Monday, 9 March 2015

The Quickening

There is a point as we move out of winter, almost universally recognised as “the first day of spring”. I am not talking about the calendrical or meterological event, or even the equinox, but a day when sunshine, air, temperature, the general humours of the season come alive. Plants become conspicuous in their shoots, buds and growth. I have long called this shift of gears The Quickening. In his metaphysical poem The Metamorphosis of Plants, Goethe makes minute observations of plants and the energetics of their growth and development. In the Gordon Miller version of the book, this is accompanied by sublime macro photography. To Goethe, the life force, or Proteus of the organism was a palpable energy which lay behind its physical form as an archetype. The world of nature we actually see is an expression of the Proteus in the real world, a bit like when the energy of the ocean crashes on the shore as waves. I have put together some of the wonderful photography of Karl Blossfeldt with Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants. If you read it at all, do so meditatively. Again, you will see the Proteus (the idea, intention, or energy of the Master) emerge from behind the lines of text. So is nature.

The Metamorphosis of Plants
(Goethe poem)

The rich profusion thee confounds, my love,
0f flowers, spread athwart the garden. Aye,
Name upon name assails thy ears, and each
More barbarous-sounding than the one before—
Like unto each the form, yet none alike;
And so the choir hints a secret law,
A sacred mystery. Ah, love could I vouchsafe
In sweet felicity a simple answer!

Gaze on them as they grow, see how the plant
Burgeons by stages into flower and fruit,
Bursts from the seed so soon as fertile earth
Sends it to life from her sweet bosom, and
Commends the unfolding of the delicate leaf
To the sacred goad of ever-moving light!
Asleep within the seed the power lies,
Foreshadowed pattern, folded in the shell,
Root, leaf, and germ, pale and half-formed.

The nub of tranquil life, kept safe and dry,
Swells upward, trusting to the gentle dew,
Soaring apace from out the enfolding night.
Artless the shape that first bursts into light—
The plant-child, like unto the human kind—
Sends forth its rising shoot that gathers limb
To limb, itself repeating, recreating,
In infinite variety; ’tis plain
To see, each leaf elaborates the last—
Serrated margins, scalloped fingers, spikes
That rested, webbed, within the nether organ—
At length attaining preordained fulfillment.

Oft the beholder marvels at the wealth
Of shape and structure shown in succulent surface—
The infinite freedom of the growing leaf.
Yet nature bids a halt; her mighty hands,
Gently directing even higher perfection,
Narrow the vessels, moderate the sap;
And soon the form exhibits subtle change.
The spreading fringes quietly withdraw,
Letting the leafless stalk rise up alone.

More delicate the stem that carries now
A wondrous growth. Enchanted is the eye.
In careful number or in wild profusion
Lesser leaf brethren circle here the core.
The crowded guardian chalice clasps the stem,
Soon to release the blazing topmost crown.
So nature glories in her highest growth,
Showing her endless forms in orderly array.
None but must marvel as the blossom stirs
Above the slender framework of its leaves.

Yet is this splendor but the heralding
0f new creation, as the many-hued petals
Now feel God’s hand and swiftly shrink. Twin forms
Spring forth, most delicate, destined for union.
In intimacy they stand, the tender pairs,
Displayed about the consecrated altar,
While Hymen hovers above. A swooning scent
Pervades the air, its savor carrying life.
Deep in the bosom of the swelling fruit
A germ begins to burgeon here and there,
As nature welds her ring of ageless power,
Joining another cycle to the last,
Flinging the chain unto the end of time—
The whole reflected in each separate part.

Turn now thine eyes again, love, to the teeming
Profusion. See its bafflement dispelled.
Each plant thee heralds now the iron laws.
In rising voices hear the flowers declaim;
And, once deciphered, the eternal law
Opens to thee, no matter what the guise—
Slow caterpillar or quick butterfly,
Let man himself the ordained image alter!
Ah, think thou also how from sweet acquaintance
The power of friendship grew within our hearts,
To ripen at long last to fruitful love!
Think how our tender sentiments, unfolding,
Took now this form, now that, in swift succession!
Rejoice the light of day! Love sanctified,
Strives for the highest fruit—to look at life
In the same light, that lovers may together
In harmony seek out the higher world!

Photography: Karl Blossfeldt
Poetry: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

North Utsire

Bryn Celli Ddu: The Mound in the Dark Grove

Bryn Celi Ddu was a large circular cairn of stones covering a passage 27 feet (over 8 metres) long, leading to a central, polygonal chamber. This had a small spiral carved into one upright, visible only by artificial light, while a megalith with an elaborate serpentine design was put face- down over a pit in the centre of the site before the monument was constructed over it. The passage points at the midsummer sunrise, which lights up a quartz- rich monolith at the back of the chamber.

The developed passage grave of Bryn Celli Ddu was apparently built over a henge monument containing a stone circle, which was destroyed to make way for it, the stones being removed, broken or toppled.

from Pagan Britain; Ronald Hutton

Music: The Host of Seraphim, which is the opening track from the 1988 album The Serpent's Egg by Dead Can Dance. Of the album, AllMusic wrote, "Perry and Gerrard continued to experiment and improve with The Serpent's Egg, [in particular]… The Host of Seraphim [is] "so jaw-droppingly good that almost the only reaction is sheer awe."

North Utsire

Dave Sinclair

Dave Sinclair was born in 1959 in Walton, Liverpool. By 1980, he was studying Art at Liverpool Polytechnic, where he developed an interest in the Liverpool urban landscape. Surrounded by derelict factories and docks, Dave started documenting his surroundings, processing and printing in black and white in a darkroom he built himself. He soon realised that photography was what he wanted to do for a living. In 1982, Dave joined the Militant and became involved in activities supporting Liverpool Labour Council's battle against Thatcher's cuts, travelling all over the country and documenting events with his photography. In 1986 he accepted a job as a photographer with the Militant and moved to London, making regular trips back to Liverpool to see his family. Dave has worked as official photographer for Tower Hamlets council since 2000. His photographs have been featured in several exhibitions, including 'The Dockers' which was exhibited in London Liverpool and extensively abroad, The 'School Student Strike' at the Bluecoat in Liverpool and 'Thatcher, Liverpool and the 80s' in Shoreditch.

Details of The Thatcher Years Exhibition (plus Bio of Dave Sinclair)
Liverpool in the 1980's new book
Dave Sinclair Flikr Page
Liverpool Echo 2014 article

North Utsire

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Buena Vista Social Club: The Revolution Is Eternal

I watched the Wim Wenders' 1999 movie Buena Vista Social Club last night & found it really inspiring. It has a sort of ambient style but like Cuban music, its own snaking hypnotic pace as you are introduced to the band members, their various life stories, their culture & history. It portrays the music as an outgrowth of their personalities. This culminates in their phenomenal 1998 gig at Carnegie Hall New York. Until watching this movie I had no idea how much Buena Vista Social Club had contributed to the popularisation of Cuban, Latin American, Bossa and World music generally, or indeed how influential Ry Cooder was in reuniting the band members. I had a bit of a mental blind spot over Ry Cooder since my mate handed me a copy of his 1978 album Jazz, which I admit I didn't really appreciate at the time (it was the 1980's). Strangely though, those songs (In A Mist; Shine; Nobody, etc) have kept playing on in my head all those years, so they must have some power. Anyway, heres the blurb:

The Buena Vista Social Club was a members club in Havana, Cuba, that closed in the 1940s, as well as a 1990's band, an album, a film and an unofficial brand name representing the musical spirit of the original Havana club. The original Buena Vista Social Club held dances and musical activities, becoming a popular location for musicians to meet and play during the 1940s. In the 1990s, nearly 50 years after the club was closed, it inspired a recording made by Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González and American guitarist Ry Cooder with traditional Cuban musicians, some of whom were veterans who had performed at the club during the height of its popularity.

The recording, named Buena Vista Social Club after the Havana institution, became an international success, and the ensemble was encouraged to perform with a full line-up in Amsterdam in April 1998 (two nights). German director Wim Wenders captured the performance on film and the one that followed on the 1st of July 1998 in Carnegie Hall, New York City for a documentary also called Buena Vista Social Club that included interviews with the musicians conducted in Havana. Wenders' film was released on 4 June 1999 to critical acclaim, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary feature and winning numerous accolades including Best Documentary at the European Film Awards. The success of both the album and film sparked a revival of international interest in traditional Cuban music and Latin American music in general.

North Utsire

Robert Schumann: Arabeske in C major, Op. 18

Robert Schumann wrote his Arabeske in C major, Op. 18 in 1839 when he was 29 years old, dedicating it to Frau Majorin Friederike Serre auf Maxen, to whom he also dedicated his Blumenst├╝ck in D-flat, Op. 19. In the autumn of 1838 Schumann had left Leipzig for Vienna. His relationship with Clara Wieck had reached a point of no return, as her father vehemently opposed anything that might interfere with his daughter's career as a pianist and strongly disapproved of Schumann as a possible son-in-law. Geographically yet not emotionally detached from Clara, he was able to communicate with her only through letters and in his own music. This has been proposed as an explanation for this work, which alternates passages of wistful longing with more robust, declamatory episodes.

North Utsire

Chikka Boti Khebabh

1kg chicken
Cut into cubes.
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh ginger. peeled and grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
6 tbsp tomato ketchup
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
3 tbsp oil
Combine ingredients in a container, add
chicken pieces and marinate for minimum 6 hours, preferably overnight.

Method 1
Thread chicken pieces onto skewers and grill.

Method 2
Lay out the marinated chicken cubes in a roasting tray & cook at 200oC for circa 30 minutes. You can add any suitable vegetable at this point. Peppers are particularly good. 

Serve in a chapati or toasted pita bread with
onion, tomato and coriander relish. Salad, yoghurt and rice are good additions to whichever method you use. 

North Utsire

Shepherd Neame Family: Master Brewer’s Choice IPA

Master Brewer’s Choice IPA
Shepherd Neame bottled for Lidl
Bottle: 3.8%
Brewer’s Notes
Crisp and clean, with a refreshing citrussy hop bite, this IPA is burnished gold in colour from the carefully roasted malts used in the mash tun. Hops are added at three stages in the brewing process to give the aroma and bitterness so typical of an India Pale Ale. This beer will really hit the spot.

See: Golden
Smell: Hoppy, Citrussy, Fruity
Taste: Bitter, Zesty, Refreshing

Again, this was reviewed with a second pair of gustatory  tastepipes in the form of my willing brother. For starters, (according to him) an IPA was always of quite high alcohol content to permit transport to “the colonies”, and so we feel Shepherd Neame are taking some liberties with the use of the label IPA for a 3.8% strength beer. It probably wouldn't transport much further than Hartlepool. Having said that, we are “Not offended by that in the slightest” with this moreish clean ale. It’s a fizzer! Crisp, but not exactly dry. Leaves one salivating as though visited by an unexpectedly divine Zinc battery electrode. “A bit of a crisp hit to start with” followed by a tingle. Given my devout beliefs about beer fizz, which I will not indulge further here, Master Brewer’s Choice leaves me in want of a refinement to my theory, to wit I can only say there should be some kind of Internationally Approved Fizz Scale, and that there are “qualities of fizz” as I stare off enigmatically into the distance. There is treacle here. It is not floral, but fruity, and not as rubefacient as Spitfire. You can clearly discern the Shepherd Neame water heritage; Dioskourian twins birthed from the same well. The hops are artistically ‘hidden’ in there, and there is no obtrusive yeast taste. The whole fizz hit acquiesces into mellowness in moments. As my brother rightfully said; “It feels like you’ve got your beer coat on”.  I could drink it all night & day.

Marks /10

North Utsire

Shepherd Neame Family: Mainbrace IPA

Mainbrace IPA
Shepherd Neame brewed for ASDA
Bottle: 4.5%
Brewer’s Notes
This exquisitely smooth ale boasts a light malty flavour and is brewed with locally grown hops and chalk filtered mineral water drawn from the well of Britain’s oldest brewer.

Not a bad creation from the ancient well of Shepherd Neame. My first impressions are of a well balanced, hoppy almost proprietary ale with a hint of treacle, molasses and complexity as though Guy Fawke’s night was somehow in the Mash Tun and was circulating mischief. I don’t really ‘get’ the light citrus element of the tang but I am glad for that. Golden hops can often be too crisp in my opinion. There is a pleasant nasal earthiness and yeast registers. My perennial complaint of bottled beers is their over- exuberant gas which seems to emulate the artificiality of pop, cola, junk drinks & the like. Admittedly this does sublimate into a creaminess of sorts. Apart from the gas, Mainbrace IPA is a drinkable ale which is on the Spitfire continuum, yet slightly less brash. Perhaps the more urbane older uncle of Spitfire.

Marks /10

North Utsire

Shepherd Neame Family: Amber Ale

Amber Ale
Shepherd Neame
Cask: 4.5%
Brewer’s Notes
Amber Ale makes its seasonal appearance in January and February. First brewed in 2009, the beer immediately became one of Shepherd Neame's most popular seasonal brews, welcomed by ale-lovers as a warming treat during the coldest months of the year. A golden-brown ale with a fruity aroma and a full, malty palate, Amber Ale derives its unique signature from the special marriage of fruity, fragrant hops with Pale, Crystal and Brown malts, making it a classic beer to savour and enjoy.

I do wish the above narrative coincided with the genie I found in the bottle. The “full, malty palate” is nothing more than gripping, vice- like; bitter, earthy, valerianic and dry. There is essence of coffee bean & roast but conjoined, and not in a good way with floral notes; the darker aspects of elder predominate presumably due to a frightful blend of Fugglewuggle hops. The beer is not copper so much as mahogany. As a “winter warmer” it is disappointing, lacking spiciness or genuine warmth. There is also an unwelcome astringency; a kind of matronly “take your medicine” authoritarianism which baulks mightily. On drinking it down, the uncompromising leather belt strap lacquer leads you to think “well its not a bad beer” and “if it was the only beer I had ever drank I wouldn’t complain”. It is decidedly not average though. I conscripted my brother’s help over this one. We both agreed it was a kind of context dependent brew as to whether you enjoyed it. It’s got Northern Working Men’s Club written all over it: dominos and flat caps, Capstan full strength afterwards and then home for lamb hot pot for tea. That said though, its not much of a session beer. More a bleak snowy port of call: a 'quick one' whilst your walking yer whippet.

Marks /10

North Utsire

Shepherd Neame Family

In this & the following few blogs, I will review a trio of the lesser known brews from the Shepherd Neame Family. Most people are familiar with their big hitters; Spitfire, Bishop’s Finger, 1698, and their 6.1% India Pale Ale. I will use these (well, actually Spitfire only) as a sort of ‘benchmark’ against which the other lesser- knowns are compared. As this is the ‘mother blog’ I will summarise the beers concerned here, and proceed to review them individually later on. Sound like a plan? How wonderfully sober minded of me.


Marks /10

As an aside, I am not sure how much market research Shepherd Neame have done on all this flag waving, wartime spirit, Spitfire, “We won the war” UKIP bollocks but it quite puts me off drinking it. They are not the only offender; there are numerous brewers waving the flag with English this, and Union Jack that. I find myself drinking it in spite of the froth of hegemonic nationalism, followed by a yeasty glug of Land Of Hope And Glory. Not all beer drinkers are belching bloated English Defence League members. At least the organic beers were a more cerebral affair for the armchair anarchist, bedecked with anti- Slavery campaigner William Roscoe, or a light historic introduction to the historic Engine Vein seam at Alderley Edge. There, that makes the beer go down better doesn’t it. And so it is refreshing to drink Shepherd Neame beers without the wartime iconography.

What a load of marketing Bollocks

So anyway, in establishing a benchmark, I proffer this review from the brewer’s website which I find hard to fault.

Beer review: Spitfire by Shepherd Neame

The Spitfire is one of Shepherd Neame’s flagship Kentish ales. The Faversham-based brewer has been making beer from locally-grown hops since 1698 so has had plenty of practice in creating high-quality ales. Named after the iconic fighter plane that was a familiar sight over southern England during World War II, the Spitfire is a fairly strong premium beer made from three variety of Kentish hops.

Like Shepherd Neame’s other heavyweight, the Bishop’s Finger, the Spitfire has a slight fizz to it, but it’s more like champagne on your tongue than random gassiness. It tastes as ruddy as it looks, living up to the brewer’s boasts of a “spicy, hoppy” flavour. “Hints of marmalade, red grapes and pepper are thrust from a springboard of warm, mellow malts,” is how Shepherd Neame describes it.

It’s not a light drink – you can feel the strength almost straight away – but it’s one of my go-to ales and I thoroughly recommend giving the Spitfire a whirl.

The essentials:
ABV: 4.5% from bottle, 4.2% from cask
Colour: Dark amber, auburn
Nose: Hoppy, slightly metallic
Taste: Medium-to-strong bitter flavour, slightly fizzy
Our verdict: Magnificent, one of our favourites and – luckily – widely available

The “fizz”, the “spicy hoppy flavour”, and the “marmalade, red grapes and pepper” are all forgiven in the melding alchemy of Spitfire, which is quite a feat given my predilection for fairly flat simple session ales of low ABV. I suppose every mans head can be turned now & then. But can they replicate that feat with their lesser known beers? Tune in to the next blog to find out... 

North Utsire