Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.

Writing is difficult

Writing is difficult. Writing is artificial. As are learning the alphabet and reading. Writing, reading and learning the alphabet cannot be learned overnight. Contrariwise, we can sing in our sleep. All these acquired skills are drummed into us as children. Laboriously repeating sounds that approximate to the vowels  and consonants. On the wall even the blindest could are boxes drawn to contain and A and a, with an apple beside. B and b have box. C and c a cat, and so forth to encompass all 26 letters of the English alphabet, itself a combination of those first two letters. And move later to pronouncing well, so that our follow speakers can understand us. “The rain in Spain … ” where it hardly ever rains. Later in our education we may learn the art of rhetoric. To intone and sound wise, and clever, even if dull of brain and slow of wit.

Reading is acquired thorough rote. We start with the simplest. “The cat …” though in our house she never does. She never sits but lies on the couch and looks at us lesser creatures with a feline disdain. Again and again we go through passages. Again and again , until some sense is got from the insensible, incompressible words, which we are told are sentences. And so on until at some point this stops. Thank God for that. The equivalent of walking without the aid of a parent to hold our hand. Though my reading teacher at school, I don’t know about yours, would rasp at us, a sound we never could produce, and expel sounds that well conveyed her thoughts of our efforts.

Writing was worth. You lived through absolute hell if you were left handed. And malformed letter earned you, an undeserved – for writing is difficult, and there is no other way to teach it than force feeding a liver goose – a rap on the knuckles.

Having acquired all these, we are now called literate. Societies that don’t have these skills, have no writing system, are viewed as incivilized, especially if they run around in loin cloths, or, horror upon horror, naked. Though, in this state we are all born.

Depots in the earliest of times, when we first began to cultivate our crops, grabbed power and exhorted from us part of that harvest, or maybe not a part, but close to a whole, and wished to count this hoard of misbegotten goods so as to ensure that all held in thrall by his magical powers paid up or forfeited land or life, for was not religion, the mysteries, formulated to ensure the legitimacy of this self-appointed man – they were all men – the famous despotic women (they were sugbjugating naughty and nasty men who plotted and canived to kill them (and who of us would not, if we had the means at our disposal, seek to protect and save our lives?)) came later  – women nurture mankind, not enslave, maim and kill them.

Besides keeping track of who had paid his dues or not, the top of the heap head had to guard against theft, and the menace of nature; rodent, rain, or ruin.

To exhalt his stature, to have all comers bow and kiss his unwashed feet, he developed writing so that his laws of rule could endure for eternity, his fame ensured for centuries ahead.

Music, singing and speaking are not like this. They are natural. As does the bird fly, or the  fish swim. Language was learned from the moment out of the mother’s womb and maybe before. Children barely need to be taught. The arts too, visual, plastic and solid are also innate. Nature build them into us.

All these are as natural to us as is the skin that enwraps us. Not so writing. Writing is difficult.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017




Filed under: Arts, Culture, Media, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories


But do not be fooled. Good writing that satisfies most, meets even the exactitudes of the most scrupulous of guardians of what passes as that with the greatest excellence in the country of its origins, employs only the plainest of prose.

This is hard got, and requires the polishing even a French furniture maker, cutting and seemlessly fitting marquette, does not know. This labour is held from public view. The seven, tens of attempts even, burned to not betray what sweat and anxiety the writer gave to creating smooth, even silky, words upon a page.

The result seems to the reader to be effortless. The story slips off the page to be sipped by the eyes and reader’s brain with more savouring than the best of wines.

For such a writer never employs artifice. Gilt cannot cover gold.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017

Filed under: Culture

That line

“That line is beautiful,” says Jack, an artist at the McNay Institute where I am taking a life drawing class. I am also taking a paiting class in the afternoons at the same instiute led by Jack’s wife, Amy.

This is my first class and Jack has had us draw sketches of no more than 10 – 15 seconds at a time; the model moves to this synchronicity with only pauses in between. In such a brief period you only get some smudged marks on the paper before you rip off a new sheet to scurry through the next pose.

I am here in San Antonio, where the McNay is and where a lot of Spanish Colonial architecture, much of it in ruins and the rest decrepit, stands stark white in the Texas summer sun. The city stands bestride the San Antonio River. The Riverwalk is the central feature here; that and the Alamo, draw Americans from all over the subcontinent.

Walking with my younger brother along the river bank, he tells me that the city has  poured millions into the river. I gaze at its brown turgid, achingly slow surface, a deep, sad brown, and wonder what he is talking about. I don’t see millions. This river is no crystal clear stream. Later I realise that the millions have gone into the creation of the banks and scenery bordered along its length by tourists traps, in faux Spanish style, and Mexican food shacks. I eat one lunchtime at the more respectible looking of these establishments. The food is a sort of pultrid grey colour on a sad-looking flat bread called a taco. The taste is awful. I imagine that used oil from a car after its oil change would taste better. I feel as if there is a hole in my mouth. Dead flesh might taste better. The excresion stays with me, refusing to budge right up until I go to sleep. When I wake in the morning the foul taste has gone. I relax in sheer relief. No more home grown taco for me from now on. I eat safe American versions of English and European foods, some it fast, as it escapes the loving hands of a careful, knowledgeable chef, to escape into a paper wrap in order to quicken the ringing of the till.

I am here to visit my favourite brother. It is 1977. He has invited me to visit and I am on now on vacation, he is working and not taking time off. I, therefore, have the days to myself, meeting him most evenings and sometimes with his wife, a rigid stick of a woman, good looking in a frail, wan way, with lacquered hair so still it would support and elephant were such a beast to walk on it. They had met in Ireland, each on holiday. He flies out be with her soon after, such is it to be smitten with love at first sight. They do not look happy together and she spends most of her time with us, looking away off to a sad, dark place. I seldom visit the house and my brother is relaxed and happy to be with me when not in her company.

For me, I have a ball. Every kind of place of interest to me I visit. To newspaper of which there were a few – they have now shrunk to one – and talk to journalists and editors, to radio stations, even DJ deep into the night at one of them. Comercial radio stations are strange things to me, coming from countries which at the time possessed only government controlled radio, BBC, with cotton gloves in Britain,and the SABC with an iron fist. I take piano lessons with a local teacher, wife of a dentist, and practice at the student music department facilities at a university I have adopted as an intellectual home.

I am here for four weeks and feel set free from my life and toils as an engineer among plebian fellows who eschew the arts, viewing them as something only for fancy pants. I don’t tell them of my activities outside work. I don’t dare. I don’t want to be seen as something effete.

I am in my element, a fine fish among the waters of my kind. My curiosity knows no limits as I explore these delightful waters in which I wish to spend my life swimming but seem forbidden to me, only available after work hours.  An impenetrable, invisible barrier locks me out of what I love most.

And then there are those glorious, sumptuous lessons at the McNay. What Jack told me; there is no greater praise possible in recognition of a students talents from an art teacher But I am no art student, only one who longs to be.

As I walk out of class, out into the flat, bright, whiter than white, flat light, I am joined my a girl. I had not noticed her in class. I sense sycophancy. She is only alongside me because of what Jack told me, my intuition tells me. I am modest man, unassuming and am deeply moved by the praise, but it sits easy with me. I feel good but I am embarrassed by this gushing hanger on. I shun her.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017

Filed under: Culture


I arrive late for a meeting with a client in Nelspruit as it was called then, This is a no no in business, particularly in engineering. As the client face to the company I work for at this pointing my life, arriving late is bad practice and does not impress those with whom the company is doing business. I am habitually punctual, a habit I have had all my life. The flight is 40 to 50 minutes from Johannesburg, but a long, boring drive on the flat Highvelt, some 1500 feet above sea level. This is a new client and I have not met my counterpart before. I have been expected at 7.30 am and it was now 12.30 pm. The client meets me off the plane and does not look pleased, but says nothing, and we exchange pleasantries. I am good at my job and clients like me, and get on well with me, knowing me to be competent and attentive to their needs. He proves to be no exception.

When I tell my story as to why I am so late, the client’s shoulders lower and he smiles in understanding.

I had risen at 3.30 am in good time for a shower and a drive to the airport for the first flight of the day. I arrive at the airport a little before the plane I am to catch is due to fly out. The airport I go to is close to the edge of the city to the East, and an easy drive at that time of the morning. The plane that flies to Nelspruit is a small commuter aircraft seating maybe 12 passengers. I imagine that it will fly from this airport which is small and houses small private and business aircraft. This is where logically a small commuter aircraft would take off from.

There is nothing around. The tarmac is empty. Lights blare, doleful in the still dark morning. bored with their mandated duty. I find some flight mechanics working on a single seater, and ask them about the 6.30 flight. “Oh no,” they tell me in chorus, “That flight is at Jan Smuts.” Jan Smuts, the international airport to Johannesburg, is at least an hour’s drive far to the North, and the next flight is at 11.30.

I don’t think I have ever felt so foolish in my life.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017

Filed under: history, Media, Memoir, stories

Looking for Mr Goodbar … but not finding him

I have many wonderful stories to tell of my time in South Africa, none, as far as recall, recounted in this blog.

At the time, South Africa was under the jackboot of Aparteid. While not draconian, many laws and restrictions applied. There was a paranoia on the part of a certain sector of the population.

One expression of the ruling party was censorship. A sort of keeping the house clean and a reflection of the attitides of the Dutch Reformed Church. The Afrikaner community, the paranoids  I should add, were locked a puritan version of the Dutch past of which they were a farming settling group, who detested the more tolerance attitudes on the part of the English colonisers. Any resemblance between these Uitlanders and the modern Dutch state was, and is, distant.

During the course of my study of music at the University of the Witwatersrand, I formed friendships with many of the girls, young women, who were studying in the Music Department – there were few men. These students were a happy bunch, full of enthusiasm as women of that age are – young men don’t match it –  and loving the substance of what they had ad  of their future careers. They made wonderful friends in groups or as individuals and delightful companions.

A film just released was banned at the time when it came out by the puritan government, Looking for Mr Goodbar. For some obscure reason I was attracted to the idea of seeing the film. Its being out of reach, I suppose. Botswana, a much more advanced neighbouring country, was much more tolerant than the country abutting its border. Blacks and whites lived in harmony there without the non segregation and miscegenation laws put in place by their fearful white settlers next door. Botswana is among few countries in the world which had a British presence and yet were not colonists of. The country was ruled at the time by a benign leader, Seretse Khama – other views may be held on this man but his fellow countrymen admired and liked him.

I had travelled, and did afterwards, to Botswana in the course of my duties as an engineer. I found the place more relaxed that the country I lived and worked in. Flying in on a two seat private plane to Gaborone one immediately becomes aware of this land having little in the way of cultivatable soil.

So, with the film showing in the capital and it being a four or five hour drive from Johannesburg, I formulated the idea of going and attending a performance of the film. Five of my music students were excited at the idea of going, and one afternoon we piled into my car and off we went. Laughter and exuberance filled the vehicle though it was a little crowded. This may have contributed to the atmosphere. Gaborone seemed a long drive from Johannesburg since the roads are almost empty and we’re driving through the monotony of the maize fields which run up to border of Botswana. The formalities at the custom post are cursory and we sail through. It is now night and the town poorly lit.

The cinema is located on the edge of the town and is attended by few of the locals. We line up for tickets behaving more like school children than adult students at one of the most prestigious universities on the continent (the other is the University of Cape Town.)
We get to the ticket taker at the door. The girls are allowed in but he bars the way to me.

“You need a necktie to get in,” he says in English, obviously learned in the cradle (the English have left some mark behind.)

No local would dream of wearing a tie in Botswana. The country is hot and made worse by its being largely desert. A search for a tie will be a fruitless endevour. My friends look disappointed but all pile in filled with excitement.

I hang out in the bar of a local hotel until the film is finished – I barely drank alcohol, I don’t drink any now. The time ’til the film finished seem endless. There was nobody in the bar, the barman absent most of the time, there being no customers to serve. I am drinking Heineken, a Dutch imported beer, South African Brewers’ products not being to my liking.

Soon enough, no, after a drug-out hour and a half or two, the women appear. Their dememour seems normal. The film seems to have neither excited nor disappointed them.  We drove home in a quieter atmosphere than had been the case on the outward journey but still comfortable, relaxed, even intimate, as it is among good friends. The film was not discussed.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Culture, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories

The Alternative – John Peel on BBC World Service 15 August, 2003

The Alternative – John Peel on BBC World Service 15 August, 2003

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Media, Music, poetry, songs, stories

A Curious Experience in Our Local Bookstore

On Thursday last I had a curious experience at Brazos Bookstore on Bissonet. Brazos is the sole remaining bookshop in the city. I had gone there to order a book, Rudiments of Music (de Stewart Macpherson (Auteur), Anthony Payne (Sous la direction de) Stainer & Bell Ltd; Édition : 3rd Revised edition (novembre 1969), to brush up on my musical reading and writing which have been long locked within me. I would rather give them my custom than order online.

I had a wee chat with Benjamin Rybeck, the store’s long time manager. – I like him a lot – to assure myself that the store was not going the path of twee arts bookshops. The one at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is deplorable. Few books, many stupid trinkets. That an art museum sells these sort of junk, well …

Ben assured me that the non book stuff was a minor part of the store’s business. In my view it is not worthy of being carried by a respectable bookshop. The sort of thing you get in a stationary. He tells me that Brazos is expanding the amount of fiction shelves, music to my ears. I read, apart from  non fiction, literature from Eastern Europe, the former Yugoslavian states, and Russia and its former client states. Despite the fall of Communism now being firmly in the past, the younger generation is still held by its grip on their society and culture. Strange. A central reasons for reading this literature is that it takes me out of our immediate surrounds, and is intrinsically interesting. But more importantly, it is not domestic fiction of which I have had my fill. By domestic, I mean some book set within the US or the UK. The writing of such books, even if written by supposedly good writers, is, for the most part, poorly written. The setting within which the book is placed does not excite the writer and the book is therefore mundane. Never do any writers in either country concern themselves with the issues we face, issues which matter.

It took an Indian writer in his most recent book, his name is missing in my mind (Climate change with Amitav Ghosh and Aaron Thier – books podcast) for the moment, to write within a fiction frame about Global Warming and was castigated for it in many book reviews of his work. The cheek!

But back to Ben. Ben knows well my taste, I am in there once a week and have gone there for decades, and, on this occasion, he was showing me new publishers who carry the kind of work I like.

I suppose he may be offended should he read this column, so I shall try to put on my best Sunday suit in writing what follows. 

He picks up a book and flourishes it at me, The Sadness, his first published book, he tells me. The book is set in Portland, Maine, a fine city I understand.

I purchase it. After all, does one not wish to support a fellow writer whom one knows?

“You won’t like it,” he says as I am getting ready to leave.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Culture, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

Kırım Kilisesi Konseri – On Your Horizon, Aralık 2012, İstanbul

Kırım Kilisesi Konseri – On Your Horizon

İstanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi İletişim Fakültesi Medya Bölümü Dersi SoundPicnic kapsamında gerçekleşen, On Your Horizon grubunun Kırım Klisesi konseri.


Yönetmen; Mert Kutluk
Yapım:Oğuz Yenen
Kamera; Efe Koç / Hazal Kara / Selçuk Erzurumlu / Deniz Dilcioğlu
Kurgu; Mert Kutluk
Color Correction; Efe Koç
Ses Miksaj; Tolga Böyük / Meltem Yazar
Prodüksiyon; Sound Picnic 2012 Term 1

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Media, Music, poetry, songs, stories

Invitation to Guest Write on this Blog

I would like to extend an invitation to readers and followers of Towards Better Democracy to guest write on the blog. The problem is that few will read this post so I may have to repeat this invitation in future posts.

The topic can be anything within the ambit of what the blog posts. The exchange between a potential guest and the writer would take place on Drop Box which is easy to use. The folder containing guest writer and myself would be locked with access only to the two parties. 

The writer retains the right to edit the piece or refuse the piece but would not change the spirit of it. The guest piece can be of any length within reason. The guest will retain copyright of the piece and it can be something already posted on the guest’s blog. The guest may call for anonymity but should provide, whether identified or not, a short three to four line bio on themselves where they reside, country only.

Starting point will be the comments column where a potential guest can express interest.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017





Filed under: Arts, Book Review, Culture, history, Internet threats, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories

Elskavon – Release

Elskavon – Release

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Media, Music, poetry, songs, stories

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