Friday, September 30, 2011


Now recovering from an unexpected shock suffered earlier this evening - an unlooked for rite of passage of sorts. We were at a Sistic stall at Parkway Parade, our old stomping ground, purchasing tickets for a concert coming up next Wednesday. The lady arranging the sale asked us whether we were eligible for any discounts, and it turned out I was up for a saving as a Senior Citizen!

This seemed to amuse Noi a good deal. It didn't do the same for me, even though I walked away some four dollars or so richer.

I'm still trying to process this one. It was only yesterday that I was pretending to be eighteen to get served at the pub, surely!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Things Past, Remembrance Of

It's ten years almost to the day when I embarked on my one and only full read through of Proust's In Search Of Lost Time. I had actually bought the edition I used, the Kilmartin translation, some fifteen or so years prior to that. Some things take a little while to get round to.

Just in case you're wondering (as I would be) how someone who struggles to remember what went on yesterday has such fabulous recall of what he was reading on 29 September 2001, the trick was that I just looked it up in the journal I kept for the period. I spent much of the entry for the day moaning to myself about what the Taleban were getting up to in Afghanistan - their 'religious police' lashing out with sticks at women like cattle, according to a report (reputable) I'd read. Some things don't really change.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

And There Was Light

It's the last day of Syawal, so the last day for our twinkling lights. We got a new set this year and they proved to be one of the small triumphs of our Ramadhan, evidence above. Something we'll miss. Until next year, insha'allah.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dipping In

Have been skittishly promiscuous in my reading of late. Why should I be jumping from book to book when I could be faithfully embracing in its turn each and every of Flannery O'Connor's brilliant short stories in the fabulous Library of America Collected Works? There's enough there to preclude even glancing at anything else for at least a month.

I suppose it's because each story is such a heady, powerful experience that I feel the need to get away for a while before becoming seduced by the next. After reading A Late Encounter With The Enemy the other day, and not quite knowing whether to laugh, cry or scream with horror, I really couldn't get started on the following Good Country People until I felt ready to take a fresh plunge into the dark waters of Miss O'Connor's imagination - in which I'm now drowning again.

Sometimes it's nice to stay in the shallows.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Sense Of Mystery

Got into one of the lifts at work today to find a copy of Yeats's The Lake Isle of Innisfree pinned up on the back wall. This was both puzzling and an entirely good thing. Actually I was pretty sure who put it there, and confirmed my suspicion within five minutes by a trip to the desk of the perpetrator. Sadly I never thought for a moment it was anyone from my own department.

The real mystery about the poem is why it works at all. Those opening lines are incredibly clumsy: I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, / And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made. I mean W.B. just keeps repeating himself, doesn't he? How many times exactly does he intend to go? And since we know he will build his dinky cabin why the seemingly redundant made just a few words later? But, of course, the sense of stasis is the whole point. Notice that syntactically the shed seems to get made by someone else. He hasn't gone anywhere, and he won't. And he won't build or make anything, anywhere, except in glorious vulnerable words. Though, I suppose he builds in song. Everything about those vowel sounds says sing me yearningly. (Just as a matter of interest I was quoting from memory initially when I wrote the lines above - I checked them a minute ago, then edited - and I wrote I must away incorrectly as the first three words. How much richer Yeats's phrase sounds than mine!)

It's odd, you know, to find yourself hearing a bee-loud glade in a lift in a busy school.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Not So Robotic

I forgot to mention the other day that when I bought that little cache of CDs at 331 wherever it was I also made purchase of a tasty little comic book by one Sonny Liew entitled rather fetchingly, if inexplicably, Malinky Robot. I picked this up at a distinctly funky little book shop near HMV, I think called Harris Books(?) Anyway, it was full of the kind of stuff that all teenagers should read simply to upset their parents, assuming the parents are paying any attention, that is.

Mr Liew, it transpires, is local to this island, though you wouldn't think so given the depth and quirkiness of his imagination. (I suppose there should have been a Stereotyping Alert on that last sentence, but I'll let it stand in its sadly jaundiced original form.) He's a fabulous draughtsman and (possibly) a fine story-teller. I need to qualify the latter judgement as we don't get quite enough story (yet? - I hope there's more to come!) to be sure. I certainly found myself touched by his characters and troubled by his vision of our world, as it might be, if that's what he had in mind.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Learning To Listen

Noi went off to a concert this evening with her old friend Rohana, leaving me to work and listen to loud music. This I duly did, playing some Mahler at scorching volume and Robert Fripp's Churchscapes At The End Of Time even louder. This was necessary, I reckon, as you just don't get the full Mahler experience unless the walls are shaking, and even more so with regard to the ferocious delicacy of the Churchscapes at their softest.

I bought the Churchscapes whilst in Paris a couple of years back, along with Equitorial Stars, Fripp's collaboration with Eno, and it's been the latter that has seen the more frequent exposure since then. I sort of assumed whilst in Paris that the Churchscapes set whilst very fine was sort of bland in comparison to Stars. What was I thinking? Rather, why wasn't I really listening? Once you get close to any of Mr Fripp's Soundscapes (Churchscapes being Soundscapes in church) you realise how utterly beguiling they are - but you need to be close, not letting them wash over you like the waves, as it were. There's a huge danger with sounds as soothing as these that you'll just treat them as background and that's such a mistake. You end up missing the point, simply not listening since the music doesn't in any way demand that you do so.

Played loud they still don't demand you listen, but you do get a sense of just how much is going on in there even when not much seems to be happening, and how compelling it all is.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Democratic Dish

There's much to be said for food that defies dignity. It's difficult to be anything other than a man of the people whilst munching a chip butttie. But perhaps the ultimate democratiser is the richly, nobly ignoble sup tulang.

Tonight we enjoyed plentiful portions with our final visitors for Syawal, and came warmly, wonderfully crashing down to earth. (Do not consume whilst wearing white, by the way.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Reading a poem aloud transforms the poem. Reading a poem aloud to others transforms the reader.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Certain Good

Of all God's work I find myself most in doubt regarding man and the cockroach. (And by man I mean woman as well, though I think in general terms she's a distinct improvement.) This is rather unfair on cockroaches who get on with their little roach-bound lives with a vigour to be commended. Really it's just a prejudice on my part as I can't bear the little beggars - though the Missus deals with them with admirable aplomb, though not being able to touch cats. Go figure, as they say. But I don't think there's much of a prejudice regarding my own species. Not very nice on occasion, too many occasions, sadly.

Anyway I was thinking thoughts along the above lines this morning whilst waiting to make life unpleasant for a number of students who'd failed to do the needful for one of their teachers, when it occurred to me that you really have to give it to trees. At that time I was contemplating a row of them opposite me, and I really could have contemplated them the rest of the morning; they were so, well, right somehow; so utterly themselves, doing no one any harm, and my eyes a great deal of good.

It must have been a temptation for the Almighty to have stopped the whole shebang of creation on arriving at trees. But I'm glad it all carried on since otherwise I'd never have had the chance to gaze at them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Trade Free Zone

Yesterday this little pop-up popped-up (as they do) whilst I was adding a bit to this Place. It told me I had a lot of readers and invited me to 'monetize' my efforts by giving parking space to the logos of various capitalist johnnies. I'm not entirely sure how many 'a lot' is, but I can't imagine it's that many for, as you will be aware Gentle Reader, this Place is intended for the cognoscenti and there aren't too many of them/us around.

So this is just to say, fear not a flood of logos, I remain untempted by all offers of filthy lucre.

Except anything in the region of 10,000 a month and above on a regular basis. For that I'd happily turn this Far Place over to whomever has the funds and is prepared to disperse them to my worthy cause. I should add that I reckon I'd be a dab hand at product placement - especially Coke Light (hint, hint) of which I have been known to imbibe immoderate amounts.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bragging Rights

I was thinking today of Dylan's mordantly wise lines in Foot of Pride: You know what they say about bein' nice to the right people on the way up / Sooner or later you gonna meet them comin' down. Yes, no success will last forever, so I suppose it's sensible not to make too much of it. But then, since you're doomed to slip from the pinnacle eventually, doesn't it make sense to make the most of being there?

It's with this lesser but more immediate wisdom in mind that I celebrate here the Mighty Reds' recent triumphs and the treading of their erstwhile rivals into the dust. True Champions, eh!! Best start to a season in a gazillion years. North London quakes. Merseyside shivers. Tyneside trembles. (Not that they count anymore.) The noisy neighbours will soon get theirs - again.

The funny thing is that the guys I teach fall silent when I ask them who they support. Sheer embarrassment, I guess.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Life Changing

Recently a couple of esteemed colleagues seemed to be trying to convince me to buy one of those i-phone thingumees. It appears that this particular device will change my life. This seems to me an extremely good reason for not getting one.

The idea that life has somehow improved for everyone over the last forty years strikes me as quite extraordinary. It's almost as ridiculous as the notion that schools have got better.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


The wonderful thing about getting to see other parts of our big world is the assurance that there is something beyond you that puts you in proportion. The problem is that no matter where you are you can never be free of the self. Dickens knew this and gives us access to this understanding in Little Dorrit (which features the most travelling abroad of all his novels.) He also points us to the keys to the prison door, one of which is the realisation that the door is there.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Another World

One of the maids who worked at Mak's house in Melaka has had to finish work and go home to Indonesia for good. Her husband is very ill, and will almost certainly die soon. The doctor has effectively given up treating him. She has six children to look after back there. And very little money. She didn't work long enough in Malaysia to start saving up the 'real' money maids here aspire to - unlike Sulis who has now done pretty well for herself.

Of course, the 'pretty well' I'm talking about would seem like a pittance to us. We're looking at people on the verge of poverty here. Which is why they have to come over to work. The maid in question left her kids behind because she had to find work when her husband fell ill. And now she has to leave that work to face huge difficulties at the other end.

Other peoples' worlds can represent certain kinds of freedom, but they sometimes can sadly turn out sounding like the most dismal kinds of prison.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Worlds Elsewhere

One highlight of the week so far has been the opportunity to have reasonably extended conversations with two very bright young men whose fortunes lie, at this time, in other parts of the world. Getting outside this Place has certainly broadened their minds and experiences. It was refreshing to be reminded of lives lived elsewhere. But then it always is.

It's a way of escaping, if only for a brief period, the prison of the self.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Without meaning to I've somehow caught fair amounts of two episodes of Star Trek: The New Generation (looking very much not new at all) over the last two evenings. A couple of things struck me. The first being that it was all terribly corny and that this somehow worked. It sort of translated into heart.

The second was that the performances of Whoopi Goldberg and Patrick Stewart were quite extraordinarily good. Oh, and the guy playing Data as well. Brent Spiner? All have a capacity for stillness, not doing very much of anything but doing it extremely well. It helps that the camera loves them, well the first two at least. Yet they're not good looking in any kind of conventional sense.

Drama type question: to what degree can you acquire presence? - or is it something you've just got to have?

Monday, September 12, 2011


It's disconcerting to realise that the resonance of one's words may be in direct proportion to the emptiness underlying them.

But reassuring to consider that being empty represents an invitation to be filled.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Just As Full

An afternoon and evening spent paying visits turns out to be just as exhausting as one receiving them. Yet I don't do much at all except eat, drink and generally make merry. But this is a fulfilling kind of tiredness.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Feeling Full

Replete with good grub and good company. I'm exhausted and all I did was sit back and enjoy it. The missus looks full of beans and this is the girl who never stopped moving and did it all. Remarkable.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Jolly Good Show

Really enjoying Prof Dawkins's The Greatest Show On Earth. Learnt a lot about dogs in the last few minutes, all of it fascinating. Which makes me wonder, why doesn't he just stick to what he is supremely good at, explaining biological ideas lucidly to the layman, and steer clear of lame commentaries regarding areas of human experience of which he obviously knows precious little?

Even the preface of Greatest Show came as a breath of fresh air as the writer tells us of collaborating with various bishops in the writing of sanely balanced letters supporting the teaching of evolution as a theory of great explanatory power, beyond simply a 'faith position'. Quite so. So if it's so easy to point out: The Archbishop of Canterbury has no problem with evolution, nor does the pope, why write a whole book implying, almost stating, that they do, and certainly giving the world the impression that every theist does?

But enough of this genuinely pointless irritation. It's back to the wonder of it all. And just a small point that I've been thinking about today. Dawkins illuminatingly points out how pernicious Plato's Doctrine of the Forms is in supporting an essentialist position regarding various forms of life. It stands in the way of seeing the forms of life as in a state of flux, subtly changing over time. It occurred to me that language itself in many ways is obviously essentialist in nature - a dog is after all precisely that - yet it's the very fluidity, the mutability of language that keeps it attuned to the flux.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Breaking The Silence

Regular visitors to this Far Place, if such there be, may have deduced from yesterday's entry that all resistance from myself to buying new CDs crumbled on my visit to the HMV located at 313 Orchard - at least I think that's the name of the dreadful building in which the shop is now housed, having moved from its former larger premises at a slighly less hideous shopping centre a bit further up the road some little time ago. Frankly the bingeing was intentional, as a prelude to purchasing stuff on-line. I thought I'd see just which items on my (extensive) wishlist were locally available and the answer was hardly any - but getting the Jakszyk, Fripp, Collins ProjeKct made up for the lack of any Daniel Lanois, Laura Nyro, P.J. Harvey, Van der Graff and other assorted luminaries. Oh, and the Levon Helm also came as a pleasant surprise. In fact, they also had Electric Dirt, but I thought I'd stop at one for the moment.

To be honest none of the other albums, except the Mahler, were on any of my lists, but I just couldn't resist them since they were ineffably there. The one at the top of the pile in the snapshot above I bought for the Missus though. Honest. And she was keen on the Adele and Amy Winehouse CDs, though these were plentifully acceptable to these old ears.

Must get more current sounds though. Nephew Sam sent me a list of happening numbers earlier this year and I really have to spread my net more widely.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Small Miracle

To my astonishment and no little gratification I actually found a copy of the latest Crimson-well-sort-of-album (it's technically a ProjeKct, but quite unlike any of the others in its scope) in HMV today. And for less than twenty-five bucks (evidence above.) Which means this couldn't have been an import - which means someone, somewhere in HMV thinks an audience for the more obscure bits & pieces from the mighty Crim might exist in places like this.

I'm not at all sure that's really the case, but I'll happily go along with the notion. Oddly enough the first track I played, the titular A Scarcity of Miracles sounded something like the ladies would enjoy so maybe this one could sell to an AOR crowd? Mel Collins's sax went weaving in and out the cunning melody like something Kenny G might do if he could actually play and was possessed of a degree of musicality.

Anyway, enough of this. I need to get back to listening to this baby.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Getting Of Wisdom

I've decided to forego a trip to Thoreau's Walden for a while and direct myself to the deep south of Flannery O'Connor through her collected works in the rather fine Library of America edition I picked up last year. The collection opens with her first novel Wise Blood and it's a blast. Southern Gothic on steroids. Every character a misfit, spouting the kind of craziness that gets so far under your skin it starts to sound rational.

Also finished the first of her short stories on offer: A Good Man Is Hard To Find. Like Steven King without the sentiment. Nasty. Creepy. Wunnerful.

Now considering reading something sane in tandem to keep a balance.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Radical Innocence

I've watched more movies in the last few days than I'd previously managed all year, if you count the Sweeney Todd DVD as a movie. Over the weekend I finally got to watch the Little Dorrit films I recorded earlier this year - Nobody's Fault and Little Dorrit's Story, these comprising Christine Edzard's brilliant vision of the novel, and I use the word 'vision' with some exactitude.

I've been delaying viewing the films partly because you need a spare six hours to do so, which I haven't had until now, and also because Noi wasn't around at the weekend, having gone up to Melaka for some Raya-ing whilst I was involved at the end of the week in the Drama Camp, and I was reluctant to force them on her which I'd inevitably be doing considering the running time. This is not to say that I was sure she wouldn't appreciate them - she's enjoyed BBC adaptations of Dickens in the past, like the Martin Chuzzlewit that David Lodge wrote the script for - but I remembered Edzard's movie(s) as making demanding, if rewarding, viewing and I wasn't at all sure she'd take to them. And if she didn't the poor girl would be likely to still keep watching for my sake and six hours of unappreciated viewing is not something I care to inflict on her. As it is I might see how she fares with the first half hour or so of Nobody's Fault when I fancy watching it again and then keep it running if she's up to it.

Actually I'd intended to wipe my recordings and purchase the movie(s) on DVD but it seems they're just not available in that format, only on videotape. So for the time being I'll keep the recordings as I'm pretty sure I'll hanker for at least one more viewing reasonably soon, such hankering being the result of that visionary quality I mentioned earlier. This Dorrit is something very special indeed.

And why is this? It's extremely difficult to explain this simply as there are so many levels on which it succeeds, and a number of these are not quite what you'd expect. I suppose I'm saying the movies take an original approach, but curiously in visual terms there's something old fashioned about the whole enterprise (the costumes are superb, by the way) and the acting is also in many ways of the old school, with quite a number of outstanding veterans: Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood and Max Wall to name but three. No, the originality lies in other, quirky, directions. One small example: in many scenes in the open you hear snippets of conversation in the background behind the principal players. These half-heard conversations seem thematically linked, but also have an oddly inconsequential quality as if they might just be accidental.

And another tiny point, amongst many: Little Dorrit herself appears curiously expressionless at moments, but this isn't weak acting as the girl playing her is often powerfully expressive. She sometimes becomes a kind of blank for us to project ideas onto as she scurries along in her simple blue dress (worn always, except for when the family becomes unexpectedly rich). And she's always doing things, you realise, tidying up, making beds, cooking food, while those around her are generally inert. Her strange simplicity, directness becomes the moral centre not just of the film but of a whole world. She's like something out of Blake - a radical, remorseless, questioning, unbearable innocence.

I can't pin this down. Just as the novel escapes any kind of comfortable summary.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mean Kids

Watched the movie Mean Girls the other night at our camp. This was the drama guys' chill-out movie, and very enjoyable it was too. Clearly they could relate to the relations between the characters in the film. But what was so striking for me was how obviously not-mean teenagers here are in contrast to their peers in the U.S. and U.K.

Evidence of this came to me abundantly last Friday, Teachers' Day, as it does annually for all teachers here. There's a generosity of spirit from students involved that's very touching. I'm sure their counterparts in the western world are capable of the same, but it can be sadly uncool for them to show any of this by a certain age, usually the third year of secondary school. In this part of the world no one has yet made the discovery that at this point adults and teenagers should be occupying opposite ends of an unbridgeable divide.

I once suggested at a rather silly workshop some years ago that the myth of adolescence is just that - a myth - and a pernicious one that, sadly, all too many youngsters in other places find it necessary to live up to.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Still Horrible

Some events leave an indelible mark. In a good way.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Horror Of It All

Today's a school holiday here and I am spending it at work, sort of teaching. I say this not at all in a spirit of complaint because I'm overseeing our annual Drama Camp and it's a thoroughly worthwhile activity to sacrifice time for, being that rare beast here, a school event that is genuinely educational. I, for one, learn a lot.

The theme this year is 'horror' and late last night we watched my DVD version of Sweeney Todd, the one showing the original Broadway production, with Angela Lansbury. My drama guys applauded spontaneously at the end. Theatricality at its best (the show, not my guys, though they do come close on occasion.)

My mind has been running on monsters lately. Look for them and they're everywhere, as Mr T would no doubt verify.