groot expectations

I’m quite bad at cataloguing memories – belatedly realised yesterday on the train from Rotterdam to Bruges that I was going to forget everything if I didn’t start noting things down, so spent the larger part of a ride listing things, days, places. It’s no good, really, my memory’s leaky, museums and bridges and pancake-houses are already starting to blur into each other in an undifferentiated hazy notion of fun. For example, Day Two reads something like this:


pancakes 1
s club 7 climbing logs in vain. slides
Spider-Man guy climbing
Anne frank museum
feeling feverish
red light district

Which is not to say that the trip has not been anything but amazing, but that the beauty isn’t found in the events – eg seeing Rembrandt’s Night Watch at the Rijks (scuttling around trying to imbibe as much Rembrandt and Vermeer as one can plausibly do in 90 minutes, to make the most of the 15 euros), taking river cruises and attending serendipitous harp concerts by a man in Bruges blessed with magic with his fingers – but mainly in the intervening moments I steal for myself, walking a little behind, beholding the nightsky with subdued reverence, feeling the cool Dutch air square in my face, wondering guiltily if there exists a universe where I live in Rotterdam (etc), nothing left to do but recline with a good book and a coffee at the cafe overlooking the river, or explore every nook of town at leisure (and somehow not losing interest). I would not need maps; I could never be lost.

don’t know when i’ll be back again

last day in singapore for about six months.

some background: my laptop inexplicably died a few days back so i’m back on the iMac. chanced upon some of those rare pieces of writing you undertake with complete abandon and brimful inspiration, comforted by the privacy of your computer. some of it was and remains wide-eyed and telling

(…)That perhaps, if I’d worked harder at the threats I could still be enjoying the fruits that came so naturally to us that other couples might labour in vain to grow. This is a point of pride, insofar as pride is an appropriate response to good fortune and circumstance – it’s satisfying on a level, validates the two and a half years even as it amplifies the cost of breaking up. Yet no, even that is softened. I now believe that there can be and usually are multiple contenders for the position of soulmate. Not one, which must be ‘captured’ to avoid unending failure. People shift in and out of your life. Many are visibly attractive but regrettably of the sort you couldn’t see yourself holding a proper conversation with. Others are nice and personable – to a fault, even – but do not instill any romantic desire in you. A rare few – rare, yes, but multiple – tickle both the intellectual and the romantic senses in you, often simultaneously. How can you tell? There is a rough way. That palpitating feeling that is heedless of the amount of time you’ve spent together or spend together regularly; a curious desire to spend ages talking together, an inexplicable lack of enthusiasm for the usual date ideas like movies (any time not spent gazing in her face, not hearing the adorable lilt in her voice, is time you’ll never get back; any time just sitting dully together in a darkened theatre is time you could be spending trying to impress her in that awkward bumbling way you know). The excitement of the coincidental brush, the thrill that feels almost too erotic to be decent but could not otherwise be described as unwholesome in any way, compelling you to be on your best behavior (it’s not hypocritical if you don’t have complete volition).(…)


Speaking as someone who enjoys perhaps too much the comforts of militarily regulated sleep-time, it is hard to find beauty in jetlag. It can’t even reasonably be said that you are seeing in 3am Singapore a wholly undiscovered sight – nights are the same at any time, especially when viewed dimly from your bedroom window in dreadful ennui. The real excitement and energy are invariably in the day, where things are said, friends met, movies watched, relationships advanced, confessions spilled. The day sees troubles too, of course, problems that require undue time and effort, walls that do not yield easily or quickly even to earnest endeavour – but at least these are walls that can and must in the end give way. Who could will Time forward? It creeps steadily – frustratingly immune to caprice or persuasion – nevertheless spending your energy, penalising you equally for activity or passivity. Time yields eventually, but smugly and on its own terms. You fancy you have waited it out but surely the reverse is true, if your consciousness ebbs away even as the first eager rays burst out of the sky. You will awake again to the same crimson sun, already setting. The days are short even in summer.

the fruits of procrastination

“only bottled water allowed”

but we choose to show our reverence in different ways,
whispering hotly as we scurry across
the aisles, thumbing books that crumble
into flakes at our incredulous touch, drinking in the waft
of musty thoughts. In the heat, we shed our coats
for skin and peel away at the suspicion that
reading is anything but the breathless kinesis of minds,
of thawing fingertips reaching and yearning for worlds as yet
yawningly inscrutable.

Dedicated to what is effectively home for the next three years. In other news FMLFMLFML essay crisis (cf. Essay Crisis v Matthew (No. 5) [2013] 1 AC 666). Why do I get myself in these things.

grandpont house

Sitting in this gorgeous English drawing-room with plush armchairs and sofas on a Saturday night, sitting with not more than 20 predominantly-middle-aged-white-males, listening as a Blackfriars fellow discusses C.S. Lewis on science and religion and as post-docs challenge him on the mathematical allusions in Screwtape.

Best Oxford moment so far – gratefully feeling like the stupidest man in the room.

cobwebs and sorrow

Having farewell outings with friends always smacks a little of hypocrisy for an antisocial chap like me – I keep to myself all year (while keeping fairly updated on the Big Bang Theory front, etc) and all of a sudden I’m leaving (for only two months, if I’m coming back in Dec) and I feel the sudden need to reconnect with people I see no more than twice a year. The further irony is that I only feel like I’ll miss these people after I meet up, not so much before. So I guess the Nash equilibrium is: stay at home and whine about there not being enough episodes of everything.

Someone (probably one of the girls in my batch who are by now annoyingly mature and war-weary) mentioned that it never really strikes you until a couple of days before departure that you’re really leaving – and then it looms huge and brooding and eternal. Today I had my last home-cooked meal with the family. My father whipped up some dishes: slightly fancier than usual, but otherwise it might as well been just another dinner at home, something I always had to get out of the way before I could watch TV/sleep/do homework. At the end of it I took a look around the house and suddenly felt something welling up, agonising and infinite. Forget the customary countdown from a year, a month, a week – I’ve two nights left in my own bed and I’m only just beginning to realise why people count down, tenderly controlling the speed of departure and the direction of flight. They dare to want to remember the things they’re leaving behind: the chatter of the boring predictable Channel 8 show issuing from the living room, the harsh scraping sounds of the dining table chairs when we shuffle in our seats, the wry banter at dinner. They dare to see that even the most prosaic things begin to take on painfully inimitable beauty when they’re being left behind, and they dare to set it aside in constantly renewed expectation of a newer, fresher sort of good.

I don’t think I dare to, and I don’t think I will before I leave. I leave everything to the last minute and I don’t expect nostalgia to be any different. Maybe it’ll happen at the departure gates as I hand my boarding pass over to those security blokes for inspection – the point of no turning back (except maybe for a quick blinked glance). Maybe in my seat on the plane, flipping through the flight magazine or getting started on The Trial (my aptly chosen companion for more reasons than one). Or maybe even in my room in college, just me and my feverish recollections of C S Lewis’ most comforting thoughts (God can make complex good out of simple evil – and anyway studying at Oxford hardly bears resemblance to any great evil, until you consider the number of essays I’ll be doing there every week).

I offer to do the dishes when we’re done, for the last time.