Wednesday, August 31, 2016


What's the best part of being on the elliptical trainer. Getting off. Hah!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Despite finding Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence almost unputdownable I have contrived to not pick it up since the last time I mentioned it in this Far Place. This is, obviously, not the fault of the eminently pickupable novel. And it isn't my fault either. Blame things as they are, and hope that they change eventually.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Hearing Things

Experienced an extraordinary auditory hallucination this morning. It occurred during the Chapel for the beginning of our week at which Ferd was leading the songs of worship in his usual inimitable style, accompanied by one of our Year 6 boys who also has an excellent voice. Jonah was on the piano, knocking out one of his brilliantly sympathetic accompaniments and the sound was particularly full, especially when the voices of the kids joining in became noticeable.

It was at this point, about two minutes in to the first song that I found myself listening to an orchestral accompaniment. To be more precise, I distinctly heard a string section, and actually wondered for a moment whether the music was taped. But since Jonah was obviously playing live I realised this just couldn't be the case. As I focused on the phenomenon I realised there couldn't possibly be strings, and the accompaniment duly disappeared.

I happened to see Ferd later in the day and mentioned what I'd heard. It seems that this is quite a well-known occurrence, related to the nature of Jonah's playing and the harmonics it produces. To some degree it's a deliberate element of that style. The harmonics inherent in the singing of the crowd would have added to it, he reckoned. The fact that I sort of now understand what happened doesn't make it any less magical, by the way. If anything it adds to the enchantment.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Mixed Feelings

Took possession of a new car today. Quite exciting really, coming to grips with all the new technology available that comes along with it. Got back in the thing after buying some petrol and it began to talk to me. Couldn't understand what it was on about, though.

Sorry to lose the old vehicle. In ten years it never gave a problem, and looked like it would carry on in that vein. But after owning a car for ten years here you need to pay an arm and a leg to get a certificate to allow you to keep it on the road, and I wasn't at all sure it was going to worth it. Wonder if they'll just junk the thing now? Pity to let it go to waste. Not exactly cost- or environmentally-effective.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Looking To The Future

Busy day. Spent a good deal of it at the annual Literature Seminar where I found myself listening to various presentations by students from around the island on a wide variety of literary concerns. In fact, the variety was quite remarkable, stretching from the songs of Lennon & McCartney to a paring of Joseph Heller and Thomas Pynchon, taking in Adichie, T.S. Eliot, Tennessee Williams and Salinger (in an odd combination with whoever wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower) along the way. Not a bad range, eh, and when you throw in some intelligent commentary on the work of American painter Edward Hopper popping up alongside the Eliot you get a sense of the desire of these youngsters to really explore the wonderful world of lit and its manifold possibilities. In fact, intelligent commentary and insightful research was the order of the day, in addition to enthusiastic engagement in the texts on offer. Oh, and the usual courtesy, friendliness and good humour you come to take for granted here.

I can never quite understand why so many people of my age seem to automatically criticise the younger generation. I'd put a lot more trust in these youngsters and the possibility that they might carve out a better saner, future for the planet than I would in the 'baby boomer' generation I grew up.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Up Close

I quite enjoyed the music for The Fantasticks, the musical I'm directing at the moment, the first few times I listened to it, but I can't say the songs had a huge impact on me. Of course, I knew Try To Remember, a lovely classic in anyone's terms, but the only other song that jumped out at me was Soon It's Gonna Rain - with which I was vaguely familiar. I thought of the other songs as well written, but just workmanlike, as it were, fitting into the show as needed to further its concerns.
Now I'm enamoured of almost every piece, including the incidental music and the stuff for underscoring. When you have the privilege of working up close with music of this quality you can't help but fall in love with it. And it helps that our own musicians play it so well.
In fact over the last couple of days I've been enjoying some of the spin-offs of working closely with genuinely musical people (as opposed to my sort of fake musicality.) Jonah, one of our immensely gifted pianists, was demonstrating the opening bars of one of the Rachmaninov piano concertos to me the other day, explaining just how difficult it was to play. Standing by him as he almost physically attacked the piano to deliver an astonishing passage was a viscerally powerful experience. The real concrete impact of the sound at close quarters was amazing (as was the playing.)
Then today, just before we started rehearsing for the afternoon, I caught the back end of a sort of piano master-class for some of our kids in the Music Elective Programme. One young lad in short trousers was playing a Chopin nocturne - one of the more dramatic ones - and, my goodness me, it was magical to listen to him.

We've lost so much in an age when the actual making of music is no longer available to us at close quarters, as it were. We're not as alive we used to be - unless we luck out, as I've managed to do.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

For Sale

Was having a bit of a chat earlier today with Peter and Chris about the world of international schools. They've both taught in them and I never have. Chris was talking about one particular franchise that had earned its progenitor oodles of the green stuff.

Now here's a funny thing. Usually when I hear about folks making lots of cash selling education I feel a stab of jealousy over the painful truth that they're rolling in it and, let's face it, I'm not. But this time round the stabbing feeling didn't arrive. Instead I felt vaguely relieved I didn't have to face the headache of figuring out how to make the money (I suspect it's not easy, even when clever people make it look that way) and sort of happily uncompromised about what I do on a day-to-day basis.

I suppose that sounds a bit saint-like, uncomfortably so. But I don't mean to suggest I do what I do out of some sense of charitable dedication. I do it to earn a living, and I manage a comfortable one, thank you very much. But I'm doubtful about the idea of turning the business of the classroom into a business. Somehow, in ways I can't really articulate, that doesn't work for me. (But more power to your elbow if you see it differently, and wish to earn more than a bob or two along the way.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

That Shrinking Feeling

When one's greatest pleasure of an evening is to finally get 82 names to match correctly 82 proposal forms in addition to the numbers allotted for supervision amongst one's colleagues, it's a sign that life is closing in a bit too narrowly. And when even just achieving that lies outside one's capabilities it's time to just give up and go to bed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Going Wild

As we were sitting together afternoon in the room in which we prepare our examinees for one of their oral assessments, my colleague Rachel was telling me about a wildcat which got into the staffroom yesterday. It seems it was a little thing, like a puma, but managed to seriously scratch the arm of one of the security guards tasked to deal with it. The idea of such a bundle of wildness invading our sedate surroundings strangely heartened me, though I must say I felt sorry for the poor guy who had to deal with it.

It put me in mind of that most vicious of all felines, Esther's Tomcat, featured in one of the best of Ted Hughes's early animal poems. I mentioned this to Rachel who immediately tracked the poem on-line, reminding me of how immediately accessible so much wonderful writing is these days. I confess, I couldn't help but read the piece out adopting my best Ted Hughes growl and I reckon I did it rather well. If you don't know the poem do click on the link I've so thoughtfully provided above and enjoy. And if you do know it click anyway and enjoy it all over again.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Missing The Target

I've not given up yet, but I have a strong sense that I'm not going to get The Museum of Innocence read by the time we set off for the Hajj, despite the abundant charms of Pamuk's narrative. I've thoroughly enjoyed every page I've read but have only managed a further ten since I last posted about it. Mind you, I have read the issue of Prog I was referring to from cover to cover (the article on the late Syd Barrett was particularly fascinating) and am making solid progress with the issue of the NYRB. I'm now re-reading a fascinating review of a recent biography of the American poet Wallace Stevens and wondering why I don't own a single volume by him. Must get hold of the relevant Library of America edition, which is a Collected if I'm not mistaken.

My plan is to go to Makkah carrying just Tariq Ramadan's excellent The Messenger: The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad for re-reading along with some of those little editions available of Al-Ghazzali meditating on various topics. In recent years I've discovered the pleasures and benefits of what might be termed reading for devotional purposes - another age-old cultural experience sadly neglected in our less-than-devotional age.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Hitting The Target

Funny how some things never change. I was reading my journal from some fifteen years back on this date, and came across this reflection on the notion of assessing organisations (and, by extension, individuals) in a quantitative manner:

I veer between hope that it can be made to work usefully and despair at its lack of reality in demanding a quantitative approach to everything. There is something disturbing in the insistence on targets that surrounds us in so many aspects of modern organisations. I feel that a psychic cost has to be paid when we get the balance wrong - the balance, that is, between the usefulness of a highly specific aim to focus our efforts, like locating the treasure on a specific point of a map, and the need for room to just dance around in, meadows to roam.

Of course, we're still stuck wrestling with the same 'instruments' for assessment. But, then, some things do change. Fifteen years ago I was genuinely emotionally invested to some degree in these issues. These days I don't care in the slightest. 

(And another thing that hasn't changed. I just downloaded Supertramp's Breakfast in America from iTunes, an album I haven't listened to at full length since I was at university. Happy to say, it still hits the target in a big way.)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Green Light

How highly satisfactory it is to sit in a class for the Hajj and know that you've finally got the visas that guarantee you will actually be able to go on the pilgrimage. This was our very, very fortunate position today following the issue of said visas yesterday. There is much rejoicing in our little household and an absolute determination to get this journey of a lifetime right.

We've now got a busy two weeks to prepare and intend to make every minute count.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Present Moment

Listening to - Ennio Morricone's music from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Drinking - a can of Coke Light.

Eating - nothing now, because I'm still full of the cake I ate on arriving home from work.

Thinking of - not very much at all.

Feeling - very good indeed, thank you very much.

Writing - this.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Moment Of Panic

The fact that an old chap like myself can contrive to create a moment of sheer blind panic at work, brought on by nothing more than a heavy load of stuff to do and a battery running low in a sound recorder, is a mark of how little progress I've made over the years. Fortunately I managed to subdue the very real physical aspects of the experience and am now considering ways of trying to ensure it isn't repeated in the near future. And also fortunately it was a very private moment, so at least major blushes were saved.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

In Tune

Can't get the tune from Soon It's Gonna Rain from The Fantasticks out of my head. Not that I want to or am trying in any way to do so.

Back in June I had a strangely dry period with regard to music. The opportunity was there to listen almost endlessly and I didn't take it. There were exceptions, but generally even stuff I love sounded stale. Now I'm going through a period in which everything I hear sounds vital and alive. Not sure why, but not bothering to think about that too hard. Just enjoying being in this zone.

When we were rehearsing A Midsummer Night's Dream there was a moment when I was the only person in the auditorium and one of the performers, who was the stage side of the closed curtain, just started improvising - at least, it sounded spontaneous - on the piano that occupies stage left (and gets in our way.) It was an oddly magical moment - again for reasons I can't explain, and don't really want to.

In fact, now I come to think of it, it was the music that some of the drama guys wrote for the show that sort of got me back in tune.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Getting It Wrong

Any real involvement with the world in terms of a drive to get things done opens one to the possibility, indeed probability, of screwing up badly with someone, somewhere, and hurting their feelings. It's a horrible and painful price to pay, but a necessary one.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Book Ahead

The reading list I referred to in yesterday's post comprises Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence, an issue of Prog magazine (the one with a very psychedelic Syd Barrett on the cover) an issue of Philosophy Now and an issue of The New York Review of Books. The idea of getting through so few items in three weeks might appear unambitious, but I have an odd feeling I'm not going to succeed given the to do lists I could so easily assemble if I had time. Still Pamuk's novel has got a great opening and has already got its subtle claws into me so perhaps all is not lost.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Road Ahead

We spent the early part of the evening at a class for the Haj at the mosque at the top of Still Road out at Geylang. We were there last Saturday also, when we saw Ustad Haron for the first time for quite a while. He's lost none of his good humour, or general sense of sane goodness.
The main reason for our attendance is the strong possibility, Insha'Allah, that we'll get a visa to do the pilgrimage this year. We've had the necessary injections, made the travel arrangements, and fixed things for me to take leave of absence from work, so it just needs that final vital step to be taken and we'll be on our way in around three weeks.
Circumstances being what they are, those three weeks look to be crammed with work, so it's likely to be all go before we can go, as it were. I've drawn up a very, very short list of stuff I'd like to read before we leave but I have doubts I'll manage to clear it, despite the fact there's only one book on there.
This is all very, very exciting in a slightly uncomfortable fashion.

Friday, August 12, 2016

An Exercise In Trust

Had a bit of crisis on the way to Friday Prayers. I'd just parked in the HDB car park behind the mosque - conveniently close to the barrier at the exit to ensure a quick getaway - and was exchanging my work shoes for a pair of cheap flip-flops to walk to the back entrance of the masjid, when the strap on one of the flip-flops broke off, making it impossible to use. I had no choice but to make my way to prayers wearing my ordinary work shoes, which meant that I would have to leave them outside. It was difficult to shake off the horribly cynical thought that there was every chance somebody would decide to walk off with my shoes as a neat substitute for his own cheap pair of sandals. The fact that I needed to get quickly back to work after prayers in order to run a rehearsal for the musical created in my mind the worrisome picture of a barefoot director having to explain his lack of footwear to an amused cast, and the more I pictured this, the more likely it seemed that it would really happen.

In the event there was no need to worry. Whoever the somebody with nefarious intentions was he failed to materialise. My shoes turned to be happily exactly where I left them, and my faith in human nature was restored. (Though I have to confess I shot out the mosque as soon as the compulsory prayer was completed in order to not give that imaginary somebody time to casually slip on my shoes as if they were his own. I'm afraid there are limits to my trust in anybody's nature, when push comes to shove - and where footwear at Friday Prayers is concerned.)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Old Habits

Tonight we caught the final of Masterchef (the English version, from 2013) despite not having watched the series for some time. It was as gripping as ever, especially in terms of the sheer level of skill of the three amateur (can hardly believe it) chefs involved. And last night we watched our first Midsomer Murder for one heck of a time (from Series 18, featuring the new Barnaby with a new (to us) assistant.) Again it was as good as always with three folk meeting their maker in three highly satisfactorily unpleasant manners and both of us not having a clue who dunnit.

Not sure exactly how we managed to get out of the habit of viewing old favourites, but recent viewing has been a salutary reminder of why they became favourites.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Enjoyed having a day off for the National Day holiday, but with a very full few weeks ahead of me on the work front spent a fair amount of time on work-related matters. Fortunately these were, on the whole, of a creative bent so not too painful.

Got most of a talk-cum-workshop I'll be conducting at this year's Literature Seminar for the Gifted Programme sorted out. I've decided to go for something fresh this time round and am looking at various song lyrics, supposedly to ascertain if they qualify as Lit, but in reality just to enjoy listening to the songs. The following song-writing luminaries made the cut: Will Shakespeare, Will Blake, Noel Coward, Stephen Sondheim, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Keith Reid, Adrian Belew, Sufjan Stevens and Alex Turner, a list so eclectically silly as to make me want to attend my own lecture.

I also did a fair amount of preparation for a production of The Fantasticks, an American musical from the early sixties that we are putting on in early November as a fund-raising exercise. Enjoyed running the music through my mind. It's strange how when you get really close to a show the songs can come to almost possess you. I'm at the stage when that's starting to happen to me, and a jolly nice way of being possessed it is.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

No Excuse

Followed up my reading of Hearts In Atlantis with the deceptively slight looking The Reader by Bernhard Schlink - the basis of the film starring Kate Winslet which I've never seen but which I know got a fair bit of publicity via the Oscars a couple of years back. When marking IB stuff I've noticed a couple of schools have adopted this as a text in translation which, I must say, I find a bit surprising giving the somewhat erotic content, especially of the first part. Now having read the novel I'm further surprised in that it doesn't strike me as a particularly literary kind of work; rather it's one of those texts that clearly lends itself to discussion of issues, presumably the reason some teachers have leapt upon it for use in the classroom.
One of the things that Schlink does extremely well, it seems to me, is to ground his slant-wise treatment of the horrors of the Holocaust in the everydayness of German life. In his depiction of Hanna, the ex-concentration guard, he gives us an entirely believable portrait of a perfectly ordinary, almost dull young woman, who gets caught up in what are rendered as imaginable horrors, whilst maintaining a sense of the inexpressible extent of the suffering involved in that dreadful time. Partly this is done through the almost forensic detachment of his narrator, but there's more to the power of the novel than that.

A further clue to its lingering impact comes in the brief episode in which the narrator encounters one of the Jewish survivors, to whom Hanna has willed some money. The absolute truth of that encounter in terms of the survivor's sour response to the legacy is a reflection of the honesty of the text as a whole. Ultimately it's an extraordinarily troubling novel because it doesn't seek to provide explanations or excuses. For some stories there can be no closure.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Not As Expected

Finished Stephen King's Hearts In Atlantis a couple of days ago and found myself very much taken surprise by the development of the narrative. The last time I posted about it, towards the end of July, I was reading what I assumed to be a novel. I must say I'd read something somewhere that classified the book as a collection of short stories but that seemed to me obviously incorrect. So when I moved onto the second section, the part actually entitled Hearts In Atlantis, although the sudden switch to a first person narrator was slightly disconcerting, I thought the story was continuing with a switch of perspective. The fact that one of the characters from the first part played a role in the second added to my sense of reading a novel. In fact, I was wondering whether King had got himself into the same kind of mess he did in Christine in which the switch from first to third person, and then back again, was downright clumsy, coming about as it did from the dictates of the plot - though I couldn't see anything in terms of plot that might dictate a switch of perspective in Hearts. In fact, I couldn't see any linking of plot at all, for the simple reason there wasn't one.

It turned out that Hearts In Atlantis is a sort of collection of stories, but these are stories which vary considerably in length and style, whilst maintaining a focus on the same very broad group of inter-associated characters. The fact I failed to pick up on this until I was around the halfway mark is an indication of how dumb I can be sometimes as a reader, but was also enjoyably disorientating. I had no idea at all where the narrative was heading and even had to re-read the ending of the first section in order to grasp the fact it was a kind of ending. The first section is the only one, by the way, to feature some sort of supernatural apparatus and I'd sort of been expecting that this would be fleshed out in some detail. Must say, I'm glad it wasn't and that King settled for exploration of the rather more real horrors of the American experience in Vietnam, though not in an entirely head-on manner.

I'm not sure that the book as a whole really coheres, but that didn't matter to me. I was entirely, wonderfully hooked by the whole thing. Yes, it was more than a little overly nostalgic and distinctly sentimentally contrived at times, but as a meditation on the sixties and a partial portrait of that generation of American youth who grew up protesting the war in Vietnam it evoked very strong feelings in this reader.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Just For Fun



Highlight of the afternoon: a tulang feast provided by the Missus for no better reason than the fact that all the participants love their sup tulang and appreciate the rule that all dignity must be put aside when consuming the stuff. Unfortunately this was followed by a durian dessert, from which I watchfully kept my distance. All told, can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Fortunately participation in the Frisbee was optional.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Newly Arrived

After a lazily tired morning I stirred myself to get a bit of work done, and then it was off to our Haj class at Geylang and a visit to the latest arrival to our extended family at KK Hospital. She hasn't got much to say for herself at the moment but registers firm annoyance over a change of pampers which augurs well for the future. Or not, as the case may be.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Pure Relaxation

Much as I enjoy watching my own drama guys in action, it's a joy to sit and watch our other performing groups in a state of total relaxation, not having to worry about the five thousand and one things that can go wrong in live performance. (Make that five thousand and two - I've just thought of another.)

The measure of the enjoyment experienced by the Missus and I watching our dancers do their very considerable thing earlier this evening can be summed up by her instruction to me at the end of it all to, Tell Aloysius next time to announce that everyone in the theatre should get up and dance along with the dancers for the final number, as that's exactly what she wanted to do by that stage. Perhaps it's wise he announced no such thing, though, as I think any attempt by this old chap to shake his booty might well have ruined the evening for the dance cognoscenti in attendance.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Lack Of Control

Once you abandon the illusion of being in control life becomes, not exactly easier, but that bit less difficult.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Switching Off

It's the final day of Syawal, the month after Ramadhan, and our twinkling lights are due to be switched off in roughly twenty minutes. We've had this set for a few years now and hope to be switching them on (and off) for a few years more.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Back To Bach

Last night I played a bit of Bach late at night just before nodding off: the second set of three in the Brandenburg Concertos, since you ask. Lay there wondering why I didn't play old JS more than I do, and just wondering at the wonder of the music. Then it occurred to me that it would be the easiest thing in the world to download pretty much all the major works onto my trusty iPod (well, all the ones I really need) and have made a start on that project today with the violin concertos. (I once nodded off to the slow movement of the double violin concerto in a concert at Sheffield City Hall and the sheer hypnotically narcotic pleasure of that experience has remained with me ever since.)

My recent neglect of the Master is particularly odd since of all the major composers Bach was the one most integral to my entrance into the world of 'classical music' (in the broadest sense) when I was in my twenties. I remember that amongst my earliest purchases of the classics on vinyl were a version of the Brandenburgs conducted by Harnoncourt featuring authentic instruments and a version of the St Matthew Passion conducted by Raymond Leppard which was distinctly old school in its inauthenticity. I was a fast learner in those days and, with the help of the highly informative Gramophone magazine, quickly realised that the records were not exactly compatible in their approach, though I loved them both. (The horns on the Harnoncourt actually sounded out of tune to me, in those early days of the authentic instruments movement.)

A funny and instructive thing happened a couple of months after the purchase. A friend of mine brought a few of her old friends from her university days round to my house. Not sure why; I suppose so I could meet them. One of these was a young chap who clearly fancied himself as a sort of cultivated type. I say this because he leafed through my record collection - as people did in those far off days - and actually sneered about the combination of the Leppard and Harnoncourt to his buddy standing near-by, thinking I didn't realise what he was up to. I must admit, the thought came to my mind of calling him out, possibly using the fairly direct kind of language I'd picked up on the streets of Manchester. I suppose it was a sign of my maturity that I just couldn't be bothered, despite the pleasure a confrontation would have involved.

The instructive part of all this, for me that is, lay in my deepening insight into the sad fact that for some people the appreciation of any kind of art or cultural artefact is so bound up with their sense of snobbish superiority to others that it almost leaves a stain on the glorious works they think they appreciate. Almost, but not quite.

Monday, August 1, 2016


Was on the blower to Maureen's husband John last night and it seems his car was stolen a couple of weeks ago. He'd parked it outside their bungalow and it sounds as if someone got into the house during the day, took the car keys and waited until night fell before driving off in it. Fortunately the insurance has paid out without any kind of fight but having had houses I lived in in Sheffield burgled no fewer than three times I can tell you it's an odd feeling when someone makes off with one or more of your possessions. 

Reminds me of when my old pal Simon had his car nicked on a street in Manchester one night after he'd given us all a lift to the pub. We stood around the spot where the vehicle had been parked in a state of semi-disbelief as if it would somehow materialise again if we stared hard enough. It didn't.

Now I think of it, I really hate that sort of petty theft because it's anything but petty to those on the receiving end. It's a good job I'm not a magistrate, or judge: I suspect there'd be precious little mercy in my courtroom.