Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Too Much Information

Read this in today's paper: And if we smell like rotting food cockroaches will be attracted to us. Wish I hadn't.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Awards And Rewards

I make a point of never watching any kind of 'Awards Show' on the telly if I can help it: the Oscars, the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, the Grammies (especially); you name them, I avoid them. But it was difficult to miss the major cock-up at last night's Oscars since it was the lead on all the news channels.

Even the highly edited bit I saw was excruciatingly embarrassing, so I can only think it must have been misery to sit through the whole thing (I mean the cock-up, not the show in general, though I suspect I'd have felt at least mildly embarrassed by most of what went on screen.) And now I'm wondering which poor soul is going to get the blame for the mess with the envelopes. I reckon it will be someone pretty low in the pecking order.

But I must say it struck me that there's a pretty obvious lesson in all this, especially for anyone who gets on a stage to perform. The real incongruity in it all was the fact that an utterly trivial bit of a mess, which had its funny side, and did no real harm to anyone, got so much coverage in the media. None of this really mattered or matters in the slightest. And that's what you need to keep in mind before you step on a stage to perform: you do your damnedest to get it right but you laugh it off if it goes wrong - as surely one day it will. Nobody got hurt physically, nobody died (except probably an ego or two, and good riddance to them.) 

The rewards for making good movies lie in the fact that they're good movies. (Oh, and the money, if you get any, doesn't do any harm.)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Quality Of Life

Just realised that I set about Boswell's Life of Johnson at the beginning of February and we're not far off the end of the month. The thing is that I'm not even a third of the way in yet and, much as I'm enjoying one of the greatest 'lives' of all, I don't fancy still being found reading it when May arrives. Mind you, I did take a major detour in the ever-reliable company of Stephen King: Mr Mercedes was gripping in the best tradition of the horror-meister. But that being said I don't remember taking quite so long to read Boswell the first time around, back in the 80s, in a time when I'm sure I made myself pretty busy most of the time.

Maybe things will speed up now I'm well past the bit where Boswell actually meets Johnson and we start getting lots of actual conversation. Before that the work is dominated by the Great Cham's letters which whilst giving a sense of the larger than life nature of the man don't really convey what it was like to listen to him with the vivid immediacy that his biographer is able to conjure so effortlessly in the pages detailing the life after 1762.

One of the great pleasures of reading Boswell is to be exposed to conversation as performance. This was a time when the literati regarded the very act of speech as something worth investing effort in, as if the elegance of their dialogue might balance somehow the sometimes grim reality of the tawdry world of eighteenth century London. Might there be a relationship between speaking well and living well? If there is, that's something else we've lost.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Full Force Gale

First saw the name Kate Tempest on the shelves of the Poetry Section in Waterstone's on Deansgate in Manchester back in December. They were heavily promoting her, taking me by surprise simply because I'd never heard the name before and wondered how it had escaped me. After that I came across an admiring review of one her gigs in one of the newspapers and realised she was more than just a writer for the page, as it were. In fact, I drew Fifi's attention to her wondering whether my niece might have some passing familiarity as a result of her interest in the indie scene. As it happens she didn't, but I made a mental note to check out her work at some point since it seemed to be causing a bit of a stir, not exactly a common phenomenon in the sedate world of lit.

Thus it was I came to take a look and have a listen to some of her stuff on youtube, and, my goodness me, I'm glad I did. She's clearly a quite uncommon phenomenon, possessed of phenomenal talent. Watching a BBC recording of her live at the Rivoli Ballroom, South London provided all the evidence needed. Talk about intensity!

(And, by the by, the three poets who feature unexpectedly at the end further serve to suggest that something very interesting is afoot in the English capital. Perhaps London isn't quite as lost as Ms Tempest would have us believe.)

Friday, February 24, 2017

The End Of The Romance

I'd like to claim to have been astonished at the sacking of Ranieri, but that's simply not the case. It was easy to see it coming. In fact, it's consistent with the events of recent seasons. The second coach in succession - it seems that's what they call managers these days - to get the boot in the season immediately following his team winning the Premier League. And then there was last year's sacking of a coach whose team had just won the FA Cup. Unthinkable in the bad old days when loyalty meant something. Now not just thinkable but highly likely.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Slowing Down

One of the wonderful rewards of aging is the need for slowing down inherent in the process - even as you speed to the end. So nice to be forced to make time to take it all in.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

As Time Goes By

When I worked in a factory as a teenager I became acutely aware of just how painfully time dragged when you are thoroughly bored. I welcomed working overtime because of the extra money, but the dull agony of the two or three extra hours each day is something I can recall even at this distance of years. I vowed then to get a job that wouldn't involve that kind of mind-numbing boredom.

And I got what I wanted. I'm never bored at work. But the bitingly ironic reason is that I'm desperately trying to stay on top of things to ever get bored. Now I wish time would slow down to give me a chance to catch up. Talk about a case of being careful what you wish for, eh?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Off The Path

Neglected to mention listening to CD2 of The Pilgrim's Progress and being utterly devastated by the extraordinary beauty of the work in its entirety. It seems some critics claim the various segments, composed at different periods of VW's life, don't hang together. Bah! Double humbug! What has happened to their ears?!
The work gives us answers, glorious ones, to the fundamental questions of the pilgrimage we are all on. The only puzzle it leaves is to why its creator saw himself as an atheist. Not that this troubles me at all, it's just that if that's what he thought he was, he was obviously deeply, wonderfully, wrong.
I found my thoughts running along similar kinds of lines when reading Alain de Botton's Religion for Atheists, a typically readable, wise, funny and, sometimes, spectacularly daft book. It's a cogently commonsensical bracing refutation of all the Gnu Atheist nonsense about how harmful religion is. (I'm thinking here particularly of the disappointingly slight and downright silly God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.) De Botton is quite brilliant on a number of points, giving the best, most inspirational account I've ever read on the value of mediation. He's also often laugh-out-loud funny, especially when dealing with the idiocies of an academic education.

But here's the thing. It's so obvious that the very concrete ideas about how to improve the quality of life  by taking key ideas from the major religions but leaving God behind won't work in the real world in any kind of institutional sense. Yet many of the followers of the various religions analysed have cheerfully improved the quality of their lives - often exponentially so - as a result of following their faiths. So it just seems so obvious: If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and especially don't fix it by taking away the thing that makes it work.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Time Tells

One of the pleasures of having led a reasonably long life is that of bearing witness to the extraordinary twists and turns of human affairs as they work themselves out on the world stage and in the more intimate theatre of the lives of individuals with whom one is acquainted. Who would have thought the Iron Curtain would have been flimsy enough to have been torn down in my lifetime? - not I as a youngster, and that happened yonks ago now. Kids look back on the very notion of a Cold War as an historical curiosity whereas I grew up with it as a seeming historical necessity.

This morning we had a talk given by a lady who was one of the unfortunate Boat People, escaping Vietnam for a sometimes, indeed often, unaccepting world. She was four years old when her family were picked up by a Norwegian ship, an oil tanker, I think. They were part of a group of over eighty souls who had set out on a rickety vessel built for about ten people, and fortunate to be saved.

And now she and her family - three boys of her own - are thriving in Australia, and paying on, in her words, the compassion and generosity shown to them in terms of their own efforts to improve the lives of the less fortunate with whom they come in contact. Listening to her and seeing the pictures of the refugee boat that brought her and her kin, so fortunately, to a new life I was reminded of the hopelessness I felt on seeing those images of the seemingly lost, back when the crisis was a grim reality.

And so I've learned to hope simply because hope is as real as the lived reality of all those lives that so easily might never have been.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Getting Stuck In

Expectation reigns within our little corner of the universe on this fine afternoon. The Missus has been labouring to put together some bits and pieces of the culinary variety for some of our chums and I, for one, can't wait to get stuck in. Not sure who invented the notion of High Tea but they should be in line for an award.


Well, I think we can count that one as a big success. Abundant evidence above. Not quite sure what this has done for the old cholesterol levels, but I'll be hitting the gym tomorrow.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

On The Path

Spent an extremely fruitful hour today listening (hard & focused) to the first CD in the Richard Hickox version of RVW's The Pilgrim's Progress which recently arrived in the post. It's obvious why Michael Kennedy rates this so highly and sort of centrally in his survey of the great man's works. The echoes of the 5th Symphony seem to help explain the symphony in itself. Strange to think that the composer was, as far as I understand it, an avowed atheist. Or was he? The liner notes to this version of the Progress suggest things were not quite so clear-cut at the time of the completion of the opera, or Morality as Kennedy rightly terms it.

I'm looking forward to the second CD tomorrow, and a window on the Celestial City, whither, I suspect, we all aspire, whatever beliefs we think we adhere to.

Friday, February 17, 2017

In Praise Of The Fridge Magnet - 2

In just one word, excellent life-enhancing, life-altering advice.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Fading Lights

Needed to walk out somewhere at Maghrib just now and was struck by the strange quality of the light at that time. It doesn't exactly thicken, Macbeth-style, but it seems to acquire a certain weight, as if the day has wearied of itself. Yet within that weariness is a sense of expectation of the night to come and the scurrying life that will accompany it. The fading of the light signifies not so much an ending as the transition between scenes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Listened to the great man's Chaos and Creation in the Backyard on getting home from work yesterday and wondered why I don't do so far more often. What a brilliant collection of songs, brilliantly performed. I suppose it was the fact it was Valentine's Day and Mr McCartney is possibly the greatest romantic tunesmith of my time that led to me giving the CD air-time, and I'm very glad I did. Which leads me to ask myself why I so often under-rate him, not, I hasten to add, in his persona as a Beatle, but in terms of the post-Fab Four solo work. I've not even listened to it all.

I think the answer lies in the fact that, through no fault of his own, he's not John Lennon. So you don't get the cutting edge brilliance and audacity of Instant Karma, Cold Turkey, et al. And you don't get that perfect voice. But - I now remind myself - you get the consistent loveliness of My Love, Let Me Roll It, et al and the second greatest voice in Rock 'n' Roll. (What were the odds they'd sing in the same band? Another proof, if you needed one, of the existence of the Almighty.)

I ended up down-loading Flowers in the Dirt last night from i-Tunes, an album I once possessed on cassette, and playing it very late at night just to confirm my faded half-memories of the wonderfulness therein. And I rather suspect there's going to be a lot more down-loading to follow.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Height Of Romance

Exchanged slushy cards with the Lady of the House and treated her to tea and curry puffs at Arab Street. All highly satisfactory. More Tony & Cleo than Romeo & Juliet, but I've always much preferred the later play. And, contrary to appearances, I reckon these are our salad days.

Monday, February 13, 2017


I'm in that delightful period when I'm able to just think about the show we'll be doing in July with my drama guys without the pressure of having to get something definitive done by tomorrow. That part of the process starts in April, though much work is underway on the sets and staging front already. But even with the stuff that's underway there's still lots of room for new ideas & directions and the thought of what we'll be putting on stage in terms of objects, and sounds, is deeply inspirational anyway.

As usually happens to me I'm finding my thoughts revolving & evolving (I hope) around certain obsessive images. An example of this, from many years back now, is how I couldn't stop thinking about circles when planning a version of Roger & Hammerstein's Carousel. (Probably I was the only one involved who realised this, but circles of one sort or another dominated everything - sets, choreography, blocking.)

This time around I can't stop thinking about blood. That sounds pretty weird, no? Well, you can't say I didn't warn you.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

In All Weathers

It's been a blustery, rainy kind of day here. Looking out of the window at a McDonald's this afternoon (we live richly, the Missus and myself) I commented that we might have been back in Edinburgh in late December, were it not for the fact that we were warm and going to remain so despite having to step out into the wind and rain eventually. When we got back to the ranch I phoned John & Maureen to discover that they too had just got back from their morning shopping with the snow beginning to fall. Can't say I envied them.

The good news is that Maureen sounded well, as if keeping it together. The bad news is that she's still not had any serious surgery to repair her eye and her vision remains limited. John was complaining about the cold weather getting to his back, which in a way is promising as he didn't have anything grimmer to talk about. He reckoned he'd be better off in the warmth of this Far Place and I can see his point. That's one of the many reasons that I can find no complaint for being here.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Rough Stuff

Enjoyed a walk to Holland Village and back in the late morning, early afternoon, which suggests I didn't do too much damage to this aging frame of mine yesterday. Was pleased to discover that not only is the old shopping centre still there but there appear to be signs it might survive the on-going frenzy for getting rid of old Singapore and replacing it with buildings of ferocious modernity and ugliness. A big shop in the building that recently disappeared has suddenly reappeared and the little second hand bookshop that does rentals that never quite shut down looks like it's re-establishing its shelves and stock.

If so, this is particularly timely for this reader as I've been thinking of consciously upping the amount of popular fiction I consume this year, especially on the 'murder' front. When I was in Edinburgh in December I found myself quite embarrassed over the fact that I was so unfamiliar with the work of her favourite son, (of recent times, that is) Ian Rankin. I toyed with buying the first of the Rebus novels whilst we were there, but for some reason, which I now regret, decided not to, and have since sought for it in vain on these shores.

Anyway, today I came away with cheap copies of Stephen King's Mr Mercedes and Balance of Power by Richard North Patterson. Patterson's No Safe Place, featuring the key characters from Balance of Power, is one of my favourite 'best seller' reads of all time and I can't quite figure out why I've never read further into his oeuvre - so now I'll put that a little bit right. But I must admit I just had to read the opening of the King and immediately got hooked (and this despite having a pretty good idea what Mr Mercedes is all about from a fairly negative treatment of the little series of which it marks the beginning in a recent NYRB.)

On the serious lit front I just finished Ian McEwan's collection of shorts Between The Sheets. I reckon about a third of the stories therein really worked, another third were pretty interesting and the final third creaked beyond redemption. And now I'm off back to the grisly events in Mr King's little offering, which I suspect will deliver one hundred per cent pure enjoyment, to this reader at least.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Catching Up

Got back to the gym tonight for the first time in a couple of weeks. My right knee still feels a bit fragile - I couldn't do prayers properly for quite a time - and even today at Friday Prayers put up some resistance at one point, but I decided it was now or never. Also my throat finally seems to be back to normal so I judged I'd be able to handle the heavy breathing routine.

It wasn't easy, I can tell you. But I kept going for the full forty minutes and was still walking at the end. Now hoping to be able to get up in the morning.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

In Praise Of The Fridge Magnet - 1

The idea that Art should have some kind of 'message' is a supremely tiresome one. But there are exceptions.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


One thing you get used to as a teacher is the fact that there will always be some kid's welfare that you're at least a wee bit worried about, and often the worry goes a fair bit deeper than that. It's been that way for me from the beginning and I don't expect things to change for the better any time soon. It's written into the nature of things.
But something has changed with regard to this general area, and I believe markedly so in the last ten years. Put simply, there seem to be more kids to be worried about and sometimes the worry assumes a greater intensity than previously experienced. I don't think this is because I've mellowed and become a more caring individual. In fact, I'm wary of becoming overly 'caring' since this can be debilitating. There's a job to do and it needs to be done coolly and calmly to be done well.
I'm coming to believe that what has changed is the degree of stress being placed on young people. Somehow this has increased and that increase is manifesting itself in concerns about mental and physical well-being in more kids. I see this in this far place and, somewhat to my surprise, I caught a news story from the UK this evening with some startling statistics reflecting a similar phenomenon.
I'm not na├»ve enough to assume there are simple causal factors involved. In the mess of things the things that mess people up will remain messily resistant to analysis. But the funny thing is that I suspect that in trying to make clear to young people what is necessary to live life well we've got rid of the mess of uncertainty they need to live it happily badly.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Open To Disturbance

Focused my listening over the weekend on a single album which I played three or four times. The disk in question was Van Der Graaf Generator's Do Not Disturb. My reason for playing it somewhat obsessively was the reverse of what you might expect. I enjoyed listening to the album when I got it in December, but it didn't figure as one of the out and out favourites amongst the various CDs I bought around that time. And then when I first played it on arrival back on these shores I found it actually a bit of a drudgery to listen to. It was as if I had somehow got turned off the sound world it was offering.

But here's the thing. When a band has given you so much pleasure over the years, and most of all in the last three years, and helped educate your ears in the process, it's difficult to give up on something by them without  a fight. So I committed myself to the closest possible listening - and it worked. In fact, I realised very quickly that it was precisely because I hadn't listened hard to material that demanded hard listening that something had broken down. Last night, listening to the last three tracks as I took to my bed, it was difficult to figure out how I had somehow created barriers for myself for music that just had to be what it was.

I've just re-read Peter Hammill's illuminating journal entry on the album over at Sofasound with a distinct sense of relief that I haven't allowed my dull ears to let me down - not this time, anyway.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Perfectly Ordinary

Nice eh, to eat like this, said the Missus just now - and, as ever, she was not wrong. The occasion was a perfectly routine Sunday evening spent in an encounter with a sea bass, divided in two, and cooked to perfection.

When I first saw people taking pictures of their grub, to post on-line I suppose, I was mightily puzzled at the apparent absurdity of this memorialising of the entirely ordinary. But now I get it. (Not that I'm going to post pictures of the fish we consumed just now, though I am tempted to do so.)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Strong Stuff

Chanced upon a very good documentary about TH, Ted Hughes: Stronger Than Death, recently uploaded to youtube. I'm still deeply conflicted about my interest in the whole Ted/Sylvia thing and feel I'm intruding. But the poetry on all sides is just so brilliant it's impossible not to get drawn in.

First time I've seen Frieda Hughes on camera. Certainly one good thing that came out of it all. Grace personified. Tried not to think too much of her poor brother. Assume he was 'left out' in an appropriate display of tact.

Struck by the sheer size of TH's achievement. Good as it was, the programme needed to be four hours longer to begin to do justice to introducing his work.

Friday, February 3, 2017


Throat ragged. Voice almost completely gone. Some might see this as an improvement. Hah!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Getting Mighty Crowded

Caught an excellent programme on the BBC World Service this afternoon discussing calculations of crowd sizes. The programme was devised in the wake of the rather embarrassing disputes concerning the size of the crowd at the recent Inauguration of the President of the USA in relation to previous inaugurations. It was instructive to listen to experts explaining the workings of their calculations, particularly the contribution of one guy who has refined his trade managing crowds on the Hajj. That's obviously a high pressure situation in which the science behind the decisions that need to be made on the ground involves frighteningly high stakes - and has been known to go horribly wrong when that science is misapplied, or just ignored.

The refreshing side of all this is that if you're prepared to do the hard work and think with clarity and logic it is possible to arrive at reasonably definite conclusions and know the margins of error involved. In a world in which there are some who would us believe that somehow 'definites' no longer exist I think this is important for as many people to know as possible. Sometimes in classrooms full of intelligent people a curious sense emerges that everything comes down to a matter of opinion. No, in most areas of human experience this is not the case, and even in those areas which do seem to finally hinge on opinion some opinions are better than others. Mine especially, by the way.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Quite A Life

Left Maison KL carrying my old Everyman edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson (and leaving the Elvis Costello memoir in its place on the bookshelves.) The last time I read this was back in 1987 so I thought it was time to renew my acquaintance. When we were in the UK last December I got to thinking about what I might read in the year ahead and it struck me then how little attention I've been paying in recent times to anything post-Milton and pre-Victorian (with the minor exception of a bit of a foray into Pope's Essay on Man a few months back). That's a big gap. What's particularly strange is that at one time I tended to neglect the big Victorians and had a bit of a thing about the eighteenth century. So I suppose I'm trying to get that thing going again.

Getting going on the Boswell was a reminder of the sheer elegance of these earlier johnnies. There's a certain pleasure to be gained from the lovely balance of the sentences alone. Mind you, it's not all mouth and no trousers, you know. I'd completely forgotten the segment early in the Life in which the biographer deals with Johnson's depressive nature (his hypochondria in the parlance of the age.) This is startlingly modern in its insight into depression as an illness and its compassionate empathy regarding the condition.

Much as I'm enjoying the Boswell and will, I know, continue to do so, I need to balance it with some more recent fiction. Now thinking, in an unhurried, Boswellian manner, of what might do the trick.