Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Dhal Foundation - Part 2

Continued from here.

Although Part 1 had a different title, you know the gist.

So my first attempt at dhal was about to take place. I pulled out the handwritten recipe, I pulled out all the ingredients, almost. I thought that the preparations were done but was missing two things; lemon juice and saffron. As a novice I figured that only two things wouldn't be that important, there were about ninety four other ingredients and that's not even if I count the lentils individually.

As a random aside has anyone else ever wondered how many grains of rice there would be in an average portion? Or is it just me that thinks about these sort of things?

Indyana, if you happen to read this I'll type up the recipe and email it to you as soon as I get the chance, I'm reluctant to post it here as it's a family secret passed down from one generation to me, and my brother.

There I was though. Some frying was involved, some boiling, mustard seeds, onions and lots of spices that I didn't know the name of if it wasn't for the fact that my Mum had bought them all and given little labelled jars when I moved in. Sometimes these matriarchs have uses.

I followed the instructions devoutly. Where I had written "boil" I boiled, where I had written "this much" I used exactly this much, not a bit less or a tad more. Cleverly I had taken my Dad's instructions on quantities and translated them into something that could be understood by me. So, when indeed he had told me to use "this much" I had converted it into teaspoons or tablespoons worth and written that down. Of course, he was cooking for about ten people at the time but that was fine, I knew that dhal keeps and I'd eat about two white people's portion in a sitting, so I figured that a supply of five day's worth was reasonable.

My logic was sound, if I could master the recipe for ten people then, at some point in the future, I'd try to adapt it for less people, but it wasn't important. Taste was the crucial thing. Parippu cooks quickly, far more quickly than it takes to chop stuff up and fry other stuff. I'm definitely no Pradeep Jeganathan. How fellows like that manage to cook up all these marvellous meals, get the food to pose seductively and then take the perfect photograph I'll never know.

I had bits of onion and lentils, stray chunks of maldive fish and odd bits of Vater drumsticks all over the place. The drumstick thing is true and odd. When I moved in I realised that the wine rack in the kitchen is a perfect place to store new sticks, so much more practical than sticking bottles of wine in there.

After about half an hour I had produced what looked remarkably like my Dad's dhal. There unfortunately the similarity ended. Frankly it tasted like something from the extra mild section of the Tesco curry for kids meals.

I ate it and digested things, literally and metaphorically.

Then I tried again the next day. I had gone to Tesco at lunch and bought lemons and saffron. Fuck me, have you seen this saffron stuff. It cost me about £3 for a tiny box that weighed about half as much as one of those helium balloons and it didn't make my voice go all funny either. But it was part of the recipe and I knew it was important. even though I couldn't recollect my Dad using it by sight.

That night I followed the instructions again, with the addition of lemon juice and saffron. I also bunged in a little bit of chicken stock, my own addition but something that has become a core ingredient of all my dishes, except the chicken ones. This time the dhal tasted entirely of saffron.

But I'd started to enjoy the adventure. I was getting a handle on what things tasted like what, which spices did which things and added specific flavours and aromas to a dish.

I ate it and digested things. Again.

Day three. I did it again and I wasn't even remotely sick of dhal. It's good being a Sri Lankan. This time I used even less saffron and a bit less lemon. I had got the lemon balance correct but that overpowering saffron taste was still there.

I ate it and digested things.

Day four. I knew that I shouldn't fry the onions and stuff for too long. I had done that the previous day and they were just a bit too black, the taste was slightly too strong. I knew that the saffron was still an issue but didn;t know the solution, I knew that chicken stock was a useful ingredient, just not to be used in the presence of vegetarians, unless I just kept quiet.

Finally I'd come up with a dish I was almost completely happy with, there was just the saffron thing outstanding. I'd used hardly any of the little red wrinkly stuff but it still overpowered the parippu. Unlike so many of the Australians in the world cup final I was stumped. So close yet so far.

I ate know the rest.

The next morning I went into work and I knew what I had to do. I rang Dad.

"Dad, you know your dhal"

"My what?" he said.

"Your dhal" I said.

"My dhal?" he asked, as if I had presented him with Einstein's theory of relativity and asked him to explain it.

"Yes, your dhal"

"Ah, my dhal, what about it?" he asked.

"Well I've been making it for the last few days."

"You've been what?" he asked. You know what these Dads are like.

"I've been trying to make it for the last few days" I explained.

"Trying to make what?" he asked, as I'd confused him.

"Your dhal"

"I'm what?" he said.

"Not you, your dhal, your parippu" I elaborated.

"Ah what about it?"

"Well how much saffron do you put into it? I wrote down half a teaspoon but it just seems way too much" I told him.

"Saffron?" he said in a puzzled tone.

"Yes, you said half a teaspoon of saffron"

"No, you don't put saffron in it, are you mad?" he asked indignantly and Sri Lankanly.

"But you said"

I then told him how I had written it down, bought some at great expense and spent several days making dhal and getting obssessed by saffron.

"No, not saffron, I meant turmeric, that's what we call it in Sri Lanka" he said.

My next words were along the lines of "oh thanks Dad, bye", but my thoughts were unprintable, or unbloggable at least, full of swearing towards my Father, full of bad and nasty thoughts that just shouldn't be shared. So I won't share them.

The conclusion is good. I can now make a dhal, with a half teaspoon of turmeric, that tastes like pure delight. It's been tried on a few people and it's a joyous success. I can still only make the correct amount for about ten people but that's ok.

I told Lady Luck the whole story afterwards and she seemed to have a vague explanation of why saffron and turmeric could be called by the same name when transalating from Sinhala to English. I didn't fully understand but it all made sense to her.

I'm happy. There are more recipes to learn and I'm hoping they need saffron as I've got a lot of it in the cupboard.

The most important thing I've learned is that when my Dad says saffron, he means turmeric.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bear Necessities

For most Sri Lankans bears are wild things that get spotted occasionally in Yala and other jungle areas. They're brown, can be vicious, they move fast and they don't like posing for photographs.

But, as a kid who was brought up in the UK, I have a different view of bears. The best bear of all time is obviously Winnie The Pooh, before Disney got its hands on him, as everyone knows. As a child I was a devoted follower of the intricate stories that unfolded in 100 acre wood, I felt Eeyore's sadness with him and I envied Christopher Robin's idyllic existence.

I never appreciated AA Milne's poetry that much. "Now we are six" and "When we were very young" were interesting but I'd scan through them desperately looking for a poem or two about Winnie the Pooh to no avail. These days I take some small pleasure in the tenuously linked fact that my covers band does "When we were young" the song by The Killers.

But the stories of Pooh and the other inhabitants of 100 acre wood continually fascinated me. I remember going to Winnie the Pooh pantomimes at Christmas, it seems as if I went for many years in a row but I guess it can only have been two or three at the maximum.

Then, along came that other great bear. No, not the gay one in the yellow chequered trousers, I'm talking about a proper bear here, one who continually got into scrapes, who had an air of pathos about him, who every boy wanted as a friend. Yes, all the way from darkest Peru; Paddington Bear.

I read all of his books and followed his every move. When they were small I tried to get my daughters interested in him, but there was no violence in the stories, there were no computerised graphics and there were no screaming guitars and they moved on quickly. It didn't matter too much, I still have the books somewhere and they're from that phase when I wanted to write my name in everything so each book has got my name in the front section written about 50 times.

When the stories were made into 5 or 10 minute TV programmes I loved them too. Like Fry and Laurie's "Jeeves and Wooster" they were one of the rare attempts where making books into TV actually did justice to the originals.

And one of Paddington's most important traits, one of his trademarks was his fondness for marmalade sandwiches. I strongly suspect that marmalade sales went up considerably after Paddington arrived from darkest Peru. Up until then marmalade was something that parents ate and we saw on the tables in hotels. All of a sudden there were kids like me trying the stuff and liking it.

Paddington lived on Marmalade sandwiches. He carried a little suitcase around with him with a marmalade sandwich in it in case of emergency. Marmalade to him was what honey was to Pooh.

You can imagine my dismay, my sense of disappointment and my feeling of betrayal when i was watching TV last night and the advert came on then. It featured Paddington, animated as well as he ever has been and looking as lost and as good as he always has. But, he was eating a sandwich with cheese and Marmite in it.


I kid you not.

He's sold out, he's advertising Marmite.

Personally I love the stuff. I think the whole way it has been marketed in recent years is brilliant, the whole "you either love it or hate it" thing has been executed superbly and has probably done wonders for its sales. I sometimes think that my dream woman would be one who tasted of Marmite and looked like Jennifer Aniston.

But that doesn't mean that Paddington should have sold his soul. First and foremost he's a marmalade loving bear.

First Winnie the Pooh became a Disney character and now Paddington has become a billboard. This has gone too far. What's next? Yogi advertising Jelly? Baloo extolling the virtues of Centreparcs?

Give us back our childhoods please.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Make my way back home and...

Learn to Cook.

So, what with all that is going on in my life at the moment, fate, circumstance, choice or any combination of all three or perhaps two, had decreed that there was a need for me to acquire new skills. One of the skills was that of cooking. I didn't want to be a fellow who lives on takeaways, microwave meals and has a permanent desire to be invited for dinner just to get a good meal.

If I were Italian I could have considered living on takeaway pizza, particularly as I have the epitome of great Italian cuisine at the end of my road; a Domino's Pizza place. But no, as far as food goes I'm a Sri Lankan through and through. And if I'm going to learn to cook then it may as well be Sri Lankan food that's going to be high on the list.

I wasn't a total imbecile as far as cooking goes, just about three quarters of an imbecile. I could whip up a decent meal as long as it was bacon and eggs, perhaps with toast, providing you didn't expect it to be served at one time. I can also make rice. So, many bases were covered.

But things are different now. The girls, unreasonable as they are, expect me to cook for them when they're here. Bolognese and chili con carne are now staples for me, as well as being basically the same thing but with or without kidney beans and cumin and some chili powder. I can knock up a decent mild chicken curry for them, as taught to me by my Mum and sausage beans and mash is something that always goes down well.

The portfolio needed to grow, it was up to me. So I decided to consult an expert; my Dad. If I wasn't typing this on my laptop I'd put a nifty litlle link here to lead you onto that post I did a short while ago in which I told you about his mutton curry and Yala and things. But, Safari, Blogger and me is a combination that doesn't get on all that well so you'll have to imagine, or search manually. I steamed over to the olds' place with an appointment. It was an appoinment to learn how to make parippu, my first essential and no mean feat.

The no mean feat is not because dhal, or parippu, is that hard to make. No, it's because my Dad is that hard to learn from. Like most of these good cooks he doesn't follow a recipe as such, he doesn't count tablespoons or measure quantities and weights. He just cooks, adding a bit of this, that much of that and some of this as he sees fit until he comes up with some sort of culinary masterpeice. It's a method that works for him and for his guests, but it's not a method that's conducive for learning.

I figured that the way to tackle his modus operandi was to translate his instructions into normal English. So, when he held his fingers up to tell me that this is how much of that to put in, I'd translate it into "add 1.5 teaspoons of chili powder after 7 minutes of simmering". You get my drift. I turned up with pen, paper and good mood, all the essentials.

He cooked, I watched, wrote down and asked questions. Half an hour later he had produced a dhal to die for and I hadn't the faintest idea how it had happened. However, I had faith that I had written down the method, the quantities and the finer details and I had confidence that I could go away and recreate it.

Some days later I felt that the time was right, my day had come and it was the time for me to step out into the big bad world.

I had spent most of my life preparing for this event. Like an athlete in training I felt ready and was at the peak of physical fitness. I was in the zone and chomping at the bit, I was up for the challenge and would never be more ready. I knew that it had to be donw and I knew there was no turning back. I had accepted the challenge, I had grabbed the baton and it was up to me to do the rest.

I opened the packet of lentils.....

to be continued...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bored and missing Colombo

So I'm back, well sort of.

Hanging around at home with one eye that is currently about as effective as a Sri Lankan Minister's son in a "Let's win the ex girlfriend's heart back" competition.

The eye that was operated on is slowly healing, which means I'm peering through a misty cloud that's slowly clearing. I can't drive yet, I can't spend much time on the laptop or watching TV because the eye starts to cry, not because I'm sad or a girl or anything mind.

I'd love to be hanging around Colombo now, just absorbing its sights and sounds and wallowing in its atmosphere.

Then I was wondering if i might tell you all the intimate details about the laser surgery, about the burning smell, the clamp on the eye, the water being poured into it, all that sort of stuff. Mmmmm.... I wonder.

I guess I'll do some serious drum practice, there are songs to learn and solos to be played around with after all.

Maybe I'll think of some things to blog about, even interesting things, there's a radical thought..

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Back In A Bit

On Tuesday I'm having laser surgery on my right eye again. I've ended up with a bit of presbyopia after having the first operation about a year ago so it's going to be re done. The right eye first, then perhaps the left eye if it's needed at a later date.

Then I'll be stuck in bed I guess, for a few days, perhaps longer. And I know that I'll be as bored as a cucumber and as frustrated as one of Darwin's housemates. Reading isn't a viable option, listening to music is hard without vision. I was amazed about this but it's true, unless I'm happy to lie there and trust the shuffle song thing on the iPod, which I found hard to do last time.

Even blogging is probably out as an option, again the eyesight thing kicks into play and makes it impractical. Drum practice is feasible, my electronic kit is permanently set up so I won't have to worry about that, but with dodgy vision and the tiredness it induces I'm not sure if I'll feel like it, even me.

I've got two songs to learn for the covers band; a town called Malice by the Jam and Times like these by the Foos. Both are songs I love, quirky, interesting and challenging in terms of recreating the feel.

So things will probably be bit quiet around the London, Lanka and drums neck of the woods. I shall return, hopefully with a right eye that Steve Austen would be proud of, maybe a bit of running in slow motion too.

See you in a bit.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hot Cakes Are Selling Like iPods

Academic bro returned from the US the other day. One of the things he returned with was a new iPod for our Dad, his first one no less.

The chances are that you're Sri Lankan or you have knowledge of Sri Lanka and its people. Therefore you'll probably appreciate that, when a 70 something Sri Lankan Dad decides the time has come for him to get kitted out with an iPod, these things really have hit new and previously unheard of levels of popularity.

This is a Dad that struggles to operate the steering wheel on a car, often turning it in the opposite direction to the way the indicators are, well, indicating. Although I must admit that he makes what is often regarded as the best mutton curry and dhal in the world.

I remember being in a bungalow in Yala many years ago. As we tucked into our totally mouthwatering dinner of mutton curry, rice and more vegetable curries than I had thought possible I wallowed in the atmosphere. There was food, of the Sri Lankan variety, there had been wildlife and we had just had a close encounter with an lone elephant very close to the bungalow, there was that starry sky that contains not stars but the brightest of LEDs poking through a jet black sheet and there were friends of the closest kind.

If only I had a drum kit with me the setting would have been perfect, I feel sure that a small Bonhamesque solo would have added to the atmosphere too. But, as we tucked into the food and the arrack flowed, one of the friends remarked

"Wow, this mutton is superb no? The second best mutton curry I've ever had."

"What's the best one?" I asked him.

"That's Uncle N's (my Dad's)" he answered. Please note that he didn't actually say "(my Dad's)". they were my brackets that I put there in an attempt to show that he was referring to my Dad, who is Uncle N.

Needless to say I felt quite proud. It must have been about 15 years ago and it's stuck in my mind, which is handy really, otherwise writing about it would have been awkward.

So fair play to the old man. He makes a world beating mutton curry and a comparable dhal (parippu). I have a whole story about my attempts to learn his dhal recipe and method but I'll save that for a separate post.

But, prior to a couple of weeks ago, I would never had thought that he would take to iTunes seamlesly and easily. He is a chap who, on occasional forays into that whole world of sending emails to people, gets my Mum to do it for him. If you know my Mum you'll understand the relevance of that. For academic bro, bringing an iPod back here was the easy bit. Teaching Dad how to use iTunes, how to upload cds and synchronise was going to be a tiny bit harder than teaching a fish to speak Latin. And I'm not talking about an Italian fish either, more like a particularly chavvy one.

Music biz bro and I made ourselves unavailable at the merest mention of showing Dad how to use the hardware and software. I would have happily done most other things but a chap has limits. So academic bro was left with the task and we kept quiet, waiting for the backdraft and the fallout.

A few days later I heard a rumour. It was one of those ones that people don't pay any attention to at first, like that one about Galle Face Green being closed for refurbishment. But the rumour persisted, the whispers continued and it got to a stage where they could be ignored no longer, investigation was required.

Yes, the rumour that had hit the streets was that Dad had been given instruction on his new iPod, on iTunes and on the concept of uploading his cds to iTunes and his iPod and it had all happened seamlessly and painlessly. He was reported to be strolling around the house, iPod strapped into place and merrily listening to his cds without a care in the world. What's more was that, in the whole uploading process, there had been no computer or electrical disasters either in his house or in the immediate vicinity.

I called him, did a bit of smalltalk about the weather, grandchildren, work and stuff then he got on to the subject of his new toy. He told me with some pride of how he has learnt how to use it, how to use iTunes and how to synchronise it and do everything. I was still sceptical so checked with Tarquin, academic bro.

He confirmed it. He said that Dad had understood all, that he hadn't been calling him every half hour to ask those frustrating questions that parents ask us about computers, that all was looking good. Then, at the weekend I went there and saw and tried the little electronic marvel for myself. Sure enough the music was on it and all was working well, Dad even knew how to use it.

Bugger me.

They may be able to redefine portable music, they may be able to make millions of people buy their invention and they can make people like me actually have feelings for a laptop.

But they've come up with the iPod and iTunes and my Dad can use them.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Half Cut and Preshly Pucked

I've found and settled on a new hairdresser. Things with Holly just didn't work out. It wasn't her fault, it was me. I wasn't ready for that type of commitment, often the conversation didn't flow and looks only last up to a certain point. The blonde hair, the skimpy clothes, the breasts and the fake tan just weren't attractive. Even after I stopped wearing them she still didn't like me.

I moved on, Holly and I just drifted and there were no tears and no big upsets.

And I found a new place to rest my weary head. It's one of the mega super trendy ones in Kingston and frankly I enjoy the pampering and luxury, even thought it costs me about the same as it would cost to buy one of the smaller BMWs, probably without an upgraded sound system though.

On Saturday morning I was sitting in there at the designated time. My hair had been washed, my head had had the massage thing where they make you think that you'd happily pay the money just for that without a haircut at all, all was good and Sharon, my new best friend, was working her way through the "not very big hair" I have.

It's about the fourth or fifth time I've been "done" by Sharon. She's nice, she has a 1 year old daughter and we talk about kids, life, music and the world in general. I don't think she's going to beat Darwin in the race to gain a PhD but she's still nice. She explains stuff about my hair to me and remembers things I've told her before. There's nothing worse than having the same conversation that you had last time because the hairdresser never listened to a word you said.

Then, just at about the halfway point of my haircut, we heard a loud clanging sound, rather like a fire bell.

It was a fire bell.

Calmness prevailed, this was hardly going to be a major disaster, it was a shopping centre in Kingston and we were about 10 yards from the front door. But, we had to use it. Company policy and heath and safety rules were in attendance and we, which means me, Sharon and about 10 other customers along with their respective highly trendy hairdressers, all had to leave the place and assemble on the other side of the road in an orderly fashion. Each shop in the Bentall centre had faced the same scenario and each place had a specific part of the pavement on which to stand. It was very British, very efficient and highly organised. Clearly it must have been planned by East Europeans.

You know when you look out of a window and see blue sky, a touch of sun and some people in summery clothes? Well do you do the same thing as I do? Do you assume it's warm, that you don't need a jacket and that you're as oblivious to the cold as the average mad singer whose name is Bjork?

I did. I stood out there with wet hair, my jacket locked in the cupboard in the shop, feeling like a twat. Of course, it turned out that it wasn't just a fire drill either. So we had to wait for the Fire Brigade to arrive and declare everything safe. This took about 6 weeks. All the other customers were led to the shop's other branch on the other side of Kingston, but I, the idiot who had left his jacket inside, where no one was allowed to go until all was declared safe, couldn't go anywhere, because in my jacket was my wallet, my keys and more or less my whole life.

I spent a slightly enjoyable hour there. There was banter between the hairdressers and the customers, there was amusement at the old ugly ladies from the tanning centre opposite, all of whom had to stand in the street half tanned and wrapped in towels. There was laughter at the people from the gym, many who were straight out of the pool or shower, or perhaps just wet. They were all laughing at each other, they laughed at me, with my half cut hair. I laughed at them, the fat ugly bastards with their fake tans. It was all very jovial.

We were finally allowed back in. Sharon finished what she had started. We decided that it would be an idea for her to cut the sides of my hair shorter than she has done before but to still leave the hair there quite choppy and messy. It seems to work, you'll be pleased to know. Off I strolled, to collect the girls and go to their Grandparents' for lunch and family stuff. All was pleasant and happy.

On Sunday I met up with a good friend who I haven't seen for a while. She had a certain look of radiance about her, that glow, the one that all women recognise in each other but men just vaguely pick up, without being able to define.

As soon as I saw her I said

"Bloody hell, you look great"

She said, with what I realised immediately afterwards, was a glow of satisfaction

"Ah yes, that's because I'm freshly fu....ed."

It was a phrase I hadn't heard before. I like it. It's crude but somehow I find it very appropriate and descriptive.

I think I'll try to use it in my everyday conversation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sigiriya or Dambulla?

I was hanging around on Sunday night, comtemplating going to a gig, comtemplating life in general and feeling quite pleased with myself for a few things.

The first was the new drum fill I had just written, my New Year's resolution continues to work and my musical vocabulary continues to grow, with some hiccups but a general upwards trend. For the musical amongst you the fill sounds like this:

da ga da da da sss da ga da do go do blap.

The "blap" falls on the four of a four beat fill and, well the rest is pretty obvious really.

But, after writing it down in proper musical notation, which helps me learn and remember these things, I settled down to a spot of dinner and perused the 387 TV channels I have access to for something vaguely interesting to watch. Of course this vast array of channels doesn't broadcast anything that I find interesting, just stuff that other people find interesting, people who have never, ever watched TV before and therefore don't realise that everything is a repeat.

I finally, only because it was the least crap thing I could find, settled on a programme called "Britain's Favourite View". I thought the title was promising and, before I pressed the information button to find out more, had expected to see that it would be a beautifully filmed programme showing some of the stunning landscapes and scenery that we have here in Blighty.

It so nearly was, yet it was also the epitome of chav TV.

It was a programme, which turned out to be the "final", in which members of the public had to ring in and vote for the view that they considered as their favourite. There were about 5 such views in this final and it became obvious to me that in this, as in the previous "rounds" various celebrities had presented their favourite view. They had each made a short film about their chosen view, they had presented the film and talked about the view and been interviewed by Trevor Mcdonald about it. Some views had been eliminated in previous rounds, I'm unsure if they had to sing a song or perhaps the other views had to vote in a clincher of some sort.

I can't remember the exact locations but there were ones like a specific place in the Lake District, a part of Northern Ireland incorporating the Mountains of Mourne, a castle somewhere on the North East coast of England and so on.

Each place was filmed beautifully, each was incredibly picturesque and it looked as if each celebrity was passionate about their place, as if celebrities really had chosen their view, not been allocated it, although I can't be sure.

But I hate this whole reality TV business, I really do. This was, for me, just a fundamentally inappropriate way to portray the intense beauty and often unappreciated splendour of the UK. It's bad enough when poor quality people vote for the person that's going to be number one in the charts for the next five years, but at least there's a full circle kind of thing going on there in that they're the idiots who are going to buy the crap music anyway.

For me, landscapes and scenery are not the things that should be voted for, or against. I have a great dislike for the way that we so often send out a message that everything has to be a competition, with winners and losers. Why can't people appreciate many scenes and views without having to decide on a winner or a loser? Why can't we teach our kids to think abundantly, not scarcely?

Then again, the result of this programme would surely have been that more people would have visited all the featured attractions, which I assume is good and wanted. More members of the public would have become aware of their existence, as was the case with me. One of the many things I'd like to do is to have a much better knowledge of the UK, to see some more of the country and landscape I live in, and programmes like this do inspire me to do more and see more and so broaden my knowledge. I just don't want to vote on it.

What do you think, Sigiriya or Dambulla? The Lake District or The River Thames?

Do you have to choose?

Friday, September 7, 2007

Serendipity and Great Sex

My name is Rhythmic, I am something years old. I like Sri Lanka. I like it because of scenes like this. I like it for many other reasons too.

That's the introduction bit over.

If you're a regular you'll probably be aware that I was in the motherland a couple of weeks ago. I've bombarded you with photographs, stories and deeply meaningful intelligent analyses of the whole Sri Lankan political situation.

Here's another of the stories, except it's more of a thing really, just a narrative.

One of the things I did there was to travel down south for a few days' of pure relaxation and rest. Only when the opportunity came up I realised that it was such a long time since I had been in Sri Lanka and travelled out of Colombo. I have come there for so many short trips in the last couple of years that I just haven't had the luxury of a few weeks there and the time to get out of town.

So, after the necessaries had been organised and the car had failed to turn up at the allotted time and a different one had been organised, normal stuff for Sri Lanka, I set off.

I don't know if you people who live in Sri Lanka have the same feelings as I do about this but, one of the things I love is to just travel around Sri Lanka and look out of the window. Any journey there has an abundance of interesting features and sights for me, from the vegetation to the cars to the people and the landscape. Most journeys conjure up all manner of emotions for me. There are childhood memories that crop up at the most innocuous times, there are memories of the girls when they were younger, of my parents and my brothers in those days when we'd go on big family holidays together.

There are some less happy times to be remembered too, like driving back to Colombo from Kandy in July '83, probably the single most fearful time of my life.

The journey down south is one of those specials for me too. The trip from the centre of Colombo to Mount Lavinia is always a bit of a chore, the traffic to be negotiated at almost any time of the day is just a pain and getting to the point of the Mount Hotel always seems like a major milestone for me. But after Mount the noise and the dirt, the fumes and the smells start to dissipate as the metropolis fades and gets left behind, the landscape gradually changes into the timeless Sri Lanka of travel brochures and dreams.

This was only the second time I've travelled down south since the tsunami and I was still left gasping open mouthed at some of the devastation and the sheer power of water. I know much has been fixed, cleared and tidied, but there's still so many signs of the disaster and they'll break anyone's heart a little bit.

I felt as if I was experiencing a bit of mental turmoil though, to see some of this damage yet to also enjoy the unparalleled beauty felt like I was being disloyal to the people that lost so much. Would those who lost homes, families, lives and livelihoods ever look at the landscape and feel the beauty or would they hate it for the sadness it caused? It just doesn't seem fair that such a stunning visual feast can also be responsible for causing so much tragedy, but that's the natural world I guess.

Yet I continued to marvel at the sights as they revealed themselves to me. I watched as the ocean changed colour, from the greyish non descript colour that it appears in Colombo, the one I can't describe, to the blue gently lapping waves with the palm trees in the background with their colourful simplicity. I saw how the building and office blocks gave way to simple dwellings and 5 star hotels. The brisk manner of Colombo people, the hurriedness of their walks was replaced by people who looked more relaxed, who carried themselves with an air of calmness.

Grey became green or blue, it was as if a polarising filter had been stuck in my eyes and everything looked more colourful and bright. Even now, as I'm writing this I can feel the sensations I experienced, all my senses were working overtime, as those XTC chaps once said.

I could taste the sea, I could see the beauty and smell the saltiness and freshness. I could hear the waves and I felt an overwhelming sense of tranquility. I felt passion for Sri Lanka, for its landscape and its beauty, for the tranquility of the countryside and also for the excitement of Colombo.

Once I got to the hotel there were plenty more treats in store, but that's for another day and another post.

The sex bit?

Oh yes. Well I was reading a thing about sex the other day and it said that great sex is not just about getting to the point of an orgasm, more that it's about how you enjoy getting there, the beauty and joy of the journey itself, rather than just the fun of the destination.

And that's one of the things about Sri Lanka for me, the journeys can be as good as the destination.

It's a Drummer's Life (Shakin' that Arse - Pt 2)

After the fun of Saturday Mimosa had another gig to play on the following day. It was a wedding reception, our first such gig and we all felt a little bit apprehensive. It's one thing to play in dodgy clubs and festivals but a wedding reception is different; we had to be at our best and we had to do all we could do make it enjoyable for the audience.

We had been chosen by the bride and groom after they had seen us play at a club some months ago. It was quite an honour to hear that they had listened to about 10 bands before they heard us and decided immediately that we were the correct one for the job. We'd been given a schedule for the evening and knew we had to abide by it, turning up late and hungover for a gig at a smelly club with no punters is all well and good and par for the course for the average musician, but for someone's wedding it wasn't a viable option.

So we were at the venue at 4PM as instructed so that we could set up and sound check by 5.30, when the happy couple would arrive. At 5 o'clock we were pleased with our progress. Everything was set up, there was problem with a couple of the monitors but it wasn't a big one, and we were ready to soundcheck and run through a couple of songs to warm up.

At 5.01 I, as well as several other members of that great funky band I'm in, had a heart attack. The bride and groom had arrived at the venue, half an hour early. What to do? We were faced with two choices, or three if you include the one about packing up quickly and doing a runner; we could either stay quietly in the background and wait until 8.30 to start our set, risking the possibility of bad sound and its consequences. Bear in mind we are an 8 piece band so there's a few instruments to be balanced to ensure we do sound ok. Or we could go ahead and soundcheck, albeit briefly, in front of the newly weds and the few guests who had arrivied with them.

We went for the last option. We all felt very frustrated that we might piss off the couple, our employers, but we felt that we had stuck to the timetble they had supplied and a soundcheck was essential for us to sound good, as well as the fact that the couple had arrived early. Of course, the rough game plan we had beforehand; to run through some of the songs in their entirety, the ones we hadn't practiced for a while, became a total non starter and we did our soundcheck as quickly and as professionally as we could. Then, off we went, to wait around for the 3 1/2 hours until we were required to play.

At 8.30 we took to our stage. We were to do 2 sets, both of about 45 minutes, and we planned on a slightly more mellow first set and a kicking dancing type of second set. As we started a few people began to dance. This was nice and positive and more people began to join them and boogie away. I felt a great sense of confidence and assurance in our playing. Perhaps this was to do with the fact we had gigged the previous day, perhaps it was influenced by our increasing maturity as a band, perhaps it was because of all 3, perhaps my counting isn't that good after all.

I don't know. But we finished the set and went to our little room to wait for the resuming of festivities. By 10 PM we knew that the guests would be very drunk, the atmosphere would be more relaxed and the music would be more lively.

You know, I noticed something about wedding guests, women specifically. It's the fact that many ropey looking women get dolled up for a wedding and end up looking quite nice as wedding guests. It's like a day at the races, they put on a glamorous dress, some make up and a push up bra and they become a different person. And often, this different person wants to flirt with the chaps in the band, occasionally even with the drummer. This whole "drummers being sexy" thing is a bit of a revelation to me and I'd be grateful if T, or someone who subscribes to the idea could attempt to explain it to me.

We're clearly different to the other musicians. A bit like a goalkeeper in that we're part of a team but we play a very individual role within the team. But why do some women go for drummers? Is it the physical thing, in that they know we're all capable of rhythmic movements all night long? Is it the fact that we sweat and exert ourselves for a long time for pleasure? Is it that fact that we're experts in controlling the movements of our body, from our fingers to our muscular legs? Or maybe it's the way that we're pretty damn good at making one part of our body do one thing while another part does a totally different thing?

I really don't know, but I can't see why any of these qualities would be in the least bit attractive to some middle aged woman, dressed up to the nines and out to have a good time. These things mystify me.

But our second set really kicked some arse. We were in fine form and so was the crowd. Sometimes it's bad to analyse these things too much, sometimes analysis tears them apart. But this was just fun, pure and simple. We had virtually the whole throng up and dancing for about an hour solidly. Debby, our singer, was in fine form, the band was as slick as we have ever been and I know I played solidly. We made some mistakes but we're good enough to deal with them without a train crash.

We all enjoyed ourselves, something that I've come to learn is a huge factor in how much the audience enjoys the band, if the band is smiling and laughing and looks like it's fun there's an infectious enthusiasm about it. There were people dancing as if dancing is going out of fashion. There were grandparents and grandchildren dancing together and the generation in between was too.

I got a big thrill as I looked up at one point and saw a club full of moving bodies and thought that it was my groove that they were moving to, it was me who was giving them the rhythm and the feel to dance to. Of course I didn't want to dwell on it for too long or I would have missed a beat or shat my pants or something. But, as I've said before, there's not much better feeling than knowing it's us that were making the people dance, our songs, our music and our playing.

At the end of the set the room emptied quicker than you could say "you're not allowed to smoke in here now so you have to go outside for a fag" and we were left to take our stuff down, the drummer's bane. We did that and melted into the night. There were some thank yous, some women to be fought off, or not, as the case may be and there was the routine of work the next morning.

I had a band practice with the covers band the following day too, followed by another Mimosa practice the next evening. I love it though.

The whole gigging for little money, setting up and lugging around a drum kit, getting knackered while playing and having to learn new songs.

I wouldn't swap it for the world.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

There are two types of people...

That's got to be one of the most overused cliches ever. Although I wonder what on Earth an underused cliche would be. An oxymoron I guess, like "Sri Lankan ceasefire agreement", "Country music" or "funky white bloke". Some things just don't exist.

Recently I realised that many people make that statement, the one that goes..

"There are two types of people.."

They follow the words with a generalisation on how the Human race can be split into those that do one thing and those that don't, invariably with some sort of message about which type is the "best" one to be.

There are:

Those who do the work and those who take the credit

Those who walk into a room and say "Ah here I am" and those who say "Ah there you are"

Those who are creative thinkers and those who are critical thinkers

Those who say the glass is half full and those who say it is half empty

My personal favourite is that there are actually 10 types of people in the world; those who understand binary and those who don't.

But actually I don't think all the people in this big wide world can be classified into two types.

I firmly believe that there are two types of people in the world; those who believe there are two types of people and those who don't.

What type are you?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

My How they've Grown!

The eleven year old, the scary one, the one who likes My Chemical Romance and other EMO ish things and who can out argue me without breaking into the mildest of sweats had her first day at secondary school the other day.

I'll tell you about it, read into it what you will, but it's a bit about my life.

I was asked to drop her for various reasons and I duly obliged. I rolled up at their place at the designated time and found her and her elder sister pretending to get ready. The eldest, although at the same school, didn't start until later so was going to make her own way in with a friend. We had to be at the school by 8.30 so had to leave by around 8.15.

In all her life I've never seen her looking as smart and presentable as she did. She's one of these kids who has a propensity to scruffiness and dirt. Shoes on her get scuffed, clothes get dirty and hair gets messed up and ruffled, all in less time than it takes for one of those East European windscreen washer women to draw a washing up liquid heart on a windscreen and then smile at you through the gap in their teeth.

Her smartness was something I knew would be short lived, but it was a big and new experience. The shoes were gleaming, the hair was neat and tidy and the clothes were ironed and clean. She's one of those eleven year olds with absolute confidence, with ne'er the slightest hint of nerves or ansgt about her person, and this first day at secondary school was just another thing to take in her stride. If it had been me or her sister we would have been ready around four months beforehand, we would have left about three months before we needed to and our nerves would have been torn to shreds, if that's what happens to nerves.

I had to put up with some shouting and arguing as I attempted to persuade her that it was time to leave, but we finally managed it and set off in the car, with that "Teenagers scare the living shit out of me" song blaring out as had been requested by the child thing. It seemed appropriate.

As we drove near to the school she spotted a good friend, E, strolling along with her Mum. There was some frantic waving and shouting and we continued towards the school, parked up and got out of the car.

"Just leave me here Dad, I'll be fine" she kind of teenagerley whined at me, with that tone that makes you think girls' voices can break too.

"No, it's ok I'll take you across the road and make sure you're all sorted" I replied.

"I'll be fine"

"But I'd like to" I fired back, with as much force as I dared.

"Ok" she retorted. It amazes me how a person can get across so much attitude in just two letters, but she managed it.

We got out and looked in all those directions that are required prior to crossing a road. You Sri Lankans may be lost at this point, but here in England it's common practice for pedestrians to look before they walk across a busy road. Honestly, it's true. I asked her to hold my hand, a bold and stupid move.

"It's ok Dad, I'm eleven."

"I know you are but hold my hand"

"I don't have to, I know how to cross a road"

I let her do it, this letting go of kids thing can be hard sometimes but it's also got to be done. When we got to the other side we saw E, her friend, strolling along the pavement with no sign of her Mother. Clearly she had told the Mother to make herself scarce and was happy about it. They grinned, greeted each other and then my youngest turned to me with those warm words.

"Bye Dad"

"Ah right, bye then" I said, with an air of nonchalence. I leant down to give her a kiss, she pretended not to see, but I managed to sneak one before I could shatter all her credibility. Then I left her to talk with E, they reminded me of Rizzo's gang of girls in "Grease". I jumped in my car, pulled out and drove off. As I went past the school gate the two of them were there, just standing and talking and laughing. Had I not known I would never have guessed it was their first day at the school.

Off I went to work, feeling a tad sad but mostly happy. Sad that she'll be sixteen when she leaves the school, unless she gets expelled for something unsurprising, but happy that she'll always be my daughter, no matter what.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Shakin' that Arse

I'm not very clued up about the demographics of my readership, I'm not sure if I have a readership as such or if it's a few regulars and a smattering of passers by. But, if you're one of the unknown, or known, regulars, then you'll undoubtedly know that music is my big, big passion, specifically drumming.

So a weekend in which I have two gigs is always going to be a major one and the last was no exception. Both gigs were with Mimosa, the funksters, and they couldn't have been more different. On Saturday it was a gig at a VW festival, one of those massive affairs with camper vans, Beetles and surfer dudes all over the place, then on Sunday it was a wedding reception, one of those ones with a bride, a groom and guests and everything.

The VW thing was at Santa Pod raceway, a place that was new to me, but well known to everyone else in the Western world and also to the Satellite Navigation on my Ultimate Driving Machine, not that any particular raceway is well known to me but you know what I mean.

After a pleasant two hour journey in a car full of drums I arrived there. It's the third time I've played at one of these VW festivals, this was easily the biggest and grandest of them but they've all shared an air of friendliness and cameraderie. The people are all happy and jovial and the atmosphere is a smiley one, rather like one of Java's emails.

As I drove into the place there were VWs of all shapes and sizes dotted about, it was a test of skill and patience to drive through a space like this and have to dodge the hippies and surfer dudes, it's always tempting to maim or kill just one or two, surely they wouldn't be missed, I always think. But then Quiksilver and Converse's sales would probably suffer badly and I'd get caught, not to mention the negative effect on the chances of us getting the gig next year. I did the right thing and drove in nice and peacefully, much like a Sri Lankan Tri Shaw driver.

The stage, once located, was about the size of a small independent state, like Liechtenstein or India. It felt more bouncy though and it had more lighting, possibly with a few less sound engineers. There were supposed to be eight bands playing, going on until about midnight, and we were first on the bill. So, our potential audience was may thousands of people, but we had the worst slot of the day, we thought.

As we all met up we were told that one band had cancelled and therefore we were expected to go on at twelve rather than one. This was good, we would get done and go off earlier, but life with musicians is never that easy and it meant trying to contact the others and to get them to arrive sooner, never a doddle and that's why guitarists don't generally get involved in time keeping issues.

We set up, did a brief soundcheck and then went for it. The full force of Mimosa kicked in and I felt my usual pride in being a part of it. There was a handful of people, perhaps thirty or forty, and there was more wind going around the stage than there is in my Mum and Dad's bathroom after me and my brothers have had a night on the town. Music and lyrics were being swept off the stage and, at one point, there was an even more than usually confused brass section as their chords got blown to oblivion.

The set was a short one at forty minutes. We had to make some changes and the running order was mostly decided as we played. This was a bit of a test for us but also one which made me feel quite satisfied. It's good to know that we can fly by the seat of our musical pants and I was happy that I can play any one of our songs at a moment's notice without the feeling of panic, along the lines of "fuck, how does that one go again?", as I used to.

Gigs like this, with a small audience, invariably end up with all of us having a laugh and being very relaxed. There was some messing about, I decided to play a bit of an extended solo during Watermelon Man, much to the dismay of the bassist and percussionist, who had both expected to have their own solo.

And even thought there wasn't much of a crowd I had a massive feeling of joy and a sense of awe at the power of music. There was one point when I looked up from my kit and noticed that almost all of the crowd were dancing. Some of it was particularly crappy dancing but it was still happening. People were moving to the music, some were swaying, some were tapping their feet and others were giving it the full "Dad at a wedding" thing. It was us, it was our music, songs and grooves that we had written, practiced and perfected (or not perfected) over the last couple of years that was making these people smile and move and tap their feet.

It's one thing to play a cover, a song that everyone already knows from hearing it on the radio every three minutes, and get people moving. But, to play your own stuff and get some arses moving is, and I apologise for my language here, just fucking marvellous.

We finished and we left. The next day (Sunday) was the wedding reception gig which I'll definitely do a separate post on. I did discover that we had been the most well received band from the VW festival.

Which was nice.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A Bunch of Fives

All these posts and games of blogospheric tag have got me thinking about lists and top 5s. I won't tag anyone with this but feel free to do your own ones if you desire, and if you have a blog. You can of course do lists of some top 5 thing even if you don't have a blog, but it will just be a list that probably won't get seen by many people. Unless you're a journalist or something like that.

So, some random ponderings:

My top 5 Sri Lankan foods:

  1. String hoppers

  2. Rambutans (I know they're not strictly Sri Lankan but I'll always think of them as Sri Lankan)

  3. Lamprais

  4. Parippu

  5. Proper Muslim Buriyani.

My top 5 current gadgets:

  1. My MacBook

  2. This new Samsung mobile phone I've got. It's nothing special, just a standard type of thing but it's got a sexy tactile feel to it. A sort of rubberised silky plastic. I want to stroke it.

  3. The very trendy and expensive new kitchen timer I bought. It looks a bit like a seventies car speedometer and cost about 4 times the price of a "normal" kitchen timer. It was a pure impulse buy, I don't really need a kitchen timer anyway.

  4. This new ab machine thing. There I was, watching late night cable TV as we all pretend we don't do. On came an "infommercial" for the lastest abs trainer. It's so much better than the previous ones, which were all crap. It's revolutionary because it's so good for your back and gyms across the US are buying these in droves. Did I fall for this rubbish? Was I taken in and did I go online and order one immediately? Of course I did, of course I was and yes. I now own a blow up bean thing that you sit on and rock. It will make me have the abs of an average American within about 3 days.

  5. My Canon EOS 400D SLR. It makes taking photos a pleasurable experience in itself. A right little masterpiece of design. Everything feels very intuitive about it and my hands want to hold it.

5 things I've learnt recently:

  1. There is such a thing as too much planning, the whole "seat of your pants" thing can be fun.

  2. Some fear is good. It's healthy and positive and is what stops us from doing stupid things.

  3. Many women find drummers sexy.

  4. Attitudes are infectious. Some people are drainers of energy and others are big sources of positive energy. I know which type I want to be.

  5. Gut feeling, instinct, whatever you call it, is a powerful force but often hard to acknowledge. Once you do figure out how to latch on to your gut feelings many great things can happen.