Friday, May 29, 2009

Lazy Blogging, Part 8.

Empire Of The Sun: We Are The People

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Back In The Day

We're having windows fitted, which meant transplanting all my books to the other side of the house. One upside to this chore was finding a drawing book that I thought I'd lost years ago. When we lived in pre-gentrified Bethnal Green back in the 90s, there were a lot of "characters" knocking around, and I'd do my best to sketch them. Be gentle. I did indeed go to art college, but drawing from life was never my best subject.

"Outside the Carpenters Arms, Cheshire Street, playing for the sunday market. Unconvincing 'old soldier' outfit made from a bus driver's cap and bits of a a postman's uniform. Cap badge and medals made from tin foil "

"The glass collector at the Old George, Bethnal Green Road. The George is known locally as "Kempy's" after the guv'nor Tommy Kemp, the image of Chas Hodges. The glass collector is a grumpy ex-merchant seaman - and never grumpier than the night we saw him ejecting a group of drunk Russian sailors."

These are figures from Bethnal Green Road market - the figure at the bottom left was the perma-singing proprietor of the bag stall opposite the Old George. At the first sign of sun he'd whip off his shirt, revealing a large beer gut. The guy on the right was a body builder who I'd see waddling around almost every day. He had muscles in his face.

"Homeless man, clearly mentally ill. Sleeps in bus shelter on Bethnal Green Road. Holds long whispered conversations with his hand and spends his days around the Bagel Shop. Looks almost like a shadow or silhouette"

"Our neighbour, Reg [a lovely old diamond geezer if ever there was one]. He has a broken nose and is very dapper. He was born in a house on the very spot our flats are now on [I seem to remember his house was destroyed in the Blitz while Reg was in the navy]. I'd love to ask him how his nose got flattened"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


It wasn't easy being a young biker in the early 60s. You might have a Norton Dominator with Rita Tushingham on the back, but good luck finding somewhere that would serve you a frothy coffee. Society was in high dudgeon over these leather-clad tearaways blasting past Middle England's Rover P4s on the way to Margate. As if that wasn't bad enough, Mods wanted to throw deckchairs at them when they got there. There were sanctuaries of course - Watford's Busy Bee café, on the "norf circ" there was The Ace and down in Hackney Wick, there was the 59 Club. This was founded - in '59 - by Reverend John Oates as the youth club of the Eton Mission. Somehow, Rev Oates persuaded Cliff Richard and Princess Margaret to open the club, which became hugely popular. Working at the Mission at the time was Reverend William Shergold, who in 1962 saw an opportunity to reach out to these bequiffed pariahs causing havoc on the nation's arterial routes. Rev. Shergold had been a motorcyclist since arriving in London during the Blitz, and on visits to places like the Ace was able to talk to the bikers as an equal as he handed out leaflets; "I just had a chat and invited them to my church". Soon ton-up kids were riding from all over the South East to visit the 59 club with its jukebox and coffee machine, but also for services at the Mission where there were blessings of both riders and machines. The bikers were welcome at the 59, not shunned. At one stage the club was the largest of its type in the world, with a three year waiting list. "Father Bill" (pictured above in leathers and dog collar) died on May 17th aged 89, no doubt happy in the knowledge that the 59 club is still going strong.

I may be a heathen, but riding a motorsickle along the Embankment on a deserted summer dawn is a spiritual experience indeed. And you just don't ever feel that in a car.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Missing Link


Last year my beloved Sprint Veloce failed her MOT, and shamefully I never got round to getting the work done. Apart from the engine being turned over every couple of months, Bella languished in a corner of our garden, sleeping under three waterproof tarps and a film of WD40. Neglect is bad for scooters. Water can settle on unused footboards, rotting the monocoque frame. The best thing is to keep riding them, so I finally got my ass into gear and booked Bella in at Scooterworks.

Pulling the covers off and wheeling the old girl into the road I mused that with Friday the busiest day of my working week, it wouldn't be the best time to break down. I needn't have worried. Despite me not even cleaning the carburettor, Bella awoke after a mere two prods of the kicker and a tickle of choke. The tyres were flat but soon sorted, and twenty-odd minutes later I was at Craig's untidy workshop in Bermondsey.

For the MOT Bella needed a new fork link pivot pin (me neither), the replacement of which has made not the slightest noticeable difference to the ride which remains as joyously tooth-loosening as ever. I hope we get a scooter summer this year.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Harp and Harp

I was lucky enough to be at the press preview of Terminator Salvation last night. The film looks great, with a pumping first half. However, the plot has holes big enough to park a battleship in, some wincingly corny scenes and Christian Bale trying to be all gruff and serious, but coming over as a bit sulky. Oh, and there's a submarine with a Jack Nicholson impersonator in it. The fact that the director calls himself "McG" doesn't help matters. By the time the credits rolled I was glad it was all over, and dying for a pint. We went down to The Harp where I got stuck into a fresh, fruity and hoppy St Edmunds, a beer that gets a bit of stick in some corners of the blogoshire, but I like it a lot. Head and shoulders above the rest of Greene King's products.

In one of those perfect London moments, my District Line carriage home had a girl in it playing a full-size harp and singing in a voice as clear as a Leica optic. Even the hoodies at one end of the car took their earphones out to listen.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Enjoy The Silence

William Castleman's time-lapse film of the Milky Way rising over the 2009 Texas Star Party in Fort Davis, USA.

Friday, May 15, 2009

If It Had To Be Done

Here we go again - Eurovision time. The yookay entry this year is Jade Ewen with It's My Time, which sounds like the national anthem of a new Baltic state. I know the British have nothing to prove about song writing and it's all a bit of a laugh, but our entry is rubbish. We deserve to lose.

The French, contrary and sensible as ever are fielding actress Patricia Kaas, who's also a multi-million selling chansonnier in the Francophone world. Her Et s'il fallait le faire is a breathy and mature song worthy of Edith Piaf or Marlene Dietrich. Tomorrow we're having a Skype-enabled Eurovision party with mates 300 miles away - I know who i'll be cheering.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Behind The Green Door

Every town has a pub that nobody seems to visit. Nobody is ever seen entering or leaving. Nobody knows anyone who's ever been in. The Lamb is Bideford's example. For the twenty-odd years I've been visiting Devon, I've wanted to visit this pub. It's in the middle of a row of Victorian terraces above the Pannier Market, an example of the fast-vanishing simple backstreet boozer. When we were down over Easter, I got my chance. On my way up Honestone Street I noticed that the faded Whitbread sign has aquired a new neighbour since I last walked past - Beck's Vier, so at least it was still trading. Bideford's pubs are in the main disappointing, as I have lamented here before. Maybe The Lamb was an undiscovered gem? The beery equivalent of finding a Shakespeare Folio on an Oxfam shelf stuffed with Jeffrey Archer?

Gingerly pushing open the door I was met with a tired 80s refit and keg beers - was one of them really Trophy Bitter? The locals round the bar were a friendly bunch, discussing darts and horse racing rather than the dead-eyed hermits I half expected. I glumly perched on a buffet and supped my freezing cold Becks before heading back to The Kings. Oh well. Nice window, though.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hello Sailor


Considering it was the original reason that the city grew, the Thames is a criminally underused feature of London. Nowadays most shipping gets no further than Tilbury, though the odd cruise liner ties up next to HMS Belfast by Tower Bridge. Modern river traffic is pleasure craft, tour boats, the River Police and tugs pulling the city's waste to be incinerated at Chatham, so it's always enjoyable when something substantial can be seen. The aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious - known to her crew as "Lusty" - is moored at Greenwich until monday, celebrating 100 years of Royal Navy aviation, so I went down early on saturday to have a look. The ship's enormous - all but 700ft long - though scale was difficult to judge until a tourist boat chugged into view. As I clicked away for the stock library I supply, I couldn't resist a shot of my '81 PX 'Dino'.

Friday, May 8, 2009

"A Charlady's Car"*

The Mini is 50 today. Apart from a flirtation with a Renault Clio, Our Lad's always driven Minis. He kicked off at 17 with a kumquat-coloured Mark III, and followed that up with a couple of Coopers in which we explored a great deal of Northern England, feeling each and every bump, stone and flattened rabbit on the road the ten-inch wheels went over. The footwells of the Mark III had to be baled out every morning if there'd been rain. In Cooper 2 we pulled away from the chip shop, heard a crack, and watched open-mouthed as the offside front wheel bounced down the road away from us. Still, we always forgave the minis, smiling as you might at the antics of an errant but loveable friend. Our Lad now drives the ruthlessly reliable BMW future-retro version after holding out for several years in disgust at the original's demise.

*Mini designer Alec Issigonis. Cinema's best-ever car chase was still a decade away.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


If you live in Manchester, you can now pay £30 to have your fingerprints taken - yes, exactly like a criminal - at a Post Office, along with 49 other types of information and stored on a central government database.

Presumably, the crooks, terrorists and illegals can carry special ID cards with a red edging.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Streets Of London

An update: At the beginning of March I blogged about the state of the Bow Flyover, with its alarming wheel-trapping ruts on the westbound stretch. It was a very dangerous place to be on two wheels, especially the smaller ones of yer typical scooter.

After reporting the fault to Newham Council, Tower Hamlets Council, Fixmystreet, Transport For London and even London Bikers the road has been fixed. Well, I say fixed - the worst holes have had some tarmac dropped in them - but it's much better than it was. Given that nobody I spoke to had any idea who looked after the flyover, it's a minor miracle that anything's been done at all.

Great London Rideout 2006

(pic from the Great London Rideout 2006 - which takes place on June 14th this year)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Lazy Blogging, Part 7.

Flight Of The Conchords: Business Time

New series next week!