Friday, January 29, 2010

Lazy Blogging, Part 18.

Flight Of The Conchords; 'Think About It'

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bashing The Bishop

I'm not alone in thinking that the Olde Mitre is one of the best pubs anywhere. The Mitre can be tricky to find, hidden away off Hatton Garden. If it wasn't for the metal bishop's hat stuck on the extinct gas lamp at the end of the pub's narrow alley, you could be stumbling around for hours. Over Christmas I'd heard some rumours that this lovely sign had been nicked, and sure enough on my visit last night the lamp was worryingly free of ecclesiastical headwear. Fortunately, Scotty - the guv'nor and proud custodian of the Mitre - put me right. The hat's in for restoration. The lamppost had been clouted by a JCB in 2005 leaving it in a rakishly wonky state. The collision also cut off the lamps's supply of gas, and ever since the Mitre has been in a bureaucratic wrestling match with Camden Council who refuse to believe that the lamp isn't electric. Some sort of resolution has been reached, so Scotty's having the hat spruced up ready for the lamp's re-ignition. Stop worrying. Back to your pints.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Indian Gears

All over the world, anti-pollution legislation is killing off the two-stroke engine. This was one of the reasons given when Piaggio retired the geared Vespa - the much-loved PX - from their range of scooters.

"But what about a geared four-stroke model?" we wailed.

"Can't fit a 4T motor in the PX frame" came the retort.

"Oh yeah?" said India's LML.

Now the world's only producer of manual gearbox scooters, LML's version of the PX was originally built under licence from Piaggio. The two companies had a fallout in 1999 and went their own ways. The legal outcome is unclear (to me, anyway) but LML still produce PX clones. These are sold under the moniker of Star or Via Toscana in the UK and Australasia, and Stella in the US. Some heretics even claim they're better made than their latter-end Italian cousins.

So here's LML's four stroke Star. The frame had to be adapted to fit the engine, which looks like a cross between an extractor fan and the Terminator's digestive system. According to LML their new scooter is good for a quite staggering 179MPG. Every Vespisti is familiar with their steed being referred to as a sewing machine - and here's a scooter that really does sound like one.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

40 Beers - Part eight

I've been lazy with this. I'm sure my many millions of readers have been repeatedly pressing F5 in the vain hope that I may have actually posted something about my '40 beers' project. I am in fact way past 40 new beers now - I passed that milestone some time in mid-december. I've enjoyed every single one - even the Tesco Value Bitter.


Anyway, here's a few more:

23) Purkmistr Bohemian Schwarzbier (Bottle): Coffee and "butcher's shop" (in a good way*) nose. Espresso, burnt toast, expansive and mouthfilling dark maltiness.

24) Northmaen Rousse (Brasserie La Chopelle) (Bottle): Herbal, smoky, cigar tobacco whiffs. Hazy amber body. Peppery, pine notes and lots of vanilla coming through, and some almost Bourbon-like flavours. Even got a hint of Calvados. Unusual, complex and enjoyable - one for sipping, not swigging.

25) Saint Colombe Ambree: (bottle) Explosive head which vanishes quickly. Murky amber body. Bit sour, with faint buttescotch flavours and an odd 'seaweedy' nose. Weak fruit cordial. Utterly flat. A dull drink, like an unsuccesful hombrew. Nope.

26) Potton Village Bike (bottle): Initial tangy hit diminishes quickly to a thin, watery finish. 'Epsom salts' and faint raspberry in the nose. Not enjoyable.

27) L'Abbaye Des Rocs Montagnard (bottle): Dark amber body with sustained, lacing head. Smells of sweet orange with hints of tobacco. This is a real mouthful - Strong toffee, fruit, liquorice - delicious and warming. Syrupy and robust - this is a big drink. I'm no lightweight, but I was feeling the 9% after only a couple of mouthfuls. Good stuff - one for a fireside.


* Whatever that means. I'm writing these up from notes taken in the field, jotted down after a few pints. You can tell can't you?

(The picture above was taken at the Elizabethan Bar at Westward Ho in Devon. Never been in before - I'd always assumed it was Smoothflow territory, it being effectively a holiday site social club. It was a nice surprise to find a good pint of Tribute with a dramatic view. The Elizabethan is charmingly old fashioned. The menu still includes prawn cocktail served in a wine glass.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gypsy King

When I went off to art college in Carlisle, an old tutor of mine told me that he'd done his national service in Norway and Cumbria. And that of the two places, Carlisle was by far the coldest. In fact, he claimed his rifle had frozen to his glove when on guard duty at the city's castle. Despite my initial scoffing, within months I was a believer. I was living in the Worst House In Cumbria (as we called it) having fled the nutjob of a landlady that the college's accommodation officer found me when I arrived. The Worst House In Cumbria was a small Victorian terrace near the Infirmary. Three of us lived there, but we only had two chairs. The bathroom 'window' was a fertilser bag. And it was cold that winter. So very, very cold. I came down one morning to find a good half inch of ice on the water in the sink. I always slept fully clothed, with all my other clothes on top of the duvet, and on top of that all the curtains that I found in a wardrobe. The place was so grim I would only return there to sleep, like some Dickensian urchin.

Fortunately, we had a warm and cosy sanctuary - our friends Joey and Nic's gaff a warming cycle ride away. Here there was central heating, hot soup and an ever-boiling kettle. And always on the stereo was this bloke (here with the equally incredible violin-ery of Stephane Grapelli), Django Reinhardt. His playing is even more impressive when you realise that only two of his fret fingers worked, the others being ruined in the fire that killed his first wife. He'd have been a hundred years old this month.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Lost World

Eisenhower's in the White House, transcontinental TV's just started, and Dad drives a Buick. All is well in America.

These delicious slices of Americana come from Michael Paul Smith, creator of the fictional town of Elgin park. It's a small place, Elgin park - literally. These two scenes are 1/24th scale models. Lots more of his work here.

The mini-town also has an eponymous fansite, where you can find this chunk of genius from Theresa Thompson.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's Winter. It might snow.

A text this morning from my mate John, who now lives in Penrith: "On 7.15 bus to Keswick in the dark to attempt a sunrise photoshoot up Cat Bells. Wearing three pairs keks, 4 tops, 2 pairs gloves, coat".

Our Lad, meanwhile, is sharing his engineering expertise with the good people of Nykøping, Sweden. His text came last night as I was inching down the glacier that used to be Leytonstone High Road: "Minus 18 here. Drinking Speckled Hen instead of Spendrups". Life for these two was carrying on as normal. Where John lives it's probably been snowing since august. I doubt any buses have been cancelled, and I bet the locals have plenty of traction underfoot in Nykøping. While London is coping with the snow better than it did in february, our local council is wailing that it's run out of salt. Well, Councillor Robbins - send a lorry down to Frinton and nick some of their sand.

(The pic above was taken by my mam, somewhere near Kettlewell. Her and Dad drove up there in a Peugeot hatchback. Londoners, you don't really need a Range Rover Sport to go to Waitrose.)