The first in a series of pieces written to photographs taken by Nicholas James Seaton on our autumn/winter 2013 shoot in Canada. Each focuses on an element, albeit a new kind of element.

By Olivia Laing.

There was a summer when I swam in the sea every day. Sometimes I swam alone, but more often I swam with my friend Clare. Her kit included a hat and goggles, mine a pair of flip-flops that I’d tuck inside my swimsuit like a kangaroo.  Neither of us was very happy at the time. We’d talk our problems over as we struck out for the buoys, tossing sentences back and forth between the breakers.

Because I was miserable, I took more risks than I otherwise might have. We swam when sea-mists had blotted out the horizon; swam in the aftermath of a storm, when the waves were smashing and climbing far above our heads. Just once, I got into trouble, when I got caught in the undertow and slammed repeatedly against the shingle, knocked down and dunked again each time I staggered to my knees. Some days the water was so clear that you could make out each small brown stone, the colour of loaves of bread. Sometimes it was smooth as glass and the sensation of movement was closer to flying than swimming. Out at the buoys we’d turn and see the ruined pier and all the city’s Georgian squares, quaveringly redoubled.

All those swims – every swim I’ve ever made, in fact – are tucked away inside me like a pack of cards. Swimming on Dog Beach in Key West, where Tennessee Williams used to take his afternoon dip, in warm water the colour of Gatorade. Swimming in a rocky cove in Cap Ferrat, or over ruined houses on a tiny beach in Andros. Body surfing in Devon and dropping from rocks into water clear as jelly at the northernmost extremity of Scotland, where anemones pulsed red and pink beneath the lapping surface.

I lived by the sea for twenty-six years, but recently I moved inland. These days, the nearest coast is more than sixty miles from my house. I pine for it, I think. I want to swim out to the horizon, and hang there between the sea and sky: a native, suspended in my element. The shifting, unplaceable colours of seawater tug at my heart: now indigo, now turquoise; now electric and steel; now Egyptian and ultramarine; now the colour Yves Klein saw in his lost dreams of flight.

Olivia Laing’s To the River and The Trip to Echo Spring are published by Canongate.

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by TOAST ( 23.08.13 )

The third and final of three Tales of the Wilderness, in anticipation of Wilderness Festival, where Toast will be curating the Lakeside Spa this August.

Extract from Wildwood by Roger Deakin.

The House-sheds: Camping

13 June

I slept in the shepherd’s hut last night after an evening swim in the moat, now beginning to weed up, under an almost-full moon. It was so bright, you could hardly call it proper darkness at all. At ten to four I was awoken by a blackcap hopping along the tin roof, then striking up the most exquisite warbling, at first utterly solo in the half-light, soon joined by other birds. It sang its heart out, moving about the roof now and then between phrases or cadenzas to a new vantage point, eventually ascending into the ash tree that overhangs the hut and the pond beside it. You hear everything in the hut: the foxes barking down the lane, even the rabbits thumping their hind legs on the ground sometimes. Easing myself up on one elbow about twenty past four, I inched back the curtain and surveyed the meadow. Yellow pools of buttercup, and here and there a pyramidal orchid, or a lush, intensely purple patch of the southern marsh orchid, the huger flowers stacked and layered like wedding cakes. A crow was flying in big circles above the pasture, climbing steeply, then gliding down for pure pleasure.

I dozed back to sleep, but was awoken by a most violent rumbling and shaking of the whole hut, then a sound of loud scratching. For a moment I thought a cat must have leapt in, somehow, through an open window and on to my bed. Then, looking through an open window in some alarm, I realised what it was: a roe-deer rubbing herself against one corner of the hut, inches away from my pillow. A clamour of hooves as she and two others bounced off through the standing hay. The birdsong was by now too loud for sleep, so I adjourned to the house across the dew for breakfast.

10 August

I’m lying in the shepherd’s hut on a wooden bed under a boarded roof like a pine tent, between walls panelled with pine, tongued and grooved horizontally. Each time a nail has pierced the deep amber wood it has bled a black rusty stain that has crept along the grain and blurred, as though the wood or the wagon itself were travelling at speed. A woodpecker shrieks across the field. A wasp worries the windowpane, then zigzags above the bed and eventually blunders into the outer air. The open door frames a wall of green: the hawthorn, maple, blackthorn hedge, the dipping wands of an ash, nettles, graceful flowers of grasses. All stir in the hot breeze. Dust motes flicker and drift in the window-light. In the far corner, the stainless-steel stove pipe rises like a new stem from the rusty little stove. On the other side of the doorway is the pine corner-cupboard I bodged out of skip-wood containing spare blankets and Bushmills for cold nights. Across the common, cows have been lowing all night. Perhaps the weather will change. I sleep coffined in pine.

Why do I sleep outdoors? Because of the sound of the random dripping of rain off the maples or ash trees over the roof of the railway wagon, or the hopping of a bird on the wet felt on the roof, or the percussion of a twig against the steel stove-chimney. Out there, I hear the yawn of the wind in the trees along Cowpasture Lane. I feel in touch with the elements in a way I never do indoors.

Sleeping one time in Burgate Wood on the moated island of the old hall, I put my cheek against the loam and the cool ground ivy. When I closed my eyes I saw the iceberg depths of the wood’s root-world. Walking there, picking my way through the trees, I had thought of it as perpendicular until I lay down and entered the ground-world. This is the part of a wood that only reveals itself occasionally after a big storm, when the trees have keeled over and the roots are thrown suddenly upright, clutching earth and stones. How deep do roots go?

Extract courtesy of Penguin.

Purchase a copy of Wildwood here.

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by TOAST ( 02.08.13 )

Orlando Gough.

A wild pig lives for up to 25 years.

A domestic pig lives for 10-15 years.

A pig slaughtered for its meat lives for about 6 months.

One Pig

The excellent dj and composer Matthew Herbert made a piece recently which consisted entirely of the sounds of a pig, raised for slaughter, which he had recorded intermittently throughout its short life. These sounds were transformed and played by a band of musicians who triggered the sounds from various instruments, including the Sty Harp. This beautiful machine, invented by Yann Seznec, looks actually more like a boxing ring than a sty, with posts at four corners, and a pair of horizontal wires forming the perimeter. The sounds are triggered by pulling on the wires, the speed and direction of the pull affecting the pitch and timbre of the sound. It’s made out of customised Gametraks, a failed pro-motion controller which became obsolete about ten minutes after it was invented in 2003…

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by TOAST ( 01.08.13 )

The Ethicurean, a kitchen garden restaurant just outside Bristol, was founded in 2010 by four friends and passionate food enthusiasts - brothers and self-taught chefs Matthew and Ian Pennington with Paula Zarate and Jack Adair-Bevan. Housed within the walled garden of a hillside Georgian estate and overlooking the Mendip Hills, The Ethicurean was awarded Best Ethical Restaurant in the Observer Food Monthly Awards in 2011 and a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand earlier this year. The Ethicurean Cookbook (Ebury Press), telling the story of a year in their Somerset kitchen, is out now. We caught up with Matthew, Ian, Paula and Jack to find out more about The Ethicurean’s sustainable and seasonal values, their journey so far, and what makes a good pudding…

From farmers’ markets to an award-winning restaurant and cookbook. Such a leap! Tell us about the journey…

Since The Ethicurean’s creation, we have been responsible for a series of eccentric events and pop-ups, from a Mexican yurt on the Brecon hillside to a BBQ from the back of an old ambulance on the Mongol Rally launch. We began as a market stall and made our famous cakes for The Canteen in Stokes Croft, Bristol. Over the years we worked with The Adventurists and Hendrick’s Gin, catering for afternoon tea as well as private viewings for art galleries, food festivals and fairs. We worked in all weathers across the country but Somerset was our home.

What does The Ethicurean stand for?

The Ethicurean is founded on a sense of place. This is the idea of having a connection with the native land, its history and the community who grow food locally upon it. Our family team seek to discover harmonious pairings between the ingredients that surround the walled garden. We strive to look for alternatives to imported fresh produce and constantly look as close to our home for the best ingredients which are often foraged or shot a stones throw from our walls or grown within. Mark Cox is the gardener at Barley Wood. He is a one-man band with an incredible passion for heritage and heirloom vegetables. We are re-working and re-imagining the existing traditions of drink making. Our bar is alive with experimentation. There is a strong synergy between kitchen and bar. Sharing our knowledge of flavours and recipes, swapping our ingredients, expanding our drinks into our dishes and back into our drinks. Embracing the limitations of nature has, for us, spurred unbounding creativity…

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by TOAST ( 30.07.13 )

Hall Newbegin.

When I started out, it broke my heart to see what passed for fragrance. All those fancy, tiny bottles filled with manipulated petroleum – yuck. I wanted to make fragrances that smelled like the places I knew and loved as a lifelong backpacker and hiker. Nothing smells better than the sage-covered mountains of Big Sur, or wildflower meadows along Mt. Hood’s Timberline Trail at the height of alpine summer – that’s real fragrance.

People think of fragrance as being a shallow experience that just happens in our nose. It’s so much richer than that. Smell is the oldest of our senses. It by-passes reason and goes straight to the ancient parts of our brains – right to our emotions. Until really very recently in our evolutionary history, we depended on our sense of smell (and on wild plants) for our day-to-day survival. So it’s no surprise that we have deep faculties for interacting with nature through our noses, even if those faculties are laying dormant inside of us.

Real, place-based fragrance – the kind that comes from plants, trees, moss, and bark – rearranges your insides, it brings up emotions, transports you to the stillness of the outdoors. You can’t buy our materials or ingredients anywhere because nobody else does what we do, no-one works with the plants we work with. I’d never substitute European sage oil for our local wild sages because they smell completely different. The only way to capture Big Sur in a bottle is to go there, put your hiking boots on, collect plants, and make it yourself. We wildcraft our ingredients, which means we travel to our favourite wilderness areas, harvest plants there and distill them into fragrances. Sometimes we even distill the fragrance on the road in our converted whiskey still. No-one else in the world is making fragrance this way and probably for good reason – it’s a questionable business model.

We’re the world’s only wild fragrance company. We are the only company in the world harvesting, distilling and formulating natural fragrances. A hundred years ago, every perfume house in Paris made perfume this way. But when cheap, petroleum-based synthetic scents appeared in the 1960s, the perfume industry abandoned the techniques and ingredients they’d used for thousands of years and stopped making real fragrance. Our materials are everything to us. They’re not just important to our products, they are our products. We create our fragrances by spending months in the backcountry, drinking beer, crawling around like squirrels, smelling all the plants and dirt so we can bring you the real feel of the real place.

Juniper Ridge, founded by Hall Newbegin in 1998, makes 100% natural colognes and perfumes wildcrafted from real plants, bark, moss, mushrooms, tree pitch and other things found hiking the backcountry.

Buy Juniper Ridge soaps and colognes here.

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by TOAST ( 24.06.13 )

James Seaton.

It’s a relief to leave the intense heat of Kingston and head up into the mountains behind. The climb goes on and on, winding up precipitous, heavily wooded slopes – perilous falls below, the sharpest hairpin bends, the grind of high revving, low gear engines. Up over the southern slopes, glimpses of the city and the blue sea far behind us, the high watershed ahead, fine rags of cloud streaming from the peaks. All is up and down, little shanty farmsteads scattered across the slopes, patches of grass and vegetable plots among the high trees. The air is cooler here but the sunlight persists, light and shade in vivid motion as the breeze sets the foliage dancing. And then, as we crest the ridge, the light… goes out. We seem to have suddenly arrived in an entirely other world, a grey-green one. We’re in thick, swirling, wind-driven mist so water-laden as to be barely distinguishable from rain. And it’s cold!

We’re in Blue Mountain coffee country. We feel our way tentatively through the cloud along the narrow lanes, stopping now and then to ask a machete-carrying farm worker for directions, until we arrive at the estate house. Outside, standing between two Land Rovers – one working and one quietly becoming a part of the landscape – is Percy, the friendly, intelligent and highly capable foreman who invites us in and offers us, of course, coffee.

The house is not grand but rather a small and appealing cottage. It’s built sturdily – sufficiently so to withstand the regular hurricanes as they accelerate up over the ridge – of hardwood boards washed white on the outside, left natural dark brown within. We enter the back of the cottage into a comfortable living room, a small kitchen to the left and, spanning the front of the two rooms, what is effectively an enclosed balcony, a long span of windows giving onto high views of the coffee plantation folded onto the valleys and faces of the slopes below. It’s a breathtaking sight – only occasionally and dramatically glimpsed as the mists deign to part.

At the back of the kitchen is a small, larder-like room containing two coffee roasters – small, beautifully kept machines, the two of them about the size of an Aga turned on its end, in which the estate’s entire production is roasted. These, along with two similarly sized husking machines – and the Land Rover – are the only machines on the estate. Everything else is done by hand, the slopes too steep to permit mechanical ingress, the work too precise and necessary of continuous, individual consideration. This is the Old Tavern Coffee Estate, familiarly known as Twyman’s (after the owners). To take a wine analogy – this is the Chateau Petrus or the Chateau Lafite of coffee. Though, of course, the huge abundance of dollars to be found in Bordeaux are not in evidence here. This is more a garagiste operation, run on passion, determination, obstinacy when necessary – and sheer, hands-on hard work.

We’re introduced to David Twyman – son of Alex and Dorothy, the founders – who now, with his widowed mother, runs the seventy-odd acres of the estate. He’s a calm, down-to-earth man with a wry sense of humour and a pair of strikingly blue eyes. His father arrived in Jamaica from London’s East End in 1958 and founded the estate ten years later. However, Alex wanted to sell Twyman’s produce as his own single estate coffee while the Jamaica Coffee Industry Board wanted to sell all Blue Mountain coffee as a single, generic product. A legal battle ensued during which Twyman’s were only able to sell their coffee to locals calling at the estate. After 29 long, hard years, in 1997, the estate won their battle – at considerable cost – and the family were able to sell the produce as their own, premium single estate coffee.

We drank quite a lot of coffee that morning, crowded into the small kitchen full of genial chat. And, yes, the coffee is the best we’ve ever tasted. We drank it black with a spoonful of honey. It has nothing of the blockbuster, milk-masked hit one might be more used to from coffee. It’s very subtle, fruity, almost delicate but – as we discovered, buzzing after three or four irresistibly delicious cups each – not in any way short of caffeine. It’s wonderfully delicious.

Twyman’s coffee can be bought here.

Photos by Nick Seaton, including David Twyman (in colour).

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by TOAST ( 17.06.13 )

The second of three Tales of the Wilderness, in anticipation of Wilderness Festival, where Toast will be curating the Lakeside Spa this August.

Extract from The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane.

Water – North

Listen now. Listen to the singing of the guga men on the bare rock of Sula Sgeir, hunched in a stone bothy on that little island far out in the North Atlantic, on an August morning nearly sixty years ago. If I could sing it or play it to you I would, but I cannot, so this will have to do. The scene: a rough hut, six feet high at its tallest, built out of blades of gneiss, its cracks plugged with rags. In its centre a peat fire, above which hangs a storm lantern that lends light to the space. Rough stone benches around the edges, on which the men are sitting, wearing tweed jackets and heavy wool jumpers. The mutter of the fire. The wind moving outside, testing the bothy. The singing begins. First comes the leader, his voice low and rich, incanting the verses of the day in Gaelic – ‘ach is e an gràdh as mò dhiubh so’, ‘and the greatest of these is charity’ – his voice dipping then rising at the end of each verse. The lesson ends. A pause. A cough to clear the throat. Then the leader offers a high line from a psalm, his voice gaining in volume: pure notes sung from the throat and chest. This is the ‘throwing’ of the line. The other men answer in song, the sound swelling to fill the bothy. Another line is thrown, followed, completed. Shades in the singing of cotton-field gospel, and hints too of the muezzin’s call. These are fire-songs of worship, consolation and comradeship: song as devotion and as stay against the storm. These are the guga men of Ness, the gannet hunters, singing in the Year of Our Lord 1953.

Extract courtesy of Penguin.

Purchase a copy of The Old Ways here.

Photograph by Gareth Jones.


Untitled 4 (from his tabletop series) by Jochen Klein.

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by TOAST ( 17.05.13 )

Orlando Gough.

The highlight of our one and only trip to India was a hilarious, surreal, heart-warming visit to Fort Begu, a sprawling Gormenghast of a fort in the very south of Rajasthan, covered with peacocks, pigeons and pigeon poo. It had been partially restored by the Maharana, Rawat Sawai Hari Singh (M.Sc. Agron., ex-Minister, Rajasthan) and his son Ajay, to make a hotel. We were the only guests, and we were the epicentre of their epic hospitality. They showed us everything, told us everything, asked us everything. It was breathless – and breath-taking.

A memorably bizarre moment: we are in a huge unrestored wing of the fort, with a banyan tree growing through the walls; the Maharana orders up a bucket of water and a mug, chucks water casually at a plaster wall, and reveals some eye-wateringly frisky wall paintings. Religion and sex – there doesn’t seem to be much distinction round here. Another: we have ordered tea in our room, first thing in the morning. The two servants, Suresh and Deja (probably the most handsome man in the universe), tap on the door and bring it in. Two servants, one pot of tea. Wow. They are followed by the Maharana himself, who starts fiddling with the remote control for the air con, muttering ‘ Sixteen degrees, it’s got to be sixteen degrees, like England’. Another: as we are leaving, a protracted negotiation between the Maharana and Ajay about what kind of envelope the final bill should be put into. (They eventually settle on the fully crested version – very flattering.)

The Maharana has a gag of which he is understandably proud: ‘You conquered us with gunpowder; we conquered you with curry powder.’ On the face of it, this is unarguable…

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by TOAST ( 14.05.13 )

The Long Road. (A clue to our next catalogue location…)

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by TOAST ( 10.05.13 )
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