Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Spirit Of The Age

Finished Hazlitt's spirited tome (hah!) just before the end of Ramadhan. It was a slow read overall, of what is, in truth, a somewhat fragmented text, dwelling on the fine detail of each portrait, without being in too much of a hurry to move on to the next. Remarkably I think Hazlitt does evoke the zeitgeist despite the fragmentation - indeed, possibly as a result of it, or, at least, aided and abetted by it.

It got me thinking, I suppose inevitably, of what contemporary figures, equivalent to Hazlitt's, might fill an attempt to render the spirit of our own fallen age. (Of course, every age is fallen, but I couldn't resist the phrase.) I don't suppose anyone today would seriously endeavour to produce biographical sketches of no fewer than nine living poets as part of the line-up, more than a third of WH's overall number - and the nine all hailing from the UK.

Which leads me to the simple thought that any contemporary Spirit of the Age would have to include an international cast since a sense of internationalism is integral to our understanding of modern times. Quite a positive thought really. Perhaps our times have not fallen quite so far after all?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kidding Around


In many ways, perhaps most, I'm like my Mum. But there are one or two fundamental dispositions I definitely inherited from Dad. One of these concerns small children. Mum really didn't like little kids all that much; as far as Dad was concerned they could do no wrong - and he had no sense of discipline regarding them at all. They could get away with anything. Same with me. They cheer me up, even when they drive me mad.

The ones above, by the way, are just a sample of those with whom we celebrated Hari Raya.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Into The Light


Residents of this Far Place know well that the lighting of fire crackers or almost any kind of firework in a private capacity is not something you are likely to get away with here without a visit from those representing the authorities. And understandably so - there's an impeccable logic to the ban that's impossible to argue with. But, of course, sometimes you feel the need to leave logic behind, and in the nation immediately lying to the north there are many opportunities to do so - well, at least as fireworks are concerned.

We had a dazzling time last night, in more ways than one.

Monday, July 28, 2014

New Morning

Hari Raya Puasa, Eid ul-Fitr; 1 Syawal 1435




Strolled down to the little mosque down the road around 7.35. It had rained during the night, the result being one of those rain-washed mornings that remind you of how good it is to be alive. The sky was blue in patches, overlaid by an odd mix of white and dark cloud - yet it was obvious there would be no more rain. Not a trace of warmth in the air, yet not in any sense cold. The world awake and refreshed. I had Dylan's New Morning playing in my head throughout my little walk - in a mixture of the familiar version from the original album and the extraordinary version with horns blaring on the recent A New Self Portrait. Either way, it's got to be one of the greatest yelps of pure joy ever committed to vinyl.

Selamat Hari Raya, Eid Mubarak to all!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Road Ahead

29 Ramadhan 1435


Something ends; something begins. We're off to Melaka to prepare for the big day there, hoping that one of us can find the energy and wakefulness to do the driving. Noi has spent the last few days in a positive blur of activity, cleaning and cooking and baking and biscuiting, such that it's rather incumbent on my good self to find the wherewithal from somewhere in this battered, weary frame to keep us moving on.

As we move on from fasting month I find myself more aware than ever of the need to build upon what I've learnt about myself - or, rather, not forget the lessons. When I was first starting fasting I thought it enough to get through the month, and I suppose it was then. But that isn't the purpose of the experience. There's something attractive about the notion of just getting through, but the question is where that leads you, and the same place isn't a terribly useful destination.

Also now thinking ahead to a dramatic year in 2015 for our thespians. Not that 2014 is over by any means, and there are foundations to consolidate in the months ahead. It's an odd thing, but I've never done a show without ending up actively mulling over possibilities for the next one on the nights of performance.


Now in Mak's house in Melaka. Full of children, small ones, behaving with the irresponsibility of those who know that that the world revolves around them and their needs. This is an entirely good thing.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The End Of Something

28 Ramadhan 1435


When I realised that I was going to be involved in a production whilst simultaneously coming to the end of fasting I was somewhat intimidated. It turned out I was right to be. Doing two difficult and demanding things at one and the same time has not been easy. But it has certainly been both interesting and educational.

I'll be breaking my fast later in our control room for lighting and sound, an interesting first in itself.


Was reminded just now by ex-student and thespian Qistina that tonight isn't the first time we've put something on stage during Ramadhan and that I've broken my fast in the control box before. Anyway, a great night of drama acted as a suitable coda to the month and a prelude to further celebrations coming soon.

Mind you, we survived an excruciatingly nervous 10 minutes during the interval when a projector on which we were entirely dependent for Part 2 suddenly decided not to work after functioning smoothly for weeks. Expect the unexpected, as they say. We got it up and running after adding a further 5 minutes to said interval. The joys of live theatre, eh?

Friday, July 25, 2014


27 Ramadhan 1435

I was looking at the rather fine guide to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's 2014 - 2015 season today, wondering just how many of the concerts I would manage to attend this time around. I have a horrible feeling the answer will turn out to be, not nearly as many as I really should. My experience of the last few seasons strongly supports such a conjecture.

And to think that there was a time back in the 1980s when I attended concerts at the Sheffield City Hall, usually featuring the Halle, on an almost weekly basis. I suppose I consider myself busier now with regard to work, but the job has always been busy. Somewhere along the way I've lost a certain degree of drive, a certain sense of aspirational desire.

Mind you, I suspect I've gained something too. A certain sense of contentment. A desire to just enjoy things as they are without trying too hard to make them otherwise.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

One Of Those Days

26 Ramadhan 1435

If we're lucky we sometimes are granted really great days when it all just clicks into place. Today wasn't one of those days, at least not for me. So it's best not to dwell on it, but just wait for something better to come along.

Mind you, I'm still breathing at the end of it, so I don't suppose it could have been all that bad.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Green Stuff

25 Ramadhan 1435

Suddenly realised today that I might be getting something extra on my salary, as a one-off payment sometime this year that I'd completely forgotten about. The thought made me disconcertingly happy and served to comfort me through the remainder of the day. Very occasionally I wonder if I've managed to rise above material concerns. The answer, I'm afraid, is no I haven't - not by a long, long way. I suppose a little self-knowledge is useful, even if painful.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Question Of Habit

24 Ramadhan 1435

I've come to understand the extraordinary power of habit through the experience of fasting. This holy month requires the demolition of your usual routines, with the attendant realisation that so much of what we do is a form of sleep-walking: we're on automatic pilot more often than we realise. And then comes the understanding that fasting for an extended period itself requires the establishment of new routines simply to cope with this new set of demands.

Beyond that, however, comes the further realisation that to retreat into those habits, comfortable and comforting as they may be, might not be the best thing for the development of the virtues that fasting seeks to promote. And to retreat from the world would be to spurn the opportunities on offer, painful as those opportunities might be.

Simply put: it's better to be out and about, rubbing against the world's hard edges than hiding virtuously under the blankets. Better but harder. And very tiring.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lighting The Way

23 Ramadhan 1435


Some shots taken at last night's bazaar at Geylang. So much to take in, so little time to do so.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

It's Official

22 Ramadhan 1435

We're off to the bazaar at Geylang with Rozita, Fifi & Fafa with camera in hand. Fifi returned it today having completed her photo-journalism module at the Poly, successfully by the sound of it. So once I upload some pictures of our outing, the run-in to Raya will have officially begun in this household. Yay! as they say.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Someone's Bad Day

21 Ramadhan 1435

It's been a good day so far, and that isn't likely to change as a late dinner is still to come, followed by total relaxation with the Missus, doing absolutely nothing and doing it extremely well.

Things got off to a good start this morning with some enjoyable rehearsing and then an afternoon spent at Geylang Library watching students, including two of our own guys, speechifying for the Plain English Speaking Award proved one well spent. I'd forgotten just how interesting it is to listen to kids from a wide range of colleges doing their thing. And I'd also forgotten just how involved you get in hoping that things turn out right for each speaker as they're up there on what can be an unforgiving stage if you go dry.

Unfortunately that's exactly what happened for one of the participants for an excruciating minute or so. He was a talented speaker and obviously knew exactly where his speech was going and when he suddenly, unexpectedly, dried he just couldn't kick start himself and simply wing it for the last minute, well not right away that is. Eventually he got going, and actually ended reasonably effectively, but his annoyance with himself was obvious and painful.

It took him a while to get back into the room after he came off the stage and it was easy to see why. I had a word with him, along with Jonathan's dad - Jonathan representing our school - and Jonathan himself did sterling work in sticking with him and helping him get over it. I think there's some chance this will work out happily with the young man in question growing from the experience rather than being cut down by it, but you never know.

Oddly enough I'd been listening to one Leonard Cohen on the way to the library singing this: Sing the songs you still can sing / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack, a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in. If you understand what Lennie is getting at here, you've had your share of bad days. This is knowledge hard-earned, but it offers the chance of some very good days.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Not So Enlightened

20 Ramadhan 1435

Just crossed the two-thirds mark of the month - and this time it's not just me counting. Today's khutbah at Friday Prayers concerned the last ten days of Ramadhan. Mind you, the point being made wasn't so much that there just ten days left to go as that there was hardly any time left in which to partake of the full benefits of the experience and it was sad that it would soon be over. One day I'll be enlightened enough to feel that way but, alas, today was not one of those days.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Good Murder

19 Ramadhan 1435

Just finished P.D. James's The Lighthouse. Murder in an isolated community and AD and the team called in to find the perpetrator as quickly as possible. So more of the same, really, but when the formula is this good why would you want it to change? In fact, I thought this one did it better than Death in Holy Orders, simply at the level of plot. A bit more energy somehow and the idea of bumping off a great writer was in itself entertaining. Mind you, I wasn't convinced for a moment that the egregious Nathan Oliver was somehow on a par with Henry James - that was a bridge too far even for James in good form.

Even in fasting month there's nothing quite like a good murder.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stretching Out

18 Ramadhan 1435

What a day! Incredibly tough! Just when I thought I'd got the whole fasting hoo-haw reasonably under control a day comes along to remind me that there's no end to the illumination of weakness the experience provides. It shines a remorselessly penetrating light.

So what happened? Well, nothing too extraordinary. It was simply that this had always looked like it had the potential to be a challenging day in terms of wrestling with the Toad, work and it certainly proved such. Although I didn't have anything very definite to do in terms of scheduled work until the early afternoon there were lots of tasks that needed to be done and attended to, and I found myself mildly panicking as I completed each one as it reminded me of the pressing deadlines that were attached to it down the line, as it were. And then there was a scheduled awkward meeting to negotiate regarding marking issues followed by pressing drama business occupying the late afternoon. The day seemed to take on a kind of unrelenting quality, and I found myself really, really, really wanting, yearning for something to drink to sort of calm myself down. For the first time in years, possibly ever, I found myself thinking I wish I didn't have to do this.

But I did do it, and, of course, it wasn't too bad in the end - helped along considerably by a fruitful session with my drama guys.

Now consider: what must it be like for those fasting in genuinely trying circumstances? Folks in Gaza and Syria to name but two places in which I'm deeply glad I'm not resident. Actually I asked myself this useful question (prompted by an observation old friend and wise sage Tony Green made to me the other day in a phone conversation) just at the point when my sense of panic was becoming too, too silly and the answer, of course, worried me but was strangely calming in the sense of proportion it engendered.

I've got a feeling this isn't going to be the last day like this in this holy month - and worrying as that thought may be, it's also a strangely welcome one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pay-back Time

17 Ramadhan 1435

We were in Geylang this afternoon, paying our seasonal visit to Darul Arqam to pay our zakat. It was odd to be confronted there by two rather large mug-shots of our good selves, prominent within the premises, on a sign-board exhorting fellow Muslims to pay their zakat. We agreed to help Darul Arqam's advertising campaign earlier this year, so the mug-shots were not entirely a surprise, but even so... I must admit to more than a twinge of jealousy at the fact that the shot of the Missus saw her at her radiant best, whereas mine was, sadly, business as usual.

After making our payment it was off to the bazaar, the stalls immediately outside Darul Arqam that is, in order to buy some goodies for breaking the fast. As always I was astonished at the staying power of the vendors. How they keep going whilst fasting on a hot day some standing around super hot stalls, in the heat of the cooking, is beyond me.

It was good to get out for the afternoon, but even better to get home in time for a little snooze before breaking the fast.

Monday, July 14, 2014


16 Ramadhan 1435

I managed to keep getting it wrong right until the end. Although I didn't say it our loud, there was I thinking penalties were a dead certainty and Argentina would edge them, when the Germans scored what was really a classic - just as I was putting my first handful of rice for sahur into my mouth, as it happens. Good that it ended with a clear-cut win on a great goal and good that the best team, looking at the tournament as a whole, won. I hate it when these things are decided on penalties. Sad for Messi. He'll never be thought of as on a par with Maradona after this result, and his was an uncharacteristically poor finish when he did have the chance to put Argentina in front.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


15 Ramadhan 1435


Highlight of the day so far, watching Anthony Chen's fine film Ilo Ilo on DVD. Even the fact that the English subtitles stopped working with around about a fifth of the movie left didn't spoil my enjoyment. Chen focuses on what reasonably be termed the lives of ordinary Singaporeans in a very ordinary story to remind us that there's nothing ordinary about ordinary life.

The excellent low-key naturalistic performances from the four leads underpinned a delightfully subtle, gently subversive look at a Singaporean Chinese family in increasingly pressurised circumstances alongside the evolving complexity of their relationships with a new maid from The Philippines. Chen really makes you feel the financial pressures driving the characters such that there's a sense of mounting unease even in the happier moments on show.

Just one well-chosen detail that typifies the subtlety I mentioned earlier: there's no music in the film of any note until the end when the father and son share the headphones to the cheap cassette we've seen Teresa, the maid, listening to several times earlier. We then hear the Filipino song of gentle yearning that she's been listening to, which then plays over the final credits. There's no overt sentimentality here, no attempt to point to the meaning of the moment, and it works powerfully because of that restraint. Lovely stuff!


Second highlight of the day, just after breaking fast, the official switching on of our twinkling lights to accompany the maghrib prayer. Amazingly all the lights are still working for what we estimate is their fourth year of operation here in our Hall. Normally I'd take a picture but we're not on visuals at the moment as Fifi has borrowed Uncle B's camera for a project she's doing.


Third and final highlight, a night out at the Mall munching KFC and doing some shopping which, as the Missus astutely pointed out as we left constituted, Our first night out this year. She meant during the fasting month, by the way, so there's no need to feel overly sorry for us. Funnily enough Ramadhan always works out this way: it starts with a week or two of turning inward, as it were, and then the curtains come down, the lights go up, the cushion covers come off, the biscuiting begins and we engage with the world again.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Being Tested

14 Ramadhan 1435

I thought today was going to be a relatively easy one. Yes, I had some marking to be done, but the set of papers I'm dealing with at the moment hadn't been overly troublesome for the last four days or so and I was going to be able to go back to bed after the dawn prayers and catch up on lost sleep with a bit of a lie-in. Such was the plan and how it went awry!

It turns out that for some reason my body wasn't all that keen to catch up on sleep and, although I went back to bed, whatever sleep I got was fitful and when I got up later to mark I didn't feel rested. Anyway, I dutifully applied myself to the first three scripts immediately upon rising and these went well enough. Then the problems began. Suddenly every script I picked up presented problems, basically due to less than decipherable handwriting and the torturous expression of ideas, nearly always combined. Normally when you get one such script there's some relief to follow. But in this case it was just one after another after another after another. My original calculation was that I would be finished by 2.00 pm latest. In the event I was still slogging along in the late afternoon. 

I suppose I passed the test by getting through my quota, but it somehow doesn't feel that way. I felt a lack of something; but I don't know what that something is.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Bit Of A Concern

13 Ramadhan 1435

I had the good fortune today to have duties flexible enough to allow me to set off for Friday Prayers well before the azan. I imagined that on arrival I was going to wander into a half-empty mosque and choose my spot. How wrong I was. Arriving a good twenty-five minutes before the call to prayer I found the bottom floor already full enough to consider going upstairs, where there's usually more room. However, I was able to find a spot in a position to facilitate my viewing of the translated khutbah. (All about staying physically healthy, especially during fasting month and full of the kind of sound advice the doctor will give you for a nice fee.)

It seems that the population of male Muslims in this country doubles when it comes to Ramadhan.

Of course, this is far from something to be moaning about, but I'm a bit worried about what's going to happen on the next couple of Fridays if I can't get away in good time. The last time I had a problem finding a spot to pray in was last Hari Raya, back in Alor Gajah, when we arrived at the big mosque in town somewhat later than anticipated. That feeling of mild panic that you're going to be too late to start the prayer and end up looking a complete idiot in a very public place is not one I fancy recapitulating any time soon.

The funny thing is that if you mention these concerns to anyone they'll smile sagely and say it will all work out in the end. And it does.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


12 Ramadhan 1435

Learnt two things today:

1. It is not wise to attempt to mark an examination script whilst watching a World Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out.

2. It's amazing the degree of sharp longing that can be created by the simple question, Do you fancy a cup of tea?, when you can't have one. Oddly this has very little to do with the actual cup of tea in itself. It relates to everything that surrounds it. (Though the tea would have been nice.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Unpredictable

11 Ramadhan 1435

A couple of people asked me today what my prediction is for tonight's Argentina-Holland game. I can't imagine why they ask since every single one of my predictions for this World Cup has been wrong, sometimes spectacularly so. But none could have been more wrong than what I thought might happen in last night's Brazil-Germany semi-final. I reckoned it would be a tight game, with a single goal deciding it, possibly penalties, with Brazil likely to edge it, given that fervent crowd behind them.

Imagine my surprise when I switched on this morning to catch the second half and saw the 0-5 scoreline. For a moment I thought it might have something to do with corners. Watching the Germans take it with some ease to the final total of seven had something of the surreal about it.

Imagine, your team gets to a World Cup semi-final and you end up feeling as bad as the Brazilian fans will feel today, and for some time to come. Never take anything for granted, eh? (Except for the Germans winning in the end.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Falling From Grace

10 Ramadhan 1435

Sky News gave quite a bit of coverage last week to the outcome of the trial involving Rolf Harris. So even though it was barely mentioned at all on these shores, I got a good picture of what was going on. Not very nice at all, especially, of course, for the victims. And there was something sad about a figure familiar from one's childhood being exposed in this manner as what appears to have been the worst, or very nearly the worst, kind of sexual predator.

But I was surprised by the number of commentators who found it difficult to reconcile the true nature of the man with the apparently nice guy he had appeared to be on stage and screen. Surely no one can reach adulthood without understanding that it's quite possible for the nicest, most agreeable person to be harbouring a darkness at their centre. Surrendering to our appetites, as it appears he all too often did - the worst kind of appetites - we are capable of terrible things, awful cruelty, and we can cause irreparable damage.

It's almost criminally na├»ve of us to ignore this fact about ourselves and our fellows. To blindly trust in the integrity of others is reprehensibly foolish. When we accept this truth we are able to see how all the more admirable it is that the vast majority of people behave decently, kindly, compassionately despite their innate capacity for doing otherwise. This is why I can't see it as unduly cynical to be distrustful of others and, indeed, oneself.

In my own line of work it's only sensible to bear in mind the likelihood that the job might well attract some individuals with dark motives for wanting to get close to young people. Over my limited career I've directly known of five cases of behaviour that crossed a line that shouldn't have been crossed - all involving apparently decent people. That might seem a lot, but it needs to be borne in mind that I've known I suppose hundreds of educators of impeccable integrity. And that's to be celebrated in a fallen world.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Testing Times

9 Ramadhan 1435

Interesting insight from Al-Ghazzali when he notes that having that which is in agreement with our desires makes demands upon us that we may not be aware of: Indeed, it has been said that everyone is patient in adversity, but not in well-being. One of those paradoxical insights that abound in this month.

It's really quite remarkable how difficult it is to remain patient with even the slightest set-back when you live a life as comfortable as the one I'm fortunate to be granted. Having no choice but to keep your temper, or appear to, is a salutary discipline.

To some degree the whole notion of needing to maintain some kind of discipline is out of tune with the times, of course. Which is unfortunate for the times.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

In Company

8 Ramadhan 1435


My stamina is definitely improving. I've kept working or reading (Murakami's Norwegian Wood - very readable) for the whole day so far without feeling the need to nod off. And I don't feel the least bit headachy. I'm not foolish enough to think I'm completed adjusted to fasting yet, but I'm definitely getting there.

And for the first time this Ramadhan we'll be breaking the fast in company - always something to look forward to. We're off to Intan & Hakim's soon. They're having a bit of a gathering for Zahira's birthday and we're going to be a bit of it.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

More Looking Back

7 Ramadhan 1435

Forgot to mention yesterday in my little reminiscence on some of the books I've read recently that I also completed cover to cover readings of poetry collections by no fewer than three writers local to these shores, and all with some connection to my place of work. I'm not sure that every poem I read worked but enough did to make my reading feel something more than just worthwhile.

I also completed Auden's The Dyer's Hand in KL. What a strange collection it is. Moments of genius mixed with a good deal of eccentricity - but always entertaining and often thought-provoking, at least when you can figure out what he's talking about. I was particularly struck by his magisterial tone. You don't hear so much definiteness about the indefinite these days. We live in uncertain times.

Which leads me to a quick comment on Hazlitt's The Spirit of the Age. How fascinating it is that he genuinely captures that spirit through the individual essays on various public figures that comprise the book rather than through an attempt to deal with the zeitgeist in any kind of generalised, systematic manner. A reminder that if such a thing as a zeitgeist exists then this is how it is manifested, through the behaviour of real people within their historical context, not from some kind of abstract atmosphere floating around them. I've just finished his comments on Wordsworth which seem to me to make a great introduction to that puzzling writer even for us moderns. I didn't realise the extent to which WW felt wounded by being seen as an outsider figure even in his later years, and the degree to which his early work was seen as revolutionary in terms of its subject matter. We take it for granted that daffodils are poetic; it took a Wordsworth to make them so.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Looking Back

6 Ramadhan 1435

I'm beginning to move beyond the initial period of weak listlessness the month usually involves, for me, that is. Noi seems to adapt effortlessly to the fast. My own adaptation is timely as I now have a heap of marking to deal with, so energy is in order.

It's quite a temptation just to lounge around, half-watching whatever is on the goggle-box, and fall asleep when listening to music. In fact, I nodded off in the late afternoon to the Stones' Sticky Fingers, quite an achievement when you consider that it's not exactly their most soothing album. (I was gone by Sway, track 2, in case you're interested.) But I'm fighting the temptation by ensuring I get some reading done, with Murakami's Norwegian Wood as the main course and Hazlitt's The Spirit of the Age as dessert. I've got a particularly good edition of the Hazlitt, a so-called 'student edition' from the 1970's, of the kind they don't seem to do any more, with excellent notes. I brought it back from KL, where I sort of unintentionally started reading it having finished all the books I took with me.

It was back in KL that I finished all the Father Brown stories that I've accumulated over the years and also on the detective front read P.D. James's Death in Holy Orders - not her best, but even second-rate P.D. James makes a first- rate murder. And I also read, rather avidly to tell the truth, the fourth and fifth volumes in the collected Saga of the Swamp Thing. Perhaps too avidly - I think I over-dosed by following one volume immediately by another and felt a touched fatigued by the end of number five. The element of wild improvisation in the story-telling was starting to lose its appeal.

I also read a couple of plays by David Mamet, and you can now count me as a total fanboy. Glengarry Glen Ross and Romance were the two in question and I strongly recommend them, unless, that is, you take umbrage at gratuitous profanity, because there's gloriously lots of that in both. (I've always wondered how it is that schools get away with GGR as a set text, because several around the world do, as I've discovered from my IB marking.) Romance is possibly the least politically correct play I've read in years, and definitely the funniest. I'd love to see a production some time.

Oh, and I finally got up-to-date with my editions of Philosophy Now by finishing the 100th, dedicated to the philosophy of language. And that tied in nicely with reading P.H. Matthews's Linguistics - A Very Short Introduction, which is very short but packed with detail and deserving of a second reading.

And that's just about all for now, so I'm off for a coke lite before bed-time.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


5 Ramadhan 1435


There was some talk of water rationing in Selangor just before we left KL around about this time last week. Our water supply was distinctly reduced on the Thursday with the taps downstairs not providing their usual flow. Our neighbour, Susan, told us she spent Thursday evening panicking, filling up buckets and other receptacles, thinking the taps might well be dry by the weekend. Since we were on our way by Friday we didn't panic, but we would have undoubtedly done so had we been staying around. As it was the taps were okay by Friday so I suppose the authorities decided the rationing wasn't yet necessary. It rained heavily on Thursday night, but I'm not sure this alone would have had any particular impact on the situation.

It was only in Melaka that it occurred to me that fasting was going to be extremely difficult for Muslims in KL if the water supply were to be cut back. And this led to the thought that we are in circumstances that significantly ease the whole experience of the fast. There are no shortages of anything we need, when we need it. In fact, the fast makes you intensely aware of the plenty that surrounds us and comes so readily, perhaps too easily, to hand - and mouth.

Without a basic sense of gratitude for what we're freely given I don't see how we can keep anything in reasonable proportion. And I know I'll be extremely grateful when I drink that glass of water and cup of tea waiting for me on the table in about half-an-hour.


I'm about to eat today's main course, a spaghetti dish cunningly put together by the Missus - having earlier broken the fast with water, teh tarik, dates, goreng pisang and mango. Not bad, eh? It occurs to me that although there is a strand in Islam of a distinctly ascetic nature, a kind of contemptus mundi, as in all faiths, Ramadhan is not intended primarily as an ascetic experience. Rather it is in many ways a celebration of the goods of this world, but one that puts those goods in sane proportion. Trust me, there is simply nothing more wonderful than a glass of water. Except, perhaps, a glass of water with ice. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Kind Of Engagement

4 Ramadhan 1435

I thought carefully about whether to bring back my paperback of Marmaduke Pickthall's translation of The Holy Qur'an from its shelf in KL, but eventually decided not to. My instincts are against a cover to cover reading this Ramadhan. The feeling of having to press on to accomplish a full reading sometimes means I forego the meditative, gradual aspects of a slow contemplation of the text and it's that kind of reading I feel in need of at the moment with regard to matters Islamic. With that in mind I picked up a couple of short booklets culled from the work of Al-Ghazzali a while back and I'm intending to do no more than read and reflect on these this month in terms of distinctly Muslim material. One features the great philosopher-cum-theologian On Patience and Gratitude, the other On the Treatment of Anger, Hatred and Envy. I've got a feeling I'm going to find myself with a lot to think about with these alone.

In the meantime I also intend to make headway with 'ordinary' reading. It's a mistake, I think, to cut yourself off from the ways things are in a period that makes devotion a more central feature of life. There's nothing monastic about Islam - it's about engagement in the real world, but extends our understanding of what is real.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Staying Hungry

3 Ramadhan 1435


I don't feel hungry. I don't feel thirsty. Not in the way that I did when I was a kid and I'd be longing for dinner after smelling the chips frying or gagging for a long, cold drink after over-doing it playing five-a-side. Nothing as definitely urgently yearning as that.

Rather, I'm aware of a lack-of-ease about my body, if I allow myself to think about myself in that physical way. I know my head isn't exactly aching, but is mildly painful if I move it about too much. I know I'm finding it somewhat more difficult to swallow than it might normally be. I know I feel empty not of food but of life somehow.

And I also know that the thing to do is to keep going even when you don't feel like going anywhere, because all this will pass.


And, of course, pass it all did. But the memory remains as evidence of how fundamentally weak I am tied to this irrepressibly demanding body. A small part of the value of the month lies in the glimpses it gives of transcending this weakness. But they remain the briefest of glimpses. Cracks allowing the light in.