Monday, April 30, 2012

Back On Track

After a bit of a hiatus from our viewing of the BBC Little Dorrit we’re back with Amy in Venice and Arthur in London, having just watched a couple of episodes back-to-back. It took great will-power not to keep going and watch the last two episodes as well given the hypnotic power of the tale, but we saw sense

Noi is completely wrapped up in William Dorrit, both as an irritating fool and a pathetically tragic figure. Undoubtedly Dickens’s most nuanced view of his own father, and Tom Courtenay does extraordinary justice to the part. The little scene between John Chivery and the old man was brilliantly touching – warm yet bleak at the same time. It’s really in the small bits and pieces of detail that this adaptation shines – though it excels in the big scenes also.

The last few episodes have caught the coldness of wealth in a wonderful manner. You long for Amy to return to where she belongs as much as she herself does.

Incidentally I’ve never understood those approaches to literature that don’t let you feel for the characters. I’m pretty sure Dickens wouldn’t have understood them either, so I’m in the best company there.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Focus On Family

Still in celebratory mode, and nice to have some of those I love to celebrate with.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Real Grace

The second of my CD purchases from the UK has been in heavy rotation over the last three days, or at least as heavy as being ultra-concerned with the Toad work has allowed. This one has a bit more contemporary relevance than Messers Emerson, Lake and Palmer having been released very recently. But Steven Wilson's Grace For Drowning for all its contemporaneity manages to evoke the great prog rock albums of the early-seventies, perhaps not surprisingly as Mr Wilson has been busy of late re-mixing the early items in the Crimson catalogue.

There are several passages that are eerily reminiscent of passages from Crimso's Lizard, and that's no bad thing to these ears, Lizard being, in some ways, my favourite album from the early years. And Theo Travis's flute evokes memories of the great Mel Collins on that most neglected of instruments in modern rock. But there's also plenty to listen to that sounds completely, refreshingly, new and original.

No wonder this is getting onto lists of the best CDs of recent years. I've fallen in love with the genre all over again. Prog rules, man!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Not Quite Ageless

What better way to enjoy clocking up yet another milestone in this great marathon of life than to pose for silly pictures with not-so-silly cards and presents?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

In Denial

As a connoisseur of the mechanics of psychological projection and denial I found myself chortling with delight at John Terry's recent post-match interview following his sending-off against Barca for what was, even for Terry, an egregiously idiotic act. The genuine sincerity with which he informed the world, more than once, that he wasn't that kind of player and the pained look as he acknowledged the video of said egregiously idiotic act showed that he was precisely that kind of player and a bit more, will stay with me for ever as a bleakly hilarious example of disassociation of the highest order. I reckon he could have beaten the lie-detector.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Musical Memories

I bought a couple of CDs when we were in Manchester, one of which was the first Emerson, Lake and Palmer album, entitled, with stunning originality, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I've been waiting for quite a while for it to be reissued on CD and was pleased to spot it being made available for a reasonable sum. The original vinyl version was one of my first ever purchases and I played it to death as a young teenager - usually playing air-drums along with it, Carl Palmer being in those long-lost days probably my favourite drummer, basically since he was so busy.

It's been many, many years since I listened to the album, and I was keen to hear it again, partly for purely nostalgic reasons, but also to see just how reasonable, or otherwise, my taste in music had been. I was relieved to find it quite listenable, generally lacking in the somewhat foolish bombast the band went on to specialise in (though they come close in places.) The two tracks I had retained a pretty good memory of were the Greg Lake compositions - Take A Pebble and Lucky Man - not surprisingly, I suppose, since these are straight songs, as it were; although, interestingly, I had very little recall of the extended instrumental sections of Take A Pebble.

But what I'm leading up to, and found quite fascinating, is that when I finally played the album on getting back here, not having listened to it in Manchester, I realised that as soon as I heard the opening bars of a track I had instant, complete recall of what was coming next, despite having thought I had completely forgotten the material. This was especially true of the instrumental The Barbarian and Knife-edge, which I'd considered my favourite track as a kid. It was very strange to suddenly know exactly what was coming next, as if the material was emerging from some deep, deep part of my memory, entirely, mysteriously, weirdly intact.

Monday, April 23, 2012

More Victims

Another story that has caught my attention lately concerns the shooting of Trayvon Martin. I have absolutely no idea what actually happened between the guy who shot him and the young man who died. And I'm not likely to until the case comes to trial and the evidence, such as it is, is heard in its entirety.

I wouldn't be surprised if the evidence pointed to a cold-blooded slaying of a defenceless young man based simply on the fact that the victim looked dangerous in the eyes of the man who pulled the trigger. Equally, I wouldn't be surprised if it became clear that the killer genuinely thought he was acting in self-defence and was being gravely threatened. And I wouldn't be surprised at an unfortunate interim position between these extremes.

Sadly, I'm also not in any sense surprised that so many commentators have already decided what happened based solely on their political affiliations. But I'm hopeful that the system of justice in America can be seen to deliver a detached rational verdict centered upon what can be known about what took place. That won't help the grieving parents too much though. In that sense the case is already lost.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Victims

I found much to dislike in the English press in the week I was back in Manchester, but there was also plenty to praise. The coverage of the Breivik trial was uniformly excellent in the papers that had articles covering it. I was particularly heartened to see at least one paper assiduously listing the names of his victims, with photographs and a little background on each. It was a reminder of how much more worthwhile, indeed genuinely interesting, these ordinary folk were compared to the fanatic/madman in the dock. Good to hear about the torchlight processions in their memory also.

I'm not much interested in the psychology of the murderer to tell the truth. A poverty of imaginative understanding of others as evinced in this man's case is, disturbingly, all too common - almost banal. But I am interested in the workings of the Norwegian system of justice which so far has proceeded in a deeply thoughtful, civilised fashion. And it was good to see the papers showing awareness of that.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Another Departure

We're flying off this afternoon. Sometimes life seems to be a succession of partings. But there's always the pleasure of meeting and greeting to offset those little sorrows. Fare forward, voyager.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Today the funeral.

Insofar as these events can be good, and they can be very good, this one was very good. I think Mum would have enjoyed being there, insofar as you can enjoy being at a funeral - though she would have punctuated the various stages of the day with a sneaky cigarette (or two or three).

Cynthia and Auntie Vera both spoke of closure afterwards, and they were wise and right to do so. But, of course, there is never a final closure as the departed live on intensely in memory. Dad left us in 1976 and he's still vividly there in places in my mind, for which I am grateful.

Now Gertrude and John lie together, as they wished to, in eternity.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Perfect Storm

Noi has been cooking up a storm of late. Last night it was keema and chapati, with John, Jeanette and Sam in duly appreciative mode - along with myself, of course. I took the opportunity to interrogate Sam regarding a postcard he'd received from a young lady. She'd managed to fit enough onto the card for it to be a candidate for the Guiness Book of Records. Nice handwriting too. Sam stood up well under questioning, but we all reckon that love is in the air. Hope the young lady in question has the good sense to realise what a perfect catch Sam would make - the kind of guy you'd want your daughter to marry if you had a daughter.


Went into Ashton today, the first time we've done any real shopping as such. Surprised at just how much I found myself thinking of Mum as we re-trod paths taken so often with her. Some jagged shards of memory here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Not Keeping Vigil

Noi excelled her wonderful self on all fronts yesterday at my sister's. We left the house looking distinctly spruce - the house, that is, not us. At least one of us is proving of use to others.

Niece Cheryl was also around for our discussion with the priest, and a quiet word with myself regarding the not-so-wonderful health of her mother. This was a big plus as she is an eminently sensible individual, capable of dealing with whatever life throws at us. It was she who'd seen to most of the paperwork surrounding Mum's death, which is in good order.

The priest was a very nice guy - when are priests not, these days? - and shed insight into just why it was so difficult for the funeral director to arrange the funeral within any reasonable period of time. The funeral business, it seems, is just that, a business, and not a terribly customer-friendly one, though it no doubt generates the necessary profits.

Originally there had been talk of a Thursday night vigil, with the body in the church, a Catholic custom in these parts. But it's no longer customary as the churches cannot ensure security. In other words, various criiminals are prone to gate-crashing the proceedings and taking what they can get - including rather valuable coffins. A mad world, my masters.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Helping Out

Took Maureen to the hospital yesterday for a chest x-ray. She's been ill for several weeks, and Mum's death seems to have knocked her sideways. John and Maureen have been carrying the burden of all the arrangements so it's good to finally be here to offer some help. We're seeing the priest tonight to figure out the nuts and bolts of proceedings on the day of the funeral - fixed for Friday.

Noi intends to cook a chicken curry for them this evening and wants to help clean-up the house which is looking a bit run-down. My sister, who is a few years older than me, has distinctly left middle-age behind and is in another place entirely, something difficult, but necessary, for me to accept. And John is, astonishingly, seventy-five, which I can't help but think is some kind of misprint.

Monday, April 16, 2012


It's a bit chilly here, considering we're in the second half of April. Noi remarked the other day that it's colder than in December, the month she's most used to spending in Manchester. But we were warmed last night by fond memories of Mum and Auntie Bet and Uncle Peter and others shared over dinner. Not to mention the lovely food.

The story of Mum ejecting the cup-tie winning Derby County off her bus went a long way to capturing the no-nonsense essence of the lady.

Had a rather more odd conversation with a chap at the supermarket check-out counter earlier in the day. He was the customer ahead of us and had heard us discussing where to get a drink. He assumed we meant alcohol (of course, we meant tea) and helpfully pointed to various pubs in the vicinity and how to get to them. He then went on to a discussion of the merits of Buddhism as opposed to Catholicism, having taken Noi for a Buddhist. It seems he'd watched The Da Vinci Code the previous evening and felt that it pretty much told the truth about the Christian faith. He felt in need of meditative calm, he told me, as he could hardly control his nerves. He then announced he was looking forward to the apocalypse as a way to sort everything out as people weren't so nice, but ruefully admitted that since it would mean the end of it all for him it wouldn't do him too much good overall.

It was all sort of funny - the guy was quite charming and likeable - and very sad. The sense of damage suffered was powerful.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

One Way To The Heavens

Last night's music of choice, from John's most recent purchase from those good people at the mighty Rolf Harris singing Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven. Complete with wobble board. Am still chuckling at the memory.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, we didn't get on to Two Little Boys.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Out Of Time, Again

I've not really done too much for the last day or so, other than sleep. We set off to Manchester in the very early hours of Friday morning, having finally been given a conclusive date for Mum's funeral. Trying to clear everything that needed to be put in order before leaving meant not having too much time to get any sleep from Sunday onwards, so once aboard the plane and not having any responsibilities other than to travel in the right direction I took advantage of the numerous invitations to doze off, and did so most emphatically. And continued to do so once we arrived at Maureen and John's. And then slept even more deeply at John and Jeanette's, where we've established our base of operations for the week ahead. And most comfortable and welcoming it is.

It feels very strange indeed leaving behind the expected routine of work at this time.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Happy Birthdays

Today would have been Mum's birthday had she lived a little longer. I just looked up the appropriate diary entry for eleven years ago, the last time she well enough to visit us here. We threw a momentous birthday bash for her in the old Mansion. According to the entry the assembled cast featured: Karen, Mrs Goh & the children, Teck Siew, Gebian & Ocean, Rita & Tom, Mei & Boon, Kak Kiah & Abang Mat, Yati, Nahar & the children, Annie, A.K. & Li Ching and Rozita & the children. I also record how staggeringly hard Noi worked to put it all together.

Nice to think of her surrounded by all those friends and all those children. Nice to think of what gives life a meaning. Nice to think of all we have to be grateful for.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Something Wonderful

We are drowning in the kindness and support of so many of our friends, colleagues and students. Despite everything, it's a wonderful place to be.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Just Saying

My favourite saying attributed to the Prophet: Paradise lies under the feet of your mother.

And a famous story told of the Prophet: O Messenger of Allah! Who from amongst mankind warrants the best companionship from me? He replied: "Your mother." The man asked: Then who? So he replied: "Your mother". The man then asked: Then who? So the Prophet replied again: "Your mother." The man then asked: then who? So he replied: "Then your father."

Monday, April 9, 2012

Out Of Time

Mum died a few days short of her ninety-fourth birthday, assuming my Maths is correct. She was born at the back end of World War One - an astonishing thought. Whichever way you look at it, ninety-four is a darn good innings. A bit of a cliche, but comforting and true.

Noi pointed out yesterday that she may have been pleased to have known she would leave us on a weekend of such significance to her faith. A day of resurrection and redemption does seem strangely appropriate as a time to leave this place and be gathered into eternity.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Kind Of Farewell

Mum passed away today. It wasn't completely unexpected. She'd been in hospital for two weeks having not really come round from a virus she'd picked up. She'd been sleeping, not in any pain as such, for which we are thankful. In fact we wondered whether she might actually recover and go back to the nursing home. But now we know that was not to be.

Living half a world away from those you love can be very painful, especially in these circumstances.

We're now making arrangements to go back and bid some kind of farewell.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


A day when I don't disagree with myself always seems a bit wasted.

Friday, April 6, 2012


We're now in the Malaysian capital experiencing, among other delights, the vagaries of KL traffic. It's amazing how unpredictable the traffic flow, and the attendant behaviour of drivers, is on routes with which we regard ourselves as thoroughly familiar. Tonight a short journey to the Great Eastern building along Jalan Ampang turned out to be full of surprises. At one point a stream of traffic joined the main Ampang Road from a side road that has always been entirely deserted before. Then on the way back I found myself contending with a stream of traffic emerging from the Flamingo Hotel which I'm pretty sure did not comprise visitors to that noble hostelry. Sometimes it's refreshing to deal with new challenges. But generally not. And it wasn't this evening.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


On one side, the dictates of reason. On the other, soft human stuff. Not a happy combination.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Getting Critical

Happened to dip into Ackroyd's wonderful biography of Dickens in a post-Dorrit haze last night. Was reminded that the critics of the time generally decided Bleak House and Little Dorrit were a falling-off from the great writer's previous high standards, being mechanical and uninspired.

A reminder not to ever, ever, ever take reviewers seriously.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Something In The Air

With some reluctance I've put the DVD of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy into my bag to return it to Bernard tomorrow. I had considered another viewing, with Noi watching, but our current addiction to Little Dorrit precludes that, and I need to return it otherwise I'll end up stealing it.

Nice description from Noi to Siew, on the phone, of our current viewing experience: A Charles Dickens's show. Lots of episodes and we've got to know what happens. Pretty succinct, eh?

In the meantime here's a final thought about Le Carre's spellbinder: Didn't people smoke an awful lot of cigarettes back in 1979? I mean, I don't remember being quite so aware when I originally watched the series of just how intensely frequent the smoking is. It adds atmosphere, of course, of a suitably sordid nature. My goodness, all those crumpled suits must have reeked of tobacco.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Just watched the eighth episode of the BBC's wonderful Little Dorrit. Now we're in the second half of the novel with the Dorrits variously enjoying, and not enjoying, their riches. The Missus and myself on the edges of our seats for more.

Every time I read the book I find myself convinced it's the greatest novel in the English language, and viewing this adaptation only serves to confirm that. What riches - from a man who knew exactly what being rich means.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Something Foolish

Rather foolishly stayed up late last night to watch our recording of the American Idol results show for this week. And this after a very, very long day arranging and attending events at work. To be honest we're only now picking up interest in this season of Idol, and on my part that's based on the vocal stylings of Elise who is far and away the classiest thing on the show. She killed on Whole Lotta Love - something I never thought I would write of any contestant in the competition.

In fact, it's interesting to see the extent to which the nature of the programme has changed. Elise herself, for those of us in the know, already had a considerable reputation as a vocalist at the proggy end of things, for example. She's on Idol as a kind of oblique career-move, I reckon, and more power to her elbow. It's nice to see people of real talent exploiting the exploitative side of the goggle-box in this manner.