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Pie in the Sky: A natter, a new-old Leica and a gathering of vintage Porsche people


Last week, for the first time in many months, I managed to join a group of Porsche driving friends for their monthly “pie and natter” lunchtime run. Venue for the gathering was the exceedingly scruffy Pie in the Sky bikers’ cafe at Cowan in New South Wales. It was a well-timed outing for me.

The last few months have been challenging, with my wife seriously ill, and I have not had the opportunity to join the group. But this week, with Val in hospital, I headed down to the gathering straight after the morning visiting session was over.

Pacific Highway no longer

From my home in Terrigal to Cowan it is a 50 km journey south if I take the direct route, which means taking the M1 motorway, or six or eight kilometres longer if I take the winding old Pacific Highway.

The Pacific Highway used to be a great, fun and challenging drive. Sadly, a blanket 60 km speed limit was imposed a few years ago, taking the edge off the excitement. At the same time, they let a man with a double-white-line marking machine loose on all the tasty bits. Worse, the road is now regularly covered by police highway patrol cars. I have even seen the odd mobile speed camera van on straight sections. What is the world coming to?

The reason for all this vigilance is that The Pacific is a favourite stretch of road for motorcyclists. It’s the bends and curves they love. Sadly, the number of white crosses beside the road and the presence of sad bouquets of wilted flowers propped on the Armco barriers testify to the risks.

When I drive the road, I try to stay as far to the left (yes we do drive on the left in Australia) as I can on the fast curves for fear of hitting a motorcycle rider cornering at high speed, leaning way over the centre line at a seemingly impossible angle. I have nightmares of a Shoei helmet with a head inside it, hitting the exterior mirror of my car at high speed.

Location, location

The attraction of the scruffy Pie in the Sky is that it is only a few kilometres north of the outskirts of Sydney and it is in a great location. You can drive on up the road through the superb fast curves of the downhill section to the Brooklyn Bridge, over the beautiful Hawkesbury River, through the Brisbane Water National Park as far as the outskirts of Gosford.

Then you turn the bike around and ride all those bends again from the opposite direction. With luck, you arrive back at the cafe in one piece for a pie and a coffee. If not, you’re probably in the sky…

The cafe is on a large site with plenty of bike and car parking, and it overlooks a beautiful national park. But it is a scruffy, rundown joint. The pies are ok, and the staff are friendly, but that’s it. It really could do with a big makeover. Still, it is in a great location, it is an institution, it has a following, so there we are.

Old men, dun bikin’

For owners of old vintage cars. The short jaunt out to Cowan is an easy and enjoyable run, and several car clubs have made it a regular mid-located meeting place predominantly for members who are retired. Older men with flat caps talking about old cars. You get the drift, I’m sure.

Last week, there were few regulars and several newbies in their cars. There were no interesting vintage bikes, but plenty of Ducatis and other late-model crotch rockets—as high powered sports bikes are known. And it was a beautifully warm day—the ideal environment for standing around, looking at polished metal.

It’s been many weeks since I had taken any photos with a camera (ion I exclude the iPhone, perhaps unfairly). I have had a recent dabble in iPhone photography on my early morning walks see, and you can check the results here. But, despite being impressed with the IQ and the technology, I decided that it’s not for me.

Trader John

In my enforced photographic layoff, besides trading my Leica Q in for a Q2 (which I have since barely used), I decided to buy myself a second X1 from an eBay seller. Perish the thought that my original would give up the ghost and I’d be left X1-less after all these years.

A quick explanation: I have been taking photos for over sixty years, and my most satisfying results have come in the past ten years while using my X1. I love the camera. The IQ is stunning, despite the age of the camera (it was launched in 2009) and the relatively low 12 million pixels.

Yet it is small and feels good in my hands, and the controls and menus are straightforward. I know it does not have an interchangeable lens, an EVF or image stabilisation, nor twin SD card slots or 34 focus zones, but I don’t care. I love it. It works for me, and I have won a major photo competition and had pictures shortlisted by several others. And, while not counting any chickens before they are hatched, I have recently been notified that one of my X1 photos is on the final shortlist for another prestigious major award.

Can never have enough backups

My concern recently has been that one day my X1 will suffer a major failure, and Leica will not have the parts to repair it, or the cost will be too high. So I have bought a backup X1—a mint example at a brilliant price from an Australian eBay seller. It came complete with the box, battery charger, and strap. Its first outing was to Cowan last week and here are the photos I took with it. Not photo competition candidates, just a record of a relaxing couple of hours which I desperately needed.

The silver car is an aluminium-bodied Bentley special. It most likely uses the chassis and running gear of a post-WW2 Mk VI Bentley. The post-war “budget” Bentleys were pretty dull cars—upmarket Toyota Camrys in their day—but a few have had a second life as specials such as this one.

The Hotchkiss is a French vintage car made by the eponymous French armaments manufacturer. The car’s radiator insignia incorporates a flaming bomb—a nice touch, eh?

The radiator belongs to a 1935 Armstrong Siddeley Special. This car is about the size of a small house and must be very hard work to drive in modern traffic—very slow, poor brakes, vague steering, large turning circle and that’s just the headline worries. After driving to Cowan and back, the owner probably needed a good lie down.

For me, though, this return visit to the Pie in the Sky came as a relief after all the weeks and months of hospital visiting, stress and worry. And, at least, I didn’t have to cook that pie myself.

You can find more from John Shingleton, at The Rolling Road. And on Instagram

Read more from John Shingleton here on Macfilos


  1. So sorry to learn about your wife’s illness, John. You deserved a break and you clearly made the most of it. My sincere wishes for your wife’s recovery.
    My X1 was recently serviced and repaired by Leica UK; so spares are still available. I understand your desire for more insurance against failure.
    Stay safe and enjoy your X1 photography.

  2. I’m truly sorry to hear about your wife and hope she willl recover. Congratulation on your purchase of your second X1. The images that you can pull out of that small camera are really amazing. As an aside Hotchkiss were quite popular in France between the two world wars. I also wish to thank you for talking me into buying a X camera. I’m much indebted to you for my purchase. Seeing your images were indeed the deciding factor. If the Ricohs have been my travel cameras in Asia and come in handy for macro-photography or kitesurfing images, the X2 remains my most used camera.
    Stay safe and enjoy your X1


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