Simple was the theme set by the kids this week for our summerphotofun project and as ever some lovely, thought provoking and funny pictures came in. Many of you used the theme of simple pleasures with things stripped back to their essence, nature, food and experiences featuring strongly along with a couple of very moving but simple memorials. You hear a lot about wanting to live a simple life as an antidote to the perception that life is now too complicated or fast paced. I’m not sure personally that I buy into the over complication argument but I also know that I live a simple, slow life in many respects and have done a long time before the slow movement became a fashionable thing. For me to enjoy life all you need are to concentrate on the simple things, time with family and friends, good food, spending time outdoors and enjoying new experiences, get that right (and I don’t think it’s difficult to do) and you have a path to contentment. All things outside this are just distractions, ignore as many of them as you can. I think when you look at the photos that have come in this week a lot of them are perfect slices of this way of living, none more so perhaps than the photo at the top.
As ever thanks go out to all of you who have contributed and come up with such a lovely varied gallery (I loved the oil and water shot), just click on the gallery to open it and see the photos full size. Do let us know which ones you liked in particular this week. I hope I haven’t forgotten to include any but if I have let me know and I’ll amend the gallery.
Sometimes when you enter a bookshop and lose yourself to browsing, magic happens, you stumble across a book by accident, no idea why you have been drawn to it but this book will make an indelible mark upon you. So it was for me recently when I came across Stoner by John Williams. I’m not sure what drew me to the book but what a novel this is, a book of such quiet beauty and power, beautifully written, but also one of the saddest books I’ve ever read.
The book charts the life of William Stoner, born 1891, the son of impoverished small hold farmers who till the soil day after day knowing that it will be to the soil they will return. His father has heard of a new course in Agriculture at the University of Missouri where Stoner goes in 1910 never to leave. While taking a compulsory course in Literature as part of his studies he becomes entranced and confused by the subject and changes his studies to English Literature. He remains at the university as a teacher until his death and the book charts this unremarkable life. He marries Edith in haste and repents at leisure (a more difficult female character I’m not sure I’ve come across) and becomes estranged from his daughter, he finds love through a relationship with a young student / lecturer but he has few friends and becomes embroiled in internal faculty politics when disagreeing with Professor Lomax who then spends the next twenty years in bitter conflict with Stoner doing everything possible to make his university life difficult. As Stoner looks back on his life he sums it up thus:
Dispassionately, reasonably, he contemplated the failure that his life must appear to be. He had wanted friendship and the closeness of friendship that might hold him in the race of mankind; he had had two friends, one of whom had died senselessly before he was known, the other of who had now withdrawn into the ranks of the living.
He had wanted the singleness and the still connective passion of marriage; he had had that, too, and he had not known what to do with it, and it had died. He had wanted love; and he had had love, and had relinquished it, had let it go into the chaos of potentiality.
And he had wanted to be a teacher, and he had become one; yet he knew, he had always known, that for most of his life he had been an indifferent one. He had dreamed of a kind of integrity, of a kind of purity that was entire; he had found compromise and the assaulting diversion of triviality. He had conceived wisdom, and at the end of the long years he had found ignorance. And what else? he thought. What else?
What did you expect? he asked himself
However there is another angle to all of this which perhaps we should all reflect on, Stoner had stoicism and integrity that he acted upon all his life, he had a life long friendship, found love (both physical and intellectually through his love of literature) he worked all his life at a job he loved and escaped the grinding poverty of upbringing. How many of us can say the same ?
I think what is particularly remarkable about this book is that whilst the period of Stoner’s life covers some of the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century via the great depression and two world wars, by looking at the minutiae of Stoner’s life you realise that we all have our triumphs, tragedies and disasters and that it is these that perhaps have a greater effect on us and shape us opposed to the world events that we live through.
The writing throughout the book is hypnotically simple and beautiful, it goes along with Stone’s character but at the same time a picture is painted of the seasons changing as life goes on within the university. The university is depicted as an asylum there to keep the real world out while providing sanctuary to those who would struggle to survive or fit in to the world outside it’s gates.
Ultimately this book is about two things for me Love and Work, Love in all it’s forms from finding a love of literature and it’s ability to accompany us through life’s journey through to finding love in another human being, the love contained within a life long friendship and a love of work. Stoner gets up every day throughout his life and goes to work, initially on the farm and then in the lecture theatre, he never ceases to learn and never complains even when his integrity means that his working life is made intolerably difficult perhaps because he loves what he does, he loves literature and teaching and he hopes to find the spark to inspire others as he was once inspired.
Perhaps this is what Williams is aiming at with this book to emphasise the power of love in all it’s forms and the remarkable ability of literature to inspire. This is a truly astonishing book that I cannot recommend highly enough.
I always enjoy the themes that the kids choose and over the last few years we have been playing around with this they have got progressively better at choosing themes as they think about what might come in. They like to come up with a theme that is both definitive in nature but gives lots of scope for interpretation. I often think that some of the best themes they have chosen are colours or geometric shapes but this weeks theme of Curl was definitely one of the best they’ve chosen and there have been some brilliant interpretations that have come in from you all week.
We’ve just sat down to go through them and there were so many we enjoyed and it gave a real insight into how individuals can take a simple word and interpret it but also how photographs can make you think of the world around you, whether that be nature, art, jobs etc. I loved the photo that a cardiac nurse sent in of her stethoscope entitled ‘tool of the trade’ and the curl of the blade runner is also a very powerful image. As always our photofun would not work without all of you who take part and we’d really like to pass on our thanks that you take the time to do so and make it so much fun. When the pictures are all put together in the gallery they create a vibrant tableau of the world around us. As always click on the gallery to open it and you can see the photos as they came in, do let us know which ones you like. Lots of crackers this week we thought.
We kicked off this summers photo fun a week late this year due to holidays etc but while we were away in Ithaca the kids got planning on some themes for the remainder of the summer. They are getting dab hands at this now and come up with lots of ideas to form a long list and then whittle it down to give a good mix. As always I was unsure if people would play along with us but sure enough the Balance photos started arriving during the week and there have been some lovely photos and interpretations. The wedding ring photo for example was sent in by someone on their 10th anniversary who said that to succeed in marriage you need to strike the right balance which I liked very much. There were a few of you who enjoy Yoga and of course bikes feature which brings to mind Einstein’s great quote “Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance you must keep moving”. I particularly liked the cheeky photo of cricketer Gary Ballance scoring his 100 the other day which was certainly not a photo I’d have anticipated which is why we love doing this so much, you might think you know what will come in but we are always surprised. I didn’t imagine a car stuck up a tree either.
As always this idea only works if you take part so a huge thanks to all of you who have submitted photos, I think the gallery looks great. If you just click on the gallery you can scroll through each photo in the correct size. Some of the Balance is obvious but some you’ll have to think about. Do let us know which ones you like. I’ve been having a few technical issues so I do apologise if I’ve missed any of your photos out, if I have let me know and I’ll update the gallery.
A primary palette; green, white and blue
Awake, view through open shutters, a crystal clear glinting bay, dreamlike
Walk onto balcony, searing heat and luscious light, incredibly intense. Warmth reaches past your bones to your very soul. Alive.
Tree-lined arms reaching out at the entrance and hugging those who enter into the safety of the bay
A multitude of masts swaying and adorned with the flags of a united Europe
Terracotta rooftops dot the hillsides atop whitewashed houses
Vertiginous hills hide Homeric secrets of Odysseus slayer of Troy
The seas horizon so ruler straight you can understand our flat earth believing ancestors
Official temperature: Scorchio
48 hours in and already unclear what day it is as time warps under the sun
All that is measured is natural: sun, winds, tides and the bodies need for rest and nourishment
Rhythms altered, my mind wanders unfettered and free
Books devoured in large chunks in between snoozes
Meals taken in seats so close to the harbour edge that the potential for comedic mishap looms large
Charcoal fires, cooked meets, fresh vegetables and olive oil like liquid gold
Red welts on pink flesh as mozzies join in in dining out
Different noises, snatches of conversations in another tongue, chugging fishing boats, anchors being winched and rigging singing, crickets chirping but mostly a calm silence
Cyprus trees standing tall, blowing in the breeze, whispering as if with tales to tell of centuries past
Old women hobbling slowly down to the shore before taking the daily constitutional dip
Narrow, simple and terrifyingly steep roads hug the coast, breath in and pray we don’t meet anything
Morning bakery run, strong coffee, pastries for breakfast and pies packed for lunch at the waters edge
Ungainly entry to shimmering sea over warn pebbles before salty buoyancy takes holds
Warmed muscles put to use easing through the water, then float, suspended in a different world, cool sea supporting, eyes shut to the retina damaging orb, bobbing, tranquil, wondering how long this state can last
Overhanging trees on white pebbled coves providing shade in between dips in the crystal waters
My children playing, making up games, laughing in the sea with pure unadulterated joy
Yachts from first time flotilla holidays to millionaires plaything constantly manoeuvring in and out of the bay like pieces on the God’s island chessboard
Ice cold beer served in frozen glasses at a waterside taverna watching the afternoons harbour movements, has anything quenched a thirst so well ?
Night fall, three floodlit windmill sentries standing guard at the harbour mouth, music playing, prophets celebrated till the early hours, women of every age hand linked high and circling in a show of community, no film set cliché this
Memories etched and stored away for when times are tough, remember this, days of simplicity, bliss and happiness
A bit like Alice in Wonderland, I emerged blinking back into the world wondering if the surrealness and madcap antics of the Grand Depart had been real and reflecting back on one of the most incredible experiences. When Yorkshire won the right to host the depart I was of course hugely excited but after going to the launch event I was worried that we would mess it up as that was a truly dreadful event. Fortunately everyone involved clearly bucked their ideas up after that and put on a truly stunning Grand Depart.
Running the Yorkshire Festival in the build up was I think key to creating such a great atmosphere as it got all sorts of creative people and enterprises doing stuff linked to the tour who may otherwise never have got involved. The result was a huge range of art and cultural activities across the region, big and small, high art to utter madcap which helped the region raise a collective eyebrow and take an interest in what was coming over the horizon. The Festival also, in my view, acted as a catalyst to all sorts of other events as communities got well and truly into the spirit of it all. The result was that countless individual acts, which on their own would have been meaningless, became part of a huge patchwork quilt of yellow, green and polka dot covering the whole of the county. A perfect example of this was the knitted yellow jersey put on the Black Prince statue in Leeds that had been knitted by 70, 80 and 90 year olds that you can read the lovely story of here.
Thursday night saw the team presentation. I did not buy a ticket for this in the arena and was pretty miffed that the organisers had taken this approach instead of the normal free show so I decided to use the money that I would have spent on a ticket for a train fare to London on the Monday. However there was no real need to go to the presentation as the teams did a presentation ride through the city centre, the huge crowds that lined the route giving a flavour of what to expect of the the next few days. Some of the riders looked a bit bemused by it all but most were smiling, acknowledging the crowds and interacting, with Ion Izagirre high fiving my daughter as he road past.
I took the Friday and Monday off work, determined to soak up the atmosphere and take in as much as I could and of course to see each of the three stages taking place in the UK. The sun had been shinning all week prior to the start but there were numerous glances at the forecasts as rain was expected on the weekend (which if it had materialised would have certainly changed the whole vibe of the event). I mooched about on the Friday, took in the Yorkshire bike show and marvelling at the vast media empire that was swinging into action and loving all the different accents I was starting to hear around town. It was fun catching up on tweets and glimpses of the teams riding around the area, included the lovely touch by Giant-Shimano who organised a tweet up ride in North Leeds. It’s amazing how the nature of social media has changed the game enabling me to catch up on all that was going on while supping on a pint of Magic Spanner at a pop up bar in the old police cells.
Saturday I wanted to see the start in Leeds, but even though I knew a lot of people would be coming into town I was still taken aback by the sheer volume of people, the whole city centre was heaving and people were standing 5 deep from about 8.30 in the morning. I was lucky in that an organisation that I know were based right on the bottom of the Headrow in a perfect spot and so I found myself hanging out of the second floor window ready for the start (see photo at the top). The crackle of noise that swept down with the riders will live with me for a long time, the riders looked pretty startled I thought by the sheer volume of people and noise that greeted the roll out.
Sunday I’d decided to head out as early as possible on the first train to Mytholmroyd and walk up Cragg Vale (the longest continuous climb in England). There was again a huge sea of people and another fantastic atmosphere as thousands of people walked and cycled up the hill chatting and smiling with the local residents who were getting set up outside their houses, parties getting started and kids selling drinks, home made buns and loom bands on the roadside. This time I managed to see the breakaway and of course the peloton sweep through treating the long drag as if it was a flat road.
London beckoned on Monday and it was strange really as after the huge party across Yorkshire I arrived in the capital to no visible sign that the tour was going to be in town. This time I headed out a little bit and was fortunate to see the two strong breakaway on their last legs before the peloton steam through at full tilt, the sprint trains getting organised. Quite incredible to see the speed at which they were riding.
After each day I watched the stage on the tele and marvelled at how brilliant it all looked. There is of course a reason that Yorkshire looked so amazingly green as we get a good chunk of rain up here but the rain held off until London, if fact the sun shone brilliantly across the weekend and Yorkshire came out to party. My abiding memory was that I’ve never seen so many people with a smile on their face and enjoying themselves. A truly memorable and magic weekend.