Excitement and Mystery on Mars!

Main Posts — Tags: , , — comelybankingcrisis @ 11:11 am

“I know a secret.”

“What is it?”

“Well I’m not telling you!”

Curiosity Rover has apparently made a dramatic discovery on mars, “one for the history books,” geologist and principal investigator John Grotzinger said.

But we don’t get to find out what it is until the American Geophysical Union meeting next month.

Planetary Scientist Peter Smith reckons it’ll be organic material, as we all hope I suppose.

What do you think it is? A fossil? A new mineral (this would be boring)? A formation that looks uncannily like a human face?

The reportage in this Wired article is not unreasonable. For remaining questions, Shatner is here to help!

Slow down and make the right choice

Main Posts — Tags: — comelybankingcrisis @ 9:29 am

I was looking for a flat in Edinburgh once and a pushy estate agent said something along the lines of, “If you see a property you like, go for it immediately; it’ll be off the market before you know it, and you won’t get it if you wait.”

I used to fall victim to this approach a lot. “Shit,” I would think. “I’m gonna miss out!”

We all have to be alert to those opportunities that come only once or twice in our lives, and we must sometimes take spontaneous decisions, sometimes risky decisions.

But there’s another kind of risk: waiting.

Waiting is scary. Waiting is risky. The worst thing about waiting, stalling, pausing, committing the crime of culpable hiatus, is the fear that this is the last such-and-such opportunity, or at least the best one that’ll come along.

It’s a personal decision, a judgement to be made mostly with the gut and to some extent with experience.

Right now, I’m waiting a little…

Notes on an Identity Crisis

Main Posts — comelybankingcrisis @ 10:51 am

It’s a perennial problem isn’t it? Naming yourself after a place. It’s always going to have constraints. And without the re-branding and strategic marketing gumption of the Bay City Rollers or the Village Voice, things can easily end badly.

Now I’m not, as you might think, having a jab at the Leither. Oh no; I’m having a jab at a Leither: me!

Yep. Moved to Leith. Don’t live in Comely Bank any more. Haven’t lived in Comely Bank for more than a year. I also work in Leith. So there you are: destiny? No. Aspiration, maybe. Love of the Shore plays its part.

Incidentally, there are not many people panicking about banking crises these days either. But you always knew mine was often (if not all of the time) figurative, right?

Welcome and Guest Blogging

Main Posts — Tags: , , — comelybankingcrisis @ 1:01 pm

Hi there! This is just a quick post to say hello and welcome to any friend who may have popped over from Blackwatertown today. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ve guest blogged about boats, horses, family and Pavarotti on the great Blackwatertown. Go over and have a look, if not for my humble offering then for the host of other guest writers, not to mention Paul, the main blogger and editor.

Take care!


The things filling my bandwidth

This blog has taken quite the hit recently. Its author recently logged in and was more than a little shocked to realise that there were no posts at all uploaded during February. That has been the result of two things. The first is that I currently have two jobs, one of which is copy-writing. So basically, I more or less blog for the better part of my living now, hence reluctance to also do it as a hobby. I suppose I must get used to the new configuration of my work/life balance and find a space in there to do what I love.

The second reason is I’ve been seeing a lot less art, reading a lot less, and watching a lot more of this type of thing:

Writer’s Block creeps in

Writer's Block

You know the scenario.  I’m supposed to write something as though it has just flowed out from my synapses onto the page like proverbially gold-plated ink, and as easily and energetically as young mountain water babbling through a brook.  I have to be casually erudite, whimsically articulate and oh, so relevant.  I have to make you laugh, or at least smile, but also cause your brow to furrow in profound ponderance.

“Oh, I was just slurping a capp and having a quick leaf through the London Review of Books and thought I’d spin this little tidbit off in an articulate jiffy, but now I’ve got to go meet an unknown but paradoxically important intellectual friend,” is how the subtext of my copy should read.  “I’m, like, a fountain of whimsical, brilliant ideas!  And I’ve heard of lots of stuff, especially stuff that hasn’t happened yet!”

But in reality I’m tired, a bit worried about money, daunted by the economy, dreading the depths of winter and I can’t even think of a CD to put on (I’m old school) never mind think of an engaging subject to write about and a way to start it.

Do you recognise the scenario?  As I consider myself a writer, albeit an amateur or at most aspiring one, I ponder writer’s block a lot and thought I might as well share some of the ways in which I deal with it.

My favourite strategy is to get out a pen and notebook and choose to brainstorm ideas instead of write when I’m faced with the Block.  You might think that this is the last thing to do when your creative well seems to have dried up, but you’d be surprised how many new ideas come out when you’re temporarily freed from the shackles of whatever it is that’s ground to a halt.  But I admit it: this is procrastination to some extent.  What’s more it’s often the case that you need to complete and submit something in the very near future without time to take a break, without the time to sit around brainstorming.

My father, who was at one time a writer, and who may well enter the fray again I suspect, always advised me to “just start writing.” That is cast iron advice and there’s no arguing with it.  Writing is the main aim after all.  But I believe I could be forgiven for claiming that this instruction is a little short on detail.  Another technique I have adopted is to stand up from the computer and make a cup of tea, pace the room, and say aloud in free, informal language what I want to write, as simply as I can.  Then I just write what I said.  This invariably results in appalling writing to start with, but at least you have something down to tinker with and embellish.

My final piece of advice for avoiding writer’s block is to write about writer’s block.  This tends to be a one-use-only ticket!  The best strategy of all, though, is to give yourself a break, relax, go to the cinema, watch a DVD.  If it’s evening you could even go to the pub.  Take it from me the problem will disappear!  For a while…

Do any of you have other suggestions?

Russian wildfires burn British veterans’ cash

What has Hovis got to do with Napoleon and Hitler?

We all know, after several gruelling, abortive episodes, that it’s a terrible idea to send invading troops eastwards into Russia.  ‘Don’t get involved in a land war in Asia’, you may have heard it said, and we’re lucky indeed that neither Hitler nor Napoleon took heed of this advice, otherwise we’d be living in a Nazi or Bonapartist empire.

And yet the climactic vicissitudes of this very same region have today apparently got the potential to pillory British soldiers’ fortunes.  Remember all those wildfires in Russia over the summer?  The images of suffocating smog which settled over Moscow during that lengthy heatwave?  Well, British Baker, the “baking industry’s food bible,” reports that the summer fires’ disruption of grain supply in Russia and eastern Europe has driven the price of grain up by as much as 50%.

What has this to do with British soldiers, you might reasonably enquire?  Tesco, it turns out, would be damned before agreeing to pass on these inflated costs to its customers and have their cheap basket whatever statistic affected.  As a result of this, Tesco has discontinued the baker Hovis’s Seed Sensations bread range, preferring Hovis to bear the full cost of the grain price change themselves or go to another supermarket.  Naturally, the latter seemed inevitable.

Hovis’s Seed Sensations range’s inclusion of poppy seeds has been seen as an appropriate reason to donate 4p from the sale of every loaf to the Royal British Legion.  Today’s Guardian reports that last year this fund amounted to £130,000 of income for the charity, which is now in jeopardy.

So it turns out that there’s no escaping the Russian landscape, even for today’s British soldiers.  It also transpires, unfortunately, that there’s no escaping Tesco.

The Chilean Mars Landing

Why all the fuss about the Chilean Miners?

What a bizarre few days we’ve had in the news.  The rescue of 33 Chilean miners has caused such euphoria and excitement across the globe that we seem to have lost all sense of proportion of the event, picking over every possible angle and ultimately telling a story of 33 people who were simply in danger and now are not.  Should this be globally significant news?  Not on the face on it.  Compare this with flooded Pakistan, where families have despaired, suffered typhoid and cholera, been just as patient, and finally rescued from the jaws of death not unlike the miners, but where so many thousands of others have perished.  Surely there were scores of such hopeful narratives in that tragic set of events?  Or do we prefer the hope without the tragedy?

In spite of this perspective, the Chilean miners’ rescue has undoubtedly been a wonderful story.  But it would be foolish to think that we were only concerned with the welfare of 33 workers, that we watched them being rescued one by one, embrace their families, be joyfully rushed to hospital, only because we hoped that those 33 men would survive fit and well.  There is clearly much deeper significance to this story.


No doubt the most obvious broad narrative in which the story has been told and received is Chilean nationalism.  Images of Camp Hope – the temporary settlement around the rescue operation – awash with Chilean flags have become commonplace on evening television around the world, whether flying from poles or lately draped around the shoulders of the rescued heroes.   This certainly seems to be a theme which has been embraced by the Chilean public, chanting the name of their country as they greet each newly rescued miner.  Somewhat more bizarrely, news networks on Thursday morning published footage of rescuers still in the mine, having completed their mission, pausing for a moment of jubilation centred on the flag and again chanting that now familiar “Chi Chi Chi, lay lay lay” before they began their own ascent.

As appealing as it has been, the nationalistic side of the story has by no means been an accidental outcome of the rescue.  The presence of Chile’s president Sebastian Pinera in the centre of the story would suggest a certain amount of deliberate staging.  He has his own national agenda too, which he’s not afraid to share: “the country is not the same after this”, he remarked in the midst of celebrations, Chile is “more united and stronger than ever”, surely the image any world leader would pursue for their voters and an international audience.  He seems at pains to distance Chile from the image of military coups and the Pinochet years.  Pinera is also demonstrating considerable political astuteness both by his presence and by his encouraging of the national significance of the event.  A billionaire, he is a right-wing leader on a continent where left wing parties, including in his own country, have the potential to become prominent.  There is no doubt that his opponents home and abroad will attempt to capitalise on this story of workers’ struggle.  Left-wing president of Bolivia Evo Morales has already promised Carlos Mamani, a national of Bolivia and the only non-Chilean miner, a house and guaranteed job on his return.  But Pinera has so far marginalised these voices.  For better or worse, that this has become a national event in Chile is beyond doubt.


The significant church involvement in Camp Hope suggests that this is also a story of good Catholics and Christian cooperation.  This has likely broadened the story’s appeal in largely Catholic Latin America and globally.  The implied narrative is not only one of a nation uniting to rescue its sons, but also one of prayers answered and religious fervour legitimated.  Lilian Ramírez, wife of rescued miner Mario Gomez was unequivocal: “I want a shrine to stay here, a lovely big shrine where people can come and where the families can give thanks to God, the Virgin Mary and all the other saints who gave us our families back. That they are doing well and all alive is a remarkable miracle.” (Source: Euronews)  And miracle is a word we’ve heard a lot recently, hinting that the events have already been interpreted by many as an act of God.

Mars Landing

But perhaps this story’s deepest meaning relates to the general human struggle behind the event. It’s a story of human frailty and of human inventiveness, technology and cooperation.  The nightmare of being trapped so far underground for so long is perhaps only matched by the awe and fear of space travel, which is the ultimate conquering of human physical limitations.  There is a certain irony that the miners were given guidance from space travel experts and even provided with “bio-harnesses”, designed for astronauts, to monitor vital signs.  Essential as this aid may have been, the comparison with astronauts doesn’t stop there.  The miners have been afforded the status of pioneers and national heroes, and the grainy footage of the kitted out rescuees climbing into a rocket-shaped rescue capsule emblazoned with the Chilean flag surely recalls television coverage of manned space missions.   The capsule is named “Phoenix 2” after the mythical bird, but the name surely also recalls the spacecraft of the same name which landed on Mars on 25th May 2008, incidentally humanity’s most ambitious space destination today.

Humanity has in this case overcome the odds with ingenuity and technology and the world celebrates.  This truly has been Chile’s Mars landing.

Susan Calman’s show is worth a look

Here’s another of  my reviews from the Edinburgh Fringe, first published on The Skinny’s website. Great local act.

As the gathering crowd winds through the Underbelly’s stairways and passages, you can’t help noticing the eclectic mix of people here to see Susan Calman. Her opening lines reveal her readiness to deal with this very mixed crowd indeed, as she energetically quizzes the audience about which of her various jobs – from radio to stand-up – has drawn them to see her at the Fringe.

And from this early point on she has somehow, almost miraculously, drawn the diverse audience together and on she goes through her tight, well-written set, sharing a mock, self-deprecating obituary she’s apparently written for herself while drunkenly reflecting on the course of her life. The gags touch on manners, size-ism, feminism, relationships and the potential comic pitfall of Glasgow.

Glasgow can draw stand-up acts towards well trodden paths and Calman’s show does touch on the usual stuff like alcoholism, stabbings and alarming mortality rates; luckily she also adds her own colouring of the subject. Her audience could have been a difficult one to balance in terms her shock value versus local charm, but she clearly has enough charisma and a lively banter to keep everyone completely entertained.

A show well worth seeing.

Life of Si, or Si-ing to get a job in TV

Life of Si, Si Harder at the GRV, Edinburgh Fringe

This review was first published on The Skinny’s website.  There are lots more reviews of comedy from the Edinburgh Fringe there, and other stuff besides.

Ever wondered what it would feel like to be in a live studio audience? Well, you may just find out with this comic double-act who have been wowing audiences with their combination of live performance and pre-recorded material with some clever interface between the two thrown in.

The show is a collaboration between Simon Feilder and Sy Thomas, a pair of talented, emo-inclined media enthusiasts with bundles of charm and an elusive yellow teapot named Alan. The venue’s comfortable couches and warm atmosphere are skilfully exploited to recreate the pair’s shared flat, lending a sitcom feel to proceedings.

The alternating live and pre-recorded pattern becomes a little repetitive and at times the transition between the two feels awkward. But the duo’s live interaction with the multimedia element of the show evidences potential comic genius and maybe even a TV career or two.

You can’t help wanting to see a little more of the live show and less of the pre-recorded material, but with a quirky take on traditional performer-audience banter and possibly the funniest a cappella impression of contemporary indie music you’re likely to hear, this show is well worth an hour of your time.

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