She bangs the drum

(first published 15th March 2012)

At the gym this morning, one of the instructors told me I was a fighter. He was right up to a point, but as with martial artistry, one of the key points to remember is that one should always strive only to enter into a contest on your own terms. And even then only when there is no avoiding it. After all, most fights are less won than they are not lost, and a fight avoided is a fight not lost. His obtains just as clearly in normal situations as it does in those ones with drunken idiots, muggers, thugs … if you can avoid the conflict, then you win. If conflict is forced upon you, then go for the kill. Do not hold back.
What is true about my attitude in fighting terms is that I will not willingly pick a fight I cannot possibly win. I would rather run, sidestep, duck, block, evade. PD is a fight I cannot avoid. I also cannot win. It’s as simple as that. So why take it on? The rhetoric of combat people use when suffering from cancer is, I believe, dangerous, and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the disease. It cannot be conquered, only scared off. Believing you’ve beaten it exposes you to devastating hubris. PD is even less defeatible. It’s incurable. Even if some think it can be beaten with positive energy flowers or whatever. Yes, there are ways to ameliorate its worst inconveniences, but they are but temporary.
There’s nothing wrong with temporary unless you think it’s permanent. So with PD I don’t struggle where struggle is pointless. But I do pay attention when fellow PWPs say that something has helped. On of the daftest but fabulous PWP of my acquaintance recently took up drums. She swears by it. So much so that she has begun a campaign to get drummers to lend us their kits … Beat It – ironically the tune she namechecks begins with a Linn Drum machine before Jeff Porcaro joins in, but hey …
Colleen’s basic premise is that hitting things in a rhythmic manner helps. I can think of many reasons why drumming could be useful therapy for PWP, but perhaps the most interesting is the psychological effect of hitting something with a stick and its going BOOM! PWP don’t make enough noise, and hitting drums makes you feel quite alive. Very cause and effect. But I thought it would be interesting to see what it felt like. Whether I got what Colleen got.
So, I cracked open my address book (ok, I opened Facebook), and messaged one Mike Sturgis, erstwhile head of drums at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford and regular Rhythm magazine contributor. Now, Mike and I used to teach at the Musician’s Institute/London Music School in Wapping back in the 90s, and we’d often get to play together, demonstrating tunes, at music shows, that sort of thing. I am not flattering him when I say that he is the man – just my favourite drummer to play with (and I also played with Thomas Lang, considered by many to be the best there is). There’s a good reason for this, and it’s not because he’s a lovely chap (which he is), but because his groove is so big and fat and utterly there that it acts like a small planet, pulling your own notes into its centre through some sort of rhythmic gravity. You not only can’t go wrong, but you can go way outside the norm rhythmically and you’ll not slip up on his beat. He really does rock.
So, I contacted him with mixed feelings. He didn’t know about my diagnosis, so there was perhaps a little awkwardness. The journey there was a little fraught. It was as if I was journeying to my past. Things I perhaps didn’t want to be reminded of were about to leap up and bite me. In the nicest possible way.
I arrived in Farncombe, and after hovering outside for ten minutes feeling anxious, trotted upstairs into the Farncombe Cavern, a nice upstairs venue run by the publican who is doing good stuff with regards providing a good place to play – oh, and he’s a nice guy who keeps a good pint.
He was drumming when I entered the room.
Mike and I greeted each other and chatted a bit. A bit nervously.
Frankly, I felt odd, and didn’t want to make a complete tit of myself. But I got over myself and sat behind a kit for the first time in years and years … and years. Picked up a stick and hit the bloody thing.

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