Please help me support a hero supporting heroes tomorrow night.

I am auctioning around 35 incredible lots tomorrow night at Newhaven Communications’ fabulous Ambulance House, prompted by the one and only Gareth Howells.

It’s for a guy called Billy Strathdee who had his right leg blown off as an acting soldier in Ulster.

He is fitter than a butcher’s dog and is about to set off on an incredible adventure wherein he swims the English channel then cycles to Grangemouth before running to John O’Groats.

On a prosthetic leg.

All funds go to a charity close to my heart; Poppyscotland.

Please support this, either by coming along for what will be a fantastic evening. Drinks at 6 and the auction starts at 8.

All of the details can be found here.

And if you can’t make it you can put in an advance bid.

We are probably talking bargains for a lot of photography and jewellery and designer breaks and stuff.

Paranormal Activity 2.

There’s a fair bit of sequel snobbery being talked about PA 2.

“The original was made for £20 – this was £2 million and what’s the difference?” That sort of stuff. When really the answer is quite simple. The original was what it was; a super-creepy, lo fi masterpiece that was low on special effects and relatively high on fear, but not that much in the way of real jumps.

PA 2 whilst it cost more (but hey, £2m? hardly a fortune in cinema terms) also has very few special effects but has a lot more in the way of jumps. But much more significantly than this PA2 is unbelievably clever in the way that it takes the storyline of PA 1 and weaves around it a story that elucidates both parts 1 AND 2.

The jumps are largely stock in trade but they are played out beautifully and the movie is paced brilliantly. Once again Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat convince with their unHolywood looks and performances and the introduction of Katie’s sister’s family is mostly convincing.

This is turning into a really great franchise. If PA3 (in theatres in October 2011) keeps it up (a big ask) it could even challenge the Godfather for consistency because Godfather 3 was naff.

Now before any of you think I am mad I am not saying PA1 and 2 compare to Godfather 1 and 2.

But let’s be honest few horror franchises to date have delivered their first two outings as consistently as this. Fingers crossed for part 3.

Tinker Tailor Soldier siiiigh…

Even though I did not gawp as Sir Alec Guinness enthralled the great British middle classes in the late 1970’s in the famous BBC adaptation of John Le Carre’s celebrated novel, and indeed not having read the book, I nevertheless approached this much trumpeted British “classic” with enthusiasm.

My anticipation was grossly misplaced.  It is a tedious and turgid celebration of Britain’s Cold War spying fraternity that is so badly plotted that to the uninitiated it has the transparency of a potato.

If anyone can tell me what the hell was going on in this self indulgent nonsense I’d be grateful. On second thoughts, don’t bother, I don’t really care.

We Brits do get so chipper about our occassional foray into big news cinema and so the arrival of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has been trumpeted loudly and uncriticaly in the British (mainly broadsheet) press.

The King’s Speech too was credited with far greater quality than it actually delivered.

This is just a mess.

There is little to fault about the acting from a fine ensemble of British character actors who all carry out their duties perfectly well, generally in a half light that occasionally works cinematographically and sometimes just makes the action plain gloomy.

The art department excells however with excellent period details from start to finish.

Director Tomas Alfredson’s first movie, Let The Right One in, is as tight as a drum and is beautifully realised – in stark contrast to this nonsense.

I can’t honestly remember the last time I was quite so bored in a cinema and I blame, principally, the screenplay for this because it assumes its audience knows the detailed storyline and makes no effort to introduce novices to the basic premises of what the story is actually about.

How a film with so many twists and turns, flahbacks (way too many) and references can be boring beats me.  But it is.

Unless you know the book or the TV series well, avoid like the plague.

The Skin That I Live In by Almodovar

I’ve long admired Almodovar and it was with interest that I went to his his latest “horror” film.  To describe it thus is most certainly to misappropriate a psychological study of sexuality because it is most certainly not a horror movie.  Instead we see Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya develop the most unlikely relationship you’ll see in a very long time.

Banderas is electric as the cool and calculated surgeon using Anaya (wow) as his human guinea pig to develop a new kind of indestructible skin as he grieves the death of his wife as a consequance of a car fire.

It’s pretty hard to cover much more of the plot for fear of spoiling what is a tremendous film with perhaps the best twist I’ve ever seen in a cinema.  Almodovar is at his very best hear with an excellent supporting cameraman, Jose Luis Alcaine who makes the pictures zing from the digital screening that I was at.

Interestingly I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy today as well and both were sound tracked by Alberto Iglesias.  This one brilliantly, Tinker, Tailor lamentably.

Scotland’s war of attrition

The match against Argentina this morning was rugby at its most attritional and exciting despite the fact Scotland lost and there was only one try.  However Scotland’s curse raises its head once again and we look likely to fail to reach the quarter finals.  It makes next Saturday’s match against England truly unmissable.  Horrific missed drop goal by Dan Parks right at the death and I suspect a lack of concentration after we’d eked out that six point lead only to concede a converted try less than a minute later.

Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped off at The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh

OK.  Before I write anything I have to declare my interest as a director on the Lyceum board.  If that invalidates my thoughts in your mind dear reader then I understand.  So be it.  I speak with honesty not nepotism.  Take it or leave it.

So, the opening of The Lyceum’s new season (in collaboration with the wonderful Dundee Rep) has been highly anticipated in this particular household having seen the original production of this fabulous play in the 1987 when it was premiered by Communicado, and performed at The Lyceum.

The first and most important reason that we were so excited about it is that Liz Lochhead wrote it.  And boy can our Makar write.  I was in tears of laughter at Educating Agnes which the Lyceum staged in the spring, and although this production has many moments of humour it’s not a comedy.

Instead it is a breathtaking ensemble piece which firmly nails Lochhead’s views on the union between Scotland and England through the insanely close relationship between two cousins, both queens, one a virgin, one almost a floozie.

The queens in question dominate the action and of course we all have to have favourites, mine was Mary played with a beautiful gaelic/french lilt by Shauna Macdonald.  Flame haired and feisty she was nevertheless in the thrall of the more dominant but deeply self absorbed Elizabeth played by Emily Winter.  Whilst MacDonald has a steady and absorbing presence that grows with the play Winters’ is more stacatto, punctuating the play with many of its high points, especially when she brainwashes Darnley before his trip north to seduce and ultimately marry Mary.

The play, both modern and historical in one, is directed with real verve and gusto by Tony Cownie and the design by Neil Murray is well observed and funny.

It’s great.  Not just because of the fantastic script, but in the performances of the whole cast in particular the aforementioned queens and Liam Brennan who really is at the top of his game as a snarling, spitting John Knox that makes many a Catholic squirm uncomfortably in their seat.

Whilst Ann Louise Ross has been pulling rave reviews as Corbie (the Crow) narrator I preferred Myra McFadzean’s performance in Communicado’s original production.  I also thought her performance in Age of Arousal trumped this.

A resounding yes for this production although for all of our group its resolution was probably the weakest point.

Another awesome Tiny Desk Concert from NPR Music

This is a great concept and nobody could be better suited than King Creosote with Jon Hopkins showcasing the two best songs from Diamond Mine.

I couldn’t agree more with NPR’s point of view…

At the risk of serving up a spoiler three months in advance, King Creosote and Jon Hopkins‘ Diamond Mine is going to turn up near the top of many Best Albums of 2011 lists on this website. The breathless love isn’t unanimous across the NPR Music staff, but it’s widespread and intense, and rightfully so. For all its brevity — just seven songs in 32 minutes — Diamond Mine is an absolutely spectacular record, as plainspoken and charming as it is breathtaking in its cinematic sweep.

I think this may be my favourite commercial of all time…

I’ve been looking for it for ages but have never been able to track it down.

So it was a eureka! moment last night when I looked again to demonstrate a point to a client.  And there it was…

It is the most perfect exposition of a proposition I think I’ve ever seen. The style doesn’t get in the way of the substance and it’s an incredibly compelling way of demonstrating the power of the Union movement and how working collaboratively (in unison) can have a far greater impact than ploughing ones own furrow.

The thinking behind this can apply to many industries, trade bodies and organisations.

Titan Arum. Simply incredible.

Have you been following the progress of this beauty?

You can keep up to date with it here.

I’ve had my eye on it all summer.

It’s called Amorphophallus titanium which roughly translated means absolutely ginormous penis.  And it’s growing right here in Edinburgh in the Royal Botanic Gardens’ greenhouse.  Currently it is progressing by 10cm  a day and when and if it flowers it will have been the first to do so in Scotland and is a very rare happening when cultivated.

Have a freaking look at this. (A specimen cultivated in Stuttgart)

It has the largest “unbranched” inflorescance of any plant in the world which roughly translated means it has humungous flowers.

And the best thing is…it smells like a rotting animal.  Hence its common name “the Corpse Flower”.

Best get your ass down there for a look.

Great observation from the ad contrarian…

“What was once digital advertising’s dirty little secret is now its big, ugly problem. Online ad performance figures are dismal…” Adweek, 8/24/11

Just when you thought banner ads couldn’t get any less effective, oops, click-through rates dropped another 10% last year.

Mashable reports that a Google study, seen as the “the industry standard” reported recently that click-through rates dropped from .1% to .09% in 2010. That means that CTRs dropped from 1 in a thousand to 9 in ten thousand.

So, Mr. Online Advertiser, for every 10,000 times your online ad appeared, you got a solid 9 clicks. Good job.

If you were a shortstop, you’d be batting .0009

Oh, and by the way, the 9 people who clicked are no more likely to buy your product than the 9,991 people who didn’t.

“A click means nothing, earns no revenue and creates no brand equity.” says Starcom USA SVP/Director, Research & Analytics John Lowell.

Which, I’m afraid, is not a terribly encouraging statement about the value of “interactivity.”

Meanwhile, undeterred, the advertising industry continues selling clients more and more display ads. In June, eMarketer doubled its projection for online ad spending in 2011.

You may be asking yourself how display ads — with such “dismal” performance — can continue to provide large income to online publishers? This, my friend, may go down as one of the greatcon sales jobs in advertising history. The logic, again from Mashable, goes like this:

“…banners work like most advertising, which is to say in a fairly complex manner.

For instance, click-through is actually a poor measure of performance. It’s impossible to click through a billboard ad, for example, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective…

The same is true for TV ads…”

Oh, I see. The now famous “nobody ever clicked on a TV spot” defense.

So here’s what has really happened. Online ad hustlers experts told us that banner ads were much more effective than traditional advertising because they were so “measurable” and “interactive.” Then the facts started rolling in and they shit their pants refined their message.

Now the story goes like this: Banner ads really arent any more measurable or interactive than traditional advertising. In fact, the erstwhile key metric — the click — don’t mean shit. Now, we are told, banner ads work just like traditional advertising, in a “fairly complex” manner.

The only trouble with this baloney new story is that you have to be both blind and delusional to believe that some invisible ad on your Facebook page is as conspicuous as a TV spot or a billboard. In fact, while your average TV spot or billboard is an annoying, intrusive pain in the ass, nobody ever complains about Facebook ads. Which is just another way of saying nobody notices the darn things.

It seems that the worse online advertising performs the more of it we can sell. C’mon gang, if we can just get the click-through rate down to zero, we’ll all be rich

At last, the Grand Dame is about to reveal her true beauty.

I’ve been photographing this wonder of the world since I moved to South Queensferry nearly 12 years ago.

The trouble is that she has been shrouded in white plastic scaffold covers throughout that period and, frankly, getting a decent picture is severely compromised.

However, from Christmas and for the next 30 years the new new epoxy coating they are currently putting the finishing touches to will make her look greater than ever before.  If you’ve crossed her on a train of late you’ll have seen for yourself the exquisite finish. Deep, rich and with a beautiful soft sheen.

I am truly excited about this, I have to say, as is every amateur photographer in the vicinity.

Scotland v Lithuania; the saga continues.

God, I’m really sick of this.

We are in the hole we are in for one reason.  Craig Levein’s tactics.

We could easily have beaten the Czech Republic home and away, after all since 2005 they have steadily slid down the rankings from 2nd to 42nd.  We’re 47th and incidentally sit 5 places behind Lithuania.

However, we played in the Czech Republic with no striker, gambling on a 0-0 scoreline that failed to materialise.

On Saturday, forget the refereeing shenanigans (the Czechs had a stone wall penalty denied too after all), let’s focus on how Scotland set up.  They were crap in the first half and sat back both at 1-0 and 2-1.  Every time we had to push forward we threatened, including in the 92nd minute.  But had we played the way we ought to the game would have been done and dusted.  So that would be 5 more points than we have and 4 less for the Czechs.  We’d pretty much have qualified by now.

One hard luck story (3 – 2 defeat to Spain) when the game was to all intents and purpose over (so the Spanish went to sleep) does not make us a great team and don’t forget we very nearly lost to Lichtenstein – a country with a population smaller than Falkirk and a football reputation worse that Fred West’s.

Levien contradicts himself more than the House of Commons.  He says he won’t play players that are out of form or not playing for their teams and then he does.

He falls out with his players (shame our best striker is watching from home for no good reason) and he has the worst competitive record (including Bertie Vogts) over his opening 5 game tenure than any manager in the last 25 years; to Andy Roxburgh to be precise.

Yes, we have a bunch of talented players exposed to the Premiership, better than for a considerable time I’d say.

So why not believe in them and let them express themselves properly.

Me, I’m going to watch the Mercury Prize. (We’ve got a chance of winning that – Come on King Creosote!)

Duke of Edinburgh Golds start here

Tom and Ria are all set for their 45 mile walk from Aviemore to Blair Atholl.

Tom in particular with his white pumps and new hat.

“So as I can talk to farmers.”

Amy’s attempt ended in a wrecked knee half way through so fingers crossed the white pumps cope with the rigours of the Scottish Highlands.

(Apparently the minibus got lost on its way to the start point so not a great omen.)

Arcade Fire at Edinburgh Castle 1 September 2011

OK.  This is going to sound like a moan but the bottom line is that Arcade Fire performed extremely well in Edinburgh last night.  The question is; why was I so unenthused.

They played 18 songs in total.

8 from the suburbs, 3 from Neon Bible including the monumental No Cars Go (which was strangely un-monumental),  6 from their classic debut, Funeral, and a new song; Speaking in Tongues which I really liked.

Thanks to Setlist Wiki for this. What an amazing website by the way.

So, the plus points.  Note perfect.  Great mix of songs spanning their career.  Lovely weather.  Fabulous setting. Excellent acoustics. Very interesting use of video throuhgout.  Like this…

And this…

The downside however was much more intangible.

I was expecting an “experience”.  It wasn’t.

I felt totally detached and that’s because even though we had good seats we seemed miles away from the action.

And there were no big screens picking up action on stage.  OK, the video screen behind the band did, from time to time, blend them into the footage but this was more art than entertainment.

Looked good expansively though.

It all seemed very calculated and clinical almost.  And yet, they played a different set at the MEN on Wednesday night and hadn’t played for a month before that, so it’s not as if they are in a tour rut.

Also, I expected Win Butler to have a winning personality and to engage heavily with the crowd.

Not so.

Sure, he had a few brief “Edinburoe is such a beautiful city” moments but no more than that sort of staple, pretty bland rhetoric.

The rest of them, apart from a bit of streamer work by Regine Chassagne and some climbing up the scaffolding by the percussionist, just got on with the task at hand.  On a take of around half a million quid (calm down. Ed.  Ok £200k) for what is still an indie band (the Suburbs has only sold 400,000 copies) I’d have expected a little more of an effort.

Set highlights were Suburban War, Neighbourhood Number 1, We used to Wait, Wake Up (which had the whole crowd going pretty mad), Keep the Car Running and Rebellion (Lies).

I hated Month of May and Sprawl II (looked as if Win was keeping the Mrs sweet by allowing her to close the show with the worst song of the night).

Cute kid videos and cat films on Youtube

Don’t you absolutely detest them?

They make me want to lose my lunch to be perfectly honest.

They make me think that the human race has lost its entire sense of purpose.


I saw this.

I stuck up a video of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes playing Home in a tiny gig yesterday.

But this morning one of the viewers of that magnificent clip sent me THIS.

(Thank you Michael Farrell.)

Now this is why we were meant to propogate.