Friday, 17 February 2017

RENT, RENTAL, RENTON

There's definitely a thread, or should I say, line, of drugs running through this weeks blog. Some may disagree with some opinions I've written here, in fact, it may just get "right up your nose".

Never one to turn down a chance to go to the theatre, especially if it's with a free ticket, I took up the invite of my friend Innes to join a packed house at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh to see the musical Rent. Loosely based on Puccini's La Boheme, it is set circa 1989 in New York City. It follows the lives of a group of friends living in the East Village, as they deal with love, loss, AIDS and modern day life, with transmission through sex and drugs of the HIV virus playing its part in the demise of some characters.

At least, that's what I'm told it was about.

It is closer to a rock opera than a musical I would say, and though the choreography and the singing voices of the actors was without fault, the score was just one big noise. Eventually it all blended into one, and I struggled, as did those around me, to make any sense of what was going on. Thankfully, with the pre knowledge of the synopsis, I was able to occasionally pin a scene on what could be a part of the story, but other than that, I can't say it grabbed me. What you might call a "Marmite" show. I was so unimpressed personally, I did something I've never done before, and left at the interval.

Part of that was the experience, but part was also that I was pretty much exhausted from a recent project I'd undertaken.

Just three weeks ago I invested in a new rental apartment in the centre of Edinburgh city. To say that you don't get much for your money these days is an understatement. It's probably just as well that I'm not going to allow tenants to have pets, as it's so small you couldn't get a cat in there, let alone swing it. At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking very little needed done before getting it on the market. As the first few days rolled by, it became evident that was not the case.

Various bodged repair jobs had been crudely covered up, which all needed corrected, but worse than that, there was an unidentifiable smell. The more I worked in the place, the more I noticed it. To cut a long, investigative story short, I finally deduced it was the stale and acrid residue of a heavy hash smoker! The brown tar-like substance I literally scraped from the upper reaches of the UPVC window frames, was enough to bring back your lunch. I'm not suggesting it was the previous owner, as during my investigative work in lifting the floorboards, there was a strong smell of something similar emanating from the flat below. Two weeks on, and I'm not much further forward in getting rid of it, despite using sealers on the walls and woodwork, as well as deep cleaning. I am now at the stage of stripping off all the wallpaper and starting again.

The bedroom is the one room that is unaffected, and despite being small, it looks great now that it is finished.


Everything comes in threes they say, and to round off the week I had a drug experience of a different kind, in the form of T2, the sequel to the 1996 film Trainspotting.

Same cast, same director. The story centres around the return of Ewan McGregor's character Renton, who, at the end of the original film, made off with the groups illgotten drugs money. Having fallen on miserable times in Amsterdam, he returns to Edinburgh and looks up old friends. But the psychopath Begbie (Robert Carlyle), in an unconnected incident, escapes from prison, and when he learns that Renton is in town, he seeks revenge for being double crossed.


It lacks the energy and pace of the first film, but it has enough surprises and moments of disgust to be just as entertaining in its own right. If you haven't seen the original though, a lot of the references will be lost on you. Production values, helped by a much larger budget of course, were far higher, and it was a lot of fun location spotting in the setting of Edinburgh. There's a nice start to the film to show a lot has changed in the past 20 years, as McGregor's character arrives in Edinburgh, and travels on the modern tram into the city centre, with a look of surprise on his face as he stares out of the window.


A familiar visual moment for me in the first film was when they visit the UKs most remote railway station at Corrour, and the view toward the hill Leum Uilleim, a favourite destination of mine. It was fun when the sequel returned to the same spot. 

Famously in the first film, Ewan McGregors character delivers a monologue, based on Iggy Pops Lust for Life. It memorably starts off:
"Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a big television. Choose washing machines, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance..."

In T2 they update it well, and it serves to demonstrate some changes of the past 20 years:
"Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and hope that someone cares what you had for breakfast. Choose reality TV. Choose a zero-hours contract, a two-hour journey to work. Choose the same for your kids and smother the pain with an unknown drug someone made in their kitchen..."

Choose Life.

Then a remarkable moment happened as we wandered home, discussing the films merits. As we came to a road junction, a recognisable figure came round the corner. None other than Aidan Bremner, father of Ewen Bremner, who plays Spud in Trainspotting! It was an astonishing coincidence, even more so as it is also 20 years since I have seen Aidan! Ewen was born and brought up where I live in Portobello, so there is a strong connection, and his father and I have been friends since the start of the 90s, when I ran my deli.

What a fitting end to a Perfect Day.


Friday, 10 February 2017

LACK OF COMMON SENSE

In the middle of last year I sold a second apartment that I had been renting out. This was for various reasons, but importantly, the generated capital had to be reinvested in something similar, as it represents my pension provision.

It has taken until this month for everything to work out, and two weeks ago I took possession of the new property.

The previous one had been very close to where my own apartment is. So close, in fact, that I could have popped down the stairs to borrow a cup of sugar! The new one though is in the centre of the city, mainly to enable me to secure a tenant without too much wait.

There were a number of things that needed attention, and I had set a budget for those. Initially I had forgotten that our money grabbing government had recently imposed a 3% penalty, they call it a tax, on anyone buying an apartment that is not their primary residence. This despite that they are not building enough properties to rent and keep bellowing on to us to make provision for our pension. I had done so, but clearly that was a bad thing to do!
So that took a large chunk out of my renovation budget.

Which has posed a problem.

I should have guessed, but there is a lot more wrong with this property than initially thought. Some of it caused by bodged-up repairs by so called professional builders in the past, doing a very amateur fix, and leaving the owners with a whopping bill. The list grew and grew.

One item that needed attention, which should have been very simple, was the discovery of a gas meter. There are no gas appliances in the property, and further investigation revealed there hasn't been so since 2007. So, get it removed as it's taking up space was the logical next step.

I attempted that this morning, and it is two hours of my life I will never get back!

I contacted British Gas. In fact, I rang them four times, as they persistently cut me off, usually at a point in the conversation where we had almost cracked the problem. It's lucky the house phone is made of tough stuff, considering I launched it across the room several times.

Eventually, during one 54 minute conversation, I started to get somewhere, until the British Gas (BG) persons computer said "no". It went a little something like this:
Me: So I need this meter removed. Here's my address.
BG: Sorry but that address doesn't exist.
Me: Well, it was built in the late 1800s, so I think you'll find it does.
BG: Its not on our national data base. 
Me: So that means the property doesn't exist.
BG: That's correct. Anything else I can help you with?
Me: Aaaaaaargh!
Pause.
Me: Explain why to me.
BG: The address you gave us and the one on the system don't match.

To cut a long, long, long story short, the address they had was the same, just in a different form, and the BG person said it was impossible to change, and so I would just have to leave the meter where it was. According to them there was no meter in the property, (I had a photograph of it!!!) and that the meter number I had given him was supplying gas to another property two floors below!

I hung up.

I then called Scottish Gas Networks, who deal with the engineering. This time I get a cheerful Glasgow person. And guess what? Done and dusted in five minutes.

You can always rely on a Scot to cut through the bullshit.


Friday, 3 February 2017

A RARE TREAT

Wildlife has the ability to give us amazing moments and put a smile on our faces, and so it was this week.

Recently, as you will have read in a previous blog, I had a close encounter with a Kingfisher in a local park. I didn't have my camera with me, and so I just stood and watched the beauty of the bird in its natural habitat.

On Wednesday this week I was returning home after finishing work for the day on a small rental apartment I've just bought. I parked my car outside my own apartment, which is in a dead end street that leads down to the sea, and wandered back round to the main road again to speak to a neighbour.

While I was gone something spectacular unfolded.

I wandered back, turned the corner, and immediately noticed something on the ground, half way down the street. I stopped, then slowly edged closer. To my amazement it was a female Sparrow Hawk, and in its grip was a newly caught Collared Dove!


I retraced my steps and ran round the block to approach my apartment from the lower end, thus avoiding going past the hawk and not disturbing it. Grabbing my camera, I rushed to the first floor window and captured footage of the action. After a short while I took the camera outside to get a lower perspective. Satisfied with those results I decided I wanted to get some head on shots, and so once again ran round the block to approach from the other end.

As I filmed, from a closer position than the first time, I noticed the hawk was un-phased by my presence. I edged closer. Still it was not concerned. Then annoyingly a neighbour returned home in her car, pulled round the corner, headlights flooding the scene, at which I thought that would be the end.

Then my camera ran out of power.

So once again the only option was just to stand and watch. My neighbour had pulled to a stop beside me, but it was clear the bird was going to finish its large meal, and she wanted to get to her house. She slowly edged the vehicle forward, but the hawk didn't move. In fact, she got the bumper to within one foot of the bird, stopped, and still it plucked away at its catch! For me it was even more spectacular a moment, as I was by now stood within just one metre of this magnificent bird. After a few minutes the car slowly edged forward several more inches, then the Sparrow Hawk rammed its talons into the carcass, and took off, flying fast and low down the street, with its dinner hanging below its body.

A rare treat in the middle of my suburban street.

Not the meal, the sighting.

I end my blog today on a more cutesy animal moment. Yesterday was Groundhog Day, and Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow, saw his shadow, and predicted, there would be six more weeks of winter.

 

Friday, 27 January 2017

ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE

One week on from the US Presidential inauguration, and we're still here! When that orange person stepped onto the stage my heart sank.

But far more exciting things have been happening on a stage near me, and no, that's not fake news!

The other side of the academy that I teach Film & TV at, concentrates on training students for the stage. In fact it would be safe to say that the vast majority of students attend for the singing and dancing. In the same way that they learn how to make films, by making a film, there can be no better study for stage than putting on a performance, and for the past six months, that is exactly what they have been working toward.

Last Saturday they put on two performances of Singing In The Rain at a nearby theatre. I had to keep reminding myself that the boy playing the male lead role of Don is only 13 years old! I could never have done that at 13.


Over the most recent months they have become a little jaded with the constant rehearsals, which is understandable, as two out of the three hours at the academy were solely devoted to that purpose, sometimes even as much as three.  But it's all over now, and on the day, with the added excitement of glitzy costumes and a sold out house, it all felt worth while. They put on a remarkable show, and at the end the audience gave them a standing ovation.


Sadly I never got to see the full show in all its glory, as I was working back stage in the Green Room, getting them ready to go on for different scenes. There is no lasting record of the show, as due to the licence restrictions we were not allowed to film it.

But filming is something we are about to start in the next two weeks. This years big project is to film abridged Shakespeare plays, but adapted for the screen. They had previously worked on them to perform in front of their parents back in June, but for various reasons this never happened. So a decision was taken to turn them into films. At first the students expectation was that they would be filming what they had created for the stage, but as the weeks went by, they started to realise that just wasn't going to look good on film.

First day of filming is on 11 February for Midsummer Nights Dream, Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth. For the latter, the teenage students will get their first taste of filming "on location" away from the academy.

A year ago we spent three months in production for their film festival movies, but this time we have half the amount of time and double the amount of shots! I can be pretty certain I wont be given several two or three-hour days as in the show rehearsals, which is a shame, as it puts everyone under a lot of pressure. Hopefully, though, with the right support, we can pull it off and there will be no disasters.

So maybe best not to mention the name of that Scottish play from now on.


Thursday, 19 January 2017

WILDLIFE

A short 15 minute walk from my house brings me to the local Figgate Park. It is here that over the past few years the Council have made many excellent improvements, both for wildlife and visitors alike. So much so that we are seeing a rise in the variety of wildlife frequent its central pond and burn.

 
There is a resident swan family on the pond, and they successfully raise young every year. They are definitely the bosses of the pond, and once the signets are on the water, the male chases all other birds away, should they stray too close.

Earlier last year we were treated to the exotic looking Mandarin Duck, with it's bright orange feathers, which hung around for most of the year. Then during the year there were many sightings of a young otter. This was a great surprise, though I haven't seen it myself, yet.

The list is huge; Tufted Duck, Mallard, Canada Geese, Greylag geese, Coot, Moorhen, Blackheaded Gulls, Heron, Goosander. Then there's the woodland and other birds; Robin, various Tits, Swallow, Thrush, Goldcrest, Bullfinch, Redwing, Sand Martin, Buzzard, Woodpecker, Chaffinch, Black Bird, Sparrow . . . jeez, the list just goes on and on.

My friend Pauline is a frequent visitor to the park and has spotted way more than I have. Plus I have a little difficulty in recognising the different types. On Monday I wandered through the park in search of one particular bird, which I'll mention in a moment, when I spotted a bird I hadn't seen before, hopping up the trunk of a tree. Thanks to a "Twitcher" standing close by with her camera, I found out it was a Tree Creeper, a rare visitor to the park apparently.

But it was the day before that I had a spectacular view of a even rarer visitor, a Kingfisher. It scoots along low over the small burn that runs through the park, perching on overhanging branches occasionally. The burn is very close to the public path, but it seems to be un-phased by people passing by, so much so, that it has become the place for photographers to capture stunning images regularly.

On this day though, despite waiting for a fair amount of time, it did not appear. With shopping to be done in the local high street, I left the Figgate Park and headed toward Portobello. My route took me through a much smaller park, called Rosefield, and the same burn twists through here on its way to the sea. Not expecting anything, I had it in my mind that wouldn't it be great if the Kingfisher were here.

Within just a few minutes there it was! The sun broke through briefly and lit its iridescent plumage. I stood for an age, just watching, as it perched on a little branch, not moving. I thought of all the other people waiting patiently in the park, just over the main road. There is a long, narrow, connecting tunnel between the two parks that the burn runs through, and though unbelievable, I guess it has no fear and flies through the long tunnel between the parks.

So far I haven't managed to capture an image of it, but sometimes it's just nice to stand there and enjoy the view. However, I couldn't resist posting a picture of it, so here's a cracker that someone took in Figgate Park recently.



Friday, 13 January 2017

MISSING PARTS

A part of me was removed the other day.

Sounds a bit alarming, but actually it was just a tooth. Not the greatest event I've ever looked forward to, but necessary. During my last cycle trip in December I was crawling the walls of my tent in the evening, such was the pain. Amazing something so small can cause so much pain.

The following day I was exhausted having had little sleep, and it was all I could do to complete a short cycle then speed into the nearby town of Callander for a pharmacy and pain relief.

On return to Edinburgh, and an emergency appointment with the dentist, I was given two options:
1/ lengthy, and expensive, root canal work.
2/ Extraction

The tooth felt slightly wobbly, and during this dentist visit she applied a dressing that killed off the nerve, so it felt decidedly comfortable. But it was clear that doing a root canal procedure was not guaranteed to work, mainly due to the difficulty of it being the last molar right at the back, as access was tricky. If it didn't work, then it would be extracted anyway. Losing a tooth is not a decision taken lightly, but with the prospect of spending £600 with no guarantee . . . 

But Christmas was just around the corner, so I decided to limp on and see if I could make it through the festive season pain free, and thus enjoy all it had to give. Which is exactly what happened.

And so, 48 hours ago, out it came.

I had a wisdom tooth removed about 30 years ago, under a sedative, which only helped a little bit. It was a traumatic procedure, and the bleeding took hours to stop. So you can imagine in the days leading up to the extraction I was very anxious, to put it mildly. I kept imagining that she would be stood on my chest bracing herself, with pliers attached to my tooth, rocking back and forth!

On the day, my anxiety was even higher, despite keeping busy and distracting myself all morning. Sitting in the dentist chair, out came the needle. Why is that thing so damn painful?! It's extremely thin, so you'd think it would be OK. Three injections later and I was not in the best of moods. Then I had to sit in the waiting room for another 15 minutes, while the anaesthetic took effect.

Then it was extraction time!

Jeez!

Open wide . . .

And in went what I can only describe as medieval torture implements!

Incredibly, in around 15 seconds, it was all over! A bit of shoving but no pain! All that worry for nothing!

If this is happening to you anytime soon, I hope my little story helps.

The dentist wouldn't give me the tooth, so I never got to put it under my pillow for the Tooth Fairy!

Bummer.


Friday, 6 January 2017

GOALS NOT RESOLUTIONS

Ahhh, the start of a new year. So much hope. So many promises.

I'm not one for resolutions these days, simply because I rarely manage to keep them. A friend however, did make me laugh recently. Online she posted her New Year resolutions, with a preamble saying, "this year I thought I'd set more realistic resolutions". Her list read thus:
1/ Try not to go to the gym.
2/ Make every effort to eat more.
3/ Put on more weight (see item 2).

And so on. For me, instead of resolutions, I set goals. Fairly non specific and without dates, such as, write a new screenplay, learn a musical instrument, improve fitness.

In support of improving fitness, New Years Day was marked with a round trip cycle run, from my house, west, mainly on cycle paths and tracks, to the Forth Bridges. I did this a few years ago as part of cycling the John Muir Way. Just 10 metres from my front door and I'm on the promenade and joining the cycle path. For almost the first half I did not touch a road, until getting just past the docks area. Though there have been a number of improvements to cycle path provision in Edinburgh, there are some annoying missing links, and you are forced onto a busy road to get from the docks to Crammond.

At the Crammond end is another long promenade, then, at the end I turned south and followed the River Almond upstream, eventually bringing me to the Dalmeny Estate.


This is a great section, along dirt tracks and through trees, past the grand Dalmeny House and finishing under the majestic Forth Rail Bridge.


From this vantage point the rail bridge is very close, with the road suspension bridge just beyond, and beyond that again, the brand new cable-stay road bridge, due to open very soon. I think this is the only place in the world where three bridge engineering styles can be seen together, that of cantilever, suspension and cable-stay.


The return run was a little faster due to a nice tailwind, but both promenades had become very busy, as those nursing hangovers ventured out for a walk on the first day of the year.

A couple of days later and there was a traditional gathering of friends for a Quiz of the Previous Year. Needless to say there was a round of "who had died", plus rounds such as Movie Taglines, Music and Politics. It always ends with several scenarios taken from the news and in teams you have to mime three for the other teams to guess. All good fun.

Together with the eating of more good food, several trips to the cinema and visits to new coffee shops, I can say with confidence that 2017 has started well.