Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Years

In recent times I've tried to make it a habit to read Donne's The Anniversary on this date. I loved it, and everything else by the great Dean, when I first read it aged sixteen. But now it means so much more. In fact, I sometimes wonder if it isn't more real to me than it was to its writer. I can recite most of its lines with utter conviction, especially, Let us love nobly, and live, and add again / Years and years unto years...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Error Alert

I've been marking a variety of scripts from schools all over the world just lately and there've been the usual blunders here and there to provoke the odd chuckle. Coming across a reference to Cherry Orchard a novel written by Tolstoy elicited a wry smile, but the smile sort of faded as I found the error repeated, except crediting the text as a play, and one or two even giving it its full title, which was a bit of relief, in every script I marked that mentioned it from the school involved. Which led me to the inescapable but horrifying conclusion that this was what their teacher had told them. Did no one think to look at the cover?!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Just Waiting

I was waiting for the azan to complete its winding course before the maghrib prayer today and found myself thinking of the suspension of time that is manifested so often in Islam. No muezzin is going to hurry unduly to conclude the call. The spinning out of the familiar formula is part of the deep satisfaction of the procedure - hence the sublime ornamentation within those cunning arabesques.

Then Noi announced that her ustaza told her you didn't have to wait for the azan to finish but could pray right away, as soon as it was time. I felt oddly disappointed to be deprived of my waiting - but we decided we'd better check this one out with Rohana, Noi's partner at her prayer classes, as to whether she misconstrued her teacher. I've never seen actually seen anyone start to do the prayer within the timing of the call to prayer, and neither has the missus, hence our conservatism. But wouldn't it be nice to find out that you can start earlier, but then decide not to, on the grounds that some things simply should not be hurried?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Country Roads

This week's all country - and highly enjoyable - American Idol finale got me thinking about how I broke through into appreciation of the genre. As a youngster I just didn't get it, and never owned a bone fide country album until well beyond university. I suppose singers I really admired who were obviously country influenced took me closer - like bits of Springsteen here and there - and Dylan, of course, and the Stones in mellower moments. And I kept company with a few guys at university who were real fans so I'd come to some understanding of the power of names like Emmylou Harris and James Burton. I remember going along to a Mike Nesmith gig (yes, he of Monkees fame, latterly a fine solo artist with a distinct country bent) at Sheffield University's Student Union with a bunch of rabid fans from Liverpool of all places. Very pleasant, but hardly earth-shaking.

But the killer for me was Elvis Costello's Almost Blue. The penny dropped. Sometimes you don't need to be too clever. Sometimes the feeling's enough. And having a good year for the roses is one of the fundamentals of this life.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Homeward Bound

As a lad of fourteen or fifteen I couldn't wait to get out of the house. I know that because I spent long stretches sleeping at Auntie Norah's simply because it wasn't our house. And by seventeen I was managing to disappear for weeks at a time. It wasn't that I was unhappy at home, far from it. But bored, certainly. In need of experiencing the big world out there.

Now I've experienced the big world I reckon it's okay, in its way, but not always up to all that much. And a heart needs a home, as Richard Thompson so shrewdly pointed out. And since mine has got the missus in it, and enough books and music to last me pretty much the rest of my days, I'm more than happy to take refuge in it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Hard Stuff

There's a particularly idiotic bit of reasoning by analogy which irritates me to the point of subdued fury whenever I hear it. It goes something like this: put people under pressure and they turn out refined like diamonds.

I think I'm reasonably, though not wonderfully, good at dealing with pressure and I can tell you I don't feel remotely diamond-hard when I survive the stuff. I just feel vaguely stupid for having carved out a life that sometimes subjects me to it. And when I see its ill-effects on others, something I've been horribly aware of just recently in quite a few cases, I feel a kind of quiet despair that we've managed to constuct a world in which we routinely arrange for people to be miserable and then blame it on some supposed defect of their characters.

We're not a hard species. We're soft and squishy and easily bruised, even if we pretend not to be. And that's good.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Forever Young

Realised the other day that it's the greatest living American's seventieth birthday round about now. It seems to me extraordinarily difficult to believe that Dylan is now officially well past it. Because he isn't. His work of the last decade has been that of a man in his creative prime, except it's better than that, because it speaks with the voice of hard won maturity (and a million or so cigarettes, plus quite a few less legal substances.)

This all bears out a point made by a singer from another age, that if you're not busy being born you're busy dying. Now I wonder who that might have been.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


The Toad work being monstrously bloated at the moment, it has not all been beer and skittles. Indeed, such pleasures have been unceremoniously locked away in the interest of simply coping.

But there have been odd flashes of light in the gloom. One yesterday in the midst of a particularly vapid letter read out to inpire myself and my colleagues. It didn't exactly have the desired effect, though working well as a soporific, but I stirred from my less than dogmatic slumbers to register the word functioncentric - if word is what this wee beastie is.

Small pleasures indeed.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I've tried to avoid crowing about the sealing of yet another Premiership title by the most under-rated version of the Mighty Reds seen in recent years. But I can't resist anymore. So:


But having said, or rather shouted, that, I can't help but feel depressed at the idea that a fine manager like Ancelotti will be shown the (rotating) door. The logic of this escapes me The supreme lesson in continuity, Sir Alex's years of dearth at Old Trafford seems to have been forgotten or ignored by all. Except maybe Arsenal, and I suspect they may well benefit from their patience next year.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Idol Thoughts

We've enjoyed this season of American Idol despite missing a few of the early programmes at the time we were leaving the Mansion for the Hall. It's been a relief to have had a few contestants who have genuinely warm voices and sound comfortable in their mid to lower range. And this is why Scottie should win - because he actually sings melodies, sounds relaxed and has real warmth in his voice.

Isn't it odd how little charm there is in modern popular music? - despite its many other good qualities. I like a sense of intensity - Springsteen-style - but there's such a thing as trying too hard.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Richard Thompson said it, sang it, best: I'm walking on the wire - I'm walking on the wire - I'm walking on the wire - and I'm falling. Not a nice place to be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tough Going

Rumour has it that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. My inclination is to get as far as possible from where the going is tough so I don't have to go anywhere. The problem is I can't get that far. So I'm stuck where the going is tough, going nowhere.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


It's fair to say I've come to terms with moving onto our sparkling new computers (one's pink!) having finally rid myself of the reliable (well, generally) old warhorse. We've got more deskspace, greater mobility, and get stuff done faster. But it remains a curious fact that whenever one of the new machines asks me to upgrade something, whatever it is I get doesn't seem to work as well as whatever I had before.

A couple of days ago I was prompted to download the latest version of Internet Explorer. It was quite easy to do, but left me with an interface I don't really care for. And whenever I press the button to 'Publish Post' on blogger.com (which I'll be doing in about four minutes) nothing happens - so I can't publish. I have to get into the site on a different computer to enable you, dear reader, to read my moaning.

And I know that's what I'm doing, moaning. The truth is, I'm lucky to own what I have and get done what I do on this thing, which is all down to the expertise of others. So essentially I'm just being childishly ungrateful. But it's great fun, so that's what I'll be. So there.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Getting Personal

Finished Carey's wonderful Golding book. But I feel a sense of disquiet. I know that at least one reason I enjoyed it was finding out so much that surprised me about Sir William and that some of what I discovered was not exactly to his advantage. I'm sure that Carey wasn't doing the dirty on the great man, in part because he addresses this very issue in a most illuminating manner towards the end of the book. Also because the great man emerged as even greater in my eyes as a result of what I learnt. But I still wonder if I wasn't engaged in a kind of higher form of gossip.

I felt like this after reading Sid Smith's fine book on my favourite group King Crimson (nattily titled In The Court of King Crimson.) I remember wondering even as I read whether I really had to know about all the unpleasantness among the various wonderful musicians who graced the band over the years and whether it really helped me hear the music better.

I hope I become a better reader of Golding. That's my only excuse. Otherwise after this knowledge there's no forgiveness.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What's In A Name?

Was feeling pretty low this afternoon after wading through a pile of largely unrewarding essays, when I spotted the intriguing name of the director of a recently released movie (from Hong Kong, I think.) His moniker: Oxide Pang.

Suddenly the world seemed a more cheerful, friendly place.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Carried Away

I'm sorry to say that I'm not making any progress on Peter Carey's fine novel The True History of the Kelly Gang. I know it's fine because I've got to page 24 and enjoyed everything so far, but first I got side-tracked by Ackroyd's Shakespeare book and now I've been swept away by John Carey's biography of William Golding. Or rather, I've been swept as far as one might be when one is firmly anchored down by the Toad work, which has assumed monstrous proportions of late. Anyway, I'm already up to the chapter on Darkness Visible so moving into the late period of Golding's work. Must say, I'm keen to see what Carey makes of The Paper Men which I've always regarded as the worst novel ever written by any writer I consider really fine.

Actually it's just struck me that poor Ned Kelly and Carey (Peter) have never stood much of a chance against four writers (Shakespeare, Ackroyd, Carey (John) and Golding) who never fail to reduce me to fanboy status.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Let's Pretend

I happened to be watching some tennis played this afternoon, in the course of my multifarious duties, when it struck me that the garb of the fine players, which looked very chic indeed, would have appeared absurdly baggy to the even finer players I used to watch in the 1960's and 1970's on television. In those days shorts really were shorts and got ever shorter, it seemed.

Then it struck me that watching people from other eras in the fashions of their times, as in costume dramas or period movies, tells us an essential truth. We are all of us always dressing up and playing pretend - and it's great fun.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

In Progress

Finished Ackroyd's biography of the Bard yesterday. The only thing wrong with it is the rather jarring title, which a number of reviewers saw as presumptuous - implying it really is 'The' Biography. Actually Ackroyd makes it clear he's simply an extremely well-informed amateur in this field and writes a generally speculative but highly entertaining sort-of-introduction to Shakespeare. He's brilliant, of course, on the London of the period, but rather less expectedly completely convincing on the plays as theatre (as opposed to texts for study.) What a relief to have someone sturdily stating the obvious: the plays are never really fixed but works in progress and we can't pin down their definitive forms.

He also makes a number of convincing points about Shakespeare the man. I buy into the idea of a Shakespeare without sentiment, particularly, a writer for whom the whole idea is that the material must work on stage and that's about as far as it goes in terms of any deeper meaning or message involved. And the notion of a man for whom speed and movement were irresistible has a powerful resonance.

The only difficulty I found reading the book was that I was continually wanting to break off and read the particular play under discussion.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Pictures Of Content

Yesterday's sup tulang feast, with additional gado gado and barbecued chicken (oh, and cake for Mothers' Day) was an unqualified success.

As was the Mighty Reds' run out against Chelski. Hah!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Heat Still On

Noi stayed up to some unearthly hour last night/this morning doing wonderful things to bones and other eatables and watching the election results. She appears quite pleased about the result in Aljunied, where the ruling party lost in quite a major seat (this involving no fewer than five MPs, it being a curious beast known as a Group Representation? (Representative?) Constituency), though she is managing to feel sorry for some of the guys who lost there as they seem quite decent chaps in their way. I've got a feeling that her reaction will be fairly typical of that of lots of residents here, citizens and non-citizens alike.

Changes are afoot in the polity - fortunately attended at this point by a sense of civility from most involved.

But the important things in life go on: our little place is redolent with the odour of dem bones and the gorgeous gravy in which they stew, the kitchen over-heating with the sheer oomph of it all. And we'll be overwhelmed with young eaters this evening, so all is as it should be.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Despite the missus being a child of these climes, she's the first to moan about the heat, when it gets to the moanable stage, that is. So when I went out at just after nine this morning, to encounter the kind of glare one associates with the midday sun, it presaged a day of complaint. By noon the sultry stickiness of it all was taking its toll as we struggled through the crowds at Geylang Market in search of high quality bones for a sup tulang feast on the morrow. Back home I was keenly aware of the damp heaviness of the clothing attendant upon my nether regions, but hadn't the energy to do anything much about it, except fall asleep.

None of this matters, though. I'd trade a sticky, icky day here for a wet November in Manchester anytime and always.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Real Tears

I've been thinking about audiences a fair bit this week and the part they play in the theatre (pun intended), prompted in part by reading Ackroyd's theatrically aware biography of Shakespeare. You don't get good plays without having good audiences, I'm wont to tell students and, despite the slight simplifying involved, I think I get it pretty much right.

Last Sunday's audience for The Lion King was a good one - appreciative, respectful of the details of performance, vocal in the right places. But they got one moment fascinatingly wrong. It was when the old lion king has died and is lying dead. The lionesses gather round and cry - pulling actual streamers of ribbons from the eyes in their masks. The effect was strangely moving and grotesque. Yet there was quite a bit of laughter, coming largely from the adults in the audience, I think.

Noi, the girls and I talked about it afterward. Fifi and Fafa knew the moment wasn't intended for laughter, confirming my sense that the effect was a well-judged one that shouldn't have gone wrong. So why had it? My sense was that the laughers had simply not managed to enter the mood of the scene, the world of the play. The lionesses, for them, remained rather wonderfully costumed actresses and were fair game for laughter when they did something that was so obviously false. But for those of us that art had transformed, laughter had been the last thing on our minds at that moment of solemn ritual.

Once audiences lose that capacity for allowing themselves to accept the necessary illusions of performance they (we) lose something not so much precious as irreplaceable. And I suspect they know they've lost it despite all the applause that hides the missing treasure.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Political Awareness

There's a General Election taking place on this little island tomorrow, and following the ins and outs of the campaigning by the various parties involved has been interesting and instructive, as it always is. It's been a reminder that people are the same everywhere, but everywhere is different.

The populace here seem to regard themselves as being politically naive, but this is far from the case. Most people I talk to, regardless of age, or occupation, are extremely savvy, and engaged to some degree in the process, even if they think they aren't. Case in point: this morning I was asked to carry out a lesson in which the key question for pupils to get things going was simply to ask what they made of the election. The result: a series of insightful comments worthy of any participant in the BBC's flagship Question Time. Yet the 'lesson designers' (yes, there are such folks here) seemed to be of the opinion that young peole here are politically apathetic.

Beware simplistic generalisations, say I.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Fighter By His Trade

Saddened to hear of the death over the weekend of the great Henry Cooper. Easily the finest English boxer of the second half of the twentieth century, he combined excellence in the ring with excellence of character, and genuine wit and intelligence. What Mum & Auntie Norah & Auntie Bet et al would have termed, rightly, a true gentleman.

I was too young to have witnessed live the monumental moment he floored Ali, but watching the moment replayed on English tv over and over in the years that followed confirmed the fact that he was a genuine contender. In fact, he was excellent in the re-match, when Ali was undisputed champion - and we're talking about the young Ali here, simply the greatest fighter ever seen in the ring. Henry's problem was simple and devastating: he was vulnerable to cuts over the eyes, and Ali knew that, and used that.

Sometimes you forget that were times when sportsmen really were giants in every way and you didn't need the hype to tell you that.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Royalty Indeed

I can remember when I first heard that Disney intended to mount a stage musical of The Lion King how idiotic I thought the idea was. A fine cartoon, yes, possibly the best of the wonderful late blossoming of the old style of Disney cartoons that began with The Little Mermaid, and some highly enjoyable music. But putting it on stage seemed more than a little pointless.

How utterly wrong I was - though I knew nothing then of the brilliance of Julie Taymor, the director who engineered the transition. Though engineered is completely the wrong word for a genuinely visionary process. She saw the possibilities of bringing to the stage a mixture of ritual and Broadway bravura to produce a stunning piece of popular theatre.

Last night was one of the best evenings I've spent in a theatre anywhere. (Despite said theatre being situated in one of my least favourite locations, the hideous Marina Bay Sands.) And anyone on this small island who's thinking of going, but isn't sure. Be sure. Brilliant.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Something Noble

We've got Fifi & Fafa as houseguests this weekend and they've just switched on the television to one of the endless re-runs of Friday's monumentally dreary, and expensive, wedding. I've told them this is forbidden in our republican household, and been ignored.

Later we're off to see the stage version of The Lion King and I'm hoping for something genuinely royal.