Poet’s Pub

I enjoyed a visit to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery this afternoon, the first time I have been in for years as it was closed until recently for a huge refurbishment. Many spots now much more open and lighter, including the nice room they have an old friend of mine, in an old favourite from before the refurbishment, Sandy Moffat’s Poet’s Pub. Always loved this piece depicting some of the most important and influential writers of mid 20th century Scottish culture (including, as you can see on the far right, Captain Picard!). In the new display room it is in an airy, light filled space with a comfortable big padded seat right in front of it so you can sit there and regard it, with a touchscreen interface angled into the armrest so you can tap it for more information while sitting comfortably in front of the painting, touching the individual writers lets you hear them reading some of their own work in their own voice. Lovely.

The work itself is a composite as they were never all in the same pub at the same time and the location itself is a combination of elements from three different Edinburgh pubs, the Abbotsford, The Cafe Royale and Milnes. All still exist, although sadly Milnes these days is an awful chain-operated place with lousy service that I long since gave up on (complaints to company who runs it made it clear they never gave a damn about standards or customers so sod them), although the Royale and Abbotsford are still firm favourites of mine. In fact I was in the Abbotsford just a few nights ago and bumped into a number of contemporary Scottish writers I know, including two of our bestsellers, Ian and Iain:


An Iain and an Ian go into a bar

Red Kingdom Rising

Red Kingdom Rising is a very intriguing new British Indy horror from Navin Dev, and one which, I am delighted to say, avoids the far too easy route some less skilled new film-makers take in creating a horror flick and thinking sudden jumps or needless splatter or sadistic torture equals genuine horror (not that I mind a bit of splatter but too many use it or torture in horror in place of creating story or atmosphere rather than to serve it). No, what Dev has done is crafted a delightfully dark dream world of a film, inspired by Lewis Carroll (which appeals to me as Carroll is one of my favourite writers of all time).

Mary Ann (played by Emily Stride) is a troubled young woman, haunted by dreams that seem to leak out into her waking life, creating real problems for her everyday life and work, dreams that seem to be wrapped around tales of Alice in Wonderland and more specifically the figure of the Red King that her father used to read to her against her mother’s wishes. But what parts are dreams of the book, which are perhaps dreams of her father who has just passed away, and do they mean something? We begin with a quite dark, disturbing nightmare – is it childhood memories mixed up with guilt over her father’s recent death surfacing in her mind, or do these dark, blood-red dreams signify something else, some aspect of her family life of childhood that she has repressed or ignored.

Reluctantly Mary Ann decides to return to her family home and her distant mother; it’s clear she didn’t grow up in the most conventional, loving family environment. As she settles back into her old room the dream become more vivid – the sleeping (now awakening) Red King, a small girl in period costume called Alice, who, disturbingly has no real face, just a face shaped blank visage which reminded me of some of the wonderfully creepy moments from the old Sapphire and Steel show (which is a compliment). The waking world and the dark fantasy of the dream state become increasingly tangled like the roots of an old, gnarled tree, and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell one from the other – a moment with her rather odd mother in the kitchen seems like it may be the real world, albeit it very strange but then the mother’s behaviour is strange, but then it suddenly feels more like the dreams/nightmares are crowding into the scene – portents and symbols litter the film, both in the waking scenes and the dreamstate, and really you cannot separate either strand of the film, both are a part of Mary Ann’s damaged psyche, held together (barely) for years into early adulthood but now bleeding out into the open and forcing her to find the source and confront it.

I won’t spoil it for you by delving any further into the plot, but I will say Dev creates a very assured slice of fantasy-horror on a small budget, deftly weaving symbols and literary references into the story and treating his audience as intelligent enough to understand the symbology and the dream-state scenes without spoon-feeding them. The waking world and the dark dreamstate become increasingly hard to tell apart and in truth you shouldn’t even try, they are all part of Mary Ann’s attempt to understand the roots of the nightmare figure of the Red King that has haunted her since childhood – who is he, what does he represent? Who is the small, faceless child Alice? A guide, an ally or a mischievous spirit?  Red Kingdom Rising is a beautifully-made horror-fantasy moving through dark, dream waters that run deep, crafting genuine, disturbing horror not from shocks or OTT effects but by constantly layering up an in increasing sensation of claustophobia and building sensation of dread, of there maybe being now way out – is there a genuine source to these troubling nightmares or is Mary Ann simply mentally ill? Is there any rational way to approach dream logic to unravel the meaning? Dev has produced a confident, elegant dark fantasy of a film that engages you into a brooding atmosphere that will appeal to anyone who enjoys intelligent, elegant horror such as the early works of Del Toro.

Sadly at the moment, as is often the case for independent film-makers, getting the resources together to make a film is a real battle, but having managed to achieve that and make the film there is a whole second battle to be fought to try and get the attention of distributors to get the film widely shown. I know I often see very fine Indy films of all genres at the Edinburgh Film Festival and it can be months, sometimes years or even never before I see them get a distibution deal to be shown to the general public in cinemas. At the moment Dev is doing special screenings and the film festival circuit to try and build word of mouth and create awareness of Red Kingdom Rising, so sadly you won’t be able to see it easily right now in your local cinema, but do check the official site for news of special screenings (I’m told the excellent Kim Newman was at one recently and liked what he saw, which is a good indicator to those of us who enjoy good horror) and festival showings, because when someone makes an intelligent, atmospheric Brit horror movie like this they deserve some support. And distributors, you should be looking at this film and getting it out to audiences.


This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet Blog


Walking down at Portobello and we saw a pair of fab small hovercraft having fun on the water – and the land too, since they can just come straight on out of the sea onto the beach as they please.

hovering around Porty 01

And look, right up onto the beach, no having to jump out of a boat and stick your feet into the cold waters of the Forth to push it up onto the surfline, oh no, just straight on up:

hovering around Porty 02

hovering around Porty 04

And a very short video giving an idea of the noise (one of the owners left a comment on my Flickr page later to say it was super noisy that day because of an exhaust break – apparently they were up and down the coast and even out to the islands in the Forth where they could go right up the beach to stop there for a while easily in the hovercraft then back out to sea again – very cool!)

Memories of summer

Some memories of last summer, found some pics from the summer months I hadn’t processed and uploaded yet and the dark nights of winter seemed like a good time to post up some images from the sunnier days (yes, we do get the odd sunny day even in Scotland). Here’s a very bright, sunny day on the busy promenade at Portobello (Edinburgh beach front area of town), serving up lovely, cold ice-cream on a hot day right by the beach:

ice cream at the beach 01

Sailing off the coast of North Berwick last summer, just passing the harbour mouth:

sailing at North Berwick 07

Sailing past the islands of the Firth of Forth by North Berwick on a bright but breezy day:

sailing at North Berwick 02

Bright day, glowing sky, just a few, fluffy clouds over the estate at Penicuik House – the country house itself is slowly being renovated decades after a fire gutted it, this building is actually the remodelled stables the family moved to after the fire:

Penicuik House 06

Colourful summer: foxgloves on the country walk through the estate to Penicuik House:

memories of summer 02

Kiss – a Love Story

Joseph Hodgson and Franck Aubry’s Kiss is a lovely short film – from the description: “As Paul Auster once said “The sun is the past, the earth is the present and the moon is the future.” In our first independent short film we explore the consequence of something as innocent as a kiss. A love story between the sun and the moon. We believe that every solar eclipse is the moons attempt to reach the sun…

Kiss – A Love Story from RACECAR on Vimeo.

Cassie home safe

After that frightening health scare with my darling old kitty Cassandra (normally known just as Cassie), I’m delighted to say she seems much improved. The vet thought it was one of two things, as I said in my previous post – one is a growth inside the nasal cavity which can’t even be checked properly much less dealt with without a specialist procedure available only at the vetinary hospital in town, very expensive and advised against by the vet on grounds of her age meaning even the anaesthetic could be too much for her. The other was an inflammation – vet was leaning towards it being a growth and gently letting me know if it was I might be better thinking of what was best for her, a gentle way of saying I might have to consider letting her be put to sleep. As this was almost a year to the day since we lost Cassie’s wonderful sister, my huge cuddlepuss Pandora, I was horrified at the thought I was about to lose her too. Since we couldn’t tell which condition it was we decided to try the meds first, see if she did any better in a few days and if so good, if not then back to considering the awful decision…

sleepy puss

Wednesday night and Thursday morning not much difference, by Thursday night breathing sounded much better, less of the disturbing noises, by Friday even better, back into vet yesterday morning and they were pleased with her progress too, so we’ve been lucky and home we came. Spent evening simply being happy having my gorgeous wee old girl snuggled up next to me, purring away, having her furry tummy tickled, eating well (apparently the meds have a side effect of boosting appetite for a few days), then she jumped up onto the bed at night and curled up on top of me and purred me to sleep and I simply felt relieved and happy to have her there. She is getting on and I’m not fooling myself that some day I won’t have her there just as I no longer have Pandora, and that will be awful – I bought this place when the girls were very young and so I’ve had them for as long (longer) than I have lived in my own place, they are part of what makes a flat into a home and it already feels unbalanced without Pandora, without Cass it would feel so empty and lifeless. But not thinking about that now, right now I have my girl feeling better and demanding I give Her Royal Furryness lots of attention, tummy tickles, chin scratches and adoration (and kitty milk and some sliced ham too, please). And right now that’s enough to make me feel happy.

Kitty scare

Almost exactly a year after I lost my adorable big, old cuddlepuss Pandora so suddenly (see here) I’ve had quite a scare with her sister, my gorgeous wee Cassandra (usually shortened to Cassie). I had the sad duty of going home to Glasgow this morning for a family funeral after my elderly uncle, who has been ill for some time, passed away just before the weekend. He was married to my wonderful aunt, big sister to my mum and of course I had to be through there for her as she means worlds to me. I’ve also been worried about Cassie – the last couple of days she has been making funny wee noises, quite nasal grunts and odd breathing sounds from time to time. I got home from the funeral today having arranged to take her to the vet on Saturday morning for a check, only to find that her breathing and noises were much louder and more frequent than they had been even just this morning before I had to get the train. Bending down to listen closely to her hearing I didn’t like it and got very, very worried, called the vet and she was kind enough to let me bring her right along then and there.


Cassie on bed

Cassie, of course, does not like the travel box and it was a struggle to get her into it. She yowled loudly all the way there then at the vet she freaked out and ran yowling again around the examination room in a panic. The vet let her settle down until she would let me pick her up to be examined. No runny nose, no discharge so not a virus – pretty unusual for a cat her age (especially a home cat) to get a virus anyway (she’s now around 16, old for a kitty). So she suspects either an inflammation or a growth or polyp. She’s getting enough air okay but it is worrying. The rest of her behaviour is normal which is good, but if it is a growth then there’s a problem – it requires special techniques available only at the vet school, which is not only costly but is simply not recommended for a cat her age by the vet. Even the very specialised endoscope they use to determine if they are there is expensive and requires her to be put out for the procedure, which the vet thinks is not a good idea at her age.


Cassie by fireside 1

She’s been given some meds and antibiotics meantime to see if it is an inflammation that they can reduce and I take her back in a couple of days to see how they are doing. Hoping they do the trick, because if it is the growth then from what the vet said, as gently as she could, there would be no point at her age attempting anything involved as she might not be able to take it and then I’d face the same bloody awful decision I had to make this time last year for her wonderful sister, about what was best for her, not for me. Hoping very much that I am not in that situation again very soon.


Cassie on the sofa

Right now she is in the huff and also stressed so since we got home she’s been in her favourite hidey hole when annoyed, on a soft, old suitcase lying under the bed and won’t even come out for dinner. Hoping she comes back out soon and joins me again, doesn’t feel right not having my warm kitty snuggled up against me while I type. And I wouldn’t feel right without her leaping onto the bed at night and settling down on top of the duvet next to me at night and purring me to sleep. We leave ourselves wide open to this kind of emotional upset when we decide to bring animals into our homes and lives; we know it right from the start, but we still do it because they bring so much richness and happiness into our lives. I can’t imagine how much harder these last years since we lost mum would have been without my beautiful furry girls keeping up my morale. Losing Pandora last year was awful, losing my gorgeous Dizzy just a few weeks later broke my heart again, but at least I still have my Cassie. Please don’t take my girl from me, world.

Lord of the Strings

Lindsey Stirling’s violin medley of music from the soundtrack of the magnificent Lord of the Rings films is simply superb – from the beautiful airs of the songs to the more martial theme of the horse lords that stirs up the blood for a cavalry charge against the Orcish hordes…

And on a non musical note, Lindsey herself is incredibly cute and Elfin.