December Photo Fun – Week 1 – 2014 – Twist

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The kids have come up with some really interesting themes for the few weeks of December and kicked things off with Twist and I must admit it put me in a somewhat philosophical mood.  When they came to me with the theme I immediately thought of books and the twist in the tale and as I was looking through the bookshelves of course I came across Oliver Twist, not what I was originally looking for but a good take on the theme I thought.

As I was thinking I was shaken by the first photo that came in – a twist in the skeleton from Lyndon.  Now Lyndon has recently undergone a pretty horrific accident while out walking in the lake district, he fell, badly injuring himself and there he lay for seven and a half hours waiting, hoping and I’ve no doubt praying to be rescued.  Lyndon is an experienced outdoor person so he had left details of where he was going and when he did not return the alarm was raised and Kewsick Mountain Rescue team eventually found him and he was airlifted to hospital.  He is now starting the long road to recovery and rehabilitation.  I don’t normally ask for donations for anything but for those of us who explore off road in the woods and the hills, on foot or bike the Mountain Rescue and air ambulance teams are our lifeline so if you can spare anything then please consider them.  They save lives.

Lyndon’s accident made me think about the subject of twist, a twist in the tale is not reserved for novels, it can happen to any of us at any time none of us really know what’s around the corner.  Hopefully it won’t be falling off a mountain but mountains are not just made of rock they exist for many of us in our imaginations and the trials and tribulations that we face in life.

As always there have been some lovely interpretations this week, I’m never sure if people will take part but it’s so nice that people take the time to play along with us.  We really appreciate it and once everything is pulled together the gallery looks great.  If you click on the gallery you can scroll through the pictures in the size they came through.  Do let us know which ones you liked.  We’ll be playing #Decemberphotofun throughout the month so check out the hashtag on twitter or follow me @ianstreet67 all are welcome to take part.

Get well soon Lyndon :-)

Book Club 2014

2. ask the dust

 

I wrote last year of the 99 books we had so far read in the boys book club and the joy, friendship, camaraderie and nourishment that I get from it.  I decided after pulling all the books together in one post last year that at the end of each year I’d do a post on the books of that year.  We always have a review of the year and last night was no exception, we both reviewed the current book and reflected upon what we’ve read across the year.  What I like about this process is that a book you might have scored very highly on the night originally does not stay with you as the year develops, whereas other books seep into your bones, resonant and you come to remember and reflect on them far more even if you didn’t score it that highly when you first read it.

Some thought that this year has been a poor year for us in terms of books but I think that they are letting the clang for a few shockers reverberate across the great books we have read the noise drowning them out.  The reflection last night was good as it dispelled this as we looked back, yes there were a couple of really bad books but there were some gems as well that will live long in the memory.  I think the year was roughly split actually between the good and not so good.  What I did notice though was that we have read a real range of stuff from 16th century political treatise right up to current day publications hot off the press.  We have covered huge issues through books covering slavery, genocide, class, gender politics, body image and ‘normality’ as well as different genres.

As always though it is the discussion that brings the books alive as we view the issues through the prism of our own experiences and world view and it is this that makes the boys book club so special.  Through the input of the other members I continue to grow as a person, they help me reflect on who I am and why I think the way I do.  I’m challenged, amused, horrified, perplexed but above all nourished by them.  One of our founder members is bowing out as they now live in another city and have struggled to keep up with the rigour that is required.  It’s a sad day in many ways as he will be deeply missed by us all but the book club will go on evolving and I can’t wait to see what 2015 will bring.

So without further ado what collectively were our top three books of the year:-

1. Ask the Dust – John Fante

2. Zone of Interest – Martin Amis

3. The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilinna

I’d love to know what you think of the range of books we’ve read this year and whether or not you are in a book club, what has been your best books of the year, what would you recommend for us to read in 2015?

 

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.

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.

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.

The Vanity of Small Differences

perry1 (The Adoration of the Cage Fighters)

When I first came across Grayson Perry I have to say I was distinctly underwhelmed, I think because it all seemed to be about him and not about the art.  As I result I ignored him for a while but slowly as I started to come across him more, listen to what he was saying and look at his art my mind was totally changed.  In fact I now think that he is not only one of Britain’s best contemporary artists but he is also one of the best commentators on art, he has an engaging quizzical style that enables him to get across concepts and ideas in a very accessible style.  This perhaps culminated in his Bafta award winning documentary series All in the Best Possible Taste in which Grayson visited Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and the Cotsworlds and created tapestries depicting a story inspired by art history and the different social groups, classes and tastes that he came across during the visit to the very different regions of England.

Since seeing the documentary I’ve always wanted to see the tapestries so was very excited when I heard that they were coming to Leeds and would be installed for a period in Temple Newsam House.  It’s worth mentioning the curation of the exhibition as I think it was a very clever idea to place the tapestries within a stately home as opposed to an art gallery.  The tapestries themselves primarily deal with issues of taste and class and are full of artefacts that reflect this.  Seeing them hanging on the walls (each one in a different room) of the South Wing surrounded by the changing styles and taste of previous centuries gave them a suitable backdrop that could not be recreated in any art gallery.

perry2(The Agony in the Car Park)

The tapestries tell the story of Tim Rakewell and his rise from impoverished working class Sunderland to nouveau riche stately home owner after Tim’s success as an app developer and his sale of his company to Richard Branson and finally his death after crashing his Ferrari showing off to his new trophy wife.  The Story is “The Geek’s Progress” – a headline that appears on the ipad on tapestry 4 and is a nod to William Hogarth’s “A Rakes Progess” which tells the story of Tom Rakewell and his descent from inherited riches to madness, destitution and death.  Grayson’s modern take on Hogarth’s work is brought into focus in the exhibition which enables you to compare the two bodies of work as all 8 of Hogarth’s pictures are reproduced in the room that houses Grayson’s final tapestry.

perry3(Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close)

Whilst I’d seen pictures of the tapestries and seen the documentary on the inspiration behind them nothing can prepare you for the stunning colours, vividness and detail of seeing them in them up close.  There is so much detail that personally I could look at each one for a considerable period of time, they hold your eye as you take in all that is going on and in looking at them for a prolonged period my brain was totally engaged in thinking about Tim’s progress and what this tells us about Britain today and who we are.

perry4

(The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal)

Artefacts play out strongly across the tapestries, and this again links through to where they exhibited as you pass through rooms full of artefacts of the period before you get to the tapestries.  From the miners lamp, to the cafetiere, the football shirt to the Cath Kidston bag so many assumptions are made on the clothes and artefacts we wear and surround ourselves with.  Technology and how it has changed is also strongly reflected throughout the journey, from the very first tapestry where the baby Tim reaches out his mother’s mobile phone screen, the huge cranes of the declining shipyards to be replaced by call centres, the tablet computers and app development that brought Tim his fortune.

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(The Upper Class at Bay, Or An Endangered Species Brought Down)

In comparison to A Rake’s Progress which dealt with someone’s descent from riches to rags, The Geek’s Progress charts the successful rise from impoverished background to stately home.  As Britain becomes more and more unequal and social mobility less and less achievable Perry is I think asking important questions on what sort of society we want.  On one of the tapestries Jamie Oliver is depicted as the god of social mobility looking down as Tim moves across to the middle classes, however Tim as Grayson did attended a Grammar School and I wonder if Grayson is making comment here that this is now one of the only ways to achieve social mobility.  In the end though both Tim and Tom lie naked and dead each destroyed by their wealth.

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(#Lamentation)

Across these six tapestries Grayson Perry weaves an extraordinary exploration of British social history over the last thirty years encompassing politics, class, taste, social observation, art history, celebrity culture, changing industry, technology and social media.

It does all of this is a very accessible format, my kids came with me and both said how much they’d enjoyed it partly because they could follow and understand it.  The accompanying booklet is really excellent, there is an app that you can also download and this is available on tablets in the exhibition so that you can explore the tapestries in more detail and look up many of the other historical pieces of art from the 15th century that inspired the work.

The exhibition is on till December 7, I’ll definitely be going again.

What’s in a (Trail) Name ?

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How do you know where you are?  An obvious question perhaps but sometimes finding an answer is not as easy.  Can you remember what it was like when you first started venturing out of the house on your own, you slowly got to know your local area both by the buildings and the places where you would play.  It was easy to say going to the park or the field (the field for me was where we played football, rugby and cricket next to the school) and then on the way to the river there was the old barn field (it had an old barn in it).  We had places like Jenkins field, even though it might have been a long time since anyone called Jenkins had lived in the farm that owned the field.  As you start to venture further afield which for me was on a road bike (or a racer as they were known back then) farms became quite key landmarks to navigate with using the good old OS map.

I still like riding bikes and using maps but when it comes to mountain biking, especially riding locally then there are other ways to navigate and that is Trail Names.  Anyone who rides regularly with others will have local names for where they ride, names that you won’t find on any map with stories behind them.  Often when you are out you will know where you are (in a particular wood for example) but you won’t really know where you are as in where is this wood geographically and it’s here that trail names come into there own.  You need to find a way to describe where you are going, let’s head to ….. or where you are meeting up or where you have been and how brilliant / rubbish you rode a particular section which is what trail names give you, they are the framework to provide the narrative for your ride.  The names will cover all different parts of your ride off road, could be a long flowy bit of single track, a particular feature or just a corner.

The names grow up organically, often due to some incident or other and they are tribal in nature, so what we might call something another crew will call in something completely different.  I’m not a strava user (and am fiercely anti it really) but what it is doing is codifying sections so that slowly everyone will know sections by one name which I personally feel is a shame as I like the hyper localism of trail names.  Stava might also prevent the changing of trail names as well, currently names evolve as either riders change, different things happen, superstition takes over etc all of which creates a language of features that only we know.  As you start to ride with a crew slowly you will learn the routes, features and names and it becomes a right of passage until you never know something might get named after you.

Here’s a few of our local ones but I’d be interested in your favourites as well and how they came about.

  • Last Drag – we often end our rides here.  It’s just an incline across a field but it is a drag
  • Travelator – classic starting point to many of our rides.  It’s just ribbon of mud leading to a steep bank into the woods but like the travelator from the Gladiator TV show, when it’s wet and muddy you can feel like you are going backwards pretty quickly
  • Puddle Duck – Possibly one of the best sections of trail in the area, multiple lines snake off the puddle duck through the woods.  A place where all will be tested no matter what their ability.  Tiz a bit of a beast to ride up though and named after a particular person from Garage Bikes who doesn’t like it.  This trail name is a classic in that lots of people ride it but most will know it as something completely different.
  • Leon’s Leap – A corner on the puddle duck, Leon overshot it and took to the sky
  • The Spa – When you are leaving the woods with the puddle duck in it there is The Spa.  Just the muddiest, squelchiest little section.  It never drains and is muddy in summer, in winter it requires fatbike like tyres to get through it.  You will put your foot down and the mud will ooze into your shoes / boots.  Some would pay good money to be covered in mud – hence The Spa
  • Better Climb Than Descent – Narrow and a little bit technical but not too technical so all can ride it, however it’s better to go up it.  Going down it’s got thorns, barb wire fence, dog walkers etc making it a potential problem
  • 5D – (Daz & Deano’s Death Defying Descent) – Bones and bikes broken but they did defy death
  • Pinball Run – For me a local route that terrifies me. Very fast (if you want it to be) descent, steep at the top and bits of rock all over the place, get your line wrong and you will be pinged about like a ball in a pinball machine
  • Jesus Ain’t Got Shit on Me – One of the best names, the reality is just a mud bank across a reservoir but hit it when the water level is just so and you will appear to riding on water never mind walking
  • Collarbone Corner – yep you can all guess what happened to someone here
  • Lynne’s Drop – very steep section off one of the local trails discovered by Lynne
  • The Death Star Run – another great name, we’ve all seen Star Wars with Luke using the force to storm his way down the trench to destroy the death star.  This is our mountain bike equivalent, hit this at warp speed and you will need the force to guide you through
  • Dog Shit Flavoured Treacle – just a drag up a field, however the field is surround by houses so dog owners use the field, it also gets very muddy in winter and pedalling is like riding through treacle
  • Wiggly Wiggly – classic wiggly ride through trees in another wood
  • Knife Edge – a parallel route to wiggly wiggle but is raised with a gulley on one side and a long drop on the other so you ride exposed
  • Blood Lane – or Warren’s Lane (which is what most know it as) or The Destroyer.  On Strava this will be Warren’s Lane but it used to be known as the Destroyer as it did exactly that to bikes and bodies, superstition took hold and it changed to The Delight as it is anything but.  I know it as Blood lane or Bloody lane as it is where the blood drained away from a civil war battlefield that is at the top.

So none of those names will mean much apart from to us, the locals who ride them but new names crop up all the time.  Last night we were out riding and after going through a fence gap had to ride up a very steep lane, no run up just a standing start in the lowest gear you have (the granny ring) so that lane is now Grab a Granny

See you all at the top of Blood lane before we attack Wiggly Wiggly then head over to play on the Puddle Duck before taking a dip in the Spa