Thursday, 26 February 2015

RONALD MACDONALD

Don't worry, this is not a blog about the mascot of a famous hamburger fast food chain, home of the American Big Mac.

By coincidence it happens to be the full name of a local character, who went by the more familiar title of Ronnie, who passed recently after a five year battle with cancer in his spine.

Back around this time in 2010, just before Pauline was heading off on her big global cycle, Ronnie broke the news to us. Doctors had told him then he wouldn't see Christmas. It is testament to his character and no nonsense attitude to life that he defied them all and held out for five years!

I first met Ronnie in 1989 when I moved in to the apartment where I still live today. He had the middle of three large garages diagonally opposite my apartment, and spent his days fixings taxi cabs. He owned two, but had long since given up the long hours driving them, and concentrated instead on keeping them maintained. Word grew of his skills and many other drivers would visit, sometimes just for a cup of tea and chat. A council worker who drove a tractor along the beach, collecting washed up debris, would always stop at the bottom of the lane and spend his morning break putting the worlds to rights with Ronnie.

His passion was Landrovers. His son-in-law told me recently that, despite his illness robbing him of his strength and mobility, he was always going on about the Landrover chassis sitting in his garage that he needed to start building a new vehicle on. I think it's what kept him going through his illness all this time. He had one small Landrover that was his pride and joy, and he used it in a local Victorian Day parade, heading it up with the crowned, Victorian Day parade queen waving from the open back. That parade sadly is no more, but every year the taxi cab drivers of Edinburgh get together to give sick and disadvantaged kids a day out down the coast, decorating the cabs with all manner of designs. In essence every cab was a unique float, and Ronnie took part every year.

In my street, not only was he a friendly character but he was great for security. Just knowing he was around was peace of mind, and, of course, he would happily help tinker with your car should you have a problem.

He was a good, honest man, who had worked hard all his life, and said it like it was, sometimes colourfully. I fondly recall one day he helped me get a heavy sofa up a flight of stairs into my apartment. He took the bottom end, shouldering most of the weight, but at only around five and a half feet tall, it was clearly a challenge for him. From start to finish the air was blue with muttered obscenities, like a nachine gun emptying its magazine. By the time we reached the top of the stairs tears were streaming down my face I was laughing so much. But the best laugh was to come when we finally got the sofa inside. He stood straight, dusted his hands down, and in a calm and relaxed voice announced, "well that was easy".

The street I live on now is quiet, and on Monday at his funeral, which I suspect will be very busy, we will all reflect on our own, unique memories of Ronnie.

He may have chosen to prefer to be called Ronnie, perhaps because of the connection to the fast food chain, who knows, but to me he will always be just Ronnie, our very own Big Mac.


Thursday, 19 February 2015

FAT TUESDAY

Shrove Tuesday, Pancake day, whatever you call it, is the day before Lent, when all good Christians everywhere fast for 40 days. I guess from a layman's point of view we could compare it to Ramadan in the Muslim calendar.

Personally I like "Fat Tuesday". It's just got that "stuff your face" sound about it.  Fat Tuesday is a literal translation of the French phrase Mardi Gras, the name given to the ritual of the last night of eating fatter, richer foods before the fasting period, which begins the day after, Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday derives its name from the ashes of burnt palm branches, blessed the year before on Palm Sunday, which is the Sunday before Easter, and was a reminder that we return to dust (hence ashes to ashes, dust to dust). Palm branches are used as it is believed that palm branches and leaves were scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem.

It's fascinating stuff the way it links and gives us modern day terms. But lets get back to pancakes.

After I sold my deli business in 2006, I traveled for a while, starting in the United States. It was on that trip that I discovered iHOP.  This was not some sort of technology exercise, but stood for the International House Of Pancakes.

I thought at the time that it was a new fast food outlet, but the first one opened in LA in 1958 and now has more than 1500 branches, with new ones opening recently in Dubai of all places. Well, it does say "International" in the name.

Now, it's worth remembering if you intend to visit an iHOP, and I recommend you do at least once, we're not talking about a couple of pancakes with a drizzle of maple syrup. We're talking a veritable mountain of carbohydrate, swimming in melted butter and maple syrup. It doesn't just serve pancakes though. You can go for the "lighter" option of crepes. Part of iHOP's fame is they have a lot more than maple syrup, and pride themselves on a wide range of syrups. But all's not lost on the waist line. Some syrups are sugar free.

However, sugar free and lighter options aside, the portions are so vast that you're going to need the 40 days of Lent to burn it all off.




Friday, 13 February 2015

FRIDAY THE 13th

I should have known with all that has gone pear-shaped today that it is Friday the 13th!

I recently changed from probably the worlds worst internet provider, Talk Talk, to a new company called Plusnet, with a much faster connection as a bonus.

The installation was amazingly fast, and though there were a few hitches for the engineer, it eventually went live. However, my main device, a MacBookAir, which is the computer I use for just about everything, froze up when connected to the Plusnet router with wifi.

Though I can use other devices OK and it is still a relief to leave the appalling service of Talk Talk, I can do without the stress. 

I eventually got it working by connecting it directly with a cable, but it's not ideal. I have been waiting all day to hear from the company's technical support team, and by 2pm I decided to phone them.

Only to find my phone is now not working as well! In fact, when I think about it I've not received a single call since the change over 3 days ago.  And I can't call out.

Eventually I spoke to someone using my mobile phone, only to get the run-around saying, it must be a fault with my phone inside the house as they are not detecting a fault. So I'm now at the stage of paying £31 a month for basically nothing! No one is willing to help solve the situation, and when I suggested I would have no choice but to cancel and have the equipment removed, I was told I couldn't unless I paid for the remaining 18 months contract.

There's only so much boring technical chat I can take, and so I drew a line under it for the day. I'm hoping tomorrow will bring better results. If nothing else it's Valentines Day.

Presumably I'll be too busy opening all my cards.


Thursday, 5 February 2015

GROUNDHOG DAY

The 2nd February each year is marked in my calendar as Groundhog Day. It is an American tradition made famous by the film of the same name and putting the small town of Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania firmly on the map. The 2nd February also marks the mid point between winter and spring solstice  and for those who observe the old tradition of Candlemas  it is the last day to take down your Christmas decorations.

Tradition has it that when the Groundhog, Phil, emerges from his burrow (in reality pulled out of little wooden hutch) whether he sees a shadow, or not, predicts if there will be six more weeks of winter, or an early spring. He's been doing this since 1887 and has seen his shadow 102 times as opposed to not seeing it just 17 times. Professional weather people say that Phil has had an accuracy of 80% over the years.


This morning I stepped out of the house to a crisp day, bathed in sunshine under a bright blue sky. Though only just above freezing there was not a breath of wind, and as I reluctantly headed in the direction of my dentist for a filling, I was cheered up by the feeling of warmth from the sun on the side of my face. They say that the 2nd of February also marks the time that we should start to feel the suns warmth again. As I walked through my local park I noticed that the snowdrops were starting to emerge.

Inspired, once home, I took out the garden shears and attacked some of the overgrowth in the garden from last year before it's too late. The Robin was in the Birch tree next to me, keeping me company with his little song. I suspect there is another Robin close by as his song was never ending. As I finished I chipped away the frozen surface of the bird bath so he might take a drink later. Though cold the garden and it's wildlife have not yet seen any significant falls of snow.

America's east coast has been hit by large falls of snow, and I was kind of hoping we would be on the receiving end of a good dump of the fun white stuff too. Here in Edinburgh though we are protected by a range of hills all around us and the mild waters of the Forth lapping at our shore, so usually we stay snow-free, more's the pity. In the Highlands though, it is a different story, with large accumulations, more to the west. Weather permitting Pauline will be heading off with her new toys, a pair of funky snow shoes, into the mountains this weekend. Sadly I can't join her as every Saturday is taken up with teaching film at the academy, but hopefully sometime soon I'll be back out there.

What of the chance of seeing more snow then? What was Phils prediction for 2015?

In Punxsutawney, PA, Phil, the Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, emerged from his burrow at 7.25am, and in Grounhogese he whispered in the ear of those around him. . . he had indeed seen his shadow.

Six more weeks of winter! Hooray!


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.