Row, row, row your boat

Arriving early for work I had a few minutes to go grab a coffee and have a walk along the Promenade at Portobello. Gorgeous autumn morning, cool but beautiful autumnal light on the Firth of Forth, when I spotted the sailing and rowing club folks out in the lovely old skiff Jenny Skylark, having an early morning row, so I snapped off a few shots before I had to head into work:

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The Jenny Skylark on a Morning Row 02

The Jenny Skylark on a Morning Row 03

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A vry different scene to a month or so back when the haar had settled on the Forth – I saw the rowers out in the skiff, but only dimly, moving through the sea mist just off the shore at Porty, and managed to get these pics, very different weather from the other pics!

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Rowing in the Haar 01

Swan Life

I saw the Union Canal swan family on my walk home at the weekend. This year the usual mating couple of adult swans had nine cygnets, back in the early spring, and I have been taking photos of them and watching them over the last few months. Back in mid-May they were just these tiny little balls of adorable fluff:

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By June they were growing, the fluff moulting out and their grey feathers starting to appear, as they got larger:

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The Swan Family 01

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By August they had grown to around the same size as their mum and dad – here they are being hand-fed by the lady who runs the Union Canal Swans twitter feed which reports on them:

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Feeding the Swan Family 06

And now in September they have learned to fly, with most of the babies having now left the canal and gone off to find their own spot, probably one of the nearby lochs like those on Arthur’s Seat, where large groups of young swans stay until they mature (and the grey feathers go to white), then they find a mate and strike out to find their own spot, like their mum and dad have on the canal near me. I passed them at the weekend, and now there is only one cygnet still with the parents, the left have flown the nest. It’s remarkable to see them go from tiny creatures to these large, elegant birds taking wing in just a few months, a small miracle right here in the middle of the city, but at the same time it is also sad to see them leave.

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Family Outing Vid

Sunset Beach

Last weekend saw a burst of glorious, golden, autumn sunlight and unseaonable warmth for a couple of days. I met my chum after work at Porty, then we had an amble along the Promenade, still busy with nice weather even as evening fell. We got a seat outside the Espy for food and drink right next to the beach and as we sat there for a few drinks, we watched the light change every few minutes as the sun declined and the night crept over the beach and the Firth of Forth. Beautiful.

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Some people sat on the beach just watching the slowly setting sun, others had fires going and enjoying a romantic moment by the sea, others, remarkably, were still going for a swim! Must have been freezing!!

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EIFF 2019 – McLaren Animation

The annual McLaren Animation award screenings at the world’s oldest continually-running film festival have always been a personal favourite part of the festival for me. Named for famed Scottish pioneer Norman McLaren, who would later found the National Film Board of Canada, this 2019 edition was particularly special – this marked the thirtieth anniversary of the McLarens at the EIFF, and the tenth, and as it happens, final year in the tenure of Iain Gardner, who has been in charge of the McLarens. I’ve really enjoyed Iain’s run taking care of the McLarens – it isn’t just the selecting and screening of interesting and diverse material, it’s the sense of encouraging and supporting and fostering new and emerging and existing talent. During the post-screening Q&As with all of the animators there is a real sense of support and encouragement, and that’s a good thing in any artistic medium if you want to have new blood and new ideas.

This year as part of the thirtieth anniversary we were treated to three rather than the usual two McLaren Animation segments, each with ten films, so thirty short works in all, covering all sorts of subjects (autobiography, documentary, politic, humour) and approaches (traditional hand-drawn, CG animation, stop-motion, puppetry and some films mixing methods). In a very welcome touch this year there was parity, a fifty-fifty split between female and male directors. At normal McLaren years there are too many films for me to go into each one individually, and that is more the case this year with the additional screening, so I’ll be sticking to my usual approach of picking out some of the films which I personally enjoyed the most.

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(some of the animators at the post McLaren screening Q&As – pics from my Flickr)
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Ainslie Henderson – by now a well-kent face in animation circles and at McLaren – had a very beautiful, very emotional piece with Archie. A lovely stop-motion work, we follow an anthropomorphised dog-man (with his own actual pet dog!), the eponymous Archie, in a largely wordless film. Archie receives bad news and a key in the post – the key to this mother’s wee crofting house on one of the Scottish isles; she’s passed away, the old home is now his. Using only the movement of the figures rather than dialogue Henderson deftly conjures up that sudden, shattering blow of learning a loved one is gone, of the bottom falling out of your world, the sad journey back home to a house that is now empty, except not really, because it is filled with memories. It’s warm and sadly beautiful, with some nice little touches – Archie’s wee dog snuggling up to his master, sensing his pain – and I found myself thinking on loved ones I’ve lost and having to blink away years (I’m sure I wasn’t the only one).


(a scene from Ainslie Henderson’s Archie)

Chris and Victoria Watson’s Ladder to You also dealt with grief, in a very different way, with an elderly man, at home, now all alone and missing his wife terribly. He ponders parts of his life and the world, but nothing really works any more, not without her; without her it is meaningless, empty. When his wife’s photograph is blown out the window he follows it with a ladder to try and retrieve this last memento of her, and it takes him somewhere special. Josephine Lohoar Self’s also had that beautifully sad quality to it, a stop-motion piece about a shy young tailor, about a world where everyone wants to conform and be the same while he yearns for difference and encounters love.

Music & Clowns – trailer from Alex Widdowson on Vimeo.

JoAnne Salmon and and Alex Widdowson both impressed me with their biographical films, which were very emotionally warm and honest. Widdowson brought us Music & Clowns, an exploration of caring for a a family member with Down’s Syndrome. The parents talk honestly about the shock and surprise when their boy was born “different”, with his father commenting how as he held his newborn the moment of shock passed and he knew that he loved his boy anyway; he even, as they discuss him, reproaches his other son gently, commenting on how he may not understand everything but he is very empathic to the feelings of others, perhaps more than his brother. They talk about what life has been like, and the concerns of his parents as they get older, wondering how he will cope once they are too old, or passed on, a concern anyone with special needs family members must entertain.

Salmon gave us Chin Up, an autobiographical piece, the title riffing on one of the symptoms of Treacher Collins syndrome, where the bone structure of the face doesn’t form in the regular way, giving her a very unusual appearance (including not having a prominent chin). Again emotional honesty was key here as Salmon used differing artistic style to explore moments of her life – her birth, not being the “normal” little girl they were expecting, of not feeling particularly different until she went to school and having to deal with the unthinking comments of children, of how this affected her sense of self, how art and drawing became an escape for her, which eventually lead her to find animation and encouraged her to apply to study and then eventually create her own works.

Chin Up – Trailer – Animated Documentary from LoveLove Films on Vimeo.

Lauren Orme’s Creepy Pasta Salad was a fun piece, about a werewolf lady with low self-esteem, a man who may (or at least thinks he may be) dead and a ghost (and wondering if he is a ghost does he have to worry about that final electricity bill?), a Goth and the End of the World, and left me with a big smile. Ainslie Henderson, with Will Anderson, had more work in the form of three very brief pieces, My Best Friend (then each segment had a subtitle, such as “explodes”), nice, clean, simple graphics, two friends talking, but they are aware of being in a film, and they ponder the meaning of each title as it appears above them (you can imagine their alarm when it says “explodes”). Matthew Lee’s One Liner used claymation and drawn animation and touches on what used to be a cornerstone of British entertainment culture – the comedy double act, and more specifically who was “the funny one” (that oft-asked question that totally misses the point that these duos really only worked playing off one another).

mad dog trailer from steve boot on Vimeo.

Unsurprisingly given the last couple of years, politics hove into view during some of the films: Steve Boot had Mad Dogs, set in a pub of the same name, the classic British pub, a perfect place for examining what it means to be British in the modern era, using a collection of regulars in the pub who are all dogs, English, Scottish and Welsh (although oddly no Northern Irish), and uses a sprinkling of dialogue from the speeches of famous people among the lines as they all talk about about their sense of identity. Marta Lemos gave us Dear England, which used photo collage and drawn art among other styles, to explore the way British society has been changing, especially since the Brexit referendum, the way some elements now feel they can voice bigotry and hatred openly, the fact that some who came to make a home here, no matter how they fit in, will never be “British enough” for certain types.

I’d love to pick out more of the entries – the styles, the methods and the subjects were all so diverse we really were treated to a smorgasbord of excellent animation talent, quite a few entries being graduate degree films from students, and many of those now out in the world beyond college all still very young. I must mention Fokion Xenos who won the audience vote to scoop this thirtieth anniversary year McLaren Animation Award with Heatwave, which was a wonderful riot of colours and life in plasticine and other materials and depicted, yes a heatwave, on a tiny Greek island, rather timely given the burst of hot weather across the UK and Europe recently! And I have to give a shout out to Samantha Moore’s Bloomers, which documented the people, mostly women, who had worked in a garment design and manufacturing, and the changing fortunes over the years – the film had a very rich texture to the backgrounds, and, astonishingly Moore produced a sheet of silk (one of the fabrics the factory used) on which some of the art had been drawn then animated to give it that remarkable look and feel.

HEATWAVE – Trailer © NFTS 2019 from Fokion Xenos on Vimeo.

As I said, a real diversity of styles, methods and subjects. I’m confident that – as usually happens – we will see some of the McLaren entries crop up in a few months in the BAFTA and Oscar short animation nominee lists.

Cymera

From 7th to 9th of June I was at the very first Cymera festival of literary science fiction, fantasy and horror at the Pleasance in Edinburgh. I was chairing a triple-header with Ken MacLeod, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Gareth Powell, which turned into a very enjoyable event with the guys discussing their own work and space opera in general, as well as how they approach creating their works, from plot to characters to world building.

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On the first evening I saw Richard Morgan, who I haven’t seen in person for years. Some chums and I were early supporters of his work when his first book, Altered Carbon (now adapted by Netflix, with a second series on the way) came out back in the day (I still have my signed first edition).

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I caught a great discussion by Samantha Shannon – I liked her Bone Season, and several of us in the bookshop have been eager to have a look at her new standalone book (it may eventually be joined by other books, she said at the event) The Priory of the Orange Tree, the only problem being it is a huge tome and if I start on that (and I do want to!) it means several others books waiting on my pile.

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Obviously I couldn’t take any of the event I was chairing, but here are Gareth Powell, Ken MacLeod and Adrian Tchaikovsky about to sign for readers after our panel:

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This is Mike Cobley, Gavin Smith, and SJ Morden being interviewed by Andrew Lindsay at Cymera:

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Charlie Stross and Jonathan Whitelaw being interviewed by Andrew J Wilson:

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I hadn’t read Helen Grant, Clare McFall or Rachel Burge’s books (yet), but their panel on supernatural fiction sounded pretty interesting and I had a gap in my schedule, so I decided to check it out (trying new creators is part of going to festivals, surely?), and it proved to be very intersting (and a little spooky!)

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James Oswald (and his trademark pink jacket) is best known for his bestselling crime fiction (with a supernatural element), but his first love was fantasy and he began writing with his Sir Benfro series, which he discussed here with writer, tutor and former 2000 AD editor David Bishop:

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I really liked this element of Cymera – Brave New Words. Before the events in the main theatre new writers were given a few moments to do a reading from their work, a nice way to support new talent. Here’s Justin Lee Anderson –

Cymera 2019 - Justin Lee Anderson

Den Patrick, Leo Carew and Rebecca Kuang discussing their fantasy worlds:

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I really enjoyed Tade Thompson and Aliette de Bodard’s talk, which took a different angle from more common Western cultural tropes. Tade’s debut novel Rosewater made my Best of the Year list for 2018 and the sequel Insurrection, out just a couple of months ago, is even better (reviewed here). I have Aliette’s books on order…

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Organiser Ann got a suprise ceremony and gift at the very end of the weekend as thank you for the whole festival. It was pretty damned amazing, especially for a first outing – I talked to a lot of writers and readers, and they all enjoyed themselves. Hats off to everyone who took part and organised it, fingers crossed it becomes an annual event.

Cymera 2019 - Ann Landmann

New life

Out walking along the nearby Union Canal, and at last managed to get some decent photos of the swans with this year’s cygnets. I’ve managed to bag pics of them in previous years (I wonder if it is the same swan couple who return to this area each year?), and had heard from friends that they and their babies were in the area, but each time I walked along that way I didn’t encounter them, until a few days ago.

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The whole family was on the ramp by the towpath, across from the old boathouse at Harrison Park, some preening themselves while out of the water, others sleeping, while the mother and father swans kept guard so nobody got too close. I managed to take several photos, the cygnets still in the utterly adorable “fluffy” stage of down rather than full feathers yet, beautiful wee things. Amazing the magical sights you can find just a few moments from your home…

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I’ve seen the swans and the ducks along this stretch of the canal with their babies a number of times over the years, but each spring it is still something special and quite wonderful to see, and with so much uncertainty and trouble in the world it’s no bad thing to be reminded of the magic and beauty of nature all around us.

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And there goes the whole family, off for a wee paddle down the canal after their rest!

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Rolling Waves

Tried a wee experiment this afternoon – I rarely use the video mode on my camera, but it has a facility to shoot in a smaller format than the usual widescreen version, but in a high 120 frames per second rate. It was high tide at North Berwick, and with a cold wind blowing down the coast from the Arctic, the swell was high and the waves topped with whitecaps, so I thought I would try the 120 fps mode looking out to the sea and the Bass Rock, and found it slowed the motion down in a rather nice way. Not sure what else I may try using that mode for, but quite liked the effect here:

Video - Bass Rock and Waves 120fps

And here’s a still of the Bass Rock today with the same camera:

Bass Rock and Rolling Waves

Meanwhile in Portobello this morning, after I had been in for a job interview I walked round to the promenade and had lunch by the beach, where I noticed this chap taking advantage of the coastal winds to enjoy some kite surfing:

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Riding the Wind 02

Launch portal

The subway that runs under the road connecting the Potterrow student union to the back of the Old College and the National Museum of Scotland has often caught my eye because of its shape and the perspective it creates. Walking past it at night, though, it made me think of something from an old sci-fi movie – the concrete underpass where the Droogs beat up a man in Clockwork Orange, perhaps.

Portal from Light to Dark

Or, on a lighter note than that, it reminds my geek brain of the fighter launch tubes from the 1970s Buck Rogers, or Battlestar Galactica (albeit a much more monochromatic one!).

Tollcross by night

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Walking home the other evening, taking some night shots as I did, this batch were around Tollcross, like the lovely old Cameo Cinema (seen above), with people waiting at the bus stop in front of it, standing under the marquee, or this cafe and neighbouring shop, still busy with people (had to take quick shot between the traffic flowing by this busy area):

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And here’s the distinctive red sandstone facade of the King’s Theatre at night, the green building on the lower right of the theatre is Bennett’s Bar, one of my favourite watering holes for many years (good real ales, has cool old tables decorated with OS maps, and it’s dog-friendly):

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Time for launch

Down on a pretty overcast, cloudy Portobello this afternoon, and saw the handsome wooden skiff Jenny Skylark being prepped for launch:

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And there she goes, slipping into the waters:

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And off she goes, rowing out into a pretty misty Firth of Forth (you can just see one of the larger islands vaguely through the haar in the background):

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As they rowed further out I took one more shot – the sea and the mist were blending into one another so much that they started to look the same, as if the boat were rowing out into a blank, white dimension…

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Meanwhile I found some of their compatriots pulling their skiff along the Promenade on wheels to get it ready for launch (either that or this is some bizarre new boat-car hybrid):

Boat Car

And on a non-related note, I spotted this bizarre sculpture on the beach – quite creepy looking thing, isn’t it? Blair Witch Beach Project, anyone??

Blair Witch Beach

Moonrise

Gorgeously bright winter moonrise this evening. I was coming home from an afternoon walk so didn’t have the tripod, but had to try with the low light mode for a freehand shot. The result isn’t as sharp as with a proper long exposure on the tripod, but I had to try and grab this glorious, deep blue dusk sky and the Moon rising, just as it was about to go behind the tower of Saint John’s Church on Princes Street:

Moonrise and Tower 01

And a quick, rough freehand close-up:

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