Monday, December 28, 2009

Very New Year

This was the first Christmas I've spent away from 'home'. No matter where I was, I've always managed to get back to my mam and dad's in Yorkshire. This Chrimbo was the first one away as a married man, down in Devon at my in-laws.

Their house is perched on an escarpment over the mouth of the Torridge Estuary. It's a much loved home of well-banked wood fires, friendly dogs, wellies in the porch and old, creaky beds piled with ancient, indestructible Witney blankets.

The Shipping Forecast - still the best poem ever written - takes on a different dimension down there. An ear is always cocked for the word 'Lundy', and with nothing much between the house and Canada, a silent prayer is often given to preserve the roof tiles. I'm used to sleet - it's the normal weather for Keighley from October to late May - but this was the first time I'd experienced it coming upwards, blown from the plain below the house. Christmas day, however, was a perfect eggshell blue day. Best spent on the beach with a pair of enthusiastic dogs.


I've mentioned before the dearth of decent pubs in Bideford. The nearby, Bladerunner-esque megacity of Barnstaple (population 25,000) is even worse. Leaving Mrs TIW and her mum to go shopping, I thought I'd give the North Country a try. I'd long marked it as "my" type of pub, and online reviews backed me up. However, I found closed and for sale. I'm willing to be put right, but It seems that every boozer in town is now a half-arsed "fun" pub, a vertical drinking hellhole or a meat-raffle 'n' wifebeater stinkbin where ignoring the smoking ban is a positive virtue. Barnstaple now has two Wetherspoons, which must surely prove something, even if I can't tell you what it is. It was a defeated Ten-Inch who supped his (excellent) pint of Holdens Golden Glow at the Panniers 'spoons.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ho Ho Ho

Sincere thanks to all who visited Ten Inch Wheels this year, and thanks for all your comments. Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lazy Blogging, Part 17.

The Unthanks: 'Lucky Gilchrist'

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's still a London Thing


Back in May I mentioned that I'd shared a District Line journey with a girl playing a full-sized harp. As I said at the time, It was a perfect London moment. Well, I've finally found a way to get images off my damnably rubbish mobile phone, so that's as good an excuse as any to mention it again. Her doting companion - clearly this was another chapter in a long story of unrequited love - was topping up a handled half glass with Chimay Bleu. If you're going to stick it to BoJo's daft drinking ban, you may as well stick it with a decent beer.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Man Of Steel

My slightly dodgy hearing can be traced back to the 15th of November 1989, the night I saw the Happy Mondays at Bradford Queens Hall. The group were in all their baggydelic pomp and on the threshold of international fame. A couple of years later I was at art college in Carlisle and saw this guy, Bob Brozman, play in the café of the city museum. Brozman is the best guitarist you've perhaps never heard of. On a good day (and his days are always good) he can make Pete Townsend look like he's just picked up Bert Weedon's Play In A Day. Brozman's the acknowledged maestro of the National Steel Guitar, the beautiful instruments often associated with 1920s Blues players. Nationals were popular with Bluesmen in the pre-amplifier days because they were three or four times louder than wooden guitars, and your playing could be heard over the hubbub of the average Juke Joint. Brozman started to collect these guitars when he was about 13 and Nationals were deeply unfashionable, available from pawnbrokers for a couple of dollars. He now has one of the largest collections in the world. That evening in Carlisle was electrifying, with Brozman doing a set that encompassed everything from Gyspy Swing to Bottleneck Blues, lap steel and Hawaiian. He even serenaded us all out of the candlelit building with his ukelele. I've seen a lot of bands since, but along with the Mondays this was best gig i've ever been to, made even more memorable by the fact that It was the night I met Mrs Ten-Inch Wheels.

Friday, December 4, 2009

40 Beers - Part Seven

Three from a selection we picked up at La Cave à Bulles, a superb beer shop near the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Simon, the owner, seemed to know more about beer than anyone I've ever met, and his English was so good he could tell I was from Yorkshire by my accent. A much more pleasant experience than going to Utobeer at Borough market, about the only decent beer shop in central London. On our visit the brewer from the Leireken brewery in Opwijk was trying out a new fruit beer on some of the customers. I haven't opened my bottle yet - I'm saving it along with a scary-looking Belgian 9% brew for nearer Christmas.

20) Brasserie Uberach Doigt De Dieu (France) (bottle): Very effervescent and noisy pour, murky light toffee body with a faint spicy whiff. A bit thin in the mouth but tangy with hints of stewed fruit and distant smokiness. Some black toffee and treacle. It sort of tastes like it looks, sticky and toffeeapple-y. Overall, a bit dull. I like the cheeky label apeing Leffe's dubious abbey "heritage".

21) Sornin Clugny III (France) (bottle): Dark amber with explosive frothy head and a sherbert-y nose. Lots of mellow marmalade and honey, (my original notes say 'old honey' - whatever that means), brandy, orange peel. Complex, summery, enjoyable and satisfying. Doesn't taste like 6%. Great.

22) Corsendonk Agnes (Belgium) (bottle): Butterscotch body with a snow-white, good three inches of head. Very fragrant - lots of sweet, baking bread. Spice, caramel, brown sugar and a brief hop bitterness giving way to burnt malt and more spice. Very enjoyable.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lazy Blogging, Part 16.

Flight Of The Conchords: 'Carol Brown'

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Souvenir Of The London Olympics

Olympic souvenir

My route to work skirts what will be the Olympic Park - there's a cycle path between Leyton and Hackney Wick. The road traffic thunders to my right, and the 2012 games site grows at a barely believable rate on my left. There's always something new to see, and often something new to avoid. Yesterday a series of holes had been dug in the middle of the cycle path. In the fenced-off spoil heap I saw this bottle.

"If that's still there on my way home, I'm having it" I said to myself. If whoever dug it out wanted it, they'd have taken it. It's better in our house than back underground or broken up. 6.45pm and there I am, digging away under the fence like a fox after a chicken.

So, dear visitors - any idea what it would have once held? There's a similar (but cruder) one on the Museum Of London website, described as a 'Spirit Flask'. Which spirit? Gin? Whisky? Intriguingly, it's got a glass marble sealing the neck which is threaded for a (presumably) rubber bung. Something inside rattles. There aren't any markings on the bottle at all. I sincerely hope I haven't brought home a latter-day Witch Bottle.

According to my stats this blog gets about 12 visitors a day. They can't all be spambots. Don't be shy - say hello. Especially if you know about stoneware bottles.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cofio'r hogiau

On our trip to the Somme battlefields in July, the place with the most atmosphere by far was Mametz Wood. The site where the 38th (Welsh) Division was cut to ribbons between the 7th and 12th of July 1916 is marked by a statue of a belligerent red dragon, gripping barbed wire in its claw. The Welshmen advanced past this point towards the wood. In the hours before the assault they had been in their starting positions behind the ridge here, singing hymns they would have known from chapel and sunday school. Even by the standards of the Somme, taking Mametz was a hideous task - The 14th Welsh (Swansea) Battalion alone suffered almost 400 killed or wounded from some 680 men. Any who survived the open ground in front of the wood, swept by machine gun and tangled in the wire, faced a stubborn enemy dug into a natural fortress of fallen trees and thick undergrowth. Fighting in the wood was primitive and desperate - bayonet, grenade and rifle butt. A few days after the Germans had been forced out, the poet Robert Graves entered the wood to find a greatcoat for the unseasonably cold nights. He found the wood full of the dead of the South Wales Borderers and Royal Welch Fusiliers, looking pitifully small alongside the corpses of the big Prussian Guards.

Comparing maps from 1916 with the site today, Mametz has more or less the same 'footprint', though all the trees are post 1918. The wood is a brooding presence, glowering at you across the valley. I'm not the first visitor to feel like I was being watched by many unseen eyes. It was almost as if the wood gave out some sort or radiation - like being at the other end the room from a large fire. We considered walking up to the fringe of the trees, but both admitted later that we were relieved when the sudden sound of a hunter's shotgun from within the green dark made us return to the car.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Mysterious Orient

Coming from Yorkshire and not having at least a passing interest in rugby and cricket is like coming from Spain and not being a catholic - possible, but unlikely. I quite like boxing too, but I've definately got zero interest in 'footy'. The nearest I've ever been to a football ground was last night's Piglet 9 beer festival at Leyton Orient Supporters club, tucked into Orient's new(ish) West Stand, close to what will be the Olympic park. The LOSC always has 5 cask ales on and a real cider which, I gather, is unusual in a sport associated with lagerswillers. In 2008 the club was awarded CAMRA Club of the Year, joint winner with Appleton Thorn Village Hall in Cheshire.

I haven't been to a festival in London for a couple of years. The last one was a Pig's Ear event at Stratford which was (let's be honest) dreadful. The beer was poorly kept, and for the most part undrinkable - in fact, I ended up with a raging indegestion that went on for days. However, I'd heard good things about the LOSC festivals, and everything I'd been told turned out to be true. The bar is spotlessly clean - literally gleaming in places - with enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteer staff. The punters seemed more mixed than perhaps might have been encountered at similar events in the past - neither exclusively white and beardy nor male. Almost all of the thirty-odd beers were on stillage, and every one we tried - apart from one stinky half of Cambridge Moonshine's Engagement - was in absolutely spot-on condition.

Most of the ales were from Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex with a specially brewed Brodie's Orient from just up the road. I didn't get to try that, but we hacked our way through Crouch Vale's Topsail (huge hop blast), Harwich's Bathside Bitter (marmalade, orange peel), Nethergate Umbel Magna (prunes) and Old Cannon Gunner's Daughter (sharp, bitter). A real standout was Brentwood's Chestnut Stout, a massively smoky mouthful of tingling black coffee notes. We were enjoying ourselves so much that suddenly we were the last ones left, with the staff stacking up the chairs. I had a brief chat with (I presume) the club secretary, an affable gent who pretended not to notice that I was slurring my words. We weren't the only ones who had a good night. On the way home we passed a bloke who was dragging himself hand-over-hand up the street using the park railings.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Death Of A Thousand Cuts


What makes London? What makes this barely-governable living city what it is? This city which I often hate but more often love? The people, the tube, the cabs, the pubs? The 'London-ness' of it all? The buildings? The shops?

Ah yes. Shops. Independent, quirky enclaves of individualism. Places like Baron Of Piccadilly, the demise of which I blogged about in June. Sadly, the Crown Estate had more plans. The entire block that Baron fronts is to go, chopped right back to Jermyn Street. Bates Hatters, Landaw Tobacconist, Geo Trumper's Gents Hairdresser. All to be destroyed and replaced by something of such staggering blandness it should make all good men and women weep hot tears of blood.


(photos from the ever vigilant Dusty 7s)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tin of doom

I'm a designer, me. I like design that's straight to the point. Economy of line and type. Less is more. I don't think I could have done my job very well in the Art Deco era or at the height of Victorian frothery. That's why I love this tin, which we saw at the Museum Of Garden History last weekend. Completely justified the six quid it cost to see what amounted to a small collection of old rakes.


'Slug Death'. Marvellous. And I've even got to the end of this post without typing 'does exactly what it says on the tin'. Oh.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Life And Nothing But

On our visit to the Somme battlefields last July, we stopped at Lochnagar Crater near La Boiselle. This enormous dent in the Picard landscape was left by British miners detonating a total of 60,000 lbs of Ammonal under the German front line at 7.28 on the 1st july 1916. It was one of the first events of what was to become the bloodiest day in the history of the British army, with almost 60,000 casualties in those first hours.


The crater is now privately owned by an Englishman, Richard Dunning. He managed to purchase the site in 1978, concerned by encroachment of agriculture and attempts to refill the hole. Today, Lochnagar attracts about 300,000 visitors annually. Given the scale of the slaughter in the vicinity - it's thought that the remains of at least 300 Germans lie in the crater - it's perhaps not surprising that even such a well-visited site sometimes gives up its dead. In 1998 the remains of Private George Nugent of the Tyneside Scottish were discovered by accident on the western lip of the crater by two British tourists. After exhaustive research leading to his identification, Private Nugent's name was removed from the Thiepval Memorial to the missing and he was laid properly to rest at Ovillers Military Cemetery near Albert. The inscription on his headstone reads: 'Lost, found - but never forgotten'.


Monday, November 9, 2009


Does the world need another movie remake? The 1947 classic Brighton Rock is being 'reimagineered', this time set amongst the mod and rocker deckchair-chucking events of the early 60s.

A problem for any filmmaker wanting a load of youngsters on classic scoots is that youngsters don't ride classic scoots. Well, not many do anyway. I suspect the director Rowan Joffe approached numerous established scooter clubs for extras, which is why most of the riders in this clip, filmed by a friend-of-a-friend, look distinctly thirty and forty-something and to be fair, portly. Well, would you lend your pride and joy to an 18-year old to ride up and down Royal Parade? Me neither.

(This was filmed in Eastbourne. Brighton is too er, Brighton-y these days. Incidentally, the famous scene in Quadrophenia when the mods ride over the crest of the hill and stop to look at Brighton set before them? They were actually looking at Eastbourne from East Dean Road).

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

40 Beers, Part 6


I've expressed my love for Keighley's Boltmakers Arms before. This tiny pub is the nearest thing Timothy Taylor's has to a brewery tap, and serves the definitive pint of Landlord. It's a pint of such unequivocal perfection that it's been known to bring a tear to the eye of returning natives. I was in there on friday afternoon with my mate Lee, after three pints at Keighley's JDW, the Livery Rooms. Despite the odd sticky table and stabby loon, it's pretty good as 'spoons go, and their Autumn beer festival added three pints to my Forty Beers, all from cask:

17) Adnams Pale Champion Ale: Brewed for festival. Polished copper body, with an intensely bitter, citrus -y hoppy mouthful and a long hop finish. Excellent.

18) Woodford Dragon Hall: Big khaki head, sweetish chocolatey malt, yet bitter.

19) O'Hanlon Red Ale: Glowing red body with a lacing head. Sweet, toffee, tongue-coating nuttiness. Malt finish, hints of bubblegum.

Back at the Bolts, our post-Landlord attention shifted to the guest pump. The handwritten clip said simply BOLTMAKERS BEST BITTER 4%. Someone behind us whispered that it might be a Taylor's test brew. Someone else pointed out that Taylors already do a peerless 4% Best Bitter, and it was on sale two pumps away, you idiot. There were no clues being given from the other side of the bar. "It's a one off, just for us" said the barmaid, with the guv'nor Phil looking on inscrutably. "Is it brewed in Keighley?" we asked. "Er, might be" came the reply. As it happens we later got a tip-off (with no evidence at all) that it was "possibly" a special from the Old Bear brewery. Whatever it was, it was packed with floral notes and echoes of whisky malt.

Later, at my dad's club I overheard two domino players talking quietly about "that secret Taylor's test beer they've got down at the Bolts".

And In such ways do rumours start.

The Pleasure Killers

Daft as it may seem, one of the world's first 'modern' theme parks was at Shipley Glen in Yorkshire. For the Victorian and Edwardian mill workers of industrial Airedale, the fresh air of the Glen was a welcome escape from the often unhealthy (and at times lethal) living and working conditions of the valley bottom. Local entrepreneurs constructed what we would now term tourist attractions as early as the 1880s, including cablecar rides, toboggans and something rejoicing in the name of the Royal Yorkshire Switchback. These rides came and went over the years, though some - presumably the ones with the least accidents - became permanent. Until 2004, Prod Lane at the eastern end of the Glen was still home to a collection of ancient rides at the tiny amusement park called the Pleasure Grounds. Here could be found the Aerial Glide (pictured at the top of this post - image from UK Rides), built in 1900 and the oldest ride of its type in the world. Despite its age the Glide was still definitely a thrill for the kids of Airedale until it closed. You'd sit in a chair suspended from an overhead track, an attendant would give you a hefty shove and gravity would take you whizzing over the boulder-strewn hillside. Hopefully, another attendant would grab you at the other end of the ride where you'd dismount, shaky-legged, to be reunited with your grinning parents who'd taken the same ride in their own childhoods, just as their parents had.

Inevitably, the owners of the Pleasure Grounds realised that the land was prime real estate, so the whole site was cleared in 2003-2004 for - sigh - executive housing, despite attempted protection for the Glide and a lot of legal jousting, protests and heartfelt articles in the Telegraph And Argus. No doubt this unique ride is now being recycled somewhere in China for mobile phone components. It should be pointed out that the little fairground was actually thriving. It was no dead duck.

I was up at Shipley Glen on Saturday, with my dad and grandma, both Pleasure Ground veterans. The place is now a brownfield site with no sign of building work, or even a hint of it. It is literally a waste. The only remaining attractions from Shipley Glen's themepark heyday is the marvellous Glen Tramway, which I wrote about some years back for Nothing To See Here.

Nearby is a Dodgems, rotting gracefully back into the moor, the original cars hidden under shrouds like corpses. This was functioning two or three years ago - I went on it with my mum - but now it looks likes the kind of ride seen on Scooby Doo.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lazy Blogging, Part 15.

Not been posting much recently. Sorry. I just haven't seen, read, done or drank anything worth blogging about. Life has been ploddingly predictable. I'm sure you didn't want to read about me painting the bay windows of our house.

Anyway - here's Jake Thackray. He's a bit forgotten these days, but he was one of those rare singer/songwriters who had the gift of writing songs that were at the same time beautiful and funny.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lazy Blogging, Part 14.

Harry Nilsson: 'Jump Into The Fire'

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Broon tale

So, Newcastle Brown is (probably) off to Tadcaster. Much as I'm all for region-specific products I can't bring myself to feel anything about this, unlike the demise of Tetley. If the scary factory shown on Oz And James Drink To Britain is anything to go by, 'dog' has been made by scientists with clipboards rather than brewers with shovels since it moved over the Tyne to Gateshead in 2005. I can't remember the last time I saw anyone order a Newky, and I haven't touched the stuff in years - it tastes like cold 2p coins to me.

However, I have a bit of a history with Newcastle Brown. It was standard-issue kit when I was a footsoldier in the Grebo Wars of the late 80s. The three or so bottles I consumed every saturday at the much-missed Bradford indie club Tumblers always guaranteed a decent kip on the night bus back home. So decent, in fact, that a couple of times I woke up in the Keighley And District garage being driven through the bus washer.

Monday, October 12, 2009



The picture above is one of the three Evening Standard pitchers near Monument tube station, taken on the day London was awarded the Olympic Games, and the day before the 7/7 bombings. Until April one of his neigbouring sellers was Ian Tomlinson.

Hard to imagine, but the day may be at hand when London no longer has its Standard vendors. From today, the 182-year-old paper will be a free sheet, with the vendors handing it out, rather than selling it. Along with the news, they'll still be dispensing their famously robust opinions (whether you want them or not) , weather forecasts, betting tips and directions to tourists - but for how long remains to be seen. This is a huge experiment which could easily see this dismal newspaper's collapse. By far the best thing about it is the paper's public face - the vendors - some of whom have been trading from family pitches for most of the Standard's existence.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Darkness


Despite the minicab drivers, boy racers, weekend millionaires in hired BMW M3s, hooded yoofs who think it's wussy to use pedestrian crossings, the weather, stray dogs, falling branches, bendy buses, pizza delivery mopeds, phone-yakking Audi drivers, spilled diesel, National Express coaches and cyclists without lights, riding home on my PX is stil preferable to the Kafkaesque bureaucratic hoops my employer makes you jump through to get a cab home, even when working very late.

The ride last night was a quiet one, but I had more near-misses than usual, and the pavements were full of shouting drunks. Near my house a silver Golf missed me by inches, as it cut the corner of the junction I waited at. There was more shouting from a group of Eastern Europeans saying their goodnights nearby. A couple of minutes from home some nutcase also had a rant, this time jumping off the kerb to point at me with both hands. I gave him two fingers and carried on.

Hang on. What did he say?

"You haven't got your lights on"

I stopped, turned around and trundled back to the bloke, apologised for my two-fingered salute and thanked him for the warning. Fortunately he was OK about it.

So - sorry to all those "shouting drunks" and sorry to the group of Eastern Europeans. And sorry to all those drivers surprised by a dark blue Vespa looming out of nowhere. Oops.

Friday, October 2, 2009

40 Beers, Part 5

In the interests of blog-advancement TIW will drink anything. Even beer of the type not supped since I could convince a rightly-dubious Mr Chad that I was old enough to buy 4 tins of teen party-tastic Gold Cross Lager, Challenge Bitter or some other product from the likes of the Federation Brewery. I soon grew out of it - Timothy Taylor was just down the road. Even at college I couldn't drink sub-budget beer. When my mates and I were surviving on boiled veg flavoured with Bovril we would club together for McKewans or Tennents. One night we cut the bottom off the sofa, and along with a 1985 Hoseasons Boating Brochure found enough change to buy two bottles of Hook Norton.

So. Here we are with:

16) "Produced In UK": Tesco Value Bitter (tin). Greenish copper body, tight off-white lasting head. Fairly unpleasant 'rubber' nose with the merest hint of unwashed socks. Very, very thin - almost tasteless. Faint metallic finish with wrong-end-of-telescope traces of hop bitterness. Ironically, this tastes more like a very cheap lager than a very cheap bitter. Not really disgusting, and at 2.1% just a bit pointless. I'm not somebody who drinks to get drunk, but it would be nice to have some flavour if there's no chance of getting even slightly merry. I mean, what can you expect much at 94p for four cans? Probably comes into its own as a slug catcher and I've heard of its efficacy for making sunflowers grow.


Lazy Blogging, Part 13.

Flight Of The Conchords: 'We're Both In Love With A Sexy Lady'

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

40 Beers, part 4

On again! On again!

12) Brakspear Oxford Gold (Bottle): The colour of polished brass in a country church. Lasting head, very bitter with a long malt finish. Smells like walking past a busy pub. Warming orange notes. Very good.

13) Morland (GK) Old Crafty Hen (Bottle): Pours dark copper with a massive, tight creamy head reminiscent of 'Swiss Tony'. Full bodied, heavy malt with plum and prune coming through. Long darkly fruit finish. Treacly. Enjoyable, but one's enough.

14) Morland (GK) Hen's Tooth (Bottle): Lots of sediment, caught in bottle neck. Dark ruby and caramel coloured with a soft sherry, fruity nose. Big hit of sherry and ruby port with a lasting fruit finish. Lots of 'christmassy' flavours here - fruitcake and madeira. Great. Hohoho.

15) Shepherd Neame 1698 (Bottle): Shallow, tight head sat on a body the colour of golden syrup. Faintly spicy nose. Easy drink with cola and nutty notes. Thoroughly enjoyable; a good, rounded ale.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Lazy Blogging, Part 12.

Ian Dury And The Blockheads: Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part Three

I don't think "scooters" or "beer" get a mention, but "La Vincent Motorsickle" does. This week's lazy bloggering suggested by Affer. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gor Blimey

So - farewell Chas 'n' Dave. The duo, who'd been together since 1972, have called it a day. Bassist Dave Peacock, whose wife died recently has understandably had enough of life on the road. They were often seen as a novelty band, though there was no doubting their brilliant musicianship and witty, supremely crafted songs. They also sung in English accents, a rarity even today. Chas Hodges is arguably the greatest rock pianist alive, with his distinctive 'barrelhouse' sound. His ivory tinkling as a session player on Labi Siffre's I Got The was famously sampled by Eminem for My Name Is.

Here's Rabbit and Gertcha - two of the best tracks ever commited to vinyl. I'm not joking.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

700mm Wheels

Getting re-aquainted with my bike in july, I remembered just how much I love cycling, despite the odd encounter with appalling cretins in ugly German cars, no doubt paid for using the limits of several dubious credit cards (I'll get to that later). I started pedalling to work once or twice a week on my old Specialized Hardrock A1 - something I now undertake four or five times a week on the bike I got myself as a fortieth birthday present. It's a Trek 7.3FX, a sort of flat-handlebar road bike and so light compared to the Hardrock that it seems to float an inch above the tarmac, even with me on board. And here's the odd thing - despite the longer route via Victoria Park, I'm always at my desk ten minutes quicker than if I ride in on my Vespa. I have no idea how.

Today, Mrs TIW and I took part in the London Skyride. With 50,000 other cyclists we enjoyed the slightly odd feeling of riding from Tower Hill to Buckingham Palace on traffic-free roads. As with the Great London Rideout, there's some sort of Nobel prize to be earned in working out how it is that despite the number and density of participants, we saw no collisions. Apart from helping one lass who'd apparently fainted, the paramedics - also on bikes - were bystanders, chatting to what must be the most polite and cheerful marshals I've encountered. Also present was Chris Hoy, looking like a human designed by Sir Nigel Gresley.


All the cycling tribes were there - the beardies on tourers, the eccentrics on recumbents, the sandal-wearers on Moultons, the families on Asda specials, the City workers on Bromptons, the Very Serious Roadies on high-end Italian carbon and the hipsters on fixed-wheel death traps. And everyone was smiling.


Even the gentleman we encountered on the way home didn't ruin our day. He turned left in his Audi* immediately in front of Mrs TIW, so close that the side of his car brushed the front wheel of her bike. He'd done this manouever - at high speed , without indicating - to travel precisely one car length. When I told him what I thought of his driving he shouted at me that he'd "punch me out". Until then I'd never seen somebody so angry that their eyes were actually popping out of their head. Despite this, I was still smiling, which made him even more angry - so we rode off for a pint nearer home. A pox on him.

* (it's the new BMW, folks)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

40 Beers, part 3

Here we go again. I'm already up to 20 new beers, and it's barely mid-september. I'm trying not to bore you by posting them all in one go.

8) Oettinger Pils (can):  In some quarters this beer is being blamed for the alleged decline in German brewing. It is, apparently, Germany's biggest-selling beer which some observers claim is purely down to the very low retail price when sold in supermarkets (is it available on draught?).  The only time I've seen it being drunk in Germany is by lads just released from national service, or football fans swigging rowdily in Munich's main station, watched by twitchy Polizei. Taste? Well, it doesn't really have one - except for the faintest orange notes and a distinct metallic flavour, which presumably wouldn't be there if this was from a bottle rather than a can. There was no discernable nose or finish. It's crisp and refreshing, but then so is water. Despite all this, I actually quite enjoyed it.

9) Brewdog Punk IPA (bottle): Pungent, herby, hoppy nose. Cloudy, straw colour and an intensely hoppy and floral smack in the mouth. Long, long bitter finish. Deserves all the praise it's been given. Not an easy drink, but a supremely enjoyable one. Really sorts the men from the boys, this. I just wish it was easier to find - this bottle was bought in a branch of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, stacked next to the tweed skirts and shortbread biscuits.


10) Fraoch Heather Ale (bottle): The colour of malt whisky with a strongly sweet 'botanic' nose. Fast-vanishing head. Sort of 'medicinal' cloying sweetness with distinct notes of Coca-Cola and honey. Less full-bodied than a first whiff suggests.  Faint but lasting sweet finish. Did I mention this was sweet? It was too sweet for me, but might go well with a curry.

11) Dent Brewery Owd Tup (bottle): Pours dark  with a khaki, lacing head. Oak chips, barbecue smoke and treacle in the nose. Thin and sweet tasting, with liquorice coming through. Nothing distinctive - a bit of a disappointment. Champion Winter Beer Of Britain 1999 (it says here). Maybe it was a duff bottle.

(No pictures of the beers, I'm afraid, so I hope this shot of my brother-in-law's dog Amy will do.)


Blogging Stress

For some reason, recent visitors to Ten-Inch Wheels  have been greeted with a message saying that the blog has been deleted. I couldn't log-in either, and it was all a bit worrying.

It all seems to be working now, but if it does vanish again, I'd just like to say thanks for all the visits and the comments over the last 18 months or so.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lazy Blogging, Part 11.

Flight Of The Conchords - 'Hurt Feelings'.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

40 Beers, part 2

Remember Red Rock Cider? It hung around pubs in the late 80s and the best thing about it were the brilliant 'Police Squad' adverts, featuring Leslie Nielsen, and the strapline "It's Not Red, And There Aren't Any Rocks In It". Eventually it faded away, taking Autumn Gold and Copperhead with it, lamented by nobody.

Red Rock has a beery namesake in a 4 barrel micro at Bishopsteighton in Devon, and the last time she was in the West Country, Mrs TIW bought me three bottles of their brews to try.

5) Red Rock Breakwater: This was a dark toffee colour, with a lively, overflowing head. There was a faint whiff of choclolate and coffee which was more pronounced in the mouth. A real gob-filler. Complex, buttery and tangy but slightly sour. Good stuff.

6) Red Rock Driftwood: Cloudy. Sandy, straw coloured with a pillowy sustained head. Pungent and spicy, "Christmassy" nose. Big coriander and ginger flavours and a lasting 'ginger ale' finish. Warming and very dry. An interesting beer this - some bit at the back of my brain awoke and brought back memories of the nettle beer they sell at Heysham near Morecambe. Good after one of those winter walks between Christmas and New Year, I should think.

7) Red Rock Bitter: Opaque with a fast-diminishing head. Somewhat flat, but I did get some plum in the nose and flavours of sultanas and stewed fruit coming through and worryingly, stewed tea. Reminded me a bit of my poor attempts at homebrew. This bottle might have been a wrong 'un, or it might have been my impatience and not letting it settle (all three beers were bottle conditioned) before I tried it. Worth another try.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Lazy Blogging, Part 10.

The Kinks - The Village Green Preservation Society

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Warning: Scooterbore

Owning a geared Vespa is like a secret handshake. A club without rules where every owner is a member. Wherever you are, Vespa owners always want to talk about their scooters - waiting at the lights, in the pub, in A&E. Doesn't matter. The copy of Scootering you read on the train might get you an upgrade to first class if the guard owns a GS, as happened to my mate.

This bloke dribbled to a halt right in front of us as we were waiting to cross a street off Berlin's Kurfürstendamm. In my Tarzan German I asked him if he wanted any help, though it turned out he just needed to switch his fuel tap to reserve. He'd just picked up the scoot - a spotless and immaculate Rally - from the restorers, and was clearly as pleased as Punch with it.


This example is also a Rally. I think it is, anyway. It's a licence-built Spanish MotoVespa with a Rally body but has the trapezoid headset found on early Sprints. MotoVespa scooters are something of a mystery to me. They often seem to have been built with whatever was in the parts bin at the time.

The scoot was parked photogenically outside a cafe in downtown San Sebastian. The owner was inside sipping a coffee, and when he saw me sneaking around with my camera immediately rushed out and moved his bags so I'd get a better shot. His face lit up when I showed him a photo of 'Bella', my beloved Sprint Veloce. His Rally (if that is indeed what it is ) was thirty years old, and he'd owned it from new. Then he plonked his old plastic helmet on my head and told me to have a ride while he finished el desayuno. So I did, and I didn't stop grinning until teatime.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Forty Beers - Part One.

A few posts back I declared my intention to try 40 new beers in this, my fortieth year. The first new ones I tried were on the day after my birthday, with the bottles picked up at the Berlin Beer Festival.

1) Černá Hora Pater (bottle): Bubblegum nose, mid gold colour. Toffee notes and a slightly sour "cheap cola" finish. Not unpleasant, but I won't be heartbroken If I never try it again.

2) Klosterbrauerei Neuzelle Neuzeller Porter (bottle): Sweet, lightly burnt toast nose. Lots of liquorice and black toffee - reminded me of Robinson's Old Tom. Very enjoyable and very more-ish.

Germany 3) Tegernseer Spezial (Herzoglich Bayerisches Brauhaus Tegernsee) (bottle and draught): The colour of august wheat, no discernable nose that I could detect. Clean, crisp. Very slightly tart with short 'buttercup syrup' finish. Refreshing. A couple of days later I had this vom fass in Bad Tolz. The waiter claimed it was "best beer in Germany - better than Augustiner!". While I can't agree with that, I preferred it to the bottled variety - it was full of sweet malt and fresh grassy-ness (if that's even a word), and a quite superb swig.

4) Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus Tannenzaepfle (bottle) : Slightly metallic nose. Darkish gold colour. Lots of heavy but quite sweet malt and hoppiness sustained into a long finish. Maybe it's that wonderful label, but notes of pine and resin kept creeping in. A real mouthful, anyway. I'd brought one bottle with me, only to find that Dan had got in a whole crate. Prost!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Southern Beer

I "went" 40 somewhere between Berlin and Halle on our nachtzug to Munich. Long-distance train travel in Germany is always enjoyable - especially if you treat yourselves to a sleeper carriage (cheaper than a hotel plus flight) with its own shower and WC. Even the bunks were good - the most comfortable beds of the entire trip. So comfortable, in fact, that I was out like a light before I'd even cracked open any of the bottles I'd picked up in Berlin.

We spent my birthday in Munich with our chum Dan at the Chinese Tower beergarden in the Englischer Garten. This is one of the largest city parks in Europe with acres of trees, grass, compulsory naked sunbathers, river surfers and two beergardens. Of these, HofBrau's Chinese Tower is by far the most popular, with its oompah band and cycle tours, and none the worse for that. The other is the much quieter Seehaus, run by Paulaner which has a decidedly 'yuppie' reputation amongst Müncheners.


When I lived in Munich a litre of beer was the equivalent of three or four quid depending on where and what you drank. Ten years and a recession later the price of a litre mass of helles at the Turm is over six pounds, but the ever-resourceful Dan had a stack of vouchers he'd clipped from a local newspaper, which took the edge off a bit. I also noticed that the always-grumpy blokes pouring the beer were giving full measures rather than the usual half inch below what we always call the 'magic mark', so presumably the credit-crunched locals had finally complained about short litres. HB is such an easy, enjoyable drink that an afternoon in the garten can get a bit expensive - but who cares? It's worth it. We ended up at old favourite Lucullus (Birkenau 31), scoffing lamb cutlets and souvlaki until well into the night - though memories of that part of the day are admittedly hazy.

Next day we knocked the corners off my hangover with a visit to the Augustiner Biergarten on Arnulfstrasse, up past the main station. This is without doubt one of my favourite places to drink, anywhere. I'd probably love it even if they only sold John Smith Smooth, rather than the sublime Augustiner Edelstoff. It's a big, shady spot, with seating for about 5,000 people, but never feels overcrowded even when full to bursting. After a few mass I've often found myself wondering if they'd allow me to have my ashes scattered here.

Many Muencheners consider Augustiner to be the city's best beer. Can't say I can disagree with them. Augustiner places are often a class above those of their competitors, and sometimes downright quirky. If you're in the city, try and find the side door of the Bratwurst Glöckl am Dom, near the Frauenkirche. It'll probably be closed, but push it open. You'll find a tiny, boisterous room at the bottom of a set of stairs rammed with tipsy locals. There's a serving hatch where a character from a Louis Buñuel film will hand you a foaming Edelstoff poured straight from the barrel. Don't enter if you've got a plane to catch, and whatever you do , no matter how much the other drinkers prompt you - and they will - don't ring the bell above the hatch.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ich Bin Berliner


After the sweaty streets of Madrid, Berlin felt positively arctic at "only" 28 degrees. It was good to be in beer country once again, and one of our first stops was the Georgen Brauhaus on the banks of the Spree near Alexanderplatz. This is a relative newcomer, only brewing since 1992. Their beers get something of a hammering in some bits of the blogoshire, but I like their helles. I'd enjoyed it at a couple of UK beer festivals and was keen to try it from the fountainhead, so to speak. Here it was lemony, zesty and refreshing. Just the ticket after all that Cruzcampo, Mahou and Estrella Damm.

We hadn't planned it, but we were in town at the same time as the International Berliner Bierfestival, which claims to be the "longest beer garden worldwide" stretching as it does almost the entire length of Karl Marx Allee. We got there on our last day in Berlin, but couldn't indulge too much. I am without doubt the clumsiest man alive even when I haven't been on the pop, and I didn't fancy drunkenly riding my hire bike under a tram. I slaked the thirst acquired cycling from Friedichstrasse with a (very decent) Lübzer Pils and picked up a few bottles of other beers for later. As miracles happen on holiday I thought there might be a chance that one of the bottle shops could have a Westvleteren under the counter, but no. As it happens, there wasn't that much out of the ordinary to try, but it's worth a visit and would make a quieter alternative to the overrated Oktoberfest down south. The endless row of beer stalls was broken up with music stages. At each one a tiny audience was watching a be-mulleted and enthusiastic guitarist. Bless the Germans - no matter how hard they rock, they always end up looking a bit camp.

The Brits were represented by Greene King, Newcastle Brown and er, Strongbow. I suspect these were stalls run by local agents rather than an expeditionary force by the parent companies. But still - must try harder. Vietnam had a bigger presence than the UK.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Jamon Jamon

I've always been quick on the uptake. It only took me 48 hours to realise that the ladies "shopping" in the streets around Madrid's Callao metro station weren't following some local fad for dressing like hookers. They actually were hookers.


The city was suffocatingly hot - upper 90s during the day, and seemed even hotter at night. We were staying in a hostal off Calle Luna, a pretty dodgy area undergoing a transition similar to that which has happened to Spitalfields and Shoreditch in London. Grubby, seedy and interesting with poky little shops, sweaty bars, Chinese restaurants and a population of prostitutes, hustlers, young hipsters and one or two older residents wondering why the bakery has become a tattooists.

After San Sebastian and Santiago, eating out in Madrid seemed incredibly cheap. Casa Mingo (Paseo de la Florida 34) is a long established no-frills barn of a place which serves nothing much more than roast chicken, which tasted like chicken did before the supermarkets started to pile it high and sell it cheap. They also have their own Asturian sidra, which was just the right side of sweet and filled my entire head with a huge hit of fresh apple.

At Casa Granada, (Calle Del Doctor Cortezo 17) you have to press a buzzer at street level and either brave the tiny lifts or walk to the top floor of a dingy office block off Plaza de Tirso de Molina‎. Worth it though, for the view of the city from the terrace, and to be brought tapas by a friendly Mexican with lurid special forces tattoos.


Museo Del Jamon are a chain which seem to share the original philosophy of Harry Ramsden's before it was bought out and became rubbish - that nothing is too good for ordinary folk. Scoffing the Spanish equivalent of ham, egg and chips washed down with a Mahou in a noisy, panelled room lit by chandeliers the bill only came to about 8 quid. If any verification of the Museo's scran were needed, the queue which stretched down the stairs into the standing-only deli/cafe below contained a group of elderly priests and a young, scowling nun. There's a joke here somewhere.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sultans Of Swing

Leaving the Sabastianos to their gilded lives, we set off to Santiago De Compostela - by train. There's one RENFE service a day and it takes 12 hours. I devoured two books, listened to most of my ipod and had four different passengers sat next to me, only one of whom was sick all over themself. We passed through a landscape that went from lush, to parched - ooh look, an Osborne Bull - and eventually to green hills and swooping gorges spanned by elegant road bridges. Galicia.


In Santiago we hooked up with with Mrs TIW and our Spanish chum G who had both just completed a portion of the Camino Di Santiago - the pilgrimage sometimes described as the Catholic Hajj. Santiago's glory is the Cathedral Of St James - which, basking in the golden light of that evening resembled nothing less than Angkor Wat


Over the next couple of days I attended the Camino mass twice, a moving experience even for a heathen like me. The Camino reaches its peak in summer, and the cathedral was crammed with pilgrims, many with muddy shoes, still wearing rucksacks and often in tears. The scallop shell - symbol of St James - was everywhere, hanging from walking sticks and bags and hats. Some of the people here had trekked or cycled from as far away as Sweden. One lad we met had taken three months to trudge from Southern Germany, eating nothing but boiled potatoes. The emotion in the air was almost tangible, particularly when the priests read out the towns that the walkers had started from.


The climax - if that's the word - of the ceremony is the swinging of the Botafumeiro, the cathderal's gigantic incese burner, the largest of its type in Europe. It takes eight red-robed men pulling on ropes to move it on its 70 metre arc, dangling from a surprisingly frail-looking pulley system. It swishes above the congregation with such force that it almost - but not quite - touches the nave ceilings either side of the Shrine Of St James, filling the entire cathedral with holy smoke. Our spud-eating Bavarian claimed that the original purpose of this was to mask the smell of the pilgrims in the days before showers and deodorant. Not surprisingly, accidents have happened - most notably when Catherine Of Aragon stopped off in Santiago on the way to marrying our own Henry VIII. On that occasion the rope failed and the burner flew out of a high window.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pintxo Point

San Sebastian is one of those places that has you gazing longingly into the windows of estate agents within hours of arriving. It's such a beguiling mixture of climate, beauty, people and food. Blimey, the food. There's such a load of cobblers written about San Sebastian - despite what the sunday broadsheets say, every bar does not deserve a Michelin Star - but the overall standard of nosh is exceptionally high. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on tapas - or pintxos, as the Basques call them. I couldn't even tell you what most of them were called, but drifting from bar to bar in the Old Town scoffing whatever is on offer, is one of life's finest things. It's not cheap, but then it shouldn't be either - apart from the ever-present jamon, the pintxos are mainly seafood with an emphasis on cod, sardine, anchovy and tuna. The fruits of the sea are a matter of fierce pride for the famously outward-looking and seafaring Basques. EU quotas seemed to have decimated the number of fishing vessels in the harbour since our last visit, but it still buzzed with maritime activity and is still a focal point for the locals. Cod and tuna in particular are becoming a rarer and much more difficult and dangerous catch. To paraphrase Walter Scott, it's wasn't fish we we're eating, it was men's lives, so we made sure we finished every morsel, as we would in Whitby or Newlyn. Every bar we visited was pretty good, but the real standouts were the tiny Bar Tamboril (warning: annoying, overdesigned website) on Calle Pescaderia, Bar Aralar at 10 Calle Puerto which was so boistrous and friendly that we kept returning, and the place next door where I had anguillas, a pinxto of tiny eels so spectacularly gorgeous I'm still thinking about it.


Funny how beer you'd tip down your sink at home tastes just brilliant when you're on holiday - even something from Cruzcampo called (I think) 'Polar', a sort of Iberian Fosters Ice. Cruzcampo, along with their owners Heineken rule the roost here, with Amstel and the ubiquitous Mahou. Personally, I've always found Mahou a pretty decent drink home or away, but it was good to find the odd bar with a Pilsner Urquell tap.

Along with Asturias and Galicia, the Basque Country is one of Spain's cider regions. We'd missed the season for visiting San Sebastian's out-of-town cider houses, but we tracked some sidra down at anchovy-specialist Bar Txepetxa (picture in the post below) at 5 Calle Pescaderia. As in Asturias, It was poured from shoulder level by the barman to 'aereate' the liquid. I'm not sure this bit of theatre has any effect on the taste, but I'm not complaining. It was astringent, sour and made you want to suck your cheeks inside out - and utterly delicious. The perfect palate cleanser for more pintxos and more cerveza and more tinto.

We ended up spending a day longer than we planned in San Seb. The doughnut at the hire car agency in Lille forgot to give Our Lad his licence back, so the next leg of our journey was spent not in a Parador near Gijon, but rattling across country in a RENFE train that stopped at every lamppost and farm. Should you find yourself in a similar predicament, be assured that an extra 24 hours in this lovely city is definately no hardship.