CITY UNSEEN


I recently visited the Martin Parr exhibition in the Guildhall. It was his usual wry, deadpan look at British life, in this case the pageantry of the City rituals.

The photos were taken over a period in 2014 but, like everything else this summer, it was hard not to look at them through post-Brexit spectacles.

Is one of the (side) effects of our collective decision to be parochial and to 'keep the foreigners out', a protection of these odd, archaic rituals? If so, is this something we actually want, or is it time we gave them the boot as part of our, to put it positively, fresh new start?

These rituals do contain a nostalgia, the one so loved by all who miss the mythical Albion, and they are mostly as harmless as they are ridiculous. The laughter they provoke doesn't, as Parr himself often shows, have to be scathing. But these are images imbued and ridden with class. Rituals designed to keep everyone (from above and below) in their correct place and order.

So are we now at a time where we can simply celebrate them - the rituals, processions, banquets - as pomp and ceremony? As ridiculous, as meaningless, as fun, ceremony, tradition? Or should we question even the act, shown here, of toasting the Queen's good health?

As I looked at the photos I certainly didn't feel proud of England, but there was a fondness. Perhaps no different or stronger than when I encounter other cultures' rituals abroad. Maybe it's just interest.

Sometimes I'm embarrassed as a tourist, that feeling of not wanting to embrace the inauthentic performance that is created, or re-enacted, specifically for the tourist. Similarly, I often find it hard to enjoy being English, or British, or any collective identity. I find tribalism and certainly patriotism awkward and embarrassing and, frankly, a bit old-fashioned. It has always seemed to me that a celebration and pride in your own country amounts to no more than declaring that place to be the best purely because it happens to be your birthplace.

Perhaps if I had ever been part of these, or similar, age-old traditions, I could embrace my role as an insignificant but happy part of the greater good, or even just old fashioned 'society'. And perhaps this is the role of rituals, providing a part to play; of a community, even a large, falsely designated one (i.e a nation) that can never really exist as a group of even vaguely like-minded people without the false notion of patriotism. How British [or insert any nation here] do you feel? How 'British' is it even possible to feel? Am I allowed to not really feel any connection to any particular location on the globe? And if I am, is that even good for me and my well-being?

You'll have to seek out the books on these subjects for any answers, but these are some of the thoughts I had as I looked at the photos. How ridiculous we all are, how silly are the things we do and the games we invent for ourselves, but perhaps there is a purpose that we should be careful not to dismiss so easily, even us (like myself) who are often aloof and dismissive towards these rituals.

A RUM DEAL

I occasionally write restaurant reviews for popular local website Brixton Buzz
Below is the latest one for newly opened Rum Kitchen.


Finally. What everyone has been waiting for.  Somewhere to eat Caribbean chicken in Brixton.  Of course not, but unperturbed by turning up to a party in the host’s favourite outfit, Rum Kitchen opens it’s doors this month.
We were invited to discover what they have on offer as part of the soft-opening launch one week before the official opening.

The Rum Kitchen is (yawn) part of a chain, with other spots in Notting Hill & Soho. That’s standard for Brixton now, especially on a spacious site such as this one on Coldharbour Lane. It’s decked out (literally; plenty of wood has been employed to convince everyone they are inside a beach shack) in the way you would expect if Caribbean-style restaurants came in a flat pack. Authentically inauthentic.

You know the drill; bare industrial fixtures & fittings, open kitchen area, cheerful but empty platitudes daubed in hand-written typeface across the walls, with hand-drawn artwork everywhere. All nicely done, but with little character.

The bar that greets you on entry is mightily impressive, however, and it feels almost rude to continue straight past to the seating area beyond, although that is exactly what we did.

The area is well designed, seating comfortable and spacious enough for a group of friends to gather together but still feel part of the busy throb of the restaurant. At the back there were even a set of comfy sofa style seats.

It was really busy when we went, and it had a good atmosphere, but it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep the space filled throughout the week and as time passes. The prices are not going to get people pushing through the doors like it’s Black Friday and Brixton is now a competitive place for a chain to settle in to.

The cocktail menu is only slightly shorter than A Brief History of 7 Killings but we managed to pick out plenty to sample. Most were very pleasant, with top marks going to the self-explanatory Nuts About Rum. The recommended Banana Banger went down well, even if the ingredients sounded suspiciously sweet.

The large Zomibe seemed to disguise the alcohol taste so, alert to the danger of cocktail drinking, we switched to the larger they have on tap, good ole Red Stripe. The Brixton brewed IPA and Pale Ale are also available in a bottle.

The cocktails are all around the £10 mark. This seems a lot for any drink, especially ones that go down so easily. I can’t pretend I’m a regular at Cocktail Bars, so perhaps this is standard, as the beer prices are not shocking for a restaurant.

So that’s the Rum, what about the Kitchen?

There was a limited menu on offer, being pre-official opening. This also explained some minor teething problems with the service; drinks sometimes took a while to arrive, as did the dessert, but the staff were all friendly, if understandably a touch less relaxed than they will be after a bit of time to settle in.

The only fish we could sample were the greasy squid rings. Soft as you like to bite and the peppery sauce was tasty, but we immediately saw the reason for the hefty wad of paper napkins piled at the edge of our table.

For the vegetarians there was Callaloo, a tasty side of ackee & spinach, and a sweet potato curry with the health-foodie’s favourite ingredient quinoa. This was hearty, decent and tasty without setting the taste buds dancing.
The coleslaw was deliciously oniony, but the odd crunchy grain of rice could be found within the rice & peas. We also had the Rainbow Salad (available minus the jerk chicken pieces), found in the same competent-not-breath-taking league as the curry.
Still on the vegetarian notes, there will usually be a Halloumi burger available. Adding fries brings this up to £13, a price too high for a meat-free burger meal.
In general the prices are not too eyebrow-raising, although there are a few that make you wonder if there has been any adjustments from the sister menus in Notting Hill and Soho. I shouldn’t have to add that jerk chicken is available all over Brixton at much more competitive prices.

The jerk chicken comes as boneless thighs as well as fried and on the bone and also in a burger. The consensus was that the chicken was fine (no complaints but nothing to elevate it above other flightless birds), but the star of the plate was the sauces, apparently restaurant made and super tasty.  Chicken-wise, the burger plucked top place and the music seemed to reflect this.  The occasional reggae tunes were soon drowned out by U.S numbers as the evening went on, perhaps showing a closer connection to North America.

Looking at the dessert menu both the Chocolate Rum Pot and the Coconut Affogato seemed tempting but the only choice was a serving of soft scoop ice cream, with a chocolate and nut topping. Basically a posh Mr Whippy, yet it hit the spot with sublime accuracy.

Overall, Rum Kitchen may feel more at home in a shopping centre food court than on any Caribbean island, or even Brixton, but the fact it is directly opposite the newly opened Premier Inn perhaps says more about exactly who this venture is aimed at.

A good shout for a large group of friends to come and grab a table and share some jerk and cocktails. As long as the more interesting places remain in Brixton for those inclined, this isn’t such a bad option for people without the local knowledge or time to explore further.






INFO-GRAPHIC OR GRAPHIC INFO?


























Above shows an info-graphic I produced for recently defunct classical music website Sinfini.
On the left is the initial idea, based on the look of the Ordnance Survey maps; as one of the facts is the mapping agency birthdate.

After a change in the facts, this map idea didn't really work and the whole thing really became less of an info-graphic and more of an illustrated fact-sheet.
I re-worked the idea (correcting the featured instrument shape, as it turns out I don't know my Basset Clarinet from my Basset Horn Clarinet), reverting to a colour palette I had come up with earlier for the same site, for another Clarinet Concerto feature.

My idea was to pull apart the instrument in the same way that the given facts reveal the separate parts of the Concerto itself. The result is quite Cubist, although Picasso wasn't in my thoughts as I was doing it, and maybe that is why I think, and hope, it doesn't appear as a pastiche. 

I prefer the second attempt, but can't help but feel the initial aim of producing an info-graphic was lost. It seems that too often any information with an image is labelled as such, whereas I feel it should represent the data in a way that wouldn't be clearly understood just by looking at the facts; the relationship between them, for example, from which new conclusions can be surmised.
This is a problem when the 'data' is really descriptive facts, and although I made some attempt in the map version, it doesn't quite work...so it was probably best to abandon any pretence and just produce a graphic-info, to coin a phrase.

To see the two pieces above in more detail, I have popped them up on Pinterest.

If anyone is interested in maps and the Ordnance Survey, I can recommend a documentary I watched recently on BBC4 - available here if you fancy.

MINISTER OF THE MONTH


It was an honour and a privilege to be nominated as the immensely prestigious 'Minister of the Month' for the Ministry of Stories, a mentoring and writing centre in East London that lives behind a Monster Supplies shop.

I help to bring the kid's bonkers ideas to life with some quick doodles of the characters and stories they produce in the various workshops held in local schools and at the Ministry. 

Read about all the great work they do here and find out more reasons why I think it's a good idea to be involved with the project here.