Archive for October, 2004

The Lucies and Mark Ponsford reunited!

poster for The Complete Works of Gilbert and Sullivan, pruned.On Sunday, I went to see an amazingly talented old friend, Mark Ponsford, who’s touring with a musical comedy that he co-wrote called "The Complete Works of Gilbert and Sullivan, Pruned". It condenses the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan into 90 minutes, using their music but Mark’s witty words, which are characteristically a teeny bit camp and smutty, but never obscene.

I’m no Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado so missed many of Marks’ references in the affectionately arch lyrics, but they weren’t lost on the almost-full house that the show brought in on a Sunday night. Mark and his co-star, Lawrence, evidently had loads of fun, too, but were never self-indulgent. Why Mark isn’t earning a fortune and living in Hollywood by now, I’ll never know. But I’m glad he isn’t, cause otherwise I’d not have had the chance to catch up with him. I haven’t seen Mark for years, but a few readers of this blog have mailed to tell me how much they enjoy his piano-playing on a song I wrote for "The Lucies", a band I was in, called "Killing Time". What made Sunday super-special was that the other founder members of The Lucies were there too: me, Andy, Shez, Mark and Paul-the-soundman.

Shez was there, and writes of a Lucies gig that went awry in his new blog, and Andy was down from near the Arctic where he lives with his new wife. Andy was the drummer, and is the only one of us to have pursued a successful career in showbiz. The lucky bugger. Mind you, listening to some of the 8 cassette tapes of 13 year old Lucies’ gigs and rehearsals that Paul-the-soundman loaned me on Sunday, I can see why we never hit the big time: my lack of ability on the guitar, and lack of discipline to actually attempt to play the song or the solo the same way twice meant that we could never be tight enough musically. Listening to some old songs that I’d forgotten writing (which I’ll post here some ime), we definitely had some good material – just not the front man. Sigh. But then, we did it because we loved it, and love it we did.

Shez and me, loitering within tentAndy being so macho.As we all forgot to bring a digicam to record the auspicious occasion of The Lucies reunited, I’ve posted some shots from 1991 of me and Shez waking up in a tent after an illegal Solstice party at Stonehenge. And here’s Andy in a typical drummer’s pose – resplendent in a pink boa, tweaking my nipple while I’m wearing an Elvis suit. Ah, the rock’n’roll life, eh?

You too can age 30 years with childhood febrile convulsions!

As I write this, I’m yawning. Last night, Nongyow fell asleep in James’ bed as she was putting him to bed, as she often does. At 1 a.m. she woke me, wild-eyed with terror, as James was white as a sheet, convulsing, eyes rolling, mouth foaming with a purple tongue hanging out and seemingly not breathing. So I called 999 and within 10 minutes James and I were in an ambulance on our way to hospital.

By the time we got there, he’d pretty much come to, but was groggy and confused, and by 5 a.m. he was asleep and Nongyow had arrived to relieve me, so I returned for 90 minutes sleep before getting Marina ready for school.

He was discharged at 10.30 a.m. with a party-sized bottle of parental Holy Water, Calpol, and a diagnosis of febrile convulsions:

The seizure most typically occurs during the early stages of a viral infection such as a respiratory infection, while the temperature is rising rapidly. Febrile convulsions can be frightening but rarely serious … The seizures are brief, usually lasting only a minute or two and never more than
5 minutes. First the child loses consciousness ("blacks out"), becomes stiff, stops breathing for up to 30 seconds and loses control of their bladder or bowel, so wetting or soiling themselves. Then you may notice twitching or spasms of both limbs and sometimes the face muscles. The child’s eyes roll upwards. (BBC)

Last night, we genuinely believed he was dying in our arms; currently, James is running around, downstairs, pretending to be a Teletubby. Nongyow and I have aged thirty years in 12 hours.

Brunch with Thai monks

three thai monks, in saffrom robes, sit on a suburban UK sofa, while my daughter mugs at the camera inn the foregroundOn Saturday morning, we went to North Birmingham, to a Thai friend named Geow’s house, for a religious ceremony. It was her sixth wedding anniversary, and she was having her marriage and home blessed by three monks from the local Thai temple. Three pleasant Thai 30 year olds with shaven heads and Saffron robes (but sensible socks and vests; it is Britain!) arrived and began an hour-long session of chanting in Pali, the source language of Thai, but one which is as alien to Thai as Latin is to English today. None of the Thais I know can understand Pali; it’s just memorised and chanted at religious occasions.

I’ve been interested in Buddhism for a long time; after a period in India, one of my reasons for visiting Thailand was to find out more about Buddhism, but I was shocked at how corrupted the philosophy was in Thailand. Most people eat meat (on the spurious grounds that it isn’t sinful if they don’t actually do the killing); Buddha images are sacred, as if he were a god, when he was only a man; many monks openly smoke, get rich and have many wives; many "Buddhist" Thais also worship Hindu gods like Ganesh and Shiva and animist traditions like spirit houses continue. Not that there’s anything wrong with these things – it makes Thailand the wonderful, unique place that I love – but it certainly didn’t match what I’d learned in India about the religion.

So it was great to be able to ask these English-speaking Thai monks about such matters. (I couldn’t in Thailand, because my conversational Thai is fluent, but it doesn’t stretch to theological debate, and it would’ve been unseemly for me to interrogate a man of the cloth there.) The boss monk explained that
he agreed that spirit-worship, and praying to Buddha to intercede in a devotee’s life were corruptions of Buddhism, which is not a religion, as it believes in no god. Dharma and Karma are natural laws like gravity, and there is no deity to intervene on your behalf, no matter how hard you pray or how much money you give to the temple.

To my mind, though, it’s easy to see why it got so corrupted. The godless, "pure" Buddhism is pretty austere and intellectual, and for uneducated people at the whim of the monsoon and the burning sun, it must have been tempting to believe in gods and spirits that can be mollified and cajoled. It also seems
to me that, as long as Thai Buddhism continues to chant in a dead language that even the monks admitted to not understanding, it’s never going to supplant animism in the everyday lives of the simpler farmers, up in the mountains, miles away from Bangkok. In many ways I was put in mind of medieval Catholics, chanting away in Latin, with celibate monks whose lives were totally out of sync with the people they minister to.