Friday, December 24, 2010

A Deep And Dark December

There’s a Yorkshire dialect song that we used to sing at school. I can’t remember the title, or much else – just the line “Nivver bin warm sin ah left me bed” – ‘warm’ pronounced to rhyme with ‘calm’, obviously. This line kept appearing in my head during my recent, pre-christmas visit home. It was cold. So very, very cold. One day we took a walk to the top of the Five Rise Locks, looking at the ghostly, frozen valley below us. Nothing moved except woodsmoke lazily curling up from chimneys, and a group of kids sledging down an iron-hard field.

In the five days I was up in Keighley, the temperature never got above minus 4. One shocking night it was minus 15. It’s the sort of weather where you never feel entirely, properly warm – except in about three places: My mam and dad's house, my grandma’s living room (hotter, in fact, than a nuclear reactor) and sat in front of the fireplace in the Boltmaker’s Arms, where I took this short film while supping Ram Tam - Taylor's famous winter warmer - with my dad and my uncle. I hope it captures a little of the welcoming banter of this very special pub.

Happy Christmas, and many thanks for reading my humble blog - see you next year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bob Crow's Nightmare

This is amazing. A tube map showing the real-time positions of actual tube trains. Very clever computer geekery. Or magic. Or the proof of alien intelligence. Or something. It's what the internet's for, anyway. Been around since June, apparently. Your TIW - always first with the news.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


This is the St Pancras Station Christmas 'tree', made from champagne bottles. I doubt the Strongbow tin was part of the artist's vision - but this is London, and you never know.

Monday, December 6, 2010


"Don't have that. It's horrible." Said the the friendly James May lookalike behind the bar. He was right. The sampler of Brodie's Kosher Rye Ale he gave me smelt like gloss paint, and tasted like grass clippings. His recommendation of Old Hopper was right on the money though.

It was saturday evening and pouring with icy rain. Mrs TIW, my brother and I were warm and snug in the William The IV in Leyton. This is the tap of the prolific Brodie brewery, which produces its beer in what looks like a big stone shed round the back. The pub is a large former gin palace, with original mirrors for Truman and Charrington on the walls. It looks and feels like a mash-up of the Cross Keys* in Covent Garden and former TIW saturday night favourite The Old George (AKA Kempys) in Bethnal Green, and the place was bustling. There was some sort of fraternal organisation having a black tie do in the back room, footy was showing unobtrusively on an enormous projector screen, watched by leather-jacketed geezers. The other punters were a mixed salad of East End hipsters, couples, locals and beard-stroking beer-o-nauts. Staff were zipping around clearing glasses and wiping tables, and one of the barmen kept interrupting his roast dinner to leap up and help out on the pumps, which were everywhere you looked - about twenty of them.

Brodie's are very active, as anyone who follows them on Twitter will know. They currently produce about 12 regular beers, as well as seasonals and what seem to be experiments, like the Kosher Rye. We only tried two out of the battalion of pumps - the smooth and bitter Amarilla and the Old Hopper, brewed with hops from Cable Street down in Whitechapel. Both beers tasted rather green and young - like they often do at beer festivals. Still perfectly enjoyable, especially the Hopper which was miles better than the version served at another Brodie outlet, the Old Coffee House in Soho, home of the most miserable barman in London.

The William's certainly had its ups and downs in recent years. Never quite knowing if it was on an up or a down is the reason that i've never taken the short journey to visit until now. Brodie's is in fact the resurrection of the pub's old Sweet William micro, brought back to life in 2008 by James and Lizzie Brodie, and the pub's new ascendency is clearly down to their hard work (and maybe helped by their £1.99 a pint pricing). We certainly felt instantly at home - it's that kind of place - and I'm looking forward to going back.

Disclaimer: Our lad and me had spent a good chunk of the afternoon in the Euston Tap getting acquainted with Fyne Ales' Vital Spark. So don't take my word for it, go and have a look. Leyton's really not that far from Zone 1.

*I've heard the Cross Keys and the Old Coffee House is are run by the owners of the William IV. Can anyone confirm?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Paper View

It's got a lot of potential, Leytonstone High Road, and it's about to get two million quid's worth of 'improvements'. I've no doubt that this will amount to the railway bridge getting a touch-up and loads of new signs telling us how great our local council are.

My favourite building on the High Road has always been the Cuthbert-Dibble-and-Grubb fire station, now available as this marvellous tabletop version from Kingsway Models, just one of a range of unashamedly nostalgic card kits, which also includes Ferodo bridges, Great Yarmouth bus garage, Chadwell Heath Odeon and even Walford East Tube Station.

Leytonstone Fire Station

It won't be like this much longer, though - the fire station is no longer considered fit for 21st century purposes and is to be largely replaced by a 'predominantly glazed' building (it says here). I'm sure that'll look just lovely.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Eastern Promise

Some pictures from a foot-stampingly cold tour around part of the Olympic site's perimeter on the Stratford/Bow frontier. It doesn't look it, but Europe's biggest building site is nearly finished, ahead of schedule and under budget. I've not always been kind about Stratford, Leytonstone's neighbour. According to our enthusiastic Blue Badge guide Stan, Stratty is being transformed from shabby (and let's be honest, scary) inner-London suburb to a glowing retail-and-sport Manhattan. And it really is starting to look the part. There's a long way to go, but I must say - I'm becoming a believer.

Monday, November 29, 2010


My first visit to London was in 1981, on a school trip to see England Schoolboys play their Irish counterparts at a disappointingly shabby Wembley. After a fish-and-chip tea we were taken to see Airplane! at the Curzon on Shaftesbury Avenue. Waiting for the coach afterwards, we milltown naifs stood goggling at the Soho peacocks and quoting lines from the classic we'd just seen. Still makes me laugh, almost thirty years on. RIP.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rail Ale

Never thought I'd look forward to visiting a pub near a train station. Finally got to the Euston Tap for a late-afternoon visit on monday. At first, the place was empty, except for an extremely posh young man who appeared baffled by the beer menu ("Um, what's a nice beer?") and a grizzled CAMRA vet in a faded beer festival shirt stretched over an impressive belly. Twenty odd-beers on the blackboards, reasonably priced and numbered like a Chinese restaurant*. Two fridgezillas creaking with bottles. We liked the place instantly.

No sign of Boak and Bailey's snooty barmaid, thankfully - the lad behind the bar was smiley enthusiasm personified. Mate had a Bristol Stout ("excellent") while I settled for a Lagonda, the first Marble beer I've really enjoyed. My pint was none the worse for a slight haze, something that seemed to affect the other light-coloured ales we saw served up. Our only real complaint was that the place was freezing. Even though the barman was in a t-shirt - everyone else had their coats on. Another gripe was that we'd left it too late to stay for more than one before we had to go and meet the wives.

The Euston Tap is full of potential and deserves to do well - and might even prove to be something of a kick up the arse for the capital's beer 'scene'. Range+decent prices = happiness. More of this sort of thing, please.

*You're meant to order by number, apparently. We were ignorant of this, but the barman didn't mind. Perhaps just as well - I even get baffled by the ordering system in Nando's.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Slight Return


Well, whaddya know? Rumours have been circulating for months, but it looks like Piaggio really are going to start manufacturing the much-loved and much-missed Vespa PX again, in all its air-cooled, manual-gearboxed glory.

The last PXs were made by Piaggio in 2007. Officially, their demise was brought about by the engines not meeting emissions legislation. Apparently, the new incarnation will still have a two-stroke motor, with all the famous blue smoke (and particulates) kept in check by a new catalyser. There's also a mention in some of the press that the new scoot will have 'dual rear shocks', which might at last stop 'Vespa arse' on rides longer than half an hour.

SInce the last PXs were sold, anyone wanting a traditional scooter has been forced to get an Indian clone, the LML star*, which must surely have taken a significant chunk of Piaggio's market. No doubt this was a major factor in the decision to re-introduce the much-loved scooter, but whatever the reason - it's good to see it back. The new PX will be on sale next year - this is one of the new ones. Nice flares.

* one of LMLs main UK dealers is Eddy Bullet. They have the worst website you'll ever see. Go on, have a look.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Playing The 'Spoons

I've been offered some bad pints in my time, and i've even had to bat off the infamous "It's meant to taste like that" cliché on a couple of occasions. But this is the worst example yet, encountered last friday at the (usually reliable) Crosse Keys as we caught the tail end of Wetherspoon's real ale festival. Wasn't even a full pint. Changed with no drama, but still - it shouldn't have made it to the civilian side of the bar. It was meant to be a Marston's Old Empire, but looked and smelled exactly like the residue in the bottom of the fish tank one of my housemates had back when I was a student. I think the correct term is 'mulm'.

Friday, November 12, 2010

David Vs Goliath Vs Valuev

This is one of Marks And Spencers British beer range; Yorkshire Bitter. Not a bad drop - bottle conditioned, a chewy, fruity mouthful. It's made for M&S by Cropton, currently undergoing legal proddings from eccentric Tadcaster brewer Samuel Smith. I don't know about you, but the first thing I notice about this bottle is that large white rose. It's the white rose on Cropton's Yorkshire Warrior labels (which actually show the Yorkshire Regiment's cap badge) that caused Samuel Smith to get in touch with their learned friends. I wonder if one of Europe's largest companies - who presumably have a correspondingly large legal department and very deep pockets - can expect a letter from a Tadcaster solicitor?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ghentish Town

One of the many things I like about Belgium is that the towns there are so photogentically grungy once you wander off the tourist offices' map.

Central Brussels and Ghent feel like cities as lived by their citizens. Graffiti, litter and in Brussels' case - the stench of urine (yes, I know we have all these in London too, but that doesn't count). These images were taken within a stones-throw of Ghent's visitor honeypots. As I clicked away, I was conscious of being watched. Old ladies peeping at me from behind slightly tatty net curtains and grubby art-nouveau windows. A codger in a trilby putting on glasses and squinting down from his dormer window. This is something you'd never see in the West End and seldom in the central arrondissements of Paris. The British and French capitals are becoming cities where huge areas are given over solely for the gratification of tourists and global chain stores; the central zones are increasingly lived in only by the rich.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Central Keighley must be one of the few places to escape the decimation of its pubs. In recent years the town has permanently lost the Eastwood Tavern, The Masons Arms and The Market Arms - and that's about it, although a number of pubs in outlying villages are said to be struggling and just lately The New Inn at Crossroads has become an ironmongers.

Several pubs have closed and reopened - one example is the Hope and Anchor freehouse on the outskirts of the centre, just round the corner from Timothy Taylor's new site. I've only been in once, several years ago. It was like walking into an episode of the Likely Lads, a 1960s time capsule complete with redundant buttons to summon a waiter and tin ashtrays for defunct brewers like Whitakers of Halifax.

Whitakers - founded in 1848 - had the usual post-war trajectory of mergers and takeovers before having their own brewery (trademark - 'Cock O' The North') demolished by Whitbread in 1969. Their ales became nothing more than a proprietory name on a pump, made elsewhere in Whitbread's empire. They faded away sometime in the early 70s. A similar thing happened to fellow Halifaxoneans Websters - closed by S&N in 1996 - and whose beer is now brewed by John Smiths for the club trade. I always associate Websters with bleak, wind-blasted Calderdale villages where there wasn't much more than one of their mid-Victorian pubs, a silent mill, a few houses and a dripping-damp Wesleyan chapel. Their Pennine Bitter had a few fans but to be fair, I don't ever recall anyone saying they could murder a Websters.

This sign was found in the Hope and Anchor's cellar during the refurbishment and fixed to the pub's back wall where it was photographed by my mum and dad on a recent visit. "Pretty good. Irish and friendly" was their verdict. The pub that is, not the sign.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Lion Thing

According to dismal hysteria-sheet the Waltham Forest Guardian, Leytonstone's best-known deceased pub Zulus will indeed reopen as the Red Lion, as I speculated a few weeks back. A bit later than expected, though - "february at the earliest" according to Max Alderman of developers Antic Ltd. This is due to squatters taking roost, something that seems to have become a bit popular round our way lately - this pic shows the old police station further down the High Road from Zulus, recently occupied by (according to my neighbour) 'crusties'. Now, there's an adjective seldom heard since the late 90s. The building is due to be sold for £1.5m, and they, their dogs and their henna may have been evicted by the time you read this.

“It is a little bit annoying" say Max with no little understatement "but hopefully the process won't take too long. We can't wait to get started. Our plan is to take The Red Lion back to being an old-fashioned style local pub with home made food."

Great news for our bit of East London - and gratifying to know that Antic think Leytonstone is "slightly up and coming". It won't turn the area into Marylebone overnight, but it's a start.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Just back from a short trip to Ghent. Castles, trapgevel, bicycles, chocolate, bells, canals, frites, stoverij, beer. Nice town - unlike Brussels, which seems to get filthier with every visit. We weren't in Ghent long enough to really investigate the pubs, though we did have a couple of hours in the excellent Dulle Griet, squinting at the beer menu through the tobacco fug.

Another stop was the astounding Hopduvel, a ten minute walk outside the old city on the left bank of the Coupure canal. There are something like 1,200 different beers brewed in Belgium - and most of them are available in this barn of an off-licence. This selection is all I could physically carry - a curse of being a photographer is that my camera gear takes up space of at least six bottles.

Hiding at the back there is the most expensive beer I've ever bought - a Westvleteren 12, probably the most hyped brew of recent times. I'm sure you know the story - tiny batches, no labels, hard to find, yadda yadda. The beer is only officially available from the St Sixtus monastery, with its slightly bonkers reservation system. If you buy it anywhere else, it's a sort of 'grey export'.

WV12 is considered by some (not least Ratebeer) as the best beer in the world. How much of this opinion is formed by the exclusivity of it is hard to tell - but i've been looking for a bottle to try for two or three years. I picked this up at De Bier Tempel - researched by Mrs TIW as our best bet - in central Brussels along with a Westvleteren Blond and Westvleteren 8, the only three beers the monks brew commercially. I have no idea when i'll try it - i'm almost scared of it.

On our walk back to Midi station we were shadowed by the world's most obvious bag snatcher, culminating in a staring match before we got to the sanctuary of the Eurostar terminal. This is the third or fourth time we've been to the Belgian capital, and if anything Midi station is getting worse - reminding us of the stygian terminals we encountered on our rail journeys in China a few years back. Midi is certainly incomparable to the high Victorian glory of St Pancras that welcomes you back to London. Sort it out, Mr Van Rompuy.

Monday, October 25, 2010

In The Club Style

Now it can be told. I'm a member of a club where men go to meet other men, and women are not allowed.

There used to be dozens of these social clubs throughout the North. They were set up during the inter-war period by what were once patronisingly termed the 'progressive working-class' as a more respectable alternative to town pubs of the time. There are very few men-only clubs left, but two or three linger on in the Keighley area. I joined through tradition and because my dad and my uncle have been members for decades, and you really can't beat having a pint with your dad and your uncle. In our club there's a TV room, a small library and the click of dominoes. You get frowned at by older members until you remove your hat. The two full-sized slate snooker tables are immaculately maintained by the same local firm that installed them in the 50s. There are three handpumps, one for Timothy Taylor's Best Bitter and two for Golden Best, the stealth mild that is Taylor's biggest seller in their home market. Guinness is by the bottle, and Tetley Cask has recently been usurped by its ugly cousin, Smooth. I'm pretty sure that on my first visit a few days after I turned 18 they still weren't selling lager (no ladies, see), but these days there's a Carling tap.

When my dad, uncle and their mates joined there was a two-year waiting list and it would be three deep at the bar on a friday. Prospective members had to attend at least twice a month for those two years, and then present themselves to the committee to prove that you were of good character and had no criminal record (and presumably, not a woman). When I joined some eight years ago, there was no waiting list, and my exile Down South gave me special dispensation not to have to prove my worth in person. Fridays are very much quieter and the club no longer opens during the day. Times change. There's still an annual club trip - usually to Scarborough - though these days it's limited to veteran members and a crate of Landlord is no longer hoisted onto the coach.

The only female permitted on the premises is the Steward's wife - and she's not allowed out from behind the bar, even to collect empties. Some may consider the place a sexist anachronism, but it's a well-loved sexist anachronism, and one that nobody really minds too much about. The club's constitution doesn't actually bar women, but none have shown the slightest interest in joining (as my mum has pointed out) what amounts to two rooms of middle-aged and elderly Yorkshiremen complaining about the state of Rugby League and (in summer) cricket, and at all other times, the government.

Members still talk about the only time a woman got over the club's front threshold. One night an unknown elderly bloke pulled up in a Bentley and doddered in with a fur-coated peroxide blonde half his age, before being frantically but gently ushered out.

"I'm surprised they didn't rebuild the place after that" noted my mum at the time.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Darkness

Autumn. Season of clichés and mellow fruitfulness. We've got a handsome cherry tree outside our house, which at this time of year sneezes about a ton of leaves into the front yard every couple of days. On saturday, sweeping that lot up put me in the mood for a dark beer, and it doesn't get much darker than Harveys Imperial Extra Stout. It's the Aleister Crowley of ales.

Why is it so hard to find a shop with a good selection of interesting beers in London? I can only think of two specialists now that the Beer Shop in Shoreditch has turned up its toes. Utobeer at Borough Market is a five-minute Boriscycle from my desk, though the fact that they hardly ever put a price label on their bottles puts me off. Well, that and their prices. Did I really see them selling Duvel at four quid a go? The other place is Nelson wines, way down yonder in South Wimbledon, a place that claims to be in zone three but feels like you've gone far enough to drop off the edge of the south coast. Nelson's is much cheaper than Utobeer and arguably has a bigger selection - there are bottles from floor to almost the ceiling, and stuck in every nook and corner. It's well worth the trip, even if the shop itself looks like it sells dirty magazines rather than dusty bottles.

Nelson's is where I picked up this Imperial Extra. It comes in a nice cork-stopped bottle and pours a viscous and total black, like the sump oil of a 1985 Lada Niva. Very thin espresso-coloured head and very little carbonation. Get your nose in the glass and there's spice, almost curry, coming up. First swig is a big treacly mouthful. It tastes a lot like what we in Yorkshire call 'Spanish' and everyone else calls liquorice, with distinct hints of port, and that 9% certainly makes its presence felt pretty quickly. All this ends with a bittersweet, tickly finish that goes on and on and on. I've never drunk anything quite like it - in fact, to me it had more in common with a digestive liqueur like Unicum than beer. That or something dug up on Time Team. Can't imagine having this more than once or twice a year - but it'd do very nicely for hallowe'en. Cackle.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Yesterday I was in Brighton, "covering" - as we photographers say - the Brightona motorbike show. I was there for the scooters, specifically to photograph as many of them as possible in front of a certain gallery. These events being what they are, it was an exercise in rumour ("500 scooters on their way right now from Aldershot") and herding cats. Photographing scooters inevitably involves lots of crawling around on the floor, and I'm walking like i've got wooden legs today. Anyway, once the Money Shot was in the bag (or in the memory card, anyway) I was free to roam. Never seen so many Harleys. Nice bikes. If you're a girl.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

You Probably Didn't See It Here First.

I'm not normally one who spends time reading the planning applications in provincial newspapers. But in this week's Keighley News was a submission from the best brewery in the world (Timothy Taylor, obviously). It was informing the Environment Agency of their plans to drill on their new site, over the road from the famous Knowle Spring brewery. This is the old WASK foundry and currently Taylor's storage facility and parking for their racing green drays. The drilling is for a water source for 'cask washing', 'bus cleaning' (some local buses are parked there) and a new brewery. Hmmm.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Spot The Difference

The Tadcaster brewer Samuel Smith seems to embody many of the attributes of the music hall version of the professional Yorkshireman. Stubborn, self-reliant, shrewd and reticent to the point of only getting a website in August 2010. They're certainly eccentric and somewhat secretive - they never seem give interviews. Their London pubs are a bit love-or-hate, but they certainly care for the fabric of their buildings. A few years back, they closed their famous gin palace The Princess Louise for several months while they restored its 1891 interior. Given the quality of the work, literally no expense was spared. As far as I can tell, they didn't even bother with a press release saying what they'd been up to. There's something nicely old fashioned about their flagship ale, Old Brewery Bitter. It's not to everyone's taste, but I like it - it's a decent standby for a swift quencher, and one of the few beers still drawn from the wood. They have a cooperage at the brewery. Local deliveries are by drays pulled by shire horses. Traditional isn't the word.

Just one bit of folklore about Smith's claims that the reason OBB is so cheap is that tax and duty apart, the brewery hasn't raised prices since they first started brewing it. Ah, yes. Folklore. And Rumours. For fear of getting my wheels sued off I won't go into any here, but speculation about one or other members of Smith's senior staff on this site might somehow help explain why they're taking the Cropton Brewery to court.

In 2008, Cropton launched Yorkshire Warrior, a 4.4% ruby ale. Profits from sales go the Yorkshire Regiment Benevolent Fund. More than £10,000 has so far been raised. The bottle displays the regiments' badge, which of course features the Yorkshire Rose. Samuel Smith, in their wisdom, say that having the rose on the Warrior bottles is 'confusingly similar' to their own labelling. A writ has been served for 'copyright infringment'. You now have the absurd situation of seeing Warrior bottles and pump clips with the county symbol on it blacked out.

Cropton, y'see, are a Yorkshire brewer. Go to Leeds on a match day and half the men (and I dare say a few women) in the city centre will have a white rose tattoo on their arm. How many businesses in the county incorporate it into their own logo? It's everywhere. It belongs to Yorkshire. It does not belong to Samuel Smith, who in any case use the symbol upside down. They may have been around for 252 years but Sam Smiths shouldn't take their great age as a guarantee of brand loyalty, especially when it comes to something like this. It's so petty and wrong-headed it defies logic.

The case will reach the High Court next July. Cropton have said they will fight the claim all the way, but if they lose they are likely to face bankruptcy. I don't know about anyone else, but I won't be darkening the doors of any Smith pubs for a while.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Camra Case

Spotted in our local Waitrose yesterday. Yes, that is three 500ml bottles of ale for 12 (TWELVE) quid . You do get a CAMRA-branded cardboard box with a posh plastic handle, mind.

Friday, October 1, 2010

In The Red

Just recently there have been all sorts of rumours about Leytonstone's two most prominent dead pubs. Lincoln's, which dominates the middle section of the HIgh Road has been sold. Or it hasn't. Planning to convert it to flats has been rejected. Or it's been accepted. It's going to become a restaurant. Or it isn't. Whatever the case, the premises remain closed and increasingly tatty.

However, more substantial gossip concerns Zulus up the road. This was the Red Lion until 2002, when it became a theme pub aimed at E11's large population of young South Africans. It wasn't popular with local residents, some of whom grew familiar with splats of puke decorating their front gardens, pavements and cars. Zulus was part of a chain that seems to have gone belly-up early this year, when it suddenly closed. It briefly reopened as some sort of Eastern European night club before remaining tinned-up with the usual ALL ITEMS OF VALUE HAVE BEEN REMOVED signs. The Red Lion has a bit of an iconic status locally. During the late sixties and early seventies it hosted gigs by Yes, Genesis, Iron Maiden and was even the scene of an early outing by a youthful Led Zepellin. Since those glory days it's had a few incarnations - including a brief flirtation as a 'Salsa bar' named Cuba Bella. However, the pub was known as the Red Lion from at least 1754, and before that it was the Robin Hood. There has been a pub on the site since the 1600s, and the present building dates from 1891. It's a prime site in an area that's improving. Indeed, some even say that Leytonstone is (re)gentrifying.

Step forward, then, Antic Ltd who, it has been confirmed have bought the site and will be adding it to their brace of other London premises. Antic are chiefly famous for running the Dogstar in Brixton and the well-regarded White Hart in Stoke Newington. I'm not familiar with their other pubs, but a poke around their website seems to indicate that they're all about creating places with a bit of organic character, rather than the cut-and-paste refurbs of some other chains. No indication as to what the place will be called yet - but let's hope it's a welcome back for the Red Lion.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Badass, trigger-finger cool"

1965, and the Hells Angels are properly entering the consciousness of the American public. These superbly atmospheric photographs were taken by Life Magazine staffer Bill Ray who, with writer Joe Bride managed to gain entry to the scary and chaotic world of this most notorious of outlaw biker gangs. The then editor of Life, George Hunt spiked the story saying "I ain't running a story on those smelly b@stards" and until now these images were never published.

As a scooterist, I occasionally find myself waiting at traffic lights next to one or more Hells Angels. It's exactly how I would imagine a mackerel feels when encountering a shoal of great white sharks. The first time it happened, it came as a welcome surprise for one of these Harley-bestriding Visigoths to shout across "Nice old Vespa!", rather than rip my head off and use it as a mudguard ornament.

Of course, the Angels are er, no angels. About a hundred years ago I went to see a next-big-thing American band at the Cellar Bar (RIP) in Bradford. The gig was cancelled after one of the local Angels took offence to his 'old lady' being chatted up by the band's singer, and ejected him from the pub they were in. Via a window. Which was on the first floor. The reporter that the NME had sent up especially (the late Steven Wells, I think) had to conduct an interview from the unfortunate Yank's bedside at Bradford Royal Infirmary.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mid-Century Modern

London, city of surprises. When I first moved here I often used to walk down White Lion street N1, past a recess in a wall thick with a palimpsest of posters. Full of the flush of gentrification, Islington council had a cleanup one day and half-heartedly removed them right back to the bricks. All that was left was the rearmost layer - a woodface advert for a house clearance dated 1937. I wish I'd nicked it, or at least photographed it - a day or two later the cleaner finished the job and that bit of everyday history was gone forever.

Recent renovation work at Notting Hill tube station has uncovered these cracking examples of mid-20th century graphic design, in a passageway unused since the station converted from lifts to escalators in about 1957. These images were captured by London Transport's Design and Heritage Manager, Mike Ashworth.

"What is this Ten Inch? Poster week?"

(© London Underground. Thanks to Picnic Design for the tip)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Top Of The Charts

Good innit? Available from Popchart Lab, it's titled The Very Many Varieties Of Beer. 18 inches by 24 and printed on "80-pound card stock" (that's American for thick paper) in Brooklyn, US-of-A.

Click the picture above to embiggen it a bit - although Popchartlab's website has a handy zoom so you can inspect all those varieties. If I'm a good Ten Inch Wheels for the rest of the year, hopefully i'll find this in my Christmas stocking. Thanks to my mate Adam for telling me about it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Nothing To Declare

Just did an illustration for a mate - It was such a small job I didn't even want paying. Nipped out of the office and returned to find a Utobeer bag on my chair.

"Will those do?" says my teetotal mate.

Oh, I reckon so. And they'll taste all the better knowing I won't even have to list them on my tax return. Take that, Osborne!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Not In Bruges

Last weekend my parents and brother were down for the Skyride - as good a reason as any to try the bottle of Brouwerij Strubbe's Leireken Wilde Vruchten that's been lurking at the back of our fridge for months. I picked it up on our last visit to Paris, when Strubbe's brewer was giving tastings at Cave á Bulles. His intent, he said, was to create a 'fruit beer which appeals to those that don't like fruit beer'. Well, that's me alright. At the time the brewer looked a bit puzzled when I said it was 'peppery' but some tastings on Ratebeer seem to back me up.

Half a year in storage seems to have changed the flavours markedly - after a sweet, clean nose there were distinct hits of bubblegum, strawberry, cherry and sherbert. Somebody said "moon dust", the popping candy which was once rumoured to give you brain damage. Another gulp brought herbs and even a bit of beetroot and asparagus, all terminating in a slightly sour finish with a backdrop of that original, but fainter, peppery-ness. Odd stuff this - Belgian eccentricity which brought to mind Mary Poppins' magic sweets with a different taste in every suck.

Would I have it again? Probably. But not for a while, eh?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Diaspora

Being lazy. Three trains cancelled. Tuts and frowns as I squeeze my bike on at a colourless Stratford. Elbows. Feet. Blackberrys. Ipods. The Metro. Mortgages. Dan Brown.

Liverpool street. Doors, suits, barriers.

A public school accent.

"Yorkshire? Saw the sticker on your bike"

"Yes. Keighley. You?"


Two bright grins in the walls of grey, and we are gone.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

At Last, At Last

You're probably sick of me banging on about the dire state of beer in Bideford. I know I am. Despite the town being in part of the country studded with micro and regional breweries, it's hard to find a decent pint in the towns and villages on the Torridge Estuary. True to form, I had three miserable pints at the Kingsley, the local in the village near to where my in-laws live. Doom Bar, Bombardier and Exmoor Gold. All as dull as ditchwater, in that annoying condition where you can't quite justify returning them to the bar. The Kingsley is a Cask Marque pub, which only reinforces my opinion that the Marque can't be trusted as a badge of reliability. It was a similar story down the hill at the (un-Marque) Village Inn, Westward Ho. Another grim pint of Doom. Eggy and flat. Could it be that drinkers in Bideford forgotten what a beer in good condition tastes like, and just put up with whatever is served?

It got better, though. On the friday of our visit we had one of those nights which starts with the notion of a couple of brewskys and home for tea, but ends up with a kebab, cab, and a sore head. We were in the White Hart, a 17th century pub on a backstreet off Bideford quay. It's a tiny place that's had it's ups and downs over the years but is now seems to be back on form. The pumps usually have a couple of the local (and unexciting) Jollyboat ales and a guest, which on our visit was Hartland Forge IPA. It was without doubt the best pint I've supped in twenty years of visiting. Prime condition, fresh and bitingly hoppy - everything an IPA should be. Haven't been that surprised since I saw Bill Clinton sat in a pub in Covent Garden. So that was that, from 5 until closing. Sadly, Dexter, the ancient collie that used to loll about in front of the fire like an animated rug has passed away since our last visit. One of the Jollyboat pumps was dedicated as a memorial. Cheers, Dex.