Tea and Biscuits

The past few months have been manic. Since my PhD studies came to an end and my AHRC funding ran out, I am relying 100% on my own wits and skills to make an income. I am trading as a self-employed artist, which is not the fantastically high-paid profession that one might hope.

However, I have secured part-time contracts with Windsor Boys’ School (where I am exploring “Radio as a creative context for teaching and learning” as part of a Creative Partnerships project) and the Sonic Art Research Unit at Oxford Brookes, (where I am documenting and recording all the projects of SARU and running the sound-diaries website.) I have also been organising numerous opportunities to exhibit and develop my work: Audiograft (last week); Active Crossover (April 1st); Editions of You (April 9th); Prick Your Finger (May); and the artist book shop which now stocks editions of The Sonic Tuck Shop book and a few other editions of my work. None of these opportunities are paying me mega-dollarines, so I am also spending time trying to write up knitting patterns to sell, and of course working on a project with Brenda – described by Brenda in Episode 98 of Cast On: The Phantom Menace.

As you can imagine, all these projects mean my brain and my diary are FULL, and I have spent all my spare time over the past few weeks browsing the REDUCED section in the supermarket, knitting from my stash, and keeping a careful account of all the money that I spend on batteries* for my recording equipment and petrol for my car.

Although I probably sound like I am moaning and although I am undeniably stressed and fatigued, this is an incredibly exciting time; it is a time of great learning and growth; of testing out new schemes for making money; practising thrift on an unprecedented scale; and carving out a life in which ART is my full time profession. I am using this year to see if it is actually viable for me to work in this way or whether I need to find more stable and reliable sources of income. So far, it is just about working, and there is much energy and excitement in doing so many creative projects which inform and inspire one another.

What I gain in my current modus operandi is a huge variety of choices about my working life. I can decide for many tasks involved in my projects when I will work on them and how. I enjoy the fact that all the work I am doing feeds into my thinking about sounds, places, representation and radio-making, and I like that I can structure my days as I please.

What I lose, however, are sleep (I often end up working late into the night, recently) and the time and the space I need to write regularly here. And although I am cranky without sleep, I really, really miss writing. I miss coming here to organise my thoughts and document the day’s ideas, and reading all your comments. So when I realised that the sore throat I have had for three weeks wasn’t going away today, I booked an appointment with my Doctor and decided that – after running a few necessary errands – I would take the rest of today off to spend here and in my kitchen. And I decided that – like the best kinds of breaks from work – the afternoon would involve TEA and BISCUITS.

In my regular patrols and investigations of the locale, I have become fixated on Reading’s historic identity as “The Biscuit Town,” and in the role that the Huntley and Palmer Biscuit Factory played in shaping this place. Above is a biscuit-puzzle booklet issued by Huntley and Palmer who ran their enormous biscuit factory in Reading from 1822 – 1970s. In Reading Museum, a large collection of printed biscuit tins from the Huntley and Palmer factory can also be seen, as well as this pleasing flag which – according to Brenda – was probably dyed using Perkin’s Purple AKA the first synthetic textile dye.

In the museum, there are also some recordings of people who worked in the factory recounting their memories of what it was like, including one account in which a man describes the very loud din of women hammering biscuit tins into shape. I have a particular fascination with lost or extinct sounds which – having once defined an area – fall away from it as new technologies emerge and thereby change the soundscape. I love the idea that we can recreate or re-insert lost sounds back into places, making history somehow audible again. And I would like to hear the sound of biscuit tins being hammered in Reading again, sometime. I also wonder how this biscuit-mould (which I have reversed so that you can read it!) would have sounded, as it was pressed into the biscuit dough.

By happy coincidence, I bid on an old Huntley and Palmer Biscuit tin on ebay a couple of days before I discovered the glorious gallery of printed biscuit tins in Reading Museum, and I was able to identify my auction winnings amongst the examples on display!

My own biscuit tin is more faded and bent up than the Museum example, but I am thrilled with it. It was a sample tin, given to commuters in the 1930s to tempt them into buying more biscuits from the H&P store on London Street.

I do not know about you, but when I am working on any thematic project, I like very much to have small items about my person which remind me of that project. Keeping things around me which relate to an idea in hand is a way of keeping the idea alive, of having a library of objects available to study and draw inspiration from. To me, ideas naturally form collections of objects, and objects in turn inspire ideas. “Moodboards” are a thing that design-y folks talk about often, but in my mind the moodboard can be a 3D collection incorporating space and objects and time as well as magazine cuttings and paint; podcasts and objects often feature in my own project “moodboards,” which sprawl untidily outwards from my sketchpad and pervade daily life in interesting ways. The biscuit tin is part of a small collection of items I am collecting in relation to a knitting pattern I intend to write. So far the only other item in this collection is a skein of yarn which I dyed at Liz’s hen do, in some approximation of Biscuit colour, but a tiny dollshouse H&P biscuit tin and a historic postcard featuring an image of the factory in its heyday are in the post on their way to me courtesy of (ever-bargaineous) ebay.

…the yarn I fear is slightly on the pink/brown side of biscuit, and so today during my afternoon off, I decided to try and golden it up with a turmeric (40p for a handful of fresh roots from the local store) and onion skin (free!) dyebath. The results are not entirely satisfactory but I shall persevere later with carrot tops, alum and cream of tartar. This is what I am ultimately hoping to achieve in terms of a colourway**:

(A very old looking biscuit from the H&P gallery at Reading Museum.)

So that’s that on the biscuit front, but what about the tea? Well, as per the a nice cup of tea and a sitdown website, I feel the correct pairing of tea and biscuits is an imperative worth pursuing and so I shall now do my best to add accompanying tea to my biscuity ramblings.

One project moodboard of 3D + audio aspects that has been running for several years in my project inventory is The Tea Museum. Long-term readers of this blog will remember previous tea posts featuring the teasmade and other creative tea-themed joy. You may also remember that I already presented The Tea Museum at Jelly’s marvellous afternoon Tea Party. However for this latest incarnation of The Project, I decided to make the relationships between different tea-related projects explicit by providing a recorded audioguide to hopefully give some explanation and context to the objects featured in the collection.

I titled my museums + audioguides “Idea Museums,” because that is what they are; documentation of evolving ideas in my practice. I like the long ideas in art practice; the themes which obsess artists for many years and which mature in time until they become really elegant and finished ideas. I’m not there yet by a long way, but my obsessions persist; the obsession with documenting and celebrating everyday experiences and rituals; the obsession with sound recordings as evidence of real happenings; the obsession with knitting projects that are linked imaginatively to places and history; the obsession with the meaning of everyday objects and things; and the obsession with ways of working which link imaginative experiences with everyday moments.

The Tea Museum relates to all these themes, but I ultimately saw showing it at Audiograft as an opportunity to test out some new ways of working with voices, sounds and narratives. I have been thinking a lot about the construction of podcasts and radio shows, and in The Tea Museum audioguide, I enlisted the help of the very talented Mark, to see what would happen if we passed the lines between us rather than me reading everything myself as has historically been my main approach. I wanted to see what it would sound like to have two voices sharing the story of how a collection of things came to be, and so that is what we did. You can hear the results below, but it’s 10 minutes long, so I suggest you fetch yourself a nice hot brew before sitting down to listen! I would love to hear what you think of this new approach…

(The Tea Museum is featured on the right; The Sonic Tuck Shop Museum is featured on the left.)

The Tea Museum by felixbadanimal

*If anyone has tips on an excellent brand of rechargeable AA batteries that will sustain a FOSTEX FR-2LE for 2+ hours without dying, I am all ears!

**I am not sure yet what exactly the biscuit-themed knitting will be, but it is going to be a wonderful garment to accompany stomps around Reading.

10 Responses to Tea and Biscuits

  1. Pingback: Audiograft – initial impressions and photos | SARU – Sonic Art Research Unit

  2. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Archive » Biscuitopolis & The Mad March Hare…

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