Monday, September 30, 2013


I don't consider myself a particularly righteous person in terms of moral superiority to others; in fact, I know I'm all too lacking in ways that are more than faintly embarrassing in someone of my age who really should know better. But cheating in a school context has always really bothered me, whether it's kids cheating in various ways on their work or the adults who are there to teach them cheating in a variety of sometimes less obvious ways.

And for part of today cheating has been very much on my mind, not with regard to any of the students I teach or the wholly estimable colleagues I work with, but as a result of coming across this piece on The Two Faces of American Education featured in the current NYRB online. If you happen to read the article you might be wondering how it got me thinking about cheating as it's by no means the most obvious aspect of the essay. But I should explain that one of the ladies featured, a certain Michelle Rhee, caught my eye earlier this year as a result of her appearance in Waiting for Superman, a documentary which features interesting commentary on all sorts of schools in the US. I sort of looked up a few articles about her after viewing the film having found her a somewhat puzzling character.

I now find her a lot less puzzling and considerably more troubling. Follow the money, as they say, and you may reach the same conclusion. Or possibly not. We live in a confusing world - one of its glories which we must learn to live with. And who am I to judge?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Under Repair

Went to see Fuad's mum this evening. She's in the National University Hospital recovering from an operation yesterday to clear a couple of veins around her heart, putting in stents & balloons. She looked surprisingly well and talked non-stop, which was a good sign, although I was a bit worried that that wasn't really what the sign saying Complete Bed Rest really implied she should be doing. It seems one of her greatest concerns was how she was going to do the cooking for Hari Raya Haji. We were supposed to be going round her place, having not managed to visit in Syawal. Noi allayed her concerns by offering to cook and take the grub round on the big occasion scoring, as always, huge points on the practical usefulness scale.

In the meantime it looks like she's getting excellent care at the hospital, of the kind that seems almost routine in this Far Place. So routine it's a temptation to take the wonders of it all for granted. Conditions that would have been fatal not that many years back are now seen as amenable to treatment as a broken limb. There's still something astonishing though about the medical profession's repair of broken people.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Coming Alive

Just back from the concert hall where we've been enjoying the SSO doing the business with Sibelius and Brahms. There was also a bit of Schumann in there but that didn't quite work for me. In contrast the performances of the Sibelius Violin Concerto and Brahms's First Symphony sort of took the top of my head off. It helped that I'm familiar with both from previous live encounters and CD (both the recorded versions, oddly enough, in performances with Simon Rattle conducting) but I wouldn't have exactly counted either among my favourite works until this evening. In fact, I still don't, but what happened was that they both really came alive for me and I got lost in them.

And then after a tasty plate of mee goreng outside we wandered down to the Waterfront just in time for the last five numbers from a group of youngsters doing a free concert: just the usual drums, bass, guitar and voice, but loads and loads of energy and zest and oomph. And not a little talent. 

Isn't it great to be alive?

Friday, September 27, 2013


Happened to sit with three colleagues this morning for a cuppa as one of them was giving a very intense account of a tv series entitled Dexter. It seems it's about a kind of vigilante serial killer and was highly thought of by the gentleman giving his account thereof. A bit disturbing, but the gentleman in question is a good egg (my colleague, not the eponymous Dexter) so we're all reasonably safe.

But all this begs the question as to the fascination of our culture with these murderous types. Actually I reckon it's simply because you can build a good story around them with plenty of thrills, and we all like a good tale, especially the sort that promotes a shiver or two. However, it's noticeable how often the excuse is given that the writers of this stuff are striving for insights of a psychological nature. There's one such claim on the cover of that rather good murder The Distant Echo I read the other week, something to the effect that it gives shivering insights into a killer's mind. Funnily enough I misread this initially as shimmering insights which I thought was a startlingly good phrase - and which I now claim copyright on for my own usage. After realising I'd got it wrong and feeling a bit let down by the cliché that replaced it, it struck me that for all her excellent qualities as a story-teller Val McDermid wasn't giving me any really shivering insights at all with regard to her killer (not in this novel anyway. I suppose her Wire in the Blood series might have something more going for it.) Then I realised that whatever insights there were actually were of the shimmering variety - there was a bit of the fake about them, a bit of the mirage. Something significant is hinted at, but in the end it's all rather down to earth and the usual boring reasons for someone acting in an extremely unpleasant way emerge.

The truth is that evil is all a bit dull. A bit like the bad guys in King Lear. At first there's a kind of attractiveness about them, especially Edmund, but after Act 3 he's not going anywhere and by the end of it all you get a bit fed-up with all the shenanigans involving him and the two ugly sisters.

In contrast, goodness is entirely fascinating. It just seems so utterly counter-intuitive.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Not Much Difference

Here's an odd thing. I was checking through my journal for 26 September from ten years ago, as I am wont to do on occasion, and this was the first line of the entry: A Friday afternoon in Geylang with my wife cannot be beaten.

And ten years later I can now add: And neither can a Thursday afternoon with the same lady in Holland Village.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Beast Is Back, Almost

Fanboy alert: semi-adolescent post to follow. You have been warned.

Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! Yowza!

OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! (as they say, so I'm told.) 

The greatest band in the known universe is coming back into active service, with a SEVEN man line-up. THREE drummers! The Mighty Crim stirs once more!

Robert Fripp posted his 6 September diary today, so it couldn't be more official. And it's confirmed all over DGM, and other places on the net.

Can't imagine three drummers in the mix but, hey, who could have imagined the double trio? Line-up: Bill Rieflin, Gavin Harrison, Pat Mastellotto, Tony Levin, Mel Collins, Jakko Jakszyk and the Frippster himself.

It seems we've got a year to wait, so some patience will be required - and prayers for a studio album since there's no way they're going to play this Far Place (but, Robert, we're not that far off Japan!)

Blimey! Which I'll say again: Bliiimey!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Question Of Rights

Here's a thought prompted in part by a nice little piece related to the greatest novelist of the twentieth century (in English, at least) posted yesterday at Open Culture, and by my recent reading of Ariel's Gift. I think I have the answer to the vexed question of how much right literary scholars and their like have to the private papers of those they are studying. And it's quite a simple answer.

Absolutely no right whatsoever.

Of course, my answer derives in part from my opinion of the value of the work of (most) literary scholars.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Reading The Hard Way

The other day when I was talking about ways of reading there was one important one I missed, and I think I know why. Essentially all the ways I mentioned were related to reading almost solely for pleasure, because that's why I read. But there's another reason for reading which I've become very conscious lately of having neglected for too long, the variety that might be termed reading for study. I'm not talking about examinations here or any kind of academic accreditation - at my age I regard that as fundamentally pointless, and basically have thought that way for the last twenty-five years. I'm talking about the kind of study one undertakes to develop the life of the mind, as it were. And in this respect I've been lazy (basically using the excuse to myself that I'm not pursuing any kind of pointless accreditation, failing to accept the simple truth that certain varieties of thought require discipline, and for these the pleasure principle isn't enough.)

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking myself too hard on the head over this. I'm only concerned with ensuring a mild amount of the kind of tough reading I have in mind - but I am concerned with ensuring it. So what exactly am I talking about here?

Essentially I'm thinking of the slowest possible kind of reading, even slower than my reading of the Sonnets - though that particular style of reading comes close to what I have in mind. This is the kind of reading you need to employ when looking at texts of a philosophical nature especially. You read the article, if that's what it is, once, usually straight through, to get the shape of the argument - but you know you're not following the details. Then you go paragraph by paragraph, or sentence by sentence if necessary, reading each one intensely until you know you've at least followed the thread coherently. It's useful to read aloud at this stage. Then you put it all together again and see what holes you can spot in the argument, or what consequences come to mind if you accept what the writer is saying.

To be honest, another stage should follow. Once the entirety of the argument is grasped you really should make notes - not because you're preparing for an external test, but as a test of yourself and the degree to which you've genuinely made the ideas your own and extended your mind, as it were. Unfortunately I'm just too darned lazy to do this.

Oddly enough I sometimes find myself employing a number of the stages above on students' essays - really bad ones, I'm afraid. The good ones are easy to read. They move with clarity from point to obvious point. The weak ones invariably tie themselves in knots. In this case the intense reading functions as a means of confirming the lack of coherence and, more interestingly, trying to figure out what mental processes, if any, were taking place that led to the knotty mess. The problem here is that the intensity of the experience is a guarantee of a headache. Oddly enough, even Wittgenstein and Kant at their knottiest have never made me turn to the Panadol.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Not Funny At All

In recent weeks we've not been getting the newspaper regularly due to changes in our domestic routines. A couple of days ago Noi bought a copy of The Straits Times for the first time in quite a while. And then today we bought a copy of The Sunday Times whilst pawming around Ghim Moh market. And here's where I come to the point: to my astonishment it seems the editors have decided to cut most of the cartoons that used to feature regularly.

Now as far as I can see these have not been placed with anything of note. The book pages in The Sunday Times remain as minimal as one can reasonably imagine book pages in a national newspaper being. (I suspect there's simply more advertising space.) So who made the decision to cut the most reliably intelligent material from the press and why? 

One more reason not to start buying the paper again, say I.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ways Of Reading

An awful lot is said about reading in schools, but not nearly enough about ways of doing it. Put simply, there are many different ways of reading a book and the one you choose - and there needs to be a conscious choice, at least as far as the mature reader is concerned - is heavily dependent upon the nature of what is being read. And, of course, there's a lot more than books to be read.

This thought sprung to mind when I was considering the books I've recently finished reading, and the two, no, make that three, on-going tomes. Each has involved a very different kind of reading:

I dashed through the first volume of Alan Moore's Saga of the Swamp Thing at breakneck speed deliberately not thinking too hard, if at all, just stopping at the end of each episode as delineated in the original comics to ask myself whether to stop just to spin the giddy experience out a little longer. I rarely did - stop, that is.

I much more consciously spun out Val McDermid's The Distant Echo, partly because it was too long to take at one go, and partly because my attention began to flag a little regarding detail in the second half and I was in danger of not really reading closely enough since I really wanted to know how it would all work out. I'm proud to say I've never been one of those who turn to the last page to find out who the killer is. But I do know why people do so. Also I was reading the novel during the Drama Camp and it was a nice place to escape to occasionally over the long days - enjoyable as they were.

Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies I read slowly, sometimes repeating paragraphs. There was an element of savouring going on here, but also the stories rarely involved genuinely compelling narratives, so there wasn't much to rush for.

I didn't actually mean to read Erica Wagner's Ariel's Gift at all at this point in time. I just glanced at the first chapter, essentially to get a sense of where Ms Wagner stands on the whole Sylvia vs Ted thing (sensibly, nowhere at all really), then had a look at her comments on a favourite poem from near the end of Birthday Letters which features in her final chapter, and then decided I might as well take in the whole thing. I did so on a chapter by chapter basis, not reading all that closely unless something very much caught my attention, usually involving material of which previously I'd had no awareness at all, for the most part just evoking for myself the terrible trajectory of the sad story. I knew perfectly well I would read the whole thing again soon, with copies of Birthday Letters and Plath's Collected open at the corresponding poems, so I wasn't in any sense concerned with a thorough reading. I also found myself thinking hard and thinking sadly of some of the issues involved and the damage done. In truth, I got a little depressed.

And then there's my on-going encounter with Hopkins: just about the slowest kind of reading possible, except for my Shakespeare Sonnets project which, involving as it does moving around three sets of pages at any one time - from a sonnet, to Kerrigan's notes, to Paterson's commentary - moves at a wonderfully glacial pace. I reckon I read each individual poem at least six times before moving on.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Still Waters

Yesterday's broadcast of Hard Talk on BBC World saw Stephen Sackur  in conversation with Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd fame, and very jolly it was too. A bit too short and generalised to be genuinely illuminating, especially for anyone who has a broad grasp of the history of the band - but there was a touch of the revelatory in just how agreeable Mr Waters appears to be, and how incredibly well-preserved for a seventy-year-old. I'd expected him to be at least a bit of an old curmudgeon, considering all the stuff about just how fractious his relationships have been with just about everyone in the Floyd camp (though I've always had the impression he got along well enough in the early days with the sadly missed Syd Barrett.) But he was charm personified, and clearly a very smart guy, though I don't think that's ever been much in doubt.

I think the answer to this little mystery lay in the palpable sense he exuded of someone who's continued to grow in middle-age and beyond. He made a particularly fascinating comment on how character forming it was to play to an audience of around a 1000 in the late eighties with his own band whilst Dave, Rick and Nick and assorted Floydian minions were playing to some 80,000 in the same area. At this point Roger would have been around forty by my calculations, yet he was as open to the notion of having his character moulded as any teenager might be. It was also interesting how easily he was able to say he'd been mistaken in disputing the rights of the other band-members to use the moniker Pink Floyd. It sounded easy, but I'd guess there was some hard-won real wisdom involved there.

His comments on the father he never knew - who died at Anzio - were also very moving. I'd always dismissed the emo stuff about his dad as just that, emo stuff. But emo stuff is always deeply important, as I really should have known.

If I have any ambition left it's to keep growing as I keep going - and to look half as good as Mr Waters at seventy, if I manage to last that long.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Question Of Taste

I've recently found occasion to point out to a number of my classes that they may have a problem understanding the notion of Jay Gatsby's lack of taste in Fitzgerald's extremely tasty novel since many of them suffer from the same problem. Fortunately for them all they need do is accept my judgments with regard to instances of his bad taste since I have pretty much impeccably good taste. I think they find this reassuring.

And it's in this light that I thought I might offer you, Gentle Reader, a fool proof test of your own ability to recognise great music, impeccably performed, when you hear it. If you fail to recognise that The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown) is a manifestation of everything that makes for great rock music, there is simply no hope for you. Also the best introduction to any song, ever; less is most emphatically more.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Thought

Is it possible to think too much?

An oddly ironic thought.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

At The Doc's

There aren't that many tv programmes that Noi and I make a thing about watching, and generally the ones we do involve murder. So it's refreshing to view something that isn't quite so dark. We're more than happy to be enjoying a new season of Doc Martin. We saw the first season in the run-up to Christmas a few years back when we were in the UK and have been delighted since to find it broadcast on the ITV Choice channel. Surprisingly it appears that it is now popular enough to warrant a showing within twenty-four hours of its UK debut - at least, that's what the ads for it say. Quirky, off-beat British humour that goes practically nowhere doesn't normally have such appeal over here. Maybe it's the gorgeous Cornish coastal scenery that does it.

Tonight's episode was business as usual. A silly story-line about Martin's aunt dealing with an amorous obsessive stalker which was entirely predictable, mixed in with predictably silly stuff from the remaining inhabitants of Portwen (if that's how you spell it.) Nothing out of the ordinary - the way we like our telly.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Not Interested

As a fully paid-up AA member I am entitled to a free copy of their Highway magazine monthly. When we changed address a couple of years ago for some reason we were unable to update the new one with everyone's favourite motoring organisation, the result being we were unable to take receipt of the mag in question. I didn't miss it at all; it fact, it was a relief not to have to find someone to give the publication away to. Now we're on their books again, Noi having cleverly renewed my membership which was about to expire, with the correct address, and we've just received the latest issue of Highway. It remains stunningly boring.

I know I'm on record as claiming that everything around us in interesting if viewed in the correct light. But this is just not true. Cars are fundamentally boring. Don't attempt to engage me in conversation about them. Don't send me publications about them. Don't claim that Top Gear is a highly entertaining programme.

And if you want a copy of Highway just pop around and pick it up.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Going Nowhere Fast

We were at the last toll in Malaysia before the customs, topping up our Touch And Go card, when Noi said, Oh, a jam. She said it so gently that the full import of her remark did not strike home until I saw said jam, and just how big it was. Fortunately it didn't stretch back as far as the toll - as it did on one particularly miserable occasion some years ago. Unfortunately it went on well past the 500 m sign and was typically chaotic.
Now I don't mind making slow progress to immigration as long as some progress is made. So the first twenty-five minutes weren't so bad. Yes, we were stationary much of the time, but we were definitely in motion in between pauses. But then came another twenty-five minutes of being essentially rooted to the spot, and that's when I lost patience. It's the illogicality of it all that does it. How on earth can you simply come grinding to halt when there's a least some motion on all sides? Our assumption is that some driver ahead of us in our part of the queue, insofar as a civilised word like 'queue' has any meaning here, lost their nerve at discovering there was no place left to go and instead of fighting for the non-existent place just gave up and waited for something to happen.
I honestly thought we might be there all night since there was no sign that anything in the situation was going to change any time soon. A large part of the anguish involved was the strange feeling of not knowing what the heck was going on, of course. And we still don't really know what took place. But we managed a sharp thrust to our left when some daylight opened up and got through to this Far Place a lot earlier than I was expecting at one dark point.
So the moral, I suppose, goes something like: There's still hope as long as you're moving. Earthy, but true.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Don Paterson's commentary Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets is of such surpassing excellence that it was a relief today to find some grounds of disagreement with one of the finest of our contemporary poets. He thinks Sonnet 27, Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed, is a bit of a yawn and he's just plain wrong. It's a gently beguiling little gem. Yes, it's conventional with its too regular scansion, but sometimes, especially as night approaches, you don't need the fireworks any more.

The truth is, I got to it just after finishing Hopkins's Deuschtland, sorely in need of something that wasn't so utterly dazzling, so wonderfully overwrought - and the Bard is terribly good at the underwrought conventional stuff. The idea of the Beloved, like a jewel hung in ghastly night, is quite good enough for me, thank you. I suppose the echo of R & J helps.

But, as I say, it felt good to disagree for once with the good Don. If ever you find yourself in complete accordance with a critic you know something is going badly wrong with your reading.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Not Entirely Unavoidable

I didn't bring Ferguson's The Pity of War out here with me as I finished it last Sunday, ahead of the Drama Camp. The second half was generally a much easier read than the first with the economic data largely out of the way.

Did Ferguson change my impressions of the war? Not really, though the vague sense I had of the conflict being to some degree inevitable was replaced by a melancholy sense that, given a bit of luck, it might have been avoided. I suppose the most contentious element of his analysis was the idea that quite a number of combatants positively enjoyed the violence and destruction, but I can only see this as being in any way a surprise in academic circles. The dreary truth that a fair number of our species enjoy doing damage to each other wasn't news to me. I'm not at all sure that I would have shown any kind of courage at all if I'd have been in the front lines, or anywhere close, but I'm pretty sure that if I did turn out to have what it takes to stand and fight then I'd have found some pleasure in dealing out harm to those I might have considered as harming my comrades. This is an ugly thought, but I know myself well enough to recognise the potential I harbour for ugly behaviour.

The thing I like most about Ferguson is his way of showing how the neat dates and boundaries we place around historical conflicts are a kind of wishful thinking. The notion that the war didn't really end at all, but continued in the east is painfully accurate, and it made me re-think my attitude to the Russian Civil War which was previously (I'm talking about years since I really thought about it) vaguely romantic. It isn't anymore.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Random Dramatic People


A couple of years ago one of my drama guys who was shortly to leave the school looked at me astutely during the dinner of the drama camp Social Night and commented: You see this every year, don't you?

Yes, and it's always the same, and always different.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lights Out

Now resident in Maison KL having driven up yesterday after the Drama Camp. I was doubtful about the journey given the fact that I was extremely tired by noon. But a bit of a nap in the early afternoon and a restorative cup of coffee with the Missus worked wonders and I drove with nary a yawn. In fact it was Noi who dozed along the way.

Today has seen Noi getting on with some serious cleaning - we're still in recovery from the renovation work, which is not quite complete - with myself joining in, dusting down the books in the ground floor bedroom. Not even three blackouts (I think they call them power outages these days) could stand in our way. According to the neighbours the taman was short of water the whole of last weekend for some reason, so things could have been a lot worse.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Random Dramatic Objects



There's no particular significance in any of the above. Unless we choose to make it so. A bit like life, really.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Not Exactly Normal

Our Drama Camp got off to an unusual opening with a visit to Next To Normal, a musical dealing with mental health issues. Put that way, it sounds like it shouldn't work, and I'm not convinced it does entirely, but it's an extremely worthy attempt. The levels of talent involved are frighteningly good, the production values first rate and the show itself is never less than engaging and often powerful. The thing I have doubts about is the strength of the story-line, but that seems to me inherent in the choice of subject matter. In a sense, a good story is, rightly, beside the point when people are simply hurting up there.

The excellent Adrian Pang ended the show with a little speech asking the audience to encourage their friends to buy tickets, and I have no hesitation passing on the message. When you have something this good on stage it's a bit of an obligation to go and see it.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

As Ever, On-going

It's mildly distressing to report that I've slipped back into chronic promiscuity with regard to on-going reading. The plan to maintain some degree of faithfulness to a single text, or just a couple, has been well and truly shredded, like the wallpaper after a blistering Robert Fripp solo. I'm not entirely sure how this state of affairs came to be - but since it's not entirely unsatisfactory I can live with it for the duration.

Partly I blame Niall Ferguson and Economics, though not necessarily in that order. You see at the centre of my reading has been The Pity of War, but the early chapters are dense with economic data and I have struggled. At the same time the insights gained made the struggles worthwhile and once beyond the opening third of the book I found everything else much easier going. But whilst initially labouring I couldn't resist starting a number of other projects.

I mentioned already here, a few days back, the read-through I've embarked on of Gerard Manley Hopkins. This is proving highly rewarding and since I'm very keen indeed to get to the prose which comprises the second part of the Oxford edition I'm using, I can't see this being abandoned. And then there's the Shakespeare sonnets project I embarked on last year, but which fizzled out when we had to look after Afnan for a month. You try a close reading of the Bard at his most dense when there's a nipper demanding your attention on the kitchen floor and you'll see what I mean.

Actually I lost count of where I was up to. I think I'd got to around Sonnet 32 (according to a blog entry made at the time) but since I honestly couldn't remember it seemed best to start all over again. The project, by the way, consists of reading a sonnet in the Penguin edition alongside John Kerrigan's excellent notes, then switching to Don Paterson's wonderfully un-academic commentary Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets, and then back to a final reading. I'm now up to Sonnet 22 and this time won't be stopped.

But in addition to all this I've sort of accidentally found myself reading Jhumpa Lahiri's collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies. We're adopting this as a text at work next year and a colleague unexpectedly gave me a copy making me feel obliged to do the necessary. I make this sound like an imposition, but delightfully, of course, it's not, one of the perks of this job being forced to read stuff you don't need to be forced to read. I finished the first couple of stories and enjoyed them - in fact, the first, about a couple divorcing, struck me as very powerful indeed within its limits.

And I'm afraid that's not all. A visit yesterday afternoon to the little second hand bookshop at Holland Village resulted in the acquisition of a good murder by Val McDermid. It's entitled The Distant Echo and I suppose might be regarded as a guilty pleasure would that I was capable of any kind of guilt regarding what I read. And when I tell you I also picked up the latest edition of Philosophy Now to place alongside an issue of The New York Review of Books (one-third read), an issue of The London Review of Books (even less read) and a facsimile issue of the first ever NYRB - which came free with the current one I haven't read yet - you'll understand my dilemma.

Oh, and I'm dying to start at least one of the poetry books I picked up the other day, and am holding back on The Swamp Thing until we get to KL where I traditionally let it all hang out in graphic mode. And I've just realised that this post is a celebration rather than a lament. So there.

Friday, September 6, 2013

For All I Know

I've been enjoying the annual Teachers' Day holiday in this Far Place more than somewhat today. Also looking forward to a week off between terms lying ahead of me. However, there's the little matter of our annual Drama Camp for my ACSIS guys, which we're running from Sunday afternoon to Tuesday morning, to take care of first. Not that I regard that as burdensome - when the point of one's work is obvious it really isn't work any more.

Talking about work, it occurred to me earlier in the day that I've been doing this job - teaching, that is - for exactly thirty-five years now, without a break - except for the very welcome vacations, like the one coming up. I started teaching in the first week of September 1978. That's a fair amount of time, I suppose, but the odd thing is that I really can't say I know that much more about how to do what I'm doing now than I did when I started. I'm fascinated by all these educational johnnies who seem to know so much about how it should be done. I'm doubtful about pretty much every thing except the blindingly obvious, but the blindingly obvious has served me pretty well. So all I'm going to say now I knew in 1978. The problem was, I couldn't do it then, not for a while anyway; but now I hope I can.

So here it is: what I know about teaching well. 1) Be as clear as you can. 2) Try to be fair to everyone. 3) Sugar the pill - most people don't like learning new things so try and be entertaining if possible. If not, at least be clear. 4) Mark work thoroughly and return it quickly. (This is a sub-set of being fair, but worth a line of its own.)

And that's it, really. No wonder I've never been able to write a book about it, or even an article. Anyway, it got me through thirty-five years reasonably in one piece.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A New Day

Everything good you've heard about Bowie's The Next Day is true. It's a fabulous album and has been in frequent rotation in this household. No filler at all, not even the three bonus tracks. It sounds as if Bowie realised he'd written enough great songs to require realising them in concrete terms and got the right people in do so - especially ace producer Tony Visconti. (Though I suppose in a perfect world Robert Fripp would have been coaxed on board. Mind you, David Torn cuts it up a bit on screaming rock guitar in places - at least, I assume it's him.)

In total, think the Berlin trilogy with the pop-rock sensibilities of Man Who Sold The World. And the voice sounds as youthful as ever, except when he chooses not to.

And on a completely different note, I discovered today that Elvis (the king, Costello) is releasing an album mid-September recorded with hip-hop luminaries The Roots - gasp. Can't wait.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Not Exactly Juvenile

Decided to read my Oxford edition of The Major Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins from cover to cover, instead of just dipping in as I've been doing since I acquired it a few years back. The verse is arranged in what the editors hope is chronological order which means I've been steadily moving through the early stuff. I suppose Wreck of the Deutschland is seen as Hopkins explosively finding his mature voice. But it's fascinating to realise just how good he was even in the early days - though there are clunkers in there. Having said that, there are fine lines and striking phrases even in the stuff that doesn't really work.

I mean, just listen to this: The hoarse leaves crawl on hissing ground / Because the sighing wind is low. Not bad, eh? In fact the whole poem, Winter with the Gulf Stream, is a gem - though the line, So like a berg of hyaline is a bit painful for these ears. Odd that he uses hyaline as a noun here - and odd to go for such a recherché term at all.

All in all, a great place for a young writer to steal from.

Monday, September 2, 2013

In Passing

Just watched a bit of the news about Seamus Heaney's funeral. His son's brief account of the poet's final 'words' - typed, not spoken - was deeply moving, and a reminder of just how much there was to love about the man, aside from his work.

There's a nice tribute already at the New York Review of Books website here and I'm sure we're in for more than a few eloquent ones in the days and weeks and months to come. I doubt if any will match Heaney's own wonderful poems addressed to his departed friends. The one about Joseph Brodsky in Electric Light, Audenesque, springs to mind - it captures so much about Brodsky and Heaney himself.

My tribute, for what it's worth, is very simple. There are few poets capable of overwhelming this reader in simple emotional terms, and Heaney is the one I immediately think of in this regard. I was thinking today of the haunting Limbo, which I believe first appeared in Wintering Out. The last time I tried to read it aloud to someone I almost didn't make it through the final lines. I won't even try today.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

In Paradisum

An odd moment this morning - an unexpected confluence of ideas of the spooky variety.

There I was multi-tasking, listening to the Faure Requiem and reading September from Clare's The Shepherd's Calendar. Now I know you'll say that such a division of attention is not at all sensible, and you're right. But in my defence I'll plead that I know the Requiem really well, and had listened with close rapt attention just the previous night. I was going to devote maximum attention to the other goodies on the CD after just giving the Requiem a spin for the sheer beauty of its sounds, and as frequent visitors to this Far Place might be aware, it's a bit of a fetish for me to start a new month with a read from mad old Clare, so anything from his Calendar is extremely familiar.

Anyway, I'd got to the lovely lines about supper: Then comes the harvest supper night / Which rustics welcome with delight / When merry game and tiresome tale / And songs increasing with the ale / Their mingled roar interpose / To crown the harvests happy close / While rural mirth that there abides / Laughs till she almost cracks her sides - when it occurred to me that Clare's world is a kind of vanished paradise (not a terribly original thought, I know, not even for myself; it's basically in my mind on every reading of the poem.) This led me to a sudden consideration of the fact that on at least one occasion when I was a lad in Junior School I was asked to consider and describe what I would regard as 'heaven' - I think the teacherly follow-up was that no matter how wonderful my impressions of what heaven might be like, the real thing would be infinitely more felicitous. My impressions were profoundly simple and deeply felicitous: heaven would be endless summer evening games of attack against defence played in front of a pair of posts improvised from discarded jumpers.

And then just as I was considering these twin versions of paradise, in steps old Faure with the In Paradisum bit towards the end of his mass. Blimey! For a moment it was as if I'd actually got there. Not a bad way to pass a Sunday morning, I reckon.