Archive for March, 2008

Playing God!

Right – no more travel and anthropology for a bit. Perhaps my blogging would be more successful if I stuck to one theme, instead of jumping around all over the place. Anyway, here are some thoughts on a very different topic:

I have just returned from a short tour, performing the role of God the Father in a modern passion play. It took the form of a series of conversations between the Father and the Son, leading up to the climax on Golgotha and then the first Easter. We played it as rehearsed readings, mainly in churches but, on one memorable afternoon, to some of the inmates of a high-security prison.

Although I was raised in the Christian tradition, I am not myself a believer, and I approached the role as an actor, concerned to portray the part that the author had written with as much truth and sincerity as I could muster. I did not feel (and, as it happened, nor did the author) that it was necessary for me to be a practicing Christian in order to participate – any more than one would need to be an actual murderer to play, say, Macbeth.

And the play worked, very powerfully. There is an almost tangible silence that an actor can feel when an audience is totally engrossed and listening hard, and we felt it, every time. And the silence at the end was more telling than any amount of polite applause. In discussion afterwards it was clear that the audiences had gained new insights – above all into the essential humanity of Jesus as he wrestled with his doubts and fears.

So – it was a rewarding experience for me, as an actor; andĀ  – who knows? – it may well have been my last role. Few actors know when, or whether, the next job will materialize, and at my age the future is even less certain. Still, if it does prove to be my last, I have at least finished on a high! Time to come back to earth now . . .

Lake people of Malaysia

As promised, here are some pictures of the orang asli people who live by Lake Temenggong in north Malaysia. I took these on my 2004 trip.

They show: some village houses, with a bamboo raft on the water below; the penghulu, or village headman; a group of villagers – watching the tourists; and the lakeside village.



An orang asli village on the lake shore.

Blogging – for whose benefit?

Well, here I am – talking to myself again. Not a soul has viewed my blog for over two days. So my views on international politics have gone unread – which may be just as well. Not really my forte, perhaps. Still, I suppose one of the benefits of blogging is that one gets things off one’s chest. If no-one else reads them, what the hell?

When I re-visited Malaysia in 2004 – forty years after I lived and worked there – I spent a couple of days camped on the shores of a huge lake in the north of the country; Tasek Temenggong was its name. As well as hiking into the rain-forest, hoping to see wild elephant, and clambering up a hillside to see the world’s biggest flower, the Rafflesia, we visited the village of a group of orang asli – the aboriginal people who lived in the jungles there long before even the Malays arrived, and who still follow their traditional way of life to a large extent, hunting with poisoned darts and blowpipes and meeting most of their needs from the forest. Their village was on the lake shore, and they got about on simple rafts made from a few lengths of bamboo lashed together. They seemed thoroughly adapted to lakeside life.

Yet when I left the country in 1963, no such lake existed. It is actually a huge reservoir, created a few years ago by damming the river which drained these hills. Jutting from the water in many places are the stark white skeletons of drowned jungle trees. A generation ago, the orang asli had never seen a lake; yet such is human adaptability that they now seemed completely attuned to it.

They were, moreover, well-used to being visited by tourists such as ourselves – and no doubt the tour operators made it worth their while. But that, of course, raises a difficult question: should such people be encouraged to preserve their ancient way of life – only to be gawked at as curiosities by ‘civilised’ travellers? Or should they be provided with all the benefits of modern life and technology and absorbed into the mainstream of society – which would mean so much of their own unique culture being lost for ever? I don’t pretend to know the answer; but I suspect that ‘progress’ will overtake them eventually (if, of course, the whole world hasn’t gone down the swanee in the meantime . . .).

In my next post I will put up a few pictures I took during my visit. Meanwhile, if nobody else sees this, I might contribute a comment or two, to keep myself company.

Dealing with dictators

I rarely comment on political matters (I nearly wrote ‘issues’, but it is a word that is grossly over-used these days), but the other day I attended a talk by Roy Hattersley (a former British politician, now a writer and journalist) and it did make me think. His theme was the period between the two World Wars – the Twenties and Thirties – and he particularly deplored the way theĀ  Great Powers, the victors of WW1, turned a blind eye to the activities of the dictators – Hitler, Mussolini and Franco – thereby encouraging them in their excesses, and making a second world war eventually inevitable.

It made me wonder how far history is repeating itself: extreme and repressive regimes, such as those in Zimbabwe, in Burma, in Iran, are allowed – by the international community, as it is now called – to flourish. If Hattersley is right, they should be checked, as Hitler should have been checked, before they go too far. But, on the other hand we have the unedifying example of Iraq. A brutal dictator was indeed stopped in his tracks, but the outcome has hardly been what was hoped for; a peaceful, liberal democracy in that country still looks a long way off.

I don’t pretend to know the answer. I suppose, as an old man, I am of the view that, if history teaches us anything, it is that there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ solution; but if one country does decide to intervene in the affairs of another it should do so only with an in-depth understanding of what is at stake, and with very detailed plans for what will follow victory. Fail on those points, and a great deal of suffering follows.

How to improve your Blogging

A while back I posted that I was assessing a multimedia course on blogging from an outfit called Simpleology. It was – and still is as far as I know – offered for free, so I was prepared for something a bit superficial. However, I duly signed on to access the course (itself a rather tortuous process – you have to wade through rather a lot of promotional stuff before you get to the point) and was impressed.

The course comes as 15 audio-visual lessons, with simple but clear graphics and helpful commentary from Mark Joyner. There are also interactive quizzes at the end of each lesson, as a way of revising. There’s a lot of “what to do’s”, while some of the “how to do it’s” are a little sketchy; but they generally point you in the direction of further help.

About a third of the course is directed at those who want to make money from a blog. This is not something I aspire to (yet!). Nevertheless, as an elderly Englishman just venturing into the blogosphere for the first time, I found some useful information in the lessons, and I would think others would find it helpful.

Thomas Hardy country

This is the Marshwood Vale in Dorset – the county where I live in south-west England. It is the area which Thomas Hardy called Wessex (the land of the West Saxons) in his novels (remember “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, “Far from the Madding Crowd”?)

In the background is the sea of Lyme Bay and the fossil-rich Jurassic Coast.


Music and memories

My last post (sounds like a bugle call!) was a bit of a moan – but it brought results. Among the responses – mostly encouraging and sympathetic – was one from Dr Tom Bibey, a man whose career has combined medicine and music. His commitment to the bluegrass tradition set me reminiscing about my own modest involvement in folk-music.

When I was young – I’m talking the early Fifties here – I graduated from a plastic ukulele to my first real guitar and taught myself to play it, after a fashion. I was never a Segovia, or anything approaching; I played the instrument – acoustic, nylon-strung – purely to accompany my songs. And most of those I learnt from my hero, Burl Ives.

You must realise that, in those days, to play the guitar at all was a pretty rare thing to do – in England, anyway. So at university, and later when I lived and worked in the Far East, before the arrival of television, I was much in demand. Party hostesses would ask me to bring the guitar – and people were not shy about joining in a sing-song.

In the Sixties I returned to the UK, and everything changed. For one thing, I got married and had other preoccupations. But also rock and roll had arrived, and before long every second teenager was playing the guitar – better than I did. The young were buying ‘pop’ records, while I was still wedded to Beethoven and Mozart. Soon, my left-hand fingertips, once hard and calloused, were soft again, and fingering chords produced blisters. And nobody wanted to sing any more. My guitar-playing days were over.

Many years later, I acquired the first of a series of electronic keyboards, which cleverly play the left hand and accompaniment, leaving me to pick out the melody on my chosen instrument. And with that, I have come full circle – for my favourite rhythm category is ‘Folk and Country’.

One little postscript: back in the Sixties, a friend who produced schools programmes on radio for the BBC rang and asked if I knew any folksongs about the Port of London.

“No,” I said. “But I can write you one.” And I did.

Tom Bibey’s blog is at

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