Sunday 26 June 2011

Biggar Birds & Bridges

Yesterday we had a lovely day in Biggar, a small market town in Lanarkshire. Our main reason for visiting was to see the Biggar Poetry Garden, where two of my poems are currently on display. You can read my post about that here.

We also enjoyed birdwatching! Under this pretty bridge, which is near the centre of Biggar, we saw a dipper, flying around the edge of the stream. We also walked round the golf course, where we were delighted to see how much of the area is set aside for wildflowers to grow in, as you can see from this photo. We heard yellowhammers calling here.
Beyond the golf course is a caravan park and a boating lake. There were swallows and house martins flying over the lake, diving low to catch flies (and there were plenty of those about!) and swifts flying higher up. There were plenty of cygnets on the lake, and I think that at this stage, they can be referred to as ugly ducklings...
unlike the mallard chicks! Actually there were young mallards at various stages of development, some almost adult but these ones particularly caught my eye, still fluffy with down lower down their body but with adult feathers at the head and upper back.
We had tea and cake overlooking this view (and a second bridge!), surrounded by birds.

As well as the other birds I've already mentioned, we heard willow warblers calling from the scrubby trees near the boating lake. Most exciting of all, we saw spotted flycatchers! I've only ever seen this species once before and they're declining quite badly across the UK. Yet here they were nesting in the caravan park and flying around quite unconcerned about being surrounded by holiday makers!

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

For Sunday Bridges

We're off on holiday tomorrow! Back soon!

Saturday 25 June 2011

Biggar Poetry Garden

We had a lovely day today in Biggar, a small market town in Lanarkshire. We started in the Biggar Poetry Garden where two of my poems are on display. You can read my poems on the Biggar Poetry website here and I'm standing next to them in the photo below.

It was lovely to read the other poems on display in the garden, including one from JoAnne MacKay, who some of you may know from her blog Titus the Dog.

There are also plaques with extracts from poems about specific flowers on display near the flowers mentioned in the poems, such as this one from Edwin Morgan, the great Scottish poet, who died last year.

Then we went for a very nice walk, which I'll blog about tomorrow...

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Edinburgh International Film Festival

As most readers of this blog will know, I have a press pass for Edinburgh International Film Festival and am positively overdosing on great films for the next two weeks. I'll be reviewing most of the films on this blog, but some will be on Over Forty Shades. I thought it might be useful to have an overview post with links to all the reviews. (I'll update this post as I review more films). This post will stay at the top of the blog throughout the festival so you can easily see which films I've reviewed. At the end of the festival I may choose a favourite film, though I can already see that will be very difficult. So here's the list (click on the links to read the reviews!):

1. Shut Up Little Man! (noise pollution, invasion of privacy & copyright issues. Documentary)
2. Calvet. (how art transformed one man's life. Documentary).
.......and an interview with Jean Marc Calvet and Dominic Allan the film director
3. Project Nim (can we teach chimpanzees to use language? Is it ethical to try? Documentary).
4. Borrower Arrietty (gorgeous anime based on Mary Norton's classic children's book The Borrowers).
5. Cityscapes (experimental short films about cities across the world)
6. Mysterious Object at Noon (surreal storytelling on a road trip through Thailand)
7. some thoughts on nature therapy after watching King of Devil's Island.
8. Convento (kinetic art made from reclaimed materials. Documentary.)
9. Off the Beaten Track (rural life in Rumania. Documentary.)
10. Burning Ice (art and science respond to climate change. Documentary.)
11. Almanya - Welcome to Germany (engaging drama about a Turkish family in Germany)
12. Albatross (a coming of age drama focussing on an aspiring writer)
13. Bike Powered Cinema - your chance to power a cinema by bike power!
14. A Better Life (drama about a Mexican family living in California)
15. Perfect Sense (romance against the backdrop of an unknown epidemic)

Perfect Sense

Susan is an epidemiologist who is investigating what looks like the emergence of a puzzling new disease (that may or may not be spread by environmental pollution) that is causing people to lose their emotional control and then to lose their sense of smell. Michael is a chef who works in the restaurant near where Susan lives in Glasgow. They begin an affair, as the disease spreads across the world, causing social unrest as people lose their senses.

I felt this film was much less satisfying than it could have been. There's a lot of voice-over, rather than letting the action speak for itself, which takes away from the drama. I also felt that although the epidemic was an effective metaphor for society's lack of awareness it wasn't a believable disease. Then even as the disease becomes obviously a major threat to humanity, the scientists (including Susan) entirely seem to lack any real sense of urgency in their research to find a cure (plus of course the use of lab animals is never going to go down well with me, though it was nice to see the rabbits finally escape).

What I particularly did like was how people responded to losing their senses. The restaurant started to present foods in ways that emphasized their textures, colours and presentation. People also seemed remarkably quickly to become fluent in sign language and started to value their remaining senses more. People were overall committed to living as well as they could in the circumstances, though again, like the scientists, no-one seemed to want to address the problem (and that's a very real metaphor for a lot of the problems the world faces at the moment.

However despite the interesting ideas, overall, Perfect Sense doesn't deliver on its promise.

I saw a press screening of this film at Edinburgh International Film Festival. There are no more screenings of this film at the festival, but it should get British release soon.

As ever, red text in this post, contains hyperlinks that will take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Bike Powered Cinema

Cutty Sark Blended Scotch Whisky and the Edinburgh International Film Festival are holding a day of Cutty Sark Bike Powered Cinema screenings which will be shown on a sustainable bike-powered mobile cinema at Teviot Row House (Underground).

Film goers aged 25 and over will have the opportunity to volunteer for a short shift on one of the eight bikes powering the cinema, which will be positioned in front of the screen so that they can keep fit and power the cinema as they watch the film.

Belleville Rendez-vous (12A) is an animated French film which tells the story of Madame Souza, an elderly woman who goes on a quest to rescue her grandson Champion, a Tour de France cyclist, who has been kidnapped by the French mafia for gambling purposes and taken to the city of Belleville. The screenings will take place at 11am, 12.30pm, 2pm, 3.30pm and 5pm on Thursday 23 June.


Albatross is a lovely coming of age drama, focussing on Emelia, an aspiring writer, who is trying to follow in the footsteps of her great grandfather Arthur Conan Doyle. When the film opens she has just started working as a cleaner in a B&B on the south coast of England. While there she becomes very involved with the family who run it, Joa, the frustrated mother, Jonathan the husband who sits in the attic trying to recreate the magic of his first novel, which was a bestseller 20 or so years ago, and Beth, the shy and studious daughter who is hoping to get to Oxford University.

Emelia is opionated and rebellious and becomes friends with Beth, helping her to learn to let her hair down. Meanwhile Jonathan has recognised Emelia's writing talents and starts to tutor her (and yes you can see where that one's going, with Jonathan's marriage being so unhappy and Emelia being so attractive and such a vibrant personality).

There's a lot of humour in the story and a lot of inspiration for writers too! It's wonderful to see Emelia starting to believe in her talents and the viewer can imagine her later becoming a significant writer.

The one thing that didn't quite work was the location. The story is set on the south coast of England. but was filmed on the Isle of Man. This gives us gorgeous scenery, but doesn't quite ring true with where its supposed to be set. (Isle of Man is now definitely on my list of places to go on holiday, what with this film and the segments of the recent series of Springwatch that were filmed on the island.).

I saw a press showing of this film. The remaining public screening is in George Square Theatre about half an hour from now, as I type, so hurry, hurry, there may be tickets left! It should get general release in British cinemas pretty soon.

As ever, red text in this post contains hyperlinks which takes you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Monday 20 June 2011

Unthinkable Skies CD launches!

The CD of Unthinkable Skies, which features my poetry set to music by Belvedere Mountain Express is now available as a download from CD Baby, or as a home-made (and beautifully packaged) CD-R from here.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Calvet 2

I'm in the middle of reviewing the Edinburgh International Film Festival! I've seen ten excellent films so far, but one that made a particular impression on me is Calvet (you can read my review here). This is the amazing story of how Jean Marc Calvet's life was transformed when he discovered art.

I was delighted yesterday to be able to chat with Jean Marc and with Dominic Allan, the director of the film.

Jean Marc Calvet had a hard childhood and an early career as a bodyguard, a French Legionnaire and a vice cop. He abandoned his partner and young son to take a shady job in the USA, which led to him absconding to Central America with huge amounts of cash he had stolen from his employer.

Dominic Allan has worked in TV, directing such films as The Pipeline; Mandela: The Living Legend and Israel Undercover. He was travelling in Nicaragua in 2004, when he met Jean Marc in a restaurant, which was decorated with huge paintings. These paintings of Jean Marc's made a big impression on Dominic but it was only two years later that he had the idea to make a film about how art had transformed Jean Marc's life. Jean Marc admitted in our interview that at that stage he hadn't entirely seen Dominic's vision, but that he saw the film project as an extension of the therapy that art already was for him.

The most memorable part of the film for me is where Jean Marc discovers painting as therapy. There is an extended sequence of impressionistic visuals and soundscapes that recreate the drug-fuelled hallucinations that Jean Marc experienced for several months while he had imprisoned himself in his house in Costa Rica. At some point, he discovers several pots of paints and literally starts throwing the paint around the rooms. At this stage, Jean Marc says, he would deny he was an artist, when people asked him. It was only five years later, when someone contacted him wanting to put on an exhibition of his work in New York that he realised that he was a real artist.

Jean Marc has used lots of different styles in his art. In his early days as a painter, people would compare his work to Jackson Pollock or Jean-Michel Basquait but he'd never heard of these artists. So he set out to learn as much as he could about art and became an avid reader of art magazines. He is entirely self-taught and uses different styles depending on what best fits what he wants to say. Art, he said, is like a 'big walk inside' himself.

Jean Marc is now a respected artist and is inspiring the next generation of artists, not least his own daughter, who is deaf. She is allowed a lot of freedom in his studio where she enjoyed expressing herself through art and she appears briefly in the film.

Dominic had wanted to use film techniques that would best capture the immediacy of Jean Marc's art and the intensity of his life story. He wanted to mostly avoid reconstructions of the past (though one scene in Jean Marc's old house on Costa Rica is a very effective reconstruction with slides of his first paintings projected onto the now white-washed walls). Dominic chose to intercut the narrative with segments of impressionistic film to suit the mood of the story. This approach works brilliantly and really does give the film a sense of immediacy and emotional impact.

Dominic said he wants to make films that are inspiring and Calvet certainly is! The film should be touring various film festivals in the next few months and hopefully should get released into cinemas after that. If you get the chance, see it! Meanwhile you can see some of Jean Marc's paintings and read more about his life on his website here.

You can visit the Calvet website here and there's a Facebook page for the film here.

Thanks to Edinburgh International Film Festival for making this interview possible and to Jean Marc and Dominic for making the time to chat to me!

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Art, Science & Climate Change

Cape Farewell is a project uniting science and art to offer creative, well informed responses to the issue of climate change. Burning Ice is a documentary that follows one of Cape Farewell's voyages around Greenland, bringing together a range of scientists and artists to experience the disappearing ice of the area.

The setting for the film is awe-inspiring, enormous glaciers and icebergs dominate the landscape. Several times the cameras catch icebergs falling apart, crashing into the sea, a dramatic and unnerving symbol of just how drastic climate change is.

It is inspiring to see scientists and artists working collaboratively in this way and fascinating to see how differently the artists respond to the experience; for example:

Composer, Ryuichi Sakomoto takes recording equipment out and about to record the amazing natural sounds of Greenland and also to use the landscape as a natural experimental sound laboratory. His enthusiasm is infectious and the music he created forms part of the soundtrack of the film.

Singer, songwriter KT Tunstall spent most of her time hanging out with the scientists and learning about climate change and also found time to jam with the other musicians.

Comedian Marcus Brigstocke talked a lot and was inspired to make climate change a major element of his act. Unfortunately I didn't find him particularly funny but then climate change isn't a topic that is inherently funny.

Poet Lemn Sisay made an excellent video poem that is part of the film and has also written a hit play inspired by the expedition.

The next step after that is up to audiences - can this film and the art inspired by the expedition change people's attitudes to climate change at a deep level? Can they inspire people to change their lifestyles and consumer choices to lessen their own impact? And the answers to those questions lie with all of us.

I saw the press screening of this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Public screenings are: 20.00, 21 June in Filmhouse 1 and 21.55, 21 June in Filmhouse 2. You can book your tickets on the EIFF website here. You can read blogs from the expedition here.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which will take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Off the Beaten Tracks

There are parts of the world that can seem lost in history. Rural Transylvania in Rumania is one of these places. Off the Beaten Tracks is a documentary that follows a year in the life of Albin Creta a teenaged shepherd and his family and flocks in Northern Transylvania. Life here moves more slowly, the muddy roads are full of sheep, horses and donkeys, and vehicles definitely take second place. The shepherds and their dogs take their sheep into the hills, make cheese (which they take to market on the backs of donkeys) and sell the lambs in the spring. However consumerism is beginning to take over, a large part of the film is given over to deciding which car to buy, even though almost everyone agrees that a car is no good for taking the sheep into the hills and that it isn't even a practical form of transport on the roads. Towards the end of the film, it becomes clear that the market for lambs is collapsing ('because the foreigners don't like lamb' says one character, but that doesn't explain it really, because it's the Rumanian market, that has been strong in previous years, that is seen to be collapsing). Some of the women of the family go to Germany to earn some money to keep the family together. It was therefore a bit depressing to see them come back after a short period of time in Germany having spent all their earnings on consumer luxuries and non-essential items. There seemed to be a definite disappointment amongst the menfolk about this too.

I had thought that this film was going to address some of the issues more deeply (for example the complexities of why the market for lamb has collapsed and the implications of EU membership on Rumania). However, it was definitely a more enjoyable film for concentrating on the rhythms of everyday life and the beauty of the Rumanian countryside.

I attended the press screening for this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Public screenings are: 22.30, 20 June and 19.45, 21 June, both screenings are in Filmhouse 3. You can book tickets on the Edinburgh international Film Festival website here.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks which will take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Friday 17 June 2011


The Zwanikken family moved to Portugal from the Netherlands and bought and renovated the Convento Sao Fancisco de Mertola to become their home and an artist's studio. The building sits in a nature reserve, which now has a thriving colony of the very rare lesser kestrel that nest in a specially built falcon tower. Geraldine Zwanikken is a former prima ballerina who got tired of dancing and choreography and is now an artist, gardener and cook. Her son Christiaan is a kinetic sculptor and it is his work that the film focuses on. Christiaan uses found materials including things scavanged from the local rubbish dump and animal skeletons to create amazing, surreal (and quite disturbing) kinetic sculptures or robots. His studio, a high ceilinged room in the convent, whirrs with the activities of hundreds of small and not so small mechanical artworks. He has also done a lot of work in and around the building, including renovating a waterwheel, which now irrigates the gardens round the building.

Convento is an inspiring film about one family's vision about a place and an artist's vision about the relationship between nature and humans.

I attended the press screening of this film at Edinburgh International Film festival. Public Screenings are: 18.00, 19 June in Filmhouse 2 and 20.00, 22 June in George Square Theatre. You can book tickets on the Edinburgh International Film Festival website here. Also during the film festival there will be an exhibition of Christiaan Zwanikken's art in Teviot Union, Bristo Square.

As ever, text in red, contains hyperlinks to other webpages where you can find out more.

Thoughts on Nature Therapy

thoughts on nature therapy after watching King of Devil Island

One of the films I saw today at the Edinburgh International Film Festival was King of Devil's Island, which is based on true incidents that happened early in the 20th Century at the Bastoy School for Delinquent Boys in Norway. The school was incredibly strict - boys weren't allowed personal possessions (though one bizzarely had a pet rabbit, which he carried around with him all the time!) and were beaten into submission. Finally they rebelled and took revenge on the cruel masters.

The school is situated on the shores of a stunningly beautiful (though desolate) Norwegian fjord. The boys are forced outside in all weathers to do backbreaking work logging trees, carrying stones and intensively harvesting crops. It struck me that all the time, nature was seen as something to be overcome, something that could provide a harsh punishment for the crimes the boys had committed. Yet how much more effective the school would have been if it had used the natural wealth of the surroundings for education, as part of an overall more enlightened and pupil centred regime? The boys could have learnt about the nature of the forests, could have learnt about agriculture through doing less intensive, more meaningful work in the fields. And I would guess that they would have had a much better chance of returning to society as well balanced individuals if they had been able to experience nature that way instead of being forced to see it as an enemy. (Obviously, times change and attitudes in the early 20th century were generally not conducive to nature as therapy or pupil centred philosophies!).

I saw the press screening of this film at Edinburgh International Film Festival. Public screenings are:12.45, 19 June and 20.15, 25 June, both screenings are in Cameo 1. You can book tickets for King of Devil's Island on the Edinburgh International Film Festival website here.

Mysterious Object at Noon

One of the treats to be had at the Edinburgh International Film Festival is the chance to see old films that don't get cinema releases very often anymore. Mysterious Object at Noon, the first feature by acclaimed Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is definitely one of these films. In fact prints of this film are so rare, that the copy we watched had been borrowed from a Korean Film Festival and had Korean subtitles (as well as English!).

This film is part road movie, travelling through rural Thailand, and part an experiment in film making. The overarching story to the film is one about a disabled boy and his teacher. This story is told by the actors, using Andre Breton's exquisite corpse storytelling technique, where each person takes on the story from where the previous left off. Each storyteller takes the story in a new direction, it metamorphoses from a very realistic tale to one that is very influenced by supernatural forces. The story is at various stages discussed and rewritten, acted out on village stages and told to us in sign language as well as making up segments of the film. Alongside the actual story we are given fascinating insights into the storytellers' lives and how they see the world. It really is fascinating and quite surreal.

I had a press ticket for the only showing of this film at the Edinburgh International Film festival. It's rarely shown in cinemas these days!

As ever, red text in this post contains hyperlinks that take you to other websites where you can find out more.

Thursday 16 June 2011


I've said before now that I believe that city living can be green and environmentally friendly. Watching this programme of experimental shorts, one would be forgiven for thinking I was entirely wrong in that view.

Praha Florenc is intriguingly subtitled something like thoughts on socialist realism and features 10 minutes shot from a static camera trained on one piece of socialist realist art at Florenc bus terminus in Prague and the people who passed by. It was an interesting juxtaposition between a sculpture that heroically celebrates the value of manual labour and the passers-by, most of whom seem intent on shopping (a comment on post-communist society perhaps?)

Cross Walk follows a religious procession through New York, using some interesting cinematic techniques to add interest to the walk. Some nice shots of trees too.

About Now MMX is a seeming random sequence of shots of London from different times of day (the sun sets at least twice, the moon crosses the sky several times) and in different seasons. Nice skies and the occasional tree but the city basically looked devoid of any real life, even the people shown were in such fast time lapse that their movements seemed meaningless. A comment on how life seems for many people in many cities?

Jan Villa shows the aftermath of the 2005 Mumbai Floods, demonstrating how nature is so much more powerful than human effort and giving an atmospheric portrait of the city and its people.

Achtung / Hallo 35 is a perfect three minute homage to the architecture (and pigeons) of Vienna. Very experimental, very impressionistic but perfectly judged in my opinion, not least by being so short.

I have to admit that most of these films felt as though they were being experimental for the sake of it. Whereas in Calvet, which I recently reviewed here, the experimental content (and some sequences of that film are cinematically very experimental) all felt as though it added to the narrative, mood and to understanding Calvet himself.

I had a press ticket for the first showing of this film at Edinburgh International Film Festival. The next public showing is: 15.30, 21 June in Filmhouse 2. You can buy tickets on the Edinburgh International Film festival website here.

Project Nim

Are apes able to learn to communicate using language? is there an ethical way for us to investigate this question?

Project Nim is a documentary that asks these questions by focussing on a linguistics experiment carried out at Colombia University during the 1970s. Nim was taken from his mother at the age of two weeks (his mother had had several earlier offspring taken from her while she had lived in this research centre). Nim was adopted by a human family and brought up as a human child. The film showed that this time in Nim's life involved a lot of playful interaction as well as indignity. However, the University decided Nim wasn't been educated rigorously enough so he was taken into the research facility and given regular lessons with a series of teachers. Eventually the project was abandoned entirely and Nim was returned to the research centre where he had been born. He had become used to being in the company of humans and took time to get used to being with chimpanzees. Luckily at the centre, Bob, one of the research students took a personal interest in Nim and made sure he got trips out and talked to him (using the sign language he had learned while being part of the family and education based project). Later the research facility found itself in financial difficulties and sold some of its chimpanzees to a medical reasearch facility (this of course is an entirely different sort of research than is linguistic and social research). Bob alerted the press and an animal welfare charity bought Nim to save him from a future of medical research but then kept him in isolation (in a large cage with lots of toys) in the middle of a centre devoted to looking after horses, domkeys, llamas and elephants and without any experts around who knew anything about chimps. Bob complained about this and was banned from going to the charity. Finally the charity got a new director who worked with Bob to acquire more chimps (from the medical research centre which by then had been closed down) and arranging time for Bob to see Nim regularly. Nim died of a heart attack at the age of 26.

The people involved in Nim's life (with the exception of Bob and the lawyer who helped him) never seemed to consider Nim's rights as a chimpanzee, seemed to see him either as a cute addition to the family or an interesting scientific subject. The Project Nim director at one point says of Nim's adoptive mother 'she was the best possible mother for Nim' NO! Nim's own real mother was his best mother! In the discussions about rescuing Nim from medical research, he was to be rescued because he was special and could communicate with humans and had been brought up human. it was clear that no-one considered it equally wrong that the other chimps were used for medical research.

I found this an incredibly difficult film to watch, though there are some light moments, such as when Nim cuddles a cat and when he's playing with Bob or with his adoptive family. But even then it just feels so entirely wrong that this chimpanzee has been deprived of his natural family and any chance of a natural life, for the sake of research, no matter how interesting that research. This is a vital film to watch if you're at all interested in animal rights and ethics.

I was at the press screening of this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Public screenings are:

17.30, 18 June in Cameo 1; 18.00, 20 June, George Square Theatre. You can book your tickets on the Edinburgh International Film Festival website here.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages, where you can find out more.

Borrower Arrietty

The Borrower Arrietty is a Studio Ghibli film based on Mary Norton's novel The Borrowers. It's essentially a children's film, but there is enough story and content to keep at least this adult happy. The Borrowers are a tribe of tiny people who live in secret corners of the human world. Arriety is a teenage Borrower, living with her parents in the cellar of a country house, where a lonely spinster lives. She is just learning the trade of Borrowing things from humans - a sugar lump here, a pin there and a piece of tissue paper there. When Arriety ventures on her first Borrowing trip, she encounters Sho, the ill teenage nephew of the spinster. Though her parents warn her against any contact with humans, she starts a tentative friendship with Sho. Unfortunately in his actions to try to protect Arriety, Sho sets in motion a series of incidents that end with the Borrowers running away to find somewhere safer to live.

As with all Studio Ghibli films the animation is gorgeous, lush details of leaves and fruit and shivering raindrops. The contrast in size between the Borrowers and the human world are shown beautifully, the Borrowers' house for example is decorated with framed postage stamps and buttons hanging on the wall, while the nails in a wall of the human house offer a precarious passage to the best Borrowing site (the kitchen!). It is also clear that when you're the size of a borrower, the world is full of monsters, whether that's cockroaches, rats or the local cat.

The Borrowers live a fragile existence and are aware that too much contact with humans could destroy their way of life. This allows the film to address the issue of human pressures on the natural world, in a way that (mostly) avoids preaching.

I saw the press screening of this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Public screenings are:

12.20, 18 June, 19.45, 20 June. Both screenings are in Filmhouse 1. You can buy tickets from the Edinburgh International Film Festival website here.

The Borrwers Arrietty will also get distribution into cinemas fairly soon, so keep an eye out!

As ever, red text in this post contains hyperlinks which will take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Wednesday 15 June 2011


Jean Marc Calvet is a self taught French artist, currently living in Nicaragua. Calvet is a biopic of his amazing lifestory. The film is basically an extended interview with Calvet, interspersed with scenes from the places he has lived, views of his amazing artworks and abstract, impressionistic interludes.

Calvet was born in Nice, France, in 1965. He had a hard childhood and an early career as a bodyguard to the stars, a French Legionnaire and a vice cop. He then abandoned his partner and young son to take a shady job in the USA, which led to him absconding to Central America with huge amounts of cash he had stolen from his employer. He hid out in Costa Rica and at one point hid in his house on a coke binge that lasted months. The film gives a brilliant and disturbing recreation of the hallucinatory paranoia he was experiencing at this time. During a particular hallucination he literally found some paint and started throwing it around the house. He realised that this formed a sort of emotional release and he started to paint on a regular basis. At this point he was seeing it as purely a therapy, it was months or years before he began to see himself as an artist.

When he had overcome his problems and moved to Nicaragua, Calvet decided to search for his son. I found this part of the film a bit tedious, involving as it did a lot of getting lost in little streets and asking the neighbours if they knew Calvet's family. However, tedious is probably how it felt in reality at times and there is an emotionally satisfying conclusion to Calvet's attempt to reconcile with his first family.

Calvet is now married with a daughter and he is a successful and prolific artist.

I attended the press screening of this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Public Screenings are:

20.00, 17 June. 15.15, 18 June. Both screenings are in Cameo 1. You can book on the Edinburgh International Film Festival website here.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Shut Up, Little Man!

Noise pollution is an often overlooked environmental issue, though if you've ever had really noisy neighbours it's probably been a very major issue for you! The action in the documentary Shut Up Little Man starts in 1987 when Eddie Lee and Mitch D move into a low-rent apartment in San Francisco and find that their neighbours, Ray and Peter (joined sometimes by Tony), argue loudly all night every night. Eddie and Mitch start recording the arguments by hanging a microphone in front of their neighbour's appartment. They do this firstly as evidence but continue because they find the arguments compelling. They give copies of the tapes to friends and soon the noisy neighbours have a cult following across the USA. Pretty soon there are comic books, songs, plays and ideas for films based on the contents of the recordings (and remember this is all in the days pre-internet!).

The film is made up of interviews with Eddie and Mitch and some of the people who adapted the contents of the recordings for their own purposes.

One obvious issue brought up in the film is respect for your neighbours. Ray and Peter are disrespectful for arguing loudly all night regardless of whether they disturb others (when Ray discovers that the arguments are being recorded, he shouts abuse into the microphone and then continues as though nothing had happened!). Eddie and Mitch are equally disrespectful by recording their neighbours without consent, beyond any legal requirement for evidence.

Another major issue is around copyright. Eddie and Mitch first circulate the tapes with a note allowing users to do what they want with the material. Later they claim copyright on it, which isn't theirs to claim as they had covertly recorded other people. The explosion of creative responses to the recordings is at once inspiring (because of the enthusiasm and creativity) and depressing (because of the total disregard for the people who feature in the recordings). In this context the film discusses the nature of art - whether the original recordings are art or if it only becomes art when something new is done with the 'material'.

At the end, we see interviews with Peter (before he died) and Tony, both of whom are living in poverty, unaware of the underground stardom they have, they both seem empty, confused men, who have been taken advantage of in ways that they are never going to be fully aware of.

It's very entertaining (if you don't mind a lot of bad language!) but also very thought provoking and essentially quite sad.

I was at the press showing of this film. Public Screenings of Shut Up Little Man will be at:

2215, 17 June. 1730, 18 June. Both showings are in Filmhouse 2.

You can book on the Edinburgh International Film Festival website here.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Geology, Dippers and Films

This morning I went on a very interesting geology walk along part of the Water of Leith with Geowalks. We walked along the river from Stockbridge to Roseburn and looked at the geology of the river bed, the gorge that the river flows through and the buildings, bridges and other structures along the river. If you're in Edinburgh and interested in Geology, Geowalks offer a wide range of walks focussing on geology. Some of their walks involve lots of climbing mountains but some are on the flat.

I had walked along the river to get to the starting point for the walk and as I was early, I had stopped for a while to watch a dipper. It was bobbing up and down on a rock, as dippers often do, then every so often it would throw itself into the water and come up on the other side of the rock (which I realised was at an angle in the water). Dippers are one of my favourite birds, I really could watch them all day!

This lunchtime I went along to collect my press pass and pack (nicely packed in a re-usable cotton bag) for the Edinburgh International Film Festival! As I've said before I'm very impressed with this year's programme, based purely on the fact that there are more films I want to see than there have been for years. So I'm looking forward very much to seeing lots of films over the next week or so. I'll review most of the films I see on this blog, but some of them may end up on Over Forty Shades. So yes, there will be a lot of reviews here over the next week or so! I am of course delighted to find myself mentioned in this article on the bloggers to look out for at the festival!

Due to being on the geology walk this morning, I wasn't able to get to the press showing of Jane's Journey, a film about the primatologist Jane Goodall. Catch it if you can at the Edinburgh International Film Festival or look out for it getting released in cinemas across the country.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more!

Saturday 11 June 2011

Garden Update

As some of you will know I recently planted some coriander and repotted some basil plants. The other day I received some free carrot, courgette and leek seeds from The Borrowers. So I've also planted these in pots and now our living room window-ledge is now full of plants and we have two pots outside.

This photo shows the coriander as it is now. I've thinned out the plants and repotted some of them. I think in the near future though I'll harvest some of the plants entirely and thin out the remaining plants at the same time. We just don't have enough pots or windowsill space for many more replantings!

A couple of days ago I got this nice shadow shot of some of the basil plants. I couldn't have got that shot today as it's been raining all day!

Friday 10 June 2011

Anoushka the baby hare

Anoushka is an adorable baby hare made by Annette of Dragon House of Yuen. This photo shows Anoushka's beautiful patterning. in the background is Annette's adorable rabbit Arabella, who I was lucky enough to be able to stroke and chat to when I visited them recently. Like all of Annette's hares, Anoushka has her very own story to tell, which you can read on Annette's blog here (scroll down to find Anoushka's story, but make sure the read all the stories there!). As if that wasn't enough reason to visit Annette's blog, then she's also doing a Giveaway. Yes, you have the chance to win one of Annette's beautiful hares (handmade from recycled fabrics!) if you comment on her blog and help her with some ideas about her stories. You can help out by reading and commenting on this post.

And for all those of you who enjoyed the recent spoof Springwatch videos from Charlotte at Cottontails Baby, she's made some more, which you can watch here.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Of poetry and potato peelers

I've been writing a lot recently, but it's mostly been working on ideas I've already started. Though I've been very productive I've started to feel I'm running out of new ideas for anything longer than haiku (for which i rarely run out of ideas). I've therefore been looking at writing prompts again, even though I'd given up on them for lots of different reasons. Half an hour before writing this post, I saw the latest prompt on Applehouse Poetry Workshop, which was to write a poem about something small and insignificant and start the poem 'Today I want to say something wonderful'. The example given was a poem about a potato peeler and I, perhaps cheating, wrote a poem about my potato peeler. I think though there are lots of general ideas for more poems which could come from this prompt.

In Praise of My Potato Peeler

Today I want to say something wonderful
about my potato peeler
about how it fits as snugly into my left hand
as other people's fit into their right,
how it skims smoothly over the skin
of potato or even, as I prefer my potatoes
scrubbed not peeled, the fresh picked apples
from my in-laws' garden.

Now my apples are smoothly segmented,
rather than roughly gouged and pitted
and the same number of apples
makes a bigger crumble.

And I am transformed from clumsy
into almost a domestic goddess.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Wednesday 8 June 2011


Like many nature lovers in the UK, at this time of the year we are avidly following Springwatch on the TV. It's a great programme, it's accessible for anyone who's just starting to get interested in nature but it's got enough interesting facts in there to keep more serious naturalists happy too. There's also lots of live webcams following different species of birds on their nests (this year the species include grasshopper warbler, oystercatcher and pied flycatcher) with insights into their personal lives, which often rival soap operas for drama and intrigue. It's essential viewing really.

However there is a distinct lack of rabbits on Springwatch. Apart from a brief moment in yesterday's segment of the show from Skomer Island in Wales, where the bunnies were shown next to the puffins (who nest in old bunny burrows), rabbits are usually only seen when they feature as food for some predator.

Well, Charlotte at Cottontails Baby, with the help of her adorable rabbit Humphrey, has put together these wonderful spoof videos to offer an alternative Springwatch with more bunnies. We're promised more too, which I'm really looking forward to!

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Writing in the Sand by Angus Dunn

This is a brilliant book, engrossing and readable and weaving in conptemororary issues that face Scotland today such as Scottish Independence, land ownership, reintroduction of once native species that have gone extinct and genetic engineering.

The novel is set on the Dark Isle - a fictionalised version of the Black Isle. This is an island populated not only by vivid and memorable human characters but also by a whole range of gods and spirits, who try to push their way into the human world at times of stress.

There are plans afoot to go for a Dark Isle independent of Scotland, and to release the old native species into the isle (including long dead species such as woolly rhinoceros). This is seen by many as messing with nature in the same way that some sensitive characters (this seems to mean most of the inhabitants of the Dark Isle) are aware of the gods' plans to mess with he human world.

The Dark Isle Show is a focal point of the novel, a show that combines agriculture with music and folklore. At the show this year are genetic marvels such as two headed sheep (in fact so many this year that they need a whole new category to themselves) and a musical concert so exciting that it warps the whole fabric of space-time.

This entertaining novel makes the reader laugh out loud while provoking thought into some of the most interesting issues that face today's Scotland.

Writing in the Sand by Angus Dunn published by Luath Press

Monday 6 June 2011

Hidden Meadow

Yesterday, I read Wild Bill's excellent blogpost about Nature's Intersections, and today I was thinking about the natural intersections there are along the Water of Leith. My particular patch of the river is wooded along most of the route, but with some open areas. My favourite open area is that known as the Hidden Meadow, which is found next to the wonderful Redhall Gardens (which will be holding an open day on 26 June so if you're in Edinburgh that day, it would be an ideal day out!).

The Hidden Meadow is an open area with scattered trees, mostly apple and birch though with some ash and rowan in there too.

There are a lot of bramble bushes and comfrey grows high and untidy at this time of the year, but is loved by the bees.

There are some fallen logs in the centre of the Meadow which offer a pleasant place to sit (though this area is often used for barbeques and not everyone is careful when they make barbeques, sometimes I have found lots of litter round here and branches broken from trees too).

In the wooded area along the river, there are lots of blackcaps singing (along with other birds). As you walk into the Hidden Meadow, the blackcaps are replaced, due to habitat preferences, by willow warblers. I love both these birds' songs, but there is something especially magical about the willow warbler's song and as they are a species in decline, it is wonderful to know there is somewhere in Edinburgh where you can be almost guaranteed to hear them.

As ever, red text takes you to another webpage where you can find out more. in the case of birds, that page will include the opportunity to listen to their song!

Sunday 5 June 2011

Poetry Update

Just to let everyone know that I now have a Paypal account and wherever you are in the world you can now order a signed copy of my chapbook Unthinkable Skies directly from me. The book costs £4.50 and postage is £1.00 within the UK, £1.50 elsewhere in Europe and £2 for the rest of the world. Please leave a comment or email me on Juliet.M.WilsonATgmailDOTcom for more information! Alternatively you can order the book from Calder Wood Press or from Wordpower Books.

The CD of selected poems from Unthinkable Skies with music from Belvedere Mountain Express will be launched on 20 June on CD Baby where it will be available as a download only. You will be able to order a physical CD (including the text of the poems and lovely packaging as seen here) from the Belvedere Mountain Express website.

I have some poems in the Biggar Poetry Garden in the Scottish Borders until the end of August. If you can't get to visit the garden, you can now read the poems here.

And just a reminder that my poetry reading that was scheduled for 11 June has now been postponed until 24 September. More details on that nearer the time.

As ever, text in red takes you to other websites where you can find out more.

Saturday 4 June 2011

Hermitage of Braid

Today we were at the Meadows Festival, one of the community festivals in Edinburgh that happen before the big festival season gets underway. After yesterday's glorious sunshine, today was dull and cool, but there was good music from local bands, a good selection of Scottish beer and a range of stalls selling locally made crafts, antiques and second hand stuff. Also an entertaining variety of dogs - for the first time there was a dog show (run by the Dogs' Trust), with the doggy dash, though not all participating dogs really did dash, some were rather slow and one sat down halfway through!

Earlier in this week, we had a bank holiday visit to the Hermitage of Braid, a nice wooded area along a stream, called at this stage the Braid Burn though it is known as the Figgate Burn at another point along its length. There were lots of beautiful ferns which made wonderful subjects for shadow shots.

We also took a different path than usual, which turned out not to really be a serviceable path any more (it was eroded away to a tiny track on the side of a steep slope!), but it did offer us excellent views of the tree planting that is going on in the Hermitage. In areas it looks quite a mess, with the old plantation trees being chopped down (they had been planted too close and the council never made its intended income from them) and new native species being planted to recreate the original woodland. In the photo below, the small green tubes you can see in the clearing are the newly planted trees and the mature trees are the native trees that have been around for a while!

It will be a few years before some parts of the area look properly like a woodland again, but it will be lovely and overall there's still a lot of mature trees for birds to nest in. Here's one of the old trees in the area, to give an idea of the future for the area.

Friday 3 June 2011

Cucumbers, Metaphors and Death

The news about the e-coli outbreak that may or may not be attributable to cucumbers broke while I was reading Nature and Language: A semiotic study of cucurbits in literature.

Nature and Language: A Semiotic Study of Cucurbits in Literature is a strange book. Published in 1980, it is an entertaining and insightful exploration of the use of members of the curcurbit family (melons, squashes, calabashes, courgettes and cucumbers) as metaphors in literature. It takes a very academic approach to the topic and is full of quotes from literature, in several languages (and not all of them with any type of translation!). The various metaphorical uses of the cucurbits are examined, fecundity, stupidity, fast growth and wider life and death symbolism. It is clear that the authors see the use of cucurbits as metaphors as a special case of nature as metaphor and they explore the bigger picture. They refer repeatedly to the intrinsic humour of cucurbits, due to their size and shape, and the reader can't help but feel that they had their tongues in their cheeks as they wrote much of this book. I have to admit, I've never particularly liked cucumbers and can't eat melons, so my appreciation of some of the metaphors around deliciousness was probably less than the average person's. However it is a fascinating book.

There seems to be considerable uncertainty over whether Spanish cucumbers are actually the source of the e-coli outbreak, which is mostly affecting people in and connected with northern Germany. (It would be encouraging if this episode could stimulate questions over the sustainability of shipping large amounts of food from one country to another, but that's probably unlikely to happen). One thing that can be certain, is that for the forseeable future, cucumbers now have an added metaphorical significance for many people in Europe and I won't be the only person avoiding eating cucumbers over the next few months.

Nature and Language: A semiotic study of cucurbits in literature by Rolf Norrman and Jon Haarberg published by Routledge and Kegan Paul.

You can read my poem, Death and the Cucumber on Poetry 24 (just click on the link!).