Monday, June 30, 2014


2 Ramadhan 1435


Yesterday, not bad at all. Today, a day of difficulty, not least being reminded of just how long a day of fasting is when you wake-up at just after five in the morning. Compensated for this by nodding off in the early afternoon, being fortunate to be able to do so since we've got exams on at the moment and so don't have to face classes, or meetings at the moment, in the afternoon.

Need to talk to some students in the evening though, round about the time of the breaking of the fast. Sometimes the logistics of it all are where the challenge lies rather than the actual act of fasting.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Just Like Starting Over

1 Ramadhan 1435


It was unusual for us to begin the fast in community, as it were. But the pre-dawn sahur snack was taken in a packed kitchen here at Melaka and served as a reminder that much as the fast is an individual trial/struggle/experience there is nothing individualistic about this month of months. It's useful having kids around who just uncomplainingly get on with it; it makes it feel positively infantile to complain at all.

The drive back later should be interesting. Never attempted anything of this nature on the first day. The routine of fasting is somehow never quite routine.


Relieved to report that I managed driving duties today. Felt a mild headache around 2.30 pm, just after we set off, but it failed to develop into anything genuinely unpleasant and we had a relatively easy journey. There was some hold up at the Malaysian side at Tuas, but not enough to be worrying. We made it back with time to spare for making ready for the breaking of the fast.

It wasn't until I took that first delightful gulp of water with the azan for Maghrib Prayers that I realised I was more than a little dry. I suppose having things to do takes your mind off the body's demands. I'm hoping every day goes as well as this one - but I rather suspect this won't be the case. The challenge is no doubt yet to come.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Our journey to Melaka last night was marked by its fair share of jams and slow-moving traffic. We originally thought we might arrive around 9.30 pm. In the event it was well passed 11.00 pm when we found ourselves lurching through the gate of Mak's house. Indeed, we have had acquaintance of quite a number of jams lately in relation to journeys to and within Malaysia. It seems to be the season for them.

The most irritating of these though by a country mile and a half have been the three times we have found ourselves held up by the police directing traffic the last three occasions we've tried to get to Times Square from Bukit Antarabangsa. The place we've been held up has been a traffic junction, though a different one each time. Each time I've been puzzled by the logic of the coppers' behaviour - stopping a stream of traffic for something like twenty-five minutes whilst allowing the other stream to run freely to the point that it has dried up. What reason can there be for deliberately creating a tailback of jammed roads? Each time the reason has suddenly been made clear as a convoy of 'official' cars breezes through, blue lights flashing, escorts accompanying. Yes, another Very Important Person has been driven effortlessly along to his next Very Important Appointment, whilst ordinary citizens stare at the Times Square building, and wonder whether they'll arrive there by morning.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Something Extra

When I bought Springsteen's High Hopes the other day I didn't realise there was a DVD of the Boss & the E Street Band performing the whole of Born in the USA at a London concert, filmed in 2013. To tell you the truth, I wouldn't rate Born as one of my favourite Springsteen albums and the biggies from it got so much air-play in the late 80's as to lose some of their magic, for me at least. So when I put on the DVD to watch I wasn't really expecting much. What I got was a reminder of how infallibly great Springsteen is in concert and how much good material there is on the album. I suddenly remembered why I loved Downbound Train after not hearing it for years - and Working on the Highway is just so much fun in concert.

Funnily enough I don't have a CD of the original album. I had it on vinyl but that copy went missing forever ago. I'm not sure I need to acquire one though. The DVD is quite enough, thank you.

We live in strange times as far as the availability of creative works goes. It's wonderful to have so much, but I have a feeling this leads to an underestimating of the value of this material, on my part anyway. I would have gone crazy with delight to be able to see anything by Springsteen on the goggle box back in the 70's. Now, enthusiastic as I am, I am still somehow taking this for granted.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Road To Be Taken

When we thought we were going to be doing the Umrah, the minor pilgrimage to Makkah, in June I decided to reread Michael Wolfe's collection of various accounts by pilgrims related to the Hajj, One Thousand Roads To Mecca. It feels strange to finish it after the date that we would have returned by, had we gone. But at least we've got a plan for making the journey in December, insy'allah, and reading the accounts of past experiences from many centuries in Wolfe's compendium, has certainly whetted the appetite and furthered the understanding.

Initially I found the book quite heavy-going. Previously I had just dipped in where I pleased and that worked well, though it meant that picking it up again I was aware of quite a bit I hadn't really looked at, hence the sense of a need to read in sequence. But reading in sequence meant persevering through some pretty dry stuff. The travellers had their understandably pressing concerns, but these didn't always translate for the twenty-first century reader into concerns relevant to a trip in June 2014.

The solution lay in an act of empathy, or rather a series of these. Each account demanded an active engagement in the concerns of the writer. That way I avoided just heading for the stuff that had immediate appeal - like the sequence from Malcolm X's autobiography. That way I came to an understanding of just how important each pilgrim's experience is to the individual experience of the journey. It isn't your journey - it's the process of the pilgrimage unfolding in the collective that makes the Hajj what it is and has been for so many.

Curiously even though the predominant feeling was of how little the individuals counted for in the great sum of things, the picture given of outstanding, indeed fascinating individuals making the journey was striking. I found it tricky at times to pull myself out of one world of thought in order to enter into another as one account followed another. It was useful to pause between contributors to get the sense of separation needed, especially when non-Muslim and Muslim were juxtaposed, or female against male, or well-heeled against the needy (not that any writer really represented those pilgrims who are very poor indeed, and who, somehow or other, are always there as a reminder of the full range of humanity and the ordeals that so many face.) But there was a lot to be gained in terms of a feeling of completeness upon making the effort and I'm glad I did.

It's extraordinary how many aspects of Islam successfully act as a reminder of the importance of the collective.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


In a World Cup full of interest it's striking that England's final game managed to be so empty of any at all. I thought when they lost to Italy that at least they'd gone down to a good team. Subsequent events suggest otherwise.

But on a happier note, at least we've got Suarez to thank for not actually biting any of our lads during the Uruguay game. Wouldn't you think he might have remembered he had the world watching him last night?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

That Old Time Music

Shops selling CDs have all but vanished from Singapore, or so it seems to me. If you know better let me know what I'm missing.

Here in KL things are little better. At one point a small place called Rock Centre - or something like that - stocked some vaguely interesting stuff in KLCC, but had disappeared when I went to check it out on arrival. Fortunately I chanced upon its counterpart when we went out to The Curve and picked up a few things there, though the range was more limited than it had been in the KLCC outlet. And then today we went back to Ampang Park for the first time in years and I came across a place called Love Music which was, again, small, but at least gave me a chance to browse for some twenty minutes whilst the Missus was eyeing all the frocks and buy one or two items (five, in fact.)

To be honest, my purchases are not exactly necessary buys; rather, I reckon the CD is soon going to be done with as a medium for music and so just grab stuff for the sake of having something to take home. Of course, it's a delight to be affluent enough to be able to do so - and a stark contrast to the days of my youth. But I'm a bit rattled by the fact that everything I buy is severely dated. Case in point: today's purchases fall definitively into the category I'm told is referred to as Dad Rock, only the fact that they're all excellent can save my reputation. And in case you're wondering, here they come, in no particular order of merit: Donald Fagen - Sunken Condos; Leonard Cohen - Live In London; Jimi Hendrix - Band Of Gypsies; Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes (which comes with a Born In The USA Live in London DVD!); Bob Dylan - Another Self Portrait, The Bootleg Series Vol. 10.

And in the interests of full disclosure, here's the list from the shop at The Curve: Elvis Costello and The Roots - Wise Up Ghost; Yes - Going For The One; J.S Bach - The Art of the Fugue (as played by the red-hot Pierre-Laurent Aimard; and a 5 CD set of Mozart's The Complete Piano Sonatas (as played by the wonderfully refined Alicia de Larrocha.)

Funnily enough, the Bach sounds the most modern of the lot.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Perfect Place

When we were renovating Maison KL this time last year we simply had it in mind to restore the homestead to its original state of ten-years-ago. It was not our intention to do anything radically new, as we were well pleased with what we'd got. And we didn't, except for the completely accidental creation of a cosy corner outside the kitchen door - in effect our back door - as a result of extending the roofing covering the patio. The actual purpose of doing this was to afford some protection from the rain for the areas below which had suffered to a small degree from splash-back. But now we find ourselves with a nice little sheltered area, big enough for a table, duly purchased on this visit, and a few chairs, which we already had, a perfect spot for afternoon tea, or a lazy breakfast, or a bit of a read.

We're intending to install an overhead fan in the area as a finishing touch, but on the two occasions we have experimented in making it fit for purpose it has already felt pretty much perfect. I think I can say, along with Sinead (no relative), I do not want what I have not got - being more than satisfied with what I have. So there.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hot Stuff

If you're in any way a Stephen King fan and haven't yet read Doctor Sleep I strongly recommend that you do so. In terms of being a beautifully told story that grips from beginning to end - and the ending is one of the horror maestro's best - it doesn't disappoint. The only thing it doesn't do is to scare the pants off you, in the way its illustrious predecessor did, but that's hardly surprising. I think King rightly avoided a reprise of The Shining. He invents a whole new supernatural apparatus in the form of the True Knot, the villains of the piece, but this remains just that, an apparatus, effectively done but never believable in the strangely unnerving way the earlier novel managed to be.

The Shining worked its magic by seemingly effortlessly combining in a beautifully inter-locking manner, three archetypal ideas-cum-situations. There was the notion of shining in itself, maintained in Doctor Sleep with another youngster who has the gift at the centre of the plot. Then there was the archetypal family tragedy, with the brilliantly realised loving yet abusive father. Given what King has since revealed about his own addictive demons, it's easy to understand how he got the details of Jack Torrance so unerringly right. Dan Torrance's struggles with the demon drink are probably the strongest part of the later novel, but here King looks at the recovering alcoholic, hence the claustrophobic intensity of the earlier work is lost - but obviously deliberately so. This is a different Stephen King writing and it feels right to explore new territory.

But it was the third archetypal aspect of The Shining that took it into a genuinely terrifying space beyond the notion of a kind of crafted apparatus. This was the idea of the Overlook as the Bad Place. The Bad Place doesn't need any kind of rationale or justification. It just is, as we all know. And to have a Bad Place on this scale, the idea of the grand hotel with its strange history, which of course would attract more of the evil to fuel its sheer badness, creating more evidence of its nastiness in the form of all the things that haunted it - well, this just hits the mother lode. Consider the fact that the winter closure of the hotel, leading to the Torrance family being left alone there, is really an obvious contrivance of the plot yet seems entirely natural. It's as if once his premise is established everything falls into place - so you accept even the goofy stuff, like the weird moving topiary, because the Bad Place can do whatever the heck it likes. The epic aspect of the novel - the huge Overlook and its situation both geographically and historically as a peculiarly American hotel - blends seamlessly with the small story of the family destroying itself.

Nothing in Doctor Sleep gets close to this, but it's good, I think, that King doesn't try to. There's really no going back. The interest lies in new kinds of story and the new pleasures these might involve. It takes someone as talented as he is, and as extraordinarily imaginative, to recognise this.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Our Day Out

Just back from a very good day out at Shah Alam in the company of Hamzah & Sharifah & family. In between us eating and drinking copiously, Noi went shopping for wedding stuff with her sister and bride-to-be niece Aziqah - so they obviously had a good time. Hamzah and I enjoyed a major confab about just about everything under the sun, including, of all things, the purpose of education and, more specifically, the IB Learner Profile and its place in that purpose.

I rarely talk at any length these days about education in what might be seen as philosophical terms and it was curiously enlightening to do so - the light in question shining for myself if not for my interlocutor. Hamzah's interest in all this springs from the help he's been giving one of the schools in Malaysia on the IT front with regard to it being at the forefront of the government's plans to develop it as a 'world class' institution. In the process of helping them develop the necessary infrastructure he's become quite a deep thinker with regard to education and its purposes and it was fascinating to discuss these matters with a non-specialist who happens to think cogently and sensibly about them.

It turns out that we are both fans of the afore-mentioned Learner Profile. In fact, in the course of our discussion I came to realise for the first time just how much of a fan I am and precisely why this is so. It's strange to think it's taken me this long to figure out why I do what I do, but there you are. Much of the value in telling someone what you think lies in finding out what you think.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Wild Side

Awoke to find the car covered in bits of soil, with a fair sprinkling of more bits next to it, on the patio. Noi thinks musang or bats are responsible, but what exactly they were up to remains a mystery. The other day we saw a veritable troop of monkeys outside, balancing along the telephone wire adjacent to our dwelling and swinging in the surrounding trees. And then there are the squirrels who seem to think our lawn and drains are their playground. Honestly, anyone would think these guys regard us as the intruders!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sweet And Sour

Something to add to yesterday's comments on Orwell: if you needed one word to describe Orwell's fiction I reckon 'sour' would be the one. Strange that this doesn't apply to his essays which are generally a lot more cheerful than the novels, and, come to think of it, the extended reportage, e.g., Wigan Pier. Of course he's always got an eye for bleak places, but he seemed to feel a need in his fiction to allow his characters no way out of the bleakness. In real life he saw things were not quite so simple.

Anyway, I felt a real need to move onto something a lot less despondent than small town Burma of 1926 and its third rate representatives of the Raj, and I found it in Stephen King's Doctor Sleep of all places. I was keen to read this since finding out that the story of Danny Torrance from The Shining was to be continued, wondering if King was going to be able to revive the glory days of his early work. Not that the later stuff isn't well done and eminently readable, but by virtue of being the later work it obviously lacks the extraordinary freshness that our favourite horror writer brought to the genre. I'm just over halfway through Doctor Sleep (in a day) and it doesn't have the genuinely disturbing quality of its mighty predecessor in terms of the supernatural elements, but it is compelling, not least because the writer pulls off the same trick with regard to his characters that he so often manages. For some reason you come to actually care about them so it's not just a question of enjoying finding out what happens next but being worried about it and what might happen to the sweet folks involved.

Odd word to use I know, 'sweet', but somehow that's what they are. When I first read The Shining I was desperately worried that something dreadful was going to happen to Danny and felt a huge sense of relief at the end when the worse that could happen didn't. And now I'm feeling the same way, a sort of protectiveness, except it's not just about him. Isn't it odd, King deals with subject material that's a hundred times uglier than anything in Orwell (excepting 1984 & Animal Farm, of course) and you come out of a reading feeling more hopeful about our world and where it's going, somehow?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

In Defeat

Very occasionally I've found myself asking what it would have been like if I had been a teacher in this part of the world in the early twentieth century, given the attitudes towards race that prevailed in that period. It's a disconcerting question because one possible, indeed likely, answer is that I would have considered myself vastly superior to the native peoples whose lives I would have been attempting to illuminate, heroically bearing the white man's burden, as it were, bringing light to dark places. And this less than a hundred years ago if we take, say 1926 as a hypothetical date for our journey back in time.

To be honest even as I ask the question - which I generally do in the classroom, conjecturing in front of my students to make the question more real, I suppose - I find it difficult to believe that it was so easy to think in such terms back then, less than a couple of generations ago. The complete illogicality of basing judgments on race when you have the complex reality of actual individuals to deal with seems like a given, part of the very nature of things. But reading Orwell's Burmese Days, set in 1926, hence my not-so-arbitrary choice of year above, has been a reminder of how things really were - assuming Orwell got it right, as he usually did.

It's an extremely painful book to read, in more ways than one. Flory, the protagonist, is one of Orwell's deeply depressing losers, and you know things will turn out badly for him from the beginning. He's a study in the corroding nature of loneliness, of a decent man adrift in an endlessly corrupted world - socially, politically, personally. When he finally does away with himself it's almost a relief; the writer cannot torture him anymore.

But the real pain of the novel lies over and above the tragedy of a life being emptied and thrown away. The disconcertingly cruel racism that pervades the little world of Kyauktada results in a claustrophobic sense of hopelessness that made me glad when I was finally able to put the book to one side (yet, such is its power, not quite out of mind.) And there's a nagging suspicion that Orwell sort of accepts all this as the way of things, even though he illuminates its horrors.

The scene in which Flory makes it clear to Ma Hla May, his Burmese mistress, that her services are no longer required is made disturbing beyond measure by the fact that the reader is placed tentatively on Flory's side. We know exactly why he needs to get rid of her and rather hope she'll do the decent thing and go quietly away and find another life. And with effortless ease we are made complicit in a world in which race counts for almost everything an individual might achieve. After ruining Flory's life she ends up in a brothel in Mandalay regretting the good time when Flory was alive, and when she had not the wisdom to put aside any of the money she extracted from him. Does Orwell really mean to sound so cold? Yes, he does, because he isn't prepared to grant full humanity to any of his 'oriental' characters despite his understanding of the cruelty of their predicament. Mind you, it's fair to say that his Europeans are also caricatures, though vibrant with life, manifesting a frightening verisimilitude. The impossibly racist Ellis is a nice, or rather not very nice, example. The fact that the reader has little doubt that there were plenty of men like Ellis around in 1926 just adds to the sense of depression engendered by the novel. 

I wouldn't want to recommend this novel to anyone - it really is that strong. It leaves you defeated.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Afternoon Tea

There's a stall that is set up each day outside one of the eating places on the hill here at Bukit Antarabangsa where you can buy excellent goreng pisang at an equally excellent price, along with a range of other bits and pieces (which have steadily increased in range over the years.) We count ourselves amongst its regular patrons when staying here, usually buying something to eat with the cup that cheers at the house, or something to munch if we're going somewhere in the car. 

This afternoon, after a trying couple of hours attempting to 'activate' a couple of credit cards (don't ask!), we settled down to a couple of platefuls of good things and life felt good. There's something about doing very little and doing it well that is supremely satisfying.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Way Ahead

It's that time of year, with regard to the Islamic calendar, when thoughts begin to run on the fasting to come. Ramadan starts at the end of June, and I'm feeling the usual mixture of anticipation and trepidation. The odd truth is that there is never anything at all 'usual' about the experience of fasting. It's always a bit of an adventure and there are always new things to discover. The problem is that some of the discoveries are likely to be disconcerting. Bring it on, say I.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Less Than Enthralled

I am finding it very difficult indeed to summon up any enthusiasm at all for events in Brazil, with regard to the beautiful game. The air of corruption surrounding Fifa and the obvious disenchantment of the Brazilian people with it all don't help, and compounded as they are with an England team that has next to no chance, that sort of wraps it up. (I thought they played as well as they could against a superior Italy and the scoreline was most reasonable in the circumstances.) Even the desolation of Spain after the Dutch had finished with them afforded little if any pleasure, given that Spain have played the game as it should be played for the last eight years.

Mind you, at least goals are being scored relatively freely. Who knows, if some unlikely nation blossoms and takes everyone by storm there might just be something worth staying up for. But so far, not really.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Other Worlds

Decided to kick start my reading over the break by borrowing a few books from the library at work, one of which was Huxley's Brave New World. The last time I read it I was a teenager, probably quite an impressionable one, for I distinctly remember the sense of alarm the novel generated. This time round I was far more struck by how odd Huxley's dystopia is, and how very personally so. Surely this is the funniest novel of this genre?

The conversation in the seduction scene involving the pneumatic lady, whose name I forget, and the Savage is laugh-out-loud stuff and not for one moment do we take any of this seriously. In fact the characterisation throughout is non-existent. What, then, keeps us reading? In my case I read the novel in a day just enjoying the extravagance of it all, enjoying the chance to escape to an intriguing new world, even though I knew I should be tut-tutting in disapproval.

I suspect Huxley was as much attracted to his vision of the future as he was repelled by it. He certainly makes details like the ubiquitous soma eerily attractive. Surely every reader at some point can't help but imagine ingesting half a gramme or so?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Out Of Time

It's just a three minute stroll from the house to the mosque at the edge of the taman. Today's walk there for Friday Prayers was particularly pleasurable. Long enough to enjoy the blazing sunshine without the risk of over-heating. And as always the mosque interior was cool and airy and light.

I'm not sure if the notion of sanctuary has ever been associated with mosques in the same way it has been over the centuries with churches, but if not it should have been.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Illusion Of Control

Now packing for a couple of weeks up north in Maison KL having spent the morning clearing up and cleaning up at my desk at work. Strange how this gives me a feeling of assurance that somehow all is in order when I know that at best fiddling about round the edges just about keeps the chaos of it all in check. Funnily enough I have one colleague whose desk is swamped with mounds of papers and the like such that you'd think he wouldn't have a clue about anything but who is incredibly methodical and reliable when it comes to the real business of getting things done. No illusions there.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hot And Bothered

It's been unusually and persistently hot lately, and I'm trying not to complain. I'm more than happy to bake on the equator rather than shiver in northern climes, and it somehow seems ungrateful to start moaning when the sweat runs freely. But there have been moments, more than a few, in recent days, when I've found myself aching for a stiff, cool breeze.

When we were Melaka on Monday afternoon just stepping out into the compound from Mak's house was an act of bravado. I honestly can't remember it ever being as hot as that before. And today we found ourselves bussing it around the island, the car being in for an epic service, seeking out air-conditioned area in which to dry out. We got quite a few things done on the business front, yet I didn't feel much sense of achievement, other than being mildly happy to keep going without bursting into flame - too damp, I suppose.

Unfortunately my generally phlegmatic attitude towards life, the universe and everything, found itself dramatically fraying in the late afternoon after I tried to pay for the servicing of the car on a credit card that the company providing (DBS, to name the guilty men) had managed not to 'activate' despite me having gone to the bank, a ridiculously crowded one, with a ridiculously slow-moving queue, at the turn of the month to perform said activation. The young lady representing the guilty men, attempting to assist me in the course of a phone call undertaken to resolve the quandary, fulsomely apologised, but quite clearly was not authorised to do the activating unless all the steps of the process involved had been undertaken. As I pointed out, I had done everything I should have done and could have done quite some time ago and it was odd to tell me I had to do it all over again when it was their end of the process that had failed, and spectacularly so.

Sorry to say, I gave the poor girl on the line a hard time when it obviously wasn't her fault. But that's the thing these days about dealing with all these big companies. They ring-fence themselves with helpful young people doing the phones, and these poor souls are the ones who get the earfuls their bosses should be lining up for. Something similar happened last week when we had to ring Singtel about their Internet service failing for the umpteenth time in the last three months. A guy who helped us get back on-line got blasted because there was no one else around to tell that it was ludicrous for us to having to be ringing a technician in the first place. 

And now it's time to cool down after this little rant, even though I'm still sweating.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Coming Clean

It's that time of year I take it upon myself to do a major vacuuming of all the books in our abode (we're back in the place that are most likely to call home as things stand) and run a cloth over the racks of CDs. It's a tedious operation but a good way of reminding me just how much I've got that I've never really done justice to. Also a reminder of past pleasures. Books have an intensity about them which contrives to suggest they are still alive even whilst dormant upon dusty shelves. They won't let you forget them.

Somehow material on-line doesn't possess the same weight, the same presence. A silly thought really since the content cannot in any way be changed. But the physical actuality of a book in a room is a reminder of its need to be read. Even the act of cleaning a book comes close to an act of homage.

Monday, June 9, 2014

At Different Stages

Got a fair bit of reading done here in Melaka, particularly focusing on plays. I completed the four included in the Collected Plays One of Alfian Sa'at and the seven comprising In the Company of Heroes by Verena Tay. I suppose the obvious thing to do now is to compare and contrast the two, traditional lit analysis style, but the obvious is not terribly fruitful. Yes, both writers are Singaporean, both deal with those questions of identity beloved of that tiny city state, and both deal at least to some degree with elements of the transgressive, but they are so fundamentally un-alike as to occupy very different worlds.

One world is familiarly comfortable: its challenges are containable. The other world isn't.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Forgot to mention in yesterday's post that whilst I was busy doing nothing the Missus was locked in full-on cooking mode, preparing what turned out to be a kenduri of surpassing excellence. Originally the purpose of it all was to say prayers for our intended trip to Makkah, but since that has been postponed to December it turned into a kenduri for its own sake - always a good thing.

She arranged for a bus-load of students from a local school to come along - and I mean a literal bus-load, with thirty kids on board - and a satisfyingly high proportion of family members managed to attend. Watching the serving of food to the assembled multitude was a reminder of the power of community within Malay culture. The only spare part was, of course, my clueless good self. My function was simply to observe and enjoy it all, especially the food. And I did.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Not Working

Now in Melaka, after something of an epic journey, involving a two-hour jam at Tuas on Friday evening and various moments of stasis for no obvious reason on the highway itself. This is the first day for at least two-and-a-half months on which I've done no work at all, and, boy, does that feel good.

Friday, June 6, 2014

On The Pills

Paid a visit to my back doctor this afternoon thinking I would get a clean bill of health, only to be informed that my spine was stiffening up and I was in need of some of the old muscle relaxant. It's the first time I've been on regular medication (a bottle of the stuff) since 2010 and I'm not best pleased. Mind you, if it helps me avoid a catastrophic episode like the one in Madrid when the muscle went into spasm and I ended up crawling to the toilet in the early hours of the morning then I'll take the blighters.

Lovely word 'spasm'. It goes some way to conveying just how unpleasant it is when your muscles decide to teach you a lesson, but not quite far enough. You've really got to be there, or rather not be, if you see what I mean.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Bit Of An Event

For almost all the photographs taken of me in childhood - all lost when Mum moved out of the Gresham Street house - I could and can remember the actual taking of the picture. One of me sitting in a deckchair on Blackpool beach and pulling a face, when I was about six years old: I was in a mood because I'd got sand between my toes and had been crying just a minute or so before the shot. Taking the picture was meant to cheer me up. I can still feel the sense of frustration I felt at the machinations of the grown-ups trying to get me to smile when smiling was obviously out of the question. I think they thought the resultant picture was cute, although nobody said 'cute' back then.

And there was another of me on the same holiday sitting happily, nervously, excitedly on one of those donkeys they used to keep on the beach for rides for youngsters. What larks, eh?

Nowadays we're all photographed as much as the celebrities so none of it really counts somehow. And there's no longer that moment of surprise when you finally get to see the image after the film has been developed. As always we lose when we gain.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Fine Art

We've just been watching The Great British Menu, another of those cooking competition programmes beloved of the Missus that prove to be entirely mesmerising. This one features top chefs - I'm talking Michelin Star holders - doing the business for various courses for a big banquet. The level of accomplishment is stunning, and this is just from what you get to see on camera. What it must be like to have all the senses engaged can only be left to the imagination. And imagination, by the way, plays a huge role in both the devising and expediting of the dishes.

If you don't regard cooking as a serious art form up there with music and poetry, I don't think you have much grasp of what art is.

By the way, we viewed the programme after munching on Noi's utterly shiok mee goring which considerably eased the frustration of not getting a nibble at what the various chefs were producing.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Changing Tastes

I remember back in 1971 being somewhat disappointed after my purchase of Gentle Giant's Acquiring the Taste. I was hoping for something progressively rocking-out along the lines of Yes or ELP and this just didn't do that. It was so much more mellow somehow. But albums were expensive in those days - well, they were if you had very little money - and so, despite my disappointment I listened intently and grew accustomed to the efforts of the Schulman brothers et al, without ever quite falling in love with them.

Fast forward four decades or so and I discover with some little delight that someone has up-loaded the same sophomore album at youtube and I can listen again having lost the original vinyl more years ago than I care to recall. Of course, by this time I've listened to quite a bit more by the Giant from their later albums with much appreciation. But nothing has quite prepared me for the shock of just how darned good Acquiring the Taste actually is, how extraordinarily assured and inventive. And I now realise that what I was buying back then was something by way of an education for my ears; it's just that I failed the test at the time.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Civilising Influence

Was playing some Mozart in the car today when it suddenly struck me that you could improve standards of driving anywhere in the world just by making him compulsory listening in all vehicles.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Journey Not Taken

Our regular Haj & Umrah class was cancelled today. Since the Saudis are not granting visas to our tour group on account of the restrictions on pilgrims due to the outbreak of Mers, the class was obviously somewhat supernumerary at this point in time. So we're now looking at postponement to December. A bit of a blow, but as Noi rightly pointed out it gives us a bit more time to learn all the prayers we'd like to feel we really  know ahead of the experience.

Patience, and gratitude for what we have.