Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Please freeze the time

La Plagne Dec  2013
I feel rather unsettled as another year is ending. Time is definitely moving faster than ever. I am racing through time to finish some of the books I have started reading this month. I am also racing against time in the hope to do more writing in whatever that I started sometime ago amidst my work.  Ideas are scattered.

I remember how one guy I was seeing in my twenties badgered me for not having  a  sense of urgency because in his opinion I had zero sense of urgency and  he was so convincing that I actually felt pretty bad about myself though I had believed then  that  one must go about one’s life  in his or her own time. Now that the sense of urgency is so omnipresent that it is giving me anxiety attacks and causing much distress as  I must  seriously examine what and how I am doing with seemingly endless multitasking and resolve to focus on what I feel really matters.

I know that if something is not right for me, do not ignore the sign or the voices that are telling me so. But the question is how to fix something that is not right and has not been right for a long time. I am still thinking of a way to break out of a habitude and hope to get organized and prioritize what I need to do before things spiral in a manner that is leading towards more disorder and disarray.

I bought Camberwell Beauty written by Jenny Eclair some years back and only got round to reading it last week. Jenny Eclair tells the story of two families who live in South London.

Welcome to  South London, to  one of the nicest streets in one of the country’s vilest boroughs: Lark Groves, SE5.  A determined middle-class oasis of skips and bay trees, where Volvos sniff each other’s bumpers, and men called Giles live with women called Samantha. This is a satellite- dish-free zone of tall houses with big front doors,standing shoulder to shoulder, five floors apiece.Come inside, shut the door and smell the coffee. You could almost be in Kensington.

When Anna and Chris Cunningham  first  moved into the Pink House in the neighbourhood, Josephine Alexandra Travis who is married to Nigel George Metcalf was eager to get to know her new neighbour who was very pretty and very pregnant. Characters like Anna is extremely self-centred and vain. She has a diploma in drama and had nearly been an actress so she ended up doing work in casting.  Jo has always been the kind of woman who is intelligent and capable. At school , she was the head girl and she  continues to try hard to  be a reliable homemaker  and she runs a second hand bookshop that has been bought by Nigel, a phenomenally unfaithful husband. She reasoned why she wanted to befriend Anna: “ Part of wanting to be Anna’s friend was practical; we both had girls around the same age. Useful, you see? A little pal up the road , jolly handy, we mothers can be quite scheming.”

Though the characters are not likeable, the way the story is told has kept me going. The narrations are done by Anna and Jo in first person respectively and also in third person’s voice. 

There are some funny quips.
‘It is only recently that I have realized that the greatest appetite suppressant is abject misery ; Without really trying my waistbands have become loose and I no longer have to lie on the floor to zip up my good Agnés b black trousers’    -  Jo

‘ I am drinking gin today, mother’s ruin. Isn’t it a shame that you can’t edit your life? That’s what I’ve been thinking ; if the last ten years were on tape, I’d just chop out the  bad bits and keep in the good moments. That’s what they do with films, they leave the shit bits on the cutting –room floor...'– Anna

Indeed how wonderful it would be if we could just cut out the bad bits and keep in the good moments only.

Jenny Eclair is observant about contemporary life of  the urban couples . Some of the narrations  are wickedly funny. Voila.

They were all getting older. Age creeps up on you, one day you bend down to tie up your shoe and you find yourself thinking, now is there anything else I can do whilst I’m down here? Women usually fare worse than men in the ageing process, just take a look at the newscasters on the telly. Middle-aged men, despite their spaniel jowls and pink-tie tendencies, manage to achieve some headmasterly gravitas, whilst women of the same age get a faraway, desperate look in their eyes as if they might be about to bolt off to some Caribbean island and marry a twenty- year- old native with a spear and a hundred conch shells around his neck. It’s that ‘last chance’ time.
     Jo thought it might be a good idea to learn conversational Italian. Chris bought himself some golf clubs. Anna began to moisturize her neck and Nigel started taking ginseng and a fungus which he kept in a jam jar in the fridge.

Camberwell Beauty is not like typical chick-lits, its ending is sad and rather upsetting. There are touches of reality in the story. It is true that we cannot edit our lives and often we have to live with the consequences of our actions. As Eclair writes, ‘Some people are luckier than others : they have nicer lives with more things. But luck can run out and whose fault is that ? Fate has a fickle finger, and when you’re least expecting it , she can poke you in the eye.

Jenny Eclair is an English comedian, author and actress and she was born in Kuala Lumpur.  She now lives in South London.  

Park Güell, Barcelona

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Work Smart

On Thursday I attended a meeting held at the land office. There had been some administrative errors that consequently have stalled subsequent  vesting and registrations of various interests in a particular piece of land that involves several landowners. The lawyers concerned were invited to gather at the land office with a view to find an amicable solution. At the end of the meeting, there was no consensus as to the best way to rectify the error.  The property lawyer found efficacy in making a new transfer with the correct description while the litigators were concerned about the costs and stamp fees that their clients might have to bear and possible contingent liabilities. It was apparent that the property lawyers  and the litigation lawyers did not share the same outlook as the former was eager to move forward with registering their clients’ respective interests and the litigation lawyers wanted to safeguard against unclear but possible claims against their clients thus they proposed to make an application to the High Court for the necessary orders which would invariably involve the state legal advisor and the Judge.

The meeting was necessary and not entirely in vain for all intents and purposes just like a lot of other work meetings and consultations. Recently it has dawned upon me that there are those people who work smart and those others  who are opportunistic and if one should lean towards the latter, it connotes that one is inclined to be devious and unprincipled. Quite often truth and lies are almost indistinguishable for subordinates who do not care much about how they perform at work as they just want to carry on with their routines so they can collect their paychecks at the end of each month.

 In  The Room, the novel written by Swedish actor and writer, Jonas Karlsson and translated from Swedish by Neil Smith, Björn is thrilled to discover a small, secret room where he can work in the civilized manner he deserves and his efficiency yields exemplary results but his strange behaviour drives his colleagues to a point of no return. The room might have been a figment of Björn’s imagination as the other colleagues see that he stands by the wall between the lift and the toilets when he tells them there is a room. He asks one of his colleagues about the room. The following extract appears in chapter 23.
        Jörgen, ”  I said. “ I want you to be completely honest now. I want you to tell me what this room is for.”
       “ What room?”
       “ This one,” I said, touching the door with my finger.
        “ There’s the lift,” Jörgen said.”And there are the toilets.”
         “ Mmh, but what about in between them?”
         “ In between? Well ,there’s a recycling bin, if that’s what you mean …”
         “ That’s not what I mean,” I said. “ What’s this room for?”
I slapped my hand on the door, fairly hard. Actually harder than I had expected. I realized that this nonsense was wearing my patience. I had to try to keep a cool head.
   “ Well …” Jörgen said, looking at me.
 I could see that he was extremely uncertain. He was evidently disconcerted at having to talk to me.
“….it’s a wall.”
I glared at him.
“Is that all you’ve got to say?

Jörgen obviously finds Björn weird and yet Björn believes “Whoever was responsible for this deception was on a different level of the hierarchy.”

Here are  some samplings of  the passages from  The Room:
The following passage is from chapter 8
Inhibited people don’t see the world the way it really is. They only see what they themselves want to see. They don’t see the nuances. The little differences.
   A lot of people , more than you’d imagine, think everything’s fine. They’re happy with things the way they are. They don’t see the faults because they’re too lazy to allow themselves to have their everyday routines disturbed. They think that as long as they do their best, everything will work out okay. '

The following passage is from Chapter 33
 On the other hand , it’s good to realize that we aren’t as remarkable as we might imagine. We want to earn a lot , eat well, and generally have a nice time. Listen to the radio sometimes or watch something on television. Read a book or a journal. We want to have good weather and be able to buy cheap food close to home.
 In these terms we are all relatively simple creatures. We dream of finding a more or less pleasant partner, a summer cottage or a time-share on the Costa de Sol. Deep down we just want peace and quiet. A decent dose of easily digested entertainment every now and then.
       Anything more is just vain posturing.

The Room reminds me of The Trial, a novel  by Franz Kafka. Karlsson’s writing is minimalist and easy to read. It is an exhilarating story about how far we will go-in a world ruled by conformity- to live life on our own terms. If we pay attention, everyone of us needs a place or a mode ( physically or metaphorically)  to re- centre ourselves  whenever things overwhelm so as not to be overcome by whatever is happening . 

San Sebastian July 2015