Thursday, 21 May 2015

WHEN IS A KITCHEN NOT A KITCHEN?

When it's filled with the clutter and furniture from the living room!


You don't realise how much dust, and goodness knows what else, collects behind pieces of furniture that very rarely get moved, until you have to empty a room completely. This past few days has seen me clear the living room entirely as the floor was in a pretty poor state of repair, and, long overdue, I decided to have it renewed with an overall sanding and sealing.

As I moved ever larger pieces of furniture out I found odds and ends that I had long since lost. The hoard was so varied at one point I fully expected to unearth the treasure of the Sierra Madre!

But this furniture had to go somewhere, and I had it in my mind that it would all fit, with room to spare, in the kitchen. Big mistake. I am amazed just how much "stuff" I have managed to squeeze into the living room over the years. With the kitchen now rendered useless I turned my attention to filling every available space in the bedroom, which is where I ended up living for 3 days!

Hardest part of all was the three-seater Italian leather sofa. This is one huge piece of quality furniture, and weighs a ton. When it was first delivered it would not come through the door. We had to remove the window and employ several people to haul it through. To make it even more of challenge the room is on the first floor! However, since then I have discovered that it comes apart, but it is no five-minute job, taking two of us the best part of an hour to dismantle and move.

Now of course I have the happy task of putting it all the furniture back. Joy. The finish of the floor is stunning, but of course now everything else looks tired and in need of some TLC.

I'll look at that in another 10 years.




Friday, 15 May 2015

DING DING - SECONDS OUT

A familiar cry at boxing tournaments, indicating the fight is about to start and the opponents will meet head to head, and try to find out each others weaknesses in order to, ultimately, win.

Over the past week I have spent a small fortune on a new project. A project that I would say I am passionate about though frustrated with at the same time.

The small fortune has been spent on the following:

100m of thin wire
300 x 3ft green canes
A 50m x 1m roll of medium gauge green chicken wire
Plastic rods impregnated with citrus
20 Caleus Canina plants
200 small cable ties
Pepper powder deterrent
40 x 500mm lengths of plastic spikes
And an infrared CCTV camera with radio transmission

For what you may be asking? Well, let me tell you:

Felis Catus!

Or as I like to call them, those pesky (or other alternative word!) neighbours cats!! One cat in particular is driving me mad, as nothing I seem to do keeps it out.

We pride ourselves on the great little garden we have created, an oasis for bird life, and more recently our wood mice. The planting carried out recently looks fantastic as it bursts into new and colourful growth.

Unfortunately it is overshadowed by the pungent odour of cat faeces and pee!

On one side of the garden is a 15foot high wall. Atop this I have now installed row upon row of plastic anti-climb spikes, designed specifically to deter cats.

The cat walked on them.

And today I have placed hundreds of long garden canes, plus wire strung between them, atop the natural garden fencing on the opposite side.

The cat pushed through them.

The CCTV records the garden activity during the night when they are most likely to come out. However today when I took a short break for a cup of tea, guess who took the opportunity to come through the half-finished work in broad daylight!

It is clearly a fight I am losing. I have no idea what to do next. Most likely throw in the towel.

Or buy a dog!


Thursday, 7 May 2015

UK ELECTION 2015 - STAND UP AND BE COUNTED

It's only once every five years, so it always amazes me how many people do not vote.  In some countries, such as New Zealand for example, it is the law. You must vote.

I feel that in a democratic country, if you have the right to vote then you should vote. I would like to see it be made a legal requirement in the UK too. Some cynics say that will never happen because at a certain level some of the parties actually prefer the lower turnout as it seems to favour them.

Countries have fought hard to have the right to vote, and women in particular have fought even harder.

So, as you may guess, today I exercised my right and voted.

I won't say for whom I voted, as I believe that is my own private business. For the past several weeks I have been bombarded by election programs on TV, party political broadcasts, debates, and I've been drowning in fliers and leaflets. Most people however had probably already decided who they were going to vote for before it all started, and to some degree the saturation of everything political can have a negative effect.  I for one will be glad when it's all over.

Over the past decades I've never really seen how the changes in government have affected me directly. I'm sure they have to some degree, but I've just never seen it in real terms. People seem to put so much weight on the outcome of the elections, but at the end of the day, behind the political leader puppets, it's the same civil servants pulling their strings.

I tried not to be sucked in and watch any of the debates, but I did catch part of one. It amazed me how aggressive the audience were in their questioning of the participants, raising their voices and demanding what they wanted from these political leaders. When they didn't get the answers they wanted they behaved like small children who had been refused a sweetie in the candy store.

Yes, some big businesses, such as the banks, have landed us right in it, but watching this programme I couldn't help thinking that a lot of the problems we are facing right now are a result of inaction by ourselves to accept that times are hard, and we need to pull together for the greater good, not continue to be selfish in what we want just for ourselves. But we expect the government, regardless of who is in power, who are left to pick up the pieces, bail out businesses, and find the money to make it all right again. But we have a part to play, and I couldn't help feeling this audience had their heads stuck in the sand.

Which brings me to mention something I heard spoken to a large audience back in 2004. I was privileged at that time to be HH the Dalai Lama's film maker for his official visit to Scotland. He was addressing a sold out crowd at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, and one of the subjects was, bringing about change for the better. He told everyone there that if we want change, then to rely on government, United Nations or such, is unrealistic.

For change to happen, he said, we must turn to ourselves.

As I write this the counting has begun of the votes cast. Whoever is the Prime Minister for the next five years, they can be sure of one thing; they're going to get a hard time, and in five years people will once again blame them for what they didn't get.

When will we learn and listen to the advice of men wiser than us all.


Thursday, 30 April 2015

SURPRISE!

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.

Amazon.co.uk  (UK and European market)

Amazon.com (US market)
 
 


Thursday, 23 April 2015

NOT A CREATURE WAS STIRRING, NOT EVEN A MOUSE

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

WOULD YOU LIKE THAT GIFT WRAPPED?

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9mX6Ohg_Uc
In about two weeks my feature documentary of the cycle across the width of America will be available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com (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

EXPLOSIVE MOMENTS

"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 . . .

BANG!

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!