Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Music In Mind

Was chatting with Chris today and discovered he grew up listening to the Human League, seriously believing that Dare was some kind of alpha moment in the musical universe. Poor chap. I grew up listening to the likes of Family getting down and dirty with Burlesque and I know which adolescence I'd regard as the more rewarding.

For some reason I can't quite comprehend, Family's greatest hit single - their only one really, unless you count the enigmatically lovely The Weaver's Answer - is my ear-worm of choice (if there can be such a thing) at work. I can run it through my mind effortlessly, especially when climbing the stairs. It's things like that help keep one sane. Sort of.

Monday, April 29, 2013

In Tribute

It was good to listen to Mr Hodge's touching tribute to Suzanne this morning. It rang true in every detail, especially those regarding her dedication to her students. I was reminded of my last conversation with her in which I told her to forget about work, and specifically her concerns about the students she was supervising for their extended essays, as we would take care of everything. Of course, she wouldn't do so and we went through the status of each one together. That was the last thing I wanted to do at that dark point in time, but I think it made her feel better in some way to have done so. I didn't learn much about her dedication on that occasion, simply because I already knew plenty about that, but I did learn something about courage.

This morning's tribute began by the Principal talking of a lovely lady, and I was struck by how absolutely right that was. Funnily enough Noi had used a similar phrase talking to Suzanne's husband at her wake, and to me a day earlier when I told her about Suzanne passing away. Noi called her a nice lady, with a rich emphasis on nice, a simple word that was absolutely fitting and true. Actually my wife had only got to know Suzanne in a few brief encounters over the last couple of years, but she instinctively caught the genuine, simple, direct warmth of personality that I'm going to miss very much, but am grateful for having encountered.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


We've not been following the current series of American Idol. What little I've seen with the new judges has just looked embarrassing, which when you consider the time and cash flowing into the show behind the scenes is epic on the failure front. In its place, well not exactly since we have no idea of its regular scheduling, I suppose we would count The Voice. It's on now and Noi is engrossed, rightly so I reckon. Simply put, it's very well done and elicits genuinely celebratory performances from talented singers.

Frankly I don't think the competition format really counts for much. What works is giving exposure to people who deserve the chance to showcase their chops, giving them their moment. And oddly quite a few of those on the show seem aware that that in itself is worthwhile.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Older, But No Wiser

Not much evidence above of any increase in maturity accompanying the increase in years, I'm afraid. Quite the reverse in fact.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Some sad but not unexpected news received after I got back to work from prayers coloured the day. And acted as a reminder of how precious all days are and all those in them.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Swings And Roundabouts

I've moved onto the second in Anthony Price's sequence of novels centred around David Audley, though I was slightly hesitant to do so. I enjoyed The Labyrinth Makers, but not quite as much as I thought I would do, and not quite as much as I'd enjoyed his stuff thirty years or so ago. Then I thought of his thrillers as sophisticated entertainments, with some penetrating insights into human behaviour. Now I'm reading seemingly sophisticated entertainments, their moments of interest rubbing shoulders with material that verges on the crass on occasion - especially when it comes to any kind of romantic interest.

One of the unlooked for pleasures of growing older has been to experience quite new and unexpected ways of responding to writing, music, art. Sometimes you gain - Tolstoy has grown ever more astonishing - and sometimes something has been lost, a kind of innocence, I suppose.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stating The Obvious

Okay, I'll keep it short:

CHAMPIONS!!!    (again)

I think that says it all.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Basics

I was doing a sort of talk for teachers the other week when I happened to remark in passing that listening was obviously not a natural skill. Actually I don't remember saying it, though it's the sort of thing I'd be likely to say. The reason I know I made the comment is that an afternoon or so later a colleague said something about the talk to me and drew attention to the fact he thought my thoughts on listening were quite remarkable and he'd never thought about the skill, the mechanism, whatever it is in quite that manner before.

Whilst he was fairly complimentary in tone I detected an air of scepticism with regard to my insights, and was pleased to do so. It's refreshing to be challenged, especially with regard to your deepest assumptions. And I rather hope I'd refreshed my colleague in terms of making him reconsider what he thought might be going on when people appear to be listening.

So after due reconsideration let me tell you what my experience as a teacher suggests with regard to the ability to listen in a focused, active manner. It's rare and undervalued. If you've got it, treasure it. Cultivate it. You are automatically part of an elite, though not necessarily a valued elite. But if you haven't got it, don't worry. Few folk have, and the lack of it usually doesn't do too much harm.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Looking For Clues

We made back to the Hall in time to catch the late night Midsomer Murder, and I solved it within five minutes. It's entirely elementary: look for the most famous name on the cast list and there's your man, or occasional woman. Once I'd clocked Warren Clarke it was game over - and he looked suitably nefarious from the beginning.

Another name in the cast that rang some bells for me was one Patrick Ryecart, who once essayed a particularly disastrous Romeo in the BBC run through of the full Bard. In fact, that extremely ropey production, with an entirely hopeless Juliet who couldn't speak the verse, was number one in the series. His death scene was wonderfully melodramatic, in the comic sense of the word. He looked much the worse for wear in Midsomer, but the performance was a considerable improvement.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Down South

We're about to hit the road again after a one night sojourn here at the Taman. We've paid our gardener, made plans with our contractor for June, got a copy of our latest insurance policy, and watched Afnan do a fair bit of jumping up and down. So now, soon, it's off to Melaka to return the little fellah and spend a night at Mak's.

Actually the rest of the gang are out shopping at the moment, whilst I complete some shreds associated with the Toad work. I've just been contemplating a monkey doing monkey-stuff in the trees opposite and thinking it would be nice to retire here and view monkeys full time. This is not likely to happen unless I win big-time on the lottery, and since I don't play any lottery that simply confirms the obvious.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Up North

We'll be on the move again this evening. We're taking the long and somewhat winding road to the Malaysian capital, there to speak with our contractor regarding work needing to be carried out to fix Maison KL for another decade or so. (Surprisingly the homestead has been functioning for roughly that length of time already.)

We'll be accompanied by Fuad & Rozita, which is a good thing as I'll be palming off the driving in the direction of my brother-in-law who has the youthful vigour to be up for such things. And we may just pick up the even more youthful Afnan on the way as Rozita is desirous of the company of the little chap for reasons which escape me. Not that I mind a hyper-active one-year-old being around, as long as he doesn't get in the way of my marking.

Who knows? We may just encounter some of the election fever gripping the neighbouring nation, but I'm guessing that for ordinary folk like us it'll be pretty much business as usual.

It's all go, isn't it?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Man Marking

I believe I have come to be something of an expert in how to make myself mark essays when the last thing in the world I want to do is mark essays. It's a remarkable accomplishment that fills me with no pride at all; indeed, is by definition unfulfilling. But it is necessary (though I remain an agnostic as to whether the writing of essays does anyone any good at all. Montaigne has a lot to answer for.)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Getting Philosophical

One odd development in my thought over the last few years, and more specifically the last three, has been a new interest in the serious study of Philosophy. The last time I genuinely applied myself in any strenuous, systematic way to the subject was in my first year at university. It was one of the three subjects I took and, to my surprise, the university authorities suggested I should adopt it as my major. I rather hope this was because they thought I had a talent for it, but suspect it may have been because they thought my lit wasn't up to much (which it wasn't as I resolutely chose to read what suited me rather than what I was supposed to.) I decided to take the easy way out and to entertain myself for the subsequent two years, and have never felt any regret about that. I'd reached the end of my road philosophically, was too lazy to question my fundamental assumptions in any great depth, and pretty much decided that wisdom lay elsewhere.

Of course, I didn't abandon philosophical thought entirely and dipped in now and again to what caught my fancy, but not in a way that could honestly be seen as central to my orientation to the world and its mysteries. And this was especially the case since Theory as applied to lit, seemed to me useful only as the starting point for a good satirical novel, and the whole postmodern shebang was obviously a passing fad.

Even my move towards theism was quite consciously not fuelled by matters philosophical, except in the most casual sense.

But all that has changed, and I suppose the Internet is to blame. A mild interest in what's available online in the way of philosophy blogs and the like has turned almost addictive. One example is the excellent blog maintained by Prof Edward Feser. I disagree with quite a number of his views, but the clarity of his writing is a joy. His piece on The Road From Atheism is a nice example of the genuine substance he brings to material I once thought of as a done deal. My belated recognition that there's more to think about than I ever thunk is exciting, but faintly intimidating - where to find the time to get the rusty engine of the mind working again? By a strange coincidence I recently had the good fortune to come across his intro to Philosophy Of Mind on the library shelves at work and I've now got it on a long term loan.

More anon, as they say.

Monday, April 15, 2013

My Back Pages

It's been a long time since I bought any books, and it looks like it may be even longer before I do so again. I seem to be finding so much on my shelves that I consider myself as not having done justice to. And I've also developed an impulse to read stuff that catches my eye on the shelves of the library at work.

This latter phenomenon accounts for my post-Trollope choice of novel. Quite by chance I happened to spot four rather battered old tomes by Anthony Price the other day, and they happened to be the four earliest volumes in his highly entertaining series centring on Dr David Audley, a sort of super-cerebral member of British Intelligence with a taste for the arcane corners of history. Although I became a big fan of the series a few years back, I never actually read the early stuff, probably because my entry point was Our Man In Camelot, which was number five.

Anyway, I'm now well into the first of them all, The Labyrinth Makers, and it isn't letting me down. The great thing about Price is that he doesn't really take any of it too seriously, but there's enough that connects with the grimmer side of life to keep the whole shebang reasonably grounded. Oh, and the other great thing is the beguiling sense of just how completely absorbing the past is.

Never underestimate the sense in which a good novel functions as a way of escaping the narrow concerns of our little worlds - and Price offers a particularly fruitful world to escape to.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


The last 100 pages or so of Trollope's The Prime Minister were a bit of a let-down, at least in terms of the Emily/Arthur romance. In contrast I quite enjoyed the last days of the Palliser administration, and the formation of the new government. The political element of the novel is entirely convincing all the way through, and really quite an unusual achievement. The notion of dealing with a PM who doesn't exactly want the position and the human cost in doing his duty is extremely insightful at every point. The very lack of fireworks is beguiling. Given Trollope's essential conservatism I suppose this quietist version of the political world might be seen as deeply reactionary, but the novel also manages to deal convincingly with the currents of political change and progress. And Trollope is quite brilliant in conveying a sense of how things get done, or don't get done, in the corridors of power.

But the stuff about Emily refusing the marriage everyone wants for her was all a bit much. I suppose it's in there because Victorian readers liked their gratification delayed but I was rather hoping that Arthur would find some other (reasonable) woman and kick it all in the head. Either that, or have Emily absolutely refuse him out of her sense of misguided integrity and end the novel on a deeply sombre note of disappointment (as Tolstoy might have done.) But I don't think Trollope's readers would have stood for that.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Something Good

Just finished watching a murder, Midsomer variety, with the new Barnaby investigating. We are adjusting, but any murder is a good murder, as they say.

Before that we tucked into chicken porridge, which had been preceded in the late afternoon by tea and two big cobs of corn.

And who said life was dull, eh? The worlds keep turning and all this is highly, mightily satisfying, for those who know, for those who know.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Low Grade

The worst kind of self-examination is the one that you fail.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Just Pretending

Now and then I read old posts from this Far Place and I reckon there are some fairly wise things being said. And then I wonder, Who is this imposter?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Show Me The Money

I'm absolutely loving the second half of Trollope's The Prime Minister. It's just so unpredictable. Now at the final 150 pages or so, I honestly haven't a clue where the narrative is going. The suicide of Lopez didn't exactly take me by surprise, but that's only because Trollope makes it seem inevitable in the four or five chapters preceding it, and doesn't cheat at all in terms of the overall trajectory of the character. The only thing that jars is the depiction of Emily - she's so perfectly passive - but even that can be linked psychologically with the kind of passive-aggressive behaviour you might expect from a Victorian lady trapped in an appalling marriage - and, boy, doesn't our author make you feel how absolute that trap must have been for 'nice' girls like her.

Where Trollope seems to me stronger than any of his contemporaries is in his precision regarding the reality of money and its power over us. Part of the savage power of the narrative charting Lopez's decline and fall is that you get to know exactly how much money he needs and exactly when he needs it in order to stay afloat. You feel yourself drowning along with him in the desperate whirlpool of need his speculations create. There's something uncannily modern and unsettling about all this.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Something Lasting

It's a year to the day since Mum died. I think of her often, and usually in conjunction with thoughts about Dad. This might sound a touch morbid, but it doesn't feel remotely so as there's hardly any sense of sadness attached to these memories. The only thing that evokes any sense of regret at all is my growing awareness of just how young Dad was when he died and the fact that they were parted from each other so early.

The last time we saw Mum in her flat, the year we visited with Fifi and Fafa in tow, there was a curious little incident with Mum, if you can call it an incident, that shed light upon just how much she missed Dad. I happened to be alone with her in the little living room when her attention seemed to be caught by something over by the window. I realised that she was looking intently at the rather faded picture of Dad on there, the only one we had of him. It was an enlargement of a shot of Dad amiably grinning, not a terribly good one, from a wedding picture of my sister - her first marriage. Mum had it done when he died so it had always been around. She was unusually excited, happy almost, oddly radiant - like a young girl - and she said to me, He was a lovely fellah, wasn't he? It was as if she sought for corroboration of an important fact, to make sure she wasn't going doolally. (She was acutely, frighteningly aware that she was losing her mental faculties at that time.) It was easy to reassure her that, He was, because he was, and for a moment we stood out of time.

I hope in the last difficult years she had more of those moments than we knew. I suspect she did.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

In Performance

Noi and I have just been listening to a recording of Fafa's school's symphonic band performing their pieces for the SYF. Our niece is in there playing bassoon. It seems she's troubled by making a mistake in one segment, but we couldn't hear it. As with any school's band's performance it's difficult to think of a more joyous, precious noise being made anywhere. And now these performances are regularly captured in digital recordings it seems to me they are likely to be more precious than ever.

Whenever we're doing any kind of drama in school I'm at pains to draw my students' attention to the process they're part of, to illustrate just how much there is to be learned from the experience. Heck, I've been doing this for some thirty years and I'm still learning. Yet despite all the invaluable lessons that one might cite to justify the time and effort spent making drama, or music, or dance, or any other form of art, the truth is that what really matters in the end is the product, the work itself. And this matters not in quantitative terms, but simply in terms of itself, as something that transcends time and reminds us of our place in eternity.

Eternity is in love with the productions of time, as a crazy, little-regarded, dirt-poor engraver once etched upon our consciousnesses - for ever.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

In Public

One of the many great things about listening to music played 'live' is the understanding the experience engenders that the music needs to be made and one's increased awareness of the skill and effort needed to do so.. This ties in with the sense of something close to celebration, certainly gratitude, that live performance brings along with it. The sustained applause given to last night's performance of Britten's War Requiem was evidence of that.

With live music also comes a sense of drama. No matter how well you know a piece it is still being made before your eyes, or rather ears, and in the case of a composer like Britten with his extraordinary sense of the dramatic (all those operas didn't come about by accident) this effect seems to be happily, sometimes exhilaratingly, multiplied. To take one simple example from last night: the way the final choral 'Amen', and all that it signified, faded lingeringly into silence, invested the conclusion of the oratorio (if that's what it really is) with a meaning beyond either the music or the words. In fact, Britten seems to me to be more acutely aware of the reality of silence than any other composer I can think of.

The remarkable range of sonorities encompassed by the War Requiem also seems to me essentially dramatic rather than musical.

Unfortunately part of the wonder of yesterday evening evaporated, in my case at least, due to the unexpected accompaniment to the music of a chattering little girl sitting three seats away. And that's a reminder of another quality of live music: its brittle vulnerability in the face of inappropriate competition.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Off To War


We'll be making our way down to the Esplanade in  a few minutes, where Ben Britten's War Requiem lies in wait. A great end to the working week.


Safely home from our little outing. Some thoughts on the drama of it all tomorrow, I think.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Blundering Along

I knew, given my exertions of previous weeks, that, once our production was out of the way, I was going to feel weary in the extreme. It has been so, such grey, dreary, weariness characterising the last few days.

But I forgot that, having managed to remember reasonably well for a sustained period a plenitude of the details attendant upon my exertions, I was likely to compensate for this success by forgetting the most obvious, fundamental points of routine around which my little life revolves. And it has been so. At one time I would have been concerned, mightily so, about such forgetfulness, especially with regard to the way the sudden gaps undermine pretty much everything I do. But, happily, I seem to have forgotten how to care about such things. There's something very soothing about embracing your own fallibility.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sheer Torment

It's not exactly a secret that I have little, if any, sympathy for the British royal family. And if anything my fiercely republican views have grown more intractable with time. Yet even I couldn't help but feel a twinge of something approaching genuine pity for them this evening.

This arose from one of those little musical fillers they run on what used to be the Granada channel available through Starhub, now mysteriously evolved into ITV Choice, though it appears to be running exactly the same sort of programmes it always has done. And the same musical fillers, one of which, featuring a bevy of young ladies known as Girls Aloud, which I've never seen before, aired just now. It seems that the clip came from the Royal Variety Show, which, for readers who may not be familiar with the term, is a form of 'entertainment' (I use the term in the loosest possible sense) featuring a variety of generally stunningly mundane performances enacted before various royal luminaries. (To be honest, I thought they'd done away with this years ago - but I was wrong.)

And this leads me to my point. To imagine anyone, even an egregious royal, having to sit and listen to the aforementioned young ladies, would soften even the hardest heart. And then to consider that the poor royals (there, I said it) have to look like they're actually enjoying the experience.... Talk about the turn of the screw.

Monday, April 1, 2013


I'm at the halfway stage of The Prime Minister and utterly hooked, not an unusual situation to encounter when reading Trollope, in my experience. I love the pace of the story-telling. Unhurried, allowing time for the narrative to breathe. The development of Lopez into an entirely plausible villain has been done with great delicacy, a quality that seems to be rarely associated with our novelist, so often regarded - entirely falsely - as the meat and potatoes man of the Victorian novel.

I see him as much more akin to Jane Austen than any of his contemporaries. Even though the key female character Emily Wharton is a bit of a wet blanket compered to Trollope's more vivacious heroines, she still commands a subtle sympathy in terms of the horrendous marriage she is trapped in. And her being trapped is wholly believable. I'd challenge any reader to read the opening hundred pages and figure she's in the process of making a terrible decision, yet there's no cheating at all. Lopez is what he is from the beginning. And the wonderful Glencora - who more than compensates for Emily's lack of oomph - makes a similar kind of mistake.

The wonderful thing is that at this point I really have little or no idea as to where the story is going to go. And I'm very happy to have Trollope take me there.