March 30, 2014

World Pooh Sticks Championships 2014

Anyone who grew up in the UK probably did so with tales of Winnie The Pooh, A. A. Milne's teddy bear with a thing for honey.  I'm sure the stories have travelled far beyond the UK too.  As well as the Winnie The Pooh stories, there's game called Pooh Sticks... it's a simple game where you drop sticks into a river from a bridge, and the one who's stick flows first to the other side is the winner.

What you might not know is that this game is famous in Oxfordshire, England, as the World Pooh Sticks Championships takes place here each year on the River Thames, attracting folk from as far afield as Australia!  Luckily for me it's right on my doorstep.

This was my third time at the Championships, and I'm glad to say that the weather was just right today for taking photos.  Last years event was postponed due to snow, and the rescheduled event in November was nearly a wash out was it poured with rain.

I took along my camera and got the photographs you'll see below.  Some of the photos required a bit more risk than usual as I wanted to get photos from the bridges looking back at the competitors.  I did this by mounting my camera on a monopod and holding it out at arms length over the water - nothing focusses the mind like several hundred pounds of camera dangling above a flowing river!  

The monopod is actually one of the three legs from my Three Legged Thing tripod called Brian, the leg cleverly screws off and I'm able to mount the tripod head on this leg to angle the camera.  This is where a lightweight camera, lens, and tripod are a real benefit.

The next challenge was to take the photo.  My Olympus E-M1 camera comes with a rather neat trick for this, built in wifi that allows you to control it using a mobile phone app.  So I was able to beam the live view image from the camera to my phone, and press a button when I wanted to take the shot.  I set the camera to take lots of photos in quick succession, which meant that hopefully one of the photos would be the one I wanted.  As it happens, I ended up with 196 photos which I've narrowed down to the 9 best.

You might notice that some of the photos look a bit curved - this is because some were taken with my 7.5mm Samyang Fisheye lens.  This lens allows me to cram a lot into a photo, and does curve things a little.  It's certainly one of my favourite lenses.

Pooh and Tigger decided to photobomb my photo of the banner with all the sponsor details!

The River Thames makes a great setting for the Championships.

The competitors drop their coloured sticks (so they know which one belongs to who!), taken from under the bridge.

With the camera on the monopod at arms length, a photo of more sticks being dropped.

We have splashdown!  The sticks hit the water and the race is on!

The competitors rush to the other side of the bridge to see who's stick will win, it looks like red and green are in the lead.

Another bridge is used as there's lots of competitors.

In the shadow of Wittenham Clumps, Oxfordshire, a boat is positioned to fish out the sticks so they can be reused.

As well as the Pooh Sticks fun, there were food and drinks stalls, a bouncy castle, face painting, and more.



March 23, 2014

A visit to The National Memorial Arboretum

2014 marks one hundred years since the start of The Great War (World War One), and so a couple of weeks ago was a good time to visit The National Memorial Arboretum.  I'd visited a couple of years previously, and nearly froze in the process, this time it was much warmer in the spring-like weather.

The National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire is the UK's centre for remembrance.  It's 150 acres of maturing woodland that contains memorials to armed forces and civil services.

Although war and personal sacrifice are such sombre subjects, and the memorials are so thought provoking, the Arboretum manages to offer a unique environment that welcomes everyone of all ages.  When I was there I saw a mixture of war veterans, young adults, and families wandering around either paying their respects or learning about the history of what they were seeing.

I'd recommend everyone to visit just once, just to see, just to think.

This memorial, to RAF personnel, features a stunning mixture of silver metal and coloured ceramic tiles.  It's so big that I had to use by fisheye lens to fit it all in.

This memorial features a soldier pulling his backpack on a rope.  This is one time when I've been glad my Olympus OMD E-M1 has a flip out screen to make low-down shots much easier.

In the UK poppies are usually worn in November, bought from The Royal British Legion.  This memorial features hundreds of poppies, the red really standing out against the green grass. 

One of the more colourful and random things you'll find at the arboretum.  It's from The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain.

The Armed Forces Memorial is the centrepiece of the arboretum.  

The Armed Forces Memorial shows the names of the 16,000 armed services personnel who have lost their life since the end of World War Two.

This hole in the wall is designed for the sun to shine through at eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

This obelisk is at the top of the Armed Services Memorial.

On the memorial for the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps, the pathway is cleverly cut out to the shape of their emblem.


March 15, 2014

Happy Birthday, little MX-5!

Anyone that knows me knows that as well as photography I have a passion for cars, and in particular Mazda MX-5s, the small Japanese two-seater sports car.  2014 marks 25 years since the MX-5 was first released, and 20 years since the UK MX-5 Owners Club was born too.

I’m currently on my third MX-5.  My first was a pristine silver 1999 (mk2 generation) MX-5, which I bought in 2007.  I didn’t know much about MX-5’s at the time, other than their legendary reliability, and saw it as a safe bet for my first convertible car experience.  I had a great time with it, but realised I wanted a few more toys…  


And so later that year I sold that car and bought a 2005 (mk2.5 generation) MX-5 1.8i Sport, which was a slightly better style, and came with heated leather seats and air conditioning.  I’m one of the rare convertible drivers in the UK who will have the roof down in dry conditions any time of year, even in the depths of winter.


I kept that MX-5 until 2012 when I decided it was time for a change for a winter, and moved to a Subaru Imprezza.  After a while of fun (and scaring myself!) in the Imprezza, which is probably the best all-round car I’ve ever owned, I decided to start my hunt for an MX-5 I’d been thinking about for a while – a white mk1 generation car with pop-up headlights.  After searching high-and-low I finally found one under an hour away and after a quick test drive bought it on my first sight of it.


It’s a 1995 MX-5, and for a car that’s now 18 years old, it’s in very good condition.  It's actually a Eunos, the first sold in Japan and imported to the UK by an enthusiast a few years ago.  It also has a very low mileage, and so when it reached it’s 60,000 mile service I decided it deserved a few treats and a few photos.



The MX-5's favourite place, twisty Welsh mountain roads (with the roof down of course!).

60,000 miles old!

The MX-5 gets full four wheel laser alignment from Tony at Wheels In Motion (http://www.wheels-inmotion.co.uk/) with their custom 'fast road set up'.  This makes the car feel much more planted on the road.

The MX-5 gets the Terraclean (http://www.terraclean.co.uk/) treatment at Scotlands Ash Garage (http://www.scotlandsashgarage.co.uk/).  This clears out all the carbon deposits from the engine to make it run smoother.


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