Friday, November 27, 2009

Day 268, 271109 (gingerbread)

Concerning gingerbread people.

You know, if we were professional bakers we probably could have had this done and dusted in half the time. A third of the time. Total man hours required for myself and Sam (of Tea and Cake fame) to make 100 gingerbread people turned out to be about 14; my standard hourly rate (for callouts) is £50, which makes these some of the most expensive gingerbread men ever made. Or, would do, if we were charging for anything other than ingredients.

But, we did it, they are done and we did them. 100 gingerbread people, as a T&C enterprise for one of Sam's friends, getting married on Saturday and wanting wedding favours for people. You know how I say things like "try everything once, just so you know you'll never have to do it again"? Well, without a bigger oven, a higher working surface and something to pulverize crystallised ginger without gumming up I'm never making this many gingerbread men again...

The recipe was the standard one that I swiped from my mother, and modified slightly with some different spices and some maple syrup, with the extra addition of a couple of tablespoons of blitzed crystallised ginger. It's a bit gummy, that stuff, so my hand mixer didn't really like it very much. It makes quite a difference to the mixture, though - a bit of texture and some more ginger in there, without having big lumps of mouth-searing surprise. Fifty raw gingerbread men look like this:

Dough Raw

... and as they were cooling, but before I put them in airtight tins, they looked like this:

Awaiting decor


They stayed crisp overnight (hoorah!) in the airtight tins, but I did have to make another batch before going to bed because some were a bit too singed around the edges and were more like those biscuits you get in plastic packets when you order coffee in hotels that are trying, but don't quite get coffee. Perfectly edible if you like that sort of thing, but not really suitable.

Met Sam at the station, we went home and took out the ladies that she'd done, melted some chocolate (which set really quickly, so I decided that properly tempered chocolate was a luxury we couldn't afford in this situation and went for speed and simplicity over my own "technique above all else!" aesthetics), and decorated the ladies.


Then we set the chaps out, melted more chocolate, and did them. By the time we got to the end of the chaps it was 10pm, we were shattered and backs were really aching, and you can tell by the lack of suits and more... odd decor some of the chaps got. There was a skellington (userpic), someone in an X-ray machine, and a member of the Syndikat.


We did special ones for the bride and groom, too. Lots of chocolate! We did comment on the decoration as we were doing it; some of the ladies were very obviously grannies, some were in evening wear, some in dungarees. The gents were... eclectic, I think.

We certainly had fun making them - a lot of fun - but it's hard, hard work. I have much more respect for bakers, especially ones who do artisinal things like this. We could have done single colour, five blobs and a smile, and be done in ten minutes, but where's the artistry in that? This was all about the handmade product, the joy of uniqueness, and I think we did a pretty good job with that.

Richard was a star and ran out for tupperware with mere minutes to go before Sainsbury's closed; when packed up, the 100 gingerbread people looked like this:

What 100 Gingerbread men looks like

Fun, yes. Next time though, I'm charging more :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Day 262, 211109 (Thought Bubble)

This weekend was the best sequential arts fair in the North, and possibly the country (although Birmingham may argue on size, I think this is the friendliest). By which I mean Thought Bubble.

In a city with two indie comics shops (one of which does games) and a FP, you'd think that a comics convention wouldn't be a huge thing here, and if there was one it'd be a small affair, stuffed in a church hall or in the basement of the Town Hall, or something. In fact, in year one it was in the basement of the town hall, and it was a fairly sedate affair with only a handful of names attending, and it wasn't bad, but not really enough to hold interest for very long (also, I was very ill at the time). Then in year two - it amazes me that it's only three years old now - it exploded into Saville Hall, a huge conference venue by the Armouries. It was rammed solid last year, with the queue stretching quite some way at opening time and not really shortening very much before lunch. At that one I looked after the fetishman stall for a bit and pretended to be Geof for an interview, and spent a bit of money - but not that much - on indie comics.

This year was something else entirely.

I went with a budget, and with the intention of spending money on indie comics. I arrived at lunchtimeish, found Mavis who gave me a quick tour - showing me some Doctor Who artwork that made me think "Oh, it's a shame t'other Penny isn't here" on the way - and then stood with me as I carried out my first purchase of the day, and one I've been looking forwards to for two years, a copy of Grandville.

A quick note from my diary from back then:
[...] A two-hour session with Bryan Talbot as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival, who was talking about his techniques in graphic novel design with specific reference to The Tale of One Bad Rat. He started off with a retrospective of his work up to that point - which took 40 minutes - and pointing out how he learned to use a brush, crosshatching, lines of convergence, vanishing points, use of colour (which happened very late on), and some seriously interesting things about passage of time - how he spread a six-second sequence in Luther Arkwright across 72 panels, for example - and plotting. Then he gets into One Bad Rat, which pulls all of this together. He talked about the nine-frame grid a lot, and intuitive reading, and how people's brains work when reading comics - their eyes jump everywhere, even though the conscious brain is only aware of the linear flow - and putting little things in a frame which aren't necessarily supposed to be seen, per se, but help the brain work out what is supposed to be happening. Really, it was an incredible session. I made a ton of notes, made a note of all his references and work, and thought "gosh, that's the sort of thing I learned in photo classes!" a lot.

Just as we were leaving he pulls out his portfolio and asks if people want to take a look at some of his stuff for Grandville (the first ten pages, which looked outstanding), the thing he's currently working on ("Steampunk meets Sherlock Holmes, with animals instead of humans.") so of course I did, and then someone suggested a beer. So, three of the attendees (a graphic designer, a philosophy lecturer at UoL who is taking a year out to write about comics, and, erm, me) took Bryan to a boozer where we spent the time between his two events getting gently sloshed, discussing his work, who is up-and-coming, why comics aren't really taken seriously in the UK as opposed to, say, France or Belgium, trying to get graphic novels published and how much easier it's getting - aha - and technology. Plus going over two versions of Grandville, one in vibrant colour, the other slightly desaturated and trying to work out which was the best ("I brought these along to get opinions - here, what do you think?") It was at this point that I learned about Thought Bubble, as we started talking about conventions and the characters who turn up.

Bryan is a nice chap, and seeing as I've known about him since I was nine years old and stealing my Dad's copy of Luther Arkwright (Book 1), it's quite nice to realise that one of my childhood, um, heroes is really accessable. No kidding, being asked to rate his work? That's a bit of a "wow" for me.

Of course, I got Grandville signed by Bryan, we had a quick chat about a panel in Luther Arkwright I'd been wondering about for over twenty years, and I mentioned my perhaps somewhat dodgy thought that his cover for Erskine's Dan Dare does look a bit like a, erm, "book cake" shoot (look, those cruisers are seriously phallic, ok?). Anyway.

We headed back to Geof where I deposited bags and biscotti, with the instruction to use the biscotti as they saw fit. Geof had a bottle of "Mr Reynold's Genuine Hand-Squeezed Kraken Ink".
Fetishman working

Next, to see John Allison, bought badges and a poster, and pestered Ellerby for more ellerbisms and requested he sign things. Also demanded "what's new?" of Lizz Lunney and had a quick chat to the guys at We Are Words and Pictures, from whom I bought my favourite print of last year.

I spotted Bunny! So went and got volume two, having loved volume 1; this is one of those comics that really deserves to be read in print. Reading it on the web is fine, but this is something else when it's a book. Next door to Bunny (ish) was Gunnerkrigg Court. Wandering over to the chap behind the desk my opening gambit was "where do I know your name from?" and we eventually worked out it was from John Allison. I picked up his book, thinking it was a little expensive, but was instantly hooked. This was some seriously good writing and printing, and whilst the art seems a little naive it picks up really quickly. When I got home I read Grandville, and then I read this; it was stunning work and I loved every panel. Much hard work has gone into producing this and I can't recommend it enough.

Some people had work that looked fun, but wasn't my cuppa; a book of lovingly rendered watercolours telling a mermaid's tale was startlingly expensive but obviously a lot of love went into it's production, for example. I just didn't like the story that was being told enough. There was a lot of "trying too hard" stuff; semicompetent artwork and writing basically consisting of vomit, scatalogical references and poorly-thought out storylines, all of which turn me off. Some sort-of big press items that were ok, but there were better artists not getting book deals. Oh, and I didn't queue up to see any of the Names other than Bryan (and there wasn't much of a queue for him). I should have gone to see Paul Cornell, but he wasn't there when did go to see him and the crush of people trying to see Templesmith was getting ridiculous. And then Tony Stark turned up (sorry, rubbish photo - my decent camera was at the bottom of my bag by this point) and everything stopped wherever he was standing.

Ollie East was there for Blank Slate, who are publishing Trains Are... Mint and Proper Go Well High (instead of him selfpublishing). I bought copies of both, and loved them; these were sweet watercolours with a nice, otherworldy feel to them, the stories being Ollie's walks from Manchester to Blackpool and Liverpool respectively. Love these books; they're great artifacts, beautiful objects to have. Won't be everybody's cuppa, though. (I later discovered Ollie was the cover artist for Seldom Seen Kid.)

I bought far too much small indie comics costing under a fiver, too. I'll do proper reviews of them when I've read them all, but particular highlights were My Cardboard Life (oh! so lovely!), and The Rainbow Orchid, the first volume of a gorgeous-looking series of three, inked in the very best Belgian style. Brilliant work, can't wait for volume two.

Finally, I coughed for some Fetishman stuff as well, including a mug this time. Swag:

Penny joined me, and we decided to make up some sort of creative salon. There was a talk about Grandville held in the casino, so I had to go along to that (learned all about anthropomorphic cartoons through history, as well as some of the in-jokes in Grandville itself), then I made balloon doggies for a bunch of people, and then I was shattered and had to come home. But I did well, and did my bit to support the indie comics industry. In amongst everything else I met the model for the Doctor Sketchy's event they were doing - I love that idea, a burlesque evening where you're encouraged to draw - and had an extended gossip session with Michelle Culturevulture.

Oh! When I left it had been raining, and Clarence dock looked like this:

Seriously, this was an outstanding day; Lisa does a brilliant job of organising the festival and it showed on the day. Of course I'll be back, and loving every minute, again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day 258, 161109

This is a bit of a catchup post.

I've not been doing much on 101things recently, because of other stuff getting in the way. Fully aware that you chaps aren't necessarily interested in that, I won't write about those things in great detail.

The beetroot pasta task (#36) needs a little explaining; I don't want to make pasta out of beetroot per se, but to use beetroot as a colouring agent so I end up with reddy purple pasta. Funky colours, see? The problem is, you need quite a lot of beetroot to get the colour. As an example of this, I present some marshmallows that I made a couple of weeks ago:
See that faint pinky colour? Two beetroot (grated and steeped in 100ml boiling water) in about 750ml of liquid. If a normal pasta dough is 500g of flour, I'm going to need the colour of six beetroot to get anything like the colour I want, and I can't have that much fluid in it, as the dough is basically egg and flour, with only a few sprinkles of water. Cooking beetroot juice turns it brown, too, so I can't concentrate it through evaporation. This is going to take some thought. Yes, I could cheat and make gnocci, but where's the fun in that?

Sam and myself are making a gingerbread army. Wedding favours for a friend of Sams, with proceeds going to charity, like we did with the Charming Armley Cake Comp. This has meant my making a lot of trial runs of gingerbread, but the final batch will be started next week; a mixture of maple syrup, pulverized stem ginger and careful use of bicarb will make these the finest gingerbread men and women the world has ever seen. Photos when available.

Exposure Leeds (#85) continues to skip lightly forwards; I think I've attended all the indoor ones to date and given talks at three of them. I was thinking about this the other day; in the 18 months since I met Jon Eland I've given four separate talks at Photocamps and three talks at Exposure Leeds sessions, and become involved in a pretty huge technology project. It's fun, I enjoy doing it, it's just an odd thing. Anyway, at the last Exposure I gave a talk on Panographs and Panoramix, the slides of which are available in four parts: [part 1] [part 2] [part 3] [part 4]. If you'd like me to present this anywhere - because obv, 80% of this is in the delivery - I'll do it for expenses :)

Because I needed to do proper research for my talk I popped into Leeds University's Arts library, the Brotherton. This enabled me to tick off another library from task 17. The Brotherton is a fab library, with special collections, books that are never checked out, and little corners to hide in. The little corners can be occupied by "characters" as in the case of the Library Foot-Sniffer, the scourge of many when we had open access to the libraries, but on the whole it's a lovely place to be. As a part of the talk I made a panorama of the interior...


... and came across a book that I had to check out; David Hockney's Cameraworks. This book contains most - not all - of his "joiners" and some I didn't know existed, and has an interesting monograph at the front by the compiler about the hows and whys. I may spend a bit of time writing about this book at some point.

Once the gingerbread army is out of the way I'll be making more chocolates, and trying to write up some articles for T&C. But... I had an idea for a cookbook. I shouldn't waste time on it, but as an idea I love it and want to take it forward, just a little bit.

That'll do for now. Just a quick state of the nation -type posting.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day 236, 261009

Britain's Best Dish is now, at least for me, over. If you want to watch it, ITVPlayer will have it for the next 29 days at time of writing.


After recording and winning my last heat on the Monday, the following Thursday, I got the train down to London and stopped at the City Road Travelodge. It was bloody hot in there; I always overheat in London, and this time was no exception, but it wasn't helped by the blessed hotel having a broken heating system that was pumping hot air into the corridors, and no aircon anywhere. Well, I say no aircon, but in an attempt to prevent my death from heat exhaustion I had to keep the window open, and there were some noisy compressors just outside it. The room was clean and spartan, but really it was like trying to sleep in a server room without the nice cool airflow.

To Hackney Community College, where the gas wasn't working properly amongst other things. Every now and then, to find out why the oven in one station wasn't working, they'd reset the system, which had the added bonus of putting out all the other burners and ovens around it. Before we got to that point there was a lot of hanging around, the usual furore, much swearing as the crew had moved from Teddington that morning and didn't know where anything was. I met the opponents, who were all lovely; one bloke ran a club in Accrington and was an example of your charming Manc motormouth, and he was seriously funny. We had a glamorous granny, a Scots chap who'd shot his own pigeon the day before, a Welsh trades unionist, a mumsy type and a tiny Indian lady who was full of stories about her homeland. And me. Three of us were doing dishes that involved shrimp, two were a seafood medley, there was a risotto, a salmon tartare, pigeon breast salad, and a chicken wrap.

Prep happened and my dough was done, we had lunch, and hung around some more. And a bit more. I wasn't worried about my dough, because you can't really overrest it. When we eventually made it into the kitchen - they were nice little pods we were working in - and had started, I did everything I was supposed to before rolling out my pasta. I poked my dough, only to discover a whole chunk of it had dried out under the lights. Foolishly, I started to see if I could knead it out, and instead I got little blobs of dried pasta working their way through the dough. JBR & Ed came over to see what I was up to, and instantly told me to stop what I was doing and make my dough again. I had 44 minutes to re-make my dough that needed an hour to rest. Argh.

Well, I pulled a rabbit out of the hat. My new dough came out really quite good - far better than I could have hoped it to, if I'm being honest - and I managed to get my ravioli done and in the water on time, just. It made quite good telly, although I did get bleeped at one point. I suspect I may be told off by my parents and Grandmother for that.

This time we didn't see the judges reactions, but the food was also being eaten by proper food critics. We were told "ten minutes" and taken outside for some air. Instead of 10 minutes we ended up hanging around for over an hour and a half, waiting for the decisions. Eventually we were all gathered up and the usual trio gave the verdict, and I was out, beaten by the salmon tartare and the risotto.

We were hanging around for postmatch interviews, and one of the critics - Charles Campion - came out and said hello, so I asked whether he liked my dish. "Loved it," he said. Someone else asked what he thought of theirs; "total disaster," so at least I knew he wasn't just being nice. Ah, well.

Watching the programme was interesting; I had no idea how it was going to pan out with the critics and judges. This time I was properly nervous watching the show, because the critics could have been awful. As it was William Sitwell made a barking suggestion - keep the peas whole - which thankfully received the "whu?" it deserved, and although JBR thought it was underseasoned I am positive that it was fine. Still, not to worry; I at least produced something to go on the plates, and it could have been so much worse.

So concludes this adventure in Tellyland, where the sun always shines and the grass is an incredible shade of green.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Britain's Best Dish

Ok, I can now confirm that my next instalment of Britain's Best Dish is on Monday 26th October, 5pm, ITV1.

Woo! &c.

In other news, I'm mad busy; decorating cakes, making portfolios, writing a talk on panoramic photographs, and thinking about gingerbread recipes does take it out of a chap. I've done nothing on 101things for about a fortnight, but hopefully that'll change next week.

In the meantime, have a poster wot I made. I'm thinking there's a T-shirt in this.

Learn baking

If you're looking for something to read, ask Alex, because she's doing a 24-hr readathon over the weekend. Nutter. But she might have recommendations for you when it's all over, and if you meet up with her you could get a BookCrossed book!

Monday, 5pm.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Quick post about Britain's Best Dish.

As I've been asked by people:

Programme one is here and programme two is here. People not in the UK may be unable to watch, I'm afraid.

As far as I can tell the next bit is October 26th, but I'll confirm that when I know more.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Day 216, 061009 (telly, part 3)

Britain's Best Dish, part 2

After winning my previous heat I had a couple of days off, and then I was back down to Teddington again for the next round. My opponent this time is a very nice lady from Filey, making three different crab dishes, but all on the theme of a layered salad. The results (when we’re done) look incredible. The other players were: a corned beef pie with a roasted mashed potato cake, salt cod with black-eyed peas and rice, and an interesting matchup between a just-finished-A-levels young lady and not-started-GCSEs-yet young man (mini victoria sponges with lemon curd and tea bread ice cream, and sticky toffee pudding with cinder toffee ice cream respectively).

So we go through the same rigmarole as last time. Mark gives us a pep talk, warns us what he's going to talk about, we do walkons and intros, and I slice some radishes. We get taken off, the judges do their thing, and as we're outside we hear that the judges really weren't happy with this morning's lot; they'd tried too hard, and as a result their dishes had lost some of what made them great. We're called back on, and get rolling. I've changed the order of how I cook stuff (pasta gets rolled last) but I have acres of time.

Cooking the peas and sauteƩing the shrimp is done in a flash, and I'm laying out sheets of pasta rather than cutting discs. I spend more than two seconds on the garnish, and start assembling. Alas! The second sheet of pasta has dried out and is cracking, and they stick to the worktop; out of the five ravioli I complete, one cracks just as I'm about to drop it in the water and one has a hole in I don't notice until I fish it out and the filling is four times the volume it should be!

Instead of being taken off for the judge's comments we're left on set, and filmed as they try the food. Jilly described the pasta as "muscular" whilst Ed and JBR think it's a bit overcooked, and not the fine quality of last time (this is because of the eggs being larger than usual). Other than that, though: they love it. Big thumbs up. They do the same to Debra and her crab, then we're taken off and I go to find something to drink, then we're taken back in for the verdict.

To say that I was pleased to win is underplaying it a little. My reaction will be on telly for all to see; at the moment, though, all I can remember is Mark building up suspense and then calling my name, and getting the biggest grin I've had in weeks plastered across my face. I was asked, in post-match interviews, "what went through your mind" and in all honesty I couldn't think of anything. "Wow" doesn't come close. The winners are handed red envelopes containing slips of card to represent the small prize we get for winning this stage, which are taken off us when we get off set. "Budgets," we're told. I don't even get the card as a souvenir!

The odd thing about this show is that I was filmed doing hobbies, as a background thing for my segment. So in June I gathered up some people I knew wouldn't be at work, and persuaded them to meet me in Whitelocks one lunchtime to watch me making balloon animals and be filmed for telly. Daag, Penny and Jo all came along to support me doing daft things, and I can't thank them enough. What was really odd was that they'd never met, all three being from totally disparate groups of friends. Made me think.


It's still on ITV's catchup service at time of writing; episode 15 of this series.

Day 214, 041009

On Sunday I completed another one of my things; enter the Charlie Cake Competition. This year the theme was "Make, Bake and Grow", and I'd mentioned to one of the organisers that Tea & Cake would love to be involved somehow. By maybe having a tea stall, or something. And I could enter, too. We were given approval, and so after a swift half-hour planning meeting on Friday after work with Sam, Biscuit and J9 (at Zouk on Leeds Road, excellent masala chai) we divvied up the tasks, and met at Charlie Cake Park on Sunday.

I'd made a cake to enter into the competition; my usual chocolate and marmalade loaf cake, this time covered in chocolate and cointreau ganache - it was covered because I'd used cheap greaseproof paper and the cake had stuck to it, so I needed to hide the holes. So after we'd set up the table and got the kettle on to boil I registered, had a wander about the stalls, and went back to our shed to await the hordes.

The stalls, by the way, were very interesting. The new Leeds City WI was there, who are called "Buns & Roses". I'd join, if it weren't for the pesky Y chromosome. Average age is well below the norm for WI groups, and my mum (who runs her local WI) laughed in a very good way when I told her about it. We also had - it was obviously the day for puns - local crafty people "Fox Bunting". Made me laugh. And there was us, of course:
The T&C shed
We had a near-constant hot water crisis. We went through about 40 litres of water, 160 insulated paper cups, "some" plastic cups for squash, two cans of gas, a tonne of teabags, half a jar of coffee, ten pints of milk and some sugar. We weren't charging a set amount, just soliciting donations for the Armley Common Right Trust, Water Aid and the WWF; people were asking how much, we said "no set price, put what you think it's worth into the bucket". In the end we ran out of hot water, cups and milk at about the same time, around 2:30 and decided to pack in early. Biscuit totted up; we had only the vaguest idea how many cups of tea and coffee we'd sold - we used 160 cups, but some people recycled cups and we didn't count the orange squashes - but we made £116.65, an average of about 73p per cup. Split three ways it worked out at £39 per charity; given that we only spent half an hour on planning this, I think that's not a bad result.

Also, look at Sam's banner on the side of the shed. It rocked.
The T&C Shed
I didn't even get placed in the competition, by the way. There was some excellent entries, and mine didn't look good compared to them. Leedsgrub entered a giant Crunchie! It looked and tasted fab, although apparently it was a nightmare to cut up.

It was a bloody brilliant day, and one well worth doing. Next time we'll double up on everything and rethink the hot water a bit, but I think we can be justifiably proud of what we pulled off on the spur of the moment. Much thanks to Emma and Michelle from The Culture Vulture for talking to us about it and providing a very helpful shed (and a loo, and kettle when we were really in trouble!), and the Charming Armley Tourist Board for putting the event on. Now we know we can do it, I'm sure we'll be giving this another try soon.

So, although I didn't get placed I'm going to count task #95 as COMPLETED. Yay!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Day 212 wordle

From Screen Captures

Day 212, 021009 (telly, part 2)

I'm a bit behind due to a quick holiday in Liverpool and a mini family crisis. Sorry about that.

So, last week saw Adventures in Tellyland parts two and three (task #7). Here's the story of part two.

After I did "Taste The Nation" in January, and was knocked out in the first round, I told the producer who was looking after me to keep me in mind if anything else popped up that I might be suitable for. I wasn't really expecting to hear anything, but the day after my programme aired in April a producer from another telly show, called "Britain's Best Dish" phoned me up.

"We'd like you to come for an audition," said Maxie, a very nice chap who turned out to be quite a senior producer on the show.

"That's lovely," I said. "What shall I cook?"

"Oh, you tell us. If we like the idea, then I'll tell you where to go and when to turn up."

After a bit of thought I came up with a recipe that might work quite well; a pea puree and brown shrimp ravioli. Italian food is quite popular and making pasta from scratch always adds an element of drama to cooking, because it sometimes goes wrong. It's quite British with the filling, too, so I thought I could get away with it being "Britain's" best dish. (There was a parsley butter and pea shoots as garnish, too.) So I emailed the recipe off to Maxie, who phoned back and told me to be in York on a Sunday about a week later.

I was up very early that Sunday, making the sauce to go with the ravioli and popping it in a thermos to keep warm. A quick drive to York, I parked up at the hotel the auditions were taking place, and got to meet the people I've been talking to about this for a couple of weeks and say hello to Tallulah and Julie, a couple of people I met on Taste The Nation. I plated up, bought a ruinously expensive cup of coffee, and waited with a bunch of other people who were auditioning. And waited. And waited.

The food I saw that I was competing against was interesting; a number of people had brought pies, full roast dinners, fish, and some of the stuff was ok. Some was very poor. The thing that got me was a dessert someone had brought, which was a work of staggering joy; lemon & white chocolate mousse in a tart made from almond pastry, served with a shot of lemon liqueur. This was stunning work, and by far & away the best thing I'd seen (and this also managed to get on the show).

Eventually I did a piece to camera about how my dish was the best, then got to chat to the producers about my ravioli (the sauce, alas, didn't survive the trip) and hopefully make a good impression. The producers were very nice and liked that I'd brought a photo along with the food, and whilst they didn't eat it (by this point it was stone cold) they liked how it looked and told me they'd be drawing up a shortlist in a couple of weeks' time.

Two days later, I get called and told I'd been shortlisted.

About a month, and several phone calls about what to do, where to go, how to cook and what the recipe was all about later, I'm waiting outside a hotel at Teddington in South-West London. It was likely that this would be my only show, but I was confident that I'd do ok. Gradually everybody else arrived - the six competitors and three reserves - and we headed over in some very nice cars to the studios. We all started chatting (as you do); there were Lydia and Vicky, doing puds, Peter and Calam on mains and Angela and myself on starters. Immediately we spotted an issue; Calam was 14 so it was a bit of a foregone conclusion that he'd win his course, the only question was which round he was in - and I breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered he was in mains.

Teddington studios is a large complex, but not as big as I was expecting; about the same size as a cottage hospital. We were dropped in the green room behind our studio, had a briefing from Juliet (producer), and then a run through the studio and what we were cooking happened. Karen (again, someone from TTN) and I had a quick chat, they found me a better pasta machine and a clamp, checked that my shrimp were on the way, and Juliet came over, introduced me to my wrangler (Dan) and told me what I was doing in five minute blocks, which was all fine.

Prep kitchen - a portacabin, but better equipped than my kitchen at home - was next. Making pasta from scratch is great, but you have to leave the dough to rest for at least an hour, so I made the dough (filmed whilst doing it) and left it on my station in the studio wrapped in damp muslin. I was taken off to makeup, examined by wardrobe (my shirt was deemed to be "just fine" - a somewhat flowery but lightweight thing; being told I couldn't wear black, white or red had limited my options considerably), and interviewed by the AP who recruited me, with the usual questions; because I'd done this sort of thing before Maxie said "we want soundbites" and I set to the task with aplomb. Being interviewed for this sort of thing is really odd, though, speaking in whole sentences, avoiding temporal references, and talking about inspirations, which seemed to be something they really liked.

Back to the studio to be fitted with aprons, we were told where to stand, how to walk onto set, "big smiles please, unless we don't want them", and Mark Nicholas came on set to say hello, talk about what he was going to discuss with us, and generally put us at our ease (he really is a nice chap, who normally does the cricket commentary). After being fitted with microphones we had some dramatic camera swooping shots, were put on a turntable and spun round, and we had to do "head-to-head" shots, staring our opponents down. That bit was really odd, and we couldn't stop giggling; also, I don't think I've stared into anybody's eyes for that long since Sarah and myself were getting married. The judges turned up; Ed Baines and John Burton Race, who are chefs, and Jilly Goulden, who has been doing wine tasting on telly for years and years. We did some odd bits of filming and quick interviews with Mark, then we were taken back for ten minutes whilst the judges did their "what do you think today will be like" pieces. Then, back on, and the timeline started. I had 55 minutes to make my ravioli.

I could hear the judge's comments every now and then, and they didn't like my technique (which was inefficient, I'll grant you); what I did was roll out the pasta first, then make my filling, then cut out discs of pasta and make the ravioli by dropping filling onto a disc and putting another disc on top. The comment I heard was that if someone was doing that in a restaurant they'd have to charge £75 for the dish, as it was really time-consuming, which is true. The butter sauce wasn't quite right, it was too acidic and the pasta dried out really quickly under the lights, but I was happy with how they came out and was really pleased with how it all looked on the plate.

Britain's Best Dish

I plated up, and was then escorted off the set, along with Angela (who made a gorgeous looking-and-smelling smoked haddock bread and butter pudding with horseradish creme anglaise and tomato & chili jam, which worried me because it was a very good dish), and that was that; we couldn't see the judges' comments, or any of the other competitors (who had another 20 and 40 minutes to go). Eventually everybody else came out, and we were summoned back to the studio. The judges were really taking their time to decide and may even have been having a serious argument in the back room, but eventually they came out. Cameras started rolling, Mark prolonged the suspense, and eventually told us who the winners were. And I won the starters round!

Although I did win my round I didn't know until later if I'd got through to the regional finals, as only 2 of the 4 winners go through. Thankfully, I did!

My recipe is on the Britain's Best Dish website, here, and is also published in the accompanying book of the series (on page 63, uncredited).

Next: a wordle, then part 3.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Day 201, 210909

So, I'm a fifth of the way through.


I'm nowhere near a fifth of the way through the tasks, though. Some are, of course, series tasks that will take a while, but it's still a bit daunting to see only 11 completeds - ten percent - in twenty percent of the time.

That's not what I'm writing about today. No, what I'm writing about today is this:
Yr Humble Svt will be appearing on Telly, again. So, task 7 rears its head again on Tuesday 22nd September 2009 - that's day 202 - at 5pm on ITV1. I shall be cooking on Britain's Best Dish, a starter of... well, you'll have to wait and see. I'll be writing up my experiences post-hoc (I wanted to write them up in advance, but didn't hear back from my producers), and the not-so-gory details will appear on here in due course. BBD is quite a bit of fun and worth watching anyway, just for seeing the state of British home cooking; the quality of the food coming through has been very high, so I'd say that state was pretty good.

Watch it, and let me know what you think!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Day 193, 130909

On day 193 I completed something I've been meaning to do for a good ten years. Task #63, climb the bell tower at Leeds Town Hall.

The clock tower at Leeds Town Hall is very high; Phill and the LHES managed to wangle a comprehensive tour a few years back (link, but his images aren't loading at time of writing) but we only had the mini tour, which didn't involve being crapped on my pigeons or falling through floorboards. First of all, this is what LTH looks like from the outside.
And this is one of the sets of stairs we had to take to get up to the clock faces.
There were 220 steps in all; thankfully there was a breather at 140 steps; the room where the chandelier above the vestibule is hung. I took a sneaky photo through the grating, but it's not very good (on the flickr photostream if you care). There is a huge pipe in this room, a flue from when the chandeliers were gaslit. Too dark to photograph. Boo.

The chap taking us on the tour was Eric, the FoH manager, a really nice bloke who knew the town hall inside out. The piano competition had been going on over the previous week (broadcasts start Friday, IIRC) and he'd been with the BBC taking photos of the town hall all lit up from various vantage points across the city, and was touchingly fond of the old building. He told us about how they change the lightbulbs in the chandeliers, the amount of pigeon crap they shovelled out of here over the summer (80 sacks! 80!), the various nooks and corners the town hall has. When we got past the bell tower (below the clock faces), we were in the clock mechanism, behind the faces, and I wasn't sure we'd be allowed out onto the balcony. Then he said "you can stay up here as long as you like, and the views are fantastic" and that was all the encouragement I needed. Outside, the clock faces look fantastic close up, with incredible detail nobody at ground level will notice...
... but really, he wasn't kidding about the views.


The clock mechanism itself is fairly simple and clockwork, and that's really all there is to it. Some cogs, some weights, and a mechanical winder. I learned that standard practice for all stopped municipal clocks is to set them to 12 o/c, as it's the time most people are bound to realise it isn't. They had a problem earlier in the year that needed the mechanical winder to be replaced by an electronic one, and replacing the bulbs in the clock faces is no joke. Replacing the bulb in the cupola is really not funny at all; we weren't allowed up there, because there's only room for one person and that person has to stand on the trapdoor.

The rest of the town hall is still a working building; the great hall is used for all kinds of events (recently the aforementioned piano competition)
Organ pano
But the cells, bridewell, and court are now just museum pieces (although all were in use until 1993). Interestingly, none of it is below ground; all at ground level, but behind so much stone it might as well be underground. I spotted one of those cracking mirrors that allows you to view around corners - presumably in case someone broke out of the cells, or was carrying prisoners and didn't want to bump into people - and selfportraited myself in it.

Eric, bless 'im, gave us an extended show round the building because I couldn't find the courts. He loves the building, and it shows; it is an easy building to love, with phenomenal history and stunning architecture. I was very pleased to have been able to take the tour and meet this tremendous chap with an incredible capacity and enthusiasm for the place he works.

So, task 63 is COMPLETED! Huzzah!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Day 191, 110909

A quick state of the nation post, just to keep track of where I am.

I have completed 10 - yes, that's ten - tasks.
  • climbing Pen-y-Ghent (#96)
  • had a go at archery (#68)
  • watched a play written by @wordweave, aka Mrs W, (#82)
  • attended four Exposure Leeds sessions (#85)
  • learned how to make chocolates (#8)
  • turned my handwriting into a font (#71)
  • visited Tropical World (#23)
  • appeared on telly (#7) but watch this space!
  • whacked some balls (#86)
  • and finally, registered for blood donation (#86).

Not a bad start!

What am I up to at the moment? Well...
In terms of explorations, I'm everso slowly working my way through all the libraries with an LS postcode (#17), even more slowly working my way through the municipal pools (#38), gone walking with Matt (#97) a few times, and have made serious inroads into visiting every museum with an LS postcode (#57). Roundhay park has been visited (#22), but I've not had a good poke around yet.

I have given away 17 books to charity (#60) and sponsored three people for doing things outside their comfort zones (#100). I gave away some of the photo stuff I don't need (#99) but need to give away more, I am still telling someone - guess who - that I love them every day (#13), and along with that am still being good and eating breakfast, not buying coffee, and eating more fruit (#88, #87 and #26, respectively). Also, I'm writing letters to people (#67). People like letters, I've found.

Exercise-wise, apart from climbing mountains I've been half-heartedly pursuing a training regimen, but not really talking about it because it's not been a concerted effort. When I get the focus for it, it'll join the other tasks such as getting the bike out (#81) about 14 times so far, and walking 30 mile weeks (#4), which is proving quite difficult. I'm getting lots of 25 mile weeks, four of them so far, but only one 30-miler.

Growing things has not gone well; not a good year for tomatoes and I lost heart when my chillies died out. I'll try those again next year. Herbs, as well; the parsley did ok, basil survived, just about, oregano smelled fantastic but didn't take very well. Again, reboot next summer. I'll have to restart my take 365 consecutive daily photos task (#3), too. I had a rough week about two months ago and it stalled, I lost track of where I was, and then it all descended into chaos.

But I am still doing quite well on bringing my lunch to work (#66); I'm on 80 out of 250! And I'm still remembering to wordle (#37), mostly.

I think that's where I'm up to right now. There may be a few things I've missed, but I'm fairly happy with how things are going. Not quite a fifth of the way through, and there's some good scores up there. Yeah, I'll take that.

Day 181, 010909, part 4 (the last bit!)

After visting Kirkstall Abbey I needed food, so parked up in Kirkstall Valley entertainment complex, or whatever they're calling it these days. The point is, I could get a vegeburger and walk over the river Aire to my final museum of the day, Armley Mills. There's a bridge at the back of the complex, between Frankie & Bennies and the everso amusingly named boozer, The Aire of the Dog, which has a sometimes-padlocked gate that leads into the Mill. Today, I was fortunate in that the gate wasn't padlocked, but it was jammed shut by an errant breeze, so needed to give it a bit of a shove to open. The usual route in is from Viaduct Road, but I was feeling lazy by this point and needed to get into the museum before I started thinking all I really needed was a cuppa and a slab of something sweet and fattening.

I'm glad I didn't do that, because Armley Mills is brilliant.

Armley Mill

First of all, there's a little steam train called Henry who jocularly threatened to run me over as I was trying to find the way in. Next, it has a huge millpond and stream fed off the Aire, and it runs underneath this astonishingly huge complex; just think of the architectural chutzpah needed to get this thing off the ground (literally, in this case)! I found the thought of all that water belting underneath this building a staggering one.

Once inside it was as most industrial museums; large hunks of metal that do fairly interesting repetitive tasks and some big signs in large type, with little detail. Except... there were some serious inconguities. Walking through one gallery I saw some balls of wool with a name next to them. Odd, I thought. Did this person make the wool, perhaps? There's a gallery of printing machinery with a brief history of printing in Leeds - which is great, but nothing actually to do with the Mill. Then it got really odd; a whole section full of old TV and film cameras and cinematic projection equipment from the 1890s upwards, with a chunk dedicated to Daguerreotypes and Louis Le Prince, for example. Le Prince, by the way, is a fascinating character. He didn't die, he vanished. Then I walked round a corner and found a small cinema.

No, seriously. Tilt-up seats, a little booth, and a silver screen with curtains across. I perhaps should mention that there was just me in the museum at this point, me and all the staff waiting for 5pm to roll 'round. So I was looking at this odd arrangement of stuff, when a little man, deaf in both ears, came over and started talking to me about why I was there, and where I was from, and so on, and then said "shall I put the film on?" and there was a film; 15 minutes of clips from silent slapstick black & white comedies, from the Keystone studios. Surreal? Yes. Being by myself in this little box cinema watching 1918 policemen dropping from a laundry chute into waiting cars was very odd.

The industrial galleries were hardly less odd. There were plaques everywhere with people's names on, and I was failing to work out why until I saw this:
Heads on bobbins

I was pretty sure that the mills didn't put little clay heads on their bobbins. I realised that the plaques related to pieces of installed artwork - probably from a final year show - that were scattered all over the museum. Bless 'em. I was instantly enchanted by some of the more obvious pieces - those heads in particular made me grin - and promptly went back to see if I could spot the ones I'd missed. Alas: no. But I did find this:
Installed art
which is equally as enchanting, although perhaps a little more peculiar.

Finally, there was an engine shed, filled with heavy chunks of metal used for pulling or pushing things. One side was filled with locomotives, including the now cooling down Henry (he made little pops and gasps as his boiler was expelling the remnants of the steam), and I spotted a sign on the wall that should be the motto of as many public bodies as you could possibly imagine:
No Skylarking
Or maybe a CD cover. Hm.

The Mill is a seriously peculiar place; I like its eccentricities and being there by myself gave me a peculiar sense of responsibility, and the installations are wonderful if a little difficult to spot. Again, another place I'd be happy to drag people, if they understood the innate sense of fun the place has. It could be a thoroughly dull-and-worthy place, but somehow it is anything but.

And that concludes my writeup of my day exploring Leeds Museums. I did 5, and for those of you keeping score that means I have 4 LCC museums left, plus a wodge of others that is still somewhat in flux. Thanks for reading thus far :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Day 181, 010909, part 3

Right, where was I? Oh, yes.

After Lotherton Hall I was keen to carry on with my museum trips, and given I was quite close to the ring road thought the best place would be Kirkstall, for Abbey House and the Abbey itself. Although it was approaching lunchtime I thought I could fit in the two before needing to get some food, so made reasonable time getting there and parked up in the big car park next to Abbey House.

The last time I stopped at Abbey House was about five years ago, when we - that's Angela, Iain, Chris, Sarah and myself - went on a hard hat tour of the Abbey, and the museum was the meeting point. Didn't go in, which was probably remiss of me, as the museum is utterly, utterly barking and fun at the same time. It is a lovely building, the gatehouse to the Abbey, and now contains a somewhat peculiar pair of cobbled victorian streets, complete with skies, shops, undertakers, and cramped artisan cottages lifted brick-by-brick from Beeston back in the day. No kidding, this place would freak me the hell out if I was even remotely out of it for whatever reason.
Abbey House main street
The main street has a boozer at the end, a hatters, grocery, all sorts of shops. There's a barrow, and if you look carefully, some electric fans, all the rage in 1887.

The back alley was very different; it's designed to make you think about the juxtaposition between worlds in Victorian England.
Abbey House alley
The undertakers is here, as is the Sunday school and barbershop, with an interesting plaque about washerwomen, and how husbands would buy mangles as presents for their wives, just in case they became unable to work (or died) so their wives could take in washing to keep the wolves at bay.

Upstairs is a gallery of children's toys, the Tuke Map, and a small collection of local art influenced by Atkinson Grimshaw, which is deserving of more close study than I had time for. Also, the original artist skteches for the Town Hall; somewhat different to the reality, despite being done only three years before completion.

Popping over the road to the Abbey was a no-brainer. It has been many years since I'd had a good poke around Kirkstall Abbey, and it has changed quite a lot since then. The chapterhouse is now the entrance to the Abbey proper, and there's big fences around it to stop unauthorised access. Properly laid out routes exist, and all the really dangerous bits have signs on informing you that it is probably not a good idea to go scrambling over this loose brickwork or into these former drainage tunnels. I never tire of having a good look around ruined abbeys, and this is no exception, despite my first visit here being over 15 years ago.
Clouds Kirkstall Abbey
There was a photoshoot going on off to one side and I had to be careful not to wander into shot. But the place is really photogenic and makes a fantastic backdrop to photograph against.
The abbey tower

After I'd taken in enough crumbling architecture I decided to grab some food and go to my last museum, Armley Mills.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 185, 050909: Photocamp

September 5th 2009 was Photocamp09 in Bradford.

Thanks to various reasons I was very late packing my bag, and heading off to the National Media Museum for a day of discussing all forms of photography in Photocamp.

Yes, I arrived halfway through the keynote speech, missing the opening remarks, comments about missing people and the introductions (sorry, Jon). The keynote was presented by Miss Aniela (arguably nsfw, if you work in a puritan church). Now, some of her photos are incredible, but she does seem to have a bit of a cult following, and even though she says things like "some people may describe me as pretty and if that helps my print sales, I'm fine with that" I can't help but wonder if she would have a similar following if she took fewer photos in her pants. I know the techniques she's used to do some of the photos, too; I daresay that if I was selfportraiting like that I wouldn't get a fiftieth of the hits she gets, despite the wow factor of apparent levitation. Still, she makes a living from it, so who am I to comment. The speech was quite interesting, to be fair, and she did a good job of saying "at least my photos tell a story, unlike these" - examples - " where the photographer seemed to spend more time writing the copy that explains the photograph than actually taking it" which is something we can all relate to.

The keynote over, we had the group shot, then dispersed up some stairs to the conference suite. Where the a/c was buggered. Never mind! I had to find the room I was giving my pinhole workshop. Locked! So we started late, and there were a lot of people wanting to do this; I counted fifteen people (although I did need two goes at this), each making cameras from matchboxes, and I think it went pretty well; I found it hard to explain some of the bits, but everybody got there in the end, and it was a real pleasure to see people wandering around the museum with their little white-and-black cameras, taking shots of things. I even made it onto the NMM's blog :)

I stayed in the same room for Rick's talk on "how to make money from photography", an interesting talk on self-promotion and flogging your wares, and then got a breath of fresh air before heading off to lunch with Dave and Alex; a veggie curry buffet on Forster Sq, very tasty with some of the best chapatis I'd had in ages - you really shouldn't go to lunch in Bratfud and have anything other than a curry. The afternoon was the second of Natalie's sessions where I learned a little more about compositing, and then the print swap (I gave away a copy of Wastwater and took away someone's Anthony Gormley at Crosby sunset shot), then I had to shift the car, then I was up again, talking about Open Leeds, a project I've been working on that takes publically-owned data (specifically, OOC photographic archives held by local government bodies) but inaccessable due to having a shocking UI or some other faffy access layer, and makes it more accessable. I got a lot of interest from that, which was nice. The person who was on after me was talking about digital panoramas, something I'm interested in, and I thoroughly enjoyed his talk. Neil uses Hugin rather than Autostitch; I've had trouble with Hugin in the past because it doesn't like beach scenes and throws a wobbly whenever presented with lots of open, similar space, but apparently that's been fixed in more recent versions. And, to be fair, Hugin does give you acres more control than autostitch.

There was no closing session, no "thanks for coming"; it was all a bit messy at the end. Lots of people went to the pub (and, indeed, came back on the Sunday), but I wasn't able to think about alcohol by this point and just went home. A good day, but there were a few niggly bits that could have been done a bit better. I understand why we didn't have a closing session (the only space big enough was being used by actual paying customers watching a film), and the a/c was out of our control, but the print swap was a bit chaotic, there wasn't really any space to mingle, and there were too many sessions going on that I wanted to attend, but couldn't! We'll see what happens next year.

Also, I took two cameras with me (and helped build a further 15), and didn't take any photos at all. None. How daft is that?

Anyway, this isn't a thing per se, but it's a nifty bit of stuff that kicked off the whole Exposure Leeds thing, so is technically part of task 85, I suppose. And the Open Leeds thing is part of my volunteering project, (#20) which will start gearing up a little more soon.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Day 181, 010909, part 2

The Discovery Centre was enormous fun, and set me up for the rest of the day. I was in need of some breakfast by this point, so tried to find the closest museum to where I was, Thwaite Mills. Unfortunately I completely missed the turning due to the road signs being a bit confusing and me being a bit of a muppet, so rather than turn back I thought I'd head off to Lotherton instead.

Lotherton is best reached by following the road signs off the A1(M); just follow the brown signs and you'll be happy. Driving through some fantastic countryside with woods and parkland and excellent driving roads, with a great sense of "estate" to one side and "farm" to the other, was very pleasant indeed, and the hall entrance was well signposted with plenty of notice (although, the sign is starting to get a bit overgrown and will need cutting back soon). Parking was £3.60, which gave access to the bird sanctuary (more on this in a bit) and the estate and grounds. A toasted teacake and a cuppa in the cafe was very welcome - the cafe is lovely, by the way, and the catering in all the LCC museums is done very well by the same contractor - so after a bit of recuperation I was able to investigate the hall.

Lotherton Hall

Originally a 12th Centrury village, the only remnants of which are the chapel (a lovely building but not terribly photogenic), the hall was the family home of the Gascoines, although they rarely lived there before this century, living instead at Parlington Hall just down the road (flattened in 1950). I found this out watching a short film with bizzare editing and no captions at the start of the hall ("sorry, no photography and you'll have to leave your rucksack with us", along with a further £2.40 entry fee for Leeds Card holders), which referenced the Barnbow plot (which was something about overthrowing Charles II, but seems to have been overlooked by Wikipedia) and the Irish parliament, amongst many other things.

The hall nowadays serves as an interesting but typical stately home (cracking rooms, brilliant main hall, no kitchens) that houses a few of LM&G's pottery collections. One of the rooms is an "oriental gallery" that has Qilins, Celadons and - amusingly - an opium pipe purchased from a "Save the Children Fund" shop in 1970. There is the original The Irish House of Commons by Francis Wheatley in the dining room, and a gallery upstairs shows some photographs of interesting tunnels and cellars (and led me to the National Monuments Record, something I had no idea existed before now).

One thing to mention; unlike the National Trust -type stately home, where everything is cordoned off and woe betides anybody who Steps Over The Red Rope, there are very few cordoned off bits in Lotherton. It's almost as if you're encouraged to poke around the rooms. Don't touch anything (of course!) but there's nothing to stop you looking under the pianos or getting a closer look at the bookshelves. I heartily approve of this. People aren't as careless as many curators would have you believe, and getting up close to the objects on display gives you a better feel for the environment. About the only thing you were actively discouraged from doing was sitting in the wrong seats, and how did they do this? By putting a sprig of holly on the chair. It was a great syntax - you can sit in chairs without holly on, you can't sit in the ones that'll put spikes into your backside. I loved that, and more places should be encouraged to do similar things.

Outside is very pleasant; the formal gardens are well laid out, have some nice plants and there's a temple towards the back of the gardens.
Lotherton gardens
There's a deer park, some interesting woods, walks signposted all over the place which would take in a good afternoon's strolling, and a bird sanctuary. I was in a bit of a rush, and I'm not a huge bird lover, so didn't spend that much time in there, but they had some lovely iridescent tropical birds, plenty of flamingos and cranes, parrots, owls (I do, admittedly, love owls) and vultures. I didn't photograph any because of the time thing, but I will be going back to Lotherton to spend a bit more time poking around the grounds. The whole place is a very nice way of spending an afternoon with kids, parents and friends with a picnic, and if we're ever stuck for a "what shall we do today?" -type thing, would be happy to drag people out here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day 180 redux

The book I forgot the title of was Carl Hiaasen's Basket Case. Because of this book, I've refused to pick up any other of Carl Hiaasen's ouvre, despite people saying "oh, you like Chris Brookmyre! You'll love this" at me. Erm, no.

Day 182 wordle

From Screen Captures

Day 180, 310809

(Not in order, sorry)

The bookshelves were starting to look desperately overcrowded, so a mini clearout happened over the weekend and a pile went to the usual recipient, Oxfam Books in Headingley. I managed to get rid of another six.

  • Little Tales of Misogyny by Patricia Highsmith. Originally given to me as a stocking filler by my mother way back in the mists of time, I never really got on with Highsmith. Of course, it's probably an out-of-print work of genius that'll sell for whole pounds on eBay, but never mind.
  • The Chimney Sweeper's Boy by Barbara Vine. This was a TSP book they sent me when I forgot to fill in the form saying "I don't want any books, please". It was ok, but was never really fussed about it. Having books foisted on me tends to leave me in an ambivalent state, and less likely to read them.
  • Yes, ok, I admit it, I had a copy of The Da Vinci Code, and I actually enjoyed it on first reading. Second reading made me throw it across the room, and I don't own a copy any more.
  • Modern-day writers doing "new" classic novels are, basically, fanfic writers with a better agent. In my opinion. This opinion was not altered by Sebastian Faulk's Devil May Care. It was a known author's name away from languishing on a website full of James Bond slash.
  • I didn't like Mark Gatiss' The Versuvius Club. Just... not that fussed by it. It wasn't bad, per se, but Gatiss writes better stuff for screen than the page.

There was one other as well, but I can't remember what that was! That's disappointing, although obviously didn't impinge on my thoughts very much. Anyway, I'm up to 17 books donated, which is... ok. Ish. Need to try harder, I guess.

Day 181, 010909

I had a day of pottering about museums as part of task #57; this is part one of the writeup for this day. It was a seriously good - but busy - day.

Tuesday was one of those odd days off. It meant I could take S to the train station, then go my own way for a day and see where the wind took me. The plan was to see as many LCC-owned museums as I could, as detailed on their Museums and Galleries page, and I'd booked a trip around the Discovery Centre at 9:30 to start it all off. I was so anxious to get started, of course, that I was half an hour early, so I parked up (and found a bloody brilliant photographic subject that I'll have to shoot one day, while trying to find a parking space; an enormous tower, industrial complex, for what I think is industrial sand or glass) and went for a wander down to the river and around Clarence Dock. The river was looking particularly pleasant that morning, and there was a narrowboat-dweller who'd chosen to dry his socks (possibly washed in the Aire, bu-dum *tschh*) in the air.

Poking around Clarence Dock was interesting; I found out where the church that looks like Batman actually was (I can see it every morning on my bus into work, and it always reminds me of Batman), and there's some new shiny balls that just demand to be photographed from interesting angles.
There's a cookware shop there I keep meaning to visit, but forget that it exists. Hm. Anyway, the Discovery centre beckoned.
Discovery Centre
Alas, I forgot to ask about photography inside the centre - indeed, I forgot to take my camera out of my pocket, I was so startled by it. A purpose-built warehouse for the collections owned by LM&G, it's a huge room at 16°C, with three smaller rooms for document and photographic storage. They have large objects, but not many bigger than pianos; the star is a life-sized giant squid model made for an exhibition a few years back, but they have no need for it now and can't bear to throw it out. It hangs from the ceiling. Most of the collections are quite small. A selection of things confiscated by customs, like butterflies and turtles as souveniers (both of which are illegal to import). Some spears, and other arms and armour that the Royal Armouries don't really need. Clothing from house estates, porcelein (some of which is really horrible), board games, chairs, stuffed animals, victorian showers, cookers, random bits of rock, a fantastic geology collection including meteorites (I got to hold something that had come from outer space!). A previous curator had an interest in molluscs, so out of their fairly large natural history collection all the shellfish are incredibly well organised and the aim is to get everything in the store that well catalogued. They have formerly private lepidoptery and beetle and insect collections, including a case I randomly opened that was full of hymenoptera, with special emphasis on bees.

They also have photo archives that are uncatalogued. Now, I'm a huge fan of photo archives, and what they have are industrial archives, personal photo collections and a lot of stuff that isn't in WYJA or Leodis, such as the building of Headingley and LS6, social history stuff that I want to get my hands on. And all I have to do is get in touch with the curators. It's mostly uncatalogued, so I may offer myself as an intern, perhaps building a DB and front end to all this, inputting it, and plugging it into OpenLeeds. The thought of it gives me damp palms and cottonmouth.

The people there are lovely, too. Very friendly, exceptionally helpful and appreciative of thanks. If you live in Leeds and want to spend half an hour wandering about the things they don't show to the public you could do much worse than phoning them up and asking for a quick shufty.

My research has told me there are 9 LCC museums, plus the Thackray, Armouries, technically Harwood House is a museum, Horsforth Village Museum is on the list, as is the Otley Civic, although I expect the last two are a bit pokey. Still, they have LS postcodes, so count. At this point on the journey I am only 1/9th of my way through the LCC museums, but by the end of the day I hoped to be considerably further...

(to be continued)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Not a thing, but fun nonetheless

Saturday morning I headed off into town to learn how to do screen printing at Arts@Trinity. Holy Trinity is, well, a church. Consecrated and everything. It has a crypt, and odd gantries, and space where you wouldn't expect space, and a cafe. And because all the buildings around it have been knocked down to build an enormous shopping centre it's standing by itself in the middle of town for the first time in decades. So I wandered in, found the group (who were in the vestry, the only room that could be blacked out) and the tutor (Louise) who were mixing emulsion.

Ok, this is how the process goes:
  • Mix some gloppy stuff with a silver halide to make it photosensitive.
  • spread a thin, thin layer of gloppy stuff onto some mesh that's glued into a frame.
  • let everything dry.
  • print off your image onto transparency. (I used the T&C logo, and because there was space for two I did a Seal of Rassilon, just for geek points.)
  • Put the image onto the photosensitive mesh, and turn a light on. Leave to expose for 15 minutes.

So at this point the wheels sort of fell off the day. We had one exposure unit so were doing screens one at a time, and the first person to expose his screen went into the vestry after the 15 minutes to discover the bulb had blown. We had no way of knowing when the bulb had blown, but one thing was for sure: we had no spare. So while Peter (his name was Peter) was washing his screen (the next step; scrub the screen, and the emulsion that was exposed remains on the screen, and the blacked out stuff washes out) I was deemed the most capable person in the group, so went with the organiser to find a new bulb.

The organiser was from Wakey, a nice lady called Helen, who didn't know the Leeds one-way system so I was giving directions to Maplin - which was hilarious, and involved me shouting "no! not that way!" as we were driving into incoming traffic a bit. Maplin didn't have the 1KW bulbs we needed, so we went to B&Q, which was quite a bit further away. Alas! No bulbs there either. Then I had a brainwave; Ring, the factory lighting shop, carries all sorts of whizzy kit that you never find anywhere else, so I directed Helen there, and joy! They had a bulb (we bought two) and even fitted it for us. Back to Trinity, having been out doing this for 45 minutes.

We got the exposure unit back to normal, put my screen on and exposed my images. Peter's, unfortunately, hadn't worked properly because they'd not exposed for long enough. But, mine did work. Here's my screen:
My screen
And everybody elses worked too, more or less.

So, when your screen has been washed and dried, you have lunch. Lunch was lovely, provided by Helen and eaten on trestle tables in front of the altar. The only space big enough to set out the tables we needed was up on the dais, and so we were sat there, munching tasty pie, looking at the stained glass and plasterwork. It was a somewhat surreal moment; thanks to my Catholicism I have a "churches should be quiet, contemplative places" thing, and this was anything but.

Once lunch was over we tidied up, and started printing. First, tape up any clear bits on the screen that you don't want ink to go through. Next, mix your colours. We were using System 3 inks, which are basically acrylic paints mixed with more gloopy stuff labelled "screen printing medium".
Inks & stuff
Mix the colour you want in a paper cup, then guestimate how much ink is in there and add the same quantity of medium, so if you're mixing a purple and have four squidges of crimson and one of cobalt blue, add five squidges of medium. This stuff dries quite quickly once it's spread thin, but in the cup it'll last for a while. Put whatever you're printing on underneat the screen, put some ink onto the bottom of the image, and using a squeegee spread the ink over the image. Then force the squeegee back over the image to scrape as much ink as you can off, then shift the screen out of the way as quick as you can, to stop the ink bleeding through your nice crisp edges. Voila! done.

We had some quite complex images from other people; one chap printed line drawings of a 1980s supercar, and a quite complex lion image. Another chap had a high-contrast monotone selfportrait, there were some self-penned works, and someone had a book of ancient greek designs that other people took images from (an owl was quite popular). We practised on some paper first.


Then we moved onto T-shirts if we had them. I only brough three t-shirts with me, so ran out quite quickly. Thankfully there was plenty of time so I ran out to get more, which I also ran through in no time at all. The problem then was drying them sufficiently to be able to take them home. We ended up using the pews as clothes horses.
Screens & shirts
The screens obviously had to be washed between different colours being applied, but also had to be washed if left for a couple of minutes without having ink applied, as ink would dry on the screen and cause splotches on the material. I was very impressed at the resilience of the screen; it stood up to quite a bit of scrubbing as we tried to get ink out that had set hard. There were buckets of water for washing stuff up in, and it was a good job there was tarpaulin on the floor!

Eventually, we were done. A quick tidy up, wrapping the still damp shirts in paper, and putting the tables away, it was like we'd never been there. Because I mentioned pinholes and matchboxes during the day, as well as Photocamp and Exposure Leeds (which is where I originally heard of the workshop) I've been invited to run a similar session sometime after September, and I'm looking forwards to that already.

I have to say; the organisation was perfectly fine, we had plenty of time and didn't feel rushed, and Louise, the tutor, did a fine job and was endlessly patient with us all. As part of an arts project called Trans=Send the unused prints were going to be used as envelopes and sent to a similar church in Sunderland; a great use of resources, I feel.

Results? Oh, I'm happy. I've learned a new technique, I have another thing I want to stuff into a studio (I might just bite the bullet and ask for space at Temple Mill), I met some fun people and I came away with whizzy t-shirts.
t&c t-shirt