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.

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.

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.