Friday, October 31, 2014

Just Having Fun

It's unusual for us to find ourselves out and about when it's still the middle of the week and there's a day at work for me to follow, but last night was an exception. We were celebrating Fifi's birthday out at some seafood restaurant at Woodlands, with a nice view of the Malaysian coastline opposite, and lots of yummy grub on the table. A jolly good time was had by all, with lots of immoderate laughter, which is the way things should be. At least occasionally.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Blast Off

Finally really got going on my recently purchased LoA cache. Finished The Space Merchants by Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth in reasonably speedy fashion and was happy to do so. Great verve in the story-telling and over-flowing with ideas. What's not to like? Even the outmoded sexism was great fun in its way. Also remarkably prescient for 1953 - the stuff about replenishing greenhouse gases made me catch my breath and was a reminder that we've known about the mess we're in for a good deal longer than we are to admit.

Moved on temporarily from the sci-fi to get me some Hammett: Red Harvest, in case you were wondering. The opening pages reminded me of just why I've always preferred him to Chandler - and I don't say that lightly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In Brief

Spent part of the day meditating on something from William Blake: Everything that is possible to be believed is an image of the truth. It was part of the day well spent.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Further Extremes

Since reading Sarah Kane's play Blasted I've been thinking on and off about just how far a dramatist can reasonably go in terms of representing extreme experiences - particularly those of a sexual or violent (or both) nature - on stage. I suppose one simple answer is: they can go as far as they like if there is an audience for it. And another: since there seem few limits on the dreadful extremes of experience, of cruelty and suffering, human beings subject each other to with monotonous regularity, it would dishonest to not allow such to be represented in the theatre. In holding up a mirror to nature we must allow the mirror to reflect the extremes of that nature.

The problem is, I'm still not entirely convinced by these arguments, and I can't quite figure out why. I know for sure that I much preferred reading Michael Frayn's Afterlife to Ms Kane's work (though I've got a feeling I'll still have details of her play in my head when the cleverness of Mr Frayn's account of the career of Max Reinhardt will have faded) and I think Afterlife gives us a deeper insight into what we might loosely term the human condition. There's something suspect for me in the sincerely compelling intensity of Blasted.

Funnily enough, reading Kane's Crave, which was generally well-received by the critics I believe, didn't work for me at all. I just couldn't put the four voices together in a way that made them something greater than the sum of their parts. Presumably this works better in performance because on the page it appears almost juvenile in places. I hate to say this, because I'm uneasy about belittling any writer, and especially one as genuinely tormented and abundantly talented as Ms Kane, but I'm wondering if there is an element of self-indulgence in her work that compromises it. I think I feel the same way about Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and F**king which I read just after Blasted, as a way of getting myself to think through my responses to this sort of In-Yer-Face, Theatre of Extremes.

Gosh, I'm conflicted on this. Because it's obvious how talented these writers are, and how they are obviously telling us truths. But it doesn't seem to me to be quite the Truth in the way that Frayn somehow manages in his theatre of distance, moderation and intelligence. And then there's this from the postscript to Afterlife that resonates for me: It (the financing of Reinhardt's Everyman) sounds more and more like the situation in the British (and the German) theatre today, which struggles piously to present plays about poverty and degradation to an audience not very closely acquainted with either - and which has to be subsidised by the charitable efforts of people on even more remote terms with them. Interesting, eh?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Down To Earth

I've had occasion to moan here before about the ghastly ordinariness of my dreams, but I think I reached a new low point last night. Somehow I managed to dream about being late to work on the actual Monday morning that awaited me on awakening. I was supposed to be doing a talk for the Year 4 students at 8.00 and I woke, in the dream, at 7.40 knowing I couldn't get there in time. And that was all. It didn't even have the interesting virtue of actually coming true. Drearily I awoke when I intended and did the talk as intended. All very quotidian - a word that appears to be in vogue amongst the kids at the moment.

Have I really got no imagination at all? (Please don't attempt to send in any answers on that one.)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Getting Ahead

It's time to settle down to some sustained reading, now a bit of daylight has opened up in my day-to-day commitments. So here's my on-going list to celebrate the excitements ahead: The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth; Michael Frayn's Afterlife; Scarf Jack by P.J. Kavanagh; and Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!! by Daljit Nagra. The first of these is from the LoA cache recently delivered, specifically from American Science Fiction, Four Classic Novels, 1953 - 1956; the second is my on-going drama; the third my on-going children's novel; the last mentioned (splendid title!) from the poetry cache bought with my well-gotten gains from this year's Literature Seminar. 

Just listing them is exciting, so now I'm off to bury my head in the first.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Reaching Conclusions

There are few things more satisfying than the final performance of a show that does everything you were hoping it would when it was being conceived. So I would imagine after this evening's final performance of the musical our students devised that they will feel supremely satisfied.

And now I am in the happy position of having time at least to finish Richard Adams's Watership Down which, happily, features a well-nigh perfect ending, quite extraordinarily assured for a first novel. I don't think he ever came close to pulling off the magic again, but I'm thinking of getting hold of The Plague Dogs from the library at work to remind myself of another worthy, if not great, performance.

Friday, October 24, 2014

In The Moment

The other day I was trying to explain to Chris, a fan of 80s synth bands, poor soul, why someone might want to buy a box set of all Crimso's European concerts prior to the release of Starless and Bible Black. I failed. It's difficult to explain why I feel this way but no studio recording I know can match the sheer visceral excitement of live performance. And when the musicians in question go into uncharted territory, as Crimso did every night they played, then the danger levels go well into the gloriously incandescent red. Hah!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Something Painful

I'm puzzled by the relentless clich├ęs one hears about the fun of learning. At that stage of life when first exploring the world largely through play there's plenty of evidence of enjoyment. But even then any perceptive observer of small kids will be aware of the moments of inevitable pain that accompany those unavoidable moments of discovery that the world is not always an accommodating place.

But later? Real learning is often characterised by a need to re-draw our mental models of the world and such challenges are frequently disconcerting, even if, for some of us, there's a thrill in discovering we were wrong all along. Whenever anyone claims they're a lifelong learner look for signs of the stress that comes with really thinking deeply about things. If you don't see them, chances are the claimant is splendidly deceiving himself.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


I got roped in a while back in helping out in a small way on a musical some of our students have been putting together to raise money for Cancer Awareness. I've been a bit busy with it over the last couple of weeks as it comes to fruition this weekend, but nothing like as busy as the young people involved in the project, who've been taking care of business in every way. In case you think putting a show of any kind together is a fairly small undertaking let me tell you, it isn't, and a musical of any variety is incredibly demanding - and you can multiply that by ten when you've cooked up your own script.

The astonishing thing about the creative team, the cast and everyone involved behind the scenes is that I haven't heard a single complaint about what they're doing no matter how rough it's got. Just being around them makes an old codger like me feel not exactly young but a whole lot less aged, if you see what I mean. There's a lot to be said for Positivity, you know.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Disappearance Of The Book

You just don't see novels on students' desks these days. Six years ago or so I would find myself noting the sometimes engaging mixture of novels it was possible to spot in a classroom. A fair amount of these were by Dan Brown, but you'd also catch sight of tomes by Leo Tolstoy and assorted luminaries, and I'm a great believer in the virtues of reading trash, anyhow. But I can't remember seeing a book, intended for casual reading, on a desk for months.

Now what I'm wondering is whether the kids are still reading their novels, but through nifty devices like Kindles. Or if they're just doing whatever they do on this mysterious Social Media I keep hearing about and the days of a good story are finished. I really don't know the answer, but I must say I just can't imagine anyone reading War and Peace from a screen, no matter how nicely lit it is. Mind you, that might speak more to my limitations than being a sign of the end of civilisation as we know it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


My reading just lately has been possessed of this disconcerting staccato quality: little jerks of progress with dead periods between. It took me quite a while to read Olivier Todd's Albert Camus: A Life despite finding so much that was interesting about it, not least the details about France generally in the Occupation and that nation's immediate post-war experience of trying to come to terms with the period. I'm wondering now whether it was the engaging nature of the material that found me moving so slowly through it.

In tandem with the biography, which I finished a few days back, I was reading Richard Adams Watership Down, having retrieved every one's favourite book of talking rabbits from Fifi, who seemed to find it impossible to read despite Uncle Brian's encouragement to do so. I extend this encouragement to readers young and old who haven't read Adams's masterpiece. It's just a great story. Unfortunately on this my second reading the fact that I know the story so well has slowed my reading and I'm still at it. What I've gained this time round, some forty years later, is a greater appreciation of the fact that this is much more a story about human behaviour (in rabbit clothing) than it is about actual rabbits. I used to tell people that the only thing that isn't natural about rabbit behaviour in the novel is the fact they have language, but I failed to appreciate just how cleverly the writer deceives us in this respect. There's a great deal that touches on the implausible. Mind you, the reader still gets to learn an awful lot about rabbits and, more importantly, extends his or her awareness of those who share our world.

I can't see myself starting anything else in a serious manner until I've bid farewell to Hazel and his companions since it's my faffing around dipping into other books that's partly responsible for slowing me down. I'm putting off a proper reading of The From Hell Companion until I have time to read it alongside the original. Good as it is it doesn't stand alone, and doesn't pretend to. The pile of Library of America tomes recently delivered has also been playing havoc with sustained progress on 'real' reading as I haven't been able to resist dipping into every volume for just a few pages - and it hasn't helped that I've even been going back to the Flannery O'Connor LoA volume to reread a story or two in The Geranium segment of the earliest of her stories.

The oddest thing of all is that just lately I've had no impulse to seriously get on with reading a collection or two of poems. I'm not at all sure why this is - it just is. Oh hum. Anyway, I'm off back with those clever bunnies. Bigwig's just about to break out of General Woundwort's creepy warren with a bunch of does and I'm looking forward to find out what happens next, even though I already know.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Time Of Renewal


Noi's massage lady Kak Sabariah (she of the iron fingers) is on the premises and doing the business with the Missus even as I write. Some time in the next couple of hours it will be my turn to have most of my muscles knocked and kneaded out of shape and back into new and interesting configurations. The odd thing is that this is the most relaxing experience known to man. Well, this man, anyway.


Now officially entirely relaxed to the extent that Noi will be at the wheel as we drive Kak Sabariah home in the next hour or so, and I will be snoozing in the passenger seat. According to kakak I am entirely keras and frozen and am likely to wake up blue-black in places on the morrow. If so, it will have been worth it.

Friday, October 17, 2014


I can only assume I'm looking my age and then some. In the last three weeks I've been told on at least four occasions by various concerned folk that I look very tired, or sympathetic words to that effect. The thing is that I am tired, but not all that tired - if you see what I mean. Basically I feel okay and it's quite odd when someone looks at me as if okay is far from their minds regarding how I'm looking. So if you happen to run into me and reckon I'm not looking up to much at all, I'd be grateful if you kept the information to yourself.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

More Noise

A colleague who sits near me often has a small fan running on her desk. Whenever she switches it off I realise, very suddenly, just how noisy it is. Yet when it's running I'm completely unaware of it. It doesn't in any sense rattle, it doesn't hum, it doesn't make any obvious noise, but as soon as it's off you're aware of the absence of a something that had a presence that was apparent to the ears. I don't find it in any way disturbing, yet there's a kind of easing of the air once it stops working. It feels as if it should come as a relief, but there was nothing to be relieved of.

It's the same sometimes in our apartment early in the morning. Around about 7.00 am something outside and above switches off and it suddenly becomes quieter, but there wasn't any obvious noise in the first place.

The way we hear, or don't hear, is brilliantly selective. It's a dangerous talent.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Above The Noise

Noise is strangely infectious. It's very difficult to detach yourself from it. But well worth the effort. Silence, in contrast, is rarely infectious. But much more powerful, and to be treasured.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Out Of Season

We popped down to a very crowded Serangoon Road yesterday to get some Deepavali cards for our favourite gardener and other luminaries. Unfortunately we went by way of Orchard Road which was a lot more crowded than we expected traffic-wise, making progress to our destination rather slower than expected. But it did give us a chance to look at the lights for Christmas already in place around Tanglin Road. And then this evening we attended a Christmas Dinner. Reminder to the world: it's not yet the middle of October, people! It's possible to have too much of a good thing, ye gods of Commerce. (I'm dreading the carols starting up in the malls before we hit November.)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Latest Delivery

Got the little pile above delivered to my door last week and have been enjoying the thought of getting to grips with them ever since. Have officially abandoned the idea of an e-reader of some kind for the foreseeable future, partly because the thought of holding the above as I read them is just so beguiling. Finished Olivier Todd's biography of Albert Camus today, partly to clear the way for the above, and partly because I enjoyed it in its own right. That's the thing about being a reader: it's all good.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Not Too Shabby

Just back from an evening of music at the newly refurbished Victoria Concert Hall. It's amazing what a few licks of paint and a bit of new upholstery can do. The hall is now seriously classy. Even the toilets made me feel undeserving.

And 23 string players plus Okko Kamu conducting did justice to Strauss's desperately despairing Metamorphosen. I thought it sounded intense on CD - I've got a version with Von Karajan at the helm - but live it's even more so: the music really goes nowhere; it's just despair upon despair. Alex Ross in The Art of Noise reckons it's Strauss's requiem for himself, and that rings true to me.

I wasn't expecting much from the Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin and Piano which, oddly, came after the interval, but I found it rather fetching, all told, with a lovely slow movement. It seems that Felix wrote it when he was just fourteen. Blimey! Imagine having something like that on your resume.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Bit More Beauty

Gallery Night, when our Year 6 IB visual artists put their two years of work on display, is well established as one of the highlights of my year. This time round was no exception; in fact, it was on the biggest scale we've had so far, featuring, if I'm not mistaken, a grand total of 21 young artists. I went this evening expecting to be wowed, and wowed I was in surplus.

Since I now know I'm going to be knocked sideways by the quality of what I see, I've changed my viewing strategy. Previously I've glanced quickly at the various artists' statements that accompany the work, but I've tended to jump quickly to viewing the stuff based on its own merits, as it were. This time round I focused on getting a sense of what the artists' 'journeys' had meant to them and how I saw this reflected the work. I'm not saying this was transformatory, but I felt a greater sense than previously of what each piece might mean to its maker.

The funny thing is, though, that there's always a moment looking at the work, at least one piece and often many more than that, that you realise that what the artist has done has become greater than the personal concerns that fuelled the work. I suppose that's one of the characteristic signs of making something that's 'real' art: the moment when you look at your work and wonder, Now where the heck did that come from?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Bit Of Beauty



We spent a bit of time over the weekend checking out Noi's sister Rozana's studio where she makes all her pots and other nifty items. There's a good chance she going to get oodles of cash from some sort of entrepreneurial competition the Malaysian government is running such that she'll be able to develop the place and take her business and her art to a new level. I can't think of anyone who better deserves such an opportunity. Talented, and prepared to put it on the line to make some kind of living out of doing what she wants to do. And making the world a better place in the process - well, a bit more beautiful.

I'll miss the old workshop though. Happy memories of Nenek when she lived there. And I think it has a kind of beauty in its own right.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


The epic scale of Camus's womanising should make me detest the man. Didn't he see the damage he was doing to his poor second wife and, I guess, lots of other 'secondary' victims? Actually, I think he did, and against the odds that's one of the things that makes him likable despite everything. (Clearly, most of the women in Paris seemed to think so - though likable might not be exactly le mot juste. Go figure, eh?)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Traveller's Tale

We didn't just drive back to Singapore any old how yesterday. No, we had a cunning plan - which failed on an epic scale.

The scheme was to set off much later than we normally would, after the maghrib prayer. Thus we would escape the inevitable jam at Tuas with everyone coming back after the long weekend, and the slow traffic on the highway, by arriving at Immigration very late at night when the jam had long since dissolved. Unfortunately it appeared that everyone else coming back after the weekend had the same idea. We arrived at Tuas to witness the sea of red brake-lights lapping well beyond the final toll booth on the highway. I reckoned we'd be lucky to get back to Hall by 2.30 am.

And here's the odd thing. Having realised just how bad the jam was even before we ritually filled up with the cheaper petrol available that side of the Causeway, I felt a strange kind of fatalistic resignation such that I wasn't massively upset. I don't know if this atypical indifference played any part in what ensued, but we actually made pretty reasonable progress towards the Malaysian Immigration, assisted by several slices of luck and some fairly impudent manoeuvring. Usually we have simply found ourselves stationary for anything up to fifteen minutes at a time when we've been in this kind of jam at this location. That just didn't happen; not to us, anyway.

So the upshot of all this was that we were able to celebrate our arrival back at the old doorstep before 12.40 am. Not exactly optimal, but a lot earlier than predicted at one stage.

Think we may abandon the cunning planning though.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Not So Well Connected

Experiencing oddly slow speeds using the Internet here in Melaka. Trying to find the wisdom not to be irritated by this. Failing.

Still, I reckon I fall far short of addiction to the cyberworld and all it represents. I remember how rich life was before it all fell upon us. We've had more than enough in my lifetime to get along just fine, thank you.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

In A Holiday Mood

Eid al Adha 1435

It's extremely restful having a mosque just down the road. Fuad and I strolled out this morning for the prayers for Hari Raya Haji on hearing the takbir begin and thoroughly enjoyed the ease of it all. Must say I generally felt a bit tired during prayers though and enjoyably crashed out once back at the homestead.

Now we're in Melaka, making merry at Mak's place, a very jolly way to spend a Sunday evening. There's a lot to be said for long weekends. Pity they can't be made even longer.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Born Lucky

We were munching our burgers in Johnny Rockets this evening when the dancing waiters and waitresses started having a good time to the Four Tops' I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.) It turns out that neither Fifi nor Fafa is familar with the song, although they were obviously grooving along listening to it. Who wouldn't have been?

It occurred to me, and I had a good time explaining to them, that my childhood growing up with this kind of music was extraordinarily privileged compared to their own sadly deprived versions. Can there possibly have been a better time musically for a child to grow up in than the 60's? I don't think so.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Road Ahead

We'll be making our way up the north-south highway later this evening as we're intending to celebrate Hari Raya Haji in KL this year having been granted a long weekend to do so. At this point in time a journey across the road to buy supplies would seem a journey too far, so I'm hoping to find the energy for tonight's jaunt from somewhere before take-off. It's either that or convince the Missus to chauffeur me all the way.

Postscript: arrived at Maison KL at 3.00 in the morning having deliberately set off late. We were told of huge jams at Tuas and Seremban in the evening so we went off to have dinner first and then toddled up late when the roads had cleared. Mind you, there was still an amazing amount of traffic about even in the early hours. Does nobody sleep in South-East Asia?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Bit Anti-social

I was exploring the wonders of youtube earlier today with a focus on all the excellent talks and discussions of real value available and wondering how I could ever find time to listen to it all. And, of course, there isn't time because the material is virtually endless. So the sensible question becomes how to find time to properly listen to a little of what is of most value, and even that's difficult to answer. But once you realise there's nothing really lost here, just great possibilities of opening yourself up to ideas that otherwise you'd have had no chance of being exposed to, then it's all good.

Except for what's bad. Incredibly under even the best material there often, indeed usually, appear comments of extraordinary stupidity to the point that scrolling down on almost any page turns out to be a mildly depressing experience - unless the comments have been disabled, when it's possible to breathe a sigh of relief. Somehow I can't get away from the nagging thought that this is the great window into what people are really like: small-minded, nasty, ill-informed. More than a bit creepy.

But, I console myself with the notion that what this mindless commentary represents is a false picture of our species: a self-selecting sample of brainlessness with way too much time on its hands. I'm told that this is what constitutes a large part of the brave new world of social media. Thank goodness I've opted to be anti-social.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Crossing A Line

Bought tickets the other day for the up-coming SSO concert in which they're having a go at Strauss's Metamorphosen. Got a juicy 30% discount on my ticket. Unfortunately it was the senior citizen discount. Doh!