Thursday, 30 April 2015


To start this weeks blog about unexpected surprises, I'll start with a funny story told by a Scottish comedian called Billy Connolly. A word of warning though; if you've just eaten I'd leave this until later:

A drunk man gets onto a bus and staggers upstairs. After asking the top deck if it was a song they wanted, as they were all staring at him, he proceeds towards the back of the bus, being thrown side to side by both the motion of the bus and his inebriated state. He begins to feel nauseous, and clearly he is about to vomit. As the bus lurches to a stop he loses control and covers a woman's handbag. He staggers back, pointing at the handbag and exclaims, "I don't remember eating that!".

Billy Connolly tells it better of course, and a bit more colourful.
A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog all about the advantages and disadvantages of online shopping. After saying that I too shopped online, and that I found it convenient for the things I couldn't buy locally, let me share with you just such a process that occurred last week.

I ordered two different products from two different companies, all in connection with my film making. As I needed both items quickly I paid the extra for expedited delivery.

The first item was a BluRay called Boyhood. The film had been a big gamble by director Richard Linklater, taking nine years to film. I'd seen the film before in the cinema and had very much enjoyed it, so I was keen to own it on BluRay. Here's what arrived:

I would have had a use for 20 till rolls had I still owned the deli!

The day before this package arrived I had ordered a set of dry wipe pens, cleaning fluid and an eraser. Not very exciting I'll grant you, but practical. Within two days the package arrived, just in time for my film teaching class on the Saturday. I loaded up the car and set off for the academy. On arrival I set up the wipe board and opened the box. This is what was inside:

I don't even drink beer

Today, finally, the correct item arrived. Not much of a difference I guess!

It just goes to show that surprises come in all disguises.

Hopefully I'll do better now that I am also a seller on Amazon as of yesterday. Mind you, I only have one product so how hard can it be?

If you're interested click on the links below.  (UK and European market) (US market)

Thursday, 23 April 2015


A number of months ago my friend Pauline spotted a wood mouse in my garden as she sat sipping a cup of tea. She excitedly told me how it emerged from behind my shed office, then scampered along the top of the green flowerbed edging, rummaging for food.

She saw it several times . . . apparently.

I never did. I was starting to wonder if she'd had too much sun and was imagining it.

Then she started to leave peanuts out each day. Thinking she'd gone potty I went to check the place where she placed them each day, quite prepared to call the men in white coats. However, to my surprise, and it varied in the time of day, but the peanuts kept disappearing. For months I tried to see the mouse, and would occasionally sit quietly in the hope my timing would be just right and he would appear. But alas, nothing.

Then last week the peanuts were no longer being taken. I was disappointed, of course, but then, it's only a mouse for goodness sake. However, I decided to set up small CCTV cameras to record the garden through the night, just to see if anything stirred.

At first light I checked the footage with a monitor in my shed office. I wasn't expecting to see anything as the peanuts were still there. Patiently I sat there, super-fast forwarding the black and white footage of 14 hours.

I was right, no creature had stirred, not even a mouse.

I switched everything off, checked my watch as I was due to meet someone at 10am, turned to leave, and there, right in front of the shed, was a small brown wood mouse with a white underbelly! Just sat on a paving slab, sniffing the air around him, ears like saucers. It seems daft to say this, but he was as I have always imagined a mouse to look. He instantly became my favourite thing in the garden.

So now the challenge was to film him in full colour HD.

The following day I set up two cameras at 7am to record for four hours. As I watched the footage back, right on cue, at roughly the same time as I had seen him the previous day, he appeared, picking up the peanuts one at a time and scurrying off. Where to I had no idea.

If you would like to see the edited 2 minute film of him click here.

This morning I repeated the process but with the cameras in slightly different positions. I discovered that he was taking the peanuts one at a time underneath the new shed I built last autumn. The gap between visits to collect the peanuts varied between two and three minutes, so I'm not sure if he's taking them to eat under there, or storing them for later. It makes sense for him to use that shed space as it must be super dry under there, and it is shielded all around by wooden edging, so very secure. If he's storing them I hate to think just how many peanuts are under there!

His foraging job done for the day, he scurried past the camera and back round to the rear of my shed office. Presumably going for a well earned rest.

Friday, 17 April 2015


There can be no doubt that online shopping is slowly pushing the high street out of the picture. Nowadays a growing number of people visit a clothing shop for example, try on the garments, leave the store and once home find the equivalent at a cheaper price.

I used to own a retail outlet myself. Not clothing, but a very successful deli and coffee shop. For 15 years I grew it steadily from nothing. It was very demanding and my hours and location of business were set in one static location. I worked constantly at attracting people through the door, training my staff at customer service and customer relations. That business would not have been the success it was if those customers had handled the goods then left to buy somewhere else. Though, in a food business that's hardly likely to happen, but you get my point.

The one thing online shopping cannot do of course is give face to face customer service. However, a good friend of mine freely admits she can no longer be bothered with the small talk, and prefers to shop online without the  persuasive sales pitch. She even welcomes the demise of manned tills in favour of automated self service checkouts! So her preference is to search online for what she wants. in my own experience, increasingly, everything you browse for later pops up as an advert on other pages, usually after you've already bought the thing!

So I am guilty of buying online too. My excuse is no one in Edinburgh stocks the make I wanted, but could that be because less and less people are going to stores and with a drop in revenue the owners are unable to afford to hold a large variety of stock? And it's not always as easy as is made out. Recently I bought a new pair of approach shoes, only to find after receiving them that the size was too big! I then had to repackage them, pay the postage of sending back the heavy item, ordering again, and waiting, again.

But there can also be no doubt that online stores reach a market place that is now global. Gone are the days, like my deli, when you had to rely on people coming through your door, and if it rained, well, you may as well go home . . . and do some online shopping!

It really is a bit of a catch 22. We like our high streets, but we also like sitting on or sofa and doing our shopping. And online shopping is the future, no doubt, whether we resist it or not.

Well, as the saying goes, if you can't beat them, join them. I've given in to the future.
In about two weeks my feature documentary of the cycle across the width of America will be available on and (it's there now but currently unavailable as my site is still going through approval). This highlights one of the brilliant things about online shopping: how would someone such as me otherwise reach a large audience, if you pardon the pun, to sell my DVD, without the internet? The same applies to musicians, writers and all manner of small businesses. They have to embrace it, or get left behind. Talking of reaching lots of people, especially with your movies, it is said that YouTube is the fastest growing site in the world.

Which brings me neatly to say that if you've never seen my film, or even if you have and would like a reminder, click on the picture to watch the trailer . . . on YouTube of course. And if you like it, well, you know where you can buy it . . . wherever in the world you live.

Sorry, but it doesn't come gift wrapped.

Thursday, 9 April 2015


"Light the blue touch paper and retire to a safe distance". A phrase most will associate with fireworks but not tablet computers I suspect.

Some time ago I hatched an idea to put together a film kit for the young students I teach Film & TV to on a Saturday. This was to comprise a camcorder, tablet, headphones, and editing software. I've spent many weeks researching the cheapest way to achieve this and remarkably I managed to find everything for under £100.

In order to get this amazing price I had naturally to avoid all the big brand names and high spec machines. This was fairly easy, for example, I only needed the tablet to handle video editing and nothing else, so a simple operating system was the order of the day.

Gradually all the pieces started to arrive. The camcorder was very small but looked like it would do the job. Unfortunately it is powered by three AAA batteries which would only power the camera for one hour. As I have six separate one hour lessons, that was going to require 18 batteries every week.

And I was aiming for 10 sets of kit, so 180 batteries every week!!!  Clearly I had to find an alternative that was rechargeable.

Then the tablet arrived this morning. Unpacked I switched it on. There was enough battery life to get going, but I plugged in the charger anyway. First task was to connect it to the internet so I could download the editing software. This was proving tricky. Though the tablet had found the WiFi name it wouldn't accept the password. I was about to try for the third time, when . . .


There was a bright orange flash as the plug exploded, throwing small pieces of plastic across the room and knocking out my apartments electric box! The event also served to clear my bowels instantly!

Thank goodness I hadn't gone anywhere while it was charging.

After a frustrating amount of time online in a chat room with product support, I was able to arrange to return it. I felt a little mislead as the product was advertised as being dispatched from the UK, which I believe it was, judging by the delivery time, but a little digging uncovered the fact that this product was from China.

The distributor concerned is called Tmart, just in case you find yourself there at some point. Beware.

Thankfully I was at a safe distance, but I wasn't expecting indoor fireworks!

Thursday, 2 April 2015


That pretty much sums up the events of the past week, most of which has been spent just watching the world go by.

Recovering from any operation takes time, but boy is it boring. Before the operation on my foot two weeks ago I had a long list of things to do. In reality I've been so exhausted through lack of sleep that I've been unable to find the energy or willpower to do much of anything. That said it has been a fairly productive week.

I'm supposed to be already manipulating the toe and exercising it, but at times the pain is so bad that I can't even bear to touch it. I've been given lots of varying drugs to take, at ever increasing levels of trippy'ness, but the majority of the time they just don't hit it on the head. Exercising the toe goes by how much pain I can stand, and to be honest, that's very little. As things stand I can tell that I'm going to have increased flexibility at some future date, but everything is so stiff, sore and swollen that I can't imagine that. I'm persevering, otherwise it will have been a gigantic waste of time. My main concern currently is the severe nerve pain, which is like having someone touch my foot with a live electric wire every 5 seconds or so. That's not getting any better and has left a large degree of numbness on the foot. Let's see what another week brings.

Some of my time has been spent distracting myself with planning ideas and lessons for the kids in the academy I teach at every Saturday, though I wont be there again until the 18 April at the earliest. An idea came to me in the week about having the kids all having a camera each, or in pairs, then filming and editing their own ideas, but that would work out very expensive. Then I thought, well, most kids have a mobile phone which can take video, maybe they could use them. Getting the footage off the phone onto an edit suite might prove difficult though. That then took me to thinking about a kit consisting of a camera and a tablet with editing software. At first it was a wish list, due to the thought of the hundreds of pounds this would cost, multiplying it by 10 students. But further research led me to a very simple video camcorder for just £21, and a basic 10" tablet running Android for £55, plus a basic editing software app for £10. All of a sudden the kit is looking feasible. So I've ordered one of each to test out next week.

Sadly this is not about me. No frolicking going on here for quite some time yet I think. This is what's been going on in my garden. Just this week I've noticed that the bird life seem less interested in the food being put out for them than they are about chasing each other, mostly in pairs. Spring is here after all, so time to get those nests built I guess. It's been fun watching the speedy chases between all the birds, with the exception of two collared doves that sit happily together in the birch tree, watching all the fuss.

Another weekend approaches when finally I'll be setting off out of the house for the first time in a while. Saturday is my local farmers market that I help run, but this time round I'll be a visitor, which will be a nice change.  There's going to be an Easter egg hunt ongoing all morning, so I think I'll take charge of that whilst I sit on a park bench and watch the world go by.

Thursday, 26 March 2015


No, this isn't a blog about a sequel to the Oscar winning Daniel Day Lewis film of 1989, but I feel like I've been through an epic performance just the same.

Last Friday, on the eve of the Spring equinox, I was admitted to hospital for a foot operation that I had waited on for some time, with the goal of preserving one of the damaged joints in the big toe of my right foot. At the same time, just for fun, it was decided to carry out two further operations, one to realign the toe better, and one to shorten the toe marginally to reduce pressure on the joint.

It's fairly accurate to say I was a little anxious whilst waiting, but I was also looking forward to the point of recovery and going back to things I have not enjoyed for a few years, such as walking the mountains of Scotland, which would make me very happy.  By coincidence the day of the operation was International Day of Happiness.

It was an early start at 7.30am, and the first hour was taken up with pre-op, checking and rechecking every detail. It was a little disconcerting, when, in each of the five sessions I was asked to state my name. Thankfully they put a name wristband on both arms, just in case I, or anyone else, forgot. The last thing they did made me laugh, as they drew an arrow pointing down my shin to the big toe. After all this attention to detail I thought someone might next hang a little card on my big toe saying "This one".

Then, very quickly, I was taken through to a small waiting room where I changed into the rather less than fashionable hospital gown, which is supposed to tie at the back, but the ties had long since vanished. It was a little disconcerting to sit down on the cold, vinyl-covered chair. In the room was a small TV, which was showing the solar eclipse event live. One of the locations was in the Faroe Islands, where a plane, high above the clouds, was filming the moment of totality. I felt it was a good sign as, just as the diamond ring appeared, the waiting room door opened and an attendant said, "they're ready for you now".

I have no end of praise for the staff at the hospital, especially the surgical team, as they got me ready to go through, keeping me calm. The last thing I recall was answering a question about my film teaching and getting as far as, "well, every Saturday I . . ."  I think some close friends would like access to that drug when I start on about the film academy.

I woke up what seemed almost immediately, only to find myself wired up to monitors. This was a surprise. There were also a number of staff scurring around me, talking to me as I came round. The anesthetist arrived and told me that during the operation my heart rhythm became irregular, and so they were just monitoring things for a while.

All was well and I left just 12 hours after being admitted,  hobbling out on crutches with rather strange footwear, reminiscent of an over-sized Geisha shoe.

One week has passed and in all that time I have been limited to walking between the kitchen and living room, or bedroom and bathroom. I have had various visitors every day, bringing me all sorts of goodies, and Pauline, my closest friend, has looked after me in the evenings, cooking all my meals. Maybe I can spin this out a bit longer for more attention.

I know I'm desperate now to be more mobile, but the pain and stiffness is still very noticeable, even though I am off the pain killers. The thought of grabbing a hold of the big toe and manipulating it up and down is making me quite anxious.

I'm reminded of a classic John Wayne film The Wings of Eagles, when John Wayne is in rehab after an accident. He's lying on his hospital bed, staring at his big toe, and repeats to himself over and over, "I'm gonna move that toe".

Thursday, 19 March 2015


Tomorrow, Friday 20 March, at roughly 9.25am on the Outer Hebrides islands, off the west coast of Scotland, a solar eclipse will take place. It will be around 98%, with a full solar eclipse happening on the Faroe Islands about ten minutes later.

I have only seen one solar eclipse, which was back in March 2006 when I traveled to southern Turkey. I can say that it made the hairs on the back of my arm stand up and was altogether a very eerie experience.

It is little wonder, I thought at the time, that the ancients interpreted it as a sign of impending doom.

By coincidence solar eclipses have occurred at times of battles, when one side was victorious over another; they have occurred at the time of a meteor impact; and attempts have been made to firmly establish the date of Good Friday, interpreting the darkness that fell suddenly at Christs crucifixion to be that of a solar eclipse.

But a solar eclipse can also be a sign of a coming momentous and joyous occasion. A new beginning almost, quite literally, a new dawn.

About six years ago I sustained an injury to my right foot, in particular the big toe. Over the years my body grew additional bone around the damaged area, and six years on the flexibility is limited to 5% downward and 10% upward movement. It has also been gradually forced out of line. As the years have gone on the pain level has increased, and it has prevented me from certain activities such as hillwalking and skiing, primarily because I cannot get the boots on.

I was told two years ago that the only thing that could be done was to fuse the bones, thus reducing the toe movement to zero. This would eliminate the pain. I decided to hang on and persevere for as long as possible with some movement. However, by summer last year, the pain attacks were becoming unbearable and would keep me awake most of the night. At that point I had a consultancy with an inspiring surgeon, who convinced me he could carry out three operations that would bring the toe back to 75% normal, and pain free.

In much the same way that auspicious events in the past have coincided with a solar eclipse, at around the same time tomorrow morning I will be in theater, for what I hope will be a new beginning for me and my outdoor pursuits.

I suppose I'm hoping the eventual outcome will eclipse all expectations.

Do you see what I did there?