Friday, September 29, 2006

My secret

The time has come for me to confess all.

For many years I've had this secret fascination. It was only a few weeks ago, in casual conversation with my brother, that I found out I am not alone in my feelings.

Yes, you've guessed it, I am a crane fan. I've said it now and it feels good to be out in the open. I know exactly how it must feel for one of those chaps who confesses to a murder 50 years after it took place. Even though no one suspected him he felt a need to cleanse his soul and move on.

There was a rather tragic accident in London this week when a crane toppled over killing 2 people. It prompted a brief crane discussion between me and one of my business partners and I discovered, after almost 20 years, that he holds a candle for the odd crane too. This is good news for me. I don't actually mean that the discussion took 20 years, just that I've known him for 20 years and never knew we shared this crane thing. A 20 year discussion would be unheard of and ridiculous, unless it was a peace process or something like that.

I know that there must be others who are continually captured by these marvels of engineering. How they are built and how they work are things that only proper engineers or crane drivers actually understand. Or intelligent people. I have watched programmes on "men's" cable TV channels that attempt to explain the intricacies of cranes to simpletons but I remain intrigued, which is probably a good thing. Never meet your heroes they say. If I understood the counterbalances and the other finer details then the mystery would be gone and a crane would be just something used by builders. Like a drill.

There are websites, magazines and all sorts dedicated to cranes. Although that isn't saying much as there are websites dedicated to pretty much everything these days. I should know, I'm a drummer. But I know that there are many others out there who share my crane fetish. So, if you're one of them then get in touch and let's form a club.

I'll leave you with a handy tip. It might just save your reputation.

If you happen to be browsing a crane website at work and you're worried about getting caught, simply open another screen with some hardcore porn on it. Then, if interrupted, you can quickly switch to the porn screen and everyone will think you are totally normal, not some kind of crane pervert.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

What's going on.

It's been quite literally days since my last post so I thought it might be nice to tell you, my reader, what I've been up to lately.

I got back from my week's sojourn in the land of my ancestors (and their relatives) and was thrown into a busy world of work, family, music and London traffic. The summer quiet period at work is well and truly over, which is good when you work for yourself, but it also means things are very busy. All positive stuff but it was / is hard to dive straight back in after Colombo. I got home at about 11PM on the Sunday night and was at work at 7.30 on Monday morning. Then I spent most of the evening stuck in traffic on the M4 on the way to a band practice. Reading were playing Manchester City and our rehearsal studios just happen to be nearby. Damn!

The music side of things has been good and busy too. I've been learning new songs for The Kix, the covers band. We've got a gig this Saturday and another one 2 weeks after that. I have a mental transition to make with these guys. They are happy to go out and play songs before I think we are fully ready to murder them in front of our public. I need to just chill out and relax over this. Most people don't analyse the ins and outs of a pub covers band unless they are musos themselves.

Mimosa, the funk band, have been busy writing. We put the finishing touches on a spanking new song the other day. It will definitely be my favourite of all our material, full of brass stabs and some gorgeous vocals from our Debby. Even if I say it myself it's got a mean a funky groove going on too!

We've got a weekend in a studio in 10 day's time and will be putting down a decent 3, or maybe 4 track, demo. Being in a recording studio is always a good time for band bonding so I think that'll be fun. Or we could have "musical differences" and all go our separate ways. As the drummer it will take me a mere 20 minutes to storm out of the place in a huff. I can't very well just throw my plectrum down and stomp off into the sunset, never to return. I may just throw some sticks somewhere, them carefully take down my kit, making sure not to scratch any of the drums. Then they have to be put in their fur lined cases and carefully loaded into the car in the correct order. All in all it's a job that I could probably just do in 20 minutes. And that's why you never hear about drummers having a hissy fit and walking out on the band. If it ever did happen the chap, or chapess, would have calmed down and forgotten all by the time the car was loaded and ready to go.

Mimosa have also got another gig 3 days after our studio date. Should be good.

On the domestic side I spent most of Monday and Tuesday this week at home with the 10 year old daughter, who was doing a fine job of pretending to be sick. The highlight of the 2 days for me was laughing heartily to Peter Sellers in "The Pink Panther strikes again". Pure slapstick and sheer genius.

"Does your dog bite?"

"You want a reeeerrm?"

Whilst I cracking up to all of this the 10 year old was staring at me and trying to figure out what the hell was so, so funny. She'll learn. Spongebob Squarepants is all well and good but these kids should also absorb some culture.

I was chuffed to read some nice things about me and my blog from Mr 1truecoolguy here:

http://the1truecoolguy.blogspot.com/2006/09/new-additions-to-sites-i-visit-section.html

Thanks again Ian. I hope we get to meet someday.

I opened my flickr account and have been uploading photographs as much as I can. Naturally all this has meant that I need to buy a new camera and so the new Canon EOS400D will be taking pride of place in my camera bag very shortly.

And that really is about it for now.

What have you been up to?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Songs to learn

1. Smooth Criminal - Alien Ant Farm

2. Can't stop - Chilis

3. Watching the detectives - Elvis Costello

4. Crazy - Seal


I have to learn them tonight. I should probably get on with it, rather than writing pointless blog entries.

I will then. Bye.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Bad hair day.

It's now 2 weeks since I last had my head shaved. My quest for long hair continues but not without considerable pain.

The normally shaven and shiny bonce is now peculiarly fluffy. I have been advised to live through this pain and just go for it, and I am. I've got 2 gigs coming up and 2 days in a studio with Mimosa to do a demo. All this may happen whilst I have a hair style that looks like candy floss.

I will be strong and I shall stand firm in the face of the fashion police. There are times when we all have to go back in order to move forward.

You girls just won't understand.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Ronald McDonald and the high heels.

In the last few days I have been amused and struck by two unusual bill poster adverts. One is for Pepsi Max and the other is for Burger King. After a brief search I couldn't actually find any links to paste here so you could see them for yourself so I'll do my best to explain them.

The Burger King one is simple. So simple that even I may be able to describe it. It shows a picture of a Whopper and simply has the caption:

"Eat like a King, not a clown".

The other, for Pepsi Max, shows a horizontal line. At one end of it, the left, is marked the word "Zero" and at the other end, the right, is marked "Max". At the "Zero" end is a picture of a pair of ballerina's shoes on tiptoes, at the other "Max" end is a photo of a sexy looking pair of high heeled shoes of the women's variety. My interpretation of it is that it is trying to say that Coke Zero is ok but the real sexiness and fun is to be had by Pepsi Max drinkers.

The Pepsi ad is a dig at Coca Cola's new drink, Coke Zero. The drink has been launched recently here in the UK and its target market is exactly the same as Pepsi Max's. The Burger King ad is a dig at McDonalds and their heroic, but scary, figurehead, Ronald the clown.

What struck me about these was that they both, in an ever so slightly subtle way, acknowledge and poke fun at their major competitor. The Pepsi Max ad is slightly more subtle and many people who may be unaware of the existence of Coke Zero won't even get it. Naturally the only people who live in the UK and are blissfully unaware of the birth of Coke Zero are monks and nuns, blind and deaf ones. They're probably not a huge target market for Coca Cola. Have you ever seen a nun drinking Coke Zero? No, nor have I. Q E D.

Likewise the only people who won't see the humour in the Burger King ad are those few who don't know that Ronald McDonald is just a fictional figurehead and not a real person. For person of course I actually mean clown, a particularly scary type of person. Just ask Savi or Electra.

I wonder if this type of advertising is something new or if it's old and I just haven't noticed it before. Either way it has my respect. It takes a great creative mind to come up with a way to run down a competitor in such a subtle and intelligently humorous way.

Creative chaps, I salute you.

I'll have a Whopper with Diet Coke please.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I did it.

I finally set myself up with a flickr account.

If you fancy a look then click on the link on the right and feel free to browse. I'll be adding more images to it as much as I can.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Taken in Krakow

The juxtaposition of the old woman and the retro Coke machine fascinated me. I hope you like it too.

I think I'll call it "Old woman and Coke machine".

The Week - Part 4

And so it came to be that I played 4 songs with the band called Flame.

For most tub thumpers playing the drums is as addictive as the hardest of drugs. We get frustrated and tired with them when they are freely available but, separated from a kit for a few days, we becomes restless, agitated and often quite dangerous. Once, when I hadn't played for some days, I almost drove through an amber traffic light, so bad was my cold turkey. The first thing I usually do when returning home after a holiday is to sit at my kit and play for a bit, just a few minutes really makes me feel better, honest, I kid you not.

When on holiday and much to the dismay of those with me, I always pack a pair of drumsticks and often a practice pad. I can be spotted around many a tropical pool working on my paradiddles while others are reading a good book and working on their tan. I spent a lot of time last week around the pool with iPod on and sticks in hands trying to learn "Golden years" for my covers band. I never really noticed it before but our David has got some good funky drumming going on in that song.

But bashing one out by the side of the pool is not the same as sitting at a proper kit and playing in anger. We aren't like guitarists or singers us drummers and can't easily take our weapon of choice away with us. My best mate, a guitarist, goes on holiday regularly to the Maldives and takes his acoustic guitar with him, and his wife. He tells me that it is great to sit on a beach strumming along to a bit of "Digging the grave" or something else nice and peaceful. I would never manage this with the drums, particularly with the stringent rules about the maximum size for hand luggage out of the UK now, unless I had a kind of magical expanding blow up drum kit.

On holiday in Poland recently I lasted about a week before I got talking to a whizz kid Polish drummer who kindly let me play on his kit. I needed a fix and just a minute or two of playing did the trick. I expect that the kid took his kit home that night and burnt it after seeing my brief performance. I could tell by the way he was laughing hysterically while I was playing that he was impressed.

You may understand then, that after 5 days in Colombo, the jitters were setting in. I was drumless and the feeling of withdrawal was made worse by the fact that I had seen 2 or 3 really great drummers playing. Then I got a text from my brother, the one who was with me in Colombo. It said:

"blah, blah.........drummer......blah, blah, band tonight....hotel....sit in....you...!"

You know how excited I was to read those words don't you?

So, on the Friday night after dinner with my good friends A + L the four of us were seated in The Library in the Transasia. The Library pretends to be a nightclub but it's really just a room with some books in it, a dance floor, a DJ (at times), lots of staff and usually some prostitutes. All these ingredients are cunningly mixed to prevent the presence of a crowd or any semblance of an atmosphere.

Well, on this night there was the additional ingredient of a band, the first time I have seen one there. In the few covers bands I have played in I have done a few gigs when we have started playing to small audiences but, in Sri Lanka, I have seen a couple of bands play their whole set to virtually no one. Except me. How they manage it so seemingly happily bewilders me. Or perhaps I am some kind of ideal audience of one. Maybe I'm so enthusiastic and mad for it that there are bands all over Colombo just clamouring to do a gig with only me as their crowd. Once I get to the venue I can imagine bouncers turning away hordes of people at the door because I am inside and they don't want others to spoil the atmosphere. This would also explain why I often witness people walk into a club or pub, take one look at me and leave.

In the club were the four of us, a couple of tables full of people, the band with a couple of their friends and 78 members of staff. It was one of those nights when many staff had been absent and the place had to manage as best as it could with a staff to punter ratio of only five to one. Tough times. The band were great in terms of musical ability and the way they played together but were a bit too "easy listening" for me. "Hotel California" made an early appearance to the delight of my friend L. You probably know him, he's one of the nicest people you could ever meet and one of these rare fellows who knows loads about loads but doesn't come across as conceited. A highly intelligent chap who no doubt eats a lot of Brinjal. Actually he eats a lot of everything come to think of it.

We watched their first set and were contemplating leaving as it was now about 11 PM and we wanted to go to Rhythm and Blues where we had been told it would be kicking. But, the interval came and we got talking to the singer who said to me with genuine Sri Lankan kindness and hospitality:

"You'll play something with us won't you?"

Red rag, meet bull. Oil, meet fire. Mr Cornell, meet the former chaps in Rage against the Machine, the ones who are looking for a singer. I couldn't resist, I couldn't refuse and I wanted to play anyhow so we hung around. Our friends A + L were keen to see me play. They had witnessed me practicing in England and heard me babbling on about drums for years but never actually seen me play with other musicians. While we were waiting L asked me what I thought of the drummer in the band and how I might sound different. I said to him that he sounded like a great player and was much better than myself but there was one element I was a little bit worried about.

I have noticed with a few bands I have seen in Colombo that the drummers play rather softly. In venues that are fairly small they have their kit fully miced up and put through a PA. This means that the sound is controlled by the person on the mixing desk and the drummer can play as softly as he wants to. Here in England most of us "pub" drummers are used to a very different scenario. We play in similar sized venues but unmiced and therefore have to learn to play much more loudly. There is no right or wrong to this and it's just horses for courses. The only occasions when this might be a problem are when a drummer who is used to playing quietly plays for a pub band in England or when a drummer who is used to playing above the sound of miced up instruments suddenly plays a few songs with a band that has the drum kit fully miced up.

Like me.

Flame were just about to commence their second set, my friends, my brother and I were wondering whether the thing about doing a song with them was just the singer being nice and if it would never take place. And at that moment out of nowhere the singer walked over and asked if I'd like to do a song straight away.

"Yeah, of course". I say, in my best "I'm quite cool and I'm a musician doing a guest slot" voice. I may have been a bit squeeky but it was because of the A/C, not nerves at all.

As I walked towards the members of Flame I noticed the drummer was sitting at his kit with a slightly puzzled look on his face. We are a brotherhood us drummers. We share handy hints, we exchange ideas and we all get along fairly well together. Guitarists and singers are fiercely competitive and look at each other through evil "I'm better than him" eyes. Bassists are just bassists. Drummers get along fine purely because we are looked at and hated by other musicians and we have few friends other than each other.

So, as soon as I clocked the other drummer I knew what had happened. The singer had promised me a guest slot without asking the drummer first. He had meant well, the intentions were kind and generous I felt a bit bad over this.

Not that bad, not bad enough to refuse or anything drastic. I shoved the drummer off his kit and sat down. There followed that typical band discussion along the lines of "Do you know x?" directed towards their guest.

After a few "No" s we found a song that I pretended to know. "My Girl", the old Motown / Temptations standard. The guitarist played the intro and I came in with my best impression of a fairly standard Motown fill. I started playing and got into a bit of a groove. There was panic all around me. Of course the levels had been nicely set for the other drummer and, with no soundcheck or any idea of how loud I would be, it sounded out front like there was a barrage of drum kits charging full pelt towards a helpless Smokey Robinson. After some frantic adjusting of levels things settled down quite nicely. The band were great, the bassist was a pleasure to play with and they didn't look to have any major problems with my playing. Apart from the stops.

We finished My Girl. I say "we" but they had finished it quite a long time before I had. Then we moved on the "The ballad of John and Yoko". I had expected to play just one song so another one was a compliment, or their drummer had gone off for a poo. Luckily "The ballad of J and Y" is a song I used to play so I could do a more passable job of it.

Then they asked for another. La Bamba was decided on. I bludgeoned my way through it, I think it probably sounded more Foo Fighters than Latin, albeit with none of Taylor Hawkins' finer points or skill. Again they ended it and again I stumbled to a stop a few seconds after. Again they asked me to do another.

This time they decided on "Cocaine", a Cream or Eric song I think, I really don't know it at all. I played it as straight as I could. I had a great teacher when I started playing and he always used to say

"If you don't know it just play beat 1".

Beat 1 is the simplest of grooves and that is what I stuck to. It just about did the job. By the end of it I almost knew how the chorus was going and chucked some cymbal crashes in to accent the vocal line.

Job done. I got up and thanked the band for letting me sit in. It really was my pleasure. The other drummer was gracious beyond description. All smiles. The audience, which consisted of about 20 people and some staff, didn't boo me off, so I must have done something right. My first proper drum mentor, Alun Harries, was the guy who made me appreciate the importance of being able to play in a variety of styles and here was the ultimate test. Four songs each in a different style. Even if I say it myself I think I just about passed the test. Maybe each style was considerably different to the style required but that's just splitting hairs.

So thanks to the nice chaps in Flame I achieved one of my ambitions, to play with a band in Sri Lanka. I got the chance to show off my lack of talent to some great friends and I got my drumming fix.

Then we went off to Rhythm and Blues only to find Mr Cheese and the corny covers band playing.

Damn.

If you know the chaps in Flame please tell them Thank you from me. I loved it.

to be continued.....

Monday, September 18, 2006

Grass never grows on a busy road

I've decided to grow my hair.

Those of you who know me will understand the bravery behind my decision. I have shaved my head for the last few years and I can't say for sure how "fertile" it is up there. There is a strong possibility that you may see me in the weeks to come looking like a Sri Lankan Bobby Charlton. On the other hand I might have long flowing locks similar to Robinson Crusoe before you know it.

Talking of hair, which I am, have you seen that chap who appears to be a manager of some kind at House Of Fashion? He hangs around the checkouts looking managerial, always quite friendly. Long black shoulder, almost waist length hair and a "Bobby Charlton" on top.

With no exaggeration it is probably the worst hairstyle I have ever seen. I'm sure he's a top bloke and an all round good geezer but the hair needs sorting.

If I end up looking like that please pull me aside and tell me. Don't hold back.

Sometimes you've got to be cruel to be kind.

The week - Part 3





And I watched a few stunning sunsets from the Galle Face Hotel.

Which was nice.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Shiraaz Nooramith



There you go Theena.

The best kit drummer I have seen in Sri Lanka.

I'll post a picture of the other chap at CR + FC as soon as I can.

The week - Part 2

I had to buy a suitcase. Not a good and expensive one just one of cheap generic kind that you see all over Asia. The ingredients are some wheels, a pull out handle, some of that fabric stuff, lots of cardboard, a zip or two and some seat belt but thinner type material with "Omega" or "Paris" or "Balrin" woven into it to make it look like a designer item.

A suitcase had broken in Poland and I was given instructions by that wife to buy one at the Pettah.

"I paid 2200 slr for 2 suitcases there last year so whatever you do make sure you don't pay more than that" she had barked before I left.

I had considered the very viable plan of going to PG Martin and paying about 6000 slr for a slightly better quality one and just lying about where I had bought it and how much it had cost, but this course of action, though not without merits, had a fatal flaw. If said item didn't fall apart after either one or two journeys then she would be onto me. The consequences could be painful and unpleasant. So I headed to the Pettah.

This was a job that I wanted to do as quickly as possible. I was in no mood to stroll around the area looking at all the traders' wares and being confronted every 2 yards by people trying to sell me stuff. Buy it, get back then carry on with my day was my general plan. But nothing in Sri Lanka is ever that easy and uncomplicated.

I walked out of my hotel and a tri shaw found me. A bad start, as I got stuck with the evil Mafiosa ringleader driver that hangs outside the hotel and organises the other 3 wheeler drivers.

I made a feeble attempt to establish a price with him. I know that this is a good way to begin any trip in a 3 wheeler and occasionally I actually pay the chap the figure we agreed. Usually I pay something closer to the original "Sudda" price he quoted me even though the agreed price is lower.

"How much?"

"Just pay me what you think, I'll take you there and wait and bring you back". says Don Trishaw.

Crafty bastard, he knew how to play me. This is a cunning move that forced me to guess what the journey is worth then of course adding a bit to absolutely ensure that I didn't pay too little. I knew full well that my original guesstimate will be far more than he would normally get but guilt, or the risk of it, is a powerful thing.

So off we chugged to the luggage bit of the Pettah. It's 9.30 AM and I'm in a hurry. He pulls into a gap and a pedestrian literally walks into the back seating area of the tri shaw because he was heading that way and hadn't seen it. In England there would have been a fight involving knives, gangs and Police because of this but in the Pettah everyone shrugs and gets on with life.

Into the first shop I go. The shopkeeper takes a glance at me and thinks all his wishes have come true. After a short icebreaker I manage to explain what I am looking for and three people are serving me and several more are watching proceedings.

A suitable suitcase is found, it looks good, there is a lot of plastic on it and it feels as if it will fall apart if dropped from a height of 2cm. It also has a "designer" name like Hochin or Gamma. Perfect.

"So how much for this one then?" I knew the score here and expected an opening price of about 2500 rupees.

"3900 rupees sir". He says.

Oh mother of god, this isn't going to be easy or quick. So I just tell him that he is way too high and has insulted me by asking so much and I'll go elsewhere. I meant it.

We to and fro for a good twenty minutes on this and I finally get him down to 2000 rupees. It's a slow and painful process and one that I didn't want to go through but, every time I try to leave the shop, he came back with an offer. At 2000 rupees I felt that we were getting somewhere. Then the tactical error came. I don't want to go somewhere else and this is beginning to feel like the haggling scene in Life of Brian. There is a win win scenario here and my brilliant mind has got it figured out. He wants 2000 rupees I think, I wouldn't mind a new rucksack too, so let's offer him 2000 for both.

But, before completing my SWOT analysis fully, before going through each of the 5 steps of the decision making process and before I had thought about what those mice with the moved cheese would have done, yes, I said it.

In 0.001 of a nanosecond there were 10,000 rucksacks on the floor blocking any potential escape and actually blocking any daylight too.

"This one Sir" he said, holding up a particularly pikey looking one with a vague star pattern and some writing on it, "is a genuine Benz one. It has full German engineering and quality."

This made me abandon the rucksack quest. It would have got far too complicated and I managed to steer our conversation back to the suitcase alone.

"Look, just give me your best price and, if it's too much then that's fine, I'll go next door." I pleaded with him.

"How much do you want to pay?"

"1500 rupees". Came my honest reply.

"Sir, for 1500 rupees I will make a loss but for you as it's my first sale of the day and that is good luck I'll give for 1800 rupees."

"Look" I pleaded again. "If you give it for 1500 rs I'll buy it now and go, I don't want to go everywhere."

I am plagued by guilt at this point, the 300 rupees we are haggling over wouldn't buy me a tasteless sandwich here in London. But I keep going, I am fighting for every tourist here and I owe it to all Londoners to get the best price. Or something like that.

"Sir, how much do you want to pay?"

"1500 rupees, I already told you."

Then he pulled off a stroke Tiger Woods would have been rather chuffed with. The end of my tether was about 15 minutes before, he knew he had a sale and was just playing with me, like a cat does with a mouse.

"Sir, I'll tell you, you have it for nothing. Take, have it for nothing."

He muttered something in Sinhala to one of the audience / staff. I laughed and said I couldn't take it for nothing but the stroke had been played, there was no going back. His sidekick took the suitcase and walked out of the shop and plonked it in the back of Don Trishaw's waiting wagon. This forced me to follow him, remove the case and take it back to him, all while telling him that I didn't want to pay nothing for it. He had the upper hand and we both knew it. Actually he had it from the moment I walked into his shop but I was in denial then.

"Sir 1600 rupees then, what's 100 rupees to fall out over?"

He was right, I parted with the 1600 rupees, about the price of a Tesco carrier bag, and then trundled off. Not before he had shown me how to set the combination lock to a number of my choice. We, that is me, the suitcase and Don Trishaw, went back to my hotel. I resisted Don's offers of weed and prostitutes and paid him, with some extra just in case he thought I was tight.

I took the case up to my room and immediately buggered the lock. It is now set to a 3 digit number and I don't know what the number is. 990 more attempts should just about see me crack it though.

There you have it, my second adventure in Colombo last week and it only took 3 hours and 20 minutes.
The suitcase got back to London with only one piece missing. It has now joined the other orphaned suitcases up in my attic.

It's a funny thing this haggling business. It's not really about getting a good price but more about enjoying the game. There was an English bloke on my flight back who proudly showed me a "label" T shirt, something like a fake Ralph Lauren, that he had "only" paid 1000 rupees for. Apparently the shopkeeper started at 2000 rupees but the bloke had got him all the way down to 1000.

Bargain!

I said nothing and smiled knowingly.

to be continued......

Thursday, September 14, 2006

This whole NGO thing.

Is a strange one isn't it?

I can't actually come to a hard and fast view on it and I suspect many people feel the same way.

After all, if a person genuinely seeks to do good, whether as an NGO in Sri Lanka or in any other role, does it really matter what they choose to do on their day off?

The answer is a definite yes, because many are offended by the out of hours activities of the few. But I don't think that the average NGO should have to live the life of a hermit either. Good people doing good things can still go out and get drunk and stoned and continue their work the next day. The NGOs I disapprove of are the ones who are false, not really helping and have just signed up to see the world a bit and have a good time.

I have learnt that there are many NGOs who do a bloody good job under hard and strenuous conditions and they are to be applauded. They are mostly the type who don't do it for recognition, so a round of applause may not go down too well.

Get rid of the rubbish and highlight the bad but let's not paint them all with the same brush.

And that was probably the first and only time I have used 3 metaphors in 1 sentence.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The week - Part 1

So I spent all of last week in Colombo with my brother. He is there for academic stuff and I selflessly went to help him settle in his first week. I am the perfect big brother in many ways, happy to drop everything just to help the poor chap.

It's as if I went away for the weekend. I was at work on Friday morning, flew out on Friday night and came back to work on Monday morning. There was a week in between all that, a week of quite a lot of fun.

Now, let me ask you something. Given the choice would you opt to be on or not on a plane that carried Mahinda Rajapakse? We weren't given any choice but, on overhearing a conversation as we walked on to the plane, we found out that El Pres was due on board. My first thought was not a happy one, along the lines of "Bollocks". This would have been even worse if I was one of the 150 passengers who had expected to get off the plane in Male before Colombo. Oh no, Colombo was our first stop, done in record time.

The pilot must have taken short cuts and maybe even used fourth gear at times as we were parked up in Colombo in about 10 hours. Good news for me and bro, the best LHR to CMB flight time I've had. Not so good for the Maldives lot who had all missed their connecting flights to their various atolls. I don't think they even knew that it was because of our VVIP, they were just told that the routing had been changed and they probably thought that the armed guards standing around the plane on the runway were just part of normal security for honeymooning couples and the like.

It's hard not to get frustrated with the cabin crew when there are so many niggling problems on the plane that are not actually their fault but, with true Britishness, I maintained my dignity and composure for most of the flight. I lost it when my brother dropped a particularly smelly one, but even then, I didn't take it out on the cabin crew. I don't think they would have agreed to move me because the bloke next to me, my brother, was farting.

For 9 of the 10 hours my screen was not working and the general state of the plane left a lot to be desired. I mean that the state of the plane left a lot to be desired for the whole flight, not just for 9 of the 10 hours of course. It's always best to clarify these things.

A couple sitting in front of us had their overhead reading lights stuck permanently on and, after much negotiating, they eventually got moved to business class. It took them about 4 hours to achieve this and, whilst I am sure they were fairly pleased, the rest of us had to endure the flight with these lights on in the seats in front of us. I had my iPod, several drum magazines and a book or 2 so I was content.

So, we arrived and got ourselves to our hotel. I still get that feeling of excitement on the drive from the airport to Colombo no matter how often I go there. As a child I would watch with wonder and marvel at the sights. The colours, the noises and the atmosphere are so different to those experienced 12 hours earlier on the way to Heathrow. I suppose I know what to expect now but familiarity makes it feel more like home for me, something I like a lot.

After doing some token unpacking we set off for the evening. For 2 blokes unpacking really means taking a few things out of a suitcase, those things that absolutely can't be left in a suitcase. Like toiletries, smart shirts that aren't meant to be creased and live animals. Everything else stays in the suitcase and is only taken out to be used. That is the way of men on holiday.

We hit the town. I don't remember much of it to be honest. There was lots of Arrack in many different places. Barefoot, Tabu, Clancys, The Gallery Cafe, Cheers pub, that Irish one on the Galle Rd. They all featured at some point, some were total tosh and some were great. The live music was a letdown, Mr Cheese was singing at Clancys. A band who were tight and talented but played music that just isn't our thing.

I was good. I stuck to only one drink. Loads of it but I didn't mix my weapons. So when I woke up the next day I felt like absolute crap, not like total death, which could have been my fate had drinks been mixed.

On the Sunday we decided to hit the CR + FC for the Jazz Jam thing. It's talked about a lot and, as it's only on the first Sunday of each month which I have often missed, we thought it would be a good thing to try. Getting there was an unexpected adventure. Neither of us knew exactly what CR + FC is, we kind of knew it's a sports ground but didn't know what the letters stood for or exactly where it was. The combination of our lack of knowledge, our lack of Sinhala, our dreary Sarf East England accents and several tri shaw drivers and passers by eventually saw us reach our destination. It took 2 tri shaws and one drop off at the wrong place and a walk of about half a mile (really not my thing) and that was just to get there from the Transasia.

This was Sri Lanka and we had figured that, as it was billed to start at 1.00 PM, a 1.30 ish arrival by us would enable us to walk in and find it in full swing, cats jazzing along all over the place. I know what you're thinking (if you're Sri Lankan) and you're correct. Half an hour after the scheduled start time in Sri Lanka is as good 4 months and 2 days before an event in England. The smallest gathering of people, musicians setting up and 21 people to facilitate your easy ticket purchase and entry were all that were there. Here a similar event would have 1 surly teenager to sell tickets and get you in. He would have acne and an attitude and they would both be very bad and contagious. If there was a sudden rush of people and he was put under immense pressure his response would be to work slower or go for his break. In Sri Lanka there are 21 people to do this job. 1 to take your money, 1 to give the ticket, 1 to give the change, 1 to check the ticket and another to tear a slit in it to show it's been checked and so on. Call me radical but I'd like to see something in between those 2 extremes of manpower.

We found a seat and sat down, feeling hungover. Alcohol was not a viable option for either of us so we had soft drinks and the bro ate a rice packet with great enthusiasm. I was a model of restraint and only ate 2 massive portions of battered prawns. Mmmmm...

The band kicked off and I was immediately impressed. I had been told that this was a jam session and had expected a loose thing with a load of people just messing around and having fun. This was a gathering of top class players sounding and looking great. I gather they are a known band and it was evident that they had played together a lot. I didn't recognise or know the drummer but he was an older chap with classy tasteful jazz playing and some smooth effortless fills. I'll post up a picture of him later because I'd love to know his name and get in touch.

Sadly it wasn't our kind of music. Quality stuff played by brilliant musos, just not our thing. So we decided to head over to "the Foot" to check out the Sunday afternoon jazz there. As soon as we walked in I was excited at the sight of the drum kit. It was a minimalistic kit, just bass, snare, hi hat and ride cymbal. It was being played, no driven would be a better term, or even piloted, by my new idol; Shiraaz Nooramith. I have seen Shiraaz play only once before, for a covers band at Clancys. I think it was Wildfire but I can't be certain. I 've seen his name mentioned many a time in SL music and I gather he's one of the country's best known drum kit players.

Take it from me, he's one of the best players I have seen anywhere. I was in band practice last night and I was telling the bassist about Shiraaz and how great he sounded on the simplest of kits. You could give me a 14 piece kit with all the cymbals you could find and drums everywhere and I wouldn't get as much expression out of it as this bloke got out of his. I introduced myself to him and we talked drum stuff for a bit. He told me that they were all going to CR + FC after Barefoot so me and the bro did the same to see if it was any different.

And it was. At 5 o'clock it was packed to the rafters with people having a chilled and enjoyable time. We hung, listened to Shiraaz and his band play some more then headed off to our hotel. An early evening swim was just the tonic to clear our head and we followed that with an enjoyable meal out with some good friends.

That was the first 2 days. Thoroughly enjoyable. Sitting here at my desk back in Southall it all seems like a good dream. I'll tell you more later on but, Shiraaz you're my latest drum hero.

to be continued....

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Did that really happen?

Here I am, back at work and sitting at my desk. I've ploughed through all my emails and just about got back to normality.

I arrived at Heathrow last night at about 10.00 PM after Sri Lankan Airlines, surely an oxymoron, managed to get my flight airborne a mere 2.5 hours after it was scheduled to be. They said that the flight was delayed because there were technical problems and another plane had to be used. Judging by the state of (dis)repair of both their planes I have been on in the last few days I can only imagine that it must be fuck of a serious problem to stop a SriLankan Airlines' one from flying. It would have been sitting there at BIA waiting for all of us to board when one of the more eagle eyed airport staff spotted that a wing or a tail had dropped off and thought that it might be a good idea to tell someone. Really, we were all at the gate waiting to board when told it wouldn't be for another 2 hours.

I got talking to a medical student who was on her way home to Northern Ireland after a stop over in Colombo and her luggage appeared on the conveyor belt exactly 35 minutes before mine did. Why is this? It can only be because the luggage chaps sort it according to how attractive the owner is. She was a fine looking cute blonde and I look like well, me.

I was thinking about air crew on the way over. I see them a lot at the hotels and regular haunts in Colombo and I am intrigued and fascinated by their lifestyle. But, the thing I wondered was if they are all paid roughly the same salary regardless of which airline they work for. I know that the chap who pours the tea and coffee will undoubtedly get paid less than that woman who gets to wear the badge to say she is a highly trained childcare specialist, but you know the principle I am getting at here.

When my kids were young and crying their eyes out on the plane the lady with the badge would very occasionally come over to us and smile. Then, when they had stopped crying and settled down into a far happier mood, she would come back with the Airline's special child pack, which consisted of a model plane and a crayon (purple). She'd usually give it to said daughter and pinch her cheek, which would make her cry all over again. It's quite an achievement to be the childcare specialist, no ordinary person would possess those skills without special training to overcome natural human instincts.

So, I thought about this pay thing because, if all airlines pay similarly to their crew, it would result in SriLankan Airline staff being far better off than British Airways staff, in a purely financial sense and assuming they live in Sri Lanka and the UK respectively. On the other hand, if they were paid in proportion to their Country's cost of living, this would mean a vast difference in salaries. This would probably result in many of the better people seeking employment at the airlines of the more affluent countries, a kind of plane drain.

What happens? Does anyone know? Is anyone bothered?

I'll tell you all about last week another time.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Thanks all

Back in London now and the sun is sunny and the heat is hot, unlike Colombo!

I managed to meet up with some of the Colombo blogging lot at Barefoot on Saturday.

Sitting with the young and glamorous made me feel as if I was some old "used to be famous" actor making a guest appearance on "Friends".

Thank you to all of you lot for being so hospitable and welcoming to me. I wish I could have spent more time with you all but I'll have to wait til next year now.

I have my chosen my Jennifer Aniston but I'm not saying who it was!

Friday, September 8, 2006

A Quicky from Colombo

Just what it says in the title. I'm in Colombo with a mere 2 days to go before I head home. Things are a lot quieter here than they were a year ago, understandable given the security climate.

I am being starved of live music, I've been to Clancys twice. The first night I thought the band was crap, everything I hate about cheesy covers bands, albeit with a damn good drummer. Then I went back there a few nights later and the same band was on again. Feck!

Tonight Rhythm and Blues is high on the agenda.

I've been looking intently at people to try to identify the Kottu bloggers. This is harder than I had envisaged and so far I have failed admirably in my attempts. So, as a good songwriting friend of mine said in his best song

"If you see me there beside you just say hello".

Laters.