Moravian Music – Deep Yearning

As ever, the music of Eastern Europe has the power to make one want to jump up and dance….

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I have long known the music of various Eastern European countries, but the music of Moravia had somehow slipped past my attention.   So this morning while I was hunting for some music from Albania (as one does!) I noticed a piece of music that said it came from a Moravian film, and was based on the music of the cembalo,  So, as I was sitting peacefully, drinking my morning cup of coffee, I thought “why not check this out?”   So that is what I did, and discovered a whole new sort of music to enjoy and explore.

So to start us off, here is the piece of music that I stumbled upon.   Apparently part of the sound track of a crime film (about which I know nothing), and has that typical sadness that so much music from this general area of eastern Europe seems to have.   Beautiful and sombre music I think you will agree..

Probably best to listen to this music with your back to your computer, so that the totally irrelevant images do not distract you from the lovely and moving music…   Just a suggestion.

So, there you go.   A good sound I hope you will agree.

However, to show that not all music from the eastern edges of Europe is sad and depressing, here is a rather more cheerful bunch of happy musicians singing their little hearts out apparently in the corner of a car park or someone’s garden…

All rather odd, but entertaining nonetheless I find.

But interesting to see how depressed all the people concerned seem to be… I wonder why?   Actually it is a very odd video, but I imagine that if you happen to speak Moravian it is all totally clear and understandable.   But from our point of view, it is the actual music that matters, and for me, it is both charming and curious.   Seems to wander around a lot.  But that choir of little girls… dear God,, what was that about?    Hmmm….

Anyhow, on to other matters now………………..

This is definitely the real thing, a totally Moravian bit of folk music… no small girls swaying about or serious unsmiling village elders here, but delightful music that makes one want to leap to ones feet and start dancing.. great stuff!!

Tomorrow I shall be back again, with some other equally pointless waffle about music, silly videos or who knows what?

Singapore – Colonial Memories

I had the curious experience of living in Singapore while it was still a British Colony… Here are some of my memories of that time

Back in the late 40’s and early 50’s of the last century, we lived in Singapore, which in those far off days , was of course, still a British Colony, which in the case of the Malayan peninsular (what is now called Malaysia) meant it was ruled to Britain’s advantage by lower middle class Brits, and in the case of Singapore (which was still part of Malaya), we Brits pretended to rule it, but it was in fact ruled, as now, by the Chinese.

It was a strange place to live in back then, an atmosphere of suffocating Petit Bourgeois attitudes, tremendous racialism – the poor old Indians being at the bottom of that particular heap, a very unpleasant guerilla war (more about that below), and annual racist riots in which the whites were the target of mass hatred and killed if possible by hordes of infuriated Muslim Malayans.

A scary Anniversary:

This last was the result of a sad story.   When the Japs invaded Singapore, the whites all left as hurriedly as possible, all was chaos obviously, and in this chaos, a small Dutch baby girl got left behind, but was found by a Malay family, who took her in and cared for her.   Obviously, being Malay they were Muslims, so naturally, the little girl was brought up as a Muslim.

All was well until the Japs were chased out of Singapore, and the little girl was discovered by the European authorities, and it was decided that she should be sent to Holland to be brought up as a Dutch girl (even though I believe her parents were never found).

So over the protestations of the Malay family who had looked after her during the war, this little girl was sent off to Holland, and put into a Catholic convent orphanage, and brought up further as a good little Catholic.

This infuriated the Malay community in Singapore and the rest of Malaya, so every year on the anniversary of the removal of this little girl, there were terrible riots in which gangs of angry Malayans rampaged around, smashing any European objects they came across, and killing any Europeans they could catch.  Scary times.  Not least since the cops there were almost all Malay, and thus sympathised with the rioters, and looked the other way.

A Guerilla War:

As I mentioned above,there was also a pretty serious guerilla war going on in the jungle of the Malay Peninsular at this time as well.

This was being reported as a “Communist Terrorist War”  (those were the bogey men of that period, same as the ISIS now).   In fact the origins of this particular war had nothing to do with Communism, but was caused by the duplicity of the then British government – sound familiar?

What had happened was that when the Japs were on the point of kicking the Brits out of Malaya, the Brits recruited a number of Chinese and armed them and asked them to stay behind in the jungle and make life difficult for the Jap occupiers, in return for which, the Brits promised that on their return to Malaya (how about that for arrogance?), they would pay the Chinese soldiers much fine money, give them land to farm and generally look after them.

So these faithful Chinese stayed in the jungle, and with great suffering did exactly as requested.

The Brits duly came back, and the Chinese came out of the jungle and asked to have their promised payment.  Reasonably one might think.  Sadly,the Brits kept putting them off.

So after a couple of years of prevarication on the part of the Brits, the annoyed Chinese said damn you, turned around, grabbed their guns and went back into the jungle and started shooting Europeans.

This is when the Chinese Communists stepped in and made the battle their own.  So the origins had nothing to do with communism, but with broken promises.  Also familiar?

An Unnerving Experience:

One small result of this war for me was finding myself in hospital in the bed next to a guerilla fighter who had been condemned to death by the Brits.

I was in hospital for a minor complaint, but it kept me in hospital for a couple of weeks in a public ward which gave me time to get to know this guy a bit (for complex reasons I could speak a fair amount of Cantonese so he and I could talk).   He had been captured by the British army, and then tried and condemned to be hanged, but owing to his years in the jungle, he was in very bad health, so the Brits felt he was too unhealthy to be hanged!!!  I know, sounds insane, but I promise you it is true.

So he was bunged into hospital to be fed and made healthy again – and once he was in good shape, they were planning to take him out and hang him.

So there he lay in his bed next to mine, with a heavily armed Sikh soldier guarding him 24 hours a day, being fed on vitamins, good meals and all manner of antibiotics to get him healthy enough to be hanged.

We became quite good friends before he was taken away to be killed finally.

Made one hell of an impression on me I can tell you – I was about 9 years old at the time.

Probably I shall write more about my various experiences living in the final days of the British Empire – it was interesting to say the least!

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If you experienced the British Empire in full swing, do share your experiences with us here.

Casey Curran – Curiously insect-like Sculptures

Casey Curran, maker of weird and strangely endearing kinetic art.

I stumbled upon the work of Casey Curran the other day, as a result of a friend ( a real one, not a Facebook one) posting one of his videos on their Facebook page, and was truly taken with his work.

As you will see in the following videos, his “machines” have a curious delicacy  about them, and on first glance seem to be alive, but very quickly that feeling fades away and one becomes aware that one is looking at an incredibly delicate machine, one that replicates in its own way the vastly speeded up life cycle of a plant.

This first video from his website shows very well what it is I mean as I think you will agree once you have seen it.

I am not sure if the music is simply a sound track for the video or if you actually hear music when the piece is being played in a gallery.  However that may be, I think this video demonstrates very well the work of this extraordinary artist.   The machinery that makes it happen is almost as much fun as the art work itself – though to be honest, I rather assume that it should be seen as a whole, and no separation between the moving, and the machinery that drives the movement.

As it is all made from bits of twisted metal wire, this obviously makes it move in a slightly jerky fashion, but I don’t find this any sort of a problem in fact, for me it merely strengthens the feeling that it is alive – though I expect this feeling is made stronger by seeing the work on a video rather than in the flesh as it were – lends it a sort of stuttery time exposure effect that we are used to seeing on TV documentaries.

That last one was worked by some sort of motor, but a lot of his works are simply provided with a hand crank, also made from relatively thin wire – not sure how that would bear up under over enthusiastic use – which gives the machine a very jerky movement, as you can see in the video below. Continue reading “Casey Curran – Curiously insect-like Sculptures”

The Death Of Creativity – Two Looks At This Idea

Almost all education systems in the world are basically aimed at destroying as much creativity in our kids as possible – and then work carries on this dreary effect.

Sadly for some reason, just about every system for educating (training) our kids seems to be aimed at killing off any creativity or curiosity and originality in them – And then our adult lives (or at least those of the great majority of us) work and society sets about killing any of those qualities that might have survived childhood and our schools.

Here are two looks at this depressing phenomena, one in a moderately serious talk by Sir Kenneth Robinson at TED, and the other takes a different route to give us the same message, this one being a wonderful animated film by  Daniel Martínez Lara & Rafa Cano Méndez.

Both of these differing approaches to the same problem show us both the problem but also give us hope that there might be a way to avoid it, in that they also indicate that it does not have to be like that, it is possible to educate our kids in such a way that they retain their curiosity.   And that it is possible for adults to force their lives onto a different and unexpected track.

But it remains depressing, this attitude so well summed up in the Jesuit saying “Give me your child before he is 7 and he is mine for life”.    It is this sad fact that allows for the continuing existence of religions, political divisions and all the other dreary and negative influences on our lives.

So, here is the Robinson talk to start the ball rolling:-

And now, to see the same problem from a different perspective, here is the superb short film by the two Spanish animators “Alike”.

Well, I hope that one or both of these films got to you and gave you food for thought.

Any thoughts that either of them may have prodded you into thinking, please do share with us here.  Always interesting to hear what people think about things……

The Joys Of Owning A Paintball Centre – Ker-Splat!

Our last endeavour in France was a Paintball Centre…. Great fun, hard work and not at all violent – to my surprise

Some years ago we purchased about 20 hectares of French hillside in the western Vosges…. Heavily forested and rough.  The intention was to start a sort of School Field Centre, but for various reasons that didn’t happen, so we were left with all that land and no idea what on earth to do with it.

Then one fine day, a friend was wandering around in our forest with me and he casually remarked that it would make an amazing Paintball field.   Well I had never heard of Paintball, so I asked him what he meant.  He explained in a few succinct words what Paintball actually was.

Paintball is not Rambo!

To begin with we were far from interested, as the idea of a bunch of wannabee Rambos rushing around our land, shooting at each other didn’t really appeal one bit.   But he insisted that it was actually in no real way a sort of glorification of machismo  or of violence, but was actually great fun, and not at all aggressive – nor did it glorify war, killing and other totally nasty and unacceptable ideas.

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So we looked into it, and discovered that apparently he was quite correct.  All the stuff on the Internet about paintball seemed to emphasis fun, laughter and a sort of return to childhood playing of cowboys and Indians… “Bang bang, your dead, count to 100 and carry on” seemed to be the essence of the game.

There is a sort of version of Paintball called Airsoft, which uses replica firearms and shoot small plastic pellets instead of the rather large marble-like Paintballs.  This is a militaristic and to my way of thinking rather unpleasant “sport”.  People get dressed up in military uniforms and rush around with their replica AK47’s, M16’s and so on… Not for me.

So we looked into the sort of investment that would be needed to make it happen, and found that actually it was not an impossible amount of money, given that we already owned the most expensive part of setting up such a centre – the land itself.

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Anyway, to make a long story short, we decided to give it a go, raised the money we needed to get it started, with thanks to the several people who lent us the money we needed (Buying shares in the company we set up to run the Paintball field, which we named Aigle Paintball, which is French for Eagle Paintball), and set about creating the necessary battlefields in our land for people to play the game in.

This entailed a good local friend of mine called Jean Pierre and myself, armed with a variety of large chainsaws, cutting down any trees that were in the way to create enough clear forest for people to be able to see and shoot at each other, then using the bits of the trees we had felled to make a whole range of bunkers, walls to hide behind and other fun constructions all over the place.

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This was bloody hard work, as some of those trees were huge, and took a lot of cutting to reduce to a manageable collection of logs to build our bunkers with.  And we were of course, left with mountains of smaller branches and other tree type rubbish to dispose of.   But we had fun the two of us doing all of this.

Pondering how best to make a road for people to stalk each other along, and set ambushes and all the other jolly things that Paintball entails.

We created three large fields, each with a very different character, and between the three of them, we probably had about 5 or so hectares (about 12 acres) for the games. One was a large area of relatively gentle slopes and loads of trees, another was on the rather steep side of a hill, not so many trees, but enough to give cover, and the third was in a flat area of scrawny thin trees where we built two villages, and lots of tracks with street names and so forth, and my old Volvo station wagon as part of the scenery.

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During all  of this work, I became what is known as a Gas Master…  Sounds good eh? What it meant was that I knew all about filling the Paintball gun’s gas bottles with CO2 without causing explosions or freezing my hands to the bottles (CO2 when the pressure is released is extremely cold,) so as I filled the bottles they became covered in a thick layer of ice….   We also looked at a whole range of Paintball guns to find a type that were tough enough for rental work, as we supplied about 95% of the people who came and played on our fields with the equipment they needed – Face masks, breast plates (for women players), overalls, gloves ammo belts and of course, the Paintball guns themselves.

In passing, as parts of our Paintball fields were more or less beside either a road or a public forest path, we had to string up a 4 meter high net all along those sections of our Fields, so that no one walking on the public roads could get accidentally shot.   Wouldn’t have made for good relations with the community if we made a habit of splatting casual passers-by now would it?

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These nets were a high maintenance factor for us, as the very large wild boar and deer who shared the forests with us simply walked into them and dragged them down to the ground as they wandered around at night.

We also set up a firing range at the entrance to the main field, so that people could try out their guns before heading into the first game, seemed essential as the great majority of our customers had never seen a Paintball gun, let alone fired one before.

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The games themselves tended to last about 10 minutes each, and a session at our centre was generally about 2 to 3 hours play.  Playing a number of games in each of the three fields.

The games all had some sort of scenario – capturing the enemies flag, getting an important personage from point A to point B without him (or her) getting shot en route, Capturing the enemies fortress or village, simple attrition (“kill” all your opponents) and so on.  We were constantly thinking up new games, and ended up with several hundred distinct games to be offered to our customers.

Unlike most Paintball centres, we felt that as the people had paid good money to play on our fields, being shot shouldn’t be the end of that particular game for them, so basically we made a rule that when hit, you had to retreat about 50 metres, wait a few minutes, and then join in again.  This had two advantages, they got more play time, and this in turn meant they used more Paintballs, which is were we really made our money.  In the entry fee we included a couple of hundred Paintballs, which were generally used up within the first 30 minutes ( a lot of people simply sprayed Paintballs like they were shooting machine guns.  You could actually shoot off about 7 Paintballs per second with the semi-automatic weapons we rented them).  So my Marshals who walked around controlling the games also carried thousands of spare Paintballs with them, that they sold to people as they needed them… Not unusual for us to get through up to 30 000 Paintballs in a day.

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Women, soldiers and firemen play seriously, men like testosterone flooded idiots

During these games I observed some intriguing behavour patterns.   When we got groups of women with no men, they listened carefully as the rules of the various games were explained, gave thought within their teams as how best to achieve the set gaols, and then systematically went about it, following their agreed strategies.   Very careful and economic players by and large.  However, when it was a mixed group (men and women) the women tended to take a back seat and leave it up to the men to make all the decisions, and didn’t really use their brains at all.  Groups of men only, tended to be extremely macho, shoot like mad things, almost invariably fail to achieve the aims of the games as they were too busy being “men” to think very clearly – we loved them as they got through enormous numbers of Paintballs.  Occasionally we had groups of Firemen, Policemen or soldiers.  They mostly went about it all rather as the women-only groups did, carefully considering the aims of the game and doing their best to achieve them..

From our point of view, groups of professional infantrymen were the worst customers, as they hardly shot any Paintballs at all… Not surprisingly I suppose.

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The Game Marshals I used were all local young people, who turned out to be superb at this work.   They could control the players, ensure a very high level of safety (Paintballs go fast and if you got one in your eye or ear could cause serious injury) and ensured that the atmosphere was light and fun.  I had a pool of about 10 or so of these young people to draw upon, and was constantly amazed at how well they went about their work for us.

Great bunch of kids they were.

As I mentioned above, Paintball is essentially a childish game, and it was great to see the groups who came and played.  Most of them really hadn’t a clue what they were letting themselves in for, and were reasonably enough, very apprehensive about it all.  But invariably after the first game had been played, and the players gathered together to catch their breath and relax before the next game, they were all unwound, laughing at each other and totally at peace with themselves.  It turned out that Paintball is a very cathartic game, about the best way of relaxing a bunch of uptight and nervous adults I have ever seen.

However, I rapidly discovered that almost no one in that part of France had even heard of Paintball, so we had a very uphill battle on our hands to get people to become aware of us, and to come and try it out.

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We made slow but steady progress with this, but after some 3 years we were still only breaking even, and we had effectively run out of money, just as our collection of Paintball guns were ready to be replaced by new ones – This we simply couldn’t afford to do, sadly.  So we decided that we would have to do something radical to get our financial feet under us again.   What this turned out to be was Lotty getting a job in an international school in Luanda – the capital of Angola – and us heading off to Africa to make our fortunes there.

So, as one of the Dutch people in the village was looking for a place to set up a large scale bar and restaurant, we swapped our land and all upon it for three houses that he and his wife owned between them, and headed off to our next adventure, Angola.

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Do you have any thoughts on Paintball or Airsoft?  If you do, please do share them with us here.

 

 

 

I Learn To Scuba Dive – Bliss Is To Be Underwater!

On retirement, I discover the joys of scuba diving – Flying like a slightly intoxicated bird over the deep reef edge…. Such pleasure!

After we left Beijing, we moved to Cebu (One of the several thousand islands that make up the Philippines) where Lotty had been given a job at Cebu International School.   As by that point I was about 67 years old, we decided that perhaps it might be as good a moment as any other for me to stop working and to settle back into the joys of retirement.

So that is exactly what I did.

However, I was then confronted by the problem that most people who retire are confronted with – what to do with those hours when you are not asleep?

For me, this was no real problem, since when in the Philippines one dives.. Simple.

By diving, I of course mean scuba diving, not high diving or anything like that.

Apart from one dive I had had in France many years before, during which I spent the better part of my time under water on my own, except for a friendly octopus who was busy arranging his/her garden outside the old paint tin he/she had squatted in I had never scuba dived before.

Loads of time with snorkels, but not with airbottles.

So I was introduced to a fellow called Alfred Alesna, a local dive instructor – a superb natural teacher and simply splendid guy.   He had worked for many years as a professional working diver cable laying and similar, and was more at home under the sea than on the shore.

Anyhow, he was one of the many local Paddi qualified dive instructors, and he became the guy who introduced Lotty and I to the wondrous world of scuba diving.

Alfred in full diving fig, at Kon Tiki Dive Centre

In due time we both qualified as “open water divers”, which roughly means we had dived a handful of times and knew the basics of diving, how to change our bottles underwater, not get killed and so on, but were far from experienced divers, and in no way safe to be allowed to head off on our own to dive off the reefs around Mactan Island where we did most of our diving.

Poor old Lotty at this point was busy earning our livings, but I, oh joy, I was as free as a lark, and thus went diving several days a week…  Which as each time I went, I probably dived three or four times, I very quickly worked up to several hundred dives, and had reached the dizzy heights of being a fully qualified Rescue Diver – which meant I was one step down from being a Dive Master, which would have meant I could train other divers.

 

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My First Thresher Shark – So Elegant!!

However, that didn’t really appeal to me, so I stopped climbing the qualification ladder and settled down to simply enjoy my dives.

By this time I was also diving regularly with a bunch of cheerful divers who dived with Eric Vincent, the happy owner of Aquadive, one of the many dive centres there.

Continue reading “I Learn To Scuba Dive – Bliss Is To Be Underwater!”

Waltzing Matilda – Australian Song With A Great History

The song that sums Australia up for most people

Waltzing Matilda – the song everyone thinks of as soon as the word “Australia” is mentioned.   OK, what does it mean?  Where does it come from? And why is it so important in the Australian psyche?

I am not sure I can answer the last point, but I can have a go at answering the first two and probably a couple more in passing.

But before I start to discuss its history and significance, here is a very standard performance of it by Slim Dusty to give you a taste of what I shall be explaining and playing to you in this post.

This is the version that everyone knows – there are a few other versions as I shall show you in the course of this post.

But where did this song come from, and why is it so popular?   Both good questions, the first I can answer, the second?  No idea why it has become such a popular song, representing Australia both for us here in Australia and for people all over the world when they hear it.

OK, it was written in 1895 by a sort of hedgerow wandering poet and singer Banjo Paterson in the   Queensland town of Winton where he was gently flirting with the daughter of one of the local land owners,  Christina Macpherson.  He wrote the words, and she wrote the music – well actually that isn’t really true, she used an already existing folk tune, the from 1806 dating Scottish tune Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea which was well known and much loved in Australia at the time.   Here it is for your pleasure…

It was also derivative of another, even older Scottish folk song apparently, with the wonderful name of…  “When sick is it tea you want?”   which dates from about 1798 apparently.   To be honest I can’t hear Waltzing Matilda in this one, but apparently they are related somehow..

This version is by the Boys of the Lough.

Not surprisingly there are many differing versions of Australia’s national song, which curiously enough has never actually been the official national anthem, which one would imagine it richly deserves to be.  It has been payed by all manner of groups and sung at every conceivable occasion from boozy nights in pubs to highly important national events.  It has also (of course) been satirised in a number of ways, been used by rock singers and so on.. the list of uses is almost endless, and while looking into this post, I was amazed by the weird and wonderful range of versions I came across… some of which I shall shortly post in this article for your entertainment.

The meaning of all those Aussie terms.

First though I thought that perhaps a short glossary might be in order, as not everyone knows the meaning of a lot of the very Australian words in this song, so here goes, a list of what those words mean.

waltzing

derived from the German term auf der Walz, which means to travel while working as a craftsman and learn new techniques from other masters.

Matilda

a romantic term for a swagman’s bundle. See below, “Waltzing Matilda”.

Waltzing Matilda

from the above terms, “to waltz Matilda” is to travel with a swag, that is, with all one’s belongings on one’s back wrapped in a blanket or cloth. The exact origins of the term “Matilda” are disputed; one fanciful derivation states that when swagmen met each other at their gatherings, there were rarely women to dance with. Nonetheless, they enjoyed a dance and so danced with their swags, which was given a woman’s name. However, this appears to be influenced by the word “waltz”, hence the introduction of dancing. It seems more likely that, as a swagman’s only companion, the swag came to be personified as a woman.

The National Library of Australia states:

Matilda is an old Teutonic female name meaning “mighty battle maid”. This may have informed the use of “Matilda” as a slang term to mean a de facto wife who accompanied a wanderer. In the Australian bush a man’s swag was regarded as a sleeping partner, hence his “Matilda”. (Letter to Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Churchill, KG from Harry Hastings Pearce, 19 February 1958. Harry Pearce Papers, NLA Manuscript Collection, MS2765)[23]

swagman

a man who travelled the country looking for work. The swagman’s “swag” was a bed roll that bundled his belongings.

billabong

an oxbow lake (a cut-off river bend) found alongside a meandering river.

coolibah tree

a kind of eucalyptus tree which grows near billabongs.

jumbuck

a sheep

billy

a can for boiling water in, usually 2–3 pints (1–1.5 l)

tucker bag

a bag for carrying food (“tucker”).

troopers

policemen.

squatter

Australian squatters started as early farmers who raised livestock on land which they did not legally have the right to use; in many cases they later gained legal use of the land even though they did not have full possession, and became wealthy thanks to these large land holdings. The squatter’s claim to the land may be as uncertain as the swagman’s claim to the jumbuck.

Funny Versions.

Obviously a song as popular and well known as this one has to have been the victim of a number of satires, so for your pleasure here are a couple to give you a taste of what can happen to such a song.  One an Aussie satire, the other a very, very British one….

Continue reading “Waltzing Matilda – Australian Song With A Great History”