Monday, July 20, 2009

* click *

I'm going to be rather busy for the next fortnight or so. A perfect storm of work commitments, a leaky roof and laptop problems means I might not be able to post for a coupla weeks. My semi-accurate rants about scooters, London, pies, beer, pubs, yorkshire, photography and WW2 bombers will be back soon. Please do not adjust your set.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Talking Of Butchers

Asda opened last week near Keighley station. The local councillors decided that a town of barely 60,000 souls couldn't manage with just a Sainsbury, Aldi, Morrison's, Netto, Iceland and umpteen local Co-op Food Fairs. Nope, the needs of the town could best be served by allowing in the rottweiler of retail, part of the 'Wal-Mart Family'. Goodbye independent shops of Cavendish Street, farewell market. Those entrusted with your future have decreed that what Keighley needs is more boarded-up shops, fast-food outlets, tanning salons and estate agents

Despite the state of the modern British high street, butchers' shops, along with pubs, are often great survivors. Passing through Appleby-in-Westmorland the other week, It was all I could do to wait for the car to stop before rushing over to this gem, Ewbank's. It's a very simple place - plain, painted walls and a window area with the cuts plonked onto bare tiles. It looked like the shop you'd find in a model village.

"How long has this been a butcher's?" I gasped.

"Oooh - at least a hundred years" came the reply. "Not changed much".

No pies for sale, though. Maybe I'll suggest that when I send Mr Ewbank a print.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Super Pie Guy

It started with one, and ended up with nine. And it's getting quite expensive. I'm talking about the amount of meat-and-potato pies my colleagues insist on me bringing back from trips to Keighley. My parents' local butcher, Herd's, has been selling quality meat to the town for at least 50 years. There's always a queue, and at Christmas the locals are lined up right round the corner, or collecting their trays of 12 warm pork pies from the back door for a Christmas Eve pie and pea supper party. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. If pie and peas was a Piedmontese peasant dish it would be served up in the finest restaurants in Europe.

Herd's meat is as good as anything I've seen or tasted in Italy or France, and those meat and potato pies have a pavlov's dog-like effect on me whenever I think of them. In fact, my mouth's watering as I type this. It's even whispered that people come from Lancashire for these pies. The beef comes from the butcher's father-in-law's farm, in the bucolic reaches of the Worth Valley. The cows live a happy life eating the lush emerald grass of this rainy corner of God's Own County. The farmer tucks them up every night in their centrally heated byre, and reads them a story as the contented cows drift off to sleep. I can't honestly say if the potatoes had a similarly joyful life before they were pulled from the rich loam of the Vale Of York, to be stacked beneath a lightning-riven oak, then loaded onto a Bedford TK and driven off to the wholesale market at Beverley by a bib-and-brace overalls-wearing pipe-smoking bloke called Alf. Let's just say they did.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Twenty-Six Inch Wheels

Apparently, cycling is undergoing such a rebirth that retailers of can barely keep up with demand. Maybe the downturn is literally making people get on their bike to look for work, just as my maternal grandma did at the age of thirteen when she cycled from Sunderland to Keighley to take a job as a dressmaker. A journey she managed in a single day. For somewhat different reasons I've rescued my bike from the back of the shed, where it was imprisoned under the stepladder, some old curtains and a pile of never-to-be-used lengths of wood which will come with us to our next house (just in case). Being forty with a love of beer isn't a good combination if I want to be able to walk, rather than waddle, in the near future, so recently I've been cycling the five or so miles to work. There was a time when I was quite a serious cyclist. We lived on the edge of zone 1, so getting about by pedal power was a no-brainer. I cycled to work, I cycled to the West End, I cycled to the shops. I regularly cycled to my mates' house in Barnes (30 miles there and back) without a thought. I did some off road - In cold weather my knee reminds me of the time I fell off while riding a moorland trail. I've done the London to Brighton ride, and one year my chum John and me pedalled from Carlisle to Keighley. I also used to cycle to the pub, with the intention of walking the bike back home. I never did, which is why I have scar on my chin after riding straight into some railings. I woke up the next day briefly wondering why I had a pharoah's beard of congealed blood.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Forty Years On

Later this year, I turn 40. Most of my mates reached this alarming milestone in the past few months. We're each strapping on our ale beards to try 40 beers that are new to us over the 365 days from our birthdays. It's not much of a challenge is it? just over three-quarters of a pint per week, if you do spread it over a year. You could conceivably blow your beer beans at a decent-sized festival, or a weekend in Belgium or Germany.  Of course, the new beers are to be enjoyed alongside what you'd normally sup. Any beer counts - even the trampagne from the local Londis. it's just got to be new to the participant. Being the group's tame designer I've knocked up a booklet (cover left) that we can carry with us to record what we drink and what it tastes like. I need the discipline. I've indulged in some shameless tickery before, but I usually scribble what I've had on the back of a damp beermat that ends up going through the washing machine. I've had my share of different ales, but with today's kaleidescopic choice of global micro and macro brews, finding 40 new beers should be an easy and enjoyable experience. Yes, I do realise how chin-strokingly nerdy this all sounds. What can I say? I'm a chin-stroking nerd.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Keighley News

Bad news for the drinkers of Keighley. The Albert, leased from Timothy Taylor by the Ossett Brewery for the last eight or so months, is back with the original owners. I say bad news, but it's all relative - nobody will mind having Taylor's ales back at the Albert (although Ossett did have a couple of TT pumps as 'guests'), but it was nice to have the full range of another brewery in the town. I only managed to get into the Ossettised Albert once, but I was very impressed. The Albert had been refit from a tired old rocker's pub - complete with motorbike bolted to the wall - in about 1995 when Taylor's refurbished their entire estate, and ended up being done in a sort of chintzy Victorian-lite. Ossett improved the interior a lot with a their retro-contemporary touches, open fire and knocked about Windsor chairs. The beer was spot on, too - especially the Silver King which is still a favourite of mine. It's not clear why Ossett's bridgehead in Keighley failed - some say it was caused by contractual wranglings with Taylor's. It might simply be that footfall wasn't enough to justify the battalion of seven or eight (ten?) handpumps and a large pub which must have cost a small fortune to run. I don't have any pictures of the Albert's interior, but there are some here on the fine Huddersfield-based beer 'n' pubs blog A Swift One.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Sort Of Homecoming

Carlisle, The Great Border City. It's where I went to art college back in the early '90s. Cumbria College Of Art And Design was a small institution, happy to be a provincial specialist college a long way from anywhere. A long way from anywhere else in Cumbria, even. We were a 'proper' independent art college - not attached to one of the polytechnics who were converting en masse to universities at the time. With no more than a couple of thousand students we all got to know each other well - so well, in fact, that a few ended up marrying each other - like a certain Mr and Mrs TIW. As it happens, the college is now part of the new University Of Cumbria. The 50s buildings we studied in have now been replaced with a glass and wood construction that looks like it's been transplanted from Austria.

Carlisle was (and still is, I am told) a good place to live. It's a handsome town with a beautiful, pocket-sized cathedral and a thousand year-old castle that looks like a WW2 bunker. The streets are bustling and the multiples haven't entirely taken over the shopping choices. With the exception of Botchergate (I'll get to that in a minute) not a shocking amount had changed since my last visit some 15 years ago. The police station where one night I nudged the desk sergeant awake to report a suspected flasher, moved following the 2005 floods. Most of the banks are still on Bank Street, which is also home to John Watts who've been filling the city centre with the seductive aroma of roasting coffee since 1865. The local papers (there are two) still both have large sections devoted to farming. Tweedy old dears still take afternoon tea at the Crown And Mitre hotel.

Our student pub was the Kings Head, where we'd knock back Theakston's every friday, before wobbling back to our digs to the sound of the cathedral bellringers still practising at midnight. Ale in Carlisle then meant Theakston, or the occasional pint of Tetley or Greene King. I don't ever recall a guest beer, anywhere. Even Jennings from (relatively) nearby Cockermouth was rare. I only recall it being available at one city bar, and then only on their 'student night'. It was in far from prime condition - we called it Gravy Ale - but we drank it because it was cheap. The ubiquity of Theakston was a hangover from the brewer buying the Carlisle State Brewery in the early 70s, though beer making had long left Carlisle by the time we arrived. During winter, the pubs often ran out of beer if the drays (or anything else, including the odd opponent of Carlisle United) couldn't get to the city by road through the snow.

Since my last visit, Carlisle's aldermen have decided that what the city needs is a night time economy, and so all the working class boozers, tattoo parlours, bakers and record shops that once lined Botchergate (always the seedy end of town) have been swept aside and replaced with numerous Vertical Drinking Establishments, all full to bursting at noon. The pavements outside Party Party ('Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin') were still sticky with last night's vomit and spilled alcopop. A group of swaying drunks laughed as they all peed in the gutter. Doorways in the once quiet streets off Botchergate had discarded kebabs and the sharp tang of urine. It was like being in Blackpool, complete with shrieking hen parties in pink cowboy hats. At the station end of Botchergate is a barrier which can be closed to turn the street into what it must have been hoped could be a Cumbrian Ramblas. Some hope.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

If Spoons Could Talk

Yorkshire Yorkshire
This spoon lives in my grandma's cutlery drawer - she uses it for stirring soup. It's had at least three owners, four if you count the US government to whom, I suppose, it still technically belongs. The previous custodian was my great uncle Ernest - her brother - who must have acquired it from an American GI while serving with the Royal Scots Fusiliers in Burma. It would have been in his kit (along with his bullet-drilled tam-o-shanter that his ever-resourceful sister later recycled into a fashionable beret) when, months after the fighting had ended , his troopship finally docked at Southampton. Most of the men on board hadn't seen their families for years, and all of them had seen some of the very bitterest jungle combat of WW2. The dockers were on strike and refused to unload the ship. Until a senior officer of the Fusiliers threatened the shop stewards with a Bren gun, anyway.