Welcome to a monthly series of exclusive articles by Welsh Valleys Humour author David Jandrell. In it he explores frustrations with modern life, all recounted through his unique humour and Valleys dialiect...
November 2018: Communication Problems
I’m very good at answering questions, as they are put. I can give someone an instant answer to their question, and my answer will be logical, well thought out and accurate. The trouble is, very often when I have responded, I am aware that I may be slightly ‘out of sync’ with the questioner - it becomes clear when these responses are met with frowns and furrowed brows.
I play guitar and I am right handed. I don’t like to use plectrums because they are awkward fiddly little things and I am forever dropping them. I find it difficult enough to play guitars as it is without concentrating on having to hold on to those blinkin’ things as well! The worst bit is when you drop them inside the sound-hole of a guitar. Try getting it out! And if you drop one into a Gibson 335 through one of the ‘f’ holes you can forget it. I have a rattley 335 that I’ve had since 1978 and it’ll still be rattling when it is featured on the Antiques Roadshow in the year 2089 – if the programme is still running, of course.
To overcome my plectorial issues I have long nails on my right hand (to pluck the strings) and short nails on my left (so that I can place my fingers in the fret-board). A very common ‘communication problem’ that I experience here is when people spot my hands and say:
“Why do you grow your nails on your right hand?”, as if they think I nurture them like someone who grows tomatoes.
I don’t ‘grow’ them, they grow automatically. I have no control over their growth whatsoever. The only thing I make a conscious decision about when it comes to nail length is: when it comes to cutting or biting them, I opt out. Apart from my left hand, that is. So, when I explain to my inquisitors that I am not ‘growing’ my nails, I am simply ‘not cutting’ them, they look at me as if I am from Mars and the topic of conversation, after a pregnant pause, swiftly moves onto something else.
Another common ‘communication problem that I experience is when the term; “See you next Friday”, crops up. It doesn’t have to be Friday, it could be Sunday, Wednesday or any other day, but I will use Friday for this example.
When I agree to meet someone next Friday, about 50% of the time one of us fails to turn up. For some reason, the term next Friday means different things to different people. I know what the word ‘next’ means. I am not sure that I am in the majority of the population’s understanding of the definition of ‘next’.
The last of many 'next' incidents was when I was speaking to my boss about a problem. It was a Monday afternoon. He said, “Come and see me at 11am next Friday and we’ll discuss it fully.”
At 11am on the dot on the following Friday I’m knocking on his door. I did not expect his greeting:
“Hi Dai, what can I do for you?”
“Er, we spoke on Monday and you said to pop to see you at 11am on Friday. Did you forget?”
“Oh, erm. Actually I was expecting you next Friday.”
“Well, because next Friday is next Friday.” (In a patronising tone).
“But when you said that to me on Monday, ‘next Friday’ is today in my book.”
“Well it’s the first Friday we’ve encountered since Monday, that’s what ‘next’ means. After Monday when you said it, this is the first Friday that’s come along. That’s why I’m here now, because it is the next Friday to arrive after your invitation.”
“Ah, I can see where the confusion is now. No, today is ‘this Friday’, when I said ‘next Friday’ I meant the Friday of next week, a week today, if you’d prefer.”
“So, if we were both on a bus stop and I asked you which bus I had to catch to take me to Cardiff and you told me to catch the ‘next bus’, would you expect me to ignore the next bus to arrive at the bus stop and catch the one after that?”
“You do have some concept of the meaning of ‘next’ then?”
“So what’s the difference between Fridays and buses then? You’re spot on with buses but all over the shop when it comes to Fridays.”
“Er … well, actually I’ve got some time now, shall we, erm, do it now instead of next Friday?”
“Well, seeing as it’s next Friday now, let’s do it now then.”
I have thought long and hard about this common misnomer which has caused me great distress and inconvenience over the years and analysed, fully, the ways in which Fridays can be used and identified, correctly, in the English language:
‘Today’ – Used if you are referring to that day and on that day it is a Friday when you are doing the referring .
‘Tomorrow’ – Used on a Thursday you are referring to the following day – which will be a Friday.
‘Yesterday’ – Used on a Saturday when referring to things that happened on the previous day.
‘Last Friday’ – Used to refer to the previous Friday that occurred prior to the day that you are referring to it.
‘Next Friday’ – Used to refer to the next Friday that is due to arrive after the day that you are actually doing the referring.
And that’s it.
NB: No mention of ‘this Friday’ at all. ‘This Friday’ doesn’t exist. It is a red herring that people chuck into conversations to deliberately disrupt my social calendar. There is no ‘this Friday’. And that’s my final word on the matter.
Another ‘communication problem.’ I remember mentioning to a friend that I had been given a pirate copy of the latest Hollywood blockbuster movie that was still in the cinema and hadn’t been released on DVD yet. He asked me if it was a good copy.
When I replied; “Dunno, I haven’t seen the original”, he looked at me as if I’d grown another head! He seemed to think that I could give him a judgement on the quality of the copy without having seen the original. I didn’t. Apparently his query was all about whether the copy was watchable or not, my answer was to the question as it was put - about whether the ‘copy’ was an accurate representation of the original. Isn’t that what a copy is?
To illustrate, I was given a copy of a DVD of a concert that was shot from the audience on someone’s mobile phone – it was absolutely awful! A friend asked me if I could copy it for him, and I did. This ‘copy’ was equally as unwatchable as the original but it was an excellent copy. That’s what the word copy means, innit?
Here are some more:
When asked to check by my partner ‘how many potatoes’ we had, I was met with a severely furrowed brow, when I replied: “Seventeen”.
I made the mistake of thinking that any question that started with the words:
“How many ……?”, must contain a number in the answer.
According to my partner, what she wanted to know was ‘if we had enough’.
Enough for what? The rest of our lives? The street? ………….apparently it was if we had enough for dinner. Well the answer to that is, if we are going to eat anything under or up to seventeen we’re OK, anything over that and we’ve had it.
And to answer the question that everybody asks- how did I know there were seventeen in the ‘spud tray’- I counted them. This is why I was able to give such a precise answer to a very flimsy question.
One of my favourites was the day my partner decided to involve me in the pre-shopping ritual of preparing a shopping list. The conversation went like this:
“Dai, make a list of the things we want.”
“I don’t know what we want.”
“Then look in the cupboard and see what we haven’t got.”
“Looking in the cupboard is going to tell me nothing."
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if I look in the cupboard the only information I can glean from that is what we have got – what we haven’t got won’t be in there!”
Another one that tripped me up surrounded the wrong usage of the word ‘get’. This anecdote is authentic and is reported here as it happened, but, I must be honest when it happens now I just act thick and do something similar because it is a very new and annoying misnomer that is creeping into the language.
A friend called round. I said: “Fancy a cuppa?”
“Yeah, thanks. Can I get a coffee, white no sugar?”
I put the kettle on, made myself a cup of tea and came back into the room, sat down and started chatting to him. He must’ve changed his mind because he didn’t go into the kitchen and get a coffee, white with no sugar – he just sat and chatted to me with a furrowed brow.
Another area that causes communication problems for me is trying to converse with people who use a method of responding to questions that I call, “The answer any question apart from the one that has been asked technique and leave Dai to try to guess the information he requires.” (I have never guessed right).
Some examples below. In all examples, I am the questioner.
“Nice guitar. Where did you get it from?”
“Oh, I’ve had it for ages.”
“Are you enjoying this film?”
“I’ve seen it before”
“How long are you going to be?”
“I’m just putting my boots on.”
“How far is it from here to Newport?”
“About half an hour.”
(Since when has distance been measured in hours? And time taken to reach a destination surely depends on which way you go and how fast you drive, doesn’t it?)
“When was the last time you saw Derek?”
“Oh, I haven’t been out for ages, mate.”
“How long have you been a veggie?”
“Ever since we came back from Tenerife.”
To recap, I’d like to revisit that marvellous phrase from the text and marvel in it one more time. I am referring to a phrase that Shakespeare at his best could not match. Of course, I’m thinking about:
“Then look in the cupboard and see what we haven’t got.”
Just savour that for a few moments.
And, I’m writing this on a Thursday night. If at any time today, any of you asked me to give you a ring next Friday, then expect a call from me tomorrow.
October 2018: I Hate A Good Party
I love a good party ……… sorry, I’ll start again. I hate a good party. I also hate bad parties, mediocre parties and anything else in between. The word ‘party’ makes me shudder, especially if preceded with the term, ‘Will you come to my?’
Apart from driving cars, parties cause me more stress than anything else. “But you are supposed to enjoy parties!” I hear you say. Well, I guess people do enjoy themselves at parties, but it’s not compulsory. I think people ‘enjoy’ themselves at parties because they think it is compulsory.
They go into ‘enjoyment mode’ as soon as they arrive at the venue – ‘enforced glee’ if you like. “Yippee, here we are! So nice to see you! Let’s start enjoying ourselves!”. And they don a paper hat and bounce off into the ‘crowd’ making strange whooping sounds whilst firing party poppers at anything that moves.
I can’t seem to be able to start ‘enjoying’ myself to order – unlike most. “Right lads, enjoying yourselves, on the count of three. One ….. two …… wait for it …. wait for it, …..too soon Atkins, get to the back of the queue. Three!! Begin……. now!!”
I have spent hours staring aghast at groups of people doing the ‘Birdie Song’, ‘Agadoo’ and that one where they all sit on the floor rowing to the Hawaii 5-0 tune. Fascinating!
And then suddenly one of them will spot me and come over. “Don’t sit there on your own Dai, come over here with us and enjoy yourself.”
The sheer arrogance of it. The whole concept that I would enjoy myself if I ‘came over there with them’ is absurd. “This is a party Dai, you need to enjoy yourself. The trouble with you is you don’t know how to enjoy yourself and we’re the people to show you how.”
I’m 63 now and I’ve enjoyed myself thousands of times. The trouble is, none of those times have been at a party.
I don’t like the people who force themselves onto me in order to ‘aide’ my enjoyment. They try to drag me physically onto the dance-floor when it’s obvious I don’t want to. I object to that.
I also object to the fact that when they are trying to do it, they are so drunk that their eyeballs look as if they’re about to change places with each other at any moment whilst they’re blowing those hooter things, you know – they look like a Swiss-roll that uncurls when you blow into it. Usually has feather on the end.
Now, let’s get on to weddings. Obviously a big day for those getting wed, but for me it’s an utter nightmare.
A typical wedding itinerary is:
- Arrive at the church, hang about and exchange pleasantries with other people who are also hanging about.
- Go inside the church and hang about until the bride arrives (late by tradition)
- Participate in the service (half an hour of real activity, although contains 10 minutes of hanging about while they sign the book)
- Go outside the church and hang about while photos are taken and aunties kiss the couple.
- Go to the reception venue and hang about until the bride and groom arrive.
- Hang around inside the venue with the bride and groom, until dinner is ready.
- Participate in the reception (this is the second real activity of the day – but is interjected with several periods of hanging about, between courses, speeches etc)
- Largest period of hanging about yet – clearing away the dinner stuff and setting up the disco.
- The Party! Agadoo, Birdie Song, Hawaii 5-0 thing et al. Stopped half way through for the buffet.
- Disco continues after buffet. Scrap starts. Scrap normally heralds the end of the festivities.
A lot of hanging about. I don’t like hanging about either.
I like looking at the factions at the wedding reception. You have;
- The bride’s family - top tablers
- The groom’s family - top tablers
- The bride’s friends - all on one table
- The groom’s friends - all on one table
- The people who the bride works with - all on one table
- The people who the groom works with - all on one table
- The ‘others’ - all on one table
The others? There always seems to be a group of people at weddings that don’t fall into any of the categories 1-6 in the list above. These are the ‘nobody knows who the hell they are’ faction. They are at every wedding and don’t get involved with any of the others. In reality, the occupants of the other tables don’t mix either. They conduct their own festivities within the confines of their own table. They’re like satellites orbiting the ‘top table’. The merging of the tables’ occupants only comes when the disco starts and they venture onto the floor to jiggle around to whatever drivel the DJ decides to bombard his audience with.
All participants in this exercise must be made aware of a major Health & Safety hazard here – the children, formerly employed as page boys and bridesmaids, will be holding hands running around uncontrollably and weaving themselves around all obstacles – furniture and people alike, in some sort of ‘time’ with the music, like a great big snake, only more deadly than any encountered by the likes of Irwin and Attenborough.
It is the period after the buffet when the disco gets going for the second time that ‘bonding’ of the factions takes place with earnest. This is more generally known as ‘the scrap’ and these, previously autonomous groups merge into one and really ‘get close’ to each other. By this time, of course, the feral children will have discarded their shoes and are now sliding around the floor independently of each other. They will have realised that you can slide farther if you are not connected as a snake and will pursue their newly found skill until they are either stopped by a parent or collide with an object, such as an item of furniture or another human being.
Anyway, enough of that.
On the whole, I am always likely to decline an invitation to a party because I dislike them so much. The trouble is, when you decline an invitation there follows an inquest as to why you won’t go. I think that if people are kind enough to invite me, they should then be gracious enough to accept my ‘thanks but no thanks’ response.
So, although I am not obliged to explain my reason why, it’s never good enough.
For some reason the term “I don’t like parties.” becomes either misunderstood or misconstrued to mean something else.
Misunderstood? – perhaps by the time the term leaves my mouth and before it reaches the ears of the person I’m speaking to, it has mysteriously been translated into Latin or Klingon or something, because it is normally countered with;
“What do you mean, you don’t like parties?”
Misconstrued? – He didn’t mean that, there’s obviously some sinister reason why he won’t go and he doesn’t like to say. Perhaps he doesn’t like me!
It seems that it is acceptable to refuse some requests but unacceptable for others:
It is OK no answer ‘no’ to some of these questions. Which are they?
“Would you like to come to my house and hang from the ceiling by your toenails?”
“Could you look after my cobra while I pop down the Spar for some cornflour?”
“Can I take a few snaps of your missus in the nude to show the lads in work?”
“Do you want to come to my party?”
The first three.
D’ya know what I mean?
September 2018: Buzzwords and Youth Language- A Grumpy Old Valleys Man Rebels
Whatever happened to the language that I learned as a kid? I sat exams in those days and one of the ones I passed was a thing called an O Level which confirmed that I had learned English to a level that when I used it I could understand and be understood by those who used it alongside me.
All went well until I got a job doing admin in an office. I was introduced to the boss on my first morning, who said: “So, you must be David. Welcome aboard.”
I thought, “Welcome aboard? I wasn’t aware that I’d just joined the Navy!”
Since then I’ve taken part in ‘thought showers’ where everyone ‘touched base’ to ‘make sure we were all singing from the same hymn-sheet’ before shinning up the proverbial ‘greasy pole’. You know, ‘making sure we had all our ducks in a row’.
I thought I’d better become fluent in this language ‘PDQ’ to be honest; didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of the ‘fat man in the canoe’ did I? This involved two strategies, ‘blue sky thinking’ and the sort that is done ‘outside the box’. If I was going to get ‘up to speed’ – it was a ‘big ask’ I know, but I was ‘on the case 24/7’.
Anyway, after I had ‘drilled down’ all the inappropriate standard terms, I was ‘going forward’ in my quest to avoid being the ‘Dilbert’ in the company. It nearly went ‘pear shaped’ a few times but I managed to ‘ramp up’ at the ‘eleventh hour’ It was a ‘low hanging fruit’ scenario and I thought it was time to ‘run it up the flagpole to see who saluted’.
Even though I had always been taught to avoid clichés like the plague, I had quite a ‘bumpy ride’ and when all said and done I ‘upscaled’ by listening to other speakers and I managed to ‘wash the face’ of my problem – it was a sort of ‘quid pro quo’ strategy that ‘put it to bed’ adequately.
When I thought I had the ‘bandwidth’ I decided to ‘run it by’ the ‘man in the chair’ by arranging some ‘face time’ – luckily enough he had a ‘window’ and he was able to see me. He’s a bit of a ‘crackberry’ but I decided to give it ‘my best shot’ – If my ‘arse was on the line, I didn’t want any cock-ups’.
Fortunately the ‘one-to-one’ was a success and I was able to converse with my colleagues in such a way that I was understood and my language didn’t become a ‘negative value driver’ to them. In the end, I became ‘head honcho’ of the ‘whole shebang’ and ‘wore the crown’ until the owners decided to ‘draw a line under it’ and the ‘whole caboodle’ went ‘down the pan’ as a result of ‘corporate downsizing’.
Working with young people introduced me to a whole new language which, after three decades in that environment, I am still not completely au fait with the things that my learners say to me.
Apparently, Greggs’ sausage rolls are ‘peng’ when they’re hot but ‘sick' when cold. You can imagine how upset I was when someone told me that my Gibson Les Paul was ‘sick’ but apparently, in that context, ‘sick’ becomes the highest compliment you can give. Strange.
One thing that annoys me a bit is a common response, made to any comment that the recipient is not happy with – it is the dismissive and throwaway: ‘whatever!’ “I’m sorry to have to tell you, but we’re going to have to amputate your legs.” “Whatever!”
This comment normally follows the adoption of a particular pose – arm outstretched, other hand on hip, a tapping of a foot and eyes raised to the heavens.
Another one is the equally annoying, what I call the, ‘gap after like’ method of conversing.
“And he walked in, right, and I was like ……………………… (long gap accompanied by a facial gesture supposed to convey what the person was ‘like’)
“And he was like ………………. (another gap, same as above)
“And the atmosphere, it was like ………… (ditto)
“I said to him, I said ‘great to see you again’ ……………. (long pause) ……….. Not!”
“And he was like ………………….. (etc).
This method of communication is split between verbal phrases coupled with visual facial gestures in order to convey the message as it is intended. So, you have to listen to the dialogue and observe the gestures to get the meaning of the message because half of it is unspoken. It must be said though, I have witnessed someone adopting this method whilst on the telephone!
The ‘like’ usage is now slowly taking over the language – it is now unusual to hear a sentence that is not peppered with this word.
“I was, like, really disappointed.”
“My dog is, like, really naughty.”
“Your new watch is like, cool.”
Someone told me last week: “My dad said he was going to get me a car for my birthday and he got me, like, a Corsa?”
Why didn’t he tell me what his dad had actually got for him? He got a car that was ‘like a Corsa’. I’ve been trying to think of cars that are like Corsas. Why not just say what you got rather than try to describe what you got was ‘like’?
And then, of course, everything that is said displays the Australian Question Intonation, which is Latin for the rising intonation towards the end of sentences so that every sentence sounds like a question. Grrrrr.
‘Going forward’. Everyone is going forward these days – so much so that it is now commonplace for ‘going forward’ to be tagged on to the end of almost every sentence because ………………… er ……. I don’t know. Can someone, like, let me know?
I once had a boss that used to hold monthly meetings to go over what we’d achieved during the month and what was expected of us in the upcoming month. He used the term so much that no-one actually listened to what he was saying – everybody’s attention was geared towards counting up the number of times he said ‘going forward’ to compare their totals with the other people who were in the same meeting.
In more recent years I notice that a lot of people keep telling me they’ll see me later. It’s a popular parting greeting, but they never do.
I was getting into the car the other night after work and someone who I didn’t really know but saw occasionally in the lift or in a corridor was getting into his car which was parked next to mine. I winked at him and he smiled and said, “See you later,” before getting into his car and driving off. I wondered if he was going to pop round the house that evening. He didn’t. I stayed in though in case he did.
I don’t know whether people think I’m a bit thick. I’m beginning to think they do. I don’t know why, but nowadays people seem to want to confirm that I’ve understood what they’ve just said by tagging on a “D’ya know what I mean?” to the end of every sentence.
“I don’t want another drink, I’ve got work in the morning, d’ya know what I mean?”
“They’re a good band, but I wouldn’t go to see them live, d’ya know what I mean?”
When I reply: “No I didn’t understand a word of that mate, can you say it again, only in not such complicated terms”, people look at me as if I’m from Mars!
Now if someone said: “The obliquity of the ecliptic is not a fixed quantity but changing over time” in mixed company, I think that a “D’ya know what I mean?” would be an appropriate tag on. This is a complicated term.
But there’s nothing intrinsically difficult about: “I watch Emmerdale, but I prefer Coronation Street, d’ya know what I mean?”
I know what this means, my vocabulary is such that I can grasp statements like that.
I can spell palaeontologist. Going forward.
August 2018: 70s Prog Rock in Wales
As I was saying, my classical upbringing meant that the pop tunes of the 60s didn’t really mean much to me. Neither did those of the 70s, 80s, 90s and noughties for that matter- I’d go as far as to say that I went out of my way to avoid listening to it.
Sometimes you couldn’t avoid listening to the pop that was current for the day. In the 70s and early 80s, when I frequented discos, you would be bombarded with whatever was in the charts at the time, so I was present when quite a lot of this was being played. Occasionally I’d hear something that was interesting and it would spur me into asking someone ‘in the know’ what the record was. That happened lots of times but, at the time of writing I can’t recall any bands from that time that warranted a mention. The interest must have surely been short lived.
The Beatles and the Stones were the two ‘big boys’ at that time. I didn’t particularly like either, but if someone held a gun to my head and asked me to choose I’d have gone for the Stones. I would listen to the Beach Boys out of choice though; my favourite single of all time is “Good Vibrations- fantastic! The variations, tempo changes, the theramin, the way it was constructed – a masterpiece!
Even so, I was pretty much disinterested with the music of the swingin’ sixties, I was mainly still in classical mode …until …
My first real interest in the non-classical music (known as underground) at the time was when I heard a band called The Nice. They played music for music’s sake and not as a matrix to house the pointless self-indulgent lyrics like:
“Oh my baby’s left me ooooh ooooh oooh
What I am I gonna doooh ooooh ooooh
I love you so much I can’t poooh ooooh ooooh
Ooooh ooooh ooooh ooooh ooooh!”
Yes, it’s number one – it’s Top of the Pops, as it ‘appens guys and gals eurghh eurghh eurghh now then, now then. It’s “I love you so much I can’t pooh” how’s about that then? Goodness gracious!
From there I quite easily made the transition to people like Egg, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator, ELP, Refugee, Genesis et al. I’m still listening to ‘prog rock’ as its known these days- full of big chords, crashing symbols, swirling synths, mellotrons ….. aahh bliss!
I’d go as far as to say that if someone brought out a CD and the only lyrics were ‘That Dai Jandrell is nothing but a great big fat slob’, as long as there was plenty of guitar and synthesiser in it and it lasted for about 40 minutes, I’d probably like it. In fact, thinking about it, I might even do it myself one day unless someone like Pendragon, Spock’s Beard or Porcupine Tree beat me to it.
Of course, you had to go to watch your heroes, and when they toured you all dashed off to the Cardiff Capitol or Bristol Colston Hall to revel in the overindulgences of the likes of Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, YES, etc. We all had our mullets on show, scruffy Wranglers and starry multi-coloured T-shirts on to identify with the ‘prog-rock audience’ personas.
At the end of the show, we’d proudly wear the latest ‘tour T-shirt’ over the starry T-shirt to go home in. The starry T-shirt was just for ‘going’ in. The tour T-shirt was for ‘coming home’ in. This would also mean that at the next Emerson, Lake and Palmer show you would ‘go’ in the last Pink Floyd T-shirt so that all the audience would know you’d been to the last Floyd tour!
It’s fair to say that prog audiences were exclusively male – and they stared at their shoes throughout the shows in a way to convey to the others just how ’far out’ the music was. Girlfriends generally didn’t like prog shows because, as one said to me: “They played for two and a half hours and only did four songs!” I saw Tangerine Dream back in the seventies at Cardiff Uni and they started at midnight and were still playing at 5am when I left – and they hadn’t stopped!
Nowadays, the prog audiences are still the same, and the same people. I rarely go to a show these days where I don’t know the whole audience. We still wear our ‘Pink Floyd winter tour 74’ T-shirts to let everyone else know that we were there. These T-shirts are now contoured to accommodate our beer guts and man-boobs. For osteo-arthritic reasons, we tend to not stare at our shoes anymore.
They call these veteran progging bands and their audiences dinosaurs these days. Luckily enough, I am, and can now spell, palaeontologist.
The overall view that the artistes must get from the stage is that they are being watched by a ‘convention of retired Captain Birdseye actors’ on a reunion jolly. This is probably why my students call me Merlin, Gandalf and Dumbledore and why I always seem to get the handing out presents and leading the festivities gig at our end of term Christmas dos.
The one drawback of dragging one’s girlfriend to prog show is that you have to repay the debt by going to see non-prog acts when their preferred bands tour. This means that, over the decades, I have had to sit through the likes of Queen, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Chris Rea, Mungo Jerry, Michael Jackson etc. In my defence, I may add that I drew the line at UB40. When there is a line to be drawn, that line is well in front of UB40, and I stand firm on that.
July 2018: Music
I suppose it all started when I was about three – or when I was able to press downwards with enough pressure to depress the ivories on our piano keyboard, I’m not sure which came first. My grandmother was a piano teacher, and we had a piano; I guess it was inevitable.
I got to something like Grade 4 and the age of eleven before I managed to convince my parents that I hated playing the piano more than any of the words in my vocabulary could describe. I didn’t have that many words at the time, I mean, in those days I couldn’t even spell palaeontologist – and now I are one!
My attention had been grabbed by these things called guitars. I guess this would have been circa 1963 when I noticed these come to the front of the stage. Prior to that, I was aware of their existence – you saw them usually in the front row ‘stalls’ of ‘big bands’. They were always the very large cumbersome looking Gretch’s or Gibsons, you know, the ones with the ‘f’ holes in them.
Suddenly, on TV, you began to see three blokes standing there as bold as brass, strumming these things and singing with a drummer behind them. I believe in those days they were known as ‘popular beat combos’ and they were always in black and white.
They sang three minute ‘pop’ songs and I was never really into it much at that time. Whilst I was intrigued by my newly found instrument, I was still influenced by my classical training and my favourites in those days were the heavy Russians: Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Mahler and Bartok – even though Mahler and Bartok were neither Russian nor heavy at that time. They still aren’t.
I never really liked the twee, pointless little ditties they sang. It was always about somebody’s baby had left them and other crises which I couldn’t really care about, no matter how much I tried. I was interested in the music though – they way it way constructed and what each person was doing in order to produce the music.
I found lyrics a barrier to my quest to analyse what was going on and tried frantically to ‘blot’ out the singing in order to listen to the music. My opinion in those days, and these days, is that singing actually ruins a good song.
My parents had a similar problem with lyrics – they hated them as well, but for a different reason. They used to say: “Blinkin’ racket! All that screaming and shouting. That’s not singing! You can’t understand a word they’re singing!”
The thing that confused me about that was the fact that my parents blasted Gregorian chants and opera out of our radiogram during this period of my life – and they couldn’t understand a word of that either!
Anyway, getting back to guitars. I decided I wanted to play a guitar and that was it. My parents told me that I should carry on with the piano because; “If you can play the piano, you can play any instrument.” That is a very popular little saying – I've heard it loads of time. Doesn’t make any sense though. But when your parents tell you things, you believe them don’t you?
I often wondered what would happen if you gave Rick Wakeman a trombone and said: “Go on son, give us a rendition of ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ on that!”
So, I carried on with the piano. And then, and I guess I would have been about twelve by this time, I acquired my first guitar. I can’t remember where I got it from, but it was my first, and I loved it more than all the words in my vocabulary, at the time, could describe. My vocabulary was about the same as the last time I mentioned it, and I still couldn’t spell palaeontologist!
Whilst there was a plethora of piano teachers around at that time – teachers of other instruments were scarce – in fact there weren’t any. There was a paper and comb player who did impromptu sessions in Cwmcarn Club on Saturday nights, but these performances were booze related and he didn’t actively ‘teach’ people how to do it.
There was also a spoons player in the vicinity ………….er …………..that was it.
So, I had to teach myself.
I based my ‘learning plan’ on something I’d noticed when playing the piano. If you could find the first note, all you had to do was identify whether the next one was higher – in which case you’d move right on the keyboard, and if the note was lower, you’d go to the left. That was the essence of music for me – I mean if music didn’t do that, music would just be one note.
And this is the way I learned to play the guitar, by listening and moving up or down the fret-board according the individual notes that made up whatever tune I was trying to play.
And now, 53 years on I just seem to know where I have to put my fingers to enable me to produce the things I want to. People have asked me to teach them how to do it, but I can’t – not unless they have 50 years to spare.
So I guess I can play the guitar – to a fashion. The problems start when I start playing with other people. Well, initially things go very well. People say things like;
“That was good Dai, can you play that again?”
That’s my biggest nightmare, because generally I can’t! I can play something similar at a push, but the same? No chance. I’ve left bands because of this.
One band I played with gave me a tape which contained their favourite versions of the songs we did and asked me to learn the guitar solos because they wanted them played like they were on the tape every time we did them. I listened to the tape and we had a conversation. It went like this.
“Have you listened to the tape Dai?”
“What do you reckon?”
“I can’t play that!”
“What do you mean you can’t play that – it’s you playing it!”
“I know that, but I can’t play that note for note as I played it before.”
“But we want you to.”
“Well I’m not going to sit down and work out each solo as I originally played them, I’ll just do them off the cuff as I usually do.”
“But we want them to be them same every time we play.”
“Well if you want that, when we have a gig, why don’t we just send the tape to the venue and we can go to the pictures instead?”
I don’t think that’s what music is all about – what about you?
June 2018: Cold Caller
Phone rings; I pick it up.
“Is that David Jandrell?”
“Ah, hello David. I’m Nigel and I’m phoning from PCS. You used to have cover with us.”
“Can I inform you that conversations are recorded for training purposes? I was wondering if I can tell you about our new offers.”
“It’s just, we have some fantastic new …………..”
“Look, as you said, I ‘used’ to have cover with you. If I wanted to continue I’d still be with you.”
“Well, you may be interested in a new package. Can I have your date of birth?”
“What do you want that for?”
“To confirm that it is you I’m talking to.”
“Er …. you rang me! Who the Hell do you think you’re talking to?”
“Your opening line was, ‘Is that David Jandrell’, yes?”
“And I said, ‘yes’, did I not?”
“So I’ll ask the question again, who the Hell do you think you’re talking to?”
“Er ……. I have to ask ….er …….. for security purposes.”
“So, when you said ‘is that David Jandrell’, did I say ‘no’?
“Er…. no, you said ‘yes’.
“See, if I hadn’t been me when you asked me if I was David Jandrell, I’d have said ‘no’ wouldn’t I?”
“I suppose so.”
“So, who the hell do you think you’re talking to?”
“Well, for security reasons ………………..”
“You rang me!”
“You see, if I rang my bank or the HMRC or someone like that, I would have to prove to them that I was who I was claiming to be in case I was involved in some sort of scam. I can understand why that is necessary, you know, that’s if I ring someone.”
“Good, now we’re seeing eye to eye. This is the same thing.”
“No it isn’t. You rang me out of the blue and less than 30 seconds into our conversation you are asking me for personal details.”
“Well I can’t continue until you give them to me.”
“Yes. I don’t want to continue talking to you.”
“But ….. er ………”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you. Seeing as you rang me, I’ll give you my date of birth if you confirm to me who you are first.”
“How do I know that you are who you are claiming to be?”
“Er ….. because I told you?”
“Well anyone can do that!”
“What do you mean?”
“Well if I rang your bank and said, ‘Hello, I’m Nigel from PCS’ and they asked me to confirm your identity by giving your date of birth and asking me some security question and my response was, ‘I told you who I was’, are they going to give me full access to your account?”
“Er …. no.”
“Right. So I cannot continue with this conversation until you have convinced me that you are who you say you are.”
“How am I going to do that?”
“Well it’s going to be difficult I know but I’m really looking forward to listening to hear you try.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well there's no point in giving me your date of birth because I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what your first pet’s name was or what your mother’s maiden name was, so, you’re going to have to come up with something else. Treat it as a test of initiative.”
“Well ……. er…..”
“You can’t can you?”
“Are you going to end this call or shall I continue to deliberately run your phone bill up?”
“I’ll end it.”
I’d love to be in their training session when they play the recording of that back to the trainees...