Thursday, June 30, 2011

Undue Sensitivity

The single most difficult aspect of the main job I've been doing over the last four days is getting a projector to switch on, using a remote control device. Sometimes it does switch on, sometimes it doesn't. And when it doesn't I have to repeatedly hit the on-switch and shift position. I'm told it's always been temperamental. What is it about modern technology that means it's more emotionally inclined than even the flakiest human?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Last Words

Noi's father, our dear Abah, left this world in the early hours of the morning. We were not entirely unprepared - he'd been taken to hospital yesterday with low blood pressure and even then at one point his heart had stopped beating - but you can never be prepared for something so final. Noi left for Melaka straight away, but I'm stuck here until Friday as my duties precluded getting away at night, as we needed to do to get to Alor Gajah in time for the burial, which took place before the Zuhor prayer.

He was a funny, charming, kind man, and so generous to accept me as a highly unusual son-in-law (from his perspective.) It was easy to love him.

Our conversations never quite managed depth - his broken English and my even more broken Malay, didn't allow for that - but I like to think they achieved an understanding beyond mere depth. My last words to him were uttered just last Sunday afternoon as I bade him farewell. I said, as I usually did, Salamat Tinggal, which very roughly translates as Peace on your staying, or Be safe here. Normally he would reply Salamat Jalan, which, again, very roughly means Peace on your way, or Safe journey. But I don't think he did on Sunday, when his voice was unusally soft. He'd been very quiet all weekend, in fact, though when we arrived and Noi asked him if he knew who I was he replied Ibrahim Connor! reasonably confidently. (That's most of my Islamic name, by the way.) It felt good he'd remembered.

So now my final unspoken words to Abah, according to our formula, are Salamat Jalan - have a safe and peaceful journey, to that place where all names are remembered.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kids' Stuff

Got a reasonable amount of reading done over the break. Apart from the official, serious stuff, I indulged myself with four novels written with a somewhat younger readership in mind than that represented by myself. In the order in which I read them these were: Dick King-Smith's Harry's Mad; Betsy Byars's The Summer of the Swans and Goodbye, Chicken Little; and Julius Lester's The Basketball Game. This sequence also happens to follow the increasing maturity of the specific age-groups the writers seemed to have in mind for their work. I can't see a teenager hugely enjoying Harry's Mad, whilst the average eight-year-old would be clueless regarding the romance in The Basketball Game. Since various bits of me range in age and maturity I enjoyed both, and, indeed, the Betsy Byars as well.

There was a sequence in Goodbye, Chicken Little, when the protagonist's elderly uncle expounds on the idiocy of claiming that life has no meaning, which made me laugh out loud. It should be included as an appendix to every novel and play by Sam Beckett.

And speaking of the great man, I also read Waiting For Godot (officially serious, and wonderful) and fell in love with it again.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Travelling Man

The journey as metaphor is tiresome in its insistence on direction. I am not on a journey. I am travelling. In circles. And I like that sense of going nowhere.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Not Altogether Accurate

We'll be heading back to Singapore this afternoon and may just give our recently acquired GPS device a bit of a run - a birthday present from the Missus actually - for its entertainment value. We used it three or four times in KL and came to enjoy completely contradicting its odder instructions - of which there were quite a few. The device seemed to have no idea at all how to navigate on Bukit Antarabangsa, on which our house is situated, usually ordering us to go in the opposite direction from that required. But it was amazingly patient, simply telling us to turn the car around at the first opportunity, and not complaining when we didn't. Mind you, that's possibly because by that time we switched it off, to put it out of its misery.

Our device comes with two voices, male and female. We opted for the female as being gentler on the ear. But she didn't seem to have much idea of how to pronounce Malaysian place names, which is where much of the entertainment came for us. Her attempts at Petaling Jaya and Gombak were a hoot. I know it was cruel of us to mock, but she didn't seem to take it badly. And, after all, you'd hardly consider these dreadful tongue-twisters. As far as I'm aware, they sound how they look.

Anyway, we'd better prepare something to occupy us in what I suspect will be an ultra-long jam on the way in to the Malaysian checkpoint. I'm still recovering, mentally, from the three-hour jam coming over of a couple of weeks back. Wish us luck.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

No Relief Yet

Found out this morning that Khir will lose some digits from the damaged fingers on his hand - the small and ring fingers - so yesterday's relief was premature. The amputation is to be carried out today. It seems the doctors were ready to do it yesterday but Khir couldn't face it so suddenly, a measure of how devastating this is for him.

We've been keeping the news from Mak & Abah but obviously they'll need to be told soon. The family will, of course, play it down, and in a sense it seems small enough to do that - but I don't think I'd be using the term 'small' if I were the one facing today's procedure.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Off The Beaten Track

Now in Alor Gajah, but without Khir's good wife who has rightly elected to stay with him in the apartment his employers have put him into while he recovers from his injuries. Things sound reasonably good on that front. He's not going to lose any fingers and it sounds like he's expected to generally recover the use of the two that were messed up. The word 'redundancy' has been said aloud and the company have explicitly stated it ain't going to happen, as far as I understand matters. So, phew.

Just had something to eat at brother-in-law Aziz's sort of shop/stall/restaurant at Rembia - a bit off the beaten track, at the kampong house of Aziz's wife Wati's family. Far enough away from the main road to remind you that main roads are not the be-all and end-all of this country. A bit of authentic Malaysia - how it was most everywhere fifty years or so ago. Not sure why anyone thought to improve upon it; which, of course, they didn't. The azan for the evening prayer sounded from the nearby mesjid as we were eating. The muezzin sounded about ten years old. Practising for the future, I suppose. Hope there will be one for such places.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


The original plan was for us to travel to Alor Gajah today and enjoy an extended stay at Mak's house before facing the jam back to Singapore on Sunday. Yesterday that all changed with news of an accident involving Noi's younger brother Khir. He damaged two fingers on his right hand quite badly in an incident aboard the oil rig he works on off the East coast. So then we planned to drive over to Kuantan today to visit him in hospital. We were all set for the journey when we heard he was being transferred to another place further up the coast this afternoon, and there was little point in our making the visit. His wife was already on the way up to Kuantan, so she'll be seeing him, wherever he is, and she's now going to come across to us this evening and we'll take her back to Melaka tomorrow.

I imagine that, apart from being in some pain, the poor guy is worrying about his future given the physical nature of the work he does. He got the job partly through his elder brother Saadon, who is almost contemporary with myself, and Noi tells me Saadon also badly injured one of his thumbs in his early days on the rigs. Fortunately that didn't affect him going on to make a successful career out there - and we're hoping the same will be true for the younger of the two.

When I was a little lad I always imagined work when it finally came along was going to involve something physically demanding. (I remember Dad covered in muck from the heavy-duty rollers at Rotunda and the exhaustion that involved.) But I've been spared that, and been lucky enough to keep going in the job with no undue mishaps. Blessing-counting time again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Two Truths

The more things you have, the more things will go wrong with the things you have.

A cafe advertising free wifi will always tell you it went wrong yesterday when they can't provide it. This will be after you've ordered the drinks.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Disturbing The Peace

Yesterday was the only really busy day we've had here at home. In the morning our gardener-cum handyman-cum-generalgoodguy Devan cleaned the roofs and a fair amount of the exterior of the house using our recently acquired high pressure hose machine. Then Hamza and Sharifah popped around in the afternoon with the two younger girls to chat and eat and make merry - Hamza managing to sup at least three mugs of teh tarik whilst flying under Sharifah's radar. Noi isn't quite so watchful of my good self, but I must say I've cut back on the sweet stuff more than a little in recent months to put the bad cholesterol into decline. Much check soon to see if it's worked. But yesterday's little party won't have helped, I'm afraid.

Today, in contrast, has been one of almost complete peace. A squirrel in the tree branches has been the most active thing around the house - though Noi has concocted some tasty scones. (Yesterday's lamb dinner was a triumph in my eyes, but Noi has been oddly critical of it for some reason.) We're now at the Wangsa Ukay cafe on the Hill, basically to get on-line and eat a couple of prata, but we'll be going back to a couple of lamb wraps to conclude yesterday's grub, and I'm relishing the prospect.

The thirty minutes leading to the maghrib prayer was as restful a half hour as I've ever spent. The sun orange-red across the valley; the birdsong shimmering; the heart blossoming.

Friday, June 17, 2011


The test of a good horror story is whether it gets you uncomfortable about the space you are in. You know a tale has worked when you start glancing uneasily at the window and imagining, almost actually seeing, a pointlessly distorted face pressed up against the glass.

The last time I was disturbed by a book in this manner was when I read The Shining. I didn't even like having the paperback in the room, other than when I was reading it. Also, now I come to think of it, when I read Peter Straub's Ghost Story - though the sense of unease wasn't sustained as it was right to the last word of King's masterpiece.

I haven't read anything in the second volume of American Fantastic Tales (edited by Straub, by the way) that's made me even glance at the windows. Straub's own story left me indifferent, whilst the King offering though good in its way struck me as something of a literary exercise. Oddly, the story that I've enjoyed the most (so far, got another six or sven to read) was Joe Hill's Pop Art - genuinely moving. This was odd only insofar as Mr Hill is Mr King's son and I've read comments by King on his children before, when they were definitely children, so it's odd to think of him as an accomplished author in his own right.

Maybe that in itself is the really frightening thing.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I've been sleeping particularly well for the last two weeks, almost too well. I seem always on the edge of a headache caused by sleeping to excess, but never quite get there. Which makes me want to sleep some more. My talent for sleeping anywhere, anytime is becoming even more finely honed, joyfully so. One or two odd dreams also, to be welcomed in someone who rarely dreams, as far as I remember, that is.

Meanwhile the missus has put the house in order, which makes me feel mildly guilty. But, then, nothing registers more strongly than mildly in my current state.

The telephone line is down, by the way. So we are officially off-line. And sort of out-of-time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In Tune

There's an amazing amount of activity in one of the trees on the other side of the garden fence. The birds therein appear to be holding conference much of the day, but especially in the morning. And they love Messiaen - specifically his late work From The Canyons To The Stars. I suppose this is because it's stuffed full of birdsong, especially the piano part, of which there's a lot. The volume of the conference seems to double as soon as I play the piece. Perhaps they regard it as some sort of foreign competition, and feel they must out-do it?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Slipping Away

Happily getting a fair bit of reading done. The second volume of American Fantastic Tales in the fine Library of America edition is slipping down a treat. Nothing terribly frightening yet, but lots of style from the likes of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.

And slipping down with even greater ease, to the extent that I finished it in two sittings, Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger proved to be both very funny and distinctly disturbing - a good mix. I suppose its most disturbing quality, from the point of view of this reader, was the degree that I found myself enjoying the utterly immoral success of its protagonist at the end of the novel. The underdog biting back has a sort of energising quality. I suspect real social change for the better feeds more on this than the efforts of its more worthy proponents.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Like It Is

Just finished the seven Chekhov stories collected in the OUP's Ward Number Six and Other Stories. Bracing stuff. Nobody does boredom and inadequacy better, Beckett included.

The standout of this collection for me was Doctor Startsev. At first you assume the eponymous doc will be making a big mistake if he marries the pretty awful, in fact, awful and pretty, Catherine Turkin, aka Pussy. She turns him down, which she comes to see as a bad mistake. Then you realise that her understanding that she is mistaken tells us the marriage would have been better than the bleakness of Startsev's life once he is saved from her. The moments in which he gets a vague inkling of this before deciding to have nothing more to do with her are about as poignant, and real, as it gets.

It's Chekhov's recognition of the possibility of simple happiness that makes his characters' lack of it so painful.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Just arrived in the Malaysian capital after an epic journey north - three hour jam at Tuas - don't ask.

To my surprise and gratification we have a working telephone line, which means I can get on-line from the house for the first time in yonks, which means you are reading this. Assuming you are.

Still seriously considering using broadband though as the speed of this connection would make a tortoise look snappy - and I'm talking about an elderly tortoise here, not one of those young whippersnappers.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Real Time

I don't know about you but trying to remember when events took place in terms of the years involved just doesn't work. We measure real time in the lives of children, if we're lucky enough to have them or be near them.

When we get old enough, time pretty much stops. Real time that is.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


We spent part of the afternoon at a nearby shopping mall in the little cell of storage space we've been renting since arriving at the Hall. This contains, amongst a few other things, the overflow from our time at the three-bedroom Mansion which can't be contained within our present four walls. We were there to check everything's okay and generally tidy up, providing some new sturdier boxes to replace the collapsing ones we originally thought would suffice for the various documents, magazines and old books we're sort of hiding away.

Which begs the question, of course, as to why we don't simply throw the stuff out. The answer, from both of us, as we're equally guilty on this one, is that something there might just come in handy. In Noi's case she's thinking recipes, for the most part; in my case it's material related to the classroom. For example, for some reason I generally finish useless workshops with some sort of material to remind me I attended and for some even more obscure, indeed unfathomable, reason I find it difficult to part with said documents.

Oddly enough I never used to have this problem. I have hardly anything with me from my time teaching in England, yet some of what I did have then was genuinely useful. I suppose I'm somehow shoring these fragments against my ruins, but when the fragments themselves are little more than ruins it's not going to count for much.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

On Top

Of all the writers who are clearly major league Ibsen has always seemed to me the most in and out in terms of the form book. So it wasn't any great surprise the other day when I settled to a reading of The Master Builder to discover that it was utter tosh. I suppose it might just work on stage with sympathetic performances, and I can see (or hear) a place for it on radio in a particularly barren season, but I'm puzzled as to how anyone can be seriously expected to sit through an evening of the old fellow's concerns about achieving massive erections. (No, the gag is never voiced in the course of the drama, but you don't need to be the good Doctor Freud to know that that's what it's all about.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fruitfully Occupied

Noi is dozing in the bedroom still in recovery after what sounds like quite a fun-packed child-centred trip to Penang. I've just stirred from my own bit of afternoon napping having nodded off listening to Messiaen and reading a Chekov short story. Yes, this is the life.

We're intending to get into gear this evening though with Arab Street in our sights. We've got Mei & Boon coming round to shake us out of our well-earned lethargy.

And we got ourselves over to our former stomping grounds on the east coast earlier today, basically for me to get the critical bits of my machinery checked out by the Doc at East Shore. His verdict: I'm good at least to December. We followed this by engaging in some switching of currency at Parkway Parade (the rates there being the best you're likely to get anywhere on the island) and eating the kaya toast they serve at the Kopi Tiam which is a many splendid thing, as they don't say.

Oh, and we got the big fat purple chair we sent for repair back which means the living room is complete again. A good thing this as we intend to do some good living in it.

Monday, June 6, 2011


A bit of boasting here: I haven't bought a book or CD since the beginning of the year. The world of Capital trembles! As well it should.

The main reason for this is straightforward enough: I have enough unread books to last me the rest of the year and exploration of the music I own, insofar as it's own-able, demonstrates I don't know it well enough - well a fair bit of it anyway. But there are subsidiary reasons for my inertia on the purchasing front that are becoming more apparent the more I explore what is available on-line. There's just so much freely and legally available out there!

The site for Radio Three is of itself a remarkably fecund source of the kind of thing that keeps me more than occupied. And that's just one tiny island in a vast, seemingly limitless archipelago. Not so much spoilt as ruined for choice.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

True History

Not sure why it took me so long to read Peter Carey's novel on The True History of the Kelly Gang. I think I stretched the first fifty pages out for more than a month (partly because I gave priority to John Carey's biography of Golding) and I was still around that stage last Thursday when I settled to a proper reading. In fact, I read most of the book yesterday, despite finding the central section a bit tiresome.

The problem lay in following the intricacies of the story. It gets more than a bit complicated mid-way, and having the whole thing delivered through the uncertainties of Ned's narrative didn't help. Yes, it's a great bit of ventriloquism, and the voice is itself rewarding poetically and in terms of conveying the textures of a way of life, but it's a struggle to make sense of on the simple level of information - and there's an awful lot of that thrown at you.

The pace picks up considerably once Ned becomes an out and out criminal and the gang actually forms, and the last two segments are brilliantly successful. This reader at least found himself cheering the bushranger on in his war against the colonial authorities and genuinely saddened by his losing that war.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Noi went off to Penang on Thursday, to attend a wedding, since when I alone have sate lingering here. Well, not exactly sate. I was busy on Thursday and Friday with work-related vacuities, hence not being able to make it to Penang myself, and today I got on with cleaning the books for the first time since we arrived in the Hall, as well as doing a bit more stuff related to the bloated Toad.

I've also tried to watch a bit of tv, but it's not the same without the missus around. We have around five Midsomer Murders to catch up on, all recorded in recent impossibly busy weeks, but these need to be viewed in company otherwise there's no fun in making all the wrong guesses.

So here I am getting things done but not really doing much of anything, if you see what I mean.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Sense of Proportion

Unusually for me I found myself making my home this evening from the centre of the city on the bus, top deck. Was struck by the beauty of the trees, of which there are plenty on the streets. Was equally struck by the ugliness of many of the bulidings, pretty much any of those built in the last twenty years - of which there are also plenty. They're all too big for the spaces they occupy - unlike the trees, which all mysteriously possess a sense of proportion.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

In Performance

For some reason best known to themselves, over the last couple of decades and more my various employers have thought fit to send me to all sorts of seminars and the like that I've not been terribly keen to attend. Sadly my instincts have never been proved wrong and sadly I've been repeating the experience today. Happily I was able for a few moments to enjoy one old chap torturing the language to claim that pedagogy was not the same thing as teaching as it meant the 'science' of teaching. He went on to insist that those who tended to frown at this notion (all Brits as far as I could tell) were quite wrong in claiming teaching was merely a craft. He spoke with the assertiveness of those who know deep down they're not exactly on solid ground.

I wondered how he might react to me if I were to share my conviction that teaching is at best a sort of sullen art. And then I had the happy thought that it might best be seen as a particularly dubious form of performance art. So not such a wasted day after all.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Grim little story in the paper today, though not little at all for the unfortunate family involved, about an Indonesian girl attempting suicide because she couldn't pass the proficiency test for English to allow her to get a position as a maid here. She'd borrowed what would have been a huge sum of money for her to get across here and faced being sent back and all the terrible extra expense that would involve.

All this begs the question as to why the test can't be administered in Indonesia to save the poor girls the huge headache of an expensive journey for nothing - well, not just expensive but for many life-wrecking. As far as I understood the answer provided by the Ministry here that runs the testing, it would be too expensive for Singapore to provide the service. Hmm.

There's not much positive to take from tales like this, but I console myself with the idea for some of the noble souls who come to places like this in search of a better life for themselves and their's (usually its their's, I suspect, rather than themselves) will achieve even more than that and in a generation will lift themselves and be sitting round the table at our banquet getting much more than their fair share.