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?