Quiet Streets

I took a long walk on a nice day off at the end of the week, avoiding my usual refreshment stops in a pub on the way (this was before they were closed, but I had already decided not to risk going into any for a while). Gorgeous spring light that day, but only a handful of people out, even before the Lockdown. This was rush hour on Lothian Road, normally nose to tail traffic at five in the evening and busy busy stops, but here you can see just a few people, sensibly spacing themselves out to keep “social distance”:

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Next to the bus stop is the Usher Hall, the Lyceum Theatre and Traverse Theatre, and these illuminated displays normally extoll the upcoming concerts and shows, but with the theatres and nearby cinems already closed by this point, there are now shows, and the posters for them have all been taken down, all very sad (for my own part theEdinburgh International Film Festival which I always attend and the second Cymera literary science fiction festival I take part in during June are also now cancelled.)

All Shows Are Cancelled

Eleven at night on Lothian Road – with several cinemas, theatres and many bars and restaurants this area is usually extremely busy on a Saturday night, but here it was quite unsettlingly quiet, rather eerie, actually. Bars, theatres all closed, people were already staying at home even before the Lockdown was announced, I saw perhaps two people where normally this spot is so loud and busy with pub crowds that I’d avoid it on a Saturday evening:

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One spot of life, a solitary shopper in a late night corner store:

Open Seven Days

Much needed restocks arriving at a local store:

Men At Work

Took a walk with chum and his hound on Sunday, lovely bright day, the streets again were unnaturally quiet, although away from the main roads the parks, walkways by the river and canal and so on were quite busy, people obviously thinking these were a bit safer to let them get out but still have some safe space between them.

Enjoying the Spring Sunshine While Keeping Our Distance

Passing over the Union Canal I saw this couple enjoying the spring sunshine by having a drink on the rear deck of their house barge:

House Barge

Leamington Lift Bridge

Meanwhile this chap was using the park to keep his space from other people but also practise his juggling skills!

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The Setting of the Sun

I took a walk on New Year’s Eve (also my birthday), and watched the final sunset of the decade from the roof terrace of the National Museum of Scotland, which is one of the finest (and free) spots to look out across the Old Town’s remarkable cityscape and geology (the one is closely entwined with the other). Last, tiny sliver of the sun about to vanish below the western horizon:

Last Sunset of the Decade

And just a few moments later, looking the same way but the sky now afire, the sun set early as it does in winter, but the heavens a glorious molten copper, a last hurrah of colour before the early winter night falls across the city:

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This was a long zoom towards Calton Hill – you can see a huge crowd gathered around the old Royal Observatory (now home to the Collective Gallery) to watch that last sunset of 2019:

Waiting for the Sun to Set

Similarly when I turned the camera towards the east and Arthur’s Seat, the huge extinct volcano which dominates the royal park of Holyrood in the heart of Edinburgh, I saw a crowd of figures along the summit, watching that last sunset:

Watching the Last Sunset From on High

Also looking east from the roof terrace, the handsome dome of Old College caught in the dusk light – if you click on the original on Flickr and look at the large version you can just see the distinctive triangular shape of North Berwick Law much further down the coast at the bottom left of the dome in the background:

Sunset on the Dome

Festive Market

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There’s been a festive market for quite a few years now in Edinburgh – it started as a small, traditional German Christmas market around the plaza on the Mound by the galleries, and a small part of the adjacent east Princes Street Gardens. However in recent years, especially under the events company Underbelly (which has been a major player in the Festival Fringe for years) it has expanded dramatically as part of a larger festive and Hogmanay programme.

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We’re well used to disruption from the festivals in the summer – Edinburgh is, after all, home of the largest arts festival on the planet (and the largest literary festival and the longest continually-running film festival). But the scale and the disruption it causes is starting to seriously anger many citizens, and the complacent response from the promoters and council lackeys isn’t helping. This year the entire east Gardens has been covered in the festive market and fair, so that entire, huge space which is meant to be a shared green space held in common good for the people is anything but. Meanwhile the promoters are, two weeks or more before the events, preparing the west Gardens for the New Year concerts and have fenced off huge swathes of it. So now the public cannot access most of that green space either, both given over to crass, commercial ventures aimed purely at tourists and meanwhile robbing Edinburgh citizens of their entitled green public space that belongs to them

Oh and did I mention the market is illegal?? The promoters didn’t apply for the building permit they require for an erection on this scale, and they and the council kept this quiet, but it leaked out and the local heritage bodies highlighted it, forcing the council and Underbelly to respond, albeit in bleating, weak, pathetic ways, giving no credible reason for such incompetence on the part of both bodies. Then it turns out the same happened last year but they kept that quiet too. Meantime in related events a festive event on the Royal Mile saw huge blocks of stacked freight containers dumped on the middle of this historic area and the streets closed off. The organisers didn’t bother to tell local businesses though, who found out their staff couldn’t even get to work because of this (yet the organisers keep telling us how much these events help “local business”).

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Still, much as I have gone from originally liking the early versions of the traditional German market to loathing the vulgar, hiugely commercial monster that now robs our city of its open spaces and allows greedy commercial companies to hijack entire public areas of our city for their own use while castigating citizens for daring to be concerned – not to mention angry – at this, it does make a good spot for some nocturnal people-watching photos (I take pics around it, but I am not buying anything there).

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Cymera 2020

Back in June I was delighted to both attend and also take part in the very first Cymera Festival of literary science fiction, fantasy, YA and Horror here in Edinburgh, at the Pleasance (here’s my report and, of course, photos). It went amazingly well, especially for a first time outing (huge kudos to Anne and the other organisers and volunteers),I caught many panels with a wide variety of authors, some new to me, some old friends I’ve known years, and had the pleasure of chairing a talk with Ken MacLeod, Gareth Powell and Adrian Tchaikovsky about their books.

I’ve known that a second Cymera was being planned for June 2020, and now the festival has started its Crowdfunder appeal. I’ve already backed it as I did last year (which also gets me the weekend pass so I can come and go to any and all events through the whole festival, a bargain and dibs on booking which events I want to catch). If you enjoy good science fiction, fantasy, YA and horror literature then this is an event I highly recommend, and unlike many SF cons I have been to, it is in a nice venue in the city centre, not some out-of-town hotel. The Crowdfunder page is here, and there is a short promotional video (warning, the video does include a little bit of me!):

Heron

Out for a walk with chum and his hounds, spotted this large heron on a pile of rocks in the River Almond at Cramond:

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This was next to the old Fair a Far Mill by the weir on the Almond (or as I thought it looked like that day, the ruins of the Palace of Autumn Leaves):

The Ruins of the Palace of Autumn Leaves

The mill dates from the 1700s and was still operating into the late 1800s, and in later life became a metal working shop as well. Sadly many of the buildings along the river were destroyed in a huge flood during the 1930s, today it is a scenic ruin on the path by the Almond, a popular spot for walkers, on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

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Nighthawks

A couple of quick, handheld night shots take on the way home from work. This used to be an NYC style diner years ago and is now an Italian restaurant, near the Playhouse Theatre. The way it juts out at the corner of this block, and the large, plate-glass windows and bright interior light kept drawing my eye and I thought it would make an interesting after-dark photo. The fact it had been raining last night, so the pavements were glistening under the street lights, just added to it and it was begging for me to shoot it in black and white (and yes, the title is a nod to the famous painting):

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Night Moves

With the clocks going back it is darker earlier each evening here now. Some find this depressing, the long, dark nights. I quite like it, and it is a good chance for some night photography! Sometimes I am out with the tripod taking them properly, other times they are often improvised, taken on the way home from work when I have no tripod handy so I go handheld for rough shots or use things like railings and pillars to sit the camera on to steady it in lieu of the tripod. This is an improvised shot by the Union Canal, the steel skeleton of a new building under construction on one of the last brownfield sites left from the former Scottish and Newcastle Brewery complex which used to dominate this area for years.You can see the flat-topped railing I used to sit the camera on to steady it in the image:

Construction at Night

Another improvised shot on the same night by the Union Canal, bracing the camera against a mooring post to get this image of this houseboat at night – how cosy does it look against the cold, dark night? And below that a short from just a few feet further along looking to the old Leamington Lift Bridge.

Cosy Floating Home

Union Canal at Night

Rough handheld shot in lowlight mode at dusk in Bruntsfield, looking into the windows of Project Coffee – I think for this kind of pic the roughness of the freehand shot actually works:

Project Coffee at Dusk

Zebra crossing at night, Polwarth, another freehand shot walking home from work:

Night Crossing

Another handheld shot, this is the Telfer Subway at night:

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Heading down through the lower part of the New Town to my book group, had been raining a little and the cobbled roads by Drummond Place had that glistening look to them under the street lights:

Drummond Place at Night

Walking through the old boneyard of Saint Cuthbert’s at night – peaceful very dark and quiet and yet only a few steps from busy Lothian Road and Princes Street, bustling with people and traffic, yet down here the quiet of old tombs, the crunch of fallen autumn leaves and so much darker than it looks in these pictures where I could do long exposures. The things you spot, different little realms just a few steps away from busy main streets, if you go a few steps off the main thoroughfare in Edinburgh:

The Path of Night Walks Through the Realm of the Dead

Saint Cuthberts at Night

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And look a the view of the Castle you get from the old graveyard:

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And here’s one taken with a new toy, a cheap LED light panel that fixes to the camera’s flash gun shoe – I turned it on and took a walk through the old graveyard near my flat. The middle is deliberately allowed to become overgrown to become a mini urban wildlife area, and during the day you can hear all sorts of sounds, from twigs snapping to branches rustling. At night you hear even more of it but can’t see the animals making them, just hear the sounds from the undergrowth between the older tombstones. In the darkness of the walled boneyard, you can imagine how creepy that feels, as if something is following you through the cemetery. For added effect I took these on the way home on Halloween:

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Autumn Colours

Autumn colours in Princes Street Gardens, just below the Castle:

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And a closer look at the leaves as they change before falling – the grass below them was carpeted with fallen leaves of red and gold:

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And while I was walking through the trees I met this charming wee, bushy-tailed chap:

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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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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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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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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.