Thursday, June 30, 2016

Not Making It Up

25 Ramadhan 1437

In the middle of one Sky News reporter's account just now of various politicos back in the Disunited Kingdom stabbing each other in the back he noted, You couldn't make this up, could you? following which the lady anchoring the broadcast ruefully mumbled, Busy day, as the segment concluded. These are exciting times. Unfortunately.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Good Intentions

24 Ramadhan 1437

One feature of Islamic practice that took me by surprise when I converted was the emphasis on the niat, the formally expressed intention behind particular acts, such as fasting. It isn't enough to fast. One must declare the intention for the fast in advance of the act. And if you forget, as I understand it, the fast is invalidated, or at least in danger of being so. In this way of seeing things, God decides whether your fasting is acceptable, and you are never quite sure if it has been accepted.

What this means in practical day to day terms - and Islam is, above all, concerned with the practical and day to day - is that you can never forget what underlies your practice no matter how foolishly forgetful you might be. So for all the benefits that fasting bestows on the individual you know that is not the point of fasting. The fast is undertaken as an act of worship, one that leads inexorably, sanely outside the self.

I was thinking about this today in connection with Aristotle's notion of Final Causes. To those who can see, all things point in a certain direction. Inexorably. Finally. Sanely.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Down And Out

23 Ramadhan 1437

Sidling by my desk early this morning Moghan noted: Losing to Iceland must be even more humiliating for you than Brexit! He had a point. Fortunately I avoided watching the loss to Iceland by cunningly not arranging to get coverage of the Euros through our service providers here in Singapore on the grounds it cost too much (whereas it's free in Malaysia.) I had a bad feeling about the game and suspected my more intense interest in the competition might terminate at this point. Judging from what I've read about the game, watching it would probably be nigh on unbearable given the lousy performance of my countrymen. (I've seen the goals from Iceland and they were painful enough on their own, especially the Joe Hart fumble.)

Though I must say, I rather think I might enjoy watching Iceland do so well. A bit like watching Leicester win the league.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Long And The Light

22 Ramadhan 1437

Today was my first day of fasting while at work this year - and a reminder of how time seems to slow down in fasting month. This is not so much because waiting to eat and drink slows things down as the fact that the day begins at 5.00 am for sahur and not having to eat or drink during the day means there's a lot of time for everything else. It's a curiously freeing effect.

I weighed myself after getting back from work, suspecting that I was somewhat lighter than usual (my jeans are hanging loosely upon me) and found I'm now well under my fighting weight. This feels healthy, but short term. I have no doubt I'll put the weight back on, but I am wondering if I'll go any lower. I don't think I've been this light since I was sixteen.

Time was when there were lots of articles about the benefits in terms of health related to fasting ahead of, or during, Ramadhan. There don't seem to be so many these days - possibly because the benefits are now easily recognised. As with so many things related to fasting month, there's a curious paradox here. Wouldn't you think regular periods of forced deprivation, even quite brief ones, might be damaging? But no, that's simply and wonderfully not the case.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

On The Go

21 Ramadhan 1437

We'll be setting off on the journey to our usual place of abode later in the afternoon, with the plan being to break our fast on the road. In my earliest Ramadhans I wouldn't have considered this as a possibility, believing that the momentous nature of breaking the fast meant it needed to be in a definite place following a definite routine. I suppose it's a measure of how much I've adapted to the whole experience of fasting that that notion sounds rather quaint these days. As long as you can eat and drink it hardly matters how or where it's being done.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Kids & Cats

20 Ramadhan 1437


Left Maison KL in what looked good shape, having had the outside woodwork repainted over the last couple of weeks by Ah Seng's guys, and sped down the highway to Melaka yesterday afternoon. Greeted here by various small children and even smaller cats. Both species splendidly self-contained in their pressing concerns, which certainly don't include maintaining property and getting ready for work when next week starts. Lucky them! 

Always good to break the fast here considering the mounds of goodies on the table, and I'm already looking forward to the high point of the day.


One of the cats, it seems, goes by the name of Lolita. Thank goodness it isn't one of the kids.

Friday, June 24, 2016


19 Ramadhan 1437

What a difference a few hours makes. I went to bed after watching a bit of the news concerning the end of polling in the EU Referendum back in the UK. The general feeling seemed to be that the Remain camp would edge it. I wake-up to find it's almost certain that Britain is out of Europe, whatever that means.

That's the striking thing here. No one seems to know what the decision to leave (assuming that's the way things end up, and it looks increasingly likely) means in terms of the realities of political and daily life. As I write the value of the pound is dropping, though whether that's more than just a temporary blip isn't for sure, because nothing's for sure. I must say I'm a bit worried, but then I always am, so that doesn't mean a lot.

Noi says, I hope it all works out. Which sounds like the best that can be said in any circumstances.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


18 Ramadhan 1437

The past two weeks or so here at Maison KL have felt like something of a retreat for me, a pulling away from the world to rest and look inward. That doesn't mean I haven't been doing anything at all, but it does mean I haven't felt stretched or challenged in any distinct manner. It's a privilege to be able to experience fasting in this context, but I'm happy to leave these comfortable circumstances behind in the knowledge that discomfort is a mighty useful thing, and part of the point of the discipline of the fast.

And in extremely wobbly connection with the above reflections, I'm just hoping the England squad don't regard the game with Iceland as a comfortable way to move into the last eight. If they do I suspect they'll come unstuck. Watching Iceland battle their way through their group has been almost as pleasurable as following the progress of Leicester to their unlikely triumph.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


17 Ramadhan 1437
I've been reading all sorts of bits and pieces in no particular shape or order since we've been in KL. This is partly related to the fact that the bookshelves here house quite a mixture ranging from books acquired when I was just a lad (which went into storage in two distinct locations for quite a number of years after 1988 until I finally shipped them out east) to stuff purchased very recently. Most of the comics/graphic novels I've bought since finding my way back into this genre via Gaiman's wonderful Sandman series are housed here, and I've had pleasure dipping into Persepolis, Gaiman's tales of Dream's sister Death and The Long Halloween, an imaginative updating of the Batman mythos.
Another tome handy for dipping into has been The Collected What If? a collection of historical essays dealing with some intriguing counter-factuals. It's quite a bulky volume, given to me as a present a decade ago by Mei & Boon (gosh, time passes!) and it's really not made for reading in sequence, so I've never bothered. Rather I find myself looking at some two or three of the essays each time we're around here for any length of time and enjoying the idea there's more to come.
But I've managed to get beyond just dipping and give the full length treatment to a couple of books in the last week that I've been meaning to get round to for some little time. The first of these was H.E. Bates's Love For Lydia which I acquired in 1988, just before heading out here since it featured in the Marshall Cavendish series of Great Books (or something like that) which, for some reason, I thought worth subscribing to back then, probably because they were cheap, I guess. I didn't have a chance to read it then and it's not featured high on the list of stuff I need to catch up since getting it out here since I can't honestly say I would regard Bates as a writer of Great Books in any meaningful sense. From all appearances it looked like an account of drearily obsessive first love for a drearily mysterious femme fatale, and that's pretty much how it turned out - except maybe just a bit better. Some observant descriptive writing relating to the natural world raised it slightly above the ordinary for me, but only slightly. I'm afraid I'm several decades too late for tales of young love and passion. I keep wondering why anyone would bother and, more practically, why the narrator didn't just take off with one of the nicely stable ordinary young ladies who made their availability clear to him.
The other book I went cover to cover with is, I suppose, a volume for children. Entitled Return to the Hundred Acre Wood it's a revisiting of A.A. Milne's engaging tales of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh and their companions written in the style of the original by David Benedictus and illustrated, quite beautifully by Mark Burgess in the inimitable (but here wonderfully imitated) style of E.H. Shephard. Now you might be thinking I must be quite a Milne fan, but that's not the case at all. I didn't particularly enjoy the Pooh stuff as a kid, coming to it rather too late, and I only know the stories from hearing them adapted as they were for programmes like Jackanory. In fact, it's only as an adult that I came to recognise the 'engaging' qualities of the tales, as referred to above and I don't feel any strong nostalgic impulse to read Milne (of the sort I definitely feel for Kenneth Grahame's work.) This was another book given to me generously as a present, quite unexpectedly, by my colleague Suzanne back in 2011. I think she'd been to the UK in the December of the previous year and bought the book at a signing by Benedictus thinking it was something I'd like precisely because I'm English. It's a handsome-looking volume, beautifully illustrated, as I say, and I popped it on the bookshelves at work meaning to get round to it some time soon - and didn't. And then when Suzanne passed away for some reason I lost all desire to look at it.

That was silly. It was fun to read and a reminder of a lovely person. Good enough reason to want to read anything, and I'm glad I did.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


16 Ramadhan 1437

Watched the replay of the England game against Slovakia this afternoon and fell asleep towards the end. That's more of a comment on me being tired whilst fasting than it is on the England performance, and the fact that I knew the result already and there were to be no goals to brighten things up. Actually I'm fine with the fact they got through to the last 16 since I thought the group looked more difficult than it proved to be. I reckon England dominated admirably in all of their games and looked solid enough as a unit, but there's a need to up the tempo if they're going to score the goals needed to advance further, especially in terms of what they achieved last night.

Let's face it, if it comes down to penalties we all know what that means.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The First Half

15 Ramadhan 1437

Having just broken the fast for the day I'm sort of celebrating the fact that we're now at the halfway mark of the fast in terms of the number of days the fast needs to be observed for this year. (It varies from 30 - 29 days each year depending on the length of the lunar month. This year is the slightly longer version.) My sense of celebration, by the way, is not based on any particular sense of achievement - rather a simple thankfulness that circumstances have allowed me to observe the fast when all it takes is illness or an accident to make it impossible to continue.

Also, though today is something of an exception, I'm pleased that I've found myself far less inclined this year to count off the days than in previous years. There was a time when doing so was something of an obsession, one I'm glad I seem to be growing out of.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


14 Ramadhan 1437


I was surprised, though I really shouldn't have been, at just how moved I was by some of the episodes in the final third of The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Just after writing and uploading yesterday's post I read the sequence in which a number of the survivors visit a café selling fish and chips in Hobart that one of those who didn't make it out of the jungle kept talking about when in the camp. For no good reason the men smash the windows of the café, but then return next day to apologise to the Greek owner and offer to pay for the damage. He himself has lost his son in the war and invites the men to eat with him. They do so, and tell tales into the night. In many ways it's a very simple sequence, yet it seems to point at ways of finding meaning in what might otherwise be meaningless suffering. But it doesn't give you those meanings. Reading it knocked me sideways.

As did a number of other such moments. Which makes me wonder where the power comes from. It's not just because of the extremity of the pain that lies at the centre of the novel - the suffering of the POWs building the pointless railway. In fact, these men are not always at the centre of the action, or of the various moral concerns of the novel. Despite having Dorrigo's story at its centre, which as a story turns out to encompass more than just what happened to him during the war and what that did to him - as evidenced by the extraordinary sequence in which he drives into the bush fires around Hobart to save his family - the novel is prone to a kind of digressive fracturing in which the fates and consciousness's of a wide range of its characters are involved. My guess is that the writer felt obliged to do his material justice (Flanagan's father was a POW on the Death Railway) and the various explorations set out on had to be somehow integrated into the fabric of the novel.

Actually I'm not sure this really works. I'm left with a sense of a novel of brilliant fragments that don't entirely cohere but are felt deeply enough to be somehow necessary. The only one that didn't quite work for me was the sequence detailing the love affair between the protagonist and Amy before he goes to war, but even this was worth it for the wonderful section dealing with the melancholy end of Amy's life. I suppose the one thing holding the novel together is its concern with the act of remembering and how that might give some kind of meaning to things. That idea is hugely urgent in terms of the need to remember, in some sense memorialise, what happened in the Thai jungle to the men set to build the railway, but it also can be seen to apply to the need to give other lives meaning before they're lost in the wreckage of time.


Spent parts of yesterday and today cleaning the various books at Maison KL. Yesterday I timed the breaking of the fast to coincide with completing the first half of the cleaning but today I find myself with a good hour or so left before a well-earned cuppa can assuage the thirst built up just by wielding a vacuum cleaner. A useful reminder of how a bit of real work can make the fast that bit more of a struggle.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Real Hunger

13 Ramadhan 1437


I've just been reading Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North. I made a false start on it soon after receiving it as a birthday present in April, not really getting into the somewhat fractured narrative concerning the central character Dorrigo Evans, a survivor of one of the camps on the Burma Death Railway. Even having read a good two-thirds of the novel I'm not entirely sure what to make of him as the protagonist, especially when it turns out that the narrative is focalised through quite a number of other characters in addition to Dorrigo, including some of those in charge in the POW camp. What I am sure of, however, is that the central segment of the novel dealing head-on with the sufferings of the prisoners makes for gripping, disturbing reading.

To mention just one aspect of their ordeal: the evocation of the incessant ravenous hunger the prisoners endured as a result of being appallingly over-worked on the most meagre rations possible puts into major perspective the very slight discomfort one might experience during fasting month. It's difficult to imagine how any of the men survived - and I'm moving into the part of the novel that deals with what did survive of them (at least, I think that's what's coming) with deep fascination - and gratitude for never having to have experienced anything remotely similar.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Various Adjustments

12 Ramadhan 1437


I've reached that point at which I can claim to have adjusted to the fast. I'm no longer prone to triggers that make me desirous of a routine cup of a tea because the routine has been broken. I feel like I've been doing this forever. The afternoon headaches are a thing of the past - though breaking the fast remains a fulfilling moment in the new routine that's been established. But I continue to feel more tired than usual, a fact I put down to not having to go into work. I think a major recharging of batteries is on-going, and would have been even if I were not fasting.

Big contrast going to Prayers today compared to this time last week. On my last walk to the mosque I enjoyed the heat of the day, and the cooling effect of entry into the praying area. Today the sky was overcast and it began raining heavily about five minutes after my arrival. Unusually I actually felt uncomfortably cold during prayers. This mosque is the only one I know outside Saudi Arabia with air-conditioning and it seems that someone thought it was going to be a super-hot day and had set the system accordingly. I'm so used to Friday Prayers as a time of cosy warmth shading into slightly uncomfortable sweatiness that today's brisk chill came as a wake-up call (almost literally - I enjoyed none of the usual slight buzzing drowsiness I've come to associate with the occasion.)

I suppose I need to further adjust to England doing reasonably well in the Euros. Nice to see them actually still pushing for the goal at the end and looking to unorthodox ways of getting it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Going Wrong

11 Ramadhan 1437


On a day when one might be expecting to celebrate the noble art of literature I find myself bemoaning the fact that I've just completed the worst novel I've ever read. The junk in question is Patricia Cornwell's Isle of Dogs, and I don't recommend it, not one little bit. I'm still not entirely sure why I decided to finish it: partly this derived from an almost puritanical sense of the need to do justice to a novel by at least reading it before damning it; partly because of the fascination of seeing just how bad a work by a well-known writer could actually be in its entirety; and, I wonder if part of me saw reading it as a kind of added penance in the fasting month. Amazingly it got worse as it went along as it became increasingly obvious that the plot was going nowhere and Ms Cornwell had no control at all over the development of an increasingly ridiculous cast of characters. The ending is perfunctory, to say the least, with major storylines simply abandoned. How did this ever get published?

And how did I come to read it? Well, that can be traced back to the 1990s when the first few Scarpetta novels by Cornwell came out. These taut and engrossing little thrillers went down well with me and Mum and a few other readers of my acquaintance, up to around number seven, I think. At that point the formula seemed to be wearing thin. To my surprise Stephen King name-checked Cornwell in his novel Bag of Bones as a popular writer who was being badly handled and edited by her publisher. That was quite a surprise as Mr King is usually very supportive of his fellows, but made a kind of sense as it explained to some extent why the Scarpetta series seemed to be deteriorating in quality. At that point I decided not to bother reading further, but I had heard of a new set of characters being developed by Cornwell in a novel entitled Hornet's Nest and wondered if I should check this out. In fact, I was given a copy of the book, but just couldn't get round to reading it - and I'm not sure where it went. Then some four or five years back when Noi and I were browsing in a second hand book store at the Art Market here in KL we came across the copy of Isle of Dogs (featuring some of the players from the Hornet's Nest story) that I've just read along with a couple of other tasty titles. I bought the Cornwell mainly with the Missus in mind - since she'd been a fan of the early Scarpetta numbers - thinking that it would one day make an interesting read as a straightforward old-school police procedural. Noi has never got round to picking up the book, so I thought I'd better justify its purchase and re-new my acquaintance with a writer I'd once enjoyed.

I wish I hadn't.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Making Progress

10 Ramadhan 1437

The idea that we can improve ourselves, spiritually and morally, lies at the heart of the experience of fasting. In this respect there is no real end to the fast as, genuinely accomplished, it should spill over into the rest of one's life, and be built upon in subsequent Ramadhans, assuming God's mercy allows us to experience these.

But progress is always problematic. The teacher who writes making steady progress on your report is never being entirely honest, as every student knows.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

In Appreciation

9 Ramadhan 1437

If fasting in the holy month of Ramadhan were intended to teach you to look down on the superficiality of all the world has to offer, then I'd have to say it doesn't work for me at all. But that isn't its purpose. Through the fast we learn to control our desires for the goods the world has to offer, but that doesn't make them less good; far from it. Case in point: I appreciate to the utmost Noi's oxtail soup (and I'm talking real oxtail here) any time she cares to cook it up. But the one we enjoyed just now, after the breaking of the fast, touched upon the sublime.

One of the gifts of fasting is to make you more alive to what the world has to offer. Indeed, to make you more alive.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Of Beauty

8 Ramadhan 1437

When we were in Spain I picked a couple of Islamic-themed CDs, both well produced and packaged with lots of relevant background information. This evening I played one, entitled Ritual Sufi-Andalus. It's a recording of a group from one of the Islamic brotherhoods as they perform a ceremony based around the poems of Al-Shushtari, a thirteenth century Andalusian troubadour. Amazing stuff: passionately beautiful.

Sometimes you need to shut out the world as it is, and enter the world as it can be.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Defeat And Triumph

7 Ramadhan 1437

When I first began to observe the fast in the holy month of Ramadhan some twenty or so years ago, getting to the breaking of the fast at Maghrib felt like a triumph each and every day. Now, not so much - but I continue to experience echoes of that feeling when I take the first tentative sips of water and scoff those first dates. I suppose that's one of the reasons why this month is so paradoxically positive in terms of the emotions it inspires, despite being a time of deprivation (slight as that my be for someone in my fortunate circumstances.)

Perhaps that's why I don't feel quite so bad now about the Russian goal in stoppage time. It felt like a defeat at the time, since three points seemed gold-plated guaranteed. But if England can play with the flair they manifested for the first half and quite a bit of the second I see no reason why they can't go a long, long way. They looked as if they were enjoying the game, not a perception one normally associates with the national team.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Lazy One

6 Ramadhan 1437


Other than making the effort needed to drive up and settle in here on Thursday the early days of this year's Ramadhan have been characterised so far by a splendid lethargy. Fortunately this is allowed in the terms of the fast, though certainly not encouraged. I keep telling myself it's all part of re-charging the batteries. If so, mine should be back to 100% by now.


Bad timing for the games from Europe. Just watched Gareth Bale score for Wales against Slovakia and wouldn't mind watching the whole game, but it's way too late. The England game starts in the middle of night, Malaysian time, so I'll watch the highlights some time tomorrow. Worrying that the pundits on Astro are tipping England as contenders for winning the tournament. Probably the kiss of doom.

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Hot One

5 Ramadhan 1437

Walking down the road to the mosque for Friday Prayers some time after noon today, I realised that it's hotter here in KL than in Singapore, or at least it seems so. Gave some thought to those who are fasting whose circumstances mean they need to be out in the sun to earn a living. I managed to feel exhausted just accompanying Noi to the supermarket and lazing about reading, and was even more thankful than usual to break the fast.

Funnily enough fasting yesterday seemed oddly easy, driving up. The only difficulty I had was staying awake in the middle of the journey when I found myself yawning excessively, but that eased once beyond Melaka. I suppose the fact that I very rarely eat or drink in the car meant there was nothing to trigger the desire to have a cup of tea. An increased awareness of just how much one's behaviour is determined by all sorts of almost unconscious triggers is one of the benefits of the month.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Moving On

4 Ramadhan 1437


Heading up to the Malaysian capital today, and hoping to get there in time to break the fast. Tiresome journey ahead. Another useful test.


Broke the fast in the car with a date, but arrived at Maison KL soon after. Would have made it comfortably if not for big jams in KL straight after Sungai Besi, following quite an easy journey north. We didn't expect the wall to wall traffic. Not sure if this is a feature of evenings in Ramadhan here. Expect we'll find out.

Now we're settled in following heroic efforts on the cleaning front by Noi. I feel a bit guilty about the number of lizards our traps have eliminated over the two months or so of our absence from these premises. Suppose it's their fault though, for assuming the place belongs to them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


3 Ramadhan 1437


Felt exhausted in the early afternoon despite doing almost nothing all day. It's strange to observe what a lack of normal sustenance does to the body and, more particularly, the mind. Now I'm feeling the ease that comes after breaking the fast, almost as if inhabiting an entirely different body. A slight shift in circumstances is all that's required to make for a huge change not just in perspectives but actual perceptions. We are more at the mercy of ourselves and our routines than we realise.

Noi has just been talking about some of the visits she was involved in today to meet needy families asking for assistance from the mosque. I'm not at all sure I could cope with the difficulties these folks face. Good to know they're getting help from somewhere. I suppose this is the best way of all to have an out of body experience: recognising the reality of the bodies of others and their multifarious needs and demands.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Still Beginning

2 Ramadhan 1437


The really irritating moments in fasting month are those in which you momentarily forget you are fasting and the monkey mind considers - just for a second or so, but that's quite enough - having a nice drink, only to be brought back down to earth by the fact that are several hours to run before the thought of a drink can be entertained. For some reason today has seen me particularly prone to such moments. This is tiresome, to say the least, but I suppose I should welcome the experience as a necessary period of adjustment.

The funny thing is that now I'm quite free to eat and drink as I feel, I'm not terribly interested, even though we haven't eaten our main meal yet.


It hasn't just been a day of forgetfulness fortunately. I finished Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being having re-embarked on a full reading yesterday. A lot to admire, but not a great deal I felt I could connect with. His characters all seem too grown-up for me, somehow. I suppose it's all that eroticism, which seems sort of frenetically drab to me. The bit about the dog dying was touching though (but I'm not entirely sure that the writer wanted the reader sentimentalising at that point.)

To my surprise I found one or two schools using this as a text for English A: Language & Literature. Odd choice. Can't imagine trying to teach this. Presumably the teachers who have chosen it are big fans, but that's not usually a good reason for choosing texts for use in schools.

Monday, June 6, 2016


1 Ramadhan 1437


Will be breaking the fast soon. Now entertaining a mild headache, a useful reminder that this isn't meant to be easy.


Rice porridge, our traditional first day of fasting dish of the evening, still to come. Over the years we've developed the practice of breaking the fast with something light before thinking about something heavier. The result is that when you move on to the weightier stuff you feel full already so there's no temptation at all to overload.

It's wise to keep the celebratory aspect of breaking the fast in check. Not that there's anything wrong in enjoying being liberated to eat and drink as and when you care to. But fundamentally the month is concerned with building a discipline for the self, and cultivating an understanding of those who lack the circumstances that enable celebration. I remember when I first began to observe the fast the strength of the realisation that was granted me as to how utterly weary and empty the poor must feel all the time. I've never been able to shake off that realisation, I'm pleased to say. I just hope I'm a better person as a result of it.


Completely forgot in my woeful self-consumption to wish all brothers and sisters observing the fast: Selamat Berpuasa! Recognising one's status as a drop in the ocean is in itself a kind of liberation.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Endings And Beginnings

Finished the very informative 1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear and, at almost the same time, finished cleaning the books in the apartment and my desk and books at work, and all this after finishing my quota of marking for IB for the May examination session.

These conclusions by way of clearing the decks for Ramadhan. We begin fasting tomorrow. Some years ago I would have been very nervous writing that, wondering if I might be once again able to find the wherewithal to achieve all that needs to be achieved by way of self-control. Now I'm looking forward to the month and what it will bring.

But I also know that at some point tomorrow I'm going to realise once again just how demanding the experience of fasting is. Wonderfully so, otherwise what's the point of striving?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Greatest

Ali's reinvention of heavyweight boxing, turning his side of it into something of elegance and grace, allied to necessary brutality, alone would be deserving of the epithet he bestowed on himself. When you add to that his understanding of the athlete as celebrity showman you have something extraordinarily prescient of sport beyond the twentieth century.

But to have also been a leader in all senses in the struggle for justice for his race and a role model of resistance to oppression beggars belief. And all this done with an exhilarating joy for life, an intelligent and disarming wit and sense of fun.

We're not likely to see his like again any time soon.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Words Of Wisdom

It's a salutary thought that if you were in London around the year 1800 and looking for someone of genuine depth of thought you would have found him not in the Palace of Westminster, or any other palace for that matter, or any of the haunts of the great and good, but in the run-down shop of a dirt-poor engraver, generally regarded as half-mad. This thought came to me as I was watching various politicos score points off each other in the so-called debate over Britain's place in Europe earlier this evening.

Here's something the half-mad engraver wrote: I am really sorry to see my countrymen trouble themselves about politics. If they were wise the most arbitrary prince could not hurt them. If they are not wise the freest government is compelled to be a tyranny.

Funnily enough after a life-time of reading stuff from the half-mad guy, today was the first time I came across the gem above. There's always something new to discover in the words of the truly wise.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Useful Fictions

Started the biannual vacuuming of the bookshelves and their attendant books this evening with the small bookshelves in the living room and the even smaller bookshelves outside the door. There's plenty more to vacuum, but I'm still clearing ordinary work-related tasks, so I needed to start small. Time was when the performance of this task marked a distinctive break with my real job, but these days there's no thing as a distinctive stopping point. The Toad, work, leaks into everything, all the time.

What hasn't changed, though, is the curious sense of fulfilment I get as a result of all the cleaning. It has the entirely deceitful effect of convincing me I am somehow in control of my life. Always a useful fiction.

Almost as good as the assumption that in time to come I'll actually reread all the books on the shelves. Maybe it's time to unload a few?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Out Of The Pink

Noi, poor girl, is coughing and spluttering and sneezing in a way that's painful to listen to and, therefore, must be far more painful to experience. Somehow I have contrived to escape the blight, for now at least, despite a distinct sense that my nose is hovering on the brink of springing several leaks. I'm intending to make Noi one of those soothing drinks that eases a cough in a minute or two and making one for myself simultaneously in an attempt to stave off what looks like the inevitable.

The thing is that I'm technically on vacation, despite having to go in to work every day - where I find myself fully occupied as ever - and this is exactly the time that traditionally I find a way of falling ill. Maybe just this once I'll avoid it, but the omens don't look good.