Thursday, 1 October 2015


It has been an interesting week here in Portobello, the seaside suburb of the city of Edinburgh.

Here we are at the start of October and we're getting temperatures of 20 degrees (68F). After a poor summer this has been a welcome change.

This encouraged large crowds to gather on the beach to soak up the late rays, for sporty types to take to the calm waters and for a historic event on Saturday 26 September.

My friend Pauline owns a kayak and most days after work she was out on the sea, paddling up and down the one mile long beach shoreline. The local sailing club also launched an armada of all varieties of boats, from little sail dinghies to large rowing skiffs.

Then there was an historic moment on one day. Across the bay from the beach, eight miles east of Edinburgh, is a coal-fired power station at a coastal town called Cockenzie. Construction was completed in 1967 but was closed down in 2013. Last year demolition work began and at midday on 26 September, explosives wrapped around the base of the two towering chimneys were detonated and they collapsed in spectacular style, in front of an audience that literally covered the beach. Thousands of people came to watch. It looked as if it was happening in slow motion, so huge are the chimneys. Slowly they leaned toward each other before kissing at the top then destroying each other as they came together. I filmed the spectacle and you can see it by clicking on this link.

It has been suggested that so dominant were the chimneys that migrating birds used it as a landmark. Time will tell if this affects our feathered friends in the future.

Finally, on Tuesday, we were treated to a "super moon". This is when the moon is closest to the earth, but on this occasion there was also a lunar eclipse as the earth came between the sun and the moon, creating a sunset-red colour on the surface, hence the name "blood moon". But there was another consequence for this close proximity of the full moon the following morning. To my great surprise the sea had receeded to twice it's normal distance.

I was able to walk out to an orange bouy that normally looks far out at sea. As the tide reached it's lowest point it revealed three large wooden posts.

Research so far has not unearthed what they were in the past. Some have suggested they are the remains of an old pier for a leisure craft called the Skylark in the 60s, but this took place further along the beach. Some think they may be old supports for when sewage was pumped directly out to sea, but I doubt they would have been made from timber. The mystery continues and conditions are predicted not to come together again to create these tides until 2033, the last being in 1982.

The warm sunshine continues, a perfect remedy as I continue the recovery from my scare last week.

Thursday, 24 September 2015


I cannot take credit, or blame, for the side-splittingly funny blog title. That honour goes to my friend Morag, who has been hugely helpful, along with my other friends, over the past few days.

Most regular readers will no doubt be familiar with the bicycle crash in Wyoming two months ago. Recovery has been going really well and the only remaining ailment is rehabilitation of my wrist after the cast was removed three weeks ago.

Or so I comfortably thought.

About 10 days ago I started to feel a tension headache, as if my brain was too big for the inside of my skull. I took various headache meds, but for some curious reason none of them worked. As the week progressed the tension started to feel worse as if someone was tightening a strap around my head.

By Friday I was experiencing sharp stabbing pains in the right side of my head, so painful that it would stop me in my tracks and make me screw up my eyes. Maybe I was starting to suffer from migraines I thought. I was aware that after a head trauma you can experience headaches for up to a year after, so I took off to a local all-night supermarket pharmacy and bought the strongest painkillers I could find.

The following day I was teaching six classes of film making to young student minds, as I do every week, and in the evening I was out with friends, but went home early, feeling rough.

During the night I awoke knowing that this was something more than a migraine. At this point I made no connection with the bicycle crash. That was a full two months ago afterall.

I took myself off to the nearest hospital triage unit and, after me telling them, almost as an aside to the pain I was in, about the bicycle crash and the head impact, they immediately whisked me off for a CT scan. The result was both astonishing and scary. The right hemisphere of my brain had been compressed to two thirds of its size due to a large clot the size of a splayed out hand.

It seemed as if I had no sooner been shown the scan result, than a wheelchair turned up and I was racing across the city of Edinburgh in an ambulance to the waiting neurological surgical team on the opposite side of the city.

Five days later and I'm sitting upright resting in the same hospital, the operation a distant memory now. For those medically minded among you, the procedure was an "evacuation of a subdural haematoma". The only thing to show now is two small shaved patches of hair and two permanent holes in my head, now covered by healing skin.

It is all quite surreal. It turned out that I had been bleeding since the impact. It would never have shown up until three to five weeks later, or, as happened, when symptoms presented themselves.

I recall a few days after the crash, at the end of July, saying how fortunate it was that I had been wearing a helmet and that things could have been quite different without one. But now I find it unsettling that if I can end up with this emergency situation months later having worn a helmet . . . well, needless to say it is obvious to me now what not wearing one would have resulted in.

Look on the bright side though, what a great addition to the film!

I am one very lucky boy.

Thursday, 17 September 2015


Something I associate closely with American culture is "pie". It is a great generic term for lots of delicious homemade fruit pies encased in golden pastry, and having recently returned from the US it is something I recall with great fondness.

Just a few days ago I was out for a walk along a usual path in my neighbourhood. At one point I decided to take a detour down a less used path that disappeared into an overgrown area of thick woods and bushes. As I fought my way through, feeling like a kid again on an adventure, I suddenly stopped as my eyes beheld a wondrous sight.

Hidden away in this overgrown area was a secret forest of brambles, all drooping with ripe blackberries. I had nothing with me in which to collect them, so the following day I returned with bag in hand. As I approached the thicket I checked over my shoulder to make sure no one had seen me entering what I now declared was my secret stash of blackberries. Gently I eased each individual plump berry from it's stalk, working my way through the expanse of jaggy brambles.

Purple hands stained from the juice of the berries and bulging bag in hand, I returned home and gently washed the gathered fruits. Using a recipe from the internet I then made a batch of gluten-free shortcrust pastry, lined a pie tin and blind baked it in the oven. Once cooled I piled high the blackberries into the pastry case and covered it with another layer of pastry.

Glazed, and dusted in sugar I carefully slid it into the oven. I awaited the result, pacing up and down, as the oven worked its magic. Occasionally I'd peep inside the oven, just to make sure all was going according to plan. Then, finally, the timer went "ping!" Tentatively I slid the tin out of the oven, carrying it slowly to the kitchen table as if it was a bomb about to go off, then just stood and admired its beauty.

It just sat there, cooling, this golden coloured piece of heaven, releasing its heady aroma of mouthwatering deliciousness. I was desperate to cut into it, anxious that it it might not have worked.

Somehow I managed not to touch it until my friend Pauline to return home from work. Patiently I waited until she finished her dinner. Then, finally, the moment of truth. We carefully cut two large slices and made "cor" noises as the dark purple filling revealed itself from inside it's golden, crispy envelope. Several satisfied noises were made as we otherwise silently, and slowly, munched every bite, our taste buds exploding with pleasure. It was all we could do to resist eating it all in one sitting!

There's every need for pie.

Thursday, 10 September 2015


It's been a fun week with lots going on in Edinburgh, and a very productive week filming it all and cutting it together in my edit suite.

In June this year the young students that I teach film to every Saturday filmed six movies that they had written themselves. It's taken a while to edit them all but this week the music soundtracks were added and the films were completed. The students mission was to produce all the films without any dialogue, and still tell a story. This they achieved remarkably well, and some of these students are only six years old! Click here to see one of the films made by the teenagers.

Wednesday was a manic day of filming in two locations. The first was incredibly exciting. The Tour of Britain cycle race was on stage four out of Edinburgh to Blyth, in Northumberland, about 110 miles. Their route was to pass very close to where I live, and so I decided to position myself on a long straight section of road on the outskirts of Edinburgh to film the action. My guess was they would attempt to sprint here.

When I got to the location there was no one about, and I felt slightly disappointed that there weren't lots of cheering crowds, but all the better for me as I could pick and choose were to film from. I settled on a pedestrian crossing island in the middle of the wide road. However, this was to prove hair raising!  It was all over in seconds, but as they rocketed toward me they did indeed sprint, then decided to swap sides of the road, then back again, then split in two to go either side of me. It was a WOW moment. Click here to see the result.

Just an hour later I was positioned on the embankment of a railway line. Not just any railway line, but the longest section of railway to have been built in the UK for over 100 years. This new line reopens a stretch closed in the 1960s by Beaching, and stretches 30 miles from Edinburgh to Tweedbank in the Borders. To celebrate, a steam train, called the Union of South Africa, with Pullman coaches carrying  HM the Queen and several lucky people, rumbled and tooted its way passed me. Like the cycle race, it was over quickly, but click here of you'd like to see the historic moment.

All in all an exciting week of history in the making.

Friday, 4 September 2015


If you're a regular reader of my blog you will know all the gory details of what happened to me in Wyoming on 26 July this year whilst on a cycle touring holiday. If you don't then hit this link.

Last week I had the cast removed and to my relief they did not put on another one. However, the pain in my wrist was something else! And it was without any power at all. The slightest movement was agony. I was given several exercises which I have to do three times a day, and within just this past week I've managed to go from two or three reps per exercise, to 30. I am, pardon the pun, well on the road to recovery.

I am an impatient person though, and I thought that once the cast came off I would be back on my bike. Not the case. The doctor and physio at the hospital have advised at least four weeks to build up the strength in my wrist. This was of immediate concern for my fitness. It's almost six weeks since the crash and I know my fitness has mostly gone.

But I have found a solution.

I have purchased what is called a turbo trainer. This is a magnetic resistance roller on a frame that you connect your own bicycle into. I can then cycle the road indoors without the risk to my wrist. I discovered after buying the kit that you cannot use a normal tyre on the rear wheel, so I have just taken delivery of a specific trainer tyre. I got to thinking that I might lose the will very quickly if I have to repeatedly change the rear tyre.

So the next solution was to buy a second hand rear wheel with a quick release. Now all I have to do is change the wheel over. A lot quicker and simpler.

To combat the boredom there are several cycle training films that I can watch, projected onto my home cinema screen in the lounge, and I have a wealth of music to listen to. I've been told it is intensely boring, but if it helps me recover faster then I'm ready and willing.

The spare wheel is on its way and should arrive early next week so I can start the next phase of getting back to normal.

I don't have my Sky Team cycling top that I used in America anymore, but within a few weeks of using my trainer I reckon I'll be able to give Bradley Wiggins a run for his money!

Friday, 28 August 2015


If you read last weeks blog you'll know that I am on a quest to try and eliminate dairy from my diet. This is not as part of a vegan diet, or because I am intolerant to milk, but simply because I am appalled that dairy cattle are artificially and forceably kept pregnant, not to mention pumped with drugs to increase their milk yield substantially. And did you know all veal, which I have never eaten, come from male calves born to these dairy cattle?!

So since last week I set myself two challenges to begin with: find a milk alternative for cereal and tea, and a cheese alternative.

First the milk. I knew of almond milk long before I started this, so that was on the list from the start. Sourcing one unsweetened was not difficult, as it has become very popular, and there are many brands to choose from.

I chose four other milk alternatives; rice milk, coconut milk, hemp milk and a mix of almond and coconut.

Straight away I found the two coconut varieties, well, too coconutty! Even the mixed one had too much flavour. It isn't that I don't like coconut, it's just that the flavour dominated everything I put it in. As a drink on its own the mixed one was OK.

The almond milk on its own was pretty foul, but I have discovered that not all brands are the same and that making it yourself is very easy. At this point though almond milk was off the menu.

Next up was rice milk. The look of this product is very thin in colour. This was the only one I tried in tea and it didn't colour or flavour the tea at all. It has a naturally sweet edge to it but in overall flavour it was not much different to water, and in cereal I just found that grim.

The final product was hemp milk. Oh boy, my hat off to anyone that can consume this! OK, so the clue is in the name, but I never expected it to taste like actual rope! This was the only one I actually spat out.

At this point I thought I was defeated, however, I decided to venture into Edinburgh city centre, to a wholefood store called Real Foods, to see if there was any other solution. The staff were great and most agreed with my findings. The products I had bought were sold by supermarkets and thus lower priced which was reflected in the quality. At least that was my own deduction. I then found an almond milk mixed with rice milk, made by a company called Rude Health. Without overstating it, this was delicious. A winner at last, and I have used it every day in muesli. Result. Plus it works out at only 12p more than a litre of dairy milk.

None of the milks were any good in tea, but I have found a soya milk sweetened with apple juice that works OK. I'm not a fan of soya milk, but in tea its fine. You can't use it in instant coffee as it splits, but recently I have been trying soya latte at my local coffee shop, and its pretty good. The sweetened version takes the soya edge off the taste, and it has also led me to reducing the amount of sugar I put in my tea.

Quest two was cheese. This was in some ways hilarious. At first it never occurred to me for some reason to start with the Real Foods shop, and I ordered three items online: cheddar, blue and mozarella. The look and texture of these "cheeses" was like set plaster! The flavour was quite easily the most disgusting thing I have ever tried. They all looked identical as well; an insipid grey wheel of plaster!

But, you guessed it, a visit to Real Foods led me to a product made by VioLife. They have quite a range, but I just tried cheese slices first. Not a product I normally buy but good enough for the experiment. The flavour could have been stronger, but I found no real difference between this and dairy cheese slices.

I love pizza but will now revert to making my own, which I used to long ago. VioLife make a mozarella alternative specifically for use on pizza. It's popular, so out of stock a lot of the time, but I'm looking forward to that experiment. For now though the injury to my arm from my cycle accident has left it weak, and so the ability to knead pizza dough is a few weeks off yet.

As for butter, well I rarely ate butter before, and mostly stuck to olive oil spread. One thing I have noticed is that milk powder is in a lot of products. I bought a box of crackers yesterday, and not until I was home did I discover one of the ingredients was milk. In the UK allergy labeling is very good, and if a product has milk in it, then the manufacturer must state it on the ingredients list, so spotting it in the future should be easy.

So far so good. Time will tell how it integrates itself into my life.

Next quest, pizza!!!

Thursday, 20 August 2015


Traveling, especially by bicycle, brings you into contact with experiences, sounds, smells and landscapes that would otherwise whizz past the tinted glass of a cars windscreen. Cycling through a landscape is the only way to fully appreciate the richness of a country.

Every mile I've pedaled by bicycle whilst touring, no matter which country, have all had one thing in common; the people. Everywhere I've been it's the people that have made the trip special, and the last few weeks were no exception. One key element of those meets are the things you learn.

My journey ended in Missoula, Montana, where I finally met Jennifer, the senior cartographer at Adventure Cycling, who I have been corresponding with for almost five years. Her husband Rob met me at the airport, and with a seal of approval from the family dog Tiika, we were already old friends.

Jenn and Rob follow a vegan diet, to put it simply, a plant based diet. No part of an animal, or anything they produce, is in their diet. Though I knew vaguely about the vegan way of life, I had never really delved into it. From the word go I was amazed and impressed at the fantastically tasty meals that they served up at the table, and a conversation ensued.

Though it is highly unlikely that I will change to being a total vegan personally, there was one aspect that struck me, and I was a little amazed that I hadn't previously known about it. That aspect was milk.

When I was a little boy in single figures, my father was a dairy herdsman, and every morning before school I went with him to bring in the herd for milking. Almost five decades, thanks to Jenn and Rob, on I have just learned a disturbing fact.

All dairy cattle are artificially, and forcibly, kept pregnant in order to constantly produce milk for us. When the calves are born some are disposed of and some are taken to be locked in darkness to produce veal. All veal comes from the calves born to dairy cattle.

In addition most dairy cattle are pumped with hormones in order to produce as much as 12 times the normal yield, requiring the cows to be milked twice a day!

I've never eaten veal, but I certainly consume milk.

Yes I eat meat in various forms, and I choose carefully what I buy with an eye on the welfare of the animal raised. But I can't abide the thought of this blatant, and not talked about, cruelty to an animal just to satisfy our thirst for milk.

So I have recently started a quest to switch part of my diet to dairy free. I believe it will be a healthier diet too, so that's an added bonus.

I have sourced five different alternatives to cows milk and over the next week I'll be trying them out in various parts of my daily diet. Included in this is cheese, which I have also sourced an alternative to, which should arrive in the next few days.

I'll publish my thoughts of my experiences next week. It's a tiny step in only one aspect of the whole animals-for-food trade, but at least it's a step.