Thursday, March 31, 2011

Territorial Pissings

I know it's a bit of a luxury but I have two bathrooms in my apartment. Attached to my bedroom is an en suite one, the sort that can only be accessed by going into my bedroom first. Though it's not at the back of the bedroom, it's one of those ones that you get to by going into the bedroom for just a couple of steps, then turn right and enter. To make things easy I'll refer to it as bathroom 47 from now on.

And, attached to the only other bedroom is another bathroom. This one has two doors; one coming off the bedroom and the other coming off the front hall. So it's an en suite and a communal one. Again to make things easy I'll call it bathroom 32.

When I was apartment hunting I realised that two bathrooms, though not essential, were pretty damn important. With two teenage girls frequenting my place, albeit sporadically, there were practical as well as timing considerations.

Girls like to go into bathrooms and do whatever it is they do. For ages. And then for a bit longer.

Men, we like to go in, have a dump, stink the place out, then leave. We like to read drum magazines and books, though we do draw the line at laptops or electronic readers. We like to sit and ruminate on the important issues in life; cars, women, sport and music.

And the two don't mix.

Secondly I realised that I like my own bathroom. I like to have a room where I and my loved ones can go and chuck out a few ablutions, not necessarily at the same time.

I'm happy for C or the girls to use bathroom 47, just not strangers, or even people that I know quite well.

I had thought things would be easy. A and K mostly use bathroom 32 as it's attached to their room. Sometimes they go into bathroom 47 and that's okay too. C, when she's around, tends to use bathroom 47 and again, that's okay with me, though I often have to drop a particularly nasty log to get rid of the smell of womens' perfume that wafts around after she's been in.

When there are visitors, should they need to point percy at the porcelain, I point them to bathroom 32 and all is good.

The system, not to be confused with the cistern, works. In fact, it almost works perfectly.

It's just that word, the "almost" that bothers me.

Look, I know they made me, gave birth to me, brought me up and whatnot, but still, and I probably shouldn't be telling you this, my parents' bathroom of choice is.............yes bathroom 47. Can you believe that? And it bothers me.

When I first moved in my Dad was pointed, to the extent that I even held the door open, firmly towards B32. He ignored me, went into B47 and it's been that way ever since. My Mum has followed suit. What can I do? They're my olds, I can't really tell them they're to use the other bathroom. But I kind of wish I could steer them gently towards B32.

Last weekend K had a friend staying over. On Saturday morning she said to me, in front of the aforementioned friend, "Oh Dad, is it okay if F has a shower in your shower?"

Well I tell you I was flabbergasted, with a capital flabber, though I didn't write it. I stuttered and faltered a little, then said, in a firm and assertive manner

"Yes of course it is K" After all I'm still British in many ways.

When F was in the shower I spoke to K to ask why, trying not to sound all territorial and eccentric, as if I was a bit of a nutter. She said something quite reasonable about the shower head in B32 not being very good. I told her that it was unacceptable, that guests had to use B32 and that B47 was only for me, C, A and K (when urgent).

At least that's what happened in my head. In reality I said something like "oh okay then, fair enough".

What do you reckon?

Anyone else have this territorial bathroom thing going on?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Superman And Mr Strong

As the Americans say, here's the thing.

These T shirts, the ones with the Superman logo on them and the other ones, the ones with a picture of Mr Strong, one of the world famous Mr Men.

Well, about five years ago, for a nanosecond or two, it was vaguely amusing to see a man wearing one.

When I say "vaguely amusing" I mean that, had you or I not heard any good jokes for a while, not seen any unfortunates falling arse over tit in the street and not happened to click on one of those funny links that people put up on Facebook, then we might, just might have chuckled mildly at the sight of one.

These days, any man who thinks that he's being original, clever, witty or in any way smart by wearing one of the offending garments is truly mental.

They are not funny, they are not clever and they are not original. You, if you wear one, just look like a twat.

So don't.

If your wife or girlfriend gave it to you then you should reconsider the long term benefits of being in a relationship with them. If one of your children gave it to you then I guess it's okay to wear around the house a bit, that's it though.

If your name is Clark or your surname is Strong then allowances maybe made.

Carry on.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Airport Express

Sunday night saw the arrival of C, which, it has to be said, after almost three months apart, was nice.

This meant that I had to rush off early from a Solskala band practice to steam over to Heathrow and pick her up, much to the amusement and derision of my bandmates.

I did all that, thinking I'd made good time until I joined the queues to park at the airport and remembered that Sunday was the night when all the flights from every brown skinned country arrive. Luckily the Indians here, though they speak in foreign tongues (to me) and exhibit some frankly alien behaviour, mostly drive like Brits. Which is to say that they obey the rules of the road.

I like that, they can do what they like in the comfort of their own homes, but certain rules, like stopping at a give way sign and not parking on a single yellow line, unless you're legitimately loading, are only ignored by East Europeans and the like.

I parked, fought my way through the throng of people and got into the arrivals section of the terminal where I found even more people. I checked the board to find that C's plane was due in about five minutes. Perfect, I thought, and settled down for a good spell of people watching.

I've had a worrying soft spot for airports for as long as I can recall. The girls mock me for many things everything, but one of the specifics is the fact that, as a young teenager, I used to be a plane spotter, a proper one with binoculars, notepads and that book where I'd cross out the aircraft registrations I saw.

As I advanced through my teens the hobby of plane spotting was put to one side, in favour of my newer hobbies; music and masturbating. I've never told my kids this though.

Even now you can give me an airport and I'm a happy ex plane spotter. I can watch the planes, the staff, the people or just sit and soak up the general atmosphere and I'm sorted, as we say here in Londinium.

So the idea of settling down to a spell of watching the crowds as they waited for their loved ones was a rather appealing one and I got down to it with the eagerness of a lead singer complaining that a song is in the wrong key to suit his voice.

It took about ten minutes to even get a spot at the barrier, such was the rush. Once I did, I settled myself and tried to make the space I occupied my own. I did the human version of peeing on my territory; I spread my arms out, I stuck my elbows out and made myself about two foot tall by planting my feet on the ground as wide apart as possible. This was successful for four seconds, until an Indian fellow, as if he was driving in Colombo traffic, managed to find a non existent gap next to me and squeezed himself into it.

I scowled, tutted and hissed a bit like a snake with wind. He ignored me and just stood there so I did what all Brits do in these kind of situations; I shrugged my shoulders, smiled and apologised. That told him. I knew it from the way he ignored me.

The people watching began. I really enjoy it. There's something about an airport crowd that's spellbinding. I love looking at the greeters and trying to figure out who they're going to meet.

Will it be a partner, a parent, a child, a friend or a customer?

Will the greeting be one of those running in slow motion and flinging their arms around each other ones or will it be a kiss on the cheek? Might it be a polite handshake or a manly hug with some good firm backslapping? (something that seems all the rage among the young male Asian crowd these days)

That young child standing by the barrier there. Is he going to run up to Grandparents or cousins? Is he waiting for relatives he adores or only just tolerates?

The Chinese looking woman in the business suit, who was she waiting for? I never actually did get to find out that one.

A twenty something trendy looking guy was standing near to me holding a bunch of flowers and looking as awkward and self conscious as one can imagine. When his girlfriend ( I assumed) appeared she looked pretty embarrassed too. I felt for him.

During all this observing the thought flitted through my head that, perhaps on a day when I was bored, I might come down to Heathrow just to people watch. Would that be sad or weird, or both? I think it might be, but it would also be fun, though I might have to have some sort of pretend phone call as if my passenger was delayed or something, just in case someone was watching me the way I watch them.

Then C arrived.

Our greeting, on a scale from running in slow motion and wrapping arms round each other at one end to polite handshake at the other end, was probably closer to the latter. I think I'm a bit too old for slow motion running, chances are I would have tripped over and landed on my arse. It's bad enough at normal speed but doing that in slow motion would just hurt even more.

But, without giving you too much detail, there were pursed lips and noises involved.

I sent her off on the train, while I stayed behind to watch more people.

When I see her next time she'll understand.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday's Musical Musing

Hello Reader, I hope your weekend was a good one. Mine was rather excellent, thank you for asking.

Today let's talk about music, the vein that has run through the body of my life for as long as I can recall, perhaps through yours too. I listen to music almost all the time and it features largely in so many areas of my life. I'm also continually fascinated by inventions, more the way in which things get invented.

Rice and bread are two examples. I've spent too many hours wondering how they were discovered. What sequence of events led to people figuring out that rice, if grown and plucked from under that water, polished, then boiled and simmered would taste so good?

And how did they figure out that wheat and whatever else is in bread, if processed however it is processed, will become bread. For the record I should tell you that I only know that baking bread is quite involved, I haven't the foggiest idea of exactly how it's done.

Now to music.

I wonder. How, or at what point did man figure out that the right combination of noises is pleasurable to our ears? Or is it the case that music evolved to become pleasurable, that perhaps, had we not pursued it, it wouldn't exist today?

You know the way dinosaurs went into the water, becoming fish, then monkeys, then Charles Darwin and then man? Well that's evolution. Did music evolve to become what it is now through a series of accidental developments? Or did Charles Darwin hear a bird singing and think that it might sound a bit better if he went and had a go on that drumkit over there in the corner?

"Musical" is classed as one of the forms of intelligences, suggesting that it's more of a fundamental than an accidental evolution, but I wonder.

There's one thing I do know. Life feels a lot better to music.

Friday, March 25, 2011

On Animal Lovers

There are a few regulars here who love animals. Old DQ, when she's not feeling all maternal, is one such example.

I'm a bit of an animal lover myself, particularly chicken and prawns.

But, as every sensible person knows, there are limits. And those limits are smashed to oblivion when someone makes a facebook page for their cat.

It may be a bit sexist to say it but I can't imagine a bloke doing it either. A, my eldest, has created one for their cat, something I excuse entirely because she's my daughter and therefore normal rules don't apply. But adults? No way Mr Mourinho.

So the other day, when I received a facebook friend request from a cat, I rejected it quickly and efficiently, like James Bond killing a bit part villain, not the main bad guy of course, that's a much bigger deal. I don't mean that I killed the cat though, even I wouldn't have done that.

If I owned an elephant I'd start a facebook page for him though, that would be cool, though arguably cruel to own an elephant. Particularly in Kingston, Surrey. But I do have a spare room, so maybe we could make it work.

It's a funny old thing. As a child my Dad and his family used to own a working elephant. For as long as I can recall he's regaled us and his granddaughters with nice grandfatherly stories of the elephant, of the things it did and what they got up to. It's a bit like a Sri Lankan version of Skippy the Kangaroo or Lassie; totally engrossing. I've always intended to write a post or two to tell you about them but never got around to it.

Those days, probably sixty or even seventy years ago, a family in Gampola having a working elephant was I suppose quite normal, maybe even a bit enviable. It's funny isn't is, how it would be so wrong now to so many, how we've become much more aware of the world around us, of the welfare of animals and the natural world.

Just some thoughts.

Have a grand weekend out there!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Fitness Instructors

The close to three months of gym membership, the hard work, the sweat and the labour has confirmed one thing to me; Physical Trainers, or PTs as they're called, are total fucking tosspots.

There are about ten of them at my gym, working shifts, strange patterns of days of, days on, nights and day shifts, no doubt because for the rest of their time they're either at the gym or having music lessons so they can join the boy band when the audition comes up.

If I were a woman, a stupid one who was interested in looks alone, I'd probably think all the male ones at my gym were sex gods, assuming I was a heterosexual woman that is.

There's one guy who's got more tattoos than Kat Von D, a body that looks, well alright, and seems to spend his whole life there. He works there, evidently only with women, attractive ones at that, then spends most of his spare time there with his blonde girlfriend, who he also trains.

I bumped into him with the GF in Tesco the other day, the Tesco that is directly below the gym. They were arguing over which high protein thing to put in their basket, looking for all the world as if they were a couple of models who'd just been rejected from a Holister shoot because the muscular look was so last year, but we'll be straight onto you when it's back.

I hung around for a bit, pretending to look at sausages while eavesdropping, then got bored and wandered off to find the three packs of Cadbury's Creme Eggs. I can do healthy eating too and getting a three pack instead of a six pack just proves it. Of course, the three packs are the sort of thing that will prevent me getting a six pack also, if you see what I did there.

Last night I walked past him in the changing room at the gym. He was talking to another bloke about how he did "clean 60kg, then ninety reps at 10kg and then straight onto a cross border patrol" or something like that. I help my head up high, well as high as it goes, tensed my stomach and walked past.

There are a few female PTs there too. A couple of young girly types who look friendly in a young enough to be a daughter way and then one who baffles me and stands out. In a sea of attractive and physically close to perfect colleagues she looks like she went to the job centre looking for a job that involved horses and animals, but they misheard her or thought it would be a laugh to send her to that gym instead.

Worse still, she got the job. Maybe the manager thought it was test, or that he had to do something for equal opportunities or something. I must admit I don't understand it. Every single one of her co workers wears the latest trendy gear, has the latest high fashion haircut and changes their tattoos to suit what's in fashion on a fortnightly basis, while she looks as if she's one of the "before" pictures on a dodgy fashion programme.

I'm sure she's very nice, which is part of the problem. They're all very nice, smiley and chatty in the sense that I could get drawn into a conversation about how many reps at 60kg I could do (none), but I reckon they'd all struggle with an analysis about the Libyan situation. Actually, now I think of it, I'd struggle with either conversation, so that would be a nightmare anyhow. I'd have to ask The Auf, he'd help.

But they're like a set of clones, made in a science fiction film to run a pleasure planet and make it look good to visitors.

Bastards. Really.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Two Types Of Running

I've been working hard at a few things lately. I quite like hard work and am one of those fellows who believes that it's an essential ingredient in the recipe of life and success. My life, with its considerable periods of solitude, is one of those lives that is conducive to putting in some hard work to various avenues at times. Which is nice, sort of.

I told you about my gym joining thing a little while ago and, if you're a regular in these parts, you'll probably know that I play the drums. Well the gym has become a regular feature of my week and drumming still is. And it was while running, or multi exercising or cross training on the cycly whirly half running half cycling thing, to give it its full name, that I pondered on the way I run in life.

You see I've figured out that when I go to the gym twice a week or less it's the same as when I practice the drums less, which is the same as when do anything I like less. Which is to say that the effort, when things become less frequent, all goes into keeping me standing still.

I used to think that any drum practice I did was moving me forwards in the direction of being a better player. Well RD, life isn't like that.

The waters of life are moving continually backwards and, in order to just stay in the same position, we have to do some swimming. I know that this talk of running in reality, running as a metaphor and swimming could get highly confusing. Well, it would to me, but you're probably smarter.

The plus side to all of this is that it's when I go to the gym three or more times a week, when I manage to practice drumming a good few times a week, as I'm doing now, that's I really feel and notice that I'm progressing and advancing. And then the practice and the gym going become a little addictive and infectious.

When frequencies are less and I'm running to stand still it feels flat and boring. When you push yourself that bit more and start running to move, that's when it's cool and satisfying.

Just thought I'd share that thought with you. Sorry if it doesn't make sense, I was in a bit of a rush to get the thoughts in my head out, you know how it happens.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Of Reading

Inspired wholly by T's post of the same name I thought I'd tell you the current state of the RD literary world. It's a bit like this:

The "Currently Reading" collection in my Kindle has got four items. The hottest one is a book called "William Walker's First Year of Marriage" and is a pretty hilarious diary of a fellow's first year of wedded bliss. Said fellow is a well intentioned but not so well performing chap. It's not often I get hold of a book that makes me laugh out loud, this is one of them. It's a bloke's book, any man will laugh and sympathise with the events, any woman will just not understand.

On the non fiction side, again in the Kindle, there's Edward De Bono's "How to have a beautiful mind". It's about thinking, being interesting, listening well, being creative and generally how to cultivate a fascinating mind. I don't think it will turn me into Mr Sparkly conversation overnight but it does seem to be giving me a few pointers in the right direction. You know how I love all this self help stuff.

Also there's Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" in the Kindle. I started it a while ago but really need to get back into it and dig my teeth in properly. So far it's been mildly captivating, like a not very skilled tribe of cannibals.

Lastly in the Kindle is Bill Bryson's "Notes from a small Island". It's my first Bryson book and I came to it looking for a good and funny adventure. My jury's out, though things aren't looking good. I find the esteemed Mr B side splittingly funny on occasion but more often than not he just makes me emit a gentle chuckle, the kind of chuckle old men utter when they're sitting by the fireside with a cup of hot chocolate and a bedtime read.

On the "real" book front, that is to say books that exist on paper, there's "Running in the family" by a certain Michale Ondaatje.

I'm reading it as the opening title for the great SL2G book club, whose inaugural meeting is next week. I first read it about ten or more years ago and thought I better read it again as I had no recollection of it at all. I'm not sure what I think about it so far, but it feels as though it doesn't belong to today. I know it's about people in the past anyhow, but what I mean is that it feels as if it was meant to be read at a time when its readers would be more touched by nostalgic tales of Sri Lanka.

To be honest with you, if it wasn't for the book club I'd probably have abandoned it by now, though I am enjoying the stories about people who we're just about all related to!

That's it really, thank you to T for the inspiration for this post.

What are you reading?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Marmite On Toast - How Do You Have Yours?

Of course everyone in the world, except those involved in the industry itself, hates ad people. It's common knowledge, with their trendy clothes, tattoos and continual talk about their industry it's understandable. But occasionally, just occasionally, one of them comes up with a flash of brilliance, a stroke of genius, a blast of cor blimeyness.

The Marmite campaign launched here in the UK about fifteen years ago is one such example. I'm not sure if this has been a worldwide campaign and therefore don't know if you, assuming you're reading this from the Serendipitous land, are aware of it.

But over here it's been a resounding success. Supposedly based on the fact that the makers of Marmite discovered that people either love or hate their product, something I must admit to being dubious about, they decided to accept the fact and push it as a unique selling point. Nowadays people here often talk about whether they love or hate Marmite, there's rarely a chap who says "hmmm...I'm ambivalent actually, I quite like it but don't love or hate it". And who uses the word "ambivalent" in real life anyhow?

Moi? You can probably guess, I'm ambivalent about the black, debatably dark brown stuff. I like it, it's just that the love isn't there. There's usually a jar of it lurking in the depths of my cupboard but life doesn't suffer too much for me if and when I run out.

But how does one make Marmite on toast? It sounds simple enough but there are many methods, some which are illegal in certain countries, some which should be illegal. Here's how I do it:

Take 2 slices of white bread. Allow two slices for oneself, if there is a woman present who says that she doesn't want any ignore this and make separate portion for her. Otherwise she'll eat one whole slice of yours and this will cause problems.

Put bread in toaster, set on a medium to high setting. You don't want to burn it but the toast needs to be well done.

While bread is toasting take good quality butter out of fridge and engage in butter softening process. Butter is one of the vital ingredients and is needed in order to lubricate the Marmite and to help it spread evenly over the toast. No butter can make the Marmite scrape and tear the toast, an amateur's mistake.

I have heard of people who use brown or wholemeal bread for the toast and then a low fat spread or possibly even no spread with the Marmite. These sort of people should be avoided at all costs.

Now proceed with the butter softening. I like to cut criss cross lines in the top of the butter while it's in the dish. You can then scrape the top of the butter to hide the lines and avoid getting shouted at by your Mum / wife / girlfriend or imaginary friend in my case, but the sheer satisfaction of carving lines in butter is a little bonus fully worth grabbing. The knife always goes through the butter really easily, particularly if it's hot. I wish I could think of a simile here to describe it better.

By now the toast should be about ready. As soon as it's out it needs to be buttered. I find it useful to place a dollop of butter on the first slice and leave it to melt slightly while you place another dollop on the second slice, then go back and spread the first slice, moving onto the second one immediately afterwards. I'll leave it to you to decide which slice is the first and which is the second but, if it helps, I usually make the left hand one number one and the right hand one number two (as I look at them).

Time is of the essence here, you need to move on to the Marmite as quickly as possible. Once the slices are buttered get the right amount of Marmite on a (fresh) knife for one slice of toast. Experiment and practice beforehand so you get the right amount for the whole slice in one portion. Trips back to the Marmite jar to get more make the toast go patchy and you risk getting butter in the jar, something to be avoided, hence the need for a fresh knife.

Be careful, rookies often make the mistake of putting too much Marmite on the toast and deciding that it will be okay. It never is, it will taste too salty and you'll regret the move. If you're going to make a mistake with the quantity, well don't.

Move quickly on to the second slice. Experts will use a second knife for this (third if you include the butter knife) to maintain the purity of the jar. Ideally you want to do the whole buttering and spreading procedure within about twenty, perhaps twenty five seconds. This sort of time frame ensures the toast is still hot and you get those nice little pools of Marmite and butter on the surface.

Make sure that the spread of the Marmite goes all the way to the edges of both slices of toast, but not over the edges so you can't hold it properly without getting sticky fingers.

Some people like to cut the slices in half, you may make a choice here.

Now eat and enjoy. If you've got the quantity of Marmite just right you'll feel pretty damn thirsty until lunchtime.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Roland vs BMW

I own a reasonably top end electronic drum kit made by Roland, the Japanese company, as well as a reasonably top end car made by BMW, the German company. I say this not to brag, but to give you, my valued reader, essential background information.

The electronic drum kit is the second one I've owned though the first was not a Roland one. The car is the second BMW I've had. The first BMW, a five series, I adored and look back on with affection. This five series, the newer type, is one that I dislike rather intensely. It would be too strong to say I detest it, but only just.

Yesterday I took my car in for a service to the dealership at which I've bought the last two cars and who have done all the required servicing and other bits and pieces. I also had a need to call Roland UK and order a cheap and simple part for my e drums.

The following is a story of the very thin line between outstanding and poor customer service and the effects of the two.

First, the car.

I've ordered a new car, an Audi. For a number of reasons. Firstly because I don't want to be seen as a fellow who always drives the same marque, a chap who is due his next BMW next March. Secondly because the level of service I've received from both the dealer and the car hasn't earned any more loyalty from me. This current car is built to a price, the last five series felt as if it was built to a standard.

Thirdly, well I managed to fit my bass drum into the new mystery car, so the order has been placed.

So the new car is on order and I have to wait about three or four months for the other load of Germans to build the thing, though I'm not sure if it's built in Germany at all. During these months I have to service the existing car and generally keep it in decent condition so I get the part exchange value I was promised.

I contemplated booking it in to a different dealer but, figuring this is the last time and I'm better off maintaining the consistency of having the full service history at the one place, I stayed with the devil I know. And hate.

I arrived and was met by the patronising service woman. She displayed a certain attitude of arrogance and aloofness as she took the car in and completed the paperwork.

"So it's a standard brake fluid service and this problem with the CD player?" she asked, after putting the key into the key reader thing with all the drama as if she was playing a major role in the latest Harry Potter film with magic and swords.

"Yes, as I explained the CD changer goes back to the first disc at track one each time I restart the car, I suspect it might need rebooting or something." I said.

It's a problem that has come up out of nowhere, for the last five years the CD changer would pick up at the track and the CD at which it left after restarting the engine, but this has mysteriously changed. It's not a big deal though, as the car is going and I didn't want to pay for an expensive repair.

I'm all for technology, I like the way it can speed things up, make us all more efficient and propel us forward. What I don't like is the application of technology that appears to slow things down and help the supplier but not the customer. Which is what BMW seem to be using. Every time I have a problem with my car, which has been way too often, it has to be plugged into a mysterious computer that only Professor Brian Cox knows how to use, then I'm charged a fortune merely to be told that I'm going to pay another fortune for the privilege of some oink pressing BMW's equivalent of ctrl alt delete.

The next generation of car mechanics are people who have all the diagnostic equipment, who do what the main dealers do, but charge their customer far less. They're beginning to come through now and, as far as I'm concerned, the quicker the better.

I trundle off, not confident that I'm going to be pleasantly surprised but fully expecting they're going to attempt to fleece me, just not sure exactly how.

The call came through about four hours later.

"Hello Mr Diaspora, it's T from BMW"

I won't bore you with the details but she starts to tell me that the CD player has to be plugged into a big computer for the fault to be diagnosed and that it will cost me £98.94 for this, whether it's fixed or not.

"No thanks" I say.

Then she tells me that it might be because the battery is a bit low and what the car does is to shut down various components when this happens, so they could charge the battery overnight and see if that makes a difference. I pause for a few seconds. The pause is because there have been no signs of a weak battery. The car starts perfectly every time, all the bits work properly and, most importantly, I had the battery checked about six months ago and was told that it was perfect and I didn't need a new one. At a car battery place!

"Well the thing is, if you pardon the technical explanation" says T. "That the car is like a body and the battery's like the heart pumping blood around it. Well the CD player is like...., well I don't mean technical explanation, I mean laymans' terms, that's it"

Oh Jesus, I thought. One thing that gets me is when people underestimate a chap's knowledge. I don't have the faintest clue about how to work on a modern car, but I know the basics. I used to dismantle the carburettors on my MGB Roadster, I know what the battery does. If I wanted a woman to patronise me to that extent there are daughters, mothers and C to choose from. One of the tenets of selling is to underpromise and overperform. Don't assume your customer is an idiot, pretend you think he's really clever and then come down from there as you discover otherwise.

So I listened for a bit then stopped her.

"T, what voltage is the battery putting out?" I asked in my most expert like tones.

"Err, well I don't know, he hasn't written it down here." she said.

"Well it was tested a few months ago and was kicking out about fifteen volts when running, so I'm surprised that you're telling me it's low now." I'm not expert enough to be sure on that fifteen volt thing, it might have been a million volts or half an acre that the chap in the battery place told me, but I sounded confident enough for her to falter and splutter like my MGB Roadster after I'd dismantled the twin carbs.

She moved on to talk about illegal tyres, which I rejected, and other rubbish. I told her I'd pick up the car at five o'clock, look after the tyres myself and get the battery checked by my regular place.

Dodgy bastards, that's all I can say.

Roland UK, that's another story, and a very fine one at that.

I rang a chap there yesterday to order a small part for the e drums. He was so helpful on the phone, checking everything, talking me through it all and then taking my details and placing the order. It came to a princely sum of £18. Within about ten minutes of the phone conversation I had an email thanking and confirming it, with a screen shot of his internal ordering system showing me the details.

Now £18 can't really make much difference to a company like Roland either way. But, when my current electronic kit dies or needs upgrading, I'll buy another Roland one. It will be partly because I like their products. It will also be because, on a couple of times when I've called them they've treated me as if they value my custom and they've done what they've promised.

And the first story is why, after about ten years of driving BMWs I've just ordered a slightly high end Audi.

Different companies and different products but great customer service is the same the world over. And it's why we, the customer, go back time and time again.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cars And Girls

Well here in London it's a Thursday morning as I write and I'm in recovery from Wednesday evening mode. Because Wednesday evening is when I have the girls with me, something I always look forward to, usually enjoy on a scale that's somewhat different to my expectations and invariably leaves me feeling as if a whirlwind has passed through.

And last night's Wednesday night consisted of olds too, not just any olds either, these were my ones and, by definition, of the Sri Lankan variety.

Picking the girls up from their place is something that I do with decreasing frequency, as they now often make their own way to mine, fitting things into their "busy" schedules as they can! So K was first to arrive fresh from her day "at work". She's doing work experience, something most schoolkids here do at about this age; when they go off for a week to a local business or organisation to learn a bit about things in the "real" world.

I felt a bit disappointed to hear that K had already organised things and was going to be spending a week at a local school, as I had a sneaky wish that she might want to do the week at my company, which would have been unusual and fun, for me perhaps not for her. A, when she did hers a couple of years ago, had baulked at the idea of spending time with me as if I'd suggested she, well, spend a week with me.

Still, such is life, and K arrived full of "God Dad, you don't know what it's like, I've had a really busy day at work" and promptly grabbed my laptop, some Coke and chocolate biscuits and proceeded to virtually interact with all the friends who she hadn't heard from for what was probably at least several minutes.

For the next hour, until the elder sibling arrived, I made vague and mostly unsuccessful attempts at conversation with her. At one point I managed to get her attention for about fifteen seconds, but that proved the record as her phone beeped with a noise to indicate something that demanded her attention.

My questioning was good, a nice mix of open ended and closed ones. I tried to use variety, by feeding snippets of informations about my life that I thought K might be interested in and relating it to her life, but there was nothing. The open ended questions (which are ones that can't be answered by a yes or a no) were mostly answered with an "alright" or a grunt. In the end I gave up and started to cook. As my Dad often says, you can take a horse to water, but that doesn't make it a duck.

The Olds arrived later, quite excited to see the Granddaughters for the first time after their annual jaunt to the motherland, and were armed with the usual Grandparents' haul of presents and clothes. I'd got in the required stocks for keeping a Sri Lankan man over about sixty amused; alcohol and short eats, and so the chat flowed merrily and I fought the battle in my head about not engaging with my Mum.

K, though I had to talk to her about paying attention to my 'rents beforehand, became the most attentive child since the beginning of time, perhaps even before that, and I wondered if I should feel pleased or frustrated that she couldn't be like that for me.

Then A strolled in, which amused me. Every time she arrives now she stinks of cigarette smoke, then rushes to the bathroom, saying that she's desperate for the loo, where she obviously brushes her teeth and rinses her mouth out with mouthwash, to emerge smelling that mixed odour of distant tobacco smothered with minty things.

She knows I know she smokes, but gets stroppy and angry if I try to talk about it. I in turn feel that she's sixteen and can make her own decision about this and that I started to smoke at fifteen so can't really lecture her too much about it anyhow. If the Auf started to smoke I'd give him a right fatherly bollocking and he'd probably go off and stop, with my own child it's a different matter altogether.

The reason I was amused was because I knew that she'd have to kiss and hug my Mum before her bathroom visit and my Mum can smell cigarette smoke from a distance of about three miles with the wind blowing in the wrong direction. I'm sure it will surprise you to hear this but my Mum is also not the sort to keep quiet about these kind of things, unlike most Sri Lankan mothers.

I almost, I said almost, felt some sympathy for the onslaught I knew A was going to get. However, she deserved it and in my experience it only lasts about twenty years or so.

The strangest thing was that it never came. I don't know if my Mum is biding her time, highly unlikely as her relationship with subtlety is about as distant as mine with Jennifer Aniston's, or if her nasal abilities have deteriorated, but I do know that the worst thing one can do when Sri Lankan mothers are involved is to get yourself lulled into a false sense of security.

Just when A least expects it she'll bite. With all the force, drama and emotional blackmail that are also on the menu.

The Grand'rents left after a while and the three of us ate dinner. K wolfed it down and shot off at the speed of a Lankan bus driver to get back to Facebook and A and I were left to chew the cud. And the spaghetti bolognese.

We watched a bit of TV; Waterloo Road followed by Masterchef and then I dropped them back. The ten minute drive was punctuated with K flicking through the radio stations every few seconds, me telling her to turn it down, then thinking that it wasn't a very "cool Dad "thing to say, but perhaps okay as I did have a bit of a headache and I play in a couple of bands.

And I got back to the apartment as usual, looked around and thought that life is a funny old thing. I look forward to Wednesday evenings, go through them and wonder why, then drop the girls back and realise.

Because sometimes I miss all that crap with them. The fighting, the sighing and the total lack of conversation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Random Musical Pieces

The musical side of my life marches onwards at a steadyish 120 BPM, mostly in standard time but with the occasional bar of 5/4 thrown in when I lose count.

The covers band has reached a level that can best be described as some place between rapid progress and standing still. We don't get together as often as any of us would like, not enough to learn loads of new songs that is, yet all our lives dictate that we can't, so that's okay then.

When we do hit the studio we spend a bit of time practicing the old songs and about two thirds of the time working on new material. The more honed we get the less time we need on the old material. Which is nice. Debates on our choice of new songs are long and, in the case of the drummer, often unsuccessful. I've been pushing the idea of doing some Biffy Clyro and a rocked up version of an Abba song, preferably Knowing Me Knowing You and have been rejected on both counts.

We are now kicking out our cover of Muse's cover of the famous Feeling Good. It's had a new impetus after featuring in an ad or two here and people love it. I'm also hugely enjoying playing Stay with Me, the original being by The Faces. It's the perfect example of balls out British R + B, from when R+B meant a different thing.

Times like These by the Foos has been a re entry into our setlist too. We play the full album version, with 8 bars of 7/4 at the beginning and 11 during the middle. It means I have to do a lot of counting, always a struggle! It's one of those songs that's invariably only appreciated by a few people in the audience but we luurve to play, so there.

My homework for this week is to learn this new song by Adele. It's all over the radio and TV here and not a soul doesn't like it, but it doesn't half remind me of Crazy by Gnarls Barkley, which really is a brilliant song. Still, it'll probably go down well, providing of course we can raise or lower the key enough to suit our singer.

Solskala, the originals band, is a very different animal. Our curve is currently much steeper, as we gather momentum, perfecting the existing songs and developing and learning new ones. Songwriting is not something I claim any expertise in, but I enjoy the experience of trying to come up with drum parts and grooves for songs in which other people have already done most of the hard work.

It's challenging to figure out a groove that complements the song, that fits nicely and that isn't over complicated. There's nothing worse than a musician who throws everything he or she knows into everything they play, just because they can. I'm of the opinion that a massive part of musicianship is playing for the song, knowing what not to play is way more important that knowing what to play.

And, when songs are written as demos, with a drum track already down, but I'm given license to do whatever I want, the challenge is to have an open mind whilst still staying true to the feel of the original, yet not just copying the original. Balance is the key.

Either way, Solskala is something I'm so enjoying and, if you're in London, there's a gig on April 21st if you're interested in checking out our mellow funky sunshiny vibes.

On the learning avenue I'm also doing things. My lessons with the new (though it's now about 6 months) teacher continue to be more stimulating than Strawberry flavoured Space Dust. We're covering a mixture of things; Latin grooves for my independence, linear fills for my creativity and musical library and exercises to a click, in which I'm shifting the beat, to make me more comfortable in my relationship with time.

I've felt the effects of these lessons in my playing. I'm not sure that any of my bandmates have, but I know it's there. I'm conscious of feeling more fluent around the kit and of carving out a deeper groove than I did before. And, even if I say it myself, I was a groovy mother to start with!

In my first lesson with this teacher I told him that one of my objectives was to have a bigger musical library, so I could pull out fills and phrase from it on demand, but also that I had the ability to play the things in it. I definitely think I'm making progress with that, though it'll be a lifelong journey anyhow.

There you have it. The music continues. And I love it.

PS - I had two look up two words in this post in the dictionary. If you can guess which ones you win absolutely nothing, just kudos and the knowledge that you're smarter than the average bear.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Brown Van Man

Academic Bro has been moving into a new pad and asked me if I'd help him do an IKEA run. I don't know why but IKEA feels like a word that just has to be written in capitals, that's just the way it is.

I borrowed a van from work for the weekend and arranged to meet the highly intelligent Bro at the Swedish emporium on Sunday morning. This meant that I had the pleasure of a weekend in a van, well not sleeping and stuff, just driving. I like van driving, I really do. You sit there up high, looking down on the people around you and they treat you with an amount of respect that you just don't get when you're in a car, no matter what car that is.

The first hurdle I had to leap was parking in my space at RD Towers on Friday night. It's one of those slightly tricky negotiations, involving reversing and then turning into a tight space, ideally without hitting one of the other cars parked nearby. And, being a man, not just any man but one driving a van, means that rules and regulations apply.

There are security cameras in the car park at RD Towers and I knew that B, the helpful but significantly too nosey concierge chap, would probably be watching me in his monitor. As a man, in a van, we have to perform manoeuvres like this with confidence and ease. It's universally accepted that it's better to get into a tight space quickly and calmly even if you hit a couple of cars nearby, as long as you don't get seen, than it is to take ages and do a forty three point turn.

Of course the ideal is to get into the space quickly and easily without hitting anything but only professionals can do that. Or women. Which probably makes me a girl of some sort, as I did it with the apparent ease of a Sri Lankan politician changing allegiance. Apparent being the key word. I reversed, did a few turns and even did that thing the experts do when you open the drivers door and hang out of the cab looking behind you and almost falling out.

I wasn't sure what to look for but just peered a bit at the walls and in the general direction of the back of the van. There wasn't much point, I figured that I'd know when I hit the wall as soon as I felt it anyhow.

But, the first parking attempt was a resounding success. I dismounted from my ride, through the passenger door as I was a bit close to the wall on the driver's side, patted its head and went up to my apartment.

On Saturday I took A for an optician's appointment. After bunging K's bike in the back of the van, which had been abandoned at my place some time ago, I cruised to the girls' house and proudly told A that we had a van for the journey. She, truth be told, wasn't best pleased, muttering something about image and how it's much better for a sixteen year old girl to be seen in a BMW than in a Ford Transit van loudly decorated in my company's corporate war paint. Women are plain weird sometimes.

Parking, this time under even more pressure as I was worried about the effect on A's image if we were spotted, was even easier. I reversed, did the hanging out of the door thing then boasted a bit to A about my coolness as she looked on with what can only be described as a lethal mix of scorn, contempt and embarrassment.

We strolled off to the optician's and did a bit of divorced Dad and eldest daughter bonding, something that I treasure these days and yet was never really aware of in my pre divorce days. This time it consisted of an eye test, with me making faces at A behind the optician's back, me parting with quite a lot of money for A's next set of contact lenses and then a dash to Tescos to buy Pot Noodles and doughnuts for A and the smaller and somewhat more dangerous sister.

Off we went in our trusty steed (van to you) again, with A enjoying it but making sure that she wasn't spotted by any of her friends. I deposited A back at their place, having done yet another smart bit of parallel parking and said a quick hello to K, then climbed aboard and drove rode back to RD Towers.

As Dave Grohl would have said, had he written the song after stopping smoking, it's times like these that I occasionally yearn for a smoke. A van, an open window and an open road. What more does a chap need than to dangle his elbow precariously out of the window and exhale a few lethal tobacco fumes?

We parked up at RD Towers, me and the van that is, and I left it to sleep and went up to my apartment.

The next morning I woke, bright and early, too early as is usually the case with me, and went and found the van in the car park to drive off and meet the little Academic Bro at IKEA. It was one of those very lovely English Spring mornings, full to the brim with a blue cloudless sky, some bright sunlight, a dash of bracing fresh air and splashings of dew on the grass.

As I pulled in IKEA things were far more peaceful and calm than I had envisaged. I'd expected chaos, poor quality people everywhere and a bit of road rage. Instead it all seemed pleasantly calm and organised. I reversed into a parking space and took my position. It was a position of reading the latest issue of Modern Drummer and watching for Academic, who was going to meet me there.

Of course, you know me, I was about an hour early.

The Bro arrived and we did our brotherly greeting thing then ambled into the Swedish superstore. My eyes were on stalks as I attempted to take everything in.

The real adventure was only just beginning......

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Post A Day

I've been watching Naz's image a day photoblog with interest and fascination and it's inspired me to try something similar, only with words. In recent months I've put off writing blog posts with the justification, to myself at least, of not having enough time.

It's one of those amusing ironies in the life of a blogger, or at least in the life of a blogger who mostly writes a "diary" type blog such as this; that the more that happens in life, the more interesting and chunky subject matter there is to write about, but the less time exists in which to do the writing.

So I'm going to take a week as a starting point and try to write a post a day. Without the usual time and effort that I put in to posts, which believe it or not is a fair amount when I do one.

I'm going to try and chuck out some random thoughts each day, some might be big, others small and inconsequential.

Today's is about the tragic tsunami in Japan and the contrast between the coverage of it compared to the Sri Lankan one.

I've been watching a lot of news over the weekend and it dawned on me from Friday how this Japanese one has seemed like a "live" event. Some, if not all of this, is clearly because of the wealth of Japan in contrast to the wealth of many of the areas affected in the Sri Lankan tsunami.

We've watched the nuclear power plant explosion, we've watched people being rescued and possessions being swept to oblivion. So far I haven't seen an onscreen death but I'm not sure if this is by design or accident and wonder if it's just a matter of time.

And this "publicity", if that's the word, is it good or bad or both?

Perhaps it has helped to make the rest of the world feel more sympathetic towards Japan's disaster, maybe by making us feel more involved we're more likely to help if we can, all else being equal.

Of course, for me and most other Sri Lankans, we're connected to Lanka so things aren't equal. But, from the view of many in the world who have watched things in the media as they unfold it really seems as if the Japanese tsunami has been more vivid and more real.

And I'm not sure if that's good, bad or just fact.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Passionate My Arse

You know when you look at a crowd of people, perhaps at a match or something, and you just see a load of random beings. Then, you decide to look for the ones wearing red tops and, the more you look, the more they seem to spring out at you. Then you change to looking for the ones in yellow shirts and suddenly the yellow shirted fellows are jumping out towards your eyes all over the show.

Or when you take notice of a particular car and within a few days you spot these cars on every road and it seems as if one in every three drivers owns one of these (obviously for women this
doesn't apply, perhaps recipes or a particular species of cat may suit). Well the fact is that usually these phenomenons are merely our mind seeking and making connections. It's pretty obvious really, just because I decide to look for red tops doesn't mean more people are wearing them. Or cats, I wouldn't want you to think of me as a cattist.

But I've noticed something recently, something that I think is not just me making a connection, something that I'm sure is real, that maybe you'll start to look at after reading this post, then send me messages praising my fantastic observational skills.

PASSIONATE. Read it, it's the new enemy, that's why I typed it in capitals. You know me, I rarely type a word in capitals, I'm not one to make a shouty statement at the best of times, but this needs one.

Everywhere I go, every way I turn I seem to come across a person or a company telling me how passionate they are about this or that. It's become a cheap and easy way of convincing your fellow man that you're good at something.

Want to make out that you're a great photographer? Simple, just say on your website or stationery that "we're passionate about photography". That'll do the job. And many people are passionate about photography. It's an arty thing, it's something that one can easily imagine a chap being passionate about.

But then we go to the mundane and non creative end of the spectrum and that's where it gets extremely muddy and cliched. When your cleaning company boasts of its passion for cleaning and your dog food manufacturer, your car hire company and your local cinema jump on the passion wagon too then there must be something going drastically wrong.

Of course I blame this mostly on the Americans, all of them, well except drummers. EQ, being in touch with our emotions and our creative side is all well and good. A few years ago when the first few companies used the passion idea as their USP (unique selling point) it sounded powerful and different. It sounded as if, not only was the company or person pretty good at what they do, but they also loved it, they lived and dreamed it.

These days we're led to believe that, unless someone says the dreaded P word, they're disinterested in their craft and not up to the level of the other passionate types. All the specialness and excitement that we used to associate with people who really were passionate about their vocations has diminished.

The musicians, the artistes, the writers and the inspirational leaders. The eccentric inventors, the mad scientists and the tireless nurses who genuinely worked with a passion have been replaced by regular people, not that there's anything wrong with them, who we're told do everything with passion. There are sandwich makers so we're told, who are passionate about what they do. Really?

Are they busily bunging egg and cress into a sandwich and dreaming of the next tasty recipe they can introduce to the marketplace? Is my office cleaner really thinking about the new innovative way he can clean my office? Not bloody likely, though the sandwich person might well be working on a new way of cleaning that he's come up with and the cleaner might just be dreaming of a dhal and rice sandwich and wondering if it would sell. (of course it would!)

Now I've mentioned this I'm hoping you'll be out there and will notice the "passionate" issue everywhere. Or you might spot red and yellow shirts on every other person and blame me for that.

Bring back the passion I say, the real and true passion, not that passion that the copywriters have decided we all need.

Let's start a movement, let's attempt to tell others how much we enjoy doing things, how good we are at them and how much we love them. Let's do all that and do it without using the word "passionate".


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Stop The Knowledge, I Want To Get Off!

I like people who are always learning. I like learning. Therefore I like me.

At least, that's how it should go.

The thing is that I do like learning. I read voraciously, from management and self help books to fiction to magazines. I did one of those personality tests recently for work and one of the things it told me was that I'm the sort of person who thinks "time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted".

How true, I thought. There's a whole page of narrative about me, but one of the most accurate parts was the line above, how I like to research things and I keep quiet until I feel that I've gathered the information I need to before I venture forth with my opinions. Or fifth.

This sometimes makes me feel as if I lack a certain confidence compared to others. I see people who walk into a room full of strangers and appear calm, confident and illuminating and I wish I was one such fellow. Often when I meet strangers I go a bit tongue tied and appear shy. But then, once I get to know people and measure them up, I feel more relaxed and confident.

And this learning thing feels to me as if it's a continual and ongoing process, as if I'm always doing it, sometimes learning what not to do just as much as what to do, which is different to vut too doo. I'm forty five these days, so I'm told, and there are times when I think that it would be nice to put a bit of a lid on things, to say that I've done the knowledge, now I'm going to go out there and apply things.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Because I met a fellow the other day who made me stop in my tracks and think. It was at a meeting and I guess he's in his late twenties, possibly early thirties. He's clearly quite a nice intelligent guy, with some good ideas and a very good and positive energy and manner. But, he wouldn't shut up. It was his first time with this group and, instead of listening, measuring up the people, the dynamics of the group and the way we operate, as I'm sure I would have done, he spent much of the time talking, mostly about himself.

I let him talk. I was aware that he was taking up time but felt like an old wise owl letting the youngster have his fun before reeling him in.

And when you're talking you're not listening. When you're not listening you're not learning. And when you're not learning you're not moving forward and progressing. Which is a bit shit really, isn't it?

It's a rummy old thing that the people who know me would probably disagree with my perception of myself as someone who's a bit shy and lacking in confidence. But the thing is that they, by definition, are people who know me and who I therefore feel far more confident with.

So what do you think?

Is it good to bluff it and pretend that I'm far more knowledgeable than I actually am?

Or is it better to be a bit quiet but try to listen and learn?

Or should I read a book about it?