Friday, 30 December 2016

Travel: Notes from Ghent - Blue Birds

If you stand on St. Michael's Bridge in Ghent when it's dark - carefully avoiding getting poleaxed with a selfie-stick or boom mic from the tourists and film crews that seem to a permanent feature of the structure - and gaze to your left past St Michael's Never-Open-Church and Ghent Universities' Het Pand you will see one of the most striking artistic light installations I have ever seen...

View looking towards St. Michael's Bridge
By taking the steps down from the bridge and walking along Predikherenlei you can get a closer look at this master-piece, indeed the view (above) from the bridge on Jakobijnenstraat is probably the best place to appreciate it from, as it takes in St. Michael's Bridge and the beautiful old buildings on Graslei in the background.

It's unimaginatively but accurately called the Blue Birds but its full title is 'Les Oiseaux de Mr Maeterlinck' by the French creative studio Pitaya. It references a story called 'The Blue Bird' by Maurice Maeterlinck - who was born in the city - to commemorate his Nobel Prize for Literature. It was originally a part of Gent's 2012 Light Festival but was then bought by the municipality and is now a permanent installation.

The origami-like birds seem to be frozen in startled flight from their tree, and their reflection in the canal - enhanced by the odd ripple - adds another dimension of movement and depth to the work. They are mesmerising, elegant and vibrant, and perhaps worthy of a trip to Ghent in themselves.

It is stunning ... and I could have looked at it for ages...

But the thoughts of food and imbibing in what is surely Belgium's best city eventually dragged me away...

View from Predikherenlei


Thursday, 15 December 2016

History: Guinness's Small Cask vs Hogshead in 1842

Carlow in 1842 was a busy and prosperous place. The streets were full day and night with shoppers and travellers from the excellent coach system, and the barges that travelled regularly on the Barrow river, hauling products from Dublin, Waterford and all points in between.

The shops in particular stocked a fine array of teas, coffees, exotic fruits, meat and spices ... and beer, spirits and wines of course. Henry Birkett's grocery store was positioned in a fine location on the southern end of Dublin Street, close to where it intersected with Tullow Street at Market Cross, where most of those who lived or visited the town past through on a daily basis.

His customers we can presume were many of the landed gentry that owned the best houses in and around the town, and those customers appeared to have a problem with the their Guinness double stout porter. It appears that they weren't impressed with hassle of bottling it, and were losing too much during the messy process. So Henry decided on an enterprising plan to bottle the beer for them instead, thus insuring he keeps his sales of porter, and made a few more shillings in the process.

To let his customers know of this service he decides to place an advertisement in the local paper - The Carlow Sentinel:

As you can see, as well as promoting his bottling service he makes some bold claims about the quality of hogshead versus small casks, claiming that the former 'is always superior' to the latter. Would a larger barrel of porter travel and store better than a smaller one? Hogsheads would be less likely to suffer temperature fluctuations but how else could they affect the beer? Was he receiving older small casks perhaps?

Either way his comments did not go unnoticed by Edward Byrne, who I assume* was the local distributor for Guinness and the following week this rebuttal of the accusations appeared in the paper.

But it seems that Henry stuck to his guns, as the original advertisement appeared on the front page with Guinness's defence of its beer at the bottom of the page, and the same advert appeared for a few weeks afterwards.

Whether it was just a perceived difference on his part or not, it appears that Henry had enough of an issue with it to have it put down in print...

And one wonders if it was, like with so many a present day beer drinker, tainted by other influences?

[Thanks again to the local history room in Carlow library]


*I am aware of its offspring...