Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Letting Go

I managed to lose my black notebook the other day, the one I'm reliant upon to remind myself of all the stuff I've got to get done. I've often thought that I would go into complete meltdown if ever I lost it, but that hasn't really happened. Somehow I've contrived to remember enough to keep going without a complete disaster. So far.

The experience is a good reminder that if it's important enough to forget, it can't be that important.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

For Your Entertainment

Simon Armitage's Seeing Stars is without any doubt the most entertaining book of poetry I've read for quite some time. That might sound a bit like faint praise, but I'm not implying that the volume is without other sterling qualities. It's just that I've come to regard the provision of entertainment as a quality that should rank very high in our assessment of any work.

It's rare to come across a collection of poems in which you are guaranteed to laugh out loud at least once on every page, but this is the one.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Questions Of Quality

After enjoying a great afternoon with our drama guys I came home to find myself hijacked by The Godfather Part 2 on the goggle box. I caught most of Part 1 by accident last week and just couldn't resist the greatest sequel ever made, astonishingly greater than its astonishing initiator, even though I didn't really have time to watch it. Anyway I made time. What else could I do when Duvall, Cazale, De Niro and Pacino at their giddy, stellar finest beckoned, just to mention four utterly beguiling features of a movie that offers so many other good reasons to watch?

And now I'm thinking, how do we make connections between great art and the kind of thing we do, involving, I hope, a great deal of pleasure for all of us who try to make things up at the level of our personal endeavours? Is it just plain foolish to suggest there may be any connection at all? I don't think it is, but I'm not entirely sure why I think so.

More anon, of something I believe to be worth thinking about, when I have time to think.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Not Getting Any Younger

Let's face it, we're none of us getting any younger, and for some of us that's particularly obvious. But then again, who really wants to? Not the old geezer above, that's for sure. He's enjoying things just as they are, thank you very much.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Nervous Energy

I've been weighing-in these last few days at under my fighting weight. Very gratifying, especially considering my resolution for the New Year. And even more gratifying considering that I've not exactly been stinting on the grub. So, what's the secret?

Well, being heavily involved in matters of the stage, with a performance deadline looming for Monday has helped considerably. Coming back late from rehearsal I've sort of known that when I step on the scales the results are likely to be positive. It's really quite extraordinary just how much I seem to move around in rehearsal and how physically taxing it is to tell performers what you want them to do on a stage, and to arrange circumstances such that they are able to do it.

And then there's the energy that goes into maintaining the state of being hyper that is required just to function as things move to fruition. I could feel it this morning, even before we got started: a kind of inability to settle down and keep still so that even before anyone had arrived I'd covered quite a bit of ground just collecting keys and checking everything was in order. I sometimes think that I may be burning a considerable number of calories simply standing around impatiently waiting to get started.

There's an odd picture of me the Missus unearthed a few months back, I mean a real picture dating from the early 1990s, in which I look positively emaciated. I'm pretty sure it was taken at East Coast Park and I suspect it was just after some show we had done back in those days of the big musicals. I reckon I'd probably just lost something like a stone in the week we put the show on - and I'm guessing I regained the weight very quickly, as soon as the high was over.

The downside of all this is the certain knowledge that I'll be facing that strange and very familiar feeling of complete lethargic shut-down when the energy-bunny batteries run out by the end of the week ahead.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Blame

I once worked in an institution of which I noted, The thing that travels fastest in this place is the blame. I thought it was a clever thing to say, and had about it the virtue of truth.

I still think that, but I now know that one of the most corrosive aspects of my personality is an automatic impulse to blame others for anything that goes wrong for me. Fortunately I don't, or at least I think I don't, make this public. And fortunately I generally keep the impulse in check. But it's still there, and it's still automatic.

No wonder I could see it so clearly in others.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Keep Making It Up

The most important thing I've learned in the course of my career - indeed, some might say the only thing - is that our species has a deeply seated need to create and to deny that need is not a good idea. In contrast, making an environment in which such creativity flourishes, as it should, naturally, is not simply a good idea, it's pretty much top of the list of excellent wheezes.

I was heartened to find my finding verified by one of the few writers I can think of who manifests that curious quality one might term wisdom. A letter he sent expressing the sentiment of the previous paragraph, but doing so a lot better than I managed, a lot more wisely, can be viewed at Open Culture and my heart sings when I read it. I hope yours does too.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Getting It Spectacularly Wrong

I've been assuring anyone who cared to listen for quite a few months that there was no way on this planet that Man U would dispense with the services of one David Moyes until at least he'd had a couple of seasons in charge. My logic was simple. The club had learnt from experience. Managers needed time to manage. A revolving door policy will end in disaster, as seen at the likes of Spurs, to name but one.

How did I go so wrong? The commentators tell us that it isn't the 1980s anymore and it's impossible to give someone in charge the six seasons allowed to SAF to get it absolutely right. The bottom line is the share price, it seems, and American owners don't have the time to let something grow. And suddenly a guy who just a season ago knew an awful lot about getting it right, and managed to do so on a shoe-string at the highest level for many years, now simply doesn't know how to win things, in the eyes of guys who've never won a trophy in their lives, and never will.

O tempora, o mores, oh Moyes!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Changing Fortunes

Read a few of Chesterton's Father Brown stories over the weekend, in between marking scripts and falling asleep. Surely the oddest stories in the genre, with story-telling that is mannered in the extreme. Can't imagine they'd be published today, more's the pity, though it's interesting to note that some of them have been dramatized recently for the telly. Actually the edition I was reading from has good old Kenneth More's mug on the front cover, he having essayed the role for the goggle box some time back in the 70's, which is when I bought my paperbacks. I suppose they're seen as providing a sort of safe period charm in that context. The gothic weirdness sort of evaporates in the cold light of a script to be enacted.

I wonder if Chesterton will ever come back into fashion. Strange to think he was something of a best-seller in his day. So the worlds turn.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Caught Napping

I've managed an impressive three naps per day for each of the last three days. This is an indication of something, I suppose, if only a profound laziness. Imagine what I could do given a whole month off work.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rituals Of Departure


We're on our way again, Melaka bound for a Saturday night at Mak's house, with late night teh tarik at Aziz's place as an enticing possibility. Packing is a finely-honed routine, always involving, even on a very transient visit like this one, at least a hint of melancholy. I still take the two batteries out of the torch we bought over a decade ago when we first moved in, and the torch remains at Noi's bedside for no better reason than the fact that it's where it's always been. The keys for internal doors (always the same four out of all the many we have - for some reason we never open the french windows next to the main door) still go back into the plastic key-box which I'll soon be placing in the cupboard under the stairs - the one the girls used as their ghost room in earlier days. I still bring in the main rubbish bin, suitably cleaned, to rest in its position on a single sheet of the Straits Times in the kitchen.

I suppose there's a need for ceremony in all things.


The teh and sup and prata at Aziz's eatery did not disappoint, and Noi enjoyed herself nattering to Wati and Wan and getting up-to-date on matters concerning the household at Sungai Petai. I just enjoyed being well away from the beaten track in the quiet of the Malaysian night.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Soft Rain

Enjoyed sitting downstairs this morning, working at the dining table, watching the rain through all our open French windows. According to the Missus, and she knows these things, This rain, it's like lazy rain... it's like, oh just sleep again. So afterwards that's what I did.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


We're taking advantage of the long weekend to go up to KL tomorrow and, with that end in mind, I've put a few new disks in the car's CD changer and my on-going reading, spare as it is, in a little briefcase. I need to get this done today because I know come Thursday it's going to be one big rush. Just at the moment everything about my life seems condensed, compact, compressed. Even this little holiday will afford little in the way of leg room to stretch out in. I can only stare at time's horizon and hope for some gentle easing and expanding once over that line.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easy Access

Finished the utterly wonderful Poems New and Collected by Wislawa Szymborska, wonderfully translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, the other day. Of course, I'm assuming the translation is top notch simply because the poems in English are just so darned good. It would be easy to list at least fifteen that strike me as right up there with the best stuff I can think of since the middle of the twentieth century.

Let me try and get beyond fanboy enthusiasm - though I've got plenty of that - and say something a bit more concrete about why she's so good. One aspect of this is the accessibility of her work. No matter how surreal it gets - and it's pretty out there on occasion - no matter what philosophical depths are being trawled - and it's frequently more than just pretty deep - you know, or think you know, what's going on at the centre of any given poem. For example, at random, the last piece in the collection: The Silence of Plants; it's about us and plants and the relationship between. Simple, but not so, because there isn't any real relationship, though, We cast shadows based on the same laws. And suddenly the strangeness of casting any shadow is manifest, and the strangeness of the laws which enable us, and the plants, to do so, strangely unifying us.

And that's the other aspect (just to stop at two) of our laureate's work I find beguiling: her ability to make concrete thoughts that normally lie too deep for words; particularly the way she deals with ontological concerns, the oddness of being, the mystery of things. Words just don't fail her, never, as they've failed me here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Making An Impression

Dialogue of the day:

Speaker 1: You look like you're about to mug someone.

Speaker 2: Just practising being intimidating.

Speaker 1: Sorry, I didn't mean to offend.

Speaker 2: Actually I took it as high praise.

All more than a bit worrying when you consider which interlocutor was my good self. Or, possibly, not so good, eh?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Coming Back Around

Odd coincidence of the week: found myself thinking quite intensely of a musical I directed for a school performance back in the last century. The show in question was Rogers and Hammerstein's Carousel and it's a corker. What happened was this: I carried out an acting activity I devised which I call Ghost Play with my drama guys, which is based on the sequence in which the dead protagonist of Carousel returns to earth to seek redemption. (See, I told you it was good stuff.) And then at the same time I was planning the drama session, two of the actual cast of the school show got in touch with me through the comments thingy at this very same Far Place you are currently reading. (And huge apologies from me, ladies, for taking so long to reply, which I now have, back under said comments.)

Thinking of the show as we performed it, and of a brilliant version I saw in London directed by Nicholas Hytner in the December prior to our version - from which I stole one or two neat details - I was struck, as I so often am, by how doing a show of any kind, even something pretty rough at the edges, has a way of transcending time for those involved in it. I mean, I can even remember being on stage in a pirate extravaganza we did when I was a ten-year-old in primary school and loving very moment.

When we create something, anything, and our hearts leave their imprint in that thing we partake of the divine. That's a pretty extravagant claim, but there's no point in underestimating the wonder of it all when it's so apparent to everyone who's ever made something up that manages to live.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

On Show

Just back from a concert given by Fafa's school. She was playing the bassoon in their symphonic band. Great to see so many kids getting so much from the experience of putting on a show. Something that can't be measured no matter how many targets you set.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Further Loss

Perhaps we were naive, but we really didn't expect the sad news of Fuad's mum leaving this world, as she did as the result of a heart attack late in the afternoon. She didn't look too bad, though she was obviously uncomfortable, when we saw her last weekend, after her by-pass operation. I suppose we underestimated the risks involved. Fifi has been staying with us this week and Noi is now making arrangements to take her to stay at her nenek's place overnight, in preparation for tomorrow's burial.

Part of the cost of living is the need to attend to these things. A small price for a life-time.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

On The Heights

Finding it difficult of late to make time for real sustained reading. So I've fallen back on close encounters with a poem or two or three a day, moving forward with Wislawa Szymborska through the decades in Poems New and Selected. Is she as good as some claim? Oh yes, yes, yes! Was she worth the 1996 Nobel? And then some.

She starts off with brilliant stuff in 1957 and gets, not exactly better, but brilliant in different ways. Astonishingly I managed not to have really heard of her until 2009 when she was hotly recommended as more than a good read in a seminar I had the good fortune to attend. And I would recommend her at super-heat to anyone out there who loves words and what can be done with them.

And to think I'm talking about translations. What must it be like to read her in the original Polish!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Taxing Time

I really must get my tax return for last year done. It's a relatively easy task for me with everything on-line and little to do except declare my income. I'm in the fortunate position of paying income tax solely to the authorities of this small island - rather than being double-taxed - and since the rates here are more than reasonable that's cause for some celebration.

And here's the odd thing. I genuinely don't mind paying a tax on my income, regardless of the nation involved, and never really have done. In fact, it seems odd to me that some people complain so vociferously about the process. (Of course, a bit of a moan and groan over money leaving the wallet is quite natural, and quite in order even for someone like myself who basically doesn't mind, but that's not what I'm talking about here.) The idea that somehow we owe nothing to help create and sustain the societies that help us thrive is extraordinary, as is the idea that we succeed based solely on our remarkable merits as individuals and are entitled to every fruit that grows upon our trees. (Ugly metaphor, but it points at some useful meaning.)

I suppose this is why I might be seen as essentially a man of the left. I do believe in something that might be loosely termed society - and I believe that we are lucky to find ourselves born or accepted into it - and I believe we owe it something.

(Of course, in my more anarchic moods I'd find it impossible to write anything like the above, but for the moment the mellow communitarian shines through.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Magic And Loss

It's two years to the day since Mum died. Many thoughts of her today - all happy. I'm reminded of a great line from a great Lou Reed song: There's a little bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out.

Monday, April 7, 2014

In The Event

Felt tired today, mainly as a result of being so busy on Saturday. There wasn't a lot to do yesterday - Haj class in the morning, a bit of marking, visiting Fuad's mum in hospital in the evening - but I didn't quite catch up on the old zzzzzz's. And I was pretty busy today also with yet another big event coming up on Thursday. Actually I don't feel the same frustration over this kind of busyness as I can feel at other times in the frenetic school year. Saturday's dramatic event was essentially educational and, therefore, enjoyable, despite the long hours (and it was our own idea, rather than being forced on us.) Funnily enough on the same day the school was playing host to a big national competition called Odyssey of the Mind, in which a lot of our students were involved, and, again, as an innocent bystander I got a real sense that the experience managed to transcend just being another competition for the various teams and that they were having a rare old creative time and learning lots in the process. Lots of silly props and colourful costume and general mess: fun, as well as hard work.

It's difficult to argue against providing young people with this kind of experience. But therein lies the problem. You can justify almost any event (by which I mean something time-bound added-on, in a sense, to the general run of the curriculum) in a school as developing something in someone somehow (even the ones that turn out to be not so genuinely educationally beneficial, but simply the kind of things done for their own sake.) And that means it's very easy to make students and staff too busy to benefit in any deep and lasting way from those experiences. They become associated with learning to cope rather than learning.

It's all a question of balance. I've experienced one system that didn't really do as much as it could. And another that commits itself to too much. Somewhere in the middle lies a kind of wisdom.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Little Ironies

Don't you just hate post-it notes that don't stick? Oh, the irony!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Making It Up

A dramatic day, of the theatrical variety. Tiring but extremely fulfilling. Real playing around.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Life's A Beach

Coming back from dinner this evening we happened to catch the last few minutes of Mr Bean's Holiday. The final sequence of our eponymous hero finally strolling down to the beach is possibly my favourite ending to any movie, ever. Pure delight in every sense of both those words.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Matters Cromwellian

Finished Hill's God's Englishman the other day. Got considerably more out of it this time round than on my first reading of some three decades ago. Most of all an enhanced understanding of what might be described as the Puritan view of providence and salvation. I suppose it's my Catholic upbringing that's always made it difficult for me to grasp the fundamentals of Protestant thought, though I rather suspect I would have volunteered for the New Model Army if I'd been around in those exciting times. I'd forgotten also just how much Cromwell's rule-cum-reign provided the seeds of the impetus to Empire on the part of my countrymen. There's a dark side to everything.

Oh, and this time round I finally grasped why it was that the Lord Protector's instincts were so profoundly undemocratic. The fear that extending the franchise would undo the revolution was well-founded, though it misses the point that the only real revolution is ever to be found in the hearts of men.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What's In A Name?

Wouldn't Cromwell make a fine name for a dog? And of course, as I'm sure you'll agree, it's completely inappropriate for a cat. Which leads me to the happy thought that the names of British national heroes of a military cast have a distinct canine aura about them: Wellington, Churchill, Nelson, Montgomery. Surely not simply a coincidence?

(And whilst we are on this theme, just to remind you that Strindberg would make the perfect name for the average psychotic cat. As would Ibsen, not so? I begin to see another pattern here.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

No Fooling

Scene at the mall: there we are, Gentle Reader, at the check-out, when yours truly hears the lady processing our purchases say something to the Missus about her husband, i.e., my good self. Is she complimenting Noi on her good taste in making such a fine choice of a life partner? No, sir. She's inquiring whether I'm a senior citizen!!!! as we get some kind of discount if this is the case. (It's the old geezers' special day.) I mean, really!

In the immortal words of the great Kenneth Williams: Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it infamy!