A three chord guitarist

Life’s decisions are never easy. Today, I woke up at 4am. My two remedies for getting back to sleep are: 1. Roll over and relax, or 2. Read my current book until I’m sleepy again. This morning, I opted for number 2.

In the first chapter of Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘The Quiet Side of Passion’, husband and wife team Isabel and Jamie are discussing snobbery, an example of which might be, Jamie, a professional musician looking down on a ‘three chord guitarist’. After reading this, there was no way I was going back to sleep in a hurry because that phrase isn’t far off an accurate description of my musical skills and my mind started working. Ever since my older brother John bought an acoustic guitar as a teenager, I have had an interest in playing music. Arguably, brother John is a ‘no chord musician’ who extracted his enjoyment from simply strumming the strings of his guitar and imagining he was playing. Sixty five years later, he’s still a no chord musician. He liked the idea of having a ukelele like his hero, Joe Brown, so he bought one, but he still can’t play it.

I went a few steps further than my big brother. I have two guitars, two ukeleles, two 5 string banjos, a piano and a piano accordian and I play all of them intermittently and badly. I never concentrated on any one instrument sufficiently that I became a competent player and I still know little of music theory. I am, at best, a novice who plays by ear, largely for his own enjoyment. But still, when I listen to Mark Knoppfler playing ‘Local Hero’, I want to get out my beautiful Fender Telecaster and give it a go.

Which brings me to my photography. I am an amateur photographer and, over the years, have learned my skill through trial and error without any formal training. In fact, that is the story of my earlier life. I went through my school years with scant regard for formal learning and examinations. In the grand scheme of things, it did me no harm, nevertheless, I don’t recommend this rather laid back strategy, particularly to my grandchildren.

Photography is my hobby which, by definition, is ‘something done in leisure time for pleasure’. It is not work and, therefore, does not warrant targets, self or peer appraisals and all the other demands of a job. And yet I can’t help looking at the Mark Knoppflers of the photographic world and thinking I need to do better. For instance, it’s now 7.49am so, maybe, I should be out there checking out the light and looking for the great crested grebe carrying its chick on its back, the hares in a field not half a mile from here, or the coots that make for good pictures at this time of the year as they exercise their aggression on rivals. After all, it’s probably a week since I posted something on my website. Instead, I’m still in bed. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. It shouldn’t matter that it’s now ‘tossing down with rain’ – my wife’s expression. I should be out there with my expensive cover on my camera getting wildlife in the wet.

These decisions should be easily made and based on what I want to do with my hobby at any particular moment. After all, I’m retired and should be just having fun. But I do feel some pressure to perform and I’m left with this question. Are the potentially award winning pictures I should be taking for my own personal satisfaction, or am I worried that some ‘Jamie’ will be looking down on me as the photographic equivalent of a three chord guitarist? That’s too difficult a question now. I need to sleep…

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