Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Dalai Lama visit to Scotland

Back in 2004, as a result of a documentary I had made on an exiled Tibetan monk, I was asked to be the producer/director to film a visit to Scotland by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It was a great privilege and honour and I've never forgotten the experience. On that occasion he visited Edinburgh and Dunfermline.

For the past few months I have been involved in yet another visit to Scotland by HH, and for three days last week I reprised my role as producer/director for the Dalai Lama's tour, this time visiting Edinburgh, Dundee and Inverness.

The forecast was appalling, with it set to rain heavily for the duration of his visit. This could have caused us a number of problems as my crews were to film all of his arrivals and departures outside.  True enough on the Thursday as he arrived at the hotel in Edinburgh it must have reminded him of an Indian monsoon. However, as the visit progressed over the next few days, almost every time he appeared at a venue, the rain ceased and occasionally the sun even came out. There was one great moment as he was ascending a set of stairs to the courtyard in front of the Caird Hall in Dundee. As he took the last step from the tunnel of stairs onto the courtyard the sun broke through and bathed the whole scene in glorious sunshine.

At the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, the Caird Hall in Dundee and the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, he delivered a speech followed by a Q&A from local school pupils. Outside those that had not been able to get tickets waited patiently for a glimpse of the great man for just a few seconds as he arrived and left. It was amazing the effect this brief moment had on people. Just to see him brought tears of emotion to some. Myself and my crew had a job to do, and as such we had unlimited access to HH, and at times I would be within a foot of him, but the privilege of this was not lost on me.

On the way to Inverness HH briefly visited Blair Athol Castle, and he made a request to visit the secret garden. We had used a landrover to get him to a small entrance door to the garden, but embarrassingly no one could get the door open. But he was very gracious and hid his disappointment saying, "I think secret garden will remain secret today".

On the Saturday we finished our shoot and the crew left Inverness to return home. I had been given the opportunity to stay in the same castle as the Dalai Lama for his final night in Scotland and to have a photograph taken with him before he left at a very early hour on the Sunday, bound for Italy.

Though I worked hard for those days for free, just being a part of the whole event was payment enough.

I wonder if he will ever return and I will have a third lucky involvement.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

My bicycle

For the past six days I have been glued to the edit suite, bringing together the feature film of my cycle, with my friend Pauline, across the USA last year. But as I cut and assembled interviews with characters we met, put in place my pieces-to-camera and linked it all with great scenery and shots of us cycling, I marvelled at one constant. My bicycle.

Like most of my friends, I am still amazed that I managed to cycle from Boston to Seattle, not without a few moans, groans and tantrums, as Pauline could confirm. I am also amazed at how this fairly simple piece if engineering design, powered only by the motion of our legs, took us easily all the way to the west coast.

Since 1885, when John Kemp Stanley came up with a diamond shape frame design, the bicycle hasn't really changed. Certainly it has evolved, with pneumatic tyres instead of hard wooden wheels, and the derailleur as we know it today being added in 1905, but overall it has remained unchanged.

My cycle across the USA pales in comparison to Pauline's adventure. She's now been on the road for almost two years and is close to completing the circle, all the way round the world on her bicycle. I'm very proud of her. Pauline has done one other thing I haven't: she's named her bike. It's called Shirley, named after a character in one of her favourite films, Shirley Valentine.

The bike I used across America is still packed away and my occasional cycle now is on an older bicycle. I'm hoping I'll have a reason to assemble my Trans America bike again in the not too distant future. I have been keeping a hold of hope since returning last October, to return to the US and cycle from south to north and into Canada, following what is known as the Underground Railroad. As time goes by that's looking less and less likely sadly. But who knows.

Today I completed a sequence in the edit that travels through Glacier National Park in western Montana, cut to music. It still makes my heart soar every time I watch it. A stunning highlight. Most days in the edit suite I'm treated to many fantastic memories of that epic journey. I'm very lucky to have such a visual keepsake.

I have a deadline of the end of July to finish cutting the film, and then the polishing will begin to hopefully have a completed film at the beginning of September. It's first test as a film will be entry into the Sundance Film festival, which is held in January. I hope it will be good enough to be accepted.

I'll never forget the journey I did with Pauline. The greatest adventure I've ever had. And all on my bicycle.

I love my bike.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Olympic torch relay

I'm a day later than usual with my blog as I have been waiting for a special event.

Up bright and early this morning and cycling into Edinburgh city centre at 6.30am. I was heading for the Pleasance, one of the areas of the older parts of the city, to capture on film one of the handovers of the Olympic torch.

The day before it had arrived in glorious sunshine across the Forth Road Bridge, carried by round-the-world record-holding cyclist and adventurer Mark Beaumont. It entered the capital to the rapturous applause of thousands of people lining the streets and it's final destination for Wednesday was the castle esplanade where an evening of entertainment had also been laid on.

There had been much speculation about the torch not being well received in Scotland, but everyone has risen to the occasion and the majority have embraced the whole event.

Right on time, at 8.15am, the torch arrived, preceded by much fanfare. I was fortunate to be right beside the handover point, and due to the early hour, and thus less people, I was able to get quite close.

Here's a link to the film I shot:

The torch itself is perforated with 8,000 holes, each representing one of the torch bearers. It has 3 sides represent the Olympic motto of faster, higher, stronger, and the Olympic values of respect, excellence and friendship. Each torch bearer has the option, for a price, to keep the torch that they carry, which I thought was a great idea.

I have to admit feeling a little emotional. It was very inspirational. A small moment in time in history in 2012, and I was there. That felt good.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Deuchary Hill

I've trekked a great number of the Scottish mountains and hills, mostly thanks to the brilliant organsing skills of my friend Pauline. These however all that is a thing of the distant past, and now it's up to me and fellow hillwalker Andrew to come up with routes. Needless to say we mostly consider those routes previously trekked, being that we are inherently lazy and badly organised.

However, last sunday we ventured out to a hill neither of us had ever walked before. A small hill, and only 12 miles circular route, but new to us both nonetheless. I even managed to book the right train tickets to Dunkeld.

The train station is a good 20-minute walk from the actual start point which is on the north side of Dunkeld next to a woodland car park. I had printed out a route description from the internet the previous day, but in actual fact it was fairly straightforward.

At one point we took a right fork and headed eastwards on the southern side of the hill, only for us to continually question each other whether we had missed the turn off to ascend the hill or not. Right on the cusp of retracing our steps we found the path and took a very steep ascent up to the trig point on the summit of Deuchary Hill.

There were great views to rural Perthshire all around, though there was an icy wind making it feel more like November than June. Taking shelter from the wind we gave ourselves our reward, and the focus of most of our days at home: food.

It was a quick descent back down the same way we had come up, then we circled round the hill, past a small body of water called Loch Ordie, then heading south back toward our starting point. I had a fair amount of pain from an old injury in my big toe of my right foot, and by the time we reached Dunkeld village it was driving me crazy.

There was just time to grab a quick refreshment before jumping on the train home, getting back to Edinburgh just in time to see the final of The Apprentice.

If only I could fire my big toe.