Towards Better Democracy

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

Too soon a loss

“La cité sans nom” est le titre d’une nouvelle de HP Lovecraft, qui fait référence au monstrueux caché, à la peur indicible que suggère la mythologie de l’auteur. pourtant, de la crainte de la nouvelle de Lovecraft, l’auditeur n’en sent pas les effets dans la pièce éponyme du disque de Fausto Romitelli, la plus longue de cet ensemble de cinq morceaux. Tout baigne dans une atmosphère que j’ai trouvé douce et qui fait la part belle au beau son. Tout ceci est purement subjectif car ce qui est beau pour les uns est inécoutable pour les autres mais j’ai retrouvé avec ce disque les sensations que j’avais eues en écoutant les oeuvres de Tristan Murail et surtout Gérard Grisey, têtes de pont de la musique spectrale à laquelle Fausto Romitelli n’est pas insensible.

Difficile de parler de la musique de Romitelli lorsqu’on n’est pas musicien et que les mots techniques manquent mais j’y ai trouvé du plaisir car sa musique, aussi étrange soit-elle, décrasse les oreilles de toutes les scories que l’on peut entendre au quotidien : musique complexe qui nécessite une bonne qualité d’écoute, musique truffée de détails sonores, musique ample. Ceux qui connaissent le groupe musical “Art Zoyd” (qui a contribué à la pièce “Flowing down too slow” et dont j’ai si souvent le disque Les Espaces Inquiets:Phase VI il y a plus de vingt ans) ne seront pas déroutés par les pièces de Romitelli.

Une occasion de découvrir un musicien trop tôt disparu à l’âge de 41 ans.

“The nameless city” is the title of a short story by HP Lovecraft, which refers to the hidden monstrous, the unspeakable fear suggested by the mythology of the author. However, from the fear of Lovecraft’s news, the listener does not feel the effects in the eponymous play of Fausto Romitelli’s disc, the longest of this five-piece set. Everything is bathed in an atmosphere that I found sweet and which makes the good part to the beautiful sound. All this is purely subjective because what is beautiful for some is unavoidable for others but I found with this record the sensations I had had while listening to the works of Tristan Murail and especially Gérard Grisey, bridgeheads of the Spectral music to which Fausto Romitelli is not insensitive.

It’s hard to talk about Romitelli’s music when you’re not a musician and the technical words are missing, but I found pleasure in it because his music, strange as it may be, eases the ears of all the slag, You can hear every day: complex music that requires a good quality of listening, music full of sound details, ample music. Those who know the musical group “Art Zoyd” (who contributed to the play “Flowing down too slow” and of which I have so often the disc Les Espaces Inquiets: Phase VI more than twenty years ago) will not be disturbed By Romitelli’s plays.

An opportunity to discover a musician too soon disappeared at the age of 41 years.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 19 August, 2017


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

I exist, don’t I?

Periods of great turbulence often lead to rash encounters, with the result that I’ve never felt like a legitimate son, much less an heir.

Patrick Modiano, Pedigree, a Memoir.


“Who am I, Dad?”

“Well, you’re a boy.”

“But suppose I were a girl?”

“Strictly speaking, you can’t be.”

“But suppose I were?”

“You would have to be like your sister.”

“Suppose I were neither.”

“You would likely have troubles ahead, were that true.”

“I better stay a boy, then.”

“That’s right, son. That’s best.”

The above dialogue of mine captures within a few sentences the essence of what many of the novels and short stories I have read in recent times concern themselves with. The question of identity All of them have been European. The phenomena is worth exploring in greater depths than the present essay attempts to do. In brief  there are many aspects to this question of identity and of the questioning by a speaker of their existence.

I suppose that those of us who have had troubled childhoods, like Modiano, find that the experiences from those childhoods stay with us life long and set us apart from others who do not have the knowledge of what is to be the product of an unhappy childhood. There is merit in this, though. Just as Patrick Modiano illustrates in the quotation at the head of this essay, those us with such a background have stories to tell. The book that this particular quotation comes from is, as his title states, a memoir. Nevertheless, Modiano has told mostly stories. In fact, he as spent his life writing them.

As he says of this particular book, he couldn’t write an autobiography. (It is episodic rather than a continuous narrative.) I don’t think I could either. My memory blocks both the pain of childhood and of the accompanying difficulty, or impossibility, of functioning properly as an adult since that time .

I have not known of Modiano’s work previously. His books have not much over the years been translated into English. I understand, though, he has had a coterie who have read him assiduously despite that. For some reason he is now hitting the book shops, not unconnected, no doubt, with the fact that, in 2014, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. There are four titles of his on the shelves of my local independent bookstore, from no less than three publishers. This particular title is seeing the light of day in English ten years after being published in French.

I had recently purchased a book of Guatier’s poetry, bilingual thankfully, published in a series by Yale, The Margellos World Republic of Letters, and somewhat desultorily was searching their site to find other books in this particular series and stumbled over this memoir of Modiano’s,  with its startling observation on the first page, quoted above. You can’t possibly read such a quotation without going out right away to get the book.

Modiano and I have a similar background by way of childhood experience. Only the incidentals differ from any kind of accordance. He was born, as I was, in 1945. His parents met during the war which leads him to make the observation he does. He began writing in 1968, four years after I left high school. Our backgrounds could not be more different though, quite apart from him being French and me English, or British, whatever that means.

What drives me to write is the realisation, something along the lines of what Tolstoy wrote, that all happy families have the same story to tell, and unhappy families each have a different story to relate. I think of Dirk Bogart’s memoirs (A Postillion Struck by Lightning, 1977, among others) which appears to be filled with a happy upbringing, and a largely happy life. Kenneth Clark, based on his biographies (Another Part of the Wood (1974) and The Other Half, 1977) seems to me to have also had such a life. With no disrespect to either individual, they each appear to have only one story to tell.

Writers such as Modiano have a host of stories to tell as witness his large output; some thirty works. What propels this ability to tell other people’s stories I can’t say without some reflection. Of course, these stories are fictional. But they have to be based on what the writer has observed. Perhaps the humility which comes from the very experiences they have had as children shapes their outlook on life; to see others, to see the suffering of others, from whatever perspective they choose.

In reviewing and reflecting, on the lives of the writers I have known through my reading of them, I am struck by the extraordinary number of them who have led troubled lives and, perhaps more importantly, the sheer number of them who committed suicide. This appears to be true whether one looks at US, UK or European authors. How such writers wrote from the depth of pain that they clearly felt on a daily basis quite eludes me. The psychology of the drive to express their lives through the written word and through the doings and peccadilloes of the characters they created is certainly worth studying. And driven to write the overwhelming majority of them clearly were.

This is not to say that only troubled people write, though, truth to tell, most people who are troubled don’t write.

Do we ever know the lives of others? Of those around us who patently lead distressed lives? However much we listen to such people, what comes out of their mouths or is emoted by their behaviour, does in no way lead us to have any insight to their internal selves. Those lives are remote and removed from us. We, each of us, is only aware of our own inner landscape.

I cannot report other kinds of creative artists. I can only speak of writers because it is they whom I know best.

The value to us in our modern age is reading of the inner lives of others. I guess that, among other reasons for valuing the work of writers, is their ability, unique ability, to write so authentically on the inner life the characters they create. No other medium does this. This might be termed the preoccupation of the angst that appears to be attendant to our times, at least since the end of the First World War, if not slightly before that.

Modiano’s particular preoccupation appears to be with identity. This is surely a vexed phenomena, this question of who we are in relation to the external world. Certainly, writers in previous eras have given us internal monologues. But these almost always were, or are, running commentaries on what that character observed or heard. This device was supposed to tell of the character of mostly the protagonist. Even that approach to writing has been relatively recent given the aeons over which the writing of people on the page has existed. The greatest part of the history of fiction, and one would also have to include tales such as those written by Homer and his like, have been external to the characters. One does not have access to their inner lives, other than what they say. I mean it is unlikely that, whoever the original story teller was, witnessed what he or she wrote of.

Throughout that long history the greatest concern has been with plot. Who did what to whom. And many writers continue to write in this mode.

However, the writers most venerated in our time are those whose works are all  but plotless. Those books that might have no other character than some invisible speaker, or simply a stream of consciousness reported by an omniscient observer. An interminable river of thoughts, if that is what they are. One wonders if such works would be possible were it not for Freud. It has to be said, that were we to go sit on a mountain top and to live away from what we laughingly call society in a sort of backwoodsman’s kind of life, I doubt that we would have any identity crisis at all. One does not read of such people taking their own lives. Perhaps such lives force externalisation. In cities though, especially the major cities, this existential crisis seems to be something of a common occurrence.

So how is that writers such as Patrick Modiano can write so successfully of the internal lives of their characters? Is it a matter of projection of their own internal lives? But that can’t be. Those of us who live in maelstroms have little insight into ourselves. We simply try to survive each day. Some more successfully than others. And stay at home, lying in bed when it gets too bad. It is said that writing is a gift. That you can either write or you can’t. There is nothing in between. I suppose there are bad writers. Heaven knows I have read enough of them. Or, at least, tried to stay away from them most of the time.

Writing often speaks of a felt sense. How this can be taught to others?. Perhaps writing courses are sort of feel good communities. An Alcoholic’s Anonymous for those addicted to the vain and difficult world of trying to write. And it is difficult. Writers such as Modiano only make it appear easy. It is said to be a craft. And that may be the best that can be said of it. What drives a writer like our subject will likely remain a mystery. One thinks of Colette who knew from the age of eight that she would be a writer.

Much that fascinates us cannot be answered: the why, the how. So, the product of writers like Patrick Modiano may fascinate. Understanding how that world is created may always elude us. That doesn’t stop us trying. Whole industries of academics exist to attempt to answer such questions and churn out endlessly, year after year, turgid, impenetrable tracts read only by their fellow industrialists.

The rest of us prefer to read the real thing. The work itself rather that essays about the book, like this one. We would rather continue to be fascinated. After all, I exist, don’t I?

Malcolm D B Munro
Thursday 10 November, 2015

Filed under: Arts, Book Review, Current Events, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

Mastering a craft

I thought to share my musical journey within the pages of this blog. I can’t say that I shall do this regularly; I strikes me in doing so that several stones are killed with one bird. I get to develop my writings skills, it helps reinforce what I am learning, doing; it makes real the process itself, and, who knows, may inspire or encourage others. And, as the title of the post notes, I don’t think this is restricted to music, for those of you who look for relevance in them, the posts, which will be the topic of these posts.

I cannot promise that I will not be repetitive, redundant. Nowhere, I tell people around me, does it say in my contract as a human being that I have to be perfect, nor will I even try. Rather, the effort is to master the craft. Besides, few readers will have, or will follow every post on this subject. And so such imperfections will help bridge the gap between one of their readings and another. Or they might.

Again, the detectives among you who have, with eye glass in hand, followed with patience the strivings of this writer to write with clarity and precision, and often failing along the way, will recall that in South Africa, where I lived from January 1973, actually the first, until May of 1984 at which point I came to this benighted country to join a brother, that I studies music in its various forms; piano, singing, theory, history, at a time in my life when I was deeply depressed. This meant, as previously noted, that I failed to make any progress. 

But, and here is the rub. I retain all I learnt. Naturally, the knowledge and skills lie within me and have to be brought out of the closet and practiced brushed up.

To that end I am studying How to … Read Music by Mark Phillips. I have gobbled up the contents. it is all of 77 pages. I have Rudiments of Music on order from Brazos, my favourite bookshop, but that will take some time to arrive.

I never, ever make notes in the books I read – a story as to why told perhaps at another time. But with this book I am scribbling all over it. At a furious pace.

So I thought to share with you what I wrote on the title page inside a box I drew there. Actually I wandered out of the box, but that is the nature of the artist is it not.

What I wrote is:

At the end of the day, or its beginning, it is the  bond that is formed between the keyboard and the player that matters most, No knowledge or playing ability is a substitute for this. Without this bond, the playing will be lifeless and ultimately unlistenable to.

It follows, therefore, that bad playing, missed notes, hesitations in rhythm, will be forgiven and might even add charm to the performance. No audience for whatever form of music wishes it to be perfect. What, I think matters to them, is the passion and concentration the player brings to the playing, and a deep feeling for the music being played. That surely will have the audience leave having enjoyed the perromance and feeling that the concert or performance was well worthwhile attending. And might even have them wish to attend at a future date a performance by the same player.

Now, as I have previously said elsewhere, I have no pretentious of being a performer. To think for one moment that I can master the requirements of playing the piano, my preferred and favourite instrument, is beyond any realistic goal. The practice alone removes any possibility of that. And that is not what I am pursuing; my pursuit rather is to master the craft and gain more than enough knowledge required to compose in a manner sufficient at least to allow those who review my work and pronounce on it, and those who are tasked or choose to perform it, to understand the Dickens it is that I am saying in musical form.

And all these words, all this knowledge gained ,will be utterly useless should I not have the musical ability to at least match my ambitions. But such a thing is in God’s hand. I come with as little or as much as I have. It is for me to turn that ability into something which gives others pleasure. It matters not whether the results be simple or highly acclamed. Simple is what most people remember best of a piece of music. Complex, it seems to me, is reserved for resident composers on a sinecure at some campus somewhere.

Going back to the question of the relationship of the performer to the keyboard, and the audiences tolerance for infelicities, there is no substitute for rehearsal. For you had better know what you are doing. You cannot mix a cake in front of an audience, when you have promised, and they have paid, to watch you bake it.

So it is with a composer. It surely behoves the composer to present his work in a sufficiently form that the intended plays understand what it is he or she is trying to convey. That is the rehearsal required of those who step onto this path. The finished score must be what these pages are not,  letter perfect.

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 14 August, 2017

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

Dean Village then

The Dean Village does not resemble the Dean Village of my youth. Youth? Well, when I was five or six.

There was a channel sluced from the Waters of Leith, the port to the north of Edinburgh, on the coast of the wide Firth of Forth. The channel supplied water to a tannery to the back of the hollow in which the village still sits. The tannery was comprised of a three or four story warehouse, or workplace, with windows with no glass in them. An opening in the face of it had a rope hoist to lower the completed leather to some transport to take it away below. I never saw a horse or truck do this but I suppose they did or how else did they goods get to market, wherever that was. The sheep skins would arrive I don’t know by what means, and be scraped in the open. I suppose this was in the morning. I only was in the village after school. The tannery gave off a very particular smell though I am glad to have forgotten how it smelt,

The tanners wore long leather aprons and frowned in concentration of their work. Burly men they were as so befits hefty work. They ignored us children, flies upon the scape.

In front of the tannery, where we played, was a patch of earth, littered with broken bottles and other detritus of human waste. What purpose this land had served I never knew nor wondered.

A tenement rose to the north of this surly patch of land, across the cobbled road, the common surface for roads then in Edinburgh, properly called sets, from Aberdeen, no doubt, Granite City by nickname, Edinburgh’s was Auld Reeky, It is not that now, pristine in its stone faced buildings, the pride of any city to be so bequeathed.

The road ran down and up out of the village to join more major roads at either end. The road we used came to an end at the village’s lowest point. Alongside this road to its north  was a public bath building, Drumshugh Baths, which may be mentioned in a future post (don’t hold your breath) and to the south, a depository for the King’s Theatre, both of which feature, each in their own way, in my childhood growing up in Edinburgh. 

High above the theatre depository, which contained decades of sets never likely to be used again but kept just in case, ran Rothesay Terrace where my home at the time was.

On the other road, the one that goes in and out of the Dean Village, to its south, was the Dean School. This was my earliest school which, too, has for me its own memories. This is where I learn reading, writing and ‘arithmetic.

The centre of this story is, however, the what would be now referred to as a slum tenement. I never entered this building but befriended a girl who lived lived there with her sister whom I met but didn’t like. Margaret was the centre of my female attractions. Well, besides one other in the Dean Village but no mention of her will be made here.

I never met any others of Margaret’s family nor did she ever make any mention of them. I seem to remember a smaller brother. But likely he was too young an age for me to pay attention to.

On the naked patch of soil we, a group of riotous boys of age similar or older than me, would invent games and throw bottles at each other. or put squibs in them and run away. Squibs, for those who don’t know, are miniature sticks of dynamite which have a blue paper twist atop a cardboard cylinder in which the gunpowder was housed. Well, I think it was gunpowder, though, to me now that seems dangerous to the extreme. These implements of the greatest noise and least harm could be bought all year round at any  newspaper store – there were hundreds then in Edinburgh. The purpose of these otherwise lethal explosive weapons was to frighten wifeys, which they assuredly did. These worthy souls came out of the tenements to chase us away, with us running like hell, screaming with laughter. Such was the sport and play of our youth.

Margaret was a sullen beast with lowered eyes which, when raised, looked suspiciously around. For what I knew not. She was slovenly dressed in what today would be called rags. She was thin but was cheerful in my presence, and I much enjoyed her company and our conversation. You then did not play with girls and I was unusual as a boy to talk with girls, But may mates never teased me, I don’t know why. Margaret’s sister had a perpetual scowl on her face and never talked. Snot ran unheeded from her nose. Terrible green stuff the like of which I had not seen nor seen since. If this stuff got too far down her face she would, with a snort, suck it into to her mouth. Margaret seemed dainty by comparison.

At some point my parents must have learnt of my meanders and henceforth I was forbidden to go down to the village. I obeyed this stricture and went to Drumsheugh Baths instead, And there I befriended a girl from a very different class from that of Margaret’s.

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 14 August, 2017

Filed under: Arts, Current Events, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

As Nature intended

The heading of this post might be better posed as a question.

A constant preoccupation of mine, alluded to in many previous posts, is the fact that we are not responsible human beings and do not heed those responsibilities to act as we should upon the face of our home, this wondrous planet.

We are the top of the heap of Creation’s creatures. The Chain of Being as in the past put, with no better model being posited since. But we are out of kilter. I have never seen this spoken of anywhere. Should some reader know better, I would be grateful if that reader would point out such a source.

We are a disease. Some fault of us is built in. I do not know why. We have no natural enemies. Except ourselves. We gratuitously starve, main and kill others of our species and steal, rob, plunder and displace others of their settlements. And, even if we do not go so far as that, we speak and act with evil to others. We treat others whom we perceive in ignorance as not being like ourselves in ways we would not treat ourselves. We despoil our home as we would never do our own shelters.

We rush relentlessly forward, perhaps to our own destruction, as we have throughout our history doing greater and greater harm which grows greater and greater every day. We are in denial, a further symptom of our unnatural pathology. Despite the growing evidence, we live only for today and never think of tomorrow and the consequences of what destruction we wreak. We pursue only selfish goals and exterminate all in our path. Were are we going and why? To what purpose? And is any sanity about it?

No person or persons has cried out and been heard, has been listened to, has taken heed of to act in concerted action to right what we so thoughtless do wrong. We adopt a willed blindness and a child’s suspension of disbelief.

We are sentient beings, the greatest gift that could bestowed on us ,yet we squander it in endless futile, senseless ways. We seek to know everything but do nothing wise with the knowledge we gain. That knowledge stands as an ugly monument to our folly.

The only people on the earth who do not act in this way are those left who live and work within their environment and do no harm to it or others. We call them ignorant, uncivilised, as if our way are better than theirs, and justify our way with empty platitudes and seek to make such people desperately unhappy by coercing them into our midst as we google up their land. Or we simply exterminate them to usage our guilt.

We do not own the earth nor any land upon it. The land belongs to all species, ourselves included, to be shared and shared alike. Far less do we have any right to spoil in any way  what in every way belongs to every species, no matter how small or large.

In our minds, that devil’s creation, we are the sole begetters of what we see and live  upon.

Why it is that we stepped out of Natures cycle it is beyond me to know and I don’t think any other has asked.

I am no better than any other to whom I address these remarks, or than any other who may never know of these views. I am sure that how ever just they are, this call will be ignored.

But never mind. I say them, these thoughts, these remarks. and think them to be true. I make a clarion call from among our midst for others to see what I see. I cannot act alone. To go live on a mountain top or its like, would be to deny my responsibilities. And turn my back on what I despair of. My call is to others, for even a few, we can say to others what it means to mend our ways.

But I never lose sight of the fact that I am as destructive in my way as any other of our species. But I do wish, and even hope, for us to do better than we have so far.

Malcolm D B Munro
Monday 14 August, 2017



Filed under: Arts, Current Events, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

Who’s a thinker?

When I set up this blog, Towards Better Democracy, in 2006, I fervently wished for the people of the Middle East to know freedom. Perhaps not in the sense that we know it, necessarily. But in a form that at the very least allowed those people who have only known oppression for, in some cases, thousands of years, an ability to lead their lives such that they were untrammelled by the mad actions and ideas of some tin pot thrusting himself bloodily on the stage of life, dripping with blood as his panoply of power.

But, despite the success of the blog, its fevered discussions in the comments column – you can dig down to the lower levels to see for yourself – and despite the fact that the students of Egypt, having the life of them torn out like so much litter on a sidewalk surely in need of being broadcast to the world – if read by only a few, I quit. In an instant.

One of my followers, a highly intelligent individual who had contributed significantly to the discussions, called me a “Thinker.”

That was it. I turned off the light and stopped writing. There was a long silence until I revived it with my poetry not long ago.

No, I am not a thinker nor ever sought to be. What I wish for I do not have a word for. Modest I am then and am still. I would like to see others take up the torch I hold aloft still. To have people take charge of their lives and not allow others, whoever they are and whatever means they use to take over the minds of their populace, willingly or not, and proletize and spread what I so earnest speak of. Whether I seek to be a spark for that I cannot say. Those who read those columns, posts, where this vital life enhancing need is spoken may think, “Yes, the man has something,” or they may not, the points being made may pass over their heads, or sthey may feel that life is complex enough without taking on something abstract, impossible ideal, however vaunted, perhaps to ever put into effect in real life, or too utopian to ever think that such an idea is achievable given how we are, all are. But this not near true. When the French in 1789, and the Americans before them in 1766, held aloft a spirit, a spirit of the idea that human life, the way that humanity might live, in dimensions hitherto not previously thought of, with the exception perhaps of the Polis of the Ancient Greeks. Have we not always sought, wherever we are on the planet, to be free, truly free in an unadulterated, undiluted way.

What role I seek to play in all this I cannot possibly say. I am driven by a fierce, fierce belief that it is possible, that it takes simply a decision on the part of a sufficient number of people, critical mass if you like, or a group of intellectual, to posit a way that points to how we might achieve this aim, and for it to be sustainable, even over the centuries to come.

The United Nations, a concept itself breathtaking at the time and not much respected in oura, formulated a document which is magnificent in its vision and scope, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Only the Constitution of the United States, even if this is effected more in the breach than on a daily basis. Still it does exist, that proud American document, and the Statue of Liberty, a gift of the French, holds aloft the torch of freedom. This is not mockery but sincerely felt. The vast majority of Americans will tell you so.

Even if the Declaration of Human Rights is barely respected, not even read, maybe not even be known of by people at large, is seen as something impossible to achieve, and even if it is flouted in word and spirit by the members of the United Nations, still it was written, does exist, and, as such sets up the words of what we all, in our billions, might strive to achieve.

I never thought for a moment when I started some nine months ago to post music links, heartened by the response to them, surprised even, that I would be posting a nakedly political musical post. I felt such crosscurrents of irony, of breathlessness, at what I was doing, in this most recent of posts, As Zizek says in the following post in an accent so thick I don’t think I have ever heard its like – I have never heard him before and have not been much drawn to his books – says so rightly, so accurately, Laibach’s visit to North Korea (I was looking for post rock bands in Noth Korea – fat chance), which might have as its power mongers, the most reviled political bunch on the planet, was no regular visit of a Western band visiting the single most closed country in existence, at least at present, nominally Communist. This is no Michel Jarre Concerts in China, the first Western musician to be invited to visit and play in Communist China – one doesn’t quite know what political hue it hews to now – and Jarre was not the first, Isaac Stern was decades before as recorded in From Moa to Mozart, the most inspiring film I have ever seen, that’s more than likely.

I have no wish  to be controversial. The aims espoused by this blog can be voiced in far more moderate terms and thus achieve, one hopes, a far greater effect as a result. Should it never make a difference, I suppose I could say I would like it to. One does not resign but better to fight until death. One at least feels at its end that one has done something worth while.

So, yes, I am not a thinker. And Zizek, whatever one thinks of him, is a thinker. I could never match him. I did not know of him at the time, I recoiled from the label given me which I so much did not want. To have the brain and means of expression that Zizek has, no, I was not given those at birth. A brain such as that required to think in a deep and pellucid way cannot be acquired and the modes of expression, the mark of the thinker, come with the territory of such a mind.

I am simply content to be, to the fullest extent that I can, true to myself and others. I can to more than that.

Malcolm D B Munro
Sunday 13 August, 2017

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

Slavoj Žižek – Laibach in North Korea

Slavoj Žižek – Laibach in North Korea

Malcolm D B Munro
Sunday 13 August, 2017

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


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, Current Events, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, politics, 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, Current Events, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, songs, stories

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