Thursday, 31 December 2015

GOODBYE 2015

Usually I'm fairly indifferent to another year passing, and my preference is just simply to go to my bed and let those seduced by the prospect of creating the mother of all hangovers do their thing. I've never really got that to be honest.

But this year, with just 30 minutes of it left, I can confidently say good riddance to 2015. There is very little I recall of it with fondness, and hope that this coming year turns out to be more fruitful.

The start of the year was great, as I enjoyed a weekend away with my buddy Pauline, through Loch Ard forest, with a circular route starting out of Aberfoyle, and a snow capped Ben Lomond as our backdrop.

A couple of months later and my outdoor activities were to be curtailed for a while, as I went under the surgeons knife to correct an old injury in my right foot. Thinking it would take just six weeks before being back to normal activities, I was surprised to find myself still limited some three months later.

Thankfully I was to heal just in the nick of time by the start of July, to fly out to Denver to cycle a 1000 route through Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Less than two weeks in I came off my bike, which resulted in multiple injuries and brought my journey to an abrupt end. Nursing a rather large cast on my right arm, I continued best I could, using motorised transport, only to return to the UK two weeks later.


Two months later, at the end of September, and with plans formulating for getting back to full fitness, I found myself in an ambulance racing across the city to hospital, for an emergency subdural haematoma brain operation. This had been brewing away since the day of the accident. Then, another two months on in November, I was diagnosed with Graves disease, which causes thyroid problems. No one really knows what starts Graves disease, but on the list of possibilities is a severe brain trauma.

After diagnosis came the medication, but after three weeks of starting to feel normal, and once again making plans to get back to fitness, I was back in hospital with a severe allergic reaction to the medication. I am currently fighting back from this episode.

I've stopped making plans.

By no measure do my series of unfortunate events compare to the suffering of the peoples of Nepal during the earthquakes of early 2015, or to the continued challenges facing the people of Syria and the resulting refugee crisis.

So even with all that has happened to me, I do have things to be thankful for at the end of 2015. For one, the help and support from my close friends, even from thousands of miles away whilst I was laid up in a Wyoming hospital. And I'm grateful to the company Bell, for making a bicycle helmet, without which I would not be alive today.

So I say goodbye to 2015 and welcome 2016 with open arms, for the past is just a statement and the future is a question.


Friday, 25 December 2015

MERRY CHRISTMAS

It's easy to say that this is a purely Christian time of celebration, but I'd like to think that it is more a time of peace and forgiving for all. More than any other similar type of annual celebration it does seem to have a global appeal. Some would say that is a myth, perpetuated by those who profit commercially of course, but then I'm not that cynical.

What ever you do today, whether it is spending time with family and friends, eating well, opening lots of presents, or just watching the Queen's speech on TV, take time to spare a thought for those who are grateful just to have made it through another year. Like the survivors in Nepal after the powerful earthquakes that destroyed a lot of homes earlier in the year. Or to the families devastated by the senseless murder of over 100 people in Paris. Or the countless numbers of refugees fleeing their home country away from tyranny.

I too am grateful to have made it through a challenging year.

Merry Christmas everyone.



Thursday, 17 December 2015

STATEMENT OF INTENT

At the end of September a local power station was taken into the first stages of demolition when it's chimneys were brought down in spectacular style. You can see my film of the event at this link on Youtube

After the collapse, the thousands of people covering every square inch of the best viewing areas, waited with baited breath for the massive turbine hall to follow it.

And waited.

And waited.

Until a Tweet from the Scottish Power company came through stating their intent to demolish the main building, the turbine hall, in December.

This afternoon I was out having coffee with a friend at my favourite Portobello coffee shop, The Tide. As we left the place and stepped out into a sunny afternoon, right in front of us, across the other side of the bay, was a massive cloud of dust. The turbine hall had been demolished. Hardly anyone was there to see it come down. I personally would have liked to film it, but the chance has been lost.

Strange they never followed up with another announcement.

Here is the turbine hall on YouTube coming down today, filmed by Jim Ramsay. 

On Tuesday of this week I made my own statement of intent. As you may well know I had a serious cycle accident in July, and everything that followed, at one stage threatening my life. I continue to be very nervous at the thought of getting back on a bike, but they do say, that if you come off a horse you have to get right back on the saddle.

Trouble is I haven't been well enough to even attempt this, but recently things have started improving rapidly, thanks partly to medication and the care of the NHS physios.

So I took a big step, for me, in the progress of my recovery, and I bought a new helmet to replace the one that was destroyed in Wyoming. It's super lightweight, very ventilated and comes with a beak on the front to keep the sun off my face.


OK, so I haven't actually been on a bike yet, but Christmas is just around the corner.


Thursday, 10 December 2015

ABERLADY BAY'S NARNIA

Aberlady Bay is a Local Nature Reserve 14 miles east of my home. It's been about a year since I wandered its landscape, and so, on a cold and blustery day, Pauline and I decided it was the perfect destination on a Sunday afternoon.

As we approached I could see a large tanker ship off the coast, behind the dunes, and at first glance it looked so large that it might be on the actual beach.

Having walked across the long, weathered, wooden bridge that is the start of the walk, I could see large numbers of birds on the flats, picking away at the grubs left behind by the receding tide. One of the great sounds of the shore, and one of my favourite that I hear all the time living by the sea, is the screech of the curlew.

The walk to the sand dunes is mostly open land, but at one section it weaves its way through tunnels of Sea Buckthorn, enclosing the path in tunnels like something out of Narnia. The bright orange berries of the bush are quite striking at this time of year when most of the other colours have gone, and they looked magnificent with the late sun streaming through their branches. The blue sky was a perfect contrast to the dark shadows of the tunneled path, and little creatures were moving among the dried undergrowth, on the hunt for food or escaping the heavy footsteps of people walking by, most oblivious to this other world, with a background of music from the little birds using the buckthorn's dense branches to roost.

Half an hour in and we had reached the far side of the dunes and onto the wide, smooth beach, with various patterns in the sand created by the rippling shallow water. As I wandered further along in the freezing wind, the texture of the beach changed as underfoot became carpeted in whole and broken shells, at their first stage of being ground down into fine grains to become part of the sand. Off the coast was the large tanker ship, but now it looked much further away. Maybe it had been an optical illusion earlier.



It was time for coffee and we hunkered down out of the wind behind a large sand dune as the sun started to set and opened our flasks.

Coffee slurped and cookies eaten, half an hour later we were back at the start and the sun had dipped below the horizon, dropping the temperature a few degrees, and the wildlife of this nature reserve settled in for another night, as we returned to our cosy home, knowing we would one day return to Aberlady Bay.



Thursday, 3 December 2015

CART BEFORE THE HORSE

I could never be a full time teacher I must admit. Having worked for the past year and a half for just one day a week with young students age 6 to 18, I take my hat off to those who can do that five days a week.

But I do love it. Their imaginations know no bounds, and in teaching them the creative art of film making, this is a big bonus. The key to the success of the classes is giving them control in how the films are shaped, and adapting my teaching style to their demands. When I first started I turned up with a list of things to teach them, but very quickly I realised that was the wrong approach. It was their feedback and interaction that dictated how the lesson was structured. It wasn't about what I thought they needed to learn, it was about what they wanted to learn. Now I create lessons that generate questions from them, and this makes them both more interested and more active in the class. In a sense it gives them ownership of the process.

It was with my love of teaching young people how to make films, that I have for some time been formulating an idea to run my own workshops in my local community, both as a business plan and as an extension to what I have a passion for. So recently I was pleased to have the opportunity to attend a local community meeting, run by the local community council, all about young people in Portobello and what they wanted. I looked forward to finding out first hand what their ideas were.



Imagine then my surprise to find a hall of around 60 adults with the average age of late 40s. The meeting presented survey results from canvassing 375 young people in Portobello. The aim of the meeting was to take those results forward and introduce new activities, clubs etc for the young people.

But not one young person had been invited.

The group split into six smaller groups who then discussed what could be done. I sat there dumbfounded that anyone would think that our ideas and plans would be greeted with open arms by the young people themselves. We needed to have them there so they could tell us what they wanted. I could see suggestions by us then being discussed and either taken up or dismissed. But in reality we were in a "cart before the horse" situation.

I put forward one idea of forming a group of young people with the same remit that this meeting had as its agenda, and left it at that. It was almost funny to listen to these adults getting excited about their ideas, and all the time thinking, "but what do the kids think?!"

I may not be a full time professional teacher, but I think I have a grasp of how young minds work.


Thursday, 26 November 2015

HOLIDAYS, HAMSTERS & HELMETS

So I should first of all say happy Holidays to all my friends across the pond in America on this, their Thanksgiving Day.  With all that is going on in the world with terrorism and the mounting refugee crisis, I have been noticing on social media people posting comments comparing the arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers in America in 1620, to that of the refugees. These comments state that like the refugees, the Pilgrim Fathers were escaping religious persecution.

This is in fact incorrect. They were a radical Puritan faction known as the English Separatist Church. In 1607 after splitting from the Church of England they settled in the Netherlands, but it was because of financial difficulties that they set sail for the New World. It would be others who followed later that were escaping repressive policies because of religious nonconforming under king James 1st.

 But I love the tradition of Thanksgiving in America, and as I do every year, after wishing all my many friends across there, best wishes, I wish for myself to one day experience it first hand and enjoy the feast with friends.

I was entertained this week by a feast of a different kind. I'm not one for spending much time on the internet, but my close friend Pauline brought my attention to a video that had been posted on Facebook. It is of a hamster, all wrapped up in a cozy cover, happily feasting away on a piece of carrot. I could not help but smile.


And finally, my attention has turned to thoughts of dusting down, for it has gathered much, my bicycle that has not been ridden since the accident in Wyoming in July. But first things first, I need to buy a new helmet. All of them are produced to an exacting quality and regardless of price must meet a required standard. The more expensive ones tend to be for funky decals or fancy shape. It goes without saying that the thought of coming off my bike again and hitting my head fills me with anxiety, so I have been conducting research to see if there are in actual fact, safer helmets.

I have discovered one made by a company called Poc. It includes a revolutionary system called MIPS, which stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. It also includes a programmed chip that links to an app on your cell phone. In the event of an impact it activates an alarm. If this alarm id not deactivated it automatically sends out calls to emergency services with GPS coordinates of your location. That, I must say, is very clever.

MIPS, in simple terms it contains a second independent layer that sits against the skull and in the case of impact it acts like the first membrane between your brain and the inside of your cranium, thus, they claim, significantly reducing the effect on the brain. It was this very effect that has caused me so many problems.

At £250 I'd like to be sure, but at the moment I can find no evidence to say this actually works as it says.

And I'd rather not be the one to test it.


Thursday, 19 November 2015

WHERE I LIKE TO BE

I'm back in my comfort zone . . . making movies.

Last Saturday the young students started to shoot their stories, which they hope will turn out well enough to enter into a film festival next year. First day was tough, and the performances were not great overall. However, it takes a while to get into it. The added challenge is that due to time restraints the students are only able to film for an hour each Saturday, so that all six groups get a turn. That presents logistical nightmares, especially for me. In January they'll get a three-hour run at it, so hopefully we will achieve success overall.


They should be very proud of themselves. A single page of script generally works out at one minute of screen time. On average, with a professional crew, I would look to shoot three pages in a 10-hour day. These kids are shooting seven pages in the equivalent of four and a half hours!

They're a bit daunted, but I reminded them all last week, that just 12 months ago they had no idea what a dolly and track were, or what an Extreme Close Up was used for. Now, here they are, shooting a short story that they developed, into a film to enter it into a festival. If they are selected they'll end up on the red carpet in Leicester Square in London next August.

If they finish it that is.

But even if they don't, they'll have learned a great deal. And a lot of creatives are notorious for not finishing a project. I can count myself among them.

I met with a colleague last week for a catch up, and we discussed this very subject. Why do we go on about ideas and projects, yet after only a few weeks of developing the idea in our heads, we abandoned it?

Making a film is a massive challenge, and we deduced that the large potential to fail puts us off, especially after we have told others what we would like to achieve. We also get stuck on the big picture, pardon the pun. Rather than seeing it for what it really is, a sum of very small parts, we can't get away from the overall larger project.

But this doesn't just apply to film makers. We could say this about any idea or project we all come up with but fail to bring to fruition. Maybe it's a desire to impress, but once that initial reaction has passed, you're left with actually doing the thing.  And setting the bar too high can destroy the momentum.

There's  an old saying in film making, that writers have the best decorated house; because they'd rather do anything but write.


Friday, 13 November 2015

EAT YOURSELF HEALTHY

Who would have thought that a small bicycle accident, lasting just a few seconds, could cause so much inconvenience.

I'm certainly on the road to recovery, with this weekend marking eight weeks since the cranial procedure, and the headaches have not returned. The cause was discovered by a CT scan, and just last week I received a copy of the images. I took all 188 "slices" of my head and animated them into one flowing movie. It is quite a remarkable image, clearly showing what is, without doubt, a massive haematoma.

Anyway, I don't think you can squash your soft brain tissue to two thirds of its size and expect to get away with it scot-free.

There are other things now happening in my body, that may well have been there in a mild form prior to the clot, but have been exacerbated by the effects as the brain tries to spring back into its normal shape.

One thing that's been going on is an all over trembling. It's fairly slight most of the time, but its there, and its infuriating. The cause, they think, seems to be connected to my thyroid gland, which controls your metabolism, producing too much hormone into my system. The trembling, I'm guessing, is the body trying to burn off this excess.

I'm waiting on a specialist but I've been told that medication will bring it back under control. Now I've never been a fan of putting chemicals into my body, but less so on this occasion when one of the possible drugs is radioactive iodine!

So I'm going with the theory that if my body put this gland into overdrive, then it's feasible that it can reverse it. With that in mind I started my own research and discovered that increasing my protein intake, omega 3, and eating lots of berries, can help.

On one particular day I ate nothing but protein for one meal. For another I ate three punnets of berries, and for the third meal I upped the omega 3 intake.

The following day I was symptom free.

That kind of diet is hard to stick to, and it's not balanced. Plus this time of year berries are out of season and very expensive. But it's a step in the right direction. I expect to see a specialist by the end of the year, so it will be interesting to see if I can bring it under control naturally.


Friday, 6 November 2015

HELLO DOLLY

A suitable creative arts title to the blog this week.

For well over a year now I have been enjoying teaching young people, from the age of six to eighteen, how to make movies. The true title of my class is "Film & TV", but I have to admit we primarily concentrate on film.

It has been a fairly progressive process for the students, as it should, but they were getting quite relaxed about the whole thing. Well, that has all recently changed, as I've challenged all six classes to make a short film that I will enter into a film festival next April.

This is in part to see just how much they have learned. Some have already shown great promise. When I look back to a year ago and those students that are still with us, they have regularly amazed me by just how much they have taken in. To think 15 months ago none of them knew one end of a camera from another, and now they organise Foley and ADR sessions, and run a crew during a film shoot. It is very satisfying.

To give them the best chance with their film entry, I wanted to give them tools to improve the production values. One way would be for them to have tracking shots, which would mean track (similar to a miniature railway) and a dolly (a carriage that sits on the track that the camera attaches to). However, the "real McCoy" comes in at thousands of pounds and generally takes hours to set up.

What I needed was equipment that is low cost and quick to set up.

So I decided to build it myself.

After numerous drawings and trips to B&Q to purchase various plumbing pipe materials, and eight skateboard wheels, here's what I came up with:


At a little over £100 in materials, and about 10 hours to construct, I feel I have a very usable working dolly and track. And the added bonus is it takes about five minutes to set up. and makes use of the existing tripod.

Result.

I surprise myself sometimes!

 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

PIE, THE SEQUEL

In the middle of September, just a few days before the scare of the big op, I ventured out to a hidden wilderness where I collected large amounts of ripe blackberries. The resulting pie was stunning.

Well, I decided to repeat the process of delicious pie making, as a neighbour had given me a bag of apples off his tree. The first pie was great. Real apple pie with a dusting of cinnamon. But the idea came into my head that apple and blackberry would be a great combination. So late on in the season I had doubts that there would be any usable blackberries left, but to my great surprise and delight many of the stems still held little clusters of ripe berries.

Preparation done and the pie was slid into the oven. Once again I decided to make it out of gluten free pastry, and to avoid a soggy bottom I blind-baked the pastry first. As a thank you to my neighbour I created two pies so I could hand one over for him to enjoy.

Need less to say once again the result was mouthwateringly delicious. Apple and blackberry is a winning combination.


As a slight aside to this weeks blog, I thought I'd share with you the stunning spectacle of the birch that sits in my garden. At this time of year its leaves have turned a golden colour, and as the sun starts to set and hit the leaves, they literally glow.




Wednesday, 21 October 2015

BACK TO THE FUTURE...ERR, NOW

It's October 21st 2015. Ring a bell? Maybe this photo will jog your memory...


This is the dashboard console of a very famous DeLorean car back in 1989, belonging to Doc Brown, the nutty inventor in the Back to the Future films. Just now there's obviously a lot of chat about the predictions made in the film, and what out of those made it in reality.

Hoverboards were the big one, and though that's not really happened, Arx Pax claim they have made a genuine working model. But it will cost you around £7,000.

There's quite a few small devices from the film that have become real technology though, such as fingerprint identity for opening locks, video calling, such as Facetime and Skype and wearable eye tech such as the Google Glass.

But I recall back in 1989 I had one of the first so called mobile phones. It earned the nickname The Brick, due to its size, shape and weight. This was a step forward, as its predecessor was a phone with a cord that connected to a battery pack the size of a large hardback book. However, even though we had mobile phones, albeit cumbersome, at the time when the film came out, they never appeared in the movie version of 2015. Maybe the makers thought they'd never catch on! More likely because, although the film was released in 1989, they time traveled from 1985, and phones were not around then.

Tablets appear though, and even drones, as we see someones dog being taken for a walk tethered to a drone. So what about predicting what might be around in another 30 years? Well, hopefully I will be for a start, but a group of forecasters have had a go.

An invisibility cloak is a popular one, and living in cities that respond to the environment. Scarily they predict that AI, artificial intelligence, will play a prominent part in our lives, and almost everything about us will be monitored 24/7.

We'll have hoverboards at last, driverless cars, be able to 3D print pizzas, and poverty and hunger will be eliminated, I assume because of the 3D printed pizza.

As technology becomes more a part of us, they predict that it wont be just our phones we'll be able to upgrade, but also ourselves.

Presumably only if you sign up for a 24 month contract.



Friday, 16 October 2015

SHAKESPEARE'S INSPIRATION

Autumn, or the Fall, depending on where you live, always draws me toward one particular place in Scotland; Dunkeld. It's wide variety of different tree species guarantees at this time of year to present an artists palette of colours.

For almost the whole year I have been trying to get away on a Highland camping trip with my two closest friends, Pauline and Andrew. But this year has been predominantly about hospital trips. Originally we had planned an escape at the end of April, but the recovery from a foot operation proved to be longer than expected. Then I went to the States, and, well, you know that story.

So I am still in recovery mode at the moment, but it is the school holidays once again, and as Andrew is a teacher there was another small window of opportunity to have an adventure.

Dunkeld here we come.

We decided, mostly for me, that we would set up camp at a local campground, leave the majority of our kit, then wander the local trails over the Sunday and Monday.


The first day was grey overhead, and the colours of the turning leaves were muted in the flat light. Occasionally the sun threatened to burst through, but it never did.

As we left the village we meandered through the grounds of the cathedral, half of which dates back to the 1400s. Historic Scotland claim it to be Scotlands most romantic cathedral. Though one half is in ruins, the other half is in good order and a working church.

A saunter along the banks of the River Tay took us under the mighty canopies of oak and sycamore, the ground carpeted in their crispy orange and red leaves. Our little route took us round the back of Dunkeld along a path heading for the Loch of Lowes, before dropping down into Dunkeld town from the north.

Loch of Lowes is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, and is a protected wildlife sanctuary. Though it was the wrong time of year for us, in the summer months Osprey fish in the loch. More excitingly a beaver has taken up residence recently.

Instead of cooking our supper in camp we opted for a meal at a local pub called the Taybank. Over a hearty meal and a few glasses of wine we put the world to rights.

The following day there was not a cloud in the sky as we trudged off on a longer walk, albeit just four miles round trip, up the nearby 1,000foot Birnam Hill. Through woods of oak, sycamore, beech and birch we gently climbed the path to the summit, the sun creating shafts of glistening light through the surrounding forest. For me it was unusually tiring, and my legs have most definitely lost their strength over the past few weeks as they trembled on the descent.

However, this was not that much of a problem, as Pauline and Andrew, particularly Andrew, were usually far behind having found yet another subject to photograph from every possible angle. The path down was steeper, through open stands of larch trees, their needles cascading down like a fall of golden snow.


From the bottom of the walk we made a small detour through the village of Birnam and over to the bank of the Tay, to see the Birnam Oak. Thought to be 300 years old and a remnant of the old Birnam Wood, celebrated in Shakespeare's play Macbeth. It is said he gained inspiration during a tour to this area in 1599.

This had been my first foray since going in for surgery, and though I was distracted by the poor level of fitness and occasional dizzy moment, it was good to be back in the foothills of the Highlands.



Thursday, 8 October 2015

BEAUTIFUL HARBOUR

I thought this week I'd continue on from the previous blog and take another look at the place where I live, Portobello.

There was a time when Portobello was the destination for thousands of holiday makers, primarily from Edinburgh and Glasgow, but its hey day was most definitely back in the 19th century. It became part of Edinburgh in 1896. From 1846 until 1964 Portobello boasted a large open-air, heated swimming pool, where if you found yourself in some difficulty, you might be rescued by the lifeguard who would go on to be the worlds most famous secret agent, none other than Sean Connery.

For 50 years, until 1917, we had a pier that extended 1250feet out into the sea. There are proposals to possibly rebuild the pier.

Back even further into the 18th century and it was a favourite haunt of less desirable visitors, that of smugglers and some seamen. One such was George Hamilton, who served under Admiral Edward Vernon during the capture of Porto Bello (the literal translation being "Beautiful Harbour") in Panama in 1739.  Hamilton settled here and built a small cottage, naming it Portobello Hut.

But my research uncovered even more surprising facts, though for that I had to go even further back. To 1296, and the eve of the Battle of Dunbar. Back then the area now known as Portobello was just an expanse of open moorland. The Figgate Burn flowed the two miles from Duddingston Loch to the open sea, giving the area it's original name of Figgate Muir. It was on this moor that William Wallace mustered his forces for the Battle of Dunbar. They were defeated by King Edward and it effectively ended the war of 1296. It would be later that year that the Stone of Scone, upon which the kings of Scotland had been crowned, would be taken to England.

Amazing to think of the place I call home playing a part in such significant changes for Scotland.


400 years later, in 1650, and a secret meeting was held here between Oliver Cromwell and the Scottish leaders in his campaign against the Scottish. He died eight years later. He would later be accused of genocide against the Catholics of Scotland and Ireland.

Forward almost another 400 years and here we are today, with a Scottish parliament, a desire to be independent from England, and the Stone of Scone returned home.

Portobello has been a gathering place of hordes of military; been a hideout for smugglers; manufactured pottery, soap, mustard and even the bricks that built a formidable power station that would generate Portobello's electricity needs until 1977.

Now the only hordes of people that gather are sun worshippers, and the only seamen are the hobbyists in their kayaks and dinghies. 

But it remains a "Beautiful Harbour".


Thursday, 1 October 2015

BEACH DAYS

It has been an interesting week here in Portobello, the seaside suburb of the city of Edinburgh.

Here we are at the start of October and we're getting temperatures of 20 degrees (68F). After a poor summer this has been a welcome change.

This encouraged large crowds to gather on the beach to soak up the late rays, for sporty types to take to the calm waters and for a historic event on Saturday 26 September.

My friend Pauline owns a kayak and most days after work she was out on the sea, paddling up and down the one mile long beach shoreline. The local sailing club also launched an armada of all varieties of boats, from little sail dinghies to large rowing skiffs.


Then there was an historic moment on one day. Across the bay from the beach, eight miles east of Edinburgh, is a coal-fired power station at a coastal town called Cockenzie. Construction was completed in 1967 but was closed down in 2013. Last year demolition work began and at midday on 26 September, explosives wrapped around the base of the two towering chimneys were detonated and they collapsed in spectacular style, in front of an audience that literally covered the beach. Thousands of people came to watch. It looked as if it was happening in slow motion, so huge are the chimneys. Slowly they leaned toward each other before kissing at the top then destroying each other as they came together. I filmed the spectacle and you can see it by clicking on this link.


It has been suggested that so dominant were the chimneys that migrating birds used it as a landmark. Time will tell if this affects our feathered friends in the future.

Finally, on Tuesday, we were treated to a "super moon". This is when the moon is closest to the earth, but on this occasion there was also a lunar eclipse as the earth came between the sun and the moon, creating a sunset-red colour on the surface, hence the name "blood moon". But there was another consequence for this close proximity of the full moon the following morning. To my great surprise the sea had receeded to twice it's normal distance.


I was able to walk out to an orange bouy that normally looks far out at sea. As the tide reached it's lowest point it revealed three large wooden posts.

Research so far has not unearthed what they were in the past. Some have suggested they are the remains of an old pier for a leisure craft called the Skylark in the 60s, but this took place further along the beach. Some think they may be old supports for when sewage was pumped directly out to sea, but I doubt they would have been made from timber. The mystery continues and conditions are predicted not to come together again to create these tides until 2033, the last being in 1982.

The warm sunshine continues, a perfect remedy as I continue the recovery from my scare last week.


Thursday, 24 September 2015

GREY'AMS ANATOMY

I cannot take credit, or blame, for the side-splittingly funny blog title. That honour goes to my friend Morag, who has been hugely helpful, along with my other friends, over the past few days.

Most regular readers will no doubt be familiar with the bicycle crash in Wyoming two months ago. Recovery has been going really well and the only remaining ailment is rehabilitation of my wrist after the cast was removed three weeks ago.

Or so I comfortably thought.

About 10 days ago I started to feel a tension headache, as if my brain was too big for the inside of my skull. I took various headache meds, but for some curious reason none of them worked. As the week progressed the tension started to feel worse as if someone was tightening a strap around my head.

By Friday I was experiencing sharp stabbing pains in the right side of my head, so painful that it would stop me in my tracks and make me screw up my eyes. Maybe I was starting to suffer from migraines I thought. I was aware that after a head trauma you can experience headaches for up to a year after, so I took off to a local all-night supermarket pharmacy and bought the strongest painkillers I could find.

The following day I was teaching six classes of film making to young student minds, as I do every week, and in the evening I was out with friends, but went home early, feeling rough.

During the night I awoke knowing that this was something more than a migraine. At this point I made no connection with the bicycle crash. That was a full two months ago afterall.

I took myself off to the nearest hospital triage unit and, after me telling them, almost as an aside to the pain I was in, about the bicycle crash and the head impact, they immediately whisked me off for a CT scan. The result was both astonishing and scary. The right hemisphere of my brain had been compressed to two thirds of its size due to a large clot the size of a splayed out hand.

It seemed as if I had no sooner been shown the scan result, than a wheelchair turned up and I was racing across the city of Edinburgh in an ambulance to the waiting neurological surgical team on the opposite side of the city.

Five days later and I'm sitting upright resting in the same hospital, the operation a distant memory now. For those medically minded among you, the procedure was an "evacuation of a subdural haematoma". The only thing to show now is two small shaved patches of hair and two permanent holes in my head, now covered by healing skin.

It is all quite surreal. It turned out that I had been bleeding since the impact. It would never have shown up until three to five weeks later, or, as happened, when symptoms presented themselves.

I recall a few days after the crash, at the end of July, saying how fortunate it was that I had been wearing a helmet and that things could have been quite different without one. But now I find it unsettling that if I can end up with this emergency situation months later having worn a helmet . . . well, needless to say it is obvious to me now what not wearing one would have resulted in.

Look on the bright side though, what a great addition to the film!

I am one very lucky boy.




Thursday, 17 September 2015

PIE

Something I associate closely with American culture is "pie". It is a great generic term for lots of delicious homemade fruit pies encased in golden pastry, and having recently returned from the US it is something I recall with great fondness.

Just a few days ago I was out for a walk along a usual path in my neighbourhood. At one point I decided to take a detour down a less used path that disappeared into an overgrown area of thick woods and bushes. As I fought my way through, feeling like a kid again on an adventure, I suddenly stopped as my eyes beheld a wondrous sight.

Hidden away in this overgrown area was a secret forest of brambles, all drooping with ripe blackberries. I had nothing with me in which to collect them, so the following day I returned with bag in hand. As I approached the thicket I checked over my shoulder to make sure no one had seen me entering what I now declared was my secret stash of blackberries. Gently I eased each individual plump berry from it's stalk, working my way through the expanse of jaggy brambles.

Purple hands stained from the juice of the berries and bulging bag in hand, I returned home and gently washed the gathered fruits. Using a recipe from the internet I then made a batch of gluten-free shortcrust pastry, lined a pie tin and blind baked it in the oven. Once cooled I piled high the blackberries into the pastry case and covered it with another layer of pastry.

Glazed, and dusted in sugar I carefully slid it into the oven. I awaited the result, pacing up and down, as the oven worked its magic. Occasionally I'd peep inside the oven, just to make sure all was going according to plan. Then, finally, the timer went "ping!" Tentatively I slid the tin out of the oven, carrying it slowly to the kitchen table as if it was a bomb about to go off, then just stood and admired its beauty.

It just sat there, cooling, this golden coloured piece of heaven, releasing its heady aroma of mouthwatering deliciousness. I was desperate to cut into it, anxious that it it might not have worked.

Somehow I managed not to touch it until my friend Pauline to return home from work. Patiently I waited until she finished her dinner. Then, finally, the moment of truth. We carefully cut two large slices and made "cor" noises as the dark purple filling revealed itself from inside it's golden, crispy envelope. Several satisfied noises were made as we otherwise silently, and slowly, munched every bite, our taste buds exploding with pleasure. It was all we could do to resist eating it all in one sitting!

There's every need for pie.


Thursday, 10 September 2015

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

It's been a fun week with lots going on in Edinburgh, and a very productive week filming it all and cutting it together in my edit suite.

In June this year the young students that I teach film to every Saturday filmed six movies that they had written themselves. It's taken a while to edit them all but this week the music soundtracks were added and the films were completed. The students mission was to produce all the films without any dialogue, and still tell a story. This they achieved remarkably well, and some of these students are only six years old! Click here to see one of the films made by the teenagers.

Wednesday was a manic day of filming in two locations. The first was incredibly exciting. The Tour of Britain cycle race was on stage four out of Edinburgh to Blyth, in Northumberland, about 110 miles. Their route was to pass very close to where I live, and so I decided to position myself on a long straight section of road on the outskirts of Edinburgh to film the action. My guess was they would attempt to sprint here.

When I got to the location there was no one about, and I felt slightly disappointed that there weren't lots of cheering crowds, but all the better for me as I could pick and choose were to film from. I settled on a pedestrian crossing island in the middle of the wide road. However, this was to prove hair raising!  It was all over in seconds, but as they rocketed toward me they did indeed sprint, then decided to swap sides of the road, then back again, then split in two to go either side of me. It was a WOW moment. Click here to see the result.


Just an hour later I was positioned on the embankment of a railway line. Not just any railway line, but the longest section of railway to have been built in the UK for over 100 years. This new line reopens a stretch closed in the 1960s by Beaching, and stretches 30 miles from Edinburgh to Tweedbank in the Borders. To celebrate, a steam train, called the Union of South Africa, with Pullman coaches carrying  HM the Queen and several lucky people, rumbled and tooted its way passed me. Like the cycle race, it was over quickly, but click here of you'd like to see the historic moment.


All in all an exciting week of history in the making.