What Would You Do?

This is an awesome post from a fellow blogger, very thought provoking, and very worth your while reading it!

Hundred and Counting

A few years ago when I worked as a psychologist I encountered a case where a little girl had been sent along with a group of other refugees from somewhere in Africa to Finland. She was just a tiny little girl, and traveled without her mother. That is a long and dangerous trip for anyone to take, and much more so for a toddler.

Later, the mother joined her daughter in Finland using the family reunification law. One of the other psychologists in my team said: “To send a toddler such a long way, with practical strangers to look after her! How can anyone do that? I would never do that.”

Well, I would never do that either. I have two small children and I wouldn’t dream of letting anyone with whom I am not thoroughly familiar take my kids anywhere, let alone to an unknown fate to the other side…

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Music moves me

Don’t you just love it when you hear a piece of music and it makes the hairs on your arms, neck, back – whatever – stand on end? And isn’t it amazing that the same piece of music can do it over and over again? This morning, on a whim, I put on Babylon’s Burning by The Ruts. Bang! Instant thrill, which intensified as the main guitar riff kicked in. A forgotten gem, but it’s going on my regular playlist from now on.

It set me thinking about other tunes that do the same, and wondering if it’s the music itself, or whether it’s a memory associated with the music, that is the cause of the whole hair-standing-on-end thing. For example, if I hear Go For It by Stiff Little Fingers (SLF) or The Dambusters March, I’m immediately transported to the times I’ve been waiting for SLF to come on stage, and I get severe goosebumps. So that’s definitely the memory – though both pieces of music are thrilling in their own right. 

But then, if I hear something like the bass solo in Blondie’s Atomic, or John Paul Jones’ burbling bass line in Ramble On, that’s definitely the music. Same when I hear Hendrix playing Hey Joe. Is the response to them because they’re all well known, classic pieces of music that are deeply embedded in a common consciousness?

I dare say I shouldn’t forget classical music, and the fact that it can have the same effect. 1812 Overture anyone? Or Grieg’s Morning, Holst’s Mars, Rodrigo’s Concierto De Aranjuez or Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake are all incredibly powerful pieces, in different ways. 

And it’s not just the instruments that can have the effect. Cousin Jack by Show Of Hands, Dylan’s The Hurricane – even Flower of Scotland – not only give me goosebumps but can also move me to tears. Lyrics are so important, and I think that every human emotion has been captured by someone at some time – you just need to want to go and find the songs that “speak” to you. 

You ARE worthy

From yesterday’s entry about other blogs, I thought it worthwhile expanding on one of them a little.  I’ve chosen this one because I’ve been undergoing a lot of changes and spent a lot of time in reflection and introspection recently. The post I read talks about things that don’t define your self worth, and I suggested that the number of friends or contacts you have on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn shouldn’t be used as a measure of self worth either.

If you care what other people think you will always be their prisoner

– Lao Tzu

It can be quite exhilarating to get friend requests on various social media sites.  Who doesn’t want to be wanted, to be liked, to be needed?  But if you stop and think about it, how many of these people do you actually know?  How many have you spent time with, talking to, establishing any kind of friendship?

I’ve been in the same boat – probably still am – but every so often I take some time to go through the sites and look at who is there and think about what I really know about them.  LinkedIn is a classic – the number of times I look at it and go “who is that?”, because I added them way back in time when I worked on a specific project for two weeks, and have never seen or heard from them since.  I then go through the process of removing them as friends / contacts.

Facebook can be similar, and here I’m going to be a bit hypocritical: I have people on my friends list that I’ve rarely, if ever, met but I keep them there for one main reason.  I play bass, I want people to come to gigs, so I have some friends on Facebook who organise gigs, some who play in other bands (and therefore might want my band to play with them) and some friends who go to a lot of gigs and I want them to come to mine!

No-one can make you feel inferior without your permission

– Eleanor Roosevelt

When I started this course, I stated that I wanted to find out how to build a following, to encourage people to read what I wrote.  That sounds a bit contradictory to what I’ve just said though, doesn’t it?  I’ve found that as I look at reducing my contacts in some sites, I’m now actively trying to expand my contacts elsewhere, through blogging. At first I was writing purely for me, in order to get the thoughts in my head into some semblance of order: now I find that I eagerly seek out new followers and comments from people like you, dear reader, who I may never meet.  What’s that all about?  Is it a case of still wanting to be loved and needed, or is it an inner extrovert pushing their way through?  I guess those are questions only I can answer.

Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are

– Marilyn Monroe

So, just because you’ve whittled down your friends list to only those you actually know to speak to, who are indeed friends, does that make you a bad person?  Not at all!  You are who you are, be all you can be. You are unique, you are awesome, make the most of all that you are.

A word about other bloggers…

Today I’ve spent some time reaching out to other bloggers and commenting on a number of their posts. That means spending a lot more time reading and less writing, but I think that’s part of the fun of blogging.

The first article I read was this one, https://nihongojapango.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/and-i-still-have-over-half-my-life-to-live/. I was drawn to the description of ageing with friends over decades, and of taking up new challenges, living life to the full. What struck me was that the writer had climbed Kilimanjaro in their 40s, as did I. Hopefully you’ll like the article too.

I then headed over to http://melissaintransition.com/2015/09/11/15-things-that-do-not-define-your-self-worth/. I’ve been going through a number of changes myself over recent months, and the items on the list resonated with me. Saying that, I noticed some gaps in the list – can you think of any others?

Next up was https://sophiasramblings.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/the-scottish-borderlands/. It’s more or less from my neck of the woods from when I was growing up, so it was lovely to hear someone else’s take on countryside I recognise and love. The photos were great too.

Finally I checked out https://dreamingofbigger.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/books/. I’m an avid reader and it was interesting to see that I’m not the only one who struggles to finish some books! Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky took me months, mostly because I initially struggled with the long Russian names, with variants and nicknames, and I found the sentences were very long – sometimes covering more than a page.

It’s interesting to see the various topics people choose to write about, and that’s one of the things I like about the blogosphere – it’s so diverse and you can get lost in it for hours if you wish. There are so many creative writers, thinkers and photographers out there, it’s quite humbling.

Cracking Kraków

In the summer of 2014 I had the pleasure of visiting Kraków for a few days, and managed to secure hot and sunny weather for the duration of the visit too, at no extra cost! For those unfamiliar with it, Kraków is in the south of Poland, with the Tatra mountains visible on the southern horizon – or at least, they are if you’re a few floors up!  The suburban sprawl isn’t too bad – on my first visit a couple of years previously a taxi from the city centre to the airport took about 20 minutes in rush hour – hardly what you would call congestion! The city itself is centred on a medieval market square which has over 800 bars, cafes and restaurants around it: some are in the basement, some are upstairs, some are indoors and some are outside. The old city is surrounded by high walls, which are in really good condition, and the old moat around them has, for the most part, been converted into parkland with shady seats, fountains and walkways.

At the edge of the walls, to the south west, is the impressive Wawel castle. It stands high above the river Vistula, Poland’s longest. It’s easy to walk round the castle, for some of the time on the ramparts, and it’s also possible to tour round the inside, though I didn’t take that opportunity.

I decided on a very full day for my first day, visiting Auschwitz in the morning / early afternoon and the salt mines at Wieliczka afterwards. I did both as part of the same trip with one of the many tour companies, and deliberately chose to fill my afternoon / early evening with the mines in order to lift my spirits slightly after the Auschwitz visit.

I’ve mentioned that part of the trip in earlier blogs (see here), but the more detailed version is here. On the hour long drive to Auschwitz, we were shown a film of the history of the place, including footage from within the camp during the war and some which was taken after the Russians had liberated the site. Some of the film was very harrowing, suffice to say that I had to look away a number of times.

On arrival at the town of Oświęcim (Auschwitz in German), we were taken to Auschwitz I, which has the infamous wrought iron gates with Arbeit Macht Frei above them. Our tour took about an hour or so, and in that time we were guided round a number of the buildings there, including the site of the first test of Zyklon-B gas (on Russian prisoners) and the Black Wall in the courtyard between buildings 10 and 11 where people were shot. The effect of rooms full of discarded shoes, or suitcases, or hair, or glasses or prosthetic limbs etc is difficult to describe, save to say that most visitors were silent and lost in their thoughts. The end of this part of the visit was marked by seeing the gallows at which the former camp commandant, Rudolf Höss was hanged in 1947, and by walking into the original gas chamber and past the two ovens which were used in the early part of the war.

We were then bussed about 10 minutes away to the Auschwitz II camp, known as Birkenau. On walking from the car park to the main gates, the sheer scale of the site is slowly revealed, with row upon row of identical wooden barracks inside a seemingly never ending fence. I have to confess to being very light headed and giddy as the enormity of the site struck me. After walking through the stone archway of the main building, where the railway tracks still run, the platforms where so many people were sorted into those who would die immediately and those who would live, albeit for a short while, came into view. Our tour turned right and visited two of the barracks buildings, one containing the wooden bunks that the prisoners were crammed into, the other was the washroom: both were shocking in their scale, their lack of facilities, in their sheer cruelty – it must have been a living death. We then made our way up to the platform, then further on to the edge of the forest where the four crematoria had been. These were blown up as the Russians neared the camps, so all that is left is rubble, but their size was not difficult to see. At this point the tour ended and we headed back to the bus: there was a very sombre mood and not much talking on the trip to Wieliczka, which is a small town just south of Kraków.

People have been mining in and around Wieliczka for hundreds of years, starting with salt water springs and gradually burrowing deeper. The mine was still working as a commercial venture until recently, and there are over 280 kilometres of tunnels in the mine. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We entered the mine down 378 wooden steps to a depth of about 65 metres (over 200 feet), and began the tour. We visited various chambers and gradually descended until we were about 135 metres underground, walking about 3.5 kilometres in the process. The mines were pretty much a consistent temperature. I’d read that it would be cold and had a long sleeved jumper with me, but didn’t need it. The various chambers and passageways had all manner of carvings and tableaux, all painstakingly made from the salt that surrounded us. There were also a number of churches / chapels, including the famous Chapel of St Kinga, complete with salt chandeliers and frescoes carved from the walls. Towards the end of the tour we visited a chamber which has hosted the world’s lowest hot air ballon flight and bungee jump, before heading for a number of underground souvenir shops and cafes. Getting to the surface was relatively easy – a 30 second lift brought us out about 10 minutes from the mine head where we’d gone underground a couple of hours earlier. It was a fascinating visit, though I’d say that those with limited mobility or ability to stand for long periods might not be able to do it. It definitely helped my mind get back on an even keel after the horrors of Auschwitz earlier, and meant I could have a pleasant evening back in Kraków.

The following day was spent walking through the Jewish quarter, exploring the old streets, before crossing the river and visiting Oskar Schindler’s factory, made famous by the film Schindler’s List: I’d watched that for the first time, and read the book that inspired it, Schindler’s Ark, shortly before making my trip. Being able to relate the place to the camps from the day before, and seeing photos and artefacts of people I’d recently read about enhanced the experience, one which I found to be very emotional. It was another fascinating tour, though only a third or so of it was related to Schindler’s actions, with the remainder being a history of that part of Poland both before and after the Second World War. That was an unexpected treat, and very enjoyable. On the way back to Old Town, I passed through what had been the Jewish Ghetto, though very little remains. The Memorial Chairs which stand in Plac Bohaterow Getta are a very moving reminder of what had once been there.

On the whole, I got a lot out of both days, but it wasn’t until weeks and months later when the enormity of what I’d seen and the human cost started to sink in properly. I’m still affected by it today, and it reinforced the views I’d held beforehand that genocide, hatred, torture, xenophobia, bigotry and all other forms of discrimination and subjugation were abhorrent and that we as individuals should do what we can to stop and prevent mistreatment of one person by another, whether by single people, gangs, nation states or whatever. We should not be afraid to stand up and be counted, and to speak out when we see wrong being done.

It’s all about the bass…

I’ve always been “into” music and, despite a brief time in my teens when I wanted to be drummer, bass lines are what really hook me. It’s no coincidence that my favourite playlists include great bass, and even the songs that I want to play in a covers band also feature bass heavily. For years I’d loved the playing of the likes of Ali McMordie from SLF, Tim Commerford from Rage Against the Machine / Audioslave and Donald “Duck” Dunn from Stax records / Blues Brothers, and I wanted to be able to play what they did.

Saying all that, I didn’t actually start learning till I was in my late 30s, so I had a lot of catching up to do. Somehow I managed to find time to practice for 60-90 minutes four or five nights a week, and an hour long lesson every weekend. My practice and lessons always followed the same sort of structure: scales, homework (generally new pieces from various tutorial books) and finally jam / playalong. 

  • Scales etc are boring to do, but so important, as they are the basis for any new lines you want to be able to play
  • Tutorial books – especially those with playalong CDs – are also good, particularly if you want to learn multiple styles eg funk, reggae, rock, jazz etc. I worked through the three books written by David Overthrow – they’re brilliant
  • Jamming to a drumbeat with my teacher – he played guitar – using lines I’d learned in the lesson or improvising new ones, and playing along with music CDs helped build confidence and complemented the styles I’d been learning

One of the brilliant things about this approach was learning about new players too. Jack Bruce from Cream and John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin came to my attention, as did TM Stevens. One of my playalong sessions was in the style of TM and, to be honest, I’ve never managed it. Check out this video and you may see why. 

I love the bit around 1:45 in when he’s introducing himself and has to stop talking, just plays then says “I’m back!”. That’s the result of a lot of practice! I’m going to keep trying, though I don’t practice as much as I used to, and one day I hope to be able to play at even 1/10th of the speed he does!

Fairy pools? Fairy nough! 

People probably wouldn’t believe me if it wasn’t for the photographic evidence I’ve accumulated, but the first half of my holiday in North West Scotland has been bathed in glorious sunshine all the way through. Everyone I talk to up here tells me that the weather has been atrocious all summer: looks like we’ve got the best weather of the year! 

Yesterday took me to the Isle of Skye, and was the first time I’ve ever set foot on one of Scotland’s islands. Rather than use the bridge, we took the ferry from Glenelg to Kylerhea: it’s the last turntable ferry still operating in the world, and has a maximum load of 4 cars! The crossing was quick and smooth, and in no time at all I was motoring up a narrow road with passing places to get out of the first valley. Cresting the hill, it felt like the whole of Skye was ahead of us, with the Cuillins in the distance. It was stunning! 

Our destination yesterday was the Fairy Pools in Glen Brittle – that’s where the featured image on this post was taken. I’d thought it would be a quiet spot, but there were a lot of cars parked up, overflowing from the signed car park. Lunch was had sitting on a travel rug looking down across the glen and up at the dark crescent of the Cuillins reaching high above us. That’s as close to perfect a spot as you could hope to find. 

The path to the Fairy Pools is well marked, and follows the burn (that’s a Scottish word for stream) up into the natural amphitheatre that is formed by the Cuillins. Even though there were a lot of cars, it didn’t feel like there were a lot of people there, and didn’t feel crowded. Rather than follow the marked path, Dee and I walked up through the stream, hopping from rock to rock, taking photos all the way. There are numerous waterfalls, with clear and deep pools in between, with the most incredible range of colours. Mother Nature very kindly allowed us to see what she wanted to share, but kept some parts secret and to herself. That’s the way it should be I think.  

After three hours of fun and exploring, we headed back to the car. Shortly afterwards we rewarded ourselves with a swift drink in the Sligachan Hotel. Unfortunately we weren’t able to partake of the whiskies on offer – and there were a lot! I’ll definitely go back to the Fairy Pools and will need to visit the Sligachan for a wee dram or two…  

The Cuillins rising above the Fairy Pools

The guy that speaks his mind

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