When the Boys Book Club go away for the annual trip we have, over the last few years, done some of our own writing as well as reviewing whatever the book happens to be. The year in Barcelona we had a theme of Reliance and could come up with whatever we wanted to around that theme. We hunkered down in a bar and read out our own pieces to each other, it was a special moment for me and a real highlight of the trip. It’s one thing to critique published authors, it’s quite another to have a go at something yourself over a short time-frame (we had three weeks) and reveal that to others. Phil is, alongside me, one of the earliest members of the bookclub and he wrote a beautiful piece called Roll of Honour inspired by his visits to the stunning Blood Swept Lands and Sea of Red installation at the Tower of London. He has published his piece on his blog so make yourself a cup of tea and go and have a read of Roll of Honour
I’ll post a couple more of our interpretations on here hopefully over the coming week with the authors permission.
I recently went to one of my favourite of all places, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, primarily to have a look at the Al Weiwei exhibition in the newly converted chapel on the site which I had not yet got round to seeing. Before I went into the chapel I was mesmerised by the copper tree structure outside it which I had no idea was going to be there.
The sculpture of the tree is made up of numerous casts which capture the intricacies of the bark and the structure of the tree in all it’s glory, the texture and detailing are astonishing which is only heightened by the beautiful weathered copper colour. When I was talking about seeing this piece a friend said that he had often thought that if trees didn’t exist naturally in such abundance we would have examples of them in museums such is their beauty. Seeing the Iron Tree I couldn’t help think that he was right.
However the beauty was also tinged with darkness, the Iron is bolted together roughly in places and it appears as though the iron has perhaps encased the original tree killing it in the process. I couldn’t help think of how totalitarian regimes have done exactly that throughout the generations to the fee creative spirits that have existed within them, encasing them in iron and squeezing until life, creativity and freedom of expression are extinguished. This of course is what is happening to Al Weiwei himself (and countless others in China) placed under virtual house arrest, passport confiscated and finding it harder and harder to communicate with the world outside the iron grip of the Chinese regime.
A beautiful, stunning and thought provoking piece of art that made me think as much about freedom and creativity as it did about natural beauty. What’s the point of art or is that art is a conversation I have with my kids on and off, sometimes you come across a piece which for me encapsulates the point brilliantly. The Iron Tree is one of those pieces.
This year’s annual boys book club weekend away saw us continue the search for a bit of autumnal warmth by heading to Barcelona. Our trips follow the routine that I wrote about in last years Palma post and Barcelona would be no exception, no grand plan just wander around taking the temperature of the city and it’s culture as we meander, perhaps with a bit of architecture or art thrown in for good measure. We would of course be reviewing this months book, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, and discussing some of our own work as we had set ourselves the theme of Reliance and were tasked with coming up with something creative around that theme. We also had a couple of new members this year who had not been away with us before so that was also going to be interesting to see how the dynamic might be affected.
Much as I’m not a fan of getting up early in the morning, the forced early start does enable you to make the most of a weekend away as we were sat with a cold beer in our hands in a lovely little plaza by lunchtime with the day before us. We’d actually stumbled upon a historic weekend to be in Barcelona as all 881 mayors of the various towns and villages of Catalonia were in town to discuss whether they should collectively sign a memorandum calling for the right to be able to hold a referendum on independence. As a result there were TV crews around, demonstrators and a general feeling of excitement that something was afoot heightened by incredibly loud firecrackers being let off. Yellow badges were being handed out that it was explained to us were not necessarily signifying that the Catalans wanted independence but that they wanted the right to a referendum to decide their own fate Echoes of course of what we have recently gone through with Scotland and what might happen with Europe. Much as I fully support the principle of national self determination I can’t help feel that globalisation is causing communities and nations to encircle the wagons somewhat and wrap those wagons in a national flag which has potentially dangerous undercurrents.
One thing that has definitely changed, even in the short few years we’ve been doing this, is technology. Photos can be quickly snapped on phones (in the early days a couple of the lads used to rock up with some serious proper camera gear) and of course city maps, places of interest, where to eat / drink etc can be summoned up instantly. There are many advantages to this but at the same time it can add a bit of tension for those who want to experience things in the moment and not second hand through the glow of a screen or someone else’s recommendation. The same is also true of the books, do you read it with no prior knowledge or do you use the easily available information to find out more ? In our book club it is very much frowned upon to do research around the book / author but for some this is a very difficult temptation to resist
Friday’s wanderings saw us drift down through the Gothic quarter mazing our way away from the crowds down through Bareloneta to the beach before thinking about eating (we did a lot of both thinking about it and doing it over the weekend). A few people had said to me before the trip that you’ll get stung in Barcelona, really expensive. This was of course true if you couldn’t be bothered to walk a couple of streets away from the honey traps. If you could then you could (and we did) eat and drink like kings for staggeringly reasonable prices – much cheaper and better quality than Leeds that’s for sure. Walking away from the seafront area saw us adopt the method for the weekend, a simple neighbourhood bar with a few tables outside and a tapas board delivered fantastic quality and value both from a drink and food perspective every time. As in every other Spanish city the vast majority of places to eat and drink are small, independents which makes such a refreshing change from the branded sameness of much of the UK these days
We lazily headed back towards the centre of town keeping our eyes open for somewhere good to eat in the evening and popping our heads into anything that looked interesting, which included me joining some lively looking locals for a game of street table tennis. Before heading out for the evening we had a very quick turnaround at the hotel before regrouping at a local pinchos bar to discuss our own work. This is always an interesting and eye opening part of the weekend and we started doing it partly as an experiment but also we spend a lot of time critiquing ‘professional’ writers so what does it feel like to have a go yourself and open yourself up to a bit of peer reviewing. This year we had some great interpretations on the theme, from a Haiku to poetry and short stories, some funny others reflective and some genuinely moving. I think it really adds something to the weekend and it also proved to me that no matter what we do for our day jobs there is some hidden talent and creativity amongst the group. Hopefully with the author’s permission I’ll post a couple of the pieces on here. After more wandering, eating and drinking we turned in after covering a good ten miles during the day, which we would do again on the Saturday.
After clearing our heads – how nice it is to be able to do this sat in a nice plaza with a fresh coffee and orange juice – we decided to have a wander up to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece. Historically of course cathedrals did often take hundreds of years to complete but it feels slightly surreal that this is still the case today – I think 2026 is the anticipated finishing date to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi’s death, but I have my doubts. It’s a very difficult building to describe but it is undoubtedly one of the most staggering pieces or architecture (or works of art?) that I’ve come across. Of course there is plenty more of Gaudi’s work dotted about the city that you will come across from the astonishing to the mundane as he designed some of the paving you will be walking on and, as I’ve written about previously, I think you can tell a lot about a city from it’s paving.
After another stunningly good value pavement lunch we wandered down to the Museum of Contemporary Art which had a real mixed bag of a collection in it, a great exhibition called Nitrate by Xavier Ribas contrasted sharply to me against a couple of floors of impenetrable offerings and several surreal items including songs by the Housemartins and the Smiths ? We all needed something to drink after wandering round the museum before we gathered ourselves for the evening meal and a debate on The Moonstone. Despite a valiant attempt by one member to point out the relevance of the book it’s fair to say it was universally not enjoyed and I doubt very much if it will enter the reckoning for our book of the year awards in December.
Although we had the odd focal point what I enjoyed most about the weekend was the aimless wandering, the randomness of the conversation and getting to know the other members more. As we wandered about you would find yourself drifting in and out of different conversations as you walked next to a different person or sat next to someone different at the next bar, these moments are for me what makes the boys book club such a wonderfully rich and rewarding experience.
The photos on this post are a mixture of mine, Phil’s and Andrew’s taken over the weekend.
20,000 Days on Earth reflects the number of days in Nick Cave’s life so far and this engaging docu / rockumentary starring and narrated by Nick himself looks back over those days and delves into the heart of his creative processes, how he goes about writing songs and then delivering those through magnetic live performances.
I’m a big fan of Nick Cave and have closely followed his musical journey since the implosion of The Birthday Party through to his 15th Bad Seeds album Push the Sky Away, the creation of which forms the primary musical backdrop to the film. I think there are very few artists who have managed to mature so gloriously from such riotous beginnings and none who can match Cave’s brilliant lyricism that can conjure up images of such love and tenderness mixed with downright menace and intensity.
The film covers Cave’s fabulous career to date while charting his meanderings around Brighton (where he lives) for one day from dawn to nightfall interspersed with live recordings, either creating the album in France or taking it on the road triumphantly to the Sydney Opera House. Cave drives round Brighton in the drizzle going to a fictional therapy session (with Alain de Botton) and visiting key Bad Seed collaborator Warren Ellis for some eel stew whilst delivering him a pair of stuffed birds that he has in the back of the car. All the while he is chatting away and exploring his life and creativity and what that means. As he chats people from various points in his career appear in the car with him and join in the conversation before fading away as if figments of his imagination. Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld and Kylie all pop up in the car. Of course not all elements of his life are included but through this quite unusual vehicle there is enough for you to grasp what he is about, where he has come from and what drives him.
Cave comes across as a highly intelligent, reflective, caring and funny man but above all someone in love with the concept of creativity through words and this comes across beautifully in many moments of the film, not least when he describes his love for his wife Susie and how she represents the distillation of all the beauty and fantasy that he can imagine. A genuinely touching moment.
He talks of his writing process and how important it is to constantly write, to work on it, to have ideas, that each idea is a small flame and if you nurture it you never know how big the fire might grow, particularly when you hand your idea over to others and to see what happens through collaboration. He stresses the importance of having a go and to trying things as it’s far better to try and fail that not to try in the first place.
I’ve been fortunate to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on a few occasions and there are few people who can match his intensity on stage where for me he appears like some long limbed Gothic karate kicking preacher here to wrangle and writhe and conjure up some Faustian pact before your very eyes. This is captured in the final moments in the performance of Jubilee Street, which as it builds to a crescendo is mixed with flashes of Cave performing at all stages of his career before the film ends, at night on the seafront in Brighton with Cave musing on the flame of ideas.
I’ve seen lots of films of bands I like over the years and most music documentaries are to be honest not that great. This is different in many ways and I was spellbound from start to finish. Whether or not you are a Nick Cave fan go and see this it’s brilliant.
(a fellow ‘rider’ tackles the cobbled climb)
Ride 400 metres up a street, how hard can that be? Very as it turned out when the street in question is insanely steep and cobbled. Saturday saw me and Rob (@chasinsheepMTB) head over to Hebden Bridge for the Up The Buttress challenge, a timed hill climb up the steepest ‘road’ in the town. Now anyone who has ridden over in that valley knows that it is steep sided and makes for challenging riding, whether that be on or off road but this street took things to a whole other level. I don’t know how steep it is but people milling about the registration tent were saying it varied from 1 in 3 to 1 in 5. We had no chance to think much about it as after paying our fee we were lining up ready to roll, I had no idea what I was facing as you could only see the start of it from where we were to set off and that looked like a wall.
There was much talk of tyres and tyre pressure and what was the ‘best’ style of bike to get up it. There were all sorts, hardtails, full suspension, blinged out cross bikes, old clunkers and one dude having a crack while attempting to tow his daughter in a trailer ! All ages were present and it had a feel of a really inclusive event – young or old, good or bad just have a go which exactly as I like it and it should be and everyone no matter the ability was cheered, encouraged and cowbelled up the slope. To add to the air of inclusiveness anyone who got to the top, no matter how you did it, got entered into a prize draw and there were some amazing prizes including a bike from Orange !
As I got ready to go Chipps from the Singletrack crew felt my tyres, “any good?” says I, “you’ll see” was his reply with a knowing look in his eye. Oh dear. I didn’t bother thinking about trying to charge into the bottom of the slope, I thought I’ll just roll to it in bottom gear and then spin away. I’ve recently ridden up some very steep stuff so I thought I’d be OK but I’d not factored the slippery cobbles into my equation. As the wall hit and I started to peddle I thought to myself, yep I can do this and inched up the steepest part of the hill but then just before a lip across the path all my wheels were spinning like something out of the road runner cartoon and I ground to a halt. Jumped off and pushed for a bit then tried to get going again which was a lot harder than it should have been as just could not get any purchase. Finally got moving and felt OK (well that I was not going to die anyway) and plodded slowly along until the inevitable spinning of wheels hit again and I ground to a halt again. I seemed to be now standing on glass as I was actually struggling to stand still but I could not get the wheels to get any grip so resorted to pushing up the hill in a comedy slip / sliding about fashion. As I neared the top the shouts of encouragement rained down but I could not have moved any faster if Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes had been behind me.
Crossing the line I realised that at least there were some others who had slipped about, Rob however had no problems right tyre choice and running at an insanely low pressure meant he didn’t slip once, that and he’s a great rider of course. We encouraged a few riders up, got our breath back and then headed down the road to the pub for a few beers before going back to see the winners receive their fantastic prizes – a massive cobble a la Paris-Roubaix and see what our lucky numbers got us in the raffle. Rob got a bottle of beer whereas I got a fantastic Timothy Taylor’s cycling jersey. Sometimes it pays to be the snail.
How do you know where you are? An obvious question perhaps but sometimes finding an answer is not as easy. Can you remember what it was like when you first started venturing out of the house on your own, you slowly got to know your local area both by the buildings and the places where you would play. It was easy to say going to the park or the field (the field for me was where we played football, rugby and cricket next to the school) and then on the way to the river there was the old barn field (it had an old barn in it). We had places like Jenkins field, even though it might have been a long time since anyone called Jenkins had lived in the farm that owned the field. As you start to venture further afield which for me was on a road bike (or a racer as they were known back then) farms became quite key landmarks to navigate with using the good old OS map.
I still like riding bikes and using maps but when it comes to mountain biking, especially riding locally then there are other ways to navigate and that is Trail Names. Anyone who rides regularly with others will have local names for where they ride, names that you won’t find on any map with stories behind them. Often when you are out you will know where you are (in a particular wood for example) but you won’t really know where you are as in where is this wood geographically and it’s here that trail names come into there own. You need to find a way to describe where you are going, let’s head to ….. or where you are meeting up or where you have been and how brilliant / rubbish you rode a particular section which is what trail names give you, they are the framework to provide the narrative for your ride. The names will cover all different parts of your ride off road, could be a long flowy bit of single track, a particular feature or just a corner.
The names grow up organically, often due to some incident or other and they are tribal in nature, so what we might call something another crew will call in something completely different. I’m not a strava user (and am fiercely anti it really) but what it is doing is codifying sections so that slowly everyone will know sections by one name which I personally feel is a shame as I like the hyper localism of trail names. Stava might also prevent the changing of trail names as well, currently names evolve as either riders change, different things happen, superstition takes over etc all of which creates a language of features that only we know. As you start to ride with a crew slowly you will learn the routes, features and names and it becomes a right of passage until you never know something might get named after you.
Here’s a few of our local ones but I’d be interested in your favourites as well and how they came about.
- Last Drag – we often end our rides here. It’s just an incline across a field but it is a drag
- Travelator – classic starting point to many of our rides. It’s just ribbon of mud leading to a steep bank into the woods but like the travelator from the Gladiator TV show, when it’s wet and muddy you can feel like you are going backwards pretty quickly
- Puddle Duck – Possibly one of the best sections of trail in the area, multiple lines snake off the puddle duck through the woods. A place where all will be tested no matter what their ability. Tiz a bit of a beast to ride up though and named after a particular person from Garage Bikes who doesn’t like it. This trail name is a classic in that lots of people ride it but most will know it as something completely different.
- Leon’s Leap – A corner on the puddle duck, Leon overshot it and took to the sky
- The Spa – When you are leaving the woods with the puddle duck in it there is The Spa. Just the muddiest, squelchiest little section. It never drains and is muddy in summer, in winter it requires fatbike like tyres to get through it. You will put your foot down and the mud will ooze into your shoes / boots. Some would pay good money to be covered in mud – hence The Spa
- Better Climb Than Descent – Narrow and a little bit technical but not too technical so all can ride it, however it’s better to go up it. Going down it’s got thorns, barb wire fence, dog walkers etc making it a potential problem
- 5D – (Daz & Deano’s Death Defying Descent) – Bones and bikes broken but they did defy death
- Pinball Run – For me a local route that terrifies me. Very fast (if you want it to be) descent, steep at the top and bits of rock all over the place, get your line wrong and you will be pinged about like a ball in a pinball machine
- Jesus Ain’t Got Shit on Me – One of the best names, the reality is just a mud bank across a reservoir but hit it when the water level is just so and you will appear to riding on water never mind walking
- Collarbone Corner – yep you can all guess what happened to someone here
- Lynne’s Drop – very steep section off one of the local trails discovered by Lynne
- The Death Star Run – another great name, we’ve all seen Star Wars with Luke using the force to storm his way down the trench to destroy the death star. This is our mountain bike equivalent, hit this at warp speed and you will need the force to guide you through
- Dog Shit Flavoured Treacle – just a drag up a field, however the field is surround by houses so dog owners use the field, it also gets very muddy in winter and pedalling is like riding through treacle
- Wiggly Wiggly – classic wiggly ride through trees in another wood
- Knife Edge – a parallel route to wiggly wiggle but is raised with a gulley on one side and a long drop on the other so you ride exposed
- Blood Lane – or Warren’s Lane (which is what most know it as) or The Destroyer. On Strava this will be Warren’s Lane but it used to be known as the Destroyer as it did exactly that to bikes and bodies, superstition took hold and it changed to The Delight as it is anything but. I know it as Blood lane or Bloody lane as it is where the blood drained away from a civil war battlefield that is at the top.
So none of those names will mean much apart from to us, the locals who ride them but new names crop up all the time. Last night we were out riding and after going through a fence gap had to ride up a very steep lane, no run up just a standing start in the lowest gear you have (the granny ring) so that lane is now Grab a Granny
See you all at the top of Blood lane before we attack Wiggly Wiggly then head over to play on the Puddle Duck before taking a dip in the Spa
So the summer holidays draws to a close and with it our final theme set by the kids of Memory, a lovely theme on which to close as we look back over the last few weeks and hopefully remember the good times we’ve had, days out, laughs, perhaps foreign climates, adventures, family, fun, good food etc. This has definitely been my experience of the summer holidays and I hope it has been for you as well. When the final theme was announced someone said how do you photograph a memory, which is of course a good point but at the same time we use photographs to capture our memories all the time and there are many things that remind us of them, whether that memory is one freshly made or from a lifetime ago. Smells, colours, clothes, jewellery, places, food, everyday objects, things around the house, stuff stuck on the fridge door etc there are constant reminders all around us of our memories and these have been beautifully captured in the collection of images that came in this week. Of course whilst many memories are shared they are all personal to us individually and this I think was captured beautifully both by the war memorials and the photographs of children, some who have now grown into adults while others are newly born. I thought this was a lovely way to end this summers series.
I’ve actually put one of my photos at the top this week, I’ve never done that before so I hope you’ll forgive me indulgence. For me music is an important part of my life and acts as a trigger to so many memories some momentous and important others mundane. For example whenever I hear The Whole of the Moon by the Waterboys I am transported back to a wet and cold evening standing waiting for a train on London Bridge station ! I’ve been a fervent gig goer for many years even if now it’s only on occasion that I go to see a band as opposed to the several times a week when I was younger. Ticket stubbs get stuffed in pockets and left on the side somewhere but I ended up sticking lots of them in an envelope, where many still are, but a few years ago I got a picture frame and put a collage of some of them up on my wall. It might not be to everyone’s taste but each ticket contains a powerful memory.
As always huge thanks to those of you who play along interpreting the kids themes, sending in your photos and making it all so much fun, we really enjoy and appreciate it. As ever click on the gallery to open it and you can see the photos in full. Do let us know which ones you liked. So that’s it for another year, we have done three years of this now and it’s always been great fun. We will I expect continue to do the other holidays – half term photo fun; christmas photo fun etc and will occasionally just throw in a random weekend photo fun so if you like the idea and want to join in just follow me on twitter (@ianstreet67) which is where the themes get announced. I’ve also toyed with the idea of doing some sort of exhibition of themes and the whole photofun idea, not sure if I’ll ever get round to that but it could be good fun I think.