Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Nice Little Bit Of K Time

I'm sure I'm not the first or the last divorced Dad to wish I could have some more time with my kids and, now that they're fifteen and seventeen I'm also aware that, whether their parents are divorced or not, the last thing they want to do is to spend time with either of them anyhow. No, the only thing that matters, mostly, to teenage kids, is spending time with their friends.

Four years down the road though, I still find myself pining to be able to tuck them up, to say goodnight and to have them around to get angry with. Except on Wednesdays and alternate Fridays of course.

But one of the positives is that I appreciate time with them that much more, with every hour and snatched minute feeling precious to me. More often than not the girls just take things in their stride, though I can see that it's also hard for them at times. I'm sure it's hard in different ways for their mother too, such is the shadow of divorce and its after effects.

As they've got older the time they spend with me has become less organised and official. These days the "official" days happen when they're free, or they're mixed with them seeing their friends. Often they won't come to mine because of social stuff they've got going on and, though it's a bit of a bummer for me, I figure that's just part of them getting older.

The other side of that coin is that they pop in now and again and we can occasionally get to do things on an ad hoc basis if it suits. Fortunately for me their mother is very easy going about these sort of things and lets them do things they want to. Sometimes I hear horror stories about the behaviour of ex wives and realise that I'm quite lucky.

And another thing I've realised is that it's important to try to get time alone with each of the girls, as well as time with them both together. When you're all living together you never think about this sort of stuff, it just happens. But post divorce I've begun to see that the dynamics when I'm alone with either A or K are very different to when the three of us are together. It's important to try to nurture the one on one time without taking away from the three of us time.

This weekend A had gone off to the Reading festival, which is a music festival in the town of Reading, not a get together when they read books. Just so you know. So, on Saturday I texted K and asked her if she wanted to come with me to visit my parents on Sunday. She replied in the affirmative, which pleased and slightly surprised me.

I drove over to collect her at almost the appointed time. It was confusing. I had said twelve, then texted her to say twelve thirty, then arrived at twelve fifteen. She wasn't ready and my experience suggests that she wouldn't have been ready whenever I'd arrived. I waited around for a few minutes while she "did her hair" and then we set off.

She'd asked if we could stop off at two places en route; a friend's house to deposit a jumper and then a shop where she could buy a sketch pad for her art homework. We did both, then finally headed off to my parents'. The short car journey was punctuated by K's constant flicking through the radio stations in search of music that she approves of. It's incessant with her, even when she finds a song she likes it's unusual that she listens to the whole thing before changing channels in search of the next.

It's also a reflection of her approach to life; a continuing search for the next thing to see or do. Or eat. There's no rest with her, it's all go, go, go.

Our arrival was a surprise for the 'rents, a pleasant one I think.

We got comfortable and settled ourselves. It was to be a few hours of general hanging around, nothing special, just some sitting there and spending time with each other, hopefully all happy in our respective worlds. K googled for some pictures of Rambutans to draw for her art project and proceeded to draw, I sat and fended off the usual line of interrogation from my Mum and my Dad did his usual and ignored everything.

Some lunch was consumed, more hanging was done and, at around four o'clock we started to say our goodbyes. We set off again, this time heading for my office, as I had my drums in the car and wanted to leave them there. It's a few years since A or K have been to my office and I was quite excited about the prospect of K being there again. When they were small they used to come there fairly often and both have memories of the people, of going to Toys R Us, which is just opposite, and eating McDonalds for lunch.

The journey comprised of more radio channel surfing and a farting competition. Frankly I think it was unfair, as farting whilst driving is actually quite hard, well the lifting your cheeks thing to let it out is. The smells in the car were pretty repulsive, even if I say it myself. I lost, but took the loss with maturity.

We got to my work and K went into the warehouse and began to "scoot" around it on one of the big cages on wheels we have there. She's fifteen, but this was like uninhibited childishness. I liked it, yet was slightly wary on behalf of the contents of the warehouse, a worry that proved quite worthwhile when K collided with a large table and I had to readjust things rather rapidly.

After some more messing around and some unloading of drum kit we set off again, this time heading to drop K home. The half hour journey was punctuated by yet more channel surfing but thankfully no farting competition. We didn't talk much, both being a bit tired and happy to not say too much. We pulled up, kissed goodbye and K went in and I went home.

I spent most of the evening feeling nicely content, something that was a bit of a surprise. I'd really enjoyed the mellow chilling with K and felt happy that she was happy to spend the time, that one on one time, with me.

My day was complete when I got a phone call from A a bit later on. She was at the Reading festival and calling me so I could hear Muse, one of our favourite bands, start their set. The sound was too muffled for me to pick out anything, but I'd heard A talking enough to know what it was. I was chuffed that she'd thought of me.

All in all it was a damn fine day.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Update On My Dad

I first told you about the situation with my Dad here and now feel that very British need to apologise for the post about to come, as it's a bit self centred and may interest only a few of you.

To begin with I must tell you that, though it's early doors, things are looking good. I hate it when people have something a bit dramatic to tell a cove and string out the story without revealing the very crucial outcome until the very end. It's all well and good if you're a Larsson or a Le Carre doing your best to weave a good thrilling yarn with a cunning twist appearing out of nowhere at the second from last paragraph.

But, when you're told that so and so has had a heart attack, most people really want to know the outcome, then the messenger can give the details about the way the ambulance driver farted when he turned right at the roundabout.

As you know it wasn't a heart attack, it's cancer. And there was no farting ambulance driver either.

My Dad's now going through chemotherapy for the Myeloma. It's a five to six month programme and we're only about halfway through the first cycle, with each cycle lasting about four weeks.

As we (his family) see it there are two elements to the illness. One is to reduce and manage the short term pain he's in, which has been severe when it's been at its worst and pretty bad even at its best. The second is to hope that the chemo will be successful enough for him to be classed as being in remission, as Myeloma doesn't get cured but can be controlled; our ultimate objective.

We've had to adjust things in our lifestyles quite dramatically and I must admit that has been hard at times, though much harder for my Mum than for anyone else. Sri Lankan mothers, as you will probably know, are a unique breed. Unique in the sense that they're all the same in so many ways.

A Sri Lankan mother who's a Doctor combines the controlling matriarchal aspects of a Lankan mother with the controlling characteristics of a Doctor. When things are bad it's heady mix. Occasionally the mixture of these rather powerful and often overwhelming attributes is useful and needed.

And when your Dad gets cancer is a prime exampl of when it's needed! The old girl has gone into full battle and lock down the hatches mode, which might actually be two modes. Sometimes, for the rest of us, it's a bit of a pain but for most of the time it's a blessing. The old man's got twenty four hours a day care, in fact sometimes more than that.

Me and my brothers are trying our best with differing levels of input and availability. We all work, have families, wives and partners and things and have to do the best we can to juggle our priorities. Seeing my Dad, on an emotional level alone, has become much more important. Seeing him and my Mum on a practical level is also now much more needed.

There are weekly visits to the Royal Marsden hospital to be helped with and there are practical things around the house that we've now had to get more involved in as my Dad isn't physically fit enough to deal with them.

The short term pain does seem to be getting better, but it's slow progress. If I was to plot a pain graph I reckon it would show a line that was reducing at a gradual and definite rate, but with many peaks and troughs on it as it progressed. We're told that he overall improvement in his pain is caused by a combination of the chemo drugs themselves and the pain management medication and the respective dosages vary according to many factors.

There are days when he has to take quite literally twenty or thirty tablets and others when things are quieter. But a "quiet" medication day for him is still what most people would consider a busy day, even the average pharmacist.

Last week we were told that his "count" was down to eight. It had been fourteen the week before and twenty eight prior to that. I'm a bit hazy on the twenty eight bit, but sure on the other two, as well as certain that the aim is to get to a big fat zero. Exactly what count it is I know not. The important thing for me is that things at this stage are good, that the Doctors have said the figures are better than expected.

One of the nice things about the situation is that their house is busier than Clapham Junction and Fort Railway station put together on most days, which they love. Every time I go there I hear stories of who's called, who visited yesterday and who I just missed. A and K have been visiting far more than usual and their mother has been extremely supportive by taking them and visiting too.

C was here for a few weeks and I did have a passing thought that we might bump into the ex wife while visiting, but figured that if it happened it happened and that it's an event that will occur at some point anyhow.

It's a lovely thing to see all the love for my parents from all their friends and family, though me and the brothers have made an attempt to stagger our visits in order to help deal with practical things rather than create a boom and bust scenario.

The adjustments have been many. They live in a three storey town house with their bedroom on the third floor and have had to move to the ground floor as he can't manage the stairs yet. My Mum now has to do all the cooking, something that he used to do a lot of. They had a big trip planned in November, to Australia and the motherland, but have had to cancel that as it will be whilst he's still having chemo.

But I think one has to approach things like this with pragmatism, to just try and get on with life while doing what's needed.

In a situation that's a quite a bummer, yet could be worse, we're doing pretty damn well.

And that my friends is where we are. Thank you so much for the messages of kindness and support, they mean a lot.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All About The Numbers

I've been meaning to write a post about this for some time, but it was when I was filling out a form online a short while ago that I was reminded of it. Which is ironic, for it's a post that's largely to do with memory, the irony being that I'd forgotten about it.

There I was, filling out a form onscreen. I was required to input my driving licence number, my National Insurance number and my passport number, as well as a few others. I duly did as I was asked, then paused and thought.

You see, I know I can be a sort of anally retentive twat at times, just ask my kids, C or anyone who's spent time with me. And I'm not talking about anal retention of the sort that makes people highly successful, either commercially or academically. Ask me about Einstein's theory of evolution, Darwin's theory of relativity or the values of rests in musical notation and I'm about as much use as a riot policeman in Tottenham or Croydon a couple of weeks ago.

But, ask me what the registration of my parents' VW Variant in the early, perhaps mid 1970s was, or that of the Audi 100 (a GL model no less) they bought after that, and I sound like a mastermind competitor whose specialist subject is "useless number related things to do with RD's life and people around him".

Yes, the National Insurance, the driving licence and the passport numbers that were needed on that form were nesting firmly in my subconscious waiting to be used. Okay, I hear you say, a passport number is one that many of us have to write down quite often so it's natural. Yes, you have a point, but the registration of my parents' VW in the 1970s? That's different, though it wasn't needed on this particular form. In fact it's only ever been needed in conversations with my family.

It would appear that some numbers, those that I've had to repeat a few times, just sink in and sit there. It's not all of them and I just can't see the logic behind which numbers sit there and which get forgotten. There are phone numbers that are ingrained more firmly than the Sigiriya frescoes in my head. The office phone number of my grandmother who died over twenty years ago takes up valuable mind space even though I have no use for it.

The phone number of that same grandmother for her apartment before her last one, so from when I was about five to ten years old, still comes as easily out of my mouth as the VAT registration number for my company.

Of course the advent of telephone short codes, one touch dialling and memories in mobile phones has changed things dramatically, perhaps not so dramatically though, as I find myself easily recalling which short codes apply to which people on my work phone system. Normal people look at the phone list on their wall. Not me, I'm burdened with knowing that autodial 15 at work is a company that does some collections for us.

Or you could test me on my own car history. Every single registration of every fucking bloody car I've owned or used as a company vehicle sits in my memory banks as vividly as my bank account PIN number. It's actually something not that useless, all petrol heads can do similar.

It's a bit weird though. Can I recall the conversation I had with someone yesterday about something deep and important? Probably not.

Why is this? Do you do this too?

And, by the way, my parents' VW was JLM 929K, the Audi 100 (GL no less) was RKP 362M and my grandmother's office number was 828 2189, just in case you thought I was bluffing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Real Men Talk Crap

One of the things I've realised in recent years is that women being from Mars and men being from Venus and all that sort of thing is actually wrong. It's giving the impression that there are similarities between the sexes, when in actual fact, as we all know, there aren't.

And when I say "as we all know" I mean "we" as in we men. We're the smart one, the ones with the superior knowledge. For we are the ones who realise and acknowledge that we know absolutely nothing about the workings of the female mind. We don't pretend, we're honest and true to our species. Ask a man how a woman's mind works and he'll look at you with that quizzical expression, the one that suggests blankness and total lack of knowledge. That one we use a lot.

But, ask a woman about the workings of a man's mind, and she'll proceed to give you all sorts of lengthy explanations. Wrong ones.

Men are ignorant. Knowing that we're ignorant gives us a strange power. That kind of powerless one.

Which is where David Blacker comes in. I like him. Okay he dresses strangely, but apart from that he's alright. And we talk on Facebook chat quite often. Occasionally we chat about trivial stuff, like politics in either of our respective countries, or the lives of our kids. But, for the majority of the time we talk about really important issues.

Being men these really important issues are of course things like cars, the life Rod Stewart lives, subjects women just can't believe that we talk about. Here's yesterday morning's chat, some of it at least. It's prudent that I don't reveal how we got to the subject, but I ask you, the esteemed reader, to accept that we did and read from there on. The subject in question was planes and aircraft.

RD: I remember taking my kids into and SL cockpit when they were little.

I was far more interested and fascinated than they were!

DB: That must've been cool.

RD: keep this to yourself DB please but, when I was younger...

DB: about the cockpit?

RD: I used to be a..........

plane spotter.

DB: For a moment there I thought you were gonna say flight steward

RD: haha

DB: lol

RD: I'm not sure which is worse

DB: haha

Well I was quite into planes too, but military ones.

RD: Phew

DB: my first ever flight anywhere was in one.

RD: I used to go to LHR with my mate D and we'd get registrations and cross them out of our books.

DB: ah, proper plane spotting lol

RD: yup, fraid so

DB: where'd you get the books?

RD: well there used to be called Civil Aircraft Markings that came out each year.

DB: fuck

RD: with the registrations of all the civil planes in the world and all us plane spotters would cross them out as we saw them.

DB: there must be alot of you out there if they're printing books

RD: (Here I send him a link to Amazon's description of the current year's book. I looked for it, it's not that I had it handy or anything)

DB: lol, you seem up to date.

RD: fuck off
I just found it for you

DB: haha, looks like there's a military version too

RD: Yes I believe so, but much harder to spot I suppose. Unless you live near a military base or something

DB: and all that camouflage

RD: of course

DB: that is funny tho mate

RD: what?

DB: Luckily yo found drumming

RD: yup
now I live on the edge

DB: or you'd still be out there

RD: well. when it's safe

DB: reached a different plane?

RD: haha
I really shouldn't have told you

DB: lol

RD: My kids really take the piss out of me for it
strangely

DB: I can't believe you told them

RD: their mother did

DB: Oh ok, but I guess I'm a kinda gun geek

RD: I think being a gun geek might be slightly better for the rep

DB: I buy Janes Guns all the time

RD: You're so gay

DB: but people look at me strangely anyway when they see it on my bookshelf

and on we went to talk about trivia after that.

It's not easy being a man.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Random Randomness

1. Had a long weekend in Italy, my first time there. More later

2. Experienced car spotting by proxy jealousy for the first time. More later. Let's just say Bugatti and Veyron for now.

3. I've discovered the FCB grid and the Lotus Blosson diagram. They're neither vehicles nor plants, but tools to help creativity. I play with them. Like a child with toys. New ones.

4. I've been thinking of buying a "man sofa". You know the score; dark brown leather, contemporary design that women won't like.

5. Initial results from my Dad's chemo are better than expected. Early days but good news nonetheless.

6. The iPad 2 - that question of when, more than if. The answer of "now" is getting closer all the time.

7. I looked up the definition of Schadenfreude. I see lots of people gulping it down with gusto with regards to the looting in the UK. That really makes me laugh. Seriously. Get over yourselves.

8. Not every list needs to go to ten.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

London, Chavs, Riots And Looting.

It seemed to start on Saturday night. You're probably fully versed on events but, just in case you're not, here's roughly what happened.

A man, Mark Duggan, was shot and killed by armed Police on Thursday. In itself it wasn't even that big a story and I suspect most people here weren't even aware of it until things kicked off later. There's an inquiry going on about the shooting. The Police, at the time, seemed to say that there was an exchange of gunfire, something that now appears to be incorrect, as reports claim that only two shots were fired, both by Police, and killing Mr Duggan.

It took place in Tottenham, an inner city area of tension at the best of times, and on Saturday night, a peaceful protest there about the killing turned violent and got out of hand.

I was at dinner with Academic Bro, Academic SIL and C and we laughed when we received a phone call from our mother, to warn of the riots (about 5 miles away from where we were and in the opposite direction from the way we'd travel home). That's Sri Lankan mothers for you we chuckled to each other, then drove home vaguely aware of a few more Police sirens on passing vehicles than normal. We had eaten fish for dinner, with gazpacho to start.

On Sunday it still didn't seem like very big news. Some riots in Tottenham, a touch of looting, a Police shooting, well that's what goes on in these parts anyhow. Chavs, drug dealers, Police, that's what they do.

By Tuesday morning the situation was different. Things had erupted big scale and no longer confined to one area, it was all over London. You know it's bad when both David Cameron and Boris Johnston think about coming back from their holidays.

It had spread as far west as Ealing, down the road from my office, and everyone I knew was worried about what might happen in their area. One girl at work who lives in Ealing told us what she had witnessed and stories she'd heard first hand from people. Stories of families fleeing their homes, running to hotels and staying there for the night. Stories of gangs of poor quality people roaming the streets and destroying anything and everything in their path.

The particularly scary thing about it was that this was Ealing, a pretty suburban and respectable area. I have a few good friends who live there and it's as middle class as can be.

Thing also erupted in Clapham, one of those areas that's a mix of posh people and poorer types. It wasn't such a shock but still took many by surprise. The posh ones hurriedly got a big Waitrose delivery in and stocked up their Smeg fridges, shut their wine cellars and double locked their expensive doors and settled in to watch their staff riot and loot.

Pockets of trouble broke out all over Greater London, a city that wasn't looking so great. Croydon in the south was hit, with buildings burnt down, shops looted and businesses destroyed. Things got personal and everyone has a story to tell now. A story of someone they know or a business they're familiar with that has been ruined.

The public, well apart from the chavs, were furious and livid. In most case the Police weren't even present and, when they were, they failed to act decisively if at all. People were calling for the use of water cannons, rubber bullets, curfews and the army. Everyday shit for you guys in Sri Lanka I know, but not here.

Boris and Dave flew back from their holidays, though I'm not sure if they came economy or business class, and faced the people.

That's roughly what happened.

Why did it take place? How did people see things? What can we do about it? What's going to happen?

Here's what I think.

Perception.

Firstly, the way things are viewed by most here is that these troubles are not "protests". I've seen many from outside the UK refer to them as protests that have turned violent, that have started out as one thing and morphed into another.

Those who think that hold a view that is not shared by most people here. These are acts of riotous violent looting and thuggery carried out by gangs and mobs of idiots, nothing more, nothing less. Yes, the shooting of Mark Duggan, the following protest and unrest in his community were catalysts. But the mobs out on the streets at the moment are there because of mob mentality, because of nothing other than joining in with their mates and getting some free stuff.

I'm not trying to dismiss the reasons for this all taking place, but it does seem that the coverage from outside of the UK places far more emphasis on the protest element than we see here.

There are many underlying reasons why these kids want to do so, but I think very strongly that it's important to convey the depth of feeling here; that the "protest" element was only something that existed at the very beginning of things.

Social Media.

The roles played by Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and BBM have been large in recent days. They have been roles with positive and negative aspects. My humble O is that the positives have been far greater than the bad bits. The negatives however, have been instrumental in kicking things off in the first place.

BBM and Twitter have been vital tools for the mobs in organising where and when they're going to meet. Everyone has heard things that people have gleaned from these networks along the lines of "there's something going on in Kingston tonight" or "I heard people are meeting at the horse statue in Ealing Broadway at 6".

There was talk of the government getting these networks shut down temporarily. It hasn't happened, I'm not sure if it could be done, either legally or logistically, but I'm sure that the respective companies wouldn't want their names associated with being a tool of the mobs.

But on the positive side, there have been, in my eyes, far more tweets and Facebook statuses condemning the riots and people and expressing upset and dismay. There have been people organising cleanup groups and galvanising each other to do good things, much of that Great British gung ho spirit that makes me feel quite proud.

Youtube has been full of terrible videos of acts committed by the thugs. One video shows a poor teenager who's obviously been attacked in some way being "helped" by some others, who then proceed to nick his stuff when he's already injured. It looks to me as if the first black kid genuinely tries to help him, then doesn't have the guts to stand up to the white kid who opens the bag. I might be wrong, either way it makes me sick.

Other videos and pictures show similar. This one, whilst incredibly funny, I think also shows that this is mostly opportunistic and mob mentality at its worst.

I saw some negative and frankly stupid comments, statuses and tweets, specifically from people in Sri Lanka, which surprised and disappointed me. Sittingnut's idiotic retweet was one, as well as some Facebook bits and pieces that were unpleasantly anti British. I was amused to see a couple that were then deleted some hours later, presumably because the writers felt bad, more likely stupid.

Many a true word is spoken in jest they say. This comment from the legendary DB made me LOL. Out loud.

"I think the Snuts and other nutjobs probably are happy about it and are telling themselves that everyone is as well, but that's largely a load of bullshit.

But I say largely. 'Cos you know, imagine you're having some family problems, your daughter's on drugs and has a boyfriend who steals cars, and you're not sure what to do. But you've got this holier-than-thou neighbour who keeps telling you what a fucked up parent you are. Then your neighbour's daughter runs away with a drug dealer who gets her pregnant. How would you feel? You're not happy about it, and it doesn't solve your own probs, but perhaps it'll shut that neighbour up for awhile. know what I mean?"

Though I must say, I've been hit by a deluge of kind emails, messages and comments here on my blog from many true friends in Sri Lanka, all expressing concern for me and my loved ones, and that's heartwarming. Thank you.

Lots of people have become very hard on Facebook too, which has made me laugh. All sorts have made public what they think they'll do if they see a group of people down their road up to no good.

"I won't hesitate to wade in" blah blah blah. It's all well and good to say and some of them may well be telling the truth. But I, faced with an angry mob of kids with no respect for anything except MTV and The Beckhams, will grab my loved ones, a couple of snare drums, my top ten or perhaps twenty Superdry T shirts and get the hell out. Only then will I come back and beat the shit out of them, like I've seen Chuck Norris do so many times.

Me

So far in Kingston, where I live, things have been relatively calm and quiet. Last night (Tuesday) there were Police all over the place, which felt reassuring and, as far as I know, there was little trouble. There were rumours of gangs meeting but I don't think anything happened.

There have been pockets of trouble flaring up in many places. Shopkeepers have now come out to protect their property in anticipation of trouble and most people are wary. Last night was quieter in London but lots happened in Manchester and Birmingham as well as some other Northern parts of the country that no one really cares about anyhow.

I'd be lying or overdramatising if I painted a picture of me living through some sort of inner city hell, with Martin Luther King making speeches and Stevie Wonder doing free gigs in the local park. Currently it's calm for me, just in a tense, anything can happen at any time and place sort of way.

Strangely enough the only time I can recall in which I felt similar was in July '83, the big difference being that this time people aren't actually being targeted, more getting caught in the crossfire.

Why?

The death of Mark Duggan was merely the flashpoint in this. The people who are guilty of the actual looting and rioting have been like a pile of very dry combustible material waiting to catch fire. All the pile needed was one spark to flare up and become a huge fire, which is what happened.

We've got problems in the UK, everyone knows that. An economy that's fucked, a generation, perhaps two, who are materialistic in ways that previous ones never were and an I want it now attitude.

On top of that we've got a Police force that is rapidly losing its respect from its customers, because of things like the News International saga, the shootings of people like John Charles Menezes and Mark Duggan.

All of those were the fuel that had already been poured on the pile, just waiting for the spark. At the bottom of the pile were loads of metaphors and similes, like the dryest and most combustible material you can think of.

As a society we need to redress our values. We need to look less at teaching our kids to look after number one and teach them about looking after others.

We complain about the kids not having respect.

Well we need to earn that respect from them too. It might take years or decades but only then will we move on.

In the meantime things are likely to flare up at any time.

That's what I think.

UPDATE - Thoughts from The Auf are here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tell Me It's Not True

Sittingnut retweets a tweet by one RKKrishnan which says:

"Norway and England got what they deserved - this feeling is across the board in Sri Lanka, ppl tell me."

Sittingnut also retweeted a reply from sl130 who says:

"wrong mr. we sri lankans are not happy about those incidents. what we ask them is accept what terrorism is and not to support it"

Everyone I know here in London seems shocked, saddened and dismayed by what's happened and is happening.

What's your view from the motherland?


The Disillusionment Of The Diaspora

Indi's post entitled "How Diaspora Can Overthrow The Government" set me off on a train of thought. Thought about the Sri Lankan diaspora, its role in Sri Lanka, both now and in the future.

The first mental hurdle I encountered was that of the definition of the word "diaspora". What exactly is the diaspora?

I was once involved in a discussion here in London in which a Sri Lankan (as I saw her) lady objected to being classed as "diasporic". Her reasoning was that the diaspora was actually people who had forcibly left their country, which was not her specific case, and she requested that the rest of us refer to her by some other label. Sadly I can't remember what it was.

But, up until that point, I'd considered the term diaspora to be a general reference to emigrants. Broad I know, but that was pretty much it for me.

I looked it up in my handy Collins Concise Dictionary, which tells me that diaspora is:

" A dispersion of people originally belonging to one nation".

Am I any wiser with this bit of knowledge? Nope. In one way it tells me that any emigrant, from any country, is a member of the diaspora. In another it makes me question the definition of "originally belonging". Perhaps it's in the mind of the person, perhaps whether someone is diasporic or not therefore depends on that person's own mindset and definitions.

Indi's says in his post:

"It's very easy for the diaspora to remake their homeland. They just need to come home."

And I ponder and cogitate on this statement.

He also says:

"If they all come back and vote they can swing the Presidential election and win the provincial elections in the North and East. Then they can either remake Sri Lanka or claim significant autonomy."

Again it made me think very seriously.

Is Indi correct? Would the return of the voting diaspora change things politically in Sri Lanka?

My first question here is on the matter of a free and fair democracy. Does that exist in Sri Lanka? Would a body of voters, with their votes in the appropriate direction, actually change things? It's a matter we could debate endlessly. I'm dubious about it yet feel it's another argument for another post at another time.

But we then move on to the issue of whether the body of voters would vote in the directions Indi suggests they would. I suspect he's correct, but we'll never know until it actually happens.

My view though is that the statement Indi makes; that "they just need to come home" is another example of polarisation politics, of the "if you're not with us you're against us" mentality, of the black or white and forgetting of the very existence of grey mindset, that pervades much of the thinking around the Sri Lankan situation.

It's not healthy. Or, as I used to say to my girls when they were young, it's not funny and it's not clever.

I have known and do know many Sri Lankan people who have left the country and feel let down by their motherland.

My maternal Grandmother, a proud and peace loving Tamil, was one of them. I was there with her in July '83 and, though she died a couple of years later anyhow, she never wanted to return to Sri Lanka.

She felt devastated and heartbroken by the behaviour of people she had considered her own (Sinhala and Tamil) and was particularly affected at having to deny her identity to save her life.

I know many others now who left the country many years ago and feel similarly. Most of them have been in the UK or other countries for decades, many now having their own kids, some even grandparents.

I certainly don't make any claims to be able to speak for them but the impression I glean is that they don't have that love for Sri Lanka that many others do. The thing is, if you consider what some went through, can you blame them? I can't. Not only that but they've carved out lives and existences in other countries.

Telling them to come back, to return to the country that they feel abandoned them, in order to change things is like telling someone that the only way to save the sinking ship "might" be to jump back on it. I'm not actually saying that the ship is sinking, I'm saying that many of those diasporic potential voters think so. Would you give up everything to try to save the sinking ship? Do you love the ship enough?

Increasingly, as I look around me at the many Sri Lankan diasporic people I know, I see a sense of disillusionment. I hear a communal sigh as Sri Lankans around the world get exasperated and give up, walking away from the engaging in the debate, the processes and the discussions. Most of these people don't consider themselves to be at either end of the political spectrum. No, they see themselves as moderates, just slightly to one side of a line.

It's the result of crushing the voice of dissent, of the "if you're not with us you're against us" mentality and of the polarised and frankly unproductive I am right you are wrong arguments that seem to go on all over the show.

Sri Lanka is losing out on some highly intelligent people, some great minds, as well as a lot of idiots through this. No one is bothered about the idiots, but the great minds should be valued.

One of the things that I've learned in life is that very controlling people usually surround themselves with "yes" men. It's a great plan when you want people to tell you how great you are, what a good job you're doing and kiss your backside, but it's not so effective when you need good input, when you want someone to give an alternative idea or plan.

For the longer term good of the country the Government of Sri Lanka needs to figure out ways in which to engage positively and constructively with the diaspora. Ways that are less black and white than saying "come home and vote or shut up".

How should this be done I know not. One thing I'm certain of is that people like myself (second generation Sri Lanka, born and bred in Britain etc) should have minimal or no say in things. I'm actually talking about "proper" Sri Lankans, people who've been born in Sri Lanka, who have passports and the like.

A good friend suggested that perhaps different degrees of involvement, depending on variables, might be a solution. I think that's got great potential but could be seriously complicated. Still, inventing the mobile phone was complicated, as was designing the Barefoot sarong, and those things happened!

Surely, if you get the diaspora involved, get them to be part of the process, then they'll start to return. Isn't that the best order to do things?

Monday, August 8, 2011

News From The Violent Riotous London....

In a risky, yet trendy move I've gone and ordered some espadrilles. Dark blue and Superdry, I only just received an email to tell me they've been despatched.

It's what, my God, it's about thirty years since espadrilles were last in fashion and things have come full circle. I've been contemplating the purchase for a few months but, on Saturday at dinner with Academic Bro and his wife (Academic Sister in Law), he sported a pair and that clinched it for me.

I wait, with baited breath, as any good metrosexual will understand and appreciate.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Marry, Shag, Kill....

It's a bit of a liberty to say it, but I think I can speak for most men when I tell you some things about sex, specifically about the way we men approach it compared to how the female persona does. As a caveat I must say that I can't talk for gay people.

The fly in the proverbial here is that I haven't quite figured out the workings of the female mind just yet, though I'm close, perhaps a mere couple of hundred years away. But I do know what we men think about, when we're not pondering on cars or pretending to be intellectual.

For men, sex (of the hetero variety) is simple. It's binary, black or white, or often both, and it works like this. We see a woman and our brain has two options:

1. Do we fancy her?

2. Do we not fancy her?

This might be seeing as in glancing at her or seeing as in meeting, getting to know her and such like.

After answering the first two questions the man will then find out if the lovely lady is available, not necessarily the same thing as whether she's married or unmarried to some, and of course make that quick calculation about whether oneself is available. ( a varied and uncharted minefield I know!)

Given the correct combination of permutations and bang, the man will try, in his usually inept and unsuccessful way, to have sex with the woman. It's a fairly straightforward process, simple and uncomplicated, like us.

Once, C asked me what happens when I see a woman who I think is cute, say at the supermarket. I looked at her with puzzlement.

"What do you mean what happens?" I asked, with a proper man's what on earth are you talking about look on my face.

"Well what do you do, what happens next?"

"What happens next?" I asked incredulously. "What do you mean what happens next."

"Well how do you approach her?" she asked.

"Approach her?" My mind was well and truly boggled.

"Nothing happens of course, we just go off and find the aisle with the cold meats (or whatever we're shopping for at the time)."

All men will understand that. No women will. Weird but true.

Things however, on the female side of the fence are another matter.

Men, listen to me, for this is priceless information that might help you at some point in the future. Women have all sorts of different levels of attraction that goes on and it goes on in their...............head. Seriously.

Women can fancy a man, can find him attractive, good looking or whatever, yet not want to sleep with him. I don't know the whys and wherefores but trust me on this.

Another conversation the other day with someone (a girl) went something like this:

"Of course you fancied him, you told me many times" said I.

"No I didn't" said she.

"Yes you did, you told me, you said how you were after him for ages but he never fancied you."

"Ah, I had a crush on him, but I didn't fancy him, I wouldn't have slept with him."

"You what?" I said and decided not to pursue.

You can imagine how this sort of information is just not processable to the mind of an average man. I merely looked at her with an expression on my face that Hugh Laurie whilst sucking a lemon would have been proud of.

They have all sorts of different classifications for men too. There are men who they want to marry, to have a fling with, to sleep with just once, all different of course, never would all of those criteria be met by one man. There are famous men who women drool over but wouldn't touch with a bargepole because of, would you believe this, their personality. I kid you not.

Then there are ugly funny men, who can apparently get any woman to do anything for them. What's all that about?

And all of those things are what made me realise the other day that that game; marry, shag, kill, you know the one, can only have been invented by a woman, possibly a gang of them. For, had it been thought up by one of us, then it would have been called, quite simply;

Shag.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Something Bugging Me..

This post is going to be a bit of a thinking aloud one. I'm just telling you, my reader, about something that's been occupying a hell of a lot of my mindspace recently, an amount disproportionate to its relevance in everyday life. Also, it may be one of those long ones, switch over to Kottu and choose a different read if you want something quick that only occupies one screen.

But, I suppose some would say that, if something does occupy a lot of one's mindspace, then that very occurrence in itself dictates that it's importance to the person is a reflection of the space taken up. See? I warned you about the thinking aloud thing. And don't you hate it when people mix up "allowed" with "aloud". Besides, if you had any idea of the crap that does float around in my mind at the best of times, which you may well do from reading this blog, then you'd understand.

It happened last week. I bumped into an old friend, who happens to be a drummer. He's not a good friend of mine, not because we don't like each other or anything, just that he's one of those sorts, the sort who we classify as a friend yet never seek to get together with. We'll call him, for the sake of randomness, #. Yes, we'll refer to him as hash, but I'll use the # symbol. After a cursory glance at my keyboard I figure it's one of the most underused keys and the fact that I don't have to hit shift makes it easy to access. # it is.

And let me tell you about #, for I hope it will give you an insight into my quandary.

# is one of life's nice blokes. He's friendly to everyone, and genuinely so, at least it seems genuine. He comes across as abundant with a capital "abun" and is that kind of fellow that I just can't imagine anyone disliking. He's got fun and smiley energy and is that sort who, if I wanted to buy one of what he sells, I'd immediately call and trust.

He's also a really crap drummer. And, before we go any further, this isn't some thinly disguised post in which I'm actually writing about myself in the third person. Just so you know.

Now it's well known that I like drummers. All drummers like other drummers. We're unique in the music world, all one hundred million or billion or however many there are of us. Guitarists, like singers, merely pretend to like each other, when in reality they're hugely competitive. Bassists are just bassists, needed but kind of weird.

Drummers bond and share. If I was a normal person I'd find nothing worse than stumbling upon a huddle of drummers and hearing them chat about snare drums, sticks, paradiddles and cymbals. I'm not normal, so I love it.

But, the thing about # is that he's not like one of us. He's like one of those stereotypical drummers, the ones who never actually exist, except in the 1970s in Led Zeppelin and The Who. He's a chap who you can imagine throwing TVs out of hotel windows, doing lots of drink and drugs and generally being a bit mental, just without Mr Bonham or Mr Moon's ability on the kit.

He clearly loves to play the drums though. His facebook page proudly tells all and sundry that he plays in three bands, that he enjoys drumming and music in general. Yet, in the almost fifteen years that I've known him, coincidentally about the total time I've been drumming, I can't see that he's improved much. He's got a couple of grooves, a couple of fills and those are what he uses in every single song.

Sometimes they work perfectly. Sometimes they don't. It matters not to #, he used then anyway.

So there I was, bumping into #. We chatted for a bit and he said

"Hey I've got a gig on Friday night, why don't you come down?"

"Yeah ok" I said. I've outgrown the whole pretending I might be busy, checking my diary thing. I know full well that if I don't have the girls or don't have a band practice then I'm free.

"It's going to be a bit of a free for all, you can play a few songs if you want" he added.

"Okay cool, but not to worry about the playing thing, I'll just be happy to come and see you guys play" (for I knew some of the other musicians). It's important, when talking to musicians, to use the word "cool" as much as possible.

I kind of meant that. The playing at other peoples' gigs is a complicated situation for most of us. For me it's one of mixed feelings; Usually I want to, that's just my own ego and my sheer love of playing. But that's mixed with thoughts about it being the other drummer's gig, thoughts of "will I be good enough to play with those guys?", all that kind of thing.

Friday evening came and I set off to the pub for the gig.

When I arrived it soon became evident that it was a big mish mash of musicians. One band had been asked to do it, a couple of its members couldn't make it and so it was being done by half of the band, with half of another one and very probably half another one. # was there already, his kit set up and ready to go.

He came over and hugged me, as these friendly people are prone to do. He showed me the rough setlist and asked which of the songs I knew. The honest answer was pretty much all of them, but I lied and told him I only knew about ten or so.

I had good reason for this, as # had made it clear that he'd be delighted if I played as many as I could, yet I felt bad. It might sound a bit arrogant when I say it but it just didn't seem right. If my playing is on a level 10 (on a scale of 0 to 1000), then # would come in at about 0.76. Yet he's such an abundant bloke that you don't get the impression he's in the least bit bothered by this.

They kicked off with # playing. He did his usual, some songs sounded good, the ones in which his drumming worked. Others, the ones in which his playing didn't fit, sounded or felt, like total disasters. If I didn't like # I would have taken the piss out of him to other people. Not to his face of course, I'm not brave or anything.

Then it was my turn to play. I got up, made all the appropriate gestures about not wanting to play, without trying to appear too big for my boots, then sat at #'s kit.

It was a decent mid range drum kit. But it was set up, tuned and positioned terribly. Drummers' etiquette dictates that, when you play at another's kit, you adjust and reposition as few things as possible, ideally nothing. Though I'm incredibly fussy about the set up of my own kit I find that, when I play on someone else's, part of the challenge in keeping things as they are is to try to make it sound good without adjusting things. It's adverse condition training, as a friend used to call it, and it's good.

So I sat down at #s kit and the only thing I did was to lower the height of his stool a tad. I looked around at the forest of cymbals, the mass of drums, all of which were placed in positions that seemed downright ergonomically illogical, and got on with the job.

First off was Oughta know, the Alanis song, one that I adore. I grooved, even if I say it myself, like a mother. The kit sounded and felt like shit. The snare drum in particular felt like I was playing a suitcase more than a decent drum and the tom toms were in hard to reach places that often felt as if I needed to drive or get a cab to.

We continued and played through about four or five more songs in a variety of genres, then I returned to my seat to rapturous applause. I say rapturous meaning that, if there had been anything resembling an audience, there would have been applause. Instead I was received by # who, wholly in keeping with his character, patted me on the back and said all manner of complimentary things.

The gig continued with # playing and murdering more songs. His teenage son, a singer guitarist got up and played three songs too. He had the standard teenage muso gear; skinny jeans, slim fit top and that hair that's got loads of it on top, all floppy and long. One of the songs they played was The Middle by Jimmy Eat World and # totally butchered it. I so wanted to play it as it's one of my real favourites, yet I couldn't.

I had another session, playing another handful and the evening slowly wound down.

As I drove home I reflected on how much I'd enjoyed it. That's the thing about playing the drums. It's such a physical act that you can rarely not enjoy it, even if it means playing material that I wouldn't like, it's fun.

In the last few days things have bothered me a lot. # is such a good guy that I half feel as if I should give him a call and try to "help" him. Perhaps suggest that I come round some time and help him tune his kit properly, maybe position things differently so that his playing becomes easier and more fluid. I know that, given an hour with his drumkit, I could make it sound infinitely better than it does now.

But it would be help he doesn't think he needs, possibly even unwelcomed. Who knows? He might even be highly offended by the offer.

He's so nice a chap that I'd like to give him a lesson or two. I can't teach to save my life but I feel sure that I could help, or suggest that he has a couple of lessons with a decent teacher.

If he was someone I didn't like I suppose none of this would bother me at all. I'd just think of him as an idiot who didn't even deserve my thinking time. But I do like him. A lot. And the chances are that I'll do nothing.

Vut too dooo?......


Monday, August 1, 2011

I Am NOT Sri Lankan

Groundviews and the Sri Lankan blogosphere in general are full of interesting posts, comments and rhetoric about identity, Sri Lankanness specifically. Where it began, who started it, no one knows, but it's all around us and I feel a need to add my two cents' worth, identity being one of the things we're all interested in.

This post on GV by Guru caught my eye yesterday. My first impression was that it looked interesting, if only I could understand the bloody thing. This is an issue I have with these academic sorts; their use of huge words, some with as many as three syllables, makes it hard for regular people like me to immediately relate to and understand the content.

And it's not only the number of syllables in their words, it's often the words themselves. In the very early stages Guru casually throws out my first unknown word; "praxis". I looked it up and, well, let's just say that I found even its definition confusing. It's not a word I'll be sprinkling into my everyday conversation, unless my local Indian starts to serve a chicken praxis in the near future. Of course if it's one of those Suddha dishes with loads of cream and nuts I won't touch it with a bhajipole. (did you see what I did there?)

The academics say and think that their use of these words helps to define and portray their ideas and that they understand each other anyway. I guess it's true, I just think that it adds to the "elitism" and inhibits progress. But, I digress. The thing is, I read the post, looked up the words I needed to, reread the paragraphs that I needed to in order to understand, then thought that what the brainy chap said makes a lot of sense.

In recent weeks I've battled with the things I've read, heard and seen. Sangakkara's stance, echoed by Indi on many platforms; on reframing the issues so that it's about being Sri Lankan, not Tamil or Sinhala or Burgher or whatever, has some very logical positives. Sangakkara delivered it in an eloquent, intelligent and well received manner whereas Indi did the opposite. Whether he likes it or not, the whole comparing the plight of Tamil people to that of elephants thing was insensitive and had the effect of alienating a lot of people.

To many it shattered Indi's credibility into smithereens. How can you say you're sorry, that "we are all responsible" etc and then expect people to think you understand when you do it with all the sensitivity of an elephant rampaging through a village that's been built on a pathway that his family have used for centuries?

Despite all that I thought that there was a point in this being Sri Lankan thing, not that it fully made sense, more that with some stirring, some adding of ingredients and a bit of baking at gas mark seven for about forty minutes, it might make sense. To me.

Then Guru's post, or one small part of it, impacted me hugely. And I'm glad. The lightbulb moment came when I read this:

"Let us come back to the case for a ‘Sri Lankan identity’ and delver a little deeper now. Those who stand for a Sri Lankan identity are only half way cosmopolitans. Indi and Romesh will be at a loss to explain what’s so special about the ‘Sri Lankan’ identity as opposed to a more universal identity – why not stress our identity as humans. Why? Does it sound too na├»ve? Those who rely on a strand of universalism but still are adamant about ‘Sri Lankan’ as the universal are closeted statists. They can argue that they are dealing with Sri Lanka as a historical/ sociological reality. This is true, but so is the Tamil identity and equally the Sinhala, Muslim and Upcountry Tamil identity"

Well I don't actually know Romesh Hettiarachchi and should also point you to his response to the statement here, in which he says he's not at a loss to explain. But what Guru said made me think that he's pointed out an undeniable and fatal flaw in the line of thinking of Indi and Sangakkara, namely that the being Sri Lankan instead of Sinhala, Tamil or whichever, can be extrapolated to the nth degree.

Why don't we forget about nationality altogether? Instead of being Sri Lankan let's call ourselves South Asian. And while we're at it let's forget about the problems that are specific to Sri Lanka and look at the issues faced by South Asia instead. Hell no, instead of South Asia, let's be Asian, or just global citizens in the big mess together.

And the answer to the question of "why?" is plain and simple. It's because identity, however we choose to define it, matters to all of us.

Take me as an example. I think of myself as a Sri Lankan Brit, or a Brit Sri Lankan (I still haven't figured out which way round I should say it, or if it even matters). When people ask me what I feel I usually say that I feel about eighty per cent Sri Lankan and about ninety per cent British. Does it make sense to you? Probably not I guess, but it makes perfect sense to me, saying that I feel a strong sense of identity with both elements of my upbringing, that nature and the nurture sides.

But it's personal. That's how I my identity and it may be wholly different from how you choose to define yours. One thing's for sure; it's not for Indi or Kumar to tell me how I should define myself. As far as I'm concerned they can go ahead and choose how to define themselves all they like, just don't do it for me, any more that I have the right to tell them to forget about being Sri Lankan and think about being Asian instead.

Guru also writes about Sinhala Buddhist nationalism, how he links the concept to an ideology far more than he does to a people or community. That struck a chord with me. There are people I know who are not Buddhist, who are not Sinhala, yet seem to be bonded by a mindset. The post made me realise that the mindset is the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist one and it's not one that promotes value pluralism.

I'm not going to bluff and pretend that "value pluralism" is one of my everyday phrase either. I learnt it from the Guru's post too. He says:

"Value pluralism is the view that many different activities and forms of life, which are incompatible, are valuable."

Which is interesting isn't it? It's the acceptance that certain things are good, even though tension and conflict may result from their existence. I thought of recent tragic events in Norway, of the tension we have here in the UK from many towards the influx of East Europeans, and it dawned on me that these things are examples of the negatives associated with value pluralism. Yet there are many positives and I like being part of a society that, as a whole, chooses to accept the positives and try to deal with the negatives.

As a final note I should tell you that I firmly believe that the things said by Indi as well as the content of Sangakkara's Cowdrey lecture were delivered with the best of intentions and positive motives. Perhaps the deliveries could have been better though.

I am Sri Lankan. I am British. I am also Tamil. Well half. I am actually proud of all of them.