Thursday, December 31, 2015

Finishing Things Off

We've just moved the last small items from our previous place across to the new hall. Noi plans a final clean-up on Monday and then we're done. Except, that is, for the need to unpack quite a few more boxes and get our quarters shipshape. We're not intending to rush this process though, having learnt from experience that it's all too easy to burn yourself out when moving house and slow, steady and remorseless is the way forward. Hope we don't have to go through all this again too soon.

We're taking another welcome break from the process over the New Year weekend in order to participate in a Family Day in Melaka, whence we'll be wending our way later today. It seems I have to function as a judge in some of the games for the kiddies. I've tried to make it clear to all and sundry that I'm open to corruption and my favour can be bought. Anyway, they'll be prizes for all, though I'm sure we're in for some tears. With luck they won't be mine.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mixed Feelings

Talked to Maureen earlier. She sounded well, but the news about John is not good at all. He's back in hospital and may lose his other leg. The same problem of poor blood circulation is involved, something to do with blood clots forming. It seems he's tumbled out of his wheel chair twice now, which in itself must be a traumatic experience for the poor guy. Just hoping things don't get worse.

After feeling pretty miserable about all this, I then find out that my niece Cheryl has given birth to a healthy baby girl. Her name is Imogen, and I suppose I'm a Grand Uncle. Whatever my title may be I'm simply delighted. All this in a five minute phone call.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Perfect Weather

The sky was grey as we came out of Changi Airport this morning and it's been raining today, though things look brighter now. This is in stark contrast to the gloriously perfect summer weather we had in NZ for the second week of our stay there. It's rare I have to remember to put on the sun block every day, but it became part of the holiday routine. At points memories of hot summers from childhood and my university years were cheerfully and gratefully evoked.

Sad, though, to come back to news of the flooding in York and other parts of the UK. It makes the bit of a mess we still face in our moving of quarters look insignificant.

Monday, December 28, 2015

All Good Things...

Yesterday Noi asked our two youngest travelling companions whether they were happy or sad to be going home. Both, they sagely replied.

Now in between flights at Brisbane. Watched The End of the Tour on the flight out of Auckland. Only got to hear about this one from a review I read on arriving in New Zealand. I was intrigued then, but thought it highly unlikely I'd ever get to see the movie in Singapore. It's about the American novelist David Foster Wallace and a sort of road trip he took with a writer from Rolling Stone a decade or so before his suicide. It's brilliant: intelligent and quietly moving. I've been meaning to read Infinite Jest for the longest time and now it's moved towards the tip of my list of stuff to read in 2016. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Final Day Out

Now back in Auckland and preparing for our final day trip of the jaunt. We've booked a little tour of one of the islands in the bay for the morning and then it'll be a final chance to shop for souvenirs in the city. I went back to Real Groovy yesterday afternoon after we arrived here to grab a few more CDs, so my shopping is completed, but the ladies look like they've got some serious commerce in mind.

A splendid time was had by all this morning and early afternoon on Rangitoto, an extraordinary little volcanic island just off the coast. It was formed only around 600 years ago and its landscape is a mixture of lava crops and the lush vegetation that has managed to get a foothold on this unpromising foundation. Lots to see and wonder at. When we get back to faster connection speeds I'll really have to post some photos of the place, and lots of other spots we've been privileged to have wandered around.

For the rest of the afternoon I excused myself from the on-going shopping and took refuge in the wholly delightful Albert Park in the centre of town. The fact we've been blessed with utterly wonderful summery weather added not a little to the pleasure of my sojourn, as did the company of Georges Perec via his estimable Life A User's Manual, of which I'm now moving into the final stages.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Scenic Alerts

I was right about the ferry crossing. We were handed some free bars of chocolate on checking-in, and two of the crew were giving out free Christmas cake to everyone on boarding, but other than that the festive experience wasn't at all in your face. Driving up to Hamilton the only sign that the day was a bit different from the usual was the fact that everywhere, bar the petrol stations, was closed and the townships eerily quiet. So it was a good choice for us as a day of travelling to get back north again as there wasn't anything else to do. Fortunately travelling here involves being exposed to utterly gorgeous scenery pretty much all the time so a journey never seems wasted. Noi is on constant scenic alert as we wind our way along, ever ready to grab a snap.

It's a measure of the plenitude of the picturesque in these parts that on our way to the ferry yesterday morning we actually avoided a 'scenic route' as we were rushing to check-in on time. Our travelling companion affectionately known as Tomtom, our omniscient GPS, unaccountably decided to go silent on the road out of Nelson. We knew there was a short route to the ferry of around 60 km but couldn't find it due to his silence and had to take the well-signed main highway, which winds around the coast for something like 130 km and we only had an hour and a half or so to do it. It was white knuckle driving all the way, I can tell you. The strange thing was that a lady at our motel had talked about avoiding a scenic route to get to the ferry terminal at Picton on time. We all thought we were on that route given the beauty of the views from the road (though, to be honest, in the stress of getting to the ferry on time I hardly noticed these.) Then, two thirds of the way along, we reached a branch on the highway that sent drivers off on the actual scenic route she'd been talking about. I didn't take it, and we can only imagine how improbably gorgeous it must have been.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Festive Note

Do they do Christmas in New Zealand? you may be wondering. And the answer is, Yes they do - and rather well. The Yuletide festivities in summer may seem a little odd, as they do in the tropics, but there's a genuine sense of celebration here with none of the overkill that spoils things in the UK and USA. The ubiquitous Christmas music that blights malls in Singapore hardly features - basically since there are no malls - and the Christmas decorations you see in shops manage to be pleasantly tasteful. We went to a supermarket here in Nelson yesterday evening and there was no sign at all of the last minute shopping frenzy characteristic of the UK. We have seen no signs of the kind of stress the season seems to induce back there.

We'll be taking the ferry later today to North Island and I'm confidently expecting to be underwhelmed by false Christmas cheer, and impressed by genuine good will.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Green & Clean

We've seen hardly any litter at all, anywhere and everywhere we've been on these islands. In itself this makes a major contribution to the all-pervasive sense of Beauty. Come to think of it, we haven't encountered a single case of aggression on the roads, just remarkably courteous drivers.

What's the secret? Are they putting something in the water to achieve all this? If they are, they need to share it with the world.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Further Reading

Visited Hokitika today, amongst other locations, a cool little town on the west coast, as the publicity would have it - and it's not far wrong. The fact that I bought Eleanor Catton's Booker winning The Luminaries in a bookshop there, the novel being set in the same location circa 1866, is testimony to a distinct sense of cool. Though I must confess, I was not aware of the novel or its setting until a couple of days ago, a testimony to my lack of literary cool.

Anyway, the novel looks like a winner, but it'll have to take its place in a waiting list that comprises itself and Charles Pallisers's The Unburied - which also looks like a sure-fire winner - that I'm only going to whittle down once Perec's Life A User's Manual is out of the way. Perec's crazily obsessive tome has turned out to be perfect holiday reading. There's no narrative thrust, and little in the way of obvious continuity, so I'm finding myself reading each seemingly separate segment in the spaces that emerge between holiday business. For some reason this appears to work perfectly, suiting both text and this reader's immediate circumstances.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Drove across from the East to the West Coast, crossing by Arthur's Pass. Spectacular scenery, lovely people, gorgeous weather. It's all good. The world just keeps giving; hope we can do more than just take.

Slightly on the downside: felt a bit sad in central Christchurch yesterday evening, getting a sense of the scale of the damage from the 2011 earthquake, especially around the cathedral area. Saw a lot of resilience though to balance it all out.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Blowing Hot And Cold

The extremes of temperature we've encountered in New Zealand have been, well, extreme. It's supposed to be Summer here but on our first evening in Wellington when we were walking back to our motel from the city it was reminiscent of any very cold December night in Manchester. We had the heating turned up high once we were cosily ensconced in the apartment, I can tell you. In contrast, we've been out and about today in the Canterbury region in temperatures that match anything we are used to in Singapore and Malaysia - but without the humidity. Very pleasant indeed.

There are also spectacular variations in landscape in this country, all held together by being beautiful, either spectacularly or quietly so.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Good Things

Crossed to New Zealand's South Island this morning on a very comfortable ferry and then drove down to Christchurch. The scenery along the coast was impossibly gorgeous, comprising one extended photo opportunity. We stopped a couple of times, once to enjoy watching some seals frisking on the rocks along the shore, and then to engage ourselves in the cup that cheers and various goodies at a particularly gorgeous cafĂ© in the middle of nowhere. They served a surpassingly excellent scone - almost as good as Noi's, but three times as big. This was an entirely good thing.

And speaking of good things, I've been playing some CDs I got hold of in Auckland whilst driving around. We discovered an excellent shop, Real Groovy, on Queen Street and it more than lived up to its name. I'm now the proud possessor of second hand copies of Richard Thompson's Electric and a live set by The Decemberists spanning 2 CDs, and first hand copies of RT's Still and the latest album by Sufjan Stevens, the title of which escapes me. All sound excellent, though the Sufjan offering sounds a bit subdued as driving music.

We're off soon in search of eatables in the city. Before we came out here we were told that it was difficult to find halal food. Well that was certainly not the case on North Island, so here's hoping.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


Found a great bookstore in Wellington, dealing in all kinds of second hand books, cheerfully known as Arty Bees Books. If you're in the vicinity I heartily recommend it. I picked up a copy, in excellent condition, of Charles Palliser's The Unburied at a good price, and could have bought a lot more books had we room in the luggage. Actually I slightly hesitated over the Palliser given the luggage conundrum, but then remembered how brilliant his blockbuster The Quincunx was and how his stuff seemed to have disappeared from bookstores, in Singapore at least, after his debut, and heartily made it mine.

Another mild aspect of my hesitation is the fact that I'm engrossed in Perec's Life A User's Manual and don't want to be distracted. The thing is that Perec has a lot to offer of an obsessive nature but little in the way of narrative drive. The encyclopaedic cataloguing typical of every section of his Manual makes for fascinating reading but the fragmentary nature of it all means that, for me at least, there's little forward momentum. (In fact, I only got beyond page 100 today.) If The Unburied is anything like The Quincunx it's going to be strong on pace and plot, and I feel the need for some of that, in between holidaying, but I don't want to be unfaithful to my original novel.

Not a bad dilemma to deal with.

Friday, December 18, 2015


Spent an exhilarating morning in the forest, getting ferociously close to nature, zip-lining through the canopy. In contrast our evening was spent threading the bars of chaotically happening downtown Wellington in search of a decent kebab. Bumped into an Imperial Storm Trooper and Princess Leia (two versions thereof) on the way. Talk about contrasts.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Other Worlds

Just got back from exploring the geothermal landscape out at Wai-o-tapu. Hot springs and volcanic craters abound there, a reminder of the fundamental instability of the solid world we take so much for granted - and of the beauty of it all. Staring at one of the bushes at the edge of a path there, replete with tiny starbursts of white and pink flowers, I noticed, first, an ant crawling along a branch and then realized the bush was a world unto itself of insects large and small, bustling amongst the greenery and flowerets. My concerns seemed suddenly rather petty in the face of so much purposeful activity.

And on a different level, we came back to good news concerning Fafa's 'N' level results. My life is about to change, she'd announced twenty minutes before she could celebrate. Another transformation of the ordinary - for the better.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Not Quite The Real Thing

What exactly are we to make of an authentic prop replica? I suppose it can be seen as an attempt to produce a real version of a fake of a fake. The question popped into my mind as I was wandering around the gift shop at Hobbiton, the site of the set for The Shire from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film sequences. We visited the place near Matamata this afternoon and had a rather jolly time involving lots of photo opportunities.

The whole place is a fake, in a sense, being the real version of a fiction of a fiction, but it's so lovingly done that it seems inappropriate to be overly critical of the enterprise. The power, or powers, of the various imaginations at work is, or are, enough to convince the happy wanderer through the set that he or she has entered a better world for a couple of hours. It's a version of an England that never was, except in Tolkien's entirely English imagination.

Gazing at the beautifully realized version of Bilbo's hobbit hole I lost myself in a vivid memory of Miss Lowther, my wonderful primary school teacher, reading to us the opening of The Hobbit and little Brian wishing he had a house in a hillside to make merry in. I remember she showed us the illustration as originally drawn by Tolkien and in that moment I was in no fewer than three places: the New Zealand version of Hobbiton, a classroom at St John Fisher's in Haughton Green, and Bag-End itself. All versions of paradise. None of them quite real.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

On Our Way

Mak Ndak now attempting to wake the girls as we prepare to leave our comfortable quarters at Mangere, just outside Auckland (pictures above), and pick up our hire car to make our way south to Rotorua. We're all looking forward to leaving city life behind - for a few days, at least.

Just got back from having a good time and lots to eat by the lake here in Rotorua. Enjoyed driving down here. We've been told that the authorities are draconian when it comes to speed limits and we've been keeping to them religiously - as does everyone else on the road. This makes for a much more relaxing experience when driving than any place in South East Asia I can think of. And it helps that the scenery is so often ravishing in a quiet kind of way.

Monday, December 14, 2015


Thought hard about what to bring along for reading in New Zealand, finally deciding to leave behind the Brahms biography, of which I still have the final third to read, and Sardar's commentary on The Qur'an, which I'm roughly halfway through. I wanted to travel reasonably light and wanted some fiction in keeping with the holiday mood, and since I'd fixed on my rather bulky edition of Georges Perec's Life A User's Manual as a suitably playful text there wasn't room for much else. This will leave me with something to look forward to when we get back to the ordinary version of life in late December. Oh, and I packed Edward Feser's Philosophy of Mind as well simply because I was keen on getting on with it before it's due back at the library.

As to whether I actually find real time for reading on our little adventure, that remains to be seen. Exploring Auckland today has left little time for doing much else.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Safe Journey

Now on-line in a little motel just outside Auckland, with the troops freshening up after the rigours of the journey. Or, to be more precise, one of the troops is freshening up and the other two are crashed out on their beds downstairs claiming not to have slept on the journey. In contrast I managed quite a reasonable amount of shut-eye, inspired by the physical exhaustion of the last few days.

I did, however, also manage to catch the documentary Amy, on the Singapore - Sydney leg of the journey, concerning the short, sad life of the extraordinarily talented and self-destructive chanteuse. It was a reminder of just how good Ms Winehouse was, and how utterly musical. In her mid-teens she already sounded like a genuine jazz singer of the golden age. I think she had it in her to be another Ella, albeit an edgier, Lady Day version. The problem, I suppose, lay in the edginess. It looked suspiciously like the daemon fueling her art was the same demon fueling her excesses - though I don't want to sound as if I'm simply blaming her. The film left the issue of blame open to question, though at least one of the individuals close to her looked like seriously bad news for anyone he came into contact with.

It was also possible to see a powerful case being made for her celebrity as being central to the downward spiral that she appeared to become trapped in after she became an international figure. I was left despondently wishing she had remained an essentially independent artist doing the kind of music she loved, sticking to the small clubs and a small loyal following. In some ways the saddest parts of the film came when she was singing with Tony Bennett for a duets album he did, and Questlove of The Roots was talking about her enthusiasm for sharing musical ideas with him, all this following years of depressing meltdown. It was as if we were given glimpses of who she really was and really should have been all along.

Life isn't always safe, though, is it? Some journeys do not end well, especially those involving illicit substances.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A New Start

We find ourselves in residence in our new quarters, though the transfer of the many small things that belong to us is not exactly complete. All the big items have been moved though, and that's what we were aiming for. The full transfer will be delayed to the end of the month as we're getting away from it all today by hopping on a plane to New Zealand, with three nieces in tow, aiming for some much needed R & R. There's nothing quite like running away from pressing concerns, eh?

Not entirely sure how easy it will be to up-date this Far Place from the wilds of the antipodes, but we'll see.

Now in the wilds of Changi Airport contemplating a flight to Sydney, followed by one to Auckland and wondering how much sleep I'll get. My target is: a lot.

Almost finished switching residence with just some of the Missus's mysterious kitchen stuff to move across. But that will come a lot later.

Friday, December 11, 2015


Just remembered that when I set off for university at eighteen years of age I took with me a single suitcase holding all my possessions. Life was easier then.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A World Of Troubles

The main thing to complain about from my point of view at the moment is owning too much - and since this state of affairs might well regarded as an indication of a basically lucky life, it's hardly a complaint with genuine depth behind it. In fact, as soon as the sweaty process of transferring our belongings to our new address is completed I will no doubt settle back into being as complacent as ever about all we've got - and a good shower will take care of the perspiration, which is in itself a sign that at least I'm getting a bit of exercise done.

And if I did feel like moaning I only have to think about the very real problems faced by friends and neighbours to get a rightful sense of proportion. Last night we got news from Maureen that brother-in-law John has lost one of his legs, amputated below the knee. I'd been worried about him losing some of his toes as a result of the problems he's had with blood flow but this was a real shock. Maureen says he's behaving cheerfully given the circumstances and I hope that's not just a front.

Then we heard just now that our neighbours' maid has had bad news about her father's health and has to fly back to Indonesia urgently. As we were sympathizing with her she mentioned her son back there, a reminder of just how much some folk have to sacrifice to try and make some way in the world.

Also, in the backs of our minds of late has been a biopsy undergone by our friend Ozman. At least there's some hope of a good outcome on this one, but I don't like to think about how he must be feeling just waiting for the result.

And these are just some of those within our immediate orbit, as it were. Sad. But good reason for us to pack up our few troubles and try to smile despite it all.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

In A Sweat

We're very much back, and very much amongst it, as Mum would have said. The it I'm referring to being the process of moving apartment, a venture that's a good deal more complicated than it sounds, as anyone who's ever done it will know.

Since we're moving only round the corner we've been taking the opportunity to shift a few things piecemeal before the removal men start with the really heavy stuff. This has proved a remarkably sweaty process in itself, though I'm sure when the movers begin their work in earnest tomorrow we'll be seeing a good deal of perspiration. They came today to do a mysterious job called wrapping the furniture (in a sort of heavy duty cellophane, in order to protect it, I gather) and it was exhausting to watch them at it. These are the same guys we used a few years back coming to Hall and they did a very good job then - and they seem equally impressive this time round if the efficacy and expertise of their wrapping is anything to go by.

Again I'm reminded of just how tough real physical work is, and, again, I'm more than a little puzzled as to why those who do it are so undervalued. (Though not by us, I assure you.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Just lately my reading has been ricocheting between three excellent works of non-fiction, in those periods when I've not been enjoying various comic books. In addition to the excellent biography of Brahms by Jan Swafford I've mentioned here before, I've had a jolly good time reading Ziauddin Sardar's eminently sane commentary, Reading The Qur'an - the Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam, and Kevin Birmingham's very lively The Most Dangerous Book - The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses. (Isn't it odd how publishers these days seem to go for these double-barrelled kinds of title? Useful for a quick summary of what's something's about though.)

The last-named has been holding my attention since yesterday afternoon and I'd strongly recommend it to all you Joyceans out there in the unlikely event you haven't heard of it. It covers material I thought I knew quite well about the publication (and subsequent censoring/banning) of the greatest novel of the last century and does so in an entirely fresh, often downright exciting, manner. For one thing it's a reminder of just how extraordinarily radical Joyce's novel actually was - and I think still is, as a matter of fact.

But the thing that's hit me hardest is the powerful rendition of the monumental physical and mental pain Joyce had to contend with whilst writing his magnum opus (the Wake notwithstanding) and subsequent to its publication. Birmingham horrifyingly makes clear how much of that pain might be seen as self-inflicted; perhaps most horrifying of all that Joyce almost certainly regarded his suffering as such. In a way that adds to our received image of Joyce as the heroic artist, but The Most Dangerous Book also makes it abundantly clear what an infuriating man he could be and invariably was to all who got close to him. Wonderfully human, as is Ulysses, of course.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Still Leaving

No sooner do we arrive than we find ourselves making the usual arrangements for leaving Maison KL behind - at least it seems that way. Once upon a time leaving here would fill me with an almost disabling sense of melancholy, especially at the end of a long, happy residence in December. Now the sadness is not so sharp, but something of it, surprisingly, lingers. Not entirely sure why.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Still Looking

Finished Death (in a manner of speaking) this morning, sitting outside the backdoor, under the fan, drinking a cup of hot Milo. Good way to start the day. Particularly enjoyed the pages devoted to a Gallery of our heroine, with a wide array of artists illustrating their versions of the very old young lady. A reminder of one of the great insights of Gaiman's Sandman series: having different visual versions of the characters ties in with the notion of varying perspectives on the same reality, and when you're dealing with sort of unrealities there's a lovely logic involved.

And having started strongly on the visual front, my on-going reading of Sonny Liew's brilliant The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye has kept things up nicely. (I was so impressed with this I bought a copy for Karen for her birthday.) When I read his Malinky Robot some time ago I thought then that Mr Liew might have things really worth saying in comics as well as being an obviously gifted illustrator. But I didn't expect anything on the scale and with the depth and ambition of Charlie Chan. It might be characterized as being, at least in part, a history of modern Singapore told through the medium of imaginary comics; and it's also a history of comics and their possibilities over the same period.

I can't think of anything else I've read about the island state that reaches this text's level of melancholy regret for the past that was swept away, combined with a steely-eyed sense of the necessary depredations of time and its passing. To combine this across the political and personal almost seamlessly strikes me as a quite remarkable achievement.

Isn't it strange that comics do melancholy so well?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Sense Of Order

Spent much of the day cleaning the bookshelves and the tomes upon them here at Maison KL. There are quite a few to clean so getting them all done was very satisfying, though it produced a set of aching shoulders for yours truly.

However, I shrewdly lightened the task by rewarding myself with quite a few numbers from kd laing in between bouts with the vacuum cleaner and two breaks spent drinking tea, eating curry puffs and reading some of the items from Neil Gaiman's Death, the anthology comprising the various comics featuring the most engaging of his immortals from The Sandman series. The notion of Death as the peachy keen, cute goth chick who first featured in Sandman #8 is one of Gaiman's greatest subversions of clichĂ©. She's absolutely worth the two short series for her as a 'solo' act that she went on to feature in.

Who'd have thought that putting a house in order could be such fun, as well as inherently rewarding? It all depends on the company you keep.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Place To Place

We're taking a break from preparing to make the big move in Hall in order to travel up to Maison KL to make sure it's still standing. Lots more cleaning on the horizon. Not much time for R & R. Oh, joy!

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Over the last couple of weeks or so Noi has been heroically cleaning our new quarters ahead of the big move scheduled for next week. We've also started moving a few bits and pieces across and packed most of the CDs and books in the boxes supplied by our removal men. It doesn't get any easier.

Which makes it all the more astounding for me when I consider those unfortunate souls who somehow put their lives back together after earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and the like. There's much talk of resilience in the educational circles I move around in. Those are the places to look for it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

No Turning Back The Clock

A day for celebrating what lies ahead. Not to be coy about it: though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Cousin Jean e-mailed yesterday with the news of the death of Auntie Vera, wife to Dad's twin brother, Jim, and the last of that generation I think of as contemporary with Mum & Dad. I last saw auntie at Mum's funeral and was a bit surprised and more than a bit delighted to see what fine, energetic form she was in for a lady in her late-eighties. There were more than a few echoes of her younger self and just hearing her talk I was taken back to younger, more innocent days.

That generation had it tougher than the ones that followed but seemed to generate a warmth and comfort that it's hard to put into words. I suppose that's how all youngsters think of family. Hope it is, anyway. I suspect that sense of protection generated by loving adult relatives, if you're lucky enough to experience it, never really goes away.

I've been thinking today of the times we went visiting Auntie Vera & Uncle Jim and my cousins. I remember the house and sitting round the dining table. You had to ask to be excused from the table after finishing eating, something we never did at home, and which I deeply envied my cousins for being able to do. Funnily enough I can't remember where in Haughton Green the house was. I don't think I could find it on a map now. It sort of lives on, though, in a rich private mythology.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Bad Apple

With regards to the political news from the UK, thought I'd take a break today from reading about the impending implosion of the Labour Party, and enjoy a bit of bad news about the Tories in relation to a story about bullying in some sort of youth wing of the party which is creating quite a scandal. But I found it impossible to enjoy in any respect the dreadful story of the suicide of a young activist provoked by some thoroughly despicable behaviour by some of those senior to him in this toxic little enclave.

Judging from stuff that came out in the Guardian and on the BBC's Newsnight programme, there's been one particularly nasty specimen - blackmail, sexual harassment - at the centre of it all, aided and abetted by one or two other egregious pieces of work. One political commentator I have some respect for, despite his Tory sympathies, reckoned it was case of one bad apple corrupting the barrel, and I could see the possibility of this being the case. (Horrendous to think it might not be, by the way.) I've seen myself how a single messed-up individual with a vindictive streak can make the atmosphere amongst a whole group of reasonable people almost unbreathable.

So I'm celebrating the fact that I don't face any such problems in my working life, and have very rarely done so over a pretty long career. (Once, in fact.)Thank goodness I never wanted to get involved in politics.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Anger Management

Why is Donald Trump so angry about everything? I mean, the guy has a whole lot of money, or so they say, so you'd think he might be generally happy about life.

Could it have something to do with his hair?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

That's Entertainment

Noi put together a bit of a high tea for our neighbours as a sort of Last Hurrah for our time in Hall. Severely delicious adding up to a jolly good way to spend an afternoon, as the evidence above would tend to suggest.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Sense Of Movement

Doing my statutory 35 minutes on the elliptical trainer earlier today I got to thinking about how much I enjoyed running in days gone by. Remembered vividly going up hills back in Sheffield (a city with as many hills as Rome) and taking in the scenery. You really know a place when you've run through it. Or walked, I suppose. Also found myself recollecting walking from Firth Park to the city centre on a regular basis, learning lines for shows. It's really not much fun on the elliptical trainer - though very cost effective in terms of expenditure of time on physical exercise - so losing oneself in memories is helpful.

Decided I must do more walking around this area. The question, as always, is when.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Really got going, finally, on Jan Swafford's Johannes Brahms: A Biography, which, around 100 pages in, is proving every bit as good as I expected. Swafford's outline of Romanticism in its German context is masterly: the clearest explanation of the zeitgeist I've ever read or heard. And even for a non-musician like myself his explanation of the basic split between Brahms and the Wagner/Liszt faction makes easy, accessible reading.

The account of Johannes encountering the Schumanns for the first time is as gripping as any novel. I was vaguely aware of Robert's mental instability but the biography makes this painfully real, as it does the swirling cross-currents of emotion involving Clara, Robert and the young Brahms. As he did in his biography of Ives, Swafford pulls off the remarkable feat of convincing the reader of the almost other-worldly genius of the musicians involved whilst making them painfully vulnerable ordinary mortals.

Gosh, these people really did feel whatever it was they felt. No wonder their music aches so much.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Out Of Time

Watched the video for the new Bowie single Blackstar a couple of times today. Impressive. Very. The music even more so. Unsettling. Haunting.

Amazing that some of these old guys haven't simply got it, but seem to have even more of it than before. It's getting difficult to keep up with them. Reminded me that I still need to pick up the most recent Richard Thompson CDs. He's way ahead of me.

Makes me wonder if they're all sort of looking at each other, thinking if he can do it knocking on seventy what's to stop me?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Spent the late afternoon listening to Dylan's Time Out Of Mind, trying to come to terms with Daniel Lanois's production. I've always loved the songs - especially Love Sick, Trying To Get To Heaven, Not Dark Yet, Cold Iron Bounds and Make You Feel My Love - but the murkiness of the music has sort of puzzled me. This is especially so since I love Lanois's production job on Oh Mercy (and the songs too, by the way, making it my favourite mid-career Dylan album.) Anyway, today I finally got it: played at a decently loud volume Time Out Of Mind sounds spookily right; the murk gets a kind of shape when you hear all the detail. And the gritty, sleaze of the production suits the almost uniform darkness of the songs. Gosh, the Bobster must have been in one foul mood when he wrote this stuff.

I'm thinking of adopting two of the great chorus lines as replies to colleagues next year when they ask me how I'm doing. My standard answer at the moment is along the lines of, My mental health's not too good, but that's fairly obvious, I suppose. In the right circumstances this elicits a chuckle or two. (Got to be careful who I use it on, though.) Now I'm thinking of replying: Just trying to get to heaven before they close the door (on a good day) and, It ain't dark yet, but it's getting there (in the usual run of things.) Think I'd better spare everyone a full version though: There’s not even room enough to be anywhere / It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there, is probably a bit much, even for the speaker.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Complete Freedom

Just finished Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. Brilliant story-telling. Lost myself in it, and found something of myself also. The unlikely relationship between the simple-minded but not so simple Mr Nakata and the truck driver Hoshino was the highlight of the many highlights for me. Funny, touching. Shades of Quixote and Sancho Panza, though not sure that's intentional on the writer's part.

Really must get on with Swafford's Brahms biog after this delightful detour. (Picked up my copy of the Murakami dirt cheap at Holland Village last week and just got drawn in by the opening pages.)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Further Escape

There are few things as effective as getting through examination marking for imparting the sensation of being cabined, cribbed and confined in extremis. I suppose it's do with the triple whammy of simultaneously needing to note salient errors, keep in mind the five aspects of the marking rubric - applying them as you go along - and think your way into whatever thought-world the candidate is wandering in. It's pretty intense, and when all this is compounded by virtually unreadable handwriting (as it was with the last script I looked at yesterday) it approaches the impossible.

How lovely it is then to get away from it all, as I did yesterday evening by taking out the family to celebrate Fifi's birthday, which we did in some style. And this evening by getting to the gym for the first time this month (to try and mitigate some of the damage done to the waistline by last night's provender.) I picked up some sort of muscle strain on our trip to Melaka & KL at the turn of the month and, advised forcefully by the Missus, thought it best to allow for a full recovery before hitting the elliptical trainer again - and I'm hoping I haven't strained anything this evening.

It's amazing how just a few minutes of physical effort seems to clear the cobwebs of the day. Surprisingly I managed the full 35 minutes without feeling too bad, but I noticed that my heart rate ended up around 174 - 176, which is higher than it's been in recent times for the same settings. Fortunately the old ticker appears to be none the worse for these exertions. Just hope it keeps going!

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Spent a fair portion of today getting through my mark load for the November IB examinations. Not exactly exciting stuff, but the day now looks brighter. Am losing myself in a few of Messiaen's birds having recently come to the conclusion that their songs might just constitute the greatest music for solo piano of the last century. Delighted to discover the Maestro's own Missus, the formidable Yvonne Loriod, pounding the ivories in a recording of the full set of Catalogue d'oiseaux right here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

All Made Up

One aspect of the Malay dramas that Noi so often watches intrigues me. There's usually at least one pretty young thing involved in the on-going storyline and the actress involved invariably wears make-up, regardless of whether the make-up is appropriate for the character. Assuming the world of the particular drama is not terribly realistic this can be easily ignored. But even in dramas involving a fairly realistic take on kampong life the make-up is still applied.
One show broadcast last night is set against a refreshingly small town - small village background, and visually it works well. The male performers uniformly look the part, but the young lady playing the romantic lead - who wears hijab, by the way - sports make-up that would not look out of place in a Vogue photo-shoot. It isn't that the make-up is garish, you understand, if anything it's very tastefully applied, but that's the problem. Young ladies living on kampongs in my experience don't spend time making sure they're wearing perfectly applied make-up every minute of the day.
What puzzles me is that the incongruity is so striking that the average viewer must surely notice it. So is this what the producers assume average viewers want, even though considerable trouble has been taken to achieve a reasonable degree of verisimilitude in all the other aspects of what's on view? It seems the very essence of the objectification of women that the fair sex so vigorously, and rightly, complain about. Don't the actresses playing these roles feel that this takes them completely out of character? Do they make a noise about it?

Or is there still a fundamental need for some kind of glamour to blind all involved, such that they don't really register the falsity?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


As I came back into the bedroom after a shower in the early hours of the morning, following the usual routine, I was struck, as I always am, by just how cold an air-conditioned bedroom gets. As I shivered in recognition of this routine truth I suddenly thought, for the first time in years, of the routine of going downstairs on a cold winter's morning when we lived behind the shop on Guide Lane, when I would have been eleven or twelve. Arriving at the living room there was always a cheerful little fire to warm you up, which Mum prepared even before I awoke. And then followed the bacon sandwich that constituted breakfast - and a jolly tasty breakfast it was too. At that age I was already daunted at the idea of adult responsibilities lying in wait, like going down to make a fire in the freezing cold before waking the kids.

Funnily enough, I've never had to do that. Nor have I ever had to make sure my shoes were polished to a perfect shining blackness every day, despite the fact that Dad repeatedly stressed how this was one of the key responsibilities of growing up, and was a crucial element of life in the army. And I've never had to consume a glass of milk containing a raw egg despite convincing myself this was what men had to do every evening, based on observing Dad do so.

Thinking back on these features of my childhood early this morning it occurred to me that adult life has been a bit disappointing in certain respects, though a good deal easier than expected.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Days Gone By

It's that time of year when I start to put my appointments diary for the year ahead in order. I can't cope with anything other than a week-to-a-view format and have established a routine over the years of exactly what needs noting for each week for me to cope. I remember once upon a time sort of attempting to keep each year's diary reasonably tidy. I gave that up a long, long time ago. Indeed, I vaguely recall a time when I didn't keep a diary at all but relied on memory. Good grief! 

Preparing the diary is tedious and intimidating in equal measures - a bit like the Toad, work itself, I suppose. How am I ever going to get through all this? is the irksome, slightly panicky refrain that pops up in the back of my mind as I write. The answer being, You will, somehow. You usually do.

But there's a plus side to this little job. In the course of noting key events to come I'm reminded of their equivalents in the year just past - and the good times that so often came with them. Memory is a funny thing. I know I had some bad moments in 2015, not to mention my fair share of bleak hours and darksome days; I have them in every year. But somehow the mind pushes all this to one side as if to say it's of no great note. Mercy of a kind.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Moving On

We find ourselves in the somewhat irritating situation of having to shift apartment to another location on these premises ahead of next year. The Missus, who's spent no little time and energy on getting our current quarters spick and span and uncannily comfortable, is not best pleased, I can tell you. But, having got the keys to the new place today, and having had our first prowl around, she's got that home improvement light in her eyes. We have a project!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Nothing Really Changes

Was looking back at a journal entry for this date ten years ago and found this:

Felt foolishly pleased with myself at several moments today which is a rather sad reflection on my character.
I've got no idea what those lost moments might have been, but it's good to know that all such moments will be lost to time, and soon. In the interim I can note that it takes a lifetime to fail to grow up.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Hard Thinking

I'm a great believer in the notion of the 'life of the mind', but if there's one thing I lack in this direction it's the stamina for doing genuinely sustained hard thinking. I'm referring to the kind of thing that involves relentlessly close study of conceptually demanding material to the point that one achieves some kind of mastery over it - like grasping a particularly dense paragraph of Kant at his thorniest. (Mind you, that's not such a good example as that might just be beyond any mortal.) Over the last couple of years or so I've come to recognise this deficiency in myself and developed something of a tendency to keep telling myself I need seriously to do something about it.

To this end, if I recall rightly, I was intending to get to grips with some heavy duty philosophy last year by reading and thoroughly assimilating (as it were) Ed Feser's Philosophy of Mind (A Beginner's Guide.) Read it I did; assimilate it, not so much. Just too darned lazy and, worryingly, possibly too darned stupid. Anyway, I told myself that one day I'd give it another go, and put it somewhere at the back of my mind.

More recently I got hold of Prof Feser's Aquinas and The Last Superstition, thinking that I really need to get to grips with his argument that Aquinas's five ways of proving the existence of God are valid. After all, as a theist shouldn't I have reason on my side? Well, I do think I have, but find it difficult to clearly articulate why. I read Aquinas last week, but I'm afraid managed to follow only about fifty per cent of the argument, though what I did follow was powerfully convincing stuff. I'm now about two-thirds of the way through The Last Superstition, an at times hilarious polemic against the New Atheists, and, again, following the hard arguments with some degree of clarity, but not enough to count as really grasping the case being made in its entirety.

So this is what I'm going to do. I'll finish The Last Superstition and continue to enjoy the excellent jokes. Then it'll be back to Philosophy of Mind and Aquinas with the intent of knowing exactly why Reason tells us that God exists. Pretty hard, eh? You can't say I lack ambition.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Mr Grumpy

Thought there might be a chance of making it through to the last week of November or thereabouts before being subjected to the ubiquitous canned Christmas music beloved of the malls but didn't take into account IMM Making the Magic of Christmas. (Not, as they say.) This isn't The Pogues' Fairytale of New York, or RVW's A Fantasia on Christmas Carols or Hodie, you understand. No, this is Boney M emptying Mary's Boy Child of all merit, relentlessly, over and over. Hope it's soon over, but it won't be.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Another One To Watch

I'd heard any number of good things about Amanda Lee Koe's short story collection Ministry of Moral Panic and it turns out they're all true. This I discovered on Tuesday, in the course of enjoying the public holiday for Deepavali, when I read the book cover to cover (having just finished Art Studio in the morning) in the process adding considerably to my enjoyment of the day. I couldn't put it down - not so much wanting to know what was going to happen next, though one or two tales had their fair share of that useful quality, as wanting to see what the writer was going to do next in terms of voice, perspective, point of view - all that tricky stuff about technique that is so irritatingly self-conscious when it gets in the way, but fascinating and somehow necessary when it's done with assurance. Ms Lee (I originally wrote Ms Koe, but I've got a feeling that could be wrong) has assurance in bagfuls. There's hardly a false, forced note in the collection, which is quite something considering just how technically adventurous she is.

Earlier today I glanced through the stories again feeling that I'd read them in such a rush that I'd better remind myself of the shape of the whole volume before writing anything about it and I was struck by both the cohesion of the whole and just how strikingly successful the best stories are. The exploration of taboos that seems to work as a linking principle is rightly unsettling at moments, but I came to trust the writer in terms of her purposes even when I wasn't entirely sure of what ends she had in mind. (I'm thinking specifically of Chick, of which the ending, surely crucial to an interpretation, lost me. Was I meant to be in any way sympathetic to the protagonist? I hope not, because I wasn't.)

Most of all I was impressed by the emotional wallop of so many of the stories. I sort of half-wondered before I started reading (don't know why, foolish prejudice against the young I guess) whether I was in for some post-modern ironic cool. Well, there is a distancing at times, but well-judged and one that adds to the sense of intelligent compassion at work. The placing of Love Is No Big Truth at the heart of things with the sort of two part Two Ways To Do This either side, these pieces featuring the most obviously victimised of the many victims we encounter, surely wasn't an accident? (Yes, they were the favourites of this old softy. But four of the other stories were close behind.)

For someone as talented as this writer I'd imagine that cleverness is a big temptation. Fortunately she doesn't succumb.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

One To Watch

Noi is a great fan of Malay language dramas on the telly and I've occasionally found myself watching alongside her and enjoying the fare on offer, especially the comic variety, though I can stand a bit of melodrama now and again. That sounds like a put-down, I know, but I watched enough to realise there's a genuine tradition of the melodramatic in this kind of drama that wouldn't work on English television, say, but has its place on the Suria channel.

But I found myself for the first time ever last night entirely caught up in the last episode of a series on Suria in the same way I might be for something produced by the BBC that I'd got into. The series went by the title 93m2 (sorry, but I can't do the 'squared' thing properly) and, as its off-beat title suggests, wasn't typical of the sort of thing you normally expect on Suria in the 9.30 - 10.30 pm slot. The performance of the male lead, for example, was utterly unlike anything I seen in the context of Malay drama before, combining real comedic flair and genuine depth of feeling in a realisation of a convincingly quirky character with no sense of stereotyping at all - other than the broad conception of a 'nerd' type. There was a vulnerability about the performance that was very curious, as if the actor were, in some sense, playing himself at his most ridiculous without holding anything back. It felt, oddly, very extreme, like someone really letting go in front of the camera, not trying to be cute in any respect - indeed, in the earliest episodes there was something convincingly infuriating about the character, tying in seamlessly into the plot, which centred on the breakdown of his marriage.

There're plenty of other things about this series which struck me as refreshingly different, including some of the other key performances and characters generally, but I suppose what drew me completely into the series over several episodes was the tightness of the writing. I've seen plenty of dramas on Suria with high standards of cinematography and  often strikingly good acting (though often mixed in with performances that verge on the incompetent) but it's rare that serials sustain strong scripts, even when individual scenes work really well. Generally the sheer length of the various series produced militate against uniformly strong writing and I think it's fair to say that the constraints involved in needing to hold and entertain a reasonably solid audience don't encourage the development of scripts of depth and resonance. But those it was precisely those qualities that 93m2 had, as well as being thoroughly entertaining - and good-hearted in a way that was acceptably sentimental without being overly manipulative.

I don't normally look out for the names of script-writers when watching Suria, but I noticed this time that one M. Raihan Halim seemed to be the guy chiefly responsible for the show - and I reckon he has a lot to be proud of. Good stuff! I wouldn't say no to more of this - and neither would the Missus, which is the really important thing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

From The Outside

Managed to get going on Yeng Pway Ngon's Art Studio after a shaky start and found myself happily swept along by its various intertwining narratives. My initial problems related to the novelist's rapid cross-cutting between what seemed a bewildering array of characters in the opening pages, compounded by my struggles in remembering and differentiating between the Chinese names involved. Yes, that sounds pathetic, and it's meant to, reflecting as it does my ignorance of a crucially important aspect of the culture of these parts. In truth, all I needed was to keep going to realise that what appeared a bewildering array was actually a small, loosely connected group and each story was quite clear enough in its way, with two proving unusually gripping - these being the most melancholy of a generally downbeat volume: the tale of the Teacher Yan Pei, in some ways the archetype of the suffering artist; and the account of the almost surreal flight of Jian Xiong into a kind of jungle exile to escape detention over his political associations. This second narrative involved two quite extraordinary sequences involving the experience of dying, both unexpected and quite beautifully achieved.

The most powerful segments of the novel for this reader involved the writer's steely-eyed focus on matters of physical decay and decrepitude, best realised in the evocation of Yan Pei's illness which dominated the central portions of the text. The grim, dreary details of his prostate cancer gripped me in a positively unnerving fashion, enough to make me uneasily aware I need to go for a health screening myself, and, let's face it, it doesn't get more real than that. Yeng is also very good at dealing with loneliness and isolation; his characters are never that far from losing their place in the world even when they seem to be prospering.

The rather melodramatic aspects of the novel struck me as somewhat curious - at least two coincidental encounters seeming positively Dickensian in their fortuitousness. I wasn't sure to what degree the sense of the heavy hand of fate intervening in the characters' lives was meant to be seen as saying something serious about the nature of reality or was operating as simply a kind of self-conscious literary trope. I suppose this was one of the reasons I never felt quite at home in this world despite recognising a number of its features.

In line with this response, I also found myself strongly aware of the very Singaporean features of the English translation, though these seemed appropriate given the background of the novelist. The colloquial flow was appealing, though I found myself wondering whether this was a reflection of the tone of Yeng's original. That's part of the fascination of being such an outsider, the sense of never being quite sure you've really got the point even when you've managed to gain some degree of entry into another world.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Some Relief

Was surprised and pleased in equal measures to find myself talking on the phone to brother-in-law John yesterday. I'd assumed he was going to be in hospital for quite some time and phoned Maureen to see if we could get a direct number to speak to him, having realised earlier in the week that we didn't have any hand phone number for him. In fact he was the one who answered the phone having just discharged himself, if my understanding is correct, basically because he was fed up with life in the ward he been placed in.

He sounded weak, hardly surprisingly, and made it very clear he'd had a miserable time all round. But he was obviously chuffed to still have his foot and didn't sound overly upset at the thought of probably losing some toes. It seems the doctors will make some assessment of the damage caused to his extremity as a result of his recent problems in the next four weeks or so. From what I could gather he's had a pretty major operation to restore the blood circulation to the limb and that's been successful - he didn't know whether he'd wake up with the foot still there, it seems, and his gratitude at keeping it has instilled a distinctly positive outlook. Tired as he sounded, there were several indications of the feisty old John about him, and that was good to hear.

It looks like this story might be heading in the right direction.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


We watched a grim little programme last night about a young mother of three who got herself and her husband into debt after they moved into a flat of their own. Like most couples in their situation they'd spent some money to have the place renovated, and decided they needed a nice television set and computer and stuff on top of what it already cost them. Also they employed a maid. None of this cost a fortune: you couldn't have accused them of spending wildly. But they'd gone beyond their means, despite both of them having a job. Obviously they were not earning all that much.

The young lady involved had turned to money-lenders to tide the family over. The amounts involved were not all that great, but when you're struggling a few hundred dollars starts to look like a lot of money and the debts, partly due to the excessive rates of interest involved, eventually ran into thousands. The stress got too much for her and she became suicidal.

Fortunately some kind of resolution had been worked out, due to the intervention of the girl's family, and the debts had been settled. It took a lot of courage for her to go public on her troubles, we both felt, especially in the context of the relatively small Malay community here - the programme being broadcast on the Malay language Suria channel. We guessed she'd been encouraged to speak out about her situation to help others by airing the issue.

A further reasonable guess to make is that there are an awful lot more like her, struggling, often in silence, with debts significant enough to make their lives thoroughly miserable, yet by no means having been outrageously extravagant. They just want what everybody else seems to have got before they can really afford it, in a world that tells them these are things that everyone should have.

I was brought up with an absolute horror of debt, I suppose because in the days of my childhood our family was never that far away from the possibility of slipping into it. It was taken for granted that going without was the way the world was ordered. That way of thinking seems to have been left behind in our brave new world of consumer credit, more's the pity, leaving many quiet victims, I suspect, to pity.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Under The Weather

It's been a funny old week. I came back from Malaysia on Sunday with a mild ache around the left side of my back and an aching left shoulder, confidently expecting to feel completely recovered and ready for action by Wednesday at the latest, only to find the achiness getting steadily worse as the week wore on (with wore being the operative word for me.) Fortunately it was a relatively easy few days work-wise, but I somehow managed to make hard labour of every day. I felt like I was about to become spectacularly ill without ever really getting there which was simultaneously a relief and a disappointment. Above all I felt sleepy almost all the time, despite having slept almost too well last weekend.

The pattern has continued today. I've fallen asleep at least four times in the course of the day without particularly intending to. We went shopping in the late afternoon - which felt like a welcome break from dozing off yet again - and just walking around the supermarket felt vaguely heroic, silly as that may sound.

I've been trying to snap out of this, and to that end have been making progress in my latest novel-for-reading, Art Studio by Yeng Pway Ngon, to make myself feel that I'm actually getting something done. I deliberately selected this as a novel that would lead me into unfamiliar territory, and make me do some work as a reader. It seems the writer is a big cheese in literature in the Chinese language on these shores and I'm struggling to figure out why - not that I'm implying any deficiency in the writing in that regard. The heavy weather I'm experiencing in that regard is more than likely to be purely internal to a very dull reader.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Time Out

I spent a fair proportion of my morning being told to talk with colleagues about stuff I wasn't that keen to talk about but dutifully doing so, and then being interrupted after two minutes or thereabouts, just as the conversation was getting mildly interesting. This is called training, I'm told.

I remain baffled as to why not being given time to think and reasonably develop ideas is seen as educational.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Beating The Retreat

Just back from another work-related dinner. As a youngster I relished any opportunity to adventure beyond the house. Now I just think of getting home.

The mighty Richard Thompson captures the mood in one of his finest, most sombre songs, defining the need to Beat The Retreat.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dining Out

It's that time of year for me when I'm expected to attend a variety of lunches and dinners related to work one way or another. This is linked to the notion of staff welfare, which is odd when you bear in mind that over-indulgence in terms of the eatables doesn't do anyone much good at all. I manfully restricted myself to the braised tofu and mushroom dish today, but even that felt a bit much.

Thank goodness I didn't follow one of those trades that involve business lunches and the like. I don't think I would have been able to cope.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Finished Steven Pinker's eminently readable The Better Angels of Our Nature today. Much food for thought in its sweeping pages. Plenty to argue with and to nod in recognition of.

One idea that comes late in the book managed to startle me in its simplicity and obviousness, leaving me to wonder why it's never factored into my thinking - indeed, never been actually thinkable for me. This derives from the prof's explanation of the Flynn effect, i.e., the remarkable fact that IQ tests have to be regularly 'renormed', making it harder to score well in order to balance the higher scores achieved by successive cohorts. I first came across this oddity in Ian Deary's excellent Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction in which Deary quite understandably attempts no definitive explanation of the phenomenon. Pinker's explanation, in contrast, is short and sort of sweet: we are getting smarter as a specie with each succeeding generation.

That just can't be true, part of me said, reading Pinker's thesis. It's entirely counter-intuitive, as any teacher is likely to tell you. But The Better Angels puts up a very good case for the notion, strong enough for me to wonder if I've seriously been misreading the signs over a life-time. The jury's still out on this one for me, but just getting said jury to excitedly confer on the matter is no small feat.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Less Than Optimal

Phoned Maureen & John earlier in the evening hoping for, if not good news, at least no deterioration in their circumstances, things not having gone too well for them of late. Unfortunately the latest news is not good at all. John is in hospital, having found himself completely unable to walk a week ago. It seems the current problem relates to the less than adequate circulation of his blood and there's a real possibility of him losing one of his feet. Add to this the fact that Maureen is unable to get herself to the hospital to visit and it all adds up to a thoroughly grim situation.

Part of me wishes I was there to do something, and another part knows there's probably precious little that I can do to really help. Hope the various medical staff involved can look at the two of them with more optimism than that.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Bit Too Much

Though not exactly a noble truth of my existence, the fact that I always get a lot of sleep whenever we come to Melaka certainly qualifies as a surpassingly jolly fact of life. This weekend has not disappointed. Although we arrived quite late on Friday evening and for some reason I slept somewhat fitfully that night, highly enjoyable naps on the bus yesterday, at the wedding itself and at the little resort we all retired to in the late afternoon more than made up for our travails on the road. And last night's visit to dreamland was of major proportions.

As a great believer in the notion that sleeping well is a sign of the good life I'd say that life here is all good, despite the mild headache that comes with over-indulgence in the zzzzzzzs.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

From Place To Place

We're now in Melaka, at Mak's house, but not for long. The whole gang are about to set off for KL in a big bus to attend the wedding of nephew Afiq. And after that we'll be coming back here. I, for one, am looking forward to sleeping and reading - not necessarily in that order - on the bus. It's nice to be driven, but not too hard.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Period Of Adjustment

Just back from Friday Prayers at the mosque, having fortunately not been rained upon. I mention this non-event since getting wet-through seemed a distinct possibility at the point the sermon began and simultaneously the heavens opened outside. To my surprise the deluge had ceased just twenty-five minutes later and I walked out to cross the cark park to the car through a world refreshingly damp, but not overwhelmingly so.

But even as the rains came down (and down) I was aware of not feeling terribly perturbed. There was a time, many years ago, when going to the mosque on a busy school day - even on a not-busy holiday - seemed a chore. These days I just enjoy being there regardless of any minor inconvenience involved. This is not because I am in any way saintly, I hasten to add. At the simplest of levels attending prayers is a soothing, welcome break from other routines. I find I've made a similar kind of adjustment to the need to do the five prayers daily. The first time I realized this was a requirement of the faith, and saw what was involved in terms of preparation of actual performance, I seriously wondered how anyone ever could do it just for one day, never mind a lifetime. Even nowadays there are times a particular prayer can seem a bit of a chore, if not an actual burden. But the remarkable truth is that you do adjust, and feel all the better for it.

The notion that we need a discipline at the centre of our lives to give our lives a centre is deeply unfashionable, and, as usual, the fashionable way of seeing the world is deeply wrong.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Out Of Control

I'll spare you the gory details, but I've fallen off the wagon in a big way regarding my addictive reading of far too many books at once, itself closely connected to my inability to stop myself buying them. Visits to Books Actually and the small Kinokuniya at the Jem shopping mall have added to my undoing in the last day or so. Above is the evidence, which doesn't even include the recent copies of Prog Magazine, The New York Review of Books, and Philosophy Now started but not yet finished. The thing is, there's something really exciting about each of the above which means I've just got to get going on each and every one. Oh dear.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Splendid Ignorance

Teachers are frequently reminded these days that just about any minor issue they're dealing with has the potential to 'go viral' on social media. And it's only reasonable to point out this simple, sad truth. (It cropped up in a meeting today, by the by.) The question then is what you do with it. Actually there's a sort of positive side to the notion of continual vulnerability: it's a useful way of checking yourself as to whether what you're up to is reasonably professional.

But beyond that there's not a lot more to think about. If I found myself in the middle of some kind of media storm for some silly reason it wouldn't bother me because I wouldn't know about it. Having zero interest in social media has its uses. (To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what this social media thingy is, but I think something called Facebook is involved.) And just in case you're thinking I'd have to read it if it got in the printed press, not really. I make it a rule never to read anything about myself on the grounds it's always wrong.

It's amazing just how effective it is simply to ignore things.