Archive for January, 2009

Filed Under (Beninese culture, Ethnomusicology) by Rob on 29-01-2009

One thing I LOVE about Africa is the incredible drumming, which is almost everywhere!

Wow! This guy knows how to drum, eh? For my thesis, I had to transcribe the rhythms of various drumming ensembles in Benin – a real challenge, I can tell you! It’s not so much a case of what is the time signature of the piece? but more what time signature is each individual playing in and how on EARTH do these all fit together?! Western rhythmic notation falls short for such a task.

What’s the difference between transcription and notation? I know, but do you??? If you don’t, then take this course and find out!

Finally, here are a few more cool African drumming videos I have recorded over the years:

A Nawdm lady playing double drums in northern Togo

The amazing blind drummer in central Benin, playing home-made drums with great skill!

Ngangam musicians in north-eastern Togo, including a lady playing a kapok pod filled with stones.

The old bloke in central Togo, who puts one beater in his mouth, then removes it when he needs it.

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 26-01-2009

Goats ‘surfing’ on the roofs of moving vehicles:


Yes, this was not an uncommon sight in Togo/Benin. In fact, one time I was in a bush taxi (over-crowded minibus, like this one) and one of the live goats tied to the roof fell down the side of the vehicle. However, its hind legs were still attached, so suddenly the goat’s head appeared at my window, looking somewhat distressed! Thankfully, the driver stopped and they tied it back on the roof (until, about 20 minutes later, the same thing happened AGAIN!!!)

Oh, how I miss Africa and all its adventures…

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 18-01-2009

Lois is half way through an intensive French course in the beautiful city of Strasbourg.


Here’s the house where Lois is staying:


Looks nice! Over to you, Lois:

“I’ve been in Strasbourg for just over a week now. I have come to do a couple of weeks’ French study and am staying with a host family. The course is going well and I don’t feel as stupid as I thought I would, which is nice. If I could stay for 6 months I might actually get the hang of this language.”

(Lois étudie le français dans sa chambre).

(Lois étudie le français dans sa chambre).

“This next week we are doing the subjunctive so that could be a it of a nightmare! There are 8 of us in my group; 2 Japanese, 1 Russian, 1 Libian, 1 Indian, 1 Irish (the only male), 1 American and me!”


“Strasbourg is a beautiful sity and if you have never visited it I would highly recommend it. Trams were introduced 12 years ago and have completely transformed the place! The traffic flows easily and pollution levels have dropped significantly.”


“Strasbourg lies between the Vosges and the Black Forest mountains. Certain climatic conditions can mean that the pollution can’t escape. This happens a few days in winter and summer. On such occasions you can travel all day on the trams for 1 euro 40!”

Wow, that’s cheap, Lois! Almost as cheap as 1 pound 40, in fact! All the best for the next week, girl! We’re all missing you back here in sunny Bedfordshire.

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 17-01-2009

…so it’s just as well the chart below exists, so that I can tell how much I have eaten. Wow! Now that’s clever.


Filed Under (General) by Rob on 16-01-2009

I can’t believe Woollies has finally gone, after all these years.

No more pick-n-mix, parquet floors, oversized red & white carrier bags or beans on toast at the little cafe in the corner. It’s all quite sad really.


I know I’m a bit late on this one, but my brother put this photo on Facebook and I couldn’t resist using it (thanks Ian!)

Read more about the closure here and read this article which claims the closure was unnecessary . The inhabitants of Bognor Regis (that picturesque seaside resort we all know and love) are not happy because their town is now a ‘toy-less’ zone. Find out about Bognor’s grievances here (if you really have nothing better to do with your time!) On a mildly positive note, 51 of the old Woolworth’s stores have been bought by Iceland – so a thematic link there, around ‘winter woollies’ (groan).

Thanks for reading. Now get yourself down to W H Smith before it’s too late…

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 13-01-2009

A rather eccentric Englishman is planning to drive AND fly his car from London to Timbuktu!

Yes, English adverturer Neil Laughton will set of this week in this somewhat quirky vehicle:


Read about the whole plan on the BBC website here.

Timbuktu – or more correctly, Tombouctou – is a pretty remote town in Mali, on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, and was an important stop-off point on the trans-Saharan trade route. As we’ll be living in Mali in a few months’ time, it’s certainly a place I plan to visit (but maybe using slightly more conventional transportation!)

Other unconventional trans-Sahara journeys include:

*On a camel trek (not that unusual for the location, mind)

*By motorcycle (and don’t forget Frank, who rode his from London to South Africa, via Benin!)

* By environmentally friendly CHOCOLATE-POWERED Toyota Landcruiser (yes, really! Have a look!)

* And not forgetting in a Citroën 2CV. Click here for previous blog posts on The Touareg Trail and here to read about another trans-Saharan 2CV trek, this time from Plymouth to Banjul.


If you’re planning on crossing the Sahara yourself, then BEWARE! It can be dangerous! It’s very hot and dry (as if you didn’t know). One guy I met who did the 2CV trip spoke of drinking 8 litres of water a day and never needing a pee once!!! Also, there are certain boundaries and borders which it is dangerous to cross (see map here). Finally, don’t hold me responsible for any advice you’ve just read!

Meanwhile, all the best Neil – have a safe journey!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 10-01-2009

Well, two actually! Firstly, the best cup of tea you can get anywhere in the world and, secondly, some of the best TV advertisements.

Watch this and you’ll see what I mean (this MUST be seen – no excuses, unless you’re still on a ‘stoneage’ dial-up!)

Although I’m MUCH too young to remember it, this ad is based on a Morecambe and Wise sketch to the same tune (see it here). This one, though, is done by Johnny Vegas, who I consider to be one of the funniest men on TV at the moment. (According to this article, however, he has not always been a particularly good role-model).

Other current British funny-men at present include: Bill Bailey, Jack Dee, Peter Kay and new-comer, Michael McIntyre. There are only two British comedians I simply cannot bear to watch both and – somewhat bizarrely – they both have the surname ‘Carr’ (but are surely not related!)

Well, thanks for reading/watching. Now, about that cup of tea…

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 09-01-2009

West Africa has very little health and safety to speak of which, I admit, can make life risky. However, there must be a happy medium somewhere between the lethal roads and building sites of Benin and the patronizing nonsense you are about to witness…

I found this helpful sign next to a heated towel rail in a room in certain budget hotel chain recently:


So, what exactly is a heated towel rail supposed to do? Get cold? I’d rather it became very hot than merely very warm, so that my towels stand a chance of drying quickly enough. Rather ironically, the towel rail concerned was not working at all, so stood no chance of being anything more than very cold!

Try this one for size (in the same hotel room):


So, if it’s baking hot inside (ie not at this time of the year) I can only open my window 4 inches, in case I am daft enough to sit on the window sill and do a Eutychus? And if I did, would it really be the hotel’s fault that I was careless enough to fall from an open window? Surely not! When will we start suing the council for planting trees we absent-mindedly walk into, or department stores if we trip on their escalators? We’ve (almost) all been given two eyes, common sense and an awareness of what is and isn’t dangerous. Sure, there are accidents due to poor quality or dangerous equipment, but we’ve all been taught from a young age the risks of windows and a hot radiators.

On a similar note, I think our Mums would also have taught us that wet surfaces are slippery. But for the 0.001% of people who were deprived of such advice, this one’s for you:


What can I say? The country’s gone mad! There should be a point at which a court judge can say “Look, you’re basically a stupid person, so don’t even think of suing for this one!” On that note – and to close – click here for the classic ‘Winnebago’ court case story (probably an urban myth, but there are true stories almost as ridiculous!)

That’s all for now. Mind how you go!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 06-01-2009

After two weeks of the ubiquitous UK coughing lurgy I don’t feel like either are fully functional at the moment!

To find out whether you are left or right-brained by looking at this article from the Aussie ‘Herald Sun’ website. Madelaine came home from school having been shown this and it is fascinating (although how scientifically acurate I cannot say). There’s a silhouette of a lady spinning round and the direction in which you see her turn is meant to show which side of your brain you use most. For me, she always turns clockwise to begin with (in line with my artistic global thinker’s right brain) although she does change direction a few times if I look for long enough.


Have fun, and let me know which you come out as (although most of you left-brainers may not find it as fascinating as I did!!)

If you like this sort of thing, don’t forget the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator, which is tremendous fun and helps you understand yourself and others much more clearly. Click here to read a blog post all about it and to do a wee test to find out your type!