Vindaloo at the Catalyst Club

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On Thursday 14th April I gave a talk at the Catalyst Club about the History of the Vindaloo. This was my sixth talk at the night, and it’s one of my favourite events. The programme is always varied – recently Rosy spoke on Body-Building and Masochism, and ChrisP talked about The Eating Habits of Politicians.

The other talks this month were fascinating – Larissa talking about Effective Altruism, and Cara Courage talking about her BDSM relationship with The Archers. I was particularly interested to learn about the Archers’ active fan culture, which has a higher average participant’s age than many others I’ve heard about.

My talk outlined the history of English curry, although I cut a lot to fit the 15 minutes I had. I also spoke a little about my recent trip to Goa and the idea of authenticity in food and travel. I made things a little more interesting for myself by deciding to serve curry to the audience. This was delivered by the Shahi Tandoori and handed out during the Q&A session.

I mentioned a vegan vindaloo recipe that I particularly liked. This can be found on Happy Cow Vegan. Being vegetarian rather than vegan, I tend to swap the aubergine in this recipe for quorn chicken pieces.

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Photo by Emily Yates

One of the interesting things about public speaking is how it can be hard to gauge the audience response. Parts of the talk were very comfortable, with lots of jokes – laughter means you know exactly how it’s going. But I wish there were a few more jokes in the middle where I go into the history of the curry. I’m booked to give the talk again in August and November, and it will have some significant changes before then. I’m also hoping to put on the longer version in Brighton as well.

A Cheeky Walk: The Lord Lucan Experience

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The Cheeky Walks Guidebook isn’t particularly kind about Newhaven, the location of last weekend’s walk. It compares the town to “a limbless toy discarded and left to rot in the attic, its stuffing long since eaten by rats”. Despite that, this was another fantastic journey, featuring the ghost village of Tide Mills and some lovely cliff-top views.

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The town is definitely very run down in places. On leaving the station at Newhaven Harbour, we were immediately faced with Industrial Decay, with the old abandoned station buildings. A little further on was the third train station in a short distance, Newhaven Marine. This is now only used as a stop for Ghost Trains (also known as Parliamentary Trains). Although we didn’t visit, there are some good pictures of the station online.

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Newhaven Marine station

From the stations we walked down to the seafront where we found the ghost village of Tide Mills. After flooding in 1937, many of the houses were condemned, with the remaining residents evacuated in 1940. The town was then used for artillery target practise during the war. It’s an eerie location.

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We did the first part of the walk in a group of four, with Rosy and Olive, who left us at a Cafe on the High Street:

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Our meal was filling, but not particularly tasty. The toilets doubled as chair storage, which made using them an adventure, but there was some latin graffiti out the back – non temere beneficiis, which seems to translate as ‘do not fear benefits’.

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The second half of the walk took us onto the cliffs of Newhaven Fort, which has some amazing views of the sea. It was a little breezy when we were there, but this would be an amazing place for a summer picnic.

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Despite the urban decay in much of Newhaven, this was still a pretty good walk. Lela and I even got a trace of sunburn. We ended up at Rosy’s Dad’s house for a cup of tea. It was a good day.

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Just 4 walks and 18.5 miles remaining. If the weather holds, we’re doing a pair of walks next weekend. Whatever are we going to do when these walks are finished?

A Cheeky Walk: The Devil and Miss Price

I’ve discovered some great places from the Cheeky Walks, but this week I visited a place I should have been to before. In 4 decades living within 5 miles of the place, I’ve never actually walked Devil’s Dyke. I’ve been around it many times but never actually inside. The Devil and Miss Price was one of my favourite of the cheeky walks. It’s themed around the “model, children’s author, novelist, businesswoman, philosopher” Katie Price, aka Jordan, but it is really an excuse to plot a walk to Poynings, Saddlescombe Farm, Newtimber Hill and Devil’s Dyke.

The route starts on the top of Devil’s Dyke, looking out across the Weald. A sign told us that the painter Constable had described this view as the grandest in the world. I think the view from Newtimber Hill later in the walk had the edge, but it’s still an amazing scene. It also takes in most of the places where I grew up.

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We walked down the slope to Poynings via some of the most treacherous steps I’ve ever seen. How we didn’t end up slipping, sliding and covered in mud is a miracle.

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The mud stopped soon after and we passed through Saddlescomb Farm and up onto Newtimber Hill before dropping back to the farm.

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Until doing the Cheeky Walks, I’d not realised that Saddlescomb Farm had a connection with the Knights Templar. Facts like these that provide a testament to the long hours of research put in by Bramwell, Bick and Ashton.

The walk through the Dyke felt magical. How had I missed this? And what am I going to do when I’ve finished these walks?

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My friend @dpashley says that behind every sign there’s a story

Brighton Fringe Festival Highlights 2016

My friend Vicky Matthews asked what I was going to in this year’s Fringe. I thought I’d do a quick blog post in case anyone else is interested.

There are lots of exciting events, although the best one sold out within a few hours. Alan Moore, John Higgs, Daisy Campbell, Shardcore and others are appearing at the Odditorium for Adventures on the Edge of Culture. I’m particularly excited by John Higgs’ piece Ziggy Blackstar and the Art of Becoming. Also, Alan Moore’s first visit to Brighton since who-knows-when is a big deal. .

Some of the other events I’m looking forward to:

  • There are three other Odditorium events: Rupert Sheldrake, Everett True, and Boing Boom Tschak, a night devoted to Kraftwerk. I’ve bought tickets to all of these.
  • A couple of years after his prize-winning show, Chris Parkinson returns with Apostrophe’s. I’m going to the showing on the 27th.
  • Mathilda Gregory’s show My My Immortal is going to be amazing. There’s an interesting backstory to this but, even if you’ve never heard about it, the performance will awesome. Mathilda did part of it at the last Slash Night and killed.
  • My friend Kaylee is helping produce a show called ‘Am I Fuckable‘. I don’t know much else about it, but what she’s told me makes it sound awesome.

There are a few other events I’m considering but not sure about. I think I’ve booked tickets to a workshop on pilgrimage, but the Fringe booking system is being somewhat inscrutable. And that’s without even considering the usual free events, open houses and so on. May will be a busy month!

A Cheeky Walk: Bottoms Up

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Good Friday was a perfect day for a Cheeky Walk, the first proper sunny day of the year. We opted for ‘Bottoms Up’, an innuendo-laden tour of Stanmer Park and Ditchling Beacon – ‘bottom’ being a common Sussex place name. This was also the first time when we got lost.

One of the directions was via a carved tree-trunk. We missed it the first time past, because a couple of people were sat covering the carving. It didn’t help that I also missed one of the sentences in the directions. We retraced our steps and met a famous dog, who turned out to be half shitzu and half poodle – meaning it was either a zoodle or a shitpu. His owner told us a story about the risks of birdwatching, and how they had once watched a heron, amazed how still it was, only to learn that it was a statue.

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Lela takes photographic evidence of the gate I missed

We were misled once more by the Keymer Finger Post – it looks as if the field has been re-fenced, as the gate was now in the wrong corner of the field. Still, with the aid of Google maps, we found our way back on course. We also passed close to the route of the Earth, Wind and Fire walk – what a contrast the weather was.

Lying fingerpost
Lying fingerpost

I think this walk was one of my favourites. It was hard work on the legs, but it gave some wonderful views. And it ended with a portable creperie. Despite only being seven miles, it felt a lot longer – perfect for a bank holiday. Now it’s just 28 miles and 6 walks to go.

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A Cheeky Walk: Earth, Wind and Fire

Apparently you can buy coats designed to keep the wind out. I never thought I needed one until yesterday’s walk, crossing the Downs with the wind cutting through the layers I was wearing. I realised that last year’s winter Cheeky walks were all urban ones, and that doing the rural ones in February might not be a good idea.

Despite that, the Earth, Wind and Fire walk was a good one, starting in Pyecombe and taking in the Chattri, Jack and Jill Windmills and the Clayton Tunnel. It was fairly similar to a walk taken with Jamie and Jen last year (although the windmill is closed to visitors until May). Still, despite the cold, the views were amazing.

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This sign to the South Downs seems unnecessary
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The church is sinking…
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More mud
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The Mallard Mailbox, pointed out by the guidebook, has sadly seen better days
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Fuck off, i360

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Goa: In search of Vindaloo

There are only two occasions when it is acceptable to wake up and have a drink before 10am. One is Christmas morning and the other is at an airport before a holiday. On 25th December 2015, both of these conditions were satisfied, so I drank a half with breakfast at the Gatwick Airport Wetherspoon’s (‘the Beehive’). I was flying to Goa, where I’d booked a holiday to laze around on the beach. Then, after ten days, I would head on to Varanasi for something more active.

Not even 7am
Not even 7am

As well as swimming and reading, I had another plan for my trip. I recently read Lizzie Collingham’s book, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerers. She describes it as “a biography of the curries of the Indian subcontinent”, promising that “each recipe tells the tale of the different people who prepared and ate the dish”. It’s an excellent book, explaining where the dishes on the English curry-house menu come from.

My usual curry order is a vegetable vindaloo. Sometimes they are good, other times disappointing, but at least you have an idea how spicy it is going to be. Reading Collingham’s book, I discovered that this much-maligned dish had a tangled, curious history, spanning five hundred years.

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Travelling on Christmas Day has its advantages. It meant I got a chocolate with my airline Christmas dinner, and there was a brief visit from Santa Claus. I landed at about eleven on Christmas Day but it was well into Boxing Day before I passed through immigration and found a taxi to Mandrem Beach. It was about two before I was in bed. Spending the day in planes and airports meant it wasn’t the most exciting Christmas Day of my life, but it did mean I woke up in Goa on Boxing Day.

This is the saddest Christmas chocolate I've ever seen.
This is the saddest Christmas chocolate I’ve ever seen.

And it was pretty good. I was about three minutes walk from a quiet beach –  Mandrem is very peaceful compared to its brash neighbour Arambol. I found my way to a seafront cafe and had breakfast. A little later I came back and installed myself on a sun lounger. Once an hour I would go swimming, but the rest of the day I read. Every so often I would move the sunbed back a little to stay in the shade.

I’d read about goan food before setting off, and was impressed by the dishes available at Brighton’s Goan takeaway, the Nishat Tandoori. The thing is, most places on the beaches didn’t go much for local cuisine. They had a few dishes, maybe a vindaloo or a xacuti, but these were crowded out by the usual traveller fare. Some people refer to India, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia etc as the ‘banana pancake trail’ because of its reliance on certain standard dishes. Many of the Goan cafes and restaurants had menus similar to the ones I had seen in North India or Nepal. Even worse, the few goan dishes they had contained meat, which is no good for me as a vegetarian.

On the banana pancake trail
On the banana pancake trail

So, while I was content to laze around on the beach for a few days, seeing out the last of 2015, I’d need to explore a little to find an authentic vindaloo.

An Article in Ernest Magazine

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Ernest Journal is one of my favourite magazines. It describes itself as being “for curious and adventurous people”. Recent issues have featured ghost villages, numbers stations, some amazing travel features, and Queen’s Brian May writing on Victorian Diableries. The most recent issue, number four, includes writing by me about the Antarctic explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard. The magazine also smells truly excellent, which is an important consideration for paper-based goods.

The piece came about through meeting the editor, Jo Keeling, when I was speaking at Wilderness Festival last August. Jo was running the Odditorium, the venue where I spoke. Nervous before my performance, rather than have an actual conversation, I told Jo at great length about Cherry-Garrard. Instead of making excuses to get away, Jo invited me to write an article about it. I sent her a slightly strange outline and she said she I should go ahead with it.

I first heard about Cherry-Garrard through a friend’s recommendation. I ended up reading his book, TheWorst Journey in the World, among a lot of Antarctic literature for my MA dissertation (I read about a dozen books for this, which ended up as a mere 2 pages of the final text). The Worst Journey refers, not to Scott’s fatal mission, but to the miserable trek that Cherry-Garrard engaged in with two companions.

It’s strange to think that most of Cherry-Garrard’s reputation rests upon a single section of his work, where he describes the stubborn fortitude with which he  and his companions faced the grim, unrelenting cold – just to collect a couple of penguin’s eggs, needed to support an evolutionary theory that was dismissed without needing his sacrifice.

My article was particularly inspired by the work of Sara Wheeler. As well as writing a biography of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Wheeler has written an account of her own time in Antarctica, Terra Incognito. It’s a powerful, emotional book, as well as being incredibly funny in places.

I’m currently working on my next article which will be about… something odd and unrelated. And I love that there are places like Ernest with spaces for this sort of writing. My piece sits alongside an article on modern reproductions of Shackleton’s clothing (featuring a rather grisly fact) and a guide to wild butchery (“Remove skin and store away – you can use it to make a rug later”).

Ernest 4 is amazing and is available here – and if you’re in Brighton, the magazine shop on Trafalgar Street should have copies.

Cheeky Walk: A Perfect Walk

The last entry in the Cheeky Walks book – and the longest outside Brighton – is the Perfect Walk in Arundel. I don’t like to read too much of the walk in advance and assumed Arundel meant twittens and history. Instead this was a country walk, with long, scenic stretches beside the river Arun and deep woods. So, probably best not to do it in Winter. Right from the start it was thick with mud, and Lela had decided to wear her trainers instead of hiking boots or wellingtons. But we pressed on – for 8½ miles.

It was pretty good though. Arundel castle appeared and disappeared, providing a regular reference point. There were turkeys. And there was a wooden suspension bridge. And the least level cricket pitch I’ve seen in Sussex. But the mud was incessant and exhausting. The mess around the stiles did make for fun puzzles – which route to take to avoid getting wet feet?

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We didn’t have a hope of a table at the George and Dragon in Belpham, but easily found a riverside table at the Black Rabbit. Sadly the food is less wonderful than it was many years ago in 2012 when the guide was written. They don’t do veggie roasts, and the veggie burger was underwhelming. Still, they had a fantastic location and gherkins that looked like worms emerging from the burger.

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One of my favourite things about the cheeky walks is you sometimes feel like the directions are about to lead you wrong, but they never do.As the book gets older, the directions become less accurate. In this one, it warns at one point “if you pass the phone box, you have gone too far”. The phone is gone, but the box is  now an information resource:

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The weather may have been poor, but we saw the first signs of Spring. Maybe not a perfect walk, given the ground underfoot – but it might be worth trying again on a summer’s day:

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