Friday, July 30, 2010


Managed to combine two of my favourite things today - pies and cycling. Boris Johnson very kindly put a dock of his new hire bikes almost outside my office door. Member's card in the slot, green light on, a hefty tug on the handlebars and I was off, leaving a knot of amused tourists on the pavement. The bike's heavy, but well-made and comfy. A big friendly dog of a bike. It tackled the slight slope of Southwark Bridge with no drama, helped along by three very low gears. It certainly attracted a lot of attention. At one set of lights a group of office workers looked me and the vehicle over. "See, he's a fat bloke and it copes with him on it" - said one, before going bright red when she realised that sitting on a bicycle doesn't render you deaf. I dropped the bike in the dock at Southwark Street and nipped into Borough market to pick up a Huntsman Pie from Sillfield, and have a quick chuckle at the prices in Utobeer. After grabbing another bike, I found myself riding alongside none other than Boris Johnson himself. "So, how is it?" he fopped. "Great!" I replied. "Marvellous. Have a good one!" he blustered, and was off.

Returning the bike to Great Tower Street was less successful. The dock made a grinding noise, and a red light stayed ominously on. The bike was locked in, but the red light meant that as far as the system knew, I was still tootling around EC3. The call centre assured me all would be OK, but I can't help thinking that somewhere a computer is preparing a £300 fine. Still, the pie was excellent.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hire Ground

We're veteran bike hirers, Mrs Wheels and I. Cities all over Germany, rural Austria and Italy. Even in Nanjing, which we explored on prehistoric Flying Pigeons. We've never had the guts to try the Paris municipal hire system, the Vélib, although cycling in the City Of Light can't be worse than in London, where the first hire scheme kicks off this friday. Lately, the bike docks have been springing up all over like willowherb after a heavy rain. Here's my bike demonstrating the docking method outside the Barbican yesterday.

Apparently, the Parisians have had to replace almost 100% of their bikes, due to vandalism and theft. Last year, my brother-in-law drove past a farmer grinding his way up a hill on a Vélib in the countryside outside Marrakesh.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Big Up

Leytonstone Festival's on at the moment. It's a series of events through july and august, mostly with an arty flavour. In the library tomorrow is the E17 Designers Market, a reflection that property prices in the traditional arty strongholds of Shoreditch, Bethnal Green and Hackney are pushing creatives further East.

Last sunday we saw 6Music pleasers Cowbell play at the What's Cookin' Summer Picnic. Refreshments came courtesy of E11 favourites, The North Star, who were punting chilled beers from a dustbin full of ice. Very impressed to have the choice of an ale from St Peters rather than what is the norm at these sort of events - a wobbly plastic tumbler of lukewarm lager. With a wasp in it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Moral Maze

Simon Patterson kicked it all off of course, and here's the latest homage to a homage. Click here to see The Poke's London underground map with stations and lines made up of subjects that get the Daily Mail into a lather. Given the "job" that I do, it's nicely apt that my home stop of Leytonstone has become Jordan on the Media Scum line.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Green Man

London's famous for eccentrics. One of the most famous was Stanley Green, the 'Passion Proteins' man. When I first moved to London, stumbling my way around the city and feeling like I was the bloke in The Jam's Strange Town, I used to see him all the time. One evening I bought his booklet, more for the vernacular design and that it was all set in moveable type than for the sincere if impenetrable 'advice' inside ("LESS PASSION FROM LESS PROTEIN - FISH MEAT BIRD, EGG CHEESE PEAS incl. lentils BEANS NUTS AND SITTING"). Green's little books were typeset and noisily printed at his Northolt home, much to the consternation of his neighbours.

Mr Green died in 1993, and his placards and leaflets are now in the Museum Of London. This short film of him on Oxford Street recently popped up on YouTube.

UPDATE: And here is Mr Green's actual printing press, now in storage at Gunnersbury Museum. It's as idiosyncratic as the man himself. Many thanks to Alan.98.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Given The Choice


The ebb and flow of pub closures continues in Leytonstone. Firstly, some good news. The Loaded Dog has reopened. This has had a pretty chequered past, even being run by Jamaican Yardies at one point, which resulted in a dramatic termination of licence involving stun grenades. For a couple of years after it was a good music venue, but got torpedoed when the pubco went bust. It was boarded up for a year or so, and now seems to be serving generic lagers to generic punters. Next door, the Britannia is being converted to flats. Kirkdales, a pub/winebar hybrid with a ravishing view of the bus station closed suddenly last year and has been replaced with The Olive, a mediterranean restaurant. Up the road from there is Zulus, one of the oldest licenced premises in E11, and for decades was the Red Lion. Apart from a brief flirtation with being an *ahem* Mexican cantina, Zulus was the boozer of choice for Leytonstone's large population of South Africans. At the moment, the building is tinned up - rumour has it that there's a refurb in the offing. Mind you, they said that two years ago about Lincoln's, which still sits like a beached cruise liner further down the High Road.

The Woodhouse Tavern is up for sale with a view to being demolished and turned into a four-storey block of flats. The pub dates from 1865, and has a nice lounge bar with wood panelling from a 20s refit, and a newer half with conservatory, rebuilt after a visit by the Luftwaffe. The landlord was interviewed recently, saying that they don't get many customers in any more. I hate to say it, but I'm not surprised. Clean and pleasant as it is, you do have to wonder what would make you go there when they don't even serve one ale, and the rest of the very ordinary fodder is much cheaper to drink at home. Where's the added value? I'm very happy to pay a premium for a good pub experience, and I suspect most people are, but I've no wish to drink Smoothflow to the sound of a ticking clock. I've been in about three times - I like to give pubs the benefit of the doubt - but each time the place was virtually empty, with all the atmosphere of a crypt. On my first visit, I went in with my dad. When he asked what was on their four handpumps, the barmaid looked surprised and said "Oh them? They're just for show".

Leytonstone has a large and growing middle-class demographic. A lot of drinkers spend their money in the West End rather than locally, because apart from the excellent North Star, there just ain't the choice unless you like Karaoke and Carling Premier (and I do, now and again). Much as I loathe so-called Gastropubs with their contrived blackboardery and gigantic plates, I'd be pretty happy if one opened round here, just for the variety.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Lost City


Forgive today's double post. I've long been a collector of Geoffrey Fletcher, the artist and writer who spent the 60s and early 70s recording the bits of our capital that the tourists never ventured to - Limehouse, Whitechapel, Camden, Stepney, Stratford, - all locales at the time without a sniff of gentrification. Fletcher sought out the old shops, the long-term residents. The markets and the streets earmarked for replacement with tower blocks. He had a dry, cynical wit which translated well into the 1967 adaption of his most famous book, the London Nobody Knows. One of the most remarkable scenes ever filmed is the sequence when the presenter (James Mason, no less) visits the the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street. That notorious address is long gone, but back then it had remained virtually unchanged since the body of Ripper victim Annie Chapman was found there.

Anyway, all this a roundabout way of flagging up that tonight Fletcher gets a much-deserved outing on Radio 4. The programme is presented by Spitalfields resident Dan Cruickshank - can't think of anyone better. Sincere thanks to my colleague Dave for the tip off.

21st Century Fox

Last night I bodged up a webcam to record our noisy neighbours. Apparently they live under a shed a few gardens away. I watched beetles and moths for about three hours until I realised that the bike cover (out of shot) was flapping around and scaring the cubs away. Here's the er, highlights.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Long, Long Trail


Almost a year ago, my brother and me took a trip to France to see where our Uncle Joe was wounded in WW1. Joe was with the 15th Durham Light Infantry, which on the 24th of August 1918 was one of three Northern battalions given the job of taking hill 135 south of the village of Miraumont. If you've ever been to that region, you'll appreciate that 'hill' is a highly relative term, but presumably on that day it had some sort of tactical significance.

My early research led me to assume that Miraumont was where Joe was injured ('Gun Shot Wound, Neck, Mild', as his army records put it). I've been doing a lot more digging, and late last year I was able to visit the National Archives to see a first-generation microfiche of his records, where the faint marks discernible on the internet were revealed to hold much more detail. Joe had in fact been repatriated on 15th October 1918, which makes it much more likely that he'd been wounded during the Durhams later actions at the Beaurevoir line near the village of Malincourt. On the 8th October, The DLI incurred 140 wounded, 24 killed and 49 missing taking their objective of Chateau Des Angles, which housed a lethally stubborn machine gun. Another possibility is that he was injured earlier on the 6th of October during the attack on Montecouvez Farm. Chateau Des Angles seems to have been pulverised into extinction, but Montecouvez Farm is now a pleasing complex of eco-gites

Despite the assessment of his injuries, Joe spent three and a half months in Millbank Hospital, London, so it's a safe bet that his wound was anything but 'mild'. What he was doing on the Armistice we'll never know, but I bet he was glad to get back to the quiet life of an apprentice joiner.


Joe's daughter recently told my dad that when Joe copped it, his friend next to him was killed. Intriguingly, on the 6th of October another Keighley lad in the 15th DLI was killed. His name was Smith Clayton, a rifle bomber like Joe. 21 year old Smith had been in France only a few weeks - Is it fanciful to think that when Smith joined his new battalion he made a friend from his home town with the same combat trade?