Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Greatest Rewards

5 Ramadhan, 1438

Thinking back to this date in my personal history twenty years ago, it occurs to me that I seemed to know then with absolute certainty that the commitment I was making was so utterly and entirely right for me that it was hardly worth thinking about too deeply. It just had to be, and that was it. I have no real understanding of how exactly I knew that then, but I'm glad I did because I was absolutely correct - a rare state of affairs in my life.

So today has been a day of quiet celebration of that fact, as, I suppose, is every day in its own way.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Rewards

4 Ramadhan, 1438

Realised with particular force in the course of the day just how often I reward myself as a matter of routine for getting things done. I was marking essays for IB and decided to divide the day's load into batches of five at a time. Now a batch of five is not exactly easy. It requires effort to remain focused on each script and it's physically tough to keep the body positioned optimally for all five. But, having said that, it's not so terribly difficult once you accept the need to just get the necessary done - and it is very necessary with a deadline looming before the end of the week.

The problem I had turned out to be of the mental rather than the physical variety. After each batch my body demanded a cup of tea as a reward. And, of course, it didn't get that cup, not until after Maghrib, that is. But what struck me each time was the sense that it was a demand being sent out, not a request. And it had a distinctly infantile quality about it. When I didn't get the tea I felt distinctly, pointlessly sulky. And very sorry for myself.

It's a painful truth when you confront the infant within and realise just how often life is based around assuaging its demands. Fasting helps you grow up, just a little bit.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Getting Through

3 Ramadhan, 1438

What with needing to help ensure the smooth running of an early morning lecture, meeting a colleague to discuss the marking of some on-going work, getting on with marking for the IB in order to meet an approaching unreasonable deadline, and rehearsing for our forth-coming production, this wasn't a day I was looking forward to. The fact that I'm still adjusting to the fast adding a further layer of uncertainty to my general sense of discomfort.

In the event things went, mercifully, not just well but very well indeed and, to my surprise, I found myself enjoying almost every minute - the only exception being the hour or so in the early afternoon when I conked out. I'm sure I enjoyed the brief kip, but just can't remember.

To celebrate all this, having finished my marking I'm now listen to Maestro Morricone's score for The Mission and wondering why I only mildly enjoyed it upon its release. This listening has taken me to Paradise, well the lower circles I suppose. Utterly gorgeous.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Coming Second

2 Ramadhan, 1438

No major headache today, so it looks like adjustment is setting in, mercifully so. It usually does, but you can't simply take such relief for granted. A wonderfully relevant reminder of one's vulnerability, one of the great gifts of the season.

A long way to go. Good. I need the lessons ahead, even those I've learnt before.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

First Things First

1 Ramadhan, 1438

You need a bowl of chicken porridge like this one, on the first day of fasting, I sagely observed to the Missus, supplier of said bowl, just now as I got to grips with its formidable contents. What you don't need is what I acquired around about noon, in the middle of a rehearsal, a clanging headache. Actually it wasn't clanging in the rehearsal, but definitely there, if you know what I mean. And it wasn't caused by the rehearsal, which was of the non-headachy variety.

I don't know, in truth, what caused it, but by 3.00 pm it was clanging on a super-scale and continued to do so through all my marking of the afternoon and early evening. Noi conjectured it was brought on by the thoughts of all the work I needed to do, despite embarking on the fast, and she may well be right. By the way, I'd rather put work out of the way and focus on the demands of the season, but in my world that luxury doesn't exist. Fortunately I have the mild deprivations of Ramadhan to remind me of all the other luxuries so easily, readily, thoughtlessly accessed that I forget they are luxuries. Until a headache usefully reminds me.

Selamat berpuasa! to all who are able to learn those same first vital lessons.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Centre Cannot Hold

The last few days have been a struggle, and the struggle is set to continue into the few ahead. It isn't that there's one single thing I need to do that's causing that familiar sense of being ever-so-slightly overwhelmed, a sense of needing to come up sometimes for a mouthful of air before becoming immersed once more in whatever it is that urgently needs to be done. In fact, each single thing is no big deal. But dealing with the confluence that comprises the urgent necessities of my working life is wearing, to say the least.

The irony is that I'm officially on holiday.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

An Interesting Time

Was chatting with Peter this evening and we got talking about fasting month. I was trying to explain something of what the experience was like and, as always, failed to do justice to its fascinating richness. Why is it that a taste of what is, after all, deprivation should prove so rewarding? The older I get, the more paradoxical life becomes, which is, in itself, more than a little interesting.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Wrong Side

Moody's bio of Ezra Pound, well, the first volume that is, is the real deal. Helps you into an appreciation of the poetry, even the stuff that isn't so appealing at first glance, and is engrossing on the life without being intrusive. Avoids reading back the later political tragedy into the young Pound, who comes over as a fairly decent bloke, especially with money, even if a bit odd. I haven't got the second volume yet, not even sure it's in paperback, but it's on auto-buy when I find out how to get hold of it. What happened after 1920 to so momentously screw the guy up? Or were the seeds of dumb fascism there all along? Darned if I can see them anywhere in the pre-Great War Ezra.

Frightening to think that we might just turn out to have been on the wrong side of history after the dust has settled, when we were so sure of our righteousness.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Close To Home

Woke up to the breaking news of the attack at the Arena, and came home to hear just how awful it was in terms of the fatalities and casualties - and how it was basically kids affected. Watching the pictures from areas I know so well and learning of the grim horror enacted there was painful. But just the tiniest fraction of the pain being felt by so many back in Manchester & environs. A couple of reporters used the term 'heart-breaking' - and it was.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Still Walking

On my little walk yesterday to Holland Village I got to thinking about some of the hill-walking I'd done back in the UK before the years of exile. The last serious jaunt had been with Tony, some time in the late 80s, but I can't for the life of me remember the route and location. All the serious planning was in the hands of the expert. But I recall being in reasonable condition at the time - still playing for Whiston FC and running fairly regular half marathons. I managed the walk with some ease and huge enjoyment.

And it occurred to me yesterday that had I not upped and left the UK, about a couple of years after that particular walk, I think, I would have become something of a regular, probably walking solo. It strikes me as something I was bound to end up doing, essentially because of the sense of freedom I found in any walk over any reasonable distance. But that was a future not taken.

Do I regret the loss of that alternative self - the solitary, rugged, walker of the fells? No, not at all. Partly because that self wasn't really lost but channelled in other directions. I think I know where he is now. But one thing's for sure. If we do relocate to the UK for any length of time in the near future, he'll be out walking wherever he gets the chance to roam.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Just Walking

It's been raining here this evening, which has made a pleasant change from the stifling heat & attendant humidity of the earlier part of the day. I actually went out walking in this to Holland Village and back. I needed a break from marking and Noi has gone off to Melaka for the weekend, so a brisk walk seemed like a good idea. And it was, except for the fact that by the time I got back I needed to put my sweaty garments in the wash and sit in an air-conditioned room for half an hour to feel normal again.

Actually I thought my walk was fulfilling a resolution to 'keep moving, keep thinking' made in January, only to discover, just now in fact, that my resolution for this year was, indeed is, somewhat different. Perhaps I should have stayed where I was after all?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A World Elsewhere

Have been marking IB stuff from the examination early in May. These days all the marking is on-line and utterly anonymous, so you have no idea what part of the world a script comes from. In fact, it's rare to find oneself even trying to make a guess. Most of it reads very much the same - which is to say not terribly well, to be honest. Not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

Friday, May 19, 2017

On The Beat

Funny things, bodies. This one of mine, for instance, generally feels wearily heavy when I get it onto the elliptical training thingy in the gym, but it actually felt quite energised this evening, despite a wearisome week at work. However, despite my sense of feeling full of the proverbial beans, and going at it hammer and tongs, as it were, I still posted numbers which, though good, were not my best.

I also managed to get my heart rate up to 171 or thereabouts, which, according to the machine in question, is regarded as the top rate for those in their twenties. Gosh. Not exactly sure I should be going into that range, but I appear to have survived. Sort of.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Getting Dragged In

One of the several interesting things about teaching, or attempting to teach, works of Literature is the sheer unpredictability of what will happen to the teacher in the process of teaching the text. It's rare for me not to enjoy, in some sense, teaching a text, though I remember once being given the sage advice not to introduce poems which were special favourites into the classroom on the grounds that if a class turned out not to respond to them the teacher was likely to be profoundly disappointed. That's never really happened to me in a devastating way, though I do recall teaching Hughes's lovely Happy Calf from the Moortown sequence to a class and finding a certain frustration in the fact that the majority wanted the calf to be unhappy, all evidence, including the title, to the contrary.
But the unpredictability of teaching texts has tended with me to go in the opposite direction, in that I've set out to teach texts with which I'm barely familiar and of which I've not been exactly a great fan only to find an immense pay-off in the classroom. I fall completely in love the text and, when the process is at its most intense, find my own way of looking at the world being reconfigured.

I think I've mentioned in this Far Place some time back being overcome by Long Day's Journey Into Night in a way I don't think I've ever entirely recovered from. And just lately another play has been having a similar effect on me. I've previously only ever looked at snippets from Pinter in the classroom, bits of The Birthday Party, and I didn't count myself a fan by any means of the erstwhile Nobel Laureate (far less deserving than Dylan, I'd have said.) So I wasn't exactly looking forward to teaching The Homecoming, which I'd only ever read once before and not quite taken in, except for vaguely recognising it as typical Pinter - very Pinteresque indeed, if you know what I mean.

But just a quarter of the way into the play with one group of students, I'm finding myself so entirely consumed by Pinter's vision of things - if that's what it is - that I'm seeing the world as I thought it was through his spectacles and recognising what I've always known but never quite wanted to articulate, until he did it for me. Gosh, I'd love to direct this for the stage. But fat chance, which, in truth, is not such a bad thing in this case.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What Lies Ahead

I tend to think of food as an unalloyed good. It's easy to do that on the receiving end of Noi's cooking. But, of course, it's nothing of the sort. In the developed world over-consumption of the stuff seems to have become a major problem in medical terms, whilst the moral difficulties inherent in the wasting of food in a world where so many folks just don't get enough are sufficient to make any thinking individual ponder - and I'm talking about pondering of the guilty variety.

So it's with a curious sense of relief, a strange gratitude, that I spy fasting month looming ahead. Apart from its other benefits it's become a time for me to ponder positively my relationship with food and its deep, abiding, but troublesome goodness.

And to try and do that bit more for those who don't get enough.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Not Keeping Up

I've been finding a gory fascination in watching events of a political nature transpire in the formerly mighty US of A. Something new, something bewildering, something stunning every day. I remain a believer in the virtues of democracy. But only just.

It's sort of exciting in all the wrong ways.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Getting Academic

Whilst reading The Fireman I've also been making some progress into A. David Moody's biography of everyone's least favourite Modernist poet Ezra Pound. It's garnered some excellent reviews and I can see why, it being vastly superior to Noel Stock's earlier amazingly dull account of Pound's life and poetic career. I've reached 1912 and things are finally hotting up - he's publishing poems that are genuinely worth reading.

I've decided in my dotage to try and take lit crit a bit more seriously and read some reasonably serious stuff. This is a good start. It might just convince me that Pound is more than a particularly clever huckster.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Strong Stuff

Finished The Fireman today. Sustained quality from start to finish. Great ending.

Joe Hill has got all the writerly virtues of his rather more famous father. And one of his vices, if vice it be. He creates characters you really care for, but he ladles on the bonding a bit thick in places. It's pleasant in its way, but a bit gooey and self-indulgent. Some tough editing would work wonders, methinks.

But I feel bad saying anything negative about an excellent, gripping read. Will be looking for more of his stuff before the year is out.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Some Days

Some days are better than others. This particular one wasn't. Some nice moments. Several lows, and business dealings means it's not yet over, despite the late hour. As it stumbles to its close I find myself expecting a call from US regulators about something of which I have zero understanding. Don't ask.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Nothing Much Changes

Was looking back at my diary from 15 years ago. Part of the entry for 11 May 2002 read:

I've just been listening to the Projekct 1 album Live at the Jazz Café. This kind of material requires active listening for engagement. I've been thinking about the links between music and emotion, but my thinking has not got very far. As usual.

Was struck by how little changes. Just yesterday I was thinking about giving the Projekcts a spin soon, reminding myself to choose a time when I would have the freedom to listen hard. And just yesterday I was mulling over just how little original or deep thinking I seem to be capable of.

By the way, my thoughts on music and emotion over fifteen years have not exactly developed in fruitful ways - as far as I can remember them, that is. There's a connection between the two, and it's all pretty mysterious. That's about all I can manage, folks.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Making Something New

Some early blocking rehearsals today for Lady Macbeth. Part of the fascination of initial rehearsals is the way that things I've being hearing in my head for months take on a completely new life and identity when voiced in ways I didn't quite expect. The temptation is to impose my own voices of imagination onto those who don't and can't hear them. This is a temptation to resist, I've discovered over the years.

Making it new is partly about letting it go.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Question Of Value

If prayer had no other value, and I believe it has, its offer of quietude amid the usual vain strife & uproar would make it a commodity beyond price. Fortunately it's not for sale and defies commodification, as do all things of deep worth.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Completely Krazy

Going back a few years, to when I was rediscovering the joys of the comic book, I came to realise the high esteem in which the comic strip Krazy Kat was held, especially in America. I borrowed a collection of Herriman's comic strips from the library at Marine Parade, I think some time in the early years of this century, and certainly found it fascinating even though I wasn't quite on the wavelength required for complete fandom. I suppose a general lack of familiarity had something to do with that.

Today I came across a fascinating article by the extremely gifted cartoonist (if that's what he's regarded as) Chris Ware at the on-line NYRB that might well put me on the wavelength required. I had no idea when I was introduced to his work of the curious racial background of George Herriman, but now I do know I'm very keen to get back to the adventures of his extraordinary Kat. I did get a sense of the strange poetry of the work back then, but I suppose found it as off-putting as it was beguiling. Now I realise I was quite blind (possibly deaf) to the implications of it all.

It's an extraordinarily sad story. Entirely crazy in its way, reflecting on our collective craziness.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Precious Indeed

I'm in one of those strange periods when there's so little time to be really able to listen to music that whatever I listen to sounds very special indeed, even if I've heard it a thousand times before. This morning, for example, I was mixing marking some of my students' work for assessment with VDGG's Pawn Hearts and the old prog warhorse sounded impossibly beguiling and entirely fresh. In the contest between the two, I don't need to tell you which won.

There's a bonus track on the recording I've got of Pawn Hearts, not on the original, which sounds nothing like anything else Pete Hammill and his merry men got up at that stage in their careers. It's a sort of minimalist drone-like piece that I've often thought would sound good as the soundtrack to a dark play. Fittingly entitled Diminution, this morning it sounded utterly revelatory, an absolutely perfect, logical, necessary composition.

Strange what marking can do for your ears.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Good Companions

Enjoyed a very jolly evening with a number of our erstwhile companions on last year's Hajj. Replayed a number of extremely powerful memories. Strange and wonderful how close we came to feel then, and how that feeling has never gone away.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Taking Nothing For Granted

The full results from my health screening are in and I'm quietly celebrating the fact that nothing sinister emerged. In fact, the numbers on my cholesterol levels are an improvement on those of previous years. A steady improvement over five years is worth cheering - as well as being slightly miraculous in view of just how much spectacular baking the Missus has done over that period. Never knew sugar was so healthy.

I can just about remember a time when getting the results of medicals was a sort of routine in which I took it for granted there'd be no problems. Oh for such innocence again.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

On Fire

Mighty glad I decided to get to grips with Joe Hill's The Fireman. I can give it, or any other novel, no higher praise than to say that somehow I've kept reading it at a time when I'm so busy that getting to read anything in a sustained way should be impossible. Am now well into the second half and desperate to know how events will play out. Blisteringly good. Hah!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Not A Political Animal

Some of my students were asking me today which way I would vote, if I did vote at all, in the UK's forthcoming General Election. It struck me that, though deeply concerned with the political future of my nation, I wasn't at all sure there was any party I would cast a vote for at this point in time with any degree of enthusiasm.

This sense of being out of things reminded me of something I realised about myself at university. I knew then that, though some aspects of my personality were sort of suited to dabbling in politics of some variety, I had absolutely no inclination to be involved in any kind of political activity. In recent times I've come to mildly regret not even contributing to what might broadly be termed Civil Society, but it is just a mild regret. Some part of me knows that I did the right thing, even if it was wrong.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

On The Mend

I tried to phone John a few times yesterday to wish him a happy birthday but couldn't get through. So it was something of a relief to chat to him earlier this evening. He's reached the grand and unlikely old age of eighty and you always wonder if there's something wrong when you phone people of that vintage and get no reply.

In fact, all the news at that end sounds good. Maureen had been having a lot of trouble with her eyes, on top of her other problems, but it seems there's good progress on that front. Back in December it looked as if everything was going depressingly downhill in a hurry on Lord Derby Road. A change of direction for the better is deeply unexpected and deeply satisfying.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Sky At Night

Popped out just now with Noi to take delivery of a couple of suitcases being returned to find myself, indeed ourselves, exposed to a particularly lovely crescent moon and a clear night sky studded with stars of the faintly twinkling variety. I don't think I'd have really noticed it all, having several work-related matters in my head, but Noi pointed out how splendid it all was and, as ever, she was not wrong. In matters of beauty she never is.

I had the good sense to soak it all in for a minute or so, wishing for a little less light pollution, but savouring the minute or so nonetheless. (Note to self: must get up again to the west coast of Malaysia, around Mersing, where the night skies are spectacularly natural.) The immensity of it all helped engender that remarkably emancipating sense of un-immensity that's so useful in lending one a sense of proportion. Isn't it great to be so little, so entirely unimportant in the great scheme of things?