Sloe gin – part two

So, having acquired some sloes, the next thing to do is get gin. If you see some cheap in the supermarket it’s probably best to check on the volume required before purchasing two one litre bottles rather than the two 0.75cl bottles required for the quantity of sloes in the freezer. When you get home and discover the mistake, console yourself with memories of the deliciousness of G&T and recall how distant those memories are. Tell yourself you have several years of G&Tlessness to make up for.

Next, sort out some containers. It might be a good plan to have some general idea of the volume occupied by both sloes and gin, ie at least a nascent sense that it’s considerably greater than that occupied by the gin alone. About double, in fact. However, once grasped, this concept should be coupled with a knowledge of the volume of the selected container. Should you choose, to take an entirely random example, to save plastic milk bottles for your project, it would be as well to realise they are 2l bottles not 1l bottles before every spare inch of kitchen is filled with ginormous washed-out plastic containers which wobble and crash to the floor with hollow thumps at the slightest move.

Finally – the assemblage of the constituent parts into the aforementioned container/s. Even the most sloe-witted of fabricators will, by this point, have finalised the proportions of sloe : sugar : gin. In this case it required taking a single 2l plastic milk bottle, half filling it with sloes (quickly, if frozen, you don’t want condensation to dilute your nectar-to-be), glugging in a litre bottle of gin and adding about two wine-glasses full of sugar. However the latter part of the operation should not be attempted with the use of an old envelope roughly rolled into a sort-of funnel. The sugar escapes through the edge of the sort-of and ends up on the floor where the delighted dog licks it up and ruins her teeth. Just saying.

It is at this point that you might realise there are sloes left over and it would be a shame to waste them. But their small quantity is entirely lost in the bottom of one of the many other 2l plastic milk bottles and all the devil-may-care insouciance of rustic approximate measurements flies out of the window. Frantic weighing and internetting and measuring are advisable before the sloes thaw into a swampy mush but you might end up with a small amount (say about a quarter of a litre of gin) in the bottom of the huge container which you decide you can give your father for his birthday which happens to fall just when the stuff will be first drinkable. Result! you might think, and make a mental note to find a suitable container (not plastic, about a quarter of a litre in capacity) into which to strain it since a lumpy purple liquid at the bottom of a large plastic bottle might not get top marks for presentation. Oh, and you might try to remember to get hold of a funnel.

Sloe gin (gestating)


Busy, you know, with a bit of this and a lot of that. But I am moved to say that The Case of the Missing Servant by written by Tarquin Hall and read by Sam Dastor is one of the best detective audiobooks I’ve ever had pass through my shell-like. And I’m a connoisseur, believe me.

It’s the combination of excellent writing rooted deeply in both India and the humorous detective tradition and a reader steeped in both. The sense of place evoked by both text and reader combine to produce something much greater than I would be able to conjure by reading the printed page.

And it’s hysterical. I don’t mean the mental-smile, nor the twitch-of-the-lips funny, nor the slight-audible-grunt of amusement. I mean the kind of funny that leaves me, at least, with tears running down my face, gasping for breath, sprained muscles and the danger of further paroxysms merely recalling the episodes in question.

The text is acutely observed and (so Indian reviewers confirm) an excellent and non-judgemental dissection of the multi-layered realities of the dominant Punjabi culture in Delhi and its environs. The reader, Sam Dastor, was born in Mumbai and appears, to this auditor at least, to have every word, accent and mannerism skewered.

The only disadvantage to listening to the audio version that I can work out or imagine is the absence of the glossary. The text, apparently, has full annotation and the section detailing the food is said to be particularly mouth-watering. I can merely listen to the sound of the words and lust, in vain, to taste whatever it is they denote.

To do, without limits

The aspirations of a scientist, 300 years ago:

The Prolongation of Life.
The Recovery of Youth, or at least some of the Marks of it, as new Teeth, new Hair colour’d as in youth.
The Art of Flying.
The Art of Continuing long under water, and exercising functions freely there.
The Cure of Wounds at a Distance.
The Cure of Diseases at a distance or at least by Transplantation.
The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions.
The Emulating of Fish without Engines by Custome and Education only.
The Acceleration of the Production of things out of Seed.
The Transmutation of Metalls.
The makeing of Glass Malleable.
The Transmutation of Species in Mineralls, Animals, and Vegetables.
The Liquid Alkaest and Other dissolving Menstruums.
The making of Parabolicall and Hyperbolicall Glasses.
The making Armor light and extremely hard.
The practicable and certain way of finding Longitudes.
The use of Pendulums at Sea and in Journeys, and the Application of it to watches.
Potent Druggs to alter or Exalt Imagination, Waking, Memory, and other functions, and appease pain, procure innocent sleep, harmless dreams, etc.
A Ship to saile with All Winds, and A Ship not to be Sunk.
Freedom from Necessity of much Sleeping exemplify’d by the Operations of Tea and what happens in Mad-Men.
Pleasing Dreams and physicall Exercises exemplify’d by the Egyptian Electuary and by the Fungus mentioned by the French Author.
Great Strength and Agility of Body exemplify’d by that of Frantick Epileptick and Hystericall persons.
A perpetuall Light.
Varnishes perfumable by Rubbing.

Robert Boyle‘s to-do/wish list, most of which aspirations can now be ticked off. A pretty mind-blowing collection, and the inclusion of what amounts to “scratch-and-sniff” is just awesome.

An “alkaest” is apparently a universal solvent and was much sought after by alchemists. Quite how something which dissolved absolutely everything else would exist and be controlled is a problem which no doubt great minds spent great time mulling.

I wonder whether the Egyptian Electus (medicinal paste with sweeteners to hide the taste for the purposes of oral consumption) was nepenthe: 1580, nepenthes, from Gk., from ne- “no, not” (see un-) + penthos “grief” (related to pathos). A drug of Egypt mentioned in the “Odyssey” as capable of banishing grief or trouble from the mind. The -s is a proper part of the word, but was likely mistaken in Eng. as a plural affix and dropped.

There’s more, including a picture of the original handwritten list, here, at the Royal Society website. It’s their 350th anniversary this year I discover, very belatedly.

Most of the list is obviously the aspiration to improve on an existing technology like making Armor light and extremely hard, better drugs (medicinal and recreational) etc. But The Emulating of Fish without Engines by Custome and Education only? That’s pretty far out. It’s delightful that none of his desires involves more efficient weapons and this list is notable for what looks like, from here, its overall emphasis on the betterment of the human condition.

Of course Attaining Gigantick Dimensions is something many still unsuccessfully aspire to, judging by my spam folder.

Birthday boy

Likes nothing better than an outing to the Apple store to play with, well, everything. Below, if this posting-from-the-phone gizmo works properly, is Labyrinth on an iPad.

2ndSpawn’s birthdays are never entirely straightforward events. This year at least the tempests have not (so far) been sufficiently severe as to require the kicking down of a locked door as has been the case in the past. But still exhausting.

10.5 ways of looking at a story (Africa and the Telling of Tales)

A village Chief listens during a community meeting / Ngegebma, Kailahun District
Community meetings are held in Kailahun’s villages to ensure the returnees successfully re-integrate. Here, the Chief of the village of Ngegebma listens to returnees’ questions.
Photograph by Caroline Thomas
Caroline Thomas is a documentary photographer based in Sierra Leone. She is a stringer for EPA and works with NGOs and the UN as a photographer and communications adviser.

The name Kailahun rang in my ears for more than a decade – the civil war in Sierra Leone was almost exactly coterminous with my time working for the BBC Africa Service – but I’ve never seen the place. I find this picture, from the new website African Lens (Telling the Story of Africa), both beautiful and moving.

The inaugural editorial is suitably thought-provoking and concludes on a rising clarion note:

These are exciting times for visual storytellers, with the power of the web facilitating the global production and circulation of new photographic projects. There are many challenges involved in getting better stories to the right people, but the gatekeepers of the mainstream media no longer have total control over what we can or cannot see. If we appreciate how stereotypes have been produced and can be contested, we can, over time, achieve the re-visualization of ‘Africa’.

The author, academic David Campbell, links, more than once, to this utterly delightful TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which I’m embedding here in the hope that everyone who comes across it will watch it all the way through. It’s worth every minute of it.

A vision indeed. But perhaps if every child in the world were issued with and inspired by Ben Okri’s 10 1/2 Inclinations (advice he formulated when asked to recommend the top ten books he thought children should read) we should be nearer that three-dimensionality of mind:

The 10 1/2 Inclinations

1.) There is a secret trail of books meant to inspire and enlighten you. Find that trail.
2.) Read outside your own nation, colour, class, gender.
3.) Read the books your parents hate.
4.) Read the books your parents love.
5.) Have one or two authors that are important, that speak to you; and make their works your secret passion.
6.) Read widely, for fun, stimulation, escape.
7.) Don’t read what everyone else is reading. Check them out later, cautiously.
8.) Read what you’re not supposed to read.
9.) Read for your own liberation and mental freedom.
10.) Books are like mirrors. Don’t just read the words. Go into the mirror. That is where the real secrets are. Inside. Behind. That’s where the gods dream, where our realities are born.
10.5) Read the world. It is the most mysterious book of all.

(Okri via Jeremy.)


I went back to the photo-portrait exhibition at the Tate Modern, puzzled about how two videos running for more than 25 minutes could be defined as a photograph, located the puny screen representing the public’s involvement, bought the catalogue and thought thoughts about the extraordinary twaddle (badly translated from German) therein. But actually why bother with any of that when there is this:


Just look at that light. Fan-bloody-tastic. Setting sun running west-east along the Thames. These two fishermen were absolutely delightful, as was their dog, a collie called Charlie, who was as rotund as they but had seemingly limitless energy when it came to chasing a small plastic bottle which he demanded be thrown for him at 40 second intervals. When I first sat down on the bench next to them they were having a long conversation with a Russian man who was bemoaning the near extinction of the sturgeon.

Me and you (annoyingly subtitled Permission and Power)

To the annoyingly subtitled exhibition An Urban History of Photography (surely the photography is urban not the history thereof) Street and Studio at the Tate Modern with Hg (and the already holidaying FirstSpawn).

The blurb is similarly annoying:

Street & Studio brings out the contrast between the photos taken in the carefully orchestrated studio, and images captured in the changing and uncontrollable street, whilst highlighting the crossovers between the genres and their influence on each other…

Focusing on photos taken in buzzing cities, with their cosmopolitan cast of hipsters, businessmen, beauties and criminals, Street & Studio builds an engrossing urban history of photography, ranging from early black-and-white pictures from the late 1800s, to elegant fashion photography from the mid twentieth century, to cutting-edge portraiture by contemporary artists.

How many adjectives can one be expected to take in such a concentrated space?

However the exhibition itself is fascinating but its hugeness means repeated viewings will be necessary in order to absorb all the photoyumminess.

What most interested me on this, the first pass, was the concept of permission in terms of images of people. In other words the perennial question of whether it’s “ok” to take pictures of people in public without asking them. Although Room 2, Passers-by is where the issue is most clearly demonstrated but discussion avoided, as far as I could see. However I find the tone of the accompanying text interesting:

DiCorcia takes striking close-ups but goes to extreme lengths to ensure his subjects are not aware of being photographed. Using a long lens and flashlight, he sets up a complex apparatus above the street and is able to illuminate and isolate passers-by. Ed van der Elsken’s tactics were more aggressively voyeuristic. He followed an anonymous woman around the streets of Hong Kong, creating a sequence of pictures that is reminiscent of a tracking shot from a movie. ‘I followed this babe around for a while. She knew I was doing it, and didn’t like it one bit’, he confessed.

“…more aggressively voyeuristic”… “he confessed”… hmm… a tadette, a mere whiff of the pejorative, perhaps?

knitting, spawn, bee, beer

(Gratuitous portrait interlude to break up the blocks of text and pejorative only to beer-seeking bees inhabiting the buzzing city)

Perhaps this issue just isn’t controversial any more, it’s merely my continuing considerable unease with the practice in a tide of acceptance which makes me feel it’s so. It certainly has been in the past though. There are a couple of pictures in that room by Philip-Lorca diCorcia from his series Heads which prompted a lawsuit from one of the unwitting subjects and much debate on blogs. The photograph in question is not in the exhibition which could be entirely unconnected with the subsequent litigation but I did wonder whether there might be worries about further action under a different legal system.

Meanwhile, and relatedly, over in Room 9, Liberation: 1960s – 1980s there’s a piece by Laurie Anderson called Fully Automated Nikon (Object/Objection/Objectivity) which is described as a “photo-narrative installation”. Back in 1973 Anderson got sick of being harassed by men as she went about minding her own business so she decided to retaliate by taking a picture of the harassers.

The piece consists of an introductory text statement explaining the background followed by a number of photographs of men with their identities obscured in time-honoured newspaper journalistic fashion (a bar over the eyes) and beneath each picture is a short account of the event around the photograph. In the introductory text she compares taking someone’s photograph to mugging them.

This project was apparently the inspiration for a number of web-based “fight-backs” against street harassment – Holla Back New York City (not annoyingly sub-titled If You Can’t Slap ‘Em, Snap ‘Em) and Blank Noise in India for example.

The piece explicitly and the effect it has had demonstrates clearly the fact that one person taking a photograph of another person is an act which involves a significant power relationship and it is this which I think lies at the heart of my unease with some, possibly a lot, of street photography.

This twinning of permission and power is delightfully exemplified in a showcase in Room 5 (Ordinary People and Celebrities). One half is occupied by a hundred or so photographs of women taken in photobooths in 1928. The women, alone, entirely in control of what is happening, pose in exactly the way that appears on such pictures today. One even holds a telephone receiver to her ear which presumably she had brought with her for the purpose of appearing to converse animatedly.

The other side of showcase has a series of police mug shots – individuals without any control or power at all.


(Second gratuitous portrait interlude to break up the blocks of text, having nothing at all to do with mug shots)

The issue of permission emerges in the “public contribution” section of the exhibition. Street and Studio is following in the footsteps of last year’s How We Are at Tate Britain – which invited the public to contribute to the exhibition via a specially-set-up group on Flickr – and has set up a Street or Studio group. There’s an interesting discussion thread about “permission” centred around the Tate’s rather vague terms and conditions:

For legal reasons, the main subjects of the photograph should have consented to being photographed and not have received any payment in return.

Tate do not require evidence of written consent from the subject of the photograph…

The condition applies where the subject is the main focus of the shot, as in a staged studio portrait.

A snatched street shot would not require this permission as the subjects may be incidental.

The main thing is that the subject of the photograph has not been paid for being featured in the photograph.

Clear? Yeah, as mud.

I was disappointed not to see the Flickr photographs anywhere in the exhibition itself, unlike How We Are Now which included several screens showing pictures from the group pool and later 40 of those submitted were chosen for display in the gallery for the end portion of the show’s run. It seems counter-intuitive to invite public participation in a themed exhibition and then not incorporate those contributions in the gallery itself.

True, the involvement is billed as “Your photos in print” but there’s a para which claims “All submissions will be posted and shared on Tate Online and displayed on a screen in the gallery” so maybe I missed it. I’m a cynic, of course, but this does look more like a marketing opportunity for the project’s publishing partner to cash in on a new variant of vanity publishing rather than exploring the richness and variety of responses to the theme.

I shall look carefully for the screen in the gallery on my next visit, which shall be very soon indeed.

Fleecing the sheep

“Did you know” ask Craig and Gerard “that there are more than 60 breeds of sheep in the UK?”

We had the best of the weekend weather yesterday, without a doubt. The spawn and I winkled Jean from her work and went to the Alternative Village Fête where, to celebrate all things ovine, we selected beautiful British yarn from the baskets available and Jean, SecondSpawn and I knitted a swatch to attach to the I Knit London sheep.

We were not alone. Large numbers of people leapt at the chance to do likewise, sitting in the sun, accompanied by various attractions ranging from Rediscovered Urban Rituals, the Bollywood Brass Band and (very surreal, this) a man who made a hat entirely out of cake icing (and plastic cups and sugar-coloured-sprinkly-things too, but they weren’t mentioned).

FirstSpawn is not a knitter but he kept us in stitches (sorry, couldn’t resist) with wisecracks about his “new” mobile phone. Due to an unfortunate incident over which I shall draw a discreet veil he is now reduced to using a, uh, vintage (more than ten years old!) handset – my very first mobile in fact. In a youth culture where only the very latest, most complex and most expensive will do his brick is going to stick out like, well, a brick. However he is putting a brave face on things.

“You know how small is good in mobile phone terms”, he says, “well *my* mobile phone has got the smallest screen I’ve ever seen”.

Photo fun

This evening (um, sort of yesterday now) Jean (re)drew my attention to photography community Utata and more specifically the projects it runs. I was utterly entranced by the most recent Iron Photographer (whatever that may mean) project, the parameters of which are as follows:
1 – something rubber
2 – something made with/from wire OR with sequins
3 – shot outside at night

I waited impatiently for night to fall since I happened to have about my person a ready-made wire-and-rubber object to which, for good measure, I attached a few sequins.

night rider

Needless to say more haste results in the proverbial lack of vitesse and I did everything arse over tits since I didn’t read most of the instructions. However I hope I’ve retrieved the situation as far as possible and won’t be ejected as a bungling neophyte.

So excited am I by Utata I’ve placed its bookmark in prime browser real-estate, right next to that of Ravelry which is without a doubt my top favourite social networking site (so far).