Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Period Of Adjustment

13 Ramadhan 1436

I think I began fasting with too strong a sense of complacency. For the first eleven days I wasn't going into work and I figured I would have an easy start to the month. I suppose I did, but even when you can relax in Ramadhan fasting is, by definition, not easy. Now I'm back at work and having to deal with the fact that when you are wide awake at 6.30 am there are an awful lot of hours stretching in front of you to deal with. No matter how familiar this situation is, it still comes as a mild but useful, salutary shock.

And, of course, the magical thing is that the body can adjust to the demands made on it, and feel better for them. The magic hasn't quite happened for me yet, though, but I'm coping in my own fashion.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Losing It

12 Ramadhan 1436

Got on the weighing scales an hour or so before breaking the fast only to discover that I've gone about 2 kg below my fighting weight. So I'm back in the territory of losing weight without consciously trying to do so. In fact, I can't remember ever losing this much so early in Ramadhan. Noi informed me that I now had to eat more to put the weight back on, but I somehow can't see doing that. Once I've broken the fast I feel full, almost to the point of being uncomfortable and food becomes the last thing on my mind. Wonder if I can market and sell the Ramadhan diet plan to the non-Muslim world?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

How Real Is The Sacred?

11 Ramadhan 1436


The visit paid to the sacred grove of the Kikuyu paid by the protagonist of Ngugi wa Thiongo's The River Between when he is a child, along with his father, the esteemed elder Chege, is a wonderful evocation of a shared sense of the numinous. Father and son are hypnotised by the overwhelming spiritual grandeur of the ancient tree atop its hillock and the astounding prospect of all the country beyond, to the very seat of Murungu on Kerinyaga. It's a fitting location for the little boy to be told of his extraordinary lineage and his mission of bringing salvation from the hills to his people. Indeed, he will spend a good deal of the novel from this point wondering about the nature of this mission and struggling over how it is to be achieved - if it can be achieved at all.

When he returns years later to the sacred location the protagonist, Waiyaki, now a man weighed down by adult concerns and the reality of the dreadful divisions within his people, cannot see the magic of the place at all. It's a let-down, ordinary, almost tawdry. Yet, ironically, he is granted the vision he needs, in a moment of insight as to what message he can deliver his people, as he leaves the grove.

Whatever magic there is about the place is only in the minds of the characters, as an act of creative imagination, beautifully embodied in the visionary prose of the first visit and the clarity of mind achieved by Waiyaki in the second. It is ever thus with the sacred. Blake's vision of the tawdry London of the late eighteenth century as the Eternal Jerusalem could only have been in his mind, fortunately communicated and made real to us - more real than the  dismally 'real London', at times - through  his incandescent poetry.

I've been reminded by these simple truths in reading Ziauddin Sardar's engrossing Mecca: The Sacred City. His lively tracing of the history of the birthplace of the Prophet frequently reminds us of just how unholy the behaviour of those in the city has been, especially those granted some kind of power or authority there. Awful things have been done with monotonous regularity, as they have been in all cities over the centuries, I suppose, but made more awful here by the fact that this is supposed to be a holy place. The real holiness of the city as developed over time can lie only in the spiritual vision of the steady stream of pilgrims to the House of God - often, by the way, facing exploitation, abuse, extreme violence.

I found this chiming with my own experience there back in December, not, I hasten to add, that I was exploited or abused by anyone - very far from it. But I was very much aware of the city as always a rather tawdry 'real' place, especially in the vulgar opulence of the Las Vegas style clock tower, and this intersecting with the most powerful sense of the collective, creative imagination I've ever encountered. And that transformed everything.

The Holy Qur'an invites such acts of creativity when it tells us that the whole world is a mosque, fit for worship. We are invited to participate in the making of the sacred.


Now back in Hall after a generally eventless journey down the North-South Highway, something to celebrate in itself. The usual pile of letters to deal with, but only two bills, and ones I was keen to pay. Got back in time to break the fast in the homestead and am now gearing up for a bit more serious eating once the ship has achieved reasonable shape. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Questions Of Routine

10 Ramadhan 1436


Spent the very early hours of the morning, in fact, the late hours of last night, in the Kickstart Cafe in Alor Gajah. Highly recommended as a place to chill, as they seem to say these days. I even enjoyed the music, mainstream as it was. Somewhat dozy-headed all this morning as a result.

Will soon have to bring myself in line with the routines of an ordinary school week. I've just been writing down my invigilation schedule for next week - we have exams for the first two weeks of term - and assessing how I'm going to cope when all the marking arrives. In the meantime I intend to keep chilling as much as possible over the weekend, or what's left of it.


Lots of goodies available for the breaking of the fast just now. That tends to be the way of things at Mak's house as everyone pitches in with their contributions. Mind you, there are a lot of young mouths to feed so I don't see much of a problem in terms of the wastage of the grub.

Noi and I went down to the big Tesco's in Melaka this afternoon and they were obviously doing a roaring business, if the milling crowds were anything to go by. This was somewhat reassuring, actually. There are signs that the economy here is not exactly in tip-top shape. We certainly do very well exchanging Sing dollars for ringgit. So seeing quite ordinary folk able to afford to fill their shopping carts did something to allay worries that people are beginning to feel the pinch. The problem is, of course, that crowds at shopping centres don't really prove all that much about economic health. I can't imagine that the recent imposition of a goods and services tax here has made things easier for those in the lowest income brackets.

The poor are always with us because that's the way we arrange things, methinks.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Somewhere Else

9 Ramadhan 1436


Preparing for Friday Prayers - and how easy it is to do so when the mosque you are attending is just at the end of your street. Not to have to think about where to park, or what the traffic on the way is going to be like is a big plus plus in the sum of things. Last week it was lashing it down with rain and I got soaked on the way but it didn't add up to much given that home was always just around the corner.

Later in the afternoon, though, we'll be on the move to pastures new, with Mak's house in Melaka in sight for the weekend.


We're delaying the move south until we've broken the fast. Noi has, as usual, found lots of things to do to make sure all is shipshape before we move on and needs every minute to do those things in. No wonder visitors to the house here tend to say It looks so new, even though we've been resident for over ten years now.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Something Definite

8 Ramadhan 1436


In the run-up to the fasting month my reading suddenly took a new direction. I decided to break off from attempting to reread Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell with The 'From Hell' Companion at hand on the grounds that it all felt a bit too dark for me at a time when I was going to soon be consciously striving for light. The decision was reinforced just after arriving in KL when I read the final volume in Moore's Saga of the Swamp Thing, having bought it on a visit to the Kinokuniya bookshop at KLCC. It took only a day to finish and, even though I found it basically readable, there was a tiredness about the work, or perhaps about me, that made the experience feel somehow less than substantial.

I felt I needed something more definite; more focused on genuinely lived, as opposed to imagined, experience; and more charitable in its understanding of the human stuff under analysis. So I turned to Trollope. And I was right to do so.

I've had an old, unread paperback of The Last Chronicle of Barset for the longest time, and this has constituted my reading for pleasure of the last eleven days or so. Initially I wondered whether I might break off the reading for the fasting month and resume later, but I was so gripped by the opening chapters that this was never a real possibility. Those chapters essentially focus on the Reverend Josiah Crawley, and he's the triumph of the novel. The poor guy is caught in a seemingly impossible situation as the story opens, having been accused of stealing a cheque for twenty quid and finding that even he himself cannot account for his possession of the cheque, genuinely wondering whether he has, in fact, stolen the money without realising that's what he was doing. I know this sounds unlikely, but Trollope is so good on the precise circumstances surrounding the cheque - and, as always, the actual amounts of money involved in the situation are given in powerfully convincing detail - that you feel caught up in the nightmare that takes over the man's life. The eventual explanation of what really took place around the cheque, which comes some seven hundred pages later, is also entirely probable and convincing. The triumph comes in the brilliant delineation of Crawley's character: Trollope makes him deeply sympathetic, in many ways brave and admirable, yet something of a monster as well. A man of real humility yet, at the same time, one of monstrous self regard.

The intensity of his suffering is such that it's quite possible to imagine him doing away with himself simply through neglect. He comes close on at least two occasions. I can't think of anything else by the great Victorian that explores the territory of abject despair with such complete understanding to this sustained degree. I couldn't help but be reminded of such how awful the writer's own experience was in his early years, especially at school, an aspect of his life completely at odds with the persona he later created as a successful writer and civil servant. It makes you wonder to what degree the powerful sensitivity of Trollope to a wide range of character types, especially women, is founded on those years of misery and the painful insights they afforded him.

And speaking of women I should mention that the other obvious triumph of the novel is the portrayal of the outspoken, feisty Lily Dale. I really thought that she would eventually accept her suitor, the thoroughly decent Johnny Eames, and that Trollope was, typically, drawing out the whole thing to add to the happy impact of the eventual pay-off of final acceptance. But no, she turns him down, and for no very good reason, except that of the mystery of the human heart. She consciously chooses to be an 'Old Maid' (her words) in a full understanding of what that will mean for her whole life and, whilst Trollope doesn't exactly endorse the decision, he allows his character the imaginative freedom to make it for, what can finally only be described as, her own reasons.

There are, of course, other goodies involved in the novel (and one or two dull bits, including one entirely pointless sub-plot that doesn't even take place in Barsetshire) and I must say I can't think of anything I've read this year that's provided me as much fresh air and wholesome sanity as The Last Chronicle.


When I first began observing the fast, in the 1990s, I often felt hungry enough in the evenings to feel like eating all the time. Nowadays I generally feel full within twenty minutes of breaking the fast - and this is not because I've been gorging, I hasten to add. The drinks alone seem to fill all available space. I think Noi feels the same. We now eat our main meal late at night and that can feel like fulfilling an obligation regardless of how delicious the food is. I suppose all this is connected with aging in some vague way.

In stark contrast to our sense of heavy completion-cum-repletion we were looking at a sad video the other of two little lads, around ten years old, foraging on the ground for bits of bread to take back home for the breaking of the fast. I think it was filmed in Syria. For some reason, loss of identification I think, the family couldn't claim the aid others in the area were being provided. The two lads explained this to an off-camera adult interviewer with a touching acceptance of the bitter facts of their daily lives, as if the situation were almost normal. The world is out of balance. Heart-breakingly so.


Just back from Best Speedy Carwash. Bit of a misnomer as they're not speedy at all - but I don't say this in any spirit of complaint. The guys manning the hoses and cloths are super-meticulous and work really hard, and it's incredibly cheap: 13 ringgit for a full wash and vacuum. It certainly deserves to be described as the 'Best'.

Saw one guy there, a customer, rolling his own cigarettes. Didn't know that people still did that. Last saw it as a teenager. Put me in mind of something I easily forget: smokers can't light-up during the hours of fasting. Must be a real strain controlling that and dealing with everything else demanded of you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Profane And The Sacred

7 Ramadhan 1436


Spent most of yesterday afternoon and evening with Hamzah, listening to a presentation his company were doing for a school in Kuala Selangor concerning, amongst other things, ideas for incorporating IT into the curriculum. Actually, it went beyond just random ideas into a full-blown concept of delivering the curriculum through the new technology. Normally I'm more than a little sceptical about the relation of IT to the wacky world of education, but Hamzah's concept has genuine legs in terms of its practicality - assuming a school buys into the package and understands what it's getting itself into.

The obstacle to success, I suspect, is going to be getting enough folk at the higher levels of educational administration in the area to genuinely buy-in and drive the concept forward over the kind of time it needs to develop, even if it's just in one school. It'll be a pity if not much comes of all this since the package as a whole is very usable at a simple level. Back home in the evening, discussing the ideas, I found myself eagerly citing what I saw as quite down-to-earth ways of incorporating techniques we'd looked at into routine sort of lessons. It's when you can do that that you get beyond just pointlessly attaching bells and whistles to what's being done in the classroom.

Also back at the ranch we did terawih prayers together after breaking the fast in delicious style. There's something fascinatingly hypnotic about putting a fairly long sequence of prayers together. It's easy to lose oneself in the sequence and just surrender to the flow. One of the things I found so initially attractive about the practice of Islam as I encountered it in these parts was the way in which the ordinary stuff of life was so easily interwoven with an awareness of something spiritually heightened behind it all. I am privileged to observe and be part of that regularly now, but last night was a reminder of the odd, casual magic of the connections involved.


When Muslims, indeed those of any and all faiths, talk dismissively of the 'secular' world I think what they have in mind is a world without a sense of the sacred. The dismissiveness comes, I suspect, from an awareness of a lack so radical as to be destabilising. I suppose it sounds a bit over the top these days, but I don't think people are built to cope with a world in which the sacred has gone missing. It's fundamental to our neediness and even the massive availability of consumer goods cannot fill the empty spaces though, goodness knows, people try.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


6 Ramadhan 1436


Once or twice over the last day or two I've managed to momentarily forget I'm fasting, suddenly having it in mind to grab a nice cup of tea, and, equally suddenly, feeling very let down, realising that the tea is not an option. There's something almost childishly innocent in these moments, painful as they are. Perhaps in their own way they have a kind of usefulness.

Monday, June 22, 2015

In Moderation

5 Ramadhan 1436


This afternoon, like yesterday's, has been distinctly sultry in that tropical way that can really wear you down when fasting. Fortunately we didn't have to face much of it directly, just going out to the shops on the hill a couple of hours ago for needful supplies and, truth be told, we don't need so much.

A few stalls selling kueh for Ramadhan have been set up on the other side of the hill, just beyond where we used to take the kids swimming, once upon a time. Initially I think Noi was a bit disappointed that there weren't more of them, for variety's sake. But the lack of choice made things easier. Apart from anything else there was much less of a temptation to buy too much simply because the items on offer look so good, especially when you're fasting.

One of the great temptations of the month, I've noticed, is how easy it can be to feel entitled to over-indulge once you're allowed to - and there's an awful lot of time in which that is the case, despite outside appearances. Moderation in the midst of plenty is not easy, as the running dogs of capitalism are well aware, of course.


Poor Noi is sniffling away with a bad cold, and has been for the last couple of days. It's not a good way to be during Ramadhan, but doesn't stop her doing the needful. At this precise point in time that consists of preparing the main meal for the evening, though I think we're both pretty full just from what we ate to break the fast. Taking your time to eat during fasting month is a good way of reminding yourself you really don't need to eat so much.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Still Passing Time

4 Ramadhan 1436


Had a splendid time at Sharifah & Hamzah's last night. Attended terawih prayers at a near-by surau in the evening. Very restful - though I did only the first eight raka'at, being a bit nervous about my back. No ill effects today though, so it's all good.

Something I can also say about the new curtains the Missus is hanging everywhere. Before marriage I never understood the importance of curtains. There's always something new to learn.

And speaking of something new, we're breaking the fast later at one of those Ramadhan buffets so ubiquitous here, at the Flamingo Hotel. Our neighbours Susan & Mike invited us along and we're only too happy to accompany them.


We dined splendidly this evening. Too much available to do justice to. Another way of learning restraint, I suppose, is not to over-indulge on such occasions, and I think we wisely managed that.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Passing Time

3 Ramadhan 1436


I suppose fasting is easier when you're not working. There's no physical exertion to deal with. But then there's the problem of dealing with having rather too much time on one's hands. It seems a long time to the Maghrib Prayer.

We'll be off to Sharifah and Hamza's for the breaking of the fast later, though. So that should eat up a little time. Can't wait (as you may have guessed.)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Still Struggling

2 Ramadhan 1436


It was wet, very, going to Friday Prayers just now. The walk down the street to the mosque suddenly seemed a lot further than usual as I navigated the squalls and, despite carrying an umbrella, I was not exactly dry during prayers. This was somewhat unpleasant, but a good reminder of what a blessing it is to be dry - a blessing I rapidly discovered when I got home and changed.

This chimed in with the theme of the sermon - predictably (and rightly so!) about the blessings of fasting. The claim that we don't really understand the wonders of a handful of rice and a drink of water until we've been starving and thirsty is made new and real for me each fasting month, though I'm not sure I'd really lay claim to either genuine thirst or starvation as a result of the fast. I deal with something more akin to mild discomfort, and that in itself is enough to make the point.


As is usually the case on a Ramadhan evening I feel wonderfully comfortable, gloriously at ease. The freedom of being able to fill one's face whenever one pleases is a guarantee of a sense of well-being, however ignoble that sense may be. Of course, the point is that one doesn't fill one's face, because there is no need to. Another powerful lesson learnt.

Noi drew my attention yesterday to the story of an ustad who cried when asked by a Muslim brother from Somalia if a fast was valid if you were unable to take the pre-dawn sahur meal or break the fast at the appointed hour because of a lack of food and drink. Haunting little tale. Tears worth shedding.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


1 Ramadhan 1436


Head aching, but otherwise not too bad for the first day of fasting. Will be breaking the fast somewhat later than we normally do, due to being in KL. This adds about ten to fifteen minutes, which isn't much, except that today, being the first, it feels a lot.


It's a tradition of the household that we break our fast by eating rice porridge on the first day. I'm happy to report that, despite our sojourn in foreign climes, the tradition has been deliciously adhered to.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


With the arrival of the holy month of Ramadhan we start fasting tomorrow. The prospect of thirty days of a dawn-to-dusk fast has a powerful way of focusing the mind, simply on the level of figuring out what time to get up in the morning to prepare for the rigours of the day ahead. Of course, most of the real preparation and organising of affairs falls to Noi, an area in which she shows supreme expertise.

Since this is the first time we've fasted at Maison KL, pictured above, she's been mindful of making sure we have the wherewithal to ensure as smooth a passage as possible. We bought a microwave oven this evening to that effect, remarkably the first we've ever had to actually purchase for ourselves. In itself that suggests how blessed we've been over the years.

Now listening to Dylan's Shadows in the Night. Further blessings.

Selamat berpuasa, to those striving for the richest blessings of all.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

In Bloom


Spent the early afternoon buying plants to put along the fence in the garden, and some grass to cover the patches appearing in our lawn. Appropriate really considering it's 16 June, a date of no little significance to the Joyceans amongst us.

Strange that I've been thinking of some of the events of 16 June 1904 which never actually took place. Although Jim did walk out with Nora on that very day, and was on the way to finding himself as an artist.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Areas Of Darkness

One of the disconcerting features of driving in the Malaysian capital is the manner in which what appear to be major highways can suddenly turn into badly lit minor lanes seemingly going nowhere in particular. And then, with similar alacrity, they so often take it upon themselves to become real roads all over again. And sometimes not.

Having spent most of my life in major cities I tend to assume a certain evenness of illumination as a kind of right - the ways things ought to be. KL teaches you otherwise. I am reminded of the fact that the lighting in London was notoriously uneven in the late nineteenth century. Peter Ackroyd's book on the capital has a fascinating chapter on this.

Our victory over the night is only recent and remains partial. There's something oddly reassuring in that. Though not for the faint-hearted, or short-sighted.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Extreme Discomfort

Some books should come with a health warning. I'm talking about those with the capacity to colour the reader's experience for the duration of the read as if leaking into his or her world. One such is William Golding's Pincher Martin. I can't think of a more intense evocation of human suffering. Physical pain and mental torture for page after page if you allow yourself to enter the physical and mental world of the flawed protagonist, and it's unerringly real and honest.

Reading it again I kept thinking of the miserably human Bill Golding of John Carey's biography as opposed to the rather idealised writer I suppose I had in mind when I first read the novel as a teenager. It seemed twice as painful on this reading as it did then. I think Golding was punishing himself when writing it. Fortunately it's short enough to read in a day and a half - and that's all I could take of it.

I really need to look at something a bit more cheerful.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Perfect Scone

A few minutes ago Noi announced that she's on a quest to bake the perfect scone. As quests go this seems to me about as noble and genuinely useful as one can get. The thing is, though, that I reckon she's already achieved perfection so there's really nowhere to go on this one. She cooked fifteen beauties this afternoon for tea, having invited round neighbours Susan and Mike and daughter Ashly to partake of these, plus a monstrously tasty mee rebus. We also managed to feed our gardener Devan, so there're just four remaining, though I doubt these will last much longer since there's plenty of time left for an evening snack.

I'm not intending to let on about having already achieved perfection, by the way. It's good to let someone have something to aim for, even when they've already got there, especially when it entails more perfection coming my way.

Friday, June 12, 2015


I'm approaching the end of William Carlos Williams's In the American Grain. It's a book I've been meaning to read for a long time and on which I've made a couple of false starts previously. The problem is that Dr Williams assumes an awful lot of insider knowledge about American history on the part of the reader and I am sadly lacking in that department. So it's really been a matter of ploughing on even when I know I'm missing a good half of what's going on in the text. Frustrating, but I've tried to enjoy and profit from the fifty percent I think I actually understand. In future, though, I'll stick to the good doc's poetry.

Simultaneously I've been reading some of Alfian Sa'at's plays: Cooling Off Day and the three gay-themed works that make up the Asian Boys Trilogy (in Collected Plays Two from Ethos Books.) In contrast to In the American Grain these proved to be very easy reading indeed and instantly rewarding. The only problem I found with them lay in my uncertainty as to how they were originally staged, especially with regard to Cooling Off Day. This comprises a sequence of monologues based around the last general election held in this Far Place and it's obvious that a crucial part of the experience of the piece as a drama is lost in just having the monologues to read. Having said that, the various speeches functioned in my mind as powerfully suggestive individual poems, which is odd, I suppose, considering that they appear to be transcriptions of interviews with a wide range of Singaporeans about the election and political life on the island in general - so not exactly 'poetic' in the usual sense. But I found them beautifully crafted (even if they aren't) and cunningly placed in relation to each other, adding up to far more than the sum of their parts somehow.

Similarly a sense of craftsmanship underlies the three plays in the Asian Boys sequence. Individual scenes, whilst being effective in themselves, gain immeasurably from the sense of being part of a greater whole as if each comments upon the others, deepening the relentless probing of questions of sexuality and identity. All three plays are underpinned by a deep sense of yearning and a righteous anger over the injustices they tellingly delineate, as well as often being very funny. Not a bad mix! The two sequences that conclude the second play, Landmarks, also managed to be deeply moving, even just on paper. On stage they must have been ferocious in their impact.

Anyway, I'm off back to the last twenty pages of In the American Grain. I refuse to be defeated.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

All Night Long

It wasn't difficult for me to deeply enjoy last night's slumbers, and I went back to sleep for a good three hours after the dawn prayer. But Noi had other things on her mind, which I realised when I discovered she hadn't been to bed at all upon my awaking for the prayer. She had intended to make some preparations for a lunch she was cooking for a group of ladies who came round for a prayer-reading in the middle of the day. But this turned into a full-scale all-nighter, allied to her cleaning of the house ahead of the visit. Amazingly she's been looking as sprightly as ever during the day, which also saw a rare visit from Mak whom Khir drove up from Melaka.

So it's been a spectacularly busy day for her whilst I have been excelling at doing almost nothing, except admiring from a distance.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Arriving Again

Now safely ensconced in Maison KL with most things in some sort of order. We arrived reasonably early but Noi had to do some late night shopping for chicken (long story) which saw us journeying into the wilds of Wangsa. Fortunately we know those wilds well since it struck me that anyone who didn't have pretty good prior knowledge of the roads would have found their various ins and outs perplexing to say the least.

At one point we were faced with simultaneous traffic signals indicating red and green. Knowing the road, I opted for green. But I would have felt seriously frazzled if it had all been new to me. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

In The Dark

Now considering what to pack, books and music wise, for our June sojourn at Maison KL, whence we will be wending our way on the morrow. We'll be beginning our fast there next week, so I've got a decent amount of Islamic-themed material lined up, the centrepiece of which is my birthday present from Noi: a version of The Qur'an that enables you to hear various recitations as well providing an English version, astutely utilising the new technology to do so. Originally I'd been thinking of reading the Pickthall translation, but I'm now intending to combine the whole lot. The wonderful thing is that the first eleven days of fasting fall in my vacation so there are no real obstacles to progress on the read-through.

Standing in stark relief to that spiritually uplifting content I'm considering taking along Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell which I started to reread the other day. I got hold of a copy of The 'From Hell' Companion, some time last year, I think, and quickly realised it only makes sense if you're reading the original at the same time. I've been waiting for a time when it would make sense to read the two together, and this seems like it. In fact, I've already embarked on the parallel reading and have made it quickly to Chapter 4. However, I began to realise today that the sheer obsessiveness of the enterprise makes odd demands on the reader. You've really got to surrender yourself to Moore's vision and enter into the spirit of the thing to make it work - something that Campbell, as illustrator, was able to do at the highest creative level. But I found myself not necessarily wanting to partake of all the grim craziness as I journeyed around London earlier today with Gull and Netley.

Just at the moment I'd rather look towards the light.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Busy Doing Nothing

After a bit of a lie-in made the first of my biannual trips to my back doc this morning, accompanied by the Missus, now returned safe and sound from Melaka. A clean bill of health was declared with my lower back pronounced to be moving freely, despite the fact I was feeling a bit stiff from a trip to the gym yesterday, the first for a couple of weeks. Noi sagely observed that I always manage to suffer some kind of relapse as the holidays arrive.

Then it was off to Geylang with Fifi, Fafa and their Ibu for Noi whilst I waited back at the ranch, not really doing much of anything - though I did complete an answer scheme for a forthcoming examination paper and got a bit of reading done. Subsequently put on Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony at a reasonably unreasonable volume and gloriously zonked out to the wall of sound. And once the troops returned it was time to catch some grub at Al Amaan's before driving them back to Woodlands.

I could easily get used to this kind of life.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Two Faces Of The Beautiful Game

Watched the Champions League final today, but not live. I don't get up in the middle of the night any more even for the Mighty Reds and, much as I admire Barca, I was happy to watch the replay of the final put out around mid-day, fortunately not knowing the result. Pleased that the Catalans won since they continue to play the right way. Can't think of a major final as open as this one for years. Even though in retrospect the Barca victory looked inevitable there were several moments in the second half when Juve could have gone into the lead, and I seriously reckon Pogba had a good call when he was hauled down in the box. 

Then in stark relief I caught BBC World showing the numbers in considerable detail on the corruption of the egregious Jack Warner, the all-too-human face of Fifa. (Blatter doesn't count since he's been beyond human for quite some time now.) Nice to know that ten million (the green stuff that South Africa sent the way of Trinidad & Tobago) can't just disappear but has been duly tracked to the various pockets - there are many - of Mr Warner in which it ended up. Where it obviously didn't end up was developing the beautiful game on T & T: a lot of youngsters robbed of something that would have and should have enhanced their lives.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

More Than Enough

Spent five hours of the day cleaning all the books, magazines and bookshelves in the Hall and worked up quite a sweat in the process. Tried to play some music in the background - the Kinks' Arthur since you ask - but gave up as the vacuum cleaner was so loud. As usual felt slightly guilty over owning so much that is likely never to be read again. As usual developed absurd fantasies about making the time to read it all at least once more. Unusually started to develop genuine ideas about how to give some of the stuff away to those who might enjoy it.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Here And There

Just concluded a late night call to the Missus. She's up at Mak's place, putting together a kenduri ahead of the fasting month. I can't be there because I have to be here, which is not optimal, but we just have to get on with things. Fortunately Noi has seen fit, as ever, to leave me with ample supplies to get me through these dark hours. It's amazing just how much morale a mighty pan-full of oxtail soup can restore (with plenty remaining for the morrow, I hasten to add.) So, don't fear for me: I will survive, as that fine songstress Ms Gloria Gaynor once memorably warbled.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Just finished Vonnegut's Galapagos - a bracing read. The unrelenting sardonic analysis of our big-brained species sees KV in good form, making for one of the most evenly sustained of the later novels. I was completely wrong, by the way, about the novel being written in the third person, as I originally assumed - and was meant to assume. The narrator turns out to be the deceased son of Kilgore Trout, a notion so completely ridiculous that only Vonnegut could make it work.

Despite the utter bleakness of Galapagos there's a strange energy at work here. But I'm officially worn out on KV for the time being and am happily moving on to pastures new.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Checking Out

Why is it that the aptly named Giant supermarket in the IMM building is supplied with numerous counters at which their 'valued' shoppers presumably are supposed to be able to check out and pay for their goods, yet never has more than a handful actually manned (or, rather, womanned) and operational? Could it be that those who receive highly satisfactory remuneration for running the business calculate that it's well worth saving a few bucks by not employing enough lowly paid staff to keep all the counters open as the aforementioned customers will not notice that they have to queue up to thirty minutes simply to leave the place?

And let's face it, anyone who gets irritated will take it out on the lowly-paid and over-worked checkout staff who are struggling to serve them, rather than those responsible for the decisions that affect the actual staffing. Nice work, if you can get it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Moved on from Pope's magisterial Essay On Man (finally!) to the uncertainties of Tennyson's In Memoriam. I taught extracts from Tennyson's finest sequence some years ago for 'A' level and I'm puzzled as to why I haven't revisited it since then. Probably that's down to not having a good edition, a failing I recently remedied by purchasing Tennyson: A Selected Edition edited by Christopher Ricks. The only drawback to the Selected is its sheer chunkiness which means you've got to find some way to hold it comfortably as you savour its delights. But that's a price worth paying for the excellent editorial notes.

Not sure if Tennyson is fashionable in academic circles these days but pretty sure I don't really care. If you don't find yourself deeply moved by In Memoriam you're a fool. The only drawback to the sequence I can think of is that you inevitably find yourself remembering your own dead as you read and that's not exactly a drawback at all.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Some Like It Hot

Reminded myself earlier today, it being the first of the month, of Clare's wonderful celebration of nature's flowering in the June section of The Shepherd's Calendar. In fact, he opens with an image of the month as a single glorious flower: Now summer is in flower and natures hum / Is never silent round her sultry bloom / Insects as small as dust are never done / Wi' glittering dance and reeling in the sun. Lovely.

We don't get summer in this Far Place. We just get more heat than usual and lots of it. But that suits my reptilian blood. And for all I enjoyed a Clare-ish summer in days gone by, I'm happy to swop those irritating clouds of insects for a perpetually damp shirt.

Can't wait to stop working and enjoy the world and its heat out there. Coming soon, I hope.