Thursday, December 31, 2015

Finishing Things Off

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

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mixed Feelings

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

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Perfect Weather

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2015

All Good Things...

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

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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Final Day Out

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

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

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

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Scenic Alerts

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

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

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Festive Note

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Green & Clean

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Further Reading

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


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

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

Blowing Hot And Cold

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Good Things

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

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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2015


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

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

Not a bad dilemma to deal with.

Friday, December 18, 2015


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

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Other Worlds

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Not Quite The Real Thing

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

On Our Way

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2015


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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Safe Journey

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A New Start

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2015


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

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A World Of Troubles

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

In A Sweat

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


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

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

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

Monday, December 7, 2015

Still Leaving

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

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Still Looking

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Sense Of Order

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

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

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

Friday, December 4, 2015

Place To Place

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

Thursday, December 3, 2015


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

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

No Turning Back The Clock

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


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

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

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