Monday, April 30, 2007

On "Dropping In"

I was brought up here in England, by Sri Lankan parents. So, my life has been a mixture of Sri Lankan traditions and customs and British ones too.

One of the truly great Sri Lankan things that I have got used to is "dropping in". I suspect that hardly anyone who reads this will have any problem in understanding exactly what I'm talking about. My childhood was full of visits and visitors.

At a moment's notice the family would pile into a car to go and drop in on some, usually Sri Lankan, Uncle and Aunty. It was always a pleasure for them to see us. We'd turn up, kids would play, drinks and food would be served then we'd wander off home. The next weekend there was every chance that the Uncle and Aunty would turn up wholly unannounced at our place and the hospitality would be returned. There'd be no phone calls to prearrange things, no formal invitations and certainly no planning or worries about "what if they're not there?" The answer to the last question was a simple detour to go and drop in on someone else.

It's a concept that the average Englishman finds hard to handle. It only really happens between great friends among the English. An Englishman's home being his castle and all whereas a Sri Lankan's home is everyone else's too. With the English it tends to be the norm that one has to be invited, then the invitation is accepted, or declined, and you arrive within four nanoseconds of the allocated time.

A Sri Lankan, like my Dad, gets invited somewhere, then forgets about it anyway. Then he remembers, invariably after he has double booked for the night. Then he will turn up at the venue, anytime from half an hour to six months late.

This dropping in is extended to people staying too. I can remember a vast array of people that would be regular guests at the family home when I was a kid. They would arrive, we'd be shoved into another room somewhere and all would be quite happy about it. I was talking to a Sri Lankan friend who was brought up in the UK recently and she said that it was the same for her childhood, it was more than likely to have been many of the same people too!

At my parents' house now it's common for me to turn up and find any one, or two or three, of their friends there, who have dropped in. This can even be Brits, those that have known my Mum and Dad for years and understand the whole dropping in concept.

Frankly I love the whole idea. It's a wonderful example of Sri Lankan hospitality and warmth. The one thing I'm unsure of is whether it's a concept that other nationalites do, or is it uniquely Sri Lankan?

What do you reckon?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

More Macbook News

So, here I am, sitting here surrounded by parents, waiting for the rain in the West Indies to stop and for Sri Lanka to beat the Aussies in the final. It may be a long wait!

There must be people around the world feeling just like this household does right now. Just want the match to start, I bet none of us want it to have to wait until tomorrow. Sky Sports, the channel of choice here in the UK is showing highlights from the other good matches in the world cup. I wonder if everyone watching this feels as half hearted as I do. No one really wants to see highlights of previous matches right now. I wonder if everyone shares my opinion on Malinga's hair. That's hardly a chap who wants to stay out of the limelight is it? I was thinking of adopting the same hairstyle but have decided that Sanath's shiney look may be one that suits my rate of hair growth more than Malinga's.

My Dad spoke to his family in Sri Lanka this morning, apparently all the boys in his village have got firecrackers at the ready. It's an occasion that I would love to be enjoying in the heart of Colombo. I bet the atmosphere is kicking there.

What else?

I'm getting more used to this MacBook thing I bought. Everything about is has grabbed me. Thanks to all the people who left comments on my first post about it. I now know how to select multiple items in a list and am finding my way around the other idiosyncrasies. The more I learn about these idiosyncrasies, the more I think that they're actually common sense and it's PCs and windows that have weird things and strange illogical design. The more I get used to the MacBook the more I feel that my work PC is clunky, the design is messy and its keyboard is second rate.

I haven't figured out the MacMail thing yet. On first opening it asked me if I wanted to set up an account. I tried, I failed, I gave up. I now get some error message whenever I go there telling me that my password has been rejected. It's not a dealbreaker, just frustrating and annoying. I can't think of anyone I know that actually uses a mac mail address anyway.

I am wondering about my wisdom in buying a black MacBook though. I think it looks better than white, I prefer the general ambience of it. I like black things, not in excess but I'm partial to a splash of black now and again. The problem though is fingermarks; they show up everywhere. There must be some handy tips for keeping these things fingermarkless.

I'm getting used to the dock, to the F9 key, what a great little key that is and the simplistic design. Years of habit mean that I am struggling to recognise the Safari icon as that for the Internet, I'm sure that will change soon.

So, for now, I'm off. The players are out on the pitch, it looks like some kind of match is about to start.

Let's hope my next post is one of the millions that will celebrate Sri Lanka winning the world cup!!

Friday, April 27, 2007

What's Going Down?

There I was the other morning. Standing in the shower and thinking about Colombo.

It's something I do a lot of, particularly recently, what with the cricket going on.

I'm hugely excited about the final tomorrow, as are most Sri Lankans I guess. Here in England most people I've spoken to about it think that the Aussies will probably win. But, they also say that this is a world cup in which the two best teams have ended up in the final, that, if anyone can do it and beat the Aussies, it's the Sri Lankans.

I agree.

Tomorrow afternoon I'll be watching the match at my parents' house. I'll be wishing I was in Colombo though.

Good Luck Sri Lanka!!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I've Got This Energy

My current choice of popular beat combo is the Killers, specifically " Sam's Town" their latest offering.

I wasn't a big fan of this particular band, their drummer, an American by the name of Ronnie Vanucci, is revered as a young up and coming buck in the drum world and I must confess that I would agree. He comes up with some incredibly inventive parts that have a very different sound yet still feel correct for each song. And let's face it, a bloke with name like Ronnie Vanucci is hardly going to be from the South of England is he now? Unless you're thinking of the Ronnie Vanucci from Bournemouth, the ice cream man.

But, I had to learn "When you were young" for the new covers band, I did find myself singing along to the singles and thought I'd buy the album anyway, not that I ever need an excuse to buy an album at the best of times.

As is my usual habit immediately after I'd bought it I whacked it in the car CD player and listened to it at every opportunity. It didn't grab me at first, but I persevered, then bang, it had me hooked.

The first song, called Sam's Town, is a massive affair. Big production, lots of voices and many sections. It's got more complicated sections than some of the harder parts of Dark Side of the Moon and it makes me feel good. It opens with a big intro, all rolling keyboard lines and big cymbal crashes and rolls around Ronnie's drum kit and then it kicks in to a verse that's got about seventeen different drum grooves going on within it, none of which feel wrong.

It's a song that has to be played loud, then turned up a few notches to make sure. But, what captured me in this song is one line which I wish I'd written myself:

" I've got this energy beneath my feet,
like something underground's gonna come up and carry me"

Ok, two lines, but one sentence, albeit with a bit of slang thrown in. I was talking to a friend about the line. He said that he could visualise standing on the ground and watching buildings spring up around him. For me, I can hear the line and virtually feel as if I'm standing still but feeling so energised that my feet are vibrating and, well something's going to come up and carry me. Hardly imaginative but the best description I can think of to be honest.

The song continues to bombard the ears with a mixture of dynamics and clever lyrics then finishes with a nifty quiet bit where the atmosphere changes and goes all harmonious. The next song is an interesting piano and vocal number that serves as a nice bridge between the opener and the big single "When you were young".

But, after some serious listening to each song what has stuck in my mind is that they're clever songs, but not in an arsey way. It's as if each one is a little masterpiece in its own right. As if each one is a song in a musical and all the sections are carefully considered and thought out before being recorded. Usually when I hear an album with "big" production I end up thinking it's been overproduced and that someone has tried to do much. My main love in music is raw and simple things, like good old fashioned funk and Emerson Lake and Palmer.

This album is an exception. Massive production, massive voices, lots of instrumentation and some catchy tunes with it.

It's a keeper!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Being an Agony Uncle

You know the way some chap comes to you, usually a good friend, tells you all about his (or her) latest serious relationship problem and asks you for your advice. Then you give chap the required advice. You know that every word, every single thing you've said makes perfect sense, that one of those Doctors on TV would have said the same stuff only not as convincingly.

Then, some time later, you discover that the friend has waltzed off into the outside world and done the exact opposite of your plan. You've told the friend that he needs to ignore the girl, or he needs to wear women's clothes to impress her and gain her heart, and he has gone straight out and talked to her all the time whilst wearing the clothes of a man. Then he comes back to you in a state of even more upset and anguish because she has spurned him.

So, why does this happen?

Well I've been pondering on this phenomenon lately and have developed a bit of a theory. The first thing to understand is that often the poor fellow in need doesn't actually want any advice, he just wants to talk to someone and let things out.

If advice is actually required then we (the agony Uncles) always look at things from an objective and detached viewpoint. I invariably start by saying things like

"If I was in your position..."

I'll go on to advise the friend exactly what I think I would do if I were in their situation. I'll have taken the facts, as presented to me by the friend, looked at them logically and objectively and processed them in my vastly befuddled brain, the one that is normally miles away from where it is required. Then I'll go off on one and advise the chap on exactly how I see things.

That's the crux of my new theory. I, and I bet you do it too, have given advice based on facts and emotional detachment. Said friend is stuck in the middle of things, his (or her) emotions are set on gas mark "totally involved" and their view of things is enhanced, clouded, filtered or influenced by love, chemicals and all sorts of subjectivity that shouldn't be allowed in the developed world. Or the developing world come to think of it. Our advice is wholly innapropriate, entirely wrong and always ignored.

So how do we avoid this happening in the future?

Well my plan is very simple.

You still listen to the friend in need but, before you proffer a single word of wisdom, just ask them if they want your advice or if they just want to talk and let stuff out. Be genuine and sincere and you'll be surprised how many people don't want to know your advice and are actually happy to say so.

If the chap just wants to talk and has no need for words of wisdom then a useful accesory is an iPod. You can surreptitiously bung the earphones in and listen away to your heart's content to whatever takes your fancy, while the heartbroken fellow spurts on about unrequited love, using sex toys on buses and the other normal things. Just master the art of saying "yes" or "mmm" or nodding your head in agreement at the right intervals. Advanced listeners can even learn a phrase or two to throw into the proceedings but care and due diligence should be exercised. Situations can be embarrassing and painful for all concerned when you come out with

"You're better off without her, I never thought she was right for you" in response to your soon to be ex friend telling you how sad he is because his Mother has just died.

Just be careful, use common sense and always try to make your comments as general as possible, while making your patient think that you're being smart and specific. Some handy phrases are:

"I see what you're going through" and "It can't easy for you at all".

They're applicable to almost any scenario and the fellow in need will think you're listening to his every utterance.

It's worth adding that I have heard stories of people using MP3 players other than iPods. I can neither verify or recommend the practice. Yes there are other MP3 players available, some people argue that they're better than iPods, they may even be correct. But these are poor quality people and their opinions should be disregarded. They don't understand the beauty of an iPod, the pure sexiness in its design. Would you seek relationship advice from a fellow who had a generic MP3 player? Me neither.

Don't shatter you credibility into a gazillion pieces later in the conversation by giving out some advice. No, just listen and shut the fuck up.

However, if they do want your advice, then by all means give it freely. Listen to their story of woe, despite the fact that it will inevtably be about a girl who either isn't interested in the chap or whose interest the chap can't ascertain.

Give good advice based on your objective and logical opinion. Don't try things like looking at it from their point of view, you can't. Just give out the wisdom with the full knowledge that it will be ignored. Be happy about it. Be flattered that you have been asked. Be happy that, like Jose, you are the chosen one. Just be aware that he'll go off and do the opposite.

That's the trick, the golden shower, if you like.

Listen, talk, get ignored then be prepared to do it all again the next time.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Black is the new Black- Yay!

So I went out and bought myself one of these MacBook things, in black. Not that I was wearing black when I bought it, but that the actual laptop is in black.

I've been a PC user all my computer using life. Macs have always been for creative types, educational types and trendies. I've never really fitted itno any of those categories. But, good design is something I'm a sucker for, spending silly amounts of money on things that are wholly unnecessary but still sexy is something I'm good at and this Mac stuff looks like it might just catch on.

For the last few weeks I have hanging around the new Apple Store in Kingston. It's a place that has done wonders to restore my faith in good customer service. We Brits (?) can do it if we really want to. Ok I know those Apple fellows aren't exactly British and but the shop is staffed mostly by Brits and they appear to do a fine job. I've been rapidly seduced by the great attitude of its staff, they've been friendly and knowledgeable and, on the rare occasions when someone hasn't known the answer to a question, they've found it out for me. These things matter to me and usually influence my buying decisions massively. I always prefer to pay a bit more for something if that means I'm buying from somewhere that gives good service. I'm definitely not one who asks questions in shops, finds out everything I need to know and then sails off and buys the thing over the internet.

Today I went back and finally bought this MacBook thing. It's the one I'm typing this on, as you can see. In just a few hours of play it has become almost my new favourite thing. I'm totally unfamiliar with Mac software so that's going to be a new learning curve to climb, one that I'm already enjoying. The keyboard is one of these sunken ones, no big keys poking out from the depths, just these little things that feel quite good to use. The display is bright and, as I've never had a laptop before, I'm being continually pleasantly surprised by the way in which I can tilt the screen to suit my chosen angle.

The entire contents of my iTunes library have been imported, this is something I am particularly pleased about, as iTunes and keeping my photographs to hand are the two things I'll use it most for. I use lots of different playlists for keeping sets and songs I play in the bands, as well as for the reasons normal people do. The next tactical move will be to import my photographs, then I'll be free to start playing around with things.

So far I've been amazed and delighted by the simplicity of its design and the ease in which I've been able to do things. There's no vast array of buttons everywhere, flashing lights and things poking out from every nook and cranny. I've still got to investigate all the function keys and many of its little touches but, as that Neville Timberland bloke would say " I'm lovin' it"

One of the best bits is that it's black. As I'm not an Apple purist I saw no need to insist on it being in white. Of course this means I'll have to buy a black iPod at some point too. But I don't feel as if I'm flaunting my Appleness too much.

And that has been what I've been up to, apart from all the other stuff which you just may know about already.

Now, does anyone know how to select multiple items from a list on a Mac? As if you were going to right click and scroll down on a PC, to select several consecutive lines.

Have a good week Colombo!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

That Plastic Stuff

I was printing some things on one of the office printers today. It's a new printer that we've had here for about a month, rather nice, it prints and does printer type things like jamming and spilling toner everywhere.

I noticed that no one had taken the plastic protective sheeting thing off the display panel. You know that protective film that all electronic things have on their clear panels before they're actually bought. It's on phone displays, on remote controls, it's on decent watch faces and pretty much anything you can think of.

So I immediately peeled it off, to reveal a sparkling unblemished clear plastic panel underneath.

As far as I'm concerned that's what we are supposed to do. We buy something, we take it home, we peel off all the peelable offable things and have fun. But some people don't do that. They keep the protective film on for the lifetime of the specific device.


It doesn't make sense to me. It's like owning a classic Ferrari and never driving it or having a beautiful snare drum made from wood found at the bottom of Lake Superior and never playing it. Or, the worst offence as far as I'm concerned, owning a settee and forcing people to sit on the plastic covering rather than on the actual upholstery.

What's all that about then?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What Would You Do?

About two years ago I read a book. It had a section on fear and how to overcome it. It suggested that we ask ourselves the following question as a means of overcoming fear:

"What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

I've since applied this question to many areas of my life, sometimes with rather worrying results. The idea is not that you use the question as a device to help you in driving at 95 mph through Hounslow High St or, for the Sri Lankan crowd, at 5 mph down Duplication Road, those kind of things are just plain stupid. But the idea is that you ask yourself what things you are not doing, or don't do, in your life purely because of the fear factor.

So, if fear is the only thing holding you back, then just do it. In about two years of bunging this question into my everyday activities I've done lots of things I probably wouldn't have done before. It's been a bit about learning that fear is a good thing to have, a nice emotion to feel, but not a reason in itself to prevent me from going ahead and doing stuff.

One of the biggest applications of this for me has been in my day to day dealings with people and in procrastinating. I realised that I would often postpone certain tasks because I was actually afraid of doing them, so now I try to launch into them whenever possible.

A bit of fear is good, it helps to keep us grounded and helps us to avoid stupid mistakes. But, I don't want it to stop me from doing things I actually want to do.

What about you?

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Those days

Apart from a paper round, my very first job was working in a local camera shop. It was a shop owned by a good friend of my Dad and it was one of those "favours" that ended up being useful to all. In true Tommy Cooper fashion I should also point out that it was only a "local camera shop" if you lived nearby.

I can't imagine that I'll ever forget the first task I was given. The shop had a load of bellows, for close up work, in many different fittings, and was trying to get rid of them. Jan, the owner's wife and manager said to me, and I mean she was the wife of the owner, not actually his manager, although that could be a whole new debate:

"Can you go and stack all those bellows boxes in the window?"

Off I went, to return twenty minutes later to tell her I'd done it. Being seventeen and totally clueless about anything except masturbating and heavy rock was never going to put me firmly on the first rung of the managerial ladder. And, being honest, my knowledge of heavy rock wasn't that good at then either. Jan took a look at my "window display" and started to laugh.
"I meant to make some kind of nice and attractive looking display, not really what you've done."
I had stacked the boxes, like bricks, up against the inside of the window. Each box was about the size of a brick and it had seemed like a good idea. From outside the shop people could no longer even see through the window because of my "bellows boxes" wall.

She viciously and cruelly demolished my wall and then showed me how to make an eye catching display. Over the next few days the bellows flew out of the shop as if close up photography was highly cool and trendy and there was a international bellows shortage and we were the only place in the world to have some left.

Years later I found out that, at the time, close up photography was highly cool and trendy, there was a worldwide bellows shortage and we were indeed the only place in the world to have some. Amazing.

This was in the 1980s and it was one of those old fashioned owner run shops, the type we hardly have around London these days. There wasn't the remotest thought of a no smoking policy let alone any legislation about smoking in public, so we'd happily serve customers while smoking fags and not one customer ever batted an eyelid, unless they got smoke in their eye. The bulk of the shop's revenue came from consumables like film and batteries and developing and printing. But we had a reasonable stock of second hand gear and even a few new things that I always took pride in selling.

I remember being captivated by a little second hand outfit we had once. It was a Pentax Auto 110 outfit (I hope I remember the name correctly). If you're under about thirty you won't have a clue about 110 film, unless you're a photographer. It was a tiny sized cartridge film that was used in compact cameras. The image quality was crap, because the negative was tiny. But, Pentax brought out this little 110 SLR, complete with a few lenses for it. I think it was an aperture priority only model and it was a little beauty. It had all the handling and features of a bigger 35mm SLR, just without the image quality. I played with it for a few days and it so nearly became my first camera until I came to understand that I'd want better image quality.

My first serious camera was to come. It was an old Minolta SRT 101 with a 58mm f1.4 lens. It was a second hand model but a stylish and lovely old tank of a camera. Manual only and with a rather spectacular lens that I still have in my garage somewhere. In those days we learnt about photography in a very different way to today's shoot, view and delete methods. Zoom lenses weren't the norm so we had to actually move to change the framing, film usually stayed in the camera until we finished the roll and we would send it off and wait for the pictures to actually see the results.

Don't get the wrong impression. I have no doubt that today's photographic world, full of digital images, digital cameras and cheap high quality optics is far better than that of yesteryear. Since I went digital I have rediscovered my interest in the fantastic art that photography is. I can learn from my mistakes quickly and easily, I can take better pictures without fear of finishing my roll of film or the cost of developing and printing. I can choose to point and shoot or have full manual control or anything in between, all in an SLR that's about the size of one of yesteryear's Olympus Trips.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I pull out some of those twenty year old photographs and get flooded with nostalgia. They seem to contain vivid memories. Call me old fashioned, but there's something so tactile about those old treasures. That's without even getting started on all the old boxes of Kodachrome 64 slides I've got stashed away.

The shop closed down many years ago, I'm still in touch with Phil, the owner, but sadly lost touch with Jan after they split up. But, I drive past the shop on a regular basis. It's now a Thai restaurant and, whilst the decor is totally different, the windows are still there. I cruise past and gaze at the window, thinking fondly of the bellows wall.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Joys Of Music

I had an extra good Mimosa band practice the other night. Please pull up a chair and relax, pour yourself a glass of wine and allow me to tell you about my joyous evening. Or don't.

The studio where we practice is a typical British rehearsal set up. Now I don't know what they are like in any other Country but UK ones share certain traits. For starters they are always in premises that are cheap. Musicians, apart from the ones with some money, are penniless, that's a fact. So studios are bunged under railway arches, in the back of a printer's warehouse on an industrial estate or, as in the case of our chosen place, in an old iron shed in the back of a builder's yard.

They smell. Of tobacco, drugs, urine and creativity. They're decorated with bits of old instruments and, in our favoured one, with various parts of an old VW Beetle that has been cut up and scattered around. In its reception area is the whole backside of this car. It's been cut in half from a point just in front of the back seats and I often sit in its "back" and chill. It takes me back to my childhood when my parents had a Beetle and I'd sit in the little cubby hole type of thing behind the back seats.

But, the most important thing about every single one of these rehearsal places, is that they're warm, in every sense of the word. Most bands have a regular slot for their practice, ours is Tuesday evening in case you were wondering. As a result everyone gets friendly with each other, as bands vacate one studio they get to talk to the band coming into it and some jolly nice little relationships develop. There are always bands who book a rehearsal studio as a one off, they are accommodated and treated with scorn and disdain by us regulars.

There's a bunch of youngish geezers who are usually in our studio (the large one at the end) immediately before us and I've got to know them a bit. Mostly because I'm obsessively early to everything so I get to see them for a while as we swap places and shoot the shit. They're one of those Indy Rocky outfits, doing their own songs and seemingly good musicians. The drummer, Sam, is a twenty something guy, he's been to music college and plays things that, if I even dreamt of playing, would make me wake up feeling nervous and insecure.

One of their guitarists is in a band with our trumpet player and has seen us play live, so knows us quite well, their singer has got that mean look sorted to perfection. He's got both arms covered in tattoos, he's quite muscular, though not so much that he looks like a twat, he's got a shaved head and usually wears "rock star" clothes. If I didn't know him and saw him as I was walking down the street I wouldn't know whether to cross the road to avoid getting beaten up by him or to ask for his autograph.

Then , when he talks, out comes the most middle class English accent one could imagine. He sounds like one of the characters from a 70's BBC sitcom. He's polite, respectful and thoroughly decent. One of those rare men who I can well imagine never farts in private as it's too rude, but will happily do it on stage for the audience. In ten years' time he'll win The Apprentice and go on to run Amstrad or perhaps even a successful Company.

The bassist, whose name I don't know, is one of those guys who's an automatic target for piss taking, bullying and general mockery. He has that look about him. As if he thinks he's very streetwise but is actually naive and wide eyed, like a rabbit in the headlights. Not one of those "ladies" rabbits either. I was watching a video of the Manic Street Preachers' new song the other day and I realised that this chap must be basing his look on that of Nicky Wire, the Manics' bassist. Frankly I think Nicky Wire looks like an idiot, black eyeliner, longish rockstar hair, tall and lanky, but he can just about carry it off, in the way that multi millionaire rock stars with adoring fans all over the world usually can.

This chap, the nameless one, has a slightly more mundane day to day existence yet still goes for the make up and the general look. It's all well and good on stage at Glastonbury, just a bit weird at the fish counter at Tesco. I'm not even sure whether his local Tesco has got a fish counter. Come to think of it he may be vegetarian, but he's the sort who might be buying fish for his Mum. All his fellow bandmembers mock him regularly and I, with my track record for standing up for the defenceless and the weak, have joined them too. It's all good harmful fun.

Up until about a month ago I'd never actually heard these guys play. I've not been to one of their gigs and our meetings take place as they have finished their rehearsal. But, about a month ago, I was sitting in the back of the Beetle in reception waiting for them to finish when Mike, the singer, came out of their studio. He strolled over to me, he's way too cool to just walk, and asked me if I'd come and have a listen to a couple of new songs they'd written. I was surprised and rather chuffed by this and followed him into the abyss. Of course I tried to do my nonchalent strolling musician walk as I went. I can't get the knack of wearing my jeans halfway down my arse though and my tattoo doesn't show unless I have my shirt off. And good God, I'd catch my death of cold if I wore something sleeveless.

I sat down, after saying a cheerful What Ho to the lads. It dawned on me that, in about two years of knowing them, I didn't have the slightest idea what they'd actually sound like. They kicked off. The songs were all pretty good, one in particular caught my ear. Their sound reminded me of some of the more edgy US rock that is all the rage over there. A bit Creed, a bit Pearl Jam and with well written and well played songs. They asked my opinion. A very stupid thing to ask, but they had done it.

All I could offer was a minor suggestion about the bass drum part during the verse of one of the songs. I thought that it would feel better if Sam, the drummer, simplified it ever so slightly. One of the huge benefits of a tad of experience is the vital realisation that simple can be wonderful. Then I left them to it, they packed up and I set up and life went on.

This week, on Tuesday, Mike grabbed me again. He asked if I wanted to sit in and have a listen as they were playing a few songs to a handful of people that hadn't heard them before. Again I was pleased to be asked and happily trotted in to find several girls there. One of them turned out to be Mike's "new bird" and the others I recognised as a band that practices in one of the other studios on a Tuesday too. Although there is that instant bond between musicians I have to confess to struggling with it when they are ugly women.

I'm a liberal chap, I believe in equality of the sexes, equality of opportunity and I even think that female Sri Lankan Doctors shouldn't call themselves "Dr (Mrs)". But even I have my limits and women in music is fine, but they should be attractive.

So, we sat, we laughed, we listened and we watched. The band ran through four songs, one of which was the new one that I had liked so much previously. It felt rewarding when they played it and, as they got to the first verse, the drummer looked and smiled at me and then played it in the way I had suggested.

The nameless bassist had his make up on and his Timberland boots. He's not the greatest player around but he had a certain bit of life in his playing. He danced around a bit and looked like he was enjoying himself. This is an important factor in my own judgement of a band. They can be the best musicians under the sun but, if they don't look like they're having fun, then I probably won't. Drummer and singers usually do look like fun is being had, as what we do is so physical that it's almost always enjoyable. Guitarists often get one of those faces, you know the one that looks like they are concentrating very hard, usually because they are.

But the nameless fellow was well into it. I liked that. He still looked like an idiot, I'll take the piss out of him next week for that thing his bandmembers told me about, you know, the blow job business, but fair play to him for trying to put on a bit of a show, to an audience of five as well.

They finished their stuff, we applauded with genuine enthusiasm and the girls went off to continue to murder some songs. I hung around, I shook Sam, the drummer's hand and complimented him on his playing. Even thought the little bastard is half my age and twice my ability I still like to show my appreciation. I tried to squeeze his hand as hard as I could though.

Then the Mimosian chaps arrived, we set up and got on with our stuff. I was left with a feeling of wonder and warm enthusiasm. It was nice that we have a little community at the rehearsal studio. What was more apparent and powerful was that music is a strong thing. It brings people together, it touches lives in special ways and it's something I truly can't imagine not having in my life.

Terrific eh!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Drain Me!!!

In the recent past I've started to take an interest in energy. Not the gas and electricity bill type of energy, more the energy exuded, or not exuded by particular people.

I've never considered myself to be a deep person, I'm not spiritual nor do I look at things in a very meaningful way. Except those pictures of Britney Spears on that night out. Like most men I looked rather deeply at those and felt a strange connection, a kind of stirring and that feeling of warmth and friendship.

Britney aside, I've become increasingly aware that different people exude a different sense of energy. Some people can fluctuate on a regular basis; one minute they ooze with positivity and enthusiasm and the next minute they make you feel more miserable than an Indian cricketer.

The types who fluctuate on that regular basis are rare. Most people are one or the other. Up in the big positive league or down in the "depressing all the time" lower levels. I don't know why it's a phenomenon that I've only become aware of recently, maybe other people have known about it all their life, but it's changed the way I evaluate and judge people.

As I plunder and drum my way through my life, with a sort of wide eyed child like enthusiasm for all the things I'm passionate about, I discover and learn things. This has been a big discovery for me and I like it.

I know that I want to be one of the positive ones, one of the optimists and motivators, a person who can portray a zest for life and make people smile. I also know that I don't want have many of those energy "drainers" in my life.

These are the people who make me feel as is they have sucked the energy out of me with their own misery and suffering. You know them don't you. Those ones who just moan, who don't seem to be able to say good things about life. I've got about three or four of these chaps in my life now, they usually mean well but, after spending about a minute with any one of them, I feel as if I've done ten rounds with Leonard Cohen.

That's why I don't like to rant and rave much. The blogs I read, the people I choose to mix with, the music I listen to and the people I love dearly are those that make me happy and make me laugh. Everyone can have a spell of feeling down, just not an extended spell.

I'd never paid much attention to it before and had thought that there are some people who are just a bit negative and depressing. But they're worse than that. It's the ones who, when asked how they are say something like

"Not bad, work's totally busy and I'm really tired"

It's all delivered with a long sigh and a feeling of doom and gloom and makes you wish as if you'd never asked. Why? My only answer to this is that it's because it's much easier to moan and talk about bad things than it is to enthuse and talk about good things. Criticism of the negative variety is easy and cheap. Constructive criticism and positive ideas are much harder to come up with but so much more powerful.

I've got friends in my life who are massive sources of inspiration and positivity for me. They're people I've learnt much from, who have infectious enthusiasm, not to be confused with stupidity, and the types who can also act as role models for me.

My newest aim is to find more of these fellows and to try to take an accurate measurement of their positivity rating as soon as possible.

Positive energy is good. Energy drainers are not.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Who Gets Your Three Per Cent?

One of the things that I've realised since I started the blog, since I got a reader or two, is that people assume, understandably so, that they know you from reading your words. London, Lanka and drums is, I think, a decent reflection of me as a person. I tend to write about things that are going on in my life and how I see them, my "writing style" isn't a style, it's just the way I report life.

But I don't write everything about me in my blog. It's all true, but it's not the whole me. Recently I had one of those epiphany type of things when I started to think about the people who know me and how much of me they know.

You see, I think I'm actually a rather private person. The things I talk about here are sometimes deep but they're the things I'd chat to most people about. I've met chaps who instantly appear to bare their soul and innermost thoughts and feelings to every passing stranger. I'm not one of them. About sixty to seventy per cent of the real me is what I give away to most friends and acquaintances. It's not that I lie to them or try to put across a false image, just that I don't reveal that thirty to forty per cent of my thoughts to those people.

The next group is my close friends and many of my family. They have access to about eighty to ninety per cent of my mind. I don't tell them everything but those at the ninety per cent get close to knowing the real me, my more private thoughts and feelings. But there's usually a bit held back.

The top group, that elite band of Top Guns is my very best friends and my closest family members. Most of them have almost full access to my workings and feelings. But even they don't get it all. I reckon my closest confidantes get about ninety seven per cent of me. They know me better than anyone, they get to hear all my crappy stuff that no one else is interested in. They know the things that go on in my life and they are the people I care most for and who care for me.

But, that tiny little three per cent is very private. No one gets it. It stays inside and doesn't get revealed to anyone.

What about you?

Do you always keep something back or do you bare your soul to many?

Or is there one person who has access to your three per cent?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Sri Lankan Dads

Not tonight Dear, I'm on my cycle!

You know, that line makes me laugh. My brother, when he reads this will laugh for the same reason.

My Dad.

He has an infectious sense of humour. Usually it's because he finds things so funny that, when he relates them to others, he's laughing so much that the audience can't help but get caught up in his laughter.

Watching him with my daughters is heartwarming and interesting. They swap jokes, they mess around and he makes his famous "animal out of a handkerchief" that fascinates people of all ages. No one is sure exactly what animal it is, looking a bit like a mouse or a gerbil, but it's rather classy. It's usually hard to tell the adult from the kid when you listen to them hard at play.

But he's also quite mad at times, infuriatingly so. It's my observation that Sri Lankan men have a few common characteristics in the way they, or we, age. There's that sleeping after meals thing to start with. I really haven't noticed many western men doing it but I've seen just about every Sri Lankan man I know do it, including me, although I haven't seen it as such, just heard afterwards.

The whole pretending to be awake thing, as the eyelids start to feel heavy, the alcohol kicks in and the weight of the rice and curry begins to make you drift off. Invariably the subject is sitting on a chair, legs stretched out in front and feet crossed and shaking. (the feet, not the subject). There'll be a hint of snoring and then, as someone speaks to the person there's the standard response. A response passed down through generations of Sri Lankan men, it has hidden meaning and can take years' of training to express perfectly.

Literally translated from Singlish into English it actually means

" I wasn't asleep, I heard you perfectly, but would you mind just repeating it as I just didn't quite catch that last word?"

It sounds like this


Deceptive, but actually quite hard to master. To the onlooker things can get confusing. They start off by seeing a man who they think is fast asleep. But, in the short time it takes for that man to say the "aaahh" he goes from a state of sleep to fully awake, with nothing in between. There's no stretching, no eyelids opening, no perceptible movement, just an instant state of full awareness. It must be genetic, that's the only explanation.

Another ageing sign is the driving thing. This worries me greatly. As a man who would class driving as one of my hobbies I really don't want to get to a stage when I begin to drive like my Dad does now. A friend was telling me recently about his Dad in Sri Lanka, how he drives as if there is no one else on the road. That's exactly what mine does too. In Sri Lanka it's bad enough but here in the UK there are rules to cover everything, even driving. I realise that may be hard to believe for many Sri Lankans but it's true, I assure you!

So, don't pay the expense of going to Thorpe Park or Disneyland. Give me a call and I'll happily arrange for my Dad to give you a lift somewhere. The feel of danger and excitement, the permanent feeling that you could get beaten up at any moment by a stranger, the pure joy when you reach your destination, they're all much, much better than you can get from any theme park.

It's an amazing sensation to go round a roundabout and be aware of traffic all around, even in other lanes and then realise that you are the only person in the vehicle who has this incredible ability, almost a superpower. I have considered the idea that, at a certain age, mirrors become invisible, or perhaps it's just other vehicles that do.

I heard a story today of a friend who was being driven by her Dad in Colombo to the Cricket Cafe. Said friend was telling me how her Dad struggled with the darkness, the new one way system and the general act of pointing the car in the direction of its required destination at all times.

Now I have to say that Colombo's new one way system is a unique thing. No one quite understands it. I know there are maps, websites, blogs and all types of instructions but they don't make things much easier. Different times of the day mean different directions and the whole thing is a masterpiece of Sri Lankan planning. The extra money spent on the massive cabinet has clearly been well spent if their collective brain power can come up with something like this.

It's not just a Sri Lankan thing though. Stick my Dad in a car and ask him to get to Heathrow Airport, or any place within about ten miles from his house and he'll get confused. Most people I know will get to learn a route by practicing it, not the old man. And it's definitely not because he's busy concentrating on other road users either. When I was a kid I recollect going on holiday to Denmark with my parents. We used to do this regularly as my Mum's sister lived there and it always used to be by car and ferry, a huge big adventure. Every year we'd travel efforlessly halfway across Europe and get lost when we were within about half a mile of my Aunt's house.

One time my Dad stopped the car and went to ask an ice cream man for directions. After some time he returned. With a strawberry ice cream and no directions!

Above all, like those dogs, you can guarantee that a certain phrase uttered in the direction of my Dad will trigger one of his few jokes. Not that dogs tell jokes of course. Or give guarantees. As my best man said in his speech:

"Uncle J, now there's a man with a joke for every occasion, and I've enjoyed hearing it again tonight"

So if you are within earshot of the old man, just mention "Not tonight dear I'm on my cycle" and you just know the old joke that will follow.

I still laugh when he tells it too.

Mad as a badger, I wouldn't swap him for the world though!

Thursday, April 5, 2007


I had to share this.

It's one of those glorious spring London days. The sky's blue, the temperature's not warm yet but we just know it will be and the atmosphere is one of good things to come.

As I drove into work this morning I felt excitement. It was a momentous journey. The match last night was heartstopping wasn't it? I won some money after betting on Sri Lanka against Gaz, my business partner. You can guarantee that he'll always bet on England, whatever the odds, whatever the match, whatever the sport. He's like that, but useful in a fight.

There was only ever going to be one song to listen to this morning. When I am playing the drums I often get to an "in my place" feeling. One in which I'm totally absorbed by the music, the feel of it and the joy in the sheer act of playing. It doesn't matter if it's an audience of five hundred or none, that feeling can just be there.

And it was. The music was so loud that I almost couldn't hear it, but I could sense it. The bass and drums were vibrating through my chest and I was lost in it. I was also driving through Hounslow, which I wasn't lost in. A good thing as that can be dangerous.

Optimism, freedom and Colombo were on my mind.

What do you reckon the song was?

If you know the answer you just might win the best prize ever!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

This gender and inanimate object thing

I just can't do it.

You know the way some people, usually men, refer to inanimate objects as "he" or "she". Captains of huge big ocean going ships affectionately talk about their craft as a "she".

Sri Lankan guitarists blog about their guitar called Kalpana and it becomes a female. That post by Theena made me want to write a passionate response about my drum kit, wax eloquently about it being my mistress and its gorgeous curves and generally chuck in a load of metaphors about women and sex and rude stuff.

But I couldn't do it. It's a drum kit. A lovely and stunning one, but it's still a drum kit.

As an unashamed gadget freak I have immense fondness for my car, my iPod and the plethora of useless and useful gadgets I have. But, try as I might, I can't think of them as anything but inanimate objects.

My car is a huge big bit of machinery, put together rather fantastically and it's a joy to drive but it's a machine and that's all it is. It's not a she, it's not a her, it's not a person.

I've got a couple of lovely snare drums, both made from Birch that was found at the bottom of Lake Superior. The Birch was about 600 years old when it was felled, it was then floated across Lake Superior but sank, only to get discovered about 100 years later. This wood was made into various types of musical instruments. There were some guitars and some very exclusive snare drums. I bought two out of the one hundred made. One to play and one to keep untouched. They sound like a dream, to a drummer's ear. But they're not referred to as shes, or hes even. No they're drums.

Is there some kind of deep psychological yearning for friendship or something in these fellows?

So what is it with you people who talk about these inanimate things as people? Are you missing out on something or am I lacking in something?

Or is your car a girl? Are you one of them?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

On Muse, Levis and Decision Making

There I was, in the Levi store trying on a pair of jeans. Shocking but true. The reckless days of seeing an item of clothing, picking my rough size and then buying without trying it on have long gone. Mostly because, after about twenty years of this behaviour, I discovered that I had a wardrobe full of great and lovely clothes. Great and lovely clothes that mostly didn't suit or fit me.

Frankly it wasn't good enough, a waste of money. I don't want to sound too pikey of course. I'm not the type who fills up their mineral water bottle with tap water or anything, but I have my limits.

As I've got older I've noticed that there are people with that natural sense of style about them. The types who know what looks good on them and which things suit them and aren't just slaves to fashion. The sort who don't have to be told that socks and sandals just don't go, that you don't iron creases into jeans and, most importantly, that look was pretty damn good on Jennifer Aniston or Lily Allen but on you, at Tesco buying groceries....No! Particularly if you're a man.

I have a next door but one neighbour, a cute and sexy lovely blonde woman, not that I've ever noticed her much. She's an incredibly attractive woman who wears fantastic clothes. But, they're just not fantastic clothes on her. Every time I see her I think how much better she'd look without her clothes on. And I mean that in every way possible too.

She ain't got no style, she looks like she's dressed herself from a magazine without thinking about what suits her shape and her colouring.

Then there are those characters, both male and female, who make themselves appear slick and sensual from their clothes, despite the fact that they are actually rather plain looking. We all know them in real life and they are people to be admired in my book, with a sense of confidence and self assuredness that is often contagious.

So, as I've got older and wiser (ha) I've tried to develop my own sense of style. Okay, before anyone else says it I know I've failed abysmally but I've tried, I just don't have a clue.

There I was in the Levis shop, in the changing rooms trying on a pair of jeans. I was undecided. I looked at them in the mirror. I walked out of the changing room and looked in another mirror. I saw a woman checking her own reflection out and possibly she was as undecided as I was. Frankly her arse was way too big for the tight jeans she was trying on, but I chose not to tell her.

My mind was split, my decision was unclear and my purchasing finger was itching. On the one hand, if I hesitated for much longer, I'd most probably have turned into a woman, I've heard this can happen. On the other hand I needed some kind of guidance, a sign or a nudge.

I thought, I listened. They were playing Muse through the shop's stereo. The song was "Hysteria" one of my favourites.

Done. That was the sign.

I bought them.

This style thing's not that easy sometimes is it?

Sunday, April 1, 2007

You shake that ass and I just die

I wouldn't normally write the word "ass" unless I was referring to one of those donkey things. I would always go for the English "arse" as in the context of, well an arse.

This time things are different because I'm quoting from a song by Orson, who are American, and it's in American. Therefore when they say "ass" they mean "arse".

Just a pop song really, a nice grooving little number that probably doesn't fit my profile of the type of songs or music I like. But it makes me smile. The drumming reminds me of Ringo's playing, never too flash, never doing cartwheels just to show that he can, but perfect for the song.

I guess the song was in the charts here about a year ago but I must hear it at least once a day on the radio, it's one of those lingering tunes that will get played for a while yet.

Why did I just think of it?

Because someone said to me the other day, in writing, "kiss my ass".

I thought "Mmmm.... I never knew you had a donkey."