Zen and Tennis

Last night I played tennis and this morning I can feel it.

Joints and tendons, tweaked. I’ve not played for a few weeks and when you get to my age (still in my prime, obviously) – you just need to be playing a lot more regularly to keep the aches away.

I used to play a lot of tennis, in Huddersfield of all places. Sometime up to three times a week I’d be sliding around on some godforsaken shale in Meltham, or getting my arse kicked by a geriatric potato farmer in Denby Dale. But that was another time but I still get a real buzz from playing the game.

The one thing you realise about tennis is that it’s less about your skills and more about how sorted your head is. Obviously there is a skill level required to compete at a certain level, but it’s then about how you apply your mind to every match.

Someone once said to me ‘concentrate on every point and not the match score – don’t worry about where you are at with the overall score, just think about the point’. Now that’s easy to say. As a player, you’re always naturally looking forward to when it’s your turn to serve or even when you’re getting a serve on your forehand. This zen-like play is hardcore. ‘Play the point in front of you and forget everything else.’ Mmmn.

It’s pretty appropriate right now as I’m just reading (or trying to read) Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. All of the above and lots more besides are covered in plenty of detail.I feel like I’m on a bit of a journey actually getting to grips with the business of Zen and I was struck this week on how tennis is right at the heart of it.

We’re going to be talking about this book at the book club at The Victoria in Leeds on Friday night – I’ll let you know how we get on, I’m sure it’ll be all about the moment….

A morning in the Henry Moore Institute

I had a couple of hours to kill in Leeds recently (I was waiting for the lovely wife to have her hair sorted – it seems to take hours on end and it looks the same at the end of it, but don’t tell her) so I decided after a slap up breakfast to combat a hangover and then on to get some culture.

I always wonder what people think when they come to Leeds in search of culture and not shopping. It must be bloody hard to find. When the book club boys go to mainland Europe on our annual trips, one of our first port of calls (after the bars obviously) is the art gallery. So I put myself in the shoes of a ‘cultural visitor’ (yes, they do exist) and set about visiting Leeds City Art Gallery and The Henry Moore Institute.

The exhibition in the Institute consisted of a room of 3B pencil scribble on a massive, white,  emulsioned space. It wasn’t bad but it seemed to confound all of the visitors who were there the same time as me. Maybe that was the point. The artist was called Alan Johnston, I quite liked it and the artist seemed like he had the worst case of OCD I’ve ever seen.

As my old mate Streety would have declared “You’re havin’ a laugh!!!”

The main gallery has some interesting stuff in there, some old some new but it just seemed like a mish-mash of old stagers and new chancers. I just can’t shake the feeling that art in Leeds is just not taken seriously by anyone with their hands on a serious pot of money, which is a huge disappointment.

This city has been working towards a very commercial vision in recent times and I think we’re all the poorer for it – literally and philosophically. In some ways the recession has put paid to some of the more ludicrous plans, and I’m pleased about that.

It strikes home pretty powerfully too when you try and spend a couple of hours in the city centre that’s don’t involve shopping, eating or drinking. The city just feels culturally impoverished and although the new city museum is a captivating diversion, it’s aimed rightly at mainstream family visitors. We are still missing a ‘proper’ cultural destination.

Look at Manchester’s great old art gallery. Look at The Baltic. Look at Tate Liverpool. What happened in Leeds, and who’s responsible?