Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Signs Of Progress

I wonder what the reaction to England's first outing would have been were it not for Harry Kane's (very) late winner. I suspect there'd have been a good deal of I-told-you-so despair around despite what was obviously a good performance. I suppose it's in the nature of cup competitions to breed this kind of manic intensity, and I suspect it's in the nature of good teams to carry on regardless (and get late winners, because you somehow believe you can.)

From what we've seen so far, given the stumbling of some of the fancied nations, this tournament is wide open, though the best game so far suggests that those might just be the two teams to go all the way. (I'm thinking of Spain & Portugal, by the way - which would be a good thing for the game in general, I suspect.)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Zero Expectations

Two years ago, in Euro 2016 to be specific, I assumed that England would push Iceland aside with some ease. The team seemed to have gelled and were playing with what seemed like confidence. How utterly, devastatingly, embarrassingly wrong I was, to the extent that I managed to close out any interest in my national team for the next two years, other than to register a mild disgust at the misdeeds of Big Sam leading to his sacking.

So I've been playing catch-up in every department as to England's recent fortunes over the last two weeks, and, I must say, the news hasn't been all bad. Against the odds Gareth Southgate has made the current squad look viable and restored some sense of intelligent order to the camp. I liked him as a player, but I didn't think he'd be this much of his own man as a coach at this level. He looks like he knows what he's doing and intends to do just that and get on with it, not letting the babble surrounding him distract too much.

Will this work? It stands a chance. This time round it's hard to detect any genuine expectations of success, and that's what a youngish team need, I suspect, to thrive. But there's a brittleness at the heart of English football that no coach can magic away. I suspect that if heads go down, they'll go down deeply, and it might not take that much bad fortune to lower them.

I'm still not over Iceland. (By the way, they're my other favoured team in the competition. I reckon they could well shake things up given the kind of self-belief and organisation they showed in their first game. Almost exonerates the England of two years back, eh?)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Matters Political

Have managed to talk some politics, the Malaysian variety, with brother-in-law Hamza on this trip north. It's good to hear him sounding vastly more optimistic post-election. I get a sense of many people here regarding the new government as genuinely representing the possibility of a new, cleaner, way of doing things. That might sound awfully na├»ve five years from now, of course, but Hamza functions very much in the real world of business here and knows more than a thing or two, or possibly three. In fact, his tales of the greed he's directly witnessed are pretty bleak, so his heightened optimism has some basis in how things actually get done (or, all too often, not done when they need to be.)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

And Back Again

Just back from visiting Mak in hospital since she's been readmitted this afternoon. I suppose the doctors felt it best to make sure she was home for Hari Raya and knew there was a fair chance they'd be seeing her again soon. Her breathing speeded up again last night, so getting her back where she can be properly monitored was obviously the way to go.

Mind you, the ward she returned to was so busy with visitors that it's difficult to imagine any of the patients getting much rest unless they are completely knocked out. It's great to be in a culture that places such a high value on acknowledging and tending to the sick, but it's easy to see how that creates its own kind of demands on those who are ill.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Much Gained

Hari Raya Puasa, Eid ul-Fitr; 1 Syawal 1439

I've been worrying about the Prayers for Hari Raya for a few days now. With it being Friday, two trips to the mosque are required and I've been struggling with my back since before coming up to Malaysia. Last Friday I used a chair for assistance at the masjid at Bukit Antarabangsa, but the circumstances at the little masjid at Sungai Petai are somewhat different and I wasn't too sure of being able to get near any chair at all. In the event, all went well and I coped without assistance at both sets of prayers, leaving me feeling very pleased with myself just for doing something quite ordinary. A form of grace, I suppose.

And better than all that, Mak was discharged from hospital in the early afternoon and is back amongst the family. Here's hoping all who keep the season do so with their families healthy & complete: Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfithri - Eid Mubarak!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Something Lost

29 Ramadhan, 1439

We've almost reached the end of the fasting month, with roughly three hours to go before we break the fast for the final time this year. It doesn't get any easier - but neither does it get any more difficult. The challenge remains essentially the same, though the details differ. But it's never quite the same body or mind that you're dealing with, the next year on, though you may think it is.

In my first Ramadhan, some time in the last century, I had quite an appetite in the evening and would seek to make up plentifully, and enjoyably, for the travails of the day in those hours of what seemed like freedom. For this Ramadhan I've felt hardly any sense of hunger at all, either during the day, or having broken the fast. Indeed, on a few occasions I've felt overwhelmed by all the grub available and uncomfortably full on going to bed. And it isn't that I've ever really felt terribly thirsty. Dealing with the desire for a drink relates far more to habit than it does to actual need.

I'm guessing I've lost some weight. I checked myself on the scales after the first ten days or so and found I'd lost a couple of kilograms, sending me below my fighting weight. Since then I've had Hamza remarking on my thinness, in that slightly concerned way that suggests a bit of a worry over health rather than any kind of admiration for sharper contours. And Noi has commented a couple of times on the looseness of my jeans, in her case with a view to making sure I don't embarrass us in public by inadvertently revealing too much of myself.

None of this matters in the slightest, of course, compared to the importance of the inner journey the month invites and entails. The places you reach can't be measured, or even mapped. But something of their contours might be remembered, usefully.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Two Positives

28 Ramadhan, 1439

Finished reading Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables just now, whilst visiting Mak at Alor Gajah Hospital. Surprised at just how good the novel was (not sure why I should be surprised, but I was, so there you are) and delighted to see Mak looking a good deal better than I expected, and out of Intensive Care.

Hawthorne treads a very fine line in his novel between straightforward realism, in that all the events have completely rational explanations, and the world of the supernatural, the gothic, the Romantic. His sustained balancing act is impressive, suggestive of a writer in assured control of his material. I was particularly impressed by the chapter comprising a sustained meditation upon the death of Judge Pyncheon. The notion that the only spirits involved are those of the readers and we are the ones conjuring the procession of the various dead of the Pyncheon family that bear witness to the death of Jaffrey Pyncheon was done neatly and convincingly. Hawthorne is very good indeed at engaging the reader in the static. Not much happens in the novel, but it happens in a genuinely satisfying manner.

In fact, in some ways The House of the Seven Gables is really a tightly wrought short story given room to breathe.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


27 Ramadhan, 1439

Now reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables. Read The Scarlet Letter many years ago, at university I think, and didn't much enjoy it. Also read a number of the short stories over the years, with a bit more appreciation, but never quite seeing quite why Hawthorne seems to be so rated  - or, at least, I assume he is - over the water at any rate. But at the halfway mark of Seven Gables I think I'm beginning to get some of his appeal. There are enough biting phrases and even memorable paragraphs to give the alert reader a sense of a keen and searching intelligence at work, even if that searching seems to take an unduly long time.

Loved this description of the restorative powers of a good cup of coffee, as it works on the generally dreary Clifford Pyncheon:

In a little while, the guest became sensible of the fragrance of the yet untasted coffee. He quaffed it eagerly. The subtle essence acted on him like a charmed draught, and caused the opaque substance of his animal being to grow transparent, or at least translucent; so that a spiritual gleam was transmitted through it, with a clearer luster than heretofore.

"More, more!" he cried, with nervous haste in his utterance, as if anxious to retain his grasp of what ought to escape him. "This is what I need! Give me more!"

I'll no doubt be repeating that final demand when quaffing a teh tarik after breaking fast this evening.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Keeping Watch

26 Ramadhan, 1439

Woke to the not-so-good-news that Mak was being admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital at Alor Gajah. Her breathing was laboured and she's been assessed since as having water in her lungs and an enlarged heart, due, I think, to water retention. We'll be changing our plans and going to Melaka a bit earlier than intended in order to see her. It seems she's conscious and chatting away, so this isn't, we hope, as much of an emergency as the one after last year's Hari Raya which saw her in the same place under more desperate circumstances. I take it she's being kept in the ICU under observation as things stand, though I'm not at all sure of how things work in the system here.

In some ways being in hospital over Eid might prove a more restful experience than being at home for the big day - but I doubt that Mak will see it that way. Hoping for the best.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Feeling Right

25 Ramadhan, 1439

The degree to which I've adjusted to the demands of the fast became apparent in the late afternoon when I realised that no thought of eating or, more pertinently, drinking had occurred to me despite being engaged in some heavy duty cleaning duties on a very hot day. At the moment of actually thinking the thought I was aware of a lack of desire to break the fast and a complete acceptance of the conditions of the fast. A sense that this is the way things are and have to be.

Later on, at the breaking of the fast, I experienced a similar kind of acceptance. There was no great pleasure involved in finally drinking, just a feeling of rightness that it was time to do so.