The Great British Take-Off: Brits in Space

Major-Tim-Peake-Britains--007Next year Tim Peake, a former Major in the British Army Air Corps, will be Britain’s first official astronaut to make it into space. Selected by the European Space Agency (ESA), Peake will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) where he’ll spend six months carrying out experiments on the ESA’s Columbus laboratory module.

While he’ll be our first official astronaut, he won’t be the first Briton in space – that honour goes to Helen Sharman, a chemist who was selected from 13,000 hopefuls for Project Juno – a joint mission between the Soviet Union and a consortium of British companies in 1991. Sharman was also the first woman aboard the Mir space station.

A handful of Brits – albeit ones with American citizenship – flew missions aboard Nasa’s space shuttle programme before its retirement in 2011, while two other astronauts with dual nationality took self-funded flights on the Russian Soyuz. Bizarrely, English soprano Sarah Brightman is in training for a privately funded seat aboard the Soyuz in 2015.

However, Peake is the first to boldly go where just a handful of Brits have gone before as part of an official astronaut corps and is due to blast off on Soyuz TMA-19M in November 2015 as part of Expedition 46, alongside Russian Commander Yuri Malenchenko and Nasa’s Timothy Kopra.

As a home-grown space adventurer, clearly Peake has the potential to become something of a celebrity, in a similar vein to Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield), whose Tweets from the ISS managed to captivate the Twitterverse and make being an astronaut look like just about the best thing in the world (and beyond).

Peake has already made a great start as poster boy for the British space contingent on Twitter (@astro_timpeake) and Flickr and he hasn’t even left the planet yet.

Naturally, we’re all hoping that the ESA has already been in touch with David Bowie to enable Peake to do a rendition of Space Oddity on the ISS, just as Hadfield did. However, he’s already cast doubt on our dreams, quipping:

“I do play the guitar, but very badly, and I wouldn’t inflict my singing on anybody.”

Come on, Tim!

While he might not be blessing us with his vocal talents (or lack thereof) any time soon, Peake has teamed up with maverick chef Heston Blumenthal to launch the Great British Space Dinner – a competition to invent a “tasty meal with a hint of Britishness” to offer a cosy slice of home while he’s on the space station.????????????????????????????????

And while we’re on the subject of taste, it’s no secret that Lavazza recently unveiled the first coffee machine designed for use in space – the superbly named ISSpresso – which will make its way to the ISS in November 2014. But wouldn’t Brit Peake prefer a nice cup of tea?

The Sussex-born spaceman sets the record straight:

“Tea in the morning, and a cup of coffee at 11 o’clock”.

He didn’t say what biscuits he prefers with his cuppa, but his quintessentially British precision when it comes to hot beverage timetables is admirable.

Space-friendly coffee machines aside, the list of innovations that filter through from space exploration programmes to consumers is, well, astronomical.

From new ways of improving commercial flight safety and superconductors that enable lower cost MRI scanners, to producing more realistic terrains in video games and making your car seats more comfy – it’s almost certain that you will have benefitted from these advances in some way.

Nasa estimates that over the last ten years alone, its spinoff innovations have created 18,000 jobs, reduced costs by $4.9bn, generated $5.1bn and saved 444,000 lives.

But if spaceflight is so beneficial to us down on Earth, then why has the UK never made any plans to put together a British astronaut corps? As you can probably guess, it all comes down to cost – with a manned spaceflight programme deemed prohibitively expensive for our frugal country’s wallet.

However, while the UK Space Agency doesn’t have its own crew of astronauts, it is a member of the ESA, providing a rather modest 6% of the European collective’s budget (although it doesn’t supply any direct funding for the ISS).Tim Peake

Further adding to Blighty’s space credentials, the UK Space Agency recently announced the eight coastal locations – six of which are in Scotland – that are under consideration to become the UK’s first spaceport. Due to open by 2018, the first site would provide a base for satellite launches as well as defence and military applications. It could also provide a lift-off point for space tourism companies like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Of all the suggested sites, my personal preference for a ‘local’ spaceport would have to be Glasgow Prestwick Airport, purely as it was the only place where Elvis Presley ever set foot in the UK thanks to a refueling stop en route from his army service in Germany. Just imagine the crossover merchandise possibilities in the gift shop.

In the meantime, Tim Peake will be flying the flag for the UK, and hopefully learning the chords to Space Oddity, if only because the lyric “Ground control to Major Tim…” is simply too good to waste.

Let’s all raise our bone china teacups to the Great British Take-Off.

This article was originally published on 17 July 2014 on The Huffington Post UK

Buran: The forgotten Soviet space shuttle

Buran HPIt’s been just over two years since Nasa mothballed the Space Shuttle, but did you know that the Soviet Union built an almost identical shuttle known as Buran?

Development on Buran (‘snowstorm’ in Russian) started in 1974, primarily for defence purposes in response to the perceived military threat posed by the United States’ shuttle programme.

With the US winning the race to put the first man on the moon, it’s easy to forget that it was the Soviet Union that managed to get the first man into space (although Yuri Gagarin beat Alan Shepard by just a matter of weeks).

In 1963, the USSR’s Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space – a milestone which, wasn’t met by the US until 1983, courtesy of the late Sally Ride. However, with Buran, it was the Americans that led the way, with the Soviets following their lead.

The Buran, superficially at least, was practically identical to Nasa‘s shuttle, almost certainly as a result of Cold War espionage. Having said that, the US didn’t make things particularly difficult for the KGB – all of the technology that went into the space shuttle programme was, inexplicably, unclassified and open to anyone.

The ‘shared’ data from the US meant that Buran was very similar to the American vehicle in terms of size and shape. However, with a strong heritage in space flight, the Soviets had also been working on a form of reusable space plane as far back as the 1960s, so they also had plenty of their own homegrown tech to deploy for Buran. The main difference was that Buran’s main engines were housed in the standalone Energia launch vehicle, rather than on the shuttle itself.

STS-Buran-petitThe propellant used in both the boosters and the shuttles’ manoeuvring systems was also different, and the thermal protection tiles were laid out differently on the two vehicles. The Buran was designed with an automatic landing system, which was only later fitted (and never used) on Nasa’s shuttle as a precautionary measure. The Soviet shuttle was designed to take a maximum crew of ten, as opposed to the space shuttle’s seven and crucially, the Soviet version was fitted with ejector seats.

The USSR built a total of eight test models and five production models and on 15 November 1988, the first flight-ready Buran shuttle was launched from the famous Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Although the flight was unmanned, the shuttle spent three hours in space and made two orbits of the Earth before landing safely.

The timing of the Buran’s 1988 maiden flight was unfortunate. With Mikhail Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika reforms in full swing, the Soviet Union was crumbling, with the fall of the Berlin Wall only a year away. The state and its economy eventually collapsed in 1991, with the Buran programme being officially cancelled in 1993 by President Boris Yeltsin, a year before the first planned flight with a crew on board.

While the US may have won the shuttle race, with the programme ceased after 30 years of service, US astronauts have had to hitch lifts to the International Space Station (ISS)aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft – at around $63million a seat.

While both the Buran, and the more successful Space Shuttle both led to technical advances for their respective space agencies, many of which are now in commercial use, the orbiters themselves now live out their days as museum exhibits.

Buran_Launchpad_12_medNasa’s four remaining shuttles (including test vehicle Enterprise) are spread out at various museums across the US. Sadly, the only Buran that actually made it to space – OK-1K1 – was destroyed in a hangar collapse in 2002.

Test vehicle OK-GL1 is displayed at the Technik Museum Speyer in Germany, while another test unit is displayed in Moscow’s Gorky Park, serving as a tourist attraction and a relic of the Soviet era.

Having made it my mission to see all of Nasa’s decommissioned space shuttles – I’ve already ticked off Enterprise, Discovery and Columbia (the last of which I saw on the launch pad ten years before its tragic demise) – Buran has now been added to the list. Next stop, Gorky Park.

For some great images, head over to russianspaceweb.com and buran.su

This article was originally published on 30 July 2013 on The Huffington Post UK

Are the people of Seoul worried about the nuclear threat from North Korea?

Huff Post SeoulGoing on a press trip to Seoul just days after North Korean autocrat Kim Jong-Un threatened to carry out nuclear attacks on South Korea, Japan and the US wasn’t exactly ideal timing.

But after bombarding the poor PR company in charge of the trip with a barrage of questions, placating worried parents and notifying the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of my travel plans, I flew out to Gangnam with a group of UK tech journalists.

While spending much of our time checking out LG’s latest innovations and being shown the sights of Seoul, it was hard to ignore the heightened tensions with the neighbour state.

The annual military exercises that take place between the US and South Korean forces around this time always tend to raise tensions, with North Korea viewing the training drills as a practice run for invasion.

However, this year the verbal response from the north of the peninsula has stepped up a gear, with a “state of war” being declared.

It was feared that North Korea may take the 101st birthday of the founding father Kim Il Sung as an opportunity for its threatened missile launch or perhaps something more sinister. However, the anniversary came and went without incident, except for some isolated protests in Seoul where South Korean activists burnt effigies of the Kim family in the streets.

With Seoul only an hour or two’s drive away from the border, are the inhabitants of the densely populated metropolis worried about an imminent nuclear missile strike from their neighbours? Not a bit, it would seem.

Obviously it would be unwise for the South Korean government to ignore the rhetoric from Pyongyang, with defence minister Kim Kwan-Jin stating that Seoul is fully prepared for an attack. However, while the authorities are acting with due caution, the general population of Seoul appears to be paying the young despot’s threats very little heed indeed.

It would probably be fair to say that the news of YouTube sensation Psy’s follow-up single to Gangnam Style has generated more buzz here than the bellicose threats from the fledgling dictator. You can hear the Korean rapper’s work being played constantly in bars and shops across the city and we were also treated to his new video several times by our hosts. There are even Gangnam Style socks for sale in the tourist-trap souvenir shops (yes, reader, I bought them).

Questions about the current tensions on the peninsula are generally met by the locals with a friendly chuckle and a reassurance that we’ll be perfectly safe.

While US President Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye are due to meet in Washington DC on 7 May to hammer out a solution, the local population in Seoul appears to be astoundingly nonplussed about the threats, having heard a lot of the same in the past.

Writing in the Korea Times, columnist Donald Kirk said:

On the streets of Seoul, no one is talking about war or looking for bomb shelters. Armageddon, Koreans believe, is not at hand. The mood is all for peace and dialogue. The question remains where, how, on what terms and to what end.

Kirk hits the nail on the head. The city is as busy as you’d expect a bustling conurbation to be. In fact, many of the streets are currently lined with strings of colourful lanterns to celebrate the 2,576th birthday of Buddha on 17 May while the blooming cherry blossom trees add an extra dash of defiant cheerfulness.

Tourist hotspots, such as Gyeongbokgung Palace are still very busy, although, most of the tourists there appear to be Korean and Chinese, with very few Westerners around. We were told that foreign visitor numbers are down since last year, most likely as a result of the ongoing tensions.

City nightlife still appears to be in full swing, although US soldiers stationed in South Korea are currently on curfew, cutting the number of Westerners out on the streets late at night.

There is no visible military presence in central Seoul at all, although we did spot a lone army helicopter hovering above the city. It wasn’t until we ventured to Paju, just 16km from the border that we spotted soldiers at a South Korean army base. Most of the tiny guard huts running along the length of the border appeared to be empty – we only spotted one that was manned.

Our tour guide compared the country’s current situation to that in Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall – in the sense of a country temporarily divided. Rather than concentrating on the current tensions and expecting another Korean war, there is much talk of inevitable reunification in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, the good folk of Seoul carry on with their daily lives. Maybe if Kim Jong-Un uploaded a record-breaking YouTube video with a memorable dance routine, they’d take more notice of his increasingly desperate attempts to cement his place in history.

This article was originally published on 22 April 2013 on The Huffington Post UK 

Stricter gun laws for the US?

Huffington Post gun control blog post
Another day, another school shooting. Suspected gunman Adam Lanza, is said to have shot dead 18 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, as well as his mother and then, somewhat predictably, himself.

It’s the third large-scale shooting in the US in 2012 – twelve people were killed in a cinema in Aurora, Colorado in July 2012 and six people were gunned down at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August.

The list of  major gun attacks in the US, including the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 when 32 people were shot dead, is disturbingly long.

Every time one of these tragedies happens, the US Government and media are outraged, mournful, and extremely vocal about introducing legislation to stop it from happening again, but nothing ever happens.

The second that there’s any mention of a sensible crackdown on ownership and regulation of weapons, the gun evangelists point everyone towards their precious Second Amendment, which is clearly more important to them than slaughtered children.

Forming part of the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment to the US Constitution states:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”.

Adopted in 1791, just a few years after the American War of Independence, the amendment was of its time – written to ensure that the American people could defend themselves against the British and any other enemies. It wasn’t intended to enable a disgruntled, mentally unstable individual to legally buy guns with ease and kill with alacrity during times of peace.

Times change, and so too has the context of the original Amendment. Let’s not forget that the Bill of Rights itself originally only applied to white men, with women, native Americans and African Americans left out of the party until Amendments further down the line.

I’m British and I live in the UK, so why do I even have an opinion on American gun control? Well, I have family on the other side of the pond and  my brother is a naturalised American. I’d like to think that they live in a country where any murderous oaf can’t just waltz into a Walmart and stock up on guns and ammunition. Sadly, that’s not the case.

On one visit to the US, we did a National Rifle Association of America shooting course, so I have a qualification from the NRA stating that I know how to load and fire a semi-automatic handgun. Preposterous, I know, but true.

As the only Brits in the room, we were also the only ones who’d never fired a gun before. I was amazed that we were just able to walk in and handle a gun – no police record check or anything.

To be fair, the trainers were excellent, with a refreshingly responsible attitude to guns. As well as mocking their own organisation’s quaint insistence on referring to guns euphemistically as “firearms”, rather than “weapons”, our instructor also told us that if any of us were thinking of getting a gun for home protection then that would be a extremely foolish.

“Get a Louisville Slugger instead”, he said (that’s a baseball bat, to the Brits). Making this training course mandatory for gun owners would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Second AmendmentAnyway, what the hell do we know about gun massacres in the UK? Unfortunatley, a fair bit.

In 1987, when Michael Ryan used several legally owned guns to kill 16 people (including his mother) and injure a further 15 bystanders in the notorious Hungerford Massacre, the Government immediately took steps to change the law.

As a result, the Firearms Amendment Act 1988 banned ownership of semi-automatic rifles and restricted the use of shotguns with a capacity of more than three rounds.

In 1996, when gunman Thomas Hamilton went into a school in Dunblane, Scotland and shot dead 16 pupils and a teacher, the nation was outraged. Which is precisely why there was only minimal opposition when the Government took steps to implement the Firearms Amendment Act 1997, effectively banning private ownership of handguns in the UK.

As a result, we have a very low number of gun-related deaths on UK soil compared to the USA.

Speaking in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, President Obama said: “Our hearts are broken” and added “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics”.

A strong statement, and no doubt that a visibly upset Obama was expressing genuine sentiment, but as a political statement of intent, they’re just words.

I don’t wish to seem opportunistic,  but this latest tragedy provides an ideal chance for the debate on gun control to move forward. However, as things stand, it’s highly unlikely that any significant changes to gun ownership laws will make it through Congress.

“Today is not the day to engage in a policy debate about gun control”, said White House press secretary Jay Carney on the events at Sandy Hook. To which I say, yes it bloody well is.

This article is also published on The Huffington Post UK – Today is not the day to engage in debate about gun control? Yes it bloody well is.

Interesting reading:

The gun control that works: no guns. – The Economist

Newtown and the madness of guns – The New Yorker

Why gun rights matter – Conservative Daily News

Neil Armstrong 1930-2012

Neil ArmstrongWhen I heard the sad news of Neil Armsrong’s death via NBC‘s Twitter feed, it really hit home that the only generation to have walked on the moon won’t be with us forever.

Many of the elite Apollo astronauts, including first American in space Alan Shephard, have already departed and only two of the Mercury Seven – immortalised in the 1983 biopic The Right Stuff – survive (although John Glenn continues to bat a cracking innings at the age of 91 and even managed to get into the record books as the oldest person in space when he flew on the space shuttle at the age of 77, as well as being the only individual to fly in both the Mercury and shuttle programmes. What a life!).

Even relative youngster and first American woman in space Sally Ride passed away a short time ago. Sad times indeed.

If we ignore the crackpot conspiracy theorists who claim that it was all an elaborate hoax (as, thankfully, the scientific world does), the moon landing in 1969 can be considered one of the most significant moments in 20th century history.

It’s safe to say that I’m a bit of a space nerd. I own mission patches from all of the Apollo flights, my favourite mug is emblazoned with Apollo 13 flight director Gene Kranz’s memorable book title “Failure is Not an Option” and I got up at 6am on a Monday morning a few weeks back to witness the Mars Curiosity rover touching down on the Red Planet.

Neil ArmstrongI recently visited the the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. where I got the chance to see the Apollo 11 command module as well as a huge selection of artefacts from the mission including spacesuits, and the Hasselblad camera used by Michael Collins to take photos of the lunar module.

In short, I would’ve loved to have been around to witness such an important moment in the history of science and exploration – my mum has always talked fondly of staying up until the small hours to watch the moon landing with my gran.

Although most well-known for his history-making role as Commander of the Apollo 11 mission and being the first human being to set foot on the moon, making him the first of only 12 men to do so, Armstrong also flew in Nasa’s previous programme, as Command Pilot of the Gemini 8, making him one of an elite band of astronauts to have flown in more than one space programme.

Second man on the moon Buzz Aldrin paid tribute to Armstong, saying:

“My friend Neil took the small step but giant leap that changed the world and will forever be remembered as a landmark moment in human history.

“I had truly hoped that in 2019, we would be standing together along with our colleague Mike Collins to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of our moon landing. Regrettably, this is not to be. Neil will most certainly be there with us in spirit”.

Neil ArmstrongLast year I wrote about the the end of the Space Shuttle programme, which was canned after 30 years to make way for the Constellation programme, in which the Americans were set to go back to non-reusable spacecraft.

Following the NASA Authorization Act 2010, this plan was ditched with Nasa not expected to launch its own spaceflights again until at least 2016. In the meantime, American astronauts will be hitching rides to the International Space Station with the Russians, for the measly sum of around $63 million per seat.

We can only hope that Nasa picks up where it left off in terms of manned spaceflight. Yes, it’s expensive, and yes, it’s dangerous, but in the spirit of human endeavour, it would be a crime not to invest in further exploration.

While the future of spaceflight appears hesitant, one thing’s for certain – whatever “the right stuff” is, Armstrong had it.

Images: Nasa

What London 2012 has taught me

london 2012 logoI didn’t apply for Olympics tickets in the initial rush as I thought I’d be happier watching it from the comfort of my sofa rather than braving the crowded tube to Stratford. I was wrong.

After the tremendous opening ceremony and a week of fantastic sporting action I wanted a slice of the Olympic atmosphere for myself. I was lucky enough to score some last-minute day passes to the Olympic Park, along with some much-needed corporate hospitality (thanks Acer UK).

As well as offering up a sporting feast packed with drama and new world records, the Games has also silenced the critics – mainly the grumpy Londoners who were incensed at having to share their transport network with even more tourists than usual.

Along with the realisation that TFL is capable of providing a decent service when it really tries, there are a few other things that London 2012 has taught me…

Ain’t no party like a British Olympics party. When the opening few bars of Elgar’s Nimrod rang out at the start of Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony I knew it was going to be good, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for just how good.

Being a bunch of cynical gits, I think we were all a little surprised by how much we enjoyed the show and how proud we were of it. Beckham on a speedboat, Voldemort, Sgt Pepper, Chariots of Fire, the London Symphony Orchestra.

London Olympics Opening CeremonyIt couldn’t have been more British if we’d done a little dance to celebrate the NHS then got James Bond and the Queen to parachute in from a helicoptor. No, wait – we did.

The fact that some aspects of the ceremony appeared incomprehensible to many non-Brits made it all the more amusing (an astounding number of American tweeters and media outlets seemed to be under the impression that Kenneth Branagh was portraying Abraham Lincoln, rather than Isambard Kingdom Brunel).

And we haven’t even seen the closing ceremony yet, although the Spice Girls are currently limbering up to perform so perhaps the less said about that, the better.

The UK is a truly multicultural country, no matter what the Daily Mail tells us. It was a metaphorical kick in the balls for Rick Dewsbury and his outrageously racist post-opening ceremony diatribe on the Daily Mail’s website, not to mention the ill-judged tweets from Tory MP Aidan Burley, whinging about “lefti multi-cultural crap” when Jessica Ennis, a mixed race lass from Sheffield, won gold in the Heptathlon.

It was a further jab to the ribs, and a mocking tweak of the nose to the bigots when Somalian-born muslim Brit Mo Farah won gold in the 10,000m, to the deafening cheers of the home crowd.Mo Farah London 2012

When quizzed at a post-win presser on whether he would have preferred to run for Somalia in the 10,000m, Farah shot back “Look mate, this is my country”. And bloody good on ‘im, too.

The only shame is that we even had the need to draw attention to these athletes’ backgrounds. One would hope that those who continue to do so in a derogatory manner are nearing extinction.

Twitter has given racists, bigots and generic idiots a new platform. “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Star Wars’ Obi-Wan Kenobi may have been talking about the Mos Eisley cantina when he said that, but it’s a phrase that pops into my head when I consider the colossal amount of odious fools that populate Twitter.

We live in a country that embraces free speech so you’re more than welcome to say whatever you like on Twitter and beyond. Thankfully, we also live in a country with laws that prohibit racial hatred and the threat of violence so while you can say what you like, you’ll also have to face the consequences.

Tom Daley and Peter WaterfieldTweeter @Rileyy_69 found that out when he mocked Team GB diver Tom Daley’s performance in the synchro diving event, making references to the young athlete’s father, who passed away in 2011. So far, so vile. But not really a police matter.

However, after dishing out some more abuse, the twitter troll spectacularly backtracked, making empty apologies and begging for forgiveness, before making another dramatic about-face, calling Daley a c**t and threatening to drown him.

After the whole debacle went viral, he was arrested and later released with a formal warning. No matter how comically unconvincing the culprit, the police are obliged to take death threats seriously.

Meanwhile, the Games has seen Swiss footballer Michel Morganella unceremonioulsy ditched after tweeting offensive comments aimed at South Koreans, while Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was dropped from the team after making offensive comments about African immigrants on the micro-blogging platform.

The only saving grace is that while vile bigotry can be broadcast to millions of people in an instant via Twitter, the backlash from more level-headed folk standing up to this sort of nonsense is just as powerful, if not more so.

Football shouldn’t be an Olympic sport. There’s just no need. There’s quite enough top flight football in the world as it is and I say that as a fan.Team GB football

The Team GB footballers didn’t have what it takes to pull a winning performance out of the bag when it really counted. It was almost as if they didn’t care. Well, we didn’t either.

A sneaky channel change to watch the inevitable quarter-final penalty shoot-out exit and then swiftly back to the athletics. Move along, nothing to see here.

We don’t have to live in fear of a terrorist attack. It seems that the threat of terroism looms over any major public event these days and the Olympics has, of course, been a target in the past including the bombing at the Atlanta Games in 1996 and the massacre of Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972 by the Palestinian Black September group.

London 2012 olympic armyAt London 2012, the airport-style security made it very hard for any would-be trouble makers to get anything remotely dangerous through the gates of the Olympic Park.

While I felt slightly uneasy watching the British army searching through my make-up bag, having the armed forces taking charge of the security certainly made me feel safer, especially after the shambles that was the Locog contract with private security firm G4S. Our government may have been caught napping in the past when it comes to security, but it looks like they’ve upped their game in keeping the would-be terrorists at bay. Let’s hope so.

I don’t understand competitive cycling. Not even remotely. Keirin, Peloton, Omnium – I haven’t the foggiest what any of these things are, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Hoy, Pendleton and Wiggins and the rest racing to victory.

In fact, we all enjoyed the cycling so much that ludicrously coiffed London Mayor Boris Johnson has announced a new annual two-day RideLondon event which will begin in 2013.

Stephanie Rice

Britain is better at sport than Australia. Yeah, I said it. Great Britain is currently thrashing Australia at sport. Lots of sports.

We’ve always had a mostly chummy sporting rivalry with our antipodean cousins and having had to endure taunts about our rugby team and relentless sledging on the crease, we’re bally well going to make the most of our winning streak in the Olympics. As if Australia wouldn’t do the same.

Look, Aussies, no doubt you’ll be back to hammering us in whatever sport you see fit sooner than we can say “look at all our shiny gold medals!”, but just let us have this one for a while, eh?

I miss sport. As unbelievable as it may sound to my  ‘newer’ friends, I was pretty damn sporty when I was younger. I played cricket on a Saturday in the summer, rugby on a Sunday in the winter. I was in the school gymnastics club and the tennis club.

I competed in the annual mixed doubles tournament alongside the sportiest boy in our year, twice (we even got to the final – largely thanks to his sporting prowess, rather than my own). The following year I competed with my then boyfriend. Out in the first round. That time, it was undoubtedly down to my sporting prowess.

I ran in the district sports, once as a last-second replacement for a relay runner in the school year above. I don’t have any gold medals, but I do have a bronze medal for athletics and one of indeterminable colour for rugby (plus a paper medal that my brother made for me when I first managed to swim a width of the ‘big’ pool without armbands).

I’ve got a large collection of badges for distance and survival swimming and a patch for trampolining. Hell, I’ve even got badges for Grade I and II in roller skating (yes, really). Pretty much the only sport I didn’t play as a youngster was netball – simply because it’s one of the most tedious games ever invented.

The downside to lots of sports, is lots of sporting injuries. Dodgy knees, a back injury and a pesky Achilles tendon problem all put the kibosh on my sporty days. Having said that, the Olympics has inspired me to attempt to regain an acceptable level of fitness (albeit one that’s slathered in knee support bandages and Deep Heat).

Obviously I’m not aiming for the dizzy heights of Ennis-esque abs, but a sporty “sod off” to the pinched cartilage in my knee and the Sciatic nerve pain in my back would be a start.

But, enough bleating about my sore knee. I’ve definitely taken something away from London 2012 (and I’m not just talking about the Team GB sweatbands that I braved the London 2012 ‘megastore’ to buy).

It appears that the Games may well leave a tangible legacy in the form of a new generation of sporting role models to inspire the nippers, along with a few more sports venues for them to train in, not to mention a new-found confidence among the inhabitants of our green and pleasant land.

Bravo, London 2012 – you’ve done us proud. Now, if you’ll excuse me – I’m off to do some training. Or watch some more of the Olympics on the telly. One or the other.

Good reads:
London 2012: the top twenty Olympic moments from The Telegraph’s Harry Wallop
The best and least worst of the London 2012 opening ceremony by Kate Solomon
London 2012: 20 more olympic oddities by Kathryn Westcott and Lucy Townsend
A profile of London by AA Gill

Nikon D3200 review

Nikon D3200 reviewThe Nikon D3200 is an entry-level DSLR with a friendly guide mode – ideal for fledgling shutterbugs that don’t know their aperture from their ISO.

Following on from its predecessor, the Nikon D3100, though not replacing it, the brand new Nikon D3200 has upped the ante for entry-level DSLRs, thanks to its show-stopping 24-megapixel sensor.

Going up against the likes of the Sony Alpha A65 and the Canon EOS 600D, the Nikon D3200 has got its work cut out when it comes to earning a place in ourBest Digital SLRs list.

The D3200’s lightweight chassis, which hasn’t changed much in design terms since the previous model, weighs in at just 505g (with battery and memory card) which means that it never becomes cumbersome, even after carting it around all day.

At 125 x 96 x 76.5 mm, the chassis isn’t too chunky, but still remains reassuringly sturdy and while Nikon makes no claims about waterproofing, the D3200 proved to be reasonably resilient to the elements when we tested it in the pouring rain.

The D3200 is available in conventional black or a shiny red finish, should you be so inclinded.

One of the key selling points on the new snapper is the guide mode. Enhanced since its inclusion on the D3100, this nifty feature is easily accessible via the top-mounted dial and holds your hand through the basics. Teaching you how to set up a variety of shots, it even includes examples of how the pictures should look.

For example, one of the tutorials shows you how to get the best picture of a sunset by tweaking the white balance to capture the red tones. Follow the suggestions, alter the settings and the picture will change to reflect how the finished article will look. There may be a few kinks to iron out (such as the overeager pop-up flash), but it’s a damn good starting point for newbies.

You can read the rest of the article at T3.com (originally published 17 May 2012).