Old dogs, new tricks


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I’ve been on a course this week. The one thing that I can’t complain about in my company is that they don’t scrimp on the training and so this week off I went to learn all about how a car works. As part of the ice breaking session in the morning we had to “interview” the person sat next to us and find out what they had done over the weekend that they hadn’t previously done before. The bloke next to me told me that he had purchased a new polish for his car and had spent the afternoon polishing his V reg golf. I had to chuckle to myself when the trainer said that even he thought that was a little sad. The guy opposite me had said that his hobby was dog training, not so much for show but just for fun and that this past weekend he had finally managed to train a Labrador to swim. I thought that all dogs could swim but he seemed very proud of his achievements and I didn’t want to rain on his parade. But what this did do is to highlight the utter pointlessness of attending training courses in stuff that you already do on a day to day basis, and are pretty also good at doing already.To be fair, on this occasion I actually enjoyed this course as it was unlike the previous waste of time courses I’ve been on over the last 12 months. For example I’ve driven to Swindon for a course to learn how to make a telephone call (I kid you not) and the following week I had to drive to Luton to learn how to answer the phone as well. Quite frankly what I don’t now know about using the phone it isn’t worth knowing. I have also had to sit through an hours worth of health and safety training where I watched a man in his late 50’s explaining and demonstrating how to lift a ring binder without causing a hernia, how to avoid blowing your head off by jump starting a Corsa and best of all the correct use of a ladder, which by all accounts doesn’t include screwing the wrong sized one onto the back of a short wheel base vivaro van. We also got the full benefit of his H+S wisdom when he explained that if we were to carry out any tasks that could result in an explosion to the face we should wear protective goggles so that even though we could be left facially disfigured our eyes would be fine. Fine enough to be able to put the telephone training to good use and call an ambulance I guess. This week coming I have to spend two days back at Luton learning how to hand a car over, something that I’ve been doing reasonably well over the past 15 years with only a few minor mishaps such as the time when one car arrived in the wrong colour, another that had the wrong amount of doors on it and one very memorable moment when a customer drove his brand new car into the wall at the end of the forecourt on his way out.

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I think that in future I’m going to take a leaf out of my Dads book and take a course in something I’d actually like to learn something about. Assuming that there is no such thing as a course on how to successfully twat Justin Beiber or how to get away with gunning down the entire cast of towie, I’d like instead to take a foreign language course as I’m insanely jealous of people who can effectively communicate while abroad without resorting to having to mime or point. I’d also like to learn how to cook. I guarantee that at any given time of the day or night that if the tv is on there’ll be a cookery program on it and although I’m not in the slightest bit interested in how to arrange asparagus into appealing shapes or how to stack chips into a kind of tower shape, I am interested in learning how to make a meal that doesn’t just involve warming stuff up or opening a packet. But the thing that I really want to do is to learn how to play the guitar. When it comes to dancing I have two left feet and when it comes to playing a musical instrument of any kind I appear to have two left hands. Ever since I was a kid I’ve found that trying to learn a musical instrument is a tortuous experience . I wanted to learn how to play the piano once so I managed to persuade my folks to pay for lessons for me and in order to support my learning they bought an upright piano for me to practice on, but despite all of this assistance and encouragement I was useless. I remember obtaining a guitar once from a friend and spending hours with him while he patiently explained how a guitar worked and nodded encouragingly while I murdered every known song we tried to learn. Every Thursday I drive past a guitar shop and yearn to own one again and imagine that after years of listening to some of the greatest music available, that I could simply pick one up and be an instant James Hetfield or Slash. I am going to do it and as Wayne in “Wayne’s world” says when he looks at the fender stratocaster in the locked case ” It will be mine, oh yes it will be mine”. I will buy one sometime soon and I will learn to play it. It’s now my mission.

A year or so ago I treated myself to a new camera and as part of the deal there was a heavily discounted set of vouchers allowing me to attend a seminar of my choosing to learn about how it works. Thinking that it would be a smart move to start at the beginning,I booked the beginners course which I thought would cover the basics without being too technical whilst also giving me a good range of skills to help me take better photo’s. So when the day arrived I set of for London with all my kit in a rucksack, got to the hotel that was holding the event and sat at the back not wanting to appear a bit of a class swot and before long the trainer arrived, greeted us all and started the course. Now when I’d signed up to the beginners course I did realise that at times it would be a little basic but my rationale was that it would at least be able to confirm that I was doing things correctly but when the first lesson was how to turn it on I did begin to wonder if rather than being on the beginners course, I was instead booked on the “you must be some kind of bloody moron” course instead. Following the ‘how to turn it on (and off)’ modules we had the ‘how to take off the lenses and put them back on module’, the ‘how to put on a filter’ lesson and my personal favourite the ‘how to switch on the auto focus facility’. During the various modules we were encouraged to ask any questions that we had and to my amazement one of my fellow delegates put her hand up and asked if it mattered what way up in the bag it was stored. My heart sank. During the break for lunch I showed the course leader some photos I had taken indoors and in low light conditions and that I hadn’t been that happy with, therefore asking for some advice on what I’d done wrong and how they could be improved. She looked at them, asked me what camera I had bought and then proceeded to tell me that they were pretty good given the limitations of my equipment. Yeah thanks for that, I had only spend £600 on it and silly old me had thought it might be possible to take a decent night time shot with it but it seems not. Blinding. I spent the rest of the day wishing I’d done the intermediate course instead as at least they actually got to take some photos.

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Barcelona football club are arguably the best team ever to have played the game and yet they train every single day.I want to train every day and learn something new and broaden my horizons but I don’t want to be taught to suck eggs any more or patronised by some wet behind the ears career student. I’m going to get better at taking photos, I’m going to learn how to play ‘enter sandman’ and I’m going to cook a bloody good meal sometime very soon. Just you wait and see.

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1 Comment

  1. I left a short reply to this but I’m leaving a longer one (I have a creative writers site and I asked Steve to blog on it because I like his blogs, so that takes up much of my time, but I come on WordPress as well – if you want to have a look it can only be found on Google at the mo, just Google OnlyNicePeople.Ning and I hope I don’t get told off for that!).

    Anyways, the Health & Safety people, why on earth don’t employers just save themselves the bother of sending people on courses of this kind “just in case” they are a brainless twonk, why not just NOT employ brainless twonks? And how insulting for staff who aren’t brainless to have to suffer these courses, although I have to say, the ones I’ve been on do have their comedy value, if nothing else.

    You usually get a bunch of guys and girls sitting there looking totally bemused because somebody is explaining to them how to use a telephone, to quote your example. It’s just insulting. Then their expressions change when they realise they can’t get out of this crazy course so they may as well (a) have a laugh and (b) take the piss. Well what else could a normal human being do?

    Oh well, Steve, at least that one’s out of the way, until the next time. Wear safety boots in the office in case the phone lands on your foot???

    As regards the guitar playing, I’ve posted a longer reply on my own site, but Steve, you’ve GOT to buy a guitar and do it. I’ve been playing since I was a kid and you’ll be really surprised how easy it is to play once you know the basics. The worst thing is to tell yourself it’s a “gift” only certain people have, because it isn’t. It’s just a couple of hours practice every day and persistence. Also, my advice (I don’t know whether you’re thinking electric guitar or acoustic guitar) is to buy a decent quality guitar from the off, and one you love the look, sound and feel of.

    If you’re going down the lower end of the price scale electric guitar wise, go for something like a Yamaha Pacifica, because they are built to precision for about £200 and if you blindfolded Slash or Eric Clapton and put it in his hand, he’d swear he was playing a £600 American spec Stratocaster – they’re THAT good!

    But with guitars, there’s a comparison to the car world in that until you get in a car and drive it, all the theory in the world won’t get you driving. Likewise guitars, you have to handle one every day to know your way around it, and it soon becomes instinctive. On ONP (OnlyNicePeople.Ning) I’ve replied to your blog at length about “finger memory” and “unconscious competence” which are two things that happen when you handle a guitar every day. After a while, your fingers “unconsciously” know where they’re going.

    Also, learn the Minor Pentatonic Scale and chords wise, you could do a lot worse than learning three basic chords to begin with, D, Cadd9 and G because a shitload of rock music is based around those.

    You can get online lessons free now but it does pay to have a half dozen lessons from the guitar teacher down at the guitar shop as if you haven’t handled a guitar much, SHOWING rather than explaining things at first will put you miles ahead.

    You might be surprised to know that the MASSIVE intro to “One Vision” by Queen, for example, only involves moving your index finger from fret 4 to fret 5 – it’s a teeny little movement of the finger whilst holding down a 5th (also known as a “power chord” – they’re dead simple) but it sounds bloody HUGE!

    It’s daft o’clock in the morning as I write this (again) so I’m going to go off and actually sleep at night for a change, I spend so much time trying to get my site off the ground these days I don’t know where the bed is any more, but I;ll try to find it.

    In the meantime, thanks for another great blog and for your support on our little writing site.

    Defo get that guitar, though – you will be sooooo! glad you did!

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