The Mates Race

Saturday was the first mates race I’ve ever organised. Bloody fantastic fun :)

Roll back a couple of months, Kat and I are in our usual window seat at Laynes Expresso drinking coffee and talking about bikes.  We pondered the possibility of organising a mates race, getting some lasses together for a laugh on bikes…

We found a decent bit of trail to race on, kept the location quiet as it’s a public trail and we would be sharing it with other riders whilst we raced. 12 lasses turned up and rode/raced, we had a cracking quiet trail, sunshine and copious amounts of tea and cake.

Plan was simple, ride the route as many times as you wanted to practice then do two ‘official’ race runs, winners were announced from predetermined strava segments.

Prizes included 1st prize for fastest lap and most creative line choice… We made 1st place trophy then everyone who raced brought a £5 gift that was used as a spot prize.
To make things interesting the shop built up a kids bike from spares and that was used to race the track in the ‘most inappropriate bike’ category. Swooping down berms on a kids bike certainly caused alot of amusement.

After the unofficial prize-giving we retired to local pub for drinks and giggles.

Proper top day out riding bikes with mates.

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Lunchtime Ride (aka The Snail goes looking for wiggly hips)

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Plenty of people manage to pack in a bit of exercise during their lunchtime, fitness classes, gym session, run, swim or just get out and have a stroll about but it’s tricky to fit in a bit of mountain biking.  My working environment has changed to one of hot desking and home working at times and the other day I’d been out at meetings in the morning and found myself back home at lunchtime, so I grabbed the bike and headed to the woods for a blast about and a bit of practice.

I feel my riding is a bit weirdy inbetweeny at the moment, I know that I have improved and am not completely useless but at the same time my mind is full of demons, no confidence and still got a lot to work on skills wise.  Still that’s all part of the fun and I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of testing myself in my own small way and the search for my own personal flowy holy grail.

Recently out riding with Rob he said that I was unrecognisable from where I was a year ago (I hope he meant my riding :-)) but having the good fortune to ride with him and others it gives me lots of things to watch and think about working on.  One of the biggest I’ve been thinking about recently is that I’m a scaredy cat unconfident rider which translates to stiffness on the bike, knowing that you are stiff on the bike though and trying to get yourself to relax are two very different things but I’ve been thinking about hips recently.  I’m more robot than Elvis so I’ve been riding with Jack Black from school of rock in my head – “Loosey Goosey Baby, Loosey Goosey” and to try and point my belly button where I want to go as when relaxed my hips will turn.  There is a danger that I’m overthinking this of course but it was useful to spend an hour really trying to think and practice this approach.  A couple of times I definitely got it right and then of course as things got a bit quicker I saw the tree I was heading towards, stiffened up and grabbed the brakes.

Still it was a highly pleasurable way to spend an hours lunchtime and a great way to practice and enjoy my local woods (see photo at top) which are now starting to dry out so it means working from home will get a lot more fun over the summer.  Of course I don’t then have to think about changing when I get back to the house, just prop the bike up grab a brew and log back in, refreshed in mind and body.

The Wonders of Pygmalion

Recently I’ve figured that it’s beneficial to read books as double features (that’s what I call them in my pseudo-English) meaning two books of the same topic or topos but from different authors. My double features so far:

Michael Frayn, Copenhagen – Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Physicists

George Orwell, 1984 – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther – Ulrich Plenzdorf, Die neuen Leiden des jungen W.

Then I realised I had another potential DF on my shelves: George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and Educating Rita by Willy Russell. Shaw’s Pygmalion became famous as My Fair Lady and so a question sprang to my mind:

Why Pygmalion?

I googled it and came across one of the most fascinating little stories I’ve ever heard about. Ovid’s Metamorphoses tells us about a sculptor, Pygmalion, who despises women for their wickedness. He makes the sculpture of a woman so beautiful he falls in love with her. On Venus’ festival he asks of the goddess to give him a woman like the statue but Venus knows what Pygmalion really wants. Coming back home he kisses his sculpture and she turns into a real woman. (Pygmalion keeps testing her realness by repeatedly groping her breasts.) They get married and have a son.

Now isn’t that gender studies gold?! A man creates his own perfect woman and she is exactly what he wants her to be. It reminds me of this wonderful gothic novella, The Sandman (1816), by ETA Hoffmann. In it the male protagonist finds his nagging and self-determined wife to be a real pain in his behind. One day he catches sight of the most beautiful woman and falls for her. She never says a word, she’s patient, she’s gracious, and from time to time the sweetest sigh escapes her mouth. Turns out she’s a robot.

The whole thing works the other way around too, of course. In German there’s a saying according to which you can bake the man of your dreams (or Mr Right is yet to be baked in which case there’re baking sets available to bake oneself a man in a most literal sense).

Back to our Pygmalion. Shaw does what is a very plausible thing to do: in his play from 1913 he asks the question of what happens after the statue turns real. I mean, imagine this. Technically there’s a woman now with the knowledge and experience of a newborn. Shaw calls her Eliza (well, strictly speaking it was Johann Jakob Bodmer who did this in 1749), makes her a London flower girl and lets her ask Professor Higgins (Pygmalion) to teach her how to speak properly so she can work in a flower shop. The playwright makes it a story about gender and class and uses education as a vehicle for her emancipation – an emancipation he grants her in the play, but not in his epilogue. A love story between Higgins and Eliza would be utterly absurd, concludes Shaw: “Galatea [the name later given to Pygmalion’s sculpture] never does quite like Pygmalion: his relation to her is too godlike to be altogether agreeable.”

Willy Russell’s Educating Rita (1980) is familiar to many as a modern version of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady. Once again a male playwright tells us a story about a woman who wants more and once again it is about education and her relationship with her tutor. Frank educates Rita – and loses her.

This is not the place to analyse the plays in depth. You guys are smart enough to do it yourselves and I guarantee you there’s enough food for your thoughts to keep your minds busy in a fun and rewarding way for awhile.

I would, however, like to draw your attention to the fact that Pygmalion has inspired painters and sculptors alike to produce some great artwork. Edward Burne-Jones, a Pre-Raphaelite, painted a series of four pictures (click on the link for more information on them):

The Heart Desires

The Heart Desires

The Hand Refrains

The Hand Refrains

The Godhead Fires

The Godhead Fires

The Soul Attains

The Soul Attains

Last but not least I would like to tell you about the Pygmalion effect: an experiment showed that students performed better after their teachers had been told that their (actually average) students were particularly gifted.

Pygmalion, Pygmalion, you curious little thing you…

Psst! If you ever felt physically attracted to sculptures, you have Pygmalionism (aka Agalmatophilia).

The Dying Graves In Spring

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My jumping-jack cat has shown up. He used to be a part of my childhood and now he’s back again. Wearing 17th century Thirty Years’ War gear (or so I think), he looks rather special. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) was so utterly horrific and dying so much more common than it always has been anyway that it was as fashionable to reflect on one’s own death as it is fashionable to dream of 15 minutes of fame nowadays (even though vanity was also a huge thing in the Baroque period). That memento mori has its place in Lent as Christians prepare for remembering the death of Christ. Curiously my walk took me to a cemetery today. It was sunny and I wanted to see the early flowers of spring. In other words: life. What do we love about these early spring flowers? They are the heralds of spring, of a beginning of a new life. They defy the final frosty days of winter, fight their way through frozen soil and layers of old leaves from last year’s autumn. In a world still dipped in shades of brown and grey they are a colourful delight to our eyes. Oh, how wonderful they looked today, in white, blue, purple and yellow! They were pure poetry. But their lives will be short – just like those of the people who lived during the Thirty Years’ War.

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The old parts of the cemetery date back to the 19th century. I’m a lover of 19th century art so this place has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, decay has been massive. Here it’s the graves which are dying and being buried by Mother Nature herself. What once was splendour is now reduced to rubble. These graves survived a war but not indifference. The spring flowers here are Nature’s oxymoron to Mankind’s crafts.

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I enter the hospital where I was treated for pneumonia a few days ago. I want to visit an old woman who I shared a room with. I find she is back to her home and nobody is able to tell me which one. A few days back, when I was caressing her cheeks and holding her hands she looked at me and smiled: “You are a good person. Hopefully we will meet in Heaven.”

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The Shop Ride

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Photo Credit: Amy (@akersh91 on Instagram)

As I talked about in this post one of the great things about mountain biking is that it is fairly unique I think in enabling people of different abilities to ride together and for everyone to get a lot of enjoyment out of it.  Nothing perhaps epitomises this spirit more than The Shop Ride. Garage Bikes, my local bike shop is particularly brilliant at organising regular shop rides and huge thanks must go to Al and Sarah for doing this.  Once a month a motley crew begins to gather on a Sunday morning, I was one of the first at the shop yesterday and it was ace to watch the riders arrive in ones, twos and small groups until a pretty impressive collection of bikes and riders of all hues was arrayed outside the shop gathering bemused looks for the passing traffic and pedestrians.  As is always the way some riders I knew, others I’d seen but didn’t know and for some it was their first ride with the Garage Bikes crew.  The brilliant thing is though all are welcome, it’s a very social ride supported brilliantly by the shop, the staff ride (unless they are racing) and guide and support all comers around our local trails.

The atmosphere is always good and outside newcomers were made to feel welcome and all were chatting away and engaging in the MTB ritual otherwise known as the pre-ride faff ! and with so many riders there was some serious faffing to be done.  29 riders pitched up yesterday in the drizzle, which was on top of the ladies ride on the Saturday which also gets a good turnout and as we set off we looked like some ragged bright baggy peloton.  As we ride along I like how you can chat, get to know new people move up and down the group or just peddle along in your own thoughts but surrounded by like minded people.  We ride at an easy pace and someone rides sweeper to ensure that we all meet up at various points.  Back at the shop we all pack in for steaming mugs of coffee, tea, biscuits, rum and banter.

The shop ride is a magical thing for me, the very essence of community and what is great about MTBing and MTB riders, friendships are made and groups spin off from the ride to organise other get-togethers and adventures.  The people I’ve met through the shop rides and the riding that has resulted has hugely improved me as a rider and really enhanced my whole riding experience so I’d like to say a big thanks to the good ship Garage Bikes and all who sail in her.

 

 

Is sound a sculpture ?

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There’s been some interesting things going on around the the Henry Moore Institute recently, people chipping away at big blocks outside reducing them to dust, clay being thrown at the outside of the building so I was intrigued when I heard about a travelling wave so popped along this lunchtime to see what that was about.  Apparently all of these are part of an Event Sculpture series which encompasses sound, objects, dance, action, images.  These events happen (mostly outside the gallery) and then the results have moved into the gallery so that they now exist within a gallery space, no longer an event ?  Something like that, anyway back to sound as sculpture, I’ve heard the expression aural sculpture used to describe music and for me it fits with the sort of sound created by a band like Godspeed You Black Emperor or Mogwai and of course it’s also the name of an album by The Strangers but is sound, something that you cannot see a sculpture?

The Traveling Wave  by Anthony McCall creates the sound (loudly) of an ocean that ‘crashes’ and moves through the gallery space powered by a series of space age looking speakers arrayed along the floor.  It’s strange being in Leeds, nowhere near the sea, been assailed by the sound of the ocean.  It creates feelings of times spent near the ocean, holidays and memories for me came vividly to the fore.  I did feel transported and it challenged my perception of art and sculpture and was of course as different a break as I could have had from my desk which is no bad thing at all.  I often talk to my kids about what is art and this is certainly something open for debate and I have no idea whether or not this is a sculpture after all beyond the speakers there is nothing to see.  Made me think though that’s for sure.

What was slightly odd was that alongside this there were a couple of people cavorting around the floor in various embraces and kisses, which I realised after several moments of bemusement was another event sculpture called Kiss by Tino Sehgal and then also around the gallery there was the noise of hammering – the sound of which is all that is left from the event a while ago that had large blocks chiselled away outside the gallery.  So in that case something did exist and now it doesn’t and all that is left is the sound of what happened.  Scratches head.

An utterly intriguing and thought provoking way to spend a lunchtime

The Known Unknown: Berlin’s Hansaviertel

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been to a place countless times but you had no idea how special a place it is? There is quite a fascination to the discovery of already known places. In this case it is the Hansaviertel in Berlin, an area that I had always thought of as being situated somewhere else and that holds famous architecture of some of the most renowned architects of the Bauhaus, Neues Bauen and Modernism, such as Walter Gropius, Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto, and Max Taut.

Only last year did I begin to explore the architecture of Berlin, which is an exciting place in this regard. Berlin is not exactly a beautiful city in a conventional sense, but its history has led to the most unusual, if not unique, developments. The grandeur of the 19th and early 20th century was followed by a war that left Berlin in rubble. The Cold War that ensued and led to the separation of the town and its people by the Berlin Wall turned Berlin into a battlefield of the architecture of two opposing systems – without actually having any money for it. Reunification, the moving of the government from Bonn to Berlin and the latest boom have added to a seemingly endless frenzy of a city that never ceases to change, a city that is never finished. You leave Berlin for a week to go on a holiday and when you come back, you won’t recognise it.

The Hansaviertel in the heart of West Berlin saw its splendour of exuberant Gründerzeit style houses almost completely destroyed in 1943. Ten years later Berlin decided to build a model future city on its grounds and invited the biggest international star architects to develop a new settlement – in rivalry to the truly gigantic and monumental Stalinallee (later Karl-Marx-Allee), that was being built in East Berlin. Both East and West wanted to show to the world that it is they who provided the best living conditions to their respective citizens. While the Stalinallee provided representative flats in which you can easily get lost, the Hansaviertel was equipped with small flats in primarily functional buildings of small, medium and high-rise format, loosely scattered, each surrounded by specifically designed green space. Two Brutalist churches, an underground station, a shopping area, a cinema (now a theatre), and a library as well as some cafés and restaurants (schools were nearby) completed a mostly independent living unit.

As I leave Bellevue S-Bahn station I’m greeted by two of the five highrisers (“Punkthäuser”) from 1957, when the new settlement was presented as the site of the Interbau exhibition. Are they pretty? No. All of the houses had to be built with as little money as possible and it shows, just like their age. Right behind them is the familiar Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), where I saw Macbeth, Brave New World and The Grapes of Wrath in the English language as a teenager. It presents itself in a modernist individual, yet modest style with a naked Henry Moore bronze sunbathing. Smaller houses that remind me of the holiday camps of my childhood pop up here and there. They look as if living here is attractive. All the houses have their balconies directed towards the south and the green space makes the whole place look very comfortable. It’s mostly clean and graffiti is rare. Yes, I understand why the people who moved in in the 1950’s and 60’s have never moved out. Beauty in an aesthetic sense is not a criterion to apply here, but a highly individual character of each single building can’t be denied. It is this specific character that you get when every single building has a different designer.

The most famous of them all is the Oscar Niemeyer Haus, Niemeyer’s only building in all of Germany. It is a crazy one: it stands on filigree feet, which makes you wonder how they can possibly carry such a large building. The lift, that stops only at two floors, is kept in an extra tower outside the house. London residents may know the Balfron Tower (1967) that has a similar concept (but looks less pretty…).

The lofty, green Hansaviertel, that is situated right between the two city centres, feels like a world of its own. But then again every Berlin Kiez does, each an intriguing little universe in itself. I can’t wait to explore the next one.

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Thanks to Ian and Jason for their support.