Saturday, June 30, 2012

Houseguest 2

The little guy is now sleeping. A state for which there is much to be said.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Matters Of Faith

Quite an eventful afternoon. Initially I thought my trip to the mosque would be purely routine. Certainly it was business as usual going in. But things got a bit more complicated on the way out. It had begun to rain, despite the beautifully clear skies we had enjoyed all morning, about midway through proceedings, and it was coming down hard as I exited. And then I discovered that someone had decided to help themselves to my footwear before I could get to them. I was then faced with a bit of an ethical dilemma, and I'm not going to say how I solved it, basically because I don't know that I did. Ethically, that is.

Then it was off to Orchard Road with Noi and Afnan so they could entertain themselves in Toyareus (or whatever it's called) whilst I enjoyed a cuppa and chinwag with Tony (Jamal) Green, my opportunity to tell him how much I enjoyed the manuscript he'd passed me at the beginning of the month and attempt some constructive criticism. I must say, nothing has changed my mind that if this were published it stands a real chance of bestsellerdom.

Mind you, achieving such a state might not necessarily be an entirely good thing. One subject we touched upon in the course of our conversation was the difficulty of combining money and religion. Take it from me, they are not entirely incompatible, but essentially they don't mix too well.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sheer Pleasure

What with work and the attentions of our houseguest I haven't really settled into any reading since coming back from Malaysia. Whilst we were there I found myself enjoying whatever came to hand and having to stop myself from reading too quickly. I zoomed through Alfian Sa'at's Malay Sketches, completing the vignettes therein in just a couple of days, for example. In fact, I'm intending to buy a couple more copies to give to Karen & Rozita. More people should read this.

And then there was my happy discovery of a number of Chesterton's Father Brown stories I'd forgotten I owned. Funnily enough I had happened to listen to one of the stories on the plane coming back from England in April and was thinking then how I needed to renew my acquaintance. The least realistic detective stories ever written, but possibly among the most perceptive. Certainly up there amongst the most entertaining.

I also cleared my back copies of the Times Literary Supplement (just one, that I bought whilst back in England) and the New York Review of Books (which I now get cheaper than I used to from Holland Village.) Time well spent, I reckon - busy doing not very much.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Now up to Sonnet 41 on the 2012 Shakespeare Sonnet read-through, and very pleased with myself for having discovered this way of approaching the Bard at his most personal. (As a result of Don Paterson's persuasiveness on this matter, I have to regard the sequence as definitely a personal outpouring rather than a kind of poetic drama enacted at arm's length, as it were.)

It's chastening to realise just how little I really knew the sonnets as a sequence, but it's as a sequence they need to be read, just as a really great album needs to be listened to in the sequence finally agreed upon by its makers (in the days when such things counted.) Sonnet 18, always a personal favourite, comes even more blazingly to life, for example, as it goes in a new direction from the first seventeen. Suddenly it's not just beautiful in itself, but a breakthrough into the previously unthinkable - and it thrills.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Houseguest 1

The latest addition to our household doesn't seem terribly impressed with the household. Hence the rather serious expressions above. But on the whole we are coping. Or, rather, the Missus is. I'm just taking pictures.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Family Concerns

We've just got back from visiting the cemetery in which Abah and Nenek are buried, and then arranging for Aziz to get a hard mattress to lie on when he comes out of hospital. We visited him yesterday in the main hospital at Melaka where he's lying with what looks to me, speaking from bitter experience, as a slipped disk. When we saw him at the shop on Thursday he was complaining of a back problem and it's obviously escalated since then. Now he can barely sit up, poor guy.

And later it seems we will be taking back to Singapore with us a houseguest, in the shape of Rozaidah's little one, Afnan, who'll need to stay with us - assuming the arrangement works - whilst his mother is hospitalised to ensure the safe development of her second pregnancy. Just how the child reacts to being taken away by two strangers, almost, remains to be seen. I'm cheerfully confident Noi will find a way to cope, even if I can't.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Perils Of Sincerity

The fact that I was drawn back for a small part of the day to the kind of nasty commentary various bloggers and others who post on the Internet indulge in, of the sort I criticised yesterday, may well represent an unpleasant failing of my personality. But I've found myself trying to concoct at least some justification for looking at this stuff, possibly just to salvage a little self respect, and this is what I've managed: reading such material is a way of learning about the nature of our species.

And what have I learnt, apart from the obvious, that as a species we are generally not very nice?

Well one thing I've noticed is the frequency with which posters ill-disposed towards each other attribute motives to their opponents (not very admirable ones) for the claims they are making, as a way of undercutting such claims. Now ad hominem attacks can be recognised by anyone, but my (I hope) deeper point is that those making the accusations often clearly believe what they are saying and see themselves as performing some kind of public duty in exposing the truth about the opposition. It's their sincerity that's driving them to be nasty. From the particular imbroglio I have been perusing of late I'll mention two such revelations about the opposition (one from each rather grey side of the fracas.)

1) S/he claims to be defending women but is an attention seeker who makes controversial comments to garner popularity with those likely to agree with such comments.

2) S/he claims to be defending women but is unaware of being in thrall to a patriarchal system in a way that invalidates all such 'defences' rendering them entirely spurious.

Now I have a suggestion to make (to myself, really, as much as anyone else) that I think can be helpful in life. In most cases it's a good idea to accept people at face value with regard to the motives they claim to be the basis of their behaviour. This is quite a tricky thing to do, especially when you are pretty sure they are deceiving you or themselves or both, but it can pay dividends in establishing a sense of civility. And once you are on civil terms it's surprising how often you can genuinely make progress in actually dealing with whatever it is that needs to be dealt with.

We're so used to regarding people as essentially ignoble (for very good reasons, alas) we ignore the possibility of eliciting nobility through a kind of cunning. And if you are assuming I am advocating a degree of insincerity in one's personal dealings, well, yes, I rather think I am. More than a degree, I reckon.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Spent some part of the afternoon aimlessly reading all sorts of unpleasantly vituperous material on various blogs from folk who one might consider reasonably intelligent. Gosh, people can be quite extraordinarily nasty to each other, especially from the safety of an Internet connection. Then picked up William James's civilised, genuinely intelligent Pragmatism with an enormous sense of relief, simply related to reading something that didn't feel like mental pollution.

That old saying, You'll be known by the company you keep, suddenly seemed peculiarly applicable.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

In The Night Kitchen

Spent the evening at Chez Aziz, peacefully, somewhere off the beaten track. A good place to be.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Still Wild

Ah Seng was here again today, with a little team, to do a bit of repair work to our roof. The main purpose of this is to seal a hole that Noi thought some birds had been using to gain ingress in order to make a nest up there. Her suspicions had been roused by odd bits of twigs appearing on the patio, and they proved to be justified. The nest has now been cleared, leaving me feeling slightly guilty for dealing so ruthlessly with our little uninvited guests.

Noi also put me right on the gender of the leader of the musang (or musangs? - does it take this plural?) we encountered the other day. She reckons it was a mother leading out her family and I'm happy to bow to her superior reasoning on this.

Anyway, we'll be leaving our wild friends behind as we're setting off for Melaka soon. Mind you, we've seen wild pigs there, at the back of Mak's house, so with luck our wild encounters will continue.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Going Wild

The two squirrels who've been visiting us, on a daily basis, appear to becoming more comfortable regarding our presence in what I suspect they think of as their home. It's true they are wont to disappear down the drain when we stare out at them, but they usually reappear quite quickly to continue with their squirrelly business.

And then last night, approaching midnight, Noi called me into the bedroom to look out the window at another temporary resident of the area, five in fact. And bigger than our squirrels. We took them to be a family, squeaking away conversationally, climbing the tree adjacent to our fence, with one, the leader by the looks of him, balancing on the telephone wire above it. Rather foolishly I told Noi I thought they were lemurs, only discovering in the cold light of today that lemurs are native to Madagascar and don't get around much. Our contractor Ah Seng more accurately identified them as musang, also known as toddy cats.

But before Ah Seng had even arrived today we'd also seen a monkey doing a balancing act on the same telephone wire, to complete the menagerie, at least for the moment.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Hat, Finished

Just watched the DVD of Sondheim's Sunday In The Park With George. Karen leant it to me to watch in KL, and I happily fulfilled the commission. I've seen the same production some years ago, on television surprisingly, and it was nice to watch it again in my own time as it were.

An odd show. Carrying almost too much emotion (or is it sometimes sentiment?) for its own good. When Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters belt into Moving On you know that somehow this is deeply significant to the writers of the show, but it's very difficult to pin down exactly in what way we are intended to take that significance. A number of worthwhile things are said about art, especially the making of it, in the course of the show, often in peculiarly stabbing moments, but despite the obvious attention to the design as a whole I'm not sure it all coheres.

Mind you, I don't think that matters over much. One just feels like applauding the sheer ambition of the piece. And I'm not talking here about the technicalities of the staging. Rather I'm thinking of the attempt to deal intelligently with themes you don't normally see even glanced at on the Broadway stage.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Wayward As Ever

Just completed O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Not his absolute best, but inherently powerful storyline which works despite the melodramatic elements - perhaps because of them? Can't imagine it staged though. And isn't it odd that despite his being so thoroughly a man of the theatre O'Neill writes such impossible stage directions? Where do you find three actors who look like they really do belong to the same family for the three key roles? I suppose the most a director can do is attempt to get close to what was going on in the dramatist's fevered imagination and hope the audience succumbs to the same fever.

Actually I meant to read the three plays that make up Mourning a while back, but I got side-tracked by a variety of other enticing items. I'm in that sort of mood in which almost everything I open grabs my attention, at least for a short while and I've sort of surrendered to that, at least for the time being. But I've decided to give my reading of Don Paterson's entertaining commentary on Shakespeare's sonnets a bit of necessary discipline. I raced through his comments on the first thirty sonnets and realised I wasn't actually focusing on the sonnets themselves, just the commentary. So I forced myself to stop, pulled my favourite edition of the sonnets off the shelf - this being the one edited by John Kerrigan in the New Penguin Shakespeare, which contains extremely detailed notes on each poem - and started at the beginning, reading each sonnet in detail, then Kerrigan's notes, then Paterson's comments, and then the sonnet again. I can only manage two sonnets a day this way, but at least it feels like I'm really reading them, rather than using them as a kind of background music.

I've got a fair amount of other stuff on the boil as well, too much really. Business as usual, I suppose.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Sporting Life

I didn't bother watching the early games in Euro 2012. We were still in Singapore when the whole thing started and I hadn't bothered paying the excessive fees to get the tv coverage. My intention was to start watching here in KL where Astro provides excellent coverage, free of charge, thank you. And I'm talking about watching at civilised times during the day rather than embracing the live experience.

Oddly enough I thought from the beginning that England might put up a fair showing. It's useful to have so much going against you in psychological terms. Just watched the Sweden game and thought I saw plenty of promising signs, though I'm not convinced that Danny Welbeck genuinely knew where the ball was actually going for the winner. But the point is that that's the kind of thing that doesn't matter as long as you get the points and Hodgson is canny enough to know that.

To be honest though, the real pleasure is watching Spain play the game as it's intended to be played. Which is not the way the Irish play it - so it was good to see them get duly slaughtered. I still feel guilty about how happy I was when the Swiss beat Spain in the first round of the last Euro tournament, despite how brilliant the Spanish were in that game. But that's the downside of the beautiful game. You don't have to play particularly beautifully to get your name on the trophy.

Friday, June 15, 2012


The last time we were here, just after Good Friday in early April, we had a bit of a problem with the alarm system. We had it serviced by the company that originally installed it, but when we were already on our way to Melaka we got a call from our neighbours telling us the thing had gone off. Back we came, fortunately having stopped off at Times Square in the city to do a bit of shopping, so we weren't so far away; unfortunately the system couldn't be silenced and re-set, so I had to follow the installers' instructions given to me over the phone (only just audible with the sirens whooping away) in order to disengage the battery to shut-down the whole thing. And that's how we left it. Meaning we haven't felt exactly secure about the house since then.

In case you're thinking that Kuala Lumpur is a crime-free zone leaving us relatively untroubled by our lack of protection, you couldn't be more wrong. The guy living across the road was once held up by burglars in the middle of the night, and this despite the presence of security on the Taman. And it wouldn't be difficult to cite further recent instances of villainy in the city generally. Frankly we're always on the alert here no matter where we are.

But we've been lucky so far in the ten years we've had this place, considering that for something like nine years of that time we've not been on the premises. And we've just been lucky again. - Long may that continue.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

All In Order

It's that time of year when I contribute to the well-being of Maison KL by vacuuming all the books on the shelves in the downstairs bedroom. As the years have passed and the shelves have gradually filled, this has now become a major task. My neck and shoulders ache, but the fascist in me is supremely satisfied by the sense of everything being put in its place.

And the reader in me looks forward to making further in-roads into the riches I have somehow come to possess.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Just had Brahms banging away, though at a fairly gentle volume, in deference to the Missus, who's lying stretched out on the sofa.The first symphony, since you ask. Love the big tune in the final movement and the sheer heroism of it all. But what a thick, portentous sound he seemed to want. No wonder he's thought of as such a heavy cove.

And now there's just the shimmering final heat of the day and the usual number of over-excited birds outside. The peace here is never peaceful. And the green of the vegetation is curiously blue at times. Two kids rattling down the road outside the fence, their little bikes balanced by training wheels.

We had two squirrels on the garden path earlier.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


It's been a gratefully unhurried morning spent preparing for what is intended to be an unhurried journey north. Looking forward to toast and teh tarik at the ARAB cafe. Sometimes you need a target to aim for.

Postscript: rather more flies at Ayer Keroh than we might normally expect. According to Aziz, because a chicken farm is now in operation near the highway services. But otherwise a satisfyingly smooth journey with a house in reasonable order at the other end. Except for all the dead lizards.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Now considering what to take up to KL tomorrow for our June jaunt. Went to change some Sing dollars for ringgit this evening down Orchard Road, Lucky Plaza actually, where the rates are reasonable, and found myself in Kinokuniya, led there by the Missus herself who wanted to look at the magazines they had in stock. Finally found a copy of Alfian Sa'at's Malay Sketches and very handsome it is, with excellent illustrations by Shahril Nizam. Ethos books have a winner here, I hope. Read the first four sketches on the bus back - they're all very short - and loved each one.

Also read Don Paterson's introduction to his Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets and his commentary on Sonnet 1 on the same bus. This was one I just couldn't not buy. Paterson's Rain is the best collection of poems I've read for quite a while, so you can call me a fan there, and I'd heard so many positive things about his book on the sonnets, and I just watched my DVD of As You Like It (as performed at the Globe) this afternoon. I had no resistance to offer, so I didn't (offer any.)

So that's two books on the packing list so far, but still there's room and thinking to be done. And I've still not begun to consider the CDs and DVDs that will make the journey north. Yikes.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Sense Of Humour

Funny to think that Shakespeare and his contemporaries based their understanding of human psychology on a theory of 'humours' that was entirely wrong. How did they ever come to be so dazzling in their insights? I suppose it was above all their analysis of Melancholia that rings so true across the centuries. As if they had divined something new yet ancient about the soul and the human condition.

I was mulling over this whilst reading Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. A completely over-the-top-and-down-the-other-side drama that manages to shed light on the darkest places of the soul. The fact that it is never too far from the ridiculous actually adds to its power. You come away from it feeling oddly guilty, as if disturbed by the contents of a dream that tells you rather more about yourself than you really want to know.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Real Hunger

Saddened to read today of the death of Barry Unsworth. The one Booker prizewinner of recent years that I would recommend to any reader with no hesitation is Sacred Hunger (and it had to share the award instead of winning it outright.) The novel has everything: gripping story, fine characterisation, powerful themes, and readability. Why they've never made the movie I don't know - though I'm rather relieved they didn't - except for the fact it would have brought more readers to this superb novel.

You don't see Unsworth on lists of texts studied and the like, which is odd because the novels are ripe for use in the classroom. A bit like Golding methinks. Morality Play is another that springs to mind in that regard.

We are blessed to live in an age when there are no obvious great writers but a heck of a lot of very, very good ones.

Friday, June 8, 2012

On The Heights

High living today, with high tea, courtesy of the Missus. It just doesn't get any better. Evidence above.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sold Out

Went to Books Actually this afternoon for the express purpose of buying Alfian Sa'at's Malay Sketches only to be told they had no more in stock. Oddly this made me feel quite happy. It's good to think that it's selling well. They had quite a few copies of One Fierce Hour and A History of Amnesia around though, so if you're a poetry fan and live in this Far Place I suggest you buy your copies now - easily the best poetry published here for the last twenty years, I reckon.

I have high expectations of his latest book, by the way. These are based partly on the fact he's a very talented writer. Partly on the fact that taking on the whole notion of Malay identity in such a direct manner suggests he's really got something to say. And most of all on the fact that his three page story featured in the Coast anthology I've been reading lately is easily the best thing in it. Deceptively simple, taut, beautifully modulated, and a great ending.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Not So Amusing

Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves To Death is the kind of book I thought of myself as having read even though I hadn’t. Until yesterday, that is, when I finally read it. Ironically it proved to be exactly what I assumed it was (from reviews, mentions in articles, people’s references here and there, the whole zeitgeist, I guess), that being an insightful, though slightly over-the-top, attack on what passes for culture in modern America.

I can’t honestly say I found any of the ideas illuminating since they seemed so obvious. But I was pleased to come across a forceful paragraph or two on the perils of reducing education to entertainment. Not that what Postman wrote back in 1985 has made any difference to that process. Mind you, nothing I’ve said has made any difference either, so there you are. Great minds ignored alike.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Happily Melancholic

Bumped into Bernard in the staffroom today. I popped in to get a bit of stuff out of the way and I presume he's around to start clearing his desk. He's leaving us soon (sob, sob) and I wasn't too sure when, until he told me that he's flying off next Monday. I'll miss him for a variety of reasons, his ready wit and repartee being high on the list.

To my surprise he gave me a June Tabor CD entitled Ashore. It seems he bought several to spread around friends and acquaintances since he rates it so highly (a measure of the generosity of the man) and wondered whether I fancied one. As a Tabor fan of long-standing I gobbled it up, I can tell you. (Especially having noticed it contained a version of Elvis's Shipbuilding.)

I did wonder if it was going to be synthesiser dominated, as the folk-queen's recordings were in the late-eighties - the last time I'd really listened to her (partly because much as I loved the voice I didn't care for the production.) But putting it on as soon as I got back, my fears were allayed. Beautiful, spare settings - especially gorgeous piano - for the smokiest voice ever.

So I sat there feeling sad about a colleague and friend leaving, and happily luxuriating in some of the saddest music ever recorded.

Monday, June 4, 2012

On The Bottle

O'Neill's The Great God Brown is a truly dreadful play, on paper at least. I'd certainly pay to watch it though, just to see how someone might manage to get the thing on stage. There's all this weird stuff with masks and one main character imitating another behind one such mask (or maybe more; it's tricky keeping count) that would really test anyone's acting chops. How did they ever stage it originally without the audience chuckling throughout? And the dialogue in places (many places) is so sensationally bad it enters a new dimension. It's not so much over the top as out there in the stratosphere, floating beyond human ken.

At one particularly fruity moment I thought I recognised one of the lines, something about God being glue, but since I knew I'd never read the play before I just dismissed this as an odd coincidence. Then late last night I happened to pick up Dardis's book The Thirsty Muse, which I've mentioned here before when ranting about Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night, just to see if Dardis had anything specific to say about particular plays in his excellent and extremely enlightening account of O'Neill's alcoholism. He does, absolutely slamming The Great God Brown as an example of O'Neill losing all artistic control due to his drinking (which was phenomenal, believe me). And the offending line was there. It must have stuck in my memory somehow.

Not that any of this has put me off the world's least talented great writer. Because he is great, as I joyfully discovered when teaching Long Day's Journey Into Night and going on to read The Iceman Cometh and Moon For The Misbegotten in that first great surge of discovery. Now I'm lining up Mourning Becomes Electra since Dardis rates the three plays very highly as part of O'Neill's wonderful final dry period.

Reading of how O'Neill held it together in those final terrible years can only fill one with wonder at his grim triumph, if the experience of Long Day's Journey wasn't wonder enough already.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Big Screen

We're just back from the cinema, having viewed our first movie of the year (and probably our last, given our general average of one outing to the pictures annually.) This time it was Noi's idea. She'd read something about fairly famous British thespians making a film in India, and found it suitably intriguing, so off we went to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (I think it was called) and a jolly time we had. Great cast in an unpretentious outing, looking like they enjoyed themselves. Didn't try to be earth-shattering so succeeded in being quietly impressive. The Brits are good at that sort of thing.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


I've decided to devote some of my reading time in June to plays. To that end, and because I'll be teaching it the back end of next term, I read Athol Fugard's wonderful "Master Harold"... and the boys today. Time well spent. A small piece with such big ideas. And how well it survives its period - almost as if apartheid becomes a metaphor for something deeper than its narrow, tawdry self. Tremendous emotional wallop. I'd love to see it staged but never had the opportunity - so it just plays in my head, which is sometimes enough.

Moved on immediately to O'Neill's All God's Chillun Got Wings. I suppose because I was interested in another white writer and his treatment of race (from an age when a lack of authenticity seems guaranteed. We'll see.) And because I have a huge soft spot for O'Neill - surely the least gifted of all the truly great writers.

Finished Tony's manuscript, by the way - a testimony to its readability. Looking forward to letting him know just how good I thought it was, but trying to think of some useful criticisms to help him along. Always difficult when you've really loved something.

Friday, June 1, 2012


Got a phone-call from friend Tony (Jamal) Green the other day. As a result of last year's move from the Mansion and new e-mail addresses and the like, I'd foolishly lost touch with him, so it was a most welcome call. We're intending to get together to mull over a cuppa and have a bit of a chin-wag soon, but prior to our meeting Tony asked me to cast my eyes over a manuscript of a book he'd written, if I could afford the time. I readily agreed, this being a particularly good time to allow my reading to be hijacked in a good cause, and suspecting that whatever Tony had come up with was likely to be of more than a little interest. He filled me in with a bit of background on his having tried to put together something for a Western readership related to his experience of Islam in an attempt to find ideas worth sharing, as it were, between the worlds we both, to some degree, straddle.

The manuscript arrived yesterday and I'm already two-thirds of the way through, simply because I can't put it down. It really is that good. Of course, I'm as far away from being an unbiased judge in this regard as you can get, but with whatever objectivity I can muster on something so close to my heart I'll just say I can conceive of this really selling, and, more importantly, really spreading light where light is desperately needed.

Essentially Finding Common Ground (working title only, and one of two at that) reads something like the kind of thing you'd find on the Self Help shelves, but it draws on what is best in that kind of writing and uses it to the noblest end I can think of. I found myself more than once thinking, yes, that's exactly it, that's exactly what I would like to have said, that's what needs to be said - and aware that it was being said in the best possible way, the way of utter sincerity.

Most of all, Tony's writing made me think - think about my faith and the actions, and lack of actions, resulting thereof. Painful. Necessary.