I bought a book on the Kindle the other day. It's called "Thinkertoys - A Handbook Of Creative Thinking Techniques."
Tell me, should I have actually put the title of the book within speech marks? I never know what's the correct form there.
Anyhow, it's pretty much what it says on the tin, though I haven't read it fully yet. The blurb on Amazon says things like:
"With hundreds of hints, tricks, tips, tales and puzzles, Thinkertoys will open your mind to a world of everyday solutions to everyday and not so everyday problems."
"Michalko's techniques show you how to look at the same information as everybody else and see something different."
I liked the look of it, the things it promised and, you know me, I read self help books like they're going out of fashion anyhow. If someone brought out a book called "How to stop reading self help books" I'd probably buy it.
The first exercise I came across was one called Tiny Truths. Mr Michalko, our esteemed author starts off with the following:
"This exercise is designed to help you pay pure attention to the world around you. It was developed by Minor White, who taught photography and MIT."
At first I was immediately suspicious. Suspicious of an exercise developed by someone called Minor. I ask you, what sort of a name is that? Well I guess the answer is that it's an American one, which tells us all we need to know. Still, I don't want to be seen as shallow, so I delved a bit deeper and figured that it would be worth a shot.
The exercise consists of finding a photograph that's quite detailed and spending ten minutes staring intently at the thing. I used the one above. The instructions are quite firm about not moving a muscle for the ten minutes, but I cheated, using whatever muscles it takes to move a finger on a MacBook mousepad and also I'm pretty sure I adjusted my balls a few times too. For a man though, I kept pretty still.
We're told to stay focused on the image, not to free associate and that after the ten minutes is up we should turn away from the image and recall the experience visually rather than with words.
I did it all, though I didn't have a clue what "free associate" means, assuming it means letting your thoughts wander and making associations with things seen.
Then it gets complicated.
"After your review and your experience becomes kind of a flavour, go about your everyday work, trying to recall the experience whenever you can."
Well I pondered on this. "A flavour"? WTF? I've never really tasted a picture and even though this one had paddy fields in it I was pretty sure he wasn't talking about tasting rice. I figured that I'd ignore that bit, instead recalling random bits of the image throughout the rest of the day, even now, the day after.
More instructions say:
"You'll begin to experience tiny truths that you can find only by paying pure attention. Recall the experience frequently and recall it visually. Some think these tiny truths are the voice of God."
Again this confused and scared me. What a tiny truth is is beyond me and any mention of God brings on the hebeejeebees like there's no tomorrow.
But, the fact is, I've been recalling tiny details from the picture. Things like the whisps of cloud, the texture of the trees in the foreground and how they look a bit like brocolli, the way the trees at the very top are highlighted by the sunlight and the way the whole picture seems to bask in that very delicious warm Sri Lankan evening glow.
So I'm still unsure about tiny truths and the voice of God. But undoubtedly I'm recalling and appreciating details and subtleties that I hadn't before.
I'm going to try and do this with a different picture every so often. Even after one attempt the results feel good.
God may be scary but he certainly is in the detail.
You know something that's wound me up for a good couple of years now? It's when something happens, it can be anything slightly unusual in the public eye and is often something that has the faintest hint of scandal about it, like David Beckham getting pregnant or Britney Spears going off on one.
And they call it Beckhamgate or Britneygate.
It's every bloody thing these days. Chuck the word "gate" after it and it's the "correct" way to name a furore. It's cheap use of English, poor and lacking inimagination. It has to be stopped.
Regulars around here will know that I've got a Kindle and am a firm fan of the little ebook reader. You'll quite probably also know that I read voraciously, everything from fiction to, well, non fiction.
A few weeks ago I met a bloke. We were chatting and the matter of electronic book readers, Kindles specifically, came up. We discovered that each of us owned one and did some of that mutual praising thing that Kindle owners do, that iPad owners do to a factor of about one hundred and eleven and chaps who own Japanese cars never do.
Then the new found friend mentioned to me that he's got a CD. Nothing special there you may think, as did I at first. But, he continues, this CD is special, as it has about two thousand books on it, books that can be dragged and dropped onto a Kindle. Without thinking twice, in fact I probably didn't even think once, I said "oh cool, bung me a copy of it if you can". His reply was in the affirmative.
Two days later it appeared in a plain brown envelope on my desk. I opened the thing and threw it into my CD drive. I navigated my way through the windows explore tree, that one that seemed so intuitive until we got our first Mac. Sure enough the chap was right; there really were about two thousand books on this tiny piece of plastic, or glass, or whatever it is CDs are made of.
There were old classic books, there were modern ones by current authors, many in the bestsellers book charts of the moment, and there was everything else too. It would take me many years to read them all. Just to see if things would work I dragged a couple onto the Kindle. Things did work.
Then it happened.
My conscience woke up from a pretty long sleep and kicked me sharply in the balls. It told me that it's wrong to use the CD and load these books without paying for them, without the respective authors getting their royalties they should receive. I listened to the voice and asked a few people.
The advice spectrum was wide and unhelpful, from "why don't you just download the books that were published more than fifty years ago?" ( as I had a feeling these don't pay royalties to the author, though I'm not sure) to "how about you just read the ones written by mega famous authors who don't need the money?" to "just read them, the authors will never know anyhow".
None of it really helped me, except I postponed activity, pressing the pause button as it were. The CD is still in my briefcase, I've bought tens of books through the proper channels since. Actually there is only one channel for the Kindle and it's called Amazon.
So I put it to you. You seem like a sensible person with a mixture of morals and rebelliousness.
Last night I watched the first episode in the new series of Top Gear.
Soooo formulaic. The same presenters. Jeremy Clarkson with his "I'm Jeremy Clarkson so you can fuck off" attitude, Richard Hammond with his cheeky grin and impish personality, his hair looking unkempt and messy after the many hours of styling. Then there was James May playing that quintessential nerdy Englishman, complete with dodgy fashion sense and his inability to go fast.
Alice Cooper was the Star in a reasonably priced car, with Clarkson fawning to him as he does to every star in the seat. Hammond took some Hummer, only bigger and better, thing on a tour of South Africa, batttling Lions, the threat of violence and of course the threat of dangerous looking black people.
There was an unusual race, this one being a Mini versus a bobsleigh, driven by a woman no less, naturally a pretty sexy one. Camera shots were as predictable as ever. Graduated filters, saturated colours and lots of slow motion were the order of the day, the same as all the previous series and probably the same as all to come. The Mini won, which was a surprise to me.
Then, towards the end, was the most sexy feature on the E Type Jaguar, the car every petrolhead will agree as being one of the most beautiful of all time. I kid you not but I felt butterflies in my stomach as I watched it. Clarkson driving the first convertible E Type ever, with its wire wheels and sublime British racing green and the backdrop of gorgeous British countryside was a sight to behold. These days an average family saloon would leave it standing at the lights. But we don't care.
Was it entirely predictable? Yes.
Was it wholly formulaic? Yes.
Were the presenters saying the same things that they've said on every programme before? Yes.
Well, well, well. As I sit here typing this it's Thursday evening. On in the background is "World's Most Extreme Airports." It's most definitely a boys' programme. Full of footage of planes attempting to land on runways that look like dirt tracks in Yala, it's pretty much a sewn up compilation of those videos you can see in Youtube.
The last twenty four hours have been tiring and stressful, but I'll have to tell you more about that another time.
I was thinking about a specific type of person and I wonder if you know any. The sort who, when they're told a secret, can't resist telling a few people. Not so much because they're fundamentally untrustworthy, more because their ego is so big that they just have to let others know that they've been let into your confidence.
I know a few of these chaps. Once you identify and categorise them they can be used to your advantage. I've got one who works for me and he's perfect for when I want something spread around a little bit. The most important thing is that I don't tell him a real secret, that way I'm never disappointed.
And cranes. Hands up if you like cranes. Not the bird sort, I mean the mechanical marvels that lift things around building sites. They're great aren't they? I've always been fascinated by them. The other day I was parked up in central London about to go to a gig and I witnessed a crane operator climbing down from his nest to the ground. Seriously, I was fascinated, I loved it.
I've got a one off gig with a ten piece band coming up. A friend has got it all together, a mixture of musos from various other bands. The venn diagram for this venture would look like four or five big circles with lots of overlaps, something like the olympics logo on acid. It's all old soul covers, lots of Motown and dancey songs, a big, brassy and horny sound. And I don't mean "horny" like that either!
It's going to be huge fun.
I think my cleaner might be mad. Total fucking fruit cake, though I think we've come to some kind of plateau of understanding each other now. She does strange things though. Like, I've got three pairs of earphones, the iPod ones, each different. They sit on my bookshelf, separated so they're not a tangled mess. But, on Thursdays, when I return from work and she's done her thing, they sit in one pile, in a tangled mess. Why?
Lukla Airport in Nepal is officially the world's most dangerous airport. That's what they reckon. It's the only airport from which Mount Everest can be reached, I bet you didn't know that.
That's all for this week, enjoy your weekend wherever you may be.
Being short doesn't have many advantages. At five five I am however, significantly taller in Sri Lanka than I am in England, a weird phenomenon probably to do with the travelling and time zones I reckon.
If it wasn't genetic, if I had had a choice I definitely wouldn't have ticked the "so short that I get smaller as I walk towards you" box when filling out the form for my own specifications prior to being born. But life's like that and I count myself lucky that I've got my incredible good looks, my wicked sense of humour and ability to groove like a cat that's just been greased to fall back on.
Being tall gives a chap advantages. Things like being able to eat from tall trees, seeing at gigs when you're standing, easily changing light bulbs, painting ceilings (Michaelangelo was six foot eight you know!) and the fact that you can buy trousers without having to look for "short" sizes.
So far I've not come up with many advantages of being at the other end of the height spectrum. In fact I can think of only three.
First is the fact that you're a much needed and in demand team member whenever there's a game of hide and seek going on. Sadly this was only really useful when I was a kid, but in those days things were different and we were all short. I say we were all short, but I wasn't then, I was tall. In current times I find I'm rarely called on to play a quick game of hide and seek so it's a bit of a useless one. Though I'm partial to hiding under one of my business partners' desk and jumping out and surprising him and it's a useful asset then.
Second is when flying. I mean on a plane here, not when I actually try to spread my arms and flap, like a twat. Or a bird. And more specifically I mean when flying economy class, not business or first class. You see, as you're no doubt aware, economy class seats are made to fit short people.
Anyone approaching average height, let alone a tall person, has to squeeze into the seat as if he's some sort of Jack in the box, with the arms and legs folded awkwardly, risking blood clots and all sorts, and the head poking precariously above the seat where it can easily be shot by a legendary David Blacker type lurking at the back of the aircraft with a rifle or a rubber band with some paper folded up.
Then, once you've managed to squeeze yourself into the seat and if you have any awareness of personal space (sorry I may have lost the Lankans here!), you spend the next few hours trying your hardest to keep your knees tucked in and making sure your elbow is at the correct angle so it doesn't cross the invisible net that divides the armrest between you and your neighbour.
For the rest of us, the short people, we find our seat, get in, stretch our legs out and only very occasionally worry about the elbow situation. There have been a few times when I've been lucky enough to turn left as I get on the plane and sitting in one of those seats for me is like ambling casually around a sports stadium with no one else in it except a few muffled sounds from some staff somewhere over the other side. But the food is better and you're treated as if the airline actually wants your custom. Which is nice.
The final situation when being vertically challenged is a definite benefit is one that I only really became fully aware of last week. There I was, perusing through TV channels as one does, when I came across some horseracing, I thing it was the Epson Derby. That chap, Frankie Dettori was being interviewed. He's a famous jockey.
I was struck by his height, or not struck by it. Or struck by his lack of it. Anyhow I googled the chap to see where he stood on the matter. Turns out he's about my height. I googled a few related things like "average height of a jockey". I won't chuck a link here as I'm sure you know how to do it yourself but Wikipedia states that the average height of a jockey is under five foot six.
All of this has led me to think some things:
1. Why aren't there more Sri Lankan jockeys?
2. Perhaps I should get myself a horse. This jockeying thing can't be that hard can it. Surely you just sit there and whip the horse a bit, stroke it when it wins a race, that sort of thing. I might have to eat a bit of salad for a couple of weeks but that would be about it.
If you're a migraine sufferer you'll know exactly what I'm talking about, if you're not then you'll probably wonder what all the fuss is about, a headache is just a headache, that sort of thing.
I was about fourteen when I had my very first migraine, I still remember the exact place and details. I was in McDonalds on Kensington High St with my best friend, Greg. I looked up at the menu and couldn't read a section of it, it was as if I'd just stared at a very bright light and then suddenly looked at something of normal brightness.
But this blind spot didn't clear, it just got bigger, like an expanding doughnut, until it kind of enlarged itself out of my eye. Then the mother of all headaches hit me.
This pattern continued for several years. I'd get one every few months and there was almost nothing I could do about it except, at the first glimpse of one of these "blind spots" I'd take some painkillers, rush home and get to bed so I could sleep. Almost every time I was struck I'd sleep and wake the next morning with the headache almost completely gone, feeling just a little bit groggy as if I'd been drinking the night before.
As I got older more mature the format changed a little bit and they became less frequent. Then, when I had laser surgery on my eyes, they became more frequent but without the blind spots as a precursor. The Doctor told me it was because there was more strain on my eyes than I'd been used to with contact lenses, which is probably irony.
Once I had the second bout of laser surgery on my eyes and ended up with the better than twenty twenty vision that I now possess they died down. I'm currently in a position where I get migraines once every couple of months or so. There's no blind spot and I usually wake up with THE headache, with it getting worse as the day goes on, until it peaks and then slowly dissipates.
The actual headaches aren't as bad as they used to be, though that might be because I've got more used to them as well, and I try my utmost to just get on with my stuff, literally putting the pain to the back of my mind.
On Sunday morning I woke up in the early hours, I reckon it must have been about six, and I had that familiar and frustrating groggy feeling. I knew that there was a good chance of sleeping it off, if I could get several hours' worth of good quality zeds in.
I also knew that that was impossible as I had to get up about nine at the latest to go for an important family conference thing that I just had to be at. I did just that. I got up, strolled over to my parents' place and did my thing, all the while with a headache that made my head feel as though it was about to explode and, when it did, it would be a relief.
After some time I went home and jumped straight into bed, fully saronged up and only interrupted by the need for a quick poo. I knew that a few hours of sleep would see me on the mend and that I'd be okay for that evening's band practice.
Three hours of sleep saw me up and about, loading the drums into the car and setting off to that night's band practice. It's a new band that's been put together for a one off gig by a friend and it's a huge bastard of a thing, ten of us in all. So the logistics of getting ten musicians together have been a bit of a nightmare and my attendance was much needed, even if I say it myself.
One of the issues about being a drummer is that we're the butt of all the jokes, we take all the crap all the time, we turn up for rehearsals in which the band is missing a singer or a guitarist or a bassist but, lo and behold, if we can't make it, the whole thing gets cancelled and we become the bad guy. Which I know is actually far more than just one issue, but whatever.
And there I was, setting up my kit and bashing about a bit when it hit me. The headache was still there, quite a lot, but it was on its downward curve. The drums are anything but quiet. Even when one plays quietly it's pretty loud. And this is a ten piece band, which means that there's a lot of noise to deal with.
I must be totally mental.
The band practice was fantastic. But my head hurt afterwards. A good night's sleep did me the world of good and now, as I write this I'm as right as rain.
The burning question, that's been bothering me for so many years is this; how exactly should I say it. Is it pronounced "meegraine" or "mygrain".
I'm a helpful sort of bloke so I thought you might find it useful if I wrote a little post with links to several of the other posts that I've read about the Killing Fields documentary.
By now I think it's safe to say you'd have to be a total arse if you weren't aware of the documentary, or perhaps a regular run of the mill person who has little or no interest in Sri Lanka. Because, believe it or not, to those people, Sri Lanka isn't that important. Unless they're worried about having to cancel their holiday.
I present this round up to you on a platter, but it's a platter that is in no particular order and by no means definitive. It's just a platter of dishes that caught my attention, some of which I like, some I dislike and some that make me wonder how on earth someone so stupid even figured out how to write and work a keyboard.
First on the platter is the Blogfather, Indi, with this post. It's not the longest or most detailed of analyses, but at the time of writing our author says himself that he hasn't watched all of it, that he has to rush off to do a poo or something, so there's little room for us to moan about the briefness of it.
He does however, kick off with some sentences that indicate his view as being different to mine.
"So far I find it biased and framed completely wrong". Well strictly speaking of course I can't disagree with that, if that's how he sees it, what I meant was that I feel differently.
"Channel 4 frames......and the war ending as a horrible thing". Well that wasn't my view after watching it either.
"They set it up like Eelam was a good thing". Again, I didn't get that from the programme.
The thing about Indi's post is that it's got over a hundred comments. I'd love to write a post that gets that sort of interest. These days I'm lucky if a post of mine even gets a hundred reads and I'd do serious things to be able to write one that kicks of an argument between other fellows that I don't even have to get involved in. What is it about these chaps?
Secondly on our platter is the legendary David Blacker with this well composed piece. Strictly speaking it's not actually about the Killing Fields but it's a close relative, a cousin brother I reckon. Entitled "Why does the Darusman Panel Ignore Evidence of War Crimes?" though the title changes depending on where you read it, it's a quality piece of work in which our legend explains why, in his opinion, there is actually no bona fide evidence of war crimes having been committed by the GoSL.
Some would argue with our DB, but his logic and evidence, including photos with writing and arrows (in red as well!) and his quotations from international law books that I probably don't have in my library ensure that he's presented us with a pretty watertight case. There's a bit of an argument brewing in the comment section as well, though my money's firmly on the legend in the fight stakes.
The thing about our DB is that, although I find myself often disagreeing with his opinion, I respect his knowledge and I know that he comes at these things with a level of expertise that many just don't have.
Representing an entirely different perspective is the ever eloquent and frank Scrumpulicious with this little postette. I like this sentence in particular and wonder if there's anyone, whichever side you may be on, whatever your view, who disagrees with it.
"Let's face it - the end of the civil war in SL was a bloody one. I mean wars usually are. And the defeat of the LTTE signifies hope and peace for the beautiful island but it was at a big cost to the civilians that were caught in the no fire safety zone."
For me, the Scrumps' last paragraph puts things in a nutshell. Check it out.
Gehan, he of Darkside Daily fame, wrote, or rather didn't write this post called "Killing Fields: Why Are We Not Talking About it?" I say "didn't write" because, well have a look and you'll see what I mean. But he finished with a sentence that looks to be a cynical one, yet I'm not so sure. It's worth a glance. He makes some intelligent and wise points, though would probably be a bit pissed of that I, of all people, have called them intelligent.
In my virtual travels I stumbled upon this piece, by a fellow called Raashid Riza. He reminds us of the attrocities committed by the LTTE against the Sinhalese and Muslim people and concludes with what seems to me to be a popular mindset; that things like the Killing Fields "will only keep the embers of this conflict burning" with the insinuation that that is a bad thing. For what it's worth I think he's right about the embers burning, but I think, to continue the metaphor, that sometimes you have to put the fire out but also figure out what caused it to stop another one.
Groundviews, in its customarily fearless way, gives us a round up of narrative around the world wide web. You might not be able to read it if you're in Sri Lanka, but I'm sure you can find way around that obstacle if you really want to.
Those are the ones that caught my eye. As I said there are some I like, some I dislike, some I agree wholeheartedly with and some I think are a load of piffle. I hope it gives you an idea of the plethora of opinions shooting around the Lankanosphere.
It certainly seems as if the Killing Fields has kicked off a new round of debate and that the vast majority of the writers think the end of the long and bloody conflict is a wholly good thing.
Everyone seems to be extracting their own question from it and my one is this; Yes, it's fantastic that the conflict is over, but at what price?
I watched it on Wednesday, the day after the evening it was first broadcast. By then there were already a multitude of Facebook statii, blog posts and emails between friends and foes doing the rounds. I knew I'd be horrified by its contents, I knew it wouldn't change my opinions, perhaps only making them stronger.
I knew that it would polarise some opinions even more, that the chances are it would have no real effect and that my fundamental faith in the British media would underpin many of my thoughts.
I was right in most of my knowledge, some is yet to be proved.
But yes, I do hold the British media in high regard. That doesn't mean I believe everything I read, no way. I think much of the media is biased, many of the journalists and reporters also. But, I believe that, here in the UK, our media, journalists and reporters have far more freedom of speech than their counterparts in many other countries.
That freedom of speech means that there's the ability to attempt to investigate things, miscarriages of justice. It means that, when I'm in a restaurant or pub talking to people about politics, I don't have to worry about keeping my voice down because there's a minister sitting at the next table.
I've read many people's reports of the Killing Fields, saying that it presented a biased view, a one sided argument and that it glorified the LTTE, failing to present a balanced picture. In one way those reports are correct.
There was little or no alleged footage of attrocities committed by the LTTE, though I thought the narrative, with phrases like "one of the most ruthless terrorist organisations in the world, which pioneered suicide bombing" (with my apologies if that's not quoted perfectly), would have left the previously uninformed viewer in no doubt of what the LTTE was.
Yes, there seems to be no irrefutable proof that the footage shown was genuine, that it actually did depict one side doing those terrible things to the other.
But I don't understand the argument that the LTTE violated Human rights, international law and what have you and that therefore it was okay for these things to be done by the forces in order to defeat the enemy. The enemy was a terrorist organisation. It's what terrorists do. And, for the record, I think it's wrong.
People complain about the ineffectiveness of the UN. Fair point? Maybe. But the UN was made to leave the North East and, even if it wanted to take action, prevented from seeing for itself what was going on.
Some people complain about a lack of action by the UN and also moan when other bodies try to do something. They want interest from the international community but they only want the right sort of interest; that of patting poor little Sri Lanka on the back for doing such a great job in defeating terrorism.
Things like the Killing Fields inform the global community at large of things that took place. People all over the virtual and perhaps the real world are talking about it. That's not bad, that's not keeping old embers alight. That's good, that the way things are actually dealt with.
First you have to acknowledge there's a problem, only then can you solve it.
All the people who say that the civilian casualties were a price worth paying in order to finish the conflict need to remember what the official line is; that it was ended with no civilian casualties.
As long as that is the line there'll be questions that will need to be answered.
No matter what they may have done, no matter that you don't let them into your house to look around anyhow, how many messengers are you going to shoot down before acknowledging that the actual message is what counts?
How many times are you going to deny, to the people outside your house, what all the people inside your house know and accept happened anyhow?
Because you'll only start to move forwards properly once you deal with the past, the real past.
1. Cooking for one is a pain in the arse. I think I've almost given up with it.
2. I witnessed someone invalidating me the other day. I felt wise enough to recognise it, not react and just to move on.
3. It's a bit brass monkeys here in London right now. On Sunday afternoon I even had to turn my heating on.
4. I'm reading the legendary David Blacker's book; A Cause Untrue. So far I like it, in fact I'm engrossed in it. Innit.
5. I think I've found the perfect tuning for my new snare drum. It's one of my newest favourite things.
6. My in car CD player seems to have randomly fixed itself and is now remembering what was being played and going back to that place when I restart the engine. Which is nice.
7. I had a lovely day with K, the almost fifteen year old, on Saturday. I might write a separate post about it.
8. I'm learning about twenty five old soul songs, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves and people like that, for a one off gig with a one off band. It's fun to learn songs in a genre that I haven't much experience in.
9. I've decided to stop using cinnamon when I make dhal. Radical I know, but sometimes one has to be bold.
I saw this in a shop on Saturday and immediately wanted needed it.
I was unsure of exactly which language the text is in, though my linguistic knowledge is vast enough to have known that it's something scandinavian.
When we got back to my apartment K and I googled the text to try to figure out the language but even that was inconclusive, telling us that it was either Danish or Swedish. I hope for the latter, having a big soft spot for all things Danish.
And there I was at a Solskala gig on Saturday night, a kicking one at that, my favourite gig with Solskala so far.
A fellow came up to me, raving about my T shirt. Turns out that he's a translator, doing English to Danish and the other way around ( I assume!). He proceeded to read the T shirt, to tell me exactly what it means, which I promptly forgot, and to insist on having a photograph taken with me, him and the T shirt, so that he could send it to his cousins in Denmark.
We chatted a bit about Danish cousins, a couple of which I own too, though not the same ones as the chap.
It's weird isn't it?
I saw the thing for sale, wanted it and bought it. But I wonder, what on Earth would make a clothes designer realise that an idea like this would be a good one? That is, if it is a good one. I'm not arrogant enough to think that just because I like it means that it's a commercial success.
Still, it's my new favourite one and it's not even a Superdry item, which makes me feel a tad disloyal, but it's by Coca Cola and I am a firm fan of that company too.
My only problem now is to be careful that I don't wear it too often. The trials and tribulations of a committed metrosexual eh?
I heard this story the other day and thought of you. I'm not allowed to name names and place places but I can give you the gen. gist of things.
So, there's one of these clubs in Colombo, a nameless one, though it's not actually nameless, just that I can't go revealing it like an arse. And, at a committee meeting the other day, there was a murmur of discontent, a little rumble if you like. While I'm here I must mention this. Every time I write or read the word "committee" I'm surprised at the number of pairs of double letters in it. Three sets of them in such a short word, I wonder if it's a record of some sort.
Anyhow, I digress. There was a rumble of discontent and it was centred around the suspicion that the aforenotmentioned club might be selling watered down drinks.
The reason for the allegations?
There's a group of four or five oldish men (you know the sort) who drink at this place every Tuesday evening and on Thursdays the same group drink at a place in Mount.
Recently they've realised, that whereas it takes six shots for them to get pissed at the aforenotmentioned club on a Tuesday, they only need four shots each to achieve the same at Mount on a Thursday.
It's more or less a scientifically proven conclusion.
They caught my attention immediately. Probably aided by the fact that I was watching everyone with the eye of a bored bloke who might then write about them with the hope that a load of strangers will read his words. But that's not important.
They were two adults and a child, white and walking with an unusual combination of style and humility. The entered the lounge and sat a few seats away from me. They were cumulatively trendy without the look being over the top.
He wore all black, jeans and a shirt thing with white Converse style trainers, but they weren't Converse, they were even trendier.
She wore blue jeans, slightly faded, with a white top and white Converse hi tops. She had blonde hair and looked a bit like Keira Knightley with more curves and a few more years. I tried not to drool. It was hard enough to concentrate on staring.
I reckon they were in their early thirties.
The child; a boy I believe the species was, looked about three years old, maybe ten, I'm never sure with kids' ages. The thing was dressed casually yet clearly with clothes chosen by its style conscious 'rents. Little jeans and a child's pair of Vans trainers, I kid you not.
What struck me about this family were several things. First was that they looked comfortable and relaxed. They were definitely tourists. They wore good looking clothes but they didn't look as if they were trying too hard. From the way I've described them above you've possibly got the impression that they looked like a trio of white trashy clothes horses strutting around arrogantly.
They didn't at all. Each of them showed the way to wear good looking and a la mode clothing, though I'm certain the child didn't have much choice in the matter. They appeared so relaxed and normal, as if they'd thrown on the first items of clothing they could find that day.
The second thing was that they just couldn't have been British, which kind of saddened me. Generally I like the sense of style that many more fashion conscious Brits demonstrate, even somewhat optimistically counting myself as one. But the sad fact is that the average holiday making young family age Brit in Sri Lanka is the sort who looks to the Rooneys as role models.
No, they had to be Scandinavian, or maybe even worse. Maybe they were Italian.
I continued my observations until we boarded the plane.
I liked them even more at this point. You know when they ask for old people, those with special needs and people with young children to board first? And there's always an old person or two in a wheelchair, some families with young kids and a few Sri Lankans who have pretended not to hear or who have attempted to pass off their thirty something year old civil engineer son as a small child.
Well this couple, I'll have to come up with a name for them, didn't attempt to board, despite the clear and indisputable evidence of a young child. I liked that. Unless it was because they didn't understand the English.
At some point I strolled away to board the majestic ship of the skies that is a SriLankan Airlines Airbus A340. I took my seat, a window one, and looked to my left at the centre aisle next to me. Can you guess who was sitting there? Yes, you've got it in one. It was the four members of Abba, without their manager Stig Anderson, who sadly died of course in 1997.
I jest. It wasn't Abba, but it was them, the sexy Scandinavian family, possibly Italian.
On my left, on the other side of the aisle, was Mr Style, to the other side of him were his wife and child. (assumptions I know, but probably reasonable ones) In the name of science I continued my observing.
He wore black horn rimmed glasses, though I couldn't tell if they had real or clear lenses. On his left wrist was a black leather bracelet with a silver fastening device. He wore a wedding ring and a chunky silver ring on his right hand. He had no watch, a fact I found interesting. Other than that I paid scant attention. Ah yes, his footwear was these beauties. I suppose I'll have to get some now.
I heard snippets of their conversation. It provided me with the biggest sense of loss, of disappointment nay, that I've experienced in a long time, possibly since England got their arses well and truly kicked into oblivion by Germany in the last world cup.
They weren't Scandinavian. They were only FRENCH!!! Would you believe it? The most stylish couple in the world are French. Even now, as I type this from the sanctity of my desk a week or so after the event, it makes me reel a little.
The flight passed and I slept, ate, listened to some music and read some words on the Kindle. all while keeping my beedy eye on the glamorous trio. The wife and child were on the far side so I only saw them sporadically. But this child, it has to be said, was so well behaved that it was untrue.
There wasn't a single tantrum, not even a cry for the whole trip. He played with a toy truck at one point. I was impressed, it was a trailer thing that I would have liked to look at in more detail but I didn't want to intrude. He watched some DVDs on a portable player and generally gave the impression of a cool kid.
At one point the woman took off her Converse Hi tops to sleep. I must admit that I was a tad disappointed in her choice of sock; it was something decidedly normal, but she may not have realised the level of scrutiny she'd be under at the time of choosing. Often there's a logical explanation for these mistakes.
Me and the chap exchanged a few smiles and pleasantries on the flight. I'm fundamentally against striking up conversations on long flights with strangers for fear of ending up with one's very own in flight stalker, but I was so taken that I nearly made an exception for him.
After we'd landed, when we were queuing in the passport control area I had a brief word, complimenting them on the behaviour of their son. They seemed touched by my words and genuinely pleasant.
After going through the now usual rigmarole of convincing the nice men with the magnifying glass and the questioning skills of a tuk tuk driver trying to sell me a "massage" that my British passport is genuine, that I really do live in London and my accent really is that British, I found myself sitting at the gate waiting to board my flight to London.
I watched the people around me, feeling pleased that this was going to be an emptyish flight.
A couple of young Lankan student looking guys took their seats next to me. They were told to put them back, so they did, then sat down. They both wore those loud "smart" pointy designer label shoes, that were actually about as designer as the Odel own label pants I was wearing. Their jeans were all stonewashed and ironed and the look was probably what they thought people in London wear all the time.
Watching people like that makes me feel privileged and also uncomfortable. They were as unfamiliar with the airport and flying environment as could be and as I watched their unease and chuckled a bit to myself, I had "there but for the grace of God" thoughts. Of course they reminded me of The Auf as well.
They'd been in front of me in the queue to get into the gate and the grilling they'd got from the Immigration officials had made me feel bad. Questions about their schools, their parents and their backgrounds as well as a general air of being guilty until proving their innocence made me feel for the fellows. I can only assume that there are many young Sri Lankan kids who are so keen to get into certain other countries that this level of scrutiny is necessary.
The Chilean bloke was sat over on the other side. This poor bastard's situation puzzled me. He looked to be in his twenties and was a decent looking chap sporting Converse All Star cut offs in black, combat style shorts and a T shirt of some sort. He looked and sounded about as Sri Lankan as Bill Clinton. Or me actually.
As I had got to the two interrogators before the gate this chap was already being interrogated. He told the people that he had been travelling, had spent a year in Australia and that he was heading back to Chile via London. I waited in the queue as one chap asked the Chilean to translate the Spanish print in his passport into English. It seemed way over the top, for it wasn't just one sentence but the whole page.
Next he was asked the name of the airport he had landed in in Melbourne a year ago, which he couldn't recall. He had to produce his itinerary and then answer the same questions phrased slightly differently all over again. I still can't understand why this took place. Someone said that it might be because the airline would have to bear the cost of flying him back from London to Colombo if he was refused entry into the UK. It makes sense, but it was Immigration officials not airline people subjecting him to the barrage. Answers on a comment on this would be much appreciated.
Still, eventually he got through. He was a good looking bloke so I nodded at him with that bonding thing that birds of a feather feel. He must have been thinking of a bad meal when he saw me, as he made a face like "who the fuck are you?"
Being a SriLankan flight meant that there was the required quota of Buddhist monks. I believe these days the law states that any flight leaving the country must contain at least two of the saffron robed fellows. They did their thing; being smiley and nice to people and sitting in their special "reserved for clergy" section.
I often wonder what would happen if there was a clash of clergy at one of these gates. It would be interesting to see how things would pan out if there were a couple of Catholic priests and some Buddhist chaps competing for the special white cloth covered seats. In a fight I'd put my money on the Catholics, as they can do whatever they want and repent afterwards. Besides, if you ever watched Father Ted then you'll know how these priests are.
A young white smelly looking traveller girl thing was next through. I kid you not but I am turning my nose up as I even type this. She must have been in her very early twenties, possibly even in her late teens, and looked as if she'd just failed an audition to be an extra in The Beach for being a bit too hippyish and scruffy looking.
There was no bra attached to the girl. I say that not because I was looking, I swear I wasn't, but because she wore a loose T shirt top with breasts pushing themselves out of the side. If one of my girls had worn something like that I would have made her change, well, I'd have tried to at least.
She had a few bits of dreadlocked hair, piercings all over her nose and a CND tattoo on the top of one of her feet, clearly visible as she wore old rubber flip flops. I reckoned she was probably a student on a gap year or maybe a member of the British royal family doing some charity work before working in an art gallery. If she'd been a bit scruffier there was also the possibility that she was an NGO. She sat quietly enough and read a Dan Brown book, something I thought to be a strange choice.
Scattered around the lounge were random pairs of British tourists, mostly chav types. They're easy to identify by their uniform of sporting labels (Nike, Adidas, Timberland etc), their lobster coloured tans and the casual smattering of local jewellery or artefacts around their body. Some choose to sport a nice brown leather bag that they've bought on the beach or at Laksala and the women invariably have their nails painted with some kind of fancy pattern. Often they can be seen to sport a yellow wristband, indicating full board with alcohol (locally brewed only).
After around twenty minutes, maybe twenty one, the air crew turned up. There's something so smarmy about them when they do that isn't there? They swan through, marching in a line with their wheeled trolley cases behind them looking as if they own the place. If I was the style advisor for SriLankan airlines the first thing I'd do is ban the female staff from wearing those American tan coloured tights, particularly with open toed sandals that are meant to have bare feet inside them. One word; chee.
Then I saw them. They oozed class and sexiness. They may well have been the most stylish couple ever, complete with stylish kid.
With apologies, for I'm truly sorry to bring you a title like this on a Monday morning, very possibly as you eat your breakfast.
There we were, last week at the Cricket Club Cafe, when the legendary David Blacker turned up. I wouldn't normally use the word "legendary" to describe someone but he specifically requested it, so it's in.
He kindly gave me a very wonderful present; the copy of his book above, complete with personalised message. I kid you not when I say it's something I'm truly grateful for and I promise to read it very soon.
He sat down and we chewed the cud for a while. It was mens' talk, of cars mostly, why the Ariel Atom could only ever be a third car for most men, something C seemed to totally fail to understand yet surely must be obvious to the average man.
After a bit I asked him what he wanted to drink, as you do. For the last couple of weeks the chap has been moaning incessantly about having a stomach upset of sorts. I'm sure any of his other friends will tell you the same, give him the slightest opportunity and he's been going on and on about it. Tales of how he's had to stay in, tone down his wild life, eat simply and drink next to nothing have been pouring out of him like nobody's business.
So it wasn't really a surprise when he turned down the offer of an alcoholic beverage because of the gastro thing and said he'd just have something simple and plain. He perused the menu before making his carefully thought out selection.
I reckon I'm a normal sort of bloke, well, you know, perhaps a bit shorter and a bit more stupid than average but on the whole quite normal. And, when I've got an upset stomach I do exactly the same, I eat simple things, meals and snacks that will settle, not antagonise my stomach.
DB, as we call him in these parts, placed his order and we carried on conversing. I thought little of it as his chosen food and b. arrived at the table some minutes later.
But, about ten minutes later, it hit me.
"Hold on DB" I said.
"You're supposed to have gastroenteritis, or whatever. How's food and drink like that going to help your stomach?"
He looked at table in front of him, as did C and as did I.
"WTF?" We all thought. Simultaneously. Even DB, who had chosen the stuff.
His "simple" stomach settling choice?
Was it some plain grilled chicken with a glass of water? Was it a portion of french fries with a glass of Coke?
Like hell was it.
It was a glass of iced tea, with an accompanying dessert consisting of papaya, chocolate fudge and ice cream. He wolfed it down anyhow.
Keep this to yourself, but A, the seventeen year old, is now, ahem, "seeing someone". Naturally I hate the bloke, despite the fact that I haven't met him yet. I have been made to promise that I'll behave normally when I meet him, the only specific thing I was told about behaving normally was that it involves "no Sri Lankan dancing or anything like that".
It's quite reasonable to hate the boyfriend of the daughter isn't it? When I'm the Dad and I know what boys of that age want to do, when I remember what I was like at that age, rather what I wanted to be like at that age. These feelings of hatred, of anger and "get your hands off my child" are all wholly natural and normal.
Until they are felt towards me. That's me, can you believe it, by C's Dad.
There we were, Sunday before last. Two people in our forties, with C's parents and relaxing and chilling. It's weird because I can sometimes see the things going through C's Dad's mind, simply because I experience them too.
I don't know how it happened but conversation got to stomachs, as it can sometimes. C's Dad was standing in front of me and asked me if I go to the gym. Of course, this being C's Dad, a situation where my very manliness was at stake, I felt the need to answer with a mixture of boastfulness and bashfulness.
"Well, you know, a bit" was the response. My body language was all shrugging shoulders knowingly, as if to say that "a bit" actually meant "pretty damn regularly but I don't like to brag about it." It's a cunning tactic, for the real answer is "a bit", but I ponce around and do a bit of cross trainer stuff then some press ups and sit ups. Then I struggle to walk down the stairs on my way out because my legs hurt so much.
C's Dad looked at me with a look that I knew well.
"Do you do stomach exercises?"
"Well a bit"
"So let's see then" and he asked me to tense my stomach. He hadn't realised that I had been tensing it, as if my life depended on it, for most of the conversation anyhow. I attempted some more.
He punched me in the stomach. Quite hard, as it goes. Outwardly I smiled and laughed. Inwardly I groaned with pain. He smiled and he laughed. Inwardly he was loving it. I could tell.
Then he attacked again.
He laughed and smiled, as if it was all jokey boys' together pats on the back behaviour. It wasn't though. It was payback time and I had to behave in a manly way. His face smiled but his fist was clenched and punching me as hard as it could possibly manage.
"Doof, doof, doof" the stomach punches came at me in a little flurry. They didn't speak, that "doof" was the noise they would have made, if they could though.
I took them like a man. I think I passed the test, not visibly flinching, not doubling over in pain. In fact I didn't even cry.
C's Dad seemed pleased with himself and I understood perfectly.