Dad and I had a nice walk around the Colzium in Kilsyth – gorgeous autumn day, lovely golden light, and that light was showing off a cascade of seasonal colours. The photos don’t really do the light quality or the foliage colours justice…
Saint John’s Church on Princes Street has been painting large murals commenting on social and moral problems for many years. It’s been a little while since I saw a new one, but noticed today a fresh one had been painted, celebrating the diversity of multi-cultural Scottish society and timed to coincide with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year – in an especially nice touch the figure on the upper right pays homage to Raeburn’s 18th century painting of the Reverend Robert Walker ice-skating on Duddingston Loch in Edinburgh, now famous as the symbol of the National Galleries of Scotland:
Remember the tiny young cygnets I photographed back in early June, sleeping in their nest among the reeds by the side of the canal near my home?
I snapped them again about a month after that, swimming along the canal with their parents, now shedding the adorable fluffball look and starting to grow in their proper feathers:
That last one was early July. Tonight I saw the whole Swan Family again as I walked home alongside the canal, one parent and cygnets all snoozing by the side of the canal and on the towpath, while one of the parents kept a watchful eye open:
It’s as well one of the parents was on guard duty – most walkers, joggers and cyclists moved over onto the nearby grass to give the birds plenty of space, but one utter arsebag of a cyclist came charging at them full speed, with a “out my way” look on his face, he tried to zip past them only inches away. And the parent swan reared up, huge wings opened up, started hissing and lunged to peck his legs. Frightened the hell out of him, you better believe he finally swerved out the way then. Just pure stupidity and arrogance, he could have avoided them easily. Stupid thing to do, he could have harmed one of the swans, and swans can be quite bad tempered anyway if you get too close, but to do it to one guarding its children is just asking for the swan to have a go at you!
Frankly I’d have happily shoved him and his bike into the canal myself if I could. Anyway, most people passing were more considerate, gave them space and were clearly enjoying seeing such a lovely little natural bit of beauty and wonder. Quite lovely to just see things like this on your walk home in the middle of the city, from tiny, fluffy baby cygnets to rapidly growing youngsters, won’t be long before they are taking wing themselves.
Edinburgh is moving into the main part of its busy festival season – the Science Festival has been in April, the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June, July sees the Jazz and Blues Festival, while the start of August gives us the Fringe and International Festival, and later in August the Art Festival and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Busy, busy, busy…. Sadly the days when we used to get the Fringe Cavalcade parade seems to have vanished into history, but in recent years the Jazz and Blues Fest has kicked off with a colourful Carnival which makes up for that:
After the parade, many of the Carnival performers headed down into Princes Street Gardens, some to have a rest, others decided to put on some more performances for the following crowds, really nice atmosphere:
Some were more ready to just sit down and all check their phones!
Meanwhile this dancer seemed just so full of joy at performing in the park on a wee makeshift stage for the crowds, wonderful smile on her face as she danced:
Anna and the Apocalypse,
Directed by John McPhail,
Starring Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, Marli Siu
High school. Zombies. Hard to tell sometimes which is more horrific. Add Christmas concert, overbearingly strict new headmaster, boyfriend troubles, arguments with parents, worrying about what you’ll do with your future plus a zombie apocalypse and set much of it to music and you have Anna and the Apocalypse.
I’m sure I’m not alone in loving Once More, With Feeling, the musical episode of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer; it was one of those episodes that, on paper, sounded like a terrible idea that would fall flat, but actually it was enormous fun and also moved on the story arc and character developments. There’s a lot of Once More, With Feeling in Anna’s DNA, and a touch of those wickedly satirical musical episodes of South Park too, I think (indeed the opening credits are animated and have a slight similarity to South Park’s style). Here, while the young cast (sensibly) play it all straight, it’s also clear the film-makers are having a huge amount of fun taking the American style high school musical, populated by teens with whiter than white teeth who love in sunny, Californian towns and royally taking the mickey out of them.
The sight of a bunch of Scottish school kids and staff in a wee town near Glasgow bursting into this very US style (complete with teachers and even the dinner ladies dancing) is side-splitting, while lyrics like “not a Hollywood ending” further satirise the American musicals and teen comedies Anna riffs on (although not in a nasty way, you get the impression they like laughing at them but still like them). And as one character comments when the action starts, this sort of thing happens in other countries, not in a wee town in Scotland, and that is part of the fun here.
We have the Usual Suspects – Anna (Ella Hunt) is a gifted, smart, intelligent girl, approaching the end of school and scared to tell her father she’s going travelling before she applies to university (he is over protective after losing his wife), her friends John (Malcolm Canning), Steph (Sarah Swire), Chris (Christopher Leveaux), Nick (Ben Wiggins) and Lisa (Marli Siu). The kooky, daft but loveable one, the “best friend” who is so obviously totally in love with her, the geeky one, the obsessive, intense one, the trying to be a hard-man jock but masking inner feelings one, and naturally a nasty headmaster (Paul Kaye) who would probably have enjoyed teaching at Sunnydale High, the sort of headmaster who clearly hates kids and resents that they may grow up to have a happier life than he has had.
Anna and the Apocalypse takes all of these generic elements but filters them through a small, west-coast Scottish town sensibility, and that’s funny in itself seeing such very American stylings done in a wee Scots school as they prepare for the annual Christmas concert (especially slightly ditzy but delightful Lisa, who plans a somewhat more risque number than she told the headmaster she’d perform). And then, wouldn’t you know it, the zombie apocalypse happens. And at first Anna, John and the others don’t quite notice. Heading out of her house, walking down the rainy winter street Anna is singing and dancing, earphones plugged in, while behind her neighbours flee from their homes pursued by the undead, fires burn, cars lie crashed and she’s oblivious with her phone, singing and dancing away, until she bumps into John dancing and singing his way to school, they duet and, of course, that is the moment a zombie in a snowman costume attacks them (hey, we’ve all been there).
After that it is the quest for survival, Anna and John finding some other friends along the way, trying to sneak across their town to school to find their other friends and families, and because authorities have issued emergency alerts saying the school will be the evacuation point for the town. And as with all such films, it’s a guessing game as to which characters are going to make it, which are going to end up becoming finger food for the ravenous undead who are rapidly over-running their town. And again while this takes the well-known generic tropes, it does so with such a knowing nod and wink – these people are fans and they are in on the joke, they know we are in on the joke and, to be honest, the young cast are so damned likeable that you buy into it happily. Of course the flipside of that is that you know not all the characters you come to love are going to make it. But they may go out with a song!
This was my final movie of the 2018 Edinburgh International Film Festival, part of the late night strand the EIFF does each year (and don’t horrors suit the late night slot?). Director John McPhail and many of the cast and crew were at the screening, and clearly extremely excited and buzzed to bring their Indy Scottish film to the country’s most famous film festival. As a very delighted John McPhail told the audience, this is their home-town showing, screening to a Scottish audience, and the pleasure and excitement he and the others showed in being allowed to make this film then get to screen it at a packed festival showing was infectious. The festival audience didn’t just laugh at the humour or wince at the (deliberately) OTT violence (very cartoony), the whooped and hollered and clapped along to the musical numbers, it was almost like being at a Rocky Horror screening, and that made it ten times more fun (the festival crowd was also treated to a special sing-a-long segment after the screening).
This is gleeful film-making, loving but also happy to play with the generic tropes of horror, teen drama and musicals, and has future cult film written all over it. Best seen with a group of friends.
Devastating news from my birth city of Glasgow today, her gorgeous gem, her world famous, Mackintosh-designed School of Art has suffered a terrible blaze, even worse happening while it was still undergoing restoration from a previous, smaller fire that damaged this artistic and cultural and historic prize. This fire is far worse, some architects are already thinking it may be beyond repair.
This is a dreadful event; this isn’t just the destruction of a cultural and historic site, Mackintosh’s famous design is live history, it is woven into the pulsing, live heartbeat of the vibrant artistic, creative soul Glasgow nurtures across decades, across social and class and ethnic divides. It’s heartbreaking to see the devout restoration work go up in flames after the last disaster, it seems unbelievable it could happen a second time, let alone while many struggled to repair and restore the damage of the last fire.
My beloved Caledonia has, for centuries, punched above her weight: a small kingdom of mountains surrounded by the cold northern seas we have generated philosophers, artists, writers, scientists, doctors and engineers far beyond the sum of our small population, our Scottish Enlightenment has been a beacon of civilisation, and the Glasgow School of Art has been a part of that, fostering, nurturing talent from all walks of life in that egalitarian way Glasgow does (growing up in Glasgow one lesson I learned was that it considered that art and culture was for all its citizens, not just the prosperous chattering classes, our museums and galleries served all, encouraged all).
Glasgow School of Art, designed by one of the world-famous Scottish artists and architects, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, has produced a seemingly endless stream of cultural and artistic greats across the century and half, from Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi to poet and dramatist Liz Lochhead, the great John Byrne, Scottish comics god Frank Quietely, and Norman McLaren. Glasgow’s famously egalitarian approach to both science and the arts has helped foster and produce world-class creative talent, nurtured in an environment designed by a fellow artist and architect.
This is heartbreaking, it feels like someone has pierced the heart of my vibrant, beating heart city that suffered so much from the decline of its great industries and rebirthed itself partly through these same arts and cultures. This is beyond damage to our shared culture and historic and artistic heritage, it’s a blow to the heart of a vibrant, living artistic culture that, from a small land on the far northern edge of the world has nurtured and encouraged creative genius in so many walks of life: world-wide reputation artists, Nobel winning writers, engineers, scientists and more.
It’s a horrible wound to our nation’s remarkable cultural heritage. Glasgow has suffered worse. Scotland has suffered worse. New creators will arise from the burnt ashes like a magnificent Phoenix and spread their fiery wings across our skies to light a way to the future while illuminating the shadows of the past. This is heartbreaking, devastating news, this blaze, this destruction. But Glasgow School of art is about creation, not destruction. Like its home city which survived the loss of its mighty industries which made it, which remade itself afterwards, it will too remake itself and it will be a beacon once more to artists we don’t even know yet but will one day nod proudly at when they are named in great international awards and say, aye, they trained at Glasgow School of Art. I’m horrified at the lost of so much of of our gorgeous, built, designed, crafted heritage.
But that’s not the real heart of Glasgow, nor her School of Art, it’s heart is the urge, the need to create, express ourselves. That cannot be restrained by fire and demolition. Wood burns, even stone fails eventually, fire claims and burns, but the desire, the urge, the need to create is never quenched. Writers will write, painters will paint, sculptors will sculpt, film-makers will craft their imagery. Fire does not, will not stop us. It is not just stone and wood and carvings and buildings. As long as we dream, and think and feel and create, the School of Art exists. Creativity exists. Glasgow breathes and her heart beats and continues.
This is rather satisfying: a short video of prepping the engines and then firing up the great foghorn on the Sumburgh Lighthouse on the Shetlands. (via BoingBoing)
Each night it is slightly lighter when I leave work as sunset slowly moves later each day as winter moves at a snail’s pace towards spring. It is still dark as I walk home, but only just, with a glimmer of pale light in the western sky – the sun already below the horizon, but a last bit of light illuminating the skies. And as I walk home east to west that’s facing me and I get a chance for a few “blue hour” shots, when the eastern sky behind me is already black but for a short period the western sky retains a pale, blue glow, which silhouettes Edinburgh’s unique skyline beautifully. It’s something that happens particularly early spring and late autumn, and it’s a sight I always love seeing…
As usual I took a ridiculous amount of photographs through the previous year, people watching shots, landscapes, the festivals, whatever caught my eye, so here are a few of my favourites I took in 2017:
Back in March I was down at Portobello beach on a windy, cold afternoon, and this group in white robes descended from the promenade onto the sand, and proceeded to sing towards the sea. I have no idea why, although it sounded and looked religious in nature, the singing in a language I didn’t know, but it sounded quite happy, joyful even.
The end of an early spring day, last light hitting the peaks of the Campsie Hills, diffused through a band of cloud along the summit line.
Looking down the Fife side of the Firth of Forth, past Inchcolm island (you can just see the silhouette of the 12th century abbey on the island), towards the mighty Forth Rail Bridge through the mist, with the mid-2oth century suspension road bridge behind, then the (at the time still being constructed) new cable-stayed road bridge.
Simply walking round town one day, saw this newly married couple who had decided to pose for their photos on the Vennel steps, which cut up from the Grassmarket, past the Flodden Wall, towards the Meadows, so I grabbed a quick candid shot from the hip as I passed.
Street market on a bright, spring day in the Grassmarket, I was taking candid people-watching shots, and got this young couple pushing their baby stroller, just as the light and shadow came together.
I finally visited a spot I have meant to for ages – there is an Old West street hidden away behind some tenements in Edinburgh, not the sort of thing you’d expect to see here! The “cantina” door is actually the fire exit for the Morningside Library. It was built as a promotional stunt by a local firm several years back, and is now slowly decaying, although to be honest it looks more authentic now it is somewhat distressed. The things you can find if you go looking…
At the comic con, bumped into one of my colleagues and her husband, there with their wee girl, who was dressed up as Rey from Star Wars and having great fun. Cutest Jedi padawan ever!
Another from the comic con, this couple had matched up their cosplay costumes, which I just loved.
I went on the March For Science in the spring and took a bunch of pics, but I especially loved this one with the student waving her sign and giving the camera a great, big smile.
Walking through the Grassmarket one bright day, and there was an open-air tango class going on, right there in the middle of the square, underneath some trees, so the light through the leaves was dappled. I was taking several pics when one of the dancers saw the camera and just as I clicked she smiled right at me, and I was lucky enough to capture it. Sometimes you get lucky and grab a little moment like this.
Slightly different weather in this one! I was going around the Meadows Festival when it started to rain. As I scuttled for cover I managed to snap off a couple more candid shots of people at the fest in the rain, including this one with the lady and her umbrella.
Singer with her band at the annual Canal Festival and Raft Race, on the nearby Union Canal.
As I came out of one of my film festival screenings I saw actor and director Danny Huston on the red carpet, about to go into the cinema for the festival screening of his own new film, The Last Photograph. The camera is always in my bag, so quickly out and click.
Something I have been meaning to photograph for ages – the beautiful cloisters in the Neo-Gothic Glasgow University.
Out with dad for a day in the Trossachs, a day of constantly shifting light and shadow as sun poked through clouds to illuminate patches of the landscape in shafts of light, while casting large cloud shadows over the rest. Gorgeous.
How colourful is this costume on this wee chap at the Jazz and Blues Festival carnival??
Close up portrait of one of the performers at the carnivale.
Clan gathering in summer when all of our Canadian relatives were over, rest of the family all got together for food, drink and chat, while the kids played in the garden. Someone brought out soap bubbles, and one little cousin, Wee Joe, was mesmerised by them!
All that playing can be tiring though, one of the kids curled up for a wee nap!
Festival time on the Royal Mile, and on a whim I wandered behind the bustle of the main drag, behind the cathedral, and saw these two performers. They were rehearsing before going out onto the Mile, and didn’t see me at first, so i was clicking away merrily.
Some street portraits of performers strutting their stuff on the Royal Mile during the Fringe, trying to attract an audience to come to their shows, always a happy hunting ground for taking photos.
Fringe bustling all around, but this one young woman had found herself a quite spot on the edge of the cathedral, in the sunlight, to take a wee break.
Freehand night shot, coming out of the Book Festival on a rainy night, wet streets reflecting the lights.
Saw this musician and her partner several times on the Mile during the Fringe, and took several shots, but I really liked the way this one came out, think it caught something of the joyful exuberance she was showing as she sang.
This lady in traditional Korean costume was dancing on one of the small stages on the Mile, where the Fringe performers can put on excerpts from their shows to try and entice audiences to come along. I shot a lot of photos of her and her fellows, but kept zooming in closer, only to find her moving just as I lined up the shot. Finally I got one, very close up, in focus and in frame. Quite pleased with this one.
Another Fringe performer on the Mile – I loved her smile and her sign!
Juggler on the Royal Mile.
Author Ken MacLeod reading from a book of his and the late Iain Banks’ poetry at the regular Shoreline of Infinity science fiction evening in Edinburgh.
This is standing inside an old doocot (dovecot), at Elcho castle, looking straight upwards, but the effect, especially in monochrome, seems otherworldly.
“Blue Hour” in Edinburgh in autumn, when the sun has set below the western horizon but there is still some pale, blue light in it, not yet the full black of night sky. One of my favourite times for taking night photos in Edinburgh. Here it’s the Scott Monument silhouetted against that sky, and the Castle and the National Gallery.
Musician Aurora Engine was playing the harp and singing at a Shoreline of Infinity evening. I took several pics of her, then on a whim I zoomed in to try and capture her fingers moving deftly over the harp strings. It was in an underground venue in fairly low light, and I didn’t expect it to work, but I got this fairly sharp image and was quite pleased with it.
Walking around Commercial Quay at Blue Hour – these were all old dockside warehouses by the Port of Leith. Once left neglected after their working life ended, they have since been beautifully restored and are now home to apartments, businesses and many restaurants.
Same evening, little later and darker, freezing evening, taking night photographs along the Water of Leith, by The Shore, a regenerated area near the docks which boasts lots of very nice pubs, cafes and restaurants, plus the sight of the buildings at night reflected in the river. Been meaning to take some night shots down this way for ages.
Spur of the moment shot – I was zooming in on the weathervane at the top of the steeple on the Auld Kirk in Kirkintilloch when suddenly the skies darkened and these crows descended on the steeple. Suddenly it went from a detail of some old architecture to a brooding, Gothic photo that looks like a scene from a Poe novel.
A couple of weeks ago, walking past Edinburgh University, bright but cold day, sun so low in the winter sky it cast as many shadows as it did light. I passed one student sitting on this bench by a stone wall, the sun casting sharp shadows and it was just begging for a black and white shot.
Boxing day, 2017, dad and I drove over to Schoenstatt, a religious retreat by Campsie Glen, under the shadow of the hills. Freezing but bright and clear, snow had started falling on Christmas night and by next day it was crisp and frozen, crunching under foot as I walked through it, while the foliage was encased in ice, with the low winter sun shining through it.
I can never resist taking yet another shot from the parental mansion looking out to the Campsie Hills. No matter how often I have taken pics of this landscape, it changes all the time depending on time of year, time of day, weather, and when the bright, low winter sunlight hit the snow-covered hills, while the clouds drifted by in front, I had to take another one…
It’s dark by half past three now, but the festive market brings light and noise and scents and life to the winter nights, with people browsing, eating, drinking, the aromas of mulled wine and hot cider and cooking food, and the bustle of excited people. It’s also a happy hunting ground for me to take some people-watching shots after dark:
(look at the size of those frying pans!!! Handles the size of baseball bats!)
Had a nice photo walk around The Shore, the Water of Leith and near the Port of Leith recently, around dusk and then night. With the sun setting so early now it’s pretty easy to take some nocturnal shots without having to wander the streets late at night with the camera and tripod. I’m rarely down this part of town so this was a chance to take some night shots of an area I’ve not covered much of with the camera. Good, long walk, took a bunch of pics, got some exercise but man, damnably cold – okay when you are walking about, but very chilly when standing still to take a long exposure shot.
This is Commercial Quay at “blue hour” (when it’s dark but there is still a slight bit of pale light in the sky from the now vanished sun, one of my favourite times for taking night shots. This was a long series of old warehouse buildings – you can still see the attachment at the top floors for the pulley to lift up loads) for the nearby docks at Leith. They were very run down for a long time, but have, like the waterfront areas in many formerly industrial or commercial areas in many cities, been regenerated, which is preferable to tearing down those fine, old stone buildings, and it’s now a busy area of bars, cafes and restaurants:
Nearby is Teuchter’s Landing, which is the same company that has Teuchter’s in the West End of the New Town, which is slightly pricey but still a favourite pub of mine (also dog friendly, which is handy if I am meeting my chum and his hounds). This one is right on the waterfront, where the Water of Leith starts to meet the Port of Leith, and then the mighty Firth of Forth. In fact the back of the pub not only sits over the edge of a spur off the river by the docks, it even has its own floating outside beer garden moored on the water! Although understandably nobody was using it on a cold evening in November (although a couple of smokers were sitting outside the front of the pub, heavily wrapped up.
It wasn’t quite full dark as I walked back over to the Water of Leith, although it was darker than it appears here where the camera sat drinking in much more light on a long exposure. This is down at the very end of the Water of Leith, which winds its way through the city (it runs near my flat and offers a “countryside” walk to the National Gallery of Modern Art rather than walking through town) and eventually makes it down to Leith and the busy Shore area of bars and restaurants. This is by the Malmaison, and after this spot is just the old swing bridge and then it opens into the actual docks.
Only a few moments walk later and by now, even though it was probably only about half past five, it was fully dark, allowing for some nice reflections of the lights and buildings in the now dark waters. For some reason this part of town often reminds me of parts of Belgium and the Netherlands:
And this is Mimi’s Bakehouse, a family-run cafe, where I thawed out with some really nice hot chocolate and a delicious raspberry Nutella cake:
As we move deep into autumn and winter knocks at the door, that means it is getting darker earlier and earlier each evening. This isn’t all bad, of course, because that means I get to take night shots just by walking home from work of an evening. This was the world’s largest memorial to a writer, the great Gothic rocket of the Scott Monument, last night, at “Blue Hour”, that brief, magical twilight moment when the sun has set, the eastern sky is dark but the western sky still has a pale, blue light to it from the vanished sun below the horizon, one of my favourite times of day during autumn and winter, especially as that light quality in the sky silhouettes Edinburgh’s old buildings:
This is looking west from Waverley Bridge, across the now-dark Princes Street Gardens towards the Mound, where the National Gallery of Scotland (on the left) and the Royal Scottish Academy (on the right) can be seen, with the western sky just fading into darkness, the last burst of colours before full nightfall:
Zooming in a bit more from the previous picture, the large, plate-glass, brightly-lit windows you can see below the Royal Academy are part of the Playfair extension which lies under the plaza on the Mound between the two galleries. It was completed a few years ago and connects both structures underground with more exhibition and work spaces, plus a cafe and restaurant by these windows, looking out into Princes Street Gardens:
Last night on my way home from work, the iconic old Bank of Scotland building which stands at the top of the Mound by the road which curves up from the Georgian-era New Town to the medieval Old Town above on its volcanic ridge. There was a large crescent Moon rising in the early evening sky, and from this perspective it looked as it it were right above the dome on the bank building, so I had to get a shot of it. These are the sorts of things you just get to see walking home from work when you live in Edinburgh. Not a bad commute, is it?