2012: what I got up to

1. Seeing a new chapter in Scottish motor sport

Although I packed in serious motor sport reporting a year and a bit ago now, I did attend one event this year: The DCC Stages back in May. It was a low-key rally held entirely within the confines of the Royal Highland Showground on the outskirts of my home town, Edinburgh, something so low-key that nobody outside of the Scottish rally community would even know it was taking place. What motivated me to hop on the bus at an ungodly hour to go and stand in a field and watch cars go past, however, was the ten or so little cars running right at the back of the rally. Because whilst these Nissan Micras, Peugeot 107s and Vauxhall Corsas might have looked considerably slower than the other rally cars, they were being driven by a bunch of 14 and 15 year-olds.

For the first time ever, 2012 saw the creation of a rally series for budding stars of the future that

Junior 1000 Micra pushing on in Edinburgh

Junior 1000 Micra pushing on in Edinburgh

enable them to get competing before they held an ordinary road licence. Unlike circuit racing, rally drivers usually have to wait until they’ve passed their driving test at the age of 17 before they are allowed to drive competitively. But thanks to the tireless efforts of Welshman Tristan Dodd, things are changing in the higher circles of British motor sport. My former boss and retired rally driver David ‘DIGB’ Barlow is the man who has taken on the challenge of making this Junior Rally Formula work in Scotland, and judging by the enthusiasm, commitment and hunger to learn I saw on my visit to Ingliston back in May, he’s made a grand job of it.

2. Taking Japanese language to the next level

2012 also saw me continue to push on in my endeavours to improve at Japanese. The year began well when a stiff brown envelope dropped through the door, containing an unexpected certificate that confirmed I’d passed the next level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

I was certain I’d failed the exam, so was both delighted and surprised to find out I’d passed. Nonetheless, the exam did show me that I really needed to work on my reading and kanji (Japanese character) recognition if I wanted to progress further. To this end I started studying kanji a bit more seriously, reading the Japanese news during lunch and coffee breaks daily and making a point of familiarising myself with as many characters as I could – and remembering them.

And then in October, I delivered my first lectures in Japanese during a month of seminars and conferences in the Far East. They weren’t perfect by any means, but they were delivered with gusto and excessive confidence. The professors and students in the audience seemed to understand what I said, and asked questions afterwards that I was able to respond to. That’s a win, I suppose.

I’m still nowhere near as good as I (unfortunately) make out to be, and suffer from an excess of confidence. With that in mind, this year’s focus is going to be on humility and precision, as I try to improve further.

3. Visiting the homes of racing legends

As my confidence in Japanese language has grown, so has my propensity for exploring when I go to the Land of the Rising Sun. Getting on strange trains and alighting at one-horse stations in suburban Tokyo has helped me to visit some of the places that kept my passion for cars fuelled during my teenage years. In the last twelve months, I’ve traveled to the headquarters of both Nismo and Impul, who run the red and blue Nissans in Japanese GT racing respectively.

Calsonic Skyline replica at Impul in Tokyo

Calsonic Skyline replica at Impul in Tokyo

I’ve come to realise that the maps Japanese companies put on their websites are notoriously vague, even more so when the business in question expects most of its clientele to arrive by car for parts or services. As such, Google Street View has become a good friend of mine in recent times, if only to remind me that the average map skips five or six side streets. When I did finally get to where I wanted to be, I was hugely heartened to find that even in a prosperous country famed for its high-tech sports cars, it’s the same motivation, enthusiasm and slightly make-do nature that keeps motor sport running.

4. Finding out more about my own country

Work this year took me to all kinds of far-flung parts of Scotland to research what people think about low-carbon energy. Due to the rural and remote nature of much of Scotland, this necessitated a lot of driving and a lot of overnight stays in interesting locations.

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Ardmucknish Bay, by Oban, Argyll

2012 saw me become particularly well acquainted with Oban and the Argyll area, which is (a) very pleasant and (b) absolutely miles from anywhere. I also learned an awful lot about how far from any kind of civilization the north-east corner of Scotland is, particularly if one is traveling by public transport. And I spent an inordinate amount of time in the coastal reaches of Moray, enjoying deliciously unhealthy breakfasts, glorious beaches and painfully cold winds.

5. Riding in the next chapter of aviation history

At the end of November I had the good fortune to be able to travel on a Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’, the plane widely heralded as a game-changer for the aviation industry. Lighter, more efficient and above all more comfortable for the paying passengers, the 787 is widely touted as the Next Big Thing among aeroplanes.

The Dreamliner’s development has been long and torturous, with numerous delays and development hitches as Boeing wrestled to get their heads round the new technology and innovations they hoped to implement. The first Dreamliners are now flying, however, and a few teething troubles aside are providing good service for their operators.

787 after sunrise in Frankfurt

787 after sunrise in Frankfurt

I’d be lying if I said the 787 blew me away. On the inside, it seems pretty much like any other big jet with some fancy LED lighting and slightly bigger windows. But being able to say I’d traveled on a new Dreamliner was still pretty cool.

6. Getting into photography

I may only have a rubbish camera I bought in the sale at Dixons six years ago, but that hasn’t stopped my trying to improve my photography. I did photography as part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award when I was in high school, and with my Dad’s words ‘think about composition’ ringing in my ears, I tried to make an effort last year to really think about what I was taking photos of.

The result of this was a few decent shots, a handful of interesting things and piles and piles and piles of rubbish, but getting a few signals through the noise just made it all the more rewarding. Despite my Dad’s other lecture about Henri Cartier-Bresson only ever having a very basic camera – and his catchphrase of ‘what would Cartier-Bresson do’ – I’m looking forward to upgrading my camera in the near future and seeing what I can do. If nothing else, more photos will mean less of my rubbish words for all you readers to have to sift through…

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