Top Five from 2018

As is now customary, the PistonHeads.com Photography Forum had a thread to share your top five photos from the previous year, in this case 2018. As I had selected my five photos I also decided to share them on my blog, as I have done for 2017, 2016 and 2012.

I was surprised to open the curtains in Owen’s bedroom on morning to see a partridge perched on our fence (annoyingly nowhere near our pear tree). I grabbed my camera, opened the window and took a few shots before it flew off. The was the only photo I took with my old Canon 70-200mm lens last year – I love the quality of the image, but the fact that the lens did not even leave the house was part of my reason for part exchanging it towards my Fuji kit.

Jen and I love the Sandleigh National Trust Tea Room in Croyde, their cream tea is the best I have had! With an inquisitive toddler, the fact it is in a walled garden is great, Owen could explore on his own, still in the safety of the garden. The was one of the first portraits I took with my Fuji X-T2 (using the kit lens) and I was really pleased with how it came out.

Another shot from our trip to Croyde, although this was taken from the Capstone Parade in Ilfracombe. It was the first real landscape shot I took with my X-T2 – and ideal for trying out the Velvia film simulation.

Since swapping my heavy Canon camera gear for a lighter Fuji set up, I am more likely to have my camera with me. In the past I would not have taken my camera for an excursion to the playground, but the little Fuji is great for this sort of trip out and means I can get photos like this one of Owen! He was playing hide and seek in this little cabin, so I set up the shot and waited for him to pop his head out. I really feel that Owen’s personality is captured here.

I posted this photo from the Trent and Mersey Canal just after taking it, but it made my top 5 because I like the colours and the reflections.

Ten Year Challenge

The #10yearschallenge has been all over social media the past few weeks, so I thought I would join in. I cheated a bit pushed the limit of the rules, as the 2009 photo was taken right at the end of 2009. Come to thick of it, the recent photo was taken at the back end of 2018, making it more of a nine year challenge…

The 2009 photo was taken by my Dad, we had spent Christmas in Perth, there was so much snow that the road to Glenshee was closed, so instead of going snowboarding with my brother, I went on another photo walk with Dad – we had already been out on Christmas day. The photo was one of a series my Dad took of me on Moncreiffe Island, in the middle of the River Tay in Perth, however this one is my favourite – it was the one I used on the online auction dating profile where Jen found me! I still regularly wear the blue Finisterre jacket, even if it looking a bit tired now. It is still a great jacket and I think I will be buying a new one in 2019.

The recent photo was an iPhone selfie on a local bike ride back in November. I remember the light in Tile Hill Wood was perfect, so I just had to stop for a photo! This was back before I had sorted out my MTB photography kit, but fortunately even the front camera on my iPhone 7 works well with good light.

From looking at the two photos I do not seem to have changed much, I am still have the same stubble and am messing about in the woods. However, in 2009 I was in the woods in Scotland because after travelling up there I could not go snowboarding. In 2018/9 I cannot even remember the last time I thought about snowboarding, mountain biking has well and truly taken over! Another thing that I realised has changed is that I have not been out with my Dad on a photography adventure for a long time – something that I need to address in 2019!

2019

Happy New Year!

2019 is going to be an exciting year for us – Owen will be getting a little brother! Baby Craik is due in March, hopefully he will wait a bit longer than Owen did before coming out! Owen seems to be excited about being a big brother, he has already been shopping with us to pick out a special toy for his new brother – he was very decisive and chose an elephant soother – hopefully it will be loved as much as Owen’s blue rabbit toy! We are currently busy preparing for Baby Craik’s arrival, my office is being relocated to the dining room (meaning a lot of sorting/decluttering in both rooms) and Owen is being promoted from cot to proper bed. I’m sure that wrangling two little boys is going to take up most of our attention this year, but we do have a few other exciting things planned!

June is going to be especially busy, with Coventry Motofest, Monster Jam in Coventry, Malverns Classic MTB festival (including Strider racing for Owen) and Owen will be racing again at the Strider Cup at Kingsbury Water Park. In September we’re planning on going away for a week, somewhere in the UK, ideally near a beach – but for the first time in ten years, not Croyde! Pembrokeshire is looking favourite, but if you know anywhere good to holiday with two small boys, please let me know!

We saw in 2019 with our friends in York, which was really nice. Especially as Owen is now big enough to play with the other children. Owen loved having access to lots of toys, and a few slightly older friends to play with. This meant the adults could have a good catch up. I really hope Owen is as good with his baby brother as William, Billy, Violet and Catherine were with him! New Years Day continued in the same style, albeit at a different house. The kids had a hotdog party and the adults had a burger party – my sort of party! Owen slept through most of the long drive home, but it gave Jen and I plenty of time to reflect on how much we always enjoy seeing our friends in York and also to discuss our goals for the year ahead.

As in 2017 and 2018, I have set myself some goals, stating them publicly gives me more motivation to get them done. Having said that, I had a few fails last year.

Get my weight down to 85kg

This is carried over from last year, as I ended the year weighing 88kg. I got close to 85kg in the spring, but got carried away with too much nice food in Spain.

Reinstate my mid week cardio session

I used to get out on my bike, or go for a swim pretty much every Wednesday evening, but I have slacked off over the last few months. I need to get back on it. I also want to start climbing, after my taster in 2017.

Do a strength workout at least once a week

Jen bought me some resistance bands for my birthday, I am ashamed to say that four weeks later they are still in the packaging. There is also a new gym opening next to my office. I have no excuses for not fitting in at least one workout a week!

Ride at the pumptrack at least once a month

After riding at the pumptrack last month, and realising what a good workout it is, I want to make sure I do more of it in 2019. My plan for 2018 had been to ride at the pumptrack with Owen, but it didn’t quite work out, as he still isn’t confident enough to ride without me following close behind. Hopefully 2019 will be the year we can ride together at the pumptrack. As a stretch goal, I would like to be able clear some tabletop jumps and/or manual through some rollers.

Ride at a bike park

I used to think that downhills had to be earned, but after doing some van assisted riding in Spain with Basque MTB last year my opinion changed. Not killing yourself on the climb gives you the energy to focus on the downhill, and doing laps of the same trail really allows you to hone your skills, so I can now see the benefits of doing an uplift day at a bike park. 417 Bike Park is an hour’s drive from Coventry (about the same as Cannock Chase), so I will be booking a day there fairly soon! I hear they also have good trails for kids, so maybe Owen will get to ride there too.

Clock over 100 active hours on Strava

I have added this goal mainly because I “only” clocked 99 active hours in 2018 and it seems a good target to aim for.

New blog server

I have been dabbling with AWS for a few years now, and have identified a few ways that I can improve the server set up I have for this blog. I would also like to move it to blog to WordPress 5.0 and write a new custom theme. All geeky stuff, but as my day job is getting more and more project management based I like to keep my technical skills sharp.

Take control of my open tabs in Safari

I have been thinking for a while that I have too many open tabs in Safari across my two Macs and iPhone. I counted (well used the “Bookmarks” menu on the Macs and “Close all tabs” button on iOS) almost 400 open tabs, so need to work through and close them. I am sure that there are some duplicates and ones that I opened for something i was researching, but never got around to implementing. I am going to try and close a few each time I use Safari.

Replace my ageing iMac

I have been thinking that I would do this the last few years, but keep stretching it out for “one more year”. However, now that it will not run the latest version on macOS, is running out of space on the hard disk and is incredibly slow, the time has come. There are two things making this difficult – deciding between an iMac, Mac Mini or MacBook Pro and saving up for it!

Do some night photography

I always look at astrophotography in awe, and enjoyed doing some night landscape photography when I lived in Rugby, but haven’t done any in ages. Now that I have switched camera systems to Fuji, and I am more interested in photography again I would like to get out and try some night photography. Hopefully I will be able to get my Dad to join me…

Detail my MR2

I took the MR2 out for a quick spin on Sunday and realised that I last washed it in 2016! After the Peak District hoon, I know I have not driven it much, but it deserves better! I bought some special Japanese car wax for Jen’s Yaris, I think it would also work well on the MR2.

Get my MR2 to 60,000 miles by its MOT in April

I actually set this goal after its last MOT, when it had 57,239 miles on the clock and I was disappointed that it had done less than 2,000 miles in the previous year. Unfortunately I forgot to check the milage last time I drove it, so have no idea how likely I am to meet my goal.

Drink more whisky

A strange resolution I know! I am not a big drinker, but do enjoy the occasional wee dram of single malt whisky. However people have latched on to this and I am being bought whisky faster than I drink it! I currently have ten bottles (plus one miniature), with six that haven’t even been opened. I am still yet to finish the Tomatin twelve year old that I bought when we visited the distillery in 2014!

I got this off to a good start by seeing in the new year drinking a dram of Tasmanian whisky, that our host Will had been given as a gift. As a Scotsman I usually only drink Scottish whisky, but I doubt I will have another chance to try Tasmanian whisky, so I gave it a go. Now to make a dent in my own collection…

A look back at 2018

2018 has been an exciting year! Owen got a new bike (and had his first bike race), Jen got a new car and I got a new camera, which has encouraged me to take more photos.

I We had a great holiday in Spain, with our friends Nicki and Mat, where I managed to squeeze in a day mountain biking with Basque MTB. We also had our first family European roadtrip, to visit my family in France and a rainy week in Croyde!

Aside from all the adventures we have had some fun family time without straying too far away from home, making the most of the glorious weather we had this summer. We spent a lot of time visiting zoos. We had annual passes to Twycross, where the photo at the top of this post was taken (by Jen), in the “Lorikeet Landing” enclosure. Our pass also got us into other zoos, including Chester Zoo, which combined with visits to Chester Ice Cream Farm and our friends Richard and Anna made for a great weekend away! My little brother also treated us to a trip to London Zoo, which was both Owen’s first trip on the fast train and to the centre of London (having only visited Hackney, by car, previously). As much as we enjoyed, and would recommend, the zoo pass, we have not renewed it. We will take a few years off to visit other attractions, and maybe get another one when Owen is a little bit older, so will be able to experience the zoo through new eyes.

At the start of the year Owen was only just taking his first steps, now he is running around, exploring everywhere. Except where you want him to go, in typical toddler fashion. He has also developed his own interests – he still likes cars and bikes, but what he really loves are construction vehicles. I have no idea where he gets that from! His personality is really coming through – he knows what he wants and can be quite stubborn about getting it. He is also very chatty, and still a charmer. This year Owen has moved through two classes at nursery and made some friends. The teachers have been very pleased with his development – I think they were a bit surprised when he was able to recite the whole of his favourite book to them. Sometimes I think he is getting too clever, like when we visited the Apple Store a few weeks ago and within second of walking in, he asked me for a new iPad!

At the start of the year I set some goals, I also did a mid year update back in July, but here are the final results:

Get my weight down to 85kg

Fail! My weight seems to have hovered around 87kg, it did spend a while nearer to 86kg, but after a good Christmas it was back up to 88kg this morning. What has happened though is that I have had to buy a load of new clothes, as none of my old ones fit any more. That has to be a good sign, right?

Get my fitness back to where it was in October

Up until the end of November I really felt like I was the fittest I have ever been. However, I had a cold for what felt like the whole of December, and took my foot of the gas a bit. My first proper rides back I really struggled, especially at the pumptrack. I have been following MTB Fitness and Matt has really helped with my motivation. I’m sure I’ll be back to where I was, and hopefully fitter by the spring.

Improve my MTB skills

I went on an MTB skills course, which was a good start, however I haven’t really followed it up. I am defiantly better at manuals and track stands, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Where I do feel that I have improved is at riding technical trails, which is probably more useful than the showy trials skills I wanted to learn.

Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at Cannock Chase

Fail! This should have been easy! My excuse for not checking this is down to not getting there, rather than still being scared of it. I have ridden far more technical trails this year, including on my hardtail whilst on holiday in Devon. There have also been a lot of diversions on the Monkey Trail, which features Tom, Dick and Harry, so I have tended to avoid it when I have been at Cannock. I did make it down the Devil’s Stair case for the first time last week, admittedly helped by the tricky step being removed, but I am still going to claim it.

Ride at a new trail centre

I am going to have to count the ride I did at Lady Cannings in Sheffield for this. Even though I’m not sure that can be classed as a trail centre. I had planned a trip to Scotland with my friend Ali, but life seems to have got in the way. I was also planning to ride at 417 Bike Park for my birthday, but had a cold, so didn’t feel like I would make the most of it. I’ve also been concentrating more on riding natural terrain…

Ride more natural terrain

Yes! I can certainly check this goal off! My ride at the Long Mynd with Andy feels like ages ago. The day I did with BasqueMTB in Spain was one of the highlights of the year, even if I was a bit out of my depth on the steep rocky trails. They did however set me up well for the loop I rode around Lady Bower Reservoir in the Peak District at the end of the summer. I felt that it was fitness holding me back there, rather than my bike skills. When I unexpectedly found some technical trails in Croyde, I managed to ride them, even though I was on my hardtail, which wasn’t really the best bike for it. As fun as trail centres are, getting out into the hills is my favourite part of mountain biking!

Do some trail maintenance

Yes! I have done a bit of trail maintenance around my local trails in Coventry, ranging from small bits of tidying on a ride, to helping some local lads make a jump track. I also spent a day with Chase Trails at Cannock Chase, working on their new Snake and Adders section. Now that I’ve done a full day with them, I’ll be making more effort to stop and lend a hand for a while when I am over there riding on a Sunday.

Drive the MR2 more

This is a hard one to quantify. I have been making more effort to drive the MR2, and I have really enjoyed to occasions where I’ve been able to go for a fun drive in it. Such as a pointless Sunday drive earlier in the year, or when I used it to run an errand to Staffordshire, stopping off to do some photography on the way back. I did manage a track session at Silverstone, but now that I am working reduced hours, I can’t justify the cost of a full trackday.

Take more photographs on my DSLR

At the start of the year I couldn’t see myself selling my DSLR, however switching to a Fuji mirrorless camera has invigorated my photography. I have probably taken more photographs in the last three months than the rest of the year! Being able to take it with me on bike rides too is a real game changer for me. There also seems to be a good community around the Fuji cameras, which has helped with both learning the new system and motivation. I also mentioned that I would like to get my Orange Four into the GMBN Bike Vault, which I did.

Learn to juggle

Fail! Juggling well and truly fell by the wayside after about March. I’ve only recently found my juggling balls after Owen hid them for a few months.

Looking at my Strava statistics, through the handy Veloviewer graphic below, I beat my active days from last year, although I think that if I ignored commuting I would be way down. I matched 2017 for elevation, but I have a feeling Strava counted the elevation from the Basque MTB uplift van, even though I paused Strava whilst in the van. Just missing out on 100 active hours was annoying, I must admit I did consider sneaking in another ride to get a round number, but I will have to leave it as a goal for 2019.

Even with all the crap that has been happening in the news, 2018 has been a pretty good year for me. 2017 was always going to be a tough year to follow, but work, personal projects, mountain biking, photography and of course Owen have kept me busy and on my toes! Having the last few weeks at home with Jen and Owen, to relax and catch up on some jobs has been very welcome. Now we are up in York spending New Years Eve with some of our friends.

Riding with my Camera

At first glance the photo above may just look like a snap of my hardtail mountain bike, like many I have taken over the last few years. Look closer, and you will notice the magical Fuji Velvia colours and the shallow depth of field, giving away that it wasn’t captured on my iPhone, but a proper camera!

Getting out for a bike ride with my camera was one of my goals for 2018 (a failed goal carried over from 2017) and part of the reason behind my switch from Canon to Fuji cameras. The final pieces in the jigsaw were getting the Fuji 23mm f2 prime lens, which is smaller and lighter than the “kit lens” and a Lowepro SH 110 II Adventura camera bag, which was the smallest camera bag I could find to fit the Fuji X-T2 and 23mm f2 lens combination. This set up weighs just under 1kg and fits in the top of my hydration pack.

As I am still feeling under the weather with the cold that has scuppered my riding plans for the past few weekends, I only went for a local ride – the Kenilworth loop which I used to ride most Friday afternoons, before I stopped working on Fridays. The December morning light was really pretty, so combined with having my camera with me, the ride took on a new dimension. I slowed down a bit, taking in the scenery and looking for photo opportunities. However, the reality is that Coventry is not the most photogenic place, but I did prove out my kit and will be taking my camera for more rides in the future…

Pumptrack

Recently the real world seems to have got in the way of my planned bike rides. Including last weekend when I had planned a day at 417 Bikepark, but still hadn’t really got over the cold that had prevented me riding the previous weekend. This was particularly annoying as I had bought myself a full face helmet (Fox Proframe) in anticipation of the higher speeds on an uplift day. A full face helmet was possibly overkill, but I would rather not have to have my jaw wired shut for six weeks, like my best mate did after a big “over the bars” crash on my stag do! Despite my cold, I still wanted to get out for a ride. The helmet would have been a bit over the top to wear on a gentle local ride, but I thought I could get away with it at the pumptrack!

I decided to go to the pumptrack at Olton, near Solihull. I had taken Owen to ride there on his balance bike earlier in the year, and thought at the time it was a bit too big for him, but perfect for me! I had also recently watched the GMBN “How to get fit riding at the pumptrack” video, and decided that I should try to add some pumptrack sessions into my training regime.

This was my first time at the pumptrack without Owen, so I could go all out without having to keep an eye out for Owen (or anyone else, as I had the track to myself). I dropped in for my first run, pumped the downslopes, carved the berms, but still needed to put in a few pedal strokes to make it to the top of some of the hills. The lap took forty seconds, but when I checked my heart rate on my Apple Watch – it was up at 185bpm (roughly my maximum). Not bad for less than a minute of work!

After letting my heart rate drop down below 150bpm I set off again. And again, And again. I could feel my technique getting better after each lap, I wasn’t needing to pedal as much, but my legs were getting tired. Who knew that riding round in circles, without pedalling, was such hard work? After eight laps I decided to push through and round it up to ten. By then I was feeling sick – I’m not sure how much of it was down to the lingering cold, or if it was just down to how hard I had pushed myself. Whichever way, adding something new to my training certainly allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and push myself – and the thing is with pumptracks is that the faster you go the more fun it is!

Toyota Yaris

Meet the replacement for Jen’s Fiat 500 – a Toyota Yaris Bi-Tone in “Cyan Splash” blue! As much as we all loved the 500, or “Mummy’s white car” as Owen called it, Jen really needed something a bit bigger, with 5 doors. We were also a matter of months away from running three cars over ten years old. Cars which seem to have a knack for breaking down at the same time.

We did a tour of local garages, but as soon as we saw a Yaris identical to this one at the Toyota dealer Jen was smitten. The good news was that the Yaris ticked all the practical boxes – it feels bigger inside than my BMW, and fits Owen’s pushchair in the boot. I also discovered that in What Car’s 2018 Reliability Survey, the petrol Yaris got a perfect score – no owners reported any faults! The bad new was that the colour that Jen liked was only available on the top of the range model, which was over budget. It was only when we got home that Jen discovered that the dealer had a few pre-registered ones on the forecourt with less than 100 miles on the clock and priced nearer her budget.

The technology in the Yaris is a big step up from the 500 – most importantly for Jen it has DAB and Bluetooth music streaming, without me having to modify the audio system! However I think some of the spec choices from Toyota are a bit strange – auto dimming headlamps, but no auto lights for example. Even my fourteen year old BMW has that! I am glad that Toyota didn’t use their standard clock module, which seems to have been used on most of their models in the last twenty years – the one with the pointless “:00” button, that is in my MR2 Roadster. The controls on the Yaris seem very sensitive, I find it harder to drive smoothly than the 500, especially if I’ve just jumped out of one of my cars, which require far more input. The brakes are especially sharp!

We haven’t been on any adventures in the Yaris yet – for the first few days it was tucked away in my garage, so that I could give it a thorough detail and protect the paint with Soft-99 Fusso wax, and other than a trip to Blenheim Palace, we have just driven it locally. However now that we have a choice of cars for family outings I am sure it will get used more than the 500 was recently!

I had been meaning to borrow the Yaris for a proper shoot, however my lack of free time and shorter days have conspired against me. I was able to grab this shot whilst I was out in the car. I only had my Fuji X-T2 and new 23mm f2 prime lens with me, so it was a case of park up, frame the shot, click and drive off in a couple of minutes. I am looking forward to doing a proper shoot at some point though.

Farewell to the 500

After nine and a half years of faithful service, Jen’s Fiat 500 has gone to a new home. Jen sold it to her sister, so I am sure we will see it again in the future. I am yet to do a photoshoot with the replacement car, although it has popped up on my Instagram stories, but stay tuned…

Jen had the 500 when we met, in 2010, so it feels strange not having it around. We had some great adventures in it. The first one I remember was going to see Faithless play in Nottingham. It was a great gig, but when we came out of the arena the city was white – covered in snow! This was before I was insured to drive the 500, or indeed had fitted it with winter tyres, but Jen did a great job of getting us home safely. Not only was it tricky driving round an unfamiliar city with all the road markings hidden by snow, there were a lot of drunken people, who seemed very excited about the snow, playing in the road.

The 500 carried Jen and I on trips to Scotland (at least twice), Croyde (at least three times) and even to a Pistonheads Sunday Service at Morgan factory (after I had a tyre blow out on the MR2). Last year we had to use it to transport all three of us to Chester for Rich and Anna’s wedding, as three of our cars managed to break down at the same time and the 500 was the easiest to fix.

Writing this post made me realise just how much the 500 had been a part of my life. I have had four cars since meeting Jen – my old MX-5, my new MX-5, the MR2 Roadster and my red BMW. Until a few weeks ago Jen had only had the 500! For most of this time the 500 was the sensible car, used whenever we had people or things to transport, including a lot of Ikea and tip runs during the 119 Project.

I posted this picture back in 2012, but as it is still one of my favourite car photos I thought I could get away with reposting. It was taken on the industrial estate behind my old flat in Rugby. I seem to remember I had dropped Jen off for a haircut and drove round town taking photos of the car until it was time to pick her up.

Autumn Colours on the Trent and Mersey Canal

Recently I realised that although I spend a lot of time at Cannock Chase, I only ever see the mountain bike trails, and vowed to explore some more – ideally with my camera! This weekend I had to pick up an eBay purchase so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and have a photography stop on the way home – actually I killed three birds with one stone, as I gave my Toyota MR2 a good run out too! The weather even played ball, as it was one of those sunny, crisp autumnal mornings. The previous day I had mentioned to Jen that I thought the autumn colours were particularly pretty this year. Maybe it is down to the nicer than usual weather (or global warming)?

I stopped right at the northern edge of the Cannock Chase AONB, in a village called Great Haywood. I’d chosen the location because there were two canals, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal and the Trent and Mersey Canal, in addition to the River Trent. The area nearest to where I had parked was actually the most photogenic, especially with the autumn colours reflecting in the water. It was a great way to break up a journey and something I am going to try to do again in future.

Softplay Portrait

I grabbed this photo of Owen in the softplay at Rock Up in Birmingham. Jen and I had taken him there so that he could show Jen his climbing skills. However, knowing that there was softplay and toy trucks that he could be playing with, Owen didn’t want to do any climbing and spent the session in the softplay.

At first Owen was the only child in the softplay so I took the opportunity to join him in the ball pit with my camera. This resulted in the photo above, which is one of my favourite portraits. I would love to say that I set up the lighting and coordinated Owen’s t-shirt to the walls, but once I had spotted the shot I just had to quickly crank the ISO up on my camera, as it was pretty dark, and capture the best expression from Owen.

Shot with: Fuji X-T2 and 18-55mm lens at 1/40s, f4.0 at ISO 3200, processed in Lightroom CC Classic.