Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A cool thing that Andrew built

He's so clever! Completely pointless and lots of fun, PlotShot combines the original plot generator with photos from Flickr to make stories with pictures. The results are sometimes offbeat and curious, and definately make you think more carefully about how you tag your photos! Check it out.

Monday, December 11, 2006

What's wrong with Auckland?

Car dependency - the main disincentive for a return to the city of sails (aka city of motorways and traffic jams). Here in Edinburgh everything's in walking distance - work, a morning newspaper & croissants, the cinema, friends, the city centre, parks. Hop on the bus if you're feeling lazy, or your bike if in a rush. Back in Auckland, it seems like we would need a car (or two) just to exist.

Watch this series on YouTube and hear about the whole sorry saga of Auckland's great motorways and crappy public transport. A. thinks it's a stroke of genius to showAustralians telling Aucklanders their train service is embarrassing. Hope it has some effect!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

O Christmas tree

We got our Christmas tree yesterday. Rather pretty it is, too, with its pink and white lights, glass and silver baubles, silver fern nymph, paua Christmas tree, African tin angel, santa, jack-in-the-box and even a furry elephant. Minimalism has no place in this Christmas household!

Lots of presents underneath it too...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

new things

I've recently discovered, and finding it to be both useful and compelling. You can now see what I've been listening to lately, right here (in the sidebar).

Other new(ish) things:
  • Chinese white tea
  • Sweet Melinda's - A lovely wee neighbourhood eatery. A. took me there for our anniversary last month, and we've been back already (this time for their pay-what-you-think-it's worth Tuesday dinner - brave of them and entertaining for us come bill-time!)
  • Burnt Sugar fudge
Meanwhile, I'm getting bored of winter, rain, gales, cold, darkness and associated seasonalities - although they do make for interesting pics like this one. Can you guess what it is?

Still, there are Edinburgh's gorgeous Christmas lights and the prospect of getting a tree, some long lunches and plenty of good food to cheer things up.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Santas on Harleys

A cheery Christmas scene yesterday. I was leaving work, the evening pitch black and extremely windy. Then from nowhere, before my eyes, the road was lit up by a troupe of Santas on Harley Davidsons, complete with jingle bells on their sound system and a some very impressive lighting kits.

Friday, November 10, 2006

a picture from our hols in Greece that I had forgotten about...

...and that made us laugh a lot!

I think this might be the best hat I've ever seen.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Jim Anderton defends kiwifruit

After last week's Stern report, and spurious subsequent comments about NZ food miles, Jim Anderton's been writing letters to the editor, and was all huff and puff on this morning's Today Programme. And oh so kiwi. Quote of the interview:
If European producers want to make the argument [about food miles] based on solid scientific evidence, they're going to be on a hiding to nothing.
It's ages since I've heard that phrase, but it's a goody.

Since I'm talking about solid scientific evidence (instead of, say, our latest travels or what the neighbours are up to), the Dilbert blog had a pretty exhaustive discussion about stem cells (very much on the agenda in the US because of the mid-terms). It's far too much to plough through, but a small sampling gives a flavour of the range of information and otherwise out there.

And if that's not enough stem cell action for you, take a look at this film I made (you'll need Flash player).

Monday, October 23, 2006


The view from our window on Saturday morning. Everything rain-soaked after a drookit night, leaves on the turn, apple boughs bowing and the sun starting to do her thing. It looked amazing and like a day full of promise.

Chilly, but. There's a definite air of autumn about Edinburgh right now. Emergency gully clearing (all those leaves). Lots of rain - interspersed with blinding sunshine. Skidding over crabapples on the way to work.

So, on our day full of promise, we headed west. But Glasgow had other ideas. As is often the case on the 45 min trip, the skies got greyer and more ominous. Still, we made it to Kelvingrove (via the clockwork orange and a walk along the river) without getting wet. And there was plenty there to keep us occupied as showers passed by (with a tasty lunch stop across the road at Mother India's cafe...butter chicken to die for, zingy lime and coriander baked trout). When we first came to Scotland, Kelvingrove was closing and we thought we wouldn't still be here when it reopened. Sorry mum! It's a great museum - fine art and natural history under one roof, Dali rubbing shoulders with the dinosaurs. I don't normally go in for old bones, but my favourite thing was the majestic, enormous skeleton of the giant Irish deer (pic#7).

Sunday, October 08, 2006

We've been in Greece

Hence the dearth of posts.

We've been back a week and I'm slowly adjusting to normal autumn Edinburgh life after more than 2 weeks in the Greek sun. My tan is fading, summer clothes have been packed away, but we still have plenty of photos to wade through.

Pictured left is Oia, in postcard-pretty Santorini, one of three islands we visited. It's extremely photogenic, from the pastel-hued villages that cling improbably to caldera cliffs, to red beach, a colourful result of the island's volcanic past.

One morning, we woke to a deafening boom echoing around the caldera. A, half-asleep, thought the volcano was erupting again. Fortunately not. Instead it was one of several dramatic thunderstorms that punctuated our trip.

Even more hair-raising was riding on the back of a scooter up (and more to the point, down) some seriously steep and winding hills. A few off-road adventures, too - especially on Naxos, which is a much bigger island and therefore easier to get lost in. But you're never far from a gorgeous beach and/or greek coffee, so getting lost's no great hardship.

We liked Naxos a lot. It may lack Santorini's drama, but it also lacks many of the hoardes of tourists (especially in September), making it a much more relaxed proposition. More soon...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"It's not really bothering us"

An ohhhmmmm update. Our neighbours one-up are going crazy - one has moved back with her mum this week to get some sleep. Last Thursday, we slept in the lounge on the airbed, marginally more tolerable than the noise in the bedroom. And this morning I think the whole building was vibrating.

Meanwhile, the source of the hum has been identified (2-up). But it's not really bothering them, so they haven't done anything about it.

I think our neighbour impressed on them the gravity of the situation this weekend, though, and hope to return to quiet nights sometime soon.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Neigh wach man (sic)

Hot off the press, in our letterbox today, comes this from the inimitable, indomitable Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter for Jordan Lane East:

I was very disappointed last month to have a copy of the Newsletter pushed under our gate wrapped in a clear plastic glove for protection, and I presume, to protect the messages written on the newsletter. The message written in highlighter pen and addressed "To Neigh wach man" threatening that the Leith boys will Get you" was accompanied by language not even used on Big Brother. As I put every copy through a letterbox I can only assume someone doesn't appreciate my efforts.
Phew. What an intro. My eyes are peeled for ned-like sorts wielding highlighters lurking in our stair. In fact, I have a theory about the culprit.

Meanwhile, our man with the binocs remains undeterred, and furnished us with a cracker this month. Highlights include the theft of over £30 worth of deodorants, followed just six days later with an upped ante of £50 worth of antiperspirant products from the same shop. By my calculation that would be 25 or more deodorants. That's a lot of the underarm stuff. Either someone's figured out how to make speed from it, or the thieves have some serious perspiration problems. Mysterious.

You see why this city's produced so many great crime writers?

Saturday, September 02, 2006


No, not the relaxing meditation chant. Quite the opposite.

Instead it's an unexplained, unpredictable, unlocatable noise in our building somewhere. Rating as highly as Berin's frogs as a sleep impediment, and able to penetrate earplugs (I'm beginning to think it just makes my skull vibrate), it's becoming a problem. We think it's in the pipes, somewhere, but no amount of water running or boiler fiddling makes a jot of difference. Must be pipes upstairs, over which we have no control. And usually comes on after 11, when we can't really visit neighbours to investigate.

Apart from mild sleep deprivation, everything's fine. Spotted this picture of a familiar view in a charity shop window yesterday, had to have it!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

the rest of the fest

or, what I did last week (don't worry, no "what I had for breakfast"s, just the edited highlights)

a festival-free day, but we did venture out to watch the rugby (ABs vs SA) for the first time all season, in the cosy, friendly and delightfully unsmoky Teuchters.

Ian Rankin on the couch - psychoanalysed by celeb psychiatrist Raj Persaud (whose Motivated Mind sits unread on our bookshelf - we're too unmotivated to read it). What makes a crime writer, and his famously damaged creation, Rebus, tick? It could have all gone horribly wrong, but Rankin's gabby enough to pull anything off (and I mean that in a nice way).

Wide Awake at Cineworld - a personal exploration of insomnia. I thought I was bad, but this guy (the filmmaker, Alan Berliner) was a lot worse. Good film though - with all those extra waking hours he's built an amazing warehouse-sized archive of footage and newspaper clippings that was used to great effect in this doc.

John And Jane - another doc, this time about call centre workers in Mumbai. Quite a surreal start when after the EIFF graphic came "New Zealand International Film Festival, sponsored by Telecom". Bad print hygiene, I guess, but it did make me smile. The call centre was for American clients, the workers kept American hours (working through the night), and as part of their training learned about the differences between the US and India (fluffy towels, consumer choice and catalogs). Side-effects of this 'education' included the conversion of Hindu call centre workers to happy-clappy Christianity of the mid-west kind, and the tragic figure of Naomi, bottle blonde, right down to the eyelashes, and "totally very Americanized". The backdrop of Mumbai streets and homes rapidly gives way to desolate malls, endless cookie-cutter apartment blocks, and the sterile call centre itself. One character even dreams of owning a Spanish-style villa. A disturbing glimpse of globalisation in action.

Work freebies took us along to the bookfest to see Ian Wilmut and Richard Holloway chew the fat. Cloning, animal research, all the usual suspects.

A. thought she might not be much good live. But Regina Spektor was better than good. I felt like I was in the presence of rare talent. Better live than recorded. What a voice! And so sweet with it. Gush.

I came across her in a slightly unusual way. Every time we went to the cinema, we saw the Sky TV ad with "I am Danny Way" on it (y'know, UK dwellers, the skateboarding one) and Regina belting out the uber-catchy Us. Had to track her down. And then she came to Edinburgh :-)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Festival recollections

It's been a busy old week and a bit. Lots of culture. I'm going to try to track back through it, see what I remember. If my memory's good, this could be a long one. You have been warned...

Tonight's easy. It finished little over an hour ago. The closing gig of the Edinburgh Book Festival - Richard Holloway. A. asked me as we waited what he was going to be talking about. I had no idea. " Dunno. Philosophy, I guess." I'd booked the tickets on a bit of a whim, as we'd both liked his Looking in the Distance so much. Holloway used to be the Bishop of Edinburgh, but is not so hot on God any more. It turns out (not all that surprising, given his former life) that he's a fantastic, captivating orator - who can recite whole chunks from texts with scarcely a glance at the page. Tonight's theme was suffering - not an easy subject, "sacred ground" that it is - and the intellectual, theological and practical responses that are possible. He circled around his theme, reading from the book of Job, holocaust literature, Larkin, a Polish poet whose name I couldn't catch, and the ending of The Line of Beauty, as Nick contemplates his likely fate:
It was a love of the world that was shockingly unconditional [...] It wasn't just this street corner but the fact of a street corner at all that seemed, in the light of the moment, so beautiful.
I hadn't felt like going out, was feeling a bit festivaled-out. I'm very glad I did.

We had landed some freebies from A's work to the if.comeddies - the awards formerly known as the Perriers. Good sponsorship deal that - even though they've stopped sponsoring, everyone namechecks them. Not so sure about the new name. I read an alternative suggestion in the weekend papers - the iffys. Fortunately, the comedy was not remotely iffy. For the first time this festival, I laughed a lot. Especially at David O'Doherty, and his story about the other David O'Doherty - top in Google and a bit geeky too. Even funnier was Mark Watson - no cheap jokes, no sweary words (you could take your mum), just great observation and timing and a very endearing persona (again, mums would love him).

Earlier in the day, we watched Zidane, a 21st century portrait. Football and art cinema - an odd combo. For one game, 17 cameras are trained on Zizou. No narration, just a few quotes as subtitles, a soundtrack by Mogwai and the sound of the game, as Zidane hears it. I didn't even realise that other 'galacticos' like Beckham and Ronaldo were playing until well into the film. Like much art film, (and much football!) it was both fascinating and boring. I began to think maybe that was the point - to show how mundane football really can be, how much downtime, sock folding, spitting and sweating goes on. You get to see lots of all of these. How daft our emotional and financial investment in this game really is. And yet. There's something about Zidane - he's unreadable but not in Beckham's blank way. A bit more mystery. You never see his eyes. He smiles but once. Communication is limited to about three words. You sense his instinct as he roams the pitch, hunting the ball. And delight when he finds it, or it finds him, and he performs the magic we love him for. Beautiful - in spite of all the sweat and spit.

It's Zizou who says it best: "Magic is sometimes very close to nothing at all...nothing at all."

pink minicrocs

It seems I am not the only croc-wearer in the whanau. I have, however, discovered a problem. Static electricity. I wore them all day on Thursday and managed to get a shock from the car (twice) and my computer. I also seem to be even more trip-prone than normal.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

new things

It's been a material week. First, a whole roomful of brand new carpet. It's nothing fancy, but infinitely better than living with someone else's stains. We decided on it in record time a few weeks ago. When they didn't call back about the fitting, I started to worry...a feeling exacerbated when I looked for their telephone number and found this litany of complaints. #1 and 4 on Google! But I tracked down the errant fitters and it's now in situ.

On the carpet are my brand new crocs - shoes that are impossible to be sad in. Soft, comfy, incredibly light and silly. What more could a girl want? If I was embarking on a round-the-world adventure, they'd be my shoes of choice. I'm still trying to decide whether I can wear them to work, but they'll definitely be just the thing for the pebbly beaches of Hydra.

This monotype by Ruth O'Dell was my birthday present from A - bought is a cute wee gallery in Harris and just back from the framers. Can you tell what it's depicting?

One new thing I'm not allowed to play with is a new blog. Meanies.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Festival team

Yep, it's that time of year again. Tourists and thesps take over. Buttoned-up Edinburgh becomes, for a month, overwhelmingly theatrical and even a wee bit camp. It's fab, but infinitely distracting. A's working hard on Teamtastic (what do you mean "what's Teamtastic?"??? - you haven't been spammed yet? - well get in there and check it out), and I've been helping out a bit, but we've managed to fit in a wee bit of festival distraction too. Sleep? Pah, who needs it?

Today we saw the eye-popping Kataklo - "athletic dance theatre". We were right in the front row - close enough to see every breath, sinew, and bead of sweat on the amazing troupe of 7 dancers, as they interpreted sports like football, swimming, tennis and skiing through dance. It was my favourite Fringe show of all time (3 yrs so far) - for the art, physicality, wit and sheer endeavour of it all. How did they make their bodies do that?

Yesterday was MyoSung, a Korean show fusing jazz, hip-hop and classical Korean dance. Yep, dance is my thing this festival. Not as slick as Kataklo or last year's Jump, it felt young, raw, and full of energy (tempered with a bit of angst), and had plenty of amazing moves to keep things interesting.

Later, a freebie from A's work led us to Tim Minchin, an Aussie comedian (former glam rocker) who sings like a glam rocker should (maybe better), plays the piano, and composes wickedly funny, perfectly rhymed lyrics - with the odd off-rhyme moments hammed up for comic effect. Entertaining but nothing mind-blowing - although his resemblance to a Mr Smith I know was slightly spooky...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The moon is like a piece of pie

I just looked up to see a pie-wedge moon peeking out above a cloud. It looked really cool but I was too slow to grab the camera and now it's sunk down behind the clouds. I always thought moons rose. But that's the second time this year I've watched it set.

There's also a bat flying around outside - it's the first time I've seen a bat in the city. And yesterday there was a fox skulking between gardens. All this wildlife might have to find a new home if our big garden neighbours have their way, though. 2 houses at the end of Jordan Lane each want to subdivide their enormous gardens, building new houses and chopping down lots of trees. The neighbourhood is in revolt, there are notices in stairwells, and peer pressure to make a submission. It's not so much the bats and foxes. Mostly, people are worried about where they will park their cars.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

camping in Scotland

We managed 6 out of 8 nights under canvas on our last wee trip north. For those of you who know Scottish summers, this would probably mean a miserable week all round. But no. It was sunny. We wore shorts. We only had one picnic in the car (this is A's universal marker of all-time holiday low). We enjoyed nights that didn't really get dark: wandering home to our tent just outside of Stornoway at 2am, after a night at the festival, the town far from asleep (even though it was, technically, the Sabbath), the sky still streaked with remnants of what must have been a gorgeous sunset. We saw a few of those on our trip.

Harris was a bit rainy, but fortunately we were holed up in a fab wee B&B, warm and well-fed by chef-owner Margaret. The first time I'd ever seen kumara and haggis paired on a menu (Margaret had spent a season cooking in Whitianga, so was well acquainted with this most kiwi of vegies). Highly recommended if you're ever out that way (unlikely for most of my readers, but you never know...).

Skye brought more good food and some spectacular hills to climb (no not the Cuillins, we're much too soft), and probably the hottest day of the year. And back on the mainland, via ferry ride number three (I do like ferries), midges, a swim and a gorgeous beach. Here 'tis.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Nothing else seems to be working

I think that's why I liked Don Paterson's attempt to sort out Israel and Lebanon:
(...) I end the day in prostrate delirium, trying to figure out how you could solve the Middle East crisis at the mixing desk. Basically, if we can get some hard-knee compression on Syria, we can reinvert the phase on Hizbullah, run it through a high-pass filter and then bury it under the hi-hat. I bounce Israel to mono and pan it hard right, but it sucks even worse. Hand me my bitcrusher, Keith. Sleep claims me. I dream of sleet.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

News, island style

We've been on holiday, camping in Lewis, Skye and the highlands. There are some pics on Flickr, and I'll write more soon. For now, here's a taste of island life courtesy of my very favourite newspaper, the Stornoway Gazette:
For the second year running, the Point and Carloway will be running the exciting 'Bravest Dog' category at their shows. Isabel Badley expained: "My former husband (...) looked through all the entries and decided this animal was the most deserving."

14 year old Labrador cross Sonny Jim, who had spent nearly five years in a wheelchair due to a congenital abnormality of the spine, was presented with the award. Sonny Jim did not let his disability get the best of him, and continued to live his normal life, becoming a well known member of the community with his daily walks up and down the village.
I kid you not. I really wish I had come across Sonny Jim when we were in Lewis. It would have been a great honour to meet such a brave dog. Plus I've never seen a dog walking up and down a village in a wheelchair before.

Close second to this article comes with the headline "While islands swelter, New Zealand freezes". Been having some bad weather back in kiwiland? No hiding it from the Leodhasachs - exiles like Angus Finlayson (formerly of Aird Tong but now living in Wellington) keep the islands informed, by sending cuttings from the local (Wellington) paper, to be rehashed in the local (Stornoway) paper.

"Swelter" may be pushing the point a bit, but it was hot and sunny. And even at the busiest time of the year, in the middle of the Hebridean Celtic Festival, it was easy to find a whole cove, beach or cliff to yourself.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

good things

  • making it home before the heavens opened and turned our street into a river today
  • the smell just before the storm - like an Auckland summer's day
  • schoc chocolate - dark chocolate with cardamom
  • strawberries, raspberries, warmed by the sun
  • my ingenious new bedside table - a wooden box with a lid that slides. You can open it without moving your books.

Monday, June 19, 2006

pictures and voices

This is a simple idea, but somehow beautiful. Lost, anonymous photos, given life and space to capture new imaginations. One of those nice moments you sometimes find on the web, amongst all the clutter and MySpace badness.

Speaking of beautiful, saw Bic Runga this weekend. She looked like a little doll, with a lolly-pink dress, stylish bob and silver sandals. Last time we saw her it was an acoustic set at the Reid Hall. This time there was a band, plus Annika Moa and Anna Coddington on backing vocals. She did a fantastic version of the Jacques Brel song, Ne Me Quitte Pas, but for me Bursting Through, just Bic's voice and guitar, pure and haunting, was the highlight.

All the festival programmes are out now, so lots of poring over listings to do, important choices to make...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Not-quite midnight sun

But 10pm and still bright enough in Edinburgh. The nights are short, the birds getting louder and earlier every day (3.30 this morning). It's a nice time of year. The weekends, in sharp contrast to last year, have been properly hot and sunny. Not wearing a jumper socks and shoes sunny, but shorts, singlet, sandals sunny. Lying on the back lawn with the newspaper and a cool drink sunny. Heck, even going to the beach sunny.

So, like everyone else in Edinburgh, we went to the beach last Sunday...froze our ankles paddling in the north sea, inhaled a lot of burnt sausage fumes, fought for a car park. Despite all that, and all the people (on what is supposed to be one of the quietest nearby beaches), it was wonderful to lie on the beach in the sun!

We also lunched with the Reeves (Snr) this weekend, and found a not-too-rowdy pub in which to watch the very boring second half of the England match. Always nice to see kiwis in town.

Land of the midnight sun

This in Tromso, in northern Norway, at around midnight. As dark as it gets. Makes going to bed, never mind sleep, challenging. I know, you're thinking "blackout curtains, no problem". Well, you'd think so, wouldn't you, in a place that doesn't get dark.

Apart from the lack of sleep, it was a fantastic place to have the opportunity to visit. I went on a work trip - our film was screening at a media festival up there, and I had to give an introduction. And collect our prize - we topped the TV & video category, much to my surprise, beating broadcasters to win a nice vase and 20,000 euro!

A bit of a frontier town - stuffed polar bears on the street, half-finished pavements, some grim-looking drinking dens. At the reception on the first evening, reindeer heart, reindeer fillet, seal and whale were served! But it's a university town too, so there are nice cafes.

Spectacular scenery abounds - snow covered alps close to midsummer, and serene, isolated fjords. The odd patch of shoreline settlement that makes you wonder what it would be like to live there, so far north and so far away. Maybe it would be worth it for the light - like this in summer, and the Northern Lights in winter.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

getting under the skin

Those who have known me a while will be surprised at my interest in an exhibition that is at times a bit gruesome. Anatomy Acts, at the City Art Gallery, explores "the social, cultural and scientific significance of anatomy in Scotland over the past 500 years". Contemporary commissions sit alongside ancient texts, exquisite medical and anatomical illustrations, and plenty of objects to trigger that funny feeling in my legs.

You see, I'm a fully paid-up member of the squeamish society. My imagination runs away with me on matters medical. I even managed to faint in first aid class (giving fellow-students a practical case-study on which to test their new found knowledge of the recovery position). The trigger was nothing more than a photo - quite a famous one - of a long-jumper mid-flight, his fractured shinbone protruding obviously. Ouch!

So what was a wimp like me doing at this medical-themed exhibition, examining with interest the tanned skin of a soldier - gory war souvenir; a collection of delicate, dangerous surgical instruments in a velvet-lined case; elegant drawings of men and women holding open their own chests or stomachs, to reveal the anatomy within? Not fainting, this time. I have recently rediscovered an enthusiasm for science, and especially a fascination for the spaces where art, history and science intersect. Like the best art, anatomy in this exhibition invokes feelings of shock, awe, wonder. It reveals dark secrets, tells us something of ourselves and our past (in Edinburgh, home to Burke and Hare, a somewhat murky one!).

The highlight for me, though, was the exhibition of commissioned poems by the fabulous Kathleen Jamie (her Findings was my favourite book of 2005) alongside the objects that had inspired them. I can't find any of them online, though. You'll just have to go see the exhibition for yourself...

If you're too far away, there are some Renaissance drawings on this site.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

culture old and new in ultramodern Seoul

I'm just back from six days in Seoul - a city I liked enormously. It's full of juxtapositions and incongruities that make it fascinating. Here are just 2. The first is in downtown Seoul, but its name escapes me. Ancient monument of some sort, modern skyscraper.

The second is a Buddhist temple that was just across the road from the COEX exhibition centre where our conference was, and one of the few old things in an otherwise relentlessly modern (and consequently not so appealing, although there was some spectacular architecture on display) glass and concrete part of town.

Last is the recently reclaimed Chonggyechon, an inner city stream that used to be covered by a road. Quite an improvement. It's a popular haunt of courting couples - a frequent sight throughout the city.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

in Seoul, hello

This is just a quirky building opposite the collosal COEX behemoth in Seoul, where I'm attending a conference about science communication. I arrived yesterday, but haven' t had a chance to see much yet, outside of the conference venue and enormous shopping mall/foodcourt that lies beneath. Everything in this part of town very modern, except the buddhist temple across the road in amongst all the skyscrapers.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Garden of Cosmic Speculation

Third year lucky. I've wanted to visit Charles Jencks' Garden of Cosmic Speculation ever since mum told me about it a couple of years ago. It's only open one day per year, which this year happened to be today. The first rainy day in a week, sadly, but I couldn't be put off. In 2004 I was working, and last year, it was Shane and Steph's wedding. In fact, A. telling me that they were away this weekend to celebrate their anniversary was a lucky prompt on Friday to check the dates. So, rain or shine, today was the day to make the trek out to Portrack House.

When we left Edinburgh we could barely see in front of our bumper through the smirr. Heading west, things remained damp but clearer and brighter. I wished I had worn my pink wellies!

The garden was well worth a bit of dampness, though. The intricate details of the DNA garden are thoroughly engaging, from the palindromes in the paving to the wave forms in beautifully wrought gates. Six sculptural pieces combine double helix forms with representations of the senses. Outside these gates, your senses are called into action as scale increases exponentially. You get to clamber over Nonsense, wonder about quarks, smell heady scents that more botanically minded folk could no-doubt identify, reel at the riot of rhodedendron colour, hear how the Crow Wood got its name, and walk up spiral mounds and down again, wondering how come you never bump into anyone travelling in the opposite direction. It's a place of beauty, stillness, activity, wonder, marvel, colour, texture. There are more pics here, but here's one of my favourites, part of the "Scottish Worthies" railway walk:

Friday, May 05, 2006

would you like starch with that?

For the first time in what feels like forever, it's been a normal week of home, work, no travels or filming, just regular Edinburgh life. It's been great! The sun has been shining - hot enough for lunch in Princes St Gardens and a picnic on the Meadows this evening. There are people outside everywhere, every eating and drinking establishment in the city has found some outdoor furniture and a patch of pavement, Auld Reekie feels surprisingly continental. And everyone's happy.

The evenings are long and light too. Soccer (or here, football) started up this week, and unlike last year, I was brave enough to go along. Also on the Meadows, near where we've been playing golf and picnicked this evening, it's an informal affair, with jumper goalposts and teams arranged by t-shirt colours, mixed guys and girls. It's the first time I've played soccer in at least 5 years, and the first time in as long that I've really used a lot of the muscles in my legs, judging by the discomfort now! It was fun, though.

I called A. on my way back from soccer, to see if I should pick anything up:
"I don't know, maybe some dinner."
"I thought you were making dinner."
"I did but it's pretty bad."
"It can't be that bad."
It was, actually. Up there with the broccoli stalks incident. He's not afraid to be experimental in the kitchen...not always a good thing. Found come cannelli beans in the cupboard, and looked up a recipe for them. Cannelli bean puree, that sounds good. Missed part 2 of the recipe, which suggests serving with "the copious juices from sloppy stews". That's kinda different to pasta, which doesn't come with it's own sloppy juices.

So the dish: some slightly over-sauteed garlic and suspect bacon, mixed with aforementioned cannelli beans (pureed with some week-old white wine), served with (adhering firmly to) rigatoni. The adhesion applied to anything else it came in contact with too - the roof of my mouth, throat, ribs, plate, get the picture. Sticky and starchy. But excellent pizzas yesterday, so all is forgiven.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Free golf, 24 hrs in Sweden

It's taken us three years - can't quite believe that this May we'll have been in Scotland for three years - but we have at last played a round of golf on the world's only free course. The Bruntsfield Links are just a 15-min walk from our flat, with a backdrop of Arthur's Seat and 36 pitch-and-put holes. It's a bit lumpy sometimes, but hey, it's FREE!

When Caragh was here last September we bought clubs and balls from the local op-shop. For a princely sum of £8 we were fully equipped, but the weather conspired against us. Winter has since passed, and spring has definitely sprung now. Daffs and hyacinths are in full bloom around the surprisingly dry course. My technique is poor, but I hope that by the end of summer it will be less so!


A small passport problem took me to Glasgow yesterday. When I flew to Copenhagen last week, an overzealous check-in assistant (at 6am!) threatened to cancel the trip, because my passport only had 6 weeks of validity left. In Brussels, apparently, that would be a problem. I protested that we weren't flying to Brussels, and after much colleague and computer consultation, she discovered that Copenhagen has no such regs. Still, I'm off to Korea in 2 weeks, and will need a valid passport, hence my trip to the passport office for "fast-track" service.

It was nice to be in Glasgow, especially on such a hot sunny day. Much wobbly flesh was on show, plenty of dodgy orange tans, and a general air of celebration. The sun was shining. At the weekend!

My 24 hrs in Sweden was somewhat hectic. We were filming 3 interviews, with a neurologist and a couple of ethicists, as part of our film on the ethics of stem cell research. A 7am flight saw us arriving in Lund (via the Oresund bridge) by 11.30. We found our filming studio, local sound guy, equipment, and left the boys to set up while we scouted our 2nd locations for each interview. The persistent rain made exteriors impossible.

Lunch was quick and tasty Thai (canteen-style), and then I had to find the hospital locations my director had her heart set on, plus secure permission to film there. Fortunately my local contact plays golf with the head of the neurology clinic, and Swedes are more relaxed about filming than in the UK. Several schedule changes and some great interviews later, we wrapped at about 6.30.

Next stop, check in. Rooms in Lund are scarce at this time of year, so we were booked into the Patienthotel (where mothers and their families stay after giving birth). There were a lot of babies born that day, and we found ourselves bumped to some decidedly more spartan cells further out of town, complete with lights that didn't work. Ah well. We were hungry, first and foremost.

After a few "sorry we're fully booked"s, losing our cameraman, finding him again looking somewhat bewildered, all the while dodging the rain, we settled on Bantorget 9 - a gorgeous little house that looked cosy but with seriously good food. Our starter of wild nettle soup with salmon roe, quail egg and crispy bacon confirmed the hunch.

By the time we got back to our rooms, the lights were working. But by then, I just wanted to sleep.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Everywhere you go...

Saturday, 0720 hrs
"What's the weather like in Edinburgh?"
"uh, just let me open my eyes and see...not very bright, yeah, grey."
"Give me a call back in half an hour and let me know if it's still grey."

Saturday 0750 hrs
"Do you think it's going to clear?"
"Dunno, it's patchy"
"I'll get the paper and look towards the castle to see"

Saturday 0800 hrs
"There's some sun, but cloud too. Do you need 100% blue?"
"Yes, definitely, or it won't work. Let's try for tomorrow."

Saturday 1300 hrs
"Is it sunny now? In the Borders it's beautiful."
"Yeah it looks OK."
"Do you think we should try for an end of day shoot instead?"
"Maybe tomorrow."

Saturday 1700 hrs
pouring with rain
"Glad we're not trying to film now."

Sunday 0730 hrs
"Is it sunny?"
"I'll just look...sort of, not 100%..."
"It is here, let's go for it, see you in an hour."

Sunday 0830 hrs
"What happened to the sunshine?"
Spring weather! By the time we were rolling, though, the sun was shining again, and we got some purty shots at the Camera Obscura. Which is lucky - I'd already started having weird dreams about the filming (somehow the cast of Dallas - soon to be a movie - were joining me in my weather angst).

Otherwise Easter was fairly low-key. Lunched at VinCaffe - a tasty reminder of Italy. Watched Junebug - a movie of delightful simplicity, space and honesty. Walked along the Tweed, whooping at the gambolling lambs en route. Tucking in to succulent chops from aforementioned babes. Simple pleasures. Just the thing, after a weekend of more excessive ones in Bellagio.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Bloody good site

I promised an eh10 plug for A's latest venture on the web, He's a man on a rid the world of bad techniques for stopping nose bleeds.

So, why did he start this site? What's it all about? Here's the reason, from the man himself...
We've travelled all over the world and encountered people with nosebleeds in all sorts of places. Almost all the people we've met with nose bleeds had their own method of stopping them. Mostly, however, these were bad and/or slow methods - like leaning back and letting the blood flow down your throat. When we first show people the Thumbs Up method there is often some resistance - perhaps it's just too simple - but once they've tried it, people swear by it and never look back. This website is dedicated to spreading this simple but important knowledge and thereby making the world a (slightly) better place.
There you go. Plus he gets to use all sorts of dodgy puns like the one in the title of this post, and of course the IT fave, "bleeding-edge" (like leading edge, only more so). Make his day, take a look, change your technique!

Bella Bellagio

Since being back in Edinburgh, I've hardly been here.

I had an overnight in London less than a week after we got back - 1st class train-ride down, a lovely dinner with Fern that night, and a workshop in the hallowed halls of the Royal Society the next day, along with lots of medical men in suits.

A visit from Josh & Helen made the next weekend fly by, and a flying visit to Manchester for a conference followed hard on their heels.

Early last Saturday morning (550am flight!) came the highlight of my work year - our annual meeting at the luxurious Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, on the shore of Lake Como. The location is stunning (especially at this time of year when there's still snow on the Alps, on the days when the lake isn't shrouded in mist), the hotel suitably grand and the food gourmet. Most of us (scientists not known for being well-paid, especially junior ones) felt like impostors on the first day, but had settled in and were reluctant to leave by day 4. It's amazing how quickly you can get used to 3 course lunches, 4-5 course dinners, live music every night in the "salon" by an accomplished Belarusian trio, and of course that amazing lakeside location!

I'm back in Edinburgh for a quiet Easter weekend - catching up on sleep, kicking the cold I've had for the past 10 days (hopefully), eating well. The only intrusion is some weather-dependent filming. Every morning at 7.30 the director calls me from the Borders to see what the weather's like here. Hopefully I'll be able to say "gloriously sunny" tomorrow and we'll go, get our shots and be done by 10am! Fingers crossed...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Auckland special

from the Waiheke ferry, taken by Andrew. Dramatic weather, anyone?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

late summer in new zild

Saturday afternoon, 2 pm, Waiheke
Lazy days on the island - Fayth and I test drive the Taylors' new hammock.

Friday morning, 7 am, Mangawhai estuary
The perfect start to the most perfect day of our trip. Warm enough for an early morning swim (if you're crazy and go by the name of Caragh). The rest of us waited till it got really hot. Not a cloud in the sky, all day.

Thursday night, 8pm, Tinakori Bistro, Wellington
Andrew's birthday dinner, cheesy grins all round

Friday afternoon, 3pm, Civic Square, Wellington
The big fern ball in civic square and a big ole Wellington sky.

Saturday morning, 10am, Mangawhai golf course

Check out that swing! A. makes like he was born golfing.

More pics on Flickr.

Two and a bit weeks passed in the blink of an eye. The sun shone, most of the time. We swam a few times. We drank excellent coffee every time. The company was excellent and food delicious. Sights were familiar, friendly, nostalgic. All good.

Listening to: The Return of Fly My Pretties
Reading: An Unexpected Light, by Jason Elliot

Thursday, March 16, 2006

being back

It's 6am, I've been wide awake since not much after 5. Doesn't bode well for my participation in a role-play (I know, but it's work-related) this evening. The jet lag is still hanging about - sending me to sleep while eating dinner, waking me early. A positive benefit is I get to see the pre-dawn snow, which is blanketing my world in white as I write. It's beautiful.

I had been expecting spring to have sprung by the time we got home. Sure, there are crocuses, but today they'll be buried by the snow. Before today, Edinburgh's just had that matt, flat grey light that doesn't much change from dawn to dusk, accompanied by cold to chill the bones.

Our flat seems really small after 3 weeks away in NZ-proportioned spaces, but cosy and warm thanks to insulation and central heating (I wish NZ had the plot on this).

Listening to: Fly My Pretties, No. 2 Soundtrack, Loop compilation and assorted other soundz of home.

Wishing I was: on the beach

About to eat: porridge - what else would do for a snowy morning?

Watching: Swimming at the Commonwealth Games. Beginning to see benefits of this jetlag.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

in by the skin of my teeth

It's the last day of February, and so far this is the first month since the beginning of EH10 without a post. Ingrid told me today that even Berin was more up-to-date than me. A sorry state of affairs.

We're in New Zealand, Auckland for the moment but off to Wellington tomorrow and Nelson on Saturday. Chasing awaythe last vestiges of summer wherever we go - Auckland is feeling decidedly autumnal, and everyone gladly tells us that this is a new thing.

We've still experienced a lot more sunshine than our pasty scots skin is used to - A. managed to get sunburnt behind the ears while boogie boarding. Not something that could ever happen in Edinburgh! And Friday, a year to the day since I last arrived in NZ, a year since my brother died, was the most perfect day anyone could have wished for - still, clear, cloudless and warm. We spent the day as a family up at Mangawhai, up and kayaking at dawn, watched the sun rise over the Barrier, stunning...I'll post some pics when back on broadband.

Until then...I'm on holiday!

Monday, January 23, 2006

what's been happening

Well, we've all just about survived the most depressing day of the year.

Otherwise, not much. I've been:

  • too much TV (curse those programmers and their new season schedules). I also blame digital TV for giving me 3 chances every week to catch ER etc.
  • A Bittersweet Life - extremely bloody, visceral, satisfying, cinematic Korean mob movie. Was pleased to see it was made by bom productions, whom I had met at the Busan film festival a few years back, and organised a NZ recce for.
  • Match Point. Ridiculous. Nothing else to say about it. A liked it (or liked Scarlett in it?)
  • Breadmaker bread. Yeah, I know. Very 1999. But there's never any good French bread left at the deli by the end of the day, and regular bread in the UK is worse than awful chemical gunk, which stays on the shelves for days, so never fresh despite all the preservatives. My uncle gave me an old one of his that he doesn't use at Christmas time, and I haven't looked back. Loaves aren't very loaf-shaped, but taste good.
  • Making up for my misshapen bread are a series of perfectly loaf-shaped cakes - gingerbread last week, marmalade cake the week before. I'm working my way through Nige's Kitchen Diaries
Listening to:
  • Belle & Sebastian - live last week (chaperoning some 13 yr-olds to their first gig) and on my ipod since
  • Podcasts - Nature, Jon Snow, Ricky Gervais so far
  • more, generally, since apple replaced my ailing ipod battery

Sunday, January 08, 2006

More connectedness

Not people this time (although Tim did give me and the rest of the world a handy update on the old flat, and I did read about Harper Simon, who is (was?) in a band with A's cousin, Chris, in the paper this week).

I've been reading Richard Holloway's meditative and simple, powerful book, Looking in the Distance. Subtitled "the human search for meaning" it's just the thing for this time of year - the beginning of a year, especially when coupled with the time off work that yields rare and precious thinking time, always brings out a bit of "looking in the distance". Feeling a bit melancholy after watching Brokeback Mountain, I was delighted (well, as delighted as one can feel, while maintaining melancholia!) to read that Aristotle thought that all interesting people had a touch of melancholy in their make-up. Looking in the Distance is a book that sends you back to all sorts of wonderful sources - Burns, Larkin, Pound, Michael Ondaatje, John Rawls & John Stuart Mill (a reminder of 1st year philosophy). But Aristotle had come via someone I didn't know, Jan Morris (Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere). 10 hours later, I found her again, describing Trieste as her favourite place in this morning's paper. Being somewhat susceptible to suggestion, I guess I'll just have to buy the book! Either that or go to Trieste.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Old flatties and the connectedness of the universe (in NZ)

I somehow found myself reading Tim Selwyn's blog (it's the holidays - I obviously have too much time on my hands) and was amused to see a pic of another former flatmate, Karen (different flat, different city even) featured in a recent post.

Apart from random ramblings through the blogosphere, I've been passing the holidays:
  • trying to edit some decidedly patchy footage into something less patchy, shorter (potential audiences breathe a sigh of relief) and more filmic
  • sleeping lots
  • reading - Beyond Black, Original Bliss, Ghosting and some poetry for a change
  • trying to wangle a trip to Seoul this year (work, but with a personal agenda)
  • shopping - just a little bit, but in my defence, Polly Toynbee asks:
Is mass culture so deplorable? Shopping is the number one leisure activity - nothing wrong with that. A cornucopia of affordable pleasures invites the eye at Ikea. (It is mostly men who inveigh against retail therapy, but is sport any more elevating?)