16 Jan 2018

Electrifying Marrakesh-Formula E

I have never seen a FormulaE -electric racing formula race so I am not really qualified to comment on it but my brother went to the Formula E ePrix in Marrakesh, Morocco last weekend and he has kindly let me use his story and photos. Formula E is gaining traction with many of the world's leading car manufacturers including Porsche already entering or about to field cars in the series. Over to my brother's story.

Crosby, Stills and Nash's 1969 Marrakesh Express famously sung the praises of "Colored cottons hang in air, Charming cobras in the square, Striped Djellebas we can wear at home" and half a century later that image of Marrakesh as a city agreeably stuck in a touristic time warp remains. Which could not be further from the truth. Yesterday I attended the Marrakesh ePrix at which the accompanying photos were taken. This is an international race for cars that superficially resemble their more familiar Formula One counterparts but which differ radically under the bodywork, because they are 100% electric powered.
Formula E, which races in many major cities including Hong Kong, New York and Berlin, is a laudable attempt by motor sport to clean up its environmental credentials. The standard objection that electric cars require fossil fuel to generate their electricity is overcome by using specially commissioned generators which run on glycerine, which is a byproduct of bio-diesel, to recharge the cars. The generators are transported with the cars and associated kit from race to race using transport that minimises the resulting carbon footprint. Other environmentally aware policies include limiting the number of team personnel at races and eliminating the lavish hospitality facilities that are a feature of Formula One. To cap costs and limit competitive advantage many parts are common to all cars, including the chassis (monocoque), bodywork and battery pack. View video of Marrakesh ePrix highlights via this link


The Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex in the Moroccan Sahara came on stream in 2016 and when completed will be the world's largest concentrated solar plantwith the potential to power one million homes. Marrakesh has a fleet of Chinese manufactured buses. Renault and Peugeot both plan to build electric vehicles in Morocco, as does Chinese corporation BYD which has a 13% share of the global electric vehicle market. One of the teams competing in the Marrakesh ePrix was NIO backed by the eponymous Chinese electric autonomous vehicle manufacturer, while the winning car came from the team of  Indian auto and technology company Mahindra - see photo below.

As can be seen in some of the photos, 52% of the Moroccan population is under 25 and they are raring to go places. Preconceptions about charming cobras in the square and about the perils of majority-Muslim nations need to be ditched before the West is caught napping. And it is not just the President of the United States who is guilty of damaging preconceptions about countries beyond Western comfort zones. While taking these photos a Moroccan boy of about ten tapped me on the shoulder and proffered a bottle of water. I waved him away brusquely, thinking he was an urchin trying to make a few dirhams by selling refilled bottles. But he persisted and finally explained by sign language that the bottle had fallen out of my daypack a few minutes earlier.

11 Jan 2018

The photographer as a young man....

My brother,who lives in the UK, recently sent me this photo from his archives. It is a scan of a print as the original negative was probably lost years ago. It shows me, Mr Rolling Road. It was taken at Ramp Bend at the Crystal Palace motor racing circuit in South London. We do not know the year but I guess 1964 or 1965.
Crystal Palace was a short, tight little circuit but what great racing I enjoyed there through the 60s with my brother and our friends. My association with the Palace started in 1956 when my grandfather took me at the age of 10 to my first ever motor race meeting there. I never knew why my grandfather took me there. He had no interest in cars-he did not own a car and he could not drive. But from the moment we arrived trackside and I saw the first race-for Formula 3 500cc single seaters -I was hooked.
Through the 1960s a group of us would try and go to the two annual big Bank Holiday meetings at the circuit every year. We would catch an early train to the station located right next to the circuit by Anerley Ramp. We would bring our lunches-mine was invairably cheese and pickle sandwiches-and we would set up our pitch looking down onto Ramp Bend. It was always the same spot-down to the last inch. The crowds were huge and getting your pitch early and standing your ground was really important.
The spectator area at that part of the circuit looked down on the track and there was an excellent view of an exciting part of the track although arguably most of the track was exciting.

The crowds were so big because the racing was fabulous. It may have been a short track but it attracted the stars-at every big meeting. In those days the F1 drivers would race at a European F1 GP on the Sunday and then fly back to the UK overnight and turn out at Crystal Palace on the Monday morning racing in a F2 car and probably a touring car.
I clearly remember seeing Jochen Rindt -whom we had never heard of- beat Jim Clark and a star studded field in only his second race in the UK.
They all turned out at Crystal Palace. Jim Clark, John Surtees, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Jacky Ickx, Jack Brabham, Bruce Mclaren, Denny Hulme and Innes Ireland to name just a few.
Imagine today's prima donna formula 1 drivers turning out on a Monday morning after an F1 GP to race around a tight little circuit in the suburbs of London. No way. It was a different time.

And it was not just the the F1 stars who turned on the great races. Crowd favourites were the saloon cars - as touring cars were then known-with David and Goliath battles between Minis and big Jaguar saloons and later Ford Falcons and Galaxies. The big cars would pass the Minis down the straights only to be overtaken through the corners by the Minis usually cornering on two wheels and one of the spectator's favourite Mini drivers was a lady, Christabel Carlisle. It was the best of times. But by the 1970s the track was deemed too dangerous and in any case the large sports centre built infield eventually swamped the track. The last race meeting was held in 1972.
I was very fortunate to have experienced the Palace's golden years of racing-the 1960s.

Now one thing our favourite spectating spot was not good for was taking action photos - particularly with a camera with a standard lens fitted. The camera in the photo is my Exa SLR which I purchased in 1962 for a hard earned £12.10s from a camera shop in Epsom, Surrey. That's approx £370 in today's terms. It was not at all suitable for racing action shots so I cannot imagine why I had it there.
The Exa was not my first camera. That was a small metal camera called the Halina 35X which had the shape of a Leica and even had a red dot-before Leica started putting red dots on their cameras.

One of my school teachers had initiated my interest in photography and very fortunately a work colleague of my fathers was a keen photographer and he bought the UK magazine, Amateur Photographer, every week and passed it onto me via my father after he had read it. I certainly would not have been able to have afforded the magazine every week myself and neither could my parents. Everything I learned about photography in the early days I learnt from the school teacher and Amateur Photographer magazine.

My parents gave me the Halina as my 12th birthday present in 1958. It was apparently made in China although on the baseplate it said Made in Hong Kong. This was because Hong Kong was a British colony at the time and products made in Hong Kong came into the UK duty free.
The Halina served me well. I learned how to process black and white films and print in my home darkroom-actually the only bathroom in my home-an in conveniece arrangement.
At that time I had a school friend, Graham Downie, whose parents were to my eyes very wealthy -they owned a Ford Consul -a big deal in our suburb- and they gave him a German made SLR camera -an Edixa -for a birthday present. I really liked the features and feel of that Edixa and it made me yearn for an SLR and interchangeable lenses. So I sold the Halina to another friend and snapped up a bargain-an Exa SLR. Now I cannot find a photo of my model of Exa so I suspect that it was one of a run of a base spec model sold at a low price point. Exas where the junior model to the esteemed Exakta cameras made by Ihagee in Dresden in what was then East Germany.
Exaktas were very well made and this quality extended to the Exas. Mine was very well made but it did lack specification. The mirror was part of the shutter and this meant that there were only 2 shutter speeds, if I remember correctly, 1/30th and 1/175th. The lens was a 50mm f2.9 Meyer with an Exakta mount. To keep the cost down it only had a wait level viewfinder. When I bought it I had thoughts of buying Exakta lenses and a prism eyelevel viewfinder but, of course, reality intervened and I never did.
I used the Exa for 5 years until I part exchanged it for a Leica 3A at a camera shop in Reading in 1967.

I had not used the Exa so much. I was at university for some of the years I owned it and there were many distractions there from photography and nowhere convenient to process and print the film. I cannot remember feeling limited by the rather odd specification of the Exa and particularly the lack of shutter speeds. I guess in those days I just appreciated what I had and there were no blog sites and forums telling me what a crock of s..t I had bought. Times have changed.

6 Jan 2018

Oh, to be a cloud.....

"Oh, to be a cloud floating in the sky." Beautiful clouds out at sea from Terrigal. Taken from the balcony of my home.
These clouds reminded me of a book I read at primary school-I must have been eleven. It was a fiction book set in the mid 1930's about a passenger plane - a De Havilland Rapide -which took off on a routine flight from Croydon Airport to Paris. At the time Croydon was London's airport. The passengers were very well dressed as only the wealthy flew in those days. One passenger was wearing a bowler hat and carrying a tightly furled umbrella which I find highly plausible.  Anyway on this fictional flight the plane became lost in towering clouds and the pilot became disorientated. As the plane was in danger of running out of fuel he chose to descend and land in a field somewhere in mid France. The story then went on to describe the adventures of the passengers as they tried to get back to Paris.
I remember being totally hooked on the book with its description of early civil aviation and in particular the pilot's efforts to find his way. I must have read it half a dozen times. There would have been no such problems for any planes flying through or around these clouds over Terrigal.
If planes fascinate you, as they still do me, I recommend you download the FlightRadar24 App on iPhone or iPad which allows you to see flight paths in realtime all over the globe. It is a superb app and it is FREE. Now when I hear a plane overhead I turn on the app and it immediately shows me the flight details, the aircraft and its registration number and even a live view from the cockpit for many flights.  It even tells you the scheduled time for the flight's departure, the actual time it departed and the scheduled and forecast arrival time.
 If the Russian missile crew in Ukraine had had the app they would have known that the plane overhead was Malaysian Airlines MH370 and they would have spared so many innocent lives although maybe they did have the app and they knew exacly what they were doing.
Croydon Airport remained in limited use until 1959 and I can vaguely recollect seeing the abandoned buildings from a nearby main road sometime in the 1960s. Croydon was replaced by what started out as the rather grandly named Great West Aerodrome on Heathrow Farm to the west of London which became today's Heathrow Airport. My father took me by underground train and bus to Heathrow field in I guess 1953. The plan was for me to see some planes taking off and landing but much to my disappointment we were there for two hours and not a plane moved! I can still remember that there were two DC3s and an Avro York standing on the tarmac and that was it. What a contrast to Heathrow today.