Saturday, April 30, 2011


I've just been listening to the fourth CD from Springsteen's box set Tracks, drinking in its mellowness and thinking: Good grief! This is stuff that didn't even make it onto the official albums. There's a whole significant career in rock music in this material alone. And then I thought: And this doesn't include all the extra stuff that was on the two CD set The Promise comprising the out-takes from the Darkness sessions. And then I thought: How does one guy get to be blessed with so much talent?

Must say, I'm glad he was.

Now off back to CD 3.

Friday, April 29, 2011

No Escape

Somewhat mysteriously I didn't get an invitation to today's royal wedding shindig. Not that this was a bad thing as I would have turned it down. Indeed I thought I might just escape from the whole affair being away in this Far Place.

Alas, this was not to be. In the mornings I now watch Sky News (since moving to the Hall) as BBC World only offers the rather tedious World Business Report at the time I'm preparing to leave, and it's very oriented towards news of events back in the UK. Normally this is palatable, if parochial (though the sports news is very good) but this week it's been wall-to-wall royal tedium. And then arriving home this afternoon, what do I find? The missus actually watching the whole thing on the goggle box. Fortunately I got her out into the real world for a cuppa - but I was forced to record the bit she missed. And now she's back in front of the screen drinking the whole sorry occasion in.

Fortunately I've been able to vent a bit by evincing violently republican sentiments in front of several bemused classes this week, and that's been fun. But otherwise what can I say, other than: the horror, the horror!?

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Concluded The Corrections the other night to move on to Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang. Looking forward to a change of continent, a change of period. But this is not to say I tired of Mr Franzen's fine novel.

In fact, if anything I think it got better towards the end. This surprised me as I half-expected the high energy narrative to run out of steam (a feature of a number of recent novels, I feel, especially American ones.) But the more I found myself understanding the Lambert family and their dysfunctionality, the more I felt emotionally engaged in their story. And father Alfred's deterioration over the final third of the novel was wonderfully, tenderly done.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Still Sitting Still

Last week at Friday prayers at the mosque on the Hill I found myself sandwiched between two little lads for the congregational prayer. Now something non-Muslims may not realise (I didn't when I was one) is how physical the prayers are when praying alongside others. I mean praying shoulder to shoulder means you get really close and personal, especially in the sort-of-seated positions. You don't have space to yourself and, of course, this is an important part of the greater meaning of the whole experience. You're definitely not alone and that's an inescapable fact.

Anyway, praying alongside the boys was a powerful reminder of how fidgety kids are. Both of them were doing their best to maintain the necessary stillness when standing, bending, kneeling and the like, but were failing quite spectacularly. I found myself envying them their inability to contain the abundance of life they each contained and was reminded of the admonition I regularly heard as a youngster, part question, part accusation: Why can't you keep still?!

Now I can keep still, but something has been lost, and I was glad those kids still had that something.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sitting Still

On a day of frantic movement it's oddly disconcerting to stop and sit still. It's also very difficult. But rewarding.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Out Of The Way

Got quite a bit done over the long weekend, including a thorough cleaning of all the books at Maison KL (whilst the missus cleaned pretty much everyting else.) But I didn't get to finish Jonathan Franzen's highly enjoyable, highly charged The Corrections, or make too many in-roads into Ackroyd's biography of Shakespeare, or Don Paterson's rather nifty collection of poems entitled Rain or last year's 3 December edition of the TLS (which I brought back from Manchester at the end of that month.)

So, as usual, I am behind with my reading. And, as usual, I'm finding it very difficult to be bothered by that fact. It's not a competition, you know! (Though I wouldn't be at all surprised if, one day, someone, somewhere, turns it into one.)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Don't Be My Guest

The stretch of highway from Shah Alam to Alor Gajah is especially bleak and monotonous when driven late on a Saturday evening. Concocting silly lists is the only way to deal with the boredom. So here's mine for Ten Writers You Really Wouldn't Want To Invite For Dinner (not in any order of merit): D.H. Lawrence, Sylvia Plath, Count Leo Tolstoy (after he decided he was a bit of a prophet), Jean Paul Sartre (especially in the company of the De Beauvoir woman), Lord Byron, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Kingsley Amis, Evelyn Waugh, the Marquis de Sade and Ernest Hemingway. Yes, I know that's eleven, but how could anyone possibly leave out Hemingway? Honourable mentions, by the way, for William Wordsworth and Fay Weldon.

Friday, April 22, 2011

True Nobility

Drove up to the Malaysian capital after work yesterday, arriving around midnight. For once didn't agonise over what CDs to bring up here, settling for most of the Ellington material in my collection (with one Mingus thrown in, with a cover of Mood Indigo on it.) Now wondering why I don't own a lot more of the great man's recordings and how I can do reasonable justice to the ones I've already got. The output from the early recordings of the thirties to the seventies must surely be one of the greatest bodies of work in the twentieth century in any art form.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

High Places

I dreamt a couple of nights ago of standing on some strange Roger-Deanish pinnacles of rock, of enormous height, and leaping from one to another as they gave way beneath me. I woke, heart racing, very frightened.

There are places in the mind that are not too much fun to visit.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Nobody does it quite as well as the Americans, and Jonathan Franzen is in the front rank of those doing it superbly. Now over the halfway mark in The Corrections and finding myself regularly carried away by the addictive verve of the central characters. Wonderfully vertiginous downward spirals keep opening up and dragging me down. I keep recalling how alternatively thrilling and awful it used to be to be drunk. How happy I am those days are long gone.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Up Front

I was going to mention something about how irritating I found it that people near the front of the cheap section at the Dylan concert started to loudly move backward right in the middle of a gorgeously mellow Simple Twist of Fate. But since we were able to push up into their space I can't say it detracted from the whole experience that much. Just served to prove a point - that a lot of people don't seem to have much capacity for actively listening even when there's a huge amount to gain from doing so.

But since this is the last thing I'm intending to write about a great night it seems churlish to leave things on a critical note. So I'll just mention how powerful it was to see Dylan centrestage pretty much alone, with no guitar or keyboard for a shield, on three songs (I think, though I may have lost count - certainly on Tangled Up In Blue and Ballad of a Thin Man.) Framed by a back light, stance slightly side-on to the audience, his white hat shrouding his upper face, he looked for all the world like a distinctly untrustworthy gambler who intended to take you for everything he could.

It was theatrical in the truest sense. It was commanding in a deeply powerful way - fuuny-serious, like so much of his recent material. Something was happening and I wasn't quite sure what it was. Vital. Something alive.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


The organisers of the festival of which the Dylan set was part divided the audience into two sections. You could pay more and get into the exclusive bit up front where you actually were given a chair to sit in. Or you could pay what was still a small fortune and find yourself on the wrong side of the barriers keeping you from the blessings of the First Circle and, thus, quite a way back from the stage.

This had an odd effect. Most of the folks up front were old gyppers (like myself) who could afford to shell out the green stuff (unlike myself) on a bit of exclusivity. So whilst there were quite a few who abandoned their chairs and pushed up to the stage to groove, quite a number, who seemed to be there for the alcohol or just to tick off a Dylan concert as one of the items on their itineraries of things that should be done in life to prove you actually lived, hung back and paid precious little attention of any sort to the actualities of the concert. I think they regarded the music as background to the fascination of whatever it was they were rabbiting on about.

Then behind then were the mad enthusiasts like myself (but generally quite a young crowd I'm pleased to say) hanging on Dylan's every last rasped syllable and fixated by the brilliance of the band. Unfortunately right in front of us were those odd souls who didn't seem to understand that in order to enjoy a concert it's useful to listen. It's a strangely dislocating experience to be plunged into aural ecstacy whilst a chap stands two metres in front of you doing odd things with a handphone oblivious to it all.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hard Rain

Still raining today, but it eased last night long enough for His Bobness to deliver an incandescent set at Marina Promenade. And Toots & the Maytels were more than a bit handy also. More later. Now spinning Modern Times just to remember - not that I'm likely to forget.


We got a good mixture of the old and the new last night, though the old sounded newer than the new. This was the vital Dylan. No signs I could see of just going through the paces, though he looked extremely relaxed.

The more recent stuff, which was in the majority, included Beyond Here Lies Nothing, Thunder On The Mountain, Tweedle Dum &Tweedle Dee and an outstanding Love Sick. It all sounded right there, totally in the pocket.

Older material: Tangled Up In Blue, Simple Twist of Fate, A Hard Rain's Going To Fall, Highway 61, Ballad of a Thin Man, Like A Rolling Stone, Forever Young. Only Thin Man wasn't altered beyond recognition and it was on fire. Tangled was stunning. And I'm running out of superlatives for the rest.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Rain, Rain

It's now raining hard. And I mean, hard. Very hard. (And thundering. And other stuff.)

And Dylan is due to appear at 9.30 this evening. And may cancel if it's raining.

And I am one seriously worried Dylan-freak.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

All Wrong

I'd rather be wrong in interesting ways than correct in dull ones.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sort Of Celebratory

Mum's birthday: bittersweet. The first time in forever I've not spoken to her on the big day. No point in ringing the home directly - she wouldn't know what was happening. But she's still here. And she seems happy enough in her simple way, I'm told. Which is a blessing.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Major Expectations

It's a telling sign of just how far I get out of things that I didn't realise until the weekend that Dylan is due to play Singapore next Friday night. But now I do know and the tickets have been duly purchased and I am stoked to the max, as they say. (Actually I don't know if they do say that, but I kind of like the phrase.)

I have two worries now. The first is that the great man will be rained off - the venue is open air. The second is that his motivations for coming over here will not necessarily be associated with making music for its own sake. If he's here on a sort of nostalgia, greatest hits, trip I'm going to feel a bit let down. So I'm hoping we're in for some vital, living material relevant to him now. (If he plays nothing except what's been on the last four albums I'll be more than happy.)

So I'm staying calm and not thinking too much ahead. At least, I don't think I am. Not really. Not if I can help it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Looking Cheap

I'm making slow progress on The Corrections at the moment (as I am on the other books I'm reading.) This is no fault of the novel itself which moves along at quite a cracking pace and is highly engaging. The problem has been the Toad work, as ever.

One thing that's not a problem though, has been the look and feel of the edition of the novel I'm reading. It's one of those small but chunky little paperbacks the American market seems to favour - you can get a lot of Steven Kings in this format. The great thing about them is that you can handily take them anywhere to read. As well as being cheap they look cheap and I like that for some reason. I particularly like the cheerfully gaudy cover of The Corrections.

This isn't to say I don't like a touch of class sometimes. Those lovely Library of America editions are held in regard at this Place. But, on the whole, I suppose it can be said that I like a bit of rough.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lasting A Lifetime

This time last week, when Noi was over in Melaka, I was giving Wagner's Das Rheingold a spin when I discovered big problems on my CD with the start of the third act. Just at the start of all the singing between Alberich and Mime down in Nibelheim there were big gaps in the music and lots of jumps and the like. One look at the surface of the disk was enough to show the signs of decay.

Now I can't honestly say I was heartbroken. I'm not a huge fan of Wagner. I bought the Solti Ring cycle on CD a few years back essentially to educate myself, to see, or hear, what all the fuss was about, and I think I've only played the whole thing through a couple of times I sort of have enjoyed it, but it's been a bit of a labour. In fact, I haven't yet bothered to check the rest of the CDs and really don't know if I care enough to replace what's been lost.

But the incident set me to thinking about the publicity given to the CD format when it first came out. The claim of the record companies promoting the things was that they would last a lifetime, though immediately a fair amount of scepticism ensued. But now we're getting to a position to judge, I suppose. Most the stuff I bought in the middle 80's when I moved on from vinyl has lasted I'm pleased to say. I played my first ever CD purchase - a collection of Respighi's tone poems on Roman subjects - just this afternoon and it sounded and looked in pristine condition. And over the years I've lost very few disks to decay - curiously nearly all 'classical' recordings - Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony and Robert Simpson's 9th (this one a keenly felt loss - you don't see it around all that much). I say 'curiously' because back then rumour had it that classical recording were being given a superior treatment in terms of the qualities of the pressings of the CDs compared to that afforded to more disposable forms.

Anyway the point of all this is that I'm not complaining. That the vast majority of my recordings have lasted is something I never really expected and feel generally grateful for. If anything it's slightly troubling to think that the Respighi may last a lot longer than me.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Not To Be Missed

Was idly flicking through the movie channels we get on cable yesterday and was stunned to find myself watching a bit from Christine Edzard's great adaptation of Little Dorrit. In fact, she directed two films based on the novel, each telling the story to the end but from different perspectives. I saw the films when they came out in the cinema back in England - since it's my favourite of all Dickens's novels I wasn't likely to miss them - in the 1980's and loved them. I remember them being well-reviewed, but then they seemed to just drop out of sight and they sort of slipped from my awareness.

I could only watch a couple of minutes yesterday but I quickly and excitedly checked the listings to ascertain they're being shown again (on the MGM channel this Sunday and Tuesday) so as to be able to programme the recorder. Trust me all you right thinking folks out there: this is one not to be missed - the real deal - almost the thing itself.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Not So Sweet

I have been called quite a few things in the course of my life, many of these being savagely appropriate. But why anyone should decide I am 'sweet' lies beyond all understanding. Yet the term has been used with extraordinary inaccuracy on more than one occasion.

I am resolved to rectify this stunning misapprehension. I am not sweet in any sense, nor ever have been. Though there was a time I was distinctly cute. Thankfully long ago and forgotten. So there.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Something Acceptable

One of the unexpected by-products of doing the 'Isha' prayer, the last prayer of the day, can be a heightened awareness of just how weary one's body has been rendered by the physical (and possibly mental) demands of the day. I experienced such a reminder just now. This old body registered itself as not merely creaky but crumpled if not crumbling.

Some years ago this would have conjured some degree of alarm. Now I am aware of a mild interest, a sense of gentle amusement, something suspiciously akin to accomplishment.

(That said, it will be a relief when the mechanism heaves itself out of bed on the morrow and gets the show on the road again - a state of affairs by no means guaranteed.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dining Out

Just watched Come Dine With Me an engagingly silly British programme in which four ordinary sort of people (I think it's five in a more recent version we saw in England at the end of last year) compete for a thousand quid by entertaining the others in the group for an evening each and awarding each other points. Two things occur to me. The first, for which I am truly thankful, is that I've never quite lost my taste for trashy television. The second, watching anything with the missus makes whatever it is twice as good as it would otherwise have been.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Just Routine

We seem to be reclaiming some of the routines that we'd grown so comfortable with in our old stomping grounds here at our new address. Noi popped up north on Friday afternoon but returned late last night and we just watched our recording of the results show for American Idol. We now sort of know all the contestants' names and are confirmed viewers of the new series. Not only that, I recorded the first in a new series being aired of Midsomer Murder so it looks like we'll be back guessing the various culprits for the next few weeks.

I finished the Tolstoy this morning and was struck by the last theological question posed by Levin. I'd never noticed its precise nature before. I think I know the answer implied but I must look a bit further into this one. It seems to me, by the way, that we leave Kostya in the same place we leave Pierre in War and Peace: his journey is far from over. And mine continues into Ackroyd's biography of Shakespeare, which I picked up a few days back but which just got overwhelmed by my engagement with the Russian master, and Franzen's The Corrections, which strikes me as being distinctly over-written, or at least the first section does.

Meanwhile we're off to Arab Street in a few minutes for the cup that cheers and I can routinely, but thankfully, state: it just doesn't get any better.

19.30 - A Correction

Did Mr Franzen a disservice earlier. Now on the second section of his novel and it's hilarious. I'm in for a very jolly read, methinks.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

End In Sight

In some ways I've felt recently as if my intended reading has been hijacked by having to read Anna Karenina again for teaching purposes. But this is nonsense. I didn't have to read the novel again. It was still reasonably fresh from a fairly recent reading and I could easily have homed in on a few crucial sections to have brought myself sufficiently up to speed, as it were.

The fact that I didn't, I find of interest on two levels. First of all, in what it suggests about me as a reader. It's no real news that I easily forget what I've read, especially when it comes to details of plot. I've mentioned this here before and find it of sterling advantage to me as everything remains so wonderfully fresh. The fact is I never feel I've finished reading anything as within six months I want to read it again. And the truth is I was given an excuse to reread Tolstoy's masterpiece in unusually quick time and took it. As I've been reading I've been experiencing the pangs of wanting to re-experience War and Peace and the other lesser fiction. I brought back an old copy of Resurrection from the selves at Maison KL and can hardly hold myself back from it. I suppose this is a mild echo of the way junkies feel.

On another level, I find myself considering the experience of fiction, especially in the form of the extended novel, as art. Going back to the idea that I could easily have glanced over a few key sections of the novel to prepare myself for the classroom, I find a sense that anything other than actually reading a text is a form of somehow avoiding the experience of the actual work of art. No matter how good the discussion, or how insightful the criticism, it is not the thing itself.

But you can never get to the thing itself with a novel as it's impossible to read the whole thing at once, as it were. You're always missing something. A novel like Anna Karenina is a fierce reminder of this. It is so beautifully patterned, such that each section has weight and resonance within the design of the whole, yet you can never quite hold the entirety in mind at one time - unlike the total impact of a painting, say. The novel unfolds in time and cannot, therefore, transcend time. At best its art is fallen, sullen. But that will do for me.

Friday, April 1, 2011

No Fooling

If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.

Said by a madman, of course. A supremely sane one.