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.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Biographer's Art

I suppose I should be reading Jan Swafford's biography of Brahms at the moment. It sits highly invitingly on the part of the book shelves reserved for on-going reading, and I've perused the first few pages with delight, knowing it's going to be something special - but such has been the busyness of my little world of late, and the demands of Prof Pinker's latest magisterial tome, that I've deliberately delayed getting to grips with Swafford, knowing I'm not going to do his work any justice if I read it in a head-long rush.

Another factor that's been involved in this delay links to my reading of the Ian Bell biography of Bob Dylan I mentioned earlier this month. I completed it a couple of weeks ago - or, rather, I completed the first volume, the only one I've got, of the full two-volume biography - and my reading of it resulted in my doing a lot of thinking about biographies in general. Unfortunately the thinking I did, and, I suppose, am still doing, is not of the clear and lucid variety that makes for the well-balanced mind, but is of the impressively hazy kind with which I so often baffle myself. And this muddlement (my coinage, don't look it up) factored into my hesitation over the Brahms bio, despite the author's impressive clarity as to what he's doing writing the thing in his introductory pages.

Basically, whilst I read Bell's book with gusto and a sense of learning something about the Bobster, at times I felt something close to guilt about my intrusion into the great man's life via the rather gossipy content (but, then, what biography isn't simply a kind of heightened form of gossip when all is said and done?) and even more frequently a distinct sense of irritation manifested itself upon my reading some of Bell's more superficial judgements upon Dylan's work.

Bell is obviously a pretty intelligent bloke but he suffers from the syndrome that plagues, indeed almost defines writers who see themselves as 'critics' of various genres of popular music: he cannot stop himself, perhaps even sees his function as, standing in judgement over the work of the subject he seeks to anatomise, failing to recognise that what he is doing is nothing more than a kind of parasitical growth feeding on that subject's creativity. Almost as a matter of routine he evaluates each album, often picking his hits and misses therefrom. But what's the point of telling the reader that Ballad in Plain D is some kind of disaster of a song that presumably he thinks Dylan should never have written?

Indeed, it becomes clear after the first half of his book, which actually has got some genuinely interesting and insightful stuff on Dylan's youth, that we're going to get the life of the artist sequenced through the albums, as if they somehow constitute the life. In the case of Dylan this is particularly off the point, of course, since even in his earliest days the albums were not central to how he saw his work, paradoxical as that may sound.

So now I'm thinking, in my confused way, that I just might not pick up the second volume of Bell's work (but, then again, I probably will) and that maybe biography in general is such a sullen art that a sensible reader ought to bypass it completely (but, of course, that's not going to happen in my case) and that Mr Swafford may resolve these dilemmas for me and I've really got to get round to picking up his Johannes Brahms pronto.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Points Of Entry

I was talking yesterday about the difficulty of engaging in genuinely sustained reading lately, but, as so often is the case these days, reading individual collections of poems has been a way for me of sustaining encounters with individual writers despite being time-starved. In fact, I've now completed the collections I picked with the book tokens I got from this year's Lit Seminar.

I mentioned a few posts ago that I was reading Julia Copus's The World's Two Smallest Humans with some enjoyment (at least, I think that's what I said) and it just kept getting better for me. Wonderful variations of style and content in a single slim volume. The short sequence that concludes the volume, a series of poems about the writer's unsuccessful IVF treatment going under the overall title Ghost, was beautifully modulated and very touching. I'm keen to read more of her stuff.

But perhaps not quite as keen as I am to read more from Owen Sheers, because his verse-drama Pink Mist knocked me sideways, upside-down and every which way. It's about three guys, lads really, who enlist and find themselves in Afghanistan. The language is their language and convincingly so, despite the verse. That in itself is quite an achievement. I suppose you might see this as Owen (Wilfred) up-dated since, amazingly, it's absolutely his equivalent in terms of its evocation of the pity of war - in this case a harsh, unsentimental, deeply moving pity. It's got the WOW factor big-time.

After I'd put that to one side (but not out of mind) I moved on to Mary Oliver's A Thousand Mornings. I read another collection by her last year and was impressed with individual poems, though a bit puzzled by a few others, but my experience of reading this one was entirely different. I seemed to sweep effortlessly through half the volume, finding the poet an amiable companion until the feeling that this was all a bit light-weight, a bit samey, a bit too positive in its unremitting sense of wonder derailed me. The blurb on the back mentions being, open to the teachings contained in the smallest of moments, and I think that captures something of the flavour of the poems. I suddenly didn't trust them, in the way I don't quite trust anyone who's trying to teach me something. And I'm still not sure I do, though I completed the book the other day, and still enjoyed it. I really can't place this one, and have to remind myself that we read poems not to place them (despite what the critics would have us believe) but to enter into them and let them enter into us.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Good Sense

It's been difficult getting any serious sustained reading done lately, but I've been making fitful progress through a variety of tomes, tending, for the last few days, to focus mainly on Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature. I'm now at the three quarters mark and have enjoyed getting there. Interesting insights abound, though the sheer ambition of the book in terms of its historical sweep leaves a fair few hostages to fortune in terms of contentious points being made.

Most of all I find myself appreciating Pinker's deep fund of basic good sense - which finds plenty of outlets in his trademark humour. Just two examples will have to do for now. The first relates to his analysis of the motivations for rape and the current received 'wisdom' that rape is essentially an expression of power with no direct sexual content. As he points out this now leads to counsellors at universities - in the States, at least, but I suspect elsewhere - refusing to give female students the elementary advice that I hope their parents are drilling into them: like don't get drunk wearing provocative clothing and end up in compromising situations with young men.. It seems that this is construed as blaming the victims and so no one wants to say it anymore.

The second relates to the abduction of children in the US, and came as news to me. It seems that the incidence of child abduction is wildly exaggerated in the media and in cold, hard terms the chances of a child being abducted are remarkably low and getting lower. The ever-sensible prof argues that children are now ridiculously over-protected from perceived threats and simply don't need, for example, to be driven to school every day on the grounds that taking public transport poses a risk.

This reminded me of the days when the eleven-year-old version of myself took three buses to get to school, travelling half-way across south Manchester. Taking the 127, the 210 and the 53 counted amongst the most fun I ever had. Thank goodness no one took it into their heads to protect me.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Swept Away

I was taking a break between marking essays in the middle of the afternoon when I thought it might be a good wheeze to listen to a bit of the altogether wonderful Richard Hawley. I duly put on Coles Corner, a firm favourite, and abandoned myself to the title track, the first on the album. It's probably the most romantically yearning song I know, not least because of its associations with the actual Coles Corner, a spot familiar to me from the years I spent in the great city of steel. (There's a gorgeous live version of the tune here, if it's not familiar to you.)

Now I'm not exactly the most nostalgic person I know; generally I'd regard myself as wary of over-much luxuriating in the past. You can't go back, even if you go back. But I spent the remaining running time of the CD trying to deal with memory after intense memory - initially of Sheffield and then places beyond, and the friends associated with them. It was both comforting and sad.

It's not often I go back to my marking with a sense of relief.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Brightening Up

Serangoon Road and environs can generally be relied upon to add more than a splash of colour to life, and in the run-up to Deepavali you can multiply that by ten. Noi and I were down there this evening to buy some cards for Hindu friends celebrating the festival of light, coming away with a wonderfully garish one for our favourite gardener Devan. As soon as we set eyes on it we both knew it was for him.

Then it was off to the Mustapha Centre where Noi was looking for various sundries in a place that offers just about every sundry you can think of plus a few more in at least ten varieties of each. I heard one Chinese guy expostulate to his lady friend, This is sooo Asian... I love it. I knew exactly what he meant.

Surprisingly the crowds we half expected didn't show up, so for once we weren't pushing our way through to get to the check-out. My guess is that the haze was keeping sensible people indoors, the air quality having moved into the distinctly unhealthy. It's been particularly worrying seeing pictures of how bad the situation is in Indonesia, whence the foul air originates. They're now evacuating those at risk, children and the like, from the worst areas - and about time too. Perhaps those companies responsible for the land clearances might now consider refraining from setting their country on fire.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Nearly There

Almost at the top of the particular hill I've been climbing of late and hoping to enjoy a bit more freedom when I get there. Mind you, I can guarantee that the view ahead will comprise plenty more hills and maybe a couple of mountains.

Fare forward, voyager: but take short steps, and don't look around too often.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Reflection Upon Reflection

Bit of a coincidence today. This morning I found myself at a seminar about the need for reflection in my line of work. It seems the current wisdom is you can't be reflective enough and, as usual, I'm doubtful of the wisdom of the wisdom. I reckon you can over-do it, a tendency to which yours truly is more than a little prone, I'm afraid.

Anyway, after the diversion of the seminar there I was back at the chalk-face (metaphorically - sadly the real chalk has gone) when one of my drama guys asked me to sign off on some material in a file our students need to keep as one of the requirements of the diploma programme they're on. This involves 'reflections' - as they've come to be known these days - on each activity he undertakes, which is where the drama link comes in. He had a couple of things in there related to stuff we'd done in drama, with some really interesting and insightful comments on his involvement in one thing he'd acted in, and some routine, clich├ęd comments on a kind of fun, 'action day' connected to our work. The routine comments were not terribly engaging and, of course, he knew it, and that was fine by me. I mean, it was going to be a stretch to find anything meaningful to say. In fact, when he pointed out, with a distinct note of irritation in his voice, that it was a bit daft to expect anything of depth by way of reflection on the day I heartily agreed.

Which brings me to my point. If you start expecting people to reflect on everything in writing (presumably to 'prove' they have reflected) you will pretty much guarantee that most sane people will be completely turned off the notion of reflection. And you will encourage a good deal of unreflective verbiage just to get something written and the whole thing over with.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tunnel Vision

My world has narrowed itself to the marking targets I need to hit to keep functioning at work. Not healthy, but necessary. Not wise, but sensible.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Point

I was at a meeting this afternoon at which the future development of the drama segment of what is known locally as the SYF (Singapore Youth Festival for those outside these shores who may be wondering) was under discussion. At one point the notion of abandoning the system of adjudication leading to the various awards on offer was floating around. One young man looked both startled and baffled over this possibility asking what the point of schools performing their plays was if awards were not on offer.

Celebration, said someone, succinctly.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sincerely Yours

Amused today to read about fake 'reviewers' being sued by those nice - but by all accounts pretty ruthless - people at This begs the question as to how many of the opinions expressed at this Far Place are kosher.

You can trust me, Gentle Reader. Incoherent, ill-founded, shallow, contrary as they are, all opinions seeing the light of day here are sincerely mine own. I think. Well, they were when I wrote them. And, let's face it, no one in their perfect minds are going to pay me for these oddities. 

(Funnily enough, I've always felt sincerity to be a vastly over-rated virtue. I don't mind someone faking an opinion, as long as it's interesting.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Words Of Unwisdom

Statement today from one of my drama guys, in the course of our annual camp: I have all this knowledge... I know it's bad... But I do it anyway.

We've all been there, I guess.

Actually the young people with whom I have the good fortune to spend time are remarkably knowing in very good ways. I don't remember being anything close to as good-natured, helpful and sensible as they are when I was their age. I'm baffled when those of my generation complain of, Kids these days... How easily we forget.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Wow Factor

Everything I've found out about the world around me over the years has made that world richer, more various and more fascinating. There's a piece in the latest NYRB on The Amazing Inner Lives of Animals that exemplifies this. I have so much to learn about those with whom we share the planet and, I suspect, so much of what's still to come, assuming time's mercy, will serve to expand my already delighted sense of wonder.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Every Day Is Special

1 Muharram 1437

Funny that on a seemingly nondescript day in October I find myself attending a Christmas dinner and celebrating the advent of a new year in the calendar at one and the same time.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Not Exactly Soporific

Arrived home before Noi got back from her reading group and banged on After The Flood: Van Der Graaf Generator at the BBC 1968 - 1977 at a reasonably ferocious volume. Magical stuff - but somehow managed to fall asleep in the course of CD1. The mystery of human consciousness! How weary I must be.

Caught a few minutes of a terrific movie entitled The Boxtrolls later in the evening (when fully awake and about to go to the gym.) Never heard of it before and wondered why. Brilliantly scripted; gorgeous animation. Why do kids get all the best films these days?

Monday, October 12, 2015


I was mooching around a DVD shop in the Funan Centre the other day, just before going to the concert at the Victoria Hall, when I came across a box set containing every episode of the television series Breaking Bad. I've vaguely heard of the programme and how very good it is, so I knew that if I were to watch it I'd enjoy it, and I mean really enjoy it. However, it never for a second crossed my mind to buy the set, despite the fact I could quite easily afford it - lucky as I am. I knew perfectly well that there is absolutely no time available to me in which to do the watching. In fact, there are several unviewed DVDs on the shelf above my head as I type, gazing down upon me, as unwatched DVDs do, making me feel rather guilty.

This is not a complaint about being too busy at work, by the way. Yes, I am too busy, but it's not as if there is absolutely no time to spare. No, the rather pleasant problem is that I've got so much I want to do that watching anything on the screen, no matter how enticing, has a low priority for me. Even if I went on an extended holiday the situation wouldn't change.

So there you have it. I'm not quite sure what the opposite of bored is, but if there is one it describes me.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Staying In Tune

Musical highlight of the day: listened in full to Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro for the first time ever - the version from the John Eliot Gardiner set of the seven big Mozart operas I purchased earlier in the year. This is part of an autodidactic attempt to see what I've been missing in the operatic field all these years. The answer is obviously a lot, though I've still got plenty of work to do in growing in my understanding and ability to respond to this genre.

The theatrical artifice I have no problem with, though I can't always quite see in my mind's eye exactly what's happening on stage. I've also conquered my aversion to soprano voices. What I previously perceived as a kind of over-the-top fruitiness has simply dissolved for me. Everything here sounded entirely natural. I suppose that's a good example of how the ear adjusts to artifice if it's given enough exposure. To my surprise I think I've even come to terms with the whole business of recitative. I remember some years ago watching an educational documentary on Cosi Fan Tutte, designed for listeners like myself with zero background in classical music and just a vague enthusiasm to get a bit more civilised. An excellent explanation of the function of recitative was given and some good examples of the thing itself, but I thought it sounded so false as to be close to unlistenable. In fact, if I put the operas on as 'background' the recitative still jars, but following with a libretto (and a lot of attention) has brought me to an awareness of how expressive those segments can be.

So what is the 'lot' I still have to work on? I think I can sum it up as developing enough familiarity with the music to let it completely sweep me away. I was keenly aware, for example, that the ending of the opera didn't really intoxicate me in the way I thought it might (whereas I was completely swept away by the ending of Act 2.) Theoretically I know how great this music is, but I wasn't able to entirely feel that today, if that makes sense. I thought the end was rushed, something that reminded me of a similar feeling about the ending of Porgy and Bess that lasted until a magical play-through when everything came together for me.

The other thing I have to confess to is my need for substantial breaks between the acts to get myself back to full listening mode. For someone who occasionally prides himself on his powers of concentration this is a good reminder that I really don't have any of real note.

I think the thing I was most pleased about today is that I fell entirely in love with Figaro's Susanna, both the character and the voice of Alison Hagley singing the role. Wonderfully adolescent of me.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

In Tune

Just back from the concert hall with a concert featuring very palatable helpings of Ravel and Mozart. Got to hear Le Tombeau de Couperin live for the first time. I owned a version of it on vinyl back in the last century and it was one of those records that taught me how to appreciate classical music. The SSO did one of my favourite pieces justice this evening, I must say.

Odd thing: I've known since owning the aforementioned record that it began as a piano composition and the piano version comes in six movements. Yet I've never heard it. I'm about to set that right by going on a youtube hunt. Wish me luck.

Postscript: Gosh, with regards to the standard repertoire you can get just about anything on youtube. It took me less than ten seconds to track down quite a few piano versions of Ravel's wonderfully luminous and elegiac music, and I lulled myself to sleep last night listening to Angel's Hewitt's beautifully rendered version. Loved the second movement particularly (one of the two bits not orchestrated, so not heard by me before.)

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Breath Of Fresh Air

The haze we've been suffering in this Far Place in recent days, a product of forest fires in nearby Indonesia, lifted today, prompting Noi and me to pop out this afternoon for the cup that cheers and two splendidly out-sized curry puffs from the nondescript little teh tarik place just round the corner from Bussorah Street. Then we ambled on to one of the many purveyors of exotic fabrics along Arab Street to get some material for a baju to be donned by Noi when she attends nephew Afiq's forthcoming wedding celebrations, leaving instructions with her tailor, who's resident on the same street, as to how to fashion the garment to be. There was just time for another quick cuppa, basking in the warm late-afternoon air, before it was, Home, James, and don't spare the horses.

So we didn't really do anything at all very much, and had a fine old time while we were at it.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

On This Day

It seems today is National Poetry Day back in the UK. The whole business of having 'Days' for various causes and the like is, of course, fundamentally silly, but anything that reminds the population at large of how much enjoyment there is to be found in poetry - reading, writing, listening to it - is a good thing. I'm not suggesting everyone should take up encountering the stuff as, mysteriously from my point of view, there are those who genuinely don't get it and I don't think anyone should force them to. But I reckon there remain lots of folk who would have their lives considerably enhanced through acquiring the taste, even if it's just for a couple of writers they can get into. My old mate Tony was a huge Ted Hughes fan, but I don't remember him referencing a single other poet in all the time I knew him.
My latest enthusiasm in this line is for the work of Alice Oswald. I read her wonderful collection about the river, Dart, a year or so ago and it hugely impressed me. She struck me as a bit of a kinder, gentler Hughes in her way, which is a bit of a superficial summary but will have to do for now. I finished another, more recent collection from her, entitled Memorial, last week and, whilst I don't think it's quite as immediately appealing as Dart, it confirmed for me her gifts. Memorial takes us into the world of the Iliad. It's a sort of loose translation of Homer, reminding me of Fagles at times, but reduces the epic to a series of pithy killings of one victim after another. Unpleasantly, but necessarily, violent. Powerful stuff.
I also read Manohar Shetty's Living Room. This was one I just picked randomly from the shelves when I was 'spending' the book tokens I was given back in September for my talk on poetry at the Literature Seminar. (I feel obliged to buy poetry with the tokens for some reason.) I'd never heard of him before, which is not entirely surprising as he lives in India and his poetry seems intended at least in the first instance for a local audience. Nothing earth-shaking, but highly competent, and easy to understand - which even for someone with a taste for baffling obscurity like myself is, sometimes, a welcome break.
Now I'm a few poems into Julia Copus's The World's Two Smallest Humans. Bought this on the strength of the cheerful title and because she's won a couple of awards. Yes, not very deep of me, I know, but I enjoy 'discovering' names new to me in this way. So far, so good: lots of variation of style and subject matter even in just a few poems which means I can't quite pin the lady down yet - and I suspect she'd be pleased to hear that.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Moving Pictures

It speaks volumes for my old-fogeyism that I get mildly irritated at those talking heads shots they film for the telly in which the talking head is filmed not talking directly to the screen but from an angle, as if addressing someone other than the viewer. Why do they do that? And don't get me going on those that film from more than one angle and keep cutting between shots!

And now they've come up with another way of over-complicating the viewing experience. I was watching a gory little number about some serial killer on the esteemed Crime and Investigation channel when I realised that the various talking heads although being filmed head-on appeared to be gently spinning. Then I figured out that it was the background they'd been filmed against that was moving ever so slowly from left to right. Don't ask me how they got the background to move, because I don't care; I just wish they wouldn't.

By the way, the channel in question was advertising its forthcoming Serial Killer Sunday. You couldn't make this stuff up, could you? (Though the fact I was fairly glued to the screen for the particular episode I was viewing doesn't say much for my character, eh?)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

For Themselves

Surely nobody spends quite as long staring at a painting, or looks with so intent a gaze, as the artist in the act of creation? The primary audience for any creation is the creator. And I sometimes get the feeling that for certain artists their primary audience is quite enough, thank you.

And that's enough about art, for now at least.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Inexplicable

Something I forgot to mention about my Gallery Night experience, indeed something which has been a constant of my experience of each and every night so far, was the extremely powerful general sense I had of something being conjured, a wisdom and beauty if you will, far beyond what you might reasonably expect of any eighteen-year-olds. No, that's patronising. The age is irrelevant. Just far beyond people anywhere, any age. In the case of almost every individual artist there was something, a single work at the least, of which I felt: Now where did that come from? Surely not from the frail human vessel on hand to present his or her work?

Now I know that much, probably all, of what was on display was derivative, openly so. The little write-ups that 'explained' the artist and what they'd been up to name-checked the influences with glee. But that really doesn't matter. It still didn't alter the strange power of the works I've got in mind. They did what they were trying to do, to this viewer at least - or, possibly, perhaps even likely, they did something they weren't necessarily trying to do, at a conscious level, at all.

When we see this kind of thing going on in those we label 'genius' it's easy to recognise because there's so much of it. But I reckon there's a little bit of it in all of us and a good deal of the excitement and satisfaction, sometimes intoxication, of making art lies in the fact that we are aware of that when we do so.

I'm reading the first volume of Ian Bell's biography of Dylan, Once Upon A Time - The Lives of Bob Dylan at the moment. (My follow-up to the RVW biog.) It's obvious to me that there's simply no rational explanation we can give to how the distinctly unpromising (and, frankly unpleasant) nineteen-year-old fairly hopeless hopeful turned himself into the Voice of a Generation (in around about eighteen months) before going on to greater things - and, what's more, and here things get really spooky, KNEW he was going to do so. The irrational explanation I offer is that he opened himself to his daemon, his bargain for salvation, I suppose. And it worked, big time.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Some Explaining To Do

One thing I wasn't able to do at yesterday evening's Gallery Night was to stand and look intently at a work for a long time. It was just too crowded to do so. That felt like something lost, but not irretrievably so. The artists' work will remain on display for quite some time to come. And being able to hear the artists' own commentaries on their work in some ways made up for the lack of concentrated gazing possible - hearing someone talk about what they've done always seems to intensify the piece for me. The same is true of poetry, and other literary forms, and music.

That begs the question as to whether the commentary, if available, becomes part of the work. I think it does - another blow against the idea of some kind of artistic purity. Even if the audience for an art-work chooses to finally ignore a given commentary it still, in some way, mediates response. I don't think you can read Pound's In a Station of the Metro in the same way once you've read his comments upon writing it, strange and oddly unrevealing as those comments are.

An artist's silence has the virtue of engendering some degree of the enigmatic, assuming a work is not entirely transparent, but I think the enigmatic is in danger of being severely over-rated. The wilfully enigmatic inevitably suggests a desire for something more akin to self-promotion than communication, and that spells death to art.

I suppose we get the best of all worlds when the artist and the critics have done their best to explain it all and it remains gloriously inexplicable.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

In The Gallery

Over the last three of four years the annual Gallery Night at my place of work has become one of the highlights of my year. Yesterday's was no exception. Noi and I had a splendid time viewing the various paintings and work in other media essayed by our talented Year 6 Visual Arts students.

Actually talented doesn't really do them justice and is a mealy-mouthed tepid way of trying to capture the exuberance, energy and sheer joie de vivre of what they get up to. Even the dark, angsty stuff - plenty of that, of course, and rightly so - seems full of vim, somehow.

The great pleasure of Gallery Night itself is getting to hear the practitioners talk about their work. I made it my business this time round to listen cunningly from a distance, usually when they were addressing their peers. That way you get the unfettered version, not trying in any way to impress, just to communicate - invariably with great urgency and passion (a much abused term in these parts, but one that's appropriate in this context.)

I can think of at least one of those whose work we viewed last night as more than capable of pursuing a career doing this sort of thing. But what is far more obvious to me is how much more these youngsters will make of their lives in terms of depth and meaning if they keep up such work even if it's just for themselves.

Friday, October 2, 2015


Switched on the telly to watch a bit of news before going to work this morning only to catch a visibly upset President Obama speaking angry good sense about gun control in the States following the latest mass shooting, this time in a college. Felt sad, both for the dead and over the fact that, as he knows only too well, his words will make no difference. Already, it seems, he's been accused of 'politicising' the tragedy.

Later in the day a colleague, who's spent quite a bit of time in the US, came to my desk, looking very depressed, to ask if I knew why Americans cling to their guns as they do. I could have given quite a long explanation of the historical and cultural background of the Second Amendment, but I didn't. In the light of raw, repeated suffering the words would have been empty.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Bit Of Humanity

We found ourselves at Peninsula Plaza this afternoon as we needed to get some documents stamped by a lawyer who has his office there. He resides on the top floor so whenever we go we get to view quite a few of the shops there. The majority on a couple of levels seem to have been taken over by folks from Myanmar and Thailand. I'm not too sure of their nationalities since I'm going off the shop signs which generally don't employ the English alphabet.

There's a particularly strong smell once you get to the third floor caused, I assume, by the substantial number of vegetables on display in any number of shops. It's by no means an unpleasant smell but distinctly 'foreign', to these nostrils, that is. I'm guessing that for a lot of people there it smells very much like home, if they consciously notice the odour at all, of course.

The shops at the lower levels seem to be aiming at a younger clientele. At one point we passed quite a number of shops selling guitars and other musical paraphernalia, and there were a couple of shops selling distinctly funky t-shirts. I was tempted to buy one featuring Arctic Monkeys, but decided I've got enough t-shirts already. I did buy a pair of shoes, however, my usual Clarks, which the Missus bargained for with typical ruthless efficiency, despite the fact they were already dirt cheap.

We also bumped into an old friend, Azman, whose tailoring business happily is still going strong there. He had a hand, as it were, in the trousers for my wedding, if you really want to know. The trousers are still good, by the way. I reckon he's seen a few changes to the shopping centre in the years he's been there. I suppose it might be seen as having gone more than a little down market - which I suppose is why I felt so at home there. The place felt human, for want of a better word.