Friday, January 31, 2014

Oh What A Wonderful Morning

We left our usual place of residence to head north around 3.45 pm yesterday and found ourselves at Maison KL by 10.00 pm - most acceptable considering we were travelling on the eve of the New Year. Judging from the antics of a number of those on the highway it would seem they were late for their reunion dinners and determined to get there as fast as humanly possible, if not more so. I hope they all managed to arrive in one piece, despite the risks taken. There were jams at Tuas at both sides of the immigration desks, but fortunately the traffic was well-behaved with little in the way of cutting of queues, possibly due to a well-positioned police vehicle on the Malaysian side of the bridge. This meant that the queue moved at an even pace such that levels of irritation were at a minimum. A particularly fine bowl of mutton soup (hot and savoury) from a new stall at the Ayer Keroh services plus an outstanding mug of teh tarik (hot and sweet) from Rachid's ARAB Cafe there further served to ease the discomfort of the journey. 

Upon arrival we found the place in good order, I'm very happy to say, and had settled in within an hour or so, Noi performing her usual brand of domestic magic. Actually I'd been carrying a bit of a headache from a couple of issues that surfaced at work in the morning for most of the day, and by the time it came to hit the sack I was sorely in need of knitting up the raddled sleeve of care, but things could have been a lot worse. And I was able to enjoy the late-night fire crackers exploding just across the road even if they did disturb my slumbers.

The pay-off following all this was an almost sinfully relaxed morning. A decent lie-in, followed by doing nothing much at all, until it was time to amble out to Friday Prayers at the mosque just around the corner in the delightfully hot sun. (We'd been told it's been cold here with some strong winds of late, but it's just the usual succulent sultriness today.) Part of the nothing much at all, by the way, was finishing off the second volume in Alan Moore's Saga of the Swamp Man, reading the graduation episode in Maya Angelou's I Know How The Caged Bird Sings and getting to grips with a couple of the Dark Lady sonnets. Just can't think of anything that could be more fun than that, except for lending an ear to Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins's A Scarcity of Miracles which I'm just about to do.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

All Set

We're planning to enjoy the break for Chinese New Year getting in touch with the homestead and environs in Kuala Lumpur. To that end the last couple of hours have been spent in the usual whirl of preparation and packing, and all the more for Noi who's been cunningly producing various New Year goodies to disperse over the last few days.

And I thought life was supposed to slow down once you'd reached the twilight years.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Murder In Mind

We were watching a good murder yesterday evening, the Midsomer variety, an episode we'd recorded earlier, when disaster struck. Just at the point when the first murder took place, remarkably an entire one hour into the episode, surely some kind of record for the series, the picture began to break up. And it continued to break up, making the remainder of the story unwatchable. 

The fault lay in the original broadcast. The BBC Entertainment channel, the guilty party, is apt to break-up at odd moments. Unfortunately we'd recorded the final airing of the episode in question so there was no chance of catching it again.

And to add insult to injury I'd pretty much figured out Whodunnit! (Actually Noi ran the episode to its unwatchable conclusion after I'd gone to bed in a huff and was able to see enough to make sense of the plot. This morning I stunned her with my nifty detective work.)

Ah, the perils of subscribing to cable tv. Life just isn't fair, is it?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Home Improvement

We were fortunate yesterday to enjoy a visit from our favourite handyman, Mark, who put up two clocks, fixed a slightly loose fitting in the shower and put up a new rail for the shower curtain before he left without charging a penny, even though Noi tried to get him to take something for his trouble - and considerable expertise. If I'd attempted to do the same jobs, by the way, I'd have taken forever and made a cack-handed mess of them. Actually his basic reason for popping in was to pick some keropok that the Missus had ordered for him via Intan's mum (seriously delicious stuff - fortunately she gave some to yours truly as well) so he didn't leave entirely empty-handed.

Normally I enjoy chatting away to Mark as he works. He has views on everything and isn't afraid to air them and always makes for excellent listening. Unfortunately, though, I had something on when he arrived and had to leave just after he started. But I did get a chance to ask him how things were in terms of work and supporting the family. Sadly they are none too good. He's driving a taxi some days now to ensure he can make ends meet. The problem is that there're a lot of guys competing as handymen since they are feeling the pinch workwise and they themselves are seeking to make ends meet. Mark can't afford to turn any chance of work down, no matter what the hour.

As is often the case, I find myself puzzled as to the economics of all this. This is someone with seriously useful skills, really good at what he does, completely reliable and extremely hard-working. Yet he's struggling to get by. Go figure.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Matter Of Concentration

The other day I found myself talking to a class about what some see as a deterioration in the ability of students, indeed, folks in general, to concentrate for reasonable periods of time. The problem is, of course, that given the kind of generalising inherent in such observations and the sad fact that jeremiads against the iniquities of the younger generations are a feature of any age you care to think of, it's well nigh impossible to be sure that this isn't just a case of an enjoyable moan for its own sake.

With that major caveat in mind I'll offer the tentative observation that I think there might be a disturbing truth in the deteriorationist hypothesis. In part I base this on my own partial, limited but real experience and in part what I see as reasonable conjectures based on the kinds of demands on audiences and readers which were once quite normal in work intended to be popular which seem to have largely vanished - the demands, I mean. A significant majority of those I teach, in some ways the elite of their society, regard quite slight novels as being long and demanding. Goodness knows how they'd react if faced with a full-length Dickens.

And in addition to this I've come to notice how often similar observations concerning the problem crop up in the course of my reading, without having to seek them out. Just now I happened to be reading a critical essay on the work of Maya Angelou and came across a footnote noting the difficulty of teaching her autobiographical novels in American universities as they are seen as too demanding for students to cope with if set as independent reading. Good grief, part of me expostulated. Interestingly, the same footnote quoted a professor on the steady reduction in the amount of such reading he has set students over the years, the reduction stemming from a steady erosion in their capacity to cope. I honestly cannot remember ever reading this kind of moaning in what is otherwise a serious bit of lit crit before.

I'm really not sure if the idea that somehow the capacity of the educated elite of our species to fully and fruitfully concentrate adds up to something we should be worrying about. But in my darker moments I find myself weighing the darker implications.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Ground Beneath Our Feet

Finished Robert Harris's excellent Pompeii yesterday just before the concert, sitting in the Starbucks located at Marina Square, just across the road from the Esplanade. Wonderfully imagined tale, quite slow-moving in the initial chapters as you are led into the world of the engineers responsible for maintaining the aqueducts and into the corruption of the main boom town, Pompeii, on a booming coast. Then gathering pace as a plot emerges based around the aquarius, Attila, and his love interest, who happens to be the daughter of the most corruptly doubtful of all the inhabitants of Pompeii. Oh, and some wonderful stuff about the venerable Pliny, at this point the overweight admiral of the imperial fleet.

At then comes the eruption of Vesuvius, which you know is on the way and yet still manages to surprise somehow. After that, a series of descriptions better than any disaster movie because of their wonderful detail and sense of the actual in action.

So it was quaffing the remains of my cafĂ© latte that I enjoyed the various fates of the key members of the cast so cunningly assembled by the author, and very satisfying they were too. But the deeper success of the novel lay in its genuine sense of contemporary concerns in these ancient matters. Put simply, the reader was made to feel dwarfed by the ferocious and uncaring power of Nature, and the puniness of man in comparison - even the genuinely tough and in many ways estimable Romans lovingly detailed and understood by Harris.

And here's a curious thing: I couldn't help but think as I read of how the frontage of the shopping mall in which I was so delightfully killing the twenty-five minutes I had to spare was being dug up for some kind of renovation even as I quaffed. Surely, all quite unnecessary! I remember the building being newly opened not that long ago. And this seems typical of this modern city which seems to shrug off vestiges of its former self in almost any location you can think of with remarkable insouciance. It just so happens that I have fond memories of the steps outside which made up said frontage. The school in which I first worked here used the location for a series of fund-raising concerts for two or three years in the 1990s (pre-history, now, I suppose.) I'm guessing that it's not just my memories that will have been chipped away at but those of any number of teachers and students who gathered to make something a bit special, a bit memorable.

We don't need eruptions any more to sweep away the ground on which we stand.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

All In The Timing

Just back from a jolly evening spent with the SSO doing the business on Strauss and Wagner. Basically I went for the Four Last Songs and they were gorgeously played. I can't remember twenty-odd minutes of music ever passing so quickly, though inevitably time stopped towards the end of Im Abendrot. The young lady doing the singing was no slouch either - one Annalena Persson, from Sweden. She soared over the orchestra in the high bits, but it was the middle-range stuff that did it for me.

She was back for the end of the Wagner, doing the Liebstod from the end of Tristan. Must say, it was a bit of a relief to get to the end of what was entitled An Orchestral Passion, based on the opera. Not  that it wasn't severely lovely, as you might expect, but there wasn't a lot of variety in terms of mood - ecstasy followed by more ecstasy, if you see what I mean. I got a bit lost after the first twenty minutes, though there was a fabulous solo for English horn somewhere in the middle that brought me round, and the Liebstod seemed to shoot by even though time was suitably standing still again - at least for this listener.

Friday, January 24, 2014


I bade farewell to Noi just after the Asr prayer, had a shave, prayed Asr, put on a bit of Pink Floyd at reasonable volume - the studio album from Ummagumma which is quite a mess but has its moments - and somehow managed to sink into a stupor of massive proportions, generally oblivious to the world, except to occasionally manifest some awareness that I really did need to get up at some point, lasting up to an embarrassingly late hour. Now it's true that I'd felt a bit dozy during prayers at the mosque, though not unduly so, and I thought I might manage half an hour or so of shut-eye on getting back home from work, but I had no idea that I was in for such an epic snooze. I assume I must have in some sense needed it, but I suppose it might all have been a case of pure, blissful laziness.

Extremely non-productive, but all very nice indeed, I must say.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


It's thirty-eight years to the day since Dad died. As I've mentioned here before, it's strange and oddly daunting to find myself older than he was when he was gathered into eternity. The younger me never felt that I was living in his shadow. Now I do, but, curiously, there's a kind of comfort in that.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Finding Time

I've just booked a ticket for the SSO's concert this Saturday. They're doing Strauss's Four Last Songs which I adore, but have never heard in the concert hall, so I'm particularly stoked up for this one, having been thinking about it ever since I spotted it in the rather handsome season booklet I picked up last year. Noi isn't going to be around though, as she's popping up to Melaka at the weekend. It'll be a bit odd being at a concert without her, and I rather think she might have enjoyed the piece, but never mind. Actually there's also some Wagner on the bill as it seems the soprano is going to be warbling bits from Tristan. I have no idea how that's going to work but, who knows, it might just turn out to be more than a bit of fun.

One of the irritations of being in a job that keeps one rather too busy at times is missing out on events of interest that turn out to be impossible to make time for. The only remedy is to try extra hard to carve out a life in whatever spaces open up.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Changing Times

In the news here today, an item about another breakdown on the MRT, this Far Place's equivalent of the Underground or Metro. Yet just twenty-five years ago, on my arrival in this land, the news was only good, indeed triumphant: an MRT that made tired old Europe look, well, tired.

There's a sparkling array of morals that might be adduced from this sad contrast, but I'll settle for two: modernity ages with astonishing rapidity and, with a little more poetry about it, Look on my works ye Mighty and despair.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Fools Of Time

Reached a sort of ending in the great-sonnet-read-through: viz, I've just finished 126 which completes the part of the sequence that focuses on the Beloved with an extremely odd number indeed. 126 isn't really a sonnet, falling short by two lines and comprised entirely of couplets. Read it out of context and it doesn't seem particular note-worthy; read it as part of the grand design and it explodes with significance. As Paterson points out, even its number is possessed of resonance, 126 being twice 63, and 63 being the Grand Climacteric (9 X 7) with which the Elizabethans were deeply, deeply concerned. Of course, all this numerological malarkey means little to the modern reader, until you start to notice it and read from the perspective of one of those numerically obsessive-compulsive citizens of WS's England and then you get bitten too - well at least I did. 

All of which points towards a strange truth of literature (and other ways of making art.) Expose yourself to a single fine artwork and you get the whuummph of that work, assuming you are capable of response. But put that work next to another and the effect is not simply doubled. Effects and meanings multiply. And once you go beyond two we start to move into vertiginous territory.

Let me give a simple example from 126. The reference to the lovely boy at the beginning would be curiously touching, and not a little shocking, if we just had the single poem. (In fact, it's my lovely boy, of course, and the possessive pronoun works its own deranged magic in the light of the numerous claims to a kind of possession - and denials of anything of that nature - that have preceded it.) But the sudden reminder of what the whole obsessive, tortured, delirious sequence has been about, the vulnerable directness of the phrase, especially in view of the gathering sense of darkness and aging haunting the sonnets immediately leading up to this and the desperate attempts to salvage something from the wreckage, send the phrase and what it does to the alert reader into overdrive.

In some sense this is a writer's trick that fools us every time - and possibly fools the writers themselves. Poems that may have written at entirely different times are made to rub up against one another to generate something that could never have been in any sense intended at the moment of making - yet something new and strange and rich is made.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thinking Ahead

Had Mei, Boon and Steve round for dinner, Noi pulling out all the stops with mee rebus, a fruit tart and peach cobbler of surpassing excellence. Some lively and amusing conversation about the likelihood of the destruction of our species followed the grub. It's amazing how cheerful it's possible to be about the apocalypse when you've eaten so well.

Actually Boon was optimistic about the possibility of mankind evolving to the point that we use the new technology in a positive manner. Fortunately I was able to lead him to see the dark side.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Looking For Clues

Spent part of the day trying to figure out what has been going on in the mind of someone I know, but don't know terribly well. I've managed to construct some of kind of narrative around events involving this someone which gives me some kind of handle on what they might be thinking and feeling whilst being well aware I'll end up throwing most if not all of it away if I eventually get more information with regard to them. It's like the ladder you use to rise to a clearer view and then discard when it isn't any further use - indeed, may actually limit progress.

I suspect that one day I'll find I got it all wrong, having so often got things wrong before. For someone who might be expected to have at least some insights into others I can be astonishingly dense.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Getting Results

Noi and I got the results of our recent health screening today, and I'm relieved to say that basically we were given a clear bill of health, apart from a little concern on the cholesterol front. The good thing is that this should spur us on to the healthy lifestyle to which we aspire, but occasionally fall short of.

The relief, in case you're wondering, stemmed from two factors. First of all there's the general point that we are no longer of an age when we take for granted that we'll sail through the various tests. We have plenty of friends and acquaintances who've had to deal with difficult news at routine check-ups. And then secondly, a couple of days ago Noi received a call from the hospital specifically asking her to go in and see the doctor about the results of the screening when we'd asked them simply to post the results. It wasn't a cause for panic, and we didn't, but I think both of us wondered why she was called in. In the event, it was a good idea to discuss the data and for the doc to flag possible concerns that might arise in future.

Anyway, I reckon we're both pretty happy about the outcome and keenly aware of how lucky we are, at least for now. Ultimately we are all fragile and, sadly, so many get broken too early.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Something Lost

At the halfway point of the month I've shed something like a kilo or a kilo and a half. There's quite a degree of 'wobble' in my results on our supposedly precise electric scales, hence the uncertainty. I can't say I've been dieting exactly, just being careful over what I eat, so I'm quite pleased with this. But I'd still like to lose another kilo or two before the end of the month.

At times like this it's useful to have a somewhat obsessive element in one's personality. Apart from anything else, the amount of food that's offered at work, out of the simple yet deep generosity of colleagues and students, could easily derail anyone who isn't in a determinedly self-denying frame of mind.

I think I'll be getting the results of the medical screening we underwent at the turning of the year tomorrow, so they might prove a further spur to self-deprivation of the healthy variety.

Monday, January 13, 2014

That Kind Of Guy

Back in December when we driving to Nilai, Hamzah announced his great insight with regard to what we share in common. We're the kind that aren't bothered about driving Ferraris but prefer to relax drinking teh tarik at the top of the hill. This struck me then, and continues to do so, as a deeply penetrating insight, though why he locates us at the top of the hill I'm not exactly sure. Something to do with looking out at a lake, I think. Actually I'm okay with the cup of teh regardless of location. I pointed out that it was worth including Lamborghinis amongst the vehicles disregarded since I wouldn't recognise one if it drove over the top of me.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Back In Class

We found ourselves at Masjid Al-Iman in Bukit Panjang this morning, as participants in a class on the Umrah and Haj. Our ustad was Ustad Haroun who had accompanied us on our trip to Morocco and Spain, a lovely gentleman possessed of a cheerfully, shrewd good humour. It's nice to be a student again, especially one who knows precious little.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

In Addition

I genuinely thought that the listing of books to be read in the coming weeks that I posted a couple of days ago was complete, but I'm afraid it already falls short in several respects, partly due to a trip we paid this afternoon to the wilds of Tiong Bahru and the finest small bookshop in these parts, Books Actually. I went there simply to get hold of the latest copy of the literary journal Ceriph, the sixth issue, and was successful in this respect, pleasingly so as this issue features works by two former students that I was keen to read. I am also proud to say I resisted the temptation to buy quite a number of other tasty tomes on offer, but must confess to shelling out for Boey Kim Cheng's Between Stations, a series of essays on the poet's travels. My colleague Aloysius strongly recommended this quite some time ago (as a text we might consider teaching as well as a good read) and ever since my delighted discovery of just how good a collection Boey's Days of No Name is I'm more than happy to read whatever he has to say.

I also forgot to mention that Charles Simic's A Wedding in Hell is my current reading classified under poetry, small collections, now I've put Paterson's inscrutably engaging Nil Nil behind me. Simic is a lot more accessible in his dream-like way. I'm just going with the flow as they once used to say.

So that seems to be it for now - except on the non-reading front I should add there are now quite a few attractive coffee shops in and around Yong Siak Street, which means even more reasons for going back there.

Friday, January 10, 2014

An Encounter

On our way to do a bit of late-evening shopping at the NTUC across the road just now the Missus and I witnessed an on-going ferocious argument between two women, neither of them all that young. Both slightly built, it looked like they might have been related, possibly closely, but if they were then relations had badly broken down. Each was loudly maintaining a stream of what we guessed were pretty cutting vituperations, but since it was all in Chinese we couldn't be sure. However, exchanging compliments they weren't. Even as we were in the supermarket and doing the actual shopping we could hear the argument continuing outside. Fortunately it seemed to stop short of violence, though my guess is that it was a close run thing.

As we left the supermarket to walk back the argument had ended, but one of the antagonists was still around. She was sitting on a bench looking none too happy. Noi summed her up succinctly and wisely: Lady carry Gucci behave like that. Enough said.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Reading List

The momentum of my reading has slowed now that work has started in earnest. I have one or two things to finish that I had hoped to complete before the new year, viz, the great-sonnet-read-through (though the point here is not to rush) and Irving's Tales of the Alhambra. The tales are lightweight fun and I rushed through the first half on the way back from Spain, but it's not the sort of collection that compels reading. I have a sense now of unfinished business about the book, though, and really must push on.

As a further result of our holiday experiences I picked up my very old copy of Don Quixote from KL (the Penguin Classics translation by J.M. Cohen) intending this to be my first long, lingering read of the year. However, I've only managed a couple of chapters so far. The last time I read this was when I was seventeen and waiting to go to university. It was on the preliminary reading list for my lit course. Oddly enough four decades on I'm finding myself responding in pretty much the same way so far as I did as a teenager. I say this is odd as I'm aware that for many texts my responses now are so different than they were then that it can feel as if I'm reading an entirely different work. But Quixote seems timelessly consistent.

I also made a couple of purchases when we were in KL. Now I know you're going to say that you thought I'd sort of vowed not to buy any more books (at least for a considerable time) but the purchase of one of these was entirely unavoidable. I first spotted Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Living by Declan Kiberd over a year ago and thought then that it sounded special, so special that it had to find a place on my shelves. Actually though it's a worthwhile read (I'm about halfway through) it's not quite as unusual as its publicity makes it out to be: An audacious and accessible new take on one of the central books of the twentieth century. The central claim is that Joyce writes for everyone and Ulysses is above all worth reading for its humane wisdom. This is, of course, entirely correct, but Kiberd still falls into the dreary discourse of lit crit too often for my complete liking - not surprisingly as he is a lit prof, poor fellow. What's required is for someone outside academia to write the guide that this guide could have been. The other purchase was a little book on Linguistics which I haven't got round to at all yet.

And, finally, I've read a couple of chapters of a second-hand copy of Robert Harris's Pompeii which looks as if it's going to be as good as his other Roman novel about Cicero, the title of which escapes me. And now for a bit of actual reading, but where to start? It's nice to be spoilt for choice.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

In Tenebris (again)

Just a quick word or two or three of wisdom regarding the current fortunes of a football team we all know and the discerning love: This too will pass.

And now I'd rather change the subject, thank you.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Real Work

Took the shots above back in December at a leather-works-cum-shop in the medina at Fez. A reminder of good times for us and tough times for the guys doing the hard labour. By the way, the smell was powerfully yucky - they use pigeon droppings as part of the process of producing the leather.

And I thought today had been a difficult day at work!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Loose Connections

Experienced a bit of a coincidence this evening of the spooky variety. Was reading the good Don on WS's Sonnet 113 (which I can't say I really rate, though our critic does) and was amused when he compared it to something that song-writer Jimmy Webb might have come up with on a 'B' side - cheesy but classy, then going on to postulate its suitability for a Glen Campbell performance. But along with the amusement came the oddness of the fact that when we were in Melaka the other week I found myself unable to get the entirely classy Wichita Lineman out of my head, having stumbled across a video of Mr Campbell performing it live in 2006. I've always loved the song despite the schmaltz, it being genuinely haunting - and hearing and watching a much older Glen Campbell perform it if anything added to its beauty and strange sense of mystery. (It's something in the curious winding melody and the brevity of the lyric. Possibly the best Jimmy Webb song of all.)

One of the things that led me to seek out the former Beach Boy on youtube was the fact that I caught a little of the original True Grit in late November and had been startled to be reminded that he featured in it in quite a prominent role. And seeking him out led to my saddened realisation that he's now quite far gone with Alzheimer's - probably already afflicted by the time of the 2006 performance.

All of this is of little or no significance, except it makes me kind of happy and sad at the same time. And now I'm going to play the song again.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Silver Screen

It was this time last year that the Missus and I enjoyed our single visit of 2013 to the cinema, the film in question being the cheerfully grim Les Miserables. I doubt very much we'll be going more often this year; indeed, it's open to question if we'll manage even a single visit. Put simply, they don't make movies for folks like us any more - at least, ones that get as far as this Far Place.

Funnily enough I actually watched more films in the course of 2013 than I expected to, usually on board flights, occasionally on cable. That's how I got to see Lincoln and Life of Pi, and I'm glad I did, but I'm not aware of any commercially viable material in that sort of class ahead for the year. I had been vaguely interested in viewing the first part of The Hobbit, but I've seen bits since it's been screened on cable and it hasn't gripped me. I think I'm having some kind of reaction to the whole tiresome CGI business.

I also occasionally found myself interested enough in films I accidentally bumped into on cable to watch them. The problem here was that I rarely saw the full movie leaving a feeling of incompletion. One example was Made In Dagenham, about the strikes there in the 60s, which was very engaging. Unfortunately I entered into it after the first twenty minutes or so and, despite enjoying what I did see, I don't feel it necessary to make up for the gap. On the other hand, I caught both the beginning and end of The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep's tour de force as Mrs Thatcher and her performance was stunning enough to make me think I wouldn't mind seeing the whole thing at some point - quite remarkable considering just how much even thinking of the politician in question makes me shudder.

It's a pity really that so few films I'm aware of these days seek to do that simple yet profoundly difficult thing: take you into the lives of others in a way that genuinely illuminates.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Open To Disagreement

Chugging along quite nicely with the great-sonnet-read-through after getting out of the knotty 90s. Now up to 110 having read no fewer than a mighty six today.

Apart from the pleasure of reading the sonnets and John Kerrigan's excellent notes in the Penguin edition I'm using, there's Don Paterson's commentary on each one to look forward to. In fact, it's been rather a good wheeze to read Paterson's comments only after a thorough soaking in each poem. It's quite exciting to see which way our commentator will jump on each poem, his responses tending to be marked in their approbation or firmly otherwise. I've  been surprised on more than one occasion by his dismissal of sonnets I've quite enjoyed, but generally find his point of view persuasive.

However, I'm pleased that I found myself very much disagreeing with enough frequency to suggest my independence as a reader. Just yesterday I fell completely in love with 102, yet the good Don is generally fairly tepid on this, particularly with regard to the concluding couplet: Therefore, like her, I sometime hold my tongue, / Because I would not dull you with my song (though he does accept the beauty of the nightingale metaphor.) Yes, the couplet doesn't add anything in terms of sense and sort of just sums up what is already clear, but what I love about it is the way its ponderous monosyllables, especially those of the last line, enact the tongue-tiedness WS is claiming to experience. I love dull as a verb. And this after the gorgeous music of the sestet, especially: ...her mournful hymns did hush the night, / But that wild music burdens every bough, / And sweets grown common lose their dear delight. Yowza.

Coincidentally I also finished reading Paterson's first collection of poems today, Nil Nil, and here's a confession: I was baffled by almost every poem in it. To be honest, if it hadn't been for the fact that I think his later collection Rain is excellent and for my admiration of him as a critic I would have given up. But the curious thing is that having decided to keep going I found myself enjoying the poems, partly as a result of their incidental excellences, and, I suppose, partly because of their riddling quality.

Isn't reading a strange thing?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Cast Offs

The bit from Patrick O'Brian I quoted just before the turn of the year came from The Ionian Mission. I read this part of the Aubrey/Maturin saga with great pleasure at the end of the holidays as a result of finding a discarded copy in a bin - on top of a few other less enticing paperbacks. Now this all might sound a tad unhygienic (though I should explain that the tome looked in good nick), and I could easily be insulted as being more than just a little bit of a miserly scavenger, but in self defence I'll plead that it just seemed so sad to see a great read in very reasonable condition carelessly tossed away. I felt obliged to save it and recycle. (I'm happy to pass it on now to whoever is in search of a rip-roaringly intelligent read, by the way.)

Now I come to think of it, there's a significant number of second hand books on my shelves and I'm pleased about that. It's absurd, I know, but I have a sense of having saved them somehow, of having given them new life.

Funnily enough I felt the same way as a kid when given presents of cast-off clothes. I remember getting a load of socks from my Uncle Fred and feeling delighted at the chance to give them new life. When they were finally worn out and thrown away I think they understood they'd served their purpose to the maximum degree. I'm not sure that youngsters today are the recipients of such hand-me-downs. A pity - something else they are missing out on in a world of plenty.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


The other day I mentioned the overwhelming crowds at Bukit Bintang on Christmas Day. They weren't the only thing that seemed a bit much to me that day. As I also mentioned earlier we escaped them for thirty minutes or so by popping into the reasonably sedate Lot 10 shopping centre. It was in the mall that we came across a lot of advertising for Yes, an Internet service provider in Malaysia. Hamzah has an account with them and he's generously allowed us access to the Net through this for us in the past when we've struggled to get on-line.

The advertising in question was extolling the virtues of the 4G plan now being offered by Yes. I'm not exactly familiar with terms like 4G, but from what I can gather it allows lots of access to the Internet very, very quickly indeed. It seems that signing up allows you to watch youtube videos as you are on the move and to hold tele conferences with several participants talking all at once, amongst other novelties. Exciting. But who on earth would want to watch videos on the move and talk with various people all at once? Not me, I'm afraid. I have quite enough to do to keep me occupied, thank you.

And this, I have come to realise, is where I now stand vis a vis the wonderful world of IT. The technology is astonishing, magical almost, and I do not undervalue it. But I don't need any more of it to enhance my life, at least at this point. This applies even to something as simple as some kind of e-reader - an idea I was quite keen on up to a year ago. I find that I have such substantial amounts still to read, easy to acquire in old-fashioned ways (and via a laptop), that it would just be creating a kind of extra burden to acquire a gadget that made acquisition even easier. A lot of people tell me I really should acquire a smart phone - and I would do so if I could think of a good reason for it, but I honestly can't.

My general negativity may sound like contraryism for its own sake, and, of course, I do enjoy being out of step with the crowd, but I think something deeper is going on than that. I suspect that eventually lots of people are going to find themselves drawing a personal kind of line in the sand regarding the new technology and that they will be happier and healthier for it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Real beginnings are rare. Life is a series of continuations, something that becomes painfully clear when you find yourself framing New Year resolutions that bear a suspicious resemblance to those framed of yore - old year resolutions, I suppose.

I toyed with one idea when we were in Morocco and Spain as a resolution: to always see things as a tourist does. But this is too clever by half.

So here's one that's not clever at all, simply practical: to lose 3 kg by the end of January. This stems from a health screening undergone by Noi and myself yesterday morning and is eminently do-able, so will be done.