Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Christmas Spirit, Again

It was round about this time last year that I discovered the joys of Dylan's Christmas album, the wonderfully accurately titled Christmas in the Heart. I'd heard about the release of the album, back in 2009, and wondered about getting hold of it then, but the generally poor reviews put me off. Silly me! I played it twice last year, the first time on the way down to Honey Street in Devon, and then in Kate and Rob's old house itself, in the kitchen, before the rest of the household awoke. As I reported then, it seemed to me the perfect Christmas album, strangely bringing back for me a visceral sense of Christmas Past and its particular joys.

I gave it another spin today and was swept away. I never thought I would ache with such nostalgia for the season, but the memories came flooding back from the first strains of Here Comes Santa Claus. And, funnily enough, nostalgia for our Devon sojourn was in the mix somewhere.

This is all deeply strange. Although I know most of the songs on the album, the carols most obviously, Dylan's Christmas is an entirely American one, it seems to me, situated some time in the late 1940s. I can't quite work out how this becomes a Manchester Christmas of the 1960s, though I suppose America is what we got on the telly. (For some reason I keep thinking of Andy Williams.) Indeed, the songs that now are regarded as Christmas songs in the UK, generally having their origins in the 1970s, uniformly depress me.

One aspect of the magic is Dylan's voice. It's almost completely raddled and works in complete contrast to the breezily cute, very white harmonies of the backing singers, the painfully lovely strings, (not credited for some reason) and the lush yet spare precision of the band. But he really means what he's singing in an entirely, goofily manner. You sort of want to laugh, and frequently smile, but the tenderness sucks you in. How sad it must be not to enjoy this.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Dampened Enthusiasm

Found myself at Holland Village this afternoon, supping a leisurely chai latte and not doing much of anything, and doing it very well I might add. The Missus has popped over to Melaka for a few days to help look after Mak but I've got some duties to attend to over here so we were unable to pop together. Sad, but it allows me time to play what Noi terms 'loud music' (not really sure what she means by this) and to have a walk to HV and back, which she's understandably reluctant to do whilst wearing the hijab.

Today's walk to the village was easily accomplished given the coolish weather. It had rained earlier in the afternoon and the world felt suitably washed and in order. However, whilst I was sitting with my drink in splendid idleness the rain resumed in a distinctly established manner, much to my chagrin. I really, really wanted to walk back and shake out the accumulated knottiness of recent days and here was the universe denying me. Having released my inner infant in a bout of petulant longing I realised that endeavouring to make the return journey on foot was a possibility. It was raining but not pouring and only the other evening I'd been chatting with Fuad about just how much ground you can cover under cover (as it were) in the city and environs now there are so many pedestrian walkways.

So I decided to endeavour and stepped out accordingly. Let me tell you, Gentle Reader, it is quite amazing just how much of the walk from Holland Village to Dover Road can be accomplished with excellent protection from the rain. Unfortunately, for the final stretch of the journey, after Rochester Mall, around Anglo-Chinese Junior College, the cover effectively disappears, apart from a few benign trees. Ironically this is probably the prettiest part of the way back. On a wet afternoon, however, it is wet in the wettest sense of the word.

In summary, I arrived home happily exercised and somewhat unhappily wet, having learnt that when the universe wants its own way there's precious little you can do about it. I was able to cheer myself up though remembering just how thoroughly miserably cold and wet we managed to get in Edinburgh this time last year. In comparison this Far Place offers a distinctly comfortably warm version of wetness, a sort of easy dampness.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Easy Listening

How much live Crimson is enough? I've successfully resisted buying the mega-box sets. So far. But listening to the magnificent King Crimson: Live In Chicago I'm beginning to wonder whether there isn't a case to be made for getting everything possible. It's the way the repertoire is constantly being rethought, clearly in the excitement of actual performance, that makes Crimson essentially a live unit, whatever the particular formation being listened to. So for anyone, like myself, reasonably familiar with the repertoire the live stuff is constantly surprising, revelatory, rewarding.

Now listening to the reworking of Indiscipline, with Jakko outrageously singing the spoken segment, wonderfully not knowing what's coming next on a piece that's always been a fave. I do think it's good!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Listening Hard

I recently acquired a 10 CD set of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas as performed by Daniel Barenboim. I did wonder about the degree of foolhardiness involved in acquiring so much at one go, but since I've found myself listening very regularly to the 5 CD set of the Mozart Piano Sonatas I got hold of some two years ago, I thought it made sense to go in this expansive direction in broadening my musical education.

I've heard the most famous of the Beethoven Sonatas before, having owned a few on cheap cassette tapes, so the material isn't exactly new to me. But having played the first half of the set I've found myself slightly shocked at just how demanding old Ludwig is in comparison to Wolfgang Amadeus. It's possible to bang on the Mozart and just enjoy the sound for the sound, if you know what I mean. It's basically beautiful in what seems an uncomplicated kind of way (though 'seems' is the operative word here.) With the Beethoven you're left in no doubt that whilst enjoyment is one of the responses available to the listener there are numerous others, and the composer is going to rip those responses out of you, come what may, assuming you're prepared to listen.

So I'm afraid I'd better get prepared to listen to get my money's worth. (Isn't it extraordinary, by the way, just how much the highest of high culture is available to us for so little?)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Thinking Hard

Avoiding any kind of really difficult thinking is, as we all know, very easy in the times in which we live. So much of what the world offers seems designed to prevent any kind of deeply considered thought that there's a distinct whiff of the conspiratorial about it. But, to balance that rather paranoid notion there are also paths to follow which allow engagement with the kind of thought that requires muscular flexing of the grey matter. (Ridiculous image, but how does one convey what it's like to struggle with ideas in a strenuous fashion?)

I've deliberately been trying to expose myself to this kind of thinking in recent years, to supplement the generally enjoyably self-indulgent way I foster the life of the mind. In the last few weeks such exposure has involved rereading Prof Feser's Philosophy of Mind: A Short Introduction in an attempt to grasp with reasonable clarity the totality of the field. I've now covered the first four chapters, generally grasping the ideas, though I'll need to go over Chapter 4, on Qualia, at least once more to ensure I've finally understood the point of the philosophical zombies argument. 

An odd but useful coincidence has been the fact that the issue of Philosophy Now I'm reading, the one for August/September - which has taken me ages to get round to - has several articles related to questions of consciousness. The ones dealing with panpsychism I found particularly interesting. I can see the appeal of the concept, goofy as it initially sounds, but am also keenly aware of the need to give it a good deal more thought, hard thought, than I have at present.

The one article in the issue that proved beyond me was the one dealing with quantum theory: Does Consciousness Cause Quantum Collapse? I followed the first three-quarters but the last few paragraphs proved too knotty. I suppose that given my commitment to the notion of thinking hard I should persist in trying to crack the piece, but sometimes the lurking suspicion that the knottiness might be the result of muddled thinking at the writer's end undercuts even the most determined frame of mind.

Friday, December 8, 2017

On Their Way, Again

We were back at Changi Airport this afternoon, this time at the highly impressive Terminal 3 which found itself filled with groups - I counted at least four separate ones - setting off for the Umrah. Today we were there to see off Osman and Rohana.

Osman continues his fight against cancer, and we're all hoping, and praying, that the restoring power of the pilgrimage will help in the battle. He looked typically cheerful, so the send-off was a positive one. Just hoping that he's able to keep clear of any infection from the crowds he'll encounter in Medinah & Makkah.

They've just heard that MUIS have confirmed that they'll be able to complete the Hajj in 2018, so more positive news there.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

On Their Way

Went to Changi Airport early in the morning to wish Yati & Nahar well as they set off for the Umrah. Tried to tell them something useful from our experience to help them on their way, but realised how difficult it is to communicate anything of the lived reality without resorting to clichés. No doubt they'll be finding out what they need to know for themselves even as I write.

How strange any pilgrimage is. Intensely private yet entirely communal.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Lack Of Balance

Found myself thinking about food today - not so much in terms of obsessing about what I wanted to eat, but with regard to our collective relationship with the stuff. My thoughts were partly prompted by having read somewhere that the rate of obesity in the US is now around 40% for the adult population. This struck me as both horrifying yet entirely plausible at one and the same time. I'm not even sure that this is the highest rate among nations at this time, though I'm assuming it must be in the top three. I'm also assuming that where the US leads the rest of the world is likely to follow. Hope I'm wrong about this.

Then as we began to eat dinner just now, Sky News ran an item on food wastage in the UK. I can't remember the numbers, I just know that the wastage per household was staggering. This was partly related to the labelling of food and the misunderstanding of 'best-eaten by' dates so there was some kind of logic involved, but I strongly suspected that attributing the problem to that single cause was misguided. Noi and I watched in fascination the other day as a pair of well-healed ladies in Malaysia left behind almost the entirety of two dishes they'd ordered in a restaurant. It was painful to see the perfectly good food being thrown into the waste as the table was cleared. This little anecdote doesn't in any way explain the wastage on a national scale but it says something about perfectly ordinary behaviour I think most of us are very familiar with.

We make the oddest assumptions about being balanced as individuals but the crazy imbalances in the way our species deals with food should help us see a deep truth about ourselves. We are fundamentally distorted in the fundamentals of our being in any number of ways. Balance is something to seek, and seek desperately.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Some Comfort

Now back in our usual Far Place. Went to my back doctor this afternoon, not because of the aches and pains of the last two days, but for a purely routine appointment. To my surprise he gave the workings of my spine and lower back a completely clean bill of health, saying the movement was free and flexible. The odd thing was that I felt myself recovering from the aches and pains of the weekend even before the drive back here, and the drive itself proved almost entirely comfortable.

I decided, perhaps in somewhat foolhardy fashion, to get myself back to the gym this evening and, as far as I can tell, the workout has furthered the process of recovery - though I'll know more about this tomorrow. It's oddly fascinating to have to deal with an intimate part of the self that one hardly knows in any real sense at all.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Not So Comfortable

I've been following my usual routine in Melaka, not doing much of anything at all. This has been made even easier to follow by the fact that my back is aching with a small but righteous fury. Not sure why. I suppose I put it down to changing beds, the one here being comfortable but a bit too soft to provide real support. We'll be on the road later, which is a bit challenging given the circumstances, but I've felt a lot worse in the past and managed to cope.

Actually coping with the ordinary business of life becomes an interesting challenge when your body is distinctly less than interested in helping you do so.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Much The Same

Now in Melaka with time on my hands. For reasons I'm not sure of I've wasting some of that valuable commodity by idling browsing stuff that's in the news. In the old days reading the newspaper generally like a fruitful activity but jumping capriciously from headline to headline, as I seem to do when reading stuff on-line, often feels unsatisfying, as it did today.

Or is that I've read so much news over a lifetime that none of it seems new anymore?

One thing I find utterly baffling: why do so many people want to waste so much energy getting embroiled in the commentary that follows some stories?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Happy Days

Our time here in Maison KL is up, for this year at least. Happily all seems to be in order as we prepare to move south.

And to add to the general store of happiness we got to celebrate another milestone (with a nifty bit of recycling from 2007.) Hoping for the great good fortune of plenty more happy milestones to pass, insya'allah.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Down In The Valley Below

Richly sunny day here. A good time to enjoy the view.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

On The Inside

Got talking to Hamzah last night about the work he does in prisons. His company provide the software that helps integrate some of the security features in one or two jails over here and I gather he's hoping to expand this provision in the future having established a good track record over the last few years in projects in which his firm has led the way. Since this work involves him actually going into the various premises to install and service the hardware he's accumulated quite a range of experience of life on the inside and it's striking just how positive his impression of the prison system is as a whole.

Since the nation might reasonably classified as still very much developing, this isn't something that you can take for granted. Let's face it, it's not difficult to think of prisons in the UK and the US (especially!) where no one would want to be banged up. But I got the sense that the prospect of doing time in the average Malaysian prison isn't necessarily a frightening one and that the authorities have a genuine desire to rehabilitate rather than simply punish.

It was, however, disheartening to learn of just how many are put inside for drug-related offences. You'd think that the draconian laws in place might help prevent damage on the scale we see in the UK and the US (to name but two) but it looks like it makes little difference.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Making An Effort

Biggest effort of the day so far, cleaning a few of the many downstairs windows which allow us so much light on the world.

Next biggest effort, except no real effort was involved, finishing Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City, which I foolishly mistitled simply Istanbul in an earlier post. This is one of those rare cases in which only the full title does justice to the text which is as much about the working of memory as it is about the city.

Next effort, getting ready to drive over to Hamzah & Sharifah's place with a cake for Aziqah's birthday. Noi tells me she's twenty-nine which can't be right because she was just nine years old the other day and excitedly reading Harry Potter.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Getting Going

The temptation to do absolutely, gloriously, nothing is always a strong one here at Maison KL. At least, it is for me. Noi invariably gets stuck into the household tasks on a grand scale, the reason above all reasons why the house is so comfortable.

This time round I've successfully managed to put temptation almost completely to one side and actually got things done. I've dealt with all the bookshelves and cleaned the fans and, on the virtual front, cleared a very messy desktop and deleted numerous highly deletable documents and files which should have seen the inside of a recycle bin a long time ago.

Partly this mighty effort has been inspired by how much I enjoyed clearing my place at work early this month when the powers-that-be decided our staffroom needed to be shut down to be remodelled. It struck me as a great opportunity to cast off a lot of accumulated gunk and cast it off I did with some exuberance. There are those who cling to the past; I'm not one of them, I'm happy to say. Or, at least, I'm trying not to be.

Monday, November 27, 2017

High Energy

Continuing to make cosily unhurried progress on Pamuk's memoir of growing up in Istanbul. In contrast found myself rushing through Elif Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul at a gallop, finishing it today. I think I understand Jamilah's enthusiasm for the novelist. She writes with verve, imagination, wit and heart, and does so in quite unpredictable ways. I really had little to no idea where she was leading me, but was happy to go there.

Given the humour of the opening segments of the novel and its almost relentlessly breezy tone the later head-on treatment of the sufferings of the Armenians in 1915 was sort of unexpected, yet seemed to work, as did the unveiling of the dark family secrets and their repercussions in the final stretch of the novel. It's as if Ms Shafak felt the need to ram these disparate worlds together as they present themselves in lived experience. But I must say that I suspect a close analysis of the novel, free of its narrative grip, might point to quite a few loose threads.

My guess is that this is the kind of writer whose fans will forgive almost everything. And, I suspect, rightly so.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Monkeying Around

Highlight of the day: over a late breakfast we caught sight of a couple of monkeys in the distance, walking along the top of the newish fence on the hillside going down to KL. They pursued their monkey business up to the gazebo near the house, then the bigger of the two sauntered over to our garden fence, the outer one, just in time for the Missus to notice and announce, loudly, his approach. Then, as I scooted over to the French windows to shut them, he lifted himself up onto the top of the inner fence, and then onto our roof. I went upstairs to check if he'd got onto one of the balconies, but there was no sign of the intruder.

About ten minutes later he came down from the roof at the same spot and was out of the garden in a few seconds. He'd obviously had lots of practice.

It was striking just how utterly self-contained the fellow was. Despite the fact we were just a few feet from one another he showed no awareness of my presence at all. Ironic, isn't it? The actual householder being held in complete contempt by our simian chum. I can never figure out why people consider monkeys 'cute' in any sense. I stand in awe of their complete and wonderful arrogance.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Sheer Laziness

A day of sterling non-achievement. A day of several snoozes. A day of melancholy rain, amplified by the self-indulgent sadness of Orhan Pamuk mixed in with Mozart's D Minor Fantasia for piano. A very fine day indeed, in other words.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Road About To Be Taken

Now contemplating, with a reasonable degree of equanimity, the road ahead to the Malaysian capital, to be taken once I get back from Friday Prayers. Whether that equanimity remains in place once we're actually on that road remains to be seen.

Main highlight of the journey was a gorgeous rainbow which manifested itself in spectacular fashion after some rain around the Pagoh area. Unfortunately the rainbow appeared in the south and we were driving north, but I got a decent enough view from my side mirrors to feel reasonably elevated. Second place highlight was the tea and toasted bread at the ARAB Café at Ayer Keroh.

There were several lowlights, but since these were eminently forgettable, generally involving slow-moving traffic, of which there is a plenitude in Malaysia, I have forgotten them

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A La Turka

Making excellently slow progress on Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul. Since his memoir sees the Nobel Laureate at his most melancholic and Proustian, then slow reading is the only way to go. In contrast I fairly shot through Stephen Kinzer's Crescent & Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds which Jamilah very kindly leant to me, expressing much enthusiasm for the text. I could see why. It's very informative indeed on Turkish history and culture in general, especially the Ataturk era and its legacy. Kinzer has very clear views on where Turkey needs to go in future - towards the EU and democracy - and is a tad patronising and simplistic at times, but his heart is in the right place and he clearly knows a lot about Turkey, which he conveys in a thoroughly engaging manner.

Jamilah also passed me a novel by Elif Shafak, about whom she was even more enthusiastic than she was about Mr Kinzer. So at the moment there's no escape from Turkey for me, a very welcome state indeed.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Place Of Magic

Initially I was a wee bit disappointed by Collected Grimm Tales. Since it's advertised as containing the dramatisation for the stage by Tim Supple and the Young Vic Company I thought I'd be reading some fairly detailed scripts, but this was not the case. It's very difficult indeed to figure out how exactly the Tales worked on stage, as the script given is pretty much the translations/adaptations from the Brothers Grimm by Carol Ann Duffy divided up for voices with very little in the way of explanations of how the words were 'played' on stage. However, I soon got over whatever disappointment I felt in the simple pleasure of reading the texts.

The poet's rendering of the stories is stark and to the point, exactly what's needed to bring them to rumbustious life. I was struck by the sheer simple energy of the tales, how pure they are in terms of reducing everything to bare story, yet how genuinely magical they are in their pragmatic acceptance of the unlikeliness of the events involved. No worries here about characterisation. The characters just are: they do what they need to do and leave the listener to catch up with them.

I was particularly struck by just how dark the tales could be, especially in terms of the vicious relish with which the fates of the 'villains' was rendered. I don't think I'd ever encountered the notion of the step-mother of Snow White being forced to wear red hot shoes and dance to her death at her step-daughter's marriage feast, but it's an image that will stay with me.

My favourite of all the stories was Rumpelstiltskin, a tale I loved as a child and which I don't think I'd read since. Carol Ann Duffy's retelling seemed exactly the same as what I'd heard as a nipper. The titular character's rage at the end, tearing himself in two, seemed just as impressive to me as an old geezer as it did all those years ago. Not sure how you'd put that on stage!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

To Some Effect

It takes about a minute of my being on the elliptical trainer to realise just how much I don't enjoy the experience. This is so different from the days I used to go running when I'd enjoy almost every moment of the exercise. Wherein lies the difference? Well in the old days I was running somewhere and the rewarding sense of being out in the rich and varied world was  integral to the experience. On the trainer I go nowhere fast - or, rather, quite slowly, since I set the resistance to make it an uphill task. In the old days I took some pride in never breathing too heavily and trying to look reasonably comfortable as I ran. Now I find myself blowing like a beached whale and contorting my face in a version of something close to agony.

It isn't that I'm terribly unfit now - at least, I don't think this is the case. Rather, I think I'm pushing myself to the limit since there's really not much else to do when I'm on the machine and staring at the numbers. But there's a positive side to all this. Strangely I don't find myself in any way reluctant to get to the gym - far from it, in fact. And when I come away it feels just as good as it always did.

And slowly but surely, over time, I've definitely got fitter, which was something I doubted would happen a couple of years back when I discovered the joys of my machine of choice. Last Tuesday I posted my best ever numbers, and felt strong doing so. Of course, I'd still much rather be running out on the streets and sometimes fantasise about doing so, but I'll happily settle for the next-best thing if it means I can exercise reasonably regularly and escape injury in doing so.

Monday, November 20, 2017


The season of semi-formal dinners is at an end, with the final one being negotiated this evening. I suppose at one time the thought of filling my face held a primitive appeal. Now I find the amount I'm expected to scoff over-whelming. Fortunately I've managed to get to the gym fairly regularly over the last month or so, and kept myself moving at work, so I remain close to my fighting weight.

Fortunately I generally feel very uncomfortable carrying any excess weight at all, so the idea of cutting down on my intake is, if anything, a restful one. But it's a horrible irony that I sometimes find myself avoiding food in a world in which others are literally dying for it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Something Positive

Attended the wake for Daryl's dad this evening. Deeply sad, but also inspiring in terms of the sense of a life extraordinarily well lived, with remarkable courage over its final stretch.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

More Than Enough

We took Ann to the Gardens on the Bay yesterday afternoon, after picking her up at Serangoon Road. She didn't quite realise what she was in for, thinking we were simply going to a fairly ordinary park. It was nice to see her delight at the visual riches provided there, which reinforced our sense of how extraordinary the gardens are. A single flower is a treat for the eye; the mighty proliferation at the Bay goes beyond a feast.

I've rarely seen so much photography, from so many different angles, going on in a single location. Something strikingly beautiful everywhere you looked. I resisted the temptation, knowing I'll have opportunities for taking pictures in the future and feeling that just looking was more than enough.

Friday, November 17, 2017


Came home quite late just now and for reasons I don't quite understand found myself watching part of one of the Transformers movies. Had no idea what was actually happening on screen, but there was a lot going on. It was very noisy, very destructive and, for this viewer, very boring. But visually incredibly rich, to the point of being impossible to process. Tried to imagine someone watching this for enjoyment. Still trying. Tried to imagine someone making this. Couldn't.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


We've been catching up with Ann, who's passing through on her way back to York from the land of Oz, regarding what's been going on with various acquaintances in the UK, sometimes getting more detail of stories with which we're familiar to some degree. At times I'm troubled by a sense of intruding in some way into the affairs of others, but I'm also aware of feeling a genuine concern. The problem is that several of the stories are essentially sad. It's easier in so many ways to hear tales of success, but this is a salutary reminder that the ultimate end of every individual story is inevitably sad. The best we can hope for is a life well lived. But what a cause for celebration that is!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Remembering Solidariy

On the way to the airport just now to pick up a friend arriving from Australia I found myself listening to a fascinating programme on the BBC World Service covering the turbulent history of the Polish trade union - though that description fails to do justice to the organisation - Solidarity. It featured quite a number of those directly associated with the movement, several of whom had spent periods in prison on account of their brave attempts to foster democracy in Poland in the early eighties.

In retrospect the fall of the totalitarian regimes behind the Iron Curtain seems inevitable. At the time it seemed anything but, at least to the younger version of myself who assumed that little would change, despite the obvious courage of Lech Walesa and the like. How wonderfully wrong I was. And how wonderful it's been to witness so many unexpected developments in the world in my lifetime.

You may think things are standing still. They never are. Which is both exciting and deeply disturbing at one and same time. I'd be tempted to say that the story of Solidarity had a sort of happy outcome, except it didn't as we never get to see a final outcome for anything.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Magic Of Place

We're planning a trip to Istanbul in late December as part of our attempt to broaden our geographical horizons whilst we're still able to get around without assistance. (A slightly gloomy thought, I know, but realistic when you get to a certain age.) So my current reading list is dominated by material related to the city. Not a bad thing at all when that means something from Orhan Pamuk features - in this case his sort of memoir of growing up in Istanbul, pithily entitled Istanbul. The first chapters are typically magical, and I'd rather get on with reading the rest than writing this. So over and out.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Great Finish

I'll miss the excitement of discovery I felt in reading Ian Bostridge's splendid Schubert's Winter Journey - Anatomy of an Obsession. Every chapter has fresh illuminations to offer, and not just on the song cycle itself, though the commentary on the individual songs brings each to life. I know I've become a better listener with the writer's help.

The last chapter is particularly special, dealing as it does with the most extraordinary song in the cycle, the one about the hurdy-gurdy man, Der Leiermann. It offers a plethora of insights but, more than that, conveys the weird power of the song quite brilliantly. It's fascinating for this Dylan fan-boy that Mr Bostridge makes admiring reference to the great man in relation to the song - actually trying to imagine what it would sound like with Dylan singing. I've thought for many years that Dylan is a great singer, but often seemed to be in a minority of one with regard to this claim, so it's oddly validating to have a great singer in the lieder tradition think the same way.

By the way, my assurance that the writer himself is a great singer comes not just via hearsay but from the fact that I downloaded a version of Winterreise featuring his singing, to supplement the version I was listening to previously done by Fischer-Dieskau. It compares favourably, which is really saying something.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


Yesterday's trip to Marine Parade was made in order to see Sanctuary, a piece performed by The Necessary Stage in collaboration with a group from Tokyo, Hanchu-Yuei, co-written by Haresh Sharma & Suguru Yamamoto, the latter being the director of the Tokyo group. According to the publicity blurb it investigates the fragility of the human condition, at a time when technology is eroding our humanity. We are the data, but the data is never ours. So all very hip and featuring impressive production values despite its small scale nature (being performed in the Black Box at Marine Parade Library.)

I was glad we took our drama guys along as it was such a good example of directors, writers and performers trying to do something brave and edgy, and sometimes succeeding. Good questions were asked regarding the threats posed by technology and if were younger I might have felt inclined to try to answer them. As it was I felt a wee bit detached from proceedings, reflective of the distance I keep between myself and the cyber-world. But I imagine the subject matter would have been desperately relevant to those younger and hipper than I. The very notion of a kind of fragmentary theatre, made up of ideas from all involved is exciting, but the danger is that the result might not transcend the process, and I thought this was a bit of a problem with Sanctuary. For all of its promise it ended up as a fascinating puzzle rather than a fully achieved, coherent piece.

Perhaps this all relates to the challenge of the fragmented times in which we live?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

On The Buses

Since the car is with the Missus in Melaka for the weekend, I've been doing my Man of the People thing and using public transport. Since the bus and MRT systems in this Far Place are very good - comparable to the excellent public transport system that used to exist in the democratic socialist republic of Sheffield in the far-off seventies - this has been a generally pleasurable experience. I've journeyed to Serangoon Road and Marine Parade over the last two days and thoroughly enjoyed gazing out on various parts of the city and its suburbs in an unhurried, distinctly contemplative manner. (I decided not to take any books with me so I could focus entirely on the visuals.)

Mind you, I wouldn't go so far as to claim the experience wasn't without disturbance. It was slightly unnerving to realise I could no longer recognise areas with which I was once familiar, due to all the new building and changes of businesses. And the sheer size and forbidding anonymity of some of the grander structures was mildly intimidating if you allowed yourself to look long enough. Fortunately it was easy to look away and there was still enough to observe on a human scale to suggest the city has not yet turned itself into a set for the kind of dystopian movie Hollywood makes to convince itself it has some kind of conscience.

As a rule of thumb, the smaller and shabbier the structure, the more it appealed. I suppose this has something to do with scale. As RT observed in one of his greatest songs, A Heart Needs a Home - but not necessarily a big one.

Friday, November 10, 2017

All's Well

It rained today, rained ferociously, just as we started the Zuhor Prayer in the mosque. I must admit to being slightly distracted from the prayer as I contemplated how thoroughly wet I was likely to get after my last ten minutes inside, trying to cross the car park to drive away. I had an umbrella, true, but only a rather small and fragile one that Noi had passed to me before I set off to Prayers. It was not likely to be much help considering the power of the storm raging.

To my surprise and delight I managed to get to the car without getting thoroughly soaked and though the day continued wet I remained relatively dry for its duration. So all has been well on that front; and I've just heard from Noi who drove safely up to Melaka in the later part of the day through the same rain, which is cause for celebration in this little corner of a world that can be unforgiving, but today chose not to be, at least in our gratefully fortunate cases.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Asocial Animal

It's the season for dinners in my line of work and I'll be attending one this evening. I'm okay with the idea, but given a choice I'd rather be home with the Missus. Not sure at what point in my life I started to actively not enjoy the company of lots of other folk, but I suppose I'm essentially made that way despite being something of a party animal in my years at university. (But then who wasn't?)

I always feel a very deep sympathy for those in the kind of public life in which making nice at formal dinners is obligatory. Must be miserable to be the Queen. Hah!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Some Good

I suppose it started with the Weinstein scandal, the veritable tsunami of news concerning the sexual harassment, and worse, of women (and sometimes men), especially by men in positions of power. I've seen it suggested that this might mark a tipping point and that such behaviour will become a thing of the past. I hope so, but, frankly, doubt so, at one and the same time.

It seems oddly naïve to suggest that we've suddenly discovered such behaviour is morally repugnant and, therefore, our collective disapproval will lead to its sudden demise. The suggestion that somehow the social mores of the 1970s and 1980s were lax enough to render such behaviour acceptable is nonsense. I remember those times well enough to know that what Weinstein got up would have been seen by the general populace at that time as being just as disgusting as it appears to right-minded people today. Similarly the argument that it was somehow more acceptable then for older men to prey on youngsters and sexually exploit them doesn't fit at all with the world I remember.

It seems to me that the difference between the eras lies in the fact that it so much easier now than it used to be to make such behaviour public, and thus bring down upon it the necessary condemnation. And there's obvious good in that.  But there's an equally obvious downside. Trial by Internet outrage is not likely to provide anything in the way of genuine justice. Some things do not change. Just as the capacity of our species, especially the male versions of it, to perpetrate horrendous levels of abuse on those seen as weaker is not likely to diminish any time soon, the need to achieve a version of justice through treating each case carefully on its merits and restraining any rush to judgment is crucial to any sense of achieving what is for the good.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Last Things

Alamak! I want to know what happens, cried the Missus just now, at the end of the latest episode of 6 X 7, a Malay drama on the Suria channel. The show has an unlikely premise: a youngish, upwardly mobile engineer loses his prestigious job and finds work as a cleanser of the dead in a funeral company. (6 X 7 is a reference to the size of a grave.) His fiancée deeply disapproves of his new work, due to its lack of prestige, but he finds meaning in it, creating major problems for their relationship.

This really shouldn't work, but it does. The scenes dealing with death are played with great tact and sensitivity, but have an inherent truthfulness which lends a curious gravitas to the generally comedic tone of the rest of the proceedings. The series has heart and charm, not a bad combination.

I also want to know what happens. But I'll need to wait to next Tuesday to find out.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Further Sloganising

Read this happily resonant slogan on a young chap's t-shirt today: Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. Struck me that it's possibly the end of wisdom also. Might look good on the back of the t-shirt?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Feeling Good

One of the happy discoveries I made about myself in my twenties (I suppose, rough guess) was that far from being someone of great depth, prone to a profundity of thought that resulted in an inevitable melancholia, I was remarkably superficial and capable of being cheered up to a point of straightforward cheerfulness by the entirely unremarkable. Thus, getting reasonable amounts of exercise and keeping reasonably fit turned out to be a sure-fire recipe for feeling good. Similarly, keeping things reasonably tidy and under control in my immediate environment pretty much ensured a sunny outlook on the world and its attendant madness.

Evidence of the fact that nothing much has changed for me in this regard is the fact that I find myself a distinctly thoughtlessly happy soldier today for having (a) cleared up most of the heavy stuff at my place in work this morning, in preparation for the big shift on the way, and (b) felt on top form in my statutory workout at the gym this evening.

There's a lot of talk in schools about developing character. But sometimes not having too much of it works wonders.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Journey Worth Making

Ian Bostridge's Schubert's Winter Journey - Anatomy of an Obsession is perfect reading for preparing to listen to Schubert's masterpiece. I know this because prior to reading the book I had no idea of what Schubert was up to, beyond creating something that sounded pretty good. I'm now up to the fourteenth chapter, and the fourteenth song of the cycle, and I've finally got a fairly reasonable idea of what's going on, and, more importantly, I find myself loving every note. Not to mention the fact that I've learnt a whole lot I needed to know about German Romanticism - which has deepened enormously my grasp of the British version.

One other small point: it's a beautifully produced paperback in every way. A physical pleasure in itself. No wonder I've never bothered to get a Kindle.

Friday, November 3, 2017


I'm contemplating the intimidating prospect of having to pack all the stuff at my desk in the next week or so since our staffroom will be undergoing severe renovations over the next couple of months. (Hope they finish in time for the beginning of the new school year in January.) Now considering throwing out as much as possible of what has accumulated over the last eleven years. The funny thing is that I'm oddly reluctant to part with stuff in case it proves to be useful in future, and this despite the fact it wasn't particularly useful in the past.

I suppose there's part of me that would like to think there was some point to all the pointless paperwork even when I am very sure there wasn't.

I got to thinking earlier of Dickens's brilliant evocation of the endless heaps of legal documents associated with Chancery in Bleak House. I suspect the Great Inimitable was more than a little in love with the mania of it all as much as he despised the madness. I wonder if he was a hoarder himself?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

With Friends Like These

Just finished A Moveable Feast. I'd forgotten the degree to which Hemingway did the dirty on Fitzgerald. The first time I read those chapters I suppose I fell for the poor doomed Scott & Zelda malarkey. Now the depth of Hem's treachery is painful to behold and difficult to assimilate.

I suppose there's a certain dark irony in the fact that it's so obvious he's projecting his own problems onto Fitzgerald. Strange he didn't see this himself. (Perhaps he did? The suicide wasn't so far off.) The sexual hang-ups are almost funny, but the inability of Hemingway to acknowledge his own alcoholism is just depressing. Just trying to calculate how much the two writers drank on the trip they made together that's the centrepiece of the first Fitzgerald segment gave me a headache.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


I frequently warn classes never to trust what writers of imaginative literature tell us about themselves and their intentions. After all, making things up is what they do. Having said that, some are more obviously worthy of some degree of trust than others. It would be interesting to draw up a sort of league table.

At the bottom I would not hesitate to put Ernest Hemingway, and rereading A Moveable Feast, his sort of memoir of his time in Paris in the 1920s, is reminding me why. There's not a line in the book that doesn't sound suspiciously attitudinising. And it's all brilliant. The best thing by far Hem did in his considerable dotage, and I don't believe a word.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Looking Out

Got lost poorly in my thoughts earlier this evening. Found myself considering, in no great depth, the nature of evil, human evil, that is. The subject deserves more than the kind of shallowness I could manage. But it did occur to me that there's something essentially dull about it, a kind of nasty predictability. Not much in the way of imagination.

I suppose that's why horror movies eventually fail to horrify. Halloweens always end in disappointment. 

On the other hand, goodness grows in fascination, I suppose, in part, because of its sheer unlikeliness. Something genuinely worth looking out for.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Looking In

Was glancing through my journal of this date fifteen years ago and came across this very odd bit of self-communing:

Reflected today on some of the motivating factors behind my feelings about work-related issues. Did not like what I saw but realised that was why it was important to look. I thought I had achieved some distance on this. But I haven't. These issues seem related in some sense to the money issues above. I don't know quite how but they both seem related to unsurfaced anxieties. I think I'm open to exploring these pressures, if that's the right word, in an open-ended way - but there's another part of me that says be stoical. Take the pressure and allow it to release grace of a kind. Rise above this. This is nothing compared to the real anxieties that beset some folk. And that's so obviously true. I can forget these hardly existent problems quite easily, naturally. But is there some underlying trouble that I'm closing my eyes to, which it would be fruitful, profitable to live with, walk among, become conversant with?

I suppose I'd better say why I found this so odd. Two reasons. The first is that I have no idea at all what 'work-related issues' were on my mind all those years ago. These days such 'issues' simply don't exist, at least not in the oddly intense way they appear to have been affecting my (somewhat) younger self. (Though the concerns about the green stuff being hinted at have not exactly disappeared, I must say.) The second is that I seem to have abandoned the peculiarly introverted style of the passage above a long time ago to the extent that I hardly recognise it as something I was once capable of.

I'm all for reflection, but sometimes you can gaze too deeply inwards.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sensible Decision-making

Still feeling considerably under the weather, I had a big decision to make this afternoon. Would it be an act of complete stupidity to get to the gym and do my bit in the pursuit of a minimum of physical fitness, or would be it a sign of some kind of recovery? In the event I went along and endured forty minutes on the elliptical whotsit. Then later we hosted a birthday bash for Fifi (twenty-one years old - good grief!) at the very pleasant Spize at the Temasek Club. Still not entirely sure of the degree of heroic stupidity involved in my actions of the afternoon. Got a feeling I'll know tomorrow, though.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Human Face

Our little household found itself short of the Internet service promised by its well-paid providers, one Singtel, last week. The problem manifested itself on Wednesday and plagued us for some forty-eight hours. Eventually I resorted to phoning said providers and found myself chastising some unfortunate young lady at the other end of the line who was attempting the impossible: to sound reasonable in defending the service providers from an indefensible position and genuinely trying to provide us some help. I don't want to go into the gory details of how a major flagship company associated with all that's good about this Far Place gets into indefensible territory, but let's just say it can't really be wise to offer people a contract for a service and then tell them that the infrastructure that supports the service isn't up to par, such that those needing the service have to accept they made a bad choice and need to make fundamental changes regarding the service at higher cost.

For some reason I can't quite grasp it seems it's unthinkable to suggest that one might receive a refund to compensate for the periods for which one wasn't provided the service paid for. An excellent way to do business, I'm sure.

But strangely enough I didn't intend to write this little post to rant about the inadequacies of Singtel. Rather I just wanted to say how genuinely impressed I was with the young lady who handled my call on Thursday and even more so regarding the guy who came round and tried to restore our service on Friday. It took him a good three hours to deal with the problem and he was unrelenting in his attempts to figure out what parts of the cabling involved were giving a problem as well as being pleasantly chatty throughout. I'm guessing that neither of these minor figures are regarded as indispensable to the company they work for - the lady in some call centre not even located on the island, and the gentleman painfully clear in his explanation of just how dispensable he and other technicians are seen as being to their employers - but from our perspective they somehow managed to put a reasonable face on, and give a human voice to, a company that really doesn't seem to possess either.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Business As Usual

Strange how a thing can grow in one's consciousness over time. A few years back I encountered for the first time the notion of someone having become addicted to prescription pain-killers. This wasn't something that was ever heard of in my childhood or teenage years. I suppose it happened then, but it didn't make the news. I'm guessing I first came across the idea in relation to the problems of some celebrity or other. I know I found it puzzling at first but then saw a kind of grim logic being involved.

Then about a year ago I came across the term opioid, in relation to the notion of opioid addiction. I was vaguely aware that the problem was connected somehow to prescribed pain-killers but didn't quite grasp the nature of the connection. Now I know, following recent revelations concerning the number of deaths per day in the US as a result of overdoses of various opioids. And as a result of a particularly well-researched article in the on-line edition of the New Yorker I'm also now disturbingly aware of just how the whole problem/crisis/epidemic began.

The idea that we can blame a particular drugs company for all this somehow manages to be astonishing and all too predictable at one and the same time. Is there no end to human greed and folly?

(The answer is no, in case you're wondering.)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Not Soon Enough

Feeling tired and ill, ill and tired. One state blends into another. Two faces of the same coin, an ugly one of little to no value. Suppose I'll feel better eventually, and hoping eventually comes soon.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Planning for potential drama performances for 2018 gathered pace today. Felt just as excited as I did when I started doing this sort of thing some time in the last century. Sort of childish in the best of ways. In fact, I've been reading quite a few plays lately since discovering the Connections series published by Bloomsbury in collaboration with the National Theatre. Some wonderfully edgy stuff in the volume for 2014, but maybe a bit too edgy for this Far Place. Still it's always fun to imagine just how far we might be able to push the envelope.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Year In View

Finally got hold of a desk diary for 2018.  I am entirely reliant on the kind that gives you a week on a single view to organise that part of my life that requires organisation. The next task is to fill in the broad outlines of the year to get some sense of how to make the impossible work. This is daunting, but routine. Worryingly it only seems like last week that I was doing the same thing for my 2017 diary. Who knows where the time goes? sang Sandy Denny, beautifully and wisely - sadly not staying for an answer.

Monday, October 23, 2017

It's Life!

Noi showed me a short video earlier of a snake loose in Bukit Batok. It was a big fellow - looked like a python. Some rather skilful, and brave, guys were apprehending the snake, finally getting it into a sack. Bit sad, I suppose, but I'm hopeful the creature was released afterward into the wild to resume its snakey existence. (Don't really want to think of other possible 'endings' for this little tale.) As we were chatting about the local wild life Noi was telling me that one of her friends spotted a wild boar the other week.

All this made me feel unaccountably cheerful. Isn't it splendid to be forced to realise the world revolves around more than just our daft species? (Though, again, it's perhaps best to avoid darker thoughts of the miserable manner in which we exercise our custodianship of the planet and the life thereon.)

It put me in mind of something John mentioned when we were chatting on the phone the other evening. He was telling me about his next door neighbour who's not so well now but who used to spend his evening smoking outside the house (one of the reasons for his not-so-well state, I'm afraid) waiting for the foxes around the area to put in an appearance as they came scavenging around the houses. A great way to spend the time, I reckon - the observing of the rascally foxes, that is, not the self-harm.

It occurs to me that I've never seen a fox close up. The loss is mine.

When I was a little lad, living up Haughton Green, around six years old, the neighbours had a shed in their little back garden in which they kept rabbits. Sadly they were in cages, but it didn't seem sad to me at the time, they were such lovely creatures to hold and stroke. There were also a couple of ferrets in the shed, kept in a kind of box. They stunk. I suppose the neighbour used to go ferreting with them (a 'sport' I won't explain, involving as it does Nature red in tooth and claw.) Deeply inhumane, but maybe the ferrets didn't mind it too much? Better than a world in which kids never get to see them at all, except on film.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Accomplished, Sort Of

Finished Omeros today. Tremendous power in the elegiac closing sections, partly as a result of having learnt so much, with such depth, about St Lucia and its residents; the poem accumulates somehow. I'll never look at fishermen in the same way; not that I used to look at them in any real way - which is, in some tiny sense, what the poem is about.
And since I finished The Master and his Emissary last weekend, I'm finally able to think about what I'll be reading as we approach the end of the year. I suspect it'll be something from my shelves. I suspect it'll involve segments of The Master and his Emissary and something from my Collected Poems 1948 - 1984 of Walcott. When one's reading experience has been this rich it's difficult to put it to one side. These days I find myself needing to try and live up to the writers I admire by giving them the attention they deserve - but somehow always feeling myself failing in this regard. It's a sort of happy failure though.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

An Infection

I've now got the final two books of Omeros left before I will have completed my second reading of Walcott's beguiling epic in verse. This time round I think I've seen, or, rather, felt more clearly than the first the main concern of the poem: the burden of History, the weight of injustice upon the dispossessed. In the middle books of the poem this is outlined with hypnotic, distressing power; they demand to be read slowly, not so much to savour as to suffocate.

In some ways the poem is feverish in its impact. The first time I read it I grasped some of its hallucinatory brilliance, but wasn't really made ill. This time round I've succumbed.

Can we be infected by a work of art?

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.