Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Lessons Of History

The news coverage of recent events at Charlottesville have 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

Zappa-ed

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

Designations

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

20.00
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.

23.00
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

Dreamplaces

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 was 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.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Change

Walked up the road to the somewhat futuristically named Fusionopolis after getting today's quota of marking out of the way. It was shut. Or, rather, there were boards all round the exterior and the former entranceway was blocked. Some shops still seemed to be functioning in the vicinity but 'happening' the location wasn't. So much for the future.

In truth, the speed at which buildings in this Far Place seem to become redundant is extraordinary and more than a bit frightening. I can't imagine how anyone can retain a sense of place. For someone, like myself, who sort of likes old things it's all a bit much, as they say, or used to say, back in the days when change was something you got handed in a shop.

The supermarket just opposite now has machines that you put your money into to pay for your goods. I'm not impressed, though I'm sure someone, somewhere considers this a good thing.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Hearing Things

Having got a heap of marking out of the way by the early afternoon I wandered up to Holland Village, as is my wont when the Missus is not around to organise me. Had a cuppa in the Coffee Bean up there and stuck in the earplugs to listen to some music as I watched the crowd go by.

One of life's deep truths I have recently discovered: you can't listen to Messiaen's Catalogue d'Oiseaux for solo piano whilst observing the world in motion. There's too much silence in the music and that gets taken up with the usual sound effects provided by all and sundry. Anyway, this truth was again confirmed up at HV so I switched to the avant garde sounds of Art Zoyd for a bit of Rock in Opposition. Perfection. As I sat there sipping my chai latte no one could have suspected how deeply subversive I was and, indeed, am. (The album in question, by the way, was Symphonie pour le jour où brûleront les cités and the tea wasn't that great, which is very odd as it's usually spot on. What's wrong with Coffee Bean? I ask.)

Friday, August 4, 2017

No Complaints

This week Noi's been over at Sungai Petai doing her bit to look after Mak, who's continuing to make a good recovery. This is an almost completely excellent state of affairs as it will undoubtedly do Mak a power of good. The only downside is that she isn't here looking after me. But I'm not complaining. (Of course I am, but it's all very subtle.)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Making An Entrance

Happened to be looking at the opening stage direction for Miller's Death of a Salesman this week. Willy's entrance is surely one of the great moments in theatre. Those cases, the sore palms, that profound, heart-breaking weariness. Without a word, except the muttering under his breath, it tells you almost all you need to know about the man.

When I first read the play, at sixteen, for 'A' level I just couldn't see the strange nobility, almost grandeur of the character. Now, despite the deep, comic stupidity of the man I see little else.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Something On

Mum used to complain as a matter of routine towards the end of her life that there was nothing on the telly. And now I sometimes find myself doing much the same, despite the many channels I have access to and the many programmes of which I am aware that I know lots of people enjoy.

But just occasionally I find myself watching something I find completely gripping, and tonight, by some weird coincidence, this happened to me with two items adjacent to each other, though on different channels. First of all I found myself watching a 15 minute piece on Sky News about palliative care for the dying, largely focused on a hospice in Sheffield. I suppose it should have been depressing given the subject matter and the fact that two of the people interviewed actually died before it was broadcast. In fact it was strangely life-enhancing and made me feel considerably more cheerful than I'd felt up to that point - though it was also very sad.

Then I switched over to BBC World on which there was a repeat broadcast of a Hardtalk episode featuring the novelist James Elroy. I only caught the last fifteen minutes and how compelling they were. The guy's a complete eccentric in the great tradition of American individualism. It's rare you see someone interviewed on the box who clearly just doesn't give a damn what you think of him. I felt like cheering. (He announced that he intended to live to a hundred years old and I devoutly hope he does.)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Little People

Have been watching the news out of the US of late with the kind of astonishment I suppose pretty much everyone is feeling who tries to keep up with the on-going soap opera that comprises the White House.

One small detail today particularly puzzled me. The outgoing Chief of Staff it seems was subject to being regularly belittled by his boss (POTUS) and other functionaries of what now passes for the executive branch of government. Now it came as no surprise to me that this particular POTUS might behave in this manner, and from what I've seen of his cronies that kind of bullying might well be expected. But the surprise was that the guy being belittled was prepared to put up with this, especially since he, by definition, occupied a position of some authority.

I don't regard myself as a particularly courageous chap, physically or morally, but I do know for certain that I would never allow anyone I've worked with or for to belittle me. In my first year of teaching I knew perfectly well that I was hopeless and felt extremely vulnerable to criticism as I deserved it. When I began to find my feet I vowed I would never allow myself to feel so very vulnerable again and took steps to ensure I would never need to fear destructive criticism. The result has been that I've never felt even remotely intimidated by any of my superiors.

I can't imagine doing a job in which I'd have to accept being subject to any kind of unreasonable behaviour from those above me. The funny thing is that when you can't imagine such a thing it mysteriously doesn't happen to you. Pity the guy who just got the boot didn't know that.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Ebbing And Flowing

Regarding the great ebb and flow of it all, I've reached an age when I'm a lot more keen on the ebb than the flow. Unfortunately today was a day when it was all flow, to the point of being swept away. Hoping the current turns tomorrow.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Questions Of Taste

Came across a brief clip the other day of music critic Alex Ross talking about acquiring a taste for The Beatles and Dylan. As always Mr Ross is the man to go to for good sense and massive insights about musics of all varieties. It seems to me he is saying something of huge importance here, that could mightily enhance the quality of life for many. I'm not so sure I have the best ears in the world, but I do strive to keep them open, and have been repaid many times over for doing so.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Plan

Looking back to June, and what I managed to read after the ferocity of my working life had calmed somewhat, I suppose I feel a bit disappointed by my general lack of endeavour. Other than the stuff mentioned in earlier posts around that period I read precious little else: the three earliest Rebus novels by Ian Rankin, Ricks's TS Eliot and Prejudice (this after completing Milton's Grand Style), and, on the poetry front, Alice Oswald's Falling Awake. In addition I sort of started Andrew Motion's biography of Keats (aptly entitled Keats, for all you connoisseurs of pithy titles out there), Iain McGilchrist's book about the divided brain The Master and his Emissary, (the full title of which is, not so pithily, The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World) and Ian Bostridge's Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, (which whilst lacking something in terms of pith makes up for it in terms of descriptive vigour.)

Now you may think that I found something lacking in these three to make me temporarily give up on them. The truth is, though, that I was gripped enough by each to decide I wasn't doing them any justice reading them alongside other matter, and that's why they were put aside. Today I resumed Motion's fine biography from where I left off, with the great Romantic about to pen Endymion, and it felt like I'd never put it down. In contrast, I decided to restart McGilchrist's densely argued tome, of which I'd read the Introduction and the first couple of chapters, and was glad I did as I achieved a greater degree of clarity regarding his thesis on a second reading.

And it's these two books that as of now officially constitute my current reading. (Of course I'm dying to get going again on the Schubert book and there's a fair bit of other reading matter clamouring for my attention but I'm holding firm to just these for the time being.)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Something Finished?

I suppose I feel a sense of relief at completing Nikolaus Wachsmann's KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps today. I haven't enjoyed reading it, but it has made for utterly compelling reading. I thought I knew a reasonable amount about the horrors of the camps, and the Holocaust generally. I didn't. Almost every page of Wachsmann's work has been revelatory in some degree.

Initially I'd hesitated over buying the book, and embarking on my reading, wondering whether my interest in its grim subject matter involved some kind of prurience. But finally I'd felt morally obliged to read it, and I think that's an appropriate perspective to adopt. Collectively we need to remember what took place: the work of Wachsmann and that of the researchers he draws upon, and the first hand accounts are precious indeed in enabling us to do so; but all this needs to be read and understood and communicated somehow.

There's a particularly resonant sentence towards the end of the book: In the same way our search for deeper meaning in the KL will go on, even though efforts to extract a single essence are destined to come up short. The our here refers to the work of the historians involved in grappling with the phenomenon of the camps, but I think the suffering of all the victims - so many! - means the word must have a wider application. The business of the camps should not be seen as finished.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Rewards

Went on a bit of an iTunes rampage this evening, downloading stuff by Messiaen, Vaughan Williams, Peter Hammill (2 of the solo albums) and Yes (the extended version of Fragile, an album which, astonishingly, I don't think I've ever actually possessed, despite knowing every note.)

Not entirely sure why I went a bit crazy, but I think the newfound pleasure of listening over the earphones to music from my phone played some little part in all this. (Today I completely lost myself in Toru Takemitsu's brilliant score for Ran over a cup of tea and felt very jolly indeed doing so.) I suppose also that in some deeply infantile way I was rewarding myself for surviving recent travails, but I'm not sure I want to admit this to myself, even though I just did so.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Something I Forgot

Have enjoyed some outstanding discussions of items in the news in Pastoral Care lessons this year - and learnt a lot myself. Today's was no exception, a remarkably thoughtful, thought-provoking forty minutes or so on the way we respond to news of human tragedies and the aptness, or otherwise, of those responses.

In closing the lesson I felt it incumbent on me to remind us all, myself included, of the sad reality that the world is so often a terrible place and the human condition is one of pain and suffering and sadness. But I forgot to express the corresponding truth that the world is also a place of astonishing, magical beauty and that happiness is as inevitable as pain.

Blake: Without contraries is no progression.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Highs And Lows

I've never bought into the idea that work is ennobling, especially my own. But, to strike a balance, neither have I ever considered any kind of work demeaning. I've cleaned my fair share of toilets (including the Ladies at Ciba-Geigy, Trafford Park) and I didn't think the less of myself, or anyone else, for doing so.

So I was a bit taken aback talking to Noi today when she referred to someone of our acquaintance who, as far as I understand it, regards the notion of working as a security guard as indicating a lack of something - class, status, whatever. Baffling. A perfectly good and very useful way of making a living, it seems to me, assuming you can get paid a reasonable wage. I wouldn't want to be a security guard here simply because, as far as I understand it, most are grossly underpaid. But it seems to me that the people to look down on in this situation are those doing the underpaying, not those on the receiving (or 'not-receiving') end.

And here's an odd thing that just occurred to me: in my experience talking to folks who for some reason are seen as being at the bottom of various imaginary ladders is usually a lot easier than conversing with those on the presumed higher rungs.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Well, Well, Well

Noi has just back from Melaka. It seems Mak is making what sounds like a good recovery, but she'll go back again after a week to further lend a hand. So for the moment all is well, and we have the promise that all manner of things shall be well.

(Actually, I've felt oddly under the weather all day, but in the great scheme of things that really doesn't count.)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

No Time To Lose

Somewhat to my chagrin I realised that I've still not finished the February/March issue of Philosophy Now, the one with a special focus on human rights. This is isn't because the articles aren't interesting, it's a tasty enough confection, with a couple of quietly illuminating pieces on the late, great David Bowie. No, the fault is entirely that of this reader; or, rather, of this reader's work and its intrusiveness upon the finer things in his life.

Now having reached that time of year when things might lighten up a little (and I mean only a little) I'm intending to really get going on the five items on my current list of books and sundry items that simply must be read soon, meaning right away. So pressing is this list that I haven't time to say what's on it but must simply start immediately. Bye!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Showtime

Part of the fascination and fear of live performance is the way things change once an audience is involved. The first time I directed a show, a long, long, long time ago, I could hardly bear the tension. Now I can, but only just.

I used to ask myself, about twenty minutes before Showtime, why on earth I was doing this. And after every performance I would have the answer.

Postscript: Got the answer yesterday evening as usual - and all the richer because I don't take the 'as usual' for granted.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Kinds Of Truth

After a good dress rehearsal I invariably find myself in a curiously over-excited state of mind. A brain that's racing after rehearsals is a director's friend since there are always more than enough things to think about to make it worthwhile finding it difficult to relax - and waking way too early the next day creates a useful space. But we're at the point at which, with most things in place, the to-do list suddenly looks reasonable.

So this evening I needed to figure a way to slow myself down and change the subject, just a little. My remedy was a few pages from Wachsmann's KL, and very grim reading they were - as expected, pretty much every page being grim one way and another. There wasn't much in the way of joy in the concentration camps.

But here's the point. Somehow in these darkest of places some decency survived, and it occasionally illuminates a dark page: In summer 1942, when the Ravensbruck SS punished Jews with a month-long cut in rations, another group of prisoners, led by Czech women, regularly smuggled some of their own bread into the Jewish women's barrack. (By the way, to contextualise this, the cut in rations would have spelled certain death for many of the Jewish women, whilst to give up your own bread was to put your well-being in considerable jeopardy.)

What we're putting on stage implies a very bleak account of our fundamental nature, and I think it's important sometimes to represent that kind of ugliness in the theatre because of its truth. (Reading Wachsmann's book will convince you of the truth of our essential ugliness, if you think otherwise.) But it's equally important to recognise other more positive truths. I think they are there in Lady Macbeth. Just difficult to find. As they were in Europe in 1942.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

In The Dark

One thing's for sure, Lady Macbeth takes you to some very dark places in the human soul. The paradox is that there's so much light to accompany one there, emanating from all the creative souls who are bringing it to life on stage.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Stepping Out

Had vague thoughts of getting to the gym this evening but, finding myself with an imperatively urgent to-do list, generally production-related, wisely abandoned my plans. Just ticked the last item off the list, I'm glad to say.

Then I checked the health app thingy that mysteriously counts your steps. Did 14,978 today, it seems, and climbed 35 floors. I reckon that's a pretty fair replacement for the gym, for now at least.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Not Letting Go

Like most old curmudgeons I enjoy looking back nostalgically at how wonderful things were in the past and sort of pitying the youngsters of today for missing out on all that. Of course, most of the time I'm aware I'm just happily deluded. But occasionally a memory will pop up suggesting that the nostalgic haze might not be quite so deceptive.

The other day I chanced upon an early single, I Can't Let Go, by The Hollies, a fine sixties (and beyond, I suppose) 'combo', originating from Manchester of all places. It's a song I know backwards, having happily embedded itself in the consciousness of the little lad I was back then. But hearing it again made me keenly aware of just how brilliant it was, and is. Can't think of anything I've heard in the world of popular music in recent years that comes close to evoking the sheer joy of the song - and, by the way, I reckon The Hollies playing it live is even better than the studio version. Two and a half minutes of bliss that's sort of lasted more than fifty years.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Moral Demands

I seem to have been reading Nikolaus Wachsmann's KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps for an awfully long time, yet I've still got well over a hundred pages left, despite the fact that it's been my exclusive reading now for a few weeks. I don't feel any desire to speed up though, or the slightest bit of boredom with the book. Far from it. It remains utterly compelling. Almost every page tells you something unexpected, or sheds awkward light on aspects of human behaviour that demands shedding. I suppose it might be fairly said to illuminate a frightening darkness also.

Yesterday I found myself reading about the strange fact, supported as always by shedloads of evidence, that there was a clear contrast between the behaviour of German civilians towards those camp inmates they came into contact with in the later stages of the war and the behaviour of civilians in other Nazi-occupied European nations, like France. Put simply, German civilians behaved for the most part with cold indifference towards the suffering they encountered whereas the ordinary peoples of other nations showed a much greater degree of empathy and genuine concern.

Wachsmann suggests various factors that contributed to the contrast, taking it for granted, of course, that this had nothing to do with some form of innate 'German-ness' involving a fundamental lack of humanity. He suggests that the years of virulent Nazi propaganda having had a dreadful effect on the way ordinary Germans perceived those imprisoned as a key factor, and it's easy to see how this is likely to have been the case.

This reinforces for me something that has come to figure large in my thinking in recent years. I'm convinced that what might be termed a nation's ethical climate is a very real thing and that we neglect the notion at our peril, since we inevitably all contribute to that climate. It seems to me fundamentally mistaken if not downright dangerous to see ourselves as powerless. I'm becoming more and more convinced that we have a moral duty to contribute to that climate positively, because if we don't we run the risk of becoming as complicit in wrong-doing as any citizen of Germany in those awful times who passively accepted the evils of the Nazi regime.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Just Visited

With Noi off tomorrow to look after Mak for a while we've had no time to ask folks round for the usual Raya visits. I reckon that we'd have held our annual Open House Raya Bash this weekend otherwise. Fortunately we managed a pale imitation of the event by playing hosts to Rohana & Osman this afternoon, thus reciprocating their hospitality of the other evening, and Marsha & Omar also came along - which considering the amount of grub Noi confected for our small gathering was further good fortune.

Noi and I are off to bond over a cup of coffee later, ahead of her departure, which will sort of mark the end of a rather odd Syawal for us, but in the final analysis a satisfactory one given what looks to be a positive outcome for Mak's health. Oh, and since Man was looking good, and the health bulletin from John and Maureen on the phone last night contained many more positives than negatives, there are further factors to add to the general cheer.

(Quick update: Noi has just decided against going out for a coffee since she's tired after all her preparing. Instead she's just offered me one of her patented shoulder rubs, so it looks like the perfect end to the perfect afternoon. (Spent the earlier part of the day engaged with the Toad, work, so that bit doesn't count.))

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Blood Will Have Blood

08.20
Just walked over to work carrying a flask of tea and a basin of blood.

(Now that's a sentence I never thought I would ever need to commit to paper.)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Just Visiting

We're off later this evening for our first Raya visit to someone in this Far Place, the someones in question being Osman and Rohana and family. This will be only the second time I've met Man this year since we've avoided going round whilst his chemotherapy has been on-going due to the risk of infection involved. Last time I saw him he was struggling also with a broken collar bone, but I'm told he's much better and the chemo has gone well. So hoping for a splendid evening in the light of that good news.

Nice to be doing something appropriate in Syawal. Our window of opportunity for any sort of visitations is extremely narrow since I'm ridiculously busy and Noi's intending to go back to Melaka on Monday to help look after Mak, who's now homeward bound (yay!!) having been discharged from hospital. (And how good it feels to type that sentence, by the way.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Thing Of Beauty

Brilliant post over at Prof Ed Feser's blog applying Aquinas's criteria of beauty to the movie of David Mamet's Glengarry Glenn Ross brought to my mind the realisation that Joyce's application of the same terms in A Portrait remains the single most coherent explanation of what constitutes 'art' I've ever read. I suppose I could say of myself with regard to the whole realm of aesthetic theory that this is all I know and all I'll ever need to know.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

More Comfort

In ridiculously busy times I now find myself very deliberately setting specific periods of time aside to listen to specific pieces of music. The temptation is to continue getting on with unfortunately necessary stuff and just have music as background, but that doesn't work for me these days. So I abandon the very idea of listening, except, as I said, for selected pieces and to these I listen hard and fast, refusing to think about what I really should be doing - but only for those few minutes of time deliberately set aside. I'm talking about real planning here, involving actually writing down my intentions, almost to-do list fashion, odd as that may sound. Sounds a bit weird, I know, but all I can say is, it works for me.

And it worked in a particularly big way last Sunday when I carved out a few minutes more than an hour early in the day, when I really should have been doing something else, to listen to the second CD of my 2 CD set of RVW's Pilgrim's Progress. This segment of the opera begins with the Vanity Fair episode and takes us, via Pilgrim in prison, up the Delectable Mountains and to within sight of the Celestial City. I'm not quite sure why, but I really did get taken to another place on this listening, a sort of version of English Pastoral, entirely of the imagination, but entirely real and entirely wonderful.

I don't think I've ever felt quite so refreshed by a musical experience as I did that morning, as if I had sojourned in the foothills of paradise along with Pilgrim. Somehow the weight of the day's work that came after felt not exactly lighter but easier to bear.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Comfort And Joy

Noi got back in the early hours of the morning, when I was too muddle-headed with sleep to register the deep sense of things putting themselves to rights attendant upon her return. So I've been enjoying that feeling this evening.

It's easy to underestimate how lucky we are simply to have comfortable lives. I try not to make that mistake. (Odd disconcerting slip: just now I initially typed upon her routine, rather than return.)

She may need to go back to Melaka soon as Mak is still in hospital and there are still issues over her treatment and condition. So it's right that Noi should do so. But I'm enjoying her being here while it lasts.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Still Keeping It All In Mind


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We packed a lot into a couple of days over Raya. More to remember above.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Recapturing The Spirit







 


 
Normally we'd have been visiting here and there at this point in Syawal, but that's not been possible this year. So I'll have to just remember the pleasure of the first day of Raya (evidence above), and hope we can get back in touch with that spirit once Noi comes home.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Unconditional Love

Got to thinking about Gran this evening. How incredibly patient she must have been with the little prattler she looked after for most of his early years. And how completely secure I felt with her warmth to sustain me. I suppose I grew up a fundamentally secure and confident individual. Wonder how much of that was down to Gran.
                        

Thursday, July 6, 2017

All Smiles

Mak's condition continues to improve. She's out of ICU and the tests so far indicate no grievous problem. Noi is even talking about her going back home, suggesting we're through the critical period.

In fact, Noi is talking about taking a break from her duties there and coming back on Sunday, at least for a little while. All this calls for a little celebration in the form of the first ever use of an emoticon in this Far Place: 😤. There are times that mere words cannot do justice to a smiling face.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Rather Smart

Having been forced entirely against my will and better judgement to acquire a smart phone (if that's what they still call them) I find myself, sadly, beginning to come to terms with the thing. I'm still not completely adjusted to the horrors of WhatsApp, which insists on keeping me more in touch with the world than I really want to be, but there are bits of the phone I actually find useful.

In no particular order of merit these are: the thing that counts your steps; the QuranExplorer App; the QiblaCompass; and the headphones which are surprisingly comfortable and let you listen to iTunes stuff close up, as it were. In fact, it was through the last of these items that I made quite a remarkable discovery today when listening to Gentle Giant's excellent album from the early 70's Acquiring the Taste.

This was the one GG album I owned on vinyl. I bought it on spec and, for some mysterious reason, probably my extreme musical naivety as a teenager, I was sort of disappointed with it, though I played it often enough to become very familiar with its contents - those being the days when I was so poor and albums so expensive that it was imperative for me to always get my money's worth. More recently I downloaded it on iTunes and was delighted at just how fresh and adventurous and imaginative it sounded. The very off-centre, unconventional nature of the music speaks to me today more than it ever did in earlier years.

The thing is though, that until today I'd only listened to it played through our stereo system from an iPod. This afternoon I listened to it for the first time on the headphones played from the phone and picked up on some glorious layers of detail in the sound and arrangements I've just never heard before (more than 40 years late - think of it!) To mention just one: there's a counter harmony on the vocals towards the end of the brilliant opening track Pantagruel's Nativity that just blew me away, sending shivers not just down my spine but down both legs and into my ankles. A reminder of the joys of close listening to music that requires it; and with that I'm off to don the headphones and enjoy another 40 minutes of bliss before bedtime.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

In Praise Of The Fridge Magnet - 5

 
With a single glance, a reminder of where my heart is. At least at this point in time.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Coping

It felt strangely normal to be reunited with Noi over the weekend. Now I'm back to the routine of the working week and all seems awkward without her. Will need to learn to live with this for the immediate future since we've decided she's needed in Melaka until things settle back down to some kind of normality over there. Must say I noticed a distinct sense of glee on her part when we were discussing the need for me to start ironing shirts again. 

Now I'm trying to figure out an alternative to cheese sandwiches in the evening. You can have too much of a good thing, you know.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Public Good

It's obviously counter-intuitive to say so, but the ICU at Meleka Hospital feels like a fairly cheerful place to be - or at least it did this afternoon when Noi and I visited Mak again. I suppose the fact that she was looking even better than yesterday helped in my very subjective sense of atmosphere, but the colourfulness of the surroundings (not at all the usual sterile, clinical white we associate with such places) and the relaxed yet clearly caring nurses (in healthy numbers, at least one to each patient, I'm pleased to say) helped generate what seemed to me a very positive feeling of the goodness of just being alive.
 
The hospital itself is more than a bit shabby, and would hugely benefit from a coat of paint and general clean-up, but, like its ICU unit, it generally feels like a comfortable place to be. Must say, I'm puzzled as to why it's thought that there aren't enough funds to make the place look reasonably spruce. It can't be that expensive, given the cheap foreign labour available here, and you'd think that the money that went into caring for basic infrastructure would actually generate economic benefits in a general sense. I've never bought into the argument that somehow the public good is beyond a nation's pockets - and especially in a country like this where it isn't as if healthcare is freely available.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Just Visiting

After travelling through the night, arrived at the Alor Gajah services in time to do the dawn prayer, and visited Mak in the ICU in Melaka Hospital late in the afternoon. Spent the rest of the day variously marking, sleeping and drinking tea.

All worth while to see Mak looking pretty well to my untrained eye and to catch up with the Missus.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Some Sort Of Routine

Will be returning to Melaka later, as planned, but trying to get back to something like normal routines despite the unfamiliar territory. Hence I'm intending to get to the gym this evening, which will be my first visit in some time. It helps to have lots of marking to do, such that I'm forced to carve out a system for hitting daily targets despite whatever else is going on.

What a fundamentally dull and predictable person I am. And how rewarding it is to be so.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Further Uncertainties

Mak underwent an operation very late last night in an attempt to stabilise her erratic blood pressure. The doctors suspected some kind of internal bleeding and it seems they were right, though I'm not sure they've managed to fix it. Fortunately Mak came through the op despite the obviously high risk involved. I got a message about this sometime after midnight and so could finally sleep, though I did horribly wonder and worry about being called with bad news during the night.

Very pleased to report that I've heard nothing untoward today. Now planning to go up to Melaka after midnight tomorrow, traveling with Fuad & Rozita, assuming there's no alarming developments before this.

It strikes me that we may need to endure these uncertainties for quite some time longer - a situation I'm more than happy to opt for if it means there's hope of seeing Mak back in action in the future.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Good News

Mak has been moved to the ICU at Melaka, clearly a better option than the small hospital at Alor Gajah. The fact that she was strong enough to be moved is heartening since I believe there were concerns about the rigours of the journey with her being so frail. Noi is with the family there, so there'll be plenty of support - an ever-impressive feature of life in the Malay community. This is all the news, so there really isn't any, but we're in a situation in which no news for the moment is distinctly good news.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Uncertainties

18.35
Got back in the very early hours of this morning, but managed three hours of sleep ahead of work, which was enough. Strange journey back. Very heavy traffic all the way on the highway, and obviously thinking about Mak. Kak Yong accompanied us so that Noi would have a companion for the journey back today. But soon after we started we were stunned by the news of Hamzah's father's death. He'd reached a grand old age, somewhere in his early nineties, but coming on the heels of the situation with Mak's health it all seemed a bit much, as Mum would have said. Sad, intensely so. Strangely Hamzah and I were chatting together, after we'd done the prayers for Mak yesterday afternoon, actually talking about his dad and the recovery he'd made after his stroke some decades ago now and various recoveries he'd made from subsequent illnesses. We cheered ourselves up thinking that Mak seemed strong in herself this year and tried to feel positive about her condition in comparison.

And now we're all seriously worrying again over Mak. She's in a coma now and Noi has rushed back to gather with everyone there and assess what's to be done. Depending on the situation I'm likely to travel to Malaka later, with Rozita & Fuad. Have prepared as much as possible. But nothing is clear as things stand. Just waiting for some kind of news.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Vulnerabilities

I'm the only one in our little group at Cheng Heights who managed a decent sleep last night. Fuad and I left Mak's house earlier than the others, with a splendid barbecue still quietly raging on, since we'd enjoyed quite enough of the high life and decided to opt for an early rest. Noi got back in the early hours somewhat later than expected to inform me that Mak had felt none too well after we went and had been throwing up and complained of feeling very cold. Her blood pressure had gone worryingly low, which seemed to account for her other symptoms. Fortunately there were quite a few people on hand with experience of the management of diabetes and its related problems and they managed to get the blood pressure back to normal and Mak feeling well again. It turns out that whilst I'd been sleeping Fuad had been dealing with a series of messages from Rozita concerning Mak's condition and he'd been advising based on his management of his father's illness. I'd been left undisturbed having no expertise in such matters, for which I was grateful simply because I'd escaped being one more helpless worrier in a situation in which worrying was no real help.

So now I'm the only one up and running here whilst the household gets some much-needed rest. Hoping that everything's settled down at Mak's place and this is one of those temporary upsets that just become part of the pattern of things, and nothing more insidious than that. Yet another reminder, not that we needed one, that there are no certainties (although the long drive home later today looks inescapable. Wish us luck!)

17.35
Mak took a very bad turn for the worse in the early afternoon. She's now in the hospital, but in critical condition. We've been praying here at her house since there were too many of us up at the Alor Gajah Hospital. Hoping for good news; not sure of the immediate future, so readiness is all.

19.50
Mak seems to have stabilised. We're about to set off south, but Noi intends to come back tomorrow to help look after things at this end. Hope the news stays positive.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Looking For The Light

 
 
Hari Raya Puasa, Eid ul-Fitr; 1 Syawal 1438

10.55
Woke for the dawn prayer with a worryingly painful back. At that time I despaired of attending Raya Prayers since any kind of movement was potentially painful and I felt vulnerable in the extreme. However, I'm pleased to say that, with Fuad's help, I managed to get across to the small masjid opposite where we've been putting up for this visit at Rachid's place at Cheng Heights. I needed to use a chair for assistance, but I got through somehow and felt the better for it. Now wondering what the day will bring but reconciled to getting on with things and hoping some kind of recovery kicks in.

In dark times you've got to keep an eye out for the lights; and so for all who struggle to keep them in view: Selamat Hari Raya! Eid Mubarak!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Fast Approaching

29 Ramadhan, 1438

17.57
I'm sitting on the floor in the living room at Mak's house in Melaka typing this, having finally succeeded in getting on line and connecting with the world beyond. Lots of activity going on around me, though happily passing me by so I can type in relative peace, as preparations are afoot for the final breaking of fast for Ramadhan this year. It will be nice to drink tea whenever I wish to tomorrow, but it's equally good to enjoy the control and simplicity of the fast as I've been doing today.

Had a long chat with Hamzah earlier on the current state of affairs regarding the economy and running of the government here in Malaysia. There is much to pray for, a reminder of how petty one's own concerns are set against the needs of a nation.

Happy to report reasonably clear roads going south from the capital yesterday evening when we made our way down. Just what we needed.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Bad Dream

28 Ramadhan, 1438

I'd been wondering whether I've ever had 'eating dreams' in fasting month. I'm talking about the kind of dreams in which you suddenly realise you've been scoffing away at something when you shouldn't have been and feel appropriately guilty. Well, now I know the answer as I had precisely such a dream in the early hours of today and still feel the strange guilt of it.

I had the dream after going back to sleep after the sahur meal before dawn. In the dream I was rummaging in a box below the sink in the kitchen here, looking for something that Noi said she needed, when I realised I'd been munching at a chocolate wafer that had been left inside the box. I woke with the actual taste of the wafer in my mouth, and deep regrets that I'd failed in the fast so close to the end, having some awareness in the dream that we are into the final days of the month.

The relief I felt on realising that the wafer wasn't real was considerable, but, as noted above, wasn't quite considerable enough to completely wash away the feeling of guilt. I suppose this is all useful in some way, but I just don't know quite how.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Going Wrong

27 Ramadhan, 1438

As ever Noi has put and kept the house here in tip-top order since our arrival, but modern life presents so many opportunities for things to go wrong that it was unlikely we'd get away without having to deal with at least one or two problems. And it just so happens that two irritations in the smooth running of the household have made themselves felt the day before we depart for Melaka and our forthcoming Raya festivities. 

We've already had a few days without the air-conditioning functioning in our bedroom and we thought we'd got this fixed. However, the cold air it was blowing has managed to turn warm again and we'll need to get the workmen back again (after just two days.) Not sure they'll be able to come tomorrow though, so this is one problem that looks set to run for some time. At almost exactly the same time as becoming aware of our non-functioning air-conditioning we found ourselves unable to get any tv service through our less-than-trusty Astro box, so poor Noi will miss one of her favourite dramas tonight. Somehow we got through to customer service earlier and they say they'll send a technician tomorrow morning, so we live in hope of effecting a cure before moving on.

And to put a tin hat on it (as Mum would say) in the middle of all this I managed to tweak my back, whilst standing shaving (of all harmless activities!) Sitting here typing, I'm feeling the ache big-time. As you may imagine, I am not a happy soldier. All the more reason for reminding myself that things could be worse and that from certain perspectives this has been just another day in a paradise of sorts.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Within Reason

26 Ramadhan, 1438

Continuing to make headway in Nikolaus Wachsmann's devastating history of the Third Reich's Konzentrationslager. In some ways it's an easy read, being written with great clarity and never losing sight of the human stories amidst the formidable analysis of the development of the camps. But it's so overwhelming in its evocation of the unbearable suffering endured by so many that I can only manage a few pages at one time before feeling a deep need to get away from the twisted world within its pages. The problem is, though, that this is very much our world and there's so much that's easy to recognise despite the historical distance involved: the ease with which a culture can surrender to the irrational for one.

The sick twisted logic of the camps is simultaneously enraging and frightening. The guards find confirmation that the prisoners are less than human in the physical degradation they suffer as a result of life in the appalling environment of the typical camp created by the guards. There seems no way out of the madness, and, of course, for the majority of the victims that was tragically the case.

But I suppose a way forward can be seen in the very publication of a book like this, in which reason and humanity shed some light, dark as it is, on what took place. Wachsmann's work, and the painstaking research on which it draws, does some honour to the despairing epigraph of the book, drawn from a letter written by one of the victims found buried in the Auschwitz crematorium: may the world at least behold a drop, a fraction of this tragic world in which we lived. We're frequently reminded in these pages of the choices which were never real choices given to the victims of the camps. Fortunately we have real choices and can pursue truth, can choose to reason in an honest fashion, can follow the light insofar as our limitations allow.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Not The Final Countdown

25 Ramadhan, 1438

There was a time when I'd mark off the final days of fasting in any given Ramadhan by thinking: This is the last Monday I'll need to fast on; this is the last time I'll have to fast on Tuesday - and so on. Childish, I suppose, but comforting. I don't do this anymore, not because I've miraculously grown-up, but because I've come to understand that, with good fortune, these will not be the final days of fasting for me.

Monday, June 19, 2017

In Detail

24 Ramadhan, 1438

Main reading of the day has been Nikolaus Wachsmann's KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps. The KL in the title is from the German Konzentrationslager, a term that before I read some of the reviews of this monumental study was entirely unfamiliar to me, in something of the same way that I'd never heard the term Gulag prior to reading Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. I  wonder, in the light of the publication of Wachsmann's work whether KL will become as definingly familiar a term.

I'm roughly a third of the way into the book and already overwhelmed by its astonishing detail, astonishing both in the sense of just how much detail exists regarding every aspect of the camps (this is a text that Holocaust-deniers would do well to avoid if they wish to cling on to their pathetic illusions) and in the darker sense of its relentless revelation of the human capacity for extreme cruelty. Wachsmann skilfully blends accounts of individual behaviour involving both the perpetrators and the victims of the evil of the camps with a broader sense of the general development of the KL against the unfolding events of the 30s and 40s so that you're never allowed to lose sight of the horror in human terms. But the horror is never played up - I suppose because it simply doesn't need to be. The bare details are quite enough.

But the implications of those details are devastating in terms of how we look at ourselves. On the page I'm reading at the moment, dealing with the development of the Nazi euthanasia programme, known as Operation T-4, in relation to the camps, Wachsmann's flat statement regarding the physicians involved, Mass murder seems to have come easy to them, is massively troubling, and it's backed up with ample evidence. The doctors who singled out prisoners for execution in the first, experimental gas chambers enjoyed their work and the prestige, and chances for career advancement, involved.

I'm not sure exactly why I'm reading this, I just know that at some level I have to.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

On Balance

23 Ramadhan, 1438

Can I really write about the rigours of fasting month now that I'm so adjusted to its demands that those rigours have generally dissipated? Perhaps talking about the minor inconveniences of Ramadhan would be more to the point? Yet it's wise to remember that the demands of the month extend well beyond the merely physical and living up to all of those demands, each and every day, is rigorous indeed.

But sitting here feeling extremely full and extremely satisfied after scoffing Noi's chicken in a bag dinner doesn't seem in the least bit rigorous. Rather it puts me in mind of the need to go easy on the edibles for the next couple of days and to keep in mind how incredibly lucky we are to live at a time when for so many folks in this part of the world a luxury diet can be taken for granted. There was an article in today's paper about some fairly major research indicating that one in ten of the world's population is obese, with a good third being classified as overweight. I didn't find that surprising at all.

Yet another reason for meditating upon the not-so-simple good sense of the fast and just some of its many purposes.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Paranoia

22 Ramadhan, 1438

Finished Patricia Cornwell's Chaos this morning. There was enough of a story to keep me going to the end, but not enough for me to feel the experience of reading the novel was worthwhile. Except, I suppose, there's some interest in seeing a writer getting it all wrong and somehow managing to get published. I suppose there are enough fans still around to make on-going publication of even the weakest Scarpetta novels financially worthwhile? I can't see how any reader new to Cornwell would even consider reading on. Everything in Chaos is predicated on familiarity and interest in the increasingly unlikely backstory of the forensic pathologist and the characters around her such that a good quarter of the text is spent clumsily rehashing that story. 

One thing that jumped out on me in this reading is the weirdly obsessional sense of hysteria generated by the central character in almost every sequence of the novel. Ms Cornwell's various personal problems are not exactly well kept secrets, but it wouldn't be difficult to guess their nature from a reading of this novel. I suppose the corrosive paranoia inherent in the Scarpetta world view worked to the advantage of the stories built around her in the early novels as a nobody caught up in events beyond her control. But she arrived as a heavyweight player a long time ago. The depiction of her as a victim of pretty much everyone and everyone thing around her is just very, very strange.

Friday, June 16, 2017

From The Ridiculous To The Sublime

21 Ramadhan, 1438

Bloomsday

This time last year I vowed never to read another Patricia Cornwell novel after thankfully putting aside, though not before courageously completing, the dreadful Isle of Dogs. My feeling then was that it qualified as the worst novel I've ever read and, in retrospect, I think that was an accurate judgement. So it's an odd and unlikely coincidence that exactly one year later another Bloomsday should see me reading yet another Cornwell, this time the latest in the Scarpetta series, featuring the hotshot forensic pathologist (or whatever she is) from Virginia. Why have I reneged on my vow? you may wonder. Basically because Karen, recalling our joint affection for the first four or so novels in the Scarpetta series, made me a birthday present earlier this year of a rather fine and distinctly hefty paperback edition of Chaos, the novel in question and I felt obliged to read it at some point, setting it aside for the June vacation.

The good news is that it's nothing like as bad as Isle of Dogs; the bad news is that it suffers from exactly those faults that made me, and I suspect many other readers, fall out of love with Dr Scarpetta. It would be tiresome and ungentlemanly to list the faults in question but I will say that Ms Cornwell seems to have no sense at all of how comic it is to constantly insist on how deeply wonderful her central characters are - especially the tiresome Benton (Scarpetta's perfect husband) and even more tiresome Lucy (Scarpetta's perfect niece) - whilst failing to give them the slightest sense of realism, beyond letting us know what wonderful cars they drive, what fabulous food they eat, what wonderful clothes they wear and how good they look in them. The fact that these brilliantly accomplished characters generally behave with a level of emotional intelligence that would embarrass the average ten-year-old seems to escape their creator. Or, perhaps, this is all intended as subtly satirical?

Anyway, I decided that I couldn't let this Bloomsday go by without treating myself to a little bit of the greatest novel of the twentieth century. I chose to accompany Stephen, walking into eternity along Sandymount strand, and was glad I did. Never quite realised before the degree to which Chapter 3 of Ulysses echoes, reflects and sheds light on Stephen's glorious epiphany in Chapter 4 of A Portrait. Really must read the whole novel again (and again!)