Monday, March 31, 2014

Down The Road

Spent some time today considering what might lie ahead of me in terms of what I'll be reading up to the middle of the year. Normally I don't really try to figure things out like this, except for drawing up an occasional list of what I'm engaged in reading to remind myself to at least clear the way rather than just adding to the load. (That makes it all sound like a bit of a burden - which it isn't. It's more in the way of a commitment to control my skittish mind.) Today's figuring out is very much related to the fact we'll be in Saudi Arabia in fabled places in June, insya'allah, and some Islamic-themed reading is distinctly in order to add texture to the trip.

So it's my intention to pick up a very fine collection of excerpts of accounts of the Haj over the centuries that resides on the shelves in Maison KL, edited by that guy who wrote his own account of the Haj, somebody-or-other Wolfe, in the late 1990s. We've got an opportunity to travel north over the long weekend for Good Friday and I'm hoping to pick up the book, which I've extensively dipped into previously but never read cover-to-cover, and that's to be accompanied by one or two other texts focusing upon my faith, though I haven't yet worked out what they'll be - rereads or something fresh.

I haven't been reading any novels of late since completing Quixote, and I'm thinking of not touching anything in that line until 2014 Part 2. My main reading of late has been Christopher Hill's interesting little book on England's greatest monarch (well, not quite) God's Englishman. Cromwell has never exactly been a hero of mine, but it's easy to imagine why he might figure in someone else's pantheon of the great and good. I'm intending to finish this in a couple of days and then make headway in the splendid Symborska collection that I've been falling back on for poetic delights. Gosh, is she good! But dense. You need to be at full brain power even reading in a fairly relaxed manner. I should be eating lots of fish for this one.

I've also got it in mind to do justice to the other poetic material I purchased with my book tokens last year - Duffy, Armitage and Simic are all on the way. Fortunately I've not been asked to do any workshop for a Lit Seminar this year (maybe they've given up on me?) so I won't feel the weight of further tomes to clear come August. And then I've got one or two collections of poets local to this Far Place to do justice to. Oh, and I'm keen on tackling a few plays in any gaps I encounter. I sort of accidentally started reading something dramatic by Alfian Sa'at and, predictably, couldn't stop.

Blimey, that's already a bit overwhelming, eh? And I've missed a couple of things out just because I am overwhelmed and it's time to eat.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Slipping Up

Our class for the Haj has resumed on Sunday mornings after a brief hiatus in which our ustad has been accompanying a group for the Umrah (small pilgrimage) in March. As he was describing the process of leaving for the airport for the great journey I noticed Ustad Haroun using the odd verb formation departuring, as he has done so on previous occasions, the class, by the way, being conducted in both English and Malay, with our teacher jumping from one to another almost sentence by sentence. Today it struck me that there might be some interesting if unconscious reasons behind his neologism. After all, setting out on this occasion is not just a matter of leaving, or even departing. You are on your way to the departure lounge of the airport for what some might see as the ultimate destination, and so the simple action of walking out from the house deserves a grandiloquent polysyllable, and departuring has real weight, no?

Once upon a time mistakes of expression in the English language would, at some level, have grated upon me. Over time I've grown in charity - necessarily so, for the ustad's ability to switch between languages whilst firing off a series of quips in both is deeply impressive and humbling, such that charity is more than in order. But now I find myself actually relishing errors. I wonder how long it might be before our dictionaries find room for departuring?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Shining On Brightly

Just back from a brisk walk around our locale with the Missus. At one point, passing a new office block on North Buena Vista Road she asked: Are there people working up there, or are the lights just for show? I'm afraid the answer lay in the latter part of her astute question. You wouldn't think this is the weekend of the year on which we're meant to be observing Earth Hour, would you?

Mind you, this Far Place is so excessively bright all the year round that it might be deemed somewhat hypocritical to dim the lights just for an hour. Certainly we enjoyed our walk, there being much to commend about this area, above all the fact that we felt entirely safe wherever we went. But the achievements of the city are surely undercut to a considerable degree by the sense of waste one feels at so much of what is on display.

It didn't help that I was already in a negative frame of mind on this matter upon realising that an initiative to go digital as far as telly viewing is concerned means we'll have to off-load two perfectly good sets. I don't mind having to shell out for new ones; it's just the thought that I was perfectly happy with what we'd already got that adds to my unpleasant sense of the sheer futile waste involved. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Changing Minds

I used to think that meaning could only be mediated through language. More and more I find myself aware of how often language points at a meaning which lies beyond utterance. Shakespeare knows this more than any writer I can think of. Sometimes, most times, we can only Love, and be silent.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The New Normal

Caught something in the news today about problems of people being overweight in the UK. It seems that the average weight of the population is now over-weight, which means that many who are over-weight don't realise this is the case as they are, well, average. Wasn't entirely surprised about this. Whenever we've been back there over the last ten years I've had a distinct sense of looking at people who are generally bigger than they used to be.

I don't think this has anything to do with greed per se. I reckon it's just a matter of the easy availability of food. When I was a little lad there just wasn't that much food around, strange as it may seem to say. We had a fridge, but there wasn't much in it, and there weren't too many places to buy stuff to fill it - no supermarkets, just the grocery shop around the corner. We didn't go hungry, but food wasn't that prominent in our lives. Kids who were over-weight were really the exceptions.

I hate to sound defeatist, but I really can't see any way in which obesity rates can be controlled in any developed nation. And since, according to those who understand these things, this is likely to lead to a health crisis, we'd better brace ourselves.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On The Surface

Across the surface of things float bubbles of meaning. Catching the light they shine, iridescent. Then vanish.

Yep - it's been a looong day.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Doing Something Else Well

Over the last three years or so I have occasionally found myself caught up in what I believe are sometimes referred to as 'flame wars'; I'm referring to vociferous disagreements manifesting themselves on-line in the comments pages of various blogs and such like. I've never become actively involved in such situations myself - I pride myself on being too sensible to waste my time in such a manner - but I must admit I've sometimes found it difficult to tear myself away from the sheer human nastiness of it all. I suppose I convinced myself there was something to learn from all this, but the only thing I really found out was something I've known all along: people are incredibly stupid and don't mind demonstrating that fact. The fact that the majority of the nastiness I've observed happens to have come from folks with an academic background (quite a number earning their living in departments of philosophy) simply confirms that folly flourishes everywhere and extravagantly well amongst those gifted with real brain power.

But over the last two or three weeks I've been enjoying an on-line debate conducted with both huge amounts of brain power and a sense of courteous civility that suggests there's real hope even for the cleverest amongst us. And even more positively the debate grew out of what were initially some distinctly acrimonious exchanges. The disputants are Prof Ed Feser, representing the theists amongst us, and Prof Keith Parsons, on the side of the robust secularists. If you fancy something that goes beyond the gratuitous inanities of the new atheists go to this page at The Secular Outpost that provides the links to the on-going discussion. What a relief to read something that manages to shed more light than heat. There might well be hope for us after all.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Doing Something Well

I got in from work this afternoon and switched on the news to find myself watching the day's press conference on the missing flight. The minister involved was taking questions and switching between Malay and English depending on the language used by the reporter addressing him at that point. It struck me immediately that this was a tricky bit of broadcasting with regard to Sky News who were carrying the conference live. After all the domestic British audience, indeed the international audience that I assume the broadcast now reaches and of which I am one, would be unable to make much at all of the passages in Malay (embarrassingly for me!) and there was no interpreter on hand to do an instant translation. The solution was tricky but elegantly executed: the anchor lady asked questions of a couple of experts at hand in the studio as the live feed from the conference played and we heard their voices discussing various aspects of the situation until the questions and answers reverted to English. Remarkably this was handled seamlessly. The information given was genuinely interesting and there was no sense at all of the studio commentary detracting from the primary importance of the press conference.

So far, so good, insofar as anything good comes out of fundamentally bad news. But what really struck me was a moment in which the aviation expert being addressed (who really knew his stuff) talked about the hopeful news of wreckage being found. In context it was entirely clear what he meant, he wasn't being crass in any sense, but I found myself wondering briefly if the families of the passengers and crew waiting for news of their loved ones, would see the development as hopeful. Then, slightly to my surprise, the anchor sort of echoed this thought, but in a very tactful manner, with real consideration of how hurtful these findings might prove but, rightfully, with no sense of any criticism of what the expert was saying. To manifest this level of tact and understanding on several levels in what must be the high pressure environment of a news studio live on air seemed to me the height of professionalism.

We are exposed all the time to people doing their jobs well. I'm all for being critical of those who provide the news, indeed of any profession you care to name, but I think it's wise to recognise quality and applaud it sometimes.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Crashing Down

Lots of prominence given in KL to the missing MH370, particularly in the form of injunctions to prayer, but also in terms of coverage on the local news. The more cutting aspects of the general news coverage in terms of criticism of the authorities are glossed over, of course, but the genuine concern for the sufferings of the families and relatives of those on board the flight is palpable. It's so easy to identify with their situations, though, fortunately, hard to grasp the reality of the pain they must be feeling.

I'm reminded of what I think was my first real awareness of the kind of devastation involved in this kind of tragedy, and, strangely enough, I actually saw the doomed aircraft on that occasion, just minutes before it crashed. I can see it in my mind now.

It was back in 1967, a Sunday in June. A flight on its way from Spain to Manchester's Ringway Airport crashed in the middle of Stockport, killing most of the passengers on board - more than 70 (but fortunately, miraculously, killing no one on the ground. ) The newspapers in the days that followed published pictures of all the victims with enough detail about each to make you feel you almost knew them. 

I was on my way to church, St Paul's at Guide Bridge, standing at the top of Guide Bridge where the railway station used to be. I was with my friend Chris Conroy when the plane came over. It was obviously flying incredibly low. We could almost make out the faces at the windows, and we waved to them. It never occurred to us that there was going to be a crash, but when we found out about the plane coming down we weren't surprised. It explained everything. I can't recall much sound being involved which makes me now wonder if the engines were off - I know the plane came down due to lack of fuel.

I think we were the only people on Guide Lane to see the doomed flight cross over. There wasn't anyone around for us to express our surprise and ironic delight to, in seeing the plane so close-up. Sunday mornings were generally quiet in those days.

Some stories have no happy ending.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Getting Away

Our brief sojourn in KL is almost at an end. We're packing for an over-night stay at Mak's house in Melaka, and then it will be off to grapple with the slithery Toad, work, in our usual Far Place. Although we've been around here regularly over the last couple of years, and managed to get a lot of work done on the house and its surrounds, it doesn't seem like we've had a protracted visit for quite some time, as in those days of several weeks spent here with the girls and various other visitors. I miss those times, but what goes around surely comes around, as they enigmatically claim.

Noi has applied herself with her customary vigour to cleaning everything that needed to be cleaned in our brief time here. It's quite remarkable in what good shape she's maintained the place over the years. I have simply applied myself to lounging around in an attempt to feel rested ahead of the term to come. But, funnily enough, despite sleeping well and doing as little as I have been reasonably able, I still haven't managed to shake off the thick head with which I arrived.

Part of me doesn't really want to move at all, of course, but we are ordered into motion before any rest might be ordained.

Friday, March 21, 2014

New Worlds

Found ourselves established in Maison KL yesterday evening in time for me to read the final pages of Don Quixote here, and return my sixty-year-old copy to the shelves from whence it came. Was surprised to be reminded just how quickly Cervantes has his final illness descend upon our knight errant. Before my most recent reading I tended, from what I could remember, to think of the chapters as setting a richly melancholy tone after Don Quixote's defeat by the White Knight, but actually there's quite a bit of lively talk about setting up as arcadian shepherds whilst the one year penalty for his defeat is waited out. It's only with the beginning of the brief final chapter that we learn of the death of our hero, and this was not in any sense inevitable from preceding events - there's no sense of him pining away.

Cervantes handles this masterfully, it seems to me, as he does everything in Part 2. There is a minimum of sentimentality about the death of our hero, and a maximum of feeling. Following his defeat in the joust there is a powerful symbolic sense of events hurrying to their necessary close, but this does not translate into the kind of lingering wistfulness we are so familiar with these days from the movies and their like. I also got the feeling that Cervantes had recognised long before this, possibly towards the end of Part 1, that he was no longer creating characters in the usual sense, but rather knew he had been gifted archetypes that had a kind of existence beyond his text - and I don't just mean in the rival account of the Don's adventures he has such a good time lampooning towards the end of Part 2. My guess is that Cervantes knew he could keep up the dialogue between Sancho and his master for as long as he liked, the adventures themselves always being secondary to the characters' reflections upon them - and sought closure simply when he recognised time was running out for their creator.

I also finished the third book in The Saga of the Swamp Thing today, my holiday reading in the simplest sense of blissfully soaking up the purest, most effortless pleasure that fiction can afford. I must say, I am baffled by the fact that so many folks just don't seem to really read at all. What would life be like without other worlds to escape to?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Back On The Road Again

Now preparing to head north for a longish weekend. Head thick, nose blocked, throat rasping: but I've been in worse shape. And there's the promise of a couple of days ahead lying-in. Yowza!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

No Sense Of Belonging

The year began with a distinct lack of a script for an up-coming drama performance for the Singapore Youth Festival judging (not sure if they still call it that) due in late April. That situation has now been corrected and we actually have a script which might be reasonably referred to as finished - though subject to change, of course.

As to how we got to this point? Certainly not by a straight path. Indeed, what we're now doing was not even on my radar as the year began. I'd be hard-pressed to know who generated the basic concept behind our little piece - it just emerged out of various experiments at generating a storyline - and I reckon that it's almost impossible to say now where or who the various bits that constitute the whole came from. But it's nice to think of various drama guys sitting back at moments and thinking that was my idea really even as we all know that what we've got belongs to nobody and everybody.

It's the truly collaborative aspect of theatre that makes me love doing this stuff.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Running Down

Halfway into the vacation week, almost, and the work continues relentless. It will sort of stop tomorrow afternoon though, insofar as it does stop, and I will be able to breathe a little. I think I may develop a bad cold by then. I sense I'm at some sort of limit.

No one said this was going to be easy and no one was, as usual, entirely correct. Oh hum.

Fortunately the Missus is on top form on the baking front - chocolate muffins today - and that more than compensates for it all.

Monday, March 17, 2014

On The Heights

Now well into the final quarter of the adventures of the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance, and enjoying every moment. It took a while to genuinely get into Cervantes's epic - the digressions in the first half didn't make for entirely gripping reading - but the second book has just gone from strength to strength. It feels like reading Wodehouse in certain ways: you are a happy guest in an enchanted world that you really don't want to leave.

At this point Sancho and the good Don have been temporarily separated with everyone's favourite peasant showing how a kingdom should be ruled in a treatise on governance that effortlessly puts Machiavelli in his place. But the genuinely princely Panza and his tetchy lord will be reunited soon and we can go back for a time to the first spinning place, the garden from which we have all been exiled.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Getting It Wrong

I tend to be somewhat proud of what I consider to be my independence in matters of judgement, especially of an artistic nature, so it's useful to be reminded, if a little painfully, of just how self-deceiving I can be in this particular area.

An instance that's been prominent in my mind of late, for reasons I'll try and explain, is that of my utter under-valuation of a guitarist with whom I've been reasonably familiar since first hearing him on stage and vinyl in the early 1970's. The musician in view is one Robin Trower, guitarist with Procol Harum and later leader of his own guitar, bass and drums trio.
Now if you'd asked me about Mr Trower and his work just ten years ago I would have been airily dismissive of the stuff outside Procol and probably called him a Hendrix-wannabe who produced a series of crowd-pleasing rocking-out albums in the seventies before rightly going out of fashion with the arrival of punk and the new wave which drove such rock dinosaurs to their inevitable extinction. And how did I know this? Sad to say, because I'd read a fair number of critics who said so and taken their opinions on board despite my lack of familiarity with what the trio actually had produced. I had listened to a track or two from the early albums, notably Bridge of Sighs, but the basic power trio seemed a bit passé at the time and, truth to tell, I hadn't listened hard or with my own ears.

Anyway, in recent years I finally started to notice a fair amount of commentary on Trower that took it as read that he was a very fine musician including comments from folks I hold in very high regard, especially one Robert Fripp. Here's what the Frippster found to say about him quite a few years back, a comment that only came to my notice very recently indeed:

Robin Trower is one of the very few English guitarists that have mastered bends and wobbles. Not only has he got inside them, with an instinctive knowing of their affective power, but they went to live inside his hands. It is the rare English guitarist who has been able to stand alongside American guitarists and play with an equal authority to someone grounded in a fundamentally American tradition.

Trower has been widely criticised for his influences. This has never bothered me. I toured America in 1974 with Ten Years After top of the bill, King Crimson second, and Robin Trower bottom. The chart positions were the opposite: TYA in the Billboard 160s, Crimson in the 60s and Trower climbing remorselessly through the top twenty. Nearly every night I went out to listen to him. This was a man who hung himself on the details: the quality of sound, nuances of each inflection and tearing bend, and abandonment to the feel of the moment. He saved my life.

Later, in England, he gave me guitar lessons.

Robert Fripp, Wiltshire, England, 19 November 1996.

So it was that I began to consider getting hold of some of the early albums and really listening. By chance I recently came upon one of those cheapo cheapo collections of 5 CDs at a silly price, in this case comprising the first 5 albums of the trio, including the first live album. And having really listened I am chastened to admit I managed to miss out on a very fine, very tasteful band indeed. Just how the critical consensus got it so wrong I am at a loss to understand, except for the fact that, as we all know, critics are fools. Apart from the fact that Trower is a supremely thoughtful, expressive player who channels the possibilities that Hendrix opened out in some of the directions they needed to go, in James Dewar he found a rock steady bass player with a voice to die for. As good as Paul Rodgers - seriously! 

And I didn't listen to them and never got to see them because I took on board tired, idiotic, second hand, second rate prejudices.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Get Happy

I'm deeply dubious about the whole positive thinking bit, but I do think it's a good idea for people to try and immerse themselves in stuff that's so good it makes you smile just to think of it. Bruce's cover of Royals does exactly that for me. Great song, great version. What's not to like?, as they say.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Dull And Duller

We're suffering what's now become, it seems, the annual haze in this Far Place. The air smells of burning and at certain times of day things look distinctly, well, hazy. But the thing is that I rarely seem to notice this with quite the same intensity as most other folk. Two colleagues were complaining of the smokey air with intensity yesterday evening when I hadn't noticed anything particularly unusual. And I'm not implying they were over-reacting. It's clear that the polluted air causes great discomfort shading into real problems for lots of people. I'm lucky in not being one of them - but I also wonder how much this is due to a dulling of my sense of smell generally. I just don't seem to notice odours with anything like the clarity I recall from my youth.

And then earlier this week I was faced with the awkward realisation that my hearing isn't what it used to be. Some of our science people were demonstrating how high frequency sounds are gradually lost to our perception. The problem was that I didn't hear the sound at a frequency they clearly took for granted everyone in the room could hear. Now it's not that I'm panicking about going deaf, because I don't think I am, but it was chastening to experience the loss of a faculty I suppose I used to possess.

When you add to the above that my eye-sight has never exactly been 20/20, and I need to get up close and personal with a computer screen to read anything on it, it's clear I'm a sad case. The great thing is though that the idea of retreating from the white noise of the world into a little cavern of tranquility holds a deep appeal for me.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Nitty Gritty

I am intensely distrustful of theorising in general and particularly with regard to education. I suppose that's because education is what I do, or try to do, and there's really nothing quite like doing something to keep you grounded in the sad - and happy - realities of human messiness. This is one of the reasons I frequently find myself pouring scorn on the notion of progress in education. As far as I can tell schools continue to do pretty much what schools have always done with the same, predictably, mixed results. A lot of really good stuff, and quite a bit that's, shall we charitably say, not so good.

This is why whenever I am told of glowing results, research that simply proves this and that, and the way to guaranteed success, I take it with rather more than the proverbial pinch of salt. I'm tempted to quote Blake at this point since he's always right about everything, except when he's wonderfully, dazzlingly, wrong. But, failing to think of anything absolutely apposite from every sane person's favourite madman, I'll content myself with the remorselessly sane H.L. Mencken bang on form: For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Crossing The Line

The line between a sensitively judged exploration of emotion and self-indulgent wallowing can be very fine indeed. It's a useful exercise to try and place writers, or any kinds of creative artist, in relation to the line. The only great writer I can think of who regularly (and sometimes disastrously) crosses our hypothetical boundary is Dickens. But the odd thing is that somehow the sentimentality is part of his genius.

And, apropos of nothing, it's interesting how often I find myself having to explain in classrooms in this Far Place that the word sentimental in standard usage has strongly pejorative overtones.

Monday, March 10, 2014

No News, Good News

So much that's been fascinating in the news lately. To name just three on-going stories: the crisis in Ukraine; the mssing Malaysian Airlines jet; the Oscar Pistorius trial. So much anxiety. So much pain. It's hard not to feel like a voyeur, but, for me at least, impossible to turn my eyes from the human condition.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

None The Wiser

An odd sort of coincidence. I happened to be looking back at journal entries from ten years ago (as is my wont) and came across something relating to a workshop I'd just been attending in the first week of March 2004:

After yesterday's workshop I found myself thinking a good deal about the nature of intelligence, its relationship to our ability to think in innovative ways and how we can develop intelligence, or if we do so at all, in the classroom. After teaching for so many years I actually know very little, if anything, about such matters. Isn't that strange?

Now the coincidence lies in the fact that I'll be attending full-day workshops tomorrow and the day after whilst the students occupy themselves at home with what is now termed E-learning. I have the nagging suspicion I'll emerge from the two days as clueless as I sound above with regard to whatever it is we will get up to. Just as a matter of interest, ten years on and reasonably well-read with regard to the central notion of intelligence, I can't say I feel any the wiser.

And at a tangent from all this, if my old mate Tony is reading this I'm sure he'll be chortling at the idea that I think of myself as being in a workshop. A workshop to him is a place with a lot of machinery in which real work gets done. What a strange notion, eh?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Quite Well Versed

I may be limping along with the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance and the good Sancho Panza in Cervantes's epic, but my progress in reading poetic tomes is positively glacial. I moved on a while back from Don Paterson's Nil Nil to my first ever collection by the highly rated Charles Simic, whose essays in the NYRB I've often enjoyed. A Wedding in Hell turned out to be one of those mildly puzzling books that creates its own oddly askew world, of which the reader gradually learns some of the rules, chief amongst which seemed to be: expect the unexpected. Surreal, but gently so, engagingly so. Simic seems to saying important things - it's just that you can't be sure you hear him clearly. The best way to read the poems, I found, was steadily but unhurriedly moving forward, grasping the connections, taking time to reread each poem before leaving it.

And I'm finding something similar with Wislawa Szymborska's Poems New and Collected. I'd heard so many good things about the Nobel laureate and how good the translations were that it hasn't been surprising to find immediately ample evidence of her powers. But I was taken a little by surprise at just how tough to crack some of the early poems are. She's by no means transparent, and shares Simic's curious sense of disconnectedness in some poems - the feeling that very different thought worlds are being jammed together to create an entirely new kind of music. Lots to enjoy, but no point in rushing.

Both collections were among the items I bought last August or September, with the vouchers from the talk I gave for the Lit Seminar. I said then it would probably take me a year to get through the whole lot, and it doesn't look like I was wrong.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Feeling The Strain

For some reason I'm surprised at the degree to which this old frame of mine has been feeling the strain these last few days. There really shouldn't be any sensation of novelty at all about this since I've been here before, with reasonable frequency. Yet somehow the mind within the body manages to forget just how battered that body can feel on occasion. Goodness knows what it would be like if I had any kind of genuinely demanding physical work to do, but somehow walking from classroom to classroom, climbing a few stairs and carrying one or two books leaves me as tired as going eight rounds in the ring with a particularly handy sparring partner.

Yesterday morning I was hit by a back twinge of fairly substantial proportions before the day even got started and it took a good hour of moving in slow motion (and sitting down) before systems returned to anything like normal.

Age isn't just catching up anymore; it long since overtook me and left me trailing behind, like one of those runners who gets lapped time and again but keeps circling because there's no way of exiting the track unobtrusively. I know this all sounds ridiculously self-pitying, but you'll have to forgive me because I've been reading Lear for much of the week and if you can't be a self-pitying old geezer after that, then when can you?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Messing Around

Worked hard today at imposing order on the mess of things. As always, failed. Inevitably.

Any sense of achievement lies in embracing that inevitability.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

In For The Long Haul

I've just passed the half-way mark in Don Quixote. Since I distinctly remember thinking, many years ago on my first reading, that the second part was greatly superior to its forerunner, and since this is undoubtedly the critical consensus, there's a lot to look forward to. In truth, Part 1 made heavy going on occasion, essentially due to the not-necessarily-gripping interpolated tales, and I'm a touch pleased with myself for persevering thus far.

One thing I'm finding myself very conscious of on this reading that I don't think registered quite as intensely the first time round, is Cervantes's obvious enjoyment of the knockabout violence of a good deal of the action. I suppose I thought of this a long time ago as a kind of cartoon violence, not to be taken with any degree of literal seriousness. Now I'm not so sure. I have this uneasy sense that battering a person to the point of insensibility may genuinely have been seen as a rather jolly jape way back when. It all makes the theatre of cruelty look a bit soft around the edges.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Why Worry?

Conversational highlight of the day, a confab with my colleague and namesake, historian Brian John, with regard to the unfolding events in Ukraine. Lots of agreement on a number of matters, but two in particular: this is all a lot more complicated than Fox News would have us believe (but then that's true of almost news story you care to mention); and we all should be not just worried but very worried indeed. (Oh, and it was blindingly obvious to us both that there are no goodies and baddies this time around, but surely any sensible person knows that?)

Brian had a number of illuminating things to say about gas and pipelines and I reckon that any analysis of what's going on and what the various players are up to needs to take account of the generation and supply of this commodity. And we both did a reasonable job of taking matters in the region back to the earlier part of the twentieth century, though we were both well aware there was an awful lot we weren't at all sure of that we knew to be important.

Actually BBC World and Sky News have been doing a pretty good job now and for quite some time in attempting to unfold some of the complexities involved. A very pithy and pertinent summary of the divisions within Ukraine a couple of weeks ago by the one of the Sky team was followed by a wonderfully laconic and honest reminder that he was making the situation all a lot more simple than it actually was to enable viewers to get some kind of handle on events. A reminder that there are some very good journalists and some very bad journalists out there - and it's helpful to recognise the difference between the two.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Out Of Interest

I was sitting in a religious class this morning, learning about procedures for completing the pilgrimage to Makah, when the following question framed itself in my mind: Why do models of the world based on the notion that behaviour borne of simple self-interest must be a kind of determinant of our specie make less and less sense as one grows older? I now offer it to the world as evidence of a wandering yet engaged mind.

By the way, there's a lot of humour involved in our Sunday morning class, courtesy of Ustad Haron, and much consideration of the merits of various foodstuffs. The dividing line between the sacred and profane melts, and rightly so, in the wonder of it all.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Peak Experiences

A couple of days ago I promised a list of the ten best concerts I've attended over the decades. So after considerable cogitation and mild agonising here it is, in no particular order of merit:

Dylan in Singapore very recently, was it 2012?, I'm losing track; Paul Simon at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, the Rhythm of the Saints tour - I think around 1990?; King Crimson at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, 1971; King Crimson at Hard Rock, Manchester, 1972 (I think, or 1973 - the five-piece with Jamie Muir); Pink Floyd at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, the Meddle tour, 1972?; Martin Carthy at Sheffield University Folk Club, 1975; the Stan Tracey Quartet, at one of the Sheffield University halls of residence, 1976?; the Singapore Symphony Orchestra doing Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony, the Victoria Concert Hall, 1994?; Genesis doing The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, in Manchester, can't remember the exact venue, 1974; Springsteen and the E Street Band, Bramall Lane, Sheffield, the Tunnel of Love tour, 1987?

Gosh, I've had some good times.