the black things are the music

As some of you already know, I play the tuba. I started in 1993 with a baritone (I was just a wee lad, then) and switched to a rather small tuba within a few years.
I got into it because…well, to be blunt I was sort of forced.
It was either that or sports, probably because my parents wanted me to interact with local people so I get more friends. When I stopped wanting to go to the track and field stuff that I had been doing and that division kind of fell apart anyway, I got put into music.

My dad had been in the local orchestra since he was young as well, and he always had been in the comittee that ran the show. Since I had no actual preference or special talents, they gave me a baritone and said “tuba later”. My dad plays the tuba. Yes, I’ve been through the usual phases where I didn’t really like it, was frustrated with the kind of music we play1 but overall I enjoyed and still enjoy it. No small thanks to the projects and orchestras I was and still am a part off beside the vintner’s orchestra2 that is the core of our local music association3.

The one thing that probably kept me from wanting to ditch the whole thing during teenage years was my school orchestra. Our “Big Band”.  An orchestra consisting of about 40 students aged 12 to 19 lead by one of the school’s music teachers.4

I joined the band in 1996 and it was probably the best decision I have made in my whole time as a student. I made friends, and while musically it might have been dubious5 but it was one hell of a fun time. Our new headmaster had connections to various European projects so we went to Poland in 1997, to Sweden in ’98, Bulgaria ’99, then Poland again in 2000 and 2001. The last trip I joined started the day after I graduated from school and it was our year’s farewell tour. Quite a number of friends from my school year were in the band at that time.

Charles, our band leader turned 60 in 2013 and retired. One of the girls that I think is graduating this year had an awesome idea. She started a year before to contact former students who played in the Big Band that Charles had been leading for more than 25 years. And she made it. His family (two daughters who had also been playing with us) kept it secret and we organized a surprise party and concert in the school gym.

We met up early in the morning, got our old sheet music and rehearsed for a couple of hours. Of course we had a few breaks to catch up with people we hadn’t seen in years, socialise with people who’d played in the band long before we even started. Or after we’d left in my case. We made a wall with old photographs, wrote memories and quotes on it6 and took long trips down memory lane.

It was an awesome group of 60 musicians, about 30 current and 30 former members of the band. When Charles was announced to arrive in a few minutes we all hid in the next room and tried to stay quite. It wasn’t easy, we were quite giddy with excitement. His family led him into the gym and he let out an all too familiar groan. This orchestra sat there. A few teachers, friends, the headmaster, his family. When he sat down, the orchestra started playing one of our “classics”.  Tequila, by the champs. We had agreed on repeating one part over and over and have the former members entering the gym, ordered by age, youngest first. I was somewhere in the middle, having left about 12 years ago.

It was brilliant, we walked in with our instruments, waved, sat down and joined in playing Tequila, finishing the song after all the orchestra was complete. The girl leading the conspiracy said a few words and then handed us over to his lead again. She gave him the cues as to what we’d play next and it was just like old times for about an hour. His current 8th grade class sang a song for him and the current headmaster said a few words about how awesome it was that he made such an impact on people throughout the years to make us gather on a saturday afternoon and play for him. Charles said a few words as well, and it was hard not to start bawling for a lot of us, when we saw his slightly wet eyes.

He was blown away. I think it was one of the most beautiful things I have been a part of, and I still get a lump in my throat thinking about it. Which accounts for my slightly incoherent style today. Please forgive me.

He also impressed us by calling each of us out by name, no matter if we’d finished school one, five, ten or 20 years ago.

And I still get somehow giddy with excitement and a little sad with nostalgia, when I close with the words that he addressed us with so often, when we were about to play the encore, usually “Barbara Ann”.

And now everybody as fast and as loud as they can!

 

Oh, and here’s the new picture for www.52photosproject.com

I didn’t put one up last week because I couldn’t find anything minty or limey to save my life, so here goes. For the blog post obviously something related to music or the orchestra would have been good, but I found something else while looking through pictures of meeting people7

Campfire, Cologne/Germany, 2005

Campfire, Cologne/Germany, 2005

Footnotes
  1. I still sometimes get that []
  2. I live in a region that is very focused on growing wine []
  3. est. 1925 []
  4. let’s call him Charles, because reasons []
  5. playing loud and fast often took priority over precision and intonation []
  6. “the black things are the music” was an alltime favorite, along with “listen up!”, “ok, from the beginning, for the eleventh-last time” and “don’t drink more than you can force into you” []
  7. online friends, for reference see http://www.ollicrusoe.net/2013/12/here-be-dragons-friends-from-the-internet/ []

airplane stowaway

If you travel a lot, all sorts of things will happen to you. Sometimes getting somewhere can be more exciting and interesting than actually being in a foreign country. And since I’ve done my fair share of miles via air, land and sea1 I’ve also had the occasional hiccup2 in my travels.
In the end everything always turned out fine, but still, having to improvise, not knowing whether you will reach your destination in time, have all your baggage always adds a thrill to any trip.

This particular flight in 2006 from Luxembourg to Manchester via London was special, even for me. It was my first (though not my last) time with that airline. They use those pretty blue Fokker 50 planes. On this route you will fly into London, land at the City Airport, get out, go through customs, get back into the same plane, maybe a different seat and fly on to Manchester. Theoretically.

Arriving at the airport in Luxembrough I went to the check-in counter, slapped my electronic ticket print-out on the counter3 and was handed my boarding pass. It looked just like they all do, a slim cardboard rectangle with a part you’d keep with you for the rest of the flight after boarding. I checked my bag, went through security and got on the bird. Cabin crew was nice, we got candy and something to drink.

Upwards and onwards!

VLM

Upon landing in London the crew advised us to gather all our belongings and cabin luggage and go through customs, but not to try and get our checked baggage. That would remain on the plane. So far so good, I made my way through the airport and to the security check to get back on my plane.

I was a regular flyer back then4 so I stuffed my belt, watch, cellphone and wallet into my jacket and walked towards the metal detector, flashing the part of my boarding pass5 and my passport.
The impressive but friendly-looking security guy stopped me and said: “Sorry, but you need a bording pass. A transit pass. Please check if you have one in your pockets or bag!”
I looked at him, my facial expression not broadcasting any intelligence for a moment. I did tell the security guy that I only had the slip from my previous flight and this e-ticket print. And an email confirmation. He told me again: “You need a boarding pass.” Being my usual cooperative self I stepped aside, letting people pass and made a show of going through all pockets and my bag.
After two minutes of rummaging he suddenly asked me:

Are you on transit?

Yeah, sure, like I said. Manchester via London.

He waved me through. Ok, then. X-Ray, metal detector, not even a pat-down. I did look very harmless back then, I suppose. They do take a look in my carry on, but there’s only a camera and a book in there.

I grabbed my belongings, put belt and watch back on and went to the airline counter at the gate. People had queued up and I didn’t want to feel left out. After a few minutes, boarding had already started, it was my turn. I handed over the slip of my boarding pass, and the young woman said, friendly: “Sorry, I need to see the other boarding pass”, motioning the size and shape with her hands.
I explain that this and the email confirmation is everything I have. I did not get anything else in Luxembourg.
Her colleague got a serious look on his face, turned towards me and asked: “How did you get through security check? Please check again if you have your boarding pass, this is really important.”
So I tell him about my security experience.

I also want him to see that I am neither dumb nor stubborn, so going through my carry-on and all pockets again, I explain how I only got the one ticket in Luxembourg and thought that’d be it because it did say Manchester on it.

The woman makes a few phone calls and speaks into a walkie-talkie.  Crosschecks my passport and the ticket on her computer and explains me that I should’ve gone to the ticket-desk in London. They are really friendly and professional about the whole thing though. They ask me to wait a moment while some more walkie-talkie happens. After a few more minutes most passengers already have left the room and are sitting in the airport shuttle that is supposed to take them to the plane. I hesitantly ask if there is anything I can do to help. The airline guy tells me: “Well, I have to find out how you got through security, this is very serious.”  Talking on the phone, apparently getting an A-OK he scrawls a seat number on my ticket stub and waves me on towards the exit.

To this day I wonder if the guy at the security check got in trouble because of me .

Hey, maybe I will tell you how I nearly forgot my cellphone in a taxi after trying to explain the driver how to get to my cousin’s place6 or how I got a ride on an ambulance to the emergency room  later the same night.

Let me know what you think.

Footnotes
  1. I have neither been to the Halls of Montezuma nor the shores of Tripolis []
  2. flights cancelled, not been on the list to be picked up at the airport or had to take a detour []
  3. in a polite way []
  4. gosh, has it really been 8 years? []
  5. which said Manchester via London City []
  6. it was my first time ever in Manchester []

my one true love

Don’t fret, it’s not as cheesy as the title might suggest. As some others, this blog post was prompted by the 52 photos project. This week’s photo prompt: hearts.

At first I was caught by surprise. Hearts? I don’t have anything to do with hearts in my archive! Where am I going to find something heartsy to photograph?

Well, here’s what I came up with.

my one true love

my one true love

Yup. If I ever had a “true love”, it’s probably books. Lost in a good book is when I’m happiest. It’s my escape from everything. My personal time machine, my portal into another world. The story might be sad or even gruesome but reading, living a fictional character’s feelings has always allowed me to forget everything around me for a while.

Even when I didn’t need it, I enjoyed it.

Some proverb says “a book is like a garden in your pocket”. I like to think that a book is like a vacation.

I’ve started early, and I’ve read pretty much every kind of story, I guess. As a toddler1 I couldn’t get enough of a certain children’s book. I’ve had it read to me so often that at the age of three or four I “read”2 it to my sister who is two and a half years younger than me.

It must have been bliss for my parents when I started to read by myself.
Comics from the doctor’s waiting room are among my earliest memories. The “Fury” novels by Miller3 and the Winnetou stories by Karl May4 probably were my first novels, I must have started with them at the age of  nine.

I had two main sources of books. Our village library, ran by the church, was one of them. I’d usually spend my Thursday afternoons there, browsing for new books to read. That is, as soon as I overcame my initial shyness and started going there on my own. It was ridiculously cheap to rent a book for up to a fortnight5 and I never returned a book late.

The second source was friends of the family. People that somehow knew6 that I was the bookish kind. Those were the best days, when a box of old books was dropped off at my parents’ place and I had a new pile of books to devour. I think I was about 12 when I first read Moby Dick.7

Starting with the bibliography of Karl May and his wild west/Northern Africa stories I devoured everything from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five to Alister MacLean’s WWII thrillers. Spy stories was something I grew into in my early teens, but I also didn’t stop at the classic adventure stuff of J.F. Cooper or Jack London.

Back then, finding gifts for my birthdays or Christmas was really easy. I’d usually get some book and the warning “don’t read it all in one night”.

Ha, one night? Yup. One night. A lot of kids fight with their parents about staying up late to watch TV. I never did. I went to bed early, opened a book, turned off the light when my mom shouted, waited 20 minutes, turned it on again, hoping nobody would notice. Occasionally they did.

Practise made me a fast reader, so one of the requirements for book gifts I kiddingly gave when asked would be “600 pages plus”.  I also never had trouble reading books more than once. When I watch a movie or play a video game for a second time, it occasionally feels like a waste of time to me. This NEVER happened to me with a book. There are several books8 that I know I have read probably about 20 times each. I am not exaggerating.

Being a rather fast reader helps, I suppose. I don’t skim books, I actually remember lots of details from the books I’ve read. But starting early and literally reading heaps of books of nearly every genre helped with that.

To illustrate: I must have been about 16 when I went into the library, not exactly knowing what to look for. So I asked the librarian, who’d known me for a while, if there was anything interesting, preferably long. She asked me if I’d heard about Noah Gordon’s “The Physician”9. I hadn’t, so I took it with me. On a Thursday. You should’ve seen her face when I brought it back on Sunday (the next day the library would open). It took me two and a half days to read it.

Of course I’ve  always had phases in my life where I didn’t read that much. I just wasn’t in the mood, couldn’t find anything that kindled my interest for a while, didn’t want to reread any of the books I had around or simply didn’t have time and leisure because I was in the military. But there was always a point where I turned back to my one true love. Books.

A big “reading phase” started when I was introduced to the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. It was in 1997, on our first orchestra trip to Poland. I sat next to the drummer for about 18 hours, and he had a book with him. Terry Pratchett’s Moving Pictures. He giggled a lot, so at some point I skimmed over a dialoge between Victor and Gaspode (yes, I remember). He noticed and told me I could read along if I liked. I was a little puzzled, hadn’t talked much to him before, but since we had nothing else to do and I was faster than him anyway, I just followed it for a while. Then at some point he got tired and handed me the book. “Start from the beginning if you want to.”

I finished the book before he woke up again, borrowed a few Discworld  novels from him after we came back and owned about 20 less than a year later.

Basically it became my big reading obsession for the following years, and I will buy every Pratchett novel on release day as long as he keeps publishing.

Hang on, you might notice that I’ve read a lot, you probably know I like fantasy and scifi. I didn’t write about Tolkien yet. Well, Tolkien. Long story short, I can’t remember at what age I first read the Lord of the Rings, but I must have been just out of my single digits. Then I nearly forgot about it and about 5-7 years later remembered it and got the English green paperback. Satisfied? Not every book nerd started with Tolkien, but yes, it’s been a big thing for me too.

Anyway, in my late teens/early twenties I couldn’t enter a book store without coming back out with an armful of books, apart from that I occasionally asked friends or the local book store for recommendations. Shelf space was becoming an issue, since I was unwilling to throw away books. Ever. I still have some of my earliest, boxed away for pure nostalgia.

That kind of became a dampener for my reading of new things. Money never was much of an issue, books probably were my biggest expense until I moved out of my parents’ house and that wasn’t that long ago. Shelf space, though…

Enter eBooks. I have long been reluctant to get an eBook reader. I felt weird for paying money for something that was “only” the infrastructure for content. I feel weird when I remember myself thinking that. But at some point a positive review from a friend and christmas changed that. I jumped over my shadow and told my parents when the inevitable and dreaded question about what I wanted for Christmas arose again: “A Kindle would be good.”

I got one and right now I wonder why I didn’t do it earlier. I’ve had it for two years now, and while I will always order or buy paper books, my eBook reader has become indispensible.

Hesitating to buy a book unless I felt it was too expensive for now10 is a thing of the past. I don’t mind the prices, because I pay for the content, not for the medium. And my sporadic contact to writers on twitter, their blogs and other sources made me a little more sensitive to how book prices are made up11 and how creatures actually do depend on that money or the sales figures, so I won’t ever bitch about the price difference between eBooks and paper books again.

While paper books are a pretty thing I actually get more value from eBooks. Sure, there’s some disadvantage,s and they might be tied to my account at a company, etc.

But my reading habits don’t leave me with much of a choice. Before ebooks, when travelling I usually took a big book with me. And was stuck with it. I had to be careful so I wouldn’t read it all on the flight to my destination or even lose interest in it. And I’d have to lug something like Tad Williams’ “Otherworld” or one of the hard fantasy political intrigue gorefests of G.R.R. Martin with me for a 10.000 mile round trip, just to buy a massive paperback at the airport so I’d have something to read for the flight back home.

This is where I love my Kindle most, aside from not breaking my wrist when reading a 900 page cold war thriller in bed. I took it with me on a trip to the South Pacific, had two dozen books on it, some new, some old, got a pre-ordered one while on the free wi-fi at Auckland Airport and it all weighs less than a regular paperback novel. I just stuff it in my backpack along with a charger and I have a whole archive to choose from. Things can’t get better for someone who reads up to 200 pages an hour.

My book collection keeps growing, due to following and occasionally interacting with writers on twitter, and probably the biggest money drain in that directon, following John Scalzi’s (he writes awesome sci-fi, too)) blog at http://whatever.scalzi.com . He regularly posts the “Big Idea” guest blogs, where writers can post about their new books, specifically the big ideas behind them.

He got me hooked on Myke Cole and Seanan McGuire, to name just two, and the most recent post is about “The Martian” by Andy Weir, a really gripping story about a man stranded on Mars after his mission went belly-up.

Side note: read this post. Get the book.

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2014/02/11/the-big-idea-andy-weir/

I’ve sort of followed Andy Weir from his earlier web comic days to his creative writing forays and am thrilled that he finally gets the recognition he deserves, and he is a really nice fellow, too. (Hi Andy, should you ever read this!)

Ok. Books. My one true love.

I’ve you’ve read this far, congratulations. And thank you for bearing with me, for looking into my past and into my soul.

I guess if you did, you are a reader anyway. If you have the chance to influence kids, encourage them to read. It is the greatest gift you can give. Don’t force them though.

Myke Cole (who wrote the awesome Shadow Ops Trilogy, the final novel just having been published in January)  is leading with an example I cannot label any different than awesome. He has an ongoing deal with his niece that he will buy her any book she wants. As simple as that. I will try to follow in his footsteps in that regard, hoping to be the godfather or uncle of a child soon enough, so I can maybe pass my love for books along.

Good night, I’m going to go read something now.

Footnotes
  1. so I was told []
  2. well, recited []
  3. that black mustang stallion, you might remember the old monochrome TV show []
  4. a German classic, not sure how well they are known in other countries []
  5. I love that word []
  6. I suspect my parents told []
  7. as I said, I read about everything []
  8. some of the Winnetou stuff, Terry Pratchett’s “Interesting Times” and Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” to name a few []
  9. It’s a story set in the early middle ages, German paperback had roughly 1200 pages []
  10. even though I can afford it, I won’t pay any price []
  11. not talking about the German fixed price thing []

pulp poetry

If you have read my other blog posts, you will have stumbled across this thing. The feedback I got for those limericks was so good that posting more of my silly poetry was going to be a certainty. I’d planned it anyway, but now I don’t even have a choice.

I’ve been a fan of the movie Pulp Fiction since the first time I’d seen it, whenever that was. You can read the adventure of trying to track down a DVD of it here. A friend of mine whom I found in this internet thingy is an even more die-hard Tarantino – and of course Pulp Fiction – fan, so many conversations were peppered with quotes from Butch, Mia, Marsellus, Vince, Jules, the Wolf and all the other colourful characters in the movie. What’s more, she also enjoyed when I came forth with some silly limerick or haiku I’d made up on the spot or inserted into a story, product review or something like that.

So I decided to come up with a surprise for her, which I later even turned into a hardcopy present. I recounted the events from Pulp Fiction in form of an epic poem, each verse being a limerick.

To do that I sat down with the VHS tape I got on ebay, my laptop and watched the whole movie, writing down the order of things happening, bits of dialogue, things I wanted to use.

I can tell you, it’s really hard and it took me two sessions with a long pause inbetween to finish this monster, but I’m insanely proud of it. Considering the reaction I got from my friend it was totally worth it.

Now don’t go looking for perfect rhymes and don’t even get started on the meter, just enjoy the ride.

Here goes nothing:

Opening titles

A soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter
Names a feature film that has some splatter
Besides some drugs
a bunch of thugs
The movie features lots of funny chatter

Prologue

Two robbers having coffee in a diner
Discuss what robb’ry targets could be finer
Liquor store’s to risky
Bunny’s feeling frisky
So they decide to rob said diner

Jules asks Vinnie in the car:
Can you smoke hashish in a bar?
In Amsterdam
It’s so much fun
The cops can’t search you , so bizarre

The metric system’s Europe’s funniest thing
A quarterpound makes no bell ring
Is there a proper
Name for Whopper?
I didn’t go to Burger King

The burger is a breakfast’s cornerstone
Jules frightens Brett right to the Bone
He drinks some Sprite
Vince doesn’t bite
To Brett the metric system is well known

“Was your concentration broken?
English, motherfucker, is it spoken?”
Bullets fly
People die
In the cupboard is the looked-for token

Vincent and Mia

When Vincent shows at Mia’s home,
She snorts some coke before they’re gone
He has a drink
And time to think
Before they head out for the night to roam

The twist contest is pretty hot
The girl insists they take a shot
Vince has to dance
They take the chance
And win a trophy on the spot

As the night comes to an end
Mia puts to our contempt
An overdose
Up her nose
And Vincent drives her to his friend

They try to revive the near-dead lady
Their prospects seem rather shady
A shot to the heart
The circuit’s central part
Manages to jumpstart the above-mentioned lady

The Gold Watch

“When you kill a man, how does feel it?”
Butch’s opponent fell dead when he got hit.
“I’m American, honey”
Butch thinks of the money
“Our names don’t really mean shit”

“From giving me pleasure the oral way?”
Fabienne want’s to know the reason why,
Butch’s rip was cracked.
When all is wrapped,
“Any time of the day is a good time for pie!”

To find the watch is Butches quest
If he left without he never would rest
He finds it at home
but he is not alone
And riddles with holes Vince Vega’s chest

The following events include some gay rape
But Butch and Marcellus escape
They settle their bill
Butch will keep still
And tell no-one he came a tad late

“Whose motorcycle is this?”
“A chopper it is!”
Belonging to Zed
Zed who is dead
So there’s no need to tell you who Zed really is

The Bonnie Situation

It might be divine intervention
But it wasn’t Vince Vega’s intention
Maybe a bump
Triggered the thump
And splattered a head into each dimension

Jimmie is not quite amused
’bout his house being abused
The coffee is good
But there’s lots of blood
And as “dead nigger storage” the garage is used

When all is done, they go to dine
They look fairly clean but not very fine
Out of the mess
Wolf helped, god bless
“Must be one charming motherfucker of a swine!”

And the circle came to a close
When Yolanda and Ringo rose
To rob the diner
They thought was finer
But all they got was a bloody red nose

Roll credits

 

And here’s this week’s picture for www.52photosproject.com, the prompt being “crooked line”.

That is all.

hand_crookedlines

a few crooked lines I collected over the years