinely identify five that seemed to me to be quite wonderful - in fact, five that nail me to the wall each time I hear them - and worth chewing the mental cud over. As someone who likes lists the fact I'd picked out a round five seemed of some small, very small, significance, and I felt obliged, sort of, to make note of them. So here are the guitarists in question - in no particular order of merit, as they say: John McLaughlin, Robert Fripp, Jeff Beck, Richard Thompson, and Bill Frisell.

There are no prizes for guessing the particular solos I have in mind - because you wouldn't stand a chance. But assuming I can find the energy from somewhere I might just enlighten the general public in the next few days, or so. In the meantime I've just bunged on the one by Johnnie Mac, so this is no time to do anything other than listen and luxuriate.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Watching The Detectives

I'm not much of a telly person, finding it difficult to maintain any level of concentration on the small screen beyond twenty minutes. But catching bits of Monk, Wallander and George Gently in the last few days (though not one in their entirety, due to the Toad work) has made me realise that's the one kind of programme I can watch with addictive ease - what Mum would have called a good murder. In fact, I actually watched the first series of Monk when it was originally aired here, on an episode by episode basis, something of a record for me. I stopped watching it when I became aware the commitment to doing so (which is what it felt like) was unsustainable. Oh, and they started showing it at absurd times.

I'm not quite sure what it is grips me about the genre. Certainly not solving the cases. I never do. But I never want to. It's the mystery that I like, I think.

Thinking back to Dennis Potter's superb The Singing Detective, I suppose we're all detectives trying to make sense of the final mystery of it all, and happy to accept any answers along the way. Which reminds me - whatever happened to Mr P's Pennies From Heaven? They don't seem to repeat this stuff. I suppose it must be on DVD somewhere, along with The Singing Detective. Gosh, to think you used to be able to watch such wonderful series like that on a weekly basis. Now those were the days I could find myself glued to the old goggle box.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


I've been engaged in matters of a dramatic nature early this evening, at the point of inception. Which means I've spent the later part of the evening aware of plenty of ideas for what might make it to a stage floating about in the old - and I mean old - cerebrum. No, that's not quite it. The ideas have been positively whizzing around and I can't keep up with them, almost as if they're independent of the brain that thinks them up. Which is often literally true, as I pick up on suggestions from the many agile younger minds I'm blessed to have contact with.

Ninety-five percent of all that's haunting me will never achieve any degree of manifestation under the light of day, or rather the stagelights that, with good fortune will illuminate the five percent that makes it up there. But that's fine. I'm not interested in knowing exactly where I'm going when I set out. That way you can end up in far more interesting places than you ever expected to discover.

Friday, February 3, 2012


I'll offer two (of the above):

Shakespeare, as actor, discovered what all good, or even just competent actors discover - that you genuinely start to feel the feelings you are enacting. Which led him to an oddly disconcerting corollary. Your feelings may never be something quite genuine but always have a sense of enactment about them. So all the world becomes a stage.

United for the Premiership by a comfortable margin. The noisy neighbours to choke.

(I'm working on pure intuition here, guys.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Preparing a lecture on Shakespeare, a sort of general introduction to the Bard, and struck by just how much I don't know and how fascinating it all is. What exactly was the style of acting like in 1600? How did those first audiences in the Globe behave? Just how pervasive, or otherwise, was music in performance?

I'm often puzzled by how some people really can't stand not knowing with absolute certainty. The grey areas are the places in which I seem to see most clearly.