Dark nights, bright lights

Dark along the Union Canal, by Harrison Park, but the night lit up by the festive lights strung along the lovely, old boathouse, reflecting in the dark, nocturnal waters

Festive Boathouse 03

Vid - Two Wheels In The Night

Coming out of the side doors of the National Gallery of Scotland, which opens out into a lower part of East Princes Street Gardens – the festive market was going on up on the higher path levels, and the colourful lights of the giant Ferris Wheel were reflecting on the wet paving stones in front of me, in a smeared, rainbow reflection, like an oil slick on a puddle

Colourful Reflections

Looking across the open square in front of the Usher Hall, towards Lothian Road, just after winter sunset. You can see the curving glass wall of the modern extension to the Hall on the far right, reflecting back some of the scene

Lothian Road, Dusk 07

Waiting on the night bus, Lothian Road

Lothian Road, Dusk 06

Sitting in front of the Usher Hall – I was just setting up this pic, using the tiny, mini tripod (only 3 inches high, with bendy legs, fits right in my satchel), when this couple sat down on the stairs near me. I actually quite like the way they add to the scene.

Sitting Outside The Usher Hall

Nocturnal scenes

With it now being dark by four in the afternoon, I tend to take a lot more night photography around this time of year, which is something I have always liked doing since I was a kid with my first cameras. There’s something about the way the camera sees a city at night, drinking in the available light on a long exposure to show more than the naked eye sees, the way the long exposure turns passing people into translucent blurs, like ghosts walking past your lens.

Victoria Street After Dark 03

Victoria Street is one of the prettiest in Edinburgh, which is saying something in this remarkable city. It curves steeply up from the Grassmarket, below the Castle, to George IV Bridge above, and along the way it showcases the many levels the tall, old, historic buildings of the Old Town are contructed on as they descend the steep, volcanic slopes of the ridge they are based on, running down either side of the famous Royal Mile.

Victoria Street After Dark 04

The Last Drop

The Grassmarket on a winter evening, taken with the wee, mini-tripod (just 3 inches high, bendy legs, small enough to go in my satchel) to steady the camera. Situated on an open square right below the Castle, at the bottom of the Old Town, this area contains many old pubs, most of which were old even when Robert Burns stayed in them, and started off as coaching inns centuries ago (a couple still have the larger entrance next to them for carriages to go round the back for the night).

Grassmarket At Night 03

Grassmarket At Night 04

Grassmarket At Night 07

Crispy Potato Skewers

Steam rising from hot food on a cold night at the festive market

Christmas In The Quad 01

Christmas tree in the handsome quadrangle of the Old College building

Christmas In The Quad 02

Biblos 01

Biblos cafe, bar and restaurant at night, Southbridge

Biblos 02

Bento

Bento noodle shack after dark (above), Southbridge at night (below)

Southbridge After Dark 01

Noodles Or Pizza
Pizza or noodles???

Christmassy Cockburn Street
Beautiful Cockburn Street with its festive lights – this street curves down from the Royal Mile to Waverley Bridge and the railway station below.

Zepheniah

I come from a musical place
Where they shoot me for my song
And my brother has been tortured
By my brother in my land.

I come from a beautiful place
Where they hate my shade of skin
They don’t like the way I pray
And they ban free poetry.

I come from a beautiful place
Where girls cannot go to school
There you are told what to believe
And even young boys must grow beards.

I come from a great old forest
I think it is now a field
And the people I once knew
Are not there now.

We can all be refugees
Nobody is safe,
All it takes is a mad leader
Or no rain to bring forth food,
We can all be refugees
We can all be told to go,
We can be hated by someone
For being someone.

I come from a beautiful place
Where the valley floods each year
And each year the hurricane tells us
That we must keep moving on.

I come from an ancient place
All my family were born there
And I would like to go there
But I really want to live.

I come from a sunny, sandy place
Where tourists go to darken skin
And dealers like to sell guns there
I just can’t tell you what’s the price.

I am told I have no country now
I am told I am a lie
I am told that modern history books
May forget my name.

We can all be refugees
Sometimes it only takes a day,
Sometimes it only takes a handshake
Or a paper that is signed.
We all came from refugees
Nobody simply just appeared,
Nobody’s here without a struggle,
And why should we live in fear
Of the weather or the troubles?
We all came here from somewhere.”

From “We Refugees”, by Benjamin Zepheniah. Shocked to learn that we lost this unique voice, and far, far too damned early.

Edinburgh After Dark

As we move through late November and towards December, it is now dark here before four in the afternoon, so I have a bit more time for some night photography!

Malt Shovel
The Malt Shovel pub at night, on the steep, curving Cockburn Street, which links the Old Town to the New Town

Cockburn Street At Night 02
Cockburn Street after dark

Cockburn Street At Night 01
The bottom end of Cockburn Street, viewed from Waverley Bridge

Night Crossing
Lady waiting to cross the Royal Mile at night

Nocturnal Telephonic Trio
Classic British telephone boxes at night, on the Royal Mile

Royal Mile At Night 04
Looking towards the junction of Southbridge with the Royal Mile

Royal Mile At Night 01
Looking down the Royal Mile at night

Remembrance

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Garden of Remembrance at night, Princes Street Gardens. In the background you can see the historic Bank of Scotland building lit up red for Armistice Day (see closer up shot in the next pic). As ever you can see the larger versions on my Flickr.

Lit Up In Remembrance

Crafted Remembrance
hand crocheted poppies decorating the railings outside Gorgie Parish Church for the Remembrance Weekend.

French film festival: Anatomy of a Fall

French Film Festival 2023: Anatomy of a Fall / Anatomie d’une chute,
Directed by Justine Triet.
Starring Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, Jehnny Beth

The first movie I caught at this year’s annual French Film Festival (taking place in multiple cities around the UK this month) was Anatomy of a Fall, which bagged director and co-writer Justine Triet the coveted Palme D’or at Cannes (making her only the third female director to win the award, which is not a good look for Cannes, but that’s another story). At first glance you may assume this to be a fairly standard courtroom thriller / whodunnit: a husband in a rocky marriage dies in mysterious circumstances, his wife was the only other person in their mountainside chalet near Grenoble. Was is accidental, a fall while repairing the house? A deliberate suicide? Or a rage-fuelled murder? The suspicions of the authorities fairly inevitably settle on the author wife, Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller), and a courtroom battle looms…

Except this does not go the way I thought it might, instead leading us into a far murkier emotional mess of a relationship, of accusations and regrets and arguments. The couple’s world had been upset when her husband, Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis), busy with other projects (teaching, repairing the house they intended to rent out for more income, trying to get his own writing career going), neglects to pick up their son from school, asking a babysitter to do it at the last minute. Arriving late, the babysitter and their son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) are involved in a bad accident, the effects of which leaves the young boy only partially sighted, which leaves simmering resentments and guilt over blame.

Sandra turns to an old friend, Vincent Renzi (Swann Arlaud), who is now a lawyer, for help, as it is clear the police investigating the death do not believe it is an accident. With a prosecution looming, he starts interrogating her himself, trying to establish what could have happened, the state of the couple’s relationship, and bringing in his own forensics experts to counter those of the prosecution. Along the way this slowly drags every murky element of Sandra and Samuel’s life out into the unforgiving glare of the courtroom and public reporting, revealing aspects which do not paint her in the best light, giving ammunition to the prosecutor, who, lacking a smoking gun (so to speak), has to rely on these more circumstantial matters to convince the court of her guilt.

The courtroom drama, which in other hands may have been heavy-handed, or overly dramatic and over-played, here is handled deftly – despite what is going on, you feel sympathy for these characters, as every formerly private piece of their lives is pulled out and aired in public, being used by the prosecution or defence to pillory or defend them. It’s not hard to empathise at these points – even if we had done nothing, had nothing really bad to hide, which of us would want our most private moments with a partner or family or friends open to the scrutiny of total strangers, who will judge you on it? How easily could a heated argument between two people be taken by others later and used as “evidence” against them for other possible actions? How do you defend against that when it means having to tell of less than savoury moments by the other (now deceased) partner, does that make her look better or even worse?

Add in their young boy being dragged into this (he refuses the judge’s request not to be in the courtroom), having to hear all of these details of his parents and their unravelling life prior to his father’s death, and you have a very heady, emotional trip. And then there’s the matter of the audio recording Samuel made secretly when arguing with his wife…

Anatomy eschews the more usual flashback scenes you often get in these kind of films (save for one main scene, quite effectively handled, fading in as we hear the audio recording, then back out to the courtroom at a critical moment, leaving us only hearing the event with the jury, not seeing it, a powerful moment). Triet and Hüller make the brave decision to craft events and two lead characters who are simultaneously vulnerable, evoking sympathy, but at the same time also often quite unlikeable, clearly selfish, driven more by their own motivations and goals than being a couple or family, and this is sustained throughout. I think both deserve kudos for this – it’s no mean feat to give us characters like that, yet still make us emotionally invested in them, and it makes them dramatically more satisfying than a simpler good partner / bad partner dynamic.

It’s a two and a half hour film, but I never felt the length, it never felt like it was dragging, it remained compelling all the way through. A compelling and engrossing French film, deserving the attention it has rightly been receiving.

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Reviews: Mercy Falls

Mercy Falls,
Directed by Ryan Hendrick,
Starring Lauren Lyle, Nicolette McKeown, James Watterson, Layla Kirk, Joe Rising, Eoin Sweeney, Gilly Gilchrist

Rhona (Lauren Lyle) still deals with flashbacks to a childhood trauma in the Highlands, involving an injured horse and her father. Following his passing, she recruits several of her friends for a road trip north to the Scottish Highlands, with a plan to hike across the moors and glens until they find the old, family cabin, which her estranged father left to her. On the rural roads they pass a solitary female walker, Carla (Nicolette McKeown), trying to hitch a lift, who joins up with them where they have to leave the cars behind and set off on foot for a long hike to the cabin’s remote location.

The early, almost holiday-like feeling at the start of the hike soon starts to dissipate, as the group begin bickering, then some outright feuding with one another, with romantic and sexual tensions in particular rearing their ugly head, not helped by the interloper in their midst, Carla, who appears to be suffering from PTSD from the Afghanistan war. When these increasing tensions lead beyond arguing to a fight, an accident ensues, which becomes the pivot for the rest of the film, which descends into hunt, and a fight for survival.

I have to confess I had some problems with this film. On the positive side, I was pleased to see it didn’t go down the more predictable town folk get hunted by feral locals route, and instead took its own path, which I appreciated (nothing against the revenge of locals type story, but we have had plenty of those). And the cinematography is superb, with John Rhodes using the camera work to bring out the Scottish Highlands location for the best, with some amazing landscape and drone shots.

On the other hand the character’s infighting felt too forced, that it suddenly comes to a head when they are miles from the nearest town, in the middle of the isolated countryside, and it also suffers from that affliction of many such films, namely The Stupid Decisions Horror Characters Make. There are a couple here in particular, including an absolutely pivotal one, where I simply found it hard to believe that all of the characters would agree with a single other person (one they don’t even know well) that they should do something they all know is wrong, and go along with it so easily. It felt very much like they do something purely because the film-makers decided this was how to move to the next phase of the story, and not because it made any sense in terms of characters or logical narrative structure, and it really irked me.

That said, the hunt and evade segment of the story that it leads to is handled very well, even if you can predict how some of the inevitable deaths will come (again that Stupid Decisions Horror Characters Make, which usually leads to me shouting at the screen). Despite those niggles, this main part of the film proved to be good, ratcheting up the tension, and again making the most of the landscape and terrain to stage some significant moments, and I also liked the fact that much of the film is carried by two female leads (Lyle and McKeown). So a bit of a mixed bag, for me at least, but still a decent bit to interest the viewer, and worth a look.

Mercy Falls is out now on digital from Bingo Films

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Reviews: Making It So – a Memoir

Making It So: a Memoir,
Patrick Stewart,
Published Simon & Schuster

Sir Patrick Stewart recounts scenes from his remarkable life and career, a winding path that has taken him from a young Yorkshire lad in a small town, in a house with an outside loo and days where he and his mum would pretend to be out when the rent man called, to a young man trying to make his way in the world, finding through much encouragement from others who see his potential, that a career in acting is not just for the “posh” folk, but someone like him too, to being a young student actor in the Bristol Old Vic, moving around repetory theatre work, learning his craft, his dream job of being at the Royal Shakespeare Company, then slowly being drawn into film and television… And of course, to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, not to mention leading the X-Men. And somehow still managing to keep his love of live theatre alive, still pushing himself into new works.

Despite my heavy reading load, I must confess it’s not often I pick up biographical works, but, well, come on, it’s Patrick Stewart. I think my first memory of him – although I wouldn’t really know who he was at this stage – was in the remarkable BBC production of I, Claudius, and of course I saw him appear again in films like Dune and, one of my all-time favourites, Boorman’s magnificent Excalibur, where his knight is the first to support the young Arthur (“I saw what I saw – if a boy has been chosen, a boy shall be king!”). And then there is the matter of being the skipper of a certain starship, a ship that is close to my heart and that of millions of others…

To his great credit, Patrick obviously understands that his Star Trek days cast a long shadow over his public perception, but as with his rightly-lauded stage work, he takes that (and clearly has appreciation for it and what it has given him) and uses it to not only explore Trek, but to take even those who mostly know him principally for that work, and introduce them gently to a far wider world (especially Shakespeare). Yes, of course, being an autobiography, this takes us through his life, from childhood to his eighties, and there’s a lot to love here (some of his early, childhood memories in Yorkshire put me in mind of Spike Milligan’s memoirs in places, there’s a humour underlying it that often made me smile, despite the fact some of that life was damned hard).


(two knights of the stage, Sir Ian McKellan and Sir Patrick Stewart, in their Waiting for Godot bowler hats, pic from Patrick Stewart’s Twitter)

But it’s the art and craft of acting and storytelling that are really foremost here, and Patrick’s love for acting, especially on the stage with his fellow actors and an audience, learning how to craft a character, explore the story and the emotions and motivations, how to express them, that’s what comes out most here, again and again. It runs through the entire book, from the earliest days right to the present, especially his deep love for Shakespeare, and what the Bard’s works can tell us of human nature, something he is still passionate about in his eighties (think of him doing daily online reading of Shakespeare’s sonnets during the onerous days of the Lockdown).

You can see the evolution of Patrick as a person and as an actor throughout these decades; indeed the one is often synonymous with the other – certain roles influence the actor’s state of mind (both for good and ill), while of course their personal experiences give them deeper insights into the world and humanity, which gives them new reservoirs to draw on when interpreting a character and bringing them so convincingly to life that we, the audience, believe in them. Rather wonderfully, it’s clear right to the last pages that this is still, in his eighties, a process that continues: he’s still learning, and taking those experiences to channel into his acting, which is a good thing for any artist, and not a bad thing for any person at all to retain that ability and desire.

There’s a lot of self-deprecating humour here – Patrick isn’t shy of pointing out when he made mistakes or simply didn’t know what was what. He recounts meeting Sting on the set of Dune and, being mostly a classical music fan, he had no idea who he was and thought he played in a police band for a moment (he chuckles and adds that Sting has now forgiven him). Given the sheer amount of talented people he has worked with during his long career, there are also, as you might expect, a lot of other now-famous names who crop up. Seeing a young actor whose performance he greatly admires – a young David Warner, on stage, then relating about getting to work with David much later (especially the powerful Chain of Command two-parter in TNG, where David played the Cardassian torturing Picard, most of the scenes just these two actors playing off each other’s strengths). Or the time he was working in theatre in the mid 1960s with a young Jane Asher, when her then-boyfriend Paul McCartney arrives to pick her up in his new Aston Martin, says hello to Patrick and explains Jane has told him he like cars, so here are the keys, grab your girlfriend, we’re going for a ride and you’re driving.

Naturally the chapters on making Star Trek are, to coin an old Vulcan phrase, “fascinating”. Patrick explains how unused he was to episodic television and the tight rush filming each episode required, how as the older actor in the cast he felt he had to set an example and tell his colleagues off for too much larking around on set, with them responding yes, they should dial it down a bit, but he in turn needed to lighten up (and he comes to realise yes, he should, much as Picard did too in later seasons). He also recounts how Roddenberry didn’t seem too keen on him at all, a cause for much regret because he admired what Roddenberry had created. How most of them thought the show would be a “one and done”, i.e. cancelled after one season, because nobody could recreate the lightning in a bottle that made the original Trek so beloved by generations, and how he wasn’t too worried about that because he would return to theatre.


(Sir Patrick Stewart in his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: the Next Generation, (c) Paramount)

As we all know, that was not how The Next Generation turned out, and as it continued and grew, so too did Patrick, not just as an actor inhabiting and evolving his character, but in his own life. His colleagues become a family, and some of them introduce him to the world of conventions, something that seems very peculiar to him at first, and now he’s come to enjoy them because he sees the faces of those fans and talks to some, and realises how much of an impact the show has had on so many of our lives, often inspiring us when we are at our lowest or darkest hours, and that to be a part of that is something to be treasured. I found the chapters where he discussed going back to that role for the recent Picard series especially fascinating – this was a character he had enjoyed but thought well over, reluctant to return to him, until the producers and writers explained how they wanted to explore Jean-Luc as the age Patrick himself is now, how that changed the man.

While there are many ups and downs, as in any life (loss of loved ones, marriages drifting apart, lost opportunities and regrets), the overall tone here is positive; this feels like it is written by a man who has looked back on all those experiences and realised that actually, he is fortunate and in a situation now, at this stage of his life, where he is more comfortable with himself, and realises his good fortune and appreciates it, both in his professional life, and in his personal life (not least with his wife Sunny, where his love for her and how she changed his life shines through). I was left with a big smile on my face as I read much of this, especially the final chapters. It’s an absolute delight of a memoir.

Reviews: 1974 – Scenes From a Year of Crisis

1974: Scenes From a Year of Crisis,
Nick Rennison,
Published Oldcastle Books (Nov 2023)

Rennison is a well-known name – an influential bookseller, commentator on the publishing industry, and author of numerous titles. This, his latest, is a pleasing book constructed in a manner that makes it easy to just dip into when you have the reading time. The structure is simple and efficient – Rennison takes us through a selection of global events that occured throughout the year 1974, month by month, starting with the first of January – with New Year’s Day officially becoming a bank holiday in the rest of the UK (Scotland already marked it as a holiday).

We proceed throughout the months of 1974, with Rennison picking out quite a variety of events and occassions – this takes in everything from high politics to crime, disasters, economic slumps, and entertainment to sport. So we have the tumult of the swinging back and forth between Heath and Wilson, as the UK governments fall and repeat elections take place, against the backdrop of power cuts, mass strikes and the infamous three day week, while across the Atlantic, Nixon is finally forced to resign the presidency (and is pardoned just a few weeks later by his replacement, Ford).

We have the still-imfanous case of the disappearance of Lord Lucan, the travesty and tragedy of the IRA mainland bombings and the botched arrests and trials which saw innocent people locked away for years, and in France, George Pompidou passes away while still in office, the famous gallery in Paris being named in his honour later on.

But the book also takes in many other events around the world, from a devastating hurricane which shattered the Australian city of Darwin, to a terrible train disaster in Zagreb, Kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst holding up a bank with her own former captors, Ali and Foreman facing off against one another for the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match, and Evel Knievel attempting his rocket-powered bike keap over a canyon. There’s the discovery of the astonishing Terracotta Army, and Japanese officer Hiroo Onoda finally accepting WWII was over and surrendering (see my review of the film of this story, 10, 000 Nights in the Jungle here on the blog).

These are all quite short pieces – as Rennison notes himself, it is not a deep-dive into history, it is, as the subtitle of the book infers, scenes from that year, plucked out and present month by month, rather than a heavy history book attempting to evaluate the impact of those various events on how the world developed. But while more detail would be nice, to be fair, that is not what this book is about – it is to give a flavour of that now long-ago year, of the wide variety of events and people that shaped it (and so helped shape the following decades).

It’s ideal for dipping into for a quick read when you have the free time, and would make a nice gift for quite a few people, given it covers a bit of everything (sports, politics, history, culture and more), and, of course, if anyone does want deeper details on any of the events, perhaps this will inspire them to do further reading. There’s also a simple enjoyment in reading about some of these events, especially for those of us old enough to actually recall some of them happening, where for younger readers it’s a glimpse into a now-vanished world, but one where the events that happened still often resonate today.

Reviews: Red River Seven

Red River Seven,
A.J. Ryan,
Orbit Books,
Paperback, ISBN 9780356520056,
Published October 2023

A man wakes up on what appears to be a small naval patrol boat. He has no memory of how or why he is there – in fact, he has no memory of who he is, what he does, where he went to school, the names of any of his family (if he even has a family). And yet his knowledge of the world and his own skills are still there, just his most personal memories are missing. And there are scars from recent surgery, both to his cranium and elsewhere on his body, close to where the kidneys are located. He doesn’t even know where the boat is sailing, as it is surrounded by a deep fog.

And then he sees the dead body, bullet wound through the skull, and realises the sound that woke him was a shot – from the looks of it, self-inflicted. On examining the body and the pistol, he notices he handles all of this professionally – was he a policeman or some other sort of investigator? The body has similar scars to his, and a tattoo reading “Conrad”. Looking at his own body, he find a similar tattoo reading “Huxley”. He soon finds several others in the lower decks, men and women, none of whom can recall any personal details, although all also seem to still recall their particular skills and knowledge, like him – it looks like one may have served in the forces, one was an explorer or mountaineer, one a scientist; all have tattoos to identify them in lieu of their own personal memories of who they are, such as “Pynchon” or “Plath” – all names of authors.

The boat is on its own course, all the screens and dials are blank, the controls are sealed away with little indication of where they are or why they are going to… Wherever they are going. When a satellite phone rings, the voice is artificial and terse, not answering any of their understandable questions, demanding to know their condition and telling them little, except they have to open a buoy which has been dropped ahead of them, which they reluctantly do. Information is drip-fed to them only in tiny increments via this phone link, and when a few of the ship’s screens come to life, they can now see their geo-location and realise they have been sailing off the east coast of England, approaching the Thames. But why they are heading that way, who put them there, what they are expected to find or do, is all a mystery…

I really don’t want to write more about the plot of Ryan’s (better known as Anthony Ryan, for his fantasy series) novel here, because this is one of those tales where the reader knows no more than the characters, and I don’t want to spoil the surprises as they slowly discover little pieces at a time (usually at a cost). I will say that it cracks along at a fair old pace – you’re dropped right into it from the first few pages, the pace, the bewilderment of the characters, the feeling that they are clearly on some sort of urgent mission, that something terrible has happened to the world and that their desperate mission and lack of memory is all connected to it, it all builds into a compelling read that I tore through in a few hours.

It evokes the influences of other works, notably films like Cube and Carpenter’s classic The Thing, along with touches of Jeff Vandermeer’s work, or Mike Carey’s Girl With All the Gifts, while still ploughing its own furrow, building tension, paranoia and a resigned, reluctant acceptance that no matter what horrors are revealed, their only course is to carry on. An excellent, fast-paced blend of horror, action-thriller and science fiction.

This review was originally penned for Shoreline of Infinity, Scotland’s leading journal of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.

Edinburgh After Dark

Tempo Perso

With autumn coming in and night falling earlier each evening, I have been trying out the camera on my new phone, which has a much better low-light camera than my previous one. While obviously not as sharp as using my big camera on its tripod, I’m fairly impressed with these freehand phone camera night shots.

Dreich Night 06

Dreich Night 05

Dreich Night 04

Rather dreich evening in the Old Town!

Dreich Night 03

Dreich Night 02

Dreich Night 01

Princes Street At Night
Princes Street at night

Time To Head Home

Evening tram

Teuchters After Dark
Teuchters pub at night, West End