Friday 29 August 2008

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2008

Rather than head for the hills I spent last week in Edinburgh attending shows at the famous Fringe. Given that this has been the wettest August on record and I had spent a day in torrential rain on Beinn Eighe just a few days before heading for Edinburgh I was not unhappy to forego the wilds for a while. Especially as it rained heavily much of the time I was in the city, my rain jacket seeing more use than it often does during a week in the hills. I went to fifteen shows at the Fringe - three serious and grim Lorca plays, free and excellent folk music in the National Museum, the amusing Shakespeare for Breakfast (spot the references!), an energetic and intense solo performance of Beowulf, a rather less intense though still good solo version of Candide, an entertaining play based on Terry Pratchett’s Mort, two thought-provoking plays with music called Who’s Afraid of Howlin’ Wolf (one of my favourite singers – though none of his music was played) and Kerouac and All That Jazz (bringing back memories of a writer who influenced me greatly as a teenager), the strange and intriguing Henry IV by Pirandello, and one show by a star, Simon Callow’s engaging telling of two little known Dickens stories.

Unlike last year shows with outdoor themes were rare. One of the few was stand-up comedian Mark Olver’s Ramble On. As Mark walked 500 miles from his home in Bristol to Edinburgh I felt I really couldn’t miss his show if only to show support for another long distance walker. The show was based around the walk, which had clearly been a challenge for someone who hadn’t done any long distance walking before. Mark Olver was sponsored by Berghaus (and he thanked them profusely during the show) and there’s a blog on his walk on the Berghaus website. Some of the show was very funny. I loved the rant about using his tiny one-man tent for the first time in pouring rain, though I’m not sure which tent has so little room that you have to get in your sleeping bag outside! However some of the exchanges with the audience were a little too long and a bit predictable (is it required for stand-up comedians to question audience members on their sex lives?). Mark did say that some of his audience expected more about the walk (and I guess I might fall into that category) whilst some expected less so he had a balancing act to do to try and keep everyone happy. I wasn’t asked about my sex life but I was picked out as a serious rambler – and there was me thinking I looked the part of a sophisticated, urban arts lover (perhaps I should have left the rucksack and fleece jacket behind).

I also saw one show in a tent, albeit a big top, and the play was A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, which is set in a forest. The production by the travelling Footsbarn Theatre Company was magical, with excellent acting, beautiful and strange costumes and banners, a lovely set, intriguing and atmospheric music and a sense of wonder and mystery. By the finish it was easier to believe there was a forest outside the tent than a city.

However the drama that had the most impact on me was Lorca’s Blood Wedding by the Colet Players, a young all-female company. This bleak and shocking story of love, revenge and death was portrayed with power and passion with a stand-out performance by the actor playing the Mother, one of the central figures. So compelling and potent was this actor that my partner and I felt overwhelmed and privileged to have experienced such a performance. We had a feeling that we had seen a great actor in the making. The rest of the cast were good too, especially the actor playing the Bride. Blood Wedding is the first in Lorca’s trilogy of rural tragedies and we saw the other two plays as well – Inside Yerma and The House of Bernando Alba. Both were good productions but neither had an actor with the presence or authority of the one playing the Mother in Blood Wedding. There were only 15 or so people at the performance of Blood Wedding and little information was available about the cast or the production with no promotional flyers or advertisements. It would be a shame if this production vanished due to this as it really was magnificent.

The photo shows Calton Hill, where the Footsbarn Theatre pitched their big top. Photo info: Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55 mm IS@55mm, f8@1/320, ISO 100, raw file converted to JPEG in DxO Optics Pro

Sunday 10 August 2008

Young Birds

Watching the birds it attracts has always been one of the pleasures of having a garden for me. For the last few months the bird feeders have been visited by a series of fledgling birds, many looking as though they were just out of the nest, still coated in soft fluffy down, barely able to fly, confused by the feeders, the other birds, even the plants. Markings are unclear, blurred, often dull compared with the smart, sharp adults. Some, like the young robins with their brown speckled breasts, look like a different species until you notice the shape and size and characteristic movements. Some come alone, some with parents. Some manage to feed themselves, after staring at the nuts and seeds and pecking gingerly at them. Others wait for a parent to push a chunk of peanut or sunflower seed into their gaping beak. Some find perching and feeding at the same time difficult. A soft fluffy young greenfinch beating its wings wildly as it attempts to hang onto the wire mesh of a feeder and peck at the nuts before slipping and fluttering down onto the heathers below. Siskins manage better, grasping the wire firmly, and despite their minute size are prepared to fend off other birds. A young great spotted woodpecker tries to hang onto a nut feeder but eventually gives up and flops down into the seed tray below and waits to be fed, happy to let its parents hammer out the food. Many of these birds have grown a little now and are more adult-like and competent but there are second and maybe third broods even now in August. The woodpeckers still have the red head patches of youngsters but no longer wait to be fed. But there are finches and tits that are still small and unsure, learning how to deal with the wild world. Watching these birds I marvel at the speed of their development, the determination and vigour with which they tackle life away from the nest.

The photo shows a great spotted woodpecker feeding a youngster. Photo info: Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 55-250 mm IS@250 mm, f5.6@1/4000, ISO 800, raw file converted to JPEG and processed and cropped in DxO Optics Pro

Thursday 7 August 2008

Friedrichshafen Podcasts

Over on The Outdoor Station site Bob and Rose Cartwright have put together six interesting podcasts on this years Friedrichshafen OutDoor show that are well worth listening to by anyone interested in new outdoor gear. Included in the fifth podcast is a short interview with John Manning and me, made when we met Bob in one of the big "Tent City" halls. I admire Bob and Rose's stamina in putting these podcasts together. It's hard enough work just prowling the stands and talking to people without recording them as well.

The photo shows Terra Nova's new tarp with netting inner. The photo shows Terra Nova's new tarp with netting inner. Photo info: Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55 mm IS@18 mm, f3.5@1/60, ISO 200, raw file converted to JPEG in DxO Optics Pro.

Saturday 2 August 2008

New Books: Classic Munros Cairngorms & Glen Coe

Just published: two little books of mine called Classic Munros: The Cairngorms and Classic Munros: Glen Coe. These are walks guides to selected Munros. Not all Munros are covered so these aren’t guides for Munro baggers but rather for those visiting an area who want to undertake what, in my opinion, are the best Munro walks. With some hills more than one route is described if I really couldn’t decide between different ones. For example in the Cairngorms book there are two routes for Ben MacDui, Braeriach and Cairn Toul but none for Monadh Mor and Mullach Clach a’Bhlair.

The books are published by Colin Baxter Photography.