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.

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.

 

Malaga Weekend

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I really enjoy getting away to another city for a couple of days when possible, it’s amazing how much you can pack in while still taking it easy having plenty of chill time.  After a weekend, though often tired I feel completely refreshed, it’s so good to see other places, see how people live, shop, eat, drink etc.  As I gaze out of my window at the torrential rain I can still feel the warmth in my bones from last weekends trip to Malaga which is, in my view a simply brilliant city to spend a couple of days in.  Small enough to wander around on foot easily, relaxed, warm and with plenty of options of things to have a look at and experience as you wander around which is the perfect mix for me.  In fact I enjoyed it so much I’ve got a few different blog posts to write such was the variety of the experience.

If at all possible I like to try and go somewhere in Southern Europe in May as it feels like a huge reward to be able to stroll about in shirt sleeves, the sun warming the bones, a cold beer sat outside somewhere watching the world go by which is in stark contrast to the last few months hunkering down in the cold and rain of Northern Europe.  Malaga fits the bill perfectly for this, couple of hours flight but feels like a different world and a solid 25 degrees C.

Of course many (perhaps most?) of the planeloads landing at Malaga airport go nowhere near the city as they head off to the beaches and resorts but walk out of the doors of the airport and twenty minutes later a fast train from the station across the road will have whisked you into the city centre.  Once there ditch the bags and head out to explore.

Malaga spans almost 3,000 years of history after being founded by the Phoneticians falling subsequently under the control of the Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, Moors before finally settling under Christian rule in the 1400’s.  The history is reflected in the remains of the Roman theatre right in the heart of the city, the castle of Gibralfaro, numerous churches and a huge Cathedral.  When you combine this history and architecture together with the cities three fantastic art galleries (modern, Picasso and traditional), a regenerated harbour area and a beach a mere ten minutes stroll from the centre you have all the ingredients for a good city.

The city centre is pieced together by a maze of old streets and squares with a seemingly endless supply of eateries making it perfect for just wandering around.  At night the atmosphere was really special as seemingly the whole of the city comes out for the Spanish tradition of el paseo where all ages stroll around, chat, greet friends, eat ice cream and create an atmosphere that just makes you want to smile.  Pitch yourself on an outside table with some wine and people watch to your heart’s content, it’s as far removed from the average Saturday night in any British town or city as it’s possible to imagine.  I can hugely recommend it and hopefully the pictures give an overall flavour of the city.

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

 

 

Daisy’s Veggie Week…..

I have been a meat eater for all of my 31 years, and in recent times the majority of my family have all turned into veggies! Now, I’m not adverse to a veggie dish, I’ve eaten many a veggie sausage and aubergine bake, however I am also partial to a juicy burger and a good old roast chicken!
Over the last few months I started to ponder…. I realised I was pretty much eating meat once a day, if not twice and figured it isn’t great for me. So I decided that from the 23rd of March no meat would pass my lips for one week and actually it was pretty easy!

So what did I eat? I borrowed a good veggie recipe book by Rose Elliot from a friend and decided that if I prepared some meals then that would work better, otherwise I would get in from work and have no energy to start from scratch. My creations included a aubergine and tomato bake, and a spinach and green bean flan, which were very tasty. I also had a few meals out, which I thought would be challenging, but actually quite liked the fact I had only 3 dishes to choose from on the menu! I had some beautiful food at Jamie’s Italian and Meze (a greek place in Brighouse, pics enclosed)

I had a few dips, mainly when I was tired after a tough week at work and just craved protein! and also a moment in Asda when I was perusing meat crisps, wondering if they counted, it was ok, there was no meat in them!
Overall, I felt better for eating more vegetables and like anything, you get out what you put in, so making an effort with cooking paid off. The week has come to an end…. how did I celebrate? A good old roast HAM!!!

Daisy’s daily pics!

At the start of this New Year I decided to take a photo everyday of something I had done, experienced, a place I had been to etc. It was my nod at being more mindful about what I was doing day to day (I’m terrible for running from one thing to the next) and to create some record of cool things I had done, and it worked!

This month has been ace, I’ve been road tripping to Welsh Wales to see chums, over the water to The Big Apple to see my brother and had a pretty good few weeks at work. Many of the images do contain food I confess, a few home made creations as well as trips out to favourite haunts, both new and old. Can you guess where I’ve been?

It’s been great and I’ve realised how important connecting with people is to me, and that focusing on something good every day made me feel more positive. If I did ever feel fed up a quick review of the photos made me feel better! How could you not smile at a heart froth cappuccino, a sickly Greggs cake from your work pal, the hail stone storm you got stuck in, the beautiful Kirkstall Abbey, and an all star American breakfast?

Join me in April when I will be doing the photo a day project again, I’ve already roped my welsh chum and big sister in!

Daisy x

December Photo Fun – Week 3 – Red

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Red was the theme chosen by the kids for the third week of this year’s DecemberPhotoFun and it was a lovely theme as it enabled contributors to link it to Christmas if they wanted to as, after all Red is a classic Christmas colour, but gave complete free rein when it came to interpretation and as always there have been lots of lovely photos.  The kids have chosen a single colour a couple of times before (green and yellow from memory) and I really like seeing the gallery with all the interpretations expressed through one vivid colour.  Red is one of the first colours ever used in art as ochre was mixed with iron oxide and used in cave paintings 170,000 years ago and is a colour that runs through many societies signalling as it can passion, love, warmth, life, beauty, danger, happiness, Christmas of course, socialism and is a colour that appears in many countries flags and sports kits.  Many of these were represented in the photos that came through this week.  As always click on the gallery to see all the photos as they came in and huge thanks for all who contributed (hope I haven’t missed anyone) and do let us know which ones you liked.