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.