Monthly Archives: September 2010

The best thing about teaching…


… is seeing others learning, and feeling that you’ve done something to help. And being reminded that egotistic neuroses about learning are totally irrelevant to the ones imparting knowledge, who have their own egotistic neuroses about that to worry about. πŸ˜€


Theory test question


Q. You have been involved in an argument before starting your journey. This has made you feel angry. You should

  • start to drive, but open a window
  • drive slower than normal and turn your radio on
  • have an alcoholic drink to help you relax before driving
  • calm down before you start to drive

This is one of the official DSA questions for the driving theory test, which I’ve been preparing to take tomorrow morning. I think if there are any like this in my test, my biggest worry is going to be laughing out loud too much! πŸ˜† Is it meant to be that funny or is it just me?!

Incase that sounds over-confident, the hazard perception part seems quite hard actually. I can blame the grainy videos, but it seems I am not as paranoid as I should be about hazards. I still think I am the number one hazard on the road anyway. πŸ˜›

Some special music


A few months ago I finally got rid of my old music cassettes. In amongst them were an irreplaceable few that had to be digitalised… in particular, some of the music that I got in Africa way back when I was 18! They are obviously very nostalgic to me; it was so nice to rediscover them and start playing them again. And now finally I have got around to sharing a small selection (4 tracks) of this music. I know it will not mean the same to anyone out there as what it means to me… but it makes me feel really excited to think of these tracks being heard outside their countries of origin by someone other than me! Hopefully someone will press “play”!!

Sakis is an artist in the widely-known Congolese genre of soukous (or kwassa kwassa in Malawi) which, to me, is the most exuberant, happy dance music in the world. It has these gorgeous guitar lines that soar effortlessly upward into blissful melodies, and take my mood up with them every time! I became familiar with this style in Malawi, and then this artist in particular during a coach journey from Bulawayo to Harare in which his videos were played on a TV screen. I later bought the album, “Cyclone”.

This first song is typical of the soukous style… it is fast, hypnotically repetitive, and immensely cheerful! The beginning section features Sakis’s ad-lib vocals; there is then a drum fill signalling the onset of an ecstatic, high-energy guitar solo, after which (around half-way through) just when your mind is beginning to saturate on the energy, it goes quieter and these lovely female vocals come in and freshen the whole thing up again πŸ™‚

The album contains a few slower ones (slower being a relative term :P), and this is my favourite of those. It’s just so sweet and romantic πŸ˜€ It has the same kind of simple major harmonies and melodic sound, but at a somewhat reduced pace. It is also quite repetitive, but the interest builds up with a series of beautiful key changes and sweet vocal touches. They mix up the vocal riffs a bit and even switch languages several times whichΒ  is nice.

The other two songs I’m sharing are from the album “Take Over” by Malawian politician/singer Lucius Banda. He sings political/protest songs and was very popular at the time I was there. I kept hearing his music blared out on the crackly speakers of the minibuses and other places. It has a much more relaxed beat but is every bit as melodic and cheerful as the soukous style, and is perhaps influenced by reggae a little bit. The first one is my favourite song on the tape:

The second one is bit more pensive somehow; it actually has minor chords in it! which bring out a sad sweetness in the melody. I particularly like the female vocals with gorgeous low-frequency vibrato in the choruses.

Finally, and I must be crazy, but I’m posting a track written by me at school when I was 16! It’s played on a digital piano through a MIDI interface (I wasn’t able to play it altogether myself). It’s super-corny, even for the 90s. Prepare to laugh. πŸ˜€

Being authentic…


… is pretty easy on a blog, because I don’t have to see anyone’s reaction! πŸ˜† Other areas of life are not so simple.

At the weekend someone was telling me about how the “nuclear family” way of living has created a divide between public and private life that never used to exist. By boxing ourselves away in neat little nuclear families, we have given ourselves the opportunity to be inauthentic with everyone else outside of that box, which just wasn’t possible in, say, the Glasgow tenements of 100 years ago, or African villages, or Indian slums, or even Algerian apartments where the whole extended family is in your face.

And so now people queue up for X Factor or Big Brother, wanting to be famous, probably because our culture is so inauthentic that they feel no-one really knows and appreciates them and they have no value to the faceless sea of strangers around them in their lives.

It puzzled me to notice that people were so comparatively self-assured in a culture is that is as harsh as the desert it grew out of. Rebukes and loyalty are both fierce over there, and I guess it does toughen people up. I think it toughened me up.

Here we are just cold – we go through the motions of politeness, knowing that everyone is hiding so much. We never really know where we stand with people. No wonder we go searching for extreme forms of affirmation.

At a certain point in any friendship there is always an opportunity to say something uncomfortably real, something risky. A criticism or a compliment that, if kept to yourself, would impoverish your relationship, your own authenticity, and the other person’s well-being, but that also might scare the friend away if you do share it. A revelation about yourself that might lead to a deeper connection, or to rejection. A piece of advice that might hit the nail on the head, or miss and make things worse.

It is through avoidance that fear can grow, and this is one of the luxuries of the modern world – we can avoid so many risks; being authentic is just one of them. Everything is highly sanitised and it actually weakens our defenses.

I have only ever regretted the risks I didn’t take. Isn’t that astonishing?