Ignite that ice cream and get sketching!

When taking a holiday in Britain, there are a few things that I consider need to be done in order for the holiday to be classed as an official holiday. The first is to laugh incredulously at the astronomically high prices at motorway service stations for food, drink and fuel, and then stare in wonderment at the crowds of people willingly parting with their cash for such items.

The second is to slowly crawl along a winding B road behind someone towing a caravan or driving a motorhome and then get a bit scared when an exasperated driver thirty cars behind decides to overtake everyone on a blind bend.

The third involves food, and my list of de facto items that have to be eaten on a British holiday is this: a pasty; a cone of chips; a cream tea; an ice cream/ice lolly. If all of these are not consumed during the holiday, then it is not a correct holiday.

These edible items are all easily findable whilst taking a break in Britain, but what about abroad? Although it’s rare to find a pasty and cream tea whilst overseas, chips are usually available in most countries. They may be called fries or frites, but they are, after all, still strips of hot oily potato.

But everyone loves an ice cream though. In fact, in Italy they love it so much that they’ve dedicated a specific word to it: gelato. So have the Norwegians actually, and they call it iskrem. And the Hungarians call it jégkrém. But the Bulgarians however, call it сладолед. Therefore, this proves that the whole world loves a bit of frozen and flavoured, sweetened cow juice.

However, when ice cream and hot weather are combined, it usually results in the melting and dripping of the frozen delicacy, followed by disappointment when a perfectly edible part slips off the cone and splats on the floor, or even worse, your lap. This will then make wasps home in on your crotch, and also make you flap around in a mad panic for fear of getting stung in a place where no one wants to get stung.

So it’s pleasing to know that in Japan, scientists have managed to create non-melting ice cream. This ice cream is so stable in warm conditions that one shop in Tokyo sets fire to it. The Burning Soft Cream Parfait from Kanazawa Ice is certainly worth seeking out, and definitely requires a commemorative photograph if you are ever visiting the Japanese capital. Just be careful of setting fire to yourself if you take a quick selfie though, because although the ice cream is non-melting, I’m afraid you aren’t.

Taking photos of your holiday experience – whether it being of various sporting activities, lazing around on the beach or setting yourself and your pudding on fire – is something that we all take for granted these days, especially as anyone can instantly see exactly what it’s like where you currently are, thanks to social media.

But what would happen without social media or photography? How could travellers from hundreds of years ago convey what it was like in the far off and mysterious destinations that they visited?

The answer is: sketchbooks. Before photography, a sketchbook was just like a very slow version of a postcard. Sketchbooks were a way of not only the artist enjoying a hobby and practicing a talent, but when brought back by the traveller, it would allow their family and friends to see where they had been.

Of course, it would depend on how good an artist the travellers were though, as my sketchbook wouldn’t exactly convey the sharp and pure air of fresh mountainous alpine scenery or the beauty of a deserted palm tree lined beach. It would more than likely convey a right mess of weirdly shaped objects and perspectives, rather than realism.

But the travel sketches of General George Whitmore, a British Army officer born in Lower Slaughter in 1775, are really very good. The Whitmore family of Lower Slaughter collection held at Gloucestershire Archives contains a few of his sketchbooks which span his life as a 19 year old recruit to a 61 year old officer.

Reference D45/F55 contains drawings and paintings of one of his journeys, and it’s like a historical pictorial travel journal, with colourful watercolours of every place he went to. It starts with a tranquil country view “near Portsmouth” of a barn and a farmhouse, then moves on to Portsmouth castle, before the journey on the high seas begins and the coastline scenery of France and Portugal appear. Then the sketchbook is mainly taken up by idyllic rural settings around Lisbon and Cintra (now Sintra), and ending with a few paintings of Fort Royal (now Fort-de-France) on the Caribbean island of Martinique.

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Not only are the sketches pictures of what he saw at the time, recording what these places actually looked like at the end of the 18th century, but to me they are paintings that I would be proud of in their own right, not just confined to a sketchbook.

Whether he drew them for his own records or as a souvenir upon his return to show his friends and family what distant and foreign lands looks like – or maybe a bit of both – we probably won’t know. But what is clear is that so much more care, attention, time and effort has been given to recording each scene than we give to our holiday photographs these days.

Interestingly, although there are plenty of panoramic views contained in the sketchbook, there aren’t any images of the food that General Whitmore consumed whilst abroad.

So we shall never know if he ever came across an 18th century flaming cone of сладолед.


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