Thursday, 27 December 2012

I believe in Santa Claus

It's OK, I'm not having a breakdown so there's no need to send for the men in white coats just yet.

This isn't really about the shed loads of presents that a fat man in a red suit squeezes down everyone's chimney each year, most of which you probably already have anyway, just not this years model or colour.

No. I'm referring to the man himself, or really, his persona.

Here's a guy that has what most teenagers really want these days . . . fame. Yet he's modest with it, but most of all he's kind, generous and thoughtful of others.

One of my friend's parents help out at a local church serving up a christmas meal on the morning of the 25th to whoever turns up, be it the elderly on their own or those in need of a good meal. One volunteer had been at a local supermarket just the day before to buy a dozen christmas puddings. A man behind her in the queue said, "wow, you must really like christmas pudding!" When she explained to him that actually it was for the free community meal the church provided, he took out his wallet and paid for them.

What a great spontaneous act of kindness.

I don't have children of my own, but many of my friends do. Over the past few years I've been invited to one of my friends for Christmas Day, and his sister's kids have always been there, excitedly opening presents, and then fighting over each others. Chaos usually ensues but it's all good fun and smiles and laughter abound, and the joy of Christmas is delivered to us through them.

It is very generous of my friend to invite me to this family gathering.

I definitely enjoy the giving more than the receiving, though I obviously enjoy both, who doesn't. This year I received a home made gift from a close friend. There's something very special about a gift that someone has spent time and imagination over, making it with just you in mind. A very personal gift. A gift that you know you'll always keep.

It's a very thoughtful act when someone takes the time to make something just for you.

So yes, I believe in Santa Claus.


Friday, 21 December 2012

200th

Amazingly this is my 200th blog.

The first was on 29 June 2009, all about a little film project I was trying to get off the ground called Bright Blue Button. In fact, it was that very project that prompted me to start a blog, in the hope that it might add some publicity to the project. I never thought I would continue much beyond the life of that film.

But, every week since, I have posted some nonsense about, well, what's rattling around in my brain I guess. Some of you have been there through the emotional journeys and the great highlights that have peppered the past three years.

Another reason for starting the blog was in some vain hope that by writing to a deadline every week my writing skills and grammar would improve. OK, so maybe I was aiming a little high, but for the majority of the time it has been an enjoyable experience.

My friend Pauline has started a new blog recently. From May 2010 to very recently she was posting the stories generated by her round the world cycle adventure, called The Bicycle Diaries. Her new blog is aptly titled The Outdoor Diaries. If it's well constructed sentences and structured stories you're looking for then Pauline's blog is the one to add to your favourites. Here's the link:


I have just heard that the film Sleepless 'til Seattle was not chosen for the Fargo Film Festival in 2013. This is a bitter blow. It was our favourite stop on the route and featured in the film. Had it been chosen there was every chance I would have attended as it was the week of my 50th birthday. Ah well, win some lose some.

I hope in some way you've enjoyed the 200 blogs over the past few years.

It's been fun.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Dancing on ice

It's been two and a half years since I've trekked and camped in the Scottish mountains with my friend Pauline. I guess there was the small matter of a round-the-world cycle in between. So we decided to take the opportunity of a window of available time and head north, though I thought it was going to be hillwalking, not hill skating.


With a good weather forecast we left Edinburgh for Blair Atholl, and the neighbouring valley Glen Tilt, on a late train on Tuesday evening. Arriving in Blair Atholl in the dead of night we were greeted with a bit of a surprise . . . snow!

Having travelled the night before we were in a great position to get an early start to our trek into the hills and Glen Tilt on a glorious day. Not a breath of wind and unbroken blue skies. However it was slow going as all the small streams that crossed the paths were frozen and we gingerly stepped across, occasionally skating as we lost our grip. One bridge was covered with two inches of solid polished ice making it impassable. Our only choice was to detour around.

All around us a frozen mist hung in the valleys and wildlife foraged for food in the frozen landscape. Up ahead roe deer darted across the path, their large white behinds flashing by; a mountain hare in its snowy white winter coat sprinted up the hillside; a puffed up robin kept us company as we trekked along.

We camped for the night next to an old stone bridge and our tents were pitched by four o'clock. By five o'clock, as the sun was casting its fire-red glow onto nearby mountains, the temperature had dropped to minus 5. Just one hour later it had plummeted to minus 10. During the night I was wearing my full thermals, trousers, two pairs of socks, three further layers up top, my hat and buff. Added to that I was wrapped up in a winter season sleeping bag . . . and I was still cold! On the bright side it never got entirely dark due to the clear sky and a proliferation of stars, their light reflecting off the surrounding snow.

The following day we opted to scale a nearby hill, ascending through soft six-inch deep snow, with small flurries of snow gently falling. As we neared the summit we entered some hill fog. I lost sight of Pauline up ahead and resorted to following her footprints in the snow.

Two hours later we were back down and wandering out along the track towards Blair Atholl and a hot bowl of soup. Streams that had flowed the previous day were now frozen due to the very low temperatures of the previous evening, creating an ice rink across our path every 20 feet or so. For five miles we stumbled and slid ungracefully.

Mind you, at one point Pauline almost managed a full pirouette which wouldn't have been out of place on Dancing On Ice. It was a pretty good 7 out of 10.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Trailer opens doors

Following last weeks disappointment when the door was slammed shut on my attempt to enter the film Sleepless 'til Seattle into the Sundance Film Festival, this week came some better news.

I have been working away on creating a trailer for the film for some time, and by Friday last week the final cut version was posted on YouTube. To keep regular visitors to the website up to date I then created a link using a clip from the film on the home page.

Then it was the busy task of emailing all my contacts, and Gordon Millar, the good friend who takes care of all the film's social media needs, started a Twitter and Facebook push. Within just a few hours the trailer had over 100 hits. Then various contacts on Twitter started to "retweet" our message and the hits soared past 500.

As a result it caught the attention of a local newspaper, The Evening News, and they made contact to arrange an interview with myself and Pauline this Friday morning in their offices, with a view to running a story on it all.

I'll include a link to the story on the next blog.

Only just having arranged the interview, and yet another conversation was had with another journalist from The Times newspaper, who have asked that as soon as the film is accepted into its first festival they want to run a story as well.

If you too would like to see the trailer then just click on the film clapperboard on the right and follow the link on the home page.

Just goes to show, as they say, one door closes another opens.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Sundance film festival

OK, so this is going to be a short blog this week. It's been a busy one, but productive, with a roller coaster of emotions.

Most of this year has been dominated with the post production of my feature-length documentary, Sleepless 'til Seattle. By the end of August, after nine months of editing, it was finished. The first deadline was to send it off to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, probably the most prestigious in the calendar.

Just two days ago I received notification that it had not made it into the festival. However, the competition was a little huge. They received 12,146 entries and selected just 170, which is only 1.4% of films submitted, so I shouldn't feel too hard done too.

Today another milestone in the film was reached: the trailer. It is now up online and you can watch it by linking through the website by clicking on the movie clapperboard on the right.


There are 12 more festivals to hear from, the next notification being on the 15th of December for Fargo, our favourite town along the adventure. It's a tiny small-town America film festival in comparison to Sundance, but in a lot of ways more important to Pauline and I.

Fingers crossed.


Thursday, 22 November 2012

Thanksgiving

In 1863 Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation stating that the last Thursday in November would be the day that Thanksgiving would be celebrated.

It wasn't until December 1941 that President Roosevelt passed a bill into law making the fourth Thursday in November as the official holiday marking Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving has its origins in a celebration during the Fall of 1621 when a feast was given to give thanks for a good harvest. A very important harvest being the first of such for the early settlers. Though the "good harvest" would technically have happened well before the end of November, it is nevertheless set in tradition, and law, now that the fourth Thursday in November is the celebratory date.

Some of my American friends have told me that it ranks as just as big a celebration with family and friends as Christmas and the 4th of July.

On my journey across the US in 2011 I witnessed and thoroughly enjoyed the 4th of July celebrations, and it is on my wish list to experience a traditional Thanksgiving one day.

It is also celebrated in Canada, on the second Monday of October, but there is no compelling narrative for its origin.

I'll end this weeks short blog by saying; I would split the word into two and reverse their order, and say that I Give Thanks for my friends all over the world that have made the experiences in my life so far a personal good harvest.

I wish all my friends across the pond a happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Skyfall

This weeks blog is written by guest blogger Pauline Symaniak, my fellow adventurer on the long cycle adventure across the USA in summer 2012.

It’s mid November, the evenings are drawing in and winter is coming to get us. But there is still so much wonder in nature as I discovered under the night sky and in the fall forests of the Cairngorms.
With a heavy pack and several days food, I jumped off the train in Aviemore and in the gathering dusk, climbed up through the ancient pines of Rothiemurchus onto open ground and the start of the Lairig Ghru, that most famous of Scottish mountain passes. Its gigantic gouge in the vast Cairngorm Plateau has for centuries linked Speyside to Deeside and the cattle trysts of Perthshire. Just where the pass steepens and squeezes between the dark, plunging cliffs of Lurcher’s Crag and the lower slopes of Braeriach, I have a favourite place to pop up my tent. And so I did, grateful in the inky night for a layer of snow that captured a smidgen of starlight from the sky above.
A bitterly cold winter wind whipped across the place. I huddled in my tent and sparked the stove into life. Meatballs served with a dollop of instant mash that had the taste and consistency of a wet snowball were followed by a warming cup of tea. In the pitch black of an icy mountain night, all there was to do was stare at the star-studded sky. But tonight there weren’t only stars up there. To the northwest, above the pointed outline of Carn Eilrig, the sky was illuminated by a pale silver, strobing light. Charged particles in the high atmosphere were getting excited and creating the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.
That spectacle was my last view of the sky for a few days as dense cloud and rain hunkered down over the mountain tops but I snatched the tail-end of fall as I skulked around in the forests below and threw my tent up each night under big, granny pines. A few birch trees stoically held onto the last of their golden leaves while the bare branches of the others cast a beautiful purple veil over the landscape. The larch had dropped their orange needles which gathered on the trails, turning them the colour of Irn-Bru, and on the open hill mountain hares were in mid-metamorphosis, with mottled grey and white coats. Fall’s fireworks were giving way to winter’s more subtle palette.
On my last day, determined to get up a hill no matter what, I dragged myself up through knee-high heather and low-flying grouse onto the top of Creag Dhubh above Gleann Einich. I picked my way along the summit ridge as thick mist and smirr were blasted through by Arctic winds and crouched down to eat my lunch behind the Argyll Stone, a huge boulder left behind by retreating glaciers. Just when I thought a view was lost and so was I, the sun punched a hole in the snow-laden, grey-blue clouds and shafts of weak sunshine flooded Strathspey below, looking breath-taking in the browns and golds of its autumn garb.
It lasted only a moment. The clouds drew in again like curtains at the end of a play. I made the long descent and trekked through the forests to Aviemore to catch my train home. Just as I turned back to the Cairngorms for one last look, the clouds dissipated and weak winter sun cast a peachy light over the Rothiemurchus woods. A final encore from the sky and the fall!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Barack Obama and the American Dream

Since cycling across the US and coming home I have been craving and absorbing everything American. I don't mean things like McDonalds or in-feasibly large cars, but certainly some of their TV programmes, culture and politics.

So, as you can imagine, this past week has been very exciting with the US Presidential elections.

It's easy for me to say now, but all the way through the campaigns and on the day itself, I somehow knew Barack Obama would get back in for a second term. I was fascinated by how close the polls put Romney and Obama, and yet an online poll, one of many, put Obama's popularity outside of America at 82% over Romney.

Once the election had played out and the outcome was a certainty for Obama, there was a surprising reaction. It's almost as if people shrugged their shoulders and said, yep, knew that was gonna happen, thank goodness that's out of the way. When he had won in 2008 there was a palpable ripple that went around the world. The American Dream was alive and well.

However, a lot of Americans now feel the American Dream is dead, or at the very least, wilting. I noticed this during last year while crossing the northern states. Everywhere was the same, a kind of resignation that things were spiralling downwards. I was saddened by this. And worried.

Regardless of what your opinion may be of the US, it's foreign policy and it's loud culture, right now the rest of the world needs America to feel good about itself, to be confident and to believe in the American Dream. We need America to succeed, or at least believe it is possible. From this I think recovery could begin as the rest of the world are encouraged by America picking itself up and dusting itself down.

But that's just my opinion.

Closer to home I was encouraged and boosted by a recent success of a close friend of mine, and writer, Innes McQuillin.
After constantly trying, and constantly being rejected, he had persevered, then  just a couple of weeks ago had a submission accepted and broadcast by the BBC on the radio.

I've been trying for a lot longer and haven't achieved this level of recognition, but now I've witnessed this it's entirely possible, with the right conviction and determination, that dreams can come true.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Hurricane Sandy

No doubt you will all know about the recent events happening in America on the eastern seaboard with Hurricane Sandy. Astonishing images seeing the streets of New York City under water, like scenes from the fictional film, The Day After Tomorrow.

We think of flooding on this scale of only affecting places such as Bangladesh, not a cosmopolitan metropolis like New York. However, they are better equipped to deal with such a disaster, but it still devastates lives. In July 2011 I witnessed first hand the results of major flooding when passing through Minot in North Dakota. On that occasion 12,000 people were displaced.

My heart goes out to the people affected, and to my friends who live and work in that area.

But, I was somewhat dismayed and angry when today, after signing out of Hotmail, reading on the MSN homepage, negative comments about the American people. Stupid comments, like they brought it on themselves, and, serves them right as they are a nation who don't care about anyone. These are obviously posts by people who have never set foot in America.

After my own experience and time over there I can truly say I have a greater understanding of the American people. A more generous and caring people toward strangers I have never met. They are not judgemental in any way and are first to offer help, then figure out how to make things work, unlike some people in my own country, I'm sad to say.

If I could I'd emigrate!

We spend too much time criticising and sneering at the success of others in this country, and for some reason develop a dislike of people based purely on they being more successful than ourselves. That said I am pleased to have a large circle of friends that do not think this way, and are they themselves very supportive and caring.

In June this year I had the privilege to work closely with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his visit to Scotland. I recall something he said; "we are here in this life to help others. If you cannot do this for whatever reason, then don't hurt anyone".

I wonder how the people that wrote the cutting comments about the American people would fare if they were the victims of such a disaster. The way our climate is chainging radically it may not be too long until we find out.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Beach home

I've been very lucky to have lived in a nice little apartment just yards from a mile-long beach and the sea for the past 23 years. I've seen many things and people come and go in all that time, but the beach has remained just as it was . . . almost.

Very recently my friend Pauline returned to Scotland. For 14 years this area was her home and it still held its magic for her after a two year absence.

It was because of her love of the area that I "saw" Portobello again. Every day for 23 years I had stepped out of the apartment on my way somewhere, and most of the time would walk along the promenade with the golden sands of the beach and the sea beyond off to my right. But after 23 years you start to almost not notice it.

Occasionally a storm will kick up, creating breaking waves seven or eight feet high, and you notice it on those days. I have a window seat that I can sit and watch the waves crashing in, roaring as they do so.

Over the past 12 months the beach has changed in shape. Mistakenly two years ago the city council decided to redistribute the sand over the whole length as it had been tossed around and scattered during a particularly violent storm in 2009. The end result of the councils work however only made things worse. The beach now has very strange tidal flows, and in some places the erosion has increased. You would think by now we would know you can't tame the sea or mess with mother nature.

I actually quite like the new look of the beach. Just this morning as I wandered along I could see that the high tide hadn't come all the way up the beach, and had left behind a straggled line of drift wood and seaweed marking its furthest advance, creating a wild look. Hard to believe its all on the edge of the capital city of Scotland.

Long may my friend visit and remind me of the joys of this almost wild place.

I'm very lucky to live here. My beach home.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Sustainable travel

Well, in my opinion climate change is a definite. Just this past week we have had everything from warm and glorious blue-sky days, to dark, windy and constant rainfall weather systems, with literally just hours apart.  It really is just a case of opening the curtains and looking outside for the forecast.

Monday was a fantastic day. It was pretty cold first thing but there wasn't a breath of wind. Taking advantage of the good weather I set off at 9.30am on my bicycle to tick off five chores I had to do that day. The route took me all over my home city of Edinburgh, at one point up a rather steep mile-long hill on the south side of the city. I attended a hospital appointment, picked up theatre tickets, dropped an item off at a friends, attended a meeting (after a Starbucks refreshment on the way!) and helped a friend out at this house. It was very satisfying to do all these things over the course of the day using my bicycle, powered by my own energy.

Tuesday looked like another great day, so I set off on my bicycle for my usual one-hour circuit in the morning in glorious blue skies with not a breath of wind. Twenty minutes later I was furiously pedalling home trying to stay ahead of an ominous black cloud. I didn't make it and arrived home freezing cold and soaked through.

Wednesday. Now we were thrown into an Indian-style monsoon! Waves were pounding the beach nearby and the rain was dense and heavy, not letting up all day. I was out in it several times during the day, wrapped up in waterproofs head to toe, but it still got through.

An Australian couple stopped me at one point to ask directions to an outdoor store where they could buy camping gas, and for directions to get out of the city to go north into the highlands. They were camping. Then they asked when I thought the rain would go off. I couldn't resist and replied, what month is this?

Scotland has always had a mixed bag of weather, with rarely two days the same, but this year has been more varied than usual and the weather systems have definitely been stronger and wilder.

It pleases me that at least I'm doing my bit to reduce greenhouse gases by using my bicycle to do most of my journeys in the city. Not to mention the benefits to my weight, fitness and the fortune I must be saving in fuel and parking fees.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Outdoor Cure


A number of years ago I injured my spine and had a very successful, though risky, operation to fix the problem. Occasionally it flares up and hurts like hell, and at the end of last week this is exactly what happened. From previous experience I knew that walking, especially on uneven ground, can help.

It was poor timing because I had been planning to get away into the highlands with my tent for a few days because of the settled beautiful autumn weather. However, all was not lost because just 10 miles from my house is a range of hills called the Pentlands, and so, late morning, I found myself setting off into the regional park.

It was a quick and relatively easy walk to the top of the first hill, Allermuir. It has a trig point at the top and used to have a brass viewpoint indicator, pointing out landmarks near and far, but it has been removed recently for repair by the National Trust for Scotland.

The route up the hill starts at the bottom of Europe's largest artificial ski slope. I hadn't been in this area for over two years and as I walked past the centre was surprised to see it had grown and they have expanded the area. There's a lot of ground damage from the construction but over time I'm sure this will repair. The route then follows what they have named the Capital View Walk. This path had also been upgraded and to me was suitable now for 4-wheel-drive vehicles. The upgrade was unnecessary in my view and has created a scar on the landscape. The path winds it's way round the base of Allermuir and turns south through to the next glen.  I turned off the path earlier and took a more direct route up.

Soon at the top it was time for my favourite pastime: lunch. I shared the top with a number of people out for the day in the hills together with the token cute dog called May.

The views were spectacular on this cloudless day. Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth lay below me to the north, with the view stretching almost 100 miles to the edge of the highlands and the 2883foot high mountain Ben Ledi. To the south west the hills opened up creating a natural glen that contains two of Edinburgh's reservoirs.

Lunch over I set off over the neighbouring hills, and though there was a lot of people out enjoying the day there was enough space to feel I had it all to myself. I turned south down toward Glencorse reservoir then sat for a while, listening to the bird song and watching the world go by. There wasn't a breath of wind and despite it approaching mid October there was enough heat in the sun to sit without a jacket.

Completing a circular route I finished my 4 hour trek in the hills feeling inspired and satisfied. My back pain seemed no better but time would tell.

Two days later things had started to change and my back was feeling a good bit better. I set off on my bicycle to ride a 30mile round trip to my childhood town of Penicuik (penny-cook). I had lived there from age 11 to 15 and the route is fantastic for bicycles as it keeps you off roads for much of the way.

There wasn't a breath of wind as I picked my way along what would be called "rails to trails" in America, passing the remains of old railway stations across old iron bridges and through several tunnels. The sunlight was broken up through the trees on either side, creating dancing patterns on the trail, and the leaves of the trees already fallen scrunched under my tyres.

Just an hour and a half later, I arrived in Penicuik. I took a little tour of the main high street and up to my old high school. Memories of my high school days are not good unfortunately, but I'm happy that I've probably achieved way more than the bullies from those times. I was saddened by the closed down look of the high street, now a pedestrian precinct, and as I sat there in the warm autumn sunshine eating my lunch I could picture myself 35 years ago wandering the street during school lunch break.  Just yards away, now gone sadly, was where a bicycle shop used to be where I bought my first bicycle at age 14. Little did I know then that one day I would cycle across the USA.

With the sun at my back I turned for home. It had been a great run and all the more special as it marked the day one year ago that Pauline and I finally finished our great adventure in America.

Another two days later and my back has all but cured itself thanks to the outdoor therapy.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Now that's a breakfast!

A number of years ago, in more fun times, I was on one of the many hillwalks with my friends Pauline and Andrew, on this occasion in the Cairngorm in the highlands of Scotland.

We had just finished and were heading out of the hills when we popped out of the forest into a settlement called Rothiemurcus and headed straight into a small cafe there called the Ord Ban. Sadly the Ord Ban is no longer, but on that day Andrew and I had the most fabulous treat.

They served up this delicious French toast with smoked bacon and a sweet sauce ladled over it. It was heavenly, and the other day I recreated it as a treat for breakfast.

Here's what you need:
2 think slices of wholemeal bread. The artisan type, not the soft floppy type by Sunblest or the likes.
1 egg. If you can find them, duck eggs are the best.
6 rashers of good quality smoked bacon.
Real maple syrup.

Toast the bread. Beat the egg then coat all sides of the toast in the egg. Fry in olive oil. Grill the bacon until it's how you like it, then stack a plate with the toast, bacon, more toast and the last of the bacon. The finishing touch is to smother it in maple syrup.

Fantastic!

It brought back fond memories.

I believe that this dish originated in Canada, which doesn't surprise me given that maple syrup is key to this dish.

Enjoy.

As an aside, an alternative venue for breakfast, should you find yourself up near Rothiemurcus in the shadow of the Cairngorm, is Glenmore cafe just five miles up the road. Their bacon rolls are legendary and you get a free show of Scotland's cutest mammal coming down to feed right at the windows of the cafe, the red squirrel.

Hoping to get back there some time soon for the autumn colours in the surrounding forest.

Photo by Gary Lowes

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Storm Bound

What a past few days it has been in Scotland.

Just last week I was enjoying day after day of fantastic autumn weather; cool days, beautiful colours starting to appear and blue skies.

Then on Sunday all that changed.

A storm blew in, fuelled partly by the leftover energy of tropical storm Nadine in the Atlantic sucked in by low pressure in the Bay of Biscay moving north, and dumped a months worth of rain in one day in some places. The wind rattled the windows and ripped the leaves and branches from trees. I spent part of the day mesmerised by the sea, just 20m from my house, as six foot waves tumbled and crashed onto the beach. A fantastic sight and an impressive sound as the sea roared.

The following day the storm was starting to lose its energy but it was still wild. Then all was quiet, and a walk along the beach revealed a rather different landscape from just a few days before. The sea had sculpted the mile and a half long beach into a new shape and decorated the surface with all manner of drift wood material. It reminded me of west coast north American beaches on the edge of the Pacific. Today the beach is still the same but soon I suspect the clean up tractors will start to remove the debris, which is a shame in some ways as it looks great right now.

There has been a lot of people flooded out of their homes in England and it reminded me of the people of Minot that we had met, who had lost everything in a major flood, during the cycle across the US in 2011.

I have to admit that I love the wild weather. Maybe I wouldn't be such a fan if I were to be flooded out of course, but the changes that occur at this time of year are always of great interest. It's the end of nature's life cycle for the year, transitioning through to winter.

In last weeks blog I was out enjoying the autumn changes on my bike, but what a difference a week makes.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Free potatoes

Once again we are entering my favourite time of year, Autumn, or for my American friends, the Fall.

There's something quite magical about the change in the air as it turns cooler, but not cold. The first signs of gold are starting to appear on the trees and bushes in my garden, and the sunlight has a sparkle to it like no other time of year, with a little warmth still there in it's rays.

Most days are calm, blue skies with sunrise later in the morning and sunset becoming increasingly earlier in the evenings, shortening the day.

Spring, summer and winter all seem to be increasingly hard to pinpoint these days, with the weather in chaos globally, and it is true that autumn is getting later each year, but it has a distinct smell and colour to it that leaves you in no doubt that change is on the way.

Walks and cycle rides are particularly enjoyable at this time of year. Just a few days ago I was out for a late night walk, on my way home from friends, when something caught my eye as I passed the end of a road leading to the beach.

Just a few yards up was an adult fox with it's distinct red coat, out on its nightly prowl, foraging for free food no doubt. We stood staring at each for what seemed an age, before the fox calmly trotted off in search of some morsel's scent he had picked up on the night air.

Today, on a glorious day, I was out for a couple of hours run on my bicycle locally. As I trundled along, my mind elsewhere, I was marvelling at the sight of farm workers harvesting a field of potatoes. I stopped and watched a while, with memories of childhood flooding back, when I would work in the autumn holidays to help harvest the potato crop. As I watched I noticed that the machinery had already cleared the field nearest to me, and all along the edge where missed potatoes. Not one to let anything go to waste I clambered down and filled my saddle bag.

Just like my foxy friend I too had found a free treat, and I'm sure they will taste all the better for it.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Finished


Today the film I've been working on for two years, Sleepless 'til Seattle, was finally finished.

The edit decisions of the film were complete about a week ago and the past seven days have all been about tweaking the technical issues with the film. It very nearly wasn't of course, when the main storage device collapsed last week.

Back in September 2010, having just returned home from cycling the Camino in Northern Spain with Pauline, the idea was first suggested by Pauline that we should cycle across the USA together. This would be just one section of her bigger round the world adventure.

Ideas went back and forth of where to start and whether to go west to east, the accepted direction of travel, or east to west, which would be against the prevailing wind. But there had been a later than usual record snowfall, and some of the passes we would have to cross in the Cascades and the Rockies were not yet open in May and unlikely to be so for many weeks yet, so the decision was made for us.

I came up with the idea of making a film all about it early on, but this would end up presenting challenges not just technically but personally on a daily basis.

So we met up in Plymouth and set off in the direction of Seattle from Plymouth, camera in hand, with no idea what to expect.

Six months later, and the adventure of a lifetime behind me, I was back in the UK to start post production on the film. That was last October, so it's been just a month short of two years in the making.

I am surprised now, all things taken into consideration, just how much this low budget documentary has actually cost. And it isn't over yet. There are many high costs ahead in terms of providing an exhibition quality version plus all the festival entry fees and postage. FedEx to the States for example is £40 each time, on top of the entry fee. It all adds up.

I think had I known how much it would cost at the start I would probably not have done it.

But it is the  emotional cost that has been too high. On reflection I missed so much of the adventure, with my focus on capturing all the footage and interviews most of the time. This had a direct effect on my fellow adventurer too of course, and I marvel now at her high level of patience throughout. I had also decided to make and post video diaries along the way, and this was definitely a mistake. It meant whenever we got a day off I would be working away trying to complete the next instalment, so I never really had a chance to relax.

The frustration of not getting "thee" shot on occasion also led to high stress levels, and at the end of the day it was meant to be a fun and chilled out ride. But despite all this it was an incredible experience, and the people of America that we met along the way will stay in our hearts forever. All said and done we have a great visual record of the adventure.

These things are easy to see on hind sight. I know I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Pauline, and a very big apology. I hope one day to have an opportunity to make it up to her. Hopefully something positive will come from the film for both of us which may in some way make it all worth while.

It is now in the process of being made ready to send on Monday to it's first festival, Sundance.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

When it works


You must be a new reader of my blogs if you don't know the entire past 9  months of my life have been consumed with a feature film project.

I'm about one week away from finishing it completely.

Or was.

I'd been having problems with the project crashing on me, and very recently I was getting issues with the playback of the film on the computer with it constantly freezing on me. I knew there was a problem somewhere but couldn't track it down.

Then two days ago the external drive array holding the entire project files had a drive fail. The whole project went belly up. However, the saving grace is that I use a storage device called a RAID. I wont get into technical details as I hardly understand how it works myself, but apparently all I need to do is replace the faulty drive and it will repair itself.

In principal that's reassuring, but at first attempt I was told it will take weeks to get the new drive, which would be pointless as I need to send the finished project to it's first main festival in 10 days! However, with a bit of pressure from me, the manufacturer's support team have come up trumps.

As I write this blog I am waiting on UPS overnight to deliver a new drive to replace the dead one, then the company will take remote access of the system and attempt to fix the problem, which I find amazing and a little scary at the same time.

It is a fantastic system, superfast, developed by Apple and Intel and made by Promise Technology.

At least it's fantastic when it works.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Crash Bang Wallop

The gargantuan task of editing my very first feature film is nearing its end, albeit a travel documentary and not a dramatic, action-packed, star-studded big-budget thriller, but it's my first feature film nonetheless. However, the computer system I'm using is crashing more times than a demolition derby.

As I get nearer and nearer to the end, Final Cut Pro, the editing software, is the culprit, crashing as many as five times in a day. There's obviously a bug or something seriously wrong somewhere, so it's nerve racking just now trying to get the film output in a format I can save just in case all goes pear-shaped. As I type I've been trying to reach this goal for the last 36 hours and I'm still not there.

Whilst trying to remain calm and patient, my thoughts turn to how long the whole project has taken. From the initial proposal to cross America by bicycle, through to actually doing it, to reaching this near-completion stage of the film, has taken one month short of two years, and for a film with "no budget" has taken a surprising amount of money to achieve, mostly spent on equipment.

Then there's the thoughts of "what next?" After the film has reached it's moment of completion, I suppose there is the next mammoth task of choosing and entering it into film festivals, which will no doubt keep me just as busy, just as stressed out and be just as expensive overall. I've set my sights high but my attitude is I've made this much effort to get this far I have to at least try to achieve the best end result.

I already have an idea for the next film, but that is some way off, maybe in 2013.

But I can already feel  the approaching inevitable "down" after it's all over, so I've been trying to create an event that I can set my sights on to look forward to.

Next March I turn half a century, and I have no idea how to celebrate, if that's the right word.

Until now.

As Pauline and I crossed America, the town that we looked forward to the most, and which lived up to all the expectations, was Fargo in North Dakota. In the four days leading up to my birthday next year, Fargo holds its annual film festival. So I'm going to enter the film into their festival, and if I'm lucky enough to be accepted, I'd like to go to attend. The town and its art-deco theatre feature in the film afterall. Then there's then one day after the festival for me to travel home and join friends on their way out to Italy for a cheapy ski trip.

That sounds like a pretty good 50th to me.

Hopefully there wont be any serious crashes that week.