Saturday, 30 November 2013

AVNOJ...70 years on.

AVNOJ stands for Antifašističko Vijeće Narodnog Oslobođenja Jugoslavije, or Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia. If you were to take a visit to the AVNOJ museum in Jajce – and understand enough of the different languages the information panels are written in – you would come away with the impression that the establishing of Yugoslavia was a very organised affair. I've not come across anything to suggest this wasn't actually the case. That this organisation happened under occupation, while fighting a resistance movement is impressive. It provided the basis for a establishing a country that lasted fifty years, give or take.

Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of the meeting in Jajce that saw Yugoslavia signed into existence. Today more people will pass through the museum's doors than probably will on any other day of the year. The local news are reporting more than a thousand visitors in town for today's commemorative events. We went out earlier to see what was going on. There were some great Partisan costumes, many of which looked like the real deal. Some had more flair than others, some were even worn by people who might just have worn them first time round. What was clear, however, was the clothes have survived better than AVNOJ's organisational abilities.  

Monday, 18 November 2013

Doing the YouTube cover thing

A couple of weeks ago one of my guitar students asked a question. Was it me who made the video of a girl he knew singing? Yes, was the simple answer I gave him. The slightly more complicated answer would have gone something like this.

That video was something I filmed while recording them rehearsing a couple of songs for an acoustic performance with Budo, our Novi Most colleague in Jajce. I'd sent it to her in a private message, she'd left her Facebook signed in somewhere public and a friend leaked it online. She had about 1500 views overnight. I think she was happy about this. Either way, it wasn't my fault!

His follow up question was obvious. Could I film him? He had sung a song at the same performance and wanted to record it to put on YouTube. The challenge for me was he didn't want to play the guitar, opting to just focus on his singing. This left me needing to learn the song and play while overseeing audio and video recording. We filmed on Wednesday afternoon, I edited that evening and uploaded it overnight. He got a lot of love on Facebook on Thursday!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

They've done it

If you watch the video you'll see a guy lighting a flare in celebration moments after Bosnia and Herzegovina qualified for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. For him it was a surreal evening. I don't want to speak for anyone else, but I know how he felt because he told me. I also remember him once telling me: you don't understand, England always qualify for tournaments. English fans will know that qualification, when it happens, doesn't often come without some drama. But the point stands, England expect to qualify, and more often than not they do.

Tonight is truly historic for Bosnia and Herzegovina. They have never qualified for a major tournament as an independent nation...until now. They made the playoffs for the last Euros and World Cup, losing to France and Portugal. We heard people try to offset the double disappointment with conspiracy theories as to why they came so close but remained so far. This time those are just not necessary. There will be in Brazil. Legitimately. I imagine it must be particularly sweet to see the French and Portuguese again facing playoffs.

And so congratulations to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Let's just hope they don't drawn England in the group stages!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Still got it

On Friday night we took a group of young people to Zagreb to see Martin Smith and Matt Redman in concert. We first saw Martin Smith when we were teenagers too. His songs, and the music of Delirious, have been a big influence. Sometimes it's easy to forget how big but there's nothing like the live experience to jog the memory; no escape from the weird and wonderful joy of revisiting the familiar in another time and another place. Context may change but truth doesn't for those who want to be History Makers. The focus my be different but the passion still comes from a heart that burns with that Obsession. Taking It Wherever It Goes was what they used to say. Back then we didn't expect it to bring us to this point, but here we are...happy we still have the energy and desire to out dance the teenagers on God's Great Dance Floor!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Disunited democracy

Yesterday we arrived back in Bosnia and Herzegovina after three weeks in England. Most of the people we met during this trip have never seen this country. If they have heard of it their only frame of reference is usually news reports from the early nineties. We tried hard to give them a fair picture of how things are now. This included enthusing about the hospitable people and the beautiful countryside, as well as talking about the segregation ingrained in society and the state of political stalemate that saps all sense of hope from most normal people we meet. Sadly these last two points can be linked to the international intervention the ended the armed conflict. This intervention did stop the killing, of which there had been a lot, but progress towards a fully functioning democracy has not been so quick. At least that's what I used to think.

It was the Belgium elections in 2010 that first got me questioning. It went without government for 541 days while political parties failed to form a coalition, comfortably breaking the world government formation record of 249 days set by Iraq, also in 2010. Iraq I can understand but this was Belgium; bland old Belgium, home of Tintin and the EU Parliament. Now the self-proclaimed last-superpower-standing has hung the 'back in 5 minutes' sign in its government shop window. Politicians ostensibly elected to serve the interests of their constituents are putting on a fine display of looking after their own. I wonder if they have any concept of just how ridiculous that looks from where I'm sitting.

Some would say this country is patronised by the West: the promise of EU membership is hung out like a carrot for good behaviour; US politicians lecture on the need for the different sides to work constructively for the future. Jesus once quoted the proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself’ and people here could be forgiven for thinking the same. Those who would police the world would do well to be in a healthy place before preaching a miracle cure...although the disunited democracy the United States of America is currently displaying is certainly easier to achieve. There's hope for Bosnia and Herzegovina yet.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

60 Days of Summer is over!

Tonight we are officially at the end of our Novi Most summer activities for another year. We had a parents evening to finish things off, giving them a chance to see what their young people had been up to over the last two months. We crammed a bunch of activities into a short video to tell the story, although there was plenty of good stuff that didn't make the cut. It's been another summer where we've seen lots of young people get the opportunity to try new things and have some great some great experiences they probably wouldn't have got on their own.

For us it's encouraging to know we have happy parents of the happy young people we've been working with. As we said to them this evening, now we have a bit of a break and we start to think what's going to make this winter special when our activities start up again in October.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Starting fires

At one of the summer camps we were part of in July there was a workshop on survival fire starting. It was a popular session, understandably. When young people see the seemingly impossible demonstrated they want in on the action. The guy leading the session had some serious mountain craft credentials to burn – if you'll pardon the pun – and he didn't disappoint.

We, however, had one disappointed young person. For some reason he'd missed the workshop and really felt like he'd missed out. So we decided we'd do a bit of firelighting ourselves. Not wanting to stake a claim as some kind of mountain man I did some research on YouTube for some more urban ideas. A shopping trip this afternoon equipped me with enough cans of Coke, chocolate bars, sticks of chewing gum and AA batteries to go around.

Yes, all of the above can be a useful part of an improvised fire starting process. Sadly, at this evening's get together the sun was too far gone for us to get the chocolate and Coke can thing working but a few of the guys did succeed with the AA battery and chewing gum method. And for those who didn't a 9V battery and wire wool did the trick!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

What does 'pedalo' mean to you?

Pedalo is a word with certain connotations, at least in my mind. At best, I'm imaging a slightly suspect water craft sporting original seventies' styling, the worse for wear as a result of almost four decades providing pleasure trips on a touristy lake or at a tacky beach resort. Truth be told, I know exactly where to find pedalos that answer to this description. However, they are not alone, nor are they the final word in recreational rentals. Tonight we went out with one of their near neighbours and experienced what has to be described as some next-generation pedalo action!

Sunday, 4 August 2013


We have a floorball team here in Jajce. That is unusual. Although I'd never heard of the sport until I arrived in this country it's not one of the main sports here. Football undoubtedly claims that prize, although handball, basketball and volleyball would all give it a good run for its money. While floorball may be largely undiscovered here, as it is in the UK, it's huge in Finland. The couple of times I've been there it was the only sport I saw kids playing in the streets, unless you count cycling, which they do a lot of too.

When I heard our team had been drawn against a Finnish side in an international floorball tournament hosted in Banja Luka this weekend I was a little concerned. Concerned that we would be on the receiving end of a lesson that our young team might take a little too harshly. There is, after all, no shame in being beaten by people who may have been playing the game longer than some of our team have been alive! I made sure I mentioned this perspective in pre-match discussions. Perhaps it helped, perhaps it only fuelled an unrealistic optimism of how good getting a good result would be.

In the end losing 19-1 wasn't as bad as it could have been. The Finnish side won their other group game 11-0, so at least we can say we scored against them. It was indeed a lesson, if not a comparative masterclass, in passing, moving and the devastating efficiency of one-touch shooting. I'm convinced that as many as half the goals we conceded were down to the fact of goalkeeper had never seen people shoot so quickly or from such angles. He improved throughout the day, by the end of our second game pulling out some impressive stops. Now, if our attacking players can grasp the need for speed and shooting first time the result of a rematch might be a bit closer.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Going nowhere

Yesterday I led a mountain bike trip for a group of young people. I used to do this back in the UK. The big difference: the distinct lack of mountains in the south of England. Here we were up at around 1000m, or 3300ft, depending how you like to measure your elevation above sea level. However the basics were the same. Giving hire bikes the once over, making sure seat heights were appropriate and that sensible gears had been selected.

Like the in the UK, the aim is to ensure everyone in the group feels they have been challenged, but not freaked out, by the ride. Some of this is achieved by allowing people to ride certain sections at their own pace before regrouping, another part is in setting challenges that focus people to think about elements of their riding. One of my favourites for this the slow race. You set a short, straight course – about half a dozen bike lengths – and race head-to-head. The last person over the line wins.

I was never a rider who enjoyed flying down hills at high speeds. Maybe one too many trips over the handlebars dampened my enthusiasm. I used to enjoy powering up hills but these days I get the most pleasure from going nowhere. Years of commuting by bike and obeying traffic lights have given me impressive track-standing skills – even if I say so myself. A track stand, to the non-cyclist, is stopping the bike while keeping balanced with both feet on the pedals. This is where the slow race comes in.

While all the young people tried their best to ride slowly I would role forward a couple of bike's lengths, turn the handlebars slightly uphill and stop. They'd draw level and seeing what I was doing try their best to imitate it. For some this meant feet falling off pedals almost instantly, a few managed to balance for a couple of seconds and one seemed like they would really get it with a bit more practise. With the ride safely concluded, everyone went home having done more than they thought they could, which goes to show that, just sometimes, going nowhere can get you somewhere.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Our music Tuesdays

I guess it was iTunes that began the new music Tuesday thing. I'm sure the back in the days when Our Price existed you'd go and buy new singles on a Monday. Times change and Tuesday's it is. While I can have few complains about iTunes' service the Tuesday thing is slightly annoying. Monday's are often a day off – we work most weekends – and therefore an ideal day to go previewing new releases. Obviously, I'm ultimately the winner the way things are as the chance of impulse buying a new release is effectively removed. And for that my wallet is thankful!

Throughout this summer Tuesdays are our music day. We didn't want to stop music courses altogether over the holidays so we set aside Tuesdays as the day to teach. This morning I've taught keyboards, guitar and bass guitar. I will be back in this evening for more lessons. All of us on the Novi Most team in Jajce teach music, all of us have students at different levels. Some came to us with a little previous experience, many we've taught from the beginning. Perhaps they are the most satisfying to teach: people who without our input may never have got the opportunity to play.

Last Friday we took some a group of young people to Mostar for the day. The Novi Most team there was running a summer festival for a few days and some of our music students got the chance to play as part of the evening's open air event. For a couple of them it was only their second time to perform like this. They did themselves proud. For us, these are the moments that prove how far we, and they, have come. We know there's more we can do to help develop young musicians. However in looking to the future it's important not to forget what we've achieved already. We've helped people do what they never imagined they'd be able to. And if Mastercard will permit us to say so, that's priceless.

Monday, 29 July 2013

A walk to remember

Last week we were part of a guided walk up one of the mountains that surround Jajce. Like in much of the rest of the country, you don't go for walks in the countryside without consulting local knowledge. Bosnia and Herzegovina still has an unknown number of land mines unaccounted for, despite it creeping closer to two decades since the end of the war here. Some are in marked mine fields; many are, at least assumed to be, still scattered indiscriminately in areas where fighting took place. It's not something you take chances with.

As we hiked up in the hot sun we stopped in a bit of shade on the edge of a forest clearing. Here our guide pointed to the shallow hole in the ground that you might be able to make out in the picture. This was part of the frontline in the fighting that went on around Jajce. It was here that two guys who'd sat next to each other at school killed each other; a story horribly reminiscent of lyrics from the song Crazy by Seal. “One of them's got a gun, to shoot the other one. And yet together they were friends at school...” As the guide added, today you could walk past as if nothing happened, but we do well to remember the madness and pray it never happens again.  

Monday, 17 June 2013

Neverland Jajce 2013

Sunday was the culmination of many months of work for Rowan. Preparations for the Neverland street art day in Jajce had seen here crocheting long into the night for weeks, as our spare bedroom became an Aladdin's cave of inspired creations. There had been workshops in the local cultural centre, giving young people the chance to create, and craft parties for the twenty and thirty-somethings.

What all this hard work needed was a good day to show it to the world - or at least the local community. It got it: a day, if anything, too good. Last year's event was interrupted by heavy thunder storms, this year the sun beat down unrelentingly and it was hot. Decorating the town started at 7am, the art intended for people to take was put out about midday. By the time the day finished with an outdoor acoustic concert almost everything was taken.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Waiting for summer, ready for winter!

Despite the pretty picture you see here we, like much of Europe, is waiting for summer to really start. This was two weeks ago, at a Novi Most team retreat in Gradac, on the Croatian coast. It was warm enough to swim, so we did as we don't get so many chances to get to the coast now we live in Jajce.

Back at home we have begun preparation for winter - yes, already! Five metres of chopped wood arrived yesterday. It's now neatly stacked in the area our our front door. When summer does arrive it'll dry it all out nicely so it's ready to burn. The church building where we run our Novi Most courses has new double glazing which should both keep out the cold and hold the heat for longer. We can look forward to warmer teaching this winter. But, having said all that, we want to enjoy a long, hot summer first!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Make The Most

By now friends and followers of this blog who like the Novi Most Facebook page will be well aware that the organisation is making the most of the opportunity afforded by social media to get the word out. This is important. We who are involved in the work know it's needed, and appreciated, work that's making a difference. However we also know that if we don't explain that whats and the whys of it the details can be hard to second guess from the other side of Europe, less so from even father afield.

That's the idea behind the series of short videos Novi Most is releasing: concise presentations of the issues affecting young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and what Novi Most is doing in response. Having worked on putting these, and the accompanying photos, together it's good to seem them being shared and commented on online. Social media provides a great opportunity to share a story at the click of a button. We want to make the most of this opportunity. But we are also only too aware the struggles of young people growing up in Bosnia and Herzegovina will not solved at the click of a button. That's why making the most of our opportunity to help these young people is important. We owe a big thanks to all of you whose support makes this possible.

Sunday, 21 April 2013


Things have been a little quiet on our blog for the past couple of weeks. That's usually a sign things are not quiet in our offline existence - and this has certainly been no exception to that rule. April has, thus far, consisted of scaling the steep learning curve of handling a DSLR for the first time, racking up the road miles around Bosnia and Herzegovina and hours of editing video footage.

Tomorrow Novi Most, the UK-based charity we volunteer for, will begin releasing the first of the new photos and videos I have been working on. Whether you're a fan of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or good old-fashioned websites you'll be able to get a fresh insight into the important work Novi Most is engaged in.  My hope is these new videos, images and editorial help increase people's understanding of the issues young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina grow up facing.

Until tomorrow, here's a teaser...

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Don't go chasing waterfalls!

We've been hearing reports of heavy rainfalls and flooding from around the country. In Jajce we've had rain but have to feel we've escaped lightly. However, today the Pliva was running high through town, turning the weirs into wild white water. By the time the river rushed over the waterfall things were crazy indeed. This view is always dramatic, always worth a photo. Today video was the only way to do it justice.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Castle in the snow

Today, as if we were being treated to some meteorological April Fool, we woke to a fresh fall of snow. A trip up to the castle on top of the town was already planned so it was a good opportunity to grab the camera and capture the town looking moody. By early evening we had beautiful spring sunshine; we were out at the lakes by then and they were looking lovely. However the camera stayed in its bag, so this April 1st will go down on (video) record as a gray and snowy one.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Seasonal signage

We were in Zagreb, Croatia, on Thursday and Friday, celebrating our fifteenth wedding anniversary. Wandering through Trg bana Jelačića – the city's central square in a similar way to what Trafalgar Square is to London – when we spied a seasonal sign. Perched above a mobile phone ad encouraging us to “Embrace life” and a white goods' ad claiming its products are “The smart choice for 280 million users worldwide” was a digital billboard of Jesus*.

“Happy Easter” it said. “The Lord Jesus Christ, Victor over death and Satan”. It was the contrast between style of the artwork, admittedly not to my taste, and the uncompromising statement that made me snap this photo. I thought for all its reputation as a edgy cultural capital I couldn't see this message playing well in London. But then I checked online and discovered Trafalgar Square hosted a full-scale Passion play this year. Somehow that discovery was more reassuring than finding any number of unnecessary chocolate eggs!

(*The CIA estimate Jesus has 2.1 billion followers worldwide.)

Sunday, 24 March 2013

A new playground!

Yesterday we enjoyed exploring a “new” playground - Ski centar "Raduša". We'd been intrigued by the pictures on Facebook and the reality didn't disappoint. I had been looking for one sunny day of snowboarding this season and we finally got it! As ski centres in Bosnia and Herzegovina go this must be one of the newest; according to an article on a Croatian ski website it's only in its third year of operating. From our perspective it makes an appealing alternative to some of the more established resorts.

I know people look for different things in their winter sports experiences. For some the après-ski activities are more important than the slopes. At Raduša the après-ski activity is driving home! It's not a resort in that sense, but what it offers is access to unspoilt countryside. There's no loud music, no corporate sponsorship banners, just a mountain top covered with snow, a few well placed lifts and some nicely groomed runs. All that and a decent restaurant at the bottom and a cafe with panoramic views at the top. A powder day here has to be a priority for next season!   

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

A year ago today

On the 5th March 2012 I took my newly purchased first snowboard up our nearest mountain for its first run out on snow. Why do I remember this? Well, partly, it was one of those moments I never imagined that would happen; such moments have a habit of sticking in the memory. Yes, I was excited, and that could be part of it, but the more prosaic explanation is that as I sat on the snow, strapping my boots into the bindings, I noticed the board length: 153cm. To English eyes that was clearly code for 1st used on the 5th of the 3rd. I knew then I wouldn't forget the date.

Whatever I did that day it's certain it was not epic snowboarding. I had hunted around Youtube trying to find tutorial videos that made sense. Good ones seemed few and far between. I tried to remember what I'd watched and practise things in some kind of logical order. Fast forward ten months and I was on a slope in Sarajevo getting logical, structured instruction. I'd like to say that in a few days I was snowboarding like a pro. I'd be lying. The more I practised the more I ached. I knew what I should be doing, I got to the point I could no longer convince my tired legs to cooperate.

Since then I've averaged a couple of snowboarding sessions a week. I'm still not a pro but I'm a lot closer to being able to claim to be competent. Given my age – late 30s – the few extra pounds I'm carrying and my general level of fitness I'm pretty happy with my progress. I've watched younger, trimer, fitter people take the same instruction I had and get it all working for them in far less time. Having no fear helps! If you're reading all this thinking you'd love to get into snowboarding then I'd recommend the series of videos I shot with my instructor. There are 10 videos that together will teach you all the basics you need to know.

I don't want to over-sell so I should add these are not the most exciting snowboard videos online. I love the ones full of mad tricks and flying down impossibly steep mountains. They are great to watch but they won't teach you to ride. These videos will. I'm tempted to say they are one of the best presentations of snowboard basics you'll find online. Trust me. I followed these steps and it worked for me. And if it worked for me I'm sure it can work for could be snowboarding in two days!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

You win some

On Saturday Jajce's Lavovi (Lions) bit back at the BiH Floorball League tournament in Tuzla. At least they did in the first game they played. The last time the Lavovi played Gladijator from Prijedor the game was a 4-4 draw. This time we won by a surprisingly comfortable 6-2 margin.

Anyone who read our post about the first tournament will probably have noticed the kit change since then. Out go the 70s-style short-shorts of the hand-me-down outfits and in comes a freshly purchased strip with the team badge on the front and “Floorball Club Lavovi Jajce” in big text on the back between the shoulder blades.

Sadly new kit and the feel-good factor of getting a first tournament win wasn't enough to guarantee a result in our second game of the day. I never played enough competitive sport in the UK to speak authoritatively on cultural differences but I was surprised that on a day when the lowest scoring game featured six goals our team's faces clearly showed they thought the second game was lost after going one-nil down after five minutes. After that, unsurprisingly, a few tempers were lost on the way to losing the game. But today in training it was all smiles and positive play - the Lions live to roar again!     

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The girls and the boys

On Saturday morning I tweeted that we were “giving more young people their first snowboard experience today.” I added, “Let's hope they learn as much as the last group!” The last group was mostly girls, this group entirely boys. When we say girls and boys we're talking eleven and twelve year olds. Both groups were keen to get out on the snow with a snowboard; both groups found the first few exercises we gave them a little difficult.

After an hour or two this Saturday it seemed we might be collecting strong empirical evidence that girls possess better listening skills than boys. Our boys were not progressing as fast as the girls had and were not really following instructions, even instructions of the clear and repeated kind. We broke for lunch. When we returned to the slope it seemed, instead of our previous suspicion, we had just proved boys perform better powered by a generous helping of pizza.

By the end of our session all our newbies had mastered the basics and were excitedly telling us they'd just managed to do that last run without falling over once. Faces that beam with a sense of achievement say more than any “thank you for this opportunity” ever could. Of course, the inevitable question follows: when can we do this again? Hopefully, it won't be too long. We just need it to stay cold and keep snowing a little longer.     

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The view from the top

As is the way with mountains, you get to the top only to see another higher peak staring down at you as if to quash your sense of achievement. Yesterday we spent a day off at Vlašić, a mountain in the very centre of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is the view from the top of the drag lifts that serve the mountain's Babanovac resort.

It's a very pretty place, and to my taste anyway, all the better without the weekend crowds. We waited for a lift once, for about a minute, the rest of the time we walked straight on. Most of the the time we could see a couple of others of the slope we were on, although a few times we had a stretch all to ourselves. Part of me would love it to always be like this but I also see there is space for others to discover the joys of snow sport in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It may not cater for full on adrenaline junkies but there is plenty for beginners, and those who like to take in the surroundings as they make their way down a mountain. If you need a little more convincing you can see what it looks like in this video I made yesterday.    

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Lightning strikes

This is Lavovi Jajce (Jajce Lions) all smiles before our first game in the new BiH Floorball League. That's me second from the left. Saturday was the first of four tournament days we'll compete in this year. Hopefully we'll do better at the competing bit next time. We lost a closely fought first match 3:2, with the winning goal coming in the dying seconds.

However, for reasons I won't go into here, we for ourselves 2:0 down in about as many minutes at the start of the second game. Our opponents in this game go by the name Gromovi, which translates as Thunder. There's no thunder without lightning, and although they say this never strikes twice we were on the end of a brutal 12:2 thrashing. In the words of Yazz: the only way is up!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Comparing highs

Last night lightning stopped play. This was both disappointing and encouraging; disappointing because I was just hitting my snowboard stride, powering down the powdery slope in ridiculously poor visibility, but encouraging that the local ski centre didn't want to see its customers fried in a freak drag lift accident. Seeing lightning flash through heavy falling snow was a new experience. We know the prevailing wisdom is don't be on high, exposed places at such times so we headed inside for another hot chocolate.

Ranč is our local ski centre. We know it's a mountain but it's easy to think of it as the local hill. It was the combination of questions from my brother and getting a G-Shock watch with an altimeter for my birthday that got me interested in finding out how high this “hill” really is. I took a reading on my watch at the top, I cross referenced it with an accurate (higher) figure from the internet. 1463m. For someone more used to measuring mountains in feet (ft) I wasn't sure how impressive this was. 4800 ft, however, I understand.

During a Skype call with my brother we started comparing this to The Three Peaks in the UK. Ben Nevis is the biggest; it's 4409 ft. I was surprised. Really surprised. I started to doing other comparisons. You can see the results below. Horsham is the town we lived in in the UK, Jajce is where we are now. The Shard is the tallest building in London, the Avaz Twist Tower the tallest in Sarajevo. Leith Hill is the tallest hill in the Horsham area – a similar distance away as Ranč is to Jajce. Ben Nevis is the highest point in the UK; Maglić the highest in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Let's say, I look at our local hill a little differently now.    

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

It Begins in Bosnia

This video was filmed during the first two weeks of this year. They were two weeks that proved beyond doubt there is no gain without a sizeable portion of pain. So much pain! Going from effectively no snowboard experience to nine consecutive days of intense snowboarding, with a healthy dose of long-distance driving thrown in for good measure, was a stern test of the resolve. However, and it's a big however, the trade off is we, and a group of the young people we work with, have learned to snowboard. Not just that, we've learned enough to pass those skills on to others. We're not the only ones excited about this. It won't be long before you'll be able to watch how far this story has come in just a couple of months. This video is just the beginning.

(Bosnia and Herzegovina is a beautiful country that offers some great winter sport opportunities. We'd recommend anyone in search of new adventures to check it out. All our snowboarding was on mountains in Bosnia - hence the title of the video.)

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Shining a little light on The Lampost story

Over ten years ago now one of my brothers and I decided to convert our parents garage into a home studio. My brother had a friend with a studio on the south coast that was being forced to close. We bought the live room from them; dismantled it, transported it half an hour up the road and re-imagined the pieces into a new creative space of our inventing. Naturally, the process was slightly more drawn out than I've presented here. I'm sure our parents haven't forgotten their side of the story!

The night we finished the conversion we were sitting around in the living room, probably eating celebratory ice cream. Suddenly there was a huge crash. Everyone's first thought was we must have somehow undermined the structural integrity of the house and caused some terrible disaster. We ran around looking for the problem. Nothing was wrong. Then we realised it was unusually dark outside. The problem was a late-night motorist finding the lamp post outside a near-immovable object. It stopped his car but not without splitting into three pieces and crashing to the ground. Thus our new studio was christened The Lampost.

Sadly, since then, our plans of musical world domination have been largely unfulfilled. The Lampost has become the home of Hellyer's Puppet Workshop. (It's currently filled with foam and more variations of fun fur than ought to be legal.) However, we have finally linked up for a collaboration, remixing a track for an online competition. Even if, technically, The Lampost has had no part in the production we thought we'd honour it by naming ourselves in its honour.

If collaboration implies my brother and I have a broad base of shared musical taste this is misleading. We agree on a couple of bits of Coldplay, a lot of Chicane and would both confess to a childhood appreciation of the yellow and black stylings of Stryper. Beyond that there are gulfs between what you'd find on our iTunes 'most played' lists. But in music, as in so many areas of life, it is possible to set aside differences to work together. This we have done; turning a decent piece of hip hop into what we're calling a Euro-house banger!

You can listen to the remix here, and if you like what you hear then consider voting for us in the competition.   

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Not quite to eleven

Yesterday I dug out my guitar amp for the first time this year. In fact it was the first time in a lot longer. It's not that I don't play guitar anymore, more that I have a habit of playing my electrics unplugged when I'm at home. Pragmatism has trumped purism when it comes to recording. I have an impressive collection of virtual amps and cabinets in Amplitube that probably cost less to assemble than it would to replaces the tubes in my Marshall. But when it comes to live playing you can't beat a nice valve amp.

Truth be told yesterday's rehearsal was a little too quiet to quite hit the niceness of a well driven combo; although niceness isn't something to strive for in punk. Neither is quietness. Playing along to sequenced drums on a Macbook probably breaks the rules too. Ultimately, though, isn't punk all about challenging the status quo? That, at least, is what I was led to believe the other day via Twitter when I stumbled across a picture of a Joe Strummer quote that described punk in a way I'd never heard before: "punk rock means exemplary manners to your fellow human being."

Now I know enough to know Twitter is hardly the guardian of verity so I turned to Google for conformation. (I'm not sure if this is more a case of frying pan and fire or pot and kettle?) It seems that more than one place on the internet seems to agree Strummer said this. It's from an interview in 1999. Out of context it seems a strange statement so I thought I'd cut and paste a little more context. Joe is asked what is a punk attitude. He replies like this.

"Punk ain't the boots or the hair dye. I've been asked to define it many times so I've actually thought about it for a couple of seconds. It must be the attitude that you have, that approach everything in life with that attitude...I go straight in, see what's wrong and I fix it. If we're meeting some new couples, the second someone lights a cigarette, I grab an ashtray and it'll be there while everything's going on.

Everyone else there will be standing around while their ashes fall off. That is a punk attitude because I wanna be aware of what's going on. My motto is 'never take your eye off the ball,' which is a soccer motto. I like to be completely aware of what's going on at all times, even if it's four in the morning. She needs a chair or he needs a beer. There's no long wait 'cause I've already clocked it while everyone's going (jabbering) meh-meh-meh. I'm going meh-meh-meh too but I know what's going on around me. This is punk rock. In fact, punk rock means exemplary manners to your fellow human being."

Punk as selfless servanthood: now there's an interesting concept. Perhaps I should write a song about it!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Today's challenge

There is more going on in the world, and in our lives, right now than snowboarding. However, if you'll indulge us, I'll take this opportunity to explain why this photograph is actually a lot more exciting than the dog seems to think.

Today nine of us, and snowboards, headed up to the local ski centre. Three of us where the Novi Most Jajce team, three were older teenagers would been part of the group that did the intensive snowboard course we ran a couple of weeks back, and three were younger teens who had no snowboard experience.

The challenge for today was to see if we could put into practise the training we'd been given and pass on the skills we'd learned. We, the leaders, hoped this "we" would include the older teenagers; that they would help in training and encouraging those trying snowboarding out for a first time. That was the plan but we all know what can happen to the best laid plans. However, we also know we're not the only ones who love it when a plan comes together. And that's what we can report today: the younger ones learned, the older ones helped coach them and everyone went home happy. Hopefully there'll be enough snow for more of the same - with different faces - next weekend.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

World Snow Day

Today was World Snow Day so we went snowboarding this afternoon. It was not epic conditions but I made this video anyway. Maybe it'll inspire you! (Find out more about World Snow Day.)

Monday, 14 January 2013

The warm glow

This was the parting shot of how we kick-started 2013: a final powder run up on a mountain above Jajce, bathed in the golden light of a glorious sunset. As introductions to a new year go I can't remember one that has been as exciting and satisfying, so exhausting and downright painful. No pain, no gain is a well worn cliche but, this time at least, it was well worth playing through the former to see the later.

I'm not a gambling guy in the Vegas sense but there was a reasonable dose of risk taking involved in organising what we've been up to for the last week. We had to have the equipment in place; there had to be snow on the right mountains; we had to have found people who'd rise to the challenge; we had to hope our snowboarding friend would work well in translation; not to mention trying to convince onlookers that what we were planning was legitimate youth work and not an excuse for play time. As I sit here, nursing my aches, on the other side of this adventure I know a question mark only continues to hang over that last part. The equipment came together, good snow fell, our young people surpassed themselves and Iain, on his first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, handled teaching with translation like a seasoned pro.

If I have one regret it is that he didn't get as much play time as I had promised, but his suggestion that we use Saturday's day off to film snowboard tutorial videos was too good to pass up. That Saturday was the best weather day for filming so far this year was a most welcome bonus. My job is now to edit these videos and get them online as quickly as possible. His challenge is that if you watch them and apply them you could go from nothing to snowboarding properly in two days. I've seen it work. If you are up for the challenge and need and mountain to practise on I can see one from our kitchen window!