Friday, 25 May 2018

FLOWN THE NEST

Almost three weeks ago a Robin family's youngsters fledged the nest early, and for the past few weeks I've been giving them a helping hand with live meal worms in a wall feeder. Then about this middle of this week he disappeared and I haven't seen him since or heard his song. Fingers crossed he's OK.

That song was replaced however, by an ever louder screeching of young chicks from a Starling nest, not far from the Robin's, in the eaves of my house. These guys normally take around three weeks to fledge, and unlike the Robins, they seemed late. That was until this morning, when the nest fell silent, and it is safe to say they too have now fledged.


A new visitor now comes to the feeder for what's left of the meal worms, in the shape of a Sparrow, no doubt feeding young of its own.

The familiar sound that summer has arrived has returned to the sky above the house once again; the shrill screech of the acrobatic, and aptly named, Swifts.

Nearby, one of my favourite walks is through a local park called the Figgate, where a large pond dominates the centre, and birds of a wide variety breed there at this time of year. Keen to see what other families were new beyond my small garden, I took a wander at the end of the week.

And I wasn't disappointed.

A family of swans with their six fluffy signets were happily swimming around, pecking at the surface of the water, following closely to their majestic-looking parents. At one point they left the pond to walk across the path to the nearby burn, and I could see that the male was limping badly from an injured left leg. In the water he seemed fine, so hopefully all will be well.


Two families of Mallard ducks were noisily making their way around, with one set slightly older than the other judging by size. Sitting upon the remains of last years swans nest, was a family of Moor Hens, their scrawny, ugly little heads poking out of mum's wing when dad returned with a tasty morsel.


Some trees were still sporting their blossom, but most were now in full leaf, and the last of the bluebells adorned wild corners.

It has all been a bit later than usual this year, but in the past week everything has suddenly exploded in growth.

One of my favourite scenes was of a field covered in dandelion seed heads, the sun just catching a small area as they waited on the breeze to dislodged them.


I miss the Robin, sitting on his usual branch in the Birch, staring through the kitchen window, waiting for me to put more food out, and the racket of the Starlings in their nest, greedily calling out for more and more bugs from mum and dad.

Everything has now fledged from my garden, all away to start their new lives, and it seems just that little bit dull and silent without them. I'll never forget this Spring, when a Robin chose to make its nest right at my back door.



Thursday, 17 May 2018

LIFE IN THE MAKING

Ahhh, the joys of Spring.

For a welcome change the sun is shining in Edinburgh, albeit with a chill breeze from the East, which has become the norm in recent years. In fact, in general it is cooler, and this has had an effect on nature in a big way.

The Birch tree in my garden for example, all fantastic 30 feet of it, has only just come into leaf, as has the Hawthorn. Although this is very late, whilst in the Highlands on Tuesday I noticed that many of the trees just 100 miles north are still completely bare.

This hasn't put off the birds from nesting however, but of course, it could be creating problems for them in terms of food. There are definitely less bugs flying about, and the cold ground will no doubt have delayed the reproduction of all the tasty creepy crawlies that they rely on for food.

As you will have read in a previous blog, I have been entertained by the sheer joy of observing a pair of Robins use the walls of my house to raise a family this year. However, though the Birch came into leaf late, the Robin fledglings left the next a few days early last weekend. One flew down to Pauline's garden and hid among the myriad of pots she has, whilst the other two dropped down into my garden.

Eager to keep an eye on them, I positioned cameras to watch over the garden. Within a couple of hours the dreaded murderous cat from next door appeared, clearly after the fledglings. Thank goodness I was watching the monitor, as I was able to intercept it and save the fledglings, now in a bit of a panic.

It was clear this was going to be a tough time for the Robin, the male now on his own, and so, pardon the pun, I hatched a plan to help it by installing a Starling-proof feeder for live meal worms. Yum!


The Starlings are also raising young in my garden, and the noise they have been making in the last day or two, makes me think they are also about to fledge. But they seem to have both parents working hard, and there is a near constant flow of worms and bugs coming back to the nest, so they're doing fine. So the Starling-proof feeder is not because I don't want to help them, but more because the Robin has a much harder time, and the Starlings can devour everything in a few seconds.


Now the Robin seems to know when I'm going to be around. Each day, as I'm making my breakfast, I look out of the window, and there he is, staring in from his perch on the Birch. He clearly associates me with food now, as he rarely flies away when I go out to put the meal worms in the feeder.


Life has been hectic for me too, and not necessarily in a good way, but the visits by the Robin, and the seemingly friendly nature toward me, albeit for food, definitely makes for a less stressful day.


Sunday, 13 May 2018

I STILL CAN'T HEAR YOU!

This week I took the plunge and shelled out four figures to have hearing devices bespoke made and programmed for me. As I said in my blog four weeks ago, my ability to hear some of the younger kids in my film classes has begun to be nearly impossible.

The devices were delivered, programmed and fitted last Tuesday, and so far, well, I'm less than impressed. On the plus side they are tiny, and push almost all the way in. It's an odd feeling at first, like your ears are full of something that you just want to claw out. I accept it takes a while to get used to them, but I'm convinced the right hand device is not working properly, and is actually too big, despite molds being taken and then 3D scanned.


If you have normal hearing, try closing off one ear and listening to someone talk facing you, then from the side you've closed off. In the same way that closing one eye removes your ability to calculate depth, listening in mono reduces your ability to process sounds effectively.

From the word go the right device is difficult to insert, in fact, painful to do so, and triggers a back of throat reflex every time. The left slips in effortlessly. They are both programmed to pick up the high frequency range of sounds, which I have not been hearing for some time. With these devices that should be rectified. A simple test of this is a crinkly sweetie wrapper. I held it near to my left ear and very gently moved it. I could hear every crack and crinkle of the cellophane. However, I held it in the same position at my right ear and heard nothing.

I tried gently rubbing the tips of two fingers together in the same position. Again, the left was perfect, the right, nothing.

On the Friday morning I met a friend for coffee and we walked along the promenade. About 50m away the low tide was gently lapping onto the beach, and I could hear it perfectly. My friend was on my right side though and I had difficulty hearing him, asking him to repeat at various points. After a distance we turned back. Now he was on my left and I heard him with no trouble at all.

I think the right hand device is switched on. However, when I pull out the left device it gives out a whistling feedback noise, but the right does not. I changed the battery, just in case that was the issue, but nothing changed.

I persevered, and the ultimate test came yesterday with my students. I found if the room was noisy, with all the kids chatting at once, it was difficult to pick up one person speaking right in front of me. I managed, just, but the effort to focus was hard. With the youngest kids there was definitely an improvement, but not as much as I'd hoped for.

In the large hall at assembly I was stood roughly 30m from the Principal giving her opening address. She's loudly spoken and normally I have no trouble hearing her. Yesterday however, close by to me, two students were talking at the same time. The Principal's voice then started to cut in and out, as if she was using a faulty microphone. This was very strange.

Around 4pm two beeps went off in my left ear to tell me the battery was about to run out. The second beeps went off about 5 minutes later and the device shut off. Everything I then heard was muffled, until I pulled both devices out. This added weight to my theory that the right hand device is not working.

Hopefully things will be fixed soon. I'm fairly confident these are just teething troubles, and the benefits will surpass any misgivings I have at present.

If all else fails there are alternatives:

 


Thursday, 3 May 2018

A NEW FILM ACADEMY

Well, it had to happen; some shameless self promotion!

For years now I have been teaching young people how to make movies, with large amounts of success, if I do say so myself. It has been a constant learning journey, and one that quickly made me realise, this was my calling.

This is not to say I have not enjoyed the teaching for others to date, and for sure the experience has been enormously beneficial, not just in terms of a regular income, but in honing my skills on a continual basis, and I hope it has been equally enjoyable for those in my classes.

Just now I am one of three performing arts tutors with an organisation in Edinburgh, that young students age 6 to 18 experience three disciplines with; Comedy and Drama, Musical Theatre, and of course, Film & TV, and it is enormous fun.

But I have known for the past two years that this is something I should do for myself. I have a big vision for the future, of what a dedicated film academy for young people should be like, how it should grow, and what future opportunities it should give them.



We're about to launch with three summer schools in July and August, and all being well will follow on the success of this with a dedicated, weekly term-time after-school academy, all for ages 9 to 18. I decided from experience to have the minimum age set at 9 years old, as I find the younger age group doesn't quite work for filmmaking.

In the future we will launch a brand new international film festival, which will be unique in that the students will run the entire venture. There will also be an opportunity for parents to take part when we launch adult classes, and even big companies can benefit, with our new team building days in development. If that were not enough, by the end of the year we're going to hold free film screenings, once a month, for all our students and parents.

There is a frightening amount of work still to be done, with the past month taken up by building a website, which launched this past week, and something which a friend of mine has been absolutely key to its success, and to use her words, awesomeness! Other friends too have pitched in, spreading the word and helping with feedback on all manner of things.

Then there's my academy team; a BAFTA award winning screenwriter; an actress that was in Star Wars, and an award winning editor. Oh, and me of course!

And if you want to know more, by all means, make contact.

Naturally we're on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

During the process of creating the website and designing a poster, it became clear that we needed photographs and a video. But of course we haven't started the academy yet, so we didn't have anything to use. That led to organising a bespoke shoot for photos and a promo film, which was in itself an exciting event, and made everything seem so much more real.

It feels exciting, but daunting at the same time. Self doubt creeps in at every turn, especially when things go wrong, and the stress levels rise, which all takes place in the background. I'm hoping it looks calm on the surface while the storm is raging below.

My film work for other organisations will continue for now. I very much hope though that within a year I will be full time with The Film Academy Edinburgh.

Time will tell if it's going to be a box office smash.



Friday, 27 April 2018

NEW PARENTS

One of the best things about where I live is the amount of bird life in my garden. Over the years I have created a safe haven, with cat proof fencing and lots of places for them to roost and hide. Every morning when I put food down for them it is as if the entire neighbourhood of birds flock to the garden, especially the Sparrows and Starlings.

But over the past few weeks I've noticed the Sparrows are not hanging out as much. Obviously it's mating time, and they're spending most of their time chasing each other, with acrobatic flying through the birch tree. The Starlings too seem busy, carrying thin twigs and feathers in their beaks. But I also started to notice that a Robin was in the garden a lot more than usual, always perched on the same branch.


And then a second one appeared, right beside the first. They were clearly together.


A week passed by and my thought was they were looking for a nest site. What a joy it would be if they settled in my garden.

Little did I know this was old news. They already had!

One morning I noticed they were taking great interest in the ivy right at my back door, where I come and go all the time. A week ago I spotted them both in the birch tree as I went out to feed the birds, and, as I stepped back into the house, I took a quick glance in the ivy, and there was a perfectly made little Robins nest.

Now Pauline and I were keeping our fingers crossed they would be successful. I read up on all the information I could find, about how they usually lay 4 eggs, one per day, then let them cool until all are laid, so that they hatch together.

Would they lay? Would they hatch?

Again, old news!

This morning both parents were out, and almost every time I saw them there was a bug or caterpillar in their beaks. At one moment they both flew off together into next doors garden, and with the back door already open, I sneaked a glance. I have a video camera set up at a distance as well, and was able to get a clear shot by zooming in.

Chicks!


The Robins perch on the birch on the same branch all the time. At first I thought they were staring at me as my kitchen window faces the tree. Clearly they are watching the nest. And they have a routine.




When one flies from the branch the other immediately takes its place. At one point I was watching one of them with a caterpillar, thinking it would fly to the nest. In the birch above it were four Starlings. The Robin flew off in the opposite direction with the bug. After a while it returned, same white bug in its beak. The Starlings were still there. Again it flew off in the opposite direction, eventually returning with the same bug again. This time the Starlings were gone, and the Robin made his delivery. Clearly he was diverting attention away from the nest.



I'm trying not to go out of my back door too much as the nest is inches away. Fingers crossed all continues well. I'm sure before I know it in a few days they will have fledged!

And finally, the Robin chicks are not the only new arrivals, with my friends Craig and Rachel celebrating the arrival of Rose. It will be a lot longer than a few days for them before their new arrival flies the nest.


Thursday, 19 April 2018

THE BOULDERS OF NARNAIN!!!!

Did you miss me? No post last week, which is a first for me, but things have been rather hectic on the film side. The good news is though, I did manage to get away with my best friends on an overnight hillwalking adventure a week ago.

Andrew, Pauline and I try to get away together at least twice a year, and our busy lives rarely allow us more than this. Over the Easter holidays we set off  bound for the Arrochar Alps, organised by Pauline as always.

It is fair to say that both Andrew and I may be a little below par on the fitness scale, so spare a thought for our seasoned third team member, Pauline, waiting at every turn for us to catch up, listening to my moans and groans, or having to hurry us up in order to catch a train. Like reluctant teenagers we would regularly just giggle to ourselves in response. Poor Pauline.

The train station sits between the two villages of Arrochar, at the head of Loch Long, and Tarbet, on the shores of Loch Lomond. Having left the train we were faced with a wooden fence barring us from walking the woodland trail to Arrochar, due to the danger of logging activities. But we are seasoned hillwalkers, and laugh in the face of danger.

But it was Sunday, and no loggers were working.


A very pleasant couple of kilometers brought us out at the head of the loch and a view of, well, mountains covered in low cloud. It was a disappointment, as we had hoped to view the famous Cobbler, and summit the nearby peak of Beinn Narnain. The forecast promised that the following day would be clearer and brighter, so instead we headed north up Glen Loin along a forest track.


We were treated to views of various angles of the snow capped summit of Ben Lomond in the distance, with Ben Vane and Ben Vorlich (not the Lochearhead one I was reliably corrected) on our western flank.


The track was almost as good as a main road, but unfortunately that meant it was solid, and thus created a fair amount of pain in my damaged right toe with the repetitive force applied all the way along. This, naturally, fell on deaf ears of my "friends"


Up ahead was the gigantic front of Loch Sloy dam, serving the Loch Lomond-side hydro power station of the same name. As we ate up the kilometers, expecting to arrive at the dam at some point, I was unaware that we were slowly turning to the east. Eventually the track turned back on itself, and a few kilometers more we passed some distance below the dam.

Our plan was now to find a place to camp for the evening and so we headed south, past new born lambs skipping about the hillside and over the pass back toward Arrochar.


I could almost guarantee that the first spot we would stop at we would camp on. But our intrepid leader Pauline insists on scouring the local vicinity in search of that quintessential camp spot, only to always arrive back at the first spot. Confident that my bet was safe, both Andrew and I sat a while and chatted, watching the birds flit about, singing their song, and Pauline, bouncing and leaping from tussock to tussock, every further away, stopping a moment with chin in hand in contemplation, before heading to the next possible site.

Finally, we set up camp for the night, right where we had originally stopped.


Day two we all awoke with eager anticipation for clear tops and blue sky. Instead we had even lower cloud and murk. Packed up early in order to make the summit of Beinn Narnain, we headed off, much to my complaints that I thought it pointless going up in this, well, I can't repeat my comment here.

But Pauline, ever the optimist, drove the merry band on, and before long we were through Arrochar and on the path ascending toward our goal. If all else failed we would be treated to The Boulders of Narnain, Pauline promised.

We had dumped our heaviest gear, and Andrew and I agreed to share carrying the one rucksack with both our kit in. I was quietly delighted when he opted to take it on the way up, and I must have looked rather casual and reckless to others ascending the path, with apparently no gear. The mist kept teasing us, but eventually we accepted it was never going to clear, and so, as we stopped for a snack at the enormous Narnain Boulders, we took the decision to turn around.

But not before Andrew decided that more of a celebration should be made of reaching the boulders. He stood, with arms out in operatic style, and sang, in his baritone voice, as loud as he could muster, "THE BOULDERS OF NARNAIN!" holding "nain" for dramatic effect. What nearby walkers in the mist must have thought is anyone's guess. Not to be outdone, Pauline and I joined in, but with slightly less confidence than Andrew in wanting to look like a tit.


Very happy with ourselves, we descended to a local cafe in Arrochar for our reward, in celebration of our efforts and our musical prowess.

We shall return.


Saturday, 7 April 2018

AT A LOSS

In the later years of my mums life, it's fair to say she was suffering from a high level of hearing loss. Though it's no joking matter when one of your main senses starts to degrade, at times it was quite comical. Like most people she denied there was an issue. On occasion answers she would give to a question would come back wrong, because she genuinely hadn't heard you. But at other times she would compensate by trying to guess what someone had just said. I recall well on one occasion, as a late teens young man on my way out for the evening, I said to her; "That's me off now. I'll likely be late", to which the response was "I'm not sure but I think I saw some in the kitchen cupboard".

A good number of years ago I started to notice my brother's hearing was going the same way, and now he is really bad. He tells me he has hearing aids but doesn't use them as "they don't work". I suspect the real reason is the same sort of denial of the problem, because let's be honest, a chunky device sitting visibly on the back of your ear is ageing.

Many of my friends will tell you that my hearing is also becoming quite bad. I'm not in denial, and will happily tell people when I haven' heard them that my hearing is poor. My job is starting to be affected as well. I have a large number of young children in my classes, and their voices are in the higher frequency bracket, and these are the sounds my brain is not processing anymore.

The other down side of this affliction is that some people, probably not meaning to, can be quite hurtful. I rarely say anything in response, but sometimes it is quite upsetting. They will repeat something to me, for say a third time, but in a slow, loud and sarcastic manner. If I was in a wheel chair, or blind, would they be so sarcastic with that disability?

So recently I took the plunge and started the process of having hearing aids fitted. I too am aware of the ageing affect of them, and decided at the outset that I would be going for something that was almost invisible.

The tests took about an hour, during which time a very clever computer programme built up an accurate picture of my hearing abilities, after which the consultant talked me through the various options and models. And there are many. I had no idea what I was looking at. The only parameter I had was that I wanted them to be as discreet as possible, with the added consideration of price, for these devices are expensive.

There were two suggestions, one being double the price of the other, due to being made of titanium. But I still didn't know what I was supposed to choose. All the models had a chart displaying each devices capabilities, but this did little to help my decision.

Finally she attached a demo model to each ear, and programmed them with what the computer had analysed as my needs. She then said she was going to play some bird song. After a few seconds she asked if I could hear it.

Nope. Total silence.

That was because she hadn't turned them on yet.

Then she activated them.

To say it was an emotional experience is the biggest understatement of the year! It was incredible. I could hear so much, and they were only operating at 80% capability. Even the crumpling of my jacket was really noticeable, and my own voice sounded strange, with higher frequency sounds such as a sniff seeming embarrassingly loud. She advised me not to have them at 100% to begin with, as it would be too much too soon. My brain had to have time to readjust to processing sounds it hasn't heard for years.

This time next month I predict the quality of my life is going to improve a great deal. Hopefully the impatience and sarcasm from people around me may also stop. But I'm most looking forward to being able to make out what my students are asking me, hearing the Robin in the garden and geese flying overhead on my adventures in the Scottish wilds.