Thursday, March 31, 2016

Food For Thought

Was just now munching some extremely tasty mashed potato, courtesy of the Missus, when I recalled the frequency with which I consumed potato pie and chips, from the chippy, as a kid. I don't think it occurred to anybody then what a gloriously unhealthy combination that was. Oh, for such innocence again.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

New Words For Old

I was attending a workshop today on the fashionable notion of empathy which reminded me of a recent slip in the employment of the term I encountered. In Eleanor Catton's wonderful The Luminaries she has one of her characters ruminating over the word in an early chapter. (I forget the precise reference, but the term is definitely in the character's consciousness.) The problem is that the novel is set in 1866, but the word didn't come into the English language until the turn of the century - around 1905. When I noticed the (extremely minor) glitch I was struck by how incredibly difficult it is to maintain an authenticity of style in any kind of historical novel (and generally the style of this novel is a triumph, by the way) and also how so much of the vocabulary that we might think of as foundational to thought has only been adopted relatively recently. Indeed, it was only around the 1970s that 'empathy' became a widely used term.

Of course, it's possible that Catton's character might have had a thought something akin to that rendered in the novel through the use of the term, but I do wonder if anyone in 1865 could have thought the thought so crisply and effortlessly without the term that encapsulates it.

And I wonder whether the word itself as it commonly used is now changing its fundamental meaning. A lot of folk clearly mean something like 'compassionate sympathy' when they use it, which is an admirable quality. But it's not empathy in the 1905 sense.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Taxing Times

It suddenly occurred to me that I really must get my tax return done soon. In the old days an elaborate form would arrive early in the year and sit mournfully on my desk as a reminder of what needed to be done. Now everything is on-line - and actually easier - but it's kind of invisible so easier to forget. When you finally pay you get thanked for your contribution to nation building, which might seem slightly silly, but which I believe is worth taking seriously. I have no problem in accepting the moral obligation to pay taxes and it's good to know that in paying them I'm doing something to benefit this community.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Missing The Obvious

Despite having finished Infinite Jest, I can't quite get away from it. It isn't that I've been rereading any of the text, though I did peruse the opening segment immediately upon completion since chronologically this is, I think, the most advanced we get along the time-line of the events described, so it helps in terms of trying to figure out the ending in terms of the actual plot (or whatever resembles a plot.) No, what I've found myself looking at rather more than I expected to is the abundance of on-line commentary on the novel - well, bits of it. When I was reading the novel I avoided this material as I thought it would get in the way of my developing an authentic personal response, but since finishing Infinite Jest I've found what other people have to say about it is generally enlightening, though most of it tends to confirm impressions I'd already developed.

And sometimes I'm simply led to realize how blind I've been to aspects of the text I really should have immediately grasped - which is a great reminder to someone who teaches lit that it's perfectly okay for students to sometimes be obtuse to the point of the ridiculous. One simple thing in relation to Wallace's work: I'd never quite got the relationship of the two key settings involved - the tennis academy and the nearby halfway house for recovering addicts. I missed the obvious fact that they represent the two extremes of the world of the novel, athletic prowess/success as opposed to physical decrepitude/failure (with the academy at the top of the hill, naturally so.)

As soon as I read a comment neatly summing up this point, the novel suddenly became significantly different for me. What earlier had appeared arbitrary became integral, and I began to see this loose baggy monster as a Dickensian kind of work in other ways. Wallace, like Dickens, is attempting an analysis of the whole range of American society in an extraordinarily ambitious manner, and, like Dickens, convincingly connecting the threads between those struggling at the very bottom and those who see themselves as the movers and shakers operating within the upper reaches.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Completely Incomplete

I wasn't at all surprised to get to the final page of the main narrative of Infinite Jest only to find nothing like an end in the conventional sense. One reason for my lack of surprise was that in the hundred or so pages leading up to the non-ending I could see no sign of the narrative winding down in the manner one grows accustomed to, none of the usual signals of narrative exhaustion. Quite the opposite, in fact. A number of the segments in the concluding pages seemed to have the energy of new stories getting under way and stretching themselves out to measure possibilities and I found myself thoroughly enjoying these 'new' storylines. One example from many: the painfully sad and hilarious visit of Hal to the NA men's meeting in which he (and the reader) finds himself excruciatingly embarrassed by the regressively infantile behaviour on display is a brilliant, entirely unexpected contrast to the generally positive depiction of the AA meetings described from the point of view of Don Gately earlier in the novel. As stand-alone entertainment it succeeds but in no way furthers the dynamic of the text towards some kind of understanding of what it might take to beat the dreadful addictions under scrutiny. (Oh, and suddenly there's a wonderful couple of pages comprising a speech by one Mikey at an AA meeting which, again, just seems to 'happen' with no particular rhyme or reason, yet develops a gripping little narrative of its own that seems to stand somewhere between Hal's experience and those of Gately.)

After putting the novel to one side just now I went on-line for half-an-hour or so to see whether any commentary had been generated apropos the ending itself, or the novel in general. It turns out, hardly surprisingly, that the Web is awash with conjecture/complaint as to what Wallace thought he was doing. I think this in itself is testament to just how powerful his novel is. He creates a world that draws readers into it in an almost magnetic manner and it's clear that many relish allowing themselves to be drawn back.

But much as I enjoyed the novel I think it's time for me to create a distance between us. You can have too much of a good thing. Though I must say, I'm keen to read some of Wallace's essays and shorter fiction.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Thoroughly Musical

I've been playing quite a bit of Van Der Graaf Generator lately, especially stuff from the mid-seventies, after the first hiatus involving the classic Hammill/Banton/Jaxon/Evans line-up. Acquiring a copy of Still Life has been the stimulus behind my exploration of this period - and, of course, it's always good to listen to Godbluff (which is probably my favourite VDGG album, though the competition is strong.) By the end of the week I'd developed major and welcome ear-worms, in the form of segments of Pilgrims, La Rossa and Childhood's End - quite a good way to get through a day at work, by the by.

It's astonishing to me that the band actually dropped out of sight for me back in the '70s. What was I thinking? Isn't it obvious that just as instrumentalists three of the four have to be seen as operating at the peak of achievement in rock music? Indeed, I suspect if forced to name my all time favourite drummer it might well be Guy Evans, who just can't do wrong. He swings when he needs to, can get down dirty and funky, and has an impeccable sense of the dramatic.

I suppose I'd lost faith - foolishly - in the kind of writer and performer Peter Hammill embodies, and since he's at the centre of everything the band does, despite being the most limited of the players, that affects all possible responses. Yes, he's not just over-the-top but sailing miles above the planet. But once you see him in the tradition he really belongs to I think what he's doing can be seen as down to earth in its gloriously flamboyant way. He isn't a rock singer at all; he's the star performer in a Musical, but he gets to play all the parts. And these are not rock songs: they are extended arias in the operatic sense.

I suspect it's the way that groups like VDGG drew upon ways of making music outside the straightforward rock'n'roll, jazz, blues tradition that defines the much-abused notion of progressive rock. I don't know what accident of history made that a distinctly English phenomenon, but in retrospect it's so obvious now that it was - possibly with its roots in The Beatles themselves.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Not Entirely Infinite

I'm beginning to think I might actually finish reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest quite soon, being in sight of the last hundred pages. I have absolutely no idea how it's going to end - an excellent thing in itself. I suspect there won't be an ending in anything like the conventional sense; it's just going to somehow stop.

I'll be glad when it's over, as I'll be free to move on to some briefer fiction; but I'll be equally sad when it's over as each time I pick it up I know I'll be rewarded in some way, but that way is deeply unpredictable. Also I'll miss the frequent shocks attendant upon having my face rubbed into realities I'd rather avoid, thank you very much.

For the first three hundred pages or so, I seemed unable to stifle my awareness that Wallace had chosen to eliminate his own map (to adopt some of the terminology of his text) and found my reading frequently cross-referencing that sad reality. But in recent days I've just found myself surrendering to the novel without giving any real thought as to its underlying vision of things. It seems strange to be reading a text with such clear philosophical implications innocent of all thought, but there it is.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

No Illusions

Got back to the gym this evening for the first time in over a week. Thought I'd do well, given the fact I've had to rest, but found myself struggling and was glad to finish my stint. All a bit pathetic really.

After a day or two spent thinking about the amazing capacity of humanity for deceiving itself in a whole variety of ways, it was refreshing to be put in a position in which there's no escaping the fundamental truth of the inadequacy of one's own body. It brought back memories of the honest wretchedness of hitting the 'wall' back when I did the Singapore Marathon in 1990 (I think.) Any illusions I had about possessing some kind of mental strength and capacity for endurance were dispelled a long time ago, I can tell you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Getting Away

Felt a bit overwhelmed by it all early in the day but deftly escaped into the wonderful world of William Carlos Williams via a lovely picture book for children about his life and writing entitled A River of Words for a good (and I mean a good) twenty minutes around noon, and all was well again. The book's from the same team that created the splendid volume on Roget, the one that Karen gave me for a birthday present last year, and it's just as good, which is really saying something. In making the great American poet accessible to kids it succeeds in reminding even a fanboy like myself of exactly what makes Williams so special as a writer: the simple things he showed us that weren't so simple after all.

Having made my escape so successfully it struck me later in the day just how important the 'escapist' nature of great literature is to me. Now serious readers of Lit with a capital L don't really like this to be said as it seems to make the literary enterprise that bit less serious. But I've no doubt that it's the escape route provided by books that lies at the heart of their attraction, for the likes of this reader anyway. And I reckon there's a double kind of escape involved. You get away from this world being given access to other worlds. And you escape, if just for a short while, the confines of your own consciousness for the wilds and wisdoms of someone else's.

Better than a power nap.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Blank Spaces

Driving back to this Far Place yesterday, with little else to pay attention to on the highway, I noticed just how many advertising billboards there are lining it now, a surprising number of which are entirely blank - I'd guess at least 10% and possibly more. I used to think the blank ones were patiently waiting for their ads to be pasted, but I now suspect there's a considerable over-supply of such space and many will remain blank. I say this because the metal surfaces of quite a number are obviously corroded despite looking as if they've never actually had anything pasted on them. In fact quite a few are in a state of semi-collapse.

So we're cleverly managing to ruin whatever view there is off the highway not just by posting garish advertisements, but by posting exactly nothing on the pointlessly ugly, and most likely unnecessary, structures we've intruded upon whatever landscape there is.

Am I the only person in the world who never buys anything as a result of looking at advertisements? Because, as far as I know, I never do.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Time To Come

As is so often the case, here in Melaka at Mak's house the children seem to outnumber the adults, and it's difficult to keep up with the latest additions to the extended family. There's a tiny fellow in the living room at present, Khir's latest, who isn't even old enough to have a name. Looking at him it struck me that, all being well, he should have a decent chance of seeing in the next century - indeed, possibly well beyond the year 2100. (It actually took me a moment or two to figure out the date in question, I've so seldom thought of it.)

Not sure if that sobering idea makes me envious of him or not - but I suspect not.

Saturday, March 19, 2016


Got away from Infinite Jest for long enough periods over the last two days to read Ziauddin Sardar's very entertaining and informative Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim. It's a very readable book, giving a deeply thoughtful but often humorous account of various of the writer's forays into different Islamic 'worlds', reminding me of just how limited my own engagement with what be seen as the totality of that world is. In fact, my encounters have involved generally what might be seen as Islam at its best - what I would consider its true face. Sardar is rightfully excoriating with regard to some of the faces he's been exposed to.

The chapters towards the end spoke with particular force to me. His account of the events surrounding the publication of The Satanic Verses was a reminder of just how embattled many Muslims of British background must have felt at that time. I came late to the debate, as it were, only grasping just how and why the novel was so offensive to the community several years later. It would be useful, I think, for every self-satisfied liberal secularist of the Fay Weldon variety to read this bit just to let them know that there are such things as perspectives different from their own with careful thought and intelligence behind them.

The only problem for me in reading Desperately Seeking Paradise has been that its honest sense of gloom and something close to despair added to my already less than rosy, distinctly un-cosy view of the world engendered through Wallace's magnum opus. Both are bracing reads, and I suppose useful in a world that demands being braced for whatever comes next.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Cooling Off

The news out of Malaysia before we came up on Wednesday was of a heat-wave, one powerful enough to make the government consider closing schools. On our way up the highway we saw one roadside fire, possibly proof of how dry and combustible the vegetation had become. But by the time we reached KL the rain was falling, and falling hard. So far it's rained everyday, at length, usually in the afternoon. So we've not been basking in the sun, but enjoying the cooling breeze and dancing between the raindrops.

Either way, anything's better than a cold, wet, miserable English winter, says this patriot.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Not So Steady

Spent the late afternoon and early evening at Times Square without a book to read when the going got tough. This was no accident but the result of a conscious decision not to take David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest along, having spent the early afternoon making fair progress moving into the second half. I've come to the conclusion that it's quite impossible to read the novel in a steadily persistent kind of way. Individual segments can sometimes grip with the momentum of, say, Stephen King on top story-telling form, and then progress is effortless - but then bits like this are followed on occasion by segments that seem to be going over territory that has already been traversed in abundant detail, and the result is something close to tedium.

One example: the segments on the extremely disturbing Lenz killing various animals, followed by Don Gately getting shot by the outraged owners of a dog he has just dispatched, held me in a manner I can only describe as disconcerting. But the pages that immediately followed Don being assisted to some kind of medical care (I think that's what's happening) did absolutely nothing for me at all.

Brilliant though so much of the novel is, I don't entirely trust the writer. I'm convinced of Wallace's excellent intentions, I'm just not sure they result in what might reasonably be termed a successful novel. Infinite Jest seems to occupy a niche of its own.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Pure Bluster

Watched Donald Trump's sort of victory speech after the latest round of Primaries this morning. It's the first time I've seen one of his speeches in full and I was struck by just how inept the section of it was in which he was thanking the various members of what I assume is his team for the work they'd done for him. Everyone had been amazing, it seems, in an emptily repetitive fashion that oozed a curious lack of sincerity. Now I may be wrong about the degree of Mr Trump's sincerity, I can't see into his heart; but I'm not wrong about the fact that sincerity simply wasn't detectible in his performance. But wouldn't you think that someone who seems to pride himself on being a deal-maker with the ability to manipulate others to his way of thinking would be good at publicly thanking others? Isn't this the kind of thing that comes with the territory?

I'm reminded of a truth I've often found myself mulling over: when you look to see what is exceptional about very rich people who you've been told are rich by virtue of extraordinary talents it's rare that you get any real sense of what those talents are. I suppose coming from someone like myself who is far from rich this might sound like simple jealousy, but since I'm not terribly keen on being rich I genuinely don't think it is. Or perhaps lacking any such talents myself I simply fail to recognize them when they manifest themselves in others?

The only quality I recognize in the front-runner for the Republican nomination is a truly relentless drive for self-promotion. Perhaps that in itself is the secret of his success.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Real Passion

Thoroughly enjoyed watching The Passions of Vaughan Williams, which I chanced upon the other day idly browsing the enchanting vistas of youtube. It confirmed what was already pretty obvious from reading between the lines of Ursula's biography and Michael Kennedy's book on the works themselves. I don't think you really need to know that VW was involved romantically with Ursula from their very first meeting to appreciate his later music but it does confirm his deep humanity, if that were needed. The funny thing is that you come out admiring the two of them even more when given a fuller understanding of what was going on.

The whole programme is, by the way, a sterling example of what the BBC has always been really good at. This is truly educational television. I can't imagine anyone watching this without wanting to listen to the full works immediately.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Some Service

This evening saw us traipsing off to the wilds of Vivo City in search of the Starhub Service Centre therein. Why so? you may find yourself asking. After all, the centre by the same name at Clementi Mall is a lot closer, and, since we regularly do business of various sorts there, a whole lot more convenient. However, simply in asking the question you would be underestimating the endless capacity of Starhub as a 'service supplier' to make the customer work for them.

If you want to discontinue a service like, say, an extra set-top box, they don't come to you to take it away (like television rental companies in the very old days used to.) No, you have to take it yourselves, and not just anywhere: you need to find a service centre that actually provides the service of allowing you to return the box. And remember to take your passport and the latest bill with you to prove who you say you are. Oh, and all the various wires the box came with, which nobody on the customer service phone line will ever tell you to do, presumably because it's too much trouble to make life easy for customers, who should mysteriously know precisely what to do in such circumstances without being told.

Or could it be that companies like the above-named deliberately make it difficult for customers to curtail services in order to ensure the money keeps coming in? Should I really be that cynical? Surely not, when all of the customers pictured on the walls of the service centres are smiling so manically and reassuringly.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Social Scene

We've found some time this weekend for socialising of the pleasant, unforced variety, I'm happy to say. Saturday afternoon saw our first high tea of the year in our new quarters, with lots of goodies to feed Boon, Mei, Norharyati & Nahar. Unfortunately Karen & Anthony couldn't make it, but we made the best of things nonetheless, those things including a luscious cheesecake from the Missus and some scones from Yati which looked sadly flat but tasted happily scone-ful.

Then today we attended a wedding celebration out at Jurong for one of Rohana's nieces. The bride had gone for a book-themed wedding, unlikely as that sounds, with centrepieces on the various tables comprising a variety of volumes of old encyclopaedias. Somehow this all made sense - and gave me the opportunity to look up various subjects attendant upon the letter 'H' in one of the volumes on our table. I managed the entries on Hitchcock, Hitler and Historiography in between a couple of delicious plates of nosh and two sweet black coffees. 

The celebration was conducted in the sensible, old-fashioned way, at a void deck tastefully decorated for the occasion; greatly superior, in our eyes at least, to those wedding banquets in swish hotels increasingly favoured by young Malays with a bit of money in their pockets. Somehow the more down-to-earth the occasion is the more relaxed it manages to be.

Saturday, March 12, 2016


Just finished Michael Kennedy's magisterial account of The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Will be re-visiting his comments on individual pieces in future listenings. He's good on everything, but outstanding on what he obviously sees as the key works, for example, Job. I'm now wondering why I've never got round to acquiring a version of The Pilgrim's Progress, given Kennedy's very convincing enthusiasm for the opera, or, rather, the Morality, to use Dr Williams's own term, as being central to the great man's achievements. And, by the way, I doubt that any reader could close the book not regarding RVW as a very great man.

Having completed my non-fiction reading of the moment I'm wondering whether to focus completely on the fiction front, in the massively compelling form of Infinite Jest, which itself embodies a kind of perplexing greatness. The problem is that Wallace's vision is so utterly overwhelming and disturbing in its force that much as I feel the need to keep reading, sometimes the need to escape its addictive clutches becomes a necessity. I'm almost halfway through now, but that leaves epic amounts in waiting. Not sure if I can tackle this in the week's break ahead; I know it will inevitability lend that break a certain colour if I do.

Friday, March 11, 2016

In The Moment

Today marked the end of our first term, and it was a long day to get through. A busy morning, followed by Prayers, followed by a hot afternoon spent at the track watching various sports events. So I wasn't exactly keen to go out this evening to watch various young people performing their music and dance and the like. But I'm very glad I did.

There's something gently exhilarating about watching talented kids deliver. They'll soon move beyond our small world, but I hope those moments of complete absorption in the act of creating something that speaks to others stay with them.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tank Empty

Got to the gym this evening and managed 40 minutes on the elliptical trainer but fell well short of the numbers posted on my previous visits. The fact that the last thing I felt like doing this evening was going to the gym no doubt accounted for the lack of oomph in my performance. In fact, I rarely in any real sense enjoy the exercise, in stark contrast to the days I used to go running when I invariably took real pleasure in pounding the streets. I don't think that age accounts for the difference, though it may be a contributory factor. I think the lack of fun is down to the sheer intensity of the exercise. In some ways I gain through maximising the benefit of the time spent in the gym; in other ways I lose, though, fortunately, not to the point of not wanting to go at all. Not yet, anyway.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Something Found

Writing yesterday's post about getting back to some serious reading of poetry put me in mind of how easy it is these days to come across excellent contemporary stuff in English, such that it's almost impossible to get a handle on the breadth of talent and achievement out there. Simple example: a few days back I took a bit of a breather and picked out, almost at random, a poem from Ruth Padel's tasty little tome 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem, basically just to pass the time. The piece in question was Fred D'Aguiar's Mama Dot Warns Against An Easter Rising.

I'd vaguely glanced at it before, read a line or two and somewhat patronizingly put it to one side thinking it looked like a worthy attempt at injecting a bit of lively patois into the old standard language, creating a distinctly Caribbean voice, but not too much more than that. This time round, reading it with reasonable attention, it was obvious that, yes, the voice was the superficially dominating feature but the poem had so much more to offer than a skilful kind of ventriloquism, transcending my casual placing of it. It helped that Ms Padel's sympathetic commentary served to alert me to a broader context that I'd only been able to vaguely guess at in just glancing at the poem. For a magical fifteen minutes or so I was able to surrender to the spell cast by the writer.

But the thing is this. Now I know just how good Mr D'Aguiar is, and a quick search online tells me there's a fair bit more of where this comes from. So do I put him on my impossibly long 'must read' list? Of course I do. And long for a couple more lifetimes in which to clear said list. And in the meantime I'm just off to read the poem in question again.

Monday, March 7, 2016

What I've Been Missing

There hasn't been enough poetry in my life lately. Of course, I'm lucky in that poems of various kinds are never too far from me, owing to the nature of my work. In moments of minor crisis I'll grab something from the shelves, or something proposed for a test and read whatever has popped up along with a nice cup of tea down in SAC. But, satisfying and strangely stabilising as that might be, it's not quite the same as the experience of reading a particular poet full on, no holds barred, as it were.

I suppose the fact that my recent reading has revolved around one or two big, demanding novels accounts for why I've not been steadily moving through some kind of individual collection, or major longish piece. I lost sight of my chunky Tennyson edition when we were moving apartment, which meant a sequenced reading of In Memoriam I had undertaken was interrupted. And after starting on Joshua Ip's entertaining Making Love With Scrabble Tiles before the big move I similarly allowed the volume to drop out of consciousness.

This evening I decided to right this wrong and got moving again on both from the beginning. The contemporary poems seem even more enjoyable a second time round, as you might expect. And In Memoriam seems more contemporary than ever. Can't think how I came to neglect them both.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Much To Learn

Over this weekend and the last I've been listening to Mozart's Don Giovanni, from my boxed set of the seven big operas. It's not such an easy listen as The Marriage of Figaro simply on the level that there's so much going on in terms of variations of tone, it leaves the inexperienced listener (this one especially) wondering if he's getting the point(s). Having said that, I had no problems entering into the ferocious finale in which the Don gets wonderfully, awfully dragged down to perdition; and I think I got the point of the scene that follows in which the various survivors descant upon his fate. From what I can gather this scene has struck a number of critics as supernumerary, but I thought its function both obvious and necessary. So maybe I am growing in understanding of the conventions of opera buffa. Where I'm lacking is in my grasp of the musical conventions involved. Most of it sounds simply lovely to me and I'm not sure it's meant to.

The funny thing here is that you learn how to listen by listening a lot. A bit like learning how to read particular writers by reading and reading and reading them. I've got a lot of listening to do then - which can only be a good thing.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

An Embarrassment

Watched bits of the latest Republican Party debate between those fighting to get the nomination as the GOP's presidential candidate feeling bemused, amused and plain horrified. Someone on a news channel (who and which will remain anonymous) described it as a good debate (seriously!) It wasn't. It was shocking in its lack of civility, lack of substance, lack of intelligence. I don't believe that anyone, even just twenty years ago, could have predicted that political discussion in the States would have deteriorated to this level so rapidly.

In recent years I've come to take the notion of climates - ethical, social, political - very seriously and now believe that we all have something to contribute to how these manifest themselves. I'm glad I don't have to live in a nation in which I might feel even vaguely responsible for that debate and its attendant hoo-haa.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Mixed Feelings

At the end of a week which might fairly be described as tough, I am about to undergo the ministrations of Kak Sabariah, aka Noi's massage lady. I am facing this prospect with roughly equal amounts of happy anticipation and dread. It isn't easy to find words to describe the experience of a traditional Malay-style massage, as administered by a ruthless master of the art, so I won't try. But I will say that my life is about to get unusually intense for the next couple of hours.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Something Old, Something New

Heard RVW's Oboe Concerto for the first time ever today. Don't know how it escaped me previously. Astonishingly beautiful. Amazing to think there's so much wonderful music out there I've never exposed myself to. It would be nice to have sufficient life-times to enjoy it all, but I'll happily settle for cramming as much of it as I possibly can into the one I've got.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Bit Of Brooding

Lovely word, brooding. It's one of those words that seems to enact itself in its very sound.

Odd to think of the connection between the relatively neutral notion of a brood as a group - a brood of hens - and the negative connotations of referring to your chum's family as a brood. Does the sarcasm of the latter derive from the sense of morbidity of thought when you find yourself brooding over something?

It appears to stretch back to an Indo-European base related to burning or heating - hence the incubation of eggs, and according to one authority, John Ayto in The Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins, the sense of worrying associated with brooding only developed in the eighteenth century. But that doesn't sound right to me. It's easy to see how the link to becoming over-heated in thought was likely to have been there from the very beginning.

I reckon it's a very late-nineteenth century sort of word. All those Romantic, fin de si├Ęcle types seem to have been brooding all the time. Yeats's line(s), and brood / Upon love's bitter mystery, has been stuck in my brooding mind all afternoon (via Ulysses, I think, in which Stephen D. quotes Yeats's great song and does some substantial brooding himself. But Bloom doesn't really brood, does he, and neither does Molly. Gosh, wasn't Joyce amazingly good at capturing the textures of different modes of thought?) Oh, and I've just realised apropos Yeats's poem that he uses the word twice, in adjacent lines, no less!

Of course, healthy minded folks like myself get beyond brooding, becoming sensibly reflective. Or so we like to imagine.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Question Of Adjustment

The leap year brought with it a minor crisis in my life with regard to the management of my trusty Casio timepieces. Why can't they take account of the extra day? I found myself asking, in an irritated little panic. Then my less than trusty, indeed rusty memory dredged up this post from A Far Place, exactly four years ago. And the problem was solved again, probably to lie in wait for the next leap year.