Helipad, Scotland and some wall decoration

Well, I came back from Malaysia, obviously. But not before a lovely evening up on Helipad with Zee and Ellen, which – as its name suggests –  is a bar sitting atop a skyscraper. It’s remarkably calm up there, which is probably just as well because I could imagine a rowdier crowd occasionally bumping people off the edge.

Helipad

Helipad

Back in ‘merica, I hit another milestone of cultural acclimatisation by whacking my first birthday piñata, plus a bunch of other fun meetings and gatherings. (Which included a pool party. I mean seriously, a pool party? My life is absurd.) I also saw Guardians of the Galaxy. Which was OK, I guess, though I wasn’t sure exactly what it was aiming at. (How funny is this supposed to be exactly?) And I have to admit, after X Men: Days of Future Past on the plane back, I am ready for my next film to be something a little grittier. Y’know – the moody existentialist broodings of a failed artist, in French – or something like that. Never thought I’d be asking for that.

I’ve also been wandering around feeling a little sad about Scotland. On the one hand, a peaceful referendum on self-determination is pretty much a miracle of democracy: this doesn’t happen very often, and something to feel proud of. But at the same time, I share the same apprehensions of lots of other English people for entirely selfish reasons. Scotland is great, and often wiser than its southern neighbour, and would be perfectly fine as an independent country within the EU. The fear is what kind of conservative backlash this may trigger in the rest of the UK. We’ll find out next week, I suppose!

In the meantime, and on a cheerier note, I finally got some photos on my wall up. There are lots of important people missing, but everyone here is loved:

Memories from home

Memories from home

Malaysian weekend

My favourite moment in Malaysia so far happened inside the ‘Dark Cave’ at the famous Batu Caves just outside of Kuala Lumpur. Everyone turned off their torches until it was pitch black, and we had a minute of silence for the victims of MH17. This was the sort of darkness you’re almost never allowed anymore. No fire exit signs, smartphone screens or glowing standby lights to adjust to over time. My eyes kept straining for light, but nothing came back. And it was so glorious. I could have happily stood there for an hour, feeling very very peaceful and zen.

It can’t last, of course. Especially not when an Australian tourist insists on shining his torch straight at a snake after being politely but repeatedly asked not to. If I spoke Parseltongue, I tell you, that constrictor would have received some immoral encouragement.

Monkeys!

Monkeys!

The other animal of note at the Batu Caves are the monkeys – which I still get an odd thrill from being around. Not that I trust them, of course. Monkeys are obviously untrustworthy: any fool who’s seen The Jungle Book can tell you that. But still… monkeys!

I didn’t do a great deal in Kuala Lumpur itself, besides wander around Independence Square, and visit the first museum I came across. The prime exhibit there was a scale model of the city, which lit up and flashed myriad colours while bombastic music played and screens boasted of Malaysia’s growing GDP per capita and impressive tourism income. It’s an interesting country, Malaysia. One of my taxi drivers described it as a harmonious society of three cultures. Another scoffed heartily at this description and preceded to give me a lengthy and personal denunciation of its constitutionalised discrimination.

I really don’t mind taxi drivers ripping me off when they’re willing to talk politics.

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building

Anyway, on Sunday I took a day trip to Melaka, which is smaller and prettier and more ‘historic’ than KL. Mosques, temples and churches jostle side by side, befitting an old trading town ruled by a succession of three European colonial occupiers. Although in one of the Chinese temples, I did read the following sentence which read very curiously indeed to my Europeanish eye:

Worshippers sometimes request the services of a more experienced person to pray on their behalf.

Stark contrasts

Stark contrasts

On that note, saying where I’m from is complicated now. I mean, it’s not really, but you know when a tour guide asks they don’t really care and would probably appreciate a simple one-word answer as you shuffle past. So what do I say? London? Chicago? I staved off an identity crisis when I got back to my hotel room late on Sunday night, immediately started the kettle and settled down for some tea and Peter Capaldi’s first episode of Doctor Who. Like praying towards Mecca, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world when it’s New Who time: just orient yourself towards iPlayer and enjoy.

The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, but never got around to finishing it off. But I like the idea of putting a blog on auto-pilot, so I’m setting it up as a scheduled post while I travel.

Last weekend I realised how badly I was missing my Kindle so got myself a shiny new Paperwhite, and after a chance read of this Guardian interview the first thing I’ve been reading is In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile by Dan Davies. For anyone outside of the UK who’s not familiar with Savile, he was a DJ, television presenter, charity fundraiser and all-round national celebrity for several decades during the 60s, 70s and 80s. The man was knighted. After his death a couple of years ago, he also became known as one of the most prolific sexual abusers the country has ever known, including many, many children and young teenagers.

The book is not perfectly written, but what does come through over and over again is that this was no double life. This is not a Jekyll and Hyde story of a man who carried his dark side to the grave. Everything was right in front of us the whole time, not least in Savile’s own autobiography, or the repeated (and ignored) complaints from his victims. The book is a fascinating study of how the actions of famous and powerful men can get stuck in a filter of ‘eccentric’ – in this case, for decades – where instead they should have been disgust and horror. Because even if you always found Savile creepy and weird, this – in a strange way – still provided an effective cover for the more serious truth underneath. The book is worth reading, because some of the examples are truly quite stunning.

Britain has a bit of a reputation for cultivating and celebrating eccentrics. In this case, these forces went very badly wrong indeed.

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