Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Countdown to America

I've had a fun week tweeking the website for the big trip ahead, and enjoying increasingly longer runs on the bike. I'm hoping that I can negate the saddle sores before I get stateside.

If you haven't visited the website yet please do. It's a lot of fun. Just click on the clapperboard on the right. I thought given my irrational fear of bears that they should make an appearance on the website, so have fun trying to find them all. I'm pretty sure I wont have any trouble finding them!

You'll be familiar with the term, there's a first time for everything. Well, I seem to be in a phase that I can only call, there's a last time for everything. So many friends are blocking out my diary to meet me for coffee, lunch or dinner to wish me well and get an exclusive. I've never been so popular!

I continue my duties as base camp manager for Pauline, currently on her way to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. Recently she was having trouble with Bolivian computers and was having no success booking tickets on the Greyhound bus service from Miami to Boston. Using the internet, that so many of us take for granted, I was able to book her seat, buy the ticket and arrange for it to be waiting for her to collect at the Miami Greyhound station. How on earth did we manage before www?

As if the final preparations weren't keeping me busy enough I've also given myself a deadline to rewrite a recent script that I have just finished rewriting. Don't worry, I'm confused too. And if I'm confused as the writer then there really is little hope.

I'm excited to be going on the adventure but I'll also miss home. Well, bits of it anyway. I'm fortunate to live right by the sea, especially with the current good weather, though this does bring out the litter louts. At days end I like nothing better than to stroll along the deserted promenade and admire the man-made landfill site newly created that day! Staten Island has nothing on Porty beach on a sunny day.

18 days, 2 blogs and an inevitable puncture to go.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Sleepless 'til Seattle

Regular readers will no doubt have noticed, on the right under my picture, a movie clapperboard has appeared with Sleepless 'til Seattle on it. What's that all about I hear you ask? Well, I'll tell you.

Albert Einstein once said: "Life is like a bicycle, in order to keep your balance you must keep moving forward".

At the start of the year I hinted that a big new adventure was coming and I promised to reveal all nearer the time. Well, that time is here at last. But before I elaborate, some back story, as they say in the movies:

Back in July 2010, which now seems a lifetime ago, my best friend of all time, Pauline, left Scotland on a great adventure to fulfill her life's ambition: to cycle, unaided, round the world on a bicycle for two years. It was tough to see her go but I was and still am, very proud of her. When people marvel at her continued achievements I say to myself, "yep, that's my best friend they're talking about".

I get to take part too. Normally I'm at home playing the role of Base Camp Manager, but back in September I went to Spain to cycle the Camino de Santiago with her, a memory that will stay with me forever.

Pauline is currently in La Paz, Bolivia and you can catch up on her adventures by clicking on this link: The Bicycle Diaries.

Over the last 16 years we've created many memories together, and we're about to create a big one. On 15 May I will join Pauline in Boston, then after a few days organising we will cycle south for 40 miles to Plymouth. This will be our official starting point and from there lies 4,500 miles of cycling over 150 days all the way to Seattle on the west coast.

Our route will take us north to begin with, for about a month, when we'll reach Buffalo, near the border with Canada. Our route then continues along the northern states all the way to the Rocky Mountains and over into Seattle, with a small detour into Canada around Glacier National Park.

The mention of this park brings one part of this adventure crashing to the front of my mind: bears! We're camping wild most of the way and mostly in bear country. Glacier National Park in Montana is home to some 300 Grizzly bears, the thought of which does nothing for my bowel control. Luckily we'll have my trusty world-travelled mascot, Tigger, along to protect us!

So this got me thinking that there's a fair chance I wont get much sleep all the way, so I came up with an idea to call the adventure Sleepless 'til Seattle. As we cycle along we'll meet all sorts of interesting people no doubt and visit many places of interest, all of which we're going to film in High definition. Then upon my return a feature-length film will be made for release sometime in 2012.

If you'd like to follow our progress or just find out more, either click on the clapperboard on the right or just type in your browser address bar

Bears, mountain men, dueling banjos, tornado alley and saddle sores are all going to come together to make one "awfully big adventure".

Come along with us.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The final frontier

In December 1903 a pair of American brothers, who would become known as simply the Wright brothers, made the first powered and controlled flight in a heavier-than-air, fixed-wing aircraft. Just 58 years later, on 12 April 1961, two years before I was born, the human race had evolved to such an extent that a Russian, Yuri Gagarin, aboard Vostok 1, became the first man in space.

In that same year the American President John F Kennedy was inaugurated, the Berlin Wall went up, the population of the world was less than half what it is now, at 3 billion, and The Beatles were unknown and still to record their debut album, Please Please Me in 1963.

I have always found it incredible that in just 50 years we have gone from Yuri Gagarin, to having spacecraft that come and go from space, that now only attract a couple of lines in the national press. Even more astonishing is that every 90 minutes, far above our heads, a man-made space station completes an orbit of the earth. Am I the only one that finds that incredible?

My love of all things space, be it early programmes by Carl Sagan, or more recently by Brian Cox, started back in July 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped from the Eagle of Apollo 11 onto the moon's surface. Since then I have been in awe at the continued achievements of man in space. These achievements have come with their own tragic elements too. It was a sad day indeed in early 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after take off, and another, Columbia, would be lost on re-entry in 2003.

Space Shuttle Columbia was famous in its own right as it was the first of all the space shuttles to be launched. Fittingly, it's maiden voyage was on 12 April 1981, exactly 20 years to the day after Yuri Gagarin. That timescale in itself is astonishing.

The tragedies of the many losses connected with the space program did not stop the pioneering efforts of the brave men and women involved. Now only two space shuttle missions remain. At the end of April Endeavor will start her last mission, and the final space shuttle to go into space will be Atlantis at the end of June. Discovery launched for the final time in February and is now safely home and on her way to a museum.

It seems strange to me that things which are incredibly difficult and awe inspiring, become just another part of life. Only when tragedy hits, such as the drama surrounding Apollo 13, or the two space shuttle losses, do the general public notice them again. Even the very last shuttle launch on 28 June will most likely be at the end of the news in their "and finally" slot.

However, it wont be the final chapter in man's adventure into space. Just as man pushed west across the prairies in America in the mid 1800s to populate new lands, so too will we push on into space, the final frontier.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Hasta Mañana

I make no apologies that for the second time in as many blogs, events have happened that I find myself writing a tribute to yet another of my young friends that has passed away prematurely. Not many readers will have known my friend, and cameraman, Richard Steel, but we all at one time or another lose someone close to us. The fact we grieve and talk about them is testament to our feelings for them.

“Hasta Mañana”. Richard would regularly sign off a telephone conversation with this, the literal translation being “until tomorrow”.

It is impossible to sum up Richard in one short blog. Professionally on set I could always rely on Richard to work hard and deliver the goods. He and I would regularly lock horns on set, simply because we were both passionate about our craft. But then the next day I would be helping him build raised vegetable beds in his garden, or have dinner together with Dawn, his surviving partner. Nothing ever got in the way of our friendship.

Recently he asked me to help write a biography for him in respect of his BAFTA membership application. Maybe this best sums him up:

In terms of leaders and followers Richard is very much in the category of the former. He constantly demonstrates a thirst for new ways to achieve what the director wants and regularly surprises his fellow industry professionals. I will often hear from Richard about new technology and a cutting edge approach to capturing a scene, only to find shortly after that others have copied his ingenuity and before long it has found it's way to rapidly becoming the accepted norm.

Apart from his ability to think outside the box, he has a rare combination of skills, from early development of creative ideas, through production and the edit process, be this in digital or film. This gives him an ability to understand the entire collaborative process and make everyone’s job that bit easier. But one of the main qualities that Richard possesses is his generosity. Never one to guard his niche jealously he is in his element in sharing his skills and expertise with those on their way up, reaching out a hand to nurture new talent in a very competitive industry”.

Richard and I met in the late ‘90s and if it hadn’t been for his enthusiasm and drive I doubt I would have returned to film making full time.

In 2004 one of the many highlights of working together was to film the Dalai Lama’s visit to Scotland.

But Richard was only one half of the package. The other was Dawn, his partner. They were great together, very comfortable with each other, and Dawn always has a smile for everyone. We are lucky to still have Dawn in our lives, and I know that Dawn still has us.

Hasta Mañana Rich.