Monday, November 30, 2015

The Bad Apple

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

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Anger Management

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

Could it have something to do with his hair?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

That's Entertainment

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

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Sense Of Movement

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2015


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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Out Of Time

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


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

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Complete Freedom

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

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

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Further Escape

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2015


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

Friday, November 20, 2015

All Made Up

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Days Gone By

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Moving On

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Nothing Really Changes

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Hard Thinking

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2015

Mr Grumpy

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Another One To Watch

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

One To Watch

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

From The Outside

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 9, 2015

Some Relief

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

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

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Under The Weather

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

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

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

Friday, November 6, 2015

Time Out

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Beating The Retreat

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dining Out

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

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


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

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

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

Monday, November 2, 2015

Less Than Optimal

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

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

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Bit Too Much

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

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