Thursday, 26 November 2015


So I should first of all say happy Holidays to all my friends across the pond in America on this, their Thanksgiving Day.  With all that is going on in the world with terrorism and the mounting refugee crisis, I have been noticing on social media people posting comments comparing the arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers in America in 1620, to that of the refugees. These comments state that like the refugees, the Pilgrim Fathers were escaping religious persecution.

This is in fact incorrect. They were a radical Puritan faction known as the English Separatist Church. In 1607 after splitting from the Church of England they settled in the Netherlands, but it was because of financial difficulties that they set sail for the New World. It would be others who followed later that were escaping repressive policies because of religious nonconforming under king James 1st.

 But I love the tradition of Thanksgiving in America, and as I do every year, after wishing all my many friends across there, best wishes, I wish for myself to one day experience it first hand and enjoy the feast with friends.

I was entertained this week by a feast of a different kind. I'm not one for spending much time on the internet, but my close friend Pauline brought my attention to a video that had been posted on Facebook. It is of a hamster, all wrapped up in a cozy cover, happily feasting away on a piece of carrot. I could not help but smile.


And finally, my attention has turned to thoughts of dusting down, for it has gathered much, my bicycle that has not been ridden since the accident in Wyoming in July. But first things first, I need to buy a new helmet. All of them are produced to an exacting quality and regardless of price must meet a required standard. The more expensive ones tend to be for funky decals or fancy shape. It goes without saying that the thought of coming off my bike again and hitting my head fills me with anxiety, so I have been conducting research to see if there are in actual fact, safer helmets.

I have discovered one made by a company called Poc. It includes a revolutionary system called MIPS, which stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. It also includes a programmed chip that links to an app on your cell phone. In the event of an impact it activates an alarm. If this alarm id not deactivated it automatically sends out calls to emergency services with GPS coordinates of your location. That, I must say, is very clever.

MIPS, in simple terms it contains a second independent layer that sits against the skull and in the case of impact it acts like the first membrane between your brain and the inside of your cranium, thus, they claim, significantly reducing the effect on the brain. It was this very effect that has caused me so many problems.

At £250 I'd like to be sure, but at the moment I can find no evidence to say this actually works as it says.

And I'd rather not be the one to test it.

Thursday, 19 November 2015


I'm back in my comfort zone . . . making movies.

Last Saturday the young students started to shoot their stories, which they hope will turn out well enough to enter into a film festival next year. First day was tough, and the performances were not great overall. However, it takes a while to get into it. The added challenge is that due to time restraints the students are only able to film for an hour each Saturday, so that all six groups get a turn. That presents logistical nightmares, especially for me. In January they'll get a three-hour run at it, so hopefully we will achieve success overall.

They should be very proud of themselves. A single page of script generally works out at one minute of screen time. On average, with a professional crew, I would look to shoot three pages in a 10-hour day. These kids are shooting seven pages in the equivalent of four and a half hours!

They're a bit daunted, but I reminded them all last week, that just 12 months ago they had no idea what a dolly and track were, or what an Extreme Close Up was used for. Now, here they are, shooting a short story that they developed, into a film to enter it into a festival. If they are selected they'll end up on the red carpet in Leicester Square in London next August.

If they finish it that is.

But even if they don't, they'll have learned a great deal. And a lot of creatives are notorious for not finishing a project. I can count myself among them.

I met with a colleague last week for a catch up, and we discussed this very subject. Why do we go on about ideas and projects, yet after only a few weeks of developing the idea in our heads, we abandoned it?

Making a film is a massive challenge, and we deduced that the large potential to fail puts us off, especially after we have told others what we would like to achieve. We also get stuck on the big picture, pardon the pun. Rather than seeing it for what it really is, a sum of very small parts, we can't get away from the overall larger project.

But this doesn't just apply to film makers. We could say this about any idea or project we all come up with but fail to bring to fruition. Maybe it's a desire to impress, but once that initial reaction has passed, you're left with actually doing the thing.  And setting the bar too high can destroy the momentum.

There's  an old saying in film making, that writers have the best decorated house; because they'd rather do anything but write.

Friday, 13 November 2015


Who would have thought that a small bicycle accident, lasting just a few seconds, could cause so much inconvenience.

I'm certainly on the road to recovery, with this weekend marking eight weeks since the cranial procedure, and the headaches have not returned. The cause was discovered by a CT scan, and just last week I received a copy of the images. I took all 188 "slices" of my head and animated them into one flowing movie. It is quite a remarkable image, clearly showing what is, without doubt, a massive haematoma.

Anyway, I don't think you can squash your soft brain tissue to two thirds of its size and expect to get away with it scot-free.

There are other things now happening in my body, that may well have been there in a mild form prior to the clot, but have been exacerbated by the effects as the brain tries to spring back into its normal shape.

One thing that's been going on is an all over trembling. It's fairly slight most of the time, but its there, and its infuriating. The cause, they think, seems to be connected to my thyroid gland, which controls your metabolism, producing too much hormone into my system. The trembling, I'm guessing, is the body trying to burn off this excess.

I'm waiting on a specialist but I've been told that medication will bring it back under control. Now I've never been a fan of putting chemicals into my body, but less so on this occasion when one of the possible drugs is radioactive iodine!

So I'm going with the theory that if my body put this gland into overdrive, then it's feasible that it can reverse it. With that in mind I started my own research and discovered that increasing my protein intake, omega 3, and eating lots of berries, can help.

On one particular day I ate nothing but protein for one meal. For another I ate three punnets of berries, and for the third meal I upped the omega 3 intake.

The following day I was symptom free.

That kind of diet is hard to stick to, and it's not balanced. Plus this time of year berries are out of season and very expensive. But it's a step in the right direction. I expect to see a specialist by the end of the year, so it will be interesting to see if I can bring it under control naturally.

Friday, 6 November 2015


A suitable creative arts title to the blog this week.

For well over a year now I have been enjoying teaching young people, from the age of six to eighteen, how to make movies. The true title of my class is "Film & TV", but I have to admit we primarily concentrate on film.

It has been a fairly progressive process for the students, as it should, but they were getting quite relaxed about the whole thing. Well, that has all recently changed, as I've challenged all six classes to make a short film that I will enter into a film festival next April.

This is in part to see just how much they have learned. Some have already shown great promise. When I look back to a year ago and those students that are still with us, they have regularly amazed me by just how much they have taken in. To think 15 months ago none of them knew one end of a camera from another, and now they organise Foley and ADR sessions, and run a crew during a film shoot. It is very satisfying.

To give them the best chance with their film entry, I wanted to give them tools to improve the production values. One way would be for them to have tracking shots, which would mean track (similar to a miniature railway) and a dolly (a carriage that sits on the track that the camera attaches to). However, the "real McCoy" comes in at thousands of pounds and generally takes hours to set up.

What I needed was equipment that is low cost and quick to set up.

So I decided to build it myself.

After numerous drawings and trips to B&Q to purchase various plumbing pipe materials, and eight skateboard wheels, here's what I came up with:

At a little over £100 in materials, and about 10 hours to construct, I feel I have a very usable working dolly and track. And the added bonus is it takes about five minutes to set up. and makes use of the existing tripod.


I surprise myself sometimes!


Thursday, 29 October 2015


In the middle of September, just a few days before the scare of the big op, I ventured out to a hidden wilderness where I collected large amounts of ripe blackberries. The resulting pie was stunning.

Well, I decided to repeat the process of delicious pie making, as a neighbour had given me a bag of apples off his tree. The first pie was great. Real apple pie with a dusting of cinnamon. But the idea came into my head that apple and blackberry would be a great combination. So late on in the season I had doubts that there would be any usable blackberries left, but to my great surprise and delight many of the stems still held little clusters of ripe berries.

Preparation done and the pie was slid into the oven. Once again I decided to make it out of gluten free pastry, and to avoid a soggy bottom I blind-baked the pastry first. As a thank you to my neighbour I created two pies so I could hand one over for him to enjoy.

Need less to say once again the result was mouthwateringly delicious. Apple and blackberry is a winning combination.

As a slight aside to this weeks blog, I thought I'd share with you the stunning spectacle of the birch that sits in my garden. At this time of year its leaves have turned a golden colour, and as the sun starts to set and hit the leaves, they literally glow.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


It's October 21st 2015. Ring a bell? Maybe this photo will jog your memory...

This is the dashboard console of a very famous DeLorean car back in 1989, belonging to Doc Brown, the nutty inventor in the Back to the Future films. Just now there's obviously a lot of chat about the predictions made in the film, and what out of those made it in reality.

Hoverboards were the big one, and though that's not really happened, Arx Pax claim they have made a genuine working model. But it will cost you around £7,000.

There's quite a few small devices from the film that have become real technology though, such as fingerprint identity for opening locks, video calling, such as Facetime and Skype and wearable eye tech such as the Google Glass.

But I recall back in 1989 I had one of the first so called mobile phones. It earned the nickname The Brick, due to its size, shape and weight. This was a step forward, as its predecessor was a phone with a cord that connected to a battery pack the size of a large hardback book. However, even though we had mobile phones, albeit cumbersome, at the time when the film came out, they never appeared in the movie version of 2015. Maybe the makers thought they'd never catch on! More likely because, although the film was released in 1989, they time traveled from 1985, and phones were not around then.

Tablets appear though, and even drones, as we see someones dog being taken for a walk tethered to a drone. So what about predicting what might be around in another 30 years? Well, hopefully I will be for a start, but a group of forecasters have had a go.

An invisibility cloak is a popular one, and living in cities that respond to the environment. Scarily they predict that AI, artificial intelligence, will play a prominent part in our lives, and almost everything about us will be monitored 24/7.

We'll have hoverboards at last, driverless cars, be able to 3D print pizzas, and poverty and hunger will be eliminated, I assume because of the 3D printed pizza.

As technology becomes more a part of us, they predict that it wont be just our phones we'll be able to upgrade, but also ourselves.

Presumably only if you sign up for a 24 month contract.

Friday, 16 October 2015


Autumn, or the Fall, depending on where you live, always draws me toward one particular place in Scotland; Dunkeld. It's wide variety of different tree species guarantees at this time of year to present an artists palette of colours.

For almost the whole year I have been trying to get away on a Highland camping trip with my two closest friends, Pauline and Andrew. But this year has been predominantly about hospital trips. Originally we had planned an escape at the end of April, but the recovery from a foot operation proved to be longer than expected. Then I went to the States, and, well, you know that story.

So I am still in recovery mode at the moment, but it is the school holidays once again, and as Andrew is a teacher there was another small window of opportunity to have an adventure.

Dunkeld here we come.

We decided, mostly for me, that we would set up camp at a local campground, leave the majority of our kit, then wander the local trails over the Sunday and Monday.

The first day was grey overhead, and the colours of the turning leaves were muted in the flat light. Occasionally the sun threatened to burst through, but it never did.

As we left the village we meandered through the grounds of the cathedral, half of which dates back to the 1400s. Historic Scotland claim it to be Scotlands most romantic cathedral. Though one half is in ruins, the other half is in good order and a working church.

A saunter along the banks of the River Tay took us under the mighty canopies of oak and sycamore, the ground carpeted in their crispy orange and red leaves. Our little route took us round the back of Dunkeld along a path heading for the Loch of Lowes, before dropping down into Dunkeld town from the north.

Loch of Lowes is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, and is a protected wildlife sanctuary. Though it was the wrong time of year for us, in the summer months Osprey fish in the loch. More excitingly a beaver has taken up residence recently.

Instead of cooking our supper in camp we opted for a meal at a local pub called the Taybank. Over a hearty meal and a few glasses of wine we put the world to rights.

The following day there was not a cloud in the sky as we trudged off on a longer walk, albeit just four miles round trip, up the nearby 1,000foot Birnam Hill. Through woods of oak, sycamore, beech and birch we gently climbed the path to the summit, the sun creating shafts of glistening light through the surrounding forest. For me it was unusually tiring, and my legs have most definitely lost their strength over the past few weeks as they trembled on the descent.

However, this was not that much of a problem, as Pauline and Andrew, particularly Andrew, were usually far behind having found yet another subject to photograph from every possible angle. The path down was steeper, through open stands of larch trees, their needles cascading down like a fall of golden snow.

From the bottom of the walk we made a small detour through the village of Birnam and over to the bank of the Tay, to see the Birnam Oak. Thought to be 300 years old and a remnant of the old Birnam Wood, celebrated in Shakespeare's play Macbeth. It is said he gained inspiration during a tour to this area in 1599.

This had been my first foray since going in for surgery, and though I was distracted by the poor level of fitness and occasional dizzy moment, it was good to be back in the foothills of the Highlands.