Roll of Honour – by Phil Dean

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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.

Barcelona and the Boys Book Club

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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.

Stoner by John Williams

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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.

 

Night of the Long Rides – Preview

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I’m not an event organiser so taking the somewhat reckless decision to organise an event is a bit of a scary experience.  Obviously I’m excited at the Tour de France coming to my home city but as I mused to myself over a pint, the Tour is a race and not a tour.  A tour is something different all together, a wander at your own pace taking in the sights, sounds, cultures, food etc of wherever you happen to be riding through.  Travelling by bike gives a unique perspective as you can cover significant distances but travel at a speed that allows you to stop, chat, take a break etc wherever you want.  A very long time ago I used to do a bit of touring but it was mostly weekend stuff and the odd half term as my parents ushered me out of the house and I’d head off to ride up to the Cotswolds, South West England or Wales using Youth Hostels as my places to stay.  I did ride over to and around Holland when I was 16 but that was as far as I got.  When I ride to work I sometimes think to myself what if I just kept going ?

Tom Bruce and Andrew Sykes have both done exactly that and written about their adventures, Andrew using his summer holidays as a teacher to head off to and around the med while Tom decided that he would ride around the world every inch of the way.  Both Tom and Andrew have connections to Yorkshire and in a slightly hair brained moment I thought why not see if they fancied doing a talk about their adventures.  Amazingly they both said yes they’d be up for that so we got a date and I scratched my head and thought OK now what. So I’ve got the star attractions now we need a venue.

This was in one ways very easy and in another a bit tricky as I had no idea what size I should be looking at as no idea who (if anyone) would come.  However I like good food and beer so I decided a pub would be good and what better than the Crosskeys one of Leeds’ finest.  I had a chat with them and they were well up for it.  Also from a cyclist point of view I wanted to support the Crosskeys as they (along with their sister pubs) are doing their bit to be cyclist friendly (they stock a track pump, puncture kit, a multi tool and will fill your water bottles up) and they also have a great courtyard round the back so in summer months you can keep an eye on your bike while enjoy a nice beer and some nosh (the pigs cheek starter is a work of marvel).

Authors and venue sorted, so what about tickets and an image for the night that I could use to promote it.  Got in touch with Andy from Custard4Gravy who miraculously converted my babblings of what I wanted into the fab image above. Then I had a look at eventbrite which proved incredibly easy to set up and manage and all of a sudden I had an event to promote.  Bit of twitter action to publicise it and the pithy title and very quickly all the 70 tickets were snaffled up.  So we are all good to go, got the authors, venue, tickets and the fab colours may vary are going to have pop up stall with some great cycling related products, and we also got a fab guest compère / interviewer to make the night go swimmingly.  Hopefully those who have signed up will turn up (if you tweet it will they come?) and an enjoyable night will be had by all.

The cost for doing this – Zero, everyone involved has done their bit for nothing so if you are coming why not go along early and enjoy a bit to eat at the pub, pick up a copy of the authors books, have a browse at the colours may vary pop up before the event starts at 7.  Look forward to seeing you there.

A little bit about the authors:

Tom Bruce – Tom grew up in the small village of Bunbury in Cheshire and spent most of his childhood riding bikes. He studied mechanical engineering at Edinburgh University, before working for a small renewable energy firm. During this time, he realised that there was no way he could settle down to a 9-5 job for the rest of his life without realising his dream of seeing the world. One day, he made the decision to quit his job, say goodbye to his loved ones, and set off to cycle unsupported around the world at the age of 24. In March 2011, with little preparation and no training, Tom set off on his bike, “Sandy” with the mission to cross Europe, Asia and America using nothing but a bike. In under 10 months, Tom cycled 23,000 kilometers, having achieved his ambition, and having had the best experiences of his life in the process. On the trip, Tom spent nights in people’s houses all over the world, slept in Yurts, camped with nomads, ate delicious food ranging from Tibetan stew to alligator meat, partied with Kazakhs on the Caspian Sea ferry, saw Stalin’s house, the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall and crossed sweltering deserts and huge mountains. Tom returned from his trip, having raised thousands of pound for his charity SOS Children’s Villages, and with a new perspective on life. He now spends his time studying a PhD at the University of Sheffield between other adventures, which have included cycling across the French Alps, training for and completing Ironman Zurich, cycling the Three Gorges in China on a £15 folding bike and many more bike tours in the UK. The memories, highlights, challenges and experiences with the people of the world during his round the world trip are shared in his honest, exciting and fascinating book about his around the world adventure named “Every Inch of the Way, My Bike Ride Around The World”

Andrew Sykes – Andrew was born and grew up in the small town of Elland in the foothills of the Pennines in West Yorkshire. He studied for a degree in mathematics at the University of York and immediately after graduation went to work in London for a firm of city accountants. The world of auditing was not however for him and in 1993 he left the U.K to go and work in France, initially in the tourist industry and then for four years teaching English in the Loire Valley city of Tours. He returned to the U.K. in 1999 to train as a secondary school teacher of French at the University of Reading. He still lives in the town and can currently be found working as the Head of Modern Languages at a secondary school in South Oxfordshire.  In 2008 the academic year must have been a difficult one as when the summer holidays arrived Andrew was happy to do as little as possible.  But while sitting on his sofa watching the exploits of the cyclists at the Beijing Olympics, he realised the error of his ways and resolved to put a bit more adventure into his life.  Two years later, accompanied by his faithful companion Reggie (his bike) but only a rudimentary plan, Andrew set off for a trans-continental cycling adventure that would take hiim along the route of the Via Fracigena and the Eurovelo 5 all the way from his home in Southern Enlgand to Brindisi in the South of Italy.  There were highs and lows, rain and shin, joy and despair all recounted in his book ‘Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie’.  In 2013 not satisfied with having done it once, Andrew decided to cross Europe again but this time from East to West along the Mediterranean coast from the Temple of Poseidon at the South Eastern tip of Greece to the lighthouse at Cape St. Vincent in the South Western corner of Portugal the tales of which will be described in his second book ‘Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie’ due in summer 2014.

 

Photos from far and wide- April 14.

Following my photos in January and it’s great success I enlisted the help of 9 others to join up for an April version of the same thing. Now before you think this is a group of people who all live in Leeds, you are mistaken, these photos come far and wide and have winged their way locally from Leeds, Sheffield, Chester, and Llandinum (its in Wales before you ask!).

I have had great fun collating all the pictures and seeing how people have interpretated the project, and one of the things that sticks out to me is my connection that I have to all the people. The mix of people involved include friends from twitter, neighbours, bestest chums, a friends sisters as well as a few of my family members.

The photos show imagination, excitement, fun and great colour and to me illustrate the commonality I have with all the people involved despite some of us being 100s of miles apart. Unsurprisingly there have been similar images of gardening, craft, cooking, food, the outdoors and architecture and all stand out as things that bring you all together through me.

Whilst gathering the images I asked for some feedback from people, the comments overall highlight that its been enjoyable, and has mainly enabled people to consider positive things and fun activities they have been doing. Below are some of their thoughts….

“Its been fun doing this but even more fun looking back over the last month and seeing how different each day is”

“I enjoyed taking the time out to find something special everyday, even in the ordinary like a trip to the gym. It’s so easy to forget and whizz past what’s important so this made me focus on that. The everyday, ordinary, important stuff!”

“It’s a tiny bit of mindfulness that makes you appreciate the good things”

“The days that just involve waking up, working and coming home can be tough, and it has been really rewarding to identify something that has made me smile”

“Had lovely time taking photos. focused the mind on particular point in the day”

“Doing the April ‘photo a day’ was great fun. It was sometimes hard to remember to do as time flies by at the moment and I struggled to not make every picture of my little boy (being an obsessed parent)”

“Surprisingly I never forgot to take a photo. Unsurprisingly they seem to reflect a busy life”.

Hope you enjoy looking at the photos, and thank you to everyone involved.

Daisy xx

 

 

Ingredients that shouldn’t work but do

 

 

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Tomatoes, raw garlic, chilli flakes and blue cheese ! When I read the list of these 4 ingredients that are combined in this incredibly simply pasta dish I thought to myself that can’t possibly work.  However the recipe is one from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Three Good Things book which, along with his Everyday and Veg Everyday are books I turn to frequently when looking for something to cook for tea.  All three have some interesting, simple but extremely tasty recipes so I was intrigued by this one.  I love all the ingredients individually but couldn’t quite see how they would work together, how wrong I was however as this dish has turned into one of my favourite no fuss suppers.  It’s so easy that there is no cooking involved at all apart from boiling some pasta but the end result is bowl lickingly sumptuous.  If you want to put it to the test here is the recipe and simply instructions.  By rights it shouldn’t work but it just does.

I Killed Adolf Hitler

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Popped into OK Comics (a place I need to do a blog post on) recently to see what they’d pick out for me this time and I came out with a couple of interesting numbers, the first of which was this fantastically titled comic / graphic novel by Jason.  It’s a quick read, you can comfortably read it in half an hour for example, as there is a sparseness to both the illustration and the narrative which, as someone new to the comic world, is something that takes me a bit of getting used to.  A novel telling the same story would be packed full of text, characterisation and description whereas Jason boils everything down to the bare bones, but in doing so invites you the reader to build the body around them, to fill the space with thoughts and reflections on what is happening.  As there is often so little on the page you can tend to whizz along and I found myself having to force myself to slow down to savour the word and the images, like drinking a nice wine, don’t gulp it down let it settle on the tongue and savour the flavour as it develops.  So my new method was slow the pace and fill the space and once I’d adopted this method the comic took on new levels for me.

The story opens in a strange world that is essentially the world of today but one in which violence is ever present as assassins loom large, hired to kill everyday people for the generally annoying things that happen in everyday life, a noisy neighbour, someone getting promotion instead of you, a failed relationship etc.  The central protagonist (nobody is named in the story apart from Hitler) of the story is himself an assassin, an assassin who’s relationship is failing, but who’s business is booming and who has a steady stream of people queuing outside his office to employ him to kill the annoying people in their lives.  One of these people though has someone more serious in mind, he’s invented a time machine and wants to employ the killer to travel back in time to kill Hitler in 1938, thereby preventing the second world war and the subsequent Genocide.

There is a potential snag however as the machine uses so much energy that it takes 50 years to create the energy for one trip back in time and to have enough energy to return to the present day and the inventor has been waiting up until this moment to have the energy for the machine to work.  There is an interesting moral ambiguity here in using a contract killer to kill a mass murderer before he becomes a mass murderer.  The assassin accepts the mission but gets overpowered by Hitler who jumps in the time machine transporting himself to the present day and leaving the assassin stranded back in 1938.  At the same time as Hitler is now living in the present time the assassin is also there, and looking to find him but he’s now an old man having waited 50 years to get back to the point at which he was originally sent back in time.  He enlists the help of his girlfriend (who is now like his granddaughter) to see if they can find Hitler.  I won’t reveal what happens next as unsurprisingly there is a twist, however something to think about is that despite the second world war not happening the world is still a violent place so with or without Hitler man’s inhumanity to man remains intact.

With the protagonist effectively having lived his life again over the previous 50 years and Hitler not embarking on his plan for world domination, both have second chances which I think is a key theme that Jason is trying to portray and perhaps to ask questions of ourselves that no matter what mistakes we have made we possess the ability to change, to create our own second chances.  This is particularly effective when we think of our relationships and how we treat those closest to us, perhaps if we looked to understand more and condemn less we would not become so annoyed by the things others do, we would be happier people and there would be less conflict.  Despite the sci-fi time travelling shenanigans I think that this is what Jason is trying to say and that the comic is really a love story and reflection on relationships.

This is a comic that is a short read but don’t think that this means it doesn’t contain some big themes, dry wit and clever ideas as it does.  What it really does very cleverly I think is to allow you the space in which to explore them.

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