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


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


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.