Sunday, July 31, 2016

Interiors

We're coming to the end of Syawal, the month following Ramadhan in the Islamic calendar. This is the month in which one visits one's friends and families to seek forgiveness, and good food - though not necessarily in that order. Yesterday we spent the late afternoon and evening at a couple of places belonging to some of Noi's friends, all of whom are keen on decorating their apartments in something approximating to English country style, regarding which Noi's old chum Rohana is something of an expert. (It was Rohana who first got the Missus seriously interested in bone china and the like.)

The first apartment we visited, belonging to Kak Intan, was a sort of showcase of the general style. In some ways it might have been described as cluttered, but this would have been unfair as it reflected a deliberate attempt at manifesting a kind of rich profusion. There were lots of lovely things everywhere, and the things mingled well together, but possibly too richly for most tastes. Sitting and admiring the view it struck me that the d├ęcor echoed what you might have expected to find in an apartment inhabited by one of Proust's more artistically inclined characters.

We're off again today to places connected to the same group, including Rohana's, which is to be our final port of call. I'm looking forward to a further opportunity to observe and appreciate - though not with imitation in mind. I remain a minimalist at heart.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

With Heart

It's taken a few days to really get going but I'm now completely hooked by Hearts In Atlantis having got to the one-third mark. Not that there's anything wrong with the slow build of the tale. In normal circumstances I would have found it difficult to put down from the first page, but even post-production things have been very busy and I've had no choice but to read in snatches, usually just before nodding off into an exhausted sleep.

Is this King on top form? Not quite, I'd say, but definitely at the top of his second division stuff, which is miles above most best-selling writers. All the episodes dealing with Bobby (the young protagonist) and his mom are out of the top drawer, beautifully - so far, at least - dove-tailed into the mystery element of the story. The segment in which Bobby asks her for some money so he can go with his friend to the beach at Savin Rock is so quietly disquieting and honest to the pain of the realisation that parents are less than perfect as to match anything else I've read in modern American fiction.

I came across something a while ago - can't recall where - claiming that King was the kind of best-selling writer who dies from memory within a generation, leaving readers of the future to wonder what all the fuss was about in an almost embarrassed fashion, the kind who cannot transcend the local concerns of his period. Possibly so, but I'm mighty glad I was around as his contemporary and got to escape into his world, learning a lot about my world in the process.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Opening Up

Opened our doors today to a few old friends for grub and gabbing. Plenty of both as there should be. Not sure how Noi manages to do it all on the grub front - but exceedingly glad she does.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Losing It

Got to the gym last night for the first time in a couple of weeks and struggled to keep going on the selected instrument of torture elliptical trainer. It's been quite a while - before the June vacation, in fact - that my numbers, in terms of distance travelled & calories used up, looked like they were on the up. Use it or lose it, they say, and they, as usual, are right: I've lost it.

But I'm looking on the bright side. I didn't feel particularly achy today after yesterday's workout, and there'll be time, I hope, to build up some sort of level of fitness in the months ahead.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Discovery

I'm no stranger to the work of composer Ennio Morricone and have mentioned his brilliant score for Cinema Paradiso in this Far Place on at least one occasion. I remember buying the music for The Mission on cassette tape when the movie first came out having picked up the buzz on it and, of course, like everyone of my generation I knew his stuff for the spaghetti westerns featuring Clint Eastwood, almost taking the absolute rightness of the music for granted.

But I really had no idea of the incredible scope, diversity and consistent brilliance of his achievement until, with great good fortune, I came across The 'Official' Ennio Morricone Thread hosted by the good people at ProgressiveEars. I now have a new musical hero and my life is brighter for the addition.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Modern Epic

Have just been trying to get through to the Astro people in Malaysia to let them know that the expiry date on the credit card with which I pay their bills was recently changed by those good people at the credit card company. This means there's a strong possibility that the payment won't go through as they'll most likely provide the old expiry date. The credit card people with great cunning are likely to refuse the payment on the grounds that the information they are being given by the company who wish to be paid through them is incorrect - even though they have paid the company monthly for any number of years, and they are the ones who changed the info required. With equal cunning Astro appear to have made it almost impossible to talk to an actual human being in their payment section by simply providing a series of menus for payment services which do not include that option. It is possible to get through to someone on the technical side, assuming you are prepared to wait long enough to be put through, but then the service person will simply say that they don't deal with the financial stuff, I suspect. (I confess I don't know this for sure as I haven't summoned up the energy for long enough to stay on the phone.) It's sort of vaguely ironic, I suppose, that all I'm trying to do is to make sure they get the money I owe them.

This is, of course, progress, and we should all be very grateful for it.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Circumstances

I mentioned to our Drama guys yesterday that staging A Midsummer Night's Dream was the fulfilment of an ambition for me. For years I've considered it the one Shakespeare play that might play well in a school context and often thought of how it might be made to work. What I didn't tell them was why I decided to go ahead with it.

With anything that I end up directing for performance the key consideration is a firmly pragmatic one: doability. Can it, whatever it might be, actually be made to work given the performers and the whole production set-up available, plus the broader context of performance, particularly the audience you're going to get? Until this year the stars had failed to align themselves in this regard, but when they strangely did - given the way circumstances have played themselves out over the last two years or so - then the possibility of getting the Dream on stage became real. And I felt both extremely lucky - especially in terms of the people around me - and oddly blessed.

This is not so far, I suspect, from Shakespeare's own sense of pragmatic necessity. We cannot grasp the development of his work unless we see it firmly within the real circumstances of theatre in his day. We wouldn't have got Bottom the Weaver had Will's company not had Will Kemp around to make the role. Lucky us.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Real Magick

As a teenager I had a mild fascination with matters appertaining to the occult, as so many teenagers do. There was a positive side to this: it helped foster an apprehension of the otherness of so much of human experience; and there was a negative side: it was all something of a waste of time with, occasionally, unpleasantly sinister undertones. Growing out of such concerns I came to see the very real magic that underpins the everydayness of our lives.
 
This manifests in a variety of ways, but possibly most obviously of all in the transformative power of Art, especially the art of theatre. And, of course, Shakespeare has got it in bucketfuls. Is it possible to sit through even a lame performance of his Dream play without being placed under a spell? Let's face it, even the utterly lame Pyramus & Thisby takes its audience to another place - and possibly changes them for the better, if they allow themselves to recognise something of their own folly in it. After all, The best in this kind are but shadows.

I reckon our version of Midsummer is very far from lame. And I think it works its magic in conjuring spirits that might transform each of us into something a little bit better than what we are.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Transformatory

Over heard in the dressing room before our first public performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream: I haven't looked this pretty for a long time. An interesting comment, if ever I heard one, on the transformative power of drama.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

At The End Of The Day

At the end of the day, the day ends. If you're lucky.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Going Back

Delighted today to hear the Guest of Honour in an oratorical competition at my place of work recommend the reading of Dickens to the assembled students (along with Tolstoy, Shakespeare and the Authorised Version - a pretty formidable line-up methinks.) The greatest of the Victorian novelists (in the English language) doesn't seem to get much of a look-in in Lit courses these days. Can't remember any text being offered for Paper 2 in all my years as an examiner. A writer once central to the popular canon seems to be out on the periphery these days. (The last time I taught Dickens was for A level, in the early 90s - Our Mutual Friend - and what a blast that was.)

But then I have to remind myself that my own reading of the Inimitable came after university, strange as that might seem for someone with a degree in Lit. So I missed out on Dickens in my youth, though making up for it since. And sitting there today, listening to the sage advice, I must say I felt like revisiting the whole glorious sequence of novels some time soon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Comfort Reading

I've not been engaged in reading a novel since the ones I read in KL in June. This is odd. A bit like the strange lassitude I've experienced of late with regard to listening to music. Decided to get things back to normal by popping into the library at work and grabbing a Stephen King. You just can't go wrong with the Master of the Macabre, well I can't, and he's so prolific that there's still plenty left of his oeuvre to read for me, despite my fanboy status.

The novel is question is Hearts in Atlantis, which I'm aware got made into a movie, but I haven't a clue what it's about. Which suits me fine. And now I'm about to make a start, despite the lateness of the hour, so Good Night, God Bless, to all.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Feed The World

Caught an item on BBC World just now about a lady in America, San Francisco, I think, who's developed, or is developing a service through the Internet that delivers excess food from the sort of places that tend to have such, to folks who are going hungry in places of need. The report began with a reference to how the lady in question was driven by the need to apply an intelligent solution to a problem that could be solved. Her company (if that's the right term) have been doing this for some five years now and have developed a sophisticated operation. The idea is to make the model as close to fool proof as possible and then duplicate it in other cities/countries. I felt like cheering as I watched.

It's easy - and necessary - to be grimly cynical about the world. But in the process you can end up deceiving yourself as to the possibilities of human goodness.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Musical Interlude

For the last couple of months I've not been listening to music quite as much as I normally do. Even in the June vacation, in the days spent in KL, I can't say I spent that much time in genuinely focused listening. Stuff got played certainly, but intermittently. I'd spin a CD and sometimes that was it for the day; very uncharacteristic, I can tell you.

So it came as something of a relief this morning when, very early on, I just couldn't stop myself putting on a bit of Stan Tracy - the Under Milk Wood suite, with the quartet - and then banging on one thing after another with obsessive delight. In case you're curious, the playlist up to the early afternoon went as follows: A Grounding in Numbers - VDGG; Handel's Water Music; the 2 disks of VDGG Live at the BBC; Ignis Fatuus - White Willow; the first Peter Gabriel solo album; Songs of Innocence - U2.

All of which I know well, and all of which sounded utterly fresh. And there would have been more, except I kept falling asleep in between items.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Problem Solving

I suppose most of us tend to think of making art as being, at some level, a kind of expression of self. But from the point of view of someone directing a show it feels more like solving a series of problems; assuming, that is, one accepts the directing of a play as a form of art-making.

Extending this idea to art in general, though, I think is fruitful. At some level a poem, a string quartet, a painting, a statue, is the working out of a problem, or a whole series of them. 

Great art provides solutions of great beauty. Shakespeare's Dream is a perfectly balanced equation: day against night; waking against sleep; rationality against imagination; order against chaos.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pressing Concerns

The focus afforded by the deadline of public performance is intense and strangely necessary. It's the way things get done, a paradoxically welcome and unwelcome truth.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sources Of Energy

How much do we know, scientifically speaking, about where we get our energy from? I'm not thinking of oil and gas and solar power and all that shebang; I have in mind, rather, the energy we experience at a personal level - the stuff that gets us out of bed, enables us to get through a day at work, and generally spurs us on to fill our lives getting things done as opposed to sitting around and soaking in the environment. Is the level of energy we're granted a fixed thing, determined in a mysterious way by our individual physiology? Or is it related to what we soak in from outside? Can we consciously accumulate more, or is what we've got a done deal?

Do we inevitably lose it as we get older? This last question feels particularly relevant on a personal level. It isn't that I'm absolutely certain that the answer is a positive one, for someone of my age, that is, though obviously there does come a point if you live long enough when the batteries no longer recharge; but if I am no longer possessed of the wherewithal I once took for granted then I really do need to consider active remediation, if at all possible.

In this regard, I've been struck by things I've read about Donald Trump, especially in relation to his interestingly insulting low energy label in relation to the unfortunate Jeb Bush. It seems Trump can be genuinely characterised as a high energy kind of guy, which accounts for the tweeting in the middle of the night and contacting various reporters at what might fairly be termed unsociable hours. In that sense, the insult to Bush was sincerely meant, with Trump showing a kind of primitive awareness of a genuine difference between himself and his erstwhile opponent.

I suspect I'm a low energy kind of guy who sometimes needs to pretend otherwise, relying on sheer will power to do so. But perhaps it's time to look for ways of cultivating enough get up and go to make the pretence a bit more plausible.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

In Space

I've been emphasising to the cast for our up-coming A Midsummer Night's Dream that they're going to have to adapt very quickly to the performance space for the show. We're using a familiar venue, but we won't be able to get in there on a regular basis until five days before we go public and they'll need to adjust to our fairly elaborate sets for Athens and the enchanted woods. I foresee some fairly radical alterations of the blocking (the basic moves we're prepared) once we're in there, if we are really going to exploit the possibilities available. Considering that there are a thousand and one other things to get ready, this is a little intimidating. Having said that, in many ways it's all to the good. The more autonomy young performers get the better in terms of what they finally take away from the whole experience.

I sometimes think that one of the things that separates 'theatre people' from ordinary, sane human beings is the obsessive concern of the former for space and how you occupy it. Even those performers who instinctively know where they need to go in relation to others, don't really know they know this. You need to develop a consciousness for what is, in the normal run of things, entirely unconscious, accidental. And once you've done that, boy it's hard to shake it off.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Temporary Stillness

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The deceptive thing about pictures of kids is the comforting illusion they create of some sort of stillness on the part of those pictured. Such stillness, and its attendant quietude, were rare commodities indeed in relation to the youngsters above who brightened up our Raya in Melaka.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Continuities

Spent the early afternoon Raya visiting in and around Alor Gajah. We've been going to some of the houses for some twenty years now and not much about them ever seems to change. But the hospitality remains warmly consistent. Thus we make our temporary lives seem almost permanent.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Something Heavy

Decided to travel light since I'm only staying the one night here in Melaka, so brought along just the one book to read. The tome in question is Milton's Selected Poetry and Prose in the Norton Critical Edition, and I'd recommend it for all fans of the great epic poet - though it doesn't actually contain the great epic itself, which comes in its own Norton Critical Edition of Paradise Lost. Fortunately the Selected has got everything else you really need in it with very helpful notes, strategically placed to instantly assist the slow-minded reader like myself. (Must say, I'm seriously thinking of acquiring Milton's lost paradise in this edition, but feel a bit guilty since I've already got several versions of it.)

Over the last few days I've been reacquainting myself with Samson Agonistes and I must say it just gets better with every reading - despite the fact that it seems to get a bit of a bad press from some critics. Yes, it's not as gloriously lush as Paradise Lost, but its sparse astringency seems to me a virtue in itself; it's so wonderfully concentrated. Mind you I think Prof John Carey has got a genuine point when he calls it a work in praise of terrorism and suggests it should be banned in the wake of 9/11 (in an essay that appears amongst the critical essays offered with several others as part of the Selected. Good value, eh?) It's a work designed to bother and unsettle and provoke. I think part of Milton identifies with the tragically destructive Samson, and part of him knows this is a very dangerous chap.

Must say, I remain puzzled by the controversy over the dating of the piece. As far as I can gather there's a case made for it being fairly early Milton - circa the early 1650s, but it seems so obviously of the 1660s to me, with blind Milton's republican dreams crushed and humiliation fallen upon him that I just can't read it in any other way. Goodness me, how stupid my countrymen were to bring back the monarchy!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Back On The Road Again

Noi's going back to Melaka for more Raya-ing tonight; I'll be following tomorrow after getting dramatic in the early part of the day. At times just trying to remember which country one needs to be and for how long is quite a task in itself.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

It's Curtains

 
 
Before marriage I never understood the importance of proper curtains to a right-thinking household. Now I've progressed to an appreciation of curtains in combination with twinkling lights. Not a combination for the faint-hearted.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Moment In Time

Hari Raya Puasa, Eid ul-Fitr; 1 Syawal 1437

Attended the Raya Prayers this morning at the big masjid in Alor Gajah, accompanying Rozaidah's husband known to us all as the Ustad. One particularly nice moment: there was a solemn little lad who'd been assigned to walk through the rows during the khutbah to collect contributions from the congregation. When he arrived at the old gentleman in front of me the old man, having placed his donation in the bag proffered to him, then detained the boy for a moment in order to put some more money in the top pocket of his rather nifty grey baju, and then affectionately pat him on the shoulder. The little lad remained suitably serious throughout, but I suspect he was gratified by the attention - and the cash. A reminder that in a big world it's the small details that count.

To all who journey and arrive, at least long enough to enjoy the view: Selamat Hari Raya! Eid Mubarak!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Hotter Than July

30 Ramadhan 1437

15.00

A ferociously hot, but thankfully final, afternoon on which to be fasting. About to drive up north to celebrate Raya over the border. Hoping for clear roads, and a bit of rain wouldn't go amiss.

21.15

Didn't get the rain, but the roads were clear and we arrived early enough to pop down to the pasar malam in Alor Gajah to buy some goodies for the breaking of the fast. Now happily contemplating actually being able to drink a cup of tea whenever I want to during the day and feeling highly celebratory.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Bright Lights Last Night

 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 

29 Ramadhan 1437

We found ourselves at Geylang again this afternoon, having enjoyed our night out on Sunday, but having failed to pay our zakat due to arriving a couple of minutes too late at Darul Arqam, where we pay annually. We had no problem paying this afternoon, apart from having to deal with the overwhelming heat, and a bigger crowd than last night. Not sure how the stallholders cope with it all. Not sure how all the food available ever gets eaten.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Preparing

28 Ramadhan 1437

17.38

With Raya fast approaching we're off this evening to the wilds of the Ramadhan Bazaar at Geylang to get festive. Fifi and Fafa will be coming along with us - they've stayed for the weekend in order to do some baking with their Mak Ndak. We've got the twinkling lights going at last (as evidenced below), and are now embarking on the final cleaning up ahead of the big day. It's all falling fruitfully into place!

 
 
 
 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Flesh Is Weak

27 Ramadhan 1437

Just got back from the gym, this being my second visit during the holy month, after getting back on the cross training thingamajig last Wednesday evening. I posted a pretty poor performance then, but did manage 40 minutes, and achieved something similar tonight - a slight improvement, in fact. In some ways it's startling to realise I still have the energy to keep going despite my body telling me it has nothing to give.

They are funny things these bags of skin and bone and blood and flesh and other gooey bits that embody whatever it is that makes us what we are. Even when they let you down - and, let's face it, one day they will do so on a spectacular scale - you can't help but feel attached to them.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Following Directions

26 Ramadhan 1437

The brief reference I made a couple of days ago to the Aristotelian notion of Final Causes came as a direct result of some of my reading back at the taman. I dipped extensively into a couple of the books I acquired recently by Ed Feser, his lucid introduction to Aquinas and The Last Superstition. Both are highly readable and models of philosophy done with clarity - and considerable insight. I'm not entirely sold on all the good prof's ideas, especially his approach to Natural Law, but on the fundamentals of Aristotle's (and Aquinas's) metaphysics I'm close to closing the deal.

My turning away from a kind of woolly agnosticism to a fragile theism, which took place some years ago, was not based on the idea that through reason alone we can arrive at an acceptance of monotheism. Rather somewhere inside the complex of ideas that led me on was a sense that a purely materialistic explanation of the way things are couldn't hold water as it failed to acknowledge the odd and obvious purposefulness of, well, everything. Now, in moments of clarity, the pervasive intentionality of all we are able to know is obvious, and supremely reasonable.

An instance not just of the single fingerpost, but of seeing signs everywhere one cares to look.