Sunday, August 31, 2008

Further Prospects

The improbable, but all too actual, to do list of Thursday evening has been consigned, completed, to the dustbin of my personal history. I am now licensed, the car is loaded, our camp completed - and a great success. The downside: I've eaten far too much over the last couple of days, my back is aching like nobody's business, and I have a five and a half hour drive to complete. But nobody said it would be easy.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Long days tomorrow and Saturday; yes, it's the annual drama camp. Followed by a drive on Sunday to KL. Followed by the beginning of fasting on Monday. And all sorts of goodies in between, like trying to get my driving license renewed. It's all go. I'm almost all gone.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Making It New

I've been doing a bit of an experiment over the last couple of weeks and it's proved surprisingly successful. The last time I tried to play the CDs from my collection of Tippett's symphonies on the stereo in the front room they were extremely uncooperative, to the point where I thought they'd been damaged just by being too old. I was aware, though, that the player itself might be to blame - this is the one we're thinking seriously, very seriously, of replacing. But the discs themselves didn't look too good on their surfaces.

So I thought I'd give them a go on the car stereo, just to see if they were worth saving. It also occurred to me that it would be interesting to try some rather radical sounds in the car. I tend, like most people, to think in terms of what makes good 'driving music' - I suppose U2 constitutes a fair sort of benchmark - and I'm pretty conservative in terms of what is likely to make it to the CD changer, though I'm highly eclectic in my tastes.

To my surprise the music has worked astonishingly well, and plays fine. I seem to be hearing it in new ways despite knowing it fairly well. The jazz influences on the 3rd Symphony jumped out at me today. I was hearing bits of Copland (of all people) in number two last week that had never registered before. And I've found myself inclined to play the stuff in the early morning when I'm usually not at all receptive to listening to music in the car. The 'fidgety' almost neurotic quality I tend to associate with Tippett's music (completely unfairly, it's just how I normally hear it) seems entirely right when I'm driving; no, it actually evaporates to be replaced by a sense of the assuredness of the music, that this is not in any way random, this is the way it has to be.

I suspect that if I heard the music in its real 'home', the concert hall, it would prove mind-blowing. But I'm not expecting the opportunity to make that happen will come any time soon.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


As a result of that curious malice inanimate objects, especially those that one owns, manifest en masse occasionally, yesterday evening my life was thrown into disarray (well, more than the usual amount) by the following: the bedroom light fitting - not simply the bulb, which had already shone its last - decided it's useful life was over by cracking up in my wife's hands; the entire air-conditioning system in the apartment went on strike, resolutely showing little red lights on the various units in place of the little green lights we're accustomed to; and, to put the tin hat on it, my credit card declared itself expired to a hungry creditor, to whom I owed the princely sum of $2.05, when it wasn't, or at least wasn't to my uncertain knowledge.

I'd like to be able to say I took all this in my stride, showing the kind of grace under pressure that Wellington himself (he of the boots) might have managed in the middle of one of his stickier encounters - but I didn't. I muttered, growled, fumed and made of myself a nuisance of fairly large proportions to the immediate neighbourhood. Fortunately two extraordinarily helpful chaps from the firm we call to service the air-conditioning put the first two problems right in record time, and with an amazing lack of any mess, and a phone call to a patient lady whom I think my credit card company calls a service operator, or something of that ilk, enabled me to grasp enough of the complexities of the world of high finance to understand how to pay my debt and forestall the arrival of the bailiffs. And all was (reasonably) well again.

Which leads me to a thought: aren't there a lot of incredibly able, pleasant and helpful folk around and aren't we lucky to have them?

Mind you, I still can't get the website of the company to which I owe the 2 bucks to accept the correct details of my credit card, so my sunny mood of goodwill to all is now officially over. Grrrrgh.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I'm gazing through the window looking disconsolately at the rain. It's just having another little flurry even as I type. Not that rain here is in itself a bad thing (or anywhere else, I suppose, except Manchester where it's always foul.) It'll be fasting month soon and we're hoping for buckets of the stuff then as that's highly conducive to not getting headaches whilst fasting. No, the disconsolation stems from my plans to go for a run being thwarted. (I consider myself too old to get wet through and, anyway, Noi won't let me.) This means I'll have gone the whole week without any real exercise, unless you count traipsing up and down flights of stairs at work.

On a somewhat tangentially related matter, I've taken to insulting, quite gratuitously, groups of lit students, the types who take the subject seriously like yesterday's class, as 'literature geeks' who need to get outside for some fresh air. It's quite entertaining to witness the distinct irritation this provokes in the poor guys who are not too sure how to get back at me. It's sad to think of how out of fashion being unpleasant to kids has become.

Sometimes a pointed stick's a lot more useful than a big hug.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Payment In Kind

Did a workshop for some sort of lit seminar this morning and got a heap of book tokens for Kinokuniya as a reward. Lovely idea - I'm donating some to Fa Fa and Fi Fi and we plan to 'spend' them together. It's a mark of my estimable character that I'd agreed to do the thing before I knew about the tokens. Are they taxable, I wonder?

Anyway, I had a lot of fun looking at some short poems and hope the recipients felt the same way. I slipped in two by the wonderful Archie Ammons and found myself liking them even more after we'd done the lit crit bit on them than before. I suppose that might be a useful definition of a good poem: something that survives being used as an 'unseen.'

Friday, August 22, 2008

Work, An Observation

You know what the best part of work is? Stopping. Hah!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Truth, If Not Beauty

I'd just like to point out that yesterday's little haiku (bit of a redundancy there) is true, absolutely so. The bird is a regular outside our house in KL, and confirmedly daft, and loud. It really was Mahler's second - I didn't choose it just for the helpful syllable count. It was around nine o'clock in the morning and I was listening to Rattle's recording with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. I'd got the french windows downstairs open and, as usual, there was a bit of extraneous sound wafting in. Then we hit the fourth movement and something, I suppose Dame Janet Baker's glorious warbling, set the bird going and it accompanied her throughout the movement. I'm not sure whether the result was an improvement on Mahler's original but I like to think he would have approved.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In Response

A cunning autolycan question under the comments for Monday's post (along with links to two juicy poems): My question though is: Can a teacher of literature never have been a practitioner?

My answer is: It depends on what (or whom) you regard as a teacher of literature. In the world some hold as real my guess is that it may be regarded as a positive advantage never to have practised the sullen art. In the bizarre mental world to which I sometimes retreat the following construct holds: The only real response to a work of art is another such work. (The implications of this for how we teach literature at every level are boggling in the most mindful of ways.)

In years gone by, when I worked for examination boards, I used to sometimes drop this one in at meetings over coffee upon souls I felt in need of stirring. It was oddly successful in that respect.

And now a haiku of sorts. Even though I can't get this thing to set out verse properly I feel somehow obliged to wax lyrical:

Nature and Art

A bird daft with song / Accompanying Mahler's / Second Symphony.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Food For Thought

I found myself enjoying a most rewarding seminar on ethics today given by a chap called Peter Vardy. In just about half a day he (along with a lady called Julie Arliss) managed to be interesting and illuminating on postmodernism, especially as applied to modern art, the theory of the just war, and the broad ethical background to abortion, euthanasia and the latest developments in genetics. Just now I happened to try and look him up on Wikipedia and there's a lot of derogatory nonsense in the article about him which suggests he must be a little controversial. It looks like he may have crossed swords with Richard Dawkins at some point as the page appears defaced by, presumably, a Dawkins supporter. I'm particularly surprised since today's seminar was almost entirely agenda-less and even-handed, as far as I was aware, in the exploration of ideas. Of course, that might simply be a sign of the subtlety with which I was manipulated.

Monday, August 18, 2008

In Imitation

I came across a particularly fine and funny poem, The Poet of Bray, at the wonderful Poetry Archive the other day which made me think of the joys and perils of imitating others, especially in terms of the composition of poetry.

I remain baffled by the mania for originality. Certainly if one aspires to be a real poet (like the wonderful John Heath Stubbs, author of the above) there's a need to find your own voice, though trying on a lot of others can help enormously to get you to what you need to say, I suspect. But for those of us who simply seek to enjoy the writing of poetry, to do so under someone else's spell is part of the fun. It's also part of the sense of a community of voices.

Part of the problem lies in the way that natural participation in the arts, in terms of a kind of amateur hobbyism, has been prised away from people who in previous centuries would have gravitated to such activities, by those professional practitioners who want to keep their fields to themselves. I'm hoping that, possibly as a result of enhanced communication through the Internet and suchlike, young people, and even the old, will steal that participation back again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Yesterday marked something of a watershed in the on-going, possibly never-ending, War on Capitalism. It bore many, if not all, the hallmarks of defeat, yet I'm hoping to salvage something from the situation, as you will see.

The catastrophe experienced at Parkway Parade in the late afternoon could not have been foreseen earlier. Then I had been complacently thinking, as I listened to the final movement of Bruckner's 8th Symphony, that I had a lot more listening to do to music I already owned on CD if I were to ever really do it all justice. In a similar vein, I was trying to figure out just how much of the remainder of the year it would take to get through the tasty pile of books in the back room waiting to be read. I reckoned I could keep going easily to late November. I suppose the foolish thing was suggesting to Noi that we should amble along to our favourite shopping mall (insofar as any of these places might be termed a favourite, I guess Parkway is it; at least I can walk there, so I don't have to find a place to park) in order to get something to eat.

Even then, I think I had lurking at the back of my highly devious mind the memory of picking up one or two CDs by The Kinks at Gramophone a couple of weeks back and being struck by the fact that: (1) I didn't own anything by them, despite regarding them as one of the great bands from the 60s/70s; (2) I didn't own anything by them, despite my awareness that Ray Davies was (and is) one of the great truly British songwriters, which meant there must be a fair few great songs of which I was not so blissfully unaware; (3) I didn't own anything by them, despite regarding Lola as possibly the most wonderfully subversive popular song of all time, which meant I was denying myself other possibilities of healthy subversion at a time of life when that would do me a power of good. Other thoughts in a similar vein had followed, lain dormant, I suppose and now (yesterday evening) emerged to bite me in the leg and not let go and force me to buy five of the early albums by the band up to and including Kinks Part 1: Lola Versus Powerman and The Moneygoround at around $23 a shot.

And that's not all. From Gramophone I staggered on to Borders where, I must confess, I'd been eyeing Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine for a while on previous excursions. I read No Logo with much appreciation a couple of years back, borrowed from the library, and had once or twice since thought I wouldn't have minded owning a copy in order to look stuff up. Now those clever marketers at Borders had got The Shock Doctrine in their 3 for 2 section, in order to tempt punters like myself, but had neglected to put anything else quite as interesting in that devilish section, rendering me reasonably safe. Then, a couple of weeks back, I noticed a rather nice edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude therein. My own Picador paperback had mysteriously disappeared from my collection, somehow never making the journey from Manchester to KL Still I was safe though, as the necessary third text just wasn't jumping out at me. Until yesterday. When suddenly the bright yellow cover of Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great (only two copies left) caught my eye and I was doomed. It's not that I'm terribly keen on the recent wave of primers for atheists; I'd thought of buying the Dawkins one because I like his science stuff, but what I'd understood of it from the reviews didn't suggest a terribly challenging read. But Hitchens seems a different sort of fish. His radical political material is bracing, lively and often funny and I must say I find his pro-war stance on Iraq interesting, if somewhat incomprehensible. I saw him the other week on a BBC programme roundly condemning water-boarding (after allowing himself to be subjected to a mild version of it) and found myself admiring what seems his innate decency & honesty, so an attack on religion by him might turn out to be genuinely thought-provoking. Anyway, that's how I found myself picking up the three books and then trying to feel better about one of them being free (but is it, really?) as I shelled out the readies.

And still, I'm afraid, that's not all. Noticing that there was a piece by John Updike on Turner (the artist) in The New York Review of Books, (amongst other goodies) which is not on the on-line version of the periodical, I guiltily added that to the pile. And I was sunk.

But here's my attempt to salvage something. Question: can we really regard books and CDs as wicked products of disposable consumerism? I'm pleading with myself for a moratorium on this issue until such time as I'm fairly sure I've got everything I need, for a while at least. The subtext of all this is that the hi fi system in the living room is beyond salvation (it's now nineteen years old) and I've got to find some way of justifying a replacement. Soon.

Finally: today has revolved around The Kinks, though not, for the most part, on the main hi fi. And very fine it has been.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Beating the Rap

I finished Elmore Leonard's Riding the Rap earlier today and found myself thinking the same thing I always think after reading one of his things: well that was hugely entertaining and obviously really well done; but why do so many generally sensible sort of critics regard him as some kind of genius? He's not at that level, surely. Far too mannered, for one thing. He creates a world at a sort of tangent to reality but there's not enough of a connection to make you, or, rather, me, feel he's saying anything of weight.

I think this must be a bit like how you read Wodehouse, whom I do regard as a genius. Similarly mannered (or, I suppose, dissimilarly mannered) but playing his game to such perfection that the invitation to enter his world is irresistible. I guess some reader feel the same way about Leonard but I'm a bit take it or leave it, all told. I only read this one because I picked it up second hand ultra-cheap the other day.

Mind you, there is one gag about Ezra Pound in the novel that made me laugh out loud, and there aren't too many crime novels you can say that of.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Good Night In

There was a time in my life, many years ago now, when I would have regarded a Friday night in as tantamount to an unmitigated disaster. In fact, for a period that would have been the case for any night of any week. Now the prospect of relaxing with an Elmore Leonard, listening to a bit of Bruckner (I've got the slow movement of the 8th in mind), and, finally, settling to a good murder (of the Midsomer variety) sends distinctly delicious shivers down the old spine.

According to something said at flag-raising this morning, if we regard our lives as spanning a week beginning on a Monday it seems I've arrived at approaching noon on a Saturday. It's nice to think that's always been my favourite day of the week.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I've been experiencing mixed feelings about the Olympics, which is hardly news since that's what every games induces in me. First of all, I don't watch all that much of the games (any Olympics in recent memory) since I don't have time. But when I do catch a bit I can get engrossed fairly quickly, usually in the less glamorous events. I caught about 10 minutes of the women's weightlifting the other day, sitting at a coffeeshop after work, and found myself cheering for the winner at the end. (A Korean lady who seemed to be lifting something a lot bigger than she was overhead.) It's the sheer unlikeliness of human endeavour involved I think I find captivating. So I'm never quite sure whether I'm actually interested or not.

Then there's the dreary politics behind it all. A big part of me enjoys the spectacle of people celebrating their nations' achievements. It's good for people to feel good about themselves. I quite like the idea of China arriving big-time on the world stage. But the obvious manipulation of it all (and I'm talking about all nations here, not just China) is tiresome, and sometimes scary. I like to think I'd find the time to protest against any version of the games (any government anywhere is up to something sneaky) and then go in and thoroughly enjoy myself.

Last night I caught a little bit of the repeat of the opening ceremony and thoroughly confused myself. Way too much show business and too much money spent but several genuinely lovely moments. That lip-synching little girl wasn't one of them though. Apart from the fact she obviously wasn't doing any singing the whole routine was yucky. I was reading today that references to the debacle have been censored in China, a fact (assuming it is one and not something made up by the wicked western media) which manages to be both funny and sinister at the same time.

Oddly enough I've not yet heard anyone yet point out that the bad taste of the organisers lay not so much in trying to dupe Joe Public (who's always ready and willing to fall for anything) but in putting on that poor plastic-looking girl for the cameras in the first place. The original ordinary-looking kid was a lot cuter, in the real sense of that much misused word.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Taking Care Of Business

It's been all go for the last two days. Not enough time to spit out, as Mum would be likely to say. Just keeping up with things at work today was tough with classes wall to wall. But that's not really so bad - at least it involved teaching and thus doing what I enjoy.

We spent the better part of yesterday at Pantai Hospital in Melaka, where we had taken Mak for what we thought was going to be a straightforward health screening. It turned out to be something of an epic journey around the labs, the eye doctor and the chap who looks at your brain, or in this case, Mak's. The good news is there's no immediate medical emergency. The bad news is we were pretty close to one and we have to do something urgent to preserve Mak's sight, and prevent a possible stroke. So a more than worthwhile visit, but wearing on the legs and the batteries as we were there from early morning to late afternoon. I managed to get a fair amount of marking done while waiting though, and read a fair bit of a book I've got on the art of haiku.

After that we settled down for an epic journey to Singapore, the highlight of which was a two and a quarter hour jam at Tuas. The authorities have had the bright idea of getting tough with drivers who cut into the extremely long queues, and certainly they maintained good order for the final stretch from the top of the bridge down to customs. Unfortunately they chose to ignore the utter chaos taking place beyond this where a constant stream of drivers were cutting in further down the line with the result that the legitimate traffic queues were sometimes static for up to fifteen minutes at a time. I prefer the slow but constant movement the old free market system engendered.

And now it's time to make a birthday card for my sister and do a bit more marking before collapsing.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Civil Society

Yesterday afternoon we found ourselves attending the AGM of the residents’ association of our taman. We’ve been members since buying the house and happily paid our fees for several years believing that the money spent on the security here is well spent. And we’ve felt a bit guilty over the years that we’ve never actually supported any of the on-going activities (basically because we’re hardly ever around for them.)

The AGM was well run, with a few core members heroically keeping things going and finding themselves re-elected onto the committee for their trouble. They were obviously hoping for a bigger turn out with the possibility of others taking over their duties, but were realistic enough to know that that wasn’t likely to happen, and it didn’t. So for no reward, other than some lovely muffins at the AGM, and other tasty bits and pieces, these guys were yet again taking on any number of headaches just to do their bit for others.

When I used the word ‘heroically’ in the previous paragraph it was not intended ironically.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Falling Out Of Love

One of life’s smaller but still poignant sadnesses is realising that something that once possessed great power over one, a poem, a novel, a song, a symphony, a painting, has lost whatever magic it possessed, irrevocably. I suppose we put it down to some kind of moving on, maturing – but I’m not sure this is always appropriate. After all, what’s been lost was obviously of value and it’s gone somehow.

I felt this way recently when listening to The Yes Album, an album that long ago stood pretty much at the centre of my musical world. I saw that version of Yes (still with Tony Kaye on keyboards) and the subsequent line-up (with Rick Wakeman) live at the Free Trade Hall and they blew me away, big time. And now I just can’t relate to the grandiose element of it all, and there’s an awful lot of that – witness the daw daw daw daw daaaw, da da da da daw, da da da daw, da da da dah dah opening of Perpetual Change which now makes me cringe ever so slightly, more of a wince really, with embarrassment.

And I’ve been thinking of a similar phenomenon I experienced in relation to Tolkien’s greatest work The Lord of the Rings, particularly since posting a comment noting I now found it pretty much unreadable at the end of an especially fine post by the Hierophant over here. So what happened in the years between a fourteen-year-old me discovering there was actually a mega-sequel to that great story The Hobbit that was read to us at primary school by a wonderfully inspired teacher (we made glove puppets of Thorin & co!!) and roughly the same me in my late twenties embarking on a reading I thought I was going to enjoy and giving up about a third of the way in?

Essentially it was my inability to relate to Tolkien’s ‘heroic’ style – not the hobbity bits which still worked for me, despite the occasional jarring tweeness – but the noble Aragorny stuff which seemed to have no sense of irony at all. Those high and mighty elves who once seemed the height of cool had grown tedious. But the loss, I’m aware, was mine. So I’ll end my criticisms there since I don’t particularly want others to share in it.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Up North

Escaped from the National Day songs to arrive at Bukit Antarabangsa around 9.00 pm. Had close encounters on the way with at least ten certifiable maniacs who should not be allowed control of any kind of vehicle. This is the usual average for the journey.

Journey accompanied by Elvis Costello - The Delivery Man, Blur - Think Tank (hugely underrated album), Steely Dan - Everything Must Go. All rather jolly, really.

Ate prata on the hill and am now full and exhausted, but the house is in some sort of order.

And so to bed.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cleaning Up

Just back from Parkway where we failed to buy a mop. The experience put me in mind of my years as an industrial cleaner. There's not a lot a lot I don't know about the floor of the women's toilet at Ciba-Geigy, Trafford Park, for the cleanliness of which I was responsible as a youngish teenager. I was a mean man with a mop and floor stripper in those days.

The guy we worked for was a Mr Potter. Nice chap. He'd lost a finger in the war and had a few stories to tell about his experiences, at that time, in France. He was also the uncle of Davey Jones of Monkees fame. Small world, well at least it was in Manchester.

Thinking back, it was instructive just how much you could get to hear about the war by asking middle-aged guys what it was like. I can't think of one who had a remotely heroic story to tell. Neither can I recall anything approaching animus towards the 'enemy'. (According to Dad: Good fighters. Good army.) Mostly it was a mess, I gathered, and not a nice one.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sickness & Health

Got out for a bit of a run this evening - not so much trying to turn back the clock as to make it run a tiny bit slower. I did a bit of the park connector circuit again. For some reason just passing the park at Telok Kurau makes me cheerful. Thought for the day: the park is the best idea of the city.

Whilst enjoying the good fortune of my good health (at least for now) I had occasion to think of those dealing with other less happy circumstances of the body, and at least one in extremis. I, like most of us, have taken all too little care of this.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ending It All

There's something a bit odd about reading something by a major writer who happened to attend the same school as yourself. Much as I enjoy the works of Anthony Burgess the feeling of a peculiar familiarity generated by the fact that his feet trod at least some of the same corridors of academe as myself, though many years before mine, and that we shared the same teacher of History, something I only realised when reading the first volume of his autobiography Little Wilson and Big God, haunts my reading of pretty much everything by him. There's a connection also with the fact that he's one of those writers who never entirely loses himself in his work. You have an awareness when you read him, or at least I do, that this is Burgess putting on a performance, usually of a virtuoso nature. Storyline and characters are generally paper-thin, at the service of the writer being his larger-than-life self.

The novel I finished yesterday, The End Of The World News, proved to be no exception to this rule. Burgess calls it An Entertainment in a sub-heading, curious really since this would surely apply to nearly everything he writes. I suppose here it's a sort of apology for what was obviously a bit of a rush job of a novel. The three parts, a kind of memoir of Freud, a sort of Broadway musical version of Trotsky in America immediately prior to the revolution of 1917, and a self-referential bit of sci-fi dealing with the imminent end of the world neatly tied in with the then approaching millennium, have no right being thrust together in the pages of a single novel, and Burgess doesn't seem to have the energy to attempt a justification. But he has an abundance of energy for lots of other things and the jokes and insights keep coming thick and fast.

I enjoyed it all immensely, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone other than the most convinced fans.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Giant's Shoulders

His name implied a certain foreign grandeur, a weightiness, possibly a sense of hard labour, so it was a relief that the actual work was clear and approachable. I'd guess that for many of my generation reading Aleksander Solzhenitsyn marked their first exposure to any kind of contemporary literature outside their immediate 'western' experience. I remember feeling enormously pleased with myself for reading and, more importantly, 'getting' A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich, but considering the remarkable economy of expression and straightforward vigour of its ideas who wouldn't have instantly 'got' it? (The film starring Tom Courtenay was, I think, the first 'serious' film I went to see, and well worth seeing it was.) By the time I went to university it was rare to find a student's room that didn't have a copy of Cancer Ward or The First Circle or August 1914 lying on a bookshelf, and to think that this all came before the publication in the west of the monumental Gulag Archipelago. When I first heard that title I had no idea what 'gulag' meant, the word being almost entirely unfamiliar at the time, an indication of the degree to which Solzhenitsyn can be said to have constructed a crucial twentieth century landscape of our minds.

It was obvious from his work that this was a writer who was in any number of ways as odd as his courage made him admirable. Not someone who would make a good houseguest - a man given to quirks and obsessions. Yet there was always that certainty that at the core of things he'd got it right; somehow from a seemingly limited perspective, that of a not particularly important victim of the system, he'd managed to grasp the system in its awful entirety. That's what I felt when reading The First Circle, my favourite among the early novels and, I believe, along with 1984 an almost perfect read for a bright somewhat idealistic young teenager in terms of giving them exactly the kind of political education they need.

Waking to news of Solzhenitsyn's death on the BBC this morning, I confess to a faint sense of surprise that he was actually still alive. At first I thought in terms of him being somehow yesterday's man, but the more I've considered this through the day the surer I am that it's quite wrong to see it in those terms. What was striking about his fiction was how it transcended the immediate, awful circumstances which might be said to have engendered it. The sheer scale of what the writer took on is in itself a lesson for us in the desperate need to keep faith with the truth and, above all, speak truth to power.

I'm guessing that there's going to be a sense in the obituaries of the passing of something (rather than someone) of massive nobility, and that we, thankfully, Shall never see so much, nor live so long. And so there should be - his death leaves us taller yet diminished.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Just back from Woodlands where Fa Fa serenaded us on the old joanna and I got to mark a stack of Fi Fi's grammar exercises. We gave the girls a quick summary of last night's band concert with much emphasis on the medley from The Little Mermaid, probably our favourite bit.

Played a bit of Amy Winehouse, the first album, in the car, and we were into the fourth song before Noi asked Is that Amy? (How she comes to be on first name terms with the chanteuse in question, I don't know.) After I answered in the affirmative the missus expressed surprise that we owned anything by her, leading me to point out that I'd been listening to her, and playing her stuff in the house, long before the gossip columnists had discovered the joys of documenting the wreckage of her life.

After touch down at Still Road I got on the blower to Mum to confirm that she is well, Manchester is actually warm, and she's off to bingo soon. And thus concluded as close to the perfect weekend as one is likely to get.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Time Of Our Lives

I've been enjoying the privilege of an entirely relaxed weekend, well so far, at least. We wandered across to Parkway Parade yesterday afternoon to munch on some kaya toast. I spent absolutely nothing in Gramophone and Borders, thus striking a major blow in the War on Capitalism, but Noi made me buy a pair of shoes before we left. This was a sad necessity as my only other pair are now broken. (I've seen the term 'broken shoes' before but never really understood it until the sole of the right shoe of this pair fell apart. They don't make them like they used to.)

Then it was time for a nap and a couple of Haydn string quartets until Mei & Boon arrived when it was off to dinner at Serangoon Road. Actually Noi was keen to go to Mustapha's, the big 24 hour store, to buy some rice and we had quite a jolly time mingling with the crowd and admiring the cheap dates and astonishing range of frozen naans and pratas and the like. Ironically we emerged riceless but with intentions to return in fasting month. Dinner was at Sakuntala's (I think that's the name) and was tasty and filling - we discovered a new dish, fried bindi, which needs to be revisited. We were all pretty much exhausted by 10.00. Highly satisfying.

This morning Mark, our indispensable handyman, came round to fix a toilet and a light fitting and give us his usual running commentary on the state of the world. Among other points to note: don't buy China-made fittings in hardware stores - they're crap; and hati mesti baik is a motto to live by. He's one of the most trustworthy people I know and amongst the wisest.

Whilst I wasn't listening to Mark, or Noi for that matter, it was Mozart (a couple or three of symphonies) and Sandy Denny (who always makes me feel a kind of happy melancholy.) In between times I've been reading Anthony Burgess's The End Of The World News which I bought for $2.00 in school the other week.

In the afternoon we made our way to Arab Street where Noi dropped some material off with Alice, her tailor. We are gearing up for Hari Raya already! There was a bit of a market there and we were able to admire the crowds whilst supping tea and munching epok epok outside our favourite café.

Now we're back home and preparing to make our way to listen to the school's symphonic band tonight. Last year we were tapping our toes to an Abba medley so expectations are high. It just doesn't get any better than this, thank you.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Yours Is No Disgrace

With the dictum Dignity at all times in mind I successfully restrained myself from running after the leading pack this morning in the staff race and took it reasonably easy for half the course. Then I stretched out a bit over the last kilometre or so and did a fairly convincing imitation of a runner up to the finish line. All in all, not a bad morning's work - but I've yet to see if any damage has been sustained in my vulnerable areas (which now include just about everywhere.)

After a brief stop at work to pick up stuff for the weekend it was off home and a relaxed walk to Mesjid Abdul Aleem Siddique at Telok Kurau, one of my favourite mosques, for Friday Prayers. It's a lovely, modern little place (I used to go to the run-down old building before it made way for the new version), but it pulls a big crowd and it can be difficult to get a good place to pray if you're not early. There's some gorgeous carving (I think in stone but I might be wrong) around the mihrab and minbar which is very easy on the eye. I've also noticed that the imans there have an occasional tendency to deliver their khutbas in a real fire and brimstone manner. Today's was particularly bracing with the iman seemingly intent on blowing the PA to pieces. If any CIA agents had infiltrated our worship I suspect we may all have ended up on a list for Guantanamo, but any sermon's contents here are unexceptionable as they all come centrally from MUIS. So it remains something of a mystery to me how some of the imans get quite so worked up, but it's great stuff. A bit of passion and drama now and again can certainly shake one out of an unhealthy complacency.

The other thing I've got done today is to try and fix the layout of yesterday's post to this Far Place. Much as I admire what these technical johnnies at Blogger can do they cannot provide an easy way for low-tech guys like myself to format text. For anyone reading the entry the little poem therein should be in two four line stanzas, and it's a mark of my literary obsessiveness/pettiness that I remain incredibly irritated that this is not the case. (Not to mention the big gaps between individual lines. Doh!)