Friday, 23 November 2012

Radi-Aid: Save the freezing children of Norway
Have you seen the excellent video put out by the charity Radi-Aid? Those poor Norwegians are freezing cold so Africans are helping by sending their unwanted radiators. Yes, it's a spoof, but with a purpose -- to turn around cliched images of helpless Africans who we only ever think of as victims.
     Now I really want a Radi-Aid t-shirt. So do a lot of other people, it seems -- I bet they start selling them before the end of the weekend. This thing is moving fast.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Sad Case of David Hockney's Stump

The twelve-foot-high tree stump which featured in several of David Hockney's wonderful paintings in his show at the Royal Academy earlier this year has been vandalised and cut down, which has understandably upset the artist (and me -- more than I would have expected).
'Winter Timber' by David Hockney

He was quoted in The Guardian as saying, "It is something that has made me depressed. It was just a spite. There are loads of very mean things here now in Britain." He has been to see the damaged stump and is doing drawings of it as a way of dealing with the saddening turn of events.
The tree was spraypainted some time before it was actually hacked in two. Here's the stump at full height but grafitti-ed:
It does seem incredible that this block of dead wood, which had particular meaning for Hockney -- he referred to it as his 'totem' -- should have been singled out for deliberate spoiling. It seems to suggest someone with a reasonable degree of awareness of modern art but also a bent for vandalism. I'd like to think those two things would be would be incompatible but it seems not.
     Apart from Hockney's own beautiful artworks to memorialise the tree, there's still another way to see it.  If, as I'm wont to do, you go travelling on Google Street View, you can visit the location of the tree stump and see it still standing, in rather lovely wintry sunlight. It's in Sands Wood, on Woldgate, the road from Bridlington to Kilham.

Monday, 5 November 2012

How well do you see colours?

screen-grab of the x-rite colour test
How accurately do you discern colours? As someone who loves art and loves to paint, I'm very aware of colours and I like to think I can see them accurately. But can I? Have you ever done the x-rite online colour challenge? Click on the link to have a go. You have to use your mouse to sort the little squares of colour into the correct order -- from pink to green, green to turquoise and so on. Then when you think you've got them into perfect order, you click to see your score. Here's the test I did just now:
It turned out to have 8 mistakes on it. The less mistakes you make the better your score. My best ever score is 4. But for the life of me I can't actually see where the errors are in the lines of colour -- I've just reached the limits of the subtlety my eyes are capable of.
The results page shows you where you got it wrong. I find it completely fascinating. Why don't you have a go and see if you can do better than me?

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Just me and Nigel Slater, then?

a still from Teddy Gray's Sweet Factory, a 20-min film by Martin Parr about one of the last old sweet factories (click link to watch)
Are you like me and now believe that the Internet more or less mirrors reality, that everything is 'out there' somewhere, if you can just find the right search terms to put into Google?
Up until now, the only thing I can think of that I couldn't find any reference to online was the 'curse' I have to say every time I see a lone magpie: 'Evil be to thee, good be unto me, get thee gone where thee should be'. Surely I can't be the only person to say this, or even the only person to mention it online? (Having just searched again, I still didn't find it but found instead the tradition of saying 'Devil, devil, I defy thee!' to lone magpies, which must surely be related?)
Now I've found something else dear to my heart which almost no one else seems to remember: Parkinson's Fruit Thins. I must have eaten a hundredweight of these in the course of my childhood. They were beautiful, individually wrapped, inch-square thin panes of boiled sugar. The shape just didn't fit comfortably in your mouth and that was a great part of the pleasure, somehow: pressing the four corners up into the tender roof of your mouth with your tongue or using it to lacerate your cheek when it got to a wafer.
     I've been haunting one or two vintage confectionery sites (such as A Quarter of) for years, waiting in vain for my favourite square (or, in fact, slightly rectangular) sweets to reappear.
     The photo above is the only one I've found that might possibly show an early version of Thins. Otherwise, nada. Then my latest fruitless search brought a mention of Thins by food-hedonist Nigel Slater, who includes them in his new book, Eating for England:
This is the reference, close up:
Just me and Nigel dreaming of Thins, then? I share his nostalgia for sweet shop sweeties and would urge you to watch Martin Parr's short film about Teddy Gray's old-fashioned sweet factory.
Talking of nostalgia, I've absolutely loved the comments on my last post, about saveloys and pease pudding. Jane from Jeeandme shared memories of eating many of the same foods as me growing up in Bristol, altering my picture of the North-East having been a culinary law unto itself. She also remembered eating pigs' trotters, stuffed hearts, faggots and chitterlings. I think I got away lightly.
     Lesley at Printed Material remembered making rollmops but hankers after Farley's Rusks! Some kind of regression thing going on there, maybe, Lesley? Like me with Heinz tomato soup poured on top of a pile of buttered bread cut up into little squares so it makes a bowl of red mush.
     Cathy at Me... Musing amazingly shares my love of Fray Bentos pies but admits to a thing for Spam and those (sorry) horrible little sausages in tins of Heinz baked beans. Let's not even start on Campbell's meatballs (except to say that Campbell's was too posh for our house...).    
     Joanna at Fiddlesnips! remembers eating beef dripping on toast -- me too! Unbelievable, isn't it? Did you also get to scoop out the marrow from the end of the lamb joint on a Sunday with the wrong end of a teaspoon? Shovel on the salt... mmm.
     Finally, Jill at Third Age Musings wrote what I can only describe as a love poem to Golden Syrup and sugar. Me too! Do you sneak a slurp straight out of the squeezy bottle when no one's looking? Syrup on fried rounds of suet, syrup on Yorkshire puddings, bananas dipped in sugar, tomatoes sprinkled with sugar (me, only when cooking them), and sandwiches made with lettuce, sugar and vinegar -- but that combo is what we used to call 'Yorkshire salad' and we had it every week with our Sunday joint, except that I always shunned it as I didn't like the combination of hot and cold on the same plate.
     I leave you with the memory of Chocolate Lovelies which you were supposed to defrost but which I always ate frozen, and lemon Choc Top yoghurts, which I loved even though the 'choc top' was just a thin layer of fatty stuff on top of an indifferent yoghurt. So bad it was good... And the best chocolate bar EVER:

Friday, 2 November 2012

Territorial food wars

a saveloy moment
This weekend I've been up North to visit my Dad. While I was there I got it into my head that it would be sweetly nostalgic to revisit my childhood by buying some of the foodstuffs I regularly ate back in the day. And I thought the rest of the family might enjoy joining me on this little trip back in time.
first few Google images for 'Richmond Yorkshire'
Some background filling-in is necessary. I grew up in Richmond in Yorkshire, where my family on my Mum's side had lived for several generations. Above are the first few images that pop up on Google when you search for Richmond -- beautiful, I hope you'll agree. My Dad, on the other hand, grew up in Darlington, some thirteen (long) miles away, across the county line in Co. Durham.
first few Google images for 'Darlington, County Durham'
Darlington is also a nice place -- I'm fond of it -- but not quite so idyllic as Richmond. For my Dad, being made to live over the line in Yorkshire was a kind of constant punishment and perhaps that's one reason why, every Saturday, for my entire childhood, we returned to Darlington to spend the day at his Mum's.
 My granny on my Dad's side was a bit of a phenomenon. She was a food machine. She worked in the bakery of a high street bakers and even though she spent all week turning out commercial quantities of cake, she also spent her weekends doing the same. Her seed cake was famous.
seed cake
And she didn't stop at cake. She made beef tea, pancakes, suet puddings plus other things you don't see so much these days: rollmop herrings and tripe and onions. She would make my Mum, my Dad and me three separate meals to eat each Saturday tea time. It was very strange. She was, I think, trying to give us something that each of us would especially like but all three of us hated our dish. My Mum had once said she liked watercress so she would get a huge bunch of watercress and a plate of bread and butter -- every week. I got a plate salad with sliced hard-boiled egg and slices of beetroot. No no no. My Dad got a plate of tripe and onions which he hated so much he could hardly bear to put it in his mouth.
tripe and onions in white sauce
But such was the esteem -- or fear -- in which he held his mother that he ate the tripe every week without demur. I remember him hissing at me (often), 'Don't say anything! Just eat it...' or some such. It was very strange. My granny was a true North-Easterner and embodied ways of eating that must have gone back generations. I truly believe that the rollmops were a throwback to Viking times.
saveloy, savoury duck and pease pudding (modern versions -- not quite the same)
Each Saturday, when it was time for us to return across the border to Yorkshire for another week -- after we had watched The Generation Game but in good time to be home in front of our own telly for the start of Starsky and Hutch or Kojak -- it would be time to pack up the car with the trayloads of cakes that Granny had made for us that week. My Dad used to despair at them. He used to take them to work and hand them out in the staff room in an effort to cope with them. And as well as the cakes there'd be packets of saveloys, savoury ducks and perhaps a dab of pease pudding in a bit of greaseproof paper from Taylor's the butchers in Darlington town centre. And sometimes polony too. Or smoked sausages that we called 'joeys'.
Starsky and Hutch
It was the 1970s but we still lived according to Victorian rhythms -- at least my Dad did. His natural time to eat his evening meal was about 4pm. Then, at around 9pm, he liked to have his 'supper' -- some sort of fried snack, usually. And that's where the saveloys et al came in. After we had thrilled to Starsky and Hutch (I always watched it, never could follow the plots), he would get the frying pan out and fry up whatever his mother had sent in the way of butcher's products. Was it only us, or was it taboo to wash the frying pan in those days? I can't bear to think about it... The saveloys were sliced in two lengthways, peeled and fried. A large, fatty sandwich was the usual end product. Brown sauce was essential. I remember enjoying it all mightily.
     So... all this is leading up to our pilgrimage, on Monday, to the long-established butchers in Stockton, which is nearer to where my Dad now lives than Darlington. When he and my Mum got divorced he was back into the 'proper' North East faster than Roadrunner. I bought saveloys, ducks and pease pudding and I thought it would be fun to cook them all up when we got back home and for my children to enjoy the food their Mum had as a kid. Well, you can't imagine the deep suspicion and disdain my husband and kids displayed: noses wrinkled, lips curled, eyes narrowed. Not wanting to force the issue, I made a kind of fry-up buffet so they could help themselves. And there were baked beans, toast and so on to make it all less alienating. What a fuss! Tiny mouthfuls were reluctantly nibbled. Most of it was left then thrown away.
     And the worst thing of all was that even I didn't enjoy it very much. I didn't get the Proustian memory I was hoping for. The saveloys didn't seem to have the soft, granular texture I remembered. The duck just tasted ... wrong. The pease pudding was ... nothing special. It was very sad. That will teach me to try to recreate the past.
This will cheer me up -- a Gallery Five cat. Gallery Five decorated my childhood