Saturday, January 31, 2015

Swept Away

Bad day, dominated by the sudden, entirely unexpected news of the deaths of two dear, dear friends back in the UK. One died last night, and one, I discovered, back in late October. At moments like this I hate living 'abroad', though only at these moments.

I've spent the later part of the day being deluged by memories of time spent with my departed friends. And the memories are all so vivid, as if I'm also back there with them in that impossibly unreachable past. In a sense this is painful, but since every memory without exception is rich, warm, and usually funny, in a few cases unprintably so, it's also comforting.

Sometimes my students write about events being 'joyful' and I always think the word sounds wrong somehow - way too over the top. But those memories seem to me to deserve the adjective. The thing is though, it's all a bit too much, too rich, for now at least.

Truth to tell, at this point in time I'm not dealing with all this too well - who would?

Friday, January 30, 2015


Normally I'm not one for dwelling much upon numbers. I've never had much talent for them. Somehow they always manage to slip away.

But over the last couple of days I seem to have had more dealings than usual with them, and it's not all been negative. An interesting discussion yesterday with a class as to whether numbers exist in any real sense at all led me to the realisation that, whilst I've not become a full-blown Platonist in any sense, I can now feel something of what, I suppose, our Greek friend felt concerning the Forms - at least as far as these particular forms are concerned. There's something very comforting, I find, about the idea that good old pi will still be around when I'm not.

And then today I've been concerned with the stark reality of big numbers (well, big ones for me) as reflected in terms of cold hard cash. You don't get much more real than that, eh? Or much less. Hah!

I suppose as long as we remember that all our days are numbered it keeps it all in proportion.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Watched Ralph Fiennes's excellent film of Coriolanus over the last three days (in bits, that's all I can manage) in a bid to start seriously viewing what I've got on DVD. Fiennes is a predictably wonderful Martius, entirely convincing, but it's the performances of Vanessa Redgrave as our tragic hero's mum, and Brian Cox, gloriously subtle as Menenius, that steal the show.

Here's a thought: anyone who finds Coriolanus a compelling character given his, to say the least, glaring defects of character probably has major character defects of their own. But then I find him utterly compelling. Oh, hum.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Debasing The Coinage

Cool coinage of the day: someone asking a presenter to biggerise the font used on the screen to make it readable. Tempted to try and give this one a life beyond the meeting in which it so memorably saw the light of day. I suppose in its own small way that's the purpose of this somewhat subversive post.

Got some odd results, by the way, when I attempted an on-line search, undertaken to see if someone else had hit upon this gem. Not sure why pig-farming, of all things, kept coming up. Possibly something to do with those poor blameless piggeries? And sadly a spell-check resulted in some positively obscene suggestions for a substitution; but let's not go there. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Came across this in my journal from this day, ten years ago:

A boy in school today carrying a bag with a Nazi swastika. Odd world. There's some kind of commemoration ceremony taking place at Auschwitz even as I write. We are an odd and sometimes terrible species.

Just watched the news covering this year's ceremony (tied to the liberation of the camp on January 27 1945) involving the now aged survivors of the nightmare. One of the survivors, a lady called Renee Salt, explained that she was there despite the pain it caused her because of the need to remember the reality of what took place, especially in an age when some would deny that reality. Such remembrance seems to me more than just important. It's vital.

If we learn nothing else from history we need to understand how terrible we can be. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Something To Cheer About

Was so impressed on completion of Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key yesterday that I literally cheered. (Sotto voce, certainly, but audible and with no lack of enthusiasm.) What a brilliantly conceived, plotted and executed work it is. Not a paragraph wasted.

There's a sequence about a third of the way in, in which the protagonist Ned Beaumont first quarrels with his friend and sort of boss Paul Madvig, then crosses over to do business with a rival gang boss and gets himself severely beaten that is so utterly taut in terms of the tension created that I reckon my pulse rate went up just reading it. The thing that takes Hammett into another dimension here is that you're never quite sure of the moral ground you're on, or even what's really taking place in the novel, such that the whole is like some extraordinarily vivid dream played out with impeccable waking logic.

What Hammett achieved in his four novels, written astonishingly in something under three years by my estimation, is something to behold. He invents the hard-bitten, hard-nosed, hard-boiled noir genre, but, as if that's not enough, does something quite different with it in each work. With Red Harvest you have the vortex of violence playing itself inexorably out; with The Dain Curse the whole shebang goes mad gothic; with The Maltese Falcon we enjoy the ultimate Private Investigator as dark hero fantasy turned icy real; and in The Glass Key the level of cold sophistication moves into the reaches of a great novel without compromising its truth as a crime fiction.

It's interesting, by the way, that it's only in The Glass Key that the writer allows his central figure a genuine relationship with a friend, and so much of the power of the work comes from the shattering of that relationship.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Birthdays Are A Good Idea

It's been a weekend of birthdays, or rather celebrating them. Last night we dined immoderately at the Straits Kitchen using Fafa's birthday as an excuse. And this afternoon we tore up one of the futsal courts at Kallang on the grounds that young Safiy is now another year older and he and his chums needed to play the beautiful game with those of a somewhat older generation.

I must say, I think we may all of us enjoyed ourselves possibly not wisely and very likely too well. I, for one, will be aching and heavier than I really want to be tomorrow morning. But it was all worth it, as the evidence above might suggest.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Speed Reading

Hard listening and slow reading: I suppose that sums up my artistic credo from a consumer's perspective. So why was it that yesterday found me reading a whole bunch of poems by Wilfred Owen at very high speed indeed? The answer lies within the remit of the Toad, work, though this work was of the fairly enjoyable variety, at least initially.

I was proof-reading a booklet we're putting out for students of a little collection of Owen's work, for the purposes of one of our programmes. This is a sort of 'improved' version of a previous effort in that we've decided to expand the collection a little to include a wider selection of the work to give a fuller picture of the great War Poet (or Great War poet, I suppose.) Specifically we've gone for a couple of pieces of his juvenilia - fairly awful ones, in my eyes, at least. He was under the then highly conventional, and very dangerous, spell of Keats as a youth, and it took the grim reality of the war to break that spell.

Anyway, I read the whole lot quite closely, alert for errors, in something under half-an-hour, or thereabouts. And the effect was extraordinary. The sense of enormous unrelenting anarchic energy emanating from the body of the verse was palpable - partly exaggerated by the sheer speed of Owen's development into greatness in such an incredibly short period of time - roughly a year and a half. I've got a feeling my pulse rate shot up during the exercise. And then there was the terrific sense of guilt involved. I somehow felt like one of those whom Owen so savagely criticises, safely at home whilst the flower of English manhood is being put through the meat grinder in the awful front line, and doing absolutely nothing about it. This went well beyond being made to feel the Pity of War. I was actually relieved when I'd completed Strange Meeting (our version of which had somehow acquired a couple of extra lines at the end which I was able to edit out, so I was at least still capable of doing my job) and I really didn't want to read any more, for then, at least.

I can remember reading somewhere about the RSC, I think it was, doing some sort of deliberately high speed mechanical reading of Oedipus Rex (I think - some incandescent sort of tragedy anyway) under the direction of Peter Brooks, in order to freshen their performances by forcing them out of the habitual readings they'd developed. it seems that the performers were unexpectedly overwhelmed by the exercise-cum-performance, with some of the cast actually fainting. The poet Ted Hughes, who was working with them at the time, tells the story somewhere. I reckon I tasted a little something of the same kind of experience.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Maintaining Standards

Got back a little while ago from a concert at the Victoria Concert Hall - the SSO doing their bit with some tuneful Mozart - Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Piano Concerto No. 19 - and passionate Brahms - Symphony No. 3. Fairly standard repertoire, you're thinking, not exactly cutting edge stuff for an out there sort of guy like myself. And you'd be right; but that didn't stop me having a great time.

No wonder this stuff has lasted, and will continue to do so.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

So Long

It's the anniversary of Dad's death today. Thirty-nine years gone. Thought of him a fair bit. Some happy memories. Some sad. One or two painful. So it goes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Had a bit of a confab with Chris in the middle of the morning over the cup that cheers. Asked him what he thought about the recent publicity given to one per cent of the world's population owning fifty per cent of its wealth, and told him I thought he was to blame, true blue Tory-boy, Daily Mail reader that he is. He took the criticism manfully on the chin and embarked on a very astute analysis of the current state of the world vis-a-vis climate change and screwing up the planet. As a chemist he knows what he's talking about, and it was more than a little bracing to hear him. (How he moved from the wealth thing to the climate was a thing of beauty that made perfect sense at the time - but now I've forgotten how he did it.)

Anyway, his analysis made me feel more than just a little culpable with regard to my own behaviour, especially since I drive and he doesn't. He made driving out to McDonald's for a takeaway sound positively sinful, and I'm not being facetious. I really found myself having one of those, I have taken too little care of this moments, and the moment was a pretty long moment indeed. In fact, it's still going on.

I've got to think about this. Moral Imperative time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Perfect Joy

Just caught a bit of Chicken Run, the cartoon film about the chickens plotting to escape from the farm they're on in a spoof of WW2 POW-escape type movies. Mel Gibson does the voice for the rooster, Rocky Roads, who's roped in to help the lady chickens learn how to fly. (Possibly Mel's best work on celluloid, I reckon.) Comic genius, the whole thing. Can't remember if I put it in the list of my top-ten favourite films of all time that I posted quite a while back - forgot when. But I should have done, and will do if I ever re-visit. Must get it on DVD.

It's by the same animators who do the Wallace and Gromit stuff, which means it's stop-motion (if that's what they call it) rather than an actual cartoon - and that makes me think I should get all their work available because it's all brilliant. The problem is finding the time to really watch, of course.

Monday, January 19, 2015


My handphone remains happily primitive, but it does have a contact list and I've now developed the custom of annually reviewing the names therein and deleting those no longer applicable. No, I'm not eliminating enemies. It's just that every year I find myself adding the contacts of any of my students in that year who send text messages so that I, or rather my phone, will 'remember' who they are. This turns out to be a lot of names, and once they've graduated it's not terribly likely the majority will need to get in touch again. However, I do leave them in for a year, just in case they contact me with regard to references and the like. So the deleting exercise means getting rid of those names for whom there's been no sign of contact for a whole year, and no likelihood of such in future.

Now here's the odd thing. Each time I remove a name I find myself remembering vividly the person involved. This doesn't always mean I knew them terribly well, but almost all I did know will come flooding back. Occasionally this needs to be prompted by a quick glance at an old class list when I'm dealing with a fairly common name and I'm a bit confused as to which particular Esmeralda it is. (That's a joke example, by the way.) But generally remembrance is easy in that moment - though I may not have thought in any distinct way of the person for quite a while. However, once they're gone, they're very, very gone, usually. My memory seems to function that way, as if it closes down on the information completely.

I know this sounds awful in some ways, as if I just don't care about the person whom I'm forgetting, but it's really not like that. I suspect it's a pragmatic way of dealing with memory overload. And there's a curiously positive side to all this. When the name is deleted I remind myself that the person involved just isn't the same anymore as my mental image of them. They've grown, matured, become richer individuals. I really don't know them now in that positive sense, and that's a happy thought: they've escaped my narrow understanding of them.

I don't know about other teachers but somehow, for me, students I've taught remain exactly as they were when I knew them, in a kind of frozen memory (when I do remember them.) Suddenly, yesterday, I thought of two girls I taught very briefly on a teaching practice a long, long time ago. Their good humour and amused toleration of my shortcomings as a not very capable student-teacher came vividly to mind and I recalled exactly what each looked like, though I don't think I gave them a second thought after the teaching practice ending. In my mind they remain an eternal fourteen years of age. In reality, assuming they've lived and nothing awful has happened to them, they'll now be around fifty-one. Gosh! Strange.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Question Of Quality

I'm still puzzling over what to make of Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions. Completing the novel did nothing to change my mind about it being in general terms a poor work, both in terms of Vonnegut's oeuvre and any reasonable assessment of the quality of novels in broader terms. There's a lacerating segment in Chapter 18 in which Vonnegut himself makes no bones about this, (if I'm reading the sequence correctly) at the point in the novel when the writer himself is established as an on-going presence in whatever plot is taking place:

'This is a very bad book you're writing,' I said to myself behind my leaks.
'I know,' I said.
'You're afraid you'll kill yourself the way your mother did,' I said.
'I know,' I said.

It's almost as if the writer can no longer be bothered to keep up the pretence of the fiction, and this sense of weariness, of end-of-one's-tetherness pervades the work. I had a strong sense that the writing was coming out of a deep and debilitating sense of depression. And this depression is corrosive in nature. The satire is entirely destructive in an almost lazy manner.

And yet moments (like the above) are done so well that something survives the wreckage. It's just that I'm not sure that that something can fairly be described as a novel.

Now I could be wrong. My diagnosis of depression might be amateur psychoanalysing of the worse sort and entirely misplaced. I do know that Vonnegut did suffer from depression - and attempted suicide - later in life, but that's no reason for me to read that back into his earlier fiction. It could be that what he's doing in Breakfast is deliberate and calculated - intended to move away from what he'd already achieved, the perfection of Slaughterhouse 5, into new territory, expanding the possibilities of the novel as a form. And some of the comments on the work you can read in places like are remarkably positive, suggesting it works for some readers.

That's good, I suppose. I don't want to impose my negativity on others and spoil the book for them. But I still think it's pretty poor stuff and wonder whether the writer was just riding on his reputation at that point in his career.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Last Hurrah

A happy-sad afternoon with Ola and family around for tea and cakes for what is very likely indeed to be the last time. As usual, a cheerfully wide-ranging discussion covering everything from the nature of truth to how to bake chocolate muffins - and, not surprisingly in view of the circumstances, the vagaries of various nations' policies on immigration and how these affect real people.

If anyone can explain to me how a lovely, very intelligent young lady with an excellent school record who's completed eleven years of her education in a country, and who needs a student pass for just one year to be allowed to complete her final 'O' level year, and whose financial stability over that time is a hundred per cent guaranteed, can be rationally denied said pass I'd be interested to hear them.

Simple, but very painful, rule of life: bureaucracies are invariably unyielding. And a lesson not to take our right of abode here for granted - because we haven't got any.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Putting Away Childish Things

At an age when I've forgotten how to play, I found myself the other day making a list of toys and games I received as presents in childhood. I remember each of these vividly, and feel good doing so: a big red plastic tractor with black wheels; a Lego set in a partitioned wooden box; a Waddingtons' board game called Scoop; a Waddingtons' Battle of the Little Big Horn; a second hand Subbuteo, with 2D players (from several teams, some incomplete) rather than the 3D models that were more common; a reel to reel tape recorder. (I know the last one doesn't sound like a toy, but that's in effect what it was for a ten-year-old.)

Funnily enough I can't recall anything else, other than colouring sets and the like, though I've been mulling over this for a few days. Oh, and an incomplete Totopoly set, which wasn't a present but just seemed to have always been around. The rules had got lost so we made up our own.

I suppose some people might think the brevity of the list points to some degree of deprivation given the very privileged childhoods some youngsters enjoy these days, but it didn't feel like that at all. Entirely the opposite. Since you got to play with all your friends' toys there was always more than enough.

I haven't a clue what happened to any of the above, except for the tape recorder. Mum kept that in her bedroom for years and it was thrown away when she finally moved out of Gresham Street. I can only hope the rest went second hand (or third in at least one case) to some kids who could enjoy them somewhere. I know I did.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Not Too Good

Coming towards the end of Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions and surprised at just how bad it is. But it's still readable for all its faults. What a strange writer Vonnegut was, and how astonishingly gifted!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Another Glance Back

As I mentioned in a post earlier this month, much to my surprise I've found myself missing the crowds we experienced in Medinah and Makkah last month. The odd thing is that I routinely feel uncomfortable, sometimes extremely so, in the crowds you get in the central areas of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Yet I felt nothing of that at all on our trip. Rather it was like being a child again when I used to relish being taken into central Manchester, Ashton Market or the Golden Mile at Blackpool, and feeling the excitement of it all. Maybe I'm regressing? (But most enjoyably so.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


I paid the price, inevitably, for yesterday's complacent comments about how chipper I felt, and paid it at express speed. At 3.30 in the morning I was awakened by a good deal of discomfort manifesting itself in and around my stomach. Quick diagnosis: mild indigestion, not life-threatening, but enough to make it impossible to get back to much-needed sleep. The cause: greed, simple greed - the Missus had cooked up an exquisite plate of bangers & mash for dinner, of which one plateful was more than enough. I went for the 'afters' - as they used to say back home - wonder if they still do - and that little bit of extra potatoes and gravy made its presence unpleasantly felt as detailed above.

Which reminds me: I need to shed 3 kilos, and to do so soon.

Monday, January 12, 2015

In Good Health

Noi's been suffering from a bit of back-strain the last few days, poor girl. Ironic, isn't it? I'm usually the one moaning about aches and pains in that area and I'm feeling entirely, blithely hunky dory in that respect and most others appertaining to health. Actually I suspect the heavy regime of prayers in Medinah and Makkah helped strengthen the muscles around my spine. I remember a bit of back ache initially - and a sore throat - and then all that wonderfully disappearing.

Now you may think I'm tempting fate by crowing about just how well I feel (except for the usual mild exhaustion from work) but this is quite the opposite. I'm not expecting this happy state of affairs to last - just being grateful and celebrating whilst it does.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

No Small Matter

The Shrinking Man, which I finished earlier today, has a few particularly powerful scenes in it, at least three of which are very much in a Stephen King vein. I'm thinking of the two sequences in which the protagonist encounters distinctly unsettlingly menacing individuals when he is as small and vulnerable as any child, in the shape of the probably paedophilic guy who gives him a lift and the three neighbourhood bullies into whose hands he temporarily falls; and then there's the final, epic showdown with the spider that's been menacing him in the cellar throughout the novel, when he's just one-seventh of an inch tall.

But the most powerful sequence of all, for this reader, has no real equivalent in horror fiction and raises the novel beyond the confines of the genre. This is Scott's encounter with poor Clarice, the circus midget and the only character who understands his feelings. The instant rapport between the two is entirely believable and indicates a powerful imaginative sympathy on Matheson's part. Indeed, these pages are a worthy reminder of those poor souls who have to negotiate a forbiddingly large world due to an accident of birth.

As I mentioned the other day, it seems to me a bit of a stretch to classify Matheson's work as science fiction per se, but I have no hesitation in classifying it as a fine novel. Great ending, by the way, very much in the tradition of those surprise endings frequent in The Twilight Zone - for which Matheson wrote a number of episodes, if I'm not mistaken.

Must say, I wouldn't mind watching The Incredible Shrinking Man again, if I ever really did watch it back in the 60s. Before reading the novel I assumed I did once see it, on tv that is, but now I'm not so sure. It's such an iconic sort of movie that I might well have seen an excerpt or two and later in life assumed I'd once watched it. I say this because I thought the movie involved a straightforward chronology of the hero shrinking, and was startled at the clever 'double' time scheme of the novel which begins in the cellar with Scott already down to less than an inch and then amplifies on how he got there through a series of flash-backs. Does the film do the same?

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Listened to someone talking about work-life balance this morning, then fell short by two items of completing my to-do list for the day. Is this why some might consider me unbalanced?

Friday, January 9, 2015

That Shrinking Feeling

I took a holiday from all forms of fiction over the duration of our recent trip. And I've not had much of a chance to read a lot since we got back as things, especially work 'things', have been so busy. I've made a bit of progress though in Richard Matheson's The Shrinking Man, the last of the four novels that comprise American Science Fiction, Four Classic Novels, 1953 - 1956.

To be honest, I'm not sure this is genuine sci-fi, though I can understand why it's seen as a bit of a classic (along with the film The Incredible Shrinking Man, of which Matheson wrote the screenplay.) I see it, rather, as fantasy, very much in the vein of Stephen King's Bachman novels. It reminds me particularly of Thinner, the premise being very similar, though Shrinking Man entirely lacks the gothic apparatus of King's intense meditation on losing one's body. What it certainly has got is a similar intensity, pursuing without any let-up the single-minded, and actually quite inexplicable notion of the protagonist's body remorselessly reducing in size.

Normally I try and avoid cleverly metaphorical readings of this kind of fiction, the kind in which the critic tells you what the novel is really about. But in this case it seems to me obvious that Matheson is obsessed with the notion of the loss of masculinity and the various humiliations involved, and, in the context of the hyper-masculine culture of 1950s America beginning to feel threatened by the stirrings of feminist awareness, understandably so. It's striking just how unlikeable he's prepared to make his protagonist.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Now Listening

Now listening, as I write, to White Willow's Ignis Fatuus, the recently issued expanded version, and most slappily happily so. Wondering whatever happened to the flute as a instrument central to the sound of (some, usually excellent) rock bands. Sorely missed, by me anyway. And isn't that a crumhorn I hear there? Goodness me, riches indeed.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

More Patience

Forgot to mention yesterday that patience and its various meanings are a dominating idea in King Lear. I think a reasonable case can be made that being patient in adversity is the only positive answer suggested in the play to how we might deal with the suffering inevitable in our existence. Off hand I can think of how Lear movingly recommends it to the blind Gloucester, as does Edgar: Bear free and patient thoughts (when his dad is understandably suicidal.) The need for patience is surely intimately entwined with the strange and haunting line: Ripeness is all.

The problem is, of course, that Edgar's powerful advice is immediately undercut by the arrival of the mad king, taking the weight of adversity to yet a new level. And Lear's sage advice is undercut by the fact that he's off his tree as he gives it. Shakespeare shows an awareness of Blake's insights into the abuse of preaching of the virtue before Blake got to so memorably articulate them.

(The play's been on my mind since I get to teach it again soon (Yay!) and my drama guys got to perform a line or two from it today. Lucky them, say I.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


The virtues get a bad press these days; or, rather, they get little if any press at all. When was the last time you saw an ad extolling the virtues of Temperance? And of all the virtues I'd guess that Patience is near the bottom of the list for most advertising agencies.

Indeed, in many quarters it's positively distrusted as a mewlingly passive sort of quality possessed only of those who are not prepared to Just Do It! And perhaps some of this distrust is valid. Patience as a camouflage for the lack of courage to get on with the business of really living has been a common ailment of some societies in the past, and Blake's great lines remain valid to this day: It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted, / To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer...

But the kind of patience that al Ghazzali speaks of in The Alchemy of Happiness (my reading over our recent umrah) is very different from this bloodless version. The notion of sabr in Islamic thought is a powerfully positive, active force, something akin to Job's determined acceptance of oppression as a way of resisting that oppression. It isn't something you recommend just to the less fortunate, because they've probably got it; it's something you know you need most of all in prosperity when, as the great philosopher astutely points out, you are least likely to have it.

I knew I was going to need plenty of it simply at the level of dealing with the crowds, especially those in Makkah. And, I'm happy to say, I found a depth of it, or was fortunately led to find that depth through the dictates of the experience on offer. It is curiously empowering to force oneself to deal with unreasonable crowds in a reasoning manner. If this sounds suspiciously like complacent boasting on my part, I'm trying hard for it not to be. After all, keeping cool in that situation is not exactly difficult and to some would come wholly naturally. Not to me, I'm afraid. I was embarrassingly aware all the time that a real effort was required on my part not to become foolishly irritated at the most trivial things, and came to understand that a condition of mild irritation over the inability of other people to behave exactly as I want them to is pretty much my default state - except when I choose to alter the setting. I've come to believe that can be done, you can alter some of your seemingly basic characteristics. But it's not easy, not at all.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Real Politics

For reasons a bit too complicated to go into here, Noi and I found ourselves for a couple of hours this evening at the constituency clinic of one of the MPs in this Far Place. I'm not exactly sure of all that was going on but it was fascinating. The speed at which the MP dealt with the various constituents was remarkable - and necessary, since there were so many. Did they go away satisfied? From the looks of things, most got something worthwhile out of the experience.

Most striking of all was the good humour of the several 'assistants' who were making the whole thing work. It wasn't just a matter of giving out queue numbers, either. I got the impression that most of those in attendance to see the MP had already had their problems settled before they got there through the various interviews being conducted outside. I suppose it would be easy to question the motives of the helpers for offering their time, but I suspect the majority were there out of a genuine sense of duty towards and caring for others.

When societies work successfully this is how it's done.

Sunday, January 4, 2015


I'm not entirely sure why but I've been sleeping extremely well and at what might be seen as extreme length since we got back from Saudi Arabia. On four days I've enjoyed long lie-ins followed by naps during the day: Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and, today, Sunday. The only exception has been Friday when I went into work and even then I snoozed in the car as we drove here to Melaka. This has been most welcome - I'm one of those who regard time spent asleep as time well spent - but a tad unexpected since I didn't feel particularly tired when in Medinah and Makkah.

Mind you, we did get up everyday at 4.00 am there for Dawn Prayers in the masjid, and although we sometimes napped on brief tours on the coach generally there wasn't much time for snoozing. I suppose the whole meditative experience of prayers in the two mosques felt restful in a different way. I never really felt short of sleep there, except for the morning after we completed our first umrah in the middle of the night. The Imam selected some ultra-lengthy readings for Swubuh and I wondered if I might actually keel over in the middle, I felt so sleepy. But that was the exception. I guess the last few days have involved making up for lost sleep I didn't even realise I'd lost. Or perhaps I'm just getting old.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Glancing Back

I miss the crowds in Medinah and Makkah. It isn't that I enjoy being jostled everywhere I go, and it's not a lot of fun needing a good fifteen minutes to cross a square you could manage in about forty-five seconds if it were uncluttered, but excitement involved in the sheer diversity of human beings pressing against you at any given time is hard to beat. Back in our usual far place the streets look just a little drab in comparison.

Take headgear, for example. The diversity of hijab worn by the womenfolk out in the Middle East gave the lie to any notion of drab conformity The variety amongst the black versions alone was remarkable. And the number of different head coverings for the guys seemed, if not infinite, then pretty darned enormous. Most of all I found myself fascinated observing the various ways in which the Arabs - I assume it was them generally - wore their head scarves. Somehow each individual contrived to make their version look good and solid somehow, when I've got a strong suspicion that if I'd had tried to put one one I would have been carrying around an unstable mess.

I recall watching a group of some ten guys wearing those red and white checked scarves that are so popular in the masjid at Medinah. Each one seemed to have tied theirs differently and each one looked super comfortable and, well, dignified. But then amongst them, and I assume he was one of their number because he seemed perfectly at ease, was a youngster of about fifteen, with much darker skin than the others (essentially black, whilst the others would never have been classified as such) who was wearing an entirely white head covering. This scarf fell down his back in a series of gorgeous folds, seemingly calculated to drop exactly as they did. I couldn't figure if this had been achieved randomly, or had been carefully set in place. It needed a Rembrandt to paint those folds they were just so organically right.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Bearing Gifts

We're making the big journey north this afternoon to the neighbouring nation - well, not really so big, just as far as Melaka. Noi bought an abundance of gifts back in Medinah & Makkah to disperse among the troops. And rightfully so: our journey was about community and sharing and this is all part of it. Hope the Missus is up to sharing a bit of the driving duty - this cracker is truly creamed.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Keeping My Ears Open

My resolution for the year ahead: to become a better listener - more focused, more alert to nuances. I mean this primarily in relation to music, but it applies to other aspects of what comes in through the ears.

Made a start by shoving on the ear-phones and blasting out Papa Haydn's Symphony 104 - the London. Since this encompasses just about everything what makes music worth listening to I thought it appropriate for the occasion.

But I'm also aware of the need to seek out pastures new in the year ahead, especially getting a bit more in touch with what might be seen as current. Not that Haydn isn't, of course.