March, 2015

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Here we go again…

So, the general election appears to be starting now. It feels different from previous ones somehow. Maybe it’s the overall weariness, the constant bickering and accusations, the refusal to see any good in the other side, or the apparent minimal difference between some of the main parties. And our obsession with the personality of the leaders.

Helpfully, the BBC has done a summary of what the parties claim they will do:

You can form your own view on the extent to which they are likely to do any of this. I struggle to believe that past performance is, in this case, not a good indicator of future performance.

I’ve mentioned before a useful experiment, which is to have a look at this site:

Again, there’s a summary of the policies of each of the parties, the key difference being that you don’t know which policy comes from which party. And while, yes, you can guess some of them, that defeats the purpose. The point is, I think, to take out our biases and preconceptions and see which party most closely aligns with our own views on subjects.

Have a go – you might be surprised. I certainly was.

What kind of driver are you? (with obligatory eclipse photo)

Living and running in the Scottish Borders means that you become very familiar with several things. Weather is the obvious one – this year has been characterised by wind, week after week after week. And virtually no snow. The one advantage of proper snow is that you don’t have to carry water with you as there is a ready supply of it. As long as you stick to the white stuff.

And there’s nature of course. You see the seasons unfolding on a regular basis, and not only in the form of how many layers you need to wear for a given run. Last week, I was running along the main road on my way back home again when I saw a movement to my right, big enough to catch my attention. I’m used to dogs barking and running along beside me for a few minutes and there are more than enough sheep and cows which seem to think a runner is either a mortal threat or an invitation to a staring contest. Goodness knows what they make of me running past them. This time, though, it was two deer. They were kind enough to run in the same direction as me for a minute or two rather than bolting off in the opposite direction, although I’m fairly sure I was more fascinated by watching them than they were with me. But I can at least now say I’ve spent time running with deer.

And then there’s the humans. There are precious few runners that I have any contact with on my weekly long runs through the countryside. So much so that I came home a few weeks ago abnormally excited at having seen someone else out running near West Linton. It was such an event for us both that we high fived each other as we passed by. I think he was going faster than me, but my excuse is that it was a hill and I was going up it. Cyclists are also a sociable bunch, not only because so many of them are riding in a group, including some where I lost count of how many were together. They are also great at saying hello, including one who was riding up Arthur’s Seat a few weeks ago. I was doing hill repeats (again!) and we had a brief conversation on the way up. I was unofficially using him as someone to try to beat, then I saw he was on a single speed bike and that was enough to get me chatting with him until my breath gave way towards the top and he went sailing off with a wave into he headwind that had just hit us both but seemed to make more of a difference to me.

Car drivers are hilarious creatures. There are several categories I’ve identified from the perspective of a runner.

1. Drivers of tiny cars who could pass me by three abreast but who still slow down, sometimes to a stop, on a wide empty road. Just in case. I find them a bit scary because I’m not sure their driving is going to be that predictable if they can’t get past me with any confidence. But I’d rather have them than

2. Drivers whose sole aim is to get past me without lifting their foot off the accelerator. I did wonder if they were concerned about the environmental impact of slowing down and then accelerating again, but have now concluded that this is probably not their motive in going past me as fast as possible.

3. The ones who think their car is as wide as those in category 1, or just don’t care that it isn’t, and who leave me just enough room not to be hit by a wing mirror, but no more. The feeling of the wind from the passing bodywork is something no runner should have to experience. A slight swerve at the last second as the driver notices that there’s someone else on the road is often a part of this experience.

4. The more extreme version of 3 is the driver who decides to overtake a car while going past me. Generally, this only  happens when the cars are coming from behind me, so I get an unpleasant shock when a car is suddenly coming past me that I (obviously – I don’t have a rear view mirror) didn’t see coming.

5. And my favourite is the driver who is clearly of the view that I have absolutely no right to be on the road at all and makes this clear by all means available. My most memorable two were a Volvo driver who started flashing his lights at me about half a mile away, then aimed his car right at me before swerving at the last second (I was within a split second of jumping into the hedgerow) and narrowly passing me with his arms gesticulating wildly. I wondered what the children in the back thought of Daddy’s behaviour. And a couple of months ago, the Range Rover who also thought that flashing lights and arm waving on an empty, straight stretch of road were a positive contribution to road safety and generally being a decent human being. The funny thing was that I knew who he was (in my running gear, I doubt the opposite was true). Thanks, Bill B…

6. The considerate drivers who pull over enough, and early enough, that I know they’re going to pass me without incident. I will often give them a wave of thanks, although probably not not if I’m going flat out and just keeping going is as much as I can manage.

7. Lorry drivers. I love lorry drivers. They will pull right over if they can, slow down if they have to, even stop if necessary, which is a very rare occurrence because, given how considerate they are and the fact that they are driving something so huge, I try to get to the other side of the road well before they get anywhere near me so they can keep going.

8. My lovely neighbours. I always get a flash of lights, children waving enthusiastically, and a boost for the next few minutes. It’s about as good as suddenly and unexpectedly seeing someone you know cheering you on at about mile 20 of a marathon.

And I just keep on running. Because I might end up running with some deer next time I round a corner. Now if I could time running with a  solar eclipse, that would be something…


Six months on…

My sobering thought for today is that it’s now been six months already since I devoted some proper time to writing. Last week, a number of people asked me ‘how’s the writing going?’ Here’s the answer. Or answers.

Since some time before Christmas, I’ve been writing 1,000 words a day. That means every day without exception, including Christmas Day (it was a late finish that day). What was at first a nightmare prospect (you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve said in the past ‘The last thing I want to do when I get home from work is start writing, I’m just too tired’) has now become a routine. And I don’t think I’m any more tired now than I was when I wasn’t writing in any meaningful way. Instead, every day I have a little victory, either because I sat down and was finished before I knew it or, more likely, because I just kept at it until I was done for the day. I’m sort of rotating routines, sometimes I get up at 6 and try to have it done by 7 when everyone else starts to appear, or I wait until the house is quiet in the evening and then disappear for an hour. Or longer.

What I don’t do now is watch much TV. In fact, other than a weekly ironing session, almost none. This last weekend was a nice exception because the girls had borrowed a DVD they were desperate to watch, so we planned that in for Friday evening when I got home (it’s amazing how fast everything gets done when they are motivated!) and then we were at the library on Saturday and seemed to pick up a couple of DVDs while we were there (I know, DVDs from a library… not in our day etc etc), one of which we watched as a family as a Mother’s Day activity (funnily enough, it wasn’t the mother who chose the film.)

Daily writing is a lot better than trying to have Monday as the writing day. You can’t leave a week between sessions, it just doesn’t work. For me, at least.

So 1,000 words a day must by now equate to over 100,000 just since December and well more over the last six months. Does this mean I’m almost done? Nowhere near. If this were a marathon (and at least they’re over and done with in only a few hours) I think I’m currently walking towards the starting pen with broadly the right kit on, but not quite sure what to do after mile one or two. I think the last six months have been more akin to base training, trying things out, seeing what works for me and what doesn’t. I have a long list of what doesn’t work, a rather shorter one of what does. But it’s a start.

My experience of writing fiction is nothing like writing non-fiction. The facts matter, but they are in the background. Sometimes… often… they jump out into the foreground and you know you’ve lost it again. A few times, I’ve just stopped when I realised I was describing, getting all theoretical, too many facts, and asked myself ‘how would [insert name of good writer] approach this?’ then tried that. So thank you Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, Douglas Kennedy, Harlan Coben… and the rest of you. Reading great writers’ work is like free tuition classes. And more enjoyable.

At the moment, I’ve got some characters who need some life putting into them. And series of events that seems to have varied somewhat over the last six months. Things just happen to these people that I wasn’t expecting. Some of it is helpful. Some of it is relevant. Some of it might even get used. But it’s all good practice and experience. And it’s somewhere to start from.

There are good days and bad days. Which is why just getting my 1,000 words done is sometimes the only way forward on a bad day. I read something really helpful about running years ago – ‘running tomorrow is as important as running today.’ There’s no point in overdoing it today if you end up injured, and a bad day today might lead to a good day tomorrow. And I find that ‘writing tomorrow is as important as writing today.’ Who knows what tomorrow will bring? If I go back over the last six months’ worth of material, there will be some things in there that I can use – edit heavily for sure, but use – among all the thousands of words that I will happily dispatch to the ‘nice try, but no thanks’ pile. But there will be no going back, editing or otherwise reading any of that until I get to the end of the first draft. Just keep going. It really is like a marathon. One step at a time and one word at a time.

And the three word answer to the original question is ‘I’m loving it.’ Just don’t show me the stat that the average income for a professional writer is £11,000 a year.


This week’s photo from my other project – this time a building in Edinburgh’s city centre which I think will shortly be demolished.


What’s in a bottle?

I’m allowing myself a short blog today. Mainly because I finally have everything to develop my first films at home, and I know it’s going to take a lot longer than it says on the instructions. Last night, I mixed the chemicals. It turns out there’s a reason you wear gloves and that you assume you squirt the concentrate where it’s not supposed to go. But it’s now ready to go. And like most things we do for the first time, it will probably not go as well as I hope (if you could only see what the pictures look like in my head!) and hopefully not as badly as I fear. But it’s all a learning process, and will soon become second nature.

Here’s my question for today – what’s the difference between these two drinks?


We couldn’t tell. We looked at the ingredients. Identical, in the same order. Both fizzy. Both by the same company. So is the only difference the price (guess which one costs more) and the shape of the bottle? I don’t know, but it was an opportunity to remind the girls that marketing departments exist to…

I’m still not buying the fancy bottle.

Off to see what I can make of this film.

So much for that then…

After last week’s heavier content, I needed something a bit lighter today.

This was to have been the week I got to see the results of using a 50 year old camera, having developed the film myself and then scanned it, all of which was meant to be fun. But so far, the next day service (I need chemicals and other odds and sods to develop the film) has been a ‘maybe a week and a half but we aren’t quite sure if we’ve sent the order or not’ kind of scenario. I’m swithering between a bit annoyed and amused that ‘I’ll have to check, can I call you back?’ has yielded no phone call in now over six hours. In the grand scheme of things, what does it really matter? It’ll get to me when it gets to me.

And in the interim, I got to go to not one, but two lovely productions in the last week.


The first was a school (this is the school) performance of Joseph, which is fortunately one of my favourite ‘fun’ musicals. It was a junior school production, so nobody on stage was older than 11 or 12, but I had to check with the director afterwards that that really was the case. They were that good. The costumes were imaginative, colourful (as you might expect) and the singing lovely. I certainly wouldn’t have got up on a stage at that age (nothing has changed since then, mind you) and sung a solo. I was more than happy doing the lighting and sound.

And then ballet number two of the year (so far, the girls have plans for more…). This time it was Romeo and Juliet, performed by the Northern Ballet.


Although the story is well known, it was remarkable to see it performed as a ballet with the storytelling entirely through movement and expression. The set consisted of some bold, basic shapes which were used and reused throughout and the simplicity of it meant it didn’t detract from the dancing. And the dancing was not what I would call classical ballet. I was given an in depth tutorial on the different types of ballet on the way there. Apparently this was modern ballet. A lot of the dances reminded me of West Side Story (itself based on Romeo and Juliet of course), particularly when the two families were fighting each other. The thing which struck me most was the detail of the choreography. Even when the stage was getting pretty full and there were groups of dancers performing the same movements, there were always others towards the sides of the stage who were telling a smaller part of the story through their dancing. Everything on the stage had a purpose and it all came together beautifully. A great few days.

And maybe next week I’ll have some photos. If they turned out. That’s always the question in the back of your mind…