Sugar, spice and all things toxic!

Last Thursday night, I got to taste history at a talk by food historian Tasha Marks at the House of Wolf in Islington.

the great lozenge-maker

Arriving as instructed at 7pm in the upstairs Apothecary bar, my friend and I were given black and white candy striped bags printed with the words, “NOT TO BE OPENED UNTIL INSTRUCTED”.

The venue was packed with N1 London types sporting gelled quiffs, vintage clothes and cultured smirks. We managed to find something resembling a blanket box to park our rears on and settle in for a rather cosy presentation on the unsavoury history of London’s food.

Tasha, clad in white and black treggings reminiscent of our bag of goodies, spoke knowledgeably about food adulteration down the ages, with the odd joke about the present horse meat scandal thrown in for good measure.

At certain points we were asked to delve into our bags and try the “toxic treats” Tasha had rustled up in the Animal Vegetable and Mineral boutique food events kitchen.

Chocolate covered chicory beans illustrated how easily fooled the public were into believing this cheap substitute was coffee.

My personal favourite was the Milk Sherbert dib dab to compliment the part of the talk on how chalk was added to milk and a whole host of other nasties like copper and lead were added to food to make it more attractive or bulk it out.

After the glow in the dark sweets, the last mouthful was sugar paper etched with the sketch of the great lozenge maker in edible ink (pictured above).

I have to admit I couldn’t bring myself to consume this after hearing the story behind it. The cartoon is a gory reminder of how a confectioner in Bradford managed to use 12 lbs of arsenic in a preparation of sweets, instead of gypsum. The resulting sweet was so deadly 18 people died, and more than 200 became ill.

To find out more about Tasha Marks and her business Animal, Vegetable and Mineral visit

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Light Show

reads the caption on the wall of the Hayward Gallery ahead of the black curtain shielding Olafur Eliasson’s installation at the “Light Show”. A young woman emerges from the dark blinking wildly and muttering, “it makes your eyes go all funny after a while”.

Once inside I’m pleasantly surprised. “Model for a timeless garden” is the piece de resistance of this mesmerising exhibition. Eliasson uses strobe lighting to illuminate 27 different fountains. The effect is stunning! Droplets of water turn into exploding fireworks, icy frothing jets dance like tireless ravers and mist looks like diamonds hanging in mid air.

The experience is disorientating not least that it feels like being in a nightclub without the alcoholic haze of one too many snakebites and black. The sound of running water is quite deafening and out of sync with the spectacle.

There’s also a magic in this work and a familiarity that harks back to those Sundays spent as a child visiting the musical fountain at Stapeley water gardens or the dancing fountain shows of package holidays in Salou.

The beauty of this exhibition is that each work involves you as the viewer exploring light and its medium as art. There’s a lot less pretension than other exhibitions I’ve been to lately and brings out the playfulness and a sense of camaraderie with other onlookers. This is particularly true of Ivan Navarro’s mirrored phonebox where grown men queue jump to experience the illusion of the one way mirrors without derision from patiently waiting mothers and small children.

I loved Bill Culbert’s Bulb Box Reflection. Simply it’s a light bulb and its reflection in a mirror, except for the bulb in the reflection is illuminated while the bulb itself is not. But how?

Another highlight was Conrad Shawcross’ claustrophobic Slow Arc inside a Cube IV. A light moves inside a cage and projects a shadow on the walls that puts you in mind of the pattern teachers would hand out to colour in the absence of a lesson plan!

I particularly liked the attention to detail in the toilets on the mezzanine floor which appeared to be an extension of the exhibition with three cubicles illuminated and two not.

The shop is also well worth a visit. I bought three of Herve Tullet’s children’s books with cut outs that can be used to project shadows on walls and ceilings. The light bulbs shaped post-its were very tempting, although I managed to resist.

In the midst of my “should I spend £3 on post-it notes” dilemma, I overheard a very amusing conversation between two other shoppers disappointed not to find any moonlight light bulbs a la Katie Patterson’s installation. Are the Hayward Gallery missing a trick? Perhaps, they’ll be coming to a shop near you, alongside a very nice line in chocolate teapots!

The Light Show is on until 28th April 2013 and, in my opinion, one not to miss.