My Twenty Fourth Week as a Budding Author
Try and take a photograph of yourself that looks good. That’s right, you can’t. No matter how hard you try one of the following will occur:-
- you’ll suddenly gain fifty chins as you shift your head as far back as you can
- you’ll take a photo up your nose
- your forced smile will make you look like you are pooing
- some idiot will hold two fingers behind your head
- you’ll realise that your twenties went a long time ago and you’ll delete the photo
I know this because of Facebook and the photos a number of my friends use as their profile pictures. You see, I took them and this is why my friends use these pictures. Now I’m about to insult all of these good people via implication, so strap yourself in and grab a cup of coffee. But before any of them get the major league hump, let’s be clear that I am one hundred percent guilty of the crime myself.
Consider this. As you progress beyond your thirtieth birthday the mirror gives up on lying and responds back with the plain truth. You really are a saggy old bugger and the halcyon days of trendy haircuts and cheeky instant pull smiles are gone. The person you imagine yourself to be is definitely not staring back at you, it’s some repulsive stranger instead who has spinach on their teeth and an inordinate number of lines pointing to their eyes.
You can live with that until asked to provide a photo that sums you up in a single image..ie. a social networking site profile picture. You take a quick picture on your iphone, but it’s in league with the mirror and a dated, worn, hairless old head gurns from the screen. Now you really are in quandary, old rivals, ex-girlfriends and even uglier old mates are going to see this picture and in desperation you flick through the photo collection looking for the “action shot”.
This is a photo that shows you doing something young, like getting huge air on a snowboard, skiing like a professional, climbing a really hard rock problem, riding a bike with finesse or simply hiding behind a glass of beer. I can hear my Facebook friends counter decreasing almost as quickly as the full stop was typed. Just about every friend I have ..... alienated in a single sentence. However, take a quick glance at my profile picture, what a surprise! it’s me riding a mountain bike looking like I can almost do it. It was taken about five years ago and most people I’ve ridden with will argue that it is the wrong way up. But here is my point. You CANNOT take these pictures yourself.
It is impossibly hard to place a camera on a tripod in the alps, set the timer to the precise moment that you get air, walk up the hill, mount the snowboard, ride down the slope, get the air at the precise moment and position that ensures sharp focus. Imagine the same with the rock climb. How the hell will you set the camera, create some sophisticated self belay system, leg it up the rock and remote release the shutter whilst still hanging onto the cliff face. Can’t be done. And then there is the beer shot. You are either going to have a little bit of camera holding arm in shot, or a pub full of faces behind you pissing themselves at the idiot trying to self portrait the quaffing of a pint of Stella.
Anyone who is still speaking to me will ask aloud “But you haven’t mentioned the bike Dave?”. Well there is a reason for that. I’ve spent the week attempting the impossible, creating quality self-portraits of myself riding my bike for the book....and it’s unbelievably hard. If I’m to complete the Scottish section in this trip, it needs to have photos. And a book on cycling without photos of cyclists may receive the odd negative review (although I do know of one that has done well with just pictures of roads). My alienated friends will spit back that one with photos of Dave in may attract even worse feedback, but I’ve thought of that by using arty shots and sunglasses.
The first attempt was a ride through Glentrool. I decided to use the camera’s self timer which can be set to wait for thirty seconds and then take a series of four shots. Brilliant. Taking photos should be easy simply park the camera by the side of the road, press the button, ride back down, turn around and pull a winning smile.
The first attempt looked like this.
Ok, fair enough I rode too quickly. So on the next shot I took my time a little.
Oh FFS! and so began an odyssey of pressing the shutter riding around the place getting it wrong and almost getting run down by a car in the process. Even when I got the positioning right, other things would go wrong, for example this shot which really does look like I am having a poo.
It’s not just about camera positioning either as the following example clearly shows. Everything was right apart from the camera settings that is and the photo is now only suitable for an episode of Doctor Who.
Sometimes it’s not even my fault, you do everything right and something encroaches upon the frame that you weren’t expecting.
The car picture was particularly ironic as the driver was a photographer who stopped for a long chart about his own book, a montage of Scottish landscapes. Thankfully he agreed to take the shot for me by hand and did a damn fine job of it as well.
Suffice to say, cycling self-portraits are blinking hard, but I’m beginning to get the hang of it now. These won’t be two page spreads within the book but they will serve to illustrate the rides and hopefully allow the reader to believe that I actually did ride some of them. I’m aided by a magnificent piece of kit. The Canon S95 compact camera. It’s about as near to a DSLR in a fag packet as you can get, has a fantastic lens and more importantly has lots and lots of tweakable settings that help you get stuff right.
For example, bracketing. Which in layman’s terms means taking loads of photos of the same thing with different settings so hopefully one of them will be right. Seb Rogers, who taught me the basics of action photography, will be turning in his bed (he’s not dead) if he ever reads that. He’d tell me to get it right in the first place and not feck about with multiple exposures. But he’s not the impatient, knackered f**ker who has just ridden 75 miles uphill and desperately needs the photo before he can go back to his van. In fact Seb recommended the camera to me and I’d recommend it to anybody who is slightly serious about taking good action pictures but work shy enough to forgo carrying any sort of load.
The S95 has saved my arse big time on this trip and three rides in I’m feeling confident that I’m going to arrive back home with the Scottish section just about bagged.
It’s been a long week on the road though and I am sorely missing my family. Life on the bike and in the van is often devoid of conversation for long periods forcing me to chat with anything that will listen. I now thank the sat-nav at every spoken direction, converse with radio presenters and talk to myself incessantly. Shop visits are particularly stressful as I natter away to the nice lady at the till whist she silently wishes I would sod off and stop wittering on about cycling and the weather.
I’d phone the speaking clock for a quick chat if I could but I’m not even sure if it exists anymore? Which would be a shame as I look back with fond memories of my Dad phoning it every time I got a watch for my birthday. In a bid to ensure that said timepiece was correctly synchronised. I suspect he still knows the number, you can take the Dad out of the RAF but you can’t take the RAF from the Dad..or something like that.
I did meet one vey friendly fellow as I sat on a bench overlooking Loch Riddon and the Isle of Bute. I had the sensation of going all light and glanced to my left to see a huge mound of lard lowering itself onto the seat. The lard mountain was grasping a packet of Embassy Number Ones and I detected the smell of Eighty Shilling as well.
“I’ll be needed some information on that”, he softly demanded and pointed to my lightweight titanium steed. Slightly bemused, I informed him that it was a bicycle and that I had used it to propel myself to this point without the use of fossil fuels or Big Macs.
“Aye, I ken that, young laddie, but as you’ll agree I cud dae wi shedding a poooound or tae”, is what I think came back in response. Pushing my luck I told him that I’d looked similar about a year ago until I’d purchased the bike and that my wife had forced me into it after moaning that I was twice the man she’d married. It was touch and go, but eventually he beamed a jabba-like smile back at me and we talked for a few minutes more.
The conversation was animated as I spouted on and on about cycling, it’s benefits, where it takes you and how it had certainly changed my life. I saw a strange emotion in his eyes, almost a longing. He was over 60, obese, a smoker and being tugged round Scotland in the back seat of his offspring’s car. I felt as if there was a small spark in there that wanted to do something about it but it would never grow into a flame. He said he’d look out for my book, I hope he is still around to see it published. As I cycled away I felt a strange tractor beam tugging away at the flapjack in my jersey pocket.
Writing this, I am currently at Aviemore, resident within campsite that bizarrely has an on-site Italian restaurant. Tomorrow I cross swords with the Cairngorms and one of the longest rides of the Scottish section. It’s not far off one hundred miles and true to form the weather forecast mentions a warning for some bloke called “Doctor Foster”. However, to date I’ve been a little jammy as far as the rain is concerned. Through nothing more that pure chance, I’ve managed to ride around the weather systems and have yet to feel the slap of a single drop of rain. A superstitious writer would know better than to end on a sentence like that.
17th April 2011
Like a little mouse I scurried out under the huge cat of the imposing clouds over the Cairngorms. I time trialled around the mountains, down valleys and over hills and arrived back at my van as dry as Tutankamon’s (sp.) armpit. I decided against the run up to the ski station as it was looking pretty grim up there, but I’ve jammied it again with another rain free 80 miles.