31 Jan 2018

Darkest Hour

I went to see the movie, Darkest Hour, at the cinema this morning. It is superb. Highly recommended.
The cinematography is stunning and so are the settings. You almost think that you are inside the palace in the Buck House scenes. Gary Oldman is quite extraordinary as Churchill. I felt that I was actually watching Churchill himself in a wartime newsreel. Surely an Oscar winning performance.
To me it was weird seeing the scenes and thinking how all this happened only 6 years before I was born.
When I first went to primary school in Putney in south London the school was brand new as the old school had been bombed and the area around the school was populated by prefabricated homes -prefabs as they were known-and bomb sites. I remember that even in 1955 they were still grim times but I did not appreciate the deprivation and terror my mother who stayed in Putney through the blitz had been through.
I had my personal encounter with Churchill or at least his coffin in January 1965. During my gap year between leaving school and going to university I was working at Barclays Bank Borough High Street branch in Southwark just over London Bridge. I had to work on the Saturday morning of Churchill's funeral and I was on London Bridge when his coffin was loaded onto a boat at the Tower of London and came down the river to Waterloo. See the photo below. I had bought a half frame camera to work that day. I think it belonged to my brother. I cannot remember the brand but I suspect it was either an Olympus or a Ricoh. Half frame gave 72 photos on a 36 exposure roll of 35mm film. I was using Kodak Plus-X film I can see from the negatives. It was probably in the camera when I borrowed it. Being London in January it was pretty gloomy and I force processed the film to push up the ISO or ASA as it was then known.
The slow passage of the boat carrying the coffin was a most impressive sight and all the dockside cranes had their jibs lowered as a mark of respect.
Now all the docks have moved way down the river so it is a scene which will never be repeated.
A few seconds after I took this photo a V formation of RAF English Electric Lightning jet fighters flew overhead and I took a photo of them over the flotilla. It is a great photo but I put the negative in a safe file and I have mislaid it!

My journey home that day took me my usual route by foot to London Bridge Station where I caught a train to Waterloo Station on a little back line. I then caught a train home to Ewell in Surrey where I then lived.
When I came onto the concourse at Waterloo I was surprised to find that my suburban train was on the next platform to the train which was carrying Chuchill's coffin and the funeral party to Oxfordshire where he was going to be buried in the churchyard at Bladon.
The funeral train departed just ahead of mine but we soon passed it and I took the photos below of the engine and also the wagon carrying the flag draped coffin which is just visible. Spectators are on the balconies of the public housing block behind the train.
So that's my personal connection to the Darkest Hour. The quality of the photos leaves a lot to be desired but they had a difficult birth and like most of us they are showing their age.

Photos are the IP of the author and may not be used in any media without approval.

30 Jan 2018


Dawn at Terrigal Beach this morning 30th Jan. Another sizzling hot,steamy day coming up. Relief is forecast for tonight after a very long hot and humid spell which started so long ago that I have forgotten when.
We and the cats need a break. Lawns are brown, plants and people are wilting.
I am off to Bathurst for the 12 hour race this weekend. The great news is that the Bathurst weather for Sunday is forecast to be just 24ºC and sunny. A great relief after the last two weeks and the 40ºC+ temps we experienced there last year.

28 Jan 2018

The Pavlova makers

Granddaughters, Poppy and Scarlett, assembling our Australia Day pavlova on Australia Day -26th January. Pavlova is a traditional NZ and Australian dessert named after a Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who toured the two countries in the 1920s. It was invented in New Zealand but has been adopted by both countries. It consists of a meringue base layered with whipped cream and topped with a sauce and strawberries or as it is now out of the strawberry season raspberries and blueberries.
Here's Poppy below with the finished pavlova she helped assemble on Christmas Day.

19 Jan 2018

More Formula E

There are three structural components in a Formula E car. The monocoque from the front to the bulkhead behind the driver is from Dallara and is mandated - standard on all cars; as is the front suspension, all the bodywork including aerodynamic appendages and rear crash structure, and all four wheels and tyres. Behind the driver is the battery pack and control electronics which is a structural member. The battery pack and control electronics are also mandated and currently come from Williams Advanced Engineering. (Next season batteries with more capacity from McLaren Technologies replace the current pack.) Bolted on to the back of the battery pack is the motor(s), drive train (some cars do not have gearboxes because of the torque from an electric motor), and rear suspension, all of which is non-mandated - i.e. proprietary - and varies from team to team - some use single motors, some dual.

The battery pack is immensely powerful. Peak output is 200 kilo watts, which is a serious amount of power. This necessitates special safety requirements. Lithium batteries not only pack a punch but they also emit flames if pierced. So the inside of the battery pack is made of zylon which is 1.6 times stronger than kevlar. If you look closely at the Dragon car in photo 4 of my article you will see a green light on ahead of the cockpit and an obscured green sign on the roll hoop which says 'Green Light On'. This means the car is safe to touch. If any of the electronics go open circuit as a result of a crash the light turns red and the marshals must not touch the car until the electronics are made safe. 

The photo above which was not used in the article highlights the safety concerns graphically. Electrocution causes the hand of the person being shocked to lock - so if a mechanic gets 200kW through their hand they cannot let go of the car. In the photo the battery pack is being worked on. So not only is the mechanic wearing protective gear, but the rules require another mechanic to stand behind him with a yellow plastic hook - seen in my photo - which is used in the event of electrocution to literally drag victim off the car.  

They may not sound like racing cars but there is much of interest in a Formula E car, and I don't think the story about them has been told very well.

Next year - season 5 - Formula E has a new 'standard' car from Dallara  which is very futuristic.See photo below.
 Spark is the French company that actually services the teams - provides the parts to Dallara's specs. At Marrakesh one team shunted their car in qualifying and crushed the nose. The mechanic trotted off to the Spark shipping container/shop with a credit card and bought a new nose. They don't paint the cars, the colour schemes are all vinyl wrap applied with a heat gun to fit it to contours. Note the season 5 car does not use the controversial 'halo' adopted by F1, instead it uses a raised windshield.

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 that 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. C

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.