Why I love the interconnectedness of all things!

I put up the last post in a hope to track down the Turkish artist Elvan Alpay. I was not sure if it would work, the Kevin Bacon game is fun – degrees of separation – but can it have a practical application?

Within 24 hours I was in email contact with Elvan’s representative and within 48 hours I had secured an interview and permission to use her pictures in my (soon to be finished) book for Reaktion.

It turns out that my brother-in-law, Sean, knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who is in the art world in Turkey … not quite sure the real number of degrees of separation there were, but I am REALLY impressed. As I am by Sean’s company’s work … Smoke and Mirrors. I suggest a brief break from work and a rummage through the reels highlighting some of the amazing special effects he manages to create (biggest claim to fame, for me – he did the invisibility cloak in the first Harry Potter … I asked him if he still had it, but since putting it down has not been able to find it!)

Elvan Alpay

Having a google alert set to hedgehog keeps it busy … I just need to learn how to wean out the ‘sonic’. But today there was something different. A Turkish artist, Elvan Alpay, has an exhibition launching in Istanbul – at Galeri Nev. And it features a remarkable image – which I have copied from the gallery website only in the interests of promoting her work, not stealing it …

The piece about her is here. She sounds fascinating – and this is the motive behind this blog … is there anyone out there who has a contact for Elvan Alpay? I have written to the gallery and spend an age googling … but no direct way to get in touch. I would be very interested in getting permission for using this image in the new book I am writing for Reakion. If you know of a way of getting in touch with her, please let me know. With many thanks.

Hedgehog Whisky

There are myths that one hears and wishes were true: fairies, unicorns and gods among them. But for me, there has always been the hope that two of the most wonderful things on this planet would, in some amazing way, become united.

But how? How can we get hedgehogs and whisky into the same thing? We cannot make whisky from hedgehogs (can we? I should have a chat with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) and while I have heard rumours of hedgehogs drunk on beer-trap slugs I have not heard of anyone seeing a hedgehog consuming whisky. Though I now remember a tale from the 19th Century of a family in Britain with a pet hedgehog that was once got drunk at the dinner table, but I think that was on posset.

And then, while researching my now slightly late book for Reaktion (winter has thrown sickness at our household like a drunken student walking home reconsidering the wisdom of the kebab, hence the lateness), on the iconography of hedgehogs I came across a little miracle.

But first, a digression. Germany has a town called Igel, France has a town called Herisson – yet England, a country that prides itself in a profound love of the hedgehog has not the decency to have a town named after the animal. There are plenty of references to otters – Ottery St Mary for example. And there is Wolverhampton, Derby (deer village) and many many others – in fact that would be a fun exercise for anyone, find me more – and I will probably find that Wolverhampton is nothing to do with wolves …

So – is it time to launch a campaign – to get a town named as hedgehog? And if so, do we re-name a current town (if so, which one – which town can claim great hedgehog-connections?) or do we start a new town? A community run on hedgehog principles? One where we spend the winter hidden away, asleep?

But that is all by the by – the main thrust of this blog is my discovery of a wonderful thing – Herisson, the town in central France named after the hedgehog, has a distillery, run by Monsieur Balthazar. And he has the good grace to anglicise the name of his whisky; Hedgehog Whisky is a reality.

With trembling fingers I followed the links through and found that it would be easier to have it delivered within the country of France – and by good fortune a most delightful friend lives there a great deal of the time (thank you Stokely) and at the end of last week I visited her in London and took ownership of my dream …

The excitement … obviously, but there was also the fear of disappointment … what if it was rank? So it was not without trepidation that the first drops of this golden liquid were poured …

Now there is a language of flavour that I have yet to master – my experience with wine has been rather binary, I like it or I don’t. And with whisky, similarly. So what can I say?

The familiar burning sensation on the tongue was reassuring – maybe that is too strong a word, but there is that spirited tingle that prepares you for more. Lacking the smokiness of western Isles peat based drinks, lacking the occasionally floral lightness of some of the Speysides … what did it have?

There was a harshness, there was a sense that this might not be part of a long lineage of whisky makers, but it was definitely not unpleasant … just not quite what I am used to … which has been refined over many years and topped by a Whisky Society bottling of something called the Eriskay …

I will persevere. It might grow on me. And maybe a touch of water would help … so, if you are around Oxford in the next few weeks and want to come and experience a little hedgehog-nectar, drop me a line and we will see if we can link up!

the trouble with archaic spelling

I am still deeply embedded in the world of hedgehogs as I research my latest book, for the Reaktion Animal Series. This gives such license to spend all day searching through obscure references to the wonderful animal. And what a treat I received today when I tracked down a fairly obscure book from 1767 by Stephen Fovargue. Called, ‘New Catalogue of Vulgar Errors‘ it is available online. And on page 174 there is this:

I almost spat out my coffee as I read that for the first time, before realising the complications of archaic spelling …

The rest of the book is fascinating and well worth a read. The Preface is something that I think we could all benefit from considering: “To explain the use of education, no method can be more effectual, than to show what dull mistakes and silly notions men are apt to be led into for want of it.” To avoid further confusion, I have modernised the spelling.

Other delightful errors in need of Fovargue’s correction include, “That the heron makes a hole in the bottom of her nest, through which her feet hand, when she sits upon her eggs” and “That there is now, or ever was, such a science as astrology.” And remembering that this was 1767 it is interesting to note that the following was considered a great fallacy, “That the way to make boys learn their books, is to keep them in school all day, and whip them.”

That has helped give me a perfect morning of industry and self-amusement.