Friday, 24 June 2016

A WEEK OF FIRST

Well, I can't really avoid saying it: the UK is screwed!  Yep, the lunatics finally took over the asylum and we have now, in all sense of the word, become an island.

For the first time in the EU story, a strong member state has narrowly decided to leave. Just as when Scotland had a referendum the margin was a very close few percent.

Amazingly, as the map on the left clearly shows, Scotland unanimously voted to stay a part of Europe. Scots have the honour of inventing a large proportion of history's great innovations, and we can be proud today, among this battlefield, that we had the common sense and vision to realise we are part of a global community.

The demographic of the vote was on a very distinct sliding scale. The older the voter, the higher the vote to Leave. Unfortunately I am in that older demographic, but I voted to Remain. It smells of a Rule Britannia, crusty ethos.

There is already chatter about Scotland having another referendum to vote on remaining or leaving the UK, and I suspect it would be a different outcome next time.

Time will tell.

In a few weeks time I had planned to return to the United States with my bicycle, a year after the crash in Wyoming, to give a talk during Adventure Cycling's 40th anniversary of Bikecentennial in Missoula, Montana. But I made a decision a few months ago not to go. The thought of a solo bicycle tour again so soon was unnerving me.

So instead of talking live at the event, they gave me a 12 minute slot where I could send them a film of my adventures. In order to make the short film hang together, I had to record what they call, Pieces To Camera, and for the first time I created a small film set in my garden. The end result looks pretty good, and shortly it will wing its way across to the States. I'll be uploading it to YouTube soon and will post the link in next week's blog.

But the highlight of my week has to do with another moment of filming, this time in a major theatre here in Edinburgh. I have been working solidly for the past month on a really great project with special needs schools around the capital, and the finished films were shown in the theatre as part of a bigger, live performance by the school students. It was heart warming to see the effort these kids put in, and the joy they got from it, in front of a thousand people. But one boy, all on his own, blew everyone away, including myself.

For protection reasons I can't tell you his name or show you his image, but here's a small part of the recording of this remarkable 12 year old boy. When you listen to it, bear in mind that just one month ago he had never performed in front of anyone, and usually asked his tutors to turn away. This is him in front of almost a thousand people.
video
It is a cover of Adele's song, Hello. I think she, like everyone there that night, would shed a tear. I felt immensely privileged to have filmed this first performance of this great talent.


Thursday, 16 June 2016

THE RED CARPET

One of the pleasurable parts of my job is that I must go to the cinema on a regular basis to see all manner of films. However, it's not often that I get to see work that I have played a major role in on the big screen. And when I say big, boy, I mean big!

For the past two years I have been gradually leading a group of young minds, from around 6 years old all the way up to 18, on a journey, in how to understand film, how films are made, and ultimately to then make their own film. In the past 24 months they have completed several movies, the most recent collection of which have been submitted to a film festival in London. We will find out if any of the six entered have been nominated by the end of July. If so, we're off to the Odeon, Leicester Square at the end of September.

But feet firmly back on the ground for a moment. Last Sunday it was time to showcase all the work the students have done in their time under my wing, to their parents and friends. We decided to kick off the event with photographs on the red carpet, complete with a seven foot high Oscar statue! The young students looked the part, and some were already versed in posing for the photographers in different directions. You could tell who loved the camera!

The students had put in an enormous amount of work over the past year on their festival film entries, and it was a thrill to watch them work over the months, as they put into practice their newfound knowledge. To say I felt very proud of them doesn't come close. Once we wrapped the shoots it came down to me sat in front of the edit suite, for three whole months, to piece their work together, and then to assemble everything into a memorable screening event for Sunday.


It's all about the kids of course. Their sheer joy at the whole event said it all.  You can't repeat those moments.

London would be the second red carpet event. They say everything happens in threes, so I guess that just leaves LA for the Oscars!


Thursday, 9 June 2016

PROGRESS

If you're a regular reader you'll know that I have been on a long health and fitness recovery. Part of that has been dealing with the effects of hyperthyroidism, a symptom of which is rapid weight loss.

Don't get me wrong, it was kind of nice to be down to the weight I was as a teenager, but then to keep going down, well, that was something quite different.

So for the past five months I've made gradual progress to correcting this symptom, taking a special medication to combat it. Two days ago I returned to the endocrinologist consultant to discover that the drugs have had a very fast and positive effect. In fact too good. I've now slipped the other way. I had been puzzling for a month or so now why, given that I mostly eat healthily, my weight was continually creeping upwards. As a result the meds have been cut in half again, and though it is usual to be on them for a course of 18 months, the consultant is hoping that I will be off them well before Christmas. Half the normal course. Here's hoping so I don't have to have needles jabbed in my arms for blood every 6 weeks.

Progress has also been made this week in completing my responsibilities to the performing arts academy I regularly teach Film and TV at. This Sunday sees a red carpet event, when all the students films over the past 2 years will be screened to an invited audience of over 500. The pressure's on though. Just a couple of days to go when today at the rehearsal three of the films didn't play correctly. Of course, as the responsibility of the whole show rests firmly on my shoulders, I'm now quite nervous as there are no more rehearsals.

They do say though, bad rehearsal, great show. Tuxedo at the ready. Can't wait.

Progress on the car front too. After last weeks scare of those badly worn tyres, I find when I make progress along the road now I am being more cautious than usual going over the speed bumps in the road, in case I knock the wheels out of alignment again. That was quite a shock to see those tyres.

Jeez! All things considered, I think I may well have used up my 9 lives this past 12 months!

Hopefully I won't die of nerves at the screening on Sunday!

Thursday, 2 June 2016

ALL CHANGE

At last the cold temperatures are changing and seem to be getting pushed out as the wind shifts from a north easterly to more from the south, raising the temperature gradually. The warmer, sunnier weather definitely puts a smile of people's faces and everyone seems to be getting busy.

This week I've been completing a film shoot for the Festival Theatre, and thanks to the improvement in the weather for the better we have been able to shoot outdoors. That changes the script slightly, but you have to be adaptable in this business.

There's change happening at home too, as the end of an era is upon it. After spending the majority of the past 20 years sharing a home with my best friend, it's all changing as she moves out and into her own place. There's lot's of work to do, and stressful bureaucracy to deal with, but it's an exciting time. There's an edge of sadness knowing it's all changing permanently, but she's not moving far away. In fact, if she makes a noise I'll just bang my foot on the floor of the living room to the apartment below!

If you read my blog on a regular basis you'll know that I have been making big changes in my garden, creating a high, woven-wicker fence, primarily to keep the neighbours cats out. Three weeks on and I can report that my garden, despite being surrounded by nine felines, is now cat-free. Before I started the major refit I had read that cats are creatures of habit in where they go for their toilet requirements, and once they have created a new habit elsewhere, they're gone for good. Fingers crossed.

The new fence has dramatically changed the environment and dynamic of the garden as well. During construction a lot of over-growth, especially that of the ivy, was stripped out to gain access, and this thinning has allowed other plants to get more light. But it's the birds that have changed the most. They've gradually realised that the garden is now a safe and protected environment, and every day the numbers seem to increase. Their behaviours have changed as well. Those that would normally stay high, are now coming down and pecking around the ground, clearly aware that there are now no cats lurking in the bushes.

The final change, without sounding melodramatic, has probably saved my life. Last week I was aware that my small car was not gripping the road very well. In fact it felt as though I was driving on an oily surface. I pulled into a service station to check the tyre pressures. When I parked up I had turned the wheels so the front tyres were fully visible. I was horrified to discover that a third of both tyres, on the inside edges, were perfectly smooth! Yesterday, these tyres were replaced, and the cause, the wheel alignment, was corrected. Then one of the mechanics showed me one of the tyres. I could see the fabric base layer, and he said he had no idea how I hadn't had a blow out!

So, a week of changes. Hopefully the new neighbour will be easy to get on with. She doesn't take sugar in her tea, so I guess I won't be popping round to borrow a cup anytime soon.


Thursday, 26 May 2016

PEDAL ADVENTURE

On a cracking day on Friday 22 April, my friend Pauline set out for the day to Callander, a small town on the edge of the Highlands, to walk north into the hills. One in particular was her goal, a mountain called Stuc a'Chroin (you can read about it here: The Outdoor Diaries), and the blog is subtitled "the Long Approach", because of the fact that she had to walk along a track for mile after mile just to get to the bottom of the hill.

As she reached the end of the track there was a small, locked building, most probably used by the estate during the stalking season. There in the undergrowth was an old rusty bicycle pedal. She picked it up and propped it up on a stone to photograph it with the mountain in the background.

On her return she shared the photos and the story of her day, and we speculated on the age of the pedal. I commented that it may well be 50 or 60 years old, at which point Pauline wished she had brought it home, as she quite liked the look of it.

Well, it's her birthday this week, and up until this point I had no idea what to get her for her birthday. So, the following Friday I loaded my bike into the back of my car and set off for Callander. My quest was to retrieve the pedal as a fun and unexpected present.

She was right about the long track in. I was so grateful to be on my bike. And it was steep. The weather was quite different from the Friday before. It had snowed on the Thursday evening, and there was a light dusting everywhere, plus there was a chill northerly head wind all the way in.


It was quite exciting, not knowing if I would find the pedal or not. I knew I would have to go all the way to the building to find out. As it came into view I was faced with a small challenge . . . there were three buildings! I passed one on the road as I headed for a brand new wooden bridge across the river, which you used to have to ford, and the building didn't look like the one from the photo. Neither did the second one, so I knew if I were to find it then it was going to be at the last building. Getting to it with the bike was tricky, and I had to go a little further and cross the head of a no longer used reservoir, then push through the snow as it was a little deeper here.


There, right on the corner, in exactly the same place that Pauline had propped it up, was the pedal. I was quite pleased with myself. Not only had I found it, but I'd had a great afternoon out on my bike in the hills.


And so for the past month it's sat in a bag in my house, waiting to be boxed and handed over.

What fun.


Thursday, 19 May 2016

NEW LIFE

Spring was late again this year. The pink blossom on the trees, one of my favourite spectacles, in the local park, was at least three weeks later than usual. It has been a mild winter so I would have thought this would encourage new growth to start early rather than late.

A great place to visit to see a wide variety of new life springing forth, both flora and fauna, is the Figgate Park, originally known as the Figgate Muir, just 15 minutes walk from my house. Figgate is from an old Saxon word meaning "cow's ditch" and was used as pasture for cows tended by monks in the late 1700s.

There is a great cycle route that you can complete in a day, which takes you from the source of the Figgate, up in the nearby Pentlands Hills, all the way down to the pond and on to the sea. You can read about that in The Outdoor Diaries blog. Around eight years ago the council built a wooden walkway, snaking across the northern end of the pond, having the effect of immersing you more in the wildlife experience.

In the past few months locals have even spotted otter gracing the banks of the large pond in the centre of the park. Sadly I've not seen it myself. Speculation has it that it may well be a pup that's been ousted by its parents to go and find its own territory. There wouldn't seem to be enough food at the pond, though the bird life are all now nesting and incubating their eggs.

One such bird is the mute swan. I was a little concerned this year as it had built its nest right next to the public walkway, and an easy jump for the likes of a fox in search of a tasty meal.

However, several weeks on and my fears were unfounded. Five signets are now happily swimming around with their proud parents, as seen here in a photograph I captured early one morning this week.


Right in the centre of the large pond is an island, inaccessible by predators, creating a safe environment for them to occasionally come out of the water.


As the summer goes on a large area of the park will become very colourful, as the Scottish wildflower garden emerges. Planted just five years ago, every year it seems to get better and better.

But it is the rich variety of animals that attract me the most, and incredibly that list is enormous:

Birds
Mallard; Mute Swan; Moorhen; Coot; Goldfinch; Starling; House Sparrow; Blackbird; Canada Goose; Greylag Goose; Grey Heron; Dipper; Grey Wagtail; Magpie; Carrion Crow; Jackdaw; Woodpigeon; Feral Pigeon; Blue Tit; Great Tit; Black-headed Gull; Tufted Duck; Dunnock; Robin; Wren

Mammals
Red Fox; Brown Rat; Rabbit (including some jet black); Grey Squirrel; Bats

Regular Visitors
Kingfisher; Goosander; Cormorant; Sparrowhawk; Buzzard; Shoveler; Great Spotted Woodpecker; Chaffinch; Long Tailed Tit; Herring Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull; House Martin; Swallow; Sand Martin; Mistle Thrush; Goldcrest; Bullfinch; Greenfinch; Redwing

Rare, but spotted
Otter; Osprey; Willow Warbler; Chiffchaff; Brambling; Goldeneye; Gadwall; Little Grebe (used to be resident); Pintail; Teal; Treecreeper; Blackcap; Waxwing

New bird feeders have now been put in place, using old railway carriage wheels in a creative way. Took me a while to realise what they actually were, and I assume they are a tip-of-the-hat to the nearby railway yards.

And finally, under one of the underpasses, a local artist was commissioned a couple years ago to paint a wildlife mural. This is just one side, showing a heron at one end and a fox at the other. On the opposite wall the artist has depicted a kingfisher, woodpecker, squirrel and several other animals, all resident in the park.


All together a fab place to spend some time.



Friday, 13 May 2016

FRIDAY THE 13th

Ahhh, Unlucky Friday the 13th.

Superstitious claptrap in my opinion.

If you believe certain things deeply enough they can become self fulfilling. I read about people all the time saying bad things happened to them on Friday the 13th. Coincidence folks.

Instead why not turn it on its head and make good things happen? All this week I've been telling just about everyone I meet just how busy I am. And it's good. I've had too long sitting on my bum getting over various stages of being unwell. I love being busy. Anyway, surprise surprise, I've become even busier!

Just this week alone I've built a new 7m long garden fence; assembled an entire bedroom set of furniture; filmed a set of very energetic young kids throwing paint everywhere for a day; edited a rough cut of a new 2 minute promo short; washed and tidied my car and van (first time in a year!) . . . and arranged a new mortgage for a rental flat!!

Then the phone just kept ringing today, Friday the 13th, to book me for even more work in the next few weeks!

So sometimes maybe obsessing can bring even more onto your plate . . . in a positive way.

The fear around Friday 13th has many origins, one of which is the Knights Templar. Supposedly that was when they were arrested in 1307. Some even associate it with the Last Supper of Christ, because there were 13 at the table, and that Judas Escariot who betrayed Jesus is documented as the 13th person at the table. But neither of these are the origin of the superstition. Until 1907 no one regarded it as unlucky. Then author Nathianiel Lachenmeyer published a book called Thirteen, which argued that before the 20th century 13 had always been an unlucky number, and that a Friday was an unlucky day, but the two together was never a concept.

This is the basis for Friday the 13th.

But if you're one of those that fears it, a friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigg because Friday is named after the Norse goddess Frigg) as they are known, then you can relax after today. In 2016 there is only one, and it wont happen again until January.