Day 469 – The Saturday Answer.

The usual recap to begin . . .

. . . The Friday Question was, What specific style/genre/type of writing is the one you most want to write?

And my Saturday Answer is . . .

. . . One which changes all the time! If I read a thriller, then I want to write a thriller. If I read a detective/mystery novel, then that is what I want to write. And so on . . . But the type of writing which is constant, no matter what I am reading, is sports writing.

There are some great sports writers in the UK but the outlets are either through newspapers or sport specific monthly magazines. There is a growing number of weekly ‘newspapers’ specifically for sport but they generally tend to be match reports rather than anything in-depth pieces on teams/players/coaches. The rise of Podcasts has really begun to unearth some great content, which would equally be great to see in writing.

A UK version of Sports Illustrated would be outstanding.

I tend to be slightly negative about my own sports writing as I am not a great ‘fill it full of stats/facts’ kind of guy, but more focused on stories and trends.

Sports writing is an area I intend to devote more time to developing.

What’s your Saturday Answer to the Friday Question?

Day 466 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.1.

I’m not trying to alienate anyone here by mentioning the New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. I understand that the franchise and the coach are like Marmite – you love them or you hate them.

For full disclosure I am a San Francisco 49ers fan, but as a sports coach you have got to learn from the best and the 6 Super Bowl victories simply make him the best.

I was listening to the Sky Sports NFL podcast, with the excellent Neil Reynolds and Jeff Reinebold, where they were finishing up their pre-season ‘state of the franchise’ thoughts and the final team being mentioned was the Patriots.

It occurred to me that surely the secrets of Belichick’s success could be applied to being creative.

Hear me out.

Players on a team are ultimately a set of skills and experiences. The coach uses those skills and experiences to craft a win. You get enough wins in a season then you get the big prize at the end; but even if you don’t, those wins remain achievements in themselves.

As a creative you gather together as many skills and experiences as you can. You use those to produce a piece of work. You put together a good enough body of work then you are often acknowledged/rewarded/awarded titles and prizes.

Let me be more specific.

You are a writer. You gather your group of players – in this case authors/books/characters/plots from across all your years of reading. You use this knowledge, these skills and experiences, to write a chapter – to win. You win as many regular season games as you can – you write as many chapters as successfully as you can. Losses and ties mean you need to do some revision. The post-season is where you hone it all down to that last championship game – the finished novel.

Perhaps, alternatively, the different games in the normal season are different types of writing. The post-season is your overall body of work.

The head coach is the natural editor in your brain. A little more of this. A little less of that. Those elements for that particular match, or these elements for this piece of writing, in order to be successful.

Hopefully, you can see where I am going with this.

Tomorrow, I will try and convince you of what Bill Belichick can bring to our creative endeavours.

Day 456 – Sunday Reflection.

For about twelve hours, the Welsh rugby team were number one in the world rankings. Then a poor showing against England saw them slip back to number two. Poor defence contrasted heavily with the one which secured them the Grand Slam in the 6 Nations. Too much reliance on training park moves saw players going to ground without even being tackled. But the real reason for the Welsh slip was the fact that I watched the first half of the match. I knew I should have just let it record and then watch the glorious victory later on, but caught up in the excitement of cementing that number one spot, I succumbed to impulse over over fair reason. As a sports fan, life is an endless journey of finely tuned decisions which can affect your team. If you don’t believe me, then look at the 49ers preseason win over Dallas – I didn’t watch it live and they won. Okay, I had no way of actually watching the match anyway but that isn’t the point. I didn’t watch the Wigan game and they beat Hull KR. I also didn’t watch the Canberra Raiders NRL game and they did lose. As I said, it is a fine line to walk.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 15.

Predications all turned upside down, commentators and pundits changing their minds quicker than the pedals are turning on those race bikes and the Tour enters its last stage before the final rest day and the last five combative stages before the final processional stage into Paris.

Life changes as quickly as events in a Grand Tour. We try to plan our progress through a varied and challenging course the best we can, but sometimes we just have to react to what happens around us. The same is true in our creative endeavours. Sometimes we have to go off script. We haven’t done anything wrong, it is just the road and conditions in front of us. Often these unexpected problems are a turning point towards something new and better.

I read that Van Gogh’s ‘yellow’ period may have been down to a medical condition or the effects of the ‘home brew’ alcohol he was consuming – either way, the results in his work came to be a defining period in his work. I’m not suggesting that you set out to create the defining moments of your art through adversity, but sometimes change just happens and you should work with it.

Commentators are rightly extolling the achievements of Simon Yates. He won’t win the Tour, this year at least, but he has achieved an incredible feat in his two stage victories, so far. Being successful isn’t always what you think it is.

Stage Summary:

185km – Limoux to Foix Prat d’Albis

A fantastic ride by Simon Yates and a second stage victory for him in this year’s Tour. Thibout Pinot finished strongly also, just behind Yates, and Egan Bernal moved himself up the classification also. Geraint Thomas seems to have recovered a little and grabbed some time back against Alaphilippe, but crucially Pinot and Bernal gained time on him. This year’s Tour seems still wide open for top six riders on GC. Exciting for the Tour undoubtedly, but it also shows you how strong Chris Froome has been over these last few years that the whole race could be controlled by him and his team.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 11.

Like the anticipation of any big event, the few days before are nervous and conservative. In a bike race like the Tour de France all of the GC favourites become chess players, mindful and trying to think ahead as many moves as they are able. The difference being their eventual execution of those moves will rely on their physical capabilities to match their intellectual efforts.

Any creative mind embarked upon a project will exhibit similar tendencies. There is a natural state of anticipation, nerves, euphoria, a sense of what might have been if only we had done this or that. There is a flow and ebb. We need to recognise this and react accordingly.

I’ve written already about preparation and scheduling. We are on a journey, like the Tour. Mountains and flats. Sprints and individual races against the clock.

Caleb Ewan has been there or there abouts on pretty much all the stages where there has been a main group sprint. Up until now he has not had the ‘luck’. Still he has persisted. That persistence paid off today. He is a young rider who had to leave his wife and newborn child, still in the hospital, to go to the Tour. He has a job and that dictates your life at times. I am sure he will dedicate that stage win to his wife and daughter.

Creativity can be a career or a hobby. For one you have to make sacrifices, for the other you can easily place it to one side. If you are pursuing the former it can be difficult to make that transition from the latter. Like Caleb Ewan, this is where persistence brings you the win.

Stage Summary:

167km – Albi to Toulouse.

A 4th Cat and a a 3rd Cat climb, so generally should be a sprinters’ day.

Caleb Ewan took his first major tour stage win with a good sprint from a long way out. He held onto the right wheels and made it across the line to take his first major tour, let alone his first Tour de France stage, win. The French are still cheering on Julian Alaphilippe in the Maillot Jaune. Interestingly, the French seem to be holding out for Thibaut Pinot, but evert Tour commentator which mentions him immediately follows it up with the assertion that he does not have the mental edge to win the Tour. It has been a long time sine Bernard Hinault last won the race in 1985, and maybe the French are used to wanting to win so are banking on Pinot, or probably won’t win, because they don’t know what to do if a Frenchman does actually win it.

Day 429 – Sunday Reflection.

A teacher of the law asks Jesus who his ‘ neighbour ‘ is, in response to Jesus’ exhortation that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord you God with all your mind and all your heart and to love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus gives the ‘good samaritan’ parable.

Three years ago 52% of people who voted in an advisory referendum seemed to want to tell their neighbours to clear off. I’ve despaired in the intervening time at the increasing rise in racism and intolerance.

Today I watched the last twenty overs, and tied-game power play overs, which left the England and Wales cricket team victorious over New Zealand, and them World Cup winners.

Looking at the packed stands it was reasonable to assume that 52% of them were intolerant of anyone who didn’t come from the exact same place as them.

It also struck me that a number of key players in the victorious team were the kind of people 52% of them didn’t want in their country, but were perfectly happy to accept them if it meant their sports team won the big trophy!

From what I have seen of the Cricket World Cup it has seemed to be the multi-national extravaganza which it was intended to be. Awesome. Perhaps our society can replicate that.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 7.

During the EuroSport coverage, one of the commentators was talking about the communication available to the peloton riders and how it differed to the 1980’s when his co-commentator legendary Irish cyclist and 5 times Green Points Jersey winner Sean Kelly was racing.

Quick note here that the Green Jersey wasn’t specifically a sprinter’s jersey but a ‘who placed most highly over every stage’ jersey, so to win it you have to be up at the front in the sprints, the time trials, and the mountain stages.

The commentator made the point that he reckoned that Sean Kelly would have loved the peloton nowadays as the medium language would almost certainly be English.

Kelly immediately responded in the negative. He pointed out the cycling was an international sport and when he rode in the peloton he loved that element of it, learning French, Flemish, and Dutch, to converse with all of his team mates and the other riders. He still appreciated this side of the sport and the fact that he could still hold down a decent conversation in those languages with riders today.

The Tour is full of similar stories.

Riders from different teams giving away a bottle to another, or a gel or some food to a struggling rider. Unwritten laws which stop attacks from GC contenders if the Maillot Jaune rider has had mechanical trouble/receiving assistance from the mechanic. Allowing a rider to temporarily go off the front so they can ride through their home town/village, or stop briefly to greet their wives/family.

There is an acknowledgement that they may compete against each other but they are all fundamentally in the same situation and live together accordingly.

Many creative movement have been born and gained consequence in less fertile circumstances.

Stage Summary:

230km – Belfort to Charon-sur-Saone.

Long, slow, day where the riders were both recovering from the previous day and conserving energy ahead of the next day which was very much like a Spring Classic. The sprinters were happy with this and most riders stayed in the peloton shielding themselves from the crosswinds. Wout van Aert put in a huge turn in the run in for the sprint finish, posting on Twitter that he had ridden about 500 watts for 5km, which launched Dylan Groenewegen to his stage win.

Day 428 – The Saturday Answer and Other Stuff.

The Friday Question was, What is the last foreign language you began to learn and why?

My answer is French, because the last time I went into a French Boulangerie, armed with the necessary phrase given to me by my wife to purchase two baguettes and one croissant, I managed the first couple of words in French before seamlessly moving into Italian and then apologising in English when the shop assistant looked at me like I had told her that I wanted to Sunday roast her grandmother. Numerous cycling phrases were not enough, it has proven, for me to make my way about a country I have only begun visiting in recent years, but would now happily live in. My usual ‘learning a new language’ problem is the same as it was with German and Italian, whereby the lack of opportunity to speak it aloud, is quickly leaving me with a reasonable ability to read and hear the language but probably the same Boulangerie incident waiting to happen when I speak it.

The why? It seems terribly ignorant to visit another country and expect the locals to communicate with me in my language. I appreciate their efforts in my direction once I’ve proven my efforts in theirs. I like the places in France I’ve been to and I like the fact that the food is that bit different to ours. I feel as if I’ve eaten healthier. I also love the ritual of walking to the Boulangerie to collect the bread.

The Other Stuff:

I’ve managed to write two posts a day since the Tour de France started – the usual stuff and a Tour focused blog. Hopefully it will provide the initial ingredients for something a bit more substantial.

There has been plenty of sport – New South Wales wrapped up the Origin competition in Australia’s Rugby League. England and Wales cricket demolished the Aussies in the World Cup semi-final. Wimbledon Tennis entered its second week with some people winning and others losing. Wigan lost the Derby match to Saints but are still top 5 in the table.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 6.

There is a mini feature in the ITV 4 highlights coverage of Stage 5 where Matt Rendell presents on Panini sticker books. The standard in sticker books for forty years, and normally the preserve of football teams and competitions, they cover the Giro but now have struck a deal for the Tour de France. The Tour inspires this kind of following. The riders, the teams, the stages, are all colourful and worthy of collection.

Writers and other creatives also collect. They collect ideas and techniques, stories and authors, for reflection and use later on. In recent years Haruki Murakami has written books very much focused on his influences such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and George Orwell’s 1984.

The Tour loves its legends and semi-superstitions and today this is fulfilled in the statistic that of the four times La Planges des Belle Filles has been a stage finish, the Yellow Jersey wearer has carried it into Paris. This statistic could be hampered by the extra gravelly kilometre added on and the remaining two weeks of the Tour with the Alps and the Pyrenees still to go.

Perhaps this is another reason that the Tour endures, because every day you get to try and predict the stage winners, the GC Jersey wearers, all with a weather-eye on your own preferred team and riders.

Stage Summary:

160.5km – Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles.

2x Cat3 climbs, 2x Cat2 climbs, and 3x Cat1 climbs, with the final one reaching a gradient to 24% on gravel at the end. A super tough stage which showed up a semi-surprise winner in Ciccone, leaving Dylan Teuns in the Mailot Jaune, but really shook the main contenders up; which was the point of the stage really, but just like cream rising to the top, Geraint Thomas proved that maybe he does have the form to defend his crown after all, moving into 4th.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 5.

One of the attractions of Le Tour is it is also a grand tour of France itself.

Alternating between a clockwise and counter-clockwise direction around the country, this year the procession going in the former, showing off the various and varied regions of the country.

The publicity caravan is as much a part of the race as the riders, and the tv/radio coverage makes it a truly world race. Spectators line the routes for each stage number in hundreds of thousands around the entire course, with estimates of between 1-2 million throughout the full tour. Many camp out on iconic climbs like L’alpe d’Huez for up to a week to secure their spots.

Some historians even claim that most French people had little idea about the shape of their own country in the early years of their race until L’Auto began publishing maps of the route.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Tour is so special. It is more than just a race. It is a cultural extravaganza with sport thrown in. It is like having a World Cup every year, but where you get to travel the entire host country into the bargain. Plus you come back the following year because there are places you haven’t seen yet, alongside some of your favourites.

W.G. Seebald’s book The Rings of Saturn had this feel of a story within a story when I first read it. Seebald weaves characters and incidents from history into the landscape of this summer illness and subsequent journey around Norfolk.

The Tour is very much in this framework. There is the current story being played out against the backdrop and history of the places in which the story is taking place.

David Hockney, in recent years, goes back to a specific piece of wooded road near where he lives and paints/iPad paints it continually. Each image documents the natural changes of the spot and perspective of the artist.

Ludvico Einaudi is currently releasing albums with compositions inspired by a seven day walking trip.

What could you do with your creative art?

With one of the toughest Tour stages, with seven climbs, tomorrow then this day will potentially be quite quiet with many of the GC riders keeping out of trouble and using as little energy as possible. So expect a bunch sprint but not too much effecting the overall standings.

Stage Summary:

175.5km – Saint Die des Vosges to Colmar.

A rolling course with two Cat 3 and two Cat 4 climbs, the last giving the peloton about 30km run in to the finish. Breakaways but all swept up for a bunch sprint at the end with Peter Sagan taking the honours today. No overall change in the General Classification.