Thursday, 20 July 2017

ASHES TO ASHES

On the 13th July it was the anniversary of my mum passing 25 years ago. That's almost half my life since, which astonishes me. In all that time my mums ashes have stayed with me, and all at the same address. But this was, in a sense, unfair on my brother and my aunt. My brother especially felt he had nowhere to go to pay his respects on occasion.

So the time had come to scatter her ashes, and on Sunday we did just that, in the waters of Loch Lomond.


Why there? Well, my childhood was a tumultuous one it could be said, but the time we lived on the shores of Loch Lomond, in the mid 60s, was the first time that all the family lived together, and they were happy and fun times. Because of this, it was a special place to my mum, including the nearby village of Luss, and so we decided these were the places we would take her back to. Almost full circle in a way. Our plan was that half her ashes would go into the water at the caravan park where we had lived, near Inveruglas, and the other half in the waters at Luss, though within a short space of time she would be everywhere.


My step father managed the caravan site for Halleys of Milngavie, but now it has changed almost beyond recognition since we left 50 years ago. But down on the shore were the concrete remains of the original jetty, where I used to play with my Action Man in his diving suit. My brother and I stepped over the gap of water and onto the jetty, where he read a favourite poem of my mums, by Leo Marks, as I scattered her ashes into the water.

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours

The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours

A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause

For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours

I found this moment, as the ashes fell into the still waters, very difficult. I thought I would be fine, but it was so hard. All I could muster to say was that she had been my best friend.

We then repeated this moment in the village of Luss, which didn't have the same effect on me, most probably because I have no memories from there. The caravan site was where I have my earliest memories, and where my mum bought me my first bicycle.


I've changed in looks a lot since those early days, but what's remarkable is that my mum did not really change in all her years. In every photograph and image I have of her, it was her smile that was a constant and how I always remember her.


Back when I lived on Loch Lomond, a grand old paddle steamer called the Maid of the Loch used to plough up and down the deep waters.


Now there is one more lady on those waters.

I miss you.


Thursday, 13 July 2017

ACROBATS

I went to the cinema this week to see the new Spiderman film. I was pleasantly surprised how entertaining it was, and the acrobatics, though CGi, were convincing.

But, I've recently seen even more impressive acrobatics, right here in my own garden, and way more entertaining!

I was peaking out through the window of my garden shed yesterday when I spotted the resident field mouse precariously hanging upside down on the bird peanut feeder. He was determined, despite nearly falling off on occasion. But it's best you watch him and judge for yourself the entertainment value.

CLICK ON PICTURE TO SEE VIDEO
https://youtu.be/Skr4_sfVf0I

Then to my surprise, another mouse, a third the size and grey, clearly a baby mouse, appeared. They say best to try new things when you're young. Well, watch as this little guy does just that. He decides to have a go at climbing a long thin slippery metal pole to try and gain access to the birds sunflower feeder. Despite several attempts he was unsuccessful. To give you an idea of his size, the pole is about the width of a sunflower seed!

CLICK ON PICTURE TO SEE VIDEO
https://youtu.be/zZFwaax5Sco

Eat your heart out Spiderman!

 

Friday, 7 July 2017

BEACHCOMBING

On a sunny but windy day, Pauline and I went in search of driftwood on the beach and dunes of Aberlady Bay. Many's a time that Pauline has returned from our own nearby beaches, with tiny treasures of polished glass and pebbles, or shells, and re-purposed them into bits of art for her garden.

I've visited and blogged about Aberlady Bay many times, so as a wee change this week, to accompany my photos, is a poem by Angela Wybrow.
 

As the tide retreats, it leaves behind
Once hidden treasures, for folk to find.
Left revealed, is a long strip of shiny, wet sand,
Where treasures, now at their journey's end, will land


By the sea, small pieces of glass have been ground,
Leaving their once sharp edges, smooth and round.
There are a few fallen feathers from visiting gulls.
Smooth egg-shaped pebbles, both shiny and dull.


Shells of all shapes, such as cones, conches and scallops,
Are washed ashore by the powerful sea, as it gallops.
There are lions paws, kings crowns, tulips, angel wings
Slipper shells, jewel boxes, moon snails and other things


Sugar kelp, Bladderwrack and Dead Man's Fingers,
Are some of the seaweeds which, on the shore, linger
The sight of numerous pieces of discarded litter
Leaves behind a taste, in my mouth, that is bitter.


Pieces of driftwood, many with interesting shapes,
From the endlessly shifting sea, make their escape.
If, along a sandy beach, you take a relaxing wander,
There are many treasures on which you can ponder.


Folk can while away many an hour of pleasure,
Sifting amongst all the newly arrived treasure.
An hour or two spent exploring a sandy cove,
Can potentially reveal a whole treasure trove.



Friday, 30 June 2017

GIFTED

Sometimes a movie comes along just at the right moment. I wasn't having a great week to be honest, and reluctantly dragged myself off to the cinema for a bit of escapism with my friend John. We had arranged it the week before, otherwise I probably would not have bothered.

As I said, sometimes a movie comes along at just the right moment, to lift your spirits and make the world seem alright, and it did just that.

The film in question is called Gifted, directed by Marc Preston Webb.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tI01wBXGHUs

(Click on the picture above to watch the trailer)

The story centers around a spirited six year old child prodigy, Mary, played by an excellent young actress called McKenna Grace. Her mother, a mathematics genius, has passed recently, and she is now looked after by her uncle Frank, played by Chris Evans, in Florida. His plans for Mary are for her to have a normal life, not to be sucked into the abnormal life of a mathematics genius. But his mother, played by Lindsay Duncan, has other plans. She herself is a mathematics genius, and threatens to separate Frank and Mary so the child can "realise her potential".

I hadn't expected much to be honest. Judging from the trailer it looked like a fairly humdrum, paint by numbers story, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Very well written, and a story arc that fooled me most of the way. There were moments when it could have easily followed a "seen it a hundred times" scenario, but instead surprised me with original takes. It has to be said that the girl takes centre stage quite brilliantly. In real life she was nine when it was filmed, and I was comparing her talent on screen to some of the nine year-olds in the academy I teach at, which helped me appreciate just how good she was. Such an early start in her career, it will be interesting to see how far she goes.

Which brings me rather neatly to another gifted actress, that of Eva Marie Saint. Who, I bet some of you are asking. She was the female lead opposite Cary Grant in one of my favourite films, North by Northwest, by Alfred Hitchcock. It was made in 1959, and despite the dodgy cardboard sets it stands the test of time in story telling on film.

Eva Marie Saint, one could safely say, has had a long career . . . and counting. Born in 1924, she was 35 by the time she made North by Northwest, playing the 25 year-old character Eve Kendall. Remarkably, now age 93, she is still making movies and TV series. That's quite a career.

I wonder of McKenna Grace will still be making movies in 80 years time!


Thursday, 22 June 2017

MACBETH, MACBETH, BEWARE MACDUFF

My young film students have been at it again, and have produced their best work to date, in an abridged adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth. And when I say abridged, well, that's an understatement. They took what is almost a three hour play and turned it into a visual spectacle of just 16 minutes.

A year ago they had spent a number of months rehearsing a stage version, but when they came to me a few months later, hardly any of them really understood the story. At first I was a little dismayed, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as they were not bound by any preconceptions.

You can watch the finished version by clicking on the picture below.

https://vimeo.com/219845892

Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in 1606, just one year after the gunpowder plot to blow up parliament. James the 6th of Scotland was on the throne, as James the 1st of England, son of Mary Queen of Scots, and distant cousin of the recently deceased Elizabeth. Appropriately we filmed in a castle where Mary Queen of Scots had once been imprisoned.



In the Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes attempted to kill the leading politicians, and the king, because of his lack of support for the Catholic cause. He and his conspirators were tortured and then executed for their treason. Macbeth was written as a cautionary tale, warning any others that an awful fate would overtake any such future attempts.

Macbeth is partly based on fact. He was a real 11th century Scottish king, but this historical Macbeth reigned capably in Scotland from 1040 to 1057. He did indeed succeed Duncan, his cousin, whom he defeated in battle. But Macbeth was succeeded by his own stepson Lulach, but only for seven months.  Duncan's son Malcolm, then became King of Scotland in 1058. The Stuart kings claimed descent from Banquo, but Banquo is a mythical figure.

Now my students turn their attention to devising a new film for entry into film festivals next year. The vast experience they gained from making this recent film will stand them in good stead, in all aspects of filmmaking, from story structure to production values.

Younger students also embarked on abridged versions of Shakespeare plays in the past few months, namely A Midsummer Nights Dream and Romeo & Juliet.

400 years after the death of Shakespeare, and here are children of today enjoying his stories, and creating spectacular films using the same structure he wrote all those centuries ago.
At the end of the process, and after watching the finished film, many of the students saw parallels with current political times, especially when you consider that on a basic level Macbeth was written to warn that excessive ambition will have terrible consequences.

Maybe we should send the link to some of the worlds current leaders.


Friday, 16 June 2017

SETTING THE COURSE THROUGH LIFE

My working life in the creative industries started in 1981 when I went to work at Hall Advertising in Edinburgh, then part of Saatchi & Saatchi. It was a great time, and so much foolery was had that it never really felt like work. An early influence to me back then was the Creative Director Jim Downie. Though Jim was head of all things creative for the largest and most successful agency in Scotland at the time, he felt like one of the lads, and always encouraged those below to progress. I left Halls in the mid 80s but would never forget Jim.

Fast forward 32 years to now. Recently, in a conversation with my neighbour Frank, who has lived next door for a number of years, it transpired that he knew Jim Downie. Though Jim had never been far from my thoughts of the past, I had not seen him or spoken to him in all the 32 years. But this chat with Frank set me on a quest to meet up with Jim and reminisce.

Then, by absolute coincidence, just one week ago, as I walked home, I spotted a small film crew in the lane leading to my house. Obviously I've seen a film crew before and decided to leave them alone rather than go and nose. It would turn out that the film crew's director was none other than Jim Downie!

Yesterday we met for coffee at Cafe Rouge in Edinburgh. The passage of the years had played its part on both of us, but we recognised each other despite the changes. When I look at the photographs below comparing both of us from the 80s to now though, I think you'd find it hard to believe we are the same people.



Despite the passage of time, our passion for filmmaking was shared. He's since sent me various links to some of the TV commercials he's made recently. Cinematic sequences with Jim's trademark attention to detail. We talked a while of times past, and how things took a particular path, how opportunities came and went. It was at this point that I told him of a young student under my wing called Stanley, who was successful in landing a part in a major new Ridley Scott film, recently returning from filming alongside some very recognisable stars.

I don't think it matters if your mentor is famous or not, but their influence on your path can literally be life changing. Though I have forged my journey myself, and it has been hard at times but well supported by those around me, I would never have reached where I am now without having first met Jim Downie. I wonder if all of us can point to someone from our past that opened our eyes and set us on a particular course.

Reading this you will most likely not have heard of Jim Downie, but you will have heard of the director and cast pictured below. I wonder if in 32 years time Stanley, pictured on the right, will meet up with Ridley Scott and recall the time they first met on set as Stanley started his journey.


Now that's a meeting I'd like to have coffee over.


Friday, 9 June 2017

POLITICAL COMEDY MATERIAL

Politics is boring. But thankfully it is now the 9th of June, and all the hot air is over. It would seem though that the current PM did not get the huge majority she wanted. Though she remains as PM it is of a hung parliament and is attempting to form a government jointly with the 10 Irish politicians of the DUP.

Yes politics is boring, but you have to vote. It is a privilege, and I never waste my right. Though I'm not going to state here who I voted for, I'm not a fan of the Conservatives, but I'm also not a fan of the Scottish Nationalist Party, and I was not disappointed to learn they had lost a third of their seats.

Interesting times ahead, but for me personally I rarely see any effect in my life, and I'm fairly sure this will be no different. Tomorrow I will continue my work with my young students.

My students love making films, and they are definitely improving in their acting skills in front of camera, but there can be no doubt that for me, I prefer to be behind the camera. This week though, I had to pluck up the courage to get on the other side of the lens to have a new set of professional head shots done, by a good friend of mine, professional photographer Dave Stewart, of Studio 2.


Just now my students are in the throes of understanding parody, and have spent the last few weeks making one-minute shorts on any subject they choose. One of the best so far, as they are only half way through the 16 shorts they are making, was one on the infamous "wall" proposed by President Donald Trump.

Politics may well be boring, but it provides great comedy material, even at its worst.


Friday, 2 June 2017

NOT QUITE A MARATHON

There's a great route from my house, along the sea coast, to the town of North Berwick, which I haven't cycled for as long as I can remember, but at Pauline's suggestion I rectified that last Sunday.

I'm not an early riser by any means, and Pauline's suggestion to get away early doors on a Sunday morning was met with some resistance. But her reasoning was sound, to get along the busy, narrow and winding coast road before the hoards venture out for their Sunday drive, post breakfast. But it had slipped our minds that this particular day was also the Edinburgh Marathon, when just over 30,000 runners would take the exact same route that we planned to cycle!

We were pushing off from the house around 9am, joining the promenade just a few metres from our front door, when immediately we saw all the traffic cones and tapes cordoning off sections of the beach-side walkway, for the imminent arrival of said runners. We deduced they would start their route at 10am from the city centre, so we had a good head start on them, and with a stiff tail wind would easily stay ahead of the pack. We took advantage of the taped off route as we left the city, which was a little precarious as police motorcycles were already patrolling the route, and were zooming toward us in the opposite direction, but didn't seem to mind what we were doing.

At points our chosen route was well away from the runners path, especially passing Musselburgh, taking the semi-circular dirt track around the lagoons nature area, rejoining the main road, and more cones and an increasing number of officials in hi-viz jackets, on the outskirts of Prestonpans. This was clearly some sort of staging post, and judging by the set up and mile markers, this was the finish line for those running the half marathon.

Leaving the outskirts of the small town, still hugging the coast east, it suddenly dawned on us that the twisting, narrow road, that is normally a little hair raising with fast moving morons in cars, was entirely empty. We had the whole road to ourselves. At this point we vowed to take note of the marathon date for future years, and make this run an annual event for ourselves, to take advantage of the car-free roads.

Two thirds of the way to North Berwick we left the marathon route behind, entering the quaint little village of Aberlady, past the nature reserve that we have both often visited, and then turned inland away from the coast. Then almost immediately turning east again, along narrow quiet back roads, the verges and walls covered in wild flowers, among them Red Valerian.

The distinctive shape of Berwick Law was in the distance, marking our own finish line.


The small conical hill is actually a volcanic plug, blown there through the skies around 360 million years ago. Since 1709 a set of whale jawbones has sat atop the rock, replaced several times, the last being in situ since 1933. In 2005, after they had mostly rotted away, they were removed permanently. As they were such an iconic element, a fibreglass replica was made and installed in 2008.

No cycle trip is ever truly complete until a quantity of coffee and cake has been consumed, and on this occasion we pulled in to a trendy looking place called Steam Punk, on the outskirts of North Berwick.


After a quick stop off on the coast near the Seabird Centre, to view the largest gannet colony in the world on Bass Rock, with some 150,000 birds, we headed for the train station.

Our journey had been just 22 miles, four short of a marathon. With a strong wind now blowing from the west we had opted to catch a train home. Thankfully we boarded at North Berwick, as just two stops later the remnants of those 30,000 runners also need a ride home.



Friday, 26 May 2017

BIRTH DAYS

Last week I blogged on the wide variety of wildlife in my garden and surrounds. Well, that number has swollen considerably.

The weather has been particularly nice in Edinburgh for the whole of the week, and though we are in desperate need of rain soon, it makes a pleasant change to be able to have breakfast in the garden.

Before I settle down to my own though, the wildlife feeding comes first. I'm still putting out the usual amount, but now there are many more mouths to feed. The Starlings have fledglings! They are a demanding lot, screeching for attention, and competing with the Sparrows fledglings for the seeds and mealworms. Mmmm, yum.

The mouse also needs to get his breakfast of course, but as the photo below shows, he's both daring, coming out while I'm stood right in front of him, and adaptable. The birds don't seem that interested in the high fat content peanuts at this time of year, so more for the mouse I guess. Can you spot him?


The temperature gradually rose as the week progressed, peaking today at 25C (77F), which for Scotland is a heat wave! With very little wind it was the perfect weather to get out on my bike.

And that is how the week ends, meeting Pauline after her work, on the other side of the city, for a joint cycle home. Through the back streets and various small wooded glens, through tunnels of pale green leafed trees and a backdrop of bird song, past children playing in the river, Tom Sawyer-like.

The route home was a strangled one, strangely with more uphill than on my way out. Strange, because I left from sea level. However, it had to be Pauline's choice, as today is also a birthday of a different kind, that of my good friend, and neighbour, Pauline.

Traditionally we take on the pleasurable task of providing a birthday supper, and though mine is only pizza and a movie, there is a special little something. She has a favourite sweet that I very occasionally make, which is a chocolate pecan torte. She thinks I'll have been out buying a Marks & Spencers gluten free cake today, but little does she know what awaits. Of course I also get to indulge.


The birds are happy with their mealworms, and Pauline will be delighted with her chocolate indulgence I'm guessing.


Friday, 19 May 2017

OF MICE AND . . . BIRDS

If there's one thing I really enjoy every day it's feeding the wildlife in my garden. This week has been particularly fun with an abundance of sightings, but not just in the garden.

We're just getting into warmer temperatures now, and on Wednesday of this week it was warm enough to sit out in the garden and have breakfast. So I purposely fed the birds before sitting down to quietly eat my muesli. I never have to wait long. Sometimes I don't even make it up the back steps into the house before the Starlings descend. Energetically they hoovered up the mealworms in just a few seconds, pecking each other out of the way, before moving on to my neighbour Pauline's garden for a second course. We have one particular Starling, which I've noticed perches on a particular branch, which is a perfect mimic of other birds, and even the crying of a neighbour's baby!

Then came nature's announcement that summer had arrived, as several screeching birds swooped down through the garden at unbelievable speed. The Swifts had returned!

The Sparrows are comical, almost like unruly teenagers, lazily hanging around my garden all day, making a racket that seems like they are gossiping with each other, whilst enjoying the safety of cover, usually in the dense ivy or fir tree. The ivy though is starting to get quickly out of hand as it has literally burst into rapid growth in need of a slight rim I think otherwise I'm soon not going to be able to get down to the garden to feed the wildlife.


Most of the birds are now starting to perch inside the birch as it reaches full leaf, so that provides a better opportunity to see them. On this particular morning I realised there were more than the usual number of Sparrows, when it dawned on me that I was watching new fledglings. That was a great treat.

The blackbird hangs around most of the day as well, and his song is a joy at the end of every day. Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Crows, Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves, Magpies; all visitors in that breakfast time period.

The other "wildlife" in my garden habitat are two field mice. The have their own corners and are quite bold. Unusually they are out during the day, and one very small one, a picture of who ends this blog, seems unphased by my presence, and sometimes even sits atop a pot while I put food out, patiently waiting. I do worry about him, as though I have a pretty good fence all around, a persistent cat of a neighbour occasionally gets in. On Thursday this week I spotted it, slinking away slowly. Slowly that was until it heard me thundering down the stairs in hot pursuit!

Pauline also has a field mouse in her garden, which occasionally pops through to mine to steal food, and I noticed during the day that it's food had not gone. I checked a few times and it remained there all day. I was getting concerned that the cat had found its prey. Later that night, after dark, I decided to take a torch for one last check. Maybe it had been spooked by the cat and decided to return to nocturnal activities. To my relief, not only was the food gone, but he was there, on top of Pauline's narrow, thin, metal, six-foot bird table, shimmying down one of the narrow legs, upside down. It was very funny to watch. Pauline had seen this once before but I never had, so I was very lucky with my timing.

Away from my garden earlier in the week, whilst walking home late one night along a local lane, I was swooped by three bats out catching bugs. But the best siting of the week was driving home late one evening from seeing a friend in the country. On a long straight stretch of road, up ahead, illuminated by a trucks lights going the opposite way, was the white underside of a large owl, gliding through the air, across the road, to a small wood on the opposite side. I pulled over into an adjacent layby, switched off the lights and engine, and waited patiently. It didn't reappear, but it hooted several times. A very spooky but fabulous sound.

Pauline has topped all these encounters this week though. She is away up north on holiday and witnessed her first enormous Sea Eagle. Very jealous. Can't wait to hear all about that.

Meanwhile I'll be quite content with my Sparrows and mouse.



Friday, 12 May 2017

LIVE YOUR DREAMS

One of the best films of recent times is a Ben stiller movie called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I'm in the process of looking more closely at this film, deconstructing it, with a view to teaching my young students about it. It deals with a number of issues that may affect the majority of us, and it is this that makes the film so good I think. It is no coincidence that it is set at Life magazine.

If you haven't seen it, basically it is a quest movie about a daydreaming, boring photo processor, Walter Mitty, working at Life magazine in its last days before going online. He loses a negative, a first for him, for the last issue's cover, sent by one of the photographers, Sean, twho is the only person that recognises Walter's skills. The film takes us on an epic adventure from shark attacks in Greenland, to volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Snow Leopards in Afghanistan.

To mark the beats of Walters quest throughout the film, he regulalrly gets calls from Todd of eHarmony, asking what else he can add to Walter's profile to make him more interesting, to increase his chances of finding a partner. Part of what makes Walter so boring, is his scrupulous accounting of his finances, which stays all the way through. A sort of count down to oblivion for him, down to zero dollars. His first job had been in a pizza restaurant called Papa John's, and he finds himself in one on Iceland. As he studies the plastic cup, after first checking his dwindling finances of course, he suddenly has an urge to get out of there. Away from the superficial plasticity of an international food chain, a metaphor for the world. This marks the point where Walter starts to change. Working for money and counting every bean is a waste of a precious, short life. This is reaffirmed by Life magazine's motto all the way through the film:

"To see things thousands of miles away,
things hidden behind walls and within rooms,
things dangerous to come to,
to draw closer, to see, and be amazed"

Though Walter had worked at Life magazine for a long time, his role was obscure, and a bitter sweet reminder that modern technology is changing everything, including the security of all our jobs. In essence, if you aren't creating something new, you're replaceable.

We're not here long at all, and we're really good at excuses, busy living up to what other people think we should be doing. But the bottom line is, stop doing what you hate and go out and live your dreams.

At the end of the film Todd from eHarmony appears and ask Walter if he is zoning out still, daydreaming. Walter pauses a moment, reflecting on what he's experienced, before he answers . . .

"Not so much"

Friday, 5 May 2017

DISCO DIVA

A couple of weeks ago I was in Carlisle for a wedding. I wasn't able to make the actual ceremony, and arrived just in time for the evening celebration. It's been a long time since I've been to a wedding reception, and on this occasion I thought I'd dropped through a wormhole, back in time.

As people gathered, the DJ, incomprehensible on the microphone, started his play list for the evening. Someone leaned over to me and told me that the same guy had run all the hotel's disco needs since 1979.

Well, I don't think he's bought any music since then either!

However, 1979 was a great year for music. I was 16 at the time, and on a Friday evening I would travel into Edinburgh to Cinderellas, an enormous disco at the bottom of St Stephen Street. I recall I wore black trousers that had a thin white line down the seam of each leg, that I had to lie on the floor to squeeze myself into.

Most of the other young people there were busy sneaking in bottles of vodka in their handbags, and so on. But for me, it was straight onto the dance floor. Many of my friends knew how much I loved to dance, and I was pretty good, though I say so myself, and they would follow me onto the floor. The DJ must have loved me too, because I was regularly the first on, and rarely left.

It was probably a subliminal influence of the disco at the wedding reception, but in the middle of this week I found myself researching hits that I remember from the charts around that time. How many of these do you recall:

Le Freak - Chic: Loved this one, sitting on the floor doing particular moves, and I always led from the front.
YMCA - The Village People
Don’t bring me down - ELO
Tragedy - Bee Gees
Video Killed the Radio Star - The Buggles
Pop Muzik - M
Light My Fire - Aimii Stewart
Rivers of Babylon - Boney M
The Shuffle - Van McCoy
Crazy Little Thing Called Love - Queen
Funky Town - Lipps Inc

Then there were others I came across, which though not dance music per se, brought back fond memories:

Monster Mash - Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Kickers
Walking on the Moon - Police
Enola Gay - Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
Another Brick In The Wall - Pink Floyd
Oxygene part IV - Jean Michel Jarre
19 - Paul Hardcastle

Unfortunately there wasn't a single one of the dance tracks above that the Carlisle hotel DJ played that night, otherwise I would have been first on the floor, and would most likely not have left.


Friday, 28 April 2017

IT'S A SIGN

I found an excellent article recently online which I thought I'd share with you this week.

It centres around how the majority of us are making things harder for ourselves than they necessarily need to be. I must admit to feeling I fitted most of the categories.

It started with a fairly common one; taking offence at something when in actual fact there was most likely none intended. An example given was of another driver on the road cutting you up, but from my own perspective I could see how I "ascribe intent", as it was headed, when a friend will make a trivial comment or observation. At times I can react as if it's a personal slap in the face, which it mostly never is (some who know me well will be nodding their heads right now!)

If you read my blog regularly you'll know I make and teach film. Another situation described one as, being the star of your own movie. You wrote the script, and therefore you know how you want it to unfold, and even end. But, like most of my writing, no one else has read the script, then when someone screws up their expected lines, or fails to do something, you feel that the movie is ruined in that instant.

Hmmm, this was becoming eerily familiar! But I'll bet I'm not alone in all this.

As I look back on my life, and some of my closest friends make observations, it is clear I am a "glass half empty" sort of person a lot of the time. Which made me fit the next paragraph in the article very easily; I fast forward everything to its worst possible outcome in my mind when a problem appears, when the actual outcome is usually better than utter disaster.

Others need very little explanation, but rang similar bells, such as, refusing to let go of things; comparing my life to others in a negative manner; having unrealistic expectations of situations or others.

I would say that over the years, on average, I have been a believer in "fate". Some things have happened in my life that cannot be explained in any other way, and I'm happy to say, against my glass half empty personality, have been rewarding moments. A close friend of mine though, dismisses fate 100%. It is, he says, like waiting for "a sign" before acting.

Well, that brings me rather neatly to the last item on the list.

Over the past year I have been contemplating making some pretty big changes. But that is as far as it has progressed to date. Contemplating. But the last paragraph in the article made me sit up and take stock, and has actually made me start the process. It's heading was; You let other people steal from you.

This wasn't in the sense of material items or money etc, but referred directly to Time. For me, time is way higher up on my priority list than money. However, for a long period of time now I have been giving away my time, mostly to people and situations that will never recognise the full extent of what I give. In fact, I can easily go as far as saying, it has raised an expectation in those people. The big changes will put pay to this.

I must apologise to my good friend, because for me, finding this article, and particularly that paragraph, was most definitely a sign.


Friday, 21 April 2017

A GRAND ADVENTURE

I'm pretty hopeless at knowing the titles of my different relations. The easy ones are auntie, gran etc, but beyond that is confusing. This weekend I'm off to "my brothers son's" wedding, as I refer to him. He is, of course, my nephew. I'm not big on weddings or the whole social chit chat with strangers thrown together, but I'm looking forward to catching up with my brother, which I haven't done for a very long time, and brainstorming a little on a trip we're going to take into the past together in July.

In 1971, as a little boy of eight, I lived not far from Glencoe on the outskirts of a village called Ballachulish. I have few memories of childhood, but the ones from there are happy ones. One such memory was of the turntable ferries that used to transport six cars at a time across the water before they built a bridge in 1975. One of those ferries was called the Glenchulish, and it survives to this day as the Glenelg ferry, making the short crossing from the mainland to Skye. Just before that it continued to ferry cars back and forth right up until the bridge was opened.


The rest of my memories are a little unclear, but because my brother is eight years older than me I figured he would be the perfect travel companion to try and recall the memories clearer while we are there.

That eight year old boy spent the summer holidays with a small leather pouch collecting money from the waiting cars before the boarded the ferry. I would then make the crossing back and forth with the ferrymen. It was a recent picture online of the Glenachulish that made me wonder what had happened to the other two, the Glen Loy and Glen Duror.


To cut a long story short I made contact with a community group in Ballachulish, and they have given me directions to the locations of the abandoned, decaying hulls. So my brother and I are on a quest to find them and document them at the end of July. We'll also walk the old railway tracks, long since decommissioned, and reminisce of a time now lost. We're hoping to capture most of it on film and edit a short film together to gift to the community group in Ballachulish to the new museum they are planning.

It's starting to shape up to a grand adventure.


Friday, 14 April 2017

THE THREE BRETHREN

It's been a while since our little hillwalking trio, myself, Andrew and Pauline, had an overnight outdoor adventure. Recently we had enjoyed a one day walk to the Eildon hills of the Borders, taking in the Roman settlement of Trimontium, and the Borders countryside was to once again provide us with a destination, this time for an overnighter in our tents. With the Easter holidays in full swing, and sunny skies forecast, we set our sights on a small section of the Southern Upland Way, starting out from Innerleithen and finishing at Galashiels.

Access to the start of our walk was a mile and a half or so along tarmac, across the River Tweed, and then onto the route proper. The path we followed for the entire walk was great, and skirts an area called the Minchmoor.


The first day was a long pull gradually upwards, under hot, cloudless skies, but it was a fabulous, leisurely wander. The Southern Upland Way is the longest route of its kind in Scotland, some 212 miles, from Portpatrick in the west to Cockburnspath in the east.

The Minchmoor section we were walking has evidence to date it back to pre-Roman times as a Pictish Road, and was the main highway well in to Medieval times between east and west.

It is said that the Marquis of Montrose used this very route to flee from the battle of Philiphaugh in September 1645. He was eventually captured and hung in Edinburgh, and his head was displayed on a  spike in the Tolbooth. Lovely. It is said that as he was fleeing he buried a stash of money somewhere along the route, so we were keeping our eyes out for buried treasure.

A couple of hours in we came upon The Cheese Well. It is a natural spring and provided refreshment for thirsty travelers along the route, as it did for us this day as we filled out water bottles. It can be found marked on maps going back to the 1600s and derives its name from leaving small presents of cheese to thank and placate the fairies. These days people leave a coin or two on the engraved rock, so when in Rome, as they say.

A little further on, and a short few hundred yards detour, we came to the summit cairn of Minchmoor. A number of mountain bikers were already there, and in the short time we stood on its summit a number of others arrived, such is the popularity of the area with bikers. We had just come down and back on to the Southern Upland Way when Pauline found buried treasure. Well, actually, commemorative coins stashed in a hole in the wall to anyone who wants one. You'd have to know they were there mind you. There were only three left, and all a little corroded, so we only took one.

As I said at the beginning, we had walked the Eildons a few weeks back, which were now visible in the distance. On that walk we had enjoyed a treat of visiting the ancient Roman site of Trimontium. There we marveled at depressions and lumps and bumps on the ground, showing evidence of a once mighty settlement. As our walk along the Minchmoor progressed we came upon a man-made gouge called Wallace's Trench. This was a purpose built defensive ditch some 4 to 6 feet high, clearly made to defend one area from an approaching force of some size. As our small band of three got closer and closer, it looked from a distance like a slightly raised line of ground. More lumps and bumps of things long buried. But when we finally reached the actual site it was astonishing in its scale and preservation, still perfectly formed as a trench many hundreds of troops could have easily concealed themselves in.


Near to the end of our day was the third highlight of the route, and the title of this blog, The Three Brethren. When Pauline had first mentioned them I thought it referred to three slightly rounded hills next to each other, but in actual fact they are three giant cairns atop a hill at 465m.


Beautifully constructed, and standing some ten feet tall, they mark the intersection of the estates of Buccleuch, Yair and Selkirk. Originally there was only one cairn, built by Alexander Pringle in 1512 (of the wool jumper fame) and owner of the Yair estate.

This was to be our cut off point to drop down on the southern side of the route to camp for the night. As the sun was setting we tucked into our evening meals among the heather, relaxing after a rewarding day.


The sun shone again for us the following morning. This was to be a much shorter day as we made our way to Galashiels, but the walk was through some of the prettiest woods, along fabulous little paths dappled in sunlight, that I have ever walked.


As we descended toward the mighty River Tweed once more, the path was lined with great stands of Douglas Fir. It was popular in Georgian and Victorian times to plant Rhododendrons and Douglas Fir in the extended gardens of large estate houses.


So I started to think we may come upon just such a house. And we did. A beautiful, and grade 1 listed, Georgian mansion, built of red sandstone, the seat of Yair estate and Alexander Pringle that had built the first of The Three Brethren. A long time back the estate and house had been sold to pay off debts, but Pringle went to India, made a fortune, and on his return bought back the family estate.


We now ascended for one last time, across rolling farmland manicured by munching sheep, across well made dry stain dykes, past estate workers burning heather to create new and fresh habitat for red grouse, to eventually sit upon a small rounded hill overlooking the town of Galashiels.


The trip ended as it had begun, with coffee and cake. Of course.