Thursday, 28 March 2013

Guest blog

I was away in the Scottish Highlands last weekend with my best friend Pauline and her boyfriend  with mountain bikes and tents. Pauline writes superbly and so this week I bring you last weekend's adventure courtesy of Pauline.

Blair Atholl - Bikes, blizzards and Belgians
I can’t say I was looking my best at the weekend. My hair was matted like fuzzy felt under a hat under a helmet; my jaws were so frozen that I could hardly speak or eat my chocolate-coated peanuts; and the biting cold winds had given me a face like a pizza. And to top it all my Belgian lover had arrived for a spot of romancing.

A plan had already been in place with my friend to bike a circuit through the Gaick Pass and return over the Drummochter Pass. But the best laid plans aft gang agley and winter, snow and blizzards returned to Scotland to scupper this one. Not to be put off we set out biking up through Glen Tilt, today a deserted Arctic landscape where drifts of sculpted snow grew to several feet in the wind and clouds of spindrift reduced our view to just a few feet of the track ahead. 

Anybody seeing us setting out from Blair Atholl with bikes and camping kit might have thought we were a little bit crazy. And maybe we were! But sometimes you have to struggle and take on a challenge to feel good and alive and invigorated. And so we battled through the snow on our bikes, enjoying the brief moments when short sections of trail passed through the shelter and calm of the Glen Tilt woods. The only imprints in the fresh, powder snow were three bicycle tracks and the footprints of hare, deer and pheasants.

In the late afternoon we pitched our tents in a little copse of trees, sheltered from the worst of the icy blasts, where snowflakes fell gently to the forest floor and a little robin visited our campsot for crumbs of cheese. We risked life and limb, or at least a severe dunking, picking our way over snow and ice-covered rocks in the gorge of the river to collect water for cooking. But boy, did I enjoy my cup of hot tea that evening!

Next day we biked another track out onto the open wind-scoured, snow-blasted moors and pushed our bikes through deep snow before abandoning them and walking on a little further. In a brief moment of sunshine the light illuminated the slopes of Beinn Dearg ahead and we soaked up the beauty of the winter landscape before jumping back on our bikes for a fast descent to Blair Atholl. I finished the weekend off being wined and dined at a restaurant where my margherita pizza looked just like my face.

If you would like to read more of Pauline's writing then follow her at:

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The show must go on

You may recall that the past year and a half have been spent editing and marketing my feature film, Sleepless 'til Seattle.

Well, together with my fellow adventurer Pauline, we've taken it to the next step and developed a talk and presentation all about it, using photographs and film clips from the movie.

It's proving to be quite hard. It's one thing to know the story, and let's face it, we know it inside out. But it's quite another to write a succinct script that tells the journey. Often in the writing we've just stared at each other, not knowing how to word a particular piece.

However, I'm happy to say that we now have the script outline and we are already at the stage of preparing and choosing the video clips and photographs that go with it. Rehearsals are to follow. Hopefully lots of them, but we're running out of time.

The show opens for its first night on 26 April at the local community hall where I live in Portobello, and tickets are already for sale online, so the pressure's on (click here if you want tickets for that event).

You can click on the picture on the right to visit the website and find out more about it and where we're appearing.

As for the film getting in to festivals; so far it's been rejection after rejection with only three left still to notify at the end of April. Thereafter we're pretty confident it will make it into one of the many mountain film festivals.

In the meantime it's curtain up in a month!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and me

There's no easy way to say this, so I'll just go right ahead and say it:

I'm 50.

I share my birth year with some rather more well known people. Not just Pitt and Depp, but Quentin Tarrantino, George Michael, Graham Norton, Eva Cassidy, Seal and Steven Soderbergh. My actual birthday is the same day as Prince Edward, though he is a year younger.

1963 is commonly dubbed as the year that changed the world. Well, I was born then of course so that makes sense. I'm not actually sure why it gets this accolade but maybe because so many memorable events happened: the Great Train Robbery; the locomotive the Flying Scotsman's last run; Alcatraz prison closes; Lawrence of Arabia wins best picture Oscar; the first James Bond film Dr No is released; the Beatles release their first album Please Please Me and the phrase Beatlemania is coined; Zip codes are introduced in the USA; Martin Luther King delivers his "I have a Dream" speech and of course, President John F Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas Texas.

50 years on and we could probably name a number of years since then that have, "changed the world", where memorable events have happened. Well, this past weekend was very memorable for me, maybe not on a world significant level, but very special nonetheless.

My two key friends, Pauline and Andrew, had invited the rest of my circle of friends to various events throughout the weekend, starting on the Friday night. I had no knowledge of what was going to happen, only that I should keep the weekend free. I kept asking where I should be for whatever the first event was, but no information was forthcoming. Until Thursday morning. When the postman delivered. Among the usual fliers and bills was an envelope containing a further smaller envelope titled, "clue 1". It was a riddle that I had to solve to find the first location, and 9 more would follow over the weekend.

The first took me to an isolated spot in the Royal Park of Edinburgh on Friday evening, to await my next clue in the freezing cold and dark. After standing for a while thinking I'd been had, Andrew turned up with clue number 2. Basically I had to get to "the house of beige". I knew immediately where that was. My friend Johns. You can probably guess his favourite colour, from decor down to his cotton socks! This was followed by a visit to the Royal Observatory for an evening of star gazing and talks. Great fun and followed by lots of cakes back at John's.

Saturday's clues took me to my old deli for coffee and a number of friends shared that time. From there I followed the clues to brunch at a restaurant in Edinburgh City centre where I received a very special and generous gift. Then as a tip-of-the-hat to my early years everyone donned a moustache.
Brunch over we then went onto the Camera Obscura, which was Edinburgh's very first tourist attraction, established in 1835. Then it was off for afternoon coffee where I received clue number 8, which turned out to be a showing of the film Samsara at Andrew's apartment. Together with a few friends he had converted his front living room into a cinema, complete with easy chairs and a candy-bearing usherette, played by my very good friend Pauline. 

Pauline and Andrew had both created very special photo books, one of my early years and the other of my cycle across the USA, both very thoughtful gifts that had obviously taken a lot of work. The penultimate clue led to a feast of Chinese food and of course the very special birthday cake. It was an astonishing work of art, with a full colour print of me on the surface of the icing. Very clever.

Finally, the last event of the day was a trip to Andrew's sister's house for a late night evening of poker.

As you can imagine, on Sunday I slept! A great weekend of fun events peppered with all my friends, dreamt up by my two special friends Andrew and Pauline.

Beat that Johnny & Brad!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Arch Nemesis

An arch nemesis, by its basic definition, is the principal enemy of someone. In fiction it is the hero's worst enemy.

So examples would be: Obi Wan and Darth Vader; Captain Hook and Peter Pan; Robin Hood and the Sherif of Nottingham; Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty or Wile E Coyote and the Road Runner.

You get the idea.

In reality in everyday life, it's probably more rare. That said we could all most likely name several from history and even from recent times, most of them notorious and in the news constantly. Arch nemesis of the world in some cases.

But my arch nemesis is a little closer to home, and in the great scheme of things, not that news worthy.

My arch nemesis is . . . a cat!

My apartment is on the first floor of a small terraced row of similar apartments. From the rear door there is a set of steps leading down to a walled-in garden. There is a wall on one side which is a good 15 feet high, whilst along two other sides it is roughly five feet high.

Thanks to the skills of my friend Pauline in the past, the garden is well planted and thrives due to the rich soil and shelter. Over the past 15 years since the garden was created, the plants and shrubs have grown well over their expected height, and as a result the birds love it. On certain days I have counted more than a dozen different varieties.

But, almost all seven of the neighbourhood cats have made this sheltered haven their toilet of choice. Apart from the resulting smell and mess, the cats also take the opportunity to stalk and sometimes kill the visiting birds.

It's not that I don't like cats, but I like birds and wildlife more.

So, over the years I have planted prickly plants in the ground and along the walls, raised the wall height
with large-guage fencing that cats can't get a purchase on and used a variety of deterrents including sonic alarms, all to try and keep the cats out.

This has had the desired effect. But not 100%.

There is one cat that has defied every attempt to keep it out. It casually looks at me from the garden when I spot it from the kitchen window, as if to say; "you'll never make it down those stairs before I make my escape", then squats and, well, you know what comes next.

Sometimes it does make me laugh though. For a few days I couldn't figure out why there were no birds at all in the garden. As I ventured down I heard a rustle, and there, half way up the bushy pine tree, was the cat, precariously balanced on a thin limb, hiding behind the foliage. Had it been able to, it would no doubt have raised its middle finger at me.

The battle continues. One I think I will ultimately lose.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Spice of life

Being freelance has a great many advantages, not least of which is being in total command of my time. It's been so long since I was employed by a company I've actually forgotten what it's like to have to be in one place of work at 9am on a Monday and count the hours until 5.30 on a Friday.

I'm lucky that I don't get the Monday morning blues, but the balance to that is sometimes I don't even know it's the weekend and so tend not to value it as much, often leading to just wasting it away. I can, of course, choose any day I wish not to work.

However, all of these pluses come at a price, not least of which is the insecure nature of being freelance. For one thing it's near impossible to persuade a bank to loan me money, though I guess that applies to everyone in this day and age.

The only way to try and balance the insecurity is to have a variety of disparate skills to try and create as many opportunities for paid employment as possible. Take this past week for example:

On Monday I edited a music video for a client, who also happens to be a cameraman I use occasionally and I in turn give him work when I can.

Tuesday I started the process of booking venues for a talk tour Pauline and I are putting on in a few months time, all about the trans-America cycle we did in 2011.

Wednesday I had admin to do for a rental property and a publicity push for the local community farmers market that I am coordinator for once a month.

Come Thursday I'm "on the tools" and building a new cupboard to house a gas boiler for a close friend of mine.

Today, Friday, is when I teach the art of film making to an Edinburgh charity organisation's creative class.

Tomorrow I will run this months farmers market and on Sunday I will be a consultant for a local coffee shop, assisting them for a few months to set up their business properly, using the skills I gained over the 15 years I ran my own deli and coffee shop.

It's not always such a full week, but it is mostly as varied, and it's the variety that I really like. At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking that I'm working seven days a week. Though it's true I am doing some sort of "work" every day, I also have ample time off, meeting friends for coffee at a moments notice, out on my bicycle for a winter-sunshine ride as soon as the opportunity presents itself, or putting my feet up with a good book, looking out of my living room window at the sea crashing onto the beach just 50 yards from my house.

Sometimes it's hard when it's not a regular guaranteed income every month, but it's been this way since 1989 and I've made it this far.

I doubt I will ever change it. After-all, variety is the spice of life.