William Mitchell – Concrete Art

948 W Mitchell Coventry

My heart lifts when I see art on the street that is touchable, shared, readily opening up to a different light the mundane moments of daily routine. A good example is the endless gift to Harlow New Town’s community comprising 84 sculptures carefully planted throughout its living and working and shopping and playing spaces.

My photo is of a wall in a small Coventry shopping precinct, an energising art work robustly composed in concrete by William Mitchell in 1966. The window set into its exuberance affords a glimpse of the bright plastic condiment dispensers within.

William Mitchell won the 2014 Creativity in Concrete Award for his lifetime’s achievement. I have admired his carved bell tower and panels at Frederick Gibberd’s RC Cathedral in Liverpool, and the delicately expressive success of his cement Stations of the Cross in the RC Clifton Cathedral in Bristol, but I did not know until now that he designed the glorious Egyptian escalator and Egyptian Hall at Harrods.

Some rather interesting details about Mitchell may be found enthusiastically presented on: https://wharferj.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/william-mitchell-an-unacknowledged-genius/ and there are honourable mentions in the two lovely books I received at Christmas, Christopher Martin: A Glimpse of Heaven, Catholic Churches of England and Wales (2006), and The Twentieth Century Society: 100 Buildings 100 Years (2014) and in another wonderful and richly detailed book, this one a birthday present, Robert Proctor: Building the Modern Church, Roman Catholic Architecture in Britain, 1955 to 1975 (2014). How good my family are to me.

William Mitchell’s art is truly accessible.


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Socca

946 Socca

The word “conviviality” derives from the Latin word for “feast” and hints at the Latin words for “living with”. In French the word for “friend” is “copain”, derived from the Latin words for eating bread together. The recent troubling events in France, the home of gastronomic excellence and inevitably consequent conviviality, make us want no more threats to the French people’s ability to continue to feast and live together in comfort and harmony with their friends and neighbours. If anyone is contemplating starting up a Feasting For Peace movement I shall, with alacrity, apply to be considered for the post of local Branch Membership Secretary.

After years of looking out for “chick pea flour” I have discovered that it is marketed under other names (yes, all right, I could have tried harder) and I have purchased a bag of “gram flour”. At last I can attempt to bring back those fragrant holiday memories of the street market in Nice on the Côte d’Azur, where from a wide cast iron pan set over a wood fire in a tin drum comes forth the fastest and best of fast foods, the “socca”, a tasty chick pea flour pancake folded into a crisp-edged floppy cone, to take the edge, and more, off an appetite whipped up by the sea breeze sweeping the sunlit length of the Promenade des Anglais.

“Cuisine Niçoise” (first published in English in 1983) is an engaging compendium of culture and cookery compiled by allegedly crooked politician and former mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin. He tells us that socca used to sustain the builders constructing the city’s fine buildings. It was the job of the site’s “bochou” (gofer) to listen for the cry of the itinerant socca vendor and to ensure his hungry co-workers got some before it cooled.

Simply combine equal volumes of chick pea flour and water, add some olive oil and some salt, mix to a smooth batter, leave it to stand for 15 minutes, then pour a ladleful into your hot frying pan that is already sizzling with a little olive oil.

I used 250ml of flour with 250ml of water plus 25ml of olive oil (additional oil is needed for frying the pancakes) and a teaspoon of salt. This amount made about six dinner-plate sized thin pancakes.

Jacques Médecin proposes, if there be no wood fire readily available, pouring the mixture into an oiled baking tin to a depth of 2-3mm and placing it under a hot grill, piercing blisters as they form, until it is well browned, almost burnt in parts, and then cutting it into 5cm squares and serving while still hot, with pepper. I will try this method next time, because frying pancakes has its tense moments, but I was after the floppy cone experience this time.

And yes it did bring back those holiday memories, on a sunny British winter lunchtime. Lovely just naked, plain and simple, but I note that there are a number of suggestions, from various parts of the world, on offer if you search for “chick pea pancake”, the only limit being the horizons of your own imagination.

Salut les copains!