The Grand Tour – Season 1 

Given that all the episodes of Amazon’s new motoring show have now been released, I figured now would be a good time to utilise the home of my thoughts and opinions to voice my thoughts and opinions. As nobody has bought this up down the pub, or as modern interactions go, on whatsapp, I’m going to write about it here, unchallenged and in long form.
Featuring the former Top Gear trio, the Grand Tours appeal is still in the casts ability to be, or appearing to be completely at peace with themselves. James May is perfectly happy being reffered to as Captain Slow, Hammond as a hyperactive child and Clarkson the controversial traditionalist. There is no doubt that the production team have aimed to reinforce the stereotypes surrounding the hosts and the majority of the episodes bring laughs from the groups unshakeable appetite for banter. The show benefits from a new distribution channel with reduced regulation leading to a show that feels noticeably less “BBC”, giving the impression the trio may have been sensored more than anticipated in the past iteration. This has lead to the slightly contradictory feel throughout the show where some spects feel completely natural and others utterly forced. 

Conversation streets sting is awkward. Celebrity brain crash did not appeal to me in any way and the repetitive nature of “then he turned up” in many of the features became frustrating. Then there is the American. This chap was obviously cast in order to appeal to the residents of Amazon’s head office location. America. In British English he can only and must only be described as an insufferable twat. The intellectual property the BBC own is clearly restricting the show in some parts requiring some creative thinking for linking content between films. These appear to have been slightly misguided.

The production quality is still outstanding. The cinematography (if that’s what you call it for TV shows) is still beautiful and you get incredible shots of all the wonderful vehicles you’d expect from Top Gear. I mean the Grand Tour. The concept of touring the world is welcome and the bigger budget is more apparent here than anywhere else. It appears as if the majority of aerial footage is still shot with a helicopter rather than drone and the tent is noticeably better looking than the studio of old. It’s also nice to see some modernised leader boards and animations throughout. 

The elements of the Grand Tour that are great are as great as the very best bits of Top Gear. There are still laugh out loud moments and elements that invoke fury. It’s still motoring journalism with a hint of debauchery and a dash of controversy. The only downsides are the annoying parts such as Celebrity Brain Crash and the American. These are so infuriating they put a dampener on the whole viewing experience. If you can focus purely on the features about cars and not the linking aspects in the tent it makes for a good time. Remove them and it’s more a documentary film than a show. Hopefully in season 2 they play with the format a bit. We shall see. 

Tales from The M4 commute

Having left my office in the gloom of Bristol Harbourside at some point last year I began commuting in the other direction. I now head deeper into Wales, through the infamous Brynglas Tunnels, along the stop-start A48(M), down the rancid and litter smothered  Rover Way and onto a Multi-Storey in Cardiff Bay. To some this may sound like hell, but I still prefer the sanctuary of my red Seat Ibiza ecomotive (with awful wheels) to waiting around at Severn Tunnel Junction and paying into Great Western Rails coffers. 

Below are some of my observations since turning the other way at the Coldra.

  • Nobody is paying attention – if anyone is looking for a reason to sell self driving cars and ban humans from operating high speed automobiles, they need only to visit the M4 at rush hour. I witness on a daily basis a huge number of people texting and using the phone without hands free. I witness people applying makeup using the rear view mirror before slamming on the brakes (more on that later). I have genuinely seen a lady writing a greetings card on her steering wheel whilst holding the envelope in her mouth. It’s frankly astonishing any of us make it in to work each day.
  • Radio is great – I have missed out on radio for most of my life. I’ve never really understood it as a medium of entertainment, probably due to my Dad always tuning into horrific AM frequencies to listen to football matches. Now of course I spend my time equally split between Radio 4 and Spotify with the odd bit of Queen’s Greatest Hits. Radio 4 is fantastic. Radio 1 is good in small doses. As for the rest, meh. I anticipate if I ever buy another car, it shall have DAB.
  • BMW drivers – I have had the wonderful privilege of driving a BMW Z3 for the past year. Whilst I was hassled and badgered for driving what is considered a “hairdressers” car by many. Usually the type of hideous macho man crippled with self doubt and loathing. Most likely well into either an unhappy marriage or divorce. Now that’s over with let me sympathise with BMW drivers. They are 99% awful. Sometimes you are on the motorway and they are not ramming you up the rear, flashing their lights and generally coming across like they have some sort of tarmac privilege. It is in fact down to the car. When driving a BMW for whatever reason the pedals, the steering wheel, the gear stick; they encourage you to be a total utter scoundrel. It’s the cars fault. It doesn’t help that most BMW drivers manifest in the form of balding, angry middle managers but it’s not their fault. They have so little identity in day to day life that a 5-Series and a dual carriage way is where they display their power. Or lack of. Much like in work I imagine . 
  • Smart motorways – These are not smart. They  are a death trap. When a train is  delayed. A calm woman on a tannoy will tell you with no compassion that somebody three stops away called it a day. On a smart motorway you get a 40mph speed limit, a red x and have to rely on BBC Radio Wales to tell you what’s occurring, supposing you are sat there long enough to hear the travel news. The same information signs that tell you not to drink and drive (they should say this before entering the motorway) should inform you how long this will add to your journey. Just because keeping people in the loop helps calm the nerves. As for the speed limits, sometimes it just drops to 40 and people slam the breaks in order to not pay money. Who can blame them but putting the speed limit suddenly down on a road where nobody pays attention is both reckless and annoying. The acceleration snake agrees.

I don’t hate this commute at all. All in all its more hygienic than the tube commute I was doing 3 years ago. Shorter and cheaper than my Bristol commute and has more of a purpose than my university commute. Hopefully in the next few months my next commute will surface in the form of a two wheeled experience lasting around 10 minutes. Perhaps leading to a blog post called Tales From Nigel Barrage.

Backwards/Forwards – Looking For The Balance In A Digital / Analogue World

So it’s finally started happening. People are fed up of progress and convenience. People are done with MP3s and stopped sharing photo albums on Facebook. Opting instead to collect vinyl and take Polaroids. Opting to move away from the endless drip feed of uninteresting updates from that one strange school friend who still shares status updates. Actually isn’t it just videos and memes now? That and videos of memes. 
I don’t know if I’m just growing up or growing fed up but I’m enjoying this wind of change. For Christmas I recieved the obligatory Urban Outfitters record player (with stand) and a month prior, Miss #TimFord recieved a Fujifilm Instax Mini. That is to say we take Polaroids and listen to Vinyl now. And we are not alone. Vinyl sold more in the past 3 years than it has in the past 25. Every Boots, John Lewis and Argos in the United Kingdom now sells a variety of instant cameras. The best film I’ve watched in a long time was La La Land, a film that aimed to replicate pure CinemaScope, was shot on film and written in the style of the musicals of old. The twist being that nowadays these products cost a lot more to buy than their yesteryear counterparts. But it appears we are willing to pay it for the satisfaction of tactile feedback whether that be the click of a shutter or the crackle of the needle on the edge of the record. 
I’m almost certain this step backwards is part of something bigger. It’s not just about being at least 30% hipster whilst maintaining your day job and a clean shaven face. It’s more about a desire to own things. To feel things. To do something. Not just to scroll and select. Not just to sit and absorb the constant drip feed of non-information that is pushed in our direction on a daily basis.
Perhaps in the near future I will walk into a room and people will be reading the Sunday papers as opposed to a midweek, digital, Daily Express article on what the new Samsung Galaxy S8 might look like. Or I will go out for dinner and my friends faces won’t be lit up by organic light emitting diodes.
For me it’s not necessarily about turning my back on technology. I love my phone, I love Spotify, Clash of Clans and WhatsApp. Flipboard, twitter and Snapchat. But I also love triathlon, long swims and rides where my phone is either in a locker or a zip pocket. I love speaking to human beings in a pub or a cafe without signal or wifi. I love the ritual of placing a record on the turntable and listening to my favourite album from start to finish. There is a fine balance in everything and finding it is difficult but the key is to reap the benefits of both a digital and an analogue world. Listen to singles of an artist your not sure about on Spotify and if you love it buy the album on vinyl. When you’ve only got 10 shots left of film you’ll make sure each shot is framed perfectly. Why read an article full of speculation when you can wait for the announcement. 
Looking forward 5 years, I can almost guarantee that when my first self driving car parks itself on my driveway, I will still want to have an old school convertible with a manual transmission and heavy steering. Just to keep in touch with what “real” feels like. 

Sorry blog…

I apologise for how neglected you’ve been over the past year. In a world where social media consumes such a vast quantity of my online time, the long form post has been dying a slow death. Where we formerly posted albums of holidays, we now settle for an individual instagram.  Where we once wrote blog posts, a tweet should suffice. Where we may have sent texts we now exclusively use WhatsApp. 

All that said, I still enjoy writing. I’m still developing my ability to write and over the next year I intend to be writing more. Producing more  actually. Since February this year I have been taken by the vlogging storm and have collected almost 850gb of footage across a number of locations. I intend to put some of this to good use at some point and maybe even go public with it.

Hopefully this doesn’t just remain loose words and I can produce some more anecdotal musings to share with whomever may be happy to read. Now sitting in a permenant role with work, moving in with my partner and embarking on a ridiculous triathlon hobby, I find it increasingly difficult to find the time to do this. However having consumed perhaps a bit too much journalism and media in recent months, I’ve regained interest in putting the pen to the pad. By which I mean typing. 

First Trail Run 

   
 On Saturday, I had very little planned other than running somewhere new and somewhere that was kind of trail like. I hopped in the Z3 and drove myself up to Wentwood and parked up in one of the standard car parks. There was a small map on the information board and I had a quick look. I very quickly realised I’m not going to follow a path with my phone on my arm and no general direction.

I locked the motor and legged it. I ran straight across the car park down what looked like a track. Within about 30 seconds I realised this was no human track. This was an off road track for those Defender owners and motorbikes. That said I had two legs and a pair of Salomon Speedcross 3s on and I wasn’t going to turn around. I ran what felt like a really fast kilometer down the track, staring straight at the ground and avoiding risky dips and very often. I came close to rolling my ankle with each step but by this point I decided I had flexible ankles and I’d be fine. 

This run was already hard and I ran about 4.45 pace per kilometer around deep mud and scattered sticks. I was using mostly my mind as a compass I made it back to a road and headed down and down and down. The only problem with that was that in the back of my mind all I was thinking was going back up. I slipped off the road and onto a track marked for horses. There were so many fallen trees that I was dipping and ducking at every turn and I’m pretty sure that no horse would have made it up that track. 8km in I was running down a mud road through a supposedly privatelumber yard. At 9km I decided there is no way this is going to get me back to the car. A turn. A hill. And a bloke on a bike with a trusty pooch running alongside gave me confidence I was heading in the right  direction. 

At about 9.5km I saw the car. It seemed a bit of a miracle if I’m honesty. I had no idea where I was going from the start. If I broke my ankle there was no signal. I wasn’t getting back. It was also creepy at first. A murdering gimp could be in any bush but I didn’t care. I was not remotely bothered by being in deep woodland lost as hell and continued to run. I think I’d like to throw one trail run in a week to the schedule, weather permitting. It felt like good training and switching things up is also good.

Also as a lone runner wanting a photo I actually had to strap a gopro to a tree, run away from it and then run back. Not sure what that means but I got cool pictures and footage so who cares.

New Gear and Injuries

Ah so the festive break was great. I’m now fully settled into my On Running shoes (The Clouds) which are very light, very comfortable and most importantly, lace free. I literally love that. They were expensive though. £110 is not cheap for a pair of shoes.

Cloud_Black

Anyway so I think over December I ended up following loads of athletes on instagram and decided I want to run trails as well as just road just to keep things interesting. So for Christmas I was gifted a pair of Salomon Speedcross 3s. They are proper ugly shoes but they serve a purpose and that purpose is grip and trail.

Salomon SpeedCross 3

That was all going well up until about Christmas when I got my new shoes and thought right I’ll do a sneaky 4km around the town and see how I get on in these new shoes. It was raining it was awful but the most important thing was that I’d spent the previous day doing a 12km run and the day preceding that I spent 2 hours down the skate park. The combination of flying off ramps, running my longest distance and then running a short “recovery” run was that I wasn’t really recovering. My foot felt bruised in the arches and I’m certain it’s not the new Salomons.

I managed for the first time since Christmas day to go out to a fitness class yesterday and did some light jogging, some circuits and then played a bit of basketball. My only gauge is that I did about 5000 steps at relatively fast pace from a combination of fitbit and in my head data.

The Newport Half Marathon is about 2 months away now meaning I have 8 weeks to get super fit. I need to be really careful not to over do it before then and might get back to following the Bupa programme I have blue tacked to my wall which has gone almost completely ignored.

I’ve also fitted a set of SPDs to my road bike and been out and about on them only around the estate due to the most awful weather I’ve ever witnessed in December. It’s so not ideal. The Bupa program has a cross training day on a Friday for 40 minutes. That I’m gonna switch up and put my long run on a different day so I can do Sunday cycles. Also, Mrs TimFord.co.uk was gifted a new road bike from a special someone this year so I can train up North with her now. Probably at a more chilled pace but any riding is better than none.

Half Marathon Registration and Illness

Well the past two weeks have been absolutely awful from a training point of view. I came down with a horrible cold that saw me coughing, struggling to breathe with asthma symptoms and just facially dripping. It was awful and I got absolutely zero training done.  I think for the first time since owning my fitbit I didn’t get over 5,000 steps for like a week.

Anyway all better now so that’s in the past. I’ve had a pretty good week far and have swapped focus to running for now as myself and Alex have registered for Newport Half Marathon which will be my first ever long distance race. It’s on the 6th of March and I’ve got a 3 month training plan that I’ve largely ignored for the first week. I’ve ignored the Monday rest day and replaced that with a 5km run around Bristol harbour, followed by an hour and twenty minute session of “sports/intervals” down at the sports hall. Fairly low intensity mind you but none the less a pretty heavy day. Tuesday I decided to reward myself with a day off and a burrito, which incidentally is a good day to get a burrito because you get double stamps on the loyalty card! Wednesday, I was asked if I wanted to go on a run with a chap from the office who recently completed the Bristol – Bath Marathon. I figured it would be a chilled lunchtime run but it ended up a fairly intense 10.2km with 125m of Incline. The Zig-Zag trail up to the Clifton Suspension bridge is not for the light hearted and I think it took it out of me for the next kilometer or so. We followed the bridge over to Ashton Court and then did a decent loop back to the office. 54 minutes or so of running made for a good lunchtime and it was worth it because when I got back I ate so much and it was incredible. I was pretty chuffed with the time all in all because of the really steep incline and the only 10k I’ve ran that isn’t my Prestatyn beach run.

Now my Bupa training plan reckons I should have done 4 runs this week and one cross train. I’m on track to do 4 runs, a swim and a bike including my Tuesday off. I’m looking to make sure that I get a weights session in at some point as well for a little conditioning but as usual I’m conscious not to over train at this early stage in my fitness antics.

Winter really is putting a dampener on things and at some point I’d like to be getting out on the flood route in Usk to get some hills and mileage in but it’s never light. Solstice on the 22nd and then things should be looking up, or cold. One of the two, probably both actually. I’m actually now off work until New Year so I can probably pick up swimming, biking and running for further distances up until that point. I’ve also just finished reading the Brownlee Brothers book: “Swim, Bike, Run”. Inspirational to say the least but they’ve had the perfect upbringing for it. Something makes me wish I’d kept at swimming lessons a little longer than the point where you pick up a brick in your pajamas. Maybe it would of been nice to show some interest in anything other than technology when I was younger as well. Something very clear to me is that they the time they put into Triathlon is beyond what I ever could, especially whilst holding a full time job. Alistair gets in at least 6-7 hours of Swimming a week and between 7-10 hours running. I’m not even close to either of those at the moment and would probably be looking at building up to 10 hours of training a week collectively across the three disciplines.

Anyway looking forward to the Newport Half!

10km Progress and Plan

So it’s safe to say my distance running is at its best ever at the moment but I am by no means content with it. I’ve managed to sink my 10 kilometer time down each time I’ve ran it which is currently about once a month.

Run-10K

 

Soon I intend to start following a plan of some sorts probably adapted from one of the triathlon magazine websites such as 220 so that I can build a good fitness level, exceeding that of the requirements for sprint distance triathlon. Perhaps aim for Olympic level fitness by end of next season ready to dive right in for 2017. I don’t think there is a 1 size fits all type plan out of the ones I’ve seen as they seem to be for people who have the exact same routine 365 days a year.

Table10k

One thing I do need to take from these plans and more experienced runners/swimmers/cyclists is drills and proper training. There is a habit of, swim the distance, run the distance, cycle the distance, then go a bit further in the hope I can replicate all three on race day. It’s working for getting fitter at the moment but I’m told drills will boost my speed. It never occurred to me that swimming 5 sets of 100m with 20s rest periods would be helpful. Also every time I go out for a 5 or 10 kilometre run I tend to be pushing for personal bests.

The short days are also stopping me getting out on the bike in the week which is annoying. Also, once a month I nick my Dads BMW Z3 and drive to North Wales to see Mrs TimFord.co.uk and that could lead to me only cycling 3 times a month. That isn’t going to cut it. I may have to give up on the idea of only doing running and cycling outside and during the colder months get used to going to sit on a static bike and use the treadmill. How awful.

I’m pretty sure I need to introduce a bike to run brick workout just to get the joints used to transition and squeeze two sports into a day. With swimming at 6am on Thursdays the temptation is to workout after work however I’m extremely conscious not to over train. After all this is the first time in my life I’ve been training 5-6 days a week and in all honesty I’m not sure I can eat enough to keep my weight up if I doubled up training.

For now it certainly seems my running is the strongest aspect of my fitness and I will continue to build on that alongside a weekly weights conditioning session, swim and bike ride. I need to adjust how I train and potentially bring in some bricks to make the most of the time I spend training.

Cycling Begins

So I finally took my bike out on a “bike ride” rather than just up and down Park St. in Bristol. I’ve had my Carrera strapped to the back of the old mans beamer and bought over the Severn and back to the motherland.

Every Sunday a couple of the locals hop on various types of bike and go for a leisurely ride around the delights of South-East Wales. I’ve never been on one of these, mainly because my choice of steed would have been either a Raleigh Chopper or a No Logo fixie but not any more, I have my road bike!

Since this photo I’ve fitted a water bottle and a pressure gauge pump to the frame which I was originally reluctant to do because aesthetics, but I ruin almost all of my possessions so it’s only a matter of time. Whilst I have utterly no idea what an expensive, super light bike feels to ride, I’m incredibly happy with the value for money with the Carrera TDF (Wish it was TCF). I imagine the gears could feel a bit more “tight” as the shifters don’t exactly feel like top of the range plastics let alone carbon fibre. You get what you pay for and all that jazz.

So as for the ride. I’m sorry to point out if any of the chaps who came come across this (if they can find it, 1/4 don’t have smart phones), but you guys ain’t quick. This could be down to the fact that when  I went out on Sunday, I expected to train in the same way I would when I run. This was the Sunday Stroll of Bike Rides and I think I’ll keep it up. They mentioned cycling up to Big Pit is something they’ve done before and I can imagine that’d have some decent climbs.

So training aside, the bike went well. It was fast, faster than the mountain bikes and hybrids as most people would expect but as for me, I had no idea just how much a difference it would make. Especially hills. Coming down into Ponthir on some back road I’ve never heard of was stupidly scary as I don’t have all that much confidence in the brakes on these road bikes, I find I tend to slip and I’m not sure why. I also took this oppurtunity to hook up Strava and give that a try for my first long cycle. The GPS didn’t drain my battery nearly as quickly as I manage to when I’m just using my phone on a day to day basis (I tend to charge iPhone 6, 4x a day from 0-100%). Strava has some absolutely hilarious names for roads, “Llantrisant little b***ard hill that I hate” is one of my personal favorites from our route.

We even stopped at a burger van and had a sausage sandwich in a retail park. This makes the ride seem was less scenic than I may have mentioned earlier on but actually, we cycled along the canal in Cwmbran which was all in all extremely pleasant.

After covering 42km over 3 hours including a stop for a sausage sarnie and a cuppa, I’m left wanting more. I’m looking forward to getting out and training a bit on my own and continuing the weekend cycles, most likely for the 3 times a month I’m planning on being home this year.

Tri Training is Hard

Right. 

I’ve made commitment. It’s no longer 4 days a week training weights. It’s no longer training for 4 days. It’s now a multi discipline sport of which I’m totally awful at all three. I have an entire winter to train before next season and whilst I know we are doing a super sprint distance, I’m sure we will all be fit enough to do sprint next year and hopefully work up to an Olympic the following year. 

Currently due to my continued lack of home I am focusing in running quite a bit and I’ve really got into it. At present 5km is definitely my gig. I enjoy that distance. I love running in different places. Working in Bristol has seen me find a nice route around the Downs that I think is absolutely gorgeous and when I head up North I really enjoy Prestatyn Beach because I’ve done two 10km runs along there and it’s straight and then air is lush.

As for Cycling, I’ve grabbed myself a cheap but reasonably specced Road bike from Cycle Republic which had absolutely great customer service. It’s a spin off of halfords which I’ve never had a problem with either. Top marks chaps. I’ve only been doing short rides to the office at the moment and am loving it. So strange riding a geared bike and having the ability to rest your feet. I’m looking forward to getting some serious miles on it once I’ve got it back to Wales and out of the office basement (genuinely,not having a “base” sucks).

   

 As for swimming. Good lord is it the hardest thing to do. I now realise all the effort put into getting my yellow dolphin badge is in vain because they actually teach you not to drown as opposed to how to swim well in a competitive environment. I’m in a spot where swimming non stop for a considerable amount of time seems impossible. I think I might need to get lessons again for this aspect of the tri.