On Current Affairs - 01 - Where Do We Go From Here?

Ship wreck, Sennen, England, July 2018

Ship wreck, Sennen, England, July 2018

Whilst I’ve been travelling up and down the country this past week, I noticed that our political system is, to put it very lightly, creaking under the pressure of finally having to make some decisions.

As with the whole of this mess over the last few years, what’s been lost in all of the debate is any sort of detail about where we (i.e. the UK) actually want to get to in the future. Whatever kind of relationship with the EU we eventually end up with will, in almost utmost certainty, be worse than what we currently have (if we want to leave the club, we will have to go without the benefits of membership, and since we’re not planning on joining another club, we will inevitably find ourselves worse off), but the nature of that future relationship is actually still to be negotiated, isn’t it? In fact, I think it will consume British politics for the next decade, at the likely expense of the vast majority of other domestic issues.

After yet another crushing yet apparently irrelevant defeat (irrelevant to her continuing as prime minister of a government that cannot govern) in the commons on Thursday, where MP’s passed a motion requiring the government to seek an extension to the article 50 deadline, May correctly told the house that, regardless of the motion rejecting No Deal, our options remain essentially unchanged - it’s May’s deal, No Deal, or no Brexit. So, as my title pertinently asks, where do we go from here? Given everything that’s happened this week, what are our options? Largely the same as they were. May’s deal, No Deal or no Brexit.

If we want to definitively rule out No Deal, but do not wish to back May’s deal, then our only choice is to revoke article 50 (as we can do so unilaterally) - MP’s rejecting it as an option in the commons does not change the legal reality of our current situation. We can seek an extension from the EU, but they are surely unlikely to grant us a significant one at no cost (France, for example, might demand some concessions on fishing rights, for example). So we’ll likely get one up to the European elections, if the EU feel like being nice, but nothing more. Perhaps May is actually playing her limited hand quite smartly - Brexit backing MP’s will probably climb down and back her deal at the last minute (next week?), rather than risk no Brexit.

At this stage, a second referendum appears to have very little support in the commons, so that’s probably not going to save us. Indeed, I’m not at all convinced a re-running of the 2016 referendum would do us any favours - if the result is narrow to remain, that will cause further turmoil (with likely calls from the Leave side for another referendum in the near future) at a time when we desperately need to find a way to come together as a country, and if Leave wins again, we’d have wasted a lot of time and political energy, only to find the hard-Brexiters emboldened and progressive politics in tatters.

If you asked me what I think we should so, it would be something like this;

  1. Revoke article 50.

  2. Convene a citizens assembly to examine and propose the various future relationships we could have with the EU when we leave.

  3. Hold a referendum on the options (with a system of ranked voting).

  4. Implement the result.

I might also add ‘Hold a general election’ between points two and three, as our current government is unable to govern, but it would potentially upset Brenda from Bristol again… And any promises made surrounding Brexit during the campaigning period could complicate things as well.

Ultimately, it appears, to me, to be the deadline part of article 50 that advantages the EU so greatly - they can always say ‘That’s it, no more negotiations.’ and start running the clock down, with the threat of No Deal on the horizon (as May appears to have realised, this can also now work for her too - that it shafts the UK appears not to bother her). If we revoke article 50, we can at least buy ourselves some time to decide what we want, before starting the process of trying to secure it.

Footnotes.

  1. Corbyn and the Labour leadership have been rubbish these past two years. It’s time to pick a lane, please. The tactical vagueness policy may have worked for a little while, but it is now making you all look like idiots without a clue.

  2. My plan would require a highly skilful politician to sell this plan to the electorate, and avoid being labelled an ‘Enemy of the people!” for, in all intents and purposes, cancelling Brexit (albeit on a nominally temporary basis). You may now be noticing the rather large flaw in my plan. Oh well.

LEJOG - March 2019 - Day 03/04 Diary - Leeds to Glasgow, Glasgow to Inverness

I gave myself too much ground to cover over these last two days, and consequently ended up spending too much time in the car, rather than out of it taking pictures. On top of that, today it was super windy and rainy (welcome to Scotland) - not ideal photography weather... So I didn’t get as many pictures as I’d have liked - especially portraits - but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

Glasgow,Scotland, March 2019

Glasgow,Scotland, March 2019

Photography is, as Friedlander (apparently) said, “a generous medium”, so when you’re not taking making many pictures it can be really frustrating - it feels like the problem is you. But you just have to persevere. The pictures usually come with time.

The plan was to reach John O’Groats today, but I only made it as far as Inverness. Right now, I think i’m probably going to start heading back south tomorrow, rather than carrying on north, but I’ll decide in the morning.

LEJOG - March 2019 - Day 02 Diary - Bristol - Leeds

Burton upon Trent, England, March 2019

Burton upon Trent, England, March 2019

I drove up past the outskirts of Birmingham, through the Peak District today. I just made landacape pictures today, but I did get quite a few (one of the biggest advantages of using digital cameras is not having to worry about the cost per picture). I’m too tired to write anything significant this evening, so I’ll just sign off with a couple more phone pictures.

Geese, Brierly Hill, England, March 2019

Geese, Brierly Hill, England, March 2019

Castleton, England, March 2019

Castleton, England, March 2019

LEJOG - March 2019 - Day 01 Diary - Land’s End to Bristol

Land’s End, March 2019

Land’s End, March 2019

I left Bristol at 06:00am, drove straight down the M5 and got to Land’s End about 10:00am. I paid the £4 to get in the car park, had a walk around, took a couple of pictures, then got straight back in the car (ate a peanut-butter sandwich) and drove back out, and back north to start making pictures - this time on the smaller roads, where you can stop to look at things.

I’d been watching Patrick Keiller films in the last couple of weeks, so today I was photographing standing stones, road signs and SOS phone boxes (amongst other things). It’s always interesting how seeing another artist’s work can open your eyes to seeing such everyday things in a new way - before seeing Keiller’s work I’d never paid any artistic attention to road signs, but once you’ve seen them in a new context, they suddenly all look very strange.

Davidstow, March 2019

Davidstow, March 2019

One of the last places I visited was an decommissioned RAF airfield in Davidstow - a quite surreal place that is apparently completely open to the public. I photographed a family who were teaching the kids how to ride motorbikes and a very beautiful group of ponies - they let me walk right up to them with my camera and tripod. I guess they thought I might have had some food.

 

Ponies, Davidstow, March 2019

Ponies, Davidstow, March 2019

Tomorrow, I’m driving up via Birmingham towards Leeds - I’ve got a cheap motel booked on the Leeds ringroad for Sunday night.

IMG_8401.JPG

That will probably be me in the room - “ideas for LEJOG photographs...  Some funny, some tragic.”

LEJOG Project Update

John O’Groats, Scotland, March 2019

John O’Groats, Scotland, March 2019

I’m heading out on my first LEJOG trip of 2019 tomorrow - almost a year to the day that I first started this project. As usual, i’m getting that feeling of nervous excitement on the night before the first day. I’ve got accommodation in new places booked, and new things marked on my google maps to go see on the way, but, as always, I’m hoping for serendipitous encounters with interesting places and people.

I’m in the situation now where I’ve got plenty of pictures for this project, but I’m still keen to carry on and I know it needs a lot more work. There’s a desire to show people and ‘launch’ or ‘announce’ something ASAP, but I’m hoping that having patience, and making the work as good as it can be, will pay off in the long run, so I’m keeping everything under wraps for now (at least online).

If I can get access to wifi, I’ll try and update this blog with phone pics and stories from my days on the road, as I go, so keep an eye out for updates on here/instagram.

On Current Affairs

Opinions are like assholes - everybody’s got one… So don’t shame me if I want to show mine off in public

Up until this point, I’ve avoided writing about current affairs on this blog, as, despite strident protestations from my loyal readers (Hi Mum), it’s been my contention that there are too many opinions on the internet, and so why bother adding more, especially ones that a less loyal reader might, quite reasonably, argue are unwanted, uniformed and under-researched?

But I recently had an epiphany, of sorts, about this subject, that I’ll share with you now (if you didn’t abandon this post after the first paragraph, saying something to yourself like ‘I agree, we don’t need your opinions, thanks.”); I was thinking about Grayson Perry’s second 2013 Reith Lecture, Playing To The Gallery, in which he said;

“We live in an age now where photography rains on us like sewage from above - you know endless Instasnaps on your phone everywhere. So how do you tell if a photo’s art? Well you could sort of go just looking at are they smiling? If they’re smiling, it’s probably not art. (LAUGHTER)”

Grayson Perry, 2013

(I love the inclusion of ‘(LAUGHTER)’ in the transcript, by the way - the audience clearly thought that last sentence was a joke…) Perry is correct of course - there are so many photographs now, and that problem is only going to get worse as smartphones proliferate throughout the world and every moment of our lives is captured, edited, facebooked, instagrammed and used to generate an ever growing and homogenising online space, where all of humanity is herded to work as unpaid digital content creators in order to cultivate the gated environment a global monopoly company uses to profit from direct to consumer advertising. But I digress… The reason I brought that up was to point out that, yes, “photography rains on us like sewage from above”, but I don’t have a problem contributing to that - in fact, I do it happily, and thus it is partly in that spirit that I have decided to write about current affairs.

What’s more, it occurs to me, as I sit here in my comfortable lounge writing this, sipping my single origin espresso, eating a peach yoghurt with added bifidobacterium and listening to Belle & Sebastian, that maybe the world does actually need more voices like mine! The far right is on the rise again across the world, Britain is in the midst of a constitutional crisis, Europe remains at risk of its currency (and unwillingness to reform) causing the whole project to disintegrate, and the USA is still presided over by a cheap leg of breaded ham, onto which someone has glued two googly eyes, a false nose, gummy lips, and some straw for hair.

The President of The United States of America

The President of The United States of America

And all of this has happened whilst I’ve not been writing about what’s going on, so maybe that’s been part of the problem. Indeed, I’ve a strong suspicion that what will really turn things around is a middle-middle-class, middle-aged, white, heterosexual, metropolitan, university-educated (does a photography degree count?), man writing about important world events in a semi-ironic manner. So, from now on, my self-imposed ban on current affairs writing is officially cancelled.

R Zine By Street Pussy Now On Sale

Limited copies of the first zine in our new Street Pussy RGB series are available now at a discounted price, in our clearance sale; https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/StreetPussy

Street Pussy RGB commemorates the invention of the Bayer Filter Array, and the establishment of the fundamental tenets of digital colour photography as it exists today, with a series of three zines; R, G and B - each containing a series of 20 Street Pussy photographs by Yogamaya von Hippel and Simon Bromley, taken over a period of 7 years, in which the dominant colour is red, green or blue (respective to each zine in the series).

Each zine in the series is limited to an edition of 25. The special edition versions of the zines are signed by the artists and include a limited edition, 6x6 inch digital c-type photographic print (edition of 10), and exclusive hand-painted packaging.

On Pizza

Anyone who knows me well probably knows that along with photography, cats and bikes, another of my great loves is pizza. And I had the occasion recently to write up an ‘origin' story’ for my relationship with pizza, so I thought I’d share it here too, along with a look at how I make it at home.

Forno Vivo, Tring

I first fell in love with pizza in 2001, at the age of 12, when an amazing restaurant named Forno Vivo opened in the small town where I grew up. It had a Neapolitan-style wood burning oven, and they put a Margherita pizza (made with crushed San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil) on their menu that changed my relationship with pizza overnight. Until my mid-twenties, this love existed simply as an out of home activity, but inspired by a close friend with supple ankles and a flair for baking, I begun experimenting with making my own dough at home, and various cooking methods using standard ovens (sadly, none of the various rental properties I’ve lived in over the years have had wood burning ovens). Now, homemade pizza, using fresh ingredients and cooked in the moment, is a weekly staple in my home - it’s the first thing on the menu every week, before we do our food shop.

Pizza dough made using the recipe below

Pizza dough made using the recipe below

I’m always tinkering with my recipe, or looking for tips, but at the moment I’m somewhat settled on something like this:

Dough (makes four 10” pizzas)

  • 500g strong white bread flour - I rarely use 00 flour, because it’s expensive and it isn’t available everywhere. Strong white bread flour works great for me.

  • 340ml water - slightly cold is better than warm, as you want a slow rise (because it tastes better). Combined with the olive oil below, this makes for a pretty wet dough - it’s around 70% - which does make it quite difficult to handle, but if you get yourself a cheap dough cutter it’s fine.

  • 15ml extra virgin olive oil - not traditionally included in a Neapolitan pizza recipe, as far as i’m aware, but when cooking at home, with a conventional oven, a little oil in the dough helps stop the dough drying out over the inevitably extended cooking time, and olive oil has the right flavour.

  • 7g dried instant yeast - I’ve not yet progressed to using a sourdough starter, because it seems like a bit of a hassle to make/maintain one, and I’m worried it would just die the first time I went on away for a few days. But I’m open to trying at some point.

  • 15g sea salt - fine ground.

Toppings (Margherita)

  • Tinned plum tomatoes - I usually just use cheap ones (also perfect for pasta sauce as well; soften diced garlic in olive oil, add tinned tomatoes, fresh basil, salt and pepper, and simmer until your pasta is cooked - glorious), as I think these generally taste fine, but if you’ve got the cash/you want to be fancy, you can get San Marzano tomatoes. ‘Crushed’ using a food processor (just a few quick pulses - you don’t want it too smooth) or by hand, and used sparingly (see note below).

  • Parmesan cheese - Grate a little on to the top of the tomatoes before adding your mozzarella - adds a nice saltiness.

  • Fresh mozzarella - You want about 60g per pizza. Buffalo mozzarella is best, but expensive, so I just use standard fresh mozzarella most of the time. If you’ve never had buffalo mozzarella though, it’s worth trying - it’s just so good. If you’re making a lot of pizzas, you can cube your mozzarella in advance, to speed up your cooking process, but if I’m just making one or two, I’ll just tear it up as I go.

  • Basil - I put it on after cooking, because I like the taste of fresh basil, but that’s personal preference. Dried oregano makes a nice, cheaper, alternative (it also goes especially nicely with meaty toppings), but I wouldn’t bother with dried basil.

  • Good quality extra virgin olive oil - it’s important that this is a nice olive oil, as this is just for drizzling. Get yourself a cheaper olive oil for cooking, and a nice one just for drizzling (it doesn’t have to be super expensive - we just buy the best one Aldi has - it’s about £3 a bottle, but it lasts for a while) - you won’t regret it. Drizzle a small amount over your pizza before it goes under the grill.

*NOTE* - be sparing with all of your toppings, if you put too much of anything on, they won’t cook quickly enough and you’ll end up with a wet pizza, which is very bad.

Method

  • Once all the ingredients have been combined and kneaded properly (you’ll know it’s ok when it becomes springy to touch - we’ve got a stand mixer, so I use that because it’s easier), i let the dough rise once for a few hours, then knock it back and make individual dough balls. Dough balls I want to use that day, I put on to an oiled baking tray, cover with clingfilm, and let rest in the fridge for as long as possible, up to a couple of days, before taking out to warm up a couple of hours before cooking.

  • Any extra dough balls can be frozen, wrapped individually in airtight sandwich bags (I should probably get some Tupperware for this - would that be more environmentally friendly?). The night before I want to use frozen dough, I place it in the fridge, on a covered baking tray, to defrost and rise, then get them out a couple of hours before cooking to warm up.

  • To cook pizza I use an old frying pan and my grill. I’ve used pizza stones in the past, but I’ve had better results with a frying pan, so that’s what I do now. Get both your pan and grill preheated as hot as they’ll go, sprinkle some flour on your rolling surface, and press/stretch out your dough by hand (don’t use a rolling pin - you want to keep air in the dough, so be gentle). Once stretched, put the bare base straight into the hot pan, and then add your toppings - have everything prepped in advance so you can work quickly. When you’ve got all your toppings on (and the base is cooked - this should only take a minute or so, if your pan’s hot enough), get your pan under the grill to finish it off.

That might seem a little daunting if you’ve never made it before, but it really isn’t too hard. Just give the dough enough time to rise/rest slowly, and get your pan/grill nice and hot before you start cooking, and you’ll be fine. It can be difficult to get it looking pretty at first, as hand stretching the dough is tricky until you’ve had a bit of practice, but if you use good ingredients it should taste great regardless of how it looks. On top of that, It’s so much better than buying crap supermarket pizza, and it’s wildly cheaper (and better, in my opinion) than dominoes/papa johns/etc., so if you love pizza, just give it a go.

Any pizza lovers out there have any tips for me? Leave a comment below if you think i’m doing something wrong!