Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"A Picture Of A What?"

I've lost count of the arguments i've had with picture editors or researchers. The exact image I have in mind often doesn't exist, but there isn't a designer alive who likes to compromise. I've never asked for a photograph of yeti or a crowd of people on the moon though.

Here's A Photograph Of Jesus by Laurie Hill - a brilliant short documentary about some of the more bizarre image searches asked of the Getty/Hulton Archive picture library.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Oh, Rosey


We visited Harrogate over the Christmas holidays, a place I've always liked. It's a town that's rather pleased with itself, but it has every right to be, with its countless Georgian and high-Victorian buildings. There's also the beautiful Stray - Yorkshire's answer to Blackheath - which has me fantasising every time I see a property with a For Sale sign. There are lots of shops selling hats to elderly widows of company directors. You might well see Alan Bennett squinting through the windows of Betty's Cafe, notebook in hand.

On our trip, I was still feeling the effects of the beer that I'd enjoyed at Keighley's Brown Cow Inn on the previous evening. I'm always searching for the perfect pub, and this one comes pretty close. It's a simple Victorian building made from four knocked-together cottages, the only survivor of the Pinfold, a notorious slum pulled down in the 1930s. The Brown Cow had a bad reputation for decades afterwards - in fact, right up until The guv'nor Barry and his wife Carol took over about 4 years ago, and as Barry (who is about the size of a K8 telephone box) put it: "cleared all the idiots out". Now it's just about the friendliest pub in the area, and along with the Boltmaker's Arms down the road serves the definitive pint of Taylors. However, on this night I was on Rosey Nosey, a lushly delicious Christmas ale from the Lincolnshire brewer, Bateman's. At 4.9% it's not a fighting beer, but it soon crept up on me - particularly as we were out with eight friends, all of whom insisted on getting a round in - and then finishing off the night with a couple of malts. Consequently, as we strolled round the avenues of Harrogate, I was feeling quite 'baggy'. That was until we stopped by the Pump Room museum, where I braved a tiny glass of the famous spring waters. The actual taste is almost beyond description - dishwasher salt mixed with rotten eggs might be a fair attempt. But blimey, I instantly felt like a new being, and an hour later I was eating a biryani washed down with a Franziskaner Weissbeer. So don't let them tell you that there's no hangover cure. There is one - and it's in North Yorkshire.

(For the first time in years I didn't have a camera on me, so the picture here is actually of a pint of Old Brewery at The Angel on St Giles High Street, London )

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cool Yule

When I started this blog last march I never thought I'd get any readers at all - so thanks to all of you who've stopped by and for all of your kind comments. Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Little Germany

We didn't make our usual visit to Bavaria this year, so Mrs TIW and I went to have a look at Hyde Park's version of Christkindlmarkt. Most of the stalls and a lot of the visitors were German, which led to a bizarre experience of feeling like we were really at the Chinese Tower Market in Munich's park, the Englischer Garten. Nobody does Christmas as well as the Germans, and the atmosphere had been transplanted to London very well, with alpine hut stalls and numerous rides I recognised from Oktoberfest. We left feeling very Christmassy indeed. There's been a trend in recent years for British towns to hold 'International Markets', which in my experience has meant French stallholders punting Maille mustard for twice the price it is at Tesco. There was a bit of this going on in Hyde Park - 5 quid for a stollen anyone? Thought not. It was 4 quid for a pint of Paulaner Dunkel in a wobbly plastic cup, 4 quid for a Thüringer wurst and a laughable £4.50 for a glühwein, plus deposit for the mug - the sort of prices that should they be tried in Munich or Cologne would have the locals burning down the Rathaus.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Davey Graham has passed away. I haven't been able to find an online example of his most famous piece Anji, but here's him playing Cry Me A River on a former bomb site in what looks like Notting Hill. I think this is from Ken Russell's Hound Dogs and Bach Addicts: The Guitar Craze which was broadcast on the BBC in 1959. Graham was hugely inventive and influential, inspiring Paul Simon, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and Nick Drake among many others. A lot of his recordings convince you that he must have had about 20 fingers. He'd more or less dropped off the radar by the end of the 70s, which might have been as much due to his eccentricity as his heroin addiction. Originally, Davey had deliberately become a junkie in a misguided homage to Charlie Parker, ("It's what musicians do") but it ultimately took over his life. He was enjoying something of a comeback after a fan with music industry connections tracked him down to Camden Town where he was living in quite straitened circumstances. Apparently Davey had never bothered to claim any royalties, something that latterly his friends were trying to put right.

Oh yes - one of his albums has just about the best cover of all time. They don't make 'em like that any more.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Loved Ones

I love my beer. I'm not a heavy drinker, but some weeks our recycling bin looks like the aftermath of the Glastonbury festival. My default brew is our local Londis mini mart's own-brand Premium Lager. Trust me, it's nowhere near as bad as it sounds - in fact, It's actually Kaltenberg Hell, made in Lancashire by Thwaites. I'm not usually a fan of licence-brewed beer, but this is a very good replica - smooth and fresh, with a hint of citrus. I'll also knock off at least a couple of bottles of Taylor's Landlord in a week- a drink that's so important to my personal wellbeing that I'll even endure Stratford Morrison's to get it. This store has the best bottled ale selection in the area, but it is a very horrible place - a sort of preview of what life will be like when society finally collapses. After half an hour in there I feel like Jason coming home with the golden fleece.

This year I've being trying beers new to me. Meantime Stout was as dull as ditchwater, despite the gushing reviews I'd read. Another letdown was Bath Ales Gem - I love golden ales but this was too light for me. No matter how much of the bottle I poured, it just wouldn't empty. I haven't been able to get enough of St Peter's products - especially their Golden Ale. It's become my second-favourite beer, but it's hard to find near us. I'd heard a lot about Sierra Nevada, but it didn't work for me. One to try again in summer, I think. Another disappointment was Herold Bohemian Black - which I found rather watery and - dare I say it? - unpleasant. Maybe I'm just harder to please than I thought. A real standout was Robinson's Old Tom, absolutely bursting with dark, juicy and intensely smoky liquorice flavour, giving the inside of my head the pleasant sensation of being next to a well-stoked wood burning stove. Units, shmunits.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Musical Interlude*

Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal. Just when I thought all the best songs had been written...

*OK - another lazy blog.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hung Up

This cloak hook was paid for by local shopkeepers so that bobbies on points duty at the junction of Long Acre and Saint Martin's Lane had somewhere to hang their raingear. I think this was just after WW2, but there's very little information about it on the net, other than a vignette by Paul Smith hanging his coat on it and being mistaken for a tramp. It first came to my attention after being mentioned on a Robert Elms radio show a few years back. Somehow, it's quietly survived on an anonymous doorway on Great Newport Street, unnoticed by the thousands of people who pass each day. But once you know it's there, you always have a look.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Yours Truly, Angry Mob

If there's a miniature vigilante-shaped hole in your loved one's Christmas stocking this year, fill it with this Angry mob playset.

"There he is - get him!"

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Java Jive

Tramping the area north of Oxford Street* with my camera the other day, it suddenly dawned on me why I hadn't felt right since I'd got out of bed. For the first time in about four years, I'd left the house without a coffee. I headed south with the urgency of a junkie looking for a dealer. If all you want is a pure hit of caffeine, all you need is the Algerian Coffee Stores. This Soho stalwart has been in business since 1887, and opening in an area later to become famous for coffee shops and a night-time economy turned out to be a shrewd business move. The shop is beautiful - at first glance it looks like an Edwardian toyshop. Inside there are the original wooden shelves and counter, with smiley blokes in aprons eager to help. It's mainly a retailer, but they'll do you a cappuccino for 95p, or a double espresso for 70p. There's nowhere to sit, but they don't mind if you stand and glug it down - which is exactly what I did before heading back out into the chilly streets. Death to Starbucks.

* The Man wants us all to call it 'NoHo'. Please don't.


Was there ever a lovelier voice than Oliver Postgate's?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Finger Lickin' Hood




I awoke this morning to brilliant news. Waltham Forest Council are to ban fast food outlets from the proximity of schools, parks and playing fields. If there's one thing Leytonstone isn't short of, it's places selling fried chicken. I reckon there are at least 20 on the High Road with numbers increasing the further you get toward the most horrible bit of East London, Stratford. You know the sort of place - they always look a bit like a real, properly franchised KFC. There's USA Fried Chicken, Perfect Fried Chicken, Chicken Spot, Chicken Point, Kennsy Fried Chicken, Dixy Fried Chicken, a Favorite Fried Chicken (and indeed a Favourable Fried Chicken). There's even a Karachi Fried Chicken. Elsewhere I've seen a Big Portion Fried Chicken and a Peter Chicago Fried Chicken. Back home there's this personal favourite*:


There'll be a mountain bike laying on the pavement outside the door, the cycles' owner arguing with the staff and threatening to come back with his troopz if he doesn't get enough fries. You can get a "meal" at one of these places for a quid - the best deep fried chicken that the factory farms of Thailand can produce. The worst thing these shops generate (apart from an enormous drain on the NHS in 10 or so years) is the empty cartons. This being London, they are discarded without the slightest thought or consideration. Toward Leyton tube station they are more numerous than ever. I've become angrily obsessed with them. Every time I see one I want to write to Gordon Brown and ask him to consider putting snipers in the trees. Now I can't walk past one without taking a picture. The streets of London are paved with gold boxes.

*Photo from Evil Twin

Friday, December 5, 2008

Being Prepared



It's always time for a Full English Breakfast, especially at 2.30 in the afternoon. This magnificent FEB (plus chips) was enjoyed by Mrs TIW and I at the Perugia Café, Tottenham Street, which is up by Heal's. If the Perugia was a 'proper' formica caff once, not much evidence remains. There's artexted walls and vinyl benches in booths so small that your knees touch that of your companion. That's all that's left, but it's a typical London caff with condensation on the window and big brown 'n' red sauce squirters on the tables. Here, you get egg, bacon, tomato, mushrooms, beans, (when did beans become part of an FEB? Was it the 1980s?) sausage, chips, two rounds of toast and tea or coffee for £4.50. I've paid more than that for a sandwich in the past. Those chips were chopped off a potato. No reconstituted carbohydrate powder here. And that sausage had flavour - full of herby meatiness, rather than the Pink Bag Of Mystery encountered in some establishments. It was the perfect preparation for the hand-to-hand combat that is Christmas shopping in London. Even if it did come with baked beans.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Turned Out Nice Again

George Formby - 'Why Don't Women Like Me?'. Released on Decca in 1933. A great, bittersweet song. Despite the limitations of the recording (and George's voice) it could stand up as a release even today. It's even got a guitar solo. Well, a ukelele solo. Any Smiths fans will immediately know that this proto-pop gem kicked off the famous South Bank Show episode featuring the band. I've still got it on VHS - recorded that sunday night in 1987.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Highwayman

Despite what the Man In The Pub might think, Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorish weren't the first people to ride round the world on two wheels. That honour goes to Robert Fulton who did it over an 18 month period, starting in 1932. Fulton rode a Douglas twin - which he owned until he died in 2004 - modified to carry a secret .32 revolver. I don't know if he ever needed the gun, because I've yet to read the book of his trip, One Man Caravan. A Round The World book I have read is Ted Simon's Jupiter's Travels. In 1973, riding a Triumph (that he learned to ride in the bike factory's car park on the day he picked it up), Simon set off on a four-year, 60,000 mile ride that took him through Africa, South and North America, Australia, Asia, India the Middle East and Europe. Jupiter's Travels is my favourite book - i've read it at least three times. Every time I've finished it I've wanted to grab my helmet and gloves and head off to Capetown. One day I might. It's not exaggerating that Jupiter's Travels changes lives. McGregor and Boorman acknowledged that as soon as they started to plan their trip, the first thing they did was buy Jupiter's Travels. They weren't alone - hundreds of people have followed in the tyre tracks of Ted Simon. Although, unlike McGregor and Boorman they usually manage without two back-up lorries. Ted Simon did the trip again in 2001, at the age of 70. This time he was on a BMW.

A lesser-known voyager was Giorgio Bettinelli, who travelled through 60-odd countries on a Vespa PX 150. His first trip was round Indonesia, which he soon followed up with a journey from Rome to Ho Chi Minh City in 1997. His other trips included Angola to Yemen and became the basis for numerous books, although at moment they are only available in Italian. Giorgio met his wife will riding through China, and was living in the south of the country when he died in September, aged only 53. The first Vespa he rode had been given to him by a friend, though Piaggio later got wind that he was literally a mobile advertisment for the bombproof reliabilty of their P-Range scooters, and from then on he was sponsored by them. In his trips through China he rode a Vespa automatic - I think it was a GTS. By all accounts a friendly, gentle man Giorgio Bettinelli must surely be a candidate for greatest-ever scooterist.

He also had a nice attitude to breakdowns:

"You wait. Someone comes, someone helps. A car, a truck, a camel. An hour, a day. Someone comes, someone helps."

And here I am thinking it was too cold and wet today to ride the seven miles to work.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wuthering Pints

Lost on the moors high above Swaledale, is the Tan Hill Inn - at 1,732ft above sea level, the UK's highest - and it's up for sale. Despite being also one of the remotest pubs anywhere in the country, it's popular all year round. Having the Pennine Way pass the front door can't hurt. The winters up there are legendary. I read once that in the mid 70s the pub was cut off by snow in december, with the Landlord not wishing anyone Happy New Year until a postman got through by Land Rover in April. Presumably they'd been living off pickled eggs and melted snow.

I spent one of the best New Year's Eves I've ever had at the Tan Hill. It was about 20 years ago. A mate and I were invited up by some friends who'd spent the previous summer working behind the bar. It was my first encounter with Theakston's Old Peculiar, so my memories of the night are vague, if warmly pleasant. I do recall that despite a windchill of about minus 10, some people were camping over the road. It was discovered that standing in the screaming gale outside for two minutes sobered you up sufficiently to down Just One More Beer. At one point, a farmer walked in dragging a tent that he'd found stuck to the front of his car several miles away. Having reunited the owner with his accommodation, he and his collie sat down and joined in the fun. I called it a night at about 3am, not quite passing out in the staff quarters upstairs. When I came down for breakfast 6 hours later, apart from folk in sleeping bags on the benches, nearly everyone was where I'd left them, pints in hand.

If you want to buy it, they're asking £1.1 Million. Presumably that price includes a previous landlady who's buried somewhere out the back of the pub.

(photo from eucharisto deo - I lost my camera that night)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust


Marcon's - about the only interesting shop left in Stratford - has closed. It only sold bin-end carpets but I liked its tatty signwritten frontage. Walking past when the door was open, you were immediately hit with a smell of damp. It's been closing down for at least three years and now it's finally gone.

This bit of Stratford is called Maryland, and is about as bleak and unlovely as you can get. A blighted stretch of cut-price off licences, flyblown boozers, raving derelicts, bookies and knocking shops. It always reminds me of 1990s Kings Cross.

Run, don't walk.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Same Same

I've banged on about Landlord and the Timothy Taylor Brewery before on this blog. An undrunk bottle of Taylor's beer is a rare thing indeed - and what prompted this post was a mate's text saying he'd just finished off a crate of Landlord that was two years old. I admire his willpower. But how about a bottle that has remained unopened for 40-odd years?


I got this half-pint bottle of Taylor's most famous product from Ebay. It dates from at least the early 70s. The label has barely been altered over the years. A modern label is pictured below. The last last update would have been around 20 years ago and is full of vernacular charm. I suspect the same local "commercial artist" (as they were then known) did both versions.


If I shake the old bottle, a head appears on the top of the contents - which leads me to believe the cap is still airtight. I wonder what it tastes like?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Proud Mary

Grave of Mary Kelly

Just over the back wall of the Birkbeck's pleasant beer garden is St Patrick's cemetery. Here you can find the sad little grave of Mary Kelly. She was the last known victim of Jack The Ripper - killed at around 4am on the 9th of November 1888, at 13 Miller's Court, Spitalfields. Her body had been horribly mutilated. This headstone is one of several to have been placed here. The others have been vandalised or stolen - one was destroyed within hours of being erected on the centenary of her death. Jack The Ripper tourism is big business in Spitalfields, with nightly walking tours of varying quality. When we lived in Brick Lane I was once late meeting friends at Liverpool Street station because the narrow streets on the way were choked with Ripper tours.

Most of what the tourists see are post-Ripper, all the murder sites having been demolished. One of the last to go was 29 Hanbury Street, pulled down in the early 1970s. Here's a sequence from the brilliant 1967 adaption of Geoffrey Fletcher's book The London Nobody Knows. The presenter/guide (James Mason, dressed for a grouse shoot) barges his way into number 29 to show us the squalid site of Annie Chapman's death. In 1967, it was still a slum.

A few years back I went to a Ripper lecture given by a Scotland Yard detective. Prize exhibit was one of Jack The Ripper's knives, recovered from one of the crime scenes. This knife had recently been returned to Scotland Yard by the grand-daughter of one of the original Ripper investigation team, who'd taken it home as a souvenir when he retired. The family had used it as a kitchen knife.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Slight Return



We're lucky enough to have two nearby Tube stations - Leyton and Leytonstone. By far the most pleasant one to walk to is Leytonstone, but Leyton is a bit nearer. If I'm running late, this is where I head for. Leyton is Stratford's neighbour, with all that entails. Bedsit land. At least one stained mattress in every street. A beercan in every hedge, a fried chicken box in every gutter. The last time was in the neighbourhood, I was delighted to see this old shop sign (above), exposed by recent building works. No doubt Mr Dunkley enjoyed a pint at the Birkbeck Tavern over the street, which is still a decent pub.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Only On A Monday


Pictured here is Conan Nicholas, a regular at Soho's French House. Sadly, he died a week or so ago after a short illness, aged 93. He claimed never to have eaten meat in his life ("filthy stuff") and would come in from Hounslow ("but only on a monday") for a pint at the Coach and Horses, and then on for two glasses of wine at the French House. His Godfather was Arthur Conan Doyle, hence his name. I only spoke with him once, which is when I took this picture. He was fascinating, a living relic of a Soho long gone. I posted him a copy of the photo and he rang to thank me a couple of days later. One of his claims to fame was that he invented the sport of cat racing with Jeffrey Bernard.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wit and Heartbreak

The end sequence from Richard Attenborough's adaption of Oh! What A Lovely War

And when they ask us / How dangerous it was
Oh we'll never tell them / No we'll never tell them
We spent our pay in some café / And fought wild women night and day
T'was the cushiest job we ever had.
And when they ask us / And they're certainly going to ask us
The reason why we didn't win the Croix de Guerre
Oh we'll never tell them / No we'll never tell them
There was a front / But damned if we knew where

Monday, November 10, 2008

Scarborough Mon Amour


Scarborough seems to have survived the decline of the English seaside reasonably well. Although the drag of Eastborough is run down, and on our last trip rolling with drunks at sunday lunchtime, it's still mostly a handsome town with well-kept terraces and immaculate municipal gardens - a Harrogate-on-sea, almost. It's a town with real charm, and I love the place. Of course, I only ever photograph the faded bits.

Our family know Scarborough well - my auntie ran a guest house on Rutland Terrace near the castle. She'd gone to work there as a girl and eventually saved enough to buy it when her boss retired. Our first meal on our twice-yearly visits would always be fish and chips at aunties, with proper fish knives. The town has changed since then, but not by much. Down the hill at Peasholm park you can still see the Naval Warfare in summer. This is a battle with miniature warships on the park's lake. Nowadays it's the Royal Navy (crowd: "Hooray!") versus "The Enemy" ("booo!") - although back in the 70s and 80s, the "The Enemy" were very definately Germans, and the action was the Battle Of The River Plate. They have long memories in Scarborough. The reason the castle is such a wreck is because of an Imperial German Navy bombardment in 1914.


The Grand Hotel dominates the town from almost any view - it's that place at the top left of the photo above. Designed by Cuthbert Broderick (who also designed Leeds Town hall and Leeds Corn Exchange) it opened in 1867 and at the time was one of the largest hotels in the world, and stupendously posh. Its decline started after WW2 and nowadays caters for coach parties of blue-haired pensioners. On a recent visit, I was delighted to find this little hairdresser's - "Mr Julian's Coiffeur" - round the back of the Grand. It doesn't look to have changed much since the 60s. Apparently the shop is used as a set in gentle sunday evening drama 'The Royal'. Is it real? I hope so - the patina of age seems genuine with all that faded pink velvet.



Best of all is the sign in the window which reads "We Specialise in Real Hair Wigs, Top Knots Nylon and Real Hair Switches. All Available in any Shade. Ask for Mr Julian who will be delighted to show you a collection suitable to your wishes, with no obligation to buy"

and below it

"Hair 'Replacement' For Gentlemen. Mr Julian can offer a discreet and personal service for the above. Private cubicles available."

Surely this place is just too good to be true?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Last Orders

Borough Market

On tuesday night I went to a book launch party. I haven't been to one for a couple of years, but normally they involve standing in a big white room drinking lukewarm bottles of whatever the latest lager du jour is. This launch, however, was different. The free bar was mostly real ale from Youngs and Nethergate, and the venue was smack in the middle of Borough Market, ghostly outside trading hours without the familiar bustle of punters and vendors. The book being launched was Wheatsheaf RIP, a collection of photographic portraits of regulars of the eponymous pub by John Ross. The Wheatsheaf is closing because the new Thameslink rail development is being driven through the area, removing the boozer's top floor, part of the market's roof and a large part of the character and charm of this thriving pocket of soul and atmosphere. The Wheatsheaf is 237 years old, and is definately a proper pub - functional, friendly, popular and retaining lots of features like frosted glass leaded windows. It has two bars, simple decor, and great beer. The market traders can go in and not have to take their aprons off. In short, it ticks a lot of my boxes. But it's going, despite being grade 2 listed. Unfortunately, the railway couldn't be shoved through the nearby All Bar One instead.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tetley. Bitter.

If there's one thing to bring on a desk-banging spittle-flecked rant it's the closure of a brewery. A text from Ten Inch Wheels Senior this morning told me the news. The men in bri-nylon suits at Carlsberg have decided than in 2011 the historic Leeds brewery of Joshua Tetley will close. 170 people will be out of work. But it's not just the jobs. Tetley is a Yorkshire icon - their neon sign red against the night sky, seen from the 18.03 from Kings Cross means that I'm almost home, and I'm not the only one to feel this way. Although their famous 'huntsman' logo was dropped in 2000, you still see his monocled countenance smiling at you from old signs and beer pumps wherever you go in West Yorkshire. In the middle of the 1800s, my Great-great-great-grandfather ran a pub in the area where the Corn Exchange now stands. He undoubtedly sold Tetley.

The brewery was built in 1822, with a lot of subsequent additions. It's a solid industrial site, a mixture of original and recent. It's not beautiful, and it doesn't have to be. It was built for a purpose that it has performed very well for 186 years. Carlsberg cite a 'drop in demand' to justify the closure. I'm sure that the fact that this former industrial backwater is now prime real estate (property crash apart - got to think of the long term profits haven't we?) had absolutely no bearing on the decision. Does it matter where beer is brewed? You can replicate the water at a molecular level at a different plant and produce the 'same' taste (although that is frankly, cobblers - do a taste test on Leuven-made Stella Artois and the British manufactured wifebeater). But that's not the point. If Tetley production is shifted to Northampton it absolutely will not be the same. And if you only know their beers from their ghastly smoothflow "beer", get yourself to Leeds and try a pint of Tetley Cask while you can.

Monday, November 3, 2008

In Our Neighbourhood

Lost and Found

I moved to London in 1992. At first I stayed with friends at their microscopic flat in Belsize Park. Now we're in Leytonstone, having lived in Holloway, Islington, Bethnal Green and Shoreditch. Time Out once described Leytonstone as "Shabby Chic", which sums the place up quite well. It's by no means posh, quite a lot of the place is run down, but there's a definite "something" about the place. It's got a good community spirit, a few decent places to eat and couple of good pubs. There are lots of open spaces, it's mostly quiet and you can keep "London" at arms length, but you can be at Oxford circus in 20 minutes. The area is defined by its rows of Victorian houses, put up by speculative builders at the turn of the 20th century. The bigger ones are in Upper Leytonstone and Bushwood (sash windows, rugby, Waitrose), the smaller ones fill the rest of the area (uPVC, footy, Tesco). We've got one of those, built in 1895. We've been renovating it for five years. The previous owner was a cretin. Apart from repairing a wall with a bit of cardboard, he never did a scrap of maintenance. The front window had a tree branch growing through it when we moved in. For reasons unknown he'd installed five phone points in one of the bedrooms.

Our neighbour over the back fence was born in the house next door, and him and his mum were in an Anderson shelter the night the Luftwaffe dropped an incendiary bomb on their house. His dad came home from work to find their roof on fire. The house survived, though. Each terrace behind ours has a post-war house in each row from one 'stick' of high-explosive bombs dropped in 1940.

I found this flyer for a long-gone department store when pulling down a lath and plaster wall. It's been dated by the good folk on flickr to about 1911. At that time, our house was lived in by a clerk and a dressmaker. I wonder what they'd make of the area now?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bring Me Sunshine

Prompted by the final demise of the Jug Of Tea, I thought I'd have a look on Googlemaps at the site. Happily, the aerial shot is so old it shows the Arena Funfair prior to its closing, rather than the bleak expanse of concrete it is now. It's a late summer evening with the last of the days visitors pottering around. Some of them will have been to Brucciani's café, which is nearby.


Brucciani, Morecambe

Brucciani's has been open since 1939, and is just about the only place left from the days when Morecambe considered itself a cut above the brashness of Blackpool further down the coast. The interior is completely unspoiled by progress, although the exterior has had a rubbish makeover. There's a picture on This link which shows it as it was until recently. I doubt Brucciani have ever sold tea by the jugful.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What Do You Mean Going To be? I AM One Of The Faces

It's in the catalogue as a 1967 Lambretta li150. On the 25th of November, Bonham's auctioneers will be selling the world's most famous scooter. Of course, I'm talking about KRU 251, ridden by Jimmy in Frank Roddam's Quadrophenia. It's been owned for several years by Allstyles scooter shop of Portsmouth, and in the past they've been offered very silly money for it, mainly from Japanese collectors. As it is, the Lammy's expected to realise £25,000. Not bad considering that after it was used in the film, it mouldered in a garden hedge for several years before being rescued. You don't get the seat that Lesley Ash parked her posterior on though - the original is part of the Quadrophenia Collection at Littledean museum in Gloucestershire.

Quadrophenia is the scooterist's Wild One or Easy Rider. It was the film that kicked off the early 80s mod revival. There's a lot wrong with it, as any mouth-breathing scooter purist will tell you. Half the extras are wearing flares, a rocker's got a 'motorhead' shirt on and loads of the scooters were still in the mind's eye of Innocenti or Piaggio's designers in 1963 when the film is set - including Jimmy's. Ace Face's Vespa GS is actually a poorly disguised Vespa Rally - the sensuous lines of Piaggio's Gran Sport masterpiece were too lovely to be chucked off Beachy Head, even in 1979.

The film's not quite the reason I'm a scooterist - I was too young for the film's first release - but seeing a thousand Vespas and Lambrettas lined up on childhood visits to Scarborough stayed with me, and I've loved scooters ever since. I'm not a mod, but Quadrophenia's the reason I've got a (seldom worn) 1955 fishtail parka and a red, white and blue roundel on both my scoots. Bellboy!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Jug Is Empty


So, farewell to Morecambe's derelict Arena Funfair and its bleakly photogenic Jug Of Tea hut (though it was more of a bunker). According to This article this ugly-beautiful bit of Lancashire history is finally going to be removed. I'm amazed it lasted as long as it did. I've long been an admirer (is that the right word?) of the place, and about 18 months ago I wrote this article for Nothing To See Here.

Thanks to Trevira for the link and This photo of the workmen moving in.

Sun-a-shine Rain-a-fall

It's a beautiful day, The Man has sorted the lights at Aldgate and I'm back on the PX. Let's celebrate with Boris Gardner and Byron Lee.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Muencher Freiheit

Is that the time? It’s just dawned on me that it’s exactly ten years since I kicked off my year-long stint of working in Munich. I was entirely ignorant of the Bavarian capital, other than it was the cradle of Nazism (bad) and had loads of first-class breweries (good). I didn’t meet any Nazis*, although I did have a great many successful encounters with the local beer – especially Augustiner, Hofbrau and Andechser. The latter tasting as pure and fresh as the air at the top of the Zugspitze.
Work was a chore. The picture editor sulked for days if you disagreed with her choice of image. The editor spent most of the day watching TV or arguing with me. The sub was so incompetent even I could spot his spelling errors. We would get frequent visits from the London-based bosses, who were each and every one of them foul, arrogant idiots. One of them came over just so he could have it off with a member of staff. One memorable week I worked a 24 hour stretch without a break, ruefully watching the sun come up over the towers of the Frauenkirche.
It’s a shame the job was so bad, because the city is so wonderful. 70% destroyed in WW2, it was rebuilt with a very obvious lack of community-scything A-roads, grey concrete eyesores or urine-soaked underpasses. It’s a human-scaled city of 4 million people – that’s four times bigger than Birmingham – with the feel of a market town. One legacy of the disastrous 1972 olympics was the transport network. A seamlessly integrated system of trams, buses and local rail (above and below ground) that guarantees you will be where you want to be at the time you said you would. They’ve just phased out the old clanging-bell articulated trams, which is a shame because on the way home from the pub you could pretend to be in The Third Man.

I got a bit obsessed with the dummies in this gents outfitters, photographing them many times. One looked like Ronald Reagan,and the rest looked like Kraftwerk. Munich tenaciously hangs on to its independent shops. The streets are full of them. The chains like Kaufhof and Hertie are there, but there’s a shop that sells just socks, another that sells scarves, and one that sells only leather gloves. There's a place that only sells fountain pens. Each neighbourhood has a place dealing in very sensible looking bicycles. Everyone cycles. I bought a cruiser-braked boneshaker from a bloke in the fleamarket who was using it to display his old shirts. I went everywhere on it, including getting lost in a city centre forest that I’d previously failed to notice. I spent the next four hours cycling around in darkness that all but swallowed the meagre beam my lights produced. I only escaped because I got a faint but unmistakeable whiff of the city Zoo, and followed my nose to the main road.

Eventually, I couldn't take it any more. It remains the only time I've told the boss where he could poke his job. On the day I was due to leave, the company's driver overslept and I missed my flight. I spent the next six hours in the airport's excellent restaurant and sent my former employer the bill. Prost.

*I was called an “English Pig” by an old fool of a shopkeeper. I’d annoyed him for not being able to work out how many Deutschmarks he needed for a copy of Munich Found. I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t call me an Englander Schweinhund.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Staring At The Sea




These beach huts are in Westward Ho! North Devon, about a mile from where my in-laws live. There's maybe a hundred of them, huddled along and behind the promenade at Braddick's caravan site. Some of them are literally glorified garden sheds, and each one is unique. Years of repairs and patching-up have given them each a distinct personality and character. Sea Haze, Sea View, Sea Mist, Sea Haven, Sea Breeze. Lazy Days, Ocean View. They contrast starkly with the VeryDesirableLiveWorkApartmentsOnlyThreeUnitsRemaining developments that are growing like ulcers on this bit of coast. Every time I visit I'm dismayed to see that another one of two of the huts have gone, leaving an empty concrete plot with its memories of sandcastles, tea in chipped mugs and the Beano Summer Special. If there is an upside to the so-called Credit Crunch it should put a halt to anymore soulless bunkers being built, with their us-and-them barbed wire and security gates.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Say Arrgh. Now Spit.

I had to go to the dentist today. My appointment was at tooth hurty. Yes, really. The dental practice is run by a husband and wife team. God help you if you get her. She was trained by Smithfield market. After years of terrifying treatment at the hands of her and her blunt chisels I swapped to him. Much better. Although today I noticed that among his tools is a perfectly ordinary household Dremel.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's Not All Scooters

my 1986 BMW R65 Monolever
Until february I also had a motorcycle. It was this 1986 BMW R65 Monolever, which compared to my diminutive Vespas felt like sitting astride a Clydesdale. I nicknamed the bike Wolfram, after a bloke I knew when I lived in Munich - also home of course, to Bayerische Motoren Werke AG. Earlier R65 models had much smaller geometry, and they are derided by bikers for being the runt of the family, along with the (admittedly underpowered R45). From '86, the bike shared the same frame as the legendary R80. The R65 was always overshadowed by its big brother, though with 650cc, the R65 is hardly a small-capacity putt-putt. In fact, Wolfram could be quite terrifying - traffic that had been miles up ahead of you quickly became very close indeed. It sounded great too. I recall one fat-necked Cityboy clown in a TVR trying to out-rev me at the traffic lights on Bow Road. I let him zoom off to be flashed by the Gatso. Oddly, drivers of old Beetles often used to wave. Riders of modern bikes were amazed to find that my steed wasn't from the 60s.

The previous owners were two Californians who'd ridden it and an R65LS (The R65's space-age cousin which could only have been designed by a German) around France and Spain for several months. When they dropped it off they didn't tell me that the battery was knackered. The replacement cost me £100. So did the two fork seals it later needed, three months apart. Each service was £100. Everything seemed to cost £100.

I'd originally bought the bike as my commuter when the PX was off the road after my disastrous attempt to fit a Malossi cylinder to it. It did the job admirably, if slightly impractically. It took longer to get ready to ride the thing than it did to actually ride to work. But what a great ride it was, cornering like a Pendolino, and as comfortable as an armchair.

The picture above was taken on the longest trip we made on the bike - Aldeburgh. It took us both there and back, with all our luggage without a hiccup. On the return journey we rode though rain so horrible that at a fuel stop a couple in a Ford that had been following us ran over to ask if we were OK.

Reliable as it was, it just wasn't as practical or as cheap to run as a scooter so the bike had to go. It was bought by another American, who was the tallest man I've ever met. He's given me first refusal if he ever sells.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Light That Never Goes Out

"Who's that bloke with the flowers and woman's blouse? He's rubbish. He can't even sing."

And so was my appraisal of the Smiths performing What Difference Does It Make? on the 26th of January 1984 edition of Top Of The Pops. A thursday, of course. Thursday night was Top Of The Pops night. No doubt I was doing my art homework as I watched with mum, dad, my brother and our dog. Somehow, I'd entirely missed their previous performances on the much-loved show. However, the more I heard WDDIM, the more I liked it. And after I liked it, I loved it. It remains my favourite song to this day, and the Smiths are still my favourite band. Others come and go, but I always go back to Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce (and Gannon if you want to be picky). To a bespectacled bookworm like me, growing up in a very economically depressed North, I could relate to a lot of their lyrics. Their cover art really put the hook in me. Billy Fury, Shelagh Delaney, Vivian Nicholson, James Dean, Pat Phoenix. Jurgen Vollmer's photo of young rockers at a funfair in Hamburg. Nobody else had really done anything like them. I think I can trace my love of photography back to those images, as well as other interests like the works of Alan Bennett, steamy old cafes, decrepit shops, the seaside and er, George Formby.

One of the internet's best reads I Like has a link to Vulgar Picture, an illustrated Smiths discography. As far as i can tell, it has every variant of the Smiths album and single artwork, and more besides. Brilliant.