Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Quiet Power

This morning after rising I spun some of the disks I purchased back in Real Groovy, on my first visit. The Richard Thompson material, which was a dominant voice in the musical choices for our many journeys on the highways of NZ, sounded even better in the comfort of our living room than it did back in December. It's amazing to think that he's still capable (pun intended) of putting out stuff like Still and Electric. Actually I have a slight preference for the latter, despite the sense in some critical quarters that the more recent Still represents some kind of return to form. The fact is he's never lost any form, ever, so there's nothing to get back to. He continues to occupy a stellar zone of his own. 

Playing Sufjan Stevens's Carrie & Lowell evoked a different response in me. As I remarked back in December, this is not music to drive to. It's far, far too subdued for that. I suppose I was mildly disappointed on a first listen, even though I suspected there were riches involved, since every song seemed to occupy the same hushed territory, with nary a shift of mood. Listening to it close up - the only possible way to listen to these songs - you realise that there are shifts of mood and texture, but all within an extraordinarily, intensely narrow set of preoccupations concerning death and grief and hopelessness. This has got to be the most intimate album I've ever heard, to the point that you feel you're almost intruding on the songs. Many references are obviously painfully personal, yet the strange thing is that a shared ground of understanding seems to emerge.

As far as I understand it, these are songs mourning the deaths of the singer's parents with whom he had difficult relationships, especially with the mother. It's genuinely heart-breaking stuff, which somehow entirely avoids the sentimental and doesn't seem at all self-indulgent. Just painfully intense. This is one to come back to; it doesn't allow you to escape.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Social Whirl

Just back from a very jolly currified nosh-up with Mei & Boon, the first time we've seen them for quite a while. Lots of catching-up completed, but that still leaves plenty to discuss. We're hoping to continue where we left off in KL next weekend, over a very timely break for Chinese New Year.

Noi and I were also able to show off our new quarters, now almost in working order. The boxes all unpacked, the carpets down, the various ornaments looking suitably ornamental. It's a relief, I can tell you, to get it all done.

Friday, January 29, 2016

An Interesting Life

There's something to be said for never being bored at work. The thing is, though, I'm not entirely sure what that something is.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Happy Reading

The last of the boxes of books for the living shelves have now been unpacked and I've been reunited with all my old friends, most particularly Michael Kennedy's The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams. The special mention is on account of the fact that this is the impending work of non-fiction on my reading list and I've been itching to get going on it. Actually I dipped into Kennedy's magisterial account extensively when I first became enamoured of the works of the greatest English composer of all, but that was a library edition. Only now do I find myself in the fortunate position of possessing a copy (bought from on my last foray to that virtual emporium.)

This is teamed with Eleanor Catton's brilliant Booker-winning The Luminaries as my current reading. I've been making slow but steady progress through the opening segment thereof, and enjoying pretty much every sentence. It's only being super-busy that's prevented me devouring the tome at high speed.

So I'm a very happy reader indeed. Just wish I had a spare few hours here and there to wallow, but even just a bit of paddle is refreshing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


One of the CDs I bought from Real Groovy in Auckland last December was a second hand copy of Bowie's Outside (in excellent condition, and less than seven bucks.) It's been receiving substantial play since then, mainly because it's excellent, and partly because Bowie's death has made me focus on the great man more than somewhat since the sad news.
Yesterday I managed to find time to listen to the full CD without interruption and it was one of those occasions when everything about the piece came together for me, building on the earlier listening I had done. I'd regard it as up there with the absolute best of Bowie - which, believe me, is high praise. And yet, somehow I'd completely missed out on it at the time of release and was playing catch-up some twenty-odd years late.

And now I come to the point. I find these gaps in my knowledge of the works of musicians and writers I admire exciting and useful. I don't necessarily want to have been exposed to the full range of what they've done all at once, as it were, because it leaves nothing to look forward to. There're only two bands I can think of with regard to whom I own all the studio albums: The Beatles and King Crimson, and it's only very recently I managed the full set of the fab four. Think of it: someone who regards himself as a fairly major Dylan fan, but falls far short of completism.

Anyway, no prizes for guessing what I've lined up for my late-night listening, which begins now. Bye!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Building on yesterday's minor triumph of the techie guy fixing our telly and various boxes and recording units together in a way that almost made sense to me, I got stuck in behind the cabinet on which everything sits and made the whole shebang neater. And it stills works! What's more, it garnered the appreciation of the Missus on the aesthetic front. We're now in the process of moving other bits and pieces of furniture around and, once completed, we'll be unpacking the last of our cardboard boxes of stuff - which has all got to fit somewhere, somehow.

But not tonight. I am officially cream-crackered. Over and out.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Step Forward

It's so complicated these days to wire up the television to all the boxes that feed into it, and run the wiring needed to make it all work from one side of the room to another, that we are dependent on a technician guy that Siew knows to do it all for us. He fixed everything in our previous place some four years ago when we arrived in Hall, and finally came round to do the honours in our new quarters. We're getting rid of our little Sony tv set that friends tell us looks like it's from prehistoric times, and giving away a DVD player that we used in conjunction with it, but there are still plenty of wires to confuse us and look untidy, and accumulate dust.

Despite the techie chap having done the necessary, and very efficiently too, there's still a lot of tidying-up to do before we unpack the final boxes left from the big move. We've been waiting for order to be restored to the living room before gracing it with the books and crockery lurking therein. Years ago I would have been very keen to get going and set all to rights as quickly as possible, but I've learnt an awful lot of patience since then. We're hoping to be around our current location for a fair while, so there should be plenty of time to enjoy the good order we're hoping to achieve. The secret is to enjoy the process of getting there.

I'm actually looking forward to getting each bit of the forthcoming work done slowly, in a deliberately lingering fashion - quite the opposite of getting it over with as quickly as possible. Is this a kind of wisdom, or am I just lazy?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Odd People In NZ - South Island Retrospective

It seems like only yesterday, and years away, all at the same time.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Prog On!

I can't remember when I resolved not to buy any magazine, no matter how attractive, unless I'd completely finished the issue of the particular publication I might have previously purchased, but I'm very glad indeed I had the good sense to do so. The result has been a reduction in the number of said publications about the place (or, rather, places, counting Maison KL) and, more significantly, the annihilation of the debilitating guilt I used to experience at not having read what I should and accumulating impossible amounts to have to read in the future. I felt no pressure at all to read the October 2015 issue of Prog magazine (the one with the image of Peter Gabriel's 'melted' face on the cover, from the third solo album) despite having it lying around since the November of last year, and found myself thoroughly enjoying a very relaxed perusal yesterday and today, which took in the whole thing, cover to cover.

Prog is the only magazine devoted to music I read with any regularity these days. There's an abundance of music related material available on-line covering all sorts of genres such that it's really unnecessary to buy anything in hard copy at all, but I feel a curious kind of loyalty to the much-abused genre covered in the pages of Prog, and it's fascinating to pick up on the remarkable range of current practitioners amongst a younger demographic than one might have thought likely. It also hosts one two good writers, such as the estimable Sid Smith of Crimso-related fame, and ex-snooker luminary Steve Davis (believe it or not!.)

But having said that, most of the writing featured manifests the usual faults of music-related journalism. Almost every writer is keen to sound clever; almost every writer employs over-inflated language and imagery; almost every writer seems to think it obligatory to make comparisons to other bands you've never heard of, or place music within genres that don't mean much to the likes of me. What is 'post-rock' anyway? The curious thing is that I don't find this as irritating as I once used to, but have come almost to relish the niceties of it all. As long as some real enthusiasm shines through and you get at least a sense of the sort of thing that someone's busy creating (for precious little reward, as far as I can see) what does it matter?

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Good Man

Today's the anniversary of Dad's death so I've been thinking about him more than I usually might. And Mum, too. It was during prayers at the masjid that it suddenly struck me that I couldn't think of anything he ever did that was in any way less than fundamentally well-intentioned. This was certainly true within the family and even though I never knew him outside of that in any real way, I do know that no one I spoke to who might have been aware of that life ever had a bad word to say about him. Not that he was in any way saintly. Just a very nondescript kind of bloke, slightly baffled by the world around him, muddling along with an innate sense of decency.

Nothing like me. That puzzled me then and still does. And I'm sure I puzzled him.

I suppose at some level everyone is a mystery waiting to be solved. And we never really get the solution.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Keeping Moving

Just back from the gym, happily accompanied by the Missus, putting in her first appearance on the treadmill for the year. We're targeting a health screening in June and we're both hoping to pull good numbers when the time comes. And, of course, we're of a vintage when you know you can't take anything for granted.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What Dreams May Come?

My psyche decided to take revenge on me in the early hours of the morning for my claim yesterday that I'm hardly bothered at all these days about forgetting things. At least that's my less than deep interpretation of a dream I had about having to take a Literature exam when I hadn't read any of the books. (I have a remarkable talent for generating very boring dreams.)

Quite remarkably considering my line of work, this is the first time I've ever had such a dream. Previously my anxiety dreams have comprised two distinct types: those in which I'm watching a play and suddenly realise I'm supposed to have directed it but don't have a clue what's going to happen next; and those in which I find myself at a lecture on some kind of degree course at some kind of college and realise I haven't completed any of the research for the thesis I'm supposed to write, or the coursework for the previous year. Curiously I haven't suffered one of these old favourites for a long, long time.

The thought that I might be haunted in old age by dreams of not coping with exams is a bit daunting, but curiously amusing also. At least I get to enjoy the relief when I wake up.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Started the day, as I was brushing my teeth, with a worrying twinge in my back, around mid-way up. That's unusual. Normally it's my lower back that manifests signs that all is not well. In some ways that made me very worried indeed, concerned that I may be about to encounter new and interesting problems and pains; in another sense I was relieved that I wasn't experiencing a recurrence of the kind of aches I'm very familiar with and a great deal happier without. In the event, apart from feeling a mild ache in the affected area for the early part of the day, nothing untoward has taken place since, and now I feel right as rain. (Not quite sure why rain is right, but it is where I come from, at least as far as that obscure idiom is concerned.) But I remain more that well aware that my current state of good health is not just a matter of luck but a matter of improbably good luck - for which I am deeply thankful.

There's something life-enhancing about recognizing the body's fallibilities.

And those of the mind also, I must add. Of late I seem to have become more absent-minded than ever, though this might just be the result of getting back to work and not coping with the information overload involved. Case in point: I managed to forget a routine end-of-the-week task last week, one I've never missed getting done before. I completed it this morning feeling more than a bit silly. There was no harm done as, like a fair number of my admin duties, it's an entirely pointless bit of work and affected no one else at all. The thing is that at one time I would have been really annoyed with myself for any such omission and it would have bothered me enormously, but since I hardly care at all now I wonder if that precipitates the forgetfulness. I just can't be bothered forcing myself to try and remember everything. The younger version of myself sometimes suffered mild headaches when things got busy, a fact that I now find mildly astonishing.

Mind you, I do get annoyed at myself for forgetfulness when it comes to the personal stuff of real life. Somehow or other I completely forgot to respond to one of my ex-student's comments kindly dropped into this Far Place a few days back (appearing at the end of December) and so apologies if you happen to be reading this, Nurul, for the foolishly belated reply.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Odd People In NZ - North Island Retrospective

There's nowt so queer as folk, as they say in Yorkshire. Evidence of the truth of this observation above.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Bit Of Nostalgia

Listened to Ennio Morricone's music for Cinema Paradiso over the weekend for the first time in a long time. Incredibly evocative music, even if you haven't seen the movie, and I've seen the movie more than once, which multiplies the already powerful impact the music possesses.
Strangely listening to the soundtrack recording got me thinking fondly of a period in my adult life before I ever saw the film. Somehow I managed to associate a number of the tunes with that time and some of the people in it, several of whom have gone to their long homes. It's an embarrassing truth that whenever I watch the movie I end up blubbing well before the end (though I have to tell you that the Missus starts reaching for the tissues well before me.) And now it seems the music alone can push me in that direction.

In some ways I distrust the inclination to wallow in nostalgia for an unreachable past, but nevertheless it's hard to resist - and impossible when Morricone is in control.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Necessary Guidance

It's taken me quite a while to read Ziauddin Sardar's Reading The Qur'an - The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam and I'm very glad I didn't rush, which I might easily have done, given the enthusiasm the text evoked in me. Just about every page was inspirational - or, rather, the explication of the sacred text was so faithful to the spirit informing it that it caught fire from the original. Time and again I found myself thinking: yes, I knew The Qur'an was saying this but I didn't articulate for myself those ideas with this kind of clarity or intensity.

At times, I must confess to feeling some degree of irritation with the kind of mis-readings (from all sorts of sources, Muslim and otherwise) that Sardar so tellingly criticises. They seem so utterly petty when set against the nobility and sanity of the scripture. But what I'll remember most of all of the experience of finding my way through Reading The Qur'an is the positive exhilaration of being led to grasp some of the depth of that nobility and sanity.

This is by far and away the best guide to a considered reading of The Qur'an I've come across and anyone looking for a sure guide need look no further. I'll certainly be referring to it frequently in future.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Expectations - Retrospective

Nobody expects a black swan. Or a wooden man in a river. Unless you're in New Zealand. And even then it's all a bit odd.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Glad I decided to leave off reading Charles Palliser's The Unburied until we'd got back from New Zealand, and especially glad I didn't read it in tandem with Life A User's Manual. To have attempted to do so would never have worked, both texts involving far too much information to deal with. I must admit, though, I was sorely tempted to get started on The Unburied when I bought it in Wellington, the opening, which I did take a glance at, looking so intriguing.

And so the whole novel proved to be. I stand in awe of writers like Palliser who can handle complex plots seemingly effortlessly. I can't make up coherent stories to save my life. This guy manages to concoct a mystery based around various murders centuries apart, all this linked to psychologically credible, compelling characters and make it work.

So glad I rediscovered him. I thought he'd dried up after the brilliant The Quincunx. How wonderfully wrong I was.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

10 Shots Of Trees In NZ - Retrospective


The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Thus Blake, pithy as usual, wise as ever, in a letter to the Reverend Trusler in May 1789. The rev sounds like a bit of a dope: he'd complained to Blake about some of the illustrations the great visionary had prepared for him and Blake in the letter is giving him a mauling. Great stuff to read. Almost as good as the trees to look at. I think Blake would have shed more than a few tears if he'd ever made it to NZ.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Had a good long talk with brother-in-law John on the phone the other day - and I mean good. I really thought he was likely to lose another leg after he'd been taken into hospital, but it now seems the chances are very positive that he'll keep his right leg. He sounded astonishingly positive about the loss of his left leg, giving a very thorough account of what took place that led to its amputation without the slightest trace of self pity. His comment on the rehabilitation centre he now attends summed his attitude up; according to John when there are folks around who've lost both legs above the knee and are trying to cope, then losing one a good ten inches below the knee is a small matter. His chief concerns seem to be switching his driving license so he'll be allowed to drive an automatic and suing the NHS for one particular doctor's misdiagnosis of his condition. His pithy summary of how to survive the NHS was forceful, expressive, funny but sadly unprintable.

Maureen also seems to have put her recent troubles behind her - possibly as a result of the need to look after John responsibly. So that's another big, big plus. All those clichés about crises bringing out the best in people might just prove to be true, as clichés so often do.

And on top of all this when I remind myself of the great news we got in New Zealand that Osman's biopsy had proved negative I can't help but smile.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Way To Go

Got back from work today to the news of the death of David Bowie. Was taken aback, probably due to the fact that his recent work has been so entirely alive, so utterly vital. Talk about not going gently!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Back On The Treadmill

In truth it was the elliptical trainer I got back on today, but I hope you'll accept the poetic license involved in the rather spiffy title above. At all events it was a notable reunion of man and machine, at least from the point of view of the man actually on the machine. It's been more than a month since I've been to the gym - 29 November being the most recent auspicious occasion - and I was wondering to what degree my fitness might have declined. The answer seems to be: somewhat, but not precipitously; though I'll need to ascertain exactly how my body has reacted to my latest work-out on the morrow.

I managed my statutory 35 minutes of labour, though I must say I felt like giving up after the first 15 minutes and had no real energy at all for the final 5. I thought I'd remained reasonably active in New Zealand but reality set in today. Insofar as I have any target related to these activities, I'm hoping to feel fit enough to repeat the experience a couple of times this week, even if I can't manage the full 35 minutes each time.

The funny thing is how I always find myself looking forward to each session, and after the first 10 minutes wonder why I keep torturing myself.

Saturday, January 9, 2016


Got a little bit of focused listening done today, given the space opened up by the weekend. Thoroughly enjoyed Van Der Graaf's Present, the double CD set they recorded when they got back together around 2005, with Jaxon on board. Much as I admire the CDs recorded as a trio since he left, it was refreshing to hear how the newer older version of VDGG sounded with the saxes and flute enmeshed in their sound world. I particularly enjoyed the disk of improvisations, finding it more immediately accessible than the trio's improvisational Alt CD. Somehow having Jaxon blaring/wailing away sounds more like what one expects from an improv. Present was one of my purchases from Auckland's Real Groovy, an incredible bargain at around six bucks second hand. If you're ever in the shop and wondering can the second hand stuff be trusted, the answer is an emphatic yes: I haven't had a single problem with anything from there, with everything looking and, more important, sounding brand new.

After putting the VDGG boys to one side it was time for a bit of Brahms. I deliberately didn't listen to anything whilst reading Swafford's magisterial account of the great man's life as I felt I needed to build up to some intelligent listening (not that I was entirely sure of delivering the necessary intelligence, I hasten to add.) And so now it was time to re-hear the first symphony, with Swafford's comments at hand.

Was it an enlightening experience? Well, it wasn't revelatory. I realised I was a lot more familiar with the symphony than I thought I was. I generally knew what was coming next and it sounded like it always had. (Obviously, duh!) But there was a richness about the listening experience I don't think I'd felt previously and I had a strong sense that when I listened again lots of things would click into place.

It occurs to me now that the distance between the kinds of music I've been listening to today is vast. From the calculated and crafted to the freely spontaneous. But both require a sympathetic listener with ears and mind open. Hope I did each some kind of justice.

Friday, January 8, 2016

10 More Views Of NZ - Retrospective


The weekend ahead offers some much needed space. But not as much as we found ourselves frolicking in last month.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Shock Of The Old

Four days into my working year and I feel physically battered. This is very odd as the physical demands of my work can hardly be said to be all that great and I kept myself what I considered active during the holidays. In fact, when I was moving our stuff from one apartment to another early in December the work involved was very intense physically, yet didn't lead to quite the same sense of bone weariness I'm now experiencing. I suppose there are routine movements involved in my work I'm just not aware of that make particular demands on muscles that need adjusting to.

I recognise this syndrome from previous experience and am happy to recall that by the second week the necessary adjustments are mercifully made and I'm left wondering what all the fuss was about. I can only hope for that mercy this time round.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

10 Views Of NZ - Retrospective



When the world starts to close in, it's good to recall the wide open spaces.