Sunday, April 30, 2017

Doing Nothing

Yesterday I was picking up some keys at work and found myself listening to what I assumed to be some kind of motivational talk on the radio, or on tape, whatever, playing away in the office. I only caught a few seconds of it, fortunately, a strident voice booming out that it really wasn't necessary to sleep, that you needed to keep working all the time to stay in front - that kind of nonsense. I found myself half laughing at it, and half quite irritated that someone was getting away with peddling this dangerous nonsense.

It came into my mind again this morning when I decided to do precisely nothing before noon, despite having a fair few things I could have been getting on with. It was obvious to me that I'd been overloaded for the last few days, not with physical work but with the kind of data overload that fries the brain. I knew that even the slightest effort made to keep going with this kind of stuff was going to be deeply self-defeating. I spent a gloriously indolent three hours or so doing nothing more than lying on the floor, listening to music I knew well enough to hardly have to listen at all. (Yet, strangely, I seemed to listen hard, almost as if I was hearing it for the first time.)

By afternoon I was functioning again and feeling if not exactly fresh then by no means particularly jaded.

We've lost the wisdom to understand that when we think we're doing nothing we aren't. Something is being done to us, and it's something we need, something we can't do without.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Matter Of Detail

It isn't wise to neglect detail, but neither is it sensible to create so many that the sheer abundance becomes unmanageable. I've spent the last couple of days drowning in them and, trust me, I know what I'm talking about.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Just A Number

According to one of the results of my medical on Tuesday my metabolic age, whatever that might mean, is 35. That's a very cheerful number indeed, especially in relation to my real age, which is, shall we say, somewhat in advance of that. And, indeed, advanced even further today.

Fortunately in this household we know how to celebrate even those numbers one might rather forget.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Bit Much

I reckon I've got, at a conservative estimate, about 16 hours' worth of material for my talk on His Bobness due next week. It'll be a bit of a problem fitting it into the 60 minutes I think they've given me. Time for a bit of austerity, a quality the Greatest Living American generally has a problem with. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Not So Much

Attended a health screening today, and am hoping for good results in the fullness of time. But one result is in already. Somewhere along the way over the last couple of years I've lost one centimetre in height. Hope this isn't the beginning of a major trend.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Just A Little

No man only needs a little salary - thus Charley in the Requiem segment at the end of Miller's Death of a Salesman. He's replying to Linda's mournful observation on her dead husband: He only needed a little salary. He was even finished with the dentist.

I'd completely forgotten Charley's line until today when I was glancing through the play having just marked a few essays referring to it. Not sure I ever really noticed the brilliance of his supremely sardonic observation before. Isn't it astonishing just how deeply Miller saw into and through the bleak illusions of capitalism?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Book As Object

I've abandoned all thoughts of getting one of those e-reader devices, like a Kindle, despite the in many ways attractive logic of having one. This leaves me with a big headache with regard to storage space for real books, but I think that problem can be solved. Basically I'm thinking of giving some books away, freeing them to the world, and also we rent storage space anyway since moving into Hall and I might just start making greater use of that space. Not that my accumulated stock of books is growing at any speed given the fact that I read so little. That's part of the reason why I don't think I need to consider moving into the e-reader field.

But the real reason is a brutally simple one: I like the feel of books. The whole sensory thing I've come to realise is part of the pleasure of reading for me (that pleasure being the reason I read, by the way, in case you thought I might have nobler motives.) The more I think about it, this is a disturbing thing to admit to, and entirely irrational. But, what the heck, it's true so let's just accept it and get on with doing the reading.

Funnily enough this truth came home to me quite forcibly in my recent purchase of Joe Hill's excellent The Fireman. (Now about a third of the way in and as complete a fan of the son as I am of the father.) There were two editions available in the bookshop and I went for the cheaper looking, more American-looking paperback, a bit like one of those old cheapo cheapo Signet editions of the classics, though I think the editions were the same price. Somehow this kind of paperback is just right for unpretentious genre fiction - and when you realise the level of writing is as 'literary' as that of the stuff you're supposed to find more respectable that just adds to the pleasure in some weird way.

Anyway, I'm off to cuddle up with that particularly good book, so it's goodnight for now.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


When I arrived at the wake for Aloy's dad last night there was a group saying prayers for the dead. I sat with some of my colleagues from work, also there to pay their respects, as the prayers went on for quite some time. It was a Catholic chapel we were in and for some reason the repetition of the Hail Marys somehow stood out for me. I realised that it had been years since I'd heard the prayer, or at least found myself paying such attention to it. (I suppose it must have said at Mum's funeral, but I really don't remember it, or any of the prayers said then, even though I was struck by the symbolic beauty of the service.)

Thinking about the prayer afterwards it struck me that in its own way it was probably my favourite prayer as a kid, not that one really thought in such terms. We used to have to chant it in Latin, along with the Pater Noster and Agnus Dei (I think), before each lesson in Xaverian College - up to Sixth Form, that is. Can't remember if it remained the practice then. Even the mindless (and generally super-quick) repetition didn't diminish its oddly comforting magic.

I felt some of that yesterday, a recognition of both the beauty and oddness of the prayer. I suppose that's something true of all religious observance of all religions, to those who are sympathetic to this area of human experience. Must say, I feel a kind of quizzical sympathy thinking of those who find themselves unable to respond so.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Getting Around

Found myself having to use a fair amount of public transport in the late afternoon and evening today. I'd been involved in taking some students to the Aquatic Centre near the new Sports Hub in the afternoon and whilst we had a bus to take us there we had to find our own way back. Then I needed to attend the wake for Aloy's dad who passed away late yesterday. Since Noi needed to use the car to attend a class at the mosque - and for that reason wasn't able to make it to the wake - I needed to find a way there and back.

Fortunately public transport is extremely well-organised on this island, despite folks' grumbles about it, and it turned out to be quite easy to find my way around. There's something strangely intense about being the only person at a bus-stop in what feels like the middle of nowhere, but is always the middle of somewhere, waiting for the last bus to rouse itself to arrive. (It's never actually the last bus, of course; it just feels that way.)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Good Riddance

It says little for my character that I've taken some little pleasure today over the news that the egregious Bill O'Reilly has lost his job at Fox News (for what seem to me excellent reasons.) I can't honestly say I've wasted too much of my life watching him on the box, but even for the short periods I've seen him perform it's not been that difficult to figure out he's a first rate example of a bully (amongst other unpleasant characteristics, but I don't intend to waste time going there.)

There's a lovely moment in an interview he did with The Dawk himself when our favourite gnu atheist gloriously deflates the bully simply by pointing out he doesn't like being shouted at - and that he's been warned ahead of the interview that this is the bully's predictable strategy. Would that other 'guests' who in any way disagreed with O'Reilly's worldview had been primed to respond in the same fashion. He would have gone down in flames every time.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Like Father, Like Son

Just started Joe Hill's The Fireman. Excellent opening, promising a nice chunky read. Was reminded of early Stephen King, which is not surprising since Mr Hill is the son of the horrormeister. He seems to have inherited his dad's particular talents - a very cheerful thought indeed.

Made me think of Tony reading The Stand all those years ago and falling completely under the spell of the story. Wish he was around to make the acquaintance of The Fireman. He'd have loved it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


Put the weekend pain behind me & got back to the gym this evening. It felt good to be moving freely again, but my enjoyment was somewhat qualified by finding myself going through the motions on the elliptical thingy next to a young lady on the treadmill adjacent. The heavy breathing routine I endure these days is a bit embarrassing with someone listening. But it's even worse when that someone is actually reading a book whilst she's working out! Seriously! talk about multi-tasking eh?!

And there's me, struggling just to remember how to breathe.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Much Ado About Nothing

I have nothing to say; and I am saying it.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


What with one thing and another it's been a lousy day. One to endure and somehow get to the end of. There's no sign of things getting better or putting themselves to rights.

After a sleepless night the sensible thing seemed to me to make sure I got on with the basics necessary to getting through the week at work. I think I've done that. Not much all told, but at least that's something achieved.

Now considering what will need getting on with on the morrow. Lots, which in the circumstances is not such a bad thing.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Minor Crisis

Sitting marking this morning, around 10.00, I suffered an excruciatingly painful spasm in my back. The strange thing was that I hadn't actually changed my position or moved in the slightest when the spasm struck. It felt like an electric shock, and for a couple of hours afterwards I could hardly move at all. I needed to walk bent over and lying flat on the floor did little to alleviate the pain.

I didn't have much choice, however, but to keep on marking, kneeling at the coffee table, since sitting in the chair at the dining table, where I'd experienced the spasm, felt impossible. The remarkable thing was though that after two hours and taking a couple of pain-killers the initial trauma of it all seemed to suddenly dissipate. Since that time I've felt uncomfortable certainly, but the sense of having done real damage, which was so acute in the immediate aftermath of the spasm, has gone almost entirely.

I've managed to get through quite a bit of work today, something I severely doubted would be the case this morning. I've also managed to almost finish Boswell's Life of Johnson. Reading about the real extended crisis of Johnson's painful final months certainly put my own difficulties into perspective.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Not Exactly Alert

Easily could have slept all day, but this was not an option, despite being a holiday. Nodded off a couple of times, but not for long, and coming round to consciousness was less than pleasant. Kept thinking I had stuff to do, basically because this was the case.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Men At Work

For quite a few weeks now we've had various workmen around dealing with repairs to the buildings at work and painting pretty every surface surrounding us. It must be really tough work. It's bad enough having all the painting etc to do, but having to get on with all this in a place that's buzzing with activity all hours of the day has got to involve its very own frustrating headaches. The guys doing the hard graft strike me as being amazingly patient & long-suffering.

Yesterday as I was on the way out of the main building there were three workers painting an exterior wall. They'd just finished stripping an old exterior layer of paint, a fair amount of which was lying around on the ground. As two of the guys were getting on with the painting their colleague was starting to deal with the mess. If you've ever tried to sweep up this kind of litter, as he was about to do, you'd know just how dishearteningly time-consuming his work was going to be. Glancing at the mess as I passed I tried to imagine how I would have felt faced with the prospect of having to get rid of it all. It wasn't a nice thought.

When I walked by the same area this morning it was so clean you'd have been hard-pressed to figure out anyone had been working there just a few hours before.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Back In Balance

The Missus is back with tales of her adventures in Korea and of her meeting with Karen this afternoon. Astonishingly we haven't been able to find the wherewithal to pass Karen her (December) birthday present until today - and even then I couldn't be around. There's such a thing as being too busy you know - but then I think we all do know that, especially those who inhabit this far place. 

Having had that little moan I'll just relax at the end of a ferocious day with a sense of some kind of equilibrium being restored.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Good Service

For some reason I've bought a copy of The Sunday Times for the last two Sundays. I can't honestly claim to admire the quality of this publication, which is why, I suppose, I've got out of the habit of buying it, so I can't really explain what made me lay down the shekels for it two Sundays running. Possibly to see what I've been missing?

With that in mind, I was a bit surprised that there was no book page at all in the paper I purchased eight days ago, as some kind of page related to book reviews or lit-related articles had been a regular feature at one time. I wondered if this was an omission relevant to that one particular Sunday, but yesterday the same lack was apparent.

It's good to know that a major national newspaper sees fit to protect its readership, especially the younger ones, from the pernicious world of books, so I can't say I felt any great disappointment. Indeed, given the quality of the book pages of old, subtly headed 'Read', I reckon the paper might be commended for services to literature for electing to rid themselves entirely of this extraneous, inessential baggage.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Last Stretch

Still plodding along with Boswell's Life of Johnson. I honestly thought there was some chance of finishing it when we were in KL back in March, but I was happily side-tracked then by Bate's biography of Ted Hughes and progress since has been fitful. I had only some 250 pages to go at that point, which didn't seem a lot having covered the previous 1150, but there's no real momentum to the Life to compel a reader to hasten on, and a slow, meditative pace seems appropriate to this most gradual of all unfurlings of a man's days.

I'm now in Johnson's final year so those days, always numbered, seem especially melancholic - though it's the courage of the man that shines through the debilitating final illnesses and his frank fear of death. This might seem appropriate reading on a day I annually set aside for particular remembrance of Mum, since it's the anniversary of her death. Yet I rarely, if ever, find myself dwelling on the difficulties of her last days since the years leading up to them had been so full of life in the best sense of the word.

Hers was a Life that will never be written, as is happily the case for most of us. We are fortunate indeed to escape the evaluating eyes of posterity, or even those of a good friend like Bozzy. But it's comforting to think our small lives mean as much as the largest in the final judgment.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

In Praise Of The Fridge Magnet - 4

My thoughts keep wandering abroad, and will continue to do so until Noi comes home on Tuesday, insya'allah.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Brightly Shining

Now watching Kubrick's The Shining which is showing on the Thrill channel. It felt oddly coincidental when I realised it was on as I've found myself talking about it more than once this week in relation to our production scheduled for July. Specifically I've been encouraging our potential music-makers to listen to its opening music as a pointer to the sort of soundscape we might try creating for ourselves. In fact, we're considering stealing the main theme, since Wendy Carlos stole it herself.

When I first saw the movie I didn't care for it too much, for much the same reasons that King himself didn't like it. It isn't remotely true to his wonderful novel. What I didn't realise back then is that the disconnect between the film and the book is of no importance at all. They are entirely different entities, and both are brilliant.

It's quite painful to realise that back then I was possessed of no visual intelligence whatsoever. At least I'm able now to grasp that pretty much every frame of Kubrick's masterwork is a feast.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

An Element Of Uncertainty

To my surprise I finished Richard North Patterson's political thriller Balance of Power earlier this evening. I've been exceptionally busy dealing with the bloated Toad, work, this week and thought I'd need a bit of free time over the weekend (assuming I can carve some out) to deal with the last couple of hundred pages. But the final stages of the plot were so riveting I just couldn't put the novel down in the free time I managed to achieve (when I should have been sleeping) and so reached the highly satisfactory, and beautifully plotted, conclusion in between leaving work and starting work again for the evening.

Funnily enough, though I'd generally enjoyed the first two-thirds of the story it hadn't held me as had No Safe Place, the other Patterson I've read. In fact I'd sort of decided there'd be no more Patterson for me, despite his many virtues. Now I'm not so sure.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Losing Track

Originally I intended to write: You know you're very busy when it gets to 7.15 pm and you realise you've forgotten to eat at all during the day. (Actually almost a repeat of a post from some time ago, with only a slight change of time.)

Then I realised that I was wrong, having forgotten a brief highlight of the day. So, in a weak attempt to maintain whatever integrity in terms of factual accuracy this Far Place sustains, here's today's reconsidered entry:

You know you've been very, very busy when it gets to 7.15 pm and you think you've eaten nothing and suddenly remember the samosa you ate at 2.05 pm and realise you've (almost) completely forgotten a moment of pure joy.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Enduring, Enjoying

Noi is off to Korea with various of her sisters and nieces tomorrow for a short, well-earned break. This means that, inevitably, we've been heroically battling various automated systems designed to make life easier for corporations and harder for those who are forced to endure what they ironically term 'customer service' in order to get a couple of simple things done.

The first straightforward thing - made unfathomably difficult - has been to enable a credit card for overseas use. (I remember those days when this wasn't necessary, but now banks tell us they're protecting us from fraud.) The bank who issue the credit card tell us that this can be done with a simple SMS. So far we've sent nine messages, which have all failed, and talked to three customer service operatives (as I believe they call themselves.) We're now waiting to be called by a senior manager who, as I understand it, will verify who we are, though this is not in doubt, and do something to let us use the card for the purpose for which it was designed.

The second straightforward thing has been to register Noi and our nieces for their flight on-line. It would actually take too long to detail how much time this has taken so far, so let me just say a lot.

At one time I would have found all this extremely frustrating, but I've learnt to enjoy - as well as endure - the rich, and oddly educational, comedy of it all.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Moving The Goalposts

So there I was, just three days ago, feeling quite happy to be achieving my 10,000 steps on a regular daily basis as Friday's post indicates. And now I find, according to an article in yesterday's Sunday Times, that the 10,000 figure was just plucked out of the air and we need to aim for 15,000 to stay reasonably healthy!

Doh! as they say.

Sunday, April 2, 2017


Went to Ali's daughter's wedding this morning where we saw a number of our Hajj companions from last year. To our delight Raihan & Khadijah and Hussein & Alena were able to make it to tea at our place in the afternoon. Hussein brought along his videos of our pilgrimage and we had a great time reliving the experience.

At one point we all of us fell to pondering our extraordinary good fortune in being able to do the Hajj when we did. It just couldn't have taken place at a better time for myself and Noi, or with better companions. Incredible luck, extraordinary grace.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

This Great Stage Of Fools

When we are born we cry that we are come / To this great stage of fools. And rightly so.

Fortunately we have this day to remind us what fools we are: and our drama guys did so in style, with fooling and playing of the highest order; in the process proving that all the world's a stage when you perform in whatever odd spaces it provides. Sometimes in the pouring rain.