Monday, June 23, 2008

Chips with pesto, please

Unlike me and the Village Garage, some people had the foresight to record what has gone, before it went. Paul Kelly made a trio of short films about London's cafés called Today's Special - this one is about the New Piccadilly, but the other two which can be found here cover such lost gems as the Copper Grill which was behind Liverpool Street Station, and the beautifully moribund Tea Rooms on Museum Street. The Tea Rooms was always just out of my way so I never got a chance to visit, although I did drop by to take this photo last year. All the cafes featured in Today's Special are gone - but the shell of the Tea Rooms hangs on like a murder victim propped up in a corner.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Where Service Mattered

It's a bad time for the character of London's soul. From Dusty 7s comes the shocking news that the Village Garage in Bloomsbury is closed and boarded up. This great art deco survivor had been cheerfully pumping petrol from a corner of Store Street - itself lined with independent shops and cafés - since 1926, and was thought to be the oldest petrol station in London. It looked like an enlarged version of something found in a model village. I only filled up there once. Remarkably, It wasn't self service - and I can't be entirely sure that the chap who came out of the tiny office wasn't in a brown store coat and smoking a pipe. According to The Londonist The congestion charge has caused a drop in business, and the lease expired on June 6th. Presumably we can look forward to more flats on the site. Ho hum.

(picture from Mike Smith - a lesson learned - I never took a picture while I had a the chance)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Another Soho Tragedy

gone gone gone

From flickrite Sunshine Indoors comes the dread news that coffee merchant Angelucci has moved out of Frith Street after 79 years. They're now going to be trading from East Finchley. I never got around to visiting their dark little shop with its original sans serif signage and 50s cash register. Whenever I tried, it was always closed, but I'm very familiar with their coffee - they have been supplying nearby stalwart Bar Italia with their Mokital blend since 1949.



At least the venerable Algerian Coffee Stores is still there on Old Compton Street. A few weeks ago, my wife and I picked up a bag of their Bolivian organic blend. The smiley chap behind the counter suggested this to us after we told him of my inability to wake up properly. It's as black as coal dust. I tried a shot the next day, and immediately felt like I'd been wired into the national grid. I didn't sleep properly for three days.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Blimey, That's Good

From Argentinian street artist Blu comes this astonishing short film. It's called MUTO - and to describe it merely as 'animated graffiti' is a gross insult.

More good stuff here

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hallucinating Light


There is a very special quality to the light in the area round Archingeay, a hamlet in the Charente-Maritime bit of France we visited last week. We were staying with my wife's parents in their part-modernised farmhouse, lost in a million hectares of fields. It felt like being in a Monopoly house placed in the centre of a full-size snooker table. The shower was in a partition knocked-up in the corner of an ancient, unchanged barn haunted by an owl and two wild cats. In the evenings the whole area was bathed in a soft, yellow-pink glow that made everything look like a 1970s Coke advert. At night the darkness was almost tangible. Living in London you forget just how dark a night can be, and just how silent - In the farmyard I couldn't see past the end of my nose, and all I could hear was my tinnitus. In the early mornings the fields were alive with huge, belligerent hares.

I didn't find a barn full of old scooters sleeping under a guano-covered tarpaulin, but I did see an elderly man in a beret carrying a baguette under his arm. He didn't have a Gitanes dangling from his lip, but he did drive off in a rusty 2CV. Vive La France.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

You Need Wheels


Last sunday was the Great London Rideout, 2008 - the largest classic scooter event in London. It's an annual run from Regent's Park to Southend, and each year something like 500 Italian Shopping Bikes take part, as well as a few autos and even a couple of classic bikes - this year there was an Enfield and a Moto Guzzi.

In the early days of the rideout, there would always be a solitary police car parked at the start (which back in 2000 was the Serpentine in Hyde Park), presumably to stop anyone flinging deck chairs at passing rockers. These days, the police stop the traffic so we can jump red lights at some parts of the route and stay together as a pack. The sight and sound of all these scooters moving in a vast peloton down Regent Street is something to see. Car drivers don't seem to mind much, and pedestrians love it - waving from the pavements and hanging out of windows.

I rode my 1981 P125X, "DINO" as The Beloved Sprint "Bella" had failed her MOT. There are scooters of all ages and conditions - from the no-expense-spared restorations costing perhaps ten grand, to unrestored examples like this Lambretta Series 2, complete with its original paint and day-glo dealer sticker.


Last year, I rode "Bella" all the way to Southend with my mate on his PX. It was the first time we'd done it. This year we dropped out at Leytonstone for a bacon sarnie at home.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Frappe à la porte


These hand-and-ball iron doorknockers are ubiquitous in France. They're common in Spain, too where the design is more lifelike. This rusty beauty was on a riverside house in Saint Savinien. The property had seen better days but was still lived in. I wonder if the owner shares my belief that decay can often be more beautiful than polished, painted perfection?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Magasin Fermé


During our week in the solidly rural Charente-Maritime region of France, I was struck by just how many villages and small towns had boarded-up shops and bars. Not closed for winter, but closed for good. The death of the small, independent business isn't just a British problem. Carrefour and Intermarché had several shiny new megastores in the immediate area, which must be especially hard for the small boucherie et charcuterie - these shops were by far the most common derelict premises.

This alimenation générale seemed to be thriving, however. It's in the lovely small town of Saint Savinien, with the river Charente the other side of the street. What is it that is so appealing about signage painted directly onto a wall?

Saint Savinien also had this smart and clearly much-loved little cinema further along the river. Le Florida really does look like it's been transplanted from the art deco stretch of the Miami seafront.