Category Archives: Dan’s Thoughts

Take a Bad Song, and Make Things Better…

Stuart Faulkner, of The Barnacles/Pink Grease, has temporarily taken over the Barnacles Myspace page with some of his half-baked bedroom strummings. I love this kind of naïve music, and I love this first sentence of his accompanying blog post:

Here’s some songs up i wrote, they aren’t very good, but if you listen to them it will lower your expectations of how good music’s supposed to be and make the rest a far more pleasant experience in comparison!

I am not a Rapist

I was supposed to be teaching a photography workshop to a group of Muslim girls (aged about 11-14) yesterday. This workshop has been scheduled for about a month, and I already taught a workshop to the same group about two months ago.

So, on Thursday I phoned just to make sure everything was still OK. The woman at the other end said “oh, could you send a woman teacher instead, the thing is some of the parents are unhappy about a man teaching their daughters”.

There is no woman teacher. I am the teacher. If you don’t want me, you don’t get a workshop.

To be honest, I was quite glad of the day off, but Karen – who organised the workshop, secured funding for it, and now has to go back to the funders and explain why the workshop that they paid for will not now be taking place – was understandably livid.

But, the more I thought about it, the more I also got angry. Why don’t they want me to teach their daughters? I already ran one workshop with them and, judging by the assessment forms they completed, it seems they really enjoyed it and found it useful. I like to think that I am fairly sensitive to the needs and sensibilities of different cultures. Having fostered Muslim girls in the past, I have a little understanding of Muslim culture, and I do my utmost to behave in an appropriate way.

I can only assume that they don’t want me teaching their girls because, as a representitive of the male gender, they do not trust me with them. They fear that I might, in some way, violate their daughters’ purity. To put it bluntly, they believe that “all men are rapists”.

It strikes me that this is very similar to if I were to say “I don’t want my daughters to be taught my a Muslim because ‘all Muslims are terrorists'”.

What’s Blue and White and Very Funny?

Ever since the age of about 13, I have had a favourite joke. It’s one that’s remained constant over about 25 years. But it’s also part of a series of jokes, and I’ve long since forgotten the two jokes that lead up to it. I’ve even searched the Internet several times – after all, everything is on the Internet, right? But, no such luck, although variations on the joke do exist online, I’ve never managed to track down the entire series.

So I was amazed when, on Saturday night, I started telling my “all time favourite joke” to Marsha and Fay. A slightly amazed look passed over Marsha’s face as I began the joke, and when I finished it she said “I know that joke! It’s one of my favourites too”. She also couldn’t remember the entire series, but she remembered a little more than me, and her additional bits helped me to fill in the gaps.

Discussing it further, we realised that we are almost the same age and must have heard it at around about the same time. Seems that this joke meme was a very short-lived one, so we decided to revive it. Here goes…

What’s white and sits in a tree?

Continue reading What’s Blue and White and Very Funny?

Courier delivery times

Why is it that whenever I’m sent something “AM delivery” it arrives, without fail, between 11.45am and midday (or 12.45 and 1pm for 1pm deliveries). And when it’s an “any time in the day” delivery, if it doesn’t again turn up during the last 15 minutes of the day then it will (more common, in fact) arrive between 3.10 and 3.20pm, when I am usually collecting the girls from school.

Well, no delivery yet today, so this time I’ve arranged for somebody else to collect the girls. Which, of course, means that delivery will be pushed back to the end of the day. Or missed out all together, and I’ll have to wait until Monday. Or mis-delivered, and I’ll have to wait until god-knows-when.
Actually, we did get a delivery first thing this morning (while I was walking the dog – the other favourite time for delivery drivers to arrive – fortunately Gill was still in to receive this one). When I got back, I spotted the parcel and thought “that looks damned small for 28 photobooks”. Opened it up and it was actually my copy of Adobe Lightroom, which I ordered over two weeks ago. I actually wrote to them yesterday to cancel the order, because they were being so bloody slow, but as with all of my customer service queries to Adobe (“…we will reply to your query within 24 hours…”) this one has been completely ignored.

By some other bizarre stroke of fate, I got two identical emails (except that one was sent “high priority”) from Adobe last night, telling my that my order had shipped. On 12th April. Muppets!

Did I mention that Adobe sucks?

Search engine latest news

From time-to-time, I’ve reported here on some of the search phrases that bring the most traffic to this site – see for example here, here and especially here. Whenever I’ve checked back recently, the top terms have been fairly static and dull, but a recent post I made has shaken up the search-charts worse than a record company-employed undercover shopper.

So here are some of this week’s new top search terms:

  • naked girls
  • naked spanish girls
  • naked slaves
  • girls in chains
  • slave girls
  • slave girl
  • naked slave girls
  • slave girls of rome
  • spanish girls naked
  • girls stripped naked
  • naked girl dancing

Etc, etc etc.

There’s nothing quite so much fun as confounding peoples’ expectation.

Culturally Inappropriate

Our latest fostering placement just ended, under very unfortunate circumstances.

Normally, trans-racial and cross-cultural fostering is a no-no: wherever possible, the agencies in charge will try to place a child with a family from a similar background. In practice this is often impossible: foster carers are mainly white British, and the demand for care from other groups in society is such that often compromises have to be reached. Even placing “appropriately” can often be quite inappropriate: if one of your cultural pigeonholes is labelled “Asian Muslim”, does that mean that it’s OK to place an Iraqi Sunni with an Iranian Shia family?

Cross-cultural fostering is something which Gill and I have been interested in for some time now. Last year, social services mistakenly placed a “dual heritage” (previously known as mixed race/half-caste/mulatto/…) boy with us. They were horrified: he should have been placed with a black foster family (the fact that his mum is white British apparently counts for little), and it was only because his paperwork did not mention his racial background that he accidentally ended up with us. Anyway, after some initial getting used to one another, it ended up being the most rewarding placement that we’ve had. We got a huge amount from the experience, as did he, and we were quite keen to carry on with similar placements if possible (which generally it isn’t, sadly).

However, one area where cross-cultural fostering is possible is with refugees and asylum-seekers. Many refugees arrive in this country as unaccompanied children, and there are often few, if any, foster carers from the same cultural background. Gill and I have a reasonable understanding and appreciation of various cultures, plus we are far more flexible than the majority of foster carers we meet (many are unwilling to adapt their routine or diet to suit a child’s culture, but we will very happily revert to vegetarianism, ban pork from the house, buy halal meat, make trips to the temple… whatever is required. Although I am a battle-scarred atheist, and Gill is no big fan of organised religion either, we are professional and sensitive, and do not seek to impose our views on the children placed with us, but instead respect their cultural background).

But it’s equallly important not to let “respect for another culture” slip into cultural relativism. All cultures are not equally valid in all respects and practices. We have been providing a home to somebody from a culture where it is considered acceptible to have sex with girls from the age of 12, where men can do so with relatively little fear of reprimand, but where any unmarried “woman” (i.e. 12 year-old or older) who is seen with a man risks ostracism and, were she in her own country, stoning to death.

And so it was that, because this child staying with us had been seen out with more than one man, we received news (from several quarters) that a contract had been put out on her life (some referred to it as a “fatwa”, although I think this is probably just muddled thinking). Social services and our fostering agency, while concerned by this news, did not take it very seriously at first, and she remained with us for several days. It was only once we, on our own initiative, spoke to the police and to the Refugee Council (both of whom have far more experience with this type of incident than social services or the agency) that we discovered the situation was very serious indeed, and we should certainly take the threat at face value.

She has since been moved from our house to a secure unit, and we now have a “panic button” installed in the house, which brings a reponse from the local police within approximately five minutes (we’ve been told not to let the kids or dog near it as, once pressed, the police will come and, if necessary, break down the front door, even if we phone them subsequently to tell them the button was pushed by a mistake). We sleep with a bucket of water underneath the letterbox. And we do not feel safe allowing any future foster placements into our home until this situation is resolved.

A Troublesome Noise

I’ve just experienced a most wonderful, most unlikely coincidence.

My mind is on fire at the moment. These last couple of nights, I’ve only managed to grab a couple of hours sleep, not – for once – because I’ve been out partying & photographing, but because my brain has been so active that after an initial hour or two’s deep sleep I find myself jolted awake, not tired in the slightest, and unable to sleep again.

So, I just walked Gizmo, and as I did so my brain was awash with ideas, plans, debates, internal conversations. One of these internal debates concerned free-improv music. During the debate, I was thinking of the Last Exit album, The Noise of Trouble. I thought how much I would like to listen to it today, but realised that would be impossible as it’s “one of those albums” which Gill would hate to listen to, and it really demands to be listened to loud through the stereo in the living room.

I thought no more of it, but when I got home, unexpectedly, Gill told me she was going out for a couple of hours. I sat down to breakfast and thought I would stick some music on. I fired up my Squeezebox and put it on “Random album” mode, as I usually do when I’m not sure what I want to listen to. Blow me down, of all the 5000+ albums in my collection, which one do you think it plumped for? That’s right, The Noise of Trouble. Suddenly my whole train of thought came back to me like a blast from Peter Brötzmann’s saxophone as I luxuriated in the joyful noise.

So… what was the train of thought that led me to think of this album? It grew out of thoughts about a comment I posted on Flickr last night. I love free-improv music (when in the right frame of mind), but I’m well aware that most people don’t share this love. Most people are either baffled by it or incredulous that anyone might want to submit themselves to the torture of listening to such rot. And, of course, most people will claim that “that’s not music!” And for this reason, I’m sometimes wary of even telling people about my band, The Tajalli Vortex, because at heart I’m a coward, afraid of the negative reactions, and I can’t even be bothered to engage in a bit of debate about something I love.

So why do I love it? And why should anyone love it? Well, it’s probably most instructive to explain how I discovered this music and grew to love it myself.

In my early 20s, I was a huge fan of the bassist Bill Laswell. It came about because I was a fan of Gong in my teens: Laswell played on the 1979 album New York Gong / About Time, and I was instantly hooked on his unique but incredibly funky style. I started buying every Laswell record I could lay my hands on (and there are a hell of a lot of them!)

Then one day I came home with a new Laswell acquisition, The Noise of Trouble. I put it on the record player… and wondered what had hit me. It was half-an-hour of meaningless noise, no discernable funky basslines, just… noise, ugly, horrible, headache-inducing noise. I was really disappointed, but also really, really puzzled. I knew this guy was an incredible musician, I had a huge amount of respect for everything else I’d heard from him… so why did he feel it necessary to put out a whole record of useless crap? Fascinated, I put the record on again. Over the next few weeks, I would listen to it intently, but without any pleasure, almost every day, sometimes two or three times in a row, trying to discern some nugget of redeeming music within its harsh melée of sound.

Then one day, something strange happened. I guess I was onto about my 20th or 25th listen, and suddenly it just clicked! And it was more beautiful, more complex, more rewarding than anything I’d ever heard before. And I’ve never looked back.

That experience taught me a very valuable lesson – that which is worthwhile is not necessarily easy. To paraphrase a famous advertising slogan, good things come to those who put some effort in. Many people believe that the most important redeeming quality for a piece of music is that it be “catchy”: if it doesn’t have an instant hook to pull you in and make you love it, then it’s somehow second-rate. Although there is an element of this prejudice in all branches of the arts, it seems to be strongest in music: few people would expect you to fall in love with a James Joyce novel or a Jackson Pollock painting without putting in a little effort, and many people recognise that the rewards that come from considering Joyce or Pollock are greater than those that come from considering Barbara Taylor Bradford or Jack Vettriano.

Free-improv is challenging music, it is music that demands your full attention in order to be appreciated, but again I think that this is a good thing. We live in an age when music is increasingly expected to serve as a backdrop to all aspects of life. Whether you’re shopping, having a bath, doing the washing up, reading a book, operating heavy machinery… people increasingly feel a need to have a stream of music babbling in the background, somewhere on the borders of consciousness. I admit to being as guilty as anyone on this charge, but I also strongly believe that it devalues music and makes us less capable of appreciating both complex music and, just as importantly, silence. Free-improv bucks the trend. Free-improv is not elevator music! It demands the devotion of 100% of your mind, and if you are able to give that (and it’s not always easy – there are still many times when I don’t have the mental strength to cope with such demanding music) then the results are incredibly beneficial for the soul.

I’ll just recount here one other fruitful experience I once had defending free-improv and noise music. The guitarist Pat Metheny is generally thought of as a purveyor of rather middle-of-the-road, easy-listening jazz guitar music. However, underneath that cuddly exterior he has an affinity for the wilder side of jazz, in particular the music of Ornette Coleman. As well as some fairly out-there collaborations with the likes of Coleman and Sheffield-born free-improv prime mover Derek Bailey, in 1994 Metheny released an album called Zero Tolerance for Silence which polarised (read: with very few exceptions, disgusted) his fans. At the time, I had recently got online and, although yet to hook up to the Internet, I was very active on CompuServe, in particular on their jazz forum. On the forum, there was an outpouring of outrage that Metheny had the temerity to insult his many fans by releasing an album of such unlistenable dross. I was one of, I think, only two people willing to defend the album, and as a result suffered ridicule and flaming from other members. But I did get probably the best imaginable reward for my forthright comments: a beautifully sweet email from Pat Metheny’s mum, thanking me for standing up for her son!

I Ignite Models

I will soon be doing another model photo-shoot. This kind of thing makes me nervous. I have too much control, and I hate having too much control, it gives me too much responsibility.

On a whim, I checked whether the domain name ishootmodels.com was available. It wasn’t. However, UKReg came up with some interesting possible alternatives:

ifiremodels.com
idischargemodels.com
ilimbmodels.com
iignitemodels.com
iboughmodels.com
ibombardmodels.com
ibranchmodel.com
iblastmodel.com

It took me a while to work out where they were coming from with the limb & branch stuff, but I got there. None of them are really suitable alternatives, but could be handy if I ever get into the model-blasting business.

Ponderosa

I am working on a new set of photos, taken in Sheffield’s Ponderosa park. Photos are online at Flickr. Here’s a description of my thinking behind this set:

Two years ago, my friend Hugh was attacked from behind while talking on his mobile phone, late at night on Commonside.

Several months later, I found a mobile lying on the pavement close to my house. I could tell it belonged to a student (there was a message on the screen from one of the candidates taking part in the Sheffield University Student Union Elections, reminding the owner to vote). I assumed it had dropped out of his pocket during a night of drunken over-indulgence. So I searched the contacts for “mum”, and phoned her, only to be told that she was sitting in hospital next to the phone’s owner. When his girlfriend came to collect it the next day, I asked whether he was OK. In obvious distress she said “No, he’s not. He has blood on his brain. He was punched just down the road from here, fell down and hit his head on a metal grate”.

I was deeply affected by this fleeting contact with somebody else’s life.

When subsequently I found an open rucksack and a lunchbox, under a tree in the Ponderosa, I was certain that it was the discarded side-effects of another mugging. I took it to the police station, hoping it might provide some evidence. The desk clerks seemed to think the fact that I’d bothered to take it in was faintly ridiculous.

Soon after that, in exactly the same spot, I was savaged by a police dog which was being used to sniff out a stolen purse.

This accumulation of incidents showed me a different side to this pleasant student neighbourhood. The peace and seclusion of the Ponderosa, the tranquil moments I enjoy there when walking the dog, are also ideal for muggers who go there at night to divvy up their loot after jumping on drunken students or rifling through their houses. Dealing with the police had left me feeling powerless and ineffective, so instead I started to photograph the detritus, evidence, discarded and unwanted traces of night-time crime.

Technically, these pictures differ from many of my others because they are shot with a point-and-shoot camera, and not edited in any way (normally I will make some adjustments to contrast and sharpness, as well as often cropping photos, before uploading them). They are also uploaded at original camera resolution. What they have in common with the majority of my photos is that they are taken direcly as they are seen “in the wild”, nothing is posed or re-arranged to the camera.