Sunday, April 30, 2006

I can see!

Just about!

This is the first day since my op that my eyesight has been good enough to read the text on the monitor. Even now it's all a blur.

I was told to expect really blurry and unconfortable eyes for the first few days and they were right. The only things I have done are to listen to some good music and sleep a lot.

I have got about 6000 songs on my iPod and, as I couldn't even read the display, I put it on "shuffle songs" and took pot luck. The very first song was "You're the one that I want" covered by the Beautiful South and that was followed by "Been a son" live by Nirvana. It was a challenge to try and work out the artist, let alone the title, of each song. I have rediscovered some old gems that I had neglected for far too long.

Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook are two of the greatest songwriters of all time. If you don't know of them, look them up. You'll be pleased.

So I get to do a lot of drum practice, listen to lots of music and wear Ray Ban Aviators 24 hours a day. It doesn't get much better!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Weird bloggers!

I just had a browse through a few blogs by clocking on the "next blog" icon to see what was around. Fuck me, there are some weird people out there. Some of them write about anything.

From broken hearted poems to blogs devoted to different types of trainers they are all there. I even saw one blog dedicated to the Peugeot 207. There are blogs centred around different sports, around particular shapes and even around different planets. This whole blogging culture seems to be one in which anyone can write about anything and someone will read it.

Some of these people even write in foreign languages. Can you believe it?

Lots of far eastern blogs look to be themed with cartoon characters and there are a few "girly" ones with lots of hearts and pink animated characters.

This whole blogging phenomenon is amazing. I am just so glad that I am normal.

I couldn't stand it if I was one of these people who just wrote crap.

I'm off then

Going in to have my eyes zapped tomorrow, so I probably won't be online for a few days as I have to rest my eyes. Hopefully i'll get a lot of sleeping done and some music, playing and listening.

As someone suggested I may do some decent playlists and some menu plans. All I need is a cook!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Things I love about Sri Lanka

the climate - the warmth always puts me in a better mood than the cold

the food - hoppers, string hoppers, crab curry, prawn curry, proper buryiani, do I need to say any more?

playing carrom

the landscape - the colour and texture always fascinate and capture me. It just looks more colourful than the UK. The grass always seems greener!

the attitude - I love to experience the laid back attitude, but I know I would struggle to live in it

Colombo - Can't get enough of it

the rhythms - the drumming and the traditional music

the wildlife

Kandy - its heritage, traditions and ambience

the background noise

I know i've missed about a million things, please feel free to add by commenting.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sunday night and all is quiet

I'm getting mentally prepared for my week, which will be an unusual one. I only have two days at work and then will be having my eyes lasered on Wednesday, so won't be at work for the rest of the week. It means that I will have two very busy days of work, getting ready to be away is always a bit frantic and this will be worse than normal as I don't know exactly how long it will be for.

The strange thing is that I have been wondering what I am going to do. I have been told that I will need to rest my eyes for a couple of days after the op, so that means no TV or reading and I assume no computer use. Ironic that I must have about 10 books i'd love to read and just haven't got around to yet. All I can imagine that i'll do is listen to music and sleep. I am not sure if i'll even be in the mood for music, which will be a first for me. It's a nice thought, that of a couple of days rest but I reckon i'll be bored quickly.

I am getting so excited at the prospect of having perfect vision. This morning I lay in bed trying to imagine what it will be like to wake up, open my eyes and see perfectly. I hope to find out soon enough.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Being Sri Lankan (with thanks to the Dr)

Intelligent people have written Phds on the subject of identity. In recent years it is something I have ruminated on at length. The only conclusion I have come to is that a person's identity is an individual feeling, based on a variety of criteria.

I was born and brought up in the UK to Sri Lankan parents. They now have British passports as do I and my brothers. Yet I think of myself as being British but Sri Lankan too. I don't call myself English as, in my opinion, that is more to do with heritage and history and my heritage is very definitely Sri Lankan.

I have a close friend with an almost identical background to me, SL parents and brought up in the UK, yet he thinks of himself as English. I used to think he was wrong and I was right, yet as I have got older I now feel that we are both right. I can't help feeling that he is missing out on something though.

It is a strange thing, this diasporic world. I have seen certain types of people who have been compelled to leave their homeland and some of them almost cling to their identity beyond my definition of reasonable (which is very questionable anyway). I have seen others who take on the nationality of their new home very quickly and seemingly easily. I have always thought that these people are / were very angry with their homeland and felt as if they could gain internal peace by "washing their hands" of home.

Tomorrow I am going to a Sri Lankan function here in London. It is an annual event for an organisation my family have been involved with all my life. It is interesting to see the variety of British and Sri Lankan people there. Virtually all of them are Sri Lankans settled in the UK and they have so many different viewpoints on their own identity, yet we all come together and have a laugh under one common banner.

What am I? I am British and Sri Lankan and proud of it. I am convinced that I have gained many positive things from having two cultures to learn from and experience.

It's my identity and my feelings and it's ok if I think differently to you.

I should do some work now.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A big day is looming!

Since I was about 8 I have been very shortsighted. Enough to need glasses or contact lenses all the time that is.

After years of deliberation I decided to finally have laser surgery to hopefully get my eyes sorted out and the big day, next Wednesday, is looming.

It's funny because virtually everyone that knows me has asked if I am nervous. I have a two part answer to that question. I am not nervous about the actual operation at all. I am one of those types of people who is probably the opposite of squeemish. If I have an injection i'll watch the needle pierce my skin. So my only thoughts on that front are excitement about getting it done. Not in a pervy way though. I am no masochist either.

I am a little bit nervous about the results though. I am told that my prescription and the condition of my eyes mean that there is every likelihood that the results will be perfect.
However, despite all the technology available and all the advances in this type of surgery, I am also told that there is no way I can be given an accurate prediction of the result. Full recovery can take anything from a few days to a few months and there is no way to forecast exactly what my vision will be at the end of it.

I am doing it anyway. My newest motto is "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" and this is one of the first things I decided to do after adopting it. I have had about 10 years of wearing glasses followed by 20 years of wearing contact lenses and I am so excited at the thought of having perfect vision. Swimming without goggles, not having the discomfort of a dodgy contact lens, waking up in the night and not having to find my glasses to see, all the things that people without perfect sight will understand.

I can't wait.

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I wish we had that here.

Last night I had a band practice and left the studio at about midnight, drove home and realised that I hadn't eaten since lunchtime. So at about 12.30 AM I was driving around my locality, a suburb about 8 or 9 miles outside central London, desperately looking for a takeaway joint and nothing, nothing at all was open. Not a sausage, quite literally.

One of the many things I love about Sri Lanka is that there is always plenty of activity going on whatever the time of day or night. Here in the UK after about midnight, except in central London, everything just shuts. There are no people on the street apart from the odd drunk staggering home or the occasional night worker. There is no noise and the streets are deserted.

In Sri Lanka I find that "busy" atmosphere on the street electrifying. The constant buzz, the continual noises, the little kades serving hot food and drink that are open on every street corner, the three wheelers plying for trade.

The commodity of time always appears to be more plentiful in Sri Lanka. Or maybe here in London we just don't have it. I see people on the street in SL, it can be any street, and they happily stand around watching the world go by. They're not rushing to get somewhere, they're quite content as they are. Here in London anyone who behaved that would be weird, we constantly do everything at the maximum speed possible. We never stand still, we are always on the way to somewhere or something.

So there are two pearls of wisdom I wish to impart:

1. Work for tomorrow, but enjoy today too.

2. Open an eating establishment near my house. Serve rice and curry 24 hours a day. Please.


Has zsri gone mad?

Is it just me or what?

Whenever I have looked at it in the last few days it seems as if it is updating itself but only with one or two blogs.

Has anyone else noticed this?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

This Global Village

I was having a drink with my brother last night. I mentioned to him that I am continually amazed at the way in which the world appears to be getting smaller. The information age is well and truly upon us.

Although the internet was invented in the 60's it's only in the last 10 or 15 years that it has exploded to become the beast it is now. It is one of the main contributors to the "shrinking" of planet Earth. When I was at school knowledge, expertise and information were so much harder to gather than they are now. We had to go to libraries, spend copious amounts of time looking things up and ask older people if they could help us. This amount of effort required to gather knowledge meant that kids had to opt in if they wanted to learn.

These days I watch my kids doing their homework and I can't help feeling a little bit envious. All they have to do is go onto google and they can find out any bit of knowledge they need. I am told that some people use different search engines but I don't believe this. My envy is only because I can see the huge benefits of instant knowledge - and I like what I see.

If I need to research something I do the same, a quick search on the net will usually guarantee results, or thousands of them if I don't choose my search criteria well. This access to knowledge is great, I love it and I only wish that it were available 25 years ago. People now don't have to opt in to gain information. All they have to do is stay sat at their desk and use the mouse, usually about 4 inches away from their hand.

Email and text messaging are 2 more factors, although similar, in the world's diminishing size. In the developed world a large percentage of correspondence is made via these mediums. They are both virtually instant, easy to use and fairly cheap once the capital outlay is made for the equipment needed. I recollect writing letters to friends and relatives in Sri Lanka when I was 10 years old. They used to take weeks to arrive and I would wait weeks for a response to them. These days, as soon as I think of something, I can send it as a text and I can get a response within seconds, from anywhere in the world. Except the place where my wife happens to be at the time. An interesting fact is that scientists have now proven that 97.8% of all text messages say either "where are you?" or "what are you doing?"

The development of TV and the media are another way in which our world has shrunk. We can switch on a TV and watch live news coverage from anywhere in the world. We can get real time reporting from the latest battle zone, often with camera crews and reporters in the front line. When massive tragedies occur like the Tsunami the media can keep us informed of events on a minute by minute basis and can help aid reach the required areas quickly, although often still not quickly enough.

So my brother proceeded to tell me that the world is always shrinking. He pointed out that, when Columbus, Sir Walter Raleigh and Hong Kong Phooey were bringing their discoveries back from far flung corners of the globe, the populace felt like the world was shrinking then. He did rather spoil things for me. I had held a vague mental image of the world ticking over slowly for hundreds of years, with the odd invention every once in a while like flight or electricity. Then "bang", everything had gone haywire in the last 20 years with the internet and the information age. He often does this to me. He listens to me, then points out a blatant and obvious flaw in my thinking and I change my mindset. Tosser.

This did get me thinking about the next stage of development and what it will be. It is travel. We have shrunk the "virtual" world to tiny proportions. We can talk, write and look at each other at the click of a mouse. We can gather almost any piece of knowledge we need within seconds, the only limit is our own ability to comprehend. The next piece must be to make worldwide travel quicker and even cheaper. It has already reduced in cost dramatically and I think the trend will continue but the big change to come will be a cut in travel times. I don't know how but I am sure about it.

Since I have started blogging I have seen that people from Sri Lanka, the UK and the US and many other countries are now regular readers and I am truly honoured that this has happened. I can also look at other people's blogs from all over the world. I can gain an insight into the lives of people from Colombo to Caracas. With the advent of things like Google Earth I can look at other countries in the minutest detail. How long before we will have Google Earth or something similar available in real time?

We now live in a massive yet tiny Global Village. It has a mixture of races and cultures. It has an insatiable desire for knowledge with a vast amount already available. So make the most of it.

The best is still to come!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The contrast between Harrods and Madame Tussauds (and Jennifer Aniston)

On Good Friday we decided to go to Harrods for lunch and then have a look around Madame Tussauds. It is unusual for me to go to one of London's tourist attractions, let alone two in one day, so this was definitely going to be an interesting day.

We started by venturing on the train to Harrods. This was painless and simple and getting a train from the suburbs into central London and looking at the scenery always reminds me of the sheer size of London. We arrived in Knightsbridge and made our way to Harrods, the shop, the institution. It really is an experience, there is no other store in the world like it. The ambience, the people, the sights, they are all unique and wonderful.

If you have read some of my previous blog entries you'll know that good customer service is a particular passion of mine. Harrods lived up to my expectations. Every single member of staff we encountered, whether to ask directions to the toilet or to buy something, treated us impeccably. There were people everywhere, yet we were served as if we were all potential customers with huge spending power. After a bit of looking around we found ourselves in the food hall. It is worth going to Harrods just to have a look at the food hall alone. The architecture is quite spectacular and the variety of food and delicacies on display is awesome.

We ate lunch in a bistro type place within the food hall. The food was particularly nice. I had a mixed grill, which consisted of bacon, kidneys, steak, lamb chop, mushrooms, liver and a sausage. It was exceptional, cooked deliciously and served quickly. The section we were in had a bar type of arrangement, where all the customers sat on stools which were arranged around a central counter, in the middle of which was the cooking area, a huge barbecue with grills and things around it. Although it was clearly in the interests of the restaurant to get its customers to eat as quickly as possible, as there was always a queue of people waiting for a seat, we never felt as if the staff were rushing us. The service was superb, the food was very expensive in comparison to what I would have paid in a restaurant elsewhere, but it was worth every penny. I consider it a pleasure to pay a bit more than the norm if I can get good service and food for my money. We then left Harrods, had a browse around Knightsbridge, then made our way to Madame Tussauds.

What a contrast. When we got there we immediately became aware of a long queue. I realise that Good Friday must be a busy day for tourist attractions and we decided to join the line anyway. Every time I have ever driven or walked past Madame Tussauds I have seen a long queue so I figured that, if we came a different time, we'd probably have a fairly lengthy queue anyhow.

We then spent two hours queuing. I don't actually mind that. What I did mind was the lack of thought that the management of Madame Tussauds had seemingly put into this. The general tidiness of the area was appalling. We had to stand for about an hour outside in the street and then the line went into the building for about another hour. It was disgusting. There were piles of rubbish strewn everywhere and the few dustbins around were all overflowing. I am amazed that a place like this didn't appear to have any institutional pride. Surely I am not the only person to see this as a place by which tourists may judge London. I was also surprised that the management had not done anything to make the queue more interesting. The only entertainment was some TV screens showing a looped reel of adverts for other Tussauds attractions. I would suggest that they should employ some street entertainers to walk up and down the line to do a bit of juggling or magic or mime. It would be too hard to make the act of queuing a positive experience. Come on Tussauds, if you sort this out it would make a world of difference.

Once we got into the attraction I was quite disappointed. It was simply too crowded, we couldn't get enough time to look at the waxworks because of the sheer amount of people. Some of the waxworks seemed realistic and others not as good. My kids wanted their pictures taken with many and the thing that struck me was that the wax appeared to reflect flash, so all the photographs had an unnatural shine on each waxwork I guess a more diffused flash would help, but these things are hard to overcome under the conditions.

Jennifer Aniston, the only one I really wanted to have my picture taken with, was actually incredibly different to how she looks. Of course I know how she looks in real life as I have dreamed about her, a lot.

We had a good look at everything, including the planetarium, which is a largely outdated concept now. Then we left. It was worth going but I won't be returning in a hurry.

Overall I would give Harrods a 9 out of 10. Madame Tussauds gets a 2 out of 10. I'd give Jennifer Aniston 1. It was a day of distinct contrasts but the staff and general ambience at Harrods were the runaway winners.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Apprentice - Episode 8

Last night on The Apprentice we saw "business lecturer" Sharon McAllister incur Sir Alan Sugar's wrath and get fired. It was a strange decision but probably the right one.

This fascinating series has now reached a stage where all the obviously weak candidates have been fired already. We are left with a group of people who all appear to have some considerable strengths, but also some weaknesses.

The most quirky aspect of the programme is Sir Alan Sugar and his two sidekicks, Margaret Mountford and Nick Hewer. If it's true that these two are Sir Alan's most trusted advisors then the candidates would be wise to take a good look at them to try and figure out what the man himself looks for.

Sharon's downfall was that she sulked and couldn't handle working towards a direction she didn't agree with. Many people in business, and in life, have the same mentality. Sometimes we have to accept that our own opinion is not the same as the majority's opinion, then get our head down and help the majority achieve the goal. It is no use at all to moan, sulk and continually harp on that "we should have done this or that" whilst we are trying to accomplish a task. I would have loved to see Sharon go further. I thought she had some good ideas and was a good person, but the sulking had to stop.

Syed " I'm from the East End you know" has already got a lot of stick for making his team miss the deadline in last night's episode. All because he and Tuan were making the biggest sale of the day, to a buyer who couldn't see them until late. No one at all pointed out the obvious fact; that without that sale his team would have lost hands down. Give him some credit for getting the order, but then castigate him for behaving like a total prat I say. The problem is that Sir Alan likes him.

With total confidence I forecast that the next two people to get fired will be Michelle and Tuan. It will be left to Ansell, Ruth and Syed to fight it out.

The interplay between Sir Alan and Syed is fascinating to watch and there is a strange bond between them. As if he sees Syed as young version of himself. He wants him to succeed, recognises that he used to be like that too, but can't help thinking that Syed is a bullshitting barrow boy.

My money is on Ruth or Paul winning the grand prize. Michelle and Tuan will get fired in the next two episodes and Syed will get fired but probably be offered a job by Sir Alan anyway.

In 30 years' time my kids will be watching "The Apprentice 2036". It will feature Sir Alan's son as the head of Amstrad. His trusted advisor will be Syed Ahmed, the guy who worked his way up over the last 30 years.

Trust me.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Oh what a musical week! (Part 3)

pic courtesy of

Prince, Cameo and Patti Labelle are just some of the superstars that John Blackwell has toured with and played for.

There was I, last Wednesday, sitting in a church hall in Reading, waiting for the great man to come onstage and do a drum clinic. It was the final part of my mega musical week and the part that I had most looked forward to.

I discovered John Blackwell's playing about 2 years ago and he has rapidly become one of my all time favourite players because:

  • He is incredibly funky, the man just has a groove more powerful that I have seen or heard in most.
  • His technical knowledge is high too, he can pull tricks out of the bag with ease, yet is still happy to play something simple when it fits.
  • He is also a showman, he has a whole repertoire of stick twirling tricks and "drumnastics" that add to his visual appeal.
  • He has developed his right foot to a level way beyond that of most other drummers. The speed and power of his bass drum foot are incredible. I like to have a strong right foot in my playing so this is of particular interest to me.
  • He seems to have a lot of humility, he comes across as a genuinely nice guy.

So I was sitting in the church hall with, I guess, about 400 other people, most of whom were drummers, some of whom were very well known. There was Craig Blundell, a well known player and clinician, there was Steve Barney, who plays for Annie Lennox and the Sugarbabes. I am sure there were many more that I didn't recognise, but I didn't recognise them, so I won't name them.

The clinic started with the usual sponsorship stuff. Most of the drum clinics I have seen have been sponsored by companies with a commercial interest and this one was no exception. It was sponsored by Sabian, the cymbal company, Tama, the drum company, Rhythm, the UK drum magazine and Drumwright, a drum dealer.

So we had to sit through Sabian's latest video for about 20 minutes. It was a bit corny and I don't think many people paid much attention to it. It was full of top drummers telling the camera how great the company's cymbals are and what wonderful people work for them.

Then the man himself came onstage. He had a kit set up side on so that we could all get a better view of his playing. For the first few minutes of talking he appeared quite nervous but he relaxed quite quickly. One of the first things he said was that the idea of the clinic was to educate people and, if anyone wanted to come and sit up on stage or anywhere closer to get a better view, just feel free. For about 15 seconds no one in the audience moved a muscle, showing typical British reserve. Then a kid of about 8 got up and walked up on the stage and sat about 3 feet in front of JB's bass drum. That opened the floodgates and loads of others followed the kid's lead. So John Blackwell was sat at his kit surrounded by kids and gangly youths, all of whom would be left gobsmacked by his playing. The way he invited people to come closer to watch was the biggest example of how he appears to be a person with genuine humility.

After a few introductions he started a solo. I can't remember the exact format or details but it was outstanding. He began slowly and softly and built up to extremes of volume and speed and showed off his amazing right foot speed. I think the 8 year old kid may, at this point, have had second thoughts about sitting so close to his bass drum!

I think it's fair to say that most musicians don't like to see a player showing off all their "tricks" just for the sake of it. Probably one of the hardest concepts for a young player of any instrument to grasp is the fact that, in a musical context, playing for the song is the only thing that matters. In a drum clinic the mindset is a different one. This is the time for the star to show off! JB didn't disappoint. There were sticks spinning and all kinds of drumnastics and he still sounded like the steam train of groove.

After the solo he started a question and answer session. He took time to answer every question in great detail, from how to do a one handed roll to an amusing story about how his Father (also a drummer) took him to buy a double pedal but changed his mind on seeing the price. I was struck by his apparent warmth and genuineness. He happily demonstrated things on the kit and made the people who asked the technical questions come up onstage and stand near him so they could see in detail what he was explaining.

After the Q + A he played some more, solo and to a backing track. Then the clinic finished. He had been up on stage for the best part of 2 hours. He stayed around after the show to sign autographs. My 2 kids queued up and were chuffed at the nice way he spoke to them and will definitely remember meeting him for a long time. I picked up some great stuff to work on from him too.

The best thing I got from the evening was a reminder of why I think it pays to be nice. Here was a drummer at the pinnacle of his career, a hero to thousands, who made time for everyone. He came across as the kind of geezer i'd like to have a beer and a chat with. Mr John Blackwell Jr, if by any chance you are reading this i'd like to sincerely thank you for a brilliant evening.

That was the final part of my musical week. I hope I have many more but that one will take some beating!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Things I love about living in London

I was inspired to write this after reading the above post. I love Colombo and I love London. The thing is I can't imagine living anywhere other than London.

I don't even go into the centre of London very often, maybe once every few weeks or so. I suppose I have more contact with "town" than many as my company has most of its customers there and I spend a vast amount of my working hours dealing with customers and drivers who are smack bang in the middle of the metropolis.

There is a buzz about London. It's more than the normal buzz of a capital city. I have spent time in a few capitals and the only one I have been in that compares to London is Paris. Unbelievably, I haven't been to New York yet but I have a feeling that I will fall in love with it as soon as I arrive.

Things I love about London:

  • The sheer size of it. I only fully appreciate this when I am in a plane coming in to Heathrow. On a clear day you get to see the whole of London and get an idea of its vastness. It is simply massive. It looks imposing, unfriendly and dangerous. It often is.

  • The people. As a rule Londoners are not friendly people. We just put our heads down and get on with our own thing. But, in the event of a crisis like the July 7 bombings, Londoners are transformed into the best people on earth. The British can be reserved and Londoners are particularly so. I have seen traffic incidents in Colombo and they are usually surrounded by a fairly large crowd of onlookers. Here in London people look to check if there is an injury or if anyone needs help and, if the answer is no, they get on with their own thing.

  • The diversity. There are people, shops, food and communities of every nationality on Earth in London. I can walk into my local Tesco and listen to someone talking Sinhalese or Tamil or Polish. It's a bit academic for me as I don't understand any of them, but you probably get my point.

  • The shops. I am one of those rare blokes that actually likes shopping. Not in a girl's way. I don't spend ages choosing something only to never wear it because I once saw someone I don't like wearing it at a wedding. I just buy things, quickly and without fuss. I sometimes try them on if they are clothes, but I can't deny that I like the act of wandering around and buying things. London has every type of shop imaginable, then some more. There is never a feeling of not being able to get something. If it exists it can be bought in London.

  • Cars. I like cars and driving and in London there is always a plentiful supply of the world's top cars to look at. You can walk around central London and see just about any car you desire, often driven by someone famous. From Ferrari Dinos (my all time favourite car) to Porsche Cayennes (Ugh!) you can see them here.

  • The architecture. London is home to some of the most aesthetically pleasing buildings anywhere in the world. From the Natural History museum to the Gherkin, the range is huge and diverse and always a joy to see.

  • Finally - That Feeling. Living here gives one a feeling of living in the centre of the world. As if we live in the very heart of everything. I always think that we have "first" viewings of fashion, music, consumer items, anything really. I guess New Yorkers, Parisians and maybe some others feel the same way about their respective cities. I would love to know what other people from feel about this. I am sure there is a viewpoint that with TV, the internet and information technology so readily available in most parts of the world, location is far less important than it used to be if you want to keep informed and up to date.

  • The music scene. All the top bands play in London and many of the artists live here. We have an incredible range of live music available on a nightly basis. From small pubs and clubs to stadiums, the venues are everywhere and one could easily go out every night and see great music.

So that's it really. I get so much enjoyment I get from other cities, Colombo in particular. I adore its ambience. Strolling around Galle Face Green on a Sunday evening, the noise and smell of Galle Road, the sparkling Elasto advert at the Bullers Road junction that has been there as long as I can remember. It's a bit less sparkly now and largely covered up by merchandise for sale but it was there a few months ago. But every time I go somewhere, after a few weeks I catch myself missing London.

I guess that's why I call it home.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

Oh what a musical week! (Part 2)

Let me refresh your memory. Mimosa, the great funk band, are now set up, soundchecked and fully ready for our debut gig. The venue is the Cellar Bar in Bracknell, the date is Tuesday 4/4/06.

The first band on the bill were a young local outfit called Ecoute, French for snails. They were good, had a slightly rocky sound, a solid drummer and a young female singer. She had a nice enough voice and all in all they looked and sounded like an accomplished band. Unfortunately for them, the night was young and most of their audience was the other 2 bands.

The next band up was Barflyz I was blown away by them. Their singer was exceptional, she had a really gutsy but powerful and funky sound. Their bassist was another who impressed me. He played some interesting parts with a very funky feel and his partnership with Fabio, the drummer, was tight and solid. I have been privileged to see 2 excellent drummers play in 2 nights and Fabio was 50% of them.

I have seen about 10 different drummers play on my kit (not at the same time, that would be just stupid). They have all been good players, but many of them are the type whose playing I like but have no desire to emulate. Fabio was different. I want to play like him. He had such a good feel and just looked like he was enjoying himself. He told me beforehand that he was trying to make his groove playing feel better. Well, if I get my grooves to feel as smooth and funky as his I'll be a happy man, and I consider myself to be a groove player now.

So Barflyz finished their set and the club was filling up rapidly by now. We had a short interval of about 15 minutes then we were due on. Any musicians reading this will know that we all go through moments when we feel competitive on our chosen instrument. You know, the "I am better than him" or the "I can play that faster than he can" type of thoughts. Well I decided a long time ago that I didn't want to nurture a competitive mentality as far as music is concerned. Sure I have fleeting thoughts of " Am I better than him?" and they can be very prominent when I am auditioning and directly competing with another drummer for the "prize" of a the drum seat in a dodgy covers band.

But I have tried to take the approach that music is not a competition. It is never going to be my livelihood, I came to it when I was 31 and there are 12 year old kids who can play things I can only dream of. So I am focussed entirely on enjoying it. Music is fun, it is a passion and I love to play it and listen to it. Why am I saying all this? To try to explain why watching Fabio, the great Italian drummer, play my kit immediately before me, actually had a totally positive effect on me. A younger me would have been scared and frightened of following him but I figured that I am a decent player and I should play the songs my way and just do my best.

I did. And bugger me I played well. The whole band played brilliantly. We were as tight as could be. We all enjoyed it, the audience loved the songs, the other bands were full of compliments and I wished we could have played for another 2 hours. I know I played simple stuff but it felt good and didn't detract from the songs. I had a good mentor / drum teacher who used to say to me that the drummer's job is to make the band sound good.

Since I have started gigging I have wanted to play a gig like this, when I just felt "in the zone". Maybe it was because of the high amount of practice, maybe it was me being a better player than I was last time I gigged, maybe it was the positive effect of seeing the guy play before me, maybe it was the CD I have been listening to lately that is supposed to help increase confidence, maybe the band was better. I suspect it was a combination of all of these things that made it my best gig so far. I loved it, Mimosa were top class and we are now not "gig virgins" any more.

The younger guys in the band are full of ideas about touring the world, releasing albums and singles. I'll be quite happy to let them do that as long as I can be the drummer!

That's me in the corner, the one sitting at the drum kit. It seemed like a good idea at the time, a drummer in a funk band wearing a Thin Lizzy T shirt.

That was my Tuesday. Wednesday evening was the third instalment in my music filled week. I saw John Blackwell Jr, probably one of the funkiest drummers ever, do a clinic. see Part 3 for more on that..

to be continued.........

Friday, April 7, 2006

Oh what a musical week! (Part One)

The last seven days have probably been one of my most music filled weeks in I have ever had.

Last Thursday (30th March) I went to see Thin Lizzy at Hammersmith Apollo. I use the term Thin Lizzy with some reservations. They were my all time favourite band, I saw them first when I was about 15 and then saw them live about 6 times before their charismatic frontman Philip Lynott died a drug related death about 20 years ago. Their original drummer, Brian Downey, is an all time hero of mine and was one of the people that made me want to play the drums.

The current band consists of none of the original members. One of the guitarists, Scott Gorham, was in the band for about 10 years and the other guitarist joined for their final tour. The drummer and bassist, although excellent players, were never in Thin Lizzy in the band's heyday.

So the Thin Lizzy that I saw last week was a bit of a fake compared to the genuine article.

The drummer, Michael Lee, is a well known session player here who has played with many top artistes. He was outstanding. When he played Brian Downey's drum parts I don't think that he entirely captured the feel but there aren't many drummers who could have done so.

He did succeed in doing the songs justice and, when he played in his own style, which was a bit more straight ahead rock, he was totally impressive. I would rather have seen Brian Downey but Michael Lee was a good alternative.

The bassist was another well known journeyman called Marco Mendoza. He made me laugh. As a musician he was just what was needed, he didn't intrude and he played the parts true to the originals. So, as a musician, he was good.

He was dressed all in black (quite probably black leather but I was too far away to tell), he had long black hair a la Alice Cooper and his actions and body language were just a bit too "rock 'n' roll" to be taken seriously. When I was an 18 year old, if I had been a girl with limited intelligence, if I was quite desperate and if I had been a total groupie I may have had about half a nanosecond's worth of interest in him. Now that I am 40, a bloke, with a business, a family and all the other stuff that I am lucky enough to have, he just didn't quite do it for me.

There was a row of Marshall guitar amps just in front of the drum riser, they must have been about 1 meter high. At one point I saw him walk towards them and lift his left leg onto the top of one, whilst playing his bass. There were about 4000 people in the venue but I felt as if this was a private moment shared between Marco and myself. He played for about 10 seconds with his left foot resting up on the amp. He was aiming for that "Rock God" look but he had clearly not judged the distance correctly and looked uncomfortable and rather pained.
He casually lowered his left leg back to ground level, making sure that none of the 4000 strong audience noticed the look of sheer agony on his face. I think he may have pulled a hamstring, but Marshall amps, cowboy boots and bassists in their 40's or maybe even 50's can probably cause any number of injuries. He then carried on playing, blissfully unaware that I had seen the whole saga and would narrate it on my blog. I expected him to summon a medic, or perhaps a groupie, to rush on stage mid song and administer either first aid or oral sex, but nothing happened.

But - they were great! I thoroughly enjoyed the gig. They played all their old well known songs, the standard of musicianship was top class, and I was instantly transported back to my youth. It would be fair to say that the audience consisted largely of my age group, I guess most of us had been there 20 or so years before. This time round we had less hair, more stress and more weight.

Then, on Sunday night, Mimosa, my funk band, had our last rehearsal before our debut gig onTuesday. The rehearsal was a medium one. We ironed out some things that were a bit creased and decided where and when to meet on Tuesday.

Tuesday was gig night. I was as nervous as a very nervous person on Monday but by gig day I was calm and had my usual feeling of "I wish I didn't have to wait, I just want to start". It has become my normal pre gig mental state. Not a nervous one, not scared, just a state of impatience.

We got to the venue, set up and soundchecked, listen to the two other bands soundcheck and then started our long wait.

to be continued.....

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Electra - Help me out please!

Something has been bothering me for a while regarding Electra, someone whose blog I read often.

She writes well, appears to lead an interesting life and seems intelligent and witty. She also seems to be a fairly well known person amongst the Sri Lankan bloggers.

So what is bothering me?

It is a genuine question. I mean no antagonism nor do I want to create any type of argument, I am genuinely puzzled by this:

Why did you start to blog under a pseudonym?

I am intrigued by this because, although I don't know who you are, I get the impression many people do. Maybe it's just the fact that your blog has reached a far bigger audience than you expected it to. Maybe you envisaged the blog to be less revealing than it has turned out. Maybe you were one of the first SL bloggers and didn't think other people would start doing it too.

Or maybe it's some or all of the above.

I'd love to know the answer but, either way Electra, thanks for your writing. I enjoy it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

More differences between SL and the UK

Mahamoor has made a great post about job differences between our 2 countries. I have noticed some differences in attitude that I would like to add.

I think many of the major differences are caused by the relative labour costs. Even taking cost of living into account manual labour is far more expensive here in the UK than in Sri Lanka.

Many people who live in the UK (including myself) will be continually amazed by the sheer number of staff in SL's shops and restaurants per customer or transaction.

In Sri Lanka I have often been served by a security guard, who will take my bag as I enter the shop, another person who will take my goods out of the basket at the checkout, another one who will take my money and then yet another who will check my receipt and give the goods to me.

Here in London we are accustomed to having to search for anyone to help us in many shops. When we finally find a shop assistant they invariably treat us as if we are a unwelcome interruption to a conversation with their friend about what they are going to do at the weekend.

The attitude displayed by retail staff both in the UK and in Sri Lanka continually surprises and disappoints me. It is as if they are blissfully unaware of the small fact that it is us, the customer, who pays their wages.

I do find that Sri Lankan shop assistants and also shopkeepers, the ones who tend to run their own shop, can appear aggressive to a Westerner, but they are usually just trying to persuade you to buy something. Here we are more keen on browsing without being hassled, but then having help at hand when required.

Restaurant service in SL is much better than in the UK. Then again, my experience in SL is probably more limited to the higher end restaurants where better service would be expected.

I have come across excellent service in shops and restaurants in both countries but, across the board, it could be so much better. I just wish the staff would remember that the customer should always be number 1!

If you are reading this please, please add a comment or 2, I am very interested in finding out other people's views on Sri Lankan compared to British customer service and also on the perfect type of customer service.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Driving in Sri Lanka

For years my Dad has said "If you can drive in Sri Lanka you can drive anywhere".

I cannot begin to accurately describe Sri Lankan driving to someone who has not witnessed it first hand. Roads do exist but they are vague and poorly defined. Rules also exist and they can be even more vague and even less defined. Some of my observations are:

  • It is the sole responsibility of the other driver to inform you when it is safe or unsafe to overtake. This may be done by indicating, using hazard warning lights or, to tell someone it is safe to overtake, a clever and subtle cupping type movement of the hand whilst whiggling the fingers and casually dangling the arm out of the window. Road users who are experienced in driving in other countries will not even notice this hand motion as it is imperceptible to the untrained eye.

  • Use your horn! Like one of Newton's laws Sri Lankan vehicles always continue in their existing path until they meet with some resistance. Here in the UK we continually have to look out for things (cars, pedestrians, large buildings etc) and then use a combination of steering, braking and accelerating to avoid them. In SL you "horn" pedestrians, animals and other road users to warn of your approach. They then casually skip out of your way and all are happy. In the UK a horn is only considered as appropriately used when it is sounded to warn of an impending nuclear attack or something of similar proportions. Occasionally it can be used to try to get the attention of someone you know, but this is usually met with looks of anger and hatred from all others in the vicinity. Any use for lesser reasons is frowned upon and usually met with shouting or road rage or both.

  • Traffic lights are widely used in Sri Lanka. However, they can be ignored if you are in a hurry or drunk, both of which are encouraged.

  • Tuk tuks are a great mode of transport. No rules at all apply to their drivers.

  • Buses - See tuk tuks for rules

  • Zebra crossings. In the UK, if you even think about crossing the road at one of these black and white things, cars will stop to let you go. If any part of your body is on a zebra crossing you have the right of way. Cars slow down to avoid running people over and pedestrians usually feel that a zebra crossing is a safe place to try to cross a road. In Sri Lanka zebra crossings are places of danger. They are also usually yellow and the only stopping done near a Sri Lankan crossing is by pedestrians who are dodging traffic.

Night driving probably could warrant a whole blog entry but I shall only say that night driving in Sri Lanka is fun and challenging for Westerners. And fucking dangerous. It is like doing an extreme sport on your way home from work every evening, only cheaper and a bit more dangerous. Western drivers, who are used to the general principle of all road users having lights at night, can be lulled into a false sense of security by expecting vehicles in Sri Lanka to adopt the same attitude.

Road accidents happen everywhere but my theory is that the proportional number of serious road accidents in Sri Lanka is less than in the Western world. I think this is because the roads in Sri Lanka are not designed to be able to carry vehicles at the same speeds as in many other places. This is probably proven by the time it takes to travel relatively short distances in Sri Lanka compared to elsewhere in the world.

We are lucky in the UK in that we have good roads on which we can often travel at high speeds if we desire. The onset of speed cameras has put an end to that for many people in many locations, but we can still put our foot down if we really want to. One of the consequences of driving at higher speeds is that, when we have accidents, they tend to cause much more damage in every possible way.

I don't know if it is still the case but I remember a few years ago that there was only one person in Sri Lanka who owned a Ferrari. I think it was Aravinda de Silva. It always seemed a tragic waste of a supercar to me. As much use as a one legged man at an arse kicking party.

I am not sure if I agree with my Dad that "If you can drive in Sri Lanka you can drive anywhere" but it certainly takes some getting used to!

Monday, April 3, 2006

Shitting a brick!!!!

24 hours before my first gig with Mimosa, the funk band. I am crapping myself. It's a funny thing as I consider myself to be fairly experienced in gigging; in my old band we probably averaged about 1 a month and I was usually calm and relaxed.

I must relax. A bit of practice tonight, then take it easy.

I can't wait.

Of trolling and what makes a good blog

It is now about 3 weeks since I started my blog and it is taking some sort of shape. I have been surprised by my ability to write at all. Writing, and creativity in general, are things that I do not think I have got. I am under no illusions about the quality of my writing but I have really been amazed by the way in which I can sit at my PC and write anything at all. There have always been plenty of random thoughts going on in my head but it is a new development for me to try and put some of that on paper (screen).

Up until recently I had always struggled to think and write into a keyboard. I would imagine most people reading this are very used to the act of thinking something and then sitting at a PC and transferring their thoughts straight onto the screen but for me, the ability to do that is only a very recent development. Before starting to blog I used to write anything on paper, then read and edit it and then type it onto a PC. So I have gained a new skill in a few weeks and, if I learn nothing else from blogging, then this new skill will be a big positive for me.

A question I ask myself often is "What makes a good blog?" I think the first element of the answer would be that you have to know your target audience. Now the biggest problem I have in devising a strategy for my blog is that I don't know what my target audience is. The blog started as a means for me to write whatever I fancy, regardless of who may read it. I suppose, at 40, with a few contrasting interests in my life I may have the ability to write about subjects that interest different types of people. On the other hand I am no real expert in any of these areas.

There is blogger who now trolls kottu and writes totally negative and nasty entries about most of its bloggers. I find this cheap and unnecessary but one of the features of the internet is that it accessible to anyone and they can say anything they want. I genuinely think that the troll is quite funny but the novelty will no doubt wear off.

This new troll is causing quite an uproar amongst the kottu bloggers. It is far too easy to read other people's blogs, then write negative things about the author. I strongly suspect that none of the victims like the things this person has said but they are hanging on every word with baited breath, like I am! This chap (or girl) is now being threatened with physical violence and there are all sorts of attacks and counter attacks flying around. Admirably (in my opinion) the owners of Kottu have continued to let this blog be listed on kottu, which is possibly the ultimate demonstration of rising above the insults, particularly when they have been directed at the very core of its bloggers.

One of my aims with my blog is to sound positive. In fact that is possibly the only guideline I have set myself so far. So, I will continue on, please leave comments if you desire, I want to know the opinion of my small circle of readers!

As for what makes a good blog. I haven't got a clue to be honest.