Friday, 24 February 2017


I'm lucky to be able to indulge myself in one of my passions, filmmaking, for a living. I'm one of those rare people who can say with all honesty, that I love my job. And I'm constantly looking for new ways to stretch my experience, and around seven years ago I started to teach film. I still take on the odd contract to make short films with production companies, but teaching has become far more rewarding personally.

In those early days I was passing on my skills to a variety of different age groups, from those with learning difficulties in their 20s, to elderly, early-onset dementia sufferers. It was remarkable the response that was attained, especially with those with dementia.

Then came an opportunity to run a short term workshop over a period of weeks with school students from challenging, socioeconomic backgrounds.

This was the start of something that led me to where I am now. I had found my niche. Teaching young people film literacy and filmmaking. Almost three years ago now, I took up my current post with PQA, and haven't looked back.

That experience has enabled me to take on ever more challenging positions and projects. Last year was no exception, with a very rewarding project with the Festival Theatre, and then becoming part of a team that is bringing film literacy skills to school teachers, to enable them to take it into their classrooms. This is part of a much wider project by Creative Scotland nationwide.

All of these projects have been adding up to a very wide level of experience and knowledge, but I could see that there was a bias toward those of school age in most of the projects being funded. There was definitely a market for these skills in post-school age, especially for those in society who are disadvantaged. Film is a remarkable vehicle for improving self confidence and raising self esteem in those who feel left behind, and feel that all hope may be lost.

So I was excited to see a new post advertised recently to run a project with young offenders in a Scottish prison.

Of course, it will be a great addition to my wealth of experience, but that aside, I know film will bring a lot to those incarcerated. I applied, and today I attended the interview at the prison I would be working in, along with six other strong contenders. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be me they choose.

I'm already excited at the prospect of meeting my new students. Afterall, who wouldn't want to make a positive difference to someone's life given the chance.

Friday, 17 February 2017


There's definitely a thread, or should I say, line, of drugs running through this weeks blog. Some may disagree with some opinions I've written here, in fact, it may just get "right up your nose".

Never one to turn down a chance to go to the theatre, especially if it's with a free ticket, I took up the invite of my friend Innes to join a packed house at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh to see the musical Rent. Loosely based on Puccini's La Boheme, it is set circa 1989 in New York City. It follows the lives of a group of friends living in the East Village, as they deal with love, loss, AIDS and modern day life, with transmission through sex and drugs of the HIV virus playing its part in the demise of some characters.

At least, that's what I'm told it was about.

It is closer to a rock opera than a musical I would say, and though the choreography and the singing voices of the actors was without fault, the score was just one big noise. Eventually it all blended into one, and I struggled, as did those around me, to make any sense of what was going on. Thankfully, with the pre knowledge of the synopsis, I was able to occasionally pin a scene on what could be a part of the story, but other than that, I can't say it grabbed me. What you might call a "Marmite" show. I was so unimpressed personally, I did something I've never done before, and left at the interval.

Part of that was the experience, but part was also that I was pretty much exhausted from a recent project I'd undertaken.

Just three weeks ago I invested in a new rental apartment in the centre of Edinburgh city. To say that you don't get much for your money these days is an understatement. It's probably just as well that I'm not going to allow tenants to have pets, as it's so small you couldn't get a cat in there, let alone swing it. At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking very little needed done before getting it on the market. As the first few days rolled by, it became evident that was not the case.

Various bodged repair jobs had been crudely covered up, which all needed corrected, but worse than that, there was an unidentifiable smell. The more I worked in the place, the more I noticed it. To cut a long, investigative story short, I finally deduced it was the stale and acrid residue of a heavy hash smoker! The brown tar-like substance I literally scraped from the upper reaches of the UPVC window frames, was enough to bring back your lunch. I'm not suggesting it was the previous owner, as during my investigative work in lifting the floorboards, there was a strong smell of something similar emanating from the flat below. Two weeks on, and I'm not much further forward in getting rid of it, despite using sealers on the walls and woodwork, as well as deep cleaning. I am now at the stage of stripping off all the wallpaper and starting again.

The bedroom is the one room that is unaffected, and despite being small, it looks great now that it is finished.

Everything comes in threes they say, and to round off the week I had a drug experience of a different kind, in the form of T2, the sequel to the 1996 film Trainspotting.

Same cast, same director. The story centres around the return of Ewan McGregor's character Renton, who, at the end of the original film, made off with the groups illgotten drugs money. Having fallen on miserable times in Amsterdam, he returns to Edinburgh and looks up old friends. But the psychopath Begbie (Robert Carlyle), in an unconnected incident, escapes from prison, and when he learns that Renton is in town, he seeks revenge for being double crossed.

It lacks the energy and pace of the first film, but it has enough surprises and moments of disgust to be just as entertaining in its own right. If you haven't seen the original though, a lot of the references will be lost on you. Production values, helped by a much larger budget of course, were far higher, and it was a lot of fun location spotting in the setting of Edinburgh. There's a nice start to the film to show a lot has changed in the past 20 years, as McGregor's character arrives in Edinburgh, and travels on the modern tram into the city centre, with a look of surprise on his face as he stares out of the window.

A familiar visual moment for me in the first film was when they visit the UKs most remote railway station at Corrour, and the view toward the hill Leum Uilleim, a favourite destination of mine. It was fun when the sequel returned to the same spot. 

Famously in the first film, Ewan McGregors character delivers a monologue, based on Iggy Pops Lust for Life. It memorably starts off:
"Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a big television. Choose washing machines, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance..."

In T2 they update it well, and it serves to demonstrate some changes of the past 20 years:
"Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and hope that someone cares what you had for breakfast. Choose reality TV. Choose a zero-hours contract, a two-hour journey to work. Choose the same for your kids and smother the pain with an unknown drug someone made in their kitchen..."

Choose Life.

Then a remarkable moment happened as we wandered home, discussing the films merits. As we came to a road junction, a recognisable figure came round the corner. None other than Aidan Bremner, father of Ewen Bremner, who plays Spud in Trainspotting! It was an astonishing coincidence, even more so as it is also 20 years since I have seen Aidan! Ewen was born and brought up where I live in Portobello, so there is a strong connection, and his father and I have been friends since the start of the 90s, when I ran my deli.

What a fitting end to a Perfect Day.

Friday, 10 February 2017


In the middle of last year I sold a second apartment that I had been renting out. This was for various reasons, but importantly, the generated capital had to be reinvested in something similar, as it represents my pension provision.

It has taken until this month for everything to work out, and two weeks ago I took possession of the new property.

The previous one had been very close to where my own apartment is. So close, in fact, that I could have popped down the stairs to borrow a cup of sugar! The new one though is in the centre of the city, mainly to enable me to secure a tenant without too much wait.

There were a number of things that needed attention, and I had set a budget for those. Initially I had forgotten that our money grabbing government had recently imposed a 3% penalty, they call it a tax, on anyone buying an apartment that is not their primary residence. This despite that they are not building enough properties to rent and keep bellowing on to us to make provision for our pension. I had done so, but clearly that was a bad thing to do!
So that took a large chunk out of my renovation budget.

Which has posed a problem.

I should have guessed, but there is a lot more wrong with this property than initially thought. Some of it caused by bodged-up repairs by so called professional builders in the past, doing a very amateur fix, and leaving the owners with a whopping bill. The list grew and grew.

One item that needed attention, which should have been very simple, was the discovery of a gas meter. There are no gas appliances in the property, and further investigation revealed there hasn't been so since 2007. So, get it removed as it's taking up space was the logical next step.

I attempted that this morning, and it is two hours of my life I will never get back!

I contacted British Gas. In fact, I rang them four times, as they persistently cut me off, usually at a point in the conversation where we had almost cracked the problem. It's lucky the house phone is made of tough stuff, considering I launched it across the room several times.

Eventually, during one 54 minute conversation, I started to get somewhere, until the British Gas (BG) persons computer said "no". It went a little something like this:
Me: So I need this meter removed. Here's my address.
BG: Sorry but that address doesn't exist.
Me: Well, it was built in the late 1800s, so I think you'll find it does.
BG: Its not on our national data base. 
Me: So that means the property doesn't exist.
BG: That's correct. Anything else I can help you with?
Me: Aaaaaaargh!
Me: Explain why to me.
BG: The address you gave us and the one on the system don't match.

To cut a long, long, long story short, the address they had was the same, just in a different form, and the BG person said it was impossible to change, and so I would just have to leave the meter where it was. According to them there was no meter in the property, (I had a photograph of it!!!) and that the meter number I had given him was supplying gas to another property two floors below!

I hung up.

I then called Scottish Gas Networks, who deal with the engineering. This time I get a cheerful Glasgow person. And guess what? Done and dusted in five minutes.

You can always rely on a Scot to cut through the bullshit.

Friday, 3 February 2017


Wildlife has the ability to give us amazing moments and put a smile on our faces, and so it was this week.

Recently, as you will have read in a previous blog, I had a close encounter with a Kingfisher in a local park. I didn't have my camera with me, and so I just stood and watched the beauty of the bird in its natural habitat.

On Wednesday this week I was returning home after finishing work for the day on a small rental apartment I've just bought. I parked my car outside my own apartment, which is in a dead end street that leads down to the sea, and wandered back round to the main road again to speak to a neighbour.

While I was gone something spectacular unfolded.

I wandered back, turned the corner, and immediately noticed something on the ground, half way down the street. I stopped, then slowly edged closer. To my amazement it was a female Sparrow Hawk, and in its grip was a newly caught Collared Dove!

I retraced my steps and ran round the block to approach my apartment from the lower end, thus avoiding going past the hawk and not disturbing it. Grabbing my camera, I rushed to the first floor window and captured footage of the action. After a short while I took the camera outside to get a lower perspective. Satisfied with those results I decided I wanted to get some head on shots, and so once again ran round the block to approach from the other end.

As I filmed, from a closer position than the first time, I noticed the hawk was un-phased by my presence. I edged closer. Still it was not concerned. Then annoyingly a neighbour returned home in her car, pulled round the corner, headlights flooding the scene, at which I thought that would be the end.

Then my camera ran out of power.

So once again the only option was just to stand and watch. My neighbour had pulled to a stop beside me, but it was clear the bird was going to finish its large meal, and she wanted to get to her house. She slowly edged the vehicle forward, but the hawk didn't move. In fact, she got the bumper to within one foot of the bird, stopped, and still it plucked away at its catch! For me it was even more spectacular a moment, as I was by now stood within just one metre of this magnificent bird. After a few minutes the car slowly edged forward several more inches, then the Sparrow Hawk rammed its talons into the carcass, and took off, flying fast and low down the street, with its dinner hanging below its body.

A rare treat in the middle of my suburban street.

Not the meal, the sighting.

I end my blog today on a more cutesy animal moment. Yesterday was Groundhog Day, and Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow, saw his shadow, and predicted, there would be six more weeks of winter.