Monday, 23 April 2018

St George's Day 2018

I have only minutes to make my annual post in honour of St. George's Day.

Busy with long walks, printmaking with students, the whirl of the morris, baking, squash, coastwatch and plumbing, I didn't put the time in for my national saint until about an hour ago.

Well, before the day ends, here it is, torn from the pages of the local paper of my mind.

Hooray for England and Saint George!

Friday, 30 March 2018

Hot Cross Buns

Buns as tiles.
Easter is imminent. It wasn't when I started thinking about hot cross buns.

Medieval clay tiles are a favourite feature of a trip to many cathedrals. They're in countless churches, abbeys, palaces, castles and sundry other edifices in the heritage oeuvre. The ones that I know best are at the east end of Winchester Cathedral. Some are in carpets of a repeating pattern; others patches are a jumble of motifs.

Last May I learnt a bit about the process behind medieval tiles at a one-day medieval tilemaking course - run by the Company of Artisans, at Weald & Downland Museum in Sussex. I got to reproduce a historical design and make a few tiles of my own.

All through the day, the tiles made me think of food. In their unfired raw clay form, they looked like chocolate slabs. Fired and unglazed they looked like the best gingerbread. In a glossy ensemble they reminded me of batches of buns. It's since then that I've been thinking about buns and how to make them look like medieval tiles.

Winchester Cathedral tiles
from my fish-eye phase.
I'm no great baker and my experience with yeast is limited, so don't expect too much. Improving something over several attempts is something of a new experience.

I focused on the topping (which is a piped mixture of flour and water and some colouring) but in each batch I tinkered with the spices and orange rind and the balance of fruit (NB. 80s funk band?).

Here are the developmental stages that have formed a wave, torrent, barrage, parade, season and surfeit of buns: my bunsperimentation.

Touching but not close enough.
(I'm not showing you the first batch)

A repeating tile pattern, before baking - and a little too tight.

Slow piping work, copying a section of Winchester's tiles.

Browned and blobby and in need of refinement.

The final batch isn't the apotheosis of the fine art bun but it's my last before Easter and I dug a duvet cover out for presentation, so here's the peak of my medieval encaustic tile hot cross bun phase for 2018.

The ultimate (if unglazed) bun batch.

There aren't any crosses (although some designs have certain elements in fours or fives, which can have a religious significance) and a lot of the time the buns weren't warm - so perhaps they should be "not cross buns".

Excuse the crushing wit and excuse my excursion into recipe blog territory. Happy Easter and enjoy your hot and/or cross buns!

My tiles after glazing and firing by the Company of Artisans.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Caper, Caper, Clash

The year since I took up morris dancing has been long enough only to encounter a fraction of its tradition and lore.  There's a deep mine of colourful customs; a wealth of very specific and subtle differences.  It has linked up titbits of folk history half-remembered from museums and children's books.  I'll be a beginner for a long time.

This week the year's complement of dancing events begins - at least for me.  I'm going to a school hall in Hampshire to see bunch of morris sides from across the south, many of whom I hadn't heard of despite the many events last year.
Twelve morris men... who will know what I got wrong!

I'd like to get the quirks and character down in ink on paper.  Sketching at an event is a laudable aim but not for me and not for a night of drink and dance.  What I like better is a good stint of research and time to think of things to pick out and fit in.

Here's my page showing the sides who I was told may be represented on the night.  I combed through pictures and group websites for the specifics of each group's kit and colours.  The result is a bunch of made-up figures, not real people from photos.

This sort of thing helps me to learn what's what in a complex oeuvre.  I feel a bit more prepared for what I'll see, even if things turn out to be wrong (such as Winchester's eight-foot jig champ).  It's no document, just a cheerful array of ribbons and bells, hats festooned with flowers and tin badges, tabards, baldricks and belchers.

Bonus list:  some of the best names of dances from Lionel Bacon's "A Handbook Of Morris Dances", known as "The Black Book":
Bare-footed QuakerBluff King HalBuffoonCaptain With His WhiskersCurly-headed PloughboyDevil Among The TailorsGallant HussarHunting The SquirrelLollipop ManLumps Of Plum PuddingOld Woman Tossed Up In A BlanketRoast BeefShave The DonkeySwaggering BoneyThree Jolly Black SheepskinsTravel By SteamWalk Of The 2d PostmanWebley Twizzle