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!

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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

Roots – a new blog name

Given that I’m born in Uganda, with a Norwegian mother and Scottish father, and I live in England, I think I can lay claim to being a multinational. I’m not quite a polyglot – my Norwegian is very rusty, but my English isn’t bad.

I have travelled a bit, more than some but not as much as many. When I’m out and about I like to get my walking boots on and explore the landscape. I love being up high, so I can see how places are connected to each other and how they are related by geography. It’s a great way of connecting places in my head.

Alliteration in language has always fascinated me, so the title for my blog had to roll off the tongue. Hopefully I’ve explained how I came up with it!

As for the tag line? I first read it in Mad magazine many years back, attributed to General Santa Ana after the Alamo. Winston Churchill also said it in the 1940s. But the biggest reason for using it is that it appears on a plaque in Auschwitz. I visited there last year and it had a profound effect on me. It’s a lesson we should all learn and should all do our utmost to ensure that sort of thing never happens again: unfortunately genocide, religious and ethnic cleansing, hatred of those “not like us” still goes on and has to stop, for all our sakes.

Blogging 101 – new beginnings

I’m just starting a course on blogging, and will be publishing here regularly over the next few weeks. My first assignment is to explain why I’m here and what I want to get out of the course, so here goes.

I initially set my blog up as I had a number of streams of thought on things like travel, humour, music, personal change etc and found that writing about them was cathartic. I had thought it would be very structured but that’s not the way it’s worked out!

The main reason for signing up for the course was so that I could learn more about the best ways of getting into the habit of writing regularly, and also learning how to build interest and followers. The latter two are important to me because I have played in a number of bands in the past and I want to be able to develop a fan base for the next one I join and to encourage more people to go to see live music generally.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy this journey I’m taking – I’m very excited about it 😀

Mountains of calm

Think of a mountain. Think of a mountain that stands on its own. Think of a mountain that stands on its own and can be seen for miles all around. Chances are you’re thinking of Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in the world, with its snow capped, flat looking summit and perhaps elephant or giraffe on the savannah below. I don’t know whether it’s that image, or the fact that I spent the first four years of my life not too far away in the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon (properly called the Ruwenzori), but when my friend Andy and I were talking about doing something significant to mark turning 40, there was only one possible choice for me. We had to climb Kilimanjaro, one of the Seven Summits (to be frank, probably the only one I’ll ever climb).

I’m sure that if you’re interested, you’ll find plenty of accounts of the climb, of the vegetation and landscape: this isn’t one of them. To cut a long story short, I failed to summit when I went with Andy, due to altitude sickness: I went back three years later and was probably the last tourist to reach the summit on the day (my cousin Chris had been to the summit and was on his way back down when I got there).

What I found fascinating was that when Andy got back down, he said “never again”; Chris came home and signed up to go to Everest Base Camp (after that trip he said it would be a long time before he went high altitude trekking again); and me? A month after I got home it was announced that my work were looking for people who wanted to climb Kili (I’ve been told you can only use the abbreviated term if you’ve been to the summit) the following year, for charity. I was sorely tempted, and would still love to go back.

The mountain is huge. Once up out of the savannah, rainforest and moorland (on my trips that took the best part of a couple of days), you leave most of the vegetation behind and arrive on a moonscape. Black volcanic rock and dust everywhere, with lighter coloured well worn paths crossing the landscape, and giant lobelia, mosses and lichen for company. And this is the bit I still remember most, which permeates my thoughts and dreams. Walking around the main summit cone of Kibo for several days as part of acclimatisation. Walking up and down the valleys which run down the sides, some of which are dry, some have a little water – that’s when it hits you.

You are tiny compared to the bulk of the mountain. You are flesh and blood, it is rock. It’s been here for thousands of years, you will be on earth (comparatively speaking) for hardly any time at all. I hesitate to use the word spiritual, but the realisation of how insignificant I was in terms of size and presence was a revelation, and brought about a massive feeling of respect, awe, and humility. It also brought a huge rush of calmness, of acceptance, of peace.

And yet, humans are doing untold damage to the mountain, its glaciers, its animals and its vegetation. And there’s a real conundrum at play too. The local people rely on tourism to provide money and jobs, and in order to get there the tourists tend to fly. But the glaciers on the summit have shrunk, which means the streams lower down have less water, which makes life for those who live around the foot of the mountain much more difficult, which means they need to rely more on jobs from tourism related businesses. And the cycle continues.

A final point. Would I go again? Yes! And again? Yes! If only to recapture that feeling of my true place in the grand scheme of Mother Nature i.e. a mere speck on the surface of our planet, but I’d like to find a way of doing it which didn’t contribute to the damage being done.

What are backups, when and why are they needed?

As I’m keeping this simple, I guess I should start by explaining what a backup is, and why it’s necessary. (Apologies to those who know, but if my blog item on Patching was Security 101, then this is surely part of IT 101!)

A backup is simply a copy of one or more files kept on a different device than your working version. You need one so that if the original file is lost, damaged or deleted, then you won’t have to recreate it from the beginning. Some files are irreplaceable e.g. family photos in the digital age (because we no longer get film negatives with our snaps) so we need to be careful.

Here’s a question: do you backup your home PC, laptop, smartphone, tablet etc on a regular basis?

  • Those of you using the iCloud or something similar – well done. (As an aside, and not part of this discussion – have you thought about how secure the data is there: after all, you don’t control who has access do you?) You probably just need to worry about how often you back up to that cloud storage and whether you have an Internet connection at the time you need it.
  • Those using iTunes or similar – that’s great, your device is backed up, but what if the place you backing up to e.g. your home PC dies?
  • As for the rest – do you use a thumb drive or external hard drive of some sort?

Another question to consider is: how often do your files change? If you have a document which you work on regularly e.g. accounts for a social club, it may be something you need to backup regularly. If it’s a treasured family photograph, or an invoice for an online purchase, the file won’t change but you should really have at least one backup copy.

There are many backup solutions available. Perhaps the simplest is to use an external hard drive or a thumb drive (also called a memory stick, USB drive, pen drive etc) and simply copy the files you want across to it. Make sure you keep the drive in a safe place (not next to your computer though: if the computer goes up in flames during a house fire, having files copied on a device sitting next to it probably won’t be any use) and, if the data on it is sensitive you may want to encrypt it. (Hmm, I think I’ll need to write a separate post on encryption!)

As you can infer from above, there are many cloud based services like the Apple iCloud or Microsoft’s Office 365 where you can hold all your files and not have to worry about messing around with thumb drives etc. Personally, if I was going to use them for some of my own sensitive files, I’d ensure I used some of their more secure services like two factor authentication.

That sounds scary and technical, but it’s basically a combination of a password and a code generated on a separate device (as they say in the trade, it’s something you know and something you have, which “proves” you are you). That device may be software on a phone, a pin code that’s sent to your phone or email, or it may be a physical thing like a fob which your bank provides: I have one which looks a bit like a small calculator which I have to slide my bank card into, and it gives a code which I have to type in on the website before I can access my account details.

There’s another time when you should seriously consider making sure you have backed up your data properly, and if you don’t do it at any other time then you should make sure you do it when … upgrading your device and / or the operating system software on it. Apple tend to force the backup if you use iTunes, because that’s the first thing they do before upgrading the software. Given that right now many people will be eligible to upgrade their Windows version for free (if it’s a personal device which is compatible and running specific earlier versions, it’s worth making sure your essential files are backed up before you start.

The guy that speaks his mind

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