Saturday, 26 August 2017


22*.7.2001 - 21.8.17

To many of you she was Mutt, others may have known her as the 'Photographer's Assistant' but to us, she was our Penny.

And on what better day than today - National Dog Day, should I post a tribute to the old girl.

On Monday, after just over fifteen years of being an amazing member of our family, we had the difficult task of saying goodbye. Her failing health meant that it was kinder to let her go... 'chase rabbits' elsewhere.

First meeting at the rescue centre

On the 8th April 2002, along with our two young daughters, I went along to the local rescue home to look at a particular puppy and instead, met a gangly Lab/Staffie cross who had been brought in as a stray. She was both curious and waggy, and after a walk with her on the lead in a nearby field (she most definitely leading us) we thought that she might just be a suitable choice. Although suffering with conjunctivitis at the time (a condition which gave her a permanent weakness in one eye), she was alert, friendly and definitely trainable. However, as she was to be a family member, it would be down to himself to give the final nod.

A couple of days later, the two of us returned to take her for another walk around the field - or rather, she was to take himself around the field. Unbeknown to me, he had a pocket full of ferret biscuits which during this meeting, he was using to his advantage. And there, a bond was made.
"She will do"
were his words and with that, wheels were set in motion to bring this nine-month old mutt home with us. Being a stray, they could only guess her age and working it back, it appeared she might have been born around July 2001. Instantly daughter no.2 picked up on that point and announced that she could share her own birthday, which delighted her greatly, and so began the assumed* birthday.

April 2002 - At home.

However, the friendship between youngest and the puppy was to become a special one, not least because it was down to her hard work at school that a puppy was even considered. Having already grown up for 8 years with a family pet cat, she asked if she could have a puppy. Eyebrows were raised but himself made a rash promise.
"Get your spellings right for a whole school year and we might just consider it"
And what did she do all the way through year 5? Pushed the results from 4-5/10 to 7-8-9/10. She really did put the effort in, and with every parents evening throughout that school year, her teacher would ask
"When IS she going to get this puppy - it is all I hear!"

During the winter of 2001/2, we had said goodbye to the old cat and youngest daughter was quick to pick up on the fact that having an old cat was no longer a legitimate excuse not to have a dog - an excuse which had often been given previously. And so it came to pass that a near nine-year-old was about to have her dream fulfilled, although secretly both himself and I were delighted to have a new family member too. Meanwhile, eldest daughter did her best to appear miffed that her younger sister was getting her way but now it appears, she was equally delighted to have a puppy join the family.

Having been given the temporary name of Penny in the rescue centre, we all agreed that actually, she was indeed a Penny, decided to keep the name, and brought her home to a new family life. 

Best friends

Every Sunday morning for the next two years, I would drive to the 'Hot Dogs' training classes some 28 miles away, where a young girl put a strong-minded yet loving puppy through her training paces. There would be tears, laughter and just rewards for both girl and puppy. Meanwhile, I was watching the training methods too and putting things into practise during the hours of daily walks I was to do with Penny.

Friday, 11 August 2017

The Longest Day Up - Completed!

(Almost at) Lands End, Cornwall, 4am on the longest day of the year...

Twenty motorcyclists had gathered just before sunrise in the semi-darkness. Amongst these leather-clad riders was a furry Pikachu, an Elmo and a tiger, not forgetting the blow-up crocodile, all an indication that this was no ordinary ride-out. This was the start of The Longest Day Down (Up) Challenge - a charity ride-out for Cancer Research UK, where riders co-erced, nursed and willed their £300 machines to complete the 900-plus miles to get them from Lands End to John O'Groats before sunrise the next day.

Amongst those twenty riders were my other half, Keith, and our son-in-law Ben. Both anxious about whether the bikes would manage the distance or not but more so, if they would manage to stay awake for this endurance challenge. They had ridden their bikes down to the start the day before, in 32 degrees of sweltering heat and on what what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year, so had been able to gauge the stamina of both man and machine.

At the briefing dinner the night before the start, Bens stick and cable-tie repair to splint a floppy wing mirror won the trophy for the 'Best Bodge' but that would turn out to be just a minor incident. Another pre-ride award was also handed out, that of a blow up croc, given the rider who turned up with a machine clearly worth more than three hundred quid, and was a pillion-penance for doing so.

All the riders set off with one goal - to complete the ride from one end of the UK to the other, so when Ben developed an electrical charging problem before the first pit stop at Cirencester, he feared it might be a ride north in the 'broom waggon' (the support vehicle that follows through behind the riders to pick up the breakdowns) However, with the support and joint brain power of Keith, they worked out a system of battery swapping - charge the battery on Keiths bike then swap it back and forth as required. The only problem with this was that the battery from Keiths Kawasaki was bigger than the one on Bens Yamaha which meant the seat wouldn't fit back on properly and made for a rather wobbly ride.

With around an hour lost, they were finally on their way again and Ben was relieved as he was determined he was not going to end up in the broom waggon - and at only the first pit stop too. No way! Meanwhile, Keith had also developed an oil leak, although nothing that a regular top up and an old rag to wick-away the leak wouldn't cure.

By now the riders were becoming spread out along the route, some on a mission but most just plodding on in the heat of the day. Those in the furry suits were finding the ride extra hot and all riders chose not to stand around for too long at the pit stops for fear of overheating, despite there being food and drink laid on by volunteers. However, Keith and Ben were dropping down the pack, having originally made good time on the first leg out of Cornwall and Devon before the breakdown. Fuel stops were another necessary time stealer, and with a range of just 100 miles on the Kawasaki, these came at frustratingly regular intervals.

On reaching Lancashire, the busy afternoon roads proved a hold-up for all the riders, with a tricky route to avoid the motorway and sheer volume of traffic knocking off more precious time. Barring any breakdowns, it was anticipated though that the first riders would reach John O'Groats at around midnight, some twenty hours after the start.

Pretty much as predicted, the first two riders passed 'Challenge HQ' at John O'Groats at 11.58pm, riding the few extra hundred metres to the marker signpost to take a 'done it!' souvenir picture under the midnight blue twilight sky (it never gets truly dark at midsummer). Father and son team, Nigel and Ben Rea finally got off their vivid pink machines, tired and wet, having ridden through driving rain between Perth and Inverness. This was their third Longest Day Up Challenge, ridden with a purpose, as they had lost their wife and mother to breast cancer - the pink bikes a tribute to Kellie Rea. Rider three arrived half an hour behind the Rea guys, and two more riders rolled in at 2am, all recounting the troublesome heavy rain north of the border. It would be another hour or so before the next riders were due at John O'Groats, meanwhile, nothing had been heard from Keith and Ben and they had yet to reach the last pit stop at Inverness. What had happened to them?

A short while after 3am, news was received that my guys had finally passed through the Inverness pit stop along with the last two riders. Relieved, all was considered to be well and it was anticipated that they should arrive at John O'Groats at around 5am.

With many riders already tucked up in bed grabbing a few hours well deserved sleep, the support team were still up, and waiting for the last four riders to arrive. By now, the sun was up too and with the clock showing 05.40 Keith and Ben finally rolled in, picking up the accolade of 'last'. However, this didn't matter as they had completed the ride, safely and in one piece, raising several thousand pounds for Cancer Research UK in the process.

Questioning the discrepancy with the anticipated and actual arrival time, Keith admitted to the last hour being the most difficult.
"I was really surprised how I managed to stay awake so well for the whole ride. I had been warned though that the last hour would be the most difficult and that really is true. I just couldn't manage to keep my eyes open safely. I had to lie down in a layby for a power nap which got me through to the end. I know it meant we went over the 24 hours, what with the breakdown and the hold-ups but we finished!"
Ben added
"For the last stage I was following behind Keith very closely as I couldn't have my headlight on as it would drain the battery. Thankfully, it doesn't get completely dark in Scotland at this time of the year but that didn't stop three police vehicles flashing me to turn on my light. Perhaps they couldn't see the LED bicycle light I had bought at a petrol station, and gaffer-taped to the front! It was the best I could do - I was determined to finish"
Having later heard the reports of the heavy rain between Perth and Inverness both Keith and Ben agreed that it was worth coming in at the end as the rain had passed through by the time they got there and so they didn't get wet at all.

Would they do it again? Keith didn't think so, but it was a lot easier than he thought it would be. Ben on the other hand had been really dreading it but he actually enjoyed it. It had been a lot easier than he thought too. For Ben it was a 'maybe'.

24 hours later both were overheard in conversation whilst scrolling through their phones...
"There is one here on Gumtree for £300" Said Ben.
"Oh, I've found a BMW on eBay for £200!" replied Keith

You work out if they will be back to do it again!

Their Just Giving pages are still open if you would like to add to their total. who has raised £2,016.04 so far who has raised £565.68 so far

The Longest Day Down (Up) Challenge have raised over £10,000 so far from this years ride and over £75,000 over the years for Cancer Research UK

Until 2018...

...and the little 'teddy bear' mascot you saw back in the previous blog?
He's already in training and will be rocking his stuff along-side his daddy & pops...

although probably not for a while!

However, it does seem that a certain power-starved Yamaha is destined to follow the route once more.
Sold to a new owner for - well, £300 of course!

Watch this space!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Longest Day Up

When avid biker and Advanced Motorcyclist Keith Bartlett suggested to his biker son-in-law Ben Smither, that they should sign up for The Longest Day Up Challenge, they saw it as a way of enjoying some motorbike riding time together. Little did they realise what it would really entail.

The Longest Day Up Challenge, is now in its fifth year, having raised over £75,000 so far for Cancer Research UK. The event format is for a signed up group of motor-bikers to set out from Lands End at sunrise on the longest day, the 21st June, and to ride to John O'Groats, arriving before sunrise on 22nd June, some 900+ miles later. It is important to point out now, that this is not a race as the challenge can be completed without breaking any laws. This is an endurance challenge and if that isn't enough, then each participant must have bought a machine, have it prepared, legal and ready to ride specifically for the challenge. No favourite, comfortable fast machines here, in a word "cheap" and that meant costing no more than £300. 


It was at the end of 2016 that Keith and Ben, at 30, the youngest rider taking part in this years challenge, began their search for a suitable machine and they realised that finding a working bike for £300 was more difficult than expected. Eventually, Keith, a RoSPA Gold rider and volunteer Bloodrunner, located a Kawasaki ZZR400 for sale in north London. Sold as a 'runner' it took many hours of TLC to bring it back to life after having lived under a Leylandi hedge for the previous two years. There were several surprises during the 'recovery', even finding the underside of the exhaust pipe patched up with gaffer tape.

Ben, whose grandfather Malcolm Smither was well known in the motorbike trade before his retirement, found a larger Yamaha XJ600 but it needed some major tinkering. Thankfully, between Keith and Ben, each of them being capable engineers, they were able to fix the bike. 

By January, both machines were road legal and the serious testing started...and then it dawned! What had they let themselves in for? Would it be a dry ride? What should they eat? What would be the most comfortable clothes for their backsides but most of all, how would they keep awake for all those hours riding between checkpoints?

Sleep deprivation will be a huge challenge and so they have sought advice from previous participants as well as record breaking Rhys Lawrey, who rode non-stop around the world. His advice, should they choose to follow it is: "Water, Snickers bars and power naps."

Keith from Saffron Walden, a LeJog veteran from a previous charity ride in 2005, and Ben who lives in Leigh on Sea with his wife Frankie, will set off for Cornwall on Monday 19th June before the start of their challenge. They will follow the set route, which actively avoids motorways and have purposely not set themselves any personal targets for the day. It is more important for them both just to finish the ride, and complete it safely. This is particularly so for Ben who will fly straight back from Scotland to be home with his young son and wife, who is soon to give birth to their second child.


Ben said: “Keith and I will be riding together but my biggest worry is waiting for him to have his power naps. Short sleeps is not something he is known for! We will have to set a 15 minute alarm or we might get left behind.”
Keith, who hopes for a double celebration in John O'Groats, both for his birthday and arriving in one tired piece said: "We would like to raise as much as we can for Cancer Research UK as we all have friends and family who have been affected by this awful disease."

If you would like to support the riders you can visit their JustGiving pages by following the links below.
Do please leave any good wishes for the guys in the comments box below - they will need all the encouragement they can get.

Many thanks.

Keiths JustGiving

For more about the challenge go to 

Oh, and I will be on hand at the end of their ride, covering the story for the press so will bring you an update on this 'midsummer madness' challenge. Keep an eye on Twitter too

Meanwhile here is the online press version of this post

Sunday, 9 April 2017

One Day Photography Workshop

The Old Sun Inn is an ideal photographic subject

Today found us enjoying the warmest day of the year so far, and what a day to be out and about in Saffron Walden with my clients, on a one day beginners and improvers photography workshop. Only ever taking a maximum of four people, I like to keep the workshops small so that each person can have the attention they require. Sadly today one client was unable to make it at the last minute, and one place had remained unfilled, which meant my time was divided between these two lovely people. One had been given a gift voucher as a birthday present, the other had been promising themselves a workshop day for a long time. Both, however, had the same aim -  to understand more about their camera and to feel happy about moving off auto.

After spending a while in the classroom getting to know the desires and needs of each of the attendees, then looking into the basics about the exposure triangle, it was time to get onto the real practical nitty-gritty.

First, it was about getting to grips with handling the camera - here, a Sony Alpha 200 which had been put to one side in favour of a point and shoot which "appears to give me just as good results, with less mucking around" but was given a second chance for the workshop.

Here a reflection of the landmark golden bunch of grapes which hang in the market square, was spotted high up in a window and was lined up for a photo on a Fuji M-X1. The strong sunlight caused a slight issue with this otherwise great little camera as it lacks a view finder.

Woaaahh!! Don't lean back any more!!!

As well as trying out camera settings, which today was mostly concentrating on understanding aperture, there were also opportunities to look at different aspects of seeing a picture and the beginnings of the art of composition.

...The art of looking, and simplifying an image.

...The art of looking where perhaps you wouldn't normally look for a picture

...The art of creeping up on the subject.

OK this one wasn't going to go anywhere but gave an ideal opportunity to spend time looking for the best angle to view, and the place which would give the best lighting, given the powerful sunlight creating great contrast.

By following the Town Trail, it provided the opportunity for the local to see and learn new things about Saffron Walden, and the visitor, who was new to the town, to discover what a photogenic place our north Essex town is.

Finishing up at the impressive St Mary's Church, with the clock saying it was time to return home for lunch, this left time to spend the rest of the afternoon reviewing the images from the day, learning from the successes, and valuable lessons from the failures too.

In the words of Magnum photographer Chris Steele-Perkins:

"Study and theory is useful but you learn most by doing. Take photographs, lots of them, be depressed by them, take more, hone your skills and get out there in the world and interact."

The reactions at the end of the afternoon were greatly encouraging...

"Well I think I know which camera I'm going to use from now on. Just a shame I'm working tomorrow and won't be able to take my camera - I'm itching to get going with it now!"

"I shall take my camera out on my dog walk tomorrow and try out all I have learnt today."

Thank you both for being such lovely company - I'm just delighted I can pass on a measure of enthusiasm for the art of photography which I have enjoyed for so long.

And what of these sugary confections?
I actually use them as a teaching aid and clearing up at the end of the day, discovered this lady who was enjoying them so much that she didn't want to fly away home!

If you missed this workshop (and want to find out how the Skittles get brought into the teaching!) there will be further opportunities throughout the year to join another one day workshop. Just keep an eye on my website, Facebook or Twitter.