Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Making Do

Late last year Noi suggested that she and her chum Rohana and their various friends might go off to Korea for a Spring break around April. It sounded like a good idea at the time and it still does, even though now they're off on their jaunt I've got to figure out a way to survive for a week with no one to look after me. I started with a bang this evening by playing the mighty Crimson's Red at a mighty volume, one that reinforced its essential melancholy.

That made me feel better, as did accessing the scones, cake and nasi goring the Missus had cunningly left behind to make sure I didn't starve. So don't worry folks, one way or another I'll pull through - but I'm certainly looking forward to business as usual next Tuesday.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Fits And Starts

I've found it very difficult to get down to any serious reading since we got back from KL. I'm supposed to be reading Dash Hammett's The Thin Man but such is the disconnectedness of the process that I'll probably start all over again with it this week. The only thing I've found myself able to really settle to is the latest edition of The New York Review of Books, and that's because it's easy to read piecemeal.

This is all quite a contrast with proceedings when we were on holiday when I got through quite a bit of poetry, including Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid in addition to the stuff I've mentioned in recent posts, and no fewer than three novels - these being the sequence that constitute the final three-fifths of American Science Fiction, Five Classic Novels 1956 - 1958 in the extremely agreeable Library of America edition. Of the three I loved one, James Blish's Catholic-themed A Case of Conscience; found one eminently readable, Algis Budrys's Who? (incredibly reminiscent of early Le Carre, by the way); and struggled in an amiable fashion with Fritz Leiber's The Big Time. A remarkable little list in itself of demandingly experimental fiction.

Looking back I'm not entirely sure how I found the time to read that much, but I'm glad I did. And I wish I could now.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Striking Attitudes

Read a fair amount of early Pound last week in KL - from the handsomely assembled Library of America Poems and Translations. It contains almost everything except The Cantos. Struck by how good the early poems sound, once you get past the grating archaisms. Also struck by how, from the very beginning, Pound's voice, or any voice he adopts, is essentially an attitudinising one. It's not an attractive quality here, or in the later work, but it can be compelling.

Pound junior loves to show off, as, of course, does Pound senior. The following are all from a single poem, and four of them feature in a single section of ten lines: mortescent; obliviate; marcescent; marasmic; antepast; anthelion. Blimey! Talk about needing to get the dictionary out! (Not that that does a great deal of good. I still haven't tracked down mortescent anywhere - though it's entirely obvious in context what it means: If any flower mortescent lay... Very pretty in its own way, if you like that sort of thing.)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Making Something Up

It's a strange and wonderful thing, watching the creation of something, in those moments that airy nothing is given a local habitation and a name. Tonight I had the pleasure of watching quite a few somethings emerge and find themselves on the stage, often with a powerful and touching resonance. 

And for all the seriousness of the enterprise isn't it lovely that we are fundamentally in the business of playing?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Just In Time

Things generally work best when you think them through carefully. This less-than-startling bit of wisdom used to be fairly generally accepted in the world of work, especially the kind I do. But along with the new technology has come a troublesome sense that adapting to sudden changes of direction is somehow a mark of distinction, and a quality to be cultivated by creating systems that encourage such lurches in direction. Not knowing quite what to expect to have to deal with in the days immediately ahead is pretty much the new normal. I prefer the old normal, but since I'm given to understand that all change is good even when it's bad, I'm just a small voice in a big wilderness.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Doing The Math

Just got back from a gruelling work-out on that elliptical trainer thingy at the gym. Tired. Very. Probably added a year or two to my life though. Or possibly took them away. Who knows?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Getting Radical

Read Queen Mab the other day, whilst on holiday. A reminder of what a fiercely, deeply radical thinker Shelley was - and a reminder that he was a thinker contrary to what some of the critics would have you believe. (Wonder what their politics might happen to be, eh?) Also read Milton's strange masque for Ludlow Castle, Comus. A reminder of how deeply odd and entirely individual the epic poet's radicalism was - and how essentially, paradoxically conservative. Both men so rootedly English. Felt proud of the land of my birth, for once.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Different Line Of Work

Occasionally, and I mean very occasionally, I find myself considering what other job I might have done to earn a crust had I not fallen into teaching. The answer, which may surprise you, is that I suspect I'd have made quite a reasonable spy. Of course, I'm not talking about the glamorous James Bond variety. I have in mind one of the seedier specimens in a grimier than usual Le Carre novel. The type that meet a bad end.

Self-knowledge is generally regarded as a good thing, but really it can be quite depressing.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Sort Of Legacy

Last Wednesday when we were in KL our neighbour Susan sent us a text letting us know of the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the 'founding father' of Singapore. We were not surprised since the former Prime Minister had been in poor health for quite some time, yet, as I pointed out to Noi at the time, it was very likely a false rumour since Susan had picked it up on what people these days term 'social media' and I was vaguely aware that such unpleasantly false rumours had been circulating for some time. So we didn't entirely believe the 'news', though appreciating that such news wasn't exactly unlikely. We texted back to her thanking her for up-dating us and reflecting on the fact that the old man's passing was probably for the best given his very poor health and the relief that a calm closure was likely to bring to his family.

Oddly enough I'd been intending to finish reading the last of the poems in the anthology A Luxury We Cannot Afford - which I mentioned a week or so ago - during our break in Malaysia and I did so immediately upon hearing the (false) news. They struck me as powerfully apposite, as did others I'd read in the weeks earlier of which I reminded myself that day. And then Susan let us know, rather embarrassedly, that she'd got it wrong. I mention this on the day when the 'real' news has come of Mr Lee's death as in a sense I've been thinking very directly indeed of what this news means for Singaporeans and others interested in this Far Place since last week and what I might find to say about it as an interested observer of the city state since 1988 (a time when he was still Prime Minister.)

I reached three conclusions then and, a week later, I see no reason to change my mind. The first was that for all my familiarity with the Man and the context in which he lived and operated I wouldn't be able to add anything of real insight to the plenty that others would find to say. There was much to admire about him and some things that might be reasonably questioned, and all this was fairly obvious. The second was that a good deal of what was going to be said would inevitably simplify the Man and his times; some commentary would be probably distortingly hagiographic in nature, and other commentary critical in a way that would lack depth and a sense of the historical realities that informed the lived reality of the lives (his and others) and times involved in the full picture. The third was the oddest; the one of which I felt simultaneously the most sure and yet the least certain. I had a sharp sense, which still remains, that the anthology I'd enjoyed reading so much was likely to constitute the sharpest, most penetrating picture of the Man I was going to read, and, in its genuine engagement with him, emerge in time as the best tribute possible. The hard truths, and the soft, therein come as close as anyone is likely to get to forming, not a balanced or dispassionate assessment, but a humane and sincerely concerned attempt to make sense of the outlines of a figure aspiring to greatness.

The success of the attempt lies not so much in the value of individual poems, though it isn't difficult to pick out a number that stand powerfully enough on their own, but in the way the poems rub against each other, sometimes provocatively so, sometimes playfully, and add up to something rich and strange and honest. I don't think the Man himself would have appreciated this at all, but it's surely part of his achievement to have played a key role in shaping, at least to some degree, the society that allowed, possibly cultivated, the space for this work.

Of course, only time, and its perplexing teasing out of human affairs and the meaning we find in them, will tell how any of us might be judged. And all any of us can really hope for is that the final judgment will be a compassionate one.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Way Ahead

I've just completed a basic outline for what needs to be covered work-wise in the next couple of weeks. Yikes! Sometimes it doesn't pay to look too far ahead.

Postscript: Hoping that the ease of today's journey from Melaka to our usual Far Place, just two hours and fifty-five minutes door to door, presages good things to come. Much as I enjoy a good struggle I've come to the age when I'd rather be a spectator than directly involved.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Finishing Touches

The Missus is performing her usual miracles of getting the homestead shipshape after a few days of 'upgrading' by nephew Ashraf and his team of technicians. They've been busy installing various cameras and lights around the property in an attempt to make it rather more secure, this following an attempt at a break-in last year. Of course, we know it's impossible to keep out determined professional crooks but we reckon doing a bit more to deter casual criminals looking for an easy mark on the taman won't go amiss. It's now possible for us to view video of ourselves eating dinner. The wonders of technology, eh? On top of  all that, we've just installed a new Astro decoder which, I'm told, does marvellous digital things I don't understand.

The irony is that we'll be saying goodbye to it all in about four hours. Talk about things not lasting.

Friday, March 20, 2015

On The Inside

The old idiom relating to getting into a piece of music always struck me as an excellent metaphor. It was something I came to expect to happen to me after listening to an album for the fourth or fifth time: abruptly the music would make complete sense to me, as if it simply had to be what it was. Whatever had seemed arbitrary branching gave way to assured paths on an inevitable journey to a given end. And the journey in itself was usually, at least for a time, one of guaranteed pleasure, if not all out joy.

At some point all this changed. I began to get quite a lot of music right away, but not to the point that I felt I needed to get much more. The repetitions were no longer so necessary, but, with time, the inevitable pay-offs I had come to take for granted in the early days became infrequent, at times almost willed. Only rarely could I get lost in a piece. The great exception to this dismal trend came in my mid-twenties with my belated discovery of 'classical' music - especially that of Ralph Vaughan Williams. I found something I could inhabit almost effortlessly.

I was reminded of this playing the CDs of his music for films I purchased recently. For the first time in quite a while I completely surrendered to a piece emotionally in a way that seemed to expand me, make me a bigger person. I'm talking about the wonderful Prelude to the music composed for the film The 49th Parallel. It's one of VW's big, noble, generous, stirring, striving tunes and it somehow finds something big, noble and generous within the listener, despite at least one of those adjectives being so entirely out of fashion.

This is music that can heal.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


A huge monitor lizard was blocking our way as we drove back from doing some shopping on the hill earlier today. It didn't seem to have much, if any, road sense as it lingered right in the middle of our path well beyond the point at which one might have expected it to take its leave. Eventually it achieved the full crossing, leaving us charmed over our brief encounter.

And then, having arrived at the taman and performing a bit of a drive around to survey the latest developments in terms of newly renovated houses, we saw a monkey munching away at something at the side of the road. This one scooted as soon as we drove alongside him. He clearly knew a thing or two about our species and wasn't terribly impressed.

The twin encounters left me, as usual, quietly pleased that somehow the other-than-human of the bigger variety survives up here. I'm quietly hoping the two fellows we saw and their attendant families actually thrive, but I have my doubts.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Never Too Busy

It's just too busy, said the Missus yesterday evening on the highway into KL. But she wasn't referring to the traffic as the roads yesterday were pretty much clear all the way, making for an easy journey. No, her cause for complaint was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in their 1975 incarnation Live at the Hammersmith Odeon, and more specifically what they got up to on an incendiary version of Lost in the Flood. Fortunately I managed to get to the end of the track before she demanded silence, but I must say I felt some sympathy. I don't know what the boys from New Jersey were on that night, pure adrenaline I suspect, but the levels of energy are enough to set your teeth on edge even if you love every moment, as I do. The tempi on everything seem half as fast again as what you usually get with them live. And boy do they let loose on Lost in the Flood giving a wonderfully melodramatic piece the blood and thunder it deserves.

For the sake of full disclosure, and because I like lists, the playlist to that point had comprised: Out of Time - REM; Automatic for the People - REM; the recent Crimson live album I just bought and am entirely besotted with - with this version of The Sailor's Tale being one of the best pieces of 'driving' music I've ever heard, by the way; and the latest CD from The Decemberists - What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (lovely tunes!) The two REM CDs I picked up buckshee from the Exchange Corner in the staffroom where colleagues put stuff they no longer want. Astonishingly I'd never owned either up to grabbing them off the table, though I did once have a cassette of Out of Time.

Anyway, I just got back from kueh buying duty on the hill, driving solo, and I'm pleased to say I got through the next two numbers from The Boss and his minions as essayed all those years ago: She's The One (taken at an insane tempo I've never heard them match before) and Born To Run. Both played at a volume that would have made a lesser man's ears bleed - just to make up for missing them yesterday. Just realised how integral to the whole sound Clarence's sax was in those days - and what an entirely good thing that was.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Various Destinations

Finished Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, the second novel in Classic American Science Fiction: Five Classic Novels 1956 - 1958. Much taken by the verve of the writing. Some highly pointed social satire directed at the lifestyles of the rich and famous and a rich sense of the varieties of English likely to be generated in the future. Great revenge plot, a la The Count of Monte Cristo, though I didn't really get the ending. Amazing to think this dates from 1956. If I'd read it cold with no sense of context I think I'd have guessed at publication in the 1990s, it feels so contemporary, so hip,somehow.

The volume will be accompanying me as we travel north yet again. I'm hoping to finish at least two more of the novels in the days of leisure to follow.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Violent Ends

My Sunday involved, at various times of the day, the evocation of three distinctly differentiated styles of violence: the cartoon violence of Kingsman; the bitter, hard, flat, mundanely nasty violence of Ondaatje's Billy the Kid; the mechanised horror of the first day of The Somme as depicted in Joe Sacco's remorselessly brilliant The Great War. Yet I've not been directly involved in any situation involving actual violence for many years. It's an odd discrepancy when you think about it and, I feel obliged to add, I'm not someone who consciously seeks out violent material for the excitement it might engender. Quite the opposite.

We're a violent species by nature, certainly, and to some degree by nurture. Yet that violence can be controlled. I suspect it's wise to acknowledge the reality of our potential for violence first though.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Expensive Thrills

If anyone had told me I could thoroughly enjoy a spy movie based on a silly plot and shed loads of action, most of it of the cartoon violence variety, I would never have believed them. But that was before watching Kingsman this afternoon. A full-on blast in every way.

Nice to see that someone with real imagination and ingenuity gets the chance to make a mega-budget film these days.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Adding Value

A dagoba is a Sri Lankan term for a stupa. Well that's all very well, Michael, but not terribly helpful for those of us who then have to look up stupa. That's the thing about Ondaatje's poems - and his novels, come to think - they demand a kind of intelligent attention and a good dictionary. You can learn a lot reading him, and it's a sign of just how much I enjoyed his collection Handwriting that upon finishing it today I immediately located my battered Picador copy of his The Collected Works of Billy The Kid on the shelves and set about it with a will. (And with what astonishingly different worlds they deal! Lush, fecund Sri Lanka versus the astringent Wild West.)

The idea that you're supposed to set about looking things up and actually learn a bit about something is not a particularly common view of how to read poetry. I was quite startled when attending a seminar on the work of Pound at university - well more of an informal late night gathering in a lecturer's flat to listen to a guy who'd just edited an anthology of modern American verse with a whole lot of old Ezra featured in it - at which it was suggested that The Cantos were designed to make you go away and read the background stuff that would render them readable.

But, when you get down to it, it's difficult to imagine a poem of any depth that genuinely stands alone with no need of explanation. And I'm off to look up the Wikipedia pages on Billy the Kid, which didn't exist the first time I read the volume some time back in the 1980s. I've got a feeling I'm going to learn a lot and enjoy doing so, and thus enjoy Ondaatje's rendering of the tale in poetry, prose and the odd picture (and I mean odd) even more.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Escalating The Problem

Found myself thinking of escalators today, on the way back from Friday Prayers. Not just any escalators either. The ones rising vividly to my consciousness were those in the Masjid al Haram in Makkah, specifically a sequence of them that could be accessed at the gate I used the most frequently of all the gates into the mosque, which afforded me access to the top level so I could pray next to the three domes located there.

They came unbidden to my mind as I was looking at the jam of cars leading out of the HDB car park behind Masjid Darussalam, where I usually park. Very much atypically one driver was sounding his horn as I walked along, as if annoyed about something, and it struck me at that moment that the jam looked pretty bad. However, it turned out to be business as usual and the car park cleared briskly and efficiently, partly because everyone was understanding and cooperative and didn't get irritated (and start sounding their horns) and nobody decided to cut the queue. I've always assumed this happens on a weekly basis because pretty much everyone in the jam is coming out of prayers and mindful, for once, of the need to behave with courtesy and consideration. Which leads me to the escalators.

I suppose it was consideration of the elevated levels of behaviour of folks leaving a mosque after prayers despite the inconvenience of the crowds that put those moving stairways in my mind. Sadly the behaviour you saw in the holy city was by no means always exemplary and some of the most downright dangerous occurred around the gate housing the escalators. It never seemed to register with some pilgrims that it wasn't a good idea to crowd onto the escalators if the crowds at the ends of them were static as there was going to be nowhere to step off to when they arrived at the conclusion of their brief, speedy journey. Similarly there were some who never seemed to realise on arrival at the bottom or top that if there were a space available for them to move quickly into it would be wise to do so as the other bodies behind them needed space on their arrivals. Obviously someone in authority was aware of the unforgiving physics of the situation as the escalators were often switched off at peak hours to solve the problem. But someone in authority was also in the habit of suddenly, without warning, switching them on, sending those packed on them at fairly high speed into the backs of the poor souls clustered at their edges.

All in all it was a minor miracle no one was killed or badly injured whilst we were there. (At least I assume they weren't, but, I suppose, you never know.) And all in all, I prefer the weekly minor miracle of the painless, patient, almost pleasurable evacuation of the car park behind the mosque.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Inside Out

Got home today to realise I'd been wearing my socks inside out. Both of them. Yes, it's been that kind of day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Joy Of Poetry

I've been making good progress with regard to the little cache of poetry purchased in August (I think it was) last year, and am now starting the final slim volume of the seven, Michael Ondaatje's Handwriting, the first poem of which, A Gentleman Compares His Virtue To A Piece Of Jade, quietly impressed me. I finished Mary Oliver's volume Dream Work a couple of days ago and fell in love with several of the poems - though, at the same time, being fairly baffled by several others. (But since I quite enjoy bafflement that should not be interpreted as some kind of barrier to my general enjoyment of the book.) I bought Dream Work on spec, never having heard of Ms Oliver before - despite the Pulitzer Prize it seems she won - and I'm very glad I did. And the same can be said of my discoveries over the last few months of: David Harsent, Kathleen Jamie, Daljit Nagra and Alice Oswald. (Especially the last named!)

I've said it before and I'll say it again (as I so frequently do these days, I'm afraid): We live in a Golden Age for poetry; there's too much good stuff for a single reader to deal with.

I'll also say again that the technique I've developed for dealing with poetry collections works ever so well. Start at the beginning and read in sequence to the end, without looking back. Then go back and enjoy the particular gems that haven't faded at all. It's striking how often I find the poems in the second half of a collection really taking off for me. (The last poem in Dream Work, The Sunflowers, struck me as a tiny classic.) Could it be that reading a poet in sequence somehow teaches you how to read their work?

By the way, titles like The Joy of Poetry are so drearily often attached to the kind of anthologies that are used in school to 'teach' poetry and, ironically, get associated in the minds of many, perhaps most, kids with a singularly joyless activity. But I mean my heading un-ironically. I can't think of any other kind of reading that evokes the same quiet gem-like satisfaction bordering upon joy that soaking in one heck of a good poem does.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Feeling Down

At a dinner I attended the other week I was seated at a table with the first principal I worked under in this Far Place many moons ago. She announced to the assembled diners, almost slanderously in  my opinion, that it was possible to work out Man Utd's result over any given weekend depending on the look on my face on a Monday morning, and that if they lost everyone knew it was wise to avoid me until the middle of the unfortunate week at the earliest.

I mention these entirely unfounded allegations as I would challenge anyone to have been able to tell today that my heart was broken following the gooners' victory at the theatre of broken dreams last night. I was, I assure you, my usual smiling, approachable self throughout the day. And let's end the conversation with that, shall we?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Feeling Good

Our attempts at getting started on a routine of regular exercise seem to be going well. I was a bit worried about provoking another bout of problems related to my lower back by over-doing it on a treadmill, but I've not used one at all. The thing I'm on, the one with pedals, is called an elliptical trainer, I think - at least that's what it says on the side - and as far as I can tell there's no impact involved at all when you get moving on it. I set it to its highest resistance deliberately, to avoid the temptation of moving too fast, and I try and keep my movements as fluid as possible. It feels like swimming against the tide, or pedalling very slowly uphill. So far, so good: not the slightest twinge from my lower back.

I've been missing doing any proper physical exercise for a long time and the relief I feel now runs deep, I can tell you. It's never surprised me to be told that exercise can be useful in the treatment of depression, unlikely as that may sound at first. Anyone who's experienced an endorphin rush will know what I mean. And the fact that it acts as a suppressant as far as appetite is concerned (well, it does in my case) has a quality of the miraculous about it.

Just hoping circumstances let me keep this up. The one thing I know is that you never know.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Beyond Expectations

I started Stephen King's Under The Dome confidently expecting a gripping story, something along the lines of The Stand, from the last century: the good guys eventually lining up in extreme circumstances to take on the bad'uns with the reader cheering on his favourites as they somehow triumph despite the odds and the costs. I got exactly that for around nine-tenths of the novel, and highly entertaining if acceptably predictable it all was. Definitely value for money from my favourite story-teller. And then came something unexpected, despite the many clues the something was on its way.

For the last hundred pages or so SK pulls the switch on a close cousin to the apocalypse, except it's very much a self-contained affair taking place within the confines of the dome. At first this was a touch disconcerting as characters were made to shift their mortal coils with even greater insouciance than SK's readers are accustomed to. I began to wonder whether it wasn't in effect the story-teller himself torturing those whom he had trapped under his dome.

But it turned out to be not like that at all. The ending is the best I think he's ever written in terms of having something to say about our capacity for cruelty and pity - the twin constituents, if you think of it, of any kind of real horror. The thematic strands are woven together with great power through the final pages, even in the bleakly pathetic demise of an excellent villain. The resolution of the whole dome idea is genuinely worth waiting for, even though it's so downbeat in the final analysis. I found myself knocked gloriously sideways in a way I never expected yet entirely welcomed.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Wiped Out

Yesterday was a funny sort of day and saw me entering oblivion on the floor of the living room around about 9.30 pm whilst listening to the second disk in the wonderful The Film Music of Vaughan Williams box set I got earlier in the week. I then sort of surfaced well after midnight and somehow managed to stumble to my bed. I proceeded to sleep long and hard and feel thick-headed today as a result.

I suppose the collapse had been provoked by a number of factors, not the least being my third trip to the gym of the week. The thirty minutes I managed on the big machine with pedals seemed a good deal longer than just half-an-hour and spoke to my less than optimal level of fitness. Noi wasn't with me, I'm afraid, as she's travelled up to Melaka for the weekend, well, until Saturday night, but she'd cooked a surpassingly wonderful helping of oxtail soup to tide me over along with chunks of her own freshly baked bread. Consuming these delights on returning from my sweaty work-out was certainly the high point of the day, but made its inevitable contribution to the deep dozing that followed.

And there was the general sense of strain that the working day had involved, not terribly welcome at the end of a long term, as you may guess. Somehow a low but grinding level of frustration seemed to underpin the passing of the hours, the kind of frustration that accompanies the administrative processes that purport to support the business of teaching and learning but end up making it all seem a lot more complicated than it need be. Funnily the bits of the day involving actual learning were almost as pleasurable as the comestibles which so delightfully rounded it off.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Not So Cosy

Had a disconcerting dream the other night. In it I seemed to be cosying up to people in authority and enjoying it. There are parts of myself that continue to surprise me. I'm reminded of what one particularly perceptive, though rather unpleasant, daughter said of her father: he hath ever but slenderly known himself. Sometimes not having children seems like a good idea, eh?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Bit Of A Puzzle

Here's something I've never quite understood. How was it that before I'd even heard a note of his music I knew I was going to get into Vaughan Williams? You may think I'm making this up, but I assure you that well before the period in which the world of serious, classical music blossomed for me I was sort of aware that VW was going to be the man for me. I suppose Richard Thompson's nifty little number Roll Over Vaughan Williams may have had some part to play, perhaps giving me a sense that if the supremely cool RT name-checked the man he might have something substantial to say. But then the title of the instrumental actually sounds dismissive rather than appreciative. Anyway, I know that in the moments before I put those first VW records on the turn-table back at Ellerton Road, Sheffield, I knew I was in for a treat - and not just a treat, but something that would stay with me always. Which it has, since then, and will continue to do so for as long as I have an always.

These loose thoughts have been prompted by the arrival of the three CD set from Chandos of The Film Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams. I'm staring at the cover of the box and thinking, Oh boy, am I going to love this! insofar as I'm rationally thinking anything in my excitement. Seriously, I feel like a little kid at Christmas who's just been given the present he's been dreaming of all through Advent. You may be wondering if it's all going to be a bit of a let-down, but somehow I know it's going to be anything but.

More anon.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Bit Much

Noi pointed out the other day that there're only three and a half months to go until Ramadhan. A few years ago the equivalent statement would have engendered in my breast a distinct sinking feeling and sense of mild anxiety. I would not have been looking forward to the experience. Now something like the reverse is true. It's not that I find fasting any easier than I did, say, fifteen years ago, or something that is outright enjoyable, but I do enjoy the sense of control it involves, however hard fought for.

I've been thinking quite a lot about food lately. I don't mean I've been obsessing about eating it; rather I've been considering my relationship to it, and how we deal with it on the communal level, in social terms. I think it's fairly obvious that in many parts of the developed world we're getting the relationship badly wrong and we know it, but don't know what to do about it. And the awful disparities between over-consumption on the part of those who have plenty to consume and under-nourishment for those not so fortunately placed are surely the most striking, almost unforgivable examples of the inequalities that might one day tear our planet apart, if our casual indifference to the destruction of the environment that nurtures us doesn't get there first.

An embarrassing, almost criminal wastefulness is built into the way we produce food and the way we distribute and consume it. Once you become aware of this it's hard to shake off the knowledge. You begin looking even at a simple dinner in a restaurant with a bleary eye.

What to do? Of course, I don't know, and neither do you, I suspect. But one thing I'm sure of: we should mourn for the loss of our consciousness of how to relate to food in a moral sense. The great religious traditions helped, to some degree, to foster an understanding of fruitful, healthy relations with the stuff. No one I can think of takes gluttony seriously as a sin any more, let alone a deadly sin. But to read a great theologian like Aquinas on the subject is to appreciate there are sane ways of relating to what we consume. To read al-Ghazzali on dining etiquette prompts insights into something far deeper than how we are filling our bellies. (And I'm pretty sure the other great religions have plenty to say that would provoke food for thought, on the matter. (Yes, pun intended.))

I hasten to assure you that I have nothing against food. I love it - especially as prepared by the Missus. In some ways it seems like an absolute good in itself. But those ways can be deceptive.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Something To Smile About

Today, within the space of a couple of hours I was the recipient of a pecan pie (which I somehow refused despite the fact it looked delicious, so technically I wasn't exactly a recipient - more of a would-be recipient), a sort of two-dimensional model of a teacher accompanied by a battery which lights up the teacher where his heart should be, and a little notebook all the way from Granada in Spain. Two of the items are pictured above. All were gifts from folks at work - colleagues and students (or ex-students in the case of the battery-driven pedagogue. Actually I think they gave out quite a number of these devices to a wide variety of teachers, which just goes to emphasise the sense of giving involved.) Now I'm not saying this was a typical couple of hours, but I would venture to say that the generosity on display is typical of what goes on in my workplace. And I'm grateful for it - not because I need any of this stuff, but because it makes me smile.

(And in case any of my students happen to be reading this, please don't interpret the above as a particularly clever covert plea for more stuff. I don't need it. Your full attention is more than enough to ask for, and I'd like to assume I'm getting that.)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Fit For Purpose

For the first time for far too long Noi and I just got back from the gym. The Missus took to the treadmill like a good 'un and I managed a reasonable number of rounds on something with pedals. We're hoping this is the start of a new regime, such that when we book our health-checks in the middle of the year we don't have to face unduly worried looks from the various medical professionals tasked to speak the bitter truth.

Actually we should have gone for check-ups at the turn of the year, but the need to get into some kind of reasonable shape took priority. Indeed, Noi was enjoying making fun of my lack of, shall we say, definition in a photo taken with old chum Chelvam at a dinner I attended last Friday featuring various ex-colleagues, most of whom looked in pretty good fettle to me. The warning signs are all too clear and if that doesn't provide sufficient motivation to reactivate old muscles I don't know what will.

It doesn't help that folks tend to refer rather admiringly to the fact they regard me as slim, even though I know my cholesterol doesn't see it that way.