Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Through A Glass Darkly

Westward Ho!, Devon
Along with discarded chicken boxes, vintage scooters, and Fiat Cinquecenti, I am unable to pass a seaside telescope without photographing it. Rusty, crusty one-eyed sentries looking out to sea, no matter what the weather. There all seem to be be made by small regional factories - the most prolific being the mysterious Roland Telescopes of Robin Hoods Bay of which barely a trace can be found on't internet. Although today 20p will get you a slightly blurred view of a dredging boat, these 'scopes are the descendents of ones set up to give cheeky Edwardian chaps a view of ladies emerging from bathing machines. Ding dong!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lazy Blogging, Part 5.

Early morning? Illegal speeds? Paris? 1970s? Mon Dieu!

It's beyond irony that the world's dullest band used this film in one of their vids. I'll stick with the engine note of the Ferrari 275, thanks.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just Fancy

I can't visit Scarborough without checking that John Werrit is still open. This shop always loomed large in our childhood visits to the town, with its mesmerising display of novelties (is this what is meant by 'fancy goods' - I'm never sure), each with a handwritten price ticket. The key, it is said, to a profitable shop is profit per square foot of retail space and literally every inch of the windows at John Werrit is selling something. Practical jokes, cigarette lighters, Princess Diana plates, risqué souvenirs, stickers, patches, bullet keyrings, postcards. The only obvious change since they were selling I Shot JR mugs is the new sign, which used to be a magnificent example of Stymie Bold Italic. God Save Little Shops, as the Kinks once sang.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Modern Times

Home this weekend to Keighley, the town where I was born, bred and buttered. I lived there until I was 21, when I left to become a media ponce Down South. It's a friendly place, where it is impossible to stand at a bus stop or in a Post Office queue without being engaged in a conversation with a total stranger. This person will acquire a pitying look in their eye when they realise you have the misfortune to live where beer costs almost four quid a pint and gets served flat in a gastropub with battered sofas and no beermats, full of other media ponces tapping messages into Blackberries to their spouse that they'll see in half an hour anyway and eating olives at three quid a bowl, and how much to get a taxi home? Blimey.

I can honestly say that I can think of more good pubs in the Keighley area than in central London, and even in most of the more ropey ones you can get a reliably decent pint. Of the good ones, Ossett Brewery's The Albert, a handsome embodiment of Victorian optimism, is a real standout with ten handpumps. Nearby are freehouses the Red Pig and the Cricketers, which always seems to have at least one of Moorhouses' sublime brews on. There are loads of others within a quick ride of the bus station - The Golden Fleece at Oakworth, The White Bear at Steeton, practically every pub in Haworth ... it's (almost) all good in the 'hood.

Two in particular - The Brown Cow and the Boltmakers - are among the best town pubs I've been in anywhere. These are owned by local brewing heroes Timothy Taylor, which has a varied pub estate in the town - from old-man-and-a-jack-russell to night-out-with-the-lads, and everything in between. All of these are worth a visit, and I've tried and failed a couple of times to visit every one on a pub crawl. I was in the Brown Cow on saturday night, and very happy to be there. Along with Taylor's Best Bitter, Golden Best, Landlord and Dark Mild were a seasonal from York Brewery and Suddaby's After Dark Coffee Porter. This was as black as a crow's eyepatch and full of brooding dark notes of toffee, liquorice and yes, espresso. Heavy, but highly drinkable and utterly delicious - it just slid down. They get some unusual guests ales at the Brown Cow. On my last visit they had Naylor's Craven Kriek which was baffling the regulars. I can only describe it as a pale ale with cherry juice in it. It was a lot better than it sounds, but it hasn't been back on.

Taylor's latest acquisition is the Lord Rodney, next to the Parish Church. This is supposedly Keighley's oldest pub, and it's certainly got a history - and not always a happy one. It is rumoured that a few of the local bobbies have rather nice conservatories paid with overtime generated by the Rodney. The pub closed a couple of years ago, and was snapped up by Taylor's who rebuilt extensively and reopened last year. The interior looks overdesigned to my cynical eyes - something that could have been dreamt up by Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen after having lobsters and gorgonzola for supper. They do "cocktails Created by Theme magazine's northern bartender of the year" (It says here). No doubt in the evenings they play 'chilled beats'.

Saving grace is that they sell some fairly unusual bottled beers along with the full range of Taylor's ales (Be warned - Mr and Mrs TIW Snr had the worst pint [and half pint] of Landlord they've ever had here - I can only hope this was a freak aberration.). They've got Orval, Kwak, Brugs Zot, Westmalle Dubbel and - new to me - Christoffel Blond, all at prices that don't make you want punch yourself in anger. Orval and Westmalle have long been favourites of mine but the Christoffel I had yesterday was like falling in love with beer all over again, a banana yellow, zingy and spicy Dutch delight that felt like a lot more than 330cl. Where had it been all my life?

Taylor's are moving with the times and there's a place for the Rodney as well as their more traditional pubs in Keighley. It's not my kinda place, but It's a decent pub to drop by if you want a break from the norm. And I think we can all be thankful that they didn't decide to call it The Lord Rodney Lounge.

Friday, March 20, 2009

When You're Getting On A Bit.

Yorkshire in the 1980s wasn't all corrupt coppers, serial killers and striking miners, despite what David Peace thinks. There was also the immortal Shackleton High Seat Chair advert, which ran on Yorkshire TV for years - at least until the early '90s. I defy anyone over 35 who grew up in the YTV region not to know every word by heart. Apparently this advert is famous in the trade for being one of the most cost-effective commercials ever made. I bet the old dear didn't charge the Equity rate, anyway. Rumour has it that she didn't even have arthur-itis.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


For a place that makes driving so difficult, central London certainly has a lot of multi-storey car parks. Soho alone has about eight - including this one on Poland Street. On the rare occasions that Mrs TIW and I drive to the West End, this is where we park. I'm always glad to see two old adverts at the bottom of the ramp - one for Regent Remoulds and the other for BP Energol. They've been there, I would guess, since the early 60s when there must also have been a garage on the premises. Just the place to drop off your E Type for an oil change while you nip round to Lord John. However, passing by today I noticed that a sign had been crudely nailed over the Energol one announcing that the car park is due to be 'upgraded' which will doubtless mean the end of these bits of everyday history.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

New Coat

The North Star - Leytonstone's best pub by a mile - has had a rough time lately. Some bureaucratic glitch prevented their licence being renewed, leading to about a month of forced closure. There was also a bizarre and unwarranted hate campaign on Beer In The Evening (warning - there's some bad language on that link) and to cap it all, some jackass smashed the fine etched-glass door to the main bar. Last night we had our first visit since the reopening, walking up Browning Road with some trepidation after being tipped off that the pub had been "refurbished". My experience with refurbished pubs has not been a happy one. I appreciate I am probably alone in loving wallpaper with an inch of sticky nicotine on it and chipped formica tables, but a lot of my favourite pubs have chucked the baby out with the bathwater when they've had the decorators in. What I liked about the North Star was the tatty charm of the tongue and groove panelling and the low key lighting. I was fully expecting to see a skip outside full of the pub's soul. I needn't have worried. All that's been done is some fresh paintwork and replacing the 25-watt bulbs with brighter ones, a good dusting and some new curtains. Apparently, much of the decorating was done by the pub's many loyal regulars. The main bar's door was boarded up while a replica of the original is being made. I did make a mental note of what was on their six pumps last night, but trying to keep up with my father-in-law means I can only remember Bombardier, Adnams Bitter and Broadside. There might have been a Woodfordes. It was a long night.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lazy Blogging, Part 4.

The stupendously foliaged Bonnie "Prince" Billy, I Am Goodbye.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On the Bus

In our increasingly sterile countryside, it's getting quite rare to find one of those houses or farms that always have a number of rotting vehicles in their gardens, along with an angry dog on a ten-foot chain.

The picture above (taken with a pinhole camera) is of the enigmatic 'Seafield' perched right on the edge of the cliffs at Westward Ho in Devon. It was built in about 1860 and has been variously a home, B&B and a wartime billet for army officers. The locals call it 'The Russian House'. It looks abandoned, but occupancy is given away by the curtains which twitch if anyone gets near all the junk - including an Allegro 1500 estate and a small fishing boat - they have spilling from their front garden onto the coastal footpath. Whenever I see these sorts of places, the suspicion gnaws at me that forgotten in an outbuilding is a dusty Vincent Black Shadow, Lambretta Rallymaster or a dismantled Spitfire.

How about finding what appears to be a mid-60s Vespa VBB (GS or Sportique) in a bus, in what looks like deep American countryside? The chainsaw he uses to chop the trees back is undoubtedly more powerful than the Vep's little motor.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Old Skool

I'm not the first scooterist in my family. Here's a photo of a fashionable and youthful TIW Senior on his 1957 Lambretta LD150, in about 1960. The picture was most likely taken by his mate Mal, who bought an LD at the same time. The late 50s/early 60s were of course a time when many of these new 'teenagers' were earning decent money, and could afford their own transport. Dad doesn't have particularly fond memories of his Lambretta: "It was pretty unreliable - and it even broke down when I took the motorcycle test." It can't have been all that bad - he kept it for three years until he could afford his first car, a Reliant Regal, which could be driven on a bike licence as long as - bafflingly - the reverse gear was deactivated. The scoot went to his newly wed brother, who until then had been getting around on a WW2 surplus Welbike. At last, Dad and his mates could arrive at the Bradford Mecca or Batley Variety Club without having to check in a dripping wet Belstaff Roadmaster and an Everoak lid. Good job he got rid of the scooter, or he might never have met my mum.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

I got the power

Plonking around our capital on Ten-Inch Wheels, you get to be very aware of the state of the roads. On a Vespa you feel each and every bump and depression. In the last five years, I have noticed that potholes are getting bigger and deeper and the general state of London's roads is getting very much worse. On my daily commute I negotiate at least four wheel-swallowers, one of which is so deep that a set of ancient cobbles can be seen in the bottom. The daddy of all potholes is the one on the westbound stretch of the Bow Flyover. This is a jagged rut, at least a hundred feet long, several inches deep and about 4 inches wide that stretches from almost the bottom of the flyover to just over the apex where it abruptly terminates with a series of neat repairs. This is the point where the Newham and Tower Hamlets council boundaries meet. Tower Hamlets have fixed their bit of the bridge, Newham haven't. Of course, a major road bridge isn't the reponsibility of one single authority. The idea! Riding over this bridge can be terrifying - especially as only 3%* of drivers in the East End have actually passed a driving test. Being tailgated by a BMW (it's always a BMW) is quite enough without having to avoid a road defect that could have been designed especially to trap scooter wheels.

Ever since I tried to get an ID card when I lived in Munich, I've done all I can to avoid dealing with local government. There, my dour and pessimistic colleagues informed me that if I got patted down by the Polizei and found to be an 'alien' (yes, really) with no identification, I would certainly be sent to Colditz and put in an iron maiden. Securing the card involved stalking endless, echoing corridors of a great many buildings in search of obscure offices where a sour-faced chainsmoking hermit would grudgingly stamp one of my dozens of gaudily coloured forms. This went on for several weeks. At one point I had to get a form from a department in a former mansion in the Bavarian countryside. When i presented myself at the front desk, a visibly amused member of staff informed me that the place had been converted to a hotel a couple of years earlier. I still don't know if that was some sort of German joke at my expense. I gave up after that, and took my chances with the cops.

However, reporting the fault to Newham Council was relatively painless. I spent fully half of the conversation reassuring the bloke on the other end of the line that I really did want to report a fault in Newham, even though i don't actually live in Newham. He said it will be investigated within 48 hours. We'll see.

* probably.

(image from diamond geezer)