My Thoughts On Trolls

I’m not even exactly certain of what a troll is. I mean, I am, in the Hans Christian Andersen sense of the term, but not in the Internet sense. 

I suppose I could google it and come up with a few definitions but they’d all talk about “someone who gives unasked for responses to social media posts” or something. It may throw in a bit about it being negative or obscene or cynical or nasty. I don’t know, something along those lines. I’m not going to bother to look it up. We all know what I’m talking about. 

I have a problem with the whole idea of trolling. I put that badly. I have a problem with the concept of a troll. I think that, as with anything, there is a point at which something, anything, crosses a line but that which is labeled trolling most often isn’t. 

Let me try to explain that. Social media is open to public view. You have a choice to protect your interactions from public view. Let’s face it though, the narcissistic streak in those who gravitate to the use of social media doesn’t want to hide from the rest of the world those life-changing photos of their brunch or feelings on the actual colour of that ridiculous dress.  

So, here’s the scenario. You put something out for all the world to see on a forum that provides for people to comment on your post. They return comments. You love this. In a world where social credibility is measured by ‘likes’, ‘follows’, ‘favorites’, ‘RTs’ and the like you feel really good about yourself. You regularly check your ‘followers’, keep a tally of your ‘friends’, employ software to see how many people you follow actually follow you back, consult other software that tells you the reach of your posts and even (you don’t have to admit this) follow those posts that guarantee you followers. Awesome. You are loved, respected and feel validated. 

There’s nothing wrong with social media or wanting to your voice to be heard in a world where it is constantly drowned out by the billions of other voices also trying to be heard. Mostly you’re probably looking for some attention (we all crave it and don’t receive it often enough) or even just some conversation. As someone with social anxiety issuesI feel strongly that social media offers me an opportunity to interact with people who I would normally shy away from. It is good for me. (Pocket, pseudo pop psychologists pick up your pens.)

Enter the person who gives you the wrong attention. Who disagrees with you. Who points out your naivety or the incorrectness of your assertion. Oh! The bastard. Get off my TL  you troll. 

Really? You loved the positive attention of those who agreed that all soldiers, regardless of the morality of their war, are heroic warriors. You thought the people who agreed that the threat of Islamic ideology is a curse to right minded people the world over were wonderfully rational thinkers. The support shown for the lovable Steve Hofmeyer brought tears of nationalist joy to your eyes. You fought causes like the crusaders of old.  When that didn’t work you posted selfies of your biceps, cleavage or worse (Maybe that should be ‘better’. Who am I to judge?). The agreement of so many people that there are monkeys running parliament just underscored your role as a valid social commentator. 

And that’s just the thing; it feeds your craving for social validation. 

Enter, again, the naysayer. The troll. That raging puss filled boil on the face of sacred social media. Where do these people come from? Why do they do this? Who. Gives. Them. The. Right?

Who gives them the right? Why, silly, you did. You did when you posted your thoughts on a forum open to comment from anyone anywhere in the world. Simple as that. 

When you ventilate an opinion on an open forum you are in fact inviting comments. What did you think the ‘reply’ field is for? Does Facebook have a thumbs down symbol? No? You’re probably safer there. 

You’re not going to like them all. But you asked for them. And, man, are you going to get them. 

If your longing for social validation can’t stand up to criticism you need to close your account. If your narcissistic tendencies and lack of self esteem can’t stand up in the stiff breeze of opposition, well, actually there’s probably a place for you in politics. Really, what is it you’re looking for, cheerleaders? Get thee a Mac Maharaj. How shallow are you?

Now, let’s address the elephant in the room, I’m not much different to those I’ve referred here – why do you think I know how you feel? But, a draw an important distinction.  Troll me. Fight with me. Correct me. Indicate the narrowness of my world view. Call me an arsehole. Make me change my mind. I’ve asked for it. Lay it on me. 

I promise you I can take it. When you’re just offensive I won’t engage with you. I’m not compelled to. 

In my world trolls are fairytale characters that live under bridges. 

THENDELA FLY FISHING

Having been here I can recommend it very highly. Not for the fishing, but for the complete experience. It’s just a cool place.

Call of the Stream

It is not a pristine mountain stream, but it is an interesting and promising stretch of brown trout water. It is wedged between the Kamberg Nature Reserve lower boundary and Riverside farm upper boundary. It flows through tribal land owned by the Thendela Community and the exciting part of all of this is under the leadership of community member, Richard Khumalo, a conservation endeavor, the Thendela Community Fly Fishing Project (TFFCP), has been established – with the guidance, support and assistance of members of the KZN Fly Fishing Association and Wildfly.

Richard in his office at the Community Centre.

IMG_3698

The project involves cleaning up this section of the Mooi River that has over the years become degraded and polluted mainly with litter. And, the introduction of controls that ensures its protection as a fishery into the future for anglers to enjoy in the midst of the daily life of a friendly, welcoming…

View original post 378 more words

My Father, John Lennon and I

I don’t recall where I was when I heard of the murder of John Lennon. I remember when it happened and I remember that it was a significant event, but I have no recollection of any feelings on it. I was eight years old and there was no reason for it to have mattered at all to me.

It was not a 9/11 event. My children were tiny when that happened but the image of some madman piloting a plane into a skyscraper, people jumping from buildings and general carnage will stay with them.

My parents, particularly my father, were touched by Lennon’s murder. Probably this is what I remember; my father’s emotions at the time. I think that he was personally hurt by it to some degree. Perhaps this is just what I’d like to believe. A touch of personal connection.

I first came to know of Lennon and the Beatles through my father’s music. He listened to their records and played their songs on guitar. As time passed I grew to understand the cultural and musical significance of the band. I am still astounded to think that the career of the band, from their first hit record to their acrimonious split, was only some six or seven years.

To me John Lennon stood head and shoulders above the other three members. Paul McCartney is a formidable song writer and musician but it was John who brought an edge to their music and consciousness. I think that Paul and he were not as much collaborators as competitors who drove each other onwards towards greater musical heights. John is, together with Chuck Berry, probably the greatest rhythm guitarist that ever lived. In fact many of what we think are George Harrison solos are John’s.

Growing up through the pain of the South African 80’s I could connect with John’s messages in his later songs. I was always arguing some cause or another and even despite his music I could relate to his politics and his methods of communicating them. When a classmate and PAC member was shot dead in the period around the first Codesa ‘Give Peace A Chance’ seemed to fit the mood. Trite, but true.

My matric woodwork class had only four students. A mixed bag of personalities. Our woodwork teacher was himself a bassist and later on after school he and I worked together for a short time. I wanted to change the world, he wanted to get laid.

We were required to complete a significant woodwork project on which most of our exam marks were based and owing to our stuffing around we were far behind. The teacher arranged afternoon sessions in the workshop to enable us to make up for lost time (although most often we just made trouble and layed about). One afternoon we tuned in to hear ‘Imagine’ being played on the radio live from the United Nations General Assembly where the world was recognising the tenth year of his assassination.

I still have a recording of it somewhere. I do not think that I have ever been touched by the significance of a piece of artistic creation as I was by the song on that day. It was as though something really big had just happened even though I had very little idea of what it was.

Look, I long ago gave up the idea that rock ‘n roll can save the world. John never believed it, you can be sure of that. You can be doubly sure that he didn’t believe that lying in bed for a week or sitting in a bag would either, but almost forty years later we remember it. Rock ‘n roll can be nothing more than a marketing tool for ideas. This is not meant to minimise it; in fact it gives it a stature that very few other art forms can claim.

A line in a song can capture the imagination and attention of so many people and change their behaviour. I suppose that if it does this to even one person then it has met its ambition.

These days I am far too jaded and weary to argue any cause. I feel deeply about things, but that’s about where it ends. There are just so many causes and, in truth, I’ve grown every more weary of ‘passionate’ people. There is a danger in passion clouding perspective. Today I listen to John, the Beatles, Dylan, etc. from a perspective of understanding what unique and talented individuals they were and how they could express feelings that are so difficult for most of us to nail down effectively. They give words to our emotions.

In the first week of June 2012 I had the opportunity to visit New York City. This is a city that John loved and one that he fought for seven years against Hoover, the FBI, Homeland Security, the Courts and countless other right-wing politicians to remain in. He eventually won his battle but was murdered very soon thereafter by a man whose motivation for the deed was that he “wanted to be famous”.

John was murdered at the entrance to his apartment building, the Dakota, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan Island at 23:15 on the 10th of December 1980 as he left the building with his wife, Yoko Ono.

I wanted to see the place. I think more than for John for my connection to my late father.

The Dakota is a magnificent residence. John acquired the seventh floor (in the picture it is the floor surrounded by the wrought iron railing). Interestingly, Yoko still lives there despite the history attached to it. On the eve and the time of the murder she lights a candle in the window of the ‘white’ room where Imagine was written. The white room is featured in the video of Imagine and is the first two windows from the left in the picture.

The Dakota

John’s apartment is above the 2nd railing below the gable. Within the gable is the ‘white room’. He was murdered at the entrance which is on the left side of the building within the large arch.

The Dakota is situated on Central Park West, one of the avenues that run the entire length of Central Park. Almost directly across the road an area was set aside in the park for a memorial to John.

The space consists of a section of the park called ‘Strawberry Fields’ in which the actual memorial is placed.

Strawberry Fields. Intentionally shaped like a teardrop.

Walking into Strawberry Fields was a very surreal experience for me. I can’t really explain it. It was something of a feeling of entering a place of great emotional significance; like a great Gothic cathedral. I felt my father there. It was a tangible sensation. As though this place, John and he were somehow wound up into one entity.

Look, this is all in my mind and there is no way that I believe that spiritually the three were connected. I think that it is just the connection that a person makes and how some things largely separate can take on an alternate meaning. As humans we do it all the time. We remember someone by something inanimate loosely connected to them – a song, a book, a piece of furniture, a favourite teacup, whatever.

John’s memorial, such as it is, is extremely simple. It consists of a mosaic laid into the walkway through Strawberry Fields. It is monochrome with the word ‘Imagine’ in the centre. All in all I think it to be a great piece of art. Great art isn’t really just a nice picture, it’s something that makes you take notice and moves your mind in a different direction to that in which it was heading before you saw it.

The mosaic was made, without commission, by two craftsmen in the Little Italy district in downtown Manhattan. It is modelled on a mosaic from the ruins of Pompei (I can’t find a connection here) in a matter of ten days. The time span is astounding given the thousands of pieces that it contains. In the centre of the mosaic is, simply, the word ‘Imagine’.

I sat for a few hours in this place, watching the people go by and genuinely feeling emotional. In retrospect I’m not sure why I was quite so emotional.

Believe me, this place is a serious tourist attraction. The numbers of groups that come through during the course of an hour is astounding. You see them filing from the bus, tour leader ahead, the rest in tow. For them I think that it’s just another sight to tick off on the ‘Manhattan must-do’ list. File up, spread out around the tourist guide, hear a two-minute ramble on the significance, explain to your kids who Lennon was (“you know he said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus”), take a snapshot and file off to the Guggenheim or somewhere.

Then there are people who stop, light a candle or incense, say a prayer, place something at the mosaic and those who just sit and soak it in. It is a very diverse spread of reactions in a city where the next attraction is only ever not more than a few minutes around the corner.

Strawberry Fields is very different to most NYC attractions. Walk right up and interact. No tickets, no queues, no metal detector, no cops and no curios.

For me it was an almost spiritual visit. I can’t explain it. Somewhere in my jumbled thoughts there is a reason for it to be so, but I’m not even going to wade into that quagmire more than I already have.

I’m genuinely confused at how some long-haired, freaky, hippie guitar player from Liverpool has come to represent so much to me in terms of my own search to make sense of this complicated world that we live in, my place in it and my relationships with other travellers through it.

Perhaps that is what John ultimately represents to the world. A reflection of its own weaknesses, triumphs, pains, victories and losses .

A Fishy Story

Firstly, because it’s fishy doesn’t make it a lie. Anglers have a propensity to return home, late at night with the truth not in them; but this is as real as toothache.

I love to fly fish rivers. I fish alone. The reason for this is dual. Firstly, I don’t much like other people’s company all that much. Secondly, I suspect they don’t like mine. Either way, it works for me and I don’t have to worry about my raging social anxiety. A win-win.

Because I fish alone I most often fish in one of the nature reserves in KZN. It’s not a case of it being the best fishing available, but it’s safe. When you’re alone in what are fairly unsafe environments (anywhere inside of our borders) it’s good to know you’re not going to die alone of snakebite or be robbed.

I most often fish the Mooi River in the Kamberg Nature Reserve. It’s under two hours from home and the river is pretty. The wild brown trout are accessible and it’s generally a nice place to be. The Mooi starts in the reserve so it’s unspoiled.

On the drive there, after turning onto the gravel road, you cross the Mooi on the Moller’s farm (Riverside) and then travel alongside it as you pass through Thendela village. It’s a small village and it hugs the Mooi for about two kilometers.

From the border of Riverside Thendela has always looked fairly inviting but my expectation has always been that the water quality would be low.

I was amazed when I read recently that a community project had been started in Thendela and that ‘Thendela Fly Fishing’ had been born. The river had been tidied up, guides had been trained and a pretty impressive admin office had been established.

I called Richard (the head honcho) on Thursday afternoon and set up to fish on Saturday. “How’s the river looking?”, I asked. “Not too high, not too low, not too fast, not too slow”, came the response. Pretty perfect then? A fly fisherman and poet. I was going to like this guy. He also told me to get there early as the Thendela team were headed off to Underberg to fish for the weekend. He didn’t ask me, he told me. He told me in the tone of someone who didn’t suffer fools hell bent on ruining his outing. I get that. No offense taken.

Now listen, I’m not one for convention or social norms or anything. Generally I look for them in order to ridicule them, much to the disgust of, well, everyone I know. Imagine my surprise when I arrived in the middle of a rural Zulu village to find a portly lady on the side of the gravel road, waders over her shoulder, flies in her hat, wrap around Polaroid sunglasses, rod tubes at her feet. All a little unusual. I loved her at first sight. My first female (or any gender) Zulu trout bum. I was incandescent with awe.

“You Andrew?”, she asked. “Yes. Are you for real?”, I asked. “I can cast a full line into a hurricane and land a 22 Adams on a 20 foot leader onto a champagne cork in a raging current.”, she told me. Ok, she didn’t, but I’m going to believe that she could. She was perfect. No House of Hardy sticker on the back of her million rand four by four; my kind of girl.

We traded names and I told her that I loved her. She must get a lot of declarations of affection because she didn’t flinch. She looked like the kind of girl who could remove a barbed streamer from her ear without flinching. “Richard is in that taxi, he’ll be here now-now.”

Richard arrived and we sorted out my beat. What a cool guy. He was so excited by the whole thing. He showed me a huge aerial photo of the river and explained that every beat was 380m long. I wasn’t paying attention. I signed some paperwork. “Be sure to read it” was the instruction. Blah blah blah. The sand was falling through the hourglass, just click accept and start the download.

Richard was such a difference compared to some of the illustrious personalities in the industry with their “I was fishing a select beat with Tom Sutcliffe / Lee Wulff / Jesus Christ when suddenly I remarked that the water temperature had dropped three three-hundredths of a degree and that I needed to change to a size 34 dodo hackled, etc, etc, etc.” This is a sport with so many pretentious dickheads associated with it. I call them a name that rhymes with ‘arsepole’ and they call me ‘can’t you read the signs, get off my river, I’ll effing shoot you if I see you here again’. While I’d like to explain to them South African law as it pertains to access to rivers I don’t fancy it’s nice to be shot. I’ve been shot at several times and even that is not an experience to be enjoyed. Also, when you’re cold and wet being shot must really hurt even more. Generally when I’m hauled off some guys river (how can you own water? it’s like saying you own air) I just leave all their gates open – I’m small minded that way.

Richard showed me a video of a client with a whale of a brown caught up in beat six, near the reserve boundary. He was bubbling with the energy of a child with an illicit fire cracker. “Beat three has many fish. Beat six has few fish. But they’re biiiiig.” Richard, my host, spare no time in pointing me to beat six, if you will.

As Richard gathered gear for his team’s outing one of his crew showed me to where I needed to park. “You are very safe here. No worry. Fish any beat. Beat three has many fish. Beat six has biiiig fish.” Either someone was pulling my socks or a largish fish or two had been taken from beat six. “Big pools, that’s the thing” I was told in reference to beat six.

I must say, the river below my car looked very inviting. In a smallish pool I could see the odd fish move. Boots on. Rod assembled. Reel on. Eyes threaded. Now for the small matter of the leader.

For generations a simple nine foot tapered leader took many trophy fish. But no, not in this enlightened technical age. Today it has to be as long as Route 66 and constructed of materials more typically used to construct deep space telescopes. There are about three living men with the mathematical skills to work out the formula for a modern leader. (Sadly, one of of them is Stephen Hawkin and he’s unable to actually tie a surgeon’s knot. A tragic loss to the fishing industry, but at least he can’t point a loaded .357 at me when I poach on ‘his’ river.) I think that leader configuration is one of the last vestiges of the dark arts in modern culture.

By now I was champing at the bit. I hurriedly cast some bones, incanted a few incantations, inverted some religious symbols, constructed a henge and withdrew some blood from a virgin. It was slow going. Virgins are not at all easy to come by these days.

I selected a fly using the timeless method of ‘that looks nice’. I lie, I remember reading somewhere ‘dark day, dark fly’ so I selected a Zak. It’s black. To look at my fly box you could easily be fooled into thinking that I only fish on dark days. 90% Zaks and Pheasant Tails. The remaining 10% are a hodgepodge of crap I tied when I got bored of tying Zaks.

In truth, it was a dark day. No rain yet, but it was coming. A meteorologist is vary rarely right. When it comes to forecasting weather that can screw up your precious and sparse leisure time the bastard is never wrong. In fact I’m pretty convinced he calls it in.

Job done and I walked down to the river. The pool a bit below beat six, to be precise. I thought I’d loosen up my casting arm and test the performance of my leader. Also, I needed to get that blood off it.

Cast 1: fly not sinking well. Lead shot attached. Leader seems to be ok. That was some primo virgin.

Cast 2: strike indicator slows, rod tip rises, fish on! Bloody stupid spotted thing heads straight beneath the skirts of an old lady rinsing her laundry on the adjacent bank. She took it as well as can be expected given that she was first surprised by a cold fishy thing swimming between her thighs and then by a guy trying to control a bucking rod, yelling and waving a net with his free hand. We had a good laugh after I netted and released it. (True story.)

Cast 3-6: uneventful and surprisingly relaxing. I think missed a few takes as a result of slowness. This was to be the theme of the morning.

Cast 7: fish on, then off. No need to be that relaxed.

Cast 8: set aside in favour of profanity resulting from cast 7.

Cast 9: another fish. Smaller and very tame.

With that being done and feeling very, very confident I moved up to beat six.

I’m not a big one for tradition, but for the next few hours I observed a time tested personal tradition. I hooked branches. I snapped tippets. I lost flies. I casted badly. I missed takes. I dropped a roll of 7X tippet and a pair of scissors somewhere. I got floatant in my eye. (A quick note to dry fly fisherman: it’s just industrial grade soap with some sort of acid in it. Sulphuric, I think. Save some cash and make your own to this recipe.) I twisted an ankle. I turned the air purple with expletives.

The weather went from bad to worse.

Continued….

As the rain hit I considered grinning and bearing it. A flash of lightning had me biting off the fly. As I did this I caught a splashy rise out of the corner of my eye. I paused and looked up to where I thought it had come from.

It didn’t take long and another slash broke the surface. My word, this was a proper fish. Well over 20 inches.

Now I’ve caught a 22 inch fish in the reserve. (Is that a good fish? It is for me.) Anyone who’s seen me fish will at this point pull the sort of face that could best be described as being incredulous. But, I swear, it’s true and they’re just getting even at my frequent embedding of flies in their personages.

I was in the river below the upper dam. There’s a long deep section covered by branches. It’s largely impossible to fish. I lit a Marlboro (your mother warned you not to judge) and stared up under the trees. A perfect head and tail rise met my gaze. A great fish, but how to get to it? This was going to require some swimming.

I looked around, found that I was alone, and stripped down to my skinnies. A short swim had me balanced on some root structure with just about enough room to get a cast in. A short flick and the lightly weighted nymph broke the surface film.

A swirl and a fish was on. When the hook was set I paddled my way back to where I could stand. It’s not easy swimming while fighting a fish. A brief fight and I netted the fish. A stunner.

Whenever I set the hook into a decent fish (which is really, really rarely) I immediately and involuntary start to sing that theme song from the tv show “you’re not the boss of me now”. God alone knows why I do it. My therapist has suggested that I don’t fish for any of the reasons I think I do. She hands out the most marvelous medication so I keep her around despite her theories on bloodsports.

As I danced semi naked around the bank with my net in hand a family of hikers came around the bend. To say that they looked surprised would be to say that there is some salt in the ocean. One of their kids hummed along to my song. I lay on a rock warming up and just tried to live in the now. It was a very odd morning.

But I digress.

The fish on this particular day was clearly rising at sedge. With the water surface pitted by what was now quite heavy rain I tied on a rather large imitation. Something I could see.

I looked up to determine my strategy. Right about then my spirits sunk in the way that my favorite reel sunk last season when I dropped it off my kick boat into the green depths of the larger of the two Highmoor dams. Quickly and assuredly.

A brown trout holds in the most awkward areas of streams. Under banks. In the roots of trees. Around structure. This one was no different. In fly fishing parlance we call them ‘bastards’.

The section of the river on which I stood made a tight bend. Recent summer rains had eroded a section of the bank leaving a small island of around a square meter about a meter from the bank. Both the island and the bank had long grass on it. The grass formed a canopy over the channel.

The current split at the island. Most of it went inside of the island leaving a fast flow going through the channel. I would have to put a fly under the overhanging grass and into the channel where it would sit for the shortest of time before being ripped away by the current.

My casting abilities are, to overstate then wildly, just a little iffy. I sort of aim at the river rather than any particular point on it. A good cast is one that hits the water without embedding a fly in my face. A great cast hits the water within, say, three meters of the spot I was looking at.

Also, I’m fishing 7X. If this thing runs in any other direction than toward me it’s lost. My game plan is to set the hook and get it into the main channel as quickly as possible. Seems a good plan. *insert profanity here*, I wish I could cast.

Cast 1: in the grass. Fly retrieved.

Cast 2: short. Ripped away by the current like a slalom skier in take off. My inner voice at this point of proceedings reminded me I had a flask of hot coffee in the car and why don’t we laugh off this futile preoccupation in favour of something warm?

Cast 3: into the grass. I tweak it off and it falls just about in the zone. I see the white of his mouth as he turns away. My hands are shaking. My elevated blood pressure almost blows my hat off my head. My word, it’s chucking it down now. I hadn’t noticed. I’m cold.

Cast 4: I know I should tie down to a smaller fly but I have bok-koors and I’ve got to get a cast in. In the grass. Snapped off. Good, I need a longer tippet for that damned drag and a smaller fly. I tie a perfect wind knot nine casts out of ten but extending the leader with these wet, frozen hands was proving almost impossible.

Cast 5: in the grass. Fly retrieved. Get a grip on yourself, you’re all over the place. I know that, but my hands are cold and in that channel lies a whale. Concentrate, damn you.

Cast 6: ooh, in the grass but well placed. I tweak it loose. It fall exactly in the zone. My three kilometer long tippet is holding off drag. Nothing happens. The tippet straightens and the fly skates slightly with the drag. Damn, probably spooked him. SLASH! I see the whole fish as it takes the fly. That butter yellow belly shows as it takes and rolls. This is a great fish.

Fish on: I consult the gridiron football style whiteboard in my mind and make my carefully planned play. I put pressure on to get him out of the channel. This is working out perfectly. Damn, I’m good. A fly fishing god.

A slight popping noise and what’s left of my tippet almost smacks me in the eye.

I’ve screwed this up. Horribly.

I run back to my car now acutely aware of exactly how hard it’s raining and how violent the lightening around me is. There’s another noise that I can’t place for a while. Oh, that’s it, my heart beating like a wild thing. A thunderclap drowns out a series of decidably grown-up words.

I make the car, throw my rod on the grass and pile in. I’m shaken and want to cry. I pull out my pipe for a relaxing smoke but I can’t light it because my hands are shaking too much. I consult my hip flask.

It’s now Monday afternoon and I’m writing this over lunch. Also, I called Richard this morning. I’m off fishing again this weekend. He’s arranging me a beautiful Zulu maiden as a guide. I’ll try not to swear so much. Maybe she’ll love me back.

On The Subject of Trees

IMG_1603

The story goes that this bicycle was chained to a tree by, I think, an Italian boy on his way to fight in the Great War. It occurs to me that he may have been French, but that doesn’t matter.

I first saw this image a few years ago and it has tattooed itself into my consciousness. I can’t think about the death of a young person without this image almost overwhelming me.

It is a metaphor for so many things. I’m not going to start listing them; what they are is entirely self evident.

My most immediate take on the image is that it demonstrates the fleeting impermanence of human existence as compared to that of our world. Surely, a tree lives a long time. Some may live for a millennium, but even that is young compared to the incomprehensible age of the ecosystem in which it resides. These ecosystems are Johnny Come Latelies against the age of the Earth.

Also, trees are slow growing. Very, very slow growing. This species certainly isn’t one of the quicker ones either. It adds on only a few inches of girth in every generation of man. How fast must the passing of a generation of man seem to a tree? Very fast indeed. A flash.

I love trees. I love them enough to have them tattooed on my body. The ‘tree of life’ paradigm is found in most cultures. What they represent is beautiful. They represent time. Time anchored in the earth with their tops reaching into the heavens. Fuel. Shelter. Sustenance. A vestige of the gods on earth.

They stand silently watching the comings and goings of the seasons. Without judging.

So, there’s a boy who is called to go to war. Thinking, in the way that youth thinks about these things, that he is immortal he chains his bicycle to a tree in order to keep it secure until his return. What happens to him after that is not recorded. I think that he didn’t even come home in a box and that his family waited in vain, not wanting to remove the bike, not wanting to believe that he wouldn’t one day unchain it.

He never came back.

This isn’t a fairy story.

The tree added ring after ring, year after year, growing over the bike and raising it off the ground. It holds it up in plain view, telling us that in the ways of nature we are insignificant. Our lives are over in a blink and one day when, like all species, we fail and die out only nature, in some evolved form, will remain. Not the wars of man, the tears of a mother or the grief of a lover will change this. Nature has no conscience. It doesn’t judge. It just keeps on doing what it has always done; providing a counterpoint to the follies of man.

IMG_1604

The 3-Chord Rock Song – In Praise Of

I have an enduring love for the three minute rock song. Or three chord rock song. Either. Both. I suppose I just mean that simple song with a basic melodic structure and a big heart.

Think Tom Petty’s ‘Free Falling’. That sort of song. A little riff, a little hook and a nice backbeat.

That song doesn’t have much (or any) of those in spades, but it works and I will not be dissuaded in this discussion.

I suppose it’s because I have a intuitive love of the blues and these songs are just an extension of that. I think it was Chuck Berry who said that the blues had a child and she called it rock and roll. But he was sweating in the arms of his underage cousin while crossing state lines for immoral purposes at the time, so that might not count. Or was that Jerry Lee Lewis? Or both of them? Who cares. Ancient history.

The harmonic structure of the blues is really, really simple. The delivery of a great blues song takes something else entirely. Something that is difficult to describe and even harder to do. Jimi Hendrix said that blues is easy to play but hard to feel. You going to argue with Hendrix? Sit down, pretender, Bieber will be on next.

Anyhow, let’s not intellectualize this thing. (Let’s also not assume that I have the skills to do that.) I suspect that good blues requires an infusion of the dark arts and superstition that surround it. The black cat bones. Mojo. A jumping left eye. This is what makes it so difficult. You have to touch its underlying aesthetic. (Oh, please let this be true.)

Ok. I grant you that Free Falling was maybe not the best example to use. Or perhaps it was. I’m not sure. It’s short and it’s simple and it does have some feeling about it.

You see, to be a good catchy song doesn’t mean it has to be the mindless, sampled, sterilized boy band shite that we hear every day on the radio. That stuff is just a dollar bill tied to a string edged enticingly across the floor by a man in a suit. And you’re the kitten enthralled by it all; until a leaf blows by and distracts your attention elsewhere. Whores, all.

Singers have to be beautiful these days to succeed. Ok, ok, it was always a benefit. But, bloody hell, today people take ANY celebrity and ascribe to them heavenly beauty because they MUST be beautiful. Paris Hilton? Really? (She’s recorded an album.) Paris Hilton is hot? You nuts? Blind? Blind and nuts? Don’t give me that beholder shit. Janis Joplin. Now she was beautiful. Beautiful for her fragility and her strength.

I’m not going to touch any other holy cows here in the form of female singers and will leave it at that. (In fact, I wouldn’t touch most of them with YOUR hands.)

I like the thought that a couple of people in a darkened bedroom or untidy garage can thrash out a semi-tune on a set of crappy instruments. I like the thought that they need three chords and a louder-than-fuck amp and while they’re thrashing their way through Smoke on the Water they can dream of stardom, fast cars, ample boobed Angels and screaming fans. No computers, standing in line to audition, having their teeth whitened or being told they don’t look the part or have no mass audience appeal.

David Guetta, over Christmas, cancelled a world tour because he lost the flash drive with all his music on it. So, tell me, you all gather there to watch a guy operate a laptop? Are. You. A. Moron?

All this falseness of Idols auditions and having some talentless bastard of a DJ criticizing the thing that contains and reflects your soul. No, screw that. The falseness of massive stages, backing bands, lighting displays, dial blah-blah-blah to vote for… No my friends, in rock and roll falseness is reserved for the aesthetic enhancement of ladies’ chests. Rock and roll is offensive. Live with it. It has changed the world. It, and by extension me, are unapologetic. So get into those bikinis and start washing my Trans-Am. Lots of soap now, you hear.

Something has just occurred to me. I haven’t thought about this before and it really is a epiphany to me. Rock, blues, blues-rock has a rich aesthetic. It has a look, a feel, a taste. It is a sensory thing. No other form of music challenges it at that. It is a real falseness. Witness Bruce Springsteen. It’s an act, a show. But within it is a core of hard, hard truth. That which he has created has come from and reflects his soul. On stage he is naked. He offers his soul to you.

I am humbled by this.

So, what was I saying again? Oh yes, I like short and simple rock songs.

This Blog’s Guitar Schematics

If you wondered what the schematics that form the wallpaper to these pages are, they are the schematics for an early 50’s Fender Telecaster guitar. The one Springsteen plays? Yes, that’s the one.

I trolled the interweb for months looking for them. The web attracts all sorts of certified idiots and I knew that there had to be one who would have painstakingly measured a guitar and drawn it up. After about four months, bingo.

I then bought some mahogany, birds eye maple, African rosewood and American walnut and got to work.

I had no idea of how to go about it and I made or improvised with a lot of the tools. Shaping the neck was remarkably easy.

It’s not traditional in the sense that it’s heavy (read effing heavy) and has seriously overwound humbucking pickups. Those babies could replace Medupi power station and overcome our current crisis (or is that ‘challenge’?). They are in fact called ‘generators’.

I had to make pick up surrounds and stuff by hand out of stainless steel; getting parts isn’t easy in SA.

It’s a real first effort, but it plays great and sounds like a the battle cry of a cave full of particularly annoyed bees. It’s just, and I struggle for the right word, imperfect

Anyhow, I stripped it about three years ago to tweak something and never put it all together again.

Bipolar disorder means never having to say you’re finished.

Picture to follow. Loadshedding, you see.

Still, it’s cool and it’s mine and I love it.

IMG_0433

IMG_0433-0

Fly Fishing Sunday

I have resolved to fish on the Mooi tomorrow.

I shall throw my gear in the car before first light, awash with the anxiety that comes with expectation.

I’ll arrive and tie up a leader oblivious of the technology or near-witchcraft required for its proper performance.

I’ll select a fly based on the blind chance that resulted in it’s previous success.

I’ll cast crudely into what I think are decent holding areas and will lose flies in riverine flora.

I will announce my presence to the fish with clumsy wading, line flash, false casts and drag.

I’ll follow the dry or indicator and will be blind to the number of fish I miss.

I will catch a few fish; enough to keep me engaged and too few or too small to allow for self confidence and braggartry.

I will chastise myself for the abject social awkwardness that forever precludes me from asking for pointers from more experienced fishers, hiring a guide or joining a club.

I will look out on the stream, the horizon and the mountains and my soul will be filled with naive wonder.

I will return home late in the evening a better man.

In a few weeks I will summon the self confidence to try again.