Thursday, 4 February 2016

DEJA VU

Well, that's kind of another way of saying that Tuesday this week was Groundhog Day! Yeah!

Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog residing in the town he is named after in Pennsylvania, did not see his shadow, which means there will be an early Spring.


I had a little chuckle to myself when I saw the listing for one of the Sky channels this week. It was showing the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, over and over again, all day. Someone in programme scheduling clearly has a sense of humour.

I've had a bit of a Groundhog Day myself all week, as I feel I have been continually editing the same short film over and over again for one of the young student groups at the performing arts academy, here in Edinburgh. I've been using a technique called rotoscoping. This is where you take the image of a person moving and trace round them accurately, so you can transplant them from the original background, onto a different one. It's basically animation, as you have to do it one frame at a time. And there are 25 frames every second! Most clips I've been using are only around two seconds long, but that can take me around eight hours. More if I get it wrong, which I did at the start of the week and had to start again.

As I said, my very own Groundhog Day.

Aside from editing I'm attempting to make my own sound recording blimp. This is a sausage shaped housing, roughly 10cm wide and 40cm long, with rounded ends. Normally made of plastic mesh, with roughly 5mm holes, I'm making mine out of steel, mainly for strength. Then I've added a fine net curtain-type mesh onto one side, rolled it into shape, securing it with steel wire. I then bought some faux fur, and made what is called a "deadcat", a big fluffy, hairy sleeve, which goes over the outside to further reduce wind noise.  The kids always have a chuckle at the name.


So what is this "blimp".

When you are recording sound on a windy day, even with a slight breeze, it can be heard like a jet engine going across the camera's microphone. But within the shielded space inside the blimp the air is perfectly still. So you place the microphone inside on a special shock mount, and hold the whole thing as close as you can to the person you're recording, and you get almost perfect sound, with not a hint of any wind. It is quite remarkable. Last week we were outside with one we had hired, and the wind was gusting 50mph. So effective was the blimp that initially I thought the microphone had not been switched on!
I have a fairly good microphone but no blimp, and they are upwards of £200 to buy. So I sat down to design my own one over the course of a couple of days, and I'm almost finished. One challenge was how to create the curved ends. As I was in my local supermarket I had a eureka moment when I found 10cm wide sieves! Perfect. I just have to cut the supports off and fit them on each end. Job done.

It's not been tested yet, as I'm still making the deadcat to go over it.

In some countries they call it a dead wombat. Maybe this week I should call it a dead hog, in honour of Phil.

Maybe not.


Thursday, 28 January 2016

APPREHENSIVE

This has been a special week for me personally, and somewhat emotional.

Tuesday was the 26th of January, the day after Burns Night, when dedicated Scots around the world celebrate the Bard, our national poet.

But it wasn't the aftermath of that days celebratory events which was special for me.

It was the fact that exactly 6 months ago to the day, I struck the tarmac head first at 25mph, on a lonely road in Wyoming USA, and everything changed. Since, it has been one medical surprise, and sometimes emergency, after another, but to a great degree, I am recovered.

To celebrate this recovery I thought it appropriate to finally take my bicycle out. This was a big moment, and I had been thinking about it since breakfast, over and over in my head, with butterflies in my stomach at the thought of cycling the very bike that has not been ridden since the crash. I used  a number of distractions to mostly take my mind off it, but to also avoid the act itself. I didn't think I'd feel quite so nervous.

One distraction technique was to visit a local wildlife pond in the local Figgate Park, where, for the past few weeks, there has been a Mandarin Duck visiting. I'd never heard of such a bird, so I was intrigued, and took the video camera up to see if I could catch a glimpse. I wasn't disappointed, as the photo below shows.



On the way home with the camera gear, I came up with the idea of filming a piece to camera on the bike about how I feel, and this helped me take the plunge. I changed into my cycling gear, and new helmet of course, and ventured out to the promenade along the beach to set everything up.

The moment arrived where the camera was running. This was it. The sun was shining. I got on the saddle, then nervously pulled the right peddle back, and pushed off.

I cried. I couldn't help it. I have tears in my eyes now writing this. How did I feel on the bike itself?

I loved it! I whizzed up and down, forgetting the camera was rolling. Then I did the piece to camera, which brought the emotion of the moment out again.


So it's done. I've been back on the bike that I've only ridden for a total of 10 days up to now.

Time to get fit.




Friday, 22 January 2016

BASED ON A TRUE STORY

What a month it has been for my favourite pastime: going to the cinema.

There are a few things that give me great pleasure in life. Like fresh sheets; ticking everything off on my To Do list; thick, white bread toast with marmalade; a cinnamon swirl and latte at Starbucks, and movies that are based on true events.

The Coen Brothers took the Micky out of this concept, believing that most so-called based-on movies had a tenuous link at best, so at the start of their great movie, and now TV series, Fargo, on screen comes the immortal words, This Is A True Story.

However, every now and again, leading up to Oscar season, a series of memorable films hit the big screen. The last time I recall a year as good as this one was in 2013/14, when the likes of 12 Years A Slave, Captain Philips, The Butler and Philomena were screened.

These all had one thing in common. They were all based on true events.

And this year it is the same again. So far I have seen Carol, based on a taboo lesbian love in 1950s America; Joy, about a woman who invented the self squeezing mop; The Danish Girl, the events that led a transgender man to the worlds first sex change operation; Room, based on the abduction of a girl who was then kept prisoner and gave birth to her captors offspring, and finally, The Revenant, set in the mid 1800s Canada, and the brutal life of fur trappers.


The last of these, The Revenant, can only be described with one word, grueling. The story centres around a man, played by Leonadro DiCaprio, on a quest to avenge the murder of his son. But what he goes through is startling, and painful to watch. He's attacked by a grizzly at one point, and not just once, but three times. We're right in their with the action. It looks so real (guy in a motion capture suit) I was pushing myself back in the seat. At one point the bears snout comes close to the camera, and the camera suddenly goes still, and you hold your breath, feeling that the cameraman is actually there at a real attack. And he's next! Gripping stuff.

DiCaprio has already won the Golden Globe, and he'll win every other award, as should the filmmakers. We watch as he is literally immersed in a frozen river of northern Alberta in the depths of winter, crawling out, clearly in actual pain. Starving, he eats a real raw fish in full screen. I could go on, but you should see this movie yourself. It is 15 minutes short of three hours, but I didn't notice it. It's not for the squeamish, but then again, what he goes through, and we witness, is not gratuitous. It is very much part of the story.

Still to come are two more "based on true events' movies: The Big Short, which centres around the lead up to the financial crash of 2008, and Spotlight, when the Boston Globe newspaper uncovered dodgy goings on by priests in the Catholic Church.

I find films that have an element of truth in them far more entertaining that some Marvel comic escapade, or teen movie sex romp. They have their place, but for me it is the true story every time.

After all, they do say that the truth is stranger than fiction.


Thursday, 14 January 2016

SETTING GOALS, NOT PLANS

After my blog of two weeks ago, reflecting on the chaos of my life during 2015, I had hoped that 2016 would literally be a new beginning. But we've started off with yet more complications, discovered just last Sunday.

When I was admitted to Lander General Hospital in Wyoming, the carried out a reading of my heart function, producing a graph. From this they diagnosed that I had a right bundle branch blockage, which is basically electrical signals taking longer to get through the right side of the muscle. On the right it's not much to worry about.

Last Sunday, whilst in hospital for yet more blood tests, they carried out another heart reading, and discovered that the hospital in Wyoming had wrongly diagnosed me. I have in fact got a LEFT bundle branch blockage, which is more serious. The rhythm seems fine, so they are not unduly concerned at this stage, but I am now waiting on an echo cardiogram to be carried out to determine the overall health of me heart, and how at risk I am.

Whilst seeing a new consultant last week, for the very first time I was told something that I have suspected all along. All of the problems that have arisen in the past six months, including this heart defect, all stem from the bicycle crash. It's small comfort, but I like having all the information, so I can use it to best determine the way forward.

I feel now, with all the expert help of the NHS, I am on the final approach to recovery, and last Saturday saw me back for the start of the second term at PQA, teaching eager young students the art of film making. The numbers have swelled over the holidays and we now have just short of 140 kids aged 5 to 18.

In the term before Christmas the three groups of different ages have been working hard toward creating a short film to enter into a film festival. For the next three weeks they will attempt to turn what is on paper into a visual reality on screen.

With a little help from me, of course.

I said in my blog two weeks ago that I had stopped making plans, but that's not strictly true. For a start there is my invite to talk at the ACA 40th anniversary in Missoula, Montana in July. But I'm also a little fed up of still not being back on my bike, so, I've set myself a goal (as opposed to a plan) of taking to the saddle the day after my next hospital consultancy on the 3 February.

Fingers crossed.


Friday, 8 January 2016

GONE AND ALWAYS MISSED

Despite everything that has been thrown at me over the past six months, since the bicycle accident on 26 July, I have somehow remained positive.  At the moment it seems that every week something new comes along, and I dare not think beyond this week. Maybe it's as well we don't know what lies ahead. But all that said, I continue to fight. I mean, what's the alternative.

A very dear friend of mine lost her fight and sadly passed at the very beginning of this year. She was only five years older than me. It does not seem strange to me to call her a dear friend, despite the fact that I have only been in her company once, for a couple of days.

On the 15 of August 2011, Pauline and I rode into the small Midwestern town of Havre to end our days cycling. Like most end of days we had no idea where we would lay our heads for the evening. Pauline had read on the back of ACA's Northern Tier map for this section, that during the summer holiday period you are able to stay in the halls of the University of Montana, here in Havre. She had been trying persistently for days before hand to make contact, but had never managed to speak to anyone. It was the holidays after all.


The rear tyre of my bike was needing to be replaced, and so we stopped at the local bike store just on the edge of town. The owner was very helpful, like most Americans we had encountered, and sold and fitted a new tyre for me (which I only just replaced last year!). We went for a wander to explore the town while he fixed it, returning just an hour later.

As we emerged from the store a small group of local cyclists were out front. We asked them if they knew anything about the halls of residence being available for through cyclists. One of the group was John Donaldson. He said he did. Then added, that it was himself you were to contact. So we thought that was a great bit of luck. Then another of the party interrupted and said, there was no way we were going to stay in the halls. We should stay with her and John at their house.

That person was Kathy Donaldson, wife of John.

And so we did, and enjoyed the company of their older son Luke and two young twin daughters. Kathy was of Indian descent and worked as a pharmacist on the local Indian reservation. Through her contacts, she arranged, and took us, to visit a traditional Indian Pow Wow.

At the beginning of this blog I called Kathy my dear friend. How can that be after only two days you might ask? Well, that was just the way Kathy was. Once she was in your heart, she was there forever, and we have stayed in touch ever since.

Sadly she lost her battle with cancer, and now she is gone forever. On one of her last few posts she wrote, "Thinking of my friends".

That was Kathy.



Thursday, 31 December 2015

GOODBYE 2015

Usually I'm fairly indifferent to another year passing, and my preference is just simply to go to my bed and let those seduced by the prospect of creating the mother of all hangovers do their thing. I've never really got that to be honest.

But this year, with just 30 minutes of it left, I can confidently say good riddance to 2015. There is very little I recall of it with fondness, and hope that this coming year turns out to be more fruitful.

The start of the year was great, as I enjoyed a weekend away with my buddy Pauline, through Loch Ard forest, with a circular route starting out of Aberfoyle, and a snow capped Ben Lomond as our backdrop.

A couple of months later and my outdoor activities were to be curtailed for a while, as I went under the surgeons knife to correct an old injury in my right foot. Thinking it would take just six weeks before being back to normal activities, I was surprised to find myself still limited some three months later.

Thankfully I was to heal just in the nick of time by the start of July, to fly out to Denver to cycle a 1000 route through Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Less than two weeks in I came off my bike, which resulted in multiple injuries and brought my journey to an abrupt end. Nursing a rather large cast on my right arm, I continued best I could, using motorised transport, only to return to the UK two weeks later.


Two months later, at the end of September, and with plans formulating for getting back to full fitness, I found myself in an ambulance racing across the city to hospital, for an emergency subdural haematoma brain operation. This had been brewing away since the day of the accident. Then, another two months on in November, I was diagnosed with Graves disease, which causes thyroid problems. No one really knows what starts Graves disease, but on the list of possibilities is a severe brain trauma.

After diagnosis came the medication, but after three weeks of starting to feel normal, and once again making plans to get back to fitness, I was back in hospital with a severe allergic reaction to the medication. I am currently fighting back from this episode.

I've stopped making plans.

By no measure do my series of unfortunate events compare to the suffering of the peoples of Nepal during the earthquakes of early 2015, or to the continued challenges facing the people of Syria and the resulting refugee crisis.

So even with all that has happened to me, I do have things to be thankful for at the end of 2015. For one, the help and support from my close friends, even from thousands of miles away whilst I was laid up in a Wyoming hospital. And I'm grateful to the company Bell, for making a bicycle helmet, without which I would not be alive today.

So I say goodbye to 2015 and welcome 2016 with open arms, for the past is just a statement and the future is a question.


Friday, 25 December 2015

MERRY CHRISTMAS

It's easy to say that this is a purely Christian time of celebration, but I'd like to think that it is more a time of peace and forgiving for all. More than any other similar type of annual celebration it does seem to have a global appeal. Some would say that is a myth, perpetuated by those who profit commercially of course, but then I'm not that cynical.

What ever you do today, whether it is spending time with family and friends, eating well, opening lots of presents, or just watching the Queen's speech on TV, take time to spare a thought for those who are grateful just to have made it through another year. Like the survivors in Nepal after the powerful earthquakes that destroyed a lot of homes earlier in the year. Or to the families devastated by the senseless murder of over 100 people in Paris. Or the countless numbers of refugees fleeing their home country away from tyranny.

I too am grateful to have made it through a challenging year.

Merry Christmas everyone.