Thursday, 17 February 2011

Actor, Artist, Writer, Painter, Ponce?

Tonight, not more than an hour or so after I finish writing this, I intend to practice my saxophone.

It will be the second practice of the week and, frankly, I’m hoping that tonight I will be more in the mood.

Half an hour, it seems, is not long enough: you’ve barely plugged the mouthpiece on straight in half-an-hour, let alone looked at all the pieces that you’re supposed to be learning, all the scales you need to practice and thrown in a bit of light relief with a bit of improvisation.

Tuesday night I wasn’t really in the mood: a couple of random squeaks that sounded like a badger breaking wind, half a song here and there and half the pacific ocean’s worth of spit and that was it.

But despite all this – I am really enjoying learning the Sax, and am starting to get reasonably ok (if you ignore the high notes), but does the fact that I now play guitar, keyboard (chords only), bass and sax make me a musician?

Well: no. I would argue not

I also paint. Well, I attempt to paint. I will be attempting to paint quite a bit next week when I have a few days off – assuming that I can think of a project (anyone who wants a free painting should probably leave a comment as to what they would like in response to this post)

I was, in fact, having a conversation with someone at about midnight last night who actually can paint – he was talking about how he experiments with colour and when I was asked if I did the same I was probably a bit over-frank when I talked about how depressed I had got each week on my last Life Drawing course (to the point where I was getting so stressed about my piss-poor results that I physically didn’t want to go each week)

Because although I like to paint, I am not ever likely to be accused of being a painter

Nor am I a writer, a photographer or a cyclist – although I do all these things.

I suppose the difference really is twofold. Firstly – one must possess a modicum of ability. Secondly – and here, I think is the clincher – one should be doing it for a living.

Take an example if you will: Deluded Talent Show Competitor – who on the third week of the competition starts describing themselves as an “artist”

You are not a bleeding artist. It’s debatable that someone who has been recording for 10 years and has a triple platinum selling album is an artist or not: you are definitely not.

So what then should be on my passport? I work in Admin Support (IT), but that’s a rather depressing thing to admit to the gallant men and women at passport control. What will it say on the plaque on the wall of the house where I was born: Don’t Feed The Pixies, inventor of the XXX, lived here?

Maybe it doesn’t matter what we call ourselves – I still enjoy doing these things (when not throwing my easel out of the window with frustration or shouting “It’s a bleeding A, you can see it’s a bleeding A, so why are you playing a bleeding D” at my saxophone), so maybe it doesn’t matter that I will never be a musician, a writer, a painter

Maybe just painting, writing and playing music is enough?

Sunday, 13 February 2011


So a week or so ago, before I achieved my superhero like powers, I was out with one of my closest friends.

Of course, being a bloke, I don't actually have close friends - blokes don't talk about stuff like emotions and feelings and issues: we talk about sport.  Sport was invented so that men would have something to talk about to each other, rather than just sit there in stony silence until it was time to go home: I truly believe this.

Which is why it's such a shame that I have no interest in sport - but there you go.

Anyway - we shall call my friend Dino, for reasons that will go unexplained.  We could equally call him anything, i guess - but that was the first name that came to mind - so, Dino it is.

So - me and Dino were out in our "usual" - and the fact that we now have a "usual" is a clear sign that we are getting on a bit, mentally if not physically.  Only old men talk about going to the "usual" - but nonetheless: we have a "usual"

The "usual" is an old-man's pub as it happens.  The kind of place where three generations of the same family have been drinking, where the music is quiet enough so you can actually have a conversation without having to use a megaphone.  A few years ago we might have wondered from place to place a bit, but we like it here now: it's busy enough to be interesting, without being crowded: there's a good mix of people who leave you alone, the bar staff are always friendly (but not too friendly) and you can have a conversation - something that is important when you only see each other once a month or so.

We go through the usual questions about work: complaints mainly about how our geniuses have, as yet, failed to be recognised by appropriate renumeration - and then I get a text.

The text is from a girl that we both know.  See - I met Dino through work about 16 years ago now and he was the sole recipient of the Funniest Thing I Will Ever Say In My Life (sad that it was only one person who got to hear it, but there you go) when we both shared an over-warm office in what must surely be a special corner of hell reserved for those with no ambition.

We will call the girl Daffy (having started on the cartoon thing) - and the text was to say that she was out with Bugs (ok - maybe I'm stretching the cartoon thing here now), another girl that we both worked with.

Back In The Day the four of us would go out after work some nights, trail around the bars and clubs and return in the wee tiny hours.  Most of the time, as I lived some distance away, I was Designated Driver and Registered Sober Person.

But since I left the company 7-8 years ago now I have barely seen Daffy and Bugs.

Daffy is out with Bugs - and they want to know if I'm free to meet up at the end of February.  This is somewhat unexepected, but I text back and say maybe, should be yeah

And that's when it comes: what I was expecting in the first place.  A) they want to know if Dino is available and B) they want to go clubbing - to somewhere that plays the sort of stuff we used to listen to Back In The Day (i didn't even know the harpsichord was still about, to be honest, but there you go)

And immidiately I'm annoyed, again.  Because it's like this every single time.  Whenever we get together, for whatever reason: they always seem to want to make it some big reunion thing.  It has to be the four of us together, or none at all.

And it annoys me because Daffy and Bugs already see each other on a regular basis, they already do the things they are suggesting to do.  It's been 12-18 months since I've seen either of them: what I want to do when I do see them is have a chance to talk: to catch up on their lives - get to know them again: not to try and re-capture my youth.  Those days are gone, and quite frankly its for the best

Also - being out with Daffy and Bugs together is somewhat difficult - they immediately go into girlie mode and it's almost like you are just there in the background, hanging onto the tail ends of their evening.

I don't understand why it is so impossible for me to just meet up with Daffy, or Bugs, for a coffee and a chat from time to time.  If they want to meet up with Dino they can do that as well - but it seems that the four of us together is the deal breaker and that my company alone is never sufficient for them.

I wouldn't be saying any of this if Dino didn't feel the same way: I think we both feel that we've grown up since those days and neither of us feels any desire to try and recapture our youths.

To be honest I never really enjoyed the club scene that much: I never quite knew where to put myself and how to start conversations: the thought of hanging out with people XXX years younger than me in a nightclub sends shivers down my spine. 

It's not too much to ask is it, to just have a normal friendship with both, where one, or the other, of us meets up for a chat?  You can never go back

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Riding With Strangers On Busses And Trains

There must be a sign over my head.

That or something about my general demeanour that singles me out as a Helpful, Able Person Looking to Ease Stress for Strangers - or HAPLESS for short

Because especially since the start of 2011 I seem to be back in Cub Scouts every week, endlessly rushing to the aid of the feeble, infirm or just bonkers.  There must be something calming, nay reassuring in my countenance that enables random strangers to approach me for directions I have no hope of supplying or other assistance.

It started on a Saturday in January.  Most Saturday mornings I meet up with an old friend and catch the bus back into town afterwards.  If I'm not meeting anyone else I catch the connection back home - as was the case on this day: so I decided to go into the main bus station and wait.

About ten minutes later the bus rolled in, stopping at the wrong stop because there was already another bus in its slot.  However, the bus doors did not open.  From my place on the sidelines I could see some debate between two staff and a single elderly passenger who was clearly too infirm to have walked to the stop and had intended to sit on the bus until it left again.  The conversation ranged on, until eventually the two staff issued the old man off the bus and onto the concourse outside the main building.  They muttered something about having to go back to the depot and that they would be back shortly, leaving the old man stranded outside the building with huge busses rushing past.

Now it was clear to even the most casual observer that this man was more than a few sacks short of a bushel in the brains department.  He must have been 70-80 years old, with a hearing aid in each ear, a stick for each leg and an expression on his face that suggested he didn't know his arse from next wednesday.

And so Super Pixie, suffering the curse of a conscience, went to see how he was and began trying to explain what had happened.  It took some effort to get the message through that they probably weren't going to come back and during the half-an-hour we waited for the next bus I also discovered that the old man was already overdue his next heart pill.

Of course, no staff could be found to help.  The busses are run by one company, the station by another and all the small offices in the station by a third company: with the net result being that their company slogan is "We Officially Don't Give A Crap" - and who was it that made sure the old man got on the bus safely and off again safely at the other end?  Muggins here

The next approach was actually on a train: but it was actually someone offering me help for a change, showing that despite what I think every time I look in the mirror I do not resemble an axe murderer.

I was on my way back from a business trip with a man the size of three sofa's sitting next to me when I happened to mention the name of my final station.  Sofa man chipped in, "Oh, I go past that station and can give you a lift if you want"

And it's a terrible enditement of the world that we live in today that I immediately assumed he was after my bottom.

After a second it occured to me that actually I was judging the world based on reading tabloid newsheadlines I realised that he was just being kind, and politely declined.

The third, and indeed fourth occasions were on the next train I caught for works purposes.  I was waiting on the station for the train to come in and a lady with two walking sticks and a very large case began explaining to me that she had booked assistance from the train line, but it hadn't turned up and would I mind helping her lift her luggage onto the train.

Again the conscience chipped in, so of course I asked her where she was going and it turned out that she had to get the same connection as me: so being Super Pixie I not only helped her onto the train but sat with her on the train, helped her off again and ensured that a porter was found at the midway section before I left her alone.

In the intervening half hour she had, of course, told me her entire life story (what with me being HAPLESS and everything)

Then the second train that I caught got delayed and a chap from Liverpool approached me in the corridor.  I don't know if you've ever had a conversation with a Liverpudlian, but there can be something vaguely threatening about their accent if it is at the harsh end of the spectrum, but nonetheless I advised him that he would be better off staying on the train until the main station where he would get a better connection than my middle-of-nowheresville station

And then the fifth one, actually the first one again, was this morning.  Elderly Bus Bloke - as we must now inevitably call him, was at my stop this morning for the third or fourth week since I initially helped him and had to be gently persuaded into catching the bus heading in the right direction (its a half-way terminus, meaning that if he'd caught the wrong one he'd have ended up standing in a lane somewhere looking bemused instead of where he wanted to go)

And half way through the journey he managed to drop both walking sticks on the floor, so of course muggins here couldn't just sit and watch him fall over and break something and leapt out of his seat, picked up the sticks and handed them back.

But my good deeds for the day didn't stop there - oh no.  Because it turns out that I am not the only member of my family who is HAPLESS, although we won't make any mention of common sense.

Most weeks before I see my friend it is my habit to pop in to my parents and visit them for an hour, wave a royal hand, answer endless questions and generally catch up.  This week, as I got off the bus I saw my mum standing in front of the school gates next to her house.  They were, for a change, locked.

As I walked towards her she also began approaching, leaning heavily on her walker and began explaining that my Dad had found a school bag in the garden, gone into the school to drop it off and returned to find that he had been locked in.

Usually on a Saturday there are various groups that meet at the school, but there was no sign of life this week so I walked my mum slowly around to the caretaker's house (two blocks away) and she knocked on the door.

There was a significant delay, which was soon explained by the figure of a man wearing nothing but a towel around his waist.  He vanished and returned having rapidly pulled on some clothes.  He listened slightly impatiently to my mother and then explained that he wasn't due to go into the school that morning, so my dad would have to go and knock on the hall door, where the people in the hall would let him out.

Now again, as with Elderly Bus Bloke it should have been clear to him that my mum is never going to out run Lynford Christie and would struggle to get back to the house, but he refused to help - and so I went around to the school front again and explained to my dad.

Dad then traipsed around the outside of the building for about 10 minutes whilst my mum toddled slowly back, banging on windows and yelling "hello" in a vaguely hopeful tone of voice - all to no avail.

And so we had to go and knock on my mum's next-door-neighbours house.  They, like the caretaker, were also not entirely dressed or up yet  (this being just after 9am on a Saturday) - but they willingly came around to the back of the house where the entry backs onto the high school fence (complete with razor sharp prongs)

I squeezed into my dad's garage and passed over our stepladder, whilst the neighbours brought out there much larger ladder.  Neighbour stood on the back of the large ladder to steady it and I climbed up, passing our ladder over the top of the prongs. 

Rather hesitantly my dad climbed to the top step and reached a problem.  The top of the steps wasn't high enough and he had no choice but to put one foot on the top handle, one hand on the top of the larger steps on our side of the fence and nowhere much to put his other foot or hand.

So up I went - putting my hand under his arm to steady him and take his weight as he slowly tried to turn his foot around and hit the ladder.  Finally one foot landed on our side of the fence, however the adventure wasn't over yet, as my dad decided half way down that he would try and pass our ladder back over the fence behind him and nearly lost his balance in the process.

So we persuaded him to let go and concentrate on getting down and then i climbed back up and passed the ladder back out of the school

So - the next time someone stops and asks you directions, or the next time an Elderly Bus Bloke is in distress, or even if you - rather bizarely - find that your ageing parent is unexplicably trapped in a nearby school: remember - it almost never hurts to be helpful