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7 October 2009

Posted by DMC on 7 October 2009 in Diary |

This evening I finished another long Chinese novel – The Brothers by Yu Hua – a strange story apparently shortlisted for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize. Described on the dust cover as a highly spirited comedy of society running amok in modern China, which follows two brothers riding the dizzying rollercoaster of life in the new capitalist world. Well worth a read but not the China I have come to know over the last 10 years, but then this is not surprising considering the rarefied academic society in which I am cocooned, when in China.

My loo book was H.E Bates The Jacaranda Tree, which I’ve also finished. A cracking good tale about Brits in Burma fleeing from the oncoming Japanese during the last war.

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21 November 2009

Posted by DMC on 21 November 2009 in Diary |

To while away the journey to London, yesterday,  I started a new book that my good friend, Dr. Michael Long had sent to me – Tuesdays with Morrie – I finished it this morning. At first sight a strange choice as it charts the death, through MND, of an old professor, the medical side albeit not making very pleasant reading.  However, the book is really much more to do with the relationship of a young student with this professor who helps him to see the world as a more profound place, giving him advice, and guidance, from time to time.  In the last 14 weeks of the professor’s life they discuss a series of profound questions.  I had intended to quote an aphorism from the professor from each of those Tuesdays, which neatly sums up the purpose of the book, the publisher is politely informed me that it is not their policy to allow quotations from any of their publications.

Before the beginning of this year of Tuesday meetings with the student, a feature article was written about  professor, entitled A PROFESSOR’S FINAL COURSE:: HIS OWN DEATH

On the first Tuesday, the professor and student spoke about ‘the World’. Interestingly the thing that concerned the professor more than  anything else was  the day when he could not wipe his own behind,. it was, as he said, the ultimate sign of dependency (This is precisely the same matter which has concerned me more than anything else as can be seen earlier in his blog – and indeed has come to pass these past few days). On a more profound level, on this topic, the professor suggested that the most important thing in life was to give and receive love.

When asked whether he ever  felt sorry for himself the professor agreed that he did sometimes in the morning, when he moved his hands around his body and realized what he had lost. He even admitted to a good cry now and then after which he concentrated on the good things he still had in his life, in particular, the people who  came to see him.

The following week when they spoke about Regrets, in particular secrets that had been kept hidden, the professor suggested it wasn’t it something that everyone worried about?

The fourth Tuesday’s topic was about Death Morrie suggested that we should prepare to die and fall are the Buddhists who ask themselves every day, is this the day I die?; and question whether they are am I ready; have  done everything they need to do and become the person they want to be?

The next topic they discussed was The Family. On this the professor said that everyone needs some foundation in life and that was the family.

This had become clear to him since he had been ill. Without the love and support  from  a family you have nothing.

As each week passed the professor’s physical condition deteriorated and he became totally dependent upon his carers whilst remaining philosophical about his inevitable forthcoming early death. At the sixth  of their weekly meetings  the chosen topic was  Emotions. On this the professor was clear that one should not hold back and not be afraid to go through them and  not be fearful of the pain that it might cause.

By the seventh week Morrie had lost his battle – someone was wiping his behind!

Appropriately, therefore the discussion was about The Fear of Aging, which Morrie said that he actually embraced, rather than feared.  Quite simply if you stay young forever you would always be ignorant. To age was to grow and lead a better life  as a result.

On the eighth Tuesday Morrie was having one of his better days and they spoke about Money and the disillusionment which follows from wanting more and more things; more money; more property and so on the reason for this, the professor suggested, was that these material things where a substitute for love or tenderness or lack off friendship. 

On the ninth Tuesday, after being lifted from his bed, and deposited amongst his books and papers in his study, Morrie typically found something philosophical in this.   and suggested that bed was synonymous with death. He wasn’t worried about being forgotten after he died  because love would keep his memory alive.

On the tenth Tuesday, Mitch Albom, the author introduced his wife to Morrie for first-time.  This inevitably led to a discussion about Marriage. The professor felt that most  young people today found it difficult to form a real loving relationship as today’s culture meant they did not really know themselves and therefore could not know what they wanted in a partner.  Under such circumstances any marriage was almost bound to fail.

By Mitch’s eleventh visit the professor was close to the end and predicted he would die from choking. Nevertheless after having settled him down they spoke of Culture. and the inherent goodness of people, which, Morrie suggested, was only lacking when people found themselves threatened.

Morrie’s take on the twelfth Tuesday was that before you die, first to give yourself and then others.

By the thirteenth Tuesday, as Morrie was in a bad way this lead to a discussion about what he would considered was a perfect day. In the event, it was pretty much doing what he had done when he had been healthy. His morning exercises, a good breakfast, perhaps a swim and lunch with some friends. Then perhaps a walk in the garden, observing nature before an evening meal in a splendid restaurant, dancing the night away.

The following week was Morrie’s last.  He was in a coma for two days and then stopped breathing.

I shall refrain from commenting  on any of the topics discussed between the professor and his student and leave the reader to draw his own conclusions, from my  blog, as to how I would approach such profound issues.  However, I will say this.  The professor was very courageous and accepted his illness without complaint (accept occasionally at night but then, isn’t this the worst time?) He acknowledged all the wonderful things that he had experienced, and all the love that he had received, and was still receiving, right to the very end.  In that regard, despite suffering from the same illness, I did not find the book to be distressing and would recommend it any other MND suffers who might be inspired by the professor’s philosophical acceptance of this insidious disease.

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16 January 2010

Posted by DMC on 16 January 2010 in Diary |

The third day of the fourth test match against South Africa started with the home side being 215 for 2, against England’s abysmal 180 all out yesterday. Our captain,  Strauss, was out first ball which  rather set the tone for the rest of the innings. Then, there was the added complication of the South African opener Smith, clearly being out at 15, and the review umpire failing to notice that he snicked the ball and,  as a result, wrongly failed to give him out. Smith went on to score 105 which may well have sealed England’s fate.

Whilst I was finishing reading a fascinating book entitled Yemen by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, which broadly covered the period that I spent in southern Arabia in the late 50s early 60s, another book arrived, this from my kind brother-in-law, Col. John Garton-Jones. Amazingly, this book was also about the same region and the same time period. This book, Roads to Nowhere – a Southern Arabian Odyssey, was written by an old mutual friend, John Harding, you was a member of the Colonial Administrative Service and acted as an Assistant Political Adviser in the  Eastern Aden Protectorate,  as an administrative officer in Aden and finally as a Political officer in Lahej and Radfan. It really looks an interesting book and I shall enjoy reliving old times through its pages.(My lavatory book at present is a tiny volume by Alan Bennett, Clothes They Stood up in.)

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