Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Wish I'd never started

Ever had what you think is a good idea, only to later regret it?

For some time now the entrance door to the communal stair that my apartment is contained within has been in need of a fresh lick of paint. So, a few days ago I set about doing just that. By the time I'd scraped, sanded, filled, sanded again and primed, I was pretty fed up. So much so it has remained a work in progress for the past couple of weeks.

You'd think the frustration with this project would stick in my head. However . . .

Also for some time now, in fact I would say for the past few years, various parts of the apartment have been looking tired and need of a remodel. It was my good friend Pauline, currently pedaling furiously north through Italy, who had drawn my attention to this fact before she left in 2010. Over time when you live with something for a while you tend not to see the bits and pieces that need attention, but when I returned from the USA last October it was glaringly obvious.

So it was with hammer and chisel in hand, and a rough plan, that I set about removing an old pipe box. On doing so I damaged the ceiling. So, down came the ceiling. In doing that I managed to break one of the light fitting assemblies! Now the kitchen is covered in a constant layer of fine dust and the task ahead is daunting. Not only am I going to have reinstate the ceiling with new, but now also the lighting.

Then I had a bright idea to create a feature on one wall.

The good news is I can shut the door and ignore it. Maybe by the time Pauline cycles back into Edinburgh in two months time I might have finished it.

But then again . . .

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Moments worth remembering

You must have been hiding away in a dark cave somewhere remote not to know that last weekend was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, on 15 April 1912.

I couldn't help feeling a little cynical. I don't mean that I don't think it was a tragedy. I do. But I couldn't help feel that blockbuster-movie-studios and TV networks all jumped on the bandwagon, flooding (pardon the pun) our theatres and TV screens with their unique take and explanation on those tragic events. That said, I was sucked in.

A series of events came together on that night to claim the lives of 1514 people. It was all very sad. The Titanic represented the dreams of many and its passing robbed them and their loved ones of those dreams. It does shock me, no matter which movie version I watch, be that A Night To Remember or James Cameron's Leonardo D'icaprio and Kate Winslet offering, just as I am equally shocked when I see repeats of the twin towers collapsing.

Hollywood regularly makes disaster movies. It took almost 50 years after the event for Hollywood to make a film of the Titanic loss, but barely 5 years passed before a plethora of movies appeared about the 2996 lives lost during the 911 terrorist attacks.

But in terms of human loss these pale compared to some since the Titanic sank to her watery grave. In 1932 a famine in Russia claimed an astonishing 5 million people, and the grandaddy of them all, the Spanish flu pandemic, claimed over 50 million worldwide in 1918.

Yet we don't, maybe thankfully, see movies of these events hitting our screens. What we get instead are films about the Hindenburg for example, where a small amount of human life was lost in comparison.

Why is this? Why the fascination with these smaller events. Is it more manageable for our minds to cope with and imagine? How long will it be before we see movies about losing 7 astronauts in the Challenger and Columbia shuttle events? There have certainly been a number of documentaries on more recent natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and most recently, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, which has claimed almost 20,000 lives, and counting.

So is it which stories studios feel would be in better taste than others to make? Or is Hollywood simply out of original stories of its own? It's certainly got something to do with our human morbid curiosity. It certainly doesn't rely on a passage of any significant length of time these days.

I actually think it's the romantically tragic side of the most well known stories that drives their appeal. Ironic that something so terrible, and largely preventable, could be romanticised a century later. But they epitomise the loss of dreams, the forced changes in our lives and the loss of close loved ones. Hollywood tries to make it more personable and hence they become immortalised in our memories, even though we weren't actually there at the time in most cases. I wonder if we would be marking the sinking of the Titanic if Cameron had not made his film in 1997.

Whatever it is, James Cameron feels that it's time to experience more of the reality and has released Titanic in 3D.

What next? I hate to think.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

In the shadow of the Grey Corries

The last time I camped out in the highlands of Scotland was in Knoydart, and I had just returned from Spain cycling the Camino with my friend Pauline.

That was October 2010!!!

So it was long overdue that I packed my rucksack and headed out into the wilds. Just a few weeks ago I had trekked the short but fabulous wildcat trail with my friend Andrew, and it was with his great company again that we ventured out for a 2-day overnight adventure.

Our start point was the remote highland rail station of Corrour. A number of miles before Corrour the train passed by Bridge of Orchy and we sat in silence staring out of the window at several inches of fresh snow. We hadn't planned for this!

However, though Corrour is much higher than Bridge of Orchy, the snow cover was confined to the tops of the surrounding mountains.

From Corrour we headed north to Loch Trieg through very changeable weather and resigned ourselves to walking in our waterproofs for the rest of the day.

The surrounding mountains were glorious and looked all the more impressive as their craggy slopes were picked out in snow. After less than an hour we had reached Loch Trieg and had set this as our lunch stop. As we unpacked the Baby Bel cheese and trail mix we met David, the owner of a North Face tent pitched nearby.

As we chatted away it slowly came out that David, probably in his mid to late 50s, had given up what we call normal life and had lived in his tent in the highlands of Scotland for, wait for it, the past 4 years! Now, last year I lived in a tent for 150 days but that was in glorious dry weather mostly in the USA, and my friend Pauline is still out in the wider world in her tent, clocking up 20 months so far, but Scotland for 4 years!? I couldn't see me managing that. To cap it all David has a heart condition, a serious one at that.

We were impressed to say the least. I asked him if he missed anything after all this time, and he said he didn't, but it was clear as time went on he was trying to keep the conversation going as long as possible. We had a few hours walking still ahead of us before our camp for the night so unfortunately we had to leave. He's still out there right now. I hope he is well.
By late afternoon and under heavy skies, we reached a small bothy in a valley called Larig Leacach, in the shadow of the mighty Grey Corries. The pointed peak of Stob Ban was clearly visible in the late evening sunset.

The following morning we woke early to glorious blue skies, peppered with white cloud. After breakfast we struck our tents and planned our route up nearby Stob Ban. However, by now the weather was once again changeable, and squalls of rain and snow kept sweeping through at regular intervals. We decided that there was too much snow on Stob Ban for us to reach the summit, so instead we left our packs in the bothy and walked to the summit of its shoulder.

There were spectacular views from there to the snow capped ridges of the Mammores and further south to Glencoe.
It was a real pity that the snow cover looked too unpredictable and the weather too changeable that it prevented us from reaching the ridge of the Grey Corries. It has been well over a decade since I trekked its impressive ridge with Pauline.

Lunch over back down at the bothy we set off north along good landrover track to catch our train home from Spean Bridge. Mother nature hadn't quite finished with us yet though, as a loud and impressive thunderstorm came through when we were only half way out.

As for the Grey Corries. They will have to wait until another day.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Hunger Games

Recently, persuaded by the hype, I went to see the new movie, The Hunger Games, directed by Gary Ross who gave us Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. It is the first in a trilogy, based on the books by Suzanne Collins. Oh, a Hollywood franchise. There's something different!

The premise is set in "our" future, supposedly. But then Stanley Kubrik's iconic film said we would have a fully operational base on the moon by 2001.

Anyway, it's set many years in the future and 74 years previously, an impoverished population rose up in rebellion against their rich and powerful controllers, and lost. What we surmise is The Hunger Games is payback, and every year the losers must give up two teenagers, chosen by a lottery, to take part in a "game", which is a televised fight to the death against two others from each of a further eleven districts. The winner is the last one left alive. If you're yawning at this point, don't worry. I was too.

The film is like a mix of Roman gladiators, meets Lord of the Flies, meets Big Brother. For the fans of the latter I'm sure it will hit it's mark. For me it fell far short of any mark. I would go even as far as to say it was positively boring in parts. At two and a half hours the film was far too long and it felt as if more than 50% of the film was taken up by background and the build up to the games themselves. Now that they've set up the background to "the games", at length, I think that the next 2 films will be high up on the boredom spectrum.

Tom Stern is the cinematographer and for some reason he thought it was a good idea for almost every shot to be shaky and an extreme close up of people's nasal passages, possibly to heighten the terror, of which there wasn't any. As a result it didn't feel as if it had been shot for the cinema. I found myself turning away at points and rubbing my eyes due to the motion sickness effect it was creating.

The enormity of the participants task in the game, to basically murder each other, is not really explored. Certainly the main character appears unnerved by the prospect, briefly, but other than that it just didn't feel plausible. The action scenes are pretty much a bunch of teenagers wrestling on the ground with jerky and disjointed camera moves. Considering that the premise says that everyone has been chosen by lottery with no prior knowledge that they may be participating, most of them take it in their stride, and I just didn't buy that.

If you're a fan of reality TV and think that it plausible that one day the producers of said TV programmes will take it to an extreme when the finalists of X-Factor will have to kill each other to win (I wish), then you'll love this film.

If you're not a fan then go and see the Most Exotic Marigold Hotel. It was fab!