Sunday, December 31, 2017


A little more than a week ago, back in our hotel room in Istanbul, I found myself reading an article in some on-line publication about the finales of various series on tv and how satisfying, or otherwise, these had been in the estimation of the author. The article was followed by a considerable number of comments and it was when I was some halfway through these that I found myself wondering exactly why I had embarked on reading them, or indeed the article, considering the fact I had watched none of the series under discussion. Not any of them. Not even a single episode - though I had caught odd moments of Game of Thrones.

I suppose reading the comments was a way of passing the time, and it was vaguely interesting to register the genuine enthusiasm of other readers for quite a number of these programmes. But I'm pretty sure I won't be seeking to find time to actually watch any the series in question since I know I have what I consider better things to do with my time.

But there's the rub. Why on earth did one of those better things consist of reading this article? Perhaps this points to the need to adopt a resolution for the year ahead regarding the need to spend limited time effectively? The thing is though that it's daunting to think of trying to maintain some kind of purposeful focus of attention all of the time. The need to goof-off seems deeply written into my DNA.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Way To Go

We're off to Melaka later today to see how Mak is. There's little in the way of standing still for us, that's for sure!

The way north was generally clear, making for a relaxed drive - so relaxed that I found myself almost dozing at the wheel by the time we reached Machap. Fortunately Noi was awake enough to take on driving duties from that point onwards, and I then slept nearly all through the rest of the journey. It's nice to catch up on sleep but I have a feeling I'm over-doing it!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Familiar Feelings

A day of meetings - either the final meetings of the year that's almost gone by, or the first meetings of the year ahead, depending on which way you look at it. Lots of the usual, which is comforting in its way, though daunting in its implications.

Managed to listen all the way through, despite feeling mildly jet-lagged. Though I must confess, I wasn't on top form in terms of alertness at Friday Prayers. Somewhat surprised I'm still functioning this late in the evening - but will undoubtedly happily crash in the next 30 minutes.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Not So Welcome

Now back in the warmth of our usual Far Place after a couple of smooth flights. Ironically our final morning in Istanbul saw the weather there at its finest for our visit. It certainly brought out the crowds around the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya.

As is usually the case, the bracing cold weather we generally experienced on our jaunt has resulted in my skin drying out which, in its turn, means that biometric devices designed to identify my thumbprints and other digital insignia, no longer work. I am no longer who I was according to the biometric system at the Airport Immigration desks and the system in Hall which allows me access to my place of residence. This is funny and irritating, as is so much of modern life, I suppose.

They say that travel broadens the mind, but one rarely hears it claimed that it can change one's identity.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Lost And Found

For some twenty minutes yesterday I was racking my brains to think of where I might have seen a shoe shop around the Misir Carsisi, (also known as the Spice Bazaar, or Egyptian Market.) I couldn't think of any off-hand, and faced the prospect of wandering shoeless for an hour or two, haplessly treading freezing pavements. My temporary lack of footwear resulted from my popping into the Yeni Cami - the New Mosque, which is only 400 years old - for the Zuhor Prayer. I'd prayed there a couple of days earlier without any problem and took it for granted that my shoes would be waiting for me on the rack at the back as previously. They weren't.

After searching in vain for a good fifteen minutes I walked shoeless to where Rozanah & Fafa were waiting for us in the outside courtyard and reported my shoes as stolen. Actually that was a bit over-the-top as it was more likely someone had taken them by mistake. Since Noi was still in the mosque praying, the women's section being very crowded, I went back to see if she could help me find the missing footwear. She was coming down the steps as I went back, so in we went together and, with almost disorienting speed, we found the shoes. They'd been moved a considerable difference and the bag I'd left them in had been securely tied by someone. I know this because I'd not bothered to tie the plastic bag when I placed my shoes on the rack. In fact, when I initially picked up the bag I assumed the shoes couldn't be mine precisely since they were tied-up so well. Far from my footwear being half-inched, someone had gone to some trouble to make sure the shoes wouldn't be separated. I spent the rest of the afternoon feeling deeply grateful to be able to walk in my own shoes, enjoying the sunny-cold day.

In the evening we prayed in Sultan Ahmet Camii, the Blue Mosque, and I was oddly content to leave my shoes at the back.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Reading Time

Our days in Turkey have been uniformly packed, so I haven't got much reading done at all. Not that I expected to. I only brought two books along, one of these being Philosophy of Mind, which I thought I might just dip into, with a view to confirming my understanding of what I'd already covered rather than making any progress in. In the event I've only gone back to a couple of Prof Feser's explications of ideas related to the identity of the mind and brain and those were quite enough for an overseas getaway, thank you.

The other book is Volume 1 in the Penguin edition of Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur. I've encountered so much enthusiasm in odd places for Malory's work over the years that I thought I really should fill in my knowledge of this branch of Eng Lit. Wishing I hadn't now. Have decided some way into Book 4 of TM's recounting of all things Arthurian that this really isn't for me - but I've started, so I'll finish. More of this, unfortunately, later.

Happier reading by far has been the NYRB from early December which I've read cover to cover. Fruitfully depressing articles on a wide range of troubling political developments ranging from Putin's homophobic Russia to the rise of the alt-right in the US of A and Germany. Funnily enough the most hopeful piece was on Somalia, specifically improvements in the capital, Mogadishu.

By the way, I need to correct a reference to a post from a few days back when I talked of Istanbul having only a few bookshops. I now realise that there's quite a healthy number, especially in the backstreets of Beyoglu. I've even seen someone reading a book on one of the trams.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Blowing Hot And Cold

From our hotel in Istanbul we get an excellent view of the Bosphorus when we're in the top floor dining room, tucking into breakfast. Yesterday morning, for the first time on our trip, the sun was shining brightly, indeed blindingly, across the water, suggesting a warm day was in store. After the biting cold we've experienced so far in Turkey this would have been a welcome change. But, alas, it was not to be.

As Fafa pithily explained as we approached the Hippodrome, My body is confused. It looks like it should be warm, but it's really, really cold. Yes, exactly that. If you managed to stand in a patch of sunshine for a while you could detect some warmth, but otherwise the cold was unrelenting - definitely cold enough to snow, I reckon.

But since this is Christmas I suppose we can consider our not entirely unpleasant ordeal satisfyingly seasonal - so Merry Christmas to all who keep the season. Hope you're all warmer than we are.

Postscript: Later in the day we found our White Christmas in sunny but chilly Bursa, on the slopes of Uludag. Evidence below. Brrrrrrrrr.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Place Of Wonder

Yesterday afternoon we found ourselves in Masumiyet Muzesi, The Museum of Innocence, based on Orhan Pamuk's great novel. But 'based on' is surely the wrong term. I'm still trying to process the relationship between the novel and the actual place. They seem to be symbiotic extensions of each other in an extraordinarily beguiling manner.

Everything about the experience was thought-provokingly magical. I need  to come back to this when I've had time to think - and isn't it wonderful in itself that a museum can do that to you?

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Safe And Sound

When the owner of the hotel at Goreme told us on Thursday evening that we'd be quite safe walking into the town to view the sunset, I was slightly taken aback as it had never occurred to me for a moment that we would not be safe. Curiously, later that same evening a couple of young ladies appeared at the hotel reception whilst we were waiting for transport to take us to our 'Turkish Evening' asking with some real concern as to whether they'd be safe to walk down to the near-by restaurants (though, obviously, ladies' concerns about safety can be much more real than those of gentlemen.) Again, I was a wee bit disconcerted about the idea that it was wise to be extra wary in this region of Turkey - or, possibly, Turkey in general.

In fact, when we walked into the town very early on Friday morning, before sunrise, we were happily surprised to see that most of the vendors had left their goods out quite openly. It seems they had no fear at all of things being stolen. Difficult to imagine doing this in London, or Manchester, or Singapore for that matter. This would seem to be a sign of an essentially safe place.

I have been more than usually cautious about the location of my wallet whilst in Istanbul, especially at the Grand Bazaar, however. There are so many warnings about the threat of pick-pockets that this is obviously sensible. But here's the odd thing. When we were queuing for tickets into the Topkapi Palace a few days ago I idiotically managed to leave my credit card in the machine that dispensed the tickets. We'd walked a good way from the machine when a guy who'd been hanging around the machines helping people- (to be honest I'd wondered if he was some sort of tout, but he wasn't) came running up to return the card. I can tell you, my relief - and gratitude - was considerable.

I'm not naïve about very real concerns about safety when visiting foreign climes, or even when happily at home, but it's useful to be aware of how often the better angels of our nature rear their heads and help protect us against our folly.

Friday, December 22, 2017

At The Moment

Now in Cappadocia. Staying in a cave hotel and savouring a new environment. Less humanly monumental than the big stuff in Istanbul, but redolent with nature's power.

We're doing the tourism thing here, with the guide and everything. Yesterday's dinner featured local dancers and musicians. Tailored to the tourist audience, but colourful and fun and exuberant. A different kind of beauty. It began, all too briefly, with four whirling dervishes doing their sufi stuff. Just a thinned-out taste of the real thing but still hypnotic and jarringly serious in an interesting way. Mak Ndak told Fafa to take pictures but she rightly replied she was content to be in the moment.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Mixed Feelings

There are lots of police/soldiers around, some of them very obviously armed. This manages to be both reassuring and intimidating at one and the same time.

Pleased to see that Joyce's Ulysses was one of the books in English available at one of the few bookstores I've seen in Istanbul. Puzzled, though, that it was placed next to two copies of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Enjoying wandering around monumental spots like the Topkapi Palace. Wondering about the human cost of the beauty the Ottomans managed to create.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Different Places

Walking down the main street off Taksim Square last night felt uncannily like walking in central Manchester. The same dreary drizzle, the same sneakingly insidious cold. Even the buildings looked the same. Different kind of music from the buskers, though. Their stirring performances garnered more audience participation. Prefer the music - and food - here.

One significant difference between the cities, though. We haven't seen any rough sleepers over here and there seem to be hardly any beggars. Hope this is because the less fortunate are genuinely taken of and not because the authorities find ways to hide them.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Three Impressions

If the Turkish government has been running any anti-smoking campaigns then they have been spectacularly unsuccessful. All the men in Istanbul smoke, or seem to, and, to our naïve surprise, quite a number of the women. It's unusual to see women serving in the shops here, by the way, smoking or otherwise, though the ladies seem possessed of a generally forceful mien.

There are more cats than dogs around, a lot more. The cats are uniformly well fed and look like they could handle themselves in a scrap.

It's useful to know which side of a tram the doors will open as it reaches your station as you are by no means guaranteed being able to alight against the surge of those coming aboard. Especially the elderly ladies, whose fierce determination to go in their determined directions brooks no opposition.

Monday, December 18, 2017

In-flight Entertainment

It's often the case that the only films I watch from start to finish are those I encounter when flying to foreign climes. I can't remember having watched a full movie this year so far, so it could be that my viewing of It yesterday comprises my complete experience of fully viewed films for 2017. If so, it was an entirely happy one.

It's been quite a few years now since I read Stephen King's novel. I thought of it as very,very good King, though a bit too formulaic to be put into the absolute top draw with The Shining. I also thought of it as essentially unfilmable due to its length and sheer complexity. I suppose this is why I never bothered to watch the original film some years back. Since I've managed to forget most of the details of the book I'm now quite open to a take on it which plays fast and loose with even key details. I suspect that's what I saw yesterday. For example, the 'lair' of the monstrous clown in the film is a very obviously run-down Kingian house, the archetypal bad place. I don't recall such a location in the novel. I seem to recall the climactic scenes taking place in some kind of big drain. And, thankfully, there's no attempt in the movie to show what actually happens between Beverly and the boys in the novel that cements the bonding of the group. Also the movie as it stands focuses solely on the story of Bill and his gang as children with no attempt to suggest their adult selves, except the brief reference to the film being just Chapter 1 at the very end.

This way of telling the story worked extremely well. The film certainly captures the atmosphere of the novel and is skilfully paced - possibly the reason why I was able to watch it without feeling inclined to switch off and catch up with the full story later. Also I must say how good the performances of the kids were, and what a relief it was to watch something where there wasn't the distraction of star performers (well, not anyone I could recognise, that is.) Not sure if Chapter 2 comes out that it will recapture the charm of this version of the tale.


We’re happily ensconced in our hotel in Istanbul, but I’ve been dealing with significant issues regarding getting on-line. In the light of this I'm not sure that I’ll be recording too many of our adventures in this fabled city, but I’ll certainly be enjoying said adventures, even if none too thoroughly setting them down. 

It’s wet here at the moment in the kind of melancholic manner of which I’m sure the city’s greatest chronicler, Mr Pamuk, would approve. And it’s still Sunday in this new far place, despite suggestions to the contrary in the dateline above.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Keeping Moving

Forgot to mention yesterday in my splendid moan about credit cards and customer service (a sort of extended oxymoron, I suppose) that I was attempting to ensure that our credit cards will do what they are supposed to do whilst we are in Istanbul, whence we are off for the next twelve days or so. We're setting off in the very early hours of tomorrow morning, which means we've got most of today for packing and final preparations (of which there are, inevitably, many.) The next part of our mission involves a trip to the money-changer to get hold of some Turkish lira, a currency with which I am entirely unfamiliar.

I'm hoping I'll be able to make time for a trip to the gym this afternoon on top of everything else. I'm ambitious that way. I want to be fit enough to sail the streets of Byzantium with reasonable ease.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Good Fight

Once upon a time I could travel overseas using credit cards to pay for the necessary, and often the unnecessary, with ease. Nowadays I need to 'enable' the cards so that they will work for the period I am abroad. I'm told this is to 'protect' me, though I'd never had any problem in the past I needed protecting from. The company who issue my cards (I haven't many, and there's just one company) tell me it's easy to 'enable' my cards just by sending a message. It isn't. I followed the difficult-to-find instructions on what to put in the message with absolute exactitude and, as far as I could tell, the odd replies I received suggested the cards were not 'enabled'. 

As a result I had to spend a good thirty minutes trying to beat the customer service system, which is designed to unload masses of information and instructions irrelevant to one's needs, and find a way of actually talking to a human being to help me sort things out. The actual human being to whom I talked was very helpful and got the system to work, finally, but could give no explanation of why the easy-to-use system failed - and failed miserably.

Despite wasting a good hour of my life I feel oddly triumphant, which strongly suggests that I'm just as mad as the world of customer service.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Out Loud

My main reading of the moment is Derek Walcott's Collected Poems 1948 - 1984. It's a volume I know well, having acquired it a few years ago, but I've never read it cover to cover. When I put his epic Omeros to one side a few weeks ago I had it in mind to drown in the bigger sea of his work, and that's what I'm doing.
I've just finished the very substantial (some 4000 lines) autobiographical poem Another Life, from 1973 which comes mid-way in the tome. This is a sort of precursor in its way to the highly personal Omeros and I thought it would be quite a straightforward read. It turned out to be very difficult for me to really make a start on it. In fact, my reading stalled for a couple of weeks. The solution came from sitting down at the table and actually reading it out loud, almost as if to a class. In that way I was forced to barge my way through the bits I didn't really get, picking up enough along the way to still enjoy the poem. It struck me that the pace at which I read aloud - quite measured, as if in public performance - is the right pace for me to mentally assimilate what I need to in order to feel I've actually read the poem - if you see what I mean. I seem to analyse as I go along, but not to the extent of getting bogged down. I suspect that if I were to backtrack and start again, a second reading would be far more fruitful (which is what happened to me with Omeros) but the first reading proved fruitful enough for me to feel I had done some justice to Walcott's work.

I'm thinking of applying the notion of the cover to cover reading to a number of my 'Collecteds', and possibly in the out loud mode (assuming the Missus can stand it, or I can find somewhere private enough for it to work.) So far the poetry I've read in this fashion has tended to be in shorter books or quite brief collections, but the idea has worked well with the Walcott. I feel I've picked up a stronger sense of his development as a writer through doing things this way - which is only logical, when you think about it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Christmas Spirit, Again

It was round about this time last year that I discovered the joys of Dylan's Christmas album, the wonderfully accurately titled Christmas in the Heart. I'd heard about the release of the album, back in 2009, and wondered about getting hold of it then, but the generally poor reviews put me off. Silly me! I played it twice last year, the first time on the way down to Honey Street in Devon, and then in Kate and Rob's old house itself, in the kitchen, before the rest of the household awoke. As I reported then, it seemed to me the perfect Christmas album, strangely bringing back for me a visceral sense of Christmas Past and its particular joys.

I gave it another spin today and was swept away. I never thought I would ache with such nostalgia for the season, but the memories came flooding back from the first strains of Here Comes Santa Claus. And, funnily enough, nostalgia for our Devon sojourn was in the mix somewhere.

This is all deeply strange. Although I know most of the songs on the album, the carols most obviously, Dylan's Christmas is an entirely American one, it seems to me, situated some time in the late 1940s. I can't quite work out how this becomes a Manchester Christmas of the 1960s, though I suppose America is what we got on the telly. (For some reason I keep thinking of Andy Williams.) Indeed, the songs that now are regarded as Christmas songs in the UK, generally having their origins in the 1970s, uniformly depress me.

One aspect of the magic is Dylan's voice. It's almost completely raddled and works in complete contrast to the breezily cute, very white harmonies of the backing singers, the painfully lovely strings, (not credited for some reason) and the lush yet spare precision of the band. But he really means what he's singing in an entirely, goofily manner. You sort of want to laugh, and frequently smile, but the tenderness sucks you in. How sad it must be not to enjoy this.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Dampened Enthusiasm

Found myself at Holland Village this afternoon, supping a leisurely chai latte and not doing much of anything, and doing it very well I might add. The Missus has popped over to Melaka for a few days to help look after Mak but I've got some duties to attend to over here so we were unable to pop together. Sad, but it allows me time to play what Noi terms 'loud music' (not really sure what she means by this) and to have a walk to HV and back, which she's understandably reluctant to do whilst wearing the hijab.

Today's walk to the village was easily accomplished given the coolish weather. It had rained earlier in the afternoon and the world felt suitably washed and in order. However, whilst I was sitting with my drink in splendid idleness the rain resumed in a distinctly established manner, much to my chagrin. I really, really wanted to walk back and shake out the accumulated knottiness of recent days and here was the universe denying me. Having released my inner infant in a bout of petulant longing I realised that endeavouring to make the return journey on foot was a possibility. It was raining but not pouring and only the other evening I'd been chatting with Fuad about just how much ground you can cover under cover (as it were) in the city and environs now there are so many pedestrian walkways.

So I decided to endeavour and stepped out accordingly. Let me tell you, Gentle Reader, it is quite amazing just how much of the walk from Holland Village to Dover Road can be accomplished with excellent protection from the rain. Unfortunately, for the final stretch of the journey, after Rochester Mall, around Anglo-Chinese Junior College, the cover effectively disappears, apart from a few benign trees. Ironically this is probably the prettiest part of the way back. On a wet afternoon, however, it is wet in the wettest sense of the word.

In summary, I arrived home happily exercised and somewhat unhappily wet, having learnt that when the universe wants its own way there's precious little you can do about it. I was able to cheer myself up though remembering just how thoroughly miserably cold and wet we managed to get in Edinburgh this time last year. In comparison this Far Place offers a distinctly comfortably warm version of wetness, a sort of easy dampness.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Easy Listening

How much live Crimson is enough? I've successfully resisted buying the mega-box sets. So far. But listening to the magnificent King Crimson: Live In Chicago I'm beginning to wonder whether there isn't a case to be made for getting everything possible. It's the way the repertoire is constantly being rethought, clearly in the excitement of actual performance, that makes Crimson essentially a live unit, whatever the particular formation being listened to. So for anyone, like myself, reasonably familiar with the repertoire the live stuff is constantly surprising, revelatory, rewarding.

Now listening to the reworking of Indiscipline, with Jakko outrageously singing the spoken segment, wonderfully not knowing what's coming next on a piece that's always been a fave. I do think it's good!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Listening Hard

I recently acquired a 10 CD set of the Beethoven piano sonatas as performed by Daniel Barenboim. I did wonder about the degree of foolhardiness involved in acquiring so much at one go, but since I've found myself listening very regularly to the 5 CD set of the Mozart piano sonatas I got hold of some two years ago, I thought it made sense to go in this expansive direction in broadening my musical education.

I've heard the most famous of the Beethoven sonatas before, having owned a few on cheap cassette tapes, so the material isn't exactly new to me. But having played the first half of the set I've found myself slightly shocked at just how demanding old Ludwig is in comparison to Wolfgang Amadeus. It's possible to bang on the Mozart and just enjoy the sound for the sound, if you know what I mean. It's basically beautiful in what seems an uncomplicated kind of way (though 'seems' is the operative word here.) With the Beethoven you're left in no doubt that whilst enjoyment is one of the responses available to the listener there are numerous others, and the composer is going to rip those responses out of you, come what may, assuming you're prepared to listen.

So I'm afraid I'd better get prepared to listen to get my money's worth. (Isn't it extraordinary, by the way, just how much the highest of high culture is available to us for so little?)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Thinking Hard

Avoiding any kind of really difficult thinking is, as we all know, very easy in the times in which we live. So much of what the world offers seems designed to prevent any kind of deeply considered thought that there's a distinct whiff of the conspiratorial about it. But, to balance that rather paranoid notion there are also paths to follow which allow engagement with the kind of thought that requires muscular flexing of the grey matter. (Ridiculous image, but how does one convey what it's like to struggle with ideas in a strenuous fashion?)

I've deliberately been trying to expose myself to this kind of thinking in recent years, to supplement the generally enjoyably self-indulgent way I foster the life of the mind. In the last few weeks such exposure has involved rereading Prof Feser's Philosophy of Mind: A Short Introduction in an attempt to grasp with reasonable clarity the totality of the field. I've now covered the first four chapters, generally grasping the ideas, though I'll need to go over Chapter 4, on Qualia, at least once more to ensure I've finally understood the point of the philosophical zombies argument. 

An odd but useful coincidence has been the fact that the issue of Philosophy Now I'm reading, the one for August/September - which has taken me ages to get round to - has several articles related to questions of consciousness. The ones dealing with panpsychism I found particularly interesting. I can see the appeal of the concept, goofy as it initially sounds, but am also keenly aware of the need to give it a good deal more thought, hard thought, than I have at present.

The one article in the issue that proved beyond me was the one dealing with quantum theory: Does Consciousness Cause Quantum Collapse? I followed the first three-quarters but the last few paragraphs proved too knotty. I suppose that given my commitment to the notion of thinking hard I should persist in trying to crack the piece, but sometimes the lurking suspicion that the knottiness might be the result of muddled thinking at the writer's end undercuts even the most determined frame of mind.

Friday, December 8, 2017

On Their Way, Again

We were back at Changi Airport this afternoon, this time at the highly impressive Terminal 3 which found itself filled with groups - I counted at least four separate ones - setting off for the Umrah. Today we were there to see off Osman and Rohana.

Osman continues his fight against cancer, and we're all hoping, and praying, that the restoring power of the pilgrimage will help in the battle. He looked typically cheerful, so the send-off was a positive one. Just hoping that he's able to keep clear of any infection from the crowds he'll encounter in Madinah & Makkah.

They've just heard that MUIS have confirmed that they'll be able to complete the Hajj in 2018, so more positive news there.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

On Their Way

Went to Changi Airport early in the morning to wish Yati & Nahar well as they set off for the Umrah. Tried to tell them something useful from our experience to help them on their way, but realised how difficult it is to communicate anything of the lived reality without resorting to clichés. No doubt they'll be finding out what they need to know for themselves even as I write.

How strange any pilgrimage is. Intensely private yet entirely communal.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Lack Of Balance

Found myself thinking about food today - not so much in terms of obsessing about what I wanted to eat, but with regard to our collective relationship with the stuff. My thoughts were partly prompted by having read somewhere that the rate of obesity in the US is now around 40% for the adult population. This struck me as both horrifying yet entirely plausible at one and the same time. I'm not even sure that this is the highest rate among nations at this time, though I'm assuming it must be in the top three. I'm also assuming that where the US leads the rest of the world is likely to follow. Hope I'm wrong about this.

Then as we began to eat dinner just now, Sky News ran an item on food wastage in the UK. I can't remember the numbers, I just know that the wastage per household was staggering. This was partly related to the labelling of food and the misunderstanding of 'best-eaten by' dates so there was some kind of logic involved, but I strongly suspected that attributing the problem to that single cause was misguided. Noi and I watched in fascination the other day as a pair of well-healed ladies in Malaysia left behind almost the entirety of two dishes they'd ordered in a restaurant. It was painful to see the perfectly good food being thrown into the waste as the table was cleared. This little anecdote doesn't in any way explain the wastage on a national scale but it says something about perfectly ordinary behaviour I think most of us are very familiar with.

We make the oddest assumptions about being balanced as individuals but the crazy imbalances in the way our species deals with food should help us see a deep truth about ourselves. We are fundamentally distorted in the fundamentals of our being in any number of ways. Balance is something to seek, and seek desperately.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Some Comfort

Now back in our usual Far Place. Went to my back doctor this afternoon, not because of the aches and pains of the last two days, but for a purely routine appointment. To my surprise he gave the workings of my spine and lower back a completely clean bill of health, saying the movement was free and flexible. The odd thing was that I felt myself recovering from the aches and pains of the weekend even before the drive back here, and the drive itself proved almost entirely comfortable.

I decided, perhaps in somewhat foolhardy fashion, to get myself back to the gym this evening and, as far as I can tell, the workout has furthered the process of recovery - though I'll know more about this tomorrow. It's oddly fascinating to have to deal with an intimate part of the self that one hardly knows in any real sense at all.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Not So Comfortable

I've been following my usual routine in Melaka, not doing much of anything at all. This has been made even easier to follow by the fact that my back is aching with a small but righteous fury. Not sure why. I suppose I put it down to changing beds, the one here being comfortable but a bit too soft to provide real support. We'll be on the road later, which is a bit challenging given the circumstances, but I've felt a lot worse in the past and managed to cope.

Actually coping with the ordinary business of life becomes an interesting challenge when your body is distinctly less than interested in helping you do so.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Much The Same

Now in Melaka with time on my hands. For reasons I'm not sure of I've wasting some of that valuable commodity by idling browsing stuff that's in the news. In the old days reading the newspaper generally like a fruitful activity but jumping capriciously from headline to headline, as I seem to do when reading stuff on-line, often feels unsatisfying, as it did today.

Or is that I've read so much news over a lifetime that none of it seems new anymore?

One thing I find utterly baffling: why do so many people want to waste so much energy getting embroiled in the commentary that follows some stories?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Happy Days

Our time here in Maison KL is up, for this year at least. Happily all seems to be in order as we prepare to move south.

And to add to the general store of happiness we got to celebrate another milestone (with a nifty bit of recycling from 2007.) Hoping for the great good fortune of plenty more happy milestones to pass, insya'allah.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Down In The Valley Below

Richly sunny day here. A good time to enjoy the view.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

On The Inside

Got talking to Hamzah last night about the work he does in prisons. His company provide the software that helps integrate some of the security features in one or two jails over here and I gather he's hoping to expand this provision in the future having established a good track record over the last few years in projects in which his firm has led the way. Since this work involves him actually going into the various premises to install and service the hardware he's accumulated quite a range of experience of life on the inside and it's striking just how positive his impression of the prison system is as a whole.

Since the nation might reasonably classified as still very much developing, this isn't something that you can take for granted. Let's face it, it's not difficult to think of prisons in the UK and the US (especially!) where no one would want to be banged up. But I got the sense that the prospect of doing time in the average Malaysian prison isn't necessarily a frightening one and that the authorities have a genuine desire to rehabilitate rather than simply punish.

It was, however, disheartening to learn of just how many are put inside for drug-related offences. You'd think that the draconian laws in place might help prevent damage on the scale we see in the UK and the US (to name but two) but it looks like it makes little difference.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Making An Effort

Biggest effort of the day so far, cleaning a few of the many downstairs windows which allow us so much light on the world.

Next biggest effort, except no real effort was involved, finishing Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City, which I foolishly mistitled simply Istanbul in an earlier post. This is one of those rare cases in which only the full title does justice to the text which is as much about the working of memory as it is about the city.

Next effort, getting ready to drive over to Hamzah & Sharifah's place with a cake for Aziqah's birthday. Noi tells me she's twenty-nine which can't be right because she was just nine years old the other day and excitedly reading Harry Potter.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Getting Going

The temptation to do absolutely, gloriously, nothing is always a strong one here at Maison KL. At least, it is for me. Noi invariably gets stuck into the household tasks on a grand scale, the reason above all reasons why the house is so comfortable.

This time round I've successfully managed to put temptation almost completely to one side and actually got things done. I've dealt with all the bookshelves and cleaned the fans and, on the virtual front, cleared a very messy desktop and deleted numerous highly deletable documents and files which should have seen the inside of a recycle bin a long time ago.

Partly this mighty effort has been inspired by how much I enjoyed clearing my place at work early this month when the powers-that-be decided our staffroom needed to be shut down to be remodelled. It struck me as a great opportunity to cast off a lot of accumulated gunk and cast it off I did with some exuberance. There are those who cling to the past; I'm not one of them, I'm happy to say. Or, at least, I'm trying not to be.

Monday, November 27, 2017

High Energy

Continuing to make cosily unhurried progress on Pamuk's memoir of growing up in Istanbul. In contrast found myself rushing through Elif Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul at a gallop, finishing it today. I think I understand Jamilah's enthusiasm for the novelist. She writes with verve, imagination, wit and heart, and does so in quite unpredictable ways. I really had little to no idea where she was leading me, but was happy to go there.

Given the humour of the opening segments of the novel and its almost relentlessly breezy tone the later head-on treatment of the sufferings of the Armenians in 1915 was sort of unexpected, yet seemed to work, as did the unveiling of the dark family secrets and their repercussions in the final stretch of the novel. It's as if Ms Shafak felt the need to ram these disparate worlds together as they present themselves in lived experience. But I must say that I suspect a close analysis of the novel, free of its narrative grip, might point to quite a few loose threads.

My guess is that this is the kind of writer whose fans will forgive almost everything. And, I suspect, rightly so.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Monkeying Around

Highlight of the day: over a late breakfast we caught sight of a couple of monkeys in the distance, walking along the top of the newish fence on the hillside going down to KL. They pursued their monkey business up to the gazebo near the house, then the bigger of the two sauntered over to our garden fence, the outer one, just in time for the Missus to notice and announce, loudly, his approach. Then, as I scooted over to the French windows to shut them, he lifted himself up onto the top of the inner fence, and then onto our roof. I went upstairs to check if he'd got onto one of the balconies, but there was no sign of the intruder.

About ten minutes later he came down from the roof at the same spot and was out of the garden in a few seconds. He'd obviously had lots of practice.

It was striking just how utterly self-contained the fellow was. Despite the fact we were just a few feet from one another he showed no awareness of my presence at all. Ironic, isn't it? The actual householder being held in complete contempt by our simian chum. I can never figure out why people consider monkeys 'cute' in any sense. I stand in awe of their complete and wonderful arrogance.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Sheer Laziness

A day of sterling non-achievement. A day of several snoozes. A day of melancholy rain, amplified by the self-indulgent sadness of Orhan Pamuk mixed in with Mozart's D Minor Fantasia for piano. A very fine day indeed, in other words.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Road About To Be Taken

Now contemplating, with a reasonable degree of equanimity, the road ahead to the Malaysian capital, to be taken once I get back from Friday Prayers. Whether that equanimity remains in place once we're actually on that road remains to be seen.

Main highlight of the journey was a gorgeous rainbow which manifested itself in spectacular fashion after some rain around the Pagoh area. Unfortunately the rainbow appeared in the south and we were driving north, but I got a decent enough view from my side mirrors to feel reasonably elevated. Second place highlight was the tea and toasted bread at the ARAB Café at Ayer Keroh.

There were several lowlights, but since these were eminently forgettable, generally involving slow-moving traffic, of which there is a plenitude in Malaysia, I have forgotten them

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A La Turka

Making excellently slow progress on Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul. Since his memoir sees the Nobel Laureate at his most melancholic and Proustian, then slow reading is the only way to go. In contrast I fairly shot through Stephen Kinzer's Crescent & Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds which Jamilah very kindly leant to me, expressing much enthusiasm for the text. I could see why. It's very informative indeed on Turkish history and culture in general, especially the Ataturk era and its legacy. Kinzer has very clear views on where Turkey needs to go in future - towards the EU and democracy - and is a tad patronising and simplistic at times, but his heart is in the right place and he clearly knows a lot about Turkey, which he conveys in a thoroughly engaging manner.

Jamilah also passed me a novel by Elif Shafak, about whom she was even more enthusiastic than she was about Mr Kinzer. So at the moment there's no escape from Turkey for me, a very welcome state indeed.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Place Of Magic

Initially I was a wee bit disappointed by Collected Grimm Tales. Since it's advertised as containing the dramatisation for the stage by Tim Supple and the Young Vic Company I thought I'd be reading some fairly detailed scripts, but this was not the case. It's very difficult indeed to figure out how exactly the Tales worked on stage, as the script given is pretty much the translations/adaptations from the Brothers Grimm by Carol Ann Duffy divided up for voices with very little in the way of explanations of how the words were 'played' on stage. However, I soon got over whatever disappointment I felt in the simple pleasure of reading the texts.

The poet's rendering of the stories is stark and to the point, exactly what's needed to bring them to rumbustious life. I was struck by the sheer simple energy of the tales, how pure they are in terms of reducing everything to bare story, yet how genuinely magical they are in their pragmatic acceptance of the unlikeliness of the events involved. No worries here about characterisation. The characters just are: they do what they need to do and leave the listener to catch up with them.

I was particularly struck by just how dark the tales could be, especially in terms of the vicious relish with which the fates of the 'villains' was rendered. I don't think I'd ever encountered the notion of the step-mother of Snow White being forced to wear red hot shoes and dance to her death at her step-daughter's marriage feast, but it's an image that will stay with me.

My favourite of all the stories was Rumpelstiltskin, a tale I loved as a child and which I don't think I'd read since. Carol Ann Duffy's retelling seemed exactly the same as what I'd heard as a nipper. The titular character's rage at the end, tearing himself in two, seemed just as impressive to me as an old geezer as it did all those years ago. Not sure how you'd put that on stage!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

To Some Effect

It takes about a minute of my being on the elliptical trainer to realise just how much I don't enjoy the experience. This is so different from the days I used to go running when I'd enjoy almost every moment of the exercise. Wherein lies the difference? Well in the old days I was running somewhere and the rewarding sense of being out in the rich and varied world was  integral to the experience. On the trainer I go nowhere fast - or, rather, quite slowly, since I set the resistance to make it an uphill task. In the old days I took some pride in never breathing too heavily and trying to look reasonably comfortable as I ran. Now I find myself blowing like a beached whale and contorting my face in a version of something close to agony.

It isn't that I'm terribly unfit now - at least, I don't think this is the case. Rather, I think I'm pushing myself to the limit since there's really not much else to do when I'm on the machine and staring at the numbers. But there's a positive side to all this. Strangely I don't find myself in any way reluctant to get to the gym - far from it, in fact. And when I come away it feels just as good as it always did.

And slowly but surely, over time, I've definitely got fitter, which was something I doubted would happen a couple of years back when I discovered the joys of my machine of choice. Last Tuesday I posted my best ever numbers, and felt strong doing so. Of course, I'd still much rather be running out on the streets and sometimes fantasise about doing so, but I'll happily settle for the next-best thing if it means I can exercise reasonably regularly and escape injury in doing so.

Monday, November 20, 2017


The season of semi-formal dinners is at an end, with the final one being negotiated this evening. I suppose at one time the thought of filling my face held a primitive appeal. Now I find the amount I'm expected to scoff over-whelming. Fortunately I've managed to get to the gym fairly regularly over the last month or so, and kept myself moving at work, so I remain close to my fighting weight.

Fortunately I generally feel very uncomfortable carrying any excess weight at all, so the idea of cutting down on my intake is, if anything, a restful one. But it's a horrible irony that I sometimes find myself avoiding food in a world in which others are literally dying for it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Something Positive

Attended the wake for Daryl's dad this evening. Deeply sad, but also inspiring in terms of the sense of a life extraordinarily well lived, with remarkable courage over its final stretch.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

More Than Enough

We took Ann to the Gardens on the Bay yesterday afternoon, after picking her up at Serangoon Road. She didn't quite realise what she was in for, thinking we were simply going to a fairly ordinary park. It was nice to see her delight at the visual riches provided there, which reinforced our sense of how extraordinary the gardens are. A single flower is a treat for the eye; the mighty proliferation at the Bay goes beyond a feast.

I've rarely seen so much photography, from so many different angles, going on in a single location. Something strikingly beautiful everywhere you looked. I resisted the temptation, knowing I'll have opportunities for taking pictures in the future and feeling that just looking was more than enough.

Friday, November 17, 2017


Came home quite late just now and for reasons I don't quite understand found myself watching part of one of the Transformers movies. Had no idea what was actually happening on screen, but there was a lot going on. It was very noisy, very destructive and, for this viewer, very boring. But visually incredibly rich, to the point of being impossible to process. Tried to imagine someone watching this for enjoyment. Still trying. Tried to imagine someone making this. Couldn't.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


We've been catching up with Ann, who's passing through on her way back to York from the land of Oz, regarding what's been going on with various acquaintances in the UK, sometimes getting more detail of stories with which we're familiar to some degree. At times I'm troubled by a sense of intruding in some way into the affairs of others, but I'm also aware of feeling a genuine concern. The problem is that several of the stories are essentially sad. It's easier in so many ways to hear tales of success, but this is a salutary reminder that the ultimate end of every individual story is inevitably sad. The best we can hope for is a life well lived. But what a cause for celebration that is!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Remembering Solidariy

On the way to the airport just now to pick up a friend arriving from Australia I found myself listening to a fascinating programme on the BBC World Service covering the turbulent history of the Polish trade union - though that description fails to do justice to the organisation - Solidarity. It featured quite a number of those directly associated with the movement, several of whom had spent periods in prison on account of their brave attempts to foster democracy in Poland in the early eighties.

In retrospect the fall of the totalitarian regimes behind the Iron Curtain seems inevitable. At the time it seemed anything but, at least to the younger version of myself who assumed that little would change, despite the obvious courage of Lech Walesa and the like. How wonderfully wrong I was. And how wonderful it's been to witness so many unexpected developments in the world in my lifetime.

You may think things are standing still. They never are. Which is both exciting and deeply disturbing at one and same time. I'd be tempted to say that the story of Solidarity had a sort of happy outcome, except it didn't as we never get to see a final outcome for anything.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Magic Of Place

We're planning a trip to Istanbul in late December as part of our attempt to broaden our geographical horizons whilst we're still able to get around without assistance. (A slightly gloomy thought, I know, but realistic when you get to a certain age.) So my current reading list is dominated by material related to the city. Not a bad thing at all when that means something from Orhan Pamuk features - in this case his sort of memoir of growing up in Istanbul, pithily entitled Istanbul. The first chapters are typically magical, and I'd rather get on with reading the rest than writing this. So over and out.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Great Finish

I'll miss the excitement of discovery I felt in reading Ian Bostridge's splendid Schubert's Winter Journey - Anatomy of an Obsession. Every chapter has fresh illuminations to offer, and not just on the song cycle itself, though the commentary on the individual songs brings each to life. I know I've become a better listener with the writer's help.

The last chapter is particularly special, dealing as it does with the most extraordinary song in the cycle, the one about the hurdy-gurdy man, Der Leiermann. It offers a plethora of insights but, more than that, conveys the weird power of the song quite brilliantly. It's fascinating for this Dylan fan-boy that Mr Bostridge makes admiring reference to the great man in relation to the song - actually trying to imagine what it would sound like with Dylan singing. I've thought for many years that Dylan is a great singer, but often seemed to be in a minority of one with regard to this claim, so it's oddly validating to have a great singer in the lieder tradition think the same way.

By the way, my assurance that the writer himself is a great singer comes not just via hearsay but from the fact that I downloaded a version of Winterreise featuring his singing, to supplement the version I was listening to previously done by Fischer-Dieskau. It compares favourably, which is really saying something.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


Yesterday's trip to Marine Parade was made in order to see Sanctuary, a piece performed by The Necessary Stage in collaboration with a group from Tokyo, Hanchu-Yuei, co-written by Haresh Sharma & Suguru Yamamoto, the latter being the director of the Tokyo group. According to the publicity blurb it investigates the fragility of the human condition, at a time when technology is eroding our humanity. We are the data, but the data is never ours. So all very hip and featuring impressive production values despite its small scale nature (being performed in the Black Box at Marine Parade Library.)

I was glad we took our drama guys along as it was such a good example of directors, writers and performers trying to do something brave and edgy, and sometimes succeeding. Good questions were asked regarding the threats posed by technology and if were younger I might have felt inclined to try to answer them. As it was I felt a wee bit detached from proceedings, reflective of the distance I keep between myself and the cyber-world. But I imagine the subject matter would have been desperately relevant to those younger and hipper than I. The very notion of a kind of fragmentary theatre, made up of ideas from all involved is exciting, but the danger is that the result might not transcend the process, and I thought this was a bit of a problem with Sanctuary. For all of its promise it ended up as a fascinating puzzle rather than a fully achieved, coherent piece.

Perhaps this all relates to the challenge of the fragmented times in which we live?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

On The Buses

Since the car is with the Missus in Melaka for the weekend, I've been doing my Man of the People thing and using public transport. Since the bus and MRT systems in this Far Place are very good - comparable to the excellent public transport system that used to exist in the democratic socialist republic of Sheffield in the far-off seventies - this has been a generally pleasurable experience. I've journeyed to Serangoon Road and Marine Parade over the last two days and thoroughly enjoyed gazing out on various parts of the city and its suburbs in an unhurried, distinctly contemplative manner. (I decided not to take any books with me so I could focus entirely on the visuals.)

Mind you, I wouldn't go so far as to claim the experience wasn't without disturbance. It was slightly unnerving to realise I could no longer recognise areas with which I was once familiar, due to all the new building and changes of businesses. And the sheer size and forbidding anonymity of some of the grander structures was mildly intimidating if you allowed yourself to look long enough. Fortunately it was easy to look away and there was still enough to observe on a human scale to suggest the city has not yet turned itself into a set for the kind of dystopian movie Hollywood makes to convince itself it has some kind of conscience.

As a rule of thumb, the smaller and shabbier the structure, the more it appealed. I suppose this has something to do with scale. As RT observed in one of his greatest songs, A Heart Needs a Home - but not necessarily a big one.

Friday, November 10, 2017

All's Well

It rained today, rained ferociously, just as we started the Zuhor Prayer in the mosque. I must admit to being slightly distracted from the prayer as I contemplated how thoroughly wet I was likely to get after my last ten minutes inside, trying to cross the car park to drive away. I had an umbrella, true, but only a rather small and fragile one that Noi had passed to me before I set off to Prayers. It was not likely to be much help considering the power of the storm raging.

To my surprise and delight I managed to get to the car without getting thoroughly soaked and though the day continued wet I remained relatively dry for its duration. So all has been well on that front; and I've just heard from Noi who drove safely up to Melaka in the later part of the day through the same rain, which is cause for celebration in this little corner of a world that can be unforgiving, but today chose not to be, at least in our gratefully fortunate cases.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Asocial Animal

It's the season for dinners in my line of work and I'll be attending one this evening. I'm okay with the idea, but given a choice I'd rather be home with the Missus. Not sure at what point in my life I started to actively not enjoy the company of lots of other folk, but I suppose I'm essentially made that way despite being something of a party animal in my years at university. (But then who wasn't?)

I always feel a very deep sympathy for those in the kind of public life in which making nice at formal dinners is obligatory. Must be miserable to be the Queen. Hah!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Some Good

I suppose it started with the Weinstein scandal, the veritable tsunami of news concerning the sexual harassment, and worse, of women (and sometimes men), especially by men in positions of power. I've seen it suggested that this might mark a tipping point and that such behaviour will become a thing of the past. I hope so, but, frankly, doubt so, at one and the same time.

It seems oddly naïve to suggest that we've suddenly discovered such behaviour is morally repugnant and, therefore, our collective disapproval will lead to its sudden demise. The suggestion that somehow the social mores of the 1970s and 1980s were lax enough to render such behaviour acceptable is nonsense. I remember those times well enough to know that what Weinstein got up would have been seen by the general populace at that time as being just as disgusting as it appears to right-minded people today. Similarly the argument that it was somehow more acceptable then for older men to prey on youngsters and sexually exploit them doesn't fit at all with the world I remember.

It seems to me that the difference between the eras lies in the fact that it so much easier now than it used to be to make such behaviour public, and thus bring down upon it the necessary condemnation. And there's obvious good in that.  But there's an equally obvious downside. Trial by Internet outrage is not likely to provide anything in the way of genuine justice. Some things do not change. Just as the capacity of our species, especially the male versions of it, to perpetrate horrendous levels of abuse on those seen as weaker is not likely to diminish any time soon, the need to achieve a version of justice through treating each case carefully on its merits and restraining any rush to judgment is crucial to any sense of achieving what is for the good.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Last Things

Alamak! I want to know what happens, cried the Missus just now, at the end of the latest episode of 6 X 7, a Malay drama on the Suria channel. The show has an unlikely premise: a youngish, upwardly mobile engineer loses his prestigious job and finds work as a cleanser of the dead in a funeral company. (6 X 7 is a reference to the size of a grave.) His fiancée deeply disapproves of his new work, due to its lack of prestige, but he finds meaning in it, creating major problems for their relationship.

This really shouldn't work, but it does. The scenes dealing with death are played with great tact and sensitivity, but have an inherent truthfulness which lends a curious gravitas to the generally comedic tone of the rest of the proceedings. The series has heart and charm, not a bad combination.

I also want to know what happens. But I'll need to wait to next Tuesday to find out.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Further Sloganising

Read this happily resonant slogan on a young chap's t-shirt today: Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. Struck me that it's possibly the end of wisdom also. Might look good on the back of the t-shirt?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Feeling Good

One of the happy discoveries I made about myself in my twenties (I suppose, rough guess) was that far from being someone of great depth, prone to a profundity of thought that resulted in an inevitable melancholia, I was remarkably superficial and capable of being cheered up to a point of straightforward cheerfulness by the entirely unremarkable. Thus, getting reasonable amounts of exercise and keeping reasonably fit turned out to be a sure-fire recipe for feeling good. Similarly, keeping things reasonably tidy and under control in my immediate environment pretty much ensured a sunny outlook on the world and its attendant madness.

Evidence of the fact that nothing much has changed for me in this regard is the fact that I find myself a distinctly thoughtlessly happy soldier today for having (a) cleared up most of the heavy stuff at my place in work this morning, in preparation for the big shift on the way, and (b) felt on top form in my statutory workout at the gym this evening.

There's a lot of talk in schools about developing character. But sometimes not having too much of it works wonders.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Journey Worth Making

Ian Bostridge's Schubert's Winter Journey - Anatomy of an Obsession is perfect reading for preparing to listen to Schubert's masterpiece. I know this because prior to reading the book I had no idea of what Schubert was up to, beyond creating something that sounded pretty good. I'm now up to the fourteenth chapter, and the fourteenth song of the cycle, and I've finally got a fairly reasonable idea of what's going on, and, more importantly, I find myself loving every note. Not to mention the fact that I've learnt a whole lot I needed to know about German Romanticism - which has deepened enormously my grasp of the British version.

One other small point: it's a beautifully produced paperback in every way. A physical pleasure in itself. No wonder I've never bothered to get a Kindle.

Friday, November 3, 2017


I'm contemplating the intimidating prospect of having to pack all the stuff at my desk in the next week or so since our staffroom will be undergoing severe renovations over the next couple of months. (Hope they finish in time for the beginning of the new school year in January.) Now considering throwing out as much as possible of what has accumulated over the last eleven years. The funny thing is that I'm oddly reluctant to part with stuff in case it proves to be useful in future, and this despite the fact it wasn't particularly useful in the past.

I suppose there's part of me that would like to think there was some point to all the pointless paperwork even when I am very sure there wasn't.

I got to thinking earlier of Dickens's brilliant evocation of the endless heaps of legal documents associated with Chancery in Bleak House. I suspect the Great Inimitable was more than a little in love with the mania of it all as much as he despised the madness. I wonder if he was a hoarder himself?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

With Friends Like These

Just finished A Moveable Feast. I'd forgotten the degree to which Hemingway did the dirty on Fitzgerald. The first time I read those chapters I suppose I fell for the poor doomed Scott & Zelda malarkey. Now the depth of Hem's treachery is painful to behold and difficult to assimilate.

I suppose there's a certain dark irony in the fact that it's so obvious he's projecting his own problems onto Fitzgerald. Strange he didn't see this himself. (Perhaps he did? The suicide wasn't so far off.) The sexual hang-ups are almost funny, but the inability of Hemingway to acknowledge his own alcoholism is just depressing. Just trying to calculate how much the two writers drank on the trip they made together that's the centrepiece of the first Fitzgerald segment gave me a headache.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


I frequently warn classes never to trust what writers of imaginative literature tell us about themselves and their intentions. After all, making things up is what they do. Having said that, some are more obviously worthy of some degree of trust than others. It would be interesting to draw up a sort of league table.

At the bottom I would not hesitate to put Ernest Hemingway, and rereading A Moveable Feast, his sort of memoir of his time in Paris in the 1920s, is reminding me why. There's not a line in the book that doesn't sound suspiciously attitudinising. And it's all brilliant. The best thing by far Hem did in his considerable dotage, and I don't believe a word.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Looking Out

Got lost poorly in my thoughts earlier this evening. Found myself considering, in no great depth, the nature of evil, human evil, that is. The subject deserves more than the kind of shallowness I could manage. But it did occur to me that there's something essentially dull about it, a kind of nasty predictability. Not much in the way of imagination.

I suppose that's why horror movies eventually fail to horrify. Halloweens always end in disappointment. 

On the other hand, goodness grows in fascination, I suppose, in part, because of its sheer unlikeliness. Something genuinely worth looking out for.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Looking In

Was glancing through my journal of this date fifteen years ago and came across this very odd bit of self-communing:

Reflected today on some of the motivating factors behind my feelings about work-related issues. Did not like what I saw but realised that was why it was important to look. I thought I had achieved some distance on this. But I haven't. These issues seem related in some sense to the money issues above. I don't know quite how but they both seem related to unsurfaced anxieties. I think I'm open to exploring these pressures, if that's the right word, in an open-ended way - but there's another part of me that says be stoical. Take the pressure and allow it to release grace of a kind. Rise above this. This is nothing compared to the real anxieties that beset some folk. And that's so obviously true. I can forget these hardly existent problems quite easily, naturally. But is there some underlying trouble that I'm closing my eyes to, which it would be fruitful, profitable to live with, walk among, become conversant with?

I suppose I'd better say why I found this so odd. Two reasons. The first is that I have no idea at all what 'work-related issues' were on my mind all those years ago. These days such 'issues' simply don't exist, at least not in the oddly intense way they appear to have been affecting my (somewhat) younger self. (Though the concerns about the green stuff being hinted at have not exactly disappeared, I must say.) The second is that I seem to have abandoned the peculiarly introverted style of the passage above a long time ago to the extent that I hardly recognise it as something I was once capable of.

I'm all for reflection, but sometimes you can gaze too deeply inwards.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sensible Decision-making

Still feeling considerably under the weather, I had a big decision to make this afternoon. Would it be an act of complete stupidity to get to the gym and do my bit in the pursuit of a minimum of physical fitness, or would be it a sign of some kind of recovery? In the event I went along and endured forty minutes on the elliptical whotsit. Then later we hosted a birthday bash for Fifi (twenty-one years old - good grief!) at the very pleasant Spize at the Temasek Club. Still not entirely sure of the degree of heroic stupidity involved in my actions of the afternoon. Got a feeling I'll know tomorrow, though.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Human Face

Our little household found itself short of the Internet service promised by its well-paid providers, one Singtel, last week. The problem manifested itself on Wednesday and plagued us for some forty-eight hours. Eventually I resorted to phoning said providers and found myself chastising some unfortunate young lady at the other end of the line who was attempting the impossible: to sound reasonable in defending the service providers from an indefensible position and genuinely trying to provide us some help. I don't want to go into the gory details of how a major flagship company associated with all that's good about this Far Place gets into indefensible territory, but let's just say it can't really be wise to offer people a contract for a service and then tell them that the infrastructure that supports the service isn't up to par, such that those needing the service have to accept they made a bad choice and need to make fundamental changes regarding the service at higher cost.

For some reason I can't quite grasp it seems it's unthinkable to suggest that one might receive a refund to compensate for the periods for which one wasn't provided the service paid for. An excellent way to do business, I'm sure.

But strangely enough I didn't intend to write this little post to rant about the inadequacies of Singtel. Rather I just wanted to say how genuinely impressed I was with the young lady who handled my call on Thursday and even more so regarding the guy who came round and tried to restore our service on Friday. It took him a good three hours to deal with the problem and he was unrelenting in his attempts to figure out what parts of the cabling involved were giving a problem as well as being pleasantly chatty throughout. I'm guessing that neither of these minor figures are regarded as indispensable to the company they work for - the lady in some call centre not even located on the island, and the gentleman painfully clear in his explanation of just how dispensable he and other technicians are seen as being to their employers - but from our perspective they somehow managed to put a reasonable face on, and give a human voice to, a company that really doesn't seem to possess either.