Scavenger Hunt

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City centres are, much to my dismay at times, places that seem to exist purely for commerce they are not generally somewhere where you go to play but they are full of all sorts of building, objects and people and so in many ways they are perfect places if you think of them in different ways.  Doing the photo fun projects that we do has helped me look at my city through different eyes as I try to interpret the themes set by my kids.  I cycle through the city most days which odd as it may sound enables me to turn the streets into my own private play ground, not in the stunt cycling way, but just in the way that cycling instantly transports me back to my childhood.

Today we used the city centre as a different type of playground as we undertook a family scavenger hunt.  I’d been chatting to my kids recently about a scavenger hunt I’d done when I was a kid and they liked the idea of this.  One of them said could we do one and perhaps could we go into Leeds to do it so this morning we split up into two family teams and standing outside the city museum we were handed our list of things to find that one of my kids had created and set off to see what we could find.

It was a great list, split between photographs of things and objects:  The full list was this

We needed to find the following photographs:

  • One of the team in front of something that begins with a J
  • Something that sums up the best thing about Leeds
  • Graffiti
  • A woman wearing a green shirt
  • One of the team in a window
  • Something spotty
  • The adult of the team in front of a well known building
  • Something that is American themed
  • Something that sums up the worst thing about Leeds
  • The number 82
  • One of the team stood on / in front of a statue
  • Something beautiful
  • One of you with a hand dryer

Objects to collect / find

  • A leaf
  • A takeout menu
  • A receipt with the letter ‘k’ on it
  • A sample of a product
  • A stranger’s autograph
  • A leaflet
  • A train ticket

Some of these were relatively straight forward but the task was not just to find and/ or photograph the things but to try and interpret them in the best way we could.  I completely loved the variety of tasks we had, some of which asked us to potentially go up and talk to strangers, not something that I (perhaps like many of us) are totally sure of but hey most people are lovely and we got an autograph and photos of women in green shirts.  Also by not stopping for the first thing we thought of but keeping that as an option we moved on to better things, the yellow American school bus being a great example.  It was so nice to explore the city centre with one of my kids chatting away, getting their ideas for things we could interpret and seeing the city through their eyes as well.

When I asked what photo we could take that best sums up Leeds she simple said this here on Briggate right now, all sorts of people from all different cultures eating all sorts of street food from all over the world.  There’s hope for us yet.

I can hugely recommend this as a great way to turn the city into your own playground and have some fun.  Feel free to use the list one of my kids came up with and interpret it how you want or come up with your own list – put the kids in charge it’s great fun.  Do let us know if you go on a hunt and what you found.

As the viaduct looms like a bird of doom

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I wrote recently of my new found exploration into night time MTB riding and I was not expecting to write something else on it so soon but last night I was out again and this photo of me and my experience encapsulated in many ways what is so magical about it.  A short time before this photo was taken we’d careered / slithered down a muddy field and I was trying to learn fast how to control a bike that was quite frankly moving around all over the place as my wheels skidded and skipped in the mud.  I tried very hard to relax, stay off the brakes and feel the movement, letting the front wheel go where it wants and slowly correcting.  Trying to do this intuitively and by feel was tricky but I did reasonably well I thought.  Plenty to build on and a very interesting experience.

Then after much mirth and a short pedal I looked up and wow, this incredible structure loomed up in front of us.  Being pitch black you couldn’t see it until you were almost underneath it.  It was a jaw dropping moment.  The others who ride the area regularly take it for granted but I thought it was mesmerising.  It reminded me of some old mid west American coal or gold mining track and it was really eerie and atmospheric.  Apparently we’d ridden over it an hour or so previously on our way out on the ride and it’s pretty cool on the top but approaching it from below in pitch black was just ace.

I must admit that I love bridges, there is something about the concept of reaching out to cross a divide that appeals to me, perhaps because it goes to the heart of human desire for exploration as in “I wonder what’s over there?” but also because bridges link places and help people to connect with one another which I think is a fundamentally good thing.   Although perhaps they just remind me of my own mortality, no matter how many bridges I cross, I can’t escape the ultimate crossing from life to death.

All these thoughts and heightened images were whirling around in my head as I pedalled off under the bridge and Rob @chasingsheepMTB took the amazing atmospheric photo above.  As I rode under it there was one song that was playing in my head, the brilliant Red Right Hand by Nick Cave, the lyrics to which I’ve used for the title to this post as it was so apt.  The track is below if you don’t know it.

 

The Singing Ringing Tree

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I’d heard of and seen a few photos of the The Singing Ringing Tree (designed by Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu) and was quite enamoured by the idea of this wind powered sculpture up on the moors above Burnley so took a trip over to have a look on the weekend.  It’s described as a Panopticon which is apparently a structure providing a comprehensive view which it certainly does over the town below and across to Pendle Hill, a twist on the panopticon prison design which has a concept of all prison cells being able to seen by one guard in the middle without the prisoners knowing who is being watched.  The tree is part of a series of similar sculptures around the area including the Halo, Atom and Coloufields.

It’s an unusual structure, individual metal tubes, some with slits in allowing the wind to play sounds.  On the day I visited it was just a faint whisper but I can imagine that it would sound pretty eerie when the wind is blowing.  I liked that as you moved around the sculpture it takes on different shapes and conjures images…. an alien spaceship or a metallic ostrich head were two that came to mind and I particularly liked the way that despite all of the individual pipes being straight the way they have been put together reveals some interesting curves.

Overall I rather liked the Singing Ringing Tree and next time I’m over that way will have to take a detour to see the other panopticons.

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The Zone of Interest – Martin Amis

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Last nights boysbookclub was a vintage edition, a book that completely split opinion with scores ranging from 2 to 9 meaning that discussion was heated and varied throughout.  We were, as we always are, looked after by the lovely staff of the Crosskeys and enjoyed sumptuous food (the venison and black pudding scotch egg was a thing of wonder) and wine while sinking our teeth into Amis’ latest book.  It’s actually a really good experience to be able to thoroughly disagree with someone and argue the point back and forth but to do so from a position of respect for the other person which only deepens the bond on friendship between us.  I left feeling thoroughly enriched.

If you can’t make it to the book club then you are need to submit a written review and while I have a very different view of the book than this, below is the fantastic review from Phil (@phildean1963) who scored the book 9 out of 10.

Before I read this book, the first question I asked is does the world need another holocaust book? The death camp Holocaust story has been told powerfully many, many times in film, book, stage and for me there has to be a very good reason to put the reader through it again. But after I’d read it, I had to re-appraise my view.

Firstly I have to say I found the The Zone of Interest one of the most brutal, empty, morally void, ambivalent and unflinching books we’ve ever read. At times this book was unreadable—in a good, bad way.

Amis is clearly a writer of real stature, a ‘proper’ author who uses words to massive effect (often ones I have to look up in a dictionary, so he must be proper). He’s that good. He perfectly captures the stark contrast between the captors and the captives – each suffering in their own way. I was reminded many times of Maus, a very different take on the holocaust but no less powerful.

I like at 1st how we didn’t know when the story was set. The picture gradually revealed itself, which usually frustrates but I enjoyed this reveal. Initially it could have been any time in history or the present day, which I’m sure was an intentional dramatic ploy.

The multi-voice narrative was bold, powerful and immersive. Confidently painting the darkest picture imaginable. Unusually, this was easy to navigate displaying the author’s prowess. The impeccable research and exquisite German cultural detail sat alongside horribly accurate concentration camp atrocity. I felt the book laid bare the German psyche: the reasons, the impact, the retribution, the horrific fallout and consequences of their actions. Amis casts an unswerving eye on Germany as a whole and whether involved directly in the mass murder or not, everyone is guilty by implication.

The notes at the end of the book were most enlightening: the immersion and desire to understand what happened and the philosophical arguments that to somehow understand why it actually happened actually validated the actions. These discussions actually helped me to make some sense of the book.

There was of course a mini drama being played out against the harrowing backdrop: Hannah, Thompson and Doll’s complicated relationships seemed at first petty and pathetic, annoying details set against the enormity of industrialised death. It seemed horrifically banal. But in the final chapters, the bitter love story developed into an insightful filter by which we could observe and understand how Germany came to be like this and the dreadful outcome. The relationship was unexpectedly but satisfyingly resolved in the end, in a typically and brutal fashion, the long, icy fingers of the past creeping into the present.

This book made for a truly unenjoyable read: not in the sense that it was hard to read or that it was laborious prose, but because to turn each page was to unearth inhumanity. In the end I didn’t want to turn the pages but I felt compelled to. At times I felt hollowed out by it. There was no triumph of the human spirit to be had here. The atrocities were laid bare, responsibilities clearly handed out and the complicated aftermath only just beginning. Amis revels in the moral ambiguity of his characters, challenging the reader at every turn. At the heart of it were meticulously drawn characters – not sketches – but Leonardo-esque in their detail and accuracy.

I actually love reading history books about the Second World War: Anthony Beevor’s Stalingrad and The Second World War are immense and immersive accounts of man’s inhumanity to man (both credited by Amis I noticed in this book). But for me personally, the veneer of factual history literature protects me from the grab you by the balls detail of a novel, where the writer has unfettered access to our imagination—the imagined more powerful than the actual, for once.

And yet his book digs deeper. Gets under the skin of the Third Reich, using the collective German psyche as a prism for their actions; gradually, imperceptibly becoming truly horrific. The book maps out the moral maze Germany faced: everyone implicated from locals turning a blind eye to grey snow and the stench to corporates like Bayer, who still exist today in our everyday lives, quietly making products like Alka Seltzer.

It’s not often I wheel out words like elegant, intense, powerful, truthful. But this book is all of these. I’m not sure it’s ‘fearless and original’ as the blurb describes (back to my earlier point about does the world need another book about the holocaust) but In The Zone of Interestdemands the attention of the reader until the very last page and I’ve scored it high because the book held me in its vice-like grip to the very end.

Impossible to pick up, impossible to put down.

Night Riding Snail

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I’d heard that people went off road riding in the dark and while the idea intrigued me I was also bewildered by it.  How did they do that, after all I can barely work out what I’m doing in the daytime when I’m aware of my surroundings and can see stuff.  However as we slid into autumn I began to think whether I could do it, as if I could, it would add a lot to my riding and enable me to keep riding through the winter in the evenings and ideally most importantly having fun.

Over the last few weeks I have taken the plunge and it has in many ways changed how I think about riding while at the same time it’s been some of the most enjoyable riding I’ve done.  I still feel nervous when we are getting ready in a car park or lay-by surrounding by the all enveloping blackness as I still suffer from a lack of confidence in many respects, however night riding is perhaps perversely doing more for my confidence than anything else.  Lighting is obviously key enabling you to confidently strike out into the dark and once you get them set up right you create your own personal projected halo of light into which you ride.

The first thing I noticed as I tentatively pedalled into the abyss was that yes it is possible, the lights designed for MTB night riding really do their job, and you soon start to get used to the change in your visual panorama and I think it’s a change that has the potential to improve me as a rider.  In the sessions I’ve done with Ed one of the real things that Ed works on is Chin Up – i.e. you need to be looking where you wish to go not at the ground under your wheel.  You are completely forced to look up at where you want to go, to shine the light on your helmet in that direction and then let the bike flow into the pool of light.  As I’ve got used to it and adjusted I have found it a hugely liberating experience.

One of the best things about mountain biking for me is the immersion into the landscape and how you experience it throughout the changing seasons, the smells, colours and textures providing an ever shifting backdrop to your movement.  Night riding takes this to another level again.  On the one hand you are surrounded by utter inky blackness but this darkness magnifies your senses and your movement through the trees in a small tunnel of light takes on a magical quality, leaves crunch, breath clouds out around you, chilled facial skin breaks through dewy cobwebs, free wheels clacking and echoing around the still woods like a pack of new animals moving in.  It’s utterly exhilarating and intoxicating.  Riding along the flat stretches between runs finds me totally unwinding from whatever I’ve gone through during the day and there is a feeling that you and your mates are the last people left on earth even though you are only a couple of miles from the pub.  If you’re lucky one of those mates will have packed a hip flask to warm the belly before the last run back down to civilisation.

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Reliance – by PB

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Following on from our boysbookclub trip to Barcelona where as well as reviewing a book we also took on the task of doing some writing of our own based on the theme of Reliance.  I’ve put up Phil’s and Stuart’s and here’s another one of the pieces done by PB.

The holiday camp next door had portholes for windows and a jaunty ships funnel on its roof, as if all the smoke from the combusting fun had to safely escape to prevent vacation asphyxiation. To the north a silent nuclear reactor, sitting monolithic, casting a long, evening shadow over the caravans. Behind, inland, the rusty Imperial Chemical factory emitting orange, fat, noxious plumes. All that was left was wide expanse. The sky. And to the west the bay, flat-lands and mud, salt-marsh and treacherous, shifting, sinking sands and rolling, curling tides.

Each school holiday the world revolved around this spot on the edge of the ocean. It was still guarded by hexagonal,  piss-infused pillboxes. Some of these crumbling sentinels were losing their own battles. Under them the soft, clay-layered coastline and cliff distintegrated, leaving foundations exposed, teetering on the brink. Others had already made a swift descent to the beach. Now they were making the slow journey to the sea, like giant, unwieldy, concrete, new-born turtles, where the motion of the waves would return them to sand and pebbles.

And a beach littered with huge slabs and blocks, more remnants of coastal fortifications and defences. Why would the Germans invade the country through a caravan site, where good folk take their families for summer, half-term, easter?

But, what i didn’t appreciate at the time was that caravan sites like Quantum Theory, baby boomers and credit cards were a more modern phenomenon, not one the nazi’s had to negotiate.   Their popularity coincided with the post-war picking up and brushing down. From where we were you either headed east or west. And west was where we headed.

The eight berth metal box on wheels was secure. Tethered to the ground, like a barrage balloon, to stop it blowing away in the gusts, gales and winter storms. In high winds it was safe under the sway and the drumming of the rain.

The roof was a ballroom for albatross-sized seagulls that tap-danced across it. If you crawled under, among the grains of dry, sandy earth, you could see the chains keeping it grounded. A hub surrounded by 3 generations, cousins, parents, aunts and grandparents. Fat chips for dinner and ham out of a tin. There were other tins. Tinned potatoes. Tinned carrots. Tinned peas.Vegetables with a metallic edge. Tinned pies. Tinned people.

It was a beautiful place.

After a quarter of a century things have changed. The caravan site, although the same size as it ever was has shrunk. It still smells the same though. According to someone that told me they’d read it, Marcel Proust in Remembrance of Things Past refers to the rush of memories he experiences when smelling a biscuit, a madeleine. My madeleine moment happens whenever i pass a sewage works. I never realised why i’d smile and think of childhood holidays until I returned as an adult.  It can instantly transport me to childhood holidays by the sea and the aroma of the sewage pipe that still carries shit out into the ocean.

The family has dispersed like the tide going out. The stall selling nettle beer in the local village has disappeared.  Further still, in the town, turning away from the empty shops, dilapidated amusements and derelict attractions across the bay there are green hills and purple mountains that weren’t there before but emerged from behind the clouds of growing up.

It is a beautiful place. The always changing constants.

Half Term Photo Fun – Contrast

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The kids chose Contrast as the theme for half term week and I was immediately thinking to myself what a contrast it was that we were in half term already as it seemed only last week the kids were getting ready to go back to school after the summer holidays and of course our #summerphotofun.  It got me thinking about all the contrasts that we have in our everyday world as we go about our lives and the fact that they are (for me anyway) everywhere.  A small one relevant to this post is the contrast between what I might see in my eye and what appears on my screen when I attempt to photograph it.  Occasionally this works the other way when something on the screen takes me by surprise but that’s rare compared to the other way around.

What struck me looking at the photos that people sent in was how much contrast there is around us but that how beautiful it is.  Beauty is not something that perhaps first springs to mind when you think of contrast as it perhaps goes better with compliment but some of these photos buck that notion for me: the simple red mug amongst a sea of white, the autumn colours, a carpet on a wood floor, new and old, stillness amongst activity.  Look closely at these pictures and there is a real beauty to behold (perhaps apart from lettuce and gravy).  I absolutely loved the photo of the person sat on the pavement reading a book, totally in a bubble while all around people are chatting and laughing.

The photo at the top was taken by one of my kids on their phone at the recent Leeds Light Night and gives a pretty good example of contrast as the city hall is illuminated with stunning visual projections which stand out against the blackness of the night sky.  Light Night is an amazing thing that happens each year in Leeds and is a perfect example of a good contrast when the whole of the city centre changes it’s normal Friday night characteristics and becomes a family friendly playground.

Me and the kids have been doing our photofun themes during the various holidays for a couple of years now and really enjoy and it’s humbling that other people join in and make it such fun.  Thanks to all of you who have taken part this time it’s really appreciated.  We’ll probably do #DecemberPhotoFun over the 4 weeks so follow me @ianstreet67 on twitter if you don’t already to pick up the themes.  We might throw in the odd random #weekendphotofun as well along the way.

Click on the gallery below to open it and scroll through the photos in the correct size they came in.