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.