Saturday, January 06, 2018

These jolly fellows are the three wise men or as they are known here Los Reyes Magos. While you were footering about taking down your Christmas decorations last night for fear of incurring a year's bad luck they were parading through the streets of Puerto de La Cruz (and by magic elsewhere at the same time) bearing gifts to be opened this morning by the good little children of the town.

Unfortunately for those getting outdoor toys the winter sun has bowed out in favour of winter rain so they'll have to be content to whizz around indoors to the annoyance of their parents and the detriment of the furniture.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Arrived in sunny Tenerife yesterday and here's the view I woke up to this morning when I walked out onto the balcony of my hotel room.  Rather splendid, so long as the volcano keeps quiet. Though on second thoughts it would be splendid to see an eruption.


It's good to be in a position to unwind after the activities and indulgences of Christmas and New Year, indulgences mostly of an eating and drinking nature.  I had an excellent birthday lunch in the High Street before heading for Keswick where I ate several large and tasty meals over a period of four days in the company of Fiona, Connor and Ewan (for the first time in a few years) plus Ben, Amelia, Julian, Maureen, Claire and Patrick.

My next stop was Stratford upon Avon but the rail connections are such that it was easier to come back to Edinburgh, spend the night at home and set off next day than to go directly from Keswick.

Given the chaos on the network at the same time of year I experienced a couple of years ago and with Connor's "have a good journey" ringing in my ears as he dropped me at Penrith my spirits were dimmed when the first thing I saw on entering the station was a display announcing that my train was cancelled.

After a few words with the guy at the desk I settled down grumpily for an hour's wait.  But ten minutes or so later another passenger waving his phone about said "cancelled?. According to this (wave of phone) it's running, five minutes late but running.". And do it was. Grumps gone and home in good time.

I was going to Stratford to see the RSC's dramatisation of Robert Harris's trilogy about Cicero.  I had very much enjoyed the novels (and others by Harris who knows how to weave a good historical tale) and could see that putting them on stage (or on TV, is that to come?) would be tricky but potentially rewarding.

Indeed it was a great show.  Six hours not counting intervals spread over two evenings and yet large chunks left out, particularly of the first novel. I was briefly unsympathetic to part of the second evening when I felt there was rather a lot of running about to little effect but otherwise I have nothing but praise for the whole enterprise.  The trip was well worthwhile.

I'm almost tempted to go back to see their Macbeth but it's going to be broadcast to cinemas so I may save time and money by booking a comfy seat at the Cameo.  There are a lot of Macbeths coming up in 2018, including a Grads production which was unaccountably missing from the Guardian's enumeration of them the other day. I hope to get a part in that one.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

This is the result of a little photographic project that rather to my surprise I've managed to complete.  The photos were all taken in Princes Street Gardens on the same day of the month (with a couple being a day out) and at roughly the same time of day.

I'd like to claim that they were all the same aperture and exposure etc but that's a bit too technical and anyway I mucked about a little with the camera settings and don't know what's what.  That's the problem with being an ungifted amateur.

So the year is slipping towards Christmas and there have been the inevitable Christmas concerts including my own.  This year we played in Old St Paul's Church rather than in the hall and friends in the audience thought the sound quality better.  From the depths of the band you can't really tell.  I went to hear another local wind band the following evening in Greyfriars.  I thought the quality of their playing superior to ours but they fell down compared to us in not providing lashings of free mulled wine.

Though in fact we were a bit short in the lashings stakes.  I left it somewhat too late to join the queue and got some only through the charity of those already served.

The Grads got into Christmas spirit of sorts with their production of Reckless.  It's not about Christmas as such but it's set at Christmas.  I was at the readthrough some months ago and thought it rather a weird and unwieldy affair, decided not to audition for it but was very pleasantly surprised when I went to see it.  They'd made it a very entertaining piece.  Played in the round it was propelled along by a troupe of Christmas elves who whisked bits of set on and off, pushed a couple around in an open car and generally added to the fun.  I still thought it an odd piece but they definitely made a silk purse out of it, paricularly the final quite moving scene which brought out a tragic quality beneath the zany humour.

Tommy Smith is acknowledged as a great jazz performer but he's also a ccomposer of note and this month saw his most ambitious project to date.  Spirit of Light drew together the jazz singer Kurt Elling, Capella Nova, players from the SNJO and a number of other instrumentalists to present the words of writers as diverse as Liz Lochhead and Meister Eckhart in a Christmas celebration that is both secular and sacred.  I heard it within the lofty walls of St Mary's Episcopalian Cathedral which complemented perfectly the style of the work. It was excellent. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The long shadow of times past has hovered over town for the last couple of weeks in the shape of Previously..., Edinburgh's history festival.

Amongst the plethora of events I attended several. They both entertained and educated. I learnt that there is a Roman fort in Bearsden, that the Jacobites at Culloden were not wielding claymores but firing the same sort of muskets as their foes, that Napoleon's main problem was an inability to stop when the going was good and much more.

What I expected to learn at a talk about King Alfred was the truth about the cakes, but they weren't even mentioned.  I didn't dare sully the fairly academic atmosphere by raising the issue in the Q&A.

The talks were a bit like the Fringe audiencewise although the audience were never outnumbered by the cast (usually only one) when I was present though some came damn close.  The best attended event to which I'd say a hundred or so turned up was a double act with Alec Salmond and Tom Devine.

In the first half Devine probed Salmond's journey to and through his political life.  With many amusing digressions and comments on the political personalities he had come across on the way we heard about his grandad's influence, his reason for choosing to go to the not overwhelmingly Scottish university of St Andrews and his various electoral campaigns.

In the second half Salmond took questions from the audience and dealt supremely well with all of them.  He finished off with a hilarious impersonation of Ricky Fulton's Reverend Jolly that made me regret very much that I didn't see his Fringe show. He's clearly a comedian manqué.

He'll be back at the Fringe next year but this time in a more serious vein talking about some Scots who are not as well known as he believes they should be.  James Connolly and Thomas Muir are two amongst those he intends to discuss.  I'll definitely try to be there.

The other Salmond activity that has aroused controversy and that he stoutly defended is his RT interview series.  I haven't seen any of them but I've set up my TV to record them from now on.  The first one I should see will be the St Andrew's night show.  You could hardly choose one more appropriate. 

History of another sort hit the Traverse bar this evening with the launch of the Scottish Jazz Archive.  This is a project to gather and curate memories and memorabilia of the Scottish jazz scene from its earliest days (thought to be the 1930s) to the present day and beyond.  If you can fight your way through the adverts you can read a little more about it in this Scotsman article and a website will eventually appear because this is intended to be a digital archive rather than a physical one.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


As well as beautiful trees Autumn is giving us lovely skies like this one that I paused to take a picture of on the Mound.  As I stood there I was approached by a tourist looking for information.  He was sporting a dashing black baseball cap with a masonic logo in gold on it.  He explained that he had just come from the Freemasons Hall in George Street and was now looking for Lodge No. 1 which he had been told was in St. John St. near the Mound somewhere.

Well I happened to know that Lodge No. 1 was in Hill St. and the nearest St John's I could think of was in Corstorphine.  It took my smart phone to convince him about Lodge No. 1 and he set off back the way he had come.

But I hadn't been smart enough to check for a St. John St. because it exists and runs from Holyrood Rd. to the Canongate and it's there that you find St John's Chapel the home of Lodge No. 2 which is surely what he wanted.  Must brush up my guiding skills.

There's been lots on in the last few weeks.  I enjoyed seeing Trainspotting on the stage. It's an absolutely tragic tale really and I think that the enjoyement comes in much the same way as it does from a show like Downton Abbey in that you are looking in on a totally foreign way of life before going home to safely and comfortably back into your own.

I also enjoyed Cabaret.  I've heard the music often enough and in Kitwe bits of it featured in some of our own cabaret type shows and I saw the film years ago but I think this is the first time I've seen the stage show in its entirety.

I was intrigued by the opening which featured a giant camera shutter, surely a nod to John Van Druten's play I am a camera, itself a dramatisation of Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin stories. I remember the play being presented in Kirkcaldy when I was in my early teens.  I remember it mostly because of my mum and dad exchanging glances as they declared that it was "not suitable" so I'm not sure that I ever saw it though I daresay my desire to do so was heightened.

The amazing Carlos Acosta was here with his troupe of Cuban dancers in a wonderful show made up as most dance shows are of a number of pieces.  I enjoyed them all but the finale in which twelve dancers threw neon lit litre bottles of water to and fro in a bewildering, complex and ever changing pattern while themselves being seldom still was breath-taking, though maybe it was stretching the definition of dance a wee bit.

I'd seen Ballet Rambert earlier in the month which got five stars from Claire who actually saw it twice.  She persuaded Phil to come along the second time but despite being reasonably enthusiastic it wasn't enough to bring him out for Carlos.

Psycho was screened in the Usher Hall with the RSNO playing the soundtrack.  It's still a pretty gripping film and as good a thriller as many more modern ones.  Unusually I saw another film with a live soundtrack, this time only one man with a piano and a set of percussive blocks.  This was the oldest extant South African film, made in 1916, called Die Voortrekkers.  I suppose we might call it a docu-drama but essentially it's a propaganda celebration of the northwards movement of the Boers seeking to carve out a home away from British control and their battle in 1838 against the Zulus at Blood River.  It was fascinating stuff full of that wild-eyed overacting that seems to pervade silent movies.

Another part of the British Empire has cropped up in a number of talks at the National Library that I've enjoyed, all of them featuring the exploits of Scots better known in India than they are here.  A chap called James Taylor from Kincardineshire has a giant statue in Sri Lanka where he is revered as a major force in developing the tea industry. (Funnily enough in Forres I came across the Falconer Museum named after two brothers one of whom was instrumental in tea development in India.)

Then a talk about five Fraser brothers who went off to India one after another to seek fame and fortune, with mixed results it has to be said.  An interesting book has been written using their letters found in an old trunk in the family home.

Finally Alexander Burnes from Montrose, a descendant of Robert Burns, who was in essence a British spy in what has come to be known as The Great Game when we feared Russian interference in India.  Lionised in his lifetime then according to his biographer the Victorians later downplayed him and airbrushed him out of history because of his racy private and not so private life.  His great claim to fame for my sons will be that he features in the very first Flashman book.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The trees in Princes Street Gardens were resplendent in Autumn colours as I passed through on my way to see The Death of Stalin

The film is a brilliant bit of comedy forged from the not at all funny jockeying for power amongst Khrushchev, Malenkov et al after uncle Joe kicked the bucket.

I was a bit disappointed with the National Theatre's much vaunted production of Hedda Gabler.  I'm not too sure why.  The Festival Theatre was not full and the mostly empty set stretched over the entire width of its very large stage.  Both factors I thought worked against the creation of the sort of atmosphere that the drama needs.  They might also have given some thought to the sightlines.  Not seeing the action on one side of the stage was annoying.

Our Fathers at the Traverse had a good theme to examine.  How to relate to those you love when you don't share their beliefs.  Two atheist sons of clerics in this case.  Alas I found their examination somewhat boring.

Thank God then for The Real Thing which gave me a thoroughly enjoyable evening in the theatre.  Stoppard writes with wit and energy whirling the English language around like an F1 driver.  A man who cares as much as I do for the proper treatment of the gerund and would never say less when fewer is required gets my vote every time.  But the play is not all shiny verbal surface. There is content.  His portrayal of the struggle to handle emotions and relationships and come out bruised but unbeaten moves even more than it entertains.   

I was moved too by Losing Vincent.  The publicity for this film was all about the vast team of artists who had worked on the painting of every frame.  So I went out of curiosity to see that, and indeed the form of the film is impressive giving us Van Gogh's glorious brush strokes throughout.  But the story of Armand's search for the truth about Van Gogh's death (whether that search really took place or not) was fascinating and painted a moving portrait of a lonely man who like other artists never saw his genius recognised.

I was down by Silverknowes golf course the other day, not to play though I must renew acquaintance with it sometime, but drawn out by the fine Autumn weather for a stroll along to Cramond.  It was windy enough to persuade me to put my cap in my pocket for fear of losing it but the sun shone, the views were magnificent and I felt jolly healthy at the end of it.