Friday, October 20, 2017

Grub, Plenty Of

It's been a week of our version of fine dining: Christmas dinner, for which we went vegetarian (don't ask); Deepavali nosh with various buddies; a hall outing involving a rather jolly buffet; and today Noi left me a resplendent bowl of mee goreng, cooked ahead of her driving up north to see Mak over the weekend. All very wonderful; all a bit much. Looking forward to easing up and giving my digestive system a rest.

Further reminders of a fortunately privileged existence.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Good News, Sort Of

Found myself reading a number of stories in the press in the last two or three days dealing with the mistreatment of women by the film producer Harvey Weinstein and, stemming from those revelations, further articles outlining the kind of abusive behaviour various individual women have detailed to illustrate just how pervasive such behaviour is in circles beyond those immediately surrounding the Hollywood casting couch. It's all been very depressing to read, so how much, much more horrendous in its effects must it be to have been on the receiving end. There's much darkness there.

So it was sort of refreshing to read a sort of good news story today. This concerned the library in Auckland - one of my favourite cities - which has just solved the mystery of why some of its books had gone missing and then turned up in some very odd corners. It turns out that rough sleepers in the city were to blame, though not actually being blameworthy in any way. They seem to have been protecting the books, in their fashion, since the books were so important to them as things to read and they didn't want to take them out with them where the books would be vulnerable. The library officials have shown exemplary concern for these hugely important customers. For once I felt sort of good after reading something in the news (though the figures given for the numbers of homeless and rough sleepers in this lovely city gave those positive thoughts something of a melancholy cast.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Something New Under The Sun

So there I was thinking that I'd reached the point at which nothing could excite me quite as much as getting to see Pink Floyd performing Atom Heart Mother live with choir and brass section as a callow fourteen-year-old. Then I find out in a single day that there's a new live Crimson album featuring the double quartet version of the Greatest Band in the Known Universe with excerpts from Lizard (Dawn Song; Last Skirmish; Prince Rupert's Lament) and Islands featured amongst much else and the first novel in the second trilogy set in Philip Pullman's worlds of His Dark Materials is published this Thursday. The new trilogy is entitled The Book of Dust and the novel itself, La Belle Sauvage, and I love both titles. I feel like I'm fourteen again - and, in truth, I'm probably just as callow.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Not So Fiery

Found myself thinking of a wonderfully lugubrious chorus from the mighty Dan's (Steely, that is) first album, Can't Buy A Thrill: There's fire in the hole / And nothing left to burn. As I inelegantly fell apart towards the end of my statutory 40 minutes of torture in the gym it struck me what whatever fire had been lit in the hole had long since been extinguished.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Not Going Backwards

Just got off the phone after chatting with John, though in truth 'chatting' is not exactly the most accurate word to describe the delivery of his standard litany of woes about the state of his health and the health of pretty much everyone he knows, and the faults of the UK's NHS, I've come to expect. Fortunately this was the standard version, concluded with his observation, we're not going backwards, so I felt some considerable relief at how reasonably positive he was, once the account was complete. There's been improvement in Maureen's vision, she's going to be involved in some further version of rehab, and John is happily suing the doctor who messed up on the treatment of his leg, which gives him something to which he can look forward. (Of course, there was a lot, lot more than this, but I'll save you the details. Especially the gory ones.)

I'm becoming increasingly aware of just how often concerns about health feature in my conversations with my contemporaries and those of a slightly older generation. Far from being bothered about people moaning about such matters I generally take a keen interest, knowing that I face my fair share of such concerns - if not now, then most likely in the future. It's more interesting than talking about the weather - especially the highly predictable version of the weather in this Far Place.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Going Back

This afternoon I found myself wandering around the premises of the first school in which I taught in this Far Place. The premises are no longer the premises of the original school but belong to another school now. Indeed, the premises to which that school relocated are now being 'up-graded' in routine local fashion, so the school has relocated for the meantime to the premises of a school which no longer exists. So wherever you go back to you know you can never go back.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bodying Forth

Now in the last sixty pages of McGilchrist's The Master and his Emissary. It continues to delight, illuminate and, occasionally, astonish. Now thinking about the link between modernity and what McGilchrist describes (rightly, I think) as a kind of assault on embodied being. The notion explains a lot about our collective madness regarding our bodies and what we do with them, in the developed world that is.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


In my teenage years I'd occasionally watch Masterclass programmes on the telly. These involved great musicians hearing really gifted students play and giving them instruction. Most of what was played and said went way over my head, but even a distinctly ungifted kid like myself got some benefit from being exposed to the very, very best dealing in considerable detail with what they were the very, very best at. At the least I got to understand just how jaw-droppingly talented these people were and how deep and detailed the art they helped create was, even if I didn't really understand most of what was being said.

Today I attended a real live Masterclass over at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory. It featured the beyond jaw-droppingly talented concert pianist Stephen Hough (wow! in real life and close up!) and three averagely jaw-droppingly talented young pianists - two studying at the university and one being my school's very own Jonah. Things have changed a bit for me, but not that much. It was all still miles over my head, but these days I've got enough concentration to hang on every note, and hang on I did through three wonderful performances. Following each of which the masterly Mr Hough took what we'd heard wonderfully to pieces, showing each performer how they could be even better. We're talking about excellence in every dimension on a staggering level here.

Sometimes, only very occasionally fortunately, students tell me I am awesome in some way. This is very nice of them, but inaccurate in the extreme. What I enjoyed this afternoon really deserved the label. And then some.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Faking It?

Was thinking earlier this evening of one of my rare encounters with a visual artist. It happened in Todmorden of all places and I was in the unlikely company of Tony and Ann. I think it took place just before I came to Singapore, around 1987, and it was all entirely accidental. We were just wandering around of a weekend, exploring the area, when we caught sight of the artist's shop, a small one, not anything like a gallery, and popped in just out of curiosity. The guy's name was Bohuslav Barlow, and his work was quite impressive in a spooky kind of way. We were able to see a fair amount of it in a restaurant in the area, some time after meeting Mr Barlow, as they'd put on a display of some of his pieces for sale there. The canvases were way too big and expensive for the likes of me, but I bought a book entitled Visual Alchemy at the shop with some rather fetching illustrations. Chatting with the artist was interesting in a sort of professional kind of way. He didn't try too hard to sell us anything, and said little or nothing about matters of 'inspiration' and the like, but was forthcoming about his art classes and what it was like trying to earn a living in that part of the country.
For some reason all this came back to my mind earlier this evening and I suddenly realised I might well find something on the WWW about the guy and, hey presto, I found his website almost right away - after figuring out how to spell his first name. The thing that really stood out in mind about our meeting related more to Tony than the artist himself, oddly enough. Tony seemed convinced that the work we saw (which included a few of the paintings featured on the website) was a kind of con. It wasn't that he thought he couldn't paint, and do so very well - I don't think anyone with eyes would dispute that. No, what bothered Tony was the choice of subject matter. He was convinced that it was contrived to appeal to folk who liked stuff that was a bit spooky, a bit occult, a bit surreal.

But he really couldn't deal with what I thought was an obvious rejoinder to all this: what did it matter if it was all a bit of a fiddle if you were able to respond to the pictures with enjoyment - and possibly a touch of dread - and wanted to put one or two on your walls to keep doing so? I suppose this simplicity of outlook lies behind my enjoyment of the kind of modern art that bothers so many. As long as I like it I don't care what it means or whether I'm being tricked. Sometimes you can try a bit too hard to guarantee your money's worth, you know.

(Should just say for clarification's sake that BB's work is so obviously not 'faked' in any sense that I did wonder just a little about Tony's sanity. But that's what being an engineer does to you, I suppose.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

From Afar

I've found a simple remedy for all those days on which I realise I feel overly cheerful. Reading any of the news relating to the negotiations over Brexit instantly restores sobriety, quickly succeeded by a refreshing melancholy. Mind you, I enjoy the happy distance of self-imposed exile which helps keep the whole fiasco in some sort of proportion.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Real Learning

Apropos of my comments from yesterday on just how slow my reading is these days, I must say that I tend to forget just how much on-line reading I do, and thoroughly enjoy. Today, for example, I took multi-tasking to a whole new level by reading most of an excellent interview with master drummer/percussionist Pat Mastelotto over at Anil Prasad's Innerviews whilst assisting the Missus in her shopping at the supermarket in Clementi Mall.

I must admit when I first came across Pat as a player in the double-trio version of King Crimson, teamed with Bill Bruford, I completely underestimated his contribution, thinking that Bruf just didn't need anyone else alongside him. Intriguingly Pat admits to feeling something of the same during that period, a mark of his amazing groundedness and appreciation of others. Indeed, the whole interview is a pleasure to read in terms of his insights and powerful good sense. Imagine a stellar musician saying this: 

If you go back to when Crimson stopped in 1997, I figured we’d get right back together in a year or so. So, I immediately went out and took as many music classes as I could. My weaknesses became super-apparent in King Crimson. They surfaced more than when I would play within the needs of a pop record. Now, the needs were greater. I always had things in my imagination that I couldn’t play and that's why I embraced technology. I felt it was either compromise on my vision or find a way to strengthen my playing. I met Cenk Eroglu and went to Turkey a few times and that was eye opening. I found local teachers and took djembe, tabla, kanjira, piano, voice, tap, and Middle Eastern music classes. I had a night school schedule. I took a weekend class at North Texas State University. Ed Soph, who was the Professor of Drum Set at North Texas State, is one of the best in the world and he said “I see a lot of your fundamental problems. You would really benefit from a summer camp we do with four teachers including Gary Chaffee.” So I did that. Gary opened a lot of doors for me. I also practiced a lot.

A role model for those who think they have some kind of talent and want to develop it.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Taking My Time

I'm a little embarrassed to note that my current reading bears a striking resemblance to the same current reading of a couple of months ago. And I still have a good quarter of Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary to tackle, that being, I suppose, the centrepiece of it all. The problem here is that there's no problem at all in being so engrossed in the book that I find myself proceeding with an almost deliberate slowness in order to try and grasp the totality of the argument, when the argument is so various in its implications that it's just impossible to do so. I'm now up to the chapter dealing with the Enlightenment and McGilchrist's reading of the period in the light of his ideas about the development of left hemisphere dominance. Every example is a telling one, and makes me think of others, but I can't help but consider in addition my own counter-examples, which I then realise can be assimilated into the general thesis.

I'm similarly proceeding with epic slowness through Derek Walcott's modern epic Omeros, and continuing to cross-reference to Robert Hamner's very useful guide to the poem, Epic of the Dispossessed. I now find myself reading both texts twice in relation to each Book of the poem. Thus, now in Book 5, I originally read Hamner's chapter on this in its entirety, then the Book itself, and am now rereading Hamner on each chapter before reading the actual chapter. This slowing down allows me to be able to relish the poem through the intensity it necessarily brings to the (re)reading of each chapter and is proving especially helpful in this particular segment of the poem in which Walcott's references and geography are particularly wide-ranging (with a chapter centred on Lisbon, then London, then Dublin...)

On top of this I'm having a good time reading Ian Bostridge's book on Schubert's Winterreise in a similar 'bitty' fashion. I play each song and follow with Bostridge's translation, then read the pertinent chapter. After that, it's back to the song. Then I play through all the songs 'covered' so far, following the lyrics and glancing back over Bostridge's thoughts, usually reading the whole of the relevant chapter again. Sort of. It's beguiling to do so.

I don't think I've ever read three (I suppose four) books quite as slowly as this. I keep thinking I really need to be reading a novel as well (the last one was Roth's The Plot Against America) but I fear that would derail me completely. I'm hoping to finish a couple of the books in the next two weeks or so, but I can't say I'll be terribly upset if I not-so-miserably fail.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Simply Magic

Not quite sure why it took me most of a lifetime to finally make up my mind to sit and listen to Mozart's The Magic Flute from start to finish. That's what I did this morning and I'm extremely glad I did. The opera transported me to a very special place of the imagination, the one where all contraries seem to be resolved, at least while the music lasts.

The work is all archetypes; it speaks of things known perfectly well, which yet seem strangely new and original. One simple, but not so simple, example: the sequence in which Papageno and Papagena sing of their intention to marry and have children is wonderfully juxtaposed to the final induction of Tamino and Pamina into the Masonic mysteries; the splendid earthiness of the former grounds the splendid spirituality of the latter in a supremely wise balance. It's all so obvious you feel like you have already been told, or somehow experienced, the tale.

And the tunes!! Sublime.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Power Cut

I was some nine minutes into my standard workout in the gym earlier this evening when all the lights suddenly went out. I remained magnificently calm and continued pedalling. Since I was the only person in the gym at the time, there was no one else around to perform a quick fix by attending to the fuse box, so I completed the remainder of my stint in the dark, illuminated only by the lights from the digital readout on the elliptical trainer. The machine seems to be battery-powered or something, so I didn't need to stop, and the air-conditioning mercifully continued to function. Essentially, I suppose, it was business as usual except for the possibility that someone might turn up and wonder why I had chosen to pedal in the dark.

Funnily enough the sudden lack of energy on the part of the lights matched my own general sense of not being entirely with it this evening. Far from the loss of the lighting helping me into a focused performance of the personal best variety, my lack of the necessary vim resulted in something close to a personal worst. All I can say in self-defence is that I kept going, which is all any of us can reasonably do when the dark is gathering.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Ill Will

Confession time: I felt a wholly reprehensible - but highly enjoyable - sense of malicious glee over Mrs May's discomfiture during her catastrophic speech at the Conservative Party Conference. Now I'm not known for my support for any of the egregious Tories, current or past, but to actively enjoy one of them having the worst of times is a bit odd, even for me. And I don't have any special dislike for the lady in question (which is not exactly the case regarding her female forerunner.) So why react in this way?

Actually I was genuinely puzzled initially, then I realised my reaction was fuelled by a sort of twisted sense of revengeful justice. These creeps have done everything in their power - and they have lots of power in the media and other places - to cast as much mud, and other even more unpleasant substances, at Mr Corbyn. The lady in question was not exactly behind the door in joining in, was she? Whilst I'm not exactly a fan of Jeremy, I recognise the genuineness and integrity of the man, and it was a delight to contemplate the astonishing ascent of his fortunes as so-called 'strong and stable leadership' has come crashing down.

A good reminder, methinks, for us all to never believe in our own publicity.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Pay Attention!

As children we learn we must pay attention. A big part of growing up is finding out what's worth paying attention to.

Some people never grow up.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

On Being Entitled

Young people are often accused of having too strong a sense of entitlement. Is the accusation fair? As with all generalisations, yes and no and somewhere in between. Some youngsters certainly appear to believe that the world should revolve around them and react unfavourably when it unaccountably fails to do so. Some have sussed out that the world is happily indifferent to them and their needs and they need to make their own way through it without complaining overmuch about the damage it inadvertently does to them. Most fall somewhere within these extremes. And, I suspect, it has been ever so, though I think there might be a reasonable case for saying that in some parts of the world, essentially the fortunately prosperous bits, the pendulum may have swung in the direction of greater numbers of those who consider themselves the centre of all things. I can't think of much of a remedy for this except patient and occasionally strident reminders that to such types that this is not the case. Mind you, simple reality will provide plenty of these.

However I do think that there's one aspect of what one might characterise as the business of entitlement that's very obviously of deep personal value. I'm pretty sure that most of us can recognise our own slightly crazy sense of just how entitled we are if we turn the accusation on ourselves. A salutary exercise and, as you rightly surmise, I speak from embarrassed and embarrassing experience.

Of course, you're entitled to your own opinion on all this. And I'm entitled to tell you when you're wrong. Hah!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Hard Listening

Listening is hard when talk seems to go nowhere. But sometimes listening is all you can do.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Something Unfinished

I'll be on my way soon to pick up young Jordan, Tony's lad, who's back in Singapore. I think he's on his way to India in a day or two or three, but he moves in mysterious ways, so we'll wait and see where he's off to next, and when. Noi, I'm afraid, is temporarily incapacitated so won't be joining me as I wend my way across to Joo Chiat, where the young man is at the moment. It's unusual for her to be ill in any way, but, as I said, this looks like a temporary thing and I'm hoping she'll be back in form by this evening.

It was Jordan who very generously mailed me a copy of The Master and his Emissary, a book that has dominated my thinking for a few weeks now. I rather think he's expecting we'll be discussing Dr McGilchrist's key work and its ideas which I know excited him also, and I'm nothing loath to do so, but it's going to be a bit embarrassing to have tell him I still haven't finished the book.

I'm now well into Part 2, and thoroughly enjoying the move into a version of cultural history connected tellingly to Part 1's ideas about the functioning of the two hemispheres of the brain, but McGilchrist provides a dense read at times and I need to go slowly. Even then I'm aware I'll definitely have to read it all again, and probably soon, to get a handle on how it all fits together. But I suppose that's part of why the ideas come across as so telling: there's no dumbing down here, almost the reverse.

Saturday, September 30, 2017


At my age it's not wise to play futsal, especially with a bunch of sprightly young kids. It's even less wise to do so after having pulled a muscle in your left leg only two days ago. But, then, I make few claims to wisdom. And the ones I do make are not exactly plausible.

Guess what I was doing in the early evening. And guess just how much how I'm paying for it now.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Somewhat Sheepish

It seems a film entitled Baa Baa Land has just premiered in the UK. It features sheep grazing in a field - and nothing else, for eight hours. Stupidity. Genius. Or an astute mixture of both. The producer reckons it's very relaxing, sleep-inducing viewing.

I'd be more than happy to watch it. (And I can, because I've just found it on youtube!)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Ladder Of Life

Caught a thoroughly depressing story this afternoon on the BBC World Service regarding the imminent demise of the African elephant, assuming losses continue at the present appalling rate. It seems that the elephant population of the continent was looking in reasonably good shape until around 2009. Then a combination of the financial crisis and the increasing influence of the Chinese in Africa, in combination with the trade in ivory with its deep roots in Chinese culture, turned the tide against Jumbo and his chums. It's taken less than a decade to place the elephant in real danger of extinction on the continent.

In my list of favourite living things I reckon trees and elephants vie for first place. And it's a terrible thing to say, but when I hear news like today's, when it's abundantly clear which species is to blame for what's going on, I reckon homo sapiens (so ironically named) are in last place, a long way behind the nearest contenders. (I suppose that'd be the cockroach for entirely prejudiced reasons. Though I must say, the sheer resilience of the blighters has gone a long way to winning a kind of very grudging admiration from me.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Quite often when Noi is watching one of her Malay dramas from Malaysia we find ourselves commenting on the houses in which the dramas are being played out. I think I'm right in my assumption that these are 'real' houses, rather than studio sets, and that 'real' people live in them when they're not being utilised for dramatic purposes. Well, I say 'real' people, but I should add the qualifier 'rich' real people. It's all intended to be very inspirationally aspirational for the poor viewers, like ourselves, I suppose, but it doesn't quite work like that. Not for us, anyway, for whom the general effect is to confirm the joys of a simple, cheap kind of life. The problem essential to any display of affluence is not so much bad taste (though there's a fair amount of that on display) as an inherent lack of lived warmth. Whatever happened to cosiness?

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Factory Floor

It was during the three-day week, under the Heath government. I was able to work beyond the three days since I worked in Dispatch, which meant you weren't tied to a machine and so could get on with shifting stuff around the factory and doing all sorts of bits and bobs. The only problem was that most of the factory was cold because the machines weren't running and, I suppose, the heating was turned down, if not off. There was one machine which, for some reason I never figured out, was allowed to run all the time, I think because shutting it down would have had ramifications that couldn't be dealt with. But it was a long time ago, so I could be wrong. What I know for sure is that we used to gather around the area during breaks because it was warm there, and there were some problems with the machine that meant some management types gathered around it for quite a few days.

The bloke operating it was very patient with it all, and just got on with taking instructions and doing the needful. Then one day he told me that he knew perfectly well what was wrong with the machine, but none of the experts had seen fit to ask him anything about it. This all struck me as bleakly funny and a bit of a parable for British industry at that time; possibly a parable for management at any given time. Not sure if there's much of that industry left today. Rotunda Ltd shut down years ago.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Useful Self Deception

I've developed the remarkable ability to convince myself prior to a visit to the gym that I'm going to enjoy the experience. Once I'm in there, it takes approximately two minutes on the elliptical trainer for me to start wondering how I could ever have been so naïve. Ten minutes in, and I'm sickeningly aware I've got another half hour of this torment, and I'm wondering if this time I'll be able to see it through to the end. Somehow I always do. And somehow I usefully forget just how bad it gets. And then I start looking forward to the next visit.

It's a strange thing, the mind. Well, the one that belongs to me is.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Making Demands

Got a bit operatic today. It's been quite some time since I've listened to my CD box-set of Mozart's big seven operas under the baton of John Eliot Gardiner. At the time I got this at a bargain price I considered it a great buy, and I suppose I still do. The orchestral playing is obviously of the highest order, crisp and vibrant and wonderfully clear in its textures, and wonderfully recorded. I suppose the voices are of the highest order as well, though I'm a bit more hesitant on this one since I generally struggle to appreciate really 'operatic' voices, especially those of the ladies, since they always sound a bit over-cooked to me. But I'm getting better at shedding my prejudices, and most of the time the singing sounds pretty much high-powered and often gorgeous to even these weak ears. But despite the many, many virtues of what's on offer I have a basic problem in listening to the operas, which has made me wonder whether it was right for me to buy the set after all.

I know that it's just not good enough to listen to what's on offer without following what all the warbling's about, so I make a determined effort to listen. But it's not easy. The cheapo-cheapo nature of the box-set means the operas come without the librettos. Now I have an excellent book comprising precisely the librettos in question, but because Eliot Gardiner's versions involve all sorts of cuts, the correspondence is by no means perfect. Also I'm hopeless at hearing the Italian clearly and often get lost simply as a result of this. So there I sit with the book of words (it's big and thick) on the table, with the little booklet provided with the CDs detailing the order and numbering of tracks balanced on top of that, listening hard and trying to follow - and usually succeeding. But at the cost of getting sort of exhausted, generally after about fifteen minutes.

I suppose this didn't work too badly for the first five operas of the set, but then I came to La Clemenza di Tito and just couldn't manage to get on with it. There were wholesale cuts to the libretto in the very first recitative with which the opera opens and I couldn't even distinguish between the two voices of the ladies warbling away, and since one of these was meant to be a chap, in true opera seria fashion, it all felt a bit cock-eyed and pointless. The result: I put the set aside for months.

Until today, that is, when I forced myself to sit down and get to grips with the piece. And I'm very glad I did. It doesn't have any of the obvious charms of Cosi or Figaro or Don Giovanni as an overall opera, but it's got bags of tunefulness and what I've gradually come to understand as Mozartian orchestral wit and sprightliness. Like all great creative work you come to grips with it by allowing the encounter, even it takes a bit of work to do so. In fact I've got a sneaking suspicion that it's the need to do the work that helps open up a potential for listening with understanding that may have been far too deeply hidden before. Sometimes demands are worth making, though perhaps I might have been less ambitious and just bought single operas rather than the whole set to avoid at least occasionally feeling overwhelmed.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Beginning Afresh

1 Muharram 1439

In my little corner of the world I have the odd privilege of enjoying no fewer than three New Years. That in itself is a reminder of a much, much bigger world beyond. And I'm fortunate enough to be allowed the kind of choices that enable me to make a new beginning with each new year. Heck, every day offers such possibilities.

I'm perhaps too much aware of enjoying my good fortune - for that's what it is. A lucky accident of time & geography. Today my prayers are for those who haven't had that kind of luck. Perhaps this year the tide might turn for some of them.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Top Man

Have recently been on a bit of a Steely Dan jag following the news of the death of the great Walter Becker. (Not that much of an excuse is needed for maxing out on the mighty Dan, of course.) Then it occurred to me I'd not given much airplay to WB's first solo album, 11 Tracks of Whack, for quite some time. I rectified the omission yesterday and suddenly realised that I actually preferred it to the various Donald Fagen solo albums. And since it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that DF's solo stuff is surpassingly excellent all the way through to Sunken Condos, I can't think of higher praise.

It's the sheer variety it offers that marks out something very special for me about 11 Tracks. And any album starting with the double whammy of Down In the Bottom and Junkie Girl has just got to be up there among the very, very special albums that every self-respecting muso must own. Yet, astonishingly, it's no longer available on CD, a deeply sobering fact I discovered when some time ago now I tried to buy Mr Becker's second solo effort, Circus Money, from those good people at only to discover that both albums have been deleted (if that's the right term.) That's the reason that, until today, I'd not heard anything off the later disk. I sort of falsely assumed that Circus Money couldn't be up to much if it were no longer available having been originally released relatively recently.

Incredibly foolish assumption! Today I downloaded it from iTunes and it's seriously brilliant. I've spun it twice now, so obviously this is a very early judgement, but, again, I'd put it ahead of Mr Fagen's solo output. This goes to make the loss of WB all the more melancholy, but let's be grateful for what he left behind. And for how he rose above his demons. And the places he took us to. What a legacy, eh? Down in the bottom where your demons fly / Down in the bottom of the eastern sky / Down in the bottom where your lifeline shows / Down in the bottom where nobody goes / Drowned at the bottom of your mystery / Down in the bottom of the wine dark sea.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Best I've Got

Thought of an awkward truth today whilst in the gym: all my best ideas are never my own. Oh hum.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Finding A Voice

I'm still slow on the uptake when it comes to plundering the Web for its treasures. It only occurred to me today that it might be a good wheeze to see whether there was anything related to Walcott's mighty Omeros on Youtube, and boy was I glad I did. A full reading by the man himself of Book 1 of the epic was the main goody related to Omeros itself, but there was a fair amount of excellent material on other poems and the poet and his background. This included quite an early South Bank Show (at least that's what I think it is, with Mr Bragg looking very fresh, very spry) which I'm fairly sure I watched when it was first broadcast. I suspect this may have put DW on the poetic map for me since I'm pretty sure I never got to encounter anything by him, or indeed of him, at school or university. There's a mention at the beginning of the documentary that Walcott was little known in the UK at that point - a lack that now seems quite extraordinary.

The poet's own reading of Book 1 has wonderfully alerted me to the fact that I was hearing it, and thus the poem as a whole, wrong in my head. Whilst I knew what DW sounded like in interview, and had some sense of the Caribbean accent fundamental to the poem, I was failing to appreciate just how incantatory the underlying rhythms were intended to be. There was something more urgent, more pressing somehow in my mind. But having not just heard but been spellbound by DW's mastery I don't think I'll ever be able to hear anything by him again in any other way. This reminds me of getting similarly intoxicated with Seamus Heaney's voice, and, I suppose, in earlier times with Ted Hughes's.

I suppose this is part of the greatness of these guys. The metaphor of a writer finding a voice is literal with them. They don't so much find it in their work as manifest something that was there all along. And in each of them that voice is intimately tied to a sense of locality, though they effortlessly transcend all that's narrow and parochial.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Slow Progress

I've got several books on the go at the moment, a habit I've tried to break myself of. And spectacularly failed to do so. The problem is the sense that I'm not really doing complete justice to any single book that I'm reading as I keep putting one aside to pick up another. But the thing is that since everything I'm reading is excellent it's just too difficult to resist going back to each isolated case of excellence, and I don't mind taking so long to read each item since there's so much enjoyment in the individual encounter.

Case in point: I can't remember exactly when I started reading Derek Walcott's narrative poem Omeros, or started a rereading, I should say, my first reading having been completed some years back. It feels like a long time back as it's been a regular enough feature of my very late night reading to have its own spot on my bedside table. But I've only just reached Book Three, about a third of the way in. I reckon I'm reading every line at least twice, and probably more. It's just so astonishingly good that it demands instant revisiting just to try and take in what's on the glittering surface, though this reader has a powerful feeling that there are depths he's not managed to plumb - though he has, at least, managed to recognise them.

Walcott's use of the hexameter as his standard line has convinced me that this is the natural line for any narrative verse in English, by the way. And who knew that tercets could be this flexible?

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Finished Philip Roth's brilliantly imagined The Plot Against America today, positively zooming through the final third. As I mentioned in a previous post, at points I'd felt a curious reluctance to read on, regardless of the entirely gripping nature of the novel, since its dark vision of the way a 1940s fascist United States might have been was just a bit too real, just a bit ever so likely, and just a bit too dark in its utter reality. I don't know how Roth does it. The level of plausible detail is such that I needed to remind myself that FDR did win through to a third term (and a sadly curtailed fourth) and that's there's still much to admire about the US.

The fiction has left me feeling sort of vulnerable though, or rather given me an enhanced sense I really didn't need at this particular point in history of the vulnerability of what we might see as civilisation. I've never been much of a one for manifest destinies, or conspiracy theories that suggest that someone, somewhere knows whence it's all headed. The cock-up theory of history seems to me intuitively reflective of what I know of human beings generally and reflective of the way the world looks at the moment.

Mind you, that's all the more reason for us as individuals to try and push things in directions that seem reasonable and sane, limited as any of those efforts might be. Because you just don't know - and maybe things can quite illogically turn out to be reasonably okay after all.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Sheer Laziness

Other than doing a bit of marking in the morning I've been enjoying what the Missus accurately terms a lazy day. The particular laziness of this one was characterised by tea, cake and sleep, though not necessarily in that order. Altogether splendid. And, I suspect, necessary.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Doing Something Well

We had an appointment this afternoon at one of the government offices in town in connection with renewing our green cards. The last time we needed to go down there was some five years ago. Since that time we've had the cards renewed but that hasn't required having new pictures taken or new thumb-prints recorded (which is how the cards cunningly let you get quickly through passport control at the airport here), so we haven't had to go down to get all the necessary done. Now you might be surprised to hear this, but we weren't really worried about the inconvenience of the trip and its attendant bureaucracy since we remembered our previous visit as being a breeze.

And, astonishingly, this one was even breezier. Seriously. The appointment was for 3.30 pm, but we arrived some twenty minutes earlier. Believe it or not, all the paperwork, the photo-taking and the thumb-printing was done by 3.25, and we left five minutes before our appointment time. The already super-efficient processes had been speeded up by having everything done by one highly efficient and friendly lady. We could even check if the photos were okay and were asked if we wanted them done again.

It's easy to make fun of the obsession here with getting work done well and providing excellent service, but when you're on the receiving end of the excellent services you can't help but admire the results. And it all added to the sum of human happiness as we were able to go off in very good time for the cup that cheers at Arab Street and have a fine old time doing precisely nothing.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Tyranny Of Numbers

Got to the gym again this evening and did my forty minutes, burning 1 more calorie than I managed on Tuesday.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Something New

Decided to download some music by the recently deceased composer Jonathan Harvey yesterday, and haven't been able to stop listening to it. The piece in question is called Bhakti, and I selected it pretty much at random, because I liked the title (which sort of half-reminded me of a great phase of ace guitarist John McLaughlin's career) and because I'd vaguely picked up through reading here & there about the composer that it's seen as representative, in a good way, of his work in general. He's known for experimenting with sound, ả la all those IRCAM johnnies, and there's a fair amount of that in Bhakti, though at times it sounds conventional enough - in a modernist, avant garde manner - such that you've got to listen out for it - the sound bending, I mean.

In fact, you've simply got to listen to this music, otherwise there's absolutely no point to it. As background it would empty a room sharpish with its dissonances and unexpected lurches, and it's just too odd and does too much to sort of amiably relax to, soundscape fashion. Frankly it irritates, unless you listen; and then it compels. Partly this is because even on a fourth listen you've no real idea what it's going to do next; and partly it's because eventually it all seems to fit together and make some kind of sense.

I suppose I should feel quite sophisticated listening to what I suspect quite a few folk would regard as cutting edge, arty sort of stuff. But it actually makes me feel quite childish, not really knowing what's going on but stumbling around in its sound world like a kid in a particularly well appointed amusement park. What this must be like to experience in the concert hall, I'd love to know, but severely doubt I'll ever find out.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

No Regrets

A counter-intuitive truth I've discovered since developing problems with my back several years ago: it pays to ignore the body's moans and groans and get the thing working. With luck the moans and groans go away, or, at least, recede into the background. I'm hoping this truth still holds good, and I'm not going to regret going to the gym this evening. I've been struggling to move freely of late, having to resort to using a chair for prayers, and sitting with the old geezers at the masjid who struggle to do the necessary. So I wasn't exactly expecting great things on the old elliptical trainer just now. To my surprise I posted good numbers and, more importantly, felt easy and free doing my forty minutes - as well as feeling pleasantly exhausted. 

Just hope the title of this post holds good tomorrow.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Good Idea

Here's a very fruitful idea from Iain McGilchrist's book: ... works of art - music, poems, paintings, great buildings - can be understood only if we appreciate that they are more like people than texts, concepts or things. De-contextualising the idea doesn't help to do it justice, and McGilchrist provides lots of, dare I say, empirical evidence in its favour, but even as a standalone apercu it makes a lot of sense to me. Indeed, it's something I've always 'known', matching perfectly my own experience of encountering great literature and great music. (I'm not so responsive to painting & architecture, so I'll pass on those.)

One of the several implications of this way of looking at how we respond to art is to severely call into question the whole notion of what might be termed the critical-analytic response - otherwise known as how Literature is 'done' in schools and other so-called places of learning. I suspect the real attraction of 'doing' lit this way is that it renders the experience open to some kind of assessment or measurement (clumsy as this usually is); the genuine human encounter is largely closed to such possibilities, which is, I suppose, in part what makes it human.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Lots Of Ideas

Reading Iain McGilchrist's The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World is proving to be an extraordinarily thought-provoking experience for this reader. On almost every page there's some fascinating nugget of information - who knew that carp discriminate between the blues and classical music? - but it's the slightly uncanny fact that the broad outlines of the central thesis expounded within its pages are helping me understand almost every random thought I've had for the last few years about art, music, creativity, human nature, paradox - in fact, pretty much the whole caboodle - that's exhilaratingly unnerving. I keep thinking, this explains everything, though, of course, it doesn't. But it does make me feel as if it's possible to get some genuine coherence into what might previously have been characterised as a hodgepodge of intuitions and half-articulated suspicions.

And I'm less than a third of the way in!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

In For Repairs

My good deed for the day was to help take Mak to the Pantai Hospital at Ayer Keroh to see if they could treat her foot, the sore spot on which has been giving her some trouble. It looks like we might have been just in time. They didn't do anything immediately, but she's due for an appointment on Monday when the plan is to clean out the wound which seems to have been the result of the tight socks that were applied to her feet when she was in ICU. Several weeks ago Noi was worrying and complaining about the soreness created as a result of the tightness but the doctors at the main Melaka Hospital said it was of no concern. Just lately Mak has been complaining of pain in the area. Now the talk is of gangrene setting in. Hope we've managed to get it seen to in time.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Taking A Toll

I was moaning about slow-moving traffic on the north-south highway last Sunday and, guess what? I'm moaning about it again today. Not that I've been on the road today since I've been lazily bumming around relaxing in Melaka, but on the road I was last night, and for a lot longer than was necessary. On a very ordinary Thursday night, well after the rush hour, you might reasonably expect the journey from the capital to Sungai Petai to take around an hour and three quarters tops. We added a good (actually a badly irritating) fifty minutes to that due to the very slow-moving traffic after Senawang or thereabouts. The cause? Originally we thought it could only be an accident that had blocked the three lane highway, but we failed to take into account the genius of whatever fulfils the role of a Department of Works over here who'd decided to shut down a full two lanes without thought of a contraflow system of any sort, in order to do something to the road, which was only fully opened less than five years ago.

Now I'm sure you're thinking that in an age when too many cars are on the roads it's just par for the course to expect a measure, possibly an unpalatably big one, of inconvenience. And, yes, I'd agree, but you have to pay a hefty fee each time you use the highway for the privilege of getting stuck in its slow-moving traffic. There's something deeply paradoxical about this that becomes a cause of frustration all of its own.

I need to remind myself of the mantra I so frequently cite to my students: Life isn't fair. True. And in this case the unfairness runs deep, deep, deep.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Dark Days

Quite a bit of coverage in the press locally concerning the plight of the Rohingya refugees fleeing Rakhine. Not sure that anyone comes out of this terrible situation standing on the moral high ground, but the grim reality of what bears all the signs of a 'slow genocide' is now obvious to all but the most obtuse (though there always seems to be a remarkable number of such types when it comes to the persecution of Muslim minorities.)

Wondering what, if anything, is going on within the ASEAN 'family' relating to all this. If a major humanitarian catastrophe takes place, or has taken place, it's not going to speak well for any of the member states.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Making fitful progress in Roth's The Plot Against America. Why so? After all, amongst Roth's many virtues one would assume his ability to engage the reader in turn-paging fashion would guarantee a novel with such a striking title to be supremely readable. And one would be quite right. I don't doubt I could easily finish the novel in a couple of days - were it not for the disconcerting sense of dread engendered by his all too plausible vision of a fascist America.
I've got as far as the Roth family's painful trip to Washington  in the first months of the brilliantly imagined Lindbergh presidency and much as I want to read on to find out what happens next, a large part of me doesn't want to know what happens next because it isn't going to be very pleasant. I'm reminded of old friend Tony's oddly naïve declaration that he didn't see the point in reading novels with unhappy endings. In this case I think I know how he felt.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Quite Certain

Yesterday saw me deliberating as to whether the recently deceased John Ashbury was a fine enough poet (for me, that is - he obviously is for a lot of other people) to make it worth my while making another attempt to read him at length. I'm still deliberating. Another interesting article in the on-line edition of The Guardian certainly pushed me in a direction favourable to a positive decision, but I couldn't help but notice the poet's own seeming uncertainty therein as to the ultimate value of his work. Certainly seemed to be a decent sort of bloke, though, and the sort of teacher poetry deserves.

Not sure that the recently deceased composer, guitarist and partner in crime with Donald Fagen as half of Steely Dan, the brilliant Walter Becker, might fairly be described as a decent sort of chap. I don't think he would have thought so himself, or aspired to such a reputation. But who cares? The music speaks for itself and himself: a certified genius.

The albums from Can't Buy A Thrill though to Gaucho constituted a sound track of sorts to my years at university, and added immeasurably to that experience. Singing an off-key Bad Sneakers with old chum Stevie Cannon, prancing down the main road to the arts tower, is the sort of memory you either seek earnestly to repress or find a strange and doubtful joy in. It says little for me that the latter applies, but much for the compositional talents of WB & DF.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Another Opportunity

Reading about the death of poet John Ashbery in the on-line version of The Guardian was an awkward reminder of the fact that I have never been able to understand why he is so highly rated. Awkward because lots of accomplished and sensible readers of poetry tell the world he is good - so I don't have much doubt he is, otherwise why the enthusiasm? - but I'm just not up to grasping why this is so. At the simplest level I'm so far short of understanding his stuff that it's embarrassing. Normally my not entirely 'getting' something doesn't put me off a writer too much, but in this case I just feel clueless.

Now I can easily let this go, and for years have done so. After all there's so much wonderful stuff out there by writers I do 'get' that it's odd to be so bothered by this deficit. But I don't think the botheration comes from a sense of missing out on something. Rather it relates to a feeling that I'm somehow being less than fair to a major talent in not making an effort. And also a sense that there could be great rewards in making some kind of breakthrough.

I'm reminded of my initial encounters with certain kinds of music, or composers, that once seemed impenetrable. Even in the case of my beloved Messiaen I remember struggling, but somehow trusting that if the experts said this was the real thing it would eventually reveal itself as being so. It helps that there's always been an element of the pretentious about me: you need that to soldier on with stuff that fails to reward even the fourth time round.

Fortunately a bit of help is at hand with regards to the work of Mr Ashbery. The Guardian runs a neat feature called Poem of the Week in which writer Carol Rumens gives an analysis of the chosen poem and there's a pretty good one of the late poet's Breezeway which has led me some little way if not to an understanding of the piece in question at least to being able to grasp why someone might choose it as their poem of the week. It's a start, I suppose.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Getting It Together

Now packing for our journey north. The usual minor crisis as to which books & CDs to load is almost at an end, but I know I'll end up hankering for something I have decided not to take by the second day. Must say, am looking forward to getting stuck into my Collected Keats, sorely missed during my recent reading of Motion's biography. Endymion here I come.

I thought we might be blessed with an easy journey up to Melaka (where we've stopped off at for the evening in order to spend a bit more time with Mak & family.) And it looked that way initially as we sailed through Tuas admiring the jam coming into Singapore, probably resulting from folks returning after spending the long Hari Raya Haji weekend in Malaysia. Then it all went pear-shaped, as they say, or used to say the last time I was resident in the UK. How is it possible to have such slow-moving traffic between Pagoh and Melaka on an ordinary Sunday? Why do we need to pay a hefty toll for roads that can't handle the volume of traffic they were (presumably) designed for? Why do I bother getting irritated by all this?

Never mind - a fine bowl of soup and accompanying roti at Aziz's place put all to rights.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Adapting To Circumstances

Spent a most fruitful morning at Jurong Regional Library helping our drama guys prepare for and deliver a couple of performances in a room they've got there set aside for this kind of small public performance. It's not a perfect space for doing something theatrical in nature, but that's the point. Any space you can fit an audience into can be made to work assuming you've got enough imagination and determination, and the necessary skills.

Peter Brooks's The Empty Space remains the best book on acting I've ever read (and one of the shortest - just one of its many virtues.) Wish I knew what happened to my old copy.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Taking Nothing For Granted

Eid al Adha 1438

Found myself using a chair for prayers for both visits to the masjid today, just as I needed to do for prayers for Hari Raya Puasa back in June. It's possible I could have managed without, but I didn't want to take a chance and find myself unable to stand up at the crucial point. I've reached an age when it's necessary to live life defensively.

Now sort of wondering how I managed to cope with the physical strain of last year's Hajj, and marvelling that none of it seemed like a strain at the time. Sometimes just getting through is as good as it gets.

Thursday, August 31, 2017


It's been a day of fasting, amongst other things, ahead of tomorrow's feast day. Wondered whether I might feel a bit wiped out by this time, given that I've not exactly been practising self-denial of any kind lately. Actually feel quite sharp, with no sign of a headache, though I've been yawning a fair amount in the last half hour or so. Must say that when the Missus suggested we fast (it being entirely voluntary rather than the prescribed fasting of Ramadhan) I didn't have a lot of enthusiasm for stretching myself at the end of a busy term when I'm still busy. But I'm very glad I did. Feel refreshed, somehow, as if I'm getting the world in some kind of proportion.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Roth And Ready

We're off north on Sunday for a bit of a break - one week, and grateful for it - but there's plenty to negotiate first with a camp for our Drama guys starting tomorrow and celebrations for Hari Raya Haji ahead. (Flooded with memories from last year's Hajj of late, wonderfully so.) Looking forward to getting a bit of concerted reading done soon, particularly in terms of making inroads into the McGilchrist tome that young Jordan sent over. It's packed with fascinating stuff on the brain, though my brain, being not so young as it was, is struggling to unpack it all. But enjoyably so.

Also considering getting down and dirty with a bit of fiction, with a couple of items that came my way entirely unexpectedly today looking likely candidates. Since one just happens to be by the entirely wonderful Philip Roth, I think I know which is going to occupy me soonest.

Postscript: Mighty puzzle from yesterday. How did I neglect to mention my reading of Walcott's Omeros? Especially since this modern epic seems twice as good as when I first read it way back when - and it had quite some impact on me then. Why does the best poetry get better with each reading? An answer isn't required, though I can think of one. Or even two. Just the simple fact of the experience is enough.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Last Things

I think the final chapters of Motion's biog of Keats are the best in the book. The pages on the dreadful voyage to Italy with Severn and their last months together in Naples, then Rome, have an hallucinatory power, as if you're there with them. The biographer is particularly good at bringing Keats's friends to life and, for me, Severn emerges as a fascinating, touching figure in himself. Strange that however disregarded and unrecognised JK felt at the end there were those who seemed to know the greatness of what they were dealing with all along. And what a gift for friendship he had, despite his isolation. Given the current fashion for 'group biography' I reckon the group that seemed to form around Keats would make for an illuminating volume.

One small point: I'd love to know what became of the Miss Cotterell that Severn & Keats encountered on their journey to Italy. She too was dying from consumption and was only eighteen (when Keats was twenty-five.) By the sound of it she was remarkably brave as well. It'd be nice to think she managed a few more years of life than the great poet. Somehow I doubt it.

The little tragedies are as sad as the greatest.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Sad Times

I'm approaching the end of Andrew Motion's Keats with the now clearly consumptive poet making plans for the final journey to Italy. If anyone has vaguely 'romantic' ideas of what it meant to suffer from consumption in the early nineteenth century this biography will (ironically) cure them. I was startled to read about the common assumptions in the period about the condition, which help to explain, to some degree, why Keats was so long in denial about it.

The segments about JK's final dealings with his younger brother George also make for extraordinarily melancholy reading. In fact, the brief account of George's career in America up to his death in early middle age is, in a curious way, one of the most compelling parts of the book. A reminder of other lives and their triumphs and defeats and despairs.

Motion somehow manages to get inside the poet, or at least give you a sense of what that extraordinary interior was like, the way his mercurial mind worked, in a way that profoundly alters the way you read the poems. He also convinces you, though I'm not sure this was his intention, of just how straightforwardly likable as a person JK was. I suppose this has something to do with his many vulnerabilities. It's striking just how many friends he had and how important those friendships were to him.

A sad book, then. But life-enhancing in its way.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Good Times

Managed a couple of reasonably extended walks over the weekend. Yesterday saw me exploring the NUS campus to find the Faculty of Engineering (of all places) where the annual GEP Lit Seminar was taking place. And today I made my way to Holland Village and back - by way of the futuristic Star Centre - for a taste of the cup that cheers at the Coffee Bean there. I was a little uncertain about ordering my usual chai latte since the last two cups I'd drunk there had left something to be desired, but today saw the establishment back on form, with normal service tastily resumed. Sitting outside, listening to Zappa's Strictly Genteel as performed by the London Philharmonic on the headphones, and reading Motion's fine analysis of the writing of Bright Star as the crowds dawdled by, was suitably relaxing. 

And where in all this, you ask, was the Missus? Sadly - from my point of view - she took herself off on Friday for a visit to Mak, but should be back any time now. Happily she left me with a stupendous shepherd's pie, which took me three days to consume. So, all in all, a good time has been had. (Oh, and I've not even mentioned the fine start to the season of the Mighty Reds.)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

No End In Sight

Discovered another excellent on-line resource this evening, after coming across a review of Peter Adamson’s Philosophy in the Islamic World at The Los Angeles Review of Books. In the latest issue there's also an interview with everyone's favourite Sufi Muslim Guitar God and Rock Genius, the one and only Richard Thompson.

Funnily enough I'd been thinking earlier in the day how the quite limited range of websites I visit already provided me with so much material to broaden my horizons that I really didn't need to add any more in the way of Bookmarks & Favourites. Think of it: all this, and the new football season really getting underway. If there's a dull moment, I don't know where it is.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Not Learning

Just had to throw away five movie DVDs that no longer play properly. They were all cheap copies, bought in Indonesia though, so it serves me right. Indeed, a kind of justice has been served and a lesson learnt.

Though the deeper lesson lies in the fact that I only viewed each of them once in the days they were playable. Why is it I find it so hard to watch films these days, and almost impossible to watch them a second time? Since I don't know the answer to this question, the deeper lesson remains enigmatically unlearnt.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Not Exactly Optimal

Lived up to the promise I made in Monday's post of getting myself to the gym by finally getting the key to unlock the padlock and inflicting 40 minutes of the elliptical trainer on this aging frame. The frame appeared to take it, but, as you might say, not exactly in its stride. Gentle Reader, I struggled, but manfully, and appear to have lived to tell the tale.

Tomorrow is another day, as they say, and, no doubt, will speak further of the damage done.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Over the years I've become increasingly lazier over trying to explain, even to myself, the nature of my experiences, particularly what might be termed mental experiences in relation to art and ideas generally. (See what I mean: basically I gave up on that last sentence.) I'm also vaguely aware that as well as the very real laziness there's a sort of superstitiously magical way of thinking involved, that somehow if I over-analyse those experiences I'll prevent them.

So I'm not going to say too much about what happened to me late last night, on the very edge of sleep, listening to L'Alouette Lulu (The Woodlark) from Book 3 of Messiaen's Catalogue D'Oiseaux, as performed by Peter Hill, or why it happened. I'm just very glad indeed it did.

(It's the bit at the end that's the killer, which sort of recaps the beginning. Deep, slow, rich chords - or is it just individual notes? - for the left hand, then these gorgeous sort of trills high up for the right hand, fading away. And then just nothing, silence, like stepping across the normal boundary of time into...) (Gave up again.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Lessons Of History

The news coverage of recent events at Charlottesville has reminded me of just how little I really know about 19th century American history despite being all too familiar with so many images from that period. I suppose my problem is that what I know, I know from the literature of the period - especially Twain, Melville, Whitman - and whilst I deeply trust these writers and their respective visions, I have little grasp of what might be termed attempts at an objective history.

So it's been a pleasure to read a couple of excellent essays in the most recent edition of the NYRB, respectively titled: Charlottesville: Why Jefferson Matters and Southern Comfort. Of course I'm aware of the possibility of ideological agendas informing each, but each also manages to sound reasonable and authoritative. It's of some small comfort to think that in an age when those who deal in evidence and reason and careful thought are under attack, it's impossible to prevent clarity of thought and insight and a desire to deal in historical realities. Let's hope there's an audience out there to read and carefully evaluate all this.

Monday, August 21, 2017

On The Increase

It's been quite some time since I've used the gym, and it really hasn't been my fault. I've been champing at the proverbial bit in my desire to torture this aged frame of mine, but the gym is inaccessible on account of a breakdown in the biometric entry system. And the system is so wonderfully sophisticated it will take months to fix. The wonders of technology, eh?
I suppose I could have found ways to get hold of the key to the padlock that helps secure the main door. And here's where I have to admit to a degree of guilt. Frankly it was just about troublesome enough to do so, and I've been so busy dealing with the bloated Toad, work, that I've not tried hard enough. But I'm planning to put that right this week, inspired as I have been - believe it or not - by the PM's National Day speech.

I've not actually watched the speech, or heard it for that matter, but the press coverage featured quite a bit on some very sensible points made about the prevalence of diabetes on these shores and the need for maintaining a healthy life-style to combat said disease, and a host of other nasty possibilities that become that little bit less possible when you're eating and exercising sensibly.

I must say though, in terms of our general ability to cope with the problem of obesity in developed nations (whatever nation we happen to belong to) some of the figures quoted made for worrying reading. For as long as I can remember there have been pretty intense campaigns here regarding leading healthy life-styles, this Far Place never being exactly short of campaigns related to whatever is on the government's collective mind. And in a generally communitarian sort of society you might expect such campaigns to have some effect. Yet the average number of calories consumed per day per individual has risen from 2100 in 1998, to 2400 in 2004, and 2600 in 2010.

Now I don't know exactly how they compute the figures but there's enough of an obsession here with numbers to convince me that this is measuring something real. Yet I was around in 1998 and there was plenty enough grub and the green stuff to get hold of it to mean that the average Joe could have been munching his 2600 cals then, if he so desired. So what makes him munch them now (and possibly more, assuming one can predict a continued increase to 2017)?

I'm guessing that the forces of consumerism that are so good at persuading us to buy what we don't need are getting steadily better at persuading us to eat and drink more than is really good for us. And I'm guessing we sort of know this but sort of don't care. Scary. Very.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Well Versed

Have decided there isn't enough poetry in my life. I'm still irritated about not having a reasonable Keats selection around to supplement my reading of Andrew Motion's biog - which gets better and better, by the way. So I've dusted off my copy of Derek Walcott's Omeros, last read over a decade ago, and am getting down and dirty with the various inhabitants of St Lucia.

One supplementary reason for doing so is that a few years back I acquired a tasty-looking guide to Walcott's big poem, entitled Epic of the Dispossessed by a chap called Robert Hamner, but I've never got beyond the opening chapter and the bit about the first book of Omeros as it was obvious you really needed to read the poem along with the guide and I didn't feel up to a rereading. Now I do, so it's all systems go.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Not So Good

Phoned Maureen today, it being her birthday. Not sure she's really looking after herself, but it's difficult to tell from a telephone call. John was talking about getting some further treatment for her in the next couple of weeks, so there's some small hope there - but it is small.

Friday, August 18, 2017


It suddenly occurred to me the other day that despite holding the late, great Frank Zappa in the highest musical esteem possible I don't actually own all that much of his output. I think I've heard all the really famous stuff, but even that I'm not entirely assured of. I mean, there's an awful lot of it, apart from anything else.

I immediately decided to begin to put this to rights by downloading something from iTunes, and have been listening to said something with abundant delight for much of the week. (In the interest of full disclosure I'm talking about Apostrophe which, I suppose, is just about as close to a mainstream album as you're likely to encounter in the back catalogue.)

The funny thing about Frank for me is that I really should find the adolescent humour, to which he was so obviously addicted, boorish in the extreme but it just makes me smile. As does the music on its own - a quality I can't think of in any other composer.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Range Of Options

Sad sight of the day: a young man carrying a laptop emblazoned with the well-meaning slogan, Failure is not an option. Made me wonder when he would find out just how much of an option it actually is.

Funnily enough this was just before teaching Miller's Death of a Salesman, a play the deep truth of which anyone believing in the slogan needs to learn (before learning it the hard way.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Room For Improvement

There are occasions when I surprise myself by behaving in a remarkably mature, almost wise, manner. Fortunately such occasions are few and far between. Much as I'd like to arrive at enlightenment, part of me prefers the adventure of getting there and its many, many detours.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

It's Doom Alone That Counts

Just reached the Isle of Mull accompanying Keats on his trip to Scotland and read this devastating sentence in Motion's account: It was on Mull that his short life started to end, and his slow death began. I'm so used to thinking of the great poet as inevitably doomed to an early death that it's never occurred to me before that his death at such a young age was possibly avoidable. He was still worn down by the difficult trudge to the island when a few days later he started nursing his dying younger brother Tom, which left him open to the highly infectious tuberculosis that killed Tom.

It's all intensely sad. But, considering what he would achieve in terms of the works penned after the Scottish adventure, it's also strangely inspirational.

Monday, August 14, 2017


Are you the designated driver, staying sober and responsible, getting everyone home in one piece? Or are you one of the helpless who need ferrying home? I suppose it falls to most of us to act out both roles at one time or another, though I'm not sure we end up choosing which we want to be. I suspect that the role selects us, for better or worse, and we find out which we were all along.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Ducks, Finally

All things, including ducks, come to he who waits. Well, more like ducklings really.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ducking The Issue

Nothing duck-related so far today. Plenty that's been sleep-related though, thankfully so given the trials of yesterday's journey.

Lots of noisy kids, almost an entirely good thing, except when I'm trying to mark. But achieved my quota for the day.

Just back from teh tarik gajah and roti canai sardin and a gun battle with Akmah at Aziz's place. It doesn't get any better.

Still no ducks today.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Quick One

Travelling north this evening for a brisk visit to Mak's. This appears to be duck-related, of which there will be more anon. Now charging batteries, literally & metaphorically.

Postscript: the notion of a 'quick one' and a 'brisk visit' was rendered supremely ironic by a super-massive jam getting through Tuas, stretching before even entering the tunnel on the AYE leading up to the checkpoint. It took us well over two and a half hours just to get to immigration. Noi reckons it's like this every day which makes me wonder how those who commute from JB and back to work on a daily basis cope with this. Quite frankly, I couldn't, and didn't. We reached Sungai Petai in the early hours and were supremely glad to do so.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Nodding Off

I fall asleep with almost frightening ease these days. This is a talent I'm very happy to cultivate. In a sleep-deprived world it makes sense to enjoy a sense of plenty.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Bit Of A Gap

I'm a bit annoyed at myself for not having access to my Oxford Collected Poems of Keats at the moment. It resides in its usual place on the shelves at Maison KL, but it was pretty obvious I might need it when tackling Motion's biog of the great Romantic, and it turns out that the biographer and former Poet Laureate includes so much close detail on the works that I feel a bit lost without it. I've just finished the chapters covering the writing of Endymion and they really don't make a whole lot of sense unless you're looking at the actual poem.

Bit of a confession here: sad - and embarrassing - to say, I've never read Endymion from beginning to end. Oh dear.

Which has been making me think of just how many other stone cold classics I've never come to grips with. Byron's Don Juan immediately jumps to mind, though for some reason I don't feel too embarrassed about that. Having said that, I suppose it's a bit of a stretch to claim Endymion as a classic considering the bad press it tends to pick up. But it's obviously major Keats and a bit of a gap in my reading to say the least.

The thing about Motion's account of the writing of the poem is that it creates an urgent desire to read the thing asap. One sure sign of an excellent biography, I reckon.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


I don't dream much, but when I do the places I find myself in are in England. At least they feel English. Strange. I'm more attached to my nation in sleep than when I'm awake.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Embodying Greatness

It's a strange thing, acting. I'm supposed to know at least something about it, but it remains fundamentally a mystery to me, still essentially magical.

Today I was thinking about the big Shakespearian roles and happened to catch an interview with Ian McKellen on the box. The best Macbeth I've ever seen, by a distance, partly because he was opposite the best Lady Macbeth (Judi Dench), and partly because he got that sense of reckless, manic courage central to the role. How do you fake that? My suspicion is that it wasn't faking.

Earlier in the week I saw a fair bit of Pelham something or other, the action thriller set in the New York subway system (a remake, if I'm not mistaken) with Denzel Washington in the role of the less than heroic everyday guy as hero. As so often with DW, an okay movie with a masterful central performance. The guy makes average movies really good. And again, beyond all the technical mastery in performance there's a weird sense that he does nobility so well because he possesses something like genuine nobility.

Maybe it's all just because we need heroes and will find them in someone, somewhere, given the appropriate staging. Maybe it's because it's real, despite the fakery.