Friday, 30 January 2015

MAN FLU

It's a short blog this week folks, and a bit late on my usual posting day of Thursday. Why?

Man flu.

As man flu goes it's a stinker. The most disappointing thing about it is that although it has taken away my appetite I haven't lost any weight. How unfair is that?

The highlight of this low energy week was going to the cinema to see a futuristic thriller called Ex Machina.  I'm not going to write a film review, but suffice to say it was the only film of its type, the advancement of AI (artificial intelligence), that I found entirely plausible.

Anyway, as I said, this is not a movie review. The story part of it did strike a chord with me. Very cleverly it explored relationships between people and how we manipulate and influence those around us, personally or professionally, to get what we want or desire.  How that behaviour can be successful but at the same time destructive.

And we preach what we learn as we carry on through this short episode of time that is our life. As we start to recognise patterns, and develop trust, or distrust, in those who would manipulate us selfishly, we also learn how to avoid those situations in the future.

What it doesn't do is tell me how to avoid catching man flu.


Thursday, 22 January 2015

LIVE BY SATELLITE

A number of years ago, a small surprise party was thrown for my friend Pauline, at an isolated setting in the mountains of Scotland, to celebrate her 40th birthday. Family and close friends were there, but one, John, couldn't make it, as he was far away in Dunedin, New Zealand.

About a month before I had sent John a script of a scenario I'd like him to film for me, and then send me the footage. It was written to take into account pauses where I could ask questions on the day.

I took the footage and edited it in such a way that it looked and sounded as if I was talking to him live and he was answering my questions. I even put interference on the image when it was coming to an end to imitate losing satellite connection. The time came, and we ran the footage, and everyone there was amazed that we had managed to link up live to the other side of the world.

Isn't modern technology amazing.

I did own up to the trick later that day.

Fast forward to today and I have been working on a series of five short clips to be shown at a celebration of a local ministers time in my community, the Rev John Weir Cook, who recently passed. There are various key moments being shown, and talked about, of which one is a friend of mine David, explaining how he helped organise a surprise This Is Your Life for John Cook, in the year of his retirement.

But David lives in Boston, so how to get him on the screen for the celebration?

Naturally, previous experience held the answer. This time however, instead of getting David to film it and send it across, we connected this afternoon using Skype. Using a clever piece of software on my edit suite I was able to record him live.

Voila, we have him on screen for the celebration.

This time however there will be no playing tricks. I think people are way too savvy these days to know a ruse when they see one, and it wouldn't be right for the occasion either.

But to have David able to speak to the masses, and record him instantly, live, from the USA, through my computer in my office, is really something.

Isn't modern technology amazing?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

A RIGHT CHARLIE

It's an old saying, but is used when we have made ourselves look mean or stupid by the way we've just treated someone or acted. We make ourselves out to be a Right Charlie. Maybe it was a difference of opinion, or we just simply lost it and embarrassed ourselves in the process.

I've been told that I can be quite intolerant at times. That's hard to hear. But, I must admit I have little patience for poor customer service or those who are awkward just for the sake of it. I hope that's more impatience than intolerance, but it's a fine line. So I do occasionally make a Right Charlie of myself.

Some things though do make me wonder. Yesterday I was in a local hardware store, one of the giant nation-wide ones. I had ordered five lengths of steel edging and was in to pick it up. The person I was dealing with handed over just four, and obviously I pointed this out to be wrong. He tapped into the computer and told me, oh, the computer ordered four instead of five. It will have to be ordered again. When I pointed out that it wasn't the computer but the person who entered the information, he disagreed. Apparently the computer was to blame!

As an aside I've experienced the exact opposite of this crazy kind of helpfulness, and that was in America when crossing the country by bicycle. There, a company I had to deal with over a problem with my tent, which had been purchased in a different country, could not have done more for me.

That's the kind of thing that I have no patience for at all. Things where common sense does not prevail. I feel it is right in these circumstances to state my case, and give constructive feedback, as that's the only way it will reach further up the line and hopefully be changed. Interestingly, when I said maybe I should contact their head office, I was told I couldn't do this by computer, I had to write an actual letter and post it!

The computer had said no!

But being a Charlie took on a whole different meaning this week. 

There are some things I am very much intolerant of, and will no doubt always remain so. That of violence toward others, especially when it is over a difference of opinion, or worse still, difference of religious belief. You are all well aware of the tragic events in Paris, at the magazine Charlie Hebdo, over just such intolerance. A narrow section of Islamic fundamentalists perpetrated an unforgivable act of violence against free speech. In my opinion, and the majority of others, the magazine was absolutely right to publish their next edition, expressing their right to freedom of speech, with whatever cartoon they saw appropriate on the front.

Write, Charlie.



Thursday, 8 January 2015

LOCH ARD

I tried so hard to stay up for the bells at New Year on Wednesday, but the flu still hard a firm grip on me. Thus far I had missed several fun gatherings over the festive season, and I was determined not to let this illness take what was left of the holidays. But whatever it was it had to be fairly easy, not hard.

It was with some trepidation then, that come Saturday morning, with just the first signs of improvement in my health, I set off with Pauline for a weekend cycle in the Highlands.

Our starting point was the small village of Aberfoyle, in the famous area of The Trossachs in rural Perthshire. This was an area and route neither of us had tackled before, so there was an air of the unknown. It was a glorious sunny day, with the temperature just above freezing, making some of the tracks as we set off a little hazardous.

I had known beforehand that there were a few sculptures hidden in and around the forested area of Loch Ard, and within a few minutes we had found the first. Partially hidden in the fringes of a natural wood, a set of three foxes, made from reflective steel, were placed as if stealthily picking their way through the undergrowth. The reflections on the surface of the sculptures gave the impression of the foxes disappearing into the background, a similarity to the real thing I suspect the artist had every intention of creating, a subtlety that was not lost on me.


Loch Ard itself is fairly small, roughly 4km by 2km, and takes its name from the Scots Gaelic for "high". Appropriately enough it is considered to be the source of the River Forth, that eventually flows into the Firth of Forth that I look out onto from my home in Edinburgh. Contained within the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Loch Ard is a very picturesque, and popular with not just walkers and cyclists, but canoeists, and today was no exception as we spotted two paddling their Canadian canoes across its still, mirror-like surface into a small inlet.


As we cycled west we could see the snow-capped summit of the 3,200 foot Ben Lomond mountain. We were on it's north easterly flank, whilst over the other side was the enormous body of water, Loch Lomond. We would have it's mighty summit visible to us for most of the day, and standing beyond the forest in the foreground it had all the look of a mighty Himalayan peak.


It wasn't long before we were out of the forest and into open moorland, climbing steeply into the surrounding hills. It was to be a short day for us, and just as well, as by 2pm my limited amount of energy, thanks to the remnants of my cold, I was pretty much finished. It was hard to find a patch of flat ground for both tents, and with a nearby water supply, but as the last of the light faded, and the sun set over the summit of Ben Lomond, we cooked our supper and wrapped ourselves in our down sleeping bags as the temperature fell to -6C (21F).


By morning the temperature had risen and melted the ice from the night before on our tents. Our route back was an easy retrace of the day before, and for the most part downhill, past little isolated farms and muddy fields of Highland Cows.


As we pulled back into Aberfoyle I was satisfied with the fact that, although short, it had been the perfect little trip, considering that I was still recovering, and had given me some of the fun I had missed.

More photos here.


Wednesday, 31 December 2014

CHRISTMAS WHINE

Despite the promise to write on Christmas day, I've only just made it to the computer. Far from stuffed turkey, rustic veggies and roast potatoes, the past 10 days have been more like stuffed nose, rough cough and roasting temperature. Some dreadful lurgy crept up on me during the night early last week, and at its height gave me conjunctivitis in both eyes for good measure. The only Christmas wine in my house was that of me groaning from my bed.

Christmas joy.

But, I was determined not to let it keep me down, and carefully managed my energy levels. Normally I wrap up warm and go to my local church for the watchnight service on Christmas Eve, but this year I wrapped my self up in the duvet and went to bed early. I'm a generous person normally but I didn't want to give anyone a gift of flu, or whatever it is I had in abundance.

Dosed with paracetamol and various decongestants, the following morning I started to show glimpses of being on the mend. I was invited to a friends for Christmas Day dinner, and having spent the last two months feeding a homemade Christmas cake with brandy for the occasion, I was determined to deliver it personally.

By mid afternoon I had renewed energy and thoroughly enjoyed the day. Since then I have continued on a slow improvement course. Over these past few days I have enjoyed the company of several visitors, and on Monday Pauline returned from her Christmas away, which lifted my spirits even more. It wasn't until then that we swapped out gifts and enjoyed a traditional Christmas meal.

Having missed most of the activities I am now determined to get away on a trip with my bike up north. The battle is on to kick this lurgy into touch,  load up the bike and head off for winter wonderland experience in the snowy Highlands of Scotland.

Next weeks blog will be all about that adventure. Until then I'll most likely find something else to whine about.

Hope you all had a fab Christmas and my best wishes for the New Year.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Well, OK, the week before, but you get my drift.

Speaking of drifts, there's been a fair dump of the white stuff in Scotland over the hills and mountains of the Highlands, so in the north at least it looks like a white Christmas is on the cards. Here in Edinburgh we've only had the odd flurry so far, but there's time yet.

With a week to go I'm busy making final preparations. Like most people, for me it's the final buying spree this weekend for those last minute presents. I also make a few presents as well, with that little personal touch, and I'm busy putting the finishing touches to those.

The academy, where I teach film and TV to young students, is putting on its end of term show this Saturday. First up the youngsters will showcase their live performances in Musical Theatre and Comedy & Drama, then it's my turn to present the films the students have made, all with a Christmassy theme. I've enjoyed the first three months with the academy but I'm looking forward to the break until the 10th January. If you liked to see one of the academy's set of three, lasting just short of nine minutes in total, just click here.

Every year for the past four years I make several Christmas cakes, usually around the end of October, then feed them with brandy for two months. This year I've made three as gifts for various people, and tonight they get their royal icing coating. I decided to make them all gluten free, which isn't difficult as there's hardly any flour in the recipe anyway, and I also make my own marzipan.

The rest of my Christmas treats, mince pies and Christmas pudding, are shop bought. On the day I will join close friends and their family for a festive feast. Because of this the traditional feast in my house will be held on New Years day, which I quite like.

Then I'll be off into the Highlands with my bike and tent for a few days in search of that white stuff.

In the mean time I hope all your own preparations go well and I'm already looking forward to blogging on Christmas day, the first time my "blog day" has fallen on the 25 December.


Friday, 12 December 2014

TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR

To twinkle or not to twinkle, that is the question.

This weekend is an important day if you happen to be a little superstitious, as it will be 12 days before Christmas when some believe that is the time to put up the Christmas decorations. Then 12 days after you take them down, and a curse be upon you if you're late!

Well, mine went up last night, and very nice they are too, so there.

Pauline and I met up in the city centre to wander around the Christmas lights of Edinburgh. Within the confines of the east side of Princes Street Gardens, right in the heart of the city, a large Christmas market had sprung up, with traders all housed in quaint wooden, chalet-style huts. The remainder of the gardens are occupied with a myriad of entertainment opportunities, everything from a giant Ferris wheel to horse carousels and even an ice skating rink!

As we wandered around, with traditional Christmas music as the backdrop, it started to snow. Which was nice.

Next stop was the huge department store of Jenners, to see their traditional giant Christmas tree. And giant it was. I've never quite figured out how they get this enormous tree in there, but apparently it does come in, through the front door, in one piece! All around the balconies above were strands of white lights.


George Street, one street up from the Christmas market, always does something a little special and this year is no exception. At regular intervals all the way along it's half mile stretch, were pure white artificial trees festooned in white fairy lights, throwing out a magical bright white glow. One business on George Street always decorates the giant stone pillars outside their entrance with large holly garlands wound around the pillars and lit with thousands of lights.


After a Christmas Blend latte at Starbucks, with a muffin too of course, we set off home to put up our decorations.

This is not quite on the scale of what we had seen in the city. We have a two foot high artificial tree decorated with bits and bobs of Christmassy items collected over the years, and a small string of lights. As a small addition this year we bought some tiny coloured fairy lights, powered by a small solar panel. This we have wrapped around the bare hawthorn tree in the garden. You can have them on all the time or they can be set to flash and twinkle.

Sadly, on day two, they do neither. It would seem there just isn't enough light during the day to charge them.

And there was me deliberating over whether to have them on all the time or to twinkle.