Saturday, 24 December 2011

Worry about your character, not your reputation

Worry_about_yout_character_not_yout_reputation

Worry about your character, not your reputation. Your character is who you are, your reputation is who people think you are.

Sometimes we get too caught up in what people think about us and forget to worry about what really matters in life, like the people who love us for who we really are, and who we really are deep down inside of our hearts. In order to not worry about our reputations, we have to live our own lives, being confident in the goals we have set for ourselves, and also being confident in the fact that though not everyone may like us, and though not everyone will believe in what exactly we are doing.

 


Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A Scottish Wife

1961scottish_flag

Three friends married women from different parts of the world..... 

The first man married a Greek girl. He told her that she was to do the dishes and house cleaning. It took a couple of days, but on the third day, he came home to see a clean house and dishes washed and put away. 

The second man married a Thai.He gave his wife orders that she was to do all the cleaning, dishes and the cooking.The first day he didn't see any results, but the next day he saw it was better. By the third day, he saw his house was clean, the dishes were done, and there was a huge dinner on the table. 

The third man married a girl from Scotland.He told her to keep the house cleaned, dishes washed, lawn mowed, laundry washed, and hot meals on the table for every meal.He said the first day he didn't see anything, the second day he didn't see anything either but by the third day, some of the swelling had gone down and he could see a little out of his left eye and his arm was healed enough that he could fix himself a sandwich and load the dishwasher.

He still has some difficulty when he pees.


Merry Christmas Everybody

Merry_christmas


Sunday, 18 December 2011

What did I learn in 2011


Following on from the blog I wrote back in 2009, I'd like to continue in the same vein with what I've learnt this year.

Don't expect others to treat you the same way you treat them
I'm an optimist who always looks for the good in other people. I take the time to get to know someone, learn what they like or dislike. I'm a people person, and like getting to know people and make new friendships. An assumption I tend to make is that everyone will treat me the same way I treat them. With respect, fairness, kindness and loyalty. I've come to realise that this ideal is far from true. Some people do not appreciate the way in which I have treated them, and have instead treated me unfairly or badly, despite the fact that I have done nothing to deserve such treatment.

This has been a very painful lesson, but one that I'm glad to have learnt. Although it caused me much pain and upset learning this lesson, it has truly made me a much stronger person because of it.

My new mantra from now on:
Demand nothing.
Assume nothing.
Expect nothing.

There is little to be gained from thinking that everyone believes or behaves the same way that I do, because clearly some people simply don't.

Why waste my time on people who hurt me when there are people who are waiting to make me happy.

Everything happens for a reason
I have long believed in this philosophy, and it has come home to roost on several occasions this year. So this is not so much a lesson learnt, but a lesson reaffirmed. Enforcing and reaffirming this particular lesson was the cause of a certain amount of hurt for me this year. You cannot change another person, or force a situation to go in a particular direction. So I found myself in a situation I didn't want to be in, and only by reminding myself of this lesson did I manage to find my way through it.

You can analyse a situation, pick over the pieces and wonder what could have happened differently. Or you can simply walk away and learn from the experience. I think the latter way of dealing with such things is far more constructive.

Don't waste my time defending myself to other people
I'm most certainly guilty of this. If someone says something that is untrue or unfair about me, I always feel the need to defend myself, and set the record straight. I have had things said about me this year by people who I thought were friends. I've since learnt that my true friends won't believe them anyway, and I shouldn't care about what anyone else thinks. This has been a hard lesson to learn, and sometimes the instinct to defend myself (my reputation, my character or whatever) kicks in, but I'm slowly learning that the people who know me and care about me will know me well enough to either ask for my side, or not believe them anyway. People will sometimes deliberately say something hurtful just to get a reaction, and up till now I've foolishly given them what they want. It's a drain on my precious time and energy, so from now on, I don't care who says what about me.

Don't waste my time with negative people
Some people just seem to be constantly negative, unhappy or moody all the time. They never have anything positive to say. They are tiring and draining to be around, they suck the energy from you. If I could measure the energy that I have lost to these people it would be a very sizable quantity. Energy that I could have invested elsewhere. I have also discovered that negative people are experts at defending their negative outlook and refuse to change, or even acknowledge that change is possible. "It's not my fault, I've had a rubbish day" and "I like being moody" are phrases I've actually heard. I would much rather spend my time with people who have a positive outlook on life, and don't constantly blame other people or their situation for their lack of positivity or happiness.

More pearls of wisdom
Accept responsibility for your life. Know that it is you who will get you where you want to go, no one else.

I've learnt that it takes years to build up trust, and it only takes suspicion, not proof to destroy it.

The past cannot be changed, the future is still in your power.

Don't let today's disappointments cast a shadow on tomorrow's dreams.

Do not wait for your ship to come in, get in your boat and row out.

The only place where dreams are impossible is in your own mind.

There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.

Never regret anything, because at one time it was what you wanted.

As we grow up, we learn that even the one person that wasn't supposed to ever let you down probably will.

You will have your heart broken probably more than once and it's harder every time. You'll break hearts too, so remember how it felt when yours was broken.

Those who look for offence will find it where none was given.

You'll fight with your best friend.

A smile from you can bring happiness to anyone, even if they don't like you.

When you think you have no chance of getting what you want, you probably won't get it, but if you believe in yourself, probably, sooner or later, you will get it.

Always remember the compliments you received. Forget about the rude remarks.

Always tell someone how you feel about them. You will feel much better when they know.

Don't be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will never begin.

Summary
I've made many mistakes this year, and got a lot of things wrong. But I'm the sort of person who reflects on his actions. Life is indeed a journey of continual learning, and every day is an opportunity to gain new wisdom and experience. So it's fair to say that I got a lot of things right too.

Thank you to everyone who has read my blogs this year, I hope you keep reading them next year too :-)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

An open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel by Frederick Forsythe

This first appeared in the Daily Express on Tuesday 13th December 2011.

Angela_merkel

Dear Madame Chancellor,

PERMIT me to begin this letter with a brief description of my knowledge of, and affection for, your country. 

I first came to Germany as a boy student aged 13 in 1952, two years before you were born. After three extended vacations with German families who spoke no English I found at the age of 16 and to my pleasure that I could pass for German among Germans.

In my 20s I was posted as a foreign correspondent to East Germany in 1963, when you would have been a schoolgirl just north of East Berlin where I lived.

I know Germany, Frau Merkel, from the alleys of Hamburg to the spires of Dresden, from the Rhine to the Oder, from the bleak Baltic coast to the snows of the Bavarian Alps. I say this only to show you that I am neither ignoramus nor enemy.

I also had occasion in those years to visit the many thousands of my countrymen who held the line of the Elbe against 50,000 Soviet main battle tanks and thus kept Germany free to recover, modernise and prosper at no defence cost to herself.

And from inside the Cold War I saw our decades of effort to defeat the Soviet empire and set your East Germany free.

I was therefore disappointed last Friday to see you take the part of a small and vindictive Frenchman in what can only be seen as a targeted attack on the land of my fathers.

We both know that every country has at least one aspect of its society or economy that is so crucial, so vital that it simply cannot be conceded.

For Germany it is surely your automotive sector, your car industry.

Any foreign-sourced measure to target German cars and render them unsaleable would have to be opposed to vetopoint by a German chancellor.

For France it is the agricultural sector. For more than 50 years members of the EU have been taxed under the terms of the Common Agricultural Policy in order to subsidise France’s agriculture. Indeed, the CAP has been the cornerstone of every EU budget since the first day. 

Attack it and France fights back.

For us the crucial corner of our economy is the financial services industry. Although parts of it exist all over the country it is concentrated in that part of London known even internationally as “the City”.

It is not just a few greedy bankers; we both have those but the City is far more. It is indeed a vast banking agglomeration of more banks than anywhere else in the world. 

But that is the tip of the iceberg. Also in the City is the world’s greatest concentration of insurance companies.

Add to that the brokers; traders in stocks and shares worldwide, second only, and then maybe not, to Wall Street. But it is not just stocks. 

The City is also home to the “exchanges” of gold and precious metals, diamonds, base metals, commodities, futures, derivatives, coffee, cocoa… the list goes on and on. 

And it does not yet touch upon shipping, aviation, fuels, energy, textiles… enough. Suffice to say the City is the biggest and busiest marketplace in the world. 

It makes the Paris Bourse look like a parish council set against the United Nations and even dwarfs your Frankfurt many times. 

That, surely, is the point of what happened in Brussels. The French wish to wreck it and you seem to have agreed. Its contribution to the British economy is not simply useful nor even merely valuable. 

It is absolutely crucial. The financial services industry contributes 10 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product and 17.5 per cent of our taxation revenue. 

A direct and targeted attack on the City is an attack on my country. But that, although devised in Paris, is what you have chosen to support. 

You seem to have decided that Britain is once again Germany’s enemy, a situation that has not existed since 1945. 

I deeply regret this but the choice was yours and entirely yours. The Transaction Tax or Tobin Tax you reserve the right to impose would not even generate money for Brussels.

It would simply lead to massive emigration from London to other havens. Long ago it was necessary to live in a city to trade in it. 

In the days when deals can flash across the world in a nanosecond all a major brokerage needs is a suite of rooms, computers, telephones and the talent of the young people barking offers and agreements down the phone.

Such a suite of rooms could be in Berne, Thun, Zurich or even Singapore. Under your Tobin Tax tens of thousands would leave London. 

This would not help Brussels, it would simply help destroy the British economy.

Your conference did not even save the euro. Permit me a few home truths about it. The euro is a Franco-German construct.

It was a German chancellor (Kohl) who ordered a German banker (Karl Otto Pohl) to get together with a French civil servant (Delors) on the orders of a French president (Mitterrand) and create a common currency. 

Which they did. IT was a flawed construct. Like a ship with a twisted hull it might float in calm water but if it ever hit a force eight it would probably founder.

Even then it might have worked for it was launched with a manual of rules, the Growth And Stability Pact. If the terms of that book of rules had been complied with the Good Ship Euro might have survived.

But compliance was entrusted bto the European Central Bank which catastrophically failed to insist on that compliance. 

Rules governing the growing of cucumbers are more zealously enforced. This was a European Bank in a German city under a French president and it failed in its primary, even its sole, duty. 

This had everything to do with France and Germany and nothing whatever to do with Britain.

Yet in Brussels last week the EU pack seemed intent only on venting its spleen on the country that wisely refused to abolish its pound. 

You did not even address yourselves to saving the euro but only to seeking a way to ensure it might work in some future time. 

But the euro will not be saved. It is crumbling now. And since you have now turned against my country, from this side of the Channel, Madame Chancellor, one can only say of the euro: YOU MADE IT, YOU MEND IT.


Thursday, 10 November 2011

Guitarists - Excuse me while I kiss the sky!

Continuing with my series on musicians (my last blog focused on drummers), I'm going to follow up with guitarists. I'm writing this as a joint blog with my friend Jay David Hauser, who also happens to be a guitarist himself.

Jay David
In no particular order, some of my favourite guitarists include the following:

  • Joe Satriani
  • Steve Vai
  • Chris Henderson (3 Doors Down guitarist)
  • John Petrucci
  • Jack Thammarat (Youtube sensation)
There are plenty more guitarist which I think have great styles and tones but the guitarists above have stood out the most.The way I relate to music is by how the music makes me feel. That may sound silly, but lets forget the 'Yeah, this has a cool beat' type of music, and try to relate to how a piece of music makes your soul feel.

Satriani / Vai
Joe Satriani and Steve Vai are very talented regarding styles and tone. Two people who know what they are doing. Satriani and Vai are both masters of expressing emotions through a guitar, with the notes they play and the melodies they perform. I promise, nothing is as easy and peaceful to listen to, even when they turn on the distortion. Both guitarists have outstanding knowledge of the guitar as an instrument and musical theory but their style is what makes them unique. Now I say unique, but comparing Satriani's style to Vai's, they are very similar but, remember, Joe did teach Steve how to play.

Chris Henderson - my hero
Chris Henderson has always stood out for me in 3 Doors Down. I personally love his style, the tone and the music that he helps create. I have been fortunate enough to have had a conversation over Facebook with Chris in the past and what a great guy. He started playing guitar from the age of 6 and can play pretty much any genre you place in front of him. Chris believes it is important to learn many styles and genres to help advance as a player. As a guitarist myself, I have taken on board Chris's advice and I'll be honest, it has paid off. Other than the wide variety of musical talent this guy has, he does make it look cool when performing.

John Petrucci
John Petrucci is a fabulous guitarist, though I do feel he doesn't rock out and show his feeling and emotions while playing. His style and playing alone are simply enough to entertain a whole audience.


I do not know much of Johns background with styles etc, but what I do know is that there is a hint of Satriani and Vai in his playing.

One of my favorite tracks in which John has recorded would be Acid Rain by Liquid Tension Experiment:




Jack Thammarat
Jack Thammarat is an amazing guitarist. I first spotted him on Youtube and was automatically attracted to his music. He entered Guitar Idol (sponsored by Youtube) in 2009 which he won. As a guitar teacher himself, Jack pulls out the techniques, the style and the passion that any musician strives for, which I suppose is why I like him.

Here is one of my favorite tracks by Jack:



Me
As with my blog about my favourite drummers, there just isn't room for me to list all of my favourite guitarists. So instead I'll pick just a few, and write about some of the others in a future blog(s). I tend to favour guitarists who have good feel, as well as technique. I like guitarists who have a great tone to their playing and can come up with interesting guitar parts or solos.

Jimi Hendrix
Arguably the greatest guitarist of all time. His style of playing has influenced entire generations of guitarists. The Jimi Hendrix Experience released their first single in 1966, 'Hey Joe,' followed by the truly dynamic 'Purple Haze' and an astonishing debut album Are You Experienced.


He was an American guitarist and singer-songwriter. He is widely considered to be the greatest guitarist in musical history,and one of the most influential musicians of his era across a range of genres - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimi_Hendrix

The Experience enjoyed reverential audiences on America's concert circuit and Axis: Bold As Love emerged in December 1967, completing a triumphant year. Electric Ladyland, the last official Experience album was released in October 1968.

Hendrix synthesized many styles in creating his musical voice and his guitar style was unique, later to be abundantly imitated by others. Despite his hectic touring schedule and notorious perfectionism, he was a prolific recording artist and left behind more than 300 unreleased recordings - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimi_Hendrix#Musical

In 1992, Hendrix was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimi_Hendrix#Musical















John Frusciante
In 1989, eighteen year old John Frusciante, a bedroom-guitar prodigy from California's San Fernando Valley who had never played in a group before, auditioned for his favorite band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He got the gig — replacing Hillel Slovak, who died of a drug overdose in 1988 — and transformed the Peppers' punk funk into muscular arena pop. On the 1992 multi platinum album, BloodSugarSexMagik, Frusciante fortified the band's bone-hard grooves with a mix of Hendrixian force and, in the hit ballad "Under the Bridge," poignant Beatlesque melody. When Frusciante abruptly quit the Peppers in the middle of a Japanese tour in 1992, he left a big hole in the group's sound that was only filled with his drug-free return on the Peppers' 1999 comeback album, Californication.

Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa was a drummer (at age twelve) and composer (writing a string quartet in his teens) before he got serious about the guitar. But in his more than four decades on stage and record, Zappa — who died in 1993 — soloed with the same discipline and experimental appetite that he applied to the rest of his legacy: symphonies, doo-wop parody, big-band fusion and sociopolitical satire. For a man who ran his Mothers of Invention with an iron fist, Zappa was actually an improviser who combined the melodic rigor of his orchestral ideals with 1950s RandB.




















Steve Vai
Steve Vai is one of the most precociously talented guitarists of any generation. Vai was a pupil of Joe Satriani as a teenager and studied at The Berklee School of Music before moving to Los Angeles at age 19. He was a huge fan of Frank Zappa's and joined Zappa's band after proving that he knew most of the repertoire and could transcribe orchestral pieces by ear. Zappa credited him on albums as the "stunt guitarist." He released the self-produced Flex-Able in 1984, combining his Zappa and Satriani influences, and went on to play with Alcatrazz, David Lee Roth, and Whitesnake.

Carlos Santana
The pure tone of Santana's guitar is among the most recognizable sounds in popular music. A towering musician who brought Latin rhythms and jazz improvisation to rock, Santana formed the first lineup of his band in 1968. His varied influences — from Mike Bloomfield and Peter Green to Miles Davis and John Coltrane — resulted in a singularly innovative approach. Santana's style of playing encompasses musical sections that culminate in (often lengthy) sustained notes. From Santana's career-breakthrough performance at Woodstock in 1969 to the 2000 Grammys — where he won eight awards for Supernatural, tying Michael Jackson's record — Santana has remained a compelling musician.

Summary
These are just a few of the guitarists that we admire and enjoy listening to. I'll hopefully follow up this blog with further guitarists. Following on from drummers and guitarists, I intend to write about bass players, singers and songwriters next (but not necessarily in that order). So watch this space.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Movember

Movember-moustache

It's Movember, the month formerly known as November, now dedicated to growing moustaches and raising awareness and funds for men's health; specifically prostate and testicular cancer. I'm donating my top lip to the cause for 30 days in an effort to help change the face of men's health. My Mo will spark conversations, and no doubt generate some laughs; all in the name of raising vital awareness and funds for cancer's affecting men.

Why am I so passionate about men's health? 

  • 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime 
  • This year 37,000 new cases of the disease will be diagnosed 
  • 1 in 2 men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime 
  • 26% of men are less likely to go the doctor compared to women

I'm asking you to support my Movember campaign by making a donation by either: 

Donating online at: http://mobro.co/DomBurf

If you want to go old school you can write a cheque payable to 'Movember', reference my name and Registration Number 1646128 and send it to: Movember Europe, PO Box 68600, London, EC1P 1EF

If you'd like to find out more about the type of work you'd be helping to fund by supporting Movember, take a look at the Programmes We Fund section on the Movember website: http://uk.movember.com/about

Thank you in advance for supporting my efforts to change the face of men's health.


Thursday, 13 October 2011

Drummers

I'm going to create a new series of blogs based around musicians. I'll describe in each post some of my favourite musicians and why I like them. To get the ball rolling I'm going to start off with drummers. The drummer is the much forgotten member of the band. They sit at the back behind their fellow band members, and so do not always get the attention they deserve.

During my teens and early twenties I used to play the drums in various bands, playing mostly Indie stuff, but with other influences thrown in for good measure, such as Zappa, rock and jazz. I played on a Premier APK 5 piece kit with a mixture of Paiste and Zildjain cymbals (7 in total). I had Paiste sound-edge hi-hats, Zildjain rock ride, 2 Wuhan chinas, 2 red Paiste crashes and a splash. I also had a cow bell for good measure.

Whilst playing the drums, there were many drummers that I used to watch and listen to for inspiration. I'd like to describe some of my favourite drummers and what I like about them.

Neil Peart
As a long time fan of Rush (having already written about them previously), it will come as no surprise that one of my earliest influences was Neil Peart. He is arguably one of the greatest drummers of all time. Rush concerts are one of the only occasions where air drummers outnumber air guitarists. He has received many awards and honours for his playing, including being the youngest drummer to enter the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.

Many drummers have large kits, but not many of them actually use the kit in its entirety, or use it in a very limited way. When I first heard Neil Peart, one of the first things I noticed was how difficult it was air drumming along to him. His style of playing contains many complex notes played across many different surfaces (drums, cymbals, percussion).

When I listened to him playing, I very often couldn't work out how he was playing a particular drum pattern, as it sounded like he was playing with three or more arms! It was only when I watched him could I see how he played it. Whereas most drummers will play a drum pattern using the same hands on the same drum surfaces, Neil will play a drum part across many different drum surfaces and switch hands at the same time, making it almost impossible to work out how he is playing it. For example, Neil will play a drum pattern using both his hi-hat and ride cymbal, and play the snare drum alternately with his left and right hand at the same time. An excellent example of this is the track Subdivisions from the album Signals.

One of the things I learned from listening to Neil, was that by experimenting with different hands and drum surfaces, you can come up with great patterns and fills. Neil rarely plays a straight four pattern for long, before injecting an interesting pattern or fill.

Terry Bozzio
I got into Frank Zappa in my early twenties, and like Rush, have already written a blog about him and his music. I could write about any of Zappa's drummers here, as they are all world class. To be in his band was an endorsement that you were the best. That you could play multiple styles, time signatures, sight read and play under immense pressure at concerts. However, the drummer that I listened to and admired the most from Zappa was Terry Bozzio.

I first came across Terry Bozzio on the album Sheik Yerbouti. It was his incredible power and huge sound that I noticed first. When reading an interview with him in a drumming magazine, he described his kit setup.In it he described how he would mount two cymbals on the same cymbal stand, thereby hitting two cymbals at the same time. To get a really unique sound, he would mount a china cymbal on top of a crash cymbal. I'd never heard of anyone else doing this, and still haven't to this day. I tried this myself with my own kit. This is how he managed to get the huge 'clashy' cymbal sounds on Sheik Yerbouti. A true innovator who is not afraid to try something completely new.

When talking about Terry Bozzio, you have to mention the Black Page. This one of the most extraordinarily difficult, complex, feared and revered pieces ever written for the drums. Lucy Landymore won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition when she played it. Despite Terry's huge talent and understanding of odd times, polymeters and polyrhythms, it still took him two weeks to be able to play it.



Chad Smith
I've written a blog about the group to which the next drummer in my list belongs also. He's Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The first time I played the album Mother's Milk, his style of playing blew me away. I've always loved funk, and admire musicians who can play in that style. To play funk well as a drummer is all about groove and feel. You can have all the lessons and drum theory in the world, but unless you have the 'feel' you'll never play funk. It's not about the notes, it's about the groove.

When I heard Chad playing tracks such as Knock Me Down, the Stevie Wonder cover of Higher Ground  and Nobody Weird Like Me for example, I was an immediate fan. His backbeat and groove were amazing. He plays with a lot of power and strength, but can also play the most subtle of ghost strokes.

Since first hearing him playing on Mother's Milk I've loved his style of playing. Really funky, he hits his snare precisely where it needs to be, and he complements this with his rock solid kick drum, the two working in perfect harmony. He demonstrates how rock drumming should be played. Power is far more related to controlled efforts, groove and feel rather than merely playing as hard as you can.

Finally
I could have written about a great many more drummers, and will in a future blog. I also want to continue this theme of musicians to include guitarists, bass players, songwriters, vocalists etc. So watch this space for future articles.



Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Heroes - Red Hot Chilli Peppers

Following on with my Heroes series of blogs, and only my second one relating to a group since the one I wrote about Rush, I'd like to dedicate this blog to another group. This time I'd like to write about a group for whom I have been a fan almost as long as I've been a fan of Rush. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Red Hot Chili Peppers are an American rock band, formed in Los Angeles in 1983. The group's musical style primarily consists of rock with an emphasis on funk, as well as elements from other genres such as punk, hip hop and psychedelic rock. The band consists of founding members Anthony Kiedis (vocals) and Michael "Flea" Balzary (bass), alongside longtime drummer Chad Smith and recently added guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. (Wikipedia)


I first got into the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (RHCP) when I was roughly 19 years old. I listened to one of their albums Mother's Milk (1988) and became an instant fan. The singles Knock Me Down and their cover of Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground struck a chord with me. I was (and still am) a massive fan of rock / funk / psychedelic / punk / ska fusion bands, including Janes's Addiction, Living Colour, 24/7 Spyz and Fishbone, and RHCP fitted into that fusion well.

It was evident that they were talented musicians. The guitar work from John Frusciante, including some amazing solos, the vocals and lyrics by Anthony Kiedis, all nailed by a super tight rhythm section in the form of Chad Smith and Flea (who is still my favourite rock bass player). On hearing this album, I decided to buy their back catalogue too.

If you're a new fan of the band or just haven't heard this particular album, then you seriously need to check it out. In my opinion, it is one of the defining albums in their history. The band finally gelled on this album, and everything just seemed to come together. It is quite simply one of their best ever studio albums (better in my opinion than the more critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums Blood, Sugar, Sex Magik and Californification).

I bought tickets to the Mother's Milk tour for Sheffield Arena, which was to be their first tour as a headlining act in the UK. Unfortunately, I got my dates wrong, and ended up missing the concert, which still annoys me to this day. I missed my chance to see one of my favourite bands on their meteoric ascension on their first ever headlining UK tour.

Throughout their history, there have been several changes of line-up, namely their guitarist and (earlier) their drummer. Anthony Kiedis and Flea are original members. Their original drummer Jack Irons left the band, but the drum stool has now been filled since Mother's Milk by the awesome Chad Smith.

Their original guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a drug overdose after the release of their third studio album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (highly recommended). One of his paintings appeared in the sleeve to the Mother's Milk album as a tribute. John Frusciante joined the band for the recording of Mother's Milk, despite not being overly familiar with the funk genre (but you'd never know this from the album, as he sounds completely at ease with the style - surely a testament to his phenomenal ability).

The current guitarist, and who recorded the new album I'm With You is called Josh Klinghoffer (who has worked with John Frusciante as a member of Ataxia, as well as The Butthole Surfers and Gnarls Barkley aka Cee-Lo Green amongst others).

When they released their new album entitled I'm With You, the band appeared on cinema screens throughout the world on August 30, 2011 live via-satellite from Cologne, Germany performing the entire new album in sequence along with various other hits. I was lucky enough to go and see this live performance at the Odeon cinema in Kettering. It was truly an amazing experience!

Their new album reminds me of Mother's Milk. Not in its sound or the songs, but in the fact that it seems like a defining album. The band have released their most mature and accessible album to date. Josh has slotted into the band and picked up easily from John Frusciante. Despite having big boots to fill (Frusciante is a very hard act to follow), and being the new member of one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, he has shown that he is a worthy member of the band. His live performance at Cologne for the release of the new album shows just how well he fits into the dynamics of the band. It was also obvious from the interviews with the band just how well they all get on on a personal level.

I have always admired their open love of their music and for each other, and their obvious respect for each other as musicians. As a band, they wear their hearts on their sleeve, and I love that about them.

One of the best bands on the planet.....I'm With You!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The philosophical clown

Charliechaplinandgandhi

The late Charlie Chaplin (1889 - 1977) is widely recognised as a great actor and director. He was also very philosophical and compassionate, as these quotes from the man testify.

Wars, conflict, it's all business. "One murder makes a villain. Millions a hero". Numbers sanctify. (paraphrased from Bishop Beilby Porteus)
I am for people. I can't help it.
I remain just one thing, and one thing only — and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician.
My prodigious sin was, and still is, being a non-conformist.
I am what I am: an individual, unique and different.
I hope we shall abolish war and settle all differences at the conference table.
I am an individual and a believer in liberty.

And finally, here is the closing speech from his 1940 film The Great Dictator. This is as relevant now as it as was when it was first made.I urge you to watch it. It is less than four minutes, but is stirring in it's compassionate and inspiring message.

 


Sunday, 4 September 2011

The value of friends and family

Family-and-friends-big

To realise the value of a sister or brother ask someone who doesn't have one.

To realise the value of ten years ask a newly divorced couple.

To realise the value of four years ask a graduate.

To realise the value of one year ask a student who has failed a final exam.

To realise the value of nine months ask a mother who gave birth to a stillborn.

To realise the value of one month ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby..

To realise the value of one minute ask a person who has missed the train, bus or plane.

To realise the value of one-second ask a person who has survived an accident.

Time waits for no one. Treasure every moment you have. You will treasure it even more when you can share it with someone special.

To realize the value of a friend or family member, imagine losing one.


Saturday, 27 August 2011

Who wants to be happy?

Being-happy_1

When I'm asked the question "How are you", I generally reply with something along the lines of "I'm wonderful thanks", or something similar. People often look at me in a strange way when they hear such a positive response. It's as if being happy and positive is somehow strange or weird.

The underlying assumption of course, is that being average should be the norm. "Yeah, I'm okay thanks" or "Yeah I'm alright" being the usual responses to such a question.

To most people, being average is the norm, to be expected, and typical behaviour. Being more than average is somehow seen as strange. This is completely wrong headed thinking.

Most people simply don't get it. They don't think they have a choice, and go through life being passive in how they think and feel. Like a pin ball in a pin ball machine, they bounce from one situation to another, without ever taking control of their mood.

It is entirely possible to choose your mood. If you choose to be happy and positive, then guess what? You'll feel positive and happy. If you choose to be moody and negative, then guess what? You'll feel moody and negative.

If you wake up and tell yourself you're going to have a good day, the chances are you will.

There will always be times when you can't be in a positive frame of mind. Sometimes life deals you some terrible blows. No one can be in a good mood at all times. However, positive, happy people will bounce back far quicker than moody, negative people.

Imagine yourself on a really good day. A day when you are feeling energised, happy and positive. Imagine if you could feel like that nearly all of the time. Yes, even on a Monday morning. Wouldn't that be amazing?

Well, you can, but only if you want to. If you choose to. If that's what you want. 

If you do something for 14 days, it becomes a habit, and you can do it without having to consciously think about it. The same is true for your mood. If you wake up each day for 14 days, and be as positive as possible during that period of time, then the happy habit will have formed. You will have made the biggest difference to your life imaginable!

The difference between feeling happy and positive vs feeling moody and negative is simply a choice. 

So many people go through their lives being moody, negative and unhappy. I simply don't understand such people. Life is so short, why waste your precious time being anything other than happy and positive.

Happy, positive people aren't necessarily rich, or drive big cars or live in big houses. What sets them apart is that they are happy with what they have. 

They also tend to attract many friends. People like to be around them. Why wouldn't they? They're happy and positive after all.

Do you want to be happy? It's entirely your choice. Next time someone asks you "How are you?", make sure you reply with "Wonderful thanks", and mean it!

 

 


Friday, 26 August 2011

The world is so exquisite

"The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides." - Carl Sagan


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The fallacy of believing that humans are the most important species on the planet

Human_species

I have had countless discussions with people who are of the opinion that the human species is the most important on the planet, and that everything we do is natural, because we are the products of nature ourselves. As both these fallacies often come up during the same conversation, let me address both of them together.

First of all, to think that the human species is at the top of any supposed pyramid of life is merely human conceit and vanity. In evolution, there is no 'winner', only losers in terms of going extinct. Unless we change our ways very soon, there is a very real danger that we may meet such a fate ourselves.We simply cannot sustain our current levels of pollution and destruction. In a short space of time we have evolved quickly, but also in that short space of time we have wreaked chaos and bloodshed on our wonderful planet. 

We have evolved intelligence, tool use, language, art, music, science, technology and a great number of other worthy facets to our big brains. However, it doesn't take a genius to see that we cannot keep plundering our planet forever.

The planet's resources are finite. While the human population grows ever larger, we take increasingly greater quantities from the planet, stripping back it's biodiversity. Despite our intelligence, we lack the foresight to see what harm we are doing to our planet. 

Secondly, to say that everything we do is natural is absurd. That is mere justification to keep going as we are. There is nothing natural about decimating our rain forests, oceans, skies and countless other species. That is completely unnatutral. Natural means to be in harmony with nature, the human species decimates it instead. The complete opposite of natural.

The people who state that everything we do is natural are also missing the glaringly obvious contradiction in their words. Surely if everything we do is natural, then the word itself becomes obsolete. 

Imagine for a second a planet without our presence. Everywhere you looked there would be savannah, forest, oceans and harmony. The planet's natural order would be slowly restored, and the damage we have wrought would be gradually undone. The seas and oceans would slowly be restored, as would the skies. Forests would slowly regrow and species would increase in numbers (the ones we decimate for profit and bring ever closer to extinction).

Like it or not, if we keep going as we are, we'll destroy the human species and most of the planet with it.

 


Thursday, 11 August 2011

A riot is the language of the unheard

A_riot_is_the_language_of_the_unheard

‎'When you cut facilities, slash jobs, abuse power, discriminate, drive people into deeper poverty and shoot people dead whilst refusing to provide answers or justice, the people will rise up and express their anger and frustration if you refuse to hear their cries. A riot is the language of the unheard." 

 

Martin Luther King

 


Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Riots on the streets of London

Riots-break-out-in-north--007

The riots that have been taking place in London have been beamed round the world and have been causing much debate on social networks. Let's make one thing clear though from the very outset, the people involved in the torching of buildings, looting, rioting and general social disobedience have nothing to do with the original protest, and are not in themselves aligned to the protest. They have hijacked the protest for their own ends, to mete out as much destruction as possible.

The protest was originally sparked by the police shooting of Mark Duggan. He died of a single gun shot wound to the chest according to a recent inquest. 

"Mark Duggan was killed by armed officers in Ferry Lane in Tottenham, north London, on Thursday after they stopped the minicab he was in to carry out an arrest as part of a pre-planned operation. An inquest, which began on Tuesday morning at North London coroner's court, in High Barnet, heard that the 29-year-old father of four died of a single gunshot wound to the chest. He was pronounced dead at 6.41pm on Thursday evening." 
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/09/london-riots-mark-duggan-inquest

I am sure most of us would sympathise with the death of such a young father. The wave of rioting that has since swept through the capital has all but silenced his death, with media attention now almost entirely focused on the destruction that has been wreaked on our capital since his death. 

While the initial protests were entirely justified, the subsequent rioting we have since witnessed has been completely disproportionate. Setting fire to buildings, looting businesses and causing millions of pounds worth of damage is wholly unacceptable.

Here is a BBC link showing the before and after images of several of the buildings torched by the rioters.

Seeing these images is saddening to say the least. The wanton destruction of so many buildings cannot be justified, and the rioters responsible should face the full force of the law.

We have enough CCTV evidence to convict great numbers of these people, so I wait with baited breath so see what happens next.


Thursday, 28 July 2011

The problem with cultural relativism

Sashimi

I've heard this phrase many times when discussing various issues online, particularly with regards to the the foods and cooking practices that different cultures may have. There is a school of thought that seems to think that there are no wrongs with what different cultures may eat, that no one should be able to judge a culture that is different from their own. 

Up to a point, this is true. However, this phrase is usually thrown into the mix when the subject relates to a food that involves unnecessary cruelty. For example, I came across several videos on Youtube recently depicting sashimi.  Sashimi consists of very fresh raw meat, most commonly fish, sliced into thin pieces. Or to be more precise, it consists of fish that has been partially cooked, and is served while it is still very much alive. Indeed, it is considered an insult to serve the fish if it is dead. While the partly cooked fish is still gasping for air and in terrible pain as it will have been cooked and sliced (but not killed), the diner will tear slices of the flesh from the fish with chop sticks to eat it. 

In one particular video, sashimi is served to a family in a restaurant. The family can be heard laughing while they prod the fish with their chopsticks. As soon as the fish opens it's mouth to gasp for air, they can all be heard applauding. Happy that their meal is still alive, they all begin to tear pieces of the fish's flesh to eat it.

While everyone who eats fish understands the importance of having it fresh, there is no excuse for going to such extreme lengths to keep the fish alive while you eat it. Serving up a fish that was killed just moments before will be just as fresh as serving up a live one.

Sahimi is just one example of a cultural difference in eating habits. 

The people who defend such cruelty under the guise of cultural relativism obviously think that people who are critical of such eating habits are simply being intolerant, ignorant and unable to understand that different cultures should be free to have their different ways of preparing, cooking and eating their food. And I agree that they should, but not when it involves such unnecessary cruelty. 

Eating an animal while it is still alive and gasping for air can never be considered anything else but barbaric. 

The term cultural relativism when it relates to food is simply a byword for cruelty. Like so many other phrases such as collateral damage, it hides the real issue behind benign words. 

There is never, ever an excuse to cause your food unnecessary pain or suffering. 

I fully understand that different cultures have their own ways of cooking and eating their food. I lived in Singapore for three years and frequently used to eat at their hawker centres where the food is cooked in full view of you. 

For those proponents of cultural relativism, maybe you would also like to defend female genital mutilation and female suppression too. After all, are they not too just differences between cultures. Some things are just plain wrong, and we shouldn't be afraid to say so, whether it be a different culture to our own or not. We need to be critical in our thinking, and see things for what they truly are, and not hide behind cowardly phrases such as "cultural relativism". 


Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The psychiatrist and the bartender

 

Bartender
Ever since I was a child I've had a fear of monsters under my bed, so I went to a psychiatrist for help.

'I've got problems.  Every time I go to bed I think there's a monster under it. I'm scared. I think I'm going crazy.' 

'Just put yourself in my hands for one year,' said the psychiatrist. 'Come talk to me three times a week and we should be able to get rid of those fears.' 

'How much do you charge?' 

'Eighty pounds per visit,' replied the psychiatrist.

'I'll sleep on it,' I said. 

Six months later, I met the psychiatrist on the street.  'Why didn't you come to see me about those fears you were having?' he asked. 

'Well, eighty pounds a visit three times a week for a year is an awful lot of money!  A bartender cured me for £10.  I was so happy to have saved all that money that I went and bought a new car.'

'Is that so!' with a bit of an attitude he said, 'and how, may I ask, did a bartender cure you?' 

'He told me to cut the legs off the bed! - Ain't nobody under there now!' 

Forget about those psychiatrists, go and have a drink with your bartender!

 


What I like about Google+.....so far!

Google
Google launched their new social media application recently called Google+. At the time of writing it's still in beta testing (a testing term that refers to the final cycle of testing before an application is released to the public) and access to it is by invitation only (from someone who is already usng it). Here's my Google+ page.

As it is still in beta testing it's still therefore subject to change, so anything I I write may be subject to change too.

My initial thoughts of it are very positive. I won't write an in-depth analysis of it yet, as it's far too early to do that (it's still in beta testing and has not been rolled out fully yet). I thought I'd simply list my initial thoughts in no particular order.

  • It has a very uncluttered and simple interface, making it easy to use and learn.
  • The concept of Circles is a neat and simple way to categorise the people you interact with. You create Circles called Friends, Family, Mad People etc, and you add people to them. You can then read and interact with just those Circles. This is a simple way of sharing your personal content with those you trust. 
  • Deciding who sees what content is easy in Google+ (friends, family, work colleagues, your crazy followers etc). In Twitter your updates are seen either by just your followers (your account is locked down) or the whole of the Internet. A very crude approach to privacy. In Facebook, allowing specific groups of peope to see your updates and to interact with just those groups of people is fiddly to do. So Google+ wins hands down in the privacy department.
  • No one other than you sees your Circles, and only you know who is in them. So feel free to create Circles called 'My crazy friends' or 'Annoying work colleagues'. Only you can see them.
  • All my interactions with other peolpe are NOT posted on my Google+ profile as they are in Facebook. I've never really understood this, and think it just promotes stalking. I know you can remove them, but the default behaviour is to post everything that I do onto my Facebook wall.
  • I don't get bombarded with invitations or updates involving Mafia Wars, Farmville etc. I don't play games and don't want to see them in my feed. 
  • You can add anyone to your Circles, whether you know them or not (like following someone on Twitter). So if your favourite celebrity, athlete, singer etc is on Google+, then add them to (an appropriate) Circle.
  • Google have launched a Google+ button. This is similar to the Facebook Like button, only it works across the entire Internet. I've added the Google+ button to my web site and both my blogs to allow people to publicly Like them. What's the betting that Google will use Google+ in their search engine rankings? Content with higher Google+ votes will rank higher than those with lesser votes (all other things being equal).

I haven't used Huddles or Hangouts yet, so I'll post another article as a follow up when I've got round to using some of the other features of Google+. 

My impressions so far are positive. It's simple, easy to use and very powerful. In it's first two weeks it had 10 milion users. 

Should Facebook and Twitter be worried? Only time will tell.


Monday, 4 July 2011

The dark truth behind slaughterhouse walls

T9350018-beef_carcasses_hanging_in_an_abattoir-spl

Do you think slaughter houses are humane places, where the animals are treated with a certain level of compassion before they are slaughtered? That the people that work there show them respect? The following quotes are taken from slaughter house workers, and are sourced from the book Slaughterhouse by Gail A. Eisnitz.

The next time you eat meat, you are condemning an animal to a life of neglect, pain, suffering and a barbaric and tortured death at the hands of sadists.

"I seen them take those stunners – they’re about as long as a yard stick – and shove it up the hog’s ass… They do it with cows, too… And in their ears, their eyes, down their throat… They’ll be squealing and they’ll just shove it right down there."

"Hogs get stressed out pretty easy. If you prod them too much they have heart attacks. If you get a hog in a chute that’s had the shit prodded out of him and has a heart attack or refuses to move, you take a meat hook and hook it into his bunghole [anus]. You’re dragging these hogs alive, and a lot of times the meat hook rips out of the bunghole. I’ve seen hams – thighs – completely ripped open. I’ve also seen intestines come out. If the hog collapses near the front of the chute, you shove the meat hook into his cheek and drag him forward.”“Or in their mouth. The roof of their mouth. And they’re still alive.”“Pigs on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them – beat them to death with a pipe."

"These hogs get up to the scalding tank, hit the water and start screaming and kicking. Sometimes they thrash so much they kick water out of the tank… Sooner or later they drown. There’s a rotating arm that pushes them under, no chance for them to get out. I’m not sure if they burn to death before they drown, but it takes them a couple of minutes to stop thrashing."

"Sometimes I grab it [a hog] by the ear and stick it right through the eye. I’m not just taking its eye out, I’ll go all the way to the hilt, right up through the brain, and wiggle the knife."

"Only you don’t just kill it, you go in hard, push hard, blow the windpipe, make it drown in its own blood. Split its nose. A live hog would be running around the pit. It would just be looking up at me and I’d be sticking, and I would just take my knife and – cut its eye out while it was just standing there. And this hog would just scream."

"I could tell you horror stories… about cattle getting their heads stuck under the gate guards and the only way you can get it out is to cut their heads off while they’re still alive."

"He’ll kick them [hogs], fork them, use anything he can get his hands on. He’s already broken three pitchforks so far this year, just jabbing them. He doesn’t care if he hits its eyes, head, butt. He jabs them so hard he busts the wooden handles. And he clubs them over the back."

"I’ve seen live animals shackled, hoisted, stuck, and skinned. Too many to count, too many to remember. It’s just a process that’s continually there. I’ve seen shackled beef looking around before they’ve been stuck. I’ve seen hogs [that are supposed to be lying down] on the bleeding conveyor get up after they’ve been stuck. I’ve seen hogs in the scalding tub trying to swim."

"I seen guys take broomsticks and stick it up the cow’s behind, screwing them with a broom."

"I’ve drug cows till their bones start breaking, while they were still alive. Bringing them around the corner and they get stuck up in the doorway, just pull them till their hide be ripped, till the blood just drip on the steel and concrete. Breaking their legs… And the cow be crying with its tongue stuck out. They pull him till his neck just pop."

"One time I took my knife – it’s sharp enough – and I sliced off the end of a hog’s nose, just like a piece of bologna. The hog went crazy for a few seconds. Then it just sat there looking kind of stupid. So I took a handful of salt brine and ground it into his nose. Now that hog really went nuts, pushing its nose all over the place. I still had a bunch of salt in my hand – I was wearing a rubber glove – and I stuck the salt right up the hog’s ass. The poor hog didn’t know whether to shit or go blind."

Please think about how your choices affect the lives of other animals, which have NO choices. It is not just your choices that matter. No animal should ever have to endure such wanton cruelty and torture. 

Consider going vegetarian or vegan. Make compassionate and ethical choices. 


Friday, 1 July 2011

Wow...what a ride!

What_a_ride

"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming– “Wow! What a Ride!” "

Hunter S. Thompson 


Wednesday, 15 June 2011

My experience of the Nightrider 2011 charity bike ride

I signed up for this event last August, and finally rode it on Saturday June 11th this year. The Nightrider is a 100km charity bike ride around London at night. This year there were 1000 riders taking part. The groups of cyclists were being set off from 11pm onwards in groups of 50 at 6 minute intervals. I would be in the 11:18pm group.

There were two start points. You could start at either Crystal Palace or Alexandra Palace. I opted to start at Crystal Palace.

I was riding the event to raise awareness and funds for Arthritis Research UK as I have friends and family who are affected by this condition. I had to raise a minimum of £175 in order to take part in the event. At the time of writing I have raised £275, so I've exceeded the target. My aim is to raise £300, so I still have some more fund raising to go.

I would be staying over in London at my friend Don's. He lives in Chatham, Kent, which is a 45 minute drive from Crystal Palace. The plan was for me to leave Kettering at around midday on the Saturday and get to Don's for around 2 - 2:30pm. I arrived at just after 3pm thanks to a massive queue for the Dartford Crossing.

I spent the afternoon / evening relaxing, as I had a long night ahead. Don and his son Tom would be meeting me at various points around the course to cheer me on, and would meet me at the finish to take me back to Don's.

I arrived at Crystal Palace in plenty of time. I was already wearing my cycling kit, as well as a hi-viz waistcoat with my number attached to it..I got the bike and myself ready, and checked everything over to make sure it all worked. Even though I had already done this earlier in the week, I still wanted to do a last minute check of the equipment.

I could see lots of other cyclists getting ready. There was a vast range of ages taking part. There were all sorts of bikes too, from tandems to tourers to urban hybrids to racing bikes. All types of bike were well represented.

I chatted away with Tom and Don until my start time arrived. As each group was set off into the night, there was a massive cheer from everyone. The atmosphere was excellent. Everyone was very friendly, and I got talking to lots of other cyclists as I waited for my start time.

As the 11:12pm starters set off, I made my way to the start area to be set off. Eventually 11:18pm arrived. With another cheer from the crowd (including Don and Tom) I set off into the night with my allocated group of 50 cyclists.
The route is marked throughout the entire length of the course with yellow signs on which is an arrow indicating the direction of travel. Mostly these were easy to spot, but at times were tricky to find, or were a bit misleading. This could have been down to people moving them earlier in the day for mischief, or maybe they were just not always very well positioned. I would recommend that all signs are placed in the same position at all junctions i.e. to the left. Sometimes they were positioned in the middle of a junction or to the right of the junction, so quite often you would be looking around for the sign as you approached a junction.

Not long after leaving Crystal Palace I cycled past Don and Tom who had stopped nearby to give me another shout of encouragement. The first control stop for refreshments was Tower Bridge, but I didn't bother stopping, I decided to just keep riding. It was about midnight and was still very busy.

Throughout the event I rode with many different groups and riders, everyone was very friendly. I missed a few of the direction signs, but thankfully I hadn't gone too far before I realised. In the dark it was not always easy to spot the signs, and this is where riding in a group is so much more beneficial, as there are many more eyes to look out for direction signs. With a background in Audax (long distance) cycling, I never assumed the rider at the front had seen the signs, and I would shout out the direction as soon as I knew which way to go.

I was amazed by how busy London was. Throughout the ride, the streets of London were almost permanently busy, particularly in the city centre. Even at 4am, the city centre was heaving. It was full of revellers, taxis, cars, rickshaws and buses. Often the revellers would just walk into the road right in front of you, as they were clearly the worse for wear. It was not always easy finding a safe line through the traffic and people, and I had a few near misses with some of the traffic, including a few near misses with taxis.

It was moments like that where I wasn't sure how an inexperienced cyclist would cope. Riding in busy traffic during the day is one thing, but at night where there are greater numbers of drunk revellers, rickshaws and taxis must be very daunting indeed.

It was wonderful seeing the London Eye looking resplendent in the small hours, it truly looked spectacular. Riding through Canary Wharf was the same. All the buildings looked lovely lit up by the night lights.

At one part of the ride, we rode past a smart looking gentleman standing next to a Mercedes. As we rode past he informed us that the woman in the back of the car was not wearing any knickers, and would we like to get in.

I was glad of the coffee at the half way point, as this perked me up. It was 2:45am, and a hot drink was in order.

I met Don and Tom at the next control which was the Museum, which also looked amazing at night. As I rode into the control I had a quick bite to eat, and set off with another group of cyclists who were leaving.

I was quite surprised by how poor many of the road surfaces are in London. For a major city which is hosting the next Olympics and trying to encourage greater cycle use (in part thanks to Boris Johnson and the Barclays sponsored bike scheme), I was disappointed that so many of the roads were in such disrepair. My initial worries at the start of the ride of getting lost or nodding off and falling off my bike were replaced by the possibility of getting an impact puncture from hitting a pot hole at speed.

As we rode past Big Ben we were lucky enough to hear it chime 4am. This part of the ride took us past Westminster. By this time dawn was breaking and it was getting light. I rode past a group of cyclists who were lost, and who informed us they had ridden round in a circle and didn't know which way to go. I told them they were on route and should follow me if they wanted. They didn't take me up on the offer.

As I neared the finish at Crystal Palace, Don and Tom drove past and shouted more encouragement. Just before the finish, there is a long drag up to Crystal Palace, but nothing overly taxing. Many of the other cyclists were suffering however, and I soon rode past several of them.

I eventually rode into Crystal Palace and the finish. It felt great to have ridden such a brilliant event. Not everyone can claim to have cycled 100km around London at night. It's certainly a fantastic event, and one which I would recommend to any cyclist who is confident riding in busy traffic and feels comfortable riding with other cyclists in the dark.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Jack Schitt

Jackschitt2

For some time many of us have wondered just who is Jack Schitt?

We find ourselves at a loss when someone says, 'You don't know Jack Schitt!'

Well, thanks to my genealogy efforts, you can now respond in an intellectual way.

Jack Schitt is the only son of Awe Schitt. Awe Schitt, the fertilizer magnate, married O. Schitt, the owner of Needeep N. Schitt, Inc. They had one son, Jack.

In turn, Jack Schitt married Noe Schitt. The deeply religious couple produced six children: Holie Schitt, Giva Schitt, Fulla Schitt, Bull Schitt, and the twins Deep Schitt and Dip Schitt..

Against her parents' objections, Deep Schitt married Dumb Schitt, a high school dropout. After being married 15 years, Jack and Noe Schitt divorced. Noe Schitt later married Ted Sherlock, and because her kids were living with them, she wanted to keep her previous name. She was then known as Noe Schitt Sherlock.

Meanwhile, Dip Schitt married Loda Schitt, and they produced a son with a rather nervous disposition named Chicken Schitt. Two of the other six children, Fulla Schitt and Giva Schitt, were inseparable throughout childhood and subsequently married the Happens brothers in a dual ceremony. The wedding announcement in the newspaper announced the Schitt-Happens nuptials. The Schitt-Happens children were Dawg, Byrd, and Horse.

Bull Schitt, the prodigal son, left home to tour the world. He recently returned from Italy with his new Italian bride, Pisa Schitt.

Now when someone says, 'You don't know Jack Schitt,' you can correct them.

Sincerely,

Crock O. Schitt

 


Tuesday, 24 May 2011

RUSH - Time Machine Tour

For anyone that knows me, or for regular readers of my blog, it is no surprise that I am a huge fan of the band Rush. I have already written two blogs about them: Rush - the biggest band you never heard of and Heroes - Rush.

When I first heard last year that Rush were going to tour the UK, I knew I wanted to go and see them. I've seen Rush twice in concert before. I saw them on their Show of Hands and Presto tours. They were amazing on both occasions. They are one of the best live bands I've ever seen. They are faultless musicians who can play the most complex music to a live audience without missing a single note.

I arranged to go with a friend of mine. I bought two tickets last November for the LG Arena in Birmingham (formerly called the NEC Arena). The date of the concert was 22nd of May 2011. I'd heard from their web site that they would be playing the entire album Moving Pictures from start to finish, as well as playing old and new material. The concert would therefore be around 3 hours.

As the concert got closer, I still hadn't received the tickets, and was getting a bit worried. In the week leading up to the concert, I rang the ticket agency, and they assured me the tickets were on their way. On the Friday before the concert (which was set for the Sunday) I received an email from the ticket agency informing me they would not be able to supply the tickets after all. To say I was frustrated, gutted and disappointed is putting it mildly. I rang up my friend and gave him the bad news.

On the off chance, my friend rang up the venue and asked if they had any tickets left. By a stroke of good luck, they had a handful left! He immediately purchased two of them, and a ticket for parking too.What a result!

We arrived at the concert in plenty of time. We parked up, and then went  for a bite to eat and a drink. There were plenty of people wearing Rush T-shirts from various tours. We made our way to our seats on the Showdesk, which is just above the restaurant. We had plenty of room to sit or stand up, and had a good view of the stage too.
As is usual for Rush, the concert started with a video projected onto the back screen. It was a short comedy spoof about a band manager (played by Alex Lifeson - guitarist) trying to get his band a gig by impressing the venue promoter (played by Geddy Lee - bassist and vocalist). Listening in on the conversation was the unimpressed bystander (played by Neil Peart - drummer).

Eventually, the band came on stage and erupted into Spirit of Radio, to a huge roar from the crowd. At last, our heroes were on the stage! No matter how many times I hear this song, I never, ever tire of it. It is timeless, and judging by the reception from the rest of the crowd, they agreed with me.

They then launched into other favourites including Time Stand Still, Subdivisions, Marathon and Freewill, as well as new tracks including BU2B from the as yet unreleased Clockwork Angels album.

One thing I noticed was an air drummer to the far left of the stage (to the right from the perspective of the band). Rush concerts are the only time where you'll see far more air drummers than air guitarists. What struck me about this particular air drummer was that he air drummed during every single song, and his hands were perfectly mimicking Neil's hand movements (which is not easy as his style of drumming contains many difficult segments and notes, making even air drumming difficult). Not only that, but he was hitting the correct drums and cymbals. When Neil hit a right hand cymbal, the air drummer would be hitting a cymbal to his right. He was perfectly shadowing Neil's every movement, even to the songs that were unreleased. My guess is that he must have been a roadie, or even Neil's drum technician. His enthusiasm and abilities to perfectly shadow Neil were impressive.

There was a short interval, where my friend and I went for a  quick drink. We got back to our seats just as the band were about to come back on stage. When they did, they played the entire Moving Pictures album, including tracks they have never played live before such as Vital Signs (the track was deemed to difficult to play live). They opened the second half of the concert with Tom Sawyer, then straight into another of my favourites - Red Barchetta. Vital Signs was the last track from Moving Pictures.

As the band closed the track, Neil launched into his drum solo - Love 4 Sale. Each tour, Neil adjusts and changes his drum solo. Although I recognised sections of it, much of it was new. Unlike many drum solos (where the drummer just hits everything as hard and as fast as they can), Neil's solo is a musical set piece, with different parts of the kit played in different styles and tempos. Throughout the solo, the cameras gave us close up video shots of him (overhead and side cameras), and played these onto the huge back screen so we could see him playing. His level of technique is phenomenal, and well beyond the skill of most drummers. Most can only sit back, be amazed, and hope to be one tenth as good as Neil.

Other songs played included Closer To The Heart (which my friend betted me they wouldn't play), Caravan (from Clockwork Angels) and 2112. They closed the show with Far Cry.

Naturally, they got huge shouts from the audience to come back and do an encore, which they did. They played La Villa Strangiato (which I've never seen them play live before), Working Man (a rock track which they updated to include a reggae intro - which worked remarkably well) and finally Cygnus X-1.

The concert was amazing, which is what I would expect from a band of the caliber of Rush. As soon as the album Clockwork Angels is on sale, I'll be buying it!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Gonk and Dork go to a bicycle race





Dominic's bit (Dork)
The latest edition of the Lincoln GP was Sunday 8th May. I've been to watch this bike race several times in the past and have always really enjoyed it. I first watched it in 2004 when David O'Loughlin won it for Team Recycling. It's changed slightly over the last few years, but in its current incarnation it consists of 11 laps each of 8 miles around the city. In previous years it started from the Yarborough sports centre, this year it started from Breedon Drive, just off Burton Road.

As a spectator's event, this race is difficult to beat. You can stand and watch anywhere along the course, and while Vicky and I walked from the start at Breedon Drive over to the Castle Square, we took up several vantage points as the cyclists came past. The cobbled climb of Michaelgate is always packed. This is a steep, leg sapping 1 in 6 climb up to the Castle Square. You can get a great view of the cyclists as they ride up the climb, as they're obviously not riding at full race pace. It never fails to surprise me how quickly they can ride up this steep climb.

I had my daughter Holly with me, and so eventually myself, Vicky and Holly all made it to the Castle Square, where we took it in turns cheering on the riders at the top of the climb on Michaelgate, and looking round the shops in the Castle Square in between laps.

The field consisted of 160 riders, representing over 30 different teams, including international teams and riders. I was particularly excited at the prospect of seeing Magnus Backstedt, a former winner of the extremely tough Paris-Roubaix (nicknamed The Hell of the North). He was riding for Team UK Youth. Each time he rode past me, I shouted out his name. He's quite simply a legend!

In the end, it was Scott Thwaites from Endura Racing who took the honours at the finish, and a very well deserved win it was too. Chapeau Scott!

Here is the full list of winners, and here are some photos I took of the race.

Vicky's bit (Gonk)
This was the first cycling race I have ever watched. If I'm honest I thought it would be a bit boring - but I actually really enjoyed it! Luckily I did not have the issue of where to park - as the start line was only 2 minutes walk from my house! As the race started and the cyclists came speeding out of Breedon Drive, there was a group of about 20 of us there to cheer them on their way. My friend Rob joined us for the first 45 minutes of the race too.

From Breedon Drive, we walked along Burton road to the roundabout just in time to catch the cyclists about to complete lap 1. We then walked briskly down Yarborough hill to the top of Long Leys road, which is a fairly steep climb about halfway through each lap.

I was sat on the edge of a traffic island so I could take some good photographs, and as the riders came up the hill they were maneuvering in and out of the traffic cones which were right in front of me. One of the Irish cyclists was headed straight towards me but veered off to the right at the last second. I know he would never have hit me, but I let out a bit of a yelp!

This is where Rob left us, and me, Dom and Holly walked up to the Bailgate. Again, our timing was great as we made it there in time to see the riders pass on on lap 3. We then made a very important stop to the ice-cream parlour :-)

From here we made our way through Castle Square towards the Drury Lane/Michaelgate area. I was amazed to see how quickly the cyclists were making their way up this steep, cobbled climb - I hate walking up it myself on my way home from town!

In between laps we walked around the few Bailgate shops that were open and alternated our viewing location between Castle Square, Michaelgate and Drury Lane. We also bumped into several more friends we knew - Pip, Jethro, Vicki and Glen - and enjoyed watching several laps with them too.

As the final lap got underway, we made our way to the finishing line in Castle Square, which was packed! I didn't see Scott Thwaites cross the finishing line but I heard a roar of cheering erupt from the crowd.

I really enjoyed the Lincoln Grand Prix and would definitely watch it next year if I get the chance to.