Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Monday, 27 June 2011

When Creativity And Climate Collide

Burning Ice at Filmhouse, Edinburgh

Impressions, as we are all forced to confront at some point in our lives, are key. The city of Edinburgh, for example, has got it sussed when it comes to impressions – our first visit two years ago left an indelible appreciation for its charms and, in June 2011, it did an excellent job of pretending to be November. Mind you, there’s nothing like a hefty dose of rain and temperatures struggling to get out of single figures to appease the guilt of spending some of your ‘summer’ holiday in a cinema watching a documentary about climate change.

Conversely, impressions are not my personal forte, perhaps evidenced by a dislike of photos of myself appearing on the internet (and nor can I do a decent Frank Spencer). So having made arrangements to meet Edinburgh-based blogger Milo McLaughlin in the Filmhouse café-bar, he didn’t have much to go on when scanning faces in the crowd. Quite what he made of this we never got to discuss, but fortunately I had a much better idea of what Milo looked like, and once spotted we duly chatted away over a few beers for what felt like much less than the ninety minutes it actually was.

It was a fitting meeting in several respects – the Repository 2’s first post was on the subject of independent cinema (indeed, one of the responses to that post was the spark that ignited the ‘tour of the indies’, resulting in me and my better half putting a visit to Filmhouse on the to-do list). And not long after the birth of the blog I came across Milo’s own current project – ‘The Clear-Minded Creative’.

The thoughtful content of posts on the C-MC – alongside Milo’s willingness to both discuss matters of creativity with, and provide encouragement to, his readers – has proved to be a real inspiration in the first half of 2011. I’ve started to build a network of ‘creative contacts’ as a result, and I’ve felt more confident in producing and sharing work. It’s even been a consistent source of feedback, to the point that I submitted a fledgling poetry effort (that might otherwise have remained untouched) to a magazine and it is due to be my first published poem.

All things considered, then, it was a pleasure to buy Milo a beer and talk matters of life, the universe and creativity; even more so in the slightly hectic surroundings of Filmhouse’s café-bar. Maybe it was the ceaseless rain outside, maybe it was the matter of being in the middle of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF); maybe it was the ‘2-for-1 Tuesday’ offer on tickets, maybe Filmhouse is just a popular place to hang out. Or maybe ALL of those reasons together accounted for the bustle.

Whatever, it felt a vibrant place to be, and with a well-stocked bar and even-better-stocked cake counter (as well as a tempting menu of mains that we returned to sample the following evening) it more than catered for our needs. And what of the cinematic offerings? While the 2011 EIFF has come in for a good deal of criticism from seasoned festivalgoers and more experienced commentators than me, there can be little doubt that the regular movie-fare is an enticing selection of new and classic cinema.

You wouldn’t turn your nose up at the programmes offered by any of the stops on the tour, but the Filmhouse brochure for July seemed to offer a selection with that little bit more diversity – and therefore temptation to never leave(!) – than anywhere else so far. Burning Ice was our film to focus on, however, and thanks to chatting with Milo for as long as we possibly could before the 8pm start, we shuffled our way to a couple of seats in a dark ‘Filmhouse 1’ a couple of minutes into a preceding short film. The synopsis for the documentary stated, in a rather matter-of-fact fashion, that a group of artists (including Jarvis Cocker and KT Tunstall) visited the Arctic to witness the effects of climate change before performing at the Latitude festival.

Such sparse information did not make clear that the two events were related: the trip was a tour of Greenlandic communities and melting glaciers, run by the Cape Farewell project, from which the artists would draw inspiration to produce songs, comedy material, photography, or something else entirely (depending upon their creative specialism). Quite how you measure the success of such a scheme is another matter – the group was weighted significantly toward musicians, and given that songs perhaps have the greatest potential to be abstract in dealing with their subject matter, the sung material was arguably less effective in engaging an audience than, say, the stand-up written by Marcus Brigstocke.

For my money, it would have benefited from at least one other comedian, though the greatest benefit of all might have been to exorcise the quote by poet Lemn Sissay who went from the valid point that climate change will affect poor people most, to the unfounded assertion that climate change is about race. Maybe it was the manner in which it was edited, but that really got my back up… Ultimately, though, where Burning Ice was most effective was the depiction of Greenland life, and the appreciation by the artists on the expedition for both that and the work of the scientists.

Unfortunately, I am unable to report any further on what the screen itself was like, because the effect of the pint-and-a-half of beer I drank (shocking…) was that I could make it through the film more than comfortably, but needed to head straight for the toilet before the lights came up. As a way to end the latest stop on the ‘tour of the indies’ it might be considered anti-climactic, but Filmhouse had already ensured that the Scottish leg of proceedings had been an outstanding success.

There is at least one cinematic enticement to return to Edinburgh sometime, and that is the Cameo cinema, just down the road from Filmhouse. We would have visited this time but for influences out of our control. One thing is for sure – it will have to go some to meet Filmhouse’s standards, but that is what happens when a venue makes such a good impression…

Friday, 24 June 2011

May The Old Course Be With You

Bad Teacher at The New Picture House, St. Andrews

What’s this? A bonus stop on the ‘tour of the indies’?

Taking in mainstream cinema?


Well, yes, actually. With the usual merry band of cinema-goers split up due to the mundane logistics of finding enough time to journey past those ‘Welcome to Scotland’ signs where they dominate the motorway verge, the Tour took on a slightly different complexion for its most northerly offering. ‘@Jimvincible’ and ‘@M8iekay’ had already made their trip to Filmhouse in Edinburgh (enjoying what, in Le Quattro Volte, must surely rank as one of the best films about goat farming ever made), so it fell to me to introduce my better half to the joys of putting as much effort into selecting the venue as selecting the film to be watched.

Before our own visit to Filmhouse, we took the opportunity of spending a day in St. Andrews, home of the New Picture House (NPH) cinema. The town itself might be one of the most relaxing places we’ve ever experienced (even when inadvertently walking in front of the opening tee-shot of someone who had shelled out £130 for the privilege of playing the Old Course…). The fine, calm weather was doubtless a significant factor in creating that relaxed air, but anywhere dominated by golfers, students and money is never going to feel like a fraught and fragile melting pot of social inequality and recession-inflicted pressures.

Even so, with the possible exception of golfing attire, nothing is forced down your throat in St. Andrews, and there is a little bit of something to suit everybody. Nowhere is this better exemplified than the B. Jannetta ‘Gelateria’, which would be the only place to go if something were to be forced down your throat – a myriad of genuinely interesting and inventive ice creams, including such delights as ‘brown bread’ flavour (which we didn’t try) and ‘apple pie’ flavour – which we certainly did try and found to be magnificent, like a Willy Wonka creation where an entire dessert is contained within one easy-to-eat product.

And then there was the cabinet containing the ice cream cakes…!

Given such a context, it’s not difficult to understand how the NPH has found its niche in St. Andrews. As a former theatre converted to house three screens it offers all the individuality you could want from an independent cinema, including the option to sit up in the circle if your film of choice happens to be showing on the main screen. With the lack of an immediate multiplex neighbour, and a student community right on the doorstep, it also offers the very latest releases. Hence, in return for me getting to choose our viewing at Filmhouse, we watched my better half’s choice of Bad Teacher, starring Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel.

Were it not for the presence of Segel then I would likely have approached the film with more pessimism than I did, but Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a genuine favourite and Segel is a likeable comic actor. Bad Teacher was entertaining enough, somewhat inconsistent, but raised a few chuckles – most of them where Segel was involved. Maybe the venue aided the experience (or maybe it was a quiet Monday evening and we just fell lucky), but despite being in the tiny Screen 3 and the film therefore being relatively well-attended, there was no disruption to the evening’s viewing and the people on the row in front of us even ate their MASSIVE tub of popcorn quietly.

Against expectations, then, the NPH proved that there is a place for a mainstream comedy on the ‘tour of the indies’. Whether that was a triumph of venue over film choice could be debated over several stiff drinks – frankly, it doesn’t really matter. It does, however, demonstrate the potential for an experience apposite to the conclusions drawn after the recent visit toBroadway in Nottingham.

That has been the beauty of this tour – finding different cinematic offerings, sometimes in unexpected places. Certainly, I had no idea that a town on the east coast of Scotland, famous the world over (mostly for golf, slightly less for its University, not at all for cinema) and 300+ miles from home, would give such a notable offering.

Viva the tour! If only all the stops had such great ice cream shops…

Sunday, 19 June 2011


A signpost at the roundabout on the main road through Kinross indicates Cowdenbeath as being 9 miles away. We peer at it through the teeming rain, expressionless under the limited shelter of our umbrellas.

“I don’t know if there’s anything in Cowdenbeath,” I say to my better half, only recognising the name because I’m pretty sure they have a football team somewhere in the Scottish League, “but if there is then at least it’s not far away.”

Checking The Rough Guide to Scotland, Cowdenbeath is not listed in the index, a fact that could only be classed as an achievement if you were being deliberately ironic. Where it does get one passing mention – on page 393 of the eighth edition, should you be interested – it is described as “an old mining town” that is “huddle[d] together” with similar settlements, all of which are “routinely ignored by visitors” and make for a “forlorn stretch” of the journey if you happen to be going through on a train.

We are in the process of finding out what Kinross (and its signposts) has to offer and the place is extremely quiet, which makes our scouting mission a simple task. Of the few people we see out and about on the main street – bearing in mind that it is 5.30pm on a Saturday afternoon – one man waits at a bus stop. We assume he has somewhere exciting to be, except that when we see him board a vehicle, the destination shows as ‘Cowdenbeath Bus Depot’, thus summing up Kinross’ appeal rather neatly, we feel.

For an admittedly small settlement whose main area of interest is barely a mile long, Kinross actually boasts a number of interesting and impressive buildings. Where they fall down (or, in the case of one particular building, where it is literally falling down) is that they are all boarded up, out of use, and on the market as ‘ideal development opportunities’.

It’s not hard to understand why – for one, as the Rough Guide says, most tourists are too busy bypassing the place on the M90 to spend any time or money here, which has the knock on effect that, second, nobody already in Kinross seems to have any money to spend (with the possible exception of the hotel in which we have chosen to base ourselves, but there is always one exception to a rule). Clearly, the one weekend a year that ‘T in the Park’ takes place nearby does not a community sustain, particularly in a recession…

So it is that the local Indian restaurant, The Raj Mahal, has just about the most unwelcoming front door you will ever see at the entrance to an eating establishment – all undecorated wood and minimal glazing, like a door in a hospital – that suggests you shouldn’t really see what lies beyond. Under those circumstances, the offer of a £12.95 all-you-can-eat buffet meal is nowhere near sufficient enticement to try it out. Across the road, several properties show the strain of sitting so close to a main road, with windows reduced to bare timber and gradually rotting away in a final show of flawed defiance.

The one genuine attraction in Kinross is Loch Leven, which offers a glimpse of ‘proper’ Scotland in contrast to the decay of the nearby built environment. Sadly, the elements are conspiring against tourism on this particular day and Kirkgate Park on the shores of the Loch is windswept, waterlogged and every bit as deserted (or ‘abandoned’, to be particularly uncharitable) as the main street we have just left behind. While we try to appreciate what an impressive sight the Loch must be when not shrouded in cloud, a tracksuit-clad figure emerges from the squall and shuffles past us without a word of acknowledgement. This is something of a blessing given that our initial expectation is for her to start intoning a warning along the lines of, “Beware Ye who remain here!” – an expectation that is only reinforced by the sight of numerous boat-shaped silhouettes on the water, all of which carry hooded, wraith-like figures.

We know fishermen are hardy souls but today they simply look as though they might come and attempt to claim us for the water, so we quickly do an about turn and head back to the sanctuary and shelter of the Kirklands Hotel which, on the evidence of this walk through Kinross, is the brightest spot of a rather dishevelled (but probably once thriving) village-trying-to-be-a-destination-for-golfers. Tomorrow, we’ll probably go up the motorway and see somewhere else. What’s that they say about progress…?

Postscript – Sunday

Thanks to a wholly unexpected reversal in the weather, we choose not to venture onto the motorway network and instead return to Loch Leven for a more thorough exploration. Not only are there more people about on the main street than yesterday (lending Kinross an almost bustling feel at 10am on Sunday!), but Kirkgate Park is transformed with families, dog walkers and cyclists all making use of the trail that runs round most of the Loch’s circumference.

It really is an absolute gem of a tourist attraction, and along with a chat with the hotel owners about the area (apparently the recession never really hit Kinross, and the redundant buildings can be put down to other factors, most of which relate to local politics), we start to realise that there is a little more to the place than meets the eye. As is so often the case, it seems that it just needs a few important people to realise what it is that attracts investment and a few more tourists…

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Comfortable In His Work (POEM)

Comfortable In His Work

Wilting air-freshener.
Frayed footwell carpets.
An engine that’s done
all these vocal exercises before.
Every day
is a red letter day
for the white learner signs;
glued to his car
for so many years,
more than comfortable in their work.

Passenger seat worn smooth –
smoother than …
well, certainly smoother
than his own bottom
(maybe not a baby’s).
Well-formed contours
embrace his generous proportions;
one cushioning the other
(but nobody knows which,
they’re just comfortable in their work).

Lesson after lesson
he watches the fuel gauge drop,
sinking quicker than his buttocks
settle into the ‘Midnight Blue’
His peers tell their pupils:
“Stay calm,
don’t worry,”
and forgive every inevitable error,
comfortable in the way they work.

That’s not his way though;
not his style.
He’s always worked
to one creed,
one adopted motto.
Only one method to deal
with novice drivers:

Give ‘em ‘L’!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Smarter Than The Average Phone

Begging your indulgence, I’d be grateful if you would read the following definition (from dictionary.com) and keep it to the front of your mind for the duration of this blog post:

Vital –adjective
1. of or pertaining to life: vital processes.
2. having remarkable energy, liveliness, or force of personality: a vital leader.
3. being the seat or source of life: the vital organs.

And before we get into a proper stride, there’s a video here:
that is very much worth a watch, even if it ultimately means little to you.

Done? Excellent! Amongst several thought-provoking ideas, the fourth item in that video struck a real chord. We all know the internet can be addictive – there’s always something to read, someone to communicate with in one form or another, or naughty videos to watch ( … oh, did I say that out loud?). In other words, enough to make you wonder how anyone ever procrastinated without the internet to help them.

Turning the computer off, then, is an excellent way of making sure you can’t be distracted quite so easily. It’s something I’ve been making a conscious effort to do for a while now, and it’s helped in a big way. Read fewer pointless forums, use the time to actually write, then power the laptop down and get on with something else enriching, like reading a few poems.

Or watching repeats of the 60s Batman TV series.

For that reason – as well as not being encumbered with an over-priced monthly contract – I’ve shied away from owning a mobile phone any more complicated than my (relatively) basic Nokia 6500. It’s not hard to imagine owning a phone that’s nearly as well specced as the laptop and consequently picking it up every five minutes to check e-mails or Twitter, and so it’s a scenario that makes me a little uncomfortable.

Surely it’s healthy to maintain a bit of distance from technology? Just because you can be available every minute of the day doesn’t mean you should be, does it? Maybe I’m just paranoid and it doesn’t really work like that in practice. A willingness to concede that a smartphone might not rule every waking moment has led me to make timid investigations into the possibility of owning one, the driving reason being that it would allow me to better pursue my creativity in a more flexible manner.

For example, I’ve managed to cultivate a small network of contacts on Twitter, and being away from a computer for, say, a weekend starts to have a couple of knock-on effects. The first is a feeling of ‘being behind the curve’, to use some awful business-speak. I’m not talking about being perpetually connected, but ploughing through two or three days worth of tweets for any little gem that might have been missed is compounded by the time required to do that catching up, which could be better spent.

The second effect is that being off Twitter for a length of time makes me feel like I’m taking a step back in terms of getting my work recognised (in that I hope people will discover the blog through the medium of tweeting (tweedium?)). That probably overstates the importance of Twitter, because producing some actual work is obviously far more important, but it feels part of the process. It’s more relevant (or should that be justifiable?) for situations where doing some work is not really possible but dipping into a pocket for a phone is no effort at all. And let’s face it, reading a few e-mails while waiting in a queue might mean more time on the computer at home to produce that all-important work…

In essence then, a smartphone: interminable distraction that would render me a social pariah, or a means by which I could legitimately further my creative ambitions? As mentioned a few paragraphs back, I began looking into potential candidates (I also answer to being called ‘Lord Sugar’) and after a limited amount of research the Wildfire S (manufactured by HTC) seemed like a good all-round option. It might even have been the phone the man in the Orange shop said he uses himself. Then I read some promotional guff about it and stumbled across the following excerpt:

An icebreaker for your calls. Wouldn’t it be handy if your Caller ID not only displayed a name and number, but also vital stuff like their Facebook status and birthday? HTC Wildfire S does just that, so when you look to see who’s calling, you know to say Happy Birthday the moment you answer the phone.”

Hard to know where to start with that, isn’t it? If you take ‘of or pertaining to life’ as using ‘life’ in the sense of ‘living and participating in society’, then maybe the use of ‘vital’ is acceptable. But if ‘life’ refers generally to ‘physical existence’ (or ‘not being dead’) then it is much much easier to take issue with. Because even if I occupied a world of transient ‘friendship’ where life is lived almost entirely through social networking – and even if I couldn’t remember when my friends’ birthdays are, being so lazy or insincere that a 1/365 chance would actually matter – I couldn’t buy a phone with a selling point like that, using language in that way to promote it.

I can’t buy into that mass-market, ‘must-have’ sentiment. I really can’t. In fact, maybe I just won’t.


My original intention for this blog post was to talk about how all the smartphones I’ve looked at are desperately boring devices, devoid of any genuine inspiration and trading on minutiae like screen size, the version of Android being run and the speed of the processor contained within. It all falls under the ‘mass-market’ umbrella – using context-less figures that don’t really mean anything to drive sales to a largely uninterested market of consumers – and so by the time the focus of the piece had skewed toward the creativity angle, it didn’t feel quite so relevant.

So please forgive me tagging it on to the end. It still felt a point worth making – that in addition to the conflicting thoughts outlined above, none of the bloody things even give me a reason to choose one over all the rest. That is perhaps the most disappointing thing of all.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Parallel Lines (POEM)

Having complained in the past about creative work that is indecipherable unless its creator is standing at your shoulder explaining their thought processes, it seemed impolite at best (and plain hypocritical at worst) to post the following poem without a brief attempt to describe its origin.

Flicking onto the TV channel Dave the other day, I came across the episode of Top Gear where the presenters race each other across Japan, and there is a moment when Hammond and May are at a train station and remark on lines painted on the platform to show where queues should form to board the train. Everybody lines up quietly and without complaint, and it’s a wonderful thing to experience – there is none of that awful crowding around the doors, waiting to see whether your reserved seat has already been occupied by someone too ignorant to check if a reservation is in place.

The ironic thing is that the seat reservation system (on the bullet train, at least) is so damned sensible that there is no real need to actually have queues – there are separate carriages for people without reservations, so you always know your seat will be there waiting. So the queues provide a system of order, both generally and personally; a means of taking your place and not having to worry about what others are doing. It’s just one small example of what makes Japan so easy to love.

Sitting at Stoke station, waiting amid the crowd and wondering what seating situation you will find on board when the train arrives is stressful and angst-ridden to someone like me who enjoys calm and order. If only they’d paint some lines on the platform so I might wait in the correct place for the correct carriage, then it wouldn’t just be the Quiet Coach that’s the serene part of the rail experience.

Parallel Lines

Two simple stripes of paint is all it takes.

Two lines either side of my head

either side of my heart

cradling and calming me in this alien land

but never wrapping around;

either side of my feet

from the platform edge, carrying on straight

a peaceful corridor marked in white

blocking out the alien sound.

Board the train in orderly fashion

leave anxieties behind

outside those undisputable parallel lines.