1 year to go

I spent last Wednesday at the Olympic Park in London. I was filming as part of the celebrations for “London 2012: One Year to Go”, mainly inside the brand new and hugely impressive aquatics centre. I’ve never seen so many media crews in one building. Literally hundreds of cameras swarmed around the pool and diving area.

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The pool at the new Aquatics centre for London 2012. Impressive.

There were plenty of Olympic related faces around. IOC president Jacques Rogge turned up and I managed to film the amusing spectacle of Seb Coe, Boris Johnson and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt all lined up together to greet him as he stepped off a little bus. Boris Johnson was great. I filmed three separate interviews with him and he was different and engaging in each. Such a difference to the media robot politicians we have running the place at the moment. It’s a damn shame he’s totally bonkers.

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Pre Interview with Boris Johnson

Other faces interviewed/spotted included former triple jump gold medallist turned TV presenter Jonathan Edwards, former javelin thrower Steve Backley, sprinter Linford Christie, rower Matthew Pinsent and world cup winning England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward.  A good day!
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Mountain Biking in the French Alps

Last summer, in a move akin to buying a Bugatti Veyron as your first car, I’d taken up mountain biking in Whistler, Canada.  My bikey friends in the UK had been quite jealous, understandably, as Whistler is the mecca for the sport.  I’d enjoyed it so much that, when I returned to the UK in January, I decided to get a bike and continue riding.

 

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Loving it. First day on Whistler mountain. June 2010

The first problem I spotted was that the bike I had rented over in Canada cost about the same as the car I had sold in the UK a few months prior. The second was that I had been used to hopping on a chairlift or gondola to get up to the top of the mountain, bypassing all of that pedalling nonsense I’d previously associated with mountain biking, and your average British trail park involves powering yourself up as well as down.

Still, I managed to get the money together for a decent bike (not to the same specifications I might add, the main sacrifice was rear suspension), and last week I solved the pedalling issue by driving to the French Alps with three friends to enjoy some lift assisted riding.

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My Santa Cruz Chameleon hard tail mountain bike on the Valandry chair lift in Les Arcs

The friends in question included ‘Vine-o’, who I soon found out had near legendary status in the resort. He’d been a few times before and there were even videos of him on the internet flailing his back wheel over cliff edges. On arrival, he was greeted enthusiastically by all the guides, whereas James, who’d been almost the same number of times, was afforded a brief handshake and manly nod (getting your back end out, it seems, gets you attention amongst mountain bike guides). The third of the three amigos was Diego. He’d brought two bikes and a tool box which proved useful later in the week.

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Diego in the bike garage at our chalet. I reckon the bikes in there were worth nearly as much as the building!

I sensed that my 2 days experience with bikes on actual mountains may not be enough for the flying start I was hoping for. Everyone seemed very serious and extreme. In a conversation about mountains over dinner on the first night, I mentioned to our guide Ben that I had recently walked the Yorkshire 3 peaks challenge. He went on to tell me about sleeping the night on the Matterhorn with no sleeping bag. You get the picture.

Torrential rain on the first day was a bit of an evener in that no one really wanted to go out, but in the two trails we rode I managed to fall off the bike about a dozen times. It was way more rocky and slippery than I had previously experienced (even though one of my Whistler days was wet), and the hard tail bike was proving hard on my tail, as well as various other parts of my body.

As the week progressed I became more confident and the riding was stunning. The single track trails rip through the forest and you can descend for hours. The variation is massive and you find yourself on steep, technical, rocky descents along with fast and flowing forest trails all in the same run. 

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Diego at the bottom of the Cachette downhill run

Being near the back of the pack does have it’s disadvantages. You frequently find yourself arriving at the bottom of the run and setting off immediately, giving you no time to have a breather or admire the views. However, guiding is the only way forward. I took a break from it one morning and spent a lot of time scratching my head over routes and getting held up by herds of goats.

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A herd of goats on the trail

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Pausing to have a look at my brake pads

Later in the week we rode an amazing backcountry route up to Mont Jovet via La Plagne. It included about 800 meters of climbing, 30 miles of riding and lifts and a half hour train journey home from Moutiers at the end of the day.  It was a mammoth trip which ended in with my rear wheel broken. Thankfully, Diego lent me his spare bike on the last day!  Despite this, I concluded that the best trails were all over on La Plagne. I think it’s because it dried out after rain much quicker and the trails had experienced less traffic so weren’t as broken up.

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Vine-o, James and myself on a trail in La Plagne

The break up of the trails does seem to be a cause for concern. The guides had a meeting in the week with local hiking groups, some of whom do not like the fact that
mountain bikers and walkers share the trails. This is understandable, as it can be quite unnerving to have a group of bikes pass you at high speed as you struggle up a walking trail. 

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Some trails, like this, are for bikes only but many are shared

We had not anticipated, however, that the relations between the UK biking community and the locals had become as strained as it seemed to be when, on the Friday morning we awoke to the news that virtually all of the UK plated vehicles had had their tyres slashed.  Although there was talk of various reasons why it had happened, the fact that the main targets were outside British run mountain bike chalets spoke volumes. 

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The main road in the village of Moulin with nearly all GB plate car tyres slashed and some very angry mountain bikers

Amazingly, our car had not been affected as it was right on the end of the line of vehicles on the main road and the perpetrator seemed to have been disturbed. Still, it put a big downer on what had been a fantastic week and something I’d love to do again. Perhaps on a bike with rear suspension though!

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Nice views! (James’ bike)

Celebrity Spotting

Here at Wimbledon there are plenty of celebs kicking around, especially in the broadcast areas. I’ve decided to try and take pics of as many as possible whilst I’m running around like a madman filming the actual sport. Here goes…

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BBC Sport’s Mary Rhodes on the radio

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John Inverdale having a meeting

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Alistair Mcgowan watching Liam Broady in the boys quarter finals

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Richard Bacon, Jonathan Overand and Pat Cash on 5live

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McEnroe!

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Andy Murray (Lego version)

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Me, Heidi and Babs

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Rafa Nadal on the practice courts… I was filming some actual sport at this point

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Sue Barker doing a piece to camera in centre court

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Probably famous in France

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David Coulthard with some very attractive friends

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Grumpy Boris Becker

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Swimmer Mark Foster

Today at Wimbledon

It’s the 2nd week of Wimbledon and as luck would have it I’ve landed a job working as a cameraman and editor for these few days.  Having never been to SW19 before I was amazed at the sheer size of the site, the condition of the courts and public areas, and the level of media interest in the tournament. The courts are amazing, from the giant roof of centre court to the delightful intimate amphitheatre of court 2 it is the most complete tennis venue. The grass is absolutely pristine, and the site on the whole is first rate.

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Court 19 with court 1 behind and Henman Hill/Murray Mound in the background

The working days, as expected, is very busy. I’m spending all my time running between outer courts to catch British juniors in action and interviewing players and family members. So far I’ve been really impressed with the standard of the young British players. We’ll wait and see how far some of them get but I’m really hoping they make it to the latter stages. 

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The outer courts where many of the British juniors play

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Filming one of the British juniors in action

Unfortunately I haven’t seen much tennis as I’m often running down to edit and send pictures for various regional bulletins across the UK. It’s part of the job and you can easily lose track of what is happening in all of the games as they run simultaneously. Luckily the reporter I’m working with (Heidi) is a tennis freak and is well across all of the scores as soon as they change.

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Heidi in the edit suite. 

On the celeb front I’ve managed to spot, in no particular order, Boris Becker, John Inverdale, Richard Bacon, John Mcenroe and some puppet dog of CBBC. 

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Sorry kids, but it’s a man with his hand in a puppet… see.

Andy Murray is on court tomorrow to try and reach the semis. Here’s hoping he gets there.

Mountain Bike UK

After spending a few days on the downhill trails at Whistler in Canada last year I’d built a bit of an appetite for mountain biking. So, I thought I’d get myself a bike when i came back to the UK and attempt to join in with a few mates who go regularly in the UK and to the Alps. 

So, last Friday I picked up a newly built Santa Cruz Chameleon from a great little shop near Nottingham, and on Saturday took it down to Chicksands bike park in Bedfordshire and spent the day racing down the Four X track. Great fun! 

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On the FourX start line at Chicksands. (L-R) Me, Jirgo, Adventure Man and Rich Vine

The bike is great. Needs some upgrades but I tested it by coming off it quite a lot and now have a splendid array of bruises to show for it.  Managed to capture a couple of the crashes on the GoPro, including a rather spectacular front flip with twist over the bars. I sort of landed on my feet which was nice. Vine managed to snap the frame on his Specialized Enduro at some point during the day. Hardcore!  Here’s a little video of our day.

Rigging a GOPRO for a lap of Donington Park

Last Thursday I was given the task of rigging a Norton Cafe Racer SP (Panther) signature model superbike to capture a lap of the newly remodelled Donington Park circuit in Derbyshire.  Armed with my GOPRO HD Hero, and a V.I.O PoV camera I’d borrowed from the BBC, I headed down to the Norton factory at the Donington circuit to set up.

My plan was to mount one camera on the bike as close to the track as possible, another on the handlebars looking back at the rider, and then to do a quick pitstop to switch one of the cameras onto the riders helmet. When I saw the bike I realised that there were going to be problems! Being a road bike, there was no space on the bars for any standard mounts. However, we were stood in the factory that built it. So, a bit of head scratching/genius on the spot ideas/engineering from the team at Norton and we had knocked up a brand new GOPRO mount… I’ll christen it the ‘Norton Indicator replacement mount’ I think.

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Mounting bracket cable tied to sticky GOPRO mount

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Leaving enough clearance for GOPRO mounting shoe 

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Voila! Now bolt that to the indicator mount on the bars. All made in 10 minutes!

It sat in the spot where the front indicator should be (you don’t need them on a high speed lap around Donington when you have exclusive access!) and gave a great shot of the riders helmet clad face.

The second camera was the VIO Pov cam. Its tiny tubular camera is on the end of a wire and so you can get it into some pretty out of the way places. We managed to mount it on the rear portion of the bikes frame and get a shot pointing out of the back of the bike. It was literally 2 inches above the rear tyre but managed to get both the tyre and rear fairing in shot so that you could see the suspension working around the track.  The VIO camera then connects to a quite bulky box which we managed to mount to the frame right above the riders left foot and basically on top of the engine block. The beauty of this was that the microphone on the VIO block would pick up the sound of the engine as if you had you ear pressed against it.

All that was left was the riders helmet. That rider was to be former World Superbikes star Chris ‘Stalker’ Walker. His signature helmet wasn’t going to take kindly to glueing a GOPRO mount to it so we had to think of something else. There is no open venting to tie into but Chris himself suggested we strap the vent mount around the chin guard on his helmet. Effectively we were mounting a camera on Chris’ chin!

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GOPRO on Chris Walkers helmet. That’s me filming him on a Sony DSR-570 (photo from Norton Motorcyles website)

We were only given 10 minutes circuit time as the busy preparation for the World Superbikes meeting was on, but Chris managed two laps with the GOPRO on the bars and then, after a quick pit stop, two more with the helmet mount. The results are below, all shot and edited in a day… it’s been down converted from 1080HD to SD to match the broadcast cameras used, and for airing on BBC East Midlands Today on Friday 25th March. Thanks to the guys at Norton Motorcycles including Chris Walker, the guys at Donington Park, and Ross Fletcher at the BBC for making it happen!

A lap of Donington Park

Films, filming and more films

It’s been a busy few weeks. Here are some of the things I’ve been up to…

I entered a short film into the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival’s Jagged Globe shorts competition. We went down to the festival last night and watched all the entries, including mine. I didn’t win but it was great to see something like that happening in the UK. The winning film was great (Nich and I actually preferred the runner up though!). Judge and jury and fellow Hull-man Andy Kirkpatrick was entertaining as always and in many ways his intermission chat at the competition was better than his lecture, which we had seen just prior.  My mountain biking mate Vine was amused that Kirkpatrick gave the first prize to his mate Ben! 

The other great thing that Kirkpatrick did was spend ages in his lecture telling us how he couldn’t reveal the name of one of his climbing partners because said climbing partner had requested he wasn’t mentioned. “I’ll refer to him as ‘him'” he said and ploughed on with a reading from his upcoming latest book. The first time he seemingly accidentally said the name, I threw a knowing glance at the wife. Next time I started chuckling to myself, but when he put up a picture of the guy’s face and said his name three times in one sentence I was a bit bemused. I fully expected a gag about it at the end of the lecture but there was nothing. So, Andy – you might want to work on that!

In other news, I’ve been doing the usual work for East Midlands Today, here’s an example – Jeremy Nicholas’ piece about a rocking piano. I make a convincing body double; Jem can’t play the piano.

Also, I helped out my friend Brady Haran with his attempt at recreating the famous Elements Song by Tom Lehrer. That’s the one in which Lehrer sings all the elements in the periodic table to music. A classic. Brady makes videos about science and has created a Periodic Table of Videos with the help of some scientists at the University of Nottingham. Since he’s finished all of them, he thought it would be a great idea to have his scientists singing the song.  He got me in to do the music and help construct the film, which was fun. The result is here…

Return of the studio

Things are starting to get back to normal.  Now we’ve moved back into our house, I’ve got all of my studio equipment back and managed to have some mates over for a jam on Friday.  After the flooding of a bunch of our furniture and the fire sale the preceded the move to Vancouver, we’ve found ourselves with a lot less stuff so I’ve been able to litter our attic room with pretty much exclusively musical instruments and equipment.

I’ve still not bought a soundcard as I ponder the switch to Mac for recording so I was glad to find out the the standard PC recording input still worked. 

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The studio. Bit of a mess but getting there.

At the weekend, as way of a studio test, Nicola and I decided to do an homage to Canadian folk-rock band Great Big Sea, by covering ‘General Taylor’ (and Steeleye Span, of course). I set up a little vocal booth on the spare room using only sheets, duvets and Jeremy Nicholas jumpers and we cracked on.

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The ‘vocal booth’

It’ll be great to get back into music again, after a year with only a couple of gigs in Vancouver to speak of. Here are the fruits of our afternoon session!

Nich and Dave cover ‘General Taylor’

Return to the UK

We’re back in the UK. It’s been a year. It’s gone very quickly.

Looking back it has been an amazing experience and one which we’ve been very fortunate to have. It has been expensive, yes, but you spend so much of your life piling up mountains of gold, sometimes it’s necessary to ask yourself why you’re running in a hamster wheel every day and not getting to do what you actually want.  That said, we haven’t totally blown the bank, we’re not *that* skint, we’re just in need of a bit of firm ground to put our feet on for a while. 

Despite the promises of ‘Frozen Britain’ in ‘Chaos’ we had from the British media, our flight home was fine with only a measly 4 hour delay to cope with!  Most of our trips back over here (there have been 3 in all) have been a shock to the system to start with, from the bad attitude of people everywhere to the overcrowded feeling you get in most places. This time, however, the recent snow and the imminent arrival of Christmas meant that all of the usual stuff I get depressed about faded into insignificance.  A little stroll down to the village of Hartford in the snow helped, despite the fact that I couldn’t post a letter or buy any stamps and was treated like shit by the woman on the counter at the local supermarket!

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Hartford village in the snow

The snow is great. It makes me happy. We even went sledging on a golf course today.

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Sledging down the 17th fairway at Sandiway Golf Club in Cheshire. Don’t tell the groundsmen.

We have been quite used to it all though. The final leg of our Canadian odyssey started in mid-December.  Since our experience there in the Autumn, we had planned on re-visiting the BC interior and the Rockies in the winter and this was our chance to do it. The snow had been falling on the west coast of Canada so it was perfect timing. A short hop up to Whistler for a day on the slopes began the journey, and then we headed East to some of the most spectacular skiing and riding we’ve ever done. To save me explaining it all, I decided to do it in video. Here are the fruits of my labour (most of said labour was done during the journey back to Britain). Enjoy!

Seven Days…Three Mountains

So it’s back to work in the new year. Plenty of good times to be had I’m sure, especially if the snow sticks around. I’ll keep the blog going but perhaps not post quite as often! Hope you enjoyed it.

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Snow = Good

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Thanks for reading.

Big White Out

We’ve started our December Canadian snow adventure. We bought the snow chains for the rental car and the first stop was Big White. It took about 6 hours to get up here from Vancouver and we got a taste of things to come when we drove through the thickest fog I’ve ever seen in my life just outside Kelowna. You could see about 10 metres in front of the car for around 20km down a massive hill on Highway 97.  Thankfully we dropped out of the bottom of it without running into the back of all the trucks travelling at 30km/h.

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Dropping out of the dense clouds towards Kelowna.

We arrived at Big White to flurries of snow and had a look around. It was completely quiet after 9pm and incredibly foggy so we decided to get an early night and see if it would clear up by the morning.

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The Fog

In the morning, Nich looked out of the window and did the old good news, bad news line. Bad news was that the fog remained, good news was that there was lots of fresh snow. 

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Big White is well known for great snow

The snowboarding was unbelievable. The best snow I’ve ever ridden. It’s dry powder, not like the powder you get in the Alps or even Whistler. You glide through it and it doesn’t slow the board down at all. That combined with the sheer number of little jumps and glades along the piste edges make it immense fun. Only a third of the resort is open but there are so many ways down the mountain it won’t bother me for the 2 days we are here. 

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The Big White logo. It really is amazing snow.

What might bother us however is the visibility. It’s total pea soup fog everywhere and it didn’t shift all day and all night. Apparently that’s the one big downside to the resort. It sits on mountains above the vast Okanagan lake and so the moisture sits in the air for days on end.  

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I usually judge visibility by how many chairs you can see on the lift in front. This is a definite 1!

Seeing this on someone’s door in our apartment building made me think we are definitely in for another day of fog tomorrow.

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