Friday, August 31, 2007

Chicken Curry For The Soul

There I was, at Heathrow's Terminal 4 to meet a friend coming in from Sri Lanka. I shan't bore you with tales of my love of airports and all the details about why I enjoy them, you've read all that before.

But I was standing in at the arrivals section, doing some people watching, happy with life in general and just feeling mellow yet excited.

One of the little games I play with myself is to look at other people and wonder who they're waiting for. Are they waiting for a lover, a friend, a brother or a child? Are they going to run up to their target and embrace them with a lingering kiss or will they shake hands politely and be business like? I saw a father with his two teenage daughters and, when they greeted their Mother, I watched the body language and interaction and just knew that it wasn't a marriage filled with love and warmth.

I spotted a young Sri Lankan couple that attracted my gaze. They looked as if they hadn't been in the UK for that long but they definitely looked as if they live here. I really can't figure out why I thought that, maybe the fact that they were meeting someone at Heathrow was a small clue.

The had a very cute and very newish looking baby with them, it must have been only a few months old and I cleverly assumed they were the parents of said child.

After some time an oldish looking Sri Lankan couple strolled out of the airside section. They had that look about them, the look of slight bewilderment at landing at Heathrow for what I assumed (perhaps wrongly) to be the first time combined with the scanning and searching the crowd for a recognisable face. After a bit of walking in the wrong direction, a bit of looking at the faces of strangers and not getting any acknowledgement, they headed towards the young couple. It was apparent that the older Uncle and Aunty were the parents of the guy and the parents in law of the woman.

The young chap held the baby up in the direction of what I now realised was its grandparents. The old couple had a spring in their step and it dawned on me that I was witnessing a special moment; it was the first time ever that the grandparents had seen their grandchild. As most people would expect, but I don't know why, it was the grandmother who got to the baby first.

There were tears in her eyes as her son held the child up to her and, in a manner that any Sri Lankan would fully understand and appreciate, she held the little child's tiny feet and kissed them. Then the Uncle strolled over and did the casual "I'm a Sri Lankan older male and won't display emotion" thing, but he was wholly unconvincing.

I watched as they all then ambled off in the direction of the exit. I assume there was lots of catching up to do and plenty of granparenty duties to be performed.

It was one of those very lovely and special moments that I was honoured to witness. I'll probably never see the people again, I probably wouldn't recognise them if I did, but it was a special moment that I'm glad I saw.

It really was one of those warm and tender moments.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Time

As a drummer I think of time as one of the main themes running thruogh my life. There are two things that I think are the fundamental roles of a drummer; to keep time and to help the band sound good.

Keeping time is not solely the drummer's responsibility in a band but it's definitely a big responsibility that rest largely on our shoulders. Helping, or making, the band sound good? Well that's not meant to sound big headed or arrogant but it's true. We've all seen bands in which the drummer does all kinds of "drumnastics", makes a big show of everything and really does steal the limelight. Then we've probably all seen bands in which the drummer literally takes more of a back seat and is barely noticed. He or she sits there and keeps it all together. Those are the fellows or ladies who help the band to sound good.

If you walk away from a gig and think that the drummer was spectacular, he (or she) really was busy and could play something different every four bars, then I can almost guarantee that I wouldn't have like him. For me great drummers are the ones who contribute to the music without overpowering it.

Think of Ringo Starr in the Beatles. He's often the butt of many a joke, he's riduculed as being only "the 2nd best drummer" in the Beatles. I'll tell you this much; you'll rarely, if ever, hear a drummer say a word against Mr Starr. Because he was the perfect drummer for the Beatles, and a very good one too. Think of Beatles songs, think of "Come Together" and think of the drum part, how it ties in so perfectly with the melody and becomes part of the song. Simple and brilliant.

And so many Beatles songs had simple drum parts that fitted each song perfectly. Simple but with brilliant little touches that made the song. God is in the detail. Ringo was / is probably the ultimate example of a drummer who helped to make a band sound good.

But time, that's one of our biggest responsibilities and one that many a tub thumper will have spent hour upon hour practicing. I regularly sit at my drum kit with my metronome on and play the simplest of grooves for five or ten minutes straight. No fills, no cymbal crashes, just pure groove. The idea is to get to a point at which I feel the time, at which I'm not thinking, not concentrating just feeling it and being a part of it. I can play for a few seconds until I get to that place or it can take me minutes, but once I get there I know it and I feel it.

Time, in a very different vein, is also a great healer and developer, one which often can't be hurried. The older I get the more I realise this and the more I understand that some things just need time.

In a very neat full circle kind of way one of my most vivid examples of this is actually to do with drumming. When I first started to play, about ten years ago, I used to look at so many other drummers and want to play with their fluidity and their all round apparent ease. I'd watch friends and wish that I could sit at a drumkit and play with the sense of relaxation that these chaps would exhibit.

I remember asking my drum teacher about this. He told me that two things would get me to that level; practice and time. Practice was a thing I could control, I could do it, as much or as little as I wanted to, it was my choice. But time was different. No matter how much I practiced I couldn't fake experience. I couldn't become a drummer who had been playing for ten years in one year.

And all of a sudden, albeit ten years later, I find myself to be a chap who has been drumming for ten years. I've practiced my little brown bum off during that time, I've put in a lot of effort and a load of hard work. But I've also built up a fair amount of experience. I've played for a good few bands, some great, some mediocre and some totally crap. I've learnt things from every one of them and from every musician I've played with.

So very many things I've picked up and discovered have only been through the experience of playing, through the fact that I've done it for a bit. That's what time has done; it's made me realise that it waits for no one, but it hurries for no one either. All the studying in the world and all the practice can only get you so far, the rest has to be gained through experience and experience can't be faked.

This is what happens in life in general. I occasionally find myself talking to someone younger than myself and they'll ask my advice about something. Then, even more rarely, I'll know the answer to their dilemna, purely because I've come across a similar one before. Sometimes I'll even tell them.

There are some things that can only be helped by time.

It's quite good, this experience stuff isn't it?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Eyes Have It


Picture courtesy Dominic Sansoni

I like photography. It's one of my passions and has been since I was about 17, when I got my first job in a camera shop.

I enjoy looking at a stunning photographic image far more than if I was to see great painting. I probably wouldn't know a great painting unless it had "Donatella Versace" or one of those other famous Italian painters written underneath it. I can't even begin to verbalise the qualities in a great photograph but I know what one does; it makes me feel something, it stirs my emotions.

A great picture makes me smile, it might make me sad or it might make me laugh, but it does things. It makes me go "wow", it makes me think "fucking hell, look at that" or maybe "mmm.... those string hoppers do look good". I think, in my whole life, I've taken a handful of pictures that I would consider as good if I saw them and they had been taken by other people. Yet I can open that great tool that is flickr and there are the most breathtaking images there for all to see at a glance. Have a look at the photographers I have linked on the left here if you want some visual delights.

The questions that I often ask are not about what makes a good photograph. The answer to that is easy, it's an image that stirs emotion. The questions I ask are more about what makes a good photographer. What differentiates the great photographic predators from the average holiday snappers?

After many years of pondering I have come up with the answer.

The eyes.

More specifically it's the way they are used. Many people don't have a clue about what will make a half decent picture, they wouldn't know the difference between a symphony by Beethoven and a Take That song, they wouldn't know a string hopper from a space hopper, they don't matter. But other people, normal ones like me have an amount of appreciation for a good photograph. Some of us have a faint idea about how to use a camera, about the rule of thirds and depth of field and technical things like that.

When confronted with a picturesque scene, I can usually figure that it might make a decent picture, if I do things correctly which occasionally happens. I see a scene and try to record it, very simple. That's how my eyes work.

The really great photographers have special eyes, they have eyes that work differently to mine. They see something that I would have walked past without even thinking about taking a picture of and they see a beautiful picture, one that exists but just hasn't been captured yet.

That is the difference, the soixante neuf, as the French say. Average chaps see something spectacular and try to take a picture of it. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. The great ones see something average but they spot a spectacular picture in it, often the picture only exists in their mind until they've recreated it on film, or sensor.

Have a look at the picture at the top of this post, if I've managed to attach it correctly. It's taken by one of my favourite photographers, a Mr Sansoni. Allow me to tell you about it and him.

I was sharing a beer and a chat with him and Java the other day and I asked what level of post camera processing Dom does to his images, i.e after he has taken them on the camera how much does he play around and manipulate the image in Photoshop or whatever he uses to make it look better. It's something I've been doing a bit of lately and I was interested to know his take on it.

He took out his laptop and started to show me and Java some images he had just taken on a holiday in Yemen. We were transfixed. he showed a few images in which he'd made some adjustments. the before and after versions. Now, I don't know what Java thought but I couldn't tell the difference with my clumsy amateurish drummer's eyes. Dom would show us an image after and before processing and say

"Look I changed that one quite a lot, you can see clearly."

Java and I would stare intently at the screen but I don't think either of us could see the changes. None of them were compositional changes either and that was the thing that grabbed me. I have often taken a picture then thought that I could crop seven shades of crap out of it, do all kinds of things to it and then make it into something half presentable. That is not the case with the things Java and I saw.

The raw images were spectacular to start with, they were cropped as you and I see them in books and on postcards. The changes, those very slight adjustments, are only noticed if your name starts with Sebastian and ends in Posingis. The starting image was always about fifteen steps ahead of anything I would have taken, even if I had spotted and taken it in the first place.

The picture above stuck in my mind and Java and I spent a long time peering at it. It's actually some sort of cheese that was being fried in a wok type pan in a street market. Dom had spotted it and taken its picture, I'm uncertain whether one asks a piece of cheese to say cheese or what but the picture was taken.

I think it's a bit special. I was drawn to the colours and textures within it, the richness of tone and the variety of patterns. And it's something that I almost certainly wouldn't have paid a second glance to in the street.



That's the difference.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Music and Me

Java's thought provoking post "on music appreciation", got me thinking about music, why it plays such an important role in one chap's life and why another fellow may not care for it in the slightest. I suppose that's the general idea of a thought provoking post, one that makes a person think, otherwise it would have just been a post.

Music has played a key role in my life for as long as I can remember. Like many kids born into Sri Lankan families I, and my brothers, grew up with music playing continually.

Go round to my parents' place now and I will guarantee you will find music on in the background. Usually something jazzy or a bit funky, but there are frequent occasions when you find my Dad listening to something wholly innappropriate for a man of his now maturer years. The market trader in Singapore who sold him a copy of The Pussycat Dolls latest album was a nasty and merciless person but, to my kids, it is great to have the coolest Grandfather in town.

He gave me my love of all things drum related (except guitarists) and that is something I will be eternally grateful for. I can remember him trying to teach me how to play Santana songs on the Bongos when I was about 5 or 6. Even now, in his 70's, he still does an occasional gig in a trendy wine bar. One of these places that plays Latin music and has a percussionist as well. So, if you are in a trendy wine bar in Richmond and see a oldish looking Sri Lankan playing Conga and Bongos, it's probably him. Just tell him I'll see him on Sunday.

I remember being in a band when I was about 10. Me and my best friend Greg Walker playing to Beatles songs. He was a great air guitar player and I was the Ringo of our outfit. My kit was custom built and looked like an odd collection of Sri Lankan hand drums, remarkably similar to the ones at the top of the stairs. That is, the stairs in my house, not Greg's. He was English and it would have been a strange thing if his parents had a collection of Sri Lankan drums. Not quite as strange as the way all the Eastern European windscreen washer women in London seem to have disappeared, but strange nevertheless.

We never actually gigged, I think the public weren't ready for us. In fact we only ever played in my bedroom, apart from the one time we practiced at Greg's house. I remember it well as, when we came downstairs, Greg's older sister asked who was playing the drums. I admitted the crime, fully expecting a reprimand for disrupting her viewing of Magpie on TV, as she must have been at least 14 then. She told me that I was very good and should consider drumming as a career. I took her advice very seriously as she was so much older and more knowledgable than me, and she had breasts, proper ones. If I ever meet her again I will proudly tell her all about my drumming "career". She will then apologise for making a casual remark that had such an impact on my life, when she actually thought that I sounded like an idiot child banging a hand drum as loud as I could. Then she will ask me to stop staring at her breasts.

When I got my first ever radio I felt as if I had grown up. I was probably about 7 or 8 and it was a tiny portable one bought from Boots in Richmond. Up until then I had played with toys, but music entered my life and I became a real man. This was the era of medium wave, pirate radio and DJs like Tony Blackburn and Noel Edmonds. Dark times indeed. Beards, flares and lots of denim were compulsory then, as was Old Spice or the great smell of Brut. The men looked a bit ropey too.

Then I progressed to my first tape recorder. One of those all in one types that recorded via a built in microphone, with a row of 5 or 6 buttons set like a piano keyboard and a carrying handle. You can still buy them today but I think you have to be a school music teacher or an old person. I suspect the iPod has had a small impact on its sales figures.

Every Sunday evening I would be found sitting in my bedroom listening to the top 40 on Radio 1 and recording the good songs by microphone from the radio to my tape player. Then I'd spend the rest of the week listening to my tape until I could add new songs to it on the following Sunday. You know when you've got water in your ears and a car drives past with music playing very softly. Well that's the sort of sound quality I enjoyed, and enjoy it I did. It was probably marginally better than the quality of today's mp3s.

I vividly recall Tony Blackburn playing Planet Earth by "Durran Durran" as he pronounced it. (or was it "hungry like the wolf"?) At the end of the song he had to apologise for not saying the band's name correctly because so many people had rung in to complain. "Of course I did know the correct name it was just a slip of the tongue". Even at that tender age I knew he was lying.

The next step up was when I got my first radio cassette recorder, made by Binatone, that giant of the hi fi world. For the first time in my life I could record from the radio without all the hiss and crackle caused by background noise. I could talk and make noise in my room when I was recording. I became a huge fan of Blondie and had my bedroom walls covered in posters of Debbie Harry. These posters were instrumental in helping me through those "troubled" teenage years. If I ever were to meet Debbie Harry, even though she is about 97 now, I would be embarrassed, shifty and probably very aroused. We went through so much together. I was always touched by her presence.

After the Binatone I moved on to a number of different stereos. Of course most of them are scattered around my parents' house these days. In one of the bedrooms that used to be my brother's there is the Dixons' own brand ghetto blaster that kept me going for a while. In a different corner of a different room is a different one that used to be my other brother's. ( different brother too). Somewhere else in the house are some of our records. Singles, albums and 12 inch's (I'm not sure where the apostrophe should go on that one). The Debbie Harry posters are long gone but the marks left by the Blu Tack are still there. As are the memories. I think it's Blu Tack anyway.

I felt old the other day when I had to explain to my kids what a record is. They had stumbled across my old copy of "A Merry Jingle" by the Greedies, a punky version of "we wish you a merry christmas" combined with "Jingle Bells" done by Thin Lizzy together with Paul Cook and Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols. My covers band was learning it as our concession to the pressure of having to do a Christmas song, we just couldn't face Wizard or Slade or Greg Lake and this was vaguely enjoyable to play. The Greedies were originally called The Greedy Bastards but that was considered too risque a name to get them airplay. They were rough rock 'n' roll times in the eighties you know.

Today's world of music is one of instant gratification and infinite choice. My iTunes holds just about every song that I have ever owned. It holds every drum part I have ever recorded, every song I have played on. I can synchronise this with any one of the iPods floating around my house quicker than you can press ctrl + alt+ delete and shut down everything in Task Manager. I can make playlists in about 30 seconds and keep them for 30 years. I can burn cds and I can plug my iPod into my electronic drum kit at home and play along to any song I want. It's all good.

But somewhere in my garage is a huge box full of my old records. I don't even have a record player at home now but I can't see myself ever parting with them. They are more than just music. They have a feel to them. They have sleeves and liner notes and scratches and blemishes. They have a track order that can't be moved around. They are memories.

And now my life revolves around music. I play it, I listen to it continually and I discover new music all the time. I rediscover old music a lot too, and I ponder over questions like "when will we reach a time when every chord progression possible will have been written?" I don't ponder over things like that for very long as I'm a drummer, so I tend to ponder on chord progressions for spells of nanoseconds at a time and then I carry on hitting things.

The most amazing aspect of music to me is how a song can instantly bring back memories. I can hear the opening few notes of guitar and drums from Song 2 by Blur and I immediately think of one of the funniest moments in my "gigging career", when Paul, our guitarist, totally forgot the chords to play. We had to start the song 3 times before he remembered it and that song now haunts him and torments him and chases him down streets like the belly in the Reebok advert.

Or Voulez Vous by Abba, which takes me back to a time when I was about 12 and on holiday in Sri Lanka. We seemed to spend a lot of time sitting in the front room of a large Colombo house playing Carrom and listening to that album. I can remember every word perfectly:

"Voulez vooooooouus, a ha,
durr durr durr durr durr dur
durr dur durr durr durr dur
Nothing stronger, no regrets"

It takes me straight back to that house and those games of Carrom. I will defend Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha and the red haired ugly one to the hilt. People mock me for my love of Abba but I don't care. They wrote wonderful pop songs, sang incredible harmonies and sold more cars than Volvo, but we all know that. Anyone who can listen to "One of us" without shedding a tear over the turmoil and heartbreak caused by a billion dollar divorce and years of touring the world playing music to adoring fans, all of whom want to sleep with you, is a cruel heartless cad in my book.

Play me the opening bass riff to "Circus games" by the Skids and I am transported to my friend's bedroom in Surrey. We used to sit there listening to records while our Sri Lankan parents partied downstairs. Our's is one of those few friendships that was forced by parents and yet survived. There is some obscure law that says that whenever kids are forced to be friends because their parents say so, they must hate each other, but we escaped. At least that is the case in England, I think Sri Lankan law is different as so many children of parents who are friends there seem to end up as long term friends.

I could go on, and I will. It's my blog.

There is a rather magical guitar solo in "Wishlist" by Pearl Jam that instantly transports me to poolside at the Transasia. I was lying there last year just chilling, soaking up the rays and the atmosphere in general. The backdrop of Colombo noise. You know, that sound of horns and engines, just general street stuff, but it's a soundtrack that I never hear in London. There was a stillness and an air of tranquility from Beira Lake behind. Yes, yes, yes. I know it is / was full of crap and that's why it glows (or did glow) dayglo green, but I still like it. As this guitar break came up in the song I really thought that life doesn't get much better than this. The stunning blonde Russian prostitute sunbathing nearby had nothing whatsoever to do with my enjoyment of the moment. I can be stuck in traffic on the A4 on a grey, wet and cold Monday morning and I just have to hear that guitar break and I'm back there. Sadly, the blonde isn't, it's invariably some fat bloke in a Ford Escort from Feltham.

After my first gig with a new band I don't think I'll ever hear "I predict a riot" without fondly remembering the high spirited blonde. She went mad for this song and got up on the dancefloor, her enthusiasm was infectious and her look was wicked. There were bouncing breasts everywhere and the bassist and I couldn't stop ogling her, but bassists are like that.

Then there's "Help me make it through the night". I'm sure there must be so many of my generation with Sri Lankan parents who know this song. It instantly gives me vivid recollections of parties full of Uncles and Aunties having a great time. My Mother and Father dancing and Uncle A and Aunty A dancing. Sadly Uncle A is no longer with us, but the memories are. Like the time my Dad started a fight with a German tourist at the Supper Club in Colombo. Luckily for him, me and my brothers were there to split it up or the old man would have got a pasting.

The details are for another time but the general story involves a young male German tourist, a 50 something Sri Lankan father who had drunk rather a lot of Black Label and a pretty young English girl who was part of our party and the object of the German's affections. Feel free to take that basic information and make it into a story or wait for me to tell you the correct one. I'll give you a clue by saying that we all ended up as best friends, despite my Dad starting a fight with him in the toilets.

So here endeth the blog entry, more or less. Music always has been, I hope always will be, a thread running through my life.

And groove is definitely in the heart.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Spice Boy

As a keen lover of rice and curry and a ardent fan of food in general I think I'm well placed to talk about food, particularly of the eastern variety. Like any good Sri Lankan boy I struggle with food that is just way too bland, although I can appreciate the finer points of the blandest Walls sausage too.

I can savour the gastranomic delights of a pot noodle and devour every single grain of rice in a lamprais with equal passion. Well not quite equal but I can enjoy both, although I'd much rather eat a lamprais than a pot noodle any day.

And in all my years' of research into eating rice and curry there is one thing that mystifies me, there is one question I have to ask, one unsolved mystery; the cardamon.

What the hell is it about these little opal shaped pieces of pungent putridity? I can understand most spices and most flavourings but these things are surely superfluous aren't they? They don't add anything to a dish, they just taste like crap, or worse. One journey anywhere near my taste buds and a cardamon can ruin a whole dish for me, it really can put me off the rest of a meal.

Is it just me or do other people have the same feelings for other spices? Or do some people like the taste of cardamons? I guess there must be some strange people out there who do.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Land Like No Other?

I was involved in some genial conversation with a friend when I was in Sri Lanka and we chewed a bit of fat over the whole ambulance chasing phenomenon. We talked about the differences between the US, the UK and Sri Lanka.

Now I suppose the whole nature of Sri Lankan roads and driving dictates that the term "ambulance chasing" conjures up a very different image to many Sri Lankans compared to the pictures that an American or a Brit would have. The Brits and Yanks can easily think of a pack of solicitors, although I'm unsure of the collective term for solicitors, running after an ambulance as it cuts its way through a throng of vehicles, all of which are deftly moving out of the way to let the ambulance pass.

But for a Sri Lankan the image is vastly different. I guess it must be a dreamy sequence involving an ambulance with a siren that used to work sometime back in the 1970s, a flashing light that is now just a light and other road users who don't even hear the non existent horn because they have become immune to the sound of a horn anyway. The result is a throng of chaps in suits walking slowly behind an old ambulance that is stuck in traffic.

Damn, I've gone off on one, sorry about that.

The thing is we talked about the diferences between the three countries. I said that I hate the whole ambulance chasing, that whole "let's sue someone" attitude. I absolutely can't stand it. I know that it's far worse, far more prevalent in the US than it is here in the UK, but I also know that it's becoming quite extreme here. I have had to pay out quite a lot of money to ex employees over the years who have threatened legal action over things that I know I was right about. Yet, I am proud that I have maintained my own principles over the issue, even when I could have earned myself a few quid quite easily.

A few years' ago I had rather a bad head on collision, wholly not my fault. I was shaken up, there was about £12k of damage to my car, but most importantly I was uninjured. I had a very slight pain in my neck for a couple of days but it was nothing really. I was inundated by people tellling me to go to my Doctor's and claim compensation for my "injuries". I didn't. I'm happy that I didn't, even though I probably could have got myself some easy money.

These days, and these ambulance chasing companies even advertise along these lines, if there's an accident someone is responsible. Well I don't subscribe to that, I'm all for people being careful and safeguarding others but I don't beleive that every little accident has to be caused by someone else's negligence.

Then we have the beauty that is Sri Lanka, as usual it falls at the other end of the scale, if indeed it does fall on the scale at all. The Sri Lankan newspapers regularly feature stories about people who are killed by "acts of God", only by many other people's definitions they're not actually acts of God.

Innocent passers by are maimed by debris from a building site that happens to have fallen in their direction; an unfortunate accident. A poor woman is killed after falling into a hole in the road that has opened up after rain; verdict: death by falling into hole in road. A chap dies from electrocution after touching live cables that have been left open and unguarded by workmen; verdict: accidental death.

It usually makes me smile and I often read these things and wish we were a bit more acceptng of "accidents" here in the UK. But I also think that Sri Lanka is at the opposite end of the spectrum, it's a land like no other, a land in which no one is responsible, apart from the person who has the accident.

We've got the US, where any accident can be blamed on someone and that someone can be sued. We've also got the UK, which is rapidly heading in that direction, hopefully it will turn left instead of right at the crossroads though. Then we've got countries like Sri Lanka, where there's hardly ever an accident for which someone is held responsible, unless it's the victim.

Somewhere between the extremes is the right way forward. That perfect world.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Island Disc Desert.

I got tagged by Childof25 and have been given the esteemed duty of naming the five discs I'd take on a desert island with me.

It's a nice little Sri Lankanism the way that dessert and desert are pronounced exactly the same but, just in case you're wondering, a desert island is one that has got some sand, a bit of forest and greenery and lots of beautiful women on it. A dessert island is a huge mound of chocolate biscuit pudding in the middle of nowhere, or perhaps a bowl of wattalapam that has been left in the wilderness, maybe even with a dash of cinammon on it.

I've changed the rules, not that there were any big rules but I have. And instead of choosing five albums I've gone for five songs. For me a song is a piece of art, it can be good or it can be bad art but it's art, from Abba to Zwan and everything in between.

I thought about albums and the only conclusion I could come to was that I'd take five Coldplay albums. I don't know if they've made that many but I'd take them just to smash the miserable crap to smithereens, then I could make a fire out of them if I had some matches. Or a lighter.

But I couldn't choose five albums I'd want to take, I can think of albums I love but I can't come up with a single one that I think is perfect, one on which I love every individual song. So, my dear readers, I've changed the list and decided on the five songs I'd take. Here they are, and why:

1. King Curtis - Memphis Soul Stew (live) - This is, in my humble opinion, the most funky drum introduction ever played. It's played by Bernard Purdie, my all time favourite drummer, a chap whose character shines through in his playing and who brings a funkiness to everything he touches. When the band is introduced and Mr Purdie comes in, it is funk drumming personified. I feel as if I would never ever be worthy to even carry his sticks. Java, Theena check it out please.

2. Muse - Starlight - This reminds me of Wembley stadium, of the girls, of Tarquin and of Colombo. It's a big in your face stadium song, it makes me smile, it energises me and it makes me think of the people I love. It makes me smile and it makes me happy.

3. Up the Junction - Squeeze - Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford are two of the most underrated song writers of all time, they never got the acclaim that I think they deserve, or deserved. This song has got the lot. Lyrics to make you laugh and cry, a chorus you'll sing along to and brilliant musicianship never over played. When I started to play the drums one of my targets was to be able to play the quick bass drum doubles played by Gilson Lavis in the outro of this song. It's taken me ten years and I still struggle.

4. Learn to Fly - Foo Fighters - In MLC, the best covers band I have ever played in, we did this song. Every time we played it I felt as if I'd arrived. It's a song with either Dave Grohl or Taylor Hawkins playing, no one seems to be sure, but they're two of my favourite drummers anyway so it's a win win, or a drum drum. It's pure energy, pure all out balls against the wall rocking out and I like.

5. Slave 4U - Britney Spears - Don't worry boys, I'd listen to the song now and again but I'd actually make sure that I took it on DVD. Whenever anyone asks me why I think she's sexy I just point them to that video and they understand.

That's it from me. I tag the following, all of whom love their music:

Java Jones - I think there'll be some interesting stuff here.

Theena - I might be able to guess the artists already.

Naz Sansoni - Go on Naz, please respond!

Julesonline - There could be Coldplay ahead!

Confab - Mmmm...I wonder.

Over and out, but I reserve my right to change my mind about the songs tomorrow.

OCDs - Everyone's Got One These Days

In the last few years I've noticed a trend that makes me feel uneasy, a bit left out too. It's the fact that just about every fucker I know wants to and claims to have an OCD, an obsessive compulsive disorder.

Back in the days when I was a mere youngster OCDs were unheard of, like mobile phones, laptops and eating disorders. MTV wasn't even around, can you imagine that? A life before MTV, it did exist you know.

But nowadays OCDs are all the rage. People want to add to their self esteem by stating that they have an illness rather than they just feel slightly strongly about something. It's not good enough to say that you like to wear black trainers with blue jeans, it's an OCD. It's unfeasible to merely say that you don't fancy the thought of being stuck in a lift, it has to be classed as "mildly arachnaphobic". If you like to drive fast then it's no longer a like or a hobby, or even an hobby, it's an OCD.

Labels are us. Where's it going to end. If someone gets up every morning are they going to be OCD about waking up?

It really does seem that it's us who want to be called OCD, we love it don't we. Well I don't at all, but so many people do, so many take great pride in telling all and sundry about their obsessive compulsions. I've got a chap at work who collects model cars. Fine, not my thing but many people do it and good luck to them. But said chap boasts that he is OCD about collecting cars, just because he actually collects cars. I actually do think he's a bit of a fruitcake, but that's not because of his whole car collecting thing.

Frankly if I had an illness, like a mad compulsion to write about myself for a load of strangers to see or something, the last thing I'd do is to boast about. I'd keep it quiet, go see a shrink and get myself sorted.

These things bother me. In fact I'm getting quite obsessed by it.


PS - I know what arachnaphobia is.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Just Another Massive Monday??

In the relative scheme of things this is one of the biggest days. I've had a load of biggest days recently and tomorrow is another, just bigger, just better, just more.

Why?

I'm not telling you. But there are two reasons, you might know one of them but you probably don't know both. If you do, then I know who you are.

Sometimes even us bloggers don't tell all to everyone.

Let's just say this Monday, tomorrow, really will be the first day of the rest of my life.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Watching The World Go By

The drive from BIA to the centre of Colombo after landing always feels much bigger and much more meaningful than just a 45 minute road journey. It's a trip that connects me from the internationalness and cosmopolitan nature of the airport and London to the localness and charm, the "villageness" of Colombo.

As I did it a couple of weeks ago I was filled with a burning desire to get to the heart of Colombo as quickly as possible, to see the sights that have become familiar and comforting to me. I got stuck in one of those miraculous traffic jams, the type that has no evident cause and no proper reason, and my impatience wore thin as tiredness crept up.

The sights along the road were a gradual welcome to my destination and the idiosyncrasies of Sri Lanka ceased to be unusual as my mindset began to catch up with my body. I still remember one of the times I did the journey when I was about 10, my eyes must have looked like they were kept open with matchsticks as I tried to take in the visual sweetshop that confronted me; cows wandering along the middle of the road, palm trees everywhere and pedestrians with so little apparent regard for road safety.

These days I still marvel at the sights but I don't get that feeling of shock and surprise, I feel I'm coming home and that I'm being welcomed by old friends with food and drink that I love but can't get where I live. Although I can get it where I live now, but you get my drift.

One of the most Sri Lankan things I know is the way that people, old or young, can stand or sit around and happily watch the world go by. It's something that is particularly Sri Lankan and can be seen on every street and from every building. People stand in doorways just looking at life, chaps sit on the pavement and give their undivided attention to everything that passes them and no one thinks anything about it. It's usually men who do this, I don't know why, perhaps women are more sensible and have better things to do, perhaps they're the ones doing all the work.

In most other countries people would get arrested and beaten up if they did as much staring into the street as happens in Sri Lanka, there'd be funny looks and aggressive stares from passers by, shouts of

"Oi, what you looking at?"

and all kinds of insults would be exchanged. I know this because my Dad regularly looks out of his front window and gets the shouts already.

As I was heading to Colombo from the airport I lost count of the number of professional observers I professionally observed. These people who spend all afternoon watching, sometimes huddled in packs, sometimes solo, always doing nothing except watching.

Then it hit me, with some kind of blinding flash, like a sharp piece of blancmange wearing sunglasses and coming at me from a dark alley.

The whole watching thing is a symbol of so much that is both good and bad about Sri Lanka. It's a reflection of the many ways in which Sri Lankans take a laid back and calm approach to life, a comparison with the way that there can be wonderful tolerance and acceptance of some stuff. It's almost unbelievable that I can type that sentence yet, in so many ways, I believe it totally.

Yet it's also a strange comparison with many of the things that can be improved about Sri Lanka. The way that many people just spend their time and their days watching the whole world go past them. They don't do things, they let life and opportunities sail by. It's so easy to accept things as they are, particularly when the status quo gives you a lifestyle that others can only dream about. I've heard and seen so many who just accept things as they are, who don't want to change things.

OK, it's not just in Sri Lanka, it's everywhere, it just seems common in Sri Lanka. That shoulder shrug, that acceptance of things being the way they are, of change being something that other people instigate. But it's a characteristic that represents all the good and all the bad in so many people.

As I thought of Sri Lanka, its problems and its opportunities, I thought that maybe, just maybe, there are a few too many people standing around and watching the world go by.

Thoughts?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Kottu, Achcharu and KFC

After I left my cousins and family I headed off to Majestic City. I felt a need to mooch around there, I hardly ever buy anything but I always enjoy strolling around and being hassled by the shopkeepers. The smaller shops have a way in which they discourage a person from browsing.

Here in the UK I am used to going around a shop, fighting to get the faintest hint of customer service, which will usually be from some spotty kid who's never been taught that customer's buy things and buying things creates turnover, which in turn should pay for the salary of said spotty youth, even if that salary is only going to be spent on spot cream and trainers.

In many Sri Lankan shops, particularly the smaller ones in MC, as soon as I walk in there's a gang of about 4 or 5 people who invade my personal territory and ask me questions about what I am looking for. Once they hear what I am looking for, usually it's nothing specific, they then try to interest me in anything that isn't even remotely similar. You want T shirts, then how about these combat trousers? You want flip flops, then what about a nice tie?

As I wandered around MC I came across the usual bunches of kids. There were groups of boys being boisterous, gangs of girls being followed by the boys, Mothers dragging a daughter with attitude around and the usual gaggle of tourists and expats. There were a few young couples, trying to keep their romance a secret and looking guilty as hell about it. I love to observe and take all this stuff in, to drink in the atmosphere, the sights and sounds and smells.

I wonder if folks like Darwin and Child of 25 observe Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan life with similar eyes to mine. Do you look at things with eternal fascination or are you much more used to these sights and so just accept them as part of everyday life. Or do other "foreigners", a term I feel rather hesitant in labelling myself as, look at things with similar feelings as I do? Maybe it's the Sri Lankan in me that makes me love to people watch so much.

And why is it, no matter how many times I go there, once I go upstairs in Majestic City, I always lose my bearings? Throw me into Heathrow airport, Kingston town centre or Colombo's one way system and I can find my way around quite happily. But, stick me in a small shopping centre, one that's designed with symmetry and Sri Lankan pedestrians in mind, and I'm lost quicker than you can say "didn't I just pass this shop a minute ago". I lied about Colombo's one way system by the way, I haven't got a clue.

You know one of the best things about Sri Lanka? Apart from the scenery and the people, apart from the climate, apart from everything else. It's the food.

You lot have an abundance of delicious food available almost anytime. Of course it helps if you're fond of rice and curry and all things a bit spicy, but we all are. There's mutton rolls, there's bath packets for the price us Londoners would pay for a packet of cheese and onion crisps, there's the whole baked roll thing, the seeni sambol buns and the like, the bread with a filling baked inside it. Western food isn't as good as we get over here but I don't think that's such a negative when you look at the bigger picture.

You have a German restaurant that is treated as a centre of fine cuisine. Good luck with that one. If I'm ever there and friends suggest we go "for a German" then I'll meet them somewhere afterwards. All else is da bomb, as my eleven year probably wouldn't say because no one says that these days.

So, as I perused the charms of Majestic City and tried on flip flops and stuff I felt some of those hunger pangs hit me. They were welcomed with open arms as the remedy was sure to be enjoyable, tasty and cheap. There was only one thing that would hit the spot, there was only one surefire way of satisfying my pangs and filling the gap. I headed for KFC.

I know that my brother, in his lectures on fast food or whatever, mentions McDonalds and how its menu in Sri Lanka is slightly adapted to suit the Sri Lankan palate. I'm not certain of the exact context in which he uses this but I know he does. KFC is even more colloquial. It does things like KFC buriyani and chicken and things.

I ambled into the KFC, pushed my way past the gangs of youths, that bit reminded me of London. I looked at the board and decided to order sensibly. I had a dinner thing that night and didn't want to pig out too much so some sensible eating was the order of the day. Three pieces of chicken, a portion of pilau rice, some gravy and of course a diet coke. I sat down and noticed that Sri Lankan KFC has a certain social air about it that UK ones don't have, as if it's slightly higher up in the pecking order than it would be in the UK. I guess that chicken restaurants must be ranked by pecking order too, there could be no other way.

As I took my seat and got ready to steam into my nosh my phone rang. I answered it. It was Java Jones.

"Where are you?" he asked.

"I'm just having something to eat at MC, where are you?"

"I'm at Majestic too"

So we arranged to meet up, Java had to go and pick up some DVDs and he said he'd come into KFC when he was done. I didn't ask about the DVDs, it was best not to. This blogging thing is one of those fascinating experiences in my life and I've made many friends from it. Java is one of them, a fellow that I feel as if I've known for longer, like a disease that you've had for a long time, but it's never been diagnosed.

The time had come for me to tuck into my food. Again.

Damn it was good. It wasn't the chicken, that was a bit spicier than the KFC in the UK and that was good, but it was the rice and the gravy that made me feel like I'd discovered a little known secret. Although I also suppose most secrets are little known, or they wouldn't be secrets, they'd be facts, like gravity and the apple thing or the smell in House Of Fashion. I'd ordered myself a portion of gravy, expecting a little tub of watery sauce, flavoured vaguely of meat. What I got was a little pot of paradise.

I had checked out my rice. You Sri Lankans take rice in restaurants and cafes for granted, as you should. I reckon if you lived here you'd think differently. Here we have to get used to rice that comes in all forms, invariably forms that would be simply unnacceptable if served in a Sri Lankan establishment. The biggest problem is rice with no salt in it. Honestly, they really do that here. You get your measly portion of rice, serve it and devour the first mouthful only to find that salt has not been anywhere near the whole cooking process. It may be good for you to reduce salt but it can't be good for you can it?

Then there's portion size to consider. In Sri Lanka a portion of rice means just that. Order a portion and it turns up, enough for you, your companion and anyone else at the table. I don't know how the system works but it does, you order and they bring the right amount. In the UK we get exactly 4 Sri Lankan mouthfuls of rice to one order, it must be a regulation or something. My English friends laugh at me when we go out for a curry and I insist on a portion of rice for myself. They'll be laughing on the other side of their white faces in a few years' time, when they've got slim and toned stomachs and I've got a big Sri Lankan rice belly. Then they'll be sorry indeed.

But back to the KFC rice thing. I had checked it out it was delicious and abundant. There was salt in it and there was rice in it, two of my essential requirements. The pot of gravy wasn't weak bisto type stuff as I had expected. No, it was a little tub of something that makes my mouth water now when I think of it. The most delicious sort of meaty brown spicy sauce. the type that I would be quite chuffed about if I had managed to cook myself.

I don't know about you but I'm very child like in my approach to eating food. It's quite mature to mix things up nicely as you're eating, to take a little bit of this and a bit of that and make a nice balanced spoon or forkful, but it's no fun. I like to save the best bits for last, then savour them. So, when a fried egg finds itself on my plate, I'll eat the white first and cut around the yolk, then I'll have the gorgeous yellow that is the yolk. Unless there's bread present, in which case I'll dip it into the yolk at the beginning, but that's only natural and obvious.

So, I wolfed down my chicken like a wolf eating errmmm some chicken. The rice and sauce was calling my name:

"Rhythmic, rhythmic, come and eat me please..."

I heard. It sounded like a dream I once had, but it involved less rice and more Britney Spears and the sauce was very different. I ate and I savoured each mouthful. The whole meal had cost me about as little as I'd pay for a dodgy sandwich from Tesco at work, the sandwich would have had about as much taste as one of those videos that Gaz, my partner, forwards all the time, the type that Java likes so much.

As I ate the feast of flavours I thought about how great it is that Sri Lanka has so much flavour in its food, from KFC to rice and curry. Sausages and chips are nice, in fact they're also one of my favourites, but a bit of rice can't be beaten.

As my Dad often says

"You can't make an ommelette without breaking wind".

As I'd finished my last forkful Java turned up. He strolled in with the casual air about him that follows him everywhere. We made our way to Barefoot and looked at books.

Life doesn't get much better.

Until Monday.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The French Blonde and the Straddling Thing

There are many stories to tell after my sojourn to Sri Lanka and I've decide to chuck them out randomly rather than keep a strict order. This suits my memory, which tends to work in that manner. So this is about the last leg of my trip, the plane journey home.

You know, BIA definitely isn't what it used to be is it? It's bigger, brassier and bolder now and, when you're in it, you could be in almost any medium sized airport in any part of the world. Progress is required and the new airport is clearly what's needed for Sri Lanka to try to establish itself as an air hub, but progress kills quaintness and BIA now has none of that charm.

So, I got there for my return flight. I went through the journey from the centre of Colombo to the airport and my mind went through the huge mix of emotions it always does, no matter how often and how many times I vist Sri Lanka. I left my hotel at about 3.30 AM, a great time for skipping traffic but not as good for being a member of the wide awake club.

The walk from the outside of the airport to the inside of it, past the little shops selling cashews and Maliban confectionary in US dollars always takes on a feeling of doom, as if it's a one way tunnel taking me away from paradise to a grey anonymous existence where I'm merely a great drummer in two bands. It is, apart from the great drummer bit.

Anyway, I've gone off on one again. After I went through the usual airport stuff I found myself in the lounge, at the gate. Travelling alone is full of experiences that just don't happen when with someone and I'm getting used to these things, some I like and some I don't. One of them is the whole looking around and trying to find single people game. I don't mean looking round and seeking singles in a "hide the sausage" way, I mean looking around and seeking singles in a "I hope I get to sit next to her on the plane" way, or in a "Oh Lord please don't let her be anywhere near me on the plane" way.

I'm not sure if other people travelling alone do this too, do you just accept that you're going to sit next to a random person or, like me, do you observe and judge, hoping for the right outcome?

I had spotted a peculiarly diseased looking NGO type that made me scrunch up my face immediately. I'm sure she was a nice enough girl but her legs were covered in scabs and her toenails needed a good wash, no doubt caused by months of hard work in the name of good causes in some outstation place. Charity and virtue are admirable, but I'd rather not share an 11 hour plane journey with them if they look like that. Not that I'm shallow or anything.

There were some other singles around, all of whom could be planted firmly in the "not too bad" category. I was however, extremely nervous of the red headed Australian tourist backpacker I'd seen. She was too talkative for my liking, full of stuff about how meek and mild a person she was and how she doesn't like to talk about herself all the time. She said this all the time to anyone within earshot so I got out of earshot, not an easy thing I can tell you.

Then there was the blonde. I like blondes. They're sexy, if you doubt me just ask a man. She was a bit on the old side, about 50 but cute, in a Britney's Mother sort of way and without the whole trash thing going on. She looked like a businesswoman but I guessed she was either in the fashion industry or the porn industry. She had that air about her and she was taking no prisoners.

We boarded and I headed to my seat. After many years of favouring a window seat I've now changed to liking the aisle seat. I can still peer over the shoulder of my neighbour to see the odd sight, there's those undercarriage cameras anyway and it means I can strut off to the toilet without feeling bad about waking someone. But, as I approached my seat I saw the diseased NGO bird sitting there. This wasn't good and I considered the option of some sort of protest, a hoax terrorist threat or something equally fitting. I had to talk to her, as she was in what appeared to be my seat.

We exchanged words and I discovered that the idiot had got the wrong row and was supposed to be in front. My sigh of relief was massive and she limped off to the seat in front. Then, as I took my seat, being careful that the NGO hadn't left a stray limb or two there, I noticed that the blonde was sitting next to me. Results don't come much bigger and strokes of luck don't get much better, she must have thought to herself, as I sat down.

I nodded to her. I have enough plane experience to know that I don't want 11 hours of friendship. I like my company and I like the company of others but to start a conversation too early can be fatal. I once made the mistake of instigating a conversation too early on a plane and I had to endure over 11 hours of non stop babbling from the fellow. He prattled on about Sri Lankan architecture, my parents and all sorts of stuff for the whole journey. He even farted and boasted about it at one point. It was only when we landed and got to the hotel that he fell asleep and went quiet. That's little brothers for you.

I took my place, reservedly but also pleased that I had ended up in the chair of plenty. The woman had that look of class about her, as if she knew what direction she was heading in and what speed she wanted to travel at. I settled myself and hoped the pilot had the same kind of knowledge. We took off, I peered over the left breast of the woman and watched mother Lanka disappear into the distance. It always makes me sad to see Lanka vanish and it's such a great view as I see the plane fly up the west coast and turn left at some point to head towards Belgium, or whatever country's next in that direction. Then, the chaps came round giving out the headphones. My glamorous one had fallen asleep so I kindly took her set for her and thought I'd pass them on when she woke up.

And, when she woke I got my first signal that I might have been lumped with a good looking but rather stupid woman. I said something and gave her the set of headphones, her ones. She looked at me and said

"No thanks"

Frankly this was just fucking weird. I had 2 sets of the useless plastic cheapo contraptions, she could see that clearly, she had none and an 11 hour flight ahead of her. This was obviously not a person who was used to long haul flights. After all, it wasn't that I was offering her some peanuts or a spare drum stick, she was clearly some kind of special case. However, her accent was French. All other stuff can be excused when there's a French accent, some breasts and a blonde lurking around, especially if they're all on the one person. I was still wise enough to avoid intercourse though.

I decided to observe her. She had a strange air about her, not like the diseased girl in front of me, more an air of stupidity, as if she was on a plane for the first time. It didn't seem likely as she also looked like a businessy type, even if the business was porn or fashion. After about an hour the lights on the plane went off, to encourage passengers to sleep, which suited me fine. Frenchie though had other ideas. She became the only passenger on the whole aircraft to keep her window curtain up. All the others closed their blinds to keep things dark and peaceful and Frenchie chose bright rays of sunshine to stream in through our panel of thick plastic. It intrigued me but I was so tired that it didn't stop me from dozing.

At some point my slumber was disrupted by a banging and rattling sound coming from Frenchie's direction. I opened an eye, reminding myself of Dave Grohl as he was woken by that geeky autograph seeking fan in the video for Learn to fly (Hi Theena). There was no fan, but I saw Frenchie busily trying to remove her personal video screen thing from the back of the seat in front of her. She had clearly decided that it should fully detach from the seat and was now trying to utilise the detaching mechanism, the one that hadn't been installed. There was all sorts of violent pulling involved until I felt that the time was right to step in and teach her the ways of the Sri Lankan Airlines world. I explained that the screen only swivelled on its hinges, it didn't detach. She was grateful and made French noises, they were quite sexy and I was quite worried. I had engaged with her. I went back to sleep.

I think I must have been in deep sleep, I remember nothing except waking up with a start and a jolt. As I awoke I noticed that my eyes couldn't focus, nothing too unusual there, but this time it felt different. There was something in front of them. I realised that there was some weight around my ahem gentleman's region and I saw that Frenchie was the source of this weight. This whole scenario was a new one on me. As a drummer I'm used to facing adversity, to measuring a situation carefully then reacting by hitting something with a stick. That was not an option. I had woken from sleep, as people tend to unless they die, and I had found a rather attractive French blonde, albeit slightly past her prime, trying to straddle me. Her face was a few centimetres away from mine. I suddenly became very English, I did what any Englishman would do in the same situation. These things are tests of mettle and I went English.

I apologised

"Sorry" I said. It made perfect sense to me.

"Non, non, I was trying to go to the toilet." she explained. And I hope you're impressed with the way in which I've casually thrown a couple of French words into the narrative there.

I've heard about these French porn actresses before, the things they get up to and the stuff they do but I was still a touch surprised. There were other passengers around and I was barely awake, I had thought she might have winked at me and suggested we "go for a walk" or something. This was just brazen.

Then it dawned on me. She was trying to get passed me. To go to the toilet. But, instead of waking me and asking me to move she had come up with the cunning plan of trying to hop over me while I was asleep. Her brilliant planning and tactical thinking explained that whole google "French military victories" thing in one easy move and I just rolled my eyes. I let it pass, in every way you can interpret that short sentence, and I decided that conversation with Frenchie should best be avoided.

So, for the rest of the long flight I exchanged the odd pleasantry with her, about the weather, the Dutch architecture in Negombo and the hand loomed cotton stuff that she dealt with, but all in all I stayed away from meaningful words and I think it was a sensible approach.

These French people can be quite mad you know.

Not like Sri Lankans.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Cat and the Cousin Brother

One of the things I did when I was in Sri Lanka was to visit relatives. I suspect most people who read this fully understand everything that is involved with visiting relatives when you're a Sri Lankan. There's no such thing as a simple pop in and a cup of tea in between two other things on your itinerary, a visit to relatives takes more planning and thought than the average fight scene in a Sri Lankan film.

I'd decided to turn up and surprise some cousins in Dehiwala. It was a cunnng move on my part as I knew that a surprise visit would mean that they'd only be able to offer me about twenty three meals and fourteen drinks. I love this branch of my family with a strangely guarded type of love. It's that type of love that accepts their kindness and hospitality unconditionally and often makes me realise how lucky I am. Many of this side of my family have little wealth or money but their kindness and warmth knows no bounds.

As in any good Muslim family, I have more cousins than I can count and their names are invariably different combinations of the same consonants; "F", "Z" and "R" with a selecton of vowels thrown in for good measure. After all these years I'd got to the stage of just about knowing all the names and then they upped the stakes by all marrying and having children. It's really not fair on a chap is it?

I arrived at the house and confronted the cousin whose place it is. My brothers and I are the only bunch in my Father's family who live in the UK, all our cousins live in the Motherland or in the Middle East with one poor fellow ensconced in the US, probably just for the sake of statistics or something. This means that we (myself and my siblings) are always treated a bit differently to the cousins that know each other far better and far more intimately. It's nice to get the "star" treatment but it makes me feel guilty sometimes and I occasionally yearn to be thought of as "one of them".

Within about two seconds of my arrival there were frantic phone calls being made to all other cousins and Aunts in the locality. I was given the usual soft drink and I settled myself down for a pleasantly long day of telling all my family that "Uncle and Aunty are fine" and other such standards. Then the carrom board made its appearance, something guaranteed to get my interest and enthusiasm. We settled down for some fun, I was on good form, which was handy, particularly as I had got soundly thrashed by academic bro last time I played, probably the first time in his life that he has beaten me at carrom, or maybe even at anything for that matter.

We played a bit of "winner stays on" and all the kids wanted to play against "Rhythmic Uncle". I lost a few games and won some. I was extremely pleased to beat one cousin as he's the master at the game and, when I got to my last piece, I made a big thing of playing the shot with my left hand and with my eyes closed. I potted it, won the game and could then boast that I beat R with my left hand with my eyes closed. He wasn't too pleased.

After some more of the same I was herded off towards a car, a term I use loosely, to be driven to another house to see more people. R, my cousin was the designated driver, another term I use loosely. As I walked towards the car I saw a couple of bricks underneath some of its tyres, of course I should have known that this was because the car had no handbrake. It was an old Nissan, in a rust with a hint of white finish. In fact it wasn't actually a Nissan, it was Datsun. Now R, out of all of my cousins is one of the most religious yet also one of the most fun. He prays devotedly and has the full beard and appearance of a devout Muslim, yet his sense of humour is puerile and childish. My type of bloke. We set off.

We turned onto the Galle Road and headed towards Colombo. R is clearly not a person who believes that driving requires any thought or foreward thinking and so his modus operandi consisted largely of sharp braking and sharp accelerating. There was every chance, come to think of it, that my Dad had taught him to drive. I relaxed, something I do a lot of in Sri Lankan cars, as I realised that the chances of an accident were high but the chances of any type of injury at such slow speeds were running at about the impossible level. It was all a bit surreal. There I was in this old Datsun, accompanied by what looked like every Sun reader's idea of an average terrorist, driving along the Galle Road. There was some particularly Islamic sounding music blasting out through the original stereo and my cousin was as happy as could be. As was I.

"You like this music Rhythmic?" he asked.

"Yes, it's nice no?" I lied. It wasn't really my thing but I didn't want to dampen R's obvious enthusiasm. So he turned the volume up to a level that would have got me arrested in most London streets. Of course the arrest would have been because we would have looked like terrorists on our way to drive into an airport or something. I was lucky. We were in Sri Lanka, one of the only countries in the world where the last things we looked like were terrorists.

"This is a fellow called Cat Stevens" said R.

"He used to be Cat Stevens and then he embraced Islam and this is him now" he added.

"Mmmmmkay" I said, fully aware that I sounded like my eleven year old. It just wasn't my musical cup of tea.

We turned off the Galle Road a little while later, we went right, landside and headed inland. After a couple of minutes R pulled over and made some big sighing noises as if he'd just heard a secret radio announcement that someone dear to him had died. He looked upset, there had been no radio announcement, so I asked him what was wrong.

His head was in his hands and it looked important as he sighed and sounded exasperrated.

"My gosh Rhythmic I totally forgot something I was supposed to pick up. Terrible"

"What were we supposed to collect?"

"It was A, my brother" he said.

"You forgot him?" I checked.

"Yurrrss" he answered.

We swung round and headed back the way we had come, to find A casually waiting at the corner for us. He hopped in the car and sniffed, he does a lot of sniffing, and off we went again. R had wisely opted against the telling his older brother that we had driven past him once already and I decided to let it go too. I can always grass him up another time. After a short drive we came to their sister's house, where a small welcoming party had assembled. I went in and did the greetings and Salaams, I then sat down and told them all my news.

A drink was brought out and some watermelon was served. The drink was a strange thing, although I think I have tried most Sri Lankan food and drink this was a new one on me; belli fruit. It was orange and bitter and it had the texture and consistency of sperm. It tasted far worse though. We sat around sipping our belli fruit juice and eating watermelon, my Aunt asked me Aunt type questions, my cousins crossed their legs and shook their feet and made noises through their teeth. A sniffed frequently and I was quite content in the bosom of my family.

At some point I made my exit, I bade them farewell and found myself a tri shaw to head over to Majestic City. It's always a bit poignant to say goodbye to them as their kindness really is overwhelming and they want nothng more than my company for a few minutes. They waved me off and I waved back. A quick browse round Majestic City always makes me smile and a Diet Coke in the garden of a little shop I know a short walk from there was on the agenda.

Happy days!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Barefoot Drumming - Darwin that was close!

Barefoot is one of my favourite places in the world. I shan't wax lyrically about its charms and its atmosphere, you've either been there and understand it or you haven't been there and don't. There's just something about the garden that can capture people.

Whenever I go to Sri Lanka I spend a considerable amount of time in the Barefoot garden, drinking Diet Coke and talking to beautiful women and photographers.

Sundays are particularly nice there. The jazz quartet plays and features one of my favourite drummers, a chap who I've praised many times before but whose playing continually impresses and insprires me; Shirazz Nooramith. I've seen many Sri Lankan drummers, from kit players to Kandyan drummers, from terrible percussionists to world class conga players and Shirazz is one of the best. He's one of the best known kit players in Sri Lanka and I see his name associated with many of the country's top musicians.

The first time I saw him play at Barefoot I was immediately struck by his minimalist kit, a snare drum, a bass drum, hi hats and a ride cymbal. That was it. The variety and colours that he pulled from this small kit floored me. He can extract more "voices" from this than many can get from a kit the size of Java's frog collection. As I watched and listened to his playing I felt positively inspired, to go home and pull out wires from my electronic practice kit and try to use less voices. It was his playing that prompted me to reduce my acoustic kit to only two tom toms, to try to increase my musicality and not rely on having so many different things to hit.

The rest of the band's damn fine too. Ray, the bassist is one of the most grooving and stylish players I've heard for a while too, never too busy but consistently on the money.

Last Sunday was my last day in Sri Lanka and last days have to be planned carefully in my world. Moments have to be treasured and time must be valued. There's nothing worse than getting back to my Southall desk and thinking "shit I wish I'd.....".

I arrived with a good friend at Barefoot sometime around one o'clock. The usual Sunday assortment of people was there; a gaggle of kids running around, some tourist types who just fancied a drink after buying things in the shop, a few groups of youngish looking locals in their bright white trainers and way too ironed jeans and a few NGO looking types. It was rather pleasant and we settled down to some conversation, some music and some atmosphere.

I strolled over to say hello to the band. This wasn't as easy as it sounds as they are putting in a new floor in that bit where the band normally play so they were set up at the back this time. With my sharp observational skills and my usual drummer's keenness for detail I hadn't spotted them when we walked in and thought that they weren't playing that day. They were on a break so the whole sound thing wasn't there to aid me either. It was only when I asked Naz and she looked at me with an eye rolling look and said

"Yes they're playing, look they're over there"

that I realised that they were indeed playing and were indeed over there.

Being a musician is a bit like being part of a brotherhood sometimes. Not a brotherhood that makes you swear allegiance to goats and things, nor one that makes you wear a uniform, unless you're in Slipknot or Kiss of course. But it's a kind of club, one which has an intrinsic appreciation of its members. I went to the Rockapollooza thing on Friday and saw some great stuff and some not so great stuff, but those guys were out gigging on Friday night and I wasn't. That alone commands and gets my respect, I suspect most musicians would feel the same.

We got down to some watching and listening. It's always a bit frustrating when you play and people are treating it as background music rather than concentrating on the sounds you're creating but it's also part and parcel of doing a gig like that. I did one recently in which the first set was supposed to be "dinner jazz", some easy listening mellow stuff to help people eat and drink. It's bloody hard to do and there were moments when I felt as if it would have been so much easier for everyone to have just let the band go and put on a "Best mellow jazz songs in the world ever part 19" CD.

Everytime Shirazz and the band finished a song there was only a slight murmur of appreciation from the crowd. I felt a need to clap like Forrest Gump after each piece, sometimes these things must be done out of principle. It made me, and my friend, slightly conspicuous but we were proud of that.

I was savouring the moment. There aren't many better that don't involve nudity or myself on the drums. This was close though. There were drums, there was Colombo and there was myself. It was just a bit mixed up, not quite in the right order. At some point I was asked to play a song or two. I did the usual musicians thing of being bashful and shy, the whole

"Oh no, I'm just here to watch, it's your gig" thing.

All musicians do it when asked to play at someone else's gig. It takes many years of practice to master the art and get the right balance. If you show too much eagerness to play then it smacks of desperation and if you appear too reluctant then you won't get asked again as no one can be bothered to beg, except beggars. If you can play a bit it helps too. So I strolled up and played a couple of funky tunes. There was "The Chicken" which I believe is a Weather Report / Jaco Pastorius song and Watermelon Man, the classic Herbie Hancock song which, through luck and fortune, I know because we do it in Mimosa.

It would have helped me a lot if I'd recognised Watermelon Man a bit sooner on Sunday though, it must have taken me about two minutes of arsing around with variations on a groove before I realised that this was the song the band were playing and I already knew it.

I had a blast; to play a brace of funky songs at Barefoot in front of friends with those musicians was as close to Utopia as it comes, and I almost did.

The rest of the day was good too, I'll tell you about that later.

Amazingly Tuesday morning found me back at my desk in sunny Southall. In one way I felt wholly surrounded by Colombo, enveloped and warmed by its beauty and its personality, its charms, its sounds and its smells. Yet, in other ways it felt like a dream, a "was I really there?" thing.

But, as I trawled through the hundreds of emails that had found their way to me, the very last one was one from Darwin. Many people know that Darwin was in Sri Lanka for a while, I was asked several times if I knew her personally and what she's like. I've exchanged emails with her but we've never met.

The email she sent to me had an attachment which I opened. It was the picture above. Darwin explained that she was at Barefoot on Sunday and went around taking random photos. She had put some up on her Facebook thing and Child of 25 had told her that the drummer in the picture was me.

I felt a bit gutted. We had been standing a matter of a couple of feet away from each other, she had taken a picture of me, I had probably winked at her and smiled flirtaciously, the way I still haven't mastered. Yet we didn't know and we didn't meet. It was an amazing thing. Darwin lives in Glasgow, I live in London, we both have Sri Lankan flavoured blogs and we were in the same place on Sunday. She was probably straining to hear her friends' conversation because of my bashing on the drums and we never knew of each other's presence.

Next time maybe!

Thanks to Darwin for the photo too.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

This Tagging Stuff

So I got tagged by Azrael. This means that I have to write 7 random facts about myself and then tag 7 other people. It's all a bit complicated but I'll give it a go:

  1. I play the drums. You probably know that. It's the only place / thing / time in which I feel totally at ease with myself. I'm not even that good but I just love to do it. Whether it's to an audience of none or thousands it doesn't matter. Not that i've ever played to an audience of thousands.


  2. I admire many people in many different walks of life. The thread that binds them together is that they are people with a passion for something. My attitude is that passion is one of the things that differentiates the average from the special.


  3. I love rice and I love string hoppers. If I had to give one up I would reluctantly choose to sacrifice strings, but I'd miss them like crazy. I might cheat though and spend time on converting rice into string hoppers or something along those lines.

  4. I continually try to keep a positive outlook on all aspects of my life, yet I don't want to appear as one of those cheesy grinned American management positive thinkers who write books and have very shiny and big teeth.


  5. This whole blogging thing and the Sri Lankan blogosphere has amazed and startled me in many ways. I have been surprised by the number of people who read my inane ramblings and totally gobsmacked to find that people find my observations vaguely funny.


  6. I have slept with 624 women. And a horse called Sugar.


  7. The number 6 is a constant theme through my life. A kind of lucky number I suppose. A smart person would have chosen this point as point number 6. I didn't.

  8. That's it from me. I tag Darwin, Java, Naz, Lady Luck, Beatrice Hannah, Confab and Child of 25.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Java's Got A Frog Fetish

There I was one night last week, chilling with Java and Ceenimod. The conversation was mixed, colourful and interesting, like Java's choice of clothes for the evening. It turned to holidays, at which point Ceenimod opened his holiday photo album. Java and I winced, we knew that Ceenimod fancies himself as a bit of a photographer but he's hardly a Sebastian Posingis or a Dominic Sansoni. I know this as the two fellows are sitting next to and opposite me as I write this.

We sat through the slide show. It was good but Ceenimod needs to work on his use of colour and light. Java was particularly interested in a picture of some cheese, he said it reminded him of a former lover.

The conversation turned to music, Elton John was discussed and we failed to reach agreement. I am a proud founding member of the "I hate Elton with a vengeance" club and that is something that never goes down well in Sri Lanka, where his poncey melodies are much loved. I have spent far too much time reflecting on exactly who buys Elton's records, I know no one in the UK who confesses to liking his stuff, not even old people or girls. I pondered on how he sells so much stuff, then I realised that it's illegal in Sri Lanka to be over 30 years old and not to like that kind of music.

As the evening drew to a close Ceenimod remarked on the sound of a particularly loud frog somewhere in the vicinity. Nature is all well and good but not when it disturbs one's peace and tranquility like this. The noise was louder than Java's shirt and more annoying than a little brother when he puts on that mocking tone that all little brothers possess. We sat there though, a little bit drunk and full of the joys of life and a balmy Sri Lankan night. Then Java hit us with the revelation, the statement that shattered my image of Java as the hard living, music loving slightly mad but hugely interesting person that I had thought he is.

"You know, I've built up quite a collection of these frogs now" said Mr Jones.

"You what?" said Ceenimod.

"Frogs. I've built up a large collection of them"

"Aah, you mean you keep real ones do you?" replied Ceenimod.

"No, no, but I've got a big assortment of models of frogs from all parts of the world"

I felt as if Keith Richards had just told me that he likes knitting or Mahinda had suddenly decided to act in the best interests of Sri Lanka, ridiculous but vaguely possible things.

"I started to collect them a few years ago and now, everytime I go away I try to buy one or two. It's amazing, I've got Japanese ones, frogs from Wales and all parts of the world. Every country makes them and they're all different and quite fascinating."

Ceenimod wasn't impressed and I shared his feelings on the subject. Models of frogs are what old people collect, to display in the back garden along with the gnomes. But not Java Jones, that bastion of dangerous living, the guy that has influenced everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Pete Doherty.

We continued our evening in contemplative silence while waiting for our cabs. Ceenimod was undoubtedly thinking of his holiday pictures and whether the photographic lessons with Dominic Sansoni and Sebastian Posingis would help him in any way, Java must have been dreaming of frogs (models, not real ones) and I thought of drummers and blondes, not necessarily in that order, but probably.

I told Java that I'd have to do a post about this, it's my duty to let people know of his unusual fetish.

So I have.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

London, Lanka and drums.

Here I am, back at my desk in sunny London after nine days in glorious Lanka. London is sunny too, which makes a pleasant change.

I had the best time ever in Sri Lanka. There are no highlights to the nine days, each day was a highlight, which probably negates the whole highlight principle, but I care not. There are photographs to be put up on my flickr account and there' s an abundance of witty, sharp and observant posts I'll attempt to write about everything I saw and all I experienced.

You'll hear about Java's frog fetish, the French blonde who tried to straddle me, the photo that Darwin took of me when neither of us realised we were standing about four feet from each other. I'll probably mention how I got annoyed with the English couple just behind me on the plane as I headed out there, the way that they thought they were experts on Sri Lanka and procceded to tell give tips to people around them.

I'll tell you a bit about Galle, which I had a brief look around, I might even jot down a paragraph or two about Sri Lankan feet, one of favourite subjects. You can bet your bottom dollar that I'll talk about Confab and the Rockapollooza (or whatever the name is) thing that I went to and I'm sure to tell you about the fun and joy I got from watching Shiraaz Nooramith playing drums at Barefoot on Sunday.

That was all a taster, so if you want to read about politics, in depth analyses about the latest trends in leather goods or cricket stuff then you better read a different blog. I'll start writing stuff as soon as I've opened the backlog of emails offering me viagra and opportunities in strange countries.

In the meantime I'll do a lot of pining for Colombo and try to remember a load of songs for tonight's jetlagged band practice.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Who Said Men Can't Multi Task?

I walked into the toilet at work the other day and saw Marc, one of the guys, standing at the urinal doing a pee. Nothing unusual there.

What impressed me was this; he was on his mobile, with the handset cradled between his head and shoulder, in that hands free mode from before handsfree was invented.

He was also leaning back and, over his right shoulder, he had his hand underneath a running tap and was washing it. He was doing all of this whilst peeing.

It's taking toilet hygiene to a strange place, washing your hands before you finish to save time. I had to give him my respect. A chap who can hold his willy and pee, talk on a phone and wash his hands at the same time. It makes me proud to be a man.

There aren't many women that could do that.

I could almost have shaken his hand, except the whole concept of hand washing before finishing the job was a bit off putting.

And just for the benefit of women who may read this; it's true, us blokes don't look at the size of each other's manhoods when we are in a urinal. It's just not done, any man will tell you that, apart from George Michael of course.