Monday, 27 October 2008

food and drink and foraging

High Brow or What

It is no coincidence that food and drink feature highly on my list of first fifties. I adore food (and drink). The weekend before last was the beginning of my collection of food firsts.

Every year Aberfoyle hold a mushroom festival and being close at hand seemed like an opportunity not to be missed for a novice forager like myself. I booked a couple of places on a mushroom foray. The weather has been pretty yuck here but thankfully the rain stopped just in time for us to meet Liz, our guide for the day. She led us under screaming children having fun on the Go Ape slide that operates from David Marshall Lodge. Liz was very knowledgeable about her subject and without being too technical managed to engage an audience of about twenty adults and teenagers. We were given an opportunely to forage for mushrooms and bring them back to Liz for identification. In one small patch we managed to collect a fair haul, most were inedible, some poisonous. There was one log covered in Angels Wings, a white fungi Liz said was edible, so I took a couple of wings to try later.

Next morning I chopped up a small piece of mushroom and fried it in butter. Colin and I both tried some and waited for an effect. When but there was no ill effect I chopped up the rest and put in our chicken gravy. I was not happy when clearing the plates away I found that Colin had left most of his mushroom lying on the plate. Coward.

The next first was a long overdue visit to a Concert, a Canapé and a Cocktail, which plays every Monday at Oran Mor and is a sister event to the much loved Play, Pie and Pint. The concert played by the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland was superb. Unfortunately the canapés were unremarkable and the cocktail had dubious ingredients and little alcohol content.

Not so the last of my firsts this week. On Saturday night we went to dinner at friends’. We were royally treated to champagne, red wine, roast beef with perfect vegetables and a cocktail I have never tasted before. ‘A dirty girl scout’ was served between courses, this is a concoction of three parts Baileys to one part crème de menthe, I think vodka might have been mentioned too. It tasted like peppermint creams and judging by the hangover I had yesterday it was lethal.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Echo Wall by Dave and Claire Macleod

Watch the trailer again

Last week I blogged the trailer for Echo Wall. This week I’ve been lucky enough to preview the Echo Wall DVD and can tell you that the full length version lives up to the thrills of the trailer.

Climbing was a mystery to me until I moved to Glasgow in 1998. Back then I sometimes accompanied Colin to the Glasgow Climbing Centre at Ibrox. There I would piddle about on a couple of climbs trying the reach the top of easy walls before wimping to the café in the rafters to sup hot chocolate and watch the show on the really, really hard walls. One night I noticed a dark haired climber who bore a striking resemblance to my horrible ex boss, I was fascinated, not by the resemblance but by the sheer eloquence of the climbing. Even I could recognise this climber was special. At the end of the night I asked Colin who he was. ‘That’s Dumbie Dave, he’s from Dumbarton’.

The climber was Dave Macleod, now one of the world top climbers as proven in his astounding film E11, when he pioneered one of the hardest rock climbs ever.

A year ago Dave and his wife Claire moved to Fort William to concentrate on their professional climbing and film careers. They might not like this comparison but they seem to me to be the Posh and Becks of the climbing world, but with substance and much more to offer.

Echo Wall finds Claire behind the camera, filming her husband training for an attempt on a dangerous climbing route, a blank wall on Ben Nevis. Where this film differs for other climbing cinematography is that there is no Big Wall American hype or zoom-in shots of worried faces; no phoney tension build up or histrionics and no strangled cries of ‘OMG this is awesome’.

Echo Wall is clever. One powerful opening shot is a wide angle of the massive, terrible ice smeared cliffs of Ben Nevis and a single, small figure (Dave) moving up the face, the shot is super imposed with the climb’s name ‘Don’t Die'(XI). My heart stopped at that point and I began to bite my finger nails.

The training in Spain shows Dave climbing 'Darwin Dixit' (8c) solo (no ropes – very bad if he fell). The techno drum soundtrack choreographed the piece into a stunning new art form; a synchronism of man and rock. It was wonderful to watch and I still had some nails left.

The training on Echo Wall itself showcased Scotland at its weather worst and best. The highlight for me was Dave’s training run over Tower Ridge, a ridge that most people tackle roped up.

It was fascinating to listen to Dave’s philosophy on risk and to watch him on hand and knees on his hall floor making a reinforced thighpad (next years must haves) and explaining how it would give him a few minutes rest time on the climb just before the crux (the hardest part where he could fall off).

The actual attempt is arresting, I have no idea what Claire must have been feeling behind the camera and I wonder if having her there makes any difference to Dave’s obvious sound attitude.

I won’t spoil the ending for you but will recommend that, if you are planning to buy a Christmas DVD for an adventure hungry relative or Discovery Channel junkie, then this is guaranteed to thrill.

As a novice film maker, Claire must be applauded for the production of the film. The appropriate and evocative music is ModernTrad and very desirable to own. She would have been spoiled for choice of scenery shots in Scotland, in this instance the choices shows relevant locations, using the best light and angles. Even the fun shots of the pair digging a snow pack off the route lightens the tension and makes the whole project feel intimate.

I suspect we won’t see a perfume range produced by Brand Macleod but I predict that thigh pads and hopefully the movie soundtrack will be the next offering. Even an art installation at the Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) is a possibility.

The DVD can be purchased from and selected outdoor stores.

Friday, 10 October 2008

The best First of all

The Memorial, Lochore Meadows (the meedies)

Yesterday was National Poetry Day and I had something on my list that could no longer be avoided – to read my poetry in public.

I woke in the morning and decided there and then it had to be done. To prevent me wimping out at the last minute, I emailed my intended participation to the organiser of the Scottish Federation of Writers’ poetry event that was due to happen in Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art(GOMA)library. All the way into town I psyched up, reminding myself that I had climbed the Inn Pin on Skye and hadn’t been this scared. What was I scared of? I was only reading, I wasn’t going to fall off a podium to my death.

The problem is that I suspect I have mild dyslexia, my reading is atrocious, my spelling even worse. Visions of me standing in front of the School assembly and stumbling through passages from the bible still haunt me and bring me out in cold bile. Now that I am writer, I find that reading my own work is even worse. Whenever I read out at my local writing group my throat closes up and I sound like a throttled chicken.

At the GOMA the show was in fair flow when I arrived. My two writing buddies Frances and Sarah came along for moral support and to make sure I didn’t bolt. As I sat and waited for my name to be called, I could feel my face and neck redden, this often happens when I am nervous. Then a strange calm came over me. This is my inevitability period when I know I will go the whole way. It happened to me as I sat in the car at the beginning of my driving test and it happened as I stood at the start of the Inn Pinn climb. I recognised this feeling and decided that I could do it. My name was called and I stood up in front of twenty odd people, I held a microphone tight and read my two poems. It was fantastic, I was so happy, I still am.

The theme of National poetry day was Work and being brought up in Fife I read two poems about the industry there. The first Cut Fingers is about the fishing industry, I explained how a fisherman’s jersey is knitted with individual patterns to make it easier to identify drowned sailors. The second poem Colliery Requiem is on my website and is about the closed pits on the Auchterderran Backbone seam in West Fife.

Here they are below, I hope you like them.

Cut Fingers

Cut fingers twist coarse yarn,
A new bride adds her history.
Bramble, moss, lover’s knot,
her family’s texture wovening.

Cut fingers mending nets,
salty, worn, stinging.
The beacon calls, guiding home.
Harbour walls embrace them.

Cut fingers casting off.
Storm brews then rages.
Hook their bodies, reel them in.
Life’s threads unravelling.

Colliery Requiem
Minto, come away, you've had a hard life,
your belly, ripped apart, with nought to show.
Your master tired of grafting,
searching for a prettier face.

Nelly and Mary you were raped in your youth,
became killers of children and men
You were treated like whores,
then cast aside on the heap.

Jenny Gray , are you there? Or lost in time,
To creep into the memories of breathless souls.
They loved you too much,
but to what cost?

Josephine, Oh queen, witch, volatile wench,
your fiery depth, the lure of all greed.
Ten honest men entombed,
on your Halloween.

Michael, conquered tides, held back the swell.
Rich beyond dreams, was justice ever yours?
Once the prize of the land,
now a fight beyond mortal men.

Frances, you were drowning, or so they said.
No good for the cost, a sacrificial lamb.
Keep your treasure locked,
and wait for resurrection.

Continuum, a back bone tired and destroyed.
Cruel death and disease replaced by depressions.
Community soul passed on
to other pursuits.

Memorial, raise your defiant head in the blistering rays,
shadowed in Benarty's bulk, beyond the rising Loch.
Silenced, while children play oblivious.
The cage closes, sealed forever.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

A fistful of firsts

Check out this new film by Rare Breed Productions. 'Echo Wall' is released this month and can be ordered directly for

Who needs manufactured Hollywood Blockbusters when you can witness real live thrills played out on the steep cliffs of Ben Nevis.

A fistful of firsts

Well maybe not a fistful but I love alliteration and sometimes I can’t help myself.

Saturday dawned with the water pouring from the sky and from the cold water tank overflow pipe. Colin could fix one but not the other. We decided to knock off a couple of things I had on my fifty wish list with the biggest and best of the day being in direct response to the weather. What better day to go to the first and only boat lift in the world – The Falkirk Wheel. Opened by The Queen in 2002 and just thirty miles from home, I am amazed it has taken me so long to visit this feat of Scottish engineering. While we waited for the boat trip we encountered many soaked and mud splattered charity mountain bikers who had just travelled the route we originally planned to take to the Wheel; the canal tow path from Anniesland. I am so glad we opted for the car.

The Boat trip lasts an hour and for our £8.00 we were treated to a running commentary by a crewman while we travelled the four and a half minute vertical journey from the Forth and Clyde Canal to the Union Canal, then a short trip through a tunnel and back again. It is too difficult for a engineering nitwit like me to explain the full principle of the wheel but it works using the counter weights of two gondolas, so uses hardly any power to operate.

Another first for me was, while travelling to the Wheel, we passed through Bonnybridge. Now Bonnybridge has been a fascination with me for years, ever since I heard that they have more UFO sightings there than anywhere else in the world. As we drove through I tried to suss out why aliens would pick this place to make an appearance. The town was a boom town during the industrial revolution, with good road, rail and canal links, but now it looks very much like a number of small towns in Central Scotland, a bit tired.

A second interesting fact I found out about Bonnybridge while at the Wheel was that they have more lottery winners per capita than anywhere else in the UK.

On the way back home I was tempted to stop off in Bonnybridge to bag another first, - buy my first lottery ticket, but then I remembered the reason why I have never bought a ticket before. I passionately believe that the lottery robs people not just of their money but of their aspirations. I remember in the olden days people pinned all their hopes on winning the pools, at least there was a small degree of thought went into that practice. The lottery is chance. Folks live from one week to the next in the hope of winning money to pull them out of the doldrums.

I know that the counter argument is the lottery gives to a large number of good causes, but it is my experience that the beneficiaries of the good causes are a different demographic completely for the poor buggers who spend large proportions of their income chasing empty dreams.

My first fifties are things I have always wanted to do, the lottery does not fall into that bucket. I know I will never buy a ticket.

First number three for this weekend was to cook a Sri Lankan meal. I am not sure if this is a cheat of not but I bought a packet of different spice at The Wheel Shop and yesterday I mixed them with the last of my garden potatoes and spinach to make a lovely coconut curry. The Hodhi Mix contains turmeric, dried curry leaf, mustard seed, mustard flour and Rampe. At first I thought this was a funny thing for a Scottish tourist shop to sell until I realised the producer, Therssy’s Village, is based in Portree, Isle of Skye.