Thursday, April 9, 2015

Happy Birthday Kottu!

Rumour has it that Kottu is 10 years old. I say "rumour" because no one is exactly sure on this, but it's about 10 years old. Sometime around now.

Never one to fear a rapidly retreating bandwagon I'm going to catch the thing, jump on it and wish Indi and the thousands of staff behind Kottu's ongoing maintenance a very happy birthday. I'm told they work out of a large warehouse deep in the jungles of Colombo 7, are all permanently hunched from spending so much time bent over their laptops and sleep for a mere 1 hour per night, such is their dedication.

As a diasporic Sri Lankan I first stumbled across Kottu about 9 years ago. It gave me an insight into the lives and minds of people I didn't really know yet felt connected to. I read the blogs and wanted to get to know these people better, to become part of this rather exclusive club.

So I started my own blog, just writing shit and the wanderings of my mind. Or should that be "wonderings"? Or both?

In those days Kottu was pretty much a place, a meeting point. I got to know other fellow bloggers in person and in virtuality and I've made some very good friends from it all. It was a proper community, with good guys, (a)bad guy(s) jokers, penguins and Batmen. We had arguments, love ins, random get togethers and a massive variety of interests, from Birdwatching to music to geeky stuff, often encircled by the crazy politics of the Motherland.

It was in the height of the War and Politics, Ethnicity and all that went with it were hot topics. The end of the war was undoubtedly (in most peoples' minds) good for Sri Lanka but I noticed a shift in the topics and underlying focus of many Sri Lankan blogs. No longer could we talk about so many polarised viewpoints, though the Rajapaksas gave us plenty of juicy material in other departments.

Somewhere along the way I learned a bit about writing, though on reading my words so far I wonder about this. I started off a bit like the literary equivalent of Winnie The Pooh and I think it's fair to say that I've advanced and developed into more of a Paddington, without the Marmalade. I'm pretty sure Ashok Ferrey started in the same way so I know I'm on the right track. "Why the big paws?" I hear you say. Well, I was lacking inspiration, life moved on and I got divorced and things.

But most of what I learned was from reading other bloggers; Java with his hallucinogenic mind blowing ruminations made me think about lots of things from different perspectives,

Cerno, the elder statesman, with his totally fucking mental at times insights into how his mind works just made, and still makes, me laugh. Drama Queen, one of the many not so frequent these days but used to blog regularly people, when not saving cats and dogs from mankind, has a gift for writing with a mix of humour and compassion that makes me frankly a bit scared of ever actually meeting her in person.

David Blacker, one of those who I've become good friends with, is always there with a strong opinion and a good argument, usually for the wrong viewpoint!

Don't take my word for it thought, check out this Cerno post, click on some of the links and have a browse for yourself at life before Facebook and Twitter.

These days Kottu is more of an aggregator then a community. It sits there listing blogs that have something to do with Sri Lanka and there has been talk in Cinnamon Gardens of redundancies among its staff. People read Facebook Statii, Tweets and that other one the kids use; Instagraph or whatever it's called, as they have the attention span of one of those leery blokes at a party who keep looking around at other people while pretending to listen to you.

But it's still there, we all glance at it occasionally and look at what's going on.

So thanks Indi, you've done a fine job so far!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Aerial Photographs Of Sri Lanka

Last week, while hanging around the metropolis of Serendib, I went to the opening night of the exhibition at Barefoot, a place you just might be aware of.

C had one of her newly christened Barefoot sulks about this. I've decided to label them because they happen frequently and laughing at your partner, particularly when they don't find it funny, is a surefire way to a healthy relationship. If you don't believe me just ask any one of my exes.

You see, she gets all moody about going to Barefoot, moaning about it as if I'm dragging her through hot coals. I mean, it's not as if we go several times a week or anything like that. But then, when we go, she always enjoys herself. It's almost as if women have a crazily irrational mind, one men can't understand. Besides I like Barefoot; it gives me a good chance to see how the other side, the common working man in Sri Lanka, really lives.

All the usual Colombo glitterati were out. Of course there were more Sansonis than you could shake a sarong at, strutting around like they own the place, Ashok Ferrey was there, being witty and managing to last the whole evening with a mere two costume changes, Java's Dancer wife was there, looking rather elegant and happy, Michael Meyler and Richard Simon were both there, bringing the average height of the evening up to around 9 foot 7 inches and naturally Jeremy Spellbinder was there and sang a couple of songs with those Musicmatters fellows.

For the purpose of accuracy, fairness, truth, justice, liberty and freedom I should tell you that I was immediately struck by the total lack of photos of aerials. Not a single one was present anywhere. There should be laws about this kind of misrepresentation. I mentioned this to Sebastian Posingis the next day. He gave me that German look; the "is he serious" one and I felt awkward, like a schoolboy whose teacher didn't believe that the dog had eaten my homework.

In place of the pictures of aerials as promised was / is one of the most stunning collections of images I have ever seen.

I was told that Messrs Posingis and Sansoni spent something like 27 hours up in a helicopter, with many hours or days of poring over Google maps and the like to gain more information and ideas of specific areas and photos to attempt to take.

I'm a chap who would consider myself to be reasonably familiar with the works of the photographers and I knew I'd be impressed, but had expected to hit about a level 7 of being impressed, like when you watch an episode of Blackadder, laughing at the brilliant lines you've seen Fry and Laurie perform before.

Instead my impressionometer hit about a level 41, perhaps even Level 42, but that would be a band from the 80s. It was like they'd written a new episode and it was funnier and different to what you'd expected, as if Ashok Ferrey had had a hand in the script and slipped in some covert Lankanisms.

I thought aerial photographs would be a variation on a theme; pictures of scenes taken from a helicopter. And they were. But that was where my expectations were met, the rest blindsided me.

The variety of types of images struck me. Nothing was cliched even though the "predictable" sites (sights) were there. Sigiriya, Sri Pada and the like were well represented, but in images that were refreshingly different to the usual sort. I hadn't expected the sheer scale of the images either, some of them have been blown up to massive sizes, not of that A4 or A2 business that we're so used to.

Then there were abstract ones; of Salt Plains (not to be confused with Salt Planes), beaches, layered landscapes and detailed shots of everyday Lankan life from afar and above.

I was talking, well listening, to Sebastian Posingis the next day and he gave me some fascinating insights into his mindset about this exhibition. I hope I don't get these bits wrong as I have a memory like a whatsername at the best of times, but he's particularly proud of this body of work. In a very humble way he feels as if Dom and him might have started something that could encourage people to see Sri Lanka in a different way. I have to stress his humility with this view, it wasn't at all a cocky one, more a hope and one that I think anyone seeing the pictures would understand.

He also would like people outside of the Barefoot crowd to be able to see the photos first hand. His vision is for schools and young people to see them, perhaps taking the show out to schools and communities in the country is possible. I got the distinct impression that making money was the last thing on his mind here, this is about something bigger, something higher up Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

My favourite, by a considerable margin, is the picture of the Flamingos above. I took a sneaky picture of it and am pretty sure I got away with it. Take a good look, it's a once in a lifetime shot, but only if you're connected to Sri Lanka. Or Flamingos.

I dream of taking a picture like that, when I'm not dreaming about drums.

I somehow ended the evening with my first ever visit to Pilawoos. Just me, C, Jeremy Spellbinder and his rather lovely Girlfriend, a very nice Suddha who was a bit too worried about getting food poisoning and some other fellow. They even brought a table out for us and set it up.

If you want to check out the exhibition it's on at Barefoot until March 8th. Trust me, it's spectacular.

Monday, February 9, 2015

On Life, Death and the bits in between - Part 2

I know, I know, you don't hear from me for ages and then two come along in a row, like buses.

I didn't intend for there to be a follow up post to my last one, but rather sadly the need arose.

Last Friday, a few hours after I'd written that post, I went to see my Dad in hospital. Thankfully he's getting a lot better and was actually sent home the day after, so on that side of it, things are looking good.

I wondered what things I could write about, what with my new found desire to blog, which usually rears its head every few months, takes a good look around then shits itself and goes back to sleep until the next time. And at some point in the wondering I realised I've got a trolleyfull of stories to tell you about my Parents' behaviour in these recent times. You of course, being Sri Lankan (which you most likely are), will fully understand the drama, pathos and total utter fucking  madness that goes with a Lankan parent being quite seriously ill.

Anyhow, where was I? Ah yes, so me and the maternal unit arrived at the hospital some hours after I'd written and published my last post. The bed next to my Dad, formerly occupied by John, aforementioned subject of my last post, was empty with a few chairs scattered somewhat pathetically around it. It didn't take a Rajapaksa Government MP's gifted son to figure out that John hadn't survived.

I asked my Dad what had happened to him and he told us that he thought he'd died earlier in the day, the curtains had been closed and all the family had been there, then he'd fallen asleep. My Dad had fallen asleep that is, not John, he'd died of course.

It was downright weird as well as sad. There we were, trying to chat to my Dad about how he was feeling, his medication, when he might be coming home etc, when the bed next to him sat there empty, reminding us of the fragility of life and sentences that begin with "there but for the grace.."

I asked a nurse and she told me that he'd passed at around 1 o'clock that afternoon, with his whole family around him.

Throughout the visit I continually glanced over at the bed and chairs, thinking my random thoughts, not all of which were drum related. Not so many hours before the family had been through the mill. Sadness followed by elation, only to be followed by the ultimate sadness.

I thought I'd let you know, I suppose there's not much more to say. I wish I could think of loads more deep and meaningful things to say, but I'm not too good at things like that.

But next time remind me to tell you about my Olds and the stairlift.

Friday, February 6, 2015

On Life, Death and the bits in between

It's been a while and, by Mahinda, things have changed! I'm one of the many who share the feelings of optimism and hope for the Motherland. The one thing I never dreamed was that the downfall of the regime would be democracy itself. A coup, an assassination or an invasion seemed far more probable to me, which is kind of sad but true.

Truth be told this post by Cerno inspired me to put finger to keyboard. I know I don't really have any readers anymore but what the hell I figured, let's think of something to write.

And then bang, it hit me, like a bat out of Belgium; an event, well a couple of events, that make me a bit teary to think of even now and I thought I'd tell you about them.

So my Dad has been in hospital lately, In terms of being alive, Cancer and all, it's fair to say he's hanging in there. I think it would be inaccurate to portray him as one of those stoic fighting chaps, the sort you see in films and on TV, but he's still with us.

And he's been in hospital for the last week or so, due out either today or tomorrow. There I was visiting him a few days ago, he's in a chest ward and there's an old Irish chap called John in the bed next to him. Over the last week we've got to know the wife and family of John, as one does in this type of scenario.

As I arrived in the ward the curtains were drawn around John's bed and there were lots of goings on; Doctors, Nurses and family. There was a bit of a hush in the ward also, the kind of atmosphere that you feel and know isn't good. It was weird, knowing something was happening yet talking to my Dad in relatively normal everyday how are you type tones.

But, as I was talking to Dad I heard a voice from John's curtained off section and realised it was a Priest giving him the Last Rites, something I'd only ever heard on Father Ted before, yet I recognised instantly. I felt sad for John and his family and sad at the lack of dignity for what I assumed would follow in a few minutes; the curtain being drawn back and the removal of his body.

I was right. Some minutes later the curtain was drawn back. I glanced casually, trying to be unobtrusive, only to see smiles and laughter all round. Something was clearly not wrong.

John was lying there not dead. By "not dead" I mean he was alive. Totally. He was smiling, laughing, chatting, snoozing and doing all the things that the other dwarves do. His wife turned to me and said rather happily that they thought they were losing him, that he'd given them a "bit of a scare" but something had changed and all was fine and dandy. I was so moved I even touched her arm in that sympathetic happy for you very British way. Evidently it had been a very close shave.

I carried on with talking about things with the Old Man, then left, as one does, feeling somewhat joyous and happy.

As I walked to the lift a young couple did the same. The husband (I assumed he was the husband but for all I know they might have been unmarried, that kind of thing is common here) was carrying a brand spanking new born baby in one of those car seat things.

I said some nice words and they both told me that the little boy was one day old and they were taking him home for the first time. It took me back to when my Girls were born, the hopes I had, the feelings of joy and responsibility, of promise and all those indescribable emotions that only parents can relate to.

Rather more poignantly it also made me think of John, of hospitals and the Circle of Life, which of course brings up thoughts of The Lion King.

One minute I'm witnessing an old chap almost finishing his life, with his grown up children, his wife and his grandchildren there, the next I see a one day old baby going home for the first time. Who knows what that child might achieve in his life, what will happen to him, what he'll make happen?

Big stuff I reckon.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Denim On Denim

About a year ago K, my youngest, gave me a denim shirt for Christmas. I don't think it was particularly expensive but I love it.

It's got that "aged" look, the one we all pay extra for because we can't be bothered to actually wait until our clothes really age. Which is only actually a few months as they're mostly made by young children in dodgy countries and cost less than the sandwich we eat for lunch.

It's been made to look as if one of its two breast pockets has been ripped off in its heavy lifetime, there are fake paint splodges in random places and it's faded like one of those old tattoos you see on proper working class fellows who had it done when they were in the Navy.

There are in fact hardly any bad things about it, though I wouldn't be in a hurry to wear it at a wedding or the like.

But, there is a problem, a fundamental one. It's denim, and for most of my life, when I'm not wearing a sarong, I'm wearing jeans. And I'm informed, by my Girls mostly, that wearing denim on denim is a no no.

It's on the same level of fashion disaster as slippers with socks or American tan tights or any number of those "new looks" I've seen Java Jones trying out on so many occasions.

So I rarely wear this shirt. It's not often I wear chinos or any other type of casual trousers and committing a fashion faux pas is something I try to avoid. And then last week I read something in a mens' mag. It was one of those deep and intellectual articles talking about denim, fashion and the latest in mens' wear and referred to the fact that to wear different denim articles of the same shade was the no no. But, by insinuation, it said that to wear denim of contrasting shades was entirely okay.

And of course that got me thinking. Can I therefore wear dark blue jeans with the lighter blue denim shirt?

Or would that still get me carted off in the fashion Police van?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

On Books, Tidying and Mindmapping

I've just signed another two year lease on my apartment and one of the things that cropped up in my mind as this was going on was the idea of a bit of a mass tidy up.

That's not to say my apartment is some sort of man's disaster area in terms of mess and dirt. Not at all, in fact I think I'm quite the new man. Just about everything has its place, there's not a vast amount of clutter and the general look is one that is fairly minimal.

But it has also become clear to me that I do have too much clutter and, in my five years in this place, have built up a bit of junk that needs sorting.

As with most of the good things in my life I started with a mindmap. I love a mindmap I do. In fact, excuse me if I've told you this before, I do a daily journal, have done for years, and for the last four or five years I've done it in the form of a daily mindmap. In the last three years I've used an app on the Ipad called iThoughts. Trust me, if you like mindmapping it's the best thing since, well, mindmapping itself.

I started a branch, or box for each room in the flat, there aren't that many, I'm not showing off here! And then I took a branch off for every tidyness issue I need to address in each room.

So, for example, off the "kitchen" box I had three more. They said "defrost freezer", "fix wood behind sink" and "go through cupboards, throw away rubbish". Cleverly this iThoughts allows me to set each of these as a task, that I can tick as I can complete which then gets greyed out.

The thing is, I don't want to sound like some kind of geek, raving to you about software, apps, tasklists and the like, that wasn't the purpose of this post. But when I did my "sitting room" box it became evident that one of the things I could do is to tidy my books.

Why, I hear you ask. For books maketh the man, women should never sleep with a fellow who has no books and all that other corny stuff.

Simply because I've built up a bit of a library, of books that fall into one of three categories:

  1. Reference ones, with nice photographs (often Sri Lankan)
  2. Fiction I've read 
  3. Fiction I haven't read yet, probably won't (for reasons I'll explain)

It's the fiction that bothers me. Truth be told I'm now a firm and dedicated ebook reader, the Kindle app on the iPad specifically. I know it doesn't smell like a book, I know one can't "feel" the pages and they don't have the whole tactile connection people talk about. I know that I run the risk of getting beaten by most authors for saying it, beaten with pencils that is, not stylii.

But goddammit it's just so easy and convenient. I carry around my whole library of books wherever I want. I can read just about anywhere, I highlight things in my work related self development and managerial books and go back to them and they're generally cheaper to buy. And, probably best of all for me, I can go on a plane without the need to carry three books and a couple of magazines. 

So I've decided to get rid of my fiction at home, with the exception of a small handful of titles. There's David Blacker's book that he gave me himself with a little message he wrote and a few that are by other Sri Lankan authors that, as far as I know, aren't out as ebooks (yet).

I'll keep the "reference" type ones, the marvellous Sansoni and SL architectural ones and a few others. The rest are going though. Of course not thrown away, I'll give them to a charity bookshop, but they're going nonetheless. 

I feel a bit bad, for emotive not rational reasons, but I'm going to live with that. You live once only as I always like to say. Or YLOO as the kids are fond of.

And once it's done it means I can tick the "Clear away books" task on that mindmap too. 

Here, can anyone tell me how to defrost a freezer?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Keeping Things at Arm's Length

 I've noticed something in the last couple of years. Just about everyone I know, including me, has got to that "certain" age.

It's that certain age when our near vision starts to deteriorate, when we're all in denial and battling it. Which means that only a few actually possess reading glasses.

The rest of us, when presented with a page of print or something else to read, do the thing: the thing when we act as if our arm is an accordion, but quite a big one.

I was at a band practice the other day and we had to read something. Not one of us could hold it close up, we all had to strain our eyes and try to hold the piece of paper far away enough to read. But not too far, because then it just gets lost. I figured this might be the time to either join a younger band or get some reading glasses, perhaps both.

Reading instructions on bottles is a particular bane. I reckon they print them in tiny fonts just for a laugh. And kids rarely need medicines and stuff anyhow, so there's some kind of mad logic going on there.

Sometimes I mix with young people, like my kids, and they'll hand me something to read, presenting it to me about four or five inches away from my eyes. I have to move it away at the speed of light before the eye strain starts to hurt, causing a headache and rapid need to lie down with a warm drink.

Good God, what is wrong with you people?

Have you no idea?