Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Keep Calm, and Carry On...




Here's to the people that carry on in the face of adversity, to those that never say never, despite what life throws at them, to the people whose spirit lifts a nation...

Nice propaganda if you can manufacture it. However, a very iconic poster.

Was travelling around London over the weekend and so will be filling the blog up this week with some juicy tit bits from the Capital. And while travelling, saw this iconic poster in a market place.

Will be reporting more this week ;)

Monday, 29 November 2010

The Wiki-Leaky Cauldron

Wikileaks is back! This time with news that the USA does this and that to get this and that from the world.

I (personally) love the US and the West in general. It is a lot easier to live here. It is because we are free. But it is that freedom that we must constantly be vigilant against. And governments must realise, that they work for us. That is why it is good to see the release by Wikileaks, as we can hold our governments accountable.

To be honest most of the time, we already know what the USA (and its allies) is getting up to, so a lot of these leaks are actually no great surprise, just a confirmation of reality. And to be honest, I do a agree with a lot of what the USA does or what they are on the look out for. Not the bit about killing people in the name of oil, sorry, the Iraq war. But things like looking after their citizens or actually questioning China's shipment of nuclear materials seems to be in our own interests.

Long may the scrutinising of our governments or their inter-locking involvements continue! It may make our politicians squirm, but they have to learn that sometimes a little honesty goes a long way. And to be honest, what is the worst that can happen - just a few red faces. The revalations are not that, well, revealing. All in all, something to look at, something of great interest, but confirmation that life goes on...

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Don't f**k with the Sisko! (Purile but fun post today!)

(Remember, this is based on a fictional world, so don't take this too seriously...)

All right, I am a Star Trek fan. Just type in Star Trek into the search bar in this blog (currently located to the top left of the screen) and you will see what a geek I am.

So who is the greatest Star Trek Captain? It is the one, and only, Sisko!



You can watch here, just how awesome Captain Sisko is.

Let me go through a few of the facts.

He was not as cerebral as Picard, or as gung-ho as Kirk, but you know what Sisko was the ultimate. He became divine at the end of the series, he punched Q, he started and finished a war, he was a good dad and he wept for his dead wife. Both of them. The wife in this universe and the wife in the parallel universe.

But, probably the best thing that Sisko ever did was create the Defiant. You see, when the Borg hit Picard, he mused over a cup of tea and smashes a glass stand. The Borg hit Sisko, so he brooded and then invented the Defiant. The friggin' Defiant - the best Sci-Fi star ship ever! It was a tiny hull attached to multiple cannons. Violence in during Prime Time? Violence that kicked ass? That had the words: Do not F**k with The Sisko emblazoned on the side, like some pimped up ride?

Yes, I have already written about the Defiant.

Okay, you want to see Defiant. Here. Here. And most importantly, here. And that is just for starters.

What better way to get revenge for the death of your wife, then by designing a ship whose sole purpose is to exterminate the people who killed her.

Like it has been stated, do not F with The Sisko...

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(Fun Links)

More explanation behind Sisko - great video!

Ben Sisko Facts - similar to Chuck Norris Facts (huge fun)!

In the Pale Moonlight the episode where Sisko kicks ass!

Far Beyond the Stars when Sisko fights the one thing that might defeat him - his mind...

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I will be back on Monday ;)

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Irfan Post 16 - I despise editing Sound

Let is get this straight. Despite my normally cheery and bright attitude, editing sound is a painstaking process. A crappy picture is forgivable to the eyes, but bad sound is not forgiven by the ears. What makes the baby cry, Barney, or Barney's singing?

I do not want Irfan to sound like Barney. And my head hurts from the sound editing. I want to kill. Now.

Let me explain through pics again. A fairly monotonous process to clean up the vocals to make them sound a little crisper.

Take the original sound clip that I wish to edit and send it through to the sound cleaner:



Next, find a part of the clip that only has background sound. Isolate the background sound and set the filter to detect this noise.



Thirdly, reduce the noise. As your background sound has been set as the noise, you can decide by how much you want to reduce it. If the scene is dubbed, by a hell of a lot, as you are artificially adding in background sound. If it is part of the natural speech (non-dubbed) then only a little, as you need some background sound to add a little harmony to the dialogue.



This is then saved and automatically sent back to the timeline (first pic or see last week's post) and then onto the next clip.

The whole thing is sooooooooooooooo repetitive, which is why my brain is about to fry itself.

But it is almost done, just one scene left to go over with a fine tooth comb and then I am off to Colour Correct. Time passes to my December deadline, ever so quickly!

Toodles!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

London Diary 36

We walk onto the tube, nay, we strut onto the tube. Her boots and mind clunking on the vinyl floor of the carriage. We are like a couple of movie stars, we own the carriage and the rest of the crowd know it. They divert their eyes, except for one man sitting in the corner. He looks angry, maybe at us, maybe at the world. Loneliness is a painful thing, it poisons the soul. As we take our seat, I see him stare from under his eyebrows, bitter, twisted.

The train rumbles through the tunnel, fast. I love the Victoria Line. It speeds underneath the Capital, an express of light blue that weaves through all the muck of the city. I look at my lover, and we giggle at each other. Her knees knock against mine as the carriage vibrates on its underground journey. It is that warm moment, that gushy feeling inside both of us. Smiling, flushed, touchy-feely. I caress her thigh as her foot rubs against my calf. We only have a few brief moments with each other until we separate. She will head off back to her part of town, I will head off back to mine. Living on the same side of the river, but living two separate and distinct lives apart from each other, except when we come together, all to briefly.

I look up, it is Oxford Circus. We get up and leave, the fast Victoria line onto the slower Bakerloo Line that will take us down the the Elephant. That lousy roundabout where every bus in South London must pass through. I despise the place, not for the architecture (brutal), but it is where we will eventually part. I hate that moment, when we have to part. It is the time that my mind clouds over. When I have to think about my life, and when she, also has to think of her life.

Why do we live like this, to only capture fleeting moments? Why don't we just come together, once and for all? What is stopping us, why do we resist. But as we reach our destination, we become more distant. The flush, warm feeling is replaced by cold steely glares, tension and eventually we stop being lovers and become two complete strangers, sitting next to each other on a train south of the river...

Monday, 22 November 2010

Me and iTunes just do not get along - bring back Recently Added you bastards!

The problem with a Mac is that you are pretty much locked into Apple with regards to playing your media files. Every time they make an improvement to their freeware (while at the same time charging extortionate amounts for their hardware/software), you basically have to like it or lump it. Some of Apple's closed sourced systems work really well. The design face is nice, and all that and it does run smoothly as they make the computers and the stuff that runs on it.

But there are a lot of dumb things as well, which open source systems seem to fix. The whole Linus Law whereby given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.

iTunes could really do with going Open Source. Of course it won't, it makes money, but every time that Apple decides to do an upgrade, the more I just sigh with impatience.

All right, what is my bugbear this time? Wel, we are now on iTunes 10.1, or whatever. Great. Number 10, X-Factor and all that crap. Well, it is better than iTunes 9.xx - a complete disaster in how not to make an application. iTunes 10 does not have the bugs, but it does miss out one key thing.



Here is the menu tab at the side of the iTunes. It looks perfectly normal, but, annoyingly, there is no more Recently Added Playlist.

Let me explain. You found an old CD in your shed. You got really excited as it contained a great single from the nineties, something like this. So you rip the CD onto your computer, and it ends up in your iTunes library.

Now I have a few playlists, Big Boobies being the playlist that I use the most (hence the playful name). But when you import a tune, it goes into the main library. Now before iTunes 10, this was not a problem. You simply went to the Recently Added playlist, and there would be the song(s) from your old CD collection ready and waiting to be assigned to whatever playlist you desired. Same if you downloaded a tune from an online store. It would go into your music library, but it would also be sitting in the Recently Added playlist, waiting to be moved to wherever you desired.

So useful was this tool that Apple got rid of it in an effort to improve iTunes.

I have been far too busy to complain about this sooner, plus, to be honest, iTunes 10 is just nowhere near as awful as iTunes 9 in terms of functionality, so I have managed to live without it. But it is annoying, and I want my Recently Added to come back, right next to Recently Played on the menu bar of iTunes. Apple, please put back the Recently Added playlist into your next upgrade of iTunes. Pretty please! Or even better, if you are running iTunes 7, do not bother upgrading...

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Likes

Or dislikes?

It is Sunday.

Day of rest or day of rush.

How about a day of neither.

Or either.

Blip-bleep-blob.

Rambling.

Mind disfunctioning.

Or is this perfect harmony.

Function with a capital 'F'.

F for many things, including life.

Oooh, I found out that I have a shed load of holiday coming to me next year!

Yey!

Sorry, where was I?

Likes? Good food, stalking or lousy company?

Dislikes? Interference. Loud annoying voices. Nagging, especially after I get up.

Wasting money. I hate that. But I am a spender rather than a saver.

I blame inflation, not my own personality.

Random, this blog post is...

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Motorcycle Diaries (7)

It is that time of the moment again. Something has to be done on my motorbike. Not necessarily a major piece of maintenance, after all, it is a Honda (the only time you will see branding on this blog) and you can ride these bikes into the ground before they conk out on you. Why cant other manufacturers take lessons from the Japanese?

Sorry, yes, another piece of maintenance related blogging. Not because it is needed, but because I feel like it. Well, maybe, there is some necessity in some of the maintenance. First up I needed to lube up my chain, something I have not done since I bought the bike. Naughty me. The chain is covered, which is why my lubing has been non-existent, but even a covered chain needs a little greasing, especially if your chain is squeaking.

Now, my chain guard is missing a bolt, which makes in look unsightly, but means that lubing up the chain is pretty easy, as I do not have to undo so many bolts to reach the chain. Rather, the gap in the chain guard will suffice as access to the chain and allow the spray to reach all the intended parts!



But as it was a sunny day, and my tools were already out, I thought I might as well fiddle with the rest of the bike. So I decided to change the light bulbs. That was the tail and the indicator bulbs (the headlight getting replaced earlier this year, and the side light to be left to another day when I feel like it). I could get a good look at the bulbs and why not, it is winter, and I need the lights to be in tip top now more than ever.



And so I feel good, my chain is rip roaring ready, and my bulbs are shiny bright and squaeky clean. Off to the hills I go! Vroom-vroom...

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Bicycle Diaries - Autumn to Winter...

It has been a grotty past couple of weeks in the UK, with storms coming in off the Atlantic causing floods in some parts of the UK. However that has not deterred me from cycling away through London, as a man must whenever he is going to work or running around doing errands or seeing friends, all of which I have done on the bicycle since my return from Sri Lanka a couple of weeks ago.



But it was a beautiful day today, and so on my errands, running around London, utilising everything from Biltong Purchases, to Motorbike maintenance and of course that all important visit to the bank, I have been on my lovely little bicycle. It may not be fast or flash, but I do enjoy riding the two wheeled pile of rust. Unfortunately, with my brakes now almost worn down to nothing, I need to do some repairs in the next few weeks...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Royalty...

Hurrah! There is a Royal wedding coming next year, let the festivities begin, gaaw bless 'em, this is a great day for Britain...

Maybe my sarcasm is not cutting enough.

All right, here's the news feed first of all - click to enjoy.

Now, good luck to them and all that, but likewise, good luck to all the newly engaged couples who yesterday revealed to their nearest and dearest their future plans. But unfortunately for me, there is going to be wall-to-wall TV and media coverage of dresses, bouquets and royal protocol. It was there this morning and will be there until the two of them get married/split-up next year.

Am I a republican? Yes. In theory. If I was to set-up a country, a democracy is the best type of government to establish (and I despise governance), and a republic is the best way of facilitating one. But in practice, I have no problem with the monarchy in the UK. It is benign, it is cheaper (and less repulsive) than having, say, President Blair. And in my belief, if the system ain't broke, why fix it. I am not saying the UK's system of governance is perfect, but the problem is not the monarchy, it is merely a distraction from the bigger issues.

And that is one of the reason's why I cannot stand this Royal Wedding. Not for the wedding itself (good luck to the couple) but for the fact that these two people have been given special attention, just due to their birthright, not due to hard work. Likewise, how much of my money, my taxes will be spent on this wedding. Considering all people are equal citizens in this country, will my future wedding (if I get married) receive state aid? Nope.

In these hard times, when students are going to have to pay more for their education, when thousands of people are going to be loosing their jobs, when the weakest in society are going to get the rug pulled out from under them, are we going to spend cash on two over privileged individuals?

I will be honest, I am no fan of any of the above bits of government spending, and I am happy that the government is cutting them (though not the method by which they are doing it). But will it be fair to then spend state money on a wedding? A bit of pomp and ceremony. And especially when the individuals in question can obviously afford it. If the TV companies want to play out the wedding, so be it, I can switch off. If people want to talk about this upcoming event, so be it, I can avoid their conversation. But if the government chooses to spend on this wedding, can I get a rebate?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Are you Happy?

Are you happy?

Well, the government wants to know. In this time of belt tightening, the government is going to spend tax payer's cash on sending out an army of statisticians to measure the general well being of the UK.

Let me state this again...

The government is going to ask the population of the UK if it is happy.

Happy?

Happpy!

I'm bloody happy! Look at me smile! :)

I'll do it again!

:)

You see!

How f-ing hapy I am!



Utterly depressing...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Irfan Post 15 - Sound Editing Details

This is going to be quite an deep, geeky and long blog post about the post-production work currently raging round Irfan. While I have been back for three weeks, I have been busy working on finishing the sound for Irfan. Unlike previous films, I have decided to take a very different approach to utilising the soundtrack.

On my previous shorts I have been obsessed with trying to get the sound to match the picture as accurately as possible. On Irfan, this is very different. Why? Well, there are three very good reasons for this.

Firstly, the soundtrack is near perfect. Good sound quality in the first place makes you less self-conscious about what you have available to you, and what was captured during the filming process is of a high standard.

Secondly, all the actors were happy and willing to dub. A cast that is co-operative makes post-production easy, and you are not so obsessed with capturing the sound during production perfectly.

Thirdly, I have the sound track, at a very early stage of the editing timeline. See here for Nick's brilliant post about composing the music for Irfan. All these factors have meant that I could change my attitude to sound and the soundtrack of Irfan as a whole. How? Well, instead of trying to accurately match video to sound, I want to use the sound as a part of the story telling process, using it to convey the emotions I wish to tell in this movie itself.

This is quite a hard concept to explain in words, and it will become clearer when Irfan is complete. But I will take three instances from Irfan to show how I am using the soundtrack not as a device for aiding the picture, but as a means to convey emotions and the plot line separately from the picture.



This is the editing suite at the beginning of the film. Look at the long horizontal window at the bottom. That is my timeline. The blue bars are piece of video footage, and the green bars are pieces of sound footage. While you will see only one picture at a time - represented in the top right window where you see Sippy and Safirah (the characters of Irfan and Saira) - as you can see, there are many soundtracks that can potentially be heard at the same time.

Now this first scene has been dominated by Nick's music, with only one piece of 'live soundtrack' take form the actual footage. Why? Well, the beginning of this movie is peaceful, a moment of reflection, as the character of Irfan is contemplating...well, that is for the audience to decide (must not give too much away at this stage) and so I wanted to keep the soundtrack as silent as possible. The only bit of real sound is that of the car door opening and shutting. A significant moment, as the character of Irfan is creating a world when he sees Saira appear. The opening and closing of that car door, to me as the director, represents Irfan entering that world and shutting the door behind him.

(I did warn this post was going to get deep).



All right, this scene is halfway through Irfan, and is basically a straight dub. The sound capture was of a good quality, but you know what, I had the actor's voices on dub, and it would be easier to use that rather than mess about with sound correction itself. Although Nick's soundtrack is in tracks A7 and A8 (left hand coloumn of the timeline to see the number for the different Audio tracks), for the moment, there is no instrumentation coming through.

Tracks A1 and A2 represent Cristian's voice (playing the character of Vasile). Tracks A3 and A4 represent Marie Claire's voice (Playing Brenda). Tracks A5 and A6 represent the background or ambient sound of Vasile's attic space. Now, silence in a film is not truly silent. That is actually very uncomfortable to watch, but I do not pack out my films with dialogue itself. So naturally you need filler in between the dubbed bits and the ambient sound of the attic (taken from the original days' shots) provides that silence.

(I told you this gets geeky).



This final scene occurs towards the end of Irfan. At this moment Vasile's phone rings - in fact it vibrates. No, I did not want a phone ringing on set, as it is a pain in the neck to organise. I added the ring tone later on. But instead of picking out a ringtone from library of sound, I just set up my camera and recorded the ringing on my phone. Why? Well, firstly, it is at the same sound quality as the rest of the soundtrack, and secondly, it sound less generic.

It was not a perfect capture, but being such a short snippet, I removed the interference from the SFX by passing a filter through it.



What I did was bung the clip of the ringing mobile phone into my soundtrack software, and put a reduce noise filter through it. Got rid of the background static leaving a nice, crisp, vibrating sound.

(I said this was a long blog post)

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Right that is enough geekery. Apologies to the cast and crew for the long gap in between postings, but I hope you can see why I have not bothered to post a blog up on the editing of Irfan for a while, as I actually wanted to show you all something far more worthwhile than just, here I am so far, so good.

Next time I report, it will be from the world of Colour Correction.

Great.

In other words that means sitting in front of the computer screen while it endlessly renders the bastard.

Ugh..

Sunday, 14 November 2010

London Diary 35

They strutted onto the tube carriage, looking and smelling of sex. Smiles, giggles, tussled hair, warm touches. And I hated them for it. The Victoria Line, a thankfully noisy line, drowned out their conversation as the train whined through the tunnels towards South London. They sat opposite each other, he was gently caressing her knee while she lent back content at another night's fuck.

Really, I hated both of them. The smug bastards, screaming out to the rest of the world that we are getting laid, so hey hey. Piss off. And they did, two stops later, as they alighted off the train, probably to somewhere posh like West London, along the Central Line to their respective homes under the Heathrow flight path.

Look, I know, it's unreasonable to hate lovers, two people who are, in the end, minding their own business, and, who are just happy with each other. But that is the case. I am not happy. Not with me, not with anyone. It is not single, but something more complex than that. When I see her I love her, but at the same time, I cannot help but think of someone else. Someone who I have left behind, and whether I made the right choice. Sex is sex, beautiful, fun, fucking great, but I am no longer satisfied. Like eating when you are full, it is mechanical instead of joyful. I gaze at the tunnel wall as the train speeds through under the city. More people above me, some loving their lives and each other, others miserable like me. How much of that misery is a choice, like mine?

My stop, time to haul myself out of the seat. A pretty girl stands on the platform, our eyes meet for an instance, as she walks in and I walk out. Still wandering, my thoughts, my emotions, my passion. Nothing ever settles down for good...

Saturday, 13 November 2010

At the moment...

...my nephew is sitting on my knee. A mischievous little munchkin if there was ever one! One handed I type as I am about to dive into some editing of my short film Irfan. I have eaten supper, although with my body clock, what is supper and what is breakfast remains all but a mystery to me. My brain is inspired to comment about passing by so I will. The weather remains atrocious, the sign that Autumn has arrived and that we are hurtling towards winter. The end of another year, a moment close to the end, but also not a bad path so far. An old copy of Vanity Fair is on my desk, barely read, I cannot get into it. Pens, a phone card and for some reason, a hair band are also on my desk. I do not have enough hair to justify the ownership of such an object. My computer sits in front of me, imposing itself on my world, a gateway and a prison door, depending on my mood. But the mood that I feel is my own, and today it is a...meh!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Life...

...has been exhausting today, but finally, my time of rush is at an end. A good night's sleep is about to come over me (after a shower) and I am looking forward to a little bit more of a saner lifestyle.

I must actually explain why I have been so rushed, but I think I will at the end of the year. Hopefully, it would all have been worthwhile. Then again...

Night-night...sleep tight...

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Another airport ride...

I'm off to Heathrow again...but unfortunately, I am not the one going on holiday :(

Well, must catch on my beauty sleep beforehand!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Charlie, talks, life...

I am mumbling away to myself thinking many things, trying to multi task, but of course, failing miserably. For this is the world of El Director, and that means nothing is ever too serious or too peaceful for too long.

One thing I have not done in a while is actually spend some real time exploring London. Since the end of my bridges episode (still an epic achievement in my opinion), there has been very little venturing by me into actually seeing the city I live in, rather than just go through the motions of living in it. I am an explorer by nature, and it looks like that, for the moment, that exploring has come to a definite pause.

As I said, life has been busy. Busy with the post-production for Irfan (I promise an epic blog on that very soon). Busy with the run of the mill distribution for Cautionm Wet Paint - hey, just because you are editing one film, it does not mean everything else comes to a halt. Also busy working McJob (although since this week, I have taken on only my basic hours as thankfully the cash supply in my world has eased up considerably) and there are many other fun things that I have been getting up to - my thirties have been decidedly naughty in their nature ;)

Oh, and because I am pig headed, I still decide to cycle round London instead of motorbike everywhere - a vain attempt to keep fit in the face of mounting winter lethargy, but it works. A healthy body does equate to a healthy mind, unless a lunatic on four wheels decides to use me for target practice. Pig headed as it is slower than motorised transport, but even in this cold air (and I do feel the cold), it is somewhat exhilarating for the body and the mind in a meditative sort of way.

Thankfully, I have been getting some more sleep. Slightly more, but nothing fancy. Just enough to keep me alive, but as this month passes, I will also make sure I take a little bit more care of my health. I have been neglecting myself a lot recently, and it is sheer luck and the fact that I do eat well, that I have not been struck down by swine flu and the like. I am even socked that I got nothing when I went to Sri Lanka this year. For some reason, Sri Lanka always knocks me down with some dirty disease (but not India - I wonder why?). But this time I have emerged unscathed, so life feels...good?

Enough rambling, my mind has emptied enough its thoughts onto this blog wall. So dear reader, how are you all?

Monday, 8 November 2010

Famiy Times in Sri Lanka

So as I look back with great fondness on my trip to Sri Lanka, it is also twinged with a bit of sadness. It will probably be another four years until I return to its shores, such is the lag time between journeys to see the family. Remember, I also have a huge family on my mother's side who live in Seychelles, which means that my next family trip must be to another side of the Indian Ocean.


(Pomegranate in my Uncle's Garden)

You see that's the thing about me, two families on two islands means that the next time that I visit either my Father's family in Sri Lanka or my Mother's family in Seychelles, a lot of changes will occur.


(Grandparents' Coat of Arms in my Cousin's House)

But it was a good holiday. Brief. Too brief, but still managed to see everyone and everything that was necessary. The next time I visit, the world would have changed, so would the nation and so would my family. Even I might be in a very different place. I look forward to my next visit to Sri Lanka, hopefully sooner rather than later...


(Krishna and Radha at another cousin's house - and painted by her!)

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Decidedly Chilly

Ooh, I was out on the motorbike this morning, and it was decidedly chilly. A nip in the air, and despite my sexy new gloves, I still felt the pangs of cold in my fingers. Grr, something tells me that I should have got a scooter with heated seats and handlebars, but the sick side of me wanted a real manual bike. I think I need to get some hand guards, but this will take little financing...

But other than that, today is a deceptively sunny day. So that means heading off to my cousin's house for lunch - wait a minute, it is 12pm! What the hell am I doing writing this blog! I'm out of here...

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Colombo - Ugh...

Colombo. Probably the least lovely city in all of Asia. Maybe it is fatigue talking - after all, I have been seven times to Sri Lanka and all seven times I have had to spend a considerable amount of time in the Capital. A large proportion of my family now reside here, being the best place in the country to actually earn a living, and until the end of the Civil War, it was relatively peaceful compared to other regions further north.

I have no love for the place, but it is the best connected city in the country. The hub of the rail network, linked by bus/road to every other part of the country, and it is home to the nation's only international airport, which means unless you have great planning skills, you are going to pass through Colombo at some part of your journey to Sri Lanka. Ugh...



Lying on the coast of Sri Lanka, the Indian Ocean to the west, it is dominated by the sea. Colombo's port is one of the busiest in the world, and it dominates the northern reaches of the city. Its history as a colonial settlement is clear to behold, as there is very little history to the city. While the ancient settlements of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa show of the Ancient culture of the island, Colombo itself does have very little to show for it. Hustle, bustle, and lousy suburbs that try to ape their western counterparts, but without any success.



However, as I am trying to be a guide for Sri Lanka, if you are heading to Colombo, then try to head for the northern suburbs, Pettah (CMB 11) and the rough and ready Kotahena (CMB 13), avoided by the tourists who head to the south of the city, enticed by the ocean, but discovering little else in this part of the city. Colombo has 15 official suburbs in total, with post codes, as snooty as their London counterparts. Pettah houses the traders of the city, and businesses jockey with punters, as money exchanges between people. Commerce at its very best, anything you want, you can buy here in the Pettah.



Then there is Kotahena, a suburb where there is a church or a temple on every street corner. Immediately to the north of the Pettah district, it is a very Tamil area, and I am saddened to say, one of the rougher neighbourhoods in town (which if you're from London, really does not mean that much). But it is filled with character and beautiful buildings, with possibly one of the most confusing street layouts ever. Ignored by the government, whose modernisation plans for the south of the city is creating a society of have's and have not's, Kotahena is where the rich and the poor live cheek by jowl. Where everyone goes about their daily business with impunity, whether it is getting high on puff or high on worship. While it is one of the city's most fascinating areas, you have been warned, it is not for the meek and mild...



So there you have it, my trip to Sri Lanka in three places. Mannar, Jaffna and Colombo. The trip was short and sweet, and it is hard to believe that I have already been back for more than a week. As always, I do not know the next time I will go to Sri Lanka, but this time was definitely a lot of fun. It was good to see the family, good to catch up with the people, and great to eat some fantastic food!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Jaffna Town

Really, whenever a Tamilian heads to Sri Lanka, there is only one destination on their mind - Jaffna, once the cradle of Sri Lanka's Tamil culture, and a focal point of the Civil War. The birthplace of my father, it resonates deeply with me, as my Dad was never able to take me here while he was alive, due to the fighting, something that upset him greatly. However, I have made three trips to Jaffna on my own. Once in 2000, once in 2004 and again this year. Despite the peace that now lies over Sri Lanka, this was my shortest trip to Jaffna, just lasting 24 hours. Time was of the essence in this holiday, but it was enough time to see my relations. Although some elders had sadly passed away since my last visit, there was new family members to visit. Marriage and births meant that this was going to be the meeting of new people.



But it was still the same old Jaffna. War torn after a generation of bombardment and of course, by me, utterly unseen. For some curious reason, I have never done the touristic things. There are plenty of islands in the surrounding waters that I have not yet seen. The Fort, the Clock Tower and the (new) Library are all obvious sites, but I spend far too much time visiting family. After all, it is probably going to be at least four years until I see them again, and in that time, many things can and will change in Jaffna. So this particular post, unfortunately avoids the usual touristic haunts, and instead is a bit of reminiscing about an all too brief period of time spent in this northern town.



One place that I will make a point to visit next time I head to Jaffna is the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil. My cousin lives a stone's throw from the temple, and as a regular worshiper, I have made her promise me that the next time I go to Jaffna, she will take me there. But, in spite of my three visits to Jaffna, I have always walked past this most famed sight of the city. Again, a picture from the outside would have to suffice, but the next time I go to Jaffna, I will hopefully be able to see inside and wander round this beautiful place of worship.



I look back at Jaffna with a lot of fondness and a tiny bit of hope. I do no know what will happen in Sri Lanka. In fact, everytime I go here, the situation always changes. I have my views on the war, none of them positive, but at least it is over. You can see when talking and interacting wth the locals, that nobody wants to fight anymore. A generation of bloodshed has left much of Northern Sri Lanka resembling little more than a wasteland. Jaffna will never reach the heady heights of its Colonial past, but being the home of my father, despite the fact that it is a dump, I still have a fondness for this city...

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Motorcycle Diaries (6)

It has been a fair while since I have last posted up something on this blog about my beloved 125cc. That does not mean I was shunted over to four wheels, merely tht I was having so much fun riding the little beastie, that I did not have the time to write up about it!

But, being a bit of an oldie (13 years and counting) there is a continual need for maintenance of this bike. Now maintaining was part of the reason I actually got this bike. I not only wanted a bike that I could ride, but something that I could fix up. If I got a brand new bike, I would have been too scared (by the warranty) to touch it, and if I got something completely unreliable, I would have spent more time fixing the bugger than riding it. Being a CG125 means that I get the perfect balance of riding time, with the odd hiccup to stretch my poor mechanical skills that little bit.



Yes, that is the nearside cover of the bike all splayed apart, and for good reason - a dead battery. I knew my battery was knackered, when the lights were struggling to stay on while the engine was idle. But two weeks in Sri Lanka, and the battery was dead when I arrived back :(

So it was off to the local bile shop, a new battery ordered (just over GBP20) and then a quick replacement.



As you can see the battery itself is only a little thing. Since I ride all the time with the lights on as well, that means two years of power, if I am lucky. Thankfully it is pretty easy to replace the battery. Unclip the wires, take off the breather tube and insert the new battery. Clip everything back on and turn the engine. Again, and again and suddenly it will fire up! Success was mine, and I am finally back on two motorised wheels.

Next step to do - oiling the chain...

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Bleep-Bleep

Danger, danger, feeling topsy-turvy. Dizzy. Filled with my own self.

Safety, safety, feeling bad, linear. Upright. Filled with others.

Feeling out of control is great. But exhausting, to the point of breaking.

Please don't ask me why I am such,

So while the economy goes nuts, and more importsntly, I have to repair my Motorbike fixed.

I need the holiday beforehand. Exhausted.

Laters...

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Road to Jaffna - the A9 - a guide

If you are coming and want to know more about the Civil War, then check out the Channel 4 investigation - http://channel4.com/srilanka

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Jaffna - Sri Lanka's northernmost city, the former centre of the country's Tamil culture and the birthplace of my father. There is a lot of sentimental value that connects me to Jaffna, far more than the city is actually worth. But it has never been a straightforward journey to reach this city. The A9 road is the lifeline to the north of Sri Lanka. In the recent civil war, this corridor was savagely fought over, as whoever controlled the road, controlled access to the north. The A9 road starts in the hill city of Kandy and ends up in Jaffna, on the way passing through Vavauniya, Kilinochchi and the fabled Elephant Pass. I have managed to get to Jaffna three times, and two of those times has been via the A9. So join me on this journey up to the north...



For anyone not holding a Sri Lankan ID card - that is all foreign passport holders and all non-resident Sri Lankans, they must gain clearance from the Ministry of Defence to reach Jaffna, by either air or land. This is a relatively straightforward process, but it does require dealing with the bureaucracy of Sri Lanka, which means that it does take time. You need to fax a letter to the Ministry of Defence in Colombo and wait. The main bugbear is that you also need a Fax Number in Sri Lanka to receive permission. It is all straightforward and you should receive permission within two weeks. The difficulty is in actually getting the fax sent to Sri Lanka. It is not always guaranteed that their fax machine is turned on or not engaged. Thankfully, after four days, I managed to get my letter sent through and I got permission in under a week! Below is an example of the letter I faxed:



If you get permission faxed to your alotted number (most people do), then the trip is really easy. Out of all the times that I have travelled in Sri Lanka, 2010 was probably the most relaxed and hassle free, and long may it continue to be so! If you go by road, a plethora of options are available to you. You can hire a private car, travel on the many air conditioned buses that take the ex-pat Tamils direct from the capital, join the Sinhalese on their special tour buses from the south, or if you are a cheapskate like me, hop on the CTB from anywhere along the route. Their buses may be knackered, your body will ache for days after the trip, but at under GBP2, the price is right!



The good news is this. There is only ONE CHECKPOINT! Just to the north of Vavauniya (now, the true capital of the north of Sri Lanka), is the checking area, which is fairly quick and easy. You jump off the bus, the guards write your passport details and permission fax into the ledger, then you are off! Music will blare from the bus' speakers, the road will bump up and down and you will sail through the hot dry plains of the Vanni (I told you it was dry season). From Vavauniya, you are looking at around 4-5 hours of bumpy driving to get you there (quicker on the private buses). As you head the north, the train line looks inviting to your left hand side, but the line will not be open until 2011 at the earliest (the sooner the better!) and so enjoy the ride.

The first stop is usually Kilinochchi, the former headquarters of the Tamil Tigers, now today little more than an expanded village that serves awful food, but it is a welcome rest halt on the way. Next comes Murikandy (various ways to spell that town). Now there is an interesting tale behind this small pilgrimage site. It is said that stoppping here will avoid accidents on your journey as the local god is very powerful. I am not personally a believer, but knowing of the tale, I was relieved when we stopped here on the way up. You do not have to worship at the shrine. Just stop, then go. That is all that is required. Worship and prayer is for the devout. You take the risk, but yes, later on in this journey our driver managed to stop the bus in time instead of making motorbike pancake. Was it the local god at Murikandy? Who knows, but everytime I head up to Jaffna by road, I am always thankful when the bus makes a halt here.



Next up is the Elephant Pass. Jaffna is a peninsula, and the only way to practically reach it is over the series of bridges and causeways of The Pass. A lot of blood was spilt here over the past quarter of a century, but thankfully, the peace, now holding firm has made this a rather delightful tourist spot. Unfortunately, our driver was in a rush to get to Jaffna town, but I managed to take a few snaps of this wonderful lagoon on the rush up! Definitely somewhere to wander through next time, along with the rest of the tourists!



Soon the sea peters out and the (barely) dry land of the low lying Jaffna Peninsula is reached. Despite being here only three times, I know this part of Sri Lanka well, and it was not long before the suburbs of Jaffna Town filtered into view. I got off by the church, and headed off to my cousin's house, the place where my father was born and raised. It was a long time since I had visited Jaffna, but it was good to come and see the family again. But that, is another story...

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Biycycle Diaries - Mannar

Hot, dry and dusty - this is an appropriate a description as you could give to Mannar, a small island off the North Western coast of Sri Lanka. And thank goodness for that, as it meant it was the dry season. That's right, I had managed to sneak into the north of Sri Lanka before the onset of the NE Monsoon (the same monsoon that makes Tamil Nadu in India as wet as a bucket) which meant no mosquitoes, 45C heat and plenty of opportunity to explore this tiny patch of land without the threat of torrential rain.



My precious bone shaker while I was in Mannar. Far too small for me, dodgy brakes and a pain to pedal as there are no gears on the bike, but what a great way to get around. Until the wheel punctures :(

Still, I managed to see a little bit more of Mannar, and now with the current peace looking as if it will hold for the next few years, it was a great time to explore this remote part of Sri Lanka.



Cut off from pretty much the rest of the world, Mannar is really a land to itself. Different from much of Sri Lanka, and even from the rest of the north. The island also has a distinctly Catholic feel that adds something special to the local identity. The beauty of Mannar does not come from the lush green that usually characterises much of Sri Lanka, nor does it come from the verdant beaches that the rest of the country is famous for. The beauty of Mannar comes from its stark nature. Remember, this place is quite unlike anywhere else in the region. It is dominated by the heat, and unlike the rest of the country, seems to operate on its own timetable, with mornings and dusk being very busy times, while the middle of the day is devoid of humanity - only crazy tourists on bicycles decide to brave the heat of midday in order to take photos and explore...



This is my fourth time to Mannar, but my visits, as always, have been far too quick and far too rushed. Unfortunately, I do not know the next time I will be able to return, nor how much of my family will remain on my next sighting of this land. The last remaining sibling of my father lives here, which is why I spend so much time actually travelling to this remote part of Sri Lanka. Next time, I could well be bringing my own family here, so it is probably my last visit to Mannar that I will make as a free man. Life changes, I suppose I must grow up, but throughout my twenties, Mannar has been a very cool place to always visit. But onto the rest of my Sri Lanka tour...