Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Long Day Waning

I knew it was going to be a tough day, and it was, so I'd already decided, by late afternoon, to reward myself with some supremely unhealthy grub at the end of it all. The perverse psychology of this does not bear even distant observation. So it was tapioca chips, two big pots of teh tarik and sardine murtabak for me. Noi was rather more sensible. Replete would be a good word for how I feel right now.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Fellow Sufferers

When writing about my little holiday in hospital recently I may have given the impression I was alone in a room, referred to here as a single-bedded. This was not the case. I opted, to save money, for a four-bedded room, and was lucky from the first in that the four-bedded room could only fit three patients due to the awkward placing of a window at its deepest end. This was near where the toilet was, and the position closest was obviously the prime spot. This fell to me immediately upon entry, and for a couple of days the whole room was mine.

It's not that I mind terribly having others around, but there's an element of chance in this. As a reasonably regular visitor to Noi's frailer relations in hospitals I know that a visit from a Malay extended family can turn into a major party. Such occasions suggest deep hearts, but a lack of restfulness.

My luck held for the week I was there. Only three other patients were admitted during that time, two being left for me to say goodbye to when I skipped the coop. I think I'm right in saying that all three were in some way associated with the ships at the PSA. I think they were probably employed on board, with insurance to take them to a private hospital in Singapore in case of emergency. This meant that I was the only 'local', and the only one to have visitors. (Noi and I kept quiet regarding the fact I was there as we didn't want to drag people in, or disturb the other patients with our own version of an extended family. Still, it was touching, oddly reviving, when people came.)

So it was a bit of a multi-national experience brushing up against the other guys there, very globalising. But it was also a bit worrying that I think all three others had concerns a little deeper than me. For example, the first guy in, an Eastern European speaking poor English, I think had a problem with diabetes, and he didn't seem aware of the gravity of this. A lot of time was spent trying to convince him of what he didn't need to eat, and definitely shouldn't eat to get elevated blood sugar levels down. (Yes, I'm no expert, but it sounded something like that.) He was still there when I left and looked like a man out of place. Poor man couldn't even enjoy the tv.

The second patient in was an Indian national and his aim was to get out as fast as possible and back to treatment in India. Young guy, with young family, and obviously missing them. His doctor spent at least fifteen minutes talking to the patient's wife back home trying to convince her to let her husband stay in Singapore where the tests were done and the treatment going to be the best you could get. (Of this, by the way, I have no doubt.) By the way, in case you're wondering just how much eavesdropping I was doing, let me assure you it was impossible to miss these conversations. The doctor on the phone could have been heard at least three rooms away. In the event, the Indian guy didn't stay long, being in and out almost overnight, and I don't think it wise for him to go home so quickly. They were worried about fainting spells, I think, brought on by a possible stone in the kidneys?

The last guy in was a German, resident in Ethiopia. Of the three I'd have guessed he was the most ill. Youngish, in his thirties, he was a smoker - claiming to have just given up - and had suffered some kind of thrombosis in his leg some years back. One his legs was now discoloured and, although he wasn't making a big fuss, I think he was putting up with quite a bit of pain especially at night. I think that had him wired to something that went beeping when things got bad. They were about to put him on medication to clear the blockage of blood to the leg, which had just been diagnosed through one of those angioplasty type things. (If I'm getting all the medicine wrong, just enjoy it folks, as a sign of how little I do know of such matters. At least I can't be accused of compromising confidentiality as I don't really know what I'm talking about.)

The problem was, though, that if the medication didn't do its magic the leg was in real danger. The guy took this incredibly well. I'm thinking of him now, and saying a little prayer.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

All In A Day


Did the dawn prayer towards the later end of the period allowed, trying to catch up on a bit of sleep. I find that non-Muslims tend to think of prayer times in Islam, if they think of them at all, as absolutely fixed to the specific minute of the day. They are often surprised to discover just how much flexibility there can be. Now up and getting a bit of marking out of the way - nothing terribly onerous, a couple of stray pieces from last week.


Marking for the day done, I'm just off down to the car to install a new set of CDs. As mentioned last Friday, the mighty Talking Book takes pride of place. I've been persisting with the experiment of putting at least one CD in that's very left-field, serious, demanding, or the like. Recently I tried my 2 CD set of Glass's opera Akhnaten thinking it was bound to work. The surface of the music is hypnotically lovely so I thought I was in for some easy listening during ECP jams. No, it didn't work. Without the operatic context the music just didn't go anywhere except the same place a lot. Must say, I'd loved to see this staged sometime though.

In contrast my disk of Rachmaninov Preludes and Moments musicaux utterly gripped me whenever I played it (given to me as a present by one of the drama guys a couple of years back). There must be some brooding, melancholy, Russian part of my soul of which I'm not yet fully aware. And I thought I could never relate to this repertoire!

This week's off-beat piece is Haitink's version of Vaughn Williams's 8th & 9th, not exactly going out on a limb, but I'll be interested to hear what they sound like in traffic. I tried a Bax symphony a few weeks ago and it just didn't work out. Too much dynamic range, too many highs and lows, to work on the highway.


Now reading The Sunday Times. Not a terribly rewarding experience, but I'll soon get to the cartoons. So-called Book page reduced to half again. Outstanding.


Forgot to mention - this is intended as a lazy day. Going nowhere, just fine by me.


Now breakfasted on cereal and tea. Noi is preparing to go out to do some shopping. I'm committed to cleaning up some of the books & stuff in the front room. (Soon.) Just sort of watched, in an on and off kind of way, Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, a DVD thereof I picked up on the Medan jaunt - the second to play perfectly. I didn't do it justice, but I rarely do with films. I suppose over the years I've gradually found myself watching the whole thing, and it's obviously a brilliant film, but so strange. In a good way. But a bit beyond me on a lazy Sunday morning.


The cleaning's really taking off. Why does this sort of thing make me feel good? Bit obsessive really. Even better: cooking smells from the kitchen - Noi is deeply engaged in putting together a mee soto special for this afternoon. Shiok!


It was touch and go as to whether we tried to get tickets for Sam Mendes's production of The Winter's Tale, in town this week. Today would have been the only real window of opportunity, but it was there. Up to Wednesday it was under active consideration, possibly with me going alone. This was because Noi had already made arrangements for her famous massage lady to come and do the business today and if she'd have had one or two friends round in the afternoon then I might have popped to the matinee. It's got great reviews, and I've a feeling I'll regret not going, but the logistics regarding the massage got more complicated and sort of meant it would have been easier for me to stay at home. And the biggest factor of all is that I spent a fair amount of yesterday involved in things theatrical at work and I was worried about over-dosing.

But yesterday was such a blast, I needn't have been concerned. Great day, great little show - ACSISallsortments for a sort of invited audience of friends, well-wishers & the like. Ferd's concept, and a brilliant one. Let students show you what they can do pretty much off their own bat and you end up floating. I did.


Yesterday's late night reading before lights out was Coleridge's Dejection: an Ode. Sort of a random thing, but then I realised I don't know it as well as I should. Now I've finished today's stint of cleaning I'm about to revisit.


Just completed my tax return. Always a relief. It was very confusing after leaving the direct employment of the Ministry of Education here as to what taxes I'd paid to whom for when. The worry is getting clouted with a bill that's going to deeply hurt but which you don't expect. But I think I've avoided that.


Noi now surrendering herself to the ministrations of the massage lady. Hope she's not suffering too much. (We're talking Malay-style massage here which bears some affinities to going a couple of rounds against a particularly fit, punchy new contender) - but it has its moments of high relaxation to compensate. The main thing is not to cry.

Listening to a couple of Mozart string quartets, as rendered by the Salomon String Quartet. Whatever happened to simple charm and courtesy in music? I saw most of these guys play under Pinnock as part of the English Concert some years ago and they were fabbo then. Great clean sound.


Tropical storm, just dying. Haze of rain and the world feels washed. Nice to be indoors, admiring.


Watching more tv today than usual, well DVD stuff on the box, as it were. Just finished the first episode of the BBC's Life On Earth series, the Attenborough one from (good grief!) thirty years ago. I remember its original airing. Essential stuff then, and now, but looks a tad dated, well David does, I suppose. Who cares? This is real magic. Why do people get so interested in the occluded when what is before our eyes is staggering enough in its own terms. My nieces in England bought me this as a Christmas present so it's about time I did the right thing and put it on.

Noi's massage continues. Me soon. Yippee.


Massage heaven.


Massage heaven, with brief interruption to do prayer.


Just phoned Mum and we seem to be making progress on actually getting her new-fangled recorder to record a programme. Hoping for good news when she finally plays it. She's a bit concerned about her weight, which has dropped a bit, but it sounds like she's eating okay within the confines of her draconian diet. As a matter of interest, she certainly appeared to be eating well enough in December when we were around, but I think she likes a lot of the grub Noi dreams up for her.


With the day drawing to its close, and the perfect mee soto in the old tummy, garnished with a few bergedil to accompany (a sort of potato cutlet thingie) the sense of overwhelming privilege is, well, overwhelming.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Three times now, over the last sixteen years or so, I've found myself in the unusual position of lying embedded, for forty-five minutes or so, in an MRI Scanner machine (I know that's not quite the right term, but it's how I think of them) whilst extraordinarily detailed, in a perverse way quite beautiful, images of my lower back were being generated. These have proved incredibly useful, along with other treatment, in allowing me the blessing of a lot more pain-free years than I would otherwise have had. (When anyone glibly dismisses scientific and technological advances it's worth bearing this sort of stuff in mind.)

But it's been interesting to look back over the three experiences themselves, which have involved different reactions and feelings at each stage. The first scan took place in June 1993. I was suffering from what the scan itself revealed to be a major slipped disk at the bottom of my spine. I think they term it L5S. Suffering is the right word, by the way. There was no position in which to gain relief from the pain and so, by the fourth day in hospital when the scan had become a necessity, on the grounds of What exactly was going on in there that was this bad? I abandoned myself to the experience with something like delight. Being enclosed in the sarcophagus of the MRI (there's something very Ancient Egyptian about it all) was extraordinarily comforting. It's very noisy in an on and off sort of way (they give you earplugs) and even the noise felt healing. I think I was also pretty drugged up at the time, due to the pain, so I suppose that added to the generally comforting nature of the experience. I think I remember feeling sorry when it was over. What I did find puzzling was the attendants continually telling me not to worry, not to panic, to press the button if I couldn't take it anymore, and the like. (At that time the machine transmitted their voices inside to you. On my most recent scan that didn't happen. Cheaper machine? Change of approach?)

Fast forward four years to May 1997, and now I'm walking to the same hospital for another scan. No terrible pain, but a persistent problem, and the doctor wants more insight, as it were. As I lie on the bench thing that they wheel you in on it never occurs to me that I might not actually enjoy what is about to happen. The usual instructions and reassuring voices. - Are you claustrophobic? - No, not at all. Then the sudden realisation as I find myself staring at a white wall, and nothing else, in an incredibly tight space, that, though I'm not claustrophobic, if I were allow myself to think of what it might be like to feel claustrophobic, this might not turn out to be very pleasant, especially since I'm going to be here for forty-five minutes. That's half a game! Enough time to lose a two goal lead and sink in ignominy. I didn't panic. I got on with it - basically there was nothing, of course to do, but I learnt a lot about myself in that small place.

And just a week or so ago, the experience was to be repeated. I didn't exactly lose sleep over the prospect, but I did wonder whether eleven or so years on I might find something newer, even more alarming, in the experience. I mentioned this to Noi just before going down. Her advice, simple, but effective: Just keep your eyes closed. It didn't stop me having to play a couple of mind games, but only a couple - and I think I re-discovered to some degree the joy of the helpless patient who's content to let the magic work itself.

But what I did notice to a greater degree this time around was the odd 'music' of the MRI. I don't think I could have stood more than say two hours of it. Sort of oddly churning, grating, repetitive without ever quite repeating. At one point it reminded me of seeing the early Pink Floyd in concert (I'm thinking around 1970) when they would occasionally indulge of electronic clatter just for the sake of showing off their then state-of-the-art sound system. Not so cool these days, I'm afraid.

Friday, March 27, 2009

World of Wonders

Just caught the all-too-brief Stevie Wonder medley on American Idol. Why didn't they give him an hour? Or two? Or three?

Suspect Talking Book may make it into the car for tomorrow's playlist.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Money Don't Matter 2 Night

I've never owned all that much in the way of music cassettes. A child of the age of vinyl I saw them as less adequate somehow than a clunky lp, but useful in cars, of course, and I suppose I did acquire one or two for that purpose. But it wasn't only when I arrived in Singapore (now buying CDs) that I shelled out for a few more, simply because they were cheap and you could sometimes get material on them not available elsewhere.

I did, however, bring across quite a nice little boxful of so-callled Walkman Classics, bargain-price recordings from the Deutsche Grammophon catalogue, packed with great mainstream 'classical' music. They helped educate me. (I'm holding one now, which is going down to the car tomorrow: five Beethoven Piano Sonatas, courtesy of Wilhelm Kempff. Hope it still plays ok.)

Recently I raided some of the stuff I bought a few years back on these shores for use in the car, supplementing the CD changer material. On the way home I suddenly found myself treated to one of the (several) great classics from Prince's Diamonds and Pearls - the gorgeous Money Don't Matter 2 Night. It skewered my heart and the financial crisis.

Anything is better than the picture of a child / in a cloud of gas / And u think u got it bad. Yes, in that moment, the truth.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Seeing Red

Back in late November I made a spectacularly false start on Orphan Pamuk's My Name Is Red, to the extent that I didn't even bother to pack it on the plane back to Manchester for my December reading. How wrong can a reader be? Well, spectacularly, I suppose.

I read most of it in East Shore Hospital in the later part of last week, completing it on Monday night. It ranks amongst the very greatest of the novels I've ever experienced. I don't know how good the translation itself is, but I kept forgetting it was translated, so that in itself suggests we're talking about something quite remarkable on that front alone.

The only excuse I can think of for failing so miserably in November is that the contrast with Pamuk's superb Snow was so great it left me discombobulated. Think of that. A writer capable of masterpieces so unlike each other, offering such different yet related worlds, that it's temporarily baffling.

I'm now, of course, eyeing other novels on Pamuk's resume, but I think I need a break. His work is just so overwhelming you kind of need to step aside for a while, a short one anyway.

In the meantime I thought I'd stick with fiction in translation, so it's on with my cheap copy of One Hundred Years Of Solitude. A re-read is always cleansing and usually illuminating. I think this is the same translation I read in the Picador edition I lost a few years back. At least a couple of the early sentences have an eerie quality of total reminiscence about them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Canon

One book I forgot to mention having read recently on my hospital bed was Eagleton's Literary Theory. I was, in fact, a fair way into it prior to arrival (I think I'd got to Chapter 4) but it was good to finally put it to rest from cover to cover, as it were. Mind you. it's taken me over twenty years to do so. The central chapters, the structuralist sort of stuff, I found heavy but fitfully rewarding (a tad too abstract for my concrete brain) but the last chapters are hot stuff, full of good sense - and a bit of useful silliness. Still it's the opening chapters I'd recommend for the bracing demolition job of English Studies and the great canon of literature in general. In fact, the demolition of lit in itself.

The funny is though that despite the good sense of all this I've noticed, in this part of the world, something of a yearning for said canon by some of the brightest and best of students with a literary bent. I suppose it's a bit like it being a lot more useful rebelling against an enemy, or friend, you know well, than just casting around in the dark. A small group of scholars I helped a couple of years back with some Wordsworth & Shelley & the like quite clearly wanted to do this stuff rather than, say, No Other City, an anthology of modern Singaporean poetry. (Personally I really like the stuff in No Other City, and Ferd, by the way, delivered a spot-on lecture about it this morning that might well have converted my guys.)

And I'm also aware that I'm lucky enough to sort of know my way around the canon. Just in terms of poetry for 'O' level I happened to do three segments from the hoary old Rhyme & Reason - but that meant at least a nodding familiarity with Donne, Yeats, Pope, Shakespeare, Keats, Wordsworth, Hopkins - gosh. Only short pieces, but they stuck. Then for 'A' level Jack provided Palgrave's Golden Treasury, and we were in there all the time.

Just this morning I found myself back in Resolution and Independence having woken before the dawn prayer, from the old smoky bedside anthology.

Of course the danger, the very real danger, is that this begins to sound like the rattling of some kind of cultural superiority medals, and even if I don't mean it that way (do I?) if others see it that way then to all intents and purposes that's what it is. The thing to do is to remember all you don't know. (Bit contradictory that, but please let it go.) A few years back I had the good fortune to have a natter or two with local big-shot lawyer and fine writer Philip Jeyaretnam and I remember him remarking to me about all the good novels coming out of Vietnam. Embarrassingly I've been here over twenty years, fairly close to the doorstep, actually crossed the threshold, taught a number of (extraordinarily pleasant, I don't know why this is) Vietnamese students and still haven't read a single novel translated from the language. Mind you, it was my scholar, Tong, who was most keen of all to get to those Daffodils.

So I remain 'conflicted' as they tend to say nowadays, and I must say I rather like the place.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Smoke Gets In Your Books

I was so impressed some years ago reading a convocation address given by that great, and possibly even more significant, wise, Canadian novelist Robertson Davies (to be found in his wonderful collection The Merry Heart) that I immediately took its key idea to heart and then took several years to actually do it.

The central idea was simple enough, the whole address wonderfully elegant and funny: Get yourself a good anthology of poetry, and keep it by your bed. (By the way, isn't it odd that in the advice of the great and good we hear on occasions of note in school we rarely hear anything pithy or that we didn't already know? Not complaining, this is simply the way of things.)

So last December I finally acquired the said volume (a suitable anthology), dirt cheap in a charity bookshop in Hyde. It sat on the floor of Mum's front room for a couple of weeks before traversing the globe, to wind up on the Mansion's bedside table, as above, my side. However, in its temporary sojourn on Mum's carpet it seems to have been more affected than is usual with anything I keep there from the fumes of the numerous ciggies she gets through in a day. Three months have passed and the anthology smells like it had spent its life on the inside of a gentlemen's smoking club. Possibly it had, and I never noticed at the time.

Anyway, it certainly lends the tome character, and is peculiarly in keeping with the oddly, to my mind, smoky sort of cover.

By the way, the lamp pictured above was my Christmas present when I was seventeen. It was really quite funky then. It no longer works, not that there's anything wrong with the lamp itself, but the wall socket gave up the ghost a couple of years back and we can't be bothered to trouble the landlady with repairs.

I suppose the subtext of all this, is that it's good, exceedingly so, to be back at home among familiar friends.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fresh Air

It's surprising how doing nothing much of anything for a week or so, except letting various medicos jab and poke and pull and scan at you, and ingesting most of everything that goes on the little table they wheel over you, can leave you more weary than you realise. Yesterday afternoon we popped along to a little celebration for the cutting of the hair of Yati and Nahar's latest cutie, having being picked up by Boon and Mei, with Steve along, who's still in Singapore until early May. Whilst more than glad to be there I was utterly pooped by 6.00 and Noi and I foreswore a further cup of tea just to go back and rest.

By late evening we were intending to enjoy to enjoy a good murder, only to discover we have now watched all our recordings of the Midsomer's we've got. The back up plan, on the missus's suggestion, was to spin an iffy DVD I picked up of Mamma Mia - The Movie on the trip to Medan. I'd bought it for her than me, as it had mega-chic-flick written all over it, but I think we enjoyed it in equal measures.

First of all, it's fun. It tries a bit too hard at times for sun-drenched Mediterranean glamour, but then sweet sun-drenched Greek islands are glamorous. (Actually what I think it misses is the genuine camaraderie that Branagh magicked in Much Ado About Nothing, but we're talking about a different league here.)

Secondly, it's got Meryl Streep, singing at length. This is of itself a good thing and makes one even more bewildered as to why Parker didn't cast her in Evita years ago.

Thirdly, it's chock full of Abba classics used intelligently, with a sense of the untouchable cheesy pop genius of the original arrangements. (One small, but telling, example - they keep that bubbling rising synthesiser line in SOS, just before the main chorus.) It's so good they even miss out on the greatest one of all, The Name of the Game, and I didn't notice until the final credits ran.

Prior to watching the film I'd read that Pierce Brosnan's singing was terrible. It's not. I mean, you wouldn't want to listen to it over and over on a sound track (with Ms Streep you gladly would) but that's not the point. It's perfectly okay in the context of a stage show type performance.

So really, no bad marks: the perfect weary-day end of evening show with the missus and bonding and all that lark.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Back Into The Light

Left the hospital this morning a little after 11.00, after possibly the most restful break I've had in years. No regrets though - real life looks awfully good in real life again.

No operation found necessary yet, though this is a possibility for the future, depending upon my right leg's ability to fix itself (with the assistance of a few good pills) and just how much more slanted my gait becomes. So far, so reasonably good.

Got a fair amount of reading and listening done, though it wasn't all beer and skittles. To be honest when you've got weights pulling the top of your body from the bottom there's not a lot else to occupy yourself with. Except for eating - hospital food very good, very plentiful, and the missus provided enough extra cakes and teh tarik to keep me awash.

The peculiar intensity of a confined space in which to read and listen brings its own extraordinary sweetnesses. I consumed the following tomes with huge delight: Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea (overlong, patchy, too rich, but who cares?); Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (second reading of the year and better than the first); Chekov's Three Sisters (loved the Frayn translation, and now keen to re-read the more familiar Hingley, in World's Classics); McEwan's Atonement (so much better than Saturday it was startling to recognise the gaps); lashings of Lowell's Collected Poems (I finally started on History which is difficult but in a trustworthy sort of way); half of Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red (which I stalled on just a few months ago - unfathomably so, it's unputdownable now); the beginning of Ackroyd's London - The Biography (and which I would definitely have finished if I'd taken some time off next week.) Oh, and I got most of an issue of The New York Review of Books out of the way and so felt less guilty about buying it. That was the one I took with me to Indonesia and barely glanced at.

Listening-wise I was a touch more circumspect, going for intensity rather than volume (in terms of length, I mean.) I did a straight run of Porgy & Bess (the Rattle, Glyndebourne version) and am now convinced it is a masterpiece from start to finish. I used to think the ending fell away, but when you're getting something of the intensity of real theatrical performance, albeit in a hospital bed, you realise that the brevity of that last stunning chorus as Porgy makes his way to find Bess in New York is theatrically, musically, right. The handsome illustrated booklet that comes with the 3 CD set also helps you realise the communal vision of Catfish Row essential to understanding what makes the opera work. I also loved the sort of reprise of Plenty o' Nuttin' towards the end, which never worked for me before as I never really listened. Other than the Gershwin I eschewed the so-called serious stuff as I suspected the necessary ambient noise of a hospital ward (I was in a four-bedder) might not be overly favourable to brooding Sibelean silences, and the like.

In fact, the first CD I put on was Kurt Elling's Nightmoves and all I can say is this it gets better with each hearing. After that, it was pretty much Dylan all the way - and what a way! I'd intended to just ask the missus to bring along the late stuff (yes, she was my supplier) but, fortunately, she stuck in the Live 1966 Bootleg Vol 4 performance (in sunny Manchester!) and I fell in love again with the acoustic first half of the concert.) Then Tell Tale Signs arrived and I was lost, lost, lost. It's embarrassing to say this, but there are moments, lines, phrases, when something suspiciously like tears spring to the old eyes. I hadn't even noticed before what an amazing song 'Cross The Green Mountain Is. More healing than a single-bedded room even. After that it was just a case of grooving to Modern Times and 'Love And Theft', for which I developed several Bean-like prone dances - one of which is captured in a pic above.

In the middle of all this, joy of joy, Noi was regularly around to keep my life in order, massage my cramped toes, keep me in socks, as well as keeping life going on the home front. Visiting hours were nominally until eight, but she far exceeded these, including two memorable late night viewings of American Idol (for yes, there was a tv set.)

So all I can say is, I was richly blessed. Lucky me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Time Starved

Tomorrow I'm going to see my back doctor at 3.00 in the afternoon and chances are he's likely to admit me to hospital with a view to carving me up at some point in the near future. I'm now rushing against time to get the one million and one things done which must be done before then in order for me to keep my sanity. Blimey, it's non-stop!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Strong Medicine

As the latest series of American Idol gets into gear the perennial question springs to mind: What medication is Paula on? The answer, I don't know. But I do know that whatever it is, it's a lot stronger than mine.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hard Times

Noi was telling me earlier this evening about a couple of tenants that Siew had found places for now asking for reductions in their rent, basically as a result of suddenly finding themselves jobless. They seem to be facing up to things optimistically, both assuming they'll be back in employment soon. I wonder if people here know what they are really in for? The papers refer to the Asian financial crisis of the late nineties as if that was something that had a huge impact on Singapore, but it was small potatoes compared to what I suspect is on the way.

It will be interesting to see if the relentless, wilful optimism of the local media survives the next year or so. In a sense, possibly a good one, this island is built on the myth of progress. The realisation that things sometimes fall apart, regardless of the virtue of your behaviour, will be a salutary lesson.

I hope it doesn't happen. I hope I'm wrong. (I often am.) Some lessons are just too difficult to take.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Matter of Record

Until last night I honestly thought a major breakthrough had been made with regard to Mum and the digital recorder thingy we got for her at Christmas. She had successfully recorded a programme and played it back. However, she now reports that when she switches the recorder on, the screen simply turns blue and that's all that happens. We seem to have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

I've been trying to figure out what exactly she might have done to precipitate this new state of affairs but it's a bit like dealing with chaos theory. One press of a button for no particular reason and digital life as we know it grinds to a halt. The most irritating aspect of all this is that if I were there it would take me less than five minutes to figure things out.

But it's worth persevering. As her life shrinks to the confines of her little flat (very pleasant confines, I hasten to add - Noi and I love it there) whatever pushes Mum's world out, even just a little, is worth time and energy achieving.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


We've just waved goodbye to Fuad, Rozita, Fifi and Fafa after an evening of good food and the usual silliness. Mak Ndak's attempts to imitate the starting position for a fencer (Fifi has adopted fencing as her CCA) evoked general mirth. Fuad and I enjoyed watching several repeats of United's goals against Fulham.

All this in stark contrast to the solitary narrator of the opening of Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea which I'm enjoying but not making any great progress with. The funny thing is that I can see a version of my life in her protagonist, a road not taken. Fortunately, so fortunately.

Sometimes happiness is just a lucky, undeserved accident.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Went into work this morning and felt better for it. How can this be? you ask, suitably astonished, if not astounded.

Sadly it's all a bit vampiric. I was there to assist in the initial read-through-cum-rehearsal of a piece our drama guys will be doing at one of the big school events coming soon, and which we’re thinking of making the centrepiece of a highly informal drama evening just for friends & supporters.

This is all Ferd's baby, as it were, and it's always great to see him in release-the-brakes-hit-the--throttle-full-steam-ahead mode. When you add to that a lot of very talented performers and the fascination of seeing what they are likely to do with the material then the old heart starts pumping that little bit faster, recharged by the youthful pizzazz floating throughout the room.

I try not to think about this too much, but there are times when I picture myself just teaching what I want to teach and doing the sort of drama I want to do and realise that'd be something close to a kind of perfection.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Short One

One of Noi's favourite questions emerged as we were watching American Idol tonight: Why she wear so short? One day I think I may just tell her the reason.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Limping Along

The amount of sympathy I'm receiving from other teachers and various students as I crawl along from classroom to classroom is quite overwhelming and touching. However, it all leaves me feeling more than a little fraudulent. I'm aware I look bad (someone told me that my face was lined with pain, and the missus seems to take personal offence over the fact that I'm slanting) but it's all under control and I could quite easily put a stop to it by getting myself admitted to East Shore. The reason I don't want to do so now is purely selfish: by delaying things until next Friday I can clear all sorts of odd bits and pieces of work and make my life a whole lot easier when normal service is resumed, assuming that that will be the case.

The other thing that's hard to explain to people is that pain which switches itself off the moment one gets seated can hardly be considered real pain at all. It's just a tiresome inconvenience.

In the meantime I owe so many thanks to those around me trying to help that I'm trying to make sure I find some way of channeling that to pass it on to others. The uses of pain are many and more positive than we sometimes imagine.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


The most disturbing image for me in Macbeth is the idea that having murther'd Sleep Macbeth is going to suffer from a massive case of insomnia. This following the beautiful lines eulogising Sleep, that knit's up the ravell'd sleave of care… makes matters far worse.

On those occasions when I've been troubled by insomnia (I have periods of waking early rather than not being able to fall asleep) Macbeth's plight has never been far from my mind, though I must hasten to add I've never actually killed anybody.

Recently I've been sleeping extremely well (I suspect there's something in my medication that contributes to the effect) but the odd thing is that that has not stopped me from feeling extremely sleepy during the day. I must say, I quite like nodding off and the curious thing is that, so far, nobody has seen fit to bother me about it. I'm referring here to the quiet word in the ear one receives when one is not really playing the game.

I wonder if my status as a senior citizen of the organisation helps in this matter? A certain amount of grey hair can be quite valuable.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The New Technology

The last few days have involved spending a fair amount of time on the telephone to Mum, attempting to describe to her how to use the new recorder we got for her at Christmas. The problem is that her phone is not in the same room as the tv and recorder so she has to keep going in and coming out after each instruction to report on progress. I've discovered that it is amazingly difficult to describe the notion of moving a box (the equivalent of a cursor) across the screen by scrolling up, down and sideways to someone who won't go near a computer. But I think we cracked it regarding the recording of one programme she wanted and I'll be phoning soon to find out whether she got it to play back successfully.

In the meantime Maureen is fulminating over the fact that Mum broke an electric tin-opener she got for her on only the second occasion she put it to use. This was no frivolous luxury, by the way, but was meant to help Mum with cans she's no longer capable of dealing with manually.

I've kept telling Mum not to worry about the recorder, that there's no way she can ruin it. Now I'm not so sure.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Step by Step

I'm now limping so badly at work that it's drawing the attention of a lot of well-meaning people. Since I don't consider myself ill but simply suffering from a temporary mechanical hitch this is embarrassing. The other problem is that those who are aware of the background are nagging me (in the nicest possible way) to do the right thing and get to a hospital.

The doc actually wanted to admit me to hospital on Saturday when I saw him. I held out for the breathing space of another couple of weeks, in order to clear the stuff that's pressing on me and make plans for what needs to be done when I'm not around. Although I was only being admitted for some traction and bed-rest (plus an MRI) I've got a sneaking suspicion I won't get out of there without an operation. Anyway, he wasn't too happy but accepted my proposal, commenting: When we do get you here we'll have to tie you to the bed. The missus has been quoting this with great delight ever since, rejoicing in the fact that the whole world is getting to know how 'stubborn' I am.

The problem is that something could go badly wrong for me in the next couple of weeks and I might not make it through. There were a couple of moments today on longer journeys, especially those involving stairs, where I felt like just lying on the floor and letting nature take its course. So if the condition deteriorates further and I'm introduced to new, more interesting levels of pain, that may well be a signal for pulling the plug on my present plan and improvising an earlier exit than I'd really like.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Marching In

I found enough time over the weekend to complete Colm Toibin's The Master which ended, hardly surprisingly, just as well as it began. A wonderful sequence involving Henry and William James discussing with Edmund Gosse what they are intending to write for the new century occupies a key section of the final chapter.

The fact that William's book is going to be The Varieties of Religious Experience, surely one of the keystones of serious thought of the last century - and just a great read in anyone's terms - considerably added to my delight.

So now I've made my mind up as to what comes next, trying to avoid picking up something by the Master himself, a great temptation at this point in time. (If I had picked an HJ up it would have been The Portrait of a Lady, sort of by default since everything I've got by him is on the shelves of the house in KL.) It's going to be Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea on the grounds that it's nice and chunky and it's always a treat to let yourself be put under one of her peculiar spells.

I'm also about to read John Clare's March from The Shepherd's Calendar to put some poetry in my life: March month of 'many weathers' wildly comes / In hail and snow and rain and threatning hums… Well we've certainly got the rain today and it's pretty wild out there.