Songs in the key of life

I got to do something I almost never get to do last night. I was fortunate enough to play in a 12 piece big band ( I’m not sure if 12 constitutes ‘big’ but fuck it). It was in a field in Kent with 11 people only 1 of whom I’d met before. We had free food and a free bar and for the most part the sun was shining. As I said I don’t get to play with this many musicians on a gig that often but when I do I absolutely love it. As a guitarist it’s a joy not to be told to cover: the brass parts, the backing vocals, piano parts, string lines whilst at the same time fending off some pissed bloke who wants to get up and play Wonderwall with us.

festivalgirl

I want to say how much fun it was and how much I enjoyed it. But that doesn’t do it justice. The truth is; it was pant wettingly, ball bouncingly, head bangin riot, arse shakingly good fun. It was like having your arse tickled with a feather. We grooved, we rocked, we jazzed and there was even a rap. Any mistakes were quickly picked up or were brushed under the rug, no one noticed because we were cooking. There were no egos and no prima donnas. We were all there for the collective good. Making the songs sound great and making sure everyone left happy and a little sad that it was over.

With 12 in the band it meant that we all had to work less. That’s right, LESS. I didn’t have to worry about anything other than the guitar parts, as there was a piano and 3 part horn section. I didn’t have to worry about filling out the space. I just concentrated on sitting in the groove. The same also applied to the piano player. With 4 vocalists I didn’t have to worry about backing vocals, plus the singers as individuals didn’t have to worry about their voices getting tired. With a percussionist along for the ride this freed the drummer up to sit back and hold the groove down, which he did impeccably. The icing on the proverbial cake…trombone, sax and trumpet. Sprinkling musical magic everywhere we went.

It was a beautiful evening. 12 people coming together, unrehearsed, for the common good. We had jazz musicians who had studied in some of London’s finest schools playing next to musicians who couldn’t read a lick of music and who referred to musical parts as ‘the bit that goes doo de dee da da bat bat bum’. We had players that had toured the world with big name artists trading licks with people who still practice with the remnants of their children’s breakfast on their unwashed tee shirt. We were of different backgrounds. We were of different sexual orientation. But we were there playing for the song, not the individual. It is a testament to what can be achieved when like minded, focused and dedicated  people come together with a single goal in mind. And it was fantastic.  It’s a shame large factions of the world don’t adopt these principles. We have psychotic sociopaths vying for power and control at the expense of the rest of us. Carving us up into fractions, continuously pointing out our differences and forcing us to focus on our differences rather than our similarities. As part of my daily recovery from addiction, I meditate. It’s not something I profess to doing well or daily for that matter. But when I do I try to picture myself sitting crossed legged on the Moon, looking back at the earth. Watching it spin so elegantly. Gazing at the vast oceans. Watching the thunder storms in South America, the deserts of North Africa and the seemingly invariable rain in the U.K. One thing I don’t see…Borders. Flags. Countries divided by religion or race. Cities divided by sports team. Towns divided by popular talent shows. Because those divisions only exist if we let them. We and we alone have the power to eradicate them. Does that mean we should be held accountable?

I often get tarnished with ‘Left wing dreamer’ brush. I have a belief that the world could be a better place if we all put our differences aside and worked together for the common good. The trouble is we all have a different opinion of what ‘Good’ is. It’s subjective. I get tired of writing it; us coming together. I want to find something less trite, something more inspiring….but when it boils down to it that phrase sums up what I’d like to see. Less murder, less poverty, less war, more education, more love. And that’s good

Maybe you think I am a dreamer. Maybe you think that we can’t come together. Maybe you think that our division runs too deep and we will forever be a race split. But it’s out there, it is possible, I’ve seen it. It happened to me last night.

 

Getting started..

I’m torn. I’m torn between subjects that I passionately love. I’m currently taking an online course run by the Arizona State university in Astronomy. I have burning passion for astronomy, physics and all things science. The only trouble is that my Maths is shit. Now, at 35, I wish I had paid more attention in maths class instead of daydreaming about what knickers Sandy Blake had on and  how do I get my hands in them.

I also love literature. I buy books constantly. I currently have, to name a few, titles by Orwell, Dickens and Twain sitting on my shelf not being read. It’s criminal. Not to mention a few casual books on social engineering, card tricks, a killer shark and an almost finished book about Abraham Lincoln and the American civil war. My problem is:

I want to know about everything. But the more I learn, the more I realise how little I know about a great many things.

earth-from-space

So I signed up to re take my GCSE/O level/High school maths. I start in October. £45. Bargain. One of the questions I have to answer to is “Where do you want this qualification to take you?” I’m tempted to answer “To the edge of the universe” but feel I might raise a few eyebrows considering I can’t do long division without a calculator. So I’ll probably stick to “Further education”

As a musician I always have the urge to set my guitar up and record. I find the hours fall away when I’m engrossed with recording. I’m very lucky, now that my children are at school, that I have a great deal of time on my hands during the day. But I fear when asked what I did today ‘Recording ideas for songs’ might be misinterpreted as ‘fuck all’

I enjoy writing. Blogs, stories, articles you name it. I haven’t written for a long time and it gets me all knotted up inside. I find it soothing, a bit like hoovering really. It releases anger and stress. So I need to do more of it.

I love to learn. I love learning new things. I love to explore. I like to say yes. Saying yes invites the possibility of new things, experiences and people into your life. Saying yes opens the door into an otherwise undiscovered world. I don’t know where I stand. I feel like I’m in the minority. I feel most people don’t necessarily want to learn new things. New skills. New lessons. I feel most people just want to reinforce what they already know. Even if it’s untrue. Maybe I’m talking wildly out of turn or maybe I’m bang on the money. I just don’t know.

All I know is I want the world. I want every taste, every sound, every emotion and every experience I can before my short time on this ball of water is over. It won’t start tomorrow because it’s already started.

Regardless of what atmosphere we are living in the conservation of knowledge must be accelerated. For without it we suffer in stagnation.

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known” – Carl Sagan

 

The Down’s Delusion

As I read Richard Dawkins apology for his remarks regarding Down’s syndrome/Abortion I could hear a sharp intake of breath through gritted teeth from the Down’s Syndrome community. I could then feel the eyes…. waiting for my (re)action.

I have been a great admirer of Prof. Dawkins for a few years now and It was with great sadness that I read his apology letter.

Richard-Dawkins-007

My wife and I have a two year old daughter, Chiara, with Down’s. During the pregnancy we didn’t know anything of her condition but my wife and I always said that if we found out that either of our children had Down’s (Or any other condition) we wouldn’t opt for an abortion. I could tell you that having a child with Down’s is no different or how much joy she brings to us. I could go on for hours about how much we love her and the wonderful  dynamic she has added to our family. While all of the above are true and self evident I feel they miss the point slightly.

Prof. Dawkins remarked that “if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare”

While I can understand Prof. Dawkins views I certainly do not agree with them.

Is it immoral to purposely give birth to a child with Down’s citing the child’s welfare as your reason? I would have to say no. You could go one further and ask…

Is it immoral to give birth to a child citing the child’s welfare as your reason? After all any child could grow up and be diagnosed with a range of conditions later in life. Autism, Multiple sclerosis, asthma, etc. Of course the answer is no. Having children is a risk, you don’t know what the future will bring.

With the advancement of medical science foetus’ can be diagnosed with a variety of conditions as well as being put in a high risk category for other conditions. Would someone opt for abortion for the latter? Sadly I feel some would. Termination before diagnosis. Execution before trial. Sounds very totalitarian doesn’t it? Something I know Prof. Dawkins is fervidly against.

Since having Chiara I can say that we are happy, as is she, and there is very little in the way of suffering. Except when she’s hungry and she turns into a right little moo cow. Yes I will have to care for her until the day I die… But the same applies to her sister and any future little Loves that may pop along for the ride. Parenting is job that’s 365 days a year, very few breaks, long hours and it lasts until the day you die… and the pay is shit! The parameters have shifted only slightly with extra Doctors appointments, physiotherapy and numerous classes. As for what happens to her after we’re gone… I guess we’ll have to just wait and see what life throws at her. But she will grow up in a stable, happy and loving environment and she will be given every opportunity to live an independent life.

And finally Prof. Dawkins I consider you a champion of the secular movement. Helping society to shed the cloak of religious dogma and bring the truly wonderful world of science and nature to the people. Bringing a shining light to the darkness. I truly hope that one day I can do the same for you… You’re welcome for tea anytime.

 

 

What makes us human???

This is a question that is being asked by Radio 2 and they have had a great deal many artists, writers, scientists and clergy attempt to answer it.

So I thought I’d give it a go.

So what does make us human? To me the answer is in the arts. In music, poetry, art, drama and dance. The arts are what set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. When you see an original Dali or listen to an orchestra sway their way through J.S Bach, the words of T.S Elliot or when Pearl Jam opened up their secret London show, to which I had front row view, with ‘Sometimes’. To me the emotions that are stirred are what it is to be human. Are achievements in science and technology are extraordinary but if we were ever to be taken back to the dark ages we would still have our art.

I read a story from a former SAS Sergeant who said when they were on operations behind enemy lines they weren’t allowed to talk, they had to communicate through various hand signals, eat cold army rations, go to the toilet in a bag and live in a ditch filled with water, sometimes for up to a month. All this so they could live as close as possible to the enemy without detection. He said that when they got on helicopter/jeep to take them back to base they would fill their faces with chocolate and tea then they would sing…He said the singing brought them back ‘home’ it lifted their spirits immeasurably. Similar stories from groups of people who have been stranded a rife. Singing songs around camp fires to help keep morale up, documenting your ordeals onto paper.images

I don’t think anyone would argue that some of the finest poetry came from some people living or surviving in the most horrific conditions, Wilfred Owen’s  Dulce et Decorum Est immediately springs to mind.

Art is intrinsically engrained upon our psyche. From our earliest beginnings we drew, we danced and we sang. From Aboriginal cave art to Pink Floyd’s Sonic landscapes our means of expression have always been and will always be our most spectacular achievement.

Air gun or egg hunt?

So last weekend saw the arrival of Easter. To me Easter has never been a big deal, even when I was a kid. To me it was two weeks off school and a shitload of chocolate. I’m not a believer in God or Jesus and I believe the bible to be nothing more than a collection of stories that in the course of 2000 years have succumbed to Chinese whispers.

However, the origins of the Easter celebrations don’t lie in Christianity. Originally Easter was the pagan celebration of spring, new life and the dawn of the harvest. Which is why eggs are the flagship symbol of easter. Eggs representing new life. It wasn’t until the third century AD that the Roman emperor Constantine set a date to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus bringing it inline with the pagan celebrations.

So, on Easter Sunday I let it be known on Facebook, where else, of this historical fact. Needless to say it ruffled a few feathers, prompted some people to remove me and generally it caused a bit of a stink. Seven days later I am still asking myself ‘why?’

Why would anyone be that upset by an historical event? Why would anyone care what I think about their festivals? Did hurt their feelings? Maybe. Did they cry? probably not. So what’s the big fucking deal? The above isn’t my opinion, it’s not something I’m musing over, it’s a fact. It happened. But of course whenever someone brings fact to a fiction fight they are often told to stop being so disrespectful and I shouldn’t cause such offence. Well to the people I upset that Sunday, I apologise. It was never my intention to upset you. But if you are upset by historical facts, if they do cause you great offence then I have to say that’s not my problem…it’s yours.

But the truth be told. I enjoy it. I enjoy ruffling the feathers of Christians. I enjoy debating over the origins of life, evolution or morality. I get a small kick out of it and that is my problem.

Easter

Shortly after the chocolate eggs were dispensed with we were treated to another magical day…St George’s day. Again I’ve not been one to stand on high with my hand over my heart signing our national anthem with a union jack waving majestically in the background with a great sense of pride. Why? Truthfully I think when it all boils down to it, it’s nothing more than a pile horse shit that someone made up. A day reserved to celebrate something that happened to me, by accident, at birth isn’t something that needs celebrating. It certainly doesn’t require me to feel proud about it and I don’t get all emotional at the sound of our national anthem. Not to mention that St George himself wasn’t even English. Not even British. He was Greek born to a Palestinian and lived in what is now Israel.

I’m proud that I’m a father. I’m proud that I’m a husband. I’m proud that I played guitar in front of 50,000 people at London’s Hyde Park and I’m especially proud that I fitted the skirting boards in my living room with no carpentry experience whatsoever. They were all good days and at the end of each one of them I stood back and admired my handy work.

I’m not proud to be English just like I’m not proud to be 5′ 11″ or have brown eyes. Pride should be for things that you did on your own, maybe with a little help from Youtube. I can’t do much these days without checking a Youtube video or two. I am happy to be English  and that’s the way it should be. Happy to be English. Happy to have brown eyes. There is too much unnecessary pride these days.

“Pride goeth before a fall”

 

Thinking traps

Imagine that there is a lethal disease which has no cure. The disease is contagious but only affects 1 in 10,000. You’re worried so you decide to go to the doctors to be tested. The doctor informs you that the test is 99% accurate (In other words it will deliver a correct positive or negative result 99% of the time) and should take about two weeks to get the results, which will be posted to you. Two weeks pass and a letter drops onto the mat. It’s from the clinic. You open the letter to discover that you have been diagnosed with the disease.

Review the above scenario and ask yourself the following question:

What are the chances that you have the disease? Please come to a decision before reading on

If you of the opinion that you are very likely to have the disease you would be wrong. That’s right, WRONG!
If you think that it’s very unlikely that you have the disease congratulations, you’re right. Give yourself a pat on the back and you may be excused and I’ll see you next week.

Now, for everyone that’s still here let me explain. There was probably one small, but vital, piece of information that maybe you hadn’t factored in. The deadly disease only affects 1 in 10,000 people. So right from the start you see you only have a 1:10,000 chance of catching it. So let’s say that 10,000 people go for blood tests only 1 person will be correctly diagnosed as having the disease. But about 100 people will be diagnosed as having it when in actual fact they don’t. Because the test is only 99% accurate that means that 1% of the 10,000 (100) will receive a false positive. So you are about 100 times more likely to be in misdiagnosed category.

The problem above isn’t just a clever game. It has the potential to be a life changing event that could have disastrous consequences.

Let’s try another:

I pull out 5 cards, at random, from a shuffled deck 3 times and I note the results:

1) 2 of clubs, 5 of spades, Jack of hearts, 7 of Diamonds and 4 of clubs

2) 10 of Hearts, Jack of Hearts, Queen of hearts, King of hearts and Ace of hearts

3) 6 of Spades, 7 of spades, 8 of spades, 9 of spades and 10 of spades

Which of the three sets is more likely? Be honest.
My gut tells me that the first sequence would be more likely. Any poker player will recognise the Royal flush and the Straight flush which came out second and third. But the truth is they are all as probable as each other. It’s only the randomised sequence of number one which leads us to believe that that is more probable. If there are any mathematicians reading this I would love to know what the odds of pulling anyone of these sequences out are. 500,000: 1 is my guess.

Much like lottery results. You are just as likely to have the winning numbers be: 1 2 3 4 5 6 as you are any other combination. About 14 million to 1. And just so we’re clear, no, somebody does not have to win. Just like a coin will always have a 50/50 chance of landing on heads or tails. Unless it’s in the hands of a hustler who can control the coin.

Cognitive illusions can be fun games. But they can also highlight the kinds of thinking traps that we all fall into; which in turn can lead to dangerous thinking and give life to ideas that can have deadly consequences. Please turn your head towards New York which is currently going through a measles outbreak not helped, I’m sure, by the anti-vaccination movement.

Just as you cannot do very much carpentry with your bare hands, there is not much thinking you can do with your bare brain.

Anyone wanting to look more into thinking can’t go far wrong with Daniel C Dennett’s book “Intuition pumps. Tools for thinking”

A letter to my 13 year old self.

Tim,

Where do I begin.. I guess by asking how you are getting on with the SNES you got for your birthday? I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but…You don’t complete Super Mario Bros. 3.

I also wanted to say that you are fucking amazing, not enough people tell you that. I wanted to give you a few pointers, things to focus on and things to try. You will have to trust me and you will have to believe me when I say that this is for the best. I don’t want to tell you too much as you reading this letter has already disrupted the space time continuum.BACK-TO-THE-FUTURE-notes--007

1. Get rid of that awful dance music you’re currently listening to. You’re only listening to it because everyone at school listens to it and you’re trying to fit in. Below are a few albums that you should go and buy:
* Nirvana – Nevermind
* Pearl Jam – Ten
* Pearl Jam – Vs
* Oasis – Definitely Maybe (Should be out later this year)

* Jane’s Addiction – Nothing shocking
* Jane’s Addiction – Ritual de lo habitual
* Blind Melon – Blind Melon

These will get you started. It will take you a while before you fall in love with them, but stick with it. These are some of your favourite albums, you still listen to them to this day. I also suggest anything by Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.

2. Get a guitar, electric if possible. There is a store in Sandhurst called In tune music, they will help you out. Try to get a Stratocaster or a Telecaster. You have a penchant for music and this will give you a great head start. You’ll also need to find a teacher, again the music store can help you. As your birthday has just passed and Christmas in nearly a year away you will have to pull your finger out and do some work. I estimate you’ll need about £100. The half term holidays are next week so you can go to work with Dad. Clear up the yard, clean the vans, sweep the router room. There’s plenty to do.

3. Pay attention in school. This is a big one. You have the capacity to ace all your exams, I know because right now I’m re-taking GCSE English because we only got a C. I’m on course for an A and to be quite frank, it’s easy. I know you daydream a lot, this is not entirely your fault. You aren’t interested in learning because you are disengaged. I don’t know how I can help from where I am, but I would say speak to all your teachers. There are some great teachers there. Remember Mrs Lawson? You also have a love of science, you just don’t know it yet. Ask your science teachers to recommend some books on evolution and astro physics (planets). Speak to uncle Nigel and Dad about literature. George Orwell and Mark Twain are great places to start.

4. Don’t worry about not fitting in. Everyone has a place and there is a place for everyone. Everyone at your school is just as confused as you, even the teachers. Football isn’t your strong suit and you know it. Leave it for Steven and Russell. When you start to discover your musical abilities football will soon fade away and you’ll be much happier without it, trust me.

5. Speak to your Grandparents more. This is something I deeply regret. They have lived very rich and interesting lives and have a lot to offer the world.

6. Don’t worry about growing up too fast. Enjoy your childhood. Play outside more. Your imagination is one of the greatest tools you have, use it often.

7. Get yourself a deck of Bicycle cards and learn how to do a few tricks. Forget that crappy magic set we got for Christmas all those years ago. You’ll need a book, a good one. The Royal road to card magic is one of the best.

8. Ask more questions and question what you’re told.

9. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. In fact I encourage it. We only learn when we make mistakes. So jump in with both feet.

10. This is the most important one. When ever life gets you down or you feel angry or sad. Remember that you are a talking ape living on a piece of rock travelling through an ever expanding universe. Alternatively try this…Close your eyes and imagine yourself flying up. You pass through the clouds, through our atmosphere and out into space. Look at our planet. Look at it’s vastness, look how it spins. Think of all the billions of people going about their day. What ever problems you may have, its not the end of the world. As a species we are quite insignificant.

Well that about covers it. I wish you all the best with your teenage years, they are truly amazing and you have some great times ahead. Oh if you could copy write a short story about a young wizard called Harry Potter who learns magic at a school called hogwarts and has two friends called Ron and Hermione, I’d really appreciate it. When you’re 23 or so you’ll see an advert for an American singer looking for a guitarist, make sure you go to it.

Best wishes

Tim aged 33