Monday, October 31, 2016

An Unlikely Pair

When I was talking about dipping into the works of William Carlos Williams the other day I forgot to mention that the other poet I've been managing to read in bits and pieces here and there has been Ezra Pound, in his case drawing upon the very fine Library of America edition. In fact, I've been reading him in chronological sequence, so it's not exactly been a 'dipping in' - though I've only got as far as the early Canzoni, which means my progress has been fitful enough to qualify as just taking in bits and pieces.

But here's the thing. Reading the pair almost side by side was a sort of accident, their works just sort of randomly catching my eye at a time when I've been having difficulty carving out any time for reading at all. Yet they were, of course, friends, quite close ones I've always assumed, especially in their respective youths. So reading them next to each other has a sort of point in itself. Yet they're just so different, partly in content, but most of all in temperament. I don't know quite why it is but there's something very likable about Williams, and that's not something you can say in any way about Pound.

It isn't the anti-Semitic, fascist Pound of the 30s I'm thinking of here, by the way. Even as a very young writer there's something about his work that suggests he was a bit of a pain, despite those features of the early poetry that are assured and often quite lyrically beguiling, regardless of the derivative nature of the verse.

I might be grossly unfair in my judgements on the respective characters of our poets - and I really must get hold of a good biography of Pound to see whether he had some saving graces that I've been missing - but at this moment they really do seem to me like the Odd Couple of twentieth century poetry.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Slipping Away

Just got back from a birthday dinner for Fifi. She has now reached the unlikely age of twenty. To her, of course, that would seem quite natural, since that's precisely what it  is. To us, seeing her slowly grow up so quickly, the world seems just that little bit more upside down than usual.

Where did the years go? Minute by precious minute they slipped away from us. As they always do.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Even More

This morning we tried out the music for the show with the percussionists for the first time in the full ensemble, with an extra electronic keyboard. It's difficult to believe it could sound better than the wonderful playing we're used to from Jonah and Arlene in rehearsals, but it went into a whole new dimension. I really don't know how the brilliant folks who write, arrange and play (and sing) music seem to do it so effortlessly, but I'm deeply, deeply glad they do.

Friday, October 28, 2016


Finding any time in which to read or listen to music - other than the music of the show we're doing - has been very difficult over the last three weeks or so. Fortunately the music from The Fantasticks is so good that I haven't felt any great deprivation in that direction. Indeed, I've been carrying all the songs and arrangements around in my head as genuinely welcome ear worms, such that I'm sort of luxuriating in music at the moment. But in the last few days I've managed to listen to a few things outside of my immediate concerns - Kate Bush, White Willow, The Enid, Martin Carthy - and am sort of getting back to my usual diet.

But reading has been a real problem. The only time I've had has been very, very late at night, in the twenty minutes or so before I fall asleep, and I'm not exactly a paragon of alertness at that time. So I've had to compromise with just dipping into a few poems here and there.

For the last three nights the poet of choice has been William Carlos Williams - from the very fine two volume Collected Poems published by New Directions. As a teenager I got hold of the Penguin Selected, and that became a precious text for me. I got to know every poem in it very closely and it was something of a way in for me into American poetry in the general sense. But despite having owned the Collected for a while now I've never managed to get to grips with the full range of Williams with quite the same intensity. The welcome result of this, however, has been to make me feel a wonderful sense of discovery as I dip in and find gems everywhere.

Deprivation has its uses.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Process

Something I came to learn, some years ago now, about putting together any kind of drama production: no single individual controls the process. But it is possible to grow in understanding of the process, and there's a fascination in that growth and the recognition that comes with it. Also no one at any level of involvement, however tangential, can stand neutrally outside the process, though generally this is not understood.

When I first started doing this stuff I felt very lucky to be put in a position to get to experience and understand all this. Funnily enough, that feeling has never changed, simply intensified.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Something Lacking

I'm busy at the moment, but not so busy that it would be impossible to manage a reasonable seven hours of sleep a night. But I don't get anything even close to that. Getting to sleep is easy. Waking earlier than I really need to is, problematically, even easier.

This is a state I know very well from previous experience, especially when putting a show together. I'm guessing that some odd mechanism in what passes for my brain has decided that bringing me to consciousness is a good idea, even when I don't really need to be conscious, as it gives me more time to think about all the stuff you need to think about a couple of weeks before show-time. (That's a lot of stuff, by the way, in case you were wondering.)

I'm afraid there's not much I can do about this. Fortunately the days are so packed there isn't time to be tired, so it's not exactly a problem in strictly practical terms. Also there's a sort of solution awaiting. As soon as the show's over I'll find myself falling asleep anywhere at any time - and I'm very much looking forward to that.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Bit Ironic

Listened to an excellent talk on the need for rest this morning - and proceeded to get precisely none whatsoever for the remainder of the day.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Apple Never Eaten

When we arrived in Jeddah for the Hajj back in early September, once we'd cleared Immigration we found ourselves waiting for the coach to take us to our accommodation at Shisha for quite a few hours. This wasn't terribly onerous as there were shops outside the airport and plenty of seating for the pilgrims waiting around - this being the airport specially designed to cater for the Hajj. Also a decent quantity of food was provided, as was the case for every leg of our journey.

However, I remember beginning to feel a little uncomfortable as the day wore on and perceptibly warmed up. I noticed a few people who'd got hold of various bits of fruit from the shops around and started to think of how good it would be to bite into a fresh, cool apple. Sadly the real thing wasn't available and, thus, I found myself haunted by the image of the perfect apple. It struck me that there was nothing I would have liked more and was reminded of just how wonderful apples had tasted when I was a kid.

In the days that followed an abundance of deliciously fresh fruit became available at almost every meal, including some glorious apples - especially some wonderfully crisp red ones. But somehow nothing quite replaced that perfect apple of the imagination I never ate at Jeddah Airport. Nothing ever tasted quite as good as that one, and I suspect never will.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sort Of Optimal

A good day, further improved by being rounded off with a plate of bangers & mash courtesy of the Missus. Actually it was a plate and a half as I helped myself gleefully to seconds. It just doesn't get better than this.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Weight Of Things

I've felt somewhat weighed down lately by all that needs to be done. But if there's something I've learned over the years it's that eventually every load gets shed and then it's possible to enjoy the very bearable lightness of being - until it's time to pick up the next one.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Going Back

I was chatting with Brian today about the Hajj, trying to convey something of the flavour of the experience to him. In the process I found myself revisiting a few of those moments that had demanded patience from me. Happily they were moments in which I somehow delivered, though I hope I didn't sound as that was the reason for talking about them. In fact, I was keenly aware of the fact that those times are/were firmly in the past. The Hajj is about one's ability to remake oneself in the now of conflict and struggle and I'm not so sure I've held so firmly to those qualities I thought I'd found in myself.

Time to search again.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Keeping It Simple

After spending part of the day thinking about how nice it would be to simplify my life I'm now listening to Martin Carthy's Sweet Wivelsfield. Acoustic guitar, voice and lovely old songs. (There's one of them here, if you're not familiar with the finest British folk singer of his generation.) Do I really need much more than this?

(Of course, the truth is that I'll soon go looking and listening for more, but in this rich moment this seems more than enough for a lifetime.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Idly skimming channels this evening after getting back from an unseasonal Christmas Dinner (don't ask!) to my delight and astonishment I chanced upon Mike Leigh's film about the great painter, Mr Turner. Sadly I missed the first forty minutes or so; happily I was able to watch most of the rest.

It was a welcome reminder that films of real value are still being made. A visual feast, brilliantly acted, with a remarkable sense of historical imagination. The rhythms of the dialogue were particularly striking: orotund, yet convincing as to what would have sounded quite natural at that time.

To be honest I really should have been doing something else rather than watching the movie, but I'm very glad I wasn't.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Looking On

Got back from work today and, as usual, switched on the telly for a bit of news. Found myself flicking restlessly between various news channels, when it occurred to me that the switching of channels has become habitual. I realised that for the most part it isn't because I'm trying to look for something I find interesting; rather it's result of wanting to shut out whatever depressing story I find myself hearing too much about. I can only take so much about atrocities in Syria, Brexit, ISIS, the Presidential Election and other examples of our collective folly.

But then I cheered myself by considering that it's always been this way and I've been privileged to have generally avoided participation in the making of history in my lifetime. I've watched it all from the relative safety of the side-lines, and am deeply glad that that has been the case.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Cautionary Tale

I got hold of a copy of the October edition of the New York Review of Books the other day, because I wanted a printed version of the article by Geoffrey Wheatcroft on the Chilcot Report, concerning the British Government's involvement in the Iraq War. It makes for painful but necessary reading. I'd already seen the article on-line but getting hold of the print version seemed important somehow. In a world in which we're deluged with information it's wise to develop a sense of how we can get to know of the messes we create and exactly how we came to concoct them.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

An Encounter

When we were in Makkah last month Noi made a habit of distributing sweets to the children at prayers. We would buy a big container of something in the afternoon - usually kit-kats - and she'd spread them around at Maghrib and Ishaq Prayers in the mosque. Sometimes she'd have some left over and we'd stand around together, spotting kids, and forcing the chocolates upon them, though it rarely required much in the way of actual force to get them to accept.

One evening we'd come to the end of the chocolates, being down to the last three bars. We spotted a group of three children and their parents and off-loaded the bars, with the parents smiling broadly. A quick conversation followed with the mum & dad asking us where we were from. After explaining our unusual background we asked the same of them. It turned out they were from Syria. Oh lovely, we said, or words to that effect and, wishing them well, hurried on. Then we admitted to each other that we really had not known what to say next. We both wanted to ask whether they were safe in their country, but it just seemed so intrusive to do so - and so odd at such a happy little moment.

I think of this encounter every time I see items about the on-going tragedy in Aleppo on the news. It's so difficult somehow to take in the notion that those suffering are just ordinary folks like us, yet they are the only sort of people to be found anywhere in the world, when you get down to it.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Lost And Found

Steered close to complete disaster this afternoon. Came home from work and went to put my wallet in its usual place, on the counter top adjacent to our little kitchen. No wallet. I knew that I'd only recently taken it from my bag at work to prepare for the journey home, so the obvious lack of any wallet now was a puzzle, and a rather worrying one.

Hastily retraced my steps, going back to my workplace hoping that I'd simply put the wallet down somewhere, forgotten to pocket it, and that it was still there. Remarkably this proved to be the case. The relief that flooded through me on catching sight of it as I got back was immense. 

Curiously this little incident - or, rather, lack of any real incident - sort of turned my day around. After gratefully grabbing the wallet the day seemed a whole lot brighter somehow for not having gone dramatically pear-shaped.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Worthy Of Consideration

Great celebrations in this household - well, my side of it, that is - over Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Already read quite a bit of outrage on various sites. All to the good, I reckon. Making people seriously confront questions of value in art can only be to the good, and the fact that there's going to be a lot of consideration of what might seriously be regarded as Literature is useful in itself.

I'm feeling rather pleased with myself for featuring the Bobster so prominently in my talk at the Lit Seminar back in August. Wonder if some of the folks who attended now think I might have had some insider knowledge on this one.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

All In The Mind

On this date ten years ago I wrote this in my journal:

Recognising our neediness, and controlling it, is important if we are to break out of ourselves. My neediness is as strong as ever and will always be part of me. So I need to outwit it - it is, after all, a profoundly immature part of myself. It helps to understand the fractured nature of the self. The needy part is simply that - one part of a richer whole.

Funny to think what I thought I knew, yet couldn't quite deal with. I still know it; and am further than ever from the kind of control I then had in mind.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Not Paying Attention

What's the opposite of being focused? I'm not sure of how to describe such a state, but I feel as if that's where I am. A stale and empty place I need to leave.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Paying Attention

I've been thinking back to the Gallery Night we attended last Friday. As I mentioned before there were quite a number of portraits on display, several quite wonderfully achieved, and it struck me then what a compliment it was to be the subject of one. To think that someone has paid you, or an aspect of you, all that attention and tried to get something down on canvas (or whatever the medium is) that captures something of yourself.

But I suppose that this sense of attention being paid is something common to all art. Whether it's ordering sounds, colours, shapes, words the artist is paying attention to some facet of the Creation, and that attention is rewarded, in some sense, through the art-work that emerges.

I think this explains why a portrait, or any work of art, need not be beautiful in any conventional sense. The act of paying attention is in itself sufficient to supply a quality that is like beauty without necessarily being beautiful.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

What Men Say

Watching various apologists for the egregious Mr Trump tie themselves into knots over the plainly indefensible video of him bragging of his assaults on women has provided some dark relief over the weekend. According to the erstwhile leader of UKIP this is how men talk when alone together, and so we must accept that alpha male boasting of groping the private parts of attractive women is quite normal.

No, it isn't. Not in my reasonably wide experience. I've worked in factories, I've played for pub football teams. I've been one of the boys. I've never heard anything like this.

Makes you wonder who Mr Farage hangs out with, no?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Trekking On

I think there's some kind of Star Trek convention for fans going on in the UK at the moment. There were a couple of brief items related to this on Sky News in the afternoon, including a rambling interview with old James T. himself, an increasingly unlikely looking William Shatner. But the item that really grabbed my attention was an interview with three Trekkies in the full garb.

At first I thought the intention of the interview was to make the less than youthful, colourful threesome on display sound as nutty as they looked. But I was wrong. Their outpouring of enthusiasm for the optimism inherent in the whole Star Trek enterprise (pun gloriously intended) and its various franchises was infectiously sane and balanced - and suddenly it was the rest of the world that looked a little sad and more than a little crazy.

Couldn't help but think of King Elvis's biting question: What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?

Friday, October 7, 2016

In View

Staggered & sneezed & stumbled through the day, nose streaming, head pounding, and was very glad to get back to the solace of our apartment. Nothing could have made me leave this sanctuary, except for the school's annual Gallery Night. This is when the work of our graduating Visual Arts students gets put on display with the young artists around to explain what they've been getting up to, and it was as much of a treat this year as ever. The only disappointment was the reduced scale of the event, which I assume is due to a reduction in the number of students opting for the subject. Hope this is not a sign of things to come.

This year seemed to feature a good deal more portraiture than previous years and, my goodness, it was all so very assured with a number of really striking pieces. Must say I felt somewhat conflicted that one such was Daniel's full length rendition of myself. The Missus didn't think it bore much resemblance (trust me, flattering it wasn't) but I knew at first glance who it was and had an uncanny sense that the artist had captured something essential about me. I felt strangely honoured in roughly equal proportions to the degree to which I was disconcerted.

Delighted to see a significant amount of work from my drama guys featured. A reminder of how extraordinarily multi-talented so many of the kids are in this far place.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Highly Fluid

My itchy throat has now mysteriously transmuted into impressive streams of mucus leaking through my nose at every opportunity and a vibrantly raw headache. I'm not very good at being ill, so let's hope this doesn't last long for everyone's sake. I'm sure the body has good reasons for exerting itself in this way, I just don't know what they are.

(Noi is still trying to cast off her own painful cough, by the way. So there's little comfort there.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

In The Dark

Caught a few minutes of the film Spotlight, the one dealing with the scandals over sexual abuse as carried out by members of the Catholic clergy in Boston. It looked excellent - gripping in a serious manner. As always I'm left sort of conflicted over the whole issue. On the one hand I was the recipient of a wonderful Catholic education without a hint of abuse; on the other, the horror of what the victims had to go through - and are still going through to this day - and the almost unthinkable idea that men for whom I had great respect in general terms were capable in some, indeed many, cases of dreadful wickedness. As usual I'm left depressed to have been thinking about all this, but it cannot be ignored - especially by those in positions of some authority who have dealings with young people.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

On The Phone

My own phone rang me today to tell me that the service it provides will be discontinued soon. It operates using some mysterious entity known as 2G, and it seems nobody uses this anymore, except myself, as it is ridiculously primitive. So it looks like I'll have to get one of those so-called smart phones, which I don't want. It's good to live in a world offering so many choices, eh?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Picking Up The Pieces

It felt strange not being at work in an ordinary term over the least three weeks. Going back today felt good in the sense that it was a way of getting things back on track. And since I didn't have too much on my plate it should have felt reasonably easy. But it didn't. Even doing quite small stuff seemed sort of troublesome. I've been doing what I do for a number of decades and it still doesn't come entirely naturally. So after the various challenges of the Hajj here's another to embrace.

By the way, it didn't help matters that I'm still trying to deal with an itchy sort of cough I've been trying to overcome for a week now. Noi has been coughing badly for three weeks, so I've not done too badly on that front but the situation is still far from optimal.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Way too much food was available to us in Saudi Arabia. I tried to be careful over what I ate and still gained 1 kg. Oddly Noi didn't seem to try to be careful at all and managed to lose 1 kg. Not sure how exactly that came about, but we're celebrating the fact that it did. In contrast our friend Raihan told us he'd gained 5 kg when we arrived in Madinah and could check our respective weights on the scales thoughtfully provided in the hotel bathrooms.

This evening Noi and I were discussing how much waste might have been involved as a result of the glut of comestibles. She noticed that when our group gave away the snacks provided by the hotel at Madinah Airport as we were on our way home, the workers who gratefully received them scoffed them down in no time. This strongly suggests, I'm afraid, that the guys involved - who were moving the bags about - were really hungry. We saw the same thing on arrival as well when a cleaner at Jeddah Airport helped us dispose of some packet lunches by eating some of the remains himself and then packed what was left for others - presumably his co-workers. We both found ourselves hoping that generally this is what was happening to the over-supply of food provided for the various groups of pilgrims - that it was finding its way into the hands, and stomachs, of people who really, really needed it.

One positive point: Noi asked at one of our hotels about what became of the excess food for the buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinner. She was assured it went to feed the staff. We're hoping this was truly the case.

It's an astonishing and painful contrast. There we were, the fortunate few with so much to eat it would have been damaging to our health to have given our appetites full rein; and standing by us, often assisting us, those who didn't seem at all sure where their next good meal would be coming from.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Where I Left Off

Looking back on our Hajj I'm pleased I decided to deprive myself of access to music and any real range of reading. I didn't feel the lack of either, until it was time to come back, that is.

Today has been quite intense on the listening and reading front. I don't mean I've spun a lot or found myself with my head in a book in all the corners of the day. But what listening and reading has felt distinctly sharp, vivid and somehow precious.

The first album to hit the turntable was VDGG's Trisector and what a good choice that proved to be. A great way of bringing the old ears out of hibernation. And in terms of reviving my reading it's been Orhan Paumuk's The Museum of Innocence all the way.