Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Various Passages

Our journey last night turned out to be a really easy one. Not a jam in sight, unless you count the one on the other side of the road we happily swept by, of cars and motor-bikes making their way over the bridge into Malaysia. Noi reckoned that most of the folk in it would have been making their way back from work, having completed a late shift. Pity the poor souls who have to face a huge jam after the rigours of the working day, especially those on less-than-comfortable bikes.

In this household we are now putting the finishing touches to our packing and, since there are plenty of touches still to be put, I'd better be getting on with applying them right away. Bye!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Road Ahead

Our time in Melaka has been all too brief - less than 24 hours. But this trip north was only meant as necessary preparation for our next round of globe-trotting. We needed to make sure Maison KL is in reasonable shape, and the Missus performed her usual wonders in our short time there. The guy who came to service the alarm remarked on the fact that the place looks as new now as when he installed the system over a decade ago. Mind you, he also told us we didn't look as if we'd aged, so I'm not sure he's an entirely reliable witness - in my case, at least.

We're picking up one niece, Ayu, here. She's just finished her examinations, today in fact, and she's going to be one of our travelling companions on the big trip ahead. Thus the team who completed the NZ trip last year are about to be reunited. With luck we hope to have as much fun, though I'm not convinced that an English winter has quite the same allure as December in the Antipodes.

The main thing I'm hoping for at the moment is the lack of a traffic jam at Tuas, but what we saw on Sunday evening with regard to the cars trying to get into Singapore does not augur well, I'm afraid. Wish us luck!

Monday, November 28, 2016


I'm writing this sitting in the Kickstart Café in Alor Gajah having just scoffed a most palatable chicken chop with rice and chips, feeling equitably at one with the world. My peace of mind is helped considerably by the fact I don't have much more driving to do this evening. Our trip to the Malaysian capital has been marked by long periods of time moving exceedingly slowly in unexpected, illogical traffic jams. Of course, it was ever thus in this part of the world, something I'd conveniently forgotten having not been in these parts since June. Now I remember.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Good Times

Have been enjoying atypically socialising in various manners over the last few days. Interesting to get a sense of the concerns of others. We enjoyed a jolly time yesternight with Boon & Mei and Nahar & Norharyati around Arab Street and environs. All very happening with live music and stalls in the street.

Boon had interesting things to say, as ever, about the iniquities of capitalism and what's going on in the world of Adult Education. I suspect there's an interesting relationship between the two, but we didn't get into that. Truth to tell we didn't really explore the problems associated with the commodification of everything and everybody in any depth, though touching upon them in ways that rendered fruitful momentary insights. The ocean's always too much for us, I suppose.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


We're off north tomorrow, on a lightning visit to Maison KL to check it's still standing, and then to pick up niece Ayu in Melaka. She'll be joining us and Fifi & Fafa on a trip to the UK. We should be arriving there on 1 December assuming our plans work. And Noi is busy concocting further plans as to where we'll going when we get there.

This is not exactly restful, but who needs rest when you're having a good time?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Out Of The Ordinary

Just read the latest in Gaiman's Sandman series - The Sandman Overture - which tells the story of what happened to Dream before the start of the saga, the prequel to end all prequels, as it were. It sees Gaiman at his most portentous, his most divorced from the stuff of the everyday. That means this is Gaiman at his weakest, in my estimation.

But any Sandman is good Sandman, and if anyone can get away with pretentious portentousness it's our Neil - I suppose because this is so much part of who he is as a writer that there is no actual pretence involved.

And J.H. Williams's artwork is stunning, even for someone whose vision is as limited as mine.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Very Ordinary

The most significant discovery I've made in my adult life is how very interesting the ordinary is. Individuals and societies that lose sight of this simple truth pay a hard price.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

More Uncomfortable Reading

I've never seen an actual production of Pinter's The Homecoming but if I ever do I suspect I'll spend most of the evening squirming, inside and out, physically and mentally. Reading the play isn't so bad because you can put it down, to one side, though chances are you'll find yourself picking it up again pretty quickly just to find out what on earth the dramatist intends to do next with his oddball creations. The problem then is that what takes place seems to have a certain logic, the recognition of which implies that you are as messed up as Max and family.

In contrast, much as I admire the craft and poetry of A Streetcar Named Desire I can't honestly say that it's a work that really bothers me. Williams's concerns seem very much personal to Williams, in my reckoning, the marvellous thing being the degree to which he's able to draw you into his world.

Odd really to deal with two such different plays in the same post, but I read them both today and had a fine old time doing so, even the bits spent squirming.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

More Than Enough

Gingerly - still feeling the effects of the futsal - embarked upon my biannual clean-up of the books and other curiosities upon the shelves in this household. Was struck by the number of copies of History Today I've got, despite not having bought a copy of the magazine since the early 1980s. Vaguely remember some of the articles in the mags, but I suspect that if I read them again the contents would seem generally fresh.

The melancholy fact is that I own quite enough in the way of books & magazines to keep me occupied for what's left of this lifetime without having to make any further purchases. Not that I'll let that stand in my way, of course.

Monday, November 21, 2016

More Than A Bit Stiff

If there's any part of my legs that's not aching I've yet to find it. I'm paying the price for the glorious excesses of yesterday. Fortunately that price does not seem to include any major problems with my back, so I deem it well worth paying. I just hope the pain will have eased off by tomorrow.

Highlight of the day: an afternoon trip to the rather jolly premises of Books Actually where I added to the pile of stuff that needs reading in the very near future.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

More Than A Bit Daft

Was invited to play futsal this afternoon and, foolishly, accepted. I blame young Safiy who wanted his Uncle Brian to turn out, but it was my fault really for entertaining the mistaken belief that I can still run around whilst kicking a ball at roughly the same time. Now feeling the results of my folly in most of my lower extremities.

Suspect I may feel it even more tomorrow.

The funny thing is that I can't help but be happy about the whole thing, come what may. Kicking a ball around with friends pretending to be Ryan Giggs (it was his name on my shirt) and then on to teh tarik and mutton soup at Jalan Kayu. Now that's what I call living.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Not So Straightforward

Listened to Mozart's Cosi fan tutte today. Sounded lovely, but what an odd story. Deeply cynical about the very notion of being in love - as if the state is in itself a kind of performance. Much to admire. Not a lot to like.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Uncomfortable Reading

Peeped at the opening paragraphs of Michael Hofman's translation of Kafka's Metamorphosis and was done for. Yet again George Eliot has been put aside for a day or so, and this time for what proved to be an extremely uncomfortable read. I've never felt with quite the same intensity on previous readings just how strangely yet completely FK makes us feel what it is to be Gregor after his transformation. When I first read the story years ago I felt real irritation at just how vague the details of his embodiment as the dung beetle/cockroach are. This time I came to realise that's precisely because our protagonist is himself largely unaware of what is most natural - yet entirely unnatural - to him; i.e., his body and its limits. The exceptional moments of vivid, highly specific detail leap out to us with a particular kind of horror in their very precision - for example, when Gregor presses his insect body to the mirror and it sticks to him.

The uneasy sense that he keeps damaging his fragile new body in ways that might, and do, prove irreparable haunts the tale and can't easily be set aside even when its pages are closed.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Lost And Found

Three major, major figures in the world of music dying in the same year: Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. Two of them, astonishingly, finding songs to sing almost in the presence of the Reaper.

Strange how natural it seems to refer to the third of our triumvirate as Leonard, almost as if he'd somehow become a friend across all those albums. I started with Songs of Love and Hate a long time ago. Even learnt to play Famous Blue Raincoat on guitar, that being probably the most complex song I ever managed. Brilliant lyric. One of the several perfectly achieved songs in his considerable canon.

To which we can now add the darkly dazzling and profoundly moving You Want It Darker. What a way to bow out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Carried Away Again

I meant to get settled into Daniel Deronda, I  really did. And I've managed the first couple of chapters of what is obviously going to be a very tasty read. Demanding, but not impossibly so - think George Eliot as early Henry James rather than the later knotty version of The Master.

But I got wonderfully side-tracked into One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and ended up going cover to cover. It came about in the most simple of ways. I was glancing at the opening of the Penguin edition that we recommend for our students, trying to get some sense of how it compared to the translation I read as a teenager. It certainly has a terrific, colloquial driving quality to it - and I just couldn't resist.

And what an astonishing novel it is in every way you can think of. A brilliant indictment of Stalin's Russia, and man's inhumanity to man anywhere, anyworld. But also hopeful in the most unsentimental of ways. Shukhov himself is a remarkable creation. Entirely believable as an emblem of the survivor who somehow doesn't compromise his essential humanity.

Surely one of the great books of its century.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Carried Away

Read the biography, Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet, by Elaine Feinstein I picked up last Friday without really intending to. Just got carried away, as I tend to do with Hughes related material. Actually I didn't really intend to buy the book, being more interested in Jonathan Bates's Unauthorised Life - or whatever it's called. They only had a single copy of the Bates, however, and it was a touch dog-eared so I went for the Feinstein instead. Also I'm still a bit wary of the newer work after reading the coruscating review by Janet Malcolm.
As it was, I was a little disappointed by Feinstein's book, readable and balanced though it was. The Ted and Sylvia story was its dominant aspect and I was hoping for more on Hughes in the later years. Also for something that might give equal weight to the dreadful Assia and Shura story. ('Story' seems a terribly inappropriate word to use here, but in all honesty that's what biographies do: they turn their subjects into narratives.) But there was enough to shed at least a little light on some of the later work to make me feel that I wasn't just reading out of some idle, intrusive curiosity.
I came away keen to embark on a major, all-encompassing reading of Hughes in all his aspects - and Plath also, though in her case focused on the wonderful poetry - so, I suppose, that's some justification for my continued interest in the details of Hughes's life.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Someone Missed

Came across a clip at Open Culture (what a great website, by the way!) I'd heard of before, but never seen, of the very young Frank Zappa making his first ever appearance on tv playing the bicycle, on The Steve Allen Show back in 1963. Was struck by FZ's extraordinary presence and total sense of certainty, even as a clean-cut kid. Nice to see him genuinely smile a few times; the elder version seemed weighed down by the stupidities of the world in a way that often made smiles seem irrelevant - even when he was being very funny, as he usually was.

Not sure what he'd make of the America of today. Not too much, I'd guess.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Last Friday afternoon I 'spent' the book tokens I got as a result of the talk I did at this year's Lit Seminar. Have now accumulated quite a few things to read ahead what with the books acquired, the magazines I purchased just prior to those acquisitions, and various bits and pieces I'll need to read ahead of next year's teaching and deciding on material for staging. This is all very satisfactory for this reader. As I so often do, I'm putting together a little checklist of what I'm committed to reading in the next three months or so - and the sense of anticipation is delightful.

As was completing The Museum of Innocence today. Thinking of moving on to Daniel Deronda as my next big fictional read.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Catching Up

I'm really enjoying the new-found time for Real Life that's arrived at the back end of a particularly busy year. Today I caught up on sleep in a big way. It's been quite a time since I've had a really sleepy-headed, lingering lie-in, but I put that right this morning.

It's not all been just relaxing, however. I got myself off to the gym again this evening and did a full forty minutes on my chosen instrument of torture trainer. Sadly I posted numbers (distance, calories, that sort of thing) far short of what the fitter version of myself managed earlier in the year, but this is not a competition - as I have to keep reminding myself.

We've got Fafa in residence over the weekend. She's just completed her 'O' level papers and is coming to terms with the fact that she doesn't need to study - a nice situation to be in, as is my own. We're all happy soldiers here, then, at least for the moment.

Friday, November 11, 2016

At The Museum

Utterly taken over by The Museum of Innocence. How strange it is that such extreme obsession should say so much about how we live from day to day, and the preciousness of ordinary experience.

Tony referred to the novel in glowing terms in his last ever e-mail to me. Now I know why.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Loosening Up

Finally got back to the gym yesterday evening to do 30 minutes on the elliptical thingumajig therein. That was a wee bit conservative as a target but I was conscious of not having been on the machine since before embarking on the Hajj and of suffering quite severe cramp in my legs, both of them, directly after finishing the production last weekend. Wary of exacerbating the cramp or hurting my back, I settled on the reduced number and was glad of doing so. My breathing felt a bit ragged for the first 15 minutes or so, suggesting I needed a bit of time to readjust and affirming my good sense.

So why did it take me so long to get back to real exercise after the Hajj? Well, when I came back I was down with a sore throat and flu-like symptoms for a good week or so, and after that the demands attendant upon getting something acceptable on stage pushed real life and its pleasures and pains, including exercise which is a peculiar mixture of both, to one side. Fortunately I suppose that the rigours of the Hajj helped keep me reasonably fit - or at least militated against a dramatic reduction in fitness levels - and the running around integral to my style of directing also helped - as well as precipitating the assault by cramp.

Noi was with me yesterday, by the way, and looked reasonably comfortable on the treadmill despite her lay-off. We're intending to hit the gym again this Saturday - by way of a declaration of intent. It's nice to know we see this as a beginning rather than the end.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Had the oddest feeling ahead of polling in a certain other Far Place that things wouldn't turn out well. Now post-polling have very, very bad feelings indeed regarding what lies ahead. Hope I'm wrong. Suspect I'm not.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Gap

Funny how memory works, at least in my case. I find it very easy indeed to forget bad times. Even when I recall a tough period the actual texture of the experience nearly always escapes me. I find it hard to capture how it all felt - not that I try all that hard to do so.

Yesterday I was glancing at a journal I kept ten years ago, at which time I was commenting on the work I was doing in the school I was employed in previous to the one I'm in today. Now generally I have warm memories of the school and my colleagues and the students there. And also I was reading about November when teaching would have ended and I would have been engaged solely in admin work. Yet the journal is a litany of very real complaint, on a daily basis, with frequent references to the near impossibility of getting everything done.

It's so strange. Undoubtedly I was swamped, yet I've managed to shut out what exactly was in the swamp, I'm guessing partly because it would have all been almost completely irrelevant to my real job of trying to teach kids something.

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Close Fit

A number of perceptive viewers of our recent show commented on the fact that a good deal of the set (and props) duplicated items from our production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in July. At least one of our tech guys, the team coming from Media Resource for this show and doing stellar work, had an eye for the fine detail of the duplication, which surprised me as I didn't realise they'd watched the earlier show.

I explained as best as I could that the reason for the duplication was that the two pieces were conceived of simultaneously and that Angela and I, from our earliest discussions, were keenly aware of the quite remarkable overlaps in the pairing. Frankly it was more than a little bit serendipitously spooky that we found ourselves doing them in the same year. Here's just one example of an overlap, in this case nothing to do with the actual staging of the dramas. Our Principal told us just prior to our first night of The Fantasticks that he was ticking the staging of it off his bucket list, and was delighted to do so. Now I haven't exactly got an official bucket list but I was able to tell the cast and crew of Midsummer just before the final performance that staging it fulfilled an ambition for me.

The thematic overlaps between the two pieces are obvious to the point of absurdity: the essential premise of the musical is the Pyramus &Thisbe situation of Shakespeare's drama, with The Wall prominent in both. It was a bit of a temptation to feature our crazy metal wall once more, but we resisted that one. But our concern with walls was apparent in the design of the musical in more ways than one. Above all, the opposition of the Sun and Moon is central to the twentieth century show in its very construction and we saw it as thematically at the heart of the earlier drama: the Apollonian sun versus the Dionysian moon, and all that. (Sounds pretentious, I know, but it works so who cares?) That meant, in practical terms, that Daniel and Joshua's beautifully realised sun and moon symbols were there to beautify the Midsummer set but were really meant to be integral to the set for the musical, being spun around at key moments in the show.

I'm really not sure if the idea of the ramshackle wooden stage for Pyramus & Thisbe came before or after seeing the 'standard' stage for any production of The Fantasticks (can't think of a production I've seen that hasn't used something like it) but I have an odd sense of something like simultaneity on that one. We certainly knew the wooden stage for the musical needed to be bigger than that for the Mechanicals' ridiculous comedy and I suspect that's where Angela got the idea for using the wooden pallets from. Indeed, once we'd conceived of the big picture sense of the two shows the speed with which she translated that into the detail of the actual platforms provided by the scaffolding and trellises and so on was amazing.

One or two folk noticing all the duplication seemed to suspect us of a sort of lazy cheapness in just using the same stuff. And, of course, they were entirely correct. The set for the musical was remarkably cheap, because we'd already bought it for the earlier show, which meant more cash for the fund-raising. Clever, eh?

I suppose all this is on my mind because we bumped out of the theatrical space today and there was a distinct sense of a very long term project coming to end. Nice that it all worked out in the final analysis.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Back To Normal

Have spent the morning and early afternoon in a state of total relaxation - though I'll need to get a bit of work done later. It's strange not having to think about production details any more and the welcome absence of mental clutter has left room for resuming The Museum of Innocence - which I thought I might struggle to re-engage with, but proved very easy indeed to re-enter - and finishing off the issue of the NYRB I got hold of a couple of weeks ago.

Noi isn't around today as she popped up to Melaka over the weekend for family stuff after watching the show on Friday, and I decided to take a walk to Holland Village for a bit of exercise and to buy a few publications for reading in the reasonably clutter-free days and weeks ahead.

I treated myself to a cuppa at the Coffeebean there whilst reading Pamuk's masterpiece (I'm not halfway through yet, but that's obviously what it is) and, let me tell you, life felt very good indeed.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Two To Go

The original team who created The Fantasticks wrote & crafted such a wonderful show that it's a bit of a relief to be able to say we think our version does it some justice. From what I can gather it's very well-known in America, at the level of the classic musicals, but I'd never heard of it until Mr Hodge, our Principal, mentioned it to me some three years ago. It deserves to be better known outside the States and really is the perfect show for small scale theatre groups and colleges and schools to perform.

Anyway, our opening night was quite a success and we're left with two performances today, which is going to be utterly frazzling for all concerned. But worth it, since it's all in a good cause. It's nice to be doing a show for something other than the sake of the show - though that in itself is enough.

We've got some tickets left for both performances so do come and watch if you happen to be in this Far Place and haven't yet bought one. (Ok, shameless advertising over and out.)

Friday, November 4, 2016

What Matters

Our enjoyment of a smooth-running Dress Rehearsal yesterday was tempered by the news of a nasty accident in another part of the school involving one of our custodians. He's in our prayers.

It puts one's own overwhelming concerns into perspective. What seems so very important in one's own little world is small potatoes in the great scheme of things.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Something In Store

It's Dress Rehearsal day, so you can probably guess where the main focus of my attention is, plus most of the minor foci.

But I have been thinking past the weekend performances of the musical to life beyond at least a little bit, and not just in terms of the clear-up operation we'll be mounting on Monday. Having picked up a couple of the 'new' texts we'll be using in next year's Lit programme I find myself massively impatient to read A Streetcar Named Desire and The Homecoming - not so much to prepare for teaching them, as to re-experience them through a close reading. Also I'm keen to find out more about Tennessee Williams having realised after glancing at the Introduction to the Methuen edition of the play that I  know next to nothing about him and his background, except for the obvious stuff. Pinter I think I'm a bit more acquainted with, but I'm sure there are some surprises on the way. Embarrassingly it wasn't until I looked at the cover of The Homecoming that I remembered he's won the Nobel Prize for Lit.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Was chatting to John yesterday on the phone about my sister's current state of health. He took the opportunity whilst Maureen wasn't around to be brutally frank about just how less than optimal that state is, and has been for several months. I'd guessed this already, but it was painful to have my conjectures confirmed.

This doesn't bear thinking about. Which means it's important to think about it and consider what might be done. Even if the answer is, most likely, nothing.