Follow Michael Leahy's Meaning Matters blog by Email

Monday, 3 June 2013

What Matters?

Back at work today after a week’s leave. We enjoyed a family holiday break in Penang (4 days) and Fraser Hill (1 night). The sojourn in Penang was for the purpose of finding suitable accommodation for our August arrival in the “Pearl of the Orient” and the location for my new work contract. Secured a very pleasant 3 bedroom apartment in a new condominium and met the outgoing Director of Tenby Schools Penang, Mr. Phillip, who interviewed me last month and offered me the post of Head of Primary International Section, Penang. (I think I will call myself the Head of the Primary International School though).

View from our apartment-to-be, 7th floor / Unit 7, Surin, Penang

A return to school leadership... I am excited and a little apprehensive, mindful of the unhappy circumstances surrounding my departure from Bangkok in October 2011, and the emotional assault on my memories and general well-being. Not to mention the marital stress at that time. But I sense and hope for a closing of this process of catharsis that has seen me return to Malaysia, working here in Johor Bahru as an Advisor, learning a few new skills and preparing me both mentally and practically with what tools I may need in a new school leadership position. I pray and hope that all will be well at Tenby Penang, and that I will be able to move the Primary International Section forward, and lay to rest any ambivalences that lie lurking at the depths of my soul.
I am looking forward to putting into practice myself some of the pedagogical principles and strategies I have been encouraging the Malaysian teachers here in Johor to implement. I sense it will go some way to changing the way I have traditionally taught. Change can be uncomfortable and challenging, but I feel I must grow with this new opportunity.
Spent some time this morning with my daughter... How lovely she is; how she seeks connection and engagement, play and interaction. We played our balloon game, ate sliced mango together, and discussed the need to paint parts of the 'space rocket' before assembling it together with glue!
What matters is that I can enjoy my children’s company while they are children, that I can be a worthy father and husband. That I can hold it all together for most of the time. The Corpus Christi celebration in church yesterday left me feeling quite shallow. The array of male church leaders – priests, assistant priests, deacons and a bishop behind the altar – brought back old questions of why the Catholic Church is so male-centred. Is this what God decrees? Is this part of the natural order? How does this resonate with the revolutionary message of Jesus Christ? For me, it seems not to resonate very well at all; and with all those robes and pomp and display, it seems to be a million miles away from what He Who was slain on a cross might have wanted, I feel…
It matters that we remain optimistic and strive a for a better world, that we use our intellect, our facilities and bodies for good and not for non-goods and evil. How easy at times to drift into apathy, laziness and a weariness for life’s joyous struggles!
The one night at Fraser Hill was memorable for the meal at Scott’s Restaurant and the short visit to Ye Olde Smokehouse. Ah the Fuller’s English Ale at Scott’s was indeed a joy to imbibe and to wallow in reminiscences of Sunday afternoon drinks on walks in Cambridgeshire, ending at fine taverns.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Travel matters

We find ourselves in an unspectacular little motel in a town near the mini Malaysian metropolis called Seremban. We are en route to Pulau Pinang, and decided to stop off along the way to break up the journey. This was not such a good idea, as in retrospect, we could have reached Penang in one day quite easily. We need not have worried about our daughter's inability to cope with a long journey. It is becoming obvious that she is now a well travelled little soul, and can manage long car trips.

The guide book suggested that we could visit the Hot Springs Water Centre in Pedas, but the site turned out to be a glorified water theme park, and the hot water baths much like any other small swimming pool, overcrowded with lots of pairs of legs hanging over the pool side. Not for us. We drove further along the road towards Melaka, admiring the traditional Malay homes scattered by the road side, and verdant hills in the distance, before finally performing a U turn to get back to our hotel. 

Now back in the hotel, and planning to retire early - before 9pm - as an early start is called for.

Happy Birthday to my brother, Anthony - one year my junior!

Thinking about all the music I would put on a pen drive and give to my loved one...

Friday, 1 March 2013

Mountain Matters

Mount Ararat, Mount Sinai, and the Mount of Olives… all the names of mountains I grew up with from my Catholic catechism.

Last Sunday’s homily at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Johor Bahru took as its theme the symbolism of the mountain as a place of withdrawal and prayer, as a prelude to resolution, enlightenment and action, as well as a source of mental, psychological and spiritual strength. The Gospel reading was the Transfiguration Story from the Book of Luke.

The mountain.  Sacred in many cultures. Also a place of death. How many bodies lie dead on the slopes of Mount Everest, or Holy Sagarmartha, as the Tibetans refer to it. Many devout Buddhist Tibetans consider trekking and climbing upon and over this mountain to be an affront to the gods, and possibly one reason for some and many deaths. The business of ascending Mount Everest these days has certainly become unsavoury at times, as big bucks are paid by rich individuals to ascend with ever-obliging Sherpa porters and guide teams. The pressure to ascend during small windows of good weather conditions adds to the stress that is placed on teams and individuals and the weight of loss if a climber is unable to summit with increasingly diminishing resources and supplies. 

But I digress.

I liked the theme of the homily that we all need to find time to reflect and pray on and in our own spiritual and symbolic mountains, our own places of quiet, closer to heaven, to the gods, to God, to our Meaning. How busy we have become with our working lives, our families, our technologies that were supposed to make life easier and even our leisure hours become filled with pursuits to keep us ever busy. We forget to pray and to think and to reflect – arguably some of our most basic, archetypal behaviours.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Weekly Matters

This week started with the onset of Chinese New Year, with the Year of the Snake having now begun. Never been much keen on the snake. Perhaps it is my Genesis upbringing and the memory of the serpent’s temptation at the biblical dawn of our race. Or the memory of stories of villagers in the district of Parsa in Nepal, of their loved ones dying beneath a tree from venomous snake bite, and the acceptance that emergency treatment is too far away for a life to be saved…

On the Eve of Chinese New Year, we enjoyed great Chinese dumplings, or jiaozi, at the house of C.K. Lee (see my Facebook page for homely photographs of the event). They tasted a bit like Nepalese momos, accept that the chutney, achar  sauce had quite a different taste. Our hosts explained that they would eat plate fulls of these until midnight. Somewhat incongruously, even though I knew our friends to be Christians, Lee presented me with a biblical treatise to read as we said our goodbyes, a book that examined the genealogies in the book of Genesis and calculated precisely when Adam was born and lived. He explained that he had been given the book by his local pastor and was very effusive in recommending it to me, to read and to keep. I took the book thankfully, wondering if I would ever read it. I have dipped into it since, but have to conclude that I now often find such ‘theological fundamental’ works difficult to read for their unflinching acceptance that all that is written in the Bible is (historical) truth.

Then mid-week we celebrated the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, at my local Catholic Church, and an uplifting homily from our enthusiastic  priest from Melaka, who was upbeat about the joys of chastity, fasting, alms giving and other penances for this period of 40 days. I still can’t quite get used to his rousing sermons that are punctuated with emphatic Amens, to which we are bound to reply Amen too. I often don’t feel I can respond as I am called to do with a genuine heart, and feel a pang of guilt at my weak faith and my lack of evangelistic and Christian fervour. As a child I was quite attentive to giving up something for Lent; and my son has resolved to abstain from chocolate this year. Good for him. Perhaps I am achieving something as a Catholic parent after all! I intend to ‘give up’ alcohol for this 40 days, and will do my best to be more disciplined about chocolate and coffee intake – not quite saying that I will definitely give them up. I lack faith in my own capacity for such self-discipline these days!

And then it was Valentine ’s Day. A card  and a present for my beloved wife, who is really not that bothered, but a ritual which I cling to not least for our children, and especially for my son, who will one day operate in a global and probably a more western culture, and will have a girlfriend or two to please. I feel he must learn something of this modern culture so that he can at least ‘know the right thing to do’ if called upon. I also like my wife to know that I am still a romantic at heart, even if she is not, and even if I am nearing fifty and she is not!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Flying Matters

The absurdity of flying.

38,000 feet above sea level… eating miniature Christmas dinners and Chilean wine, served in doll size, giant wine bottles.

Paper liners for the toilet seats; individual and individualized personal TV screens on the back of the passenger-in-front’s seat; throw-away headphones; throw-away food and utensils; listening to “Armenia City in the Sky”.


The elements could cause a catastrophic and explosive loss of life. Human error could cause the same.

Are we pushing the boundaries too much, expending great quantities of carbon in the process, and not just the fuel consumption midair, but the complex chain of manufacture making the flying machine airborne…

Smiles and professional etiquette from the airline stewards and stewardesses.

Queues outside the toilets. Toilet engaged sign on, toilet vacant sign on. Seat belt switch sign on, seat belt switch sign off.

Boiled sweets.

Sorry, all the chicken is finished, Madam. Would you care for fish?  Is that tea or coffee, Sir? With milk?



Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas Matters

Goodness me. The Christmas tree has finally been erected in our ancestral home in Royston, after days, even weeks of gentle reminders (face to face) and moans (out of ear shot) to my father, now a 72 year old man. Timely. The children and I had returned from watching the film “Nativity2 – Danger in the Manger”, which had perfectly put us in the mood for a bit of Christmas cheer and frivolity. Christmas is a time for children so it warmed the heart to return in the night, when it was cold, to be greeted by a house of colourful tree lights and a green twinkling (albeit artificial) tree in the corner of our cozy, open fired living room.

Our second morning in the UK saw us wake up to a sea of snow all around the area, as – unaware of any forecasts – white magic had enveloped our neighbourhood overnight. By 8am we are all in the garden making a snowman, throwing a few snowballs at each other and clicking the camera. Perfect moment for a family that has not spent Christmas together in the UK ever – the children’s first experience of snow in England. I had woken in the earlier hours and taken a few eerie pre-dawn photographs, trying to capturing the Narniasque atmosphere. It has been worth coming back to England just for this!

It has been good to see family – a gathering on Saturday 15th December saw us all assemble in a Hitchin Public House for our traditional fare, and to exchange the first of the Christmas presents.   A traditional Christmas dinner at “Dad’s” is planned for Christmas Day – again a first for our children. Socio economic factors have always meant that we have felt our Christmas way of doing things has never mirrored the ‘perfect’ representation we see in the British media and pre-Christmas advertisement waves. As children growing up in east and north east London it never bothered us until we became more self-conscious as teenagers. I hope my own children are equally untouched and untroubled by this awareness.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Anniversary Matters

17 years married to the day. It all began in Nepal in 1994, when I met Manisha in the Nepal-India border town of Birgung. I was first introduced to her father, Mahendra, and gradually came to know the family. After a trek into the Langtang Himalaya together, Manisha and I decided to tie the knot, and the official court marriage ceremony was completed on 1st December 1995. Due to visa red tape, I returned to the UK shortly after that, alone; and it was not until I had secured a job and was seen to be earning a UK salary once more, that I was able to ‘sponsor’ Manisha and bring her back to England as my wife.

How naïve I was then, were we both.
17 years on and now with 2 beautiful children – Chris (11 and Rebecca (5)…
Dinner for two yesterday at Nandos restaurant, followed by a film – Life of Pi. The film was interesting, especially the first half, set in India. The second half of the film following Pi’s shipwreck adventure, dragged a little, but the magical imaginary visuals were lovely to watch in 3D. Thanks to Annie, Manisha’s sister, for baby-sitting Chris and Rebecca.
Off to Changi airport later this afternoon, for our onward flight to the UK via Qatar. Winter vacation.