There’s a trend in the UK for tourist attractions to ‘light up’ in the winter months, just like Longleat did when I visited last winter. I’d heard about a light up at Waddesdon Manor, a National Trust property, on the news and had to visit.
The main light art event is called SOS (. . . – – – . . .) by Bruce Munro. The installation comprised of tents which light up to music and Morse code. In addition, the manor house was lit up with regular light shows by Woodroffe Bassett and had two illuminated wine-bottle candlesticks by Joanna Vasconcelos.
Waddesdon Manor had a Christmas fair with lots of stalls selling gifts and food. Hot coffee, melted marshmallows, and poutine helped to keep me going on a chilly and blustery visit. I even came away with a couple of gifts for Christmas.
Although SOS wasn’t quite as impressive as I thought it would be, combined with the Christmas fair and the manor house being lit up it was a very enjoyable few hours and definitely worth a visit.
Not long after my VIP experience with Mazda and their new MX-5 and lots of tweeting about it, Toyota starting flirting with me on Twitter trying to tempt me to look at their sports car, the GT86. After many years of driving MX-5s I couldn’t see me switching my allegiance from Mazda, but I’m always open to trying new things. So last weekend the Toyota press team delivered me a GT86 to try out and photograph.
The first thing that struck me about the GT86 were the looks. There’s no doubting it’s a very good looking and photogenic car. It clearly takes some design concepts from its ancestors like the Celica and looks classic Toyota both outside and in. When driving around I got lots of admiring looks.
Upon starting the car I found another great thing, the boxer engine. Having previously owned a Subaru Impreza, which also has a boxer engine with its distinctive sound, the engine sounded immediately similar albeit without the swoosh of a turbo. The bucket seats also made me reminisce of my Subaru days.
All of this makes the GT86 a drivers car – it’s a nice place to be, a great car to drive, and perfect for anyone wanting to stand out from the crowd.
What disappointed me about the car were the rear seats and the lack of gadgets. The car is a 2+2, two seats in the front, two in the back. But there’s so little space between the front and back seats that they’re unusable. The lack of gadgets on the GT86 was surprising, especially for a Japanese manufacturer. The dual zone climate control, touch-screen bluetooth stereo with satellite navigation, and gear change indicator were all welcome. But things I’d expect as standard were missing. No parking camera or sensors, no puddle lights, and a clock which has been lifted straight from the ’80s. The only ‘old’ technology I was thankful for was the handbrake, the modern push button ones just aren’t my thing.
Photography-wise I really wish I’d had the car in summer rather than autumn when the daylight hours are limited. I didn’t have time to experiment with lighting, but maybe next time I do a car shoot I will. I tried to get photographs which are a bit different to the ones you’ll see on any car review website, ones which highlight the features which make it a GT86, which make it unique.
A carbon-fibre-effect dashboard, looks good!
Who doesn't love a stop/start button.
When you start the car all the dashboard lights come on with a little show.
The GT86 with Weston-super-Mare pier behind. The side-on profile makes the car look very sporty.
The curves of the GT86 contract against the straight edges of the colourful beach huts.
That's a very tidy rear end.
An aggressive looking front-end.
In Oxford, the shiny car looks good against the old Cotswold-stone pub.
As well as photography, aviation is a major passion of mine… In fact, if I had my time again I’d probably have a career as a pilot or air crash investigator. It probably stems from growing up around aviation, my father worked on various aircraft (Concorde, Hercules, Tornado, Nimrod) and we both spent many hours on Microsoft Flight Simulator on the home computer.
The ‘real’ flight simulators were always out of reach, used only by airlines to train their pilots, but over recent years have become accessible to the public. Before today I’d done two flight simulator sessions – a static Boeing 737 simulator (April 2012) and a full motion 737 simulator (August 2015) – as well as having a real flying lesson in a Cessna.
Today I had a two hour experience with Fly a Flight. Fly a Flight run a 737 simulator built into a residential garage (will add that to my list of lottery win buys!). Although that might sound a bit odd, it’s actually been done really well and it’s the same simulator that Ryanair use. The simulator is based on a real 737, with seats from a 737, video screens and surround sound. All in all it’s the best simulator I’ve piloted, even better than the full motion one.
To get to grips with this simulator I took off from an airport I know well, Bristol Airport, and had a short hop over to Cardiff Airport. Next, I relived my recent Canadian holiday and took off from Toronto Pearson Airport, did a lap of the city, and landed there again. The instructor said I was doing well, and with lots of time we decided to make it a bit more interesting…
So I headed to St John’s Airport, also in Canada, to try flying in the fog with a cross-wind. When I was in St John’s on holiday earlier this year I got chatting to Air Canada pilot Tracy Barrett who said “taking off is easy, it’s the landing that’s hard”, and that’s certainly the case in fog. With fog the runway can be seen from a distance, then suddenly disappears from view, before reappearing again at the last minute. Once I’d mastered that, it was time for a final challenge.
Any aviation fan knows of Kai Tak airport – the airport in Hong Kong (now closed) where pilots had to dodge skyscrapers and do a sharp final turn to reach the runway. I had three landings here, in the dark, with fog, and a cross-wind. Luckily I avoided the skyscrapers, landed on the runway, and apart from my pounding heart and sweaty palms there were no dramas.
Yes, a flight simulator in a garage... complete with the side of a fuselage.
The simulator is based on a full size 737 cockpit with real controls.
Sitting in the captains seat, the views are pretty realistic.
This device is the FMS (flight management system), also known as the FMC (flight management computer).
Sat on a foggy runway, ready for take off.
The 737 is a twin engine aircraft - push these two thrust levels forward and off you go.
The aircraft equivalent of a handbrake.
The yoke has a checklist on it, so the pilots are reminded of what to do at critical phases of the flight.
The flight director (auto pilot) where the pilots can set the desired heading (direction), speed, or height.
Just back from a wet and windy weekend in Wales, I thought I’d quickly share just ten photos from the trip (yes I know I’ve a huge backlog of Canada photos to share… all in good time!).
I’ve been to south Wales a few times in autumn and winter but it’s the first time the weather has been quite so bad. Rainstorms and gusty winds overnight meant some missed sleep, but luckily the worst of the daytime weather came when I was under cover.
Saturday morning was rained out, and Plantasia in Swansea offered a watertight glass dome filled with plants and animals. As the weather brightened up a lunchtime trip to Verdi’s Cafe in Mumbles gave the opportunity for views across Swansea Bay. Being close to 5th November there were lots of fireworks to choose from in the area, and seeing a bonfire and fireworks in the shadow of Coity Castle was a treat.
On Sunday a trip to the Cats Protection Bridgend Adoption Centre left me feeling a little sad that there were so many cats waiting to be adopted. But I was perked up by a visit to St Fagans, and all the dark clouds didn’t lead to a drenching. This was my second visit to the museum, which is a huge site with various buildings from all over Wales. The buildings are dismantled brick-by-brick and rebuilt at St Fagans. The St Teilo’s Church, for example, took twenty years to dismantle and move. Autumn is a great time to visit and see all the buildings set amongst the colourful trees.
A wet weekend produced a small but lovely waterfall at St Fagans National Museum of History.
Looking up a chimney and getting rewarded with some colourful lens flare at St Fagans National Museum of History.
The Newbridge War Memorial, donated to the St Fagans National Museum of History in 1995.
An artistic little window in St Teilo's Church, from the late 12th century and moved to St Fagans in 1985.
A watermill nestled amongst the trees at St Fagans.
Fireworks at Coity Castle.
More fireworks at Coity Castle.
In the pitch black, the camera could still capture Coity Castle.
The seafront at Mumbles is very pretty, and if you ever go be sure to go to Verdi's for an ice cream.
It’s been a few weeks since the last blog post, due mainly to a wonderful trip to Canada. Before I start to process the 700 photos from there it’s time to share these with you, just ten photos from the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.
In 2015 the Bristol Balloon Fiesta celebrated its 37th year, and although I used to live close by this was my first visit. The hot air balloons do an early morning and late afternoon ascent on each day, and wanting to guarantee good photos I opted to check the weather and head there for the afternoon and evening.
The weather was perfect for taking photos, but it drew in people in their masses. The Fiesta is a free event, and it got so busy that Bristol city centre became gridlocked and the organisers had to turn people away. I’d heard an estimate for 250,000 visitors, and it’s by far the most people I’ve ever seen in one place. It explains why it took me nearly three hours to get out of the car park after the event – I hope for better traffic management in 2016!
The afternoon ascent and gentle wind gave balloons the chance to take off and drift towards the city and Clifton Suspension Bridge. After sunset the night glow started – tethered balloons firing their burners to light up the sky. And to finish some fireworks.
I’d have liked to have gone up in a balloon to get some photos from the sky looking down but didn’t get the chance. When I was a child my father worked with someone who was on the team that flew Richard Branson and Per Linstrand on the first transatlantic hot air balloon flight in 1987. I had the chance to go in a hot air balloon with them, and at the last moment got scared and decided against it. A decision I rue to this day. I will fly in a hot air balloon one day!
A photo brimming with hot air balloons, all drifting towards Bristol city centre.
The balloons add even more colour to a beautiful blue sky.
Everyone loved the penguin balloons.
Bristol Balloons and Bailey Balloons are both based in Bristol and why it's so famous for ballooning.
Another big name in ballooning, Cameron Balloons.
I wasn't the only one taking photos of the balloons.
There were 250,000 people at the Fiesta, this photo shows how popular it was.
As the daylight fades, the night glow begins. Tethered balloons fire up to glow brightly.