There’s Mountain Biking and then there’s Bike-Mountaineering

photo credit: mountain biking uk magazine

Now riding off road is my thing, although I have to admit that I’m totally rubbish at it.  That does not really matter though as it is the enjoyment, friendship, getting away from it all feelings that I love.  Tootling about the Dales is one thing of course but this beautiful short film  captures German riders Harold Philipp and Martin Falkner hauling (literally) their bikes up Monte Cevedale in Italy.  That’s 3,769m ! before carving their way back down.  One can only dream.

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Are reviews a good thing ?

Well in answer to my own question – in general yes they are, after all we all use them to help us sift through the myriad of options available to us so that we use our time and money most effectively in seeing, listening, visiting, viewing what we hope we will enjoy.  With the broadening of blogging, twitter etc there are many more options available to guide us through the cultural soup but I can’t help but wonder if all this help makes us lazy and unadventurous.  I used to regularly buy albums based purely on the album artwork which of course meant that I ended up with some total stinkers but also there was a sense of anticipation when I first put the record on (yes that’s how old I am) as I had no idea what sound was about to come blasting out after the first needle crackle. I also suspect that easily over half the books that I still read I know very little about until I open the front cover, read the first paragraph and experience that feeling of adventure and anticipation in discovering something new and, however fleeting the feeling might be, it is something that should not be lost.

The other night I went to see the Descendents, which of course has been widely advertised, won some awards and features a big A lister in the lead role only I’d somehow managed to avoid all of this and any reviews of the film.  Yep I knew that Clooney was in it (and that would usually be enough to put me off) but what drew me to the film was that I knew that someone behind the film (turns out it was the director) also had something to do with Sideways.  Now Sideways was a film that snuck up on me and gave me a big warm hug when it came out so I was intrigued to know what the Descendents would be like.  The only similarities are of a beautifully crafted, intelligent and warm film.

Of course having started out asking the question about reviews I’m going to talk about the film but without giving any plot lines away.  I think that the beauty of artistic endeavour in whatever form it takes is, that at it’s best, it gets you to think, to reflect and to feel emotion of some sort and the very best hold up a mirror to your inner self and for me the Descendants did all of those things.

Although Gorgeous George is very good in the film he is for me also a bit of a distraction and can’t help sneaking in a few of his trademark little nods and winks but that aside the film takes a look at many issues that affect us all.  Howies have a lovely T-shirt that simple says Life is Complicated Sport is Simple and while there is no sport in the film the Life is Complicated bit certainly rings true.  I was made to think and reflect on my own relationships with family, friends and loved ones; how much do we know about the people that we love and visa versa; love and it’s many different shades; friendship; generational differences; parenting; how we preserve our family and cultural history (or don’t as the case may be); what is it that we are really handing down to those who will follow us; death and how we handle it; Alzheimer’s; fidelity; dignity; what values do you really hold; money and wealth.  It’s a pretty good list of things and questions to be sparked by a film.  All of these are touched upon, some in detail but many through the nuances of the dialogue which is really well written and delivered.  Yes Clooney delivers a measured and effective lead role but is ably supported by the cast around him, notably those playing his daughters and the older daughters boyfriend.  It’s also worth mentioning the music which really matches the tone and mood of the film superbly.

So sometimes just walk in sit down and watch something, listen to something, view something, experience something that you know nothing about – you will have no preconceptions, the thrill can be heightened and the experience deeply rewarded.  Oh yes but go and see the Descendants.

Artist inspired creativity in children

I saw a good line when I was out the other day at a project for work and it was along the lines of advice for young people on how to find work.  The simple answer of course being find something that you like doing and get someone to pay you for doing it.  The sentiments behind this I’m a big believer of and I think that the more opportunities that children are exposed to the more chance they have of finding passions in life that will keep them engaged and who knows may well lead to them finding employment in that field in the long run.  That of course could be anything, art, sport, writing, photography, animals etc etc.  The primary school where my kids go definitely has this as an ethos as children are exposed to as many opportunities as possible and really encouraged to pursue their own interests.  In year 5 there is a residential to Whitby, which is of course the highlight of the year for many of the kids and what I like is how the school adopt a very cross curricular approach to this trip so that for a considerable period leading up to it they bring in all different parts of the curriculum and relate it to Whitby, so they have been looking at history (Captain Cook, Whitby Abbey, Smugglers, St Mary’s Church); geography (map reading, the coast, fossils); literature (The Highwayman poem); science (constellations, rockpools); Art (Julia Crossland) and while this is all great I was particularly impressed by the work that has gone on relating to the Art theme.

Forget your Northern Art Prize, this afternoon saw the school hall turned into an art gallery with all of the year 5 kids showing off their work.  I have to admit that I was taken aback by the all the work on display and the depth to which the children had been looking at art.  Julia Crossland is a Yorkshire based artist and the sea and coast are recurring themes in her work as highlighted in the picture above.  The children had been using her art as a guide looking at where she gets inspiration from, types of paints and colours used, how she constructs the pictures which all led them to create their own Whitby / coast themed pictures using acrylic paint similar in style to Julia’s.  On the bustling display boards this afternoon the children not only had their pictures but also they had mind maps of how they had come up with the idea, storyboards or sketches of what they were going to paint and an evaluation of what they would change if they were doing it again and why.  Bearing in mind that these are 9 and 10 year olds it was impressive; all had produced really vivid pictures and to cap it off Julia Crossland had come to the school to have a look herself.  She was fantastic and took the time to walk round the displays and spoke to every child about their pictures as well as talking to them as a group about how she goes about her work.  Now I’m not saying that any of these children will go on to be artists but I have no doubt that the process will have engendered in some of them a love of creativity and if schools can do that in all subjects then the future looks bright.  With my daughters kind permission here is the picture that she proudly produced.

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest

This month’s book club is the less well-known book of the rather famous movie. Most people of a certain age – ie knocking on a bit – will be very familiar with the Jack Nicholson starring, oscar laden celluloid version of the book by Ken Kesey.

But I had reservations about reading this book – I won’t lie.

These reservations were simply that I know the film too well. I’ve seen it countless times – admittedly a few years ago – but the film is a piece of powerful and iconic film making. I was talked round in the end, or perhaps I caved in. Either way, we read it last month.

The first thing to notice is that the book is written from the Chief’s viewpoint. As one of the inmates of the mental hospital, the story being told from his perspective is very different and refreshing from the beginning. The rest of the book has been faithfully told in the film version albeit with the lack of intensity and depth found in literature. Kesey wrote this book in the late 50′s and it speaks of that time – America changing and coming to terms with that change, the onset of the liberal 60′s with all the free love and drugs culture that came with it. It’s a gripping tale of a rebel who gets a bunch of dysfunctional people to function again in some way and it’s a story of sacrifice and human spirit.

The face of Jack Nicholson looms large on every page and although Kesey’s central character doesn’t really resemble Nicholson, it’s hard to shake him off. The true sign of brilliant casting and acting I think. I came to the conclusion that the book was very, very good and that if I’d read it before I’d seen the film it would have scored much higher. I’m not a huge re-reader of books and as a consequence the fact I knew the story well softened the body blows it contains. I scored it a not too shabby 8/10 but it could easily have been a 10.

If you’ve not read it, or not seen the film either, I can highly recommend you read this book.

One word of warning: in the canon of blokey books we have read on our blokes book club, it doesn’t get much blokier. It’s not PC and it contains some language and attitudes that are probably best left in the late 1950′s – but well worth a detour from any sensitive chick lit you might have on the go.