Friday, 27 January 2017


One week on from the US Presidential inauguration, and we're still here! When that orange person stepped onto the stage my heart sank.

But far more exciting things have been happening on a stage near me, and no, that's not fake news!

The other side of the academy that I teach Film & TV at, concentrates on training students for the stage. In fact it would be safe to say that the vast majority of students attend for the singing and dancing. In the same way that they learn how to make films, by making a film, there can be no better study for stage than putting on a performance, and for the past six months, that is exactly what they have been working toward.

Last Saturday they put on two performances of Singing In The Rain at a nearby theatre. I had to keep reminding myself that the boy playing the male lead role of Don is only 13 years old! I could never have done that at 13.

Over the most recent months they have become a little jaded with the constant rehearsals, which is understandable, as two out of the three hours at the academy were solely devoted to that purpose, sometimes even as much as three.  But it's all over now, and on the day, with the added excitement of glitzy costumes and a sold out house, it all felt worth while. They put on a remarkable show, and at the end the audience gave them a standing ovation.

Sadly I never got to see the full show in all its glory, as I was working back stage in the Green Room, getting them ready to go on for different scenes. There is no lasting record of the show, as due to the licence restrictions we were not allowed to film it.

But filming is something we are about to start in the next two weeks. This years big project is to film abridged Shakespeare plays, but adapted for the screen. They had previously worked on them to perform in front of their parents back in June, but for various reasons this never happened. So a decision was taken to turn them into films. At first the students expectation was that they would be filming what they had created for the stage, but as the weeks went by, they started to realise that just wasn't going to look good on film.

First day of filming is on 11 February for Midsummer Nights Dream, Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth. For the latter, the teenage students will get their first taste of filming "on location" away from the academy.

A year ago we spent three months in production for their film festival movies, but this time we have half the amount of time and double the amount of shots! I can be pretty certain I wont be given several two or three-hour days as in the show rehearsals, which is a shame, as it puts everyone under a lot of pressure. Hopefully, though, with the right support, we can pull it off and there will be no disasters.

So maybe best not to mention the name of that Scottish play from now on.

Thursday, 19 January 2017


A short 15 minute walk from my house brings me to the local Figgate Park. It is here that over the past few years the Council have made many excellent improvements, both for wildlife and visitors alike. So much so that we are seeing a rise in the variety of wildlife frequent its central pond and burn.

There is a resident swan family on the pond, and they successfully raise young every year. They are definitely the bosses of the pond, and once the signets are on the water, the male chases all other birds away, should they stray too close.

Earlier last year we were treated to the exotic looking Mandarin Duck, with it's bright orange feathers, which hung around for most of the year. Then during the year there were many sightings of a young otter. This was a great surprise, though I haven't seen it myself, yet.

The list is huge; Tufted Duck, Mallard, Canada Geese, Greylag geese, Coot, Moorhen, Blackheaded Gulls, Heron, Goosander. Then there's the woodland and other birds; Robin, various Tits, Swallow, Thrush, Goldcrest, Bullfinch, Redwing, Sand Martin, Buzzard, Woodpecker, Chaffinch, Black Bird, Sparrow . . . jeez, the list just goes on and on.

My friend Pauline is a frequent visitor to the park and has spotted way more than I have. Plus I have a little difficulty in recognising the different types. On Monday I wandered through the park in search of one particular bird, which I'll mention in a moment, when I spotted a bird I hadn't seen before, hopping up the trunk of a tree. Thanks to a "Twitcher" standing close by with her camera, I found out it was a Tree Creeper, a rare visitor to the park apparently.

But it was the day before that I had a spectacular view of a even rarer visitor, a Kingfisher. It scoots along low over the small burn that runs through the park, perching on overhanging branches occasionally. The burn is very close to the public path, but it seems to be un-phased by people passing by, so much so, that it has become the place for photographers to capture stunning images regularly.

On this day though, despite waiting for a fair amount of time, it did not appear. With shopping to be done in the local high street, I left the Figgate Park and headed toward Portobello. My route took me through a much smaller park, called Rosefield, and the same burn twists through here on its way to the sea. Not expecting anything, I had it in my mind that wouldn't it be great if the Kingfisher were here.

Within just a few minutes there it was! The sun broke through briefly and lit its iridescent plumage. I stood for an age, just watching, as it perched on a little branch, not moving. I thought of all the other people waiting patiently in the park, just over the main road. There is a long, narrow, connecting tunnel between the two parks that the burn runs through, and though unbelievable, I guess it has no fear and flies through the long tunnel between the parks.

So far I haven't managed to capture an image of it, but sometimes it's just nice to stand there and enjoy the view. However, I couldn't resist posting a picture of it, so here's a cracker that someone took in Figgate Park recently.

Friday, 13 January 2017


A part of me was removed the other day.

Sounds a bit alarming, but actually it was just a tooth. Not the greatest event I've ever looked forward to, but necessary. During my last cycle trip in December I was crawling the walls of my tent in the evening, such was the pain. Amazing something so small can cause so much pain.

The following day I was exhausted having had little sleep, and it was all I could do to complete a short cycle then speed into the nearby town of Callander for a pharmacy and pain relief.

On return to Edinburgh, and an emergency appointment with the dentist, I was given two options:
1/ lengthy, and expensive, root canal work.
2/ Extraction

The tooth felt slightly wobbly, and during this dentist visit she applied a dressing that killed off the nerve, so it felt decidedly comfortable. But it was clear that doing a root canal procedure was not guaranteed to work, mainly due to the difficulty of it being the last molar right at the back, as access was tricky. If it didn't work, then it would be extracted anyway. Losing a tooth is not a decision taken lightly, but with the prospect of spending £600 with no guarantee . . . 

But Christmas was just around the corner, so I decided to limp on and see if I could make it through the festive season pain free, and thus enjoy all it had to give. Which is exactly what happened.

And so, 48 hours ago, out it came.

I had a wisdom tooth removed about 30 years ago, under a sedative, which only helped a little bit. It was a traumatic procedure, and the bleeding took hours to stop. So you can imagine in the days leading up to the extraction I was very anxious, to put it mildly. I kept imagining that she would be stood on my chest bracing herself, with pliers attached to my tooth, rocking back and forth!

On the day, my anxiety was even higher, despite keeping busy and distracting myself all morning. Sitting in the dentist chair, out came the needle. Why is that thing so damn painful?! It's extremely thin, so you'd think it would be OK. Three injections later and I was not in the best of moods. Then I had to sit in the waiting room for another 15 minutes, while the anaesthetic took effect.

Then it was extraction time!


Open wide . . .

And in went what I can only describe as medieval torture implements!

Incredibly, in around 15 seconds, it was all over! A bit of shoving but no pain! All that worry for nothing!

If this is happening to you anytime soon, I hope my little story helps.

The dentist wouldn't give me the tooth, so I never got to put it under my pillow for the Tooth Fairy!


Friday, 6 January 2017


Ahhh, the start of a new year. So much hope. So many promises.

I'm not one for resolutions these days, simply because I rarely manage to keep them. A friend however, did make me laugh recently. Online she posted her New Year resolutions, with a preamble saying, "this year I thought I'd set more realistic resolutions". Her list read thus:
1/ Try not to go to the gym.
2/ Make every effort to eat more.
3/ Put on more weight (see item 2).

And so on. For me, instead of resolutions, I set goals. Fairly non specific and without dates, such as, write a new screenplay, learn a musical instrument, improve fitness.

In support of improving fitness, New Years Day was marked with a round trip cycle run, from my house, west, mainly on cycle paths and tracks, to the Forth Bridges. I did this a few years ago as part of cycling the John Muir Way. Just 10 metres from my front door and I'm on the promenade and joining the cycle path. For almost the first half I did not touch a road, until getting just past the docks area. Though there have been a number of improvements to cycle path provision in Edinburgh, there are some annoying missing links, and you are forced onto a busy road to get from the docks to Crammond.

At the Crammond end is another long promenade, then, at the end I turned south and followed the River Almond upstream, eventually bringing me to the Dalmeny Estate.

This is a great section, along dirt tracks and through trees, past the grand Dalmeny House and finishing under the majestic Forth Rail Bridge.

From this vantage point the rail bridge is very close, with the road suspension bridge just beyond, and beyond that again, the brand new cable-stay road bridge, due to open very soon. I think this is the only place in the world where three bridge engineering styles can be seen together, that of cantilever, suspension and cable-stay.

The return run was a little faster due to a nice tailwind, but both promenades had become very busy, as those nursing hangovers ventured out for a walk on the first day of the year.

A couple of days later and there was a traditional gathering of friends for a Quiz of the Previous Year. Needless to say there was a round of "who had died", plus rounds such as Movie Taglines, Music and Politics. It always ends with several scenarios taken from the news and in teams you have to mime three for the other teams to guess. All good fun.

Together with the eating of more good food, several trips to the cinema and visits to new coffee shops, I can say with confidence that 2017 has started well.