Home brew

With this nifty bit of kit, which wouldn't look out of place in a Victorian chemistry lab, you could be sipping bottles of homemade beer within two weeks

Microbrewer one gallon kit, Box Brew Kits, £98

Microbrewer one gallon kit, Box Brew Kits, £98

Last time Ernest brewed his own beer he found himself with enough condiment to scatter over his chips for three months. Perhaps he needed one of these splendid kits from Box Brew Kits duo Mike Langone and Matt Gorman. This one gallon kit is the smallest of their range and comes with everything you need, including a recipe book with over 25 recipes, to brew 8-10 bottles of hopefully awesome-tasting beer that will impress your friends/partner/father/chippy.

Microbrewer one gallon kit, Box Brew Kits, £98

Dans Le Noir

There is a restaurant in East London where mobile phones are outlawed, non-fussy eaters are welcome and trust in your waiter is key, as Abigail Whyte discovered

Dans Le Noir means ‘in the dark’. Put simply; a restaurant with no natural or artificial light, where you eat in pitch blackness, served by waiters who are blind or visually impaired. The idea is to intensify your other senses through limiting the sense of sight, to gain a new perspective of the food you eat while also raising awareness of visual impairment. This concept of ‘dark dining’ or ‘blind dining’ was founded in Paris in 2004, and since then other Dans Le Noirs have popped up in London, Barcelona, New York, St Petersberg and Kiev.

After hearing it praised by the illustrious Stephen Fry on an episode of QI (a source of most of my knowledge and trivia), I took a friend along one winter’s eve, excited and anxious at the prospect of entering a pitch dark room full of strangers and cutlery. We were greeted in the (lit) reception area by our blind waiter and guide Darren Paskell. We chose from four secret set menus – Surprise, Meat, Fish or Vegetarian – which gave no other indication of what we were going to be served later. I opted for the Surprise menu.

We were asked to put all bags, coats and other trip-up-ables in a locker along with our mobile phones and luminous watches. “It’s amazing how many diners are reluctant to give up their phone, “Darren told me. “But that’s the beauty of Dans Le Noir; you sit and eat with your friend or partner with absolutely no distractions, just each other.”

Darren then placed my hand on his shoulder; instructed my friend to do the same on my shoulder, then he led us from the lit world through two black curtains into the dark world.

“Has anyone ever freaked out at this bit?” I asked him as we passed through the first curtain.   “Yes, my mum,” he replied. “She’s very claustrophobic. We got past this first set of curtains and my mum just said “No, I can’t go any further.” I had to take her back to the lounge where she was kept happy with wine. My dad went in and had his meal, though.”

Into the darkness

After the second curtain, that was it – I couldn’t see. I waved my hand in front of my face. Nothing. The first thing that struck me was the noise. It was like walking into the London Stock Exchange with the lights turned off. I don’t know whether losing the power of sight instantly makes you elevate your voice but it was certainly the case in Dans Le Noir’s dining room, laid out before me like a black and noisy void. As we were led to our table I felt the draft off waiters walking past, heard the clattering of cutlery and exclamations of “Cous cous – that’s definitely cous cous”, “I’ve just spilled my water!” and “Sorry, that was my leg”.

Darren seated us at what felt like a marble table, and gently guided our hands to show us where our cutlery, wine glasses and other dining paraphernalia was. I asked him about the layout of the restaurant. “The restaurant seats 60 people altogether and the layout of the tables never changes, otherwise things could get very confusing,” Darren’s voice, just above my head, sounded louder and deeper, almost of a late-night radio DJ quality. “Each waiter carries a walkie-talkie so we’re all in constant contact with each other and the kitchen.”

He then explained some of the slick and efficient procedures put in place to ensure each diner is given the correct plate of food. “Most of the food is served on square plates but any special dietary requirements are served on round plates so the waiter doesn’t accidentally give it to someone else.”

A guessing game

My first plate of food arrived and I gingerly gave it a prod with my fingers. Some sort of raw fish on a mound of something herby and grainy. “Salmon,” I declared triumphantly, after a mouthful. “No, it’s tuna,” a voice piped up next to me. We were sat next to a couple on a blind date (a common thing for diners to try at Dans Le Noir), one of whom was eating the same starter as me. Before I knew it, a conversation about taste and texture and other madcap dining experiences was struck up with these faceless strangers, which I doubt would have happened so freely and easily if we were eating in a normal lit restaurant obstructed by social barriers and conventions.

My main course was the most puzzling to fathom – I couldn’t work out what meat I was chewing. It was beefy, so I left my guess at that. I discovered later, when our menus were revealed to us back in the lit lounge area, I was very wrong. I won’t tell you what the meat was as I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Let’s just say it’s a stripy animal often found on the savannahs of Africa.

Darren joined us for a drink after the meal and apologised for tripping over a chair next to me when he was serving my dessert course earlier. I hadn’t noticed at the time. “I think my spatial awareness is pretty outstanding, if you don’t mind me blowing my own trumpet. I’ve only ever spilled something over someone once, which wasn’t my fault or theirs. They unwittingly put a glass of water smack bang in the middle of the table.”

I asked him what he enjoyed most about working here. “The interaction. Having fully sighted people putting their faith and trust in you. In most restaurants the waiter is there to be seen and not heard – they’re expected to deliver the correct meal to the correct person and that’s about it. Here, we’re guides, not waiters. People open up and want to know more about us. In a normal situation you might come across a blind person walking along the pavement and that’s it – there’s no time or call for interaction.”

Stripping it back

While the food wasn’t exactly boundary pushing (although my main course was certainly a surprise), the experience of sightlessly pouring myself a glass of water and sharing a meal with an old friend with nothing but the sound of our voices was stripping social interaction back to its bare essentials. No phone. No visual distractions. No judging on appearance. Dans Le Noir is the perfect place to shed your skin and just be yourself, or perhaps even be someone else for the night if you wish.

As we were leaving, I spotted a couple sat at a candlelit table in the corner, looking rather engrossed with each other. I wondered if they were the blind date people I’d chatted to in the dark earlier. Maybe. I thought it best to leave it a mystery. 

Dans Le Noir, 30-31 Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU

This featured in our fifth digital edition of Ernest Journal, available to download now.

Due south

In 1912 Douglas Mawson led an expedition to chart a large section of Antarctica. His journey became one of the most horrendous endured as Mark Blackmore recounts

Design: Tina Smith

Design: Tina Smith

At the beginning of the 20th century, nobody knew what the interior of Antarctica looked like. Maps simply marked the region as unexplored. The men who remedied that state of affairs – men like Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton – were responsible for what has become known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Of equal importance, yet not as widely known, was an Australian geologist called Douglas Mawson. In particular, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1914 saw Mawson and his team undertake a journey that was quite possibly the most astonishing and gruelling feat of endurance on record.

Katabatic winds and ice ridges

By the time he led his own expedition, Mawson already had a pedigree as an Antarctic explorer. He had been part of Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition, becoming one of the first men to climb Mount Erebus and to reach the Magnetic South Pole. In 1910 he turned down an offer to join Scott on his Terra Nova expedition, preferring instead to raise funds for his own venture, an exploration of the almost completely unexplored Adelie Land and King George V Land. Mawson was a different kind of explorer – he had no interest in racing to the geographical South Pole. His motivation was scientific research.

Mawson’s expeditionary party, dominated by scientists, landed at Cape Denison, Antarctica, on 8 January 1912. The men established Main Base there, but they found that even for this region the conditions were not hospitable. Cape Denison, it was soon discovered, was subject to vicious kabatic winds – high density air rushing downslope under the force of gravity. Some of these winds approached 200mph and the yearly average is now thought to be about 70mph. It is one of the windiest places on Earth, and Mawson's team had little choice but to dig in for the winter.

Eventually, and doubtless looking somewhat ruddy of cheek, the men emerged to split into five parties to begin their exploration. Mawson would be part of a three-man team heading into King George V Land. His companions on this Far Eastern Party were Xavier Mertz, a Swiss mountaineer and skier, and Belgrave Ninnis, a Lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers. These men set off on 10 November 1912, and for five weeks and 300 miles headed eastwards, mapping the coastline and collecting geological samples.

Their progress was hardly without problems. Sastrugi – ice ridges caused by wind – hampered progress, and both Mawson and Ninnis had to be rescued from falls into crevasses. A blizzard confined them to their tents for three days, while Ninnis, beginning to struggle, had to be treated for snow-blindness, neuralgia on the left side of his face, and a badly infected finger. Worse was to come.

On 14 December the three men stepped onto a hidden crevasse. Mertz, leading on skis, was too light to break the snow. Mawson, second, was on his sledge, weight evenly distributed. Ninnis was running beside his sledge, and the surface broke. Mertz and Mawson looked back to see that their companion had disappeared into a crevasse around 3.4 metres wide with sheer ice walls. His body has never been found.

The perils of a husky supper

In his diary that night, Mawson wrote: “We called and sounded for three hours, then went a few miles to a hill and took position observations. Came back, called and sounded for an hour. Read the burial service.” Mertz recorded in his own diary: “We could do nothing. We were standing, helplessly, next to a friend’s grave, my best friend of the whole expedition.”

Mertz and Mawson were now in serious trouble. As well as their friend, the crevasse had claimed the six best huskies, all the food for the remaining dogs, most of their own food, their tent, shovel and pickaxe, and Mertz’s waterproofs and helmet. They immediately threw away everything they considered dead weight, including Mawson’s camera and film, and turned back.

They killed their first dog the following morning, and found the meat almost too stringy to be swallowed. The rest was fed to the remaining dogs. Over the next few days, and after killing two more dogs, they found they fared better eating the livers, which were softer. By 29 December they had killed and eaten the last of the huskies. “Had a great breakfast off Ginger’s skull – thyroids and brain,” Mawson wrote. But they were both feeling unwell, and Mertz in particular was suffering greatly.

“The dog meat does not seem to agree with me because yesterday I was feeling a little bit queasy,” Mertz wrote in his diary, and this was the last line he was ever to record. By 7 January progress had become fatally slow due to Mertz’s deteriorating condition. He had become delirious, biting off one of his own frostbitten fingers and attempting to destroy their makeshift shelter. Finally he collapsed, and died at 2am on the morning of 8 January.

While there is still debate concerning the cause of Mawson and Mertz’s illness, the prevailing medical opinion is that they were suffering from too much vitamin A, which is found in great quantities in the livers of huskies. They were poisoned by their only food source. Mawson boiled the remaining dog meat and carried on alone. He had approximately 100 miles to cover to get back to Main Base, and his task was made no easier by an impressive list of physical ailments. “My whole body is apparently rotting from lack of nourishment,” he wrote in his diary. “Frostbitten fingertips festering, mucous membrane of nose gone, saliva glands of mouth refusing duty, skin coming off whole body.”

Three days after Mertz’s death, Mawson found that the soles of his feet, seeping blood and pus, had separated as a layer from his flesh. He tied them back on with lanolin, put on six pairs of socks, and walked on. On 17 January Mawson, having been averaging around five miles a day, crashed through the lid of another deep crevasse. Miraculously his sledge caught on the icy walls, and he found himself hanging at the end of a rope. Somehow, over the course of four and a half hours, he pulled himself back up to the surface, expecting the sledge to give way at any moment.

Mawson walked on for 12 more days before finding a cairn covered in black cloth. It had been left for him by a search party, and contained food and a note with instructions on further stores. At that point another blizzard hit, forcing him to shelter in a cave. He finally staggered back to the Main Base and relative safety on 8 February 1913 – five hours after his rescue ship, fearing incoming weather conditions, had left.

The stoic scientist

Mawson remained at Cape Denison until mid-December, alongside the men who had awaited his party’s return. He later pondered that this delay may have been fortuitous, doubting his ability to survive a sea journey. If this was the case, it’s probably fair to note that he was owed a little good fortune by this point.

Douglas Mawson eventually returned home a hero, and not just because of his extraordinary stoicism. Even in the worst of circumstances, he never stopped noting scientific observations and weather reports. The expedition as a whole advanced cartography, geology, meteorology, geomagnetism, biology and marine science, while over 3,000 miles of unexplored land was covered. New species were described, and meteorological data was collected that is still in use today.

Edmund Hillary has described the Far Eastern Party as “probably the greatest story of lone survival in Polar exploration,” while the Australasian Expedition’s photographer Frank Hurley took a broader view: “Shackleton grafted science on to exploration,” he said. “Mawson added exploring to science.”

Words: Mark Blackmore

This feature was originally published in the first digital edition of Ernest Journal. Download it today for half price, £1.49.

Timeline of a handmade bike

From tube bending to silver soldering, Mark Meadows talks us through the production of his Series 01 – a small production run of 12 unique city bikes almost entirely made in Britain

Frames & forks

We're proud of the fact that Series 01 of Milk Bikes is almost entirely made on British soil. Firstly, the frame and forks are made by an up-and-coming frame builder called Jon Davis, who founded Fresh Fabrications last year, based in Croydon. Jon has an impressive bike building background (including working with the likes of Brompton), an eye for detail and is meticulous in his work. The frames he produces are always beautifully finished, which is why we were keen to work with him on this project – our first homemade frame.

Tube bending

One of the key visual aspects of the bikes is the curves, which are nicely highlighted by the paintwork. The bending is very hard to get right. If anyone has ever bent a tube, they'd know how easy it is to make ripples or crush the tube. There's also a varying amount of spring-back, depending on the size and type of tube. It took a couple of attempts before we were happy.

Silver soldering

The frame is fabricated using a combination of TIG welding and silver soldering. You've got to be on the top of your game for this, particularly on the TIG side of things, because the weld bead remains visible on the finished frame. Any dodgy bits will be there for the world to see.

Tube mitring

We use a CNC milling machine to do most of the drilling and tube mitring so we know the accuracy will be fantastic. We also CNC custom dropouts and plates for the fork and chainstay crowns.

Spray the frame

The frame is then sprayed by the chaps down at Argos Cycles, then Simon from Woodguards adds the wooden parts. Once the wheels are added - that's it. We have a Series 01 Milk Bike.

Discover more about Milk Bikes in our online directory.

This is a sponsored blog post, created in collaboration with Milk Bikes. For more information on partnerships and joining our directory please email advertise@ernestjournal.co.uk.

Age of Reinvention #2

It's the second phase of our Age of Reinvention competition in collaboration with Pedlars and The Good Life Experience. This time, we're offering a pair of wooden fire sides – what would you make?

Photo kindly supplied by Sail.

Photo kindly supplied by Sail.

A century ago, Britain was known as “the workshop of the world.” It was a hotbed of invention and industry. After a 100 years of decline, we’re seeing a real resurgence of craftsmanship – a return of traditional industries, swathes of makers taking risks to set up businesses based on doing what they love and buyers who value the story behind the products they buy.

To celebrate this new age of innovation, we are launching the Age of Reinvention competition – a chance for amateur inventors to furrow their brows, doodle on graph paper and transform old items into unique and practical products. The competition is brought to you in collaboration with our friends at Pedlars, purveyor of wonderful homewares, gifts and quality vintage, and The Good Life Experience, a festival of music, food, culture and the great outdoors.

Between January and August 2015 we're offering eight items for reinvention. Each month, Ernest Journal and Pedlars will choose their favourite design concept then post the item to the inventor so they can work their magic. We will then exhibit the eight completed items at The Good Life Experience (18-20 September 2015) and give each successful inventor two free tickets to the festival and a subscription to Ernest Journal. The second item on offer is a pair of wooden fireplace sides – but what would you turn them into?

For inspiration, have a look at the winner of our first round: design-duo Francli show us what they're going to make with a vintage army canvas.

Item #2: Pair of wooden fireplace sides (64cm x 15cm x 2.8cm)

How to enter 

Simply share a sketch of your proposed design with us on Twitter or Instagram, mentioning @ernestjournal and @PedlarsWorld and using #AgeofReinvention.

The deadline for your first design idea is 8 March 2015. 

If you have any queries, email features@ernestjournal.co.uk

Terms and conditions:

1. The closing time and date is 11.59pm on 8 March 2015. Entries after that date will not be considered. 2. The winning entrant will be posted the item for them to reinvent and display at the Good Life Experience. 3. The prize is two tickets to The Good Life Experience and a subscription to Ernest Journal. 3. The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative can be offered. 4. See our full terms and conditions.