Friday, March 30, 2007

First Rate

A particularly enjoyable double barreled ending to the afternoon today. First up: watching the dress rehearsal of The Weed Dreams, the 'junior' division of Drama Club's offering for the Singapore Youth Festival (which they'll actually perform for the judges on Monday.) Today I saw it for the first time with the full cast - there's a whole crowd who have non-speaking roles and previously I've only seen it done with the three principal characters and the three guards. Alex & co have done a tremendous job. The full ensemble add a whole new dimension to what was already an excellent piece. Just the gradual entrance of the crowd to their seats in the first three minutes or so is grippingly spooky. It's always great to watch kids doing a good job on stage, but there's something particularly special when they do so with dark, forbidding material. When I first saw the script I couldn't really picture it as do-able. How wrong I was!

And following that: eating Noi's inimitable sup tulang (bone soup) which she has been preparing today at Kak Kiah's ahead of Udin's wedding. There's only one sensible way to eat this dish: messily. And I did. Noi will be staying overnight at the wedding as she continues cooking on an industrial scale for all and sundry. I'll be back tomorrow afternoon for more delicious grub.

Since Noi isn't around I'm afraid it's time for some seriously loud music. I reckon a spot of Robert Fripp's Exposure would be just the ticket, bringing the day to a fittingly splendid conclusion.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

To Hell and Back

I finished Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell's deeply impressive From Hell this evening, after a deliberate effort to spin my first reading out for as long as possible. The final chapters were particularly strong, and it was refreshing to get some distance away from the murders. But then I suppose anything set outside that room in Chapter 10 in which poor Marie Kelly is carved up would come as a relief. I don't think I want to go in there again; not soon anyway.

Gull's trip through time in Chapter 13 had great hallucinatory power, and the connection with Blake touched upon genius. The treatment of the Montague Druitt story turned out to be affecting in a way I could never have predicted. Moore got inside the names, the places and events and made them true through deliberate fiction-making The whole thing just works!.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Gently Simmering

My teaching load for Wednesday in Week B (we operate on a two-week timetable) is heavy - very, very heavy. And the day ends with a session with the senior end of our Drama Club. So I'm not surprised that I now feel frazzled to the max, running on empty, completely cream-crackered. Yet it's been generally an enjoyable day, despite the frenzy of it all. I enjoy my classes and the drama session was a blast. I look forward to seeing what the students are going to come up with, especially in the short pieces for performance we usually end with. Today we did an item I've used a few times before entitled Uninvited Guests and the freshness of approach from the groups doing it was revitalising for me. At least two of the performances could have formed the basis for development as thoroughly scripted items.

I suppose that was on my mind as we're in the process of putting together a plan for a show from Drama Club for performance in July as part of the school's Festival of Arts. I ran one idea by Ferdinand this afternoon, more to see how it sounded to myself, and it seemed to gather legs as I was talking. So that much is promising. But these are early days in the business of planning. The trick is not to rush these things: let things simmer, let things grow. Maybe we'll end up doing a show called Mixed Metaphors?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Health Matters

I completed 8 laps of the track at school this afternoon in a fairly steady jog. I don't seem to be suffering any back problems as a result so it seems I'm really on the mend in that department. A bad back leaves you feeling extremely vulnerable. You tend to think there's nothing much can be done to put things right and any kind of exercise is likely to just make matters worse. So it's very satisfying to be proved wrong. I just wish I could get more swimming done as I'm still wary of the high impact nature of running. But then you can hardly call my pace 'running'.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


The rather jolly picture below represents my first rather miserable attempt to get something visual on From A Far Place. It's the 'ming' vase we destroyed at the end of Black Comedy and looks better than it actually was:

Generally the weekend is a time of recovering for me, and this one has been no exception. I've spent a fair amount of it simply crashed out, catching up on sleep. It's not exactly a creative way to use one's time, but, I suspect, it's something of a necessity.

However, on the positive side some things have been achieved: the car finally has leather-covered seats and a new CD-player (as promised by the dealer when we bought it) and Noi and I now have library cards again after a hiatus in our membership of some three years. In truth I still have a few books on my shelves that I need to read so resuming our visits was hardly a necessity but I couldn't help but feel there was something wrong with the world when I didn't have a library to go to. We allowed our membership to lapse over the three years I spent in my previous school due to the impossibility of establishing a routine that gave us the chance to go there regularly, so that doesn't exactly reflect well on that job - especially considering the fact that the building is only a ten minute walk away.

On the reading front, I completed Roddy Doyle's The Snapper yesterday and have now moved on to the last of the Barrytown trilogy, The Van. The dialogue is so well done, the rhythms perfect. This is prose of great economy - spare, yet nuanced. Poor Noi had to put up with me reading a whole slab of dialogue out to her, concerning the twins' decision that their dancing lessons are stupid and that they are not going to perform in the competition for which their mother has been sewing sequins to their outfits, in the middle of a shopping centre.

Also I've got a bit of work done, setting a test and planning a few lessons - so it's not all been beer and skittles, I'm afraid. The test draws on the end of one of the many novels of an extremely famous writer with a brilliant ear for the vernacular in which that ear for dialogue has transformed itself to tin, and cheap tin at that. I'd not be likely to read it out anywhere, but I think our Year 3 students will be able to say what they need to say about it without too much trouble.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Best Foot Forward

What better way to spend a Friday evening than a brisk walk, incorporating a slow jog, to East Coast Park, there & back again? Then a couple of prata at Jago Close. Then a bit of a listen to my cassette tape of Joyce's Ulysses - the BBC Book at Bedtime version, with Stephen Rea reading, among others. His Stephen is wonderfully callow; the Bloom (Norman Rodway? James Greene?) is appropriately fruity. "Oh rocks! Tell us in plain words." Useful advice for all aspiring writers. Splendidly ignored in this case.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Aches & Pains

I felt quite a twinge in my back early this morning. The swubuh prayer was uncomfortable and driving into work was mildly iffy. After that things steadily improved and now there's only the memory of vulnerability.

My back is so much better than it was five or six years ago that it's hard to credit the improvement. Even feeling the twinge this morning I was confident things would be okay. Of course, there'll come a morning when they're not okay anymore but until then I'll enjoy time's mercy in providing days in which I can still enjoy a measure of something approaching health.

Quick afterthought following yesterday's entry: we've been pretty good at making this world a hell for many of our own species also.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Dog's Life

I've just been reading a few e-mails from our taman in KL regarding stray dogs on the estate and the need to deal with them. (I think that's a euphemism for killing them.) Of course, it's quite right: there's a need to control the problem. But another part of me wonders whether we (our species, not just the taman-dwellers) are not just brutally destructive for the sake of our narrow, irrelevant comforts. Consideration of the experiences of animals is invariably a fascinating way to approach topics in the IB subject Theory of Knowledge, and it's interesting how often students seem to effortlessly put these questions to one side. Do animals know things in the same way humans do? Do animals know more than us? Is instinct a kind of knowing? I think when I was younger I wouldn't have worried too much about these issues. Now they fascinate, and worry, me. After all, we've made this world a kind of hell for other species. Perhaps we're getting closer to payback time?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Darkness & Light

Progress with From Hell has been fitful lately. I hardly touched it in the week of the production and didn't take it to Melaka, having other fish to fry there. It's difficult to read in bed due to it's sheer size so I've taken to dipping into Colin Wilson's book on the murders, last thing at night, the one he co-wrote with Robin Odell. Doing so helps to create a necessary distance from the mesmerising, sometimes overwhelming power of the graphic novel. (There are moments when I feel I'm drowning in black & white.) I've just got to the end of Chapter 9, the titular From Hell, and it feels a bit like being on the edge of the heart of darkness.

There were a few fish in Melaka. I reread a few of the stories in Salman Rushdie's East, West, as preparation for introducing the text to my classes soon. The stories seemed to pack much more emotional power the second time round - my first reading seemed to be spent coming to terms with the verbal & stylistic fireworks. In fact I found the ending of Chekov and Zulu extremely moving in this respect. In between times I glanced at The God of Small Things, essentially to sort out certain details of the plot, again as preparation for lessons. I feel keenly the need to read it again cover to cover (to do it artistic justice) but I'm not sure I'm going to be able to hack out the time. And, finally, I luxuriated in the first third or so of Roddy Doyle's The Snapper. Apart from the fact that it's an hysterically funny read it also seems to me to be slyly wise. It's made me uncomfortably aware of my occasional (possibly frequent, let's be honest) priggishness. I suppose there's a fairly good working definition of Literature (with a capital 'L') lurking here: books that are even better the second and third time around that entertain you in ways that are less than comfortable.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


We got back from Melaka around 8.00 pm. It was too brief a visit to completely relax there, but I enjoyed it while it lasted, particularly since it incorporated a fine Saturday night United victory over Bolton, 4 - 1. I also got some marking done and a reasonable amount of stuff prepared with the week ahead in mind. My classes have altered a bit from the first term as I'm taking over a couple of Year 5 groups from a teacher who's left, and I'm losing my Year 3 guys. That's a pity as I was just really getting to know them but switching of time-tables is fairly frequent here so you just get used to it.

I was thinking about the intensity of drama productions over the weekend, how they never quite fade from memory as you might expect. I think I remember several moments in performance and rehearsal from everything I've ever been involved in, and I'm talking about something close to total sensory recall here. Why is this so? The single most important factor I believe to be a curiously impersonal thing: the fact that you are in touch with a kind of creative download from somewhere quite outside yourself and you get some sense of the stunning power of what potentially can come through. That's not to say you are realising much of the potential of that power, far from it, but it's exhilarating just to get caught in a small slipstream of what is more thoroughly available to others. It is oddly magical, other-than-the-everyday. It feels like a kind of blessing, a sort of grace. It seems that in those moments you are somehow more alive and more accessible to important things about life. I know this sounds more than a bit overwrought, but that doesn't alter the fact that I think it's true for most people. I feel privileged to have had the chance to feel many such moments.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

There There There

The one and, sadly, only performance of Black Comedy took place last night and was a huge success. Over the last week the cast have steadily upped their game in rehearsals and last night they almost peaked. I say almost because they would really need a short run, 3 to 4 nights, to know how to milk the laughs now they know where the big & small laughs are. But these are naturally talented performers so their adjustment to an altered pacing at key moments was generally smooth. Anyway, they were clearly all thrilled, and rightly so, at what they had delivered. I was sitting in the back row and I think I laughed more than I had at rehearsals, which is saying something considering how often Ferdinand and I found ourselves breaking up. It's a good job the guys delivered though because we had a sort of pre-show item from some of the younger members of our Drama Club doing the item Alex has put together for SYF and they were cooking also, enough to have put their seniors in the shade if the stops hadn't been pulled out. We certainly are possessed of an abundance of talent.

The most satisfying moment: the climactic smashing of a certain 'ming vase' we'd grown so accustomed to. Actually the vase looked really great on stage and oddly expensive. The crash when it went was appropriately awesome. The mess on stage after was deeply fulfilling.

Later I'm heading north to Melaka where Noi is waiting for me and where I shall regale her with further tales of a dramatic nature. I'm in that post-production phase in which just thinking of the fine details of a performance is complacently enjoyable.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Really Nearly There

Black Comedy continues to grow as the cast find their characters. A number of emotional currents got plugged into today that had never previously sparked. This process of discovery is what makes the staging of any production deeply educational. That and the realisation of the extraordinary level of discipline to make something work on the stage for any length of time.

Our tech crew are doing a great job - better than most adults I've worked with. And what a thankless job that is. You're only noticed when you get it wrong. Do the difficult thing and make it look easy and the audience thinks it's easy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Nearly There

Yesterday was consumed by Black Comedy business. I started some small-scale rehearsing around 9.30 am and left for home at gone 2.00 am, the next morning, ie, this morning. Now I'm feeling extremely tired, but we'll be rehearsing again at 4.00 pm so I'd better dig deep into my reserves. Of course, this is simply the nature of the business of getting stuff on stage. There's a lot to be done by Friday night (performance night) but it feels like we are getting there. One difference though between this show and others I've done: it's Ferdinand who's leading the way with seemingly boundless reserves of drive & energy and my role is nothing like as demanding. Another difference: the students are also more than capable of getting major things done off their own backs. So again, I feel like I'm simply along for the ride and am thus able to enjoy the experience without that curiously stifled feeling I used to get when I was seen as being very much the one in control, calling all the shots. It's nice to be a passenger.

It also helps that I'm thoroughly enjoying the actual play and the performances. The material is very demanding but the cast bring it to life, even in the early hours of the morning - with some of the students having arrived from other stuff they've also had to be involved with. This has been a more than worthwhile process for all involved.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Rot Otters

I've been listening to the Who's Live at Leeds in the car over the last couple of days, and what a wise choice of music to motor to it has been. This is not the Live at Leeds of my university days though, an all-too-brief sprint to the finishing line of the wonderfully extended My Generation. This is the 2 CD full concert, with Tommy on disc 2 and all sorts of extra goodies on disc 1. This is also proof that The Who were possibly the greatest live band of their period and the originators of all that was good in heavy metal

Anyway, today was a Tommy day, and one that left me thinking about the whole business of rock operas and concept albums. Whatever was Pete thinking of when he came up with the notion of 4 r'n'b merchants performing an opera? At Leeds University (amongst others) of all places. Wouldn't it have been wiser to stick to releasing great singles from great albums that were nothing more than collections of songs? Well, oddly, no. Just listening to the overture from Tommy and a track like Sparks explains everything. This is music that knows it cannot be contained in a 2 minute 50 second masterpiece. This is music that is spilling over into new forms to find the room to grow. These are musicians expanding the vocabulary of what it's possible to say to an audience. It doesn't always work, but people who create things are generally more concerned with creating them than whether they actually work. And when they do work you get something wonderful, like the best bits of Tommy. Of which there more than a few.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Graphic Enjoyment

Yesterday Noi and I went down town to Takashimaya, in my case to spend some time in Kinokuniya, the rather tasty bookshop there. I've been intending to buy From Hell the graphic novel dealing with the Jack the Ripper case by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell for quite some time and since this is the start of a sort of holiday week (no actual teaching, at least) I finally did so. It's quite a substantial tome (part of the attraction for me) and I started reading it as soon as we got in. It has not disappointed. The artwork alone is worth the price. Campbell's scratchily detailed black and white panels draw you into the sordid world of Whitechapel as well as the grandeur of London in 1888. I suppose I expected this sort of quality having glanced through the book previously, but what has surprised me is how well Moore's storytelling works. He doesn't pretend to offer anything like the usual rather dreary solutions to the Ripper mystery. In fact, the Ripper as William Gull is established almost from the get-go. What is refreshing is that clearly Moore does not believe in his guilt at all. Rather the story-line functions as a kind of foundation on which to hang a series of atmospheric riffs on the murkiness of society & life in late-Victorian London. Conjectures on what really took place remain just that, and that's as satisfyingly real as you can get on this subject. It's all highly entertaining and accidentally educational. The only problem I've got with the book is how to ration my reading sensibly so I don't rush too much.

With that in mind I'm balancing my trips into From Hell with dips into Archie Ammons's long poem Glare and odd poems from Seamus Heaney's District & Circle.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Without really intending to I read Roddy Doyle's The Commitments between last night and this afternoon. Terrific stuff. The rhythm of the dialogue keeps the narrative moving at a cracking pace, even when nothing is really happening, which is most of the time. I remember enjoying the movie (Alan Parker directed, I think) but feeling that the music was too glossy. In the original, when you only hear it in your head, it's nicely raw and smaller. The book's funnier as well.

I've just discovered how to format for paragraphs in this blog. All it took was looking up the html code and applying it myself in the window that lets you edit for such. I applied this to yesterday's item with success and am now feeling absurdly pleased with myself. (Oddly enough I don't seem to be asking why it took me so long to think of this perfectly simple solution after the problem had bugged me for weeks. I suppose I could edit all the entries to the outset of From A Far Place but it's easier to leave them as they are, evidence of my slowness of mind.)

Friday, March 9, 2007

Mistaken Identity

Despite feeling ferociously tired after a tough week at work I got myself out this evening for a brisk walk interspersed with some (slow) jogging at East Coast Park. Actually I should say we got ourselves out as Noi was the driving force behind our little expedition. I'm now feeling not so ferociously tired but somewhat foolishly pleased with myself.

Just before going out I'd been reading the Straits Times and finding myself in agreement with a columnist writing about the need to build up some kind of critical community in the media, regarding the arts. Sadly in the very next article I read, quite a lengthy feature in the entertainment section, another columnist managed to confuse the rather splendid Rickie Lee Jones (coming here for a music festival) for the equally splendid Joni Mitchell. I don't know how Ms Jones is going to feel about being credited with the writing of Both Sides Now but I hope nobody buys a ticket expecting her to give her rendition thereof. Oh dear. Do they have sub-editors on newspapers these days? Did Rickie make false claims in an interview? Do journalists know how to check their facts using the internet?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Getting There

Got back quite late today as a result of a full run through of Black Comedy in the late afternoon & early evening. The cast did a good job and the show has a real shape. Farce is incredibly difficult to do well, and extremely demanding on its performers, but our guys are rising to the demands. I'm enjoying these rehearsals more than any I can remember for quite some time due to the spirit being brought to the stage.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

On the Edge

An earthquake causing a number of deaths in Indonesia was felt in some parts of Singapore yesterday. Some schools even closed for the day in view of safety concerns. Yet our small island escaped any real damage yet again. How fortunate we are, and how easy it is to take that good fortune for granted. I've lived an extraordinarily privileged life, yet it takes a lot to make me remember that. Like an earthquake. To see things as they are (for me) would be to look out from a face on the edge of a banquet.

Sunday, March 4, 2007


It's nice to be able to upload entries again, but I still can't manage to get this thing to reflect my paragraphing. Oh well. Today I finished Matthew Kneale's English Passengers and Les Murray's Fredy Neptune. There has been much to enjoy in both, especially at a stylistic level, and I suppose there's been a certain commonality of theme, and setting: Australia, the sea, human cruelty. The ending of the poem saw Fredy being able to feel again, related it seemed to some kind of forgiveness in him - amongst others he was able to forgive God, a big idea indeed. I didn't quite pick up on the significance of Fredy's cure though. I suppose that I felt it was obviously going to come by the end of the story and I was more interested in the situation Fredy & family would be in when it all finished - curiously I never thought for a moment that the poem would end in Fredy's death, despite the extreme situations he kept finding himself in. I found myself reading the poem almost as one might follow a tv soap. That reflects the thinness of my reading but also the engaging nature of the story & its characters. English Passengers had the more obviously satisfying ending (at least, at first glance.) All ends were neatly tied with enough that was unexpected yet appropriate to give a further level of satisfaction. The emergence of the doctor, Potter, as a genuinely sinister villain was a development I didn't expect but it worked beautifully in the full context of the novel. There was a fascinating postscript also on the emergence of theories of racial superiority in the nineteenth century that helped give a context to Potter's awful ideas.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

In Passing

At last I'm able to post again. I'd prepared this piece on Monday 26 February, but just couldn't get it up on the web. Well here goes anyway: King Crimson were and are my favourite band, if having a favourite means anything at my age. I fell in love with them at fourteen and consider their most recent studio album, The Power To Believe, one of their best. I've only seen them live three times though, all in Manchester in my early teenage years. I saw the Islands band twice and the five-piece responsible for Larks Tongues In Aspic once, and I've always regarded the former with affection (the latter with something like awe.) Growing up with Crimso has given me a kind of musical education, proving a way in to all sorts of odd sounds I don't think I would otherwise have picked up on. Reading of the death of Ian Wallace, the drummer with the Islands band (and on and off with quite a number of other luminaries of the world of rock & jazz, including Bob Dylan, circa Street Legal), the other day, was saddening, the more so as I'd greatly enjoyed his on-line diary with Robert Fripp's while it was running. His love of the music he played and of the football he watched - sadly a Liverpool supporter, but never mind - his sense of humour, his delight in his food and home life, his concern for tolerance & goodwill in the world, were conveyed in an attractively direct, honest, supremely likable way. It's not that long since Boz Burrell, the bass player and vocalist with the same line-up passed on, and Ian Wallace's tribute to his bandmate at that time captured so much of his own warmth. They'll make a tight rhythm section for the houseband in heaven