I've had enough of Blogger. The recent outage was the final straw, and I'm off to a new gaff. My half-arsed opinions and brain-emptyings will now be found at:
If you don't see a link to your blog on my new site and you think it should be there, drop me a line and i'll sort it. If you've been kind enough to link your blog to mine, I hope you'll continue to do so. See you soon!
Monday, May 16, 2011
I've had enough of Blogger. The recent outage was the final straw, and I'm off to a new gaff. My half-arsed opinions and brain-emptyings will now be found at:
Thursday, May 5, 2011
The Fox's guest was the Yorkshire Dales Brewery's Nappa Scar, and we took a couple of pints out front to watch chartered accountants wobble past on their Harleys. On our last encounter with an unsparkled Nappa Scar, I thought it smelled like a farmyard. Here it was all hops, billowing facefuls and huge mouthfuls of the stuff. I don't know much about IBUs - but I bet this wasn't far off the Stone Ruination that I tried t'other month. The hophead's perfect pint after a four-hour walk. And we didn't even mind that it was £3.20 - about the same price it would be at the Harp just off Trafalgar Square.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Unless you were up Buckden Pike, like Our Lad and me. The Pike wore a thick mist, which blew in like a sinister blanket from Kidstones, directly to the North. The temperature was several degrees colder than the valley bottom. Walls and bog dissolved into grey after only 50 yards or so. Still, fortified by our miraculously still-warm pies from Lunds we found what we were looking for.
This memorial commemorates the crew of Polish Air Force Wellington N2848, which crashed here in a blizzard on 30th January 1942. The only survivors were the wireless operator Sgt Jan Sadowski and the rear gunner, Sgt Jozef Fuzniak. Wrapping the badly-injured Sadowski in his parachute, Fuzniak attempted to make his way down the mountain for help. He had a badly smashed ankle, not a clue where he was and it was snowing heavily. Fuzniak limped off in agony, using a broken wooden strut as a makeshift crutch. After a time he noticed the tracks of a fox heading in the opposite direction. Knowing that the animal would seek shelter and food, Fuzniak followed the pawprints, an action which undoubtedly saved his life. He emerged from the Pike several hours later and almost delirious with pain and hypothermia near the White Lion at Cray. The weather was so bad that rescuers could not find the wreckage for another two days. Help came too late for Sgt Sadowski, who had succumbed to his injuries.
"Joe" Fuzniak returned to flying, and was again a sole survivor when his Wellington was shot down on a raid over Duisburg later that same year. He survived the war - including the Death Marches - and settled in Bexleyheath, where he still lives.
Assisted by several locals, Joe built the memorial to his comrades over three days in 1972, camping on the fell as he worked. Set into the base is a bronze fox's head, its nose rubbed shiny by hundreds of visitors.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Upper Wharfedale is the last place in the country to still have a mole-drying industry. Here's a late spring catch, desiccating nicely on a rack just outside Starbotton. Wharfedale Mole is a prized delicacy in Southern Europe, particularly in the Pyrenees where the rocky landscape makes the little critters very rare. There are perhaps a couple of dozen of these drying frames remaining in the Dale, though when Daniel Defoe passed through here in 1724 writing his A Tour Thro' The Whole Island Of Great Britain, Divided Into Circuits Or Journies there were several hundred. He wrote:
"Wharffe Dale is famed for moles, and they make a sort of dried meat here for the Spanish and the Porto trades; and though their moles here may not be as fine as Welsh, they told us their meats are as good. But that is not my business to dispute, the Welsh moleers deny it; and so I leave it as I find it. But there are rackes as far as a man can see, and a good living can be had by a skill'd moleer. The people here are dressed better than any London Dandy, tho' they suffer terrible from molegut if they do over indulge."
The local producers co-op is making tentative steps toward getting the likes of Waitrose to stock it as 'Yorkshire Biltong'. I've never tried it myself, but I was once chatting with an old farmer who swore by dried mole as the secret of a long life.
"What does it taste like?" I asked.
"A bit like cat." he said.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Last friday I constructed a wardrobe. It's a massive, hugely heavy thing and looks like a coffin for a couple of obese giants. I even had to affix battens to the wall to keep the beast from falling on us, which given my DIY 'skills' is the equivalent of a caveman making fire. It took me about nine hours and was like wrestling with the Ark Royal. By the evening I could barely walk. I needed a beer. The one I reached for was a Tsingtao that Mrs Wheels had put in the fridge two days earlier. Yes, that adjunct-heavy Chinese lager which invariably gets a hammering from all corners of the beer blogoshire for (among other things) its uncompromising lemony blandness. You see, I have a soft spot for the stuff, which provided one of the milestones on my 'journey' to becoming a beer nerd.
Some years ago, I walked eight miles of a lesser-visited and more or less unrestored section of the Great Wall of China, with 80-degree vertical climbs in some parts. It was a quite incredibly hot day. The hottest i'd ever experienced, and despite the guerrilla water sellers in some of the watchtowers, very difficult to drink enough fluids to keep off a raging thirst. At the end of the hike I staggered into a 'bar' - really a collection of plastic garden chairs with an enterprising local flogging drinks from an oversized coolbox. In all my years as a beer drinker, nothing has ever come close to tasting as good as the ice cold can of Tsingtao I glugged down that afternoon in Simatai. I'm pretty sure steam was actually coming out of my ears.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
But look at this, from Etsy's Walnutstudio. A darn site more useful than its original purpose of carrying a bicycle polo mallet. A what?
(Thanks to my old friend Rubyspirit - creator of fine and unique jewellery - for the tip-off)
Sunday, April 10, 2011
First proper trip on the homemade singlespeed this morning. Normally, it takes me about 40 minutes to ride the 5 or so miles to work. Even though it's a nippy bike, I tend to ride like one of John Major's spinsters cycling to evensong on my Trek 7.3FX. The head-down geometry of the Raleigh shaved more than five minutes off my journey, and that's with stopping at every red light on Mile End Road Of Death. Having just the one gear really encourages you to get spinning. My legs now feel like they're made of wood. As for comfort, It's not exactly like sitting in an armchair, but neither is it like sitting astride a mediaeval torture device. It's just right for the job. The narrow bars make it track like it's on rails.
The only original components on the bike are the frame and forks, the seat pin, the handlebars and the crank. The frankly dangerous sidepull brake calipers were the first bits to be replaced, followed by the wheels. I had to 'cold set' (a posh term for 'bend') the rear triangle with a plank of wood to accommodate the new Rigida Chrinas, a procedure that filled me with terror but was actually a doddle. A delightfully 80s (and surprisingly comfy) 'new old stock' saddle was sourced from ebay, as were those creaky but effective bargain bin Tektro levers. The all-important 16 tooth singlespeed cog on the rear hub is from Superstar Components. The spacers that came with it made it easy to get the correct chainline - a crucial bit of fettling; you don't want the chain jumping off at precisely the wrong moment.
I originally intended to keep the handlebars as drops, but the brake levers work far better with the 'bars chopped and flopped - a ten minute hacksaw job. So, now the bike goes in the direction I point it, and stops when I want it to. And very quickly too, for what the bike snobs sneeringly call a gas pipe bike. Can't really ask for more than that.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
A few shots from a visit last year to The National Mining Museum near Wakefield. It's on the site of the old Caphouse Colliery, which began producing in the late 1700s and closed, empty of economic coal, in 1985. It's got the lot - pit ponies, winding gear, steam boilers. And it costs nowt to get in. Much as I am in favour of museums being free - this is one that deserves a cough up for the donations box. It ranks with a trip to HMS Victory as one of the most educational days of my life. There's an astounding amount to see, though the highlight is a trip down the actual mine in a small group accompanied by a genuine miner, complete with a music hall Yorkshire thee-and-thou accent. No pictures from this, alas - anything that risks producing a spark has to be left on the surface.
These days the cage ("Nivver a lift - allus a cage") trundles down the original shaft at a sedate pace, though in its working life it plummeted at 45ft per second, which according to our guide "Felt like skydiving". The mine itself is a network of ancient and modern galleries shooting off in all directions, and of a darkness so complete that it swallows your torchlight. It's considered a 'wet' pit - a million gallons of water are pumped out each day. There's lots of brutal and massive equipment down there, but it surprised us that in some parts the coal had been dug out by hand, the seams being too thin for machinery. An hour down there left us all with the opinion that miners deserve every penny that they earn, such are the many and extravagant ways to lose your life or be permanently disabled. Indeed, a miner was killed at the museum this january, while extending an underground classroom.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
This sign's next to the intriguingly named Slaymaker Lane, just outside Oakworth. The Lane is a place of childhood dares, myths and folklore. Pleasant in the daytime, at night the high stone walls and the thick curtain of trees make it darker than normal, even on a full moon. It's a place where your footsteps quicken, even if you don't know about the resident ghost of a horse and rider.
Not to take anything away from Mr Swaine's undoubted catching skills, but there were three fresh molehills in the opposite corner of that field.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Say hello to my latest effort, brewed from a Woodfordes Wherry Kit. I cooked this up at the end of january, fermented it for 12 or so days and then barreled it without flooding the kitchen. Apart from the odd test snifter, It'd been sleeping peacefully in a cool corner of our dining room. Last friday - after a working week from hell - I could wait no longer. Out came the nonic.
So what's it like? Actually, pretty damn good - and nobody is more surprised than me. It's sweetish and malty with a long bitter finish and a proper, lacing head. It won't set any hophead's hair on fire, but It's a decent 'brown' session beer. Importantly, it doesn't taste like homebrew - I'd be happy to sup this down the pub. For some of the night, anyway. I forgot to take the original gravity, but it's something in the neighbourhood of 4%, though anyone reading my tweets on friday night may have thought I was on something stronger.
When I barreled this beer, I siphoned off a bottle for my mum and dad. Given the enthusiasm for it when they cracked it open last night, ("We've had worse in Wetherspoon's") bottle conditioning might be the way forward for my next brew. The Wherry kit is notorious for stuck fermentations - which I avoided - and failing to properly drop bright - which I didn't. There's a faint haze, but it's a helluva lot better than my last effort which looked like Bisto.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
In the same way you don't visit Yorkshire to get a sun tan, you don't go there and expect to lose weight. On my week-long visit I consumed* fish and chips three times, a curry and three pies - two of which came with mushy peas.
Pie and peas is the great Yorkshire meal. Classless, simple - you can eat it with a spoon - nutritious, filling and with the exception of Bradford beer festival, (great pie, not enough peas for £3.50) cheap. It's comfort food par excellence. A teatime favourite as well as a staple of football terraces, after-match rugby, village cricket lunches, bonfire night and Christmas eve. I've even eaten it (£1.50) in the grade 1 listed magnificence of Leeds Parish Church. The mushy element is very important - purists will only accept them made from dried peas, soaked with bicarbonate of soda and boiled for hours. You can see the difference above - the lower picture is the tinned variety. But It's the pie that really matters, and a butcher's reputation is only as good as his last porker. There are some heavy hitters in Airedale - Stanforth's, Affer faves Drake and Macefield and Ted Lee in Skipton. Lunds and Herd's further down the valley in Keighley, where people still talk about how good the long-gone Midgely's pies once were. I've said it before, and I'll say it again; If pie and peas was from the Ariége it'd be on the menu of the best restaurants in London.
*not all in one go.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
I'm partial to the odd Pure Brewed Lager from Samuel Smith - but as I'm still doing a one-man boycott, the Tadcaster bullies' beers are off limits. Apart from that, I've never really got on with British lager, even the 'craft' stuff. I don't even get on with Meantime Helles. If I want something golden and fizzy to go with a Thai meal i'll grab a few Zywiec from the shop next door.
Hang on though, what's this? West St Mungo in our local Waitrose. Oh yes. I've read about these. Glaswegian, but run by folk from Buttenheim in dear old Bayern. They brew to the Rheinheitsgebot, which as I know from my German days may be a good indicator of purity but not of flavour (Paulaner - i'm looking at you).
So what's it like? Gassy, woody nose and very nearly the colour of another Scot; Irn Bru. The head fades away in seconds. Taste is clean and bready with a bitter finish that clings. The natural carbonation is a bit sharp for me, and there's a flavour that I can't quite place which doesn't quite appeal. By bedtime I still had a quarter glass undrunk and warm. Never a good sign. Decent stuff, but not my Great British Lager. That I actually prefer a Heineken-owned Polish macrobrew to this probably says a lot about my tasting 'skills'. Zywiec is six for a fiver from our local offy. Cooking Lager would be proud.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Thursday, March 3, 2011
The Winner is an example of a once-ubiquitous style of bike, the affordable, friction-geared, hi-ten steel 'racer'. Comfy, with fittings for mudguards and rack - and expected to last a lifetime. These are the bikes you see being ridden to factories in 70s newsreels about industrial strife. The bike you rode to work, the same bike you rode out to the Dales at the weekend. I had one as a kid - a beautiful and sleek Raleigh Medale. New bikes of this type don't really exist anymore. The late 80s mountain bike boom that saw the Medales and the Winners off has ultimately led to a sort of race to the bottom. A typical 'everyday' bike for the masses is now something like a £70 Asda MTB-alike weighed down with pointless (and useless) suspension and plastic brakes. Find one of these or a steel racer in the back of a barn in 20 years time and see which one is still rideable.
Apart from the rear tyre this Winner is 100% original. Brakes will be the first upgrade. Sidepulls, funky chrome wheel rims and 'suicide' levers add up to a somewhat alarming experience when approaching junctions or descending even the gentlest hill. After that will be some decent wheels and tyres. In Spring I'll convert it to single speed. Not having gears should get me off this post-Christmas fitness plateau i'm currently sat on. By next autumn I should have lungs like a shire horse.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
TIW favourite The Harp has been voted CAMRA's pub of the year - the first time ever for a London pub.
Is it the best pub in Britain? It's all highly subjective of course, but The Harp is certainly in my personal top five, and is easily my favourite London boozer. It's been my default Zone 1 destination for years. The Harp just gets it all right. Always busy, but never too busy to get you served quickly and with a smile. Genuine, unforced character and seven or eight ales and real ciders - It's where I first fell in love with Dark Star's Hophead*. No music, no idiots and I've never once had a bad pint. Proper, Northern-style friendliness, too. The Harp is one of the few places in London where you can strike up a conversation with a total stranger without them secretly dialling 999.
*pictured here on one of the rare occasions we've managed to bag one of the window seats.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Leytonstone. A flower shop. It's St Valentine's day.
Geezer: "Aar much are these 'ere roses?"
Florist: "Four pounds per stem, sir. It will be very nicely wrapped."
Geezer: "Four quid!? It better be wrapped in a bleedin' Picasso for four bleedin' quid."
Monday, February 7, 2011
The 300-odd acres of sandy grasslands and mature trees that make up Wanstead Flats are seen as a bit of a sacred site in our part of town. It's where you walk your dogs, play footy, ride horses, fly your remote control 'plane, go to the circus, lounge in the sun, watch fireworks, bareknuckle box and (sometimes) poison the wildlife. Leytonstone locals hate the idea of any development, no matter how small (or 'temporary' like the mooted Olympics police HQ), encroaching on the flats. It took me by surprise, then, to find this spanky new cyclepath on my way home one evening. I can only think this was allowed because it was previously a muddy 'desire line' worn into the turf as a shortcut from Francis road to the boho crescent of Bushwood, which leads ultimately to the North Star (the boozer, not the celestial feature. It's not that long a road).
This being a Waltham Forest Council project, It's beautifully flat and smooth until it stops at Francis road, suddenly terminating in a compacted earth berm - what BMXers used to call a 'whoop-de-doo'. Oh well. It's hardly the start of a Copenhagenized E11 but it'll make getting back from the pub a bit easier.
Friday, February 4, 2011
(Didn't have my camera with me when we went to the Rolle Quay - these pics were taken on Westward Ho! beach a day or two earlier)
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Bad Leytonstone news and good Leytonstone news.
The good news. Lots of action at the Red Lion (which is now on Twitter) - and should be open by the end of march. Here's the latest release from owners Antic:
"I’m sure you have noticed our lovely builders getting stuck in at the Red Lion, work really is moving along and we are revealing more and more of the lovely old building all the time. Yesterday saw two false ceilings being removed from the bar area to really open the room up and the old kitchen being knocked out to make way for a brand spanking new one.
The pub now has it’s own Twitter account if you would like to be kept bang up to date with goings on: Theredlion_e11. A Facebook group is soon to follow.
I am also pleased to let you know that The Red Lion will be taking part in this years Leytonstone Festival. We will of course be looking for artists, groups, clubs or acts to appear during the Festival so anyone interested should either drop me a line or wait for the pub to open and pop in and have a chat.
Finally we are vey pleased to announce that we have appointed Mark Sprules the new General Manager of the pub. Mark is currently the General Manager at another of our pubs, Westow House in Crystal Palace and although he is sorry to be leaving the area, is very much looking forward to the new challenge the Red Lion will bring. I am sure we can count on you all to make him feel very welcome when he takes up his new role in March. "
And the bad news? "Troubled" High Road landmark pub Lincoln's has had it. It's been bought by a housing association who want to demolish the place and shoehorn seventeen flats onto the site. When completed, this will give E11 the same population density as Hong Kong. Probably.
I haven't any suitable pictures, so I hope a Bavarian dog wearing sunglasses is OK.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Friday, January 28, 2011
So, here's the result of my first-ever go at homebrew - the Brubox 'London Bitter' Our Lad got me for Christmas. I followed the (somewhat vague) instructions to the letter, especially the bit about the dangers of the bag bursting through over-pressurisation, which was no empty threat. Had a look the morning after I charged the brew with sugar and found the bag blown up to the size and shape of a beach ball and climbing out of the box. We were perhaps seconds from disaster. As I er, released gas I felt just like Jack Bauer.
But what does it taste like? Despite being opaque (at this stage anyway), it's pretty good. Malty, fruity and bitter - if a tad 'yeasty' - and miles better than it looks.
Monday, January 24, 2011
A big sign (hoho) that things are at last progressing for Leytonstone landmark The Red Lion (ex Zulus). Rumour has it that a lot more work is needed refurbishing the old place than was first thought, which may have put the reopening back a few weeks - so it'll be spring at the earliest. New owners Antic have set up a holding page for the pubs website, showing how it was in (I presume) about 1900 and hopefully how it might look again. Can't wait.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Mrs TIW's uncle and auntie are spending their retirement touring the US in a Fifth Wheel - or the world's poshest caravan, as it's also known. You can read about their escapades here. They've got an uncanny knack of bringing me over some superb and fairly hard-to-find American beers, like this Stone Ruination IPA, one of a brace that they got me for Christmas. I've only seen it for sale at Utobeer, and for about eight quid, though it might also be in those ur-fridges at the Euston Tap.
Stone claim that 'Ruination' is what's going to happen to your taste buds after drinking this. Well, my mouth recovered after about an hour but it's definitely not a beer for food matching. Unless you're eating handfuls of hops. It's massively, heftily, grandly, bitterly hoppy this beer. Despite that it was an easy drink once I'd got over that big hop punch, and settled into citrus and sort of walk-in-the woods pine notes, all somehow balanced with those intense, 100+ IBU shovelfuls of Columbus and Centennial. After swigging nothing but meh* beers over Christmas in Devon, this was like being plugged into the mains. Beer as a primary colour. And in the States you can get it on draught. Sorry - "draft". Lucky Yanks.