The sixth sense and an extra dimension…

I was giv­en the per­fect going-home present last night, after sup­per with friends; two plump, mottled, ever so slightly mis­shapen and exquis­itely per­fumed quinces. They ful­filled everything you could wish for in a gift: taste, touch, scent and rar­ity, with a sprink­ling of eccent­ri­city.

My vis­it to Tate Mod­ern in Lon­don to see Ai Weiwei’s new Sun­flower Seeds exhib­it was any­thing but ful­filling. Now that we’ve been banned from walk­ing, ankle-deep, through the one hun­dred mil­lion hand-painted por­cel­ain sun­flower seeds, the work has been stripped of a dimen­sion. The snooti­er art crit­ics claim the work is the same wheth­er we walk through it or not. But that’s just wrong. Sun­flower Seeds was sup­posed to be a work to exper­i­ence not just with the eyes, but with our ears, our hands and our feet. Rop­ing it off with the kind of pro­sa­ic black bar­ri­er you would find at an air­port has stripped it of its demo­crat­ic power — and its glory too, for that mat­ter.

I stomped grump­ily away from Sun­flower Seeds to join the line for the new Gauguin exhib­i­tion. That was pos­sibly even worse as an artist­ic exper­i­ence. Duck­ing and dodging around the crowds, I saw more shoulders, elbows and necks than I saw paint­ings.

My dis­ap­point­ing day got me think­ing about what hap­pens when our senses are cheated. Bit­ing into a taste­less, scar­let tomato. Smelling a bunch of hot­house flowers devoid of scent. Sli­cing a downy, blush­ing peach and find­ing it has the tex­ture of moss. And even when all five senses of see­ing, hear­ing, touch­ing, tast­ing and smelling are ful­filled, there’s still a little some­thing miss­ing. Shouldn’t we add the sense of mov­ing to the list? Trail­ing through the sea-shore with the salt water froth­ing at our ankles; pick­ing black­ber­ries while zig-zag­ging along a shaded lane with thorns snag­ging at our sleeves; eat­ing a per­fect apple on a climb up one of Dorset’s highest hills. Or fol­low­ing the curve of the hedgerow while hunt­ing for sloes to add to gin.

The slightly tricky thing about sloe gin is when to drink it and what to drink it with. Lunch time? Not really. In the even­ing, before din­ner? Not sure about that. And then it struck me. It needs that extra dimen­sion. Just as the Itali­ans drink sweet Vin Santo while eat­ing bis­cotti, why not pair sloe gin with spiced ginger bis­cuits? Ginger goes per­fectly with the plummy-ness of sloes, and if you invite a friend to share your feast and you pick the sloes your­self you will have ful­filled all six senses by the time you’ve fin­ished. Sight, sound, touch, taste, scent and move­ment. Bet­ter than Tate Mod­ern can man­age as it turns out.

Spiced Ginger Biscuits

Pre­heat the oven to 175 degrees C

80 g but­ter

80g light brown caster sug­ar

2 desert spoons black treacle or molasses

250g plain flour

Half tea­spoon bicar­bon­ate of soda

2 roun­ded tea­spoons ground cin­na­mon

2 roun­ded tea­spoons ground ginger

1 egg yolk

2 or 3 table­spoons milk

Icing sug­ar to dust

This is a vari­ation on Nigel Slater’s ginger bis­cuits, but it’s slightly more suited to sloe gin. Beat the but­ter and sug­ar togeth­er until it is light and well mixed. Add the treacle, fol­lowed by all the oth­er ingredi­ents apart from the milk. Add the milk gradu­ally until the con­sist­ency is per­fect for rolling but not too soft. Cut into shapes and bake in the oven for ten minutes. Sprinkle the bis­cuits with icing sug­ar and pour the sloe gin.

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