A Second Year of Contemplating

Picture the scene: It’s Monday evening after a long day in the office. I’m sitting on the sofa  slurping my way through a bowl of my roasted tomato and red chilli soup, mopping up as I go with a big hunk of crusty bread; the dog is, as ever, lying at my feet trying to soften my heart of ice with those big brown eyes. It was then that I had a thought. I dismissed it as a little ridiculous to begin with, but as I was finishing off my follow-up ‘course’ of a glass of lovely red wine left over from Sunday night’s dinner the thought came back to me and this time I couldn’t shake it – tomorrow is the 16th October. Contemplating the Clouds is two years old.

Yes, in the disorganised chaos of my daily life – it’s my preferred choice for organisation, it would seem – I almost forgot the blog’s birthday. This wasn’t the case last year – oh no – then I was so organised that I even went out and bought it a cup cake and a number 1 candle (have a look over here, if you don’t believe me). This year, the dog and I are sitting staring at the screen, wondering what to write (or in the dog’s case, why there isn’t cake involved this year).

The first year of Contemplating the Clouds was my first foray into the blogging world. It started with just photos, then was transformed by the addition of words. This time last year I thought that perhaps I was getting better at both the photos and the words; now I feel – I hope – that they have improved again – I know there are certainly fewer typos (and thanks to the friend that has no qualms about calling me out on them if they do appear; I do appreciate it, even if I don’t always sound grateful). But what of the theme and overall purpose of Contemplating? Well, that too has solidified a bit. This is a blog about a 20-something living, working, procrastinating, eat and drinking in Edinburgh. Oh, and about the adventures I run off on every so often.Edinburgh, Carlton Hill, Old Town, Lent, 40 Days of photos

I said last year I had no idea what the coming year would hold, and whilst it hasn’t been without its share of appearances from the drama-llama, I think it’s been a fairly settled one. At birthday numero uno I was three weeks into a temporary job that could end with virtually no notice in a company that had less than six months before it ceased trading  to say it was a little uncertain is a bit of an understatement, and the fact that I had no idea what ‘proper’ job I was ever going to get (if I would get one at all) was weighing pretty heavily on my mind. As it transpired I temped at the exporters for five months, and only left because I found gainful employment in the real – or perhaps that should be the surreal – world. I’ve now worked in internet marketing for the last seven months. It’s a massive jump from the world of academic biology that my university days in St Andrews were filled with, but I really enjoy it. Of course it’s tough at times and after seven months I feel I have only just begun scratching the surface of all there is to know – but that is part of the fun of it. Working mainly with the travel industry is also something I really enjoy – even if I do get pretty severe travel envy at least once a week – but perhaps what’s surprised me the most is how much I love writing. That may sound rather stupid from someone who writes an often fairly word-y blog, but when this started it was all about photos. My writing still has some way to come, I think, but we’ll see what the future holds on that front (although I wouldn’t hold your breath for a novel, quite yet).Defender of the Nation, Edinburgh Castle

The other thing I mentioned last year was that I’d like to go on holiday again. It was very much a passing remark, however, I am pretty sure it wouldn’t have made it in at all, had it not been something I really wanted to happen. And happen it did. With friends scattered across the country – and indeed the globe – I have been lucky to go away several times over the past twelve months, in fact travels have come to rather define the year. There was a little trip to London last Christmas time, followed Buxton, Peak District, Millers Dale, Wriggly Tin, quarry, hiking, viewpointvery quickly by another to St Andrews, the early new year was a bit dull, but the end of February saw the adventure of the Wriggly Tin (a long weekend to the Peak district, partying it up the likes of which Buxton has never seen before…). It took a while after that, but as the season that held the somewhat misleading title of ‘summer’ rolled around I put those accumulating holidays into use: first was my trip to Yorkshire for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and less that eight weeks later I was heading south again – this time bound for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the Olympic Games in my capital city: London 2012. For anyone that was reading the blog around then, you’ll know that I had an absolutely fantastic trip, I didn’t shut up about the Olympics for weeks. But as the Jub-Olympic summer was drawing to a close I had other travels on my mind – my whirlwind trip to Moscow, Vienna and Bratislava. Let’s be honest, my summer’s travelling has dominated the last twelve months, it was utterly extraordinary, and something I doubt I will ever get the chance to repeat.My tickets for the Olympic Tennis - so excited!

Icing dribbling over the side of the cakeAnd that neatly brings me to the present day. Whilst I have no idea what the coming twelve months will hold I am pretty safe in suggesting that it will certainly hold more of three things that have filled the blog with lots and lots of images this year (away from all my gallivanting). They are, of course, dog walking (Keira isn’t going anywhere, after all), my attachment/addiction to a single app on my phone, Instagram, which has spawned the weekly round-up of Instagrammers Anonymous, and my other huge and overriding passion – food and drink. These three things have kept me busy over the last twelve months and I have no doubt that they will continue to flourish – who knows where they might take me.

To celebrate one year of Contemplating the Clouds I ran a week-long series called A Year In Photos, which involved me picking out my favourite 12 photos from the year (plus perhaps a bonus one on the side). Whilst the connections between the paired up photos were sometimes pretty tenuous, we all struggled through and seemed to quite enjoy them, so to advance on that it’s my self-promoting pleasure to follow this long-winded essay by seven days of (considerably shorter) posts – A Second Year in Photos.Monument to Peter the Great, the Moscow river and the cathedral of christ the saviour

All that’s left now is to say thank you. There would be very little point in me writing this blog if I didn’t think there were others out there reading it, so I’d like to extend a thank you to each and every one of your who reads the blog; much as it is an enormous cliché to say, it does mean a lot to me. It doesn’t matter whether you read every post, or just the odd one or two; if you’re the person in Edinburgh or Auckland that visits virtually every time I write a post, or you’re the person in Singapore, the Bahamas or Kazakstan who has visited just a handful of times, the very fact that you read it makes me happy.

And here is the perfect time to raise a glass of whatever is you happen to have handy (mine’ll be a G&T, please) and say here’s to a fantastic year of Contemplating the Clouds and procrastinating to our hearts’ content; and here’s to the future, whatever it may bring.


London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony: Utterly Mad, Utterly Inspired

SPOILER ALERT: if you’ve not seen the opening ceremony of the 30th Olympiad, don’t read on (unless you want to find out a couple of the surprises).

When I first heard that Danny Boyle had been asked to fill (and accepted) the role of creating and directing the opening ceremony for London 2012 I was quite excited. I love Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire – to name but two – and thought he’d make an excellent job of it. Then I realised that he somehow had to follow on from Beijing. Oh dear.

In these humble times of financial woe and belt-tightening how on earth could London compete with, what was widely cited as, the greatest opening ceremony of all time? My pessimism kicked in, surly it would be an awful, cringe-worthy cheap looking version of what had gone before. Even if it was as spectacular as Barcelona or Atlanta, that just wouldn’t cut the mustard – the world expects more these days.

But the world was not expecting Danny Boyle, Isles of Wonder, or what we surly must now call the ultimate opening ceremony.

When it was announced that they were going to take it in a completely different direction (to Beijing) I was quite relieved. That’s not to say I didn’t have doubts (I’m a horribly cynical person, after all), but I was glad that they weren’t going to try something we all knew couldn’t be done.

As the day got closer we started getting tantalising glimpses – the mock-up of the stadium, the interview with Boyle, the pictures of the stadium itself – and the excitement began to build. But what would it be? How were they going to portray Britain? We’re a bit of an awkward country when it comes to history – how could you differentiate between the nations without confusing us – let alone the rest of the world?

Flickr: PowderPhotography

The transformation from Britain’s green and pleasant lands – full of sheep, meadows and an orchestra – to a stadium fit to hold a ceremony on such a grand scale through the metaphor of the industrial revolution was so seamless you’d think it was as natural as closing a window when it rains. Although as one person put it on Twitter – only in Britain could we turn a clean up into performance art.

Those chimneys, the ‘molten metal’ flowing through the stadium like the river Thames, to make a ring (One ring to rule them all… surly what everyone was thinking) which would rise from the ground and move through the air (and chimneys) to interlock with four others. Britain’s industrial past making the floating, golden Olympic rings. And that, why that, was only the opening sequence.

Flickr: PowderPhotography

The ceremony was inspired. I’m not going to regale you with a blow-by-blow account (none of us could last through all of that), but my breath was well and truly taken. Nurses, children’s literature, music from pop to punk and grime. And the man who ‘invented’ the internet; This truly was for everyone.

Two parts really astounded me. Not that the rest was anything less than incredible, but two parts really stuck out; they made me, laugh, smile and almost weep. Firstly the moment a taxi drove into Buckingham Palace (surly against protocol) and Daniel Craig/James Bond got out. Amazing. Then a few moments of Is it?… No, surly not… No, it’ll be a double… No – it’s the actually Queen. Hats off to you Ma’am, I never thought you’d be up for something like that, but I’m so incredibly glad you were. How else would our reigning sovereign get to the ceremony? Being escorted by her most famous secret agent seems perfectly rational when you think about it… A quick flight down the Thames and through Tower Bridge (not CGI, apparently, BBC news say it was done for real – a first) and then a quick check from Bond before her majesty parachutes into the stadium. Hilarious. Humour. Now that truly is a British way to do the games.

Talking of humour brings me nicely on to my other favourite part. Rowan Atkinson is one of our nation’s finest comics – that is not in doubt – but I wouldn’t have put a bet on him appearing here. But then which part would I have predicted? Simply playing the piano at the side of an orchestra performing our most famous piece of Olympic music. And we all know what Chariots of Fire music means – St Andrews. Yes, the dream sequence. IT’S WEST SANDS!!!!! I was watching with a group of fellow St Andreans and had Twitter open. We almost jumped for joy, Twitter virtually exploded with excited alumni. I used to live two minutes from West Sands, so I have many fond memories of it – running down towards that beautiful skyline, the waves gently lapping around my feet, and yes, that music going through my head. Bah bah bah bah baaaaaaah bah, bah bah bah bah baaaaaaaaahhhhhh. I’m welling up just thinking about it. It was a fantastic VT, but completely lost on me. I was in my own world.St Andrews skyline from West Sands

And that is my point (it’s taken a while to get to it, I know) that ceremony was open to whatever it meant to you. Yes it had its enormous set-pieces, but it truly represented Britain and there was something for everyone. It was silly, slightly mad (ok it was entirely mad), a little eccentric, a little serious and it was funny. Some of that may be lost on foreign shores, but I think who we are is often lost in translation anyway. It may have been mad, but it was utterly glorious. Yes, the speeches were a little dull, and of course we all were losing the will to live during the athletes’ parade when, 25 minutes in, we’d only got to Bulgaria, but they always are and we always do – and there’s nothing that can be done about it. But the roar when Team GB entered the stadium showed just how much the UK is backing their team. Our greatest team.

The most inspired choice of the evening, however, was saved for the very end. For weeks we’ve been wondering who was going to light the cauldron, wondering which of our great Olympians would be given the honour. But they didn’t give it to any of them. A complete curve ball. Seven of our country’s brightest hopes for the future, each nominated by one of our sporting heroes. The motto of London 2012 is Inspiring a Generation, and so when we think about it, it does make perfect sense to give it to that generation. My generation. It was truly an inspired choice.

Flickr: Department Culture, Media and Sport

Dear World,

This is London calling, we’re hosting a bit of sporting get together. The whole world is invited, 204 countries are coming, 1 billion people are watching. Stand aside Beijing, we’re going to put on a show that will blow you away. Welcome to our country, welcome to our home. It’s time to inspire a generation.

Yours, ever faithfully,

GREAT Britain 


Instagrammers Anonymous: Another Busy Week

Another really odd week this week, but it’s gone by in a flash. From being in Callander and St Andrews last weekend, to preparing to go down to London tomorrow for the Olympics – they start tonight, had you heard? The media’s been pretty quiet about it, so you’d be forgiven for not realising – I feel like I haven’t stopped.

Ahead of trains, tennis, a certain 5 rings and drinking raspberry gin that will no doubt make up next week’s summary here’s this week in pictures – Instagrammers Anonymous – featuring the dog, and raspberry gin.

The dog proved her intellectual capabilities with a book on lemurs and Madagascar.Dog reading a book, instagram

This view brought a massive smile to my face.Welcome to st andrews signI bottled up my home made raspberry gin – helpfully editing the bottle’s original label and replacing it’s former contents.raspberry gin in a bottle with label

And to round it all off I made some muffins from the gin-soaked raspberries and glazed them with some of the actual gin.raspberry gin muffin

Fear not – it is almost the weekend, and I have a week off! Win. Oh, and it’s the Olympics! (not sure I’ve mentioned it enough). Whatever you are up to in the next few days I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am looking forward to tonight’s opening ceremony and my trip to London.





St Andrews – A Sunday Escape

I’ve said several times how much St Andrews still feels like home to me, in fact I was accused (possibly fairly) of ‘gushing’ when I last wrote about it in Grad week. But I love the place and do not feel the slightest shame in saying so.

After the out-pouring of nostalgia during this year’s Grad week (from lots of my former classmates, not just me) I decided that I had to go have a little visit. My friend Kat is still there, so it was just a case of finding a mutually suitable date. That date was Sunday.Welcome to St Andrews Sign

Having been to Callander on Saturday I probably should have stayed at home and got on with the million-and-one things on my ‘To Do’ list – I had a slight realisation of how little I have prepared for my September holiday last night; not to mention my imminent departure for Olympic fun in London this Saturday – however, that is not the makings of a fun time, so I got in the car and went back to the bubble.The ruins of St Andrews Cathedral

There is something about the little town, and as I drove over the crest of the hill that first gives you the vista across the spires, towers and beaches I couldn’t help but smile.

Looking through the entrance of st andrews cathedralAfter a quick catch-up, Kat and I headed of for a long, leisurely lunch at Mitchell’s (steak pie with carrots, broccoli and peppered mashed potatoes – not hugely summery, but suitable for the day – and the obligatory bottle of ‘Really Good Red’). Once we’d eaten more than we probably should have we went for a stroll round town to see just how much little had changed. From Market Street to Sallies Chapel and the Quad; the viewpoint behind MUSA that looks out over West Sands to the Castle, we wandered for half an hour or so before ‘accidentally’ finding ourselves outside Janetta’s – the world’s best ice cream parlour. And then, even more accidentally, finding ourselves inside.Wine glass and bottle

St Salvator's chapel clock towerA short while later we emerged victorious with a scoop of Alpine avalanche (chocolate and honeycomb in vanilla ice cream), white chocolate and raspberry ripple, blueberry cheesecake, and blackcurrant frozen yoghurt. Two scoops each, obviously, not even the power of Janetta’s could have got four scoops into each of us after lunch. On our merry way we ambled, down through the cathedral to the pier, back round by St Leonard’s School where we accidentally ended up in another shop – Luvians. When we emerged back into the grey light of the day I was clutching a couple of bottles and my bank account was a little lighter. But it was so worth it.

Corner of St Andrews CastleBack at Kat’s we tucked into the Earl Grey Gin, that I had brought (more on this to follow) and generally put the world to rights. If you’re minorly concerned that I mentioned the car followed by multiple types of alcohol, don’t worry I did the maths – I’m severely allergic to having my license revoked, a criminal record or being dead.

The last part of our day was a trip the ever-wonderful New Picture House, St Andrews’ cinema to see The Dark Knight Rises. And it was AWESOME!!!! It’s not often I come out of a film wanting to go straight back in and watching it again; but this time I was sorely tempted. Just the right amount of drama, escapism, creepy villains and bat-suits. What more does a guy need?

St Andrews pierBy the time it got to 9pm I thought it was time to battle my reluctance and head off home. I wanted to stay, but sadly with work calling for Monday morning and that list of things to do weighing heavily on my mind there was really only one choice. As the rain started falling from the sky, I drove back through the darkening Fife countryside and made it home about in time to pack my bag for the following morning and head to bed. A thoroughly exhausting weekend – not sure I’ve quite recovered yet – but one I wouldn’t trade for an easier life. I love St Andrews, and I want to go back. Now.Panoramic view of west sands, st andrews